Tuesday, September 18, 2018

Publication announcement: New short story available!

A week ago Friday, my short story "Being Human" was published in Flame Tree Publishing's Robots and Artificial Intelligence collection. This anthology of short stories combines classic stories by L. Frank Baum, Jerome K. Jerome, and Ambrose Bierce with twenty new stories, including my own! This was my first pro-rate story sale, and I couldn't have asked for a more beautiful venue!

I wanted to write a story that could be read at two levels. On the one hand, it's straightforwardly a classic "robot upgrades from inorganic body to organic body" story, and I hope that read that way it is a rewarding way to read it. Originally I'd intended to have quite a bit more happen after Laura leaves the clinic and meets Asiya and her mother, but when I reached the point of having to write those scenes, they felt forced and awkward and unnecessary. In the end, the story was quite short, but, hopefully, still complete.

But on a deeper level, the story has very little to do with robots at all. A few months prior to when I wrote the story (which was in October 2017), a friend on FB had a link to this What is your gender? quiz, with hilarious results. I took the quiz myself, and was decidedly pleased that my gender came out as "Fine. Seriously, it’s completely fine. Nothing wrong here at all. This is a totally acceptable and normal gender with which to find yourself." But a friend of mine's result was "Robot" which somehow struck a chord with me. "Robot" may not describe my gender, but it does describe how hard it sometimes feels to be a human and to interact with humans. It is so exhausting trying to keep track of where my body is placed, and what I do with my hands and feet, and to pay attention to what people are saying, and what I should say, and how I can time my trips so that I arrive not too soon and not too late, and everything. All of that, I put into Laura. Every single thing she tells herself as she walks down the street she's never walked down before (but which is in fact modeled after Old Elvet, in Durham, England, and the building that she enters is strongly reminiscent of the old shire hall that is across the street from my office) is something that I tell myself as I try to navigate the world. So it is my hope that someone will read the story, and see themself in Laura, in the same way that I put myself into her.

And all the rest of you people, who don't do these calculations, who don't have the running commentary in your heads, have you ever thought that maybe you're the weird ones

Wednesday, July 25, 2018

Publication announcement: New short story available!

Today my flash fic story "The Bargain" was published in Impact: Queer Sci Fi's Fifth Annual Flash Fiction Anthology, edited by J. Scott Coatsworth!

I'd had the idea for this story for awhile -- the kernel was the phrase/feeling of "people looking right through you", that feeling where it's not that people ignore you, but that you simply don't impinge upon their lives at all. What if it's because you're already dead? -- but never had quite the right context to develop it in. When I saw the flash fic contest, and the theme "impact", I figured I'd give it a go. I generally find flash fic very difficult, and my first drafts of this story definitely showed this. There were, strangely enough, too many words.

Finally, a day or two before the deadline, I radically rewrote it, with a very different narrative voice, and it worked much better -- well enough that it got accepted. I'm looking forward very much to reading the rest of the stories in the anthology, to see how others handled the same topic in the same constraints. (And G is looking forward to me reading them aloud to her.)

Wednesday, June 20, 2018

Publication announcement: New short story available!

Last night I got the exciting news that the Wavelengths anthology edited by Jessica Augustsson and containing my long short story (almost a novelette!) "The Platform Between Heaven and Earth" has been published! Here are purchase links: paperback, US; kindle, US; paperback, UK; kindle, UK.

I thought I'd devote a post to talking about what went in to writing this story. I wrote it during Camp NaNoWriMo April 2017, with an original goal of 15k, reduced to 11k about 3 weeks in, and the story ended up being ~10975 words. The inspiration came from an off-hand comment a friend made, when we were visiting the first weekend of the month, about how "language was made for us to miscommunicate with each other". Well, what is that if not inspiration for a tower of Babel story? It made me think, what must it have been like, to have been present at the shift from everyone being able to speak to each other, to suddenly having a communicative rift. What would it be like to no longer be able to speak with those who spoke with just the night before?

Then began the research. The single most important thing for me was to get the names of the characters right, so my research started with looking up info on feminine names in the Old Babylon period. The first thing I found was Marten Stol, "Old Babylonian Personal Names", Studi Epigrafici e Linguistici sul Vicino Oriente antico 8 (1991), which had an amazingly detailed collection of information, including a number of examples of women's names. One of the footnotes in that article led me, inadvertently to W. F. Leemans, Foreign trade in the Old Babylonian period as revealed by texts from southern Mesopotamia, which proved to be one of the most fascinating non-fiction books I've read in a long time -- and one of the few that I've read cover to cover without having been contracted to write a review of it! It was full of vocabulary and anecdotes and letters and information about temple practices; pretty much all of the little details in the story come from that book, such as the use of silver, carnelians, and "fish-eyes" (not known what these are; perhaps pearls?) as temple tithes; burasu, a type of incense made from juniper; and most satisfying of all was that from the information in Stol's article -- specifically: "Similarly, in a cloistered community of priestesses, Amat-Beltani considered the priestess Beltani as her 'matriarch'." (p. 203) -- I had hypothesized the name Amat-Ninkarrek, for someone dedicated to the goddess Ninkarrek, and then I found an example of that name in Leemans' book. I was wicked smug about that. All of the other names found in the story are actual documented names, and Selebum does indeed mean 'fox'.

The gods and goddesses mentioned are all ones especially venerated at the towns/cities they were connected with, and for this I found Ancient Mesopotamian Gods and Goddesses a very helpful starting point for my research.

Significant research was done regarding the history of the Babel myth itself, the surrounding geography, and the relative chronologies and timelines. For this, Wikipedia was invaluable, particularly with locating the various cities and estimating distances between them, and providing older forms of their names, and giving me basic information about the construction and decoration of ziggurats. As far as I was able to determine, current scholarship identifies the zuggurat Etemenanki, dedicated to Marduk in the city of Babylon, was either the inspiration for the tower of Babel story, or the tower itself. The title of the story comes from the translation of the name, "the temple of the foundation of heaven and earth", also translated house of the platform between heaven and earth.

One of the things I learned while researching the history of the myth is that the idea that the confusion of languages was God's punishment for our hubris was quite a late interpretation, and that in a pre-Christian context or rather a pre-Greek context, 'hubris' was not really a concept that made sense to speak of in this context. (For more info on the former, see Sabrina Inowlocki, "Josephus' Rewriting of the Babel Narrative (Gen. 11:1-9)", Journal for the Study of Judaism in the Persian, Hellenistic, and Roman Period, Vol. 37, No. 2 (2006), pp. 169-191). This meant I had to find another reason for why these events would occur that couldn't be predicated on a vengeful, punishing God. I'm still rather pleased with how I managed to do this in the end.

The game that Belti and her friends play in the evenings is a variation of the Royal Game of Ur.

This was an immensely satisfying story to write, and I learned so much from the research -- this post covers only a few of the sources I read, or the links that I've saved in my notes.

Tuesday, June 5, 2018

What I'm going to do on my summer vacation

It's June. My last grades were handed in on Friday. I had a brilliant weekend off followed by a one-day workshop in Antwerp. I'm now back home, dealing with a bit of admin, and after that...basically there is nothing stopping me from plunging in to my summer writing plans.

But one thing I've learned is that it always takes a day or two to transition; I ca'nt just go full-out marking for a month and then jump straight into writing; projects need some time to meld and rest and simmer, while I figure out which one is the right one to do next. Part of that process involves figuring out just what the projects I want to complete are, so here's me, making a list [note, this is just of academic projects I want to do over summer]:

  • "Silencing Voices: Women, Self-censorship, and Logic in the Middle Ages": I presented a draft of this in Minenapolis a at the end of April, and a full version needs to be done by the end of January 2019. To get this from draft to final stage, I'm going to need to read a whole bunch more primary sources than I have done.
  • "Possible Impossibilities"/"Possible Impossibilities in Medieval Disputations": This paper has been sitting at ~75% done since I presented it in Konstanz in, um, 2012. I don't know why I haven't been able to finish it, but there have been so many people I've promised it to when it's done, that I'd really like to get that wrapped up and off my plate.
  • A chapter on an early 20th C female logician for a book on women in philosophy by women in philosophy for women who aren't yet in philosophy that an ex-student of mine is editing. I need to figure out whom I want to write about!
  • I'd like to spend more time figuring out What problem Ladd was trying to solve.
  • What, exactly does Grosseteste say about logic and the study of logic in De artibus?
  • Revise #TheNovel. [edited to add]
  • Paper for symposium in Singapore. [edited to add]
  • 5-7 pages responding to a paper on contradictory Christology. [edited to add]

I also hope to lay down some of the groundwork for the two projects (one on fandom and philosophy, the other on spatial and temporal logics for building chronologies and maps for stories) that will be my focus during next academic year when I have two terms of research leave. But in the meantime, those five projects should keep me busy over the next four months, especially in tandem with fiction writing and also hopefully referee reports coming back on papers currently in submission. I also want to do some very basic feasibility research related to my grand plan for world domination.

May writing wrap-up

So...May was an odd month! I barely cracked 20k, with an average of just over 700 words a day, and for the first time since September I failed my goal of 400 words a day for 5 out of every 7 days; one long weekend involving a conference in Ireland and a medieval re-enactment event meant I just didn't get anything written. That's the first three-day stretch I haven't written in 6 months, which is something to be proud of!

From the rest of the bar graph, it's pretty clear what I was doing: May is marking month! There were reports on MA theses, answer keys for two final exams, letters of recommendation, and more that I can't even remember -- it all tends to blur together and once it's over I don't really want to think about it any more!

Ordinarily, I think I would've been disappointed at how little "real work" (aka nonfiction) I wrote that month, but when I put this month in context with others, I see that it's okay for me to have a "down" month, especially since it was legitimately filled with exam-related stuff instead, and starting this month I've got four months that should have almost no admin whatsoever. (Almost. So far this month, pretty much all I've done is admin...) Also, at least some of what went into homework answer keys will end up eventually in my textbook, so that's some consolation -- and that's also why I so assiduously count all my words. Just because it's "merely" admin doesn't mean that it doesn't positively contribute to my research profile.

What I am pleased with is how much fiction I managed to write -- it's a piddly amount in comparison to other months, but there were a couple of things I wanted to work on, and I managed to do so. I'm looking forward to summer being a time when I can finish up a few things I've half started.

Monday, May 21, 2018

Speculations, or, a day in the life of inside my head

(Dear friends, I need your help reminding me that I don't actually want to start a publishing house. I don't want to deal with finances. I don't want to deal with taxes. I don't want to deal with marketing. I don't want to deal with advertising. I don't want to deal with website hosting. Really. So tell me why/that the below is a bad idea, to help me remember this.)

Normally when I write on this blog, I try to frame things in a relatively linear narrative, even if I don't have an argument I'm trying to make. But this isn't really how the inside of my head looks. This post, you're going to get a only-very-lightly-editing transcript of things I've been thinking about the last few days.

  • Hunh, it's been like two months since I submitted that Plato paper to the emotions journal. I wonder when I'll hear back from them. Eh, probably not until the end of summer.
  • Gosh. If that had been one of my fiction submissions, I'd be checking the Grinder daily and calculating what it means when it's been 1, 4, 7, 20 days without rejection, or when someone else's story submitted after mine has already been rejected and mine hasn't.
    • I really wish there was such a thing as the Grinder for academic journals.
  • It's really strange how the norms differ between SFF mags and academic journals. With few exceptions, the response times for the former are so much quicker.
    • That's because there's no peer review.
    • But there are slush piles and slush readers.
    • But that isn't the same. Remember? You point to this as something you like about fiction, that it's judged on a subjective basis, that a rejection doesn't mean "your story sucks" but "it's not to our taste/doesn't fit our next issue/didn't grab us/wasn't right for us". And it's important we have peer review.
    • Wait, why is it? What would happen if we published papers because we thought they were interesting/had something useful to say/were enjoyable to read?
    • We'd be inundated with CRAP.
    • But I'm sure SFF journals are inundated with crap too.
    • Yes, but somehow they manage to extract non-crap and publish good stories. With a short turnaround time. AND they pay.
  • Oooh, that's right. There's another reason why things differ: They pay.
    • The thing about paying markets, is that they probably get even more crap than non-paying ones, because of the potential reward of submitting.
    • But somehow or other, the possibility of payment also attracts the high quality submissions, and SFF journals manage to weed out the crap and publish the "good stuff" (in the sense that what they publish is what people want to read and come back to read more of).
    • "Because they pay money for what they publish, they’re likely to publish better quality stuff" seems to get the causal order entirely wrong.
    • Yes, but it 'hurts' more to pay to publish something bad, so there's an onus to only publish good things.
    • Still. There does seem to be some connection between venues that pay and venues that publish high quality work.
  • Imagine what it would be like if academic journals paid people to publish their work.
    • Pro rate fiction markets pay $.06/word. For your typical 12,000 word journal article, that’s $720.
    • Gosh. That’s a lot. I wonder how SFF venues manage to fund that.
    • [pause to enumerate all the options I've seen/can think of:
      1. Subscription fees.
      2. Paid advertisements.
      3. Patreons.
      Ad (1): But what about the SFF journals that publish "open-access"? Ad (2): Hah, what kind of advertisements can you imagine an academic journal attracting?! Ad (3): Hmm, there's a thought. Would people seriously commit to supporting an open-access, paying-to-author philosophy journal?]
  • Suppose they would. Well, I'm pretty sure they wouldn't until it was well-established.
    • Well, I am in a financial position where I could probably fund $.01/word out of my own pocket, for a select number of articles/issue, maybe at 2 issues/year. At least to get things going.
  • Gosh, if I were to found such an open-access, paying-to-author philosophy journal, what would I want to publish?
    • Stuff I find interesting.
    • That's ad hoc. You can't market that.
    • Hmmm, what draws together everything I like to read and write? If it were fiction, that would be easy: It's broadly 'speculative'.
    • What would count as 'speculative' philosophy?
    • Well...philosophy that asks or answers a 'What if?' 'What if meaning were compositional?' ' 'What if we looked at medieval logical treatises to find out what kind of temporal operators they use?' 'What if we could axiomatise common knowledge?' 'What if we try to take seriously the practice of producing and consuming fandom and analyse it from a philosophical point of view?'
  • Hmm. You might be on to something.
  • I totally am. 'Cause you know what we could do? We could call it Speculations , and make everyone who submitted a paper also include the 'What if?' question they are trying to ask/answer as part of their abstract?
  • That would be one way of tying everything together to make it look like you had a coherent project.
  • And you know what would be even better? We wouldn't have to restrict ourselves to publishing nonfiction! We could indulge that other daydream we keep returning to, of making a venue for the publication of 'philosophical' fiction. We could publish BOTH.
  • And make the authors of the fiction pieces also tell us the 'What if' their story addresses.
  • See?! Isn't this a brilliant idea?! We can run both nonfic and fic through a 'slush pile' which will probably result in a lot of desk rejections with brief comments ('didn’t grab me', 'too much stereotyping', 'don't feel qualified to judge the results'), but since we're paying, we wouldn't publish anything without vetting it properly, e.g., double check the results ourselves, or find a willing referee to look over the paper, but only in a short turn around time, focusing on the question 'would you stake money on the results of this paper?' or 'would you stake someone else's money on the results of this paper?' Certainly if we're paying out of pocket, we'd want to have some reason to think the papers were good. Of course that might make the journal rather skewed towards my own interests...but this isn't really a problem with spec fic venues, so why should that be a problem with nonfic? And if we we could always eventually bring in slush readers who could at least read things from outside our area of specialisation and say 'this could be decent, look into it further' or 'definitely chuck this'. And if we published fiction in addition to nonfiction, we'd be eligible for a listing on the Grinder.
  • Well, that seals it.

So, peeps, tell me (why) this is a bad idea!

Wednesday, May 2, 2018

April Writing Wrap-Up

April was an odd month. First, there was Easter and the concomitant holiday. Then, the last of my four deadlines was April 6, which meant a furious week of nonfiction writing. After that it was one weekend conference followed by another conference the end of the next week, and another the weekend after that. Because I was going to be working two whole weekends as a result, I took three days off while G was still out of school. Then my term started up again, and so did all the admin work. So it was swings and roundabouts when it came to what I was writing and then; still, I managed an average of 846 words a day, and wrote at least 5 days out of every 7, which, considering all the conferences and childcare, I feel is damn good.

Overall, I wrote just over 25k, my 2nd most productive month of the year so far. I think what makes me happiest about the month was that I managed to complete short stories for two deadlines. Both of them I finished on the day, so in May my goal is to finish one BEFORE a deadline; but considering that one of them I only realised 6 days previously that I needed to rewrite it from the POV of a different character, and I wrote the bulk of it while on the train up to St Andrews the day before it was due (and the day it was due found me getting up early to bang away in my hotel room before the conference started -- AND staying up late after the conference dinner to finish it!), I'm just thrilled I finished it.

Looking at the bar chart, it feels strange that I wrote so little nonfiction; it felt like my Easter break was way more productive than that stat displays, but I think what's tripping me up is that most of my Easter term productivity happened in March!

I've got two more teaching days this week, and then exam season starts. I've already started concocting grand plans for my summer productivity...bring on May! In the next few days I intend to write up my grand plans, because there's nothing like public accountability to keep me going.