Saturday, August 28, 2010

i r srs riter

The big news first. Word back from my agent that the last set of revisions makes The Willow Knot good to go, and she will be showing the ms. to editors in September (the publishing industry shuts down through August.
She asked me to provide the following:
1) a revised synopsis to be used in her pitch letter
2) a 1-2 paragraph biography, mentioning my short story credits
3) a list of books similar to Willow Knot, also for the pitch letter
4) list of my next projects, for possible multi-book deal

Rewriting my synopsis was the hardest part, unexpectedly. A lot had changed, not only the order of events in the story, but the addition of scenes and characters, fleshing out the love story (heh, heh) and giving Alard more space, Asafia's storyline being brought forward, and so on. After a week I decided to take what I had down and send it off with a note that I was willing to rework it further.
The bio was easy, after writing similar ones for submissions and author notes.
The list of books like mine. That had me clutching my head and groaning, in full flush of that great Canadian sentiment, who do you think you are? where the Central Committee for Due Modesty would knock at my door politely before coming in and smacking me around for getting above myself. I cast myself on the mercy of my beta readers, both the Furtive Scribblers and my VP-mates, and finally came up with a list. Which is, as was pointed out to me, not me saying I write as well as any of those on the list, but that I wrote like them. (relieved sigh, Central Committee drives past my house but doesn't stop)
The next books. It happened that I had been enlivening a moderately dull meeting by making notes to myself and arranging my next stories in the order I thought might make sense. This presupposed, perhaps, more writing time than I could really expect, but who knows?
The Willow Knot - sorta historic fantasy, retelling of 'Brother and Sister' (Grimm 11)
The Cost of Silver - dark historic fantasy, alt-ECW period with vampires and witchhunters
Skinned - sorta historic fantasy in WK's world, mashup of 'Bearskin' with 'Snow White & Rose Red'
The Fate of the Dead - historic fantasy, alt-Georgian, ghosts invading England
Interspersed with three YAs using the Aerial Mail Express world, each with a different protagonist and different peril: sky-pirates, the gold rush, the fur trade. Pretty sketchy yet, but would make a good break.

Next bit of good news is that "Bluebeard Contented" has been accepted - by the first market I sent it to, Cabinet des Fees, which seemed the perfect place for an odd little Perrault-ish retelling. Much woohoo! that they agreed.
We would like to accept "Bluebeard Contented*" for publication in our January 2011 issue. It is too good to pass up, but it doesn't really fit in with our forthcoming September issue. If this is acceptable, please let me know and I will issue your contract.

Acceptable? Oh yeah!

Two rejections, to keep things balanced.

Thank you for submitting "Climbing Boys" to ABYSS & APEX. It was well received here, but after some thought we have decided not to accept it for publication.

I hope you'll consider us again, and I wish you the best success in placing this story elsewhere.

and another for "Gods-Meat" from Beneath Ceaseless Skies, with Scott continuing to give excellent feedback, which is a great plus for submitting there.

Thanks very much for sending this to me. I'm sorry that it's not quite right for me. I liked the stormy vibe in the opening, but I couldn't get a feel on what general sort of world it was, Weird West or something more traditional fantasy. More importantly, I also couldn't get a feel there for the narrator's character. His early internal monologue gave a great voice to the bleakness of this place and normal existence there, but I didn't feel as much of himself coming through in that as I was hoping, his own attitude or hopes or fears or drive, what was pushing him as a person forward and what might be pushing the story forward too. I appreciate your interest in the magazine. I enjoyed reading your work again, so I hope you will feel free to send more.

Wednesday, August 18, 2010


I shall be catalogued.
Apparently our library (the one where I work) collects the work of local authors, especially of on-campus authors. Well, I knew that. Usually professors would give us a copy of their work, and some books went to Special Collections as well as onto the open shelves.
But that's academic non-fiction, right? Considering that UVic's Creative Writing dep't is almost vehemently anti-genre, to the extent that they won't accept news or posters about sf/f writing workshops or classes, I've always figured that fiction, unless published by a university press, or possibly by a small and very worthy Canadian press (chapbooks, with woodcuts printed in ink made from salal berries) was not to be acquired without strong advocacy.
But no. When in the course of a discussion of ordering books from Lulu, I showed a co-worker my own book (previously mentioned in this blog) Threefold, she said that the library should order it.
It's self-published, I pointed out.
Doesn't matter, she said. We bought another staff member's self-published poetry.
Oh, I said, and ceased objecting.

So there's my little book, with its own entry in the online catalogue. How very odd.

Monday, August 16, 2010

last Monday I had twins

visiting for the day. 6 1/2 years old, boy and girl.
So it has not all been drudgery the past two weeks, no. Things that we did:
  • picked blackberries
  • pried broken bricks out of the front garden
  • built inukshuks with the broken bricks, also a house for a mouse
  • picked blueberries (all 3 of them!)
  • gathered poppyseed (I didn't know how to do this)
  • found things in Tess's things-to-find-in-Fairyland book
  • ran through sheets on the clothesline
  • ate apples from the tree
  • watched the deer eat apples from the tree
  • played with the cat from next door
  • combed our cat
  • dug holes for new plants
  • dug the top half of an action figure out from the back garden
  • swung in the hanging chair
  • built a brick wall across the front walk
  • ate sandwiches
We had planned to walk or drive to Willows Beach, but it came on to rain just after lunch, so I mixed up some bubble stuff and we blew bubbles on the porch, then on the walk, then on the bricks, then inside, on the awful linoleum that needs washing anyways.
It was fun, as well as a reminder of just how much attention child-minding requires. If only child-raising could be done in one-day-a-week instalments, I'm sure we'd all do a better job.

The encroachment of wildlife continues. Besides the deer, which pops by most days to see if the broccoli or tomatoes have any new shoots, there's a raccoon somewhere about, but fortunately not under the house. Yesterday morning I watched a grey squirrel chase a black squirrel up and down one of the power-poles, with a surprising clattery noise that must have been their claws. The downed cherry tree across the street, overwhelmed by ivy, is a prime spot for a flock of small birds that like to swoop up and down from street to ivy and back, on the basis of stimuli I can't determine.
As I was digging compost out of the bin for the blueberry and roses that I planted, I noticed two heaps of compost earth outside the bin. Odd, I thought, I wonder if next-door's dog has been in here, digging? Suddenly a ginger-fawn furry shape bolted out of the heap on the other side of the treetrunk, zipped around the outside of the bin, and was gone. Rat? Rabbit? I couldn't tell.
On Sunday, I went to pick up windfall apples from that same tree, and as I stood looking for the pale yellow shapes, I saw from the corner of my eye, something on the compost bin wall, about 7 feet from me. A hawk, 5-6 inches in body, tail another 3, pale brown flecked with dark brown over body and head, tail black and grey bars. At first it ignored me, there being a thin screen of apple-leaves between us, then it stared at me from those alien yellow eyes (is it the eye or the unreadable face around it?) for several seconds while I tried to memorise it. Then it flapped up into the oak tree next door.
I went inside and found the bird book, and my best guess is either a fairly large female sharp-shinned hawk, or a smallish Cooper's hawk. At any rate, it can roost on my compost bin any time it likes.

Celebration! There are no more than 8 Transparent apples left on the tree, not enough for a dehydrator load. Made it through with absolute minimal waste!

Saturday, August 14, 2010

The trouble with real life

Is that it's all Show and no Tell. All the dull and repetitive and painful bits that you can cover in fiction with a breezy few lines:

A week of hiking through the mountains had toughened Jem's blistered feet, but had not shaken the zombie buzzard that trailed him.

Sinda endured eighteen hours of back labour, but when she saw her triplets, she--

Twenty years in the salt mines, Maurice thought, shrugging the heavily-muscled shoulders he'd gained swinging a pickaxe, and at last I am free to seek my revenge.

in real life have to be gone through with, step by dull step. I speak from the depths of fruit harvest, of my few little trees. Just as I begin to see the end of the Transparent apples, I pick up two fallen pears, and see a few plums purple over the driveway. Oh, and the blackberries? The blackberries are constant.
Every night I've been running apples through the peeler-corer-slicer thingy and filling one or both dehydrators. The only way I can get through it is to play cds. Right now I'm repeat-listening to Cat Stevens, Al Stewart, and Lost and Profound, because I like the lyrics. (I'm not musical - it's all about the lyrics for me).
One of my agent's comments about the first half of Willow Knot (surviving in the woods) was 'Enough with the gathering!'
Yeah, that.
I still have 3 trees to go, running probably into November. Last year there were Golden Delicious on the tree in the snow.

My writing-related point--and I do have one--is that one of the Rules that is sometimes wielded like a 2x4 in writing workshops is SHOW DON'T TELL.
It's a good rule, basically. Don't tell me that Colonel Absalom is hot-tempered. If his hot temper is relevant to the plot, show him losing it at a subordinate (ideally about something that develops the plot as well as the character). Sure, I can go with that.
The problem comes when the rule is employed as if there were no exceptions, and as if it were a guarantee of good writing.
Really, truly, telling does have a place. It gets you-the-reader through the dull bits. It speeds up plot. It reduces wordcount and leaves space for the exciting parts that you want to get properly stuck into.
It can sneak you-the-writer through those bits you haven't properly researched, like how many days it really takes to travel by coach from Framlingham to London in 1806 in the winter.

I don't really want to hear every word of a conversation that ends up agreeing where to eat for lunch. I don't really want to taste every dish that's had at said lunch, and feel the stomachache afterwards. I don't need to know about the stains on the tablecloth unless they build the atmosphere or foreshadow something.
Telling can be better than showing. Use it wisely. (She said, as if she had any cred to be handing out advice.)

Sunday, August 1, 2010

suffused with vague melancholy

And, unfortunately, the hint of a migraine. But first, the melancholy.

Yesterday I drove the boy and a friend out to the Sooke property so they could camp (real campsites are all fully booked over the holiday weekend).

Backstory: in the early '80s, Mark and I lived on a logged-over piece of mountain near the Sooke Potholes. No electricity, no running water, 5 miles up a dirt road and 3/4 mile past a locked gate. The first year in a 16 ft trailer with a propane fridge and stovetop, but no heat or insulation. The second year the same with a kerosene heater. After that we built a one-room cabin with lots of insulation and a woodstove. Luxury!
But with an increasingly active toddler, being 6 miles from the nearest telephone / health clinic / bus stop looked less and less like a good or safe idea. So we moved into town, and I can bike to work in about 20 minutes instead of walking 6 miles to the bus at 5 am and (if I made the right connections) getting into work about 8 am.
But we still have a 1/3 share in 30 acres, despite some attempt to sell it over the years. And I still remember toting water in by hand, sitting on the front step shooting at the feral goats with a pellet gun (stinging them in the flank so they'd stop eating the clover), cross-country skiing to reach the house when the snow closed off the logging road, propping my feet up in the oven part of the woodstove to warm up, and so on. Yeah, nostalgia.
In the 20ish years since we moved into town, things have changed, obviously. Sooke has gotten bigger, the dirt road has been paved, forest and pasture have been turned into housing developments. Yet enough is the same to make the experience more disconcerting than entirely alien.

I took the old route, not the highway, and found my muscle-memory of the winding road through Colwood, Metchosin, etc. came right back. But once we crossed the bridge (now two lanes) and started up Phillip Road, I was as lost as one can be on a road that only goes to one place. From narrow, winding, gravel road with trees or drop-off on the side, it had become mostly two-lane, paved, with big houses in wooded lots or prefab subdivision. Instead of a tall double chainlink gate with a heavy chain, there was a simple bar gate standing open. And the trees I used to park under (when the snow meant I shouldn't try the hill), there was open land at the bottom of the hill.
Naturally, we drove right past this, and went all the way to the end of Phillip Road, where I guess Hoom's garlic farm used to be, which is now a nice little hobby-farm sort of place, very tidy and freshly painted.
So, back again, and this time we spotted the drive, not quite so steep as it used to be, but just as narrow, overgrown on each side, bushes tangling into hedges. I ended up driving to the edge of our parcel, marked by the goat-shed just before the swamp (the flat part of our property is the swamp - the rest is rock). I probably could have driven the rest of the way, but could I have turned around once I got there?

The swamp is pretty dry this time of year, and while the alder hadn't grown up over the road, the brush had grown up enough that one couldn't see very far off the road. The flat spot where the trailer stood and where the well was drilled was entirely overgrown, and the path we made from trailer to cabin was gone. Instead, Chris led the way up to the back of the cabin.
And it's still standing, though someone has looted out the woodstove - at least replacing it with a fireplace stove so one could have heat if not cook or bake (I'm still proud that I have baked cookies and more in a woodstove). And somebody else apparently tried to build a brick hearth on the floor. One window is broken, and the damp has caused the ceiling drywall to drop flakes of plaster over everything. But the cabin is still there, and could probably be made liveable again without immense labour.
I wanted to sweep up the plaster and push the odd bits of other people's furniture against the wall and tidy, but that would have been pointless. It isnt' the place we lived anymore. The north wall is not one huge bookcase (books=insulation). The big table isn't taking up half of the east wall. The woodstove is gone, and broom has grown up where we planted clover.

So I left Chris reacquainting himself with the remnants of his babyhood home, and drove back to Victoria. Then I drove with Mark to the airport to drop him off for his flight to Pennsylvania, where he'll be for two weeks, for the Pennsic War.
By the time I got home, I felt achey and glum, even though I have two weeks of the house to myself, and spreading my projects and books over all available horizontal surfaces. I don't know whether it was the driving or arthritis or the sense of time passing and places lost in the flow.

Arthritis update: right hip and left elbow. The latter a twinge now and then, the former occasionally interfering with sleep. Enough generalised achiness today to justify a Naproxen and a hot bath.