December 17, 2021

Here Again

Here we are near the end of another year, the time to look back and cringe over whatever forecasts and hubris may have been expressed a year ago. Last December I had enough sense to keep a damper on my expectations, though I did still declare my belief in 2021 "growing gradually better." Progress has been a lot more forward and back, up and down than most of us might have imagined. I am grateful for the ways science made 2021 less frightening than 2020, and sorrowful that disease and human factors produced another year of tragedy nonetheless. I will predict nothing about what's ahead for the world. though my hopes are for the best, or at least the not-worst.

I remained extremely fortunate this year, staying healthy and safe, with many opportunities for joy even in the difficult times. Writing came easier than last year, and I was focused on fiction projects during more months than not. In 2021, I revised a short story to completion and began submitting it, and I built a solid foundation for a novel idea I intend to keep working on.

The short story was one I wrote in three days during August 2020 and did two more drafts of (well, maybe four, depending on how you count) before the end of the year. I spent much of the first half of this year on a slow, careful revision to address weaknesses pointed out by early readers and get the story into the shape I wanted. Then there was one more fast, intense, deadline-driven edit to make it as good as I possibly could, and I sent it out into the world. I received a polite rejection from the first publication I tried, and more from the next ones, because this is a competitive market, and there are so many good stories out there. I'll keep trying with this story, as well as mulling over some other ideas that might become short stories.

Getting started on developing a new novel idea was my biggest creative accomplishment of the year, even though I'm still a long way from having a solid draft. I'd been feeling a lot of angst about a lack of new ideas, so it was a relief to hit on a concept that has promise. I spent October on worldbuilding and preparation for writing, and November doing NaNoWriMo for the first time in many years. I successfully wrote 50,000 words that will form the basis for the large amount of planning, outlining, and drafting I have ahead. Go, me!

Also in 2021, I was active early in the year with FOGcon's virtual events committee. It was fun and rewarding to help create online gatherings for our usual con attendees, as well as welcoming far-flung speculative fiction fans who would never have made it to our small local con in person. Since the summer, I've been less involved in organizing, but others have continued to put on a series of great events that will extend into next year.

This was another year where simply getting through was achievement enough, and I am pleased and fortunate that I have so much else to report. As this year of uncertainty winds down with more uncertainty, I hope you have something to celebrate. I'm wishing everyone the best.

Good Stuff Out There:

→ For The Millions, Mark Cecil talks to other authors about the emotional payoffs of stories: "If you're going to end high, you have to start low. If you're going to end low, you have to start high. The beginning is reverse engineered from the end. Most character arcs can be boiled down to this: 'It’s a story about a character who begins at X and must overcome Y to get to Z.' But in the writing process, Z comes first. Without Z, you don't know what Y or X must be. Without Z, you don't have a story."

December 8, 2021

Story Time

This is the usual point in the month when I post my reading recap, reviews of the generally three, occasionally more, books I read during the previous month. But in November, I was so busy writing 50,000 words that I only had time to finish one book and get through half of another long one. So I'll be discussing those books in a double-month recap in early January, and instead today I'm going to talk about reading short stories.

The one book I completed in the past month was a great story anthology, NEW SUNS: ORIGINAL SPECULATIVE FICTION BY PEOPLE OF COLOR, edited by Nisi Shawl. My review is already posted on Goodreads and highlights my favorite among the many excellent stories, with links to the ones also published online.

So much good short fiction is published online. This is a wonderful and also overwhelming thing. My computer is full of browser tabs open to stories, lists of links to stories in my notekeeping app, files in other applications containing more lists of links, and oh yeah, here are some more story tabs on my phone. I want to read all these stories, because they came recommended, or are by authors I like, or have an intriguing title and first paragraph that made me curious to read on. And while I know for sure I'll never have time for all the novels I want to read in my lifetime, it always seems within the realm of possibility that I'll get to all those saved-up stories.

Every once in a while, I'll try to establish a practice of reading a story every morning, or at bedtime, or whatever, but the habit never sticks for long. I am fortunate to have more time for reading than most people, but there is still only so much time, and though I want to read all those random stories, I also want to read from the infinite list of books. (It doesn't help that I seem to read far slower than the average person who does a lot of reading.) As a result, despite a recent renewed effort to read more stories online (specifically at several sites curating speculative fiction), I've had more success reading stories collected into books.

NEW SUNS was the second anthology I read in the past few months. The first was IT GETS EVEN BETTER: STORIES OF QUEER POSSIBILITY, edited by Isabela Oliveira and Jed Sabin, which I raved about in my September recap. I was previously somewhat hesitant about picking up anthologies, since they contain a bunch of different styles of stories by many different people I maybe haven't heard of... and now I realize that's exactly what's so great about a good anthology, and also exactly what I would get if I ever managed to read through my story lists.

During my latest burst of seeking out stories online, I noted a few I wanted to recommend. These are definitely a wide range of styles, with authors who were new to me:

"Saint Natalis of the Wolves" by Emory Noakes crosses Catholicism with animal energy.

"Proof by Induction" by José Pablo Iriarte tackles math, grief, and family. (I also enjoyed reading about their process of arriving at this story.)

"Rebuttal to Reviewers' Comments On Edits For 'Demonstration of a Novel Draconification Protocol in a Human Subject'" by Andrea Kriz has a lot of fun with its format.

"Look to the Future" by Louise Hughes is a clever exploration of a character who is unusual in not being able to see the future. (The author discusses the story here.)

I'll keep attempting to make time for more online story reading, and I'll probably be checking out more anthologies soon. I'm also looking forward to reading EVEN GREATER MISTAKES by Charlie Jane Anders, a new collection of stories, many she previously published online at links that appear on my lists somewhere but that I never got around to reading.

Good Stuff Out There:

→ At Literary Hub, Hilma Wolitzer describes What It's Like to Keep Writing at 91: "Elderly now, I find that language can be elusive, and not just when I'm trying to write. Like many people my age, I seem to lose a noun or two every day lately. They're like buttons that have fallen off my shirt and rolled under the bed, and I can't bend down to retrieve them. I can no longer count on my famous short-term memory either. Recent events can seem as ephemeral as dreams."