Monday: writing for me, spitting for science.

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The writing is going well. I’m not sure what the wordcount on the novel is right now, but I’m still make good and steady progress on it. And I was able to get a couple of short stories tidied up and sent out on Saturday.

The publicity from the Women Destroy Science Fiction story is beginning to wind down, but a few students told me today they’d read the story or were planning to — it brought such a smile to my face. Admittedly, my secret double life is exposed: mild-mannered academic advisor by day, sci-fi writer by early morning, noon, and night.

Meanwhile? I was selected for the second phase of a massive, 30-year study I signed up for:


Spitting for science? I can totally do that.

The Tomorrow Project is signing up 50,000 Albertans between the ages of 35 and 69 who have never been diagnosed with cancer for an enormous longitudinal study on cancer rates and health in the province. I’ve taken part in research studies before, but they’ve all been fairly short-term. This one will continue on for decades, and the data collected will help to give better information on who develops cancer, who doesn’t, who is at risk, and what roles environment and genetics might play.

I signed up in memory of Alyson Woloshyn, a coworker who was diagnosed with glioblastoma multiforme in 2009. She survived an astonishing three years, putting everything she had into enjoying her life. The Tomorrow Project is totally the kind of thing she would have signed up for. I can just see her now — going around the office, chivvying people into filling out questionnaires, putting up lunchroom posters, arranging a spit sample contest. Yup. Alyson, I’m in it for you.

The first step for the project is a survey — about forty pages of questions on your medical history, including family histories. This second phase is a saliva sample to start a genetic profile. Not very hard at all. I didn’t sign up for the blood tests (it was too close to my surgery, and I was told that some of my values would have been kind of screwy while I was still healing). If they want blood later, I’ll give it.

That’s my Monday. The writing is for me, the spitting was for science. Easy-peasy.

Turns out being mentioned on NPR really makes for a good day.

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So how was my day? Oh, you know…

Women Are Destroying Science Fiction! (That’s OK; They Created It)

The perception that the science fiction that women write isn’t “real” isn’t as pervasive as it was in the 1960s, but it’s just as ridiculous. If you need proof to back up that assertion, all you need do is read this issue of Lightspeed Magazine.

It’s more than just an extra-large and particularly great issue of an already good magazine. It’s a master class on all the ways in which women are writing — and have written — some of the best science fiction available. Many of the concepts these stories explore are what purists would expect from the SF label: In “Cuts Both Ways” by Heather Clitheroe, cyborg implants create perfect memory recall; Tananarive Due’s “Like Daughter” deals with what happens when humans have access to easy cloning; “The Unfathomable Sisterhood of Ick” by Charlie Jane Anders takes place in a future where augmenting and messing with brain chemistry is as common as taking vitamin supplements is now.

However, the authors are less focused on technological changes and more on the relations between people, or between people and society, or changing cultural and gender roles. That’s true across the issue.

It was pretty freaking fabulous.

(my story is here if you want to read or listen to it.)

Another great review!

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He wanted the storm, the merging with the howl and the fury, to become a part of it. Flipped and spun and thrown through, one speck in a blizzard, pure and beautiful, nerves on fire with tension and pain, and the pleasure. It was intoxicating.

An intensely intelligent and intimate story, Cuts Both Ways looks at a future filled with casters, those mechanically augmented to pick up on the electromagnetic brain waves of the human population. The main protagonist, Spencer, is the vehicle in which we are forced to consider the drawbacks of those things we often say we want in passing. “Wouldn’t it be great to never forget anything?” –actually, no, as Spencer shows us, with his heart-breaking narrative. A definite must-read. (link)

Early reviews of ‘Cuts Both Ways.’

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I’m really pleased with these early reviews of my story in Women Destroy SF:

Heather Clitheroe’s “Cuts Both Ways” is a tale of love and loneliness from the perspective of a traumatized cyborg. It’s also a close examination of what it means to be the Other, which succeeds because it’s not a clumsy stand-in for something that already exists. And yet, while the protagonist’s most defining characteristic (perfect memory recall) does not exist in our reality, the story does address issues that people in different real-world marginalized populations experience: Spencer is both heavily scrutinized by airport security and also doesn’t have the freedom to love. This is the story that I found most emotionally evocative. While you don’t get to know the love interest very well, the longing that Spencer feels is tangible. (link)

And this one:

Spencer is a cyborg spy and that used to be fun for him, though he certainly was never James Bond with circuitry. He’s a skinny man who has to drink Ensure to provide the calories his program needs, he has to put up with strip searches at the airport so the security agents can check out his cool hardware, and he’s tormented by his inability to forget anything, especially after his last mission. In “Cuts Both Ways,” Heather Clitheroe uses a time-honored science fiction trope–the uncomfortable interaction of technology with humanity–in a fresh way. The point isn’t that technology diminishes Spencer’s humanity, but that it makes it impossible for him to distance himself from it. The distance, Clitheroe suggests, is necessary to happiness. Rich sensory and emotional descriptions increase the experience of the story. (link)

The issue is on sale on Lightspeed’s website, and my story will appear for free on June 24 and in its podcast form.

Women Destroy Science Fiction is finally here!

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The ebook issue is out, and you can purchase a copy for $3.99! My story will also be available online and as a podcast through Lightspeed’s website the week of June 24.

I can’t tell you how excited I am about this — how incredible it is to have a story alongside so many talented writers.Wait. Yes, I can. I AM SO EXCITED!

Huge thanks to the Banff Centre for giving me space to finish the story, Katey Schultz for helping me with its development and providing advice as I worked on it, Christie Yant for her thoughtful edits and unflagging good cheer, and everybody who encouraged me to write this story and others. And a huge thank you to Lightspeed for putting this issue together and its backers. Thank you. Thank you. Thank you!

The reading I’m doing for my writing.

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We are all cautiously optimistic that the weather will improve: the forecast is calling for temperatures above freezing. The sun came out yesterday afternoon after several days of cloud, and I swear, we all wanted to rip off our cardigans and go outside and expose our bare arms to the sky.

I’ve put the fantasy story to one side (it was not accepted for Women Destroy Fantasy, alas, so it’ll get another round of revising before I submit it anywhere else) and I’m poking around with the continuation of my cyborg story. I think it’s developing into a book…I have a plan, an idea, and I’m working on it.

And I’m reading David Harvey’s The New Imperialism on the bus in the morning as part of that poking around (no bus stop reading yet, as it’s still too dark). It’s a book I picked up a while ago, and I’ve finally plucked it off the shelf and settled myself down to read through it – looks like it’ll be an interesting one. His ideas about the molecular processes of capital accumulation have caught my eye. He says:

The geographical processes of capital accumulation, on the other hand, are much more diffuse and less amenable to explicit political decision-making.. Individual (usually business, financial, and corporate) agency is everywhere at work and the molecular form makes for multiple forces that bump into each other, sometimes counteracting and at other times reinforcing certain aggregate trends. It is hard to manage these processes except indirectly, and then often only after the fact of these established trends…

But even in authoritarian states or those states dubbed ‘developmental’ by virtue of their strong inner connections between state policies, finance, and industrial development, we find the molecular processes often escape control. If I decide to buy a Toyota rather than a Ford, or see a Hollywood as opposed to a Bollywood movie, what does this do the US balance of payments? If I transfer money from New York to needy relatives in Lebanon or Mexico what does this do to the financial balance between nations. It seems impossible to anticipate, and difficult even to keep track of the flows of capital and of money through the vagaries of the credit system. All sorts of psychological intangibles, such as investor or consumer confidence, enter in to the picture as determinant forces… The best we can do is to anxiously monitor the data after the event, in the hope we can spot trends, second-guess what the market will do next, and apply some corrective to keep the system in a reasonably stable condition.

In an interview about the book, he says:

One of the things I would point out here is that for a long time I’ve been talking about the special or geographical dynamics of capital accumulation, and what I call uneven geographical development, how these molecular processes of capital flow, moving from one part of the country to another, build new spaces and geographical concentrations even within countries.

The crux of the story has to do with technology that tries to see the trends in molecular accumulation of capital before and as they are happening – it does not always go well. But the more I’m reading about things like imperialism, the more the story is growing to be about corporate imperialism – governance by economics, rather than states. It’s an undercurrent, I think, but it’s pulling itself together as something that will be tied up with the science fiction in the story. I’m beginning to see that you can’t write SF that’s just about future tech and whatnot…you’ve got to expand out, to see the systems of people and culture that are part of it, too.

And so, as is often the case, reading one book means that I’ve suddenly realized that I have quite a few more to read as background for the story.

Walking into the dark woods.

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On Thursday night, there were two concerts and a volleyball game between the Montagues and the Capulets (the cast of a production of Romeo and Juliet are here; I can just barely see them working on swordplay and movement rehearsals from where I sit to write). But there was also the night walk and bonfire with a local guide and naturalist. I put my name on the list, thinking that the bonfire would be nice. I really nice a nice wood fire.

Night shadows.

As it turned out, I was the only one to turn up for the night walk and bonfire thing. The two concerts and the warring volleyballers of fair Verona had just about everybody in the arts programs wrapped up. The guide arrived, and we waited a few extra minutes to see if anybody would arrive, and then we went out on our own while a helpful Banff Centre staffer went to start the bonfire.

Tunnel mountain at night.

We went out on the Hoodoos trail, which runs behind the Banff Centre, down to the river and around the the other side of Mount Rundle. The guide, Ronna, had cleats for me (phew) and then said that we’ve be going out without flashlights or headlamps. She had them, but we were going to walk by the light of the moon. She had bear spray just in case, and we both had pointy sticks for walking. I was a bit worried about going out into the woods in a national park in the dark, but I decided to give it a go.

Banff at night.

Tunnel mountain at night.

You know, it turned out to be the best thing I could have done. As we stepped into the gloom, it was very dark. Very dark. But Ronna said our eyes would adjust, and they did…gradually, the dark took on a new quality. The light was silvery and shades of grey, but then also a deep green and violet, subtle shades that took on new qualities the further down we went. It was like my field of vision got wider; there was more to the periphery. It was exquisitely silent – not a creepy silent, but a very friendly quiet. It was as if the mountains were rising up to the sky to cradle us, and the trees were gently creaking and whispering with the wind.

Banff in the dark.

We crossed a frozen tributary and came out into an alpine savannah, and there was Mount Rundle, tip stretching towards the moon. It wasn’t a clear night – clouds would come in and cover the moon up, then clear, then cloud over. We stood in the silence and it started to snow, and I swear that I could hear the snow falling crisply all around us.

Banff in the dark.

And then we walked back, into the trees, crossed the river again and came back up to the Banff Centre and had the bonfire.

Banff at night.

Last year was a tough one for writing. I didn’t have the energy or the spirit to write, and I felt very much that I poured everything I had into the surgeries. Everything. It had been so long since I’d written anything that I was starting to feel scared that I wouldn’t be able to. My Banff Centre applications were pleading; I wrote them a letter that more or less said that I needed their help getting my writing back.


When this week started, I wasn’t entirely sure that the writing was going well. It felt stilted and I was doing revisions – I do not enjoy revisions all that much. By midweek, it was getting much better. On Thursday, standing in the dark, looking at the mountains and thinking about the landscape, I felt it come back. Ronna had suggested that we both think about our gratitude to the spirit of the land, and something connected…something suffused me with a feeling of rightness. This experience was something very special and important, and I’m so grateful that I had it.


I walked into the dark woods and I came out a different person. I can’t explain it fully, but something beautiful happened.

Banff in the dark - looking at Mount Rundle.