Monday, October 20, 2014

Sirens and Spirits

This past weekend, Darian, Lola, and I traveled to a land of ghosts, spirits, slayers, and mediums. It was an incredible journey (no pun intended) and I can’t thank the Wise Women who organize the Sirens Conference enough.

Happy to be back at Sirens.
For those of you who might not know, Sirens is a conference dedicated to women in fantasy literature and this year’s theme was Hauntings. The conference this year took place at Skamania Lodge in the heart of one of Washington States most beautiful natural areas, The Columbia River Gorge.

Writers, readers, fans, and industry professionals interested in this topic traveled from far and wide to discuss a wide range of related spooky topics and texts over the course of three days.

Darian the Free
Part of what I love about attending conferences is that I meet amazing people, and sometimes, just sometimes, I find the kind of human connection that endures and enriches my life. I can honestly say that this year’s Sirens made many of those connections possible and I’m still giddy and glowing from the rush of finding so many sisters, role models, and advocates.

Lola the Brave

I’ll use this space to transcribe a few of the most poignant take-aways, questions, and moments that will (dare I say it?) haunt me for quite some time. Oh, and post pretty pictures of course.

Kendare Blake’s Keynote:
She described it as a “rambling journey down my [her] Google hole”. The results made me laugh harder and longer than I have in months. My take-aways: Horror is a celebration of fear and life’s messiness. It also may be an ideal vehicle for strong “unlikable” feminine characters to get their due.

Haunted Women Panel: Andrea Hairston, Rosemary Clement, Kendare Blake. Moderated by Amy Tenbrink.
All three authors described writing as a process that can mirror possession. A book, or a voice, or a story “calls out” and the writer responds. Hairston spoke about theater as “embodied experience”. We must use our lives and bodies to know what we write. Clement spoke about capability vs. power and permission to write about a love that is “back to back, shoulder to shoulder” when push comes to shove. Blake spoke about landscapes like The Suicide Forest, and how the Anna books “wrote themselves”.

From the left: Clement, Blake, Hairston, Tenbrink
Back to Bly: Ghosts and Lovers in “Turn of then Screw”: Paper by Meg Belviso
Ever since this paper I’ve been pondering how what isn’t said in a text might be scarier than what is. I’ve also been thinking a lot about what a boy’s “natural” place might be, as opposed to what was once assumed about to be a girl’s “natural” place.

The woods nearby.
Rosemary Clement’s Keynote:
Rich exploration of the history of gothic fiction, differences between terror and horror, and the relationships between insanity, grief, and hauntings in women’s history. Memorable questions: Are women hard-wired to seek permanence of spirit and perpetuation of blood-line? How are the heart and whole related? How do we haunt each other by becoming part of the people we know? Hauntings are personal, private, experiences… how does that relate to the feminine domain? How do feminine spirits inhabit the space between worlds of expectation and worlds of individual identity?

Haunted Landscapes Panel: Kathryn Cottam, Roberta Cottam, and Kate Tremills
Beautifully architected panel on questions of how settings and land influence what stories we tell. I left this one thinking about the landscapes that “call” to me and wondering about whether they haunt me, or part of me haunts them. How do we bring expectations to certain places? How do we find and feel the spirit of place?

Photographs by Killian Schoenberger provided the inspiring backdrop of the panel:
Brothers Grimm's Homeland

Film Viewings: Selected by Andrea Hairston


OLDER THAN AMERICA: a haunting film I highly recommend.

*sidenote: Dinner on Sat night (at a local diner) was some of the grossest food I’ve ever seen. This was Darian’s vegetarian baked potato that better resembles regurgitated ectoplasm.

An unfortunate experience
Bedtime Story: Andrea Hairston and Pan Morigan 
Morigan played the banjo and sang. Hairston read about pirates, the Georgia Sea Islands, and a child named Rainbow. Magick happened.

…and then the hot tub happened.


The Importance—and Business—of Diversity in Fantasy Literature by Women Panel: Faye Bi, Amy Boggs, Joy Kim. Moderated by Amy Tenbrink.
Vital discussion around the continued role of books and publishing in fostering equity, justice, and understanding. What barriers exist that prevent diverse folks from achieving publishing careers? What responsibilities do white and privileged advocates/writers have to work towards social and creative justice? How do we as a community boost the signals of diverse authors and books? How are book covers a landmine?

Hoping to bust through boundaries and open gates.
Butch Bitches and Daft Damsels: Sexism in Fantasy Literature: Facilitated by Artemis Grey What does it mean to have “incidental gender”? How is the masculine gender “unmarked” and the feminine gender “marked”? How can we respond to “micro-agressions” in meaningful, powerful ways to stem the tide of mass erasure and sexism?
I wonder what spirit sits here.

Andrea Hairston’s Keynote
This keynote blew me away. I took six pages of notes. Hairston spun poetry around past spirits that spook us into the future, the false divide between emotion and logic, the truth of our world’s ongoing apocalypse as we drown in consumables, the artist’s work of reanimating the world. A few (of many) memorable quotes: “I’m a futurist, speculating on the disappeared past…Ghosts spook the living into changing the world…Ghosts are sacred and profane, restless guardians of our humanity…. Liminal beings, the presence of an absence…. America is a haunted house… Everything is personal… Life is a global phenomenon. All is one…It’s we who have to keep it alive.”

How I felt after Hairston's keynote.
Demystifying Social Media: Faye Bi
Frank and generous presentation about how writers can use social media to establish a meaningful identity and presence online. This woman knows her stuff. I can only hope I get to work with a publicist of this caliber someday.

(I have a lot of work to do!)

The Shadows Ball
Sirens celebrates the final day with costumes, dancing, murder mystery, and more inspiring conversation! My “Grey Lady” dress was made by the incredible Erynn Moss… in under an hour... with no prior design. We also placed newspaper feathers in my hair in honor of Andrea Hairston.

From left: Me, Andrea Hairston, and Erynn Moss the maker of my "Grey Lady" dress.
The Headless Horseman and the Grey Lady
Darian dressed as DJ-Pon3, a My Little Pony, and Lola dressed in haunting 1920’s garb. Highlight of the night had to be when the Headless Horseman rode Dj-POn3. I'm not kidding. You can check  #sirens14 on twitter for proof and more info on the conference.

Flapper and DJ Pon3

After breakfast, the Sirens Auction, and purchasing more books than is sane, we bid a fond farewell to Sirens and took a short hike up Beacon Rock, a local landmark. From the heights of the rock we could see for miles and through time. A fitting end to a weekend rich in spirit and soul.

Thank you Sirens, guests, and attendees!

As we climbed Beacon Rock, we saw and heard Raven call from the skies.... perhaps an omen of good things to come. 
Next year's Sirens Conference will focus on Rebels and Revolutionaries and will take place in Denver, Colorado. Can't wait!

Wednesday, September 17, 2014

Autumn Returns

Hello there! Hope your summers were good to you. All is well here in Seattle. It’s been a long and full few months and now we’re here, at the edge of autumn, and I’m reminded why this is my favorite season. There’s no end to the beauty of the trees and skies of September.  When I taught public school I had such little time to notice the colors of this particular month. Now I spend part of every day being grateful for my new freedom and perspective. I walk outside at every chance. I daydream.

In writing news, I’ve signed a contract for my first ever short story sale! I’m new to this process, so I’ve been slow to announce anything specific, for fear of jinxing it. In that spirit, I’ll keep the details hush-hush for the moment. However, I will tell you that I expect my pub date to be in October or November of this year. (Fingers crossed!) When I get more confirmation and info I’ll be sure to crow it from the rooftops.

Drift, my new novel, has been fully revised and is out now to my last (maybe) round of beta readers. I’m nervous and excited and chomping at the bit to start querying agents, but I want to be sure that it’s (and I’m) truly ready. In the meantime, I’m researching agencies and editors, catching up on my reading, generating a boatload of new story ideas, working on a variety of synopses, and trying not to bite my fingernails. Because, gross.

I’ve also been busy with Family Stuff (children starting school), guests (so many wonderful people), and mini-trips. We visited Seabrook way out on the west coast of the Olympic Penninsula and I found my retirement home there:

Fellow sea witches welcome.

And another trip westward which resulted in evenings like this:

Looking forward to all kinds of writing happenings in the next few months. In particular, Sirens and possibly World Fantasy Con in DC. Until then, I'll be wandering the world and busy with words. Thanks for reading!

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.