The Choice to Fly

I love flying. And this year, I went paragliding.

 

photo by Drew McNabb from Acroparagliding

Starting my annual birthday flying adventures is the best tradition I’ve established for myself. It’s a chance for me to step outside my day-to-day, to reflect on what I’ve accomplished and who I want to be and whether I’m on that path.

This year was hard, for a lot of reasons, and I have been pushing hard. On the writing front, I wrote another book’s worth of words in the course of revisions, and I have revised more–both in thoroughness and in quantity of time spent–this year than I’ve revised in my life. And amidst everything else, I wrote a new book (which you can read for free!), which was a new kind of challenge and adventure. But I’ve gotten so caught up in the minutiae of that daily work that I was desperately ready to fly.

For my birthday flying adventures, I’ve been skydiving, flown on trapezes, sped through the air on ziplines. There are spectacular views to be seen this way, but it’s ultimately not the external perspective I value. It’s the act of flying itself that I love, that I can never get enough of.

When I’m in the air, I don’t feel adrenaline rushes from fear or even thrill. It’s a quieter feeling, but it centers me: flying, I know who I am. I know what I can do, and what I will do.

Every time, I wonder if it will be hard to jump. This year, I wondered if I’d feel nervous running off the hill with so much air below me. I’m familiar with that feeling, standing at the edge of a cliff and making myself jump, and I was prepared to do it, to prove to myself that I could. But there was no doubt, no fear; just launching into the sky.

This year, though, something else struck me. Throughout the trip–doing the paperwork, riding the van up the mountain, strapping in amidst endless jokes to test whether I was going to panic (they, clearly, had not met me)–people kept asking, with some confusion, some disbelief, “you’re here alone?”

Like it was so rare not to need people to come along for moral support, or to witness me. Like I really was there just to fly.

And when I responded affirmatively, they just said, “Good for you.”

Good for me, for taking steps to pursue my own path. Good for me, for knowing when I am enough, for being enough, by myself.

But even though I came alone, I came to a community. People who joked, knew each other’s hopes and struggles, looked out for each other, expected the best. A community of people who have learned to carve a regular space for adventure into their everyday lives, as though flying above mountains is a normal part of everyday lives.

Because it can be.

And the other consistent refrain throughout the trip was when people asked me what I did, and I said I was a writer, and they all marveled.

At first I thought they were impressed by my ability to make ends meet as a writer, but after a couple interactions I realized they hadn’t considered that the challenging part. It was the fact that I write, and I write novels, and multiple, and fantasy, facts I always take as a matter of course, that was what wowed them.

Writing has become such an integral part of my everyday that I sometimes forget what an adventure it is, to pour my time and energy and thoughts and passion into creating stories with words, to throw myself off the cliff over and over and trust that I will fly.

When I fly, I remember I’m an adventurer.

photo by Jenny Scott

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Approaching Cons as a Professional Writer

I just returned from a fabulous Sirens, where this year I was reader, presenter, writer, and staff, a new intersection of roles for me. As always, I’ve returned with a lot of thoughts, more a coalescence of ideas accumulated over years of cons rather than a response to a particular experience. (Which is to say, if you think I’m talking about you, unless you know I think of you as a scholar and a gentleperson, you’re probably wrong.)

I’ve had a chance to attend a variety of cons over the last few years before traditionally publishing, which has given me time to realize I have opinions not just on what kind of writer I want to be in the sense of storytelling, but also on what kind of public professional I want to be. I hear writers talk regularly about their public internet/social media presence, but less about the way they approach con-going. Professional writers go to different cons for different reasons, those broadly being:

  • Networking/Meetings
  • Learning craft
  • Selling books
  • Being with friends who get you

Attending a con will usually involve some combination of those goals, but some cons are better for particular priorities. Big cons–like book expos or comic cons–are the best way to get books in front of lots of fans. A tiny regional con or workshop is a better bet for craft. A genre establishment con–WFC, Nebulas, RT–is going to have a high density of pros, which is ideal for scheduling meetings with a lot of publishing professionals.

A con is also an investment: of money, and of time. In general, writers are paying their own way to these events, and they’re events that take time away from writing and editing. More than that, they’re exhausting, physically and emotionally. It’s hard to be “on” all the time. Add to that, a lot of professional writers are introverts. Being social, in public, with people we don’t know, is hard.

But writing is also a job. Cons are, ideally, rejuvenating in a personal fashion, but for a professional writer, they’re also work. I think it’s important to consider what writers get out of cons, and what they want to get out of them, and what that means in terms of approach.

It’s possible for writers to only talk to people at cons they already know–whether because they have many people to catch up with after years of attending a con or years of being away, or many meetings scheduled, or overwhelming shyness and enormous relief that they’re no longer fighting to break in, that they have their group, that they don’t have to put themselves in awkward social situations anymore.

It’s not only possible, it’s easy. It sometimes takes more effort to not end up only talking with people I already know, and I’m glad I’ve had the chance to learn to be aware of that so I don’t, because I think it’s a huge missed opportunity. If I only wanted to talk to friends, I could schedule a retreat, or set up a private group chat. Part of the value of cons is not just bringing together people I already know, but people I don’t already know.

When I go to cons, I want to make deep connections–in ideas, and in relationships. I always want to learn, grow, and make friends.

And not just with other writers and publishing professionals. Readers are smart. Some of the most insightful story craft and emotionally supportive discussions I’ve had were with people who will never type a word of fiction in their lives.

I do also want to make friends with people in my field, but the idea of “networking” without friendship fills me with unease–the kind of hollow foundation it implies in my head is harder for me to navigate than the prospect of demonstrating sincere interest in people and knowing them better. That I don’t have to fret about how to do well, because I am interested–if anything I’ll have more trouble keeping my interest in hearing absolutely everything contained.

So here it is: if I go to a con you’re also at, I want to meet you. No matter whether you’ve been in the industry for decades or never been to a con in your life, I want to hear what you’re excited about, and I want to have a conversation about it and not just small talk.

That’s a choice, and every choice has consequences. I know it means I won’t sleep enough in favor of talking with people, and although I’m an introvert I won’t spend much, let alone enough, time alone. I know it means I’ll need to compensate for the sleep deprivation with making sure to eat extremely healthily, which is often complicated at a con. I know it means I need to stock up on introversion before and after a con, that I’ll lose another day to get my body and mind back in working order. I know it means I need to schedule time at the con, not just to see my friends, but to make sure I have time to see people who aren’t already my friends. I know it means I’ll end up in conversations I want to flee, and I’ll miss visiting with some people I care about.

But I’ll also make new friends, and I’ll have conversations and thoughts I couldn’t have had otherwise. That’s the goal, and that’s the reward.

Cons are a balance, and for every person that balance falls differently. Selling books isn’t currently a top priority for me, for instance–but even once it is, I don’t think my choice on this will change much. One of the professional benefits of putting effort into a public presence is to help readers feel personally connected to writers, which encourages them to buy books and spread the word, and in my experience conversations are way more likely to establish connections than listening to someone sitting up on a panel pedestal. For another, everyone has different mental and physical health needs, but I’ve had time to learn how to balance mine in a con setting. Not everyone can make the same choice I do, nor should they necessarily want to.

But I know how much I’ve valued the people over the years who have taken the time to be patient, to listen, to take me seriously, to engage with me earnestly and thoughtfully, to see me when I’ve been alone. How much it’s mattered, and how much I’ve learned. And I know that’s the kind of professional writer I want to be.

So the next time we’re at the same con, I hope we get a chance to talk. I want to hear what you’re excited about.

experiments in defensive fortifications

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

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)

 

 

 

 

 

 

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

Easy Winter Beverages

 

I am COLD. In fact, I get cold more easily than anyone I know!

I am also always thirsty and drink on a semi-constant basis.

The solution to my problem here is clear.

 

So I bring you my five favorite easy and warm beverages to make in the winter!

All beverages on this list are nonalcoholic, largely due to the fact that I rotate them throughout the day. And I use “make” loosely, because I do mean easy–I am among the laziest chefs and also have books to write.

Without further ado:

 

  1. Chai.

    Tea in general is excellent in the winter, but if I must choose one, at the risk of waxing endlessly, chai is my favorite. Add in some milk and sugar and chai is probably the only reason I get out of bed.

    (No, really. I have to move out from underneath a cat. This requires extreme motivation.)

  2. Honeycrisp Apple Cider.

    I will accept other varieties of apple cider, of course, but honeycrisp apple cider is available by the jug here in Washington and it is AMAZING. I like heating it up with a mulling spice packet or cinnamon stick, but it’s good on its own, too. Honeycrisp apple cider is a permanent fixture at my house between November and February.

  3. Honey Lemon Tisane.

    This one’s especially good for when you’ve had enough caffeine for the day but don’t want to drink anything too filling. Put a couple dollops each of lemon juice and honey (do adjust dollops to taste–I am fond of sugar and err on the side of more honey always) into a mug, add a cinnamon stick, fill with water, heat, and stir. Done!

  4. Steamed Milk.

    A misnomer, but that’s how I learned to call it, and it’s a straightforward comfort drink after a hard or cold day. Add some honey to a mug of milk, heat, then add a couple drops of vanilla and stir. It’s that easy.

  5. Hot Chocolate.

    Last but not least, the classic. Adding marshmallows is traditional, but these days I love the variety of packets that come with salted caramel, cinnamon, or peppermint flavors. There are a thousand ways to do hot chocolate; you know what you like!

 

Combine warm beverage of choice with fleece blankets, a fireplace, and a comfortable cat or two, and I may make it through winter yet.

Let me know if you have suggestions for more winter beverages!