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Newsstand date for "Conditional Love"

Sunday September 27, 2009 @ 10:44 PM (UTC)

“Conditional Love,” my second story to appear in Asimov’s Science Fiction, is slated for the January 2010 issue. I now have a newsstand date, too: November 10, 2009. (Yes, the January issue hits stores in November. We subscribers get it even sooner. It gives a delicious illusion of time travel!)

If you’re worried that writing it on your calendar in giant red pen is insufficient, do watch this space. I promise I won’t let you forget about it.

Calyx reading a success

Sunday September 20, 2009 @ 01:24 PM (UTC)

I’ve been putting off this post ‘til I could include some photos, but I’ll just update it later on.

As previously mentioned, last week there was a group reading of contributors to CALYX 25:2. This was, I must confess, terribly exciting for me. I have had some previous reading experience: student readings at MFA residencies, the formal graduation reading, and one I ended up doing at Radcon at the instigation of one Jeannine. Those events were fun and extremely educational, but there’s something about reading your own work in a bookstore. It’s the sort of mark of progress that a person should record on her Fame-o-Meter (note to self: update Fame-o-Meter). A reading I was invited to do, where people could, if they wanted, buy work I hadn’t published myself.

The reading went swimmingly. We had three poets, including Helen Gerhardt Pucilowski, who’s about to graduate from the Pacific MFA program.The other prose writer was the inimitable Leslie What, who I first met in that program. Lovely words and moving readings. A lot of people came, some of whom I knew from Pacific, the Portland writing crowd, or the neighborhood. The staff at Annie Bloom’s (my neighborhood bookstore) had to try to find more chairs! Splendid to have so many people there, and so much support.

I really enjoy reading my work. There are some nerves, of course, but I rather enjoy those too. You’re not simply anxious because you’re performing or speaking publicly; you’re tense because there’s no more direct way to put your words before your readers. Short of forcing someone to read your story while you peer into their face from two feet away, you’re never going to get a simpler test of audience reaction (and I think the peering test might produce skewed results). They laugh or they don’t. They meet your eye when you look around or they don’t. I have long thought reading aloud a great way to find the weaknesses in one’s writing, and I read all my stories aloud at least once before they go out to an editor. But this doesn’t just force you to hear your own words, it allows you to see them work (or not) on others. Writing goes from the solitary art to the primal, communal play of storytelling. I loved trying out my story on the audience at Annie Bloom’s Books on Wednesday, and I hope it was only the first of many such auditions.

Thank you to everyone that came. If another reading is arranged, you’ll hear it here first!

The afterlife of Marilyn Monroe

Tuesday August 25, 2009 @ 02:25 PM (UTC)

I’ve been raised to see Marilyn Monroe as a tragic figure. Most of us realize that the full weight of society’s attention can be burdensome: how much more crushing when that attention is rife with expectation and need. No doubt this view of Monroe was imparted to me by my parents, who told me the studios assigned her a dress size for every role and expected her to lose or gain weight accordingly. It was strengthened by reading like Sharon Old’s “Death of Marilyn Monroe”, a poem I recall studying in high school.

Certainly her career brought her money and fame, but perhaps those who celebrate her as “an icon” don’t consider that icons are two-dimensional, and actresses are not. A world that no longer believed in Olympus still needed an Aphrodite, and Marilyn Monroe was elected, her mortal personhood gracefully elided.

So far, so obvious. But what troubles me is that forty years after she died, people still revere the Venus and give the person no consideration. I’m referring to the auction of a funeral vault above Monroe’s. There’s obviously magical thinking involved in the idea that having your remains interred next to the remains of someone famous confers anything at all, but the thinking isn’t just magical. It’s sexual. “The space was auctioned by the widow of the man buried – face down – above Monroe,” the BBC reports, and goes on to note, “The space next to Monroe’s vault was sold in 1992 to the publisher of Playboy magazine, Hugh Hefner, for $75,000.”

To me, Hefner’s burial plans seem the capstone on a project of bad taste. Richard Poncher’s being buried face down above Marilyn Monroe seems lewd in the extreme, and makes it inescapably clear that the motive is a sort of sexual status, harking back to ancient funereal practices where women were buried with men for their use in the afterlife. Marilyn Monroe, even 47 years dead, is considered the ultimate desirable woman. In death, she’s still reduced to her sex appeal, to her status as the divine temptress, and in death, unable to object, she is sold.

Now, I may be fairly accused of a different sort of magical thinking in objecting to this, and indeed of projecting my own understanding of tragedy and fame onto Marilyn Monroe just as others project the Venus archetype onto her. But ultimately, whatever you believe about the afterlife, how we treat the dead reflects upon us, the living. Do we want to be the sort of civilization that treats a supposedly loved and admired figure as the butt of an eternal dirty joke?

The Grey City XXI

Wednesday August 19, 2009 @ 02:00 PM (UTC)

The Grey City I
The Grey City II
The Grey City III
The Grey City IV
The Grey City V
The Grey City VI
The Grey City VII
The Grey City VIII
The Grey City IX
The Grey City X
The Grey City XI
The Grey City XII
The Grey City XIII
The Grey City XIV
The Grey City XV
The Grey City XVI
The Grey City XVII
The Grey City XVIII
The Grey City XIX
The Grey City XX

Eirian jumped up but even as she opened her mouth, she saw Carys lift her finger to her lips.

“What’s the matter?” cried Mouse. “Did somefink bite you?”

“No, I…thought I heard something,” Eirian covered. The boy was looking back and forth from Sly to her, his eyes skipping past Carys unseeing.

For her own part, Eirian gazed at her older sister. She looked herself — more herself, perhaps, than she’d been since they arrived in the City. There was pink in her cheeks, a violet tucked behind her ear. But the entire cheerful, colorful sight of her was only partly there, like the scenery painted on cheesecloth for village fêtes.

How the little girl ached to run away from Sly and Mouse, to hide in an alley or a doorway and talk with Carys. Could she touch her? Could she hold her? Through what magic had she returned from death? She licked her lips, and focused on Sly. “So, where is it you’re taking me, Sly? And what shall I do there?” she asked, both to gain time and to acquaint Carys with the position.

Sly scowled, still gruff after her emotional revelations. “To Knock’s, o’course, to make as proper a thief of you as may be.” She looked down at her rather outsized boots with a momentary return of softness. “‘Til you’re too big an’ are sent across to Ma’am Betty’s ’ore-ouse for to be a nance.”

Eirian saw Carys’s face slacken in disbelief, then gather into lines as the two Warrens children made ready to depart. Mouse took his silk handkerchief — his, as the legal owner was not in evidence — from Eirian’s hand and folded it carefully before replacing it in his satchel.

“C’mon!” he said. “We have such larks, we Knock’s boys!” and he started down the cobbles toward the heart of the Warrens.

Sly started to saunter after him, but Eirian lingered, hoping for a moment alone with her rediscovered Carys.

“No use dallyin’ or tryin’ to get away,” Sly said, turning. “You’re in the Warrens, an’ won’t never find nothing better.”

“Nothing better than being a thief and a — well, a thief’s bad enough!” Carys fumed.

“Sly, what do they do to thieves if they catch them? The Runners, I mean.” Eirian asked, speaking up.

“’Angs ’em, mostwise. Some cop it more special from time to time.”

“It could hardly be anything less,” said Carys with some venom, but her face was frightened. They turned into a wide street, originally dirt but now paved haphazard with stones and grates from other thoroughfares. A man walked by with a bushel of crowbars on his back like firewood, his coat chinking with other tools. On the corner, a woman on a stool was sewing a large pocket into the lining of a young man’s coat while he waited in his shirtsleeves.

“I was sorry to hear about your…sister.” Eirian continued, pausing to think. “What was your name before you joined Knock?”

Sly looked at her sidewise, but said, “Stephen.”

“It’s a nice name. What did your parents do?”

“Da were a clark, an’ Mam took in washin’. ‘Ere, what d’you want to know all this for?”

“I didn’t know I wasn’t allowed to have a conversation!” Eirian said with a bit of her usual spirit.

“Well, you can ‘old up your end then. What’d your family do out-Country?”

“It’s not all the same like that, you know. You City types say ‘Country’, but there are many places, all different. Our home’s very pretty. Hills of rock, and heather, and little creeks and falls.” She was silent for a moment, listening to the sound of a boy yelping in a falling-down house. “We raised sheep, little mountain sheep with curly horns hidden in their long wool. Carys and I—” she glanced over into Carys’s tender face — “we used to help with them. Mama carded the wool and Papa took it into market.”

Sly frowned. “Must be awful lots of room in Country. You can’t fit more’n a dog or a pig maybe in the best lodgin’s here.”

“Lots of room outside. Inside, there was only enough for a kitchen and hearth, a bed for us girls and one for Ma and Pa.”

She looked over at her sister once more, and saw she was biting her ethereal lip. She could not, as Eirian could, forget the present danger in recalling past joys.

Sly’s face was also troubled, and her long swaggering step slowed. “’Ere we are,” she breathed. “That’s Knock’s down there.”

Eirian saw that this street ended at a high, orderly wall, and the road widened into a cul-de-sac before it as if the way, dammed up, had collected in a pool. Across this space two buildings leered. They may have started life alike, two great half-timbered public houses that bulged over their ground stories like the bellies of two jolly fellows over their too-tight belts. But use had given the one house an air of suspicion and the other of promiscuity. Every shutter of Knock’s was closed tight, and the whole veiled with a uniform layer of dust. Ma’am Betty’s had every window thrown open and some spilling outward in rickety balconies, and the shutters painted in bright mismatched hues as if to emphasize their purely ornamental nature. No sign hung on either facade, but from the upper stories of Knock’s hung a clothesline of colorful handkerchiefs, while at Betty’s this festival flag role was supplied by assorted petticoats.

Sly paused at the mouth of this road, looking toward these familiar haunts. She seemed to struggle for a moment, then set her mouth as if biting the end off of something. “No ’elp for it, Bo-Peep,” she said, and started to make another cigarette.

Eirian almost thought she could feel the rage in Carys, like the queer pressure before a summer storm. “No help? From you, perhaps!” the gentle girl growled, and Sly looked sharply over her shoulder, the cigarette paper drooping in her fingers and scattering curls of tobacco.

Carys was becoming more solid before her sister’s eyes, her wrath and love and need to protect condensing in her until she was thicker than a fog coming in from the sea, more substantial than skimmed milk. She floated like an avenging angel over the filthy Warrens stones, and even Eirian shivered to see her.

Perhaps now Sly could see her too, for she stared a long time, and tears started down her cheeks unchecked. “I’m sorry,” she said at last to the apparition. “I’ll save ’er, if I can.”

Calyx 25:2 available for online order

Thursday August 06, 2009 @ 05:50 PM (UTC)

I’ve updated the main post below, but I thought it was worth a tiny post of its own: The Summer 2009 issue of CALYX: A Journal of Art and Literature by Women is now available for purchase on Calyx Press’s website using PayPal. If you can’t locate it at your friendly neighborhood independent bookstore, you can get it directly from your friendly Corvallis feminist press.

Writing tools: Flickr

Tuesday August 04, 2009 @ 05:30 PM (UTC)

My dear friend Jeannine Hall Gailey recently encouraged me to blog more about my writing process. I was dubious about this – I believe I said, “Thousands of people are working on a first novel. Why should anyone care that I am?” but I gave it some thought, and I came up with one aspect of my writing process that might be interesting.

I use Flickr as a writing tool a great deal. By no means am I the only author who has come up with this particular expedient: David Long has also enthused about it, for example. Flickr has millions (billions?) of public photos from all over the world, many of them tagged extensively. This combination of photos and folksonomy is invaluable.

You see, the world (and the web) is dripping with information, but much of it isn’t the kind of information a writer needs. Wikipedia, for example, is very general. I need specifics. Wikipedia may have vague or incomplete range information for an animal, when what I need to know is whether it lives in Southern Oregon. It may contain information on blights that affect a tree, when I want to know what range of colors its leaves turn in Autumn. As Flannery O’Connor says in Mystery and Manners, “It’s always necessary to remember that the fiction writer is much less immediately concerned with grand ideas and bristling emotions than he is with putting list slippers on clerks.”

One of the best ways I’ve found to locate the necessary list slippers is Flickr. For instance, my story “Conditional Love”, which will appear in the January 2010 issue of Asimov’s, takes place in near-future Cleveland. Now, I lived there for a few years (it was the past when I did, though, not the future) and have a fair idea of the place. But I wanted to double-check my notion of when the cherry trees bloom, so I searched Flickr for “cleveland cherry blossom” and perused the date stamps. It’s good to double-check by using photos from several different Flickr members, since date stamps can be off or show the upload rather than the capture date. Similarly, Flickr members may misidentify the tree or deer in their photos, so it’s good to make comparisons for certainty.

Another way I use Flickr is as photo reference. Even in fantasy stories, I like to firmly establish the geology and landscape. Sometimes I choose a real-world analogue – say, the Hebrides – and use photos of that place to inspire my descriptions of the rocks and waves, to anchor my thoughts. The same concept works for animals.

Finally, Flickr and Google Streetview can help you research buildings and streets in settings far away. My novel is set in a future Los Angeles, so I can take plenty of artistic license. But if I want to, I can find out exactly what’s there now. I know of non-spec-fic authors using Flickr to set novels in other countries, too. Building details and atmosphere are easy to pick up as long as there are lots of photos and lots of tags to make sense of them.

I’m very grateful for the opportunities the internet provides to me as a writer. I can still walk down to the local library and get a deep text on trees when I need to know the usual size of various species, but I can also quickly find out what a tree looks like, or whether a certain flower grows in a certain state. With careful searching, I can even figure out what name goes with a remembered image in my brain. Detail is what grounds a story and convinces the reader of the reality, immediacy of its world. It’s wonderful to have so many resources available when I go hunting for those list slippers, fallen leaves and cherry blossoms.

How to bake a peach

Thursday July 30, 2009 @ 10:11 PM (UTC)

I know, some of you will be wondering why you’d bake a peach, not how. There are a few reasons.

  1. You have Oral Allergy Syndrome like your hostess, and cannot eat fresh fruit.
  2. Like your hostess, you’ve been seeing good results from trying something new.
  3. Baked peaches are decadent and delicious.
  4. They may impress guests.

I first had baked peaches at a bed and breakfast as the fruit course of a three-course breakfast and was quite charmed. (what did I tell you? Decadent and impressive!) I didn’t procure a recipe because I thought it would be simple. This is true. On the other hand, you may ruin some perfectly good peaches through trial and error, so why not profit from my scorched and underdone peaches? Here is something very simple, outlined in exhaustive detail.

Baked peach
1 small peach, halved and pitted
1 tsp diced crystallized ginger

  • Preheat conventional oven to 380°, or convection oven to 350°.
  • Sprinkle diced ginger on inner faces of peach halves.
  • Place on cookie sheet and bake for 12 minutes.

Your peach should be firm enough that it doesn’t squish when you take a fork to it, but soft enough to easily cut. Makes a lovely breakfast item, or a light, healthy dessert.

Baked peaches


  • You can do this with nectarines as well. I like peaches, and find white peaches in particular are well suited to ginger.
  • Ideally your peach should be ripe, but not overripe — if it bruises when you squeeze it, try cooking it for less time. 10 minutes has worked for me.
  • If your peach is large, scale up the ginger and bake for 15 minutes.
  • If you’re cooking multiples, try using a muffin pan to keep the peaches from rolling and shedding their ginger.

Calyx 25:2 on shelves!

Tuesday July 28, 2009 @ 05:19 PM (UTC)

What what? The Summer 2009 issue of CALYX: A Journal of Art and Literature by Women is available! This issue contains my first published realism, a short story called “Ashes.”

How do I get it? CALYX is a well-distributed literary magazine, available at many independent and feminist bookstores. I’m told that city newsstands often carry it, and some B&N and Borders locations. Call ahead! (And leave a comment when you see it somewhere!) In Portland I have seen it on the shelves of Powell’s City of Books although neither their website nor their phone operators can confirm its presence. Annie Bloom’s Books, which is also hosting the reading in September, carries it.

I’m looking into whether you can buy it directly from Calyx Press, which might be a good online or order-by-phone option.

What am I looking for?

Summer 2009 Calyx cover, leaf green with an oil painting of a yellow slip

What am I getting? CALYX is a $10 semi-annual journal. This is Volume 25, number 2, the 33rd Anniversary Issue. It has a full-color insert of art from six artists working in various media, and over 100 pages of poetry, nonfiction, fiction and book reviews. This particular issue happens to contain the work of four current or past students of the Pacific University MFA in Writing program: poetry by Helen Pucilowski and Abby Murray, and nonfiction by Leslie What. Calyx comes recommended by lights like Ursula Le Guin and Barbara Kingsolver. How’s that for friends in high places?

Why am I running out madly to buy this? It’s true, I’m not the boss of you. However, my story contains 80’s-tacular touches such as wooly tights and a Gremlins lunchbox. And at least one of my friends says that while the story is realistic, it’s still a little weird. My sister says she enjoyed CALYX so much she thinks she’ll subscribe. With those recommendations, why wouldn’t you?

Update, 8/6/09: The Summer issue is now available for purchase on Calyx Press’s website!

July Pie

Sunday July 19, 2009 @ 12:32 AM (UTC)

I was told it was impossible. But I refused to listen. (And Ken Haedrich told me it was possible, and he has seldom led me astray, so I prefer to listen to him.)

Watermelon Chiffon Pie

Watermelon Pie. Take that, laws of physics.

Watermelon Chiffon Pie, July’s Homemade Pie of the Month is from Ken Haedrich’s Pie: 300 Tried-And-True Recipes for Delicious Homemade Pie. Graham cracker crust from the same source.

Calyx reading in September

Thursday July 16, 2009 @ 01:05 PM (UTC)

The semi-annual issue of CALYX: A Journal of Art and Literature by Women should be out later this week. As I may have mentioned, my realistic story “Ashes” will be published there.

Luckily for me, a large number of contributors to this issue are Portlanders, so CALYX arranged a reading at our very own Annie Bloom’s Books (if I can walk there from my house, it’s my very own). Five authors will be reading: I believe the ratio is two prose to three poetry. Two of the authors (plus me!) are graduates from or students in my MFA program, which is pretty nifty.

So, here’s all the info in case you want to write it a couple of months out on your calendar:
What: Calyx Summer 2009 Reading
When: Wednesday, September 16, 2009, 7:30 pm
Where: Annie Bloom’s Books, 7834 SW Capitol Hwy, Portland OR (Multnomah Village)
Who: Felicity Shoulders, Leslie What, Helen Puciloski, Lois Rosen, Mary Calvin

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