And the winner, she is ….

The world of science fiction has changed. When my father introduced me to his favorite books decades ago, there was not a female author to be found. Not long after, I discovered Ursula Le Guin, Kate Wilhelm and Vonda McIntyre on my own. So, women could write this stuff. Well then, that was what I was going to do someday, because I ‘d already been told my first career choice of becoming an astronaut was “not realistic.”

It wasn’t many years at all before women did go into space. As I grew into adulthood, the list of women who wrote speculative fiction grew by at least an order of magnitude. In fact, it has now increased to the point where five of the six 2019 Hugo nominees for best novel were women. Wow.

One of the presenters was artist Afua Richardson, comic book illustrator for Marvel’s World of Wakanda

Check out the list of nominees below.

It should also be noted that Artificial Condition by Martha Wells took best novella this year; If At First You Don’t Succeed, Try, Try Again by Zen Cho won best novelette; A Witch’s Guide to Escape: A Practical Compendium of Portal Fantasies by Alix E. Harrow won best short story and best series went to Becky Chambers’ Wayfarers books. Yes, they are all women.

The Calculating Stars
Mary Robinette Kowal
Winner
Spinning Silver
Naomi Novik
Nominee
Revenant Gun
Yoon Ha Lee
Nominee
Record of a Spaceborn Few
Becky Chambers
Nominee
Space Opera
Catherynne M. Valente
Nominee
Trail of Lightning
Rebecca Roanhorse
Nominee

It’s hard to find a simple explanation for this change. One could guess it is because the world has become more welcoming to women pursuing dreams of all kinds. But that should result in something more like woman being half the nominees, not most of them.

It is true women that as a group tend to be more verbal than men.  (Yes, men tend to be more mathematical. I’ve no quarrel with statistics, only a quarrel with extending those generalizations into making assumptions about individuals, or to making assumptions about why the tendencies exist in the first place. Life is complicated.)

Anyway, today’s world of SFF writers could, in part, reflect the fact that women make up a larger percentage of the writing and the reading community in general.

Another theory is that society is more supportive of women then men who write variations of speculative fiction that shade into romance. This gives women writers (for once) a larger menu of styles and subject matter to chose from. I can see this perhaps accounting for a larger number of female SFF writers over all, but few if any of the female-authored pieces nominated for awards could be considered part of this hybrid romance genre.

Maybe it’s this simple. Most of the best SFF last year was written by women, and that’s that.

I was happy that my particular favorite, The Calculating Stars, by Mary Robinette Kowal, won best novel. For those of you not familiar with it, it is part of collection of stories (and two novels) set in an alternate world in which women were admitted into the USA’s initial space program. Guess you can see why I’d have a fond spot in my heart for this premise.

I watched Mary Robinette Kowal’s acceptance speech from my perch in the spotlights. (I was a volunteer running the spotlight for the show.) Astronaut Dr Jeanette Epps was on stage with her and it was a one of those weird maybe-all-is-right-with-the-universe-after-all moments. I loved it!

(Read more about my Worldcon adventures at An Irish Worldcon: I’m here!,  at Feeling at home, at A New Irish Experience and at Forward into the Past.)

 

 

Now for something different …

I thought I knew what I was going to do next. It was going to be a clever combination of crime novel and speculative fiction, with a main character sleuth who has been growing in my head for over a year. I  called the project “Next” and made folders for it on my computer and in real life. “Next” was about to happen.

Then I got a day at a spa for mother’s day.

It was six hours of relaxing with cucumber slices over my eyes while people massaged my feet and poured me champagne. Yes, it was as wonderful as it sounds.

It was also the longest I’ve gone in a long time without prodding my brain to do what I wanted it to do. (Wait. Aren’t I and my brain the same thing?)

The point is I, or some part of me, went ahead and used this wonderful time to make up a story. A rather good story, really. It didn’t surprise me because making up stories is what I’ve always done when I relax, and there was no doubt I was relaxing. I was kind of surprised at how complex the tale got, however.

By the time I’d driven home, I knew what I had to do. You see, the only time I struggle with writers block is when I (okay, some part of me, let’s call her the adult manager in charge of my head) insists I write whatever Ms. Manager has decided I must.

No matter how hard Ms. Manager insists, it doesn’t happen.

The little kid in my head who makes up the stories simply stops making them up until she is once again allowed to tell her stories, in her way. I’ve learned that if I want to be a writer, I let this little kid do as she damn well pleases. The editor in me (who I suspect is in cahoots with Ms. Manager) can clean up her mess later.

And this little kid really, really wants to tell the story she made up at the spa. So ….

I’ve drawn her a map of the imaginary realm where it will take place.  She named the characters during the full body massage, but I fleshed out several important secondary characters for her, provided a rough timeline, and created a few new words to describe concepts she came up with that don’t have a word in English.

My best friend and chief research associate (who also carries the title of “husband”) has agreed to watch a few old movies with me to provide background I know I need.

Three other people I’m close to have been nice enough to listen to a verbal version of my story. I find that telling it aloud helps me clarify it and hang on to it better, sort of the way describing a dream to someone else helps move it into the conscious mind.

Now, I’m ready to start the messy, emotional process of writing a raw draft. It generally involves yelling, crying and laughing aloud on my part, so I tend not to write first drafts in public places. It’s a scary process for me, yet it’s an exhilaration beyond any I know.

Later, all the adults in my brain will take over, and hopefully turn it into a book. We’ll see …

 

 

 

So that’s what she really looks like?

My vision of main character Teddie was always ethereal, much like the triplicate vision of her on the first cover. She was 17 and attractive, with curly black hair and dark eyes, but that was about all I knew.

When I decided to rename my books, I needed new covers. Current fashion is to show the main character, so it looked like I had to find someone who could show the world what Teddie really looked like. I found a group called Deranged Doctor Design.

When we started the cover for Layers of Light, we’d just finished the long and sort of painful process of doing many iterations of the cover (and main character Alex) for the previous book, Twists of Time. Lucky for all, the fine folks at DDD had a way to deal with people like me, who didn’t know what they wanted till they saw it. They sent me six potential Teddie’s to choose from.

I ruled out the three on the right without hesitation. These young ladies weren’t Teddie, and in general they had a little more angst than I wanted. Model #2 was a little too glamorous, so I went back and forth between the sweet innocence of model #3 and the slightly more worldly model #1. In the end, worldly won out.

The brown haired, blue eyed model needed some changes in coloring. They turned out to be trivial for my book cover designers.

Teddie got high praise from my own personal focus group, though one critic pointed out she had a bit of a “Tomb Raider vibe” to her, but that wasn’t necessarily a bad thing.

When it came time to create the last cover, we needed Teddie to make a second appearance, but not with an identical face. This particular model had dozens of photos to choose from, but unfortunately many of them had to do with selling beauty products.

I needed the new tough Teddie, fully aware of her superpowers and ready to kick butt. The selection wasn’t promising. We ended up with a pose that wasn’t all that different from the one used on Layers of Light, but it was different enough and it worked.

When I saw Teddie standing there with the rest of her family, I knew I’d gotten it right. This was what Teddie really looked like.

 

How much changes in six years?

The Original Teddie

As my novels receive their new names, they’re also getting rewritten. Lingering errors are being fixed, and unnecessary words, phrases and entire scenes are landing on the cutting room floor. All well and good. My biggest conundrum doesn’t come from what should never have been that way to being with.  It comes from what shouldn’t be that way now.

The first draft of this novel was written in 2013. How much changes in six years?

Society continues to evolve. At least more so than not.

My book Layers of Light is not only about human trafficking and female heroes, it is a book about the obstacles faced by women everywhere. It was written before the Me Too movement, and before we had a major candidate for president who was a woman. It was written before “grab ’em by the pussy” and Stormy Daniels. In some ways, it feels to me as if it comes out of a more naive time. How much of the world of 2019 should go into a rewrite?

I also continue to evolve. At least I hope so.

The New Teddie

For over three years now, I’ve been a more or less full time writer. Thanks to classes, groups, and online opportunities, I’ve gotten better at my craft. Practice and study will do that for you.

I’ve also become more politically aware. Writing full time gives you a little more wiggle room to pay attention to the world. As you pay attention, you learn.

Having more free time has also allowed me to be a volunteer. I spend a day a week helping survivors of domestic violence. Individually and in aggregate, they and the social workers who assist them, have taught me so much. It’s no surprise some of that pertains to novel about obstacles women face.

So how much of the new me should go into a rewrite?

I’m making decisions about this all on a case by case basis. Definitely redo that. Don’t touch this. Modify a little here. I hope the result will be a realistic book about young women in 2012 that resonates with the real women of 2020. I think that’s possible.

 

 

c3 is dead

What prompts an author to kill her own book?

A few weeks ago my fourth novel, c3, was killed by own hand. It made me sad. I finished writing c3 in late 2013, and released it on Kindle February 6, 2014. I’ve been told its hero, teenager Teddie Zeitman with her exuberant heart and a talent for out-of-body experiences, is one of my best creations. Green happens to be my favorite color, and the ethereal cover for c3 was my favorite of all the six.

But times change. Goodreads shows only three people currently reading my novel. Sales have gone from small to nearly zero.

I’ve never totaled up the exact sales, because it’s hard to separate a sale from a give-away but I suspect I’ve been paid for about a hundred copies (if you don’t count friends and family.) I’d hoped for more sales, of course, but every time a stranger liked my book and let me know, it delighted me. No regrets.

A few months ago, I attended a conference of science fiction writers, and signed up for a mentor. It may have been one of my more useful decisions. This professional writer pointed out that I could still have a marketable product in this particular story, but I needed a more genre-appropriate cover, a much better title, and an updated and aggressive marketing plan.

I can change the title of my book? Apparently I can. I need a new ISBN number (no problem). I  need to acknowledge to the new reader what has been done (just in case he or she is one of the 200 or so humans who already read this story.)

And …. I needed to kill c3. That is, it had to go off the market completely. No electronic versions for sale, although those who have it obviously always will. No new paperbacks printed and sold, although nothing can prevent current owners from reselling their copies on Amazon and elsewhere.

Over the years, I’ve eliminated all the hyperlinks in the book, and the text that went with them. I’ve made corrections and done minor clean-up. Why not. But I’ve refrained from doing anything major.

Because this will be a new book, I have the chance to do some serious editing. So I am. I’m giving more attention to point of view. I’m taking the techniques I’ve learned over the past six years, at conferences, from other writers, and simply from practicing my craft for hours every week, and I’m doing my best to fold those learnings into telling my story better.

It is still a work in progress, but so far I’m pleased with the result.

So while c3 will soon cease to exist, it will give birth to a new and better novel, to be called Layers of Light. I’ll be blogging all about it here soon.

 

Moments and Movements

It’s easy to hear commentators describe the “me too” moment and feel cynical. It is tempting to lump it in with the marches for science and climate sense, and the recent amazing push by high school students for gun safety laws, and all the writing and calling so many of us have done for so many causes, and conclude it has all been useless because things aren’t any better. Is it true?

My husband and I have a fondness for procedural crime dramas, and we’ve recently gotten hooked on a series about a Wyoming sheriff from a decade ago. He and his wise Native American friend Henry handle all manner of mayhem, but a recent episode about sexual assault took a turn for the serious when justice was not had. The young female Cheyenne survivor was referred to a group of Native American women who met monthly to help women in her situation.

“How long has this been going on?” Henry is asked. He gives the questioner a funny look.

“Forever,” he answers.

The writers got that one right.

Yet, what we forget is there has been change, in this area and so many others. Both laws and attitudes about sexual harassment, sexual assault and domestic violence have slowly crept towards reasonable, as have our laws and attitudes in other areas of human fairness.

I understand there is debate about Martin Luther King’s quote “The arc of the moral universe is long, but it bends toward justice.”

Some argue these words discourage the hard work needed to make a better world. I see the quote  differently. I think it means that if we do the hard work, if we raise awareness and argue for fairness and believe in justice, then slowly, the inherent goodness in the human soul will respond with a gentle lean towards what is right. I think the quote means that ultimately humans are a moral people who understand and wish for goodness. Given time and encouragement, they will grow in that direction much as a plant grows towards the sun.

No single event ended segregation, no one protest stopped the Vietnam war. But over years, the hatred behind racism and the futility of needless conflicts fell out of favor with mainstream American, and differences were made. Perhaps too little. Certainly too slowly. But it was undeniably better than if there had been no progress at all.

So I try to remain hopeful as I listen to the “me too” hype. Nothing will be particularly different tomorrow. The success of the movement will be apparent a generation from now, when mothers tell their daughters how bad it once was, and the daughters have trouble believing them.

 

Greener Grass

I’ve never liked the expression “watch what you wish for”. I think it discourages dreaming, and pushes people to settle for what is, rather than encouraging them to make positive changes in their lives. It feeds that innate fear that anything we do will make matters worse.

Gathering vibes 1But there is a reason that we share this collective fear. Often we idolize what we want and once we do get it, the reality falls short of the the dream. It still may be an improvement over what we had, and it might even be a big improvement. It’s just not perfect. It doesn’t make us perfect. It doesn’t make everyone around us perfect. So another dream looms. A different job, a new lover, another town, or maybe better friends. The tough part is figuring out when it’s time to stop chasing perfection and embrace the life you are living.

Do this too easily, and you are settling for less than you should.  Never accept anything other than perfection, and you have chained yourself to a life of discontent. This living life well shit is so damn difficult, isn’t it?

Obviously this little tirade is based on my current situation. I recently quit my job and moved across country, to live in the mountains. I’m off a dirt road, surrounded by beauty, fresh air and all the time in the world to write. It was supposed to be perfect. Unfortunately, I really wanted to move to the Rockies. My life partner wanted to go the the east coast. We wanted to be together, so, we moved to the Appalachians.

There are trees everywhere. So many of them that you can’t tell where you are. It’s not quiet. This damn place is full of something called cicadas and they make a shrill racket worse than any city noise I’ve ever heard. I’m hoping I can write here, but I wouldn’t know because after two months I am still unpacking. This is not what I had planned. It is not perfect.

Pick up and move again? Difficult and very expensive, but possible. Or try learning to love this new home?

Yesterday, I learned how to use a chain saw.  It’s not complicated, but it takes a little confidence with power tools that I needed to gain. Point forward,  I’m going to take down one tree every week until I can see out in at least one direction. I like trees. But I figure that there will still be four million of them within my view, so I’m not exactly affecting the amount of oxygen on this planet.

grassI’ve also discovered that cicadas die off at the end of summer and the really good news is that summer ends here in September like it should. So there is hope for quiet. As to the writing? The stories are starting to form in my head again, in spite of the time I am spending unpacking. They’ll want to be put on paper soon.

They say the grass is always greener on the other side of the fence. Here in my new home, the grass is actually greenest right above our septic system. I’m not sure exactly what that proves, but I think I’ll stay put for now and try to figure it out.

(For more thoughts on making major life changes see my blog posts Wise and Quiet, Am I a Shape Shifter Now? and If You’re Going to be an Old Car.)