Wednesday, June 30, 2010

2010 MISFITS/GPS Writing Contest results...


*happy dance*

GPS (formerly MISFITS) is a fabulous organization, and I'm proud to have been involved with them in some form or another over the course of the past decade. Congratulations to the other winners! Including Abby! Because she placed second, and I'm going to share part of my Amazon gift certificate with her!

What a perfect way to kick off con weekend. I was wrapping up my workday when I got the news. On the walk home, my iPod launched into "Rock of Ages" as if it wanted to make me feel even more awesome. Now I've got four days of nerdery, costumes, and friends ahead of me. Then fireworks.

Rock on, life.

Sunday, June 20, 2010

Pre-move WIP round-up!

CONvergence is in a little less than two weeks, and I move in a little less than three weeks (squee! flail! embarrassing squeaky noises!). Moving prep and con prep are near the top of my priority list, so some of my work-in-progress projects have had to be pushed to the backburner. My novel WIP and illustration project are now on hold until I have time again. Because of that, I've currently got fewer WIPs on the table than I've had in years. There are four, total.

1. "Liashlynn Vs. the Kudzu" - the custom short story I donated to the CPAaG Haiti auction in January - is almost done. It's just had a major rewrite and currently stands at 42 pages and 11k words. This week I'll be rereading it, forcing it on others, and tweaking it to (with any luck) call it finished.

While I was typing this, a bunch of crows perched on the power line outside my window and started chattering back and forth. Crows play a big part in this story, so their timing gave me a dorky grin.

2. The multi-chapter fanfic I've been working on is inching along, as usual. Yes, I'm working on fanfic instead of original fiction - it's low-stress, purely for fun writing that I can knock out anytime, and that's what fits into my life right now. Plus, it has zany road trip sequences. I mean, c'mon, how can I say no to that?

3. I've been finishing up some woodburning pieces for the CONvergence art show. They just got their first coat of varnish.

I might make more if I have time between packing sessions. Woodburning is weirdly calming, and in the past, it's sold well at the con. After I move, I'm planning on finally setting up the Etsy shop I've been plotting for years, so I'll have someplace to sell these things more than once a year.

4. My second Max hoodie is almost to the hood now, and I've been revising the pattern as I go. Because of the hands, this sweater goes through an awkward phase where it looks like I'm knitting a muppet.

Accordingly, the curmudgeonly muppet-dog has taken to using it as a pillow whenever I set it down. I think he feels a camaraderie with it.

A bit of advice: If you plan on varnishing a project and knitting something in the same day, don't do the varnishing first. Unless you enjoy having little bits of wool stuck to your fingertips all day.

Wednesday, June 16, 2010

+5 Apartment of Awesomeness

A while back I mentioned Kiah and I having found a new apartment. We signed the lease weeks ago, but the reality of it didn't really sink in until yesterday, when we got the chance to go over to the place to take measurements and pictures.

The apartment is the upper level of a duplex built in 1922. It's a little over 1000 square feet, with three bedrooms, one bath, and a sunroom. I'm paying extra to have one of the bedrooms as my office. (I didn't get a picture of it, but my office has a frosted glass window on the door like a detective agency, and I'm going to get window cling letters and spell out "WRITER" on it.)

Our landlords are empty nesters who live in the lower level, and they seem like very kind, laid back people. (The wife sings ABBA around the house, speaks with one of the best Minnesotan accents I've ever heard, and has "warned" us that she might feed us her baked goods. She asked if I'd be willing to teach her to knit. Um, only YES TOTALLY, AWESOME LADY.) The two homes on either side of this building are occupied by their family, so they can vouch for the neighbors, too. In the years I've been renting, I've never felt like part of a community, but we've already had an offer to join a neighborhood book club here. So, awesome landlords, lovely neighborhood, and oh, did I mention the apartment itself is GORGEOUS?

I mean, look at it.


That's where our mail will go. And this is our sunroom!

You can't really see it from the picture, but that sunroom? Freaking HUGE. 15'x7'. And it faces out over a park. Behind these trees is a totally epic playground with like three sliders. Our hands are going to build up some great calluses.

90-year-old lightswitch!

I think I'm going to love cooking in this kitchen. It has more counter space than my last three places, a built-in spice cupboard on one wall, and two huge windows facing out over the neighbors' yards. Plus, we have geektastic decorating plans for this room. Oh ho ho it's going to be fun.

You might have noticed the pink. There's a lot of it - including an eye-searing Pepto Bismol shade in my bedroom, which isn't pictured here. All of these pink rooms will be not pink when we move in, because we get to choose our own colors and the landlords paint for us. The previous tenants were three college girls who'd never gotten to decorate their own space before, and...well...yeah.

That ~*~inspirational~*~ message is on the wall in Kiah's room, which is going to be sage green. The Pepto in my bedroom will be painted over in a denimy blue, the sunroom will be a pale blue-green, and my office will be a sunny yellow.

This is where I'm going to finish my next novel.

And the one after that. And hopefully the one after that. It feels like a place we can really make into a home.

We move the second weekend of July.

Tuesday, June 15, 2010


If anyone was following my plan earlier this spring to build the world's largest paper mache fist and punch the universe in the crotch, you may be interested to know that the universe's crotch is on the move. A few months ago, Google Maps pointed to a small bookstore in New York City when I searched for "universe's crotch" - now, it points to a sports equipment store in Madison, Wisconsin.


Not that I actually need to punch the universe in the crotch so much at this particular moment. I mean, I did just finish a major revision of a story I've been trying to finish for months, and I get the keys to my new apartment in just a couple of weeks...but still. It's kind of maddening to have the object of my vengeful punching suddenly within my reach juuust after the thirst for vengeance starts to wane.

Someday, universe's crotch. You and my gigantic paper mache fist. Right place, right time. I've got my eye on you.

Thursday, June 10, 2010

Costumes and gender fuckery

God, I love costumes. When I was a kid, I wanted Halloween to happen every month so I could do multiple costumes each year. Now that I'm a grown-up geek, that's what conventions are for. I didn't do much for WisCon because it was my first year, but when CONvergence rolls around, it's gonna be Halloween all weekend.

I am so freaking excited. And not just because I get to pull my corset out of the back of the closet, or wear my Max hoodie in a place where I'll be recognized as that character instead of the weird girl in the bunny coat. This year at CONvergence, all day Saturday, a group of friends and I are going as girl versions of the main cast of Supernatural.

Can I get a FUCK YEAH?

There's something freeing about spending a day in costume - but even more so if you're with a group of people who are similarly dressed and willing to totally nerd it up with you. And if you're all fucking with genders while you're at it? Better still. Much as I love Supernatural, the series is Man Town, population: MEN, and it's difficult to find myself reflected in those heroes. Swapping out all the lead characters for women, even in cosplay, makes me absurdly happy. (I've had two novel ideas with female protagonists spawn from this show because I want so much to see female characters in a world like that. One of the novels is my current WIP.)

Kiah and I took a Goodwill trip today and assembled most of the missing pieces of my Dean Winchester costume. I now have the hair, the jeans, the shirts, and the boots. A Sculpey amulet is currently cooling on my kitchen counter. The costume so far:

They had better have "Eye of the Tiger" at karaoke.

My favorite part of this plan is that instead of two 6-foot + dudes, the Winchester siblings will be two short, busty chicks with girly voices who giggle a lot. Well, that, and the day before this, I'll be wearing a boobtastic corset with a poofy sleeved shrug and full-on glam makeup. And the day after this, I'll be running around dressed like an eight-year-old girl.

I can't wait for CONvergence, OMG.

After Goodwill today, Kiah and I were at Arby's, talking about how awesome our girl!Winchester costumes are going to be and how we should put them on immediately when we get home and watch TV in character. We had a brief in-character conversation then, in Arby's, about pie.

Then a guy passed by outside dressed in a trash bag poncho, speed-walking in the barely drizzling rain, and we stopped mid-sentence.

"Wow," I said, "what a nerd."

Monday, June 7, 2010

Dead or aliiiiiiive

It's a good thing I'm going to have a roommate again soon, because living by myself is making me crazier. Not that I don't love having my own place, but when I spend too much time by myself, I end up having conversations like this:

Me: "Do you ride a steel horse?"
Hobbes: ??
Me: "Have you seen a million faces?"
Hobbes: ???
Me: "And you've rocked them all?"
Hobbes: *head tilt*
Me: "No? Well, then, how are you ever going to be a cowboy!"

This dog is mostly deaf, and he didn't even like Bon Jovi when he could hear. Yeah, moving next month will be good for me. At least when I crazy-babble at Kiah, she crazy-babbles back.

Between moving, various social engagements (w00tstock tonight! Huzzah!), projects, and CONvergence, I wasn't expecting to have much downtime between now and mid-July. But my boss has been encouraging me to take more time off - in a "you deserve it" way, not a "get your crazy-talking ass out of here" way - so I'm taking Wednesday through Friday of this week off. For those three days, I have no obligations other than my own projects. I think I'll be working on my auction story revision and my Max hoodie 2.0 (which, once it's done, will give the a-okay for me to release the pattern in its current incarnation).

And vegging. Lots of vegging.

Friday, June 4, 2010

Wrestling Buddies and unicorns: a personal reflection on gender

This post is for the Hack Gender project, a collaborative online exploration of gender.

The Wrestling Buddy was the first hint I was doing gender wrong. I was six or seven years old, and I had "Wrestling Buddy" at the top of my Christmas list, because hey, Wrestling Buddies! They were these awesome stuffed dolls in the shapes of WWF wrestlers, and you could pound the crap out of them without them complaining (unlike my little brother) or get a pony ride from them while Dad was watching TV (unlike Dad). On Christmas morning, I tore into my presents, fully convinced that I'd have my very own pro wrestler BFF in minutes. But no, there wasn't a Wrestling Buddy under the tree for me.

There was, however, a Hulk Hogan Wrestling Buddy under the tree for my little brother, who hadn't even asked for one.

How could life (and Santa) possibly be this cruel?

I asked my parents how come my brother got a Wrestling Buddy and I didn't, and they said, "Because he's a boy."

I sat with that thought. The unspoken corollary was quick to sink in: "Because you're a girl." Girls, evidently, didn't get Wrestling Buddies. We also didn't get (if my Christmas list vs. Christmas loot was any indication) Tonka trucks or Ninja Turtles. We were also supposed to wear (if my family's Christmas photos were any indication) skirts and dresses for formal occasions, whether we liked them or not. There were rules to follow - rules I didn't get.

Being a girl wasn't something I thought about much as a kid - beyond the toy-related injustices, anyway. I lived in a patch of nowhere just outside a suburb, I was shy and awkward, and I'd much rather draw during recess than play with the other girls in my class. Gender didn't seem all that important at that age.

Then middle school hit, and gender was everything. Boobs happened. Dating happened. Cliques happened. Suddenly, if you came to school presenting any kind of flaw, it was like asking to be pecked to death by a flock of chickens. The flock saw a laundry list of flaws in me, which they picked at daily, most of them relating to my gender presentation: I was slouchy and uncomfortable with my overweight body, I wore boys' jeans, my haircut was utilitarian instead of trendy, and I didn't wear a bra.

I wasn't a tomboy; I just didn't care enough to present myself as A Girl. And so they pecked.

Secretly, I wanted to run away with my brother's Wrestling Buddy (which he still slept with every night), bind my boobs, and live the rest of my life as a boy.

Even more secretly, though, I wanted to be a girl - and not just any girl, but a capital-G, trend-setting, epitome of femininity, datable, respectable Girl. I had the right biological accouterments. I had the right level of socialized self-consciousness. Thanks to my parents' unintentional sexism around the holidays, I had the right toys in the back of my closet. What was wrong with me that kept me from being a Girl?

Near as I could tell, other girls had access to some sort of mythical well of girliness - some ace in their perfectly pressed sleeves that I didn't have.

I felt like I must've been out sick on the day they taught How To Be A Girl in school. Once I found that missing element, I thought, I'd be just like them - a perfect Girl.

And I tried. The funny thing was, every time I thought I had finally had it down, the definition of Girl seemed to shift. Gender was like fashion, and I was always a year or two behind.

There was a secret no one was telling me, but it wasn't what I thought. It took me a few heavy Women's Studies textbooks to figure out, and years after that to really examine in terms of my own actions:

Gender was just a performance. There was no binary boy/girl system, but rather a whole spectrum of ways to present gender.

I was putting on a show, hoping to mimic the people I thought represented the mythical Girl. There was no one true Girl - the girls I'd looked up to as examples were just putting on a show, same as I was. They had their own idea of what being a girl meant to them, and they shaped their appearances to reflect that. I didn't have to share the same idea - I could invent my own idea of my gender.

Slowly, I learned not to compare my version of my gender to other people's in a critical way, and slowly, I stopped feeling like I was somehow doing it wrong. I'm still developing my own presentation of gender that's just mine. I'm not femme. I'm not butch. I don't really identify with any sort of label - and not because I'm hard to categorize, but because I'm still figuring out how I want to play this part. I care about how I look because my presentation of gender is a way that I express myself, not because I'm worried that I won't fit someone's Girl mold.

Or at least, I'm trying. Gender is weird and amorphous, like so many other intrinsic parts of human life, and I find it difficult to talk or write about. Maybe someday I'll feel confident writing about it without illustrations to distract from my only partly-coherent written observations.

Maybe someday I'll buy my own Wrestling Buddy on eBay and we'll skip off into the sunset together, like it was always meant to be.


Nicole grew up to collect cute secondhand skirts and do crossplay at conventions.

Her brother is twenty-two, and the Hulk Hogan Wrestling Buddy still lives on his bed.

No one has heard from the unicorn since the makeup party at WisCon.

Thursday, June 3, 2010

Confessions of a project shark

I have a history of taking on too many creative projects. And by "a history" I mean "an ongoing, near-compulsive habit." To badly mangle a quote from Glee, I'm a project shark - if I stop moving, I die. I have conversations like this a lot:

Me: "Oh god, I'm going to die of busy! Too many projects!"
Kiah: "Didn't you say you weren't taking on any new projects, like a month ago?"
Me: "Yes."
Kiah: "And didn't you then knit yourself a new hat?"
Me: "That was hardly a project. It was just one ball of sock yarn!"
Kiah: "And then didn't you set an unreasonable deadline for yourself on that one story?"
Me: "Yeah, but I should've been able to revise ten thousand words in a week."
Kiah: "...And then didn't you agree to illustrate a children's book for a hospital?"
Me: "Hey, that book is about an EAGLE whose favorite hobby is SMILING and it's gonna be EPIC."
Kiah: "All I'm saying is maybe you should cut back on the projects."
Internal John Locke: "DON'T TELL ME WHAT I CAN'T DO!"
Me: "Yeah, what he said."

2010 so far has been The Year Of Not Meeting Deadlines, and that has forced me to reexamine the way I collect projects. My biggest problem is unreasonable expectations. I think I can do everything at once - and I hate to admit that I can't. So I listen to the little Locke voice in my head and think, "Hey, yeah, I can totally get both those novels written in one summer!"

No, I can't. I have limits as a writer.

I also have limits on my time, which is my other blind spot. I work 40 hours/week and spend another 10 minimum doing school stuff. Add to that creative projects, downtime after a busy workday, and the social life of someone who's trying very hard not to become a hermit who will be eaten by her pack of yapdogs...and I don't have much time for sleep, much less new projects. But the more I want to be done with school, the more I find myself imagining my life as it will be after graduation - no homework, less stress, and a vast stretch of hours open for creative pursuits. And then, when it comes time to prioritize things, I find myself planning for the creative life I want, not the one I have.

This past weekend was an eye-opener for me. WisCon is a place with a high level of creative energy, and many of the attendees are writers. While talking with other writers, I kept thinking, "How are these people able to manage their lives, jobs, and writing? Why can't I?"

(Internal John Locke: "DON'T TELL ME WHAT I CAN'T DO!")

The answer is, of course: I can. It will just require work. And taking responsibility for my own priorities. And sacrificing some projects I would like to do right now to make more space for the projects I know I can do right now.

The night I got home from con, I faced the wipeboard that contains my current project list and picked up an eraser. After several swipes and one loooong hesitation, I pared the list down from 10-12 items to this:
  • Revise auction story (10k words)
  • First draft of Wendigo Girls novel (60-70k words)
  • Finish the multi-chapter fanfic I've been working on (20-30k words)
  • Illustrate Eddy the Eagle book (24 pages of simple illustrations)
Conspicuously absent from this list is the final book of the Fantasy Series What Ate My Life, which took me multiple tries to work up the guts to erase. I've wanted to finish it for years, and I'm ready for it to be done, but given my limitations this summer, I'm not going to rush it. I've been working on that story for almost twelve years, and it's not going to suddenly fizzle and die because it has to wait another few months to get dedicated writing time.

I have other, smaller projects cataloged in a mental list of things I can do as well, but those have no deadlines. They'll get done, for sure - I find that with fiber arts projects especially, I work better if I don't set ETAs for myself - but I'll work on them without expectations. I'm hoping I can turn 2010 into The Year Of Finding A Balance.

Tuesday, June 1, 2010

Dragons of different sorts

On the way to WisCon, Lisa and I slayed a dragon. That pretty much set the tone for the weekend.

It was a Thursday morning, and the MagiQuest in Wisconsin Dells was deserted, a dim four-story labyrinth of painted tree murals and fake treasure chests. We left our shoes at the base of a rope stairway and ran around like unsupervised kids, casting spells, going on quests, and using the slides instead of stairs whenever possible. Our last adventure was defeating the dragon, a cave-dwelling CGI beast you have to freeze and shoot ice arrows at. MagiQuest is intended for small children, but there's something satisfying and addictive about playing pretend on such a massive scale. Which explains why, had anyone wandered into that location around lunchtime on Thursday, they would've seen two grad students dancing a jig in a fake cavern, yelling, "Suck on that, motherfucker!" at the dragon on the projector screen.

Maturity WIN.

After an epic road trip sequence, we arrived at WisCon...only to skip across town and go hot tubbing with the Black Hat Collective (Lisa's comic group) at a smaller convention across town. We did this a couple times throughout the weekend, because we knew more people at the smaller convention. I've never before had the opportunity to cheat on one convention with another, and it was...interesting, visiting Nakamacon while in the WisCon mindset. WisCon is a thinky convention - you're constantly encouraged to examine books, TV, culture, and yourself with a critical feminist eye. It's hard work. In comparison, Nakamacon - a fledgling anime, steampunk, and furry con - seemed to be about buying into geek culture.

Looking back now, I realize most cons I've been to have been about buying into a culture rather than examining it. That's what makes WisCon unique - at this con, you're not just there saying, "Hey, we have these things in common! Let's enjoy these things!"; you're there to say, "Why do we love these things? How do they work? Where are they failing us and what can we do to make it better?"

In large part because of that questioning attitude, the atmosphere at WisCon is also unlike that of any con I've been to previously. It's intellectual, obviously, but with an undercurrent of "SQUEE!" that colors even the most serious conversations with fangirlish glee, and an openness that fosters earnest conversations and a sense of welcoming. People launch into meaningful discussion with strangers without preamble. I had a conversation with someone in the hot tub where I was tempted to say, "So, now that I know how you were conceived...what's your name?" (Hello, mystery stranger, if you're reading! It was lovely talking with you.)

Friday morning was the writing workshop, which was useful and full of awesome people. I've been in a masters program for creative writing for three years and have had about the same amount of luck finding other genre writers to geek out and trade manuscripts with as I found in one day at WisCon. Between the workshop, the post-workshop cake and coffee, and the first-timers dinner that evening, I feel like I actually made some friends. I've met con-friends before - those wonderful folks you see and adore for one weekend a year but don't interact with outside of 2AM overcaffeinated Battlestar Gallactica conversations - but never people I might consider friends outside a convention setting.

As awesome as the people were, I still found much of the convention programming intimidating at first glance. The description of many panels boiled down to: "We all know and/or love Subject. But is Subject a win or fail for feminism?" I find it difficult to pin down feminism, and personally, I kind of suck at putting my own thoughts about gender and related issues into words. I only spoke in a panel once the whole weekend, and it was about fan fiction. But still, the panel discussions wormed their way into my brain, and hours later I found myself still mulling over and engaging int casual conversations about them.

And drawing things from them. I mean that literally - in the Fat Sex panel, one of the panelist asked, "Why aren't there any fat butch characters in space?" and I wound up drawing a fat butch in a space suit. And then other fat ladies in scifi getups. Now I have five pages of fat scifi ladies in my sketchbook and one (the original space butch) gifted to the aforementioned panelist. When I showed the sketches to people, they said, "OMG YOU SHOULD MAKE A COLORING BOOK OF THESE."

So I am.

(That's the space tourist, totally bored by my notes. I think each of these ladies needs a story to go with her, but I'm not sure if it's going to be a single-sentence caption beneath her image or a 50-100 words short on the opposite page. I suppose that depends partly on whether I do the whole thing digitally or find a place that will print a coloring book cheaply enough that I could sell it.)

Peer pressure works amazingly well on me, especially regarding creative projects. I have to thank Marianne and Julia for this particular round of peer pressure (and also for the totally fab makeup on Saturday night).

The people, the programming, and the atmosphere of WisCon were all amazing, and I will definitely be back next year. But for me, the highlight of the whole con was the reading.

Oh god, the reading. I was prepared for it to go so wrong. I couldn't read my story all the way through without stumbling over words, so I figured in front of a roomful of people, it would be ten times worse. A hundred times worse. I half expected myself to be struck with a sudden anxiety-induced inability to say anything but the most embarrassing possible words. (And, when I first started reading, my brain tried to sabotage me with a lovely sing-song refrain of "Cocks cocks cocks cocks cocks!" It didn't work, thankfully.) I read last in a group of four writers, and even when I was absorbed in the other writers' stories, my heart was hammering against my ribcage so loudly I couldn't believe the whole first row didn't hear it.

But when it was my turn to read, I sat up straight, opened my mouth...and rocked it.

You guys, reading aloud to a crowd is SO MUCH FUN. A crowd responds immediately. If they like what you're reading, you can see it in their faces and posture; if they think it's funny, they laugh. You can read the audience and adjust your reading style to their response - drag out the tension slower if they're getting into a dramatic piece, pause for laughter on a humorous part, vary your tone to fit the piece better. If you've got a theatrical storyteller hiding under your everyday introvert like I do, it's surprisingly easy to let that part out and really get into the reading.

And everything is funnier when you're in a roomful of people. Lisa (who read just before me and also rocked it) read an apocalyptic short story about the sun dying, and the audience picked up on subtle humor in that story that Lisa hadn't even realized was there. Having that response to react to influenced the way she read, and in the end, that story ended up with a whole 'nother layer of depth read aloud.

Immediately after the reading, she and I started scheming about other opportunities to do public readings. Next year's WisCon readings. Arranging some sort of readings at upcoming cons. Standing on street corners and reading to passers by and squirrels. Anything. It's a thrill. A victory.

Not unlike slaying a CGI dragon. (She says, doing a jig.)