About that writing thing

dragonreadingThis past weekend I participated in an online intensive short story workshop taught by Mary Robinette Kowal, who’s written some of my favorite stories (including “Lady Astronaut of Mars“, which is a beautiful story and you really ought to read if you haven’t already). It was amazingly educational — I took pages and pages of notes — and very inspiring. I used to participate in the writers’ workshops at various science fiction conventions, but I haven’t done that in awhile; I ended up getting nothing but positive comments, and while that was certainly good for my ego, I felt like I wasn’t actually learning anything. In this workshop, I learned to recognize two of my major flaws as a writer:

  1. Character motivation. Some of my characters lack consistent internal motivations for their actions, and this is definitely something I need to work on in order to develop as a writer. The other flaw is this:
  2. Tone consistency. The story I wrote for the class started out as a horror story, but ended up as a buddy comedy. This was not my intention; I had always meant it to be comic, but the opening scene with the main character was just too dark.  I have the opposite problem with another story I’ve been working on for years, “Burying Uncle Albert”. I have ideas on how to fix this.

So there’s that. The workshop was intense; Saturday’s session was twelve hours long, and Sunday’s was fourteen. And during each break, we would have homework: write something, then critique two other students’ output. We didn’t have any more than an hour at any point during the course of the workshop when we weren’t learning.

I highly recommend this workshop to you the next time she offers it.

In other news, I’ve decided on a fiduciary goal with regards to my writing: by the age of 50, I want to be earning enough with my writing to be able to cut back on my hours at work without loss of income. I think it’s a doable goal, but it’s going to require some hard work on my part.

I can do it, though. I’m sure of it.

Of course, I’d love to write full-time someday, but I don’t think that’s going to happen. Maybe when I retire.

[A-Z] V is for Victory!


Sort of.

So I went and wrote twenty-six blog entries, including this one, one for each letter of the alphabet. I did it out of order, and got scolded for that, but who says the alphabet has to be in alphabetical order? In library school I learned that order is what you make it. Is the Library of Congress catalog system in alphabetical order? It most certainly is not. I rest my case.

Next year, though, I plan to do the alphabet in order.

But which alphabet?

Bwah ha ha haaaaaa!

This is the last post brought to you by the A-Z Blogging Challenge.

[A-Z] E is for Episcopalian

Shield_of_the_US_Episcopal_ChurchSome of my earliest memories are of going to church at St. Jude’s Episcopal Church in Cupertino, California. It was a small church, as I recall, and I was a typical kid in a typical church: active, nerdy, investigatory. My mom let me bring toys, of course, and there were coloring activities in the church bulletin and Sunday school classes, all designed to keep little kids like me from being too active and disruptive of the service. I don’t remember my baptism, of course, but I do remember being confirmed at that church by Bishop C. Shannon Mallory in 1982. I have a copy of the 1977 Book of Common Prayer that I received as a gift for that event.

As I grew older, of course, I grew away from the Episcopal Church. I went to a Catholic high school, but while there was a first Friday Mass every month, we weren’t all required to pray every morning and that sort of thing. There were elements of the Catholic Church and its theology that appealed to me, and elements that did not.

When I went to UC Davis, I sought out the nearest Episcopal Church, which was St. Martin’s, not too far away from the dorm I lived in. But then I found myself drawn into Intervarsity College Fellowship, and hung out with a more conservative crowd of Christians than I was used to. I went to a Baptist church for awhile, until I heard from the youth pastor there that all my gay and lesbian friends were going to Hell, at which point I decided I’d had enough.

For awhile I went to the Unitarian Universalist Church in Davis, which I liked for its social progressivism, but which didn’t quite sit right with me for its theology — or, rather, lack thereof.

So I wandered around for a bit. For awhile, I practiced Wicca. Then I explored the Bahá’í Faith for awhile, enchanted by its embrace of other theologies and mythic systems, as well as its socially progressive attitudes. But eventually I came to dislike some it its elements. At least one of my Bahá’í friends turned out to be rather homophobic, and while I don’t know if this represents the faith as a whole, it was hard not to make the connection.

When Jennifer and I met, I ended up going to a Methodist church for awhile. It was easy; after all, it was the church that her parents went to and it was located in our home town, and it was the church we got married in. I like the Methodist Church very much, but I confess it just didn’t feel like home to me.

So when we moved to Sacramento, I decided to start attending Trinity Episcopal Cathedral downtown. It definitely feels more home-like than any of the other churches and faiths I’d explored throughout my life, but there is still something missing. I’m not sure exactly what. The theology is there, the progressive social ideals are there. Maybe it’s just that I didn’t grow up there.

I know that one’s faith has a lot to do with how they’ve grown up. My experience with Christianity and with the Episcopal Church was, on the whole, very good, so I still identify as Christian (even though I’m more likely to say “Happy Zombie Jesus Day” rather than “Happy Easter”). But there are many toxic versions of the faith out there, some of them with far too much political power, and many people who have been deeply wounded by them and by practitioners, and this is a shame.

Hallelujah! It’s the A-Z Blogging Challenge!

[A-Z] T is for Thumb

A brief entry for you tonight. Then two entries tomorrow. Then the [A-Z] blogging challenge will be over.

At any rate, have you ever had a hangnail? The kind that turns your finger an ugly red color when you accidentally snag it on something, or slip when you cut it off with a pair a nail clippers? I have. When I was a kid I was prone to them all the time for some reason.

Well, the past few days, I’ve had a doozy of an infected hangnail. There was pain, there was swelling, there was infection, and more. Fortunately, it’s my left thumb, so it didn’t impact me in many ways.

Well, today I finally decided the pain and the grossness were a little too much to handle, so I decided to call my doctor and see what he could do about it. The nurse asked me why I had come and I said, “This,” showing her my thumb. She said, “Oooh,” and proceeded to take my vitals and led me to an exam room without another word.

After a few minutes, the doctor came in. “So, why are you here?” he asked. I showed him. “Oh my,” he said. “Hm, I think we’re going to have to lance that.”

And so he did. And what came out was very impressive. The doctor said “Ew.” I’ve never managed to gross out a doctor before.

And now, about four hours later, the wound is still bleeding, and I’ve got a wad of gauze on it. It still hurts, but not nearly as much, and for that I’m quite grateful.

This gross entry brought to you by the A-Z Blogging Challenge.

[A-Z] I is for Inconceivabilities

vizziniThere are number of things I can’t really conceive of, and this, of course, presents a problem in my writing. The earliest piece of advice that most writers get is “Write what you know”, which is actually pretty silly. Most writers, especially writers of speculative fiction, don’t know everything about which they’re writing. In The Fifth Hand, John Irving wrote about what it’s like to have a hand transplant, a subject that he has no experience with.

And all those worlds that science fiction and fantasy writers create for their fiction? They’re loosely based on what they already know, but most of it is just made up.

The same goes for horror fiction, of course. Stephen King has no idea what it’s like to deal with the sort of cosmic horror he created for It, but there it is anyway. And when I wrote “The Winds of Patwin County”, I had no idea what it was like to be in a marriage that was simultaneously falling apart and being rebuilt. Still have no idea what that’s like.

Some other things I have no idea about: what it’s like to grow up as a young girl in India. What it’s like to be a medical student. The nature of Hindu cosmology. How modern cosmological theory ties in with the nature of reality. What it might mean if the cosmic horizon which threatens to collapse reality actually reaches a quantum level and disrupts consciousness (I have no idea what that means; probably just nonsense). But these are all things that come up in my planned novel Padma.

Also: I don’t know what it’s like to be a young widowed mother living in a mining colony on a distant planet, whose child has been kidnapped by powerful forces intent on preventing the fulfillment of a prophecy. This is for my planned trilogy The Outer Darkness.

And, finally: I don’t know what it’s like to be a woman of mixed African/Cuban descent. This is coming up in Code Monkey, though since my main character in that novel is a computer programmer sort of out of his depth in his job, the situation is not as dire.

So according to ancient writing wisdom, I shouldn’t write about these things because I have no direct knowledge of these things. I maintain, though, that I can. There are some experiences that are universal and can be extrapolated to unknown situations. I’ve never wanted to kill anyone, but I’ve been full of rage at points in my life, so can extrapolate from that.

Other experiences can be researched, of course. I know nothing of growing up in India, but that’s easily researched. What it’s like to be a female medical student? Probably a little harder to research, simply because I’d have to interview a couple at least and I’m quite, quite shy. Maybe I should just track down the primary care physician I had a few years ago. She was good, and probably can share some of her experience with me.

That’s all I’m going to post about today, I think. I have an infected hangnail which makes typing a little difficult, shoulder pain, and a headache. The kobolds are slowly fading away, thank goodness.

And you?

The A-Z Blogging Challenge? Inconceivable!

[A-Z] J is for Jalapeño

vegetables.thaichilipeppers.DSC_0022.1280Okay, I know these aren’t Jalapeño peppers.  They’re Thai peppers, which are worse. And this story is about Thai food and Thai peppers and pain.

For a few months I lived in a co-housing community in the eastern part of Davis, CA. This consisted of seven households with a common back yard and one house which had been designated the “common house”, which we all basically shared. There were gardens, chickens, hippies, rabbits, graduate students, and all kinds of things like that. It was a fun experience, one that I recommend to everyone.

One of the traditions of this co-housing community was that each month, one of the households would prepare a large community dinner for the entire community, to be served either outside or in the common house. When it came to be our turn, my friend E and I decided to make Thai food, since we were both fans. We bought all the fixings we could at the regular grocery store, except for two ingredients which we couldn’t find there: coconut ice cream (we eventually settled for regular vanilla ice cream mixed together thoroughly with coconut milk), and Thai chili peppers.

Fortunately, next to the grocery store there was an Asian food market. So I went in there and hunted around. I found some small red peppers, dried, and the label read “dried Thai peppers”, so I examined them.

Here’s where my inexperience with food in general comes in.

“Hm,” I thought. “They’re small. They’re dry. How hot can they be? They’re probably quite mild.” And since we had in the community a few people from the midwest whose palates, I knew, weren’t up to very spicy food, I picked up some of these small, dry peppers.

Then I took them home. Then I started cutting them to make the red curry.

The fact that my hands started burning right away should have been a clue that I’d made a terrible, terrible mistake, but I was young and dumb, and went on my merry way without even thinking to put on gloves or that maybe this red curry might be too hot after all. No, I’d bought the eight peppers, and by God I was going to use them all.

Then I got an itch on my cheek, just under my left eye. Without even thinking about it, I reached up to scratch it…

I yelped, of course, and ran to the bathroom to wash my face of the burning pepper juice, but, of course, all that did was spread the oil around and make my entire face burn. But, after several minutes of washing my face desperately with soap and water, it finally got to a bearable point.

Then I thought, “Hey, I’m already in the bathroom, I should probably pee while I’m here.”

Do I need to go further?

There are some lessons you just have to learn the hard way…

This super hot lesson brought to you by the A-Z Blogging Challenge

[A-Z] Y is for Yaar!

pirates-of-THE-caribbean-logoSo, every year there is the Northern California Pirate Festival over in Vallejo. I’ve never been, but I hear it’s good fun. You know, the usual: pillaging, looting, setting fire to things, general villainy, and good music. Actually, the main thing I hear is that it’s basically a good excuse to spend a day drinking. It sounds like fun to me. Of course I like pirates just as much as the next day ever since the first Pirates of the Caribbean movie came out and the first Talk Like a Pirate Day was celebrated. I haven’t written any pirate stories (though I’ve started one), but I’ve had them in some of the Dungeons and Dragons games that I’ve run. In that sense, pirates are fun. I’ve just never been to the festival.

But people I know who have been tell me that it reminds them a lot of the old Renaissance Pleasure Faire: lots of people, lots of food, lots of actors interacting with the customers, and lots of opportunities to spend money.

Did I ever tell you that I used to work at the Renaissance Faire? I did, back when it was in Black Point Forest near Novato in northern California. I was a street actor with St. Swithin’s, the Mongers Guild. As a Monger, I would affect the persona of a tinker who would offer to fix any broken items that the customers might have. Later on, I took on the mantel of barber surgeon, which was a lot more fun because I could interact with customers even more loudly and closely. I also participated in Pye Powder Court, a stage act where people would bring outrageous claims before a judge who would decide on a verdict and render a punishment.

Good times. I miss them. I made a number of great friends and enjoyed myself tremendously. It’s been about two decades, but I still get short of breath thinking of the march up and down Cardiac Hill where the actors camped at night, I remember the smell of the specialty vinegar stand at the base of Cardiac Hill. I remember the cups of chai we would get each morning before warming up for the day’s activities.  It was hot, dusty, smelly work, and I loved it.

Years ago, the Faire lost its lease at Black Point Forest, which ended up being sold to a developer who turned it into a golf course (one reason why I don’t play golf to this day — sheer vengeance). Now, the Faire is located in some locale too far away for me to make on a weekly basis, and I haven’t been to one in years. I’ve been to the Dickens Faire in Oakland, which is a lot of fun and is run by the same people, I understand, but it just doesn’t have the same feel.

And I doubt the Northern California Pirate Festival would have the same feel as well. Like so many other periods of my life, my memories of the Renaissance Faire are tied to specific people and places, and I’d rather keep those memories intact rather than try to recreate them.

On the other hand, the chance to hang out with over two thousand costumed pirates does sound kind of fun…

Yo ho, yo ho, an A-Z Blogging Challenge for me!