“Where Did You Go?”

Well, folks. It’s been three months since I last wrote here. The last very long while has not been conducive to writing, either blog posts or  anything else.

July through September was a cheerful storm of cons (trying my hand as a panelist at Readercon, waiting with bated breath and Pan Galactic Gargle Blaster for history-making Hugos results at Worldcon) enthusiastic public nudity (as a participating model at New York Body-Painting Day) and very rainy music festivals (if you’ve never heard of Faerieworlds, I encourage you to discover it for yourself, a madcap, soul-stirring mixture of Burning Man and a particularly feisty Ren Faire.)

A lot of wonderful things happened, only some of which were writing related. Accessing the Future made its debut, and I got the opportunity to discuss my story “Pirate Songs” with a classroom full of undergrads, who were sharp, savvy, and enthusiastic in their deconstruction of my work. My novelette “Follow Me Down” finally emerged with Unlikely Story’s latest issue, the  Journal of Unlikely Academia  (it’s absolutely splendid. Read it for free here:  http://www.unlikely-story.com/journal-of-unlikely-academia-issue-12-october-2015/) Unlikely Story officially became a SFWA qualifying market, and I, in the wake of their achievement, officially became a full active member.

And then, on October 7th, my world stood still. Utterly still.

My mother, my beautiful Mama, Laura Ellen Diamond, was hit and killed by a cement truck while running a routine errand on her scooter a few blocks from her home. They told me that she didn’t suffer, that she was gone within minutes, that she was gone long before any paramedics arrived. I’m only now just beginning to appreciate that these things were told me in order to comfort me, rather than to make me scream.

I’m still climbing out of the hole that is my grief. Even on the days when I can breathe, when I can feel God, when I can feel my mother all around me and know that I will see her again, I find it almost impossible to be productive.

It’s not that I cannot imagine writing anything–I have half-conjured and discarded several stories in my head–but nothing quite matters . Nothing feels like the sort of story I ought to be writing after such a big crack has been made in my heart. Two months ago, I worried I didn’t have a story that felt big enough for a first novel. Now I worry I don’t tell stories big enough for this life.

This a trap, I know. I know the writer who thinks this way is the writer who never writes again. I know that there really is no such thing as a “big” story, that the only way for humans to get at “big” things is to write about small ones, in our own very small way.

But my mother, my radiant, talented sculptor, painter, activist, poet, Burner mother, deserves bigness. She was the first person to look at her strange chatterbox of a daughter, with her penchant for casual and elaborate lies, and say to her: “You are a writer.”

When I began to be published, my mother went on scarily passionate campaign to ensure that everyone I knew possessed copies of my work. I was introduced proudly to any chance acquaintance as her daughter, the published author.

My mother never did get the chance to read the stories I had published. In between the work of getting her own Bachelor’s degree (something she accomplished shortly before she died) and being an active member of the Occupy movement, she had little time for space pirates. I think somehow it was enough to her that I had been published, a confirmation of something she’d known would happen all along. It didn’t much matter that the stories I’d had published weren’t the stories she’d read. She had read countless others that were, to her, just as good. She had seen from the beginning just how it would be.

Today, I’m going to write Something. It won’t be the story my mother deserves (I’ll still have to dig for that one, maybe for the rest of my life). It may not even be a story about anything that matters, but it will be a story.

Advertisements

Unlikely Academia, or Why We All Want to Go to Hogwarts

In a very splendid piece of writerly news, my novelette Follow Me Down will appear in Unlikely Story’s upcoming Journal of Unlikely Academia, a collection of stories devoted exclusively to strange and fantastical institutions of learning.

Yes, that means every wonderful thing you think it does: complicated lessons in magic, syllabaries of untranslatable runes and long-forgotten languages, tomes of alchemal wisdom, hidden passages to hidden libraries, sacred objects of divination…

As my third pro-rate sale, this qualifies me for full active membership in the Science Fiction and Fantasy Writers of America (be sure to visit my snazzy new updated SFWA profile in the coming weeks!) and I truly do not think I could have conjured a better hat trick! Seriously, for a proud Ravenclaw, and long-time scholar at Jordan College, what could be finer?

(The answer is nothing could be finer. Check out Unlikely Story this August and discover how the experts navigate supernatural pregnancy at the New York College of Theogony and Preternatural Obstetrics!)     

So, this has me thinking. What is it that appeals to us about these magical schools? What exactly causes us to want to gallivant around Lyra’s Oxford with only our daemons as company? What’s so thrilling about finally having puzzled out, by long and scientifically rigorous processes, what Hogwarts house we empirically belong to? (before Pottermore, children, we did it the old-fashioned way, by the blood-tainted sweat of our fevered brows!).

The secret, powerful bastion of knowledge seems to be an ever-renewable story concept. There are always new school stories in speculative fiction, strange places to learn strange things. There were, of course, a rash of fantastical school stories trailing in the wake of Harry Potter, some of them entertainingly derivative, some beautiful, some painfully sloppy. But long before readers rushed to the post-Hogwarts succor of  Rick Riordan’s  The Lightning Thief,  or Lev Grossman’s The Magicians, there were books like Ursula K. Le Guin’s A Wizard of Earthsea , and even Orson Scott Card’s Ender’s Game to school us in things unusual.

Part of the reason the schoolroom remains such a wet well for telling speculative stories has to do with the nature of speculative fiction itself. Speculative Fiction is all about rules. It’s about acclimating the reader to a special set  of laws that govern the universe of the story.  Who becomes a ghost and why? How much blood to make a spell work? Which carefully selected fourteen year-olds will pilot our giant battle-robots?

School is a natural setting for learning new rules. In an almost literal sense, a writer can sit her reader down and say “Listen up! Pay attention! There’ll be a test on this!” School settings are an ideal place to dump exposition, install important plot devices, and world-build. The fantastical school is, in a lot of ways, specially formatted for a wide-eyed protagonist to uncover  and explore it.

But it’s not just the story opportunities they offer writers that make school stories appealing. Such stories always seem to find an effusive audience, no matter how many times writers write them.

I suspect that a larger part of the draw for readers-we bookish, we nerdy, we asthmatic few- is the bright, shimmering meritocracy that is school itself.  School is a place for learning the laws of the universe, but it’s also a place for learning new skills, for testing previously untested powers (magical or otherwise). It’s a place where, if you are clever enough and quick enough and skilled enough, and hard-working enough, the world will unfold like a paper fortune-teller and reveal to you its secrets.

The true nerd ever suspects that there is some radiant untold truth she has yet to set eyes on waiting just behind the curtain. In a small way, she really believes in great, powerful books she hasn’t read, and great powerful tables of elements with which she is not familiar, and great, powerful maps of places she has never heard of. Because the world is always full of strange new things to know.