Archive for the 'In Real Life' Category

01
Jan
10

welcome to the future!

Well… technically it’s not the future until the end of 2010, what with that being the official end of the decade, but screw it. 2010 SOUNDS like the future! And while I am still somewhat miffed at the lack of flying cars and jet packs, I’m feeling pretty bright about the future. So bright, in fact, I’m making plans!

Rachel’s Plans for 2010:

1) Be an actual mom. This includes getting my baby home from the hospital and with me all the time, rather than just an hour a day in the NICU. This should happen very soon, he’s doing really well. I’m very excited!

2) Finish all books under contract. This should also happen very soon, in the next few months. Once I get all my books turned in, I will take a month off, for serious. It will be awesome. Then I’ll start in whole hog on promotion activities. For those keeping score, my books, The Spirit Thief, The Spirit Rebellion, and the Spirit Eater, should be out October, November, December 2010 from Orbit (they have an awesome website, by the way. Go check it out if you haven’t already. Our own Nora has a post up at the moment)!

3) Start a NEW SERIES! I’ve been working on Eli and company for 3 years now, and while I love them all dearly, variety is the spice of life. I’ve got 2 more books planned for the series, but we’ll have to see how the first three sell before those get underway. So, in the months of waiting between finishing all the manuscripts and the books actually hitting the shelves, I’m going to be pitching some new ideas to my agent to see if anything sticks. I probably won’t end up as busy as Diana (I think you suffer from a overflowing of blessing there, Diana), but it never hurts to have some extra casseroles in the oven. And I could certainly use a change of scenery.

So those are my big 3 plans, the ones around which everything else revolves. If I can pull those off, 2010 is going to be great.

So, what are you big plans for next year? Any big projects? Goals? Inquiring minds want to know!

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25
Dec
09

“I can not die before my book is published”

Well, what a week it’s been.

So, as some of you are only too aware, I was pregnant with my first child. Was. That’s a past tense as of December 20th when my son, Nathan, became much less of an abstract concept and I almost became much more of one. Rest assured, however, thanks to my awesome husband and the miracle of modern medicine I am not posting this from beyond the grave. Both Nate and I are fine (though Nathan is not a happy camper to be here quite this early, but he’ll get over it), and although I’m spending Christmas in the hospital, I’m alive, my kid’s alive, and that’s the best present I could ask for.

What happened was eclampsia, an extreme and sudden case. Saturday night I had a bad headache and nausea, but that’s not so unusual for third trimester, so I wasn’t really worried. I threw up and went to bed… and woke up the next morning in the hospital with my husband telling me the baby is fine and I’m like “baby? what are you talking about?” Turns out I’d had a seizure and woken my husband, who called 911 when he couldn’t wake me. Since the only cure for eclampsia is getting the baby out, I’d had an emergency C-section as soon as I arrived at the hospital.

As the nurse is explaining all this and my husband is hugging me (I have the best husband ever, guys), my brain is going a million miles a second with everything that could have happened. She finishes the story with something like “you’re so lucky to be alive” and my first thought, before anything else is “Of course, I could not die before my book is out.”

Now, I’m not saying my need to see my published book created a miracle. Honestly, I had very little to do with the saving of my own life that night. But I can’t help thinking that deep down, the idea that I had something to see, something I’d worked so hard for that I could not die before realizing, helped to pull me through. When I think about how close I came to not waking up that morning, my brain shuts down and I can’t even comprehend it. All I know is that, thanks to my husband and doctors, I made it through. And let me tell you something, I’m not going to waste their work. I have some awesome ideas for this book you’re not going to believe, and I can’t wait to get back to work and try my hand at this whole mommy-writer thing.

One thing’s for certain, though: at the risk of sounding like a gushing new mom, he was totally worth the hassle.

Happy holidays, everyone! Keep safe, keep writing, and keep what matters close at heart.

16
Dec
09

Tales from the Gray Cubicle

Warning: Probably some whining ahead.

I’m still trying to figure out this whole day job thing. I work 10-6 M-F in a cubicle job for a large financial company (hereafter referred to as ConHugeCo). It’s not a job that has any connection to my writing (unless I want to start a new branch of Financial Fantasy), and it’s a fairly reliable one. When asked about it, I usually say that it brings in the groceries and pays for insurance, and that’s about the extent of it.

Realistically, something that takes up that much of my time has to have more of an impact than that. And at times like these — when the revisions are just not coming together and the deadline is starting to loom — the tension between time spent writing and time spent earning money becomes a lot more worrying. And, of course, now is when we’re hitting the end-of-the-year crunch at ConHugeCo.

Over the summer, I’ve been lucky enough to swing some flextime, which made the difference when it came to getting Wild Hunt together (and certainly made a difference for this particular book). But that’s not possible at this time of year, so I’m suddenly balancing a lot more work on a lot less time. When the workload at ConHugeCo increases to the point of overtime for everyone, the writing takes on two new aspects. If, as now, I write before I go in to work, then no matter what else happens I’ve got that on my internal record of Worthwhile Things I’ve Done Today. (And after dealing with small frustrations all day, knowing that I’ve finished a chapter really does help.) However, it also means that by the end of the day, I don’t have much brain left.

In a purely intellectual sense, I know that the solution is to pick myself up and get the damn work done anyway, no matter how I feel. After all, I still have the mental space to work out plots and notes during the day (and over lunch, and when I have two free minutes plus a blank sheet of paper), so therefore the potential is there. But (and here’s where the whining really comes in) after a week or two of this, all I want to do is curl up somewhere and read popcorn fiction until I fall asleep in my chair.

Not only is this not the right response if I want to get any work done, it’s also a very spoiled response. I have a day job, after all, and one that has not done me irreparable harm; why am I balking at a little more work? The whole thing seems to be a matter of getting my mind right.

So for writers or artists or musicians out there who are juggling their work with a day job: how do you get your mind right? Is it all a matter of time management — writing during breaks or on your commute, finding time where there was none before? Is there a particular outlook or approach that helps you? I’d also like to know how stay-at-home parents manage to balance that and creative work, because goddamn that’s a job and a half. (From an outsider’s perspective, it seems the only thing that has any room to budge would be sleep.)  Is it all just a matter of not enough hours in the day?

25
Nov
09

Navel-gazing and turkey. Except turkeys don’t have navels.

At a mock-Thanksgiving dinner a couple of weeks ago, someone brought up how people in the city where he’d recently moved tend to introduce themselves based on their creative work, instead of their day jobs, as opposed to the other way around here in greater Boston.  I don’t know how much of this was just his impression or if it actually is widespread,  but it did get me thinking about how we construct identity.  It took me a very long time to be able to introduce myself first as a writer, even though I’ve thought of myself that way for years.

But with family, it’s different.  And with Thanksgiving coming up, it’s on my mind again.

For one thing, you’re not introducing yourself in most family situations; maybe Uncle Edith doesn’t really remember what it is you do for a living these days, but what you did at the reunion in ’94 has cemented your identity in his mind as “the one with the macaroni.”  And it’s really hard sometimes to ask the same people who saw you throw a tantrum over Lego bricks to take you seriously as a creative artist.

I don’t know if anyone else has this problem, but I get this weird defensiveness about my writing in family situations that is completely out of proportion to everything else.  It’s as if I feel I have to justify my work by bringing up the practicalities, the business side of things, rather than the more fun parts of it.  Even though I’m very lucky in that my family enthusiastically supports what I do, there’s still part of me that expects to be asked “so how is your real work?”  Call it my own insecurities poking through.

In the past few years I think I’ve mellowed a bit on this point, or at least have stopped automatically defending my work.  Some of it is probably because of the books, but I think more has to do with me accepting that yes, this is my real work.

I’ll be spending this Thanksgiving with my in-laws, which means I’ll probably miss the story about the gnomes (or whatever strangeness comes out of this year’s dinner).  But for all other writers and musicians and poets dreading family dinners, here’s to you and your real work.  Enjoy the turkey, even if the ham’s a little dry, and remember that no amount of questions over dinner can make your work more or less real.

—-

(Also, best thing about Thanksgiving?  Pie for breakfast on Friday.)

29
Oct
09

It’s never “just a story”.

Another quantum post! As you read this, I’m on a 9-hour trek across the country to World Fantasy Con. If you’ll be there or in the San Jose area, I’ll be reading from The Hundred Thousand Kingdoms on Saturday at 3 p.m. Come listen and say hello!

Two things I’ve seen this week triggered today’s post. The first was this news article, about a young woman recently found wandering and amnesiac here in New York city. She’d forgotten her name, how she got here, or what had happened to her. What she could remember, however, were lines from a fantasy novel by Robin Hobb. Now, the important and tragic part of this story is that this young woman has probably been through some major physical or psychological (or both) trauma; I don’t want to gloss over that. She’s been identified, and is hopefully now being treated. But the part that caught my attention, given my professions — not just fantasy writer, but psychologist — was that she remembered the Hobb book. She also remembered that she herself is a fantasy writer, working on a novel; she can apparently remember what her story is about, too. So hold those thoughts for a minute.

The other thing that triggered today’s post was seeing a video featuring Nigerian author (and MacArthur “Genius” Grant award winner) Chimamanda Adichie, in which she talks about the dangers of a single story. Watch it for yourself:

My favorite part is the anecdote she starts about about the 10:55 mark:

“I recently spoke at a university where a student told me that it was such a shame that Nigerian men were physical abusers like the father character in my novel. I told him that I had just read a novel called American Psycho, and it was such a shame that young Americans were serial murderers.”

Adichie says it herself: stories matter. Not only because too few stories can create stereotypes or incomplete understandings of the world, but also because all stories lodge in our minds so powerfully, influencing our thinking at such a deep and often subconscious level, that even when our identities are stripped away, the stories remain. In fact, there are psychological theories which posit that human consciousness is nothing but stories — that aside from our most simplistic instincts, all of our ability to reason consists of chains of interlinking narratives, from the simplest to the most complex, that we form and associate in order to understand the world.

I think of things like this whenever I hear people dismiss fantasy, and fiction in general (but especially genre fiction), as “just a story.” This seems to happen frequently in any serious conversation which attempts to deconstruct the stories we tell — like in this conversation that’s taking place in the romance end of the genresphere, about race and cultural appropriation. A number of respondents in the comment thread seem upset at being asked to think about real-world issues because they just want a story to enjoy — by which they seem to mean the same kinds of stories they’ve always read, however singular and incomplete those are. But how much more enjoyable might those stories be if they were made more complete? How many fresh, complex, new stories might appear if there were more tellers, different tellers, and if the old incomplete stories were retired instead of rehashed?

Think about it: if the world’s six billion people knew of Americans only through that Bret Easton Ellis novel, what would they think of us? What if the world only expected Ellis-ish stories from American authors, and refused to publish anything different on the assumption that stories about non-murderous Americans were somehow “inauthentic”? What if the authors of other nations, when they deigned to include Americans in their fiction, only wrote of Americans as narcissistic serial killers? What if the readers in those other nations got upset whenever Americans asked for more and varied representations of themselves? And worse, what if the governments of other nations started building their policies around such stories, requiring that all Americans be frisked and held for psychiatric observation on entering the country?

Would American Psycho be “just a story” then? Could any story written by or about Americans be “just a story”, in that climate?

So I don’t buy the idea that what we’re doing, as writers and as readers, is “just a story”. The stories I write have a powerful impact on the consciousness of every person who reads them, whether I intend to have that effect or not. The stories I read have a powerful impact on my own consciousness — and subconsciousness, whether I’m aware of that impact or not. It seems disingenuous at best, irresponsible at worst, to pretend that neither of these facts are true.

Here’s an idea: just imagine yourself as that young amnesiac woman. Ask yourself: what stories would be foremost in your mind, helping to shape your remaining identity? Because there would be some stories left in you. There always are.

22
Oct
09

A Brief Dip into Politics: Health Care

Apologies to those who saw a related post about this on another blog, or an older one on my blog; I just feel strongly enough about this to reiterate. I’m going to pause the examination of fantasy and writing and whatnot to talk for a moment about health care reform.

It’s directly relevant to the lives of working writers, if you’re wondering how this is on topic. Fulltime writers in America, or even those who work part-time or freelance, struggle as much as any artists to find affordable health insurance (something I’ve alluded to here before). There are any number of writers’ grants and loan programs, including the Science Fiction Writers of America’s Emergency Medical Fund, that are designed specifically to help ailing writers pay for unexpected medical bills. Why do you think such funds exist? Because so many American writers, even bestselling ones, are uninsured or underinsured.

Let me tell you a story. I’m in my thirties, generally very healthy, responsible. I’ve got health insurance, for which I’ve been paying about $300-$350/month through the Freelancers’ Union. Expensive, but bearable. Better than nothing. It’s provided by Blue Cross and Blue Shield. Anyway, I’ve got a family history of fibroids (Mom had a hysterectomy at about my age, though that was back in the Dark Ages), and some warning signs have appeared, so my doctor has recommended that I check annually to see if I’ve got them too. This usually means a sonogram (ultrasound), which I’ve now had for the past three years. No biggie. Last year I didn’t have any fibroids, and this year I’ve got small ones. Again, no biggie — nothing I need to do anything about, really. But if I do decide to do something about them, they’re easy to take care of with hormone therapy or something non-invasive, since I’ve caught them early.

This year, however, there was a big biggie — the insurance company refused to pay for the sonogram. Claimed the fibroids were a preexisting condition, despite me not having any on my last (less than a year ago) sonogram. Obviously it wasn’t a preexisting condition, but here was the problem: many health insurance companies routinely consider any significant health condition reported during the first 12-18 months of a new policy to be a preexisting condition. “Significant” means anything worse than a head cold, basically. So because I switched to new insurance when I quit my job to write books, and even though I’ve paid my premiums for almost a year, I’m not really covered. So now I have to pay $3000 for the ultrasound meant to keep me from enduring major surgery and years of possible followup complications. Meant to keep me healthy, really.

Which plunks me solidly amid the 25 million Americans who are underinsured — i.e., people who are paying through the nose for insurance, but are still up a creek if they get sick. If my fibroids become a problem — or hell, if anything goes wrong with my body in the next few months, until I’m out of this preexisting period — I’ll probably be on my own for treatment, which will land me in another statistical category: 80% of bankruptcies due to medical bills are filed by people who have insurance.

I’m fighting this, of course, so hopefully I can make them see reason. (Insert cynical laugh here.) But more importantly, I’m doing whatever I can to fight for decent health care in this country. In my opinion that means single-payer — but I’d be willing to put up with a public option too, so long as it’s not so watered-down as to be useless.

I don’t know you guys’ politics, and don’t really care. I can’t speak for the other Magic District dwellers; this is just me saying this. But I’m urging all of you who do care about health insurance reform to take action. Please, consider writing to your congressional representative in the House or Senate. Do this especially if you live in one of the states/districts whose Democratic politicians are opposed to health care reform, because politicians listen to their own constitutents more than they do people from elsewhere, and these guys are the main obstacle to fixing the system. Send the letter via snail mail for extra impact. And consider joining an organization that’s fighting for reform, like these guys.

Because — as many of you know firsthand — it’s awfully hard to dream up entertaining imaginary worlds when you’re worried about physical and financial survival right here in the real one.

02
Oct
09

Side-by-sidelines: Writing Income

Wow, Nora is either a mind reader or New York is in a bubble in the future, because her (excellent) Sidelines post covers something I was mulling over last night. Namely, is writer income really that unstable?

I’m sure there are plenty of writers who live advance to advance, just as there are plenty of people who live paycheck to paycheck. Both of these are unstable, but everyone’s situation is different. However, if you’re lucky enough to be able to build an emergency fund and save money most months, then I put forward that writing money is actually more stable than a salary.

It took me a while to come around to this way of thinking. When I first decided to quit my day job to do my writing full time I was distraught and worried about leaving what I saw as stable income for the wild and woolly world of advance checks and (maybe, hopefully, if-wishes-were-wings) royalties. I’ve always worked, and while writing is definitely still working, it didn’t FEEL like work when it was all I was doing. Needless to say, my first few weeks were a blur of trying to meet impossible word goals and keep the house spotless. (All I did was learn that moving to writing full time doesn’t necessarily mean you can double your output. I’m sure this isn’t true for all writers, but, for me, more hours does not necessarily equal more words.) I also worried constantly about not bringing in regular money. Sure I had book money, but getting checks and putting them in the bank (especially when you have to save an unknown amount for taxes) is nothing like getting regular monthly deposits. The lack of a monthly cash dump in my bank account made me feel constantly broke, almost enough to send me panicking back to work. Then my husband brought up the following:

He considers my book money to be the more stable of our two incomes. The reason is thus: if you’re making a living off your books, the money comes in in lumps. If you work for a salary, you get paid monthly. Now, say the unthinkable happens and (for whatever reason) both my and my husband’s income streams stopped cold. I would still have a lump payment, and while I’d lose future money, for the moment, nothing would change for me. My husband, however, would see his income vanish instantly with instant ramifications. Of course this disaster would still be disastrous, but because of the lumpy nature of writing income, we’d actually be in a better position than if I’d been also working for a salary.

Everyone’s situation is different, but by and large the hairy nature of writing for money simply strips away the illusion of security in most jobs. Jobs are no better than anything else in the world, every one of them is just a series of unfortunate events away from vanishing.  While writers don’t have any more control over their future than anyone else, lumpy income streams at least allow you to plan your path (i.e., you have a few months of paid warning to decide if it’s time to start begging the dayjob to take you back). Compare that to a surprise layoff and you see what I mean.

I’m not saying the writing life isn’t stressful and a bit like walking a tightrope over a flaming pit at times, but, like any income, with planning and luck it doesn’t have to be volatile. The lumpy nature of book writing income actually lends itself to saving, planning, and stability. Sure, my book could tank, my publisher could go under, and my name could be mud for the rest of my life, but I could also get fired from a job without warning, the company could go bankrupt, or my skill set could be rendered useless by an advance in technology. What I’m saying is there’s no escaping possible disaster no matter where you set up shop, but at least with writing I have my (modest) lump of of a few month’s income from which to plan my next move, and that feels pretty stable, and pretty good.