June 11th, 2008

twain & tesla

I did not go to school today...

I slept rather than running this morning. The heat broke last night, and while it is still humid and close, it's no longer sweltering. And so I slept like a sleeping thing, on top of the covers with a fan turned on, in my own bed, for approximately ten and a half hours. And I don't feel the least little bit bad about it either, because in any case, there will be climbing tonight. And my everything hurts so much less than it did when I went to bed, it's incredible. Sometimes, mature wisdom is about knowing when to stop trying so damned hard and get some rest.

I was talking with another friend last night about the single worst stage of trying to break into print. It's the "there's nothing wrong with this story but I'm not going to buy it" stage. (Actual words (or a paraphrase thereof) from an actual rejection letter written by ellen_datlow to me, circa 2004.) It's the stage where you're competent, but you haven't yet found your voice. The snap isn't quite there, the pop, the narrative drive. It's the garage-band stage.

I read something somewhere that opined that the difference between garage bands and bands that break out is not musical competence, but having found their own sound. I've listened to this happen to a couple of friends' bands, and it's true, I think.

It also applies to writers. You get stuck at that stage because you are trying to find the things that will lift you our of competence and into the next stage. And I can tell you what those things are.

One is confidence (hard, in a business where one faces constant rejection.) Confidence in the story you're telling. Confidence in your ability to tell it. That confidence is what gives a narrative drive, allows you to stop hemming and hawing and say what you mean rather than talking around it.

Another is voice. Sounding like yourself, the rhythm and swing of your rhetoric, the unique chord progressions that make this identifiably your song and not something anybody could have written.

And the interesting thing there is that that personalization--which is what's going to make people love your work--is the same thing that's going to make some people hate it. Strong opinions are what you're after. And some of those strong opinions are going to be negative.

And there's experience and technique and craft, of course, but those are all part of the competence. And mere competence isn't enough. You have to have that something extra.

This ties into a discussion I had with jaylake today, about how it took me twenty years to sell a story to Asimov's. "Tideline" is the first story I ever sold there, and I started submitting in roughly 1987 (juvenilia typed on a sticky old Royal typewriter). Sheila Williams bought "Tideline" in late 2006, if I remember correctly.

This came up because Jay was congratulating me on the story's Sturgeon nomination and I allowed as how most of my short work went entirely under the radar before this. The magic of a digest publication: say what you will about the death of the SFF magazine market, but the Big Three get read by the people who nominate. "Tideline" is also my first Hugo nomination, it's a Locus Award finalist, it's being reprinted in the Gardner Dozois Year's Best Science Fiction and at Escape Pod, and it was the winner of the Asimov's Reader's Choice Award for 2007.

(Which reminds me, I need to update my bibliography. Except I think I will wait until award season is over. Just in case, to avoid irritating the Web Ghoul uneccesarily. I also need to add the Sidewise nomination for "Lumiere.")

Thing is, I'm not sure "Tideline" is my best short story, though I do think it's a very good one.** But it is the one that got digest publication, and as such, it's the one that got noticed.

**Currently, my favorites are "Shoggoths in Bloom" and "Sonny Liston Takes The Fall," with "Love Among the Talus" and "Sounding" also ranking high, though you all seem to like "Orm the Beautiful" an awful lot. Incidentally, you can read these, except the first two, here. Shoggoths is in the March Asimov's this year (The teaser text is online here), and Sonny Liston is currently available in The Del Rey Book of Science Fiction and Fantasy.

There's an interesting discussion of who the Hot New Thing in SFF might be going on around the blogosphere. It started at SF Signal's Mind Meld and progressed to Vector's Torque Control. You can vote over at instant_fanzine.
sf sapphire and steel kiss (darkness)

the way the kids shake you'd think we're blowing up.

I was just privileged to read an ARC of the forthcoming small press anthology, The Lone Star Stories Reader, available for pre-order here.

It really brought something home to me that I've been thinking about for a couple of years. Which is that anybody who thinks we don't have strong new voices in genre must not be doing three things. Those three things are: reading the online magazine, paying attention to the small press, and watching what the women are up to. Because man, that is one heck of a collection. And with the exception of two or three established writers, it's all new kids and up-and-comers.

Check this out:

Introduction by Sherwood Smith
"Wolf Night" by Martha Wells
"Seasonal Work" by Nina Kiriki Hoffman
"'Janet, Meet Bob'" by Gavin J. Grant
"The Great Conviction of Tia Inez" by M. Thomas
"Angels of a Desert Heaven" by Marguerite Reed
"The Disemboweler" by Ekaterina Sedia
"A Night in Electric Squidland" by Sarah Monette
"Thread: A Triptych" by Catherynne M. Valente
"The Frozen One" by Tim Pratt
"Dragon Hunt" by Sarah Prineas
"Manuscript Found Written in the Paw Prints of a Stoat" by Samantha Henderson
"Giant" by Stephanie Burgis
"When the Rain Comes" by Josh Rountree
"The Hangman Isn't Hanging" by Jay Lake
"The Oracle Opens One Eye" by Patricia Russo

The table of contents reads like a Hugo ballot from 2025.

If you don't know who these 11 women and 4 men are, here's your chance to find out. Get in on the ground floor. Tell people you knew about them way back when.

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writing genocide

But I look better in lipstick than I think I do.

Not a very good climbing night tonight, but not a terribly bad one either. Tried six walls, climbed three (which I had climbed before) failed on one I've done before, couldn't even get onto a fourth, and made a good start on the sixth (one on the barrel vault I've been eyeing for a while) but was too burned out to make it up it. I think I know how to make the next move, though, and when I come back from traveling, if I haven't lost every bit of ground I've gained, maybe I will send it.

Again, this extra weight can come off any damned day now. Because I think I would be a pretty good climber by now if I were oh, sixty pounds lighter.

Come on, meatpuppet, get with the program here. This will hurt less if you just cooperate.

Some photos from WisCon. (Not mine)

The Spider Women of Queso Grande invade the Tiptree auction.

Sarah Monette and the demoness that possesses her.

It's hard to look stern and imposing when Space Babe is hosing you down with a supersoaker. 

No. Really hard. 

There are no good shots of Amanda Downum as the S.S. Librarian, alas, but this one kind of shows her costume. (As you can probably guess, we kind of had a pan-European Evil Colonialists thing going, complete with Terrible Movie Villainess accents. Notice my stylin' Valkyrie pigtails. Sarah was the French femme fatale, and Leah the Conquistadora. Come to think of it, La Conquistadora is a completely bitchin' supervillain name.)

Space Babe victorious!

Death by cheesehead!

Totally awesome shot of Leah Bobet and her totally awesome Girl Detective hat.

Spider Women in defeat.

This is all actually coffeeem's fault. Though I'm sure she'd never admit to it.