Holidays for the Beleaguered

The holiday season is funny for me. In my case it’s Christmas (the zero-religious kind) and enjoying hangouts, good food, gift-giving and whatnot. But if I’m being one hundred percent honest, as I like to be on this blog, this time of year is tricky for me because my ideal holiday pretty much involves seeing no one whatsoever.

To be clear: I love my family and enjoy spending time with them. And I’m not just saying that because they might read this. I’m also lucky in that the holiday season isn’t the only time I see them in a year. But those non-holiday visits are automatically different than Christmas, because Christmas generally involves a lot of running around, trying to organize events, making sure you see everyone you want to spend time with and balancing your time fairly. There’s an extra layer of complication and therefore an expenditure of energy you don’t get when you just take a weekend in the summer to go back to your hometown. Or at least, that’s what I find. And so I’d be lying if I said I wasn’t a little exhausted by Boxing Day, and ready to flip my settings back to introvert and hide for a day or seven.

To be clear: I have a good time at Christmas. But my ideal holiday (if you speak generally and remove “Christmas” or whatever from the equation) is probably to take a few days and have no contact with anyone. Turn my phone off, don’t touch my email, and spend some days to myself. So much of our lives is spent engaging with people all the time, and a writing career demands a surprising amount of that, but that means that when I’m given a holiday, my instinct is to turtle and talk to no one. Which I feel is a common thing for writers, and something that we can’t do during a holiday like Christmas, since it’s a time meant to be spent with other people, right? And if you say on Christmas afternoon, “Breakfast and gifts were great, but I’m going to see if I can block out the world for an hour and pound out some words, then see you at dinner” odds are you’ll get a look from someone, which then takes all the fun out of keeping to yourself for a bit.

To be clear: apparently I’m using a repetitive device for this post. More importantly, I’m grateful to have loved ones to spend the holidays with, really. But sometimes your mind and body are screeching that they need time away and you can’t do that, and it takes a little bit of a toll that most people don’t talk about, since you don’t want to insult your family or loved ones. But everybody needs a little introvert time, and the holidays can be hard if you’re naturally an introvert, even if you like spending time with your family (and we aren’t all that lucky). The problem is that we usually don’t feel like we can, and I’m as guilty as anyone of not taking the time to myself I know I need, even on December 25. I’m getting better at it, but it’s a work in progress, and maybe I’ll better at it a year from now.

Wherever you are, if you spent the last few days celebrating a holiday, I hope it was a blast. And if you’re like me and you need to space out your time spent with other people, I’ll raise a cup of tea to you later, when I’m hiding from the world 🙂

Last Month of 2018! Look Alive, People!

Good gods, how is it already December? I mean, I understand the normal passage of time and whatnot, but every once in a while I’ll be talking to someone about a thing we did and realize, “Wait, that was how long ago?” Like Can*Con, for example, which feels like yesterday but was two damn months ago almost.

Inevitably in those situations, my brain waffles between thoughts of “Balls, time is flying” and thoughts of “Yeah, but you did a lot in that time.” Although, the other day I compared my 2017 publications to my 2018 publications and the latter seemed a little light – five short stories published in the former (among other work) but only three in 2018, one of which was a reprint. In a sheer numbers game it looks like I was less productive, and maybe I was when it comes to short fiction. But then I remembered I’ve been doing other stuff:

  1. I sold a couple stories earlier this year that coincidentally are coming out in 2019
  2. I spent a lot of 2018 working on my novel Three Coins of Silver and made significant progress on the path to finding a home for it
  3. I also spent a lot of 2018 branching out into other work, including two comics, novella-length experiments, doing more with my Black Gate column, and a totally Secret potentially Audio-related project with my pal Evan May (which you may have seen tweeted about recently)

I went into 2018 thinking that I needed to make sure I had stuff coming out periodically, out of fear of disappearing from the public world of SFF. Which is stupid, because it’s not like I’m Chuck Wendig or something, and novels or similar is what I really want to be doing, which kinda take a lot of time to work on (he said, stating the obvious). And between taking a greater role planning Can*Con, my biweekly column for Black Gate, and contributing to other things in the writing community (oh, like Luna Station Quarterly article by my friend Tracy Townsend! Another thing I did!) among everything listed above, I’ve been pretty busy. So the impostor syndrome whispering “That isn’t enough” can pound sand, basically.

That’s been a really neat part of my writing lately, actually. If you asked me a few years ago what I’d be working on as I round out my twenties, I’d have said something like 80% novels and 20% short fiction. Experimenting with comics was nowhere on my radar – and thinking through storytelling in a short comic is way different than a short story. My primary WIP right now is a novella, and that’s a different animal, too. And as much as we’re told as writers to streamline, I feel like trying out these other forms has been huge for me lately, even if I never go back to them again.

All of this to say: branching out is good for the mind and the soul. Now excuse me as I frenetically try to finish off my Quarterly To-Do List before New Year’s…

“So How Did You Spend Your Summer?”

It dawned on me sometime in the past week that I haven’t been present for the first day of school in a traditional high school in three years. Last year I taught in an alternate program for two months before getting my permanent contract at my current school, and the year before that I didn’t start work until I picked up a position mid-September. Starting back as a permanent teacher for the first time is strange enough after six years in this profession, but having to rethink the beginning of a new year is another animal on top of that.

And good gods is it tiring.

I’m not complaining, though! I’m lucky to be teaching full-time on a permanent contract, so I’ll take the fatigue and sore throat and long hours gladly if it means I can throw away the anxiety of being a temp (which we call “LTO”). Plus I get to rejoin a department I’ve really come to enjoy working with, since we’re all a little odd and dysfunctional. Working with “normal” people is boring.

But odd and dysfunctional as my colleagues and I are, discussing what we got up to over the summer threw me a little. Everyone else talks about day trips with kids, catching up on house renovations or books they wanted to read or whatnot, or extended vacations to somewhere exotic. And when they ask me I can compare with attending Readercon in Boston and then Toronto Fan Expo at the end of August, and relaxing after teaching summer school – but then I throw in, “Oh, and I finished my latest novel and sent that off” and people’s jaws drop. My gut response is always, “hold your praise for when the book sells” or something like that, and I can tell they don’t understand that attitude, because good gods, man, you wrote a book!

I get it, though; to a lot of people, finishing a novel is a big deal because they don’t think they could ever do it. From my perspective, I’m prouder of writing a novel I think is good enough to find an agent and publisher, and one that taught me things I can apply to my next project (incidentally, a comic script and a new short story). When a friend of mine at work said he and his band worked out a bunch of new songs over the summer, that impressed me. When someone introduces themselves as a microbiologist or a policy analyst for the Canadian government, I’m genuinely intrigued because I know can’t do either of those things. So maybe my colleagues wowing over me finishing a novel shouldn’t surprise me.

All of this is to say that it’s a transition to get back to the “real world,” so to speak, where most of the people I see in the week aren’t fellow creators. I have to get used to being more careful with my evenings and weekends, to make sure that a) I set aside time for writing and b) I don’t try to push myself to get too much done, to avoid cognitive burnout. I have to remember that sooner or later my new students are going to realize their teacher has a social media presence, so I should curse a little less here and on fucking Twitter. (Oops.) And no, none of this is a complaint, since I’m lucky to have a job I enjoy that gives me the stability to spend my free time writing. This is just yet another honest ramble about the real life of being a writer.

Because like I said above: good gods, it can be tiring 🙂

Feed the Bird

I almost called this post “feed the snake” – I’m not even sure why that’s the first thing that came to mind, but some neo-Freudian could probably explain it to me in ways I won’t even hint at here, since I have students who read this blog (why, poor children, oh why).

“Feed the bird,” however, I picked up from Castle, and it’s basically equivalent to a fist bump. Nathan Fillion adopted it specifically because it isn’t a fist bump, the reasons for which are pretty cool. I like to use it to celebrate when someone says or does something really extraordinary, like if a friend tells me, “Guess what, I sold a story to [insert big market here]”  and I want to give them props.

This weekend, I’m engaging in a little self-feeding of the bird (okay, that also sounds bad) because I’ve been reminded more and more lately that constantly working on projects and jumping right from one thing to the next can be really dangerous. Why am I indulging in giving myself props? Because I spent most of the last month and a half revising my novel WIP Three Coins of Silver, and as of yesterday morning, that fucker is DONE. Or at least done to the point that I’m confident sending it out to agents and publishers and seeing what happens.

Anyone writers reading this know that finishing any novel draft is pretty huge, mainly in that a novel takes a lot of mental energy. Three Coins has taken the better part of a year and a half to finish, balanced with other projects. For someone who’s a bit of a workaholic like me, the immediate temptation is to dive into the next project almost right away (once I decide what that will be).

But it’s way more important to take a breath, as I’m being reminded of more and more on social media and in conversations with my friends in the industry. So yesterday afternoon I took a couple hours and finished reading Redemption’s Blade by Adrian Tchaikovsky (which is amazing, by the way) puttered a bit and then spent the night watching a movie. This morning I got up, made breakfast and watched the recent Times Talk interview with Stephen Colbert, which I highly recommend because I’m a huge fan of conversations with any creative people, and I think Colbert is brilliant. Around noon I’ll be keeping tabs on the monthly #SolarpunkChat on Twitter, but that’s not really work since one of my favorite pastimes is conversation, and after that I’ll be doing more reading/watching/playing of games or some such. All of the above feeds the bird in different ways, besides being a reward for accomplishing something: I get ideas and encouragement from everything I digest these days, but losing myself in a book or a movie or an interview lets my brain come down from that non-stop movement I seem to get into when I’m working on a big project.

Am I going to work on something new tomorrow morning? Probably. But for now, I’m feeding that bird.

Source: Castle Fandom Wiki

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:

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.