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The Big 40

Gosh, 40 years old today.

This is one of those milestone birthdays, I guess, where you take stock because you’re halfway through your life journey and all that. Personally, I’d like to think I’m not halfway there yet. I plan to be around, having adventures, and giving Sid trouble well into my 90s. But, you know, 40 still feels like a big one.

40 also seems sort of impossible. I mean, I remember my parents being 40 and somehow in my mind this is their permanent age. Like it’s the defining age of a parent. Which I suppose is ironic, as I’m without offspring at 40. So if I’m not a parent at 40, what is 40 supposed to mean?

I don’t know.  Maybe nothing. Probably nothing.

Sometimes I feel like I’m way behind. I mean, where am I in life? I teach part-time and do some writing and travel and don’t have kids. And I’m 40! What have I “accomplished” (you know, other than being happy). Maybe a better way to put it is: what’s my purpose in life?

Other times (most of the time) I feel like I’ve pulled a fast one on all sorts of life expectations. After all, I’m 40 and I live in a fabulous apartment in the greatest city on earth. I have a loving family and wonderful friends. I travel to all sorts of awesome places with my handsome, brilliant husband with whom I have a true partnership. I only have to work part time (and at a job I really like) and I spend the rest of the time dreaming up stories. I don’t have the joys of children, but neither do I have the obligations of children. I have a lot of freedom to do things I enjoy and that give me pleasure. That’s quite a luxury.

So, I suppose there are two sides to everything.

Even so, turning 40 makes me feel like I’ve got to get a move on. Especially with my writing. I’ve been at it since 2009 and I’m starting to have some success selling short stories and I can see how much I’ve improved. But I want to sell a novel. It’s time. So maybe 40 is a little bit of a kick in the pants to put extra fuel on the motivation fire. Maybe that’s my purpose.

Either way, I hope to have 40(+) more years to work on it.

Last Day

I sit in the predawn darkness, huddled under a blanket with a cat snoozing at my side. It’s a Wednesday morning, and a cold one. Snow gleams under lamplight outside and asphalt shines through dirty slush.

Today is the last day before the start of the semester, and thus the last day of what I’ve come to think of as Neverending January. Which, of course, is ending.

The CUNY system, in which I teach, has a particularly long break between Christmas and the start of the Spring semester. Often my husband and I will take advantage of this time to travel, but for various reasons we did not do so this year. In fact, this is one of the first times since we’ve moved to New York that I’ve spent nearly all of Neverending January at home (under said blanket and next to said cat).

Once upon a time I believed that vast swaths of uninterrupted time would be super awesome for my writing process, but actual experience has shown this to be false. In fact, I work a lot better when I’m busy and have a sense of pressure. So Neverending January has been a struggle.

Here’s what I’ve accomplished (or not):

1. I’ve rewritten the beginning and ending of the same short story approximately 1 billion times (Sad. Also, frustrating)

2. I’ve Beta read 1 1/2 novels (Not bad!)

3. I’ve processed, organized, mulled, and begun to prepare revision notes based on Beta feedback from Project Awesome (Progress: acceptable but slow)

4. I’ve cooked a lot of things that take all day to make (Tasty, but not writing)

5. I’ve spent a fair amount of time staring out the window wondering if it was going to snow more/less (Also not writing)

6. I’ve binge-watched shows so bad I am unwilling to admit to them in a public forum (No comment)

At the end of all this, I’ve come to two conclusions.

First, we should always travel in January.

Second, it’s probably a very good thing the semester starts tomorrow.

And, on that note, I must go. After all, it’s my last day to pretend that January will never end.

The Solitary Writer

Going through the feedback on PROJECT AWESOME from my amazing Beta readers I am reminded yet again how much the idea of the Solitary Writer is a myth. And not just a garden variety myth but a harmful one.

Perhaps there are a few rare geniuses out there who can produce brilliant works without any critical feedback, but most of us need an outside perspective. A pair (or three or four) of trusted eyes is invaluable to help us gain distance from our work and see what is and is not working. That feedback isn’t gospel, but it is a good starting point for thinking more deeply (or at least differently) about our characters, world, and story.

Many writers start their journey believing it will be a lonely one in which they must toil in secret, hoarding their words and stories until they are “ready” (read: perfect), a day which will likely never come without the wisdom and support of fellow writers. What a shame.

In most professions, collaboration is not only important but expected, except (it seems) in the world of art. The idea of the artist alone in their garret (or writing shed) is powerful. There is a part of every artist that wishes to believe we can create something amazing drawing only from our inner well of creativity, something that is ours and ours alone. Buying wholly into that vision, though, implies we have nothing to learn and nowhere to go. Our talent is innate, but also inert.

Having someone else look at our works in progress and say “hey, but what about…?” does not diminish either our creative ownership nor our original vision. It sharpens it. Builds it up. Makes it better.

So, today I am grateful to my fellow writers and especially to my Beta readers who have given so generously of their time and thoughts.

You are making me better, and I hope I am doing the same for you.

and just like that, another year rolls in.

The end of 2014 was, frankly, a blur from beneath a mountain of used tissues and discarded Sudafed pods and I’m still trying to regain my equilibrium.

But, a few things help, like my short story The Firefly Girl making Tangent Online’s 2014 recommended reading list as a one star (you can see the whole list here, and buy The Firefly Girl here) and finding out my horror story The New Arrival will be podcast on the superb Pseudopod later this year. Yay and double-yay!

Also exciting are preparations to dive into the final revision of Project Awesome after collecting a big pile of helpful Beta reader comments over the holidays, brainstorming ideas for the next novel, and generally thinking about a whole new year of writing possibilities.

Here’s to 2015, lots of words, and no more Sudafed.

Bits and Bobs

Lots of little items I’ve been meaning to post to the blog lately. Here they are, in no particular order!

1. I’ve got a new academic publication out. My other hat is as an archaeologist and a professor. From time to time I write and publish articles that make the scholarly world quiver with delight. Oh, yes. Here’s my latest, titled Relationality, Corporeality, and Bioarchaeology (Cambridge University Press) co-authored with bestie and frequent collaborator, Pamela Geller. It examines the way we theorize, analyze, and interact with human remains.

2. As I’ve recently sent Project Awesome to Beta readers and will, soon after receiving their feedback, be preparing it to venture into the world (all naked and vulnerable and desperate for love), I’m brainstorming ideas for my next novel. Whee! Not sure what direction I’ll head in, but am currently exploring space pirate territory. Also want to work archaeology into this one somehow. Stay tuned.

3.  It’s the end of the semester, which is awesome but also awful. Awesome, of course, because it means a nice long break from my horrid commute is fast approaching. Awful because everyone is stressed out and I will soon have a very large pile of exams to grade. Boo. BUT I was at least able to change my final exam date from Dec. 23rd (I mean, really!) to the 19th. So, that’s a Christmas miracle for you right there :)

4. Holidays! We, of course, have had our glowing Tree of Happiness up for awhile now.

Tree of happiness

Tree of Happiness! See how it glows?

Soon we’ll take it down again and begin our westward migration (which I call Westward Ho Ho Ho!) to spend the holidays with my family. There will be lots of festive dinners, several more glowing Trees of Happiness, lots of adorable nieces, and plenty of wrapping paper to tear into. Can’t. Wait.

So, I’m probably signing off until the New Year. In which case: Happy Holidays and Happy New Year to you all!!

Update

Hi all!

It’s been a busy month. After returning from ICON, I’ve been hitting revisions to Project Awesome with renewed zeal and have finally finished! I sent the novel off to Beta readers last week and spent the weekend relaxing. Now, though, it’s back to work.

Today I’ll brainstorm ideas for my next novel project and tackle short story revisions I had on hold while I finished Project Awesome. I’m also currently Beta reading a friend’s novel. so must get through a few more chapters of that today. The final piece of the puzzle is my day job, which is heating up as we head into the last few weeks of the semester. Lots of exams and grading coming up, which is no fun. BUT one of my favorite times of year – Christmas season – is also about to kick off.

Thursday, of course, is Turkey Day, and I’ll be cooking an epic feast for friends and family. And then…THEN WE CAN GET OUR CHRISTMAS TREE. Once we’ve got the tree, I can drink eggnog and decorate it. Once it’s decorated, I can spend many evenings sitting and enjoying the pretty lights and delicious smell of pine needles (also while drinking eggnog). So, I’m excited for that.

So, yay for finishing novels and dreaming up new ones and drinking eggnog and putting up Christmas trees!

ICON recap

I just got back from ICON and chilly Iowa late last evening. Though the fridge is empty and my cat spent most of the night meowing in my face, it’s good to be home–especially since I’m returning refreshed and inspired.

I went to ICON so I could attend Paradise Icon, a writing workshop organized annually by my friend and fellow Viable Paradise graduate Catherine Schaff-Stump. It’s a lovely workshop. There were ten of us this year, which did mean a lot of reading beforehand, but we’ve all gotten to the point now that our writing is good, so the critiques were fun rather than painful. A lot of the attendees were friends from VP or folks I’ve met at other workshops, like Paradise Lost, but there were some new friends as well.

Cath organized a great workshop. The whole first day was critiques, which were incisive and on-point, while the second day was a balance of talks with some of the pros in attendance at the Con (Jim C. Hines, Elizabeth Bear, and Scott Lynch) and professional activities, like an author meet-and-greet and a reading. In between, of course, was lots of food and socializing and all of us generally nerding out about writing and fandom and all that good stuff.

Friday night we sat in the bar and helped each other work on pitches for our novel projects and Sunday morning some of us made time for a group writing session. ICON is a small, very chilled-out Con filled with very nice people, so the atmosphere was relaxed and fun. Every single participant in the workshop was exactly the kind of person you want in a workshop — smart, creative, supportive, and talented.

In all, it would be hard to ask for a better weekend. I even got to meet a writing hero of mine, Joe Haldeman (author of the brilliant Forever War). He couldn’t have been nicer as he gave us some advice and regaled us with stories of hanging out with Arthur C. Clarke back in the day. It was awesome.

Now, I think it’s time to sit down and write!

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