News: Guess who’s reviewing books over at Lightspeed Magazine? Me!

If you’re a Lightspeed Magazine subscriber, maybe you noticed a familiar name listed in the nonfiction column section of the February ebook edition. I am happy to announce that, starting with the February issue, I will be joining Amal El-Mohtar and Andrew Liptak in reviewing books for Lightspeed Magazine!

Four times a year, I’ll review the latest fantasy and science fiction books that will be released around that time. This month, I review Six Wakes by Mur Lafferty, The Stars are Legion by Kameron Hurley and A Taste of Honey by Kai Ashante Wilson. It’s available in Lightspeed’s ebook edition now, and will be going live on Lightspeed’s website on 2/21.

If you like what you read and want to support Lightspeed Magazine, subscriptions are just $35.88/year.

And yes, this is now my second gig with Lightspeed after slushing for them from 2009 through 2013. Guess I can’t stay away, huh?

New story up, 2016 Writing in Review, and Blog Thinky Thoughts

Bunch of shorter announcements for you today:

New Reprint Flash Story in Fantastic Stories

Back in October 2015, I wrote a flash story for the Vintage Podcastle Flash Fiction Extravaganza (PodCastle Episode 384). Well, now you can read that story in its entirety online for free! “The Summation of EvilCorp Subsidies HR Meeting Agenda Minutes, Compiled by Olivia Washington” is now up at Fantastic Stories! Not only is that the longest title I’ve ever made for a story to date, but I can vouch that the Peanuts mug mentioned in the story is real.

Okay, it’s more a thermos cup than mug, but still. Also, you have no idea how much this cup kept me sane. So did writing that story. Speaking of which…

2016 Year in Review

I barely submitted anything for 2016 other than a poem that will be printed I think later this year. So I got nothing for 2016 award eligibility. And I’ve just started reading books again, because there was a period in 2016 that I wasn’t reading at all.

But, 2016 was the most focused I’ve ever been writing-wise.  The main thing is that I made great progress on my novel, Weeping of the Willows, to the point that I have about ten chapters left to revise. I will need one more revision draft to fix some plotting inconsistencies, but I’m finally beginning to see the light at the end of the tunnel. My hope is to finish this draft by April. I just need to figure out how I’ll hit that deadline.

And oh! I wrote a novella and submitted it! That sort of happened out of the blue. I had meant it to be a short story, but well, like all my stories, it just got bigger and bigger. We’ll see how far it goes.

Other blog thinky thoughts

I’ve been also thinking about doing more blog posts on faith and theological matters, but I’m not sure if this is the right place to do it. For the most part, it used to be easy to keep my writing and matters about my spiritual life separate. But the past couple of years have shown the two intertwining. I’m thinking of creating a space to process that, but I don’t know if I can do it here at the Cafe. At least, not yet.

::sips tea from Peanuts mug::

So, thinking of options. Do I hop back on LiveJournal? Filtered posts on Facebook? Is there a way for WordPress to do locked blog posts, and if so, how? Old fashioned mailing list? Thoughts and suggestions appreciated.

And oh! I’m starting to keep a bullet journal. I’ll blog more about that once I figure out what the heck I’m doing…

Sestina for a Star: A Christmas Poem

Last year, I wrote a sestina for the first time for my dayjob’s Christmas party. I meant to post it, but never got around to it, so doing it this year. Enjoy!

A sestina is a six-stanza poem, each stanza composed of six lines, which end with six words that repeated throughout the poem in a fixed sequence, ending in a 3-line triplet that contains all six words.

Sestina for a Star

By the time you set forth your light

the earth was still being formed in joy.

Sin had yet to erase our hope.

Your light spanned eons, centuries across

history, until it finally reached our world

where it sat silent, waiting, in the dark.

Since Eden, man had fumbled in the dark

robbed of their peace and joy.

In money and power, many put their hope

while others simply forgot the light.

Because of this, you went across

cultures to make yourself known in the world.

The first ones to see you in this world

would be considered foreigners, seen as Other, across

Jerusalem. Seeing you gave them joy

for they were familiar with your light.

So, skin tones ranging from pale to dark,

they set forth tracking the sign of their hope.

Your news would be received well, they hoped.

Herod heard and his mind grew dark.

Months later, he’ll kill to get his point across

that he was the only rightful ruler to the world.

So he asked the magi if they would enlighten

him of this child, who was to bring much joy.

He didn’t understand; this child wouldn’t enjoy

the material riches found in this world.

He had come for those who had lost hope,

for those fumbling for answers in the dark,

to pay off sins, to make burdens light:

the son of man, born to die on a cross.

God has placed you to shine across

the fields to shepherds filling them with hope,

to the magi filling them with awe and joy

as they reached a village quiet and dark,

to kneel before God’s son, given to the world

to banish fear and bring us back into the light.

Christmas Star, bring your light into this sad and broken world.

May it illuminate across the land, into our hearts hidden and dark,

comforting those who needs its hope, and lifting them up into joy.

 Copyright © 2015 LaShawn M. Wanak 

Do not copy without permission

November 9, 2016

I gave up on sleeping.

I am going to sit here and write.

I’m just going to outright say it. 2016 is well and truly fucked.

Where is God in all of this?

There is so much fear. There is so much turmoil. I’ve lost too many people. There’s been too many changes. And now Trump.

Where is God in all of this?

It is obvious that yesterday is the culmination of a backlash that started 8 years ago. I have received so many messages last night from friends, dear friends of mine, who are terrified. And I fear deeply for so many of my friends. Because the backlash will not only continue, it will just get worse. For my Muslim friends. For my queer friends. For my friends of color.

For my family. For my son.

God, where are you in all of this?

I sit here, in the dark, and I remember.

“I cried out to God for help;
I cried out to God to hear me.
When I was in distress, I sought the Lord;
at night I stretched out untiring hands,
and I would not be comforted.

I remembered you, God and I groaned;
I meditated, and my spirit grew faint.
You kept my eyes from closing;
I was too troubled to speak.
I thought about the former days,
the years of long ago;” (Psalm 77)

I sit, and think of my ancestors who were brought over by slavery.
I think of all those who marched for the freedom we have now.
And I feel the Holy Spirit gather me close.

It hasn’t changed, the mandate from Him. To act justly, to love mercy, to walk humbly with our God.

If anything, this is the time where it’s needed most.
It is time.

I think of earlier this year, when I visited Dr. Martin Luther King Jr’s grave.
I think of legacy. Of following in footsteps of those before me.
I think of stories.

The need for stories has never been any stronger. And the Holy Spirit uses stories to knit people together.

Where are you? I ask God.
Here, he says. In the margins. In the fight for justice. In the caring for others. In the listening, and the silence, and the creation of safe spaces. And in the stories.

If we truly believe God is Love, then the God I serve is the God of the marginalized. Of the persecuted. Of the disowned. Of the ones who don’t fit in.

This is where the fight begins…
…except the fight has always been happening.
History has shown this.

My job is simply this:
to continue to fight for unity.
to continue to fight for equality.
to continue to tell stories
to treat people with dignity
to show God’s love and grace
to love
to love
to love

Come, Holy Spirit.
Because we will need you now more than ever in these following days.

It is morning. November 2016. And I am awake.

Rest in Peace, Jack Chick?

http://www.christianitytoday.com/gleanings/2016/october/died-jack-chick-cartoonist-controversial-gospel-tracts.html

Today we learned that Jack Chick, Evangelical Cartoonist, died at the age of 92. 

I could’ve sworn I’ve written about him before. I remember doing so. It was a long post about horror and taboos and fundamentalism. Maybe it was on a reivew, or maybe it was on a blog post. The point is, I can’t find it. So I’m putting it here, again. 

I grew up on Chick Tracts. My church had them in their bookstore growing up, and I used to read them all the time. There were the “This Was Your Life”, with the protagonist more bleah on his faults until he gets tossed into hell. “Somebody Loves You”, which was a pretty grim about a street urchin, who is told by a girl that “Jesus Loves You” and then the urchin dies because, well, the girl gave the urchin books for a pillow and a jacket for warmth, but didn’t like, take the urchin to a shelter. But that’s okay because Jesus took the urchin in the end, so yay? 

It hit me even at that early age that Jack Chick did not like Catholics. Or drunks. Or sinners. Or atheists. Or people who played Dungeons and Dragons (which I never understood). Or anyone, really. And neither did Chick’s God. He was always faceless, shining so bright, but faceless. An angry, angry God that would readily condemn you for doing anything, anything wrong.

 

Jack Chick also did comic books, which went beyond putting the fear of God in you into, well disturbing. The comic books was where I learned Jack Chick really, really hated Catholics. There’s an image that’s been burned on my brain of some people (can’t remember if they were the Inquisition or not )torturing a young pregnant woman. They had strapped her to a chair, pried her mouth open, and forced her to swallow some sort of bristly cloth by dripping water down her throat. 

It was a grisly image, and I don’t think our parents ever knew such a thing was right there among the bibles and story books. 

Looking back on it now that I’m older, I’m realizing that what Jack Chick did could be considered horror. There’s always a feeling of dread that almost bordered on demonic when you read his works. I got a stack of them now packed up with the rest of my books. I can’t read them for long before feeling sick. Maybe it’s because he saw anyone who wasn’t Christian as a villian, so they became these sneering caricatures that made you wonder why God would be trying to save them in the first place. And if they did become Christian, in a way, it was worse, because they became these grinning, dead-eyed dolls praising God. It was really creepy. Even the art was always this ugly 60s-era grotesqueness, sort of like Mad Magazine back in the day, but eviler. And over time, it just got worse and worse.

Perhaps that’s why it doesn’t bother me to write horror sometimes. Jack Chick certainly had an impact on me growing up, and it shows in some of my work. And I’ve grown enough theologically to know that there’s always something deeper to my faith. But still, I also recognize that there’s a side to my faith that yes, can be brimstone and fire. It’s a dark place, something to wrestle with.

I’m pretty sure though, that when it comes time to unpack my books, those Chick Tracks may stay in their box just a little bit longer. Maybe a year. Or two. Or ten.

Thoughts on the Fireside Fiction Report (Because everyone else is talking about it, so I guess I should too? Maybe?)

Antiblack Racism in Speculative Fiction – Fireside Fiction – Medium

I’ve been meaning to get around to writing about this-oh, hold on…

::goes to pack books to get ready to move in two weeks::

As I was saying…oh…hold that thought…

::goes to stand in sister’s wedding…::

So, yeah, this Fireside Fiction Report about black writers and–ughhhh…dang it…

::goes to handle a crazy thingamajig at work::

SIGH WOULD LIFE JUST STOP BEING SO GOSH DARN BUSY FOR ONCE SO I CAN DO THIS STUPID BLOG POST? 

I’m busy. Like really busy.

Obviously I don’t speak for all black writers, but I can tell you why I haven’t been submitting. The past two years I’ve been coping with longer hours at work, and other stuff. but you know that. It’s wasn’t until this year that I finally got off my duff and started submitting again. For me, the biggest reason I don’t submit is time. 

Oh, I can do the writing. That’s no problem. That whole time I was not submitting, I was writing. I worked on my novel…and then from last November I took a break to write a novella totally by accident (no, really. I was aiming for short story and I made a novella instead. How did that even happen?). And then I submitted it.

Granted, it wasn’t something that happened within a week. The novella, from creation to submission, took about 9 months.

There was an article not too long ago from a writer who wrote her first novel, then promptly went broke. I had meant to share it on Facebook because I was like yeah! I also want someone to pay me to write on a full-time basis. But then I did some thinking and realized…actually…wouldn’t that happen anyway? I write, I submit, I get paid. Write. Rinse. Repeat. That’s pretty much it in a nutshell. And if a writer really wants to be paid to write, there’s Patreon, which a lot of writers are doing now. But even with Patreon, you still need to show some sort of output. So, yeah, sorry, Tierce, actually you can get paid to write. You just need to put in the work. And that doesn’t mean quitting your day job first. Now, yes, I do wish I have time so that I could write more, but if I want that to happen, I need to start laying the groundwork for that now. Which means treating writing seriously, and pulling the bits of time I do have together to focus on writing.

Tierce did have a point where she said that her dayjob took away her headspace for writing. That there were days where she felt less of a writer and more of a postal worker. Yeah, there were many times when I felt that way too. But that was where planning my writing day came in. I learned how to write in between the cracks of my dayjob: breaks, lunch, etc. Scribbling thoughts on a notepad, my phone. Learning how to write anywhere—in the car, waiting for dinner to cook. I stopped beating myself up for only writing things for five, ten minutes at a time. It all still counted towards my output anyway. And sometimes, those brief minutes primed the pump for longer periods of writing in the evening. Slowly, gradually, I began to really feel like I was a writer again. (Of course, not going on social media so much also helped.)

But back to the Fireside Report. The whole reason I’m writing this post…Look, I’m going to be straight up honest. I’m not really dwelling on it all that much.

That doesn’t mean it’s not true, nor that it isn’t pertinent. I’m very much aware of how the markets are. I’m aware of the statistics. But responding to a report like that takes time, and frankly, I don’t have time. 

And perhaps that’s one of the symptoms in the report. Not many black writers have oodles of time at their disposal. If I’m going to fight against the conditions that are outlined in that report, the best way for me to use that time is write. So that’s what I’m going to do.

I want to write and submit more. I want to get some more stories under my belt, but what I really, really, really want to do is finish my novel. So..here’s what I’ll do.

This month there’s a couple of writing pieces I want to finish. A couple of things I promised some people. I also plan to re-establish myself in the novel. And then, starting November 1, I will focus exclusively on getting this revision of the novel finished. I’m about 60% done with revisions in the current draft. I’ll give myself to the end of April 2017 to finish this draft. That’s six months. 

You realize, in telling you all this, I want you all to hold me accountable, right?

Because that’s the other thing I fight against when it comes to submissions. Thinking that my work isn’t good enough. Nisi Shawl wrote an *excellent* essay called “Unqualified” in the January 2015 issue of The Cascadia Subduction Zone that I think is a great reply to the Fireside Report, and it sums up my own feelings as well. Encouragement helps. Fighting for diversity helps. And creating a space for black writers like me really, really helps. Go read Nisi’s essay. It’s that good.

I don’t think I’m ready to do a Patreon this year. I’m still dealing with dayjob stuff that promises to lighten up within the next year. (I know, that was promised to me last year…oh well). There’s also the matter of buying a house (ha! See? When I started this blog post, we were just starting to pack and now, voila, we sold our house). But I’ll continue writing. I’ll do my part to get more stories under my belt. And next year, I’ll revisit the Patreon idea. 

In the meantime…I got a book to finish.

2015 Year in Review: Busyness, Burnout, and Balance

People are asking me, “So, will you be at such-and-such-con this year? You should really come to so-and-so-con!” 

At first, I would say, “maybe”. Then it was more “I don’t know. And now? Honestly, it’s more “I don’t want to do this con thing anymore…” I could chalk it up to finances, but really, Jaym put in perfect words what I’ve been feeling for the past two years. Which is sad, because I’ve only been to cons since 2009. But with what happened with WisCon, last year’s Hugo’s fiasco, and general SFF drama, has made me leery to go to any more. 
 
I was also in this place where I didn’t have the energy to post anything I wrote. See, the drama I was dealing with the past couple of years went beyond the SFF world. Much of it mirrored what’s happening in the genre world: dealing with diversity, anger and outrage over many things. Some of it was also personal stuff. I had totally forgotten that it was around this time last year that I stepped down from Podcastle because of dealing with issues in my life. And then there’s the dayjob. Last year, we became short staffed, so my workload intensified. It’s a little better now, but things will still be heavy for me work wise, not just in my department, but organizational wise (things have been pretty interesting as of late).
 
And, okay, I’m just going to admit it, I got a little salty last year. On top of that, last November, I started working on a new short story, which meant putting off working on the novel. Why can’t I do both at once? Oh yeah, dayjob is sucking up most of my headspace. So here’s me, dealing with stress and drama, struggling to find time to write with my dayjob, and working on one writing project at a time. Then I get to watch other people coming out with great stories, new books, winning awards, having fun at cons, and I’m feeling that that the genre world is passing me by, and I’m making no progress, which must means I’m sucking as a writer and it makes me want to just and hide in my room and play Skyrim forever…
 
It got to the point where I started to wonder what, exactly, is my goal of being a writer? Is it really writing fantasy fiction? Do I continue to move towards becoming a professional science fiction writer, when it feels like I’m not making any progress at all? Do I give up my dream of being a full-time writer when it’s obvious that’s not going to happen this year, or next year, or even at all?
 
It’s not like I don’t want to stop writing. Ever. I love writing fantasy stories. And as a whole, although I didn’t produce scads of stories, I did indeed do a lot of writing, mainly because I learned how to do so while under dayjob stress. And I did publish a couple of things in 2015. My short essay “The Danger of the False Narrative” published in Jim Hines’s anthology Invisibility 2, and my flash story “The Summation of EvilCorp Subsidies HR Meeting Agenda Minutes, Compiled by Olivia Washington” I wrote for PodCastle 384: Flash Fiction Extravaganza! Vintage PodCastle:  (and which I haven’t even updated on my blog yet, I see. Whoops.)
 
Last week I got around to reading Jaym Gates’s latest blog post about cutting back on cons and freelancing and stepping back from the SFF world for a while. And as I read it, I was like, “Burnout? Wait…that’s it. That’s me. THAT’S WHAT I’M FEELING.”  Shortly after that, I stumbled across John Klima’s post, which basically said the same thing about burnout. And I realized that maybe it wasn’t just me. Our genre, as a whole, had a really, really sucky couple of years and there are people out there who feel it. And that includes me.
 
The thing is, it’s not so much I’m burnt out because of the whole SFF drama. It’s more due to sheer busyness.
 
So…how do I balance that?

First I think I need to fall back to the lesson I learned at Viable Paradise. I can only control what I write, when I write, and when I send it out. I can’t control where I get published or what awards (if any) I get. I need to remember that everyone are in different points of their writing career paths. I just so happen to be in a busy time of life where the full-time writing dream will have to take a backseat. It sucks, I know, but I just need to keep writing. My output won’t be the same as a full-time writer, and I’ll just have to accept that for now. The good thing is that there are others like me in the same boat. So consider this post as an encouragement shout-out. Although really, I think I’m writing this post for me…

That said, I do need to look at how and when I submit things. There’s a couple of stories that I was submitting a year ago before dayjob intruded, and I haven’t really found a place for them. I think they’re really good stories still. The question is, how do I proceed? Submitting them to new genres I think they’ll fit? Self-publish? I also have a couple of reprints too that I need to get out there. 

As for cons,  I do plan to be at Oddcon on Saturday April 9, and I’ll definitely be at WisCon the entire time. I’m even thinking about going to Convergence, mainly because I now know people up there. But this year I’m scaling back on volunteering. I feel like after what happened last year,  I need to remember why I like going to cons in the first place.

So, there you go. I’m still around, still writing. You probably won’t hear much from me, but I’ll try to keep things posted. Best place to keep track of me would be on FB and Twitter. I still post there. I like to think of it as creating a small oasis of fun amidst all the drama and hate. And I’ll just keep on writing. Because I’m a writer. Just keep on keepin on…

(And maybe because the whole Hugos slate thing appears to be starting up again, maybe it is best to keep my head low for now…)