language of nature

LABYRINTHIAN: why I stopped giving fucks and started writing porn again (blog cross-post)


My first paid sale ever was in 2009, a piece of flash erotica to Circlet Press for $5. It was a revelation: I could write stuff and people would pay me. More, I could write smut - something I enjoyed (and enjoy) doing and had been doing for years as part of the fanfic I was producing - and people would pay me. Everything that's happened since - the novels, the short story sales, the best-ofs and joining SFWA and getting drunk at cons - is probably due to that one little $5 bit of porn.

(It's been collected in a Circlet microfiction anthology, which will be out soon, so watch for that).

So for a while after that pretty much everything I wrote and sold was erotica, specifically erotica with a speculative element. Usually I was publishing through Circlet's (fantastic) themed anthologies. My first non-erotic short fiction publication was months later, in January 2010, and it was to a little non-paying zine called The Absent Willow Review, which has since folded. In the fall of 2009 I and my co-author Lisa began the massive undertaking that would eventually become Line and Orbit, which is very solidly in space opera/science fantasy territory, so it wasn't all porn. But that was a lot of it, and for a long time after, even once I branched out a bit, it remained the backbone of my writing.

Then I drifted away from it. There were a number of reasons for that, mostly to do with ambition. I beheld the big name SFWA-qualifying zines and I wanted to crack them more than anything, so I battered at them with my stories until, one by one, I broke through. I continued to write erotica here and there - especially when friends put out calls for specific projects - but for the most part my energy was going elsewhere.

But I honestly think there was something else going on, and that thing was a subtle sense that if I wanted to make a career in this genre, erotica wasn't the "right kind" of writing for me to be doing.

Never mind that some of the best stuff I've ever read has had loads of sex in it. Never mind that I'm pretty damn good at it. Never mind that I owe it a huge amount - writing about sex taught me to write about people, about emotion, about the intensity and even the violence of intimacy. It taught me to write about ecstasy and transformation, and therefore ultimately taught me to write about death, which is something I keep returning to in my stuff.

Erotica gets a bad rap. I think some of it is that there's a huge amount of it and it's very commercial, which (somewhat correctly, in my opinion) leads one to the belief that a lot of it isn't very good. But that's true of almost any commercial writing. But I think some of it is that it's often if not usually people who identify as women writing, buying, and reading it, and that's obviously a point worth a degree of attention.

I think I came to believe that I shouldn't spend my time on porn. That I shouldn't put it in my short fiction (though thankfully I didn't completely buy into that) and I shouldn't put it in my novels. Not if I wanted to be taken seriously. Which I do.

Then I had a rough fucking couple of years.

I took and passed my PhD qualifying exams, which a few months later led to an emotional and mental crisis point that kicked me back into therapy and back on a fun array of medications. I wrote and defended a dissertation proposal which led, through the course of the next year, into months and months of anxiety and internal conflict regarding my advising situation and my relationship with my department. I began to question whether I wanted to work in academia, whether I wanted to finish my dissertation, whether I wanted to do any of this at all. In the middle of it I began a trilogy of fantasy novels (Casting the Bones) that's been both rewarding and exhausting to write, in part because it's been an arena for the exorcism of some demons. I was also dealing with some very painful and frustrating business surrounding the (still homeless) Line and Orbit sequel, and I wrote and then rewrote another book which I ultimately had to give up and shelve.

And then, last fall, I just fucking had it. I was a thousand percent done. I threw up my hands, dug into the bottom of my Idea Sack, and wrote Labyrinthian in about a month.

I wanted to write something fun. Something silly and pulpy. Something wherein I abandoned the idea of Being Taken Seriously, where I allowed myself to get tropey as all hell, wherein I could play. And particularly, I wanted to write something with a lot of sex. Part of this was because books with lots of sex often sell decently and I happen to like money, but it was also because I like writing sex and goddammit, I'm GOOD AT IT. And I had no more fucks to give. My box of fucks was empty. The field in which I grow my fucks? You know the state it was in.

Labyrinthian is about a lot more than sex. It's the story of two broken people learning how to be together physically and emotionally, but it's also a story about trying to go home when you've lost all certainty of what home even is, and about trying to find family and simultaneously to find independence from the same. It's about confronting death gracefully and about trying to discover meaning in life when your life is about to be cut short. It's about rage and letting rage go, and all of these are things with which I wrestle every day.

But there's also a lotta porn in it, boy howdy.

I've done a lot of talking in 2014 about how I'm trying to write about the stuff that scares me, the stuff I'm not sure I should be writing about at all. I've made it my mission to take anger and fear and ugliness and make something beautiful out of it, for myself more than for anyone else. So here's what I want to do in 2015. Here's my Writer Resolution, such as it is.

I'm going to write about whatever I fucking want.


(and here are preorder links for Labyrinthian if that's something you're into.)

This entry was originally posted (with comment count unavailable comments) at my Dreamwidth.
language of nature

(no subject)

Dear lovely Yuletide Santa:

First I have to apologize for the delay in this letter - Life got crazy but also I'm a loser. Please forgive.

Now, as to my requests. In general: I want you to do what you want to do, because without fail I feel like that's where the best stuff comes from. I love to be surprised. I love unexpected twists on ideas, tropes, the familiar. I love stories that are subversive in some way, especially ones that directly subvert the source material. I love despair and dying worlds, contemplation in the face of cruel fate, defiant love, the ridiculous. I love absurdity. I love it when things just completely embrace how essentially fucked up they are.

I have no real triggers you should be aware of, aside from animal abuse. I don't tend to like cruelty for cruelty's sake, but I have no particular boundaries regarding violence. Or sex.

A little more detail:

Bioshock Infinite - I'm really open to whatever you want to do here. The world provides huge scope for play. I'd slightly prefer Booker and Elizabeth as primary characters, but you could have one or the other in isolation, and/or you can bring in whoever the hell you want (I don't feel like Daisy Fitzroy gets enough love). Prior to game, during game, after game: anything is fine.

Event Horizon - Don't feel obligated to do this, but two things that intrigue me especially are A) a story from the perspective of the ship itself, and B) what really happened in the Hell dimension, not so much in terms of the gruesome physical details but in terms of the psychology. What does that kind of madness look like from the inside? Or any combination of the two. OR ANYTHING

The Walking Dead - I'm fine with anything here as long as it's Clem-centric. Can be during the timeline of the two seasons, or it can be something set anywhere in the future. And if you wanted to intersect it with any other part of the franchise 'verse in any respect I think that would be awesome too. Just show me something I haven't seen, here, if you can.


This entry was originally posted (with comment count unavailable comments) at my Dreamwidth.
language of nature

Writerly Roundup - September 2014

Sneaking this in at the last minute, and it's not going to be all that long - this wasn't a very heavy month. A few things happened. And I'm omitting the RP stuff this time because I don't have enough concrete new stuff to really warrant it.

Here's what happened:

  • I finished Rookwar. Which means I'm done with the entire Casting the Bones trilogy, which is the first novel trilogy I've completed. Rookwar itself clocked in at just under 110k words (after editing), which makes it roughly 20k words longer than either of the other two. I still don't know what happened. That's just the length it felt like it had to be. Release is still December as of now. I really cut it close so that might change.

  • I kept working on Untitled Kae Book. It still has no title. I think I'm about halfway through it. There's a lot about it that I'm still not sure of. Onward.

  • I submitted three short stories. Got a very lovely no on one I sent out a couple months back (I mean that, really good Rs are almost as good as acceptances, at least to me) and another nice R on another, and am waiting to hear back on the other two.

  • I finished two short stories. I think I like one. Not so sure about the other. I'm thinking that one of my current story problems is that not enough happens in them.

  • "Singing With All My Skin and Bone", which is probably the most personal story I've ever written, came out in Nightmare. I look forward to the day when I feel comfortable reading this one aloud in front of people. It might be a while.

  • I went to the Baltimore Book Festival and had a great time. I read, I hung out, I met new friends, I got to be on great panels with great people. It was a time.

  • I started freelance editing. I have no idea how this will go. I hope it will go well.

  • Coming in October: Capclave. And not much else, at least nothing solid yet on the radar. Watch for news.


This entry was originally posted (with comment count unavailable comments) at my Dreamwidth.
language of nature

One Foot After the Other: writing when things are generally shitty

from here

I posted a couple of quotes on writing the other day, to accompany a Difficult Writing Time. I think everyone can sympathize with this, regardless of whether or not they consider themselves "writers", because although too many writers like to get misty-eyed and emotional about how very differently important writing is from everything else, when you get right down to it, it's work, and everyone reaches points with work wherein they just cannot even anymore, where everything is going wrong and nothing is easy and it all just seems unbearably crappy, and motivation has been eaten by a sullen cloud of horrible. But in those moments you don't actually have much in the way of real options besides the simple task of dragging yourself onward, one foot after the other - not in front of, because that implies more momentum than you actually have - and trusting in spite of all the evidence to the contrary that things will get better, that they will somehow maneuver themselves back into where you vaguely remember them being.

Yeah, that's me right now.

I should say at this point that I honestly haven't once suffered from writer's block in the half decade I've spent trying to write for money. I have not yet been locked into a period where I wasn't producing anything at all. But I do go through long periods where I'm convinced that none of what I'm producing is very good, and often that feeling is actually correct, though it's still something to be regarded with healthy skepticism. Interestingly, these periods often also coincide with the completion of large, long-running projects - usually novels - and I think that makes a degree of sense.

I used to think I would feel a sense of accomplishment upon finishing a novel, but as it turns out, at least for me, that's not true at all. What I feel after typing the end is instead a kind of exhausted hollowness, an utter lack of any sense about what to do next. To be sure, there is a bit of YAY I'M DONE, but it never lasts more than a day or so, and then the blankness asserts itself. I had no idea what to make of that, until I took - and passed - my doctoral qualifying exams, and suddenly it all made sense. When you've spent months doing something very difficult - maybe doing it every day, maybe for hours - your brain, on a fundamental level, has no idea how to deal with the prospect of not doing it anymore. It panics and shuts down. It's so burned out that continuing is more than it can deal with, but it's forgotten how to function without that daily energy suck around which to orient itself.

I fell apart after my qualifying exams. It took me a few months - mostly because I had a semester of teaching to provide structure - but once that was gone, I broke down. We're talking nearly-paralyzing-anxiety-with-sensory-triggers-trip-to-the-ER-back-on-meds-after-15-years level of breakdown. The point is that we need to be ready - as writers, as workers, as human beings - for our brains to be assholes, and for that assholishness to bleed into all aspects of our work, as well as to come from the work itself. Sometimes even from what looks, on the surface, like major productivity.

I don't think that's exactly what I'm going through now - though I did just finish not only a novel but the final novel in a trilogy - but I recognize something similar. Thanks to the loss of my departmental funding and some other things that fell through, I'm not teaching this semester. Next semester is also doubtful. I remain uncertain regarding whether I can finish my doctoral dissertation. I'm very angry at my department, my university, and academia in general, because I think that last is devouring itself and I hate being in a position to watch it happen. I'm now unemployed, and so far the job hunt is less than encouraging. On paper a lot of my life is still pretty good, but almost everything on which I've relied for structure and momentum and security - for nearly a decade, counting college - is going away.

That's not a comfortable place in which to find oneself.

It can be very difficult to write when you're wrestling with emotional and mental issues - I think many people find it almost impossible when things are at their worst - and it's certainly true that it can be so much harder to produce your best work when your head and heart are not at their best. But I've also found that writing can be a refuge when everything else is difficult, because at least writing is something over which I can exert almost complete control. I may not feel like I'm doing it as well as I can, but I can still create a world of my own populated by people I've made; I can invent my own escapism and retreat there, tell myself a story and - upon emerging - have something concrete to show for it. It helps. Sometimes it's almost the only thing that does. Sometimes it's what you need.

But then sometimes even what you create doesn't feel like the right kind of escape. The joy fades and it just feels like work again, and it doesn't feel like work you're doing well enough to take real pleasure in.

And that's where I am now: this thing on which I rely to keep myself together isn't doing what I need it to, which means it's just one more thing that feels like it's slipping away, and that is so, so terrifying. Everything else I've accomplished in the last months and years - the books sold, the short stories published, the good reviews, the people who have said nice things, even the goddamn money - all fades into the background and provides no comfort at all, because none of it makes the words work any better.

So what do you do?

If you're a writer - if you're a person - you have two options: a) go fetal and cry, and b) suck it up and, to the extent that you can do so and still take care of yourself, keep going. One foot after the other. Drag drag drag.

I'm writing another novel right now - one of three currently waiting to be written. I have no idea if it's working; I thought it was but now I'm really not sure. None of the prose feels like it's smooth. None of the pacing feels sharp. The direction is hazy. I'm hoping that this - finally - will be my Agent Book, but I've also written less than stellar novels before, and I'm filled with dread that this might be one of those. But what else is there to do? I'm 41k words into it; I can't really stop now. Drag drag drag.

I was talking to my friend and Long Hidden ToC-mate David Jon Fuller about this on Twitter the other day, and we were commiserating about the feeling that nothing is going right and none of what we produce is good. I said something to the effect of why the hell did we ever start doing this, and he said something that isn't necessarily a big secret but is therefore one of those fundamental truths so obvious that it doesn't hurt to be reminded of it now and then:

He's right. Nothing beats it, when it's really happening. When it's happening, it feels like the most amazing thing in the world. Get a taste of it once and you'll never stop wanting it; call us addicts chasing the next high if you want, because that probably isn't very far off. And maybe it does have some kind of deeper, broader significance as an act, maybe it has some kind of grand universal meaning, and maybe it really is something worth getting misty-eyed and emotional over, but me, I think it's ultimately about healing, about getting well, about being alive. It's about you, and me, and really no one else, not at its core. It's about being reminded that there's something good about existing, and that you can find that again, no matter how shitty things are, because your head is a house of treasures.

And that doesn't make you special. It just makes you human.

Writing and reading decrease our sense of isolation. They deepen and widen and expand our sense of life: they feed the soul. When writers make us shake our heads with the exactness of their prose and their truths, and even make us laugh about ourselves or life, our buoyancy is restored. We are given a shot at dancing with, or at least clapping along with, the absurdity of life, instead of being squashed by it over and over again. It's like singing on a boat during a terrible storm at sea. You can't stop the raging storm, but singing can change the hearts and spirits of the people who are together on that ship.

― Anne Lamott, Bird by Bird: Some Instructions on Writing and Life

[crossposted from]

This entry was originally posted (with comment count unavailable comments) at my Dreamwidth.
language of nature

Meaningful choice and The Walking Dead: an addendum

okay whatever, gonna start crossposting

I don't write much in here anymore, in significant part because I've moved general blather to Twitter and actual considered writing to my author blog, but what the hell, I don't want to just stop posting here and like I said before I love DW's comment system and overall design, so I'm going to crosspost blog stuff.

Deal. Or like. Ignore if you want. Whatever.

Here's a thing I wrote today, more on storytelling and game design.



After I wrote yesterday about some of the ludonarrative problems inherent in a game like The Walking Dead, I kept thinking about why the finale of Season Two didn't work nearly as well for me as the first game. The conclusion at which I arrived wasn't simply that Season Two's penultimate choice couldn't carry the narrative weight it was supposed to, but that the first game actually gives you no choice at all.

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[crossposted from]

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language of nature

(no subject)

I always feel like things like this are attention-fishy, but if I started cross-posting blog stuff here, is that something anyone would care about? I feel like the DW comment system is way more friendly.

This entry was originally posted (with comment count unavailable comments) at my Dreamwidth.
language of nature

(no subject)

Been doing a lot of thinking and writing about games lately, in part because of GamerGate (fucking ugh) but also in part because I just seem to be in that mode. Like, to the point where I wish I had approached grad school with this as a more explicit focus (would've made sense, my first and to date only peer-reviewed academic publication was in Game Studies).

Then again, had I done that I might not have gotten into grad school at all.

Anyway, for those who care, here's a link roundup of what I've been doing.

On Cyborgology:

  • “The Consumption Palace”: Gamers, misogyny, and capitalism

    Violent anger is, almost without fail, how the privileged react when they perceive that their privilege is being threatened. But this is also about community originally built around wounded egos, and it’s about consumer capitalism and the sense of entitlement that invariably results. Put all of this together in the context of a racist, misogynist culture, and you have a recipe for horrific degrees of harassment and abuse.

  • Writer-Creator vs. Gamer Consumer-King: an addendum

    I could sit down tomorrow and write a novel in three months or so, and very possibly sell it in a few months more. I am not going to sit down and make an AAA video game. No one person can do that: they take entire development teams years and millions of dollars, and require the backing of large publishers to market and distribute. In other words, the barriers to entry are rather high. Considerably higher still if you’re not a white cisgender man.

  • Not a REAL Gamer: Identity and conspicuous consumption

    This isn’t just about consumption; it’s about conspicuous consumption. How high a priority are games for you? How much do you spend, how much of a premium do you place on getting something as soon as it’s out? These are some of the ways in which the lines are drawn and in which they’re maintained, and it’s about identity expressed as buying things.

On my author site (spoilers in both of these):

  • On The Walking Dead S2, Sarah, and why it all matters

    This was a game that did what so few games have the courage to do: show a world that is as rich and hard and haunting as the one in which we actually live, through people who are rich and hard and haunting as well. Basically, you guys did something amazing. And up until episode 4 of S2, I would have said you were on track to do the same.

  • Thoughts on ludonarrative difficulties and The Walking Dead: Season Two

    The most emotionally powerful stories are the ones that immerse you so completely that they (literally) place you in a trance state, a state of such intense hyperfocus that you forget you’re reading at all. The medium – the page (physical or digital) and the words – disappears, and all that remains is the story. If, at the climax of a game like TWD, I become aware that I’m playing a game, the game has failed.

  • lotsa writin

    Like I said, I wish I had gone with my gut and started doing this way earlier than I did. Oh, well.

    This entry was originally posted (with comment count unavailable comments) at my Dreamwidth.
language of nature

So this has been a day

A day in which I had a short story come out, and also I finished writing a book.

More specifically, I finished writing Rookwar, which also means I'm done with Casting the Bones. This is the first trilogy I've ever completed. It's also the tenth book I've written, and it will be my fourth published (since Labyrinthian doesn't come out until January). At the moment it's a little over 110,000 words long. That's hefty. It's about 20,000 words longer than I expected it to be, but none of it feels like filler. I think it's about as long as it should be.

It feels very strange to finish a trilogy. I'm not sure exactly how it's different from finishing a book, or finishing the second book in a series. But it's different. I suppose part of it is that - although there will be editing and such - I'm truly saying goodbye to these characters and this world. I probably won't see them again, at least not for a long time. There are a lot of other places to go and a lot of other books to be written, and for now we're parting ways.

So goodbye, Mica and Mori and Yavon and Sene. Goodbye, Ava and goodbye, Turn. Thank you for letting me spend some time with you, and thank you for letting me tell your stories. This feels like a good ending. Which is about the best you can ever hope for.

For those who care about such things, I was listening to this on repeat for the last few hundred words, and it is the perfect piece of music for the end of the book. Eerily so.

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language of nature

(no subject)

Just a heads-up: I did my monthly writerly roundup here, which includes a SOTP here. As usual, if you don't want to comment over there, feel free to do so here.

Fuck an August tho

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