“I’m gonna visit Dad.” Matt is curled in the passenger seat of their antique minivan, scowling as offworlders tromp and slither past their front bumper. Shooting a glance at Ruthie through long, pretty eyelashes, he flips down the visor to check the mirror.
“Dad’s dead, Matt. He can’t see your haircut.”
This July Lightspeed Magazine ran my latest squid story, a novelette “The Sweet Spot.” I was a little preoccupied at the time, so though I mentioned it quite a few times, here and on Twitter and elsewhere, I never got around to writing the introduction I promised for it.
This story is set earlier in the Proxy War than any of the other published squid stories. In “The Town on Blighted Sea,” for example, Ruthless Gerrickle is in her late fifties. Here, she’s just a teenager and just Ruth. She likes to think she’s tough as nails, but really she’s an orphan in a war zone, and is more vulnerable than she’d like to admit.
In writing these stories, I often started out with U.S. geography. (Actually, I’ve just realized the topic of geography and my writing is a whole post in itself, and I’ll try not to keep you waiting for it for long.) “Five Good Things about Meghan Sheedy” is about the Siege of Seattle and “Time of the Snake” is set during an occupation of Los Angeles. I have a half-written squid story set in Las Vegas and one out to the markets now that’s about the Fiend push into Texas from Mexico.
The idea, you see, is that in this global civil war there’s one side, called the Fiends, who have a good hold on all of the world except the Americas. Now they’re working their way upward from South to North: the U.S. is the last real holdout against them. So it’s just a march up the map: Seattle, naturally, happens later than Texas. In “The Sweet Spot,” the Fiends haven’t even begun their land invasion of the U.S. yet; they’re just reaching out to pick off Hawaii. And it’s Ruth’s bad luck to be there, along with her little brother.
I’m pleased to announce that my dark fantasy novelette, “The Sorrow Fair“, is available in the Kindle Store for the princely sum of $0.99. The novelette made its original print appearance in 2008, in the now-defunct Helix Speculative Fiction, and was edited by William Sanders and Lawrence Watt-Evans. Here’s a taste:
Gabe tried to push past the child, to hop over the turnstile. She grabbed his forearm with irresistible strength, turning it palm-up and swiping her candy floss over his wrist. The fibers smoked where they touched him: there was a smell of acid and a blister rose on his forearm. Swelling to the size of his fist, the skin mottled and blackened, scorched first into indecipherable patterns and then into something recognizable: a printed rectangular ticket.
“Admit one,” it read.
Setting the candy aside, the Girl Scout pulled out a straight razor.
“Stop,” Gabe objected, but he couldn’t pull free.
My chosen Exquisite Words quote from this past Monday came from Erik Larson’s The Devil in the White City: Murder, Magic, and Madness at the Fair that Changed America, a book that inspired my choice of setting for this story: reading Larson’s book and especially the history surrounding the invention of the Ferris Wheel was what drew me to Chicago, and The World’s Fair, for this.
I don’t remember that much, besides that, about the process of writing “The Sorrow Fair.” It was written right smack in the period when I was going to Alberta for a lot of family funerals, and the story certainly holds a resonance with the sadness that permeated those years.
But it has romantic love and music and all the kinds of weirdness you’ve probably come to expect from me. I was pleased with how it turned out, I still am, and I hope you will be too.
I have been trying to finish up a few non-fiction projects before diving into the next one(s) and the story intros are one of the things have been waiting. I set out to write a little something about those stories of mine that are available online in some format, and now I’ve pretty much finished all of them except for my baby werewolf story, “The Cage.” Saving it for last seemed reasonable, since it’s the piece that appeared most recently. It has only been a year since I wrote it, so it’s far less of a blast from the past than something like “A Key to the Illuminated Heretic.”
But I realized last week that when “The Cage,” made the LOCUS recommended reading list, it also went on what they call the drop-down list for the LOCUS reader’s poll. This probably should have been a no-brainer, since I did once write a fair number of reviews for LOCUS and contribute to that list, but I didn’t make the connection until I bought my tickets for the LOCUS shindig in Seattle in June. There are so many lovely things by people I adore on the drop-down list: M.K. Hobson‘s The Native Star is on there, and so is Chill, by Elizabeth Bear and stories like Cat Rambo’s “Clockwork Fairies.”
But this is a wide-open to all readers kind of poll, and you don’t have to restrict yourself to the drop down list. You can write in books and stories, like–for example–Jessica Wynne Reisman‘s “The Vostrasovitch Clockwork Animal and Traveling Forest Show at the End of the World,” or … hey, tell me about all the great fiction you published last year, folks! You’ll be reminding me about stuff I loved, or at the very least stuff I meant to read and temporarily lost in the pile.
Anyway. “The Cage” began with an anthology invite: my agent knew someone who was doing a book of urban fantasy stories with a specific theme–she’d told ’em I was just the thing, and I got the guidelines not long after that. I started researching March 2, 2010 and had a polished draft in hand by April 5th. But not fast enough: the antho filled. Between one thing and another and with a rewrite in between, it ended up zipping off to Tor.com on June 8th, where it got to be the final story in their urban fantasy spotlight.
As my intros for “What Song the Sirens Sang” and “Faces of Gemini” probably show, I love story assignments that come with a bit of a restriction in them. They push me out of the box, moving me into areas I wouldn’t necessarily have gone on my own. Some of my strongest shorts are the ones I wrote for Mojo: Conjure Stories, Alternate Generals III (v. 3), and The Faery Reel: Tales from the Twilight Realm.
In this case, I merged the less familiar element–home renovation–with my own backyard. I made extensive use of my neighborhood and certain communities within Vancouver in writing “The Cage.” The Britannia Community Center branch of Vancouver Public Library, where the story begins, is just a few blocks from my home in little Italy. It is where I pick up my VPL holds and where I got my blue belt in aikido.
The physical terrain is quite faithfully rendered, in other words.
The community is stickier: people always are. But the story draws on the best of my experiences as an activist in the local feminist and queer communities. Catching us on a fictional best day maybe presents a bit of a rose colored view, but it’s not as though that version of the community doesn’t exist. It does–just not all the time. I believe that humans, in singles and in groups, oscillate in and out of states of perfection. That the statement “Nobody’s perfect” should be amended to “Nobody’s always perfect.”
In “The Cage,” Jude’s alternate family discovers or creates one of those perfect moments–one of those days when everyone’s pitching in and pulling together, when nobody’s too burned out or sick or pissed off or scraping after funds or endlessly chewing after consensus on an irrelevant frippery, at a meeting that’s gone on far too long. It’s Team Good Guys FTW, and Chase, Paige and Jude are the ones who benefit.
All that, and it even has romance!
I wrote “Origin of Species” at almost exactly the same time as I did “Faces of Gemini” (whose intro is here) and the process was very similar: an anthology invitation from editor Jeanne Cavelos became an outline in point form, which in turn became an outline of detailed sentences. These became a bony first draft in need of fleshing. The two stories feel like siblings of a sort, having come together in this fashion.
I cannot remember how I hit upon the idea of taking Annie Darwin’s ghost and putting her in a Van Helsing story. I knew I didn’t want to set the story in the time of Dracula, didn’t want monster-stalking by gaslight: I figured that the anthology would have plenty of those, written well by people who actually know their Victorian history.
I do know I was deeply pleased with the idea as soon as I conceived it; I vaguely remember that I’d just read Annie’s Box: Darwin, His Daughter, and Human Evolution and had it on my mind, and saw that Annie could be put to good use there.
It felt right, in other words, which is no doubt another reason why the story came together so fast.
When I sat down to write this post, it occurred to me that I’d written Faces of Gemini after I started blogging, so I went digging in my old Livejournal entries and found this:
Sept 16, 2003 … the current story, provisionally entitled “Shards.” It’s completed–the first draft was 3,400 words and now after a couple revisions it’s up to 51K. By the time I’ve fleshed out the setting and converted some of the dialogue to narrative (it’s a bit too talky) it’ll probably hit 6K.
Do I care how long it ends up being? No, not really. But I’m interested in the way that my last two drafts have been extremely spare, with much adding in subsequent drafts. It’s a technique I want to play with. Where’s the line between spare draft and ornate outline? Can I find it? Do I want to?
And then on September 29th – I got a story off to market today. It’s called “Faces of Gemini,” it’s 7K words long, and it was originally drafted only two and a half weeks ago.
What I remember about this story is that it was one of two that came up suddenly, under almost exactly the same circumstances. Emily Pohl-Weary was working on the book that became Girls Who Bite Back: Witches, Mutants, Slayers and Freaks, and she had heard that I was a feminist comics nerd (though she put it more tactfully than that) and asked if I wanted in.
I love writing for theme anthologies. For me, a bit of a restriction on what I can write poses a fundamentally sexy challenge. I start with ‘what would fit here?’ and usually slide pretty quickly into ‘what can I get away with?”*
The idea I came up with in this case was very much a prose version of a four-color hero team comic, your X-Men, Justice League of America type of book, one whose founders were falling apart. I remember outlining it in detail, really planning every little shift and revelation. Time was short, and I didn’t want to find myself wandering down any interesting ten thousand word side streets. The outline developed from a group of sticky notes on a wall into a series of twenty sentences, each of which laid out what I wanted to achieve. I then fleshed them out, in record time.
I did almost exactly the same thing with Origin of Species, but I haven’t pulled it off in quite the same way since, despite some attempts. The particular mixture: short deadline, limited space, specific antho requirements, had some kind of alchemical effect that hasn’t come together again. The crucible may have been stress: I wrote both stories at an emotionally challenging point in the life of me.
*Walter Jon Williams, I’ve heard, works from the proposition: What will everyone else do, and how can I go 180 degrees in the other direction?