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Llama Llaunch! Rules of the Road

Hey, hey folks, my first essay collection, The Geek Feminist Revolution, drops TOMORROW, May 31!

In anticipation of its release, here are some things you should know that I know and some things you should know about how I’ll be comporting myself online during the launch:

  1. Some people (the vast majority) are going to LOVE this book. LOVE IT LOVE IT LOVE IT. That’s not me being puffed-up. I’ve already seen this happening. It’s cool! We’re all happy! Some folks will find it not to their taste, or find it’s not for them, or will critique it mindfully and vigorously, and that, too, is great! Happy! Good! This is what we’re here for. This is what it is to publish work and be part of a conversation far bigger than you. Debate and conversation is healthy. PLEASE respect other people’s views of the books, and don’t troll people who have a different opinion of the book. We WANT conversation. Do not stifle it in a misguided attempt to ensure that everyone loves everything just like you do. I love you all! And actual differences of opinion, real engagements with the text, are good for the genre and the world, etc.
  2. Some people (the minority, but oh, what a vocal minority!) will HATE this book, even and especially those who’ve never read it and have never heard of me and have no idea what it’s actually about. I fully anticipate several pile-ons. I expect lots of garbage in my social feeds. But fear not! All of my email is screened, I’ve muted the majority of the worst accounts and keywords on Twitter, and buttoned up other things to ensure this goes as smoothly as possible. I WILL BE FINE. CHIN UP.
  3. This leads us to THIS point, which is: NO WHITE KNIGHTING. All I ask if there’s a pile-on is for you to NOT tag me if you argue with trolls. My troll policy is mute and ignore. I’ve found that very effective. You are, of course, free to argue with whomever you want on the internet, but as a courtesy, I ask that you keep me out of it, or I’ll have to mute you too, and we don’t want that! In related news: DON’T POINT ME TO BAD REVIEWS or TELL ME TO READ TERRIBLE COMMENTS. I mean, unless you’re a troll? But I don’t think you’re a troll. Like, I mean, for real, folks? I never, ever, read the comments, and I’m not going to be reading bad reviews, even funny ones, for months yet. Thank you.
  4. I’m also likely to mute folks who come up into my mentions asking sea-lion questions, so don’t ask them, even ironically. Sea-lions are pretty easy to spot these days. Also, again: keep in mind that “ironic” sexism will also likely get you muted. Remember that I’m going to have a lot of noise coming at me, and adding to that noise is not recommended.
  5. Don’t draw fire. I promise, I’m good. Don’t argue with or RT trolls if you don’t have the emotional resources to deal with the fallout. I get that sometimes arguing with trolls is a fun procrastination tactic for some people, but again: don’t draw fire on my account. I’ve been doing this since 2004. I’ve been prepping for this book to drop for a year. I’m good.
  6. Finally, for the love of all that’s good in the world, use your platform for good. There is enough garbage in the world without you RT’ing every troll. How about RT’ing every awesome feminist? Every heartwarming story about humanity not sucking? The best gift you could give the world on Llama Llaunch Day (BESIDES BUYING THIS BOOK OF COURSE FOR YOU AND ALL YOUR FRIENDS AND FAMILIES AND NEIGHBORS AND DOGS AND…) is to share the good stuff in the world, and remind everyone that there are people out there worth changing the world for. The Geek Feminist Revolution, at its core, is a book about how yeah, sometimes the world can be a trash fire, but we can change it. So be part of that change, folks. Kumbaya, etc.

Let us go forth, then, and gird our fabulous loins, and have a fabulous llama llaunch together, folks!

I Thought About Quitting…

Hey you.

Yes you.

I know you’re ready to quit. I know you’re ready to quit living loud. I know living loud looks like the best way to draw fire for being who you are. For being the best you. For being smart. For being smarter. For being happy. For being loud. For being a woman, especially if you aren’t white. Someone who’s nonbinary. Someone who speaks truth to power.

I see you. I know you’re ready to quit.

Don’t quit.

The world is engineered to get you to quit. It makes it easy for folks who aren’t you to succeed, and encourages you to give up. Do you understand? That is the point of oppression, to wear you down until you not only don’t want to fight anymore, but you don’t want to speak anymore.

I see you.

Don’t quit.

I want to quit all the time. I want to quit and then I think, “What else would I be doing?” and the answer is, “Writing a bunch of provocative shit and yelling at people in email” and I’m like. Ok, then….

Don’t quit.

Whenever I want to quit I say, “How much will it piss people off if I don’t quit?” And the answer is, “A lot,” and that pleases me, so I don’t quit.

I don’t quit

But I understand why you might quit.

I love you anyway.

But don’t quit. Even if I’ll love you anyway.

People are going to be mad at you, even if you speak your truth. Because it’s not their truth. Or because you hit too close to home. Or because they are afraid. Or fucked up. Or scared. Or maybe, yeah, they’re right.

And so the fuck what?

Write better next time.

Write better.

Don’t quit.

Don’t quit.

I can’t tell you why I don’t quit. Maybe because I don’t know how to do anything else. Maybe because I get a grim delight in pissing people off. Maybe because I live for that moment when I can say, “See, I showed you, I’m fucking awesome after all.” But whatever the reason:

Don’t quit.

Stand here with me.

I’ll be standing next to you.

We won’t quit.

Don’t quit.

The Establishment Has Always Hated the New Kids

 

“I hope that when the New Wave has deposited its froth and receded, the vast and solid shore of science fiction will appear once more.” 

John W. Campbell, frothing about the New Wave

If you spend a lot of time studying history, you’ll know that it helps to put the slings and arrows of the present into perspective. If you’ve been reading science fiction for the last ten or twenty years, you have likely noticed a certain shift in the field the last couple of years. A certain… bump in the level of its quality, particularly at the prose level. There are some award-winning stories from the last decade that I could poke fun at here for their cardboard characters and clunky prose, but on the whole the shift we are seeing in the science fiction and fantasy field is exciting. So exciting, in fact, that if you love great sff books, as I do, it’s impossible to keep up with all the great stuff out there.

About a decade ago, the worlds that I really enjoyed in books were marginal. They were stuffed into the New Weird category for a time, which we all soon learned wasn’t a genre at all. China Mieville was the genre, and the New Weird was a blip. Those experiments with prose and gooey weirdness got subsumed completely by the publishing meltdown in 2008, when editors and authors found their livelihoods lost, and fear sent publishers back to the basics. Many books got the ax, including my first novel, before they could even see the light of day. The field turned inward, betting on solid hits, easy to read prose, simple styles, proven genres.

There were those of us who kept writing, though. There were writers there pushing for more diverse work, less easy to define, and they were publishing slowly but surely, folks like N.K. Jemisin and Tobias Buckell and David Anthony Durham. Daniel Abraham put out a lovely but alas, far ahead of its time series called The Longprice Quartet that was fairly masterful.  Nalo Hopkinson and Nnedi Okorafor continued to publish and inspire writers coming up after them. While we fought and continue to fight about what science fiction is and who should be writing it, a lot of people are just fucking out there writing it already, and go fuck yourself for trying to put us in a box.

Though there has been momentum building for some time, a backlash against the backlash, I’d say it wasn’t until about 2013 when publishing started to catch up. Ann Leckie wrote a space opera (a woman wrote a space opera! With women in it! AND PEOPLE BOUGHT IT SHOCKING I KNOW AS IF NO ONE HAD BOUGHT LEFT HAND OF DARKNESS OR ANYTHING BY CJ CHERRYH OR OCTAVIA BUTLER), and it swept the awards. We Need Diverse Books was able to organize the conversation about the overwhelming whiteness of publishing, bringing together disparate voices into one voice crying out for change in who writes, edits, and publishes books, while the first Muslim Ms. Marvel comic book (written by a Muslim, even!) broke sales records.

The water has been building up behind the damn for a long time, and it’s finally burst.

Watching the pushback to this new wave of writers finally breaking out from the margins to the mainstream has been especially amusing for me, as I spent my early 20’s doing a lot of old-school SF reading, including reading SFF history (I will always think of Justine Larbalestier as the author of The Battle of the Sexes in Science Fiction). I was, of course, especially interested in the history of feminist science fiction. Women have always written SFF, of course, but the New Wave of the 60’s and 70’s brought with it an influx of women writers of all races and men of color that was unprecedented in the field (if still small compared to the overall general population of said writers in America). This was the age of Joanna Russ, Octavia Butler, Sam Delany, and nutty young upstarts like Harlan Ellison. These writers brought a much needed and refreshing new perspective into the field. They raised the bar for what science fiction was. And so the writing got better. The politics and social mores being dissected got more interesting and varied, as one would expect when you introduce a great wave of writers into a field that was happy to award the same handful of folks year after year. They shook up the field. They changed science fiction forever. The established pros had to write their hearts out to catch up.

And clearly, as the Campbell quote above illustrates, not everybody liked them. They hated all these different viewpoints, all these upstarts, all this young energy from these literary backgrounds. As far as they were concerned, the New Wave was ruining science fiction. 

In fact, what history has shown, and what we see on looking back, is that – if anything – the New Wave saved science fiction. It saved it from obscurity, from the endless circle-jerk, from the literary and social margins where it seemed content to argue with itself, and wither, and die. These talented and passionate new writers forced established writers to up their game. They raised the bar.

Here’s what Ursula Le Guin said about the New Wave:

Without in the least dismissing or belittling earlier writers and work, I think it is fair to say that science fiction changed around 1960, and that the change tended toward an increase in the number of writers and readers, the breadth of subject, the depth of treatment, the sophistication of language and technique, and the political and literary consciousness of the writing. The sixties in science fiction were an exciting period for both established and new writers and readers. All the doors seemed to be opening.

It was this bit, here: “All the doors seemed to be opening” that I was thinking about while at the Nebula Awards weekend in Chicago. Here were these astonishingly talented authors entering the field, young and old, yes, but fresh to the field, with new perspectives, incredible talent, and alternate ways of looking at the world. I read Cassandra Khaw’s short story “Breathe” this morning and shook my head at how wonderfully it experimented with language for effect (and achieved it! Nailed it!). There are a dozen stories that wowed me recently that I could just go on and on about. I read The Fifth Season in awe at its technical brilliance, and found that when I sat with my Hugo ballot this year that I’d read so many great books that narrowing it down was actually difficult for me for the first time.

There is, in fact, so much exceptional work out there right now that I find I can’t keep up. We’ve come a long way from the whale rape story, is what I’m saying. Because while there has always been great work, it was a lot harder to find ten years ago, as much of it was coming out in chapbooks and small press editions and stuff like the then-obscure, scrappy little magazine called Strange Horizons. But today, publishers are taking a few more chances, and then a few more, and a few more… and this change is led, more and more, by readers as well as writers.

We are inside a new wave, folks. And it’s amazing.

This is an incredible time to be writing speculative fiction. It is an incredible time to be in the field. And while I understand how it’s easy to get riled up by slap fights and naysayers and racists and extremists who will hate every New Wave in whatever form it takes, stop and take a breath for a moment and look around you. Because the wave doesn’t last forever. The wave washes over a genre and transforms it utterly, but you can only ride the peak of it for so long.

Enjoy that view from the peak.

Dancing for Dinner: Fame, Publishing, and Breakout Books

Fame is a funny thing, because it used to come with a certain dollar amount. Or, that’s what I’d always assumed, anyway. By the time you became generally known via one of the four publishers, or three TV channels, or big record labels, there was an assumption that you were making a living wage, at the very least. With the proliferation of niche audiences now, though, you can become famous to a great number of people long before generating the income you probably need to protect yourself from that fame. This piece on how most Youtube “stars” have to struggle to make ends meet in retail and food service jobs while simultaneously causing a ruckus for being famous is one of the best summaries of this weird 21st century dissonance.

In my own life, I find I have to remind people often that I have a day job. I actually had a client email me after a conference call one time and ask, “Are you THE Kameron Hurley?” and I had to admit that I was. I had to have a conversation with my boss about online harassment, and how the release of my upcoming essay collection, The Geek Feminist Revolution, might create some pushback at my job, and how we should handle that should it happen. The whiplash you get in going to an event where people literally scream with happiness when you walk into a room and back to private life where you’re just another cog is really weird (to be truthful, I greatly enjoy my anonymity in Ohio, and don’t want it another way, but the dissonance is weird).

Yet this balancing act between public and private life, or public personae and private day job, is something that many thousands of other writers and artists struggle with every day. I was reading that Joe Abercrombie kept his day job for a lot longer than you might have thought (and even then, picked up freelancing jobs until a few years ago), and Gene Wolfe has had a day job his whole career. Most of us have to do this. It’s just… increasingly awkward to find that the fame part comes so much faster than the money part (if the money comes at all). There’s this strange assumption that by being an artist, you have traded away your private life in exchange for money. But what about those of us who never have the money to keep ourselves safe from the fame? I’m reminded of the Charlaine Harris interview where fans showed up at her house one day, and she realized she needed to move somewhere even more remote just to protect herself. Because yeah, sure, those particular fans weren’t a problem, but when you get the number of threats that authors get just for writing a book, well, yanno… you want to stay isolated in your down time (the negative fan reaction to her final Sookie novel actually made her consider getting a body guard for the first time).

I was at the Nebula Conference last weekend, and also did a signing for The Geek Feminist Revolution at Book Expo America (BEA)and it was… weird. At the BEA signing, I expected maybe four people to show up. My longest line ever was at Gencon last year, which was maybe twelve or fourteen people, with another half dozen trickling in later. But at BEA folks started lining up forty-five minutes before the signing, and we were out of books in about forty minutes. That signing was particularly crazy because most folks who came up after were folks who’d seen others with the book, and were so excited by the title that they were like, “THAT IS ME! I AM A GEEK FEMINIST I MUST HAVE THIS BOOK!” The young women managing the lines for BEA even came up once the line had cleared, and asked for copies, all of them totally gleeful to find a book that so perfectly described them. It was the best real-time example of word of mouth that I’ve ever seen.

That experience also put me on notice, because though much of that book exists online in some form, it still has a fairly narrow audience. Launching the full book as a collection of essays always had the potential of breaking out to a bigger audience, and though it’s yet to be seen if that happens, that signing made me think that the possibility was very real that it could either perform pretty well, or scarily well. And yes, sure, we all want that! Big books! Sell lots! But this is a collection of essays. It’s more “me” than even a novel, and though it’s certainly a very curated version of my life containing only those topics I’ve carefully chosen to write about over the years, it’s still putting your life and your choices on offer to a larger audience, and then you have to sit back and watch them savage you, and make assumptions about you, in a way that’s far easier to take personally than in fiction. I was reading a (very positive!) review last night that made a flippant remark about something in my life and I was like, “Oh wow, I need to stop reading all reviews for this book now.”

Living publicly, in any capacity, is an act of bravery. This is especially true if you’re from a marginalized group. I often wonder how I would have handled where I am now if I hadn’t had to do the long slog, and you know what? I’m in a much better place, emotionally, to handle what comes at me now than I was when I was 25 or 26. Near-death gave me a lot of perspective, and age gives me the ability to give no fucks.

Writing is a private act, but publishing is a public one.

People ask me how I persist in the face of public living, and over a decade of online BS. But as I said, there is a dissonance there. You aren’t actually living publicly. Here in Ohio I’m pretty under the radar, so far. I can still go to the beer lounge without anybody knowing who the hell I am. It’s only when I’m actually doing public events that I have to present a public face. But I know that could change at any time, and that I may not have the money to insulate me from that. Yeah, you prepare for it. You get ready. You steel yourself, like you’re getting ready for battle. Because I know there’s a potential for a great battle around this book. And yeah, sure, it could tank! Nothing could happen! We could sell 10 copies! (OK, probably not 10, I don’t know what pre-orders are, but suspect they are larger than 10). But I’m ready for it, the same way I was ready when I wrote that Atlantic article. Get your mute button ready. Prepare your talking points.

Writing is a strange profession because the writing itself is done in absolute seclusion. I get my best writing done when I’m holed up in a cabin in the woods somewhere. But then you have to take it to market, and you must engage a totally different skill. You must batten down the hatches. You must play the part of a Famous Writer. And if you play a role long enough, you know, eventually you start to live it.

I don’t know that public living is fair, but nothing in life is fair. Out here you do what you need to do to survive, and the last few years I’ve come to realize that there is a certain amount of face time that goes into this game. It’s not all words on the page. It’s not all battles on social media. You have to get up to the podium. Book the bookstore event. Drive to a lit fest in Chicago. Say yes to the library. Then you need to get back to writing, and strategizing, and leveling up the skills that actually got you into this profession in the first place.

Artists have always had to sing for their supper. I had just hoped to do less singing in person. That’s why I chose writing over acting. Yet here I am, booking stuff on video and doing in-person events. So much for that.

I know there have been a lot of people following this blog since 2004, back when I’d only published a few short stories and my greatest success was in going to the Clarion West Writer’s Workshop four years before. It was 7 more years until my first novel, God’s War, came out, which was 11 years after Clarion. Last year – 15 years after Clarion – was the first time I’ve made what I would consider a living wage writing. When people ask why I keep the day job, I remind them that that bare living wage will be much less this year, and much less next unless I sell something new or a book takes off. Day jobs give us the stability that the market won’t. This is a long game.

I’m 36 now, and it has been 21 years since I sent out my first short story.

Long game, folks. Long game. Will there be a breakout book? Maybe. Will there be more long slog ahead? Always.

If you are going to play this game, remember that there is a long road ahead. Remember that it’s not always a straight path. Remember that those with the aura of fame probably still have day jobs. Remember that they are still people. Remember that they are dancing for their dinner, just like the rest of us. Remember the slog.

A More Hopeful Future

While traveling, it occasionally comes up in casual conversation with non-SF people that I’m a writer. These can be uncomfortable conversations, as they often turn into me explaining what science fiction is, or giving synopses of my books on the fly to people I know won’t read them, or listening to someone talking about how they always wanted to write a novel. So when I was sitting at breakfast this weekend and two women came up to me asking what I was reading, I answered honestly that two of the books were advance copies of THE STARS ARE LEGION, which was a book I’d written.

“Is this your next book?” the 50+ woman asked, clearly the daughter of the older woman.

“No,” I said, and steeled myself, because CNN was on, with its hysterical talking heads, “the book of mine that’s out in a couple weeks is an essay collection called THE GEEK FEMINIST REVOLUTION.”

“Are YOU a feminist?” the older woman said.

I hardened my resolve, took a deep breath, and said, “Yes, I am.”

She nodded. “Good,” she said, and I let out my breath. “It’s so sad that young women these days don’t use the word feminist anymore.”

I thought of my signing at Book Expo America the day before, when I literally had young women coming up to me saying, “I saw people with this book and it says GEEK FEMINIST and that’s ME! I’m a geek feminist. I HAVE to have this book!”

“It’s coming back,” I say.

“You know what I love about this generation?” the older woman said. “I’m 83 years old, and in my day, when you were young, you always thought about the future. Young women today live for today. They don’t waste time. They don’t put things off. Because when you’re only living for the future, well… not everyone makes it that far, you know?”

I thought of all my brushes with death, and the slow slog of chronic illness, “I do,” I said.

“I just don’t understand why politicians are fighting for the wrong things,” the daughter said. “Who cares about bathrooms? The economy is crap. They’re rolling back the regulations they reinstated on the banks.”

Her mother leaned into me and said, “What do they think we do in those bathrooms? Do they think we all take our clothes off in there? There have been transgender people forever, using the bathrooms, and there has never been a problem. Why do we have to keep fighting the same battles?”

We continued on in that vein, talking about feminism, idiot politicians, and distractions from what’s really important in the world. Then the daughter said, “We should go, mom, we’re going to be late.”

“I’m going to give you a hug,” the older woman said, and she hugged me, and it reminded me of my own grandmother, and I admit I thought about how proud my grandmother would be of me now, if she was still alive. And I missed her desperately.

She hugged me, and they said goodbye, and I thought hey, wow, you know, not everything is terrible. Not everyone is crazy. There is a world worth saving. A world worth fighting for. There are people who think this is all garbage, just like I do. People fed up that we keep fighting the same fucking battles, but who keep fighting, all the same.

I came away from this weekend in Chicago with a lot of hope for the future. I may talk grim and gritty a lot, and I need that grim and grit to get through the day, most times. But you know, there’s hope out there. There’s sanity. There are good people, with good hearts, and good intentions. There are good things in the world now.

These are the things worth fighting for.

Comedy is Hard: The Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt, Season 2

Spoilers for both seasons.

The first season of the Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt knocked my socks off. It was a show about women recovering from abuse, but this was no Jessica Jones. This was funny, irreverent, and clever without being nihilistic about it. One of the things I’ve loved about television recently is that we get to have so many different kinds of female heroes. It’s not just Supergirl OR Jessica Jones. It’s not just Buffy out there swinging by herself. We get a full range of female characters.

And this is what I loved so much about Kimmy Schmidt. It was unapologetically feminist and fun while hitting you right in the feels. When Kimmy fishes a rat out of a garbage can and tells her kidnapper he will never break her in episode one, you are all-in.

The season ended on a high note, with the inevitable showdown trial with the kidnapper who held Kimmy and several other women underground for fifteen years. Her budding romance with fellow GED-student Dong is on the rocks. Her employer has gotten a divorce from the jerk she was using for his money. And Titus’s wife shows up to confront him about why he left her.

It was a great season ending. I was looking forward to what happened next.

It didn’t take long, unfortunately, to see that Kimmy Schmidt season 2 was going to be a VERY bumpy ride.

I’m not sure what happened here. Part of me thinks there was a writing room shake up between seasons, and the second writing team spent the first half of the season trying to tie up all the loose ends laid down by the first writing team, clumsily going for easy gags and stuff that was… just not funny. It was weird to be watching the first couple episodes and realizing… wow, this is… just not funny.

The characters all wander around getting new jobs – Kimmy works at a Christmas store for awhile, then becomes an Uber driver. Her former boss, Jacqueline, bounces from trying to get back her old life by marrying rich to actually doing some fundraising for a good cause. There’s a lot of back-and-forth with Kimmy’s beau Dong which seems to go nowhere. Smartly, they no longer required Dong to speak in his embarrassing accent, which makes me think one or both of the showrunners watched Master of None and realized how rude it was to ask an actor to do that.  Worse, while I kept expecting them to finally handwave the Jacqueline storyline (a white actor playing a Native American? Really?) by saying she was adopted, they instead totally doubled down on that one, giving her vision quests and putting her on the road to demand reparations through fundraising. There’s also an incredibly weird episode where Titus gives a play in yellow face as a geisha, and “angry Asians from the internet” show up and act… like a parody of people on the internet. There’s a jibe at the Black Lives Matter movement. It falls horribly flat. The worst part is that they could have pulled this episode into the realm of relevance if they had the main protester be like, “Hey, Titus, clearly you did your research and your song and story really moved me. But the problem with black actors playing Asians is that it reduces the roles of real Asians in media, so all we end up getting to play are immigrants with horrible accents who have to get into sham marriages to keep their green cards, and angry Asian social justice warriors from the internet.” They could have made this funnier while pointing back at themselves and going, “Yes, hey, we got that wrong! We get it. We’re going to do better.” But they didn’t. If you’re a white feminist and don’t get this, imagine it as about gender instead of race – a straight cis man doing a show about being a woman, and angry stereotyped feminists coming to protest the event, citing stats about female representation in plays and film. I had a feeling the showrunners would get exactly why writing this episode this way would be problematic.

In truth, there were several times over the season where I was like, “This show needs some not-white women in that writers’ room cause my god. My god.” If you understand misogyny, you should understand racism, but outside of Titus’s storylines, the show just continually fell flat there.

Speaking of Titus, his storyline was probably the most successful throughout the whole show. The scene between him and new boyfriend Mikey (the catcalling construction worker from season 1) were just adorable. The scene where they geek out and bond over the Lion King was about the cutest thing I’ve ever seen. Any episode with Mikey was an episode I could forgive for being fall-down unfunny elsewhere.

There’s the introduction of a soldier with PTSD as a possible romance for Kimmy, where they start to bond over their shared PTSD, but that goes nowhere. I thought, “Oh, this is great! This season is about overcoming trauma.” But it took a third of the season to get there, and then that got dropped and he never showed up again and I was like, “THAT WAS GOING TO BE GOLD! KIMMY AND A SOLDIER!” But it moved on, and Kimmy got lost in the show amid Titus’s engaging romance and Jacqueline’s increasingly bizarre attempts to rebuild her life (I enjoyed the episode with the mistresses). It kept bouncing from one thing to another, and I couldn’t figure out where it was going.

The show was also missing a lot of the ongoing/recurring gags that made it feel more linked last season (the ridiculous Bubreeze commercials, for instance). While there were a couple episodes in the middle that were all right once Tina Fey showed up as Kimmy’s therapist and we circled back to the “yes, this is a season about addressing trauma!” I still found myself less than eager to click “play” on the next episode, and it took me awhile to get to the last two episodes.

What’s funny is that the season actually finally comes together in those last two episodes, and makes it look like the show knew where it was going all along, it just didn’t know how to tell us it knew how to get there. There’s a hilarious gag where Kimmy goes to Universal Studios and is mistaken for a character. Titus goes to Titusville and works out his fear of failure among astronauts. We find out why Kimmy is afraid of velcro, and she confronts her mom while realizing that she is not going to get the closure she needs from her terrible mother, and she comes to peace with that. Jacqueline falls in love with a do-gooder lawyer and they decide to take down the Washington Redskins. Their landlady decides to fight the hipsters coming into the neighborhood by running for office (which will be great). Finally, all the things that they were muddling around with all season long came to a head, and I breathed a sigh of relief, because the final show cliffhanger had me hooked again and ready for season 3.

As a storyteller, though, I found myself endlessly fascinated with why the season was so muddled compared to last. And it reminded me that comedy is fucking hard. I could see why they wanted to have Jacqueline do a ton of weird, different things. They didn’t want her to just hook up with a lawyer and fall in love immediately after getting her independence. She needed to explore other options first (still no excuse for not going the “you’re adopted” route, which I STILL hope they’ll do in season 3). The Kimmy storyline, I don’t know. The actress was really being earnest with the material she had, and it felt so strained in those first few episodes. There was gold here, but I’m wondering if it was just uncomfortable to go where they needed to go with it. I’m currently working on a book which involves two very abusive relationships, and to be dead honest, the subject matter itself does create a lot of resistance when I’m writing it. Writing about trauma, abuse, PTSD, and overcoming bullshit is hard to do. I can’t imagine trying to do it in a funny way. The episode about the internet mob was just bad all around, but I think if they could have reframed the ending as a lesson to Titus about representation (and indirectly, a lesson to themselves) it would have worked (Sam Means is credited as the writer of this episode, but also wrote the very funny Kimmy Finds Her Mom episode, so you know, you win some you lose some).

I give the season 3 stars out of 5, because it figured out what it was doing in the end, and promises some gold in season three. If nothing else, watching this season reminded me that making comedy look effortless is really fucking hard. It was a rough season, but so is life. I’ve reached a point as a creator where I understand that sometimes shit goes wrong. Sometimes the best intentions create really problematic stuff. If I was running the show, I’d bring in some women writers who aren’t white feminists (and yes, I say that as a white feminist. This is a serious problem), or at least have some consult on the show. There was some amazing stuff they could have done this year in smart, heartfelt ways if not for the myopia, there.

Criticism aside, this is a brave show doing brave things. I would rather it continue trying to push the envelope – writing a comedy show about abuse and overcoming trauma! – and fail at it than go back to doing the safe, boring, tried and true stuff that so many other shows rely on. I salute you in your efforts. Keep doing better.

And keep on trucking, Kimmy.

How (and Why) I Write My Books Non-Chronologically

So I write the scenes in my books out of order. I had some vague idea that this wasn’t what most people did, but it was so normal to my process that I didn’t think it was very interesting. Yet I had a few people on Twitter ask me to break this process down because it sounded intriguing. It’s always funny when people ask you to break down your process because if they didn’t, you know… well, I wouldn’t interrogate it much.

I often try and start a novel from the beginning, but my brain isn’t always accommodating. More often, what I’ll end up with are little bits of dialogue, fight scenes, political discussions, etc. that jump into my brain. I’ll put those down into the manuscript file, adding them into it in roughly the order I think they’ll appear in the final book.

Like this bit of dialogue from Lilia for THE BROKEN HEAVENS that came to me last night right before bed:

“It’s what I’ve seen us trying to do this whole war – set ourselves apart from the enemy. Be different. I think we built a people that was as different from our oppressors as possible. The Dorinah became like the Saiduan. We deliberately became something else.”

This is probably going to go somewhere in the last third of the book, so I’ve plugged it into the manuscript before the big ending scenes that I’ve already written, but after a lot of the mixed dialogue and opening chapters for the first third that I already have in there.

I have another one that comes much earlier in the book between Lilia and Yisaoh, which I plugged into the first third:

“You’re already a drug fiend,” Yisaoh said, “hacking out your bloody lungs every night. Are you becoming a liquor fiend too?”

          “You don’t understand my life,” Lilia said.

 “No, my life was spent trying to convince Ora Nasaka there was an imminent invasion, and position my family so we could lead the country. Prepare our people to face it. You see how well my life’s pursuit turned out. But you don’t see me numbing my sorrow.” She fumbled for another cigarette.

         Lilia smirked. “What will you do when you run out of those?” she said.

Not all of these snippets will make it into the final book, of course. But when my brain serves me these little bits of dialogue and scene-setting, I take them. It’s why I ended up writing the last chapter of the book so early, because my brain was busily stringing it together. Now the rest of the book will move toward that ending.

When it comes time to put all the scenes together, it’s a bit like patching together a quilt – or, more accurately – a complex puzzle. You find that not all the pieces fit, and that you have to create new pieces to bind the existing together.

I start out with a rough shape/outline for every book. I have all the basic beats down, especially with the Worldbreaker books, which use big events in the sky as turning points for characters and situations. I put five of these down into a sort of five-act structure and just nestle in these dialogue bits and scenes and descriptions as I go. When I sit down to officially write for the day, I’ll try to start writing chronologically, filling in what needs to be filled in from the beginning, but if I’m stuck or I get bored, I’ll jump ahead to some other scene that I’m excited about writing so I don’t waste my writing time. It’s this determination not to waste my writing time that’s probably led me to write this way today more than I did in the past. When you are writing as quickly as I am, and your time is so precious, you can’t just sit there and stare at the place you’re stuck at for an hour. I do also use techniques from Rachel Aaron’s book 2k to 10k, the biggest of which is to outline the scene(s) I want to write for the day before I open the file to work on them (I purchased this book a little over two years ago, and you can see how it helped kickstart my productivity).

Writing THE STARS ARE LEGION is another good example of this type of writing. Though I wrote one of the POV character’s chapters mostly in order, I skipped a lot of big scenes and transitions and just put placeholders there the first time through. This is because I had an epiphany about what the plot actually was for that character and sat down and re-wrote the whole outline in a rush one night, making it more of an episodic exploration with clues to the larger mystery woven in. Framing those chapters as a journey up through one of the worlds level by level with crazy adventures made it easier to write all in one go. The tough part was the other POV character. I wrote her first couple chapters, and her last couple of chapters first, so I would know where she started and were she needed to end up. Those missing middle chapters are the big chapters I’ve been working on the last couple weeks, trying to fill in what happened to get her to the place I needed her to be. I’m continuing to refine and rework those as I go, and we’ll do one more big pass here before it’s ready for reviewers. I also went back and filled in a lot of missing scenes and transitions, cleaned up stuff like, “Where did they get this rope from??” and other inconsistencies. When I need to draft fast, I just tell myself “You can fix it in post” and careen on ahead. Sometimes I’ll even make notes to myself along the way, “Be sure to go back and give Casamir’s settlement a name” or “Foreshadow the use of the air balloon.”

I realize that not all authors can write this way. I recently spoke to another author who was trying to write this way and found it aggravating, as they were used to writing chronologically and editing as they went, so by the time they reached the end they actually had a whole, coherent novel ready to turn in to their editor(!). I would LOVE to be able to write this way, but… it just doesn’t work for me. I get stuck, and then I get blocked, and then I just piss off and go screw around and angst about the book for months until it’s the deadline and oh no and then I write it all out of order and fill in the other parts later. So remember that there are lots of different processes out there.

So far, writing out of order works for me, though my agent would sure like me to come up with a coherent plot before, you know, the weekend before the book is due. I’d like that too, but I’ve found that though I can do big plot beats ahead of time, the really good, meaty stuff comes while I’m writing. It’s the scenes I plug in after the fact, or weave in from snippets I wrote into notebooks just before bed, that really give these books the character and worldbuilding details they need to go from “OK” to memorable.

The Slog on the Mountain, The Calm Before the Storm

It’s been fairly quiet around here recently. As it turns out, when you’re 6 weeks out from the publication of one book, copyediting another book, actively writing a third book, doing a Patreon story every month or so, and contemplating the projects you’d like to pitch next, you run out of time for non-essential writing things like blogging (remember that I STILL have a day job on top of all this!). Understandably, I’ve also been less interested in wading into the screaming mire that is every internet meltdown. Even the act of muting keywords and accounts takes away from time I could be spending writing new work. I do miss waxing on here, but I find that I need to save my spoons for coping with comments/responses/meltdowns to my work during set times. I’ve been seeing a lot more writers step back from the internet this year, especially Twitter, and for good reason. No matter what you say on the internet, it’s going to piss off somebody. Sometimes you need to save up the points you spend on deflecting the piss.

Time management has been high on my list of things to fix this year, and if I was going to get all the work done that I needed to get done, something had to go. That something was engaging with the internet. When people pop into my Twitter mentions now with a passive-aggressive response or angry point of disagreement, I just mute them. Folks forget that they are talking to a Real Human Being here, with a shitbrick of work to do and no time for their nonsense. I’ve reminded myself over and over this year that the purpose of most abuse you get online for speaking your mind (especially if you don’t present as a Generic White Dude), is done to steal your time. People want to wear you down, to break you, to silence you. And in order to keep working, I’ve had to make some changes to how I interact (or not) in online spaces. Most of the bloviating circle-jerking stuff is just not worth my time. I engage when it matters, not just in reaction to somebody being dumb and wanting me to waste my time bloviating a “response” to something patently ridiculous like “women shouldn’t vote” or “periods make women dumb.” I’m too fucking busy getting shit done over here.

While our dog is finally on the mend, he’s still got another 4-6 weeks of rehab left to be a Real Dog again, and a lot of physical, mental and financial resources have gone toward helping him get better the last five or six months. What this also meant is that we went from being in a free-wheeling place with money earlier this year where we were looking at how to prioritize house maintenance projects to biting our nails waiting on royalty checks, which is sort of depressing.

In the meantime I’ve been consuming a lot of media whenever I’m not writing. Since the only traveling we do these days is for conventions or writing retreats, I binged a bunch of Parts Unknown to get my travel fix, and since it doesn’t look like we’ll be able to afford a writing shed or a 500 square foot cabin somewhere anytime soon, I watched Tiny House Hunters and Tiny House Builders and Beach Bargain Lake Property Hunters or whatever they’re called because I’m too lazy to Google. I finished reading a couple of novellas, as they are perfectly sized for my busy brain: Every Heart a Doorway by Seanan McGuire, which wasn’t my usual bag but captured an emotion that I really grokked. I also read and blurbed Cassandra Khaw’s Hammers on Bone, which dealt with some triggery abuse themes, but which uses such great language that it turned a contemporary setting into Lovecraftian Weird, and I love that. I’ve been working my way through Robert J. Bennett’s City of Blades slowly but surely, too. It’s a much more politic-y book than the last one, with fewer divine wonder moments than the first one to pull me through. Still solid, though. Also slowly reading Kai Ashante Wilson’s Sorcerer of the Wildeeps, which, though the language and worldbuilding is great, is 100% male characters so far, and has been a bit of a slog to get to the through-line. Still, I am persevering. YMMV.

Exercise has been high on my list of getting my shit together, so I invested in some gardening work. Hauling bags of mulch and rocks and three hours of weeding have served to highlight 1) how much I need to get into shape 2) how deplorable my garden got last year. If we can scrape some pennies together here after taxes are paid (we got an extension. Long story), I’d like to plant some more trees around the yard, too. Though our house is cheap, which is great, the problem is that it’s about a mile from downtown, in a residential area that borders an industrial area, which makes it very noisy. Big trucks, a warehouse nearby, trains, people yelling, kids playing… noise. As an introvert, I want to be able to walk around in my yard or sit by the fire with a drink and just have… quiet. I don’t like feeling on display for the neighborhood. Even if we do put some pennies together for a fence at some point, it doesn’t solve the problem of the noise. But finding a house that has the privacy I need to work most efficiently and relax that’s still close enough for my spouse to have his gaming nights with friends in town has been an epic and impossible undertaking. The closest we got was a house that was nearly 40 minutes from town, overpriced, and which still needed some work. Hence the cabin idea, as if you add up what we owe on our current cheap house with a cheap cabin, you still get a price that’s about half what the average mortgage is for other folks. The only reason to live in Ohio, folks, is that it’s cheap cheap cheap.

And efficiency is very much on my mind these days, with so much going on. I squirreled myself up away in a frontier cabin from, like, 1848 or something in the Hocking Hills the weekend before last to give myself time away from the grind to finish a more plot-y draft of THE STARS ARE LEGION. It was a long slog – I cut 3,000 words and added 15,000 – in perfect silence in a place where I could only get enough signal to check email if I stood on the porch and waved my phone around. It was lovely, and made me miss the woods. The older I get, the less patience I have for people and noise and the constant interruptions that bombard us every day. I work in marketing and advertising, so I get that I contribute to the noise problem, too. I generate a massive amount of content every week for brands. The reality is that the goal of all this modern technology is not to make us more productive and achieve our life goals. Quite the opposite. The purpose of this technology is to give you  more “free” time that you’ll spend gorging on content in places where they can sell ad space. To put it another way, “The world is not designed to help you achieve long-term goals.” The world wants your attention to be confused and fragmented, because confused people make stupid decisions. They click on dumb ads. They give their emails to spammers. They respond to spam email. They accidentally sign up for junk. The less focus we have, the easier we are to manipulate and control. And yeah, I feel this a lot when I’m overtaxed and stressed out. I spend more time on dumb junk media because it can be picked up and put down far more easily than truly engaging work. But I need that engaging work, that deep focus, to achieve the things that matter to me. Unfortunately, deep focus and stuff like Twitter just don’t go hand-in-hand. So, once again, we circle back to the necessity of spending less time on social media.

Time has become especially dear here to me as I contemplate life on the other side of 35. At 36, I’m pushing toward forty faster than I expected, and frankly, I’m kind of a mess. Yes, I’ve achieved many of the things I set out to achieve. I always wanted to have one of those Interesting Writer bios, full of weird places I’d traveled, and odd jobs and awards and swanky publications, and you know, I have the cool bio now. My books may not be uber-bestsellers (yet!) but they’re building an audience, and I’m proud of having written nearly 8 books since 2011, all of which were the sorts of books I wanted to read, the sorts of books that nobody else could have written. But more and more, I’m looking at what I’ve had to sacrifice to get here – health being a big one – and seeing that even after all those sacrifices, I’m not in the Writer 1%. Funny that I think about that, because honestly, being in the Writer 1% was never a goal of mine. But being in the Writer 1% is, alas, the only way to make a comfortable living as full-time fiction writer these days (unless you want to write 3-6 books a year and go insane, which I did last year, and which was… yes, insane, and unsustainable). So many full-time writers I know are actually making half or more of their income from freelancing, or they have a spouse with a solid day job. You’d be surprised.

So here I find myself, writing like I’m running out of time (ha!) because I’m well aware that I am. I continue to work on projects that I’m passionate about, projects that I choose because I want to level up, and it’s been nice to see the market shifting a little more toward what I write. I feel less like I’m on the fringes now, which is great for selling things, but an interesting place to find myself after twenty years of raging against the machine. At some point in the grind you look up, and you’re there on the mountain, and you don’t take time to see the view because you are so fixed on the top, the summit, the peak that keeps stretching on and on ahead of you, shifting further and further away with every step you take.

Writing for a living is not a get rich quick scheme. It’s not something you knock out on the beach in an hour (unless you have a rich spouse or a trust fund that can support that). It’s great to do what you love, but let’s not pretend there isn’t a cost. Everything has a cost. You just have to make sure that the price you’re paying is worth what you want in return. What I want is worth it, but that doesn’t mean every day is a rose garden. Most days are a slog on the mountain.

 

THE STARS ARE LEGION: Publication Update

Howdy folks. Quick update, especially for those who’ve pre-ordered THE STARS ARE LEGION (I legit raised my eyebrows when my editor told me how many pre-orders we have already. With what I can track here, even, the conversion rate is 6% for folks who click through to Amazon, which tells me that cover and synopsis is selling books. Thanks, folks! Keep ordering!). I want to make sure I tap you about this before Amazon sends out an email and freaks everyone out. Work continues apace on this one, and I think the final product is going to rock your socks.

That said, my agent and editor recently pulled me into some discussions about how best to market this book, and the issue came up that since we won’t have a reviewer copy ready for another few weeks, we’re not going to be as well positioned in the lead-up to this release as we could be. Sure, I can get the book kicked out the door on time while tearing out my hair (fuck knows I’ve done it before) but one of the things my prior work has suffered from is short lead/buzz times. Some of that is my fault, as I tend to fiddle with my books until the end. Some of that is that this is a bigger press book and their marketing teams prefer longer lead times. When we looked at all of the books coming out in October – not just Saga titles but other books with October release dates in the genre – it also looked like we were going to be vying pretty hard for market voice. Last year EMPIRE ASCENDANT came out the same day as ANCILLARY MERCY, among others, and though that may be OK with a book that’s $14.99, the hardcover for LEGION will set you back the cost of two books, and if you can only afford one that week, wellllll…. yeah. Stars Are Legion final cover

All that is to preface me saying that we’ve decided to push out the launch date of THE STARS ARE LEGION from the first week of October this year until the second week of January next year, which is a much slower book week. You’re going to still see the original date online for awhile, but I want to be the first to give you a heads’ up that it’s going to change, and it’s not a sign of the apocalypse, just Team Hurley trying to give this book the best shot we can.

This doesn’t impact anything else right now – THE BROKEN HEAVENS is still scheduled for Spring next year. LEGION itself is in a big revision right now, being mostly-done. I’m heading up to a cabin in the woods this weekend to give myself some headspace away from my sick dog and filthy house to focus wholly on cleaning up and clarifying the plot and reveals.

So no worries about, you know, me not having anything to turn in. This was largely a strategic decision. That said, it sure won’t hurt to have longer to polish this book. It’s a weird book with a lot of interest and pre-orders, and I’m not going to sniff at having more time to polish the book and build interest in it. I was initially pretty hesitant to do this when my agent pitched the idea over the phone, as I didn’t want all my books to push into each other, but as most know, smart marketing talk can sway me. I know sense when I hear it, and I tamped down my emotions about it and agreed that strategically, this made more sense.

One of the things I’ve taught myself how to do at my day job work is divorce myself from the emotion of a thing vs. what is best for the thing. That’s a tough skill to cultivate, but when you’ve worked with enough teams on enough projects you start to learn to divorce your ego and go with what is best for the success of the project as opposed to what will make you feel most brilliant. Moving the book does not make me feel brilliant, and in fact left me feeling dejected enough on Monday that I poured my sorrow into a glass of Talisker, but it makes sense for the long-term success of the project, and I awoke Tuesday knowing it was the right thing to do.

It also gives me the ability to work on THE BROKEN HEAVENS all through October instead of pausing for six weeks to do promotion around LEGION’s release. That helps ensure you all get that third book out here before I’m hit by a truck or whatever seems to happen to epic fantasy novelists when they get to book three. Alas, this does not mean I necessarily get more time to write LEGION – it just gets to spend more time with reviewers and more time in development. What I’ve learned with bigger house releases, as with GEEK FEMINIST REVOLUTION, is that after your first copyedit pass, they try and keep the manuscript away from you so you don’t fuck with it. I appreciate this sentiment, but it does mean that I have to be super brilliant sooner in the process.

Anyway, part of me is a little deflated about this and part of me is relieved, as I would really rather be spending October working on THE BROKEN HEAVENS. I also like the idea of taking 30 days mostly “off” here between books. “Off” doesn’t mean not writing, but, to me, means not grinding every day. I might play a little WoW and read some books or something while working on tweaking THE BROKEN HEAVENS outline, for instance. Then it’s back to the grinding so I’ll have something to show my agent in August, and we can turn in a draft between October and December this year.

I have had a pretty exhausting last six months with the sick dog, switching day jobs late last year, edits to GEEK FEMINIST, Patreon stories (to pay for said sick dog), and writing LEGION. I think promotion for GEEK FEMINIST REVOLUTION, editing and copyediting LEGION, and writing THE BROKEN HEAVENS is going to keep me plenty busy the rest of the year.

So there’s the update: you know when I know, folks. Thanks for sticking with me.

Career Milestones, Prioritizing Projects

As some people know, the last couple of years have been a little surreal for me. I’ve gone from having a third book in a series that tanked and nearly killed my career, making it nigh impossible to sell anything else – to being solidly mid-list, with a good backlist, some awards, and increasing interest in my work from a variety of editors. I’m being sought out, often, for blurbs, and my agent only tells me when there’s serious Hollywood interest in my work anymore, not just when people request to read something (cause there’s plenty of that). I also recently got an inquiry from a big media company about possibly doing some tie-in work for them, and much to my spouse’s dismay, turned it down. I did this for a host of reasons, but primarily because for all intents and purposes I’m pretty booked here for the next couple of years with both contracted work and original proposals that I’d like to pitch. That’s not saying I wouldn’t entertain the right property, but early 2017 is the earliest I’d consider more stuff on my plate.

One of the things that all this behind-the-scenes stuff has got me considering is how I manage and prioritize projects and make career decisions. Unexpectedly, I find myself in the place where I’m not begging for work anymore and instead have the ability to sort through my options. Another reason I’ve kept my day job is that it gives me the ability to make writing career decisions based on strategy instead of money. In speaking with other writers, what I’ve heard again and again is how they got themselves into tough situations or bad deals because they needed to say “yes” to something they didn’t want to do because they needed the money. That could be signing over a movie option to the wrong partner, or taking on tie-in work that turned into a nightmare, or taking a small advance from a struggling publisher that imploded.

I like being able to keep my options open. I like that when someone says, “Yes, we could pay you $20k for this!” I can step back and go, “OK, great, but does doing this project really get me further to my career goals of building Team Hurley?” And if it doesn’t, I can say no and we can still eat and pay our health insurance. It’s no secret that I got burned out here last summer, aiming to get GEEK FEMINIST REVOLUTION out the door while doing promo for EMPIRE ASCENDANT and writing THE STARS ARE LEGION, and it about murdered me. Was it worth it? Well, based on the reactions so far to GEEK FEMINIST REVOLUTION, yes, it was. That book had to get out the door when it did, or it would miss its cultural window. I expect most of my work to backlist really well, but this one is more likely to have just a handful of good years before it loses some of its cultural relevancy. So I know that has to make a splash up front and garner strong sales early, which, again, based on reception so far, I think it can do. But it required a lot of work on my part, and my publisher’s part, to make that happen.

From the outside, all this might look amazing, but inside, there is a lot of overthinking going on. Because with every opportunity you take, you have to turn down something else, and you’re always thinking, “Was this the right choice?” Strategy is great, but there’s an awful lot of luck in this business, and some of that luck can hinge on a single decision. I have watched many writers go from “hot new thing” to has-been in just a few years. Some of that is just that the media loves “newness.” Some of that is that their work stagnates, or never takes off, and they get discouraged. Some of that is making bad business decisions. Some of that is simple burnout. I almost didn’t recover from the Night Shade hell. It’s hard. And I expect more bumps and setbacks along the way.

But in the meantime, I am working at fielding opportunity as it comes at me. Lots of people will tell you to say “YES!” to everything, but when you’ve got a day job and a book to write in, like, four months, this is unrealistic. You have to choose the BEST things to say yes to, and what “best” means is going to vary based on your situation and what you want out of your career. I am very much at work making my own genre over here. I want to write Kameron Hurley novels. I want Kameron Hurley novels to become a genre in and of themselves. As great as a one-off megahit would be, those are harder to achieve than a strong backlist. With every new book, I see a good bump in backlist sales as new readers discover me, and I’m betting hard on drawing in Kameron Hurley readers, not just MIRROR EMPIRE readers, or LEGION readers, or GOD’S WAR readers. I want to see more overlap.

Whether or not I will achieve that in a way that makes it possible for me to write full-time has yet to be seen, but that’s what I’m gunning for. And to do that means investing in particular projects and passing on others. As wonderful as it is to have the choice, tho, let me tell you  – having the choice is almost worse, because you will always worry that it’s not the right one.

Career management is one of those things you can’t make broad generalizations about, because we are all in this with different goals. Whatever your career goals are, though, I advise you to figure them out as soon as possible, as it will make all the other decisions you need to make later on down the line a lot easier.