NaNoWriMo – Will He or Won’t He?

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Every time I decide I’m going to buckle down and tackle the insane challenge of writing 50,000 words during National Novel Writing Month (NaNoWriMo) in November, something goes wrong.

In my performing days, November was the month for getting ready for a holiday show. Extra rehearsals, memorizing music, and practicing choreography hardly left me with any time to write 1,600+ words a day.

The last time I tried I got bored with my novel, and then ran into a technology snafu that ate half of the words I had written, never to be seen again.

This year, I thought I had it made. Work, which had been manic, had slowed down, preparing for a steady trot to the end of the year. I planned to take my remaining days off to write.

Ha!

Fate took one look at my plans and decided to throw in a large project with a tight deadline and a trip to the American College of Rheumatology annual meeting in San Diego.

Well, that’s what I get for having a challenging and demanding career! Two of them, technically, if you count writing. So go ahead, fate, throw the kitchen sink at me! I’ll do it anyway!

My plan this year was to be what NaNoWriMo calls a “rebel,” someone who, instead of starting a brand new project for the month of November, instead either writes on an existing novel (my plan) or writes 50,000 words of something else, like poetry, or short stories, or filk.

I’ll be happy with any boost in my productivity. Anything I write over my usual goal of 250 words a day is gravy…gravy made of sweet, sweet words. I may not blog between now and then. If not, I’ll see you on the other side!

Anyone else out there taking on NaNoWriMo? Throw some encouragement my way, and I’ll do the same for you!

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On Being Intimidated by Other Writers

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These are some of the stories I’ve encountered lately that make me question whether or not I’m a good writer or have anything to say that merits the attention:

Dust, by Daniel Jose Older (from the anthology Sunvault: Stories of Solarpunk and Ecospeculation)

Intimidation factor: Science fiction that reads like fantasy, with a gritty realness that I love about Daniel’s writing and inventiveness that I just plain envy.

The Faery Handbag, by Kelly Link (as heard on Selected Shorts podcast)

Intimidation factor: Fabulous first-person voice, charming and inventive story that makes a wonderfully subtle shift from (spoilers!) “is this really happening?” to “oh, yes, this is definitely really happening.” Perfect ending.

The Uncarved Heart, by Evan Dicken (from issue #212 of Beneath Ceaseless Skies Online Magazine)

Intimidation factor: An emotional story about coming of age and making difficult decisions. Told in a setting that is endlessly surprising. Each moment brings a element of invention that I wish I could achieve.

Are there works that intimidate you when you’re trying to create your art? Tell me about them! Let’s face down our crazy-talented demons together!

Whose Story Do I Get To Write?

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This is a contentious topic both for me and for the literary community at large: whose stories do I get to tell? If the only stories I get to write are those of middle-aged white gay men of middling privilege, well, yawn! Who wants that career? Stores full of clones of myself? Granted, I’m a fascinating guy but seriously, ask my husband, the glamour eventually wears thin.

I had been struggling with this topic before Readercon 2016, but then I attended an excellent panel that helped sketch out some guidelines not just for writing the other, but for doing the other justice, respecting the other, accurately representing the other.

I’d like to share some advice from that panel, titled “Who Gets to Tell My Story?” Panelists
Keffy Kehrli, Mikki Kendall, Robert V. S. Redick, Elsa Sjunneson-Henry, and Sabrina Vourvoulias tore the topic apart in the best way, sharing impassioned perspectives the sparked with anger.

  • Every culture has its own language, phrases, foods, etc. These things change based on where you are from. Any representation that doesn’t use these correctly will come across as inauthentic to readers from that culture
    • PRO TIP: if you don’t know someone from that culture, you probably shouldn’t be writing about that culture
  • Disability is not a binary. It’s a spectrum. Only 5% to 10% of the blind population is fully blind, yet all media representations of the blind are fully blind. Disability is a wholly unique experience for every person with a disability
    • PRO TIP: disabled people have sex!
  • Reach out to experts of any kind you need to for help with your representation:
    • Universities
    • Community organizations
    • Friends, family, friends of friends
    • PRO TIP: the time professionals spend to help you is valuable. PAY THEM. They may decline or suggest you donate to a community organization instead
  • Futuristic “cures” for disabilities erase identities and oversimplify disability in a harmful way. Utopian solutions are generally false, and not everyone wants to be cured
  • The transgender experience (and spectrum of sexuality in general) is complex and nuanced. Again, if you don’t know a person of the sexuality or gender identity you want to express, find one and talk to them. Even then, don’t assume that a single experience defines a population
  • Mental illness, and chronic physical illness, present their own unique struggles
  • If the whole of your experience with a culture or ability is tragedy, pain and suffering, this is probably not your story to tell
  • PRO TIP: make sure that your representation of ability, gender, sexuality, culture, race, etc. is justified by and within the world you have created

I was encouraged by this panel to believe that the door is open for me to write the other. Secondary worlds can have different abilities, races, and identities just like ours does. I feel freer now, not more confined, to tell stories that are diverse in every possible way.

 

Lunacon – Shenanigans!

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Fans and folks, this coming weekend, April 7-9 in Tarrytown, NY, is Lunacon 2017, which is, according to the website, “the New York area’s longest-running Science Fiction convention.” Pretty cool, yes?

And this year, the Brooklyn Speculative Fiction Writers will be there, doing it up right! We have a reading on Friday night as a group, and also one of our own rising superstars, S. A. Chakraborty, will have her own reading of The City of Brass, which comes out this fall from Harper Voyager.

If you’re going, or can go, please consider supporting our gang as we stalk the halls of our most local convention.

Also, I’ll be a panelist (and moderator!) for a few panels:

  • Writing Groups 101–Saturday at noon
  • Writing About/For LGBT–Saturday at 6:00 pm
  • Writer’s Groups, Degrees, Programs Oh My! (Moderator)–Sunday at 2:30 pm

If Lunacon is not on your schedule, there’s still plenty of time to consider Readercon, which the BSFW considers our home convention. This will be the second year that 20-25 of us will be there. Practically a gang!

Slowly Coming Around

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As convention season approaches (assuming there IS a convention season), I kick myself in the ass, as always, for not having more published stories out in the world. Alas, alack, and all that. I have only myself to blame. In particular, my allergy to editing, which I have written about a year ago.

Well, time for a progress report.

I do love a good challenge, particularly a personal challenge. If it’s a goal that I can put on a list and check off, I’m in. As to whether or not I check off goals more often than I simply move them over and over to some future day…no comment.

But this editing thing needed to be conquered. I mean, I have this astounding writing group that gives some of the best critique available, and if all I do is take the feedback and file it away instead of putting it to use, that’s nobody’s problem but my own.

So what is my deal with editing, anyway? I asked my therapist. Then, in the great therapeutic tradition of therapists who stare and nod sagely, I answered my therapist. Fear.

That age-old fuel of procrastinators everywhere. I mean, what is editing but an confirmation that you’re not a good writer, right? Look at all that terrible prose, so replete with stinkiosity that you have to EDIT IT.

At least, that’s how the old me saw it. In the past year, I feel like I’ve gone back to school, looking at prose, at voice and style and story structure, in new ways. I’ve taken old stories and made them new with all that I’ve learned in the ensuing years. It’s been a journey.

I’ve been editing stories lately at a rapid clip, trying to get them back into circulation. After an embarrassingly long hiatus, I’m starting to submit stories again.

I read these stories aloud as a step in the final editing process. Lately, I’m more pleased than horrified. That’s progress.

Reading vs Listening

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I’m a HUGE fan of audio literature. I define that term rather broadly to include both audiobooks and short story podcasts, as well as newer platforms like Serial Box, which is supporting longer-form storytelling by multiple authors.

The advantage for me, as a New York City commuter, is multifold. Audio content helps me take advantage of my commute. It’s rare for me to get a seat, and sometimes I’m on a train so crowded that even reading a physical book is impossible. In addition, as an author, listening to the podcasts magazines produce allows me to keep up with multiple magazines and a broad spectrum of stories without spending a fortune on subscriptions. Plus, it helps me get a feel for each publication’s style and the type of stories they’re looking for.

It’s all part of an overall strategy I have for keeping up with the wild, wide world of fiction. I have several physical books I’m reading, both research and fiction, I have ebooks I read almost exclusively on my phone, and I have audio fiction for the in-between times.

Recently, this fantastic article came to my attention:

As Far As Your Brain Is Concerned, Audiobooks Are Not ‘Cheating’

Not that my strategy needed any affirmation, since it works just fine for me. But I had no idea that anyone considered listening to books as “cheating.” As far as I’m concerned, a book listened to is a book “read.” That’s like saying if you weren’t staring at the television for the entire duration of a show, you didn’t “watch” it. I mean, isn’t television a visual medium?

So there you have it, not just on my authority, but the New York Times, for crying out loud. Paper, digital, audio–it doesn’t matter how you absorb your fiction. For the love of words, just read!

The Method Behind My Madness – Tomato!

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I, like many others in this technology-drenched era, have had to adapt to a shrinking attention span. The ease and programmed addictiveness of modern distractions have made it nearly impossible to construct a full sentence before I go running in a completely different direction.

I have short-cuts and cheats that help me focus: ambient noise, music, writing in coffeehouses, etc. But the best tool I’ve found for conquering distractivitis is the Pomodoro Method.
It means “tomato.” Don’t ask me why.
The method is pretty simple:
  • Work 25 minutes, take a 5 minute break. That’s 1 Pomodoro.
    • During your break, get up. Move around. Stretch. Replenish your beverage.
  • Every 4 “Pomodoros,” take a 20-30 minute break.
The key to success of this method for me is an enforced period of concentration on a single task. Key word – single.
If you’re gonna make a day of it, you list out all the things you want to get done, figure out how many Pomodoros each task will require, and get to work. Then you get the satisfaction of checking things off your list, which the Type-A side of my personality finds deeply gratifying.
Especially gratifying is the fact that I can get my daily writing goal of 250 words done in a single pomodoro! But why stop there?
A quick search in the app store of your choice will turn up some swell, basic pomodoro timers.
The Isochronic Pomodoro Timers on YouTube are a treat, incorporating soothing sound effects (rainstorm, waves, etc.) with an Isochronic tone that is supposed to heighten concentration. Give them a try.
C’mon-a wanna Pom-a with me?