when there is too too much

Sometimes there is just too much. You have already condensed and prioritized and cut out everything but what absolutely cannot be cut, and there is still too, too much.

I can marshal my resources and dig my heels in and get through when things come to a head. Oh, can I push.

The problem is when the rough time isn’t temporary. When the “too, too much” doesn’t have an end in sight—or at least not a near one. When everything promises to be too much for not just days, or even weeks, but months, or longer.

Friends, I have been running over capacity since at least May. Life happened: I was already full up, then was thrown a few big things I couldn’t afford not to catch. But there are only so many unplanned and enormous commitments I can accommodate.

It’s taken me four months of pushing myself to the breaking point over and over to admit this isn’t just a matter of “if you just work hard enough you can do everything.” I can’t. I hate that, limitations are infuriating, but I don’t enjoy being slow on the uptake, either, so here we are.

This post is part confession, part reminder, and part promise. How do you get through overwhelming commitments when they’re not a sprint, but a marathon?

Pacing.

I’m still learning that, pacing. I expect I always will be. It’s clear I’m better than I used to be, or I wouldn’t have made it this long, as over capacity as I’ve been. But just as clearly I have more work ahead, or I would’ve realized months ago how this could only unfold, the way I’ve been going.

Cutting yourself some slack.

I’m… extremely bad at this. Ha. My self-worth gets tangled up in my productivity, and when it’s impossible to be productive enough, it makes it harder to do anything at all, let alone everything, let alone well. When life is calmer, I’m better at untangling this. When stressed, old habits of thinking rear.

Letting go.

I’m always going to expect more from myself. I’m always going to reach for it. I try to set the bar slightly out of reach, but sometimes I miscalculate, and then I keep expecting myself to be able to somehow fly to reach it anyway. Which is a lot of wasted effort for a faulty goal I shouldn’t even be trying to reach, but the lure of how great it would be if I were superhuman is sometimes ridiculously hard to shake.

But these are the things I need to do to pull myself together, and I’m doing them.

The work I care most about needs me to be in a better mental place in order to meet it. So do the people in my life; so do I. So I will. Please be patient with me, and each other, as I work on being patient with myself.

Take care out there.

synchronized sunbathing naps

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Scandinavia Itinerary

I’m heading off to Scandinavia shockingly soon HOW IS IT TIME ALREADY. O_O

*ahem*

I’ll be at Histories of the Future in Uppsala, Sweden on August 4th and 5th for a conference on the legacy of empire and the SFF genre, which I am extremely excited about.

From there I’ll be doing actual, you know, vacation-ing, on account of traveling all the way to Scandinavia anyway, spending the next few days in Stockholm, Sweden and Bergen, Norway.

(VIKING ARTIFACTS. FJORDS. CANNOT FULLY EXPRESS EXCITEMENT. *__*)

And then I’m on to Helsinki for WorldCon! This will be my first WorldCon, and it looks like it’s going to set the bar pretty high. I’m more a creature of small cons (where small cons are, like, 100 people, for context), so we’ll see how this goes! I have loaded a shocking number of books onto my ereader to stock up on introversion in advance. =)

I’ll be arriving in Helsinki in the afternoon on August 10th. If you’re going to be at WorldCon too, ping me and let’s hang out!

Writing is Madness

There’s always a new article/post/thread calling people out for either being too sensitive or not sensitive enough, and, although of course I’m biased, I find it’s especially true in writing circles. We’ve all heard the advice to “develop a thick skin” to get by in this world and not let every little thing faze us on one hand, and on the other how important it is to listen to other people’s experiences and take them to heart. These two imperatives seem paradoxical, but in general–specific cases vary wildly–the crux of the problem is both matter.

And this is my theory for why people pursuing creative endeavors are often a bit bonkers, at least when it comes to their creation. (Well. One reason why, anyway.) I’m going to talk about writing, because it’s what I know, and it goes like this:

There is the story you want to tell, and there’s the story you do tell. There are the words on the page, and there’s the story readers glean from them.

Bad news: they don’t match perfectly.

Good news: that’s one of the beautiful things about art, that we all take different things from it. Reading the same book at different times in our lives can make for vastly different experiences.

But for the author, it’s complicating. Because you want them to match as closely as they can. The story in your head is the asymptote the words on the page get infinitely closer to but never fully reach.

Because no two readers have the same experience. But how much of that is because of what the reader is bringing to the text versus what the author has put into it? How do you know when you’ve gotten it right?

You can’t, because there’s no such thing as right. There’s better. There’s the best you can do. It’s craft, which means you work and whittle and hone your skills. But there’s no such thing as perfection, because it’s also art.

The fact is that no one else can tell your story. As the creator, you have the strongest vision of your own work and what you’re trying to do.

But you don’t have the strongest sense of how it’s working outside your head. You need feedback to tell you when something you did on purpose failed, or something you did on accident is Very Bad.

But readers disagree. Periodically I see the advice to get good readers, but I’m here to tell you that intelligent, experienced, skilled critique-ers don’t all agree either. They never will, because people want and need different things from books.

Which is great in the scheme of things! It means there are markets for lots of different kinds of stories, which is lovely, because it means we have an incredible variety to choose from.

But it also makes it hard to determine, for any given project, whether feedback has more to do with the one person’s read or with the words on the page.

So you get lots of critiques to make sure you’re not just revising to one person’s tastes–unless you are, which simplifies things–but then you really can’t take all the feedback you’re given even if you wanted to, because that would make the book incredibly disjointed. Maybe if lots of people agree you pay special attention to those notes and disregard that one person’s particular bugbear–but maybe that person also caught something incredibly important that everyone else happened to miss.

Some critiques you’ll read and be like, YIKES you are absolutely right I can’t believe I did that THANK YOU for bringing this up so I can fix it O_O. And some you’ll look at and go …woooow this is super off base, wtf?

You’re not always going to agree. Sometimes the crit is right anyway. Sometimes it’s not.

Which means the author, although they need feedback to make their books better, shouldn’t take all critique to heart. Taking every piece of criticism given can be just as bad as taking none of it.

It’s impossible to make everyone happy. Every change will make the story better for some people and worse for others. It’s choice after choice with no objectively correct answer. So how do you choose which change that’s hard should be taken to heart, and which discarded?

IT DEPENDS.

*jazz hands*

You have to be able to be open to readers’ experiences in order to make your book better.

And you have to be able to close off and hold on to what you want for the story in order to make your book better.

And you have to be able to do both together, and this is why authors are bonkers.

 

(but at least we have help)

 

 

 

 

 

 

Tea Princess Chronicles is Up!!

TEA PRINCESS CHRONICLES is live now!

TEA PRINCESS CHRONICLES follows the adventures of Miyara, a princess who escapes her meaningless life and goes into hiding, as she finds her place in the world serving a struggling community by running a tea shop that sits on the edge of a magical disaster.

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Check out Leigh Wallace‘s wonderful artwork!!

Chapters of the serial will be posted weekly, but you can read the first four chapters on the website here! After that, feel free to click over to the Tea Shop Interludes for side scenes featuring Miyara’s experience running the tea shop, each featuring a tea with a different fantasy ingredient. =)

If you’re interested in supporting my work, my Patreon is here with details about how to participate in bonus content I’ll be writing for the serial! Or, you can always buy me tea, which in turn powers the tea writing.

Happy reading!

Announcing: TEA PRINCESS CHRONICLES!

It’s finally time! I’ve been working on this in secret for a while, and I’m so excited (and, not gonna lie, a bit terrified) to announce I will be launching a free web serial next Thursday, June 8th, 2017.

(AAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAHHH!!!!)

TEA PRINCESS CHRONICLES follows the shenanigans of Miyara, a princess who escapes her meaningless life and goes into hiding, finding her place in the world serving a struggling community by running a tea shop that sits on the edge of a magical disaster. I have three serial novels planned, but as this is something of an experiment for me the first will function as a stand-alone—we’ll see how it goes! =D

 

What do I mean when I say “web serial”?

Essentially, this means I’ll be posting a novel online in sections, each of which will be long enough and ideally have enough character/plot arc movement to feel like a satisfying read. Some serials do each released section episodically, more like a classic TV format where each episode can be watched in any order. The bulk of what I’ll be doing is putting up a chapter, about 3-4000 words apiece, of a book (and it will be fantasy book-length) weekly.

Up-front, I’ll post the first four chapters all at once to give people a sample of what they’re getting in for, and also because that’s the necessary introduction for people to enjoy the other side of this project: side scenes that can be read in any order about Miyara’s adventures running the tea shop, each of which will feature a different fantasy-ingredient tea blend. The novel portion is going to be freely available online, and I’ll write new side scenes as the Patreon I’ll be launching reaches new goals.

Basically, I’m going to give you a free book, and every Thursday you can read a little more of it!

 

Why am I writing a serial?

A lot of reasons! Ultimately, it’s a gift to myself.

First and foremost, it’s for my own sanity. In the months spent over the last year working on a serious and messy revision, having one day each week where I could work on something that was fun and easy reminded me why I do this—that it isn’t always awful, and that I’m actually pretty good at this writing thing in general, even if I happen to be working on something hard. That bright spot was a great motivator, because feeling more competent helps me actually be more competent. I need something easy and reliable that replenishes me creatively and doesn’t generate more work and expectations than I’m prepared to deal with right now, and this is what I came up with.

It’s also because I’ve put a lot of time and effort into writing, and I want to have work of mine available to point people towards! I’ve had enough feedback from professionals in the field to feel pretty confident that (while I certainly have growing to do and always will!) I’m writing at a high enough level to be traditionally published. But although I’ve written ten novels (a few of which, it must be said, aren’t worth editing, let alone publishing, and exist firmly in the “learning experiences” category), I don’t have any novels published yet. Even if I magically had a book deal tomorrow, it would be another year or two before the book was out, and I don’t write short stories to try to get published in the interim. A serial, at least the way I’m doing it, is what I like to call “novel-adjacent”—there’s enough overlap in craft skills I’ve already developed without interfering with an actual book launch down the road. Serialized fiction also has some added bonuses in terms of getting to interact with readers and what they care about, which I’m hoping to make the most of through Patreon!

And, I can’t lie, I do hope the Patreon I’ll be launching alongside the serial generates some money. It’s not my primary goal, but last year—between moving, surprise medical expenses, car accident, and sudden job collapse—was hard on my emergency fund. (And my car is 16 years old. While I hope it makes it out the year, I have Concerns.) I’m not in such dire financial straits I need to change my work situation, but if a similar conflation of expenses hit now I am not in a good position to address them. While my work arrangement is wonderful for many reasons, it’s not ideal for replenishing a savings account fast. And, again, even if I had a book deal tomorrow, publishing income is not steady or reliable, and it would great to have a more regular source of writing income. Backing the Patreon is absolutely not required to access the serial or for me to finish writing it, but I would be beyond thrilled to have any income from this craft I’ve worked so hard on.

 

Why am I terrified?

This is the first fictional work of mine that I’m making public. Like, ever. O_O I haven’t even posted fanfic, and soliciting beta reader feedback or submitting to workshops and critique groups isn’t at all the same.

It’s not edited. I’m posting my first work in public without any editing. I mean, I will certainly be proofreading, and I know how to spell and how semicolons work and such. But that’s not the same as a) other people’s eyes on the work or b) developmental editing.

No one has even read it. My wonderful critique partner Camille Griep commented on the first four chapters, but all the rest is going up without my having any idea what people will think of it. Maybe it will be bad! Maybe people will hate it! Maybe no one will read it at all! WE’LL SEE.

 

Why am I excited?

I’m having so much fun.

That’s it, really.

I worked really hard to set reasonable expectations on this project (I do not, as a rule, do reasonable expectations for myself >_>) for how much work I can put into this on a weekly basis and have it be rewarding and not draining, which is my primary goal. And it’s already paying dividends, because I’m snickering in glee every time I go to work.

I’m writing this for myself. I’m not asking anyone to pay for it, I’m not planning to traditionally publish it, I’m beholden to no one’s sensibilities but my own, and I can do whatever I want. This means if I want to write unreasonable amounts of dialogue and however little physical description I care about, NO ONE CAN STOP ME. I can write scenes that are totally silly even if their relation to the actual plot is slim just for the sake of fun. I can fill my world with all the magic and snark and female friendships, elevate tea to a sacred calling, make dragon and cat BFFs, and EVERYTHING IS GOING TO BE GREAT.

The story is light, warm, and fun. I. And every time I sit down, it’s a joy to play with.

It’s the kind of story I’ve been craving to read, and maybe I’m not alone: maybe that’s what you need, too. I hope you enjoy it even half as much as I’ve been.

I’ll be back next week with links to the website and Patreon for anyone who wants to check it out =D. In the meantime, if you have any questions, feel free to ask in the comments!

Choosing Reads

A few weeks ago, I realized I didn’t want to read, which is a huge red flag for me. I’d had a stretch of books that either weren’t great or required more emotional bandwidth than I had handy. Since “not wanting to read” is pretty antithetical to who I am, it was time to employ emergency measures:

I picked a book to re-read. A book I already knew I loved, and a book I was sure would be exactly what I wanted.

A sad consequence of doing most of my reading on an e-reader is that I don’t re-read as often as I used to, because I can’t wander around my shelves and wait for a moment of yes, THAT’S what I need to read right now in quite the same way. But even scrolling through the e-reader library, I have that aha moment when I pass the right one, and it occurred to me that moment itself is telling.

I know there are people who never re-read, but it mystifies me. For me, choosing a given book to re-read says a lot about my mood, for one thing, and what my brain is working on—particular questions of identity, grappling anew with themes addressed in a work, a reflection of the mood I’m experiencing or feeling the lack of. And re-reading these books is a way of reaffirming myself, what matters to me and who I am, and I find re-reading to be an immensely clarifying, cleansing, and centering experience.

(Also I can skip to my favorite bits.)

In this case, the books I re-read (five novels and three novellas from Meljean Brook’s Guardians series, for the curious) underscored a trend not just in what I’ve been drawn to in re-reading, but also the kinds of books and writers I’ve been reaching for.

My to-read pile of books that are denser, require more time or thought, and especially ones that I know will require more emotional bandwidth (hello The Fifth Season, which I’ve started and is AMAZING and is also still waiting on my nightstand) are piling up. I’m in a state as, I think, many are, where I’m just about at my capacity to deal with all the awfulness going on around me. I have about as much challenge as I can stand, and I want more escapism.

Which is not to say I’m reading books that don’t deal with serious or complicated issues; I have perhaps less patience than ever for books with, for instance, unacknowledged sexism, or books that are fundamentally stupid or depend on me pretending to be. But one reason I realized I’ve been picking up book after book by Martha Wells is that I can trust I won’t be smacked in the face with unanticipated sexism when all I want was a transporting read.

These days the books I’m craving, the books I’m reaching for, aren’t just good, nor are they just thoughtful or inventive, as if those weren’t already rare. They’re comforting. They have optimistic outlooks and happy endings. They contain deep personal growth and beautiful friendships, adventure and exploration of worlds and ideas, and I don’t have to worry about being side-swiped by sexism, racism, queerphobia, ableism. They’re warm, welcoming, fun, and if not precisely light, then at least not grim. They’re hopeful, at a time when I could use more hope.

And they’re hard to find, because that’s a tall order. I’ve developed my own list of authors and books I trust, and no doubt yours won’t look the same, because we all pull different things from stories and need different things at any given time.

But, as I’m not just a reader but also a writer, it seems only logical that I should be writing the kind of stories I want to read, because maybe other people need them, too.

I’ve been vague-tweeting about a Secret Project for a few months now, but I’m nearly ready to share it with you all. So look for more details here next week… =D

Arthuriana and Fanfiction

Today my friend Tam asked whether fanfiction can exist without the original material, and this question, it turns out, is perfectly targeted Casey bait. After going on a lengthy Twitter tangent I decided it might be time to dust off the ol’ blog.

Hi friends! LET’S TALK ABOUT ARTHURIANA AND FANFICTION.

(I am so excited you guys. Buckle up; I’m going on the long side here. =D =D =D)

One of my favorite things in medieval Arthuriana is the trope of the “original” version of the King Arthur legend.

Note that I put “original” in quotation marks, because this is important: THERE IS NO ORIGINAL KING ARTHUR LEGEND.

(There’s no original, historical King Arthur, for one thing. But that is a whole other digression for another time when I don’t have important medieval fanfiction matters to talk about.)

Aside from references to King Arthur as early as the 6th century (Gildas), the oldest surviving story is Geoffrey of Monmouth’s Historia Regum Brittaniae, written around 1136—or, possibly, the Welsh Mabinogion; scholars are still arguing about the dates for that one. Both are so intertwined with mythology that it’s difficult to take either as the “authoritative” version in any real sense, or even to believe, given the prominence of oral tradition, they were the first or only stories.

But Monmouth does this thing where he starts out by claiming his source material is a mysteriously no longer extant ancient book, and he’s going to helpfully bring the story to the people of his time.

Monmouth, apparently, was a medieval trend-setter, and this became THE thing to do when taking on the Arthurian canon. Later writers made this into a trope of the genre, referencing an ur ancient record that DOES NOT EXIST.

I mean. It is technically possible that at one point such a record once existed, but, it’s not likely. And it’s especially unlikely someone like Sir Thomas Malory, whose work Le Morte D’Arthur, the earliest known print edition of which dates to 1475, is the basis for most of our contemporary Arthurian adaptations, had any knowledge of it whatsoever.

In other words, the thing to do was basically go, ‘oh, so inconvenient my source material is not accessible to the public, what a terrible shame, oh! but don’t worry guys, I happen to have studied it in detail before it mysteriously disintegrated and can tell you all the best DEFINITELY TRUE bits OMG IT’S SUCH A GOOD STORY ARE YOU GUYS READY’.

People made up, over and over, an original ur-Arthurian legend that never existed, referencing it for the sake of legitimacy to give them a kind of license to do whatever they wanted with the stories. And EVERYONE wanted to do their own thing with Arthurian legends:

Wace takes the HRB and translates it for an Anglo-Norman audience in 1155, expanding all the descriptions, and Laȝamon follows with his English Brut. Then in the late 12th century the French get a hold of the King Arthur legend, and with the adaptations of Chrétien de Troyes and Marie de France the epic tradition transitions into the romance tradition.

Lancelot? One of the core figures of Arthurian myth? DID NOT EXIST until this time. Gawain had previously been the canonical Mightiest Knight, but medieval French romances demanded someone less surly and more shiny, apparently. So a couple hundred years after our earliest record, we have a new main character.

The Lancelot-Grail Cycle (French Vulgate) in the early 1200s explodes the Arthurian canon even further, giving rise to the Stanzaic Morte Arthure. In the 1300s the English language recaptures the genre with the Alliterative Morte Arthure, much more in the epic tradition, and Gawain and the Green Knight. There are many more medieval adaptations, but these are among the most prominent prior to Malory (who worked mainly with the French Vulgate).

But Casey, I thought we were talking about fanfiction, you didn’t ask, backing away slowly from my enthusiastic medieval literary history lecture.

Here’s the thing: authors took what they liked from the adaptations they read and left out the rest; they changed characters and plot or created their own original characters as they saw fit with no regard for “authenticity.” Or rather, claiming in fact to BE the authoritative version.

Look at the time periods there, the different countries, the different literary modes (history, epic, romance, etc.). Each writer adapted the Arthurian legend for their audience, for their cultural values, for their literary trends. And they did it so well that hundreds of years later, most people familiar with Arthurian legend at all have no idea that Lancelot was a fanciful late-addition OC.

Arthuriana is fanfiction. All of it, straight-up, fanfic.

This is already long, so I don’t want to go into too much detail right now about the modern valuing of originality in storytelling over the way a story is told (but DO I EVER want to go into it sometime). But to a medieval audience, there would have been no conflict of authenticity between The Wedding of Sir Gawain and Dame Ragnelle, a 15th century poem, and Chaucer’s version in “The Wife of Bath’s Tale”; both were re-tellings in a tradition of “loathly lady” tales.

Fanfiction, as a concept, is, accordingly, a pretty modern concept, and no one seems to agree on exactly where the line should be drawn. Today, if I were to write an Arthurian adaptation of my own, would it be fanfiction, or would it be original fiction? It depends on how you define “fanfiction,” of course, but I think it would be both.

At some level, all fiction is in conversation with other fiction. Art and scholarship are mimetic, using work that has been done before to create new ideas.

In this particular case, I think it’s useful (artistically; I’m not talking legal rights here) to think of fanfiction and fiction as more of a continuum rather than two separate boxes of art. In A Theory of Adaptation, Linda Hutcheon writes that the point of adaptation is to be “repetition but without replication, bringing together the comfort of ritual and recognition with the delight of surprise and novelty.” In that sense, fanfiction and fiction aren’t at odds; the main difference is the weight of the “comfort of ritual and recognition” is heavier in fanfiction. But fanfiction still brings novelty, and if fiction only brings novelty it’s not likely to resonate with a large audience.

The tropes of, say, grimdark fantasy can’t work without the tropes of high fantasy to subvert, but how many tropes can you steal before people start making accusations of being derivative? How much do you have to change? At one point does a trope become such a part of the cultural consciousness that you don’t have to do the same artistic work to either establish or distinguish it in the text? And it’s possible to write, read, and enjoy fanfiction without ever having engaged with an “original,” just with the fanfic “canon,” so do you even need the ur material to write fanfiction?

I think not, and I think Arthuriana is clear example of why not.

But depending on the execution, the fanfiction might ALSO be fiction.