Drawing for Wednesday, April 10th: Dove

Dove is a character I drew for a role-playing game I was sketching out called Cats and Dogs Living Together.

Dove was born with an itch to explore. If she can’t get anywhere more exciting, the year-old grey tabby will explore rafters, piles of boxes, and dresser drawers. She yearns for adventure, and is tired of being treated like a kitten. She’s a lean and lanky adolescent, six pounds but still growing, fast, agile, and acrobatic. She wants other animals to take her seriously, but mostly she wants to burst forth and find something new.

My patrons helped save my life

I just posted the following to my patreon and wanted to share it here as well:

Dear Patrons,

Thanks for helping to save my life.

As you know, I recently hit my head. I tripped on the rainy walkway up to our house and hit my head on the edge of a concrete stair leading to our porch.
I was massively lucky. The injury sliced across my forehead. It required sixteen surface stitches and three deep muscle tissue stitches, and went down to my skull. Yet despite all this, I had no concussion, no brain injury. My skull stayed intact. My catscan was clean. I never lost consciousness or got alarmingly confused. Even the scar, while extremely long, is tucked up at my hairline where it can be missed or covered if necessary.
I am also extremely lucky because of your help. We have health insurance, but it’s got a high deductible. The emergency room doctor and nurses, along with the ambulance staff were amazing — but it cost them a lot of time, while I also needed things like a catscan.
My husband and I are treading along financially at a fragile sustainability, and the medical bills could have thrown us for a loop. But again, I’m extremely lucky. The amount we needed was almost exactly my patreon balance.
It turns out I use my head for a lot of things, like writing and thinking and blinking. It would be very difficult to produce fiction without it.
Thank you so much for your help. I am enduringly grateful.

Silly Interview with E. J. Fischer, Winner of the Imaginative Long Jump

(This interview was first posted to my patreon. Thank you, patrons!)

EJ2016E. J. Fischer

RS: I love the story “New Mother.” Can you talk about the genesis for a moment?

EJF: Sure. “The New Mother” had a very long gestation period. The premise of communicable parthenogenesis was inspired by Wolbachia, a bacterial organism that can have complex effects on the reproductive machinery of insects. I learned about it when I was still an undergraduate, probably around 2006. I’d read plenty of excellent SF about parthenogenesis, but was pretty sure that using an infectious model would be an original twist.

I was also pretty sure I wasn’t a good enough writer yet to do the idea justice, so I sat on it for five years and felt nervous someone would beat me to it whenever Wolbachia turned up in a popular science article. In 2011 I began a fiction MFA at the Iowa Writers’ Workshop and figured I’d be wasting my time if I avoided the hard problems, so I got started on what I thought was going to be a short story. Three years and seven major drafts later I had the published version of the novella.

RS: I know you already told me some about this in private email, but can you describe the process you used to nail down a female perspective so beautifully?

EJF: First, thank you again for the kind assessment. The process was iterative and organic; spend a lot of time thinking about how to do X, Y, and Z well, do a lot of reading to justify your assumptions, test your best effort against the judgement of others, incorporate feedback and repeat. I can’t give a step-by-step description, but I can talk about things that helped.

The first thing I did was to try to identify predictable failure modes to be avoided. There were obvious things, like knowing that a story about women negotiating the difference between personal constructions of identity and cultural signifiers thereof would be undermined by male gaze-y objectification. But there were less obvious ones too, like the need to write from the body in a non-objectifying way. Bodies are a huge component of the amalgam process of identity construction, and weight our every moment-to-moment experience. Not sharing anatomy with your characters is no excuse to write as if they are just floating loci of cognition; you must write from the body, both as physically inhabited and as perceived by the world. That’s where a lot of the work comes in.

One crucial part was reading things written by women. Fiction, critical theory, memoir, blog posts, tweets. Everything. If there are people who have access to areas of experience to which you are attempting to make an imaginative leap, read what they have to say. (The main character of “The New Mother” is pregnant. I have read so many mommy blogs.) You will learn a lot, and much of it will be contradictory, and that’s okay; being confronted with the heterogeneity of human experience inoculates you against reductive generalization. The contradictions are almost never arbitrary, so think about what factors lead different people to their respective attitudes, and what implications that has for your characters.

I was very lucky to be writing “The New Mother” at a time in my life when I had access to feedback from a lot of women writers. There were teachers like Lan Samantha Chang and Julie Orringer, and classmates and friends like Carmen Machado, Amy Parker, Elizabeth Weiss, Debbie Kennedy, Naomi Jackson, Susanna Shive, Aamina Ahmad, Rebecca Rukeyser, Meghan McCarron, Kat Howard, and Amal El-Mohtar. I could go on, that’s not an exhaustive list. They looked at my drafts and gave me very generous feedback, each with her own areas of focus and concern; moms told me about being pregnant, queer friends told me about outsider perspectives of gender roles within their relationships, multiethnic friends told me about generational pressures and assimilation. It’s like reading for research but better, because it’s customized to the specific work you’re doing. And again, not everyone will agree, but the contradictions are themselves illustrative of things worth being attentive to.

So then you take all you’ve learned, and you start in on the next draft, and try to hit your goals more successfully than you did before. No amount of research and feedback eliminates the need for imaginative invention, and when you are seated at the keyboard trying to synthesize everything you’ve learned, it’s worthwhile finally to focus not on the ways in which people are all different, but the ways they are the same. I don’t have breasts or a uterus, will never be discomfited or surprised by my own body in the exact ways that Tess from “The New Mother” is. But having a body has often left me discomfited and surprised, and I believe that for all the universes of nuance that make individual experiences of life distinct from one another, the broad architecture of what it is like to be a human being remains similar enough for differences to be bridgeable by the imagination. Not trivially bridgeable, but it can be done.

RS: If I have my timing right, you went to Clarion West before you went to your MFA. So did I. How do you think your experience at Iowa was influenced by having gone to CW, if it was?

EJF: Actually, I attended Clarion at UCSD, not Clarion West [Ed note: Whoops. Sorry.], but that was indeed before I sought my MFA. Without the former, I never would have done the latter. In 2008 I had figured out that I didn’t want to use my physics degree to become a physicist, but it was still an open question whether I would continue my education in creative writing or mathematics. I applied to Clarion as a sort of test; if I could get accepted there, maybe my writing was something worth seriously pursuing. If not, I’d intended to start applying to math PhD programs.

One effect of having already been through Clarion by the time I started my MFA was confidence in myself as a writer and the value of speculative fiction. I used exclusively speculative fiction to apply to grad school, on the theory that I wanted to be rejected by any program unwilling to be supportive of that kind of writing. While I was open to falling in love with new kinds of literature, I was uninterested in working with people who couldn’t value the lit I already loved. (And I did fall in love with a new kind of literature. Iowa gave me a much greater appreciation for the artistry that goes into realist fiction, and read a lot more of it now than I used to.)

The other big effect was that Clarion quickly connects you to the SF field. By the time got to grad school a few years later I had been to conventions, made friends with lots of writers and editors, published some stories, and generally had a sense of how the field works. As such I was able to develop a course on writing science fiction for the University of Iowa that offered students not only a writing workshop, but also exposure to modern published work, info on the business side of the field, and visits (via internet video or in person) from working SF writers. The classes were well-received, and let me negotiate for the creation of an adjunct position after I graduated to keep teaching them. So in a very practical sense, having gone to Clarion first let me stay at Iowa a year longer than I otherwise would have.

RS: What’s the most bizarre piece of writing advice you’ve ever received?

EJF: This is surprisingly difficult to answer. I walked away from my email for hours hoping that by the time I got back, something would have come to me, and I’ve still got nothing. I guess whenever someone gives me really weird advice, I think, “oh, that’s worthless,” and fail to commit it to memory. In lieu of wacky advice, here’s an anecdote about how this practice of ignoring it once got embarrassing.

The first draft of “The New Mother” was the first thing I workshopped at Iowa, and that initial workshop was a group of stunningly clever people. I didn’t want to miss a word of their commentary, so I brought in my computer and typed everything they said as they spoke. Almost. There was a single classmate who didn’t get what I was doing, had misread the goals of the piece, and gave feedback that was profoundly irrelevant to my project. (This is not an uncommon workshop experience; the surprising thing is that there was only one.) So when that classmate spoke I stopped typing. But then I worried that the sudden silence of my keyboard would hurt feelings, so instead of just waiting it out, I rubbed my fingertips lightly over the keys to try to simulate the sound of rapt note-taking. After the workshop, another student came up to me at the bar and asked, “So, when [classmate] was talking… were you just pretending to type?” Apparently those two sounds are not as similar as I’d hoped.

RS: Tell me about the best nail polish.

EJF: Even after years of wearing the stuff, I’m still a novice. There’s a whole nail polish subculture out there, and I’ve barely chipped the topcoat. The world contains some deep magicians of nail art, like Lady Crappo. I still mostly go for single shades, leaning toward those with interesting optical effects. Probably my favorite polish in my collection is a Nubar polish called Indigo Illusion. It’s trichromatic, and can appear green, purple, or a bronzy brown depending on the ambient lighting conditions. The one I’ve worn the most is Chanel’s Peridot, a gold and green duochrome, which was very popular right around the time I started painting my nails.

RS: Got anything else to chat about? Write now, or forever hold your keyboard.

EJF: How about I recommend some books? I mentioned earlier that I read a lot more widely than I did before grad school. The last novel I read was The New and Improved Romie Futch by Julia Elliott, her first, following a debut collection called The Wilds. Both books are excellent science fiction, though neither of them are being marketed that way. Her collection includes things like powered exoskeletons for the elderly and mutated forms of toxoplasmosis that cause internet addiction. The novel is a story of artificially augmented intelligence in a society of satirically amok capitalism. Like if Flowers for Algernon were a self-aware comedy, or even more like if Camp Concentration was a southern gothic farce. Science fiction fans should be reading Julia Elliott. (Unlike the other writers I’ve mentioned here, I don’t know her personally. I just think she’s doing cool work.)

Update from 2019:

It’s been an eventful few years. Later in 2016 “The New Mother” won the Tiptree Award, came in 2nd for the Sturgeon Award, and was a Nebula nominee. In 2017 Arrate Hidalgo translated it into Spanish and it was published in Spain as Nueva Madre, a paperback from Editorial Cerbero. In 2018 Nueva Madre was a finalist for the Ignotus, which is sort of Spain’s equivalent of the Hugo award. I’m currently in talks about a possible television adaptation.
I’ve not published much fiction since our interview. I had an original story, “My Time Among the Bridge Blowers,” in Tachyon’s The New Voices of Fantasy, a wonderful book which won the World Fantasy Award for Best Anthology last year. I have a realist story about infirmity of which I am tremendously proud, but it’s fairly graphic and has not yet found a home. I’m currently about 6,000 words into a very strange story about Betty Boop, with a ways to go yet. If I had to guess, that’ll probably be the next one that actually gets published.
I’ve been busier away from the keyboard. In 2017 I bought a house and moved in with my partner. This past September we got engaged, and I spent the holiday season in New Zealand, meeting her extended family. Now we’re deep into the logistics of wedding planning, living in our cute little house with our fluffy little dog and our loud little canary. Personal life is just disgustingly happy. Which is nice, given that seemingly everything else in the world has, since 2016, become a horrible brainmelting shitshow of corruption and cruelty. Dealing with the outrages of these last couple years has meant spending a lot more time in my living room, and a lot less at the computer.

Drawing for April 2, 2019: Wentworth

This is Wentworth, a scheming dachshund that I designed as a character for a role playing game about cats and dogs living together (called Cats and Dogs Living Together).
 
In his thirteen years, Wentworth has fully explored what he wants from life–accumulating large amounts of food and coveted objects, particularly stolen ones. The eleven pound miniature dachshund isn’t brilliant, but he is devious, and likes manipulating other animals to get what he wants or cause a stir. However, he has a weakness for puppies, kittens, and children.
 
His goals are to steal, manipulate, and enjoy the good things in life.

Trains, Brains, and Computers

When I teach my speculative fiction class (there’s a section this weekend, by the way!), I like to talk to the students about the most popular varieties of speculative poetry. A lot of speculative poetry is narrative, or works with imagery from mythology and folk tales.

One of my favorite varieties is poetry that uses science as a metaphor for understanding the human condition. Using sciencey science–the kind we teach in the classroom–may be relatively recent in the scope of human history, but as far as I can tell, people have used elements of the natural world to describe their inner lives as far back as we can track.

Concrete descriptions of the external world provide a way of translating ineffable internal states into concrete, shared experiences. I may not be able to point to the sensation of happiness, but I can point to grass–or photosynthesis–as something that exists outside myself in the world we share.

As our understanding of the world grows to incorporate more science and technology, our metaphors grow to include them. The static human behavior of looking outside to understand ourselves combines with an evolving society to give us reference points that shift over time and cultures. I love the throughlines like this we can see through human history, the ways in which we stay the same and also become different.

Here’s a cool example–apparently when we’re trying to talk about the human brain (at least in Western culture over the past couple of centuries), we tend to analogize it to cutting edge new technology.

Right now, computers are a dominant metaphor. We might talk about broad anatomical restraints as being similar to hardware, while software installation represents training that occurs within the anatomical structure. We run various programs to accomplish various tasks–our email helps us communicate, our search functions help us shuffle through data recorded in our memory banks, etc.

Before computers, there were other ascendant technologies, such as trains. Instead of comparing mental functions to hardware and software, they’re described as engine parts, or infrastructure. The things that keep trains on track become metaphors for the things that keep the human brain ticking.

In some ways, these are useful, clarifying metaphors. In other ways, they elide the plasticity of the brain. To risk extending the computer metaphor in the wrong direction, our software changes our hardware and vice versa. If we think of ourselves too strictly as machines, we risk ignoring the many other ways in which humans are not predictable systems of inputs leading to outputs. Like all metaphors, brain-as-technology rides a line between clarifying and confusing.

Science fiction wrestles with how to figure out the universe and our place in it. Poetry allows writers to focus on metaphors and internal states. Science fiction poetry can get straight to the point and ask, “What can we learn about ourselves from the world around us?”

Here’s a poem I wrote using the moon as a metaphor:

Moon, part II

White,
like the blankness
of a page.

Distant,
like friends
I’ve lost,

Like time
that’s passed,

Like youth
whose optimism winnowed
into the finite.

Alone,
against the stars
with no one to call,
no man, no lady, no rabbit,

only the footprints of men
who won’t return.

You can register for the class here: www.kittywumpus.net/blog/speculative-poetry-with-rachel-swirsky/

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.