The Home Front

We renewed our lease for another year, rather than go through the hassle of a move.

We’re still in a studio apartment, but we’ve decided to make more use of the common areas – the kitchen, the lobby lounge, the first floor patio and the roof garden – if we have company. With that, this past Thursday and Friday we got rid of the full-sized sofa and shuffled the remaining furniture; moved the computers into what had been the bedroom and is now the office, and brought the bedroom into what had been the living room and computer alcove.

We’ve also made the decision to get rid of things we haven’t touched in two years. The place already is roomier and more comfortable, with more space to come. We both are feeling tired but liberated. A great way, we think, to begin the new year. Have a happy and blessed 2017 everyone and keep up the good fight!

And Meanwhile ..

Eight weeks since I last posted here, and it’s been a rough two months.

The last two weeks of February found me in a rising panic – topped by two urgent care visits – as I found it more and more difficult to draw a breath of air. Finally landed in the hospital for three days – February 28, 29 and March 1-where I was diagnosed with pneumonia.

I’ve been home six weeks and tethered to an oxygen tube  for most of that time, particularly at night while I sleep. I am feeling much improved and able to move around without the extra oxygen for longer and longer spells, as long as I’m not under stress.

I did well untethered the first of April, when we drove up to Skagit County for the first day of the tulip festival, so we got tickets for the Mariners home opener – one of our favorite things to do. I only made it to the fourth inning before I was panting and shivering, even though it was a pleasant night. The pressure of being in a stadium at maximum capacity (47,000+) added to my rising panic, I suppose.

Rachael was gracious enough to take me home (she loves me, it seems, more than she loves the Mariners, and she does love the game). I had an oxygen tank in the car, so I was feeling better by the time we got home.

No more outings for a time, it seems.

Even worse, being ill has left me without the energy to write. Two months and I haven’t done a thing but sit and stare at the monitor.  Some improvement there, though. I wrote this post today and last night I managed to add two hundred words to Still and Always Incandescent, a post-apocalyptic tale involving the Geezers of Fury, a septuagenarian motorcycle club. Hopefully, I’ll have more to tell about that project soon.

A New Short Story

Spent time at the West Seattle Starbucks yesterday afternoon, co-writing with Cat Rambo.

It’s not my usual thing. Not that I mind the hubbub after working in a newsroom all those years; but I usually write in private because I like to wave my hands and mutter over plot points and try dialog out loud.

Even so, I got in 1,000 good words yesterday on High Mileage; Well Maintained, Only Driven Weekdays, a new time travel short. I’ve been too busy putting the finishing touches on Shadowman to have time to work on other things, so it felt good to stretch my short-story legs again.

Anyway, thank you, Cat, for joining me. Your company is always welcome.

For those of you who are  interested, here’s a taste of the new WIP:

Twenty years since I swore I would never return to Florida, and there I was; headed north on A1A in search of a used car lot my dear and dead friend, Alex, had promised me was there.

I found the place just past the Melbourne bridge. Two air dancers anchored the front corners of the lot. Plastic arms spread wide in welcome, the two-story, lime-green tubes swayed and twisted in the easy ocean breeze. The lot was paved in bone-white crushed coral. A crackling line of faded multi-colored pennants fluttered on cable strung from the light poles along the highway. And an unlit neon sign across the face of the tired concrete-block building made an unpretentious promise: Used Cars.

I lived in Melbourne when I worked the NASA rockets, so I must have driven by the lot almost every day, but I didn’t recall ever noticing, even though it looked like it had been there near on to forever.

I found out later it had been there sixty years.

Snapshots from A Black Hole & Other Oddities

This has been a week of firsts for me.  Completion of my first novel deal, for Lifting Up Veronica, and now I’m pleased to announce that my first collection of short stories, Snapshots from A Black Hole & Other Oddities, will be published in November by Tod McCoy’s Hydra House Books.

The book features twenty four stories, eighteen previously published and six brand new tales.

The inimitable Cat Rambo is editor, and the book features a kick-ass cover by Seattle artist Christopher Sumption. Plans are for a launch at Orycon November 11, 2011, in Portland. Hope to see you there.

Norwescon Weekend

I had a swell time this past weekend at Norwescon 34, the Pacific Northwest premier science fiction and fantasy convention. Here are the highlights:

7:00 a.m. PST. Saturday. Headed back to Norwescon soon for a 9:00 a.m. workshop. What a crazy, fantastic day Friday. Sat four panels that played to full rooms. Solicited stories for 10Flash from John Pitts, Ken Scholes and Michael Ehart. Had a grand conversation with my good friend, Jordan Lapp, about all and sundry. Worked hard and partied hard. Amen and Hallelujah.

Another great day at Norwescon. A 9:00 a.m. Fairwood Writers critique group for a most receptive writer. Scattered pithy chats with friends. Jordan Lapp. The Odells. Tod McCoy. Dale Ivan Smith. Janna Silverstein. Camille Alexa. Mike and Sheila Alexander. Jude-Marie Green. Cat Rambo. SO many others. A fun flash fiction panel with Jordan, Cat, and Caren Gussoff. Bless them each and every one.

A last tidbit from Norwescon. Friday night, I learned something of the depths to which a magazine editor can fall. I enticed the promise of a story to 10Flash from Ken Scholes – by offering money and a bar chair I didn’t own. The shame. Also got promises of submissions from John Pitts, Camille Alexa and Michael Ehart. No chairs involved in those deals.

In addition, I discovered why writers I follow on blogs and at Facebook talk about “secret projects”. I’m now involved in two such projects of my own. Can’t share the details yet, but both are so exciting I have to make some sort of announcement. More later.

Finally, there’s a long list of people I wanted to spend time with and wasn’t able to arrange connections.  Janet Freeman-Daily.  Mary Rosenblum.. Fred and Johanna McLain. Kevin Shamel. Jeremy Zimmerman.  Marta Murvosh.  So many others, friends I didn’t see or only saw in passing.  Mea culpa.  Next time, huh?

Just a Pleasant Valley Sunday

I died Sunday.

That’s what everybody tells me, although I don’t remember much of it.  Rachael and I were standing in the ticket line at SouthCentre AMC, waiting to buy tickets to the new Harry Potter movie, when I collapsed.

Rachael is trained as a first responder.  She checked me for a pulse (she says) and when she found none, she started CPR and called 911.  Five minutes later, two police officers arrived with a portable defibrilator, known as an AED.

Next thing I knew, I was in cardiac intensive care at Valley Medical Center.

I’m still in the hospital.  I’ve been down-graded to a general care room, from CCU. The doctors aren’t sure what happened. I didn’t have a heart attack, no damage to my heart. For some reason Sunday, my heart just stopped for five minutes, then restarted thanks to Rachael’s quick action and that AED.

Waiting to find out what I have to do before I can go home.  I’m hospital bored, my ribs are sore and it hurts like hell to move, to cough and sometimes just to breath.

But I’m alive.

Clarion West — Week Five

Sorry for fading away for the past three weeks.

It’s been a whirlwind.  Since day one of Clarion West, I’ve written nine stories (almost 40,000 words), read and critiqued ninety stories (closing in on half-a-million words), attended four fan parties and the Locus Awards and been to the emergency room twice (it was for food allergies and after the second trip I was covered with hives for five days, Fun and games.).

I’ve had to learn to live with seventeen strangers, aged 21 to 60, of both genders.  I’ve come to like most of them, formed what I hope will be lasting friendships with two or three, and I’ve probably pissed off all of them at one time or another over thirty-five days (Rachael will tell you I’m not always easy to get along with).  I know I’ve been pissed off myself from time to time.

All in all, though, I find the bunch of them funny, intelligent and interesting to talk with, not to mention incredibly gifted writers. Some of the stories I’ve read have moved me to tears, made me laugh and blown my mind.  They’re not my stories, so I can’t tell you about them, but I suspect you’ll have a chance to read some of them — in print — before too long.

It’s been a singular experience and there’s still a week to go. Ian McDonald is here for last week. We met him last night; he’s a bright and funny man (with a lovely Irish accent). He’s going to talk to us this week about world-building and writing other cultures and pitching stories and who knows what all.

Seventeen more stories to read and critique. One more party to attend. Then it will be over and we haven’t even had a chance to play Thing.

More when I can.

Clarion West – Day 10

Half way through the second week.

Maureen McHugh is the instructor this week and it’s been an interesting time.  As a person, she’s laid back and friendly, very approachable, but as an instructor she intense and analytical.  It’s obvious that she cares (and thinks) a lot about what goes into a story.

One of the things she said this morning, while critiquing a story by one of the other writers, is that when she reads a story, she wants to feel that the author is totally in control of what is going on, that every element of the narrative is there for a purpose, that the author intended it to exist.

Her own writing reflects this intensity.  It’s exhilarating to think about but it’s also sort of scary.  I know I still stumble through a good part of my own stories.  Even so, my first submission, Stop Me If You’ve Heard This One, got generally good critiques.  It starts out as a police procedural and along the way turns into a first contact story.  Everyone, including Maureen, seemed to understand and accept the underlying humor, and she opined that I’d succeeded in making the two aliens genuinely alien, even though the nature and presentation of their conversation is essentially human.

The group is coming together nicely.  Critiques have been insightful and honest, without being tactless and insulting.  Everyone is submitting excellent first drafts.  Several of the stories we’ve seen so far are close to being ready for submission to publications.

Apart from writing and critiquing, we’re having a good time together, which is a significant part of the process.  It’s been suggested to us several times by different people that friendships and professional relationships that we develop here will stay with us throughout our careers.

I can see the bonds forming.  We just had our second Wednesday night hour-long “tea party” and tomorrow night, after story submission deadline, most or all of us are going for cocktails with Maureen.  Three of the women got Clarion West tattoos today.  They look so great that others of us — myself including — are planning to head to the tattoo shop tomorrow.  If I don’t chicken out, I’ll post a picture of mine on Sunday.

More later.

Clarion West – Week 1

The past seven days have been a whirlwind.

I’ll begin with a paean to the program administrators, Leslie and Neile (the E on the end is silent, BTW).

What super people these two women are. Both give unstintingly of their time, advice and emotional comfort. They deserve medals for what they bring to Clarion West.

And my hat is off to Michael Bishop, our instructor for week one. Mike is a patient, thoughtful teacher who used Socratic method to bring out the best in each of us. And he’s a funny, friendly man, as well.

In five days, we wrote five stories — all under 1,000 words. I’ve already described the first three in Wednesday’s post — a quest, a science fiction love story and a prose poem using Jim Simmerman’s Twenty Little Poetry Projects.

I liked the results of that one — Time Travel, Considered as Stream of Consciousness, so I did a bit of polishing Friday afternoon and sent it off to Jake Frevald at Flash Fiction Online. We’ll see.

The fourth and fifth assignments were: 4) a first-contact story, using three different points of view, and 5) a story with at least two characters, involving dialog and illustrating a proverb.

I’ve expanded #4, the first-contact story, as my week-two story for Maureen McHugh. It’s titled Stop Me If You’ve Heard This One. It’s a 2,000-word SF murder mystery featuring Seattle PD detectives John Osbourne and D.D. Gayle.

Oz and D.D. have appeared before in one of my stories, an unpublished piece titled Against the Grain. Oz is older, close to retirement, and D.D. is a hard-charging newcomer.  They’re bit players in this one, but I like the dynamic between them and I hope to see more of them in other stories.

Stop Me If You’ve Heard This One offers the timeless bit of dialog, “So this alien walks into a bar …” It’s presented tongue-in-cheek. Those of you who’ve read some of my stuff are probably saying “What else is new?”

I wrote it in six hours Thursday afternoon and evening. I had such a nice little piece of horror prepared , Kindred Souls; 4,200 words that I’d been compiling a bit each day all week.

But when my muse kicks me in the shins, I have to respond. If I argue too much, she goes away and sulks.

Stop Me If You’ve Heard This One is set for critique Monday (06/28). It’s definitely first draft; covered in warts and typos, not the sort of thing I’m comfortable showing to other people, but that’s what we’re supposed to be presenting.

In any case, I had to submit it Thursday night by 9:00 p.m., so there wasn’t a lot of time for rewrite. I’ll let you know Wednesday how that goes.

Friday night and all day Saturday were devoted to celebration.

The entire class attended a reading by Connie Willis (Blackout) and Greg Frost (Shadow Bridge) Friday night at the University of Washington Book Store.

The two of them put on quite a show. They read to a packed house from recent work, answered questions and did a sweet bit of partnered comedy schtick that had everybody giggling. Among other things, Connie declared her undying infatuation for actor George Maharis and Greg channeled Yosemite Sam to read from Beowulf.

After that, the traditional end-of-week party was held at a downtown condo (no names or addresses, please) and it was a big success.

The eighteen of us were on display, of course, and had a chance to schmooze
with published SF authors, Clarion West alumni and fans.

I enthused with Greg Frost about a mutual fascination — Donald Westlake’s Dortmunder stories. I discovered that Maureen McHugh and I are both from Ohio and are glad to be from Ohio.

And I spent some time saying goodbye to Kij Johnson (Spar) who is headed east next week to teach novel writing at Jim Gunn’s SF Writers Workshop, to traipse around the country for a bit, and to eventually resettle far away to pursue further education. Good luck and God speed, Kij.

I also chatted with Greg Bear (Mariposa), Nancy Kress (Steal Across the Sky), Jack Skillingstead (Harbinger), Nisi Shawl (Filter House), and a ton of other folks I should remember but am just too tired at the moment to recall all the names.

Thanks to all of you for being so gracious and entertaining.

Saturday, the entire class trekked to the downtown Seattle Courtyard Marriott for the Locus Awards ceremony and luncheon that was part of the Science Fiction Awards weekend.

The day began with two panels — one on author research and the other on mistakes new authors often make. Ursula K. LeGuin sat in on the first. She’s eighty years old, vital and funny, and still active as an author (her essays, Cheek by Jowl, won one of the 2010 Locus awards). She gives me hope.

I also shared lunch (and conversation) with Nisi Shawl and had a chance to chat with Ken Scholes (Canticle) and John A. Pitts (Black Blade Blues), two of my favorite new SF authors.

All in all, a great day and a fantastic week.

Maureen is scheduled to meet with us this afternoon to outline the coming week. More later.

Clarion West — Day 3

0630 Wednesday morning and I just crawled out of bed.  It’s the beginning of our third day at the Clarion West workshop and all is well so far.

This thing is everything that people say it is — exciting, intimidating and so much fun. Michael Bishop is the kick-off instructor and he’s been fantastic.  He uses a Socratic style of teaching, asking directed questions, expecting lots of participation and the class has been responding well.  He started with a three-hour session Sunday night, sending us off at the end with an assignment — write a story — under 1,000 words — that involves a quest and focuses on one character.

It was due in twelve hours.  That was a scramble, for everyone, I think.  Particularly for me.  I’d put in a full day on Saturday on zero sleep — ferrying folks to the Clarion West house — and then I slept a couple hours before going to work at midnight to finish out my week.  I got back to CW house, got my things moved in just before the Sunday afternoon session started.

I finished first draft of a story — a upbeat love story — and was in bed by midnight.  “Piece of cake,” I figured.  Then my muse smacked me awake at 0300 with another idea — a contemporary fantasy that wound up as Into the Fading Light.  I finished it in four hours, just in time to send it off for printing, and stumbled through the rest of the day on three hours sleep.

There was another assignment Monday — for Tuesday’s consideration — a science fiction love story that involves only the emotions of love, not the physicality. Four pages or less, thank you very much.  That became Galatea, for me.  Another assignment for today then, two of them, actually — do either one or both.  800 words of sensory description that brings a setting to life and a speculative fiction story, under 800 words, developed using Jim Simmerman’s Twenty Little Poetry Projects template.

Twenty Little Projects gave me Time Travel, Considered as Stream of Consciousness.  One of the things I’d hoped to bring away from CW was the ability to write less conventional stories.   That’s what this one is, I think — a bit screwball comedy, in fact — and I’m pleased with the result. We’ll see how it’s received today.

I’ve also been working on my week-two story submission — a bit of contemporary fantasy/horror piece with a working title of Kindred Souls.  That’s got to be submitted by 2100 Thursday night and I’m done with first draft.  It runs just under 5,000 words (I’d like to cut 10 or 15 percent of that away as I rewrite) and it’s a cautionary tale about aging.  I like the main character, a self-described one-time tomboy named Dorothea.  We’ll see.

In summary, the first three days have been packed full of work and new ideas.  I like the other folks (several are close to my age, one of my concerns), Michael Bishop is a treat (he critiqued our submission stories for us, way over and above. Thank you so much, Mike. You’re the best.) and the work and company is stimulating.  Oh, and I’m catching up a bit on sleep.  Got six hours last night.  More on Sunday morning.