Category Archives: Life

Nothing says “spring” like Lovecraft

As a horror reader (okay: horror lifestyle enthusiast), I feel like horror is always in season, but some flavors are more tastier at different times of the year.

Summer? It’s for slashers and serial killers.

Fall? Ghosts.

Winter? Supernatural monsters.

But spring is for Lovecraft.

There’s nothing like sitting on your couch while it’s drizzling outside, the flowers starting to bud, the birds chirping cheerfully, and reading about some loathsome New England horror, preferably with tentacles.  I’ve done most of my Lovecraftian reading and writing in the spring, too–it just feels right!

If you’re looking for a good spring read, I hear that the anthology Autumn Cthulhuwhich includes my short story “The Black Azalea”–has started going out to Kickstarter backers. “The Black Azalea” is one of my favorite pieces, so I can’t wait for people to start reading it. And while it’s set in October, I feel it’s a delightful spring read.

I hope you’re all reading good things, creepy or not!

Welcome to my office!

We’ve never had a tv in the living room before. Back when we lived in SE Portland, we kept our tv in the basement, where it was dark and cold and creepy and perfect for playing Resident Evil. When we moved to our new house, we couldn’t figure out where to put the tv–the fireplace in the living room blocked the most reasonable wall to put the darn thing, and the big front window cast a glare that made it hard to even see zombies on the screen, let alone be frightened of them. So we put the tv in the spare bedroom/office and suffered being cramped inside the tiny space.

Well, no longer. My genius husband reorganized the living room and helped me transform the spare bedroom into a more user-friendly office. In part, we were inspired by Guillermo del Toro’s Bleak House, which uses red walls to help showcase his vast collection of horror and SF art. Okay, when I say “in part,” I actually mean I said “LET’S REDO OUR WHOLE HOUSE LIKE BLEAK HOUSE!” and my husband convinced me that was maybe a little too much red. So now I have a wonderful red office to host my slowly growing horror and SF art collection, and I couldn’t be happier!

Here are some highlights:

 

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Someday, this wall will be almost entirely covered in art, but this is a good start. I think The Crow Witch (by the wonderful Galen Dara, as is the cute zombie valentine guy), needs to be a little closer to the monitor, but I was just recycling a pre-existing nail hole. The inspirational puppy was accidentally printed twice when I sent him along to an awesome friend, and I kept him because who doesn’t need a reminder they  have the power to be awesome?

You’ll also note some sundry fun stuff, like some Word Horde stickers spiffing up my printer, and a mailing label that dubs my house “Lightspeed Pacific Northwest HQ.” My own novel is on my desk because I’ve been working on the sequel and I can’t remember how to spell anyone’s name.

papier mache octopusBehind me is a futon (perfect for guests!) and a bookshelf with this paper mache octopus I made for Halloween. (At Halloween, I put orange LED candles in his eye sockets, giving him a baleful glare.) You can see a John Kovalic Cthulhu behind him, happily nibbling on people as he tries to choose which Stephen King novel to read next. Because of course the top shelf of my office bookshelf is devoted to Stephen King!

What you can’t see is the window off to my left, which has a big rhododendron growing in front of it. This lets in a mysterious green light that makes the space feel like writing from inside a magical jungle or perhaps another dimension.

It’s nice to be surrounded by so much inspiration. I’ve been getting  a lot done over the past few months: I’ve almost finished polishing the  sequel to Skinwalkers; I’ve written a couple of short stories; I’ve edited a ton of essays for Queers Destroy Science Fiction. I’m also really excited about some recent successes. Right now the Kickstarter is up for Genius Loci, which will feature my magical Eastern Washington story, “Scab Land.” The book design looks beautiful, so make sure you get a copy of that book.

The folks over at Innsmouth Free Press also just announced the table of contents for their upcoming Lovecraftian anthology She Walks in Shadows, which has a super awesome cover. My story “Queen of a New America” will appear in that one, and I really enjoyed writing it.

It’s all keeping me really busy, but I’m still managing to get in plenty of horror reading and gameplay. In fact, tomorrow we get to start playing a new Call of Cthulhu campaign–it’ll be my daughter’s first experience as GM, and she promises it’ll be fun!

 

The Fingerprints of Poverty

My father was a National Merit Scholar, with an uncle who offered to pay his way to Harvey Mudd, free and clear. Dad took his scholarship to an agricultural program and dropped out after only two years. I can understand. I skipped two grades in elementary school and stood in the top ten percent of my college class–but if the Dean hadn’t refused to sign the paperwork, I, too, would be a college drop-out.

There are a lot of reasons why my dad and I didn’t succeed in college, but I can name one of them: growing up poor. Class isn’t an issue my university knew how to address, and neither do most Americans. Money difficulty is supposed to be a short-term problem, something that enters people’s lives and then gets swept away by a better job and dose of public assistance. But it doesn’t work that way. When you grow up in poverty, it leaves fingerprints on you that never wash off.

Some memories of my childhood are indelible: the wonderful texture of the paper they used to print food stamps on, back when food stamps came in little coupon books and each increment was printed in its own color. The taste of government cheese, salty and waxy and melty and gooier than any cheese I’ve eaten since. The humiliation I felt when the dentist looked at my crooked, horrible teeth and said to his assistant, uncaring if I heard: “What a waste.” The shame I felt when my dad came to school events and showed his toothless smile, or the sadness for my mother, who often covered her mouth to hide the gaps and the dark spots in hers. The heavy weight in my gut when I learned that driver’s ed was no longer free.

I still don’t know how to drive. I didn’t want my parents to pay the $120 fee when I was a senior, and by the time I went to college, I had more pressing things to worry about, like holding down four or more part-time jobs and trying to make the dean’s list so I could keep my scholarship. In college, my stomach always hurt. I knew how to study and work hard, but I didn’t know how to fit in. There was a cachet of belonging that other students had that I could never quite manage. Other students held themselves in some taller fashion, spoke in a way that sounded somehow smarter. Each year it grew worse. I couldn’t stand to open my mouth in my philosophy classes because I knew no matter what I said it would sound coarse and stupid.

I don’t know how or why I thought this. I had already exorcised the words “crick” and “pin” and “fleg” and “beg” from my vocabulary (that’s “creek,” “pen,” “flag,” and “bag,” if you’re not from rural Oregon), so I should have sounded fine. I felt the same way when my daughter started school, and I had to stand with the other parents picking up their kids. We rented an apartment on the edge of a good neighborhood, and the other parents were all doctors, college professors, small business owners. They all looked so comfortable and relaxed as they talked with the other parents or fiddled with their smart phones. I made the best of it by burying myself in a book from the library.

I am much more comfortable at my daughter’s new school. People in our neighborhood are working class, maybe poorer. I don’t know this for sure, I just guess–it’s a Title I school, and most of the kids are on the free or reduced lunch program. But even if I didn’t know the stats, I’d *know*. The people treat me differently. I’m one of them.

I have a hard time explicating the difference between classes, but I can identify people of different classes on sight. I’m sure most people can. And the unfortunate thing about living in America is that there is a deep sense of shame associated with being lower class. If you are poor, there is a sense that it is your fault. That you’re not working hard enough to get ahead, that you are lazy, that you waste your time and your money on worthless shit. People always try not to hold it against the children of poor parents, but when you’re one of those kids, you see pity in their eyes, and it sticks to you like one of those price tags with the incredible adhesive.

Because of my husband, who was raised solidly middle class, I have a middle class lifestyle. We don’t have much money, but we aren’t on food stamps. In a month or two, we’ll actually have insurance. It seems like a lot to me, which I think is a legacy of living poor all my life. You learn not to expect much. You have a hard time asking for more.

I think about the way growing up poor damaged me and my relatives. There is something about poverty that can break things inside you, that can make you sabotage your best efforts to get ahead, that sets you up to fall behind. I am a smart woman, but I don’t know what it is or how to fix it. And I’m a *white* woman at that. I only have one deck stacked against me. If I was a person of color, things would be so much harder. To get out of poverty, especially if you are a person of color, is very, very difficult.

But the thing about getting out of poverty is that it never gets out of you. It stays inside, a heavy hand on your heart that squeezes every time you hear a joke about trailer trash. It squeezes every time you go to a job interview. It squeezes every time you go to a store and you worry for one tiny fraction of a second–for no reason, just because it’s what you do–that your debit card will be declined.

I will be poor white trash until the day I die. And no matter how hard I try to ignore that or be proud of my accomplishments, I will always be–just a little, just one tiny nearly unmeasurable bit–ashamed of myself and my family.

How can I not be? I’m an American.

A PhD in button pushing

Okay, I am about 3/4s of the way through with Doctor Sleep, and I can’t wait to get back on the couch and finish it. Say what you will about Stephen King, the man is a master of getting you to turn the pages. For example, I just got to a point in the text with the sweetest fan-service reveal of any sequel. It’s set up in a way that even those folks who haven’t read The Shining will find it clever and meaningful, but if you’ve read the first book, you will do a little happy dance. And while the great SK usually does a good job creating interesting villains, this time around he’s made a pack of horrible monsters that I really can’t help liking. A lot. I *almost* don’t want them to lose!

After I get done reading this one, I definitely want to go back and dissect the plot. I think it will really help me with the project I’m working on right now, and it will help me do a better job planning for fun twists, turns, and pay-offs in my writing.

Besides reading a really fun book and writing, I’ve been working hard to eat this:

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Surprise! It’s chocolate!

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It’s not just any chocolate, but two pounds of scrumptious dark chocolate with bits of crunchy cookies swirled inside. It was an amazing, generous gift from my brilliantly talented friend Brooke Bolander, and it came wrapped on a meat tray, with spots of food coloring seeping down under the plastic like real blood. SO WRONG and SO COOL.

If you need a super-cool gift for a chocolate lover, you would be wise to check out the folks at Dude, Sweet Chocolate.

Happy Thanksgiving to everyone! I hope it brings you lots of deliciousness and a heart full of gratitude.

Living by “The Tao of Maisy”

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You know you want to read it!

A few weeks ago I read Jen Lancaster’s very funny book, The Tao of Martha. Very much in the vein of her other extremely funny books, it had a surprisingly poignant thread running through it: her dog Maisy was dying of cancer as Jen wrote the book, and she wrote it looking for a deeper meaning to life. She found it in her dog’s life, and formulated her new philosophy very simply.

Here it is.

THE TAO OF MAISY

Be Awesome.

Give Awesome.

Get Awesome.

This isn’t brain surgery or something you need a philosophy degree to understand. It’s just a very simple guideline for living one’s life. But somehow the words struck me. Maybe it’s because I hang out with an amazing group of friends who seem to live by it. I am so lucky to have the Inkpunks. When things get rough in my world, a card or a tiny gift will magically appear just when I need it most. When one of us needed a whole new kitchen because their life took a left turn, the Inkpunks whisked a care package onto their doorstep. Time after time, I’ve seen that these are the most caring, thoughtful people in the universe. In short, they’re awesome, and they give awesome every single day.

What the hell does it mean to be Awesome? It means a lot of things: Being packed with positive energy. Being a good listener. Being an artist, both of life and craft. Living in tune with one’s inner principles. Being friendly. Having fun! Sucking all the marrow out of the bones of life. Being the people in the room that everybody wants to sit with, because the atmosphere at the table is brighter and happier and more welcoming than any other. Fighting the darkness of entropy and despair.

Yeah, I want to be Awesome. It’s something to strive for.

How do you give Awesome? Easy. You just give. You give Awesome when an editor asks for a story, and you write one and turn it in on time, with a smile, and it’s great work you’d be proud to put on a shelf next to anything by Neil Gaiman or Terry Windling. You give Awesome when you meet someone at the airport and they say they’re starting to write, you invite them for coffee or to hang out at the upcoming con, and you really do. When someone you know is throwing a Kickstarter, you tell everyone you know about it, even if you have nothing to gain by it. When someone you don’t know is struggling and you offer your help. When you volunteer. When you introduce two people who should know each other, but don’t. When you call your mom/best friend/sister/cousin/grandma just to chit-chat for a few minutes. When you bake your kid’s favorite cookies for no reason except maybe it’s Tuesday. When you smile at somebody on the street.

We can all give more Awesome. Sometimes it’s tempting to give too much, to stretch yourself too thin, but there’s probably a tiny bit of time every day to do something kind or generous for the other people in this world. Don’t forget to give yourself some Awesome every now and then, too!

What about Getting Awesome? It sounds pretty damn amazing, right? I tell you, it is. I have been on the receiving end of so much Awesome that my mind boggles. I have almost nothing in my life that wasn’t the result of someone else extending Awesome to me. I’ve gotten so much Awesome that I’m pretty sure  I will live in karmic debt for the rest of my years on this planet. I hope I can give a little back!

Well, that’s as deep as I get on a Wednesday morning. Despite my BA in philosophy, I usually spend more time reflecting on monster design than on ethics. I’m off for revisions, but I’d love to hear about all the ways you’ve found to be/give/get Awesome. After all, Awesome is all about sharing!

And speaking of sharing, here’s a great roundtable on best media tie-in works. Check out the recs from James Sutter and Chadwick Ginther–they’re brilliant guys and great friends. In my interview, I sound pretty dorky, but that’s how I usually roll!

Spiderpocalypse

Here’s what it’s like to live in my head:

As walking from Kid’s school, sees mysterious object in front of a house.

[thinks] If that’s a giant spider, I’m NOT crossing the street.

[thinks] Don’t be silly. There are no 3-foot tall giant spiders.

[remembers enormous wolf spider found in garden previous night]

[thinks] If that’s a giant spider, I hope I can kick its ass.

 

Also, yesterday I was featured on the 27GoodThings site! Go check it out and watch the things I suggest. One is on Youtube, so you have no excuse not to.

 

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Lovecraft rules!

This weekend was HP Lovecraft Film Festival, and man oh man, it was just as awesome as I hoped it would be. The Lovecraftian community is just such a great group of folks. Also, my lovely and talented friend Molly Tanzer was a guest at the convention, so we finally got to meet in person, which was absolutely divine.

Here’s a great picture of some of us Lovecraft eZine fans sporting our gear:

Me and the cool boys: Nick Gucker, Sam McCanna, Wilum Hopfrog Pugmire, Ross Lockhart, guy whose name I missed

Speaking of Lovecraft eZine, Nick (in the hat) illustrated my story in this month’s issue! I can’t get over how perfect that mushroom guy turned out–exactly as I pictured.

After all the insightful panels, great readings, and terrific films, I feel incredibly inspired to create, and incredibly proud to be a part of the Lovecraftian community. Ia ia Cthulhu fhtagn!

The Year in Review

This was a pretty intense year. A few weeks ago I sat down and made a list of what I accomplished (I was feeling down and as if I hadn’t gotten anything done at all, and then nothing helps that like a list). Here’s what it looked like:

  • I read slush, proofread, and formatted the March 2011 – December 2012 issues of Fantasy Magazine. I also helped with the January and February 2012 issues of Lightspeed. I feel like I learned a very great deal reading all those submissions and reams of older anthologies and magazines. Getting to talk shop with John Joseph Adams every single day taught me loads about stories and the publishing business. I will never forget this year.
  • I wrote and sold my first paid nonfiction pieces, which appeared in Lightspeed, Fantasy, and The Broadsheet.
  • I interviewed some truly amazing authors that I would otherwise never have gotten to talk to.
  • I met all of the Inkpunks and made dozens of new writing friends during my travels to the Rainforest Writers Retreat, Renovation, World Fantasy, and Orycon. I can’t believe how wonderful it is to spend time with kindred spirits!
  • I had my first reading at Powell’s.
  • I sat on my first panels at conventions, and ground my teeth through my first time as a moderator.
  • I sold my first book to Dagan Books.
  • “The Secret of Calling Rabbits” was an honorable mention in Year’s Best SF.
  • I saw my stories published in Beneath Ceaseless Skies, Bewere the Night 2, Innsmouth Magazine, Scape, Three-Lobed Burning Eye, and Subversion. I also sold a story to John Joseph Adams’ forthcoming  Armored anthologyIdeomancer and another market.
  • I was just invited to join a super-secret project that I am incredibly excited about.
I am disappointed that I did not finish any novels or revise any novels, but hopefully next year will be a better year for the long form. I am blaming any and all failures on that front to the four months I spent being distracted by wedding planning–after all, I’m pretty sure that getting married was probably the absolute highlight of the year.
I hope that all of you are as excited about 2012 as I am!