Author Archives: TJ
So…I had to take a hard look at myself today. I’m at the world wide sales kick off for my company, 7000 people from 50 different countries all in one room, and when thousands of sales people get together, you can be sure of two things: there will be drinking, and someone will say something stupid. Today, the stupid person was me.
The kicker is I said something I still believe is true. A few of us were just yammering about some business-y type thing when one guy said how much he appreciated our CEO for writing a company wide memo denouncing The Donald’s immigration executive order. Now, I work at an incredible company, but conservative it ain’t. I know this. I should have kept my mouth clamped tight, but instead I said, “it may not have been the right thing, but at least it was something.” What followed was a not entirely inept commentary about how we need to take care of our citizens and their protection, and not feel obligated to continue to defend the rights of people who hate us. (But I said it WAY more eloquently than that.) Some of you may now want to stop reading, as you imagine what follows is another nationalist “Make America Great Again” screed. Please bear with me a bit longer.
Here’s the thing. The guy I was talking to – unbeknownst to me – is married to an Iranian immigrant. After the Shah fell in 79′ and the Islamic revolution took hold, her family moved here. She was 6 years old. She and the rest of her family gained citizenship, and have helped most of their family move here with the exception of her Uncle – a highly regarded surgeon – because America does not honor his Iranian medical degree. He would have to go back to med school to practice here…after 30 years of experience… so he stayed, but visits his family here often.
Clearly, my friend has a different view of the situation than I, but he let me have my little fit. Only after my foot was all the way down my throat did he provide me the context I just shared above. He didn’t get mad though. He didn’t say I was racist or a Muslim hater or any of the other labels progressives love to bury people with who don’t agree with them. He actually thanked me for sharing with him. Then he told me how the law affects him and his family. How the fear is that his wife may not get to see her uncle again any time soon. That her grandparents fear going to visit him because they might not be let back in the country.
Normally, when I interact with ‘progressives’ (a term I hate) it involves them waxing on about freedom of expression and inclusivity and equality, followed by an expletive laden tirade sprinkled with random excerpts explaining all the ways I am a terrible human being for thinking differently than them. Not so this one…and for the first time in a long time, a genuinely open dialogue with a smart person with a different view got me thinking…and by thinking, I mean ‘couldn’t sleep because I couldn’t stop’ thinking.
When did I decide protecting “us” was more important than protecting “them”? When did I start deciding whose life was most important? That unborn strangers ARE worth fighting for, but living strangers are not? That victims of sex trafficking are worth dedicating ones life to help (my wife works for a non-profit that does just that), yet the victims of ethnic purging need to fend for themselves because it happens somewhere else? When did I decide that the value in protecting others and showing compassion lies in the recipiants ability, or even desire, to thank me for it? When did I become this guy? I don’t remember, because all the little decisions seemed so right and rational at the time, but the part of me that gloried in someone finally putting “America First” and “Protecting our borders” is a guy I realize I don’t really like that much.
Don’t get me wrong here. I don’t agree with…well…basically anything in the progressive agenda. Not because all they want is necessarily bad, but because we have to become fiscally responsible. We have to secure our borders and protect our people. We have to fight terrrorism wherever it hides…I’m not saying any of the thoughts I had were fundamentally wrong. But maybe instead of saying we should be helping veterans (or homeless, or whoever) instead of refugees, we should be working out ways to help both. And maybe marginally sacrificing my own security to dramatically improve someone elses is a sacrifice worth making. Maybe a little less money for me – who has so much – is worth it if it results in getting something to those who have nothing. Maybe the best way to show the love of Christ is to love people where they are, and not just where I want them to be.
I’ve read my Bible from cover to cover, and I believe it’s words are true. Therefore I am confident that I’m told to “love my neighbor as myself”…not “love my neighbor if he looks like me, talks like me, and thinks like me…otherwise, screw that guy.” “Do unto others as you’d have them do unto you” looks nothing like “do unto others before they have a chance to do unto you”…which I’m pretty sure is a bumper sticker I’ve seen.
To my progressive friends out there…you will win no converts by beating every dissenting voice with your club of tolerance. All you do is destroy the chance to win others to your cause. You pride yourselves on your desire to accept those who think differently, while berating a sizable portion of the population for doing just that. But if you shelve your outrage for a few minutes and engage rather than berate, you might be surprised at how your response improves. I was.
To my conservative friends out there…we are wrong on this one. We are. I get that fear is driving a lot of decisions right now. We are afraid and that is something Americans are NOT used to feeling – and we are sick of it. We are also sick of being told we are racist because we want to feel safe. But as horrible as the twin towers falling was, that was a few hours of one day. Imagine living that type of horror every second of every day. Congratulations, you still have no idea what it’s like to live in Syria. If us feeling slightly less safe allows a whole lot of people to not be raped and murdered…doesn’t that seem like a good trade?
Maybe some terrorists will get in because of our act of compassion. In fact, no matter what we do, some will. Maybe there will be more violence. When that happens, me and my 2nd amendment will stand up to protect both the people who support that right, as well as the people who don’t. Because that is what America IS. We defend the right of free speech for those who use it to tell us to shut up. We defend the right of life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness for those who pursue it in ways we may find objectionable.
We are a melting pot people. THE melting pot. That’s what makes America Great. It doesn’t need to be great AGAIN. We just need to remember what made us great in the first place.
Go to a store and buy something. It doesn’t really matter what it is. Whether its a new car or a bag of frozen peas, it will come with a manual. To be certain, the less complicated the item, the shorter the manual; in some cases, it may be a few sentences on the side of the packaging. Pop Tarts come with instructions. Seriously. And the instruction is not “Toast the pop tart, then eat it.” In this world, when we buy something, universally, we expect to be given rules on how to use it. Even if we have no intention of reading them. More importantly, we also expect to be told how not to use it. Individuals and corporations are inundated with lawsuits regarding this concept.
This surprises me. Not that people blame others when they themselves do something stupid – passing blame is what Americans do – rather that in our society we still expect to be given instructions. Haven’t we moved past that as a species by now? I mean, if I buy something, shouldn’t I just do whatever I want with it? Isn’t that what freedom is all about? And, in the process of doing whatever I want, if said purchase breaks, its the manufacturer’s fault…right? Right?
Wait, you are saying no? Huh…
The above section is idiotic. No sane person would agree with it. When someone sits down to make something, they always begin by trying to solve some question. Everything that has ever been made, was made for a reason; to fulfill some purpose. To be fair, not everything ever made fulfills its intended purpose. Sometimes trying to solve one problem leads us to the answer of another, but all discovery comes from the seeking of an answer.
The shirt was invented to cover ones body. There are many different types and styles, but that’s what they all do. If I buy a shirt of 100% cotton, the manual (usually found on the tag) will probably tell me not to put it in the clothes dryer (which has a big manual), or it will shrink. The manual won’t stop me from drying that shirt, if I choose. The manual doesn’t hate me because I like warm shirts or the smell of fabric softener. The manual is simply stating the ramifications of a certain action. Ignoring this instruction has resulted in several of my favorite shirts being reallocated to my wife.
More complicated items have significantly more rules for their operation, and thus thicker manuals. Electronics often tell you the appropriate type of electrical socket and current needed for a device to work properly. Depending on where you live, the device you own may not match up with the outlets available to you. Take a Russian toaster to Mexico and you’ll run into an issue. Does that mean Russians hate Mexicans? Of course not. You may need additional help, usually a converter or adapter, to make it work. If you chose not to use one, you may need a new toaster.
Claw hammers are specifically designed to pound nails through wood. That is their purpose. I have used hammers for a great number of things not involving wood or nails. I’ve opened paint cans with them. I prop doors open with them. Once I hit a freezer with one in frustration because of the strange sound it was making. The sound stopped. Does that mean the hammer’s purpose is now to fix refrigerators? Of course not. Successful misapplication doesn’t change a things nature. ‘Circling the wagons’ may have been better than nothing, but I’m sure the pioneers would have preferred a siege wall.
This may seem like a lot of meaningless talk about manuals. Perhaps it is. You may think I’m alluding to something very different. Perhaps I am. Yet if you look at what I wrote, you’d be hard pressed to disagree with anything there. Its obvious to anyone without an agenda. Things that are made work in certain ways, are intended to work in those ways, and using them outside of those ways can (and likely will) result in either damage to the thing you’re using, or damage to the person using it.
Its not personal.
Its not hateful.
Its not intolerant.
It simply is.
If only that type of logic worked with people.
Here is an excerpt from a recent interview with George R.R. Martin regarding his apparent underutilization of magic within Westeros (link):
Magic should never be the solution to the problem. My credo as a writer has always been Faulkner’s Nobel Prize acceptance speech where he said, “The only thing worth writing about is the human heart in conflict with itself.” That transcends genre. That’s what good fiction, good drama is about: human beings in trouble. You have to make a decision, you have to do something, your life is in danger or your honor is in danger, or you’re facing some crisis of the heart. To make a satisfying story, the protagonist has to solve the problem, or fail to solve the problem – but has to grapple with the problem in some kind of rational way, and the reader has to see that. And if the hero does win in the end, he has to feel that that victory is earned.
The danger with magic is that the victory could be unearned. Suddenly you’re in the last chapter and you wind up with a deus ex machina. The hero suddenly remembers that if he can just get some of this particular magical plant, then he can brew a potion and solve his problem. And that’s a cheat. That feels very unsatisfying. It cheapens the work.
Holy crapsticks he’s right. It’s something I suppose I always knew in my soul, but could never explain to my brain. There are many stories I’ve read – highly regarded stories – that left me dissatisfied, without ever being able to say why. If I look back, I imagine many will have fallen into this trap, in genre and out. In Science Fiction and Fantasy, we love our magic, or our force, or our uber-tech super weapon. We get excited about the shimmer and sparks, but we fall in love with the people.
Magic isn’t the answer…it might, in fact, be the problem. Words to write by.
It’s done. Four whirlwind days rife with strange faces made familiar, familiar faces now friendly, and friendly people united in the love of the strange. Everything I hoped, little that I expected; LoneStarCon 3 was exactly what I needed.
WorldCon in San Antonio was my first SF&F convention of any sort, and I stepped in with more than a little trepidation. I had no sidekick, no friends waiting for me with back-slaps and jovial greetings, but a myriad of stereotypical fears of those who spend their hard-earned money and vacation time on such a nerd-gasm. Just me and my backpack, alone in the wilderness. Days previous were spent sifting through the hundreds of panels and events, filtering down to maximize my time and learning. While I am certainly a huge fan of the Science Fiction and Fantasy genre, my trip was intended to target ways to grow as a writer, as opposed to sheer fandom. I absorbed a vast assortment of helpful nuggets, but the true epiphanies were the realizations that surprised me…
SURPRISE #1: Nerds are just better than normal people
There is no more genuine, welcoming, kind and open group of individuals than those at a convention like WorldCon. The stock broker and gas station attendant stride side by side in their wizarding robes, standing fast against the tide of evil-doers. I watched a young man wait in line for a seat to a panel, then give it up to an elderly women who arrived late. Doors were held, compliments were given, assistance was rendered and smiles abounded. It was nearly utopian…if not for the food prices, it would have been.
SURPRISE #2: There are a LOT of aspiring writer’s out there
Everywhere I turned, I met people just like me; aspiring writer’s in various stages of their development, of all ages, races, and opinions. In fact I’m not sure I spoke with anyone who WASN’T writing to some degree or other. But they were universally great. Whether talking about their work, sharing ideas, or occasionally gushing over favorites, as far as the eye could see were huddled masses of recent strangers turned compatriots.
In addition, I met many published writer’s – highly regarded by the industry – who I had never heard of. Apparently, writing a great book isn’t the only factor involved here folks. Many great books were being given away free to help introduce fans to writer’s they’d missed…and there were a lot of them…
SURPRISE #2: Writer’s are People…like, regular People
Over the four days, I had extended conversations with many amazingly talented people. Saladin Ahmed (nominated for the Hugo and Campbell) and I chatted over coffee for a half an hour about life, writing, and things we find both great and annoying about Michigan (I grew up there). He was a joy to speak with, candid and open as an old friend reunited. It was the same with Chuck Wendig, John Scalzi, Sam Sykes, Kevin Hearne, Genesa Davis, Myke Cole, Wesley Chu and more. At times, it seemed they felt as awkward as I with the sudden influx of attention.
I spent a several hours in the company of Steve Diamond (Hugo nominee for best fanzine) who to a degree took me under his wing and showed me the ropes of correct con behavior. I was both amused and slightly terrified by Justin Landon’s exuberance (Staffer’s Book Review). I shared a drink and several stories with toastmaster Paul Cornell, who chatted with me like he was just a regular fan for nearly 15 minutes before I realized he…well…that he was kind of a big deal (I have some Dr. Who episodes to catch up on now). I think I also somehow annoyed Howard Tayler of Schlock Mercenary & Writing Excuses fame, though I honestly can’t tell you how.
Through it all, one thing was constant: writer’s are just people whose names I know. They like to laugh. They like to argue. They (speaking of Wendig, Sykes and Hearne in particular) like to drink…occasionally (Sykes) to excess.
SURPRISE #4: I am not as weird as I imagined.
As I’ve written before, I have no support group. My nerd-ness lacks the protective buffer of like-minded individuals in daily life, and its easy to feel alone in some ways. But at WorldCon, everyone I met – to one degree or other – had a common love I could share in. People could be themselves, without fear of outside opinion…though to be fair, some of the cosplayer’s should have had at least one person tell them what they should and should not attempt to pull off.
SURPRISE #5: I am not as good as I hoped, nor as bad as I expected.
WorldCon was my first ‘real’ writing workshop; professional people telling me their real thoughts without concern for my feelings. I walked in expecting the worst, and was moderately, though pleasantly, surprised. While my piece certainly had its fair share of issues, the general positives (in some cases very positive) outweighed the problems, and I walked away feeling like I may have hope after all. It was surreal to have Fran Wilde and Jack McDevitt (winners of multiple prestigious awards along with publishing a myriad books) tell me I had real writing chops, admittedly in need of smoothing and fine tuning. I may have to add them to the acknowledgements, if I ever get that far.
WorldCon was all that I hoped, and a bit more. As my backpack and I left the convention center, I was bid farewell by both new friends and new goals. Writer’s are just people whose names I know. Now a few know mine. Time to give them reason to remember…
As I sit here typing, there are 3 days left in the month and I am at 55% to my sales objective. To non-sales folks, that may seem insignificant. But for those who know, and who live in the fickle cryosphere of professional sales – where organizations fire tenured employees on first infractions, or as part of ‘consolidation’ moves – it’s terrifying. The inability to pay ones mortgage is, of course, a factor as well. Suffice it to say, my internal pressure gauge is buried red, and the only thing shorter than my time is my fuse.
There is a 22 year-old idiot who lives inside my head, despite being due a decade of rent, who occasionally offers such sage advice as “I think GI Joe: Retaliation could be good!” He views any and all problems to be best solved after innumerable fingers of something Irish, or perhaps Kentuckian. He has Mssrs Morgan, Beam, Daniels, Cuervo and Walker on speed dial. The douchebag even plays golf with the most interesting man in the world. Regardless, he’s been talking to me a lot lately. He has a 19 year old clinically depressed coffee addict roommate who politely suggests long winded and detailed self hate as the only appropriate course of action. “You are an utter failure”, he bellows while writing bad poetry, chain smoking Newports. “Your family is about to be destitute, and its all your fault”. Of course, he’s so hopped up on espresso it’s hard to understand the nuance of his prose through the stutter. He may just be giving me diet tips.
Their 35 year old landlord ostensibly ignores such commentary, but at times it’s difficult. He finds himself asking dangerous questions without answers, and looking at the content of top shelves. On these occasions, I find divine intervention often rears and delivers a swift kick in the stones. This is the setting where our hero finds himself, staring at a computer screen, trying to make two plus blue equal strawberry, when his son steps to his side and asks, “Can tonight be a cuddle night?”
Now, this is not an uncommon request. The boy has a predilection toward bad dreams, and thinks falling asleep beside mom or dad keeps them away. We oblige him, knowing times will soon change, and our presence no longer welcome. Bedtime comes, and inevitably the first words from his six year-old lips are these. Yet tonight, it reminded me what he wants. What he REALLY wants. His bedroom is three times the biggest room I ever had growing up…and I lived. He has more toys NOW than I likely ever owned in my entire lifetime. He is healthy, clothed, and loved. He has no concept of real hunger. Of real need. What he sees as the real need at this moment is me, keeping his dreams safe as he passes into sleep.
Numbers hold no emotion. They are cold and constant. Victory could be wrenched from the jaws of defeat over the next 72 hours, and miracles happen. It wouldn’t be the first time. But the stress pressing down on my spirit has noticeably lessened, thanks to a bedtime request.
I watched my son tonight in that narrow bed, surrounded by half built Lego assault vehicles and action figures, his blue-grey eyes gradually falling before the tide of exhaustion, and knew my blessing. The idiot who squats in my brain thought I could use a shot or 12. It turns out I only needed one, in the form of perspective. Its last call. Be sure to tip well…your server lives off them.
I don’t understand why so many people find satisfaction in the failure of others. Why the public tracks the behavior and lifestyle of those they either admire or despise, and gain a strange satisfaction when we uncover they – like us – are human, and screw up, is beyond me.
I know it comes bundled with fame and fortune, but I don’t know why it should. If someone is a great actor, and gets paid millions to do it, why do we therefore have a right to photograph them on vacation changing their kids diapers? Great doctors can make millions and we don’t give a rip about them (until we get sick). Great business people do as well, so it isn’t the money.
Why do people care who is dating whom? Why do we care what club bathroom is adorned by whose vomit? Relationship squabbles? Substance problems? WHY DO YOU CARE! Can’t you simply enjoy someone’s work without the need to prove they are no better than you? Do you do that with your dentist? You give her WAY more of your hard-earned money than the actress.
The flaws of the famous are not issues unique to those in limelight, but we treat them so. When your brother goes to rehab for the eighth time, its an annoyance. When a former teen idol does, its headline news. I find it incredibly annoying.
People are just people. If someone does something you enjoy, thank them for it. They helped remove your judgmental and incredibly disagreeable personality for a while. Don’t look for ways to make them small so you can get it back.
In short: stop destroying things. Stop living vicariously through others, then get happy/mad when they do the SAME STUPID S#@* YOU DO. Live your life. Let them live theirs.
“Things I don’t understand” doesn’t give answers, its frankly just a rant.
Passion is a strong cup of coffee. When it’s hot and fresh it keeps you awake and moving. Let it sit and it gets stale and bitter, choking you before being sent down the drain. Writing is passion that loves pursuit, but I’ve found it’s also a jaded and slightly off balance girlfriend who, when you’re late for dinner, throws things and cusses at you in Czech. At least that’s been my experience.
The problem with the needy girlfriend is, if you – like me – haven’t come into your own as a writer, you have a ‘real’ job that also commands your attention, and has as much, if not more, right to demand it. Compound that with a wonderful spouse who likes you to be around (apparently, some don’t) and fantastic kids who are yet to decide dad is dead weight (ditto) and you can see how the writing mistress can get a little bent.
That is where I found myself as I put hands to keyboard the other night, returning to a world in its infancy, but left adrift for several weeks as real life laid claim to me. Needless to say, she wasn’t pleased to see me. To press the metaphor, she yelled at me for an hour before I finally snapped the laptop closed and turned to Richard Kadrey for relief. Sandman Slim always has a way of helping me put life into perspective.
That didn’t solve the problem of course, only exacerbated it. She didn’t hate me, she missed me and felt neglected. And she was right. I had.
So what to do when you want to be a writer, but also want to eat…plus keep your kids from being homeless and whatnot. I am no means an expert, but I’ve listened to a few and here is what I have gleaned:
- Write Every Day – If you want to be a professional, you must behave like a professional. If you don’t treat your work like it is going to pay the bills (if that is your goal) then it never will. That doesn’t mean hours and hours. Some writers wake up an hour early and set a word count goal. Others give up past times or television. When you are forced to sacrifice something you enjoy, you will learn whether you really want this or not.
- Set Limits – I’m the type that, once I am into a story, I don’t want to put it down. That doesn’t work. Dedicate time each day to your craft, and honor the limits. If your family knows that when the hour is up you’ll be back and giving them the attention they deserve, they’ll honor your time to write. If your 60 minutes always turns into 4 hours, don’t be surprised at the bitterness.
- Know Yourself – Everyone writes differently, and works better in certain circumstances. If you are a morning person, forcing yourself to write from 11 to midnight isn’t going to be productive. Go to bed early and get up at 4, and you’ll get twice as much done and feel better to boot. Make the most of the time you spend.
- Maximize your Time – Just because you aren’t writing, doesn’t mean your story isn’t growing. I find myself plotting and coming up with the best parts of my stories in the most unlikely of places. I have a file on my phone to write down ideas throughout the day as they come, so as not to distract me from my work, but those ideas help form the words I write in my dedicated time, allowing me to write more, and imagine less in that time.
- Don’t Quit – Writing an hour or two a day will certainly slow down the completion of your 10 book, 5 million word epic epic fantasy, but slow and steady truly can win the race. Sure you felt more fulfilled spending 36 hours of your weekend neck deep in your world, but if you do that for long, the next time you pull your head out you may find nobody left in this one. Set realistic goals for yourself and stick to them, and in the end, your finished work may be better off for the time you spent away from the keyboard.
I’m no professional, nor do I claim to be. But these rules have helped keep my family from abandoning me during my journey. Maybe they’ll help you too. I borrowed most of them, and stole the rest, so feel free to do the same. But if you remember anything, make it #5. Don’t Quit. Some of the best stories ever told weren’t because the writer got tired, I’m convinced. Stay at it, stay at it, stay at it. And when you’re done, start again.
Until next time, may all your word babies have ten fingers and ten toes…unless they are aliens, in which case the physiology is your problem.
As a fairly new hand to writing for fun and profit, I don’t have a lot of preconceptions to fight with. When those who’ve been down the road before tell me they were rejected numerous times before success, I believe them. I believe the road will be arduous, and that I’ll likely get discouraged and want to quit at some point along the way. I have no reason not to.
But I may have a deep rooted strategic advantage many of my compatriots lacked, i.e. I’ve had a sales job my entire adult life, which means I already get rejected about 100 times a day. That is a large part of what sales is about; digging through the desert of angry, underpaid and under appreciated business owners to find that diamond who is willing to listen. There is a sales adage that states most sales are made on the 5th call, but most sales people quit at the third. Pressing through the discomfort is what winners do.
As much as business owners hate sales people, they also love them, because we are their pressure release valve. All day long they deal with clients who have ridiculous demands and unrealistic expectations, and they have to smile and nod politely, all the while wanting to choke the idiots. The pressure becomes unbearable, and just in time the guy trying to sell them payroll services walks in. Pressure release anyone? The guy walks out bow-legged and the owner now has the capability of getting through the rest of his day. Catch that owner after making a huge deal, the same guy with the same product walks away with a signed contract.
The main difference, of course, is that in the above case, it’s not the salesman getting rejected as much as it’s his timing and product. To reject my work is, fundamentally, like beating up my kids at recess. My words are made of me, like baby ducklings following me all in a line. I love them all, even the ugly one. Timing is harder to gauge, because even terrible sellers can trip on a gold mine, but that is usually a one time thing. Product is key, as even terrible sellers can move an inventory of iPhones…the things sell themselves.
Unfortunately we have no magic widget in writing. There were ‘boy goes to wizard school’ books before Harry Potter, and there have been more since, but none with the same impact. Harry won because Harry was better. Sure it caught the market at the right time, but the success was due to product. Many writers tell stories of an agent or editor rejecting something, then getting it again later and grabbing hold of it. We remember those times, not because they are common, but because they are rare. Timing is no small thing, but it can’t be counted on. All we can count on is quality.
I have a special folder on my computer labeled ‘Love Letters’, and another labeled ‘Junk Mail’. Inside the first are the form letters I’ve received from publications letting me know they got my submission, and they’ll let me know what they think soon. In the other is the wonderful collection of form letter rejections those same publications have sent letting me know (politely, of course) thanks, but no thanks. Once message 2 arrives I generally delete message 1, but that gap in between – when I believe this is the one that will be picked up – is a magical one. In that glorious age, I imagine crafting my award speeches, signing book covers and becoming a madcap eccentric with a Rothfussian beard to impress my swooning fans at Comic Con.
Letter 2 ends my delusions, and I quickly go through the process:
1. They are idiots and wouldn’t know good writing if it sat on their face. They don’t DESERVE to print my wondrous gift of prose.
2. I am the worst writer in the world and should quit and castrate myself so my horrible writing gene isn’t passed on.
3. Is there anyone I haven’t sent it to yet?
This process generally takes about ten minutes.
It probably lasts longer for other people, but I get rejected by 95% of the people I talk to every day, so if I went postal every time it happened I’d be homeless. Don’t get me wrong, despite my comfort level, it still hurts, and it leaves me with questions. With no real feedback but ‘no’, it’s hard to be certain I’m on the right track. Am I getting better? Am I getting worse? Was it borderline, or an embarrassment?
In those times I try to remember a poster my dad gave me for my high school graduation. It was a picture of a basketball goal in an empty gym, with the words “You miss 100% of the shots you don’t take” underneath. Every sale ever made didn’t happen until it did. Every published author that ever was, at some time in their life, wasn’t. There are wonderful stories, alive but imprisoned in a folder somewhere, that we’ll never read because its’ writer couldn’t take one more punch in the gut. At some point, everything that ever was, or ever will be, went from ‘no’ to ‘yes’.
So I keep writing and sending off my word ducklings to try and make it out there in the big, bad world. The editorial duck hunters keep shooting them down, perhaps because they hate ducks, perhaps from boredom, or perhaps because they know they are too weak to fly, and see putting them down as a mercy. But I believe one of them will eventually get through. So I’ll keep making more, and more, and more. Bigger and better and faster ducks. Invisible ducks. Fire-breathing ducks. Ducks that fly through walls. Carnivorous ducks with a sweet-tooth for editors. I’ll fill the air so full that a few can’t help but reach the sky. You have to sort through a lot of no to find yes.
The World Science Fiction and Fantasy Convention this year is in San Antonio, TX…practically my backyard…so for the first time I have the privilege of enjoying this yearly gathering of the best and brightest. There are certainly a myriad of things I’m excited about, but one of the coolest is that with a pass I gain voting rights for the Hugo, awarded to the genre’s finest offerings of 2013, along with a copy of every single nominated work. How I was unaware of this little bonus prior I don’t know.
That awesome tidbit (that you should totally take advantage of) is not the purpose of the post however. You see, I’m the type that takes voting fairly seriously. Running for 8th grade student council secretary? I want to know your platform. I don’t find this odd, though you may. If I’m going to help select a winner for anything, I feel obligated to know what I’m talking about. Therefore, I have been pouring through a stack of writing for the past several weeks. Short stories and novelettes are generally easy to manage, and lucky me I had already read several of the novella entries. Novels take time, but they are the best of the year, so should be well worth it, for no other reason than to learn from that which is judged excellent by my (hopefully) soon to be peers.
My issue lies in my responsibility as a voter. One of the great strengths of the genre is its’ amazing diversity, but it’s also one of the challenges when it comes to quantifying greatness. Do I judge based on creativity? Use of language? Simple entertainment value? What if its just not my thing? Does that make the work less deserving? It’s frustrating to explain. Put simply, some of the entries I absolutely hate. What now?
Hate is not a word I use often, but it is appropriate in this context. I’m a fast reader, tearing though an average novel in a handful of hours, yet there were some entries it took me 2 weeks to finish. Not for bad prose, or poor plotting, but from sheer disgust. So how do I rate a well written, clever and creative piece that made me want to gouge out my eyes rather than read another word? See my challenge?
Yet if we only rate things on how much we like it, we miss out as well. I don’t enjoy Jane Eyre, but I can appreciate her brilliance. I don’t read Horror often, but I can tell good from bad. If my Hugo vote is based on how much I enjoyed a book, my answer is an easy one. If my vote is based on clarity and sharpness of prose, that’s easy too, but not always the same answer. If my vote is based on most unique and creative, another answer still.
This may seem a small thing, but winning the award is a big deal to the authors, especially when it comes time to renegotiate their next deal. Maybe I’m making too much of this. In fact, I know I am, but it comes down to the responsibility of citizens. This year, I’m a citizen of WorldCon. Is it my job to vote based on what I like best, or what’s best for the genre? If giving an award to someone who breaks boundaries and opens eyes causes other new writers to see that being different can work, then maybe the fact I personally dislike it is irrelevant. Mabye. I’m not sure.
What I am sure of is this internal turmoil is one of the reasons I love this genre. Nobody is torn in this way by the next crime novel or legal thriller. If the story carried, that’s good enough. In science fiction and fantasy, you have to make the reader choose to live in your world, at least for a time, and when you do, you win a whole lot more than a trophy. So thank you all the writers who work in our strange corner of fiction. Thanks for not settling for what has come before…even if what comes next isn’t my thing. Now I just need to figure out how to let Scalzi down easy…