Important things

Drove north and east to visit Erie, PA today, where my writing pals Alan DeNiro and Kristin Livdahl were visiting Alan’s parents.  Had a great several hours to talk and catch up with them before having to head back home (and them having to catch a flight back to Minnesota).  But on the way home, I strayed away from the interstate and into the rural back roads that make up the geography of my childhood and adolescence. Which I’ve been writing about lately in a course I’m taking in my MFA program at Chatham University, which focuses on writing about place, nature, and the environment.  Lately I’ve been writing these tiny little lyrical essayistic things–I’m not sure what to call them–that make use of poetic lyricism and imagery and tone to convey more than the controlled logical arguments of a traditional essay, which all center around both the rural environment I grew up in, as well as the post-industrial urban environment I moved into for college.  As I write them, I’m starting to see they may be small word objects that go together as a mosaic collage-like exploration of some of the stranger or anachronistic sites, objects, and experiences that are specific to rural and post-industrial Ohio.

Driving through the place where I spent my formative years, back into Youngstown afterward, provided me with reminders of things I’d forgotten, details and memories evoked from those details, that make me want to explore this type of writing beyond my fiction in the future, regardless of my degree being nearly completed.  I wasn’t sure, to be completely honest, what I would think about a course on Nature and Environmental Writing, but it turns out it provides a rich writing (and reading) experience that I hadn’t expected.  I also hadn’t expected to discover I’d been reading and enjoying a certain amount of that kind of writing for years without knowing that’s what it was.  This past week, for instance, we read a piece by Ursula K. Le Guin that I had read years ago, from her collection, Unlocking the Air, called “The Creatures on My Mind” as a meditative piece on human/non-human life form relationships.  Rereading that, I was also reminded of one of my formative experiences as a writer, reading Le Guin, and how–if I could have my way, and be good enough on top of having my way–I wanted from an early age to be a writer like Ursula Le Guin, who did not do one particular thing, but many different kinds of writing, for children, teens, adults, science fiction and fantasy, magical realism, realism, poetry, nature writing, essays, literary translation.  I admired how she went wherever her material took her, and explored a variety of forms.  So along with being reminded of details and memories from the first twenty years of my life this weekend, I was reminded of my early writerly desire to work in a variety of forms.

It’s been good, lately, to find myself returning to myself, as I must admit that the past two years of being a full time teacher and a half time student has scattered my energies in so many ways that I sometimes lost track of important things.

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Dear Reader

There are so many reasons for writing.  For me, I take pleasure in design for the sake of design.  The perfect melding–or even if not perfect, the interesting melding–of various materials into a shape that catches the eye of the mind as the words flare during the process of interpretation and become fireworks, emotional surges, and flashes of insight, in a reader’s imagination as well as my own.

But there are other reasons beyond design itself.  Many reasons.  I was reminded of one last night, after coming home from the latest event I put on for the Ytown Reading Series with my students.  This message was waiting for me in my inbox:

After hearing about the Nebula nomination, I went out and bought your book for my Kindle.

I’m about 60% through it and wanted to tell you I’m really enjoying it. It wasn’t what I expected (the SF ghetto tends to follow certain rules), but I have been very pleasantly surprised.  After I’m done reading it, I’ll probably read it to my wife.  I hope that isn’t a problem.

Normally my wife would get the Audible edition, but it doesn’t look like there’s a audible version for me to buy for her.  So she’ll get me, instead.

I’m always touched to hear from readers who have enjoyed, appreciated, or found something they were looking for, sometimes desperately, in one of my stories or books.  And each time I hear from them, I’m reminded of what else writing is inherently about:  other people.

It’s easy to get caught up in the idea of writing for one’s self.  I do that when I’m fascinated in the process of writing as a reader myself.  Writing as a reader is something I do.  I’m often telling myself stories as I write, experiencing the act of writing as a reader, existing in dual levels of the process at the same time, making and interpreting as I create.  But it’s other people, not just myself, that will hopefully, eventually, read what I’ve made.  And hopefully will find something they’ve wanted or craved or needed, even without knowing it, when they do read what I’ve written.  Those are the kinds of books I love most, to be surprised that I wanted something without realizing what it is I’ve thirsted for.

I try not to be materialistic:  to not seek after the fame and the riches, to not be jealous or envious of those who are rewarded richly in publicity and recognition and money for their writing.  But reading over this reader’s message today, after being reminded of the importance of connecting with others through my work, I also realized that it’s hard to connect without my writing being somehow recognized, as the Nebula nomination lead him to seek out my work, a book he would never have heard of if not for the award.  I’ve recently found bloggers and Twitterers talking about my book’s nomination as well.  Some had already read it, and exclaimed giddily how happy they were that the book had been nominated for the award.  Others confess to the book having eluded their awareness, and after reading it were surprised that it had been so overlooked or unnoticed.

I don’t want to desire recognition or to be known, mainly because I don’t want to be beholden to desire.  But I do understand now more than ever that recognitions like the Nebula nomination are how those other people, readers who may be waiting for my words and don’t know that my books even exist, discover my stories and books.

I’m looking forward to discovering more of my readers in the future as well, the people I don’t know exist, who don’t know that I exist yet either. I hope someday that we can be brought together in that space where words fire and flare.

Looking up

There is a bird in the tree outside my window, singing the same two notes over and over, and I’m beginning to see green appear in patches as the snow melts.

On Twitter, I can practice Japanese in small bites, which keeps me fresh.  Letter writing, at this point, takes too much out of me.  So, Japanese friends, if you are on Twitter, we can tweet in Japanese.  It’s the perfect way for me to keep my Japanese while I’m too busy with teaching and taking classes and book writing to write long letters.

I wrote a story for a new Young Adult anthology that is being edited by Holly Black of Spiderwick fame, and Ellen Kushner of Swordspoint fame, eventually to be released by Random House.  The anthology is called Welcome to Bordertown, and is based on the 80s and 90s series set in that world that the amazing artist and writer and editor Terri Windling invented.  The story is called “We Do Not Come In Peace” which involves an act of terror/revolution by a group of angry folks and a case of vengeful blackmail.  I can’t wait to read the rest of the stories from the other contributors.

Life is good.  Back to work and writing.

Attention Seattle (once more)

For those readers out and about in Seattle, I recently mentioned I’ll be reading at University Bookstore on March 12th at 7PM and hosting a one-day workshop at Richard Hugo House on March 14th from 10-5. If you click the link below, you can find a pdf flyer for the events. Please feel free to distribute it to anyone you think may be interested in attending the reading or the workshop. I’d love to meet Seattle, so please come out!

Reading and Workshop Information

Thank you

Still glowing with excitement to have had my book nominated for the Nebula Award this year, I’ve been thinking back to when I first started to be serious about writing.  I guess the nomination has put me into a bit of a mood to think about where I started as well as where I am in my writing life.  I can still remember exchanging letters with the writer Mary Rosenblum, who actually wrote me back when I sent her a fan letter, and encouraged me with my writing.  And going to a week long writing workshop in Cleveland one summer, when I was nineteen, as a decision to put myself into a situation that I didn’t feel like I could get so easily back home in Youngstown:  into the company of other people who are all in love with doing this thing, making stories up and telling them to other people, and trying to make them as well as they can.  I met Karen Joy Fowler there, and James Patrick Kelly, who asked me how a farm boy from Ohio decided he wanted to be a writer, and I said even I didn’t really know how it happened, it was just with me since I can remember, an urgent desire to tell stories, to live in my imagination for a part of every day of my life, and a love of language and the way it can be shaped into so many different forms and voices.   He told me he thought I could do this, and I’m pretty sure I looked at him like he must have something wrong with him.  Who would think that about me? I wondered.  Sometimes I still do.

It was Jim and Karen and then Jonathan Lethem, who I met the following summer at the same workshop, who encouraged me to apply to a six week long writing workshop for speculative fiction writers called Clarion.  I can remember trying to make excuses not to apply, because Clarion had such an amazing reputation, and I didn’t think I could possibly be the sort of writer who they would find to be worthy of being there.  Jim continued to politely remind me over the course of the next year, in e-mails, to apply.  Eventually, at the last minute, I did.  And was accepted.   And when I spent those six weeks in the company of writers doing nothing but writing and critiquing each others work, and talking about our favorite authors and their work, I really just knew it was where I wanted to be ever after.  If I could.

I started publishing short stories afterward, first in the little but mighty zine, Lady Churchill’s Rosebud Wristlet, which Gavin Grant and Kelly Link were just then starting up and it was already building a following of excited readers.  Soon after that, my first professionally published story was in the online magazine, Strange Horizons.  Terri Windling selected it to be included in The Year’s Best Fantasy and Horror, and then Scott Westerfeld selected a story of mine for the Nerve issue of speculative fiction.  It was a very exciting time in my life, and in many ways this nomination for the Nebula Award has made me feel that same kind of excitement I had when I was first introduced and accepted into a community of writers and began to publish.  It’s reminded me once again how fortunate I am to be a part of the speculative fiction community, which has nurtured and helped me not only to grow as a writer over the years but as a person.  It’s become a part of my life, even if, as one of my early spec fic writing mentors told me, “You don’t really do this in a way that most people will be expecting, but that’s also a good thing.”  He was referring to the kinds of stories I write and the way that I tell them, but I was welcomed to the party all the same.  That kind of generosity is one of the most amazing features of this particular writing community.

So it’s been a wild ride, and I hope for it to be able to continue for as long as possible, and I’m pleased as can be that my little novel-in-stories is on that list with some of those Big Idea heavy hitters that have garnered well-earned praise in the past year since they’ve appeared.  It feels, in a way, like a milestone, and I’m honored to be among them, and all of the writers of SFWA, who have made the second part of my life a writing life, and one that has taken me places I might not have gone had I not met and been befriended by such awesome folks as these.

2009 Nebula Awards

The Nebula Awards Nominees for this year have been announced, and to my excitement and surprise, my novel-in-stories, The Love We Share Without Knowing, has been nominated in the novel category!  I’m very honored to be named among these other authors and titles.  Now I will go squee in private.

SFWA is proud to announce the nominees for the 2009 Nebula Awards.

The Nebula Awards are voted on, and presented by, active members of  SFWA. The awards will be announced at the Nebula Awards Banquet the evening of May 15 at the Hilton Cocoa Beach Oceanfront, just 20 minutes from the Kennedy Space Center in Fla. Other awards to be presented are the Andre Norton Award for Excellence in Science Fiction or Fantasy for Young Adults, the Bradbury Award for excellence in screenwriting and the Solstice Award for outstanding contribution to the field.

Short story
“Hooves and the Hovel of Abdel Jameela,” Saladin Ahmed (Clockwork Phoenix 2, Norilana Press, Jul09)
“I Remember the Future,” Michael A. Burstein (I Remember the Future, Apex Press, Nov08)
“Non-Zero Probabilities,” N. K. Jemisin (Clarkesworld, Nov09)
“Spar,” Kij Johnson (Clarkesworld, Oct09)
“Going Deep,” James Patrick Kelly (Asimov’s Science Fiction, Jun09)
“Bridesicle,” Will McIntosh (Asimov’s Science Fiction, Jan09)

Novelette
“The Gambler,” Paolo Bacigalupi (Fast Forward 2, Pyr Books, Oct08)
“Vinegar Peace, or the Wrong-Way Used-Adult Orphanage,” Michael Bishop (Asimov’s Science Fiction, Jul08)
“I Needs Must Part, The Policeman Said,” Richard Bowes (The Magazine of Fantasy and Science Fiction, Dec09)
“Sinner, Baker, Fabulist, Priest; Red Mask, Black Mask, Gentleman, Beast,” Eugie Foster (Apex Online, Nov09)
“Divining Light,” Ted Kosmatka (Asimov’s Science Fiction, Aug08)
“A Memory of Wind,” Rachel Swirsky (Tor.com, Nov09)

Novella
The Women of Nell Gwynne’s, Kage Baker (Subterranean Press, Jun09)
“Arkfall,” Carolyn Ives Gilman (The Magazine of Fantasy and Science Fiction, Sep09)
“Act One,” Nancy Kress (Asimov’s Science Fiction, Mar09)
Shambling Towards Hiroshima, James Morrow (Tachyon, Feb09)
“Sublimation Angels,” Jason Sanford (Jason Sanford, Nov09)
The God Engines, John Scalzi (Subterranean Press, Dec09)

Novel
The Windup Girl, Paolo Bacigalupi (Nightshade, Sep09)
The Love We Share Without Knowing, Christopher Barzak (Bantam, Nov08)
Flesh and Fire, Laura Anne Gilman (Pocket, Oct09)
The City & The City, China Miéville (Del Rey, May09)
Boneshaker, Cherie Priest (Tor, Sep09)
Finch, Jeff VanderMeer (Underland Press, Oct09)

Bradbury Award
Star Trek, JJ Abrams (Paramount, May09)
District 9, Neill Blomkamp and Terri Tatchell (Tri-Star, Aug09)
Avatar, James Cameron (Fox, Dec 09)
Moon, Duncan Jones and Nathan Parker (Sony, Jun09)
Up, Bob Peterson and Pete Docter (Disney/Pixar, May09)
Coraline, Henry Selick (Laika/Focus Feb09)

Andre Norton Award for Young Adult Science Fiction and Fantasy
Hotel Under the Sand, Kage Baker (Tachyon, Jul09)
Ice, Sarah Beth Durst (Simon and Schuster, Oct09)
Ash, by Malinda Lo (Little, Brown & Company, Sep09)
Eyes Like Stars, Lisa Mantchev (Feiwel and Friends, Jul09)
Zoe’s Tale, John Scalzi (Tor Aug08)
When You Reach Me, Rebecca Stead (Wendy Lamb Books, 2009)
The Girl Who Circumnavigated Fairyland In A Ship Of Her Own Making, Catherynne M. Valente (Catherynne M. Valente, Jun09)
Leviathan, Scott Westerfeld (Simon, Oct09)

For more information, visit www.nebulaawards.com or www.sfwa.org

YA before YA was cool

Last week the famous J.D. Salinger passed away, which lead to an internet riot of people either mourning–some respectfully, some deeply–or people taking pot shots at Salinger and his most famous character, Holden Caulfield. The funny thing is, most of the people commenting on the book really don’t know anything about how the book was received, its context, and why it was a hallmark book, and why perhaps it is disliked by so many contemporary readers.  (My own theory is that many books that are taught in schools are going to be disliked, because a certain amount of students are going to dislike reading anything they are forced to read.) But over at Collen Lindsay’s blog, The Swivet, you can read a guest post by my friend Richard Bowes, who was a young adult at the time Catcher in the Rye was released.  It’s an insightful post for anyone interested in Salinger, Holden Caulfield, the 1950s in America, and YA literature in general.

A sample:

Does this make Catcher in the Rye great literature? No. But when it came out it was unique, a novel read mainly by young people, some of them very young at a time when YA as a category didn’t exist. There were only adult novels and a substratum of novels for children and very young teens.

By the time Salinger finally produced Franny and Zooey and got on the cover of Time Magazine, two other novels that also appealed to the young – Lord of the Flies (1954) and A Separate Peace (1959) – had started to get mentioned along with Catcher.

Like The Catcher in the Rye, these novels weren’t written for adolescents; they were discovered by them.

Read the whole thing by clicking here.

Attention Seattle

Attention Seattle readers/writers.  In March, I’ll be in the city in conjunction with Northwest MediaArts to give a reading at University Bookstore on March 12th at 7PM, and a day-long writing workshop at Richard Hugo House from 10-5 on the 14th.  It’s all part of Northwest MediaArts’ Fantastic Fiction Workshops & Salons series.  If you’re interested in the reading, in the workshop, or both, please visit their website for more information.

This will be my first time in Seattle.  Looking forward to seeing the city and meeting cool people.