I Begin As I Mean to Go On

Permit me to offer some perspective I’ve learned over the last few years. I’ve made a conscious effort to meet, talk to, and follow the writings of people of color (especially women of color), LGBT+ folks, and people of different heritages, faiths, and traditions. And this discomfort you’re expressing?

This is their daily life under the status quo. They have to live in a environment in which what’s promoted as normalcy does not account for them.

Telling people in a public forum to stop talking about the issues that concern them? That, in itself, is a political act.

This does not mean there’s a place for vitriol. Nor should one spout falsehoods.

But if there’s anger? It doesn’t come from a vacuum. It often comes from pain. It comes from being smacked around, or watching those you care about being smacked around, and finally reaching the point where one says “That’s enough.”

Unfirend or unfollow me if you feel you need to. But don’t tell me, or others, to be silent.

How to Thank Me For My Service

A friend of my, a female of color, was harassed yesterday by a white man who told her to go back to where she came from. She’s from Louisiana.

The friend of a friend committed suicide Wednesday, because, in part, of fear of losing their healthcare, since dismantling the ACA is very high on the GOP’s agenda.

The KKK is having open celebrations of Trump’s victory, which they see as validating their despicable views.

Trump’s already cutting off the press, which our nation’s founders knew was our first line of defense against tyranny. That’s why it’s in the First Amendment.

Attacks and harassment of non-whites, females, and non-Christians seem to be escalating. We don’t seem to have good data yet, but the US seems to be following the pattern of increased hate crimes seen in Britain following Brexit.

This is not how this veteran expected to spend today.

If you want to thank this vet for his service, don’t give me words. Give me action.

If you see harassment, defend the harassed.

Believe people when they tell you they’re scared. Consider they are subject to things you may be blind to. Give them aid and comfort and safety.

Give money to organizations which will fight against the coming attempts to roll-back of the last 50+ years of progress in civil rights.

Find candidates for public office who will stand for justice. Support them. VOTE.

Don’t let the bastards normalize bigotry and hatred in our society.

I took the oath to uphold and defend the Constitution six times. I did not do so to let my nation fall into autocracy.

Thank me by standing up, speaking up, and taking action.

The Morning After

If you voted for Donald Trump, you voted for a man who, along with his running mate, considers the LGBT people in my circle – members of my family, and some of my closets friends, people I care most deeply for in the world – as less than people, and not deserving of basic rights. A man whose followers have credibly threatened harm against them. And you were OK with that.
If you voted for Donald Trump, you voted for a racist, bigoted man, who considers people of color in my circle of family and friends lesser humans. A man whose followers have credibly threatened harm against my people. And you were OK with that.
If you voted for Donald Trump, you voted for a man who by his own words is anti-Semitic, and whose followers credibly threaten harm to my Jewish friends and family. And you were OK with that.
If you voted for Donald Trump, you voted for a man whom by his own admission is guilty of repeated sexual assault. And you were OK with that.
If you voted for Donald Trump, you voted for what appears to be the most corrupt person in my lifetime, and perhaps in history, to stand for the office of President. And you were OK with that.
I am not OK with that.
There may come a time when I forgive you. I don’t see how, this morning, but it’s possible.
But I will NEVER forget.

Three Months Post-op

I had my three-month post-op visit with my surgeon yesterday. Well, really with his nurse practitioner, who is most excellent in her own right.

My overall milestones are pretty good: I’m down to 308 pounds & change from 396+ in April, and 362 the day I walked into the hospital on July 6th. I’m on track with my various medications and supplements, and so far there’s only two things in my blood work they want to keep an eye on. I’m hitting my protein and fluid goals every day, as well as exercise. My time at Viable Paradise excepted I’m sticking to the 1200 calories or less per day that I need to meet or exceed my goals.

Three months in, I’m finding some things are still pretty easy to conform with, while others are tricky. Eating out is definitely a challenge; even when I can find something properly healthy on the menu, American portion sizes mean I’m still lucky to eat half of what I’m served. Avoiding fried foods makes eating at some places challenging. And for any occasion, I need to either get something that holds up as leftovers, or be prepared to leave half my plate untouched.

There aren’t too many things I don’t tolerate. Unfortunately, bread is one of them. I don’t have the kind of reaction to it that someone with a bypass would from sugary or greasy foods, but I’m definitely uncomfortable if I have more bread than the hunk you get with chili at Panera. Ditto for pasta. Which is a shame, because I really, really like bread. Note that this extends to anything bread-like, such as pizza. I guess it’s a good thing I’ve always liked thin-crust pizza!

The most important lesson I’ve learned so far is to listen to my body. Paying attention to the “I’m full” signal is hugely critical. Believe me, when I don’t, I know that I’ve screwed up.

The weight loss hasn’t been on a continuous slope, and it can sometimes be frustrating to do everything right for a week and end at the same weight I began. Those weeks are usually followed by a 7-10 day period rapid weight loss. The net result is that I’m ahead of the 10 pounds per month rate at which most patients lose, so I have to keep reminding myself of how far I’ve come.

I think the rest of the family has gotten used to our new normal, which includes Michelle, Alexa and Ben eating something different than I do. But we’ve been trying some things lately that everyone can partake of. That’s a work in progress.

In the end, it’s pretty clear having the sleeve gastrectomy was the right decision for me.

Next check in at the six month mark in January.

First Thoughts on Viable Paradise 2016 (VP20)

I spent last week attending the Viable Paradise writer’s workshop on Martha’s Vineyard as one of 24 students. It’s been a little more than 48 hours since I left the island, but less than 48 since I arrived back home from. Yesterday was caught up with the combination of both mental and physical exhaustion, as well as taking care of Michelle, who broke her foot the day we were supposed to leave. In the end I went up solo as she underwent surgery on Monday; fortunately, my mother in law spent the week with her and oversaw Michelle’s care, freeing me up for the VP experience. I am forever grateful for that.

This was my first experience with any kind of writing workshop, and only my second with any type of critique process, so I was somewhat nervous of how that aspect of things would go. This was mitigated a great deal by having connected with a number of my classmates on Twitter or via Slack, a text-based chat system. This meant that a bunch of us knew at least a bit about each other.

That prior connection no doubt helped, but it seems to me that what truly brought us together was our love of writing, of the SF/F/Horror genre, and our shared desire to improve our craft.

And we did come together. Not as some kind of perfect cohesive whole, but definitely as a tribe. I know there are people I became closer too than others over the course of the week, and I’m sure the same holds true for all of us. And I regret not finding ways to spend more time with those I didn’t share group critiques or after-hours talk/singing/drinking/hanging-out sessions with. But it was clear that while the work people brought was at differing stages of development or polish, there was a consistently high quality of ability and skill among all the students.

In other words, I spent a week immersed in talking about writing with incredibly intelligent, thoughtful and skilled colleagues. It’s not an exaggeration to say that this was a life-altering experience.

I’ve heard it said that the biggest thing a workshop like VP does for you is to give you a cohort, a collection of folks with a shared experience. Time will tell, naturally, but I’m gonna put my money down now on that being the case for us.

It’s fair to say I learned at least as much outside the formal classroom sessions and group critiques as I did within them. The instructors and staff were incredibly approachable and freely shared advice from their experience in writing and publishing. But I learned a ton from my fellow students. Each person brought a variety of experience to the workshop, and absolutely everyone I interacted with was all-in for helping each other become better writers. It’s fair to say I learned something from everybody I talked to at any length beyond “say when” whilst pouring.

And what did I learn? Beyond the practical instruction around plotting, character development, and the Clusterfuck Deathtrap Corporation of Peoria, IL? Three main things, I think:

First up, that there’s a bunch of stuff I’m doing reasonably well for someone at this point in my writing career. Since we writers tend to be an insecure bunch, this part is often overlooked when looking back at critiques, but it’s front and center in the critique methodology VP uses. That’s really helpful – maybe in part because it softens you up a little for what follows – but more so in helping identify those things one needs to be better integrating into one’s work. (One of mine was “Really efficient world-building”, and I’ll be glowing about that one for months.)

Second was confirmation of a number of things I suspected I needed to work on – but more importantly, getting some tools on how to fix them. And as I mentioned above, those fixes came from the students at least as much as the instructors.

But the truly valuable things for me were items that only people with experiences different from myself could point out to me. I’m truly grateful that they did so, with respect and encouragement, and with trust that I was making a good-faith effort. They gave me ideas of how to fix these things too, and my work will be stronger for this.

I’ve mentioned the instructors before, and they were uniformly awesome. All of them are truly committed to mentoring and developing new writers and were incredibly giving of their time and expertise. This came during the formal classroom and group sessions, but also during the scheduled one-on-ones, off-schedule sessions, or simply while hanging out in the evenings. They packed a ton of information into our heads in an incredibly short span of time.

But, in my not-so-humble opinion, the true heart of Viable Paradise is the staff. These wonderful people, all former students themselves (with one exception, IIRC), make sure everyone is looked after. They make sure everyone is involved in whatever’s going on to the extent that they wish to, or are psychologically up to. There’s a lot of stress in this experience between the reading & giving of critiques, receiving critiques, and the writing assignments, and everyone has their own way of dealing with that. As I said to Macallister Stone, the head of staff, there seemed to be a million acts of kindness, love,  and support, and I’m certain that for every one I saw, there were a number I didn’t. I don’t think any of my classmates were hurting or in any significant distress over the course of the week, but I suspect some folks needed help over the humps at various points. I’d lay money that I got help I didn’t even realize I was receiving at times.

I’ll be unpacking these experiences over the weeks, months and probably years to come.

Writing Update, August 2016 Edition

The last 12 months have seen a lot happen in my writing life. I finished the first draft of what I hope will be my first book, “The Frozen Past”, early last December. Along the way I learned a lot about what works for me in terms of writing process. (I do best with 2+ hour stints in a place that’s not my house.) I could also see my writing getting better as I went.

Not entirely coincidentally, completion of that manuscript coincided with the beginning of an “Open Door” period at Angry Robot books, a time during which they accepted unsolicited submissions. I sent it off with fairly realistic expectations, knowing I wouldn’t hear anything for months – the window didn’t close until the end of January 2016, and they expected to get hundreds of submissions.

They got over 1100.

I went for quite a while without hearing anything. I passed the manuscript around to a select few friends and family to read – my alpha readers – and got some good feedback. After giving it a few months, I started a revision pass in March that finished in April, which fixed a few of the more salient problems. I knew the beginning was too still too slow but tried a few things to fix that, with limited success. I sent it around again, including a few new folks, in early May, with a request to provide feedback by month’s end.

May saw a couple of developments. With my surgery date set for July I was free to attend Balticon, the big SF/F convention held annually over Memorial Day weekend, and the con suddenly added a set of writing workshops (for an additional fee). I signed up for two. I also got my expected rejection from Angry Robot. Since they were looking at the weakest part of the book, and the first draft at that, the rejection went down pretty easily. (I’ve taken a leaf from writer Tobias Buckell and stuck a print-out of the rejection e-mail in a binder.)

Feedback on the second draft started rolling in, and I trucked off to Balticon, which proved to be a significant event in a couple of ways.

The first few came during the initial workshop, on “Worldbuilding in a Hard SF Universe”, taught by Chuck Gannon. There were only three students counting myself and one turned out to be Beth Tanner, a friend (and friend of the family). During the session Chuck, Beth and our fellow student talked about our works and several key things about my setting crystallized for me on the spot. Chuck also brought up a couple things I absolutely hadn’t considered which make the background of the Exile Clusters more real, but also helped me find the key conflict going on in my little fictional universe. The session was well worth the $180 I spent on it.

The second thing happened over the course of the weekend while participating in the grand tradition of “Barcon”, i.e. the conversations between folks at the hotel bar during the convention. Beth asked if I had plans to submit my writing to any workshops, particularly the Viable Paradise workshop coming up in October. I’d thought about it, and had originally hoped to apply to the Taos Toolbox workshop run by Walter Jon Williams and Nancy Kress over the summer, but my surgery and the expense precluded that from this year. Beth kept at me through the weekend: “You’re at the level where this is the next step for you,” she told me on more than one occasion. “Just apply – you’ve got nothing to lose!”

So, after a week of wrangling with my synopsis and fixing up the beginning of “The Frozen Past” a bit more, I submitted the synopsis and first 8000 words. I also won a professional manuscript critique in a charity auction for “Con or Bust”, and sent the entire book as it then stood off to the terrific writer Yoon Ha Lee.

And then, at the end of June, I was accepted to VP.

This is a really big deal for me. Viable Paradise only takes 24 students. It’s an intense, one-week workshop, and the instructors are some of the best authors and editors in SF/F today. People who apply often get wait-listed and have to re-apply the next year. Alumni include award-winning and best-selling authors.

Now, there’s no guarantee I’ll ever become one of those. There’s no guarantee I’ll even be published (traditionally, anyway). But no matter what I’m going to learn a huge amount. I’m learning lots already from my interactions with my classmates as we get to know each other ahead of the workshop.

Then Yoon sent his critique of “The Frozen Past” back right before my surgery, and it included words I was really happy to see: “There’s nothing here that can’t be fixed in revision.” The book is probably going to need a lot more restructuring and rewriting than I’d thought, and there’s some problematic characterization at points which needs addressing. But the last third seems to really work – which is feedback I’ve gotten from everyone who has read it – and the rest can be fixed. But not until after VP.

So what’s next? I wish I was more of a short fiction writer, but I seem to be stuck in book mode. I’ve spent the last part of July and first half of August working on the plot for my second book, which straddles the line between stand-alone and sequel to TFP. I seem to be on-target to start writing the first draft by the end of August.

And we’ll see what happens.

“Call it Your 2.0, Your Rebirth, Whatever”

And many thanks to Vienna Teng’s “Level Up” for the title here.

Updating this has been infrequent at best, but I’m trying to get into a more regular habit of blogging. I have a few things lined up for the coming weeks, but I thought I’d start out quickly recapping the big changes going on in my bit of the world at the moment. Because boy, howdy, at lot is happening in a short time.

Today’s topic: I had bariatric surgery in early July. This was a decision long in the making, and a long process preceded the surgery itself. I’d finally determined that it was a necessary step for me in combating my obesity. After kicking the process off in October, I made my way through the many preliminaries over the next 7 months, finally getting to the point of scheduling my procedure (a sleeve gastrectomy) in April. Two more months of prep and I entered Hopkins Bayview on July 6th for what turned out to be three days – right on track.

My recovery has been almost completely complication-free, and weight is coming off at a steady clip. I’m still in a transitional phase, diet-wise, having only recently graduated from “I can eat it if it’s on the list and I can blend it” to soft foods – all in small amounts. This week I’m finally back at work and trying to adjust that routine to meet my current requirements. I’m still pretty early in my journey, but being more than 60 pounds down from my peak weight, and nearly 30 since my surgery, I can see things working.

I cannot recommend the program at Johns Hopkins Bayview highly enough. The attention both before my procedure, the care in the hospital, and the follow-up care have all been top-notch. The program really seeks to find what works best and communicates that to their patients. The medical teams and support staff – nutrition, psych, insurance coordinators, and everyone else there – are fabulous.

Everyone who struggles with obesity has to find their own path in dealing with it. I’d tried a number of other weight loss measures in the past. Surgery was, in the end, the right path for me.