Monthly Archives: September 2015

First publication upcoming

My steampunk1 story, “The Wind and the Spark,” should finally be appearing in Fictionvale at the end of next week! This was one of the first stories I ever wrote — maybe the 3rd I ever completed. It’s certainly the first story I sold, back in April 2014, so I’m thrilled for it to hit press at last after many delays and diversions.

I’ll have a post or two more about it next week when the story emerges. I definitely want to have one demographic discussion (also known as “ugh my newbie story has no female characters whatsoever”), and maybe some story notes if I want to expound on the story’s spoilery s personal/professional resonances.

Archon Panel Schedule

I am pleased to announce my first appearance as an official1 convention panelist!

I will be at Archon 39, in Colinsville IL (near St. Louis MO) on the weekend of October 2-4, 2015.

My panel schedule:

  • Technical Tall Tales: Strange and Frightening Tales of the Lab, Friday 7pm, Great Rivers A
  • Big Things on the Horizon: New Tech and Scientific Discoveries, Saturday 10am, Great Rivers A
  • The Martian: Could YOU Survive the Red Planet? Saturday 12pm, Great Rivers A
  • Beginning Writing and the Creative Process, Saturday 6pm, Marquette A

I’m very pleased with this lineup! Two panels where I can talk about neuroscience, one where I can share expertise gleaned from Mars, and one where I can share the pleasures and horrors of life as a newbie SFF writer.

Panel #3 leads to some amusing logistical problems. I doubt I’ll be able to catch the movie version of The Martian before the panel, since the movie comes out right when Archon opens. I’ll try to arrange a special video message from my family Martian, but that may not work out for a host of reasons.

Three Lessons from Patricia McKillip

I’ve spent a lot of my reading time lately going through Patricia McKillip. A year ago, I’d never reead a thing of hers; now I’ve read the Riddle-Master Trilogy (Riddle Master of Hed, Heir of Sea and Fire, and Harpist in the Wind), A Song for the Basilisk, and the Cygnet books (The Sorceress and the Cygnet, the Cygnet and the Firebird).

I started this quest based on a recommendation, and then pursued it to the bitter end as an exercise to work on my poetry and mysticism. McKillip’s language is amazing: beautiful, evocative, dense with challenging layers of metaphor and elliptical meaning. My own storytelling runs to the linear and direct, or at least it used to: after a year of McKillip immersion, I think I’ve gotten a far better sense for the “beautiful prose” part, at least.

That’s the Zeroth Lesson I learned from McKillip: her astounding skill and craft at writing beautiful, layered prose. I’m calling that #0 because I want to get into three specific lessons from the last books I finished, the Cygnet duology. Minor spoilers follow:

First lesson: “You win, therefore you lose” is an unsatisfying conclusion to anyone’s arc. This is a lesson I first ran into long ago in roleplaying game design, and unfortunately it crops up at the end of Firebird. Rather than the protagonists determining the outcome, the villain succeeds, but his success destroys him, without any further involvement or intervention of the main characters. It’s a bit close to a deus ex machina, sadly: villain summons godlike entity, god turns out not to be villainous after all, sucks to be that guy. Thus Firebird was my least favorite of the six McKillips I read.

Second lesson: Your twist can be as meta as you want, as long as it rings true. I’ve long since recognized that an ideal twist (climactic or otherwise) is one that makes the reader say, “I never noticed that before, but now that you say it, it’s so obvious.” The first Cygnet book accomplishes this so wildly, I had to come back and reread the climactic scene the next night. At the moment when the external plot (action in the world, as opposed to character development “internal arc”) comes to a head, when the cruel gods/constellations are about to overthrow the Cygnet, the plot reveals itself to not be an external plot at all. It’s been there to serve as story and metaphor: not just to the reader, but to the characters themselves. McKillip twisted not just the plot, but the structure and nature of narrative itself. It took me some real work to wrap my head around it, but after it sunk in, you can be sure I’ll never forget it.

Third lesson: Never give a character a plot-stopping power. In both Cygnet books, one character is the Gatekeeper, with a deep-rooted mystical power over who comes and goes in the citadel where he works. Yet he fails at his job regularly! In fact, I don’t think we ever see him successfully noticing or keeping out a trouble-maker. Of course, there’d be no story if he kept the villains from coming in and mucking with the lives of our protagonists. But that’s precisely the problem: if his power works, there is no plot. Therefore his power has to fail, and he’s going to look like a loser. Unless you want your character to seem like an incompetent, better to avoid giving people plot-halting powers at all!

This post might sound critiquey, but only because I’m trying to distill specific writing lessons from a pair of her books — to find the rare bits of rough amidst the diamond. Let there be no doubt: I loved my McKillip Immersion Experience, and would recommend it wholeheartedly for anyone who wants to read or write amazing, gorgeous fantasy.

August 2015 Update

August was another month of chaos and travel, not to mention my day job finally spinning up. But I still got a fair bit of writing done!

  1. Ten stories currently out on submission, of which at least 3 have made it onto a shortlist. I’m pretty enthusiastic for all three, but at this point I just need to think of them as dice-throws.
  2. Currently juggling two revisions: Evil Prophecies and Fairy Gentrification.
  3. Long-term plans currently center around one smaller-scale revision (Banker Priestesses) and one deep rewrite (Conquistador Dragons).
  4. Apparently I like two-word Compound Nouns for my working titles. I do have actual/tentative titles for all these stories, but those have much less descriptive power for my blog-readers.
  5. As of this past Friday, I can officially start my “The Martian’s Husband” autobiography. Being married to a Martian is an amazing and terrifying thing, and I wouldn’t trade it for anything in the world.

Part of me wants to post something about the Hugo results. However, I haven’t been active in fandom since ~college; I’ve never been to Worldcon or had a friend go to Worldcon. So while I have opinions1, I’d rather clear the airspace for people more invested in the struggle.

But speaking of engagement in fandom:

6. With luck, I should be participating in Archon as a guest! I can’t be 100% sure until the panel schedule comes out, but I’ve gotten a “first time guest/panelist” questionnaire, so things are looking likely. I’ll be doing mostly/entirely science panels, since my writing credentials are still fairly meager (unless #1 above turns out real lucky real soon).  I’m very excited about this: I’m slow to engage in communities because I’m a hermit at heart, and this will help toward my goal of pushing myself out there and joining in.