Fiction: “September, After”

This is one of the first stories I wrote when I started writing seriously—one of the stories which got me into the Viable Paradise workshop in 2012, in fact.  I wrote it before I knew much about story structure.  I’d of course had Freytag’s Pyramid in school, and I tried to write this story in that form, but I knew once I finished it that I had missed.

Yet I thought the story still worked, I just couldn’t explain why.  I only realized much after learning about the kishōtenketsu form that I think I all but accidentally hit on it when writing this story.  Fortunately I think that structure fits the themes of the story very well, so I’m loath to try to ‘fix’ it.  See what you think.

Also I wanted to write a post-apocalypse which reflected my experience growing up in poor, rural places which had lost a lot of population from the farm crises and were a little post-apocalyptic already.  Somehow we didn’t descend into a Mad Max hell of guns and gas and hard men killing for canned goods past their sell-by.

Continue reading

What I’m Reading: “Flocks”, by L. Nichols (queer Christian autobio comics)

"I am the people. We are the people. But no matter how hard I tried, I never heard 'me' when they said 'we.' I think they knew I was different."

I’ve mentioned before that I read a lot of webcomics, and that in the best of them I find more to relate to in the queer experiences they depict than I do in most prose fiction.  (And maybe also that the format lets me take works which make me feel strong emotions piecemeal, slowing me down enough that I can process them without getting overwhelmed.)

Flocks by L. Nichols—which its website describes simply as “An autobiographical story about L’s experience as a queer Christian”—is a particularly pointed example of that.

A lot of L.’s experience of being Christian and queer in a place hostile to the latter was my experience too, and we used college to escape in the same way.  The grinding sense that I was wrong, that I didn’t belong, that I was being punished by God, was something I lived with for a long time, and has made any kind of adult relationship with the church very, very hard.

For me the redemptive arc is that that is no longer my day-to-day, and I’m in a place now with people who are welcoming to who I am.  The comic is still ongoing (posts about once a month), but it seems L. found much the same.

Crocus Season

2010-03-25 11.13.39

It is not crocus season yet.  I just saw the first buttercups, the very earliest of the spring ephemerals, this morning.  But it is closer to crocus season than it was last week, and for that I am profoundly grateful.  It has been a long, hard winter.

It has been quiet for too long here as well, but I am trying to get back into the habit of posting again.  Maybe nothing much ever at one go, but—it has been too long since I was in front of you, performing, and I miss that, so here I am in whatever small way I can manage.

Also!  I will be posting a story next Friday the 8th—the first of my Patreon stories, promised last July and then sidetracked.  (One of the excitements of my other line of work is that we can get called any day to drop everything we are doing because something important is on fire, and we have been very busy over the last year.)  But the story is now prepped and copyedited and scheduled, meaning it will be posted, so do please watch this space.

The Long Singularity

Attention conservation notice: Yet another semi-crank pet notion, nursed quietly for many years, now posted in the absence of new thoughts because reading The Half-Made World brought it back to mind.

The Singularity has happened; we call it “the industrial revolution” or “the long nineteenth century”. It was over by the close of 1918.

Exponential yet basically unpredictable growth of technology, rendering long-term extrapolation impossible (even when attempted by geniuses)? Check.

Massive, profoundly dis-orienting transformation in the life of humanity, extending to our ecology, mentality and social organization? Check.

Annihilation of the age-old constraints of space and time? Check.

Embrace of the fusion of humanity and machines? Check.

Creation of vast, inhuman distributed systems of information-processing, communication and control, “the coldest of all cold monsters”? Check; we call them “the self-regulating market system” and “modern bureaucracies” (public or private), and they treat men and women, even those whose minds and bodies instantiate them, like straw dogs.

An implacable drive on the part of those networks to expand, to entrain more and more of the world within their own sphere? Check. (“Drive” is the best I can do; words like “agenda” or “purpose” are too anthropomorphic, and fail to acknowledge the radical novely and strangeness of these assemblages, which are not even intelligent, as we experience intelligence, yet ceaselessly calculating.)

Why, then, since the Singularity is so plainly, even intrusively, visible in our past, does science fiction persist in placing a pale mirage of it in our future? Perhaps: the owl of Minerva flies at dusk; and we are in the late afternoon, fitfully dreaming of the half-glimpsed events of the day, waiting for the stars to come out.

—Cosma Shalizi (original with hyperlinks; h/t Making Light)

What I’m Reading: Kij Johnson

I don’t really know how to capture Kij Johnson’s short story collection At the Mouth of the River of Bees in words. Her writing here reminds me often of Karin Tidbeck’s Jagannath, in its focus on ordinary people and everyday life in extraordinary circumstances.

At the Mouth of the River of Bees is a hefty volume—I read the ebook edition, so I can’t measure its spine, but it spans nearly Kij’s entire career, from 1989 to today, and although it doesn’t do so comprehensively, there’s still a lot of material to present.  Moreover, the stories display an impressive degree of thematic unity without ever seeming repetitive.

I have been thinking that writing like this asks me as a reader to slow down and take it on its own terms.  Johnson’s prose isn’t lush like Catherynne Valente’s or finely-wrought and occasionally oblique like Elizabeth Bear’s—most of the stories are written in good, transparent plain style, and anyone who has tried it will tell you it’s not as easy as it looks.  And the stories never seemed to me to drag—they always had purpose and direction.  But they pay close attention to their subjects, and I found it very rewarding to experience the stories at the narrative’s own pace.

This is one for me to reread and study, I think.

Some Frequently Asked Questions about Patreon and Me

After I posted about signing up for Patreon, I got a few questions which other people may have too, so let me answer them here.

How often do you intend to post?

Over the past couple of years, I’ve written about two stories a year. I’d like to write more, and I think this will encourage me to do so, but I’m a slow writer with a day job. I definitely won’t post more than once a month. (If you’re worried, though, Patreon allows you to set a maximum amount you want to spend per month, for ease of budgeting, and please feel free to do so. I know how that goes.)

Are you posting the stories on your blog?

Yeah, I’m continuing to post the stories for everyone to read here. Right now nobody has heard of me or read my writing, and that’s what I’m hoping you’ll help me change. So to some extent, yeah, you’re supporting me doing something I would have done anyway.

What do I get if I support you then?

Partly faster posts. It’s a lot easier for me to convince myself not to screw around submitting to token markets if I know people care about and read my stories. Also I’m posting outtakes, “demos,” little bits and pieces of really raw behind-the-scenes stuff for backers only here on Patreon—for example, the beginning of an (unfinished) sequel to my “Hitchhiker” story.  (I don’t want to seem to slag on token markets here; a lot of them are run by friends, or people who could be.  I just don’t think that it’s worth submitting to all of them, all the time.)

Will you mail your stories to my house like Cat Valente did?

Maybe! When I started doing this, I wanted to be really careful not to make promises I couldn’t keep no matter what happened. As it goes along and we all get more comfortable with this, I’m open to new ideas. Would you like me to mail my stories to your house? Let me know!

Living by Grace, or, Will You Support Me on Patreon?

Edit: TL;DR I’ve signed up for Patreon.

As you know, I write stories. Sometimes they’re science fiction or fantasy, depending on how you squint and turn your head. Sometimes they’re just little bits of life, mine or someone else’s. Sometimes they’re weird and misshapen. Here are a couple:

I submit these stories to magazines (a loose term in the age of e-publishing). Mostly they send them back with polite little form notes.  They regret that they are unable to respond to each submission personally, but they are unable to publish my story.

And that’s fine. They don’t owe me an audience.

Every once in a while I get a personal note back saying that the story was strong but not the kind of thing they publish, or that it made them think but didn’t quite work for them, and I cherish those notes.  (They’re even from magazines you’ve heard of, statistically speaking.  So I can’t be that nuts, right?)

Once I’ve sent a story to all the eligible markets—or at least the markets I would respect in the morning—I usually post it here on the blog. For short stuff (flash-length pieces) or weird stuff (black humor), that’s easy to justify to myself, but I find it hard to post longer pieces.

There’s always another token-paying magazine which might publish them. Although… if a magazine is paying me $5 for a story, how many readers does it really have? Is it worth the heartache to get my work in front of those few strangers?

There has got to be a better way for people to meet my work, and for me to meet them, than this endless low-stakes spaghetti-throwing competition.

While she was doing it, I subscribed to Catherynne Valente’s Omikuji stories.  The deal was, you paid once a year, and then every month or thereabouts she would mail an original never-before-published story to you. Real paper, wax seal, with a little note about life and work and the weather in Maine, signed by her.

Everything but the signature was laser-printed, of course—by the time I subscribed, there were enough of us that hand-writing would have about killed her—but even so there was a personal touch about it, and I came to look forward to when the cream-colored envelope with the red border would arrive in the mail.

The stories were usually short, suitable for reading over breakfast. Theoretically each mailing she would choose someone to receive something extra-special, though I never did, and for me neither that nor the exclusivity of the stories was the point. Just that steady contact did more to make me a part of her community than a dozen series could have.

I am not as prodigious a writer as Catherynne Valente, nor am I trying to support myself on my fiction as she does, so I can’t promise stories as often or as regularly, and I don’t want to ask you to pay up-front.  Still, I’d like Patreon to be something similar—a little community of us.

I’m still learning how to do this fiction-writing thing. I’ve only been working at it seriously for a couple years, far fewer than I’ve worked at any of the other things that I think I do well. I don’t fit neatly into boxes—my own or anyone else’s. I don’t know how to be approachable yet, how to win the reluctant reader’s trust. I know my reach exceeds my grasp.

Still I can’t shake the conviction that my stories have value. Sometimes they’re the stories I want or need to read.  Sometimes they’re the stories I’m too scared to read.  I say in them the things I know no other way to say.

Amanda Palmer has a TED Talk on “The Art of Asking”, and I think the idea she espouses is profound, if not always simple to act on. She doesn’t use these words, but I will: as an artist, I exist by the grace of the people who support me—by your free gifts. You don’t owe me an audience. You don’t owe me that support. But if you’re willing, I’ll accept it.

Will you support me?

Fiction: “Hitchhiker”

I mentioned, in my other post, that I’ve signed up for Patreon.

This story is my ante-up, me putting my money where my mouth is, whatever cliché you want. This is very much the kind of story I want to publish here with Patreon backing.

This is also one of the stories that got me into Viable Paradise. It’s near to my heart in several ways; I think you’ll see.

Continue reading