#OwnYourOwn: Be Alive, And Be Trans

ownyourown

Read more about #OwnYourOwn here, or read through the hashtag on twitter

It’s hard to be alive sometimes. It’s not easy to be a person. That’s true, I think, across the board. It becomes more horrifically true when you layer on oppression.

It becomes more true when you spend your formative years consuming narrative after narrative telling you that you are most definitely going to have to die at the end of the story. Maybe because your very nature is duplicitous. Maybe so that some cis person can learn about injustice and rail against it. Who the fuck knows.

When I was growing up, all I knew about myself is that I didn’t seem like the other kids. I felt sporadically uncomfortable in my skin, like I wanted to step out of my body and into a new one I’d edited and reformed for myself. Other days were just fine. The dominant trans narrative–I knew I was like this since I was four years old, I have always been a boy trapped in a girl’s body*–that was so different than this nebulous shifting experience of my own physical/emotional give and take that it took decades for me to begin to think of myself that way.

There weren’t stories for me.

There weren’t reflections of people like me in the books I read, in the shows I watched.

And I was poorer for it.

In my own writing, I stick nonbinary and genderqueer people in all the time. I put them in there to show other people that we exist, and that we have entire lives. Families. Hobbies. Minutia. That we survive and thrive.

I put people like me in so that there is a reflection of me out there in the world, just in case there is some kid like me yearning for a mirror that they don’t even know they need yet.

Whatever story is burning in you to get told? Tell it. Whatever story you’ve always wanted to read but have never found? That is the one only you can write because you are the one who has lived it. No one can write it better than you.

Show the world what it’s like to live anyway. Shatter all those stories where you’re supposed to be the sidekick, or the joke, or the sad dead thing in the corner someone better off can pity. Or the villain. You’re none of those things. You’re the hero. Show that part. Show how alive you are now, and how alive you’ll stay, and how much glorious breadth there is in your life every day.

I believe in you.



*My kid, though, fits this narrative precisely.

PROOF Expansion ready for beta readers!

bigger and better than ever

bigger and better than ever

Holy shit, you guys, I finished expanding “Proof” into a novel! I have tentatively retitled it Resistance as adding 45k words does tend to change the scope and focus of the work a little bit. I’m planning on writing up my process and experience working on a deadline, but for now, I’ll just throw out a call for beta readers!

Resistance has many faces, and one of them is Shandolin’s. When she finds her friend brutally murdered, Shandolin knows that her life as an elf living in the City of Mages under the heel of the Qin is going to get a whole lot harder. Though the Qin have her in their sights and put an assassin on her trail, Shandolin decides to fight instead of run–but her only hope of survival is a takeover of the City government.

Shandolin draws everyone she loves into the fray with her: her assassin lover, Rivna, who would prefer a quiet life; her mentor, Moshel, whose history with the Qin leaves him paralyzed and frightened; and her best friend, Kel, who has too many mouths to feed to play a losing game of politics. Apart, they are weak, but together Shandolin and her friends, lovers and fellows may be just strong enough to save their skins and the skins of the other elves in the City.

Set in the unique and finely realized fantasy universe of Aerdh, RESISTANCE is a completed fantasy novel 52,000 words in length. RESISTANCE is about the big and small ways hunted people fight back, and what it may cost them if they win the fight.

Interested? Let me know!

PROOF Expansion Update

I did not mean to neglect this blog so long, but as you are about to see, I have been hella busy. the expansion of “Proof” into a novel is going really well! I am actually ahead of schedule already. Good job, me. Anyway, I thought I would write up a post that walks you through my process for this blitz writing project step by step, because if there’s one thing the aspiring author blogosphere needs it’s another writing process post!

Step 1: Make a plan of attack

Evernote is awesome because you can stick in to do check boxes, and there's nothing sweeter than checking off a box. I'M DONE, BRO you say to Evernote. And then Evernote buys you flowers.

Evernote is awesome because you can stick in to do check boxes, and there’s nothing sweeter than checking off a box. I’M DONE, BRO you say to Evernote. And then Evernote buys you flowers.

I have a hard deadline for this project–August 1st–so it made sense to me to map backward from the hard deadline to see what needed to be done by when. I know my writing process well enough now to know I would need time for worldbuilding/brainstorming, obviously writing time, and then a little cushion at the end for copyediting. Because, you guys, I am a shit typist, and I don’t catch the terrible typing as I’m writing. Since this is my first project I’m doing ~for realsies!~ like with a really good shot at seeing it published I am kind of nervous. Instead of getting stuck in the self-doubting seventh circle of hell, I’ve built in even more cushion time to get a couple of my very fastest beta readers to look through the manuscript before I send it off (though if they’re like WOW B THIS SUCKS MONKEY BALLS I’m not sure there is functionally enough time to really do anything about that; this is mostly a peace-of-mind thing).

I gave myself a week of worlbuilding/planning time at the start, then two weeks at the end for edits. The time in between is writing time, and I worked out how much I would need to write everyday all of those days in order to hit 60k words by the point at which I need to start editing.

Step 2: The outline to end all outlines
You see the highlighting? The highlighting means I'm taking this seriously.

You see the highlighting? The highlighting means I’m taking this seriously.

I mentioned before that I’m not much of a plotter, but for this project plotting makes sense logistically. I’m pretty sure that was exactly the right call to make, so I wrote up a very extensive outline of what is essentially the original short story but with many more complications and a handful of new characters thrown in for flavor.

The thing is, when I say I don’t plot or plan much for most of my work, I mean that pretty much wholesale. I don’t structure the plot ahead of time, and I certainly don’t pay much attention to the structure of the book itself (chapters, sections, etc). But I did this time. I figured give or take 6k words was about the right length for a chapter which in a 60k draft would mean give or take ten chapters, so I printed out the Massive Outline and broke up the action by chapter, and within chapters broke it into scenes.

Step 3: Structuring the draft in Scrivener

Oh, corkboard feature. What a fool I was to think I'd never use you.

Oh, corkboard feature. What a fool I was to think I’d never use you.

Each scene got its own notecard with the following: a chapter designation, a scene number, a quick and dirty summary of the action this scene pushes forward, and keywords describing the characters present, major plot points, and setting.

The fact that you can mouse over the card in the binder and it displays the summary is super useful while writing–essentially, it lets me write to the next scene so I can keep any foreshadowy bits in mind as I go along.

Step 4: Get your write on

This is the fun part.

This is the fun part.

I’ve set this hard goal of 2200 words per day every day until the book is done. Now, I work 40+ hours a week and parent a toddler and have, like, a life and shit, so 2200 was, I thought, a reach goal. But it’s working.

I write on the bus, basically exclusively on the bus. I have a 40 minute block in the morning where I’m getting out about 1200 words, and I have another 40 minute block on my way home in the afternoon where I usually match or surpass the amount written that morning. The fact that I know the story so well and have hammered out all the actual stuff that happens makes this a bit easier, but by a week in honestly I think the rhythm of writing in two focused blocks helps me get all those words out.

This is not to say there haven’t been surprises along the way. The chapter structure has shifted a little. Characters I definitely did not expect to show up came into the story. Characters I thought I knew quite well showed me a whole different side to them. Despite all that meticulous planning and the rigidity of my writing schedule, the actual writing part of this project still feels very organic, which I think is a good sign.

Step 5: Progress monitoring is key

And we're back to my dear old friend Excel which you may have noticed I use for basically everything.

And we’re back to my dear old friend Excel which you may have noticed I use for basically everything.

I keep a spreadsheet where I track daily writing, log whether it’s writing or planning or blogging or what, and where I track my queries. I also keep a list of books I’ve read in here. Look, I just like lists, ok? That’s not a crime.

Usually I just have this log because I like data, but for this project it’s vital to track and monitor how closely I’m following that week-by-week project plan I’ve got over in Evernote. Doing this showed me that this weekend HOLY SHIT I was actually far enough ahead of schedule that I could take a break from writing. Which was good because I had Proper Adult Things to do this weekend like cook Father’s Day brunch for my partner and organize the hellhole which was once my closet and play with my kid and install a new saddle on my bike. Also somehow I drank an entire jug of orange juice in a single day. That was super important, and frankly, I feel rather accomplished.

This spreadsheet is actually kind of awesome because I have it where it auto-sums the number of words written within the year to date and also it sums the total number of words in a month and takes the average written daily for the month. WHAT I LIKE DATA.

Step 6: Make sure your ducks are in a row

compiling sounds so productive, doesn't it? "Oh, what did you do today?" "I compiled an entire book!" "Wow, look at you go!"

Compiling sounds so productive, doesn’t it? “Oh, what did you do today?” “I compiled an entire book!” “Wow, look at you go!”

I am writing the book according to the specs I’ve set the Scrivener editor to for my own particular preference (12 pt Palatino Linotype, 1.5 spacing in case you’re interested), but lo! The press for whom I’m writing the book has preferences of their own. The mysteries of the human mind. Anyway, they send me a pre-edit checklist and formatting document, and I spent an hour or so tinkering around in Scrivener’s compile settings to work out how best to get Scrivener to export exactly the kind of document they want. I periodically compile a chapter here or there to make sure everything fits their requirements, and then I can just write the damn book without having to scramble at the end to make the formatting work.

So, that’s where I am and what I’ve been doing the last couple of weeks! It’s clipping along at a great place, the nerves about this REALLY BEING A REAL THING are manageable, and I’ve been able to keep my head above water in the other domains of my life. Basically, I feel like this guy:

Well, I feel like this guy if he was, like, wearing clothes.

Well, I feel like this guy if he was, like, wearing clothes.
(image courtesy of Wikimedia Commons)

Expanding PROOF – Week 1

As I mentioned a few days ago, I have switched gears to due an impending and enormously exciting deadline! Since I document everything ever, I figured I’d go ahead and document this process, too.

The gist is in two months I need to take “Proof”, a 6,000 word short story, and expand it into a short novel by adding at least 40,000 words. No small feat, right? Well, luckily, I have a bit of a head start: “Proof”, like the vast majority of my fiction, takes place in Aerdh. And it explores characters in a locale i’ve pretty thoroughly built out worldbuilding-wise. And it dovetails with some characters I’ve written about elsewhere. In short, I have a pretty comprehensive sense of what’s going on in the universe in which the story is set at that particular time in the universe’s history, which makes things a lot easier to work with. Mostly expanding “Proof” means taking the current plot, which is stripped pretty bare, and throwing in a bunch of complications to blow up the scope of the narrative.

I’m pretty sure I’ve mentioned this before, but I’m not much of a plotter. The pace and action of my narratives typically develop organically from exercises in worldbuilding first and then character development. This project is really no different–the characters are definitely my starting place.

"where should i start? I know! A nice orderly table about my characters"

“where should i start? I know! A nice orderly table about my characters”

“Proof”, at its heart, is a love story, and I very much want to keep that element when I expand it to a novel. Specifically, “Proof” describes a relationship between two women that already has a history. Obviously, one direction I could take the project in is to pull back and watch them fall in love. But I like that they’re already together, that they already have a rhythm and a history. My inclination now is to keep it like that and to use the longer format to explore why and how they work (and why and how they don’t work) together. There is a certain kind of playfulness that exists when you’re writing about two people who already know each other and already love each other that is a little different than the sort of playfulness that exists when a relationship is new and still forming. I want the book to be about how they stay in love rather than how they fall in love.

So, since this will be a book so deeply rooted in how these two characters play off of each other, I started with mapping out how they react to each other. With a table. Look, I’m an analyst by training and trade, right, I think in tables.

The other thing I’ve been working on is an extremely rough idea of a plot. Now, the reason I’m doing this instead of just letting it blossom on its own like I usually do is a matter of scope–left to my own devices I will turn this into a 200,000 word epic about the nature of love and loss and shit like that. And it would be good. But this needs to be a quick, swift romp with just enough gravitas, and for that I need to keep my focus. Since I’ve got two months to make it happen, I don’t have time for a sprawling first draft.

EYES ON THE PRIZE, SANDERS

EYES ON THE PRIZE, SANDERS

So I’m brainstorming at lightspeed, figuring out which elements of the current story need elaboration and what the scope of this will be. It’s like a planning blitz, and so far it’s been really useful. I am sort of concurrently working out the roughest outline in the whole wide world.

I’ll keep y’all posted on where it goes from here!

a spine as strong as spider’s silk

Image

aspineasstrongasspiderssilk

This is a poem about myself to myself. As a trans* person, a gender variant person, a genderqueer person, I experience varying degrees of body dysphoria on the regular. I do yoga virtually every night, alone and in the dark of my bedroom, which helps me reconnect with what my body is, the beauty of its limits and its realities. It’s a simple and purely physical experience, this ritual of coaxing my body into shapes. That experience is what I’ve tried to capture in this poem.

NEW SHORT STORY FOR BETA READERS: Proof

Proof_wordle

Hey y’all! I just finished another short story. The description and info are below; I welcome any and everyone to read it!

When a friend turns up dead, Shandolin suspects her lover, an elvish assassin named Rivna, may be the reason why. Shandolin marshals all her skills to prove Rivna is the killer, while Rivna does all she can to convince Shandolin she’s innocent.

PROOF is a completed short story 5,650 words in length set in the world of Aerdh. PROOF is a glimpse into the chaotic political and personal lives of two strong-willed sharp-tongued young women that will leave you wanting more.

Interested? Let me know!

Book Review: JUST KIDS

just scrappy little urchins who ended up counterculture icons, that's all

just scrappy little urchins who ended up counterculture icons, that’s all

Just Kids by Patti Smith is a rare little gem. To me, Patti Smith has always exuded a punk rock swagger, an only half-bridled aggression. I see her, and I see only the hard, sharp angles of her. And Robert Mapplethorpe: leather, whips, unapologetic sex acts with a peculiar defiant dignity to them. Both of them are creatures who seem to have been launched straight from the scene, fully-formed and antagonistic right from the start.

But they weren’t. Just Kids is a memoir by Patti Smith about her time living in New York with Robert Mapplethorpe while they were both shaking off the dull scraps of adolescence and trying to break out as artists. Strewn throughout the book are pictures of them as very young excitable artists-in-training joined at the hip.

Smith’s prose reads like a soft-focus fairy tale. The sections set in the Chelsea Hotel, especially, have an almost Dickensian quality to them; they read as a quaint story full of larger-than-life characters, most of whom have hearts firmly of gold. Reconciling this wistful retelling of her youth with the persona I associate with her was intriguing to say the least. And obviously I am not the only one who found the disconnect between Patti Smith’s presence and her internal life jarring — there are places in the text where she discusses how those around her took her for a lesbian (she is straight), or a junkie (she seems not to have experimented with pot until she’d moved out of the Chelsea). Her prose is light and airy, and her memories sepia-tinged and wholesome, despite the fact that anyone who knows the history of that scene knows just how much death and self-immolation is happening just off screen. Patti Smith herself seems to have waltzed through it unscathed, and her writing dances along the edges of the darkness that her scene held*. Without the debauchery, the excess, the Chelsea Hotel in the 70s reads as an almost Victorian affair.

The book is structured in a circle: it opens with the moment Smith hears of Mapplethorpe’s death, then jumps back in time before they have met. Smith discusses her teenage pregnancy and the process of giving her child up for adoption, her failure at teacher’s school, and her time on a New Jersey assembly line in a brisk and somewhat sanitized fashion; again, there seems to be in her writing a distaste for discussions of the negative, of the hard and bleak moments of her life. From there, the book jumps forward to her first meeting with Mapplethorpe, their sweet and heartfelt romance, the little poverty-stricken life they build together, and how hard they worked to evolve their relationship with each other when their life trajectories began to diverge. The book ends with a far jump into the future, back to those last few weeks of Mapplethorpe’s life and ends with his inevitable death, right back where the book started.

Given that the book is told from Smith’s perspective, it is perhaps not surprising that her motives and desires are clear throughout, but over the course of the book Mapplethorpe becomes more and more opaque. A boy who seems simple when she first meets him grows into a man full of contradictions. The person whose viewpoints and life goals seemed to mirror hers so closely at first winds up yearning to be part of the social circles that Smith herself actively avoids. It became increasingly unsettling as I read the book. What does he get from her that keeps him around? How does he see her and their ever-changing relationship? Very little is explored here in the text, and Smith herself seems to take their relationship at face value, as a thing complete in itself with little context surrounding it. It just is for her, and her wholesale acceptance of it is so radically different from the way I, personally, live out my significant life-altering relationships that it was hard for me to understand at times what their relationship was exactly. But there is an authenticity to her writing that explains the halcyon haze through which she remembers that time of her life. That period, above anything else, was her period with Robert Mapplethorpe, for whom she had a love so total and accepting it is essentially blank, without specificities, and all the hardness of that time is drowned out in remembrance of him.

Just Kids is, like most memoirs, ultimately a work that says as much or more about its author than the subject matter itself. The story there is as much in the telling as it is in the content. And it’s a fascinating look into the mind of a woman who is so very different than the person I assumed her to be. It is a love letter to the late Robert Mapplethorpe, but it’s a love letter to her young self, as well. I can’t help but wish there had been some balance to it, some acknowledgment of the difficulties of living so poor, or of loving a man who seems to fall into and out of and into and out of love with her, or of the pain of watching her friends get consumed by drugs right in front of her, but that’s not the book she wrote. It may not be a book she’s able to write. I can’t help but think of her as an unreliable narrator for her own life, but ultimately that’s what we all are. It’s hard to tell the bald truth about your own life. It might be impossible. But still, the unanswered questions nag at me. I found this book absolutely fascinating, but when it was over, it felt insubstantial. But that doesn’t mean it’s not worth reading.

bookreview3stars

*Swimming Underground by Mary Woronov of Warhol’s Factory crew is a bird’s eye account of the dark addictions Patti Smith seems to prefer to keep just out of frame. I highly recommend it, too, and it works as a very interesting counterbalance to Just Kids.

#ThankAWriter Project: China Mieville

go read this book right now

go read this book right now

I saw the #ThankAWriter project over on Nathan Bransford’s blog. Writing letters like this to my favorite authors has actually been something I’ve wanted to do for a long time, so I’ve jumped right on the bandwagon. I’ll be double-posting these thank you letters here and on my gomighty blog.

Thank you, China Mieville, for validating my existence.

You don’t know me, and we’ll probably never meet, and you likely won’t even read this, but thank you anyway. I have been a fan of your work for some time, and when I heard you were writing a book referencing Moby Dick I nearly shat myself with excitement. Mieville! Melville! One of my favorite authors riffing on one of my other favorite others!! So, I pre-ordered Railsea and inhaled it as soon as it arrived on my doorstep.

I was expecting to love Railsea, but I wasn’t expecting to connect with it so deeply. I didn’t think aspects of myself I have spent so long grappling with, coming to terms with, would be mirrored so beautifully in this book. I’m genderqueer. I am a parent in a triad. Doc Fremlo’s effortless, almost unremarkable gender variance was a revelation. Fremlo was what I am, but utterly at peace with it in a world where what they were was perfectly acceptable. I can count on one hand the number of genderqueer or agender characters I’ve seen portrayed in books, and none of them have been written with such ease or such simple comfort in their own skins. Fremlo was living the life I want to live. Femlo was deeply resonant and deeply inspiring to me. So, thank you for Doc Fremlo. Thank you a million times.

That would have been enough to shoot Railsea up to the top of my list of most favorite books ever, and then I met the Shroakes, and Caldera and Caldero told me about their family. I have a kid — a wonderful, lively kid that I love more than anything in the world — and my kid has me, and her mom, and her dad. Inside our little family unit everything makes perfect sense, but to the rest of the world we don’t. Which one of us is the nanny? Which of the three of us are her ‘real’ parents? These are the questions we navigate everyday. To read about the configuration of the Shroake family (even after it’s been so irreparably broken) was like meeting Doc Fremlo all over again: an overwhelming sense of validation, and of being understood. So, thank you for the Shroakes, as well.

Again, I know we’ve never met and probably never will. I know I don’t know you. But I am immensely grateful for having brushed against you ever so slightly via your writing. I am glad you exist, and that you took the time to write these characters into your book, and I am glad I stumbled on your book and read it and felt less alone and bizarre for who and what I am.

Thank you.

B Sanders

NEW SHORT STORY FOR BETA READERS!!: Blue Flowers

blueflowerswordleHey y’all! I just finished another short story. The description and info are below; I welcome any and everyone to read it!

Pahvo loved Anu before they ever met. Pahvo is a scryer; he sees the future, the past, lives both in a fractured present. When Pahvo first notices Anu across the street, he sees their entire lives together. Anu sees a stranger.

BLUE FLOWERS is a completed short story 4,950 words in length set in the world of Aerdh. BLUE FLOWERS explores the nature of irrevocable and inescapable love.

Interested? Let me know!

ASSASSINS first draft is done!

I just finished a novella about satyrs assassins (the first chapter is up here)! It clocks in at 27,000 words and explores themes of essentialism and free will with a heavy dose of queerness in there because that just seems to happen in my writing. Looking for first readers, so let me know if you’re interested!