I have participated in NaNoWriMo six years now, and of those six, I’ve only “won” three times. 50% sure isn’t a bad finish rate, better than the average participant by a long shot, but there comes a time in November when you either know you’re going to make it, or you are not.
Today, I’m here to tell you that I’m not going to win NaNoWriMo, and that’s totally okay. The other years I’ve failed to hit the 50,000 word goal have been because I’ve had to move in the middle of November (never again!) but this year was a whole other string of unforeseen hurdles. Gremlins might be a more appropriate word.
Work went wahoonie shaped in a big way, requiring much more time and effort and stress than it normally does. I am headed to GeekGirl Con this weekend, and as a one-woman publishing house tabling AND moderating a panel requiring data crunching and a PowerPoint, and included a lot of interpersonal stress around people supposed to be around at the booth. And to top it all off, I am now hunting and pecking this post out on my keyboard because someone didn’t clean up after their dog and guess who fell in it. *Raises my sprained left wrist with wry defeat* Doesn’t help that this is the second time this has happened at my apartment complex…
So there’s no way on earth I’m able to type fast enough, think fast enough, breath well enough to power a story this November. That doesn’t mean I’ve stopped writing though, far from it. It just means that this NaNoWriMo instead of coming out with 50k words of story, I’ll come out with maybe 25k words and some good coping mechanisms and a better idea of how to allocate my time…and how to delegate better. And just how much pressure I can handle in one autumn before I want to curl up into the fetal position. For now, I’ll sit here with my left arm in my sling and try to finish getting ready for the Con (thankfully I’m almost there!) and be glad my wonderful husband-creature will be available to lift the heavy boxes during set-up tomorrow.
If you happen to be around Seattle, you should stop by GeekGirl Con! It’s an amazing and wonderfully inclusive con for geeks of all kinds from science to science fiction and the maths of crafts to fantasy cosplay. We’ll be running the Mneme Press booth at booth number 620, and we’ll have lots of games, books for sale, and space for you to write if you’re doing NaNoWriMo.
Happy Writing! (or not!)
National Novel Writing Month is in full swing, and, as usual, I’m not going the traditional route. I find this crazy hectic month of writing much more conducive to finishing up languishing projects, or focusing on a bunch of small ones. As such, I’m working on finishing up the first draft of Spirit of the Law, the full length play about Elsie Olmstead, wife of notorious rumrunner Roy Olmstead here in Seattle.
In the process of my year of research, I have reached out to and made friends with several different researchers and prohibition experts and authors, including people like Brad Holden, author of Seattle Prohibition: Bootleggers, Rumrunners & Graft in the Queen City. And now, when someone reaches out to them looking for information on the elusive 2nd Mrs. Olmstead, they punt the querent to me. And it’s…weird. Gratifying, but weird. I’m so used to working on speculative fiction that questions about good literature, diverse literature, writing tips, etc., are an everyday occurance and I delight in sharing the knowledge and tips I’ve gleaned over the years. But it’s different when you’re starting to be considered an authority on something more concrete. Something that happened in history and you’re the only person people can think of who has done the deep dive necessary to find out the small things. Things like she was so foul-mouthed she was teaching law-enforcement officers new cuss words.
It helps that Elsie is a vivacious and compelling character with even the little we know about her, and the tidbits that made it into writings about her husband Roy and his groundbreaking trial. If you don’t know, Roy was one of the very first people to be convicted based on wire-tapping evidence, and they took the fight all the way to the Supreme Court. But that very lack of knowledge seemed to be deliberate on her part, one way to set up a smokescreen to her real involvement, which is one of the reasons people are desperate to know more.
Once the play draft is complete, I plan to write up a scholarly article about her, with all the attendant source citing. Hopefully by sharing all the odd bits and pieces I’ve pulled out of dusty old court records buried in the bowels of federal archives will help inspire other people to go digging as well and maybe even find some interesting things I missed. And in the meantime, I’ll keep getting that happy little thrill when I get the message that someone else has fallen in love with this woman and wants to know more, just like I did a year ago.
It’s that time of year again! GeekGirl Con is just around the corner (Nov. 16th and 17th this year) and I’ve got two new novellas for your enjoyment. The first, Pit Stop, was previously only available in the Night Lights Anthology, and Wavefall which is a brand new adventure in the same universe. Literally the opposite side of the universe from Pit Stop, but same none-the-less.
Pit Stop is the story of Maevis, in self-imposed exile on a distant refueling station for Corporate. She finds herself helping out an injured juvenile hijacker and rethinking some of her choices.
In Wavefall, we meet Andrea and Brad on a mining asteroid hoping to survive a quantum event that is traveling through the universe and leaving a wake of missing and dead people.
Also don’t forget that the third in the Oz novellas series is out for consumption as well! Jason Morgado is working on the illustrations for the last two right now, and I hope to have the fourth and fifth out in the next year, so keep your eyes peeled.
All three stories are available in print through Amazon or your other favorite book vendor, as well as digitally through whichever form you prefer downloading books. And as a teaser, this NaNoWriMo, I’ll be editing another two books in this series, as well as finishing up writing the first draft for two others, including a followup to Wavefall. Follow me on Instagram if you want to keep up to date on my writing progress!
And if you missed it, I’ll post the youtube link when it goes up! If you’re looking for some of the resources I talk about, there are links below. Hope you found it igniting!
- For worksheets to help spur your writing, visit my website.
- For information about volunteering with or bringing your kids to the Bureau of Fearless Ideas writing center in Greenwood, visit their website.
- Feeling motivated? Join millions of people as they try to write a novel in November! (The Seattle chapter mascot is the rubber duck!)
- Want writing classes for adults? Check your local community colleges, adult continuing education, and if you are local to Seattle, Hugo House has an excellent roster of classes.
So I was recently mugged by inspiration while touring Smith Tower here in Seattle (thanks for the tickets, Tiff!). For those of you who have no idea what Smith Tower is, it was once the tallest sky scraper west of the Mississippi (when it was build back in the 19-teens) and it has a lovely and eventful history, including housing an assortment of people associated with rumrunning and bootlegging back during prohibition. If you know much about prohibition in the west OR constitutional law, you probably know the name Roy Olmstead. He was a rumrunner up here in Seattle who was known for being anti-violence and being one of the area’s largest employers during that time period as well as being the first person to challenge wire tapping as a legal source of evidence at the supreme court. However, I am much more interested in his wife, Elise aka Elsie Caroline Parché aka Campbell who was a British WWI intelligence officer before marrying Roy. But when one goes to find information about the ladies of the time period, the research is thin on the ground.
As I was flailing around for resources, I ran across a book that is actually coming out next month: Seattle Prohibition: Bootleggers, Rumrunners, and Graft in the Queen City by Brad Holden. I promptly pre-ordered it, but didn’t want to wait a month to read it (oh the urgency of the muse /s) and instead reached out to Brad on his Instagram account where he posts Seattle relics. He happily agreed to send me over a PDF of his book which I promised to review in return for sending me the advance copy, so here we go! He did specify a completely HONEST review of the book, so I guess I’ll start with what I didn’t like.
I wish there was more on Elise, but considering he was covering all of prohibition in a concise and easy to read book, I can’t be too hard on him for that. I could have also wished for more precise dates on some events as I laid out the timeline my work will cover, but again, not sure those are even available. And that’s the end of what I can complain about.
Holden has put together a beautifully researched and written book about the nature of Prohibition and its criminal element with copious photographs to bring the laundry list of names and events to life. His writing is lively and engaging, which I personally have had difficulty finding in non-fiction works. If you look through my list of reviews here, you’ll see I tend to stick heavily to speculative fiction, so actually enjoying a non-fiction book is something of a departure for me. Most of the other works I’ve found about this era are deadly boring and I find myself skimming and just looking for mentions of the names I am concerned with. Not so with H0lden’s work. It’s a masterfully woven tale that explores all the major players and events in Seattle during the 1920’s and early 30’s and how Prohibition entered and exited the scene.
The book has provided me with a wealth of knowledge about the time period my story will be set in, and the events and people that will serve as a backdrop to the play. It was charming, eloquent, and had a rakish sense of humor, much like the people it featured. If you have a passing interest in Seattle, history, Prohibition, gentleman criminals, or a mix of the above, definitely pick this up for your to-read shelf. And this isn’t just me taking sugar from another local author, I whole-heartedly recommend this intriguing book.
- During my first period at 12 I passed out from the pain.
- During high school, my 7 day periods regularly soaked through six pads a day.
- During college I had to go on birth control because my cramps prevented me from going to class and my cycles would swing wildly between 15 and 45 days long.
- During grad school, I collapsed in a crosswalk in the middle of Boston from the pain and had to make the decision between taking Lupron for six months or having surgery. Surgery wasn’t an option because of work and class, so Lupron it was. It helped with the pain, but it was also six months of hormonal agony and has left a really nasty imprint on my biological systems. Never again.
- After going off Lupron we learned that estrogen was giving me heart arrhythmias, so I could no longer take birth control with any estrogen in.
- Progesterone only treatments didn’t seem to be effective, so I went onto the Skyla IUD (designed for women who haven’t had children, and lasts for three years).
- Two years into the Skyla, my cramps were so bad I was missing work and they were constant. No letup. I tried to keep it a few more months but ended up having it pulled six months early.
- Went back to progesterone only treatments. The low dose normal birth control pills did nothing.
- 5 mgs was hormonal agony.
- 2.5 is barely tolerable. My last period I bled for a month and a half. And I’ve had cramps daily for the last two months.
My husband picked up a book from the library, Amber Dawn’s Sub Rosa, and on the way home I read the back out of curiosity. The title, given what I know of the phrase, intrigued me, and the synopsis even more so. I mean, who doesn’t want to read about magical prostitutes?
Little is the newest girl to become a Glory on Sub Rosa, a street that doesn’t exist, full of houses and businesses that cater to live ones (us normie city folks) who need a respite and an experience full of joy to relieve the humdrum life they lead. It’s a novel that explores a lot of interesting topics from love to the importance of memory, and how people experience life and sex. It was riveting, and though there were a lot of racy scenes, none of them felt gratuitous, which is definitely rare. They were all an important part of the plot, and were written with tact and finesse, leaving your experience of them much like what I would expect from a Sub Rosa Glory herself.
The part that stuck most in my mind, though, was the theme of names through the novel. This was the second novel that I’ve read, in a row, where we do not know the protagonist’s given name until nearly the end of the story. Names and naming things plays a huge role in both Alif the Unseen and Sub Rosa and it got me thinking about my own reticence around names. I find myself avoiding using people’s names almost always, unless there is no other way to get their attention in a crowd or something similar, and I wonder why that is. Something to ponder; thanks for the push, Dawn!
Anyway, I highly recommend picking this up to read. It’s a beautiful and glorious word romp through some difficult topics and leaves you different at the end, just like any good trip to Sub Rosa.
I was having dinner with the wonderful founder of the Seattle Ladies’ Comic Book Club the other night and she recommended a book she had read recently, Alif the Unseen by G. Willow Wilson.
I wasn’t quite sure what to expect, but I was excited to get my hands on a spec fic work by a female Muslim author, so I dove right in. As a brief summary: Alif is a gray hat hacker in an unnamed middle eastern city state who has devoted his talents to helping anyone who wanted to stay one step ahead of their governments’ censorship on the net. Islamists, Feminists, Anarchists, he didn’t much care what your views were, he would help you be able to share them with less fear of persecution. Until one day it all comes toppling down on his head and he ends up begging for help from none other than a jinn living at the edge of the market.
Coming to this book after a long string of mediocre reading was a serious breath of fresh air. The writing is crisp and clear, the characters multi-dimensional, and the world understandable, even for a white-bread American girl like me. In fact, when I was about 2/3 of the way through the book, I actually downloaded a copy of the Quran so I can read some of the referenced stories and passages for myself when I am next in a scholarly mood. I was continuously impressed with Wilson’s handling of situations around things such as veils or other cultural differences as they never came across as alien or alienating. One of the main supporting characters, Dina, has chosen a veiled life for the sake of piety, and I felt like I understood the basic nuances of her choices, her family’s dismay at her choice, and felt she was all the stronger for having made it, which is an entirely foreign concept to me. Thus, impressed.
There was also an excellently executed commentary on political power, revolutions, gender dynamics, and belief woven delicately through the novel. If all you were looking to read was a rollicking magical/techno book, Wilson’s messages never got in the way. But if you were willing to look deeper into the text, there was a lot of fascinating discussion going on. I highly recommend picking this up or putting into your queue to read sometime in the near future. Now, please excuse me while I add all her other books (and comic books!) to my list to read.
So, as most of you know, I am an avid fan of Tamora Pierce and her work, and I was thrilled to discover she was going to be doing an appearance in Seattle with her newest release, Tempests and Slaughter.
When I showed up to the event, I was pleasantly surprised to find it was actually a joint event with Rachel Hartman, and mediated by Lish McBride. Hartman has a new book out herself, Tess, and McBride (who also happens to be Seattle local) guided the other two authors through a discussion about how they approach writing, their characters and their worlds in general. It was a fun talk, and Tammy is as fierce as ever (and angry about misogyny as ever), and I really enjoyed the evening. Thankfully, the talk was being sponsored by the UW Bookstore, so they had lots of everybody’s books on hand to sell, so I picked up Seraphina and Hold Me Closer, Necromancer, Harman’s and McBride’s first books, respectively.
I always make it a point to buy an author’s book if I’m at their event, and a quick google search of these books while I sat out of the crowd made them sound interesting enough that I gladly picked up copies and had them signed. I promptly started Hold Me Closer when I got home as I’d already read Tammy’s book to review for the Manhattan Book Review the month previously. And I was hooked.
McBride has four books, all set in the same universe, but two follow a fledgling necromancer named Sam in Seattle, and two follow a pyrokinetic named Ava in New England. Her version of America is ripe with mystical characters that we don’t often see explored, including characters like were-bears and -hares, golem makers, half dryads, and many more. It was refreshing to see normally neglected species explored, and her writing is dry and witty. As soon as I’d gotten halfway through Hold Me Closer, I had already requested the rest of her books from the library, and they were all fantastic. Highly recommend!
While I was waiting for the rest of McBride’s books from the library, I opened Seraphina, which goes a completely different direction. While Sam was playing in an urban fantasy not far from our current reality, Hartman introduces us to a completely separate fantasy world wherein dragons and humans have a tenuous peace. However, there is a fun twist that separates this realm from other standard high fantasy fare: the dragons can and do take human form to interact with man, and can even interbreed while in said form. Thus we are given our main character, Seraphina, who has a human father and had a dragon mother who died in childbirth. Being half dragon is a cause for secrecy in their society and thus leaves Seraphina struggling to find her place. Beautifully written and thoroughly engaging, as soon as I finished Seraphina, I requested Hartman’s other two books from the library as well. I got Shadow Scale, but am still waiting for Tess, but I have a feeling it’s going to be well worth the wait.
So that’s two new authors for you to go explore! I loved both of them, and they have drastically different voices and feels, so something for whatever mood you might be in!
Between the next poorly written self-published novel given to me to review and another foray into the under represented authors in speculative fiction, I decided to give my brain a break and go back to revisit an old favorite: Sir Terry Pratchett. If you don’t know Sir Terry’s work, I envy you the absolute joy of your first encounter with Discworld. If I might suggest you start with Going Postal, or The Truth for your first adventure in Ankh Morkpork, closely followed by Monstrous Regiment.
I don’t recommend starting here because there is a lot to learn about this world before you are introduced to one of the pocket countries hubwards of the main city in their world, but once you have your turtle-legs under you, this is one of my favorites. The premise is simple enough: The protagonist, Polly, disguises herself as a guy to enter the army to find her brother, who enlisted a year previously. She is part of a country that is perpetually at war, and is not very good at it, hence the lack of eligible men in her town, and she needs to find her brother and get him back or when her father dies, their family inn will be lost since women can’t inherit. Women can’t do a lot of things in Borogravia, it seems, so off she goes as a young man to find her only chance at a decent future. After signing up for the war, one of her fellow recruits spots that she is female and offers her the advice of stuffing a pair of socks into her trousers to complete her disguise. Thus it becomes a running theme through the novel that Polly can’t tell whether her new-found bravery is coming from herself or her socks. In fact, I once did a book report in high school on this very subject wherein I chose a pair of socks to represent each of the characters in the book and gave a presentation describing exactly why each pair was appropriate.
The rest of this essay contains more than a few spoilers, so if you want to be surprised by the book, stop reading now, and come back to this after you have read the novel. It won’t take long, I’ll wait.
Okay, good, you’re back. You’re a speedy reader! Anyway, one of the turning points–really, every turning point in the book–comes when we find out yet ANOTHER character is actually a female disguised as a male in the army. Eventually we find out that nearly 1/3 of high command is actually female, the sergeant in charge of Polly’s unit if female, and said sergeant has made it their mission over the course of their overly-long military career to spot women coming into the army and quietly suggest to some they’d be better off home, while refining and encouraging those who would be an asset. A good portion of the high command owes their position today to Sergeant Jackrum and his/her not-so-gentle hand. We find out about this absolute abundance of estrogen at the point in the novel that Polly and her fellow recruits are unmasked and facing retribution for being in actual-fact female and loudly saving Borogravia from certain defeat. Several things become clear over the course of the tribunal:
- Each of the women in the room (barring Polly’s platoon) had assumed they were the only female in the Army and were trying to make it on their own. A few of them had spotted the rare other, but they were so concerned about being seen as male that they often overlooked other women’s tells.
- It was okay to be a woman in the army so long as no one KNEW there was a woman in the army. If they had been willing to go back under as men, it would have been alright.
- They were expected to lookout solely for themselves, be grateful for a handout from high command, and go quietly back to living under the absurd rule of their dead god and all his insane rules and submit themselves to a man.
Needless to say, Polly and her crew were not too thrilled with any of this. They refused all of the handouts and insisted on remaining as open women in the Army. Granted, they were only allowed to do so because the ghost of their dead beloved ruler, the Duchess, demanded it as well, but they managed to get a truce in place and a new ruling system installed in the capital before Polly took her brother home to her family and went back to work in the tavern.
If this had been the end of the story, I would have enjoyed it, but it would not hold such a dear place in my heart. While Polly enjoys being home with her family, she also does not feel like she is done; she has tasted privilege beyond what she once knew and knows that she has the power to bring change to her country. So when rumors abound that their neighbor is invading, she dusts off her skirted Army uniform and begins the journey back to the capital in order to bring her kind of power and change to this new conflict. And on her way across the ferry, she notes two young men whom are headed to the Army to join up that she instantly identifies as being, in fact, female.
“Let’s have a look at you,” said Polly. “Chins up. Ah. Well done. Shame you didn’t practice walking in trousers and I notice you didn’t bring an extra pair of socks.”
They stared, mouths open.
“What are your names?” said Polly. “Your real names, please? Don’t looks so worried. You can tell me the truth. And don’t try cunning on me, because I was trained by Mister Fox.”
“Er…Rosemary,” one of them began.
“I’m Mary,” said the other. “I heard girls were joining, but everyone laughed, so I thought I’d better pretend to–”
“Oh, you can join as men if you want,” said Polly.
The girls looked at one another.
“You get better swearwords,” said Polly. “And the trousers are useful. But it’s your choice.”
“A choice?” said Rosemary.
“Certainly,” said Polly. She put a hand on a shoulder of each girl…and added: “You are my little lads–or not, as the case may be–and I will look after…you.”
For the first time, when I finished the novel, I actually feel like I understand what Sir Terry was saying, truly saying, about what it is like to be a woman in this world. Because that’s what Sir Terry does: he uses fantasy as a way to comment on our Western culture, and each novel focuses on and satirizes another aspect of our world. When I was a teenager, I caught all the commentary about war, and even some of the commentary about gender politics, but definitely not all of it. I didn’t have the life experience at the tender age of 17 to see much beyond the sock question and my own bemusement at girls who felt they couldn’t be outspoken and brave without the addition of socks. I certainly never felt like I needed a pair, but then again I was raised without a lot of the same gender expectations a lot of my peers suffered under. I was a Girl Scout, and a leader, and outdoorsy, and intellectual by my nature, and my parents encouraged that, so as a teenager I found the gender politics of Monstrous Regiment to be more humorous than hateful. But I loved the book and I have carried it with me through the 7 moves since then, rereading it occasionally.
Before I move too far into the commentary, I do want to take a moment to acknowledge that while the book does use cross-dressing as the physical metaphor for this commentary, Sir Terry does address trans and gender-fluid issues in other ways in this and his other books and his usage of the physical presentation of gender is used here as a simplification of the issue in pursuit of the message and not a commentary on actual transgender issues. In fact there are several oblique references to a general who is quite probably either gender-fluid or trans (mtf) and is readily accepted by his peers.
I think the last time I read this book was several years previous, and since then I have become much more aware of the gender disparity in our country. I have watched women get passed over for promotion, and I have fought for better parity in pay. I have read study after study talking about the way in which women minimize themselves in the workforce so as to not be perceived as a threat, to be accepted and not dismissed as a bitch or worse. The same tactics that men use and are praised for, women are fired or reprimanded for. My mother, a woman who broke into an all-male industry right out of college, taught me several skills to succeed in life and work: how to read upside down so you can see what is on your boss’s desk; how to modulate tone of voice so people don’t have a negative reaction to what you have to say; how to state your opinions clearly and stand up for what you know is the right course of action. And somewhere in-between her lessons, school, and the world, I learned a different set of lessons: how to qualify what I am saying so people are more willing to listen; how to minimize confrontation so I am not at risk for retaliation; how to play the dumb blonde the better to steer interactions. How to minimize me in order to not be a threat. How to unruffle feathers in the work place by self-deprecation and demurring.
I didn’t even realize I had picked up most of these coping skills until people started to point them out. The first major realization came when my husband (then friend) pointed out that I used a lot of qualifiers in my writing, “just” and “so” and other verbal ticks that robbed by writing of its power and voice in an effort of minimize my opinions. It is still something I fight today, and he definitely doesn’t let me get away with, ever. Then I noticed that the way I interact with my coworkers included a lot of self-deprecation, happily shouldering non-existent blame to keep feathers unruffled. I move aside, physically and emotionally, in order to yield space to just about everybody, but when you keep doing that, you’re not left with any space for yourself. And so, I have spent a lot of the last few years opening back up, catching myself before I bow and scrape and diminish my self, and trying to help as many women as I can find their own feet, their own voice, and their own space in this male dominated world.
And I think that’s why this book hit me so hard this time. I read Polly’s last words and I started to cry. Jackrum’s little lads were given two choices at the beginning of the book: stay in their lives as women and diminish themselves every hour of over day to make more room in their world for the men who already had more than enough, or give up their femininity and become a man to combat it. I see women make that choice every day, and not in the literal transgender sense, but in the emotional and behavioral sense. They either chose to develop the same coping mechanisms I was talking about above in order to not crowd the boys, or they give up on being perceived as women and become just “one of the boys” in their company, metaphorically farting, burping, and taking up all the air in the room. Polly and Jade and Maladicta and Betty chose a third option: being women and not giving ground. They found strength in their femininity, they did not let the men nor the women who had become men nor the diminished women dictate what they were or how they could or should act. Instead they listened to their hearts and did what made them whole. They made their own space in the world and will not give it up for anything.
At the end of the novel, when Polly has finally come into her own and is on her way back into the fray, embracing her skirts, she is presented with the picture of her younger self, two young girls with the same two choices she was given: diminish or become masculine. She rejects both of these, neither telling the girls to go home or that they have to stuff a pair of socks in their trousers. First and foremost, she tells them they do actually have a choice, and there is nothing wrong with the choice they have made thus far, but there was a third option they were not aware of. No one ever tells girls there is a third option, to be female and strong. And Polly will help them do it.
It was weird to finally be able to articulate why this book meant so much to me growing up. Why all of Sir Terry’s books did. There were messages in them I didn’t even know I was receiving, wasn’t aware I needed. This was a message I needed to hear now, more than ever, and I finally had the knowledge and the cultural vocabulary to be able to understand what I had only brushed the surface of previously. It left me oddly satisfied and tearful, and with the certain knowledge that I want to be a Polly in this world. I already do my best to inhabit my corner fully, without minimization, without giving ground to those who demand it for no other reason than that they don’t think I need it. But more than that, I need to be a guide to other women, a beacon to young girls, saying, yes, the world has offered you two ways of being, and if you choose to follow either of those, that is your prerogative. But if you look over here, you can be female and strong, femme and strong, trans and strong, she or they and strong, if you want. And no matter what route you choose, I will be there for you, supporting you, helping you to the best of my ability because that is what women should do. We should build each other up, hold strong against those who would tear us down. Sir Terry understood the grace and power of being feminine and strong and I wish I could thank him for his clarity and wisdom, but I definitely know he would be happy to hear there was another Polly, thanks to him.