Beerily To and Fro

I love beer. This is no secret. To me, it’s in the same boat as baking: an exciting combination of chemistry and food. There’s something adventurous about the sheer variety of beers out there and, with the craft beer movement being as large as it is, the quality and selection of brews has never been better than it is today. Domestic or imported, there’s so much to choose from.

My side project, Beerily Thus, updates weekly with beer reviews and the occasional tidbit about beer culture or a little glimpse of the science that makes beer… beer! It’s a fun little mission, which gets me to continually seek out beers that I’ve never tried before. It keeps me out of a rut and takes me to bars or bottle shops that I might not have checked out otherwise. Just one unique beer a week isn’t a huge ask, time-wise, and it keeps me exploring.

I actually recently worked through a massive backlog of beers that I’d tried and taken notes on, but had to write up reviews for… and now I actually need to get back to a routine of one or two beers each week. Oops? Maybe once the oppressive cold and misery of winter starts to let up a bit, I’ll even go out a little more to try new beers instead of just hiding in the house while it gets dark too early.

Wherever this path leads me, I’ll be happy to have something tasty to drink on the way there.

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Rewrites

I’m about to embark on massively rewriting my contemporary fantasy manuscript for the Novel in Six project. I’ve never done anything like this before, having only rewritten short fiction, and doing more than just a pass where I tweak a few things is intimidating. So I’ve been reading a little about the process and have come away with a few mantras, ready to hit the ground running.

Editing an English language document

  1. None of this was a waste of time. Not a word of what you’ve written before was useless; every word was needed to get to where you are now and to discover the story in the first place. Even cut words have their value as they were used to explore and uncover character, plot, and setting.
  2. Trust your instincts. If you think that something needs to be changed, you’re probably right. Don’t overthink it. Go with your gut. Is something not working? Just get in there and start fixing it.
  3. Take a break. It’s okay to get frustrated and need to walk away sometimes. Go make tea, go work out, go for a drive, go make dinner, go take a night off. It’s all part of the process. Just get ready to buckle down again ASAP.
  4. Set realistic goals. This is where Ni6 really comes in handy for me. I’ll be setting weekly writing goals for myself and striving to meet them in order to stay on target. My goal is roughly 70,000 words, many complete rewrites, some re-purposed from the current draft.
  5. No draft is perfect. This is especially true of the current draft. The sooner you accept that it needs work and can be improved, the easier it will be to let go of scenes that just aren’t working.
  6. Reduce, Reuse, Recycle. The old adage works here, too. Just because you’re cutting something from this draft doesn’t mean it might not come in handy in some future project. Hang onto those gems that just aren’t working here; you might be able to use them somewhere else.

Speculative Fiction Reading Recommendations

There is, I think, a bit of a misconception about who reads and who writes speculative fiction. Because of the roles of gatekeepers in the larger publishing houses, many of the people being published and seeing a lot of widespread success are white cis men. But they’re not the only ones writing incredible books and they’re definitely not the only ones reading SFF.

SFF

Martha Wells‘ tweet inspired me to build a list of some of my recent favorites, many of which are by women, POC, and trans folx. There are some cis het white men on here, but not in any dominating percentage.

Silver on the Road by Laura Anne Gilman I first heard about this book from the author on a panel at DragonCon several years ago. I was lured in by the aesthetic of the old west mixed with some magic and superstition. The main character, Isobel, decides to leave the only home she’s ever known and work for the Devil in territories west of the Mississippi. She learns the ways of lies and magic as she trains to become the left hand of the Devil.

The Best American Science Fiction and Fantasy 2017 edited by Joseph Adams and Charles Yu Some of the authors included are E. Lily Yu, Nisi Shawl, Jeremiah Tolbert, A. Merc Rustad, Leigh Bardugo, and N.K. Jemisin.

All Systems Red: The Murderbot Diaries by Martha Wells A mystery unfolds around a band of scientists on a distant planet, who have hired the titular Murderbot for security. We see things from her delightfully dry perspective and we learn she has hacked her own systems to have agency and also to watch a lot of tv.

Transcendent: The Year’s Best Transgender Speculative Fiction edited by K.M. Szpara K.M. is someone I know from area genre writing conferences and, in addition to being a great dresser, he has assembled a wonderful collection of spec fic. Some is by trans authors, some is about transgender characters, and some examines gender, identity, and transformation through the lens of fantasy or the far future.

The Fifth Season by N.K. Jemisin Set in an ever-moving, ever-shifting, ever-quaking continent which is mockingly called The Stillness, we follow three women who have the greatly feared power to move and shape the earth with their minds. The book opens with the end of the world and only gets more incredible from there.

Ancillary Justice by Anne Leckie This is, I confess, still only on my To Read list. I have heard so many wonderful things about this distant future SF novel, not to mention that it won the Hugo, Nebula, and Arthur C. Clarke Awards.

Six Months, Three Days by Charlie Jane Anders This Hugo-winning novelette follows two people who can see the future as they fight through and for their relationship. Judy can see every possible branching future while Doug only sees one possible outcome of all events. The story examines themes of free will versus determinism with wonderful, enchanting dialogue.

The Lamb Will Slaughter the Lion by Margaret Killjoy Hard to classify, I’d call this novella a naturalistic punk fantasy, featuring a community of anarchists, a vengeful nature spirit, and action that moves at breakneck speed (in the good way). It is haunting and vivid and more than a little creepy. A wonderful quick read.

Novel in Six

Columbia Writers, back at it again. We’re bringing back a really popular program from years past: Novel in Six Months. It’s a slightly less murderous sort of NaNoWriMo, giving participants six months to write a first draft instead of just the one. Myself and my two co-organizers are going to create a series of small (4-5 person) groups, matched up to align their needs, and set them loose to write together, brainstorm, do exercises, meet, outline, talk, and support one another using a wide range of tools that we provide.

Typewriter

These are support groups, accountability groups, and also just a great group of people to experience something stressful yet amazing with. We encourage write-ins, monthly check-in meetings, and using shared spreadsheets and documents to brainstorm and keep track of word count. In past years, for meeting our word count goals, we made mix tapes for one another and all went out to a celebratory dinner at the end of the experience. I’m still great friends with most of my fellow Ni6 survivors from when I last participated.

What tools do you find work best to keep you on track? What does your ideal accountability/support system look like?

Blades in the Dark

As a Game Master, I handle things one way: I perpetually over-prepare. I try to plan for every possible outcome and do everything in my power to keep the story relatively on track. I write up some key beats that need to happen and some sample dialogue for NPCs to use. In a numbers-heavy system, I have stats written up for just about everything (I have created stats for a door once, just so you understand where I’m coming from with this).

Being super prepared falls squarely in my wheelhouse; it’s how I handle a lot of things in my life to help mitigate my anxiety. It’s just my go-to method for dealing with the world.

EHP_Blades_Pageheader

Then Blades in the Dark by John Harper came along. My friend Mark was kind enough to gift me several game books that they thought I’d find interesting. Blades is the one that really stuck out to me. Set in a fallen fantasy setting in which the gates between the worlds of the living and dead have been shattered, Blades takes place in the eternal nighttime of Doskvol, a Venice-like, canal-laced city with Industrial-era London technology. Oh, and it’s also haunted. Extremely haunted. Beyond the demon-blood-powered lightning barrier lies the Void Sea, inky and dark, which is teeming with malicious spirits and massive demons called Leviathans.

Now if that setting didn’t win you over (and I don’t know how it could fail to), know that the basics of the game are that you’re a baby street gang, trying to work your way up to fortune and power in the ever-dark city of Doskvol, pulling all sorts of daring jobs or fighting rival gangs for turf. I saw this and immediately offered to run a one-shot in this system for some friends. It was a heist job in a trap-filled mansion and, in my usual style, I over-prepared. I scripted some of the dialogue, provided maps, and had written out the traps and puzzles that I was presenting to my crew. Everyone had such a great time with this system that they asked to turn it into a campaign.

So here I am. And now that I’m running a longer campaign, I’ve abandoned my over-preparing ways. Why? Because that’s not in the spirit of how Blades is supposed to run. This game is more about a running conversation between myself and the players and it’s not up to me to decide what jobs they pull – they get to choose. So while I can come with some ideas for heists or goals, it’s ultimately their choice what they pursue in a game session and it’s my job to be flexible and willing to just improv like I’ve never done before.

And it’s terrifying, you guys. I’m not the person who gets stage fright, but before my first session, I was a nervous wreck. See, this is a fail forward system, meaning that a bad roll of the dice doesn’t stop the action, but rather moves the story forward with some degree of consequences. And it is the consequences that make this game interesting. There’s an improv game called Yes And, in which actors must go along with everything that their fellow actors pretend to be true on stage and never negate that truth. I think of Blades as a Yes But game – yes, you can do the thing you tried to do, but there could be a cost that goes along with your success.

There are also very few numbers and not a ton of dice rolls in this system. There’s almost never an opposed roll; rather, the player rolls and the results they get determine how well they do, how bad any consequences are, and how all of the NPCs around them fair in relation to the player characters. The game can be a little clunky at first – there are a LOT of rules. But they all make a kind of intuitive sense with a little practice. John Harper created a truly beautiful game here and I’m so excited that I get to play in this world.

KM Weiland to the Rescue

KM Weiland is a gift. Her books, Structuring Your Novel and Outlining Your Novel have been incredibly helpful tools for me over the past few years. I cannot recommend these books enough! In her latest blog post, she uses some examples from The Last Jedi (which I loved, but which was also kind of a mess) to talk about five crucial secrets of good storytelling. Check out this blog post and definitely consider her books if you’re at all like me and could use a hand creating plots that more powerfully hook your readers.

New Year, New Goals

I’m not really the biggest fan of New Year’s resolutions – they tend to be based in a sort of effervescent optimism that so often dies off in a few weeks. Myself, I believe in constant self-improvement regardless of what month it happens to be. All the same, I’ll take this changing of the guard as an opportunity to lay out some of my goals for the following year:

  • Publish three pieces of fiction
  • Be accepted to Viable Paradise or another intensive writing workshop experience
  • Sell Widowmaker
  • Visit Portland, OR
  • Roll out the proposed changes to Columbia Writers
  • Continue exploring creative activities that help me manage my anxiety
  • Wrap up my tabletop campaign in the Elysium system
  • Continue running my Blades in the Dark campaign
  • Foster another parrot for Phoenix Landing
  • Find ways to enjoy a funerary trip to Europe in memory of my mother