Saturday, July 26, 2014

Clarion West Write-a-Thon

There is one week left of my first ever ClarionWrite-a-Thon! I chose to participate in this fundraiser for a few important reasons I’d like to share:

First, I believe in the power of story, particularly stories that stretch the limits of our world. I recently made a list of some of my favorite literature of all time and was not surprised to find many titles that could fall under the umbrella of “speculative fiction”.  JK Rowling, Jeanette Winterson, Arundhati Roy, Maxine Hong Kingston, Virginia Woolf, William Shakespeare, Ellen Kushner, Phillip Pullman, Rudolfo Anaya, John Crowley, Isabel Allende, and so many more of the world’s great writers, play with magic and science in their stories. Clarion West is an organization that fuels this kind of work and I’m honored to support them in whatever way I can.

Secondly, Clarion West is located in Seattle. As a result, many great teachers and writers come through our little corner of the planet. Selfishly, I’d like that to continue.

Thirdly, I’ve directly benefitted from Clarion West’s work when I attended a full day writing workshop with John Crowley last May. He’s one of my heroes and I was terribly nervous, but the workshop proved welcoming and inspiring. As a result, I have great confidence in Clarion to put together professional and worthwhile educational opportunities for writers.

Lastly, the money raised from this Write-a-thon will help fund scholarships for writers who wouldn’t otherwise be able to attend workshops with Clarion. We all know that writers (and artists in general) are rarely compensated well for their work, so I think it’s pretty damn important to open as many doors as possible and work to keep them open. 

And so…. I’m happy to report that as of last night, I’ve hit both of my Write-a-Thon goals!!

-First, to have at least 10 donors sponsor me in support of Clarion West (I got 15!).

-Second, to finish revisions on my WIP.
“Finishing revisions” is a vague goal, and I confess, I have a LOT more that I want to do with my WIP before it’s ready to be shared, but I did work hard this month to get through the full manuscript at least once. I’ll now go back to the beginning and dive in again.

THANK YOU to all my awesome and inspiring sponsors. You are the BEST. As a little reward, here’s a sneak peak of Drift. This is another one of the interludes that appear between chapters and I wrote it this month as part of the Write-a-Thon. (The other is posted on my Clarion Write-a-Thon profile.) Thanks again and love to all!

Near Lynton:
Low Tide

Tides in the northwest can be extreme. Twice a year the waters recede so far they reveal an excess of life’s abundance and death’s carnage. An influx of hungry water fowl and curious children descend on the beaches then, further adding to the diversity of specimen collected there.
For visitors seeking a quieter low tide experience, there is one stretch of beach, wide and wild, that can only be accessed via a lengthy hike through the rainforest. The trail is well maintained, but treacherous and slippery in the rain, and though there are many visitors in the dry months, a late spring visit might find the shore all but abandoned by humans. Deer will be there, walking nimbly among the stones. Raccoons will wash their hands in the salt water pools. Otters will play in the gentle waves. Sea lions will bellow from the rocks a quarter mile offshore. 
If you’re unlucky, you may find the body of a juvenile grey whale, washed ashore, collapsing. If the wind shifts, you might smell the carcass of other deceased things and you’ll wonder if you came at the wrong time. 
Look up. You’ll witness new eagles practicing their flight, and when the tide is at its lowest, you’ll risk a visit to the far side of the largest seastack. You’ll scramble on slippery volcanic rock, your heart pounding. Careful, if you fall, no one will find you. Reaching the oceanside of the former island, you’ll sit on a flat bit of stone and stare out at the vast grey and white of the Pacific.
You’ll try to catch your breath, but it will have left you, slipping already into the caverns at your back, the dark and glorious places you’re about to find.

Tuesday, June 3, 2014

My Writing Process Blog Tour

My Writing Process Blog Tour has been sweeping around the web and today I’m pleased to join the party. Many writers have been weighing in by answering four simple questions and it’s been lovely to learn about so many projects, people, and ways of being a writer. For more information please check out #MyWritingProcess on Twitter.

First, many thanks to Darian Lindle for tagging me and thus forcing me to pause and reflect. Darian and I first met as interns as the Seattle Repertory Theater just after college. Since then we’ve discovered that we have much the same taste in film, parenting, all things Joss Wheedon, and the writerly work of world building. Darian writes for theater and just completed her first novel with her sister Lola. I'm honored to report that I recently beta-read this debut novel and thoroughly enjoyed the experience. And since it was a romance novel... it was particularly…er… fun to read. 

What Am I Working On?

DRIFT, a love story set in the Pacific Northwest. The story centers on Valerie and Elian who have spent their childhoods together exploring their local shoreline, finding connection through their psychic gifts, and falling in young love. As they grow up and move away from home, life circumstances begin to pull and tear at their relationship until they must face the devastating limits of their powers and love.

DRIFT is a paranormal love story set in a small coastal town in Washington state (think psychic Dawson's Creek in the PNW... with ghost stories). This manuscript is complete at 66,000 words and is currently being revised.

Why Do I Write What I Write?

Well, because something inside me says “this one, this story”. I don’t know how else to put it. I keep a long list of project possibilities, but ultimately one jumps out and needs my time.

At root, I care about writing stories that will matter to someone, perhaps make the work of life a bit easier. I hope to inspire, to lift, to lighten when I can. I don’t mean that my work is particularly laugh-out-loud funny (though I do hope it sometimes produces a chuckle). I often write about what is hard but ultimately worth doing anyway. Like love. Or family. Or friendship and forgiveness. Or teaching. I also tend to write in ways that I hope challenge some of mainstream America’s expectations about gender and identity. I care about so many issues, and I believe that art and story help us better ourselves and make sense of the mad beauty around us.

How does my work differ from others of its genre?
Actually, Darian has helped me to think more about this. She once noted that my work is often based in a kind of ‘place magic’. I think I agree. Not in a woo-woo way necessarily (though I like to think that writing is much like witchcraft), just in the sense that I do believe our feelings are often tied to environment and our perceptions of that environment. DRIFT is as much about the Pacific Northwest as it is about my characters. A grey beach at dawn, a small dark place beneath a forest fern, the inside of a child’s cubby, a century old door that’s been painted shut… those are the kinds of things that make me want to write and read. I think DRIFT has place magic. But to be clear, I think plenty of other books do too. Perhaps what makes my work different is the particular time and place I aim to capture and build. This particular world.

How does my writing process work?

With the support of my loving partner, I left my teaching job last year and spent the last several months writing DRIFT in coffee shops and cafes around Seattle. I’ve never written so much or so often and, in short, it’s been glorious. I wish I could grant this time to so many of my dearest artist friends and family. We need more ways to give human beings the time to dream... I often feel like the elephant in the room is how the hell people find ways to write & create art when they have to pay bills and survive…but I digress. (Get on that Kickstarter ya’ll!)

I carry my office in a small backpack and have about half a dozen coffee shops that I visit regularly. I usually write in the morning, facing a window, sipping a mocha, and listening to instrumental music. For DRIFT, I mostly listen to Nils Frahm. Each day I write about 500-1000 words and then spend the rest of the day volunteering, parenting, taking care of myself, networking, or brainstorming and thinking.

Writing is exciting and draining work for me. I need lots of time that isn’t in front of the page or screen to sort out my ideas and to breathe. I need space and time and then eventually… a coffee shop of one’s own. I think my ideal writing space would be a small private office near a bustling cafe, perhaps just down a cobbled street or up a crooked stair. In this cafe there would be artists and authors milling about and exchanging ideas…laughing.  Yes, that would something.

For now, we’ll share at the digital table. I hereby pass the blog baton to the wonderful and talented Delia Sherman. Please check out her entry next week on Tuesday, June 10.

I’m pleased to say I met Delia last year at the Sirens Conference on women in fantasy literature. She is one of the warmest people I know and I'm continually entranced by her kind words of wisdom.

Sherman is a prolific fantasy writer and editor. Her novel The Porcelain Dove (1992) won the Mythopoeic Fantasy Award. Other notable works include Through a Brazen Mirror (1988), and The Fall of the Kings (2002) written in collaboration with partner Ellen Kushner. She has also written novels for young people including Changeling (2006), The Magic Mirror of the Mermaid Queen (2009), and The Freedom Maze (2011), a beautifully crafted historical fantasy that earned Sherman the Mythopoeic Award for Children’s Literature.

Sherman has had short fiction published in numerous volumes, been a contributing editor for Tor, taught classes at Boston College, Northeastern University, and Hollins Univeristy, and is a founding member of the Interstitual Arts Foundation. She lives in New York, NY.

Wednesday, April 30, 2014

Volunteer Work

Part of my year has been devoted to volunteering in a variety of contexts. First and foremost, I’ve been working with the Wednesday Wonderfuls at 826 Seattle.

826 is a non-profit that provides free after-school tutoring and conducts a variety of writing-centered workshops and field trips for kids. The spirit of 826 is fun, friendly, and quirky and there are several different branches in various cities across the US.

I was initially vaguely jealous and irritated by how many volunteers I encountered at 826 Seattle. I had never had nearly enough help as a public school teacher, so it seemed odd to join an organization that already had so many resources. But here’s the thing: 826, or more specifically, Steve the (awesome) Programs Coordinator (see rug), provides a well-organized, thoughtful, and highly structured experience for volunteers. The Wednesday team is a kind and dedicated group of people who care a great deal about their work with kids. In short, there are excellent reasons that people want to volunteer at 826: it’s fun and rewarding. I’m hoping to continue there next year.

In other news, I volunteered a (tiny) bit for SCBWI-WWA and just finished reading and critiquing as a judge for the PNWA literary contest in the YA category. I also spent a fair amount of time mentoring one of my former students as she completed her senior project (a novel of her own!). It was lovely to go back to my old school last week and see old students and staff members. I still miss those guys.

My next volunteer project will be helping the Sirens Conference folks with their Reviewer Program. I’m thrilled to be joining that team and already looking forward to the conference this fall.

So I’ve been busy, but never too busy to write. I’ve finished the first draft of my WIP(!) and am now gathering feedback for revision. And, I don’t want to jinx it, but I might also be gathering ingredients for an entirely new story. And there might be spaceships... 

Monday, April 14, 2014

SCBWI WWA 2014 Recap

I had a great time at the SCBWI-WWA conference this past weekend. Once again, I met a number of incredibly kind and generous people. I feel lucky to be a part of this warm and intelligent community and I look forward to getting more involved in the coming years.

My conference highlights:

Master class: A Character Calls with Franny Billingsley
            Take-aways: Character is tied to plot. A character’s root desire fuels her obsession a.k.a. the method she believes she must use to achieve her desire.

State of the State of Publishing: Justin Chanda
            Take-aways: Don't worry; kidlit is thriving. The industry is cyclical and moving away from YA.

Keynote: This Speech Could Save Your Life by Kim Baker
            Take-aways: Kim Baker is freaking awesome and I want to be her friend.

Actions Speak as Loud as Words: Claudia Gabel
            Take-aways: Revise in waves. Outline your plot (perhaps in 3 acts).

Creating the Fictional Dream: Franny Billingsley
            Take-aways: Sensory language is the way to enhance the inner and outer world of your character. Let her bounce her feelings off the tangible, sensory details of her environment.

Keynote: From Mind Worms to Lizard Brains by Franny Billingsley
            Take-aways: Fear is located in the ancient parts of our brain. A character may be stuck with irrational fear and it is the plot’s job to shake her out of her comfort zone and move her from fear to love.

I would also like to thank the following individuals for kind words that made me feel welcome this year: Kelly Jones, Claudia Gabel, Franny Billingsley, Jan  O’Neil, Tina Hoggat, Linda Johns, Clare Hodgson Meeker, Q Lindsey Barrett, and Vanessa Torres.

Thursday, March 6, 2014

The Lady in Blue Update

All is well here. Happy to report that my WIP's first draft is almost finished after a lovely retreat to Port Townsend with the Lindle girls this past weekend. We stayed in a fabulous haunted Victorian inn, wined and dined ourselves silly, and even snuck in a viewing of Philomena at the Starlight Room. Besides getting loads of writing done, my favorite part of the trip was staying up late discussing all the great and terrible questions of our lives. So nice to have the company of smart women.

My writing self is deeply in love with Port Townsend, and I'm not alone. Apparently there is quite a large community of artists and writers who live or vacation there, and the area hosts one of the oldest literary conferences in America.

In other news, since the start of 2014, I've been volunteering at 826 Seattle. At first I wasn't sure if I'd feel comfortable in an environment so different from the school where I taught for 8 years. It turns out to be a wonderful place full of dedicated and creative people. I feel lucky that I happened to pick Wednesday mornings as the staff and volunteers that day are spectacular.

So that's me. I'm signed up to attend the SCBWI-WWA conference again next month. Gearing up for major rewrites of my WIP. Spring blooms on the horizon. So much to look forward to. I'll toast to that.

Tuesday, December 10, 2013

Avalin in the Cave

My brilliant brother, Christopher T. Bishop, made this stunning image for my middle grade novel, The One the Empress Hunts. 

Thank you, Christopher. I am speechless.

Saturday, October 26, 2013

Sirens Conference 2013

This month I attended Sirens, a conference devoted entirely to women and fantasy literature. Sirens takes place about five hours outside of Seattle, so Darian, Lola, and I drove down together. We stopped for lunch and laughs on our way.

Darian, Burt, and Lola
When we first arrived to the gorgeous (ha!) setting of the Columbia River, I was certain we were in a magical place. 

And indeed we were! We were soon surrounded by smart, feisty, fascinating women, and among them many well-respected and celebrated authors. More than a few times, I found myself thinking "I want to be just like her when I grow up". 

The small size of the conference made it feel intimate and personal compared to the other, larger writing conferences I experienced this year. Many thanks to all the folks who worked so hard to make Sirens happen. Here are a few of my personal highlights:

Keynote ~ by Alaya Dawn Johnson, author of The Summer Prince
-Spoke about her process, her love of travel, and how her racial identity and life experiences have shaped the way she writes characters who are often in-between.

Anchoring your Fantasy with Reality ~ Panel by Delia Sherman, Caroline Stevermer, and Nancy Werlin
-Helpful discussion of the way that place, time period, and season must be well-researched in fantasy, even as worlds are invented. The more real the world, the more successful the fantasy.

Gender Masquerades 2.0 ~ Panel by Ellen Kushner, Kate Elliot, Mette Ivie Harrison, Malinda Lo, and s.e. smith
-Challenging and thought-provoking conversation about how simple gender swapping and conversion has, must, and will become more complex as the full spectrum of gender identities is explored in fantasy lit.

Keynote ~ by Robin LaFevers, author of Grave Mercy
-Bravely spoke about her own history, process, and why we must write stories for girls and women. 
      -“The quest for perfection can be a brutal stand-in for the messages we receive from others.”
      -“As women… we need room to fail gloriously.”
      -“Shame often comes disguised as help.”
      -“Our dragon is the expectations of society, that keep us from being the hero in our own story.”
      -“Even as we create stories, we make a new one for ourselves.”

The Question of Girlhood – Roundtable by Ysabeau Wilce, author of The Flora Fyrdraaca Series
- We discussed theories about how and why girls go on adventures and what to make of girlhood as an obstacle itself. Take-aways from the conversation:
     -When girls take on “boy traits” we must examine what message that sends to readers.
     -The risk of rape is one of the primary reasons girls are kept sheltered and 'protected' from 
      adventure in most fantasy lit.
     -Magical band-aids for rape, pregnancy, and sexual power are not satisfying to some readers.
     -Boys are at risk of rape too, but this is often ignored.
     -We need to write and imagine worlds where girls are safe and empowered so that society can move      in that direction. We must "imagine it before we can become it." (Not sure who said that!)
     -We can’t worry about “getting it perfect” in our books because, ultimately, we are still situated and        cannot see all.

Keynote ~ Guadalupe Garcia McCall, author of Under the Mesquite
-Beautiful and vibrant talk about how this author came to be published and the personal inspirations behind her writing.

Keynote ~ by Ellen Kushner, author of Thomas the Rhymer 
-This was more performance than speech, and featured Ellen singing ancient ballads, playing guitar, and reading from the book that won her the World Fantasy Award. And by the way, Ellen and her partner, Delia, are two of the loveliest people I've ever met. They seemed to make everyone feel important and loved. Fairy folk, methinks.

I won’t record here all the other snippets of conversation and shared moments that were inspiring and important to me, but I assure you, my notebook is full. 

A woman we met named Erynn made a typewriter dress for the ball. Incredible.

On the way back to Seattle, we stopped to visit a life-size replica of Stonehenge that just happens to be in Southern Washington. Because we’re cool like that. And because clearly that is the only way you should round off a weekend of feminism and fantasy.

Like what you see? Come with us next year!