Going quiet

I want to write a bit here about taking a break from social media — which I’m doing through November at least. Maybe longer.

What I love about social media: feeling connected to distant friends. Being able to educate myself through listening to voices I wouldn’t otherwise encounter. A sense of being (relatively) well-informed, of being part of a conversation. And of course, adorable animal photos.

What I hate: time slipping away while I scroll. Anxiety mounting. Feeling as though I should do something about everything that’s wrong that people are talking about. Continuing to scroll instead.

It’s been just about a week sans Facebook and Twitter. It feels like my brain is rewiring itself a bit, and also like I’ve gone back in time.

And yes, it does seem to help with writing, which is the other reason for the break.

You can still reach me through the contact form here and email, I haven’t gone entirely offline. But. It’s quieter.

So far I like it.


It got to be October.

A lot has happened that I haven’t written about here.

I did a bunch of traveling. Here are a few worn surfaces I saw in Covington, Kentucky.

IMG_5270    IMG_5279IMG_5323

Also a couple of ominous panels from a civic installation.



I joined a critique group. I helped start a learning community. I spent time at a site formerly occupied by a telegraph relay station and (later) a cult.




I’ve been sick, the kind of sick where you begin to suspect your immune system of going on strike so you’ll just, like, stop a minute.

Listening to Hamilton a ludicrous number of times, alternating with several different Mary Renault books; all rereads, via the audio versions. Marveling about how much of the violence and politics in Renault’s work my teen self elided over to get to the next description of a theatrical, musical, or poetry performance, and/or the next emotionally intense scene between Alexander and Hephaistion, or Alexander and Bagoas, as the case may be. (Yes, I’ve been listening to work about two historically significant Alexanders, both of whom had complex love lives.)

Today was the first day in a week or so that I’ve felt more or less like a human. Hoping you’re the same.

Unless you’d prefer to be a nonhuman entity of some variety; in which case, I hope you’re that.







Lambda Literary Emerging Writers Retreat: a few reflections

Here’s a tweet from the week I taught the Genre Fiction workshop at the Lambda Literary Emerging Writers Retreat:

It’s hard to overestimate the value of a specifically queer writers’ retreat (while recognizing that not everyone is a fan of the word queer). Despite the enormous variation in people’s individual experiences of sexuality and gender (and everything else), there was an overall sense of community and connection not simply within each individual workshop cohort, but among and across them all — poetry, nonfiction, fiction, playwriting, and the one I taught: genre fiction with a dual focus in comics and YA.

I really appreciated how a shared understanding of queerness informed the way people responded to each other’s work. When no one has to spend time explaining or justifying queer themes, characters, etc., it creates more room in a workshop to focus on other aspects of craft and storytelling.

As someone whose queerness can often be invisible, I also welcomed,well, being welcomed in a queer space.

And speaking of space, I’m certain that the sense of community I referred to above was significantly enhanced by the fact that we were all, faculty and Fellows, staying in the same dorm, which had a shared courtyard where many folks chose to gather in the afternoons & evenings. (Sometimes very late into the evenings…)

We had a faculty reading and Q&A the first night, on campus:

lambda faculty reading group

l-r: me, Justin Torres, Linda Villarosa, Kazim Ali with the mic, Cherríe Moraga, and Lambda Literary Executive Director Tony Valenzuela at the lectern. It was an enormous honor to share a stage with this group of people! (Also: I’m pretty sure this photo was taken at a serious moment, but I’m amused in retrospect by how the rest of us are all looking thoughtful in different ways as Kazim speaks.)

Oh and here I am, very professorial (the lectern helps, as does the jacket) while reading from Bad Houses:

lambda faculty reading

Besides the faculty reading, there were three nights’ worth of Fellows readings. We also got to hear from Amy Scholder and Ryka Aoki — these talks were ostensibly for the Fellows, but I think all the faculty attended each one, too.

You can watch the Fellows readings and I highly encourage you to do so. I think it’s so smart of Lambda to build public readings into the retreat. Not only is it great practice — a lot of writers don’t get many opportunities to do readings — but the presence of other Fellows and faculty makes for an incredibly enthusiastic audience response! (Said response may or may not include referring to and cheering for the various cohorts as Hogwarts houses; in 2015 the poets were Slytherin and the Genre folks were Hufflepuff.)

I’ll quote what Malinda Lo said in the post she wrote about teaching in 2013: “Even though I didn’t have my own writing workshopped at the retreat, I thought a lot about my writing too. I thought about what I owe to other queer readers, and what I owe to myself as a queer writer.”

It’s very easy for me to focus so hard on trying to solve problems in what I’m writing — and there are always problems — that I forget why I write in the first place.

Teaching at Lambda helped me remember.

I’m so grateful to Lambda for inviting me to teach, and to the terrific Genre Fellows whose talent, hard work, and mutual support made it such a pleasure. Here I am with them all:


l-r: Top row: Karen Yin, Parker Goodreau, Caitlin Hernandez, Kate Goka, Isabel Galupo, Jasmine Molina, Sarah Jiménez, M-E Girard. Bottom row: Catherine Healy, Pam Watts, me, Meg Allen. Remember their names!








Book recommendations from the BGL retreat

As has become traditional (see 2014, 2013, 2012), here are some recommendations from folks at this year’s Barry Goldblatt Literary retreat. And even though the post is called book recommendations, there are also things that aren’t books.

I always enjoy finding the link for each thing; book trailers, author sites, publisher pages, reviews, interviews. One of the links below is to a glowing review that also contains adorable photos and a brownie recipe. (And now you’ll click them all, won’t you?)

In no particular order:

Yes Please, particularly the audiobook, by Amy Poehler

Young ElitesMarie Lu

Steven Universe

Wolfie the Bunny by Ame Dyckman and Zachariah OHora

I Don’t Like Koala by Sean Ferrell and Charles Santoso

The Fantastic Jungles of Henri Rousseau by Michelle Markel and Amanda Hall

The Iridescence of Birds by Patricia MacLachlan and Hadley Hooper

Tricky Vic: the Impossibly True Story of the Man Who Sold the Eiffel Tower by Greg Pizzoli

Circus Mirandus by Cassie Beasley

Station 11 by Emily St. John Mandel

Armand Gamache mysteries by Louise Penny

The Walls Around Us by Nova Ren Suma

All the Rage by Courtney Summers

Bone Gap by Laura Ruby

Greenglass House by Kate Milford

Salvage by Alexandra Duncan

Glory O’Brien’s History of the Future by A.S. King

Uprooted by Naomi Novak

His Fair Assassin series by Robin LaFevers

The Thing About Jellyfish by Ali Benjamin

The Sixth Gun by Cullen Bunn and Brian Hurtt

Unbeatable Squirrel Girl by Ryan North and Erica Henderson

Nimona by Noelle Stevenson

Journey by Aaron Becker

Locomotive by Brian Floca

The Adventures of Luke Skywalker, Jedi Knight by Tony DiTerlizzi

Southern Reach trilogy [aka Area X] by Jeff VanderMeer

The Vorrh by Brian Catling

Saga by Brian K. Vaughan and Fiona Staples

Float by Daniel Miyares

Sidewalk Flowers by JonArno Lawson and Sydney Smith

The Bear Ate Your Sandwich by Julia Sarcone-Roach

Crazy Horse’s Girlfriend by Erika T. Wurth

Written in the Stars by Aisha Saeed

Counting Crows by Kathi Appelt & Rob Dunleavy

The Jumbies by Tracey Batiste

Roller Girl by Victoria Jamieson

El Deafo by Cece Bell

Elvis and the Underdogs by Jenny Lee

The Detective’s Assistant by Kate Hannigan

Unusual Chickens for the Exceptional Poultry Farmer by Kelly Jones

The Truth About Twinkie Pie by Kat Yeh

Boy, Snow, Bird by Helen Oyeyemi

The Carnival at Bray by Jessie Ann Foley

The Princess in Black by Shannon Hale, Dean Hale and LeUyen Pham

The Darkest Part of the Forest by Holly Black

Show and Prove by Sofia Quintero

Supermutant Magic Academy by Jillian Tamaki

Pretty Deadly by Kelly Sue DeConnick and Emma Rios

ODY-C by Matt Fraction and Christian Ward

Last Stop on Market Street by Matt de la Peña and Christian Robinson

The Princess and the Pony by Kate Beaton

Shadowshaper by Daniel José Older

Cuckoo Song by Frances Hardinge

The House of Shattered Wings by Aliette de Bodard

Courtney Barnett, “Pedestrian at Best”

The Girl With All the Gifts by M. R. Carey

BoJack Horseman


Boots of Leather, Slippers of Gold: the history of a lesbian community by Elizabeth Lapovsky Kennedy and Madeline D. Davis

The 100

Art and Fear by David Bayles and Ted Orland

Resources mentioned at the SDCC Normalizing Publishing panel

First off, sharing a stage with Nilah Magruder, Nicola Yoon, Cindy Pon, and Greg van Eekhout for the Normalizing Publishing panel was absolutely a highlight of my time at the San Diego Comic-Con.

normalizing publishing panel

We managed to cover a lot in a short amount of time! Including but not limited to:

  • the importance of in-person as well as online communities for creators from marginalized groups
  • in framing the conversation about a book, comic, etc., how it’s equally important to highlight a work’s diverse qualities and to not relegate it to only being discussed in the context of those qualities
  • how alienating it is to grow up never seeing characters or creators who reflect your culture and experiences
  • how when you’re trying to create characters outside your own culture and experiences, research and respect are key

We also mentioned a lot of specific resources! Also including but not limited to:

We Need Diverse Books and its publishing internship program

The Publishing Diversity Baseline Survey spearheaded by Lee and Low Books, which also offers the New Voices and New Visions awards

The Carl Brandon Society and its Con Or Bust support for people of color to attend science fiction & fantasy conventions

Diversity in YA

Voices At VONA, a multigenre writing workshop for people of color

Lambda Literary Emerging LGBTQ Voices writers retreat

Writing The Other by Nisi Shawl and Cynthia Ward

Thanks to all who came to the panel, and I’m happy to update this post with more info & links I’ve forgotten in post-con exhaustion!





I am going to be a guest at San Diego Comic-Con

So, I do intend to write about my experience as the Genre Fiction instructor for the Lambda Literary Retreat for Emerging LGBTQ Voices, which was amazing, and not just because of this delightful coffee mug:


But now I want to tell you what I’m doing at Comic-Con!

I’m a Featured Guest, I’ll be at II-10 in Artist’s Alley  and I’m on two panels:

Historical Comics and Graphic Novels: Thursday, July 9th, 1 PM

Not all comics are about superheroes. In fact, there are some amazing graphic novels, comics and web comics that deal with events from history. Some are personal stories, some are historical accounts and some are the creator’s own take, but they all bring history alive. Creators Peter Bagge (Hate, Woman Rebel: The Margaret Sanger Story), Ed Piskor (Hip-Hop Family Tree), Matt Phelan (The Storm in the Barn), Sara Ryan (Escape From Alcatraz), and Lora Innes (The Dreamer), discuss their historical works with moderator Douglas Wolk (Reading Comics).

Normalizing Publishing: Sunday, July 12th, noon

Shonda Rhimes famously said that she’s not “‘diversifying’ TV, she’s normalizing it: “Making it look like the world looks.” Join Sara Ryan (Bad Houses, Lambda Literary Emerging LGBTQ Writers Retreat instructor), Nilah Magruder (M.F.K., Dwayne McDuffie Award for Diversity recipient), Nicola Yoon (Everything Everything, We Need Diverse Books team member), Cindy Pon (Serpentine, We Need Diverse Books advisory committee, Diversity in YA co-founder), and Greg van Eekhout (California Bones, The Boy at the End of the World) discuss how this normalizing is, and isn’t, happening and what we can all do to promote inclusive storytelling.


I’m looking forward to both of them, but I’m particularly excited about the second one. See, as a guest, I get a “spotlight panel”, which means that basically I can do whatever I want for fifty minutes.

I decided what I wanted was to share the stage with smart interesting people and talk about stuff that matters.

See you in San Diego!



Why I Was Scared Shitless in June 1991

Journal excerpt, 1991:

I got into Clarion. It’s a highly intensive writing workshop for writers of sf and fantasy. 

Has me scared shitless.

Five Reasons I Was Scared Shitless (An Incomplete List)

1. Even though it was only an hour away from where I lived, it would be the longest I’d been away from home. I didn’t know how my absence would affect my relationships.

2. I didn’t know any of the other students. What if they didn’t like me?

3. I didn’t know what the instructors would expect. What if they didn’t like me?

4. I desperately, desperately wanted to be a writer. What if they didn’t think I could be a writer? What would happen to my identity?

5. And speaking of my identity: I’d only recently begun to understand that I was queer. How would others react if I came out? Should I come out? How would I feel if I didn’t? How would I feel if I did?

…I wanted to remind myself what it was like to be just about to be a student at an intensive writing workshop, because now I’m just about to be an instructor at one: the Genre workshop at the Lambda Literary Retreat for Emerging LGBTQ Voices.

Here are a few excerpts from the notes I took in 1991. (Yes, I still have the notebook.)

From a Tim Powers talk:

Writing is WORK and CONSTRUCTION don't confuse MOTION and MOVEMENT with action.

writing is WORK and CONSTRUCTION don’t confuse MOTION and MOVEMENT with action

What another student wanted to see in one of my stories:

more mayhem!! ever-increasing mayhem!!

more mayhem!! ever-increasing mayhem!!

From an Ellen Kushner talk:

SENSUALITY I CAN USE THIS -- especially pain, strong emotion, petty emotion

SENSUALITY: I CAN USE THIS — especially pain, strong emotion, petty emotion…

Note to myself with an idea for a story I did not end up writing for reasons that may rapidly become apparent:

story, what happens to your brain when you're fatigued

story, what happens to your brain when you’re fatigued

A reality check from Karen Joy Fowler:

Karen says: no agent til novel LEARN TO LIVE WITHOUT REASSURANCE

Karen says: no agent til novel LEARN TO LIVE WITHOUT REASSURANCE

And another one from Kate Wilhelm and Damon Knight. I think I can call myself a case in point:





Status update.

When you’re dealing with difficult things but they’re the same difficult things you’ve been dealing with for years, and you sort of want to talk about them but you’re also tired of hearing yourself talk about them, and you send a few messages, start and delete several others, and go to a movie alone and step out afterwards into a big Midwestern parking lot and the moment before the distraction provided by the film dissipates, you hold your phone up to the sky.



Gone Home: what I loved and what I learned

I’m a compulsive reader. I’m less consistently engaged by movies and television, but there are certainly any number of films and shows I love.  Over the past several years, though, I’ve become increasingly aware that there’s an entire type of narrative with which I haven’t been able to connect.

I glean things from time to time — for instance I understand, vaguely, that many folks in my social circle play, love, critique, passionately discuss, create fan art for, and are otherwise engaged with games like Bioshock, Mass Effect, and Dragon Age.

But by and large, I’ve never found games fun.

Back in the dark ages, my fervent enjoyment of Ms. Pac-Man (as much for its name as for the gameplay) always coexisted with anxiety and frustration (whether due to inadequate hand-eye coordination or lack of quarters).

More recently, playing games, like reading some mainstream comics, has seemed more like work than entertainment, requiring Talmudic-level knowledge of creators, techniques and game mechanics. Or I’ve thought playing games would be like middle school gym class, where I knew I’d struggle with activities that others found simple, intuitive, enjoyable.

Turns out I hadn’t found the right game.


I wouldn’t have found it, either, if it hadn’t been for Carmen Maria Machado‘s thoughtful appreciation in the L.A. Review of Books, “Why Alice Munro Should Play ‘Gone Home‘: The Video Game As Story And Experience.” I bought Gone Home immediately after reading Machado’s piece, and played Gone Home, with only a few pauses, for the next several hours.

Anyone with more of a connection to the world of indie games than I have is, no doubt, not surprised. The game has been out since 2013. It’s won a lot of awards.

And anyone who knows me IRL will also not be surprised that the game with which I connected so strongly:

  • is set in the Pacific Northwest
  •  involves exploring a big weird house and a family’s left-behind possessions & ephemera
  • includes multiple characters’ writing in various genres (postcards, letters, passed notes, genre fiction, zines) and
  • (spoiler alert) involves a queer girl romance.

I mean.


But even more than my delight in all the elements that felt tailor-made to delight me, what I appreciate most about Gone Home is how it subverts ideas about what even constitutes a story.

Received ideas about narrative are hard to escape. Conflict is everything. Raise the stakes. What does your protagonist want? What’s in the way of her getting it? What’s the through-line? What’s her arc? Who’s the Big Bad? Make it hurt!

Gone Home’s storytelling doesn’t work like that. You extrapolate from fragments. Relationships reveal themselves to you gradually. You discover that the Greenbriar family home, the “Psycho House,” both is and is not what it seems. And if an antagonist even exists, it’s, perhaps, simply the emotional and physical distance between the characters.

The Alice Munro quote about stories considered as houses that Machado includes in her piece about Gone Home is certainly apt (go read it if you haven’t already). I thought of another, a favorite passage from Ursula Le Guin’s essay “The Carrier Bag Theory of Fiction”:

So, when I came to writing science-fiction novels, I came lugging this great heavy bag of stuff, my carrier bag full of wimps and klutzes, and tiny grains of things smaller than a mustard seed, and intricately woven nets which when laboriously unknotted are seen to contain one blue pebble, an imperturbably functioning chronometer telling the time on another world, and a mouse’s skull; full of beginnings without ends, of initiations, of losses, of transformations and translations, and far more tricks than conflicts, far fewer triumphs than snares and delusions; full of space ships that get stuck, missions that fail, and people who don’t understand.

There are a lot of stories inside the carrier bag of Gone Home’s house. And like Le Guin’s essay, they remind me that the ‘narrative trajectory’ is only one way to think about what stories are, or can be.


I don’t know the photographer to credit for this image. (If anyone reading this does, let me know.)

I saw it at, yes, an estate sale, and didn’t buy it, but wanted to remember it. Now you can too. Those handprints. Desperately grasping for purchase, or proudly leaving a mark?