Wednesday, September 22, 2010

Come on Over!

So, I'm taking the plunge and redirecting visitors to even though it's not quite ready yet. No new content will be posted here, so be sure to adjust your feed reader and/or subscription.

The content is the same, just working toward a better-looking site and more flexible platform.

See you there!

Friday, September 17, 2010

This Blog is Moving!

Just a heads-up; Is This Utopia? will magically transform this month into and migrate on over to a WordPress format, finally.

SO, adjust your sets, and let me know what you think. The site is already up, but it's a work in progress; new logo is being designed as we speak.

Tuesday, September 14, 2010

On Roller Derby (more non-writing activities)

Too chicken to play all-female flat track roller derby myself, but it is awesome to be a spectator. I've recently been introduced to this team sport, and my current fav is the Switchblade Sisters, a team in the Tampa Bay Derby Darlins league.

The officials are almost as much fun to watch as the flat track action itself. I spent a fair amount of time at the last bout on September 4th trying to capture the antics of Stella Knockout (derby names are fun). She skidded on her knees on the edge of the track (a few feet from me) after every other play like she was sliding into home plate. Never quite got the shot I wanted, though. As seen here, she rocks the referee uniform.

I'm really not one for sports. I was forced to play team sports as an adolescent and hated it all. Now, I tend toward individual or partnered recreational activities, not competitive ones, and I don't watch sports on television. The entertaining aspect of roller derby (for me) has a great deal to do with empowering women, and the majority of spectators are women and girls. I plan say a bit more about this and the appealing third-wave punk aesthetic, too, when I'm not so sleepy; women-centered space can be creative and interesting to occupy. The number of supportive males in the sport, in terms of both audience and officials, is not too shabby from what I've seen in this league.

For a fun and informative look at roller derby, check out the excellent documentary Blood on the Flat Track: The Rise of the Rat City Roller Girls.

Monday, September 13, 2010

What Else?

My family and friends must be getting tired of hearing about my writing life because someone recently asked, "So, what else are you doing? What have you been up to?"

What I'm up to is bouldering and buildering, veganing and watching roller derby (but not all at the same time).

About bouldering:

I discovered this with the help of a friend and freaked over it, a little. Who knew climbing around on walls could be so awesome? And it builds muscle like crazy. The crummy thing is, the nearest gym is an hour away.

So, just for fun sometimes I gotta builder. In other words, climbing around in places I probably shouldn't like a monkey. Mind you, I'm a novice at both of these activities, but this one is particularly appealing to the juvenile delinquent (by which, of course, I mean "free spirit") that lives in the corner of my heart. A good friend is an influence in this regard.

So here I am climbing around on stuff behind the post office. Postal people might not appreciate this activity in the same way I do, so I'm buildering after hours. My son thought it was a hoot and joined right in. Is this a negative thing?

This silliness is abetted by the fact that I just acquired a pair of Vibram Sprints, five-fingered toe shoes that garner weird looks everywhere they go because, frankly, they are odd-looking. But they give you all kinds of grip, and they're comfy. I walked a couple of miles in them today, rode a bike and then set a bad example at the post office after dark. Good times.

Tomorrow: veganing and roller derby. Those need their own posts, methinks.

Saturday, September 11, 2010

An Acceptance!

I'm am thrilled and amazed to report that a submission of mine has been accepted for publication.

In a fun publication, too. Recently, excellent super-duo Ann and Jeff Vandermeer announced a call for micro-submissions to be included in their latest, The Thackery T. Lambshead Cabinet of Curiousities, which will feature such cool people as the marvelous and friendly-in-person Ted Chiang, China Mieville, Holly Black, Garth Nix and Minister Faust, to name a few.

You can read my submission on the blog comments here.

Congrats to all, and a big thank you to the Vandermeers for their consideration.

Wednesday, September 8, 2010

The Single Best Thing

One of my Clarion West buds just sent me a critique of my latest effort at a short story. A really solid crit. And that may be the Single Best Thing to come out of the CW experience.

Not only do I have great friends who keep in touch and tweet pictures of their lunches to me, who chat with me about theology and life and finding fulfillment, but we are also lending generous hands to each other in our continuing work.

Even better, we'll get a chance to further that effort when we meet up again at events like World Fantasy Con.

Thanks, peeps! You made my day.

Saturday, August 28, 2010

Life After

It's been a busy summer, and I've only covered a fraction of it here. As proof that there's more to life than Clarion West recovery, I actually set some goals.

One of the cooler gifts I was given at CW (among others too miraculous to quantify) was a autographed copy of Jeff Vandermeer's Booklife, which is an extraordinary survival guide that all serious aspiring writers should have. Thanks, Jeff! In the book, Vandermeer handily explicates the notion of goal-setting as it applies to the writing life, along with a wealth of other helpful suggestions.

I sat down and cranked out goals for the week, month, and coming year, including the number of submissions I think I should be rotating at any given time in marketland, and conventions for professional writers that may help further my career. I made plans to attend one, World Fantasy Con, and outlined plans for other events in the year to come.

The momentum is exciting, but I realized pretty quickly that my weekly goals are unrealistic; part of me crazily expected to keep up a CW pacing outside of the workshop bubble. When a child is tugging my sleeve, other family members need attention, and I find myself launched back into service of my faith community, the pace really slows.


I have recently submitted three works, two of them stories from the workshop, and I'm currently working on a promising new idea. I'm keeping in touch with CW colleagues, and I joined the Codex Writers' Group.

I guess this is a little pat on the back to reassure myself that the thrills and successes I experienced over the summer aren't going to fade away into the ether of memory as the present realities of my life assert themselves. I'm working toward my future, one goal at a time, and I know what I want. I just have to keep moving forward.

Friday, August 20, 2010

Clarion West Made Me Do It Part 2

I can't believe I didn't mention this one already. As far as crazy things go, this ranks pretty high with some people, including more than a few Famous Authors I met at the CW parties. I was NOT the only one who got a tattoo to commemorate the workshop, BTW.

Thursday, August 19, 2010

The Clarion West Narrative: Eight Crazy Things Clarion West Made Me Do

This ongoing narrative thread about Clarion West is less coherent than I'd like, but I'm starting to think that's symptomatic of the experience. My brain is so full of memories, sights, sounds, faces, places and ideas that the story is coming out in a jumble. A rough draft that I'll clean up as I go, at least in my head, as I rewrite my life story.

One way I want to address some of the story is to drag it out of my past and into the present moment.

The welcome packet I was given warned us that we'd return home changed people, and in my case, the advice was dead-on. From very basic things (I started chewing gum to stay awake and developed a habit) to major shifts in self-concept that I can't yet articulate, the workshop was transformative.

I developed an almost paranoid relationship with my laptop and still feel uneasy if it's not where I can see it. I'm addicted to Twitter. I drink too much coffee. I'm aggressively protective of my privacy and free time. I can't sleep (yet) on an Eastern time schedule. I returned to veganism with a passion. But, HEY! Results may vary.

I also learned to think and work like a professional writer, which is a good thing, one hopes.

This last part may seem a little juvenile, but when I came back, I also had a burning desire to be a bit funkier, to make my outer appearance match my changing inner self-concept. After some careful thought, I made a big change.

So, here's my new do, some of which is blue. I feel fabulous and more comfortable in my own skin. I can't sufficiently explain why this was important to me.

At my age, you'd think I'd be past little things like appearance. But I'm becoming a person I've wanted to be for quite some time, and it feels totally right.

Tuesday, August 17, 2010

Clarion West Narrative: some tidbits

Clarion West students work to build collegiality, but the workshop tone is set by the instructor.

Case in point: Week One

Michael Bishop was wonderful, a pro. Right out of the gate, he launched into an enlightening lecture on the evils of passive voice and tired phrases, and discussed the useful concept of the "object correlative." During week one, it was clear that Bishop expected us to be familiar with more than just work in our chosen genre. We discussed James Joyce, Eliot, and Robert Hass. We talked about Flannery O'Connor and characterization, "say-able" dialogue and careful prose. And we wrote our butts off, with a different short piece due each day on a particular theme. The extraordinary part, one I dearly loved, was the fact that the stories were turned in anonymously, and Bishop read them aloud for us to critique.

The quality of those early stories blew me away. I had found myself in the company of some brilliant people. Good place to be to grow as a writer! In this process, Bishop taught us how to workshop stories without blasting authors. It set a marvelous tone for the weeks to come. Bishop himself was positive and humorous, a delightful guy.

On Tuesday, we attended a reading at the UW Bookstore where he read from a recent anthology he edited entitled Cross of Centuries. His selection was a fabulous re-imagining of Christ as a woman. Definitely worth the read.

Monday, August 16, 2010

The Clarion West Narrative

Finally back at home, after some training and travel unrelated to writing (more on that later, perhaps).

Many people are blogging about the workshop experience, and I know why (here's a superb example). I've written for newspapers, but this isn't reporting. This is grieving and restructuring the narrative of our lives, post-CW. At least, for me it is.

I don't have adequate words to explain how much the workshop experience impacted me and changed me. I'm opting to tell the tale more thematically after a failed draft attempt to break down my Clarion West experience into week-by-week description. The bottom line is, the week-by-week stuff all blurs together, even if you take extensive notes, like I did.

Having said that...

Arrival at the workshop, Saturday June 19. Palpable excitement as classmates arrived. Lots of hugging and thrills of recognition from forum and blog posts, photos shared online in our Google group. Threw luggage into my room. The admin folks, who are lovely people, left us to our own devices to get acquainted. We went out for Indian food on University Avenue, the smorgasbord of ethnic cuisine yum-yums.

Imagine showing up to a beautiful house filled with people who share your fondest hopes. They've read some of the same books you've read. They speak your language. They laugh when you make reference to Babylon 5 or The Princess Bride. They're wearing t-shirts with geeky sayings on them. I breathed deep, in spite of my jitters. These were MY people.

The most precious thing about the CW experience for me? Friendships. This was also the toughest part, as the workshop drew to a close. Not only did we get an extraordinary chance to learn from pro writers, we also got to share our own talents and passions with other new writers, and the combination of these factors makes for some seriously powerful bonding.

Now, some of us are working hard to stay in touch, which is professionally smart but also fulfilling in other ways. I miss them terribly. This matters so much to me that words fail here, but this aspect of the workshop was huge. I'm sorrowful, but so very grateful.

Heartfelt thanks to all.

Monday, August 2, 2010

Home Again

Wow. I just had my life radically altered by Clarion West Writers Workshop. I wish someone had told me coming home would be like ripping my heart out.

It was lovely. It was terrifying. It was complex and full of joy and discovery. It was everything I ever wanted and then some, including things I didn't even know I needed and a bunch of new best friends.

I didn't blog about it during because it's just too damn hard. Some folks did in the past, and I really appreciated their efforts, for giving me a window into that life-changing event before I attended the workshop. I learned that every workshop class has a different experience, that the time we're given is shaped by us, the participants, but there are lots of commonalities, too. Read and compare, if you are a future hopeful.

Over the next few weeks, I'll attempt to reconstruct some of the narrative of my experience there. But it'll be mostly for me, I think. The last six weeks have been so intense and important to my life as a person and as a writer, and I need to decompress and process some of that data, if you know what I mean.

In the meantime, here's photo #1, arrival and unpacking.

Monday, June 21, 2010

Arrival and Ecstasy

If you've been reading along, you know I'm at the Clarion West Writers Workshop in Seattle, Washington, which is amazing and surreal and a bunch of other words that don't tell much. I will probably post irregularly, and I am beginning to understand why it is officially discouraged. There is far too much other activity and purpose here to spend it doing any writing other than fiction.

Having said that...

The house is like a palace on the bottom (where we eat and talk) and an institution on the top floors (where the writers sleep and work). The administrators are praise-worthy in the extreme. I already feel like I've known them a while, and they work hard to meet our every need (or demand). I nearly fell out of my chair this morning when they announced that there would be a massage therapist coming to the house at intervals to service our cramping shoulders and backs. The food is incredible and constantly available: I will probably gain back every pound I lost in May and then some.

The people, the other writers, are delightful. We're all very different but share that one intensity of purpose. It's sort of like being on a nerdy con panel but small, intimate and regular. So far I've seen work from nine of the eighteen, and they have serious chops. It's good company.

Our first instructor, Michael Bishop, has made me think more about narrative theory in seven or so hours than I've ever done before. Not everything we're discussing is new to me, but bringing it all into focus in one place, and then sitting down to write minutes later, has already produced writing of which I can be proud.

Description is inadequate to convey the experience. Suffice it to say, I'm having a blast though I miss my family, and today I ate a Vegemite sandwich for the first time ever.

Now, back to writing.

Saturday, June 19, 2010

Journey's Beginning (Random Pre-flight Ramblings)

Up early and eager to go. I don't think I've mentioned before that I hate flying with a passion. If I could avoid it in a reasonable manner, I would, but I can't see traveling for days and days clear across the country for this workshop.

So, I'm packing my usual pile of flight survival drugs and earplugs and so on, in hopes that I won't get sick or have to endure excruciating ear pain.

The packing is almost complete, I just have to shuffle things around so my pillow will fit. I'm happy to report that I located a satchel in my closet that will accommodate my groovy but unnecessary doumbek, so now I can add one more parcel to the three I'll already be trying to manage.

Now I've just got to wake my boys so we can finish up and hit the road to the airport.

No Rest for the Weary

Can't sleep, must pack! And repack, fidget over loose ends and contemplate the prospect of fitting just ONE more thing into the suitcase.

I actually shopped today for a carrying case for my doumbek, but I couldn't find one, so I guess it stays at home. Why do I even think I need that?

Every time I really think about what I'm doing, I feel the urge to vomit. I may yet take some decongestant to knock me out so I don't lie awake for the rest of the night worrying about what I've forgotten to pack (relax, I have a cold, so it's not total drug misuse).

This time tomorrow I will be in Seattle. Terrifying, really.

Monday, June 14, 2010


Clarion West begins in five days. I tried (unsuccessfully) to avoid thinking about the whirlwind adventure waiting for me in Seattle, but now that the days are down to single digits, and friends are wishing me well, I feel pretty scared.

I'm still working through the instructor reading list; I've changed it up a bit from my original plan, and now it's on round two, where each author is going through my brain a second time with a second book. I've been absolutely blown away by Maureen McHugh. If you like Ursula K. Le Guin at all (and I adore her work), then McHugh is for you. I've also been impressed with the style of Ian McDonald, Nnedi Okorafor and Michael Bishop. Reading Graham Joyce's Requiem was a little unpleasant for me, but now that I'm into The Limits of Enchantment, I'm ready to give the author another chance to make a first impression. One more by Bishop and I reach my minimum goal.

Other than that, I've been trying to tie up loose ends and set other bits in motion, in hopes that those plates will still be spinning (how'dya like that mixed metaphor?) when I return from the workshop. A big challenge is figuring out what to pack, and although I've been making the list and assembling the collection of stuff for over a month, now that the time is really upon me, I'm struggling a bit. I realize yet again that I like to be in control of anything and everything that I can. This whole thing is outside my comfort zone, but the nervous part of me has been properly chided by the thrill-seeker and the aggressive self-promoter. I'm almost ready.

I'm not sure how much time I'll get to blog while I'm there; in fact, we are encouraged not to. Other participants have promised a daily update and fallen off halfway due to the demands of the workshop, so I'm not making any promises. But I do hope to document the experience a bit for myself and for future hopefuls because those who did blog gave me a window through which to look and dream.

Thursday, June 10, 2010

And then there was Pie (and sand)

I promised a photo! Thankfully, I took one because, as they say, a picture will last longer. It was GOOD pie. I confess that I ate almost half of the pie all by myself. So much for the low-carb diet.

The delay in posting of the promised pie photo is the result of my family's long-awaited trip to Anna Maria Island, which was incredibly beautiful. The sky was this gorgeous azure, and the water was perfectly clear and aquamarine. There was a moment when the beauty of the water was overwhelming and unreal to my eyes, a solid thing, like a delicately colored piece of plexiglass. Absurd, right?

Unexpectedly, I shed tears when I first touched the water. The oil spill is on the mind of every person along the coast, even though they pretend, like our innkeeper did, that everything is wonderful as usual. I said some prayers, and we had a lovely time for the most part. Mr. B ran himself ragged and fell into bed at 9 PM every single night we were there. I wish I could figure out how to exhaust him that way at home.

The sea turtles were nesting at night, which was something I would have dearly loved to witness, but I was too tired. We did go out each night in the early evening and walk in the twilight. Every night, when the sun touched the horizon, an interesting thing happened. Every person on the beach stopped (except Mr. B, who never stops moving unless he is unconscious) and stared at the sun as it appeared to grow smaller and smaller, and then wink out below the horizon line. It occurred so rapidly, and I found this unceasingly amazing. I mean, Florida is flat, but I rarely see the completion of a sunset because we live in a tree city. I was caught up every night in that motion, startled by it each time. It made me feel very small. It's easy to forget that we live on a enormous ball spinning in space, and then you glimpse it turning.

Blessed be, Gaia. Oshun. Yemaya.

Thursday, May 27, 2010

Today is a Blue-fingered Day

Mr. B had a lucky day, according to reports. I arranged for him and some of his homeschool buds to go to a local blueberry farm, where they loaded up the yummy little gems. I think it's safe to say Mr. B put more berries in his mouth than in his bucket, but he had a blast.

It was blazing hot, of course, a balmy 90 degrees. When I finally sat down in the shade after an hour or so, I was startled that it took so long (about as long as it took for me to get overheated) for me to consider the contrast between my choice of recreation (blueberry picking) and the misery of farmworker labor (blueberry picking). A woman with four children in tow, one just an infant, was picking berries for the company, albeit in a different area, and I never saw her sit down for a break, especially not after such a short time. Just a thought.

The berries are amazing, though, and it was satisfying to pick them myself. It doesn't look like much, but there's more than four pounds in there. I may attempt to bake some sort of pie with them on Friday. There could be pictures!

Tuesday, May 25, 2010

Sometimes Rejection is Nice

Or at least when it's nicely worded. I sent off yet another story (actually the same one that keeps getting rejected all over town) to The Future Fire a short while back, and a few days ago, I got a very polite and encouraging response:

"This was a fascinating and well-written piece, with a dual plot arc of
Alice's failing relationship and imploding scientific experiment
working well to offset each other. Apart from being a parable on
scientific catastrophe-making, however, there isn't much
social/political content to the plot of this story, and in the end we
felt it didn't quite fit what we are looking for in TFF at the moment.

We'd like to thank you again for thinking of us with this story, and
wish you the very best with your writing in the future."

How refreshing to receive feedback beyond the typical form letter! It was also a gentle let-down as to the fit of the piece. I've gotten a few rejections in the past that seemed a little snarky, especially coming from amateur 'zines.

In a way, I was also pleased that the placement of my lesbian protagonist doesn't warrant classification as "social/political content." A mute point someday, I hope? I'm a little ticked with myself that I missed out on the submission window for the theme of their previous issue, Queer Sci-fi, where it may have faired better. Just my luck, I guess.

BTW, the letter also stated that The Future Fire is on hiatus until 2011.

Thursday, May 20, 2010

Disaster and Heartache

I've haven't been able to form a response yet to the disaster in the Gulf. It's easier to ignore disaster when it is taking place in some distant place. This is not so far, really, and it's coming closer every moment.

Today, the outer edges of the spill hit the Louisiana coast, in some of the most pristine wildlife areas in the country, as this aerial photo from the AP shows.

My family plans to go to Anna Maria Island in a few weeks, and I'll pray there at the edge of the Gulf. I wasn't sure what I would say until I read this over at T. Thorn Coyle's blog.

As a pagan (not to mention a human with a pulse) who reveres the earth and the ocean, I feel horrified, numb and angry. However, I've been taught to channel feelings like these into positive ends, whenever possible.

To keep from crying about it, I'm trying to DO something, which a feeble thing in the face of the trauma the earth is facing. There's this effort you may have read about, where people are making these crazy-looking things called "hair booms" to soak up the oil. I'm just calling different salons and asking them to participate in the hair collection. One place so far said "yes," the Fantastic Sam's in my town. They have a designated collection bin for hair, so I took my Mr. B there to get his hair trimmed, and made sure he knows that his hair will go to help clean up the spill.

The crummy thing is, while salons all over the country are collecting the hair, BP hasn't agreed to use them in the cleanup). These booms have been shown to work; why wouldn't BP let the people help clean up this horrifying disaster?

Today, I channeled my inner crazy-lady and contacted the Louisiana Office of Homeland Security and Emergency Preparedness, where a woman named Jody was very nice but couldn't tell me why the governor's office isn't pressuring BP to approve the use of the booms, in spite of the fact that there aren't enough of the ineffective plastic ones. It seems strange and outrageous to me that BP has so much control over the cleanup. I called the local paper in Houma, Louisiana, which has recently covered the story about hair collection, and asked a reporter there to pursue it further. We had a effusive conversation, and she agreed to follow up and press the issue (there's a BP response center in Houma).

Then I read that BP may be reconsidering, probably in a PR move.

Makes me want to holler, but maybe some good is coming.

EDIT: Later, when I tried to call the Coast Guard Gulf command office to confirm that BP is waiting for their approval (and to advocate for said approval), they just passed me off to BP Operational Command in Houston (read: nice PR ladies). They had no clue what I was talking about, even though it's been in the news already that they're considering the possibility.
image from, the organization behind the effort

Wednesday, May 19, 2010

Adventures in Parenting

Sometimes a little shutter clicks in my mind, saving a memory under the filename "What Homeschooling Looks Like." It would make a great photo essay, if I'd really been taking photos during these moments when I was busy just living: Mr. B watching PBS in his underwear, Mr. B snoring on the floor of a dewy tent in a campground, Mr. B crouched in the hallway completing a math assignment (his favorite spot for doing homework), or Mr. B squatting on the sidewalk examining a dead lizard through a jeweler's loupe.

Mostly, I trick him into learning stuff while trying hard to listen to a bunch of jabber about his current fixation without going crazy. Lately, it's Ghostbusters, which is hilarious on some level. He's constantly talking about ghosts and making up wacky scenarios about hauntings, drawing pictures, playing the videogame, and watching the movie (although that's tapered off now, thank goodness). He even solicited a special project from my mom, the woman who can make damn near anything out of cardboard, and she constructed a proton pack that fastens to his back with straps she made out of USB lanyards. He wears it everywhere. Can you spot the intrepid heroes on the left, saving NYC?

However, sometimes I do take photos, usually after the fact, to remind myself that the frustration and sacrifice are (mostly) worth the payoff. Today, we made a bird feeding platform from a shelf that I picked up on the side of the road and an old terra cotta flowerpot dish. We installed it outside his window so he can watch birds (one of his Aspie obsessions --could be worse). He can see it from his bunk bed.

A couple of weeks ago, at Florida Pagan Gathering (happy Beltane, BTW), I took a deep breath and let Mr. B off the chain. He romped with his camp buddies and frequently disappeared from my sight, once for over an hour. I even let him participate in the so-called Celtic Games, where men and boys whack each other with boffers shaped like swords and toss big rocks. He took a beating and cheered and hollered himself hoarse, and it was probably the most fun he ever had.

Some days, it's lots of fun being me.

Sunday, May 9, 2010

Happy Mother's Day!

Although I kinda bought this for myself yesterday, my new drum contributed to my happy mom's day. Broke it in at our monthly drum circle, too. Hope yours was a good one!

Saturday, May 8, 2010

Goodbye to You(s)

As they say in Jersey, see you(s) around. The term is over! I always feel a flood of relief when classes conclude. I no longer have all these groups of people depending on me to be energetic and helpful. Of course, I still have permanent people fixtures, known and loved, who require those qualities of me, but at least I don't have to pour it out to strangers, for now.

This has been one of my best terms, honestly. I stayed on top of the workload, most of my students were engaged and hard-working (there are always a few who aggravate, wheedle and cheat), and I enjoyed my time with them. However, it's incredibly draining for me, and a distraction from what I want to be doing. I'm glad to be done.

The truly excellent part of the fun is I have no plans to teach for the rest of the year. Summer is Clarion West, and fall is the time when I use all that knowledge I've hopefully gathered to make some magic happen. I also have a homeschooling responsibility that needs ramping up. Mr. B finally starting reading and writing independently this year, and he's primed for big advances now that those building blocks are in place. Double excitement.

Monday, April 26, 2010

More Internet Amazement

Say what you will, the internet is an amazing place. So many resources exist to help a person do just about anything, from raising chickens to learning to knit. I am quite proud to say that the old series o'tubes has helped me learn, at least in the latter case.

New amazing thing I tried, thanks to my writing buddy Scott W. Baker, is a little thing called Duotrope's Digest. For a newbie writer like me, finding appropriate semi-pro markets is a challenge, but the Digest makes it easy. I can search the database for exactly the type of market that's best for my work.

Maybe I'll figure out how to fit the widget below into my sidebar a bit later when hubbie is home to help with the code.

Duotrope's Digest: search for short fiction & poetry markets

I submitted a piece yesterday to The Future Fire, a paying semi-pro that specializes in political themes. I hope that my story can find a home there; I'm concerned that the story's lesbian main character may not have been welcome at a couple other places I submitted to.

We shall see! It's good to get back to the work that's important to me, now that the term is coming to an end.

Saturday, April 17, 2010

On Skimpy Blogging, and Cabbage

Not been much going on here lately, huh? I've been keeping super-busy with end-of-term preparations, homeschooling, Clarion fixations (such as ever-expanding reading and packing lists), and gardening.

I do love digging in the dirt. My black thumb syndrome has dramatically improved this past year, but I was beginning to think the spring window was going to zoom right by, and I wasn't going to get enough new planting done.

However, last weekend I cleared out a lot of old growth and this weekend, I have been working to replant. One exciting aspect of this is the opportunity to eat up remaining foodstuffs that were grown by the earth in my front yard and cultivated by my own hands. It's a thrill, if you've never done it.

Here, three heads of cabbage that came straight from the garden into the pot. It was peppery and delicious. I have a couple more to go before that particular bed can be replanted, but I put out a bunch of bell pepper seedlings and I'll probably put in the hot pepper ones tomorrow. Yum!

Of course, I should be writing.

Saturday, April 10, 2010

Can I Have a Bunker, too?

If I had $10 million, I could realize the post-apolocalyptic American Dream: the self-sufficient underground condo, for me and 200 friends!

Or maybe I could just write a story about it.
Read the article at NPR.

Saturday, April 3, 2010

Mr. B is Cute and Online!

Mr. B had his portrait painted by an artist, a person he's never met! Ahh, the magic of the internet.

The talented artist, Karen Schmidt, has a blog called Send Me Your Head, which is just what it sounds like. Send Karen a headshot, and you may get to see it transformed into a painting.

Apparently, Karen is attempting to complete a portrait a day, which is a mighty undertaking. The procrastinating writer could learn a thing or two about dedication from this...

The truly amazing thing is that the portraits are 3" x 3" in size. How does she do that?

In the photo I sent, Mr. B was actively channeling David Tennant, of recent Dr. Who fame, who is one his favorite actors (and mine).

Wednesday, March 31, 2010

Less bad, more good

Well, I did it; I broke down and went to the doctor. Aside from the cost, I just dislike going for medical help. I'd rather take care of myself, be all holistic and stuff. That usually translates into weeks of illness, but luckily only once or twice a year. This year has been no different. After two weeks of coughing, part of which included being unable to speak for days, and feeling poorly, I gave in. Now I've got antibiotics and nasal spray and pills galore.

Consequence? Feeling less bad, but still not great. Not exactly how I wanted to spend my week off.

The ever-present, silver-lining analysis is that I got to finish Ian McDonald's The Broken Land in record time because I've been lounging around reading, in addition to watching the extended versions of The Lord of the Rings DVD set and most episodes of Firefly. And eating ramen.

Today, I got up off the couch and cleaned my desk! Woo! Then I jumped on the computer and did my best to whip three other people into action on an academic manuscript we've been aggressively procrastinating with for almost a year. It occurred to me that my timetable for completing the job before summer is fairly short, and after summer, I don't plan to care about academic garbage for a long while.

It has been a pretty good day.

Thursday, March 25, 2010

A Clarion West Reading List

Hooray for Spring Break! Now I can tackle more of my reading list for Clarion West more effectively. The instructors, of course, are Michael Bishop, Maureen McHugh, Nnedi Okorafor, Graham Joyce, Ellen Datlow and Ian McDonald.

I've finished Maureen McHugh's China Mountain Zhang, her first novel and an engrossing multi-perspective future piece. The short version: China basically runs the world after a revolution in the U.S., and we've colonized Mars with climate-controlled habitat domes. But that's not what it's about. It's a character-driven story, and I loved those characters. I didn't want the book to end.

I'm now reading Ian McDonald's The Broken Land, which is probably set in one of the weirdest future Earths I've ever read. I'm not sure I can adequately describe it in brief! It has compelling characterization, too, but I'm most intrigued by the fluid manner in which McDonald switches from third to second person, from past to present tense, as suits the scene, often in mid-scene or even mid-sentence. It feels unexpected and sometimes jarring but always appropriate.

The rest of the list:
  • Eyes of Fire, Michael Bishop
  • The Shadow Speaker, Nnedi Okorafor
  • Requiem, Graham Joyce
  • Speaking in Tongues, Ian McDonald
  • Stolen Faces, Michael Bishop
  • Desolation Road Ian McDonald
  • King of Morning, Queen of Day, Ian McDonald
I'd like to add some more of McHugh, Joyce and Okorafor's works to the list; this was just what I was able to get at my local used book store and on Randy Henderson, a Clarion West 2009 grad, has suggested that folks also look at the Nebula Awards Showcase for 2009, edited by Ellen Datlow. I've been looking over some of Datlow's horror editing, but horror is really not my genre at all.

Monday, March 22, 2010

In Which the SIlence is Lifted

At least, the Clarion West "radio silence" is over. I can officially announce my acceptance, not that I've been as quiet as I should have been (it's really difficult). Shout it from the rooftops! Except I still can't talk above a whisper without strain. Argh! Oh, wait. I can't even say "argh."

When I applied last year to the Clarion West Writers Workshop, I took two "bathroom mirror" photos of myself, one with the Acceptance Face that can be seen here, and the Rejection Face, which I was too deflated to use in my 2009 rejection post. Don't ask why. If you've played the Clarion waiting game, you probably know that it has serious side effects on your sanity. The photo's a little myspace-ish, but what the heck.

The stupified expression I'm sporting in the photo is appropriate, as it turns out. When I got the call, my brain turned to mush and made me incoherent. I'd gone for a walk and left my phone at home, and there was a voicemail waiting from Seattle when I returned. I called back immediately without collecting my thoughts, which may not have helped matters anyway. Enter the gibbering idiot. I probably said "wow" and "thank you" about ten times each and failed to process much of what was being said on the other end, except the part about acceptance. Yikes! I'm glad to know I'm not alone in this instant moron reaction, as a few of my future classmates have expressed the same.

While waiting to share the news, I have to say that my overall response to this turn of events has not been quite what I expected. Instead of triumph and elation, I think the word for what I'm feeling comes somewhere between anticipation and terror. Kinda like I felt right before walking down the aisle at my wedding. Attending the workshop involves sacrifice, not just a financial one and not just on my part; plus, it's an opportunity that, I think, comes with a certain kinda price tag, an obligation to live up to the faith being placed in me, both during and after. Most importantly after. I hope I can, more than anything.

Needless to say, I'm already planning what to pack.

EDIT: Oops. I didn't apply to Clarion West in 2009. Rather, I applied to Clarion (San Diego), which is a whole different workshop. Maybe I am a little giddy after all.

Saturday, March 20, 2010

Happy Ostara, Everyone!

Today is the Spring Equinox in the western hemisphere, also known as Ostara. One of the aspects of Earth-based practice I enjoy most is the idea that for half of the year, we are celebrating growth of the new (including ideas) and harvest, while the other half we are letting go of that which does not serve. It's a good, balanced philosophy that works toward wholeness and always inspires me as a writer.

Here's a meditation in observance, from T. Thorn Coyle.

"We are the coming together of disparate things.

We are the opening dawn of a new spring.

Oh radiant light that burns in each heart, fill us with the power of desire. Oh radiant light, that burns in each mind, teach us to know, clearly, what we seek. Oh radiant light that burns in each now, show us how to lead the way to justice and to beauty. Let us be on fire, like burning suns and stars. Let us shine, giving glimmering hope to that which has been heretofore obscured.

The fertile darkness opens to receive the sun. Something new is growing, bursting through fresh earth."

Friday, March 19, 2010


My brain is officially back online. I have ideas and stuff. Sound card still malfunctioning. Write on!

A Silence Descends (for now)

I have no voice! In more ways than one. This is extremely hard on me as a super-jabber type. Yesterday was another complete waste due to this awful throat infection. I got out of the house briefly to go to my book club, but I really shouldn't have because now my voiced is tapped out.

Overall, I feel somewhat better. This improved vigor is dampened, however, by the release of the latest round of rejections from Clarion West. I've been getting to know these hard-working, bright people who seem to have a lot in common with me (for one, a lot of them teach = much respect). Speaking from last year's experience, rejection is hard to take when you've pinned your hopes and plans for the future, or at least your summer, on something that may not happen. And, unfortunately, the kindly worded rejection doesn't shed much light on the reason your work wasn't selected.

After the rejection I got last year, I did some real soul-searching in order to determine for myself the extent to which "the Clarion dream" was just a foolish fantasy (for me). Did my work merit the time the readers put into it? What did it lack? What could I do better? What books should I read to improve? And worst of all, should I just give it up?

For me, anyway, the answers to most of the questions didn't matter. I had done all I could at that point, except work more consistently. As for the last one, writing is important enough to me that I won't be stopping.

To my fellow hopefuls, please take heart. Don't stop. Not ever.

Wednesday, March 17, 2010

(More) Whining, groaning, sniffling

Ugh. I am so sick. I knew I was sick on Tuesday morning, but instead of staying home like a good girl, I went on a field trip to Animal Kingdom with Mr. B's homeschoolers' group. I thought I would faint half the time we were there, but the kids had a great time, and I just collapsed after I got back home. I couldn't/wouldn't move this morning (and didn't even get out of bed until noon); I had to cancel my classes, again. Luckily, I could email and call and take care of the details without getting out of bed. Thank Gods for smart phones. Poor Mr. B had to get his own cereal and entertain himself (which isn't hard for him, fortunately).

In better news, I got the first issue of my Locus subscription today, good stuff. Dense. I flipped through and set it down for further reading when my brain comes back online.

I've been working on my Clarion West reading list. I finished Maureen McHugh's China Mountain Zhang a few days ago, and I truly enjoyed it. I may write a little review sooner or later (like I said, when brain function returns). I started Ian McDonald's The Broken Land a bit ago, but at some point I sat in front of the laptop and started watching The Guild and couldn't stop.

Bleh. Hope I feel better tomorrow. Today feels wasted.

Friday, March 12, 2010

The View From Here (in which some whining is heard)

It's been raining for two days straight, and I feel like I'm going to sink down into depression if it doesn't stop. The weather has that effect on me. It's a good thing I don't live in the Northwest or in England, or some other place where it rains or looks overcast all the time. This drives the Florida girl crazy.

At least the cabbage plants (on the far right) enjoy the rain. They have been growing steadily and forming nice, firm heads without any effort from me whatsoever. The mustard (in the foreground) have finally bolted so maybe next week I can collect seeds.

Mr. B has an earache, and now he's watching Race to Witch Mountain over and over. Ugh. There's only so much I can take of Dwayne "The Rock" Johnson, explosions, and so on.

I'm also pacing and then leaping to the phone every time it rings, in hopes that it's Clarion calling. Sigh. I said I wouldn't freak out this year, but as time passes, I've become more agitated.

Wednesday, March 10, 2010

All Quiet (Except for Godzilla)

The Internets are atwitter with news that a gobbet of rejection flew out of Clarion (San Diego) in the past twenty-four hours, but as for me, no news from Clarion West yet. I feel weirdly blocked during the wait. I haven't written anything since the deadline for submission passed on March 1.

I know I should be doing the opposite, writing like crazy to stave off the anxiety, but it seems I'd rather not think about it at all. If I don't think about it, the rejection won't arrive, or something like that.

Plus, it's a little hard to concentrate with Mr. B sick (again); he's curled up on the couch watching Godzilla: Tokyo SOS over and over. Now, if I was writing a giant monster story, that would make a great writing soundtrack, but...

Saturday, March 6, 2010

My Clarion Essay

Applicants to Clarion West Writer's Workshop have to write a letter of introduction, presumably for instructors to preview. Of course, we all hope that the letter exerts other (positive) influence during the selection of candidates. A few fellow applicants are sharing theirs on blogs and such, so here's mine. I tried to write from the heart; hope it doesn't bore anyone to tears.

As a writing instructor at a community college, I enjoy helping others learn to express their thoughts in writing, and I think I'm pretty good at it. I have a BA in English and a Master's degree in Women's Studies. I first encountered the workshop method in the English program and did four terms of short story and poetry workshop there. Often, I worked with people who resisted the workshop process because they felt their writing was art, and art need not yield to criticism. Another sad aspect of the program was its hostility to science fiction and fantasy. Fortunately, the experience hasn't dampened my enthusiasm for either, or my desire to attend Clarion.  
    The Women's Studies program prepared me to write science fiction in ways my instructors would probably never have guessed. My MA thesis concerned women writers and utopian fiction, which was a guarantee that I could spend hours reading back issues of Science Fiction Studies and Utopian Studies in the stacks of the campus library, plus all the utopian and dystopian novels I could get my hands on. A pleasing side effect of the research was my first professional publication, on the same topic. I learned a great deal about science fiction criticism and applied a fresh eye to aspects of works I had formerly enjoyed for their entertainment value alone. Of course, the program also taught me a tremendous amount about gender analysis, which is sometimes but not always important to science fiction. This is not to say I converted from a naive reader to a joyless analyzer of theme, plot, characterization and so forth. Rather, my enjoyment was magnified by that critical understanding, as was my desire to write my own quality stories. 
       Like many writers, I have been writing since childhood. Writing is a smaller portion of my life than I'd like for it to be, but it is an immensely satisfying part. When I'm not grading papers for class, helping my son with his homework, performing various volunteer tasks, escaping in a sci-fi novel or walking the dog, I'm writing. I write a monthly feature for a local newspaper and write pieces here and there for academic publications, but my passion is science fiction. Reams of notes and hours of voice memos are filled with story seeds and half-remembered dreams, working in my subconscious until I can sit at the computer and work the ideas into stories.
    I recently emerged from the office after two solid hours of keyboard-pounding, with what must have been a triumphant expression, when my spouse said something that completely floored me. He remarked, "I can see this is what you're meant to do." He was observing my exultant behavior, but he rarely sees the work itself. I submit to publications and have online buddies who occasionally critique my writing, but my husband is too biased to be my first reader. However, his words that day hit home because they felt true. To say that writing makes me happy only makes a vague swipe at description of my inner experience; it's an inadequate understatement of the obsessive, focused, thrilling condition that overtakes me.
    After years of jotting notes and fantasizing about the types of fictional worlds I want to create, I've now given myself permission to take that work seriously. I typically have several stories in process, and I have submitted a handful of shorts which have been politely rejected. I keep working on the parts of a novel that will one day click into place. This feels by turns incredibly frustrating and delightful, which (I've been told) means I'm doing something right. However, I can't shake the feeling that something is missing, and if I could just figure out what that is, something amazing might happen. 
    At Clarion, I hope to develop a quicker, more critical eye that I can use to hone the writing that I'm doing into something professionally viable. I want to work hard and fast, and ultimately learn what's working and what not. I crave the focused intensity of the experience and the intelligent company of other writers who feel the same. I'd also like to know that I'm on the right track, creatively, or if I should pack it in and stick to my day job. 

As an avid reader and writer from a young age, I wish to explore my own potential and soothe (or perhaps ignite) the craving I seem to have, the insistent urge to create the kind of fiction that has entertained and inspired me for so long. 

Sunday, February 28, 2010

Vonnegut's Rules for Writing

Ripped from the pages of Wikipedia:

In his book Bagombo Snuff Box: Uncollected Short Fiction, Vonnegut listed eight rules for writing a short story:
Use the time of a total stranger in such a way that he or she will not feel the time was wasted.
Give the reader at least one character he or she can root for.

Every character should want something, even if it is only a glass of water.

Every sentence must do one of two things—reveal character or advance the action.

Start as close to the end as possible.

Be a Sadist. No matter how sweet and innocent your leading characters, make awful things happen to them—in order that the reader may see what they are made of.

Write to please just one person. If you open a window and make love to the world, so to speak, your story will get pneumonia.

Give your readers as much information as possible as soon as possible. To hell with suspense. Readers should have such complete understanding of what is going on, where and why, that they could finish the story themselves, should cockroaches eat the last few pages.

My Brain Hurts

I apologize in advance for the rambling...

Too much is going on in here! I'm still thinking and working on the new story, "Her Bones, The Bones of the Dead," which I was half-hoping to finish in time for submission to Clarion (San Diego) by tomorrow's deadline. However, I've been UU-ing all weekend and feel a bit used up!

It sounds weird, but more than one person has told me lately that I'm a good leader and would make a good minister, the kind of thing I was thinking myself, late last year. I've pushed that into the background so I could stay focused on writing. Now, I've been asked to serve the UU in a greater capacity (though, of course, not as a minister), and I took three whole days to think it over before saying "yes."

I'm still writing because writing means a great deal to me. That is unlikely to change. I can't explain why. It's hard to describe although folks are always trying (read some of the responses to Jamie Grove's "Writing Is..." post to see what I mean).

I actually found myself wondering what would happen if I wrote about UU stuff. Maybe this is not entirely off-base, as there's at least one sci-fi story out there that deals with UUism in the future. Wish I could remember the title! BTW, Kurt Vonnegut, Rod Serling and Ray Bradbury, among others, were UUs.

Unitarian Universalism is trying hard to be the religion of the future, but they're not quite there yet. I was proud to be present for Rev. Bonnie Devlin's talk today, in which she charged UU folks to grow up and get off their butts so the message of UUism can get out there into the world.

Tuesday, February 23, 2010

Writing Advice from the Pros

Sage and humorous advice for writers, from writers. I needed to hear this today, as I am feeling a wee bit discouraged.

Common themes: don't use adverbs, stop beating yourself up, cut and cut some more, quit worrying about the dirty dishes, keep writing no matter what.

My personal favorite (for today, anyway)?

"Only bad writers think that their work is really good." (Anne Enright)

Do I Suck?

A rejection from Andromeda Spaceways already. I just submitted it three days ago! This rapid return disturbs me a little, especially since it's the same story I'm hoping will get me into Clarion West.

I'm holding out hope that it was rejected for a formatting issue rather than on the basis of quality. Apparently, Google Docs doesn't translate very cleanly into RTF; a very nice person from ASIM named Lucy notified me right away that the formatting was off a little. The double-spacing had reverted to single, bits that should have been centered (like the title and section break indicators they ask for) were not, and chunks of messy code replaced other formatting I used. Color me mortified.

While waiting for this new rejection (and maybe Clarion's), I have been trying very hard to ramp up my writing-and-research mode. I'm working (still) on the "birthday story," which was supposed to be a gift for my hubbie in January but is shaping up nicely, and I've subscribed to Locus and done more market research.

Argh. Maybe I'll go back to bed.

Friday, February 19, 2010

I Submit!

Getting a little cranked up by the Clarion buzz, so I submitted a piece to Andromeda Spaceways Inflight Magazine, in Australia. The Internets make such things possible.

Now, I have a spreadsheet set up for tracking submissions, and I plan to fill it up. This gives me something else to look forward to while I wait for word from Clarion, even if this means more rejections.

I also considered submitting to Orson Scott Card's Intergalactic Medicine Show, but since the story's protagonist is gay and OSC is against "that kind of thing," I think I'll pass. No need to beat my head against that wall, even if he's passed the helm onto another editor. Maybe next time.

Thursday, February 18, 2010

Clarion West, and a theft

I'm thoughtful and mostly calm about my Clarion West application, so far, not like last year's histrionics. I finally joined the online forum for applicants, so I feel connected to the collective angst.

For my application, I submitted a revision of the story that I used last year as one of two stories for Clarion (the other one), and it feels a little crummy to do that. First, if it wasn't accepted last year, why use it again? I'm convinced it's a promising story, and I made some changes for the better. Second, I realized I've been working since last year on two stories that I've not yet finished. To be fair, one is a novel, and I wrote several flash pieces in the meantime, but the output otherwise is pathetically low. One thing that NaNoWriMo taught me is to let go of some responsibilities so I can write more, but the increase in pace has been marginal.

So, what's the problem? Some of it, I think, is the fact that my favorite ideas, the unfinished ones, are ones that began with a seed, not a whole picture, whereas the finished ones hit me all at once. They were complete pictures that just needed to find a way out onto the page. I'm still floundering around trying to figure out what those unfinished stories are really about and how I want them to end. Now, I know that's not inherently a bad thing, but I get stuck and can't seem to get unstuck.

The other issue is discipline. If I don't work consistently, it's not going to happen. I spend way more time reading than writing.

Anyway, enough whining.

On another note, someone stole a big wooden statue of Buddha from my front porch. What kind of dick steals a Buddha? It galls me a bit. I don't feel especially angry, though. I hope thieving individual at least gets some spiritual satisfaction out of it, however tainted. I should write about it, if for no other reason than spite.

Friday, February 12, 2010

God, help me!

I'm over halfway through Dead Until Dark, and a part of me wishes I'd never picked it up. Morbid curiosity, I reckon. Lite reading, because I'm supposed to be concentrating on writing, but I still need something to read while I eat my oatmeal.

I'm not one for vamp books (trashier versions of romance novels, generally), but I do like some vamp television, especially Buffy. The True Blood adaptation of the Sookie Stackhouse series is my guilty pleasure, with an extra helping of guilt. I feel nervous about exposing my affection for it; will you think less of me? Hey, what I am going to watch, now that Dollhouse is over and done?

We at my house are not big TV watchers, but as a writer, I am obsessed with story anymore, and grab at it any place I can find it. Harris's book is one of those rare examples of those proving not as good as the adaptation, unfortunately. It sort of tanks along and is written so lazily that I'm blowing through it. Very low reading level, but by far better in terms of characterization and setting than Twilight (ugh). I couldn't choke down more than fifteen pages of that absolutely terrible book. Heroines need to have spunk, and vampires should bite people.


Tuesday, February 9, 2010


I rarely write about film, but I love the indie flick I watched last night (thank you, Netflix!) called Moon. It's gotten rave reviews from some, and terrible ones from others. From a storytelling perspective, I thought it was a delight.

This film had classic sci-fi style that I haven't seen since 2010. The film definitely has a flaw or two, but you gotta love Kevin Spacey as the voice of a robot, and the slow, slightly creepy style the film evokes.

The star, Sam Rockwell, gives it an "unknown" flavor, but he's had a number of wildly different roles over the years (notably, Zaphod Beeblebrox in the recent big-screen Hitchhiker's adaptation). He's slated as Justin Hammer in the upcoming sequel to Iron Man, and he was in Gentlemen Broncos, which is on my to-be-watched list.

Sam (name of the character as well as the actor) is the sole operator of a cold fusion mining operation on the moon, serving out a three-year contract. It gets lonely and cabin-feverish up there, with only a emoticon-faced robot to talk to, and Sam starts to go a little wonky.

Moon serves up some twists and turns, as well as a little humor, so avoid spoilers like IMDb if you want the full effect. My husband and I had to force ourselves to stop speculating aloud every few minutes concerning the outcome, even though it's loaded with foreshadowed story elements. Rated R, but only for the repeated use of the F-word.

Mr. B strolled in and out of the room while we were watching and was apparently bored by the lack of action. But not all science fiction is about action when there's a good story.

Thursday, February 4, 2010

More Ways to Avoid Writing

Having twentysomethings for friends makes RockBand a lot more fun, 'cause they can sing all the hip emo stuff I don't know.

Whereas I can sing along with The Who and Rush and stuff. What else am I going to do on a Sunday night? Grade papers? Write?

Thursday, January 21, 2010

Tickle, tickle

Five whole weeks without a post! No excuse really. I wasn't too busy or any of that. I just didn't feel like it. The break between semesters was very relaxing, and I've been reading a lot, which feels something like getting to eat your fill when you're hungry (I would think). I finally felt a tiny tickle in the back of my mind this morning that said, "psst! Yer blog is fallow, you know."

The new term is off and running, and I've found some kind of groove that is making the classes easy and satisfying. My students are raptly attentive, and I'm feeling a little perplexed and extremely grateful. In spite of that, I've given notice concerning my desire to take the next two terms off; I want to focus on writing, Mr. B, and community service. Writing, of course, is the one that's getting the least attention.

The only big news is that my sister had her baby; I can't wait until spring break so I can go up to NY to see them.

I've stopped watching news about Haiti because it makes me cry; I've lost myself in Children of God by Mary Doria Russell, which puts a sci-fi spin on the old "why-God-makes-bad-things-happen" theme.