One of the things I've realized that I need to work on in order to develop a healthier relationship with my job involves certain toxic aspects of the professional writing/publishing culture that I've done an overly good job of internalizing. And I'm trying to scrape it out of my soul, because in the long term it winds up being the opposite of productive when dealing with a creative career.
Some of that is a competition thing: "Writer X turns in three books a year and I'm a slacker if I don't, too!" And that's not great, honestly, and the sheer pressure to produce isn't great, either, and doesn't necessarily lead to good work. One has to think up new things to say between books, after all, or one ends up writing the same book over and over again. No use in that.
I think there's a certain bravado of culture among may writers that is actively toxic in a lot of ways. And it's tied to the NaNoWriMo kind of mode of "produce a bunch of stuff really fast, lather rinse repeat" pressure, and also the "THIS JOB SUCKS AND WE'RE WARRIORS FOR DOING IT" thing. It's this weird Puritan machismo in suffering.
I mean, you don't learn to write well by turning out 50K in a month once a year. It's the two pages a day or whatever that get you there. Constant practice, as with any art. And mammals don't respond well to punishment for performance. If we do a thing and the result is horrible, we generally avoid doing that thing again.
So when we punish ourself for performing by setting ourselves unreasonable goals and having impossible expectations and never acknowledging our successes? Cue anxiety and avoidance behavior.
Seriously. From now on, if I get some writing done, I'm not going to bemoan how insufficient my effort was. I'm going to have a piece of chocolate instead.
If you work for yourself and your job sucks, it might be because you have a shitty boss. Or it might be because you are suited to different work than what you're doing.
I have literally dig ditches for a living (and mucked out stalls, and done several other extremely physical and occasionally nasty jobs), and I suspect most of the people who are like "hur hur sure writing isn't hard, try digging ditches," probably have not done both. The thing is, they're both hard. Digging ditches is physically exhausting and can be quite painful, especially in hot or cold weather. But while it's meticulous work (This surprises people who haven't done it, but ditches are dug for reasons, and those reasons affect the way they slope, or how the sides are shaped, and digging ditches does in fact involve a certain amount of work with a plumb line and a level. These days they probably use lasers.) it doesn't necessarily use a lot of executive and creative function the way writing does.
Writing requires mental rest.
Digging ditches requires physical rest.
And I'm totally talking about myself here, because I absolutely have fallen into the anxiety-driven must-produce thing.
And you don't build a career by SUFFERING THROUGH THE AWFULNESS. That's different than having the discipline to get your work done.
(Comments are turned off because I am traveling and don't have time to moderate.)
I was asked what I published last year. And of course I'm having server/host issues, so I can't go check my trusty website, which is what I would normally do.
...which is probably why I am being asked, come to think of it.
So! A list, a veritable list! A list, I say!
An Apprentice to Elves (with truepenny)
"The Heart's Filthy Lesson," Old Venus, Dozois and Martin eds
"And the Balance in Blood," Uncanny
Short Stories, 2015
"In Libres," Uncanny
"Margin of Survival" The End Has Come, Adams and Howey, eds
"The Bone War," The Magazine of Fantasy and Science Fiction
"Skin in the Game," Future Visions
(Is this thing on?)
Hey guys. So, it has been.... well, a long time since my last significant blogging here. It's been an interesting autumn and winter on a lot of fronts, and I've been getting my head sorted, and I haven't felt much like talking about most of it on the internets. Also, you know, I've been trying to do more stuff that is Not On The Internets.
But I'm feeling a little more like crawling out of my hole, so. THE STATE OF THE BEAR ADDRESS.
First item: Hey guess what, I have pneumonia! Or really bad bronchitis. I'm apparently right on the cusp between. Probably the same bug that's laid out half of science fiction. According to my wonderful nurse practitioner, there's a chest cold going around that produces really thick mucus and doesn't make you cough enough, and combined with dessication from dry winter air this means your lungs turn into Petrie dishes for any passing bacterium. Result: minor epidemic of pneumonia in fairly young, otherwise healthy people.
So if you find yourself with a chest cold that doesn't seem too bad, don't be me. Take an expectorant and use a humidifier.
This is especially frustrating because it's gorgeous out--we're so far having a lovely mild winter in Massachusetts--and I want to exercise, but I'm grounded. I haven't been able to run since last summer because of Achilles tendinitis (slowly getting better. slowly.) but I was making good progress again with rock climbing, weight lifting, and yoga. And now I'm going to have to deload again, dammit.
Second item: Yes, my website is down. I am having ISP issues, and I need to figure out a new hosting solution and do a website redesign to support the current and forthcoming frontlist, which consists of Karen Memory, the Eternal Sky world, and the White Space world. I apologize.
It may be a little while before I figure out what my solution is, because I am also in the middle of moving house and planning a wedding. Ahem. It turns out these things are time consuming.
Third item: Yes, Scott and I are buying a house and doing some other legal paperwork. Here's to the end of five years of commuter relationship. Expect kitten pictures sooner or later.
Fourth item: The Giant Ridiculous Dog says hello. He's getting on in years, but still happy and healthy and enjoying his walks.
In other news, (way to bury the lede Bear) it may also be a little while before there is another novel-length Elizabeth Bear book.
I've been talking with my agent and editors, and I'm going to be on a bit of a novel sabbatical this year. Some of this is the moving and house-buying and wedding planning (good gravy, mortgages are a lot of work). Some of it is that I have been working nonstop and flat-out for fourteen years, and, well, I'm struggling to figure out what I want to say and how to say it and to find interesting human stories I haven't already told from several angles.
The plots are not the issue, nor the worlds. The art of inventing new and interesting characters, however, has deserted me. And I have become like the centipede who has been asked how he runs: I'm in a state where I am extremely critical of and self-conscious about my own work, and it's making it really hard to produce anything on a reasonable schedule. Since I respond to deadline pressure with self-loathing and despair, the best solution I can come up with at this point is to back the pressure off a little and try to fix my brain and creativity, because pushing through is just making things worse and I don't want to actually break myself.
Also, the success of Karen and the Eternal Sky books has been awesome, and I'm thrilled that they are getting the love and attention that they are. But I am having a hard time learning to balance the additional demands on my time with the need to actually produce new work. Which is part of why I have been spending less time on the internets: I need to assess priorities and figure out what my workflow is going to be in the future.
Aaaaaand I'm also in treatment for some anxiety and the burnout issues, and that's taking up a lot of my creative focus. <<wry face>>
(It's embarrassing to talk about, but you know, nobody actually benefits when we don't talk about mental and emotional health issues, so here goes.)
I am working on a couple of shorter pieces, though--I'm hoping that if I take a little time for myself and give myself a little breathing room, I'll grown back a little bit. So I'm not making any public commitments about those.
But one might be a Karen story. Maybe. If you're good.
This is slightly delayed today, because that boy I like and I were kind of buying a house. Ahem.
“I will come to a time in my backwards trip when November eleventh, accidentally my birthday, was a sacred day called Armistice Day. When I was a boy, all the people of all the nations which had fought in the First World War were silent during the eleventh minute of the eleventh hour of Armistice Day, which was the eleventh day of the eleventh month.
“It was during that minute in nineteen hundred and eighteen, that millions upon millions of human beings stopped butchering one and another. I have talked to old men who were on battlefields during that minute. They have told me in one way or another that the sudden silence was the voice of God. So we still have among us some men who can remember when God spoke clearly to mankind.
“Armistice Day has become Veterans’ Day. Armistice Day was sacred. Veterans’ Day is not.
“So I will throw Veterans’ Day over my shoulder. Armistice Day I will keep. I don’t want to throw away any sacred things.
“What else is sacred? Oh, Romeo and Juliet, for instance.
“And all music is.”
--Kurt Vonnegut, Breakfast of Champions, 1973
It turns out art is hard.
Basically, every artist became an artist because nobody else was making the art we wanted to see so we figured we had to do it ourselves if we wanted it to exist in the world.
And then we all discovered that getting the art in your head outside into the world in a form you can recognize is a nearly impossible task.
Who set this system up, anyway?
I've got a post up over on Charlie's Diary about thwarting gaming the Hugos next year. Thanks for the pulpit, autopope!
In much much happier news, I'm going to talk about some books I love now.
These are things I have read in the past couple of years that are really, really good.
My Real Children, by papersky (Jo Walton), which is a great book about a woman living two lives in parallel but different timestreams. I have a quibble with the ending, but that's literally my only quibble with the book. There was a thing in the last paragraph that made me go "Huh?" So good, so gorgeously written, so understated, so completely a thing that could never be written in another genre.
The Goblin Emperor, by truepenny (Katherine Addison), just came in second in the Hugo Best Novel award. It's about a young man growing up in exile who is awakened in the middle of the night to be told that his entire family has been assassinated and he's going to have to be Emperor of the Elves now. There only problem is that he has no training at all, and his mother was a goblin.
The Girl in the Road, by Monica Byrne, is about two women traveling great distances in different times, whose lives are joined by one unspeakable moment of violence. It's so good, you guys. The writing is top notch and the characters are prickly and weird and unreliable narrators and it's compelling as hell.
The Peripheral, by William Gibson. Apparently I am on a roll with parallel-story novels, because this is another one with two threads of narrative that weave together synthetically. It's great: I think this is Gibson's best novel, and it's a crying shame it didn't make the Hugo ballot this year. It has gunfights and philosophy in about equal measure, and it blew my socks off.
Updraft, by Fran Wilde, comes out on Tuesday. It's super, one of the best first novels I've read in a long time. It's about a girl who cannot follow orders to save her life trying to make her way through a perilous society where people live at the top of living bone towers and travel with wings. There are creepy monsters and secret societies and this protagonist who just cannot stop making things worse for herself.
Sorcerer to the Crown, by Zen Cho. Also a new novelist, this is a Regency-era thriller with sorcery duels and brutal politics. It's wacky and madcap while also being quite tense. I was reminded of those Cary Grant/Kate Hepburn screwball comedies in the way things just escalate and escalate.
Lavinia, by Ursula K. Le Guin. I've been hand-selling this book to everybody who will sit still for it. It's subtle and generous and witty and heartbreaking and I loved it to absolute death. And I have a critical allergy to Romans.
Of Noble Family, by Mary Robinette Kowal. The final book in her glamourist histories, this does an excellent job of kicking the coprotagonists Jane and Vincent out of their comfort zone and sending them out into a wider and more difficult world. These books have been moving from strength to strength, and portions of this one are serious nailbiters.
A World of Trouble, by Ben H. Winters. Last book in a trilogy, and all three of them are very good. The protagonist is a guy who was a cop in a world with an impending calamity--and extinction-event level meteor strike--hanging over it. He's trying to be a decent human being and do decent human being things, like take care of his sister. Mystery, action, characterization--all great.
Code Name Verity, by Elizabeth Wein. Oh my gosh just read this book it will knock your socks off. I made the mistake of listening to it on audiobook, and I'm sure the neighbors thought I was a fucking lunatic, walking the dog with headphones in and snot and tears running down my face while I sobbed and sobbed.
California Bones, by Greg Van Eekhout. This is a thrillery book about a young guy whose dad was a sorcerer, and who is attempting to navigate a magical underworld where all the sorcerers hang out and compete for power. It's like Tim Powers meets The Wire. I loved it.
Now back to the word mines.
2015 Locus Awards Finalists
The Locus Science Fiction Foundation has announced the top five finalists in each category of the 2015 Locus Awards.
Winners will be announced during the Locus Awards Weekend in Seattle WA, June 26-28, 2015; Connie Willis will MC the awards ceremony. Additional weekend events include author readings with Willis and Daryl Gregory; a kickoff Clarion West party honoring first week instructor Andy Duncan, Clarion West supporters, awards weekend ticket holders, and special guests; panels with leading authors; an autograph session with books available for sale thanks to University Book Store; and a lunch banquet with the annual Hawai’ian shirt contest, all followed by a Locus party on Saturday night.
SCIENCE FICTION NOVEL
The Peripheral, William Gibson (Putnam; Viking UK)
Ancillary Sword, Ann Leckie (Orbit US; Orbit UK)
The Three-Body Problem, Cixin Liu (Tor)
Lock In, John Scalzi (Tor; Gollancz)
Annihilation/Authority/Acceptance, Jeff VanderMeer (FSG Originals; Fourth Estate; HarperCollins Canada)
The Goblin Emperor, Katherine Addison (Tor)
Steles of the Sky, Elizabeth Bear (Tor)
City of Stairs, Robert Jackson Bennett (Broadway; Jo Fletcher)
The Magician’s Land, Lev Grossman (Viking; Arrow 2015)
The Mirror Empire, Kameron Hurley (Angry Robot US)
YOUNG ADULT BOOK
Half a King, Joe Abercrombie (Del Rey; Voyager UK)
The Doubt Factory, Paolo Bacigalupi (Little, Brown)
Waistcoats & Weaponry, Gail Carriger (Little, Brown; Atom)
Empress of the Sun, Ian McDonald (Jo Fletcher; Pyr)
Clariel, Garth Nix (Harper; Hot Key; Allen & Unwin)
Elysium, Jennifer Marie Brissett (Aqueduct)
A Darkling Sea, James L. Cambias (Tor)
The Clockwork Dagger, Beth Cato (Harper Voyager)
The Memory Garden, Mary Rickert (Sourcebooks Landmark)
The Emperor’s Blades, Brian Staveley (Tor; Tor UK)
“The Man Who Sold the Moon”, Cory Doctorow (Hieroglyph)
We Are All Completely Fine, Daryl Gregory (Tachyon)
Yesterday’s Kin, Nancy Kress (Tachyon)
“The Regular”, Ken Liu (Upgraded)
“The Lightning Tree”, Patrick Rothfuss (Rogues)
“Tough Times All Over”, Joe Abercrombie (Rogues)
“The Hand Is Quicker”, Elizabeth Bear (The Book of Silverberg)
“Memorials”, Aliette de Bodard (Asimov’s 1/14)
“The Jar of Water”, Ursula K. Le Guin (Tin House #62)
“A Year and a Day in Old Theradane”, Scott Lynch (Rogues)
“Covenant”, Elizabeth Bear (Hieroglyph)
“The Dust Queen”, Aliette de Bodard (Reach for Infinity)
“The Truth About Owls”, Amal El-Mohtar (Kaleidoscope)
“In Babelsberg”, Alastair Reynolds (Reach for Infinity)
“Ogres of East Africa”, Sofia Samatar (Long Hidden)
The Year’s Best Science Fiction: Thirty-first Annual Collection, Gardner Dozois, ed. (St. Martin’s Press)
Long Hidden: Speculative Fiction from the Margins of History, Rose Fox & Daniel José Older, eds. (Crossed Genres)
Rogues, George R.R. Martin & Gardner Dozois, ed. (Bantam; Titan)
Reach for Infinity, Jonathan Strahan, ed. (Solaris US; Solaris UK)
The Time Traveler’s Almanac, Ann VanderMeer & Jeff VanderMeer, eds. (Head of Zeus; Tor)
Questionable Practices, Eileen Gunn (Small Beer)
The Collected Short Fiction Volume One: The Man Who Made Models, R.A. Lafferty (Centipede)
Last Plane to Heaven, Jay Lake (Tor)
Academic Exercises, K.J. Parker (Subterranean)
The Collected Stories of Robert Silverberg, Volume Nine: The Millennium Express, Robert Silverberg (Subterranean; Gateway)
John Joseph Adams
Ann & Jeff VanderMeer
Ray Bradbury Unbound, Jonathan Eller (University of Illinois Press)
Harry Harrison! Harry Harrison!, Harry Harrison (Tor)
The Secret History of Wonder Woman, Jill Lepore (Knopf)
Robert A. Heinlein: In Dialogue with His Century, Volume 2: The Man Who Learned Better: 1948-1988, William H. Patterson, Jr. (Tor)
What Makes This Book So Great, Jo Walton (Tor; Corsair 2015)
Jim Burns, The Art of Jim Burns: Hyperluminal (Titan)
The Art of Neil Gaiman, Hayley Campbell (Harper Design)
Spectrum 21: The Best in Contemporary Fantastic Art, John Fleskes, ed. (Flesk)
Brian & Wendy Froud, Brian Froud’s Faeries’ Tales (Abrams)
The Art of Space: The History of Space Art, from the Earliest Visions to the Graphics of the Modern Era, Ron Miller (Zenith)