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Transience

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…

Twitter for Writers

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…

Why I Wrote The Unintentional Time Traveler

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…

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Lambda Literary Emerging Writer’s Workshop, Day 5

G. FlaubertWe’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…

Excerpt: Synergy

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…

Excerpt: Synergy

This summer I am thrilled to get some feedback on my novel-in-progress at Lambda Literary Foundation’s Emerging Writers Workshop. I sent them the first twenty-five pages of the manuscript about four gender non-conforming people from different moments in time. It’s non-genre, it’s not a humor book, and it’s not a memoir. It’s a stretch for me, and an exciting project, but then again, I came up with it in my own head, so hopefully I’d have some interest in my own damn work. I should also add that it needs a ton of work — in this first draft I was messing around with point-of-view and tense, trying to figure out where the tone of the book intersected with the narration. But here’s the first chapter, in case anyone is interested:

Alex, Baltimore, 2004

Enough moisture collects at my temples that it streaks down the sides of my face, but I can’t stop running or break form to wipe my head. I tell myself that tomorrow I’ll remember my bandana. Now I’m four miles from home and have one more to go before it’s time to turn around. The sun has hit that angry angle after daybreak and I squint to block it out even a little. I’ve probably got about 90 minutes left before my shift at the pier. For the sake of predictability I take the same route six days a week: out the back door of my crappy apartment at the edge of a mostly empty commercial district, past sloping colonial-era pavers and a junkyard, down toward the revitalized harbor, then back again. As far and as fast as I can run, and even though it’s always quiet behind me when I turn around, I always have the sense I’m being chased.

Nobody can find out I wasn’t born male.

To keep my secret, I stay as thin as I can. Hence the hellacious running routine. Jogging hates me, and the feeling is mutual. Read More…

Friday Flash: The Tree Planters

He grabs a seedling out of the thick canvas bag and drops it in the hollow pole. Schuuuck as the baby slides down, the quiet noise almost a song by the time it reaches the bottom of the tube. The seedling only sits ready to be planted for a moment before it takes its place in the brand new soil, the very youngest in a staggered row of conifers.

two suns, dawn or duskThe first sun isn’t quite over the ridge yet, but Hax is ready for it, or more accurately, he’s tired of squinting in the pre-dawn light. He and his coworker Marnie will have three solid hours of planting before the second sunrise, and then they’ll need to take cover because radiation from two stars is harsh on human skin. Like, third-degree burns harsh. So many people have died trying to make Valus habitable that Hax and Marnie have lost faith in the capabilities of the Health Service.

Schuuk. Marnie tamps down the moist dirt with her boot, just enough for the seedling to stay put but not break stride. She and Hax have an ongoing bet about who can get more trees in the ground in a day, a week, a mountaintop. So far for the week she’s ahead by 327. It’s too close a margin, in her opinion.

On the next peak ahead they can see the soil-laying machine, like a gigantic bulldozer working in reverse. It’s as close to Earth soil compositions as anyone out here can create. But it stinks like rotten broccoli and after a day of seeding the mountain, they get back to base reeking of it. The smell is so bad Marnie is grateful for her oxygen mask. Read More…

The Writer Emerges

Everett all sparkly at a readingLife this winter and spring has been less about balance and more about fulcrums. You know, like when you’re moving up and down a lot but not getting anywhere. At least a roller coaster has forward momentum and a few thrills along the way. A seesaw just lifts up and crashes down with a jolt at the end of each direction. Nearly all of the endeavors I’ve made since last fall have come with commensurate concussions. Case manager is leaving for a full-time job. Hire new case manager. Send in manuscript to potential agent and wait. . . finally getting rejected by potential agent (but in the nicest way possible). Move office to other side of town, deal with people yelling on the phone that the office has moved. Start new manuscript, get sidelined by a different project. Apply to literary contest, fail to make the finals. Apply to writer’s workshop with no hope of getting accepted.

Then gasp at the screen when reading the acceptance letter. Read More…

Excerpt from Chapter 1 of The Unintentional Time Traveler

Coming your way this summer/fall, here’s the new start to my debut, young adult novel, folks.

1926 BugottiI first jumped back in time on September 21, 1980, just a few weeks into high school, but nothing about how that day started was odd in any way. It’s not like the sun popped out of the sky and said, “Hey Jack, how about if you take a trip to a completely different era where nothing makes any sense to you?”

No, it was a regular day where I woke up from my incredibly annoying alarm clock, which of course alerted King, our Golden Retriever, that he should burst through my bedroom door and lick me all over the face until I was awake enough to push him off of me. He followed me down the hall like usual, standing behind me even when I whizzed into the toilet, lest I don’t know, he miss out on any of my fun. He and I didn’t even notice anymore that the sink was wrapped in rolled up towels, held in place by constantly unraveling, goopy duct tape. It had been that way since my parents had started letting me use the bathroom by myself.

I have epilepsy, see, which means that on an irregular basis I lose consciousness as the neurons in my brain decide to go on a bender and start firing like a bunch of kindergarteners who missed their Ritalin dose that day. As one can imagine, this gets in the way of conversations, walking, brushing one’s teeth, or anything else worth doing. But like the padding over the hard surfaces around the house, I’ve gotten used to having seizures, even if I’m not happy about them.

Sometimes—maybe half the time—the “episodes” gave me a tiny bit of warning, mostly by screwing with my sense of balance. The ground around me would abruptly shift diagonally, like a ship listing hard to one side. Or my own private earthquake. I mastered the art of quickly sitting down, before I would fall over into humiliating twitchiness. Before the darkness could collapse over me. Read More…

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