What I Wrote in 2016 and The List of Award Eligibility Posts I’ve Found

christmas_carenOh, it’s that time! The season of looking back at the year and seeing what you did or didn’t get done. And the season for starting to nominate for awards. I’ve been reading and recommending for a while now, but it’s always fun to read all the wrap-up posts and find anything that I missed. I do have a monster post full of some of this year’s reading, but I’m still working on that. (When I have it, there will be a link here.)

Writers wondering whether or not they should put up an awards eligibility post, the answer is yes, yes you should. Do us all the favor of collecting your stuff and making it easy to find. If you’ve got a lot, point out some favorites.

The stories of my own I am pushing this year are “Left Behind” (short story), “Red in Tooth & Cog” (novelette), “Haunted” (novella co-written with Bud Sparhawk), and the fantasy collection Neither Here Nor There. SFWA members should be able to find copies of those on the member boards; I am happy to mail copies to people reading for awards whether or not you are a member. Drop me a line and let me know the preferred format. I am looking for reviewers interested in Neither Here Nor There and happy to send copies as needed.
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Nattering Social Justice Cook: Prepare to Ride, My People

photo of someone saying yeahTo those who have said “wait and see” about the results of the election, I have seen enough events and phenomena to feel that I am sufficiently prepared to venture an opinion on the results of the election. Here are some, listed in random order:

I need to stop because the more I look, the more the hits keep on coming. What a bizarre time to live in.

So. For those of you who either didn’t vote for Trump or did and now are all “I’ve made a huge mistake“, aka the sane and/or informed ones, yeah, buckle up because it’s going to be a rocky ride. At best, a lot of wealthy people are going to skim money from our government while changing laws so they can exploit us even more while at the same time, hatred and intolerance are normalized and neo-Nazis are allowed to try to silence dissent. At worst our rights are stripped away and things go up in flames.

There were election shenanigans, to a point where people should be at a minimum auditing the results. There was documented Russian interference and more than that, there was the result of sedulous gerrymandering on the part of the Republicans for the past decade along with their removal of the Voting Rights Act.

In my opinion. You may disagree, and that’s fine. This is what I think and what’s driving my actions over the next four years. I am going to speak up and object and point things out. I am going to support institutions that help the groups like the homeless, LGBT youth, and others whose voting rights have been stolen and whose already too-scant and under threat resources are being methodically stripped away.

I am going to continue to insist that honesty, tolerance, and a responsibility for one’s own words are part of our proud American heritage, the thing that has often led us along the path where, although there have been plenty of mistakes, there have been actions that advanced the human race, that battled the forces of ignorance and intolerance, and that served as a model for the world. That “liberty and justice for all” are not hollow words, but a lamp lifted to inspire us and light our way in that direction.

I will continue to love in the face of hate, to do what Jesus meant when he said hate the sin while loving the sinner. I will continue to teach, formally and by setting an example of what a leader, a woman, a good human being should do, acknowledging my own imperfections so I can address them and keep growing and getting better at this human existence thing. If I see a fellow being in need, I will act, even if it means moving outside my usual paths.

I will not despair or give way to apathy. And as part of that, I will celebrate the good, point out the wonderful, witness the absurd, the amazing, and even the wryly amusing. I will let my sense of humor buoy me, and I will continue to consider the alt-pantless, sorry, alt-right, petty, pathetic, and laughable. They know that they are. Writing in 1944 about anti-semitism in his essay Anti-Semite and Jew: An Exploration of the Etiology of Hate, Sartre stated things with a prescience that makes his words apply to their theater of outraged outrageousness, in which they prance around with the self-importance of bright preteens who have just discovered death metal and nihilism.

Never believe that anti-Semites are completely aware of the absurdity of their replies. They know that their remarks are frivolous, open to challenge. But they are amusing themselves, for it is their adversary who is obliged to use words responsibly since he believes in words. The anti-Semites have the right to play. They even like to play with discourse for, by giving ridiculous reasons, they discredit the seriousness of their interlocutors. They delight in acting in bad faith, since they seek not to persuade by sound argument but to intimidate and disconcert.

I will not be intimidated or disconcerted. Feel free to laugh at my naiveté, my over-earnestness, and idealism. I’m going to dance right past you, m-fers, and you will never know what hit you.

Language matters. Truth matters. Even in the face of this sort of thing:

The world is broken. Love isn’t enough to fix it. It will take time and effort and blood and sweat and tears. It will stretch some of us almost to the breaking point and others past it. We must help each other in the struggle, must be patient and kind, and above all hopeful. We must speak out even when we are frightened or sad or weary to the bone.

The millennials, may the universe bless them, are inheriting a shitty world. Those of us from older generations must teach and support and help where we can, realizing that what we do now affects the rest of their lives. We cannot let things slide into any of the nightmarish worlds we see depicted in so much science fiction, but if we do not act, they will. I will not sugarcoat things; it may be too late. But living as though it is not is the only way we’re going to survive.

Act now. Even if it’s just saying hello or smiling at someone that you wouldn’t normally. Start putting some good energy out in the universe to counteract the fog of hate. You’ll be surprised by how much better it makes you feel. Don’t pay attention to the trolls; they’re trying to keep you busy so you won’t act, to discourage you into slumping back onto the couch before you can even take a step out the door.

And here’s a recipe for the best chocolate chip cookies I know. In case you need a little chocolate in your life. We’ve gone through several batches of them in the past week here at Chez Rambo.

Bright blessings on you all,

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For Writers: Re-visioning, Rewriting, and Other Forms of Fine-tuning Your Fiction

image of a griffon statueYesterday I taught a day-long workshop on rewriting and editing one’s work for Clarion West. I usually do this as a two hour online workshop, so it was interesting to take the class and get a chance to really flesh it out, particularly since I can use this version to create an on-demand version.

As with all writing advice, mileage will vary according to the individual. The best thing as a writer that you can do is to pay attention to your own process and make it more effective. Experiment with lots of things, identify the practices that work, and incorporate them into your process. Keep experimenting, mixing things up a little, every once in a while, writing to the sound of whale songs, or dictating while hiking, or using a pen rather than the keyboard — it doesn’t matter what as long as you keep testing things in a way that lets you grow as a writer.
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Nattering Social Justice Cook: Stay the Course

we are not islands. We are part of humanity, a deep rich pool in which we swim, and we will either do so or sink, collectively.Like many of you, I was taken aback by the results of the recent election, to the point of depression, dismay, and concern for our future. Part of my past week, though, was spent in Chicago at a conference for nonprofit leaders, and that served as a heartening antidote in some ways.

Part of that experience was the reminder that our world holds people who don’t know where their next meal is coming from, or if they’ll have a dry place to sleep that night. That there are children who are abused, animals who are tortured, nations being oppressed, even eco-systems being destroyed. That so much is wrong. That so much needs fixing. Is it odd to say that was heartening? Because it was so inspiring to be around hundreds of people who have given their time and energy and so much more to help others.

It underscored the fact that we are not islands. We are part of humanity, a deep, rich pool in which we swim, and we will either do so or sink, collectively. The question of where to start with that is one that divides many of those who desperately want to fix things. And the truth is this: that helping wherever and whenever you can is fine, no matter what form it takes. The act of helping others enriches our souls and keeps them nourished.
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Home Stretch For Hearts of Tabat

Photo of Cat by the Great Wall.

On the Great Wall.

So my promise to myself is that the sequel to Beasts of Tabat, Hearts of Tabat, will be DONE by November 14th, which is my birthday, and which I plan to spend with Skyrim and a nice sativa (legal here in the marvelous land of WA) and not one ounce of work throughout the day as a thank you to me for working my butt off the last six weeks and getting this DONE.

The book is scheduled to be released at Emerald City Comicon next year, so you may see why the time pressure has stepped up in intensity. I told myself I’d get it done this year, and I have, along with a whole bunch of stories, not one but two collections, the update of Creating an Online Presence for Writers, a bajillion trips, and opening the Rambo Academy for Wayward Writers, including cool new classes from Rachel Swirsky and Juliette Wade, so I feel darn good about how much I got accomplished this year despite SFWA’s demanding maw chewing up my time on a consistent basis.

I thought, however, it would be useful perhaps for people grappling with novels to see what the last bits of work involve. I’ve been incorporating edits from the hardcopy manuscript but still have lots and lots of comments in the e-copy to address. In the process of adding those, I was able to look at the manuscript from a high-enough level that I could sort out all the chronology (oh dear GODDESS please let that statement be true, because that’s been the biggest pain in the rear so far) and make sure that everything made sense, that storylines were resolved, and that all the hidden plotlines got bubbled up in a meaningful way.

I’m adding in a few stray scenes that got dropped somehow, and then I’ll do the following passes (this is taken from the TODO list currently hovering at the beginning of the manuscript in Scrivener).

I’ll get through as many of these today as I can, but at some point I’ll have to print it out, because I want to take it on the road with me. I’m headed to a conference on nonprofit storytelling (ha) on Wednesday and back on the 13th, which is a complication I really wish I hadn’t introduced into my life, along with a class I’m teaching on the 12th (ditto the regret for the timing, but it’ll be a fun class), which is one reason I deserve a little Skyrim next Monday.

Anyway, here’s the todo list that I’ve been making as I went through and added my edits in:

Do a search on:
• One of, not for the first, little, square
• Penny-wides (penny)
• Swam, abandon, tilt
(These are words I’ve noticed I use a lot, and I want to make sure they’re not over-used or consistent.)

Points that need to be checked or addressed:
Position of Temples on Beasts
Is Lucy set up as a name?
Are there too many duplicate things, like Lucy getting dismissed twice, multiple fights with Eloquence, etc? Outline events and examine.

Terra-cotta trade god dolls
Riot and Duke’s Occasion

Passes that need to be made:
• Titles and capitalization
• Read through each person’s story and map out times against BoT
• Mapping pass – streets align
• Trade God pass, check all the names against morphology
• Names – consistent Bannister/Faustino, Serafina/whatserface, Marta/Ruhua, all of Elo/Obed’s sisters
• Thought patterns (x 4)
• (spoiler removed) clues
• Mother references from Elo and Obed
• Motivation for Lucy’s (spoiler removed)
• Passes on significant locations: the stables, Sebastiano’s bedroom, Adelina’s, College of Mages, Great Hive chamber, the press, Adelina’s office, Letha’s stillroom, Silvercloth breakfast room, Murga’s tent
• Possible redundancies: Adelina’s hiding of the press, Dryad forest and furnace, orange paper, election explanation, Sphinx

With the passes, I’m going through looking at a specific aspect, usually. For example, looking at each time a particular location occurs in order to make sure there are no contradictions and that the successive iterations build on each other rather than being redundant. That was the biggest flaw (IMO) of Beasts’s multiple drafts, a legacy of how many agents and editors wanted changes to the point where the book got rewritten a dozen times.

So we’ll see. I think this is a better book than the first one, which is reassuring, but there is always that perhaps I am deluding myself and this is just a manuscript with all work and no play makes Cat a dull girl repeated over and over again feeling lurking in the back of my head when I get to this stage.

Now, back to work.


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Patreon Post: Aardvark Says Moo

photo of someone saying yeahAs part of recent updates at SFWA we recently revamped the Nebula Recommended Reading list to show up in alphabetical order. It’s a stopgap measure until the website gets re-designed, and to my mind has some of the same problems as presenting by order of number of recommendations. In musing that over, I mentioned to webmaster Jeremy Tolbert that I looked forward to the new school of aardvarkpunk we were inspiring. A half hour later this story appeared in my head.

This is a Patreon story, published thanks to the generous support of my patreons on there; they get additional sponsor-only stories, plus sneak peeks at new drafts and a chance to win my monthly giveaway. If you’d like to support indie publishing plus get stories, sign up to support me there!

Aardvark Says Moo

“Aardvark says moo,” says the clown, handing over the balloon animal.

My overly precocious kid squints her eyes. “No they don’t.” She folds her arms. No eight year old should be that definite about anything. Whatever happened to the idea of childish sense of wonder?

“I was being whimsical,” the clown explains. “Do you understand what that word means, little girl?”

Now he’s gone and done it. I could have warned him, but no one had consulted me since moment one of this interaction. The kid went up, the clown looked at her and started twisting a pink balloon around, and then he had to start being all whimsical.

“Whimsy,” my child says, “is playfully quaint or fanciful. A talking aardvark impersonating a cow is just dumb.”

At this point, a supernatural element enters my story. You may think it’d be something subtle, maybe the sort of knife edged was-it-real-or-not stratagem that Henry James could employ, but the fact of the matter was that it was a Valkyrie, walking up to look us over.

Maybe a woman dressed like a Valkyrie, you’re thinking. A costume party might have occurred to you, maybe, which means you’re going off on a total tangent, so lemme say this. Kid’s birthday party. Bouncy castle, hot dogs, cake. The only costume was the clown’s, and it wasn’t a particularly inspired one.

The Valkyrie moreover is real. Realer than real. Like a black hole of realness that made everything around her look like faded plastic. Her armor is made of golden scales. She smells like ozone and honey and looks like an angry supermodel with no makeup. She says, “Kyle Holiday, I have foretold that you die in the line of duty tonight but I will take you to Valhalla.”

“I’m pretty sure there’s been some mistake,” the clown says. “That’s my name, but I’m not going to die.”

“No one thinks they’re going to die,” the Valkyrie says significantly.

“Hang on,” my kid says. “This is my best friend’s birthday party and no one should die at it. She’s delicate. She’ll be traumatized for years. Take it elsewhere. What’s he supposed to die of, anyway?”

The Valkyrie listens to the air for a moment. “Peanut allergy.”

“I’m allergic to peanuts,” clown Kyle says cautiously, “but that’s why I don’t eat anything at these gigs.”

The Valkyrie shrugs.

“No, I mean it,” my kid says. “No one’s dying.” She grabs a napkin from the table and holds it out to the clown. “Maybe you breathe in some peanut particles. Tie this over your nose and face. Then get out. Better a flaky clown than a dead one.”

The Valkyrie says, “Who are you, to interfere with a hero’s death?”

“One, my name is Anna Louise Mayhew,” my kid says, her chin pointed at the Valkyrie, “and two, he’s at a kid’s birthday party.”

This Valkyrie listens to the air some more. This time it takes longer, and she gets a funny look on her face halfway through.

“Well,” she says, when she finally returns her attention to us, “he dies while working. There’s not that many clearly defined hero’s deaths around any more, but he faces down countless children.”

“And delights them,” she adds as an afterthought. She reaches out and tweaks the napkin off the clown’s face. “You don’t need that. You’ll like Valhalla.” She looks at my kid. “You’re Anna Louise Mayhew, huh?”

Something about the way she says it makes me step up and say, “Anna, why don’t you walk your friend to the gate?” I fold my arms, look the Valkyrie over. She’s about twice my size, could snap me like a twig, but she seems relaxed about it all. I say, “How do you know her name?”

“I take her, later on,” the Valkyrie said. “We always future-remember the important ones.”

I’m torn between pride and horror. “What? When?”

“Relax,” the Valkyrie says. She reaches out and takes a piece of cake and it’s somehow reassuring, makes her seem a little less real and more like someone in a costume. “Not till long after you’re dead. They coax her out of retirement for it. She wins and saves humanity.”

I don’t really want to know anything more than that. I say, “So you’ll forgive her saving the clown?”

“It’s kinda pathetic, taking a clown to Valhalla,” she says. “Sometimes someone screws up the paperwork. I bet this is one of those times.”

Anna comes back and stands looking at the Valkyrie. I can’t tell if it’s fear or admiration or something else. I imagine her as a little old lady, facing down some unguessable enemy, that same solemn expression. The Valkyrie wanders off and vanishes into sparks that travel up into the sky. No one else seems to notice.

These sorts of things happen around my kid a lot, I’ve noticed. I say, “You were kinda hard on that clown about the moo thing.”

“Well, maybe,” she says. “I don’t like whimsy, though. Aardvark goes moo, how twee is that?”

I bet that Valkyrie’s looking forward to seeing her again.

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For Writers: Working with Twinned and Twined Storylines

diagram showing that two stories should run in parallel

Diagram or doodle? It’s all in the eye of the beholder.

When I sat down to work out the outline for my Moving from Idea to Finished Draft, I came up with almost two dozen possible starting points for writing a story, including scene, title, taking an old plot, a character, dialog, a particular device, and more. As I finished writing it, those categories shifted around a little, sometimes sliding together, other times diverging, but I did think I’d managed to exhaust the possibilities…

…only to be proven wrong, of course. A week or so ago at the Surrey International Writers Conference I was absolutely delighted when an audience member hit me with a new one that I hadn’t considered at all.

When I teach the class, which focuses on how to take an idea and use it to finish a story, I talk a little bit about story structure and writing process, but most of the class relies on asking participants what the idea is that they’re working with. This time, a woman said, “My idea is a twinned story” and explained that she wanted to write two stories in parallel.

You might argue that it’s a particular manifestation of a frame story, which is something covered in the Devices section of the class, but she wanted it to be more than that: her story was about a couple discovering letters in their attic that tell the story of another couple’s marriage. So let’s look at this according to the structure I use in Moving from Idea to Finished Draft, looking at what it is, what it gives you, what considerations you should take into account while writing, possible pitfalls, next steps, and a few exercises designed to increase understanding of the idea.
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Free Halloween Story: The Silent Familiar

Picture of a cat named Raven looking out of a box.

Raven wishes you all a Happy Halloween!

This is a fantasy story I wrote a while back for a Halloween story contest. It’s reprinted in fantasy collection Eyes Like Sky and Coal and Moonlight.

The Silent Familiar

The Wizard Niccolo was not happy. At the age of 183 — youthful for a wizard, but improbable for an ordinary human — he had thought certain things well out of his life. Sudden changes in his daily routine were one. And romance was another – even if it was his familiar’s romance, and not his own.

“Could make an omelet with it, I suppose,” he grumbled to his familiar, the tiny dragon Olivia. She sat on the cluttered mantle, wrapped around her egg, still marveling at its production and entirely too pleased with herself. A pair of alabaster candelabra sheltered her in a thicket of gilt spirals, and a stuffed salmon, labeled “First Prize – Thornstone Village Centennial Celebration,” regarded her with a sour gaze.

“Master,” she said, blinking luminous eyes. “Have I not served you well?”

“For the most part,” he admitted.

She stayed silent and after a pause, he said, “Yes, invariably, Olivia. But who will hold your loyalty, that egg or I?”

“Both,” she said and stoked her scaled cheek along the egg’s smooth surface. “But I will never value it higher than my service to you.”
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Into the Abyss: Surrey International Writers Conference, Morning Keynote for October 23, 2016

We give our readers a chance to lead alternate lives and to learn something about themselves in the process.

I found some pieces of my speech illustrated on Twitter, which was nifty. Here’s one Joyelle Brandt put up.

I was asked to stick the speech up online; this is not a literal transcription, but based on my speech notes. I’ll write up some additional notes later on this week. Here is the speech.

(after a little banter about muffins) I would ask you all if you’re having a good time but I know that you are. Because I’ve been so impressed by the enthusiasm, the professionalism, and the talent here, and amazed at how well the presenters are taken care of by the conference. Thank you for the chance to be here.

I figure you are all already stuffed full of writing advice, so I wanted to give you some things for after the conference.

First off, go home and sleep. Decompress. You’ve been working hard all weekend and you deserve it.

Then start to work. If you’re a notetaker, go back over your notes. I still go over mine from Clarion West in 2005 every once in a while. If you’re not, go look to see what other people have written up. I guarantee you’ll find some blog write-ups and other notes. Go find what you might have missed.

And use those notes and ideas to start to write. I try to write, every day, 2000 words, because that’s what Stephen King does and I think he’s a pretty good role model. Note that I say try, because I don’t always hit it. But you must write. Every day you write is a victory.
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Nattering Social Justice Cook: Be Kind to Yourself

Picture of Cat Rambo in a Cthulhu ski mask.

Being a little silly sometimes is also good for one’s mental health.

Gail Z. Martin has organized the #HoldOnToTheLight campaign, and when she asked me about participating, it seemed important to add another voice. Here’s what the campaign is:

More than 100 authors are now part of the #HoldOnToTheLight conversation! Our authors span the globe, from the US to the UK to Canada, Australia and New Zealand. Even more exciting is that as the campaign picks up traction and visibility, more authors want to join, meaning a growing, vibrant dialog about mental wellness and coping with mental illness.

#HoldOnToTheLight is a blog campaign encompassing blog posts by fantasy and science fiction authors around the world in an effort to raise awareness around treatment for depression, suicide prevention, domestic violence intervention, PTSD initiatives, bullying prevention and other mental health-related issues. We believe fandom should be supportive, welcoming and inclusive, in the long tradition of fandom taking care of its own. We encourage readers and fans to seek the help they or their loved ones need without shame or embarrassment.

We’ve also been talking with conventions to encourage them to add, expand or promote their panel programming about mental wellness issues. ConCarolinas, GenCon, Capricon and ContraFlow have let us know that panels are in the works for 2017, and both Capclave and Atomacon are looking at options!

In knocking around this world, one of the few things that has sunk in well enough to make it a daily maxim is this, “Be kind to yourself, because you can depend on yourself.” Build a treat into your day that is aimed at increasing your happiness in some small way: lunch outside, a long walk, that book on Amazon you want every once in a while.

We all have a shitty time of it sometimes — maybe it’s something we live with all our lives, or something that intrudes and sends us for a total, utter loop: the event that causes PTSD, the relative with a terminal illness, some terrible loss beyond words that we carry around like a permanent gut-punch.

I’ve found that writers excel at angst and guilt, at worrying at 2 am over whether or not they stuck their foot in their mouth (human nature being what it is, the answer is sometimes yes), at being anxious and projecting futures far out of proportion to actuality in their degree of horror.

They’re also tough on themselves, holding themselves to sometimes impossible standards, trying to hit goals that are unreasonably grandiose or demanding. Writers need to cultivate a willingness to accept themselves as they are. Sometimes that means forgiving yourself and the illness you live with, to not just knowing yourself but being comfortable with yourself.

Be kind to yourself, because you’re the person you’ll be living with for the rest of your life. Be a good roommate, one who leads by example and keeps the place neat (or at least livable, since mileage varies.) Don’t go off on guilt trips that leave you stranded in the Land of Panic.

For me, that involves taking care of my physical health, since often your body affects your mind. I started eating a cup of plain Greek yogurt for breakfast every morning a few years ago, and found it keeps me cheerful, energetic, and a lot more stable mood-wise. At the same time I started striving to walk at least a few miles every day and found that a mood elevator as well.

I don’t by any means intend to say that this is the only way to assist with your mental health. But being kind to yourself is a fundamental way to do, no matter how it manifests. And in these days when politics leans harder and harder towards rhetoric of violence, we must be prepared to model compassion, to model unflinchingness in the face of bullies in the defense of the weak, even when the weak one is yourself.

This is why I tell my students not to punish themselves for not hitting their word count, but to reward themselves when they do. That’s a basic way of approaching it, and like many basics, it can have a profound influence.

So give yourself a treat today. Go ahead. You deserve it.
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