Reading Log for May

  • The Archipelago of Hope: Wisdom and Resilience from the Edge of Climate Change (Gleb Raygorodetsky)
  • Blackfish City (Sam J. Miller)
  • Women Without Men: A Novel of Modern Iran (Shahrnush Parsipur)
  • Hunger: A Memoir of (My) Body (Roxane Gay)
  • Decoded (Mai Jia)
  • Ambition and Desire: The Dangerous Life of Josephine Bonaparte (Kate Williams)
  • Twenty Fragments of a Ravenous Youth (Xiaolu Guo)

Strong rec for Blackfish City, a post-climate-disaster sci-fi novel with great worldbuilding and interesting characters. A little bit too much setup for a sequel and one narrative false step in the ending (to me), but still a solid recommendation overall.

I hope to pull lots of small bits and pieces out of Ambition and Desire to use in characters and worldbuilding for fantasy settings. A few elements from Archipelago of Hope, too.

And Decoded makes me want to write about codes and codebreakers, so some more books on that topic will be showing up in the list eventually. A good month.

  • Barbarian Days: A Surfing Life (William Finnegan)
  • Priestdaddy (Patricia Lockwood)

I was under the impression that Priestdaddy was a purely comic memoir, but there’s a lot more going on here. I’m really enjoying it.

Hidden Menagerie is out!

Got word today that the Hidden Menagerie anthology has been released! Two volumes of stories about cryptids, including my story “Many Winters.”

“Many Winters” is in Volume One, which can be purchased here. Volume Two can be purchased here. At the moment, both volumes are available as ebooks, and Volume Two is available in hard copy; the Volume One hard copy is delayed due to printing errors. I will update when Volume One is available!

I have a soft spot in my heart for this story for several reasons. First of all, I read the call for submissions and looked up lists of cryptids to decide what to write about while on vacation in Tofino, British Columbia with a friend. So this story is linked in my memory with that place and that friend, who was very patient and encouraging with my rambling brainstorming while I researched.

I considered choosing a cryptid associated with that area, but ended up selecting Le Nain Rouge, a legend of Detroit, Michigan. I grew up in Southeastern Michigan, and miss the area very much, so writing about a (roughly) hometown cryptid felt right.

I wrote the first draft of this story in a single sitting, during a slow day at my day job, which is another thing about it that makes me smile.

Hidden Menagerie is published by Dragon’s Roost Press, also based in Southeastern Michigan. Working with them was great, and I will be keeping an eye out for future opportunities to do so!

A Very Kind and Encouraging Rejection

Thank you for sending us “Wax-Wire Wings”. Your story reached the highest level of consideration, but we’ve decided not to accept it. We’d love to see more stories from you in the future.

So kind and encouraging! I really appreciate it, even while I’m of course bummed that the story didn’t make the cut. Editors who take the time to send this kind of rejection light up my heart.

Today I went through some market lists and added a few short-story submission options to my queue; about half will get existing stories that meet their themes, and the others prompted me with a new idea while reading the guidelines. I’m still not putting short stories at the forefront of my attention, so if I don’t hit the latter group of submission periods I won’t be crushed. But it’s always good to have ideas percolating and words in motion.

Carding Out A Draft

Revisions on the draft of the bisexual road manager of a rock band novel (the working title is Where The Bands Are) are progressing pretty slowly. Partly this is because doing revisions makes me anxious and in the absence of a deadline, I therefore spread out working sessions by several weeks (okay, usually an entire month), and work on it at my monthly three-hour block of time at the quiet room at the library. Having dedicated, bounded time set off for revision work lets me step around the anxiety, and knowing that I don’t have to work on it other at those times helps.

Unfortunately, that’s not very efficient, so I need to figure out a way to work on it more regularly. One step toward doing that was working on a type of revision that wasn’t actual words-on-screen centered: breaking things out on index cards. I call it “carding the story out,” which is obviously a very silly name, but whatever works.

The last working session at the library, I kept going through scenes wondering why the flow felt so off. I couldn’t figure out where to insert some additional elements that I knew needed to be in the story, because it felt misshapen and they didn’t fit anywhere. I needed a higher-level and literally visual way of seeing how the story fit together and the shape of it.

First, I used Word’s features to insert section breaks and look at the story in the navigation pane tab. This helped a little bit, as it forced me to realize just how late in the story the final arc was kicking in—around chapter 18 of 22! My sense of how misshapen the story was had actually been understated.

That’s when I decided I needed to break the story out onto cards. I bought a pack of 3×5 index cards and a Sharpie and settled down in my living room with the draft file open. I went through the document,  summarizing each event of each chapter on a card with key words.

Because I was breaking things down by event (a discrete thing that happens in the plot) rather than scene, some cards summarized two to as many as five scenes. So a card might say “Chapter 3, Scene 1 –  Conversation In The Bar,” or “Chapter 8, Scene 3-5 – Leaving Chicago.”

Then I took the cards and laid them out by chapter, with extra cards noting overall story arcs. It crossed my entire living room and looked like this (cat included for disapproval):


One look told me exactly what I needed to know: the middle was much too long and meandering! What had hard to figure out when scrolling through a document was so obvious when made physical and visual like this. I then went through the cards and marked particular events to be cut out (including an entire subplot), merged, or moved offscreen.

I then made notes to flesh out that last arc, which is still much too short, as well as the brief beginning of a plan B for if I decide I need to cut the last arc altogether and end the story in a different place.

I wrote the first draft of WTBA in 2008. It sat on an external hard drive and as a backup printed-out copy until 2017, when I finally picked it up again and read it through for revision notes. I foolishly though I would be able to crank out revisions in a month or two. To be both honest and fair to myself, the anxiety getting in the way stalled it for much of 2017, too, so maybe it’s reasonable to say I didn’t really start working on it until January of 2018. It’s May 2018 now and there’s still a long way to go.

But I’m learning so much from working on it, and figuring out a lot of concrete processes that I know will be really useful for future longform projects, too. I don’t regret a bit of the weird path this book is taking, and even if it ends up not ever going out into the world, it’ll still be something I’m very proud of, that I gave a lot of time and effort, and that I didn’t give up on.

Second Round of Consideration

I got an email notice today that one of my recent story submissions has been kept for the second round of consideration at that market, which is exciting! I’ve been trying to find a home for that particular story for several years (and several laptops) now; I’m actually not sure when I wrote the first draft.

Nothing very interesting going on writing-wise; just grinding away on various projects and putting words down. I may use today’s writing time to do some organizing and prioritizing, actually. Getting words down is the most important thing, but having a plan and goals to finish things is in the top three.