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Urban Homesteading: Building a Forest in Downtown

Six years ago, my spouse and I bought a house in a neighborhood that had recently undergone some massive reconstruction. The old neighborhood had such a bad reputation locally that it took several years for my spouse to get his friends to actually agree to come over to the house for game days because they feared for their lives and belongings. But the city invested a lot of money in the area because it wasn’t far from the site of the Wright Brothers’ old house, and it looked pretty bad to disinvest entirely in the neighborhood. 22 million dollars later, all the electric lines had been put underground, many crumbling houses had been torn down, street lights were added, and some homes had been renovated.

Then the housing crash of 2008 happened.

We ended up getting our house for $100,000 LESS than its original asking price. Some of our neighbors were not so lucky, and ended up being immediately underwater in their mortgages. A neighbor across the street moved to Florida and simply stopped paying his mortgage and let the house get foreclosed. Others moved out of the neighborhood only by selling their homes for something crazy like $65,000, when they had paid $165,000 or $120,000 for their homes in 2004/5. For real.

At any rate, in our area this means that a mortgage is actually several hundred dollars a month cheaper than renting. So, understanding that our jobs were uncertain and the economy was shit, we used some money from a book check as a down payment and bought a 3 bed/2.5 bath house here in 2009. We were able to buy the lot next door – which had formerly been a parking lot – for $500 from the city. When we moved in, there was a scary wreck of a house on another lot adjacent that one. It was about a year before it was finally torn down. Here’s a video of the teardown – VERY early shots of yard, so you know where we started from:

It took several years, but we finally got the city to replat the lots around ours so we had a rectangular lot made up of about three different lots totaling about 1/3 of an acre. What to do with all that space? Well, first things first, we put in a lot of landscaping around the house the first two years, then added a garden the year before last:

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This bare lot where the garden is was where there used to be a house. We put fill dirt over it and added these beds. What we decided to do was to do just a little bit every year. So that year we added the trellis and the beds. The next year, we added gravel between the beds. This year, we added another big bed  adjacent the row of berry vines, there. We also put in five trees our first year in the house, which we planted ourselves, and added a lot of free trees and plants donated by my spouses’ family.

This year was a big year, though. After we didn’t get the house on the river we’d really wanted (they were asking way too much, and rejected both our offers. Now that the global economy seems to be collapses, this was certainly a blessing in disguise), I told my spouse I wanted to take some money from our next book check and buy MOAR TREES. If I couldn’t have a house in the woods on a river, I’d make do. So we bought eight trees and had them planted. I bought three more very cheap fruit trees, and my spouse got some old concrete benches and stones from his mom. I bought some bird feeders, and we got all the materials to install our own flagstone patio some time this summer (in our spare time). Next year we will put in two small ponds connected by a stream. Again, remember: do a few things every year, and in ten years you will have your forest. That’s my goal.

So, after all that work over the years, here’s how things are looking this year:

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There’s still plenty of work to do over the next five years, and as the trees and the perennials grow in, it’s going to get even more like a forest, which I love. I’ve already been spending a lot more time outside. Sometimes when shit doesn’t work out, you have to work with what you have and just MAKE it right. I keep being reminded of my grandmother, and all the hard work she put into her own house in the garden to make it what she wanted. I grew up in the freewheeling `90’s, and patience isn’t something I’m good at, but I’m learning that things are far different now. Expectations are different. But instead of giving up and being upset, I’ve decided to see those obstacles and limitations and challenges. If I can’t get a big house on the coast somewhere, or live in some amazing river house, then by god I will MAKE this house what I want it to be. We are very lucky to have chosen this place, and gotten in at the bottom of the market. There is still a potential to build a home in America, but you have to make a lot of sacrifices about where that is and what that means.

So here we are, building our urban forest, and making the dream work.

Pupdate: The Staph Infection that Keeps On Giving

Last time…. well, here’s the summary of our dog Drake’s situation up to this point.

Folks on Twitter have been hearing that we’re back to being in and out of the vet ER again, so here’s the update on what’s happened since that post. Drake had been in the clear for weeks, and was steadily improving the amount he walked. We got rid of the baby gates in the living room and let him have free reign of the downstairs, even if he still needed a lot of prompting to get up on his own. We were taking him on 3-4 walks a day of about four blocks each. He still wasn’t up to climbing the steps up into the house, so hauling him in was still a pain, but hey, progress! After marked improvement for several weeks, he suddenly started stumbling more on the walks. He got more stubborn, and wouldn’t want to walk more than about a block without a lot of cajoling on our part (he’s 150 lbs; you either convince him or you don’t). Then he would stumble and fall down. Not just on his butt, but completely sink to the ground from all fours. This was worrisome.

So when my spouse took him in for what was supposed to be his final check after the double-ACL surgery, my spouse mentioned this, and the doctor went ahead and did an xray not just of Drake’s legs, but also of his spine, and ran some more bloodwork to see if the infection was, in fact, still active but not showing outward signs.

Sure enough, when the doctor brought back the xrays, there was a terrible mess in part of his spine; the bone there was clearly disintegrating in the area right below where he had gotten both of his epidurals for the surgeries. The bloodwork confirmed it a few days later. Turns out, then, that the staph infection had traveled from his skin via the huge needle and implanted itself into his spine. So though his legs were better, the infection was still hiding out there doing damage, which is why he was falling over – his damaged spin was pinching his nerves. This was also why he did better when we gave him anti-inflammatories, because it reduced the swelling in his spine and made it easier to walk.

The doctor noted that the LAST thing we wanted to do was cut this dog open again (I kept being reminded of that episode of Babylon 5 where the aliens are like “You can’t cut open our son or he’ll lose his soul”). Typically, getting rid of an infection in the spine could mean anywhere from three to six months of continued antibiotics, after which we could strengthen Drake’s spine using steroids, which was a relatively low cost solution to the spine damage (the surgery option to fix his spine is actually a very easy one, apparently. We just can’t cut this dog open again). This was a problem, of course, because as stated previous, we’d already been through seven kinds of antibiotics, and the one the doctor said would be most effective was the one that made Drake so sick that he stopped eating or drinking for a week and we had to discontinue it. The doctor was insistent we go back on it, though. You can imagine how that turned out.

To the doctor’s credit, Drake lasted about three week on that antibiotic before he stopped eating again, conveniently while my spouse was out enjoying his time at Origins in Columbus and I was tasked with dog duty. Not wanting to let my spouse down (he has been primary dog caregiver, because he is a saint), I must have tried everything in the damn fridge over those three days trying to get Drake to take his meds. Tuna was the go-to on Friday night, but that was the last time we were able to get anything but a few scraps of chicken into him for several days. On Sunday, my spouse was back home, and got Drake a new medication, and pilled Drake a few times with an EIGHTH… or maybe NINTH antibiotic (the only one we have never tried. We are officially out). This one made Drake’s stomach sick too, though, so we just discontinued everything. Yesterday we were able to get him to eat some bread.

We went back to the vet today and agreed to go back to the expensive injectable antibiotic that we’d had to discontinue because his system could no longer handle it. Apparently you can start over with these after a break and do them again until one’s system can’t handle it anymore. If you ever get an antibiotic resistant staph infection, well, here’s the hell that you are in for. So the idea is that we cycle him on this antibiotic for a week, then switch back to the one that made him sick for two weeks, then cut off that one BEFORE he gets sick, then cycle him onto something else for a couple of weeks, and do blood tests every month to see how close we are to getting rid of the rest of the infection. With the injections, we have to take Drake into the vet clinic every day to get them, so that’s, yanno, a PITA.

So Drake had his first injection today, and tonight he took his first half block walk in nearly a week without stumbling. He ate a piece of bread and a sausage this morning, and ate about a cup of regular dog food and some wet food tonight, so that’s great. Him eating also means we’re able to put him back on pain meds and anti-inflammatories, so he’s suddenly loving life again. It’s weird to watch an animal go from death’s door awful (he was a wreck last night, limping and stumbling) to being themselves again.

At this point we just want him to get better. When you have invested the better part of seven months into surgery and caregiving for an animal that lives with you – especially one as large as Drake – the escalation of commitment is pretty huge. I sit in bed sometimes and remind myself that even after all this, he could still die. We’re cycling antibiotics and we’re out of new ones, after all. Now we just cycle and hope he can tolerate another two or three months of this.

Now that Drake is a little happier today, I’d like to end on a happy note, but I am feeling mixed about his chances. So instead I’m going to end on a different up note. At every step in this process, our vet staff said, “Wow, we’ve never seen ANYTHING like this before!” (pretty much what you NEVER want to hear from any doctor ever). They’d never had to deal with an antibiotic-resistant staph infection, as these are new and horrifying things just now coming up in our vet and human hospitals. But Drake’s situation has been a learning experience for them, too, and when they recently had a big Newfoundland dog come in that needed a double ACL surgery, they checked his skin for staph, found it, and immediately initiated a pre-surgery regimen where they shaved the dog’s legs and treated the skin with antibiotic salve every day for a week before surgery, as well as starting oral antibiotics the week before surgery.  They were going to go in and hit the infection hard and fast before it could even get started or embedded in the dog’s system the way it had Drake over all those weeks and months where we were struggling to figure out what was wrong and how to fix it.

So there’s the good story part, there, because to be dead honest, few people have the financial resources we do to get a dog through a year of this, and we were only able to do it with Patreon money, generous fan donations (THANK YOU! YOU KNOW WHO YOU ARE!), and pet insurance. Many other pet owners facing this kind of thing would not be able to do what we have. Now, at least, vets at this hospital will be more prepared for these types of infections in the future, and prevent or at least make it easier to combat these infections quickly instead of letting them get established.

Knowing this helps me sleep better at night. No matter what happens, someone else is going to be helped by what we went through. Sometimes that’s all you can ask for.

 

Real Publishing Talk: Author Expectation and Entitlement

Despite all of my real talk about publishing here, I can get caught up in The Publishing Dream just as easily as anyone. I still see my peers getting the six and seven figure advances. I see breakout books happen to folks who were previously midlist. I still get excited when one of my books drops and the buzz wagon starts and people get super excited.

And I still feel the big letdown when I realize I still have a long way to go to get Dreamy.  And I look at the work, and the numbers, and I gnash my teeth and whine and cry about it, and then I get back to work.

In this business, you must have a lot of hope. It’s the hope that the next book, or the next, will breakout or build steam or lead to a great deal that keeps you going. But the moment you expect a breakout, the minute you feel entitled to it, is the moment you will crumble under the weight of all your expectations when the real world comes knocking.

This industry is built on hope, on possibility, on the long game, on the gamble. I’ve had Hollywood come knocking about various projects, too. As with publishing, I have learned how to temper my expectations there, as well. I am entitled to nothing. I expect nothing.

As I’ve had more interest in my work, and more opportunities have come my way, I’ve also learned how to say no to things that aren’t furthering my ultimate goal of building my work into its own powerhouse. This is another reason I still hold onto the day job, because it means I don’t have to take every deal or every opportunity. Still, it’s hard to say no. You’re always concerned about opportunities drying up. What if this is the best it ever gets? What if I don’t get an opportunity again?

And then I look at my career and I go, “We are just getting started.”

And it is this, this hope, this rally from the depths of doubt and despair, that keeps me going. You must believe in the future. You must believe you can create it. You must believe that endurance, and hard work, and persistence, will carry you through.

Like all beliefs, of course, it doesn’t make what you believe any truer that something you don’t believe in. But it does help you get up again. It does help you move on. It helps you write again, and complete the next project, and pursue your next goal.

I’ve built a life on the back of shattered expectations. I may not be thrilled, as a Left Coast Liberal ending up in the Midwest, but in looking around at the shattered economy and soaring housing prices, it’s currently one of the few places in the U.S. where I can live as well as I do on the money I make. We are carving out a little, affordable piece of something out here. But it’s certainly not what I expected.

My novel career, too, is not what I expected. I figured I’d be writing novels for a living by the time I was in my mid-twenties. I didn’t realize I was both writing ahead of the market and trying to get published just before it imploded. Luck plays a part in success, and I have scrambled through a lot of rough patches of poor timing and awful luck.

And not a single minute of that scramble entitles me to anything. It’s this knowledge that I have to struggle with time and time again, though I know better. My parents raised me with that good old white working class promise “Work hard and you’ll succeed.” The truth is that how hard one works doesn’t entitle one to anything at all. There are no guarantees in life. A truer statement might be, “Put in the work and hope for the best.”

This is where I’m at now as I work on the next book. Here I am, one book released just two weeks ago, another heading out to reviewers, and a third that I’m currently drafting, all at the same time. When you work, all you should expect is more work.

Hope exists for the rest.

Llama Army: Revolution Roundup

Greetings, fellow llamas!

The llama llaunch is now in week two, so let us take a gander at what you may have missed:

Did you miss the Llama Facts for the last couple weeks? They’re on Pinterest now! 

EVENTS

Chicago: I’ll be at Printer’s Row Lit Fest THIS WEEKEND. Come say hi, visit the panel, buy a book, get it signed!

Dayton: My first bookstore signing will be at the Beavercreek, Ohio Barnes and Noble on Saturday, June 25th at 2pm. See you there!

Summer Events: Check the events calendar, which I’m updating as I go!

There have been an incredible number of heartwarming reviews from fans and fellow writers about the book, too many to list. Thanks to everyone for buying and sharing the book. Can’t stop the signal.

I have some other stuff in the works, my llama friends. More as it happens.

In the meantime…. have you got your llama yet?? 

 

Is Living Worth It?

As I get older, I consider mortality a lot more, though never more than I did when I was 26 years old and learned that I had a chronic immune disorder.

Prior to getting this disease I felt I was a pretty tough person. I went to boxing classes twice a week. I worked out. Sure, I had some allergies, but until my long slog into illness I didn’t get sick that often. I spent a lot of time thinking about the apocalypse, and how I’d manage to survive – a badass with a machete and a shotgun – while the world collapsed around me.

I don’t think so much about surviving the post-apocalypse anymore.

As a type 1 diabetic, I require four or five shots of synthetic insulin a day in order to survive. If I miss these shots for more than about 48 hours, I will go into a coma and die. If I don’t time these shots correctly and overdose, I could go into a coma and die. If I get stuck out somewhere without a way to increase my blood sugar should I take too much insulin, I will go into a coma and die. If I’m traveling and my insulin gets too hot, or too cold, and is destroyed, I will die.

Death is very close.

Being that close to death all the time changes the way you think about life. It’s why I feel such an affinity for other people who’ve been through it, or who are going through it. My spouse is a cancer survivor. He had just finished the last of his radiation a few months before we met. We understood life in a way that only people who’ve stared at death really do.  You appreciate the little things a lot more. You constantly feel like you’re running on borrowed time.

Most of all, you get how precious life is, and you do your damnedest to hold onto it.

In reading this post from Steven Spohn over at Wendig’s site, I was reminded of this again. I may have all the appearances of being able-bodied, but when people talk about tossing out people for being defective, I can tell you that somewhere on there, no matter how far down, I am on that list. I know that because before I got sick, I put people like me on that list. I believed in “survival of the fittest.” What I didn’t realize is that “fittest” is a lie. The “fittest” don’t survive. There are some truly ridiculous animals out there (pandas??? Narwhales??). Those who survive are the most adapted to their particular niche. That is all. They are not stronger or smarter or cooler or better built or more logical. In fact, some of the world’s most illogical animals continue to survive (PANDAS! Sorry, I just saw a documentary about pandas, and jesus). Life isn’t actually a competitive game at all. Life is, instead, an experience. Life is a fluke, maybe. Or perhaps consciousness is what drives the creation of the universe. We could be everything or nothing. But what we are is alive, in this time and place, and that in itself, considering all the things that had to happen to get us here, is extraordinary.

I don’t believe in the callous attitude that life is garbage, that we’re all expendable, that existence is meaningless and we should throw everyone who can’t row the boat overboard. Because really, is rowing the boat everything we need to survive? What else does it take, to make the world? To build a society? Who do we become, when we choose who lives, and who dies, who is precious, and who is expendable?

In many other times, I’d be dead. My doctor told me that if I’d been wheeled into the ICU in the shape I was in 20 years ago, I’d be dead. But here I am, writing this post, and writing stories for you. Does my life have value? Or should I be a plot point in someone else’s story? And if you say, “Oh, Kameron, we believe you’re a human,” then where do you draw the line? At what point will you say, “It’s OK to throw that other person under the bus, because they can’t walk, or talk, or because keeping them alive is just so expensive!” Where is your line, for which lives matter? And who are you to make that call? Unless you have the ability to bear children, you do not get to say what lives come into the world, and what lives don’t, because they are not of your body. Instead, they are part of your society, individuals who rely on one another to survive. We are all here, with are our special little quirks and our individual needs, and when you draw a line, I know, I have seen that line move. I have seen how we say, “Oh, just this one. Then that one. Then one more.”

No one would ask me, “Is living worth it?” because they don’t know what I have to do to ensure I keep living. I can tell you: some days it drives me fucking crazy. Some days I want to give up. But that’s my choice. It’s not a choice for a list. And if you are writing people who, like me, must make that choice every day: “Do I take the shot or not? Do I live today or not?” remember that we don’t exist as a plot point in someone else’s story.

More often than not, we are far too busy making our own.

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.