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Tag Archives: writing

I enjoy being a girl… sometimes. Sort of.

13 May

I have a celebrity wife problem. As in, every time I crush on a male celebrity, I discover his wife is even hotter and more accomplished, and then wind up in this weird feeback loop with my gender presentation and my bizarreo Pride-and-Prejudice-with-different-dresses childhood (p.s. in this Jane Austen scenario, I’m Mary. In case you’ve forgotten, she’s the ugly one whose name you can’t remember).

So I was educated a certain way, to have a certain life — of heteronormativity, of wealth, of female endurance, and of utter accomplishment (although generally of the in-service-to-others-while-standing-in-a-shadow sort. Bonus points for helping to create the shadow).

And to be clear I don’t have and was never ever going to have that life. Like most everyone these days, I totally live paycheck-to-paycheck and not all the Latin classes and ballroom dancing of my childhood is ever going to change that. That doesn’t keep me from missing the fantasy though, from feeling as if I have always been in exile, even if the adult reality of my childhood upbringing would have strangled me dead.

But one thing that always made that exile both less relevant and easier to bear is my queerness, and, often, my masculine of center gender identity. Which seems perhaps a strange thing to say when I’ve been growing my hair out and wearing makeup every day.

Because my whole life, people have asked me if I’m a dude. It actually happens more when my hair is long, when I wear makeup. I don’t know if it’s because my femininity when I’ve got it going on is so performative, or if it’s just my willingness to take up space.

Basically I’m a person who often looks like a dude when she’s trying to look like a chick, and often looks like a chick when she’s trying to look like a dude. Are you confused? Sure. But try being me, at eight years old, when the other parents asked my mother how she got their son into the all-girls school we couldn’t afford. Please note, I’m an only child, assigned female at birth; there was no son.

At any rate. Being able to be both a boy and a girl has been — as an adult — one of the great blessings of my life. It’s an incredible amount of fun being me. And anything I’ve ever wanted in a man or a woman I’ve generally been able to find in myself. This has, in turn, lessened my sense of exile incredibly (if I am not just a girl, I do not just have to wait about to be chosen). It has salved me when I have felt like a failure.

Practically, through the years, what this has looked like to people outside myself is that I go through phases as said in that derogatory sense often leveled at the changeable. But we all go through phases — seriously, go look at what you were wearing in the ’90s; I’ll wait — and we all change a lot during our lives. Some of us more than others. But one luxury I do have now is to embrace it.

So, lately, I’ve been on this very feminine kick. And for that you can blame two things — celebrity wives and writing romance novels. In fact, I exist now in a world where it is often my job to consider and objectify men; hence those crushes and their lovely wives.

Yet the men I write are often less men I desire, and more men I am

Seriously.

In fact, Erin and I have a book coming out in March 2017 and I know my ex is going to see himself in one of the characters and it’s like, dude, no…no… that’s about me. I’m that guy. I’m Callum. Trust me.

So the outcome of writing down the men I am in these books is that I suddenly have all this room to be the women I am, or at least was raised to be. Just without the budget or the assistance or the rewards of even approaching the perfection all women — regardless of resources — are supposed to be striving for.

It’s kind of weird.

It sort of sucks.

And if I think about it too hard I become furious. At the rigged, unwinnable game; at how far women’s equality hasn’t come; at my recent collusion in it.  And at the inescapable black hole pull of it all. Do you know I actually got a beauty-related spam the other day about how curly girls like me should straighten and then re-curl their hair so they can look well-maintained and on-point?

Thankfully, I have my limits.

But lately I do wear eye shadow. I have perfume (Viktor & Rolf Flowerbomb by day, Tom Ford Black Orchid by night. Not because you care, but because I needed to share the absurdity with you).

And I have realized than I am, actually, strikingly beautiful in all the too much of my face and my sadly-shaped eyes. I am that very creature of pride and endurance, elegance and sorrow, I was raised to be. But I am at least my own. And it brings me a lot of joy.

Except when it doesn’t.

Because unfortunately, this recent experience of being a girl means I have also become terrified of aging, am legitimately losing my mind over a dental appointment I have on Monday, and find myself in the middle of confronting for the first time in decades all the women I will never be.

My eyes may have a natural sadness to their shape, but I also have a natural melancholy to my soul.

Meanwhile, I scroll through my Instagram account, comparing the true but heavily-curated version of my life presented therein with those of all the celebrity wives I follow (and let’s reiterate, I don’t envy them their men, just their support staff, their relation to the world, and all their seeming surety).

I suspect, more often than not, that we cry about the same things. And so, as I keep trying to figure out how to be a girl, I often wonder if any of them have ever been boys — the way I was at 8 and at 28. In that wondering, my exile from the gendered obstacle course of my childhood feels less pronounced.

But of course, that’s the funny thing about exile. The cure and the disease are so often the same.

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Not-exactly-an-uptown-girl at the Zuckerbaeckerball

22 Apr
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Zuckerbaeckerball 2016, Vienna

I’m currently in the slightly bizarre position of writing a personal essay in the voice of a person who doesn’t exist, because the two-book mini-series (surely someone will excoriate me if I use the admittedly absurd word, duology) Erin and I are currently writing involves, among other things, a travel writer who can’t get his manuscript about Vienna right.

I was in Vienna for my day job in January and February 2016, in the midst of ball season. I found out that ball season is even a thing that exists about a week before I got on the plane. While I was uncertain if I would actually go through with attending one (ticketing is somewhat complex, involving admittance, seating, and a number of other items, all assembled separately into a single ticket), I packed a formal gown (let’s be real, a multi-purpose bridesmaids dress), spent as much time on Google translate as I could, and then as the date of the one that seemed likely approached, wavered back and forth.

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Debutantes, Zuckerbaeckerball 2016

I don’t speak German, although I have gotten to a point where I can do social niceties and follow the gist of a conversation had in my presence. My contemporary social dancing is adequate at best, and while I can do the sort of waltz favored in the U.S., a Viennese waltz is completely beyond my skill set. Strangers scare me. Men, at this point in my life, are largely a foreign country. And Viennese social customs, as I am given to understand them, suggested none of this would even matter, as the let’s-make-temporary-friends with strangers behavior common in the U.S., and that I’ve often encountered in the U.K., doesn’t seem to be a thing there.

If I went to the ball I would be alone, confused, unable to dance, and with little opportunity to engage strangers should I have even found the nerve, which I tend to do once I cycle through the sort of fretting above.

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Attendees, Zuckerbaeckerball 2016

In the end, though, I bought tickets to the Zuckerbaeckerball, as it was recommended to me by a random Tumblr person and was one of the few to fit in with a heavy work and travel schedule. Held at the Hoffburg Imperial Palace, a short walk from where I was staying, the Zuckerbaeckerball is put on by the sugar-baking industry (cakes not breads!) and like any proper ball has debutantes.

While I grew up with debutantes (I’m still not joking when I compare my childhood to Metropolitan), I was certainly not one myself. My family wasn’t that type of important, didn’t have those sorts of means, and didn’t really see me as part of the social whirl that was expected by the world in which I was educated. Sure, I went to balls, like the Gold and Silver Ball of the Junior Committee of the Junior League of New York (a name only typed here so you can experience the full ridiculousness of this stuff), but they were practice for events of the sort I never graced. It’s all useful fodder for writing now, but I might have been better served as a person if my parents had just said no.

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Debutante presentations, Zuckerbaeckerball 2016

At any rate, every ball in Vienna has debutantes. And, arguably, everyone in Vienna who wants to be a debutante can be. With hundreds of balls each year representing industries and social clubs, and with balls being unavoidable in the city’s social scene, young men and women who wish to make their debuts, most certainly do.

At the Hoffburg, alone, I crowded into the main ballroom to see their presentation. I watched as row after row of girls kneeled as their dancemasters and ball officials passed before them. On their knees for ten minutes at a time, maybe more, as their escorts stood beside them, some of the girls shook. One, near me, had a fabulous butchy undercut, that had been smoothed down with product and had tiny flowers clipped into it.

After the debuts, the main ballroom floor was opened for a Viennese waltz. My feet aching, and with no hope of a dance partner, I fled to sit, but without a purchased seat (it felt too weird, to be stranded at a table of people whose language I did not speak, who would not welcome a stranger), I had nowhere to do so until I found an out of the way bathroom on a mezzanine level of the palace.

From my cubicle I listened as girls sixteen to twenty slammed in and out of the bathroom, fretting about make up and shoes and boys and parents. I, meanwhile, fretted about the hundred euros I’d spent to hide in a bathroom.

So I put my shoes back on, stood up straight, and remembered that years of my life had been dedicated to how to comport myself in this entirely unlikely circumstance. And so I found a perch on the edge of the ballroom from which to watch the proceedings and wait for some serendipity to find me.

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Me, in my office before the ball

It came when the music switched to American standards, and the bandleader played Billy Joel’s “Uptown Girl.” As I stood there, thinking about my Upper East Side childhood and how I was never meant to be — and never could be — the girl in that song, I wondered to what extent the song made sense in Vienna. Surely, no on there knew about the ten blocks that defined my childhood, but also surely there was a Viennese equivalent to it, and the song, and girls like me — with the song’s hot blood and wedged poorly into an an archaic social structure as beautiful as it is offensive.

I smiled as tears rolled down my cheeks. Serendipity. The most perfect moment. Even at a ball where I could not dance.

Today, I’m faced with describing a very different version of that moment as experienced by a lonely male writer, ten years my senior, who fit in exceptionally with the shared world of our childhoods, and for that, has managed far more contempt for it than I ever have, to his much greater happiness.

King Charles III: A dire matter of tradition

17 Dec

If you’ve been wondering where I’ve been, mostly, I’ve been writing romance novels with Erin McRae, as well as writing (with Patty Bryant) and producing for Serial Box Publishing‘s Tremontaine, a text-based web serial that is a prequel to Ellen Kushner’s Swordspoint. (Yes, this is a professional endeavor Ellen herself is involved in).  But in the land of romance novels, the project about to go out the door is called A Queen from the North.

A Queen from the North is about Amelia Brockett, the youngest daughter of an Northern earl and recent grad-school reject who winds up agreeing to a marriage of convenience with the Prince of Wales in a modern Britain where the Windsors never happened. In the Britain of our book, fault-lines from the War of the Roses remain deep and mistrust between the houses of York and Lancaster remains strong. Along the way to Amelia and her prince actually falling in love, prophecy, tradition, and the prince’s niece — a fox-faced witch girl who looks like Anne Boleyn and has nightmares about the Tower ravens dying — make Amelia’s life as challenging as her ridiculous family, her sex-obsessed best friend, the prying hordes of the Internet, and the entire nation of Canada. Canada, by the way, saves the day in the end via a Tim Horton’s shop girl.

It was with that book in final edits for submission, that Patty and I went to see the sublime, haunting, and ritualistic King Charles III on Broadway last night. This would be an easy play to miss. No one really likes Charles, and another play about the British relationship with the tabloid press and the royals as tourism industry doesn’t seem particularly fresh. The marketing of the show also does it no favors, suggesting a light satire instead of the classically inspired tragedy that it is.

King Charles III, written largely in blank verse, borrowing heavily from Shakespeare (from Richard II to Hamlet to the Scottish play), and staged with flickering candles and live music and chanting for great moments of state (a death vigil, a coronation) is the type of theater that makes the hair on the back of my neck stand up. It taps into what is primal and dangerous, about tradition both maintained and upset while also conjuring the totalitarian fears of those of us who remember the Thatcher years.

It is a glorious, clever, wicked, and dark thing, that features Princess Diana as a limping trickster ghost that promises too many men they will be Britain’s greatest king. And while the play will seem at points to advocate for any number of uncomfortable political positions on the vagaries of constitutional monarchy, it ultimately condemns them all, suggesting the glory of monarchy rests only in our discomfort with it.

King Charles III is running in New York City only until January 30. The cheap seats (and rush tickets) all have excellent site lines, and if you can get to this show, at any price level, it is an absolute must see.

Book Day: Chicks Dig Gaming

11 Nov

Chicks-Dig-Gaming-cover-webIt’s book day!  I’ll be saying that a lot over the next year, with releases scheduled so far in December, January, March, April, May, and June, but today is the day for Chicks Dig Gaming: A Celebration of All Things Gaming by the Women Who Love It.

My essay closes out the collection, and instead of being about any of the games I’m actually good at, it’s about the one I’m terrible at: Chess.  It’s about how I learned to play, taught by my neighbors as a child.  But it is also about my difficult family and the backdrop of pop- and political culture at the time.  While I have always written personal essay that seems, I think revealing to others, and am often nostalgic about my childhood, the fact is my stories about me, my family, and my childhood are well-honed.  This piece, written quite some time ago now (well over a year) was a first attempt at letting myself really talk about the corners of my childhood.  As I’m increasingly working on doing both some fictional and memoir work about my weird teen life in queer NYC in the ’80s, having this essay be out in the world is scary and important and exciting to me.

Of course, also, what a time to be in an anthology called Chicks Dig Gaming. Regardless of the games we’ve written about (this book contains everything from video games to RPGs to LARPs to board games and more), I think it’s hard not to be nervous and excited. I’ve already seen one very positive review of the book that also noted some of its feminism hurt the reviewer’s feelings.

Which sort of really makes me wish I’d written about a game I don’t suck at as much as I suck at chess.  But skill isn’t what makes someone a gamer. Love of the puzzle, of the art, of the technology, and of the social contexts that come with games are what make someone a gamer.  Hell, just playing the game. Because that’s what is important about games: showing up, participating, giving it a go, and being open to the experience.

I hope you’ll be open to the experiences in Chicks Dig Gaming.  My own copies just arrived, so I’ll be reading along with you.

Talking about American Horror Story

29 Oct

For those of you who couldn’t make it out to Bonnie & Maude’s “All of Them Witches” at The Bell House, my talk on AHS: Coven is now available as a podcast. The rest of the presentations from that evening are also in the process of being rolled out and you can and should grab them all (there are two up right now and more are coming).

Meanwhile, I spent a little bit of time waxing poetic about my surprisingly emotional response to AHS: Freak Show. One o the things I didn’t have a chance to talk about there was the genius of the anachronistic song choices the show has been using. Freaks — as used in this show to represent a range of marginalizations through camp, queerness, and disability — are, as the show frames them, the canaries in the coal mine when it comes to art both art and violence as consumers, victims, and perpetrators. This is one of those shows audiences are going to have radically different responses too, but it hits me — despite the horror elements which are the least interest to me — in a place of sorrow and wonder and loneliness like I’m still struggling to describe.

Books you can buy!

16 Sep

starling-1Starling, my M/M romance about Hollywood co-written with Erin McRae (and the first in a series of six) is now out!  You can get it at Amazon | AllRomance | Smashwords | Torquere Bookstore | Barnes & Noble and more for $4.99 – $5.99

Meanwhile, to celebrate its 11th anniversary, Torquere is offering 25% off everything in its store with code Torquere2014. That means you can get Starling for just $4.49 and “Lake Effect” for just $1.87. The coupon is valid through this Sunday only.

Chicks-Dig-Gaming-cover-webNext up, the full table of contents of Chicks Dig Gaming has been released by Mad Norwegian Press. That will be released on November 11, 2014, but you can pre-order it now from Amazon and a host of other sites.  My essay “Castling,” about how I acquired my fairly atrocious chess skills, closes the volume.

 

Thanks for your patience with the lack of commentary here while these, and a number of other projects (some announced, some not), get underway, off the ground, out the door, and into your hands. As a reminder, you can stay up to date on my writing with Erin at Avian30; there’s been a few story sales over there that I haven’t announced here.  Additionally, I have a few pending announcements that are more suitable to this blog that I hope to be able to make soon.

Chicks Dig Gaming now available for pre-order!

24 Jun

Chicks-Dig-Gaming-cover-webI can finally announce this!  Also, it’s already available for pre-order on Amazon and B&N!

Chicks Dig Gaming: A Celebration of All Things Gaming by the Women Who Love It

Retail Price: $14.95
Release Date: November 11, 2014
ISBN: 9781935234180
Edited by: Jennifer Brozek, Robert Smith? and Lars Pearson

In Chicks Dig Gaming, editors Jennifer Brozek (Apocalypse Ink Productions), Robert Smith? (Who is the Doctor) and Lars Pearson (editor-in-chief, the Hugo Award-winning Chicks Dig series) bring together essays by nearly three dozen female writers to celebrate the gaming medium and its creators, and to examine the characters and series that they love.

Catherynne M. Valente (The Girl Who Circumnavigated Fairyland…, Indistinguishable from Magic) examines Super Mario Bros. through the lens of Samsara, the Wheel of Birth and Rebirth; Seanan McGuire (the October Daye series) details how gaming taught her math; G. Willow Wilson (Alif the Unseen) revels in World of Warcraft; and Rosemary Jones (Forgotten Realms) celebrates world traveler Nellie Bly and the board game she inspired.

Other contributors include Emily Care Boss (Gaming as Women), Jen J. Dixon (The Walking Eye), Racheline Maltese (The Book of Harry Potter Triffles…), Mary Anne Mohanraj (Bodies in Motion), L.M. Myles (Chicks Unravel Time), Jody Lynn Nye (the MythAdventures series), and E. Lily Yu (“The Cartographer Wasps and the Anarchist Bees”). Also featured: exclusive interviews with Paizo CEO Lisa Stevens and Dragonlance author Margaret Weis.

About Mad Norwegian Press

Mad Norwegian Press is a Des Moines, Iowa-based publisher of science-fiction guides, novels and essay book. It was founded by Lars Pearson, a former staffer at Wizard: The Guide to Comics, in 2001.

The company has enjoyed particular success of late as a producer of essay books pertaining to women and fandom – the first being Chicks Dig Time Lords: A Celebration of Doctor Who by the Women Who Love It (2011 Hugo Award Winner for Best Related Work), followed by Whedonistas: A Celebration of the Worlds of Joss Whedon by the Women Who Love Them, Chicks Dig Comics (2013 Hugo Award Nominee), Chicks Unravel Time (2013 Hugo Award Nominee) and the related Queers Dig Time Lords (2014 Hugo Award Nominee).

Mad Norwegian also specializes in non-fiction guidebooks to TV shows, and is renowned for its books on Doctor Who (the About Time series, Ahistory, Running Through Corridors).

Upcoming dates

11 Feb

Two quick items:

1. Starling now has a release date, and will be out on September 10, 2014 from Torquere Press

2. I’ll be in LA over the coming very long weekend, enjoying some decent weather, a couple of meetings, hiking (apparently), and a little bit of rock ‘n’ roll — all while occasionally skulking around Gallifrey One. At 3pm on February 15th, I’ll be speaking on the “Experiences on Demand” panel with Barbara Hambly, Jesse Alexander, Kim Rogers, Justin Olson,  and Sarah Mertan; we’ll be talking about the changing structure and delivery of screen-based entertainment thanks to game changers like Netflix.  Will I have slept or will I have watched all of S2 of House of Cards?  If you’re there, come say hi.

Obligatory SF/F Awards Season Post

5 Jan

It’s awards season again, which means I’ve a lot of screeners to watch before voting in the SAG-AFTRA awards and that it’s that time when those of us in the SF/F author/artist/writer community make posts about their eligible projects for the Hugos and other awards.

While technically I had two essays published in 2013 which are now eligible, it’s really the two volumes they’re contained in I’d like to remind you of.

The first is Queers Dig Time Lords: A Celebration of Doctor Who by the LGBTQ Fans Who Love It, edited by Sigrid Ellis and Michael Damian Thomas.  It is what it says on the tin and a cousin of the Chicks Dig series from Mad Norwegian Press. Essays range from personal to somewhat academic and come from people of a wide variety of genders, orientations, identities and experiences, both with queerness and the Doctor Who universe.

The second is Doctor Who in Time and Space: Essays on Themes, Characters, History and Fandom, 1963-2012 (Critical Explorations in Science Fiction and Fantasy), edited by Dr. Gillian I. Leitch and is from McFarland.  It’s academic in tone, but fairly accessible.  I had a great time meeting several of the contributors to this volume at a release event in Toronto last year, and I think the book itself does reflect the lively and diverse nature of that particular group.

As usual, please use the comments to tell me about what material you have that’s eligible.   2013 was a long year, and I may need the reminder more than usual before the nomination periods begin.

Starling

6 Dec

Some of you who follow me on Tumblr may have noticed an increase in random photos of birds, white bedrooms, and gingers.  This is not due to a new pet, a house remodel, or a sudden crush.  It’s actually because Erin McRae and I have written a novel, which we’re happy to report will be published by Torquere Press in 2014 (note: for those of you not familiar, Torquere is a long-time publisher of LGBT romances and there may be some images on that site you may not wish to click through to at work).

Our book, Starling, is a fairy tale about fame and everything that goes right, and ridiculously wrong, when you’re the kid who effectively gets discovered in a diner.  Set in Los Angeles amongst an incestuous group of friends during next year’s television season, Starling is about figuring out how to do life when it feels like the whole world is watching.

Starling is just one of many things in the hopper around here.  I’ve got a bunch of other projects at hand, some with announcements sooner and some with announcements later.  Erin’s working on a ton of stuff too.

Meanwhile, funny story for you:  Always. Check. Your. Spam. Filter.  Because if we had checked ours sooner, we would have been telling you this story a month ago.

Oooopsie.

Luckily, the team at Torquere is lovely.

When we have a specific release date for Starling we will let you know.