HOW TO FAIL AS A WRITER

1. GIVE UP IN DESPAIR, AND STOP WRITING. FOREVER. PERMANENTLY.

2. Or, keep writing but:

  • Stop trying to improve. Focus on racking up publication credits, or sales, or reprints, rather than whether this story is noticeably better than the last one.
  • Refuse to listen when your writing is criticized, regardless of the quality or thoroughness of the critique or review. Only listen to your fans, the people who tell you how great you are, and suspect — quietly, to yourself, or loud and indignantly to your loved ones — that your critics just didn’t “understand” what you were “going for”.
  • Stop sending your writing out for feedback (either to alpha/beta readers before you consider it done, or publishers afterward).
  • Stop trying new things, whether it’s different genres, different styles, different markets, or different character types.
  • Complain, constantly, that your work isn’t selling enough. Post on social media that people you know, your friends and family, “clearly” don’t love you enough because they’re not forcing your work on enough people. Publicly dismiss or insult markets or editors who rejected your writing, regardless of why. Insist that your kind of writing — novels, short stories, genre, stories with a certain kind of characters, whatever — must not be marketable anymore, since you’re not profiting enough from it.
  • Tell yourself you’re a failure, every day, regardless of what anyone else says about your work. Use  your certainty that you’ll never be any good as an excuse to take out your sad/bad/angry feelings on the people who care about you most.
  • Ignore your editors, rebel angrily against them, argue with every suggestion, or decide that okay fine, this one change you’ll make and then never submit to their market again.
  • Be desperately impatient. Demand respect, sales, an answer to every email you send a prospective editor… if you think you need it, expect to get it immediately.
  • Stop reading other people’s work. Stop reading anything. Stop learning.
  • Stop living your life. Only write, and forego family, love, school, hobbies, friends, experiences — the sort of thing one generally writes about.

If you’re not doing any of the above, then don’t worry. Keep writing. Keep growing. Keep submitting. You’ll be just fine.

#SFWAPro

 

 

Review: Beneath Ceaseless Skies #168

Steady on Her Feet, by K.J. Kabza

3/5*

Starts a little slow; the presentation of the placard would have been better a little farther down, once we’d already had a taste of Kabza’s delightful world to bite into. Still, it picks up slowly over a few paragraphs, and then suddenly you’re off and running, fully immersed in a genuinely (darkly) entertaining adventure. Like being chased down alleyways at night, when you only think you know where you’re going, the story moves along through the expected twists and turns, until it curves too sharply into its finale. The end makes a sort of sense, but the character reveals aren’t well-established, and require a lot of disbelief to keep you from tossing the whole thing out when the kind and/or stupid suddenly become gleefully malevolent. Too bad, because until then, the story was quite good, but it’s clear that Kabza had an end in mind when writing, and was going to get there regardless of whether or not the rest of the story supported it.

A Screech of Gulls, by Alec Helms

5/5*

The story begins with the listing and naming of things, and in the explanation of those names, the story unfolds. This is a lovely, languid, way to infodump, and I’m always glad to see it done well. It carries on with details and objects, setting the scene by telling you about the things in it as they come up, instead of all at once. This is a worldbuilding sort of fantastic reality, the kind that clearly takes place somewhere and somewhen else, but Helms never overwhelms with useless prose. There are new words in the dialogue that make sense because of context, rather than relying on an explanation, and that shows Helms thinks we’re smart enough to understand — a respect I always appreciate in an author. In the end, the story is so simple, but it’s beautifully told, with the weight of realism and solid emotional impact. Worth reading even if you’re not a fan of “fantasy” because this one isn’t, really (there’s little to no magic, it’s just not a story from our world) but it is extremely well-written.

 

Review: Clarkesworld 101 (Feb 2015)

cw_101_350

LADY AND THE SHIP, by Atilgan Asikuzun

 

The Last Surviving Gondola Widow, by Kristine Kathryn Rusch

5/5 *

A properly steampunk story, in that the time period fits, it contained Victorian Super Technology, and actually used steam/coal to fuel the machines. Nicely researched alt-history focusing on Chicago after the Civil War; bonus points for including a magic system that makes sense, and a female main character that fit well within the context of the story. Good steampunk is hard to find, since it requires that the alt-tech is actually necessary for the world, and isn’t just gears slapped onto a story. Rusch’s characters, setting, and plot all work together into something extraordinary, and I’m delighted to have read it.

Indelible, by Gwendolyn Clare

2/5*

Eh. I can’t remember a worse story in Clarkesworld, which is usually home to the best of the best of SFF short fiction. It’s not terribly bad, it just isn’t good, isn’t unique, isn’t much different from work I reject on a regular basis. I’m tired of the Western/English predisposition to using ze/zer/mx for genderless pronouns; it’s not the only way to express “them” even in human languages, so why is it the only way we see it written in SFF? Especially considering that the main character has an Asian name — they have words in Chinese, Korean, Tagalog, and several other Asian languages for this exact situation that don’t translate into English as “zer”. (Much more likely to be “this person” or “that person”.) Beyond that, the story is nothing special. The twist at the end isn’t well-supported, and doesn’t answer the essential “question” that the opening evokes. Two stars only because it’s okay enough that if you were completely unfamiliar with this sort of tale, you might enjoy it somewhat.

(TW for rape, violence) The Three Resurrections of Jessica Churchill, by Kelly Robson

4/5*

Having it be 9/11 doesn’t add anything to the story for me, and sets the reader up looking for a connection which never quite materializes (and for me, wasn’t at all necessary to make the rest of the story work). And, I questioned the suddenness of the big decision at the very end, but not so much that I couldn’t buy it. Otherwise, it’s great! Visceral, moving, dark SF bordering on horror. I easily connected with the character — a teenage girl, sexually abused, neglected by her parents — but I don’t think you need to have been any of those things to be well and truly creeped out.

Meshed, by Rich Larson

5/5*

Ah, so good! Intelligent extrapolation from current events/cultural mores to a not-so-distant future, giving us a glimpse of crisp SF from the perspective of an everyday guy. It’s fun, quickly worded, completely plausible, and yet also emotionally solid. There is nothing in this story that I didn’t think, “Yes, sure, that could happen,” about.

The Osteomancer’s Son, by Greg van Eeekhout (First published in Asimov’s Science Fiction, April/May 2006.)

4/5*

I’m a fan of van Eeekhout’s work, but if you’re not, this story is a good introduction. It’s self-contained, but relates to his bone-magic tales, and gives the reader a sense of van Eeekhout’s casual, conversational style: the way he turns big reveals in side comments, and ends a sentence before the surprise has leaked all the way out of it. He’s a fun author, even when he’s telling a dark story, and this is an enjoyable read.

It Takes Two, by Nicola Griffith (First published in Eclipse Three, edited by Jonathan Strahan.)

3/5*

I was thrown immediately by the opening line: “It began, as these things often do, at a bar—” which immediately distances the reader by telling you that you’re not watching the scene unfold, you’re being told about the story after it’s already over. That particular story structure removes the immediacy of this tale, which already involves so much required belief in what one character is telling another at different points in the story. For me, that takes away from what should be the reader’s experience parallel to the narrator’s. As the story develops, it gets more interesting, if not very original, at least in being a newer (GLBT) presentation on a common theme. It’s a strong story, though, and if you like those “hooker with a heart of gold” stories, or the “it’s real love this time, I promise” trope, then you’ll enjoy Griffith’s telling of it.

#SFWAPro

Snippets From My Adventures in Government Work, Day 52

The frozen wasteland surrounding our encampment occasionally gives way to thaw before freezing over again. Travel is difficult, and the options for nutrition within the building are especially bleak. Still, if one can brave the icy wind, the nearby “Center” has an amazing 1/4 pound burger & fries special for only $6, on Mondays.

The patients here are starting to memorize my name, and have taken to including me in their plaintive cries for help, every hour on the hour. It is a rite of passage, I’m told, to have one or more of the patients claim you as their particular gateway into their doctor or clinician of choice. Of course, none of us has any more power than any other of us, for the ways of doctors and prescribing nurses are mysterious, but the patients do not understand the hierarchy established here, or do not want to.

Also, the option to “leave a voice mail” confuses the hell out of several members of the community, and not a few members of staff.

My nurses have gathered around me, one at a time, each of them, all day, asking: “What is wrong with you? Are you sick? You look feverish; do you have a fever?” When I reply that yes, I am sick, and have been since this weekend, they reply as one: “Why are you here then?” When I tell them that we’ve been short staffed since last week and if I didn’t come in, there’d be no one in administration on the whole floor, they sigh, and nod, and drift away.

It has become clear that as certain staff have aged, grown closer to retirement, they have grown more forgetful, or less interested in the minutia of our positions. They leave the vital tasks to those of us newer to this expedition, and instead amuse themselves with glossy magazines. I have made a pact with Laura, who began shortly before I did, that — should we begin to fade as our elders have — we end it all. Together.

Have I mentioned that I am ill? The fever confuses me, but still, I soldier on.

The other members of the expedition have a variety of dietary restrictions which make the sharing of a meal or simple treat into a monumental sorting effort. A great many refuse to partake of gluten, or wheat, or sugar, or fats. However, when I bring in desserts baked (with great care!) from home, suddenly everyone can indulge in “just a nibble” and the food disappears.

One woman, wise beyond her years and greatly experienced in the ways of this place, advises me not to come in again tomorrow if I am still sick. When I protest that such an action would leave us virtually undefended from the onslaught of phone calls and influx of patients seeking relief from their ailments, she replied, “But you can’t think like that. It’s not your problem.”

“It’s not your problem.” Wise words, indeed.

#SFWAPro

Snokone/Boskone Recap: Escape from Blizzardopolis

We were all set to leave for Boston bright and early last Friday morning, when I got a 6 am email that my son’s school was closing for the day. The morning ended up being a mix of looking for a sitter, enjoying a comfortably-paced breakfast at home with the whole family, and worrying about which panels we’d have to be late to. (For the record: I missed the “Food in Fiction” panel, and the SFF Poetry panel.) I managed to get a hold of someone, we packed up the car, and had an easy 5.5 hour drive to the convention. It seemed the worst part of the trip would be out of the way at the very beginning.

There was just enough time to drop off luggage, pick up badges, and for me to down a large Manhattan, before the 8 PM panel “Father, You Made Me”. Well-moderated, smart people saying smart things. Then Don‘s reading, which was attended by multiple people, even though the room was… a boardroom. Complete with a gigantic oval table that we all sat around. But he made it work, and read both previously published and in-progress work. After that was food — love the casualness of that Irish-style pub, and thoroughly enjoyed what turned out to be the only meal we ate in Boston — and sleep.

Saturday started off right in the hotel room with pour-over espressos and paczki we brought from home. Then, a tour of the art show. I don’t remember doing that last year, but there was an amazing private collection of 20th century SFF-related art, including a lot of original book cover art that I adored. I also was given a beautiful pair of huge garnet earrings that made me feel pretty right before my noon reading, and slightly distracted me from being nervous. I ended up reading “Annabelle Tree“, and wasn’t entirely prepared for that request, so while I read it through just fine, I have to admit that I teared up at the end. I hadn’t read the story in a long time, and I don’t think I’d ever read it for an audience before, so it was a little bit new to me again. I’m glad I got the opportunity to experience it in that way.

Because of my reading, I missed the beginning of “Finding Diverse Fiction”, but it was worth attending just the second half. I was pleased to see that the panelists themselves were a diverse group of people, and again, it was a group of smart people saying smart things about finding and creating diversity in the work we read and write. I wish I’d have been there for all of it. I spent an hour prepping for the rest of the day: making plans to meet up with folks, record an audio interview, and spend several hours finishing up the newest issue of Lakeside Circus so I could roll that out. (I had 7 hours free before my 10 PM panel on Jodorowski; plenty of time!) The panel — Non-Western Folklore and Fairy Tales with Ken Liu and Max Gladstone — was so much fun. It was just the three of us, but as I later declared on Twitter, you can easily have an amazing panel that’s just Ken and Max in conversation with each other. I am comfortable admitting that I added useful things to this particular conversation, but seriously, if you want intelligent fiction written by incredibly intelligent, well-read people whose interests include non-Western fiction, check out their work. I know Ken well from working with him several times before, and Max I’m getting to know from having attended some of the same conventions and being on some of the same panels; they’re authors I can trust the passion they have for literature to their work. Or panels. Or the bar. Or the one time we stayed up late drinking in the hallway at Readercon and listening to Max explain how social-status drink buying works in China.

Um. Right. Back to Boskone. The plan was, go to Fran‘s reading at 3 PM, then get a proper meal, do an interview, be a bit social, and buckle down for a chunk of editing/formatting/web page building work before a late dinner and then the JODOROWSKI PANEL. (I love Jodorowski’s work, I suggested this panel, and I knew at least one other panelist had spent the last several weeks prepping for it the way that I had.)

None of these things happened.

While in Fran’s reading, I got a text from my sitter asking if we’d be able to be back by Monday morning, or whether the winter storm we knew about — which had morphed into a blizzard without us knowing about it — was going to strand us at the hotel into Tuesday. Note: we’d planned to leave Sunday after my last panel, like usual. Checked the weather reports, and within a few minutes realized that our choices were to leave right then, or plan to stay until Tuesday, because travel on Sunday would be “nearly impossible, and life threatening” given the 50mph winds and white out conditions now forecasted. Monday was expected to be less snowy but actually colder. With work and a child at home, we decided there was no choice but to leave, and were out of the hotel 30 minutes later. And… much snow-covered driving ensued.

But don’t feel bad for me. Thanks to the wonderful programming committee, I got to have a great time at Boskone 52, even though I was there for less than 24 hours, and let me just tell you this: the best Valentine’s Day present ever might just be finding out who’s got your back during a blizzard.

Note: “Snokone”, name for the snowy alt-version of Boskone, was coined by Fran Wilde.

#SFWAPro