Where Are We Now?: Kim Neville

The Clarion Workshops (Clarion in San Diego and Clarion West in Seattle) are by-audition workshops for writers of speculative fiction (SF/Fantasy/Horror). For six weeks during the summer, eighteen writers come together under the instruction of six seasoned masters of genre. The students churn out one story and seventeen critiques a week. It’s an intense experience, the sort that can break people down and break them through to becoming better writers. The intensity of the shared experience can help build lasting bonds between classmates that are as much family as friendship.

It isn’t the right experience for everyone. Some individuals shut down under that kind of pressure. Some classes run into interpersonal conflicts that muddy the potential for bonding. Some people can’t afford to go in terms of time or money. But for me (and for my seventeen littermates in the class of Clarion West 2012), it was a life-changing experience in the best possible way.

This week, the classes of Clarion and Clarion West 2016 are starting on an amazing journey. It’s a time when Clarion alums get nostalgic, and I’m no exception! For the next six weeks, I’ll be checking in with my cohort from CW2012 and asking them to talk about their CW experiences: where they were as writers before the workshop, how the workshop impacted their writing, what they’re working on now, etc.

Like dandelion seeds, we’ve dispersed along different courses, some of us hitting ‘measurable’ success markers earlier than others. For better or worse, that’s how this writing thing works. But that’s not the full measure of our potential. One of my classmates in her interview quotes our Week 4 instructor, Connie Willis: “Writing is not a career, it’s a holy vocation. You put in as much time as it takes.” Our vocation is subject to the whims of chance and opportunity. It’s never easy, it’s never over, and it’s different for every person.


 

Storytime with Kim

Storytime with Kim is dangerous; you might actually fall into the book! (fun fact – this was taken in Greg Bear’s jealousy-inducing library.)

Today we have Kim Neville, who makes even Fairy Godmothers seem badass, and whose secret mission in life might just be to fill the world’s pockets with gummy bears.

What was your writing and publishing experience coming into Clarion West 2012?

I had sold two short stories to semi-pro magazines and written a handful of others, probably less than ten total. I was shopping a novel around to agents (which I trunked post-workshop, once I revisited it with my new eyes).

What sort of expectations did you have for the workshop?

I tried not to expect too much. I knew I had a lot to learn about the writing craft, and I wanted to go into the experience with an open mind and heart. That said, I did expect the workshop to be both terrifying and exhilarating (it was). I expected it would push me way out of my comfort zone. (Definitely, but I’m a Piglet so it doesn’t take much. Applying for the workshop was out of my comfort zone. Everything after was free fall.) And I suspected it would change me forever (it did, though perhaps not in the ways I’d imagined).

What was something indispensable or revelatory that you learned from an instructor or special guest? From one of your classmates?

The revelation, for me, came from stepping into a larger community of which I’d previously been largely unaware. I’d been involved with writing groups over the years, but for the most part I’d always worked in isolation. I read a lot, but I read only what I liked (or what I thought I liked). I’d been missing out on so much, so many rich and diverse voices in the field. Clarion West gave me a new perspective on my own work and how it fit into the tapestry of speculative fiction. I realized that my early stories were not particularly unique or memorable, but that I had developed a distinct voice, one that I ought to be putting to better use. I’m still working on this. During the critique of my week five story, one of our classmates (and I can no longer remember which one) told me, “You need to figure out what you’re trying to say.” I think about those words all the time.

How was the workshop meaningful for you? How has it impacted your writing?

The most meaningful and lasting impact for me was connecting with a group of peers who are now dear friends and invaluable mentors. Besides that, the workshop made me take my writing seriously in a way I never had before. It meant a lot to have a room full of writers—both the teachers I admired as well as the classmates I grew to admire—treat my words on the page with the utmost respect. It allowed me to do the same, and to treat myself as a professional. I know my work has improved as a result of regarding it in that light.

What’s something you’ve accomplished since the workshop that you’re really proud of (doesn’t have to be writing related!)

I kept writing when it got hard. My husband is also a creator; he makes games. Since his industry is more likely to be lucrative than mine, we decided getting his indie game out into the world would be our family’s main focus. For two years I was the primary income earner. Fitting writing into my schedule was difficult between the day job, family, and my husband’s increasingly demanding work schedule. I woke up early and wrote every weekday morning from 5 to 6 AM. A lot of weeks that was the only writing time I had. A lot of days my writing hour was literally what got me out of bed in the morning. I didn’t accomplish much during that time. I made creeping progress on a novel. I wrote no short fiction. I sold no stories. But I kept going—what you called “quiet persistence”, Alyc. It’s the most important thing I’ve done since the workshop ended. [Ed. Note: <3. This touches on what I took from the workshop: all the little things you guys said that stuck with me, the seventeen voices in my head.]

What are you working on now?

I’m currently in the later stages of revising a novel whose seed came from a short story I wrote for George R.R. Martin in week three of the workshop. Also, this spring my husband’s game shipped and I was able to reduce my day job hours, so I’ve got several short stories in various stages of development (see my Write-A-Thon page for details!).

Pick one and answer: What do you say when people ask, “Where do you get your ideas from?” Do you have an unusual talent or skill? What keeps you awake at night? If you weren’t a writer what would you be? What are you going to do right now when you’ve finished this ordeal?

What are you going to do right now when you’ve finished this ordeal?

One of my favourite daily rituals—bedtime stories with my daughter. We’re almost finished with The Hobbit, next up is Crenshaw by Katherine Applegate. After that I’ll pour a glass of red and start watching the new season of Orange is the New Black.

What question do you wish I’d asked? Answer it!

How are you feeling about your writing career, four years post-workshop?

At first, I wanted things to move more quickly. I had ideas about what would mean “success” for me and they didn’t happen immediately, and I was disappointed. Now I try to keep the words of Connie Willis in mind. She told us, “Writing is not a career, it’s a holy vocation. You put in as much time as it takes.” And I’m excited about the next year. I’m more productive than ever, and I know my new work is better than anything I’ve produced up to now.


 

You can find Kim on Twitter @kaneville, and you can sponsor her in the Clarion West 2016 Writeathon here.

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Where Are We Now?: Carlie St. George

The Clarion Workshops (Clarion in San Diego and Clarion West in Seattle) are by-audition workshops for writers of speculative fiction (SF/Fantasy/Horror). For six weeks during the summer, eighteen writers come together under the instruction of six seasoned masters of genre. The students churn out one story and seventeen critiques a week. It’s an intense experience, the sort that can break people down and break them through to becoming better writers. The intensity of the shared experience can help build lasting bonds between classmates that are as much family as friendship.

It isn’t the right experience for everyone. Some individuals shut down under that kind of pressure. Some classes run into interpersonal conflicts that muddy the potential for bonding. Some people can’t afford to go in terms of time or money. But for me (and for my seventeen littermates in the class of Clarion West 2012), it was a life-changing experience in the best possible way.

This week, the classes of Clarion and Clarion West 2016 are starting on an amazing journey. It’s a time when Clarion alums get nostalgic, and I’m no exception! For the next six weeks, I’ll be checking in with my cohort from CW2012 and asking them to talk about their CW experiences: where they were as writers before the workshop, how the workshop impacted their writing, what they’re working on now, etc.

Like dandelion seeds, we’ve dispersed along different courses, some of us hitting ‘measurable’ success markers earlier than others. For better or worse, that’s how this writing thing works. But that’s not the full measure of our potential. One of my classmates in her interview quotes our Week 4 instructor, Connie Willis: “Writing is not a career, it’s a holy vocation. You put in as much time as it takes.” Our vocation is subject to the whims of chance and opportunity. It’s never easy, it’s never over, and it’s different for every person.


 

carlie as drew barrymore

Trivia: We called Carlie’s room ‘The Smothering Room’ for REASONS. Here, she contemplates how best to get back at me for making her go first.

For the inaugural post, I’m shoving Carlie St. George into the spotlight. I can almost hear her groans and sardonic mutters at having to go first, like she’s curled up on the other end of ‘our couch.’

What was your writing and publishing experience coming into Clarion West 2012?

I’ve been writing for pretty much my whole life, but the only things I had published going into Clarion West were a few prose poems at Gargoyle, and a One Minute Weird Tale at Weird Tales. I think I got $25.00 for that 100-word story. It was the first money I ever made from writing. Took a picture and everything.

What sort of expectations did you have for the workshop?

Honestly, I was nervous as hell and didn’t know what to expect. I didn’t know anyone at all in the SF/F community. My only workshop experiences were from creative writing classes at college, and the only time I’d ever gone away specifically to learn the craft of writing was at this state summer school for the arts when I was a teenager. Ultimately, that experience didn’t give me what I was looking for, and it was part of the reason I was trepidatious about Clarion West. I wanted to go; I was hugely excited by the idea of learning from actual professionals in the industry, from writers I had read and admired. I desperately wanted to improve my own craft and figure out how to actually sell a full-length story, if nothing else. But I was also nervous I wouldn’t manage to put any newfound knowledge to practical use, and I was very worried I wouldn’t fit in at all.

What was something indispensable or revelatory that you learned from an instructor or special guest? From one of your classmates?

Crap. I only get to pick one thing, huh?

I heard a lot of advice and encouragement over those six weeks at CW, and I took a lot of it to heart. But I think the first Lightbulb Moment I had was with Mary Rosenblum, when she talked about finding the universal, that one thing in your story that your readers will connect to. It sounds so frustratingly basic when I try to talk about it, but that lecture just clicked something in place for me. I genuinely felt like a better writer after the very first week at CW, which obviously I’d hoped for, but can’t pretend I actually expected.

How was the workshop meaningful for you? How has it impacted your writing?

Um. There is too much, let me sum up?

The actual workshop made me a better writer and gave me so many resources and publications I didn’t know anything about, especially because I was primarily a novel reader and felt like I was floundering in the dark trying to understand short story markets. But the biggest thing I got out of Clarion West–and good God, there’s just no way to make this NOT sound corny, like just cue the inspirational film score now–was a sense of community and, more importantly, a group of friends who knew infinitely more than I did about the industry (and writing in general) and who were just a bunch of silly bastards I could nerd out with. In four years I’ve gone from selling zero short stories to ten, and I’m proud of that, but I can’t imagine it happening without CW or, pivotally, my 2012 classmates.

What’s something you’ve accomplished since the workshop that you’re really proud of (doesn’t have to be writing related!)

I don’t have a favorite story—because, you know, MY BABIES, how could I ever choose between them?—but I’m probably the most proud of my Spindle City trilogy at The Book Smugglers. A lot, a LOT, of work went into those stories, and there was a time I despaired of ever actually finishing the series. But I did, and that world and those characters are very important to me.

And not for nothing: the first story, “The Case of The Little Bloody Slipper,” was actually my 2nd Week Clarion West story. So, yay, tangible accomplishments!

What are you working on now?

Well, I’m just finishing up a review/essay for Star Wars: Attack of the Clones, which will almost certainly be posted on my blog by the time this interview appears. [Ed. Note: It is, you can find it here!]

I’m also desperately trying to finish this melancholy fairy tale that nobody will want to buy because my obsession with 2nd person narratives has somehow coupled with my interest in multiple POV stories, and everything about that is just ridiculous. But sometimes selling the story isn’t the most important thing. (Sure is nice, though.)

Pick one and answer: What do you say when people ask, “Where do you get your ideas from?” Do you have an unusual talent or skill? What keeps you awake at night? If you weren’t a writer what would you be? What are you going to do right now when you’ve finished this ordeal?

What keeps you awake at night?

Literally: work. All hail the graveyard shift.

Less literally: loads of things. General life anxieties, fear of death, the knowledge that I’ll never, ever get to all the stories that I’ve dreamt about writing. Also, the baby spider colony that I’m convinced is hiding near my desk. And if any of you just thought “Aww” at the idea of baby spiders, then you are obviously a terrible person and should be forced to eat tuna-smeared rice cakes with only orange M&Ms on top until you think about what you’ve done. [Ed. Note: I will admit. I went “Aww.”]

What question do you wish I’d asked? Answer it!

Hollywood is constantly signing off on remakes that no one was ever asking for. Which movie would YOU remake if you had the capability?

Well, there’s an absolutely awful 70’s horror whodunnit movie called The Beast Must Die, in which a dinner party takes place where one of the guests is secretly an evil werewolf. The premise is gloriously cheesy, but saving the honest-to-God Werewolf Break (where the story literally stops so that the audience can guess who the werewolf is before the Big Reveal) it is an excruciatingly dull film and desperately needs to be remade into something ridiculous and fun with great dialogue and terrible special effects and awesome actors who used to be on TV shows that were unworthy of them, like, say, Nicole Beharie and William Fichtner and Tim Kang and Gillian Anderson.  (Yes, I’m still bitter about the tenth season of The X-Files; why do you ask?) I would write that script in a heartbeat.

Share your bio, website, social media.

My blog is mygeekblasphemy.com, and my Twitter handle, unimaginatively, is @MyGeekBlasphemy.


 

You can also find a list of Carlie’s publications here, and you can sponsor her in the Clarion West 2016 Writeathon here.

Amigurumi II: Amigurumi Boogaloo

My fingers are sore, but my mantle is full. With two days to go, I finished the amigurumi for the Robots and Goons reading at Borderlands Books tomorrow.

Did I mention there’s a reading at Borderlands Books tomorrow? Sunday, June 5 at 3pm. Peter Tieryas, Sunil Patel, Sarah Gailey, and me! Where I will be reading from The Conclave of Shadow and giving away amigurumi octopodes!

(In tangentially-related news, there’s also a Goodreads Giveaway going on right now for The Dragons of Heaven, which will be followed by a Goodreads Giveaway for The Conclave of Shadow starting on June 13!)

I cannot guarantee that the others will want to give away their amigurumi, because they all came out super cute, and I only had time to make one of each (well, there are two hippos, but see my last post for why that happened).

Peter’s robot had a lot of pieces, and I was not happy with the yarn (the same yarn I used for the hippo’s feet). It was too fuzzy and not tight enough, so the robot is a bit too fuzzy and loose. Still, he’s programmed to love?

 

Sunil’s ghostcow was my next big challenge/leveling-up opportunity. See, not a lot of ghostcow patterns floating around (heh. Get it?). I ended up taking a cow pattern and splicing a ghost pattern tail onto the end of it. He has some balance issues (he tends to fall on his face), but I’m really happy overall with how he turned out. I used a smaller hook and thinner yarn, so the stitches are really tight. They feel nice when you run your fingers over them. Petting the ghostcow is a tactile experience! Also, the white is so bright that taking pictures was a challenge because he reflected it too much. So he is a TRUE  ghostcow (with a smidge of Frankenstein’s monster thrown in!)

 

So here’s a pic of the whole family, plus another pic of the family with some primordial cousins. I’m hoping to do at least one more octopus before tomorrow.

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Next project to tackle: Foxes and Dragons! And maybe some shadow monsters.

 

 

Feeling Crochety

Back when I was doing RenFaire, I learned to sew, spin raw wool with a drop spindle, and even do a bit of weaving, but I never got into the knitting or crocheting areas of the textile arts. I bought my socks at Target and refused to wear a tam o’shanter, so there didn’t seem to be much point.

A few weeks ago, I decided to teach myself to crochet so I could make amigurumi octopodes – in part because I suddenly had all this free time after turning in the final draft of Conclave, and in part because… well… amigurumi octopodes!

I found a free pattern I liked and a few useful videos on YouTube (including one that explained how to decode and READ crochet patterns, which are only slightly more confusing than Greek), and a few hours later, I had half an octopus.

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The next night, I tackled the tentacles. All eight of them. And behold, an octopus!

Clearly, I was gifted among mortals, so I decided to take on a few more challenging projects. I have a reading at Borderlands Books on June 5 at 3pm with Peter Tieryas, Sunil Patel, and Sarah Gailey. Knowing that The Conclave of Shadow would not be out in time for me to do any kind of giveaway at the reading, I decided that I would make some more amigurumi octopodes and ‘shadow monsters’ to give out at the reading.

However, I’d feel bad if I had stuff to give out and my fellow authors didn’t, so I offered to make thematically appropriate amigurumi for the other authors at the reading. Sarah replied first, so my first project was a hippo for her.

This was where I discovered that I was not, perhaps, as much of a crochet savant as I first thought.

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I had some mis-starts and mis-steps and corrections on the fly, but I more or less managed the hippo. The problem was that it seemed much… larger… than the pattern said it would be. About three quarters of the way through, I realized that from the start I had not been doing a proper single crochet. I’d only been hooking half of the stitch instead of both threads. I kept on the way I’d gone rather than correcting mid-stream, and ended up with a hippo with gigantism.

20160510_111644Meanwhile, Thrace discovered my yarn bag and did what cats do when they discover yarn bags.

Doubling back, I made another octopus with the CORRECT single crochet, which ended up being about half the size of my first octopus. And then I made another hippo, also half-sized. As an unanticipated benefit, the practice and tighter stitches meant that my stuffing wasn’t showing. Check out the comparison pics. What a difference a stitch makes!

 

I still need to add eyes, but everything else is done.

Next up will be a robot for Peter and a ghost-cow for Sunil. I’m going to try to make two of each so that my fellow authors can give one away and keep one for themselves. I will not be making versions with gigantism, though. Instead, I imagine I’ll be making new and more interesting mistakes!

After that, gonna try some color mixing to make a fox, a dragon, and a tiger. Stay-tuned, because I will definitely be doing blog giveaways for these things before I end up with a menagerie.

The Conclave of Shadow Sticky Post

Preorders and reviews are an author’s best friends!

TheConclaveOfShadow-144dpi

The Conclave of Shadow

The Conclave of Shadow, by Alyc Helms
Published: July 2016
Publisher: Angry Robot
ISBN: 9780857665188

The line between enemy and ally is thinner than a shadow’s edge.

Ever since she saved the spirit guardians of China by selling out to her worst enemy, Missy Masters — a.k.a. the pulp hero Mr. Mystic — has been laying low. But when knights serving the Conclave of Shadow steal secret technology from a museum exhibit on the Argent Aces, everyone looks to Mr. Mystic for help. If Missy doesn’t want her masquerade blown, she’d better track down the thieves, and fast.

But stolen tech turns out to be the least of her problems. Recent events have upset the balance of power in the Shadow Realms, removing the barriers that once held the ravenous Voidlands in check. Their spread threatens destruction in the mortal realm as well… and only the Conclave stands ready to push them back.

In a world of shadow, telling friends from enemies is easier said than done. But if she wants to save San Francisco, Missy will have to decide who to trust. Including her own instincts, which tell her that something is stalking her with murder in mind…

 

The Conclave of Shadow, out July 5, 2016
Available for pre-order in print and ebook
Angry Robot | Powell’s | Amazon | Barnes & Noble | Amazon UK | Waterstones | Goodreads

The Dragons of Heaven, out now!
Available in print, ebook, and audibook
Angry Robot | Powell’s | Amazon | Barnes & Noble | Amazon UK | Waterstones | Goodreads

 

Belated Cover Reveal – The Conclave of Shadow

Back in mid-August 2015, Angry Robot sent me a gorgeous final cover for the second book in the Missy Masters series (in my head it will always be ‘The Adventures of Mr. Mystic’ but Missy Masters is easier for sales databases and stuff). The Qwillery did a lovely cover-reveal post. I put up the cover as my desktop wallpaper.

I failed to actually write an announcement post about the cover.

See, it was such a great cover… it felt entirely wrong to write a post about it when I didn’t have a great book to go inside. Or any book! Mid-August, I was mired in a stressful new role at my job and kicking my own ass trying to meet somewhat impossible expectations for a platform release. I wasn’t writing, wasn’t even thinking about the book. And as much as I loved the cover, it hovered before me like Marley’s ghost. I didn’t have anything worthy of going inside. Shit. I barely had anything.

I forced myself to work through the stress of the job, a job change, and the loss of my grandmother. That fantastic cover became both carrot—I can do this!—and condemnation—why haven’t you done this yet?! The folks at Angry Robot were amazingly patient and extended my deadline several times.

I finished in December, started in on revisions, and realized I hated the book I’d written. Like, really hated it. Not authorial nerves. I could list all the specific elements that made it a celebration of cultural reductionism and appropriation at their absolute worst. It wasn’t just bad. It was something I would have been ashamed to put out into the world. I’d written the book from a bad place, and I got a bad book in return.

Did I mention how amazing and patient the folks at Angry Robot are? I should mention it again, because when I laid out that list and told them I was gutting the book and more or less starting from scratch, they agreed to push back the publication date so that I could maintain my artistic and ethical integrity.

Last night I turned in the final manuscript of the new and improved The Conclave of Shadow. I now have a book that I think maybe isn’t all that bad to go behind that awesome cover. And now that it has something inside, I feel like it’s an appropriate time for me to do the cover reveal. Here it is! Isn’t it pretty?

TheConclaveOfShadow-144dpi

The Conclave of Shadow

As for what’s inside, here’s the new teaser copy (with many thanks to Marie Brennan for her assistance refining it):

The line between enemy and ally is thinner than a shadow’s edge.

Ever since she saved the spirit guardians of China by selling out to her worst enemy, Missy Masters — a.k.a. the pulp hero Mr. Mystic — has been laying low. But when knights serving the Conclave of Shadow steal secret technology from a museum exhibit on the Argent Aces, everyone looks to Mr. Mystic for help. If Missy doesn’t want her masquerade blown, she’d better track down the thieves, and fast.

But stolen tech turns out to be the least of her problems. Recent events have upset the balance of power in the Shadow Realms, removing the barriers that once held the ravenous Voidlands in check. Their spread threatens destruction in the mortal realm as well… and only the Conclave stands ready to push them back.

In a world of shadow, telling friends from enemies is easier said than done. But if she wants to save San Francisco, Missy will have to decide who to trust. Including her own instincts, which tell her that something is stalking her with murder in mind…

The Conclave of Shadow, out July 5, 2016
Available for pre-order in print and ebook
Angry Robot | Powell’s | Amazon | Barnes & Noble | Amazon UK | Waterstones | Goodreads

The Dragons of Heaven, out now!
Available in print, ebook, and audibook
Angry Robot | Powell’s | Amazon | Barnes & Noble | Amazon UK | Waterstones | Goodreads

Crafting Publicity

Imagine DragonsWe’re coming close to the six-month mark since the publication of THE DRAGONS OF HEAVEN, and it has been doing fairly well by most rubrics. The one place it seems to be lagging is in reviews on Amazon and Goodreads, and that’s largely on me for being reluctant to be pushy about encouraging people to review.

Reviews matter, though. Both Amazon and Goodreads (but especially Amazon) have algorithms that kick in promotional visibility at various levels. For example, 25 reviews on Amazon makes a book eligible for things like daily deals. These are magic numbers that can measurably help a book reach a larger audience.

But ugh! Publicity! I don’t want to do it any more than you all want to hear about it! I’d rather spend my (non-writing) time doing fun things like sewing, gaming, listening to music, or browsing DeviantArt. Wouldn’t you?

Enter my “I’d Rather Be Doing X” review drive! Right now I’m at 14 reviews on Amazon. I’m encouraging folks to go and add an HONEST review if they have read the book. When we hit the following levels, I pledge to organize giveaways on this blog for the associated rewards.

At 25 reviews – I will arrange a giveaway of two copies of THE DRAGONS OF HEAVEN and share the novel soundtrack for all giveaway entrants via 8tracks.com, complete with original cover art by the lovely Avery Liell-Kok.

At 50 reviews – I will arrange a giveaway of two copies of THE DRAGONS OF HEAVEN and also a giveaway of three stuffed Chinese dragon toys handmade by me (pattern TBD, but probably a modified version of this one). I will also blog the process of making the dragons so that everyone can enjoy the fun of watching my fingers bleed.

At 75 reviews – TBD, let’s see if we can make it to 50 first!

You can find the Amazon review page here. If you would rather post a review on Goodreads, you can find the Goodreads page here. You do not need to have submitted a review to be eligible for the giveaway, but the giveaways only go into effect when we hit the target number of reviews.

Cheers!