2015: My Writing Year in Review

This has been the best and wildest year of my writing career (and my life!) thus far. While I’ve been super-busy and very stressed out, there has been quite a lot of wonderful reaping of what has been sewn, which sounds weirdly scary and Biblical but is in this case entirely positive.

Four original stories of mine came out this year: “Transcription of an Eye” in the anthology Watchlist, “Descent” in Nightmare Magazine, “I Bury Myself” in Lady Churchill’s Rosebud Wristlet, and “Horror Story” in Granta. Of those four, three of CSkLhdAWEAAgDLxthose stories were solicited; I wrote them along certain thematic lines with the purpose of selling them to the market that asked for them. “Horror Story” was the only published fiction from this year that… how do I phrase this? Emerged naturally? The point is that I was very busy and while I had a lot of ideas for stories, and chipped away at a bunch of them, it was a slower year than usual. Plus, I spent six months in very unproductive book-on-the-market anxiety. (I also wrote another original story that’s currently on the market, and wrote and sold an adaptation of a Giambattista Basile fairy tale, “The Old Women Who Were Skinned,” to the 2016 issue of Fairy Tale Review.)

BASFF-2015That being said, I had a ton of reprints this year. Most notably, my 2014 story “Help Me Follow My Sister Into the Land of the Dead” was selected by Joe Hill to appear in Best American Science Fiction & Fantasy 2015. Two others, “The Husband Stitch” and “Observations About Eggs…” were selected for Year’s Best Weird, Volume 2, edited by Kathe Koja. “The Husband Stitch” was also translated into Chinese for Science Fiction World, and reprinted in The Long List Anthology.

It’s also been a great year for awards, nominations and otherwise. 2015-06-06_1433557657“The Husband Stitch” was nominated for both a Nebula and Shirley Jackson Award, longlisted for the Hugo Award and Ellen Datlow’s Best Horror of the Year, Vol. 7, and given a Special Mention for this year’s Pushcart Prize. (Nick Offerman was the Nebula ceremony’s toastmaster, and I got to meet him and write him a weird prophecy, which basically made my year.) “Inventory” took third place in the Million Writers Award and was a finalist for the Calvino Prize. “Observations About Eggs…” was also a finalist for the12182425_10101134215659595_3594191409585030521_o Calvino Prize. “Mothers” took third place for the Franz Kafka Award in Magic Realism. I also managed to secure myself two fellowships/grants this year: the Iowa Writers’ Workshop’s Michener-Copernicus Fellowship, and the SLF Diverse Writers & Diverse Worlds grants.

On the nonfiction front, I’ve done a ton of reviews & essays this year. Among my favorites: “O Adjunct! My Adjunct!” in The New Yorker, which went online while I was flying to Seattle to visit a friend and when I turned on my phone after I landed I had, like, 500 emails in my inbox and got to go on a local NPR affiliate to talk about adjuncting and 2015-03-25_1427310107the whole experience was wild and wonderful. Also “A Girl’s Guide to Sexual Purity” (one of their most-read essays of the year!) and “Unfilmable,” both appeared in LA Review of Books. I was also interviewed for Electric Literature and Al Día, and was written about with thoughtfulness and love at The Butter and LA Review of Books.

I did a lot of events this year, including a signing/panel with Joe Hill at Forbidden Planet in NYC and a2015-11-11_1447220498 Best American Science Fiction & Fantasy reading with Seanan McGuire for New York Review of Science Fiction‘s reading series (you can watch a recording of it here, complete with my tears). I’ll be doing a ton of traveling in the upcoming year as well, with readings/panels/events at AWP, the LSU Delta Mouth Literary Festival, the State Street Reading Series in Media, PA, and a Watchlist event at The Strand in NYC.

I also had my first guest-editing gig this year! Best Human & One of My Favorite Writers in the Universe Sam J. Miller and I co-edited the fall issue of Interfictions. Editing is awesome but unbelievably hard, as I’ve discovered. We’ll be putting together the fiction in the spring issue as well.

HUGEST NEWS OF 2015: After six months of biting my nails, angsting to Val, and uncontrollable weeping, I finally sold my debut short story collection, Her Body and Other Parties, to Ethan Nosowsky at Graywolf. I’m a huge fan of Graywolf, so the fact that my collection is coming out with them is basically one of the best things that’s ever happened to me. Ethan is amazing, and I can’t wait to meet the book that emerges from our mutual edits.

PW Announcement (FB)

In non-writing news, Val and I got engaged this year. That means in 2017 I’ll be2015-03-06_1425675438 getting married and my debut book will be coming out. Whaaaaaaaaaaaat. 2016, you better do something impressive, because 2017 is already outshining you.

Re: last year’s resolutions, I’m two for five (oof!). I sold my collection (the redacted resolution) and took on only two good-cause no-pay freelancing projects. I didn’t do as much reading or reviewing as I wanted, and I started two entirely new projects, so Venus Would Freeze is currently languishing unloved in a folder.

In any case, here are my 2016 Writing New Year’s Resolutions:

  1. Complete Her Body and Other Parties edits.
  2. Finish draft of [redacted nonfiction project].
  3. Attend at least one full-length residency.
  4. Make headway on [redacted fiction project].
  5. Only take on two good-cause no-pay freelancing projects.
  6. Read at least 3 books per month.

This year has been intense but amazing. 2016, I’m ready for you. Give me all you got.

My Campbell Award Eligibility & Recommendations

I made an awards eligibility post a few weeks ago, but it occurs to me that I should make one specifically for the Campbell, since it covers two years’ worth of work.

I am in my second qualifying year for the Campbell Award. My first professional sale was to Strange Horizons, for “Inventory,” which was published in January 2013. Since then, I’ve published 19 short stories in a mix of genre/non-genre magazines.

Last year, I included my three favorite stories from 2013 in the Campbell anthology.

(I also published one other genre story that wasn’t included in the anthology: “Real Women Have Bodies” at FiveChapters.)

In her NPR review of the 2013 Campbell anthology, K. Tempest Bradford recommended me for nomination, writing:

Carmen Maria Machado’s stories build and build until they surround and ensnare, and at the end you’re always glad to be all tangled up. My favorite, “Especially Heinous: 272 Views of Law & Order SVU,” defies explanation. Call it postmodern, or fan fiction, or Lovecraft meets Dick Wolf — all labels fall short of capturing the essence of this story.

This year, the 2014 Campbell anthology will include:

  • “California Statutes Concerning Defrauding an Innkeeper” / AGNI
  • Mothers” / Interfictions
  • The Husband Stitch” / Granta (recently selected for inclusion in Year’s Best Weird Fiction, Vol. 2)

In addition to these stories, I published three other speculative stories, including:

When it comes to my personal ballot, here are the other writers on my shortlist:

2014: Year in Review, Looking Forward, and Thank You

On the writing front, 2014 has been a very fruitful and exciting year for me:

This summer, I attended my first-ever residency at The Millay Colony of the Arts in Austerlitz, NY. It was there that I fulfilled one of my resolutions from last year: completely a draft of my novel Venus Would Freeze. I also attended Sycamore Hill – a speculative fiction writers’ retreat in the gorgeous mountains of North Carolina – with some wildly talented people, and workshopped my novella “The Resident.”

In October, I received the 2014 – 2015 CINTAS Foundation Fellowship in Creative Writing. This fellowship for writers and other artists of Cuban descent will help me spend the upcoming spring revising/working on my novel and other projects. I also received Honorable Mentions for my applications for the Speculative Literature Foundation‘s Diverse Worlds and Diverse Writer Grants, was a finalist for the American Short Fiction Contest, and was a runner-up for the Michener-Copernicus Fellowship. Additionally, my story “Inventory” was selected as a finalist for the 2014 storySouth Million Writers’ Award, and is currently in the running for the top prize. (You can vote for “Inventory” here.)

I taught a lot this year. At Rosemont College’s MFA program, I ran classes on horror & mystery writing and 21st century literature, and a fiction workshop. At Moravian, I taught a speculative fiction course to undergrads, and gave a lecture on writing with constraints during the inaugural Moravian Writers’ Conference. Over the summer, I traveled back to my beloved Iowa City where I taught a speculative fiction course for a group of bright, talented high schoolers for the Iowa Young Writers’ Studio and flash fiction and YA courses for the Iowa Summer Writing Festival. I’m also a thesis advisor for several of Rosemont’s MFA candidates. It’s been a busy year re: teaching, but a great one.

On the fiction front, I published six short stories in 2014: “Mothers” in Interfictions (also a finalist for the American Short Fiction Contest, judged by Amy Hempel), “The Husband Stitch” in Granta, “Ekphrasis” in the Yalobusha Review, “Please Help Me Follow My Sister into the Land of the Dead” in Help Fund My Robot Army and reprinted in Lightspeed Magazine, “California Statutes Concerning Defrauding an Innkeeper” in AGNI, and “Observations About Eggs from the Man Sitting Next to Me on a Flight from Chicago, Illinois to Cedar Rapids, Iowa” in Lightspeed Magazine. “Mothers” and “The Husband Stitch” in particular received a lot of attention and praise.

As for nonfiction, I continued to write a lot of criticism this year, including reviews for Kirkus, Women’s Review of Books, LA Review of Books, PANK, and NPR. My favorite book I reviewed this year was John Darnielle’s Wolf in White Van, a blurb from which landed in the print edition of The New YorkerI also published a series of essays this year, including “A Girl’s Guide to Sexual Purity” in the LARB Quarterly Journal and “The Afterlife of Pia Farrenkopf” in The New Yorker. I also published a humor piece at one of my favorite online publications, The Toast: “What the Color of Your Urine Says About You.”

Throughout the year, I gave a series of readings and lectures alongside some really exciting writers, including Diane Cook, Stephanie Feldman, Julianna Baggott, and Helen Klein Ross. Perhaps most excitingly, I also gave the keynote address at my high school alma mater’s National English Honors Society induction ceremony, which was very affirming and lovely.

Last year, I had a series of writing resolutions: Finish a draft of my novel, take on no more than three unpaid freelance assignments, seek out more paid freelancing assignments, get back into my old pre-move writing routine, and read 1 novel or story collection per week. I fulfilled all of these with one significant exception: I didn’t come close to reading one novel or collection per week. I really overscheduled myself this year, and had almost no free time to do much of anything, including read. That’s going to change in the spring.

Here are my 2015 Writing New Year’s Resolutions:

  1. Take on no more than two unpaid freelance assignments. (Must be for very good reason.)
  2. Read one novel or story collection per week.
  3. Complete 2nd & 3rd drafts of Venus Would Freeze.
  4. Review more short fiction/novels/etc. via social media & this blog.
  5. [Redacted for superstition’s sake – I’ll let you know in a year’s time if I manage to achieve this very lofty final goal.]

So far, I have a few pieces forthcoming from various places in 2015:

My story “Difficult at Parties” will be reprinted in Latino/a Rising, published by Restless Books. My brand-new short story “Transcription of An Eye” will be featured in the surveillance-themed anthology Watchlist from OR Books. Another new short story, “Descent,” will be in Nightmare Magazine. And my essay “On Kevin Brockmeier & Michelle Huneven” will appear in  A Manner of Being: Writers on Their Mentors from University of Massachusetts Press.

This spring, I’m teaching a class on Form & Content in Fiction at Rosemont, which I’m very excited about. I’m going to try and do for this course what I did for 2014’s Mystery & Horror Writing course – talk about the readings and exercises week-to-week on this blog. I’ll also be working hard on the personal projects I had to neglect this summer & fall because of my schedule. And this fall, I’ll be teaching at Rosemont and St. Joseph’s.

There’s been some rough personal stuff this year, but with the help of my patient and loving partner, Val Howlett, my incredible agent, Kent Wolf, my stalwart siblings, Mario and Stefanie, my mentors, including Michelle Huneven, Kevin Brockmeier, and Sam Chang, and an innumerable number of friends, co-workers, fellow writers, editors, and loved ones, I managed to get through it, and then some. Bring it on, 2105 – I can’t wait.

On “Mothers” & the Process of Writing Pain

My story “Mothers” is in the newest issue of Interfictions. I want to talk for just a bit about this story, because I feel like the process of writing it was unusual but important to talk about.

I wrote the first half of “Mothers” several years ago, when I was mired deep in an abusive relationship that was still in blissful honeymoon stage. I got the idea for the story – two women who make a baby together – and wrote and wrote and wrote and then just… stopped. I didn’t lose interest, I didn’t pursue other things, I just slammed up against an invisible wall. I struggled with it for a bit – what happened next? What was this story about? – and then eventually dropped it into a file of abandoned and half-written stories and forgot about it.

Fast-forward to a year later: I finally managed to extract myself from the abusive relationship. I also somehow managed to finish my classes and my thesis, though how, I’m still not exactly sure. I was supposed to attend the Clarion Science Fiction & Fantasy Writers’ Workshop that summer. I couldn’t have known when I applied to Clarion how badly I would need it – a place to get away from myself, a group of amazing and supportive human beings, distraction, a place to focus my energy and my work – but I careened away from Iowa City in my tiny car with clothes and weird stuff in laundry baskets bouncing in the back and a baseball bat in the passenger seat. I inched my way across the US, alone for days. When I arrived in San Diego, I was ready for anything.

At Clarion, you’re encouraged to write six brand-new stories, one per week, and avoid any “trunk stories” you have laying around. It’s a great system, and I mostly stuck to it – except there was one week where I dug “Mothers” (then called “Mother”) out of that file. I spent an afternoon on a balcony overlooking the fragrant, sunny campus, my bare feet resting on the peeling iron railing, re-reading what I’d written. And I realized, with horror, that my past-self had written this story romantically, because I’d been in love. But when I re-read it all I could see was claustrophobia, manipulation, latent terror. I cried. Then I wrote an ending. Because now I knew how it ended. I finally understood what my former self hadn’t – what the story was really about.

My Clarion class, led by the brilliant teaching team of Holly Black and Cassie Clare, workshopped the story and gave me lots of feedback. I took it back to Iowa, where I had a third year teaching fellowship, rewrote it, and shared it with my writing group. They also gave me a lot of feedback. I continued to work on it. My now-girlfriend, Val, observed that the story was a “raw howl of pain,” and that felt right. Sometimes fiction can be too painful to work on, too near, and I worked on it, backed off, worked on it again. It still feels like a rawl howl of pain, but one with definable borders, and that is something to be proud of, I think. And I love that this story has so many writer-fingerprints all over it, so much attention, so many mothers. I couldn’t have done it without these writing communities around me – these brilliant, thoughtful people. That is true for a lot of fiction, I think, but I’m not sure I could have ever fully shouldered the burden that was this particular story without them.

So I hope you enjoy “Mothers,” not to mention all of the other incredible fiction, nonfiction, and poetry at the new issue of Interfictions. 

Updates: io9 & #pitchbitch

K. Tempest Bradford says lovely things about “Please Help Me Follow My Sister Into the Land of the Dead” over at io9:

This story is a reprint from the anthology Help Fund My Robot Army!!! (edited by John Joseph Adams) where all of the stories take the form of crowdfunding pleas. The concept is interesting but I had my doubts about whether or not it could be pulled off without seeming gimmicky. I should have known that Machado’s story would be brilliant and work exactly right, given that she’s already proved her skill at spinning great tales through unconventional story structures.

Also, my interview with Estelle Tang about pitching and writing literary criticism is up at #pitchbitch. Check it out!

Updates: Granta & Especially Heinous

Two bits of news! First of all, my story “The Husband Stitch” will be appearing online at Granta around Halloween, alongside their fall issue, “Fate.” I absolutely love Granta and am honored and excited to have my work appearing there.

Secondly, over at Huffington Post Books, Arna Bontemps Hemenway calls “Especially Heinous: 272 Views of Law & Order SVU” one of the “best short stories you’ve never read.”

By turns funny, disturbing, canny, and inventive, this novella takes the form of fictional episode summaries of the famous show (but if the show, as one reader puts it, were directed by David Lynch). Machado, another new voice in American fiction, manages to create an engaging, strange, and wholly original story that draws into conversation sexual violence, popular culture, and our own weird-feeling relationships therein.

Thank you, Arna!

Links: Genre, Risky Reads, & the Land of the Dead

lightspeed_50_july_2014Fellow writer and friend E.J. Fischer has a brilliant map of the rhetorical relationships between genres up at his website. It’s great for anyone who teaches fiction writing and is available under a creative commons license for use in the classroom.

My essay “Michel Faber’s ‘Crimson’ Gave Teen A New Sense Of Possibility” is up at NPR Books as a part of their PG-13/Risky Reads series.

My Kickstarter-shaped story “Help Me Follow My Sister Into the Land of the Dead” is out in the brand-new anthology Help Fund My Robot Army!!!, and can also be read at Lightspeed. My author interview is full of thoughts about formal conceits and crowdfunding.