Ligature Works: A Note for WorldCon

Well! I’m at WorldCon finally, after both travels and travails. On the first day of the con, we realized a logistical snag: I had new business cards made up early in the summer, before our new literary sf/f venture Ligature Works was more than a vague idea for the future. So we don’t have any kind of hand-out to give people re: that. In lieu of that, I’ll leave this post at the top of my main blog (which is referenced on the business cards).

So: Ligature Works is seeking original, never-before-published works of science fiction, fantasy, and otherwise speculative poetry and prose. We pay a flat rate of $25 for anything we publish. It’s a nominal fee, we realize. We are just starting out, but it’s important that we don’t ask other artists to create for nothing. Since we do not offer pro rates, we don’t require pro terms: our period of exclusivity lasts only until the end of the month following publication. So with our first issue set for the last day in September, the rights revert back on November 1, following the end of October.

Our submissions window for the first issue runs through all of August. There will be one for the next issue either last quarter of 2016 or first quarter of 2017, depending on how our post-mortem on our first issue goes. We’ll also need to talk with each other about whether we want a long window or a short window with a long reading period, or just take rolling submissions. So I can’t tell you when they’ll re-open or for how long, just that they will. This is all an experiment so far.

Detailed submission guidelines along with as good an idea of what we’re looking for as we can convey without a previous canon to reference may be found at I know they’re long; Jack has promised to help me bullet point them for the next issue, but they are detailed for a reason. We seek to take the guesswork or element of “…am I doing this right?” away from new and easily startled authors by providing reasonably precise instructions.

We have not used the more fiddly bits as a scalpel to trim away the slush, but things having to do with the element of anonymity within your submission are ironclad. Apart from helping ensure we can screen against our own implicit biases, the world of speculative poetry is not a large one, so it’s good to be able to consider a poem without knowledge of the poet. If something in your experience is relevant to the work, feel free to tell us about it, as described in the submission guide.

One final caveat: The window is more than half over now and we have received enough works that gave us the immediate editorial grabby hands. It is very likely that we’ll close the month with more pieces than we have the budget to buy, especially as our first issue is entirely self-funded. If anyone wants to help fund more pieces, you can throw some money at me via PayPal. Just put in a note that it’s for Ligature Works. We’ll work out something more formal for future issues.

Gender-Free Story Round-Up!

Being the conclusion to the gender-free writing challenge I issued back in June.

Part I: Lessons Learned

First, a bit about lessons learned.

Not everybody who sent a story in mentioned explicitly how they would like to be credited, and some of the published entries bear credits while others don’t. Accordingly, I’m going to let the bylines the authors created speak for themselves.

When I do something like this in the future, I’ll make more of a point about standardizing entry formats so we can capture that kind of information. I’ll also try to make the constraints more clear. The original post called for “a story of any length with at least two characters and no references to their gender.”

What I meant was (and this was clarified later) that no character who appeared or was referenced should be gendered in the text, but I saw some people boosting the post explaining that the requirement was “a story where at least two of the characters don’t have gender”. I didn’t get any stories that had a boy and a girl and two gender-nonspecific people in the background, thank goodness, but there was at least one submission where an arguably pretty clearly gendered character is referenced at multiple points. I’ve left that in the link round-up, because of the initial ambiguity.

I did remove entries I considered to be overtly hurtful to a group of people. I wrestled with myself over this (it’s one of the reasons the judging is coming as far into August as it is), because I didn’t mention any such criteria when I laid out the challenge. But one of the points of this challenge is to encourage greater gender (and to an extent, sexuality) diversity in writing, to help make non-binary and genderqueer writers and readers feel more welcome in the growing online literary world, and you can’t welcome one group by stepping on another, especially when the groups overlap.

The last lesson has to do with the deadline. About half a dozen people asked me if I would extend the deadline another month, and I did, but far fewer people took advantage of that extension than asked for it. The entries were pretty strongly front-loaded to the beginning of the period. Next time, there’s going to be a larger window (and quite a different set-up in general), but there’s definitely a thing to be learned here about deadlines and their usefulness.

Part II: The Round-Up

Thank you to everybody who participated!

Part III: A Winner And Such

It needs to be said that “On Finding Yourself In Bars” is one of my top picks of the bunch, but it’s also written by my partner, Jack Ralls, who helped organize all this, which is why we agreed it would not be up for consideration.

So who wins?

I’m going to give first place ($25) to “Pie Day“. Second place ($15) goes to “7 Questions for the Angels“. Third place goes to So, “How Was School Today“.

I enjoyed these stories quite a bit, but one of the things I enjoyed the most about them is how real to life they were (even the one with a couch-surfing God). They deal with the personal, the spiritual, and the everyday, and they do so in a way that shows how incidental gender can be and how arbitrary our assignments and assumptions of it often are.

We’ll be getting in touch with the authors of those pieces over the next day or so about the payout arrangements. If you’re one of them, feel free to email us back with your PayPal address, if that method is amenable to you.

Part IV: Looking To The Future

I want to do this again, but bigger and on a more formal scale, and possibly with more categories for different ways of playing with gender conventions. Basically, an annual awards deal, covering a year at a time, every year, in order to not shut out pro publications. This is going to take a lot of planning and coordinating (we’ll definitely need more help), but we have time to work it out. The first period of eligibility will be 2017, which means the award won’t be awarded until 2018. I will especially be looking for non-binary, genderqueer, and agender people to help judge. More details to come early in 2017!

STATUS: Wednesday, August 10th

The Daily Report

August has proven to be a bad month for plans. Yesterday one item at the top of my list was to confirm my hotel reservation for WorldCon, after there were some shenanigans back in July with one of the convention hotels being still under construction and some other administrative screw-ups by the con itself. In the process, I found an email from Friday that got ignored as spam, saying that due to ongoing renovations at our hotel (not the one under construction!), we were being relocated to another one twice as far away. I think the reason it got filtered as spam was that there were several dozen other recipients CCed on it with whom I had never corresponded.

Yes. The hotel open CCed everybody affected, broadcasting our email addresses, situation, and the hotel we’re now staying at to a random assortment of strangers. It’s not too likely to result in anything bad, but that’s not really the point. It’s very distressing, and frustrating because it’s entirely the fault of the hotel/the person who sent the email, but there isn’t a remedy. The arrow cannot be called back to the bow.

Cue me dealing with the fallout of this, figuring out the logistics of two physically disabled people getting around downtown Kansas City, making fallback plans, talking to the staff at the hotels, and dealing with the shot of travel-related anxiety created by uncertainty and change.

After finding out as much as we can about the area (and realizing that I’d stayed in another hotel very close to it before, as a teenager), we did decide that the new hotel can work and we’re actually looking forward to staying in it. But it basically destroyed my work day.

I’m impressed with the staffer at the new hotel; less impressed with the one at the hotel that bounced us. It’s not so much the renovation thing. I do think it’s odd that they didn’t know they wouldn’t have enough rooms until less than two weeks before, but maybe something took longer than quoted and they were keeping their fingers crossed it would be done under the wire. I can roll with that kind of thing.

It’s the handling of it. It’s the mishandling of private, personal information. It’s the fact that the initial email on the subject contained multiple points misinformation that I’m not going to get into, but which the staffer at the new hotel had to immediately and very apologetically correct. She got left on the hook cleaning up a situation that was made messier than it needed to be.

Anyway. That was my day yesterday. Figuring out the logistics of downtown Kansas City and talking to hotel people about hotel things.

Considering the impact of WorldCon, I had already planned on putting Tales of MU on vacation for the two updates closest to it (the Friday I’m there and the Tuesday after I get back). The vagaries of the summer have already got it down to once a week for the end of July and August so far.

Given all this, I’m officially calling it a reduced schedule for August: once a week, irregular. I hate to do this so soon after establishing a regular update pattern (and it will mean less money, because of the Patreon model), but it’s better than burning out.

Financial Status

Not much to say here. September will be leaner than expected because of the reduction in Tales of MU output, though the continued growth of other revenue streams could help mitigate that.

State of the Me

Did not sleep well last night; combination of heat and anxiety.

Plans For Today

Going to be finalizing the judging of the stories for the first gender challenge, with an eye towards announcing the winners and posting the round-up today or tomorrow. Today is the plan, but lack of sleep may catch up with me towards the end of the day.

STATUS: Monday, August 8th

The Daily Report

Last week was successful and productive by some measures, less so by others. I stumbled out of the gate a bit at the start of the month. I did write a lot. I posted some of the fruits of that writing yesterday, the first part of a novelette I’m calling King of America, about a completely fictitious and entirely original real estate tycoon who decides to run for President of the United States. It hasn’t attracted much attention yet, but I think the work as a whole could genuinely grow to be the most important thing I’ve ever written.

I’m a bit behind generally on some of my larger goals. I had so much energy for April through much of June, repeatedly hitting the “heat wall” in July and August is a bit dispiriting. My overall goal for my 37th year on the planet is to kick my career into gear and build my audience and income with a whole year of being awesome, but I’m finding myself needing to scale back my ambition for the first two months, and I’m planning on next year taking a semi-hiatus in July and August, after a victory lap in June.

Financial Status

Doing okay. Fruits of improved income and better budgeting is that there’s no frantic, frustrating conversation about how we’re getting groceries this week.

The State of the Me

Yesterday we had an outing to Baltimore that involved a lot more walking in the heat than I had assumed/planned for, so I am coming into this week a little drained.

But a funny thing happened late last week: I remembered that my office in fact has a ceiling fan positioned more or less directly over where I sit. Prior to this, I had been marveling at how I’d managed the previous summers in this room, as this is the first year it has its own A/C unit. I know I did spend some amount of the time working away from my desk, but not all of it. The A/C beats the fan, obviously, which is why I never really missed it enough to remember it existed… but having both of them going == bliss.

Plans For Today

I’m going to be doing some slush-reading and sorting for Ligature Works, and a lot of writing.

End of week note.

I wrenched my dominant arm something fierce today. Forearm is all twingy, hand is sore, and my shoulder (my bad one, which has the poor judgment to be attached to my best arm) is a little worse for wear. It’s painful and difficult to type, which makes me feel like I shouldn’t be doing it. My ability to write one-handed on a touch-screen is pretty good, but only with my right hand. Go figure.

I’ve been alternating between trying to take it easy and soothe my hurts, and cautiously working. At this point I think I’m just exacerbating it. I have posted on Patreon an update to my members-only serial story Making Out Like Bandits, written earlier in the week but never posted. Non-patrons can read the beginning for free. If you pledge, you gain immediate access to the rest of the story.

Despite being a very up and down week physically and not exactly hitting all of my career goals, it’s been surprisingly successful in most respects. I have not posted much, but I did top at over 9000 words of usable fiction.

STATUS: Wednesday, August 3rd

The Daily Report

It turns out the new work/life balance is work/work balance, when you’re working multiple jobs. Right now the way I’m approaching it is I have three of them. I am the head editor of Ligature Works, I am new media author/personality Alexandra Erin, and I am the author of Tales of MU. Of the three, the middle one pays the most, followed by the last one, and then the third one is currently a net drain; it’s less a job I’m doing for money than a service I’m providing to the world. It’s an avocation, for now.

One of the things about time management is that just about any job can expand to fill the available hours, and as I’ve started working in earnest on Ligature Works’s editorialia (that’s a word; an editor said so) these past few days, I’ve discovered that’s a real risk. I think I’m going to start confining it to a day or two a week.

Financial Status

Doing okay? Some improvements to both cash flow and some improvements to how we approach budgeting made possible by the improvements to my cash flow are doing a lot to alleviate the tensions around money in our household.

The one thing I’m not sure about right now is our budget for WorldCon. I keep counting how many meals the two of us are going to need and looking at how much money is set aside from the fundraiser for that. Hopefully there will be some budget options in the area round the hotel and convention center. We met the bare minimum GoFundMe goal and a little bit past that, but if anyone wants to pitch in a little more to buy us dinner, it wouldn’t go amiss.

The State of the Me

I had one of those nights last night where I just couldn’t get to sleep. Combination of stomach upset and nerves (I think from the terrible dream I had the night before). I was still awake at a bit after three when I threw in the towel and decided to get up for a bit. I laid back down a bit after 4 and didn’t fall asleep until what I would guess is close to 5. I slept for 3-4 hours solidly after that, then another hour or so after briefly waking. I’m feeling fine now, but I have a feeling there’s going to be a major crash in the afternoon.

Plans For Today

Fiction, fiction, fiction. I spent most of last month stymied on my queer lady fantasy romance serial Making Out Like Bandits (a Patreon exclusive, though you can read the first bits for free), so I’m eager to progress that. I’m also trying out ideas for August’s short fiction entry.

STATUS: Tuesday, August 2nd

The Daily Report

It’s been a weird, disjointed start to the day today, and to the week (and by extension, the month of August), but productive nonetheless. I did have to run out yesterday afternoon for a grocery run, but our growing financial flexibility meant I was able to transfer the funds for next week’s shopping so I don’t have to actually tag along. Yay, progress!

Jack and I have been hitting a neat kind of stride with Ligature Works and submissions. I have a hard time collaborating with others, but I think we work well together in this respect. Our tastes are far from identical, but we share a lot of the same criteria in what we look for and what we don’t. We have sent out four acceptance letters so far. This actually means we only have two slots left in our initial publication budget, which means we’re going to start being really selective. We might not make any more firm decisions to accept for a while, unless something comes along that gives us the editorial grabby hands.

We might have to start dedicated crowdfunding for a bigger table of contents.

Financial Status

Doing okay. There were some big not-quite-annual car-related expenses at the end of last month. I think once we’re past WorldCon 74, we’ll be able to basically allocate most of the household grocery money we’ll need at the start of the month and then not worry about who has the funds on hand to pay for it vs. who has the time and ability to go shopping.

Our financial fortunes have really only improved modestly so far, but the less money you have to begin with, the bigger impact every dollar increase has.

The State of the Me

Honestly doing pretty good compared to July. I mean, we’re only two days into August, but I’m starting out with the idea that it’s okay to need to rest, and more attentive to things like keeping A/C and fans on as needed, paying attention to hydration, etc.

Plans For Today

I did not finish my draft of today’s chapter yesterday because of the aforementioned grocery trip. Wrapping that up and putting a bow on it this afternoon so I can keep to the schedule.

STATUS: Monday, August 1st

The Daily Report

Well, it’s now August! Hugo voting ended yesterday. Jack and I were a bit late to the party with WorldCon memberships, so vetting the nominees and deciding how we would each vote took up time and energy right up to the deadline. That’s why we haven’t done much more than some initial slush-sorting for Ligature Works submissions, barring one “sorry, can’t take” and one “gotta have”. Now that we’re past that, though we’ll start responding to submissions in earnest.

This early in the window, there’s going to be more rejections going out than acceptances. That’s just the process. We have received in excess of 70 submissions so far. There are ones that are just wrong for us, then above that there are ones that are not the best of what we’ve received, and those one aren’t going to improve no matter how many more pieces we read, but even the ones that grab us might not prove to be the best by the end of the window.

Speaking of windows’ ends: the gender neutral writing challenge ended today. I kept meaning to put up more reminders so people who were working on stories over the longer term would know, but there was a lot of stuff going on and I didn’t have a lot of energy or focus. I received a request over the social mediums for a deadline extension, but that doesn’t really seem fair to the participants of the first gender-free challenge. Yes, I’m already planning the second one. It will be less off-the-cuff and cover a much longer period. Like 2017.

I figure if I make it a floating annual thing, that will make it easier for traditionally published stories to be considered, since they won’t have to try to hit a narrow target in terms of when they come out.

Financial Status

Well. It’s the first of the month. Payday! WorldCon 74 in Kansas City is likely to strain the budget a bit. I do have a nice little nest egg for it, but I suspect food and other miscellaneous expenses will run us up quite a bit.

The State of the Me

I’ve been so tired. Taking more rest has helped. I have a plan, a serious plan, for next July and August to be mostly a hiatus. It’s something I think of every summer when the hot months roll around and I remember how bad it is, but I’m not much on long-term planning so I don’t think of it until it’s too late, but I am currently mapping things out about a year in advance so it might work out well. Right now if I just declared summer break at the start of all my big plans, it’d all come crashing down. Next summer I should be well situated to take a couple of months of reflection after the end of my planned awesome year of awesome.

In the meantime, I guess I just have to step lightly from task to task and not take on too much at once.

Plans For Today

Well, where to start? I’m going to be meeting with my submissions editor (i.e., Jack) as we nail down howour routine for sorting, evaluating, and replying to Ligature Works submissions will work in practice. There’s also some writing to do.