Hi All! I’m just back from spending the weekend outside Boston at the annual Readercon convention. For those who don’t know, Readercon is a fantasy and science fiction convention with a strong focus on writing and books.
This is my third (or maybe fourth?) Readercon and I keep going back for several reasons. First, I really like the size. It is big enough that it attracts an interesting and varied crowd of authors, industry folks, and fans, but small enough that it feels intimate and isn’t overwhelming. Also, the writing track is usually at the foreground and there are always lots of compelling and thought-provoking panels. Finally, it isn’t too far away from where I live, so going doesn’t feel like a massive, time-zone spanning production.
This year, a friend and I drove up from the New York area, escaping the swamp-like humidity for a few days to write, hang with friends, and listen to smart people talk about interesting things. Some panels that really stuck out (for me) were those that focused on writing female characters and friendships, and those discussing the incorporation of greater diversity into our books without misappropriating and misrepresenting.
It was obvious from listening to panelists and audience members that these issues are front and center for a lot of people right now (finally!) and that there are many viewpoints on the topic, all with a lot of emotion behind them. In my opinion, this is one of the things fiction is for: grappling with the complexity of social issues. I was really glad to see these topics playing a major role in the programming and to see greater representation of women and members of the LGBTQ community on many the panels. With a few exceptions, though, POC were not nearly as well represented — a problem that was called out by a lot of people and hopefully will be improved upon next year.
As always, I came away from the convention kind of drained but also inspired. There’s nothing quite as important for writers as getting out of our heads and into conversation with others. The writing shed can be a good place to lock in for the sake of productivity, but it can also create insular thinking. After the weekend, I’m back at my computer full of questions and doubts, but also bursting with new ideas to improve my manuscripts.
So, to work!
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I haven’t been posting very often over here at Comedy and Tragedy and you might ask, “why so quiet, Miranda?”
I’ll tell you why. I’m busy writing.
I’m revising a novel-length contemporary fantasy and working on the first draft of a science fiction project, both of which I’m very excited about.
Since the semester has ended I suddenly have vast, uninterrupted stretches of time to just write. It is glorious but it also requires a fair amount of discipline. There’s just so much shiny stuff out there. Twitter. Facebook. Basically the whole internet. Also everything outside my window, trying to lure me into the glorious sunshine, tempting me to hang out in the park all day eating ice cream.
So, yeah, mostly just trying to quietly maintain some discipline around here. And write.
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Periodically I like to share thoughts about books I’ve read and enjoyed so that you might consider reading and enjoying them too.
In no particular order, some recent favorites:
The Girl from Everywhere, by Heidi Heilig
This one caught me up with its premise (what if a girl lived on a time-traveling pirate ship and her father was obsessed with finding a map that would take him back to the moment before his wife died giving birth to her?). It pulled me in with wonderful characters and a fast-paced plot. Plus, the idea that an authentic map could take you anywhere (real or mythological) struck me as extremely cool. I think what I liked best about this book, though, was the balance Heilig managed between the fantastical elements and the more prosaic (but no less interesting) emotions and dynamics that exist within a family.
The Paradox Trilogy by Rachel Bach
This series hit every single one of my buttons. Totally fantastic, kick-ass female protagonist? Yes. Gripping plot? Check. Character-driven science fiction? You bet. I tore through these books (Fortune’s Pawn, Honor’s Knight, and Heaven’s Queen) in about a week. Bach’s protagonist, Devi, is a mercenary with ambition and recklessness to spare. That combination gets her into some unbelievable scrapes and watching her negotiate them is a delight. Bach writes action better than almost anyone else I’ve read. If you’re looking for a fun, exciting sf adventure, this series will not disappoint.
The Cold Between by Elizabeth Bonesteel
This standalone (which will become part of a series, I believe), is a lot of things. It’s a murder mystery. It’s a romance (and a pretty hot one at that). It’s a space opera. At its heart, though, I think what makes this book work is that it’s first and foremost a character study. How do different people react and respond to pressure from their personal relationships and from external (and pretty traumatic) events? How do those twin pressures intertwine and inform each other? The answers to these questions are sometimes tragic, sometimes surprising, and always interesting.
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That’s right, travel season is nearly upon us, and this year it is all about family.
In 14 days spring break will FINALLY be here and my dad, sister, and myself will travel to the British Virgin Islands where we’ll spend a week semi-conscious on the beach.
In 46 days I will have administered my last final exam and submitted my grades and I’ll get on a plane for Seattle. I’ll spend about 2 1/2 weeks visiting my parents and sister, helping my mom in her amazing garden, writing a lot, and camping with my nieces. It will be awesome.
Then, in 107 days, my husband and I will take a family vacation with my parents to the Dordogne in SW France. I will wallow around in prehistoric cave art, stuff my face with truffles and foie gras, drink lots of wine, and post photos on Facebook that will make everyone hate me. Apologies in advance.
These trips will no doubt be fabulous, but the best part is that in the next 4 months I’ll spending almost 5 whole weeks with my family. This makes me really happy because they live in Seattle and I live in NYC and I never get to see them this much in such a short time. Yay!
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I mean this literally and figuratively.
In the literal sense, I’ll be heading off to a writing retreat this weekend. Some friends and I will be staying in a house deep in the woods of northeastern NY. The house used to be a hotel and the woods are (I’m told) dark and deep. It all sounds very atmospheric. I think there’s an equally likely possibility that we’ll:
a. have a great time and get lots of writing done
b. be devoured by sinister forces that dwell beneath moss and stone, never to be heard from again.
Wish us luck!
In the figurative sense, I’ve definitely wandered out of reality and down a winding path with an unknown end. I call this journey Miranda’s First Draft Adventure in which I temporarily disconnect from reality. When I’m feeling my way through a new project for the first time, I tend to go invisible. Or, maybe a better way to put it is that the real world becomes invisible to me.
It might look like I’m cooking dinner or having coffee with a friend or folding laundry, but I’m not. I’m actually working out the way this character might react in a particular situation or considering how to fix a plot hole. I’m not really in a classroom in Queens queuing up the afternoon’s lecture but on a damaged shuttle in another galaxy, trying to imagine how my protagonist will react when he finds out his best friend is a lying liar.
The “here but not here” part of working on a first draft has many advantages. It means I’m always working on my novel, even when I’m doing something else. It means I wake up at 3am with The Solution to a problem or have flashes of deep character insight while waiting for the G train. It makes the book better and is, frankly, an integral part of how I work. It also has disadvantages. I neglect my friends and family. I get scatterbrained at work. I can’t concentrate on other important things in my life. I drift away from the here and now.
This process, though? It appears to be involuntary. I don’t know another way to write a first draft. So, if you’re looking for me, that’s where I’ll be. In the Woods. Literally and figuratively.
See you on the other side.
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Yup, that’s right. Another journey completed. 41 and counting!
I love birthdays, a delight I’ve never lost as I aged. After all, what’s not to like about a day where everyone tells you how happy they are that you’re still alive and gives you presents and takes you out to dinner? Birthdays are awesome. Sometimes there’s even cake.
They’re also a good chance to reflect back and dream ahead. 40 was a big year for me. I had some pretty major Life stuff going on, faced some serious fears, and generally did a lot of growing as a person. I like that I’m still growing up and learning in midlife. In fact, in many ways, I think I’m doing more of that as I approach middle age than I did in my formative years. Every year is a formative one, eh? I like that.
The last year was also a very exciting one for my career. I hit an important writing milestone when I signed with the brilliant Sarah LaPolla of Bradford Literary agency, taking me one step closer to what I’ve been working so hard for: publishing novel-length works. I’ve been writing a long time, but it is only in the last year or so that I’ve really begun to feel a sort of confidence in my abilities (albeit tempered with the requisite dosage of fear, self-loathing, and anxiety with which all writers must contend). When I look back on that fateful year (now seemingly so long ago) that I decided to prioritize writing fiction over pursuing a tenure-track job in academia, I have zero regrets. It isn’t that this road has been any easier, but it has made me a lot happier. Hard to argue with that.
So, what will 41 hold? Well, it’d be great if I got a book deal. That would make 41 my Best Year Ever. Regardless, though, I know I’ll be doing a lot of writing. Also, there will be (must be!) travel. I want to spend more time with family and I want to cut negative things out of my life as much as possible. I want 41 to be the year of positive.
Mostly, I look forward to all the surprises the next year of life will hold. I know they’re coming, and that some will be delightful and some crushingly awful (that’s life, after all), and I welcome them.
Bring it on, 41!
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It is the first official work day of 2016 (though, as a writer, most days are work days for me), and I thought I’d take a break from editing my manuscript to post a few thoughts about the year gone by and the year ahead.
So, yeah, 2015. It had good bits and bad bits, making it very like most of life. Reflecting back, the biggest challenges and difficulties the past year posed were also the source of some of my proudest moments and greatest accomplishments. Maybe I’ll try to remember that when I’m bemoaning hardship in the future. Good can come out of it. Growth, too.
Another thing that really jumps out about 2015 is the general awesomeness of my writing buddies. A small group of them in particular, who I have known since way back when I attended my first ever writing workshop, have been — and I know will continue to be — the greatest support network I could ever ask for. Sometimes cheerleaders, sometimes delivering much needed tough love, and sometimes just there to share a cup of tea and sympathy, I am really grateful to know them.
I landed an agent this year (!!!!) — Sarah LaPolla of Bradford Literary Agency signed me just as 2015 turned to 2016 — and I have no doubt I was able to brave the sometimes agonizing, sometimes thrilling process of seeking representation in large part due to the support of my writing group. I look forward to returning the favor. I think we’re all going to do great things in the year to come!
2016 is only a few days old and it is hard to predict the future. Still, I’m sure the year will hold its share of hardships and, hopefully, an equal measure of triumphs. I will try to face them with fearlessness, compassion, and equanimity.
For now, though, I have a rapidly cooling cup of tea to drink and a manuscript that needs trimming. Time to get to work.
Here’s to another year!
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