“I think the word this year,” quoth Tee Morris at the Shared Desk live cast this past Balticon, “is perspective.”
Sitting in the audience, I couldn’t help agreeing. “Perspective” fits this year’s convention on many levels, both in terms of my professional path and in terms of the people walking that path with me. Cons always function as creative pressure cooker and reset point for me: a place to get fired up, but also to take a sober look around and ask, “Whither hence?”
So let’s look at the community first. At any con, there are always “I love you, man,” moments. This Balticon felt like those moments lasted for four days straight. This was one of the first cons I’ve been to where I could walk into a room and know more people than not. More than that: I could walk into a room and have more friends than acquaintances.
That’s growth. And I felt calmer and more confident than at any other con. Lauren “Scribe” Harris put it well, remarking that this crowd has become like family; we don’t need to be ON around each other all the time.
So, perspective: I am very, very lucky. I have always said this, but it’s good to be reminded of it. One of the strengths of the writing community is that it is a true community. We come from all different walks of life, all different parts of the world, we are all different ages. As such, we can teach and support each other in so many diverse ways. Sometimes – especially with social media, where mini-scandals erupt like bushfires – it’s easy to forget the fact that really, the broader community is driven and united by the same passion: for good stories, good writing, and dragons and starships and suchlike.
Seriously. I love you, guys.
The flip side of all the hugging and socializing is the cold, hard look at the professional path. 2013 was a lost year, but 2014 is almost half-over. Where am I going? What are my goals: short, medium, and long-term? How can I get there?
One simple thing for starters: I need to be producing more. Yes, yes, dayjob and schooling, we’ve all heard that before. When I put my mind to it, I can write a LOT. Like, a LOT. Part of the problem has been working harder, not smarter…I say yes to ALL THE THINGS, relying on youthful energy to bull through. That works, but then I’m too drained for MY projects.
It’s partly a matter of prioritizing, partly of allocating my energy better. And I do mean energy – I have the time, I’m just too exhausted to do anything with it. Thinking of this along the lines of an energy budget might help. As might…you know…actually getting sufficient sleep and iron.
Perspective: this was the sickest I’ve ever been after a con. Probably coincidence, but maybe also indicative of the fact that I was running on empty beforehand; I just didn’t have the reserves this time around.
The other perspective gained dovetails with some advice from Stonecoast. Here’s the thing: I write often and well. On a purely technical side, my prose is already pretty clean. That got me a head start, but relying on technique isn’t really enough. Diving into analogy, I could put out table beers that taste fine and ferment in 24 hours…but I want to put out really complex, aged porters. Lagers. Heck, let’s say some 16-year-old scotch. It’s remembering to focus on art as well.
But the only way to get there is to keep writing: well and often. Refine those techniques. Use that head start like a springboard. Depth will come with time – but only if I keep writing, learning, and growing.
Perspectives, man. Perspectives.
COOL THING OF THE WEEK
EAST O’ THE SUN AND WEST O’ THE MOON premiered last night. The kids have SO much to be proud of – they did a great job with a very challenging score and libretto (Norbert and I did not pull punches). Also, I truly do have amazing family and friends… 🙂
Just like the unfurling leaves and May 2-4 Weekend, Balticon is a sure sign that summer is coming. This is my favourite con: relatively accessible from Toronto, just the right size, heaps of wonderful people, and great programming. Between bringing the nice young man, some really cool panels, and the chance to see some dear friends, I’m SO EXCITED for this year.
Of course, because it’s a con, I totally haven’t packed yet and I’m awaiting the appearance of my usual outbreak of convention hives. Plus, I feel barely organized enough to get the nice young man and I safely on the plane, but hey—it always works out in the end.
Want to find me during the con?
Beyond Medieval History (panelist), 4:00 pm – 4:50 pm, Chase
Reading (with Veronica Giguere and Val Griswold-Ford SQUEE), 9:00 pm – 10:00 pm, Pimlico
The Fantasy Author’s Guide to Beer (presenting), 5:00 pm – 5:50 pm, Derby
Writing Real Children (panelist), 7:00 pm – 7:50 pm, Salon B
Skool Daze: Pursuing a Writing Career While Still in School (panelist), 11:00 am – 11:50 am. Parlour 1041
How Hard Can It Be? Jumping out of Genre (moderator), 1:00 pm -1:50 pm (Chase)
When I’m not doing panels, I’ll be roaming. You can probably find me hanging around the New Media/Literary side of things, or drooling over steampunk things in the dealers’ room (I’ve somehow acquired a tendency to accumulate stuff for the dayjob…). Come say hi, if you’re around—I wear a pounamu necklace and I am bespectacled.
I am so looking forward to this. Can’t wait to see everyone!
Cool Thing of the Week
Um. Balticon. ‘Nuff said.
Dragon Con felt subdued this year. Not that it was small; I swear there are more people every time, and this year I actually needed 30 minutes to travel between panels. Nevertheless, a lot of faces were missing. Don’t get me wrong, I had fun, but it was a different convention than last year’s.
Now, the fun stuff: what did I do for three days? (Yep, I skipped out early Monday morning; Tuesdays at cons are too depressing for me.)
I chatted with editor Gabrielle Harbowy about Strix and saw a very early mock-up for a potential cover (spoiler: I love it…which means I should possibly get this darn thing finished). I wandered the dealers’ room and finally met Thomas and Sarah of Brute Force Studios. I went to some panels and readings, where I met Suzanne Church and caught up with Rob Sawyer. I wrote. In a happy twist of fate, I discovered that the Hyatt was screening a 24h/day Doctor Who marathon all weekend long, which gave me a place to retreat when I needed to recover but still wanted to feel like I was participating in the convention.
Several of my friends had exciting things happen: Mur Lafferty won the John W. Campbell Award for Best New Writer (i.e. the Hugo that is not a Hugo). I can’t think of anyone more deserving, and I’m absolutely thrilled for her. Pip Ballantine and Tee Morris picked up another Parsec for Tales from the Archives. Again: so very proud.
Also, Sylvester McCoy, better known as the seventh Doctor, presented at the Parsecs. He pwned the ceremony. He needs to get his own podcast which I will then listen to obsessively, because he was brilliant…though I’m sensing a trend towards very short acceptance speeches next year!
And that was about it, really. The post-con haze is settling upon me, and I’m very cognizant of the fact that I now have to work for eight days straight while juggling three different writing projects and starting Strix-the-Podcast.
So, you know, a typical month coming up. 😉
Sunday morning at Balticon, PJ Schnyder and I were eating waffles.
“I love cons,” she said. “But doesn’t this make you want to run home, and just…”
“Write all the words, ever?”
I do love cons. They are great for recharging batteries, recapturing your fire and inspiration. The more cons I attend, the harder I find it to distill the experience. I could talk about midnight pulled pork and ogling steampunk goods. I could talk about feeling the bass thump along my sternum while watching Ditched by Kate and the way I was literally trembling before moderating my first panel. I could talk about the old friends, new friends, and first-time-in-real-life friends (including but not limited to: Tim Dodge, Scott Sigler, PG+Chooch+Viv, Lauren “Scribe” Harris, Veronica Giguere , Myke Cole, Mur Lafferty, Heather Welliver, Chris Lester, Nobilis, Nutty Nuchtchas, PC Haring…) I could talk about the hugs and the laughter and the incredibly cool discussions…
Or I could talk about where I am, post-Balticon.
Strix is roughly halfway done. In a stunning occurrence of déjà vu, I’m hoping/planning to get it back to my editor before I leave for Virginia. This has been the most frustrating, challenging, stubborn thing I have ever written, but it will be worth it. I did attend a very interesting panel on “Female-Centric Faith Systems,” and a lot of things applied to Serafine and the world of Strix/Hapax. It’s encouraging to see that I’m on the right track, at least thematically.
I feel all warm and fuzzy inside because I got to see some old friends, meet some friends in person for the first time, and make lots of new friends. On the last day of the con, Christiana Ellis shared her metaphor of cons as “friend farms” (by this point, “creative projects” had become “squirrels” and “energy” was “spoons” – Doc Coleman, you are awesome). Basically, the first time you go to a con and don’t know anybody, you plant the seeds of friendship. Then you water it, and wait, and by the next con, it’s blossomed into a full-grown friendship, and you then plant more seeds. I like this image—and it definitely seemed to hold true.
Which brings me to my next, long-distance goal. I know what kind of writer I want to be when I grow up. I want to be the author that pulls in the newbie and helps them find their feet. I want to be the author who encourages, and helps, and makes them feel worth the time. As a young, newbie writer, I have been so lucky. So many authors have taken me under their wings, helped me out, and mentored me. Trust me, it’s made all the difference. And while there’s only so much I can do to pay it forward right now (n00b), I’m going to try now, as much as I can.
So that was my Balticon: a wonderful weekend, professionally, personally, and creatively. 🙂
Conventions always slip my mind. I book the hotel room, the plane tickets, and listen to the pre-con buzz, but it never dawns on me that I’m actually going until…oh, the night before. Then, it’s a mad scramble to pack and organize books, and it still feels unreal until the moment I pick up my badge.
That’s how Balticon feels right now.
I have my schedule. Apparently, my past self was very crafty and booked my flight and hotel a while ago. I even have plans to meet up with a few people.
It still doesn’t feel like I’m actually going.
Nor has it really sunk in that I’m going as a guest. I’ve termed this feeling “Cinderella Syndrome.” Every so often, I look at my Facebook wall and think, “Oh, wow. How has this become normal?” Answering that would be another post in itself…and may or may not crop up on a few panels next weekend.
Speaking of panels, here are the ones I have confirmed:
4:00 pm – Meeting Other Podcasters
5:00 pm – Professionalism and the Emergent Writer
2:00 pm – Writing Real Children
11:00 am – Autograph Session (and reunion with Tim Dodge! Woot!)
12:00 pm – Professionalism and the Young Writer
1:00 pm – Reading
8:00 pm –From Page to Pod
10:00 am – Introvert’s Guide to Social Media
So…basically, I don’t intend to sleep this weekend. At all. If you’re around the con, come say hi! I like people. 🙂
Writing may also be a bit iffy. I’m just over 1/3 of the way through the Massive Strix Rewrite. If I keep to this 2000 words/day pace, I should be finished in just under a month (hopefully I can cannibalize more words from the original draft near the end, but I’m not holding my breath).
We’ll see. The dayjob, while awesome, is also very physically tiring…but I’m incredibly anxious/eager/excited to get this thing out to Gabrielle and my cast.
Next week: The Balticon Round-Up!
One play that I’d really like to see in its entirety is Carol Shields’s Arrivals and Departures. Once upon a time, when I was a wee teenage drama student, we did excerpts from it in class. It’s a series of vignettes: slices of airport life.
I like airports, better than I like the actual flying part. While I can think of a million ways that flights can go wrong, airports appeal to my slightly neurotic side. Everything has signs, everything is scheduled, labelled, and ordered, and the rules are quite clear. Then there’s the notion of airports as liminal space, in-between space. That concept of the way-station, the passing-through point, appeals to me.
Plus, I write really well in airports.
Over the last year, I’ve been in a lot of airports. So many that when I tried to tally them up, it looked kind of obnoxious, and I wasn’t even sure if I remembered them all, and it just seemed better not to try.
You get good at airports, after a while. You learn their individual quirks, and how to adapt to new ones. You also learn to entertain yourself, which is what I’m doing right now as I sit at yet another gate. And so…
THINGS AIRPORTS TAUGHT ME
– Proximity to outlets is the most important factor in determining where to sit. Sometimes this is the floor. That is ok.
– It is also ok to wear dirty jeans and lug a giant backpack around, even if everyone else has a suit and briefcase.
– Jaffas are not the healthiest lunch, but you will survive. And if it is your birthday, you can eat all the Jaffas you like (yes, I spent most of my last birthday in an airport, but it was Auckland, so I can’t complain).
– I am generally pretty awkward, but I am getting good at whipping out my laptop, finding every last coin in my pocket, and shucking off my coat in no time.
– Sometimes, you know best. I cannot count how many times I have had the following conversation:
- “Ok, dear, come through.”
- “Wait, I haven’t taken off my belt!”
- “You don’t need to.”
- “But it always beeps!”
- “You can leave your belt on.”
- “No, trust me, it—”
- “Come through, dear.”
- Beep. Beep. Beep.
– Everyone has a story.
– Random things distinguish airports. I remember that Dulles has a Starbucks by the baggage claim. Wellington has the weird pay-as-you-go computer terminals (or was that Auckland?). The Island Airport has the awesome lounge of free things.
– Stressed-out, sleep-deprived people are not the brightest.
– The mantra of air travel: I guess we’ll find out.
– Departures is more fun than Arrivals, unless you’re arriving home after six months.
– Window or aisle? is a more revealing question that you’d think.
– Information travels best by osmosis.
– Free wi-fi is a wonderful, wonderful thing.
– Sometimes, looking young and helpless is not necessarily a bad thing.
– Air New Zealand rocks.
– Responding to “Purpose of visit?” with “A science fiction convention!!!” will, in fact, get you weird looks
Time to board!
Sometimes people ask me how much of life shows up in my writing. I never find this question easy to answer. After all, I write fantasy. It’s all made up, right? How much life and research goes into that?
Imagine you’re making a cake. You start with some recognizable ingredients—eggs, butter, milk, flour, sugar—and then you change some of them. You separate the eggs, or cream the butter, or chuck some chocolate chips in on a whim. Then you mix them all together, and suddenly, it’s hard to tell where one ingredient ends and the next begins. And then, you throw it all under high heat, and when it comes out, it’s delicious and totally does not resemble the elements going in….although you’ll certainly notice if a cake is lacking sugar. Likewise, you’ll notice the chocolate chips, or extra spices, or what have you.
Writing is kind of like that.
Take a lot of different things. Change some. Mix them together. Let them react and transform. See something very different come out—with maybe a specific flavour distinguished here or there.
For me, it’s always interesting to see what gets chucked in. Writers are like kleptomaniacs at a grocery store. Random ingredients somehow end up in our mental baskets, and they sometimes get used in unexpected ways.
Looking for firewood in Australia one afternoon, our guide showed us how to knock over small, dead trees. In the current draft of Strix, three of my characters work together to knock down small, dead trees. At the time, I didn’t think about the experience as fodder for fiction. And then it was, and it was exactly what I needed. Kind of cool.
Likewise, I have a short story in the February issue of Black Treacle Magazine, wherein I shamelessly riffed on Black Creek (with the important caveat: I shamelessly riff on places, not people).
Likewise, the numerous times I’ve smiled at the delightful children’s doodles scrawled across my choir music wound up in Hapax—Praeton likes the random sketches and notes too.
Of course, sometimes you don’t know things, which requires research. I’ve never been flogged. Nor am I a celibate priest in his fifties. Nor have I ever gone for days without water. My list of Google searches would likely leave a few people scratching their heads.
And then, the magic of fictionalization happens. I guess that’s like tossing everything in the oven.
Assorted bits and bobs go in, and the results aren’t always predictable. Random bits of life that you don’t necessarily think about until the moment comes, and it just fits. Really, it’s just a reflection of the old saying, “Write what you know.” Write what you know, but watch it become transformed as you change it to suit the needs of the story.
Hello, all! I am back from my cross-border adventure. After writing my exam and sending off Strix, I hopped on a plane to the US, where I spent a lovely weekend with Tee Morris, Pip Ballantine, and Sonic Boom. Skating, LEGO, board games, and spy museums: pretty much the best weekend I’ve had for a while.
Oh, and we wrote, too.
Actually, I had a really cool moment as the three of us were working on various things. I realized: I’m done Strix for now. This has been one of the most frustrating things I’ve written. It’s been hanging over my head, in different guises, for nearly eighteen months. I have no idea what happens now—what kind of edits may occur, or even if DMP can fit it in.
But whatever happens, there is nothing more I can do right now at this moment.
I can write other things now.
There’s been a novel lurking in the background for a while. I believe I’ve described it as “sleek, dark, and vaguely Victorian.” Not quite steampunk, not quite dark fantasy, but it makes me very excited. Over the last few days, my notes have started to coalesce into an increasingly-coherent story. It’s not quite ready to put to page yet, but it’s getting there.
There’s a secret project that I’ll hopefully be allowed to talk about in a few weeks.
And there’s been a spate of short fiction. In seven years, I wrote maybe two short stories. Then, in the past few months, I’ve written several. It’s a form I still need to get comfortable with, but I’ve loved trying new things. Diversity and versatility, right?
My other really cool moment from this weekend (well, the whole weekend was one “really cool moment,” but I doubt I could compress all of it into a few hundred words) happened on Sunday morning, as I mused about how much has changed in the last year and a half. I’m very lucky. Yes, there are ongoing trials and tribulations on the home front, but I’m trying this really cool thing called “compartmentalization.”
So: I’m very lucky.
I’m very lucky to have the people in my life that I do, whether in Toronto, the rest of Canada, New Zealand, or scattered across the US. I’m very lucky to have had the opportunities I’ve had. Yes, I work hard, but there’s been a degree of serendipity as well.
All of which means that this seems like an appropriate time to count my blessings, as it were. Life and writing are like Fortune’s Wheel—sometimes you’re doing pretty well, sometimes you’re squished underneath. Right now, I seem to be both.
At least I’m not bored.
For a while, I thought about not doing a New Year’s post.
With my loss still so raw, and the grief only now really hitting, I have rarely been happier to see the tail end of a year. Except then, I got to thinking. Taking the entire year into account, 2012 was too big to be ignored. It was a year of immense growth and opportunity: from backpacking through the South Pacific, to meeting (and befriending!) some pretty incredible people, to strengthening friendships back home, to publishing and podcasting, to discovering where “home” really is for me.
Like I said, a big year.
It was a year of heights, of suddenly finding myself on mountaintops (literally and metaphorically) and wondering how on earth I’d gotten there. There was a LOT of good in 2012. It’s important to remember that: that oftentimes, I was stunned by how happy I was.
2012 started with a bang, but it definitely ends with a whimper. Some of my personal dreams came true this year, but so too did some of my nightmares. I had tears in my eyes as I stood atop Mt. Victoria and finally gazed across Wellington. I had tears in my eyes as I stood in the cemetery.
From one extreme to the other.
But it’s no longer 2012. My Twitter-pal (and one of the charming hosts of the Roundtable Podcast) Dave Robison recently said something about New Year’s being just another day, that we can make changes any day of the year.
It’s true, but I think the start of the year is a good time to take a breath, to mentally prepare for those changes and plans.
2012 was a great year, writing-wise. I’m optimistic 2013 will be even better. Frankly, I have a better idea of what I’m doing. Graduating means I’ll have more time (as was helpfully pointed out to me, my “day job” will really be just that—something on the side, a daytime diversion as I put my energy into writing). Oh man, when I think of all those hours spent reading articles, going to class, and writing essays…I’m so excited to put that time into fiction.
As I start putting the shambles of my life back in order, and figure out how to live around this huge, gaping hole, I’m more grateful than ever for what I have. I have some pretty awesome people in all parts of my life. Tired and sad as I am, I’m actually kind of cautiously hopeful for 2013. It feels like 2012 was a build-up, December was a breaking point, and 2013…
Well. I guess we’ll find out.
I’m a worrier. Always have been, as far back as I can remember. Those “what ifs” can get vicious. And so, one of the most important things I learned while travelling is the ability to say, “I guess we’ll find out.”
Will I have enough time to make this connecting flight? I guess we’ll find out. What if I miss it? I guess we’ll find out. Would they send my backpack without me? I guess we’ll find out.
However, IGWFO only works in situations over which I have absolutely no control. When I’m stuck in traffic, when I’m travelling, when I’ve done everything I can, it is brilliant for stopping the circular, racing thoughts (oh hai, anxiety).
There is nothing I can do. I guess we’ll find out.
But, if I have even the slightest bit of agency, all bets are off.
What if Hapax-the-Novel flops? IGWFO doesn’t work here. This particular flavour of worrying is almost a really bizarre optimism. If there is any possible way at all that I can actually do something, you can bet my brain will seize on the chance that maybe we won’t have to find out.
So, what if Hapax-the-Novel flops? OMG we need to do more promoting – what else could we do, who else can we talk to, OMG are we doing enough? Are we doing too much? Not enough? What if we – what if people – what if – what if – what if….
Ah, what if: the writer’s favourite question.
But in all seriousness, it’s good to distinguish between things that I should worry about, and things that I really can’t worry about. Three separate accidents on the bus route that takes me to work? Nothing I can do. Book coming out and now we need to drive sales? Yep, I can do things
to help that.
It’s not perfect. But in twenty-one years, it’s the best thing I’ve discovered for managing my own worrying.
So. How will the next few weeks and months go?
I guess we’ll find out.