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Hey kids, let’s talk about DEPRESSION. Gather round, get comfortable, and I’ll tell you a story.
I wish I’d grown up in a world where kid shows covered things like that. Where we got taught when we’re young how to recognize the signs and symptoms of depression, how to work through it, and how to be good to ourselves while we do it. I’ve realized in the last few days that I’d been depressed for a few weeks now, and have been thinking about how to get out of the place I’m in.
There’s a difference between being depressed because you have bad things going on in your life, which sucks, and can describe most of my 2012 …. and being depressed even though you have good things going on in your life. That’s the tougher one, because while people understand why you’re feeling down when the power’s shut off and your spouse leaves town without you, they’re less understanding when you have a job, and friends, and love, and all the things we generally consider to be signs of winning at life.
I am, in general, winning at life: I have an apartment I like that I can, at least for now, afford; my son is doing well in school; I am loved, and while the details of which are still not up for discussion, it’s going in the right direction. I’ve made new friends recently, including someone who makes me laugh even when he’s being (purposely) obnoxious, and who encourages me to draw … and I’ve gotten back into art and comics, including scoring a column where I get to write about indie comics and share the things I love with other people. I feel like, in that sense, I’ve reclaimed a part of myself that had been on hold for a while, and it feels good.
So, what’s wrong?
Well, notice what got left out of that list. Dagan Books. My own writing. I noticed how little energy I had for work after I had recovered from the flu enough to be able to work, but didn’t actually have the drive to get anything done. I have about 6 hours a days that I can, and should, be spending on editing and promoting for Dagan Books, and writing my own fiction and non-fiction, and in the last week I’ve done … nothing. I was tired, I thought. I was still recovering from being sick (I do have a little cough still, so that’s not completely an excuse), I told myself. People told me to rest more and I’d feel better soon. So I read. I rested. I watched tv.
And I didn’t feel better.
I knew I had things to do and I didn’t care.
I started to think about it and realized this was the same way I’d felt a few months ago, just before Cthulhurotica got noticed by the Vaginal Fantasy Book Club, and I had to put aside my thoughts and deal with the deadlines in front of me. That worked for a while, but eventually the fuss died down, the sales slowed, and the bad feelings came back. I needed to figure out what was wrong, and how to fix it.
The problem with my writing is that I haven’t done any in months. I’ve been so focused on building DB, trying to make it into a profitable day job, because shouldn’t I? that I haven’t been doing the thing that makes me feel like I’m not a waste of space. Writing is the art I spent time on (I love drawing and printmaking and painting and all of that, but for reasons we won’t discuss here I didn’t pursue it, and so I don’t have the 20 years of practice I have with writing). Writing is the thing I think I’m good at. Writing helps me to connect with people and makes me feel like I accomplished something.
And I haven’t been doing it.
And I haven’t been doing it because I was focusing on all of the little things it takes to run a company, and the disappointments that go with it (poor book sales on one title ate up the good book sales from another title, and buying expensive ad space didn’t help) and the angry, stupid, awful people that occasionally go with it. I’ve had enough of people accusing me of not working hard enough, wanting to know whey I rejected a story and then arguing with me, telling me to go fuck myself because I didn’t buy their work, and suggesting that I could be doing better if only I did things their way.
I hate that before every con I go to I have to have a conversation with my partner about which publishing ”professional” has been making uncomfortably suggestive comments about my breasts so he can stand between us at the bar.
And, more than anything else, I hate that I’m behind on deadlines I set for myself, that I can’t afford to make books the way I want to, that I haven’t pursued publishing non-fiction like I’d always planned, and that I’ve accepted work/stories/projects I don’t love in an effort to grow my business faster.
Basically, I disappointed myself. Solution? Stop doing those things.
I admit that I thought about quitting all together – just getting out of publishing and going back to writing for myself all of the time – but I have never been a quitter. More than my desire to see this through to the end is the fact that I genuinely love publishing books, and have put out/am putting out some gorgeous work I’m glad to have my name attached to. What I need to do is stop forcing myself to work on someone else’s schedule, stop taking it so personally that I get accused of not being a “good friend” anymore because I only want to publish quality work (in other words, because I don’t want to publish theirs). I need to stop putting out filler projects that I think will get me noticed by this person or that will sell well in that market.
I need to make the books I want, in the way that I want. Period.
Yes, this will mean that I put out less, even though I’m working harder. It will mean sales increase more slowly, and it will take me longer to turn DB into a decent day job. I may have to get a job working for someone else in the meantime, to pay the bills. I’m okay with that. Because in the end I’ll be making beautiful books, I’ll be known for the quality of my work, and people who like my taste can rest assured that I’m giving them something they’ll at least like, if not love. I’d rather build my company that way.
I have to make some decisions about what I’m doing with this year’s books, and I have to get back on track with getting them out. I have writing deadlines too, and that has to happen. I think this is the first step, to say how I feel, to figure out what’s been wrong, and to make a plan for the future. I certainly feel better getting this out there. I know now that if I can take the next step forward, if I can just sit down and write something, get some fucking work done, then I’ll be moving forward again. I’ll get my momentum back.
There are a lot of reasons for using a pen name these days. From wanting to keep your writing a secret from friends or employers, wanting to keep two distinct writing styles separate so that readers from one genre aren’t turned off by the writing you do in another, or preferring a pen name which is less gender/racially specific than your legal name*, the reasons behind wanting a pen name are many and varied and for the most part, I don’t have a problem with any of them. However, I’ve run into a few people whose actions, enabled by the use of a false persona, are running dangerously close to unprofessional or even illegal.
Q: Why are you Mira Grant?
A: I wanted a pseudonym for my science fiction because I wanted to create some “distance” between it and my urban fantasy work. Mostly, I wanted people to judge the Mira Grant books on their own merits, not based on how much they read like something they’d expect me to write. I believe this was the right decision, and I’ve been very happy with my life as Mira Grant.
Both websites use photographs which are actually of McGuire, and while the Grant site has a brief faux-bio blurb, the rest of the information is factual – release dates, book info, and the bio and the FAQs both end with pointing out she’s also McGuire. Author Joe Hill was born Joseph Hillstrom King, the son of author Stephen King, and felt a need to write under another name in order to be judged on the merits of his words instead of his father. His website and Twitter feed and books all say “Joe Hill”, but the pictures are actually of him, and when he talks about his children or his predilection for pie, he’s actually talking about his own life. These are just two examples of what I consider to be acceptable use of a pen name: you’re changing the name for the purposes of story submission, so you’ll be judged “fairly” when a publisher considers your work or a reader buys your novel, but the rest of your life as it’s presented under that name is close to 95% true.
Submitting stories under a pseudonym without informing your publisher that you have another, legal, name – or much worse, signing a contract under your pen name – can cause legal issues and certainly makes me less likely to want to work with you, but we’re still talking about just one mistake – not disclosing your legal name. I’ve had authors do that, and learn from it, and stop making that mistake, in which case, I’m happy to keep looking at their work. At what point does it go beyond acceptable use of a nom de plume for work purposes and pass into unacceptable, creepy, or disturbing? That point differs for everyone but for me it’s when the fiction becomes not just a mask but a lie. There are authors who use more than just a new name: they create a whole new life. Websites, Facebook pages, even in chatting online with others, they use not only another name, but false images and fake biographies. Posting pictures taken from the Internet, of people who are not you and don’t know you’ve stolen their image, to support your pen name is one example of going too far. Writing lengthy blog posts about the life you don’t actually have, with people who don’t exist, supported by pictures you didn’t take … unless you label the site as itself being fiction, you’re trying to convince your readers that you are someone who doesn’t exist. What’s the purpose of that? If it’s just to support your pen name with what you consider to be a reasonable back-story, then it’s possibly only poor judgment on your part.
What really makes me angry are the people who create this fictional life and use it to prey on others. Creating a persona that is (for example) a young, sex-hungry woman and then using it to flirt online, manipulate others, play games with their emotions … or use it to turn a profit, soliciting donations from others to support what is essentially a hardworking avatar … that’s cruel. It’s a lie, it’s wrong, and when I find out that authors are doing this I will never, ever, accept work from them.
Personally, I don’t use a pen name. I made a decision a long time ago to be read and judged and known for who I really am. I like knowing that my friends actually know me. I feel lucky that I’m not in a situation where I’d be forced to hide my writing, which is so much a part of who I am, in order to get a job or maintain peace with family members. I understand wearing a mask in this business, but you should ask yourself if you really need it. Do you think a white-washed name or a bio photo which is younger/thinner/prettier than you think you are is protecting yourself from being judged wrongly, or is selling more books? Are you honest about yourself within the confines of your persona, or is everything you present to the world a lie? And if it is … why?
* For the purposes of this discussion, I’m not using the phrase “real name”. What that is can be very different depending on who you’re talking to, and no one has any right to decide what’s your real name but you. I’m only interested in the distinction between “legal” (often but not always “birth name”) and “pen name”, a fake name under which you write and publish, which is not the same as your legal name.
The more I write, the more people ask if they’re seeing bits of my life in those sentences. It’s bound to happen; it happens to nearly every writer. My writer friends who are women tell me it happens to them more than it does to men, but my writing friends who are men aren’t exempt from it either, so I think it’s this thing where a reader wants to have uncovered the greater truth of the story – and the greatest mystery, the greatest truth, is “What The Author Really Meant”. It’s why we read interviews, isn’t it? This desire to know the author is why we read blogs, and why we authors write blogs. If you want to know us, it stands to reason, you’ll read our work too.
But I don’t talk about myself. I talk about writing. I have a Facebook page and a Twitter feed and a Google+ account and I almost entirely talk about writing. This is on purpose, as I think it’s the writing you’re all really interested in, and the writing is all you really deserve to get. If you know me, in person, up close, you know other things about me, because you’ve been there for those events. I don’t hide anything from the people I spend my time with, and I don’t really hide anything from all of you. I just don’t mention it. If you read carefully you will have discovered that I have a child, and you might even know he’s a boy, and that he’s 8, a detail I mentioned I’ve mentioned once, in a tweet. You may know that I was married, and I am not in that relationship anymore, and if you are very astute you may have guessed that I am in a different relationship now. I have a day job, in some kind of office, I don’t work weekends, and I have just acquired a cat. That’s quite a lot of knowledge, really, if you think about it. You know, too, that I am a woman, probably since birth, that I have reddish hair and pale skin and freckles, if you look closely enough. You might know that I am overweight, but have lost weight recently, that I read quite a bit, and write not as much as I’d like, and have published a little, and been published a little more. You might guess that I am in my late 20s, which is what everyone says they guess, or you might know that I am actually 37, which I’ve never been afraid to tell people.
See, you know so much about me already. Is it enough? Will you read this, and feel satisfied, and go on to read my stories as if the words on the page are the only ones you need to know?
Of course not. You want to know everything.
What else could I say that would inform you, as a reader? The truth is, I don’t think I have to say anything. I don’t think the things I’ve already said should change your opinion of my work. I know it will, for some people. For some people, something as basic as my gender will shape their thinking of my writing for the rest of my life. I have avoided joining “women writers” groups simply because I don’t think you should care. (I went ahead and joined Broad Universe a few weeks ago because I realized refusing to do so means I lose out on people who might only pick up my writing because I am a woman but who might stick around because I am a damn good writer.) I don’t think it should matter that I am white, either, though I’ve discovered there are people for whom that matters quite a bit. I don’t think these things should make the tiniest bit of difference in whether you decide to buy my books, or in what you think of my stories. I know a dozen women, about my age, with at least once elementary-school-aged child at home and at least one divorce, and I can guarantee that we all write differently. We are each individuals, with secrets that will never be known, made up of factors that you will never completely understand.
My writing is informed by all of this, and none of it. It’s just as likely that the next story you read of mine will have been inspired by a news article, or a piece of fiction I read as a child, or a story I thought failed (and you’re holding my written attempt to do it right). I don’t make an effort to write about my life, and I doubt very much that there’s an autobiography in my future. I’ve explained this, over and over again, and I know it doesn’t matter. Some of you will still read my writing, and want to know what I’m really trying to say. The question is, if you knew everything about me, what would it change? Would my horror be less frightening? My erotica less sexy? My science fiction less inspired by science fact? Let’s find out.
Here is the quick and dirty story of me: (more…)
For some time now I have been planning a move, and along with that, I have been daydreaming about the kind of office space I can set up for myself. While it’s still some months away, I can’t help poking around the Internet for pictures of other people’s writing spaces:
Now this is a lovely desk, but how could I write in a space like that? It’s so empty! Where are the bookshelves? That chair doesn’t look comfortable at all, and there’s far too much natural light, which we all know writers are allergic to.
Ok, if I were writing a missive to my allies in the North, warning them of impending invasion of Visigoths, or peasants who could read, this writing space might work for me. I like the open books, and the slightly tilted surface probably reduced carpal tunnel. In my real life, however, the lack of Internet would have me begging for WiFi in about 3 minutes flat.