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New futures from old horizons. Author of off-kilter sci fi/fantasy books. Fond of apocalyptic and fantastical things. Known for phuquerie. I bite. On Amazon.

Wednesday, 19 October 2016

Your Book is a Phoenix: Or How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love Revisions

Hello hello!

So, not long ago, I finished and published Bad Things that Happen to Girls, which will also end up in Braindemons, my next personal anthology. When is Braindemons coming out? No clue, but it's going to be a while - I need a nice big stack of stories to fill it, first. And in the meantime, that means I am preparing The Meaning Wars (The Meaning Wars, book 3) and Monsters and Fools (The Nightmare Cycle, book 2) for your eager, grasping hands, claws, and tentacles.

But BTtHtG did not arise fully-formed from my forehead, like Athena - far FROM it.

Stage 1: the bare outline of an idea 

I knew I wanted to write about two sisters, a love story with a young man from an Indian background - inspired, I must admit, by my own teenage love for a math tutor at the time - and about an abusive mother figure. I wanted at least one of the girls to be an artist, I wanted to capture the culture of suffocating, toxic religious families, and I wanted a happy ending. Snippets of scenes came together, but I couldn't get the whole thing to gel. Frustrated, I picked it up and set it aside as I worked on other things, hoping that somehow, some day, I'd be able to make it work.

Then a computer crashed and I lost my progress. I was desperate not to lose the file, even though it was corrupted beyond repair, and I rewrote as much as I could remember of the story. And there it sat for years. I pecked at it occasionally, but made little headway.

Then I had the idea of renaming it and of adding more to it, and of complicating the events. I knew I wanted the father character and daughter characters to spend time on the road, I knew I wanted the daughter in love with the young Indian man to have a second chance with her love, and I knew I wanted the other daughter to be queer. But where would I take them? I had no idea at the time. The girl in love would suffer from depression, but in high school, I had a very rough, broad idea of what that was like.

Stage 2: putting meat on the bones

The biggest problem I had with Bad Things' first drafts - back when it went by the name 'Foreverland' - was that I thought I needed to have events happen slowly. How could my readers get the sensation of a family slowly unravelling unless the pacing was equally slow? I didn't have events and revelations condensed enough, so there were these long stretches of dead space where basically nothing was happening. I have had that problem in a lot of books, so I think that's one of the reasons I've become such a parsimonious writer.

 One thing I did for Bad Things, though, to deal with the problem of the time jump, was - I DIDN'T look at my notes. It's been really useful; I based that technique on your advice to rewrite things using the original as a basis. I discovered, though, that it was better for me to just have the idea, and work from that - otherwise I tended to choke. My attempt to adhere to details was actually suffocating me.

Stage 3: doubt and denial 

Never trust the demon doubt. I've spent a few years in the trenches now, with battle scars from publishing, and one of the worst things I ever went through was a batch of negative reviews on GR. Apparently, dropping the word "cunt" under any circumstances means I have to hand in my feminist badge.

I almost stopped writing.

Finally, I published again, and moved on. I put together a collection of stories from multiple authors, and another, and entered a third collection, then a fourth.

I tried working on a story, and had an anxiety attack at the thought of publishing. My writing gathered dust for months. Even my blog had only a few peeps and snippets.

Stage 4: screw it, time to get back on the horse

Then, last month, I decided to tackle a story I'd been struggling with. I wrote 6K in one day and fired it off to my editors and mentors. Armed with their feedback, I let it sit a week, eagerly read over their critiques, and decided I'd finish the second draft by the end of the week. By the end of September, I'd finished my first draft of The Meaning Wars. 

The point of this story is: there will always be ups and downs. These stages may be inevitable. You may want to put your pen down. You may have to decide that writing needs to be a part-time thing. You may think it's time to quit, and that you can't do this. Mental health issues may leave you curled up and whimpering in the bathtub, rocking back and forth under a blanket, unable to verbalize your feelings.

But you CAN do it, oh writers and penmonkeys. You can. And eventually, the next book will stomp into your brain and demand to be written.


Thanks for returning to the nest. Leave a comment and say hi! I want to hear from you. Keep up with the new releases by getting on the mailing list. Buy my books on Amazon, and keep up with me on TwitterFacebookTumblr, and the original blog. This is the one and only SciFiMagpie, over and out!

Thursday, 29 September 2016

A Loaf of Bread: on Imperfections

Hello hello!

So, my father's been visiting this week. As those who follow my blog and Facebook may know, my familial relationships are somewhat complex and...perhaps the word 'fraught' is applicable. Still, things have gone pretty well. On the weekend, I was eager to show off my baking skills, which now include yeast bread. I don't have a stand mixer and do everything by hand, so as other bakers and cooks will know, this is a bit of an achievement.

Bread (and creative pursuits) are hard 

Bread is easy to mess up. It has to be kneaded the right way, left to rise, the water has to be the right temperature, and people across the internet have pretty fierce debates about when to add the salt for the sake of the gluten structure. Some people recommend a drier dough; some, a wetter dough. Different climates, elevations, and water types affect the taste of the bread. As a friend who went through culinary school explained it, bread made in a particular city will never taste quite the same as bread made elsewhere because of the makeup of the atmosphere. The point is, there's an art to it, not just the science of combining ingredients in a particular order.

While my father walked around the lake to make sure he could handle the carbs, and complimented the taste, he was also quick to look up the science of making bread. He immediately started looking at various ways to make absolutely optimal bread - using a stand mixer, of course, not tearing the dough as it's kneaded, the way to proof yeast, the chemical process of autolysing - and started quizzing me about whether I'd measured everything out to the gram or used volume measures.

I felt quite embarrassed and explained that I wasn't striving for perfection--just a good, edible loaf of bread. Food tastes different depending on whether the cook had their heart in it that day or was doing things perfunctorily. Something doesn't have to be perfect to be enjoyable for what it was. I explained, too, that I'm a relative novice - this is my third loaf of yeast bread ever, which is really not much - and that, as with knitting, one must do garter stitch, then stockinette, then lace stitches. I have to master a simple version of a thing before I start doing it more precisely and better.

My father, seemingly not understanding this, challenged me to a bread-making competition for the next time he visits. Although I laughed at the time, I felt disquieted later. The thing is, he proudly says that he can't cook but can follow a recipe, and that's very applicable to the arts. A paint by numbers kit is perfectly acceptable, but to create something new, diversions from a formula must occur, or will happen inevitably. For writing, bad or mediocre stories precede adequate, good, and excellent ones. And even then, writing is kind of hard.

I spent a long time not even attempting to make yeast breads because they're so difficult and technically challenging. Then I tried a breadmaker and ended up with some bricks. Eventually, I got up the courage to use a conventional oven and start attempting loaves. I'm definitely better at writing than I am at making bread, but that's okay.

At some point, reading about a thing can just be intimidating and make one self-conscious about imperfections. It's easier to criticize than to do, let alone to do well, and even the best art can never be utterly perfect from every single perspective. People are different, and what satisfies one person will leave another hungry and bring another jubilation.

How do you know it's good enough?

There's an anecdote I heard about Tennessee Williams; a friend of his found him sitting at his typewriter, editing a story that had already been accepted for publication. Williams shrugged off his friend's incredulity, saying the story wasn't done.

For my own part, I'm currently re-editing And the Stars Will Sing and The Stolen: Two Short Stories for re-release. I have a lot more bread to make and a lot more projects to knit, and many more books to write and edit. And none of these things will be perfect, but they're part of a process. Finally, at least they may satisfy some people in the moment, and when I release them, they will represent the best efforts I could offer at the time.

Here's the other thing, though - hindsight is a luxury borne of experience. It's easy to say "this ought to have been done a certain way", but that comes about after circumstances have changed. Maybe I shouldn't have torn my dough, maybe I should have left that character alive, but even having that alternative perspective only has come about because a decision was made. It's too easy to beat oneself up and focus on the past rather than using that experience and acquired knowledge to improve the future.

At the end of the day, the best one can do, even if it's imperfect, is better than an ideal creation that never enters the world. I know what the perfect loaf of bread would taste, feel, and smell like, and I can imagine it, but my learner's efforts and the slow process of attempting garlic olive oil bread and brioches will yield more goodness than a hundred dreams of snow-white loaves ever could. After all, as any poor person could tell you, dreams may be enticing, but they leave one's belly empty.

What do you regret? What would you change, and what have you learned from creative failures? Let me know in the comments.


Thanks for returning to the nest. Leave a comment and say hi! I want to hear from you. Keep up with the new releases by getting on the mailing list. Buy my books on Amazon, and keep up with me on TwitterFacebookTumblr, and the original blog. This is the one and only SciFiMagpie, over and out!

Tuesday, 27 September 2016

It's Okay to be a Lady (Or Gentleman, or Gentleperson): Why I Swear Less

Hello hello!

So, it's no secret that I phuquing love profanity. I cuss on Facebook and Twitter, and quite a few four-letter words find their way into my blog posts as well. But even so, and especially in conversation, I've been trying to swear less. Now, I'm not saying anyone HAS to follow my example, but it wouldn't kill anyone, either. Obviously, this post will involve a lot of profanity. If you're not crazy about that sort of thing, you've been warned, but consider giving this one a read anyway.

Why swear in the first place?

It can have analgesic effects for injuries, it's fun, it's emphatic, and it has a long and storied history. One of the first things I do when learning a new language is--and this is a hundred percent true--learn to swear in it. Learning to swear in Spanish helped the language stick, and actually taught me about some cultural values, as well as linguistic diversity within the Spanish-speaking world. (For instance, "pinche" is a cuss word in Mexico but means "bobby pin" elsewhere. There are many examples of this).

Swears represent cultural values and taboos, and have a lot of anthropological value. You can trace a culture's evolution through the swear words it's created and discarded (link). I love them, I love the way they sound, and I love what they express. But...

Swear words have power.

Because they're taboos, when injected into conversation, they really snap people to attention. Sure, our era's pretty lax about swearing, but it still gets banned and bleeped. It's kind of exciting to hear someone swear because they are breaking a cultural rule. Even the little cuss words, like "damn" and "Hell" are moderated in their use, and I really enjoy hearing them.

But pwer can be abused, and these words lose their zap and sing if they pass too much into common vocabulary. That said, new cusses, like "fuckboy" and "cuck" have arisen. "Douchebag" is another relatively recent invention; I first heard it used as an insult in tenth grade (yes, I remember the exact moment) when arguing with a girl named Holly in English class. We both came away from the argument with a sense of mutual respect for the other's wit, by the way, which was pretty cool.

Still, these words can also be very hurtful when directed at someone else, so there's a reason we try to teach kids to use them judiciously. I did grow up listening to one of my parents swear a lot, angrily, and hurtfully, so it took a long time for me to learn that swearing could be fun and even innocent.

Swearing less makes it more fun when you do swear.

I guess this is my biggest argument for reducing the rate of cussin'. I love it, so I wanted to feel that old thrill again. Swear words have a connection with sublimated violence, and sometimes I just don't feel like being violent in my thoughts or conversations. Plus, searching for alternatives can be fun, and a bit goofy. It doesn't hurt to revive archaic words and even archaic substitutes, because language is fun.

Final thoughts?

Swearing can be great. It can be hurtful as well. It can be transgressive. But making it a staple of conversation makes it less fun. Eating candy all day, every day would be fun for the first couple of hours, but eventually the inevitable sugar-sickness sets in and one wonders why they gorged on gummy candy in the first place, Disarcade. So, keep swearing, and try to be as creative as you can with it. Words can cut like knives, as long as you turn them on, say, vegetables in the kitchen rather than your friends, everybody wins.

Also, fuck onions for being so hard to cut. Why do they have to be round?


Thanks for returning to the nest. Leave a comment and say hi! I want to hear from you. Keep up with the new releases by getting on the mailing list. Buy my books on Amazon, and keep up with me on TwitterFacebookTumblr, and the original blog. This is the one and only SciFiMagpie, over and out!

Wednesday, 21 September 2016

Surprise Announcement: Flight Anthology is Out!

Hello hello! So, today I have a simple announcement for a book in which I participated!

Here's the basic rundown.


A 300-word story should be easy, right? Many of our entrants say it’s the hardest thing they’ve ever written.

Queer Sci Fi's Annual Flash Fiction Contest challenges authors to write a complete LGBTQ speculative fiction micro-story on a specific theme. "Flight" leaves much for the authors to interpret—winged creatures, flight and space vehicles, or fleeing from dire circumstances.

Some astonishing stories were submitted—from horrific, bloodcurdling pieces to sweet, contemplative ones—and all LGBTQ speculative fiction. The stories in this anthology include AI’s and angels, winged lions and wayward aliens. Smart, snappy slice of life pieces written for entertainment or for social commentary. Join us for brief and often surprising trips into 110 speculative fiction authors’ minds.


Smoke, by Zev de Valera

He rubbed his temples and squinted at the soft light of his surroundings through the fans of his thick eyelashes. The last drink had been a mistake.
Was that a shaker he'd felt, or the onset of a hangover?
He clutched a silken pillow and waited.
Suddenly, he felt his home tremble; a few pieces of glass and ceramic ware teetered and then fell to their demise.
Shit. This is the real thing.
With an effort, he hauled himself from his bed.
How many years had it been since the last one?
Sixty? Seventy?
The shaking ceased, and he looked around his small dwelling.
A model unit when he'd purchased it. Now filled with the result of years of collecting: a gramophone, a first generation television set, a water clock. And much more. All of it all had sentimental value—as did the photos of the various men that sat atop or alongside the items in his collection. Some of these men had loved him. All of them had once owned him. Now he owned their memories. That was the bargain.
Another shake. Followed by several unnerving tilts. He willed his cherished possessions to remain in place and willed himself into sobriety and a more becoming appearance as he prepared himself for work.
What to wear?
He selected a red brocade tunic and pants. A classic look always worked best for the initial consultation.
A resounding thud.
He peered up into the small shaftway at the center of the ceiling.
A pop.
Then a small circle of light at the end of the shaft.
He sighed, folded his arms, and transformed into a cloud of red smoke.
Up and away to meet his new master.

Judge's Choice — J. Scott Coatsworth

Buy Links and basic info

Publisher: Mischief Corner Books
Author: Various
Cover & Illustrations Artist: Mila May
Length: 33.6 K
Format: ebook, print
Release Date: General release 9/21/16
Pairing: LGBTIQA
Price: $4.99 eBook, $12.99 print b/w*, $24.99 print color*

*Book contains 5 illustrations inside.

Publisher (info only, no buy link yet)
Goodreads Series Page
Barnes & Noble: Coming soon
Apple: Coming soon
Smashwords: Coming soon

Author Bio:
In the first year of the Queer Sci Fi Flash Fiction contest, we received about 15 entries for the theme “Endings”. In the second year, it was 115 for “Discovery”.
This year, we had more than 170 entries from people around the world, and from all parts of the LGBTIQA rainbow. “Flight” represents 110 of those people and their stories.

The authors:
Colton Aalto
Kiterie Aine
Odin Alexander
John Allenson
Tam Ames
R.R. Angell
Bran Lindy Ayres
Jeff Baker
Jessica Bansbach
J.P. Barnaby
Capri S. Bard
Jonah Bergen
Michael J. Bode
L.M. Brown
Marie Brown
Michelle Browne
'Nathan Burgoine
Iona Burnfield
A.M. Burns
Katelyn Cameron
Hank T. Cannon
Foster Bridget Cassidy
Skylar M. Cates
H.J. Chacon
M.A. Church
Rebecca Cohen
S.A. Collins
J. Comer
Ross Common
Elliot Cooper
Gretchen Crane
Jase Daniels
Claire Davis and Al Stewart
Avery Dawes
Zev de Valera
Bey Deckard
Jana Denardo
Nicole Dennis
Kellie Doherty
Jude Dunn
Tray Ellis
Rhi Etzweiler
Thursday Euclid
K.C. Faelan
Christina Mary Francis
L.E. Franks
J.R. Frontera
Liz Fury
Elizabella Gold
Ofelia Gränd
S.E. Greer
M.D. Grimm
Jenna Hale
Kaje Harper
Qaida Harte
Saxon Hawke
Kelly Haworth
Cheryl Headford
Valentina Heart
Jaylee James
Jambrea Jo Jones
Michael M. Jones
Ryvr Jones
Ellery Jude
Jon Keys
K-lee Klein
Jennifer Lavoie
A.M. Leibowitz
Mario K. Lipinski
L.V. Lloyd
Clare London
Meraki P. Lyhne
Lloyd A. Meeker
Eloreen Moon
John Moralee
Christopher Hawthorne Moss
E.W. Murks
Rory Ni Coiliean
Jackie Nacht
Thea Nishimori
Bealevon Nolan
Alicia Nordwell
Mathew Ortiz
Nina Packebush
Donald Qualls
Kirby Quinlan
Mann Ramblings
Loren Rhoads
Jojo Saunders
Brent D. Seth
L.M. Somerton
Rin Sparrow
Andrea Speed
Paul Stevens
Ginger Streusel
Jerome Stueart
Julia Talbot
Jo Tannah
Natsuya Uesugi
T. Allen Walton
A.T. Weaver
Missy Welsh
Eric Alan Westfall
Brandon Witt
Alexis Woods
Christine Wright
P.T. Wyant
Victoria Zagar


Thanks for returning to the nest. Leave a comment and say hi! I want to hear from you. Keep up with the new releases by getting on the mailing list. Buy my books on Amazon, and keep up with me on TwitterFacebookTumblr, and the original blog. This is the one and only SciFiMagpie, over and out!

Tuesday, 20 September 2016

Fat in Fiction: A Chubby Lady's Critique

Hello, hello!

I'm going to stick a content warning on this post for body issues and descriptions of fatphobia; if that kind of thing is triggering for you, you might want to skip this one. I'll be focusing on the policing of white women's bodies and fatness, because it's what I know most about, and the issue of weight affects black women and Asian women differently. I also just don't have enough information to speak with authority on issues that women and people of colour face regarding their weight, so please keep those areas of my ignorance in mind.

This post is one I've been thinking over for a very long time. Its genesis came from an oft-lauded and shared J.K. Rowling quote:


Lovely words, aren't they? Shame it's complete bullshit. Rowling has been all too happy to endow unattractive, weak, or antagonistic characters with the trait of flabbiness. Neville Longbottom and Professor Slughorn are chubby and portrayed as weak and ineffectual; yes, Neville becomes a more heroic character later, but he starts off as an absolute simp who is frequently bullied. Pansy Parkinson and Millicent Bullstrode are described as 'pug-faced' and 'large and square' respectively; Goyle is also described as rather stupid and fat. Finally, Umbridge is described as 'toad-like' and squat, with a flabby face. Aunt Marge and Uncle Vernon, as well as Dudley, are all huge, fat, muscular bullies. Dudley's fatness and greed are described over and over, and often equated to each other. The only character who is plump and portrayed positively, other than Neville--and see note above for info about him--is Molly Weasley, but she is a mother and therefore doesn't quite count.

Now, the Harry Potter series is basically in my DNA, in writerly terms. I loved the series growing up and still retain affection for it, but that sticking point of fatness always rubbed me the wrong way. Rowling's far from the only author or writer to use that shorthand (even if Rowling denies it). Every movie made in the 90s with a cast of kids had to include at least one fat, stupid, greedy kid, and few things are more hateable than a fat, ugly bully.

By the late 2000s, things had started to improve enough that Norbit wasn't successful at the box office; in another time, it probably would have been. Shallow Hal is the only movie I can think of that features the struggles of a sizeable woman trying to find love; oddly, white women have faced extra scrutiny in this area. Films tend to play this sort of thing for laughs, or, even when a fat female character is present, play her off as repellent and unhygenic or slovenly. Much as she's an otherwise excellent character, Pam Poovey on Archer often falls into the 'disgusting fat lady' stereotype.

Stage 1: Fat is fine as long as it's temporary 

When overweight or fat female characters do crop up, such as in Margaret Atwood's Lady Oracle, Danielle Steele's Big Girl, Wally Lamb's She's Come Undone, and The Bridget Jones Diaries, their stories often focus obsessively on weight loss or control. "How can someone love her," asks the narrative, "while she's fat?" Self-love often plays a big part in the stories, but so do substantial weight loss dreams. Obesity is correlated with trauma, being damaged goods, and being repulsive; fat is a sort of squishy prison for heroines, and unless they can escape it, they are often doomed to lovelessness. Worse, books like Size 12 Isn't Fat by Meg Cabot her The Princess Diaries series feature characters who simply shift fatness off as an identity so they can remain desirable. There's always someone bigger, and in TPD, skinny vegan Meg is ever so proud of her chubby princess friend when she starts to work out and skip snacks. Even Disney slides in jabs; while they have fewer fat female villains than one might expect (though the repulsive, sneaky Ursula--as I thought of her when I was a child--comes to mind), there's a scene in Hercules where a sobbing fat girl appears among the throngs of fangirls following the titular hero. The same film does feature a chubby black Muse, but the image of that hideous, weeping fangirl was the one that emblazoned itself on my childhood memory. Weakness and pathetic lack of personal resolve encircled the word like an invisible pair of bodyguards, flanking any idea of fat with coded implications.

Stage 2: Body positivity 

The worst thing one could be, said writers, is fat. But a few writers in the 20th century did buck that trend; in Pastures of Heaven, Steinbeck describes a female character as having a "pleasant curve under her chin" and associates it with fertility and prosperity. In Happiness (tm) by Will Ferguson, May's character is clearly described as fat, but also possessing a fragile beauty.

For all the flak given to Dove, not without reason, they have actually helped a bit with that whole body positivity thing. That movement has made a substantial difference. We still haven't come as far as we could, but full-figured, generously-shaped ladies in lingerie are appearing. The #curvy hashtag on Instagram has more than a slight following. Women are pulling themselves out of the shadows and refusing to conform to gendered expectations of their bodies. Queer people outside the gender binary are showing themselves too, letting others know that fat acceptance isn't just for cis women. Fat, people are hesitantly realising, does not necessarily indicate health or fitness, and should not be shorthand for undesirable traits. I won't be going into the scientific side of this, partly because it's often hard for me to take even on good days, but we're also discovering that being overweight may be caused mostly by the microbial environment in the gut. Exercise and diet affect this environment, but the cause lies in the GI tract, not in a moral failing.

With this in mind, people are beginning to realise that focusing on ability is a better demarcation of health. In turn, fat women are demanding to be treated like human beings, and to be catered to. The sometimes problematic and aggressive BBW (big beautiful woman) romance writing subgenre has popped up to cater to this. It's making good inroads, but an avoidance of calling heroines 'fat', a tendency to code chubby characters in defensive language ("she was healthy, she just had more to love...) and abstraction of characters' physical traits tend to taint the escapism. It is all right to accept fat, the genre whispers, as long as one doesn't think about it too much. the greatest triumph is being loved at all.

The Best Destinations To Swim With Whale Sharks


How can we change the way fat is described and perceived? 

But perhaps it's time to do better than writing characters who are loveable in spite of being fat. Popular language has ugly connotations for the words used to describe weight. "Cellulite" comes to mind; it sounds like a cheap mattress, not something to embrace.

We haven't yet developed a vocabulary for the sensuality of a full figure, or its associations. Mothering ones and abundance are often coded in there, but softness, generosity, richness, and strength can come with fat as well. I have many friends of various sizes, and although a lot of them give wonderful hugs, those with extra weight do tend to be specially warm and strong in their affection. Fat can be associated with suppleness; consider whales or seals, especially when swimming.

"An ocean of delicate skin spilled out before him. She looked as though she'd washed up on the covers, like so much sea foam in the moonlight..."

In summation, the way forward in fiction means acknowledging that beauty comes in more than one shape and size. Slender frames and lean muscles are so often associated with strength that other builds have been chucked aside. For that matter, maybe it's time to do in other conventions; is there any reason an elf can't be chubby, for instance?

Those querying the "health risk" of "encouraging" people to be overweight should read a few studies on the topic. There has been some criticism, but at the end of the day, I am a writer and an editor, not a physician. I do, however, know what's kept me from dying and encouraged me to become more physically active, and over a decade of shaming certainly was not it.


Thanks for returning to the nest. Leave a comment and say hi! I want to hear from you. Keep up with the new releases by getting on the mailing list. Buy my books on Amazon, and keep up with me on TwitterFacebookTumblr, and the original blog. This is the one and only SciFiMagpie, over and out!