I went to the Nebulas!

I went to the Nebula conference last weekend, and even though I returned a week ago and this post is really late, the part of me that has Feelings is still so warm inside.

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this image of a happy cat expresses my thoughts on the Nebulas pretty well
I didn’t expect to get to go–it wasn’t even an option that I had considered until Diane Turnshek emailed some Alpha Workshop alumni, asking if any of us would be interested in being on a panel about what teens want from young adult fiction. Still riding a wave of post-ICFA professional confidence, I impulsively said “yes.” Two other girls responded to the email as well–my friends Ana Curtis and Kyra Boisseree. I spent about a week freaking out about this, because who was I to talk about literally anything with any measure of authority in front of real live actual people, especially real live actual people who are capital-P Professionals in their field?

And then college and finals and academic stress made me stop thinking about it for a while, at least at intervals. I bought plane tickets, we booked hotel rooms. Thanks to the Powers That Be of con organization, our memberships were free, and I can’t put into words how grateful I am for that, because otherwise, I know I wouldn’t have been able to attend. Amal El-Mohtar, who was one of the guest authors from my year at Alpha, asked me to be on a panel about “what’s next in genre,” full of people who I am both intimidated by and look up to immensely. But I couldn’t say no to Amal (I don’t think anyone can say no to Amal), so I ended up on two panels on the same day, which, scared me to death at the time. (I still have no idea how I pulled that off.)

I was also volunteering at the con–I worked registration and stuffed bags full of books on Wednesday, before it started, which was a lovely way to meet people and prepare my introverted self for meeting…many, many more people. So many people.

I was the first of the Youths(TM) to arrive, so I was letting everyone else into the hotel room, which meant that when Ana arrived at 5:30 in the morning, I was ready and waiting with hugs and I-haven’t-seen-you-in-a-YEAR feelings. I was a sleepy mess, but I was ready. I was much more put-together for Kyra’s arrival, and for the beginning of the con, where I worked registration for a few hours before running away to get a flash fiction piece critique from the wonderful Tracy Townsend. She read my piece out loud, which I was not expecting, and then ripped it to little tiny bits in the most beautiful way, which I was expecting, and I will be eternally grateful to her for it.

On Thursday night, I was really, really shy. Like, painfully so. I went on the observatory tour, with Diane and Kyra–Ana was recovering from having been on a train for the entire previous night–and several other wonderful people, and got to see Jupiter from the top of a hill overlooking Pittsburgh, which blew my mind a little. Also, did you know there are people buried in the basement? There are people buried in the basement in the Allegheny Observatory. I got back in time to say hi to Amal, after much self-convincing–shyness is fun like that–and to sit and converse awkwardly with delightful people whom I felt very small next to, through no fault of theirs. It’s just not that hard to make me feel small–I usually seem to just do it to myself in advance, so that nobody else has to. I’m working on it.

Friday, I went to flash talks and panels and learned so many cool things about other careers for writers, writing and gaming, non-western names for characters, and using Patreon as a writer. That night, I also volunteered at the mass signing, helping set up and giving out bookmarks to promote Parsec–and, by extension, Alpha. I got to meet up briefly with Alyssa Wong, who I’d met at ICFA, and I got Seanan McGuire to sign my ARC of Down Among the Sticks and Bones, and I may have melted a little (a lot. I melted a lot). I fangirled at several more people, whom I will not name, because I was so painfully awkward and I’m still cringing about it. I was also introduced to the wonderful Patrick Ropp, and met up with Carrie DiRisio, of Brooding YA hero fame, and I have claimed them both as my mom friends. I was also a little more adventurous on Friday night. following people down to the bar and attaching myself, Ana, and Kyra to people we all recognized, because that’s the best way to not seem awkward, right?

Friday night was also when several people, including my third mom friend Sam Miller and Mary Robinette Kowal, convinced me to start writing an idea that I wasn’t confident at all about starting. I’m still not confident about starting it, but now that so many people know about it, I kind of have to follow through, which is a good thing. (I’ll do my best not to disappoint.) Also, I’ve never seen anything more impressive than Mary Robinette Kowal shutting down a loud drunk guy at one in the morning, and I doubt I ever will again.

Saturday was panel day. The first panel was at 2PM, so I spent the hours of 6AM to 1:30 PM unable to sleep and unable to stop listing all the things that could go wrong. It didn’t help that I had also been told on the Tuesday before that Jane Yolen would be on the YA panel with us, which was both awesome and terrifying at the same time. Then, I had to figure out what I would say about “the future of genre” on a panel with Charlie Jane Anders, Jason Sanford, Navah Wolfe, and Amal El-Mohtar.

I was kind of a mess.

I have no idea how I made it through, but I’m immensely proud of how both panels went. I’m still absolutely blown away by the conversation I got to have with my fellow Youths(TM) about the state of young adult fiction right now (spoiler: it’s getting more diverse and, on at least on some levels, YA publishing is respecting its target demographic more than I ever remember it doing so before, and it has a long way to go but I like where it’s going). I’m also beyond honored that I got to discuss current trends in genre with the people who are actually shaping it. I also later saw that some people had quoted me and my fellow panelists, on both occasions, on Twitter, which melted me all over again. I’m glad I was able to provide some insight for some of you.

And that night, the banquet! and the awards! We wore fancy dresses, and I got distracted every few seconds by other people’s outfits–people were just aggressively beautiful. The awards ceremony was emotional and beautiful and I’m so happy for all of the winners. The three that stand out most in my mind are Amal, whose story made me feel SO MANY THINGS, Charlie Jane Anders, whose book I read on the plane to the Nebulas and which scared so much of me and delighted the rest, and Seanan McGuire, whose novella Every Heart A Doorway has a special place in my heart as the first time I remember ever seeing an asexual character in a book.

I spent the rest of the night following friends around, congratulating people, having very loud, happy conversations, and staying up until three in the morning because I didn’t want to miss a single thing.

I left on Sunday, but not before getting to catch a panel on fairy tale retellings, where Navah, Amal, Seanan, and Jane discussed what makes a fairy tale retelling, and Seanan told us all how terrifying Snow White actually is when you think about it.

I got to the airport exhausted, but warm, and I’m so grateful for having been able to go. I’m already examining my options for next year–I don’t know if I’ll be able to make it, but I’m definitely going to try and come back.

 

 

It Has Certainly Been A Semester

playful-kitten-6683-1024x576So it occurs to me, given how everything has been happening so much this semester and this year, that I should probably start to keep logs of it here, both for myself and for anyone else who might be interested. I looked back over my journals this semester and realized that almost every month so far this year, something personally or professionally huge for me has happened and so I’m going to collect all of those things here, at this convenient point in time in which I’ve finished the spring semester of my freshman year in college. And so, a short timeline of things that had or still have me occasionally hiding my face in a pillow with a nervous smile on my face.

(Also, afterward, some goals for the next ~quarter of the year that I expect myself to accomplish before the end of August, because I’ve realized that unless I have an Internet full of people judging me, I will probably not get that much done.)

January: I found out that my story “Everything, in Both Hands” had been named an Honorable Mention for the Dell Award for Undergraduate Excellence in Science Fiction and Fantasy Writing.

February: Made my first sale ever–my poem, “After “Moon Fishing”” to Li Chua at Strange Horizons.

March: ICFA happened! I don’t know by what miracle, but I managed to get my university to cover the cost of my attendance, for which I will be eternally grateful. I met so many wonderful people, made a lot of new friends, jumped into the deep end of a hotel pool holding hands with some of those friends, and noticed just how much I’d missed being around other writers. I’m so thankful to have been able to go.

April: Was the last month before finals! And also the month in which I found out I was doing two panels at the 2017 Nebula Conference! Both are on Saturday, May 20. At 2 PM, I’m on “What Teens Are Looking For In YA Literature” which is about…what teens are looking for in YA literature. I’m also on “Critical assessment: What’s next in genre?” at 4:00 PM. I am very nervous and very excited also did I mention nervous?

And now it is May. And I’m writing this post while taking a break from studying for my last final exam, and tomorrow I will move my things out of my dorm room and back home, and then I will turn 19, and then I will start a summer job at my university where I will be an administrative assistant for a group that organizes summer workshops for high school journalists. I will also be doing my best to afford, with my meager resources, attendance at what will be a second Alpha Workshop for me.

And I will be doing a lot of work trying to accomplish some Things, because even though this year is going very well for me so far, nothing more is guaranteed to happen unless I make it happen. So, here are my summer goals: 

-finish drafting my novel, based somewhat substantially off of the story that made Honorable Mention at the Dell Awards. I started this for Camp NaNoWriMo, which I failed miserably, I still want to finish this. I have an estimated wordcount of around 100,000, but even if it ends up needing a different amount, I just want to keep writing until the story is done. I haven’t finished a novel since my sophomore year of high school. It’s about time.
-collect 15 submission responses. I know they are likely to be rejections, which is fine–getting rejections means that I’m submitting things, and submitting things is good. I like that.
-related to the 15 submission responses, I can’t get any if I don’t write more stories! I want to finish at least three short stories this summer, as well as three pieces of flash fiction.
-I also want to make more blog posts! At least one per month–a book review or an essay or some Opinions or just updates. I realize I’ve been letting this thing stagnate, and I could be doing way better.
-keep calling representatives, because democracy doesn’t work unless people participate in it. Also because at this point the only thing that stands between people aren’t wealthy white men and basic human rights is active, constant resistance, and when I look back on this time in history I don’t want to have to admit to myself that I didn’t do anything to help slow or stop the further progression of bigotry in America.

My deadline for accomplishing all of these things is Tuesday, August 22, 2017, because that’s when classes start for my fall semester.

And that’s been (roughly) the first half of my 2017. On an unrelated happy note, I just found out that Emmanuel Macron won the French presidential election, which seems like a good place to leave this post–good things can still happen in the world as a whole. Given the news cycle this year, who would’ve thought?

This is so profoundly not fine.

Twitter has been an interesting and infuriating space lately. I’ve unfollowed a lot of people.

Mostly, people who retweet articles about the election’s aftermath that involve the concept of “making peace with the results of the election.” Mostly, friends of mine who retweet that “this is fine” dog-in-the-burning-house meme, the old version that doesn’t result in the dog freaking out and trying to fix it. That meme is no longer funny. There is no peace to be made with the results of this election.

That meme is representative of a huge part of the problem, the mentality that got us here.

We treated that man as a joke (I refuse to say his name. I still cannot say his name.). We laughed. We posted and reposted and commented and tweeted that “this is fine” meme over and over and over again, every time he said something racist, sexist, queerphobic, downright abominable. And, I (don’t) hate to point this out, but very frequently I saw that it was fellow white people who did it–my friends who are not white were not laughing, but my fellow white people were. Hell, I did too, in the beginning. My anger now does not absolve me from past problematic behavior. We were all part of the problem. Many of us still are.

If you make light of this, even now, you are a huge part of the problem. We did not take enough action to stop him when it would have been much easier to do so. Hell, people voted for him as a joke when he never was. Laughing at him now, joking that “this is fine,” is complacency.

We cannot be complacent.

This is not fine. Stop, even sarcastically, acting like it is.

Sick, Sad, Scared: Part 2

I feel sick, and sad, and scared, for the second day in a row. Yesterday, I felt sick, and sad, and scared and I was immobile. I went to my classes and I could not learn. Neither could maxresdefaultanyone else–my professors were distracted, one class was cut short, more than a few of my classmates came to lectures hungover, in tears, or both. I was running on an hour and a half of sleep. I had two fits of anxious, ugly crying, the kind where you use a whole box of tissues at a time and a contact lens falls out in the process.

Activist groups at my university held a walkout, and I went. People spoke and many cried and we were all sick, and sad, and scared.

Last night, I went to my first every queer activist group meeting. I never went to GSA in high school, because I was scared. Now, I am scared and I can no longer be scared alone, and I am so glad that I left my dorm room to go. We did the work of caring for ourselves and for each other, because that was all anyone could do.

I feel sick, and sad, and scared, and I know that inactivity will only make it worse, and in turn make us all sicker and sadder and more afraid. I have no choice, now, but to be active, because sitting scared and still and quiet only enables the things that will hurt me, the things that will hurt everyone who isn’t a white, straight, cisgender, wealthy white man. Every day, I have to wake up. Every day, I have to live, which is a political act. Every day I have to something, anything, to help those who will be hurt in the next four years.

I have to keep writing my stories. I have to make them even weirder, even more challenging, to everything that just got elected into the White House–racism, sexism, queerphobia, classism. I have to stay involved. I have to show up. I have to donate, whenever I am financially able, to organizations like Planned Parenthood, like the ACLU, like the Sierra Club, like Lambda Legal. When I am unable to donate, I must volunteer, and always, even if I am unable to do anything else, I must speak.

I know that many of you are also sick, sad, and scared right now. Inactivity will make it worse, so what can you do?

If you are an artist, create content that challenges the sickening ideologies that got him elected.

If you can, volunteer. Show up. If you can mentally handle it, volunteer for a crisis hotline in the next few weeks–they need every person they can get to help. If you are physically able, go out to protests in your area. Share resources online. If you are financially able, donate.

Be there for your community. Marginalized people taking care of themselves is a political act, so be well in order to make his life hell.

Listen to people of color, listen to queer people, listen to trans people, listen to women, listen to people whose identities intersect along lines of marginalization. If you are white, as I am, be constantly examining yourself–a vote for Hillary did not absolve you from the systems of oppression of which we are undeniably a part. Understand that you probably know someone who voted for him, understand what that means, understand how you affect people who aren’t white. Understand how much work you and I both will have to do to dismantle that, and understand that as white people, we may never be done.

Look at the privileges you enjoy. Use that power to amplify the voices of people who do not have it. Listen to people who do not have it. If you are told that you are being harmful, that you are being racist or queerphobic or in any way harming someone who is already being harmed enough, listen. Take that on board. Alter your behavior accordingly.

Respect the spaces of the people who are being harmed the most. Respect the people who are being harmed the most.

We must all show up.

 

I feel sick, and sad, and scared.

Last night, I couldn’t get to sleep until about three A.M. Every time I got close, I started crying again.

This was my first election as a person of voting age. I remember when I was a junior in high schs-sad-kittenool, and Donald Trump started campaigning as a Presidential candidate. I laughed with my classmates. I joked about how he wouldn’t get past the first month of the campaign, let alone the primaries. I, like many, thought he was joking, too.

 

Then he got past the first month. Then he got past the primary. Then he got the nomination. And I got scared, and then concerned, and then terrified.

This was my first election as a person of voting age whose parents moved here from another country. My family is originally from Russia. As I type this now, I am scared to say that online. I do not know how people will respond to that today. This was my first election, and it meant something to me. It meant that either I would help to elect the most qualified person I could think of to the American presidency, a woman whom I had disagreed with in the primaries but had always respected and had come to support wholeheartedly, or that I had so much more to fear from my home than I thought I did. It meant that as an American citizen who was not born that way, and as so many other things, I could elect my safety or watch others elect everything I feared.

Do you know how much it scares me that our President thinks that he can sexually assault women without repercussions, just because he’s famous? Do you know how much it scares me that we still don’t know what he will do–we know that he’s erratic, we know that he’s unpredictable, and we know that he’s a racist endorsed by people like David Duke, but we don’t know his policies other than “we’re gonna build a wall?” Do you know that as I watched the economic fallout of Brexit in June, I hoped to every possible higher power that America would watch, learn, and vote ourselves away from disaster? Do you know that as I watch the economic fallout of Trump, I feel cheated by the country I live in? Do you know how scared I am for my future, for everyone’s future?

This was my first election. I feel punished for having had any hope.

This was my first election. I know what my country thinks of me, as a woman. I know what my country thinks of women who are qualified for their positions and dare to try to take them–this was my first election and even though I voted for the woman who was qualified, my country chose to be led by a racist, impulsive, erratic man who is entirely unequipped to handle even entering the Oval Office, let alone running the country.

This was my first election, and I feel cheated. Assuming I live that long, there will be many more to come, and what can I expect from my country in those campaigns? This was my first election, and I feel sick, and sad, and scared, for myself and for my family and for my friends and for the people I admire and respect but don’t have the courage to Tweet at. This was my first election and I am only eighteen years old and I feel so depleted.

This was my first election and I have never felt more shattered in my life.

I keep seeing Tweets about how hard we are going to have to fight to protect civil rights for anyone who isn’t a cisgender, straight, rich, white man in this country and I am so scared. I keep seeing Tweets about how hard we are going to have to fight to protect the environment from the man that I did not elect but that other people did, and I am so scared. I am sick, and sad, and scared, and I know that this has been left to me and mine. This is what you are leaving your young people, America, and we are so sick and sad and scared and cheated. I feel cheated, knowing that you are starting us off fifty years behind, and I feel cheated knowing that because I have said that, somewhere out there an older white man is shaking his head at me for expecting a good start in the first place–why don’t I just pull myself up by my bootstraps, huh? Huh?

This was my first election, and I don’t know how to function today. I will go to class, but I doubt I will learn. I keep thinking about how it’s more important than ever that, given the things I write and read, I keep doing those things, because now they are even more political than before. My breathing itself is now political–if it wasn’t already, it definitely is now. But it feels so exhausting already, to breathe when I am scared to.

This was my first election. I feel sick, and sad, and scared.

 

Alina Moves To College

…and planned to write this post the night I moved in. Then I forgot, and then I got really busy, and then I started making excuses in the first line of this post.

So, I have moved to college! I now live in a dorm with a roommate and go to fancy college classes and stress about those classes a lot!

scared-kitten-shutterstock_191443322College is really weird. Classes are less frequent and grades are not updated nearly as often as they were in high school, which makes me a little uncomfortable–call me a perfectionist, but if I don’t know my grades exactly and with constant updates, I will assume that I’m failing, and I will stress about it.

So while I’m academically scrambling to make sure my professors are happy with me, I haven’t really been writing much–I finished the first draft of the extended version of the story I wrote at Alpha, and now it’s sitting in its own constantly-open Scrivener project, staring at me, judging me for not scraping up the energy to revise. Also, I’ve started writing a short story about a witch hunt on the first spaceship attempting to colonize Mars. I have maybe half a scene done, out of ten total. I want to have both of these done by the end of September (cue soft, distant screams). I haven’t actually figured out anything as formal as a writing schedule yet, but I desperately want to. Part of the reason I haven’t done that is because I’ve managed to get myself a part-time job, which is actually pretty nice. I enjoy it. Also, people need money, and I am a person, therefore, I work.

Anyway, college is weird and sometimes fun and sometimes scary, and also I got a job, and also I need to figure out when I’m going to write because that’s important, and also not forget to do important things like exercising (nooooo) and getting basic things from grocery stores.

If this is adulting, then adulting is hard and I’m bad at it, but I’m also going to give myself a free pass to get better because I’ve been doing this training-wheels college version of it for less than a month.

 

Alpha Happened So Much

Otherwise known as the “what happens at Alpha in under 6000 words happens again later and in much larger form” post.

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Pictured here is my current happy exhaustion, in sleepy kitten form

 

So I’ve spent the last ten days at the Alpha Workshop, learning All of the Cool Things. Those Cool Things include, but are definitely not limited to:
-from Malinda Lo, how to worldbuild without stressing over really tiny details, but also how to use really tiny details to do a ton of worldbuilding
-from Max Gladstone, how to consider the scope of the worldbuilding you have to do for a particular story, and what does and doesn’t fit inside that
-from Amal El-Mohtar, how to draw the line between poetry and prose (individually, on a case-by-case basis, and in some of those cases, that question doesn’t even apply)
-from Tamora Pierce, the importance of research and lived experienced in the context of writing fantasy, for children and for adults.

Also,
-that the graveyard a short walk from campus is a great place to watch a meteor shower
-that playing Frisbee in the rain, at night, with glasses on, means that the glasses will get really, really smudged (I am really impressed that I managed to catch it as many times as I did. Good for you, past me.)
-that good prose results in gifs of Joe Biden looking really happy
-that the amount of research you have to do for a story can range from Pacific Rim (GIANT ROBOTS ARE COOL) to reading actual scientific papers, and how to judge that difference
-that I can’t read more than one sentence from The Eye of Argon without absolutely dissolving
-that I am capable of writing a short story first draft in three days, even if it means that my hands will still hurt even after getting home
-how to feel a little less anxious (not entirely calm, but still. Progress.) when asking for and receiving critiques from and in front of other people

And those lists could be way longer, but then I’d just be putting screenshots of my notes from lectures instead of writing a post, and my notes are not the most organized thing in the universe, so…moving on!

I think the next logical step, after dealing with the weird sad feeling of knowing that I have a ton of new friends, none of whom live close to me, is to set some goals. Or something. That’s how productivity works, right?

I present to the Internet: Alina’s List of Things To Write After Alpha:
(note: this is where “what happens at Alpha happens again, later, and in much longer form”)

  • Extend the story I wrote while there into a novella (it sort of works as is, but now that I have more than three days to write it, I can do all of the things I wanted to and some of the suggestions I found useful in critiques, and give it the wordcount it needs). This is what I’m most excited about right now.
  • Finish outlining and eventually write the novel I started based off of the story I applied with and had critiqued while I was there.
  • Write the story I started outlining the last day I was there, currently titled “Our Lady of the Corpse Flower,” about what zombies might worship.
  • Write some more short stories. Short stories are fun, and I need to practice actually getting ideas to fit inside of them.

So some of those things would be nice to get done, preferably before the end of this year. But right now, I’m not going to do any of them, because I wrote this post and then two sentences of a short story and figured out that my brain, currently, is kind of fried. So instead of doing any more work today, I’m going to play Mass Effect and read until I pass out.

TL;DR: The best ten days of my life up to this point happened. Now I want to go write a lot more things.