Submarine

And now for something completely different.

While I was in Taos, my husband was at home. Alone. Building submarines. I am the photographer.

This is the kind of thing I live with, every day. Now you can understand the whole Lost in Space robot thing a little better. I’m personally waiting for the Taj Mahal out of cardboard. It’s beautiful by moonlight.

Anyway, enjoy a little piece of Bryon’s childhood and a big piece of his summer.

Catherine

Readercon–It’s Not Rocket Science. It’s Litigious.

Okay. Immediate personal crises are dealt with.

Sekhmet: does in fact have not so benign cancer. We think we got all the tumor out, but we aren’t sure. We are on lump watch. Her cancer isn’t particularly aggressive, and we anticipate that if we get regrowth at all, it’ll be slow. She’s a 12-year old cat. She should have several good years in her yet.

Water heater: I have one now. I have hot water. You don’t appreciate it as much until you don’t have it.

Work: I’m back at work. Yay.

Coming: One more Taos post, vacation post, an Interview (!), a special interview with Tiffany Trent on a new book, a review of an ARC of Quantum Coin by E.C. Myers, and why travel by air is dead to me.

***

But first, I guess it’s time to write about being a woman. And…being a geek. There’s been an interesting proliferation of strange posts from around the Internet.

And I want to talk about two of them in two very different posts, because one is more gravely serious than the other, but the other is something I know quite a bit about in my former life as Cosplay Queen.

***

Everyone has an opinion about Readercon and the two-year hiatus given to Rene Walling. My personal opinion is like most people’s: I am saddened by the lack of sensitivity to the issue, and I am outraged that the convention seems to be carrying on with business as usual, especially after a campaign season that saw serious attacks against women’s person-hoods. Sometimes it just seems like society is out to remind you that no, you haven’t come a long way, baby (courtesy of Viriginia Slims). Thanks for the right hook, Readercon.

***

Look, Readercon, let’s do this logically, because you know, it’s a new approach.

Let me talk to you as Board President of Mindbridge for a second, okay? We had to ban a person last year from one of our venues because we had logged instances of unwanted touch. Personal feelings aside (yuck!), there is a much more pragmatic concern. The liability of your organization in regard to a potential felon’s activities, especially if you are aware of that potential, and it is known you are (you must admit that the knowledge that your perp is an offender is out there, thanks to the magical and awesome power of the Internet), is a high liability. If for no other reason than your personal liability and potential sue-ability, get this guy off your books, and ban him. Honest to God, this is not a question of morality, this is a question of protecting your organization and your own legal futures. Ask yourself: Is he worth the risk to your convention, your staff, and you personally?

***

Next…don’t pull a Penn State. It is easy to pretend that you don’t see what is going on. Outrage from the fan community should prove to you that you have not taken the easier path, given that you’ve caused quite a stir and that’s a very long list of names on that petition. The Penn State example is similar to what’s happening with your convention. You are under-reacting to a serious injustice and minimizing the culpability of a serious offense. Should you walk away from this highly suspicious situation, and hang the victims out? It spoke ill of Penn State officials, and it speaks ill of you. And again, it makes you liable.

***

Finally, it is an interesting assumption that you assume Waller can straighten up and fly right on his own, that you are even involving yourself in the question of his reform. This is not your concern. Your job is to protect your event, its attendees, and its staff. That’s your raison d’etre. It’s not to help a perp reform. I doubt much you have the qualifications or the ability to make the judgment that he has. What would you require as proof? How would you test him? How would you determine he is Readercon safe? This is logical balderdash.

Simply put, you owe your attendees a good experience so they will come back. You owe everyone at your convention a safe, comfortable experience. And your duty, no more, no less, is the custodianship of Readercon. By putting yourself and the convention at potential legal risk, you are failing in that basic duty.

***

So, those are my logical reasons for why you’ve got to ban Rene Walling, Readercon. If you won’t do it because his actions are immoral and reprehensible, why not go for the self-preservation angle? Unless, of course, you think Rene Walling is worth a huge reduction in attendance, possible litigation, a destroyed reputation, and a future of uncertainty.

Return from Elba

I have returned home.

The cruise was wonderful. I keep feeling entitled to food for free, so I do need to re-frame that experience lest I end up in the penal system.

I’d like to say that I remain entirely rested from my vacation, but we have stumbled into a series of mishaps upon our return.

Today, rather than re-entering our real life slowly, we went to the funeral of one of Bryon’s aunts who passed away in our absence. It was a good funeral and her death was not unexpected, but it was not the leisurely day we’d hoped for.

Tomorrow we take Sekhmet in to the vet’s to have her stitches removed, and over the phone, the vet intimated that her situation is potentially dangerous. But that could be like Bryon’s pre-cancerous polyps, which if removed are fine, or that could be something more. He didn’t want to talk over the phone. How I wish we hadn’t called until we’d returned home. Bryon’s mind has been here pretty much since that call.

Our water heater is spraying water, so we are currently a cold water household, and we call the local hardware store tomorrow. That’s the third water heater we’ve had in 13 years. This one went in in 2009. Something is remiss. There will be a consultation.

And Monday I resume work.

This is our adult life in the adult word doing adult things. We snatch peace where we can and we hope for no greater crises that damaged water heaters, because we do not wish to lose our pets to cancer.

More to come. Suffice to say that it was a good vacation, well worth the trip, and will remain so regardless of what the next few days bring.

Catherine

Vow Renewal

On a hot Iowa day, Bryon and I renewed our vows. We were surrounded by our family of choice after a delicious picnic potluck. It looked something like this–notice the rain. I wish I could say I planned that. πŸ™‚

I could tell you what 25 years of marriage is like. Marriage is work, because the person you’re married to now wasn’t the person you married 25 years ago. Every time you change, he changes a little. Every time he changes, you do too. When each of you becomes a little bit more of someone else, the other of you keeps up. Good marriage is like dancing, and each of you steps just a little bit behind or ahead of the other. No one gives everything or takes everything, but sometimes you lead. Sometimes you follow. Sometimes you run a three-legged race. And sometimes you physically carry each other. But you keep up with each other, because the other person is worth it.

In 25 years, love changes. There’s still attraction and romance, but if you’ve done it right, there’s a respect for each other that has been earned over the years and is a point of mutual admiration. You aren’t embarrassed by anything about each other any more. You laugh. You are jolly friends. As well as business partners and hot lovers. You are a team. You are a couple. And you are head over heels, still.

I have been very lucky. While my marriage hasn’t been without rough patches on occasion, overall every day is better than the last. Our best days are ahead of us. No matter what our lives throw at us, we will put our heads together and use our teamwork to get to where we need to be. The way we do. With cleverness and creativity, with love for each other, and with profound respect for the choice we each made years ago, to share our lives with each other, which was not a choice made lightly, and which is a choice we made again, yesterday, when we renewed our vows.

While I am on my silver anniversary vacation, I will be away from Writer Tamago. I’ll see you when I get back, sometime the weekend of the 26th. No, really, I won’t be toting my computer along. Because this is a special time for us. I enjoy you all, but it’d be hard to explain all of you on a romantic vacation. πŸ™‚

There will probably be some vacation pictures, so you will hardly miss me. Think exotic locales and Mickey Mouse.

Take care, and keep being creative.

Cath

Critiquing

The morning brings a pleasant surprise. A gentle rain that falls from about 7 until noon. It’s not likely we’ll see a miracle in terms of plant resurrection, but it’s nice to see something other than rusty grass, and the green parts have certainly perked up a bit.

This morning Bryon and I took Sekhmet in for surgery. She had a growth in her right front shoulder. Now she is resting peacefully and we’ll pick her up after she spends the night at the vet. We’ll get her sutures out when we get back from Florida. The little nodule has been sent off to the kitty pathologist to make sure that it’s not cancerous. No one is terribly concerned that it is, but that’s what you do. Anyway, our poor little kitty will need some tlc for the next couple of days.

***

So, the other day, I wrote about vision versus technique. There are a few other things about critiquing that I’ve been thinking about since Taos, and of course, these things apply to other workshops.

1. Positive, then negative, then positive. Or, as David McAmis called it, “the shit sandwich.” This is a business writing technique, where you bury the less desirable information in between more desirable information. There are a couple of schools about critiquing. Some authors prefer you to focus on what needs to be fixed only. That can make for a fairly negative review alone, so a mixed review about what works and what might work better strikes me as a good idea. The follow up, the positive at the end, might be even more important than the positive at the beginning. That way the overall effect of the critique does not become a grocery list of hard hits.

This, of course, begs, the question what do you do if the critique has few positives? As I tell the students in composition class, usually something can be commented on positively. Also, the way that you give the feedback, in a constructive way, has a lot to do with how it is perceived.

2. Length of critique time. Not that Viable Paradise is the end all/be all of workshops, but they did seem to understand that attention spans are short. At VP, groups of about 10 (8 people, 2 instructors) took a couple of hours to critique two stories. This struck me as a good move, rather than listening to 15-20 people give you all the data you can stand until your eyes glaze over (both Taos and Dallas). In Vegas, since there 8 or so of us, well, the effect was more VPish.

3. Guidelines for critique. Taos did a great thing by handing out some suggestions for critique. It might also have been useful to send those out before the workshop, but guidelines are particularly helpful for those who are new to the process.

4. Humor? Does it have a place at the table? Every workshop I’ve been at allows you to crack jokes. There’s a fear at Odyssey, I understand, that this detracts from the critiques and turns the sessions into performance. I don’t think that’s true. I think that humor can help de-escalate the stress of a critique, as long as it is good-spirited.

5. Critiques are confidential. So, you probably shouldn’t talk about them in your journal, especially if other workshoppers can figure out who’s who. (Not Taos.) You probably should only talk about your own critiques, but not with any denigration. This was stressed at Taos, but not at the other workshops I’ve been to. And it probably should be.

6. Counseling! One thing that VP does that’s FANTASTIC, that we can’t do at our small home brew critiques, but Taos might think about, is to have experienced workshoppers from previous workshops to act as counselors and cheer leaders. Because a workshop is a weird space, psychologically, and a little help can sidestep a negative experience.

***

Just some thoughts. Overall, the critiques I’ve had from the workshops I’ve been in have been helpful. I guess it’s a way to build up our callouses for the ultimate editorial letter.

The Publication of Mark Twain’s Daughter

Written in 2009, revamped heavily in in 2010, over one year at Tor.com, and eleven rejections later, Mark Twain’s Daughter has found a home in Paper Golem’s Cucurbital 3 collection. This is the second story Lawrence Schoen has been kind enough to buy from me in two years.

I’m just happy this one finally found a home. This publication is dedicated to Ferrett Steinmetz and Sean Craven, who were extraordinarily helpful when I pulled this one back into the garage. I couldn’t have done it without you, gentlemen.

If you’re interested in reading about the historical events that inspired the story, check out twaintimes.net

The More You Do, the More You Do

So…got back from Taos. Ran off to visit friends, then ran off to Convergence (which was faboo).

This weekend, the fake family reunion. And then…the 25th anniversary cruise/Disney extravaganza.

Funny how doing all this seems to take some time. I think getting back to work may well mean getting back to writing. That said, I should be able to get another entry or two in here before I go on vacation silence during the trip. And I plan to replot Abby Rath, attempting to use my Taos-fu.

Hope you are doing well.

Catherine

Taos Toolbox: Community

This is an interesting kind of post to write. This is the part where I take a look at the people and the workshop at Taos and think about how we all interacted. And I attempt to do it in a classy fashion. πŸ™‚

Writing workshops experiences are as individual as the people who attend them. I’ve been to a whole four organized writing events. For the most part, I’ve found those experiences to be positive. To keep myself a positive contributing member, there are a couple of things I need: to get away by myself for a while, and least every couple of days, and to get enough sleep.

At Taos, sleep was my biggest challenge. Good ole altitude! But there was a lot of napping as could. As to time alone, yup. I had a great roommate who gave a lot of distance, and plenty of time to hang out. So for the most part, while there were days I was doing the headache, or sleep had me cranky, I think that I managed to be a contributing member of the whole thing.

Another thing that I think helps any workshop is some deliberate community building. When fellow workshopper Lauren Teffeau suggested a pot luck, I did the commercial, and Dave McAmis did the decorations. So Sunday we had a great time. And David was also responsible for setting up the bar in the lounge. Fran Wilde organized a tech night where we talked about computer-y things, and Walter set up group hikes. There were conversations with Nancy late in rooms, and plot break sessions. A trip to Taos with Fran and Lis Bass. The more of this kind of thing, the more likely people are to bond. When you’re sitting across from one of the instructors at the table, and he agrees with you that Revolutionary Girl Utena is the best anime ever, well, you sort of feel a connection. So we did have opportunities to meet and greet.

On an individual level, I gotta say it’s hard to be positive all the time. But I do my best. As Daniel Abraham said, one of the most important rules is to be nice. You never know how any of those folks are going to affect your future. That’s just a good rule for life in general.

By going to a writer’s workshop, it’s a moment where you can be around other writers who take your writing and their writing seriously. Sometimes in my life, I feel that it can be difficult making writing as much of a priority as I would like, and it’s good to be in spaces where that can happen.

So, were there any bumps? Yup. In circumstances where you are in a small intense community, that can bring out the best and the worst in all of us. In the same span of time. Well, at least I didn’t repeat my performance in Dallas where I took two depression pills on the same day. Which explained a lot of the anxiety I experienced that last day…

So, to some extent, these sorts of events are what you bring to them. This is not to say that I felt comfortable every moment, but that was more personal for me than a sense of community. We’re coming to that. But you get out of this what you put in. At any rate, if you get the chance to be at a retreat, definitely consider it for the value of being in a community of writers.

Reading at Convergence

Looks like I’ll be reading at the Broad Universe Rapid Fire Reading, as I usually do. Kathy Sullivan was kind enough to contact me. I’ll admit I still have Taos brain, so I’m glad someone else was looking out for me.

So… that’ll be Friday at 2pm in Cabana 201. While I’m not 100 percent sure what I’ll be reading yet, I bet dollars to donuts that’ll be Abigail Rath.

Cath

Taos Toolbox: Education

I think last week I promised you several in depth entries on my Taos experiences, and the forecasting went something like this: teaching, community, critiquing(kinda started), setting (done!), and writing culture and mores.

So, today let’s talk about the education. Quite frankly, this is the way in which Taos Toolbox receives its highest marks, as far as I’m concerned, and it is the way that the instructors, of course, have the most control over.

On the first morning, Walter Jon Williams, one of our teachers, went over the rationale as to why he’d started the workshop. Each morning and each afternoon, Walter and Nancy Kress gave us a lecture and some useful handouts on aspects of writing. In this way, we talked about fixing scenes, looking at narrative and plot devices, sussing out characters, and a host of other writing activities. I have a notebook full of useful suggestions. Plot breaks were also a solid technique that we learned at the workshop.

And…I’m not going to share this material with you. I’m going to suggest, instead, that you take the class. I was surprised, although I shouldn’t have been, at the amount of overlap I noticed between learning to write fiction and learning to do tech writing. Clear, sharp writing remains the same at its core.

Of course, other things–voice, character, tone, plot, story–are all unique to the creative fiction experience, and using these items effectively and analytically is a place many writers need to go to, but often don’t know how to get there.

Nancy said something to me at the end of the week that I thought was very interesting. I paraphrase: think about your scenes before you write them and after you write them, but not too much while you’re writing them. This quote is for those of you who worried that creativity was somehow disappearing from the equations.

If I could offer the instructors any advice from my 26 years of teaching, it would be this: more homework for more hands-on attempts at the lecture material. More small group work assignments after hours (community building!). And smaller critique groups, but that’s for the next entry.

Anyway, Taos Toolbox takes analytical writing technique for creative fiction to the next level, whether that new level for you is experienced workshopper, or gifted story teller.

Cath