So Much to Say, So Little Time: One Big Update

So much has happened, and I barely have time to mention it all. Let's do this step-by-step.

The 2016 OWFI Writers' Conference

The Oklahoma Writers' Federation (OWFI) had its annual writers' conference on May 12th through the 14th. I always learn a great deal at this thing. I've been going for three years now, and every time I come back inspired to get started on a project that's been rattling in my head.

This year, my writing group and I volunteered to serve as customer service at the registration desk and in the pitch room—where you can pitch your story ideas to agents, editors, or publishers and see whether they're into them. We didn't get to go to many sessions, which is traditionally where I learn the most. This year, however, I hung out with a lot of people. I had an opportunity to sit and chat and drink with acclaimed novelist Steven James and Noah Ballard, an agent at Curtis Brown Ltd. They had a lot to say about the writing and editing processes that really helped me to put into focus what I want to do in my second draft of Stormborn: Thirteen Hearts to Start a Storm, Book One of my new series.

The pitch room was pretty amazing, too. Noah Ballard and Dr. Uwe Stender, founder of Triada US, both talked to me and gave me insightful tips on getting my floundering novel Mister Kiefer to work. Thanks to them, I've been able to recapture the magic of starting that story.

I had awesome talks with Christine Jarmola and Mari Farthing, both of whom were instrumental in my becoming the new webmaster for OWFI. Mari in particular has been tremendously awesome, and I'm pretty sure that she'd be fine if I started calling her my friend in public. It turns out that she and I have a lot in common, with one exception; she makes setting look easy. Her writing is nothing if not vivid and engaging.

And who can forget Carol Johnson and Eric Reitan? I've known Carol for a while, and she's a deeply endearing person with a heart as large as a house. Eric is just cool. Apart from being a fellow writer, he also teaches philosophy at Oklahoma State University. He and I sat together and talked about Plato for a while. He, too, had ideas for a villain that exists in the Stormborn universe, though he doesn't present himself in the first book.

I returned to Tulsa excited and overwhelmed by all of the socialization I did at the conference. I needed rest before getting back to work, and I didn't get any. I've been hard at work finishing Thirteen Hearts to Start a Storm so that I can begin editing it into a more viable second draft. Then I have to get to work on Mister Kiefer so that I can query a certain agent with it. When I have some time, I'll have to make some new additions to my Friends page.

Becoming the OWFI Webmaster

This is probably the hardest volunteer job I've had in awhile, and it requires much attention. I have become the official webmaster for OWFI, and I created its new website with a lot of coding that I hadn't expected to have to do. You never know what problems you're going to need to solve when you're building a website until you come across them. Fortunately, I had some help.

Adrean, thanks for standing over my shoulder and telling me what's what. I needed that.

Mari and I are working on a couple of things on the site, including making it interactive enough that users will want to visit it when there's not a major OWFI event looming. Like this writing contest. It was nice to see the majority of the work done. There's still a lot of little things left for me to do on the website, but I'm taking a short break to catch up on other things while people peruse the new content.

The Award-Winning "Xinsheng"

I won three awards at the OWFI Writing Contest! My one first place award came in the science fiction/fantasy category for "Xinsheng," a story that was published in Dark and Dangerous Things IIIAccording to the people who have read it so far, I should warn people not to eat before or while reading "Xinsheng." It's got elements of horror, ergo why it fit in the anthology wherein it was published.

I also won an honorable mention for the poem "A Melancholy Gift" and second place for the novel Pyrrhic, which I'll be continuing to work on beginning in November, December, or January, as time allows. I gotta get a new Stormborn book out, after all. And my editor has me on deadlines that I must keep.

Stormborn

I finally finished the first draft of Stormborn: Thirteen Hearts to Start a Storm. Yesterday. I've had this problem for a while where I get to within one or two chapters of finishing a story before I get stuck. It's not writer's block. More like writing anxiety. Or work-finishing anxiety. I'm a big procrastinator, and finishing things gives me tremendous anxiety—anxiety that only the threat of a looming deadline seems to push me past.

But it's over. Now I get to think about other things while I edit this 32,000-word monstrosity.

Mister Kiefer for Young Adults

As I think about other things, Noah and Uwe both seemed to agree that Mister Kiefer would be better as a YA novel. I agreed with them both, and it's making the novel much easier to write. I spoke to Adrean about it, and I realized that I have to censor myself less when I write YA than when I write for adults. She suggested that it's probably because teens and young adults tend to be more OK with the expression of strong emotions. Adults are more reserved, and they tend to expect the same from others; whether the other is another adult or a child.

I agreed with her, but I'm curious to hear what others think.

I'm a counselor who works primarily with teenagers. Maybe I just relate to them more. I don't feel very mature myself, and being emotionally reserved feels like a little death is happening in my chest. I'm excited to write for this audience. Ultimately, I think I was really missing my target audience for that book, which is a huge problem. Knowing who I want to read my writing makes it easier to write for them. Mister Kiefer is definitely for people like its main character, Adam Al-Wali. Less for people like its eponymous character, James Kiefer.

I'll probably post more about Mister Kiefer as time moves forward. Since it's such a big project—with a target date for querying of January 1, 2017—it only makes sense to pause every so often to blog about it.

Visiting with the Oklahoma City Writers

Last, but not least, Nevermore Edits and I are going to Oklahoma City to speak with the Oklahoma City Writers about writing nonconventional characters. I'm focusing my part of the talk on minority races and ethnicities in fiction because, honestly, we're not evenly represented in fiction. I found this out while writing "Xinsheng"; the main character, Alyssa Arreguin, is Chilean. But because her ethnicity isn't mentioned, people tended to assume that she was a White non-Hispanic.

I winced.

It's an important subject matter. In Stormborn: Thirteen Hearts to Start a Storm, a large number of the characters identify as gay or bi. The characters who are straight don't identify. At a critique group meeting, one person mentioned that it was "unrealistic" that such a large number of gays happened to exist in the same story—after all, only about 3% of the population identify as being lesbian, gay, bi, or trans.

I didn't mention that in a heterosexist society, straight people don't tend to identify, and erasure of the bisexual identity means that bi characters tend to get lumped in as gay or straight depending on the gender of the person they're dating at the time. I didn't mention that 13.2% of my characters weren't Black and 17% of my characters weren't Hispanic. I didn't mention that 19% of my characters don't have a disability. I didn't mention that not a single one of my characters identified as Muslim.

I didn't mention any of these things because we have rules, and authors aren't supposed to speak when their work is being critiqued. Fortunately, Shannon Iwanski came to the rescue with a scathing critique of our society, as well as of an editor who suggested that there was such a thing as "too many gays," which any reasonable person should find at least as offensive as someone pointing out that a story has "too many Blacks."

I won't say anymore because this talk is gonna be awesome, and I want to try and record it for posterity. If I manage that, I might put it up on YouTube and embed the video here.

See you all again later!

The New Ally

The last really big blog post I wrote was about something that I felt very passionate about but that made me very unhappy. The unhappiness that surrounded it was multiplied by some people's unwillingness to see beyond the scope of their own experiences. I'm bisexual. Some of my LGBT friends would rather I use the word "pansexual," but Bisexual.org says it's okay for me to keep calling myself "bi," and I'm not at my best around cookware.

When I came out, I was sixteen years old, and it was the year 2000. It's difficult to remember sometimes that there are very motivated, thoughtful, and amazing individuals who were born in that year. Some of whom I had the opportunity to meet at a retreat last Saturday. In Oklahoma, it can still be very difficult to be young and LGBT. In Miami, 15 years ago, I learned that many of my fears were unfounded.

I feared the worst, of course. My friends, mostly boys, would flee from the sight of me. They'd think I was a freak or worse. Being bisexual, by the way, doesn't soften the blow. Then I finally tore off the band-aid, and the response that my friends gave me was amazing. They were supportive, accepted me as I was, and things continued as normal except that I could share some things about me that I hadn't before—like the life-size poster of Leonardo DiCaprio I had up in my bedroom and my secret love for ★NSYNC.

But it wasn't enough. I don't know whether it was my fault or theirs or both of ours, but there was a singular, nagging sense that something had, in fact, changed. That one or more of us was trying to hard to filter through or accept something that was too difficult because, in 2000, there was no template for it. The word "straight ally" was a very new concept. So was the Gay-Straight Alliance, and there wasn't one on my campus at my school because—as far as I knew—I was the only student in the entire school who was openly anything other than straight.

Now it's 2015, and a gay boy's straight best friend is asking the former to the prom.

In Las Vegas, Nevada, "hella str8" Jacob Lescenski had decided to go to stag to his prom. Things hadn't gone as planned for him. "Hella gay" Anthony Martinez was a busy kid, planning school dances. One day, he got on Twitter to lament the fact that he didn't have a date to the prom. So Jacob says, "Why not?" and he has one of his friends help him invite his best friend to the prom.

Boys and girls have been able to go to the prom as friends for a long time. I'm not going to say how long because I'm not entirely sure, but it's definitely been a while. In the 90s, going stag to a prom was definitely a worse fate than at least finding someone—anyone—to go with you. Even Andie Walsh nearly walked away from the prom before finding Duckie to take her hand as they made their way into the ballroom. (That's an allusion to an 80s film, not a reference to a recent news article.)

But, for a very long time, the boy-girl rule remained in place. You didn't have to date, you didn't even have to dance together, but you had to have different parts because eww...or something. The first LGBT prom I attended took place in 2002, the year after my prom, nowhere near a school. It was the one you went to if you were LGBT and unlucky enough to want to dance with someone who shared the same plumbing as you did. That was me, my world, back then. I'm 31 years old now, and prom is way, way behind me.

But then I saw the article about Jacob and Anthony, two guys, best friends, going to prom together because going stag still sucks. I teared up, and I don't tear up easy. It reminded me of being back in high school, wondering what would've been if things I'd been born in a better time. And then I think about all the tears shed by all those old gay men, joyfully weeping at the fact that gay marriage is a fact in their lifetimes. Not a single LGBT person would be where we are today without our straight allies. I hope Jacob can serve as an example to those would-be allies who are still on the fence.

There's still so much work to do. So many people still facing discrimination at school or work, so many families who'd rather throw a child into the street than tolerate their having been born gay, so many states where gay marriage isn't legal, so many countries where it's a crime punishable by death. Across the country we face another wave of transphobic bathroom legislation. The fight is long and hard, but I think I'll always enjoy it when, 15 years later, I read an article that describes some act of humility, affection, love, or otherwise that wouldn't have been imaginable to me 15 years before.

It's a beautiful nostalgia that illuminates the strides we've made, and the peaks we've left to leap.