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Apocalypse Nation: Nowhere to Run

I once watched an episode of Doomsday Preppers in which the Preppers included two women who had type 1 diabetes. They talked about how they would keep their insulin cool in bags in streams. They never once addressed the fact that if society collapsed, even a stockpile of insulin wouldn’t be good for more than a year, maybe 18 months if you stretched it by using the less reliable expired stuff as long as possible.

Heading for the hills during violent political upheavals only works if you’re in good health and have someone with mad medical skills with you, and it means leaving everyone else down in the valley to die. Something as simple as an infected scratch can kill you. How long are your iodine pills and antibiotics going to last? The truth is that millions will die during the long collapse.

One of the things that always bothered me about the apocalypse scenarios is how they focused so hard on surviving. I mean, is all of society really gone, or just yours? And with 6 billion other people in the world, do you have a species imperative to survive, because really – life goes on. Ya’ll wonder why I like Russ’s We Who Are About To so much, and it’s this honest acknowledgement that becoming a broodmare to “save humanity” is a con. Survival isn’t everything.

I’ve been trying to figure out my options since Wednesday morning. Heading out into hill country is a great idea if you don’t actually need access to modern medecine. Canada may seem like a good option for now, but when fascism comes, it tends to swallow and swallow and swallow. Remember that we’re handing over the nuclear codes to a vindictive narcissist with sympathetic ties to Russia. I’ve been watching the media headspinning, telling us we should hope this guy is “successful” and I’m like – successful for who? Did you all forget the stuff he promised to do? Have you read his plan for his first 100 days? The willful way Americans are looking away from what somebody actually said he’d do, the things he campaigned and ran on, is bizarre. Ok, not bizarre, I admit, because I’ve seen it before in a lot of countries that find themselves with a crazy guy in power. “Maybe it won’t be so bad,” they all say, because they want life to go on as usual. But the changes are going to start happening very quickly now. The Obama years postponed our 80’s apocalypse future, but it’s here. Willfully trying to unsee it is just living in a fantasy novel. Now I’m watching a lot of fellow lefty folks eat each other over safety pins and whether or not Bernie would have won while a conman gives his children and business allies cabinet positions and is celebrated by the KKK – a guy who told people throughout his campaign that he was keeping an enemies list and who threatened to jail his opponent. Folks are talking about organizing for elections in two years and four years and I’m like, “You are very confident there will be elections.” You can try rewriting the story, folks, but it doesn’t change the fact that we’ve seen this road before. If we avoid it, great! I will happily be wrong. But I have made my peace with what’s coming. Spare us your “wait and see” and “maybe it’s not that bad.” Those empty platitudes help no one prepare. They lull them back to sleep.

Anyway, as I’ve said elsewhere, I’m done trying to convince people that yes, what you see is what you’re going to get. Smarter people than me, those who have studied fascist regimes in far greater depth, are giving the same warnings. In fact, have been giving the same warnings for a year. Like many, I didn’t listen, because I believed in America. And while it’s true that most Americans are still good – Hillary is set to win the popular vote by a million votes, millions of voters were suppressed by the dissolution of the Voting Rights Act, decades of Republican gerrymandering came home to roost, and there’s been interference from Russia related to this election the whole cycle – I’ve also studied South African history, and I know how brutally a white minority can rule over a majority.

And after examining all the options, I’ve come to realize that there is no running away from this. There is no “better place” in this global economy. Countries are shifting far-right faster than we can keep up, and with the US and Russia both moving together now, we’re looking at powers with huge numbers of nuclear weapons who will be spreading this agenda outward. There is no where to run that they cannot reach.

I stayed up watching the last two Hunger Games movies and realized the point at which things turn is when people realize the capital is going to kill them anyway. This is why I have reiterated and accepted early that this is the new normal, and that it’s following a typical fascist rise to power narrative. Because once you accept that you are among those on the chopping block, you realize you have nothing to lose. And it becomes easier to throw yourself into the fray as willing cannon fodder so the folks with the battering rams can come in behind you if you know you are going to die anyway.

And if you can’t run, and if, like me, you’re likely to die under this regime anyway…. you might as well stay and fight.

I have nothing to lose that isn’t already in jeopardy.

I Rebel

My grandmother was born and raised in Nancy, France. Germany invaded parts of northern and western France in May of 1940. This included my grandmother’s hometown of Nancy. Over the next four years, she would live under a nationalistic and antisemitic puppet government, the Vichy regime, which openly collaborated with the Germans. My great-grandfather, her father, was a member of the French Resistance, the Maquis, and spent a good chunk of time tortured by Gestapo. She remembers the Gestapo coming to her house, and I have used stories of those events to flesh out a lot of the war stories I write, including “The Women of Our Occupation.” I also relate a story here about her and her friends finding a severed foot in a Nazi boot, and note what the consequences could have been for that. My grandparents met during the war. He was an American GI of German descent. He spent a good chunk of his post-war time trucking out bodies from concentration camps.

I grew up knowing all about the very worst that people could do to other people, and also how it came about: in incremental shifts, in normalization of the outrageous, and then suddenly, all at once. I became fascinated by history, especially the history of resistance and revolution. I know too much about tyrants and dictators and the fear that fuels the minority who bolster their ascent to power.

Rebellion is in my blood.

I saw the distinct possibility of this regime change coming, but honestly believed we could preserve the path we’ve been on, the path toward that more hopeful future. Instead, we got close enough to see the glimmer of the light and then watch the darkness fall again. If you ever thought, “What does it look like when fascism comes home to roost?” Like, this is it.

The fascinating part has been watching all of the rationalizations and “Maybe it’s not that bad” and normalization of what is happening now in the wake of a self-identified rapist, racist, and narcissistic demagogue with confirmed ties to a Russian dictator being elected president of a country with more nuclear weapons than any other. I expect it was that way for France, too. “It’s not like we’re REALLY invaded by Germany! I mean, we have a government! It’s not THAT bad. I mean, we just need to give them the Jews and they’ll leave us alone. Ok, and the Roma. And the disabled. And the rebels. And our grandmothers who immigrated here and…. oh shit.”

Oh shit indeed.

We are going to hear a lot of rationalization over the coming days, months, years. The normalization of the things done and said by this regime is going to be fast and furious, because things are going to move so quickly that we won’t be able to keep up with everything. And you are going to hear, as things escalate, a lot of rationalizations. “Yes Muslims need to register but it’s not like they’re going to camps!” and “Yes all immigrants need to go to camps but at least they aren’t being murdered outright!” and “Yes they got rid of ACA but they will totally fix healthcare some other way” and “Yes abortion rights are gone but you can just go to Canada.”

You will hear this a lot.

It’s the same in every country. We rationalize because if we didn’t then we’d have to admit that we need to do something, and that we’ve made a mistake. A lot of voters for this regime, just like those who voted for Brexit, are working furiously to tell us things aren’t that bad and we aren’t giving it a chance when in fact from the very beginning this candidate has told us exactly what he is going to do and exactly what his vision for this country is. There will be no surprises or reversals. This is it. They have stated very clearly what they plan to do, and it will dismantle decades of progressive policy and human rights initiatives. It could also very well lead to the economic breakdown of this country.

I have a chronic illness, and I can tell you right now that as you are all bunkering down preparing for apocalypse, I simply don’t have that “Run away and live in the woods” option anymore. If inflation hits, healthcare regulations are lifted, and trade tariffs destroy access to my meds, I will die. There’s no “Maybe I can wait it out” or “This will be just like Fallout!”

A lot of us are going to die if this goes down the way they have stated they want it to go down.

I am one of them.

So this is very real for me.

Folks have been asking what to do besides despair. I have a solid narrative of rebellion to look back at. It helped me rally and get up Wednesday morning. I imagined my grandmother standing in the streets of France while the tanks rolled in. I imagined my great-grandfather risking torture and death because he knew what was right despite all the people around him saying it was going to be fine, that it would work out and there would totally be checks and balances and hey just give them the Jews or the Muslims or the immigrants…

You get up. You move. You rebel.

So start calling other people out on this. Yes, this means your families, too. Like many, I have demurred during family political squabbles, but we’re no longer talking about tax rates, we’re talking about people’s lives. The repeal of ACA will kill tens of thousands of people a year, and it’s already been stated as high on the list for repeal in January. It’s coming. Conversion therapy for LGBT folks is going to cause suicide rates to skyrocket. And the hate groups have legitimacy now. They will feel emboldened, and they will be attacking and killing people on the streets. This is not alarmist. It’s already happening. When you see members of the KKK out in their full hooded regalia celebrating the election of the new regime, well, you know what? It’s alarming. It’s fucking time to be alarmist. All you need to do to see what they want to do is to go to the regime’s website and look at their stated platform. Watch the recordings of what this guy has said. He told you exactly what he’s going to do. There are no surprises, and this is not hyperbole. This is me stating that they now have the power to act out all the things they intend to do, and as they know, it will be devastating for millions of Americans.

So here’s some stuff you can do:

  • First, protect yourself online and off. If you’re targeted by the actual government, this is moot, but my biggest concern on a day to day basis is the regime’s supporters. And all those hate groups and trolls are going to hit and hit hard in the coming months and years. Lock your shit down.
  • Second, if you see someone being harassed – especially if you’re white and male – step in and shut it down. Make it clear this is not OK. I have a healthy sense of “fuck you” and have been doing this myself for a decade now, but I know not everyone feels comfortable doing it. But the alternative is your silence, and silence says, “What I see happening is OK with me.” And it will embolden more attacks.
  • Third, if he wants to register Muslims? Then let’s ALL register as Muslims. They will have to take all of us.
  • Fourth, don’t become despondent. I promise, other countries have gone through things like this and survived. I have been thinking about my grandmother a lot. That said, yes, the danger here is real. Not just from the regime but from all the hate carried by the people who his win have legitimized. This is not a joke, it’s not funny, and it’s very real. Take it seriously. That’s not being alarmist: this shit IS alarming, and it’s going to get worse. So prepare yourself and your loved ones and look out for each other.
  • If you are someone who needs help, reach out now and connect with your allies immediately. Have an escape plan and know who to turn to if you are in trouble. If you are someone who can offer a bed to sleep in or a place to go for someone who’s likely to be targeted, raise your hand. We need to take care of each other.
  • Finally, if you choose to be loud, accept that bad things may happen to you. I’m well aware that depending on how bad this goes, I am toast. I also know that I can’t sleep at night just running away to Canada or hiding in my house and not speaking up in defense of others and myself. It’s safer to stay head down while other people suffer, and some of you may need to do that, and no one judges you for that. But understand the risks.

There’s going to be lots of people saying everything is fine, including, enragingly, the very Democrats who saw this for what it was too. They keep trying to treat this like a normal election. This is not normal.

Folks. It’s not fine. And you are not crazy for thinking it’s not fine.

This. Is. Not. Fine. 

Hold onto that, and get ready.

Epilogue: My Wish for You

This is excerpted from the epilogue to The Geek Feminist Revolution

My gift to you today:

——

My goal is to change the world. Change it into what, though? Into a better place, I’d hope. Into a place where we don’t have to fight as hard to be heard. Into a place where we have not equal opportunities, but true equality that lets us all start out our lives on the same footing. I want the world to be a demonstrably better place when I leave it than it was when I came into it. Not just for me, or for people like me, but for every one.

The truth is, though, that I don’t know how to do that. All I know how to do is write (and drink, to the limit my illness allows). I know how to persevere in the face of bullshit. I know how to not be afraid. I know how to live. Sometimes living, and speaking aloud, is the most subversive act one can manage.
That, perhaps, is enough for me. But is it enough for you?

I am getting older, and though some may scoff at that, the fact is that death and I have danced before, and though she did not win that time, each day I can hear her breathing in my ear, with every shot of medication I take and every low sugar reading I get while hiking out in the woods alone, and I am reminded that she will get me eventually, as she gets us all, because her dance card is long, and she is more persistent even than I.

I have no children, and no legacy but my work— and you.

I have the power to reach back to you long after I am dead, through these spidery marks on paper or pixels, and remind you that you have a voice, you have agency, and your voice is stronger and more powerful than you could ever imagine, and long after I am gone, you can pick up this beer beside me and carry on the work we are doing now, the work we have always been doing, the work we will always do, until the world looks the way we imagine it can be.

I am a grim optimist, and this is my hope for you: that you will be louder than me, and stronger than me, and more powerful than me, and that you will look back at me as a relic, a dinosaur, as the minor villain in your own story, the rock you pushed against in your own flight to fame, to notoriety, to revolution.

That is my wish for you.

 

 

It’s Morning in America

“The people can always be brought to the bidding of the leaders. That is easy. All you have to do is tell them they are being attacked and denounce the pacifists for lack of patriotism and exposing the country to danger. It works the same way in any country.” – Hermann Goring

It’s morning in America.

I laid in bed with my spouse a little longer this morning after checking 538. My spouse and I lay pressed back to back; a bit of mammalian comfort to get us both through the day ahead. I got up and I petted my dog and told him he was a good boy and everything was OK and I turned on the coffee maker. I took the dogs out on a walk in the darkness of the pre-dawn. It was so, so quiet. We walked, and walked.

It was so quiet.

Nate Silver said the chance of the darkest timeline was one in three. No one wanted to listen to those odds.

I would like to say something soothing and hand you the rest of my bottle and pretend it will be OK. But it won’t. History teaches us this, as it taught us the dangers of going this route.

But white people never listen.

All the progress of the last eight years will be rolled back. Financial markets are already crashing, as they did with Brexit. America has been careening into the end times for awhile now, but just like with climate change, we’ve finally reached the tipping point.

On a personal level, gutting healthcare is going to ruin my family. Instability in the markets will hurt my job prospects, my freelancing ability. We’ll need to cut back and hunker down. All those crazy fringe people, all those racist uncles on the internet, have free reign now. A lot of vulnerable people are going to suffer horribly, and a lot of people who thought they weren’t vulnerable are going to find out otherwise. Already, we’re all casting about trying to figure out how fucked we all are, turning inward. All that energy we projected outward to make things better is sweeping inward. I want to tell you that talk of the apocalypse is hyperbole, but that was the problem: we told people this would be the apocalypse and no one listened. Now it’s here, and it’s not a joke, it’s not a reality TV show, it’s not just liberals calling everybody Hitler.

Living in the end times of an empire is pretty shitty.

It’s that bad. I’m not going to sugarcoat it.

I have a sign up in my room that says, “In times like these it’s important to remember that there have always been times like these.”

Other people have gotten through fascist regimes, including my grandmother, who lived in Nazi-occupied France. We always wondered how that shit happened, but this is how: fear and lies. It works every time. Other people currently live in fascist regimes, and in war zones. America liked to pretend it was a shining beacon of hope and light against the darkness, but it’s not. We never really were. It was a beautiful story, though, pushing down the story of fear and racism and writing a new one. But all it takes is a megalomaniac to bring out the worst in people, the truth in people.

History is not the story of progress. Far from it. History is eight steps forward, ten steps back.

This is our story.

 

Wait, is the Apocalypse Cancelled?

Rubbed my bleary eyes this morning while sucking down coffee only to blink once, then twice, when I saw that the Cubs lost… wait, the Cubs WON the world series for the first time in 108 years, breaking the Billy Goat Curse (and probably a million others), and the UK courts announced that the government can’t leave the EU without actually getting Parliament’s OK on their plan and I was like, what the fuck, what happened to my Darkest Timeline?

Have we cancelled the apocalypse?

Only time will tell.

Buck up, folks. Not everything is shit.

WE CAN DO IT.

GO VOTE GO MAKE THINGS FUCK IT UP BURN IT ALL DOWN BUILD IT ALL BACK UP.

I will head back to the word mines.

 

 

NaNoNoNo

I’ve been largely absent from the noise and social hubbub of the world lately, and for good reason. I’ve been fairly burned out. This was clear to me in July when I went out to do a cabin writing retreat to get some work done and found I could barely squeeze out 500 words when my goal was to produce 20k over the long weekend. Talk about an epic brain freeze.

While writing hasn’t been all that fun in a couple of years, it was, at least, still flowing. But after I finished The Stars are Legion all in one epic race earlier this year, the words just sort of left (in fact, I worried a lot that I’d botched this book. I’ve never once read it all the way through in one go. Really. And it’s at the printer. But the reviews so far are amazing, so clearly I did something right that writing weekend).

Last night, though, I finished a SUPER rough Nyx short story for the Patreon, and felt like some of the old fun was coming back. Some of that has to do with simply revisiting these characters. Writing these stories is like writing my own fan fiction. I’ve known these people for so much of my life now that they feel like family. It was nice to do something fun and finish it, even if it’s rough and needs some work.

What it did do is kick loose the part of my brain that’s been seeing all writing as a deathless slog the last year and change, and that’s great. It felt like I’d shoved past some massive mountain that was standing in my way. Finally, I was able to sit at the keyboard, in the dark, with a beer and a skull candle, and just completely inhabit another world. In my mind’s eye I was surfacing back in Nasheen again, running around a contaminated desert, dodging bursts and bombs, and trying not to care about my companions too much because the world had already ended and living was so very glorious. That’s the sort of writing experience I crave, when you feel like you’re not making things up so much as dictating a story as you’re living it in your head.

As I’m finally feeling better, I decided to take advantage of the glorious madness that is November to knock out some word count on The Broken Heavens. Revisiting the Nyx gang made me realize I was ready to start putting down some serious word count with my other gang of outcasts and weirdos as they try and save the world(s). As everyone who read Empire Ascendant can attest, that was a dark, dark, book, and I needed a break before really settling in to finish.

Here’s to hoping for a good writing month for all.

 

The View on the Ground in a Swing State

I’ve lived in Dayton, Ohio since 2007. Elections are, understandably, a big deal here. It’s a swing state. The divide here is sharp, and fairly stereotypical. I live very near downtown, where you are highly unlikely to see a sign up for the Republican candidate. We live in a traditionally black neighborhood, and Dayton itself is split when it comes to race, with about 46-48% of the population nonwhite, and growing as we welcome new immigrants who are kickstarting businesses all across this once dead manufacturing town.  It’s Hillary/Kaine all the way down.

But drive up the hill into Oakwood (where convicted rapist Brock Turner went to high school), and the houses get bigger, the tax rate jumps up, and it’s white folks on every corner. When you see someone not white, it’s likely they are being pulled over by police (dead serious. They are THOSE kinds of police). Oakwood is that kind of place. And, predictably, there at the base of the hill, you start to see the signs for the Republican candidate pop up. It always reaffirms my insistence on not living in Oakwood.

We have representatives from every Dem group imaginable coming to our door every day now, reminding us to vote. I tell my spouse to just stop answering the door, but he is endlessly polite. I joke often that I think he’s secretly Canadian. We vote every time at a church up the street. At this point, I’ll likely just be voting Dem all the way down, and approving every single measure that requires us to pay more taxes to fund more services. Voting in Ohio takes on an extra urgency that I never felt in any other election. The first presidential election I could vote in was in Alaska, the infamous Gore/Bush darkest timeline Florida recount Jeb Bush calling the state for his brother crazy times. Even knowing that Alaska would go red, I voted (it always goes red. Tho I’ll note that right now it has a 1/3 chance to swing to Hillary this time, which is wild).

Voting for Obama both times was a far more satisfying experience. He was able to churn up positive emotions for hope and change in a way that I hadn’t seen since Regan (tho it turned out Regan’s “change” began the rapid dissolution of the American social services and safety nets, alas. Emotion still works). This time around all I feel is fear, which is the other side of the emotional spectrum and which does, alas, work just as well. Fear is driving all voters this election cycle: just toward different candidates.

As many have noted, this election is the Sad Puppy fiasco writ large. The media has given a voice to extremist wank because reporting extremist outrage causes reactionary outrage, which causes more extremist outrage, until we have no actual idea of what anyone really thinks in the middle. The fact that I read a lot of news and still have absolutely no idea what the hell is going on in real life is pretty fucked up. The media has become one big comment section, literally, as news stations now make entire stories out of people’s tweets and comments. The more extreme the view, the more the clicks, the more they get paid, the more skewed our view of what’s “normal” out there.

The only real I see these days, then, are in the neighborhood signs. The clear demarcation there at the bottom of the hill shows me the expected slice. The fact that I see no Republican signs downtown, but do still see Hillary signs up there in Oakwood amid the Republican ones, tells me more truth than the news. Not everyone has taken the extremist train to racist-sexist-xenophobia land.

Let’s just hope they all show up to vote the way they did at the Hugos.

Fresh Fiction: Hammers on Bone

In March of this year I got a DM from Cassandra Khaw asking if I’d take a look at her novella, Hammers on Bone. I get a lot of blurb requests these days, so stuff really needs to hit my buttons to keep me reading. I am a fan of Khaw’s short fiction (there’s plenty to check out, but here’s “Breathe” and “When We Die on Mars“) and she was first on my Campbell nomination list this year.

Khaw’s fiction runs the gammit of science fiction, fantasy, horror, urban fantasy, and weird. Hammers on Bone is a creepy Lovecraftian urban fantasy weird (?) novella that I read all in one gulp poolside in Orlando (some TW’s for violence against women). As I am short on time these days, I will simply share the blurb I wrote with you, and urge you all to check it out:

Cassandra Khaw’s explosive, evocative prose is a treat to read. Khaw’s ability to transform the mundane into the deeply phantasmagorical is nothing short of magical. Prepare to take a long leap into the gory, the weird, and the fantastic in the hands of a fresh new voice in fiction.

Enjoy!

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Westworld: Who We Are When the Lights Go Out

Spoiler-free:

I’ve watched the first two episodes of Westworld, and like many of you, I watched in fear and trepidation, because we have seen this show. Remember Dollhouse? I was imagining Dollhouse done by HBO, and I admit I had my hands over my eyes the first time through, hoping they didn’t fuck this up. Because basically, you know: tits and explosions and sexual violence as titillation, because women are robots so you can do anything to them, just like real life and man, that sounds awful.

BUT SOMETIMES LIFE SURPRISES YOU.

Here was the first tell: the co-writer/creator/executive producer is Lisa Joy (Nolan).  She has a lot of great writing credits under her belt, including Burn Notice, Pushing Daisies, and Battlestar Galatica. So yay, a woman co-creator on the show! Good. The second tell was this: the first two actors in the credits are Evan Rachel Wood and Thandi Newton. Not Anthony Hopkins and James Marsden. You generally give top billing to the main characters, right? No matter how they are listed in IMDB, that’s how they are listed in the opening credits.

THIS IS A SHOW THAT ACKNOWLEDGES WOMEN’S STORIES EQUALLY HOLY CRAP FOR REAL?

It appears so, yes.

Fittingly, this is a show about bodily autonomy, and our most sympathetic heroes are the women in the show, and it’s setting up really well for this to be their story. Oh, there are some mis-steps in this: there’s a shot of a woman getting dragged away as seen in the reflection of a man’s eye, right there at the outset. We should have stayed in her POV throughout, and felt what she felt in a way we did later on in the episode, when she’s sobbing over her dead lover, and there at the beginning, when we see the man in black looming over her. But having watched that first episode twice now, this appears also to be part of the redirect.

When we are dropped into Westworld, we assume we are getting a certain type of show. I certainly did, anyway. We were going to follow Men Being Bad and Men Being Good and the robots would go crazy and kill everyone, probably, and have to be put down.

But the reversal of this expectation happens almost immediately. And it keeps getting better from there.

If “….(CHARACTER) is the oldest model in the park” doesn’t make your skin crawl at the end of episode one, you are dead to me.

I tried to write a more detailed analysis, full of spoilers, after writing this part, but I’ve found that I still can’t get all my thoughts together. The imagery here: the piano that plays according the script, the incredibly beautiful vistas hiding the darkness, the way the bodies are shot not as sexy but in this cold dead lighting that makes them look so sad, the cut aways from the worst violence (sexual and physical, except when one guy’s head is blown off), the incredible acting (holy fuck Louis Herthum’s performance with Hopkins), and of course, the obvious but necessary black and white hats. And I love the puffed-up gaming writer, the visibility of bisexual and lesbian characters (even in passing), the fact that the world wasn’t all white (tho still mostly so, alas). The quest givers and the little moments of beauty amid the horror, and OMG WHEN SHE WAKES UP ON THE TABLE HOLY SHIT THIS IS SO GREAT.

This is indeed Dollhouse meets Jurassic Park meets Groundhog Day, only seemingly far more aware of issues related to humanity, bodily integrity, and dare I say: women. I am watching this show for the same reason I watched Spartacus, and that’s because I CAN’T FUCKING WAIT for THE DAY OF RECKONING. You are just so ready for the robots to burn all this shit down.

Every monologue Hopkins gives makes it clear there is a heavy meat beneath the promise of this show, and by god, it better fucking deliver. Hope springs eternal because of that second episode, and the choice they made with the man in the white hat. I am used to nihilistic, dark, mean TV, and expected them to go what has now become the tired grimdark route, but this is promising to show us a far more varied place than that.

I will say it now: if this show actually delivers on the promises it makes in these first two episodes, we are in store for some fine, fine television. This whole show is right up my alley.

5 Years a Novelist: A Retrospective on the Writing Life

In January of 2011, about five years ago now, my first book, God’s War, was finally published after being bought and sold and sold again, since about 2007. That was a long and exhausting time, that publishing carousel.

But God’s War will always have a special place in my heart, as selling that series twice enabled me to get out of the poverty hole I’d been in, pay off the three credit cards I’d been living on for a year, and move out of my friends’ spare bedroom into my own apartment.

Five years later I have published six books, with two more coming out next year. I own a house and make a decent salary, so decent I was able to pay an unimaginable amount of money in an attempt to save my dog. Which is… something I could not have ever imagined doing five years ago. Five years ago I couldn’t even pay my own medical expenses.

I have experienced the best and the worst that publishing has to offer, in those five years. I had a bankrupt publisher (that still owes me thousands!) sold to another crappy publisher, and another publisher sold off that stalled the reprint of another book. I have won some awards. Critical acclaim! Great reviews! Drinking with authors! Blurbs!

It’s a bit astonishing to look back and realize all that has happened in just five years. I mean, shit, no wonder people drop out after a decade. Just five years in the business feels like a thirty-year career.

Last year was the first year I made what I’d consider a living wage via novel writing and Patreon dollars alone. This year, I made much less, which is why I still have a day job. The writing life is, as ever, fickle. You never know what the year will bring.

It’s very strange to meet newer/younger writers who look up to me these days, or who think I’m an established pro. Because even tho, gosh, I guess I am, if you look at the year count here, I’ve only been publishing novels for five years. Hardly a lifetime. But maybe that IS a lifetime, in publishing? The thing is, I spent fifteen years prior to that just working on craft, writing other novels that didn’t sell, publishing short stories, trying to break in. So even if I only start the publishing clock at “novel published” I’m really twenty years in.

I know so many writers who don’t make it past a debut book, or a debut series. And I don’t blame them. There’s a lot of disappointment in this industry, mainly driven by flawed expectations. To be a novelist is to be a glorified freelancer, with all the benefits and drawbacks of that type of life. You write and license your content to third parties. If you’re lucky, the content makes you some money beyond the initial advance. If you’re really lucky, it takes off and becomes your lottery ticket. But most books do just well enough to get you the next deal. The next shot. The next step in your career.

Whenever I get frustrated at the grind, I remind myself that I’m just five years in, and it’s going to get tougher. Oh, certainly, some aspects are more fun, as well. Conventions are better, now that I know more people. My writing is better, even if it doesn’t come any easier. And I know myself and what I want much better, which makes negotiations and expectations better, too. I’m learning more about structure, and more about what a “Kameron Hurley” novel really is. I have a lot of ideas for future work.

When I was a teenager, I expected to be making a living writing by the time I was 24. Today I do make a living writing, and actually have been doing so, since 27. Just… not as a novel writer. As a marketing writer. It’s not a bad gig. But it’s certainly not what I expected. The novel money is the gravy. The novel money gets me to conventions. Helps pay off debt. Pays those vet bills. But it’s still not what covers the mortgage or the food.

And, you know, maybe that’s better, five years in. Five years in, I still get to write the books I want. I think about the market, but I don’t worry about it, because if I have a book that tanks, I won’t starve. Maybe that is the freedom one gets, freedom one doesn’t have later unless one has already written that one-book wonder that pays the bills forever.

For now, I am redoubling my efforts to focus on the writing itself. It’s easy to get discouraged by the business, far too easy, to the point that you forget about the work. When you realize that the money from the work saved me from a deep hole of poverty just five years ago, you can see how it can be hard for me not to worry about the money. But to worry over that is to give up one my true north, and what I’m here for. To worry about that is to worry about something I can control only marginally. Readers do the rest.

So here’s to the next five years of the writing life. I expect them to be just as exhilarating, horrifying, hilarious, disappointing, and hopeful as the first five.

And yes, I intend to be here for them. Thanks for coming along for the ride.