Yes, I’m Totally a Professional (Watch Me Geek Out)

Okay, so a big part of being a professional writer is maintaining your “cool.” When you meet other writers at a conference like the Nebulas or ConFusion, you try to casually shoot the shit like you’re at the average water cooler, congratulating some bestselling author whose work you adore on their latest book without fawning over them. When you chat with celebrity writers on Twitter, you remember that you’re just professionals talking where almost the entire world can see  and that it’s no biggie. When someone invites you to work on a project because they like your style, you think critically about whether that’s a good idea for your career even though you want to scream for joy and say “yes, absolutely” because the sheer act of being invited makes you giddy.

Sometimes, though, I think one is justified in shedding off the “cool” writer mystique and geeking out about something exciting in their career – whether it’s writing an opinion piece that gets a ton of traction in the news (*nods toward friend who might be reading this*) or your new play getting rave reviews because your work is awesome (*smiles discreetly at no one in particular, I swear*). Not because we want to brag, but because sometimes you feel like maybe you’re at the center of some Make A Wish Foundation thing and don’t realize it.

The reason I’m excited right now is because after a successful Kickstarter a little while ago, an anthology called Timeshift: Tales of Time is available for preorder on Amazon. This was my first time being invited to participate in an anthology (and only time up until recently – shhh), which is wicked in and of itself, that an editor would read a story of mine and like it enough to republish it. When I saw the lineup of other authors, though, my jaw dropped: Cat Rambo (who’s delightful on top of writing awesome things), other heavyweights like Ken Lieu and Mike Resnick, and last but certainly not least, Kevin J. Anderson.

Now you might say, “Brandon, being in an anthology with any big writers is awesome” and you are absolutely right. But I’m going to indulge the faux pas of geeking out about another writer because one of my first entries into SFF was none other than Kevin J. Anderson. It’s no secret I’m a huge Star Wars fan, and that’s partly because some of the earliest novels I read were from the Expanded Universe. Individuals like Anderson, Timothy Zahn, Christie Golden, Michael Stackpole and others were my introduction to writing, really, and some of my first examples of what I wanted to become as an adult.

And now my work is in an anthology alongside one of those people. With sincerest apologies to any of my students who are reading this, that is really fucking cool. 

So yes, as professionals we’re supposed to be suave and collected, and present ourselves as put together and undramatic. But sometimes you need to celebrate those special moments in your career.

And hope the person you’re talking about is too busy and important to ever read your blog.

My geeking out aside, Timeshift has a ton of excellent authors in it and I’m excited it’s finally available for preorder. If you like time travel stories, you can check it out via Amazon.ca or Amazon.com. And I hope you enjoy!

(Sidebar: You probably won’t see a post from me next weekend, since I’ll be at Readercon! First time heading out that way, and I’ve heard amazing things about this con and Boston in general. If you’ll be there, let me know!)

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What I Do at Black Gate Magazine

I’ve mentioned before that I have a column on Black Gate Magazine, where I post bi-weekly fiction reviews and occasionally an interview with a fellow author. But I’ve never actually spent much time explaining what I do as a reviewer, or why I’m still writing for Black Gate after almost two years as a contributor (shit, it doesn’t feel like that long).

My running title for my column is “In 500 Words or Less,” which means my reviews are exactly that: capped at 500 words, maximum, and if I can get them shorter, more the better. When I first started writing this column, I found that my early reviews were really wordy – concision is something I’ve always struggled with when drafting. So forcing myself to stick to a word limit is a useful exercise that helps with my other writing, since I can’t discuss everything about a book. And when I pared them down, I realized that I didn’t need a ton of space to explain why I loved a particular book. I’m not trying to convince anyone to go buy something (most of the time) or change their taste in reading material – it isn’t a five-paragraph essay about the significance of an author’s work (*shudder*). All I want to do is give you a taste of why I enjoyed a particular book, and let you look into it more closely yourself. If you have the same taste as I do, great. If you don’t, no worries. (Read: you’re actually a heathen and we can never be friends again.)

Sometimes keeping to my word limit has been tough, particularly when I read something that I get really excited about, like Robots vs Fairies (edited by Dominik Parisien and Navah Wolfe) or The Nine by Tracy Townsend. And also because I try hard not to fall into the boring, overly-academic style that a lot of reviewers seem to take. Kinda like this blog, I try to sound like we’re just chatting casually, and I’ll freely admit that’s not easy every time and sometimes I don’t quite hit the mark I want. It also means I throw out the occasional joke or random aside – and maybe eats up my word count. But that’s a small price to pay, as far as I’m concerned, to make sure that I’m having fun and you’re having fun and no one gets bored with a 500-word review.

But the best part about writing this column for Black Gate is that I get to signal boost authors who I think need more attention, like Curtis C. Chen, or get ARCs of books ahead of their release, like I did recently with Steven Erikson’s forthcoming novel Rejoice: A Knife to the Heart. It might not be much, but it’s one more thing I can do for my fellow writers; if it gets even a handful of additional readers paying attention to their work, that’s a win as far as I’m concerned.

The only drawback is that I’m not sure how much impact my reviews actually have – or how much they even get read. I’ve reviewed works by well-known authors, like S.A. Chakraborty’s The City of Brass, and gotten more play than I would expect on social media, but when I review an author with less existing notoriety I worry that my words are getting lost in the vastness of the Internet. So while I would never do something as base as asking everyone who reads this blog to spread the word about my reviews, what I will say is that if you’re on the lookout for new reading material and 500 words every two weeks isn’t a huge piece of your free time, maybe check out my column. Feel free to follow any of the links I’ve included so far, and if you like my style, spread the word! The more eyes we get on these reviews, the better for the authors I’m able to discuss.

And if you’re a fan of fantasy and didn’t see this a while back, here’s the ultimate level up for me as a reviewer/interviewer so far: getting to chat with Jim Butcher at ConFusion. So maybe there are fringe benefits to doing what I do… 😉

On Stress, Job Security, and Habits That Are Better Than Cocaine

I think I figured out why I don’t post here as frequently as I used to.

I took a quick look at my previous posts; there were a couple in May, and then one in March, and then a few further back. Repeatedly I think, “I should really get back into posting every week” since it’s good to maintain a couple regular habits that aren’t cocaine, and I really enjoy maintaining this rambling and entirely honest peek into the writer’s mind, partly because I can do things like make jokes about cocaine (which is only funny since I might be the most straight-laced writer you’ll ever meet). But even though I want to, I haven’t been, and I think it’s for two reasons. On the one hand, I’ve been increasingly busy with a variety of projects and I’m conscious of not burning myself out, having watched other people who are less careful with their time and energy. But on the other hand, part of my blog is to get my thoughts down concerning whatever’s stewing in my brain that week, and I’m blessed these days to have several people in my life I talk to regularly about life, stresses, the world, etc. I think that’s translated into doing it less here, since apparently I don’t need it as much.

But this blog is more than just a personal journal – it’s supposed to be that glimpse into the very real world of being a writer (since there aren’t hundreds of those out there already) for people who are a) curious or b) trying to break into this crazy field, and think maybe they’ll learn something here (or at least relate). It’s supposed to be a chronicle of an emerging writer trying to level up and make his name, and the pitfalls and insecurities and hilarity that ensues. Trust me, fellow writers, I am still just an emerging member of our community – or at least I still consider myself one, even as I level up.

Which brings me to what I’m really pondering this week, which has less to do with writing and more to do with teaching. I’ve been a high school teacher for six years, and every previous June I’ve been a nervous wreck – not because of final grades or year-end wrap-up, but because at the same time as doing all of that I’ve been applying for permanent contracts and inevitably worrying about EI for the summer and not knowing where I’ll be teaching in September. But this June, I can sit at my desk comfortable in the knowledge that I’ll be back at the same school in the fall – same desk, same colleagues, knowing in advance what I’ll be teaching (a full course load, no less), and even knowing some of the students on my class lists. Or at least I would be comfortable, if I could figure out how to deal with the absence of nerves.

Understand this: getting a job as a high school teacher in Ontario these days is really fucking hard. Unless you teach Spanish or Auto or something equally rare and needed. So much so that when my current principal called me one October morning to offer me my first partial contract, I ignored the phone call because I assumed he was going to say “thanks for interviewing, we’ve gone with someone else, keep trying.” You have to accept a certain measure of disappointment and trial, that maybe you’ll be covering maternity leaves and secondments for a decade before you get a contract of your own, and I didn’t realize how much that certainty was a part of my life until I sat down last week with my full-time, 100% contract knowing that I don’t need to worry, at least right now (even the odds of being surplused are slim, since I work at a big school). And it’s weird.

Of course, here I am musing on the fact that I’m uncomfortable with my newfound job security (“thanks, asshole,” I hear people saying). But I’m sure anyone who lives or has lived from temporary position to temporary position will understand. Or someone who’s spent years as a photojournalist in a war-torn country, or working with street kids in Honduras, or in a dysfunctional relationship: when stress is a regular part of your life, it’s odd figuring out how to live without that stress.

Maybe that’s why I feel the energy to blog today. It also might be why my friend Marie says I look tired. Having stress disappear can take as much of a toll as the stress itself, she says. Not that I need something stressful to fill the void – that would make me a masochist or something, and that can’t be good.

Suffice it to say: no stress lasts forever. Work hard and you’ll get where you want or need to be (or some other cliched turn of phrase) though I genuinely believe that if you spend your life doing good, the universe will make sure your life is balanced (since life can’t be 100% roses all the time). So keep at it, my friends! And maybe I’ll see you here next week.

Aurora Awards 2018: Holy Crap, I’m Eligible!

Hello again!

In addition to everything else going on in my writing life, I have some works eligible for this year’s Prix Aurora Awards, specifically in the Short Fiction category. Normally I don’t focus on the various SFF awards out there, but I’m pretty proud of my eligible stories, and it would be a huge honor for even one of them to be nominated. Here are the details on all three, for your humble consideration:

Clearing Out Nests,” published in PULP Literature – Discover the ghoulish side of gentrification, as two monster hunters wonder if there’s something sinister behind how many coffee shop chains are opening up in their city…

Pop and the CFT,” published in Sunvault: Stories of Solarpunk and Eco-speculation – Aging rockstar Gabe has to wrap his mind around the government’s carbon footprint tax, while he negotiates how much his late father’s life affected the environment.

The Last Best Defense,” published in 49th Parallels: Canadian Alternate Histories and Futures – Louis Riel meets otherworldly monsters in this tale of a very different Red River Resistance, where the Canadian government and the Métis must work together to protect Manitoba from a dangerous supernatural threat.

The deadline for nominations is May 26, just over a week away. If you’d like to nominate in any category, visit their website here: https://prixaurorawards.ca/. I’ll be doing the same for the works I feel strongly about. And if you’d like a review copy of any of my stories for consideration, please let me know!

 

Dude, Where Have You Been?

Once again, it’s been a while since I updated anything here. I’m definitely not dead (though my students joke I’m a vampire) but I also haven’t been gallivanting across the cosmos on crazy adventures (we also joke I’m a Time Lord). What I have been doing is working on a bunch of different projects, some of them professional and some of them pure fun, which means I’ve had to parcel my time very carefully. One of the key lessons for any creative person is to maintain a careful balance, and in this case let things like regular blogging go, instead of killing yourself trying to work on everything. This time last year I was teaching full days and in the evenings as a college professor, plus serving at a publishing house and helping plan for Can*Con, and was honestly a little miserable because of being too busy, so I think I’m doing better 😉

However, it also means I haven’t been announcing things here like I have on Twitter, so here’s a round-up of some recent news, what I’m up to, and what you might see from me in the future.

Recent Publications & Events

Last month my short story “Rainclouds” was published in the debut issue of Electric Athenaeum, as part of their series For Future Generations. The story centers on an unconventional family struggling to survive on a colony world where it almost never rains. You can read it for free here. I also had a blast taking part in a Twitter chat with some of the other Athenaeum contributors recently, discussing scientific innovation and fiction. Check out the hashtag #eaSFFchat for the questions posed by moderator Trip Galey and our responses.

Speaking of Twitter chats, I also co-hosted a separate one with Michael de Luca of Reckoning Magazine, discussing solarpunk and climate change and how writers promote things like optimism and kinship. The plan is for this to be a monthly event on Twitter, and I highly encourage you to check it out. I’ll make it to as many as I can!

You also might have seen me posting on Twitter or Instagram about a project I’m working on for Jay Odjick’s Outsider anthology. I’m calling it a comic, but the layout is a teacher’s personal records during the end of the world, while he tries to maintain normalcy for his students (and himself). It’s tentatively titled Anecdotal Notes, and will be included alongside other “snapshots of the apocalypse” when The Outsider is released. Stay tuned for news on that!

What I’m Up to Now

My current novel WIP, tentatively titled Three Coins of Silver, is partway through draft 3. I’m applying some major revisions for this draft, after which it’ll be stylistic edits and polishing. The plan is to revise a chapter a night until I’m done with the major stuff. So that’ll be my main focus for the next while. Expect some tweets and whatnot if and when I start pulling my hair out.

I’m also back as programming director for Can*Con this year (with the stalwart and entirely corporeal Evan May). We’re putting together the draft list of panels right now, and looking for panelists and programming suggestions between now and June/July. We’re also announcing our Guests of Honor and Special Guests! Check out more here: http://can-con.org/

And in case you haven’t seen the tweets, one of the greatest things I’m doing these days has nothing to do with my career, and everything to do with storytelling for fun: a D&D campaign with a bunch of writers. We’re playing in the Tal’dorei setting created by Matthew Mercer, and I have to say that it’s the most fun I’ve had with an RPG to date. My writer friends are brilliant, and the way they run their characters always keeps me guessing and is making for some excellent storytelling. Keep an eye on Twitter for the #WritersinTaldorei hashtag as we tweet about some of what’s going on!

Coming Up!

Besides Can*Con, you’ll be able to find me at two other cons over the next while. Limestone Genre Expo is really soon (May 26 and 27), featuring a number of excellent genre authors at the Waterfront Holiday Inn in Kingston, Ontario. I’ll be there on the 26th on two panels, discussing Young Adult fiction and Travel Stories. Then in July I’ll be hitting Readercon for the first time. Hope to see you there!

I’ve also got a couple more short stories coming out sometime this year. First should be a reprint of “Teachable Moments” (involving a disaster in near-future New York City) in Digital Science Fiction, followed later by “Decoys” (an homage to Men in Black, with a twist) in Hyperion and Theia. Stay tuned for more info!

And that’s pretty much it, except for super secret or still-cooking items. But I’ll try to do my best to post here more frequently. Rambling is good for the soul, especially the busier you are.

Until then, happy writing!

How the Fans Apparently Ruined Sherlock for Martin Freeman

Amid my procrastination this week, I stumbled upon various articles discussing a recent Telegraph interview with Martin Freeman where he briefly discussed whether there will ever be a fifth season of Sherlock.  The point of the interview was probably to discuss Black Panther (highest-grossing superhero movie ever, by the way, which is pretty awesome) but every headline I’ve seen focuses on Freeman’s comments about Sherlock, and the fact that he’s enjoyed playing John Watson less and less. Why? Freeman came out and clearly said it was because of the fans, some of whom are so intense in their passion for the show that they put too much pressure on the cast and writers to produce better and better content.

I broke one of my cardinal Internet rules and checked out the comments on a few of the sites who published this story, and sure enough there were a bunch of people either proclaiming that it’s Sherlock‘s declining quality that must have made the show less fun (because they know Freeman better, apparently) or that Freeman should suck it up because he’s a highly-paid actor whose job is to entertain us. Dance, monkey, dance.

Sorry, folks, but I’m with Freeman on this. One of the great parts of social media is you can share your praise or gratitude with actors, musicians, writers, etc – but the downside is that anyone who wants to shit on a project or the people behind it has an easy outlet, too. And people don’t understand or maybe don’t care that the film or TV industry is a business like any other, involving people who are working to collect a paycheck. The difference is that teachers or life guards or plumbers don’t have the masses hounding them across the Internet. Does acting have a lot of perks? Absolutely. But it’s also a busy and demanding job that I can imagine gets pretty tiring when you add the demands of the public to the mix.

I don’t buy this idea that the fans should be able to demand things of the creative people they follow – and yet, people do it all the time. For famous writers, it seems to be just as bad, particularly if they’re not producing new content at a pace that fans approve of. One of the first blog posts I ever wrote here was about giving George R.R. Martin a break instead of demanding that he pick up the pace on finishing A Song of Ice and Fire. And that pressure put on writers hasn’t gone away. I get notified about comments on my Jim Butcher interview at ConFusion, and sure enough people were quick to complain that they’re still waiting for the next Dresden Files novel (My favorite comment was: “First question should have been, ‘are you ever going to publish Peace Talks’? 2nd, ‘when?'” First of all, since Butcher isn’t self-pubbed, it’s Roc publishing it, not him. Second of all, of course Peace Talks is going to come out, you fucker.) My favorite response to this sort of pressure, though, comes from Pat Rothfuss, a master of cleverly speaking one’s mind and putting haters in their place. In  a recent talk at a con, he explicitly asked the audience to not ask him about the next Kingkiller book, and told them straight up that if anyone would benefit from it being finished, it would be him – because then people would get off his back.

As much as I truly want to be a successful novelist and see a line of my books on shelves at Indigo, or attend big cons and actually have fans, there’s a side to being that big that actually scares me. And I feel bad for celebrity actors or writers who feel too much pressure from their fans. If an individual backs away from a project because of the fans, that’s wrong on several levels. Creative work is often fun, but it’s still work. If you admire someone’s work and want to see more of it, leave them the hell alone and let them do it.

Why I Write Science Fiction & Fantasy

Before March Break I gave a talk to a Careers class at work about what being a writer is all about. My caveat right away was that every writer works a little differently, and that aside from the fact that every writer is a little nuts and most need to balance writing work with a paying day job, any piece of advice a writer might give needs to be taken with a grain of salt, since there are no absolutes. Pretty sure I lost 3/4 of my audience at that moment, since these students hadn’t been deprogrammed out of the “there is one answer and the teacher will give it” belief system.

However, a student who knew me put her hand up partway through and asked, “So why do you focus on sci-fi and fantasy, and not literary?” (I had explained that I got my start writing literary short fiction). The true, if canned answer is: “because it’s way more fun.” But these are my students, and I like to give them more truth when I can, so I explained in more detail the real reason I write SFF: because it lets me exorcise my demons, fears and worries without actually focusing on them. I could write a story, I said, about divorce or struggling with debt or the challenges my family has faced and set it in the here and now, but if I do that it becomes a little too real. If I write a story involving one of those things but set 300 years in the future or with a boggart as the main character, it allows more of a remove, where I can slip in little bits of things I understand, but more for flavor than as a direct focus.

I was thinking about that more this week while I finished the draft of Three Coins of Silver (my current novel WIP). As the last few chapters came together, I could see more of myself reflected in some of the characters’ behaviors. My lead protagonist, Mavrin Leed, is a scholar turned street performer who’s about fifty years old, looking closely at retirement, flails in the face of danger and was originally a researcher studying the many facets of his world’s deity. Obviously that’s not me. But there were moments in writing Mavrin where his regrets, the pain he feels, and his awkward moments with other characters felt familiar. The same is true of Eyasu (the overly-formal, stubborn warrior-priest) grappling with his anxiety of the future and Deyeri (the retired soldier) who feels guilty about people she’s failed or disappointed. In her case, those people are dead soldiers under her command, but exploring guilt and loss shouldn’t be strange to anyone. And so by touching on these things without dwelling too deeply, I get a little catharsis – and fun – all at once.

Or at least that’s how I explained it to my students. And while I’m sure most of them zoned out at some point during my talk, hopefully the more creative ones took away a useful lesson: that even if you’re writing about made-up characters (who may or may not be boggarts) your writing should offer a little healing, as well as being fun.