My Odyssey Workshop Experience 2020: The Application

Before I talk about my May prep, I feel I have to go backward, all the way to last year. Pre-corona, pre-quarantine, to when the world didn’t seem so bleak and 2020 was the epitome of hope, excitement, and expectation.

The idea of attending a workshop (I’ve attended two prior: a fiction writing one at 18 at a local college, and the Writers of the Future week-long one) came up in an email exchange with a friend, with us discussing some of the shorter, more accessible and doable workshops. For years, I’ve been stunted in this possibility, for logistically and financially my family just couldn’t make a six week course happen.

And yet, when I looked at the smaller, shorter workshops, I felt something snag inside me because what I really wanted, truly needed, wasn’t to be told how to write, but to have people look at my work, story after story, week after week, and tell me exactly where I personally struggled, where my specific weaknesses are, so I can focus on them and improve collectively, across all my work.

I started saving. Maybe for ConZealand, maybe for a short workshop, I wasn’t sure, but I saved regardless. Continue reading

February 2020 Recommended Books

This month has been more spring than winter where I live. Can’t complain about that XD Yet, I worry there won’t be that final frost to kill all the bugs and we’ll be beset with a gnat and mosquito swarmed, spider-cloud explosion in a month or two.

You know those days where the air is filled with delightful floating cotton balls reminiscent of Charlotte’s Web? We might have a difficult time dodging them this year. Ah, well.

I’ve recently joined SWFA (yay!). Now I’m officially a member!

Also just hosted a sixth book club meeting at my house, which means that it’s been successful for an entire year and looking strong. Going to have to come up with something fun for our anniversary meeting in two months. We shall see…


THE TEN THOUSAND DOORS OF JANUARY

by Alix E. Harrow

The meta portal fantasy I never knew I wanted.

This epistolary novel is told from the perspective of a girl who has always felt in between. About the many doors to other worlds we, as readers, have always experienced, so there’s an instant ability to empathize. There are slow revelations and deeply insidious dangers that mimic the realities of most dangers of our world better than the average novel.

Thematically, the novel is about change. About clinging to, or running from change. About choosing the change we want, rejecting the change that doesn’t suit us. Even more, it’s about the fear of change that exists in every one of us and all the different ways we face it.

As much as Ten Thousand Doors is a portal fantasy, it’s less about the worlds themselves and more about the possibility of worlds and all they might contain.


STARLESS

by Jacqueline Carey

Starless is divided into three main parts, with these parts being so uniquely different from one another that it’s necessary to mention. The first section centers on Khai’s training, the second his introduction to court life, and the third an oceanic adventure. Part one is by far my favorite of the three, delving into a setting where the gods are physical beings that grant their blessings specifically and with an eternal reason behind it. While each of the sections is divided by tone and purpose and even cast to some extent, I greatly enjoyed the entire process, from child-in-training, to the dangers of court and city, and the travels beyond.

There are larger aspects dealt with in the novel, especially that of knowing and accepting oneself, though it’s done primarily through the scope of Khai and one other who is introduced in the second part of the novel. However, though there might be a few interesting questions and a couple of characters that add to the great diversity in the fantasy and science-fiction realm these days, Starless is much more an adventure fantasy from start to finish, which I happened to love.


SPINNING SILVER

by Naomi Novik

I picked up Spinning Silver in response to having read Uprooted and though I admit to loving Uprooted just a little more than Spinning Silver, that’s not in any way a complaint against this novel. For Spinning Silver is a beautiful fairy tale-esque story revolving around a moneylender and the people in her life as she strives to not just overcome the struggles of her family, but to best those conflicts entirely.

There’s an entire parallel world, one filled with a cold fae people and their own unique culture, that is brought to the forefront during this journey, as well as an enemy far closer to home. All the pieces of this novel expand across numerous characters and settings and yet, every single thread is interwoven tightly and meaningfully.

One of those books that starts slow by necessity because of all the introduced characters, but builds and builds into a rush of a climax. A really fun book.

Historical Nebula Nomination Read Series [1965] Check-In #1

My first Check-In post in this auspicious quest. I’m going to admit, I thought this would be a breeze given word count in books in the 1960s were far and away less than the current average word count. What I didn’t take into account was the -isms. Sexism, racism, etc. And some of that can be…difficult.

Now, I’m going to do my best to consider the time period in an effort to be a little more fair since it’s truly impossible to judge certain things by today’s standards when thinking of yesterday, especially when I obviously wasn’t around fifty-sixty years ago to have personally experienced the world then. So certain instances, like calling all women “girls” or the invisibility of certain races, I will strive to overlook.

However, I’m human and my beliefs will very likely get in the way sometimes.

So far, I’ve read four of the 1965 Nebula Nominations:


The first book I read was Rogue Dragon by Avram Davidson, a small, chapbook-sized science fiction novel about an Earth that had been turned into a hunting ground for unintelligent creatures titled dragons. In reality, the descriptions and writing of these dragons resembled large theropods. (And, in fact, there’s a scene that heavily reminds me of Jurassic Park, though of course that book wasn’t published until the 90s.)

The lead character goes on a discovery adventure where he lands within one group of characters after another, becoming acquainted with different sides of the entire story there on future Earth. His journey is a haphazard series of events though, with much of his autonomy stolen from him often enough that it’s comical to discover just how he would stumble into the next phase of the story. He is not a typical hero for the bulk of the story; he’s more of an information gatherer. Continue reading

January 2020 Recommended Books

I haven’t posted this before, but I feel the need to announce I’m now the parent of a teenager and have been for a few months. I don’t feel old enough to have a teenager. Nor do I feel capable of keeping up with feeding one. How does one do that? Add an addition to our pantry? Daily drop-offs from the grocery store? Buy intravenous feeding tubes? If ever there were black holes on earth, they would be teenaged stomachs XD

Monstress Vol 1: Awakening & Monstress Vol. 2: The Blood
by Marjorie Liu & Sana Takeda

The first thing you notice about these graphic novels is the gorgeous artistry by Takeda. She brings such detail into every panel, making every page a thing of beauty to be admired. The world itself, as grim as it is, is vast, multi-cultural, with layers hidden within layers. Just for those two aspects, Monstress is worth reading. But there’s more. The character of Maika is conflicted, blunt, and horrible, yet also one who evokes sympathy. She fits in that classic trope of the abrasive character who does her best to keep people away from her for their own good. Yet she’s failing even in that and desperate for answers to what is happening to her. There is a cast of secondary characters both interesting and strange and Liu does not shy away from showing the dreadful sides of avarice and bigotry through them all.

Both my children stole all three volumes from me to read. I haven’t even read the third volume (though they have), so I guess it gets the stamp of approval from a younger generation too :)

As You Wish by Cary Elwes

Does this count as Fantasy or Science Fiction? Maybe not :) It’s all nonfiction, relaying fun stories through Elwes’s eyes during the process of making The Princess Bride, one of the most iconic movie/book combos of the last century.

There was at least one vignette I was already familiar with, so I’m assuming I read an excerpt of the book at some point, but most of the information was new to me, and given it was filtered through Elwes’s eyes, it carried an air of nostalgia with an overlay of all of his excitement, nervousness and, occasionally, embarrassment.

You get to walk through the process, from him first getting the job to the final days. Get to hear about the arduous process of creating the duel between Cary Elwes and Mandy Patinkin. For me, it felt like traveling back in time to my childhood.

The Princess Bride
by William Goldman

Speaking of The Princess Bride, why yes, I was inspired to pick it back up. I’d never read it all the way through, just bits and pieces. And before I get to the story, I’m going to fully admit that I was one of those many people (long ago) who thought the book was actually abridged and searched for the unabridged version to no avail. Luckily, I don’t also have to admit that this happened recently (but I did have a moment–just a moment--when I picked it up off the shelf and thought wait–what? In my defense, I had just learned that Dune had an abridged version and I went searching to figure out whether I’d read the wrong damn book some twenty-five years ago. Spoiler alert: I hadn’t. I read it in all its wonderful glory the first time.)

The story is almost completely the same as the movie, with the notable exception being the Zoo of Death, which was understandable in its absence in the movie, but also pretty entertaining. There are other smaller changes as well, but none of them huge or plot/character changing. This is one of those, if you love the movie, you will undoubtedly love the book and vice versa. However, that doesn’t mean it’s not worth the read if you’ve already seen the movie. Just the opposite.

Into 2020

I never made proper goals last year, so I don’t have a clear comparison. No way of showing whether I had a good year, a bad year, or some amalgamation of the two. I’m going to crop it all up to being good though, for I’ve had a lot of new beginnings, focused on what I (and we, meaning Steve and I) want out of life.

WRITING FRONT

I had three hesitant ideas back in February.

Firstly, to start submitting my short stories again. On this, because I had been focused on novels for the past few years, I had to first dive through all my old work, dividing everything into piles set for the trunk, for further consideration, or good and just needs a quick cleanup before being sent out. In conjunction with this, I began to do writing exercises with the intention of hopefully getting some flash first drafts that could be eventually included in my submission process while I was sifting through everything else. I didn’t keep up with my exercises as much as I would have preferred, but still completed between 60-80, with at least 10 of them being worthy of edits and submission.

Secondly, I wanted to read more. More specifically, fantasy and science-fiction in the novel and short story departments. I wanted to read more new books, more old books, wanted to become familiarized with newer series as well as test out lesser known authors to find more I enjoy reading. One of the other positives in this respect was to improve my own vocabulary and writing capability, which I think grows with everything experienced. As of yesterday, I’ve read a total of 89 books for the year, not counting those I gave up on, and read a little over 100 short stories, which is not nearly as many as I’d hoped. I’ve also read more nonfiction articles as well, but I unfortunately kept no count on those and honestly, will likely not keep count next year either. All in all, I’m happy. The books went beyond fantasy & science fiction, ranging from nonfiction, to classics, to graphic novels, to even my first foray into YA in an attempt to find good ones since I’m trying to create a shelf full of age-appropriate fun books the kids can grab as they shift from middle grade.

Thirdly, I wanted to begin putting myself out there socially. This was the scariest of all. I talk a little more about this in the personal section, but the shortened idea is that I’ve been conquering my shyness one conversation at a time in the past decade. I will never not be scared, and I accept that, but I subscribe to the belief that practice makes permanent. So I made a reddit account and began commenting. Tried to post once a month on Facebook. Drove up to Balticon and listened to panels because I haven’t quite gathered the courage to make the leap of asking to actually be on any panels myself. Was going to attend Capclave, but a wedding Steve was officiating took precedence, so it’s on my goal sheet for next year.

Quantifiable Writing Achievements:

2 sales and publications: Cessation of Civilization to DreamForge Magazine and I Thought Them Starlight to Flame Tree, both short pieces I like very much.

80,000 words written (this is the bottom level amount that I kept better count of and doesn’t include a lot of writing exercises). Not even 1k a weekday, so I can definitely do better here.

55 submissions.

I’m going to skip counting social media posts because I did not do well. My attempts there were sporadic and scattered.

WRING GOALS 2020

For next year, I hope to complete:

1) 250,000 words spread between short stories, writing exercises and novels.

2) Maintain a rolling 7 submissions out at any given time.

3) Attend at least 2 conventions (I toyed with the idea of requesting to be on panels, but I’m allowing myself to not fulfill that eventual goal.)

4) Not disappear off social media.

Capable goals. Not too arduous or terrifying I don’t think, but perfectly good at keeping me going in the right direction. Wish me luck :)

PERSONAL FRONT

As a family, one of our biggest goals a few years ago was to begin traveling more, focusing on experiences with the kids. In November ’18 we bought an pull-behind RV so that this year we would be able to take home with us, so to speak, and make it a little more affordable. We took three trips total. First, to Williamsburg for a few days over the kids’ spring break where we did tours, saw and talked to most of the shops, and attended the trial of Israel Hands one evening. Then to the Outer Banks during the summer, which is where my family vacations once a year. We hadn’t been in three years and the kids ended up falling in love with the freedom of biking around the KOA. Lastly, we went and stayed outside of Philidelphia for a few days in September. Did downtown Philly, Liberty Bell, etc., one day, Longwood Gardens, including the light display at the fountain one night, and then visited one of my aunts further afield and took a hike up Hawk Mountain.

Socially, I’ve also been working on reaching out to try and maintain or cultivate friendships. Along with a sister-in-law, I started a tiny book club that meets every two months. We do trivia games for fun and I get to chat about books in a few different genres. Steve and I put in a patio (I think I mentioned this in another post because, wow, was that a lot of work and I didn’t even do half of it) and began inviting people over for a few cookouts before the nice weather disappeared. I’ve been working on saying “yes” more often as well. Said yes to a number of events I would normally shy away from: school events, work events, even library events I never would have gone to without making this resolution and coming leaps and bounds over the past few years. Even sucked up my fear enough to host a party for my son and his friends over Halloween. People are still scary, but I’ve learned a smile goes a long way.

Speaking of smiles, I have to mention health for a moment. I’m so thankful for finally discovering what’s been wrong with my face for the past year and a half. With my cracked tooth gone, the nerves in the right side of my face have healed and no longer throb and I’ve found a whole lot more energy that I didn’t even realize I’d been missing.

PERSONAL GOALS 2020

For our New Year’s Resolutions, the girl decided hers would be “to smile all year” and I liked it enough that I think I’m stealing it. So we’ve got:

1) Brave the cold and don’t limit my exercise to the warm weather. I can wear plenty of layers if need be, because this goal is more about not letting the winter derail good habits.

2) Keep saying yes, even when all I want to do is say no.

3) Remember to smile.

There you have it! Hope your 2020 is glorious and successful however you define success :)