About Alyx Dellamonica

After twenty-two years in Vancouver, B.C., I've recently moved to Toronto Ontario, where I make my living writing science fiction and fantasy; I also review books and teach writing online at UCLA. I'm a legally married lesbian, a coffee snob, and I wake up at an appallingly early hour.

As the snow flies and the year gutters, I give you The Gales, in chronological order.

A marvelous thing happened this morning: a fan from Newfoundland reached out to tell me that they’d started Child of A Hidden Sea, were enjoying it immensely, and were also thrilled to see fish and brewis make an appearance in the story.

They had also discovered “Losing Heart Among the Tall” and wanted to know about other Stormwrack stories: whether there were any, what they were called, how to find them.

The Gales–the five stories about Gale Feliachild, back when she’s sailing around adventuring with a very young and pretty Garland Parrish, are among those things I often post in bits and pieces, on social media. But it has been awhile since I listed them all in order, as a piece. So, for anyone else who’s curious:

1. “Among the Silvering Herd“, their first adventure, where Garland learns about the curse and Gale accepts that some new blood may be needed aboard the sailing vessel Nightjar.
2. “The Ugly Woman of Castello di Putti,” An old lover, labor unrest, and a conspiracy to release a magically contained volcano.
3. “The Glass Galago,” Gale learns about Garland’s past as the powerful spellwriting lobby seeks to disenfranchise one of the smaller, weaker nations.
4. “Losing Heart Among the Tall,” Discovering a slain mermaid spy sends the Nightjar crew headlong into a conspiracy by the pirate nations to destroy the Fleet of Nations flagship, Temperance.
5. The Boy who Would Not Be Enchanted (available at Beneath Ceaseless Skies). The Allmother of Verdanni wants to control or change the prophesy that Gail Feliachild will one day be murdered.
Like all Tor.com originals, these can be found on the Tor site, free for the reading, or on my pages in the iBooks and Google Play stores.

Ada Hoffman fires the Heroine Question into Space!

Ada Hoffmann is the author of Monsters in My Mind. She has published over 60 speculative short stories and poems in magazines such as Strange Horizons, Asimov’s, and Uncanny. She is a winner of the Friends of the Merrill Collection Short Story Contest and a two-time Rhysling award nominee.

Ada was diagnosed with Asperger syndrome at the age of 13. Her Autistic Book Party review series is devoted to in-depth discussions of autism representation in speculative fiction. You can find her online at http://ada-hoffmann.com/ or on Twitter at @xasymptote

Is there a literary heroine on whom you imprinted as a child? A first love, a person you wanted to become as an adult, a heroic girl or woman you pretended to be on the playground at recess? Who was she?

My parents were careful to keep me supplied with brave, plucky, intelligent female role models as a child – The Paper Bag Princess, Princess Leia Organa, Princess Eilonwy, Lucy Pevensie, Ariel, Nala, Hermione Granger. It was the 90s, and even the Disney princesses were plucky. The woman who comes to mind most, though, was a real woman – the astronaut Julie Payette.
Julie Payette is an engineer, a pilot, a robotics specialist, and was the second Canadian woman in space. This year, she was appointed Canada’s Governor General. It’s a good year for Canadian women who want to go to space.
It’s hard to explain what space meant to me as a small child. There are forms of romanticism that don’t survive adolescence unaltered. There is something wonderful about the idea of blasting off into the unknown, going where no human has gone before. But it was simpler and deeper than that. I grew up on science fiction and fantasy, a literature of infinite possibilies. I knew that Narnia and Tatooine and Middle-Earth weren’t real – but space was. And without space the way I imagined it as a child, without its infinite array of strange new worlds, the Earth simply felt too small.

Can you remember what it was these characters did or what qualities they had that captured your affections and your imagination so strongly?

When I was five or six years old, I told a boy at school that I wanted to be an astronaut. He said, “You can’t do that, you’re a girl.” My parents rebutted that argument by showering me with books about women astronauts – people like Sally Ride and Roberta Bondar. (I don’t remember having a book about Valentina Tereshkova, but I certainly knew of her as well.) They took me to public talks at the local university, one by Bondar, another by Payette.
Both women caught my attention, but Payette was the one who captured my imagination. Bondar had already retired and become an environmentalist. I liked environmentalism just fine, but I knew she was never going back into space. Julie Payette’s space adventures were, at the time, still in front of her.
I must have stuck out, an eight-year-old child in a sea of college students, but I don’t remember feeling self-conscious. I do remember the signed picture of Julie Payette that my dad got for me, with my name on it. “Ad Astra!” it said. That picture stayed on my bedroom wall right up until I moved out.

How does she compare to the female characters in your work? Is she their literary ancestor? Do they rebel against all she stands for? What might your creations owe her?

My female characters are really not much like Julie Payette, and it’s because of what happened after I was a child.
In junior high school, I stopped wanting to go to space. I was old enough to understand that modern space travel – cramped, crowded, physically and mentally grueling, and stuck in Earth orbit – was not what I’d thought. I was also old enough to know I could never be an astronaut. I had a bad autistic burnout in junior high school. I could barely attend class or make friends; my parents despaired that I’d ever be able to live independently, let alone train for space travel. I lost that dream, not because I was a woman, but because of my disability. It was one of many things I lost.
Most of the female characters in Monsters in My Mind, even the child characters, have more to do with my adolescent self than my childhood. They’re lonely; they’re struggling. They’re in danger in ways they can sense but cannot fully understand. They make bad choices. They hurt other people. They experience shame. They are, in some cases, literally monsters.
In many stories, though, they get what they want. In some, they’re happy.
And in one story, “Moon Laws, Dream Laws,” an autistic woman goes to space – although the result is not what she or her wife anticipated.
My story doesn’t have a sad ending, after all, and it’s because of my writing that it doesn’t. I had been writing little stories my whole life, but it took years to really work out what that meant. To understand that there were other worlds to go to, after all; worlds that had been there all along. Worlds of the unknown, worlds of infinite possibility. Worlds inside me.

How do you feel about the word heroine? When I started talking to people about writing these posts, I am specifically looking for female authors’ female influences, whether those women they looked up to were other writers or Anne of Green Gables. Does the word heroine have a purpose that isn’t served by equally well by hero?

It’s a useful word. I grew up believing that women could do anything; I barely remembered the boy who told me otherwise. But I was able to do that because I had access to so many women role models. Their practical example was more important than any words. The word “heroine” calls attention to women heroes, and by doing so, it benefits the people – like me – who need them.

About this post: The Heroine Question is my name for a series of short interviews with (usually) female writers about their favorite characters and literary influences. Clicking the link will allow you to browse all the other interviews, with awesome people like Faith Mudge, Stephanie Burgis, and S.B. Divya . If you prefer something more in the way of an actual index, it’s here.

Kari Maaren sneaks extra (moral!) fiber into the Heroine Question

Kari Maaren is  is a writer, cartoonist, musician, and university English instructor who lives in Toronto, Canada. She has just published her first novel,  Weave a Circle Round, an old-fashioned kids’ fantasy adventure. If you challenge her to a duel, she will choose a ukulele as her weapon, or possibly an accordion if she really has it out for you.

Her website is here and she is on Twitter as @angrykem.

Is there a literary heroine on whom you imprinted as a child? A first love, a person you wanted to become as an adult, a heroic girl or woman you pretended to be on the playground at recess? Who was she?

I want to say Meg Murry, but I know she’s been covered pretty thoroughly by other people. I’m still going to sneak Meg into my answers because I just can’t help it. However, for my main answer, I’ll go for Elizabeth from Robert Munsch’s The Paper Bag Princess. I was obsessed with Elizabeth when I was little. I can still quote sections of the book.

Can you remember what it was these characters did or what qualities they had that captured your affections and your imagination so strongly?

Elizabeth is the complete opposite of me. She’s girly enough to moon openly over a boy, but as soon as her One True Love is kidnapped by a dragon, she just hops into that paper bag and sets out to rescue him. I stopped being brave enough to tell boys I liked them after one of my friends made it clear to me, when we were both about nine, that I wasn’t pretty enough to do that. If a dragon burned down everything I owned and kidnapped my (secret) One True Love, I would probably go to pieces. Elizabeth was a girl who could get things done. As well, my middle name is Elizabeth, so when I was younger, I sort of saw Munsch’s Elizabeth as my secret identity. Maybe Kari would never have been able to do those things, but Elizabeth could. I also identified strongly with the end of the story, when Ronald rejected Elizabeth because she was dirty and dressed in a paper bag, and she called him a bum and waltzed off into the sunset alone. A lot of the other stories I heard at that age told me the girl was supposed to marry the boy and live happily ever after. Elizabeth could live happily ever after without marrying the boy. I wanted to be her so badly.

Sneaky Meg note: Meg is much more flawed than Elizabeth, which is why I love her. I don’t think I’ll ever forget that Meg saves the day not with her strengths but with her faults.

Sneaky Alyx Response: I loved that about her too!

How does she compare to the female characters in your work? Is she their literary ancestor? Do they rebel against all she stands for? What might your creations owe her?

Weave a Circle Round’s protagonist, Freddy, starts off as more of a Meg than an Elizabeth. She’s singularly immature at the beginning of the novel, and while her faults aren’t the same as Meg’s, they’re just as pronounced. She’s very unlike Elizabeth in that she has to grow into her own competence. Elizabeth has an arc, but because the book is so short, her development happens very quickly. She goes from a princessy princess in love with Ronald to a paper-bag-wearing badass capable of tricking a dragon in the blink of an eye. Freddy starts as a social coward in denial about just about everything, and when she finds herself in a bad situation, she doesn’t snap immediately into Bravery Mode; she has to work at it. I still love Elizabeth, but she’s a wish-fulfilment fantasy. That isn’t a criticism—we need our wish-fulfilment fantasies—but I find that my characters tend to muddle through their adventures instead of facing them head on.

Sneaky Meg note: Meg’s faults will, I suspect, reverberate through everything I’ll ever write. Freddy doesn’t use her faults to save the universe, but they’re also firmly part of her, not superficial elements that are cast aside when she grows up a bit. As I tell my students a lot, there’s a difference between a “strong character” and a “strong person.” Strong characters can be weak people. In fact, many of the best stories are about weak people struggling against their own weaknesses.

How do you feel about the word heroine? When I started talking to people about writing these posts, I am specifically looking for female authors’ female influences, whether those women they looked up to were other writers or Anne of Green Gables. Does the word heroine have a purpose that isn’t served by equally well by hero?

I like the word “heroine.” Yes, it’s rooted in the word “hero” and can be seen as redundant, but the problem is that when we collapse the terms, we still treat the male hero as the norm and the female hero as a deviation from the norm. The term “male hero” seems redundant; the term “female hero” doesn’t. Therefore, when we speak of “female heroes,” we often mean women who fit the male heroic standard, not women who fit some gender-neutral heroic standard. The word “heroine” acknowledges that women can be heroic—in the literary or the broader sense—without necessarily conforming to a model regarded as inherently male.

I study and teach fairy tales. My course has a unit on heroes and a unit on heroines. The students tend to go into the course assuming that the heroes will be handsome princes and the heroines passive princesses awaiting rescue. What they learn is that while there are certainly plenty of passive princesses, they tend to have been made that way by writers such as Charles Perrault and the Brothers Grimm. There are many “Cinderella”-like stories in which Cinderella doesn’t just sit around and moan because she can’t go to the ball. Fairy-tale girls go out into the world to seek their fortunes just as often as fairy-tale boys, and both boys’ stories and girls’ stories frequently culminate in marriage (not love but the economic transaction of marriage, via which both boys and girls can rise in the world). At the same time, the handsome princes the students are expecting tend to appear only as simple reward figures in female-centred stories, while the “heroes” unit is full of tricksters. “Hero” and “heroine” are both words with rich histories, and they’re more complex than a lot of people know. Getting rid of “heroine” because everyone assumes it’s a lesser, demeaning category does a disservice to the spinning women who used to sit around weaving tales about clever girls using magical women’s implements—spindles, carding combs, spinning wheels, needles, even laundry—to complete their quests. The sword is not the only weapon out there.

About this post: The Heroine Question is my name for a series of short interviews with (usually) female writers about their favorite characters and literary influences. Clicking the link will allow you to browse all the other interviews, with awesome people like Faith Mudge, Stephanie Burgis, and S.B. Divya . If you prefer something more in the way of an actual index, it’s here.

My cats just lived their own horror movie

According to my app which counts all the things, it has been 1283 days since we adopted Lorenzo and Chinchilla, i.e. kidnapped them from their feral life in backyard Etobicoke and conveyed them to the lap of luxury. Here’s a pic of them from that day, snuggling on the bathroom rug.

The kids are a joy. Unlike our two previous cat pairs, they like each other. We’re very invested in this: this very  morning Kelly shot video of them washing each others’ faces adorably. Buddha and Obiwan existed in a state of perpetual low-grade truce. Rumble bullied Minnow on a regular basis. These guys wash each others’ faces! Oh. Em. Whee!

And, as you may know, we spoil them heckin’ rotten. Sometimes Kelly and I refer to our lovely windows, which look out on our birch trees and the building courtyard, as CatTV. By this we mean she turns on CatTV every morning, before we leave for work,  by setting out feed for sparrows. Generally speaking a good time is had by all.

Anyway. Today CatTV got tuned to the Holy Shit Orange Cat is Back Network.

The kids get excited and periodically stroppy about all sorts of the things on the fishbowl side of their universe. Squirrels. Our newest chipmunk friend. Raccoons. They have been known to fling themselves at the sparrows.  They’ve even gotten into some through the glass growl-ups with orange cat before. No big, right? That’s entertainment.

Except today Orange Cat was hurling himself right back at them. All three cats ended up in the same square meter of space, with glass separating my babies from the interloper, and all three of them helicoptering each of their four limbs mightily. Which meant that Orange Cat bounced, and CinCin and Lozo got into a second’s worth of fur-flying hard-core yowling panic-driven battle. Three times, because Orange Cat bounces back.

Were they freaked out? Holy crap were they freaked.

Lozo peed. CinCin pooped. They both came away from the encounter 100% convinced that Orange Cat had got into the house, adopted the guise of their sibling, and was even now plotting the downfall of the regime. She growled. He yowled. Both of them with tails puffed out and an overall attitude of  Kill, Kill, Kill.

Holy shit, Orange Cat, you broke my kids! I spent the afternoon trying to chill them the fuck out: keeping them separated, vaccuming (as a way of giving them a common enemy, which worked a little, for awhile) and eventually giving CinCin a huge-ass time-out in the bathroom.

So that was my day, complete with cleaning body fluids off the living room floor. It was better than their day, but not by much.


Friends don’t let friends edit their workshop partners… and the seven reasons why

photo by Kelly Robson

Here is the kind of paragraph I absolutely love to see when one of my students is critiquing another:

Your writing has some grammatical errors. I saw some confusion between it and it’s, and several comma splices. You might want to look into subject-verb agreement too. I’ve included some great and thoroughly unimpeachable links about these rules.

The reason I love this–especially if it’s tucked in at the end of a critique, after all of the substantial issues within the manuscript have been addressed–is it means the person doing the critique has learned that it is a misguided use of time if they copyedit* their classmates‘ manuscripts.

The urge to edit in a peer workshop is a powerful one. There is no greater joy than marking up someone else’s manuscript. Track changes options in word processing software make it easy and, to be honest, it’s fun. Providing a marked-up manuscript to a classmate shows an intense time commitment, usually earns some gratitude, and gives the reader a chance to directly share their own (possibly hard-learned) writing lessons.

So why am I arguing it is a bad use of resources?

Workshop submissions should always assumed to be early drafts. What’s important in a draft stage is to get the story out, and some writers cannot get out the words if they are worrying about the commas. Some members of your workshop might be perfectly capable of fixing up their grammar in later drafts, but are submitting 10 minutes before the workshop’s drop dead deadline. The reader can’t know if either of these things is the case. You could be driving someone into a panic without meaning to.

Almost no one in a student workshop is an actual copy editor. You’re fixing the errors you can see. A copy editor, who will ideally go through the manuscript in the latter stages of production, after even the savviest author and editor have polished it to a shine, can still find and address errors 90% of us won’t even dream of. Think of the movie ads that say: professional driver, closed course. Don’t try to drive the copy-editor’s race car.

Some participants may actually alter things that are correct and make them wrong. Unless the instructor checks every alteration in every edited manuscript, there’s no guarantee that someone isn’t teaching you bad grammar. Remember, there’s nothing to stop that person with the its/it’s problem from marking up your doc!

Copy-editing actually reduces the chance some people will learn the lesson. Look at the paragraph I love, above. If you tell someone they need to learn subject verb agreement, they have to go find out what the hell that is. If you just go and fix their sentences for them, all they have to do is hit Accept Change and go on making the same mistake in the next draft.

Copy-editing reduces the chance that you’ll learn something. All that time you spend changing mistakes that the author might know how to fix themselves (and possibly also mistakes they’re making deliberately as a style choice) is time you could’ve spent practicing your substantive editing skillset. That is to say: reading the manuscript more closely for big-picture strengths and weaknesses within characterization, plot, structure, setting detail, good images, not so good images, and clear thematic content.

Balance and positivity: Most workshops encourage readers to strive for a mix of positive and negative commentary in critique, so that the author knows both what they’re doing right and where they need to improve a story or novel. A document full of typo corrections and grammar notations is, by definition, a litany of negative notes. There is almost nobody who out there takes the time to mark up a manuscript while paying equal attention to the writer’s good sentences, clever ideas, nice character nuances, and brilliant turns of phrase.

Accountability: In a face to face workshop, you have to look the author in the eye as you deliver your opinion of their work. In an online workshop, your critique post has the same effect: whatever you say is out in the clear, where you’re responsible for it—and where the other members of the workshop can debate whether they agree or disagree with your points. If you say “I was confused by X,” another reader has the opportunity to say “I thought it was crystal clear and here’s why.”

The comments you append to an annotated manuscript aren’t public fodder, not really. Even if they’re available to the rest of the group, 99% of the time nobody but the author is going to read them. You’re taking a portion of your critique and tucking it out of sight, where it can’t be discussed.

Highest and best use of time: In a student workshop you should be aiming to try to achieve two amazing things with each and every critique. One is to give your classmate the best substantial reading you possibly can. The second is becoming a better reader and writer by formulating that outstanding critique. By reading deeply, digging below the surface (which is where the grammar lives) you sharpen your own sense of story. Every second you spend polishing the buttons and shoelaces, the commas and semicolons, is one you spend depriving both yourself and the submission’s author of deeper insights.

It is not always the case that the best and most thorough readers in my class are also the best writers. But there is a strong correlation. The better someone is at critting, usually, the better they are at craft.

Grammar can be a dodge: If a story is particularly difficult to critique—which happens both with the very problematic stories and the ones that are so good they seem done!—picking at the rules of language may even be a way of letting yourself off the hook. It’s hard to read and crit a great story. It’s incredibly tough to shine the way forward for someone who’s just beginning. If you’re copy editing their piece, are you really just writing yourself a pass to not wrack your brains about how to make the ostensibly great story incandescent? Or the apparently broken piece just one doable step closer to viable?

Give it some thought.

Finally, and in case you’re wondering, I’m not saying don’t critique the author’s writing style.** “It’s ungrammatical and hard to read” is a valid part of any prose critique… but it isn’t the whole story, and probably shouldn’t be all you have to say on the subject of their line by line writing.

All writers have to learn grammar. It’s okay to tell someone you think they’re falling down on this part of the job. Make the note, pull out a few offending sentences, offer some how-to links if you like… and then dig deeper. It’s tougher, but it’ll vault your whole workshop forward, and take your own writing with it.


*Most new writers don’t necessarily distinguish well between line editing and copy editing. I don’t particularly want my students line-editing each other in a separate document either, and I’ll talk about why at length sometime, but the tl;dr meat of it is in the Accountability item, above.

**I’m also not saying that instructors shouldn’t do some document editing, or that peer workshops between pros might not agree that this is useful.