(Writing) 11 September

A young child laughing at a street performer who is posing as an invisible man.
Astonished, my child laughs at a street performer in Rome, 2018.
My mood today.

Well, my writing streak of second round holds, followed by rejections, is still holding thus far with my recent rejection from Diabolical Plots. The rejection letter was so lovely that it’s hard to feel too hurt about it – there wasn’t a bad note in the entirety of the letter. This particular story is going to be a hard sell to any market (it revolves around a dying infant), but it’s close to the heart and so I’ll keep on sending it out.

I find that a lot of my writing revolves around familial relationships and dynamics. No surprise, given that I’ve been a mother not that much less than I’ve been alive.

There are still two pieces of my work on second round and a handful of others that I’ve not heard back on yet. (Once a work gets rejected, back out it goes! Sometimes after some revising, but not always.)

In other news, I’ve just been accepted into Cat Rambo’s Short Story Workshop! Cat is a wonderful teacher and I’m very happy to be studying with them in a more sustained and intensive workshop. I joke that the pandemic pushed me to design my own MFA program in writing speculative fiction, but there is really is some truth to it. There are many more opportunities that I’ve become aware of since being at home most of the time, and more opening up every day. I do selfishly hope that these online classes and workshops continue, even after life returns to whatever normal looks like then.

(writing) current state of things

It’s been a good, productive summer for writing. I credit Cat Rambo, the Nebula Awards, and Clarion West for a dramatic leap in my craft this year (well, I suppose I had a little to do with it too). I’ve been taking several of Cat’s classes – everything they teach has been useful and many of the courses have produced either fully-completed stories or ideas that I stash in a hidden document for later contemplation.

The Nebulas were also really fruitful in that my mentor talks and personal sessions with writers and editors led me to more great resources, including joining both an online forum for neo-pro writers and becoming a founding member of the Nautilus critique group. The other writers in Nautilus are amazing and I learn so much from reading their work, though sometimes I admit, I have to struggle to stop reading it for pleasure and actually get the purple pen out to give more constructive feedback than “This is awesome.”

Currently, I have three stories in the second round at professional-level markets. Typing this will undoubtedly summon a rejection, but I love all three magazines so much that it’s an honor to have even gotten to that level. Will they make it any further? I’m not sure, but I imagine that I’ll know something about at least one of them by the end of this month.

I do have one story coming out – “Chocolate,” a post-apocalyptic tale in Daily Science Fiction. No publication date has been scheduled but I’ll keep this space updated.

A Short Summer #3

Nebula weekend (which is amazing) has disrupted my well-meant plans to post a short story every day, though I will say that this is an incredible year for short fiction at the Nebulas.

If you have not read “Open House on Haunted Hill” by John Wiswell, you absolutely must. It is lovely and a little heartbreaking, but ends on a warm note. It is amazing how much Wiswell has packed into such a short space. I was told this weekend, prior to his winning the award, that he was someone I should follow and read given my personal writing goals. I absolutely agree. If I someday make someone feel half as much as I felt reading that story, I would be thrilled.

A Short Summer #2

Today’s short read was “St. Juju” by Rivers Solomon. I discovered their work earlier this year (or maybe last….pandemic time is funny that way) when I read An Unkindness of Ghosts. Since then, when I see Rivers’ name on something, it goes right onto my to-read list. Perhaps at some point I’ll write about Unkindness… it deserves a lot of mention.

“St. Juju” is part of a series of science fiction stories produced by the Verge called “Better Worlds,” all of which are accompanied by videos like the one above. I like the concept but will say that I ended up stopping the video so that I could read and savor Solomon’s language, picturing all these characters for myself. The worldbuilding was intriguing and having just read Solomon’s Sorrowland, I wonder if this world has any connection to that.

There are a lot of small moments in the description that say a lot in a short space. Here’s a quote I particularly liked: “Enid grabs my hand and squeezes tight, enough to hurt, but the pressure reins me in. It reminds me that my body exists. I don’t know why she bothers with a thing as untogether as me.”

A Short Summer #1

To challenge myself during the summer, my plan is to read more short stories and blog something that I liked about them. It’s easy to accidentally spoil shorter works, but I’ll try not to do that. Feel free, however, to discuss in the comments.

Today’s story was “Our Fate, Told in Photons” by K.W. Colyard. As a child, oral traditions surrounding the Pleiades constellation always fascinated me, particularly those that centered on the sisters in the stars. Colyard does a beautiful job of meshing the often-aching dynamics of sisterhood against the question of a legacy that is an accident of birth.

Quote I particularly liked: “But the idea of immortality, the drive toward it, is part of the human experience. When someone tells you that your blood, your bone and grit and stardust, has the chance to live past the end of forever? You either latch onto that, or you run screaming from it.”

Short Stories for the Week Ahead

I’ve been reading short stories lately, some familiar, some not, for both enjoyment and to think about what makes a good short story work. It’s not a universal formula, but I do find that I gravitate to stories that typically have a strong central character or a premise that speaks to me, either because it’s fantastical or because I can relate to it in some way personally.

In no particular order, here’s three stories that struck me this week. No spoilers. The stories are short enough that you should really go read them yourself.

The Mathematics of Fairyland, Phoebe Barton – The language in this story is just lovely. It’s a wonderous blend of space and fantasy in most unexpected ways.

All the Flavors: A Tale of Guan Yu, the Chinese God of War, in America, Ken Liu – The painful history of Asian discrimination in the West is the basis for this story. Liu is one of my favorite short story authors (I recommend “The Paper Menagerie” frequently to non-SF readers as a way to try and lure them toward speculative fiction).

Proof by Induction, Jose Pablo Iriarte – I won’t at all be surprised if this story about the dynamic between a father and son before and after death wins awards this year. It’s just that good.

Writing update – 1 May

I’ve been dipping my toes into the world of short story writing with some success. My flash fiction piece, “Chocolate,” was purchased by Daily Science Fiction.

Since that qualifies me for SFWA Associate Membership, I’ve put in an application. Cross your fingers that it gets approved! My inner thirteen-year-old is dancing with the thought that it’s even a possibility – she’ll probably explode if one of my stories ever makes it to The Magazine of Fantasy and Science Fiction.

I also finished the first draft of another short story, tentatively titled “Since We Don’t Have Wings.” I’m not sold on the title yet – hopefully something else will come to mind in the edits. There is still a lot of work to do with the description in particular. It’s a slow little story so I’m not sure where it will fit exactly though James assures me that it’s more publication-worthy than I think.

I do have a 250-word short story making the rounds which is getting great rejection letters. Thus far, while the personal notes have been really kind, the short word count is giving publishers pause.

As I get back into the swing of writing again, I’m planning to attend two Wayward Writers classes this month:

May 15- Sorry, But Your Infodump is Showing with Henry Lien

May 29 – Replying to Other Stories with Cat Rambo

I will report back a little bit on both, though every class I’ve taken through Cat’s Academy has been golden and well-worth everything I’ve invested into them. I directly credit her Flash Fiction class to my recent sale.

Header image on this page by Stefan Keller from Pixabay

The Handmaid’s Tale S4 (SPOILERS)

Spoilers ahead for season 4, episodes 1-3, and potentially the rest of the series.

Warning: This is really just a huge rant. I’m developing a real love/hate relationship with this show.

The Handmaid’s Tale, weirdly, helped get me through the early part of this pandemic. In a time when we’re all used to instant gratification through streaming, there was something to be said for a weekly show that I actually wanted to see as it was coming out. It also had the added appeal of being something all mine – no one else in the family has any interest in it, for varied reasons – and so, watching the show is a blessed hour where I sit in my bedroom, drink a cup of coffee, and look at a screen for an hour in peace. I wouldn’t call it escapism because the nature of this show is anything but escapist.

I was worried about this season, particularly when I saw the season 3 cliffhanger. I thought to myself that the likely outcome was that June was going to be rescued (despite the fact it seemed implausible) and was going to be taken back into captivity where once more, she would become a Handmaid.

That wasn’t the outcome I wanted but by episode three of this season, it seems to be the one that I got.

It’s not a sustainable premise. The season had potential – seeing June finally become a part of Mayday gave me a huge surge of relief. The first episode thrilled me because we were beginning to see June have to grapple with her decisions and also make choices that were going to set her firmly on the path to resistance. The introduction of Esther Keyes, a 14-year-old “Wife,” was also intriguing – at the beginning of the episode, she immediately gave off the sense that not all was well. Her actions toward Janine, as unhinged as they were, added tension and evoked questions for me about what these safehouses looked like and if they weren’t more dangerous in their own way for some of these women than the places that they left.

Then it all started falling apart. When Esther started telling June about how she had been used, I admit that I hoped we were going to find out that Esther was a psychopath and that it was all a lie. The description of the constant rapes, while consistent with the show, are nothing new. Neither was it new when June was taken yet again and tortured yet again. While Elisabeth Moss is an incredible actress, that was the only thing keeping me from switching off the screen.

To be clear, I don’t object to the depiction of violent acts against women necessarily – after all, this is a world where these things are still happening to us. What I object to is when such violence is being used to no purpose or to titillate. There were times in the previous seasons where I thought the show skirted that line. With June going back to be a Handmaid yet again, after all that has happened, it seems to be jumping right over it.

There is absolutely no reason for anyone in Gilead’s administration to not want June shot on sight. (Maaaaaybe not Nick but I don’t quite buy that their love is that great.) No matter what she’s given or what people do to help her, she consistently makes bad choices and ones that impact everyone around her, sometimes in fatal ways.

I also question why, at this point in the show, Hannah has been allowed to live. Everything June does is for Hannah – the girl is a bargaining chip, certainly, but she’s also the anchor that keeps pulling this dissident back to Gilead. Even if, for dramatic purposes, June must live – why hasn’t Hannah been hung on the wall as a lesson to those who would defy the regime?

Of course, I’ll continue to watch it but for now, I feel like this show is one of massive missed opportunities. Perhaps I’ll write more on that later.