Wanted: Hot, new idea to take me away from this drab, old thing.

So right in the middle of a project is when you tend to get your best ideas – for other projects. I’m stuck in the last 100 pages of my novel’s first draft, and I have come up with at least three great new short story ideas. I think it’s your brain’s way of trying to shake you out of the rut when you’ve been stuck muddling around in the late-middle of a project.

And of course, there’s nothing that burns so hot in your brain as the idea when it comes upon you full force, when your head reels with all the cool things you can do with it. All the connections that leap to the front. How x connects to y connects to z. And then bring in the Aztecs or that cool fact about coral reefs you just read. Or this word you’ve been dying to use in a story.

We’ll get to the boring “But why would he do that?”, “How exactly would that work?”, and “But why wouldn’t he just use his cell phone?” questions later. When the idea pops into your brain, it’s good to go ahead and just purge it. Write the thoughts out in your notebook. Let you brain make those connections while it’s hot, and then put the notes away and try to get back to your main project.

I’ll let you know when I can take my own advice.

Do Women Still Have Rights in the Future? Or in Fairyland?

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Photo by Jurvetson used under a Creative Commons License.

So as a fantasy and science fiction writer who DIDN’T grow up reading the golden age of the genre, I’ve struggled from time to time with a lack of deep knowledge that embarrass me from time to time. “Oh, well Book X was clearly a response to so and so’s Book Y, which was itself very influenced by Book Z.”

So usually I’ve heard of the authors and the books (but not always), but I’ve almost never been able to really relate to those conversations. Regardless, I understand that most authors wrote, or still write, as a way to reflect, expound upon or comment on changes they see in the society around them. Boundless optimism of the space age? Check. Ruthless Cold War government control of movement and personal freedoms? Yep. Next gen manipulation of commercial/social choice through media control? You betcha.

So when I look at the latest political antics, like Wisconsin’s repealing the Equal Pay Act or the fact that it’s unpatriotic to talk about the war on women or my own state’s trans-vaginal ultrasound proposal, I have to wonder what the hell kind of fiction will we be writing in the next decade?

Will female fairies even have rights in the future? Will women be allowed on spaceships? (Don’t even get me started on how they’re barely allowed on right now. Apparently, breasts touching rocket ships might end space-time as we know it. And be, like, totally gross.)

And the debate on female blog commentary that’s raging right now, following Christopher Priest’s Hugo-slam-a-thon is just completely baffling me. Not that these reactions don’t occur; I know they do. But I just can’t understand why. I just don’t understand or know anyone who would behave that way, anonymity notwithstanding.

This is the part of fandom that I don’t really like, and I have to admit, I have trouble relating to. I rarely participate or even read these discussions for this sort of reason. I almost never feel like I have something useful to say or add, and commenting, “Yea! Me, too!” makes me feel like a tool. But my wife totally called me on it today.

Creating a Cohort

One of the things I enjoy most about this new writer thing is the slow creation of a new cohort of writer friends. I met a lot of people at Viable Paradise and in the time since. It’s nice to have a group of people who know what you’re going through. Submit, reject, submit, struggle to finish a draft, finish a draft, hate it, love it, rinse repeat.

As always, there are people you meet that you instantly know you ill connect with and others that are more of a surprise. I was wondering why I feel so connected to these people, when I have friends I’ve known for years that I don’t feel comfortable talking to about my writing. Miranda Suri, who I’ve never met, but is a fellow VP grad, speculates about pouring out your heart in your writing and what that means for new friendships. This rings very true to me, though I’m not sure I would’ve thought to look at it that way.

So to my new friends (you know who you are), thanks. I appreciate it.

I.M.Poster – not just the name of a master thief…

Over at Genreality today, a really interesting post on the Impostor Syndrome and how it applies to writers. I think this is something that every writer I know does, in fact, struggle with, both before and after they’ve published. The difference is how much we let the voices get to us, which I tend to think is ultimately rooted in whether or not we’re afraid to talk about it to our non-writer friends at work.

Before we’ve “made it” (for all values of “made it” that = whatever the hell you think making it looks like), we’re always looking for some external validation of ourselves as writers. A non-pro sale. Acceptance into a respected workshop like Clarion or Viable Paradise. A writing contest win. There’s always a need to feel like you can point to something, other than that story you wrote that no one seems to quite like enough yet. Absent an external indicator, you’re always afraid when you start describing yourself as a writer and, especially, a writer of speculative fiction (in and of itself, a euphamism for science ficion, fantasty, horror, et al. that I’m convinced was created so people didn’t have to say the word “fantasy” when describing their writing to non-writer friends or their parents) that you come across like that guy at the Game Parlor who wants to tell you about “his totally amazing Mage/Firefly crossover campaign” (Yes, I can see that Inara is clearly a Cultist; Book? A techno shaman, of course. I’m sorry, I have to go now.)

All of which is to say that it’s sometimes hard to talk about and that makes it hard to believe in. I know that the first time I was going to take time off to go to a writer’s workshop, I waited until the last possible second before going in and talking to my boss about it.

Me: “So, I put in to take leave in October for a few days.”

Boss: “Sure, are you going out of town?”

Me: “Yes, I’m going up to Martha’s Vineyard.”

Boss: “Oh, how exciting! Do you have a house there?”

Me: “Um. No. I’m (mumble) attending a writing workshop.”

Boss: “Ooooo. Are you working on  novel? What kind?”

Me: “(pause) Yes, I’m working on a novel. It’s about (significant mumble) fairies.”

Boss: O.o

Yea, we’ve all been there.

I could speculate about how we feel like impostors after we’ve made it too, but I don’t have to. I’ve heard it or read it over and over again on writer’s blogs or in conferences. The feeling never goes away, but the bar you’re trying to live up to changes. What awards was I nominated for? Why wasn’t I asked to speak on that panel? Look at that person, they got published after me, but have passed me by.

We struggle to own it and see ourselves as outsiders see us – successful, people pursuing a dream that most people don’t have the courage to tackle. If you can’t see yourself that way, find your champion who will do it for you. Mine is my wife. She’s wonderful and caring and listens to my panic attacks, but usually ends with some version of “now stop being silly, and go back in there.”

I can do it and so can you.

Current State of To Do List

Yea, I know. It’s been awhile. I thought by writing all this down, it will inspire me to update here more.

2012

Prepare for Resubmission
“Sic Transit Axis Mundi”, April 9
“Paper Dream”, April 30

Finish and Prepare for First Submission
“The Seven Samovars”, currently out for comment @ PL
Oberon’s Heir, August 30

Conferences/Travel
Work Trip, Madison/Chicago, April 25-27/12
Paradise Lost, San Antonio, May 17-20
Work Trip, San Antonio/Houston, May 21-26
Work Trip, Dallas, June 15-17
Readercon, Burlington, MA, July 12-15
Work Trip, Seattle, August 27-31
Capclave, Gaithersburg, MD, October 12-14
American Translators Association, San Diego, October 24-27

Unfinished/No Deadline
“Mind Your Manners”
Untitled Benjamin Franklin thing
“Dancing to the Tune of Solids”
“No Reportable Intelligence”
“The All Seeing Jade”, unless its name is “Lucky Fuck”
“Corolis and the Goldfish”
Untitled Roxane story
“An Infrequent Affair”
Untitled religious subatomic particle thing
Murder on the Fourth of July
“Insha’Allah, May I Live Forever”

Drafting Issues

Struggling to put together a coherent draft of a story by my workshop deadline of 3/20. I have potentially 4 different stories I could send, none of which is even ready to be workshopped. I’m really good at setting up a situation, scenario, setting, whatever you want to call it. The problem is trying to find and then drive a plot through the thing.

Maybe I should switch to literary fiction where plot is less needed. I’ve got atmosphere in spades.

Wake Up, The Industry’s On Fire?

So it’s not like it’s news that the industry I’m interested in joining is…let’s say burning merrily a la Christmas Yule log with change. See? Yule logs, those are nice. And friendly.

But in the hummingbird brain link hopscotch that is my daily internet use, I came across three new ZOMG, BIGNYPUBLISHINGISOVER, MUST WE GIVEUPTHEDREAM!?!? kinds of posts.

This was a slightly different flavor of “ebooks will destroy us and take our women” sort-of despair than I’d seen before. These were lamentations by as yet unpublished writers who were looking at a dream of being published by a NY house going up in Amazon-scented flames.

Maybe I’m just too new to this debate to feel that despair yet. I know the industry is changing. I know they haven’t’ figured it out yet and everyone is waiting for the time when TEH PARADIGM IS REVEALED!!! Or at least, they understand it better.

I’m not waiting for that. I have serious doubts that it will be “figured out” in my lifetime. Sure it will be better. Sure some will succeed. Some will fail. But we are living in an amazing, changing world, of which, publishing is a very small part. We’re going to be figuring the whole thing out for a long time to come.

And be angst-ing out the whole mess for a long time. Call it Futureshock, call it Generational Change Fatigue. Not sure.

Regardless, I’ll just have to settle into the whole mess and figure my way forward.

Boskone 49: Wading in Up to the Sensitive Parts

In a continuing journey into a writing world, I attended Boskone 49 this past weekend. It was my second convention ever, after last year’s successful “dip my toe in the water” attendance at Capclave, here in the DC area. I had a great time, met some old friends and made several new acquaintances, attended some interesting panels, and learned a lot. Here to sum up –

The Top 10 Things I Learned at Boskone.

1. It’s Bos-cone (rhymes with pwn), not Bos-con (rhymes with faun). Yes, modern American English is complicated.

2. There’s usually some fruit and enough carbs to choke a horse available in the con suite, but finding enough vegetables to eat at a con is the modern fan’s grail quest.

3. Apparently, “SMOF” is a good thing. For those not in the know, it means “Secret Masters of Fandom” and refers to that group of semi-professional fans that help keep cons up and running.

4. Also apparently, Heinlen’s protagonists used their genius for douchery.

5. Kate Baker, Genevieve Valentine and the aforementioned Catherynne Valente, reading for the Clarkesworld 5th Anniversary panel, all have great reading voices. I could listen to all three of them for a long time.

6. An interesting panel insight:

All effective stories in speculative fiction end with the opening up of a new paradigm or new beginning. This makes them inherently progressive genres, or perhaps better said, genres open to new ideas, form and content. Mystery, thriller and (to some degree)  romance are more about restoring the established social order at the end of the story, a fact which makes them more inherently conservative than other genre forms.

7. Elizabeth Bear’s Range of Ghosts and John Scalzi’s Redshirts, both coming out this year, will be runaway bestsellers. The readings from both were freaking fantastic.

8. Middle books (in a trilogy) are for breaking stuff.

9. Another interesting panel insight, duly noted for the record as a gross oversimplification:

Genre protagonists have agency; they save the prince, escape the dragon, take that apparently death defying Kessel Run, and generally take action, moving themselves through the story. A lot of mainstream lit fic characters lack agency and the story moves around them, sweeping them up in its own events, to which the protag reacts. Part of the reason we identify with genre protags is that, in a world that often sweeps us off our feet, we all deeply crave that degree of agency in our lives.

10. It takes an amazing artist to paint a quick, yet accurate portrait of someone while that person is, essentially, holding a press conference. Oh yea, and a couple hundred fans watch over your shoulder and your model keeps moving. Dan Dos Santos, you are the man.

All in all, a really satisfying con experience. I haven’t decided which con I’ll be attending next – maybe Readercon in July – but I’ve definitely got the con bug now.

P