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The hat of realism

I try to limit my posts about writing, since I have my doubts about their widespread appeal versus, say, amusing fictionalizations featuring my dog, or perhaps zombies and brownies recipes. (Which probably also have limited appeal, but whatevs.)

However, the issue of realistic expectations has been on my mind recently, and because I think my brain periodically needs to have its thoughts dumped out to make room for new ones (especially critical as I move into revision mode) I thought I’d go ahead and blog on it.

So: On various writing boards and forums, one inevitably comes across posts by writers despairing over ever having their work accepted. This usually seems to be in conjunction with finding an agent. And the standard reply to these ubiquitous gloomposts is something to the effect of, “Cheer up! It only takes one yes!”

Well, if we’re thinking long-term, as in truly developing a career as a writer, that aphorism is false. It takes several yeses. A veritable string of yeses. A short list of “yeses” required if one wants to develop a career as a traditionally published writer:

  • Yes from the agent (let’s assume for now that the agent is legitimate and competent)
  • Yes from the editor at the publishing house
  • Yes from the editorial board at the publishing house
  • Yeses from readers

And even then, there are no guarantees. Just because an agent loves a book doesn’t mean an editor will love it. Just because an editor loves it doesn’t mean the editorial board will approve it. Just because the editorial board approves it and has it published doesn’t mean readers will love it.

And even that assumes the process goes as it it should–for instance, that the editor doesn’t leave the publishing house and orphan the book; that the author and editor agree on changes to the book; that the publishing house itself is stable and doesn’t go under.

So every time I see “It only takes one yes!” I’m tempted to reply, “Um, no. It takes quite a lot.” But I don’t, because I’m a writer, and I get the Pit of Despair moments. I get that sometimes you need to hear “It only takes one yes,” because the only thing you can do in the moment is look at the next step and ignore how there’s still a whole mountain to climb.

I get that we writers are cobbled together from extreme hubris and paralyzing self-doubt. It’s an exhausting pendulum to ride–which is why I try to keep on my realism hat. It is the hat that reminds me that it is a bad idea to overanalyze statistics from The Submission Grinder (“Hmm most other people had their stories rejected at days 12-16 and I am on day 17 with no rejection OMG does that mean my story is going to be accepted?!?! MUST WATCH CONSTANTLY TO FEED THE FIRE OF HOPE! *clickrefreshclickrefreshclickrefresh*”). It is the hat that reminds me I shouldn’t expect to be more exceptional than the exceptions–that Stephen King had his railroad spike chocked full of rejections; that J.K. Rowling was on welfare and had Harry Potter rejected from 12 publishing houses before it was accepted for a small advance; that I am statistically unlikely to have a career approaching either one.

It is also the hat that reminds me that the one way to guarantee failure is not to write and not to submit my work.

So, does it take more than one yes? Of course. Does that mean we should stop trying? Never.

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(*Because it sounds slightly better than “conversation with myself,” whether semi-fictional or all fictional or with no adjective whatsoever. Also, hiiii! Let’s pretend I haven’t been absent for like three months, m’kay?)

Me: Why do we talk about “media consumption”?

Cassia: [head tilt]

Me: Think about it. Media consumption, like we’re eating it.

Cassia: [maintains head tilt]

Me: But the food-consumption comparison doesn’t work, because once you eat food, it’s not like anyone else can use it.

Cassia: Bark!

Me: Okay, no. That’s gross. People don’t do that. And you shouldn’t either. Anyway, my point is, under normal circumstances, you eat food, and it’s gone. But with media, it’s not like only one person can watch Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. It’s not like once someone has read American Gods, no one else can. Media can be, and is meant to be, enjoyed and used by multiple people. So why the “consumption” thing? Makes us sound like ravening beasts, you know? MOAR MEDIA! [Godzilla-like stomps]

Cassia: [whine]

Me: Sorry. But yeah, media consumption. Weird, right?

Cassia: [whine]

Me: Oh. That’s your “feed me” whine, isn’t it? You don’t care about what I’m saying.

Cassia: [head tilt]

Me: [Sigh] Okay. Dinner. But this means you own me a discussion on why that Labor Day movie with Kate Winslet is so very, very problematic in terms of, you know, actual logical human behavior.

Cassia: [whinnnne]

Me: Fine. Here’s your food. Consume it just like you would media.

Cassia: [happymunchmunchcrunch]

Me: [sigh of the long-suffering]



Semi-coherent thoughts, post-VP18

I’ve returned from the Viable Paradise workshop, and now that I am somewhat less sleep-deprived, I have thoughts.


  • Viable Paradise is awesome. Those who are working to break into the SFF field should apply.
  • It is intense. Eat a cookie if you need to. (Mac will ensure there is a cookie or other treat suitable for anyone with dietary restrictions. Mac is awesome.)
  • It is intense. Sleep if you need to.
  • It is intense. Ask one of the staffers for a hug if you need to.
  • Writing is subjective. Most people probably know this before attending any sort of workshop, but the subjectivity is reiterated when two instructors have opposite reactions to your work. Both reactions are valid.
    • Unenthusiastic reactions can point out where the work needs improvement.*
    • Enthusiastic reactions can show you what not to “fix” and of course strengthens the happyshiny “this doesn’t suck! I can write stuff that people like!” validation.
  • Your fellow students are all talented writers whose work will likely incite feelings of impostor syndrome in you. This is normal, and is probably happening to them, as well.
  • The instructors’ lectures and colloquiums are knowledge-bombs of goodness. If you cannot adhere to the Aristotelian ideal of memorizing everything, prepare for your hand to cramp up from scribbling notes.

*Assuming, of course, that the suggested feedback makes sense to the writer and can help refine the work closer to the writer’s vision rather than change it entirely. At VP, feedback tends to be of the former variety.

Specific to me

  • I can write a short story in less than three days. It won’t be perfect, but it will have a beginning, middle, and end, and it will provide a
  • Sleep deprivation can apparently make me funnier in writing, but it also comes close to eliminating my ability to form coherent sentences out loud.
  • When venturing to the East Coast, I need to use much more hair gel than I do in Colorado. Duly noted.
  • If I had a wayback machine, VP is one of the first places I’d return to. I’m sad it’s over.


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Leaving on a jet plane

But I do know when I’ll be back again. October 18.

In any case, by the time this post goes live, I will have gotten up at an ungodly hour (ungodly even for me, ridiculer of people who consider merely 6:00am early), boarded a shuttle, and will be on my way to Denver International Airport to attend my 10-year college reunion. There will be parades and fireworks!* And reunioning with people I like! So, yay!

From thence I will be headed to Martha’s Vineyard for Viable Paradise XVIII! I don’t think there will be parades or fireworks, but there will be writing and critiquing of writing and singalongs (based on experiences of VP alumni) and also apparently the horror that is Thursday. (Or Wednesday. There were mixed opinions among the alumni.)

All this means that I have a decent excuse for missing next week’s post (too busy for posting!), but then a very poor excuse for missing the one after that (should probably put together coherent thoughts about VP!). And all that means, watch this space on Oct. 22nd.


The Insomniac’s Lament

The Insomniac’s Lament

O slumber, elude me no longer!

Why must you monger

Tiredness and grief?

Long have I sought you

(Little have I fought you)

I wish I had caught you

Six hours ago!

But I stare at the ceiling

Devoid of all feeling

Except for frustration at you.



(Sound, not the marshmallow.)

Minor it may seem,

But this is my dream–

To be


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10 Books that have stayed with me

I was invited to do this on Facebook, of course, but seeing as I’ve failed to blog for *mumble3ishweeksmumble* I’m answering the meme here.

In no particular order (except for “YES! I should mention that book!”), herewith 10 books that have stayed with me.

1. The God of Small Things by Arundhati Roy

I read this in college, and it is a book that can break you down and (eventually) build you up again. Beautifully written.

2. The Blue Sword by Robin McKinley

One of my childhood-ish books and one that I reread regularly (especially if I’ve had a run of bad books and need to cleanse my booky palate). I didn’t pick up on it then, but McKinley was writing the Strong Female Character before there was widespread notice of “Yanno, women in fantasy/sff often don’t do much, and maybe we should fix that.”

3. The Baby Unicorn by Jean Marzollo

I admit I had to look up the author’s name on Amazon. This is definitely a childhood book. I don’t remember how old I was when I was finally able to read this on my own. I do remember the following: **spoiler alert** Dragons, in this book, were evil, and to protect the baby unicorn from the dragons, the baby unicorn’s mother turned into a doorless house and kept the baby unicorn locked inside. I worried about what happened to the mother when the baby unicorn, chafing at being stuck inside wanting to go find its missing father, crashed through the house-mother (mother-house?) horn-first. Would she ever transform back? Would she be healed if she did, or have a baby-unicorn-shaped hole in her stomach?* (The book came out in ’87, so I can’t say if Marzollo had been watching a little too much Alien when he wrote this.)

Weirdness aside, I think my love of the fantasy genre is pretty much traced back to this book.

4. American Gods by Neil Gaiman
Awesome use and re-imagining of myth. I reread the book recently and thought that the main character, Shadow, didn’t have much in the way of character agency, but you know what? A lot of the heroes in myths didn’t, when you think about it. They were the playthings of fate and the gods. If I were still in college I might write a paper on that. But yay! I don’t have to.

5. On Writing by Stephen King
I’ve read other books by King, but this is the one I reread most. Fabulous blend of memoir and writing tips/inspiration.

6. The Book Thief by Markus Zusak
I never saw the movie; the book relies the use of literary language too much for me to think the movie could ever do it justice. Another heartbreaking and heart-building book.

7. The Harry Potter series by J.K. Rowling
OK, so technically I should’ve picked one book. But I can’t. It’s the whole narrative arc of HP that has stuck with me, and you have to admire a series that has inspired a whole generation of children to read.

8. Pride and Prejudice by Jane Austen
Look, I’m not one of those Darcy swooners, but I love the dialogue. And it’s impressive that Austen’s books in general and P&P in particular have inspired a whole genre. I don’t mean just Regency romance; I mean the genre of books that are about Jane Austen fansBridget Jones’s Diary being one of the most prominent (though yes, Bridget is more familiar with the BBC Colin Firth miniseries than the book), but also The Jane Austen Book Club and Austenland (which I have to admit I know of only due to the movie).

9. The Time Traveler’s Wife by Audrey Niffenegger
I did see the movie, and it most definitely does not do the book justice. It’s another one where the prose is so much a part of the book the experience can’t be replicated on the screen.

10. A Heartbreaking Work of Staggering Genius by Dave Eggers
Sooo much good stuff in here. Eggers balances humor with the eponymous heartbreaking bits. Dave’s love for his younger brother, Toph, comes through despite (or because of?) the standard big brother/young 20’s jerkiness. The structure of it and randomness of it (“Here is a drawing of a stapler”) shouldn’t work, but they do. (Side note, however: I read Eggers’ You Shall Know Our Velocity! and it put me off of his fiction. Did not enjoy. But the memoir/creative nonfiction? Love.)

*I think I had this reaction many times, despite the fact that after the baby unicorn breaks out of her house-mother, on the very next page the mother is magically (yes, literally magically) safely back in her unicorn form.


I’d been working on a response to the Hachette-Amazon thing, but that doesn’t seem appropriate now. So I will say:

If you’re struggling with depression, talk to someone. Go to an animal shelter and hug puppies and kittens. Talk to someone. Sit in the sunshine. Talk to someone. Read a  favorite book or watch a favorite movie. Read The Bloggess and Hyperbole and a Half. Talk to someone. Keep stretching toward the light. It’s there.

If you know someone who’s struggling with depression, don’t tell them to just cheer up; it’s not nearly so easy as that. Instead, listen. Sit with them in the darkness if need be. And help them keep stretching toward the light, because it’s there.

RIP, Robin Williams.



Those of you whose preteen and teen years were in the ’90s, like mine were, may remember this:

(source: http://gargoyles.wikia.com/wiki/Gargoyles_(TV_series) )

No? Well, how about this:

(source: http://www.fanpop.com/clubs/memorable-tv/images/36844291/title/gargoyles-photo)

Yes! It is Gargoyles, which aired from 1994 through 1997, and of which I was a devoted watcher. This, of course, was in the dark days of no DVR, and so I plunked myself down in front of the TV whenever the show was on and groused long and loudly, I am sure, if some hellish after-school activity prevented me from watching it.
The first season of the show aired nearly twenty years ago (sob I’m old sob) and so it seems fitting to present 3 things I learned because of or from Gargoyles.

  1. The name Desdemona means “ill-fated one.” (And yes, the character was Demona, not Desdemona, but I used that cool new-to-me thing called the Internet to research names and came across Desdemona and thought just HOW ACCURATE and TRUE that name was for poor, poor Demona, so incredibly loyal to the gargoyle race and unable to understand Goliath’s fondness for puny, cruel humans. So I decided that her name was Desdemona and she used “Demona” as a nickname, ’cause she was all like, “I’d rather be a demon than ill-fated, yo.” [And yes, Desdemona seems to originate with Othello but I was 12 and not yet up on my Shakespeare, OK?])
  2. Trans-species romances make for Romeo-and-Juliet-esque melodrama that preteen and young teenage girls will eat up! Goliath and Elisa 4EVA!*
  3. Mixing umpteen billion different mythologies into a single story-world is not in the least confusing for young adults on account of their shorter attention spans.†

*I am only now in hindsight realizing that this concept may help account for Twilight‘s popularity. One could certainly delve deeply into the trans-species romance narrative, including Beauty and the Beast.

†Seriously, this bothered me not at all with Gargoyles, but put me off of the later Hercules and Xena storylines, and I cannot. stand. it. in Once Upon a Time. I suppose I have become a story-curmudgeon.


My passive aggressive ankle

So last Thursday I twisted my right ankle. It’s not serious; I think it’s a mild sprain. I think this because, while I have always been able to walk on it (aside from the excruciating first minute or two immediately after twisting it), it nevertheless swelled up and turned red. The swelling is gone, now, but my ankle has been giving me some minor trouble ever since–which is to be expected of a sprain, since, according to the Mayo Clinic, I think it was, even mild sprains can take three to six weeks to heal completely.

By “minor trouble,” I mean that for the first few days, even aside from the generalized pain kept at bay with Advil, there was the sensation of a ligament on my ankle popping whenever I had to go up or down the stairs and an inability to rotate the joint more than, hmm 45 degrees or so without causing discomfort. Now, five days later (I’m writing this on Tuesday) I can go long stretches of time without it bothering me–as long as I don’t move. Once I move, there is usually some tightness or aching.

However, sometimes I get a twinge of pain that, if I were to anthropomorphize my ankle and give it the power of speech, I would say is the equivalent of the following: “Stop that right now or I will cripple you!” So of course I stop doing whatever it was that caused the pain, because having my mobility reduced even this much sucks and I want the duration of this to be as short as possible. My stopping whatever it was I was doing makes the pain ease, so it’s like my ankle is all, “Oh ha ha, you fell for that? I was just kidding!”  Therefore heartened, I recommence moving, which gives me a warning twinge, the equivalent of  which is “(But I’m really not kidding and srsly, I will cripple you if you keep doing that.)

I really, really, hope I am at the three-week end of the healing time-frame.

And if you think it’s odd that I would anthropomorphize a body part and give it motivations antithetical to my own ostensible best interests, you clearly do not know me.

I’m off to appease my passive aggressive ankle with sacrifices of sweet-smelling lotions and gentle rubbing.


I’m not dead

But I am headachy from exposure to the brightly burning orb in the sky. Go find some pictures of cats or dogs with which to entertain yourself. I will get you started.

Cats that forgot how to cat

Dogs that forgot how to dog