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Rainforest Writers Retreat 2017

March 2, 2017

Last week I took my first bona fide vacation in over a year, and it was magical. An entire week completely turned off from the day job! After a few days of relaxing staycation in Portland with Jenn, I headed up to the Olympic Peninsula in Washington for session two of this year’s Rainforest Writers Retreat. This annual gathering of genre wordsmiths has been on my radar for years with its reputation as a great place to disconnect (literally) from the world, focus on writing, and hang out with amazing creative people. It absolutely lived up to its billing.

I picked up my dear, dear friends Remy Nakamura and Trace Welser on Wednesday afternoon at the airport and we carpooled up together to the lodge on beautiful Lake Quinault. Gorgeous views and a blissfully peaceful atmosphere up there; I immediately knew this was going to be a special trip. A number of great friends from my Los Angeles writing group the Freeway Dragons and from Taos Toolbox 2012 were in attendance, which made this feel like a reunion for me. I also got to know a number of my new Pacific Northwest acquaintances better, and made brand new friends as well.

Was it good for my writing? Well, I manage about 9,700 words in four days, which is more than I wrote in all of 2016 (a horrible writing year for various reasons). Not only that, but I completed a first draft of my new novel, which clocks in at 106,000 words. The working title is The Farhold Accord, and it’s an episodic mosaic about a Cold War on another planet blending my love of science fiction with my passion for classic spy stories. It’s an ambitious (over-ambitious?) project that’s taken me over three years to finish, and I’m pretty jazzed about it. Feels great to write fiction again after being away for so long.

Wonderful people, wonderful location, wonderful trip. I’m still floating.

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1,000 Posts

January 1, 2016
Finley is often my writing assistant

Finley is often my writing assistant

This is my 1,000th blog post. That happened faster than expected!

When I started the site back in 2009, my intention, on top of building a tiny slice of web presence for myself, was to develop steadier writing habits, and to create an online memory bank of my rampant consumption of story. I didn’t expect it to be quite as comprehensive as it did, but as it turns out, I’m kind of addicted to it now — and wish I had notes going back even further into the past.

The early heydey of blogging may be over, and in terms of visibility I may as well be screaming into a megaphone on a street corner…but blogging is still important to me, and not just because it’s the only writing I do that I know will be published. (I’m in with the editor.)

Over time I’ve learned that writing is more than just an impulse to tell entertaining stories, for me. It is, and has always been, a deeper psychological impulse to try and bridge the gap between what’s festering in my head — which sometimes feels like a vault — and the rest of the world. In other words, it’s a quest for better communication skills…one I expect will go on for the rest of my life.

Of course, my blog is rarely about opening my heart. It’s mostly reviews. And why review things? For free? What a waste of time, right?

Well, for me it’s become an essential part of my life. Because I want to call attention to things I love that others may not have heard about. Because, as a writer, I’m empathetic to that need for feedback that creative people inherently possess. Because I want to understand the modern zeitgeist and contemporary culture. And because, most importantly, art — and more specifically, story — is the only way to make sense of an increasingly strange, broken, and horrifying world. It’s how we gather up the scattered pieces of reality and give them shape.

Reviewing has taught me about writing, and myself, and the world. It’s made me more tolerant and omnivorous. When you try to communicate your internal impressions about something, you see them through a different lens.

So that’s it, I guess. If blogging is passé now, imagine how out of fashion it will be when I’m eighty — and hopefully still churning out my modest little opinions, trying to figure shit out.

Anywhere, damn: 1,000 posts! Here are some of my favorites:

London
A Cat Update
Cats + Music = This Post
Good Evening, Mr. Phelps
The Lost Post
Meet Finn!
Notes from the Cooler
Release Day!
Taos Toolbox 2012
Star Sightings
Anniversary
Story Sale to Asimov’s SF
Rewatching MI-5
Every Episode of Mission: Impossible, Ranked
Goodbye, Los Angeles
The Journey North
Worldcon 2015
Final Thoughts on the Spy 100 Project

Thanks for reading, and welcome to 2016!

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A Whirlwind of a Year

December 31, 2015

It’s the last day of 2015, and I’m writing this post from an antique rocking chair we didn’t even own last year, next to a fireplace I never knew I’d have, in a house I thought I could never afford, in a city I had no idea I would love so much. Yeah…a LOT has happened this year.

A million years ago in January, Jenn and I visited the Pacific Northwest on a quick little recon mission to see if maybe we wanted to live there some day. Since then, here’s what happened:

  • I put in my notice at my job of six years
  • Jenn and I packed up, staged, and sold a condo
  • I totalled my Elantra in the mean streets of Canoga Park
  • We moved into an apartment in Portland we’d never even seen before
  • I landed the first job that interviewed me — and ended up working at a company that is easily the best place I’ve ever worked
  • I went on my first-ever business trips, to Boise, San Francisco, and San Jose
  • We house-hunted, bid on, and landed a house
  • We moved…again
  • We drove to Spokane, Washington for the World Science Fiction Convention…and I actually enjoyed myself
  • And, you know, the very fabric of our existenced more or less changed completely

While I had a notion we’d be making changes this year, by and large I did not see 2015 coming. Frankly, I feel like I was just hit by a truck. It was far and away the most terrifying, thrilling, stressful, wonderful, and momentous year of my life. Some of the changes were done to us…and not in a good way. But most were of our own doing, and paid off more than we ever imagined. We entered the year planning to alter the shape of our lives, and we succeeded in the face of unexpected obstacles. It’s been a wild, wild time.

The one constant remains writing, and despite everything I kept chipping away. In light of all that happened it will probably surprise nobody that 2015 was a shitty writing year for me, certainly by external metrics. No sales, and a limited amount of new fiction produced — two novelette-length short pieces. The novel I was expecting to finish early this year? Well, needless to say it got shoved to the backburner…possibly the backburner of someone else’s stove. If 2014 was a step forward in my writing career, 2015 was another step back. I’ve been here before, of course, and I’m too neurotic about writing not to be a little upset by it…despite the legitimate, extenuating circumstances. But I’ll get over it; I always do, until the next time I don’t. That’s writing for ya…or for me, anyway! Besides, 110 blog posts ain’t too shabby. I’ll take it.

If I could do it all again, there are definitely some things I wish had gone differently, but ultimately I couldn’t be happier about where I ended up. I’m so excited to move into 2016. Happy New Year!

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Where I’ve Been Lately

October 10, 2015

This September was the slowest month of my “blogging career,” dating back to to 2009. Normally I would see this as some kind of moral failing, but in this case I’ve just been freaking busy. After months of living in a temporary apartment, we’ve finally completed our transition into a new house in the hills of Southwest Portland. We’re still slowly feathering the nest but recently we’ve made some great strides whipping the place into shape, including building a fantastic library in our living room. Our neighborhood is quiet and peaceful, full of trees and birds, and I’m feeling stupidly fortunate to have landed in such an amazing and beautiful place. I hope to be here for a long, long time.

Towards the end of September I spent a week in the Bay Area for work, primarily to attend the BoxWorks software conference in San Francisco. After three days in its weird, carpeted “ecosystem” (to use the most overused word of the convention), I can say with confidence that the worldbuilding in Silicon Valley isn’t far off from the truth. (Well, except that there are a lot more women in technology than there are in Silicon Valley – certainly enough to warrant oh, I don’t know, a second female character…)

Finally, upon my return we hosted our first guests in the new home last weekend, the incomparable Tracie Welser and Remy Nakamura. The occasion: the H.P. Lovecraft Film Festival in Portland’s Hollywood neighborhood. Check out the cosplay in the photo gallery (the robot, not the other guy). He(?) even had a creepy voice modulator (the robot, not the other guy).

Now that September is over and things are settling down, I expect to get back to my usual routine of reviews, writing, reviews, movies, books, and more reviews. Because reviews.

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Worldcon 2015

August 26, 2015

I have a sketchy, sporadic and awkward history with science fiction conventions. My first was in Niagara Falls, a Contradiction my dad took me to as a teenager. It’s hazy in my memory…I recall feeling a certain awestruck excitement when Nancy Kress boarded my elevator, and when I watched George R.R. Martin describe, in dispiriting, soul-crushing detail, his experiences in Hollywood to date. (I expect he’s feeling a little better about that nowadays!) Not much else sticks in my mind from that long-ago trip.

Since then I’ve been to twenty-odd conventions, generally with decreasing enthusiasm, as the proximity of so much brilliance, creativity, and success threw my slow-going, disappointing career into ever sharper relief. I found conventions so deflating, in fact, that by the time I went to the Anaheim Worldcon in 2006, I’d gotten into the habit of deliberately obscuring my name badge…partially in the irrational fear that some Futurismic hopeful would punch me in the face, but mostly just to stave off the indifferent expressions of people finding out who I wasn’t. Indeed, I was on the verge of throwing in the towel on writing completely at that convention. On the penultimate night, I made a last-ditch effort to be social, a fateful decision. A slow-moving Harlan Ellison, fresh from his onstage molestation of Connie Willis, nearly frustrated my path to the Strange Horizons party where I would go on to meet my future life partner. (Thank goodness Jenn figuratively turned my name badge around – my own personal darkest timeline, averted!)

Fast forward nine years to last Wednesday. Jenn and I set off along Interstate 84 on the six-hour drive from Portland to Spokane . It was our first vacation together in years, and our first Worldcon since we met.  We were determined to make the most of it – the trip out was leisurely, stopping to make detours along the way to view the beautiful waterfalls on historic Highway 30. Our expectations for the trip were modest: relax and enjoy some time away, occasionally, perhaps, in the company of a friend or two.

The road carried us from the clear beauty of western Oregon to the smoky wildfire apocalypse of eastern Washington. A pall of eerie, blood-red smoke from nearby blazes blanketed the landscape as we reached Spokane at sunset. We herky-jerked through unfamiliar streets to the Davenport Tower, which is a spiffy combination of luxury hotel and jungle-themed porno set. Jenn and I checked in and raced up to what I’d already categorized as our “introversion sanctuary.” We unpacked, threw the curtains open – and found ourselves staring at the top level of a dingy parking garage, fenders backed right up against our windows.

After a disgusted groan, we made a what-the-hell decision. I raced down to the front desk and secured the corner suite they’d unsuccessfully tried to upsell us at check-in. Five minutes and twelve stories later, we found ourselves in a massive double-sized room on the seventeenth floor. It had an expansive view, a massive jacuzzi, and a fireplace, among other indulgences, and it improved our moods immeasurably.

For me, this decision kind of set the tone for the convention. What the hell? Why not? Yes, please. Sure!

I decided to embrace the vacation-y-ness of the vacation, and for whatever reason my social inhibitors evaporated. After anticipating hours of hiding in my room recovering from social overload and impostor syndrome, I ended up spending most of the convention striding around introducing or re-introducing myself or reconnecting with the various genre folks who have come to be part of my extended online family over the last twenty years. For every awkward exchange – and there are always a few – there were at least three or four friendly, energetic conversations with smart, funny, talented, generally awesome science fiction folks. I saw Clarion buddies and Taos pals, Futurismic connections, and people I knew only as Twitter handles and Facebook feeds. I rekindled old friendships and made a few new ones, and for the first time ever at a con, totally forgot my social anxiety. What a liberating relief!

The wildfires kicked into another gear on Friday, turning Spokane into Mordor. By afternoon the streets were thick and hazy with smoke, and everything smelled like a bonfire. I’ll always remember this convention as the one where you could actually see the “con crud” coming for you. But oh well, I was having too much fun to get out of its way. I’m paying for that now. I can still taste Spokane.

But it was worth it. By Saturday evening, the air had cleared enough that we were able to enjoy an outdoor dinner at a tavern near the convention center. That night, a dramatic Hugo ceremony unfolded, but rather than brave the crowds, we colonized a terrace in the hotel bar nearby and entertained ourselves with drinks and Twitter reports, a satisfyingly low-key alternative to the festivities. I won’t publicize the Hugo saboteurs further by uttering their names, but happily they left the event empty-handed…no doubt claiming an unearned victory for the forces of evil. The science fiction community did us proud that night; it was a good night to be a part of it. The post-Hugo celebrations were spirited and fun.

Exhausted and starting to feel the effects of the smoke, we finally drove away on Sunday, a fraught trip featuring a dead car battery, a nerve-wracking shortage of strategically situated gas stations, and a massive traffic jam. It felt a little like the convention didn’t want us to make it home. But we did, and I return to reality full of creative spirit and fond memories. Thanks to all the great people in Spokane who made this con such a special and memorable one. Hope to see you all again soon!

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The Journey North

April 6, 2015

On March 17th, 2015, Jenn and I left Los Angeles for Portland. I was starting to wonder if the day would ever arrive; after weeks of staring at a never-ending to-do list, the idea that we might actually get to leave still didn’t seem quite real. But sure enough, the movers arrived right on time to load up our things, we gave our Tarzana condo one last cleaning, ate leftover pizza on the floor, and hit the road north.

One of our main relocation challenges involved the fact that we have three cats. It dictated our apartment search, it dictated our route north, and it definitely dictated how much we could load into the car. Jenn thought it would be smart to buy a cat carrier large enough that all three guys could be in there together, and it proved a wise investment: on our first day of driving, north to Modesto, there was only a modest level of plaintive meowing from the back seat, mostly from Cairo. We made good time on the first leg and settled in early for the night. By all accounts it was a perfectly mundane travel day, but it felt a little surreal knowing we wouldn’t be going back afterward.

On day two, we drove from Modesto to Eugene. This was a much lengthier stretch, eight or nine hours. Beautiful travel weather, and I got to see parts of the state I’ve never been to before on the stretch of I-5 north of San Francisco. There’s some beautiful territory up there, especially around Mount Shasta, which is absolutely stunning. Alas, the waterline in the massive Lake Shasta was visibly, shockingly low; it left me with an ominous feeling about California’s water future.

I don’t remember crossing into Oregon, but by the time we reached Eugene the cats were clamoring to get out of the carrier. Once we obliged them, they seemed perfectly fine; in fact, by and large they were surprisingly resilient in the face of the unfamiliar stresses of a road trip, and they had a blast exploring the hotel room that night. We ate a rather dicey convenience store meal in our rooms before passing out.

Day three saw us covering the last two hours to our new apartment in Portland. It was the shortest driving day, but boy did it feel like the longest…especially for Finley, who spent the entire trip shouting and trying to claw his way out of the cat carrier. (He was a great sport for the first two days, but by day three he’d had it!) We reached our beautiful new little apartment around lunch time, moved in, and have loved it ever since.

We’ve been here two weeks now, and we’ve unpacked, set up the place, met new people, explored a little. I’ve gone on job interviews, on Powell’s runs, even a hike. We’re settling into our new lives.

But this post is about the journey, right? Moving is a time warp – everything slows down, drags out, feels richer and crazier and more difficult and more momentous. Moving also feels like shattering a mirror, sweeping up all the shards, and carrying them to a new location. Then you rebuild the mirror: keeping the pieces that survive the journey, and adding some new ones, until you’ve got something you can see your reflection in. And, in my experience anyway, you look a little different in the new mirror. I’m still getting used to it.

I look forward to building a new life in Portland, but I also want to remember that hazy, surreal, is-this-really-happening feeling that consumed me during the transition. In retrospect, however scary that unsettledness may be, it represents action, effort, and change. Every now and then, I think we need that…I know I do.

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Goodbye, Los Angeles

March 16, 2015

Chris LAToday is my last full day as an Angeleno.

Even this close to our move to Portland, I’m still kind of in that surreal, moving-crisis headspace that fills your day with so much activity that the reality of what you’re doing never quite sinks in. It’s been full speed ahead ever since we got back from our trip to the Pacific Northwest in January – was that really just two months ago? – and now all that effort is coming together. Still, the jaw-dropping rhetorical questions! Have I really just exploded my life? Am I really about to start over somewhere else?

I moved to Los Angeles in the summer of 2007. It feels like a lifetime ago that I shut down ten years in Iowa City, selling, donating, trashing, or shipping all my worldly possessions, and flying out to a new home, a new job, a new relationship, and a new life. Jenn made the transition a smooth and easy one, and I never doubted my decision to come out here to be with her. But my relationship with the city was a different story. It was nerve-wracking at first. While Jenn was off at work I would walk the hot, desert streets of Tarzana trying to get the feel of the place, overwhelmed by the press of people, the aggressive traffic, and all the fascinating different. Eventually, I bought a car and I’ll never forget the panicky, sweaty drive back from Orange County, gingerly negotiating the choked LA freeways feeling like a slow-motion accident in progress. One day, during a desperate stretch of a difficult job hunt, I went out of the house for a while and wound up verging on panic in the magazine aisle of a bookstore. What am I doing here? Do I belong here? Does anyone belong in Los Angeles?

But gradually I got into the place. I remember the enthusiasm of going to Lulu’s Beehive in Studio City once or twice a week (thanks, Lisa!), feeding off the aspirational Hollywood energy as I wrote TV scripts and let the dreamy, anything-can-happen irreality of Southern California wash over me. Then I landed a job, became a commuter, and learned how to drive here, which pried me forcibly out of my small-town shell. In the early days at work, my desk faced windows overlooking Brentwood and the Santa Monica Mountains…I could see the Getty Center perched nearby, and the ocean way off in the distance. It was a far cry from the open-plan, industrial office of my old digs in Iowa, where the windows overlooked rolling fields and hills and the extremes of the midwestern climate. No more frozen landscapes, no more thunderstorms or tornado skies. Just buildings, mountains, and sun, sun, sun.

Los Angeles is a car city, and driving was the way I gradually came to terms with the place. What an absurd, amazing, energizing, suffocating sprawl of pavements. One of my favorite things to do was load up on errands and spend my Saturday ricocheting all over the San Fernando Valley, marveling at the relentless development, the diversity, the richness of experience. When my commutes got complicated by endless construction on the 405 (seriously, like six years of it), I found myself forced to explore alternate routes home every night. These were often infuriating but occasionally magical drives through LA’s crowded roster of mutated neighborhoods: Brentwood, Santa Monica, Bel Air, Culver City, through the winding passes of Sepulveda and Beverly Glen and Topanga Canyon. Each drive, no matter how frustrating, increased my awe of the city: its shimmering beauty and grungy ugliness, its vast disparities of experience, from the obscene wealth of one neighborhood to the grim, dingy bleakness of the next. It always felt a little like sifting creative energy out of thin air whenever I drove home, and the next morning I would channel that energy into writing, words fueled by LA’s particular characteristics: its fractious relationship with the environment, its grasping ambition, its enthusiastic dreaminess, its haphazard and out-of-control development, its outlandish entitlement and unquestioning, powerful confidence. I got a novel and several short stories out of this place, and a much, much different perspective on the world.

Of course, there’s a dark side to the city’s enormity, its frenetic pace, and its extremes of power, privilege, and wealth. The place wears you down with its ludicrous traffic, its increasingly long hot seasons, its drought, its me-first attitude, hellacious impatience, ubiquitous crowds and rat-race feel. As much as I drew creative energy from this place, I gave a lot back. There’s something soul-draining about LA’s relentless striving and tense urban chaos. Once it became clear that there was no reason for us, professionally, to stay here, the idea of relocating went from hypothetical goal to inevitable, essential reality. It was time for change, and we’re making that happen now.

That said, I will miss this place. Oh, the food! And the movie theaters! The views from the Getty and the Griffith Observatory, the weirdos of Venice Beach, the ocean breezes of Santa Monica, and Jim Rockford’s beach in Malibu. Hockey games at the Staples Center. The wealth of concerts and plays and cultural events to choose from. And the dizzying view of its massive, lit-up sprawl when flying in and out of Burbank or LAX. And finally, of course, there are the people I got to know here: my various local friends and work colleagues and especially my amazing writing group, the Freeway Dragons, all of whom helped make this such a rewarding and exciting place to live. I’m going to miss you all, and – if you’ll permit me plagiarizing my own Facebook status– I’m going to miss this wild, frustrating, vibrant, wonderful, randomly terraformed, haphazard desert metropolis full of dreams. Goodbye, Los Angeles!

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A Year of Many Changes

February 20, 2015

Portland Trees

Well, we’re a month and a half into 2015, and you may have noticed I’m slightly off my usual blistering blogging pace. That’s because January and February have been chock full of furious activity and major life decisions. Everything is changing!

In early January, Jenn and I ventured north on what we considered a “reconnaisance mission” to the Pacific Northwest. We’ve been discussing leaving Los Angeles for years, and last year we decided that in 2015 we would “explore the possibility” of relocating. We’ve both been feeling the northern pull for a while now, so we arranged a one-week vacation to get our feet on the ground in Portland and Seattle to see which one felt right.

I’d be lying if I said part of me wasn’t hoping that the trip would convince us that we were fine in Los Angeles. That we wouldn’t have to do all the crazy hard work that moving would entail. That we would learn, instead, that we could be just as happy in our current circumstances as in some hypothetical elsewhere.

But that didn’t happen. Oregon and Washington…they just felt so right. I felt it the second we stepped out of the airport in Seattle. The cool air, the rain, the green, the water and mountains and trees. I could breathe. We drove down to Portland first and the drive south was magical, cruising along beautiful, fog-enshrouded hills while 1940s jazz played in the background. I was instantly enchanted by the geography, and nothing we experienced in Portland or Seattle disabused me of that initial impression. We visited neighborhood after neighborhood, meeting up with friends and interviewing them relentlessly about life up there: the food culture, the job market, real estate prices, public transportation, neighborhoods we should check out, and on and on. We gathered tons of information, but the data point that really hit home to me was that everyone we spoke to loved living up there, and thought that we would too.

In the end, we decided to move to Portland. It seemed the best of both worlds, retaining the urban vibrancy that we love about Los Angeles, but subtracting many of the things we dislike: the dryness, the absurd traffic, the smog, the vast distances, the unrelenting heat. Portland felt like the home we want to make.

So that’s been 2015, so far: we have been neck-deep in The Move. Contractors fixed up our condo, we put it on the market, and sold it. Most of our belongings are packed up in storage, ready for delivery. Many items we didn’t want have been donated, disposed of, or given away. We’ve got a new apartment lined up. I gave my notice at work, and will soon be looking for work in a new city. All of this was done within a month of getting back from our trip. It’s all happening so fast!

But it’s time for a change, and we’re jumping in with both feet. I’m excited to try something new, and to build a new life in a new place. Wish us luck!

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My 2014

December 31, 2014

I was going to name this blog post “The Obligatory 2014 Year-in-Review” blog post. Normally, my process would be to go back to the previous year’s wrap-up to find a starting point, and see how I did on my goals. But I guess these posts aren’t obligatory, because there isn’t a post for 2013. I guess that shows you what I thought of 2013!

LakeErie

Compared to that, and really by any standard, 2014 was a pretty great year for me. First and foremost, I can’t overstate how lucky I feel to have Jenn for a partner. She makes every day better and makes me feel like anything is possible. We have a great little home and three ridiculously wonderful cats. And while the city of Los Angeles got on my nerves this year – the traffic, the heat, the neverending drought – this was definitely my favorite year socially since I moved to this neck of the desert. I made new friends, deepened existing friendships, and generally felt more connected. My local writing group is wickedly talented, incredibly supportive, and generally made of awesome. I even got out of the house occasionally: went to the theater a couple of times, enjoyed book events and writer gatherings, and saw two of my favorite bands – Secret Chiefs 3 and miRthkon – in one concert. On the health front, I even started exercising: which in my case means bouncing on a trampoline in my pajamas, and going on walks in a beautiful park Jenn discovered.

On the writing front there were several ups and downs, but definitely more ups than usual. Selling a short story to Asimov’s, and seeing my name on its cover, realized a decades-held dream, and some folks even seemed to like it. I also sold a novella, and while that sale unfortunately fell through when the project folded, I still feel like I sold a fucking novella. (Who knows, maybe it will find another home some day.) I also joined SFWA, which feels like turning a page in my writerly mindset, something I probably needed. I’m looking forward to participating in the Nebula-voting process for the first time.

But more than the external validation, this was a year of making words and enjoying the actual act of writing. While I lost faith in one finished novel, I also started two new ones. The first attempt, Ubiquity, Ltd., died after 12,000 words, but I still love the idea, which I think I just don’t quite have a handle on yet. It will be rebooted. The second one – a mosaic novel I’m calling The Osidis Accord, which combines classic spy fiction tropes and a space opera setting – is one of those daunting, massive, dream projects that I’m very nervous I’ve deluded myself about…am I cruising for another crushing disappointment? On the other hand, it’s practically writing itself, and I’m really enjoying the process of writing it. At the end of the day, the writing itself is all I can control, so I’ve decided I might as well enjoy this one. I should have a first draft early in 2015, and I do hope it’s good. Either way I think I’ve already learned that there are different ways to write a book, and I’m proud of the discipline and diligence I’ve put into it so far.

So, by the numbers, it looks pretty good as far as I’m concerned: two(ish) sales, a new story in print for the first time in six years, two new stories completed, five “episodes” of the mosaic novel in the can and a sixth in progress. It all adds up to approximately 81,200 words of new fiction this year, and that doesn’t include 143 blog posts, mostly reviews of books, movies, and TV. That’s some serious ass-in-chair writing, by my standards, and not bad for having a full-time job on top of it.

I do have some things to work on in 2015. I’d like to be better about handling work stress, and I’d like to find more satisfaction in my day job. I’d like to improve on documenting my experiences, rather than just my voracious media consumption. I’d like to stay in touch with long-distance friends more, and maybe get some more travel in. And I’d definitely like to find a productive way of coping with the ugly events of the wider world – which are legion – rather than my current approach, which is to bury my head in the sand, recoil in disgust, or sink into despair.

But by and large, 2014 was pretty awesome for me, and I’m feeling very fortunate indeed. Thanks for reading, and see you next year!

Cairo Oslo Finn

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Anniversary

August 26, 2013

Seven years ago today, I met Jenn and everything changed for the better.

We met at Worldcon in Anaheim, and I’ll never forget the circumstances that led to our “first date.”  We’d been introduced earlier that day, and had made plans to say hello at the parties later.  When the time came, I really didn’t want to go to a party.  I was having a miserable convention.  In fact, I was utterly convinced it was my last convention.  I was going to give up writing and conventions and the whole thing.  Done with it.

But when the time came, I decided to go.  And I very nearly didn’t make it.  Have you been the Anaheim Hilton?  I got totally, hopelessly lost.  Wandered the halls in circles for half an hour, getting increasingly frustrated.  At one point, I got stuck behind Harlan Ellison as he led his entourage through the labyrinth.  I nearly gave up and went back to my hotel.

Then I turned a corner and there was Jenn, at the Strange Horizons party. We hit it off instantly, and the rest is history.  When I think of how many ways I might not have ended up meeting her that night, I feel incredibly lucky — like I stepped into the one right and true alternate reality.  She was a ray of light for me then, and she still is now.

Today is our seventh anniversary, and to celebrate this one we exchanged anniversary rings.  Happy anniversary, Jenn!

Rings

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Month from Hell

July 3, 2013

Wow, June is gone. And it felt about a year long.

The Great Condo Disaster of 2013 is, for the most part, winding down. But ugh, what a nightmare while it was happening.

It has been four weeks or so since the condo flood. It pretty much turned our lives upside down. The first couple of weeks, our condo was basically unliveable. They ripped the flooring up, wrapped the entire apartment in plastic, and ran industrial strength fans and dehumidifiers for a few days to make sure there was no residual moisture in the damaged part of the house. (My sinuses can confirm they were entirely successful.)

Then began the destruction and reconstruction of the living area, kitchen, and office.  The entire floor was pried up and replaced. Drywall came down and went up. Insulation went out and came in. Walls were repainted, messed up, then touched up. The ceiling came down, went back up, got sanded and leveled. Light fixtures, outlet covers, and the thermostat came down, then went back up.  Appliances? Disconnected and reconnected. Internet was down, then back up. Furniture was schlepped from one side of the apartment to the other to make room for workers. Things were broken, fixed or replaced, and strewn all over the apartment.

For about half of this work, the apartment was a dusty construction zone, dry, air-conditioning free, a hopelessly cluttered hellhole.  At one point the contents of the apartment were stacked to the ceiling, in one room, a giant, shrink-wrapped Jenga pile. You should have seen me contorting my way into dresser drawers in search of clean underwear.

Jenn and the cats spent most of this time living out in Yucaipa, a couple hours away in the desert to the east.  Since Jenn was recovering from surgery, she was in one room while Cairo, Oslo, and Finley lived in another bedroom.  Thank goodness for Marty and Dom for taking the family in; they were lifesavers for us.

But so far away! Meanwhile, I lived out of a suitcase.  For the first couple of weeks, I stayed in hotels near the condo so that I could meet with contractors, but ultimately I moved back into the one undamaged room of the house, where the bed was an island surrounded on all sides by furniture taking refuge from the other rooms. During the week I went to work, as well as serving as point of contact for water restoration guys, flooring guys, painters, the HOA, various insurance agents, a lawyer, a damage estimator, the upstairs landlord, and…I’m forgetting somebody, surely.  Jenn’s doctor, meanwhile, is half an hour away in the other direction, and I was driving her to appointments and procedures. So I was a freeway nomad ricocheting between Tarzana, Brentwood, Thousand Oaks, Woodland Hills, Yucaipa, even Simi Valley at one point.  Final freeway tally for the month: 8.  (The 101, 405, 134, 10, 210, 118, 23, and — barely — the 57.)  I filled up the tank at least six times.

And the month from hell isn’t completely over. There are still repairs to finish up, and insurance payments to arrange, cleaning and hauling furniture back into position and putting everything back in place.

But Jenn is finally home, and so are the cats. The happy ending is we’ve made it through so far and are determined not only to get the apartment back to normal, but make it even better than it was before. Still a work in progress, but we’re getting there!

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Hockey, Life, Writing

Life Stuff

June 11, 2013

Well…heh…it’s a good thing our trip to Wisconsin was so relaxing and idyllic.  As it turned out, we needed all the R&R we could muster to face our return to Los Angeles.

There are a number of reasons my blog dried up and blew away over the past couple of weeks. First and foremost was Jenn’s surgery, which she discusses here; the latest update, for those who haven’t been following along via social media, is that everything went according to plan and she’s recovering nicely. Those of you who know her will not be surprised to hear that she’s hanging tough and battling back.

But we’ve also been disrupted, distracted, and displaced by a domestic disaster. A burst water pipe from the upstairs apartment severely flooded our condo. It happened just after I got home from work on my first day back from the trip, coming down with con crud and already exhausted. Suddenly, water started pouring through our walls, ceiling, out from behind our fridge and through the light fixtures. We mitigated the damage as best we could, but descended over the next several days into a convoluted hell of insurance companies, contractors, lawyers, and hotel rooms. Life has been a twisted skein of logistics, and I’ve logged more freeway miles and phone minutes this month than I usually do in a year.

I could go on about other little disasters that piled up on top of that one.  Like the fact that two colleagues on my shift are quitting in the next couple of weeks. Or that I’m basically hemorrhaging money. Or that the Kings’ spirited title defense went down in a valiant sputter (despite the best efforts of money players like Quick, Voynov, and Williams). And for the love of all that’s holy shit, Game of Thrones, season 3, episode 9.  I mean, seriously, right?

Despite it all, we’re hanging in there. Jenn’s family has provided invaluable help, taking in our cats and sharing their home. We’ve gotten great advice and support from our friends and family across the country via email, Twitter, Facebook, and MySpace.  Wait, no. Not MySpace.

Anyway, it’s been an experience. I’ve ricocheted from Tarzana to Yucaipa to Brentwood to Thousands Oaks and back,  non-stop for two weeks. I’m running on fumes, but I’m incredibly grateful to everyone who’s reached out to help us in our time of MASSIVE RELENTLESS STRESS.  Thank you, everyone!

And oh yeah, I took it as a point of pride, and of existential defiance, to try and keep positive and productive in light of every frustration. In the midst of this blitzkrieg of personal disasters, I managed to finish the first draft of a startlingly long novella called “The Machine Storms.”  It’s a far(ish) future SF tale about a created family whose safe and comfortable existence is jeopardized by extreme weather, rogue nanotechnology, and nefarious greedy villainy. Talk about art imitating life! I started it at Taos, in an ideal writing situation, and finished it while living out of a suitcase during an ongoing crisis. For that, even if it never sees print, this beast will hold a place in my heart.

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