Cooper Lee Bombardier tagged me in some author chain mail thing, and normally I’d avoid a meme but first, he’s a really nice fella, and second, it’s about writing, so heck, I could bloviate about that all day. Here are my answers to four questions he posed:
Just a bit of what I’m working on this month:
Reginald runs down the hallway, his sneakers squeaking on the tired linoleum. It’s Joe in B14 again. Alzheimer’s dementia, sometimes gets combative. Reginald is the only orderly on this shift who knows how to calm Joey down. He wouldn’t have to beat a trail to the door so often if the fucking doctor would get this guy the medicine he needs, but hey, ole Reg is here to take care of things.
He bursts into the room. Lime green walls, plastered with random bits of newspaper articles because Joe insists that’s how people stay on top of current events. Someone pays for Joe’s private room because his insurance certainly doesn’t include that, but nobody knows who this sugar momma or daddy is. And why don’t they ever come visit?
Joe is screaming at the mirror in his bathroom. It’s full of streaks and a lot of the silver on the back side of the glass is missing so it doesn’t even but half-reflect a person anymore. But Joe is a stubborn bastard, so when Reginald runs in he finds Joe leaning on the sink, staring at himself and screaming.
“This mirror is broken,” he says.
“Come over here, Jocelyn. It’s okay.”
“What evil did you put in this mirror? Why are you doing this to me?” Read More…
I like to write up my thoughts as I’m attending a conference or just after I walk away from it, while the plethora of conversations are still swirling around in my brain. It’s a little reminiscent of how I studied in primary school, by taking in as much of the school day as Icould and then writing up my notes later. Maybe I need to move my fingers around to set the thoughts in place, I’m not sure.
I just finished up my participation in the Writing Trans Genres conference in Winnipeg, Manitoba. There were at least four generations of trans authors and thinkers there, maybe 250 of us, roughly. At least it felt like a quarter of a thousand. I didn’t do a head count and I didn’t ask the organizers. I didn’t want to miss even a moment of it—unlike truly humongous conferences like the Popular Cultural Association Conference or the BookExpo, where there is no hope of going to every panel, this was more intimate and almost comprehensible in scope, until people started talking. At that point there were so many ideas all in one animated stream that it took a lot of energy on my part to keep up with the conversation and concepts. But maybe I’m just an exhausted parent of two kids under the age of three. This conference was marked by several laudable characteristics not commonly found at conferences: Read More…
The Unintentional Time Traveler may be my debut novel but it is also the first in five planned books about Jackson Inman/Jacqueline Bishop and their adventures. I’ve taken the long game approach and drawn out the character and story arcs for the protagonist(s), and mapped out the antagonists for each episode in the series (there will be a continuing villain and a “local” antagonist specific to each). Despite my best laid plans, I’m prepared for the story to veer a bit from its supposed trajectories. Back in my project management days, I would have called this tendency “scope creep.”
Nowadays I’ll just say that it comes with the territory of the subconscious—because some significant percentage of my creative writing process is done by the characters themselves. Or maybe the tips of my fingers have their own intentions. Or maybe what Chip Delany refers to as the “dark matter” of his mind is a thing that happens for other writers, too. I was working on a completely different project a few weeks ago—an ensemble novel about four gender non-conforming people from different eras who come together to build a high school for queer and trans youth—when I realized the scene was getting away from me. As if I wasn’t my own person, I was typing out that the character was getting in someone’s face in a law firm, and then security showed up and hauled him away, his shoes leaving temporary scrape marks in the beige carpet. Wait, what? That’s not how this scene goes. That’s not what I architected to happen. And I’m the creator of this little universe, correct? Read More…
It’s an obvious statement to declare that I’m tired. I still get hammered with rapid-fire thoughts but the parts of my body I use for speech can’t keep up, so I wind up cutting my sentences short and fingering the lid of my iced mocha. I’m living at DEFCON 3 of irritation. Things like red light runners, people who take up spare seats next to them with their possessions so nobody else can sit down, line cutters, are all a hair away from my personal rendition of the riot act. No, you can’t put your plate of crumbs on my table at the coffee shop. Gee, I would rather you not drive in two lanes or loud talk your way through the produce aisle as if I care about the conversation you’re having with your invisible Bluetooth friend. I marvel that we’ve gone from Copernicus to nanotechnology in less than a millennium, but I’m a little perplexed that we use our progress for cat videos and Katy Perry. (No offense to Ms. Perry. Your video with Elmo is adorable and it keeps my toddler happy for two minutes and forty-one seconds.)
There’s an upside to having scant shreds of time for oneself and limitless aggravation, however. Priorities are quickly reset. Relationships, ranked. Anything lower than say, dedicated hobby, is truncated right off the schedule. Annoying people, curtailed. Poof, gone, vamoose. Bye Felicia is spoken to anyone who isn’t long-term important. And conflicts, when one needs to have them, are over in short order. Don’t process with me as you argue, because I’ll cut to the base issue. Dang, if only this had been my strategy when I was 23 and not 43. I could have lived a couple of additional lifetimes or something, with all of the saved time.
Limited time has also sped up my writing process—when I can get my brain to work well enough to generate writing, that is. But if the circuits are firing, I find I’m not dilly-dallying with junk like Facebook and email, I’m just writing. I carved out three new story arcs for my time travel series this week (Note to self: negotiate with publisher about the series) and got restarted on writing those 10,000 words I lost when my hard drive died last month. I don’t know when I’ll have a steady block of writing time again so I WRITEWRITEWRITE whenever I have the chance. Tomorrow may not show its face. Write when you get the chance, Maroon. Read More…
A few folks have asked me about Twitter over the years and how such a terse medium can be helpful for writers. What content can one even get communicated in so few characters?
The answer is: a lot. If we stop thinking about Twitter as the site of traditional content that takes eight hundred or more words to convey, and start thinking of it as a touchpoint and springboard or longer form pieces, then the possibilities open up. There are scads of great posts out there on growing followers, how to identify good accounts to follow, and so on, so I’m not going to reinvent the wheel. Here are a few of those, as introductory Twitterverse items.
The thing for writers (or anyone, really) to do to get started on Twitter is to set up a profile, find people who are already on Twitter who you know or by your interests, and start generating content. Let’s take these in turn. Read More…
The short answer, of course, is “Because I wanted to.” Last summer at the Lambda Literary Foundation’s Emerging Writer Workshop in Los Angeles, someone asked Sarah Schulman how she figures out if she should “trunk” (meaning put aside) a book project. She may have blinked once or twice before answering, but her response was her classic curtness:
Why would I start any book I didn’t want to finish?
Well played, Ms. Schulman. And of course, it makes sense for a veteran writer and focused activist to say something along those lines. I try to write with confidence. Fortunately, it comes more easily during book number 5 (with two earlier trunked books in a forgotten computer somewhere in my house) than in my first foray for long form. Now if an idea kicks around in my head long enough, I grant it some kind of existence, either as back story, short story, or full-fledged novel.
So it was with The Unintentional Time Traveler. I’ve wondered and pondered my past history as an epileptic for a couple of decades now, trying to process what it meant for a person who didn’t know any differently at the time. I also love time travel stories, everything from H.G. Wells to Dr. Who. The more I tried to come up with reasons to write this story, the more reasons I identified, as if some kind of narrative fission was happening. That was also a sign that this was a story worth telling and never ever trunking. So here are just a few ideas behind the book: Read More…
We’ve read through all of the fiction writers’ pieces and handed back critiques, treating each work and editorial process seriously and concentrating like whoa on giving good specific feedback. After five days I feel raw and exhausted, but good. It’s like whittling deadwood, sloughing off the bits I don’t need (I’m looking at you, insecurity and bad literary habits). Now I can focus my attention on word choice, craft, storytelling, and because Chip has hammered it into me, description. It may very well be that every story I write for the next few years, I will write for his eye and ear and sense of prose.
Samuel Delany refers a lot to Flaubert, and Balzac, and Walter Pater. He considers his words, and speaks in the most delightful cyclical cadence that keeps me fascinated with whatever next word is going to come out of his mouth. I’ve been cobbling a list of his reading recommendations, which may only make sense in context of giving feedback to us, and which is based in part on the kinds of stories we’ve been writing, but which is still a great stand-alone list. Here are some of his reference points: Read More…
Here is another excerpt from my novel-in-progress about four gender nonconforming people who try to start an LGBT charter school in DC.
Present Day, Washington, DC
Kalinda fumbles through her still-growing ring of keys, looking for the one that unlocks the personnel file. Final hiring decisions are set for later that day, and Terry had asked her to create summary sheets for the review committee. This has been one of Terry’s “cold” weeks in which he is short with everyone around him. There’s no rhyme or reason to his mood swings, but Kalinda is prescient at seeing them before they hit. She fantasizes about having a signal she can give the rest of the administration so they can brace themselves for a tirade or lecture from him.
Finally, the key slides in past the tumblers in a series of small bounces of metal against metal. Kalinda pulls out two manila folders—one marked MAYBE and one YES. She doesn’t need the NO file anymore, except for posterity and to cover the school’s ass if any of the candidates complain.
Peeking in through her doorway is Terry.
“Ready for this afternoon,” he asks, reading over her shoulder.
“Just about,” she says. She tucks a small handful of red curls behind her ear so she doesn’t have to look through her hair to see him. Read More…