Beginnings

A start. Vegetable Garden 2016

A start. Vegetable Garden 2016

Yesterday was Imbolc. To be honest, I wasn’t even sure what it was outside of an old Celtic holiday. I did a little research, and while I’m no Wiccan (I don’t follow any religion), I like the idea of a celebration between the winter solstice and the spring equinox, a time to be grateful that the days are growing longer. This is the time of year when I actually check the sunrise/sunset data each night in order to track the sun’s return, to get confirmation that yes, there actually was an extra minute of sunshine yesterday. I live for the long, warm summer, when I can work every evening planting gardens, tending to animals, and growing vegetables. I can imagine that for the ancient Celts in Northern Europe, the lambing time was kind of the same – that first hint that the long, hard winter was waning, and the sun would indeed return. So, on Imbolc Eve I lit a small fire in the firepit, and my kids roasted hot dogs while I gave a little thanks to the universe that we’re all still here.

On a related note, the first batch of summer veggies have sprouted, along with a flat of companion marigolds. We’ve got seven varieties of tomato, four peppers, and two types of zucchini growing on warming mats in the garage, getting ready for the first wave of planting in March. In the old refrigerator we keep out there, I’ve also got another flat of three different varieties of milkweed, 70 plants in all, cooling their heels in the refrigerator (cold stratification) before going under the full spectrum bulbs in a couple of weeks.

Work on the novel continues as well. For the past few weeks I’ve been participating in a writing challenge put together by some of the members at Codex, the writer’s website I belong to. This particular challenge is geared around really short pieces, <750 words, but it’s done wonders for getting me back into the writing habit after the crazy-hectic holidays. So now, on days I don’t work on those stories, I work on the novel, which will hopefully be done (in first draft at least) by the end of the summer.

A few updates:

I’m pleased and excited to report that my poem, “Changeling,” which appeared in Liminality’s Winter 2015 issue, has been nominated for a Rhysling award in the Long Poem category.

My poem, “Spell,” has just gone up over at Stone Telling, a really gorgeous online poetry ‘zine. After this issue the editors plan on going on hiatus for the rest of 2016, so this is your last chance for a while to catch some of the best speculative poets working today.

This morning, SF Signal went live with this week’s “Mind Meld” titled, “Graphic Novels We’re Loving Right Now.” I weigh in on The New 52’s Wonder Woman reboot, but there are some fantastic reviews of other great graphic novels as well, so check it out.

Award Eligibility 2015

It’s very tough for me, personally, to write these kinds of posts, as I’m not the sort for self-promotion. However, I’m also well aware that writing (for fun and profit) entails a certain amount of that kind of thing, and, the nature of squeaky wheels being what it is, I feel as if I should at least put forth the effort. 2015 was by far the most successful year I’ve had so far in terms of writing, and I’m pretty proud of that fact, considering I also obtained a Master’s degree and homeschooled three children. I wrote and sold more short stories than ever before, and had more than a few poems published as well, all of which I’m quite proud of, and would be absolutely thrilled to have nominated.

That being said, I give you, without further ado, the list:

Stories

“The Answer,” (Fantasy Scroll Mag #10, December 2015), reviewed at Quick Sip Reviews
“Connection,” (Daily Science Fiction, November 2015)
“Mother,” (Pseudopod, Episode 459, October 2015)
“The Memory of Trees,” (Nature: Futures, July, 2015)
“When I Needed You Most,” (Every Day Fiction, 2015)
“Lost in Translation,”  (Welcome to the Future, 2015)
“Pattern, Piece, Block, Stitch,” (The Lorelei Signal, Jan, 2015)

Poems

“Three” (Eternal Haunted Summer, Winter Solstice 2015)
“Changeling” (Liminality, 6, Winter 2015)
“Code Talker” and “I Sing the Void” (Illumen, Autumn 2015)
“Harrowing” (Strange Horizons, 2015), reviewed at Quick Sip Reviews
“First Contact” (Eye to the Telescope, 18, October 2015)
“Midnight at the Hub City Café” (HWA Poetry Showcase II, 2015)
“There Is No Why” (Star*Line, 38.4, 2015)
“The Garden Wild” (Liminality, Autumn 2015)
“Anchorite” (Eternal Haunted Summer, Autumn Equinox 2015)
“Omega Woman” (Eye to the Telescope, 17, July 2015)
“Superhero” (Lakeside Circus, Spring 2015)

 
If you are a voter for SFPA, SFWA, or the Hugos, and would like to receive a .pdf copy of any of these works, please shoot me a line via the contact form on the “About Me” page. Thanks!

News and Updates

I’m armpit deep in Christmas, but, for those with an interest, I have a couple of things going live today:

Over at Fantasy Scroll Mag, my short story “The Answer” can be found in the newly released Issue 10, December, 2015. This is a story that was part of a (as yet unfinished) cycle of stories featuring female mythological monsters. The idea was to retell the myths from the monsters’ point of view. Of course, as happens with lots of stories, the characters tend to go and do things I didn’t plan. The end result, though not what I’d originally envisioned, ended up being one of my favorite things I’ve written in the last couple of years.

In poetry news, my poem “Changeling” is now live over at Liminality, one of my absolute favorite places to read gorgeous, evocative speculative poetry. Go and check out the entire issue if you have a chance. “Changeling” is a narrative poem about love, and loss, and how time seems to fly away as one ages, taking so much, leaving not even the crumbs of sharp memories for a consolation.

Hope you enjoy.

The Myth of Fingerprints

Warm today, currently 70°F. Late in the year and no freeze yet. El Niño is keeping us cozy this year, it would seem. Would be nice to have this continue for a few years, until the citrus trees are really up and going. Nature seems a little surprised by itself, though. Things are confused. Tulip magnolias, which normally bloom in February, are budding out now. Bees and wasps swarm, frantically working on whatever their kind works on when given a little extra time before frost. Sometimes too frantically, however–a red paper wasp stung our dog Max yesterday, and I had to spray insecticide all over the columns on the NW corner of the porch to get rid of what looked to be a fairly big colony. Some of the poison got on the plants, of course, which were full of honey bees, other wasps/flies, anoles, butterflies, and who knows what else. It is physically painful to me to kill things, and, as a gardener and a naturalist, I have a particular hatred of insecticides. The reality is, however, that red paper wasps are extremely territorial and aggressive. They will chase and they will sting, repeatedly. Still, I didn’t want to do it. I mourned the creatures that died, and asked their pardon and understanding.

Though my to do list overfloweth, the LOML and I got some things done that were not on the list, but which were important nonetheless. To viz: planted a new bed of lettuce, replaced two broken door handles (front entryway and kitchen), and painted the porch picnic table with a coat of polyurethane. Huge improvement and morale boost.

Last night we were up until 2am, finishing Penny Dreadful, Season 2. Excellent; my highest rating. I haven’t even fully processed it all, but the writing was layered and nuanced, full of myth and myth-making. One of the things I love about this show is that it doesn’t shy away from using Judeo-Christian mythology as part of its plot arcs. In an age when the religious right tends to viciously attack any biblical interpretation that doesn’t follow the KJV, it’s nice to see a show taking chances by using those stories as part of a larger pool of Western mythology. I’d like to write a longer essay on the subject some time soon.

Refilling the Creative Well (Today Might Be the Day)

I haven’t written any fiction in over a month. Not a poem, not a story. Nothing.

The last time I tried, the whole experience was fraught with pressure and guilt, me sitting there at the computer talking to myself: Come on, come on, you can do this. Write something. Anything.

The occasion was a Halloween short story contest in a writer’s group I belong to. The group hosts these sorts of things several times a year, and generally I like to do them because they impose deadlines, and I most definitely work harder when I have a deadline and someone to (potentially) disappoint on the other end.

Anyway, the participants were all given a story seed: some image or phrase that was supposed to be woven into the story. My seeds were the Ivy League, a woman who used to be a twin, and a lonely knot. You could choose from among your seeds or use them all.

And I had nothing. I sat at my computer for days; started story after story, then deleted what I had written. I stressed over it, cried a little bit, and then I made a decision.

I just put that bag down and walked away.

2015 will go down as my most successful writing year to date. I’ve had six stories and eight poems appear in various places. I wrote a good bit more. I graduated with a Master’s degree. I just needed to give myself permission to let that be enough.

Since then I’ve read books, worked in my garden, and watched a lot of TV and movies. The ideas, the voices and the stories, are coming back, swirling around in my mind, whispering in my ear. This week I’m cooking Thanksgiving dinner for nearly 20 people, so I’ll be busy as hell. Still, the words are coming back, so I might just sneak out for a while to write.

Today might be the day.

Coming to a Birdhouse or Bathtub Near You

Today is what I’d call a perfect autumn day. A light, soft rain is falling, and the air is filled with the smell of decaying leaves and the earth beginning to put itself to sleep. I know some may find this surprising; to most people the perfect autumn day involves crisp breezes and a bright blue sky.  To me, though, that sky seems almost menacing. It reminds me of a cheap kid’s toy, of the bright, forced cheerfulness of hard plastic. Caitlin Kiernan calls it the “wide carnivorous sky.” It’s like being trapped inside a marble. Give me gentle rains and cloudy skies any day.

I haven’t sorted through the vacation photos yet, but when I do, I’ll post a few here. It was a wonderful trip, mostly because we were all jammed in a car for two weeks, and we got on one another’s nerves, and we got closer, and we saw half the country together. I got to show the LOML and  my kids things I’d been wanting them to see for a long time. I got to see things I’d been wanting to see for a long time. I have to admit, however, that toward the end we were all very homesick. It’s good to be home.

While we were gone I had a couple of poems come out into the world. The always-gorgeous Liminality published it’s Autumn issue, and my poem “The Garden Wild” is part of the line up. This poem was a kind of tribute to my mother, who, though she lived her life enveloped in a miasma of pain, gave me the gift of gardening, and my love of the natural world.  Eternal Haunted Summer is a beautiful webzine I discovered this summer, and this month their Autumn Equinox issue features my poem, “Anchorite,” written, as so much of my work is, about my ongoing 20-odd year obsession with the LOML.

Yesterday, in an ongoing effort to divert the local raccoon tribe from my vegetable garden and back porch, we set up three feeding stations out in the north field. I’ve trained a wildlife camera on the area, and so hopefully I’ll be able to post a few pictures soon. In the meantime, the crows and squirrels have found things much to their liking. Hopefully that’s a good sign.

Today I’m decorating for Halloween with my kids and working on what I hope will become an annual Halloween horror story. This year I want to get back to the source; the idea that Samhain is the day when the spirits of the dead can interact with the living. No vampires or zombies or witches; just a good old fashioned ghost story.

I’ve Glimpsed Our Future, and All I Can Say Is…Go Back

Mounting panic as we prepare to launch into the great American West next week. The LOML and I continually joke that we’re reenacting National Lampoon’s Vacation, nervously laughing in the dark while we piss our pants hoping that’s not actually the case. To say I’m a little intimidated would not be an exaggeration. In my personal life I’m constantly torn between being who I really am, i.e., an artist and a gardener with a decidedly weird-skewing worldview, and giving my kids the All-American mom-and-apple-pie Mayberry upbringing that was denied me. Yes, I know that exposing them to some weird is a good thing, and I try to keep that in mind, but when you grew up in a home where ‘weird’ translated into kids taking care of parents instead of parents taking care of kids, you tend to shy away from going too far with that shit. Case in point: the great American road trip, and my desire for my kids to see some of their own homeland before jobs, responsibilities and general LIFE get in the way for them as it does for us all. I have this growing panic that I’ll forget something, or that our house will fall down or be swept away by floods while I’m gone. Call me crazy. You won’t be the first.

 

Time Is Not A Pony Ride*

Autumn is coming. **

Every year I always find it interesting how you can feel it, even in the midst of 90º+ days, if you stop long enough and just listen. Some of the trees are already almost bare, and while much of that is due to the recent 5-week mini-drought, you can almost hear the trees sighing with fatigue, ready to shrug off this wet, soggy spring and dry, punishing summer to sleep for a while, and try again next year. It’s a smell in the air that at first comes only on the occasional breeze, but gradually deepens and stretches itself out across the land. In spite of the fact that I’m not a huge fan of winter weather (I can never truly get warm when it’s cold outside) I welcome the autumn. Just like the trees I’m worn down by the incessant heat, and I feel their need for rest pulling at my heart. Everything needs to sleep. Everything needs to dream.

Yesterday I planted four raised beds of beans and peas, the first time I’ve ever tried a fall crop of them. There was one bed of Provider, one of Royal Bush (a very pretty purple color), one of Piggott peas, and one of Crowder peas. Beans and peas are one of those things I’ve never really mastered, mostly because I can never figure out if I’m harvesting at the right time, or, if I am, how to preserve what I’ve picked. In any case, we’ll see.

 

*David Byrne

**Doesn’t sound as dramatic as GRRM, but there you have it.

On the Making of Magic, Pt. 2: An Invocation

Writing is hard, and I don’t mean do-I-put-a-comma-here hard; I mean the overwhelming majority of my working time consists of me sitting in front of the screen, just staring at it. Usually, eventually, something comes to me, but it’s very, very rough and has to be gone over again and again, the seams ripped out and resewn together in different ways until I can look at it and not shudder. Even then, it often ends up abandoned. I have a folder with hundreds of unfinished pieces in it; times when I thought I had the nugget of something extraordinary, only to discover dead ends or (worse still) that what I was writing was ordinary, clichéd, or just plain uninspired. Heinlein said you should always finish what you write, but for me that would just be murder. Sometimes I can come back to a piece later, and figure out how to fix it, but more often than not, dead just means dead. I move on.

Then there are the days when I sit down at the computer and the words come easily. Those are the magic days, when I’ll wake up with the first line of a story or poem sitting there in my fingertips, just waiting for me to write it down. On those rare occasions it almost feels as if someone else is in control, and I’m just the typist sent up for the day from the secretarial pool. I’m sure there are any number of books or blog posts dedicated to explaining how to “beat writer’s block” and bring on this state of creative frenzy, but for me it remains magical and a bit mysterious. Enough so that, rare as they may be, those days more than make up for all the others spent staring at a blank screen or an absurd amalgamation of clunky sentences.

The only invocation I know is a burning curiosity about everything in the world. I have books on ancient history, permaculture, genetics and Pre-Raphaelite art. I spend hours in bookstores, libraries, and museums, my head bent at odd angles as I peruse titles or study the tiny details of paintings. I spend even more time outdoors, studying the patterns in nature: weather, the seasons, how things grow and change. My invocation to magic isn’t about begging for inspiration; it’s about filling myself with a million bits of knowledge, things that can coalesce into ideas, poems, stories. I often joke that writers are jacks of all trades but masters of none, but in a sense this is not only true, but essential. Whoever said “write what you know” was only half right. There’s nothing wrong with writing about the familiar, of course, but the best writing comes when we fill ourselves with the world. Like any true magic, it can’t be tamed or trained to show up on command, and I’ve learned to live with that.

After all, that’s what makes it wonderful, isn’t it?