Writing and Reading Short Fiction

I never used to be a big short fiction reader. I mean, I read it, a lot of golden age SF compiled into books, but it wasn’t really the thing that grabbed me. The pieces were the wrong shape, I suppose. I would have things that stuck with me – the story I’m working on at the moment owes so much to the normalcy of flight in Heinlein’s “The Menace From Earth”, even though I suspect that nobody I don’t say that to will spot how it circles on that particular story’s thermal.

Something shifted, somewhere. I’ve written a couple of fairy tales – one published in Les Cabinets des Polytheistes, one still being anxiously polished like an Arkenstone while I try to figure out what to do with it – and those are shorts. When I read the call for submissions for The Death of All Things I immediately had what grew into “Delayed Exchange Deferred” right there, at my fingertips, the shape and the kick of it. A few other things exist for me now, as shorts that I can work on, which is… remarkable to me as someone who has mostly lived in half-stewed novels for a very long time.

And, occasionally, I’m venturing into reading short a bit more. Perhaps because that’s something I can fit into my life – between the kids and everything else it is complicated to sit down and do anything long, and a short I can swallow in one gulp.

Which is part of how I read “Avi Cantor Has Six Months To Live”. Which – given I saw that it was World Suicide Prevention Day yesterday – I am finally getting my act together to comment on.

I’m not Jewish, or of Jewish heritage, but I’ve long had the traditional fannish appreciation of Jewish minutiae, and there are those there. And there is the quiet endurance of the main character, Avi Cantor, and his ongoing struggle with life and death and identity and…

… it is one hell of a story.

I don’t know what to say about it, honestly. Avi’s struggle, that story, is a piece of why I wrote “Delayed Exchange Deferred”, though, so maybe we can get the stories out there that will make the world whole again. If we just tell enough of them. If people read or hear or see enough of them.

Tikkun olam.

Alas

Signing this weekend has been cancelled/postponed. Will notify if we manage a reschedule.

Release Day!

Death of All Things is out today, really truly officially. (I got a comment a bit ago on twitter from a Kickstarter reader who had an emotional response to “Delayed Exchange Deferred”, though, which gave me such warm fuzzies. Um. To the extent that ‘warm fuzzies’ are appropriate with that story, which is… complicated.)

The trade can be obtained via this link; the Kickstarter edition has a few extras kicking around, and there’s an ebook as well.

And I’m in there with other people who people have actually heard of! Who are worth reading!

I will be at Flights of Fantasy in Albany, New York on 9 September from 2-4 pm, for a Zombies Need Brains signing event, if anyone will be in the area. I’m not expecting a whole lot of people to be looking for me in particular, given this is my first fiction sale, so if anyone does want to show up to see me in particular it will make my everliving blue-eyed day. (At some point I’m sure they’ll list who-all will be there on their website, but they haven’t as of this writing, so rather than an incomplete/partial list of who will be there I will just name me.)

Storybuilding: A Ramble

I’m working on this story.

I have… nine tabs of reference material open, assuming I haven’t lost some somewhere, all of them about real-world culture and organization of the Marines (both US and Royal). That’s not counting the brief things I have opened, researched, and closed (“How would a Marine address their Navy corpsman?”).

Or the other things I’ve had open. Common world surnames, say, that’s one I keep having to pull up every time I get another speaking part. The aliens’ names are easier, there are only two of them in the platoon, and I can just make something up that’s in accord with their vocal apparatus. Trying to reach out for names that paint the suggestion that there’s a broad world full of human beings that contribute in the subtext, though, that requires some actual thought. And some thought, because just snagging ‘most common surname’ by continent or something is still lazy. Just a slightly broader lazy than before. But if the worldbuilding wants to include breadth of humanity it has to actually show it in the interstitial bits.

And then there’s more overtly political questions. I sit with this story, this story that I’m trying to root in a particular military experience, while proclamations are being made about trans people in the military, and I go, “… is there someone trans in this platoon?” Because that’s as conscious a decision as having women in the platoon, as having names for people that reach beyond European standards, and the odds are good that someone like Karou the hyenoid alien does not exist but I am damn sure that Chelsea Manning does. It’s easy to just grab the easy names, the assumed genders, the just-like-every-other-story bits, easy and lazy and anyway if it’s just like every other story why am I sitting and writing it in the first place?

And it goes on. Trying to articulate a plausible Space Marine ethos means spending a bit of time sitting with actual Marine expressions to try to figure out how that would translate, how to include it, how to express it in the story without sitting down and doing the “This Is What It Means” talk from people who are busy with their actual mission. It means coming up with story twists and angles that will let that actually show, rather than remain entirely invisible underneath the events. Which isn’t a different writing problem than questions of human diversity at all – it’s all about how to take the things that are true in the storyworld and make them visible and plausible.

I did a little mini-tweet-thread about this question of breadth of humanity, mostly talking about Cracked Pots, the novel in progress, but it holds here too. My gods, it’s full of PEOPLE. And figuring out the people means figuring out the things, the details that make them all real. All the effort into the little telling details and right moments.

This particular story is capped at 5000 words for the market I’m writing for.

Longer stories produce… notably more tabs.

Situating Myself

I wish I had more writing news, but it’s been hard to write lately for a variety of reasons, which means that it’s hard to have anything to say about how the writing is going. Instead, I’ve been doing a variety of other things, which include thinking about something of the nature of my relationship with writing, and with the communities that orbit around the sort of writing that I do.

Some of it comes down to upbringing – I was, after all, raised in part by the sort of parent who would read Tolkien to me, and whose shelves of various fiction were there for the raiding. (Sometimes illicit raiding on my part. I was, unfortunately, rather hard on books, and would occasionally have nicking them to read forbidden to me.) I was steeped rather thoroughly in a variety of forms of fantastic fiction when I was young – and I did not entirely comprehend the common markings of genre. Everything was strange people in unfamiliar surroundings to me, whether it was hobbits or the importance of having a chicken on the Mushroom Planet or Dr. Doolittle talking to animals or defecting Russian submarines or… well, I spent a long time wondering as a kid if the Black Spot was some sort of fatal curse of a magical nature, because the idea of the fantastic in my more or less otherwise realistically framed story was not implausible.

The world is a complicated sort of place, after all.

That same person who taught me the love of books would also be the one who introduced me to The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy – no, not the books, the radio series; who would pop a batch of popcorn and sit on the floor with that and some Dr. Pepper so we could chant “Cheap special effects!” at episodes of Doctor Who together; who talked about playing a version Space War with one of the members of the Grateful Dead. That he also knew people who could speak Sindarin was part and parcel of all these other things.

I’m of the console game generation, though my relationship with them is… complex. But my one actual encounter with a G*Gate sympathiser (he was not blatant about it, but the thrust was pretty obvious) ended in him slinking away in silence when he realised that I, an assigned-female type person, had been playing vidyagames since, I am guessing, before he was born. At the very least he didn’t have anything to contribute once I took the conversation sideways to talk about my old Atari system. (I was waxing something about Joust, and I’m guessing it put me a pixel above him and he turned into an egg.) All that rhetoric about how maybe women just weren’t involved in that sort of gamer thing sort of started looking silly.

I read. I wrote. I did all these things. But I also learned character arcs from Star Trek: the Next Generation, started thinking about the way language, culture, and species interacted from listening to Marc Okrand talk about Klingons, and did a whole lot of rummaging through the nature of story and how they go together from Infocom games and Myst. It’s all threaded through each other, and it connects up to other things.

I’m thinking, in the end, I’ll be doing some writing here about some of that. Not least because I just spent a while modding the heck out of RimWorld and am now pondering the shape of story in there.

Still need to work on Amber Eyes, which will probably wind up being a visual novel, unless I change my mind again.

I don’t know if this will make it into the book

When I write out of sequence things don’t always come out right and a lot of it is wasted work, but this bit was in my head so hard I had to write it down. And it’s wee, so I might as well post it as a maybe-teaser or something.

“You can get away with one thing outside of the expected,” said Constance, and then amended, with a slightly narrowed-eyed look at Margaret’s face, “maybe two, if you are lucky, and very, very skilled.” When it seemed there would be no immediate response, she gestured with the hand that was not holding the teacup. “Take a woman as a lover. Become a scientist. Marry a poor man you love rather than a rich man with prospects.” She grinned. “Become a beaconmaster in your own right, your own name. But you must pick one.”

Margaret frowned slightly. “But why?”

“Because one thing makes you eccentric, makes you curious, makes you interesting. It will make people gossip about you at parties, it will make people seek you out for your particular expertise and insight about some things.”

“But why only one?”

“Because with two, you will become scandalous; three, unsavoury; four, perverted. The further away from the expected you go, the more perilous it is. Consider [name].”

Margaret stared into her tea for a long moment. “All right,” she said.

Constance raised her eyebrows. “He liked to… push at social expectation in his art. Satire, cutting wit, the pursuit of pleasures as an aesthete. Sometimes to the extent that it pushed the scandalous, rather than the merely interesting. His feminine manner went the rest of the way to scandal for most, and into unsavoury for some. His choice in lovers….”

“Unsavoury,” said Margaret, quietly, “and some would say perverted.”

“Precisely,” said Constance.

Margaret swallowed and changed the subject. “What do you get away with, then, if you can only choose one or two things?”

Constance waited for her to meet her gaze, and said, “Being black.”

Death of All Things TOC released!

The table of contents for Death of All Things has been released and it looks like I’m capping off the book.

It’s slowly turning real….

I look forward to a future where a websearch on “Delayed Exchange Deferred” produces references to my story in addition to the Ruy Lopez opening (from which the title is drawn) and, apparently, bits of real estate law.

The book can be preordered here.

On Captain America and the Spirit of Story

My experience of being a writer is basically like living in a portal fantasy. The Wood Between The Worlds resides somewhere in my cerebellum, and I wander it and occasionally peer into pools. I don’t know how to jump in them, though there are times in my life I have desperately wished I might, but I can watch, get to know some of the people on the other side, and I can take that and bring it back out onto the page. I can get it wrong, for sure, but the feel of the experience is ‘through a glass darkly’, not ‘I made up the wrong thing and now I’ve gotten stuck in a dead-end alley’.

I know not everyone writes like this, of course, but it predisposes me to a certain form of approach as a reader: if this is true, or can be seen to be true, what does it mean? (This is, arguably, a good chunk of why I appreciated Alternity – a seven year transformative performance art group fanfic in a Harry Potter dark AU – as much as I did, because dear gods there is so much fridge horror in the Potterverse.)

An interesting thing about stories that have roots in the real world, of course, is that one can dig into what that implies about those stories, and the people in there. (I’m doing a lot of this with Cracked Pots, which is a steampunk fantasy, and digging into actual things going on in Victorian London for my not-London that I still need to figure out how to name. See also: have not named Oscar Wilde expy.)

Which brings me rather inevitably around to Captain America.

(This is huge so I’m trying to figure out how to put in a cut. Forgive me if I fail.)
Continue reading On Captain America and the Spirit of Story

Be Vewwy Vewwy Quiet, I’m Hunting Plotbunnies

A friend pointed me at this tweet, which was an outgrowth of a conversation I was seeing happening in my own feed. So I’ve put in as one of those people who’s interested in the further project, and am working on chasing down an appropriate plot bunny, because Space Marine Midwives is not actually sufficient to story all on its own.

Today’s current cat-vacuuming, therefore, has involved doing a lot of research into institutional culture of the Marines.

The fact that it’s space marine midwives is crashing hilariously into the fact that I have a window open with a boatload of tabs on Victorian pregnancy and childbirth traditions and procedures on the one hand and Ayurvedic obstetric treatments on the other, for working through some events for Cracked Pots.

Writing. It’s occasionally a barrel of very strange juxtapositions.

On Outlines, Or The Lack Thereof

I’ve always had a rather complicated relationship with the whole planning process of writing. (And some of my current projects really will require me to do some more of it, which may well be good for me.) My process has always been something like, “Well, here are some people in a situation. I wonder what happens next? I suppose I’ll have to write it to find out.”

The current thing – Cracked Pots – started with this:

The Fog was thicker than usual, and Margaret frowned at it and pulled her cape a little tighter around her shoulders, suppressing an involuntary shiver.

I think I’d written about half a dozen chapters (these chapters are short, at least, most of them a bit under two kilowords) before I knew what the Fog was and why. Margaret still doesn’t, but of course her quest to find that out is part of what’s driving the action.

As I write, I find out more, but that doesn’t always come in the shape of a coherent set of events; it’s more like landscape features half-glimpsed through, well, Fog. At some point, Margaret will make a right fool of herself with consequences; at some point, Margaret will read the book she has forgotten she had on hold at the bookstore until she had more coin to spare; at some point…. And those start to cohere into patterns, into ‘this future event has to happen before that one’ (though I have been wrong about that).

Some of it comes with realisations after the fact, things I had known to be true that suddenly coalesce into why: why this couple has no children and has been looking for alchemical solutions to that. Why Mr. Whitten likes to wear fancy gowns. Or I get an understanding of what has to be the case for a character to work like that and then it’s tracking down the friend with familiarity with classic grimoire-based magical tradition and saying, “Could I pick your brains to spec out the practice of this character?”

Then I had something new happen. There’s always something new, in the process, somewhere. I had to sit down and do a timeline of what had happened so I knew what would happen. It’s kind of almost like an outline, only written some sixty thousand words in. I suspect I only did it because of making two references to a character’s late-stage pregnancy and needing to figure out whether or not it was wholly implausible that she had not had the baby yet. (Next chapter, or the one after, depending on how much winds up in next chapter. And then I need to research how long she’s likely to be in seclusion.)

I have thus far managed to write around the problem of needing to name an Oscar Wilde expy, but that will not last. I am not entirely certain if it is a planning problem, a worldbuilding problem, or a “naming things is hard, let’s go shopping” problem. I at least have a few chapters before that problem explodes, so I can blithely ignore it for a bit la la la.