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 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.

Q&A on Being a Jewish & Disabled Author

A patron of mine asked me some questions recently about Jewish identity, and writing while Jewish and disabled.

I thought y’all might find the answers interesting. Hopefully, I’m correct!

Are secular Jews overrepresented in the media?

I am personally a secular Jew. I suppose my first question in wondering whether we’re over-represented is — what percentage of self-identified Jews in America are secular? (It also matters what the percentage of secular Jews in media work is, but that seems harder to find.)

I found this here: http://www.pewforum.org/2013/10/01/jewish-american-beliefs-attitudes-culture-survey/

“The changing nature of Jewish identity stands out sharply when the survey’s results are analyzed by generation. Fully 93% of Jews in the aging Greatest Generation identify as Jewish on the basis of religion (called “Jews by religion” in this report); just 7% describe themselves as having no religion (“Jews of no religion”). By contrast, among Jews in the youngest generation of U.S. adults – the Millennials – 68% identify as Jews by religion, while 32% describe themselves as having no religion and identify as Jewish on the basis of ancestry, ethnicity or culture. ”

It goes on to say:

“Secularism has a long tradition in Jewish life in America, and most U.S. Jews seem to recognize this: 62% say being Jewish is mainly a matter of ancestry and culture, while just 15% say it is mainly a matter of religion. Even among Jews by religion, more than half (55%) say being Jewish is mainly a matter of ancestry and culture, and two-thirds say it is not necessary to believe in God to be Jewish. ”

I’m surprised that the percentage of people who think you have to believe in God to be Jewish is that high, actually. There’s a pretty lengthy historical tradition of Jews who participate in their communities without being personally religious. The article does say that Jews who identify as secular now are less likely to be tied into Jewish cultural organizations than other Jews, so I wonder whether there’s an increasing idea that being a secular Jew is the same as being an uninvolved Jew. (I should note that people who convert to being Jews are also definitely Jews whether or not they have the ancestry. Judaism is a desert topping and a floor wax.)

That said, I’m uninvolved in a lot of ways. My grandfather made a decision as a young man to sever himself from his Jewish past. I think this was his reaction to World War II. He never denied being Jewish, or changed his name, or anything like that – but he had no interest in his past as a Jew, or in any of the associated cultural traditions. Our family still exists in the shadow of that decision.

I could try to figure out more about the demographics involved — what percentage of great sci-fi writers, editor, etc, from Christian backgrounds are also secular? Is this a function of Jewishness, or a broader secular cultural trend among people in those industries?

But I feel like the more interesting questions are tangential. What could we gain from having more religiously Jewish creators?

Probably something. My friend Barry writes a series of graphic novels about Hassidic Jews. He himself is a secular Jew, but many Hassidic people have contacted him, grateful for representation of their community that is humanizing and generous. There are clearly religiously Jewish people who are not seeing themselves reflected, or are only seeing themselves reflected in ways that are inaccurate or unkind.

There can be pressure on secular Jews to put their Jewish heritage in the background, especially when antisemitism and white supremacy are on a resurgence. I’ve paid the price for being a Jewish female creator, and it’s a nasty one. So, there’s another point where I think there’s tension over secular Jewish representation in the media–in order to work in the industry, to some extent, we must blend in with Christian normativity.

I had a woman say to me, in all seriousness, in a critique group once, that she was annoyed I had included Jewish rituals in one of my stories. “If I want to read about that kind of thing,” she said, “I’ll just read fantasy.”

I’m not sure this resolves anything (in fact, I’m sure it doesn’t), but those are some of my thoughts.

What about your background and current ideas/beliefs/practices has contributed to your interest in Jewish sci fi?

Right now, I’m more interested in the theological questions of Judaism than I normally am because I have a good friend who is tipping over the border from secular to religious Jew, and his journey is very interesting to me. The way he talks and writes about his burgeoning belief (as opposed to the feeling of irresolution he’d had before) is fascinating; it helps that he’s a very good writer who is fascinating on many topics.

I think my interest in Jewish science fiction stems from my interest in Jewishness itself, which is probably related to my self-identification as Jewish. I’m not sure why I have a strong identification with Judaism — I didn’t have to. As the granddaughter of a secular Jew who tried to cut all connections, I could have just put it aside; my brothers have. Our father is from WASPy blood with deep roots in American history–we’re descended from one of the people who signed the Declaration of Independence–and I could have chosen to identify with that to the exclusion of my Jewish ancestry.

What are you writing about now?

I’m writing a lot about disability. As a disabled person, there’s a lot of rich material to mine–and I still have a lot of unreconciled thoughts about disability, and things I’m figuring out. I think a lot of good writing is produced when the author is still on the edge of revelations, instead of settled.

Many of my previous writing obsessions have been much more externally focused. Of course there’s a hideous amount of dehumanization and violence directed toward disabled people, but for some of us, there’s also an intense personal struggle of identity and self-knowledge that requires a deep investigation of the psyche. That’s where I am right now–fiction about selfhood and perception.

Surrey International Writers’ Conference

This weekend I’ll be in Vancouver (BC, not Oregon) at the Surrey International Writers’ Conference. Here’s my schedule, if you want to come to any of events or just say hi.

Fri Oct 19, 2018

12:45pm – 2:15pm “Meet and Mingle Luncheon” This is supposed to be a good chance for guests and attendees to meet and chat, so you should feel free to come up and say hi if you see me!

2:15pm – 3:30pm Breaking the Rules Workshop. This is the convention version of my online Breaking the Rules class (http://rachelswirsky.com/rules/)

3:45pm – 5pm World Building panel with Nalo Hopkinson, Cat Rambo, and Stephanie Stein, moderated by Mary Robinette Kowal.

5pm – 6:30pm Socializing at the hotel bar. Come say hi!

 

Sat Oct 20, 2018

10am – 11:15am Detail & Image Workshop (http://rachelswirsky.com/detail/)

12:45pm – 2:15pm “This Day We Write Luncheon” Another chance to come chat.

2:15pm – 3:45pm Blue Pencil Session This is where you can make a 15-minute appointment to have me read and critique 3 pages of your work (for free!). https://www.siwc.ca/blue-pencil-cafe/

5:30pm – 7pm Book signing. If you would like to buy a copy of my collection Through the Drowsy Dark, there will be some for sale at the conference. I’m also happy to sign loose paper or bookplates!

 

Sun Oct 21, 2018

11:30am – 12:45pm Second Blue Pencil Session

12:45pm – 2pm Closing Lunch. I may have to leave this one early to get ready for my trip home.

If anyone here is going to be at the conference and want to hang out, let me know!

My Life in Cats: Masque

This is Masque who belongs to friends of ours in Portland. We actually raised Masque from kittenhood at about three weeks when we found her and her brothers in our backyard. We bottlefed her, and weaned her onto solids, and wiggled the cat toys very gently on the ground so she could attack.

Masque lived with us for several years, but there was a lot of strife in the household by the end. After we got Masque fixed, she decided that she liked humans but she was no longer into the idea of other cats. Her brothers, with whom she had previously been very close, were very confused, and kept trying to play with and cuddle her. She was having none of it, so there were a lot of howling cats dashing around.

Since Masque moved up to Portland from California where we raised her, she’s become a floof. The winter has inspired her coat to become lush.

She runs away from me sometimes when we go to the friends’ house. I tell her that she’s ungrateful. “I raised you from a three-week-old kitten,” I say, and, “I bottle-fed you.”

If I stay long enough, she eventually comes to flop down next to me.

So, she’s like, half-grateful.

Guest post at Mary Robinette Kowal’s blog: “So Do I”

Many thanks to Mary Robinette Kowal for hosting me at her place today to let me talk about Making Lemons into Jokes, my campaign for responding to harassment with support for LGBTQ healthcare.

Trying to think about why I’m doing the fundraiser, and what LGBTQ care and harassment mean to me, I ended up in a sort of non-linear meditative space, remembering many needle-like moments that form the sharp space where isms live.

If you read it, I hope you enjoy!

“If You Were a Butt, My Butt” — the Embuttening

Yay! Thanks to everyone who has participated so far in the Making Lemons into Jokes campaign for me to write “If You Were a Butt, My Butt.” (Full story here.)

For the $500 stretch goal, Liz Argall will be creating a brand new Things Without Arms and Without Legs (and presumably butts).

Just a reminder about the upcoming stretch goals — At $600, Brooke Bolander, Adam-Troy Castro, John Chu, Ken Liu, Ann Leckie, Juliette Wade, Alyssa Wong, and I, will write a round robin story about dinosaurs.

At $700, Mary Robinette Kowal will record the audio book.

At $800, Barry Deutsch will create original cover art.

I have a few more things in the works, too!

Since we reached $500 before Monday, I have promised to release the beginning of “Butts.” And here it is:

Butt my Butt Rectangle 500

If you were a butt, my butt, then you would be a butt. This is a tautology, but it’s still true.

Since you are a butt, my butt—being a butt—I regret to inform you that the set of duties you perform are not always tidy or delicate. To begin, you are frequently sat upon, which most people object to—if you doubt me, try it on the subway sometime. Secondly, you are on a not-infrequent basis required to be an excretory passage.

Being an excretory passage may be erotic for some butts—but you are not that kind of butt, my butt, because feces are really gross.

Frankly, I’m surprised you need an orientation. You have been my butt for thirty-four years. You should have a handle on it by now.

#

A digression aimed at my esteemed readers:

By far the most difficult part of this enterprise is that the framework requires metafictional authorial insertion.

(Yes, I said insertion. Let’s face it. Everything from the title forward is going to be riddled with double entendres.)

Luckily, I live a strange and magical life, as I have documented before. For instance, there is my familial relationship with the phoenix as documented in Dr. Thackery T. Lambshead’s Cabinet of Curiosities. Also, I have written of my journeys with the guidance counselor, a time traveling madman who pilots a milk crate.

My shield for these stories is the fact that readers will assume my accounts are fictional. After all, I am a short story writer. Why not believe I am making things up? Probably, you should. Yes.

Everything from this point on is fake. Believe at your own peril.

Friday Fiction Recommendation: “One Paper Airplane Graffito Love Note” by Will McIntosh

Will McIntosh is an exceptional writer whose work deserves more recognition than it gets. He won the Hugo Award several years ago for the excellent short story “Bridesicle,” but I wish people had paid more attention to his following novels and short stories. He does aliens really, really well.

However, this story has no aliens. It has dreamy magical realism instead.

One Paper Airplane Graffito Love Note” by Will McIntosh:

heartnoteA paper airplane drifted high in the sky above the field. I nearly crashed my bicycle, straining to follow its path as it circled above the treetops at the far edge. It held the wind beautifully, effortlessly. Pausing, it hovered over the field just as a seabird holds its position above crashing waves.

I slowed to a stop, feeling for the ground with one foot, afraid to take my eye off the craft lest I lose it in the clouds. Neck craned, eyes to the sky, I let the bicycle drop. I tracked the paper’s elegant flight, running this way and that like a boy as it slowly, slowly lost altitude.

As it made its final pass, it gained speed, careening across the field. I loped after it as it tumbled end-over-end and lay still.

I plucked it from the grass.

It was folded in a distinct design—squat and wide, with a hinged belly. It was covered in writing. I recognized Anna’s handwriting instantly, and that familiar ache that I both loved and hated coursed through me. I flipped the hinge and unfolded the airplane. It was a letter to me, though because it was a graffito confession, I wasn’t named.

The leaves outside my window rustle like dry paper. The cat, stalking prey in the yard, is a paper cat. The paperboy is a paper boy, the waning sun a lightbulb. I miss you. . . .

Fingers trembling, fighting tears, I put it in my pocket. I would read it carefully in the privacy of my room above the sail shop.

“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/