From Today’s Writing

Working on a dieselpunkish piece, tentatively entitled “The Blue Train.” People may notice I tend to skip around a bit on project. By my guess, I think I’ve got about a dozen pots boiling at any given time, and at least two of those, right now at least, are longer works. I think this one will end up a reasonable length of around 5k, though.

By six PM, his lordship was up and ready to be shaved and dressed. I had sandwiches sent up, something to tide him over till he went out. His haggard eyes were pouched and heavy as though he hadn’t slept.

“Where to tonight?” I asked as I stirred the lather, smelling of bay rum, and spread it over the black shadows on his jawline.

“Jenkins,” he said. “He’s set up some sort of game in his car on the train. Says it will be novel.”

“Novel” is not a word one likes to hear from an older vampire. So often their ideas of novelty involve pain.

“Have the front desk call me a taxi.” He studied his lapels, fingering the wide black expanse, before he held out an arm and I placed his watch, freshly wound, on his wrist. Gold, not silver. A showy piece, but one vampires would appreciate. They like gaudy on other people.

He looked at me. “Do you want to come?”

He hadn’t asked me that before. It wouldn’t be anything new to have me there waiting on him while he gambled, but previously I’d avoided the vampires. They like nonhuman blood more than human and they’re not hesitant about feeding on servants. Would his presence keep me safe?

But there were tired blue shadows under his eyes. He needed backup. He needed a friend there.

His servant would have to do.

It’s been fun, but lots of research in an era I haven’t done much with. Otoh, the point of divergence from our own is almost a century earlier so lots of leeway.

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Why SFWA Should (IMO) Admit Self-Published Writers, and Some Thoughts about the Process

Photo of Cat Rambo with Dark Vader and stormtrooper

Preparing to take on the challenges ahead.

SFWA, at its usual slow lumbering pace, is heading towards answering the question of whether or not the organization should allow self-publishing as a way to qualify for membership. For those unfamiliar with the current requirements, it involves sales to traditional publishing markets: three stories or a single novel advance at a specified rate (current 6 cents per word for stories and a $2000 advance for a novel, from a market listed as a SFWA qualifying market).

Do I believe results with self-publishing should qualify someone for SFWA? Yes, absolutely. To me the only question is how to define those results in a way that makes them comparable with the existing criteria.
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Coming to the End of Costa Rica

Image of a baby two-toed sloth, taken at the Sloth Sanctuary in Costa Rica.

This is a baby two-toed sloth. I can't decide whether or not they're cuter than baby three-toed sloths. It's a toss up, really.

Down to our last week here! We leave next Thursday and head to Miami where we’ll spend a day and then (yay!) hop on a cruise ship to take advantage of a last-minute opportunity. I’ve never been on one, so I’ve been reading up on the experience and am looking forward to it. We’ll be spending seven days on the boat and seeing a little of the Caribbean (which I cannot envision without thinking of the Sid Meier Pirates! game, which consumed a great deal of my time at one point. After that we’re headed up to the NYC/PA area for early October, where I think I’ll be around the time of the SFWA reception there, but I’m still figuring that out.

I’ve not gotten much writing this week, but for good reasons. First we visited the Sloth Sanctuary here and spent the night in the Buttercup Room of their B&B. We got to go for an early morning canoe ride along a placid salt-water river, seeing bats, birds, and beautiful vegetation, then spent a couple of hours touring and seeing sloths, including the babies, which are the essence of cuteness. Here’s a video from the baby sloth nursery.
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What I’m Working On

Manipulated picture of linoleum print by Cat RamboReally pleased with the current project, a continuation and expansion of A Seed on the Wind:

He took a landing towards Neryon neighborhood, a narrow outjut of stone augmented with board and rope buildings dragging at the stone, which was carved with a sinewy overlay of snakes and bees. In midday, it seemed to be drowsing. In a few hours it would begin to stretch and yawn itself awake. The caffeine vendors, selling chai and kaf and a dozen teas would range about filling cups and mugs or doling out thick cups that could later be chewed to mushy fiber for a quick thirdmeal as the evening began in earnest.

He made his way to a sleepy tavern, and slouched in a rear table, nursing leedink, mind thumbing through the possibilities as he fingered the wicker and wood puzzle centered on the table.

He could always go back to Poit. Or Ellsfall. Either of those choices itched him wrong, though.

A being sliding onto the bench across him in the wall niche. The stone shelf under its elbow as it leaned forward. “Pleasance, chum.”

Expensive clothes. Rasp-skinned, narrow-headed, not-human. Flat dark eyes, cold as shadowed caverns. Smile tied on with insincerity.

“Fuck off,” Bill said.

The smile widened, deepened, showed pointed teeth, filed sharper. Gold inlay in the closest one, a design of fish and flowers, a spray of rubies in a line down the front. “An asking for you, Mr. Bill.”

Panicked question stabbed through his stomach. Why did this stranger know his name? He sat back. “What’s that?”

“You know a guy, cook at Fleur, name’s John.”

Chef John. One of the possibilities that had been flickering through his minds. He shrugged. “Don’t ring no chime.”

“All I want is you to takespeak a word or two.”

Bill waited. In the room, the clackclask of pool balls, two youths playing, dressed in leather and thorns. The electric light flickflickered on arcs of white and jasper plastic, stacattoing light.

“Tell him the big companies don’t mind freelancers trading bittybit on the side. But he’s getting bittybig. Needs to step back.”

He hunched his shoulders in a shrug. “Happen to run into him, may say. What’s the what if I do?”

The stranger’s fingerscales were pointed, each tipped with a flower of gold, a stinger of steel, as it spread them as though to smooth the shrug away from the air.

“Bittybit money for you, friend. Just come here an asking.”

(If you want to make sure you get to read the finished version, sign up for my Patreon campaign and get two stories a month for as little as $1 each!)

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You Should Read This: Jeff VanderMeer’s Southern Reach Trilogy

Cover of Acceptance

The publisher’s taken the unusual (increasingly less so, though) step of releasing all three books in one year — particularly awesome for those of us who hate waiting for the next installment to come out.

I’m timing this post to come out before I’ve finished the last book of the Southern Reach trilogy, ACCEPTANCE, so I haven’t read the entire trilogy yet. But I recommend the overall trilogy based on my utter enthusiasm for the first two books, ANNIHILATION and AUTHORITY.

VanderMeer is one of the finest writers alive*, in my opinion, able to craft worlds that are eerie and beautiful and intriguing and, above all, unlike anything you’ve read before. Both ANNIHILATION and AUTHORITY are full of moments that smacked me in the face with their perception and beauty in a way that still leaves me thinking about them.

The books have that sense of the weird that haunts other works, like House of Leaves or The Crying of Lot 49. As though one were viewing the everyday world with a new lens, one that slants them, puts them askew, renders them mysterious. And they do it beautifully.

The publisher’s taken the unusual (increasingly less so, though) step of releasing all three books in one year — particularly awesome for those of us who hate waiting for the next installment to come out.

*Full disclosure: Not only do I know Jeff, but we’ve co-written a novelette, The Surgeon’s Tale, together. But part of my pleasure in that friendship/co-authorship is a deep awareness of how very very good his writing is.

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WIP: A Cavern Ripe With Dreams

Cover for A Seed on the Wind, painting by Mats Minnhagen

Tiny things floated through the air all around him. He stretched out his palm and kept it motionless long enough that one drifted to be trapped in his palm. A seed, a brown seed. Attached to one end a tuft of hairs, fine and feathery, to carry it along. Carefully he raised his hand, examined it more closely. So small. As it neared his eye, it became no longer brown, ridges and swirls marked its surface in grays and greens and reds that somehow blended together to create the impression of brown from just a few inches farther away.

I’m finishing up A Cavern Ripe with Dreams, the sequel to A Seed On the Wind. A version will undoubtedly go out to Patreon patrons before I start shopping the combined novellas around as a single entity.

This story owes a great deal to both William S. Burroughs’ Junky (indeed, the protagonist is named Bill in his honor) and Joe R. Lansdale’s Drive-In, a book I found immensely freeing and exhilarating in its sheer WTFery and bravura. If you’ve read A Querulous Flute of Bone, it’s the same world, that of the co-writing project The Fathomless Abyss.

From part of today’s writing:

Bill felt a rush of fear, but a kind that he had never experienced before, something like the fear you feel when someone tells you a frightening story that they believe is true. A terror that was convincing yet somehow dilute. A terror that was not his, somehow.

A fear that was enjoyable.

He realized that it was the creature. That he was feeling its emotions. That if he closed his eyes, he could still see the room like a ghostly overlay across the darkness behind his lids.

He wondered if it experienced the same phenomenon, this double life. He put his hand up and touched it with a fingertip, stroking along the coarse fur that was still damp with eggy fluid. It smelled like newly-split wood, rare and sharp. As he touched it, it shuddered but stayed still, like a woman whose innermost core had been touched, who feared and craved more. At the thought, he grew hard, and he felt it shudder again before it curled tighter around his neck.

He lay there with it around his neck, savoring the mental taste of it, dipping in and out of its perceptions. After a while, his bladder drove him into standing and using the chamber pot beneath his bed. As he pissed, he could feel the creature tasting his sensations in turn.

It made him curious. Settling back onto the bed, he took a syrette from the bedside table, already loaded with honeypain. He injected it in his wrist and lay back to feel the twofold sensation.

First it felt as though the back of his eyes had dissolved, only to be filled with a subtle warmth that flowed out from them, flowing through him until he was only a zone of temperature and sensation, as though he was warm water in a bath, only an outline. But always with that lurking presence perceiving him, keeping him whole. He had loved honeypain for its ability to take him outside himself, but now he realized that it was nothing compared to the creature.

He tried to think at it, to see if it would answer him, but all his thoughts were blurred by the honeypain. He could hear only his blood drumming in his veins, a hard and insistent beat that told him he was alive, as it had before, for sometimes when he was dipped deep in these reveries, he thought himself dead. Now he had that beat but more – the creature curled on his chest. Part of him but not part.

After a while he slept.

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Patrick McLaw: What’s Going on Here?

Abstract image to accompany teaser from a fantasy short story, Cathay of Chaos, by speculative fiction writer, Cat Rambo.So there’s lots of chatter this morning about Patrick McLaw, a Dorchester County teacher who has, as far as anyone can tell, been suspended and committed to mental care (making him utterly unavailable for comment, which seems like the equivalent of getting disappeared) because he wrote two science fiction novels, set almost a millenium in the future, about school shootings.

Here’s a couple of the pieces about it:
From DailyKos:
From the Atlantic:
From Dorchester-based The Star: (Thank you to Scott A. Kennedy for pointing me at that.)

Here is a letter from Nalo Hopkinson about the events. (Thank you to Elizabeth Bear for pointing at it.)

Update: here’s a piece from the LA Times saying that the confinement was based on a letter sent to officials. No mention of what the letter said, or which officials it was directed to.

No one seems to know more than this and based on this, it sure looks like a violation of First Amendment rights that should have any writer, if not every citizen, outraged. When I tried to get more information, all I got was a press release from August 22, which had been updated on August 25, saying basically what’s in those pieces.

If you want to write or call someone about it, here are some suggestions:

The e-mail address of the Dorchester Country School Boards: There’s also a snail mail address on this page:

Here is a petition asking that McLaw be reinstated:

Here is the address of the Superintendent of Schools, Henry Wagner, Jr. His phone number is 410-228-4747, ext. 1002

Here is the contact information for the Wicomico County State’s Attorney office:

P.O. Box 1006
Salisbury, MD 21803
(410) 548-4880

Matthew A. Maciarello, State’s attorney
(410) 548-4880, ext 23

Ella Disharoon, Deputy State’s Attorney
(410) 548-4880, ext 28

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On Writing: Can You Do It Wrong?

Picture of a page of writing

Your motives do not matter. Your method does not matter. What matters is that you are writing.

Are you putting words on the page? Then you are doing it right.

You may not be creating publishable words. You may not be creating amazing words. You may not be creating words you like. But by creating words, you are doing something actual, tangible, verifiable. And that puts you ahead of all the people who aren’t writing.

Someone once said to me at a party, “I would write, but I need to conquer some inner demons first.” And honestly — in my opinion, that’s bullshit unless he was talking about the inner demon of procrastination and not just being a pretentious jackass. Because, come on – who says that kind of thing and takes themself seriously?

Writers just fucking write.

Do you need to send stuff out? Do you need to polish what you’ve produced? Do you need to promote your writing? Yes, and yes, and yes, but all of those things are dependent on having written.

Let me reiterate this, because it’s important. Writing always comes first.

When I teach, we do a lot of writing exercises. And I hear people say, just before they read what they’ve produced, “I’m not sure I did this right.” And then they go on and read me something wonderful. Maybe it’s not exactly what I was envisioning when I came up with the exercise. Maybe they’ve turned the exercise on its head and done something completely different. But that’s okay. The only way they could do the exercise wrong, in my opinion, is to not do it.

I have seen stories workshopped that were…sometimes difficult to say much about. Some are seared on my memory; others kept me up at night trying to figure out what to say. Some were politically a bit problematic. But you know what? At least they got written.

If you are writing, you are being a writer. If you keep at it — and think about writing and getting better — you will get better. There are things you can do that will help you get better faster, but all of them depend on…well, you should know what I’m going to say here by now….writing.

If it’s fear of getting it wrong that’s stopping you, then knock it off. Here’s the reassurance you need. You cannot do it wrong.

Now go write some words.

Posted in 2014, teaching, Writing | Tagged , , , | 2 Comments

WIP: Reality Storage

Cup of Coffee

Coffee cup

Finishing up the final polish of a story today, titled “Reality Storage”. It fits in both the Villa Encantada series as well as the category of “stories inspired by the remodeling and moving process.” Here you go:

So there I was staring at the bank of monitors. It was still early in the morning; my coffee was half-full but I’d finished my muffin. I was thinking about the way Bonnie smelled in the morning, before she showered, still a little sweaty but with a lingering edge like lilac and mint from her bodywash, and a little musty too, when you burrowed your face down into the hollow of her neck.

On monitor three, the guy entered, got a cart, and then pretended to load stuff onto it from his car. That’s what made me look a second time, catching him lifting empty air up. He did it five or six times, then trundled the cart onto the elevator and took it up to locker 234.

I watched him all the way, sipping my coffee, wondering what he was up to. He opened up the locker, mimed lifting six things into it, closed and locked it. He even wore work gloves to protect his hands. I wondered if he was practicing some kind of act. It looked so realistic, to the point where he staggered on the last lift, as though thrown off balance by the burden’s heaviness.

He stripped off the gloves, closed up the unit, and locked it again. He didn’t bother to take the empty cart back down with him, just left it there, which made me think the worse of him. It’s shitty not to do little things like that, to make someone else clean up after you.

While he was in the elevator, he looks straight at the camera. He rubbed at his ear, frowning. Then he shrugged and gave the camera a wave, as though he saw me watching.

Then he got back into his sporty little pickup truck and drove away.

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Coming Up Tomorrow in Patreon: Prairie Dog Town

Picture of an empty cage

"Like the gift shop, the zoo was deserted. Cages of galvanized wire, weathered into dullness. Had it been shiny when the place was first built? She had a hard time envisioning any part of this ever being shiny and new. It was too slump-shouldered, too almost-abandoned. "

If you’re one of my Patreon patrons, rejoice! I have finished a brand spanking new story for tomorrow and you guys will be literally the first human beings to read it in its entirety (Wayne’s heard part of a draft. Living with a writer who insists on reading stuff aloud may or may not be a bonus, depending on how you view it. I firmly insist it is one.).

Here’s a little. The protagonist’s an elderly woman with an important secret:

Like the gift shop, the zoo was deserted. Cages of galvanized wire, weathered into dullness. Had it been shiny when the place was first built? She had a hard time envisioning any part of this ever being shiny and new. It was too slump-shouldered, too almost-abandoned.

Despite the man’s words, there was no shade, only crumbing concrete benches sizzling in the sun beside lopsided tables, so she wandered through the cages. If she kept moving, the sun wouldn’t press down on her like a hand, and besides, there might be shade here somewhere.

The most interesting thing was the actual prairie dog town that the zoo had been built on. The prairie dogs were there, their heads at the top of many of the tunnels, each of which had a scattering of grain near them. Most of the prairie dogs whistled and popped their heads back in when she approached, but one fat one stayed, chewing away, even when she got within a few feet, although it tilted its head to keep her in view, cheeks still stuffed full.

Someone else might have found the place depressing, but she didn’t do emotions any more. You can’t have a heart that bleeds if you want to be in our line of work, her father had said long ago when she was a teen, just learning, and he’d made sure of that. Her thoughts moved away from that. Water under the bridge, time that had flowed away and never been recoverable.

If you’re not a Patreon patron, allow me to shamelessly point out that for as little as $2 a month, you can get two original, unpublished stories from me each month (with bonus material coming as we hit each stretch goal). Want to see me editing a magazine again? Sign up now to supoort the campaign.

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