TL:DR–announcement at the end. I’m evil that way.
So I’m kind of behind on what my writing schedule says I should be doing by now. Some of that has been due to things like, oh, um, work life, other writing projects, reinventing the work life, um, horse rehab life, ski life or rather the lack thereof, real estate craziness, um, reinventing work life yet again, and, and, and…
But most of the delays have been due to the plain and simple fact that I really don’t know what to do with Netwalk’s Children yet. I’m still figuring out why that is, but to a certain degree, the issue comes down to the reality that this book is a crucial point in the Netwalk Sequence. This book hands over the major part of the Sequence to the next generation; from Melanie and Marty to Bess and Alex, Sophie and Don. Plus friends and relatives.
Additionally, it becomes a turning point in the series arc, because Bess ultimately has to directly take on Gizmo. Not only does she defuse an immediate threat but she lays the foundation for further protection against the power that Gizmo represents. She becomes a foundational element in a human-digital fusion which has the potential to affect not just one world but many worlds. Bess transcends worlds…but as of yet, I’ve not gotten a full picture of what that looks like. I have imperfect realizations but they’re far from what I want. Yet.
I do have this image of a young woman with long dark hair, cinnamon skin, and high cheekbones gazing up as golden bytes flow over her, on a blue background. I have some idea of what that event is. But it keeps changing, even as I keep working and writing.
I’ve been ducking this story for nearly a year. There is a completed outline. It’s insufficiently reflective of current canon, and one reason is that I’ve spent the past year writing stories to flesh out the Sequence’s backstory. They’re available for free on the website under the Netwalk Foundations tab. I also have the illustrated trilogy, Dahlia, Winter Shadows, and Andrews Ranch. All but the last one are currently available on Amazon, Barnes and Noble, and Google Play. I’m working on Andrews Ranch right now and having a lot of fun with it.
The whole writing world hasn’t been just Netwalk Sequence, though. I’ve also rewritten a couple of stories and managed copy edits for a short story and a novella. I have two short stories coming out so far this year, one in the inaugural edition of Fantasy Scroll Magazine and the other in Trust and Treachery (Dark Quest Books, April). My novella, Seeking Shelter at the End of the World, comes out from eTreasures Publishing in June. I’ve not exactly been idle.
But I am feeling tired. I do have projects to write. It’s just…getting to them in the face of the Day Jobbe.
Which leads to…Life In General.
I signed the final paperwork today. I am not renewing my teaching contract. After ten years, I’m not going to be going back to school in August.
This isn’t really new news. I’ve mentioned this in comments, and emails, and etc. It’s more of a matter of being tired, and tired of driving 80 miles a day, and tired of having to break off from a story because the clock says it’s time, damn it, and tired of being tired. Teaching, even part-time, is a physically difficult job. You are on your feet constantly, usually on tile-covered cement slabs. As a middle school teacher, you deal daily with the drama and agonies of early adolescence, and have to do so with a measure of equanimity and unflappability. February and March are their own peculiar hells, and I’ve been experiencing those hells in a rather excruciating slo-mo this year.
I’m done with formal k-12 teaching for the moment. I want to leave while there are moments I still enjoy and savor. But I need to go. There are too many days when I hurt. Too many days when I am angry about what modern education has become. My ten years of teaching manages to span the effect of No Child Left Behind, and the taste is bitter in my mouth. No, better to choose the time, and go when I feel best. This year is a good time, not just for me, but for my memories of the place I have worked in and loved so dearly. I can make good memories with leaving this year–so it is time.
Doesn’t mean I won’t be a teacher of some sort or another. Even thinking about possibilities of some sort of teaching work that doesn’t involve a daily commute perks me up. I like tutorial work, and I’m a darn good remedial writing teacher. Heck, I like teaching writing, period.
But it’s time for me to move on from the daily classroom grind. What that will look like in a couple of years, five more years, ten more years–who knows? I get ideas all the time.
Where I go from here, whether that becomes Portland, Enterprise, or somewhere else–who knows. It’s a new adventure. The Next Adventure.
Mirrored from Peak Amygdala.
I wish he hadn’t used the rather loaded word “myth,” since it mocks the human ambition to have knowledge about the world. I certainly wouldn’t want to tell James Baldwin or Richard Wright that their writings about racism are a “myth of literature” depending upon “the demand of the public.” In parts of his book, Sartre does go out of his way to praise Richard Wright, even if sometimes the praise sounds weird to me.
On the other hand, it can be incredibly difficult to communicate without a shared understanding, and that goes for writing as well as any other kind. The greater the original gulf between the writer and the reader, the more work they have to put into reaching across the divide. Every once in a while I want to tell a funny story to my friends or students in China that depends on having watched American TV back in the 80s, but most Chinese don’t seem aware of any American television before “Friends,” which is about when my knowledge of TV starts fading out.
I do like the idea that writing can “enclose, specify, and surpass this situation,” which I take as meaning an expression of understanding and the passing on of that understanding, and you do usually have to understand your situation as a first step to surpassing it.
To celebrate the release of Half-Off Ragnarok, naturally.
There will be cupcakes! There will be music and a raffle and reading and some Q&A, and it will be a hootenanny of a good time, with a whole lotta hoot AND a whole lotta nanny! Bring your kids! Bring your siblings! Bring your slime monsters! We totally hope to see you there.
Since this book does contain snakes, I will probably talk about snakes at some point during the evening. So while I would love to have you there, if you're deathly afraid of snakes, it might be a good idea to skip this one. (On the plus side, I'm pretty funny when I talk about snakes.)
Remember that Borderlands does take telephone and email orders, and would be happy to send you signed books (and they do have Letters to the Pumpkin King in stock). Get a book already touched by pure awesome. Or, you know. Ink. The party starts Saturday at 6pm!
Cheese! And! Cake!
- Current Mood: excited
- Current Music:Of Monsters and Men, "Yellow Light."
My fat body is not a problem. It is especially not someone *else's* problem.
It's also not something another person gets to judge me for. Ragen Chastain says a lot more about this more eloquently than I do in her FAQs on her blog, Dances with Fat.
"Weight and health are two separate things – there are healthy and unhealthy people of all sizes. Health is multi-dimensional, not entirely within our control, and not a barometer of worthiness."
I will summarize with this: No one is obligated to conform to anyone else's standards of health. No one is required to justify their habits, food choices, or anything like that to anyone. I constantly resist the urge to needlessly justify my food and exercise choices to people I'm talking to, because it's how I've been programmed.
Every time I see that graphic, I think, "Why would you make fun of a random person doing something for themselves that is entirely unrelated to you?".
I think of the health professional I stopped seeing because she insisted that I was experiencing diabetes symptoms when my labs were, and have always been, solidly normal where all of that is concerned. I think of how the thin girls at my first job were allowed to wear somewhat form-fitting clothing, but if my shirts were anything but high necked and baggy, I was accused of not dressing appropriately. I think of my mother giving my brother and sister ice cream, and then turning to me and saying, "Oh, you and I don't need those extra calories."
I repeat: My fat body is not a problem to be fixed.
Now, excuse me, but I must go eat cake with the Captain.
- Current Mood: angry
- Current Music:SJ Tucker -- Not the Villain
If you don't know the story, Wikipedia has a pretty good explanation here: Murder of Kitty Genovese. The murder took place in the neighborhood that was pretty much next door to the one I grew up in, and years before I was born. But a few years ago, as I was writing an article about Spider-Man for the book Webslinger, my half-brother took me over to the murder site. Genovese's murder looms large in history and the culture, and it seemed to me it would have loomed large for a the teenage Peter Parker as well.
We took a few pictures of the murder site, and I contemplated solemnly what it all meant.
May she rest in peace.
Huh. Looking at my schedule for the next couple of months, it appears that next week is the only week through mid-June that I am not going somewhere or coming back from somewhere, and it’s the only week where I don’t have a batch of Big Idea pieces scheduled. Which makes it the perfect week to do my annual Reader Request Week.
And just what is Reader Request Week? Why it is what it says: Once a year, I let you, the readers of Whatever, offer up the topics I will write about for an entire week. Always wanted me to answer a question? Frustrated that I never write about what you want me to write about? Wish I would write more about a specific topic you can never get enough of? Now’s your chance! Submit your request, I’ll go through and select topics, and I will start writing them up, beginning March 17.
And what topics should you request? Anything you want. Politics, sex, religion, cats, entertainment, favorite talcum powders, advice for living, technology — honestly, whatever topic it is, if you wanted my opinion on it, this is where to ask.
With that said, some suggestions:
1. Choose quality, not quantity. Don’t unload a whole bunch topics that are really generic or overbroad, because those won’t interest me and I won’t write about them. One really excellent topic is more likely to catch my eye. As an example, don’t ask me “could you write about cats?” because that’s too general and kind of boring. Asking something like “You have three cats — how do their personalities differ and what does that mean for how you relate to them?”, on the other hand, would pique my interest. I think you can see what I’m getting at here.
2. Questions on writing will not be a priority for selection. Because, dudes, I write about writing all the time. I’m not saying you can’t ask questions about writing, or that I won’t answer some, I’m just saying that I’ll be looking for topics that aren’t about writing first, and the ones I do answer (in a nod to point one above) will be stuff that’s specific and interesting. I note this every year, and yet every year about half of the questions are about writing. Be different this year!
3. Don’t request a topic I’ve answered recently. To help you eliminate these topics, you’ll find the last five years of Reader Request Week topics below. If you see your intended topic there, it’s very unlikely I will answer it again this year (and by “very unlikely” I mean “I won’t”).
How do you submit requests? The simplest way to do it (and the way I prefer, incidentally) is to put them in the comment thread attached to this entry. But if you have a reason not to want to have your request out in public, the other option is to send me e-mail (put “Reader Request Week” in the subject head so I don’t have to hunt for it). Please don’t send requests via Twitter/Facebook/Google+, since I don’t always see those. I credit those whose topics I write on, but feel free to use a pseudonym if you’re asking something you’d prefer not to have attached to your real name.
Reader Request Week is one of my favorite weeks of the year, and I’m looking forward to what you want to have me write about this year. Make me dance like a monkey, people! Get your requests in now!
Here are the Reader Request Week topics for the last fives years (click through to see the full articles):
Reader Request #1: SF YA These Days
Reader Request #2: OMW and Zoe’s Tale (and Angst and Pain)
Reader Request #3: Space!
Reader Request #4: Procreation
Reader Request #5: Having Been Poor
Reader Request #6: 80s Pop Music
Reader Request #7: Writing and Babies
Reader Request #8: Twitter
Reader Request #9: Can I Be Bought?
Reader Request #10: Writing Short Bits
Reader Request #11: Wrapping Up
Reader Request #1: Christianity and Me
Reader Request #2: Rewriting the Constitution
Reader Request #3: How I Think
Reader Request #4: Quitting Writing
Reader Request #5: Rural Ohio, Revisited
Reader Request #6: Depression
Reader Request #7: Writery Bits
Reader Request #8: Short Bits
Reader Request #1: Children and Faith
Reader Request #2: The End of Whatever
Reader Request #3: Middle Ages Me
Reader Request #4: Old Man’s War and the Best SF/F Novel of the Decade
Reader Request #5: Taking Compliments
Reader Request #6: Sociopathic Corporations
Reader Request #7: Unruly Fans
Reader Request #8: Short Bits ’11
Reader Request #9: Writery Bits ’11
Reader Request Week 2012 #1: Snark and Insult
Reader Request Week 2012 #2: Would I Lie to You?
Reader Request Week 2012 #3: Why I’m Glad I’m Male
Reader Request Week 2012 #4: Future Doorknobs or Lack Thereof
Reader Request Week 2012 #5: Them Crazies What Live in the Woods
Reader Request Week 2012 #6: The Cool Kids Hanging Out
Reader Request Week 2012 #7: My Complete Lack of Shame
Reader Request Week 2012 #8: Short Bits
Reader Request Week 2012 #9: Writery Short Bits
Reader Request Week 2013 #1: Further Thoughts on Fame and Success
Reader Request Week 2013 #2: Regrets
Reader Request Week 2013 #3: Guilty Pleasures
Reader Request Week 2013 #4: College Education (And Costs Therein)
Reader Request Week 2013 #5: How to Be a Good Fan
Reader Request Week 2013 #6: Intuition
Reader Request Week 2013 #7: Books and My Kid
Reader Request Week 2013 #8: Whatever Topics and Comments
Reader Request Week 2013 #9: Women and Geekdom
Reader Request Week 2013 #10: Short Bits
So: What do you want to know now?
- Wed, 12:05: Riding the rails. And working on art. :) http://t.co/Vgb7n8Usky
- Wed, 12:46: The train runs right along the bay! http://t.co/W62SQyy1mi
- Wed, 13:24: GORGEOUS day for an excursion! http://t.co/RISbLSIhVX
- Wed, 14:28: Put in the red pin, visitors from #Nashville represent! http://t.co/7ZQiz5GMkn
- Wed, 14:30: A bless their hearts moment, TN flag with "Deep South"! Someone needs a geo lesson! http://t.co/BiLmTVtJdu
- Wed, 16:12: Mid-19th cen Gold Rush era, the time in history where my heart feels at home. http://t.co/cn5m2ib5fR
- Wed, 16:15: OH HELL YES!!! http://t.co/AS0gutFOKv
- Wed, 16:32: This door is in a stairwell about 20' up on the wall. A little Winchester house action here. http://t.co/IV4Oq8uo02
- Wed, 16:39: It's bigger on the inside... http://t.co/YTGKnbtIBN
- Wed, 17:20: Homeward bound with a giant chocolate dipped marshmallow on a stick. http://t.co/7tznhbdvTd
I'm thrilled to be heading over to Ohio this weekend to be a Guest of Honor at Millennicon. Here's the schedule, just in case you want to come say hello or make sure you know how to avoid me all weekend.
- 6 pm, MR 1210, HAPPY BIRTHDAY! (In which the convention throws a birthday party for my son, because they are AWESOME!!!)
- 7 pm, Harrison, Opening Ceremonies
- 8 pm, Con Suite, GOH reception
- 10 am, Harrison, GOH Reading
- 2 pm, Hotel Lobby, GOH Autographs
- 3 pm, McKinley, There are No Dumb Questions (Moderator)
- 10 am, McKinley, Fan Fiction and “Real” Writing
- Noon, Hotel Lobby, GOH Autographs
- 2 pm, Harrison, GOH Q&A
- 3 pm, Harrison, Closing Ceremonies
Tom Smith will be there as Filk Guest of Honor, which should make my wife happy. She tolerates me, but she'd much rather hang out at one of Tom's concerts ;-)
There are a lot of great people at this one, some of whom I haven't seen in a while, so I'm expecting this to be a lot of fun.
Fiction and non-fiction are different categories of storytelling — but in both cases the author has to decide what to tell and how to tell it, shaping the story so that it is a story, rather than just a leaden bundle of information. When researching the real-life information the would become The Girls of Atomic City, author Denise Kiernan found an interesting idea… now all she had to do was make a tale out of it. Here’s how she did it.
A story without conflict is like an inhibited lover. It just lies there. No matter how hard you try to get turned on, you lose interest. It can’t be over soon enough.
What attracts me as a writer to a particular story, what inspires that chemistry, is often—on the surface at least—unpredictable. Though there may not appear to be much rhyme or reason to my tastes, the one thing that always hooks me is that those tales keep me guessing. Their conversations grab me and I keep coming back to get to know them better, to keep turning their pages.
As a writer, sometimes it is just a look—photos, specifically. That’s what happened with my latest nonfiction book. I came across a vintage, black-and-white photo of some very young women operating some very odd-looking machines. The caption explained that many of these young women were recent high school graduates from rural Tennessee, and that they were enriching uranium for the first atomic bomb. The kicker: they had no idea that that was what they were doing.
Fantastic dramatic tension! I thought. You’re working on the most destructive weapon known to mankind and you have no idea until that very same weapon is revealed to the world? I dove in, and the story kept getting better. People were recruited from all over to live and work in a secret government city not found on any maps. They were highly trained to perform intricate tasks with no idea what larger purpose those tasks served. Better yet, if they asked too many questions, their stay living and working in this mysterious town was over in a hurry.
I was hooked by the Orwellian feel of it all. Looming billboards reminding everyone to keep their lips zipped. Undercover agents and citizen informants stealthily listening in on conversations in dorms and cafeterias. While I felt the story had all the hallmarks of an engaging novel, I figured that when truth seems stranger than fiction, why not stick with the truth?
This presented a couple of challenges. First, my subjects were in their eighties and nineties. If I was going to write a work of narrative nonfiction, I wanted the women’s experiences to move the story forward. I wanted to stay with their voices and their perspectives. While I was routinely amazed at the level of detail many of them recalled regarding events that had transpired so long ago, there were certainly gaps in everyone’s memories. In order to tell what I considered to be a complete story about the town of Oak Ridge during World War II, I had to use multiple women. There was an incredible amount of time-lining and Post-It shuffling going on all over my living room floor (no computer screen was big enough in the early stages) in order to piece it all together.
Another central challenge revolved around the book’s big idea: Only they didn’t know… I wanted to embrace the “not-knowingness” of those characters, which was going to provide the most juice, dramatically speaking. So while the reader knows the story is headed to the dropping of the world’s first atomic bombs, I still needed a way to let the main characters drive that story, even if they were essentially driving blindfolded.
I considered various approaches. Omitting the entire behind-the-scenes maneuvering of the Manhattan Project officials and scientists kept my female leads in control, in a sense, but it risked leaving the reader too far behind. If he or she knew too little about the history of the Manhattan Project, the real stakes of that moment in history would be lost. Third-person omniscient seemed promising for a bit, but whenever I heard my inner voice beginning to say, Little did they know… I started to feel as though I was writing a cheesy movie trailer instead of a nonfiction book.
So I decided to take a hint from the Manhattan Project itself: I decided to compartmentalize. One of the ways the folks in the know kept a lid on the Manhattan Project was by keeping jobs, responsibilities and access to information as limited and as separate as possible. There were two worlds, really, one in which workers toiled away with little idea what they were working on and a much smaller, more exclusive world in which strings were pulled, strategies were devised and nuclear history was made.
I decided to create two worlds, too. I wrote interstitial chapters that took the readers out of the world of Oak Ridge and gave them a peek at what the was going on at the highest levels of the Manhattan Project. I deliberately kept my women, my characters, out of that world and those chapters. That separation reinforced one of the key strategic elements of the Manhattan Project, kept my characters in control of their piece of the puzzle, while helping the reader understand the larger stakes impacting my characters’ lives.
In the end, this freed up my characters to explore their own wartime dramas, ones I found were filled with the kinds of surprising twists and challenges that we all can relate to. They found loves and lost loved ones. They faced fears and forged unexpected friendships. They wondered what was going on around them, but put their heads down and got to work and I, in turn, got to work for them. They kept me hooked, and I was happy to let them take the lead.