The Whether Here



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The First Sentences Project (Part Two)

Today in the Whether Here, we're back with Part Two of The First Sentences Project that I'm participating in with Eric Schwitzgebel, Rachel Swirsky, Aliette de Bodard, and Ann Leckie. If you missed Part One in the last post, here's a little background about the project from Eric:

How much can you predict about a story from its title and first sentence alone?  Aliette de Bodard, Ann Leckie, Cati Porter, Rachel Swirsky and I aim to find out!  We have taken the first sentences of five stories from July’s issue of Lightspeed Magazine [link] (kindly provided to us in advance by John Joseph Adams) and attempted to predict the plot of each story.  [Note: Ann and Rachel attempted to predict based on the first sentence alone, while Aliette, Cati, and I also looked to the title for clues.]

Our first story was “Magnifica Angelica Superable” by Rochita Loenen-Ruiz.

Our second story is "The One Who Isn't" by Ted Kosmatka. The first sentence is:

It starts with light.

Go visit Eric's blog to read our guesses!


Cati likes science fiction? Or, the First Sentences Project, part 1

Happy day after Independence Day!

I hope you made it through unscathed. Last evening my family celebrated our independence by eating at El Torito, and I celebrated my own by being the only drinker at the table, because who can eat chips and salsa without a margarita? We then watched the big fireworks display over Mt. Rubidoux (also dubbed "The Annual Mt. Rubidoux Fire") and ate watermelon and played frisby in the parking lot and made tiny sparks of our own with the only legal "fireworks" allowed in our city, purchased at Target, though if the parade of fire engines and dog howls throughout the night were any indicator, we weren't the only ones who made our own, independent sparks. 

Today, I celebrate the day after without a hangover and with some fun writerly news to share.

For some time now, I have been very occasionally helping a friend with his short fiction. While I have not to date written what I consider a successful short story (let alone published one) I have always enjoyed short stories, especially ones that might be considered speculative or magical realist. My poetry often ventures far out into the realms of the unreal, and I even devoted an entire issue of Poemeleon to that broad category of poetry, so reading and commenting on his short fiction has helped me move toward my own goal of writing publishable fiction.

Flash forward to AWP in Los Angeles. There were lots of panels and readings that I wanted to see and people I wanted to meet, but because I was there representing Inlandia, I didn't get away as often as I might have if I hadn't been tethered to a table. Add to that that I was also co-in-charge of the WordTech table, the press that published my last book, and you can see how my hope to do anything other than meet and greet might vanish. Given all of that, I had a great time, and I still was able to get out and do a few things. One of those things was to attend a panel discussion on Women in Speculative Fiction, where I met Rachel Swirsky, author of some very cool stories like Tea Time, Grande Jete, and If You Were a Dinosaur, My Love. I was a total dork and had a picture of us taken together. Her husband very kindly obliged.

Flash forward - again. After that auspicious meeting, and after we became friends on Facebook, and after after having inquired of her if she'd ever be willing to make a trek to the I.E. to be a part of a Women in Speculative Fiction event I'd like to host here, maybe as part of UCR's Eaton Conference, an idea was hatched.

Rachel posts a lot about process, and she wrote something on her blog about analyzing her own first lines. The very next day, she posted a follow-up analzying the first lines from other stories she'd read. This was then followed by her analysis of what first lines can do. Meanwhile, these links were being shared via social media, and my aforementioned friend, Eric Schwitzgebel, suggested that maybe a fun project could be analyzing just the first lines, without any knowledge beforehand of where the story might go. They both thought that was a great idea and recruited a few others - myself, Ann Leckie, and Aliette de Bodard. Rachel contacted the editor of Lightspeed, and received the go-ahead to use the July issue's stories, released incrementally for free online throughout the month. 

Today, the first of those stories went live: Magnifica Angelica Superable.

Simultaneous with the release of each of the stories whose first lines we analyzed, a group post of our guesses and some ensuing analyses will be posted on The Splintered Mind, Eric's blog.

Here's how Eric has framed the project: 

How much can you predict about a story from its title and first sentence alone?  Aliette de BodardAnn LeckieCati PorterRachel Swirsky and I aim to find out! We have taken the first sentences of five stories from July’s issue of Lightspeed Magazine (kindly provided to us in advance by John Joseph Adams) and attempted to predict the plot of each story. [Note: Ann and Rachel attempted to predict based on the first sentence alone, while Aliette, Cati, and I also looked to the title for clues.]

Our first story is “Magnifica Angelica Superable” by Rochita Loenen-Ruiz:

A woman from the street came in laughing from the cold.

From these eleven words (sixteen if you include title and author name), do you already have a sense of tone, character, setting? Are you already starting to form a conception of how the plot might go? I’ve pasted our guesses below. But first, you might want to make your own guess.

At the end of this post I’ll link to the story (available for free online), so you can see how the story actually unfolds. 

This has been a super fun, enlightening project. I enjoyed imagining where the stories might go based on that first line alone. This story in particular feels especially apt for an Independence Day post. I hope you'll take a few minutes out of your day to go guess with us


Is blogging still a thing?

Hello, stranger!

Do we know each other? Probably not. I've been around, but not here. A quick synopsis about me and my work is covered in my bio, but here is the brief history of my (erratic) blogging:

My first blog post went live on Blogger somewhere around 2005, back when blogging was a relatively new thing. Even my sons got in on it, creating their own blogs Jacob is a Crazy Frog (remember that "Crazy Frog" song?!) and Bradley is a Fish Head, where the only post states My brother is dume.

I blogged for a while, and enjoyed it. It was an outlet during a period where I was largely a stay-at-home writer-mom going stir crazy for some adult form of communicaiton. Eventually I migrated to WordPress because I liked the templates better. When I decided I neded an actual website, I moved to Squarespace, where I have hosted the Poemeleon lit journal since its inception in 2006, and migrated the blog again, where it is still hosted today.

I loved the format of the blog, where I could post musings on anything from motherhood to poetry to what I had for dinner, but I began slowing down after joining Facebook and connecting with others there. Then, I slowed way down around 2013, when my work with a local nonprofit, Inlandia Institute, intensified. My blogging here dropped off entirely, replaced by a more public blog for Inlandia. But that too has gone by-the-by with several changes in ownership of the local newspaper, where our blog was hosted. (The columns still run, though, so if you'd like to check them out go here.)

I miss this type of writing, and don't really care how many visitors I might get because it's still fun even if no one reads it! So, pulling this "blog" thing out of cold storage and starting again. I hope to keep this up and use this space to talk about my work as a writer in the face of other challenges, like raising teenage boys and running a nonprofit.

Things that have changed since I last blogged: I've now published a few books, I've been named Executive Director of the Inlandia Institute, and my children have gotten a lot taller. I've also gone from being a vegetarian to not being one. (That was a huge decision and a long time coming.) I've been diagnosed with Hashimoto's Thyroiditis, a hypothyroid condition where the body's immune system attacks the thyroid, had my thyroid removed, and in the process discovered micropapillary carcinoma; I write about that whole experience and then some in my book, The Body at a Loss, forthcoming from CavanKerry Press.

Also, when I'm not writing poetry or running a nonprofit or taking care of my family, I've been dabbling (really, if you can even call it that) with speculative fiction. I love stories that blend the real and the unreal and admire authors who do so with ease. Current favorites: Kij Johnson, Kelly Link, and Rachel Swirsky, the latter with whom I'm involved in a fun project analyzing the first lines of a set of short stories in the current edition of Lightspeed. (Come back July 5 to find out what that's all about!)

If you've found your way here, thank you! Hopefully we can stay better in touch this time.

~ Cati


The Next Big Thing?

The Next Big Thing is a blog-tag of writers answering a series of questions about their next book/writing project.


Ren Powell, who I’ve known now since I first joined the WomPo Listserv and through our various collaborative editing enterprises - Poemeleon & Babel Fruit, -- tagged me for this very cool Thing. She is so accomplished and smart that I can hardly stand it sometimes, and I am so grateful to have her as a friend and an inspiration. I am anxious to read her next book, An Elastic State of Mind, and remember it as she was exploring it through animation. And now as a novice runner, I am excited to see that she has been writing about her experiences running in Norway and I look forward to hearing more about that project as it moves toward publication.

And now, on to the Official Questions and some information about my current projects...

What is the title of your book?

The Way Things Move The Dark

What is the one-sentence synopsis of your book?

Hm. Well, in Newport Beach, at a place called The Fun Zone, there used to be a cheesy sort-of carnival, and one of the rides, which I’ve never ridden, was called The Scary Dark Ride. I’d say that this book, albeit short, is the printed equivalent of The Scary Dark Ride.

What genre does your book fall under? 


Where did the idea come from for the book?

The Way Things Move The Dark is actually an excerpt of a longer work that is searching for a home (four semi-finalist nods and an honorable mention- always a bridesmaid, never a bride). The full collection, titled My Skies of Small Horses, was written as my MFA thesis, and is therefore heavily influenced by the writers I was obsessed with at the time. When I started the MFA program at Antioch University Los Angeles, I had already published a first book, Seven Floors Up, which was much more conservative in terms of themes and writing strategies - I wrote many of the poems in form, and it was very domestic; no, not just domestic but domesticated. In pursuing my MFA, one of my goals was to move away from that. During that period I gave myself permission to be wild, to not make sense, or to make a different kind of sense. I wanted to push myself. But I also still had this impulse to write about domestic subjects. This is my attempt to do so from a different direction, while also honoring my impulse to explore the more surreal aspects of domesticity.

How long did it take you to write the first draft of the manuscript? 

About two years, with another two going through the submission-rejection-revision process.  

Who or what inspired you to write this book?

Most of what I read while pursuing my MFA fell under what has been dubbed a “Gurlesque” aesthetic. I think these poems were a direct result of reading all of those kick-ass women poets.

Who will publish your book?

dancing girl press, a kick-ass independently run feminist press based out of Chicago.

What other works would you compare this book to within your genre? 

I wouldn’t draw any direct comparisons, but I was definitely influenced by works by Lara Glenum, Matthea Harvey, Brenda Shaughnessy, and of course Sylvia Plath.

What actors would you choose to play the part of your characters in a movie rendition?

Marion Cotillard. Because I think she can pull off beautiful, scary, and complicated. And she's very lovely, and the French accent is nice.

What else about your book might pique the reader’s interest?

Well, I suppose there are some interesting tropes, some used overtly, some used covertly -- the keyboard differences on Mac vs. PC as a sort of allegory, the traditions of the Persian fairy tale, and the idea that we should all tell our stories “slant”.

Also, my amazingly talented sister Amy Payne is doing the art for the cover again! I can't wait to see what she comes up with.


Thanks again to Ren Powell for tagging me.

And... This is where I am supposed to tag five people. But: I’m not going to tag anyone new. I suspect this blog-tag has hit nearly if not everyone I know (I know, I’ve asked) but if you see this and it interests you enough to pursue, consider yourself tagged!

Instead, go read these other poets who've already participated in The Next Big Thing, women I would've tagged if someone hadn't already beat me to it:

My editor, Kristy Bowen

Sheila Squillante

Laura Madeline Wiseman

Clare Martin

Amanda Auchter