Sign up here to get info on new releases and giveaways!

Archive for the ‘Updates’ Category

Christmas 2016 & Ruminations on the Future

I love Christmas. It’s my favorite holiday. I start listening to Christmas music in October. I decorate the house, whenever possible, the day after Thanksgiving (and only that late because my spouse insisted many years ago: No Decorations Until After Thanksgiving, which is fair). We like to get the tree the first week of December, so we can enjoy it through New Year’s week. It’s a lot of work to put up a tree that’s only up for a week.

But this year has been a tough one, as it has been for a lot of people. We both got sick just before Thanksgiving, and though we had a great trip out to see family and friends in Albuquerque, it meant it took us even longer to recover from being sick. Since this summer, my spouse has also been being treated for some health issues, which culminated in a lot of tests and doctor’s appointments and hospital visits in December (he is OK). Last week I realized I was just too tired to get a tree and decorate it this year, and neither of us had the energy to put up the Christmas lights. I managed to get up the Christmas village and hang some bulbs on the trees outside, but that was it.

We burned through all of our savings and too much credit earlier this year trying to save our dog, Drake, who finally died in July of an antibiotic-resistant staph infection. We had some checks we anticipated getting this month (including reimbursements from pet insurance) that haven’t arrived, so things are tight here, and it’s not the usual blow-out extravaganza of presents I like to do, but we do have cash flow, so it’s not like we’re poor, just… not the usual holiday. We cashed in our Chipotle Chiptopia reward of catering for 20 and ate that all last week because we were both too tired to cook and hey, it would save us on groceries! So that gives you an idea of our energy levels.

The exhaustion and political horror of the last couple of months can sometimes mask the fact that good things happened this year, too. The Geek Feminist Revolution came out in May (May! Feels like a lifetime ago, and a whole other world ago) and is selling OK. Reader reactions to that one have been amazing; it’s got the highest rating of any of my books on Goodreads. I also finished writing The Stars are Legion back in… March? And now that review copies have gone out, reader reactions are coming in, and it’s blowing people’s minds in just the right way (a lot of people didn’t believe it could possibly be a book with ALL WOMEN in it. Ha ha it’s a sci-fi world! There’s even a sci-fi reason! See, writers can do anything! Your own worldbuilding excuses are invalid!).

I continue to have a stable job that doesn’t eat my soul, provides health insurance for me and my spouse, and gives me the flexibility I need to stay sane. In 2016 and the years to come, this is pretty rare, and something to celebrate. Before the election my goal was to move to writing full time by the time I was forty. Now, without access to affordable health insurance through the ACA in the next few years, that’s not going to happen (“access” to health insurance is not “affordable” health insurance. I’m sure the new admin would be happy to let me pay $50k a year to get covered and call that “insurance access for everyone!”). The ACA was a cool dream. The dream is most likely over, so I’m adjusting my future goals accordingly.

As for my own health, a series of poor test results (increasing blood pressure, increased A1C, another weight jump) led my doctor to try a few different drugs this year to see if they could help. We seem to have hit on one that both helps my body process the insulin I have to inject for the rest of my life and reduces appetite dramatically. I no longer think about food all the time and I admit I keep wondering, “Is this how skinny people feel all the time?” After I dieted back in 2012 to drop the 30 lbs I gained after God’s War came out, my hunger came back with a raging vengeance, and it’s been nigh impossible to stop the uptick, to the point where I thought there was something seriously wrong with me, metabolically. Don’t crash diet, people. Seeing the scale number jump significantly backwards for the first time in many years, I find it ironic, once again, that weight gain or loss is still considered a moral matter in this country, like you’re somehow better if you can be thinner, when there are in fact all sorts of hidden bodily reasons that people stay thin or fat. Our Puritan idea that we must suffer hunger and toil, and that a slender body is the outward manifestation of this, is just bizarre. Let me tell you, with the raging hunger I’ve had for the last four years, it took some suffer and toil to be only this size. If this side effect to my meds continues, don’t think I’ve got some secret later this year when you see me and I’ve lost weight. There’s no secret. There’s no magic. It’s just that bodies are weird. I’m the same person at every weight. The dissonance I’ve felt inside my weirdly messed up body does bleed over into my fiction a lot. I am very aware of being a gooey sack of meat.

In other news, I’ve also joined the local YMCA, which is just $30 a month and which is just down the street from my day job, so I can swing by there a few times a week for some quick cardio (not suffering and toil. Quick cardio!). I’ve been writing a shitbrick of articles this year for the day job about health and wellness, and there are two things that all of the research agrees on: people who exercise 20 minutes a day and eat green leafy vegetables tend to live longer and in better health. Oh, and smoking is bad. But that should be a given, these days. That’s it. So I am getting back to moving again, for actual health as opposed to toil, and that should help solve the blood pressure issue, too. 2017 is no time to die of a heart attack. I mean, the Resistance will just be getting started…

As I look ahead to the next year, I see a lot of uncertainly, like many people. I have the final book due in my Worldbreaker Saga, The Broken Heavens, in April (wait until you see the cover! Squee!). I also have another stand-alone SF book due to Saga Press at the end of next year as well. Those are the last of my contracted books, so I’ll be working with my agent this year on a few other projects. We also have many other irons in the fire, some with the God’s War books/possible spin-offs, a possible story collection, and one pilot script project that’s spinning its wheels. We’ll see what happens.

My motto for this year and perhaps the next few is going to be “Survive.” That is my goal, really, to dig ourselves back out of dog medical debt, to write some great projects, to persevere, to survive. Thriving would be great! But sometimes you have to be OK with survival, and this year, of all years, I’m OK with survival. I admit this means I have no pithy hopeful statements about the future (though I find the idea that I’ll survive into the future pretty hopeful!). Instead, I have only the guarantee that I will do what I can to survive, and that I will stick it in here beside you as I always have.

As I’ve told some people, one of the tricks I’ve manufactured to get myself through the relenting badness that is the news these days (besides reducing time on Twitter) is to imagine myself looking back at this time from a point far in the future when things are much better. I had this striking dream of myself as an old woman on this timeline, living in an adobe house in the desert, opening the door to some young kids who’d brought copies of Geek Feminist Revolution and who thought I was some kind of ancient seer. They had come to talk about the past, about the world I lived in that spawned that book, and all the books that came before and after it.

That sort of dream may not seem very powerful to you, but to me it was. With my shitty health the last few years and all the political turmoil, I was honestly worried about my chances of making it to old age. That dream gave me the vision of some other timeline, a vision I could use to plot my way forward through the coming years, which may be rough in order to get me to wonderful. We all need a story to see us through the darkest times. Do you need a story of that hopeful future? Write yours, too, and cling to it tightly. We’ll need them.

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.

 

 

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.

The Madhatter Teaparty: Rescuing Your Characters from Endless Cups of Tea

Plot kicks my ass. It kicks my ass up one end of a story and down another, because honestly, all my characters want to do is snark at each other over tea. Or whisky. Or coffee. Or bug juice. Whatever. Any excuse for them to sit around flinging zingers at each other and discussing what they are going to do next works for me.

This over reliance on tea-and-conversation scenes is a hallmark of discovery or gardener writers like me. When we get stuck on what happens next, we just sit the characters down for a chat and let them figure it out. Needless to say, this is a time consuming bit of lazy writing, because while it may get us where we’re going eventually, we can spend literally thousands upon thousands of words over the course of a novel having the characters explain the plot to each other, and then we have to go back and remove all those scenes or make them more interesting in their final form (I spent a lot of time in Empire Ascendant in particular going back and making talking scenes more interesting. For real: in the first draft, the first 150 pages of that book was just people talking).

Since I started writing the Worldbreaker Saga, my goal has been to work hard on how I plot and draft novels so that I can write faster, stronger, and more readable stories. But when I was up last night putting in my 500 words for the new Nyx novella dropping on Patreon this month, I immediately caught myself falling into my old routine. After Nyx and her mercenary companions apprehend a rogue Death Magician in a nice action-packed opening, I wrote this:

Khos sat under a tattered awning, mouthing the words on the menu as a scrawny Nasheenian kid peered over his shoulder like a bird. Nyx saw a cup but no tea, nothing that looked remotely wet in that damn cup, sure as fuck not her either, and that annoyed her. He was always coming up with slim excuses to shirk off his work.

            He raised his big head, and had the sense to get up when she  came over the low fence surrounding the tea shop.

            “The fuck, Khos?” she said.

            “You found her?” he said.

            “No thanks to you,” she said. “I’m splitting this bounty with Anneke, cutting you out.”

            “I don’t think that’s necessary,” he said.

            “I don’t give a fuck what you think. Why are you always late to the game, Khos?”

            His glacial face moved into a frown. For all his bulk and careful movements made him seem slow, he wasn’t. Oh, sure, he wasn’t the best to pick up on social cues, but he wasn’t completely stupid. She didn’t like stupid people on her team, and she certainly never fucked stupid people, so he must not be stupid, even though she hated his face in this moment. 

            She reached for the teacup only to have her hand spasm. She shook out the tingling numbness and gripped the cup purposely. If anyone noticed, they said nothing. 

            Falling apart, she was.

            “Get me whisky,” she said, shaking the empty cup.

            “This is a dry town,” Khos said.

            She loomed over the scrawny kid. “Whisky,” she said.

            The kid took off.

            Nyx slumped into the chair across from Khos. “She had two death head beetles on her,” Nyx said.

            “Like the last one,” he said.

            “Want to get them back to Rhys,” she said. 

It just goes on and on like this. While there’s nothing intrinsically wrong with this scene, the truth is I have written tea-and-plot scenes so many times that they bore the crud out of me. And I can’t imagine how much they bore readers, at this point, even with the hints of conflict and tension woven in here.

And while the scene achieves several things: we get a pause after the opening action to regroup; we cover next steps; we get some character moments – I found myself a couple hundred words in before realized I was leaning on my old go-to scene just to churn out a few hundred words and call it done for the night. It repeats information about the beetle, and the fact that they have apprehended the suspect. While I like that it sets up Nyx’s usual distrust of Khos – conflict is always good – I feel I can do this in a scene with a cooler setting that ties into the plot. This could be a shooting range, or a public pool, or a kitchen where Khos is learning local recipes, you know, something that does more than the invisible “tea and whisky chat.” While sometimes you DO have to have a “talk plot” scene, it’s far better to have a “walk and talk plot” scene (or sex-and-exposition scene, which the GoT TV series has become famous for. That’s their own lazy writing go-to for these sorts of scenes).  Better is to have this scene happen somewhere that ties into the overall plot/theme of the book: this scene should happen at or near a crematorium, or in a morgue where Khos is searching bodies to see if any of the recent dead are among the girl’s gang. Fixing this is a classic “pope in the pool” technique from Blake Snyder’s book Save the Cat ( was watching Mr. Robot recently and laughed uproariously at the first episode, because the main character literally saves a dog and I was like, Wow I can see how that conversation played out. “This character needs to be more likable. Have him save a cat or something!” And lo, the dog was saved. That likability probably could have been better achieved without inserting a dog into the show that then has to be mentioned again and again throughout; unless one is setting up the dog to serve some other purpose).

Leaning on your go-to lazy writing techniques happens even more when you’re writing fast, in short bursts. This is the trouble with giving myself short evening writing goals, and one of the reasons I prefer Saturday binge writing sessions when I can set everything up and write out what comes next. But I’m reserving my Saturdays for working on The Broken Heavens, and this novella won’t get done if I don’t carve out time for it. What this scene reinforced for me is the necessity of sitting down and writing out a couple of sentences about the scene I’m going to write before I write it, even if it’s only 500 words. Otherwise they are all going to end up like this. And while I can go back and fix it later to a morgue or crematorium scene, that’s a pain in the ass. Better to catch myself before I do it and fix it then. The more I write, the easier it is for all the writing to sound the same. Writing in a state of flow doesn’t always mean you write the best ideas, only the ones easiest for your brain to latch onto. While the may be great for the first couple of books, at some point your go-to stuff starts to feel like old hat. You have to start working harder, thinking the scenes through, figuring out how every piece works together and becomes resonant instead of just relying on your brain stew.

Remember that this is not BAD, to do. Plenty of people write the same book over and over and do well doing that. But I don’t want to be OK or even just Good. I want to be GREAT. And these days, with the competition that books have with other sorts of media for readers’ time, I don’t feel that I can afford to be “OK” or even “Good.” More and more, I see that there is only room for great, and everything else.

I Published My Debut Novel to Critical Acclaim—and Then I Promptly Went Broke

This, from Merrit Tierce, has been making the rounds:

I Published My Debut Novel to Critical Acclaim—and Then I Promptly Went Broke

My first thought: yeah, well, welcome to the club.

Ha ha, just kidding: I kept my day job. I kept my day job – I keep my day job – even though some days it pains the hell out of me, because yeah, I’d be broke immediately if I quit. Like, no contest. And I’ve published five novels and an essay collection in the last 5 years, with two more novels coming out next year. So.

My straight talk about writing and finances is what I get the most pushback about. Everybody wants this to be the million-dollar Scalzi blog, but yanno: there is the 1% of writers, and then there is… everyone else. Not that I don’t intend to be the 1% at some point (DON’T WE ALL!) but you have got to be real in this business about where you are and where you’re headed and how you plan to get there. Because you are going to be spending a lot of time grinding your way up in this biz, and you need to be prepared.

A lot of aspiring writers call these finance posts “depressing” and “brutal,” and yes, it may be those things, but it’s also the truth. Seeing it get a lot of play at larger venues just makes me roll my eyes and go, “See, kids, I’m not making this shit up.” Yes, this is real. This is the hustle. Huge numbers of “acclaimed” books sell a few thousand copies. Selling 12,000 copies in your first year as a debut author, as Tierce did, is pretty good! I think my first novel, God’s War sold like 10,000 its first year, and was also nominated for and the winner of a couple awards. We can’t all be The Girl on the Train, mmmkay? That magical shit that sometimes happens to books is pretty out of our control. The most you can do with your own marketing push is stay afloat in the midlist.

But this isn’t what the media would lead us to think is pretty good, and from the sound of it, her advance was so great that she hasn’t earned it back on those numbers yet, so I dunno, I would not be boo-hooing about that. Sounds like a good advance for a debut novel. Next time, tho: snap up that two-book deal. You only get to be a debut, with debut-risk dollars, once.

But of course, Tierce isn’t complaining about this so much as she is marveling and noting upon the difference between public perception of what it is to be an “acclaimed” writer and the financial reality, a dissonance I’ve been struggling with myself for some time. It’s a weird place to be, where people scream with joy when you walk into a room and burst into tears at your signing and swoon when you give them a blurb, but you’re cashing a royalty check for $800, which you’re dumping into your dead dog’s old medical bills before heading into your day job. You often feel like you’re a hamster on a wheel, or a ditch digger who’s been employed to dig out and fill in the same hole day after day, book after book.

I have seen this sudden, shocking realization – that writing is a job, a hustle – destroy a lot of debut writers. Many of them, like Tierce, have trouble with that second book. I was lucky enough to have already completed my second book by the time my first came out. Yet I too have stared down the barrel of reality, and found it wanting. It gets to me sometimes, too, when it’s not just “Breaking in for a few years” but “Breaking in for a few decades.” Dedicating oneself to a singular purpose with that sort of passion and stamina is rare in any field. But in writing, as in any field, the longer you are in it, the harder you work, the more chances you have to break out, to get lucky. Writing a novel is still better odds than playing the lottery, but only just. If you are looking for your self-esteem in your sales numbers or the size of your royalty checks (if you get them) you are on a fast road to disappointment.

This is why I encourage folks to have writing goals that aren’t tied to bestsellerdom or advance numbers. Oh, sure, HAVE those goals, too, but look for goals that are things you can control. Stuff like: write a book every year, or every two years. Or write a comic book. Or write a screenplay. Something you can do on your own, not something that relies on the goodwill, opinion, or marketing dollars of someone else. You will go mad in this business if you tie your business success to your self-worth. Writers who have spouses with solid day jobs, or trust funds, or connections from rich parents, are always going to be better positioned to get opportunities than you. But again: it’s like that in any industry. All you have is your unique voice, and your ability to persist.

If you’re a fan, knowing how much even “acclaimed” authors make is good to know for you, too. Writers don’t want to be jerks about going to events, but if you can’t pay them to go, you know: a lot of us can’t make it. Hell, even if we’re making good day job money, we are often limited by how much time off we’re allowed to take. One of the things that will shock you when you start going up through the pro writer ranks is how little money everyone makes from writing. Many award-winning writers live in poverty, living hand to mouth on freelance projects and praying they don’t have a health disaster because they have shit health insurance (or none at all).

Making a living wage as a writer is not a given. It’s not the norm. The year you spend working on that novel might net you $5,000 if you’re lucky. Add up those hours at minimum wage and let’s be real, you’d make way more working a minimum wage job than writing a novel. That’s the reality. That’s the odds. You do it because you enjoy it, because you’re good at it, because you like it better than flipping burgers.

But don’t expect the world to coddle and support your inner artist any more than it would coddle and support your inner grillmaster. The hustle is the same. The grind is no prettier. Writing is not a get-rich quick scheme. Fans, media, and aspiring writers need to stop positioning it as one.

Going Dark ’til January 9th to Prep for EPIC 2017

I’ve cancelled the rest of my appearances for this year, which I know surprised and worried a lot of people, but frankly, there is a lot of writerly-shit on deck right now, and I keep falling further and further behind. You have to know when to cut off promo and shift into writing hermit mode, and this is that time. So: no more appearances til next year, and no more hours spent being chatty on Twitter until January, which I am announcing here so I will hold myself to this pledge. You may get the occasional post if I feel up to ranting about something, or if I have some announcements, but that’s it.

It’s HERMIT TIME.

Folks know that I pride myself on hitting my deadlines, but since we sold GEEK FEMINIST REVOLUTION last year and slipped it into our existing contracted publication schedule, I have just never been able to catch up. Dates keep sliding: a couple weeks, a couple months, and now four months for BROKEN HEAVENS. Note that we have pushed back this release to later in 2017 as well: it was running too close to the release date for THE STARS ARE LEGION and creeping deadlines for that book have interfered with my writing of tBH. I had to push that date way out or risk pushing it out again at the end of every month and then looking flighty. I want to get back to hitting my deadlines like a pro instead of doing that wishy-washy “artist” thing.

When I look out at the crazy that is my life in search of more hours in the day, I find them on social media, where I can easily waste 2-3 hours a day or more. That’s great during promo times, but right now in deadline mode, those are hours I should be writing or reading books.

Lots of folks are like, well, what else are you doing? And folks, you know: I have a day job on top of this wild publication schedule, which eats a lot of time and which I’ve also gotten behind on these last few months. I also have a pilot script I’m working on with a producer (don’t get excited. 99% of these never go anywhere, but it’s a good exercise). I have Patreon stories I need to produce so we can finish paying off Drake-the-dog’s vet bills by the end of the year and still have Christmas.

—-

If you want to help with the vet bill backlog, you can contribute here or via Paypal Donate button below:

—–
I’m also going to take some family trips with my spouse and the dogs and just enjoy life here during my favorite season, because shit, I need a real fucking vacation. I have been grinding hard for the last two years, figuring that a break out was just around the corner. But a novel career is a marathon, not a sprint, and you can’t full-out sprint for two years without injury. So less sprinting, more living.  I intend to take a week or two off through the end of the year for actual rest and vacation instead of my usual working-writing vacation, too.

A lot of folks don’t realize what kind of costs come with trying to build a novel career while holding down a full-time day job. I work constantly, no joke. People always want to know the secret, and working constantly is pretty much it. But you can’t get up at 5:30 a.m. to do promo projects and posts, go to a day job from 8-5, do a couple more writer-related hours in the evening with contracts or reprint markets, spend 10 hours writing on Saturday, and then write columns on Sunday and expect to keep that pace going for years on end without repercussions. I have heard of too many writers burning out, and doing that for years on end is a great way to court burn out. No thanks!

So, my next public appearance will be ConFusion in January of 2017, and that will kick off an epic year of traveling. I’ll be a Guest of Honor at Swecon in Uppsala, Sweden and am attending WorldCon in Helsinki, as well as Gencon. I also have TWO books out next year, so hey, wow, yeah. I need to prep the fuck up for what is going to be a wild 2017.

To sum up: 2017 IS GOING TO BE EPIC.

So I will be largely absent from Twitter and ye olde blog, but you may find me making appearances on Instagram or posting scheduled content. But I won’t be interacting as usual.

That said, if there are any GRAND NEWS REVEALS, or new Patreon stories, I’m sure I’ll pop in and let ya’ll know.

Now, to the word mines! See you in January, unless there’s some good news before then.

Need to contact me urgently? Well, you know where to go. 

————

P.S. Also we have this new dog, Indiana! And who wouldn’t want to spend MOAR TIME with this cute hamface of a dog?

untitled

Why Being a Writer is an Exercise in Cognitive Dissonance

Being a writer is a weird thing. I guess any time you live publicly, it’s like living in an abusive relationship. You’ve got a bunch of people publicly and simultaneously declaring that you are the most talented and humane person in the world… and also the biggest jerk hack that ever lived.

This is one of the reasons why I encourage people to have a very firm internal compass. It helps to have good friends and colleagues to reach out to when you’re feeling low, sure, but if you don’t have a firm grasp on who you are and what you want to express, it can be really easy to lose yourself. This is one reason why I’m glad I’m seeing the success I am seeing now at 36 instead of 26, because I have a much better handle on who I am. I can stand taller and firmer in the onslaught.

There have been many times when my editors or agent made a suggestion that I decided not to go with and was happy about. Other times, I wished I would have taken their advice instead. But at every turn, I trusted myself to make the right decision… even when it was wrong. More often than not, having a firm internal compass ensured that I made the book I wanted to make. Better, it continues to ensure that I’m making the books I want to make even after the reviews come up and people even higher up on the food chain start asking for changes. I know when to bend, and when to pass.

Living publicly can be very strange, as you have people reacting to your work like they know you, and can Intuit All. For the most part, I just roll my eyes at this, but I can see how reading some of the things people say about you and your work in public can get to you if you don’t stay the course. When a bunch of people say you are a hack, it can be super easy to stop and wonder, “Gee, am I a hack?” and veer off course. I’ve been reading about some very interesting studies where people who check a box on a questionnaire that says, “I am altruistic” are more likely to do something altruistic in the days and weeks that follow. This is because our minds don’t like to live in a state of cognitive dissonance. Unless you are a sociopath, your brain really wants to align your actions so that they gel with who and what you say you are.

This is one reason why imbibing toxic images and statements is so very bad for us. The more we internalize negative statements about ourselves, the more likely we are to become those things. “I am a shit writer,” or “I am a bad human being,” are not good things to make a part of your internal litany. Instead, for instance, when I get rejections my internal monologue is, “FUCK YOU I AM A GENIUS YOU WILL RUE THE DAY YOU SLIGHTED ME.” And yanno, that’s worked pretty great for me so far.

If you’re a newer writer coming up through the field, or a pro struggling to keep up the slog, I urge you to formulate your career and ego compass as early as possible, and to stay your course. I’ve had a couple of opportunities recently that I had to weigh carefully against what I wanted my career to be, and whether or not it kept me on target. If I am here to do good, to change the world, to make it easier for those to come after me, to advance my original work to get the message to a broader audience, then knowing all those things makes it easier to decide which projects to pursue and which not to. It also keeps me grounded when angry people yell that I’m a hack, because I often see myself in them. I am The Machine, and they are the Rage, now. I have been the Rage. I have needed a Machine to rail against, to push at, to use as my guidepost and inspire my own work. I’m OK with folks who hate on me because it inspires them to do better. I’ve been there. Some of those writers I railed against are my favorite-ist colleagues now. Other haters, you know, the trolls: they don’t bug me at all. Again, not sure why, I just… I guess I know too many real life trolls. I know that it’s not me they hate, but their own place in the world. Some use hate to drive them to do better; those ones I get. But the ones who hate just to wallow in it, those I just throw out, because living successfully in public means not only drawing legitimate criticism, but drawing the ire of those afraid to get off the couch. Being able to tell the difference, and adjust or throw out accordingly, is a public person’s greatest skill. It’s one I encourage you to cultivate early.

Most importantly, though, is that no matter how many voices plague you – well-meaning or no – you have got to stick to your path. In this world, not everyone is going to love you. Nor should they. You aren’t here to be liked. You’re here to change the world. Adjust your internal monologue accordingly. At the end of the day, yours is the only one you have to live with.

Do Authors Check Out Those Business Cards New Writers Give Them at Cons?

At various conventions, I’ve had new(er) authors come up to my signing table or come up to me after a panel and basically just give me their cards. I’ve also had authors hand me their books or, in the case of a couple of very smart new authors, ask if they can swap one of my books for theirs, so it’s a win/win for both of us (this is how I met Myke Cole and the reason I read Run Time by S.B. Divya, which I enjoyed and tweeted about. That is A+ networking).

Yet the question I hear from folks is, generally, is this worth it? Like, to just give an author your card cold? Or will they think you’re a pushy jerk?

To which I respond, well, it depends.

At my level, this happens rarely enough that I still do, in fact, read your business card and check out your work. This goes for folks who just hand me one after a signing as well as those who hand me one after we’ve talked at the bar for awhile. I do actually go to your website and – if you have a book up on Amazon – I will read the first couple paragraphs of your book to see whether or not I like the prose style or not (truth be told, if you have a crappy website and crap covers, I will be less likely to take this step, though, as these things do signal that the books, too, may not be great. When you are quickly sifting through information after a con, you make snap judgments). What I generally find is that most authors aren’t writing in genres that interest me, but yes, I will take you more seriously next time if I read a few paragraphs of your book and you’re clearly very skilled. True story! (this is how I met my sister from another mister, Melissa F. Olsen, who is not only very funny, and great to hang out with, but super talented, even if the genre she generally works in isn’t up my alley).

That said, if I was going to a con every month and got handed forty business cards, I’m going to be less likely to do this. At the rate I do events, though, and based on the number of cards and books I get, I do still take the time to connect work with a face. This is one reason I don’t recommend networking a lot until your work has reached a certain level, because you want to put your best foot forward when you meet people. There are plenty of writers I will hang out with whose work I don’t read or don’t like or can’t get into, but if your goal is to connect with an author who might like your stuff and talk about it, it’s useful to find authors who will like it and ensure that it’s at a pro level.

If you’re an author without any work online – no short stories, no books – I’m not sure how useful it would be to try and connect in this way. I don’t read unpublished work (this is a general rule that most writers stick to), and while I might suggest you talk to my agent, I’m not going to recommend someone to my agent with a personal note or anything without having read any of their work (and though personal recommendations might surface you higher in a slush pile, again, it really comes down to the work). You should really just go to cons to have fun and forget just dropping business cards off to every. single. person. after a panel (pro tip: don’t do this. I’ve had several people go up to panelists after a panel and hand ALL of us a card. Yeah, spray and pray is not a great strategy, and signals that you are unprofessional).

To be honest, the most annoying cards I get handed are from people who clearly have no idea who I am and are just trying to generically “network.” If you’re a fan as well as a writer, or if you think our work is similar, or if we have a fun conversation at the bar, yes, by all means, approach me with a card! But, like, if you write funny stories about aliens and have no website and no idea who I am except that I write stuff on the internet and we’ve never talked before, why are you handing me your card after a panel? What do you hope to get out of that? Save your money.

Be strategic in who you approach, when, and for what reason. It’s perfectly appropriate to hand me a card at a signing after squeeing about my work, or after we’ve chatted in the bar about Pokemon, but just randomly shotgun spraying writers you have only tangentially heard of “from Twitter” wastes your time and ours.

 

The Author as a Busy, Busy Bee and Other Bee-Filled Nightmares

Over the last month or so I’ve become one of those writers with a Secret Project (I know – I hate those people too) on top of The Broken Heavens manuscript due at the end of the year, on top of The Stars Are Legion copyedits due the end of the month, on top of the Patreon to pay back our dog’s vet bills (I will not even put the number here, but suffice to say it’ll be year’s end before it’s all paid off), on top of the usual Locus column, and the day job, and planning for the next project my agent and I pitch since we’re out of contract after the next book for Saga, etc. etc.

I got behind on everything sometime last year when edits for Geek Feminist Revolution, drafting for The Stars are Legion, and promotion for Empire Ascendant were all happening at once. I just… could not do all those things at once, and as noted, had to get some help just to get through it.

Then, when it looked like I’d finally get a break there in November/December, our dog had surgery, and so began the long eight months of his rehab and eventual death, which was a long, slow, painful and agonizing thing across the board as his health got better, worse, better, worse, until there wasn’t anything left we could reasonably do for him. That process ate a lot of time and headspace for other projects. The more emotion I’m spending on life, the less emotion I have in reserve for the writing. Add onto that day job hijinks that led to another switch in jobs late last year, and yeah, I was burnt, and Legion ended up several months late, and I have never caught up.

Now suddenly it’s August, nearly a year after my blowout (I know, I know, “Kameron Hurley having a blowout” means I only wrote one book, released one book, wrote three short stories, pitched a novella project, and picked up a Secret Project. JUST THINK WHAT I COULD DO WITHOUT A BLOWOUT), and I seem to finally be getting back into the groove of things. I read a bunch of books, did some low key events, and seem to be a little more idea-driven instead of slog-pushed the last couple weeks. Oh, I’m still epically behind on things like The Broken Heavens, but now at least when I think about them my brain doesn’t put up a big iron wall that I have to crawl up and hack at every time I need to get to work. The last three months in particular was really bad for this, and I recognize now that the emotional rollercoaster involved in Drake the Dog’s recovery-that-wasn’t really took its toll on the brainspace I need for writing. I’ve found in life that low emotional drama is very good for productivity, which is also why polyamory was never for me (I once dated two people at the same time for, like, a week, and it was so emotionally draining I vowed never to try that shit again, but I admire those who can make it work and still have a life) and why I started to drop out of high-drama and high-maintenance relationships. I also moved far, far away from my own family and that particular drama, which has helped me maintain my focus on what I want instead of getting dragged into doing what I feel like they want. It helps.

Low emotional expenditure outside of the writing is good for me because it means I can stay focused deeply on the work. I need that deep focus to stay as productive as I’d like to be while staying sane. The more distractions I have, the lower my productivity and the less likely I am to level up my own skill level. I had to make a lot of tradeoffs in life because of that, and it’s another reason I try hard these days to live within my means, as well. Financial stress can take just as much a toll as emotional stress. I’m certainly more productive here in my 30’s with a stable relationship, stable address, and stable finances (ok, once vet bills are paid!) than I was in my 20’s when I was careening around the world. While my life may be less exciting in the “Let me tell you a story” sense, it’s certainly a good mix for getting shit done.

One of the things I’ve had to acknowledge, though, is that I can’t run full-tilt here for years on end without hitting a wall of burn out. I needed to take a break, read some new stuff, and explore other projects. Paired with a more stress-free life, it does seem to be working again, so here’s to hoping that I ramp up my productivity and begin putting out some really great work in the next year and have some fun with it instead of just grinding my weary bones down for bread.  I understand that life is finite, and I remain dedicated to making the most of it, which I’m better able to do when I’m not slogging through every project.

 

What I’ve Been Reading: The Nonfiction Edition

The last month or so has been a non-stop glut of nonfiction reading. My creative bucket has been a little low of late, which signaled to me that it was time to get back to work. I’ve also been spending less time on Twitter, which has indeed helped me up my reading time. Reading is, as ever, a crucial part of being a writer, whether it’s nonfiction reading like this to refill the idea bucket or fiction reading to study for craft purposes.

Stiff by Mary Roach

513T4g443uL._SX373_BO1,204,203,200_

Easily the most interesting and entertaining of the Mary Roach books I devoured, this exploration of what we do with all those cadavers donated for research was fascinating. I immediately texted my mom and said her and my sister should read this one, to which she responded that they already had. Which tells you something about how interests in the macabre run in our family. What I love about Roach is her wholly curious and inquisitive nature. Her passion for subjects is impressive. The humor is just an added bonus. While what we do with the dead was interesting, even more interesting were the questions she had for those researchers, students, and doctors who engaged with them as part of their work. I’m profoundly interested in what makes us human, how we determine human from not-human, and how we psychologically distance ourselves from this type of work, so I found this fascinating.

 

 

 

Packing for Mars by Mary Roach

51mjYI8M9sL._SY346_

It’s the unsexy side of space that you always wondered about but never uncovered, all in one book. How do people poop in space? How do we study the effects of weightlessness on earth? Who comes up with all those disgusting space foods? Did astronaut ice cream ever really get eaten in space? Great dive into the gooey junk that makes it so difficult to put people in space at all, let alone for the long-term. Tons to chew on here for science fiction writers like me looking to create great galactic empires flitting between the stars. Once again, our juicy human-ness gets in the way, and we’ll need to start tackling issues such as bone loss, bacteria, and vision issues associated with long stints in space if we want to continue exploring the stars.

 

 

 

Gulp by Mary Roach

41I9rgRcSRL._SY346_

If you’ve read any of my fiction, you know I’m fascinated by all the messy guts that make us human. After reading a lot of these Roach books, I suspect she is too. In Gulp, Roach takes us on a tour of the long and twisted journey food takes from our mouths all the way back out again through our butts, and all the stuff that goes right – and wrong – in between. Tidbits here include the fact that Elvis probably died because he had an enlarged colon, you can put about three gallons of food in your stomach until it bursts (typically – food competitors get their own assessment) – and other fun facts to amaze your friends and colleagues… and readers.

 

 

 

 

Spook by Mary Roach

41MoTogQ4mL

This was the weakest of the Roach books, for me, largely because it wasn’t hitting the sweet spot of my interests the same way (which is to say, still better than most other books, but I read those other two first), with an exploration of the evidence for life after death. Though I did get a very good Nyx novella story idea out of this, and found myself shocked that 19th century mediums could pass off muslin cloth as “ectoplasm” which they hid in their vaginas (I will certainly be using THAT somewhere too), it was not as rollicking a read as the others. Still, lots of interesting tidbits for writers looking to fill buckets.

 

 

 

Grit by Angela Duckworth

51yRBzoteCL._SY346_

Why do some people succeed and others fail? (OK, once you take out money and support networks, which are influenced by sexism and racism, etc. out of the equation, because this is America, not an actual equal society). One of the most interesting things to see in writing circles is who is still writing twenty years after their debut novel comes out. And, of course, before that: who from the Clarion Writing Workshop is still writing twenty years after Clarion, or who among your friends actually became the doctor or lawyer they aspired to be in childhood. The difference between those who persevere and those who drop out tends to be a matter of grit, which Duckworth not only quantifies here but teachers others how to cultivate. So if you’re worried you’re not gritty enough to succeed at what you’re passionate about, check this one out for tips. I pretty much found myself nodding along the whole time to this, because for some reason I had that type of personality to start, though I certainly have cultivated it throughout years of slog and failure.

 

 

The Confidence Game by Maria Konnikova

41xRgyXKn0L._SY346_

Why do we fall for scam artists? From the guy at the corner playing the ball and cup game to the guy in the suit offering you an “amazing” investment opportunity, there are common tricks that scammers use to keep you unbalanced and ripe for scamming, and common psychological reasons that we continue to fall for it while convincing ourselves we didn’t. If you’ve ever watched the show Leverage (about a group of thieves and con artists who do good), you’ll recognize a lot of the plays here, and get more in-depth details about the art of the con. Great stuff. I picked up lots of ideas for another project I’m working on.

 

 

 

 

The Now Habit by Neil Fiore

41yyKDD2kuL._SY346_

I’ve been having some real trouble with procrastination, which seems to be getting worse the more I have to do (I got the opportunity to write a script recently and was like SURE I CAN DO THIS INSTEAD OF THIS DAMN BOOK THAT’S DUE IN A COUPLE MONTHS BECAUSE WHY NOT). Jaye Wells recommended this one on Twitter. Worries about critical acclaim and perfectionism are actually just forms of procrastination (and very effective ones at that). This book offers some strategies, which mostly come down to unfucking your brain and thinking about things in new ways and (wait for it) DOING THE WORK. Much of what holds us back from creating in creative fields is indeed our own brains, though, so it’s worth learning how to think differently so you can push through. That said, again, the real trick is: doing the work. Most of these strategies are about finding different ways to think about doing the work so you can tackle it.

 

 

 

The Obstacle is the Way by Ryan Holiday 

51NWboulEnL

I found Holiday’s Trust Me, I’m Lying: Confessions of a Media Manipulator, to be a sobering and entertaining read, and though it made me kind of hate him as a person (I may be in marketing, but the sort of deceptive tactics he lays down here are way over my moral line), I found it interesting. In this one, Holiday is not such an unlikable personality, as he talks less about himself and more about other people who have encountered obstacles and reframed them not as stuff stopping them, but challenges that could help them move on to the next stage in their careers. Another good book to help you unfuck the way you think about life.

 

 

 

 

Deep Work by Cal Newport

511HLK35ujL

Clearly you can sense a theme here in my nonfiction reading. This one tackles the idea that we are at our best when we have large chunks of uninterrupted time. Clearly I know this works for me, what with my preference for cabin getaways where there’s no wifi and binge-writing Saturdays at the coffee shop. Newport gets into the weeds about how distraction is not only bad for us generally, but especially bad in this particular economy when it’s advanced skills, creativity, and frankly, being among the best at what you do that is going to get you ahead. There are no more manufacturing jobs with pensions or bus drivers who can retire with a million in assets (yes, my great grandfather did this. Yes, as a BUS DRIVER with amazing benefits and pension. WHAT A TIME TO BE ALIVE). And to be the best, and to cultivate difficult skills, what we need are periods of intense, distraction-free time where we can actually do the work we must do to get there. Some have heard me say that my goal here as a writer is to be the absolute best at what I do, and that is no bullshit. But to get there I need to find ways to do more high quality work. I’ve been struggling a lot with my productivity lately, and it does all seem to come back to increasing fragmentation. One should not start one’s day reading Twitter, however much it feels like “reading the news” and “being informed.” In truth, it’s just a distraction, and I should be bundling up Twitter time for myself into 15-20 minute blocks once or MAYBE twice a day. So, I’m working on that. My mornings in particular have become lost causes for productivity, in part because that was the habit I got into when our dog was sick. My whole morning was taken up with caring for him instead of working on novel-related tasks, or with work interrupted by his care, and I just couldn’t get anything done. Now I’m working to get that morning productivity back, where I can write posts like this one, work on copy edits, tackle email and contracts, and all those other things I’m super behind on instead of doing those during my “writing” time. This book is good not only for reminding my of how important deep work is to me, but also for considering strategies to encourage it.