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Writing, August 23, 2014

1,014 words today in the novel. Paired up with my sweetheart, who's also working on a writing project. We did 100-word "heats" of a few minutes each, with little breaks in between. The time went really quickly. 100 words at a time means you often break off in the middles of sentences, so you're itching to get back and finish the thought. Thank you to Hal Duncan for the inspiration to try it that way. Here are some of today's words, unedited:

Dusting! She hated dusting. What these rasscloth people had her dusting for? She’d told them, she should be in the kitchen cooking. Could make a jackass corn sweet biscuit that would get your mouth springing water. Could cook up a ackee and saltfish come Sunday morning; ackee so soft and nice it would melt in your mouth. Saltfish with little bit of scotch bonnet pepper, so fine you would be glad to still be picking it out of your teeth hours later, just so you could keep that taste in your mouth.

But no; she must dust.

Update about the situation at the Eaton Archive

First, a bit of information I omitted a few days ago as I hastened to let people know about our concerns for the Eaton Archive. The first Eaton archivist was Dr. George Slusser in 1979; the initial curator of the collection. Here's an interview Dr. Slusser recently gave to author and astrophysicist Dr. Gregory Benford. Dr. Slusser's contribution is vital to the existence of the Eaton Archive today. The current archivist, Dr. Melissa Conway (Head of Special Collections and Archives at UCR), has been continuing most brilliantly in the tradition of Dr. Slusser.

Okay, now to current developments as of yesterday afternoon.

Have you ever been having an argument with someone where you're trying to convince them of something very important? Where you're getting nowhere, but you keep going? You try to put it yet another way. And something changes in the other person's face. They look at you thoughtfully and say, “I'm listening...” You haven't quite convinced them yet, and you may not, but they're telling you that they may be prepared to view the issue in a new light based on what you've told them, and they may be prepared to consider your side of the issue. It's a provisional concession that might, just might, lead to a productive way out of the stalemate. It may be a good first step, it may not.

Concerned about the Eaton SF/F archive at UCR

In 2011, I was hired as a professor of Creative Writing at the University of California, Riverside, to be part of a faculty research cluster in science fiction and fantasy with Drs. Sherryl Vint and Rob Latham. The SF/F research cluster was created to promote UCR's Eaton Science Fiction Collection, the world's largest publicly accessible archive of SF/F and utopian literature, with holdings dating back to the 16th Century. The presence of the Eaton means that I can introduce my creative writing students to a legacy of 500 years of fiction celebrating, articulating and critiquing social and technological change. When my students visit the Eaton, it's the first time they've seen anything like it. They come back excited, informed, energized. The existence of the Eaton means that researchers from all over the university and anywhere in the world have access to original copies of books, magazines, visual media and fanzines to help them track developments in the genre. Editors can find classic works that have fallen into obscurity. The complete papers and works of some key writers in the genre are housed there, as are thousands of photographs taken at science fiction conventions by the late Jay Kay Klein, a well-known figure in SF fandom, renowned for his work as a photographer.

Reviewer reviews a review; thank God

Just found Matt Cheney's review of Len Gutkin's review of the film "Snowpiercer," and Cheney's words gladden my writerly heart. Writers and other artists are severely discouraged -- by our agents, editors, fellow artists and our own good senses -- from responding to negative reviews of our work, no matter how unfair, inaccurate or biased they may be. I actually think it's good advice. For one thing, a negative review may be spot on. It might be difficult to read, but paying attention to a particular reviewer's critique might help to improve my writing. However, even if a review misses the point, grinds axes instead of doing its job and is generally unhelpful, the best way to thumb one's nose at a negative review is to write and sell another book, make another film, mount another performance or gallery showing of one's work. Also, consider that bad press can be good for sales. I know for myself that some negative reviews of other artists' work pretty much guarantee I'll buy the book/watch the film/see the show, because I am for everything the reviewer is agin.

Still, negative reviews hurt. There's the shaming sting of Damn, I think you're right about those aspects of my piece. The heartburn of Maybe you're right in places, but the pettiness of trying to shame me so much that I never attempt to make art again? Really? The umbrage of Wait; you gave a book about toucans a negative review because you don't like toucans? All part of the job, and one learns to breathe down one's reaction and keep on going.

Storybolt out of a clear blue sky

I was typing answers to Liz Argall's interview questions that will accompany my story in Women Destroy Fantasy, when something I wrote zapped me with a story idea. So instead of working on my novel this afternoon, I wrote the first 600 words or so of the story. Based on those words, I think it could be a good story. What I've written so far has a predictable outcome, but I'm working on making the story elements and the writing compelling enough to engage the reader. I don't want to leave the story entirely predictable, though. I could. As it stands now, I could end with a poignant reveal, and the piece would be okay. But I'd prefer to do more with my idea. I need a second, apparently unrelated, story thread so the two can bounce off each other. Will put what I've written aside for now, and let the storybuilding part of my mind run in the background as I go about the rest of my day.

Clarion write-a-thon double dipping

I confess I have a fair bit of loyalty for the Clarion workshops for budding writers of science fiction and fantasy. There's Clarion, and Clarion West. They are not franchises; more like colleagues that use the same teaching methods. They are not perfect. They make mistakes, sometimes bad ones. They try to learn from them. All in all, they do a lot of good. I am a 1995 graduate of Clarion (then called Clarion East, and housed at Michigan State U. Now called Clarion, and housed at the University of California San Diego). I had a great, challenging, sometimes terrifying six weeks there -- writing is *hard!* -- and left a better writer than I was when I entered.

I've now taught at both Clarion and Clarion West a number of times, as well as once at the late Clarion South in Brisbane, Australia. So when Nisi Shawl told me that this year's Clarion West Write-A-Thon fundraiser was up and running, I signed up immediately and started seeking out sponsors. Then today I noticed that the Clarion (UC San Diego) Write-a-Thon fundraiser was up. That's my alma mater! So I signed up for it, too. For the same project, because I'm not going to take on a separate project right now. Just consider this my open acknowledgement that I'm participating in both. Good thing about that is that if you want to sponsor me, you can do so for whichever Clarion you prefer to support, or for both of them. My plan is to post different excerpts from each day's writing on either site.

Don't look back

It's how I'm banging out the first, extremely rough draft of this new book; don't over-think, don't stop to edit or to do research. Onward, forward, don't step backward (down inna Babylon).

I'm also setting daily writing goals of time spent, not words written. Following the advice of writer Goldberry Long. She's right; it's less daunting to think of sitting and writing for a few minutes than it is tell yourself you need to produce 2,000 words. Of course, being of the size queen science fiction writer tribe, I can't resist doing a word count after I've made my time spent goal. Wrote for an hour yesterday, to the tune of 1,933 words. Forty minutes today produced 834 words. I'm mostly coming up with new characters and introducing myself to them by writing scenes with them in.

By the way: If you can, please consider sponsoring me in the Clarion West Write-a-Thon in support of Clarion West, an annual summer intensive workshop for budding writers of science fiction and fantasy.

Some of today's unedited words:

Father Cyril took the bills that Quashee held out and tucked them into a pocket in his cassock. The man smelled of old sweat and worry sweat, of rumbullion and of the boiled green banana he had been having for lunch when Quashee arrived. Quashee held his finger to the side of one nostril then the other, and blew his nose out onto the dirt to try to clear it of Father Cyril’s smell. Everything smelled. The last priest had promised Quashee that the baptism obeah would dull his ability to smell. He had been a liar. Quashee couldn’t abide a lying priest. That one hadn’t lived past Quashee’s first baptism day. But Quashee liked Prester Cyril. Something in the man’s face, white though it was, reminded Quashee of his brother Geraint.

Sister Mine on the Sunburst Award shortlist

That most recent book of mine took a little while to get her legs under her, but now it seems she's up and running. A Norton Award win a few weeks ago, and last week she was on the shortlist for Canada's Sunburst Award for Literature of the Fantastic. The jury says, Sister Mine is a novel that defies: defies categorization; defies convention; defies expectations. Deserving its place among the best books of the year, Sister Mine's nuanced forays into celestial heritage, sibling rivalry, and good old-fashioned sexual exploits of the deific variety (think ancient mythology) unfold with the genteel pace of classic oral tradition but the in-your-face sensibilities of post-punk modernism. A book that challenges, and in challenging, ignites.

The other books on the shortlist all look so good! Adding them to my quickly-growing summer reading list:

  • River of Stars, by Guy Gavriel Kay. Penguin Group Canada (ISBN: 9780670068401)
  • This Strange Way of Dying, by Silvia Moreno-Garcia. Exile Editions (ISBN: 9781550963540)
  • A Tale for the Time Being, by Ruth Ozeki. Penguin Group Canada (ISBN: 9780670067046)
  • The Demonologist, by Andrew Pyper. Simon & Schuster (ISBN: 9781451697520)
  • Young Adult

  • Sorrow's Knot, by Erin Bow. Scholastic Inc. (ISBN: 9780545166669)
  • The Cats of Tanglewood Forest, by Charles de Lint, illustrated by Charles Vess. Little Brown Books (ISBN: 9780316053570)
  • Homeland, by Cory Doctorow. Tom Doherty Associates (ISBN: 9780765333698)
  • The Path of Names, by Ari Goelman. Scholastic Inc. (ISBN: 9780545474306)
  • Urgle, by Meaghan McIsaac. Dancing Cat Books (ISBN: 9781770863088)
  • The jury felt that the following merited Honourable Mention:

    Oops, oh my

    Just accidentally met my easy level writing goal for the second time today.