My Cancer Week

As some of you may know, a few weeks ago, I had bladder surgery. Everything went okay, but while operating, my doctor spotted a tiny mark on my bladder. Like, teeny tiny. Less than half the size of my pinky nail. It was a spot rather than a lesion. Still, she wanted to check it out, and it was so small that when she tried to biopsy it, she just took the whole thing.

It looked like nothing, but it was cancer. Malignant, angry, fuck-off cancer.

If left to its own devices, it might have killed me. Bladder cancer is sneaky. Doctors often don’t spot it until it’s already well on its way to killing you. And they usually spot it because of blood in the urine. But I have kidney stones, so that wouldn’t have raised an eyebrow for me, let alone a red flag.

Like the grandpa in “The Princess Bride”, I feel like I should tell you that I don’t get eaten by the eels at this point. I’m okay. They checked the rest of me, and I’m cancer-free. To help us both calm down, here’s a chicken that looks like it’s wearing pants that it made itself:

So, now that we’re breathing, they checked the rest of me for cancer but found none. And now I will get regular checks on my bladder for the rest of my life. But for a week or so, I had cancer. I didn’t tell anyone but my family. I’m sorry if anyone’s feelings are hurt because I didn’t include them. It doesn’t mean we’re not close. I felt like if I said it too loudly, it would come back.

My fears don’t really listen to me when I tell them they’re ridiculous. Maybe someday, they’ll learn.

I know this is some heavy shit. To help you catch your breath again, here’s my dog Polly in a Wonder Woman cape:

Got your wind back? Okay.

I’ve had lots of thoughts since my cancer week. There were a couple agonizing waiting periods between tests. There have been lots of feelings. Do I feel lucky? Yes. Extremely. Was I scared? More than a little. But having a chronic pain condition already prepared me a bit. I didn’t have to go from zero to cancer. I was already “sick.” A very irrational part of me was happy. Why? Because the part of me that’s always looking for a reason behind my various illnesses thought, “Great! Cancer is probably the cause behind my RA, my anxiety, and my PCOS. And when they get rid of that, all those other problems will go away!” I also fantasized that I wasn’t really overweight but had a fifty pound tumor, and when they removed it, I would have the body of my dreams…

Like I said, irrational.

Did the whole experience change me? I still haven’t decided. Living every day like my last isn’t really possible, not when it’s not actually the last. I mean, the dishes still have to get done. I did decide that if I didn’t have much time left, I would spend quite a bit of it writing because I have so much more I want to say. And if I don’t finish the Godfall series before I die, several people have threatened to come after me in the afterlife, sort of like a reverse haunting. No one wants that.

Time for another pic. Here’s my mom’s cat being zen:

Ah, so soothing.

I am happy I don’t have to go through cancer treatments. Not yet, at least. Hopefully never. I am happy that I get to live more, to write more, to love and be loved more.

I had cancer for a week. Does that make me a survivor? I think I always was one, just not in a cancer-y way. That feels important to say.

Also important: I’m going to see Wonder Woman tomorrow night.

What are you looking forward to?

You have fifteen minutes

If you’re an aspiring writer, no doubt you’ve heard this before. Writing experts are always pushing to write for just fifteen minutes a day. Like workout machines, they promise results if you can spend a little time doing this one thing every day.

And you know what? They’re right. If you use some of my note-taking methods and jot down bullet points of what you did in your previous writing session, you’ll be able to spend fifteen minutes writing the next day instead of reviewing what you’ve written and getting bogged down with the urge to edit. At fifteen minutes a day, you can write a novel.

I hear you saying, “That’s easy for you to say. You don’t have kids. You don’t have another job. You don’t know me. You don’t know my life.”

It’s true. I only have my four furry kids, and the only other things I have to do in a day besides writing are the chores everyone else has to do, but I still know you have fifteen minutes. I won’t bore you with an endless parade of parents or employees that still manage to write. You know they’re out there. You’ve probably met some. And if your family or your job leaves you too wiped at the end of the day to write, do as my friend David R. Slayton recommends and get up earlier in the morning to write while your brain is still fresh.

“What is the point of this?” you ask. “Is it just to make me feel guilty about how much I’m not writing?” Not at all. If the occasional spurt of writing is all you want to do, go for it, but that is a very long, difficult path to finishing a novel. Write short stories or blog posts or articles, but novel writing is a commitment, and long periods of no writing can slow you to a crawl and make you forget everything you’ve done before. Even bullet points can’t save you.

If you really want to write a novel and finish it, find fifteen minutes in a day to do so. And if you can’t find those minutes, ask yourself if you really want to write a novel and why. And for heaven’s sake, stop beating yourself up if it’s not something you really want. I’m asking you to let go of guilt, to let go of this slog if you don’t actually want to do it. And if you finish soul searching, and find that writing a novel is something you really want, I’m asking you to find those fifteen minutes. You might become addicted to them. Fifteen might become thirty or an hour or two hours.

And now I hear you saying, “Goddamn it! With all this other shit I have to do, what is so wrong with wanting a little me time! Why does everything have to be work!” And I’m trying to tell you that writing IS me time. If you’re a writer, if writing and finishing a project gives you the rush it gives me, writing is the best me time ever. You will be the greatest champion your work will ever have; it’s all about you. Everything you write will live on after you, whether it storms the bestseller lists or not. It will be out there forever, a legacy that is wholly yours.

You have an idea.
You have the tools and the will.
You have my support.
You have fifteen minutes.
Go.

Notes, the writing before you write

People often ask me how I write so quickly. My typing speed is pretty high, but that’s not usually what they mean. They want to know how I move through projects so quickly and finish first drafts within a month or two, so I thought I’d share some tips. First off, Notes.

Notes!!!!

I can’t stress them enough. I’ve heard of both pantsers and plotters. The first doesn’t use an outline and writes “by the seat of their pants.” The second has a detailed outline and sticks to it. I’m somewhere in between. I think most people are, but I can’t move without my notes, and if you’re the kind of person who doesn’t write anything down before you start writing and then stalls out quickly, I believe this is because you didn’t make any notes.

I like to make my notes with pen and paper. My notebooks are color coded and I use different pen colors for different characters or timelines. I like to have them open beside me while I’m working on my laptop, and the color coding of the notebooks helps me keep track of them. But you use whatever notes you like. Some weirdos hate paper, or so I’ve heard.

Spitball the ending!!!!

(The exclamation points make orders come alive!!!!!)

You don’t have to do an outline, but I think it is helpful to have a general idea of where the story is going, even if it’s something like, “A guard captain starts off believing her queen is awesome and ends up realizing she’s evil.” That’s enough to set a bulls-eye to aim for. You’re going to need a whole lot more plot to wrap around that, but you know in the beginning you want someone to think one way and end up thinking another. This could change. You could decide you want this realization to be in chapter three. Then your main character needs a new goal. Even if you don’t have one right away, jotting down potential ideas can help you think of something. Even if your idea is as vague as, “I want everyone to die like in Hamlet,” that will get you thinking of ways to make that happen. Writing them down solidifies them and helps them stick in your brain.

React to all the things!!!!

How characters react to various situations is the best way to show how their minds work, imo. I won’t believe a narrative that simply tells me a person is jovial or angry or homicidal. I want to see them being all those things. So I jot down character sketches before writing the story. My guard captain is jovial when she’s off duty, angry when she’s on, and homicidal when someone attacks her. I think of how she might react to a potential lover, too, or something less threatening than an attack. That way, if it happens in the story, I can look to my notes and my character can react quickly, so to speak, and I can keep writing without slowing down to worry about who this person is and why they do what they do. I can get the heart of them down right away and add some fine-tuning later. A first draft is not the time to polish. It needs a framework of a plot and a framework of the characters, too.

Notes do more stuff, too!!!!

(Or, I suck at headings!!!!)

Notes are useful for  more than what I’ve listed here. As I’m writing, I keep a loose timeline of what’s happening when. Sometimes I don’t do this until after I’ve got my first draft done, that way I can tidy up the timeline as I polish.

Also, when I finish writing, I sometimes jot down bullet points about what I’ve just written, especially if there’s going to be a gap of a few days before I can write again. This saves me from having to read what I’ve written before, which saves me from the temptation to edit as I go and get bogged down in details when I should be writing new stuff.

It’s also very handy to write down chapter breaks in your notes, so you can see how long each chapter is as you write. If you’re trying to be consistent with the lengths of your chapters, you’ll see what you’ve done so far and have an idea of how long you want a scene to be by looking at how much room it’s already taken up within a chapter.

You may have noticed that I treat first drafts sort of like notes themselves. This is very true, but I will save how I get through first drafts for another post. Hint: never stop writing a first draft in order to edit it.

Do you use notes when you write? Do you find they make your life easier? If you didn’t before, are you going to try them now?

The ArmadilloCon report

I hide behind your microphone

I hide behind your microphone

My arthritis and I had a tiring but ultimately fulfilling day at ArmadilloCon 2015. We started with a night panel on Friday titled, “Badass, Babe, or None of the Above: Are Women’s Archetypes Evolving (or Not) in SF/F Literature.”

The verdict: Yes, they are. We touched on how our literature and our society was slowly getting more gendered as we moved through the 2000’s but how there seemed to be a push-back against that. We predicted we’d be seeing more women in literature taking on a variety of roles without any character feeling the need to point out their woman-ness.
On Saturday, I had a reading with my Broad Universe buddies, where I read from the first Thrall Beyond Gold and Glory 300 DPIchapter of Thrall: Beyond Gold and Glory. There were some nods. I distinctly remember someone saying, “Sounds interesting.” 🙂

On Saturday night, I had “How Would Alien Life Affect Us?” We panelists were torn on this one. If we discovered alien microbes, we decided that most people probably wouldn’t care. But if we discovered intelligent life that we could recognize as intelligent, we all had a different predictions for what society might do. I said we’d seen so many alien disaster movies, that widespread panic might be in the cards.
Late Saturday, we talked about SF movies from last year and found we couldn’t agree on anything save that Mad Max: Fury Road was well worth the price of admission, and that most of us didn’t enjoy Jurassic World.

BAW and Trakena Prevost

On Sunday, my friend Trakena Prevost and I spoke on a panel about “Writing Fiction from a Gender, Ethnic, Cultural, or Temporal Viewpoint Other Than Your Own.” We agreed that research is key, including talking to people of whatever viewpoint you’re trying to write from. I spoke a lot about writing a trans character in Thrall.

 

 
I also got two new prints from the art show and sold one book. All in all, a good showing for a small but very interesting con. I hope to come back next year.

My next stop is Women’s Week in Provincetown MA in October. I hope to see you there!

Ch-ch-changes

You knew this was coming, didn’t you? After all, I’ve been in one place for more than a year. That’s right, folks. I’m moving again!

Well, it’s not completely official. Not yet. We’re in the offer/counter-offer stage. For those of you who haven’t been with me very long, I move a lot. Since 2008, I’ve moved four times, not counting now. It’s because we not only wanted to try out several different areas of town, we wanted to rent until we found the perfect place for us, and it looks like we finally have. Now we want to buy.

It’s made me think a lot about the sheer amount of stuff in my life, stuff that I’ve packed and unpacked and now will have to pack and unpack again. There is the desire to just chuck it all and start over, but it’s more than that. Being confronted time and again by the things I surround myself with has actually changed how I see those things. Objects that used to give me joy just don’t anymore. That’s when I had to start wondering, was it just the hassle, or is it me that’s changed?

Take books. I love stories. I always will. And I like physical books (though I also adore my Kindle). I like their smell and their sound when you flip the pages. I like bookmarks and have a small collection. At one time, I collected books and had over 2000.

Now I’ve pared that down considerably, giving books to friends, donating them to libraries or Goodwill. I used to sell them to Half Price, but since that would only gain me store credit, I decided that giving them away was the way to go. I’ve kept those that mean something to me. I’ve kept my favorite authors, but most that I read, I just…let go. It didn’t give me the pain that it once would have if I’d been forced to part with them.

The only other collection I have that rivaled them is my pen collection.

And it's grown since then

And it’s grown since then

This was taken in 2009 or 2010, so the pens have grown considerably. They were starting to take over my desk, and I began to wonder if I care about them as much as I used to. It gave me joy once just to look at them. Now, not so much. So far, all I’ve done is move the bulk of them to a bookshelf, but once I start packing, I think I might go through them, pick out those that resonate emotionally with me, and slowly give the rest away. Maybe I’ll even include them in any giveaways I do in the future.

It’s bittersweet, like most change. I’m sad that I don’t care about the pens or the books like I used to. It reminds me of when I drifted away from toys in childhood. I remember trying to play with them again after I’d lost interest, as if I was letting them down by forgetting them. I tried to summon the joy I once had, but I just couldn’t. Now I’ve started looking at other things and saying, “Do I still love that? Do I need it?” I’m resisting the urge to go hog wild and get rid of almost everything. I’m afraid I might come to regret that. And I’m also trying not to beat myself up if I do want to keep some things that make me happier just by having them around. I still have quite a few journals that I’ve never used, but they’re sparkly and pretty, and I like to stare at them sometimes.

Maybe that’s what I’ll rate everything by. Stare-ability. On a scale of 1-10, how much do I want to just sit and stare at this? Seems as good a measurement as any.

Have your collecting habits evolved over time? Is there any collection you once loved that now you think you can do without?

Small press vs. large press, a question for the ages

ConDFW went off without a hitch last weekend. A modestly attended con, but still an attentive one, it left me with ample opportunity to talk with readers and other writers. Most of my panels were well attended, and I picked up several new blog and twitter followers.

All in all, a big hooray.

Except…

There were lots of small presses in attendance as well as authors (like yours truly) that publish through other small presses. There were some indie authors as well, and quite a few set up tables in the dealer’s room alongside bookstores selling the wares of larger presses. I did not join them as I hate sitting still for hours, and for someone who only has two books available, I don’t think I’d see the sales needed to justify the cost. Some of those who had several published books seemed quite busy.

Except…

Even to someone like me who loves my small press and has had a wonderful experience, there is a whiff of legitimacy about books from large presses. Their authors don’t have to hawk their own books. (But they do have to do all their own marketing online.) To a lot of people, this makes them seem more…real.

Never mind the fact that I know for certain that my books are sold at major bookstores around the country. They’re just not sold at those stores in the south, where LGBT prejudice is still very easy to stumble upon. But it was because my books weren’t available at the con that I think many people automatically equated me with “not as good.”

We all know this is shit. As the big houses continue to coalesce and falter, small houses rise. And you can get stories from the small houses that you can’t get from the large ones. (Like lesbian princesses, for example. As a side note, there are definitely other gay fantasy main characters, but their stories are usually tragic in some way because of their gayness. Finding a no-big-deal tale like mine is a little harder. Just throwing that out there. ^_^)

Many small presses continually put out quality work, and people know this, they acknowledge it, and still that legitimacy stench comes creeping out. One person at the con (who I know is in favor of small press) expressed the opinion that small houses must be easier to “get into” than larger presses, like they’ll take anything that comes along. When is the last time you ever heard of a publisher being desperate for things to publish? Yet small presses seem a healthy target.

I fell into the trap myself, watching people pass over small press tables in order to spend their hard-earned cash at the bookstores. People had told me many times over the weekend how entertaining I am. They loved my buttons and my cover postcards. I can hope they’ll buy the ebook or order the paperback online. But they ambled right up to the stores and handed over their money.

I suppose some of it could be subject matter. Though my books aren’t graphic sex-wise, some people get weird about two women falling in love. But I have to wonder how much is that legit-vibe. I even thought, Gee, I have to try and sell something else (something non-LGBT) to a major publisher again, which means trying to get an agent, which means boarding the rejection train, a pit of despair from which many writers never escape.

It would mean throwing all my hopes and dreams and hard work at the feet of a crumbling industry, all for the hope that a bookseller in Texas would deign to carry me at SF cons.

Well, when I put it like that…

Writers, if you’re published through a small press or if you publish your own work, do you ever feel this way? Readers, do you pass over indie or small press books because you assume the quality is lower, despite what your own experiences might be?

As another aside, my time with Bold Strokes is and has been fabulous, and I hope to keep publishing with them for a long time to come as I have many many LGBT stories to tell. And they are one of the largest LGBT presses and one of the largest small presses there is. I guess I’ll just have to form a thicker skin when it comes to comments thrown around at a con. 😉 And I’ll have to turn more people on to LGBT fantasy stories, one reader at a time.

Another another aside, this was one of the first times at a SF con (as opposed to a lesfic con) that someone showed up to see me. Thanks @shadowriver, you made my day. ^_^

IWW: In the spotlight

If you had told me I’d be speaking in front of people about my book years ago, I wouldn’t have believed you…and I might have thrown up a little.

And if I had committed to speak then, they would have had to drag me in like this:

No

Even though I did theater in high school, I’ll always had a hard time with crowds. It’s more than being an introvert, it’s an aversion about talking about myself, especially my work.

I’ve met a lot of women who resist talking themselves up, even when it’s appropriate. It’s a pretty hard skill to acquire, and I’m still flabbergasted when people ask me about my work. I still think someone has paid them to be interested.

I pictured my first Q&A would go like this:

questions 1

I have one

nervous

outta here

crap 1

Fortunately, my first talk went worlds better than that. WORLDS. However, if you do meet me and ask me about my work or compliment me, please forgive me if I stammer a bit. After years of practice, I can handle that hair question easier, at least. From airports to restaurants, all over the world, people have always wanted to know if this is my real hair.

Do you have to jump start your brain when someone asks about your work? How about if they ask you about your hair?

IWW: It ain’t always easy

Perhaps you’ve seen this in stores?

It’s a firefighter and police officer, though I use those terms loosely. (Where ARE the sparkly-skirted police officers?) The separation of the pants is supposed to convince you that you’re getting more for your buck. But as it comes, it looks like you’re getting the saucy firefighter:

"Who's first to be rescued, lovahs?"

And the short and sparkly skirted police officer,

"Perpetually bendy arm would be great if I had a gun!"

who’s probably chasing this woman:

"MARDI GRAS!!!!"

Best money I ever spent.

Halloween 2011

I really like the Barbie “I can do…” series, but they’re cutting a lot of corners here. Taekwondo Barbie is pretty complete. She even comes with accessories.

"Come at me, and it'll take a surgeon to remove this water bottle from your ass."

The diver, however, lacks some essential gear.

"The mask and weight belt are all I need, right?"

And the astronaut is a little shortsighted.

"Kiss my ass, radiation."

It’s a race to see what kills her first.

For firefighter Barbie, even if I put the Mardi Gras pants on her, she still looks like a bad costume.

Is anyone else seeing Michael Jackson circa Thriller?

Belly shirt, pleather coat, and culottes. I’m pretty sure all firefighters wear this. Or at least, the sexy ones do.

At least there’s paleontologist Barbie. She’s pretty complete.

SPARKLY BONES!

Still with action culottes, but what are ya gonna do?

Whose with me for Halloween 2012? I call sexy firefighter! I hate pants anyway.

IWW: The Love Triangle

Action movies take three to tango, a wild dance of hero/villain/captive culminating in some serious high-wire fighting over pits of rabid crocodiles.

Am I right?

The villain has more style, loves a shiny, jagged knife (because she wants that shit up close and personal), and has a pet that’s cooler than yours. Not a dog or a cat, something more…MORE. Like a baby panda.

Also, she builds her lair beneath an active volcano

Nailed it.

The hero’s in black ops, which I assumed meant she wore lots of black. She’s ex-CIA, ex-military, ex-coast guard, and an ex-librarian because I like to read. She uses a gun because killing from a distance is somehow humane.

Doesn't need to see the light die in your eyes

But because we’re hard fucking core, we can’t use weapons to hurt each other. That shit’s for babies who don’t KUNG FU.

Ditch gun!

Lose knife!

Battle royale under an exploding volcano…full of crocodiles (not pictured, but trust me, they’re down there)!

Body slam with pithy comment!

Mind if I drop in?

Flying kick with lamer comment! (The villain is always cleverer than the hero. See: Schwarzenegger, Arnold.)

Sorry, I've got to take out the trash!

After several death defying jumps over lava crocs, the hero wins, saves the captive and either kills the villain or leads her away in cuffs.

Let's get this panda back where he belongs!

Scene.

But…I’m disturbed. My three-way tango? Not so much. You see this?

Sigh

That’s not a tango-er, that’s a helpless muppet. It’s more like a love…line, than a triangle. All the conflict, all the passion is between the hero and the villain. This thing hanging behind them could be a giant plastic pear for all the ways it drives the plot.

The villain may have tried to seduce him. The hero may have realized that she wanted to live/retire/random epiphany because of him, but in the end, he’s a tool, in more ways than one. He’s a plot device, not a character, as replaceable as they come.

Let's get this panda untaped from this pear

And in the movies, that was always a woman.

What the shit? I didn’t want to be hanging in the villain’s lair under the volcano. I wanted to be swinging by my whip and cutting fools with my light saber. I wanted to kick ass on my own time, my own way. I’d already started on the path to writing strong female leads, and Barbie was going to help.

Did you ever put yourself in movies or television? Which role did you covet? (It’s all right if you wanted to be rescued. ^_^)

IWW: Origins

Today is the first of a series I hope to get many miles out of, my I Write Women (IWW) series. It’s the story of how I came to write adventure stories where women stab the shit out of things.
To help me write about writing women, I’ve enlisted the help of my fav toy of all time, Barbie:

"Happy to be here! Can't wait to stab shit."

I never got the whole, “little girls will grow up with unrealistic expectations of what their bodies should look like.” I remember someone telling me that I shouldn’t expect to look like Barbie someday. No shit. For one thing, my toes aren’t one high-heeled piece.

These are very useful for kicking, however.

She’s freakishly disproportionate. She’s made of hard plastic and wasn’t huggably soft like a real human being. As a child, I wondered if this common sense was hard won for the poor deluded soul who told me I couldn’t look like Barbie. I pictured her horror when she tried to speak to Barbie and realized that Barbie would never ever speak back.

I loved adventure stories, fantasy/sci-fi or otherwise. And even though most of the adults I knew were women, there were very few women in the stories that I loved. And if there was a woman, she was almost always captured and had to wait to be rescued.
But I didn’t see this as a male/female thing. I saw it as an odd-man-out thing. The lesser represented gender gets captured. Got it. Well, I had fifteen Barbies and one Ken.

It just made sense.

Did you notice skewed gender/race/sexuality roles in the stories around you as a kid? Did you change them in your play? Maybe you just preferred matchbox.