The New 911

As we pick our way gingerly through the post-Trump victory psychic hell-scape, wincing back from the news, desperately trying not to think about anything too long term—global warming? The supreme court? I find myself drawn back to the post 911 world, and how I felt then.

On the whole, I feel worse now.

Certainly, Trump’s election triggered more hate crimes than 911 did, which is perhaps all one needs to say about him, and what he is doing to us as a people. Watching the news is like bystanding during a slow motion car crash. Avoiding the news feels like criminal negligence.

And that SF writing part of my brain, that extrapolates into the future, won’t stop whirring and whizzing away… picking away at the skin of tomorrow to unveil knobby kneed dystopias, all the way down.

Cyberpunk, and a great deal of the standard geek culture dystopia, crystalized after the election of Reagan. Gibson and Sterling had read some whitepapers on the privatization of public space, and they extrapolated from this to the dystopia we are now slinking into…

Christ those guys were smart!

In Neuromancer, there is no clue in the text as to whether the United States continues to exist as a nation in any meaningful sense of the word. As Trump convenes the wealthiest cabinet ever assembled to carve what is left of the country into bite-sized, privitizable portions, we see the reality underlying Neuromancer, and Snowcrash, for that matter, solidifying inexorably, with a little bit of PKDs Man in the High Castle thrown in for good measure.

Neo-nazis! Everything old is new again.

And so I find myself slipping back further in time, to middle-school, the worst years of my life; the time when I learned to read for pleasure. Well. I read for escape. I was desperately unhappy, this weird awkward kid with thick glasses and zits whose name, unfortunately, rhymed with “gay.”

I read 4-8 hours a day, a book a day, more or less. Almost exclusively genre; comics didn’t have enough story, they’d been my gateway drug, but now I needed the hard stuff. I needed alien worlds to live in. Adventure, romance, war, horror. Other people to be. Other times to be in, but mostly I wanted the future.

But now, that future has been colonized by something I no longer recognize. So it’s off to faery for me, perhaps. Or maybe a lovecraftian hell.

Either way, Wish me well.

I’ll send back messages in bottles.

Posted in Making a Writing Life, Self Indulgent Mémoire, Social Media Suicide, Ugly Partisan Politics, Uncategorized

Back on the Wagon…

galleySo I spent a month this year detoxing from Social Media. It was painful but I thought I’d learned some lessons, about how I would work with it going forward.

Yeah. I was fooling myself. The election… and since the election…

Yeah. I fell back in.

I wrote an article for the SFWA journal after the social media fast, and I stand by what I wrote. Now I just have to live up to my own standards.

I’ve written more words this year than any year in my life; most on a failed trilogy… but let that go… I’ve placed three shorts for next year, and had my longest work, “What We Hold Onto” appear in Asimov’s, had my first story go live this month in Galaxy’s Edge, and broken into Analog, with two of those three shorts. I’ve included a thumbnail of the galley, too small to read the text, just because, OMG, I’m gonna be in Analog! Not sure what issue! I’ll ask!

But the reality is, I’m here, now, twitching and jonesing, wanting to immerse myself in news, which only makes me miserable and toxic, which causes me to spew rants which I give away to fund Mark Zuckerberg’s little facebook project..

because he needs me working for him. For free.

So. I’m committing to doing a morning a week with like-minded people engaged in political activity aimed at preserving our core values.

And I’m committing the rest of my life, to the also political act, of trying to make my art, make my fiction, find the future in myself and make it sing. And if possible, dance.

Late in the day, today, to be saying this, as I lug my portable office out to a cafe to write, but better late than never. late in life, too. But life is full of second acts; third acts, the story not over until that fat lady sings.

Do your work. Be true to yourself. Fight for what you believe in. Figure out the order for yourself. It’s what we’re here to do.

Posted in Making a Writing Life, Social Media Suicide

Maybe he likes your work. Maybe he just wants to sleep with you.

Trigger warning: This post is about sexual abuse. Very mild sexual abuse, of a young man, me, so, honestly, who cares, but it’s my story and I’m telling it because it pertains to some stuff happening in SF now (and for the last forty years.)

Set the wayback machine to the mid-eighties. I’m twenty one or twenty two, in art-school, and I’m emerging from what we used to call a nervous breakdown. A combination of over the counter and recreational drugs and a poorly managed class work load knocks me out for a few months, and then, a few years, after that.

During this time, after high-school, in those first terrifying years of quasi adulthood, a friend of ours, a movie-star handsome young man named Gabriel, falls in with a wealthy philanthropist who lives in a mansion on the outskirts of town; the mansion has a name.

Let’s call it Ravencrest.

Gabriel was an enigma; he crashed our suburban high-school the way you might crash a wedding party. Our school was top notch, attended by the suburban refugee sons and daughters of my decaying city’s professional class; the inner-city school dictated for Gabriel by his actual zip code was not good.

So he snuck into ours; I don’t know how, but he did. He lived near the elementary school my family had fled from when I was in forth grade.

There were stories about Gabriel; that he had a business card—a joke business card?—that identified himself as a male prostitute. He was absurdly handsome, witty, urbane, and likable.

And now, he’d been adopted by an eccentric millionaire, a man who owned a newspaper and had professionally played the concert piano.

As I struggled with myself, who I was, what I would be, unsure of my art, of myself as an artist, I was invited, as were all of Gabriel’s friends, to hang out in the mansion.

To spend the night there, too.

Rumors of sexual contact swirled around the man and his relationships with young men, but nobody was on record as having made any criminal accusations, and he assured us that his many enemies had started these rumors to bring him down. They had accused him of being a vampire, because he suffered from Cutaneous porphyrias and couldn’t tolerate sunlight, for example, and indeed outdoors he always wore huge black wraparound sunglasses.

He was celibate, he said.

One evening as he was saying good night to us he gave me an unwanted sort of longish kiss on the lips and looked me in the eye. He saw, I think, astonishment. He smiled. I guess my reaction wasn’t as bad it might have been. I think he filed me as a ‘maybe.’

He’d told me I was a genius; that I would be a great artist, but of course, most people didn’t understand that, the way he did, and I would have be careful, about who I listened to about my creative future.

Shortly thereafter it came out, one of the boys visiting, while going to the bathroom, saw one of the young men (legal age) creeping into the great man’s bedroom late at night.

He heard sex noises. The cat was out of the bag.

My people stopped visiting Ravencrest. Gabriel escaped into the Marines, and then, escaped from the marines, and then, vanished from all our lives. Time marched on.

Looking back at the photos of us all back then, it strikes me, how handsome we were. How attractive. I’m a repelling wreck now, but back then? I had something, some odd rare burning quality that I can see, was, oh, there’s no way to say it that doesn’t sound vain, but hot. I was sort of hot.

I may or may not have been any kind of artist. The millionaire, in any case, would have been very happy to sleep with me. He was grooming us. Flattering us. Pushing us. Seeing how far he could go. How we would react. Looking for someone who would trade, sex for approval. Sex for a chance at the big time.

I know. Barely any abuse at all. Yet, as the ambivalence of the world to my vast talents struck home in the years to come… yeah. It hurt.

So I get, in my small way, what it is like, to feel that sadness, when you find out that someone you thought was a supporter was just trying to get you into bed. I imagine this happening to me over and over and over again…

And I get how furious people get, at the men who do this. Even when this is all that they do.

On the face of it, not much happened that you could talk about in a court of law. An icky hug and kiss. Some compliments that turned out to be bullshit. In the world we live in, the opportunities for me to experience this abuse proved few and far between. I can only imagine the horror, of this happening again and again. But twenty five years later, the memory is still vivid, disturbing, and embarrassing.

At age 53, bald and heavy, I am now immune from such things ever happening to me again. A small thing to be thankful for. When someone likes my work I know what it is they like. My work.

So I ask all those who hold power over others in creative pursuits—do not try to trade your compliments and support for love or sex or even mild feigned romantic interest. You know it’s wrong.

Don’t do it. If you do, and people compare notes, you’re gonna be completely fucked. And not in the way you were hoping.

And you’ll deserve it.

That is all.

 

 

Posted in SF culture and Sex Abuse

When The World Isn’t Great

So, real economists generally agree that NAFTA didn’t kill or create US jobs, technological change occurring within a neo-liberal regulatory context was mostly what demoralized our workforce, gradually hollowing out the US middle class, contributing to skyrocketing income inequality even as productivity rates per US worker grew continually. 

Certainly, breakneck deregulation played a part in the hollowing out of the American middle class, regressive tax policy and a corrupt financial industry, but underneath it all, ‘creative destruction’ was eating away at that old post war dream, like a well metastasized cancer waiting to explode. Globalism was also a kind of green-fielding, part of that creative disruption, a way to circumvent the old rules and get at greater efficiencies, no matter their cost to workers. The two went hand in hand; teasing them apart is hard to do; but mostly, I think, it’s the tech part that was inevitable, and that we now have to learn to deal with.
 
My brother in law, decades ago, worked on a program that scanned addresses on envelopes and sent the scans to low paid operators overseas, so they could puzzle out the address and then type it back in; a bar code was printed and slapped on the envelope and the envelope was routed back into the pre-existing systems. Union rules forbid the mail from being touched by non-union people. But nobody touched the envelopes. Robots sorted and scanned and readdressed them, and the scabs were overseas, working for pennies on the dollar.

So here’s the thing. They don’t use these people much anymore–because the software has gotten much much better. A stronger union might have kept some of that work around for a few more years; but its gone now, either way.

The CEO of Uber recently admitted the future was driverless; all the driver jobs were going away eventually. The hip, happening ‘flexible’ gig economy has zero long term commitments to anyone or anything but a narrowly defined bottom line. Worker hours are bought a la cart, on the cheap, with the federal government being forced to pick up healthcare costs, disability costs, retirement costs, etc. 

“The world isn’t always great,” Kalanick said.

The world isn’t always great?

 Huh.

 So… Donald says he wants to make American Great again?

 Take him at his word, peel away the 40 or 50 percent of his supporters who truly are beyond any redemption, the basket cases, and you’re still left with that troubling percent of Trump support; those 60-70k a year people who aren’t really suffering all that badly compared with, oh, say, over half the planet’s population.

Those are the people who are hearing what Kalanik at Uber is saying, about the future not being great. It’s their future that isn’t great. These are the people who are figuring out that they have nowhere to go but down. Down to the level where they need public assistance—like the people they love to hate.

So democrats talking about public assistance doesn’t feel good. It feels TERRIBLE. Because the Democrat isn’t seeing them as a protean self-sufficient, continent taming, aboriginal slaughtering superman. He’s seeing them as being like the people that many of them have been trained to hate for a century. The poor. The chronically underemployed and incarcerated. Oh. And a lot of them are dark skinned, too, say that gently and quietly and walk away from it quickly because oh, that isn’t helping…

The only solution anyone has come up with for a seriously job-reduced future that isn’t just bandaids and coupons for re-education that most people refuse to engage in, is base income.

Base Income isn’t public assistance; you don’t get it by proving you’re helpless, by proving to a bureaucrat you’re down on your luck. You get it for being a member of a species which has split the atom and put a person on the moon and created computers which can beat us at Chess and Go. It’s your fair share of the income generated by the collective intellectual property of our ancestors, whose genetic inheritance we all share.

The Base income people sure hope that one day people can see it this way. It’s the Star Trek future. We know what that is, now. The singularity has been a long time coming.

At the knee of the curve, as the linear looking part of the graph bends into the feedback loop explosion, the changes will come more and more quickly. Capitalism was a pretty good system for directing human activity, in part because the entire bell shaped curve of human ability slotted in somewhere, creating value, and being allowed to keep some fraction of that value to survive.

We obsoleted jobs and certain kinds of workers and brains and made new ones, generation by generation.

 Saw a recent article, about how we didn’t need to worry about tech getting rid of jobs, which noted that it toook really, 50 or 60 years for the wealth of the industrial revolution to really trickle down onto the line workers who made all that stuff.

 In other words, it took a lifetime.

 A generation worked in those factories and died in them and never saw anything get much better. Now, jobs are obsoleting themselves decade by decade. Soon, it will be year by year.  Eventually, I suspect, skillsets and professions will have lifespans measured in the months, or perhaps, days, with most of this work being done by AI with thoughts that move much closer to the speed of light than our sluggish electrochemically powered slabs of convoluted meat.

 But back to the present, to the world where a full featured pick and pack robot like Baxter costs 20k, where a dozen individuals and machines can harvest commodity crops that will feed ten million, where machine learning and neural nets stand poised to decimate the professional trades, we will need to get to a new system, or patch Capitalism drastically.

 In short, a consumer economy requires consumers with disposable income. We’ve been trying to fuel our markets with booms based on… nothing, for a few decades now. The housing bubble? When housing prices suddenly skyrocketed? For no reason?

 Because median wages were stagnant? You know, the money that pays for houses that determine what houses should cost and are worth?

 A kindergartner could do the math! As a culture, we were flabbergasted. I mean, come on. Did we think people from other dimensions were buying those houses? Aliens from Zeta Reticuli? My God we’re idiots.

 Now, Kalaknik says, we’ll need a lot fewer cars, in the car sharing future, and that has a lot of positive traits. Less pollution, lower total cost of ownership–it also represents, of course, a ripple effect, another catastrophic loss of jobs.

 Throughout history of course, Luddites have wailed at the loss of jobs to machines, and labor force participation has remained roughly constant. Human brains figure out how to exploit the resources trapped in other human brains and bodies.

 What do we do when thought, and muscle, is cheaper by the instruction cycle and by the horsepower than anything our meat brains and bodies can deliver?

 I wrack my brain. I don’t come up with many solutions. And the transition, from what we have now, to any of the workable sounding solutions, seem even more impossible than the solutions themselves.

 It’s going to be interesting, in the Chinese curse sense of that word.

 Maybe the people who say capitalism survives this roughly intact are right; maybe a generation into the Gig economy, new norms and institutions will materialize around the new business as usual. Maybe lifespans just keep getting longer and infant mortality keeps dropping and even as median income falls or stays flat and the richer become unimaginably richer, that stagnant income buys more; more computing cycles. More entertainment. Cheaper healthcare, unmediated by expensive humans, dispensed by AIs and self-administered.

Who knows?

We’re gonna find out.

Assuming of course, we survive the coming die-off.

If that’s a thing

Posted in Ugly Partisan Politics

On the Fence

A friend from my home town wanted to console me that elections didn’t really matter to me personally; life would go on. I’d be fine. He’s a really nice guy, an artist and craftsmen and musician. My politicized friends attacked. Um. This election did matter?

I tried to explain, with a lot more compassion than I usually show, because I love this guy, that white het-cis parents of GLBTQ, jewish, and multi-racial kids live in two worlds at once.

Some of us get to turn off NPR, go on a social media fast, get on with our lucrative, knowledge worker work, contemplate our retirement accounts and our kid’s college finances, and think, well, in the end, we can move to another country.

But some of us know our kids could be murdered, tomorrow, for being who they are by a Trump fan feeling his oats.

Oh, rationally, the few hundred hate crimes since Trump’s minority vote electoral college win are a drop in the bucket of violence that is today’s USA. We lose 30,000 a year to guns, mostly suicide, but our homicide rates are still outliers in the so called civilized world.

A few hundred bashings, grabbings? A few hundred swastikas, a few thousand children quaking in terror in public schools as Trump kids scream ‘white power?’ Not a huge thing, really.

Unless you see it as terror.

911 wasn’t a big deal either, by this reckoning; it’s 1/10th of what we do to ourselves every year, and do nothing about! But 911 did matter. It made us feel unsafe. The statistics aren’t important

And in the same way the hate and violence unleashed after Trump matters, too. It rips at the skin of those of us who were once safely asleep in the bubble of our fantastic good luck and privilege.

I watched the first gay couples emerge from the courthouse down the street while holding the hand of one of my two GLBTQIA children. Some part of me worried, distantly, about a backlash, but I was mostly just crying unexpected tears of joy, at the people getting married who had once been those people, and then had been just people, and who were now my people.

I have lived in denial that anything bad would happen to my kids, since I knew who they really were. I’ve marveled at the denial. Intellectually, I’ve known it was bullshit all along. But oh, could I sleep at night!

That skin, that veneer of calm, ripped away after the election, leaves me blinking and bleeding and raw knowing that I won’t sleep well for at least four years. Maybe eight. Or maybe for the rest of my life, if my fears about the climate prove founded.

We can’t know this and we can’t presume this. But we feel it inside, as we continue to fight, with less power, fewer resources at our disposal, with every branch of governance soon to be stacked against the forces of tolerance and reason.

The American Experiment is in free fall.

We brace for impact, knowing at last which side we are on, now, for as long we and our children draw breath.

Our lives are on the line. If not our personal lives, then perhaps, only all the happiness in them.  …and to borrow an expression from our ammo-sexual friends, you’ll pry my son’s civil rights from my cold, dead fingers.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Posted in Ugly Partisan Politics

Piecing Ourselves Back Together

If you’re like me, and why wouldn’t you be, your consciousness has changed over the last few decades.

You remember a time, when news was a newspaper, or perhaps, a 24 hour cable TV station. CNN to be precise. There was exactly one of these stations. Cable TV exposed you to other news shows and stations, but you probably never watched them. PBS and National public radio may or may not have been part of your info diet. Maybe you are one of the ten people that watched CSPAN.

If you were an internet pioneer, you might have done IRC (look it up; it’s real time chat) or usenet (topic based forums).

You who remember a life before cell phones. You who remember pagers.

How did we think back then?

In a word, differently.

There’s a part of the human mind delighted by novelty, by chance, by gambling, also known as the periodic reinforcement schedule, which is a fancy way of saying you do something a bunch of times and sometimes but not all times you get the result you want. I recall a joke, about a drunk plunging quarters into a candy bar vending machine at a casino, yelling at someone interrupting, “don’t stop me, can’t you see I’m on a roll?” The drunk is so drunk he doesn’t get that he isn’t winning; he’s just buying something.

So, our social media, our email applications, our messaging applications, the 24 hour news cycle, all plug into this.

Our consciousness is fragmented. We aren’t winning.

You’ve probably seen the headline, if you haven’t read the story, and that’s a problem, too, that click bait fake news consumption surpassed the consumption of real news from real news sources in the days before Trump’s apparent electoral college win. The clickbait journalism model represents the ground floor of the race to the bottom of the forth estate.

So the most wealthy and powerful nation on Earth will now be ruled by a climate denier. His first appointment is a vicious criminal anti-semite being roundly praised by the KKK and the Neo-nazis that we have been told not to worry too much about by the many Trump voters who seemed to enjoy his melody, while paying little or no attention to the words in the songs he sang.

If you’re like me, at some point, the news became an addiction, an obsession, something you checked constantly, because with smart phones, you could. Perhaps like me you often read actual journalism, so you knew things. You knew that Iraq didn’t attack us on 911, before the war, and you knew there would be no WMD, because you’d read the reports by the UN arms inspectors. So many things you knew, and know.

I’m not saying we shouldn’t know those things and act on that knowledge. But I think the reality our information technology is now at odds with fundamental mental hygiene.

I would like to sit behind a firewall that batched my information in ways that made sense for a sane and productive life. Short of tornado warnings, local shooting events, and amber alerts, there is no need to become aware of every outrage on the planet the minute it occurs. I’m reminded of pioneers of the atomic age poisoning themselves with radioactive materials, because, they were presumed to be safe. We are the pioneers of the singularity, of the age of pure information, and a very large minority of voters have just accidentally selected a man who thinks global warming is a Chinese hoax as president.

Somehow, we have poisoned ourselves.

Not sure what to do about this, but here’s my short term plan:

  1. Maintain my subscription to the NYT.
  2. Only read news at the end of my work day.
  3. Only consult social media while standing up my workstation. Avoid it entirely as much as possible. Set distribution to friends only. Puzzle out what to do about an author platform later.
  4. Read books. Library books. Paper books I buy. E-books. Listen to books. Walk. Listen to music. Think.
  5. Donate  money to groups to protect targeted populations. Planned Parenthood. ACLU. Southern Poverty Law Center.
  6. Attend non-violent protests. Periodically call my representatives. Vote in all elections.
  7. Wear an array of identifiers that mark me as a safe place. So far, I have a Black Lives Matter pin and the safety pin. I’ll be adding more icons in the days and weeks ahead. These markers do not make me feel better. My demographic has allowed a horrific thing to happen. I don’t get to feel like a decent person for at least four years. Perhaps longer.
  8. Do my work.
  9. Abstain, to the degree I am able, from the self-congratulatory liberal echo chamber.
  10. Attempt to rewire my brain to be more like the brain I had in my twenties, which didn’t ache to check a series of glowing buttons on my pocket computer / tracking device every five minutes.

I’ve done this once before, but gradually got sick again, like an alcoholic who starts up again, only drinking one glass of wine with dinner. Then two. Then a bottle. Then two.

I’m gonna live a life with more individual conversations. Less holding forth to small audiences of like minding people generating micro-payments to a giant corporation.

Feel free to chime in below, on how you plan to change your life, in this new world we find ourselves in.

I want to know!

 

Posted in Climate Change, Making a Writing Life

The End of the World

Not really. Not yet. I hope.

black

my new social media profile image

But this is what it feels like for so many of us. I won’t bother to list the horrors coming down the pike. The markets crashing is just the beginning.

Life just got harder for everyone.

I feel that social media plays a role in what just happened. So I’m giving it up for a time. I don’t trust the algorithms. Whatever FB was tuned for, preserving the planet wasn’t a priority.

There’s been a debate in SF, about dystopia; why we write it, and are we dooming ourselves to the kinds of futures we write about.

What is a cautionary tale, and what is a self-fulfilling prophecy.

There’s a novel I started as a novella decades ago, which I rebuilt and then couldn’t sell to Asimov’s or F&SF. I’m going to finish it now, it’s a series of novellas, a fix-up novel in parts.

It’s about a sick orphan taking on the richest, most corrupt man in the world.

The working title is Broken Boy.

Wish me luck.

Posted in Making a Writing Life, Social Media Suicide

Read my story Upsold! live at Galaxy’s Edge

cover001-1So I really really love this story, and I’m really really glad that it can be read on-line. Most of my stuff has been in Asimov’s, F&SF, and Interzone, which are all all paper. I love paper. I love those magazines.

But it’s great to be able to share a link. Like this.

http://www.galaxysedge.com/n7.htm

This magazine combines stories by newer writers with reprints from giants in the field, (and original stuff by giants, too). It’s edited by Mike Resnick, the most award winningest editor in the history of genre editing. I’m happy to be in here!

I tweeted something like “The Singularity! Sex! Fundamentalism!” because those things swirl around this story; it’s a profoundly weird little tale which came to life as I wrote it in a chilling way, the characters speaking very clearly in my head. I was barely able to steer this thing.

Read it now, for free, and let me know what you think! Seriously!

I dig the other stories in this issue as well, by friends of mine, and I’ll collect those reviews and put them up in a post tomorrow.

But I wanted to say this here, because I hadn’t yet.

Check it out

 

 

Posted in My Publications, Reinventing Science Fiction

Imposter’s Syndrome

imposter

Nineties Jay says to today’s Jay, “Wow. So. You’re a writer now… right?” Today’s Jay winces. “Um,” he says.

I have been struggling with imposter’s syndrome.

Found this in a business centric site, as a list of things to do to combat IS.

  • Don’t stay silent. Find a way to speak about your fears with a trusted friend, a coach, a mentor, your partner, a therapist, or in a journal.
  • Become familiar with your impostor. What are you trying to prove? To whom?And why?
  • Exercise your sense of humor. Try to keep a sense of perspective and to laugh as often as possible—especially at yourself.

So. Here’s the journal. And I guess you’re my trusted friend, whoever is reading this.

I remember a time when if you’d told me I would publish in Asimov’s, Analog and F&SF, multiple stories in all three places, that I would have said, “Cool! Thank God! I’ll know then that my work has value and I can put a ton of time and effort into projects without feeling like a self-indulgent dick.”

Back in the 90s, I saw these three magazines as the launch path to a career as a novelist, and when I didn’t hit these marks in the first five years of effort I quit for eighteen years.

So. Now, I’ve done it, made my 90s checklist. Time to strap in and launch that career!

But…

Now I’m haunted by the experiences of so many friends over the years who can’t sell novel one, two, three, four, five… by people whose first big-six novels don’t earn out, by people stranded in multi-book contracts… by the experiences of indies who pour years of effort into books only to sell a handful of copies…
I do sometimes, shamelessly, call myself a writer. There’s almost always that sense from people, when you say that, that they think you’re basically unemployed and make no money and are some sort of pathetic parasite.

Um. Yeah.

I say the three names now… Asimov’s, Analog, F&SF … I can add Fantastic Stories, Interzone, and Galaxy’s Edge, too, because I’ve placed work there as well… I don’t have to tell people how much money I make writing. I do anyway, in a kind of ugly self-flagellation that makes everyone within earshot wince.

The time has come now to commit, to longer term projects, to figuring out what my voice is for. To network more effectively, and not to shudder at the word ‘network.’ To somehow make use of social media without oversharing, venting like a mad man, or being in other ways unattractive.

A successful writer / businessman friend of mine recently told me he had never seen a more self-sabotaging media presence… a friend from the 90s flamed me on twitter for how I’ve discussed my recent successes there, and only the successes. The phrase ‘head up my ass’ came up so often I eventually realized that this guy was no longer a friend. (After he’d blocked and unfollowed me, that sank in. I’m not always quick on the uptake.)

So. I have a lot of work to do.

I thought I might find a cover of each magazine and make a graphic for this post… I searched the web, before realizing, duh, just take a picture of the magazines, and in so doing I found a bunch of reviews of my work I’d never seen before.

All positive reviews.

Don’t read reviews, is one bit of advice writers give. Never respond to reviews, either, everyone says.  Today, though, I think the reviews helped.

In a discussion as to whether an Asimov’s story of mine, Strangers with Candy, was ‘really SF’ or not, the reviewer said, he didn’t care really, the story was effective. The story knew exactly what it was doing, were the words he used.

So. Maybe my stories know what they’re doing. Even when I don’t.

Time to go make some words.

Thanks for listening.

Posted in Making a Writing Life

Twenty Six Years Later

26-years-later

Random assortment of covers of Analog, once Astounding, Science Fiction Magazine. A tradition. An institution. Yeah. I’m gonna be in it.

So, twenty six years ago I was living in Jamaica Plain with my girlfriend who would become my wife and I decided that rather than just talking about writing fiction I would actually sit down and write some.

My early efforts… on typewriters… had been pathetic. Typing on a typewriter felt like work. I didn’t like it. The idea of producing stacks of manuscript on a typewriter gave me nightmares. I was shitty at spelling; not exactly dyslexic, nothing worthy of a name, just hopelessly shitty. I recall dumbing down my vocabulary, when writing school papers, because I couldn’t spell a fraction of the words I knew.

But in 1990, I had a goddamn Macintosh personal computer. Spell check, yo.

So, I banged out a novella. The plot was vaguely Phillip Jose Farmer meets Roger Zelazny as written by someone who couldn’t write very well and six weeks after I dopped the manuscript in the mail to Analog magazine, I got back my SASE with the unsigned rejection slip.

The slip was a page of snarky reasons they rejected stories, pre-printed. It was humiliating.

I’d grown up on the myth of John W. Campbell writing letters of critique back to Asimov and Clarke that were longer than the stories themselves. I knew Campbell was long gone. I knew I wasn’t Asimov, or Clarke.

But oh.

So this is the thing; this is common; this is cliche. We all know that this is what happens when you start out trying to do something. But, until you have done this thing and had this happen, really, you don’t know shit about how this feels.

Until you have been the man in the arena.

You don’t know what it feels like. It feels bad. Depending on what kind of person you are, it can be enough to stop you cold.

How many dreams die in that moment, in that first flash of the cold light of day? The short, sharp shock of your own ineffable crappyness?

Lots.

Intrepid hero that I am, or was, at age 27, I collapsed like a house of cards and didn’t write or submit anything for a year.

And then…

A friend of mine sold his first story to a magazine for fifty bucks. (He thought he did anyway, the magazine folded before it published the thing or paid him, but who cares. It happened. A friend. Of mine. SOLD A STORY.) And I realized, I wanted to write. I met a man in a used bookstore in Harvard Square who became my lifelong friend and wrote with him and a few people he was writing with, and when that group disbanded I found another group, which I stuck with for years.

Until I lead it.

I went to Clarion West, the six week writing workshop that makes or breaks people, and….It broke me. I quit for eighteen years. Again, heroic me, folding like some kind of cheap, easily foldable thing. (What do things fold like? Write much, writer boy?)

And then I started up again in 2012, with a new workshop, new friends. I sold nine pieces to Asimovs, two to F&SF, and to Interzone and Galaxies Edge and Fantastic Stories, and this afternoon, twenty six years later, two stories were accepted at Analog.

Depending on where you are in life, I am either an inspirational story (if you’re older and hoping for a second act) or a cautionary tale (If you’re younger and you have a tendency to quit like a little sniveling bitch.)

Know this; the sensation of success is fleeting, behind every success in writing there are a series of disappointments. (No award nominations? No anthology interest?) You better love doing the thing itself, because mostly the thing itself is it’s own reward.

But, that moment of success, that instant, that feeling, reaching a goal, it’s good.

Very good.

You carry it with you forever.

Posted in Making a Writing Life

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