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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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Non-Fiction, Science Fiction, Writing

New Review in the October Lightspeed

October 1, 2016

The October issue of Lightspeed went live at midnight! Along with what looks like an incredible lineup of fiction (Karen Joy Fowler, Jeremiah Tolbert, Aliette de Bodard, and more), there’s also a new TV review from little old me.

This month I’m covering the first two seasons of a couple of great science fiction shows: the surprisingly good12 Monkeys, and Mr. Robot, a stunning series which has quickly become one of my all-time favorites. The new issue is available for purchase now; its contents will be available online later in the month. I’ll post a link when my new piece is up, but for now feel free to refresh your memory with my initial review of Mr. Robot’s sensational first season.

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Science Fiction, Writing

Novelette Sale to Lightspeed

June 28, 2016

Lightspeed logo

I’m happy to announce that I just sold a novelette to Lightspeed! Keep an eye out for my dystopian mystery “An Inflexible Truth” sometime in the future.

To put it lightly, I’m stoked. Earlier this year, I published my first non-fiction piece at Lightspeed, and I’m beyond pleased that I’ll be making a fiction appearance there as well.

I tend to go a long time between sales, so I’m in serious celebration mode. I’ll let you know when it’s coming out, but in the meantime, please excuse my spontaneous funk dance!

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Non-Fiction, Science Fiction, Writing

Reviewing at Lightspeed

April 1, 2016

lightspeed71I’m extremely pleased to reveal that I’ve joined the reviewing staff at Lightspeed magazine! My first review was just released in the April issue, now available to subscribers or for purchase as an ebook. The review will be posted for free to the general public later in the month, so non-subscribers will have to wait a while to read my reactions to a couple of thought-provoking recent science fiction shows: The Man in the High Castle and Occupied. (Of course if you absolutely can’t wait, I encourage you to head on over and support this excellent genre publication!)

After years of labor-of-love reviewing, it’s a thrill for me to get to do this professionally. Don’t worry, though: while I’ll be reviewing for Lightspeed now and then — alternating TV-reviewing duties with Sunil Patel and Jenn Reese — everything I don’t review there will still turn up here on the blog. In the meantime, check out the lineup for this month’s issue!

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Life, Photos, Website, Writing

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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Writing

100 Stories

October 30, 2015
My rejection slips, from back when you got paper rejection slips

My rejection slips, from back when you got paper rejection slips

For some reason, I’ve always been a compulsive list-maker. Since I’m also a writer with a masochistic streak (is there a different kind?), one of the things I’ve always tracked is rejections. My rejection slips date back to 1985, when my clueless teenaged self submitted “Who Cares About Apathy?” to The Magazine of Fantasy & Science Fiction. Turns out Edward L. Ferman didn’t care about apathy — who could blame him? — and it would be eight more years before I made another short story submission.

But after that I never stopped, and here we are, thirty years later. And for the last few of those years, I’ve been dreading a slowly approaching milestone: Rejection #700.

I’m not entirely certain why I’ve been dreading #700, especially when Rejection #500 came and went without fanfare, and surely Rejection #1000 is a more impressive target to get gloomy about. My guess, though? It’s simply that Rejection #700 has recently felt like the last achievable Big Round Number Rejection Milestone I’m likely to achieve in my life. My once-passionate drive to be a short storyist has been on life support for so long, the idea of slogging through another 100 short story bounces — let alone 300 — sometimes seems inconceivable. Surely, my subconscious whispered muddily into my mind’s ear, when that rejection clock ticks to 700 I will expire in a puff of smoke, or flounce dramatically from the writing life, or the planet will explode or something.

Well, last week rejection 700 came and went, and of course none of that happened. Indeed, I packaged the story off and shipped it right out again, and started the long, slow crawl to 800. I suspect I did it mostly out of habit. But I’m also heartened by the fact that without quite noticing, I rather quietly and simultaneously reached a more positive milestone: Story #100.

Actually I’ve written well over 100 stories, if you include all the exploratory crap I wrote as a kid — not to mention novels, which I track differently. But if you go back to 1993, and start counting from the first just-before-Clarion, taking-writing-seriously story I submitted to Amazing Stories (cheerfully entitled “Like a Beetle on its Back”), then I have written exactly ninety-nine stories with the intent to get them published.

But of course there’s also “Who Cares About Apathy?,” which I’ve always listed as Story #0, because that seemed thematically appropriate, and of course it’s the first rejection. If you count that — and dangit, I do care about apathy, I spent most of the eighties attempting to practice it like a religion! — that means I hit an even 100 when I finished story #99 a couple of months ago.

Let’s face it, 100 is a cooler number than 700. And, more importantly, “stories written” is a cooler benchmark than “stories rejected.” You can’t control what sells, you can only control what you put out there. Why commemorate a milestone beyond your control? External validation is nice when it happens, but for some of us it’s vanishingly rare, so we need other metrics. And frankly I’m happier when I focus on the shit I can control. This is a lesson I forget constantly, so consider this blog post a proactive, public reminder. (Something else I can control…ha!)

So here it is: this post is dedicated to my first 100 short stories. And not just the ones that sold, but the ones that didn’t, including:

  • My favorite failed Clarion story, “Deathless Horsie”
  • The notorious “Cyberdude,” my only collaboration ever (hey Dave!), which Howard Waldrop described as “the kind of stuff we used to put up with from Bruce Sterling when he was 18”
  • My first conscious speculative/spy-fi mash-up, “Cold Warpage”
  • The profoundly awful, recursive, gonzo skiffiness of “Johnny Fahrenheit,” “Hey, Houston, Like What’s Up?,” and “Marooned off Zappafrank”
  • The story that immortalized my favorite imagined futuristic Satanic prog-metal band, “Spasmodeus”
  • My twice sold-and-unsold space opera spy novelette “The Cull”
  • “The Final Divination,” a novelette in which John le Carré spy paranoia finds its way into…high fantasy?
  • My first fucking novella, “Maceo’s Gig,” and the two fucking novellas that followed it, “Testing Ground” and “The Machine Storms” (there are no novellas, there are only fucking novellas)
  • And many more too unremarkable to mention (there’s a reason these things don’t sell!)

These are the abject failures, quirky misfires, wonky experiments, learning experiences, and beloved near-misses that I had to write to get to the next thing, and a lot of the next things were a little bit better, and some of them even sold. This is my process, and this is my progress, slow and brutal but, damn it, it adds up. I’ll beat myself up about it, but I’m also proud. Writing is hard.

The hell with Rejection #800. I’m shooting for Story #200.

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Life, Writing

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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Fantasy, Science Fiction, Writing

Milestones

February 21, 2015

Many years ago, when Jenn and I started our writing careers, in different parts of the country and different lifetimes, there were two flagship magazines to which all new science fiction and fantasy writers aspired: Asimov’s Science Fiction and The Magazine of Fantasy and Science Fiction.

Our careers took different paths through different cities, different Clarions, with different ups and downs, but recently, just within a few months of each other, we each cracked one of these illustrious markets.

So, you know, we framed it…because SQUEEEEE!Covers

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Life, Writing

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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Writing

“Videoville” Is Out!

October 21, 2014

Asimov1214When you wait twenty years for something, it’s hard not to savor the moment. I’ve just received my author’s copies of the December 2014 Asimov’s Science Fiction, which features my story “Videoville” – and also, unexpectedly, my name on the cover!

I’m so thrilled about this I can’t even really describe it. Instead I’ll just thank all the friends and fellow writers over the years who helped me keep the faith and improve my work – especially Jenn, without whom this story would surely not exist. All of your advice, support, and friendship has not gone unnoticed. I’m over the moon!

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Writing

Novella Sale to Panverse Four

July 29, 2014

I’m delighted to announce that my novella “The Machine Storms” has been accepted for publication in the Panverse Four anthology!

This sale is definitely a Taos Toolbox success story. For months, I’d been stuck on the first several pages of what was looking to be a long, futuristic adventure set in the Midwest. I liked my opening but didn’t know where to go with it. It wasn’t until the workshop that I felt equipped to tackle the project. During the mid-Taos panic to produce something for week two, I sequestered myself at a cafe for a few hours to generate new pages. The Taos crew helped me get the story moving, and later the Freeway Dragons here in LA helped me put the finishing touches on it.

Very excited to be working with Dario Ciriello at Panverse Publishing on this piece. Watch for “The Machine Storms” in Panverse Four, sometime in 2015!

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Writing

SFWA and Other Writing Updates

May 1, 2014

So, another milestone this month: recently I joined the Science Fiction & Fantasy Writers of America (SFWA)!

I’ve considered joining SFWA a number of times over the years, but have always balked, mostly because my love-hate relationship with writing has often left me feeling on the verge of quitting the business. But if the past couple of years of ups and downs and peaks and lulls has shown me anything, it’s that I’m in it for the duration. Joining SFWA, the professional organization of SF and fantasy writers, is kind of a symbolic move for me, a message I’m sending to myself that I’m taking this writing thing seriously. And it’s also a challenge: now that I’ve committed, it’s time to keep earning it.

So far 2014 has been full of surprises for me on the writing front. First, the Asimov’s sale, now SFWA. And most surprisingly, a rekindled enthusiasm for short fiction. Over the past couple of months I’ve been working on three different projects:  a near-future PI novelette, an experimental short about digital memory-scaping, and a novella (possibly?) about a Cold War on another planet. I haven’t been this productive since the mid-1990s…and I’d like to think I’ve improved my toolset a little since then. At any rate, I’m riding the wave of enthusiasm while it lasts – I know how quickly it can go away!

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