21 Steps to Enlightenment (Minus One) Eligible for 2014 Awards!

So I’m beginning to see people listing the works they’ve done for 2014 that are eligible for awards. My short story “21 Steps to Enlightenment (Minus One)” , published in February 2014 by Strange Horizons, has been generating a lot of buzz, so I thought I get it out there. (and hey, I’m actually on time on making this type of announcement, too!)

You can both read and listen to it on the Strange Horizons website. Also, if you are a Drabblecast B-Side subscriber, you can listen to a reading there as well as view new art!

You may also want to check out my story “Sun-Touched” published by Kaleidotrope in March 2014. 

Thanks for reading!

New story! “Sun-Touched” up at Kaleidotrope

I have a new story up! You can now read "Sun-Touched" for free over at Kaleidotrope.

You can thank Neil Gaiman for this one. In 2010, I was invited to attend “The Gathering of American Gods” at the House on the Rock. I was trying to think of a cool costume to wear and, well, okay, I was looking for an excuse to dye my wedding dress with tea. I came up with going as the Moth Queen, because I had a pin shaped like a butterfly, but this party would be at night, so moths fit better.

Well, the costume idea petered out, (I wound up going as a vaguely steampunk lady). But the idea of a Moth Queen stuck with me, and I began to play with the idea. How I went from a Queen to a Princess, Queen and Dowager, I don’t remember. but when I came up with the idea of butterfly people (papilion) being enemies of the moth people (doptera), and how the moth people are attracted to light, I knew I had a story.

I will confess, coming up with the backstory and history of the world was somewhat difficult. After I finished it, I shopped it around. One of the rejections I got mentioned that it was a very good story, but the editor wished the doptera and papilion were more insect-like. And this is true. But I had no clue how to make them more insect-like without making them relatable. And besides, I had a selfish wish to keep the figurines as is, which play a part in the story.

Hmm. Writing that though makes me wonder. Can I make a lead character that’s not human, completely alien, and yet make them relatable? At the time I wrote Sun-Touched, I didn’t think I could. Now? I might be able.

In the meantime, enjoy "Sun-Touched", and let me know what you think!

New short story! “21 Steps to Enlightenment (Minus 1)” up at Strange Horizons

It’s now up! “21 Steps to Enlightenment (Minus 1)” is up now at Strange Horizons! It has an illustration! It has a podcast! It is so cool!

The inspiration for this story came one day when I was on Google Plus (why yes…I do go there from time to time). Someone had posted an album of different spiral staircase pictures, and when I clicked on the album, it posted all the staircases at once. Seeing all those staircases and spirals got me wondering: what if spiral staircases appeared at random, with no reason whatsoever. What would be at the top? And then I wondered…if spiral staircases could appear out of nowhere, who to say it’s just a normal staircase? What other materials could it be made out of? How fanciful could I make these staircases?

Oh, I had a fun time coming up with the different kinds of staircases. But I didn’t have much of a plot until I came up with the idea that the staircase was a metaphor for epiphanies and enlightenment. Around this time, I had visited my folks back in Chicago, and wound up watching the Help with the womenfolk of my family, including my grandmother, who is awesomely badass. Talking with her and my own mother about growing up and raising kids, made me want to commemorate their strength, while at the same time showing how opportunities seem to open up more for each generation. So I decided to make the spiral story more personal.

The Momma in the story is a mash-up of my mom and grandmother. There are other true parts too; if you know me, you’ll figure it out. I never snuck out of my house, for instance. But the boyfriend part? That’s mostly true. So was the feeling of optimism. My dad never wanted to join the circus though.

Anyway, check it out and let me know what you think. What would your spiral staircase look like?

Two Guest Posts, Story coming up, and Month of Letters 2014

I’ve been busy the past few weeks, and I’m about to get even busier. I’ll do another post about that, but real quick, here’s what I’ve been up to:

I did a guest post over at Bill Bodden’s blog about keeping yourself going when you’re in Revision Hell. Warning: I make a confession about Digimon.

I also knitted a Totoro hat, which I blogged about at Nerds of Color . I talked about cosplay, anime and connecting with other black geeks. It also got a mention over at GeekMom, so yay!

On February 3, I have a short story, "21 Steps to Enlightenment (Minus 1)" appearing on Strange Horizons, and it will be illustrated!

Finally, in February, I’m planning to participate in the 2014 Month of Letters Challenge. You may remember I attempted the challenge a couple of years ago, but barely got into it before quitting. Well, I’m going to try it again, and this time, I’m going to be tracking my progress over at HabitRPG . If you’re interested in joining me, I have a challenge all set up at the Tavern. (Did I mention that you should check out HabitRPG anyway? They’ve really changed it the last time I posted about it, adding quests, checklists, pets, cool armor. Making a task list has never been so much fun!). nd if you’re not on HabitRPG, check out the Month of Letters Challenge anyway. It’s a fun way to get back into the habit of sending snail mail. And if you’re interested in getting a letter from me, leave a comment below and I’ll connect with you to get your address. I’d love to write to you!

Writer’s Cafe vs. Scrivener: Which program is write for you? (Ha! I made a pun!)

As most of you know, I do most of my writing using Writer’s Cafe. It’s a great tool I found at the beginning of my writing career when I was looking for something that matched Scrivener, which was only Mac at the time. You can find my write up of that here.

A couple of years ago, Scrivener finally came out with a Windows version. By then, I had become a die hard fan of Writer’s Cafe, so I wasn’t looking to switch. But I was still curious, so I downloaded a demo and wrote a short story using it. There were some cool features Scrivener had that WC didn’t have, but other features WC ruled on that Scrivener was lacking. I decided I was happy with WC enough that I didn’t want to shell out $40 for Scrivener.

Flash forward to this summer. WC hadn’t been updated for a while, and I found that I really missed some of Scrivener’s features. So when I caught Scrivener on sale at Amazon for half price, I snatched it up. I’ve been using it since. But which is the better writing program?

So without further ado:

CAGE MATCH — WRITER’S CAFE VERSUS SCRIVENER. FIGHT!!!!!

(Note—I’m comparing Writer’s Café to the Scrivener for Windows version, which I know is a tooled down version of Scrivener for Mac. Yes, I know the Mac version is better, but seeing that I don’t own a Mac, oh well.)

Similarities: WC & Scrivener are both dedicated to the art of writing. You write a whole book in either of them, write short stories, or do screenwriting. You can import text, edit, and export to an external program. You can keep notes, pictures, websites for research, and both programs come with a "corkboard" where you can view outline of your stories.  And both have really good support, Scrivener with its forums and WC with its Yahoo email group.

Differences: WC has different ‘programs’ within itself that you can choose to do your work via different tabs and/or a desktop that has icons to different parts of yourself, whereas Scrivener keeps everything on one place. WC is geared from the brainstorming and structuring part of writing, while Scrivener’s emphasis is more on the writing itself. I’ll get into more detail starting with Scrivener.

Scrivener’s plusses: As I mentioned, Scrivener is focused on writing. It makes for a great word processor because it has everything there at your fingertips. Conceivably, you can open up Scrivener without knowing anything about how it works and just start writing, because the space is intuitive. You can also make it so that you can block out everything except your writing space. If you’re a writer who works by scenes, Scrivener makes this super easy. You can move scenes around, split documents into separate sections and vice versa. You can also write a story in a single text document without splitting into scenes. There are many shortcuts and functions that mimic Microsoft word, such as comments and footnotes, plus features Word doesn’t have, such as the document and project notes, which I use to store text I’m editing out of a story on the chance I might need to use it again.

scrivener

Another thing I really like about Scrivener is that you can make a "Scrivener Link" to point to any document in the program. So you can make your own wiki in scrivener, make key words point to notes. I really wish this feature was in Writer’s Cafe. It would make cross-referencing my research and notes so much easier.

I’m still working with Scrivener and discovering new things to do as I go, but I already feel I got more than my money’s worth. Scrivener as a word processor and writing tool outshines Writer’s Cafe, which also have a writing processor, but is buried and has bare bone features.

Writer’s Cafe plusses: WC may not do so well for writing stories, but when it comes to researching, planning and outlining, it outshines Scrivener.

WC’s strength is its Storylines feature, which is similar to the corkboard in Scrivener in that you can have cards that show synopses of your story, tags. However, WC allows you to group cards according to "storyline". You can  hide storylines or create multiples storylines. For instance, I have a storyline showing all the plots in my novel, but I also have another storyline showing a timeline of current events, and I have a storyline showing a timeline of the distant past.

WC1

WC’s also has Scrapbook, which like Scrivener, holds notes and websites for research. One feature WC has that Scrivener doesn’t is the ability to double-click on a URL on a webpage and copy it to Scrapbook (very useful when you’re collecting information for research). You can also make a collage…not very user friendly, but good if you want to do a visual character sketch.

wc2

There’s the pinboard, which gives you a unstructured corkboard to brainstorm lists. And of course, there are the notebook and journal features, which allow you to freewrite to your heart’s content. You can use writer’s prompts and write using a timer.

If you’re a freewriter like me, Writer’s Cafe is excellent for brainstorming and planning before you get to the actual writing. WC gives a chance for your brain to play before you get down to the nuts and bolts of writing.

The winner? Scrivener (kind of)

I’ve used Writer’s Cafe long enough that I would go to bat for it in a heartbeat. And I still do. But I have to say, if it boiled down to only one program to buy, Scrivener would be the best program because it’s all self-contained. I’ve completed two short stories in Scrivener, and it was super easy to brainstorm, write, proofread, and export the stories into the right format. Julian, the creator behind Writer’s Cafe, had written about upgrading WC to include many features Scrivener has, including a better word processor to make it easier to focus on the writing of stories, but this has yet to happen. And now that Scrivener for Windows is out, I dare say that overall, it functions as a better writing tool than WC. If you don’t have a writing program and are looking for one, Scrivener is your best bet.

But I can’t completely endorse Scrivener for Windows. I don’t know how often Scrivener updates its Window version, but it seems many of the functions that make Scrivener a superior writing program has yet to cross over to the Windows version. And this is where Writer’s Cafe picks up most of the slack, because while it’s not a good writing tool, it’s an excellent brainstorming and planning too.

So…if you can get both, do it. I was able to get Scrivener on sale from Amazon a few months ago, and I found that while I do most of the writing in Scrivener, I still do most of my freewriting, brainstorming and plotting through Writer’s cafe. Sort of like a left brain/Scrivener vs right brain/WC sort of thing. Both work well together.

Ironically, I’m not using either program to write this blog post. I’m using Evernote, which is a whole different ball of wax altogether. But that will have to be another cage match.

New Story! “Ebb and Flow” up at Daily Science Fiction!

My first SWFA sale! It’s a flash story called “Ebb and Flow” and you can read it now for free at Daily Science Fiction!

I wrote this story for a flash contest, back when I was wrestling with feelings of trying for another child. I’m really glad DSF picked it up. Head on over and check it out!

What Fates Impose Kickstarter Update (or Me Write Pretty One Day…)

TL;DR version: We’re heading into our final week of our Kickstarter for the anthology I’m in, What Fates Impose, and wow! We just cracked $4000. ONLY 6 MORE DAYS TO GO!!!! Pledge $40 and you will get, along with the book, a handwritten card by me with the personality type of your choice (either Myers/Briggs or StrengthFinders) its description and a humorous fortune written in calligraphy.

Edit: And we have made our goal! And then some!

But if you want to read the long version, I’m going to talk about calligraphy. And by that I mean, what I really want to say is, I want to thank my parents for forcing me to take drafting in high school.

You see, back when I was in high school, when it came time to choose electives, I was all ready and gung ho to take art, because everyone took art. It was fun. My father, for reasons I have yet to figure out, made me take drafting instead. I wish I remembered why. Something to do with my handwriting, I think. Or was it supposed to build character? I asked him the other day and he said, “Hell if I know.” Which was the answer I pretty much expected from him.

But there I was. A sophomore? Yeah, I think it was my sophomore year. I think I was only one of three girls in the class. I remember getting drafting kits, which involves a T-Bar ruler, a bunch of other rulers, a specific type of pencil, and graph paper. And I remember being very, very disgruntled, because while my friends were making fingerpaint murals and macaroni art and pottery, I was drawing lines and measuring  them and drawing more lines and learning how to make capital letters as straight as possible.

I can’t remember what grade I got, but I’m pretty sure I passed it. You ask me what I learned there and I wouldn’t be able to tell you offhand, except that maybe my handwriting got better. Maybe.

I hated drafting class.

Which is interesting because I love calligraphy.

I’ve been fascinated by calligraphy ever since I was a kid. I got several Sheaffer kits for Christmas, you know, the fountain pen kind that came with different types of nibs and different colored ink tubes, and you put the tubes in the barrel and twist the nib on to pierce the tube? And if you wanted to change colors, you were screwed because it meant pulling out the tube carefully so you won’t spill the ink out, then washing out the nib, which took forever, and then screw the new color in, then you had to do the same thing over again so you could go back to the regular color? Yeah, I loved those pens.

I did lots of calligraphy for a while. Mainly, I wrote poems, practiced the alphabet, and did flourishes on envelopes. Probably the highlight of my calligraphy use was when I hand addressed all the envelopes I sent out for my wedding. I was always insecure about my calligraphy, though, because I’ve never had a real steady hand. I couldn’t write in a straight line and my spacing was over the place. Over time, I stopped doing it, but I kept collecting calligraphy supplies in the vain hope that one day, I would pick it up again.

That day came about a month ago, when Nayad, our editor for What Fates Impose was brainstorming on what we could offer as rewards for backers of the anthology. I thought I’d offer a handmade knitted scarf, but I wanted to do something based off my story in the anthology, which deals with the subject of personality assessment. And I thought, “I can write cards that show Myers/Briggs personality types and a a brief description. I can also throw in a short humorous fortune in the end. And I can do it all in calligraphy.”

So I went to my closet and pulled out my calligraphy tools. Since my wedding, I have amassed quite a bit, including a bunch of dipping nibs that I had no clue how to use—I just thought they looked cool. But this now being the age of the internets, I thought it was high time I learned how to use these old-fangled thingies.

And when I learned, I was like WHY AM I KEEPING THESE AT THE BOTTOM OF MY CLOSET? THESE ARE AWESOME!!!!!

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Also, ink, because INNNNNNNK!!!!

So then, I made my first mock up, and I grew immediately discouraged because to me, it didn’t come out right.

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The lines were kind of crooked and the spacing was off and…

And that’s when all those lessons I took in high school drafting reared up inside me and said. LaShawn, you need to put down some lines and do some measurements. Get some rulers, girl.

And I said, Ohhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhh.

So I got me some rulers, put down some lines, did some measurements, and came up with my second draft, if you will.

Calligraphy sample

Which…actually…still looks lopsided, now that I look at it. Particularly the flourish line. And the personality type still looks shaky (in fact, the first draft, the letters look more stable). But I’m happier about the description. And as I keep practicing, it would get nicer and nicer.

All of this is to say, if you wish to get in on my calligraphy journey, there are two backer rewards left for my calligraphy cards. Pledge $40 and you will get, along with the book, a handwritten card by me with the personality type of your choice (either Myers/Briggs or StrengthFinders) its description and a humorous fortune written in calligraphy. It won’t be super perfect, but I can guarantee it will be authentic.

Oh yes. I want to thank my parents. If it wasn’t for me being forced to take drafting, these calligraphy supplies would still be sitting at the bottom of my closet. Never being used. Collecting dust until, in shame, I sell them to the next poor sop at a garage sale. And I would have never discovered the joy of dipping a nib into ink, shaking the excess off, then sketching the letters into paper just so.

This has brought back the joy of writing.