Cat Is Out of the Bag

I am the new assistant for Bree Ogden over at D4EO Literary Agency. I’ve spent the weekend responding to queries, and now feel like a PROFESSIONAL dream crusher. So thankful to have Maria Vicente available for handholding and extra guidance!

Because of all of this work from Bree, I have been thinking a lot about the intersection between horror and paranormal. The recent spike in sparkling vampires and cuddly werewolves has moved a lot of the traditional supernatural horror characters into a category that contains basically no horror elements at all. So I wonder– can vampires even BE scary anymore? Or are we left with only zombies as the last remaining supernatural horror not tainted by a desire to love and understand their dark and mysterious ways? I guess there’s still nuclear monsters– Godzilla and friends– and their decedents, GMO monsters made from a gene-splicing Frankenstein. Even still, I am left feeling that the list of things that go bump in the night is quickly dwindling.

Meanwhile… I applied to work with Bree because of her involvement with Underneath the Juniper Tree magazine. If y’all are not reading this thing, you are very seriously missing out. And for the writerly types, the next round of submissions is due September 13th. (That’s a Friday. Friday the 13th. Don’t forget.) I don’t have anything to do with assisting on magazine duties, but I strongly (STRONGLY) suggest that you submit (and read) the next issue. Because it will be awesome.

Other cool haunted halloween news for writers:

Everyone get their name in for Pen & Muse’s Dark Carnival Writer and Illustrator Showcase. Do it. Do it. It is going to be awesome. There are so many good names on this thing, and so many fabulous topics, I can’t wait. Soon, maybe, I will start posting hints about my knife throwing story. If y’all are good. If not…

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State of the Cait

Changes are coming to the website. I hope to move things over to caitstuff.com soon. If not, expect things around here to at least start looking a little different. Which, to be honest, it’s about time. I haven’t made any visual changes to my blog since… 2010?

I’m teaching two writing classes in October. There will be more details coming in the very near future. Spread the word, get excited. Fabulous things are on their way.

Read two amazing new short stories by Ashly Nagrant today. I am hoping to return the favor and send two new ones of mine to her soon. What I am really hoping for, though, is that these new ones by her get put in an anthology soon, so that I can inflict them on other people.

I am doing another Very Cool Thing that I do not yet have direct permission to talk about. Sorry to tease.

I took a class in metal smithing and cold connections for jewelry this summer from Kim St. Jean. Since then, I have been thinking up plans for a jellyfish necklace and an awesome steampunk mardi gras mask. Also, many ideas for bracelets. It might finally be time for me to open an etsy shop.

Just started Suzanne LaFleur‘s new book, Listening for Lucca. I think it’s her best one yet, and I’m only on page 25! I can’t wait to share it with my sister at Christmas, as she is an even bigger fan of LaFleur’s works than I am.

Tired of Typing

I need a new computer. Or rather, a new computer would improve my quality of life. The old one still works, and for that I am grateful. But it has gotten a bit slow, a bit fussy. Prone to overheating, not so good at running for extended periods without freezing and crashing, unable to handle the load of someone multi-tasking through multiple programs at once.

At the same time, my computer usage has changed. I have a smart phone, and a tablet. I tweet from my phone, I read on my tablet, and I do a fair bit of web browsing from both. Which means my laptop has gone from the fun place where I spend all my free time to where I go to work.

This in turn makes me prone to stall. To avoid “butt in chair”. The computer is no fun anymore, and that makes the writing itself a drag.

But not writing, of course, is even worse. So instead I have been working on things old school, pens and pencils, loseleaf and notebooks. It has been a disorganized mess, but it has felt good, freeing.

And so wonder if all of this is also just a metaphor. My computer freezing up, not handling the multi-tasking as well as it once used to. Am I switching back to paper, not because my computer is so old and slow, but because I am the one needing the break?

I bought a new notebook today. It is purple.

My computer is feeling mighty jealous.

Sometimes uninspired

Botanical gardens

I am a person who likes to keep multiple projects juggling at once, on the belief that it means that when I get bored or stuck on the one, I can switch to something else, while my subconscious percolates on the project that is tripping me up.

Every so often, it backfires though. I look around at a whole room of things “in progress” and wonder what I am doing here, and feel unsure of where to start, and paralyzed.

This afternoon has been one of those days.

Finding Other Small Fish

This post was inspired by Ellie Di, who if you don’t know and worship already, you’re missing out on something fabulous.

At the end of February, I was feeling very discouraged about the internet. I had been reading too many of the comments, not having good human connections, and even my sacred internet safe space (y’all know who you are) had gotten more and more quiet and less fun to interact with.

My husband has a motto: “If you’re feeling unloved, it’s a sign that you need to be more demonstrative in your own affection.” So, after a month of hiding out, and after who-knows-how-long puttering around waiting for others to entertain me online, I decided to make a point of spending more time on twitter interacting, instead of just lurking or whining.

As luck would have it, that very same day Ellie Di tweeted, wanting to know if twitter was dead, and why was nobody commenting anymore. Various ideas were thrown out. A lot of them were about the proportion of promotional tweets. Some of it was backlash against too much branding, or feeling like the good community that used to exist on twitter had gotten buried in just too many voices talking at once.

I’ve been thinking about that conversation ever since. (I am excellent at stewing.) The conclusion I have come to, after many days of pondering, is that part of the problem is trying to find other people to talk to. Everyone follows the same few celebrities, and we tweet at them almost incessantly. Whole twitter accounts are formed just to shout at Lady Gaga, hoping that maybe one day you’ll catch her at the right moment for her to send you 140 characters in return.

Maybe you follow a couple of “minor celebrities” as well, people with only a couple of thousand followers, people who have time to interact with most people who message them. But they still don’t have time to follow-back, to do anything other than respond when they are tweeted to, or to start the conversation.

Which leaves a whole lot of people, like me, who can respond to anything, but can’t start a conversation themselves. People who I know are interesting. People who I would love to interact with. But how do you find them? We’ve gotten past the days when strangers made new life-long friends after a couple of “that lunch looks tasty” tweets. Now it’s a bit strange to get new followers out of the blue. The first question is “what are they selling? what are they trying to promote?” And that seems rather backwards.

So since I’ve been back, I’ve been searching for new faces. Looking at the other people who respond to Ellie Di, and following them. Following people who tweet at Chuck Wendig or Olga Nunes. Paying careful attention to the people with a mere hundred or two followers. Trying to make friends. Trying to reach out.

If we wait for the celebrities to support us, we will wait forever for our turn in line. If we can find each other, and say hello, we will all stand that much stronger. We’re only as lonely as we make ourselves out to be.

Thanks to the Mentors

This morning I read a very moving post by S. Jae-Jones about writing/creative mentors that got me thinking about the important people who have mentored me. I write this with some trepidation after Amanda Palmer’s somewhat crushing recent encounter with a former mentor who recently went on to trash her in the comments of her TED talk. Things change, people change, and you can’t always trust that the respect and gratitude felt as a mentee is returned by the poor soul that put up with your artistic flounderings.

And boy, was I floundering when these fine people put up with me. (Often, I feel like I am still floundering now, even as I am slowly becoming the mentor to other writers!)

My very first writing mentor was David Blixt. I was only 11 or 12 years old at the time, and boy was I awkward. At writing. At everything. At talking with adults. But my mother signed me up for a community writing class for children, and I must have taken that class, 2-3 times a year, for about four years. When I first signed up for David’s class, I didn’t know fiction meant you were allowed to make up stories. I think I spent four or five weeks doing Writing Down the Bones exercises that just involved “I don’t know anything about this”.

Finally, it clicked, though. And life has never been the same since.

David introduced me to Jonathan Carroll stories, quoting from memory the beginning of Sleeping In Flame about regret, a story opening that will always be in my top three story openings. (The other two are the beginning to Conversations in Sicily and If on a Winter’s Night a Traveler… but more on that latter one in a bit!) It was my first introduction to “urban fantasy”– the idea that something could be set in the real world, and yet be fantastical as well was entirely new to me, and I plowed through all of Carroll’s stories in a couple of months, and never really recovered.

He also put up with the worst of my surrealist/dadaist middle-school nonsense as I wrote stories about drunk pineapples, and created a 30+ page “never ending sentence” full of non sequitur run-ons. These things were not his fault. What was his fault was his encouragement to keep going, and his persistence in getting me “butt on chair” to do the writing, when, like most 14-year-olds, I was bouncing all over the room and wanting to chat up a storm instead.

David and I parted ways when I went to high school, but I found him again today on twitter. I also found my second mentor on twitter, the fabulous Dean Bakopoulos. Dean signed up to teach a class on writing at my high school, and looking to replace the hole of no longer having David’s class, I quickly enrolled.

(It’s not particularly relevant to this story, but it was in Dean’s class where I fell in love with my husband. Dean brought out the best in both of us as writers, and while I will already admit that I had a crush, it was really the stories my husband wrote in that class that turned things serious!)

Dean introduced me to Italo Calvino, and particularly to If on a Winter’s Night a Traveler. He took the undirected surrealism I had brought with me from middle school and channeled it into flash fiction pieces that had punch and structure. We read Chuck Rosenthal‘s “The Nicest Kid in the Universe” and debated the role of the narrator’s mother at the end of the piece.

Most importantly, Dean got me asking the question “What’s at stake?” A refrain that I heard for years afterwards, in every writing class I ever took, Dean’s introduction to the idea helped me turn odd into meaningful, and gave me the needed philosophy to understand and analyze any stories I ran across.

Dean, I’m sorry that every time you said the phrase “what’s at stake” I wanted to turn it into a joke about what was “in the steak”. I was 15. I didn’t mean it.

He also had us read Billy Aronson‘s play Little Red Riding Hood. Wickedly funny stuff. It instilled in me a love of word-play that has gone right into my poetry, and has never left me alone ever since. Eyelid melon Friday, if I do say so myself.

There have been others, too, of course. Geeta Kothari taught me most of what I know about revision. Everything I don’t know about revision isn’t her fault– she tried, she really did. And Jeffrey Steiger taught me something indescribable about living the written word– the narrative difference that is equivalent to painting from a photograph versus painting from life.

I wish I had had more time to work with Shelley Jackson while I was living in New York. She was the “mentor that got away”– I was too shy, too intimidated by her talent to request more of her attention. I wish I had had the nerve. What I did learn from her sticks with me in every story I write. She made ideas exciting again, at a time when I was otherwise pretty burned out.

So thank you to the mentors, the giants I’ve stood on. I’m not sure what there is to see yet, but it’s thanks to you that I have a view.

No FOMO Here

Okay, maybe a bit of Fear-Of-Missing-Out is inevitable during SXSW madness. But I’ve been plenty busy already, even without a badge. And the week is only looking to get busier.

Last Wednesday I went to an Uncollege meetup at El Chilito. I will admit to going primarily because my Bureau of Angst Management collaborator was one of the organizers. I hadn’t really looked into the whole uncollege philosophy, and while there is definite overlaps between it and the questions I am interested in, it is not, in itself, a thing that I have particularly strong feelings about one way or another.

However, it was really good meetup, with fabulous conversations and lots of interesting ideas being floated. Since it was a small group that turned out, we really got a chance to all partake in one central conversation, and had several minds turning over questions important to each of us. Jo Welch had some fabulous ideas about the importance of education facilitators as opposed to traditional teachers/instruction. And Lisa Betts-LaCroix hipped us to David Blake‘s Degreed project, which we all agreed was brilliant and well-needed. We ended the night when it got too cold to be at an outdoor taco shop any longer, but it was hard to separate, as we were all still in an intense discussion as to the ideal size learning community. What size opens doors and opportunities as opposed to being too large to be useful?  I’ve seen similar discussions in the social marketing world about the size of one’s network, and it was interesting to see it debated in terms of education and knowledge resources.

Thursday night, I went to the BASHH for the first time in over a year, and remembered why it was one of my favorite regular events in Austin. So many cool and interesting people, and just a grand opportunity to go and talk to strangers. My best chance-encounter of the evening was with Cameron Paxton of Raise Your Vis. We had a good conversation about his ideal clients, which then turned into a FABULOUS conversation about what SEO is, and how awful it is when people Do It Wrong, and how that ruins it (and by “it” I mean EVERYTHING– the whole internet) for everyone, those who would buy and those who would sell online alike.

Fact about Cameron: he wants to move to Estonia. When he achieves this mission, he will probably blog about it here. You know you want to know about Estonia. I know I do.

Also had a good conversation with a teacher from Leander about fancy cars, funny license plates, and those Redbox rickshaws that are popping up all over town for SXSW visitors needing a ride. I think every time I’ve seen one so far this week, I have been with people who have commented on it. They’re definitely getting noticed. I think people are sad, though, that it’s not actually a service to deliver movies to your door like pizza.

Last night I went into the downtown madness, but not for anything SXSW related. Instead, I went to see a friend perform in the Maestro show at the Hideout Theatre. Aside from a tragic groin-region injury sustained by one of the players, a fabulous time was had by all. The highlight of the evening was most certainly Jayme Ramsay (of Hideout’s fabulous show Strange Worlds fame) doing a one-woman performance of a human-flesh-loving, mother’s-love-seeking Winnie the Pooh.

And the madness has only just begun…