Attending AWP 2016 in Los Angeles, Mar 30-Apr 2

AWP2016LAI’ll be at AWP for the rest of this week and over the weekend. If you don’t know what AWP is, it’s basically the convention for academic literary writers. More emphasis on panels, and a huge dealer’s room where magazines, presses, and MFA programs (among others) have set up their tables.

Or in their words:

AWP provides support, advocacy, resources, and community to nearly 50,000 writers, 550 college and university creative writing programs, and 150 writers’ conferences and centers. Our mission is to foster literary achievement, advance the art of writing as essential to a good education, and serve the makers, teachers, students, and readers of contemporary writing.

I’m giving a reading on Saturday at 1:30 p.m., along with several other fantastic women writers of SF/F: Cat Rambo, Camielle Griep, and Helena Bell.

Over the past 10 years, the number of women nominated for science fiction and fantasy awards has surged, a phenomenon that occurred only a handful of times in the 50 years prior. Many believe women are only now discovering genre fiction, although Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein is widely regarded as the first science fiction novel. Listen to four award-winning and nominated women who write science fiction and fantasy read from their work and answer questions.

That’s my only programming item, but I’ll be around. Come say hi!

A Toast to Steven Universe

The following two things are true.

  1. I paint pottery at Color Me Mine.
  2. I really love Steven Universe.

If you don’t know what Steven Universe is, it’s this great cartoon show. It’s entertaining for kids, but also exists on a level for adults in which it is more sophisticated and intelligent than almost anything else on TV. If queer anthropomorphic alien superhero gems appeal to you, watch it. What else can I say?

Clearly, I need lots of Steven Universe pottery, mostly various kinds of cups. Clearly. Here are my designs.

Pottery contains spoilers. Do not peruse if you haven’t seen to the end of season 2, and want to do so unspoiled.

A Steven Mug with Feet

Steven Universe mug my ipadSteven Universe mug MH's ipad

I think this was Mike’s idea to start with. I painted a mug in this shape last year for my father, using the Hawaiian shirts he wears as inspiration. All of a sudden, Mike, in the car driving to or from Los Angelos, exclaimed, “You should do a Steven mug with Feet!”

It’s pretty simple to paint. A Steven-flesh color on the stomach and feet, with red for the shirt and sandals. A star marked out on the chest in yellow. A pink gem on the belly–I can either paint one to be shiny or use a gem, but that will affect whether it’s dishwasher safe.

I put in two pictures just to show the difference between the way I was using the drawing program without the stylus (left) and what becomes more possible with a fancy one on the new ipad (right). (I borrowed the latter, alas.)

NOM NOM Amethyst Mug

Amethyst mug

There’s an excellent mug at Color Me Mine that has a big slot in it where you can store a cookie. The paintings I’ve seen other people on it are really cute–monsters, muppets, zombies. I’ve always wanted to make one, but never had quite the right match.

Now? Amethyst. Definitely.

Pearl Wine Glass

Pearl WineWine pearl squiggle smile

Mike picked this one out, too — I kept trying to look for things that were simply tall and narrow, while Mike figured out that Pearl would look adorable as a big funnel-shaped head.

Plan to just paint it white. I’ll likely do the gem with paint, not with a 3D gem — that works better with something like Steven’s quartz than it would with a pearl. (And I’ll probably paint Steven’s too, really.)

I’m not sure whether to use the curve smile, or the wicked wrinkly smile. I *could* do one face on each side, but I think that would be creepy. Mike is a wholehearted fan of the wrinkly smile. I like it, too, although I also like the idea of having a wine glass that just shows Pearl being Pearl.

Garnetini
Garnet Margarita

Something else Mike picked out. I love using the shape of the pottery to influence the designs, and he’s really good at spotting those shapes. Should be pretty easy to do with masking to keep the lines crisp, except for the glasses, which I hope I can make look as shiny and cool as they should.

She Is Made of Love

Sapphire plus Ruby mug

Color Me Mine ALSO has a pair of mugs that fit together like the divided pieces of one of those heart lockets that features in a hundred farces. One side: Ruby and Sapphire. The other: Garnet.

I made this before I was using a stylus or the zoom function on my ipad, so doing a rough line sketch was all I felt able to attempt. I’ll do the cartoons in the colors from the show, but I’m not sure what I’m going to do with the background yet.

NOM NOM Lion

lion mugI’m not sure I’ll make this because I’m not sure I want to have two NOM NOM mugs in the set, but so far this is the best idea I’ve had for Lion.

She Is REALLY Made of Love

Garnet heart plate

While I’m including ones I’m not sure I’ll do, there’s this heart plate.

I’ll post updates when I have some painted!

Flashback to 2008: “Marrying the Sun”

For a while, I was linking weekly (from my twitter and facebook) to stories of mine from the past decade. I let it lapse, but I thought I’d pick it up again on some Mondays. So:

Marrying the Sun,” published in 2008 by Fantasy Magazine.

I wrote this story because of a prompt from Vylar Kaftan. She gave me the opening line:

The wedding went well until the bride caught fire.

I’ve been obsessed with Greek mythology since I was a kid, which might be why my first, strange thought was to pair the burning bride with the Greek sun god, Helios.

marked for reuse from this site: http://moonstarsandpaper.blogspot.com/2006_10_01_archive.htmlBridget’s pretty white dress went up in a whoosh, from train-length veil to taffeta skirt to rose-embroidered bodice and Juliet cap with ferronière of pearls. The fabric burned so hot and fast that it went up without igniting Bridget’s skin, leaving her naked, singed, embarrassed, and crying.

Of these problems, nudity was easiest to cope with. Bridget pulled the silk drape off the altar and tied it around her chest like a toga.

“That is it,” she said. She pried the engagement ring off her finger and threw it at the groom. The grape-sized diamond sparkled as it arced through the air.

Gathering up the drape’s hem, Bridget ran back down the aisle. She flung open the double doors, letting in the moonlight, and fled into the night.

The groom sighed. He opened his palm and stared down at the glittering diamond, which reflected his fiery nimbus in shades of crimson, ginger, and gold. His best man patted him on the shoulder—cautiously. The bride’s father gave a manly nod of sympathy, but kept his distance. Like his daughter, he was mortal.

“Too bad, Helios,” said Apollo.

The groom shrugged. “I gave it my best shot. I can’t keep my flame on low all the time. What did the woman want? Sometimes a man’s just got to let himself shine.”

I don’t do a lot of humor, but with that opening line, what can you do?

I workshopped this during my last semester at Iowa where it got good reception from the other students. No one seemed to mind much that it was fantasy. I really do think the boundaries are dissolving–which I love, because I hope it means more people will be able to find more fiction they’re excited about.

Also, that means it’s been 8 years since I graduated from my MFA. Weird.

This was one of my first breakthrough stories, though the big breakthroughs–“Eros, Philia, Agape” and “A Memory of Wind”–came out the next year. Jonathan Strahan picked it for his Best Science Fiction and Fantasy, Volume 3.

If you read it, I hope you enjoy.

 

Favorite Fiction Recommendation: “Magic in a Certain Slant of Light”

I met Deborah Coates when I was in graduate school at the University of Iowa. She and I were in a writers group together with a lot of other people. We called it Dragons of the Corn.

Deb writes beautiful magical realism, fantasy and science fiction. At one point, she was tossing around the term “rural fantasy.” Her prose is lovely, and the moods she creates are delicate and pervasive.

“Magic in a Certain Slant of Light” is one of my favorites of her short stories. Take a look at the beginning:

magic in a certain slant“If you could wish for something magical, what would you wish for?” Jeff asks Nora as he enters the kitchen.

Jeff has been gone all day, helping a friend fix the plumbing in his basement. There’s no “Hello,” or “How was your day?” Just Jeff, in the doorway, asking about magic. “It can’t be about yourself,” he continues. “I mean, like making yourself immortal. Or about world peace. It has to be—”

“Talking dogs,” Nora says.

Jeff smiles in that way he has that seems to change his face. He’s wearing faded jeans and a sweatshirt that’s been washed so many times its cuffs are all unraveled; it’s a change from pin-striped suits and crisp white shirts. “You know, Dexter made a dog talk once and it didn’t work out like he figured it would. That dog was annoying.”

“Well, I don’t know how to tell you this”—Nora chops onions under running water, then transfers them to the frying pan on the stove—”but I don’t rely on Dexter’s Laboratory for my scientific knowledge.”

“Talking dogs are not scientific.”

“Yeah, magical.” Nora turns the heat up on the pan and looks through the cupboards for the spices that she needs. She swears that they’re never where she put them, no matter how often she returns them to their proper place. “That’s what we were talking about, right? Magic? You tell me, what would you wish for?”

“Zeppelins,” he says without hesitation.

“Uhm, zeppelins actually exist.”

He stands in the kitchen doorway, slouched against the frame, and she knows that he will leave her. There is something in the way he looks, a shadow in his eye, that wasn’t there yesterday or even this morning. And it almost kills her, like being stabbed right through the heart, because he’s the only one she ever really loved.

“Zeppelins,” he says, crossing to her and putting his arms around her waist from behind as she turns back to the stove, “are a collective figment of the imagination.”

“Zeppelins are totally possible. Plus, you can ride in one.”

He kisses the back of her neck and it feels like the soft brush of sun-warmed honey. “Bring me a zeppelin,” he says. His words murmur against her skin as he talks and she can feel his smile through the small hairs along the nape of her neck. “Then I’ll believe you.”

“Bring me a talking dog.”

You can read the story at Strange Horizons, or listen at PodCastle. Even if you don’t, I hope you consider checking out the rest of Deb’s work.

By the way, since the story involves talking dogs, I may as well show off a picture of Deb’s. The photograph is from Deb’s site, taken by Rachel Ritland.

Deb's dogs

 

Silly interview with Darusha Wehm, pink-haired sailor.

Darusha_Wehm_authorphotoDarusha Wehm is a Canadian-born New Zealander who spent YEARS SAILING THE PACIFIC, which is pretty freaking cool. She’s got several novels out, a number of short stories, and she also publishes mainstream fiction (without the ‘m’ in her name).
Darusha was kind enough to consent to a silly interview, in which I bugged her a lot about the YEARS SAILING THE PACIFIC thing, because, as I mentioned, freaking cool.
*
1) I’m always intrigued by authors’ diverse histories, especially the ones that sound like they could be from adventure novels. You spent a few years traveling at sea. What was the most surprising thing about living on the water?
I suspect people expect an answer about wildlife or weather or self-sufficiency, and I certainly did learn plenty of interesting things about those aspects of my journey. But for me, the most surprising thing about my time sailing was the incredible sense of community among the other people I met along the way.
Other sailors and many locals are incredibly free with their time, fuel and supplies when someone needs help. It’s as if everyone is that best friend who drops everything on their only day off to come help you with a project gone wrong that you should probably never have attempted in the first place. I’ve seen people risk their lives to help a boater in trouble who they’ve never even met.
It’s like we are a small town, the exact population of which is constantly changing as boats move to different places. But in every port and every anchorage your neighbours are there, ready to have an improptu potluck party. You might never have met these particular neighbours before, but that doesn’t matter. You’re all still a part of the community.
2) You write and edit crime/mystery fiction as well as science fiction and fantasy. What appeals to you about mysteries?
 
I like puzzles. I also love stories that are about the intimate problems of ordinary people’s lives. Many mystery and crime stories have both of those elements, which draw me to them. Also, I like reading about how people deal with situations where bad things happen. To me, fiction can be a way to test drive another life, another set of possible choices, and seeing the extreme ends of those choices helps me calibrate my own moral compass.
3) Would you write, or have you written, a mystery novel about a character traveling at sea?
When I was travelling, people often asked if I was going to write about sailing and I always said no.  I was too caught up the in the everyday life to see the possibilities for fiction. But now that I’m a land person again, I’ve started a series that revolves around a sailing crew travelling the world. It’s not a mystery, but who knows what I might write in the future.
After living on a boat for seven years, I can tell you that the most common mystery aboard is, “What’s that noise?” I’m not sure how well that would translate to written fiction.
4) I’ve only been to the North Island, but everything I’ve seen in New Zealand is gorgeous. Why did you decide to settle in Wellington? What didn’t you expect about living there?
 
Even though I was born and raised in Canada, Wellington is my mother’s hometown, and she always spoke of it with great fondness. It’s the seat of government here, so had a lot of job opportunities for my partner and as one of those artsy, small cities, has a great culture scene which worked well for us both. Plus, it’s absolutley stunning (when it isn’t blowing a gale).
The most surprising thing to me about Wellington is how at home I feel here. I lived on the boat for the first few years I was here, and since the boat was my home, everywhere I was when I was on it felt at least somewhat familiar. But Wellington, wonderful as it is, is a terrible place to live on a boat — it is, by many measures, the windiest city in the world. Once I moved ashore, I expected to feel more alien here, but I don’t. I am an obvious immigrant with my noticiable accent, and small talk with new people always involves the question, “Where are you from?” However, I feel completely comfortable here and have developed a strange attachment to this little city.
5) You have beautiful purple and magenta hair in your author photo. Do you still have it?
Thank you and I do! I’ve had lots of hair colours and styles over the years and I think this is my favourite.
6) Any upcoming projects or events you’d like to share?
I recently released the first in the aforementioned sailing series, called Devi Jones’ Locker. The first book is Packet Trade and it’s available in ebook and paperback from the usual online stores. Folks can find out more about it and my other books at my website http://darusha.ca
Here’s the blurb:
Tropical adventures. A rag-tag sailing crew. Running off-grid data servers? Sounds legit.
Devi Jones is a year away from graduating with a Computer Science degree and it’s internship time. But usually the ship part isn’t quite so literal. She gets hired by Really Remote Desktop, a cloud data storage company that keeps their servers in odd places, like the bilge of a hundred-foot sailboat.
How can a homebody like Devi step on to a boat with six strangers and sail away from everything she has ever known? All while trying to do her best at her first real job? Being in a tropical paradise helps — but only until things start to go wrong.

Kind Words for My Stories

Thank you to the reviewers.

Quicksip reviews writes about “Love Is Never Still:”

It’s mythic in its scope and in its characters but there’s also something deeply human about it (something that can be said about a lot of Greek mythology, I suppose), something that shows how love can lift up and love can shatter. The characters are compelling even as they are presented in breathes, brief touches that become a tapestry of longing and violence and design. The two storylines balance each other quite nicely, showing love as pursued, and women especially as objects that aren’t really considered people, are there to be fought over or prayed for.

John Wiswell writes about “Between Dragons and Their Wrath:”

No short story has haunted me more in the last month than this. The dragons are a metaphysical terror, casting a shadow of mutations across the landscape of two absolutely lovely characters. With scenes whipping by, each has a punch, even in the last line.

Reviewing The Nebula Showcase 2015, Craig Owen Jones writes that “The Nebulas are not about elitism, but about giving a platform to good sci-fi stories.”

As usual, there’s much here of worth. The winner of the Best Short Story category, Rachel Swirsky’s ‘If You Were a Dinosaur, My Love’, is a moving and elegiac tale of lost love. Elegantly expressed and formally perfect, it builds delightfully to its poignant climax.[.]

 

 

“Love Is Never Still” featured in Mary Robinette’s My Favorite Bit

My short story “Love Is Never Still” is featured today on Mary Robinette Kowal’s blog. For the My Favorite Bit series, authors write short essays about their favorite parts of their work.

I cheated a little, but only because it’s honestly true: “My favorite bit about “Love Is Never Still” is probably also my least favorite bit: the complex layers I built in over the course of four months of intense revision.”

In the essay, I discuss the techniques I used to layer complexity into the prose so that the sentences were densely packed with multiple meanings and purposes. I’m really proud of how the story came out, but it was a lot of work.

Read the essay here: http://maryrobinettekowal.com/journal/my-favorite-bit/favorite-bit-rachel-swirsky-talks-love-never-still/

Fan art: My Goodbye to Old Man’s War

My favorite part of the Old Man’s War series is listening to Scalzi tell stories and make jokes. He has a clear and polished voice and a great sense of comic timing which are disarming to “listen” to, on his blog or in his books.

Because John’s books are easy reads, and his prose relatively simple, I’ve heard people call his prose “transparent.” I think I’ve said it, too, actually. But on reflection, Scalzi’s prose is not transparent–although it’s easy to read, it’s also calibrated to catch the reader’s attention at one point, distract at another, deliver a punchline at a third. The prose isn’t just a mirror you look through to get to the story. It’s a calculated part of the reading experience.

I think of John Scalzi as belonging to a category of “storytelling” writers–writers whose authorial voices are the disarming strength of their work, like Neil Gaiman and Ursula Vernon.

A few weeks ago, I wrote Scalzi and asked if he had any directions for drawing a picture of Old Man’s War’s main character, John Perry. Scalzi said he’d imagined Perry with Caucasian features, but otherwise, I should go for it. I didn’t even manage to follow that trivial note.

In case you haven’t read the series, the main character, John Perry, is an old man who is uploaded and reborn into a fit young body in order to fight a dangerous space war. A fit, young green body.

That’s right. Kermit said it first.

It isnt easy being green

It isn’t easy being green.

Thank you. I’ll be here all night.