I wrote another review!

Here’s a sample.

Elisa is chosen by God, marked for an act of service for His people.

But she’s also the youngest of two princesses, overweight, and has never done anything remarkable. She’s sure she never will. And now, on her sixteenth birthday, she’s becoming the secret wife of the king from a neighbouring country– which is on the verge of war with a terrifying enemy.

Read more…

I had strong feelings about this book, and I had fun writing this review. Head over to Scape to see what I said! And there is also new short fiction and other awesomeness there to see. 😀

Go! Read!

Clarion Week 6: in which we stumble across the finish line and wish the marathon was twice as long.

Heading out to the ocean

Week Six! The last week before I was thrust out into the cruel, uncaring world. The week when I realized that there was an ocean I could go heal my soul with RIGHT THERE, and the week when I got my feet put underneath me again by my classmates, and the week when I realized that this workshop wasn’t the pinnacle of my writing journey (with everything downhill from here,) it was a beginning.

“You wrote a story about a man who drowns a fish. Good job.”

Yeah, remember how last week I was despairing about ever being able to plot well and write like a grown-up? This week it was pointed out to me by several people that I was 22, with plenty of time to LEARN. I kinda clued in that I could rest, and let things percolate through my subconscious, and work on my skills and knowledge. I didn’t have to have it all in hand right yet.

“Self-loathing is not a good career path.  Cut yourself some effing slack.”  ~Kessel

I also slept a lot more, which helped.

Mark turned in his story for the last Friday. He slept significantly less.

(Side note; this did not actually take place at Clarion, but once I had left there, I listened to some people conversing, and I was utterly shocked to realize that they weren’t discussing writing. And worse, they were talking about it like it mattered, in a serious conversationI just didn’t understand. I still don’t understand. It’s a trip to Disneyland, not a novel!)

So, on this final week I had my retelling of Eros and Psyche critiqued! This was slightly awkward in the classroom because a.) I’d run out of time and energy and literally left out half the story, and b.) I was the unwitting perpetrator of that story that happens every year, the “I never really thought about it as rape before” story. Oops. (I’m sorry, everyone. And I’m gonna re-write that story and yeah. Sorry, everyone.) But on the non-awkward side, the general consensus was that my prose was SO MUCH BETTER. So, y’know, I curled into a ball when it was over and went HAHAHAHAHAHAHAHA ICANSTOPWRITING AHAHAHAHAHA oh I am so sad now. What should I do? How do I feel? How do I hands? How I can? I cannot can. Words gone. Words all gone. Ocean now?


You think I make a joke. I do not make a joke. That is the actual level of my language ability. I wrote a journal entry which reads.

“Went death-mobile story kit.

Ocean with Gill, mark, Chris, Todd.

Social Crit Session

Drank Beer– not good.


Clarion– it will ruin your capacity for language.

Josh must now join the conversation!

But inability to talk notwithstanding, the last week of Clarion was strange and amazing. We were becoming aware that we had been living in a state which most people would classify as “not the real world” and as we turned in our last stories day by day and looked around, we didn’t want it to end. I mean yes, there was some significant missing of family and significant others going on, but giving up this for the daily grind was not appealing.

“Tim will call you and be like ‘Send Lawyers, guns and money.'”

So we went to the ocean a lot, we hung out in the common room, we chatted and ate cupcakes and drunk tea and whiskey and wrote messages in each other’s books and took pictures and packed up and went to crit session and told each other we were awesome and made promises to keep in touch. My memories are all coloured with sorrow, but I’m pretty sure that’s the nostalgia talking.

Dying Brooke's hair.

Becky can't operate in these conditions!

Our group was entirely composed of introverts (what writing group isn’t,) and we were voluntarily spending as much time as possible together. There were trips to Sprinkles Cupcakes! There was ritual emptying of all the alcohol bottles which couldn’t be brought on a plane. There was the last trip to Mysterious Galaxy, where Kij read Story Kit, and like the week before, when Kessel read from his upcoming novel, I forgot to despair at how GOOD they were and how bad I was and just gloried in all the beautiful words.

"The class of Clarion 2011 had better be a courteous class or I'll kill you." -Kij

(Btw, Mysterious Galaxy is the bookstore where we went every week for readings. I come from a small town, so the idea that there are bookstores entirely devoted to Spec Fic was a REVELATION to me. I restricted myself to one new book a week, which was very, very hard. The staff was also amazing and kind and basically I’m a fan. If you’re in San Diego, go!)

Walking back from the ocean.

Saying goodbye is never fun to do.

And then we all had to pack up and fly home.

“It’s not that Burger King is salvation, but it’s reality.” -Kessel

If you want to apply to Clarion you can do that here. Should you apply? Clarion isn’t for everyone. It’s six weeks, which is a lot of time, and it’s five thousand dollars, which is a lot of money. However, there are scholarships for poverty and talent, (I got a “I work minimum wage jobs” one,) and six weeks is less than the time most jobs will give you for mat leave. IF THEY WON”T LET YOU TAKE THE TIME OFF YOU DON”T WANT THAT JOB ANYWAYS. *Jasmine Hast SPOKEN*

“You disappointed me, I thought she was going to be naked under the butterflies!”

In addition to the time and money budgeting, Clarion is also difficult emotionally and mentally. Even critique from very kind people who are your friends can be hard to take when you don’t have the opportunity to make it good, and you know that you COULD, if you just had more TIME.

I took this picture!

It is personally hard for me to take it when people say that ANYTHING is wrong with what I’m doing, as I have a strong attachment to being perfect, so it is a testament to the group I was in that I was able to take critique as well as I did. Add the strain of critique to the strain of all the writing and critical reading that is expected of you, and it is very tiring.

Bolander: “I want to eat the effing prose in this with a spoon.”
Chris: “You can’t eat it, it’s mine. I’m eating it.”

I’ve tried to be honest about the ups and downs of the experience in my recaps. (Other posts about Clarion, including my post about being accepted and other weekly recaps, can be found here.) In my mind, the positives of the experience wildly outweigh the negatives, and I say this as someone who is going to be working a 14 hour day today because I had to go quite far into debt to swing the cost of the workshop.

The last lunch, posing with the cafeteria staff.

If I could go again I would be applying this weekend and crossing my fingers even HARDER than I did last year. People have gone at ages 17 and at “more than 60,” people have traveled from Australia and the UK and Canada and from in San Diego. It’s my opinion that Clarion is AWESOME and I’d really, really encourage anyone who wants to be a writer to become part of that group.

Gill, Kessel and Mark.

Yeah, I want to go again.

“Excellent first draft, what a giraffe, covered in nanobots.”  ~Worrad

Clarion Week 5: being a tale of hysteria and despair.

Week 5. Oh, week 5. Week 5 was the hardest week. More on that in a minute. But first– QUOTES OF HILARITY. Because seriously, we were all comedians in week 5.

(I’m censoring the quotes, cause my little sister reads this blog. I’m sure you can infer what they were originally.)

“I wrote this story to let you know I’m a bigot.”
-Jim B.


“I really want to commend this story for being sentient.”


“You keep using single quotes when they should be double quotes. It’s all over page 7. Everything single quoted there should be changed to double quotes. I don’t understand why people keep doing this. You keep doing this and I’ll kill you.”


Josh: Someday 20 years from now you’re going to look back at your Clarion stories and go “what the eff was with all the bees?”
Becky: “No actually, I’ll be the author of my bestselling zombie bee series, reminiscing about at its genesis. ‘Ah yes, I remember it well.'”


“I refer you to Jasmine’s ‘look of death’.”


Josh: “This is not the first day for this biscuit. It’s a bit-” *bangs it against a plate*
Chris: “That’s not a biscuit, that’s hard tack!”
Jasmine: “It’s supposed to be eaten soaked in bacon grease.”
Someone: “It would probably taste better soaked in bacon grease.”
Josh: “Yes well, what wouldn’t?”
Tim: “Don’t say that. In this crowd, someone will take it as a challenge.”
Josh: “That’s true. With our luck, one of the stories this week will be titled: the thing that does not taste good soaked in bacon grease. If we’re lucky it’ll be written by Jim. If we’re unlucky it’ll be Dennis.”


Kessel: “That is a effing useless comma. I want to kill you for that comma. You’re going to hell for that comma. You know who does this? Effing journalists!”
Kessel: (Later) “I have to do this every once in a while. To exercise my adrenal gland.”


“Oh my god the verbs Todd!”


“That sentence was just full of words.”


“Story in which you get to the end and nothing happens- you stole my trick.”


“I wrote ‘Effer’ in tetris blocks, so there you go.”


Re: Erin’s orgasmic spaceship story:
Jim B.: “I thought the pace quickened really well.”


“This is the happiest ending to a Laika story I’ve seen, until I write my space opera in which Laika is irradiated, becomes a superhero, and returns to Earth to avenge herself on her Soviet oppressors.”  ~Josh


“Space whales having sex is three awesome things that go together awesomely.”  ~Kij


“The official Clarion 2011 mascot: NARWOLVES.” ~Josh


“Don’t pretend to be a normal person.  That’s…that’s just a bad idea.”  — Kim Stanley Robinson

Weeks five and six are presided over by an anchor team of two authors, and our anchor team was Kij Johnson and John Kessel– both of whom are unremittingly awesome. The title of this blog comes from the talk which Kessel and Kij gave us on their first day. Kij said;

“You’ve all demonstrated that you have a lot of talent to get this far. Do not waste your talent on trivial stories.”

That was the theme of their week, telling us that we had the talent, and we could do better. Strive for MORE. Do BETTER.

John Kessel sees all that you did and did not do, and he's now going to tell you about it.

Kij Johnson. All shall love her and despair.

But yes, the emotional low which was week 5. This was for a couple of reasons. A component was the fact that I was going for Monday crits, which meant that I turned in my sixth short story on Sunday night. Given that my first new story had been turned in for a Friday crit on week 1, I wrote six short stories in four and and half weeks. I’m not saying that to brag– I know a lot of people write faster than I do, and they weren’t long stories anyways– I’m just saying the word part of my brain had moved past IGNITION to smouldering weakly.

Another component was emotional. Despair, to pinpoint the emotion. I’ll be honest, I nearly gave up on writing as a career in week 5.

A lot of that came from the whole “I am tired tired so tired” thing. Five weeks writing, editing and critiquing every day, plus a MAD WEEKEND at comic-con, plus fighting off the Clarion Plague. The tired made it very difficult to fight off the despair at a fundamental quality of my writing. Description can be added, world-building can be researched, prose can be revised. It is very difficult to fix plot. And I had been going into my personal conferences with the authors, and every time they pointed to plotting as my weak point.

A word about personal conferences. All Clarion students get an hour to talk to each author about anything they want. Given that we are at a workshop where we eat, sleep and breathe story, what we want to talk about usually comes down to writing. So I’d go into my personal conference, perch terrified on the edge of a couch, and the instructors would be massively kind to me. Maybe it was the tangible aura of fear I was giving off. But yes, I cannot stress enough how NICE all the instructors were to me.

And in the process of these talks, I would ask what I was doing well and what I could work on, and everyone said “well, your stories aren’t very original, are they?”

So yes. Five weeks of hearing this, and I just believed I wasn’t good enough to fix this. I was too young, too flawed, too unoriginal, too ignorant, too goofy, too poor. I was legitimately making plans to pack up my publication dreams and consider alternate employment, with writing on the sides.

So yes, if you go to Clarion, don’t expect it to be all sunshine and awesome. It is amazing, but it also holds you to a high standard– one I hadn’t been held to in the realms of writing before. It’s hard. It’s really hard.

Other posts about Clarion, including my post about being accepted and other weekly recaps, can be found here.

If you want to apply, you can do that here.

Clarion 2011, Week 4; in which we break quarantine.

Imma start with some quotes this time.

“You have wrung true pathos from giant metal spiders- a first in SF!”


“The medical and drug scenes were written cleanly, with an obvious comfort with your subject matter. As was the breaking and entering?”


Jake: “Name’s Jake. Been to jail.”
Durham: “But you were innocent, no doubt.”
Jake: “No. But I was a minor.


“Pedophile tornadoes creep me out. That’s something I never thought I’d be saying. Another thing I’d never thought I’d be saying; I thought the tornado’s personality could be developed more.”

If anyone reading this has ever done NaNoWriMo, you’ll be familiar with the week-four feeling. That’s when you’ve forgotten what life was before you weren’t in a gollum-like relationship with your laptop, and you’ve lost interest in food or showering. The only thing that matters is the word count. You have entirely lost all shame connected to the quality of your story, and you’re following the “when in doubt, include fight scene, drunk scene, seduction scene and/or torture scene” model in your Middle Grade novel. Week Four–when you no longer have the self-awareness to realize that what you are doing is crazy.

So week four is usually when Clarion goes MADHOUSE. There has been the tradition ever since the first year that week four is when water fights break out, real fights go down, and people dye their hair shocking colours.

Class of 2011, inveterate followers of tradition that we are, got sick.

Brooke, phlegmy but unbowed.

This probably helped to keep things appearing calm, because we really didn’t have the energy for full-scale battles of any kind. That doesn’t mean we didn’t flounce into crit session wearing the last shreds of our sanity like banners, we just did it quietly. Or at least my memory thinks we did it quietly. See above, the week-four-destroys-your-frame-of-reference-for-crazy. I wrote a story about a teenager who gets into a fight with a petulant mountain. Maybe I was giggling madly at all times, and I’d just accepted it as normal at that point.

Peta demonstrates the New Normal.

And yes, I wrote a story about rock-elementals. Everyone thought it was super original, which only proves that I’m the only one in the room who’d read Tamora Pierce like a mad thing. In terms of the stories I wrote, it was a mmm-okay week. In terms of the things I learned? OH MY GOSH WEEK FOUR.

The first HUGE THING was world-building. This week we were directed by David Anthony Durham. He writes Epic Fantasy and Historical Fiction, and teaches MFA students, and y’know. He won the Campbell. Man knows what he’s talking about. We talked about lit fic advances, and MFA programs, which was very interesting (if probably never going to apply to me). We also talked about research, which was not even a lightbulb moment for me. It was A CONCERT TOUR’S WORTH OF FLASH-BOMBS AT ONCE moment for me.

Classroom! I miss you, classroom. Classmates! I miss you even more, Classmates.

After four weeks in California, I had started to miss home. I am a northern, ocean-facing girl, and all the heat and blocky buildings and the subtle sense of dislocation was starting to wear on me. I hadn’t put my finger on it, I was just a little edgy. And then in class, Durham told the story of a student of his who had been writing a story set in ancient rome. (This was to demonstrate the possibilities of research.) In the story, a run-away slave was hiding as some guards passed by. And Durham stopped him there and said

“Look, you have an opportunity with this to really anchor the story. First of all, the guards aren’t going to be just generic guards in a generic outfit. They’re going to have a name and number of some kind, because the Romans loved special emblems for their soldiers. They’re going to have a standard, for example, and their uniforms are going to be significant, and they aren’t going to just be led by a Captain, they’re going to be led by a Lictor. He has a special title, he’s not generic western-european-leader. And he’s going to be carrying his badge of office– an axe surrounded by a sheaf of sticks– which is both his badge of office and what he users to dispense justice.”

(Yes, I just typed that from memory. Sorry for my memory’s grammar.)

There was more, in the talk, but at that point my head exploded with world building and I forget it. My recent sense of dislocation and eternal history-is-awesome and travel-is-awesome stances all came together in a perfect storm of OH EM GEE WORLDBUILDING I LOVE YOU. I was aware that places were different on a fundamental level– really aware– and treating places and times as though they were like mine– only with different window dressing– wasn’t going to cut it any more. I mean, I had seen the difference just in travelling within two very similar countries on the same timeline, think about the difference between my life and a world I was constructing!

I had liked world building before, from a “let’s add all the cool things and make it internally logical” way, but this shifted it from something I thought of as happening near the end, adding extra do-dads and curlicues to the plot, to something I thought of as happening first, hand-in-hand with the plot, informing and directing it. Setting as character and motivation and frame, instead of just decoration. It sounds rather dry to write it down here, but this was absolutely MIND-BLOWING for me.

Oh yeah, and the other mind-blowing thing was Comic-Con. (This post is too long augh sorry everyone I just have a lot of FEELINGS about this week!)

An average shot of the ComicCon crowd.

So yes, Comic-Con. One hundred and Fifty thousand people crammed into a single convention centre. Many of them are wearing costumes. Thanks to the generosity of a donor to Clarion and to Tim, one of my Clarionmates, I got to go on Friday, Saturday and Sunday.

I absolutely loved it.

I got to spend six hours on the dealer’s floor, looking at cool things and people in costume, and I got to go to all kinds of panels about books, and I bought three t-shirts and I got to go to a sneak peak of Avatar: The Last Airbender: Legend of Korra, and I saw even MORE young adult and middle grade authors do their thing in front of crowds.

Scott Westerfeld: "WALKING TANKS!"

Tahereh Mafi, Lainai Taylor, Stephanie Perkins, Amanda Hocking and Kiersten White.

Tahereh Mafi, Laini Taylor, Stephanie Perkins, Amanda Hocking and Kiersten White.

Even though I didn’t really know a lot of the references that were going on, I got enough to get by. And to be surrounded by people who were determined to be nice and to have fun, and who thought that “fun” consisted of being enthusiastic about books, movies, tv shows, comics and media? It was so much fun. My main regret is that I over-dosed on crowds so fast that I forgot to take pictures unless actively reminded– say by the noisy person next to me taking pictures, (the reason for the two pics above). There was a guy dressed as a LOCUST and I forgot to take a picture. Gosh, Self.

I took this picture before I burnt out! Go me!

So Comic-Con taught me that a.) there are LOTS people who like the same things that I do, and who like it with more energy than I, even. b.) knowing how to speak in front of crowds (see above, how I went to five author panels) is incredibly important and difficult and I should get over my crowd-terror, and c.) I should write middle grade.

This guy is awesome. No one is able to deny it and yet stand.

Oh, I didn’t explain that? Yes, you see, I was waiting to get into my last panel, and they said “there’s seats available if you want to go in for the one before it,” so I said “A chair? Thank you!” and sat down. It turns out it was a panel on writing for the Middle Grade audience, run by Mysterious Galaxy. (I also learned that if I am every invited to be on a panel by Mysterious Galaxy, I am ALL OVER THAT. They are pros.) So I wandered in, and once again, for the– I think it was the third time this week– my head exploded in a symphony of flash bombs. I had been trying to write a MG novel as YA edging into Adult SF, and it was ALL WRONG, and Middle Grade was AWESOME, and now I saw the way forward, and DUDE. Also, the MG panel, In contrast to the YA panel, was male-dominated. My competitive side came out and I was all I CAN WRITE ABOUT SHARKS TOO. ONLY I CHOOSE TRAINS AND ROCKETS INSTEAD. I THROW THE GAUNTLET. Only I really don’t throw the gauntlet, cause Greg van Eekhout was on that panel and he just got nominated for the Norton and he was very nice IRL and I throw no gauntlets in his direction.

See how that paragraph up there disintegrated? That’s about what my mental state was like after ComicCon. And I still had two weeks of Clarion left to go.

Being this awesome is tiring, you know.

Other posts about Clarion, including my post about being accepted and other weekly recaps, can be found here.

If you want to apply, you can do that here.

P.S. You want to apply.

The Third Week of Clarion.

“Week three, the filking begins.”

Week three– the week we discovered Sprinkles Cupcakes and that Jasmine had never had sushi. So, if you go to Clarion? Just off the edge of campus, across from Trader Joe’s, there is a cupcake store. Go. Spend the three dollars and fifty cents on a cupcake. I am fantasizing about those things NOW, and it is eight months later. SO GOOD.

Also, chopsticks are very hard to use. They had to bring me the chopstick training wheels. I’d claim being Canadian as my excuse, but the other Canadian in the group happened to be from Vancouver, so that excuse is shot all to pieces. Also– if like me and you’re a sushi neophyte, and you go with people who can keep a very straight face– be suspicious. Todd kept trying to get me to eat the wasabi. Thankfully I’d watched cooking shows enough to know THAT, or everyone would have been treated to the unlovely sight of Jasmine drinking all the water at our table and also the next one.

Part of the walk from our apartments to the classroom.

And why do I open this post with two mentions of eating off-campus? Well, because the food at this point was starting to get a little tiresome. The serving people in the cafeteria were awesome! But large-volume food is difficult to keep exciting, and when you eat the same stuff for six weeks… We had people opt to buy their own food with increasing frequency (see above, Trader Joe’s), and by the end of the six weeks we were down to a core of people who were just stubbornly eating the food they’d paid for. I mean, it wasn’t BAD, it just wasn’t great either. Also it was “healthy,” so everything was light on salt and spices.

By the end Gill was pretty much eating entirely pizza, Chris was down to chickpeas and lettuce, and I had voluntarily eaten cafeteria oatmeal. If you stick it out to the bland end, you may find, like me, a strange sense of bonding with those who will continue to eat food that has lost its appeal entirely. But this was only at the three-week mark, where most everyone was eating social meals and dreaming of fancy cheeses.

Oh, and here's a view of the courtyard! We lived in apartment blocks very like those ones.

Oh right, also there was writing. This week was a bit of an roller coaster for me, writing-wise, because I had intended to turn in a re-writing of Cupid and Psyche. Then somewhere between realizing writing a story with a main character being THE GOD OF LOVE would require a sex scene, and panicking about my inability to describe anything other than a dress made of butterflies, I dramatically cast that plan aside and wrote a time-traveling story based on a dinosaur with a briefcase I had once dreamed.

(It is important to note that the story features neither briefcases nor dinosaurs. It does, however, include a woman who turns into a giant bird.)

I got the story to crit session with no expectations. The previous three critiques had broken me of any hope of a story that worked. And then everyone looked at me and said “Jasmine, this is a STORY. Look, it has all its parts! It is actually a story! HIGH FIVE JASMINE YOU WROTE A STORY!” I got cartoons.

Having a story which was received by the Clarion group as actually working was as significant to my self-confidence as getting into Clarion was in the first place. I’m afraid I’ll come off as pathetic if I go into it deeply, but you guys. Entering week three, my fellow clarionauts were people I TRUSTED. And they thought it was good.

Excellent people.

Though– I have to come clean about something. There’s a canary in my story, and Elizabeth Bear thought it was amazingly clever– and I had no idea what I was doing. I couldn’t figure out to spell “budgie.” We can either decide my subconscious was super-clever, or that it was an accident. (And yes, the knowledge that THE CROWNING POINT OF MY STORY ACCORDING TO ELIZABETH BEAR was not actually supposed to be there has kept me from, y’know, prancing around in victory on top of it.)

And this week in class, in addition to critiques, we had some lecture time! Elizabeth Bear was presiding, as uh, mentioned, and she taught us about plot, and brainstorming ideas with the newspaper, and Want vs. Need, and how to pitch a hollywood blockbuster in five minutes, and how to make this WORK. She is an incredibly hard worker, our Bear. We were lounging around the common room talking about how hard our lives were, and she was pounding out another thousand words on a short story.

On the blackboard is the results of our "five minutes reading the headlines" exercise.

One of the reasons I wanted to go to Clarion was to catch a glimpse of what an actual Author’s life would look like. I think week three was the point where I decided that it was even harder than I had imagined before. And I wanted it to be my life even more than I had before.

Bolander reading her critiques.

In conclusion, quotes!

I’ve moved into camp confusion and bought a summer home.


I don’t get it and I don’t like it.
-Jim B.


“Dude, you can rub words together.”


“I can’t wait until the first person shows up to crit still drunk.”


Annie: “Adult protective services are such a bitch to deal with.”
Josh: “Adult protective services? Those are the police.”


“This story spends all its time kicking holes in the fourth wall and firing shotgun blasts through it.”

Other posts about Clarion, including my post about being accepted and other weekly recaps, can be found here.

If you want to apply, you can do that here. Do it! You have a weekend to do a last edit! You can do it!

Clarion Week 2!

So, the deadline for Clarion 2012 is in six days, and you should apply. (Yes, you. All of you. Everyone who wants to write and meet people in the industry and learn like crazy. Rev your laptops now.) In an effort to explain why this is so, that you should apply, I am pulling out my journal and emails from that period and recapping this week by week.

Let’s all just pretend that I deliberately planned to post my recaps now– in the time last year that I was deciding to apply for Clarion– instead of the fact that I forgot to write these. Yes, pretending is fun!

Welcome to Clarion. This is your future for the next six weeks.

Week 2 was the week of John Scalzi. It was also the week my journals moved from detailed and hilarious retellings of the Clarion life to one-line entries such as this one, from the second weekend

“Also I thinked we have medical inference.”


My commitment to posterity’s knowledge is fabulous. But I can reconstruct from what I do have, because I have DETECTIVE SKILLS. And because I’m feeling daring, I’m going to put the week’s quotes and the week’s pictures and the week’s reconstruction into the post and hit BLEND.

Jacob: “That’s a great first line! A great first line for me to underline and write ‘glib’ under.”

Becky: “Looks like Jacob just volunteered to be the one killed and eaten!”

So the week before I turned in a for a Friday Crit– that was the one with a tactile telepathy and auditory danger sense. Awesome idea, poor execution. This week I decided to go for a story about a small town and tea and ice. I turned it in tuesday night, after a weekend where I looked at my grip on reality and decided it was overrated.

It was– disjointed. (Something which happens when you realize 800 words in that you’re writing a flash fiction with no spark and so you shoehorn a romance and a quest into it.)

These are your jurors. Pray for mercy.

The general verdict from everyone was that there were world building issues, and I still hated details, and I wrote TERRIFYING ice scenes. I’m still smiling eight months later, remembering the reactions to the ice scenes. From what others have said, the second week was hard for them, but for me, first week was such an I AM FAILING AT EVERYTHING that second week was much easier. I hit bottom, but that meant I wasn’t free falling into the dark any more.

“Hey man. I-I liked your story.”


“Needs more Aaardvarks.”


On the story-learning front, week 2 was also when I made two big discoveries! The first was the difference between a twist and a plot. In the year previous I’d been writing a story a week, as mentioned previously. Most of those were flash, and for a non-trivial amount of them I was setting up a situation, inverting it at the end, and calling it a story. That’s not plot, that’s regurgitation mixed with mental gymnastics. So learning that was good for everyone. (In related news, actual plot is hard.)

Brooke W:  “Is the AC Broken?”

Andy: “Beelzebub, are you with us?”

The second thing was why I never described anything. I had been thinking about it, and had come up with theories ranging from “description is boring” to “my imagination is not visual” to “why are you all SO MEAN?!?!” Just joking about the last one. Really.

No one is mean! Chris even hugged a giant stone bear, just to demonstrate his love.

In some self-analysis of my writing history, I remembered the several teen years when my primary writing outlet was to go on walks with my siblings and tell stories to them. These walks would go on for hours, and the culmination of that time period was during a road trip when I told a eight-hour fantasy epic to my road-stunned siblings. (This also means that my early writing work is impossible to display and shame me, because it was never recorded. VICTORY IS MINE.) The oral story-tradition was a fun activity, I learned a lot about plot and world-building, and I never described anything. (Try it some time, when you’re telling a story out loud. See how much attention you pay to visual description.) And in my head there was still this idea that description was unnecessary. So of course, now that I knew my bias against description was based on a teenage fallacy, it was a bit easier to say “description is for winners, let me commit some of it for you.”

“You had all the themes in one story. Every one.”

-Brooke W.

We went to John Scalzi’s signing at Mysterious Galaxy on Wednesday, and let me tell you– we were not the only ones there. They were lined up around the walls, and the air conditioning was sending everyone a letter about how sorely mistreated it was. Scalzi read from a novel that at the time was under a ban of secrecy, but now I can tell you is titled Red Shirts. It is hilarious and I want it.

“Were it my story, I would throw the baby out with the bath water at the end.”


One of the things that is not usually mentioned when people talk about Clarion, is that you get to see six very different professional writers in their public professional context. For many people this might not be as eye-opening as it was for me, but I’m from a small town. I had been to a grand total of no readings before, so seeing a wide range of author-audience interactions was AWESOME. I had assumed that there was one style of readings? And then in two weeks I saw Nina Kiriki Hoffman and John Scalzi do readings. They both KNOW their audience, and they’re both really good at it. They give a show.

Scalzi also wrote my critique in elvish. He says it’s a secret code, but I SAW it. Elvish.

What happens when critique session gets out of control. Or a normal day at Clarion. It's hard to tell the difference, some times.

In conclusion, a final quote from critique session.

Chris: “James, you have opened my heart.”

Gill: “With a sonic screwdriver?”

Chris: “Turns out it’s the only way.”

Other posts about Clarion, including my hysterical first post and weekly recaps, can be found here.

The road to Success

So this isn’t going to be the post where I lay out my five-year plan with goals and schedules and tactics to achieve those goals. I am no prophet. This is going to be a rambley thinking-on-the-page post about shifts in mental status around writing.

*watches 99% of blog followers drift away*

Ah, my loyal spambots! Thank you for staying. 😀

So I started thinking about this post about two weeks ago, when I was going to bed dissatisfied with the productivity of the day. After I had pointed out to myself that I’d read 200 pages of a MG novel and worked for seven hours, myself realized that my subconscious has for some time now been ignoring activities that don’t involve writing in some way. The hours that fill my bank account? PSH. They are nothing. The two hours spend scanning for “ly” in a short story– now there is where my satisfaction lies.

Part of me was absolutely delighted to figure this out. I finally knew, with proof from my  emotions and everything, (exactly one year after I decided to try a workshop to see if I wanted to try this writing thing seriously), that storytelling was where my focus and love was. So yes, I went in and changed my facebook employment information to add “writer” as a part-time job.

Another part of me was closer to despair than to glee, because I knew that writing was what I want to do as my final career, and yet I have three years of 50-60 hour weeks ahead of me in school and work-for-money-for-school. My current method of devoting time to writing involves chunks of four or more hours at a time– which has not been a useable tactic as I keep having chucks of two or less hours, during which I am a starey-creature-who-stares-at-walls for at least half of that time.

You see, I am wimpy and thus I tire easily, and I don’t do well if I don’t spent time talking to/stalking the twitter/tumblr feed of at least one of my friends on the internet, and I don’t do well if I don’t get enough sleep, and so on, and so on. I know what I want to do, I just– can’t do it yet.


It is extremely tempting to just scream at myself for being so weak. I should push myself through writing anyways, damn the consequences. Edit anyways, no matter if I hate it and I can’t think straight and only one of my eyes will focus and all I want to do is cry. I need to get this done. I have done this before.

That is to say, I’ve gone the self-hatred route. It’s really good for producing self-hatred, not great for producing anything else. And I mean anything. Socialization drops, faith drops, work that I am being paid to do drops…

So I need to find another way forward. I need to (1.) teach myself to work in small snatches and (2.) to not fall into the habit of hating myself for my weakness whenever I can’t. (Legitimately, I asked someone if being depressed whenever I was tired was normal. It was suggested that I try being nice and rewarding myself for work done when I was tired. I literally had never considered that, as when I’m tired it’s a sign that I have failed to complete the work I wanted to and I’m giving up too soon darn it. Yeah. So that was another eye-opening realization.) I need to (3.) take advantage of my current jobs which provide exactly zero life of the mind, and use that time to ponder and brainstorm. I need to (4.) eat right so I don’t get tired sooner than is necessary, and I need to (5.) embrace the fun of writing (after all, I’ll be doing it for the rest of my life, (*squee!bounce*)).

Because writing should be fun, I have decided. I get to make things. I get to make AWESOME things. (I should stop abusing italics.) I get to think about Themes and Messages and Characters and Worldbuilding and Cultural Assumptions and Plot and Voice and ALL THIS FUN STUFF. (Note: that is an entirely appropriate use of italics.) And then I get to string them all together, using language, which I love. I love all of these things. Why would I not have fun? I’m not talking giggling-euphoria levels of fun, just that these are things that I adore thinking about, talking about, and dealing with. Seriously, I SHOULD BE HAVING FUN. If I’m not enjoying this thing which delights me, I probably have other baseline things wrong with my mindset right now and maybe I should– I dunno– eat or something. Sleep. Play Tetris. Take a shower. Sleep.

There’s so much STUFF on the internet about “write every day” and “write even if you don’t want to” and “butt in chair” and “the reader can’t tell the difference between words you wrote when you were having fun and words you wrote when you hated everything,” etc, etc, ad nauseum. The attitude seems to be that if you’re having fun you’re doing it wrong. You should be sweating blood, you know. You should feel PAIN. LIKE AN ADULT.

And I’m using my status as an adult to choose to ignore all that. Gonna have fun, gonna do cool stuff, gonna make things explode. *nch nch nch*

I am also going to find a way to explain this picture.

I feel as though in deciding this and then saying it in text I am committing a great heresy against the orthodoxy of the internet. YEAH I AM A HERETIC WHOOO.

To sum up: I have two victory conditions for achieving Success: that I write things I am proud of– that are funny and awesome and people want to re-read, and that I do not hate my life and how long it took me to get there. I need to be nice to myself while I live and write and work and get to my dream job.

See, I told you it’d be a rambling blog post. 😀

P.S. World-building note:  How WEIRD is facebook and our self-construction of our identity through it?

Using Violence for Good and Evil

So I was cruising twitter at work, as I do, and I came across this excellent article by Drew McWeeny.

What happens when we find ‘The Line’ as viewers?

In it, he talks about how, as a movie reviewer, he has seen hundreds of depictions of rape, and how he finally just snapped. He’s questioning why this happens so often, and coming to the conclusion that is essentially laziness on the part of the writers/directors, in most cases. (It’s quite a good article, you should read it.)

Anyways, I sent it to my movie-buff friend, and he came back with this.

He makes a much-needed point. I haven’t seen a lot of movies that included on-screen rape – only one comes to mind, and I’m hoping it’s only that one, because otherwise something is seriously wrong with me that I’ve just gone and forgotten the others – but the same principle applies (in a lesser sense) to other depictions of extreme violence and sexuality on-screen.

And I responded;

And it goes beyond mere gratuitous violence/sex, which is the usual accusation against pointless content. It’s just sloppy. So much writing nowadays is short-hand for emotional impact. (And I’m guilty of this too.) We need the audience to feel grief– so the child dies. We need the audience to feel horrified– so we rape someone. It angers me on two counts, because a.) it’s sloppy writing (something I feel strongly about), and b.) it cheapens the actual grief, pain and violence. Which is something I feel even more strongly about.

I thought of you when I read this, because I seem to remember you saying something like that in the past. 😀

Then Zack again…

Well, I sure hope I said something like that. ‘Cause, yeah, it’s true. I think it also indirectly leads to lack of character development, because seriously, what kind of writer would be able to write a convincing, sympathetic, well-developed character and then just casually have another character rape him/her, or the like? I mean, maybe a psychopath writer, but I sure can’t imagine doing that, and I think what generally happens is that that kind of thing is used as a substitute for character development, which ties in to what you’re saying about sloppy writing. Ironically, because the audience or readers won’t be all that attached to the character being brutalized in some way, they won’t feel the affect of the act as keenly, which, yeah, cheapens the evil on display and feeds the growing prevalence of apathy towards this kind of stuff.

And at this point I asked if I could put the conversation on my blog.
And I’ve been thinking about this over the last few days, because of my reaction to certain things in books. Books about Cancer, specifically. And everyone in my internet is suddenly reading A Monster Calls and A Fault in Our Stars, both of which I’m sure are fabulous books, but ones that I am terrified of. This would be because I lost my little brother to cancer at the age of 4, and it was not a good time for me. (I’m not gonna bother to go into how bad of a time it was, because if you can’t infer it from “little brother died of cancer when he was four” then we clearly have a failure to communicate that goes beyond word choice.)
That’s not to say that stories about tragedy cannot be worthwhile. The best stories invariably DO contain a seed (or sometimes a forest) of pain. In all of my favourite books, horrible things happen, have happened, will happen, and are being dealt with. But pure content does not make a story good or bad. But pain as content is something like juggling fire. If it’s done well, it’s awesome. If it’s done badly, it is a really bad thing for everyone. I firmly believe that there is no middle ground.
And unfortunately, stories about cancer usually go down in flames; Nicolas Sparks being a prime example. Children dying is used in procedural TV shows to add a dash of pathos. The slow death of a child is used as a checkbox to elicit a brief emotional response, and then the story moves on to the important stuff– the sexual tension between leads. It worries and disgusts me.
So if I feel like that about cancer, something that touches huge swatches of the population and yet is mishandled in fiction and the media constantly, how do rape survivors feel about how often it’s used (as outlined in the article I linked to), to add some brief horror and sexiness to a film? How do domestic violent survivors feel about all the jokes about “he didn’t give me the right gift, so I’m gonna beat him up/if she doesn’t give you a sandwich give her a black eye.”
And I am not immune to this failing. It is so much easier to give a character a traumatic backstory and then never deal with it. Because yeah, I don’t want to deal with it. Pain is not fun to delve into, I’d rather add some trauma to make people edgy and badass and then have them be So Awesome™ for the rest of the story. So writing this post, and thinking about it, has made me realize that is a terrible approach to story-telling. If I want to share my stories (and I do), I have a responsibility to make sure they don’t go around throwing people’s pain in their face and telling them that it is worthless. And I do not want to do that.
P.S. Still gonna read The Fault In Our Stars someday. Just maybe when I’m feeling less fragile.