Once & Future

Charlotte Ashley – Book seller, collector, writer, editor, historian

December 29, 2016

Packing 2016 Away, Remembering

I had a good 2016.

*ducks, waits for fruit to stop flying*

I did, though. I can’t be cagey about it. I’ve been collegially glum when appropriate this year, but I have to agree with Chris Kutarna, who, when speaking on CBC’s The Current this month, pointed out that periods of great disruption are going to have jolts and shakes in all directions, but we have to retain some perspective or we are at risk of becoming fatalistic. “This is a deeply contested moment,” he said, and that rang true with me. Nobody has won anything. This is not the end of history.

Picture of M used entirely without her permission.

For my little family, this is barely the beginning. My kids, Maggie & Oonagh, are now 8 and 5 years old, respectively. We are into real people territory, complete with opinions, tastes, hobbies, activities, and drama. Maggie reads non-stop, spending all her pocket money on books (benefit #1 of having a bookseller mother: any book you can find an ISBN for, at a discount.) She has become, additionally, a constant library-user. When she started finding typos in her books, she enthusiastically wondered whether perhaps this was a career path: she could read books for a living and find any errors before they go to print! Yes, Maggie discovered editing. I’ve tried to interest her in doing some guest-posts for me, or some YouTube reviews, but alas, she is – well, not shy, I should say, because she is in no way afraid to approach people in real life. But she is private. She doesn’t want her photo online, let alone her words or video. “It’s creepy,” she tells me. Well!

Oonagh learned to read this year as well, though she prefers graphic novels. More energetic by far than her sister, she prefers active games with elaborate props and settings. The stories she tells are delightful, if a little – shall we say, misleading? Her teachers are under several misconceptions about Oonagh’s home life due to her storytelling. We lucked into a teacher this year who is absolutely understanding, however; open-minded when corrected and very keen to encourage her storytelling. “Maybe she will be a writer!” she enthused at parent-teacher interview time. My partner and I both groaned. “Can’t you make her be a doctor?” I was joking, sort of.

The very best thing about kids growing older is that they loosen their grip on you. I went out more this year than I have in the previous ten years, and I’ve been able to take on projects I never could have before. In addition to publishing three new short stories (and two reprints), this year I wrote and performed a story accompanied by the incredible Junction Trio – “Distant Skies.” I learned about lighting and microphones, about the technical limitations of theremin(s?) and the rehearsal habits of professional musicians. I learned I really enjoy stage work, and I plan to do more in the future.

And there was more! I went to Ad Astra, launched Clockwork Canada twice, and read to a crowded room at SFContario. I hosted a really lovely music + writing workshop as part of the House Culture Festival. I went out to a book launch or drinks with writers at least once a month. I felt nourished, supported, and part of something that’s moving in a good direction.

It was also a year for professional firsts. I was nominated for both the Sunburst and Aurora Awards. The same story was listed on both the Nebula recommended reading and Locus recommended reading lists. I sold a story to my very-first Best Of anthology. I had my very first magazine cover. I had my very first Podcast story. I became eligible for full SFWA membership.

By the numbers? I submitted 17 stories (!) 32 times. 14 of these submissions were reprint submissions, which was my biggest push this year.  I sold 2 reprints and another 9 are still under consideration. That only means 3 reprint rejections, but who is counting?

Of the 8 unpublished stories that I submitted the remaining 18 times, 2 were sold – both on their first submission. The remaining 6 poor stories are mostly ones I have had in circulation for three years now. You’d think I’d take the hint, but no. What would I submit, if not these poor, neglected babies?

New writing, maybe? This year, I wrote approximately 54,000 words of new fiction, half of which went into a novel that is now on hold. I did finish 3 new stories, though; two novelettes and a short. I wrote mountains of non-fiction, worldbuilding, and plans. I didn’t track the latter this year, but I can say with certainty that I wrote something almost every day this year, even if it wasn’t publishable word count.

2017 is already prepped to be exciting. I have two publications on the horizon – one in Rich Horton’s Year’s Best Fantasy & Science Fiction 2017 and another soon-to-be-announced work that I am particularly fond of.

We are looking for new venues for more revised, polished performances of  “Distant Skies.” And we enjoyed the process so much that violinist Ivana Popovic and I have plans to do more music/science fiction collaborations in the future under the name Theiamania. 

I am half way through a novella-length alt-history murder mystery, set in the same world as “La Héron.” The main character is a banker with a preference for flings with ogres, and I love her.

And, last but not least, I have a serial in progress. The details will have to be terrible secret at the moment, but suffice to say this project is going to be big, fun, exciting, amazing, and so, so good.

You guys. 2017. It’s gonna be great.

December 18, 2016

On Focus and Reading

My brain feels like swiss cheese, only instead of holes, I have portals. Tunnels, sucking me out of my brain and into some other place, some other thought, and then sideways, down again, and – and I’m already off topic, because I barely know what the topic was. So, I will go back to the middle, and then digress a few times to points earlier than that, and maybe, if I’m lucky, I might find a beginning that hints at a source, or a cause, of my problems.

I have always had a hard time focusing on one thing, but it has become worse. So much worse. Infinitely worse.

Initially, I pegged the point where my lack of focus was actually hindering me – as opposed to just causing a kind of multitasking superself that could accomplish multiple things at once – as the decision to start taking anti-anxiety medication. The drugs helped me in so many ways that I didn’t mind much that I was having trouble with my memory, short term especially. My brain was overactive before, being merely active should have been fine.

But things slip from me now like I’m carrying water in a net. It’s not just funny things, like putting the sugar pot into the freezer or calling a bus a train. I read ten pages of a book and find I have no idea what I’m reading about. I’ve been thinking about something else, something unrelated. Or I schedule a lunch date and a doctor’s appointment into the same slot, and despite knowing I have both upcoming, I fail to notice they conflict. They’re on parallel, separate, timelines in my head. I don’t put them together until I’m in trouble.

I blamed the drugs, but in all honesty, the stress of the events leading up to the decision to take drugs had caused my brain to fragment long before drugs got involved, and the extra work I took on in its wake didn’t help either. I’m assured that this kind of dysfunction is common in overworked people. “Pregnancy brain”, “mommy brain”, and, probably, “freelancer brain” are all real things that turn high-functioning adults into badly-trained puppies. I’m told I should relax, maybe take less on. I had an ex who told me his over-worked sister had a stroke in her 30s, and I should be mindful of that. I dismissed that, at the time, as not how strokes work. Now I wonder.

But could I ever focus? Really? I recall being a teenager, sitting in my favourite spot on a baseboard heater, trying to read – something – but being so distracted by my own reactions to the text that I just couldn’t make any headway. I had my journal at my elbow, and I’d have to put the book down and write instead; get my own thoughts out of the way. I say “out of the way” like I could dump them, then go back to the text unimpeded; but no. Once my brain was headed in another direction, there was nothing to do but follow it. I’d start a novel instead, or a web venture, or rope three friends into mounting some kind of expedition. There was nothing for it, really. I never finished anything.

My generation is remarked upon as being one with no focus, no ability to read or learn deeply. We, society, blame media. That might be it. I’m on the edge, GenX by some calculations and Millennial by others, but the internet came early into my life in the form of BBSes and the Carleton University Freenet in the early ’90s. I was always dividing my brain space between what I was supposed to be doing, and this secondary track wondering, how was I going to mine what I was doing for a good narrative to share? Could I post about this to alt.gothic, or send an email about it to the-boy-I-liked?

If media – social media – is to blame, can I pull back? Is the solution to my lack of focus, to my declining memory, to flip a switch, go offline? The world is full of pundits who certainly think so. But they tell stories of existence that mean nothing to me. They have always been good, focused students who chose to avoid the distraction of the internet, or introverts who were just as happy without external stimulus. I read a study about alcoholics recently that found the people with the easiest time avoiding alcohol were – get ready for it – people who didn’t really like alcohol anyway. Alcoholics had a taste for it.

Extroverts, too, are energized by social interaction, and what is the internet if not a constant, 24/7 source of stimulation? Introverts find this tiring, but I’m not an introvert, and never have been. I’m not going to become one by quitting Twitter. Even as a child, before media, I invented friends in my head and spoke to them for hours. I started journaling at a very early age, more interaction with an imaginary companion. I wrote letters to all my friends and talked to them on the phone whenever possible. It’s not media. It’s me.

When I realized I was having greater-than-usual problems with my focus, I thought it might be my nearly-drugged brain needing time to form new connections. The net needed to be woven a little tighter. I could still take on everything, I just needed to practice. Like mythical monks or vikings, my version of training involved beating my head against the stone wall in order to make it stronger. I’m not sure if it’s working, or if I’m giving myself a concussion. Is it both? Maybe I need more training.

Last night I found myself playing video games – one of the few things I can focus on, because of whatever it is that makes hyperfocus work – and I realized I was too tense, too stimulated to get to sleep. So I shut my device off and picked up my book instead. My brain physically hurt. I’d been having headaches for days. Christmas does this too me – too much to remember and keep track of. Even I can see a limit when it is that obvious. So I climbed into bed, picked up my book and resolved to relax and focus.

Within moments, I could feel the hole. A portal, with a tunnel. I wanted to channel what I was reading – and the fifty thousand ideas it had spawned already – out. I was composing Tweets and a blog post and wondering how I could use this idea for a story and wondering if I should Google stroke symptoms. It was the same feeling you get when you get “sucked into” a book, only it was sucking me out; or perhaps sucking me into something else, something more fragmented. I tried not thinking, but that just made me sleepy, and the whole point of reading this book (interviews with authors) was to make me think. I wanted to be sucked into the book, not out. Why can’t I just focus?

How does anyone? I could have read a stupider book, I suppose; something that would only amuse me and not give me any cause to think about anything. Or I could have kept a notebook at hand, like I used to – a bedside book to make notes as I read. I could try to “just listen,” reserving reaction until I had absorbed the whole, but I can’t even do this in a conversation. If I wait for someone to finish their soliloquy, I can’t remember by the end what I’d been desperate to say at the beginning. I am a terrible interrupter. Apologies to literally everyone I have ever met in real life.

I try to imagine the habits of great, deep readers of pre-media pasts. What did they do? Could they somehow channel their own ideas and thoughts into a holding area of their brain, to be written out and expanded upon at the end? Is this a brain-building skill, like a memory palace? Will it help me hold all of this *gestures at all of space and time* a little better?

How is it done, and can it be done by me?

I don’t really know.

November 24, 2016

November, Continued.

I didn’t mean for this to be The Month With Everything. But sometimes, when it rains, it pours, and all I can do is try to keep up with the deluge. So here we go…

“A Fine Balance” in Rich Horton’s Year’s Best Science Fiction and Fantasy 2017!

The headline pretty much says it all! My latest F&SF story, “A Fine Balance,” has been picked up for a Year’s Best! I got this news a mere two weeks ago when I was in dire need of a pick-me up, and I’m still flying.

For the full Table of Contents, check out Black Gate. The book should be published in June 2017 and available in bookstores everywhere. You can even pre-order it soon!

“Eleusinian Mysteries” in You Are Here: Tales of Cartographic Wonders!

You Are Here is the latest anthology put together by the amazing folks of SFFWorld, and I’m pleased to be able to say that it includes my story “Eleusinian Mysteries.” This is the tale of a 17th century engraver who finds a map of the moon.

You Are Here is available as an ebook now! You can get it from:

Amazon

Smashwords

Barnes & Noble

Kobo

This Weekend in Toronto! A Workshop, Some Music, the Distant Skies

The Festival of House Culture wraps up this weekend, but my two events are yet to come. If you find yourself in Toronto this weekend, you can join me at 7:30pm on Friday, November the 25th for Words and Music 1, an evening of writing and music. Bring your work in progress for some workshopping, and enjoy some jazz while you are at it! Entry is PWYC. Check out the Facebook event for more details.

Then, on Saturday at 5pm, the Junction Trio & guests will be mounting our second performance of Distant Skies! This showing will be at CrossFit Lugal on St. Clair (right at Landsdowne) and will be more intimate than the first concert. Bring folding chairs or cushions, if you like, though there will be plenty of gym-equipment seating. You can RSVP for this show also on Facebook.

Hope to see you!

November 17, 2016

SFContario This Weekend!

Never one to let a fresh haircut go to waste, I will be reading at SFContario this weekend! This is traditionally Toronto’s “downtown convention,” but this year the organizers decided to take a bit of a breather and scale the event down. “Fannish Stone Soup” is this year’s theme, meaning it’ll be whatever it is, given the ingredients. Think of it as an extended BarCon!

The ingredients are looking pretty great, though. The Con Suite will open at 5pm Friday night for socializing, with most “special guests” booked for Saturday. Saturday’s line up is as follows:

2:00 PM — Tonya Liburd
3:00 PM — Charlotte Ashley (that’s me)
4:00 PM — Herb Kauderer
5:00 PM — Caitlin Sweet and Peter Watts
6:00 PM — Kari Maaren
7:00 PM — Peggi Warner-Lalonde

Earlier in the day, expect a variety of silly and fun activities, including sugary cereal breakfast in the Con Suite, electrifying pickles, and the David Hartwell Memorial Fancy Tie Contest.

For my part, I will be reading some or all of my latest F&SF story, “A Fine Balance,” and talking about ACTION SCENES! I’ll have copies of my stories on hand for sale, and flyers for the next Distant Skies show. For all SFContario-related info, visit http://www.sfcontario.ca/ or follow them @SFContario on Twitter!

November 15, 2016

Distant Skies – Tomorrow @ 7:30pm!

Well, what do you think? Do I look like I’m from the 25th century? My partner says I look like I’m from the ’70s, which by today’s very low standards, is pretty much the future. I am from the retro-future. The future that should have been.

Tomorrow is the big show. At 7:30pm, I will take to the stage with the Junction Trio and we will mount the first-ever performance of Distant Skies. 

Okay, Charlotte. We’ve heard you talk about this show, like, constantly for the last two months. What on Earth is Distant Skies?

Distant Skies is my latest short story. It is also a chamber music concert, a collaborative dramatic performance, and a spectacle.

Through music and words, we will tell the story of Aerobelle, a community on the brink of change. Though Aerobelle’s citizens are bound to her ancient towers by body promises – genetic, heritable contracts – they are about to discover older, even stronger promises their bodies have made. This is a story of love and loyalty, the familiar and the unknown, trust and resistance.

As I tell the story, the Junction Trio and two guest theremin players will present complimentary music, including works by Vivaldi, Mozart, Hayden, and a new work by Ivana Popovic. One part reading and two parts performance, Distant Skies is something else.

I’m nervous excited as hell about this! I hope you’ll come see one of our performances. You can get more details at the Facebook event here, or just come out on a whim. Wish us luck!

November 7, 2016

Nov/Dec 2016 F&SF Now Available!

It’s here! The November/December 2016 issue of The Magazine of Fantasy & Science Fiction, which includes my story, “A Fine Balance,” is in stores now!

A Fine Balance” by Charlotte Ashley is a twisting and turning political story where the politics are based upon duels… This was well written and quite enjoyable.” – Bob Blough @ Tangent Online

A Fine Balance” has taken all that made “La Héron” exceptional, perfected it, and distilled it.” – Haralambi Markov @ Tor.com

If your local magazine shop doesn’t carry it, you can get paper copies and subscriptions directly from F&SF at: https://www.sfsite.com/fsf/toc1611.htm

NEW! You can now get DRM-free issues & subscriptions from Weightless Books!

Amazon sells the Kindle edition, of course.

If you are an SFWA member, you can check out any of F&SF’s stories in the Nebula forums.

WORST CASE? You can buy one from me! I’ll be widely available to the public myself this month.

You can join me at the first performance of “Distant Skies” with the Junction Trio at 7:30 pm on Wednesday, November 16th 2016.

You can come see me read & chat at SFContario 6 66/100 at 3 pm on Saturday, November 19th 2016.

Or maybe you’d like to join me for an evening of writing workshopping and jazz as part of the Festival 0f House Culture at 7:30 pm on Friday, November the 25th 2016.

Or maybe you’d prefer to come to the 2nd performance of “Distant Skies” on Saturday, November 26th, 2016, at CrossFit Lugal.

I will have copies of all my back issues of F&SF at these shows, as well as copies of Clockwork Canada. I’d be pleased to see you anywhere!

October 24, 2016

November!

Okay, DON’T PANIC. It isn’t November yet. We are all still living, physically, in October – scrambling for last-minute Halloween costumes, buying Dollarama Halloween decor for everyday living [mugs and candlesticks AMIRITE] – but my brain has been in November for months now. I’ve got publications, shows, conventions, more shows, and a workshop coming up. The dreary rains of November have never seemed so exciting – for me.

A New Story @ F&SF!

I have a new short story out in a week! “A Fine Balance” is the story of two perfectly-matched legendary duelists who find their rivalry is being meddled with by persons unknown. Chases, escapes, daring duels and miraculous feats! You know, the usual. Over at Tor.com, Haralambi Markov says:

“A Fine Balance” has taken all that made “La Héron” exceptional, perfected it, and distilled it.

The Nov/Dec 2016 issue of F&SF should hit newsstands everywhere on November 1st!

Reading at SFContario 6!

Can’t find a copy of F&SF in time? I will be reading “A Fine Balance” at this year’s “Fannish Stone Soup” iteration of SFContario. I will be there on Saturday, November 19th 2016 as well as, probably, the meet-and-greet on Friday.

In addition to reading, I will be talking a little bit about physicality in SFF literature, exploring how we can use action to talk about broader themes of ableism, militarism, gender roles, bullying, and more. Come on out – this should be an intimate and chatty little gathering. Just some fun.

A New Work – With Music!

I will be debuting a new story, “Distant Skies,” in collaboration with The Junction Trio, on Wednesday, November 16th 2016 at 7:30pm, St. Anne’s Anglican Church (270 Gladstone Ave. Toronto.) I will perform this story live as a dramatic reading and concert, featuring the chamber music of the Junction Trio, a new composition by Ivana Popovic, and a guest theremin player!

Marrit Shaw’s life was promised to others centuries ago. Genetic, heritable contracts called “body promises” haunt every decision she makes. What choices are truly her own, and which were coded into her by her forefathers? Marrit is determined to fight to keep her people free from their genetic obligations, but looming on the horizon is her body promise to a generation ship which has just returned from a 200-year voyage.

Follow the Junction Trio on Facebook for more on them and their work!

And If You Miss The First Show…

We will be performing “Distant Skies” a SECOND TIME! The second performance will be held at CrossFit Lugal (1331 St. Clair Ave. West, Toronto) as part of the Festival of House Culture on Saturday, November 26th, 2016 @ 5pm. This performance might just make a little more use of the space, and involve a bit of an acrobatic element. WE WILL SEE. 😉

Writing Workshop + Culture!

And finally… also as part of the Festival of House Culture, I will be running a small writing workshop on Friday, November 25th, 2016 (location TBA.) Here’s the pitch:

Bring your works in progress to this 2h writing workshop hosted by editor, critic, bookseller, and author, Charlotte Ashley!

Your host will read, anonymously, the first 250 words (approximately 1 page) of each manuscript out loud. Participants will then be invited to provide friendly and constructive feedback, led and moderated by the host. Issues of style, craft, and marketability will all be addressed. Come ready to ask questions and share experiences!

We will conclude with a general question and answer session, addressing a writer’s life, from outlining to publication. Writers of all levels, genres, styles, and mediums are encouraged to attend!

The writing workshop will likely be paired with another House Culture performer, so in addition to some writing work & talk, you will get some [probably musical] entertainment as well. I don’t see how this can go wrong!

Phew! Right? Yah, I’m a busy bee. But I like it that way. As ever, I’m always happy to hear from people in the comments or by email. Don’t be shy – I am people people!

July 27, 2016

“La Héron” to be Podcast!

I have a confession about podcasts:

I have never listened to a podcast.

I want to, I really do. I have no objection to the medium. I have so many wonderfully talented friends who have established themselves as serious, successful podcasters and I would love to listen to their art. But my life has become an audio-free zone – I work in a bookstore that is frequently mistaken for a library; quiet and solemn as a monastery. I commute with children and need to be alert and unplugged so as not to lose them. I somehow fell through the technological cracks when radios and CDs went out of style, and I have no way of streaming audio in my home. I have downloaded gigabytes of podcasts onto my (silent, muted) laptop, optimistically filing them away to be listened to “eventually”, but here I am, a 20-year veteran of the internet, and I have never listened to a single one.

That is going to change, because I have just sold the audio rights to “La Héron”.

Yeppers! The ink is fresh on the contract. The story that first appeared in the March/April 2015 issue of F&SF, will soon be produced by PodCastle in audio form! Date and narrator tbd (watch this space) but you had better believe I am going to go out of my way to listen to this one. I will rent the headphones if I have to.

*

Speaking of “La Héron”, the voting period has closed for the Aurora Awards. The final tally will be announced at When Worlds Collide/Canvention 36 in Calgary, AB the weekend of August 12-14th, 2016. Thank you to all of you who nominated me, and even bigger thanks if you voted for me! I am as excited as hell for my pin, to say nothing of any hopes of winning.

In case you missed it, “La Héron” was also selected by the Sunburst Awards jury for the shortlist! No voting involved here: the decision is now in the hands of the judges. The Sunburst winners will be announced September 14th, 2016. Squee!

June 16, 2016

It’s Awards Season in Canada!

It’s heeeeeere! Voting for the Prix Aurora Awards has finally opened, and I get to go make ticky-marks next to some of my best, most favourite people in Canadian SFF. And you could too – actually, AS A MATTER OF FACT – you have now the rare opportunity to put a ticky-mark next to me! My short story, La Héron“, is up for Best Short Story-English.

Between now and midnight EST on July 23rd, 2016, you can download the voter’s packet & vote for the best of Canadian SFF if you are a CSFFA member. Just visit http://www.prixaurorawards.ca/, log in to your account (or, hell, join and make an account) and play along. The awards will be given out at When Worlds Collide in Calgary, Alberta the weekend of August 12-14th, 2016.

Speaking of Canadian awards… “La Héron” has also been longlisted for the Sunburst Award in their new short fiction category! The short list will be announced July 5th, and the winners September 14th. The list is spectacular, including some of the best writers in the world, full-stop. There’s nothing you can do to help my chances here, but thank you for asking. I’ll have my fingers crossed at home.

 

April 24, 2016

My Ad Astra Schedule!

This weekend, I will be at Ad Astra 2016 in Richmond Hill, Ontario. This is a really fun local genre con with a focus on literature – busy, family-friendly, and well-run! I will be there the whole weekend, but if you need to nail me down more exactly, here is where I can be found:

The Relationship Between a Self-Publisher and Their Editor
Friday, April 29th @ 8pm, Room Richmond B
With Charlotte Ashley, Beverly Bambury, Jennifer Jaquith, Rob Howell, Vanessa Ricci-Thode

Clockwork Canada: Steampunk Fiction Launch Party
Friday, April 29th @ 9pm, Suite 1086
With Charlotte Ashley, Dominik Parisien, Kate Heartfield, Kate Story, Claire Humphrey

Do Used Books Help or Hurt Authors and Publishers?
Saturday, April 30th @ 11am, Room Richmond B
With Charlotte Ashley, Brett Savory, Jen Frankel, Peter Halasz, Timothy Carter

Crafting a Believable Alternate History
Saturday, April 30th @ 2pm, Room Richmond B
With Charlotte Ashley, Dominik Parisien, Jack Whyte, Kate Story, Stephen Kotowych

Don’t be a stranger – if you see me, say hi!

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