Saturday, February 28, 2015

Personal Digest Saturday: February 21 – February 27

Life news this week: 
  • Went to Drink and Draw on Saturday! Got to see all my old artist friends and hang out. It was great to chill with Eric again, though as usual Gary's presence was a horrifying experience that I was forced to tolerate. *gigglesnort*
  • Sunday night/Monday morning obviously I was in the hospital, so. That was fun. I didn't actually spend very long in the emergency room and I didn't get admitted. Then I went to the doctor for a follow-up on Thursday and got a referral to a cardiologist so I have to do that next week. None of it is fun. Boo.
  • Finished one more chapter in the midst of all this nonsense. Good for me.
  • Got another article published, this time in Drunk Monkeys. It's called "Asexual, Aromantic, Partnerless, Childless - and Happy."
  • I processed a new video for my writing channel, which I filmed the week before but didn't put together until this week. It was about what agents can do for you besides sell your book.
  • Jeaux Day involved eating burritos at Moe's. We didn't really do anything after that--just chatted about Internet stuff and amused ourselves.
  • Mommy was a big help all week. She took me to the emergency room on Monday morning, but also drove me to work on Tuesday and home, and we ate at Sweet Tomatoes that night--and then she came over AGAIN on Friday with comfort food because I had a terrible day.
  • This was honestly one of the worst weeks I've had in a long time, and not just because of the health stuff--I also dealt with some huge disappointments related to writing stuff, and it's taking a lot out of me. Anyone who reads this, please be gentle with me in the immediate future. Thanks.
New reviews of my book:
              • Nobody this week. :(
                            Places featured:
                                          Reading progress:

                                          New singing performances:

                                          Here I'm singing "Straight Up" by Paula Abdul. I liked listening to her music in middle school!

                                          New drawings:

                                          Webcomic Negative One Issue 0511: "Any Words."

                                          New videos:

                                          Here's a new one for my writing channel called "What Literary Agents Do (Besides Sell Your Book!)."

                                          New photos:  

                                          Me at Drink & Draw
                                          Here I am with Eric, the creator of Drink & Draw
                                          A few other Drink & Draw artists!

                                          Eric preparing to draw
                                          Getting set up with my supplies
                                          And obviously my hospital selfie.

                                          Social media counts: YouTube subscribers: 4,355 for swankivy (28 new this week), 436 for JulieSondra (no change). Twitter followers: 611 for swankivy (lost 2), 842 for JulieSondra (4 new). Facebook: 277 friends (no change) and 158 followers (no change) for swankivy, 52 likes for JulieSondra (1 new), 55 likes for Negative One (no change), 101 likes for So You Write (no change). Tumblr followers: 1,827 (4 new).

                                          Thursday, February 26, 2015

                                          Bad Fairy 2 status report: Chapter 16

                                          Well I still got some writing done this week despite a) social crap happening and b) going to the emergency room. Am I dedicated? Yeah I'm dedicated.

                                          It doesn't feel like much, finishing a single chapter, but I've been both preoccupied and feeling lousy, so I guess I can be forgiven, yes? Plus it was a decently sized chapter. I'm not writing at light speed like I usually do and that makes me sad. But it's still fast by most people's standards, so I'll take it.

                                          Words: Chapter 16 came to 5,562 words.

                                          Basic details:  Delia decides to hire a tutor. Her reasons for doing so are rambled about in a conversation with her mother in the beginning, and they have one of their catty little mother/daughter spats about What Is Delia Doing With Her Life. (You know, the stereotypical "why aren't you married and pregnant yet?" talk.) Then we actually meet said tutor, and she's pretty awesome. Delia is now about twenty years old.

                                          The good: I get to show that Delia's mom is still involved in her life (if continuing to be gently critical of her weird daughter), and I get to show that she has her own ideas about what maturity should mean. She's starting to sound like she has some kind of plan, or at least realizes what's missing in her life, and she doesn't sound as much like a sheltered brat when she talks about what she wants. I was also pleasantly surprised by how easy it was to write about Imelda, her new tutor; when I wrote the original version, Imelda had very little screen time, and therefore she didn't have much of a personality in my mind until I let her do her thing in this version of the story. I'm liking her interaction with Delia, and there were some unexpected discussions of fairy religion vs. human religion that came out of nowhere, with illuminating results.

                                          The bad: I'm worried it's really going to start reading like filler about now, because now I have close to 70,000 words of Delia kinda getting ready to do stuff. Granted, she originally thought she was going to spend her life doing something else and got her entire butt handed to her, so the next part of her journey features scratching out a new goal or four, but it bothers me that the book's trajectory has been like a mild roller coaster without a steady build. This is also the second time Delia has been featured giving a tour of her castle, though the previous time was as a young teen showing off her unfinished abode to family and friends and this time was a more dignified presentation of a completed project to a near stranger. (In the original, Imelda's appearance was the only time Delia's castle got described.) 

                                          The quotes:

                                          A conversation Delia has with her mother after admitting that she doesn't care about partying with the other fairies for solar rituals:
                                          “You need to be part of the world, Delia. While you still live in it.”

                                          I brushed my hair out of my eye to make the most of my glare. “That’s exactly what I’m trying to do with my tutor, but you acted like it was silly.”

                                          My mother reclaimed her tea and nursed it in silence.

                                          “She’s going to teach me,” I went on, “and I’ll learn more about what else there is to care about in the world.”

                                          “Or she will just give you an excuse to fill your head with knowledge and never do anything with any of it.” She put the cup down again. “That is who you are, Delia. You collect, you cherish, you keep, you reflect. But you only go in circles, and never forward.”

                                          “It looks like circles to you because you don’t have the perspective to see it’s a spiral.”

                                          When Imelda says a proper human education would necessarily include religious studies, Delia objects because it's basically the king's religion that screwed her life up. But then Imelda makes it clear how important it is to understanding most of the humans of the realm, especially if they are your enemies, and that gets Delia's attention. They settle the conversation this way:
                                          “I suppose you’re right about the religious education,” I conceded. “No knowledge is bad, especially if it’s integral to understanding what drives humans’ choices and morals. That said, can I at least have your promise that you will not be trying to claim my soul for the king’s god through these lessons?”

                                          Imelda laughed. “There is no chance of that. I am well versed in the scriptures, but I am not a believer myself. They are fascinating, though, Miss Delia, and you will see how much of our ways have always been built on these stories.”

                                          “I see,” I said, wonderstruck at the idea of a human who didn’t follow their central creed. “Do you have a belief system, then?”

                                          “My beliefs are little more than live and learn, and be kind to one another,” she said. “The rest is just details.”

                                          “I think I like you,” I said, my lips creaking into a smile that was so underused I could practically feel the rust flaking off.

                                          “And I you, Miss.”

                                          When they've finished settling their terms for Imelda to tutor Delia, she gets a little overenthusiastic offering little gifts and services to her so she'll be more comfortable performing the job. They have this exchange:
                                          “I think we are of the same heart in many matters, Miss,” she said, “but if I may say so—not to seem ungrateful, of course—you do not need to feel so desperate to please me.” She patted my hand like my mother sometimes did. “It seems you are truly starved for company. You are lonely.”

                                          I pulled back and put my hands in my lap.

                                          “Am I right?”

                                          “I don’t know. Sometimes I think I’m not. But yes, I’m sure I—sometimes I get tired of my own thoughts for my only company.”

                                          “As much as I respect your pure craving for knowledge and your need to put yourself to good use, I think you may learn the most from me if we form a friendship, Delia.”

                                          “I’ve had friends,” I replied, but I retained no defensiveness in my tone.

                                          “Where are they now?”

                                          When Imelda asks about certain peculiarities regarding Delia's motivation to get a human education even though she's a fairy, she discloses some pretty private stuff about her difficult youth, and here is her reflection on her tutor's reaction:
                                          She listened to my woes with the careful contemplation one would normally give to stories about scars on souls, which made me feel ever more like she understood this was no mere childhood bullying story. She could feel how it had shaped me and taught me I wasn’t fit for this world. And she could see how much it meant to me that the echoes were worth answering now that I’d decided to test the waters once again in a world that had already tried to drown me.

                                          Wednesday, February 25, 2015

                                          Wednesday Factoid: Sad Movies

                                          Today's Wednesday Factoid is: Name one movie that made you cry.

                                          Well that's easy. I mean, it's not EASY to pick which one I want to write about, but it's very easy to find movies that have made me cry. How about I just go with one that's easy to explain why and name Mr. Holland's Opus?

                                          Mr. Holland's Opus is about a man who finds his strength and his purpose through being a music teacher and touching the lives of all the students who come through his classes, even though he had other plans for his own life all along.

                                          Here's kind of what it's about: Mr. Holland is a young married guy who never wanted to be a teacher. He was sure he wasn't cut out for it, but as being a composer isn't exactly the world's most lucrative career, he opted to take a job as a high school music teacher just until he and his wife could make ends meet. He slowly starts to connect with students here and there, helping the gifted but unmotivated music history student, the determined but struggling clarinet player, and later the amazingly talented show-tune singer who gets a crush on him. Meanwhile, his teaching position keeps dragging on longer and longer because of complications: He has to pay for the house he and his wife move to, and support a son whose congenital deafness makes him feel very estranged--how can he relate to a deaf child when music means so much to him? But even though he suffers all his life from not being able to work on his compositions, he finds that he's been writing another one all those years with every student's life he touched and every sacrifice he made.

                                          Here's why it made me cry: First off, as an artist, I know very well how much it just kills you to be scrabbling for time to yourself to work on your art even as real-life concerns pull at you--and how sometimes those real-life concerns are also the sorts of things we make art about. That was so clear in this film--that Mr. Holland did feel, to a certain extent, a bit trapped by having to be a breadwinner and having to keep sacrificing his love of composing to support his family. But would he have been happier if he hadn't gotten married and had a child? Who knows? He loved them too.

                                          And I loved how the movie showed Mr. Holland getting invested, and how much it paid off in so many ways. How one of the kids who thought she was a loser benefited from a little extra time with him and ended up gaining the confidence that one day had her succeed in city government. How his support of a young girl's talent was balanced by his realistic understanding of the world--and how it was a little messy and not so perfect sometimes the way he dealt with her hero worship. (I think he saw himself in her a little bit, and wanted her to succeed . . . and I'm glad the film didn't do the dipstick thing and show that barreling forward into an immediate success for the girl who chased her passion.) I just loved how realistic the movie was about sacrifice, and how things weren't fair, and how Mr. Holland wasn't a saint.

                                          But my very favorite thing about the film is his relationship with his son. When Mr. Holland finds out his son was born deaf, the time and place they live in encourages them to try to integrate him into hearing society--make him learn to speak with his voice and read lips and not use any gesture-based language--and his wife absorbs most of the struggle with that. There's a powerful scene when the child is trying so hard to tell them what he wants but has no way to do so, and Holland's wife explodes and demands that they accept alternative ways for their child to communicate and let him go to a school for the deaf. And they learn that this is not a loss; this is like opening the world for him, letting him learn sign language and be with other Deaf kids and adults, and even though Mr. Holland has a hard time relating to him because he can't experience his favorite thing, he learns how important it is to share himself (and let his son share himself too), and begins to make more of an effort to learn to sign and adapt his music to be enjoyed by Deaf people too. I love when he sings a song for his son while signing. It's great, even though his kid was a teenager and was probably kind of embarrassed at that point too. (Incidentally, the actors playing his son at different ages were all Deaf too--I like when casting directors do the right thing and hire people who actually have whatever variation they're portraying.)

                                          The film says so much about music and the arts, about the hearts of people, about sacrifice, about finding your "masterpiece" in unexpected ways. Mr. Holland performs a John Lennon song and dedicates it to his son at one point, and he puts special emphasis on this line:
                                          "Life is what happens to you while you're busy making other plans." --John Lennon

                                          I think it's a good summation of not just his relationship with his son, but the message of the whole film. And I love it in all its bittersweet glory.

                                          Tuesday, February 24, 2015

                                          Freakin' out

                                          Well I usually blog about something or another on Mondays but I didn't get to this week because this happened.

                                          Emergency Room Selfie!

                                          I've always been super healthy and pretty active, so when I started having weird medical issues last year it was just kind of a mystery. I still don't know why I have an achy hip (that sometimes hurts up my back too), a weird pain in my abdomen, or a painful spot in my ribs--seems like I'm just having weird little spots of inflammation that nobody can see a cause for on any of the procedures they've tried (X-rays, ultrasounds, and a CT scan). Buuuut then this past month or so I've been noticing a feeling like my heart is racing as if I just got off my bike after a long ride, and that's just while I'm lying around in bed reading. Sometimes if I'm on my laptop lying on my stomach, my heartbeat shakes the bed enough that the screen is jiggling. I don't know what that's all about. And it would do it for hours at a time. Whaaaaat.

                                          So over this past weekend it was really bad and not going away and I was shaking a lot and couldn't stop, so after an entire weekend of just having stuff like that kinda come and go (but not really go all the way), I tried to go to sleep on Sunday night and just couldn't get comfortable. So I texted my mom to see if she was awake, and she was. (We're both night owls, and it was like 3 AM.) I asked what she thought I should do, and she came over and took my blood pressure with the cuff she owns. She didn't think my blood pressure was too high, but the thing is, I always had low blood pressure before (like, so low that it's in the range you should have if you are either an athlete or a child), so seeing it at the upper end of normal is probably bad for me. And yeah, my pulse was fast but not ridiculously so.

                                          So we hung out a little bit and she tried to calm me down and stuff but I was getting tingly fingers and dizziness and felt like I was going to throw up, so I decided I wanted to go to the ER. And that we did.

                                          It was my first time ever in the hospital (well, since I was born, you know). And it was fine. I got an IV and had my vital stats checked and got put in one of the ER rooms. My mom stayed with me and we just hung out and talked about stuff. I had a doctor and a couple nurses and a tech come check on me, and they gave me a pee test and hooked me up to a machine that monitored my heart rate and blood pressure and took an X-ray of my chest and tested my blood to see if I had any electrolyte imbalances or thyroid problems or whatever. Nope and nope.

                                          So they basically couldn't find any reason for why I would be feeling that way, and determined that perhaps it is caused by anxiety. Which runs in my family. They more or less considered it a panic attack.

                                          That to me seems a bit weird because this has been happening on and off for the last month and I've been in public regarding it as "dangit, why is that happening?" and not being afraid or panicked at all, and I don't feel anything like what my mom feels when she has panic attacks. But even though nobody said this, I guess anxiety can manifest in weird ways and no two people will necessarily react to it the same, so maybe my body is being anxious even if my mind isn't on board?

                                          As soon as I started telling people what happened, they all emphasized how busy I am and how much stuff I do and how maybe I'm putting myself under intense pressure. I have an easy job at my office career, but yeah, the writing career stuff is much more demanding and stressful, and I do indeed do a TON of stuff (and I never feel like it's enough). I run four blogs, answer media and speaking requests, make content for two YouTube channels, answer lots of e-mail, draw two webcomics, read a book a week (if I don't flub it up) and post reviews, do weekly karaoke videos, and write an obscene amount of content in my novels, short stories, and nonfiction work. I'm always waiting for a verdict on something, trying to sell one novel and currently having nine short pieces out for review.

                                          (Did I mention I got a short story rejection WHILE I was in the hospital bed? Ugh. I went home and found a new place to send it as soon as I got out.)

                                          Anyway, given everything I do and everything I WANT to do, it seems like other people are looking at what happened and suggesting that maybe I'm making myself sick.


                                          I thought it was good motivation, and I enjoy having the fire under my ass, and I love being so driven, and I think it's part of my personality that I am. But now I have to wonder if it's legitimately having a negative effect on my body, and if there's anything I can do to manage it better or do less without feeling horrible in a different way.

                                          Anyway, I have some anti-anxiety pills now (I took one in the hospital and it knocked me out for eight hours; my mom says it's because my system is "so pure," since I don't smoke or drink or take any medications or drugs). And I have a follow-up scheduled to make sure my heart really is okay, and I'm going to ask the doctor if there's anything else we can do to diagnose or treat the mysterious achy spots on the right side of my body. But if it is an anxiety-based reaction, I'm not sure how I'm going to manage that.

                                          We'll see.

                                          Saturday, February 21, 2015

                                          Personal Digest Saturday: February 14 – February 20

                                          Life news this week: 
                                          • I spent much of this week flitting between three things: writing Bad Fairy, digging myself out of an e-mail hole that's literally from September last year, and watching episodes of House, M.D. (My friend lent me the DVDs a long time ago and I never finished watching them. I'm interspersing episodes between behaving responsibly.)
                                          • I completed three chapters of my book this week, mostly over the long weekend. About 11,000 new words. Good for me!
                                          • Manuscript Wish List (#MSWL) happened this week on Twitter. If you don't know, it's when agents and editors (well, mostly agents) tweet rather specific things that they're wishing people would submit. I combed the feed for editors looking for what I write and I'll just say that went well for me!
                                          • My second alternate from last year's Pitch Wars, Jessica, sold her book to Curiosity Quills without an agent. Awesome for her. :)
                                          • I processed a new video for my asexuality channel, which I filmed the week before but didn't put together until this week. I'm always pleasantly surprised by how many people are willing to tolerate my longer videos and post supportive comments. This video was like 45 minutes long.
                                          • An article in WIRED about asexuality mentioned my book. I'm pretty sure I got a little spike in sales from it. The comments, over 900 of them at last count, are a cesspool. As usual. Kind of depressing when you think you're making progress and then the comments are full of WHY ARE PEOPLE TALKING ABOUT THIS THIS IS A NON-ISSUE WHY CAN'T WIRED DO ACTUAL NEWS THESE PEOPLE ARE OBVIOUSLY SICK SO WHY DO THEY WANT PRESS ABOUT THEIR MALFUNCTIONS WOW THEY REALLY JUST NEED TO GET LAID AND STOP CONVINCING THEMSELVES THEY'RE SPECIAL etc.
                                          • Jeaux Day took place at Westshore Pizza. He told me about hilarious things going on in his video game forum. Jeaux wins the Internet for exposing sexists for what they are.
                                          New reviews of my book:
                                                                    Places featured:
                                                                              Reading progress:

                                                                              • Completed reading: Nothing this week. I'm afraid I'm slower sometimes when reading nonfiction.
                                                                              • Currently reading: The Tropes of Fantasy Fiction by Gabrielle Lissauer.

                                                                              New singing performances:

                                                                              Here I'm singing "Sunglasses at Night" by Corey Hart. Used to love this song as a kid, and of course I wore sunglasses while performing.

                                                                              New drawings:

                                                                              Webcomic Negative One Issue 0510: "What's Yours."

                                                                              New videos:

                                                                              Letters to an Asexual #25 is here.

                                                                              New photos:  

                                                                              Me complaining it's 52ºF when it's way colder most other places.
                                                                              And now . . . observe what my haircut looks like ONE YEAR LATER.

                                                                              Back, February 2015
                                                                              Back, February 2014
                                                                              Front, February 2015
                                                                              Front, February 2014

                                                                              Social media counts: YouTube subscribers: 4,327 for swankivy (19 new this week), 436 for JulieSondra (4 new). Twitter followers: 613 for swankivy (7 new), 838 for JulieSondra (1 new). Facebook: 277 friends (1 new--friended Brooke) and 158 followers (no change) for swankivy, 525 likes for JulieSondra (1 new), 55 likes for Negative One (no change), 101 likes for So You Write (no change). Tumblr followers: 1,823 (18 new).

                                                                              Thursday, February 19, 2015

                                                                              Bad Fairy 2 status report: Chapters 13 through 15

                                                                              I'm happy to say Bad Fairy 2 is chugging along at an impressive rate, and the narrative is moving right along. I spent a pretty decent amount of my holiday weekend on the book, though I wasn't able to make time for it in the last couple of days because I was busy with phone calls, friends, and reading. But I'm satisfied with my progress for now.

                                                                              Words: Chapters 13 through 15 came to 11,233 words.

                                                                              Basic details:  Delia goes into the land of the dead for the first time, slowly learns the rules of how things work there, and spends several years building a repertoire of ways to help the dead and their surviving families. She builds a sort of solitary career on this, but also faces some pretty awful sacrifices to her own health, and after both a near-death experience and a long trend of ignoring her own needs, she decides she needs to develop some career aspirations that will have her spending at least some of her time in the world of the living.

                                                                              The good: The death-world stuff is probably going to come across as very inventive and immersive for the reader, since I am unloading all the cool mythology and letting Delia broaden her horizons on a scale not yet attempted in this series. It's not based on any existing mythology about the afterlife; it's all invented for the story, and Delia's tales of discovery are in honesty pretty dang neat. I think some of the grittiness that I went into with Delia's brushes with mortality are also appropriately horrifying. (They'd better be. I grossed myself out half a dozen times while writing it.) The laws of physics in the death world are super creepy too--probably in a good way.

                                                                              Delia also keeps a journal about the weirdness she's encountering in the death world and at one point I share some excerpts from it. I kinda like that she's showing how sheltered she is through her reactions but also showing how her culture has shaped her into thinking her society was the standard and of course finding out that it isn't. Like, this isn't our world obviously, but imagine if you lived in the Middle Ages in the Europe of our world and you had no idea North America existed, and then through some weird twist of fate you got to meet an American Indian. That's the kind of thing she's dealing with--meeting people from parts of the world her society isn't aware of yet, and learning about not only their customs and ways of life but trying to absorb it from several generations. It's weird, but it's really cool.

                                                                              The bad: Delia does again spend a lot of these chapters narrating rather than interacting, and that always makes me worry about pacing. There are interactions with dead people that are pretty cool interspersed with these long narrative passages, so that may be enough to break it up, but I do want to portray Delia as getting a little lost during this period of her life and I have to find a good balance between truly conveying that and, you know, losing/boring the reader. Also, a lot of what I wrote is based on the stuff I already wrote in my original version of Bad Fairy, so some of it feels a little stale to me; I'm hoping that's just a consequence of what I know, not the writing itself. Her actual words get really heavy and dramatic sometimes in the absence of others to temper them, so sometimes I wonder if it's going to sound silly.

                                                                              Creepy Tarot card. ;)
                                                                              The quotes:

                                                                              When Delia finds out that reincarnation doesn't generally allow people to take their lessons learned into their next life, and she's disappointed by that, her goddess Cerridwen says this:

                                                                              One autumn is not a better autumn from the last every time it comes again.  

                                                                              After Delia begins regularly doing favors for the dead and has adopted the working name "Lady Kirra" for her quests:

                                                                              Helping these people was immeasurably more satisfying than I’d ever imagined anything could be. I’d wanted so badly to be an adviser to the king because I’d thought I could help the most people through his influence, but this was so much better; I did not need the recognition and prestige conferred by an authority, and was in fact more comfortable working behind the scenes with unseen hands like a force of nature. Lady Kirra operated in the darkness behind the veil, and her influence could be felt throughout the world even though only the dead knew her name.

                                                                              When something really bad happens because she stayed in the death world too long:

                                                                              I might as well be a child for all I really understood about Summer-Winterland, too. What kind of fool was I, to traipse about in the death world pretending I was some kind of savior when my passion for my life’s work could come so close to killing me? Just because I hadn’t known when to ask an old man to stop talking? 

                                                                              When Delia's being gross and not taking care of herself:

                                                                              In a way, it was glorious to know I’d found my life with those who’d lost theirs, but a body was meant to be occupied, and soon enough I began to pay the consequences. I felt so disconnected from my body, considering it so unimportant that I fed it minimally and failed to clean it when it needed to be cleaned, and as the hours peeled away, so did my vitality.

                                                                              When Delia is starting to realize how vicarious her life has become and that her selflessness is actually literally erasing her self:

                                                                              Except for magick and my underworld experiences, I did not know what I loved. I ached for productive outlets for my passions even when I loved them for their own sake, and after seeing so many lives spinning away into new beginnings, I wanted to truly make a difference with these phenomenal gifts I’d been given. And being exposed to the passions of the dead in a cursory fashion only taught me how important their reasons for living were to them; they didn’t teach me how to enjoy those activities or how to get into them myself. I needed a way to expose myself to the world beyond my walls—both the walls of my castle and the walls of my mind.

                                                                              I was going to find someone to teach me.

                                                                              Chapter 16 will involve introducing the "someone." I always liked this character even though she's a minor one. :D

                                                                              On to more writing this weekend!

                                                                              Wednesday, February 18, 2015

                                                                              Wednesday Factoid: Siblings

                                                                              Today's Wednesday Factoid is: Do you like your siblings? Why or why not?

                                                                              Great question, survey.

                                                                              Yeah dude! My siblings are awesome.

                                                                              I have two younger sisters: Patricia and Lindsay. P is one year younger and L is five years younger. We grew up in a happy home, and though there were the expected sibling squabbles here and there, we got along reasonably well. We had fairly different interests and our preferences brought us to very different paths in life, but we still have plenty in common, and I love when I get to visit them.

                                                                              P and I grew up kinda like twins because we were so close in age that I didn't remember being an only child and we were approximately the same size for most of our lives. When we were younger we even dressed alike sometimes. Because of our closeness in age, we were "the big girls" and were put in a different category from our little sister, and given the same responsibilities and privileges for the most part. We played with the same toys and liked a lot of the same books growing up, and occasionally even shared friends.

                                                                              We often resisted playing with our little sister because she didn't have as much in common with us, being a much younger child by our standards, so she usually had her own pals and spent most of her younger years being more social with friends than we ever were. But we still had some shared games and interests, and even when we were jerks to each other like kids are, we still supported each other and spent time together.

                                                                              I went to college in 1996 and my two younger sisters developed some new traditions between them. Then P went to college in 1997, but she visited home more often than I did because her college was closer and she was a driver. I spent a good ten years not seeing my family very much, and P moved to Japan, and L moved around a bit and got work in our hometown, sometimes living with my mom for comparatively short stretches. We didn't communicate much. We spent time getting together on holidays, but not a whole lot else.

                                                                              (As you can see, little sister became the big one.)

                                                                              Some time later, P moved back from Japan and got married, and her sisters were her bridesmaids. And some time even later, L got married too and . . . again her sisters were bridesmaids.

                                                                              'Cause we're cute like that.

                                                                              I like the people my sisters have matured into as adults. I know we're family and that influences your feelings about someone if you're related, but I also like them as people. My sister P is kind and caring and such a great person to have long talks with, and I love that she stays interested and involved in my life even though she's all the way in California with a demanding job and a baby boy. My sister L is funny and intelligent and so much fun to be around, and it's great that she finds time to stay in touch in between her ridiculously busy job and is always happy to step in to support her family when someone needs her. I wish I saw both of them more, but we do the best we can. They both understand things about me that no one else does, and there are certain things we can talk about that don't make sense to other people. I'm grateful that we have that relationship, and I try not to take it for granted.

                                                                              Monday, February 16, 2015

                                                                              Ten Big Moments

                                                                              Being a writer is full of moments. For me, there have been some memorable milestones along the way that I'd like to share with all of you, and I hope you can get some inspiration from checking out some of my bright spots, regardless of where you are on your own journey.

                                                                              Let's start at the beginning. . . .

                                                                              1. Finishing a book

                                                                              It's no secret that actually finishing the darn thing is a big deal.

                                                                              I have finished writing ten books in my life. Each one was like a weird miracle: you can't believe it's actually done, but at the same time it seemed like forever that you were swimming in that fictional world, trying to write those final words. I finished my first book when I was fourteen, all handwritten and terrible. I finished my most recent fiction book on June 3, 2012. All of the books I've written have been equally satisfying to complete, and finishing them was both a relief and an anxiety-filled experience--because now there would be so much work to do, and now there was still so much path to travel. But finishing the book: that's the first thing. And you can't do any of the next things until you do that.

                                                                              2. Submitting to agents for the first time

                                                                              It's a weird feeling when you're ready to pull that trigger.

                                                                              I began to contact agents for the first time in 2006. It turned out to be with a book that was not ready, as I would later rewrite it as a trilogy instead of a gigantic hulking monster of a doorstopper, but that was the first time I decided something of mine might actually be ready for popular consumption and I summoned up the courage to try. Sending your stuff out into the void is terrifying and exhilarating. It's fun and exhausting and weird and frustrating. But it's also a really inspiring hope-filled experience; you've made the decision that you're not just writing for yourself, and you're looking for a partner to help you bring this thing into the mainstream. You're sharing your stuff with people who read a LOT of bad writing and a LOT of stuff that isn't right for them, hoping your work will beat the odds. Will they respond? HOW will they respond? What a roller coaster. 

                                                                              3. My first full manuscript request

                                                                              I started querying agents in the days before electronic querying was the most common way to do it, so my first full manuscript request came in hard copy. It was a strange mixture of form letter and personal, meaning that I received a single sheet of paper that was literally a form but was responding to my query-and-ten-pages submission with this full manuscript request. It was from Laurie at Larsen-Pomada. She did not end up offering on the manuscript after digging into the full, and I ended up rewriting it as a trilogy partly based on her advice, but this marked for me a first inkling of my chances for success; publishing industry professionals thought I had potential and were responding to my work with requests for more of it, which meant I wasn't wrong to think I could actually do this. I got multiple requests after this, too, with somewhere around 70% of the agents I bothered requesting samples of my work. It was a little intimidating and scary when that happened, and I knew I had to close the deal.

                                                                              4. My first offer of representation

                                                                              On August 8, 2012, I got an e-mail from Michelle Johnson, who asked to set up a phone call with me. I connected with her the next day and she said those lovely words:

                                                                              "I would love to offer you representation for Bad Fairy."

                                                                              After sorting out some other business and considering my options, I ended up signing with her on August 20, and there I was with my first actual publishing-industry contract. Now I had a partner in crime to help me get my work out there, and it was a huge confidence boost, thinking someone who'd read so much had chosen my work to pitch to publishers. Michelle was also not the last to offer me representation; I also got an offer of representation from Andrea Somberg, who represents my nonfiction. That was really excellent too!

                                                                              5. My first offer of publication

                                                                              I received three offers of publication for the book that later sold. My agent Andrea got the publishers to update and change some things in the contracts they offered, and after more than a week of back-and-forth, I got a contract that I was willing to sign.

                                                                              I accepted an offer of publication with Skyhorse Publishing's Carrel Books imprint. This is the kind of thing you dream about when you're an author--having publishers making competing offers and having a smart agent on your side negotiating better terms for you, and then looking at all the dates and rules and percentages and knowing that all of this is about making your idea into a tangible product that is one day going to hit shelves. It's beginning! But in a way, it's an ending too. You did it, you know? Your book sold. It happened. Somebody wants to throw money at your idea in the hopes that consumers will shell out cash for the privilege of looking at your words. Incredible.

                                                                              6. My Publishers Marketplace announcement and cover

                                                                              My book getting announced in the official publication of book deals was pretty awesome. It was especially cool when friends who were members started tweeting at me with excitement before I'd even announced the deal myself. Publishers Marketplace kind of scooped me! It came out so fast, which I understand is unusual--people wait for a long time to see their submission sometimes, and mine came out the day after I signed the contract. 

                                                                              Some time later, I got scooped again:

                                                                              My book, whose title had recently been changed to The Invisible Orientation (from the title I sold it as, So You Think You're Asexual--much better, I agree), suddenly had a cover one day when I looked it up on Amazon. This cover ended up getting attached to the Advance Reading Copies and the Kindle edition, but a different cover popped up on the final books. It was really neat, in any case, seeing both of these electronic representations of the book's REALNESS on the Internet. Like, oh look, here are all the signs and signals that the book is on its way, and they're treating MY book just like all the other books that are real. It's happening!

                                                                              7. Getting paid

                                                                              In February of 2014, I got my first advance check--and I had officially been paid for writing for the first time. Which meant I was this weird mythical creature called a Professional Writer.

                                                                              You know, an Author. A real one.

                                                                              I never believed that you had to get paid for your work to be a legitimate author, but there's something about being paid for what you wrote that definitely makes you feel like it has value--and not just because people like it or find it useful. Getting paid for your work makes you feel like people somewhere out there want to give you an incentive to do more of it--that you've created not only some enjoyable writing, but a product that is worth treating like other things of value. My writing is worth paying for, and for the first time, I had proof that someone in the publishing industry agrees with me.

                                                                              8. Receiving copies of my book

                                                                              Boy oh boy, is that a big one! 

                                                                              Now, technically the first copies of my book I got were advance reading copies that my editor gave me to use at a conference. (And I guess that was also technically my first book event--another milestone--but it was before the book came out, so I didn't include it.) But these were the official hardbacks--a box of ten--that were given to me as part of my contract to do whatever I wanted with.

                                                                              So I got to see a bunch of copies of the book I wrote, with my name on the cover, with my photo on the rear inside flap, with my words filling all those pages. The back flap covered with blurbs from people praising my work. The front inside flap pitching the book to potential readers. The little price quote on the book cover, and an ISBN and bar code on it. Publishing info. Copyright. All that official stuff. You know, a real book. That people I don't even know can buy and read. Pretty dang amazing.

                                                                              9. My book release

                                                                              On September 2, 2014, my book was released into the wild and I became a published author with an actual credit to my name.

                                                                              I didn't actually do much on the actual day--I wanted to be alone, 'cause I'm weird--but the day before, I got a surprise party with friends and my mom, and got a cute little cake and some company. (And a framed poster of my book cover!) It was cool to know this was a cause for celebration, and that my friends and family who had supported me were so proud of me, and then of course it was so great to have the book published and out there and ready for people to order or borrow from the library. There were so many messages of congratulations and people expressing excitement about getting to read the book. It was just kind of overwhelming. It was what I'd worked for all that time, and finally it had happened.
                                                                              10. Getting reviews--and more

                                                                              There's a very weird feeling that accompanies getting feedback. It's sort of this mixture of pride and fear--people can now publicly react to your work, and there's nothing you can do about it, and if they hate it they might say so . . . possibly even in horrible ways. I've been fortunate in that very little of the response has been negative (and literally all of the off-the-wall nasty stuff has been done in passive-aggressive ways, like the person who created a Goodreads account JUST to give my book one star and never did anything at all else with the account; sounds like a personal feud to me). You have to learn, as an author, to not take negative reviews personally, and to not argue with them (oh believe me, I would never do that), and to avoid acting like a jerk if you get reactions to your work that you don't like.

                                                                              All kinds of slightly terrifying, mostly delightfully surreal things happen when you get a book published. Your book gets mentioned in and reviewed by publications large and small sometimes. (I got excerpted in TIME, featured in the Washington Post, interviewed in Salon, discussed on the BBC, invited on Australian television, written up in Library Journal, and profiled in the New York Times. Among others.) You see people recommending it to other people. You see it on shelves in places you've never been. You see it listed on Goodreads and other book review sites. You see people wishing it was translated into their country's language. You see people doing cute things like tweeting about getting your book for Christmas, or asking for how to get an autographed copy, or getting excited that there's an audio version (which was also cool for me--hearing someone else narrate my book!). You have created a wanted product and you get to see people treating it like a wanted product. And when you hear about your sales numbers, find out they justify bringing the book out in paperback, learn you've gone to reprints . . . it all hits home that so many people WANT to have your book.

                                                                              That silly thing that you banged out a while back and typed "THE END" on.

                                                                              Being an author is awesome. And I love looking back at that list of milestones, and knowing that I may have a whole new set of milestones to hit--perhaps like selling another book, hitting a bestsellers list of some kind, doing a real book signing, and getting a multiple-book deal. Hey, a girl can hope.

                                                                              Wishing my author friends luck on their own paths, whichever of these signposts might be in their futures.

                                                                              Saturday, February 14, 2015

                                                                              Personal Digest Saturday: February 7 – February 13

                                                                              Life news this week: 
                                                                              • I spent a lot of this week obsessing over short stories new and old. I polished off my newest one and sent it off to be considered, and then went on a submission binge, rewriting another old story completely in the process. So now I have nine pieces out being considered by ten different magazines. I joined the Submission Grinder to help me keep track of my submissions.
                                                                              • Completed Chapter 12 of the newest Bad Fairy book as well.
                                                                              • I drew a picture of my characters from my new short story both for fun and because I wanted it for a gag I was making in my So You Write comic this week.
                                                                              • An interview I did for The Varsity hit on Monday. I was interviewed with a few other asexual people.
                                                                              • I did not get my Taco Bus taco on Monday as planned but that was because Yasmin couldn't make it. I got my Taco Bus taco on FRIDAY and it was delicious. Full of tofu and rice and tastiness.
                                                                              • A podcast for a radio show called Friday Night Lip Service had an entire episode dedicated to asexuality and my book was mentioned on it. It is apparently being assigned as their book club's book for soon!
                                                                              • Jeaux Day involved shopping at Target and eating at Applebee's. When we were in the makeup aisle at the store he was making jokes about the eyeshadow and some woman overheard him and said "Excuse me, did you just refer to makeup as 'utilitarian'?" Nahahaha. People don't get Jeaux's jokes.
                                                                              • I filmed a video this week but didn't process it yet. Blargh I'm so lazy.
                                                                              New reviews of my book:
                                                                                        • Prismatic Entanglements posted a comprehensive, mostly positive, gently critical review.
                                                                                        • Elizabeth Leuw gave it four stars on Goodreads. (Elizabeth is the author of Prismatic Entanglements, and this is a slightly less detailed version of the above review.)
                                                                                        • NaomiRuth gave it three stars on Goodreads because she already knew everything in it and was surprised that the content isn't common knowledge already.
                                                                                                    Places featured:
                                                                                                              Reading progress:

                                                                                                              • Completed reading: Texts from Jane Eyre by Mallory Ortberg. (Mallory's a co-creator of The Toast and they once published something of mine!) Four-star review.
                                                                                                              • Currently reading: The Tropes of Fantasy Fiction by Gabrielle Lissauer.

                                                                                                              New singing performances:

                                                                                                              Here I'm singing "Come Together" by the Beatles. I've always loved how this song sounds, even though I don't really have the kind of voice that's good for performing it.

                                                                                                              New drawings:

                                                                                                              Doodle of new characters from "Aquarius":

                                                                                                              Becks & Austin are a super cute queer couple.

                                                                                                              Webcomic Negative One Issue 0509: "Promise Me Back."

                                                                                                              Webcomic So You Write Issue 45: "Not What I Imagined."

                                                                                                              New videos:

                                                                                                              Haha none.

                                                                                                              New photos:  

                                                                                                              I did take this photo when I was giggling to Mallory's book.

                                                                                                              Social media counts: YouTube subscribers: 4,308 for swankivy (23 new this week), 432 for JulieSondra (2 new). Twitter followers: 606 for swankivy (3 new), 837 for JulieSondra (lost 3--I had a storm of spam followers last week so clearly some of them dropped me this week when I didn't follow back). Facebook: 276 friends (no change) and 158 followers (no change) for swankivy, 524 likes for JulieSondra (9 new), 55 likes for Negative One (1 new), 101 likes for So You Write (1 new). Tumblr followers: 1,805 (15 new).

                                                                                                              Thursday, February 12, 2015

                                                                                                              Bad Fairy 2 status report: Chapter 12

                                                                                                              So this might sound like a cop-out of an update but I ended up doing very little actual writing on the Bad Fairy sequel this week. (As I'll explain below, I was preoccupied with some short story stuff.) I finished Chapter 12. And actually I decided to end it earlier than I'd originally planned because it was just too many things happening that I wanted a little divider.

                                                                                                              Words: The rest of Chapter 12 came to 1,830 words, with Chapter 12 totaling 3,073 words. 

                                                                                                              Basic details: Delia gets all annoyed that she's basically mastered all the disciplines in the magickal world by age sixteen, starts working on some pioneer projects, and ends up deciding it's not really worth it to bring her discoveries to the larger world since the same things that always kept her back would probably continue to do so. She begins in earnest to find a way into the afterlife so she can uncover the mysteries of death, and by the end of the chapter she's figured out how to get in.

                                                                                                              The good: This chapter is really intense and lets me show my character doing something that doesn't come easily. It's also the catalyst to begin stampeding toward the event that causes the climax of the book. And there was a cool memory rewind that let me show some of the stuff that happened in the last book--which is a nice reminder for old readers and an interesting bit of context for people who maybe start with this book.

                                                                                                              The bad: Delia is by herself throughout the chapter and doesn't speak, so I worry that the narration will feel plodding through lack of interaction, even though I think the focus is appropriate. Also, some of the thoughts Delia has at the beginning of the chapter are super bratty, and I know not everyone finds it easy to tolerate her massive ego.

                                                                                                              Thanks for making this for me, Darth Lolita. ;)
                                                                                                              The quotes:

                                                                                                              After Delia succeeds in a certain levitation technique in an advanced spellbook:
                                                                                                              I picked up the spellbook and savored the words on the page, grinning as I wondered if its author had even been able to perform these last few spells. The wording sounded so theoretical, as if the magicks listed in the back of the book were based on guesses, not practice. Looking longingly at the last page, I turned it to stare at the blank inside cover that had been waiting all those years. Sadness came over me. I’d performed the most difficult task, and now there was nothing left to learn. 
                                                                                                              Thoughts after Delia ponders joining a sage organization so she can spread knowledge about her own magickal inventions:
                                                                                                              Suddenly I laid my pen to rest and dropped my forehead into my hand, closing my eyes to think. Here I go again, I scolded myself. Getting carried away. Enthusiasm sometimes smacked me so hard it temporarily blinded me, but I needed to learn how to escape its claws. Joining a team of magickal experts would do me no good at all. Sure a group of people who made it their business to document and master the full spectrum of magick available to our people would be uniquely qualified to support my interests, but they were just another group I’d have to prove myself to (and probably get rejected from for the same reasons everyone else had done so), and there would be annoying internal politics, pressure from outside parties to disseminate my knowledge to the masses, and more accusations of doing it all for attention. 
                                                                                                              Delia prepares her space for investigating the afterlife:
                                                                                                              The meditation room was prepared for my venture into Summer-Winterland. The air was cool with the shallow breezes venturing inside from the night sky; the light was low and fickle as several lanterns guttered in the corners, casting shadows dancing across the walls; my cushioned stool had a new drape of sparkling black velvet to nestle into as I claimed my throne as queen of the underworld. Drake would have said I was being dramatic. But what exactly in this world was more dramatic than death?
                                                                                                              I won't show the details of how exactly she gets here, but when Delia does find out how to access Summer-Winterland:
                                                                                                              At first it felt like hitting a wall, but then I was flooded with a feeling of place—like traveling back in time to the beginning of my existence had physically brought me to a location that was somehow both within me and outside me, and I had simply needed to be shown the path to remember where it was. It was an all-consuming sensation of hereness and nowness, with nothing before me but a great curtain.

                                                                                                              A veil that separated me from the other side of life.

                                                                                                              I reached with my awareness and touched it.
                                                                                                              And I'm not going to say any more about that. :/

                                                                                                              There are other cool lines but I don't want spoileryness all over the Internet. :P

                                                                                                              So, part of the reason I didn't do any writing this weekend (all the new words on Chapter 12 are from last night!) is that I was in short story submission mode. I woke up on Saturday with a text from my mom saying she'd read "Aquarius," the short story I wrote last week--she's the only person I sent it to, and I wasn't actually going to send it to anyone because I'm a jerk, but she asked. The first thing she said about it was that it was too short.


                                                                                                              Basically she wished it hadn't ended so soon and that I would turn it into a whole book. I said I really didn't want to (and that I didn't think I was enough of a space nerd to do so), but she was really enthusiastic about it and was worried that me submitting to a magazine would ruin my chances to develop it into a book later if I did want to. (I explained why that's not true and she gets it, I think.) Who'd have thought I'd be able to get my mom to like science fiction?

                                                                                                              I made this thingie as an emblem for the characters' spaceship. ;)

                                                                                                              So anyway, I submitted the short story to the magazine I wrote it for on Sunday. Then I got all submission-happy and ended up submitting like four more stories to other markets.

                                                                                                              I joined The Submission Grinder (and you should too, if you make enough submissions to fiction markets and you want to both keep track of them better and help other authors learn what to expect). I'd used it plenty before to look for markets, but this weekend I put all my data in for the submissions I've done, all the way back to 2009. Plugging in your data helps show what's a normal wait time for submissions, and if a market has enough data, you can see whether your wait time is abnormal, and whether you can expect a personal or a form rejection, or what percentage they accept. (Remembering of course that acceptances tend to be over-reported and rejections aren't always recorded.)

                                                                                                              What I didn't know about it until I made an account was that you can plug in the stats on your various pieces, including word count and genre, and then you can just click a button to search for markets that take what you write. (You know, instead of manually searching the database each time you want to send a story out.) You can adjust it to show you only markets that pay a certain pay rate or to exclude anthologies or whatever you want. If you get a rejection, after logging it, you can click "find a new home for this story" and it will run your search for the next place. It takes the soul-sucking drudgery out of the process and sort of makes it fun.

                                                                                                              You can also "favorite" and "watch" markets so you can easily make notes and remember what you want to do with them--like if you're waiting for a submission window to open or you have one marked to send a story to if it gets rejected from another place. And there's a running (anonymous, unless you ask to be otherwise) tally of recent responses on the front page of the site, showing you markets that are rejecting and accepting right now. You can click on them and get new ideas about active markets and see if they're right for what you write.

                                                                                                              The site's in beta, so there are some things that don't really work (like, it allows you to identify a piece as nonfiction, but then still has subcategories and "story types" that only pertain to fiction, and the graphing for less popular markets is weird-looking and non-intuitive). But anyway, that's enough fangirling about the Submission Grinder for now. The point is that I went through and reviewed my submissions to evaluate what stories needed to be sent out again, what stories had been out long enough that I should query about them, and what stories I should rewrite.

                                                                                                              So I spent a little time cleaning up a couple stories, and then there was one I completely rewrote. It was an ancient short story called "Baby Talk." Initially there wasn't much to it; it was 650 words of fluff and it had gotten rejected from a couple magazines in the past, but I didn't think I had much hope of placing it anywhere. Rereading it was painful because it was honestly disappointingly amateur, but it was still a cute idea. (Hey, come on, I wrote it in 1999. The idea wasn't bad but the execution was not great.) So I decided to add almost a little sub-plot to it (which is only vaguely hinted at because you overhear someone talking on the phone) and all the words of the rewrite are original. It's now 1,400 words instead of 650, and I wrote that on Sunday, read it over, and submitted it somewhere.

                                                                                                              Unfortunately since I've been hitting up extremely competitive pro markets, I'm probably going to be getting a lot of rejections in the coming days. But that's showbiz. I mean, that's writing.

                                                                                                              So, according to my submissions manager, I have ten pieces out for consideration right now. (And two that were accepted but not yet published, as well as two that were accepted and have been published.) They're all different stories except for one--there's one in the list being considered by two places right now. There's also a story that is in a weird place--the editor e-mailed me to say they're holding it, which usually means it's a strong maybe but they're waiting until deadline to make final decisions on what to include and what to reject. These are all fiction. I don't have any nonfiction out for consideration right now.

                                                                                                              Now I really want to get busy on writing the other short stories I have in mind so I can enjoy entering them into the Grinder and submitting them. Man I'm weird. XD