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Depression lifts

For the past few years, I've been really struggling. I don't know if it's technically depression or just an extended series of events for which it was entirely reasonable that I might be depressed (e.g. close friend died while we were together, a child was diagnosed with a serious illness, that other guy got elected, the pandemic happened, etc., etc.)

While I was on my professional improvement leave, which should have been a bright spot, my Department chair decided to unilaterally rewrite my job description without consulting me. I could go on at length about how poorly it was handled and how it violated a long-standing agreement with the union. But it happened.

In any event, I've been down in the dumps for a few years. It made it hard to find joy in anything -- or do anything creative.

Last fall, though, I finally started to perk up. I had an idea for a story I wanted to write. I basically hadn't completed any speculative fiction since I wrote Krepusko sub Fago in 2015. So I wrote the story I was thinking of and submitted it for publication. And it was rejected. But by then, I had already started to work on another story, or perhaps chapter, about the same characters. And I wrote another and another and another. And suddenly, I realized, I was having fun. It felt good.

During the summer, I decided to approach submitting my fiction seriously -- or, at least, more professionally. So I set up a spreadsheet to track submissions, studied, and tried to get all my stories working for me while I continued to write new stuff. I wrote several more stories at the same time I got out some older stories I'd written before that I've never gotten around to submitting and got those working too.

Everything got rejected. And rejected and rejected. And rejected some more.

But in August, I attended Readercon and met up with Water Dragon Publishing, and the rest is history. My first English speculative fiction publication is out: The Third Time's the Charm!

During the semester, I haven't had much time to write. But I did find the time to write the first draft of a sequel to my first story. It was a lot of fun to revisit those characters and think about what happens next.

I still haven't published the stories (totaling about 22,000 words) that first got me started in this direction. But I'm hopeful that soon I'll hit my stride and start getting more stuff published. And hopeful is the word. It's wonderful to have hope again -- and to feel like things could get better.


My first piece of speculative fiction in English has been accepted for publication by Water Dragon Publishing. It's a swashbuckling tale of piracy and airships called The Third Time's the Charm. It's been a real adventure submitting stories, getting rejections, getting an acceptance, and then discovering how deep the rabbit hole goes when you publish something. I had the idea that something gets accepted for publication and then, like, you start writing the next thing. Nooooooo. No, now you have revisions to make, reviewers to identify, covers to approve, proofs to check, etc., etc. Death, as they say, is just the beginning.

As part of this, I've set up a separate identity for myself as an author, with separate social media accounts and a separate blog at I intend to keep blogging here but as myself, rather than as my author persona.

I haven't written much here in the past couple of years: It's been a rough time. I might be ready to write about it soon. But not yet.

Writing energy

I used to devote a significant amount of writing energy to maintain a blog, but over the past half-year almost all of my writing energy has been focused in other directions. I've been writing a lot — just for other stuff which I mostly haven't posted publically. I wrote an application for my Senior Lecturer Professional Improvement Fellowship. I wrote a long letter when I resigned from the Board of Amherst Media. I taught two classes over the summer and wrote a lot as part of that. I wrote a pre-proposal for a grant. I'm writing up the leafminer work we did. I'm writing a proposal for my course-based honors thesis class. And, of course, these days I do a lot of microblogging (using twitter) that, in the past, I would have probably devoted to blog writing.

I've also started sharing some Research Notes via Public Lab. Over the next few weeks, I'll need to make the transition to writing full-time for my new course development project. But, hopefully, much of it I can share publicly.

I also want to write some new fiction. I still have several stories I've written, but never made enough effort to get published anywhere. But writing is its own reward, even if you never get stuff published. The opportunity to be reflective, explore your own thinking, and try out ideas is always valuable.

At the same time, part of me is afraid that my lack of writing here is due to reduced ability to be productive. I don't know if I'm slowing down or if my standards are just higher. But I don't seem to be able to organize myself to work on as many things as I used to.  I tell myself that work has simply become more demanding: I used to have more slack than I used to. But maybe that's just an illusion.

Still, I'm looking forward to my professional improvement leave with a mix of excitement and terror. It will be amazing to switch gears and take on a new, significant project. But terrifying too: I have a huge number of hurdles to overcome to successfully pull this off.

One Day at Boskone

For several years, I've been trying to persuade Daniel to attend Boskone. It looked like an ideal conference to dip your foot into the culture of speculative fiction authorship: to see what authors say about the craft of writing, the process you need to follow to get your work published, and how to grow the audience for your work. I particularly encouraged him the year he had his first sale (a story in Hidden Youth), but he's been resistant to GO OUT and SEE PEOPLE. This year, I sent him the link as an afterthought, without much expectation he would take me up on the offer. But he did! And so I encouraged him to look through the program, identify the people he wanted to see and the events he wanted to attend, and we laid plans to go. (I also did one other, slightly mean, thing. I pulled the copy of Hidden Youth off the bookshelf and said, "Now, who were the editors again?" He responded with an expletive. But then took the book from me and studied the cover and table of contents to refresh his memory of who the people were. )

In the morning, I got him to regain control of his twitter account so he could watch comments on the #boskone hashtag. The author community uses twitter better than most and I find it to be a fun way to keep track of events and connect with people at the conference -- and with the people who couldn't attend.

The trip was simple (get on the mass-pike and drive for 1 hour 40 minutes) and we found the cheaper parking without much difficulty ($18 for the day). We arrived with a half-hour to spare before registration opened, so we hung out and inspected the program to pick what we wanted to do. Well, Daniel did that, while I dorked on twitter.

Rather than go through a recitation of the specific events we attended, some highlights:

The panels showed a thoughtful balance of gender and race. The only unbalanced panel was the panel on Clothing that Creates Character: all seemingly white women. Maybe they couldn't find a man to participate. Or, perhaps, the men who tried to volunteer to participate got stuck with pins until they put their hands down. It was one of the best panels I attended: I learned a lot. Although I felt just a little sorry for Janet Catherine Johnston and J. Kathleen Cheney: Mary Robinette Kowal and Elizabeth Bear could put anyone in the shade. Suford Lewis did an amazing job of moderating: each question brought out interesting stuff and each following question really drew from what hadn't been said yet. It was masterful.

Scott Lynch's moderation of Class Structure in SF and Fantasy brought out good contrasting views from the participants. Each brought a different dimension to their responses which made the panel particularly interesting and useful. I was a little surprised that nobody mentioned HG Wells' Morlocks and Eloi. Or Heinlein. It was during this panel that I realized that I was expecting scholarship which is totally unreasonable for a writer's convention staffed by volunteers.

I very much enjoyed readings by Scott Lynch, Elizabeth Bear, C.S.E Cooney (who had been recommended to me by a friend on twitter) and Carlos Hernandez (who just happened to be following C.S.E Cooney). Daniel particularly liked the funny voice Scott Lynch used for his tea-kobold. I asked C.S.E Cooney about how her writing flowed so smoothly off the tongue. Her response was about the performance: how she prepares to give a reading by singing the manuscript or reading it various ways. "So it's just about the performance? Not an essential quality of the manuscript?" That set her back for a moment, but then considered how her understanding of performance led her to draft her manuscripts in particular ways. Very insightful.

We probably could have stayed for one more session, but we left around 5pm. Daniel was nodding off and didn't want to embarrass himself by actually falling asleep during a session. We headed out into the twilight for the long walk back to the car. And the drive out of the city and into the dark of rural Western Mass. The salt trucks were out covering the roads with rock salt as we arrived back in Amherst and the first flakes began fall as we drove up over Orchard Hill.

National Handwriting Day

Today (Jan 23), for National Handwriting Day, I will write a postal letter, by hand, to send to my brother. But that's not a fluke or one-off event.

Over the past several years, I'd noticed that my handwriting had degraded. In college, I could fill multiple blue-books for an hour exam. But in January, I wrote two thank-you cards to relatives for Christmas gifts and could barely write a paragraph without my hand cramping. Phil and I decided to do something about it and began exchanging postal letters.

So far, I've written 6 or 7 letters. It also gave me an excuse to look for appropriate stationery (A J Hastings, in Amherst, has a very nice selection) and to get some new pens (the Pilot Varsity is nice — and even cheaper at Hastings). My handwriting has already improved somewhat and my hand doesn't hurt as much when I write.

Phil has gone farther and is working to relearn cursive. I learned cursive in elementary school, but reverted to block printing as soon as it was no longer required. I fear that I'm far too lazy to relearn cursive now.

While I was in Boston recently, we stayed at the Hilton and I had imagined that I would find a few pages of stationery and envelopes -- as was traditional at a good hotel. But I was disappointed to find nothing to write on but a tiny note pad by the phone. I asked at the desk, where the friendly lady sounded like she'd never heard of stationery before. But she helpfully gave me a business envelope a few pages of printer paper (that were evidently from the recycle bin, as they had some printer garbage on them -- just a few characters on each page as sometimes happens when a laser printer has an error.) But they were sufficient to write a letter.

Afterwards, I went to the post-office in the Prudential Center and asked to buy some "pretty stamps" to mail my letter. The young woman seemed mystified. "You mean, like, to send a birthday card?"

"Well, no," I replied, brandishing the envelope. "It's just a letter. Do you have any pretty stamps?"

"Yes," she said. Then she just sat there looking at me.

"Um. Can you show me some?" She looked irritated and began casting around herself as though it was a totally novel question. I spotted a commemorative sheet of stamps behind her and asked to see it. She passed it over and it was perfect enough that, after paying and then affixing one to my letter, I left with a warm glow.

Writing letters is fun. Silly, perhaps, and not particularly useful. But fun.

Next thing, I'll be digging out my old sealing wax and seals.

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