Wednesday, October 18, 2017

Long Overdue Update

Hi everyone! It's been several months. I figured I should check in for those who may have been wondering whether I fell off the face of the earth. I have to be quick, though--the whole reason I've been so bad about posting is that I only get these short snippets of time when the younger boys are both napping and I use that time to write my novels--or, currently, to world build.

Anyway, I went into the summer with no job, after getting laid off from my teaching job. My husband
handled this by letting me take time almost every day to write. I finished the first draft of the third novel in the Raud Grima trilogy! It's 200K words! Yikes! I tackled 4 POVs at once, something I've never done before and decided I love to do. One beta has already gotten back to me (thank you, Rick!).

I got hired back to my old job, which is great! But they also piled on twice the work for no increase in time. Not so great. But I'm teaching English now in addition to social studies and it made me realize how much I actually do like to teach English. So that's really cool to know because I'd decided I didn't like it a while back and wasn't really looking for English jobs when I'd do searches in other areas. Now I will. I also continue to have a good relationship with my administrator, who is adding to my schedule with hourly assignments (meaning I'm paid hourly; it doesn't increase my FTE) and she says she wants to increase my percentage next year (which would increase my FTE) and that makes me want to stay. I'm also doing some awesome projects with my students and a professional film maker, involving a documentary about substance abuse in our county and another one concerning the deaf community in our county.

On a horrifying note, however, one of my former students and someone I considered a friend was murdered by her ex last week. I had just invited her to a writing group I started, too, and was waiting to hear back from her when I got the news. I've been thinking about her a lot.

But anyway. I started a writing group and the people involved are awesome and I'm so happy about that! I'm currently world building for a new novel. That's going to take me a long time, as I'm using Patricia Wrede's fabulous list of world building questions* (it's 30 pages long before you start answering them, folks). I plan to do them not just for one setting, but six, as the book will have stories starting in six different countries in this world I'm calling Temel. I started in August and am not done with the first country yet, to give you an idea.

I also discovered the Heroine's Journey which, I say without reservation, is the only thing I've ever encountered that seems to be an authentic and accessible cure for toxic masculinity. I will be using it in the Temel book and probably many times afterwards. It was created at first for use in therapy by one of Joseph Campbell (of Hero's Journey fame)'s students, and the link above takes you to the mythcreants site where they have explain it in terms that work for writing. I was galvanized by this discovery--I never considered that there might be a female counterpart to the Hero's Journey. I just thought it was applicable to both male and female characters (which I still assert that it is). But reading the Heroine's Journey (also applicable to any and all genders) made me realize what I've been missing. Check it out, seriously. And call everyone you know in Hollywood and TV and make them use it.

So anyway, I have to get back to the world building.

What's new with you?

Image courstey of Andreas Bogdain [GFDL 1.2 (], via Wikimedia Commons
* This link opens a Google Doc. You can also find Wrede's questions on her website.

Friday, June 9, 2017

Today I step into uncertainty

Today is my last day at my current job. Back in March I got a lay off notice. I was completely blindsided. I've often complained about this job (teaching social studies in a continuation high school) and I've wanted to move on to something else, but I also have been doing this for seven years. I never anticipated getting laid off. There are parts of this job that I really love. There are parts that have been incredibly difficult. This year we got a new principal, though, and it made a big difference--a lot of the problems I had in previous years were due to extremely poor management. Back in January I helped write the WASC report for the school, and my colleagues and I were full of great new ideas for new offerings and ways to expand, because the school is doing really, really well. Too well, apparently. We have drawn too many students away from another school in the district, one that is the pet of the superintendent, and he decided to cripple my school. I won't go into the details, but he sat down across from me and essentially told me this exact thing, so you'll have to bear with me. I know it sounds melodramatic. A LOT of things that happen in this district seem to belong on tv dramas, not in reality.

I wanted this blow to turn into something good. "You've been talking about moving on to something new for years, Sophia," I told myself. "This will be the push that makes it happen. Onward and upward!" My husband (also a teacher) and I applied in several places, some out of state. We were offered jobs at a high school in Tucson. My job was going to be to teach American history and "Criminal Minds," which looks at criminals in literature and history, with elements of forensic psychology. How cool is that? But the pay for teachers in Tucson is very low, and we have two sons who are not yet school age. Between the cost of child care and the 11.4% they take out for retirement, we would have been left with $2300 a month (from both our checks) for rent and everything else. We couldn't do it. I was devastated.

Since then I've applied to more places. I've tried to make jobs come together through various local possibilities. So far, nothing has coalesced.

So today, as I clean up my classroom for the last time, I face going into the summer not knowing where I'll be in the fall. I may be filing for unemployment. One of these options I've been trying to make happen may finally come together (or maybe even more than one). Jeff and I may get jobs somewhere else and have to move. I even applied for an administrative job with the county office of education, though I think that one's a long shot.

That uncertainty is exhausting. All the work I've done coming to nothing is also very discouraging. At this point I don't feel like I can make anything happen, and it's better to just give up and float on the wind like Forrest Gump's feather. But I'm scared of what will happen if I let go--if I end up on unemployment, that lasts six months. And then what? How will we pay for groceries after that runs out?

"More time to write!" you say. Well, no, not really. When I'm at home my boys take up all my time and energy. We're keeping them in daycare for a while this summer, so yes, during that time I am definitely going to push to finish the WiP. But if nothing comes together for me, we're going to have to stop paying for daycare. I'll be a stay at home mom. I know some people love that. I do not. I already have some issues with the yellow wallpaper, and that's working part time. The idea of being a full time stay at home mom has me doing the Scream thing. And let me tell you, the number of people who have clapped me on the back and said, "Hey, you'll get to stay home with your kids!" like it's this great thing I've always wanted... oh my god, people. Check your damn assumptions.

There's also all the cheerful people who bounce up to me, "So, what're your plans?" like clearly I must have something fantastic and exciting lined up. Yeah, I did. It fell through. Nothing else has come together. No, I don't know what I'm going to be doing.

And inevitably, "Well, have you tried this? Have you applied here? How about there?"

Yes, yes, and yes, for the love of all that's holy. I also applied there, there, there, and there, and I spoke to so-and-so about this and that, and these other people, too, and there still isn't anything. You know, between the international teaching jobs I applied for this winter and all the jobs I've applied for since the lay off, I have applied for over 100 jobs. Seriously. One fucking hundred. It should not be this hard.

"Oh. Well. Good luck." And I swear they side-eye me like they think I'm just being negative.

So anyway, at this point something is either going to fall in my lap or I'm going to be unemployed and looking at working at the local hardware store when those checks dry up. I hope the former. Send me good thoughts.

Wednesday, January 25, 2017

Writing again, despite fatigue and lack of time!

I've been going nuts for months now with inspiration for new stories and ideas for the WiPs (mainly the third Raud Grima book, tentatively titled Masks in the Glow). And up until the winter break I just couldn't find the time or the energy, except for occasionally rereading already written passages of Masks and tinkering with them. Then over winter break we got me a new laptop (the kids smashed the old one) and I carved out two chunks of time for writing. Since then, I've managed to write several more times, mainly in the evenings while dinner's cooking and for a little while after. Historically evenings have never been my writing time. Too tired out by the day for any kind of good concentration. But desperate times call for desperate measures.

So I'm very slowly making progress on Masks, which may end up not being called Masks because it's looking like it's going to be upwards of 200K words and therefore will have to be split into two. If that's how it works out (I'm not sure because I devised a way to shortcut the story and I haven't decided whether I want to go that route or not) then probably the fourth and last book will get the Masks title and book three will have to go by something else.

This series is definitely shaking out to be weird in a lot of ways. First just going with the dystopian decopunk angle, which you don't run into very much. And certainly not often with the Fritz Lang inspiration so central. So there's that, to begin with. I mean from the start I've run into people who just scratch their heads at the whole concept of robots in an art deco city.

I chose from the beginning to challenge myself to write scenes that make me uncomfortable. I address one of my greatest fears in the book--the loss of a child--which probably doesn't weird anyone out. But I also pushed myself to write sex scenes, which is not something I'm generally comfortable with. And I wanted them to be real, with heat and in some cases disturbing elements. So yeah, that has certainly colored both The City Darkens and After the Fall and based on the few reviews I've gotten, people either appreciate what I was trying to do or are really put off by all the sex.

Then, in After the Fall, I switch narrators. I knew that was unconventional and would probably put people off. It's not like it's never been done before or anything, but it's a risky thing to do. I did it because I couldn't figure out what to do with Myadar. I wanted to keep talking about this city that's going through a revolution and there was no good reason for Myadar to get in the middle of that. At least, not right away. So I thought about what I wanted to talk about--I wanted to have the books progress a bit like the decades that comprise dieselpunk--City was the 1920s, Fall was the 1930s (sort of--certainly with a look towards what was happening in China at the time), and Masks would be the 40s. In no way am I trying to tell a history of America or even Earth, though. I just want parts of the setting, the events, the things people do, to resonate, like, "Oh, I see what she's doing there!" Anyway, so Fall was going to be about survival, first and foremost. How does an ordinary person survive a cataclysm in her city? What would that survival look like? Who threatens it? I thought of my graduate professor of African history talking about the role of young men, packs of violent young men, in unstable environments. And since I was also reading about grimdark at the time, and the ways people were (perhaps) mishandling violence in fiction, particularly sexual violence, I wanted to try my hand at that, and see if I could pull it off in a way I could live with. And I allowed Ginna to embody my own struggle with the necessity of violence. To top it off, I believe that the second installment in a trilogy (which is what I intended this series to be) should end badly. So the result was a novel that's really not very satisfying to some readers.

And now, Masks will be different yet again. For one thing, it has four POVs. For another, so far, no sex. And in it I'm trying to resolve both my conflicted feelings about using violence in fiction and Ginna's conflicted feelings about using violence to win the war. I am also really focused on characters that are not inherently good (Ginna is, though). Plus my original idea was to go very dark and flirt with atompunk, and though I may still have an element of that (inspired, perhaps, by Akira), the aesthetics of light decopunk like Sky Captain and the World of Tomorrow are still really appealing to me. So I've revisited what one of the big threats will be and I've reimagined it, and it's probably going to strike people as even weirder than robots in a deco city. I guess we'll see.

Masks is already 100K words and even if I do the shortcut I mentioned, I'm probably looking at at least another 40K. So I'm leaning towards writing the long version, seeing how many words it is, and deciding based on that whether to split it.

If you were reading a series, would you rather that the last book be very long, or that what you thought would be the last book ends in a cliff hanger and you have to read yet another book to finally get the resolution?

Does it bother you when books in a series have different POVs?

Would you be frustrated if the first books had several sex scenes and the last had few to none?

What do you think of violence in fiction?