Last Saturday Kelly and I climbed out of bed at the appalling-to-most hour of five in the morning and vroomed via rental car to Seattle for the Locus Awards. It was a leisurely drive; we stopped at the Rustic Cafe in Fairhaven because I remembered they had tasty, small biscotti. Wireless, too! Alas, the coffee was only so-so. We hit a Fred Meyer for Luna Bars and still reached the hotel, a Marriott of some order or another, in time for the first panel at ten.
This was my first Locus Awards, and I gather they used to be quite small affairs, but what they have evolved into lately is a delightfully intimate little one-day con. The vibe was World Fantasy-esque, very pleasant and low key, with lots of shop talk. The first panel was about research and had Connie Willis, Walter John Williams, Ursula K. Le Guin, and Nancy Kress on it; the second was called “Ten Mistakes a Writer Should Not Make” and featured editors Gardner Dozois, Eileen Gunn, Beth Meacham and Jeremy Lassen. Both were moderated by Gary K. Wolfe, who reviews for the mag (as I myself did at one time, actually. It seems like a long time ago, now.)
Ursula K. Le Guin, pondering research:
There was an autograph session and then the awards banquet itself. I always enjoy it when Connie Willis hosts, and she was hilarious as usual… except, of course, when talking about Charles Brown being gone. This was the first awards ceremony since he’s died; it hadn’t sunk in, really. Ouch.
I saw so many people. Some I’ve known for years, some I know slightly (and now know better) and, of course, people I consider friends whom I’ve only ever met online. I tried to tell calendula-witch I was sure we’d hung out, only to realize I had seen her pic, many times, on Jay’s blog. I got to have a nice long convo with Michael Bishop, who reprinted my “Cooking Creole” last year in Passing for Human; we’d met before, but only glancingly. I hereby nominate him for the Best Smile in the History of Ever Award:
There was some precious stolen time with Nicola Griffith and Kelley Eskridge, and a few minutes with Eileen Gunn. I got to tell Nancy Kress, who I’ve long admired, what it’s like to teach “To Cuddle Amy” in my UCLA class “Creating Universes, Building Worlds.”
Two big highlights were meeting some of the folks from this year’s Clarion West class, who were in attendance after a week with Michael. They’re keen, bright-eyed, engaged, visibly bonded and entirely adorable! Second, Kelly and I lured Maureen McHugh out to a slow, pleasant and thoroughly delicious meal at Serafina.
Maureen is close to Snuffy. I’ve read her blog, off and on, for years. I reviewed Mission Child for SciFi, back when it first came out in hardcover, and we’ve Tweeted at each other once or twice. When we invited her out my thoughts, essentially, were: Look! Fellow writer! Who knows Snuffy and seems really nice! And then we were sitting by Lake Union, taking in the sun and the boats while waiting for the restaurant to open, and it sank in: by the holy Bleeding Elvis, I am out for dinner with the author of China Mountain Zhang! I’m so a fan of hers! Even though I was too tired and hungry to make sense of the Serafina menu, or to count to four on my fingers, I knew bits of trivia about her life and family, and babbled worshipfully about the dirt on the Mission Child planet. (No, seriously. Extremely cool dirt.) And she didn’t even run screaming into the day yelling, “Eeek, stalker!”
We get to hang with our gods in this subculture; it’s so gratifying.
So much of my knowledge seems to come from the Twitterverse these days: I was flipping through the tabs on my browser yesterday when a SFWA tweet caught my eye. It had my name on it, and Cory Doctorow‘s and when I hit the link it gave me the happy news that Indigo Springs (and books by Cory, and Charles de Lint, and Karl Schroeder, and Robert Charles Wilson) are up for the Sunburst Award in the adult category.
Congratulatory messages started coming in about twenty seconds later. I’ve tried to answer them all; if I missed you somehow, thank you! I am excited, thrilled, and frankly boggled to be on any list with these guys. A laundry list would be amazing–though, admittedly, weird. A short list? Wow.
I feel awash in good things at the moment, actually. I’m taking it as a memo from the Universe, to the effect that good things, like crappy ones, sometimes come in bunches. Response to the first Journey interview, with Louise Marley, has been very positive and pleasing, for example, and I am lining up the next interview even now. Moving to the realm of personal satisfaction with the whole writing process, I have been working this week on what I expect to be the final edit (before it goes off to the agent, that is) of Daughters of Zeus … and I am sincerely pleased with it. It’s gone from the scabby feral draft stage to something quite limber and pleasing.
And while my cup is runnething over, I’d also like to announce that my urban fantasy novelette, “The Cage,” will be appearing on Tor.com next month as part of their Urban Fantasy spotlight. This was a thoroughly fun story to write and I hope you all enjoy it. Badger and Snuffy were kind enough to read an early draft of the piece–thank you both!
Louise Marley’s first novel, Sing the Light, was published in 1995, and was followed by two sequels, Sing the Warmth and Receive the Gift. She blogs at The Red Room.
I had the good fortune to discover her writing just after that, when I reviewed her astounding feminist SF novel The Terrorists of Irustan, which came out in 1999, for Scifi.com. After that, I jumped at the chance to read her other books. I said this about The Glass Harmonica in 2001:
The Glass Harmonica is a novel that will haunt readers long after they have moved on to less complex fare. . . it leaves me torn between the desire to reread immediately and the hunger for Marley’s next outing.
My feelings on that subject haven’t changed: Marley’s work is lyrical, deep and interesting and I can’t get enough of her.
At one time a singer with the Seattle Opera, she had a foot in two worlds for a number of years before retiring from music to write fulltime. I started our interview by asking about the shape of her life now, and got this response:
Like you, I live in the beautiful Pacific Northwest, and a lot of the time it feels like the rainforest. I don’t sing professionally anymore, but I still love to do that, as well as practice yoga, play golf, and spend time with my Scottie. I teach for the Long Ridge Writers Group, and I write. It doesn’t seem like too much activity, but I’m always busy!
As I write this, I’m celebrating the publication of Mozart’s Blood (, which is officially out tomorrow, June 29th. This is a book that was perhaps the most fun to write of all my dozen novels. It covers four hundred years of history and music, and features a reluctant vampire who just happens to be an opera singer. I did research in Milan and in New York (touring the opera houses in those cities, and had a wonderful time with all of it. Now I’m at work on a similar book which features Brahms. Not vampire, but certainly paranormal. There will be three of these–the third will be either Puccini or Verdi. Detect a theme?
We use to say, in the world of singing, that if you could do something else you should go do it. I’ve had the experience twice now of a real compulsion to do something. I knew I wanted to sing at the age of five, and I never wavered. When the urge to write overtook me, I didn’t try to resist at all, although I didn’t expect to make a career out of it. I thought I needed a hobby! (I can hear you laughing, Alyx. Stop it.) It was when I was reading my first book aloud to my first writing class, and getting a positive response, that I realized writing was a great deal like singing: it’s a performance. I was hooked, and I’ve stayed that way.
I was always an science fiction and fantasy reader. I cut my teeth, as it were, on the Oz books–all eight of them, or whatever there were–and then graduated to Marion Zimmer Bradley’s Darkover novels. I read everything I could get my hands on, like so many folks in our genre. I love fantasy and science fiction and all its little offshoots. The genre is drama at its most dramatic–a bit like opera, don’t you think?
I attended Clarion West in 1993, and it’s not putting too fine a point on it to say that in terms of my writing career, it was life changing. I had been studying writing, taking courses, meeting with a writer’s group, but the six weeks of Clarion crystallized everything for me. My class was a bit of a difficult one, I think, and a number of the attendees aren’t writing now. I can assure you no one that year thought that I would be the one to sell a bunch of novels. But everything I heard there, and the input from my classmates, made all the difference in my work. They were so talented! It’s a shame that some of them haven’t kept writing.
Sing the Light was in revision with my agent when I went to Clarion. I had just found him–as in just before the workshop began–but he made me rewrite three times before he thought the novel was ready to sell. Then he placed it in two weeks. Won my undying admiration!
For a while, after I retired from my musical endeavors, I just wrote. Now I teach as well, but I worry that some of my writing energy gets spent teaching. I’m sure that’s a concern for all writers. I’ve been able to keep up my output, so far, and I love teaching, so I suppose I’ll continue. The dream of an uninterrupted writing day is still that–a dream. I tend to have complicated days in which I do housework, walk the dog, take a yoga class or play golf, cook, teach–and somewhere in there I write. The one consistency is that I write every day, whether it’s half an hour or four hours. Every day.
I’ve had the same struggle in publishing that I did in my singing career: It’s hard for me to be businesslike about it. I loved singing so much! There was nothing more fun than putting on a long dress and my big earrings and going to stand in front of an orchestra. I adored the opera, the staging rehearsals, the collegiality, the costumes–all of it. It was hard to care whether the fee was a thousand dollars or a hundred dollars. I just loved doing it. Now, as a writer, I’m tempted down the same path. I love writing. I love creating a world, whether it’s a fantastical one or a science fictional one or a historical one. I adore learning what make characters tick (resonates with all those opera roles) and I invariably fall in love with the best ones. I’m incredibly fortunate to get paid for doing something so satisfying.
Naturally, human beings always want more. I’d like more success, and the money and security that come along with it. But I’m delighted to be a working writer, to be active in the business, to have editors recognize my name, and most of all–above everything else–to have acquired a readership. An audience. Bless their hearts, every single one of them!
Readers curious about Mozart’s Blood can find out more at Louise’s web site–the section about the novel features not only a Virtual Book Tour, musical suggestions, a list of ten discussion questions for book clubs. It also has a Book Club Party Kit, with suggestions for menus, costumes, music, and decorations! You can find her Facebook Fan page by searching for Louise Marley.
Some of you probably remember that I used to do a lot of book reviewing, for LOCUS, the site formerly known as SCIFI.COM, for the Internet Review of SF and Strange Horizons too. I have been doing quite a bit less of that lately. The reasons why aren’t that compelling, and I won’t go into them; they’re about time, and teaching, and a dozen other random things. At the same time, you’ve maybe noticed the range of books I’m talking about in my blog has expanded, to include the history books I hoover up like popcorn, the pop science and the mystery novels.
I have been wanting to get back into reviewing in a more structured way, while giving myself the freedom to pick books I want to read, about things I’m passionate about.
As I’ve been mulling over exactly how I want to do that, I’ve noticed a real hunger in the newer writers I teach, to understand the process by which unpublished writers develop into people with careers in publishing. I want to develop at least a partial answer to that question, for them and also to satisfy my own curiosity. Eventually I decided to marry these two goals–reviewing the books and finding out about the people who produce them–by doing a series of interviews called Journeys.
In Journeys, I am asking writers what got them started, and how long it took. I’m asking about the great revelatory moments in their development–not to mention the stumbling blocks. I’m asking about their upcoming books (which I will read and review, you see), their lives, their adventures in publishing, and anything else they might want to share about the road from newbie to seasoned pro.
I haven’t done much interviewing in years, not since my college newspaperman days, and I expect to stumble a few times before really getting this down. I’m glad to report that this hasn’t kept a number of writers from agreeing to be my test subjects. As a result, you can look forward to the first Journeys interview, with Louise Marley, in (at most!) a few days’ time. Louise has a historical novel about opera and vampires, Mozart’s Blood, coming out from Kensington Books tomorrow. She’s a great writer, I’ve been following her work avidly for over ten years and I’m really excited about talking to her here.
I want to write a witty, erudite and thoroughly name-droppy post about my trip to the LOCUS Awards in Seattle yesterday, but I’m too travel-zoned to manage it right now. It was a lovely occasion and I do look forward to telling you all about it. In the meantime, here are two shots from the walk home today–K and I dropped off the rental car, had lunch, and then she went in to work and I had a much-needed stride along the Seawall.
With the naked eye, I couldn’t make out whether this was a seal or an otter, but as you can see it’s the former.
This, meanwhile, may be my best heron shot ever:
Though this birds-eye-view angle of him is pretty cool too, if I do say so: