matociquala: (david bowie realism _ truepenny)

I've been asked to blog a bit more about what I mean when I talk about being an "auctorial construct." Since part of my mission statement in keeping this blog is to warn up-and-coming writers of the unsignposted potholes in the road, I think that's a fair request, even though the prospect makes me somewhat nervous. I can see the slapfight from here, and it scares me.

Still, this is for posterity, so I will endeavor to be honest.

This was in part inspired by an SF writer conversation about finding fan pages for yourself you had no idea existed and no part in setting up, and in part by a similar conversation about the infamous Youtube video "Fuck Me, Ray Bradbury," and whether it was creepy or awesome, and how it would feel to be the recipient of such an internet lustogram.

Context is NSFW, if you had any illusions otherwise:

I'm just in these last couple of years coming to realize that, to a lot of people (like, more people than I know in real life), I'm no longer a real person they don't know, or maybe know by reputation. Instead, I've become an auctorial construct, and it's very bizarre.

Essentially, I'm a fictional person to them.

And they feel like they have ownership of that construct/fictional person, and sometimes they get very angry when I persist in being me and not the person they imagined. Which, I mean--okay, yeah. It happens to actors and musicians and sports figures a thousand-fold more, and politicians build their careers on capitalizing on this effect, but boy it takes some getting used to.

Sometimes, it's a little like dealing with 5,000 high school crushes. Sometimes it's like dealing with 5,000 high school enemies. Sometimes, I learn things about myself I did not know from my Wikipedia page.

Part of the price of being a public person is not having a lot of control over what people say about you--or, more precisely, what they say about the auctorial construct they have created, that they think is you. It's the cost of celebrity. Even teeny tiny celebrity. Celebrity this big: ---><---

Everybody experiences through their own perceptual filters, you see, and everybody projects their deepest, most heartfelt hopes and dreads into what they read and watch and live. To narrow it down a little, it's how this flawed technological telepathy we call prose communication works. It's why a book can get under your skin and change you; because a book is a mirror. A funhouse mirror. (My former Viable Paradise roomie Cory Doctorow, who isn't very much like a lot of people seem to think he is, and who I like a lot, has a hypothesis that a lot of how we experience fiction comes from the workings of our mirror neurons. Which is to say, the same things that both give us empathy (if you believe that particular research), allow us to model the behaviors of others in advanceof experience ("Mom's gonna kill me!"), and also tend to lead us to project our own motivations onto others ("I know you're thinking about breaking up with me!").

So sometimes people I don't know see themselves, or the things they hate most, in me--the same way they would see those things in a fictional character. And sometimes they bond with those projections, or loathe them.

It's uncomfortable. It's uncomfortable stumbling across people claiming I said asinine things I never said, and that happens all the time, too.

Sometimes, I stumble across people claiming I said totally awesome things, or gave them great recipes I have never seen before. That's weird too, but doesn't quite give me the same frisson of omg people think I'm evil that the "Elizabeth Bear said she hates fanfiction" posts do, or the blog reviews where people say they want to stab me. 

It's just weird when people think they know what I think, you know? But I've come to realize that that's not about me; it's about them. I'm some guy who writes novels and climbs walls and reads too much and is unfortunately somewhat prickly and overdefended. I do not walk on water--except for now, when it's frozen all over the everything. I have a bad habit of seeing too many sides of most arguments, but I don't hate fanfiction. And I really don't hate queer people. Or most of the other things people keep saying I hate.

Except George W. Bush. I despise that shitnozzle, to use one of [ profile] panjianlien's preferred terms.

In other words, people don't actually think I'm awesome. Or evil. (Well, my ex-husband might.) They think the Elizabeth Bear who lives in their head is these things.

Part of the job, I fear. At least we're not 1970s rock stars. We'd be spending all our time fielding questions about whether it was true we slept with David Bowie.

The nice thing is that this has led me to realize that the artists and public figures I admire, the ones who seemed bizarrely elevated to me--are pretty much going through the same weirdness every day. Which makes it easier not to pee my pants when I meet somebody whose work I desperately admire. (I still totally burst into tears when I met Peter S. Beagle though. Just so you know.)

It also makes me understand what it is that people get out of Real People Slash, though man, I tell you, I still find that all the squick in the world. Intellectual understanding =/= emotional understanding. (NB: I also do not hate RPS. It just gives me the horrors, because I can't disconnect it from the people behind it. I make an exception when they have been dead for over 200 years, however.)

So no, Rachel Bloom is not actually talking to the real Ray Bradbury. She's talking to the auctorial construct Ray Bradbury. And it's not all that different from me admiring Angela Bassett's guns circa Strange Days, or Matthew Yang King's abs, or Mandy Patinkin getting himself accidentally interviewed as a man-on-the-street in NPR's election coverage...

Projection and objectification. It's what's for dinner. I suspect all we can do is try to be self-aware about it, and realize that the person we think we admire without knowing them is a person, and they have a life outside our head. And that the fan who may be uncomfortably over-fixated and sending inappropriately suggestive emails is in fact responding to a deep internal need, and not us at all. 

Which I guess comes down to treating that person with compassion. 

...especially when it's so useful for us as artists to be able to illuminate and manipulate those feelings through the medium of fiction. Which is to say, we invite readers to project into and objectify our characters. It's one of the ways we get people to care about characters.

Like most tools, it cuts both ways.

matociquala: (always winter)
One of the things I love about fandom is that, at its best, it's a potlatch society. It's one of the last few places in the Western world where a person's social status and the respect in which they are held is determined by the quality and magnanimity and effort involved in what they give away.

I've been involved in Criminal Minds fandom and The Man from U.N.C.L.E. fandom and SFF fandom, and I used to tell people I wasn't a real fan, because I didn't contribute enough to the communities. But I guess I do bring something, and I should value that.

I think of Yuletide, for example, or the people who write fic and turn it loose in the world for other people to read and enjoy, or the people who write meta and reviews and amazing critical analysis, and the people who run conventions, and the people who organize fan fundraisers, and the people who read carefully and comment and maintain rec lists, and the people who critique and educate about social issues, and the people who maintain lending libraries of out-of-print works, all for the joy of sharing something they love and feel strongly about.

Giving stuff away--and I don't mean obligatory gifts, the oh my god I have to find something for my mother in law that costs at least seventy-five bucks gifts--is a small human act of heroism. When we give time, or kindness, or something we know somebody else will love (or needs), we are reflecting, for a moment, our best selves. And in the act, we receive, as well: giving benefits the giver. Not in gratitude, but in oxytocin; the elevation that comes from community, from purpose. The love hormone, they call it, but what it really is is the social bonding hormone.

It's the thing that makes us a tribe. And the Internet makes that tribe world-wide.

I remember one time when I was so sad. I had walking pneumonia and a broken heart, and I was taking the bus home from work in a howling nor'easter and I had a mile to walk with no sidewalk from the bus stop to my door. And as I was getting off the bus, a pretty girl smiled at me. Just the gift of a smile, no reason. Maybe I looked as sad as I felt.

I still remember her, and that smile was in 1995.

As I've gotten older, this has become more and more clear to me. All I am, all I do in the world, the only value any of it has is where it benefits the world around me.

We all die. No, really. We strut our little time upon the--well, you know it. Trying never to die is futile and sad; but the prospect of that inevitability, I think, can be comforting. When we look at our own impermanence (as individuals, as cultures, as a species) then it starts to come plain that the moral value that brings the most good into the world is compassion.

Compassion is hard and scary. It means putting ourselves at risk and really listening to other people, even when we disagree with them. Even when they want to destroy us, or are completely oblivious to our needs. It does not preclude self-defense or anger, of course. And it does not mean that we have to martyr ourselves to the cruelty of others.

But it does mean that maybe, when it costs us nothing to give something away, we can do it. We can fold that neglected laundry we pull out of the dryer in the communal laundry room of life. That's a gift, after all.

Somehow, we've gotten this idea that giving is about stuff. And all that stuff we collect can make us more comfortable, but our enduring legacy is the attention we pay. The good stuff is the ways we help the world, the little pleasures we bring to others, the trees we plant, and the houses we build.

And so many of the things we can give away cost us nothing. Nothing we need, anyway. A little self-importance, a little of our self-image as Important Busy People Who Own The Road.

I like to let people into traffic. You know, I'm almost never in that much of a hurry to get somewhere. And the surprised and relieved looks they give me through the driver's side window are so very gratifying.

We are so small, and the night is so large. If we don't hold the light for each other, who will?

So this is just to say thank you to everybody who's let me into traffic over the years. For all the little kindnesses and efforts on my behalf, or just generous gestures broadcast. For all the aha moments, and the belly laughs or snickers, the things that made me go huh I'm not sure that's right.

Thanks for all the comments and arguments and small generousities. Thanks to everybody who's given me the gift of their attention, either here or to my published work: even if you hated what I had to say, you listened. (and thank you to [ profile] asciikitty and [ profile] coffeeem, as there is !fiber! in my mailbox today to go with my shiny new spindle.)

I'll do my best to pass it along where I can.

Happy sun return. Happy new year.
matociquala: (wicked fairy bowie)
This is like the Ninja Quotient*, only better.

*which uses the number of main characters who would have to be replaced by ninjas in order to improve the story as a measure of literary merit, and I believe is original to Some Guy ([ profile] lnhammer).

For example, Romeo and Juliet would be a pretty good play if you just replaced the title characters with ninjas, so the ninja quotient is two... oh, wait. That's Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon, isn't it?

Also, [ profile] scott_lynch has a very, very funny post on weird emails from random entitled people on the internet who think for some reason they own you. Or maybe it's only funny if you are the sort of person who gets weird emails from random entitled people, but it had me on the floor.

(see above, George R. R. Martin is Not Your Bitch.)

Also, apparently Scott (like [ profile] tim_pratt and [ profile] yuki_onna) is doing a Donation Model Book On The Internets. As somebody who is doing a donation-model hyperfiction collaboration on the internets, I support this endeavor.

See, the whole thing about this donation-model stuff is that we're trying to figure out new ways to exploit the internet that will get you wonderful stories, and allow us to feed our cats. Writers, as Scott points out, are usually actually Starving Artists, and sometimes we go a long time between paychecks. And the distribution models and so forth are changing--

So basically, right now we're all experimenting, trying to find ways to use our professional skill, acquired through years of practice, to continue making a living. In an era where everything is instantly copyable and DRM pisses people off, it's looking less and less likely that selling paper books for a marginal royalty is going to keep us in pretzels and beer twenty years down the line.

Musicians can go out and gig for a living. But writing in the modern world isn't a performance art, though once upon a time, storytelling was. Maybe the internet is a way to revisit the bardic tradition.

Basically, we're busking. We're trying to give you something awesome, and in the process Not Starve.

Seems like a reasonable trade to me.

Mile and 6/10 in 20:18 this morning, including a big hill and a stop to poop in a garden (The dog, not me. Yes, I picked up after him.).

Now, to shower, eat some banana bread, and invent a serial killer. Yeah, it's a pretty good job some days.
matociquala: (daffodils)
And yet sometimes we don't get it done on time, for one reason or another.

Apparently there's a vast internet kerfuffle about writers turning in books late. Since I just turned one in a year overdue (Chill) for the first and I hope last time in my career, I am moved to say:

Y'all do know we don't get paid until we turn those in, right? It's not like we have a vested interest in being late. We're generally doing our best out here.

What, nobody who reads SFF has ever blown a deadline at work?

I do sympathize with the annoyance of anybody waiting for a book by a favorite author, but it is kind of a first world problem, and probably not worth writing scathing letters over.
matociquala: (comics invisibles king mob)
Breaking news, if you missed it:

Realms of Fantasy is closing.

Chalk another one up for the publishpocalypse. :-(
matociquala: (atc)
We trekked up to the Albany Indoor Rockgym today to try it out and introduce a friend of Alisa's to the rockclimbing thing. It was fun: we wound up hanging out at the gym for about three hours and did a lot of climbing. Unfortunately, the gym itself was something of a disappointment: it's just a grigri and carabiner clip operation, and I'm spoiled by gyms which allow climbers to use real belay rigs. Also, none of the routes were rated, and they were badly enough designed and marked that it was pretty much impossible to tell what was supposed to be a route and what wasn't.

The actual structure of the gym was cool: lots of bays and corners and chimneys and cracks and so on, good stuff to play with, and I did get to play with a lot of it. It felt like pretty good exercise, at least, even if I did wish they had some rated routes to try my luck on.

I climbed six routes walls, tried a couple of others, and did some traversing. Good times, good times.

In news of fail, here's a good example of how to make sure you never work in this town again.

Poppy Z. Brite explains just what's going on over there, so I don't have to.

Dear aspiring writers: don't do that.

(I hope [ profile] mroctober doesn't mind my linking this, but really, in what universe does anybody treat another human being the way twitboy there is treating him? It's pathetic and sad.)
matociquala: (rengeek skinhead fortinbras)
via [ profile] tanaise, [ profile] benpayne offers "Some useful answers to questions about gender inequality: a handy guide for editors."

So it's happened again. Once a year or so some chick gets a bee in her bonnet about the whole "more men than women are published" thing.

I know! AGAIN!!!

Wasn't it enough that we pretended to listen last time??

Every year we men try our best to placate them. Following is a useful rejoinder that I recommend.

"Hey, relax. Don't worry. Look at the monkey."

Sometimes, though, that's not enough. So here are a couple of other useful arguments you might like to utilise. I've found they silence even the most ardent whinging...

I'd roll on the floor clutching myself, but it hasn't been swept.
matociquala: (writing literature vonnegut asshole)
...since it just came up again...

Here's a nonexhaustive list of authors of speculative fiction writing in or translated into English who are not of European descent.

Nationality is not considered. Many of the writers in question have non-speculative work as well, and in some cases the majority of their work may be non-spec. Magic Realism is considered as a genre unto itself, currently.

The original post where this list was compiled is over a year and a half old. It's here (, and additions and emendations are encouraged.

(For all your Carl Brandon Society Awards-nominating needs. And also for the recommended reading of anybody who thinks the work of SFF writers of color began and ended with Octavia Butler and Samuel R. Delany.)

Behind the cut, out of pity for your scroll bar.... )

Boy, it's kind of nice to see how many screens that fills up.

Now go buy some books.
matociquala: (spies avengers steed and peel needed)
1) More from on the existence or nonexistence of an SF generation gap.

2) Galley Cat interviews me and the Presumptuous Cat. That's my typical glare of concentration at the laptop screen, of course. Chaz's Cuban oregano (which is neither Cuban nor oregano) is visible in the background, in the blue pot just above the Presumptuous Cat. That's the Tiny Lime Tree over my shoulder.
matociquala: (twain & tesla)
I slept rather than running this morning. The heat broke last night, and while it is still humid and close, it's no longer sweltering. And so I slept like a sleeping thing, on top of the covers with a fan turned on, in my own bed, for approximately ten and a half hours. And I don't feel the least little bit bad about it either, because in any case, there will be climbing tonight. And my everything hurts so much less than it did when I went to bed, it's incredible. Sometimes, mature wisdom is about knowing when to stop trying so damned hard and get some rest.

I was talking with another friend last night about the single worst stage of trying to break into print. It's the "there's nothing wrong with this story but I'm not going to buy it" stage. (Actual words (or a paraphrase thereof) from an actual rejection letter written by [ profile] ellen_datlow to me, circa 2004.) It's the stage where you're competent, but you haven't yet found your voice. The snap isn't quite there, the pop, the narrative drive. It's the garage-band stage.

I read something somewhere that opined that the difference between garage bands and bands that break out is not musical competence, but having found their own sound. I've listened to this happen to a couple of friends' bands, and it's true, I think.

It also applies to writers. You get stuck at that stage because you are trying to find the things that will lift you our of competence and into the next stage. And I can tell you what those things are.

One is confidence (hard, in a business where one faces constant rejection.) Confidence in the story you're telling. Confidence in your ability to tell it. That confidence is what gives a narrative drive, allows you to stop hemming and hawing and say what you mean rather than talking around it.

Another is voice. Sounding like yourself, the rhythm and swing of your rhetoric, the unique chord progressions that make this identifiably your song and not something anybody could have written.

And the interesting thing there is that that personalization--which is what's going to make people love your work--is the same thing that's going to make some people hate it. Strong opinions are what you're after. And some of those strong opinions are going to be negative.

And there's experience and technique and craft, of course, but those are all part of the competence. And mere competence isn't enough. You have to have that something extra.

This ties into a discussion I had with [ profile] jaylake today, about how it took me twenty years to sell a story to Asimov's. "Tideline" is the first story I ever sold there, and I started submitting in roughly 1987 (juvenilia typed on a sticky old Royal typewriter). Sheila Williams bought "Tideline" in late 2006, if I remember correctly.

This came up because Jay was congratulating me on the story's Sturgeon nomination and I allowed as how most of my short work went entirely under the radar before this. The magic of a digest publication: say what you will about the death of the SFF magazine market, but the Big Three get read by the people who nominate. "Tideline" is also my first Hugo nomination, it's a Locus Award finalist, it's being reprinted in the Gardner Dozois Year's Best Science Fiction and at Escape Pod, and it was the winner of the Asimov's Reader's Choice Award for 2007.

(Which reminds me, I need to update my bibliography. Except I think I will wait until award season is over. Just in case, to avoid irritating the Web Ghoul uneccesarily. I also need to add the Sidewise nomination for "Lumiere.")

Thing is, I'm not sure "Tideline" is my best short story, though I do think it's a very good one.** But it is the one that got digest publication, and as such, it's the one that got noticed.

**Currently, my favorites are "Shoggoths in Bloom" and "Sonny Liston Takes The Fall," with "Love Among the Talus" and "Sounding" also ranking high, though you all seem to like "Orm the Beautiful" an awful lot. Incidentally, you can read these, except the first two, here. Shoggoths is in the March Asimov's this year (The teaser text is online here), and Sonny Liston is currently available in The Del Rey Book of Science Fiction and Fantasy.

There's an interesting discussion of who the Hot New Thing in SFF might be going on around the blogosphere. It started at SF Signal's Mind Meld and progressed to Vector's Torque Control. You can vote over at [ profile] instant_fanzine.
matociquala: (comics bone stupid stupid rat creatures)
[15:05] [ profile] matociquala: I think I want to found a new subgenre
[15:06] [ profile] matociquala: we will call it "contemporary fantasy novels in which people have to hold down jobs."
[15:06] [ profile] cristalia: ooh, I'm in.
[15:06] [ profile] cristalia: Toronto Book has jobs.
[15:06] [ profile] matociquala: Hee
[15:06] [ profile] cristalia: And people losing them!
[15:07] [ profile] cristalia: "Because nobody will actually pay you for sleeping with werewolves."
matociquala: (can't sleep books will eat me)
Re: the fake publicist thing? So don't care. Worried about my own career, thanks.

And speaking of which:

I will write this five hundred times on the internets:

The scene does not have to be perfect. The scene has to be written.

I can fix it on the second draft. I can fix it on the second draft. I can fix it on the second draft.

Right. Beginner mind. Just because you aren't good enough to do this, and never will be, doesn't mean you can't do it.

Trust the story. It's always worked before.

1782 words on Bone & Jewel Creatures this morning, to a total of 18,146. And it's looking like the novella will come in very tidily around where it needs to, because there's just the zombie apocalypse and the climactic space battle to go, now. And some angst and pathos. I'm hoping for around 25,000 words, which would be just perfect, I think. And still might get itself written by the end of the year. Tomorrow and Sunday are scheduled as Word Days, and I plan to get as much done as I can.

I have figured out some things about the villain, and some other things will have to wait until the second draft.
matociquala: (writing dust bible 'house of dust")
Nobody ever thinks of me as a short story writer, and it kind of makes me sad--because at heart, that's what I am.

Now, don't get me wrong. I love a good novel. I even like writing them, though I have to do it in a single enormous push of effort, because otherwise I get bored, bored, bored and wander off. I can't stand the endless tinkering that some writers do, the working on the same project for years on end.

I can't bear it.

(I get bored anyway, but if I'm working on a book for six months, I can stand the boredom. By the time the 37th revision rolls around, though, I am stultified.)

And novels tend to move so slowly. Hundred of pages, and barely enough plot for a good novelette!

You can actually spot the short-story-writer DNA in my novels, even the long ones. That thing people talk (complain) about, where too much happens too fast and it's too dense, too hard to keep control of? I suspect it's directly related to the author (me) being a short story writer at heart. Because I really believe in my heart that if a paragaraph is not doing three (and preferably five) things, it is not doing enough work. (The five kinds of work a paragraph can do in a work of fiction are: increasing or resolving tension (plot), exposition, worldbuilding (setting), developing character, and illuminating theme).

So I try to have small reversals and revelations on every page. Which sort of makes my books bad for reading quickly, I am told.

And I love writing short stories. I love the feeling of accomplishment they bring. I love how they are tiny perfect jewels, when done right, and they are just there breathing and making you sad or glad or sorry or melancholy or joyous or a little hollow under the breastbone.

And so I have a problem. Because really, the reason I write is to be read. I write to an audience (you guys, ora fraction of you guys.) And there's a dramatic tension there, of course, because while writing to that audience I am trying to stay true to my artistic vision (such as it is) and tell stories I can be proud of.

And short stories make me sad. Because they just vanish. They hang around for a month or so, and then drop back into nonexistence, never to be seen again. And nobody ever reads them again. They go to the Island of Misfit Stories, and hang around unread with their pals.

And I think I would feel better about that if I knew I'd be able to print collections, eventually, but really--the odds of my selling another collection in the next ten years is pretty slim. And I have a little pile here, of unreprinted stories of which in some cases I am inordinately fond, and I would like to be able to let people read in book form. The stuff that's collected in The Chains That You Refuse--some of it, I am very proud of. The title story, "Botticelli," "When You Visit The Magoebaskloof Hotel, Be Certain Not To Miss The Samango Monkeys," and so on. But I'm also very aware that those stories are my early work, and a lot of them are rough at the edges, insufficiently developed, heavyhanded, flawed in various ways.

And there's another book, book-and-a-half's worth of stuff that will likely slowly work its way up to my website, because that's the place I can put it where people will be able to read it. It's mostly small-press-published, because I'm mostly a small-press-published short-story writer, and it's mostly impossible to find otherwise, and I wouldn't expect anybody to spend ages tracking down a back issue of On Spec to read "Los Empujadores Furiosos," even though I love it. It's gone, more or less, like a song sung in an empty room. (I've written over sixty published pieces of short fiction at this point. Some of them are in The Chains That You Refuse, and some of them are in New Amsterdam. And then there's all this other stuff that's just, poof, gone. Good stuff, some of it, I think. "Orm the Beautiful," and "Tideline," and "The Inevitable Heat-Death of the Universe," and "Sounding," and "Love Among the Talus," to name a few.

I love those stories. And yet--

--there they go.

And that makes me wonder why I write stort stories, when they're so ephemeral, and so few people read them, and really, they're more work per square yard than any novel will ever be, and at the end of the day I know they have a limited lifespan and then vanish. It seems like so much work for something that will more or less fall of the edge of the earth and never be seen again.

I guess I write them because I love them.

And what happens after that is between the story and the world.
matociquala: (rengeek kit & tilda lucifer/gabriel)
George R. R. Martin on why he feels that the current generation of SFF writers should join SFWA.

Charles Coleman Finlay with the opposing view.

Green Man Review has published a special Year's Best Fantasy & Horror mega-review, focusing on all twenty editions. (!)

And for another way to help [ profile] skzbrust with his medical/legal bills, and get some scwag, The Adrilanka Gift Shop.

Speaking of Steve (hey, was that a slick transition or what?) the mighty John Scalzi is doing a "Month of Writers" in December, picking 31 favorite bloggers who are also writers and reposting favorite blog entries by them on The Whatever. #1 is Steven Brust. #2 is Charles Stross.

Aaaand Part I the new Carnival of Feminist Science Fiction and Fantasy is up, here.


Back to the coal mines! Minutes to type, a short story to finish, and a pair of columns to write today.
matociquala: (sf doctor who meant to be?)
First off, since I am spamming lj tonight, Avery Brooks is going to star in Christofer Marley's Tamburlaine, as presented by the Shakespeare Theatre Company of DC.

Second, [ profile] truepenny, triggered by but tangential to the current death-of-short-fiction kerfuffle, is talking about what short stories are good for.

I have a theory. And that theory is that, more or less, the current SFF short fiction market is a club scene. It's where the experiements happen, the riffs, the fast-and-furious back-and-forth, the arguments, the bubble and boil. The churn, if you like.

Is short fiction essential to my career? Nope. Does it make me a lot of money? Nope. Does it get me a ton of respect? Nope. (Generally speaking. I think I write pretty good short stories. Actually, no, I take that back. I think I write damned fine short stories [I mean, other than the part of my brain that can only see what's wrong with anything I do, but we're talking about the realistic part of the brain now.]. And if they're not quite hitting the core-readership right, well, that's something to work on. OTOH, I am very, very happy about my BSFA short fiction nominations.)

So why do I write short fiction?

Because it makes me happy to do it. Because I do think a vital and exciting club scene is necessary to keep the commercial market alive. Because short stories, with their quick rate of turnaround, consist of a conversation that we can have without the three-to-five-year delay of the novel conversation. Because we're jamming, baby.
matociquala: (criminal minds reid forgive yourself)
Further to the short-fiction slapfight, Jeff and I have been emailing back and forth, and I just posted the following as a comment in his blog.

Actually, I should point out that I have *no* exception to what, based on your email, you *meant* to say–that we need to push hard and fail spectacularly to create anything worthwhile.

If you are not falling down, you are not running hard enough.

I *do* think the puppy mill rhetoric got away from you, and people (such as myself) are reading your post as an indictment of all the hacks you find yourself forced to work with, rather than a personal vow to wipe out more often.

I strongly believe in wiping out as often as it takes.

To double your success rate, quintuple your failure rate.

So there you have it. My advice for success as an artist.

Wipe out more often.

If you already know how to do something, why the heck are you doing it again?

matociquala: (holmes confidence)
Jeff V. responds to my post on his post here.

(My post.)

Alas, I seem to have been sharper than I intended, as I was trying for a tone of humorous argument, not condescension or viciousness. Viva la internets, I guess.

The mention of Cat/China/et al was indeed a tangent, one meant to illustrate that the standards of "great" fiction are incredibly arbitrary and personal, and not intended as a jab at Jeff, who is undeserving of such.

And he is absolutely entitled to not enjoy most of the short fiction he reads! (I don't enjoy most of the short fiction *I* read.)

What I took exception to was the implication I saw in his post that the reason he wasn't enjoying this fiction was because the authors weren't trying hard enough, which seemed to me the central theme and argument of what he wrote.

Jeff also sez:

And I still think there are pressures of commercialism and the idea of fiction-as-commodity that writers have to face and think about, and are often more noticeable within genre. It is good to continually remind ourselves of this–I know I have to.

Oh, heck yes.

If I would just put fewer icky queer people in my books, for example, who knows--I might get movie options or something.

Anyway, sorry I came across as having bit your head off, Jeff. Me being a jerk sometimes comes free with the subscription, I'm afraid.
matociquala: (spies mfu illya bitch please _ truepenny)
Oh, look, I'm going to get into another fight with Jeff VanderMeer.

We're all shocked, I'm sure.

Here's the money shot of what Jeff says, for me:

What I seemed to find in those old magazines sometimes overreached, or crashed into and sank on the rocks of evangelical experimentalism…but, at its best, that fiction was altogether more adult than much of what I’ve read recently. It seemed sharper and more balanced between intellect and emotion. There was ample intelligence behind it, sometimes a cruel and frightening intelligence. It was often bracing, unexpected, and jagged. 

Dear Jeff,

Yep. The old "compare the best of the old stuff to the vast majority of the new stuff and then declare the current state of the field culturally bankrupt trick."

Jeff, I gotta tell you. The sheer illogic of your post boggles me.

First, it assumes that the majority of writers are not in fact sweating everything they produce. I dunno if this means that you're not sweating everything you produce, but I assure you, many writers are. Working their butts off, sweating blood, taking things apart and putting them together repeatedly, doing multiple drafts and a good deal of hard thinking, fussing over every sentence, putting their blood and sweat and painful hard-earned experience into every character detail--broken hearts, and broken bones.

I know. I watch some of them do it.

One's dignity as an artist requires that one keep pushing. Trying harder, digging in, going to the wall. Writing what it hurts you to write.

You know, most art, even earnest art, will be pretty bad. And a whole hell of a lot will be competent but average. And the reason for that is that not everything can be above average. You might look up the definition of the word average if you need a refresher course on why.

Second, you assume that hard work equals excellent stories.

Now, does hard work mean every story is going to be a great one?

Alas. That's where the heartbreak comes in.


You can work your ass off, and kind of suck. You can work your ass off, and be just barely good enough. You can work your ass off, and be mediocre.

You can, in fact, work your ass off for fifty years, and be mediocre.


Scary, isn't it?

But you only get one R.A. Lafferty, one James Tiptree, one Chip Delany, one Kelly Link, and not all of us can be him, or her. Sorry.

Ooo. Yeah. It smarts.

Lemme tell you. It smarts the hell out of me, too.

Third, you assume that the best work is going to be edgy and political and dark. And it's not, my friend. Or, at least, not edgy and political and dark the way you want it to be. Sometimes the best stories are edgy as hell, challenging and uncomfortable and right where it hurts and big and sweeping and savage. And sometimes they're tiny little perfect painful things, sweet and sharp and life-changing as a splinter of glass lodged in the soft pink swollen tissues of your throat, or as a a kiss from somebody you thought would never love you.

That assumption that the significant things in life are always dark and edgy? That's a comfort zone too, and a comforting--and I would honestly say adolescent--fixation.

John Gardner calls it "disPollyanna Syndrome," the cynical fallacy that the real world is unrelievedly bleak.

But it's not. Sorry. Sometimes, the real world--and art--are shockingly perfect. Sometimes the truth is a jewel.

Fourth, of course, SFF writers are universally engaged in writing highly commercial, derivative short fiction for the big bucks it offers. It's all comfort-food tripe, but it's what the market wants, and the short fiction scene isn't essentially a club scene consisting of writers writing for and to other writers and the most hard-core oh, five or ten thousand genre fans.

That was sarcasm, if you missed it.

Fifth, not everybody gets a great story. And even people who do, eventually, get one great story may not get two. And the vast majority of writers who get even one great story serve out a long and gruelling apprenticeship learning their craft first. Writing well is not a talent. It is not a gift. It is not an act of will. You don't get to get up in the morning, click your heels, and say, "Today I am going to write a classic story."

Believe me. If that worked? I would know by now, because I've tried it.

Sixth, once you've had your great story? You are stuck with it for the rest of your life. And you will have to get up every morning and wonder how you're going to top "Scanners Live In Vain," and realize that everything you write from now on is probably going to be a let-down.

Seventh, my great story is not necessarily your great story. Most of what the genre conversation as a whole praises highly falls flat for me for one reason or another.

Eighth, I have to point out that small stories can be important, too. Tiny little personal stories are no less worthy than big sweeping ones. And there are any number of writers who are engaged in the subversive activity of telling stories about the sorts of people SFF has traditonally found uninteresting. Unworthy. Beneath notice.

Midwives. Chimney sweeps. Beat cops. Orcs. Failing small businessmen. Mothers of sick children. Struggling hacks. Second-stringers.

Like the vast majority of writers.

Sorry, Jeff, to have to deliver the bad news. But it's okay; I understand not being good enough. (And hey, I mean, if you were a girl, you could have the added filip of having to be about twice as good as a male author to get the same amount of respect. I mean, do you honestly think Chris Moriarty is a worse writer than Richard Morgan? Or that Cat Valente is a worse writer than China Mieville? Because, um, with all due respect, and all respect due to Richard and China--I think Chris and Cat are every bit as good as the boys. And I know which writers I hear discussed more frequently.)

See, here's the problem. No matter how ferociously we hate our own inadequacies, no matter how much we will ourselves to genius, we each of us still struggle painfully with the fact that every morning we wake the hell up, and we still haven't turned into Theodore Sturgeon*.

God dammit.

To hell.

Your friend,



In tangentially related matters, go read this:

and this:

and this:

and this:

Here. Have some pictures of Tornado Intercept Vehicles.

*Sturgeon probably had somebody he struggled painfully with not being too, I would guess, knowing writers.
matociquala: (sf doctor FANtastic!)

And so did [ profile] pnh. [ profile] naominovik won a not-a-Hugo.

Here's the list, via Making Light:

Best Novel: Vernor Vinge, Rainbow’s End (Tor)
Best Novella: Robert Reed, “A Billion Eves” (Asimov’s)
Best Novelete: [ profile] ianmcdonald, “The Djinn’s Wife” (Asimov’s)
Best Short Story: [ profile] tim_pratt, “Impossible Dreams” (Asimov’s)
Best Related Book: Julie Phillips, James Tiptree, Jr.: The Double Life of Alice B. Sheldon (St. Martin’s)
Best Dramatic Presentation (Long Form): Pan’s Labyrinth (Picturehouse)
Best Dramatic Presentation (Short Form): “Girl in the Fireplace” (Doctor Who)
Best Professional Editor (Long Form): [ profile] pnh (Tor)
Best Professional Editor (Short Form): Gordon Van Gelder (F&SF)
Best Professional Artist: Donato Giancola
Best Locus: Locus, ed. Charles N. Brown (I kept Teresa's amendation to the award title, here.)
Best Fanzine: Science-Fiction Five-Yearly, ed. Lee Hoffman, Geri Sullivan, and Randy Byers
Best Fan Writer: Dave Langford
Best Fan Artist: [ profile] frankwu
John W Campbell Best New Writer Award: [ profile] naominovik (I needed a Campbell quadruple-award this year to be sufficiently pleased by who won, alas...)

Congratulations, everybody!

March 2017



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