Make Writing Fun, Even When It’s Tough

Like most of us, I have professional goals for 2022: write x words, submit x stories, and so on. I also have set the unmeasurable goal for this year of finding joy in the writing itself, rather than basing all my motivations on the possibility of sales or acceptance letters.

To that end, I’ve found myself branching out from the stories and novels I’ve been working on to discover other ways to have fun with these worlds. I’ll share some in the coming weeks – there’s one I’m SUPER excited about, but it’s not ready – and today I want to share some visual art I’ve created.

from my short story “The Bloom”

This watercolor is inspired by my short story “The Bloom,” which is still making the submission rounds. It might never sell. That’s okay. I still enjoy a little snicker when I think of the central premise, which is that fairies of the Tinkerbell variety might honestly be kinda gross if you saw one in real life.

Now, there are visual artists working in SF/F who have trained and honed their craft for years. Full respect for formal training and the time it takes to develop one’s craft. I do NOT in any way suggest that I’m their equal, and that’s okay.

I paint for fun. With paintings like these, it’s a way to enhance the simple joy of writing a story in the first place. I’ve sworn to myself that I will not try and sell my paintings, because I don’t want to try and monetize yet another creative pastime, and incur the stress and pressure and networking requirements involved. Also, check it out: if you’re not submitting your work anywhere, there is literally no rejection!

Exploring my writing projects and having fun with them in this other medium is relaxing and self-reinforcing. It was fun to write the story, even if that process came with all the self-imposed pressure of trying to make something good enough to sell. Making something else inspired by the story adds to the value of the original creative experience, with extremely little overhead in terms of stress, risk, and disappointment.

What ways have you found to expand your experience of your primary creative medium? What other ways are possible? Could you compose a song? Plan out a game? Write a letter to yourself from a favorite character and mail it? Share in the comments!

Materials: Untrained heathen than I am, I use paints from different kits liberally. I guess that’s okay right? For this, I used Turner Artists’ Water Colour 18-color starter kit; Art Philosophy pan colors number 05, 06, 49, 98; Faber Castell PITT artist black India ink pen; Pigma Micron 005 ink pen in black; Canson 120 lb watercolor paper.

Favorite Reading of 2021

I’d like to share my ten favorite books that I read in 2021. I rarely catch books in the year when they’re released; I hope you enjoy this chance to support an author’s earlier titles.

  1. There There by Tommy Orange, 2018. From the blurb: “A wondrous and shattering novel that follows twelve characters from Native communities: all traveling to the Big Oakland Powwow, all connected to one another in ways they may not yet realize.” It is sad, but as someone who struggles with sad stories currently, I found the beauty of the story uplifting.
  2. Everything Is Illuminated by Jonathan Safran Foer, 2002. “With only a yellowing photograph in hand, a young man — also named Jonathan Safran Foer — sets out to find the woman who might or might not have saved his grandfather from the Nazis.” I bought this used ages ago, and am delighted to present it as evidence to my family that I do in fact get to the unread books that I’ve had for years.
  3. The Wangs vs. the World by Jade Chang, 2016. “Meet the Wangs, the unforgettable immigrant family whose spectacular fall from glorious riches to (still name-brand) rags brings them together in a way money never could.”
  4. A Psalm for the Wild Built by Becky Chambers, 2021. “One day, the life of a tea monk is upended by the arrival of a robot.” A peaceful, gentle book, well-fitted to our times.
  5. Interior Chinatown by Charles Yu, 2020. “After stumbling into the spotlight, Willis finds himself launched into a wider world than he’s ever known, discovering not only the secret history of Chinatown, but the buried legacy of his own family.”
  6. Tribe by Sebastian Junger, 2016. “We have a strong instinct to belong to small groups defined by clear purpose and understanding–‘tribes.’ This tribal connection has been largely lost in modern society, but regaining it may be the key to our psychological survival.” This book made a huge difference in the ways I consider the meaning of community as I drafted my current WIP.
  7. Lanny by Max Porter, 2019. “Dead Papa Toothwort, a mythical figure local schoolchildren used to draw as green and leafy, …is listening to this twenty-first-century village, to its symphony of talk: drunken confessions, gossip traded on the street corner, fretful conversations in living rooms. He is listening, intently, for a mischievous, ethereal boy whose parents have recently made the village their home. Lanny.” Haunting and imaginative, this book uses text itself in bold ways.
  8. The Bedlam Stacks by Natasha Pulley, 2018. “In 1859, ex-East India Company smuggler Merrick Tremayne is trapped at home in Cornwall with an injury that almost cost him his leg. When the India Office recruits him for an expedition to fetch quinine,” he travels to Peru and discovers unexpected mysteries in the high mountains. A shamefully overlooked earlier title from the other of The Kingdoms.
  9. Uncanny Valley by Anna Wiener, 2020. I love memoirs almost as much as I love fiction, and this story of a journey into and away from Silicon Valley should be required reading for anyone hoping to write near-future SF.
  10. Prosper’s Demon by K. J. Parker, 2020. “In a botched demonic extraction, they say the demon feels it ten times worse than the man. But they don’t die, and we do. Equilibrium.”

I also want to note that while it might happily occupy a place on the very commercial end of the literary spectrum, I had more fun reading the Rivers of London series by Ben Aaronovitch, starting with Midnight Riot, than anything else this year. A set of paranormal mysteries – urban fantasy meets police procedural – it’s the rare series that improves as it goes.

Thanks for checking out my list. Here’s to more great stories in 2021!

2021 Short Fiction Stats

I’ve always found it helpful to see writers’ submission stats, on account of how it offers so much insight into the actual acceptance rate of folks who are out there publishing and working. Here’s a screenshot from The Grinder to share where I’m at, after my second year of getting out there and submitting my short fiction for publication:

The year, in review.

I enjoyed one acceptance this year. More significantly, I saw the number of holds and personal rejections go up dramatically, especially with my short fiction that runs between 3K and 5K words.

Here’s to hanging in there, friends! See you in 2022.

2021 Awards Eligibility Post

I’m pleased as punch to post my first-ever Awards Eligibility list! If nothing else, I hope a few more eyeballs land on these stories. Each of them is fun, quick, and mischievous in its own way.

Thank you so much for reading! I hope you have fun exploring the year’s short fiction.

Award!

Books You “Should Have Read”

Hi there! I’ve been invited to participate on a panel discussion at ArmadilloCon 43 in Austin, Texas, on October 16, called “Books You Should Have Read.” This post is timed to publish as the panel is scheduled to happen.

I’m delighted to participate, and also, please don’t let the title of this discussion give you guilt. If you’re the sort of person, like I am, who tries to do all the things she “should,” then you already know that’s impossible. I’ve barely read anything released in 2021! Instead, I’m approaching this as a good-faith effort to point to a variety of recent titles that other SF/F fans may enjoy.

The asterisk indicates a book that I have personally read. The rest are titles recommended from some widely read friends. Please excuse my best stab at a summary, and remember to buy your books from indie booksellers!

Addison, Katherine. Witness for the Dead. Set in the same world as The Goblin Emperor. Thara Celehar is a witness—like a private investigator—who investigates murder as he seeks to serve the common people.

Appel, John. Assassin’s Orbit. Golden Girls meets Battlestar Galactica.

*Chambers, Becky. A Psalm for the Wild Built. Centuries after a robot rebellion, a robot and a tea monk strive to understand what people need.

Clark, P. Djèlí. A Master of Djinn. A novel-length story that takes place in the same world as Clark’s earlier novella, The Haunting of Tram Car 015.

Dyachenko, Marina and Sergey. Vita Nostra. A young woman is coerced into attending the Institute of Special Technologies, which turns out to be a very, very dark sort of Hogwarts.

Gregory, Daryl. Revelator. A professional bootlegger returns home to 1930s Tennessee for her grandmother’s funeral and confronts the power of her family’s dark religion.

Martine, Arkady. A Desolation Called Peace. A sequel to A Memory Called Empire.

Ogden, Aimee. Sun-daughters, Sea-daughters. A SF novella featuring gene-edited humans who have scattered throughout the galaxy, adapting themselves to different environments. A woman who left her clan turns to the World Witch to save her husband from a plague.

*Pulley, Natasha. The Kingdoms. In a world in which France won at Waterloo and now rules England, amnesiac Joe Tourney leaves England in 1898 for free Scotland in search of answers about his true identity. Includes a queer romance.

*Waggoner, C. M. The Ruthless Lady’s Guide to Wizardry. Con artist and partially educated fire witch Dellaria Wells joins a cohort of lady fighters charged with protecting a young noblewoman on her way to her wedding. Queer romance.

Brown, Roseanne A. A Song of Wraiths and Ruin. First in a duology about a crown princess and a desperate refugee who find themselves on a collision course to murder each other despite their growing attraction. Based on West African folklore, YA.

*Clark, P. Djèlí. Ring Shout: Or, Hunting Ku Kluxes in the End Times. Bootlegger and demon fighter Maryse Boudreaux goes up against the literal monsters who are plotting to take over the Prohibition-era United States via the KKK. Novella-length.

Clarke, Susanna. Piranesi. The title character finds his way through the infinite labyrinth of his own house.

Jemisin, N. K. The City We Became. A novel about the six gods of New York City.

Onyebuchi, Tochi. Riot Baby. Ella and her brother Kev are both gifted with extraordinary power. Their childhoods are destroyed by racism and brutality. Ella tries to show Kev the way to revolution.

*Owen, Margaret. The Faithless Hawk. Second in the Merciful Crow YA duology. Fie, the new chieftain of the despised Crows, fights back against the oppressive queen who’s using a deadly plague to unite the nation against the Crows.

*Parker, K. J. Prosper’s Demon. A novella. An exorcist goes up against a familiar foe who has possessed the mind and body of the greatest artist and inventor of the age.

Querido, Levine. Elatsoe. A young, asexual, Apache woman investigates her cousin’s death in an alternate contemporary America. YA.

Roanhorse, Rebecca. Black Sun. A ship with one passenger sets sail for the holy city of Tova as a solar eclipse signals the unbalancing of the world.

Thomas, Aiden. Cemetery Boys. A trans boy summons a ghost in an attempt to prove how tough he is to his Latinx family. YA.

Tokuda-Hall, Maggie. A pirate and a high-born lady fall in love and fight off enemies both magical and human. YA, queer.

*North, Anna. Outlawed. 2021. A speculative Western in which infertile women and queer folk join forces as outlaws to eke out a life together as outlaws, away from the plague-decimated society that has rejected them.

*Sathian, Sanjena. Gold Diggers. 2021. An Indian-American family has discovered a way to harness the ambition of others by stealing and melting down their gold jewelry and making an alchemical potion out of it.

*Yu, Charles. Interior Chinatown. 2020. Told in the form of a screenplay, the genre-bending story of Willis Wu, who dreams of becoming Kung Fu Man in a world that only lets Asian men fulfill a few proscribed roles. Things change when he questions these limitations.

ArmadilloCon 2021 + Fun Stuff!

Check it out: I’ll be appearing as a panelist at ArmadilloCon 43 in a couple weeks, and I’m looking forward to it. ArmadilloCon was my first true convention, and I’m so excited to participate on both sides of the microphone now.

ArmadilloCon 2021 Participant Page

In other news, I have been enjoying my watercolors lately, painting imaginary beasts to represent some really thorny programming modules and administrative systems that I’ve encountered at my day job. (It’s a whole thing.) Here’s one:

The Credit Awards Cephalopod: best keep your distance!

I have no formal training and I’ve asked my closest friends to give me a nice little restorative face slap if I ever discuss monetizing my paintings. It’s purely for fun – and it is fun to have a hobby that’s only for my own satisfaction. Honestly, I’d forgotten what that’s like!

And since I’ve still got your attention, Hyde Park Theatre has a podcast, HPT Audio Plays. They recently released a recording of one of my favorite plays by one of my favorite playwrights, The Hunchback Variations by Mickle Maher. The play is a series of panel discussions between Ludwig von Beethoven and Quasimoto (aka the Hunchback of Notre Dame) about their failed collaboration to recreate the impossible sound. It’s only 30 minutes, and Maher’s plays are dense enough that it’s a treat to listen to them more than once. I still laugh each time I hear it. Go check it out! Free.

Upon Reading and Change

Like most people, my social life shifted dramatically during the pandemic. I became closer to the people with whom I could interact with well online. Some in-person friendships faded. Some remote friendships became more important. In some ways, this accelerated some changes in my social life that were already underway, as I move into a new parenting bracket and more of my internal life is taken up with writing and creative ventures.

There were a couple friends whom I recently removed from my phone, as I considered what changes to make during this odd transitional phase of the pandemic. If one of those friends ever happens to see this post, I am declaring loud and clear that there was no anger in this decision, no resentment. It was just time. We live on opposite sides of the river (which in this city means a minimum of a 45-minute drive on a Sunday morning). We’ve had different professional and personal experiences. I’m not the hippest person out there, either, when you get right down to it.

The friendships weren’t nothing. There was a time in my life when I leaned on them very heavily, and I have tried over the years to repay that kindness with smaller but hopefully consistent kindnesses. It’s not wasted time or effort.

I was in a used bookstore recently (in a store! Yes, masked and vaccinated) and happened to notice a copy of Jennifer Egan’s A Visit from the Good Squad. That’s actually a favorite book of one of these friends, as I recall from a wedding shower game years ago. (One of those odd details that sticks in your brain.)

So I bought it, and I read and admired it. Wrong time in my life for me to love that book, but if I were writing a review, I’d still give it full marks, because it’s not the book’s fault I’ve got some anxieties working at cross-purposes to the major themes of the story.

I’m glad I read it, though. It was a good way to honor the friendship that happened.

Have you ever read a book just because it was someone else’s favorite? Which book, and why? Did you talk about it with them after?

$5 Theater + Fake-German!

My short multimedia play “Totenwascher” runs May 6-9 as a part of the 2021 Out of Ink Festival. Tickets are wicked cheap, starting at $5.

Out of Ink 2021: Perfect Glitch runs May 6-9

Runtime for synchronous content is about one hour. You’ll also receive asynchronous content, some of which even comes in the mail – including your very own plague mask!

The title of my piece translates (sort of) as “death-washer.” It’s not real German, but my director is fluent in German, and I fooled her. I hope you’ll check it out!

Pandemic and the TBR Pile

Not to brag here… but some of us have actually read some of the books in our longstanding TBR pile during this pandemic. Some of my favorites of the past year:

Shown above: five fewer books weighing down my conscience.

Special props to Dexter Palmer’s Mary Toft; or, the Rabbit Queen, a historical novel set in 1700s England, about a woman who fooled five of the greatest physicians in the country into believing that she had given birth to seventeen rabbits. (It failed as a check on the to-read list, though, because I just bought his earlier book Version Control. One step forward, one step back.) I loved all five of these books, though, and recommend them enthusiastically.

In other news, I was terrifically excited to learn that Alex Brown included my story “Contract Witch” in their March round-up of recommended short fiction. I now have my own tag on Tor.com: achievement unlocked!!!