Silly Interview with Debra Jess and Her Incredibly Handsome & Hunky Sidekick

RS: In your bio, you say that your writing combines your love of fairy tales and Star Wars. You also write in a bunch of different genres. Do you write them singly or mix them up?

DJ: This was a question I had to give a lot of thought to. I don’t really mix-up genres so much as I dig deep into subgenres.

In the taxonomy of genre fiction, there is science-fiction, fantasy, romance, mystery, horror, western, and inspirational. Every single one of these genres has subgenres

When I decided to write Blood Surfer, I knew two things: 1) it would have superheroes and 2) it would have a romance. I didn’t give much thought as to which romance subgenre it would fall into until I had finished the manuscript. At that point I needed to figure out how I was going to market it. Around that same time I received an invitation to join the Science Fiction Romance Brigade. Before I could join, they needed to know if Blood Surfer was a science fiction romance, as opposed to a fantasy romance. When I looked back over my manuscript I realized I had created superheroes whose powers are created by their biology. There’s no magic involved, no arcane symbols, no mysterious shadows. I don’t spend a lot of pages detailing the biology, but it still falls into the genre of romance and the subgenre of science fiction.

Blood Surfer is also has thriller elements in that it’s very fast-paced, there’s a really big bad bang that will happen if the heroes don’t prevail, and a rip-roaring fight at the end.

 

RS) What kinds of things do you see in romance that you wish there was more of in science fiction?

DJ: HEA, or Happily Ever Afters, even if it’s not a romantic HEA. If not that, then HFN, Happy for Now (used when writing a series). Growing up in the 70s, I had a rude awakening after watching Star Wars. My dad, who worked for a newspaper, would buy boxes of books whenever the newspaper would sell the books mailed in for review. There were a lot of science fiction in those boxes because he knew how much I loved Star Wars, but every single one of the books he gave me ended with the hero dead, or these long, drawn-out pyrrhic victories that left me feeling disappointed or distressed. I was too young at the time to understand Star Was was more space fantasy or space opera than traditional science fiction. Luckily, my father didn’t give too much thought to what he was buying me, so there were also boxes filled with romances, mostly regencies or contemporaries. With maturity, I began to appreciate a less than HEA in a book, but I still prefer the HEAs you get with romances.

RS) What is your superhero name?

DJ: Agent Jess, International Woman of Mystery.

RS) Tell me about the first issue of the comic book based on your secret life as a superhero.

DJ: I first report to headquarters where my boss gives me a new assignment: stop Eric the Evil from wrecking havoc all over some exotic locale (preferably some place with beaches). Then I swing by a swanky bachelor pad to pick up my incredibly handsome and hunky sidekick (because what’s the point of having a sidekick if he isn’t handsome and hunky). We climb aboard our private jet aircraft (using our government issued credit cards) and plot how to take down EtE while enjoying several rounds of fruity drinks. Upon arrival, we track down EtE where I give him and his hench-horts (a cross between henchmen and cohorts) a big, bloody beatdown while engaging in witty repartee with my sidekick who’s busy protecting the civilians who gaze in awe at my prowess. Finally, EtE surrenders, exhausted of all witty comebacks. Then I toss EtE over to my still handsome and hunky sidekick who secures him in our indestructible and highly secure bounce house. The sidekick and I retire for a late afternoon stroll on the beach hand-in-hand (I did mention I write romances, remember?).

RS) You say that you write about ordinary people in extraordinary situations. What is it about that combination that appeals to you?

DJ: The idea that anyone, anywhere, at any time can rise to the occasion and save the day. Superhero storylines use this device all the time. Steve Rogers tried so hard to become a soldier, knowing deep down he already had the heart and the attitude of one. When he becomes Captain America, he’s already a superhero, but now his outsides matches his insides. Alternatively, Superman can leap tall buildings in a single bound, but Clark Kent still needs a day job to his pay rent and buy groceries. They are mirror images of ordinary people in extraordinary situations.

In Blood Surfer, Hannah was born with her Alt power. She can cure anyone of any wound or illness without a second thought, but she’s on the run from those who would abuse her powers. Scott has no powers when he meets Hannah, but he still disobeys orders and protects her when he knows he’s supposed to arrest her. Scott makes a brave choice knowing he could lose everything he’s worked so hard to achieve: a job he loves, his home, and his friends. That’s what heroes, not just superheroes, do.

RS) Any projects or anything else you’d like to talk about?

DJ: I’m having a lot of fun playing with my Thunder City superhero series. A Secret Rose and Blood Hunter (books 1.5 and 2) are now available. This year, I’ll be releasing A Secret Life and A Secret Love (books 2.5. and 2.6) and next year, I hope release book 3 currently titled Blood Avenger.

In the meantime, I have a couple of short stories available: Shaped By You is available in the December 2018 issue of Heart’s Kiss magazine, and Blood & Armor which is available in the Fragments of Darkness anthology.

If anyone is interested in exploring the Science Fiction Romance subgenre, I would recommend Portals published by the Science Fiction Romance Brigade. There are seven volumes of first chapters written by SFR authors. All seven volumes are free, so you can get a taste of what SFR has to offer.

Silly Interview with Henry Lien, but Also Lots of Cute Bird Pictures

(This interview was originally posted on my Patreon. Thank you, patrons!)

RS: You own birds. Tell us about the birds. Provide pictures of the birds.

I can only speak about the parrot family. Parrots, including small parrots like my two conures (miniature parrots), give us a fascinating glimpse into evolution. They are like a combination between dogs and cats. They are so smart, like little dogs that can fly and sing or talk and they are very relational, including with their humans. They have huge personalities for just 30-50 grams of pet. On the other hand, their moods and emotional landscapes are so complicated and swiftly changing, like cats. But because they are as relational to humans as dogs, they are never aloof. When they are pissed at you, they don’t go off and sulk. They let you know it and aggressively punish you for it. They are very good at communicating their moods to you with every method of expression they have, including calls, songs, and biting. When you spend time with parrots, it is easy to imagine that some form of dinosaur might have evolved to human-level intelligence in the past 65 million years if that asteroid hadn’t struck. I, for one, would welcome a planet ruled by parrot  overlords.

Pictures of my parrot overlords attached.  

RS: Can I come meet the birds sometime? Do they like people? I promise not to bring the cats.

They love human visitors! They have free reign of my house, so they will land on you and answer when you talk to them and generally be very social and relational. Until you do something that startles them and then they will fly away and scream because you have turned into a horrible monster. Their worlds are filled with drama.

RS: Your fiction often takes place in a fictional Hong Kong where a number of East Asian cultures are blended. What does this allow you to do, and what challenges does it cause for you?

It’s more of a fictional Taiwan that I call the island of Pearl. The blending of East Asian cultures is intentional and authentic. Taiwan was colonized by the Japanese for fifty years. My parents’ generation grew up with Japanese names and spoke Japanese and love Japanese food, music, etc. The relationship between China and Taiwan is very complex. When the Nationalists came over from mainland China and took over from the Japanese, they massacred tens of thousands of intellectuals and other figures perceived as threats in the Taiwanese populace. So Taiwan is a complicated, divided culture, which I find so interesting, and I reflect that in Pearl. Further, I feel strongly that fantasy writers of East Asian descent should be allowed to experiment and blend and play with East Asian culture. Writers of Western fantasy get to mix influences from multiple European cultures at once into their invented cultures. Neighboring cultures influence each other. The patterns of trade, war, conquest, and interaction mean that it is unrealistic to expect any but the most unusually isolated of cultures to remain uninfluenced by neighboring cultures. I love exploring cultural fusion in my life and in my writing.

RS: Skating is a major theme in your young adult novel. Do you skate?

I took figure skating and kung fu lessons as research for my stories set in the world of Pearl, including the PEASPROUT CHEN novels, which features a form of martial arts on bladed skates. My skills in both sports were appalling. But that was instructive. I learned that those are two sports where balance and flexibility are at least as important as brute strength and that there are things that lithe girls and young women can do that no man could ever do. I wanted to invent a sport that played to girls’ strengths and how girls are physically different from boys. My failures on the ice helped me write a book that was all about girl power. Also, the books are actually middle grade, not young adult, although they read like YA because they are intensely ambitious and the prose is quite elevated.

RS: Can you link to one of your favorite artists and describe what you love about their work?

I hope this isn’t spammy but actually, my Dad. I make my living as an author now but still deal art for fun on the side and he’s my top-selling artist. He does photography, including infrared photography. I’m a wordy person but it’s hard to put into words the emotion in his work. Here are a few images:

He only started less than three years ago, after he retired from being an engineer, but he’s taken off like a rocket. His work is already in museum and corporate collections. Art has given him a new life at this late stage of life and our relationship is so much richer because of it. I call him The Artist Formerly Known As Dad. Here’s his website: www.fongchilien.com.

RS: What’s the most adventurous thing you’ve ever done?

Hard question. I’m a shy, introspective, cautious, and solitary person by nature. But I also know that my life will be richer if I force myself to widen my comfort zone. I’ve made some whiplash career changes, including going from lawyering to dealing art and now to be a working author. I would say that the most adventurous thing I ever did was enter into a relationship with my former partner knowing at the outset that he had terminal cancer and then devising a logical, working system to continue communicating with him after he died. And then sharing that story very publicly. You can read it here. http://interfictions.com/supplemental-declaration-of-henry-lien-henry-lien/ Every bold and frightening life decision I have made has enriched my life. They have given me the sense that the world is filled with mystery and meaning and adventure, if you decide that it is going to be so.

RS: My favorite thing about “The Ladies’ Aquatic Gardening Society” is the wealth of rich, often disturbing detail you collected from the Gilded Age. Can you describe how you did that research? Was there anything amazing that didn’t make it onto the page?

I did a lot of reading about the social lives of the Grandes Dames of the Gilded Age and spent a lot of time at the spectacular Huntington Library and Gardens. The research wrote much of the story for me, because every one of the outrageous, excessive, repulsive parties depicted in the story was real. The breathtaking arrogance of the Gilded Age towards animals, the environment, and the working class and other disenfranchised populations provided such fertile, infuriating material to work with. The suffocating social strictures placed on women of this class were also great material. It was fascinating and depressing to learn what women of clear intelligence and talent did when they were allowed no meaningful endeavor towards which to employ their gifts. Nothing amazing failed to make it onto the page, but one thing almost failed to get included because I didn’t know about it. Connie Willis mentored me on this story at Clarion West. She was the one who told me the true story about the dinner party held by a society dame where the table was lined with a sand dune in which were buried real emeralds, rubies, and diamonds, which the guests were to search for with a shovel and bucket, as party favors. Thanks for that one, Connie. The story is available for free in print and podcast form here.

RS: Will you provide us with a vegan recipe?

I love sharing vegan recipes! The problem is that I never measure anything. I just look and taste. Here is a three course Taiwanese meal that I made recently. All vegan, soy-free, gluten-free, lowish-carb. Picture attached. If anyone is really interested, email me atinfo [at] henrylien [dot] com and I will jot down measurements next time I make it.

a. Cucumbers marinated in Bragg liquid amino (soy and gluten free soy sauce alternative), sesame oil, chopped garlic, and red pepper flakes.

b. Bean sprouts, celery, shiitake mushrooms, peanuts, scallions, stir-fried in sauce made of Bragg, sesame, white pepper, and star anise, garnished with cilantro.

c. Green beans stir-fried with button mushrooms, scallions, Beyond Beef pea protein beefless ground, stir-fried with white wine, Bragg, sesame oil, sriracha.

RS: Anything else you’d like to say? Say it loud, say it proud, say it here.

I’m really proud of my first novel PEASPROUT CHEN, FUTURE LEGEND OF SKATE AND SWORD, which the New York Times described as “Hermione Granger meets Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon meets the Ice Capades meets Mean Girls.” And the sequel PEASPROUT CHEN: BATTLE OF CHAMPIONS is even better. I write theme songs to accompany the PEASPROUT CHEN books and Idina Menzel, the star of Frozen, Wicked, Rent, and Glee, sang one of them with me at my book launch in April. I’d be honored if you’d take a look at the video of us singing it here: www.henrylien.com/peasproutchen.

RS: Now, dear reader, as your reward — have more parrot pictures.

Silly Interview with Krystal Claxton, Universe’s Foremost Expert on U.S. Geography

(This interview was originally posted on my Patreon. Thank you, patrons!)

A few years ago, I put together some silly interviews full of silly questions for my fellow authors. A number of them fell through the publication cracks then, so I’m running them now with updates.

(Krystal Claxton)

RS: Heinlein’s rules! In your bio itself, you mention that you “frequently disobeys Heinlein’s Rules.” Me, too. Which ones do you disobey most? Do any of them get on your nerves and jump up and down?

KC: I’m pretty bad at following Rule #3 “refrain from rewriting.” I tend to both write out of order and write way, way too many words for a given story and both of these leave me with an inclination for tinkering.

But let’s be honest. We all know #1 “You must write” is hardest. That blank page. The mocking blink of the cursor. A notebook full of endless blue college rule. We’ve seen the end and it’s an empty text file you were sure had something in it, berating you while you stand on the stage in the high school cafetorium. In your underwear.

KC2019: I overcame my difficulty with Rule 1 by instituting a policy of writing 100 words (or more, if inclined) every day. My longest streak to date is 572 days. I no longer fear a blank page, but I do still break Heinlein’s Rules.

There’s something kind of dickish about them despite the pithiness that made them stick. I’ve become wary of any advice that dictates One True Process and I’m afraid that Rules 3 and 5 aren’t viable for everyone. Rewrite if it’s part of your process. Don’t send out a story that you feel is no longer indicative of your ability or personal values. Even Rule 4 sounds iffy to me. Sometimes it’s good to write for yourself. Practice and love will benefit your more commercial endeavours. 

RS: Heh, “refrain from rewriting” is definitely one I disobey. But I admit it’s the one I was thinking about when I asked if any of them get on your nerves. It gets on mine. 😉

Moving on–apparently, you were “born with a miscalibrated sense of humor.” So–I must ask–what is your favorite joke?

KC: My biggest hurdle in telling a joke is remembering to provide context. I love a joke that takes two hours to set up. For instance, there’s an episode of Futurama “How Hermes Requisitioned His Groove Back” that is essentially 22 minutes of setting Bender up to tell this joke:

“I am Bender. Please insert girder.”

Hilarious, right?

I’ll supply you with some of my favorite jokes, but since I don’t want to take up your whole day, I can’t promise they’ll make sense:

“Do you like bread?” -Eddie Izzard
“Write it or I’ll break it off!” -Fletcher Reede
“And this was odd, because, you know,
They hadn’t any feet.” -Lewis Caroll

KC2019: Heh, those are still great jokes. Have you seen The Good Place? COMEDY GOLD. New favorites:
https://giphy.com/gifs/thegoodplace-season-2-nbc-3ohs7Yw7tA7JwHppF6

And, obviously:
https://media.giphy.com/media/3mJq8vQMfgIigg0Nht/giphy.gif

RS: You lived in nine states before you turned thirteen, which you write caused you to have “an oscillating accent.” What extremes does it oscillate between?

KC: Most oscillation occurs primarily between minute variations of Southern, though here’s a sentence you might reasonably expect to hear me say: “I’m fixin’ to toss these clothes in the warsher then put on my sneakers and go for a soda.”

(Texas, Boston, South Florida, EVERYWHERE BECAUSE IT’S CALLED SODA KTHX)

RS: Per above, are you really good at US geography?

KC:

Uhh. Yes. I’m so fantastic at Geography that it would blow your mind. Which is why it’s imperative that you never ask me to prove how awesome I am at Geography. For your own safety.

KC2019: Still don’t ask.

RS: What research topic has caught your attention just now?

KC: Techniques for sewing a Blind Hem/Slip Stitch with a sewing machine. Coffee brewing and cultivation. How to write good sex scenes. Myself for this interview.

KC2019: Reader, I decided on black tea instead of coffee.

RS: A lot of your short stories have been podcast. What’s rewarding about having fiction out in audio form?

KC: The indiscriminate tastes of podcast editors! No, no, I kid. Initially I was just looking for reprint markets and podcasts tend to be very open to previously-published works. Then Tina Connolly podcasted one of my stories on Toasted Cake and I discovered that it’s unbelievably fun to hear someone else read the words I arranged. Writing is just repackaging a free, abundant resource (words) into new shapes that you can con people into paying for. With podcasting those same words I arranged take on new life every time someone performs them. It’s fairly mind-blowing to observe how differently the story is in someone else’s head.

KC2019: BWHAHAHAHA. Oh dramatic irony of ironies. I’m now the special guest co-editor of PodCastle’s Artemis Rising 5 coming out in March!

RS: What’s upcoming for you? Please share!

KC: Speaking of podcasts.

My stories “Planar Ghosts” and “Heartless” are set to appear in Cast of Wonders and Far Fetched Fables, respectively later this year (KC2019: “Planar Ghosts” was a 2016 CoW staff pick ^_^). Once these come out, everything I’ve ever published will have also been podcast. So that’s neat.

In “Bitter Remedy” the titular character is a second-class superheroine with a secret: she’s also a mother. It’s just been republished by StarShipSofa with narration by Karen Bovenmyer and a feature on genre history from Dr. Amy H. Sturgis.

KC2019: Sadly, despite best laid plans at time of writing, I have stories published that have not been podcast… But that’s because I published new stories! Plot twist!

“Presently Me” is currently available to subscribers in Factor Four’s Issue 1.

“Life, hacked” is up to read for free at Nature: Futures. (Though I must suggest Nature’s podcast version performed by Shamini Bundell, also free.)

And “900 Seconds of Cognizance And Counting” is free to read in Factor Four Magazine Issue 4.

Writing a Recalcitrant Character

(This essay was posted 7 days early on my Patreon. Thank you to all my patrons!)

I wrote this on a writers forum, about my current progress in writing my Tor.com novella, “Woman in the Tower Window.” It’s an interesting process, but very frustrating at times! I thought you might like a peek behind the scenes:

Writing a story from the POV of a character who actively wants to conceal all of her emotional truths and reactions, so it’s all got to be in subtext. I hope the story will be good, but she’s driving me nuts!

She has a vested interest in establishing herself as silly, slow, and unaccomplished, while also presenting the things around her as having more import than they do. She sees herself as a sort of unremarkable, unnecessary character in the corner of a grand painting. She wants to talk about the painting, but she doesn’t want you to look at her, so she puts up a number of shifting obfuscatory pretenses to try to make herself blurry and unworthy of attention. I think she thinks that if you turn any attention on her, and see past the various pretenses to her emotional truths, you will see her as not just useless, but actively contemptible. She’s also trying to get in front of that feeling, I think; she thinks any interlocutor will discover she’s unworthy eventually, so she preemptively identifies and apologizes for it.

It can make every sentence a fight, though, as I try to figure out how to push forward, while elements of her character are constantly pushing back. I imagine this would be her psychological process of writing as well, so it’s not inappropriate for the story, but arrrrrgh.

Or, like, she would happily muse about the aesthetics of, e.g., the bird cage of her finches for another six paragraphs because that’s not emotionally difficult for her, but she’d like to cover the whole traumatic sections with minimizing elisions emphasizing her own flaws and self-blame–“the unpleasantness which, in my simpleness, I was unable to forestall” sort of thing.

Silly Interview with Barry Deutsch, jew jew jew

A few years ago, I decided that I wanted to know some silly information about my fellow authors. So I put together some silly interviews full of silly questions. A number of them fell through the publication cracks then, so I’m running them now with updates. (If you’re interested in the prior features, including ones with people like Ann Leckie, you can find them on my blog here). Enjoy!

Barry drawBarry Deutsch

RS: Would your hero-fighting, Orthodox Jewish preteen, Mirka, ever fly a hot air balloon?

BD: If I can figure out a story that makes sense for, I’d love to do it! Hot air balloons are fun to draw. Also, I have this friend who writes science fiction stories, and who always reads over my Hereville scripts and makes great suggestions, who has been suggesting a hot air balloon Hereville plotline for years. So maybe if I ever do that, it’ll provide her with some satisfaction. 🙂

RS: Your brand of humor is so distinctive that I can spot it not only in your own work, but in the kind of drawings you pin on pinterest, and that sort of things. What would you say have been the biggest influences on the development of your sense of humor?

BD: Honestly, I have very little idea of what my brand of humor is, so it’s a little hard for me to pin down.

But I think that I’ve probably borrowed a lot from Harvey Kurtzman’s MAD stories, from Walt Kelly’s Pogo, from Doonesbury, and from Dave Sim’s Cerebus; at least, those were the funny works that I remember rereading a thousand times in my formative years. In movies and TV, I think the Marx Brothers were very important to me, and so was Buffy the Vampire Slayer.

RS: Did you ever seriously write prose with an eye toward publication?

BD: I never have. It’s something that I’d like to try to do someday.

RS: Do you remember why I asked you question 1?

BD: Did my science fiction writing friend with the obsession about seeing Mirka in a hot air balloon put you up to it?

RS: From a purely “fun to draw” perspective, why should people draw more flawed characters?

BD: Actually, I don’t know that they should. A lot of cartoonists rarely draw characters that don’t fit into a very narrow sort of attractiveness, and I assume the reason they draw that way is that this is what they find fun to draw.

But from a storytelling perspective, I think flawed characters are clearly better, because it’s so much easier for a cartoonist to make characters distinct and recognizable if they break out of that narrow “perfect pretty people” mold. In a lot of mainstream comics, it’s really hard to tell the characters apart. There are also really interesting stories to be told about people who look like ordinary people.

RS: What’s the funniest response you’ve ever gotten to a cartoon?

BD: In response to an anti-racist political cartoon, some infuriated racist emailed me calling me “jew” this and “jew” that (I am Jewish, but I’m puzzled why he thought I’d find this to be an insult) and finally, in an apparent fit of rage that put him beyond writing coherent thoughts, just ended the letter by saying “you jew jew jew!” That totally cracked me up.

RS: If you had to appoint zombie Scalia to an infinite (for he is undead) term on the supreme court, or Donald Trump for a finite term, which would you pick?

BD: Trump. The system has lots of vetos in place; we can survive four years of Trump. I hope.

Wait, no, now I feel guilty because of all the people who’d die in the needless wars Trump would start. Sigh. Zombie Scalia it is. But we need to have him chained up or something so he doesn’t bite Ruth or Sonya.

RS: If you had the opportunity to do your room up in any wallpaper from any time period regardless of expense or probability, what would you pick?

BD: I’d hire a British Artist named Charlotte Mann who hand-draws walls for people. I mean, look at this! That would be incredible. I’d be accosting strangers in the street and demanding that they come into my house and look at the walls.

2019 update: So what are you up to now?

I’ve been working on three main projects lately.

First, thanks to my wonderful supporters on Patreon, I’ve increased my output of political cartoons from six a year to forty-eight a year. People can read all those cartoons for free on my Patreon.

Second, with my co-creator Becky Hawkins, I’m working on “SuperButch,” a webcomic about a lesbian superhero in the 1940s who protects the bar scene from corrupt cops. We’ve got almost a hundred pages done already, and why yes, we do have a patreon, thanks for asking.

And finally, I’ve been writing graphic novel adaptions of Tui Sutherland’s amazing “Wings of Fire” series for Scholastic. The graphic  novels are being drawn by Mike Holmes, who has an unbelievable facility for drawing hundreds of dragons. It’s a fantasy series about a group of young dragons who believe they are destined to save the world. Of course, you already knew that, since you’re co-writing the adaptations with me, but pretending to explain that to you was a handy way of getting that exposition across to your readers. Hi, readers!

I have a couple of other big projects that I plan to work on in 2019, but they’re not yet at the discuss-in-public stage.

(This interview was originally posted to my patreon on January 25, 2019. Thank you to all the patrons who make this possible!)

Patreon content for January 2018

Patreon content for January has just been posted!

$1 and above patrons can read a piece from my recent found poetry kick based on google searches for emotions–in this case, “anxiety.”

$2 and above patrons get to see a sneak peek of a work in progress. This month’s came from a writing game I’m playing where we get various prompts to write a piece of flash fiction every week. This is from the prompt “describe an act of what looks like kindness, but is actually cruelty.”

And for $5 and above patrons, I reprinted my essay “Why We Tell the Story: The Political Nature of Narrative.” The essay first appeared in Timmi Duchamp’s collection Narrative Power, published by Aqueduct Press.

Thank you to all my supporters on Patreon! Your support makes a big difference in my life!

Mash It Up, an excerpt from my class on How to Write Retellings

Explicitly or subtly, writers are always building on the stories that came before us. For a couple of years now, I’ve been teaching a class on retellings at Cat Rambo’s Academy. It’s always a good time to see what people come up with.

Here’s an excerpt from the class, on one of the many strategies for retelling stories — the mash-up.

Craving some hard science fiction spaceships, or some Western cowboy hats? You don’t have to move your story into space or a ghost town and write completely in that new genre—you can do both at once. Sometimes you have to get that chocolate into that peanut butter. Mix things because you love them, or because they go together, or because they should never go together, or because they went together in that weird dream you had the other night.

Some combinations play up the contradictions. Pride and Prejudice and Zombies is funny because it makes you imagine all those staid regency ladies juxtaposed with B-horror movie makeup. The retelling thrives because the combination is both ridiculous and delightful.

Other match-ups are about synergy instead of clash. A common blend is fairy tale characters who are under criminal investigation. Fairy tale characters have made many appearances in court room dramas. These days, I mostly see the combination as fairy tales written in a Noir style. Although the genres don’t pair well to me, they appeal to many readers. Perhaps it’s a way to tease out the motivations and complexities of the original, simple stories. The author wants to know “why did this happen?” and poses a fictional detective to find out.

You can mash up whole genres–but you can also just mash individual stories. When superhero comics have big crossover arcs where characters from different parts of the universe all interact, they aren’t changing genre. They’re still superhero comics, just ones without their normally distinct lines.

It’s entirely possible to mash together as many genres and stories as you want. More doesn’t usually mean better–but it can.

If this sounds interesting to you, consider signing up for my class this Sunday, or checking out the On Demand version.

Writing Round-up and Eligibility Post for 2018

It’s that time of year again! Old snow, down coats, tenderly nascent blooming new year’s hopes which will inevitably be both fulfilled and disappointed… and year-end “here is what I wrote this year” posts.

This is both a list of my recent work, and also a list of my pieces that are eligible for the various awards like the Hugo and the Nebula.

I’m really glad to be writing more again. I mean, for one thing I’m writing at least twelve pieces of poetry and/or flash fiction a year, because of Patreon. (Obligatory plug: You can get one new piece of my work each month for $1!) Some of my work has been noveling, and some isn’t out yet, so it’s not all visible in this list– but I am really happy to enjoy prose again.

This year, I’ve been thinking a lot, and writing a lot, about disability. I feel like my interests right now are moving into this really internal, psychological place.

Here’s what I’ve written that is eligible this year:

Short Story:
“Birthday Girl” (2,800 words) in Disabled People Destroy Science Fiction, Sept 2018.
A bipolar woman attends her niece’s birthday party a year after her sister cut off contact.

Read the story here.

Bella and her sister stood awhile in silence, toeing the dirt. Her sister crossed her arms over her chest. She kept trying to smile, but awkwardness wiped it from her face.

Bella’s sister spoke first. You didn’t make her sick.

Bella snapped back. You’re the one who said I did.

 

Novelette:
“Seven Months Out and Two to Go” with Trace Yulie (8,400 words) in Asimov’s, Feb 2018.
A pregnant rancher mourning the loss of her husband has an alien encounter.

The story is not online, but Trace and I did a Q&A about our collaboration here.

“Red, what are you doing out here in the dark? How did you get out? Is the calf in trouble? Get back to the barn so I can look at you.”
Big Red turned toward her, and impossibly, her silhouette morphed and bloated. Legs absorbed into a huge, gelatinous ovoid taller than Kate. Light pulsed within its mucus-like, translucent flesh, rippling and glaring and burning.
“Home,” said a voice, or perhaps voices. The strange, distorted sound was an uncanny chorus. Kate’s heart drummed in response.

 

I’ve also been posting short stories, flash fiction, and poetry on Patreon. Anyone who pledges $1 a month gets new words every month and access to all the previous content. The stories I’ve posted in 2018 include:

“When I Sit on the Fish Tank” Parts One and Two: A cat and her obsession.

Love Is Hot and Brief”: The star-crossed romance of coffee and cup.

The Diary of a Woman Outside Time”: Life, fragmented.

The Stubborn Granny”: Sometimes the Grimm fairy tales are too grim. A rewritten tale.

Why I Write in Cafes

A cup of coffee with latte art and a notebook with a pencil

I’ve been writing a lot in cafes recently. Well, mostly one cafe, but I’ve dallied with others.

It’s a nice cafe. It’s located next to a bus stop that has a route to most of the places I want to be, which makes it easy to get there and to leave. The round tables are a bit small for a large laptop and a drink, but you can’t have everything. I drink iced tea, and sometimes I order a grilled cheese sandwich with tomatoes, and the friendly staff have gotten used to my order. The number of customers waxes and wanes with the season and the light and the weather. Sometimes it’s hard to find a pair of empty tables so I can sit with my writing partner, but mostly it’s doable.

I like the art on the walls. It’s not always to my taste, but it’s cool seeing displays of the local artists. If nothing else, it keeps my critical skills for visual art a little more sharpened than they would be otherwise. Do I like that? Yes? No? Why? I wonder what kind of art I’d be producing for the walls if I had continued on the artistic trajectory I was on at eighteen.

I like most of the background noise, including the loud conversations from strangers nearby. I like voices. The music is often not my taste, but only occasionally too annoying to deal with. The worst times I’ve had are when people are having breakdowns in the cafe. A woman sobbed on one of the couches near me for an hour or so, once. I wanted so much to go hug her.

Sometimes someone overhears me and my writing partner talking about writing and wants to talk about writing with us, which is usually okay, unless I’m heavily absorbed in working–in which case I probably wasn’t talking to my writing partner in the first place to attract attention. I like meeting new people.

A long time ago, a prominent SF writer grumbled that people who write in cafes aren’t really writing — it’s more for show than work, he said, a way of playing the writer in public. I think that’s a real phenomenon– I’ve definitely both seen people do that, and probably been the person doing it (at least on days when I just could not get my brain to cooperate).

I don’t mean to belabor the argument from that old post–it’s just that I think of it sometimes when I’m getting more done at a cafe than I can elsewhere. It makes me ponder why the cafe is a useful space for me.

Some of my thoughts about why:

Having a space dedicated to fiction means that I’m less likely to end up doing administrative business.

There are a lot of components to maintaining a writing career, and it’s easy to get overwhelmed. When I get overwhelmed, I try to organize things, and I can get caught up just doing administrative work, or other kinds of tasks that seem (or are) urgent, but don’t get the creative work done. Those tasks can be easier to approach because there’s usually a done/not-done state at the end, where writing is long, continuous, and hard to predict.

Having a routine.

Like many other freelancers and self-employed folks, I find that time management can be tricky. It’s easy for days to blend into one another, and slip away before I can manage to get traction. When I was living somewhere without many writers around, that was particularly difficult. Here, where there are masses of artists of all varieties, I have a lot of people that I can meet to work with. Having a set time and place to work, and a set person I’m working with, encourages me to develop habits that make my time more efficient.

I always accomplish something, or prove I can’t.

Because I’m at the cafe with someone else, and we are there with a purpose, I always spend at least some time trying to write. Some days, nothing comes. More often, even if I feel creatively dry, I can scrape up something, whether it’s a bit of editing, a paragraph or two, or the beginning of a story (which I may never finish). On my own I can get depressed over those days when the writing doesn’t work, and it makes me avoidant for a while afterward. With a writing partner, there’s a set time to try again.

Having a writing partner.

When I’m at the cafe, I’m with someone I know well. We can commiserate over failed work attempts, and celebrate the days when words come easily. We often write in timed bursts. If I can’t get anything done in the timed burst — usually thirty or forty-five minutes — then I have a check in time where my partner and I can try to refocus each other, so there’s less possibility of never getting back to work. Writing can be lonely. With a writing partner, you have company (while often still being lonely; that can be the nature of the work).

There’s bustling noise around me.

I’m comforted by having sounds around me. I like the sounds of people particularly. In a cafe, I get to hear people around me in a pleasant buzz that I can tune out well enough to work. Since they’re mostly strangers, I’m less likely to end up distracted than I would be if I were writing with a group of friends.

Having a reason to leave the house.

As an introvert, if I don’t actively find reasons to leave the house, then I’m likely to just sit at home with the cats. (The cats appreciate this.) Writing at the cafe with a partner gives me a time and place where someone expects me. If I don’t go, it inconveniences them. (The cats don’t appreciate this.)

Forming a community connection.

Not only does the cafe get me out of my house, but it also prevents me from spending all my time with my friends at their houses. It forces me to participate, however minorly, in the public life of our city. I meet people I haven’t met before, and see people I’ll never formally meet at all. I get to see slices of the vibrancy around me.

Peer Pressure

This is similar to “having a writing partner,” but there are other ways to accomplish it, like reporting word counts on social media or a message board. I’m accountable to someone, even though it’s informal, and there are no penalties. I can think, “I should work… Lee is working.” And Lee can think (direct quote), “Must set a good example for Rachel.” A little bit of social approval goes a long way.

(This post first appeared on my Patreon. Thank you to all my patrons!)

Five Favorite Books

It’s always hard to pick a few favorite books. For one thing, I think it’s easy to slip into listing only favorites from childhood, because those formative years are so vividly imprinted on us. For another, I know a lot of authors personally, and I don’t want to hurt any feelings, nor do I want my personal love for an author to bias me in favor of the book (we can call this my Ann Leckie rule).

I’m going to limit my favorites on this list to authors who are deceased, or who I’ve never met personally. …I’m also just going to let the childhood thing go, though, and list some books I’ve loved since I was young.

I’m also limiting this to books with speculative elements, just to make the volume a bit more manageable.

Biting the Sun by Tanith Lee — This was my favorite book through high school. Tanith Lee’s dreamlike, intricate prose reads like a string of jewels with dazzling clarity. I was enamored of the strange world–a merging of utopia and dystopia. In retrospect, I think its treatment of gender was a strong allure. People could design new bodies when they were bored with their existing ones, and switch to male or female and back with minimal fuss. Wouldn’t that be cool?

Beloved by Toni Morrison – I first read this in college. The raw, painful emotion is deeply affecting, and sensorily rendered. It’s beautiful, though also dark and unflinching in its dealings with its intense depiction of the psychological aftermath of slavery. (Also, the poetic passage in the middle is brilliant and weird, and I’m grateful that I was lucky enough to be reading the book in a class where the teacher was able to help us interpret it, because I’m not sure I’d have understood on my own.) Toni Morrison may be the greatest living writer, although of course that’s a silly thing to say, because there is never one “greatest” by an objective criteria. She’s clearly in the top tier of brilliance one way or another, and for my standards, is a strong contender for greatest.

Lilith’s Brood by Octavia Butler – I’m going to make another “greatest” claim, which is that Octavia Butler is the best and most important science fiction writer of the twentieth century. (Obviously, there are strong arguments that can be made for other people, too.) Lilith’s Brood is, I think, the height of her talent. It’s emotionally vivid, and takes place in a deeply strange world. Butler’s aliens really read like aliens. Like many of her books, Lilith’s Brood considers how humanity might evolve in the future, and whether it’s possible for us to shed our instincts toward violence and xenophobia.

And here are a couple of recent books I’m excited by, written by authors I’ve never met. I don’t know if they will stand in my pantheon forever, but they were books I’ve found impactful in the past few years.

The Walls Around Us by Nova Ren Suma – A dark horror novel that brilliantly weaves together multiple timelines. It’s told from the perspectives of two teenage girls — one imprisoned for allegedly murdering her stepfather, and the other a ballerina. The ballerina’s best friend has been convicted for murder, and now she’s the first girl’s cell mate. The rendering of the characters is sharp, interesting, and emotionally engaging, and the tightly woven plot of flashbacks and revelations, creates a magnetic, urgent force that draws you through the book.

Everybody Sees the Ants by A. S. King – It’s sort of random that I picked this book by A. S. King as opposed to one of the other books by A. S. King, almost all of which are excessively brilliant. (The others are merely quite good.) I picked this one because I remember the plot best, and because I argued for its inclusion on the Norton ballot when I was on the jury. This book has a spare, almost aggressive style, which helps illuminate the psychology of the main character. The teenaged main character is a boy who is bullied for seeming insufficiently masculine and socially adept, and I like it when books treat that subject matter seriously and well. I thought it did an excellent job of capturing that trauma, and the reactions it can create.

So, there’s five books, y’all! What are your favorites?