Category Archives: Writing Life

Raising the Stakes

Note: the following post is mostly about my own writing, but it contains spoilers for Avengers: Infinity War. Proceed at your own risk.

Got that?

Spoilers.

 

S P O I L E R S

 

Okay. Phew. Look, I know it’s been two weeks but I don’t want to be the one who ruins it for you, okay?

Right.

So, I’ve been thinking about stakes, lately.

The main reason I’ve been pondering this is that I’m about 3/4s of the way through writing another novel. (At this point, I’ve written 6 or 7 novels; I’m not great at quantifying them because of how often I’ve *rewritten* some of them from line one on, and how much that really counts.) They never go anywhere; I’m not great at writing them; that’s not the point.

The point is I’ve spent fifty thousand words inside a single universe with about 20-30 more to go, and so I’ve been considering conflict, structure, and all that jazz.

And then Infinity War came along.

Now, I fucking loved Infinity War. Saw it twice on the opening weekend, even knowing what I was in for the second time. I’ve never seen Doctor Strange, despise the Guardians of the Galaxy (that’s another blog post. I’ll spare you.), knew going in that there were too many goddamn characters and the plot was going to be fucking stuffed and even with all that, I thought it was pretty masterfully done. Quibbles with pacing and plotting put aside, it got the characters right, and gave them all space to shine for a little bit, and had some of my favorite Marvel moments to date.

I’m not entirely up on the Discourse; I don’t read a lot of thinkpieces. From what I see, most people out there seemed to like it too. But one criticism I’ve seen lobbed a couple times is that, in killing off half the universe, in erasing characters like Black Panther and Spiderman who we know are going to come back for sequels, the MCU has erased the stakes. That knowing these characters are going to “survive” whatever Thanos ultimately did to them (and they’re going to–Spiderman 2 is due out within months of Avengers 4, and Black Panther made All The Money so he’s not going anywhere anytime soon) means no one will have any investment or real interest in Avengers 4.

Which is some bullshit.

I mean, if that’s you’re opinion, if you have no interest in seeing what happens next because you don’t think the stakes are real anymore, then that’s you’re opinion and you’re welcome to it. But.

It got me thinking.

And I think that, a lot of times, people get stakes wrong.

We assume that stakes have to be life or death, the big bad villain against the good guys, and who will prevail?

But what about how they prevail?

What does it do to a character who was “dead,” and then is not? Where did they go, and what did they experience there? What has to be sacrificed to get them back? What assumptions about themselves, or beliefs that they held, change or disappear through their ordeal? What happens to their relationships, when they have gone through an experience others haven’t gone through?

Those are just some of the particular stakes I see resulting from the end of Avengers four. And expand it to half of the damn universe–because yes, the whole universe is getting fixed, here. What will it mean, when half the population disappeared, and then they came back? What will that do to religion, to political systems, to personal relationships?

Those are some pretty big fucking stakes, as far as I’m concerned.

So, this novel I’m writing, it’s pretty “low stakes.”

I’m not great at external conflict. I don’t write battles, or fight scenes, or really anything in that vein. I’m all about the internal stuff; if I could get away with keeping characters in a white-walled room ruminating on their insecurities and sad pasts, I would totally do it. I keep trying to write the exciting, adventurous stuff, but it’s not really my wheelhouse, and I’m learning to lean into that.

So the novel I’m working on is about a boy and a girl. It’s a retelling, so the basic shape of the plot is set (I wanted to do this because I’m Not Great with plot, and I wanted to see how working in the constraint of a retelling would go.) Anyone familiar with the source material (and I’m not saying what it is here, but most anyone who grew up with Disney will know the source material) will know how it’s supposed to end, and probably guess a lot of steps in how it goes in the middle.

Does that mean that there aren’t any stakes?

I don’t have any big battles. No one dies. The conflict is all about the relationship between these two people–will they come to trust each other, can they come to love each other–and internally. How do their experiences make them mature and grow?

I think that those things can translate into stakes, provided that I am able to make people care about the characters to begin with.

And therein lies the challenge.

Stakes are all about characters. If you care about them enough, if you root for them enough, then something as small as a papercut can have huge consequences, and huge stakes. The work of the writer is to get the reader to feel that level of investment.

 

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I wrote a thing!

Beginning the year off with a brand new story, that’s the way I like it.

A Slip in the Slice” is up in the newest issue of Kaleidotrope. [CW: eating disorder.]  I don’t quite know what to say about it, but I hope you all check it out along with the rest of the fabulous Kaleidotrope issue, and I hope you enjoy it.

Happy 2018!

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I wrote a thing!

Today my story “Sparks” is available at Electric Spec.

This one’s a little weirdo that I don’t quite know what to say about. I sat down to do a worldbuilding exercise and suddenly it seemed to look almost story-shaped by mistake. So I thought I’d try to fit it into a story structure, and I let myself listen to the character’s unusual voice, and this is what came out.

Anyway, I’m thrilled that the people at Electric Spec liked it and I hope maybe you will to.

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I wrote a thing!

People, I have written a novella.

It’s a really short one, so it feels kind of weird to call it that (stories are typically categorized as novelettes until 17,500 words, mine just bumps over the 18K line), but that’s what it is.

It’s called “The Heartless Knight,” and it’s included in the wonderful queer fantasy anthology Heart of Steel. The anthology is officially out on Wednesday September 20th, but you can preorder it right now and get a bit of a discount, if you are so inclined.

So let me tell you a little bit about “The Heartless Knight,” and where it came from.

The story’s about Isi, a young man of color who has been a slave for most of his life and is now trying to navigate a world where he is not. He’s stuck between cultures, and pulled in different directions depending on what different people expect of him. He’s also aroace, and he is suffocating under the pressure of both performative masculinity and performative sexuality. He doesn’t know he’s suffocating. He’s just trying to be “normal.” But he doesn’t know how to do that.

Then he ends up on the run with a princess who forces him to confront all the things he’d rather hide about himself.

Isi has been a character in my head for quite a while now, one of those quiet ones who hides in corners that you don’t much pay attention to. For a couple of years now, I’ve been trying to write a novel about Anne, a character who you’ll meet briefly in “The Heartless Knight.” I was even making something like progress when I decided to finally settle down and work on it as a NaNoWriMo project…at least, until November 9, 2016 happened. Anyway, that project’s still going to happen some day. In some form. But like I said, Isi’s been on the edges of that in my head for a long time, and at one point I thought, hey, wouldn’t it be fun to write something to get to know him a little?

BAM!: novella.

(It didn’t quite work like that. It never really does. I’ve been living in this piece for something like 18, 19 months by now. And it’s far, far different now than what I initially conceived it to be. Still, let’s go with BAM!)

“The Heartless Knight” was written mostly to alt-J’s “Nara,” which I ended up listening to on many repeats through the drafting process. Later, it was edited to a godawful amount of Sylvan Esso, particularly “Dreamy Bruises,” and “Coffee”  (I don’t think you’ll necessarily find anything of those songs in the text, but I thought someone might find it interesting)

I’m more nervous about this one than I have been for a while. There are a lot of things that I need to get right and I don’t know if I fully suceeded. But it’s finally time to let it out in the world and let other people decide.

So that’s it. I hope you all like it!

Be sure to check out Heart of Steel and the rest of the great queer stories on offer from Less Than Three Press.

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I wrote a thing!

…I know. Been a while, ain’t it?

My story “Maps of Infinity” is in the newest issue of Shimmer, which is super, super exciting! The whole (excellent) issue is available for purchase now, and “Maps of Infinity” will be available online on August 1st. I’ll update this post with a link then. For now, feast your eyes on some cover art:

Update: “Maps of Infinity” is available online now.

I hope you all enjoy!

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Writing (or not) when it feels like the world has ended

[This is going to be about post-election feelings. This blog felt like the only place I could really lay them out. You’ve been warned.]

I haven’t written a word of fiction since Tuesday.

No, scratch that. I’ve written about two sentences of revision on a story I sold on Tuesday, news which I was really excited to share with everyone until the world seemed to spiral out of control. But everything else creative has been dried up, covered in a pile of anxiety and sleepless nights and grief.

You’re probably going to say (or, my traitor brain is trying to convince me that you’re going to say): what’s the big deal? So the mediocre writer who can’t sell most of her work anyway and who no one really reads when she is published hasn’t written for all of five days? So fucking what?

Well, it doesn’t really matter to anyone outside of me in the end. It’s just that I’ve always written.

I wrote before I quite knew all of my letters (I would dictate stories to my mom, and have her write them down for me, and then I’d draw the pictures).  When things got confusing, or scary, or I just didn’t want to deal with the world, my imagination was the safe place I went to. The only times I stopped writing for any extended period of time just happen to be the darkest, the hardest, the emptiest.

When it comes down to it, everything I’ve written in my life has been an attempt to understand people, because as a whole they’ve never made all that much sense to me. And I think on Tuesday I came to a realization that I will never understand people, and that really, if they’re all like this, I don’t want to.

I had been writing, pushing through all the anxiety election season was causing me. I was working out notes for a pulp series I was going to attempt, about a ghost hunter/night librarian. I was plucking away through NaNo, happy enough though I was far behind the wordcount goal. I had a couple of short stories I was trying to shape into something salable.

Maybe I’ll get them back.

Maybe I won’t.

Maybe I’ll have to learn to be okay with that.

There’s been sort of a call to arms, or maybe many calls to arms, amongst the writers I orbit on social media, particularly those from marginalized groups. We’re going to need art if we’re going to make it through the next four–or however many–years. We’re going to need stories that protest and stories that bring peace.

Part of the problem is that I don’t know if I have those stories in me. Part of the problem is that, even if I did, I don’t know if I deserve to tell them.

This was something I was grappling with before Tuesday. Even though I write in order to see through other eyes, in the end I can only be who I am, and who I am is a white, cisgender, raised-in-the-suburbs, middle-class female person. And no matter how representational I tried to make my fiction in terms of race, sex, religion, gender, or class, doe any of that matter if I am the messenger? If I get things wrong by mistake, does it make things worse for people? Are my stories worth telling, and are they worth hearing?

These are things I’ve been trying to work through. Now there’s just a much bigger layer of doubt to dig past.

I lost a lot of my youthful political idealism a long time ago. Now, with the election of a man I will not name to the most powerful position on earth, I have lost most of my hope. I don’t want to give him that power. I want to fight back. I want to tell whatever story I have it in me to tell, whether or not its good enough.

But I’m not there yet.

For now, I take sleeping pills. I try to remember to eat, though I haven’t been hungry in five days. I go to work.

I’m trying to give myself space to be. And I hope that soon space to be will mean stories to write after all.

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I wrote a thing…

…and somebody published that thing!

This month I’m over at Luna Station Quarterly with my story “Wayfarers.” Check out it and the rest of the amazing issue right here.

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I wrote a thing…

…and somebody published that thing!

Ship of Fools” is up today at Unlikely Story in the Journal of Unlikely Observances. It’s about first crushes, celebrations, and the last artifacts left in a drowning world.  I like it a lot and I hope you all do to. And check out the rest of the amazing table of contents as well!

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I wrote a thing…

…and somebody published that thing!

My story “Bone Man and the Sleeping Kings” is in the second volume of Bards and Sages’ Great Tomes series, The Great Tome of Darkest Horrors and Unspeakable Evils. I don’t know about unspeakably evil, but is probably as close as I’ve ever gotten to writing an adventure story. And there are Mesoamerican-style mummies. Who fly. So, if that floats your boat, go on and give it a look. I had fun writing this and I hope you all like it 🙂

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I wrote a thing…

…and you can Kickstart that thing!

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I am really, really excited to be included in a new anthology from Alliteration Ink. It’s called No Shit, There I Was…, and it’s live on Kickstarter right now. There are 24 awesome speculative fiction stories from 24 awesome writers in this project. So hop on over to Kickstarter and check it out. And please feel free to share it with your friends.

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