Cuteness invades the Anderson Household

So, this happened:

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That’s Byers, a six-month-old and most recent member of the Anderson household.  He comes via the Humane Society of Warren County–more specifically, he comes from that cat-area at Petco that we all visit when we feel like torturing ourselves.

And that’s how I found him.

With the snow, Lucy, our three-year-old mutt (her on the left; I should note that she passed the cat test when we adopted her almost a year ago, an event we smile sadly over whenever she gets into an argument with our other cat, Sam), has been getting anxious, so we took her to Petco to find some new toys.

While that was going on, I wandered over to the cat adoption area, something I do every time I visit, mostly for masochistic purposes.  Since my cat of eight years, Bender–

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My old buddy

–passed in January of last year, I tend to cruise the cat section, wondering if I’m ready for a new cat, or if I’m just trying to replace my old-man-buddy.  Every time has been an answer of affirmative for the latter option.

Until Byers.

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Right now, Byers is behind me, under my red chair, trying to determine if coming home was the best or worst idea in the history of cats.  Sam’s indifferent; Lucy’s convinced we got her a new toy.  The bug is trying to crawl under the chair after Byers.

Welcome home, buddy.

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…And Then What Happened? (Aftermath…and Prequel?)

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So, last week, I announced that Written Backwards/Dark Regions Press would be putting out my first book, Bones are Made to be Broken.  (And here’s Michael Bailey also announcing it.) The book’s going to be a collection of previously published short stories, as well as contain three never-before-published pieces (including one piece, a novella, written especially for the collection).  It was a big day, a wonderful day.  The post that automatically generates on Facebook whenever I post an entry got 100+ likes–which, as we all know, is mighty impressive.  Mighty.

Internally, I was all like this:

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Actually, I was like that ever since October, when talk about doing a book began to look less like two friends spitballing shit at each other–you should, perhaps, ignore the visual there–and more definitive.  Definitive tends to come into the room when terms like hardcover are bandied about with all seriousness.

So, y’know, happy day.

…and then what happened?

Well, my wife was happy for me.  Well, happy-ish.  To be fair, we’d known about the book for quite a while, so my steady this-is-awesome trumpeting does get a little old after a bit, especially since it would be roughly a year until the book–ta-dah!–showed up.  Still, though, pleased.  And pleased in the midst of being really ill.

Family was happy with me.  My mother demanded one of the first hardcovers when they’re available.  I think my father might’ve noticed.  Um.  My daughter was pleased, but my daughter’s always pleased with me, unless I say no to riding the dog down the stairs like an ASPCA-nightmare-fuel-sled.

Um.  Shit.  Isn’t this the celebratory time?  The get down and party and fuck time?  The make-it-rain time?

Well…yeah.  But…no.

The afterglow of such a glorious, glorious (glorious) announcement is/should be/(really is) this:

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Sidenote: I’m really digging Giphy.com right now.

Here’s why.

(And there is a reason for this post and it’s not to take the piss out of my own accomplishment or question Michael Bailey and Chris Morey’s judgment–just wait, I’ll get there!)

The image pasted to the top is originally from Neil Gaiman, who edited Stories, an anthology, with Al Sarrantonio back in 2010.  In his foreword to the stories, Gaiman wrote that the prevailing pull of all stories isn’t plot or writing or even subtext, but that tug of “…and then what happened?”  It’s what keeps us moving onto the next chapter, or the next page, or the next paragraph, or the next sentence.

Too often, I see friends on social media (and 90% of my friends on social media are fellow writers or editors or publishers because, if nothing else, social media is a clique-based system and high school was right about that, at least), post “Hey, I did this [writing accomplishment]!!!!1” and everyone’s goes, “Yay!  Go You!  Whee!”

And then?

Fucking crickets, sir or madam.

You never hear about it again (or, depending on social media’s algorithms, you hear nothing but The Accomplishment–and where to buy The Accomplishment, usually–long after even the writer’s mother stopped caring, which is about the same as never hearing anything again; try to pick out the individual note of a drone).   Life moves fast, new stories are written, old stories are trunked, and the world keeps on boogieing along.   You never–or, at least, I never–hear about the process, the background, the step-by-step.  I find that shit interesting.  It’s why I read the story-notes to Stephen King’s and Harlan Ellison’s collections. On social media, with friends, it’s either, “Hey I did this!” and then, sometime later, either “That was awesome!” or “Well, that was pretty fucked, wasn’t it?”

But, me?  I’m the guy who buys the special edition version of The Thing or The Fly not just for the movie, but for the feature-length making-of documentaries.  I like process.

(That might have been a room-clearing statement….Eh, fuck it.)

Me announcing Bones are Made to be Broken was the beginning of a story.

And, then, again, this:

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Because, now, the book has to be made.

Well, sorta.  It’s a collection and 95% of the book is already written.  But this is the beginning of the process.  In the next few months, the stories need to be organized, laid out, and tweaked, if need be.  I want to do little intros for the pieces because I’m that fucking precious (I am, but never mind).  Dedication and acknowledgements need to be put together.  An introduction needs to be written.  I want to write a foreword to it because, on top of having a book of my stories, I of course want to kick-off the goddamn thing.  There’s all the stuff that the editors and publishers have to do, without me being like that annoying little gnat buzzing around their head.

And then there’s getting people to notice. (And, y’know, buy the thing.)

I have a running file right now, a list of places for reviews and marketing ideas (because writing, as a business, involves marketing and it bothers the ever-loving fuck out of me when someone thinks it doesn’t, that it’s Art, with initial capitals and a lofty pronunciation of the soft-a sound, and nothing else) I think might be amenable to looking at this thing and getting this book in front of the most eyeballs as possible.  I find myself wondering–while doing the dishes, walking the dog–how approachable Brian Keene is.  I wonder which cons would be beneficial (and financially feasible).  I run Google searches on sky-writing.  You know, as you do.  Most publishers with some semblance of a working system–and the Dark Regions machine does–have their own marketing strategies and what-have-you, but any damnhellassfool will tell you that the writer’s gotta get in there and get in the mix themselves.

Y’know, process.

So, after I announced (and Michael announced)…what happened?

Well, he announced that he also bought my story “The Universe Is Dying” for You, Human:

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Hey, look!  I’m on the cover!

And then?

Day job.  My wife was sick.  Then me.  Now, the bug.  Fun all around.  We got roughly three feet of snow in 24 hours (I was watching the news and a reporter was at Reagan National Airport–roughly an hour from me–and saying, with something like wonder, “They got eighteen inches here” and my immediate reaction wasn’t a dick joke but, instead, “Oh, you’re just adorable.”).

And, in the middle of all that, I’m writing the title novella, “Bones are Made to be Broken”, which is, as of last night, about 50% written.  The writing is going easily–

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Easily.  Like, good, even for me.  Words are being put down, people, in sizable chunks!

–which is worrying, since I’m trying to channel the worst fear a person can have about raising a child (not death of a child, though, so, y’know, relax)–but it’s an odd situation: I know the piece is going to be in the book–in on-spec terms, it’ll be “accepted”–which, adversely, makes me that much more convinced that when I turn in the story, the editor’s going to go, “Are you out of your fucking mind?  This is trash, dude.”  (Well, maybe not the “dude” part.)  As I was telling a friend, this comes in handy when trying to put panic and despair into the story I’m panicking and despairing over.  So, you know, awesome.

Oh, and I’m writing this blog entry.  Even, if my “I feckin’ LOVE process” statement before cleared the room, this feeds/satisfies my anal-retentive need to organize and catalog everything around me (don’t look at my movie case, or book cases, or CD shelving).  I need to keep track of this thing, as this thing happens.   This, in a perverse way, satisfies me.

Or I just like to hear myself talk.

But, seriously, how approachable is Brian Keene?

[insert pre-order plea here, for when pre-orders become a real thing.]

 

Remembering the Man Who Made the Descent (David G. Hartwell)

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David’s Facebook profile. Note the shirt. Also, books.

 

I should be writing–I have a novella due–but I learned tonight that David G. Hartwell, editor of Tor (many readers will know him from the consistent shout-outs from F. Paul Wilson in his Repairman Jack novels) and, to me, a staple of a convention I used to go to, Confluence, in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, passed away this evening at the age of 74.

Other outlets will eulogize David better than I can, so let me just share two memories, one a hodge-podge, one specific.

Hodge-podge first:

Before I knew David as a la-dee-dah editor, I knew him as a book dealer at Confluence, a con I attended from 2009 until 2012.  He had rare books, new books, random books.  He was easy to spot, first because of the amount of his wares–dude seemed to have everything–secondly because of his predilection towards very loud shirts (the only one I know off the top of my head who shares equal volume when it comes to habiliments is Jonathan Maberry).  In 2009, I was, in writing, less than a nobody, coasting in as a panelist based on three sales and a few years of minor journalism.  David, to me, was massive, in the abstract sense.  He knew his business, had little time for bullshit, and, when I learned he was a la-dee-dah editor, I was a bit starstruck.  Not in a drool-y, fanboyish way, but…Look, I was trying to make it as a writer, making my bones with short fiction sales, and here was an honest-to-Jesus editor with a major publishing house attending this little con in this little city.  It was like a step-down for him, right?  He should be at WFC and wherever the Hugos are being held and those big-ass cons, right?  (Later, when we knew each other a little better, he told me that while he attended those cons, he preferred the smaller cons because they weren’t so fucking frantic and chaotic–my terminology, not David’s.)

Specific, now:

2012, Confluence.  By now, my career had gotten underway with a dozen sales and one anthology–Torn Realities–under my belt.  I no longer felt like a kid who’d snuck into the circus.  I was also asked to help with programming because I was the only person the other programmers knew who was steeped in horror to any degree.  (Word to the wise: If you value your sanity, don’t you fucking dare do a con’s programming.)

The previous Christmas–this would be December 2011–my wife had bought me The Dark Descent, a massive tome cataloging horror up to that point:

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It is an education in and of itself of the horror genre to read.  I cannot recommend it enough.  Anyway.

Since I was on programming, tasked to come up with horror panels, and was reading The Dark Descent, I noted that the book had originally been published in 1987.  25 years ago.  And–hot shit–David was going to be there!

So, through some e-mailing, I set up a panel discussing the book and where horror’s gone in the 25 years since.  The panelists were me, Jonathan Maberry, Tim Waggoner, and David–who, in e-mail, was pleased to have a panel for his work even if it meant closing down his booth for an hour.

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Hence why, unfortunately, he wasn’t in this shot. From left to right: Tim Waggoner, Jonathan Maberry, and me (photo used, with thanks, from Karen Yun-Lutz)

Note some presumption here: I was sitting on a panel with people who had read or written more books than I had gone through in a year.  Me, Mr. Dozen-Short-Story-Sales-and-One-Small-Press-Editing-Gig.  Still, it was a fun, breezy hour and no one–particularly David–even found it weird for me to be there, although it was bizarre for me.  We discussed horror in the general, the merits of splatterpunk (which had been big in 1987), and Jonathan and David played this weird version of Six-Degrees-of-Separation involving books Jonathan had found and some familial relation (Jonathan might not even remember this part, but if he does–dude, shine a memory light for me, would you?).

Afterwards, David of course rushed back to his table in the vendors room and we broke apart.  Tim and David chatted after, Jonathan most likely did, and on the last day of the con, I was done with panels and perusing David’s stacks, when I came across this:

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Sorry the laptop cam sucks–this is The Outfit, Richard Stark’s third novel about the thief Parker, published in a special-edition by Gregg Press in 1981.

I plucked the book from the stack–David was in the slow process of closing up shop, as were all the vendors–and we started talking about Parker–how spectacular the opening lines of the books were, how fucking sharp the pacing was, the merits of the second run of Parker novels that Stark had started publishing in 1997 (good…but not as good as the novels in the 1960s and 1970s).  In the end, I bought The Outfit because of course I did.

That was the last time I attended Confluence, or saw David.  Life got in the way.  Of course it did.

Just two memories, but memories I think of often–when I think of cons in general, or editing specifically.  David was a giant in a field of little people, but never acted that way.  And his taste–in books as a reader and stories as an editor–will be sorely missed.

I’m Going to Publish a Book (and I Couldn’t Think of a Snarky Title, For Once)

So.

So, so, so.

The negotiations have finished, the contracts signed, and now this is happening:

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Design by Pat R. Steiner

This is my first book, published by the awesome people of Written Backwards and Dark Regions Press.  Oh, let that soak in because, even though I’ve been in talks about this since November, even as–now–over 20% of my inbox is nothing but exchanges with Michael Bailey, it still feels ridiculous.  Ridiculous, I tell you.

Because this started as a sarcastic comment.

Quick sidetrip: Months ago I posted on social media that the phrase “bones are made to be broken” would be a pretty spiffy title for a collection.  It was one of those thinking-aloud moments, genuinely, although I had been mulling the idea of doing a collection just because, as the band Fountains of Wayne said when they did their compilation Out of State Plates in 2005, these things had to be put somewhere.  I’ve had a lot of pieces published over the past five years, some unfortunately now out of print (like the novelette “Survivor’s Debt”, which I loved), and I kinda wanted them to go somewhere, together, beyond my ego-shelf.

Flash forward to October and Pat R. Steiner, who created the cover image for this website, posted this to his Facebook profile:

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And then this happened:

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And then, out of the public eye, it, like, got serious.  What stories I had, could Michael see what would be my list…We talked covers and both agreed Pat should do it, since he was the impetus, but the cover posted was a little too close to this recent novel…

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…which was inspired by this piece…

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Toni Frissell, 1947

…which should look familiar, if you rotate it clockwise.

And then we talked contracts and this thing that started as an offhand remark was suddenly going to be a physical thing–a hardcover, even–and, still, it all feels so bizarre to me.

Here’s what Michael said, in part, over at the Written Backwards blog:

…Later this year, Written Backwards will release its first fiction collection, Bones are Made to be Broken, by Paul Michael Anderson. Paul’s work fits perfectly within the Written Backwards mold. In fact, he’s made an appearance in a few of my projects. His story “In the Nothing-Space, I Am What You Made Me” appeared in Qualia Nous, the also-long-titled “The Agonizing Guilt of Relief (Last Days of a Ready-Made Victim)” will soon appear in the aforementioned Chiral Mad 3, and his most recent story, “The Universe is Dying,” will appear in the science fiction anthology I’m working on for Dark Regions Press called You, Human (I plan to announce this officially within the next few days).

Bones are Made to be Broken will be released in trade paperback, eBook, and 26-lettered limited edition hardback with an expected fall release date.

Bones Are Made to be Broken will be a collection of short stories, with three new works (including the title story, which I’m writing at this moment).  It won’t have everything I’ve published over the past 5 years–good Christ, no–but it will be the cream of the crop, the pieces I think are, if anyone were to ever go, “Hey, what’s that Paul Michael Anderson dude write like?”, would be the best examples.

This is the beginning.  There are a lot of things to do before fall (not the least of which is finish the title story).  Names and ideas are being thrown at me and my head spins with “Can we do that?  Can we get them?”.  This is good.  Hopefully, when it all comes out, you’ll be interested in letting me jabber in your head for a bit.

***

Since Michael already noted it in the blog, I think I can also mention this, as well:

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Image by George Cotronis

My story “The Universe Is Dying” – which fits into a totally unintended triptych of mourning work that includes “The Agonizing Guilt of Relief (Last Days of a Ready-Made)” in the upcoming Chiral Mad 3 and “All That You Leave Behind” in the upcoming Lost Signals (which you can pre-order here)–will be appearing in the anthology You, Human.  I showed Michael the story as a backpocket-kinda-deal; I knew he already had tons of good stuff and figured I’d send this in to show him I at least tried, not thinking it’d actually get in (not based on the names and work he’s already included), and then he ups and buy the damn thing.

Not that I’m complaining.

Jesus, this might be a pretty decent year, after all.   Six stories locked, cocked, and ready to rock, a short story collection, and I have my novel–a cheerful thing called Bitter–out to market to a few places.  Yes.  A decent year.  And my head is still spinning at how ridiculous it is.

I’m having a goddamned BOOK published, though!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

On Writing, Workshops, Irony, Hyperbole, and Privilege (Writing Advice Is Bullshit, Part Two: The Bullshit Strikes Back)

[The rare too-long-didn’t-read-’cause-I-wanted-to-comment warning: I kinda go after everyone here: Gaiman, the people angry at Gaiman, the people angry at the people angry at Gaiman, the people mocking those people who are angry at…whatever it is they happen to be fucking angry at at this moment.  I ignore the ridiculous Gaiman-did-it-for-the-money idiots (because we all know he did it for the poops and giggles).  Also, pictures.  Also, Nick Mamatas.  Anyway.]

Oh.

Oh, for fuck’s sake.

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So, y’know, this happened:

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And the world–as far as social media is concerned, anyway–exploded.

I first heard about it from this tweet by Nick Mamatas (didn’t go to Clarion), then I saw “Clarion” trending on that little leftside “trending” menu that appears on my screen (I have a flip phone–a new one, B-T-Dubs, which makes me a Luddite to my students–and, thankfully, no Internet access, so this is based on what I see on a computer screen).  In spite of the Mamatas tweet, and subsequent exchange with Clarksworld, I had a moment of “Oh yay, they’re talking about Clarion University!” (I went there and, yes, it was where the Clarion workshops originated; I went for teaching, however.)

And then reality crashed in and I remembered what the actual argument was.

Again: oh, for fuck’s sake.

On my end, I saw an argument about the merits of Clarion graduates versus non in terms of quality of writing.  Apparently, there was a metric fuck-tonne of arguments going on, ranging from what I saw, to definitions of a “real writer” (I saw that one, too)…to question Gaiman’s reasoning and motive for tweeting that comment in the first place?  Apparently.

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I sniped in briefly from the sidelines (which, really, is all Internet arguing can ever amount to) about the two different arguments I did see–

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–and  then went about my day.

(Christ, this is a picture-tastic post, isn’t it?  Anyway.)

When I got back on the ‘net this evening, the tide had turned.  Gaiman had posted a clarification–

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–and a whole mess o’people were going after those who’d gone after Gaiman or the topic of Clarion in general.  I saw a lot of “it’s OBVIOUSLY hyperbole, stupid” and “you’re talking from a place of privilege” (from two different angles, oddly enough) comments floating through the social media Thunderdomes.  Brian Keene chimed inAdam-Troy Castro did, tooAs did Helena Bell (who did go to Clarion, so it’s totes obvs that we’re dealing with Lucifer here).  These were just plucked from my newsfeeds; dammit, I’m not screen-shotting the entirety of my Facebook.

Now, back to the chorus: Oh, for fuck’s sake.

Okay, from the top, breaking this down on all sides (and, it should be noted, I’m going to be talking about the people legit upset, not the fucking morons who decided there was some monetary motive on Gaiman’s part; I will shout it from the mountaintops: those cretins have their heads shoved so far up their asses it’s actually a wonder they can read a computer screen or smartphone at all and we should applaud them on their goddamned agility):

Gaiman’s tweet was stupid.  It was and it really doesn’t fucking matter if it was meant as cheerful hyperbole.  When you have, without hyperbole, a Writing Icon (with intended initial caps) stating that you NEED to do This One Thing to be a “writer”, you’re going to rub people the wrong way.  And, please, don’t feed me that bullshit about, “Well, come on–look at how much he talks about being a writer and making art on his Journal, or his Tumblr, or on Buzzfeed.”  Let’s keep it real for a sec, ‘kay?  Unless you’re one of the Devoted Gaiman Acolytes, how likely do you think it is for people to lurk through all of that?  How more likely is it, actually, that Person A likes Gaiman, follows him on Twitter, sees him occasionally pop up on Twitter feed, but only rarely goes looking for shit by or about him elsewhere?  I think it’s pretty goddam likely, don’t you?  Do you, dear reader, read everything this writer you kinda-like puts up?  I mean, I can’t see your lying face right now, but you have a lying face on, don’t you?  So, anyway, this Person A, not that plugged in, sees Gaiman’s tweet.  With that context, the initial umbrage makes sense.  Even Gaiman had to clarify it and he’s kinda at a place in the world and in his career that, based on his popularity and his past, he doesn’t have to.  But, again, he did.  So, please don’t diminish that (don’t worry; I will in a bit–hold on).

Secondly–oh, spare me the “check your hyperbole meter” bullshit.  As anyone who has ever been quoted knows, how you say things differs between spoken and written.  This difference is compounded when you go from written to the compacted mindfuck that is Twitter.  A person isn’t stupid, or even oblivious, to have “missed” the hyperbole.  Kudos to the creature that has mastered both the reading and creating of nuance within 140 characters.

Thirdly, privilege.  This one’s just bizarre to me–not because I am what John Scalzi rightly calls “the lowest difficulty setting ever”, but because I heard about it from two different angles.  At first (in the order that I saw it), one’s privilege was being shown by how angry they were getting over this topic.  Then, later, I saw the privilege card being thrown at Gaiman because, la-de-dah, he’s big rich writer who can afford the whole Clarion thang (side note: yeah, Clarion’s expensive as hell, as are most workshop programs, making them naturally exclusive).  The instance where the privilege angle gets tossed in is awkward for me; I suspect it’s point and purpose is to remind everyone to keep things in perspective (i.e. “hey, the world’s burning out and starving itself and going to war on itself, so maybe going into a spaz-attack because Starbucks fucked up your coffee order isn’t the best use of your time and energy”), but it always feels like it’s being mentioned in the same tone of the Mom in A Christmas Story reminding her kids when they don’t like dinner that there are starving people in China–as in, not the “hey, let’s keep a level head in this world of ours, okay” but the “you are entitled, according to me, and don’t get to be pissed at something”.  I really have no comment on that beyond that.  Maybe it is because I’m on the lowest difficulty setting, but the privilege comment always feels like the other person would rather say, “Look, this shit don’t matter and I’m tired of listening to you bitch”.

Finally (before I talk about the other side)…Christ, man, for those people getting all mocking and up and arms at the people upset…you do realize that, when it comes to art, it’s kind of a personal thing and people get thin-skinned about it…right?  I mean, let’s be honest, you people who have routinely published work, do you remember starting out, maybe not getting a lot of support from your circle of friends and family, maybe getting odd looks for the time you’re devoting to this “hobby”, maybe being outright chastised for it?  Do you remember feeling insecure about it (sure you do; it was probably last fucking night, given us writers and our neurotic tendencies)?  Little empathy here–put yourself in the poor schmuck’s shoes who maybe just had an argument with a loved one or colleague about this “hobby” and then seeing this Writing Icon espouse the necessity of a thing they could never possibly afford.  (The irony is not lost that those people, who could use a decent support system, is kinda what Clarion and other workshops are meant for.)

(Actually, a little empathy all around would probably be good thing.  Never happen, but a nice idea.)

Okay, now that I mentioned and talked about all that

You do realize all this is bullshit, right?  I even talked about it the other day.  Even if Gaiman’s tweet was 100% serious and intended, you know that doesn’t fucking matter to you, right?

I have my own biases; we all do.  I’m just an ordinary sinner.  I’m with Brian Keene on what it takes to be a writer…but I make sure to qualify that there’s a difference between being a writer…and doing this as a job, which requires talent and an ability to work in the machine that is publishing (as I discussed in the last blog post).

So when I talk about writing, and what it takes to be a writer, I’m actually talking about two different things.  Write every day, tell yourself stories, create your art…but that’s not necessarily a doorway to a career or even a lucrative side-job without the other two prongs I’ve mentioned previously.   No workshop, MFA, writer’s group, or good ol’ elbow grease is going to change that.

But that cuts both ways.  You don’t need parents, a lover, friends, a professor, colleagues, or a mentor for permission to write.  You do it because you have to.  You do it because, in your gut, you have no other choice.  You do it your own way, on your own time, because it fulfills you in a way nothing else can.  You might never make a red cent doing it; no one but your closest circle may ever see it (if that).  But those things don’t matter.  You do it and you do it with as much verve as you can.  You’re a writer–yay!  When you get caught up in the rage that a Gaiman tweet creates, or an article by an MFA teacher, or whatever, you’re telling the world and, if you’re a bit introspective, yourself that you haven’t given yourself permission to be okay with art and your place in it.  (Don’t worry, we’re all fucking like that at some point; I am, you are, and I’m pretty fucking sure Gaiman gets it, too.)

But it’s all bullshit.  Every workshop, every MFA, every article, every tweet, every sneering remark from a loved one (which always cut more deeply than anything on the ‘net).  Every piece of advice, every rule, every gate and gatekeeper, every criticism.  All bullshit.  You, no one else, choose what and if and when to shovel it.  That rage you might’ve felt?  That was you shoveling all of it.

(And those sneering at that rage?  That was you whistlin’ past the graveyard, friend.)

Clarion might help those who can afford it.  A mentor might.  A writer’s group.  On Writing might.  Going to a reading might.  All of those might work, or it might be bullshit.  It’s up to you.  Not me, not Gaiman, not your fucking friends or the people you know on Facebook.

You.

How much shit do you feel like shoveling, today?

(Actually, ignore all that: You need Nick Mamatas’s Starve Better. THEN you’ll be a writer.)

You Know All Writing Advice Is Bullshit, Right?

(Related: Don’t take writing advice posted on Facebook seriously, even if said advice is posted seriously.  You save the serious shit for a blog….Um.  Ahem.)

I’ve actually debated writing this for a while now–a topic which has absolutely nothing to do with something-something-stupid-shit posted on social media–mainly because, um, it might come off like writing advice.  This wouldn’t be intended, but would most definitely bleed through with an improper choice of words.  Blame the English teacher in me.

But, y’know what?  Fuck it.  I’m all in, baby–if only because my next writing assignment, a novelette/novella, is about something that, to actually sit down and write, would depress the ever-lovin’ shit out of me.  So, yep–let’s call this my stalling post.

Anyway.

All writing advice you hear is, generally, bullshit.  Okay?  Bullshit.  A Grade-A steaming pile of bullshit.  It’s up to you how much, if any, you choose to shovel because, let’s be honest–bullshit’s bullshit, but you can use bullshit to grow something.  That is the most graphic I’ll get tonight.  Probably.

Writing is an art form and, like any art form, any amateur can do it; actually, the only difference between professional and amateur, really, seems to come down with people in terms of economics–can you live off your art and only your art?  No?  You’re an amateur. But, fuck, that’s okay.  It’s art.

Like any amateur being able to do it, anyone can talk about it.  Generally, the amount of talking one does on a subject is directly related to that person’s definition of “success” with that project, which is always related to one’s ego.  Negatively or positively, people who feel like shit about what they do aren’t offering up dollops of good ol’ criticism about process, are they?

So we agree on the terms–any asshole can do art and, also, any asshole can talk about art.  And, if you’re an asshole, you’ll shovel all of it.  If you’re not an asshole, you’ll be a little more discerning.  So sayeth this asshole, anyway.  Got it?  Good.

This topic gets to me on two levels, as a writer and as an editor.  Last one first: As an editor for…three?  Four?  Four years now…I’ve read tens of thousands of submitted stories and, with every story I accepted for this anthology or that magazine issue, there are a hundred (that’s not a hyperbolic number; probably conservative, actually) I’ve rejected.  With each one, I try to be specific about not only why I’m rejecting it–beyond “this doesn’t fit”–to what might help improve its chances elsewhere.  If I know the writer (rare, but it does happen; the community ain’t that big and the same names pop up), I might throw a specific market at them.  On a handful of occasions, I’ve sent other editors after certain stories, with some success.

But, and this is true, even with those little nuggets, I hesitate.  Because of the writer part of me, mostly.

I’ve said this elsewhere and I’ll come back to it: in 2012, Ellen Datlow took part of a roundtable with the HWA and said, in paraphrase, that writers tend to make terrible editors because they can’t separate themselves from the work.  Then, and now, I took it to mean (so, if I’m wrong, blame me, not Ellen) that the writer sees a story that crosses their desk through how they would write it and not, necessarily, how a story should be told (which is not the same thing–even, really, with the actual writer; I’m a big believer that there are true ways of telling a specific story, which might be counter to what the writer wants; or, as Alfred Bester put it, “the book is the boss”).

I’ve seen the truth of this time and again, and my go-to example is when I was part of a writer’s group.

Friends, lemme tell you about writer’s groups.  They can be either good or bad, depending on the makeup.  If you’re in a group where nothing gets done but empty platitudes and encouragement, get the ever-living fuck out of there.  It’s not going to do, or whatever work you do, any good; you and your stories are going to go out into the big, bad world, full of editors and publishers who do not, as a rule, give a shit about you (mainly because there are tens of thousands of you and only one of them).  They are not offering empty platitudes; they’re shutting you down and moving onto the next schmuck.  This is, coldly or not, the reality of the business.  Kind words can and are given, but not as a matter of course and certainly not every Tuesday from six p.m. till eight, when everyone breaks for dinner.

I got lucky in my writer’s group.  The basic creed was, “We’re editors and we’re looking for a reason to reject you.”  This is the basic idea behind most publications–if you have 2,000 subs and only one of you, you’re looking to whittle that slush pile down as quickly as possible.  You, as a writer, have to make your stuff sharp to stand out.

The group was made up of writers who wanted to be trashed so they could be improved.  Most of them had sold regularly.  Three of them were editors of small outfits.  When I was just starting out (in 2006; I count the beginning of my career as 2010, so watch the timeline), it was what I’d needed.

But, by 2010, I left.  I’d sold, at that time, a handful of pieces irregularly, but I was done with the group.  Nothing drama–although, as with any group, there was drama amongst others–I was just done.  Why?

Because, with each story I showed them, I began to pick up the pattern.  The pattern that each person would give me–I won’t give a breakdown here because many of them are still friends of mine and they’re good people and I don’t want to seem like I’m attacking them when I’m not–was so obvious that I could hold up each critique they did for each of my stories and interchange them.  So, I left.  I stayed in reciprocity with a few, through e-mail, but cut the rest out.

And then, after leaving, I sold four stories within a month’s span of time.  Like, that.  Stories that never saw the inside of that library conference room where we met, but was shown to a specific few people.  One story sold not two months after writing the first sentence to it (that story, by the by, was “Baby Grows a Conscience”; draft in August of 2010, sold in October).  That rhythm has continued ever since, only dipping during editing projects, and has begun to increase, with bigger paydays.

Now, some of that obviously came through more practice (one writing bias I have; I have a lot of disdain for people who say they’re writers but never fucking write, not even tell a goddamn anecdote, but continue to put that title on themselves even if the last time they put their ass in the chair to work was when George W. Bush was president; to me that’s akin to saying I’m a plumber because I unclogged a toilet once), but I put most of that to I stopped taking their advice wholeheartedly.

Every writer that’s not iconic looks at how someone else does it.  It’s natural.  I bet even the icons do it.  Show of hands, my spec-fic-writing-friends: how many of you own On Writing, by Stephen King, or have at least read it twice?  Don’t lie, now.  We want to see how the others, who might be more successful, do it and kinda compare ourselves.

But, to the beginning writer, that can be harmful as much as helpful.  When you stop measuring how you do something and start aping what someone else is doing, that’s not writing–that’s imitation.  I don’t want to know how many people picked up pens and journals when they discovered Joe Hill and Neil Gaiman wrote that way; I further don’t want to know how many of them put the pens down a week, a month, a year later, vaguely and inarticulately confused on why the magic wasn’t turning on the way it turned on for these literary titans.  Not to say it didn’t work for some (I know a few that longhand works spectacularly for), but I’d bet dollars to doughnuts it wasn’t a majority.  They weren’t measuring–they were aping.

When I left the writer’s group, I’d spent four years doing every little thing the group suggested, even if they contradicted each other.  I was trying to find my way and only got myself even more confused when I was, really, just trying to figure out what way worked for me.  (That’s the key; we’re gonna come back to it–stick around, will ya?)

But wait, you say–how do you know when to stop shoveling?  How do you know how much to shovel, if any?

Okay, let’s break this down.  Writing, as we typically discuss it, is actually three different categories fitting under this generic term:

  1. Storytelling – this is the talent portion of our program; this the innate knowledge of how a story or work progresses–the turn of phrase, the character trait, the ability to see theme and arc and be able to show that to someone else with any amount of clarity and class.  There was a big brouhaha last year about talent’s worth in professional writing.  I found the whole thing laughable, but maybe because I earn my living reading student writing and supplement that income by reading submitted writing.  (My take?  Oh, sweet Jesus does talent matter–but talent’s cheap, cheaper than gumballs; however, without it, what’s written is going to have all the pow and zam of a 1976 Chevy Nova instruction manual, no matter how much a person works on it.)
  2. Writing – this is the physical act of committing that story down in some form–computer, typewriter, journal, graffiti.  I don’t give a fuck how–it’s the exercise of telling the story.  Called the routine, commonly.  I made a crack on Twitter about a month ago, wondering aloud what the fuck people are doing if it takes months to rough out a first draft of a short story.  My tweets simul-post to my personal Facebook page and, ahem, a few people took umbrage with that, with comments comparing fast writing from everything to “barfing” to not what people who are “serious about the words” do.  I almost climbed up on my high horse on that one, ready and willing to sling some “truth” at them about how those thoughts are the equivalent to justifying dicking off–and then I stopped myself.  I write differently than others; my routine is not their routine.  Their routine might drive me bugfuck–I’m a compulsive sort; if I’m working on something, I work that fucker to the bone as quickly as possible, terrified I’ll lose the spark or get distracted, or something–but that’s because it’s not mine. And that’s cool.  They get the work done.  That’s what matters.
  3. Publishing – the business end of the whole deal.  Remember high school where your teacher would tell you “The Writing Process”, which always ended with publishing (in that case, getting your fucking essay stapled to the bulletin board)?  Hey, in that instance, your teacher was right!  Publishing is the end of the circuit, but, here, it means selling the work and having it put out into the world for as wide of an audience as possible.  However you define selling the work–traditional submission-acceptance, self-pub, blog-posting–that’s publishing.  Putting it out there for readers.

Now, when it comes to writing advice, and writing advice being bullshit, and to tie this whole thing together–most of the problems I (that’s, ahem, just me) see lie in the fact that people dish up advice that blurs those categories.  To me, you can’t mix criticism of talent with process, or process with selling.  While they all fit under that nice umbrella of writing, they are their own separate animals.

Speaking of Facebook, someone-someone posted how long a novel should be and how “professionals” know this…and got so much shit the someone-someone deleted it.  That person got shit because, while the intent might’ve been pure (I dunno; I only heard about it secondhand, got to glance at the initial post, and then poof! Gone into the ether), they were mixing categories and injecting a little of that ol’ lovable personal opinion into that and trying to pass it off as “truth”.  Generally speaking, a novel is anything upwards of 40K in words.  That’s it.  Between 20K and 39K is a novella.  Anything under is short fiction.  Simple.  An easy measurement.  You can’t qualify what’s good or right by wordcount–or, if you prefer, process.  To do so is to blur the line between categories and attempt to step in and tell someone else how to do their art.  That someone-someone fucked up.  It wasn’t the first time, probably won’t be the last.  And there are many someone-someones.  And they all want to tell you how you should tell a story, or write, or sell.

Now, I say intent might be pure in the case above because this is where publishing rears its ugly little head.  Wordcount can affect marketability.  A market only looking for stories 2K and under doesn’t want to see your goddamn 8,000-word story (so, fucking stop sending them and believing the editor will see your brilliance, okay?  I say this as the guy who has had to slug through those beasts, and their owners, that have never heard of guidelines).  But, there are markets that will look at an 8,000-word piece, or a 10,000-word piece, or a 41,000-word novel, or a 120,000-word opus.  You just have to be aware of what the market will take.  That’s it.

But, again, you say–how do you know when and how and if to shovel any of the bullshit you read about writing-in-the-general-term?

Simple.  Know how you do your art. Not just know that you do the aforementioned art, but how.  What’s your talent?  What’s your process?  How do you go about selling?  Notice the consistent pronoun there.

When you know your art, you can look at how someone else does art, and how someone talks about art, and measure without imitating.  You know what to dispense with and what to hold on.  I can’t write longhand–it drives me insane–and stick with Microsoft Word, with old-school Standard Manuscript Format (two spaces after a period FTW).  I can, and do, write consistently (thanks, Stephen King, on that one)–nightly if I’m working on a project.  I have a set specific routine: I write at night (writing in the morning always leaves me uneasy; when I have a break or vacation, I always feel at a loss), with one cup of coffee, and one specific setlist of Foo Fighters songs (totaling 72 minutes).  I take three cigarette breaks.   And, every night, I put down between 1,200-2,500 words.  Every night.  That’s my process, the way I access my talent.  Thanks to Craig Spector, who told me this nugget when I threw out a hand for help once, years ago, I always do a read-edit of the previous day’s work before starting the session.  I draft a certain number of times.  I send it out to a certain number of beta-readers, varying the personnel a little depending on subject matter.  I find markets a specific way (this latter is dwindling in a weird but cool way as editors have started seeking me out, or I write something for a specific market and it’s just sold then and there).  All my process.  It came through trial and error.  It came when I left the writing group and started focusing on how I wanted to do work and how I did do the work.  When I shut out the noise of the constant advice, I was able to hear how I played the music.

Ewww.  That was a little pretentious there.  Moving on.

When I give advice on a rejected story, I stick strictly to that story–I don’t presuppose how someone did it, or give generalities about talent or publishing.  Honestly, I don’t give a fuck about the writer when it comes to a story.  Alfred Bester–man, when it came to writing advice, his nugget was the gold standard with me as both a writer and editor.  So, because I don’t give a fuck, I look at a story as just this piece and what, to me as a reader, it’s trying to say.  I’ve learned, through experience, that I don’t necessarily have to worry about my view being biased because a) I tell the writer that this is all just my individual opinion to take or leave up front and b) often, the story’s not something I would’ve even have thought to write in the first place (and this is a good thing).

Okay, asshole, you say (and fuck you, little buddy)–why should I listen to you about this?

Well, first–points for reading to the end?  And, second–you shouldn’t, if it doesn’t help you.

It’s just bullshit.

Some bullshit, though, helps you grow something else.

Oh, and as for this being a stalling post, a delay to avoid my new project because the plot is, to me, dark and heartbreaking:

newstory

Hey, Michael, I’m working!