This is a sample post I’m writing right in front of Wayne.
This is a sample post I’m writing right in front of Wayne.
The most merciful thing in the world, I think, is the inability of the human mind to correlate all its contents. We live on a placid island of ignorance in the midst of black seas of infinity, and it was not meant that we should voyage far. The sciences, each straining in its own direction, have hitherto harmed us little; but some day the piecing together of dissociated knowledge will open up such terrifying vistas of reality, and of our frightful position therein, that we shall either go mad from the revelation or flee from the deadly light into the peace and safety of a new dark age.
Howard Phillips Lovecraft
(“The Call of Cthulhu”, August or September 1926)
So pretty much everyone in the genre at this point is reflecting again on HPL, his racism, his work, and our reaction to it, then and now.
My friend Don Webb recently wrote a great bit about Lovecraft’s virtually unprecedented (please correct me if I’m wrong) literary generosity; his mythos was a kind of freeware, open-source franchise, the like of which has never been seen before or since. The Lovecraft circle shared memes and tropes, god’s and monsters, promiscuously. As with VHS triumph over beta, the PC’s triumph over the Mac, android’s numerical superiority to iPhone, and as in the success of open source and AA, there is a power in making and sharing something without locking it down and installing a turnstile.
HPLs generosity of course, was bounded by his racism; there were no POC in the Lovecraft circle, that I know of. And again. Correct me if I’m wrong.
Reading the different takes on the mythos, the different voices, added to its reach and strength; again, there wasn’t much out there like it. Eventually we’d have big media franchises and shared worlds and share-croppped fiction with big names enlisting young blood to keep some best selling series alive, but somehow, this was not and isn’t the same thing.
You have to go to comics for this kind of weirdness; the cacophony of voices and characters, of shifting twisting uncertain backstories and ever changing realities. And of course there you have the domination of something like a studio system, ruining everything.
But all this is tangental to the short point I wanted to make, which is that people of a certain age recall enjoying HPLs work and are now more or less embarrassed or ashamed at themselves for being, as the apology goes, people of their times. The angst, the fights, the howling, is how we deal with the cognitive dissonance. To fans of a certain age, HPLs racism was reflected in virtually everything we consumed.
And so, we didn’t notice it all that much.
The little rascals on TV before school, with Buckwheat’s fantasy of tap dancing back to the ghetto with the trucks filled with watermelons; Johnny Quest’s mentor Steve screaming at the black savages; Disney’s apology for Racism, the Song of the South, complete with charming songs and animation.
HPL fit right in.
The little Rascals started saying ‘edited for television’ at some point and I was so stupid I had _no idea why_. The Warner Brothers cartoons started getting whittled back; I wouldn’t see the WW2 stuff till I was in my 30s. Disney trunked the Song of the South and pretended it had never existed. We all moved on. But HPL stayed frozen in time even as the mythos metastasized, like some hideous tentacled thing encased in arctic ice.
So Buffy could have a Stereotypically Strong Female Lead and the first seriously foreground gay relationship (of course it ends tragically) AND a succession of Cthulian Big Bad Story arcs. The racism may have been integral to HPLs vision but the ongoing echoes of HPL let that aspect mostly fade away.
And to get to the core of it, Cosmicism, the HPL universe, is darker than racism; its darker than nihilism; God(s) exists and they hate us or we are beneath their notice.
To Cthulu, #nolivesmatter.
If cosmicism is true (it could be) then HPL is just another flawed prophet carrying with him a racial stupidity that was pathetic even in his time; crappy science, crappy understanding of genetics and race. Like Michael Crichton’s climate skepticism. Just another genre writer grinding a stupid ax while also doing Other Things.
A modern take on cosmicism can bring with it the understanding that, we are all the same sluggoth slime, crawling back up the evolutionary ladder from the Old Ones polluting ooze; our pathetic status as half intelligent misbegotten garbage apes is shared equally by all races because races mostly don’t exist the way we think they do, or HPL thought they did.
The modern era can eat and excrete cosmicism and carry it forward without batting an eye, which in fact it is doing happily; the racism in it is no more integral than racism is to any religious faith or creative endeavor.
Long live Cthulu!
Good night, HPL.
What We Hold Onto is the title of my new novella; I have a good feeling about this one and hope to see it published in a year or so. It’s going through one more round of workshop edits.
I’ve received payment for my Asimov’s Novella Of All Possible Worlds from Allan Kastners Years Best Short SF Novels. and hope to hear that audiobook version in the next weeks or months. Yay!
Thanks to everyone who has read my work, commented on it, given me feedback, over the years. I’m 52, and closer now than I have ever been to actually doing what I want to do with my life. I’m a lucky man.
That said, the writing life is, ah, a challenge. Rejection, isolation, depression… I struggle with all these things. The good days are good. The good moments are fantastic. But there’s a lot of not knowing, too.
Should you be doing this?
I shudder, twitch, sometimes convinced that I have revealed myself as being a rotten person. If you have ever done workshops, for long periods of time, you know what I mean. In On Becoming a Novelist or The Art of Fiction John Gardner talks about one of the insoluble writing problems people sometimes encounter, of being so seriously flawed that they can’t create prose that connects with others. Their characters are all unbelievable, detestable, or both.
Your subconscious coughs up terrible things, and you are caught between second guessing your creative impulse, writing stuff more consciously, or including story elements that are, ah, unwelcome.
Eventually you start getting pissed at your subconscious.
Finally, there are things you can’t help but write, so you write them, and sometimes, they don’t work. You can’t sell them. And you’re left wondering; should I publish this myself, or should this remain unseen forever?
You might only sell a few copies; self-publishing short fiction in general isn’t about making money, it’s about the occasional fan getting to read the occasional story. But will you hurt yourself? Will you damage your brand? Is the story actually so bad that after reading it, someone won’t want to read you anymore?
This is where I am now, with a bunch of stuff that hasn’t worked lately, after my 10 pro story sale streak.
Really, it’s novel time. But I still am trying to figure myself out, as a writer, what i’m doing and why. What I’m good for.
I know I don’t have forever. I’m 52. If I’m lucky, I could write ten good books still, before my brain rots and I die of whatever horrible thing waits in store for me. Ten is enough for me. But I need to write my ten. Now. Starting now.
Dear God. Now.
(The photo above is an image of me deciding to blog instead of writing Facebook posts.)
My single professional writer friend, the one who went pro earning six figures year in the three years I wrote and sold ten short stories for 4k, says if you want to write fiction—write fiction.
Social media is a waste of time.
At least, it can be, if you put the cart before the horse. It was for her. She was canny; savy; she did all those things that your pro heros tell you never to do; she studied the market, wrote to it, and made money while still finding the work compelling and fullfilling… she did as little social media as possible.
Social media, she would say, is writing for free.
Like I am here.
I spent an hour, and the 5-20 people who read this a day get something new to look at, and theoretically, someday, they might be more inclined to buy a book of mine and eventually, it all snowballs and I become rich and famous.
He says, voice expressionless, eyes flatly gazing into the middle distance.
Yeah. It’s unlikely. But at least, at your blog, you’re the brand; it’s an ad for you and your products and whatever else you want to hawk; it’s your goddamn little lemonade stand.
Still, it’s hard not to just post to Facebook, where two to ten times more people will look at it.
But something about FB stinks. See the monkey above. The little monkey inside us, who doesn’t want to work for free for Mark Zuckerberg.
Or, if you’re an optimist, who doesn’t feel this monkey, you do want to take advantage of a global network, hundreds of millions of dollars of software development, for free, to promote your personal brands, and connect to friends, customers and colleagues…
The reality is, we are doing both of those things at once. Well. A few build a commercially viable brand; the vast majority are just throwing money at Zuckerberg.
To generalize, between Youtube, Facebook, and blogging portals like HuffPo and Gawker, content creators have a vast array of new opportunities to work for nothing or almost nothing for millionaires and billionaires.
Rather, original content creators now are able to directly reach audiences without having to worry about breaking genre rules, about offending the gatekeeper sensibilities, waiting for years and years to be filtered, edited and packaged.
It’s both at once, you don’t get one without the other.
The problem is that monkey up there, making your peace with him.
Especially for those of us who grew up in a different world, the pre-digital world. We lived through a peculiar time, a time of a vast mass market, dominated by a handful of channels, controlled by gatekeepers of various sorts; if you made content, and got it past the gate, you got paid. Sometimes you got screwed, like the Beatles did on their first albums, when they were paid a flat salary and penicillin shots to cope with the STDs from groupies. Still. They were paid enough to live.
Basically, you made stuff, and somebody else sold it. You helped by talking to the media, who in turn, made something by talking to you, which they sold. (with ads.)
As we have entered the digital age, the file sharing age, the tech bubble billionaire age, the age of creative disruption, we’ve entered into the world of the free chicken nugget. You can’t expect to sell your pile of chicken nuggets and sweet sauce unless you give people a taste first. Not just chatter about nuggets. People want a free goddamn nugget.
Now, in a food court with ten vendors, we can all do this, and still, if you want a meal, you’re going to have to pay eight dollars. You can’t keep going back for free nuggets.
But the internet is a food court that stretches a million miles long.
You can, and many–most?–simply can continue to walk down the row of desperate vendors to the vanishing point consuming free samples until they are full.
You could try to resist this. But once the culture gets going, you would simply be committing suicide. Chicken in sweet sauce with starch is now sold by giving away free nuggets.
The older generation doesn’t get it, and never will, ensconsed in the previous, but still brutal system, which they mastered. Ursula LeGuin can bad mouth indy publishing at Amazon. She doesn’t need it. Harlan Ellison, when confronted with the nugget analogy to explain why a magazine I work for was giving away an issue with one of his stories snarled.
‘People are getting too many of my free nuggets.’
Coming home from a week long media detox (I read a newspaper at one point and felt like one of those re-enactors at Colonial Williamsburg.) I find myself re-examing how I use my time; where I run my eyeballs; what I am getting out of what I’m doing; what make sense; what is joyless compulsion.
No easy answers. The monkey in me is not happy about any of this. My monkey isn’t sure that the current generation of robber barons are necessarily building a more sustainable future than the past they are gleefully destroying.
But the content creator in me has to be hopeful.
It has to play the game.
Which I guess is along winded way of saying, enjoy this nugget!
Would you like a short story or two, to go along with that?
If you click in the sidebar, you can get some more.
You know when you buy junk food; a bag of fluorescent orange Cheetos or a can of pringles or a tub of Trader Joes peanut butter cups or whatever. And you think, it’s ok, if you don’t eat too much at once, it’s not that bad for you.
Then you eat the whole fucking thing.
The fleeting pleasure wiping out the sure knowledge of just how bad an idea this is. The moment collaborating in this nihilistic twinkling of fulfillment. Afterwards you feel stupid and degraded. Your finger tips are bright orange.
Oh, and you’re still hungry.
Well, social media is my bag of Cheetos. Probably not that bad for you, if you don’t eat like a huge bag a day. Or two.
I’m a triple bagger.
I have a few hundred readers on FB, or it seems like I do, versus the few dozen of my blog, so I tend to write over there, making Mark Zuckerberg some tiny fraction of a cent richer with every unpaid word.
Facebook’s business model, in which everyone is simultaneously a customer and a supplier and an employee, is perhaps one of the most horrific ideas to emerge from internet culture. FB makes up about half of all web traffic at this point. It is an entirely voluntary horror, of course; you don’t have to be there. You don’t have to have electricity, running water, or pants either, of course. There reality is if you want to be in business you’re on FB one way or another.
So. I’ve been pretending I have a busines being there.
I wrote a post recently, about how there’s this way now as a writer to check on your progress, or lack thereof, on a minute by minute basis, and experience a sense of failure and paralysis continually, shocking yourself, over and over again.
Watching books not sell; watching stories sit in queues, the days tick by, and then not sell, watching the awards spin by, checking absently for your name on various reading lists, etc. Googling reviews. Being careful not to replay to any.
It’s one of those things you have to learn to stop doing. Like eating the whole fucking bag of Cheetos.
I’ve been angry since the AME shooting. Politics consumes me.
I’ve had no good news on the writing front for what feels like a good long time. I’m finishing up the latest in a series of what feels like utterly doomed efforts. In retrospect, I know why I wrote them, but for God’s sake, I know, I shouldn’t have. Or rather, I know nobody wants to buy them.
Sure feels like my fifteen minutes are over.
One thing that social media, and email before it, has been able to do for me, though is to capture the sense of my personality over time. I can go back and read myself, over the last 20 years, in various ways. And find out that I’ve always been like this. Always hanging on by my proverbial finger nails. Since I was sixteen years old, or so, post-puberty, anyway.
For whatever reason, I’m happiest in made up worlds. Mine or those created by others. The worst imaginary dystopia is somehow less painful than our world, which I feel could be a utopia, if we weren’t so fucking idiotic a species. I’ve loved stories and shows and movies and games and writers and writing, and been barely able to stand anything else, for a long long time.
My few decades, moving in and out of various business-esque jobs and roles, inform me, but represent nothing I want to return to.
I struggle now with the political dimension of my very existence.
My participation in progressive politics triggers an intense self loathing; it is the feeling I had when I learned about the Holocaust, about the genocide of the native americans, the My Lai massacre, about Jim Crow and Slavery. The feeling I got when my wife explained that she would never dream of walking to the convenience store at night for fear of being raped.
The solid cores of my identity exist as a kind of shorthand for oppression, murder, and rape. European ancestry. White. Male. Het. Cis.
Add to that now, middle-aged. Boomer. The generation that ate the world, and gave us… all this.
I feel stuck.
If there is anything to gained by my fifteen minutes, my ten pro stories of my Second Try at writing, it has been an effort to bend my thinking in more positive directions through the sheer application of will.
Medication never worked. Mediation sort of worked. But writing, storytelling, works, when I let myself do it, because in story telling, you’re there, and your’e not there, you disappear and reappear moment by moment. Existence is less painful when it is periodic.
Fictively, I conspire, cajole, lie, if necessary, to create some sort of positive direction for my characters and plots. It’s like I’m trying to dream my way out of myself. Escape from the hideous legacy of my own identity.
For me, the lie is often what tells the truth; because my mind lies to me a lot. In this I think I am far from alone, of course. Sanity is really just a kind of useful delusion.
I model it, to the degree I’m able. I’m pretty good at it really.
I’ve lived now among the humans for half a century, and they think of me as one of their own.
I had a dream last night, it was so good, so pure, that it made my whole life feel like an ill fitting suit. It’s a feeling I’ve been struggling to hold onto, even though it is painful, so I can put it into something.
A few more hours left in the day. Let’s see what I do.
So a person FB messaged me to say he’d read my F&SF stories and wondered if there were any more. I said no, but happily thrust a indy-pubbed antho of four of my Asimov’s stories at him, which, you know, is something writers might do, if you talk to them.
It turns out he’s a writer, or trying to be, though he has yet to submit anything, and he’s tried doing some workshops, but nobody around him is taking it seriously. Classes have been briefly useful, but haven’t given him any lasting writing community.
I’ve written my cycle of pieces on workshops, there’s a sidebar link to that category, which are sort of the diary of my creative life to date, and there’s info in there, but its mixed with a lot of autiobiography.
This will be more focused. He says.
I’m 51. I am speaking now to 20-30 year old me, who might or might not be like this guy, or like my friend Rob, or Leslie, or Ben, from one of my workshops. I don’t think they read this blog. (Between you and me and Google Analytics, very few people read this blog. Shhhh. It’s ok. It’s fun to write anyway.)
1. Write some prose everyday.
2. Write when your life is a mess. I have personally lived through long periods of unemployment, underemployment. The temptation, when the market keeps telling you you are worthless, is to internalize that message and figure you have nothing in you worth saying. So you waste that time. Then, when you have work again, you’re tired, and you kick yourself, because now, you wish you had time to write.
If you have time to write, write. Please. Fifty one year old me it telling you. There is time in your life you are wasting, youngish, newish, person.
Waste an hour a day less of it. Write.
3. Finish what you write. Badly, if you have to. Do a sucky job. Write a terrible ending you are ashamed of. But finish it. You only grow when you finish. Its like the end of the Dungeons and Dragons game, where the points get totaled. Level up! (I know how dated this reference is. Sorry.)
4. Share what you write with someone who will read it and talk to you about what they thought you were saying. These people at first are not professional, but, they are readers who read books like the ones you are trying to write. Do not share your writing with people who do not read the genre you are writing; when you do, in workshop settings, listen politely to what they say, but don’t take it to heart. You will be told that old ideas are really novel and wonderful, or, that your text is completely unintelligible, both statements true, for that person, and both statements that don’t mean anything.
Professional people, in general, will have no time to talk to you yet, because most of you will quit, and the value in most prose is roughly equal to the gold content of sea water. Gold is in there, but there’s no profitable way to distill it. So accept the fact that for the first few years or so, you’re on your own.
If this writing and sharing process is enjoyable for you, and you actually do it, I grant you permission to call yourself a writer. Should we meet in the real world, which is unlikely, I will sign something to this effect, if you want. You are a writer.
Now, that that you have the scarecrow’s diploma, do you still want to write? If so, repeat steps 1-4.
6. Send finished things to appropriate people, as a kind of second opinion, to see if what they say lines up with what your non-professional readers say. So your girlfriend or best friend or workshop friend says your stuff is as good as Stephen King? Way cool! See if you can sell it. Google on-line market listing sites. (Submission Grinder and Duotrope are two current ones.)
Things that might happen:
So this is the broad outline. Right now, my youngish newish reader is stuck on the ‘finding people to work with’ stage. He’s in a smallish city. I did my writing life in a big one. I’m going to do some research on on-line workshops for that, and get back to that for him.
* What is the asterix? It’s the caveat, if you want to. If it feels right. Note, I didn’t say good, because sometimes, the stuff we have to do doesn’t feel good exactly.
So, one of the things I’ve been doing lately is working for this magazine put out by my long-time friend, editor, and supporter Warren Lapine. I was published in the first Fantastic anthology he put out, before the webzine started. Now I’m on the staff.
Getting a new magazine off the ground in this day and age isn’t easy. Doing it while Amazon is re-inventing publishing from the ground up makes it even harder. But the magazine has shown steady growth in readership, has attracted some great stories by new and established writers, and is becoming an important part of the online magazine world.
Unforeseen circumstances–there are a lot of them in writing and publishing–has forced the magazine to seek gap-funding while it continues to build towards a sustainable business model.
So. Here’s where you come in.
For ten dollars, you can get the first five issues as a perk.
Any contribution is appreciated. Five dollars would be wonderful. I can see where the hits and money come from, so, I’ll know, if you do me this solid. Thanks for listening.
Oh. I do the cover design/illustration and the web stuff. I do those things.
So I got this tweet…
and I thought, hey, that’s way cool.
I’m not a big podcast person, and so, like an idiot, I wasn’t aware of the stature of the folks whose stories are in this thing, so I thought, hey, I’m in this thing, this will be nice.
I get now that I have been invited to submit, submissions are by invite only, so, I did.
There’s stuff here by golden age masters I read in my teens and the hottest up-and-comers like Ken Liu, so, anyway. it’s cool to be considered, regardless of what happens.
I sent the requested story, and a few more as well, so, we’ll see what happens.
Very exciting though.
Actually, it’s not that important.
But here it is anyway. I’m writing to tell you that, every time you read something you really like, that really moves you, that you think is really cool, you should feel free to google the author and see if there’s a place to mention this to her.
You can also search on twitter; some authors don’t make it easy to email them, but, they allow twitter comments to be made to them publicly. Twitter comments are short of course. What you might be able to say to someone you bumped into.
Either way, what I’m saying is, feel free to say, ‘hey, I liked X. (insert name of thing for X, the story or novel or show or comic or whatever.)
It makes a difference, in the life of the writer, to hear that.
I guess it’s no secret here that I have had battles with depression, with writer’s block. Tons of people do. The comments I’ve gotten on my work to date, the positive ones, anyway, heh, have made a difference to me.
If you are like me at all, and you try to make things, there will be times when you’re pretty sure that nothing you say or do is worth the doing.
As I’ve gone along, I have collected now, a small series of badges, of sales, of notices, and when the ego collapses, as it does for me now and then, leaving me becalmed in a sea of futility, I find every single scrap of acknowledgment comforting.
I had a friend who was an art director I worked for, who talked about managing designers, and looking at what they’d done, and even if it wasn’t usable, wasn’t anything he wanted to show a client, the fact of it, the proof that work was done, was there, in what he called ‘evidence of industry.’
So I’m pushing t through my latest collapse, putting words down still, looking forward to feeling better about it again.
Evidence of industry.
I was delighted to get a note from Mr. Kaster asking me if I’d like to be included in his anthology of Best of the year Short SF novels. The anthology is ebook and audiobook, which is exciting, as I’ve never had anything of mine done as an audiobook before.
The list of authors included in these anthologies sparks this trip down memory lane for me; there are my Clarion instructors from the 90s, Nancy Kress and Michael Swanwick; there are the folks from the Cambridge Science Fiction Writer’s Workshop, Steven Popkes and Alex Jablokov, who exposed me to high-powered workshops before I went to Clarion, at Readercon, back in the day.
There are a bunch of people I’ve read in Asimov’s over the years, Robert Reed and Elizabeth Bear, Steven Baxter, Greg Egan, Allen Steele…
Mr. Kaster has been putting out anthos since 2000 or so, so there’s over a hundred names of authors I could mention, but these leapt out at me, people I’d looked up to, workshopped with, studied under.
It’s a good feeling; the story was short-listed for the Dozois year’s best but didn’t make the cut in the end, so it’s nice for it to appear here; one of the only complaints about Kaster’s anthos is that sometimes there’s too much overlap with the Dozois or other collections, so, in this case, I’m glad to be of service.
The story will also be translated into Czech and published there in XB1, which is way cool.
Today, indeed, is a good day for me.