For those of you who will also be attending SFContario this November 17-19th, here’s the short and longer versions of my schedule!
For those of you who will also be attending SFContario this November 17-19th, here’s the short and longer versions of my schedule!
I was so pleased this weekend when Lucas K. Law and Susan Forest took home an Aurora Award for Strangers Among Us: Tales of the Underdogs and Outcasts, which includes my story “Tribes” as well as fiction by Gemma Files, Hayden Trenholm, James Alan Gardner and so many other great writers. This was one of the Laksa Media series anthologies, done as a benefit for people with mental health challenges, and I was proud to be included.
Lucas and Susan haven’t rested on their laurels, or even paused for breath: this year they have followed up with The Sum of Us: Tales of the Bonded and Bound, and there will be a launch in Toronto on October 11th, 2017. Here’s a link to the Facebook Event, and here’s the poster:
Many of the authors in the antho will be there, talking about the story behind each of the stories in The Sum of Us: Tales of the Bonded and Bound. As the poster says: Sandra Kasturi, Rahti Mehrotra, Derwin Mak, Melissa Yuan-Innes, Toni Pi, Karen Lowachee and Charlotte Ashley will all be there. And so will I, talking about the Proxy War story series generally, my piece “Bottleneck” in particular, and what a story about a hard-bitten army sergeant is doing in a book of pieces about caregiving and caregivers.
One of the things I’m doing in the first weeks of my MFA program is a top ten list of TV shows, based pretty much on whatever criteria I want, with notes on what makes them interesting. Here’s what I came up with.
W1A –This comedy about the bureaucratic workings of the BBC is something I return to again and again because the dialog has so much verisimilitude and I kept seeing new things within the characters until maybe the 5th or 6th viewing.
Shetland—the vast majority of my current TV viewing originates in the UK and this show, based on a series of Anne Cleeves novels, is my front-running fave. This is the one that would change as soon as I developed a new obsession, but right now Doug Henshall’s Inspector Jimmy Perez and the Shetland Islands settings loom large. The construction of the second season was brilliant.
Quantum Leap—I love time travel. Loooooove it! I came to this years after it aired, when it was in rerun on the Space Channel. Many things about it do not hold up, but Scott Bakula’s performance as Sam Beckett and the compassion he brought to every leap still get me. What’s more, I’ve seen shows that try to copy this format time and time again, only to, in my opinion, fail: Tru Calling and Journeyman are two examples that come to mind.
Farscape–What fascinates me most about Farscape (Boomtown has this too) is that even from the second episode, the characters and situations were established with a confidence and depth that made it seem like they were already in their third season.
Hannibal—There was a time when this would have been too gory and graphic for me, and I realized afterward that my bar had shifted. I like the dark humor in this, the fact that the first season in particular is a meditation on the nature of art and art criticism, as mediated through serial killers creating installations using murdered human bodies. Grim, yes, but effective. Also, as others will no doubt note, Hannibal is slashy AF.
Parks and Recreation– I am not much for sitcoms, but numerous people insisted that if I held on through S1, I’d love this, and they were right. Brilliant casting, good ensemble storytelling, and what I liked most was the attempt to create romantic relationships that lasted rather than building unresolved sexual tension indefinitely, paying off with sex, and then staging a spurious break-up.
Battlestar Galactica—the original. Cheesy and dumb, and doesn’t hold up, but I cannot pretend this was not formative for me: I still write a lot of fiction about genocide and fleets of ships on the move.
Veronica Mars– witty, good mystery construction, compelling characters, and I liked the Nancy Drew + noir mash-up. Most high school based shows falter when their MC goes to college but some interesting things happened in Veronica’s freshman year on this series.
Boomtown– non-linear storytelling, reasonably diverse cast, play with POV, great s1 arc.
Buffy the Vampire Slayer —I caught up with this a few seasons after it initially started airing, and rewatched it all again for Tor.com a couple years ago. It was one of the first shows that had online discussion groups breaking down every episode as soon as it aired, and I had to quit one such group to avoid spoilers. Because I did my rewatch in a fairly public way, it spawned after-the-fact discussion and analysis from many fans. As a side show to the actual show, there’s the ever-fascinating and still current public discussion of Joss Whedon himself. Is he a great writer or a hack? Is he a feminist or not? It’s all interesting.
The better you get at something, the harder it is to improve.
This philosophy–which I’m pretty sure I first encountered in a science fiction novel by Kevin J. Anderson, expressed there as the Law of Diminishing Educational Returns–has borne out with many of the skills I’ve pursued in a less than professional fashion. Yoga, photography, choral singing, and aikido all come to mind. You get to a certain point, and you’re somewhere between not bad and decent, and it’s clear that the amount of time and effort required to get up to impressive is going to ramp up in a big way.
Leveling with aikido is an especially on-point example, because each belt exam comes after a certain number of hours in the dojo, on the mat. That number rises… not exponentially, but significantly as one travels from white belt to yellow and upward.
I also believe that if you aren’t trying to improve, you’re coasting. And what is coasting, really, but a gentle drift downhill?*
I certainly don’t think I’ve stopped striving, as a writer, but I also don’t want to wait until I reach some hypothetical future where I’ve eased up, unknowingly. I’ve gotten very good indeed at a lot of things, and I’m proud of my accomplishments. And I’ve written a couple things lately that feel like new breakthroughs. I love breakthroughs. Getting better is an incredible feeling!
All of which means that now is a great time, for me, to greedily reach for more. And, specifically, to look for some coaching. It’s easy and necessary to cultivate self-sufficiency in this game–to follow your instincts and see where they lead you. But it isn’t a good idea to do that all the time.
To that end–and for a bunch of other reasons besides, most of which I’m betting you can guess–I applied last December to the UBC’s Optional-Residency MFA program for creative writers. (Wow. December. So long ago!) I was accepted in February, or around there, and quietly settled into a state of waiting to start school. This has been rather like existing as a chrysalis: neither caterpillar nor butterfly. Suspended animation.
Well… okay. I’ve been as suspended as one can be when one has books due, classes to teach, a new university bureaucracy to navigate**, and fabulous trips to Finland to first go on and then reminisce about. But I haven’t said anything while I was waiting, waiting, for this exciting new thing to begin.
Now the chrysalis is cracking: I did homework today for my Writing for TV class, and things officially get rolling on September 3rd. I’ll report in, as I’m able… in the meantime, I hope you’ll wish me luck!
*I believe this observation comes from Joan Welsh, but the Internet’s opinion is mixed.
**I’m telling people I’m now in a polyamorous relationship with three universities. Oh, the humanity!
Most of you probably know that The Nature of a Pirate is on the ballot for the Aurora Award this year; voting is open now, and if you’re a member of CSFFA I urge you to get a ballot in, to support your favorite work by Canadian authors, pro and fan (as well as fan organizers, musicians, and visual artists!) working in all our beloved speculative genres.
Winning the Aurora for best novel last year for A Daughter of No Nation, in tandem with Kelly winning Best Short Fiction for her “Waters of Versailles,” was one of the great thrills of a magical year. I am thrilled and blessed to be on the ballot again. And soon we are headed off to Finland, and Worldcon, for even more magic.
As I write these words I am well and truly settled into life in Toronto—it has been four years! But when I embarked on the Hidden Sea Tales trilogy, the question of where my home would be was very much in the air. We were eager to move east, Kelly and I, but couldn’t see a way to do it: there were so many wonderful things and people tying us to Vancouver. I was in the weird lucky position of being somewhere great, yet suspecting that there was someplace even better. When we went it was sudden, and intense—a big leap, not without risk–and I’m so grateful that instinct to jump proved to be the right one.
The old proverb home is where the heart is goes back so far it has been attributed, provisionally, to Pliny the Elder, a first century Roman scholar who really made the best of having Plinius for a middle name. It’s one of those two-edged aphorisms. It can mean home is where any sensible person wants to be, because of their attachment to the comforts and beloved people therein. Or it can mean any old pile of bricks and mortar place will take on the sentimental glow of a home if the ones you love are there.
Both definitions contain within them the idea that a home embodies an ideal of safety, comfort, and affection.
But what if the heart lies in two places?
This may be slightly more of a thing nowadays than it used to be. Our population is more mobile, and it’s not an uncommon phenomenon to have partners and jobs in differing cities. Sometimes people fall in love without having met in person. Sure, people were always being separated by war or work or trade missions—that part’s not new–but communications technology makes staying connected more feasible, so long distance relationships have proliferated in new ways.
I am something of a procedural mystery maniac, and one of my recent obsessions has been a show called Shetland, brought to us by the grace of Netflix and the BBC. It’s set in the Shetland Islands (which Google Maps can confirm is exceeding freaking remote) and while the main hub of the action is the bustling 7500-soul metropolis of Lerwick, there’s an episode that takes place out on Fair Isle, an island with under a hundred people.
For anyone who’s read Child of a Hidden Sea and the rest of the trilogy, it should be no surprise that this hits my sweet spot. Shetland is about a community of interlocked islands and the tiny subculture flourishing there. A big subtextual concern within the show is the idea of home, of place–of living in a locale where your social opportunities and your geography are so very bounded, and where every young person who leaves is an incalculable loss to the community. It’s very nearly a portal fantasy with murder.
One of the things about portal fantasies–a subgenre I absolutely love–is they tend to offer up these neatly bounded sojourns. The heroes of these novels go to the magical enchanted land, as my Sophie Hansa has gone to Stormwrack. They have an adventure, they upset the local balance of power, sometimes they see Aslan die a horrible death… and then they come home. If they have an ongoing relationship with that other world, it is somehow tidy, characterized by intermittent visits. There’s a sort of general assumption that these characters get a taste of magic, achieve character growth, level up… and then get back to the business of living in the real world.
Who could do that?
For Sophie, and to a lesser extent her younger brother Bram, the magical enchanted land is, among other things, a scientific discovery. Stormwrack is a research opportunity, a possible avenue into better understanding the nature of the universe. What’s more, they suspect it may hold answers to questions about our own future in the age of climate change… and since this Narnia’s existence is a secret, nobody but the two of them can truly study it.
The challenge, of course, is is human entanglements. Sophie has, in San Francisco, an up-to-the-minute super modern life whose many technological conveniences are just a backdrop to what really matters: her parents, and when he chooses to be at home, her brother too.
But the longer she stays on Stormwrack, learning about magic and figuring out how to survive an Age of Sail culture and applying her unique skillset to interesting problems for a government that is–very slowly–coming to appreciate them, the more connection she makes there, too. And a lot of those connections come with genetic ties; she gets at least one new family member in every book in the trilogy.
Sophie grew up in San Francisco. She loves San Francisco. She loves telecommunications and streaming video and her parents and driving cars and pop music and cheap electric lights and being able to look up just about any fact known, on the Internet, within the blink of an eye.
But more and more, she also loves her new home, the sailing vessel Nightjar. She loves its crew – its bosun, Sweet, the ship’s doctor, Watts, its first mate, Tonio (whom she sees as brother-in-law material, though Bram hasn’t quite figured that out yet) and most especially she loves its captain, Garland Parrish.
Sophie loves the sense of being around the corner from the next incredible discovery, and the feeling of doing something important, and the self-confidence she found when her homeborn context were taken away from her.
Who could give up Wonderland, Oz, or Narnia for San Francisco? How do you make that big a leap?
In The Nature of a Pirate, finding a true sense of home is a big part of Sophie’s journey. The rest involves a captured human smuggler, a conspiracy to sink some of the great ships of the Fleet of Nations, and – did I forget to mention? – a tiny matter of accidentally having to plan a wedding.
What Sophie finds, ultimately, isn’t tidily bounded. It’s messy. Home may indeed be where the heart is, but our hearts will always be boundless.