What Do Owls Have to Do With It?

Today is an exciting day! Big news on the publication front. More things on the way, too. But I’ll tell you more about that in a minute.

First, About Owls, in brief:

They can look adorable.

They’re iconic.

They’re also fairly bad-assed predators, a fact overshadowed by the cuteness/helpfulness of typical renderings.

Like this one, for starters.

But my favorite owl has got to be this little guy, rendered so magnificently by Imaginary People:

I am not really obsessed with owls or anything. I don’t even have an owl tattoo (yet). But when I heard the word last year that Jeff Vandermeer was calling for micro-fiction for The Thackery T. Lambshead Cabinet of Curiosities concerning strange artifacts, it had to be an owl.

Well, it’s an owl skull. With some moldy feathers clingy to it. Possessing mysterious properties. You’ll just have to read it.

And you can, because the newly minted book, sequel to The Thackery T. Lambshead Pocket Guide to Eccentric & Discredited Diseases (a Hugo Award and World Fantasy Award finalist) appears today!

My contribution is tiny, actually, but there are loads of amazing contributors, such as Holly Black, Ted Chiang, John Coulthart, Minister Faust, N.K. Jemisin, China Mieville, Mike Mignola, Alan Moore, Garth Nix, Ekaterina Sedia, and Rachel Swirsky, to name a few.

Order it here or here. Read more about it here.

My copy is on its way to me now, so I can sleep with it under my pillow and dream about owls.



Breathing the Air, Clearing My Head

I’m spending the week at The Rainforest Village Resort in the Olympic National Forest. It may just be the most beautiful place on earth, and it’s a fantastic location for a writing retreat.

The Village is remote and quiet, and surrounded by glorious natural beauty. At any moment, I can turn from my work and look out over lovely Lake Quinault, ringed by spruce-covered hills and wreathed in swirling mist. When writer’s block strikes, I can step outside and enter a trail just feet away that takes me under mossy trees dripping with rain. Sigh. Dirt-loving pagan paradise.

Another particularly enjoyable aspect of the retreat is the company of other writers, several of whom I’ve only met previously on Twitter. I feel like I know them well, and meeting them in person for the first time was like greeting old friends. Opportunities to meet new friends, too. These are my people.

Where is your happy place as a writer?



A Story Sale Tale Part 2

The seed of this story did not begin with a superhero. At Clarion West last summer, I leaped headfirst into the opportunity to explore my long-time fascination with history of the women of Ravensbruck, a Nazi labor camp. The amazing women who survived until the camp’s liberation have been largely responsible for compiling and keeping alive the stories and artifacts of the camp, which include those traveling as an exhibit I visited at the University of Central Florida when I was an undergraduate.

The strength and courage of the women of Ravenbruck was fortified, according to their stories, by small gifts they made for one another, books smuggled in, and a choir formed to keep their spirits up. The sharing of these humanizing tokens and activities may have been an important factor that kept some of the women alive in the face of brutal treatment and poor nutrition.

Inserting a character of my own (not to mention a speculative element) into their story seemed risky. I want to honor the memory of the survivors of a concentration camp because these women are heroes in their own right; they rescued themselves, and others, at great personal cost. If in my story a time traveler visited the camp to save a particular person, how could that be accomplished, and at what risk to the legitimacy of the narrative?

I decided the story was about an otherwise ordinary woman from the future and a book that would offer hope. That’s all. The visitor would suffer just as the other women suffered and strive to accomplish her goal of encouraging someone else’s survival.

The story is about taking risks, about being a hero even when no one else is watching, and it’s a story that waited in the back of my brain for many years. I’m glad I took the risk and let it out into the world.

“Am I a Hero?” A Story Sale Tale Part 1

“Am I a hero?”

This is what the protagonist of my latest story, “How Molière Saved Lydia Bruer: A History in Two Fragments,” will be wondering in the next edition of Crossed Genres. Each issue of Crossed Genres revolves around a different concept, and the theme of the coming issue is “Superheroes.” The editors asked for tales of heroes that are a bit different, that make readers think about what heroism means.

When the Crossed Genres theme was announced, I asked myself if my story qualifies. A narrative of heroism is certainly present, but it’s not the sort of caped crusader story readers will expect.

Considering the theme, I thought of the first time I was invited to play Marvel Superheroes by TSR with a gaming group. My reaction was something like, “Heroes, like mutants in tights? Sounds silly.” I’d gamed with other groups, but mostly in classic fantasy settings, and I had a hard time picturing a superhero game with depth. We’d probably be involved in lots of high-powered combat, zooming around in capes, rescuing citizens from burning buildings, battling supervillains, that kind of thing.

To my complete surprise, the game proved to have not only emotional depth, but inspiring moments of sacrifice, thoughtful ethical dilemmas and character growth. Whole game sessions passed without any combat whatsoever (other gaming folks out there may ascertain that I’m a “role” player, not a “roll” player, as they say).

Since those days, I’ve become a fan of superhero comics and films, notably those that grapple with the personal cost of hero life, such as Promethea, the Luna Brothers’ excellent Ultra, and The Watchmen. Character counts, and that’s the sort of fiction I most want to write, regardless of genre.

Table of Contents for The Thackery T. Lambshead Cabinet of Curiosities released!

The website io9 has just revealed the full TOC for The Thackery T. Lambshead Cabinet of Curiosities, edited by Jeff and Ann VanderMeer, in which an entry by yours truly appears.

This entertaining collection from HarperCollins is a follow-up of sorts to the delightfully freakish (or is it freakishly delightful?) The Thackery T. Lambshead Pocket Guide to Eccentric & Discredited Diseases, published by Night Shade Books.

The official description:

“A stunning find beneath the famed Dr. Thackery T. Lambshead’s house years after his death: a basement space lost under a collapsed floor, in which were found the remains of a remarkable cabinet of curiosities. Containing artifacts, curios, and keepsakes collected over Dr. Lambshead’s many, many decades, the cabinet of curiosities took over a year to unearth, document, and catalog. Thus, in keeping with the bold spirit exemplified by Dr. Lambshead and his exploits, we are now proud to present highlights from the doctor’s cabinet, reconstructed not only through original visual representations by the likes of Mike Mignola, Greg Broadmore, and Jan Svankmajer, but also through exciting stories of intrigue and adventure.”

The book will also feature title pages from John Coulthart.

You can even pre-order it from Amazon, if you are so inclined. Trust me, it’s gonna be cool.

World Fantasy Convention 2010

Here is what I hope is a pithy little post about this exciting event, as I am still recovering.

This gal is as pleased as can be to have attended her very first World Fantasy Convention this past week in Columbus, Ohio. Highlights: I reconnected with good friends from Clarion West, made some good contacts, and enjoyed fun facetime with writers and editors I’d only previously met online (or not at all), and attended some interesting panels and readings.

WFC lessons learned:

  • Kij Johnson’s readings are NOT to be missed.
  • If your Twitter pic actually resembles you, people may recognize you!
  • Everyone should buy and read the anthology The Way of the Wizard (the one edited by John Joseph Adams, not that thing by Deepak Chopra).
  • Columbus as a city is not as dreary as I’d been led to believe (well, not quite).
  • In October, an old leather jacket is not warm enough for a skinny girl from Florida.
  • Everyone (or at least those who like zombies) should buy and read the collection Rigor Amortis.
  • Ted Chiang apparently always looks dapper, and is too shy to talk to fangirls in the elevator.
  • Chicks in chain mail are ridiculous (see photo), but hilarious to intoxicated people.
  • Brian Lumley really just wants a cigarette,  if you have one.

I saw why this con is recommended for writers above conventions that support writer activity but remain focused on fans, costuming and entertainment/media. This is primarily an publishing industry con. This is where writers want to be to network with folks from Tor, Del Rey, Nightshade, Edge Publishing, and the like. Pro and semi-pro publishers were represented, and a surprising mix of people mingle at after-parties which seem to be what the con is really all about. Oh, and the World Fantasy awards are handed out.

I’m being a tiny bit flip about the experience, but it truly was worthwhile. I handed out as well as collected a number of business cards (sort of a party game, and not without very real etiquette and papercut hazards) and made useful and stimulating connections. I learned more about the lively industry that is sci-fi and fantasy publishing. I came home exhausted and probably with more information than I can ever process.

I’m already scheming to attend the 2011 convention.

Ideation (Making Narrative Happen)

A while back, before I considered myself a writer, I thought, “if only I had some good ideas.” Now, I have an over-abundance of ideas, and I’m thinking a great deal more about process, where ideas come from and how they are developed. To my mind, ideas come in two basic forms:

The Ah-ha: this comes to mind in dreams or due to random encounters, or seemingly from nowhere at all. When I get these, I leap up and grab a pen, or quickly make a voice memo, before the idea slips away. These ideas apparently can’t tolerate the distractions of real life. Someone really should conduct a study wherein electrodes are attached to writers (kinda like research on meditating Buddhist monks) to see what is going on when this happens.

The What-if: a seed that is consciously pursued. I sit down and ask specific questions meant to generate possible ideas for use. I make a list of concepts or items. Maybe a useful notion comes out of this, and maybe not. The key here, I think, is to throttle your inner editor and entertain anything that comes to mind, no matter how absurd it seems. It may be that the more absurd the idea appears, the better.

At Clarion West, I worked concepts from both categories into narratives, and if I got stuck, I did something that my pre-CW self may have thought unthinkable. I went to the nearest library (I was lucky to be within walking distance of the absolutely gorgeous and inspiring reading room in the Suzzallo Library at the U of Washington), and grabbed a random book from the shelf. Historical events, animals, gender theory, poetry, or any topic at all might serve to spark linkage in a story, give me setting details or provide background for a character.

A new short in progress enjoyed a similar boost yesterday when I happened upon a book full of disturbing images of collectible dolls from the turn of the century.

Elements for ideation can come from random sources; it’s what you do with them that makes narrative happen.

An Acceptance!

I’m am thrilled and amazed to report that a submission of mine has been accepted for publication.

In a fun publication, too. Recently, excellent super-duo Ann and Jeff Vandermeer announced a call for micro-submissions to be included in their latest, The Thackery T. Lambshead Cabinet of Curiousities, which will feature such cool people as the marvelous and friendly-in-person Ted Chiang, China Mieville, Holly Black, Garth Nix and Minister Faust, to name a few.

You can read my submission on the blog comments here.

Congrats to all, and a big thank you to the Vandermeers for their consideration.