This writing exercise is making me a better writer

I’ve always found description really hard. Though some writers see a scene in their mind’s eye, I don’t see a darned thing so describing something from imagination it is hard. But lately, a daily exercise is making a difference.

For sever months, I’ve been making #witchyskeet 
posts on Bluesky with photos of interesting houses I find on my Google Street View rambles. This fun little activity puts to good use my passion for exploring on StreetView, and lets me share interesting and beautiful places. After doing it for a few weeks and finding great pleasure in it, I began forcing myself to describe the photos in the alt text.

A large two story house in tan stucco, with a new black roof corrugated like snake scales, and a suggestion of chocolate-colored half timbering on the upper level. A green lawn in the foreground, with a paved path leading up to the accessibility ramp. Tall, narrow windows on the ground floor, framed in dark caramel wood. The eves form an arch over a paned, arched window under the peak, with a single small porthole window above, and smaller windows to either side. There's also a small gabled window in the roof to the left. Green trees all around.
This accessible witchy palace welcomes all visitors. Starý Jičín, Czech Republic.

Alt text: A large two story house in tan stucco, with a new black roof corrugated like snake scales, and a suggestion of chocolate-colored half timbering on the upper level. A green lawn in the foreground, with a paved path leading up to the accessibility ramp. Tall, narrow windows on the ground floor, framed in dark caramel wood. The eves form an arch over a paned, arched window under the peak, with a single small porthole window above, and smaller windows to either side. There’s also a small gabled window in the roof to the left. Green trees all around.

I didn’t want to write the alt test. Description, ugh! So hard! But I felt it was ethical to do so, so I forced myself to do it. Nothing fancy, no trying hard, just describing what I see as accurately and completely as I had patience for.

And surprisingly, not long after, when working on the historical fantasy story “The High Cost of Heat,” I found my drafting more vivid, more easily descriptive.

Never before have I found writing exercises of much benefit, but this one sure is. A little daily stretch of the descriptive muscles gave me some images I never would have found before. What felt like an ethical obligation turned into something that really benefits my writing, so I’ll keep doing it daily and reaping the rewards.

From a low angle, a pink, orange, and red house looms over us. The upper level is orange brick. The middle level is red brick but not the usual color of red, this is rosy and very saturated. The lower level is pink stucco. The roof is flat. Curving from the ground level on both sides are circular staircases, in pink marble, with silver guardrails. Continuing on from the second level, the stairs are grey (we can only see the undersides of them) and there are no guardrails! On the top level, the windows are square holes with no glass, dark inside.
Here we have a witchy house with extremely dangerous staircases. I have never been more intimidated by a structure. Tirana, Albania.

Alt text: From a low angle, a pink, orange, and red house looms over us. The upper level is orange brick. The middle level is red brick but not the usual color of red, this is rosy and very saturated. The lower level is pink stucco. The roof is flat. Curving from the ground level on both sides are circular staircases, in pink marble, with silver guardrails. Continuing on from the second level, the stairs are grey (we can only see the undersides of them) and there are no guardrails! On the top level, the windows are square holes with no glass, dark inside.

New story MEDIAN out at Tor.com/Reactor

On a dark highway, a woman walks the median, sandwiched between lanes of oncoming cars. A three headed dog looms monstrous in the background
Illustration by Elijah Boor

MEDIAN is newly out at Tor.com/Reactor. It’s also available as an ebook. I wrote this story when my mother-in-law was dying of cancer, one of the lightning strikes in a recent storm of deaths.

Writing horror is good therapy for real-life horror. I’ve written several horror stories lately, but that storm of death really put a kink in my writing practice. I haven’t been as productive as I want.

When you’re a new writer, one of the big problems is how to write. What you don’t know at that time is that these problems don’t really go away after you’ve solved them. They just morph. “How do I write?” turns into “How do I keep writing?” and the second question is even harder than the first. Because you can teach yourself to write, but how do you learn to keep writing in the face of everything life throws at you?

Back when I was a fresh new SFWA member, I volunteered for an admin project building the organization’s history archive. My job was to approach former SFWA board members and ask them to donate any materials they might have, such as meeting minutes, publications, newsletters, etc. Sadly, I discovered that many of those former board members were no longer writing. Once, they’d been deeply passionate about their writing careers — committed enough to volunteer for SFWA, and established enough to win the election, but then quit.

It’s terribly sad but understandable. Writing takes a lot of resources, and people can’t necessarily keep devoting those resources eternally. A writing career can stall at any point.

What resources does writing take? Time, obviously. Attention and concentration. Emotional energy. Money, or the ability to forego earning money, which means that either money for life is coming from elsewhere (most writers who rely on this don’t admit it), or the writer is willing to live in poverty, or both. Most commonly, we fit writing in around our day jobs. I did that for a long time. The vast majority of writers do.

When we are first writing, we talk a lot about finding the time. When we get more established, and start comparing time spent to money earned, we talk, bitterly, about money. But honestly, emotional energy is just as important as anything else. Writing stories requires access to emotions and the energy they create. Or, it sure does for me. Maybe there are writers who don’t need it, or can fake it. I can’t.  For me, writing well means being able to feel things.

And when you’re grieving, it’s hard to feel anything other than grief. You’re emotionally and physically exhausted. Grief takes it all away. But I’m bouncing back. Working on developing a consistent writing practice, a consistent and productive artistic practice, taking advantage of new freedom to create new work.

I hope the storm is over.

A writer’s decade

Rarely can anyone point to a turning point in their life, but here’s mine. Ten years ago today, April 1, 2013, I was laid off my job. I was devastated, but it doesn’t sting anymore because I can mark that moment as the beginning of becoming…

Becoming myself.

The next day, I took a stalled story and started rewriting it from scratch, in a new way, with a style and confidence that had eluded me for years. The story was Waters of Versailles, and it felt right. It felt like me. I’d found the thing I’d been long searching for in my writing, that I could bring to new stories, over and over again. We call it voice, and though it’s a bit of a cliché, it’s a good metaphor for finding your own unique way of expressing yourself on the page.

Gain though pain. Oh god, can we just not?

Though I’ve told this story about my artistic breakthrough many times, I kind of hate it. It shouldn’t take a massive, life-upheaving event to make an artistic breakthrough. Often it doesn’t. Lots of people find their voices through simple consistent hard work, punctuated by nothing particularly terrible or dramatic.

So why am I going on and on about this?

This past decade has been big, and I want to commemorate it here.

Books by Kelly Robson: Gods, Monsters, and the Lucky Peach, Alias Space and other stories, High Times in the Low Parliament, and the lovely jewelbox illustrated hardcover version of Waters of Versailles

In the past ten years, I published two books (Gods, Monsters, and the Lucky Peach and High Times in the Low Parliament), and a short fiction collection (Alias Space and Other Stories) in hardcover, no less.

I published 18 short stories, many of which were reprinted in Year’s Best anthologies, and translated internationally — including a gorgeous hardcover, illustrated version of Waters of Versailles in Spanish. I wrote several nonfiction pieces about writing and writers, mostly for Clarkesworld.

I consulted as a creative futurist for national and international organizations. Often, this took the form of listening to people’s ideas about the future and creating stories out of them, but I also made presentations about various technological advances and what they may mean for the future.

I attended conventions and literary events in Spain and China (twice!), and many conventions in Canada and the US. I was a been a guest of honor twice, at WindyCon and Canvention. I won a Nebula Award and three Aurora Awards, and have been a finalist for most of the major awards in our genres.

I won a Nebula Award?

Hard to believe, but here it is. It’s a beauty. As an SF fan since birth, this is lifelong dream come true.

Rectangular clear lucite with three round, orange stones representing planets, with a swirl of orange and brown sand above. Black lower portion is inscribed: 

Science Fiction and Fantasy Writers of America
2017 Nebula Award for Novelette
"A Human Stain" 
Kelly Robson
Pittsburgh, PA - May 19th, 2018

 

What’s next, then?

High Times in the Low Parliament is the finalist for a Nebula, and I’m looking forward to going to the Nebula Conference this May — for the first time live and in-person since 2019.

I finished a High Times sequel called Down and Out at the Mighty Assembly, but not sure yet when or where it will appear. I’m working on a big sweeping Science Fiction novel, and am discovering, NOT to my surprise, that novels are difficult and all-consuming.

I want to write more stories — I have several in the works, and am looking forward to turning my attention to them, if I can only get the novel done and out of the way. It’d be great to have another year like 2015 and 2018, with four stories out in one year. That’s my idea of perfection.

Let’s see how it goes for the next decade, then?

Yes, in 2033, we’ll see how all of it has gone.

We need more comedies in SF and Fantasy

After I wrote this little post about being surprised that High Times in the Low Parliament is a Nebula finalist, I realized I didn’t say why I was surprised by it getting a Nebula nod. I was surprised because it’s a comedy, and comedies are a risk and a hard sell. Drama is universal. What’s dramatic to me is probably dramatic to lots of people. But what’s funny to me isn’t necessarily funny to you, or anyone.

Nothing fails harder than a failed comedy (except a failed musical — that fails worst of all). So why write comedies at all? Why take the risk? Because we need them. And because comedy can tell us truths tragedy can’t.

Truths like: Humans may be ridiculous, but we are not unsalvagable.

Truths like: The things we spend so much time and effort on may not matter at all, while the truly important things are overlooked.

Truths like: We can come together when we lower our boundaries, and it’s worth it.

Truths like: There is value in laughing with friends, in gormless goodwill.

Truths like: Life may be precarious, but we can still find moments to vibe with each other

Truths like: Despite overwhelming evidence, you can be happy and safe. Life can get better. But to do this, we need other people to be happy, safe, and better with.

This is not a pollyanna point of view. I have not lived a cushy life and aside from waves hands, the past couple years have been especially hard. The death of my mom from dementia, and my dear friend from ALS. The exposure of two other treasured elders as horrific moral failures. Yeah, that was fun. In the middle of all that, things were so dark I had to make my own light.

And that’s why we need comedies more than ever. All good comedies address how difficult it is to be alive, to age, to change. Comedies show us we can move away the places of caution and safety that are killing us, and the risk is worthwhile. Comedies prove that even when we’re buried in the tragedy of being alive, someday we will laugh again.

In conclusion, I would love to see more comedies in SFF. I think we need them. Here’s a great one: GLITTERATI by Oliver K. Langmead. I guess you’d call it social satire but no, it’s a freaking comedy — Zoolander in the future, if you will. I loved it. Maybe you will too.

High Times is a Nebula finalist!

I am incredibly surprised and pleased that High Times in the Low Parliament is a finalist for the Nebula Award this year.

Five paperback books "High Times in the Low Parliament" on an abstract background.

This is the fourth time I’ve received a Nebula nod. Waters of Versailles was a finalist in 2016. A Human Stain won the Nebula in 2018. And Gods, Monsters, and the Lucky Peach was a finalist in 2019.

I’m that lucky. I get pushback when I call it luck, and yes, it also takes hard work and dedication. Luck comes in when your story manages to say the right things, at the right time, to readers who understand and care. Lovely when that comes together, but it can’t be aimed at. I don’t take it for granted.

I have lots of experience both winning and losing awards, and being a finalist is a huge win.

The Nebula Awards are voted on by the members of SFWA, the Science Fiction and Fantasy Writers Association, and awarded at the Nebula Conference, which runs May 12-14. This year, there will be both an in-person event and a virtual conference, supplemented by virtual events throughout the year. I’ll be in Anaheim for the in-person conference this year, barring unforeseen events, and hope to see you there, too!

SFWA does a heathen ton of nigh-invisible, amazing work that benefits all writers. The organization has, by the way, recently streamlined their membership qualification requirements, so hey writers, why not join?

DRESSED AS PEOPLE in Toronto, LIVE, March 7-18, 2023

DRESSED AS PEOPLE, A Triptych of Uncanny Abduction

UPDATE: Tonight is opening night! Alyx and I will be there tonight (March 7), Thursday, March 9, and on closing night, Saturday, March 18.

DRESSED AS PEOPLE, the play I wrote with award-winning Science Fiction and Fantasy writers Amal El-Mohtar and A.M. Dellamonica, will be live in Toronto at Red Sandcastle Theatre from March 7 to 18. Three very different characters, superbly performed by brilliant actor Margo MacDonald.

Tickets are available now — book early! Tix on Tuesdays are only $20. Prebooked tix are $30, or you can buy at the door for $40.

We have just finished a highly successful series of performances in Ottawa, and the stage is HOT. Here’s a rave review of the production but beware of spoilers).

Photos from Ottawa!

Here are some shots from the recent Ottawa gig:

Five people pose playfully on a stage
Mary Ellis, director, Amal El-Mohtar, writer, Kelly Robson, writer, A.M. Dellamonica, writer, Margo MacDonald, performer and producer (photo by Titus Androgynous)
Three sett of clothing hang above a dark stage, bathed in blue light and framed by small white lights
The Dressed As People stage
Two women pose affectionately, bathed in pink light
Our wonderful performer and producer, Margo MacDonald, and our superb director, Mary Ellis

Want to know more? Dressed As People was created in 2021, deep in pandemic-time. It premiered at the Ottawa Fringe via streaming on-demand, and won the Best Solo Performance Award and the Audience Choice Award!

Margo MacDonald is a superbly talented actor and producer, who has worked all over the world. Don’t miss this chance to see her live!

My WorldCon schedule

I’ll be at the 2022 Chicago WorldCon in September. Here’s where you can find me. (Note that the assigned rooms may change. I’ll try to update this if they do but check the official schedule to be sure)

4:00 PM on Thursday, September 1
20 Minute Reading (room: Roosevelt 1)
I’ll read some brand new work!

1:00 PM on Friday, September 2
Autographing (room: not listed yet)
WorldCon always has several big mass autographing sessions, so you can get books signed by your favorite authors.

5:30 PM on Friday September 2
Panel – Living in a Zociety (room: Regency Ballroom D)
The Walking Dead, Kingdom, Army of the Dead, Daybreak, and Anna and the Apocalypse are examples of zombie-populated societies. In such settings, the focus is more on the surviving humans and their fight for survival. But in order to succeed, survivors sometimes need to break social norms and do the unthinkable. Who are the real monsters? Humans or zombies?

10:00 AM on Saturday, September 3
Table Talk (room: Crystal Foyer)
Let’s sit around and chat! I’ll answer any and all questions about my work, my life, publishing, writing tips, anything! Table Talks require pre-registration, so visit the registration site after noon Central time on August 30 to sign up.

2:30 PM on Saturday, September 3
Panel: Overcoming the Debut Challenge (room: Michigan 1)
The publishing landscape has become a challenge even for the pros, leaving debut authors scrambling for useful scraps of advice to help them navigate the gauntlet of taking their book to market. This global panel of experienced and newly minted authors share practical career advice, tackling issues such as finding an agent, maintaining your authorial voice, avoiding publicity time sinks, and navigating the behemoth that is social media.

1:00 PM on Sunday, September 4
Panel: Episodes in Focus: Buffy the Vampire Slayer (room: Randolph 2)
A close-up look at “The Body,” the Buffy episode in which Joyce dies. It’s as close as the show ever got to a “very special episode,” and will be examined not just for its importance to the series as a whole, but also as a way to frame writer/director Joss Whedon’s problematic (to say the least) behavior on set. What makes this episode unique? How does Whedon’s treatment of women in real life affect how the audience interprets the female characters he created?

High Times in the Low Parliament is out and events are happening!

My lesbian stoner buddy comedy with fairies about Brexit is out in the world! Available in trade paperback, ebook, and audiobook at your favorite indie bookstore, or: Amazon US | Amazon Canada | Amazon UK | Barnes & Noble | Chapters Indigo | Kobo | Books-a-Million | Indiebound | iTunes | Macmillan

High Times in the Low Parliament

Thursday, August 11 at 6PM Central/7PM Eastern (virtual event)

New Orleans bookstore Tubby and Coos hosts a virtual event with Nicola Griffith and me, on Thursday, August 11 at 6PM Central/7PM Eastern (to attend, you must register here).

Nicola has just published the superb queer Arthurian book SPEAR. We have thoughts about historical fantasy and probably will gab like wildfire. It’ll be fun!! (And if you haven’t read SPEAR yet, get it in your eyes.)

Friday, August 12 at 6PM Mountain time, 8PM Eastern (virtual panel)

Colorado bookstore Old Firehouse Books has Alix E. Harrow, Rachel Swirsky, and me at their Summer SpecFic Panel. All info is here — the event will stream to the bookstore via Facebook.

Saturday, August 13, at 3 PM Eastern
Live launch at Bakka Phoenix Books in Toronto

My book launch will be in person at Toronto’s Legendary Bakka Phoenix Books, (map). There will be cake! And laughs! Please come if you’re in Toronto, I’d love to see you!

Want a signed, personalized copy of HIGH TIMES IN THE LOW PARLIAMENT, but aren’t in Toronto or prefer to avoid strange germs (which is totally understandable!)? Order from Bakka Phoenix and I will sign it! In the instruction field, just let them know who the book should be dedicated to.

September 1 to 5
WorldCon in Chicago

The schedule isn’t finalized, but I’ll definitely be doing a kaffeeclatch, a signing, and a reading, along with several panels. See you there, I hope!

October 14 to 16
Can-Con in Ottawa

Ottawa’s Can-Con is one of my favorite conventions, attended (and organized!) by so many of my favorite people. I’ll definitely be there. You should be, too!

November 11 to 13
GoH at WindyCon

Alyx and I are excited to be Guests of Honor at WindyCon, in Lombard, IL. Come and hang out with us there this November!

Amal El-Mohtar, A.M. Dellamonica, and I team up for DRESSED AS PEOPLE

DRESSED AS PEOPLE, a play at the Ottawa Fringe Festival June 17-27

Exciting news! Amal El-Mohtar, A.M. Dellamonica, and I wrote a play together: DRESSED AS PEOPLE, performed by multi-award winning actor Margo MacDonald. You can stream it on demand during the Ottawa Fringe Festival, June 17 to 27. Tickets are $15 (Canadian) for this world premiere.

DRESSED AS PEOPLE
A Triptych of Uncanny Abduction

Skinless by Kelly Robson
The Shape of My Teeth by Amal El-Mohtar
Repositioning by A.M. Dellamonica
Performed by Margo MacDonald
Directed by Mary Ellis
Music by SIESKI

Tickets $15 / 75 minutes

A school haunted by troubled children, an encounter with the unknown on open waters, the mysterious disappearance of a friend. Three characters, three time periods, three tales of abduction and the intrusion of the uncanny into the lives of those who are taken, those who do the taking, and those who are left behind.

No spoilers!

What can I tell you about DRESSED AS PEOPLE that isn’t a spoiler? All three pieces are about supernatural abductions. Mine, Skinless, is emphatically horror. British playwright Alan Bennett is one of my heroes, and I tried to bring to the script something of his trademark whiplash effect. So watch out.

I can’t tell you anything about Amal’s piece The Shape of My Teeth, except it’s gorgeous and chilling. And A.M. Dellamonica’s piece Repositioning is probably my favorite of anything they’ve ever written – it’s hilarious and heartbreaking. All three pieces pack a powerful emotional punch. Audiences will be blown away.

WHAT A TEAM!

Margo MacDonald is a superb performer, so charismatic and charming (and scary!). I got to sit in on rehearsals alongside director Mary Ellis, and seeing them bring my words to life was something new and thrilling. As writers, we’re used to working alone. Collaborating live and in person (or rather, in pixel) with a pair of highly skilled professionals who care about the meaning and emotion behind every single word? It was like being able to hang on the shoulder and mind-meld with a passionate reader, over and over again, and feel the shape my story made in their brains. Wow.

Superb young songwriter and singer SIESKI is at this moment working on original music for the show. Legendary drag king Titus Androgynous has been supporting the company as Associate Producer, and we also have support from wonderful graphic designer K.

We will probably be having a special event for the premiere, so stay tuned for more info. Subscribe to the Perry Riposte newsletter (here in the right column) to get all the info when it’s hot!

Accessibility

Closed captioning and a sensory-friendly transcript of the show will be available to viewers.

What I published in 2020

In this year of our weirdness, with reality bending all around us, it’s actually difficult to remember what was done and when. I don’t think I’m alone in that!

So here it is in pixels — four short stories, three of them available to read for free online, and the other in a spectacular illustrated anthology. I’m proud of them all. If you read and liked them enough to nominate them for any award, I would be honored.

La Vitesse (Fantasy short story)
in The Book of Dragons, edited by Jonathan Strahan, July 2020

Monkey Work (Science Fiction short story)
at Serial Box, April 2020

Two Watersheds (Science Fiction short story)
in Avatars Inc., edited by Ann VanderMeer, March 2020

So You Want to be a Honeypot (Fantasy short story)
in Uncanny Magazine, March-April 2020