Plan for today: Novel revisions

Plan for today — I’m mostly hoping to get back to novel revisions. Some more beta-reader feedback came in over the weekend, and they are loving it, which is really very encouraging.

I admit, there’s part of me that thinks I should be focusing on getting back to the more hopefully commercial epic space opera project (set in the same Jump Space universe) that I promised my agent, but I don’t think I can settle to it until I finish this novel revision.

I don’t know if he’ll be able to sell it — this is a quiet family story in a lot of ways, and it might take a quirky press to take it on? I’m not sure. But I think I love it, and I think readers will too, so if Russ decides it’s not commercial enough to try to shop around, or if he tries and no one bites, I’m pretty sure I’ll just go ahead and shop it to small presses myself, and if THAT fails, indie publish it. Because I think it’s actually quite good, dammit.

It honestly feels a little nerve-wracking saying that, but after all the travail I’ve gone through on this particular novel (I started it, gosh, almost five years ago? before the cancer diangosis), it feels important to have it finally be something I’m proud of. A long, slow road.

I didn’t write at all this weekend — lots of gaming instead, which is also good; I think I needed to decompress. Though I got a little angry with myself late Sunday night, because all I did yesterday was gardening (major peach tree pruning, finally reorganizing the back deck and making it usable after we had it painted) and board gaming (taught some friends Terraforming Mars). But then I went and did a load of laundry and cleaned off the countertop in the bathroom, which has never quite gotten unpacked properly after the Boston trip, and then I felt better and could go to sleep with a peaceful heart.

(I feel like SUCH a New Englander sometimes; I may have left CT at 18, but those Puritan work values are embedded deep. Or maybe those are merging with South Asian immigrant values? No fun. Or at least no fun unless you’ve earned it with plenty of work!)

Okay. Plan is:

– spend the next 45 minutes working on a comic project that Margaret Treanor Frey and I are playing with — we have a meeting at 11, and I’m supposed to have some work done before that, gah. I should’ve done the work last week, so she could look at it over the weekend, but time got away from me, sigh.

– I also need to talk to Kel Bachus and schedule some time to review Sigiriya dialogue, I think? (Kel, remind me that we have to talk about the names thing.)

– Revise my bio for Feast and send that to Jeremy John Parker — check if he needs anything else from me before we order ARCs, hopefully TODAY, eep.

– Check in with Pem Hessing on rescheduling of our Feast publicity meeting — one thing I should definitely do today is get her contact info for where we submit things to the big 4 review sites (Heather, can you work on that? Um, I need to remind myself what the big 4 are…Kirkus, Publisher’s Weekly….gah, blanking. Some of them will have a separate path for indie-published books). We also need to start sketching out the fall local calendar more seriously; she’ll be meeting with various people this week, and hopefully we’ll lock that down soon.

– Set up Maram writing workshops and classes with Alec Nevala-Lee and Deborah Jian Lee — I think we can do that via FB messenger. I think I’m going to offer a six-week Fiction / Nonfiction Writing Workshop, 2.5 hrs / class on Saturday mornings, suitable for beginners or intermediate prose writers; I keep meeting people in the community who are asking for that class. This will focus on elements of craft that are applicable both to fiction and creative nonfiction, such as memoir. If you’re someone who wants to reserve a spot in it, let me know — I’m probably going to cap the class at 15. It’ll be in Sept / Oct, dates to be finalized very shortly, and will probably take place at the co-working space, Oak Park Works. Tuition will be $375.

Also thinking of doing two accompanying workshops, 2.5 hrs each, one on Worldbuilding (appropriate to SF/F writers, but also surprisingly applicable to historical fiction / travel writing), one on publishing, both indie and traditional. Those’ll be $75 each, and I’m hoping to do them more panel-style, and have Alec Nevala-Lee teach them with me, if I can get the schedules to mesh. If you take both the six-week workshop and the two accompanying ones, it’ll be $475, so a $50 discount. Coffee / tea / continental breakfast will be included.

Tentative goal for this week for Maram — actually schedule out fall and spring calendar? We might not know exactly which workshops will go in where, but we can pencil in dates / times at least.

– And along with all that, revise the novel. I think I can revise chapter 4 this afternoon; we’ll see. 

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Both kids curled up with their devices

Came home from rehearsal on Tues evening, and found both kids curled up outside with electronics — Anand on the back porch, Kavi in the front. It’s funny how they’ve staked out their particular spots. Particularly like that photo of Anand, with the egg chair (his favorite) and the light from his device. 🙂

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So proud of Anand

Anand is getting suddenly so grown up. We got into O’Hare around 11 p.m. on Sunday, and everyone was tired, but Kavi was particularly crashing; she’d fallen asleep hard on the plane, and was having a tough time coming out of it. Anand saw that she was tired, and he just went over and got her suitcase and started pulling it for her, without needing to be asked. Proud of my baby. 🙂

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Sketching out a MakerFaire

Does it look like the beginning of a MakerFaire? It does!

Maram is going to be hosting a set of demos at the OP Main Library August 25, 2-5 — save the date! 3D printing, an embroidery machine, a poetry booth, spice grinding, and more… Free and open to the public. 🙂

A picture of a piece of white paper. There is a sketch of a table layout, with a large central table labeled ‘writing’, surrounded on three sides with additional smaller tables, labeled with various crafts, with a large walkway between the inner and outer table.
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I was in heavy revision mode yesterday

I was heavy in revision mode yesterday, and revised an entire chapter, which is great, but pretty much neglected all paperwork, and as a result, am drowning in paperwork today. But getting through. It helps that we have Maram retreat today, and Julie has come over and is steadily working on her novel, which is helping me keep on track.

The day started with trying something new with the kids — we sketched out some tasks they need to do before having access to electronics. The goals were very small to start out with, and they knocked them out in about two hours, but we’re planning to increase that. We typed it up and added their regular family chores too; as they get older, we’re trying to have them take on more of those.

To help motivate, I added some of my own for checking off, and Kevin is going to do the same. We’ll see how it goes! I’m hoping this will help give them the tools for them to be able to manage the temptations of electronics on their own, once they leave home, along with household management skills. We’ll see!

Other than that, leaving message for plumber (leaks, sigh), asking around to try to find a good dentist for the kids who takes Delta Dental (any tips welcome — I’m having a hard time finding anyone in Oak Park), reviewing tasks with Heather, planning things for Maram and the SLF. If you’d like to help out with the upcoming Kickstarter, leave your e-mail below, please! I’m going to e-mail all the volunteers tomorrow morning, and set things in motion. Eep.

Now I need to contact Pem re: Feast publicity plan, and then type up Maram notes before our 3 p.m. meeting. First, coffee, though. Definitely need coffee.

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Timelines and autonomy

Part of what I’m thinking about this morning is why it was relatively easy to set up volunteers that put in a lot of consistent work at the various magazines, and why that’s been more challenging with the non-profit orgs. Lots of reasons, but I think two of them have to do with timelines and autonomy. Specifically:

TIMELINES: For the magazines, having a regular publishing schedule kept things on track; deadlines are motivating. Surprisingly, I think in some ways it was easier to do that with Clean Sheets & Strange Horizons publishing weekly, as opposed to Jaggery, coming out 2-3 times / year, because the weekly schedule, despite being more demanding, stayed very present in peoples’ minds, and you also quickly learned who actually was willing to commit the time to the project or not.

For the SLF, the grants have annual deadlines and internal schedules for juries, etc., and even though we slip those sometimes a bit (juries require some wrangling), overall, I think the schedule helps keep it on track. I need to figure out similar schedules for the more amorphous parts of SLF administration, I think — for the operating work, such as outreach, memberships, fundraising, general organizational.

We’ve talked about a monthly meeting, but maybe I need to get on organizing that (or even weekly? joint work session on Discord, rather than a meeting?). And / or set up annual calendars for each aspects, so that people have a better sense of goals / progress.

AUTONOMY: For the magazines, I set it up so that the various departments (fiction, poetry, art, etc., including copyediting & website management) had autonomy within themselves; they were responsible for shaping the direction of their section, setting up workflows, etc. I tried to only step in if they blew a deadline, or asked for my help. I think that helped a lot with motivating them to take ownership of their areas, and responsibility for getting things done.

I feel like I haven’t done as well with that with either the SLF or Maram. The big success with the SLF is the grants, which is mostly all due to Malon Edwards taking charge of them and administering them — he puts in so much time and work, and I barely remember to thank him, gah. We need a Malon Edwards appreciation day, folks. Go read his fiction, at least!

But I need to do that for the SLF with the small press co-op, the local chapters, the international translation project if it happens, the archive of teaching / oral history material, etc. Also, if we can, with the admin sections, though I’m not sure if that’s as feasible?

And then the same thing with Maram. The latter is starting to shake out into departments for tech (KurtKentVanessa), textile (MargaretPamelaCarollinaAngela), writing (me, AlecDeborah), and cooking / gardening (PamEulàliaPetia, me). I think those will be really helpful, and I need to formalize them a bit, put everyone organizing on the masthead, and then set up a calendar and deadlines and the like. (Heather, can you put the latter on my to-do list on Trello, please, and remind me if I haven’t done it by the end of the week?)

It’s all a little amorphous still, but we’re getting there.

TIMELINES / AUTONOMY are my watchwords for the next phase. 

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Throwing oneself in, again

Wake up, check FB and e-mail, dress, breakfast, meds, coffee, not necessarily in that order. Say good morning to Anand and see if he needs help with breakfast; Kavi won’t be awake for a while. And all the while, the book is LOOMING, and finally, there are no more preparations to make, and you have to face it.

It’s swimming when you know the water’s cold, colder than you’d like it, and you ought to just fling yourself in, but it’s been a while. Instead you’re inching in, bit by bit, and that is self-inflicted torture and you know it, but you can’t seem to help yourself. Tomorrow, maybe, you’ll fling yourself into the ocean as if to a lover, one you can trust to catch you, but today you are suspicious, and anxiety is palpable, something you must fight through. It would be so much easier to weed the garden instead, and it needs it…

…but you’ve been clearing the decks for weeks now, and the truth is that the garden is weeded enough to get by, the house isn’t exactly clean, but it is no longer an utter disaster, the most urgent financial and other business matters have been dealt with (or are on this week’s schedule at various pre-determined points), and there is nothing actually screaming at you now, finally, nothing else that needs doing. In this next half hour, at least.

‘But half an hour isn’t enough time,’ you cry! That’s fear too. And yes, later you’ll have a four-hour stretch cleared away, which is better for the deep work; this morning, a doctor’s appointment and a trip to the DMV intervene. But something useful can still be accomplished in half an hour, even if it’s only reading over yesterday’s new scene, re-reading the next one. Setting the day’s writing wheels in motion so that the back of your brain will work while you are sitting in the doctor’s waiting room, in line at the DMV.

Soon, you are more than knee-deep. Soon, the shock of cold hitting a new inch of naked skin will become routine — you have done this before, after all, and you know it will not actually hurt you. Soon you will be waist-deep, chest-deep.

Then you will take a deep breath and throw yourself forward, submerged. A moment of shock, but then the cold forgotten in the movement of strong limbs. The water welcoming you, beloved, once again.

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Publicist for Feast

I’m hiring a local friend with marketing background to serve as a publicist for Feast, but of course, I’m not a publicist, and she hasn’t worked as a book publicist. She asked me to put together a bullet-point list, and this is what I came up with — anything I’m missing? Thoughts?

– put together timeline for release (most urgent) — ARC (advance review copies) are ready now, and need to be shipped 2-3 months in advance of launch to big review sites like Publisher’s Weekly. So tentatively, launch can happen anytime after mid-September

– schedule local launch events, coordinating with Eastgate (if doing), Book Table / Beer Shop, Jake’s Place, SugarBeet, MA’s own party

– help brainstorm, plan, and host local events

– draft press release

– research and send out press releases to other relevant venues, like food magazines, shelter magazines that might feature it as fall reading, etc.

– work with MA to have her pitch articles she’d write to those same magazines; she has a list, just needs prodding to brainstorm article topics, and actually draft and pitch them

– brainstorm other publicity possibilities, such as blog tour, online giveaways for launch week, etc.

– schedule out of town events, sending press release to relevant venues (MA will help put together list of venues to contact) and following up to see if interested; make sure MA gets travel plans into calendar. Will mostly try to coordinate with other travel she’s already doing for work, but may add in a few more stops, if it makes sense budget-wise; may also do some road-tripping next summer with Ben Rosenbaum for joint event (possibly coordinating this piece with Heather)

– draft publicity flyer, coordinate with MA’s daughter’s friends for posting around town

– look at the PR materials MA already has, think about how best to use them — there’s a big stack of book promo postcards, book stickers, plus greeting cards and postcards that can be used for giveaways or for sale cheaply

How is that? I’m not sure of everything that goes into a publicity plan! But this seems like a lot. 

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Stayed up late writing

Stayed up late writing, so slept late and woke up late, so had to postpone this morning’s run — summer schedule is more complicated than one might think. But I’ve had breakfast and coffee and am settled in the shed for hopefully a day of novel-writing.

I’ve heard back from one of the people who read the newest version of the “Skin Deep” story, and she loved it, so I am feeling pleased and also with renewed confidence in the value of my revisions. H/t to Jenn Reese who told me that my main problem was that I was reluctant to revise; I think she was actually right, and I may have to buy her several drinks at the next con we’re at together… Inspiration and coherent beauty can come in the fourth draft, truly. I don’t know why I lost confidence in that.

The kids are making banana bread, the bit of the garden I can see from the shed is finally mulched, and I got the fountain properly up and running last night, so all’s well here. A garden should have water, ideally running water. The shady corner, newly-planted, finally, did come out v. nicely, with the hosta and purple heuchera and Jacob’s ladder and bleeding heart. Sometimes, your visions work, for gardens and for stories.

Feeling serene, for a change.

Not for shade, but I think getting enough sun there (it’s sort of a weird combo area, with close to full sun in a little bit and close to deep shade in a different bit), we also have baby dogwood tree, Sweet Summer Love clematis just starting to bloom (soon that fence will be covered in tiny wine-red flowers), and orange daylily, also blooming soon.

I’m delighting in the drumstick alliums with the purple veronica spikes — they seem very Seussian, somehow.

Turning off FB shortly, for a few hours, at least.

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Locus Award

Here is my attempt to recreate my speech, on receiving the Locus Special Award for Community Outreach & Development. I was tremendously moved when I got the letter from Locus telling me about the award and asking whether I might be able to make it to Seattle to accept in person. It’s very nice to be appreciated. Very.

This is a new award; it was given once last year, to the Clarion workshops, and I’m its second recipient. I’m really pleased to see our genre making a move to honor service to the field; we’ve long had the Big Heart Award at the Hugos, which is wonderful, for service to fandom, but this feels a little different, more aimed at professional service? We’ll see how it evolves.

Okay, that’s all prefatory material–next is actual speech.

*****

When I first started writing, I was twenty years old, writing erotica in the early 90s. I’d started writing erotica in large part because the silence around sexuality seemed so damaging — my freshman year at the University of Chicago, four different women came to me and told me about being date-raped, and while I absolutely don’t want to absolve any responsibility from the men instigating those acts, it was also very clear that there’d been some serious communication breakdowns in every instance, that things might have gone differently if those young couples had been better able to talk about sex. I hoped that writing publicly about sex, (whether good or bad), might help encourage people to talk about sex and change the culture.

It was the era where Congress was considering the Communication Decency Act — they were very worried, and were going to try to keep sex off the internet.

I’d been posting stories on newsgroups and on the early web for a few years at that point (my blog is the third oldest on the internet, according to the Online Diary History Project), and I had to think about whether I would be willing to go to jail to protect free speech, if Congress decided my site was now illegal. I thought probably yes, but I admit, it was scary, and at times, I felt very alone.

This was a time when you couldn’t buy erotica in mainstream bookstores — you had to go to men’s sex shops if you wanted that; that was true until Susie Bright started the Best American Erotica series, and Down There Press started Herotica, and eventually we got to a point where people were reading 50 Shades of Grey on the subway, but back then, people would hide their racy romance novel covers.

It was in that environment that a group of us decided to start Clean Sheets, an online erotica magazine, that eventually ran weekly for over a decade. It joined Nerve and Scarlet Letters (the latter of which also runs the fabulous sex education site, ScarleTeen, under the brilliant guidance of Heather Corinna).

I know for the Clean Sheets volunteer staff, we were doing the work of editing and running the magazine because we thought it was important. There was damage being done by the silence around sexuality, there was a need for open conversation on the subject, a need that we could fill, so we started a magazine.

Two years later, I handed Clean Sheets off to Susannah Indigo. I like seeing a need, figuring out how to fill it, getting the structure up and running — once it’s running smoothly, I generally move on to the next thing. Clean Sheets ran for a long, long time, but eventually shut down, which on the one hand makes me a bit sad — but on the other hand, I can’t be too sad, because the need has been filled; the world and culture has changed, and I think we had a small part in that. We did what we set out to do.

I started writing science fiction, and as a result of attending Clarion West in 1997, I ended up at a Diana Paxson party at Greyhaven in the Bay Area. I met Debbie Notkin there, and she invited me to WisCon, which was the first feminist science fiction convention, and which was trying to make an effort to diversify its attendees. I was a broke graduate student — I had done Clarion entirely on credit cards, and had no idea how I was going to pay them off — so I said I couldn’t possibly attend.

SF3, the non-profit that runs Wiscon, put together the funds to cover my expenses and brought me out. They’d identified a need, and they took action to try to fix it. (WisCon is my favorite convention; they paid my way that first year, but I’ve been back almost every year since then, on my own dime. Hopefully they consider that a good return on their investment!)

Once at WisCon, I quickly met up with the four other writers of color in attendance (5 of us, out of about 750 attendees total); we decided to form the Carl Brandon Society, to support writers of color in the field. (Carl Brandon was a fictional black fan of color, from the early history of the field.)

I served on the board for a few years, helping to create the Parallax and Kindred Awards; Carl Brandon has gone on to create the Octavia Butler memorial Clarion scholarships and more. The Wiscon POC dinner has grown to hundreds of attendees, and the field is entirely different now. I hope we helped a little with that.

Somewhere around 1999, I was at a WorldCon, attending a Campbell panel. The Campbell Award is given for Best New Science Fiction or Fantasy Writer. One of the panelists said he had counted, and there had only been 25 slots for new writers in the past year in the magazines and anthologies; all the rest were taken by established pros. This seemed like a really unfortunate and artificial bottleneck, and I wondered if we could do something about that.

When I got back home to the Bay Area, I called up some friends (and I have to admit, a fair number of them were people I’d dated — being poly may give you some additional resources when it comes to having exes you can call on for this kind of thing, at least if you stay on good terms with your exes…) and we had a meeting at someone’s house in San Francisco to talk about starting a magazine paying pro rates for fiction. We would call it Strange Horizons.

We wanted to do it digitally, to keep the costs down (at that point, Eileen Gunn‘s Infinite Matrix and Ellen Datlow‘s SciFiction were the main early digital SF magazines, so we’d be joining them), though we knew we’d get some pushback from people who didn’t see online publishing as ‘real’ — it’s sort of amazing, in retrospect, how prevalent that attitude was back then!

I’d do some things differently if I could go back in time; we were very focused on ‘money flows to the writer,’ so we prioritized being able to pay authors and artists, but we didn’t try to even pay an honorarium for editing and admin work, and these days, I would say that labor is labor, and should be valued.

But live and learn, and with funds raised from the community and a volunteer staff of thirty dedicated souls (and I have to shout out in particular to my sweetie Jed Hartman here, who served as senior fiction editor for twelve years and read a truly astonishing number of submissions), we managed to put out 51 issues a year.

I handed the magazine off to Susan Groppi after two years, and she ran it for a while and then handed it off to Niall Harrison — at this point, the entire original staff has completely turned over, and the magazine has been going strong for coming up on 19 years now — Strange Horizons will be celebrating its 20th anniversary in New Zealand at WorldCon, and please do come to the party if you’ll be there!

That’s 51 additional slots for pro writers; as a non-profit, we didn’t have the financial constraints of the other pro mags, so we didn’t have to worry about having ‘name’ writers — we just published what our editors loved, and were able to triple the number of pro short fiction slots in the field as a result, in one fell swoop. For many speculative fiction writers, Strange Horizons was their first pro sale — we’re tremendously proud of that.

So we saw a need, we came together with a group of friends and like-minded folks we gathered on the internet, and we made a thing to fix it. One of the best aspects of our genre is that it is full of such people and the organizations they’ve built.

From the enormous network of fabulous conventions run by the fans, to the Clarion, Odyssey, Viable Paradise and other workshops, to the Interstitial Arts Foundation, the Carl Brandon Society, funds like Con or Bust (which helps bring fans of color to conventions), the Tiptree Award (given for work which expands our ideas of gender), etc. and so on — none of those would be possible without masses of time, energy, and labor, the vast majority of it done by unpaid volunteers.

I know we have several current Clarion students in the room, and I’d like to say to them, and to all the writers listening to this — the best thing you can do for your career is to get engaged in creating arts culture. It will feed your writing in ways you can’t imagine, and it will make the field better.

If you see a lack — and our field is wonderful, but there are still lacks and problems and it could certainly be better — then step up and figure out what could be done to fix it. If there’s an organization doing good work that you believe in, join them, and give them your time, your energy, your ideas — maybe even your money, because you know that most of these organizations are operating on the thinnest of margins and a few extra dollars are always welcome.

If you’re looking for something to join, well, I must note that these days I run the Speculative Literature Foundation (www.speclit.org), which gives grants to writers, runs a SF/F reading series in Chicago, co-sponsored by SFWA and Chicago Nerds Social Club, and is working on expanding into local chapters and international translation and award efforts. If any of that interests you, we would love to have you join us with your time, your money, your energy, and your passion.

(I’m a little behind on my intention to organize volunteers at the moment, but I’m setting aside some time in July, so this is the perfect time to drop a note to me, director@speculativeliterature.org, subject line: SLF VOLUNTEER, and join the crew. I’ll forward your message to Colleen Waldie, who is helping me get this thing organized, and we’ll be in touch soon.)

One of the best things I’ve done in my life was starting Strange Horizons, with a team of thirty hardy volunteers who made it so much better than I could have possibly done on my own. Every one of these projects was a group effort, and we’ve had so much fun, working together to improve this genre that we love so much, and geeking out intensely along the way.

My high school best friend, Lisette, and I met over a Star Trek Diane Duane novel), and there’s an Irving Stone quote we loved: “There are no faster or firmer friendships than those formed between people who love the same books.”

However you choose to do it, I’m asking you to engage with the field. The rewards are immeasurable; this work has been one of the great joys of my life. Come join us!

*****

Congrats to the other recipients! https://locusmag.com/2019/06/2019-locus-awards-winners/

 

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