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More publishing news! It’s been a busy summer. This time my contemporary fantasy story “The Dreamtime” appears online at Buzzy Magazine.

“The Dreamtime” is one of my older stories. I wrote it in the spring of 2010, and it was the story I submitted to Taos Toolbox for the first week critiques. Yes, I got fifteen critiques on this story during that first week at Taos, and almost everyone agreed on one thing: a crucial scene was missing. Yes, missing.

If anyone was looking for a testimonial on the effectiveness of Taos Toolbox as a workshop, I think I can honestly say I would never have sold this story without the revisions I did as a result of attending. I actually ended up adding two major scenes and one very short interlude, as well as deleting (well, combining with another, really) a scene. And the story is much better for all these changes.

Photo by Paul Bica

This story is also an illustration of the important role of persistence in being a writer. I finished the above revisions later that same summer, and as you see, the story is appearing two years later. It was purchased almost a year and a half after I started sending it out to markets. In fact, I was almost ready to give up and put it away for good, but I hated to do that since I still felt I could stand by it as a story. And then along came the new market Buzzy Magazine, paying pro rates and having an editorial focus that made me think “The Dreamtime” might be a good fit. I guess the editors agreed!

As for the story seed, I started out by thinking of the dreamtime as a metaphor for those moments when you begin thinking about someone in your past who you would really rather not think about. And yet there they are, waving at you from your own thoughts. But what if these people could do something similar of their own volition? A psychic phone call, if you will? From this idea was born the character of Mariah, still hung up on a crazy ex-love with the power to roam her dreams. In this way, this story is a twisted kind of love story that shows the emotional aftermath of a relationship gone wrong.

Some of my Taos classmates had trouble believing that a woman would find a man like O’Malley to be attractive since he is arrogant, dismissive, bullying, expects her to do what he wants. I have to respectfully disagree. Of course relationships like this exist in the real world. And even though these relationships are dysfunctional, that doesn’t mean it isn’t difficult for the parties involved to disentangle themselves. Love doesn’t disappear so easily. The question in my mind isn’t whether such relationships exist but rather whether the individuals involved (in this case, Mariah) can develop the personal strength to move on.

I hope you enjoy!

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My flash science fiction story Man on the Moon Day is now available on Daily Science Fiction’s website. Hooray! (Make sure you press the “Display Entire Story” button so you don’t miss out on the end.)

For those of you who don’t know what flash fiction is, it is super short fiction. The word limits vary, but in my own mind, I usually define flash fiction as stories of 1000 words or less. Other people say flash fiction is even shorter than that.

I wrote Man on the Moon Day for a contest of the Codex Writers’ Group called Weekend Warrior. The idea is that every weekend for five weeks, the participants are provided with a few prompts to choose from, and must write a story of 750 words or less. Then everyone reads everyone else’s stories and rates them all from 1 to 10 and provides brief comments (a sentence or two).

For me, this contest was a great education in flash fiction, a form of fiction I hadn’t been very familiar with before. I participated in three of the weeks (one weekend I was in Detroit for ConFusion, and the last weekend I was just tired and very steeped in Novel). My first two stories…well, they weren’t very good. And then I wrote Man on the Moon Day, edited it based on contest feedback (it’s now 850 words long instead of 750), and sent it into Daily Science Fiction. Thirty-five days later I received the e-mail saying they wanted to buy it.

This story challenged me in two particular ways (well, besides the challenge of learning to write at a much shorter length, which was hard enough!). First, I was playing with a protagonist who…well, she’s fairly bitter, and many readers did not find her particularly likeable. I actually enjoy writing about protagonists who aren’t likeable but with whom I still have some sympathetic connection, and I figured, if I couldn’t play with that in such a short form, when could I get away with it? The structure of the story doesn’t help this either, as it is just one moment in time in what I consider to be the denouement of the entire story. Showing more of the story would, most likely, have helped to build more sympathy for the main character. So it was definitely a risk to take and doesn’t work for all readers. Indeed, many of the readers on Codex adamantly didn’t like this story.

The second challenge was one of theme and how this story plays into the “great space explorer” trope of science fiction. Because the story should be about the spouse who travels off into the great beyond and founds a colony on the moon…shouldn’t it? Well, I didn’t think so. In this case, I thought it was more interesting to explore what (or in this case, who) the explorer leaves behind and ask the question, at what cost? I’m not trying to make value judgments here about the cost as much as present the question to the reader so they can answer it for themselves. At the same time, the story may cause some readers to question traditional gender roles and how gender privilege sometimes asserts itself into relationships. It certainly caused me to think about that, even though I didn’t originally intend to write a story about that issue.

So this is a story that very much challenged me, as both a writer and a human being, and I hope it will challenge some of you as well.

Meanwhile, if you are wondering why a Wednesday post, it is because I will be on a plane for most of Thursday. I’ll be at Readercon outside of Boston this weekend, my first time at this particular con. I have a group Codex reading on Friday at 12pm in Room NH, at which I’ll be reading this story (it is, after all, a Codex success story). The rest of the time, I’ll be gorging on exciting panels and interesting conversation. If you are going to be there as well, I’d love to say hello!

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Exciting news! For those of you who don’t follow me via social media, you may not know that my science fiction story “Daddy’s Girl” appears in this month’s issue of Redstone Science Fiction.

This publication is especially bounce-worthy for a number of reasons. First off, this sale was the one that qualified me to join SFWA (Science Fiction and Fantasy Writers of America) as a full member. Secondly, while this isn’t the first science fiction story I sold, it is the first one to be published where everyone can read it. And it has shown me that I can write stories set in an awesome space setting and sell them, which is a particularly happy thing to know.

I discovered this story’s seed while I was working on a bigger world building project. I was considering writing a YA novel with a space setting, so I sat down to figure out how my milieu would work. At a certain point I pulled my husband in to get answers to all my burning scientific questions (the immense perk of being a writer with a physics PhD and lifelong space enthusiast at my disposal).

We were talking about water, and the difficulties of procuring water in space. And he said something like, “Oh, you could just mine comets for their ice and haul it back in.”

Comets are beautiful.

Mind you, this was a completely tangential issue to anything having to do with the novel I was considering. But my imagination was instantly captured by the idea of an ice ship and the spacers who lived in it, constantly chasing after comets to bring back that oh-so-valuable resource, ice. (I have since learned, from Bill Bryson’s At Home, that there used to be an important market for ice in the past as well, pre-modern refrigerator and especially for shipping/transport issues, but I wasn’t thinking about this at the time.)

So I decided to write a short story to explore my ice ship idea further. At which point I found my character Lolly’s voice, began to understand her story, and was completely hooked.

For those of you interested in process, I wrote this story fairly quickly, did a quick revision and sanity check with my husband, and sent it off to my friend (and frequent commenter) E.F. Kelley to take a look. He identified an important scene that was missing (thanks again, Eric!), I added the scene while revising again, and then sent it off to market. I did one final revision pass before sending the story to Redstone in order to fall within their 4,000-word maximum length limit. (It had previously hovered just a few hundred words above that number, and I’m very happy to have tightened it further.)

Interestingly to me, the whole process was fairly painless, as has been the case with most (all?) of the stories I’ve sold, although certainly not the case for all the stories I have written. I imagine there is a lesson in this fact.

I hope you enjoy!

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My short story “The Box in my Pocket” has recently come out in the anthology Fantastic Stories of the Imagination, which is available as a paperback and an e-book. Here it is directly at Amazon (paperback and Kindle e-book) and B&N (for the Nook).

I wrote this story in January of 2011.  I remember thinking of the story seed, writing the first line, and then the story had its hooks in me. I put aside the novel project I was supposed to be working on in order to write this story instead. (And given that I usually become quite single-minded during my novel writing time, this is saying something.)

Yes, that is my name on the cover. :)

This story is one of the most personal I have written to date.  The point of view character is a teenage girl who is losing her mother to cancer. This character is not me, but the situation is one with which I am intimately familiar. Well, except for the fantastical element, of course. That part didn’t happen to me. Really.

Normally I shy away from writing anything too autobiographical. Bits of me will inevitably worm their way into the words I write and the telling details I choose; I am never completely separate from my work. But early in my writing days, I found myself defending characters’ behavior in a story I had written, saying, “But this actually happened exactly like this.” It didn’t matter, of course. It didn’t work in the story. Real life doesn’t always translate well into fiction. People don’t always behave in “believable” ways. So now I don’t tend to write with real circumstances in mind.

I do not, however, avoid writing about the emotional truths I have experienced. “The Box in my Pocket” is one emotional truth of what it feels like to lose a mother at a relatively young age. It deals with the dual themes of death and memory, both of which I find myself addressing in my fiction repeatedly; my fascination with them never seems to fade. It asks the questions, how do we deal with loss, and how do we finally let go (or do we hold on forever, and at what price)?

As for the anthology itself, Warren Lapine is its editor, and it includes stories by Mike Resnick, Harlan Ellison, Sharon Lee and Steve Miller, Kelly McCullough, Barry Longyear, and many other writers, so I am in extremely good company.

 

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It’s been a little over a year since I wrote my first Sit at the Table essay, although it feels like exactly a year since it was published the Thursday before FogCon, and guess what today is.

Last week I received word that I sold my story “Man on the Moon Day” to Daily Science Fiction, which was the same market to buy my first story a year ago. First off, hooray! I am really excited for this story to reach the reading public. The timing of the sale also made me realize that in about a year’s time, I’ve gone from having no sales of any kind to making six sales, four of which have paid professional rates. So this is me, taking a moment to pause and tell myself, “Not bad, Amy. Not bad at all.”

All of this has reminded me of sitting at the table, a surprisingly tenacious idea for me to still be contemplating a year later. It’s a powerful idea as well. It’s easy to lose sight of it given the undeniable role that random chance plays in events; so much is out of our control, it can be hard to focus on the parts that we can do something about. But that’s what sitting at the table is all about: being present to take advantage of opportunities as they arise.

Photo by Ben Raynal

Here are some of the things I’ve been doing to sit at the table this last year:

1. Submitting, submitting, submitting. If I don’t submit, there is absolutely ZERO chance of a sale. This is not to say I haven’t taken mental health breaks in my submitting process, because I totally have. But once I’ve enjoyed my breather, I’ve gotten back on that horse and submitted some more.

2. Behaving like a professional. And part of being a professional is believing in our work and our right to sit at the table in the first place. This doesn’t mean blowing up our achievements to encompass more than they do or refusing to accept needed criticism and editorial input. What it does mean is cultivating an inherent feeling that we belong, that we are writers, and acting that way.

3. Picking and choosing the industry-related events I attend, and being there 100%. Happily for me, I adore meeting people in my industry. But I’d be lying if I told you I don’t have moments alone in my hotel room when I feel like there’s no way I can navigate the social scene. I’ve learned to expect those moments, and I leave the room anyway. I feel so grateful to be at these events, I can’t justify giving less than 100%. This pays off in dividends, by the way. I’ve also learned I can’t do All The Things. I can only attend as many events as I have 100% energy to give out.

4. Creating space to write. If I don’t take my writing time seriously, no one else will either. So I’m being much firmer about defending this time. I’ve taken the myth by the horns that because I don’t have a typical job, that means I have loads of free time. Sadly, this is simply not true, and writing time has to come near the top of my list of priorities.

5. Continuous striving for improvement. And with it, embracing its inherent risk. I’m writing by far the most challenging novel I’ve ever written. This January I participated in a flash fiction contest, even though I knew nothing about flash fiction and honestly, my first two attempts were embarrassing. My third attempt sold to the first market to which I sent it. The last short story I wrote, I had specific writing issues of mine in mind that I tried my best to address and practice on. I picked up a few more writing books that I hope to work through in upcoming months. I am always trying to get better, and the more I learn, the more I realize I still have to learn. While this can at times be discouraging, it’s also an amazing realization: there will always be more to learn. And therefore, I can remain fresh and excited and hopefully avoid the enemy: Boredom.

Of course, there are ways in which I’ve failed to sit at the table as well. As in my writing skills, there is (and probably always will be) room for improvement.

How have you sat at the table in the past year? How would you like to sit at the table in the future?


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I have the pleasure of announcing that my story “Forever Sixteen” is now up on Daily Science Fiction’s website. I’ve been very excited ever since I sold the story back in March, and I’m thrilled that it’s now available for everyone to read.

 

The main character is a girl whose aging and development has been arrested so that she remains sixteen years old (if you want to know why, you’ll have to read the story). What would it be like to stay sixteen forever? On the one hand, we live in a society that is obsessed with youth and appearance, so the idea of being able to retain that youth (and implied health) is quite attractive. On the other hand, would you really want to be sixteen for the forseeable future? I didn’t even have huge high school traumas and I’m still not overly enthusiastic at the thought of remaining a perpetual teenager.

Going wider, this premise can be seen as a metaphor illustrating the tension between the desire for stasis and the need for change. We live in a world that is constantly changing, and we’re constantly changing within it. It’s natural for us to want to impose our control on such chaos, to attempt to preserve the status quo. So many of us fear change (and I’m certainly no exception), even when the change is largely positive in nature. And yet, what if that potential for change was taken away from us? What if everything really did stay the same, even our own bodies and the hormone levels coursing through them? As much as I sometimes dread change, this story illustrates one of my true nightmares: the attempt to suspend change.

We’ve all heard the old saw about how the only sure things in life are death and taxes. But whenever I hear that, I always think that in reality, the only sure thing in life is change. Life may trundle along on an even keel  for a while, even for many years, but ultimately something will happen to disrupt its direction.  Sometimes we choose the change; sometimes it chooses us–like death, a natural disaster, or a shift in politics or the economy. Sometimes we have to fight for change, like the protagonist of my story. And sometimes change comes at a high price, at which point we are called upon to decide: how high is too high?

On a more personal note, this story is one of my own favorites. I don’t know if this is true of other writers, but I definitely have the stories I’ve written that are especially meaningful to me and stay close to my heart. Right now I have three of those special stories, and this is one of them (the other two are still looking for homes). The fact that my first pro sale was made with this story in particular makes me feel especially pleased.

So tell me: would you want to stay a teenager forever?

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I have some news that I’m so excited about that I’m moving my regular Tuesday post to Monday so I can tell you sooner.First off, this is my one hundredth post on The Practical Free Spirit. Believe me, I am basking in my feeling of accomplishment.But not as much as I am basking in the feeling of being published! My short story “Luck Be a Lady” has gone live at Crossed Genres. Yes, you could read it right this very minute. And it’s free. I know, the excitement never ceases.

For those of you keeping track, yes, this story is actually my second sale, but due to the vagaries of publishing, it is my first story to be publicly available.

As those of you familiar with musical theater have already recognized, I got my title from the song “Luck Be a Lady” in the musical Guys and Dolls. And that’s where my idea for the story started too.

The theme this month in Crossed Genres is luck, and after immediately flashing on the song, I began to think about the popularity of personifying Luck. In western culture, the prevailing image is of a sexy woman, often with a long cigarette holder, a fur shrug, and/or wearing a tight and revealing red dress.

This reminded me of some Piers Anthony books I read in high school. I realize that perhaps I’m not supposed to admit to reading Anthony in a public forum, but his books took up at least a shelf at my local library, and the fourteen-year-old me really enjoyed his Incarnations of Immortality series. (I can’t have been the only one to read these books, right? Right?) The basic idea of the series was that all of these abstract concepts were personified by these beings (at least some of whom began as human) who had specific super powers. So you had the character of Death, and the characters of the three Fates, and an Earth Mother character, and I think maybe there was the character of War. You get the idea. So I combined the idea of the song with the idea of this series and created my seed idea of my protagonist, Lady Luck. And anyone with those sorts of powers, I figured, would be guaranteed to receive a certain number of complaints….

One of the other characters in the story is the personification of Diligence. She’s become the adoptive mother of Lady Luck. Why Diligence? I stumbled upon a quotation credited to Benjamin Franklin: “Diligence is the mother of good luck.” And I had to use it. Especially because the contrast of personalities between someone representing luck and someone representing diligence was sure to create some interesting interactions in the course of the story.

Anyway, I hope you have time to check it out, and I hope it entertains you as much as it did me while I was writing it.

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Today I have a guest post, Why Kindness Matters, at my friend and colleague Marilag’s blog. (Yes, I was very busy last week writing all these posts.) I really enjoyed writing this post because Marilag requested that I speak about kindness, which gave me the chance to really think about it and appreciate all the kindness in my life. Thank you, Marilag!

I’m also pleased to announce that I sold another short story. “Luck Be a Lady” will be published by Crossed Genres in their Luck issue, which I believe will come out sometime in May. So if you’ve been curious to read some of my fiction, you don’t have much longer to wait!

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Last week I got some exciting news.

I’d been on an airplane for several hours, flying home from a very successful vacation. I was slightly brain-dead, and I’m sure my in-flight dinner of Pringles and peanut butter cups hadn’t helped matters. After having survived the little dog frenzy of homecoming, I settled by the fire to check my e-mail, happily procrastinating from unpacking my suitcase.

I clicked on one of my e-mails, read the first sentence, and screamed. Literally. I think my husband thought I’d seriously hurt myself, because he came running from the other room.

What did that e-mail say? It told me that I sold my first story! Daily Science Fiction wants to publish my story “Forever Sixteen”. Hooray!

(And no, I don’t know when it will come out, but I’m guessing it will be awhile. Stay tuned….)

I was feeling pretty good about myself, in an I’ve-spent-all-day-on-a-plane sort of way. And I felt even better when, the very next day, I found out that I’d received an Honorable Mention in the most recent quarter of the Writers of the Future contest.

(Taking my moment to bask, giggle, jump around the room, and basically celebrate!)

******
Okay, I’m back.

Now I’m going to share a bit of unproductive thinking that went along with this good news. When I found out about the sale, I was happily sharing my news on Twitter and Facebook, celebrating with the great people who have been supporting me. But, when I found out about the Honorable Mention the next day, after the requisite excitement, I turned to my husband and said, “I don’t know if I should tell anyone about this.” He asked me why not, and I continued, “Well, it’s just too soon after yesterday’s good news. Plus won’t it seem like I’m bragging if I say anything?” Then I paused, thought about what I’d just said, and cried, “Oh no! I just did that thing!”

Do you see that thing I did? I automatically wanted to downplay my success instead of sharing it. I worried about “bragging”, even though I would never think that of another writer posting the same news. Is this because I’m a woman who has been trained to be a team player and never toot my own horn? Is this because I’m a writer with the prerequisite insecurities so often found in my profession? Even after noticing my strange behavior, I still rationalized with a “Maybe I should say something on Twitter but not Facebook.” Because somehow that would make a difference? Hello, irrationality!

I’d love to say that this was an isolated case, but the truth is I see it all the time. Just this past weekend I was spending time with two lovely women writer friends of mine. Both of them have blogs. Both of them are active on Twitter and Facebook. But neither of them regularly post notifications of their new blog posts on Twitter or Facebook. This drives me crazy because I forget to read their blogs as a direct result.

I talked to one of them about it, and she said, “Oh, I don’t know if people would really be interested.” And that’s the clincher, right? I think most of us have moments of thinking the same sort of thoughts. Why would anyone care about what we have to say? Maybe it’s not a good idea after all to put ourselves out there.

Newsflash! People are following you because they’re interested in what you’re doing, and they’re interested in what you have to say. So if you don’t let them know about your newest blog post, you are shooting yourself in the foot. After all, they don’t have to click on the link you provide if they don’t feel like it. You’re not forcing them into anything. You’re just letting them know what’s available.

This ties directly into Sheryl Sandberg’s advice to women on the video I linked to earlier this week. Her first point? Sit at the table. What did she mean? That if we sideline ourselves, letting other people sit at the table while we hang off at the edges being self-effacing and shy, we aren’t giving ourselves the same chance at success. We aren’t giving ourselves the same respect that we give others. And if we don’t give ourselves that respect, then why will anyone else?

Sit at the table. I dare you.

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