A Message To My Future Self

“I just have one question.”

The old man and a woman I took to be his wife came up to me after I had burned through my signing line at Book Bar, a lovely venue in the Berkeley neighborhood of Denver, Colorado. I was there with fellow New Mexican author Rebecca Roanhorse who was promoting her electric debut Trail of Lightning while I was promoting my own debut Implanted from Angry Robot. We had both read sections from our respective books, answered questions moderated by J.L. Forrest who runs the Denver Science Fiction and Fantasy reading series, and then made ourselves available to sign books and chat with audience members afterwards. Forrest provides a nice recap of the evening here.

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It was only my forth public appearance for Implanted, and I was still trying to figure out how to strike that careful balance between being approachable and authorly, all the while keeping imposter syndrome at bay. No mean feat when you’re sitting next to the zeitgeist. My mouth was tired from trying to smile for the last two hours lest my resting bitch face slip through. I still hadn’t found a position on my barstool that both presented my pear-shaped frame to best advantage and didn’t aggravate my lower back. I was regretting my choice of outfit and rethinking my answer to one of the questions put to us earlier in the evening. And oh god was I hungry, having put off dinner since there hadn’t been time to eat beforehand.

But I smiled at the couple and said, “Sure!”

He had his hands clasped behind his back. His wife stood mute beside him, a half-smile pasted to her face. An impressive white beard reached down to his breastbone. He paused and pursed his lips, and suddenly I realized this wouldn’t be like the other people I’d spoken with that evening. The ones who said they were excited to read Implanted after hearing me speak, the woman who was grateful to have found a cyberpunk novel not imbued with the male gaze, or the nervous young man desperate for writing advice. Somehow, this would be different.

This gentleman pointed out that both excerpts Rebecca and I had read that night depicted women hunting men for hurting another woman. After a moment of reflection, I realized it was true. Rebecca read from Chapter 2 of Trail of Lightning where her main character Maggie is chasing down a man-shaped monster who has stolen away a young woman to feast on—a powerful, unsettling scene. My selection, the opening chapter of Implanted, the main character Emery is hunting a young man who’s in the process of stalking a different young woman. When the coast is clear, he attacks in an attempt to steal her neural implant. Emery stops him, but she leaves the scene of the crime before the police arrive, setting her on a journey the rest of the book follows.

“Would your character go to such an effort to protect a man in the same situation?” the old man asked me, an unpleasant intensity to his voice.

Rebecca was engaged with some enthusiastic fans beside me, so she luckily didn’t have to face his quiet disbelief when I said, “Yes, of course.”

I then nattered on about how that wasn’t really the point of the scene though, that my main character was protecting someone from a similar attack she survived before the events of the book, that as the author, I got to pick what elements best served my story, and in this case, upending reader expectations and exploring female rage, was my goal. After all, I named the person Emery is following Breck Warner, echoing the name of that of apex scumbag Brock Turner. Subtle, I am not. Of course it would be a young woman Emery’s trying to protect from a repeat of her own past, a past she hasn’t quite figured out how to escape at the start of the book. I said something glib about sisterhood too, but the details at this point are fuzzy.

But I well remember the way he shook his head, disappointed, and left. His wife followed him, having never said a word. Oh, and in case you were wondering, he didn’t buy either my or Rebecca’s book.

I’ve thought a lot about that interaction since. I know it doesn’t hold a candle to uncomfortable interactions other authors have had with members of the public over the years. But I try to analyze moments like this when they pop up to better prepare me for the next one. I’m a classic staircase wit where I’m nothing better than a deer in headlights in the moment. It’s only after I’ve retired from the hum and buzz of a public interaction that any cleverness returns, far too late for a rescue.

As a publishing professional trying to drum up support for a debut, I’m always fearful that any negative interaction could affect my ability to get another project published—not true of course, but the little voice in my head doesn’t know that. After reviewing that conversation, however, I don’t think there was anything I could have said to salvage that interaction—to make the sale, as it were. He was being provocative at best, trying to set me down at worst, for having the temerity to center the female experience in my story.

So much of writing—writing for publication, that is—is getting enough people to decide, “hey, this is great,” and getting even more people to read it, preferably giving up their cold hard cash for the opportunity to do so. The business side of writing leads to this mindset that we must go after every potential reader and find a way to convince them we’re worth their time and money. That each missed opportunity is why our numbers suck, that if we could only convince this one other person we’d all be bestsellers and shortlisted for all the awards. A bruising cycle that only ends when you either quit writing or pick out a penname to start over.

It’s not worth it. Even for someone like me where my little book could use all the help it can get. But if someone is going to approach my book from such a perspective, there’s something freeing in deciding: my dude, my work is not for you.

These aren’t the droids you’re looking for.

You can find such sentiment online, often in pithy tweets that read like affirmations in our current political climate made by women stronger and/or more experienced than me in navigating the intersection of art and economics in a broken world. Sometimes it feels a little like settling, knowing your work can never have the reach you’ve dreamed of. Or maybe I should feel driven to succeed despite that dude and all the others like him, even if it feels like crawling uphill over shards of glass. I don’t know. Of course, I’m still writing, but my wide-eyed naiveté has taken a critical hit, and I’m not sure I can afford that, not when that naiveté is what allowed me to pursue writing in the first place.

It’s just one guy, right? Why am I even letting myself get caught up in all this? Maybe it’s the people-pleaser in me. Maybe it’s a way for me to give other writers out there a head’s up about the world we’re so desperate to be a part of, a toolkit for deciding how and when to cut your losses.

And maybe, like Emery, I’m trying to protect my future self from another no-win situation, where the best choice is to walk away and keep writing, no matter what.

Recent Oddments

Lots of things have been happening behind the scenes of late. Lots of writing (of course!) as well as editorial and administrative stuff to get my novel Implanted out into the world. But the busyness is helping to keep my nerves at bay as review copies are getting prepped and I start turning my attention to promotion.

In fact, I was recently interviewed by the wonderful people at the Breaking the Glass Slipper podcast, where I was able to talk about my influences in writing the book. I had a lot of fun with the questions, so be sure to check it out:

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In other news, my story “Glitch,” appearing in Shohola Press’s Abandoned Places anthology, got a shoutout by SFF Reviews, and they also liked the anthology overall, so that’s always good to hear.

Finally, a few weeks ago, I was able to participate in the Jack Williamson Lectureship, which is held at Eastern New Mexico University every year. S. M. Stirling was the guest of honor, and luminaries like Connie Willis and Walter Jon Williams were in attendance as well. Fellow NM authors Emily Mah and Sarena Ulibarri, who is also editor in chief of World Weaver Press, were also guests, and it was just plain fun to hang out and talk shop for the weekend with other SFF enthusiasts in the community.

 

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That’s it for me. Stay tuned!

Where You Can Find Me at Bubonicon 2014

I’m very excited to be a part of my local convention, Bubonicon, in Albuquerque, New Mexico this year. New Mexico has an amazing group of speculative writers writing across many different sub-genres of the field, and they’ll all be in one place! If you find yourself in the Land of Enchantment for the first weekend of August, be sure to check it out.

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Here’s where you’ll find me:

Friday: ASPIRING WRITERS 201: KEEPING UP WITH THE JONESES – RESEARCH
To be successful in SF, a writer must keep up with the technology, the competition and the field. Why are those all so necessary? How do the panelists do that? How does one balance the writing needs with mundane life? What happens if a writer doesn’t keep up? Are the panelists worried about being left behind?

Why I’m excited: Because I get to geek out about research and how my time in grad school and academia shaped the writer I am today!

Saturday: WRITING THE CHANGE: ANTHOLOGY DISCUSSION
An anthology based on SM Stirling’s “Change” series will be released in 2015. Contributors to the anthology (including me!) talk about their stories, what inspired them, what part Stirling played in their creations, the rules to playing in one person’s sandbox without contradicting each other, etc.

Why I’m excited: I get to talk all about my forthcoming story in the anthology along with both the editor and some of the other contributors—a unique opportunity to see how other authors tackled their stories for the anthology.

Sunday: HIGH SCHOOL IS HELL: YA DYSTOPIAS
Why are dystopian futures so popular in the YA market? Are they analogies for how teenaged youths feel about high school? What are some of the good YA dystopian works beyond The Hunger Games and Divergent? Is this sub-genre just a fad or is it here to stay? What might replace it? What’s being done that’s new and different? Has the dystopian theme become a crutch for writers and publishers?

Why I’m excited: Well, it’s no secret that at least half of my published short stories are YA in nature. I’m a big fan of speculative fiction for young adults and look forward to hearing my fellow panelists’ take on the genre.

So mark your calendars and be sure to say hi!

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The Albuquerque Marriott Uptown
2101 Louisiana Blvd NE (Louisiana & I-40)
Albuquerque, NM 87110

Guests of Honor: John G. Hemry and Cherie Priest
Toastmaster: Steven Gould
Guest Artist: Darla Hallmark

http://bubonicon.com/

 

My Writing Process (Lately)

I’m sure you’ve seen this meme floating around the blog-o-sphere lately, and Fran Wilde roped me in tagged me to participate. So here we go!

Photo courtesy of Takashi of Flickr


What am I working on?

What am I not working on should be the question… Let’s see. I have two (soon to be three) short stories in circulation. I have a young adult science fiction novel that I’ve been querying off and on. I’ve drafted another YA SF project that I’m letting rest while plotting out a sparkly new story—the first one of my books that has built-in series potential, which is scary exciting. I’ve also drunk the Kool-Aid and joined Pinterest. I’ve decided to create boards for all my published stories, though I only have two going so far. It’s been a lot of fun!

 

 

Why do I write what I do?

For reasons. Oh, you want a real answer? Well then. It’s fair to say I’ve always wanted to be a writer, even if I wasn’t willing to admit it. I consumed copious amounts of books growing up, but it was usually speculative fiction or romance. Combine that with being a life-long learner, here I am.

I love writing about the unknown and exploring what-if questions in my work. As a fan of action movies and video games, I try to include action-adventure elements in my work. I’m also a romantic at heart, so sometimes that creeps into my stories as well. My background in social science research also informs some of the topics I explore. But at the end of the day, I want to write good words that mean something.

 

How does your writing process work?

My ideas usually start with a scene or situation, and I have to then figure out how that person got to that point and work my way backwards and forwards in time to construct a story around that event. I may do some exploratory writing at this stage or I may not. Once I have my starting point (or at least what I think is my starting point), I start writing. I get maybe ten percent of the way into the novel, then I put on the breaks and start outlining the book. This helps me identify story arcs, acts, and the information that needs to be layered in at the appropriate moment so the book all hangs together. Once I have a full draft, I try to let it sit before it is time to revise revise revise. I’m a chronic underwriter, so usually I have some fleshing out to do at the stage. Then I have a bunch of wonderful people who read for me and tell me what I’m doing wrong. I usually have to revise some more before I’m ready to cross my fingers and send it off into the world.

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Thanks again to Fran Wilde for tagging me in this meme. Her first novel debuts from Tor in 2015. Her short stories have appeared or will appear in Asimov’s, Nature, and Beneath Ceaseless Skies.

 

 

 

 

The Story Behind The Story: Forge and Fledge

Yesterday, the Runaway issue of Crossed Genres Magazine went live, which includes stories by Rachael Acks, Angela Rega, and yours truly!

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If you haven’t yet, you should go read “Forge and Fledge,” a young adult science fiction story about an orphan of Titan desperate to escape life on a hydrocarbon mining rig. No worries, I’ll wait.

I’m so thankful to publishers Kay T. Holt and Bart Leib, as well as editor Kelly Jennings, for selecting my story for inclusion in the issue. Recently, Crossed Genres became a SFWA-qualifying market, and they are running a Kickstarter to keep publishing diverse stories and paying pro rates. If you love speculative fiction that bucks the norm, consider subscribing to the magazine and/or donating to the campaign.

Story spoilers follow:

A while back, I started researching Titan, a moon of Saturn, thinking it would be a great story setting. Originally, I wanted to use it for a novel, but the unique characteristics of Titan, that it’s mostly ice and covered in hydrocarbons, made it difficult to write the story I had already plotted out in my head. I eventually turned to Mars and wrote my novel, but in the back of my mind I kept thinking about Titan.

It’s considered a candidate for human colonization, but there are a lot of technical hurdles to overcome, not least of which is just getting there. Subzero temperatures, a thick atmosphere that exerts a pressure one and a half times that of Earth, and a gravity that’s slightly less that of the Moon’s. But it has plenty of water, nitrogen, and methane, so, as long as you get the engineering right, people could theoretically live there. (This is essentially the TL;DR version of the Wikipedia article: Colonization of Titan.)

And what would be the attraction to colonizing Titan? Why the hydrocarbons, of course (or perhaps the water depending on which post-apocalyptic future scenario you subscribe to). But even if it were possible, I couldn’t see people jumping up and down to live on a frozen iceball. Hence the corporate mining facility and the penal labor force in my story. And my main character Zhen wants nothing more than to get away by any means possible.

Remember the low grav and high atmospheric pressure? Well, it’s been theorized that humans could strap on wings and fly on Titan so long as they didn’t freeze to death first. In fact, this concept was recently featured on io9—propulsion is still an issue, but Zhen’s dive off the rig’s platform, where it hovers over Titan’s surface, would hopefully provide enough momentum for flight. At least that’s my story, and I’m sticking to it.

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Image courtesy of stans_pat_pix of Flickr

 As to submission stats, I only sent this to three markets and lucked out on the third one. I’m so happy it found a home. I hope you enjoy it as well!