Wednesday, October 30, 2013

Halloween: The Strangers' Reunion

Now that Halloween is on its way, I thought I'd share a treat!


You all know I like to write, but did you know writing is not the only muse that distracts me and tempts me? That's right, I like to sing.

I like to think I'm pretty decent at it. I used to do singing competitions in high school, achieving superior ratings at the contests and making All-State choir all four years. I passed all the necessary auditions to major in music in college. I sing at karaoke and manage to make a surprising number of strange drunk women stumble up to me to say I sound just like the original artist. It's not something I want to do professionally, but I love singing.

And though I am not a songwriter, I have on occasion written songs. The following is a Halloween song I wrote one year after a friend dared me to (long story). I had it sitting around as a raw file on my website with no backup music for years, until a fellow named Edward found it and added the instrumentals you hear here. (Because we'd never met, he named our mini-collaboration "Strangers' Reunion.") I'm doing the singing and I wrote the tune and lyrics.



[If player doesn't work for you, try here.]

This is a very Pagan Halloween song (well, because I'm Pagan), and it's about what Halloween (Samhain!) can symbolize from a Pagan perspective.

The lyrics:

Winter's on its way and the sun has had its day
On this special night the veil will lift and fall away
Halloween is here and the children clap and cheer
But for the heathen wanderers a special time is near

Oh Samhain is the time when the spirits are in their prime
And those of us who listen can now sing with them in rhyme
Halloween, Halloween, the dead who walk in shadows walk tonight on fields of green
Halloween, Halloween, our friends and loved ones, once departed, rise up and be seen 

On Halloween I honor my departed grandparents Maura and Herb, my friends Steve and Brian, my friend's recently deceased mother Vera, and my very good friend Mikey P who loved Halloween and hugs.

Tuesday, October 29, 2013

On NaNoWriMo

National Novel Writing Month is coming.

If you’re not familiar, it’s held every November, and it involves writers signing up on a website with a promise to write a novel between November 1 and November 30.  They have thirty days to try to write 50,000 words, and a community has grown up around it—a whole international society of writers who record and post their word counts, compete, and cheer each other on.

I’ve never participated in NaNoWriMo.  But let me tell you about my perspectives on it: why it’s wonderful, and why I nevertheless don’t participate.


Why NaNoWriMo is GREAT:
  • Many writers struggle with motivation to write.  Being forced to make the time or else admit “losing” NaNoWriMo helps some.
  • Many writers do MUCH better if they have an audience of people expecting and hoping that they will succeed.  Since writing is by nature a solitary occupation but not everyone is a solitary person, having a community poised to watch your word count grow is rewarding.
  • No one expects a novel composed in thirty days to be Shakespeare.  Therefore, the pressure is off for those writers who constantly self-edit during the writing process.
  • The community provides access to so many other writers; novelists can find critique partners, like-minded folks, and friends.
Why I’ve never done it (and will never do it):
  • November is an unusually busy month for me most years.
  • I already write fast.  Writing a novel in 30 days isn’t a challenge for me because of my bat-out-of-Hell writing style; I average 8,000 to 11,000 words a day when I'm writing a book (with a few spikes here and there).
  • I also don't like daily word count goals and find them counterproductive.
  • I don’t play well with others when it comes to creativity.
  • I don’t tend to need encouragement.  I’ve got that pretty well licked; I never stop writing.
  • The last thing I need is another hastily written manuscript lying around for me to edit.
  • I tend to get easily roped into editing for less experienced writers if I think they need me.  Failing to put myself in a situation where I would definitely encounter them is an act of self-preservation.
If you’ve always wanted to write a novel but you couldn’t get off the ground, or you’ve started project after project but fizzled out, or you need a reason to dive in . . . do NaNoWriMo.  I have a ton of friends who find it really rewarding.

Monday, October 28, 2013

30-Week Blog Challenge Week 8: Cravings

I'm back with the Monday blog challenge! The lady in charge is Marie at Mom Gets Real. The questions are right here:

QUESTIONS

And Week 8's prompt is . . .

CRAVINGS

Wow! What are my cravings?

Most people would probably think of food first here. I do. I tend to crave french fries or other potatoes. And mushroom soup. Artichokes. Hot bread. Corn with soy crumbles in it. Sometimes I weirdly crave apricots. And OMG, I LOVE hummus--I crave it pretty hard when I come home from work, and eat it with awesome wheat crackers. And every once in a while I really, really want a hot soft pretzel. Sweets I love and tend to crave include cardamom cookies, Pez, and green-apple-flavored candies.

But there are a few other things I crave too. I crave back rubs/back scratches (and I have not had one of those in several years--sad face). I crave being warm--I just absolutely love when I can slip under a blanket that was warmed in the dryer and warm myself up. Sometimes I crave certain songs--I might really want to hear a certain piece of music. And I love certain smells and will go out of my way to smell them sometimes--especially pine scents and vanilla scents and satsuma.

And I crave holding babies. :D

I think most of all, though, I crave being in my creative zone--there's a sort of hunger I'll get if I don't go there for too long, and I really relish it when I'm there again.

Thursday, October 24, 2013

The Big Reveal on Real Jobs

Just a heads-up that I'm on The Big Reveal with Literary Engineer today:


"Is writing your only job? How long have you been seriously writing? Did you write as a kid?"
Read answers from several writers here on the blog post!


Wednesday, October 23, 2013

Everything At Once

So I had nothing in particular planned for Asexual Awareness Week. I figured I'd tweet a few things, write a few things, contribute to a video and make one myself, and I dunno, high five a few people.

Seems Asexual Awareness Week had other ideas of what it wanted to do with me.

Earlier this week I got a cool idea for an asexuality-related article discussing fluid sexual identity in association with asexuality. I pitched the idea to my editor at Good Vibrations--Carol Queen--and she told me to go ahead and write it. To be perfectly honest, I scratched it out at 4 AM that day and put it in the queue sometime around when the sun came up. She published it.

"Asexuality and Sexual Fluidity"

So my night-blogging experiment was deemed worthy of daylight and there it is. Carol also had it retweeted by the Good Vibes Twitter and it reached over 20,000 people. Yay.

Then other weird things happened. Unbeknownst to me, The Huffington Post has decided to cover Asexual Awareness Week. They posted this:

"Everything's A-Okay"

This happens to feature a collaborative video by the A-Okay folks, which I was asked to contribute to. The quote they use in the print portion, though uncredited, is something I said in the video.

And then I started getting all kinds of e-mail from people who had seen "your piece in the Huffington Post" and telling me about their lives, and I thought, uh, what piece? The collab video didn't really have a clear link to me unless you followed to my YouTube channel at the end and, followed by going to my website, followed by finding my e-mail. So I figured I must be somewhere else too. And I was!

"'Asexuality: An Overview' By Julie Decker Explains A Frequently Misunderstood Identity"

Holy name recognition, Batman. Well, that explains that.

And now I am being contacted with multiple mainstream media requests and whatnot. Plus quite a lot of personal e-mail from people who resonated with my message. Wowie. I think they all want to get me before Asexual Awareness Week is over.

So . . . lots to look at, folks! Stay tuned for more news when I have it.

Tuesday, October 22, 2013

Experiences as an activist

Most of you who follow me here or elsewhere on the Internet have figured out that I'm an activist. Most visibly, I'm an asexuality awareness activist, though I support and spotlight other activist messages sometimes too (mostly LGBT topics). I thought I'd share with you some interesting experiences I've had spreading awareness about a mostly invisible and misunderstood orientation.

But why here? Why now?

Well, here because I have a blog, but now because . . . IT'S ASEXUAL AWARENESS WEEK!


That's right, y'all, we have our own week! From October 20 to October 26, 2013, asexual activists like me are making and spreading materials to help people understand asexuality, helping asexual people find their community, and questioning norms about sex and relationships. Asexual Awareness Week has tons of links and presentations and videos and pamphlets for your use if you'd like to learn more and help, but that's not what this post is about. I just want to share five experiences I've had as an asexual activist, mixing the good and the bad to give you a peek at my life.

1. Being recognized in public

I'm one of the most visible asexual activists and I have a sort of distinctive appearance and voice, and those conditions have resulted in my being easily recognizable by people who have seen my work. Let's see, some anecdotes:
  • I was approached by a girl in a café when I was out with my friends; she'd heard my voice from across the room, recognized me from the Internet, and wanted to give me a hug.

  • A guy in a car yelled out the window at me while I was riding my bike to work, but it turned out not to be a catcall; he caught up with me at a traffic light and said he'd seen me on TV and wanted me to know he loved my work.
  • A random dude at a party wandered over to me and said he'd seen the documentary I was in and started talking about how much he'd enjoyed it.
  • A barista remembered me and wrote my YouTube name on my cup instead of my real name.
  • I got recognized in the grocery store while shopping with my sister. The guy said he liked my singing too.
  • A guy was staring at me in the coffee shop and when I got sick of it and stared back, he said, "Hey. Aren't you asexual?" (My reply, in case you're wondering, was "Guilty!") Turned out we'd talked online.
2. Receiving very weird e-mail.

Most people who have some kind of public existence get weird e-mail, but most of the weird stuff I get is in the TMI category. Because I'm frank and uninhibited in my discussions of asexuality, people feel comfortable e-mailing me their life story--specifically, their sexual experiences. They sometimes just want to tell me what they've been through. They sometimes have a friend or partner who might be asexual--or might be asexual themselves--and they want me to diagnose them. And occasionally, though not often, they think detailed explanations of their sex lives will "change my mind," and selflessly volunteer themselves for me to practice on to make sure I'm really asexual. (Thanks guy, but the wine and oral sex offer is a no.)

3. Meeting other asexual people.

Boy has this been a fun one! I have individually met tons of asexual people online because of my outreach; nearly 2500 people follow my asexual videos online, and over a thousand on Tumblr tune in for my rants. I've also received plenty of very nice e-mail and conversation, and have met quite a few of these people individually in person. But I've also been to a couple of asexual meetups in my area. We did talk about asexuality at those meetings--it came up often because we shared similar experiences, of course--but mostly, we just talked about our lives and ate cake.

I was also privileged to participate in Creating Change, the nation's largest LGBT conference, back in January. For the first time, asexual people were represented in a panel and we had our own caucus. Educating, being educated, and networking with queer folks was a great experience, but one of the real highlights was having so many of us in one place.

I'm the oldest in this picture. All asexual, all the time!
4. Threats and Harassment.

Definitely one of the down sides of being a very public spokesperson. I have received multiple death threats and rape threats, and have been sexually harassed, and twice I was stalked and publicly mocked by detractors who tried to smear me by connecting my legal name with accusations of illegal sex acts (which required me to pursue legal action). I usually handle this very quietly because people who target me get off on "successful trolling," so when they cross the line from simply being jerks online to committing defamatory and libelous acts, I don't give them attention. This probably contributes to the popular perception that asexuality is inoffensive to everyone and we couldn't possibly experience discrimination or harassment. It's not true. And things are not particularly rosy over here all the time.


Being an asexual activist has led to me becoming aware of some of the most disgusting and vile attitudes on the planet, and they come out of the woodwork because my orientation reads as a threat to them. How dare I exist on the Internet living happily without male sexual attention? How dare I suggest not being attracted to anyone is a satisfactory way to live? I must Actually Hate Sex and Everyone Who Likes It. I must actually be all about shaming them rather than legitimizing myself. I must actually be sick, broken, traumatized, secretly gay, lying, ugly, desperate and dateless, bitter, or elitist, and I need to be ATTACKED so I will stop deluding others into accepting that asexuality exists. After all, my orientation couldn't possibly about how I feel. It's about taking something away from THEM.



I didn't expect this level of vitriol when I got started with this, but now I'm no longer surprised by it.

5. Interview requests.

I get fairly frequent requests from the media to give interviews, and most of them sound about the same; mostly overviews, sometimes specific opinions on issues. I've been quoted or interviewed in seven magazines, two television shows, two radio/podcast presentations, and one documentary film. I have also turned down several television and documentary requests (three to date) because of possible sketchiness. (One in particular made it clear they were trying to make my life into a drama when the real story is that I'm asexual and I'm happy and nobody in my life has a particular problem with it. I stopped negotiating with them when they defended their questions by saying they needed to create conflict. I'm not a circus, so go away with your search for a spectacle.)

But beyond mainstream media, I also get interview requests from students! Kids want to do their projects on me or on asexuality, and I've answered questions on Skype or in writing before for school reports. I think it's kind of cute, and it's awesome that they pick asexuality as their topic. (Many of them are asexual or questioning themselves.) At this rate, it might not be long before someone asks for my autograph. (No, that hasn't happened yet.)

So there you have it. The life of an asexual activist. If you think asexuality seems like an important topic and you'd like to spread awareness this week, visit Asexual Awareness Week and tweet your favorite link, post your favorite article, reblog some asexual posts on Tumblr, look up asexuality on YouTube and share it on Facebook. And if you want to learn more about asexuality or talk with asexual people from an outside (or inside!) perspective, the Asexual Visibility and Education Network has forums!

Feel free to ask questions publicly or privately if you like. I'm used to answering and like being helpful!

Sunday, October 20, 2013

Halloween party = success

My early Halloween party was a success! As usual, I had a houseful, but we managed to squeeze everyone in and we all had a good time.

How could you not with all this great food?

Veggies and ranch dip, nuts, hummus and various chips,
salsa and tortilla chips, cranberries, and apples with caramel!

All HOMEMADE desserts!
Molasses-ginger animal cookies, fall leaf cookies, pumpkin pie,
pumpkin roll, pumpkin muffins, banana muffins, and pumpkin brownies!
My guests seemed quite happy with the variety, plus there was hot cider and lots of juice and soda to drink.

So, the matter of my costume: I mentioned yesterday that I decided to dress up as one of my own characters for the first time! I dressed up as my character Dia from Finding Mulligan.

Pretty hair, magic bracelets! :)
Shh, Dia is a secret.
Long white dress.
No shoes! Very important!
My guests had some very cool ideas themselves. Here are some of the fun characters who came to my little party.

Brent as "Sexy Yoda"
Derek as a steampunk pilot
Joy as Princess Bubblegum
Michael as a pirate
Shelby as Chihiro
Victor as a Renaissance guy
And James as smokin', drinkin'
Jesus H. Christ.
My friend Jeaux just wore a shirt that says "ask me about my zombie costume" (which has a zombie face on the inside that you can pull up over your face), and Eric and Yasmin didn't dress up, and James's kindergarten daughter was a tiger. (She was quite scary and kept threatening to eat everyone.)


Now that all the preparation for that is over with, it's back to life for me! I have some stuff to do for Asexual Awareness Week this week and some writing projects to work on. Well, and a lot of pie to eat.

Saturday, October 19, 2013

Wow, that's a lot of blogging

I seem to have posted a new blog entry every single day for over a month. That's kind of a lot of blogging.

I love doing it and I'm always coming up with something to say, but I think in the next weeks I'm going to ease off a little--post a couple times a week or whenever I'm participating in something, because I have some projects and some writing I want to do and I should really try to pay more attention to those things. Blogging has never been hard for me, but I also wonder if blogging seven days a week consistently is kind of overkill for most people--that it might discourage people from reading if I post too much. Doesn't seem to be how things work on Twitter, but blogging, well, you know. Especially for someone long-winded like me. ^___^

Seems kind of silly for me to be blogging about not blogging, doesn't it. Oh well.

But tomorrow there will be pictures, because tonight, I'm having a Halloween party!

Yep, I'm having it early because I didn't want to compete with everyone else's Halloween parties. I have a lot of friends who might have ended up having to choose between my party and a mutual friend's party, so I decided to make it easier by having an earlier party.

I'm feeding everyone! It's mostly a dessert party. But there are also appetizers, some of which are healthier than the junk food. :) This is also a costume-optional party. Usually I get pretty obsessed with baking all the good stuff and then I pretty much forget about planning a costume until the last day or even the last couple hours before. This year, I decided to do something I've never done before.

I'm going to dress up as one of my characters.

(Any writers reading this ever done that?)

It's an easy costume and I already had all the pieces, so I just decided hey, I'm gonna do that. It'll be fun, and maybe a couple of my friends will even figure out who I'm supposed to be.

I've never been one of my own characters for Halloween before, but I've thought about it. Just never ended up doing it. The closest to it I've ever come was when I dressed as the original character one of my friends made up.

Me in college, dressed as my friend Jim's superhero
character, Electra.
So this will be interesting.

Can't wait to feed everyone until they're sick and check out the costumes. :)

Friday, October 18, 2013

Writing conferences?

According to my blog stats this is my 100th post. Who knew?

So I have a question for y'all. I want to go to a writing conference someday, and I'd love to hear from anyone who knows the ropes--whether from experience or from research--what conferences they'd recommend!

Stuff to consider:

  1. I'm primarily a science fiction and fantasy author, and I write both YA and adult. I might be more inclined to go to a conference that's SF/F-oriented, but that's not necessary.

  2. I'm not particularly fannish, nor am I celebrity-obsessed. In other words, if Big Name authors are in attendance, I'd be super excited to be able to see their panels if I admire their work, but I will not be interested in getting stuff signed or whatever.

  3. I have representation already, so conferences that are super great for pitching or query-workshopping are not of interest to me.

  4. I'm not sure what exactly even goes on at conferences--besides lots of panels, workshops, and networking--but what I'm most interested in is meeting other writers and seeing panels or talks about writing technique and possibly author promotion presentations.




  5. Ideally, I will be going to my first conference with my critique partner Jay--we've both talked about wanting to go to one, but we're both conference virgins--and while we're both introverts, he's less outgoing and more easily frazzled by extraneous input, so a conference that isn't Super Overwhelming would probably be best.

  6. The only professional writing society I'm a member of is SCBWI. If I have to sign up or join something to be able to go to a certain con, I'm willing as long as it's not too expensive.

  7. My passport just expired this year so I'd prefer to go to a conference in the US.

  8. I'm not really interested in workshops that involve bringing my own material and having it edited, critiqued, or created as part of an activity. I prefer doing that within my own network.

  9. I do like getting ARCs and swag and stuff. :)

So far I have Elizabeth Briggs's Con Tips from a Con Junkie to help me out in the event that I get to go to one, and I sometimes look at the Shaw Guides Writers Conferences & Writing Workshops site, but I really want some personal experience and recommendations!

Thanks in advance to anyone who weighs in.

Thursday, October 17, 2013

Wednesday, October 16, 2013

Get ready for some CONTESTS!

I don't have anything particularly inspiring or clever to say for today's blog entry so I am just going to throw some wonderful links at you.

So. Are you an author who is trying to get an agent? Sick of the plug-and-chug of querying and waiting? Want a change of pace?

Try an agent contest.

Before I was an agented author, I tried a couple. I entered The Writer's Voice with my NA fantastical romance, Finding Mulligan (read about my experience in that contest here on my main site), and I attended the follow-up Twitter pitch party (discussed here). I actually did get a request during the pitch party, though it later turned into a rejection from the partial. It was still a good experience . . . especially since I later got my agent through traditional querying and ended up on the mentoring/judging side in subsequent contests, so I knew what it was like on both sides!

Here are some contests you should try if you're feeling plucky and you've got a finished, polished, ready-to-query manuscript. Heads up because the first one is TODAY!

ADULT PITCH (#AdPit): October 16.

Awesome! In a sea of YA domination, there is finally a contest for JUST adult manuscripts. This contest accepts adult fiction and adult nonfiction of all genres!

The details: Heidi Norrod's Blog.

The rub: From 8 AM to 8 PM EST, you can pitch your book on Twitter using the hashtag #AdPit. Agents will look at the 140-character pitches and favorite or reply to the ones they want. You could get a request just from a once-an-hour tweet! Go for it.

NIGHTMARE ON QUERY STREET: October 19.

A query contest accepting all genres (except picture books and erotica), focused on FEAR.

The details: Michelle4Laughs has the announcement here, the list of agents here, and the explanation for how the agents bid here.

The rub: You e-mail your query and first 250 words to the contest's e-mail address, and you also have to write 100 words about what your protagonist fears most of all. The organizers choose their favorites and post them on the contest's blog, and then the agents will use the comments to identify the books they want to see (10 pages, 50 pages, or a full manuscript).

TRICK-OR-TREAT WITH AGENTS: October 22.

A Halloween-themed contest for MG, YA, NA, and Adult books. Costumed agents will pick their favorites!

The details: Brenda Drake's blog, plus the list of costumed agents and their preferences.

The rub: You e-mail your query and first 250 words to the contest's e-mail address, and you also have to answer two questions about your protagonist's favorite costume and your manuscript's unique marketability. Then the contest organizers--three of them--will pick 13 lucky entries each to post on their blogs and wait for trick-or-treaters: the AGENTS! Agents choose a costume and leave "candy" (well, coded comments) on the entries they like, and you may get a request from a Mystery Agent. Then all will be revealed at the end when you find out who's in what costume.

THE BAKER'S DOZEN: October 29 & 31 / November 5 & 7

All genres participate in an auction-style event, with specially chosen entries by the contest organizers.

The details: Miss Snark's blog.

The rub: This contest has an entry fee, but it's Miss Snark, man. Adult fiction pitches on the earlier dates; YA/MG pitches on the later dates. You submit a logline and 250 words of your manuscript, and the contest organizers choose 60 favorites. Public critique begins and agents later post the number of pages they want to see as "bidding" to see who gets it.


PITCH WARS: December 2

Authors submit to mentors hoping to get chosen for a full-book critique and grooming for the agent round.

The details: Brenda Drake's blog shows a basic overview and a list of the participating mentors. I am a mentor this year! Check me out! I'm #42!

The rub: Once mentors' preferences and bios are posted (not yet as of this writing), authors can browse through the mentors who are accepting their genre and choose up to 4 to apply to. Each mentor gets to pick one mentee (plus a couple alternates), and we'll shine up your pitch and massage your book for the agent round. Then the entries will be posted and the agents will bid.

Some of these great contests will have Twitter follow-ups, too! GET READY! GET SET! AND PITCH!

Tuesday, October 15, 2013

(Never) Again Bloghop

Today I'm participating in the bloghop for (NEVER) AGAIN by Theresa Paolo!

Click to see others' posts and sign up!

(Never) Again by Theresa Paolo has been released! Its tagline is "Just when she had finally moved on...he moved back." There's something really poignant about this deceptively simple line, because we can all probably think of something we finally let go and how much it would SQUEEZE our hearts if it came back into our lives. I'm not a romance fan, but I can still relate to this idea and I'm looking forward to reading about the longing, the heartbreak, and the healing. Here it is on Goodreads if you want to add it to your to-be-read list.

For the bloghop, Theresa is having us write about something we swore we'd never do again and then wound up doing. Well, I have a weird one for ya.

It involves a book. I will not name the book because I can't say anything nice about it and this is my nice little writer blog, but some of the people who have known me since I first began lurking about the Internet will know exactly what I'm talking about. Anyway, so a popular book came out when I was working at a bookstore, and it was getting a lot of hype, so as per usual I decided to read it--all the better to know what to recommend to my customers.

The book was seriously one of the worst pieces of literature I'd ever experienced.

I was aghast. I thought there must be some kind of sick joke going around. I even prayed that it would turn out to be satire, but this thing was 100% serious. And it was super popular.

So I complained about it. I complained about it to my friends and I complained about it at work.

Everyone was unsympathetic.

They said *I* was the one with the problem--clearly I'm too picky and my standards are too high--and in a couple cases they thought I must be exaggerating (until they read the book too and apologized to me). In order to blow off some steam, I reviewed the book publicly. I wasn't nasty or personal about it, but I did pick it apart and explain exactly why I thought it was so horrible.

To make a long story short, I got a lot of hate for it. Most of my hate mail was of the "ur just jelus" variety, but some of it was full of some very serious vitriol, deconstructing what I'd said into accusations that my problems with the book translated directly into personal failings and psychological disorders. But then--interestingly--I started getting positive mail, too. From people who were pleasantly surprised to find they weren't the only one who wasn't blown away by this over-hyped book.

The book came out with a sequel. I swore I wouldn't read it, because the first time through was terrible enough. But oddly enough, EVERYONE WANTED ME TO READ IT. Fans of the first book were snottily informing me that I ought to give the author a chance by reading the second book to see how much improvement it contained. And fans of my harsh edit wanted to see another one. I guess people like seeing me eviscerate a book. It is, after all, one of my talents as an editor.

So I read it. And I reacted publicly, to much fanfare. More hate mail. More "oh my god, THANK YOU" e-mail. And then the third book came out.

But I was done. I said so. No, NO, no more. I'd given the first one a chance and regretted it. And then I'd humored both the fans and the anti-fans by reading the sequel. The second one, while an improvement in one little way, was in most ways even worse, and it had physically given me a headache to read it (though that may have been all the literal headdesking I did).

So when dozens and dozens of people started asking when I was going to review the third one, I said I wasn't going to. Never. NEVER AGAIN.

A WAVE of protest rang across the Internet. (Well, my corner of it.) It got so bad that I was getting messages every day from strangers--I'm not kidding--and one of the auto-complete suggestions in Google when looking for the book online was "[book title] [my reviewer name] review." Everyone wanted to know what I thought of this ridiculous book. And I said no, no, no. Enough punishment. Enough!

Then a stranger sent me the book as a gift and begged for my review. I rolled my eyes, bit my lip, listened to my soul crying for a while, and agreed.

I made a public announcement that I was going to review it, and the number of bother-pokes for the review slowed to a trickle after that. I then put off reading it for over one thousand days. (Again, not an exaggeration.) But then I finally bit the bullet and read the damn thing, and as a reward for being so patient, my doting fans received an essay of massive proportions. My one-star review for the book was over 25,000 words long. (I wrote nearly all of it in a weekend. Well, Labor Day weekend.)

I told you. I can be kind of fierce.

I posted the link in my waiting review community and it quickly received nearly 150 comments. Most of them people squeeing that it was finally here. I also got a lot of support and thank-yous.

It was at this point that I started to get the really rewarding kind of fan mail. I'd gotten a few like this in the early days, but after a behemoth of an essay like that, most of my positive mail was people thanking me for teaching them how to write by illustrating what NOT to do.

Because that's pretty much what the book was. An exercise in everything authors shouldn't do. I picked it apart and patiently explained why these things don't work, which seems to have really pushed a lot of authors in the right direction. And I realized I'd learned a lot too through my literary criticism. I knew what I didn't like, but I'd never had occasion to explain in excruciating detail WHY these techniques were so ineffective. I felt driven to explain why the problems I identified were problems because there were so many fans of the books who tried to blame my poor impressions of the book on my imperfections, and I wanted it to be absolutely undeniable that the failing wasn't on my end. It took a 25,000-word essay to do this, but it worked.

(Have you ever written a 25,000-word essay? In a weekend? 0/10, do not recommend.)

By the time the fourth book came out I was resigned. Beating these books up was something that had positive consequences for me, and I was ready to own it despite the headaches they caused me. I wrote another massive essay--33,000 words, not kidding--and posted it less than a month after the book came out. Several hundred comments later, I had like half a dozen new critique partners signing on to beta read my next project, and a lot of high fives. The "ur just jelus" comments were still there, but they were tiny voices in the throngs. The same folks in the community were super excited for me--and very supportive--when I told them my book was going on submission to mainstream publishers soon through my new literary agent, and I'm sure I can count on them to check it out for an example of good fantasy, and hopefully they'll recommend my book to their friends (you know, whenever some lucky publisher makes the smart choice and signs me, haha).

So that's it. That's the story of how something I vehemently swore I would never do again became a positive force in my life, even though I must say my life was not enriched by the actual experience of reading the books--only by what I built on it.

Monday, October 14, 2013

30-Week Blog Challenge Week 7: Blog Name

I'm back with the Monday blog challenge! The lady in charge is Marie at Mom Gets Real. The questions are right here:

QUESTIONS

And Week 7's prompt is . . .

The meaning behind your blog name!

Oh, that's quite easy. It has a specific origin from a lovely book I read entitled The Book of Flying, by Keith Miller.


This book tells the story of a librarian, Pico, who is in love with a winged girl and goes off on a quest to learn to fly himself so he can be with her. It's quite an unusual book, with a new world and new mythology nevertheless mixed with a fairy tale feel that isn't often achieved these days. My blog title, "In Propinquity," comes from this quote in the book:

"But keep characters in propinquity long enough and a story will always develop a plot."

Not only does this sort of describe how I write--shove a bunch of characters together and see what they do!--but it echoes the reason I started this blog.


I started this blog because I wanted to connect with other writers and with readers, immerse myself in the community, and create content for them as well as involve myself in theirs. I wanted to be one boat in this fleet, close together with others who are making the same journey, and see us all get to our destination together. And maybe I'm hoping that being in propinquity, figuratively and digitally, will allow some of those other bloggers' awesomeness to rub off on me. :)

Sunday, October 13, 2013

You're not my type

I primarily write speculative fiction, including fantasy and science fiction. So people assume I'm a certain kind of geek. I'm not.

This is a weird place to be in because I am stereotyped by both people within and people outside of those communities.

Here is a list of things I'm expected to like when I say I am a fantasy author:
  • Dungeons & Dragons
  • Role-playing games
  • Video games
  • High fantasy
  • Medieval and Renaissance-related activities
  • Comic books
  • Anime
  • Elaborate costumes
  • DRAGONS
  • Star Wars, Star Trek, A Game of Thrones, Lord of the Rings, Dr. Who, Forgotten Realms, Joss Whedon, superhero movies, various supernatural television shows
I had a party. My friends played this game. I watched.
Most of these things do not interest me at all. A few of them I have dabbled in. A couple of them I like. But I have never played D&D, don't care for role-playing (LARPing or otherwise) and have no interest in trying, do not collect comics (though I've read a few I like), play no video games outside of Dance Dance Revolution, don't much like dressing up, and have zero appreciation for dragons.

I actively dislike most high fantasy and hard science fiction, finding Lord of the Rings to be an island in an otherwise uninteresting genre and making exceptions only if strong characters make it worth it to deal with the stuff I'm really bored by. I don't "get" the Whedon shows (with the notable exception of Dr. Horrible) and have not seen most of Star Trek (but actually did enjoy a couple episodes of Voyager and The Next Generation), every time I watched Dr. Who I was scared or creeped out by it, I dislike Star Wars, can't seem to get into the Marvel thing, don't really watch any TV these days so I have no idea what's going on when my Twitter feed blows up all the time with people freaking out over shows. I've been to Ren Faires and like them, but don't go out of my way to be authentic or attend religiously. And I like a fair amount of anime, but can count on one hand the number of hours I've watched any this year.

I'm not really a "type." It's strange because non-geek folks assume I am into these things without asking and tend to have a pretty judgmental attitude toward geeky pursuits, and then the people I'm friends with--mostly geeks--find it frustrating and baffling that I don't enjoy their favorite things. What's especially perplexing is when the geek-folk simply assume I have context for or interest in their hobbies.

Once I had my photo taken with a cool painting of Spider-Man because I thought it would be funny if I stood in his crotch (though I disliked the one movie I saw and have never read any comics), and someone responded to the picture on a social networking site, assuming I had been shopping for comics inside the place, and invited me to come to his club meeting. In the e-mail, he expected me to be excited about the tabletop games or whatever they do there, and he seemed really confused and eventually pissed off when I told him that wasn't really my thing. (The clear expectation he had for me to share his interests came through to me as a tone of weird entitlement--like "Most people wouldn't post a picture of them with superheroes if they didn't like this that and the other thing that's perceived to be related, so I have every right to talk to you like you misled me!")

Oddly enough, though, I do perceive the geeks as my tribe. I read a lot of science fiction. I can be fannish in a similar way that geeky people are fannish when I do share their interests. I have dressed up for an anime convention in cosplay more than once and have worn period clothes to Ren Faires even though it's not something I pursue enthusiastically. And I do computer-geek stuff, so I speak their language there. But even though I don't want to play D&D with people, when I hear they play D&D, I feel like they're more likely to have something in common with me--maybe they like fantasy the same way I like it, or might want to play Dance Dance Revolution with me, or might be able to geek out in silly ways over things we both like. I understand how they operate, and I approve even if I don't engage.

I don't know how common my half-geek syndrome is, but I don't seem to encounter it often. Anyone relate?

Saturday, October 12, 2013

Weekends are not break time

I look forward to weekends, but not because they're a chance to rest and relax. I guess they could be that, of course, if I were a little bit less masochistic about making myself get things done. No, for me, weekends involve the hardest work of the week. They tend to be when I spend the most time on my creative activities, and because of that it's both the most stressful part of my week and the most rewarding.

I've had houseguests since the first day of the month. How is it already October 12th? Anyway, a lot of my attention has been spent on them--first my friend Fred, and then my sister Patricia. It's been busy but fun, and to add to the excitement, my youngest sister Lindsay got engaged! So we've had all kinds of celebrations.

With Patricia at Thai Temple
Family at dinner: Dad, Patricia, Lindsay, her fiancé Mike, me!
Despite all the visitaters, I've gotten a fair amount done. During the two weeks, I uploaded to online photo albums, kept up with my weekly webcomic and wasn't late, planned a Halloween party and did the first shopping trip, had a blog post up every day, managed to pop in and out on Facebook and Twitter, got interviewed in South Florida Gay News on asexuality, did Internet karaoke twice, and wrote a short story.

Whew.

But today is the last day my sister will be here, and then Sunday I will have an empty house again for the first time in what seems like a while. And of course, my eager-for-punishment brain jumps at the chance to demand that I accomplish things, so the following items populate my to-do list for the weekend:
  • Decorate for Halloween so I don't have to do it later. (I'm having a Halloween party next weekend.)
  • Research markets for my new short story.
  • Work on tweaking my nonfiction book.
  • Prepare my part of a collaborative video I tentatively agreed to participate in for Asexual Awareness Week (begins October 20).
  • Write and film my individual contribution to Asexual Awareness Week--a how-to-come-out video for asexual people.
  • Internet karaoke and maybe reading.
  • Write the next webcomic so I can start working on it early.
  • If I have time and I feel like it, work on my other in-progress short story.
  • Laundry, man.

That'll be in addition to all the stuff I usually do every day (blogging, being a social media nerd, taking random phone calls, eating things and laughing at cats on Tumblr).

I'm going to have a pretty stressful week coming up as I try to get all kinds of ridiculous things baked for my Halloween party--I always bake everything from scratch, and there are a ton of homemade desserts I need to get cooking on. I'm not going to have time for creative stuff the closer I get to the party so I'd better get something satisfying under my belt before Monday rolls around.

Something satisfying, besides my coffee. There will be a lot of that too.

Friday, October 11, 2013

The Art of the Short Story

I'm no good at writing short things.

Every novel I've written has been too long for its genre. And contrary to popular belief, I don't think that means I automatically have a lot of work to do on trimming them. After all, when really good authors prove themselves in the field, they're granted the privilege of rambling their books out to huge word counts (see J.K. Rowling and Stephen King), simply because readers will enjoy huge amounts of words from those authors and will pay to read them.

--Henry David Thoreau

However, I don't think that necessarily means none of my longer works needed chopping. I think they all did. And I'm learning more about why every day--learning to recognize junky sentences, unnecessarily detailed internal monologues, detours into stuff I think is interesting but doesn't move the story along--and I'm making these sacrifices and concessions in order to modify my writing to appeal to the most people. (It's funny how often people assume, without looking at my work, that my word counts are probably bloated because I can't stop describing everything in sight. No, that's not where my extra words come from.)

But I think some stories are plus-size. They don't fit in the publishing industry's proverbial size 8. Sure, most of them could probably stand to lose a few thousand words, but they'd still be big, and they were naturally built that way. Squeezing them into straight sizes sometimes means losing vitality; if you stripped them away to the bare bones or chopped off one of their legs, sure, they'd weigh less, but they don't function as intended. It's been a struggle for me to figure out what my manuscripts' ideal weight IS, and whether putting my books on a diet (and to what extent) is really good for them.

And then you have short stories. As you might imagine, I'm not so good at short stories. Everything I write runs long. So many of my "short" stories tip the scales of the magazines' word count limits and render themselves ineligible by a large margin. I've written short stories that were over 20,000 words long. (I've done that three times. Urgh.) Sometimes it's hard to tell whether there's a novel hiding in there or whether it's just a slightly chunky short story, and whether I should beef it up or slim it down to try to fit somewhere.

But this past week, I completed a short story ending at a very reasonable 5,000 words. I have two magazines in mind that accept word counts that high and specialize in the story type. I plan to submit after I get some more feedback, but I'm still feeling pretty insecure about things. I like the story a lot, and there's an unusual amount of stuff going on that isn't on the surface, but at the same time I do wonder whether it's enough. I've been dinged for pacing problems in my writing before. I've been called out for having navel-gazing characters. I've even been told my stories have no plot (which is often true, though I guess I've always thought characters' mental lives are a plot; the consensus is that's not true). I don't know if this new story is really any different, because (without spoiling things for those who might read it), what really happens? A mom worries about her daughter. And the daughter worries about who she's going to date. The mother and child misunderstand each other and then come to a better understanding through unusual forms of communication. And that's it.

So?

I've only received one response so far from my little pool of test readers, and it was positive feedback from my friend Shelby:

So soft and gentle and beautifully written. You get the atmosphere through with very little description to clutter the story. I'm usually bothered by present tense, but you did it so well that it never pulled me out of the story – I barely noticed it.

She also gave me a few line edits but overall nothing major--no suggestion that the story had big issues. I'm still just not sure. I've read short stories wherein nothing really happens; they're about a feeling, or they're a vignette, or they're a conversation, or they're a concept piece. And they get published all the time. I can't tell if I've hit a sweet spot here--is it a poignant enough interaction between mother and child that people will connect to it and want to read it, or will I still be told there's just not enough happening?

When I went to that presentation by Joyce Sweeney, I learned about keeping the pages turning. Okay, so there aren't that many pages to turn in a short story of 5,000 words, but you still have to give people a reason to want to read those words. I learned about tension and pacing. I was aware of it while I was writing, trying to consciously construct my telling of the story to maximize the push forward without inserting contrived drama.

There was a figurative ticking clock--the protagonist's daughter is afraid she'll be chosen as someone else's significant other before she gets her turn to do the choosing. Other than that, there's not an extremely clear-cut "problem" to solve; it's just interpersonal family tension. There's a secondary driving force in the story surrounding the mother's inability to relate to her daughter; she feels inadequate and strangely helpless because mothering her third daughter is considerably more difficult than mothering her first two daughters had been and she has no idea why. So resolving that was also a problem —> solution dynamic. I just never know if it's enough. People have enjoyed my stories plenty of times but the people who are enjoying them haven't been the editors of magazines in a position to publish them, so I'm convinced I'm still not doing something right.

Maybe that'll change with this one. Or the next one. Or the next one. I'm gonna keep writing them no matter what. It's just a little frustrating sometimes when I wonder if I'm doing the same thing again and again hoping for different results.

Thursday, October 10, 2013

Wednesday, October 9, 2013

It's not you, it's me. (Or is it?)

Have you ever gotten feedback that you just plain can't make sense of?

Well, of course you have. Silly question.

So how do you tell whether you should take a beta reader's input seriously or throw it out?

First of all, the answer is to ALWAYS take a beta reader's input seriously.

Does that mean they're right? No. Does that mean you have to change something if one beta reader didn't get it or didn't like it? No. Does that mean you as the author are a slave to the whims of anyone and everyone who reads your book? No!


But always first consider whether there is anything you can do to change your book so you won't get that reaction again. That's what I mean by "taking input seriously."


Here are three other items to consider when you encounter beta-reader feedback that you disagree with:
  1. Have other readers complained about the same problem, or is the critical reader an outlier?
  2. Is your reader qualified to make the observation? Or, at least, is your reader more qualified than you?
  3. Is your reader the target audience?


Let's start with Number One: Is anyone else complaining about this?


I once received the following piece of feedback from a publishing industry professional, regarding my fairy tale retelling, Bad Fairy:

I felt that the narrative voice was unrealistic due to the age of Delia. No baby, three-year-old, or six-year-old is capable of having such an acute and accurate grasp on their world. This rang false to me, and I would suggest you recast the protagonist in a far more mature role.

This feedback threw me for a loop when I received it, because the story is very clearly presented as a retelling of the protagonist's childhood from the point of view of her adult self. It baffled me to think anyone would misinterpret this story as being told from a child's point of view, and I can't think of anyone who needs to be told that newborn babies don't philosophize.

But the takeaway point here is that no other readers, from the test readers to the publishers, ever cited this as an issue they had with the book. I have no idea why this reader didn't "get" what everyone else seemed to, but no one before or since has misunderstood the narrative as actually coming from the child; everyone else seemed to understand that it's the child's experiences filtered through the words of her adult self. (Especially since she breaks in frequently and puts childhood events into perspective against the backdrop of her entire life.)

So what did I do? 

I re-examined the prologue and first couple chapters to make sure I had established the tone clearly, tweaked a few things to make it a little more obvious so perhaps people would get it sooner, and left the rest alone. Readers are smart; I've been cautioned many times to trust my audience. I think I did enough and concluded that no, there really never was a problem here, but I was willing to take a look at it and make sure my intent was coming through. That's all you need to do; if you're pretty sure nobody else is having this problem, double-check your work, but don't feel obligated to make massive changes based on a single reader's misunderstanding.

And if you ARE getting this feedback from multiple readers:

Listen to them or tweak what you've written so people stop saying it. I cut a scene the second time someone told me they got bored during it. I incorporated some expanded setting information and some reduction of certain kinds of character conflict when I got publisher feedback about sparse world-building and repetitive antagonist arguments. I included more opportunity for my protagonist to have confidants when early readers told me they were alienated by her lack of approachability. You don't necessarily have to fix your novel in the way readers advise, but you do need to take common complaints seriously. 

 

Now on to Number Two: Is your reader qualified to make this observation?



So you're a writer. Your reader is a reader. You've put that reader in a position to react to your writing, presumably in a somewhat authoritative way--suggesting that you'll listen to and respect their opinion. I'm sure we've all met certain kinds of people who have an opinion on everything--even subjects they've never studied or experienced--and these types of people sometimes let authority go to their head when asked to weigh in on your work.


I once received the following feedback from a beta reader on my NA fantasy/romance, Finding Mulligan:

Okay, there’s obviously a lot of nervousness in early sexual attraction type encounters, but I suspect that with girls, there’s also a kind of calm they get from being near the object of their affection. So, at least at some point, she should describe the feelings, not just of soaring euphoria (Romeo and Juliet type thing), but of feeling calm and excited at the same time.  Like, imagine you were a mare in heat.

"Calm" is not an emotion I have ever heard someone volunteer while discussing how they feel about meeting their crush for the first time. It also goes against common sense. So I argued this point, asking this fellow (yes, it was a man) why he believed women feel "calm" when they meet "the guy." He explained--condescendingly--that I needed to watch estrogen-fueled music videos from the 80s, re-read Romeo and Juliet, and pay attention to how horses in estrus go nuts until they find their mate and calm down. "That's how it is for girls," he explained, finishing his e-mail.




Further questions revealed that not only was this an adult male reader's opinion on how teenage girls feel, but he had never had a girlfriend in his life. I had a sneaking suspicion that I probably shouldn't listen to "how to write girls' attraction experiences" advice from a man who compared women to horses in heat (or, well, anyone who thinks Romeo and Juliet is about romance).

So what did I do?

Instead of assuming he was full of crap, I went to the source: I posted a question on my blog asking female readers who'd experienced a crush to tell me, in a couple sentences, what had been going through their minds when they laid eyes on the object of their affection for the first time. I got this:


oh my god, oh my god, oh my god! is he really coming to sit down next to me? oh my god! he's so cute! he's probably just being friendly, so don't be spastic. (and then when he's gone, i start imagining how he'll ask me out, and then i imagine how we'll get married and what our babies will be like and so on.)
*

How can I let him know I'm interested without scaring him off or being too obvious?

Wow, he's really cute.
I am totally checking out his package.
Niceeee.
How can I get us alone so I can snog the crap out of him?
I wonder if he likes me or if he's just being nice?

*

Ohmygod ohmygod, she's so pretty, even her freckles and grey hairs are pretty, is she sitting over here? I better sit one space apart so I don't look like Stalky McStalkerson. Oh my god, what do I say, how do I say it, she's actually talking to me, oh my god. (Accompanied by chihuahua-esque shaking.)

*

Shiiiiit, he's cute!

Don't act stupid! Act smart!
Do I have pimples? Left side or right side? LEFT SIDE OR RIGHT SIDE!!?! Left side, ok. Don't touch them, did I just touch one? Crap, maybe if I just keep looking left he won't notice them.

Being that there was no indication from any of these women that they felt calm and sated and permeated with a sense that all was right with the world, I did not change anything about the scene. I'm a little disappointed to say that my reader was actually offended that I did not take his advice, and even in the face of "these women say you're wrong," he insisted that he did in fact know better than all of us what women feel:

Right or wrong, though, I do believe I've got it doped out -- that's the way most of them feel. Probably nothing you can say will make me change that opinion. There's no shame in it, either. Okay, it's your baby. It's not me, specifically, you have to convince,... it's your audience. Good luck to you. I stand by what I wrote. Sorry.

"Sorry" is right, in this case. When you have a reader who is speaking for and speaking over readers who actually have the relevant knowledge and experience, you don't have to listen to him. Listen to people who have the experience or knowledge that would naturally lead to them being the expert. And more importantly, listen to them as authorities especially if you are not one. If my reader there had been a writer, and believed himself to be possessed of special insight into the female psyche in spite of actual feedback from female readers, he might as well not ask for feedback.

And if you ARE getting comments from an authority that suggest you've made a mistake:

Ask for clarification, don't argue. You may consider preemptively asking questions to avoid this--for instance, recently I asked my friend who's a nurse what the hospital admissions process is like so I wouldn't make a laughable mistake when my protagonist was in an accident. I had to change a scene because a friend who used to be in law enforcement told me a cop would never enter someone's house without a warrant in a situation like the one I described. I adjusted how a male character acted because a male friend called out a couple quirks that made him seem girlier than I intended him to be. I changed the wording on a scientific fact because one of my readers remembered high school chemistry better than I did. You should always be open to accepting that you might be wrong, but always consider the source, and don't take advice from people who have no business giving it.

And finally, Number Three: Is your reader your target audience?


Sometimes it will be very clear that a reader's feedback is not appropriate because they aren't in the demographic you're aiming at and are speaking from a place of ignorance. Once I received the following feedback from a contest judge in a writing competition:

I don't see why this story has to have a supernatural element to it, why it can't be a plain straightforward going away to college story. Am not very sympathetic to supernatural element [ . . . ] think it's a mistake, doubt author has the writing gifts to mesh supernatural tale with ordinary coming-of-age going away to college story. Author has lost me [ . . . ] have no patience for this sort of thing. Pity, because otherwise, author writes competently and intelligently, and has created intelligent character [ . . . ].

Here you can see an example of a biased reader. He doesn't want to read speculative fiction; therefore, his advice is that coming-of-age college stories and fantasy elements simply do not mix, and he believes I don't have the writing gifts to make this work. Because he doesn't like that kind of story, so why would anyone write it?

I didn't have a choice about who I got judged by, in this case, but when you offer your work to beta readers, try to avoid people who are actively disinterested in your genre, and try especially to attract readers who are in the demographic you're aiming for. You absolutely need to make sure that if you've written a YA book, you get some actual young adults to read it--not just the other writers in your critique group. They may very well be wonderful critics, but you will miss the special perspective of a particular population if you don't actually try it out on any of them.

So what did I do?

Nothing, in this case. If you get feedback that basically says "this never works" or "I don't like this kind of story, so it sucks," you're not on the same page with your reader, and they aren't going to be able to be fair to you. I'm not going to change what my story is actually about because I got a reader who doesn't like the genre; you can't please everyone. But you should try to please the people in the demographic you're aiming at, and you should try to get readers who are in similar situations to those of your characters so they can provide special insight. (Oddly enough, despite this negative comment from the judge, my entry did advance to the next round of that contest. . . .)


And if you ARE getting calls to change elements of your book from people in your desired demographic:

Ask questions if you need to, but always be willing to give extra weight to the comments of someone who's similar to your characters or who reads a lot in the genre. You can ask them questions like "If I changed X, would that make a difference?" or ask them to tell you stories about their sport, their college, their profession. Anecdotal accounts can inspire you with better effect than faking it and then asking an authentic member of your intended demographic to clean it up for you.

I have taken old-fashioned phrases out of my modern-day book based on younger people saying "we don't call it that anymore." I've adjusted the religious perspective of a character because a religious reader said the perspective was way more conservative than I thought the character should be. I've changed terms that certain groups wouldn't use to describe themselves based on those groups' preferences. But I don't take my stories in directions readers outside my intended demographic want me to. You can ignore feedback from people who are trying to make your story about them.

And that's it! In a nutshell: ALWAYS LISTEN TO AND CONSIDER ALL FEEDBACK, BUT NEVER, NEVER ACCEPT THAT YOUR CRITICS AUTOMATICALLY KNOW BETTER THAN YOU DO. Too often I've seen authors get bullied into believing all criticism is equally valid and readers can't be wrong, but if you can remember to always consider the frequency of the complaint, consider the source, and consider your intended audience, you should be well equipped to distinguish between feedback you should discard and feedback you should heed.

Tuesday, October 8, 2013

New short story and I'm back in the saddle

So I haven't written any new fiction this year.

The last short story I completed, "In Love With Love," was written in September of 2012. And except for a somewhat minor rewrite/reorganization of some stuff in Bad Fairy, I haven't been writing fiction at all. As mentioned in a few blog posts, I felt I was a little too emotionally drained by the submissions process to feel particularly creative, so I focused on my nonfiction and ended up getting representation for THAT and going on submission for THAT. (It's going well, thanks, but nothing I get to report yet!)

As a way of being in the writing world without actually doing any writing, I plugged in pretty hard reading blogs, helping with contests, coaching writers on their queries, editing for others, all that fun stuff. And I've been blogging, tweeting, reading, running webcomics, making videos, popping up in the media--all pretty hardcore. But the down side of all the Internet partying with writers is seeing them all Actually Writing and knowing I'm just not doing it.

I've been missing it, and I want to start writing the next book in the Bad Fairy series, but when I start a book it just comes so hard and fast that I don't know if I can do that to myself while dealing with the other stress of being on submission. I decided to test out my ability to create fiction in this mental environment by working on a short story.

Banged out 5,000 words in a couple days. No problem, though that's a little slow for me. The story wasn't done when I had another idea and decided to knock that one out first since it was a smaller idea and it was a rewrite/reimagining of a story I already wrote in 1997. I finished it yesterday.

I'm happy with it, complete at 5,000 words. It's a slightly queer fantasy story with mother/daughter themes, featuring a peculiar nameless narrator who is not the story's focus character. My protagonist is challenging to write because she does not have the ability to speak. But the story was also difficult to write for a different reason.

I was very self-conscious while writing the story. I think that's why it was slow--it took me more than a week to write it. I've been reading so many blogs and listening to so much writing advice that I think it's caught me in the middle of digestion and I'm trying to use what I'm still learning as a framework while I'm creating within it. I have a new perspective on how frustrating it is if you're one of those people who keeps mercilessly self-editing while you're writing. I never used to do that before.

I found myself getting irritated over my tendency to use too many words to say something simple. I kept picking on myself for using thought verbs or wondering if my exposition looked too bald. I kept asking myself if I was moving the story forward fast enough and if it was clearly going toward something definable--was there enough tension? Was I escalating things properly? Could I really spend only 5,000 words on someone's story and still lay down clear roots for the characters and their alternate culture while telling a mother/daughter story and solving a problem?

I know being hyper aware of my process is a natural effect of learning new techniques and improving my craft, and I know it'll all absorb smoothly someday soon, but right now I feel like I'm thinking around it too much and I don't like it. It's like getting a new pair of shoes and breaking them in. Or are you breaking your feet in and letting the shoes shape them? I can't help thinking it's the latter. Things will be comfortable again once my feet fit in the shoes, and I don't want that to happen by scuffing them up and relaxing their definition. I want them to be presentable and shiny, but I need to be comfortable wearing them or I'm just going to look awkward walking around.

I'm glad I'm having a chance to get this out of my system before attempting to write my next book.

I'll fine-tune this one and continue to write the other one, and maybe I'll look for a test reader or two. (Holler if a 5,000-word alternate-world mother/daughter relationship story about a girl's coming of age sounds cool to you. Or if you know a magazine I might submit to; fantasy-specific magazines with an interest in LGBT stories would be a plus, though I have my eye on two particular ones already.) I'll fiddle with this stuff and move forward with the process, and by the time I'm ready to start a novel again, hopefully my feet will fit in the shoes without the awkwardness.