Deirdre Saoirse Moen

Sounds Like Weird

Revision Habits

28 September 2011

I’m really really really not a one-draft writer. At some point, I hope to dazzle you all with an illustration of how much I’m not a one-drafter, but today is not that day. Generally a first draft for me runs very short — somewhere between 1/3 and 3/4 of the final length.
To paraphrase how Tim Powers described my first drafts at Clarion: the stage is bare, the actors are auditioning as the scriptwriter’s in the front row re-writing the piece, and there’s only tape on the stage to tell them where to stand. They’re not quite that threadbare, but the layer I get written first is the plot (the piece he said this about, I’d gotten the bones down for a three-plotline short that was 3,800 words and, at most, 1/3 to 1/2 its final length).
Vylar Kaftan talks about her revision statistics, including her A, B, C system for stories.
So below are mine. My first drafts fall kind of between A and B. Right now, they’re in C shape, but if I were done re-thinking them, they’d be moved up to the next categories. Submitted Previously, well, those are Bs. Out at a Market and Sold, obviously, are As.
Until such time as I have a sufficiently developed draft, there’s no point in categorizing it, but most of my pieces need significant steeping. The most recent piece I have out at market was one I wrote the first draft of in 2007. The oldest is one I wrote the first draft of in 1990, one of the first shorts I wrote and one of the most difficult pieces I’ve written.

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"A Landscape of Ruins" Show Opening

26 September 2011

Today, the show with my photo “First Man” opens, though the reception is tomorrow.
Date: Tuesday, September 27
Time: 5-7 pm
Place: Foothill college, building 6100, 12345 El Monte Road, Los Altos Hills, CA. Closest freeway exit is El Monte exit from I-280.
Parking costs $2 (in quarters) in marked spaces; handicap parking is free with appropriate handicap placard/plate. Parking logistics below.

Campus map here.
For handicap parking, lot 8 is your best bet (two elevators required), followed by lot 3-A, which is fairly level. However, campus construction may make 3-A impractical. Everything else is hilly or farther away.

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Feeling Better

24 September 2011

Got that tooth out. The dentist didn’t have to use extreme measures, but it wasn’t the easiest extraction I’ve had. Nor was it the worst.
Despite my face being sore from the trauma, I feel so much better, enough so that I took a walk to help reduce the post-lidocaine shakes. That alone says how much better I’m doing.

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A Visit With Writers and My Thoughts from Last Night

24 September 2011

Last night, I went to go see my Clarion classmate, Catherine Holm read from her collection, My Heart Is a Mountain and talk about yoga practices in writing. Karen Joy Fowler [1], one of our Clarion instructors, was also there, as well as Cat’s brother Paul Dybiec, who is a clothing designer for maternity clothing maker Japanese Weekend, so we all went out for coffee afterward.
I got to East West early [2], so I was noodling in a notebook about Disbelievers and got some good ideas. One of my standard noodling ideas is: Imagine what 100 cool things in this universe might be and write them down. You likely won’t use all 100, but the goal is to get a few new ideas that will help you. In this case, I realized what a big tentpole scene about 3/4 of the way through the book will be. It is something that’ll create an aftermath, and it’s the big scene that forces the climax.
Catherine’s stories are often about relationship with the land and environment, living as she does on a farm in northern Minnesota. They reminded me of the Vermont writers I’d heard speak on similar topics. She read a wonderful piece about a woman being taken away from her farm into community housing.
There’s something about these stories, though, that always make me feel like the weird child. Don’t get me wrong, I am the weird child, but most of the time my life feels normal to me.
Back when I was in college, we had a group writing session where we sat around a conference table and wrote on the topic of “my mother’s cooking.” We then read our entries out loud to each other. I came near the end, so I got to hear everyone’s tales of white galley kitchens and sizzling poultry, and canning.
My piece was titled “Pounding Abalone.” Here’s an excerpt.

The few times mom and I collaborated on a meal were usually on a boat working in cramped quarters. Mom and Bill [my stepfather] were avid scuba divers; I preferred to snorkel. I remember sitting up on deck while the others sought food, sitting under a light blanket (to reduce glare) while reading a book. Once, a shadow of a lobster caught my attention under the blanket, startling me. It turns out that the lobster had crawled up the blanket about four feet before I noticed it. I got my revenge though —- I boiled him.
Mom would make a great bouillabaisse, simmering the sauce all day while out catching the fish for the soup. We usually had mostly shellfish—lobster, abalone bits, tiny shrimp—rather than fish.
By far my favorite sea dish was the one I usually got to prepare -— abalone. Abalone clings very hard to rocks and has to be pried not only off the rock but out of its shell. Once out, it doesn’t have the decency to just sit there and behave. No, it has to crawl all over. Abalone is inherently tough, so I would pound it with a meat tenderizer as it crawled across the cutting board. I’d stop wailing on it with the metal tenderizer and watch it to see if it had stopped moving, but it would curl up its edges and slide away.
When we were getting ready to cook, I’d cut the abalone up, but even that didn’t prevent it crawling. It would move in my hands as I rolled it in the batter mom made. Then, when she put it on the sizzling pan, only then would it stop moving.
Since the last time mom and I went out boating together, I’ve never had abalone properly prepared. I’m not sure if it was my pounding or her cooking, but perhaps it was simply the magic of shared experience.

I think everyone was horrified, but then I never heard tales of plucking chickens….
One of the people at the reading was a licensed therapist who asked some interesting questions. She specifically asked about ego in writing. I can’t remember the exact question she asked because my mind was already racing with the question’s implications, but it made me realize what it was that bothered me about the “thou shalt outline” writers: they’re ego and super-ego writers. I’m an id writer. I describe my writing as backing into a story with blinders: I can only see where I’ve been — at least until the story catches, and at many points thereafter. That is, by definition, id writing. It’s also why my first drafts can be so craptastic.
This is, btw, one of two reasons I dropped out of James Gunn’s workshop: it simply wasn’t compatible with my process.
Also, one of the writers who’s been on an e-mail list of women writers said that, for years, people were discussing craft issues. About a year ago, this flipped, and now most of the discussions were about marketing. This has depressed me as well; I’ve been noticing it more and more.
[1] A big thank you to Shweta Narayan. When I was having a rough emotional time a couple of years ago, I asked her for recommendations for a light book to help me through, and she recommended Karen’s Wit’s End. It was perfect, just exactly what I needed, and it was really nice to be able to tell Karen that.
[2] Due to a short in a power strip that tripped the circuit breaker to my office. Great.

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More On Dieting

22 September 2011

Jay Lake linked to an article on dieting: “Why Even Resolute Dieters Often Fail.”
I’ve become convinced the issue is deeper than that. In 2005, I wrote about a protein called Zonulin. In short, it determines how permeable your intestines are. My hypothesis (which apparently doesn’t apply for celiac disease, and possibly not for most cases of type 1 diabetes, either) is that it is an anti-starvation mechanism.
Catch is, letting in more stuff from the gut lets in a whole bunch of badness — the so-called leaky gut syndrome is, in fact, real. Elevated zonulin levels are also associated with some nasty autoimmune diseases other than celiac disease, including type 1 diabetes, multiple sclerosis, and rheumatoid arthritis.
I didn’t really spell out my hypothesis in detail before, so here goes:
1) You think you’re overweight (whether you are or not may not be important in this scenario).
2) You diet.
3) You trigger your body’s starvation reflex.
4) To avoid starvation, your body produces more zonulin to gather all the nutrients out of your gut.
5) This lets bacterial toxins in, as well as, well, crap, including stuff your liver’s already ejected.
6) Said toxins, after entering your blood stream, wreak havoc in your immune system.
7) You could eventually wind up with an autoimmune disease as a consequence. Which one is a matter of which toxins trigger which genetic expressions.
If there’s any truth to my hypothesis, dieting may be a Really Bad Idea. In my own experience, when I’ve been successful, it’s been careful control of exercise as well as portions.
Given that women seem more prone to dieting (Goddess knows I went on my fair share of diet fads as a teen), it might even partly explain why women are more prone to autoimmune diseases like MS.
One correction I need to make on my earlier hypothesis: the anti-equatorial factor in MS prevalence seems to be related to Vitamin D rather than starvation.
The clinical trials for larazotide acetate, a Zonulin inhibitor, have reached stage 2b, and there’s been some speculation that it could go on the market as early as next year. I know what I will be lobbying for the moment it comes out.

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BayCon Submissions Breakdown

20 September 2011

There’s often questions about markets’ submission breakdowns, particularly by sex. BayCon’s submission period just closed, so here’s the breakdown of the submissions we received over two months. All statements are rounded numbers; the charts are more exact.
1. We received twice as many Short Story submissions as Flash submissions.

2\. We received 15% more fantasy submissions than science fiction. [![](/images/2011/09/Stats.002-800x600.jpg "Stats.002")]( 3\. We received a third more submissions from men than from women. [![](/images/2011/09/Stats.003-800x600.jpg "Stats.003")]( 4\. Women submitted twice as much fantasy as science fiction. [![](/images/2011/09/Stats.004-800x600.jpg "Stats.004")]( 5\. Men submitted 25% more science fiction than fantasy. [![](/images/2011/09/Stats.005-800x600.jpg "Stats.005")]( 6\. We received almost exactly the same number of fantasy submissions from men and women; we received twice as many science fiction submissions from men than from women. [![](/images/2011/09/Stats.006-800x600.jpg "Stats.006")](

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Writing and the Tyranny of Choice

18 September 2011

Years ago, I read Barry Schwartz’s article, “The Tyranny of Choice,” but I’ve had opportunity recently to re-visit it.
I just re-read it before recommending it to someone else, and that’s when it hit me: that’s why I’m dissatisfied with my writing early on in the piece. It’s always the case, I’ve always known it, and I just put on headphones and try to plow through, because I’m a discovery writer. I discover what I’m writing about by the act of writing it. I start with merely the smallest glimpse of an idea.
For “A Sword Called Rhonda,” my idea came after reading an article in Ms. magazine about how advertisers in traditional women’s magazines dictated content: how much, what kinds, and what pages. I believe this was several years after I read Misty Lackey’s books Oathbound and Oathbreakers, which featured a sword called Need that helped women. And then there’s my old economics teacher who always used to ask the question, “Who gets to decide?” In this context: who gets to decide what “need” a woman requires help with?
Years after that, those three ideas combined in my head: what would a sword who helped women be like were it written from the viewpoint of the typical women’s magazine? This is how I got lines like:

“And you so need me, too. You’re a mess! Look at that eyebrow. Don’t you ever pluck?”
I rubbed the bridge of my nose. So it had a little hair. Big deal.

That’s texture, it’s not a story in and of itself, but that’s all I knew when I began writing. I had an idea of who Rhonda was (butch), and who Karma was (girlie sword), and why they were the way they were.
In other words: I still had too many choices.
I begin being happy with a piece when I can see the ending. Not even the whole ending, just an anchor point in space. I usually see this point when I’m somewhere between 20% and 35% through the first draft. For a short, when I finish the scene I’m writing, I’ll either write the end scene or make notes about it, then go back to write the middle. At that point, I now have enough choices narrowed down that I’m comfortable.
I’ve also been known to write a novel out of order for similar reasons, though that usually winds up with a big, fat mess, so I try not to do it unless it seems like the only way to get it out.
I’m experimenting with some ideas for getting to that point without having to flail for so long. I don’t know if they’ll help. I do know that an outline only helps me after the first draft, and same with character studies. For me, they’re for editing, not for writing.
Unfortunately, I lack a good process at present.

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Recent Book Samples Read

15 September 2011

I rarely review books for various reasons, though I do keep some notes about which ones did and didn’t work for me in various ways. However, these are more the notes of a writer than a reader and are specific to what I’m trying to work on at the time.
So, with that in mind, here’s two samples I’ve read recently, and I’ll try to make this a semi-regular feature after I polish off a few. With each one, I’ll include a quotation.
The Emperor of All Maladies by Siddhartha Mukherjee is a book about cancer, as one might guess from the title. I heard Mukherjee speak and decided to check his book out, it just took me a while to get around to it.

Leukemia is cancer of the white blood cells—cancer in one of its most explosive, violent, incarnations As one nurse on the wards often liked to remind her patients, with this disease, “even a paper cut is an emergency.”
For an oncologist in training, too, leukemia represents a special incarnation of cancer. Its pace, its acuity, its breathtaking, inexorable arc of growth forces rapid, often drastic decisions; it is terrifying to experience, terrifying to observe, and terrifying to treat.

I’m definitely buying this one.
Kook by Peter Heller is a non-fiction by a man who, coming back from writing a book about Tibet’s deepest gorge, has a crisis of what to do next and so decides to take up surfing.

Most sports, at first entry, balance the initial strangeness and difficulty with immediate rewards. In kayaking, you launch down your first riffling whitewater, take the first little waves over your bow, feel the speed like a revelation as the current tongues into a smooth V between rocks. You may dump and swim but you’ve had that rush. Skiing is the same; the bunny slope gives you that first alien and wonderful sense of slide and acceleration, though you may not know how to stop or turn.
Everything works this way except surfing.
Surfing is one of the only pursuits on earth that can drub you into numb exhaustion and blunt trauma time and time again and give you nothing in return; nothing but sand in your crotch, salt-stung eyes, banged temple, chipped tooth, screaming back, and sunburned ears—gives you all of this and not a single stand-up ride. Time and again. Day after day. Gives you nothing back but tumbles, wipeouts, thumpings, scares. And you return. You are glad to do it. In fact, you can think of nothing you’d rather do.

I’ll also be picking this one up, but this quotation did remind me why I gave up surfing.

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Publishing: Beating the Odds

13 September 2011

Many of you know I’m the submissions editor for BayCon’s nascent fiction market (gentle reminder: submissions close 9/15; currently, submissions are running 40% flash and 60% short stories). In a practical sense, that means I’ll be reading all the submissions, culling it down to a short list for each of the Flash and Short Story pieces. Because I’ll be reading all of them, I added minimum and maximum qualifications so that we wouldn’t need a staff of editors to make the first cut.
I’ve heard from three different people that, because we’re only publishing two stories this year, they don’t think the “chances” of getting in are good, so it’s not worth tying up a story. Now, I’m not criticizing where people want to submit (your writing career, your goals, after all), but I can say something about the “chances” aspect.

Publishing Is Not a Lottery

Like acting, success in publishing is showing up at the right place at the right time with the right presentation on the right project. There are no “odds” except that the person seeing your work happens to give it the best read possible, and the number of times you submit a piece increases the likelihood it’ll find its way onto the right desk at the right time. Frankly, you don’t know what the “right” timing is because you don’t have the experience of the flow of submissions from the other side of the desk.
We’ve all heard stories about how many times J. K. Rowling was turned down, and I’ve seen the ream of rejections some friends have accumulated. Then there’s the flip side: some things sell first time out. “A Sword Called Rhonda” did. It also sold the second. That doesn’t mean I’m especially clever, truly it doesn’t. It just means I had the right piece at the right time for the right market. I’ve accumulated my fair share of rejections.
If there are 100 submissions, that 101st submission doesn’t affect the likelihood your story will get accepted unless your story was already borderline. If it’s superb, it’ll still be superb. If it needs work, it’ll still need work.
Anyhow, it’s not a lottery, and it’s not a game of chance. In this case, a good story could get you between $50 and $200.

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