This was a hell of a long year for me; much of it felt like grinding through some hellish video game where every time you leveled up on one skill – say, your ability with a mace – you somehow actually *lost* stats on another skill, like your skill with an ax.
And then you were wildly swinging with the wrong weapon, making tiny steps forward while trailing great gobs of blood behind you.
Framing my life this way feels strangely apropos right now at the end of a long year, though it all liklihood I’m stuck on this metaphor because I just came off playing four days of Mass Effect 3, which felt like a metaphor for the writing life if ever there was one.
Welcome to 2013 in review.
Night Shade Fallout
The year started angry, with lots of behind-the-scenes gunning with my former publisher over non-responses to incredibly late payments. As most authors do, I kept mum about this in public because, you know, it was my publisher. But as things got worse, silence actually seemed to be serving the bad guys here, so that changed when the prior owners of the publisher effectively stopped payments and then served their authors with one of those false choices you get at the end of some grimdark RPG – choose this, and you’re fucked. Choose this other thing, and you’re also fucked, but here’s some money! (most of it!)
::throws money confetti:::
After a long and brutal process involving, like, the whole SF/F community, it all worked out in a way that was hopefully less grim that it would have been otherwise, and I was (mostly) paid (there’s still about $2500 in “missing” payments due to me for my UK book deal, which had to pass through them and… anyway. The biz end of writing is boring). On the upside, being (mostly) paid, I was able to stuff a bunch of money toward a trip overseas in the fall. Brighton became the only con I did this year, and for good reason – all told, I think we spent about $6000 on this trip (plane tickets alone were $2400).
World Fantasy in Brighton
So I got to travel around England and stay in Edinburgh for a week, and write some of it off (the Brighton part). Brighton ended up being a big highlight this year, despite the tone-deaf leadup from the con’s chief organizer. Met up with an amazing number of amazing people, and though I was utterly exhausted in the end, it was nice to see so many people in real life.
But I still owe a lot of people drinks.
Did I mention I also acquired a very expensive taste for peaty Scottish whisky?
The rest of the year was a rollercoaster of unending job layoffs at my day job. Departments were cut hard, ours being cut among the hardest, and just when we thought it was over, there was another cull just before the holidays. Some days it was a slog just to get up in the morning.
ACA Goes Live
Thanks to ACA, though, my anxiety was not as deep about the rollercoaster day job as it has been during previous layoffs. Because of ACA, my spouse and I would never end up in the place I was back in 2006, when I was totally uninsurable after a job layoff and had to cash out my retirement savings. So I knew that at least my retirement would stay intact, and I wouldn’t die in a hole somewhere trying to live on expired insulin.
Yes, my friends, that’s my grim optimism!
On the fiction front, it was a quiet year. God’s War was released in the UK in May, with perhaps slower sales than I expected, but the release is still young, and I have some grim hope for GW as well as Infidel when it comes out in 2014. Sometimes books surprise you.
God’s War over here continues to earn royalties in amounts that surprise me, and in December, Infidel earned out as well. So checks ahoy twice a year for those ones as long as people continue to buy them (thank you!). Rapture will take awhile longer, but I’m OK with that (even though I secretly think it’s the best book).
I also had a short story, “Enyo-Enyo” appear this year in The Lowest Heaven anthology. It was also reprinted in October in Lightspeed Magazine, for those who missed it. I don’t write a lot of short fiction, so seeing this in print was delightful. I still like the scene where she eats somebody’s jaw. But really, I stole it from Madeline Ashby. Her grandma-eating scene was so cool I wanted to have one too.
Locus Mag Love
Later in the year, I got a surprising request from Locus Magazine to write a column or two for them this year. That was a weird moment, seeing my face in the “Perspectives” column and realizing I’d gone from shouting at the establishment to being the establishment. My first column, “Everybody Already Knows” got me a strange bit of hate mail where somebody railed on about how much they personally despised me, which I admit I found rather… strange. It’s weird to become an author construct, where somebody can decide they hate you as a human being without ever buying you a drink.
My second column, “Making Excuses for Science Fiction” just came out in December, and started making the rounds after Christmas when it was posted online. Lots of positive responses to that. It’s kind of weird to have people outside my usual circle sharing stuff I wrote.
Speaking of which….
The Year of THE Blog Post
This was also the year I wrote my most popular post ever, “We Have Always Fought” for Aidan Moher’s Dribble of Ink blog (which was then reprinted at the SFWA blog). This is one of those times where you can’t really examine a success to recreate another success. Survivorship bias means you’d assume that all you had to do was write a really long blog post with personal diversions in order to have it go viral. But looking at the posts I write, especially this one, they don’t conform to any of the expected “rules” for blogging. It’s not short. It’s not a list. It’s not even a tweetable title, really. And the bit about the llamas at the beginning natters on for way too long – I honestly didn’t expect many people to get past the llamas.
But the post seemed to hit a nerve – the subject of erasing women from games, stories, narratives, is a hot topic in gaming and writing circles right now, and I think this was a right place/right time/right llamas thing. I don’t expect it to be replicatable, but it was incredibly fun to see a post make the rounds that quickly.
Other popular posts this year included “Dear SFWA Writers: Let’s Talk About Censorship and Bullying” and “The Horror Novel You’ll Never Have to Live.”
First Radio Rants
All that blogging resulted in my first radio show invitations this year, too (not the fiction, of course, but the blogging! Weird, right?). One was for a feminist radio show out of Berkeley, about writing feminist SF. The other was for a mainstream radio station in Seattle, on the ACA.
The first was pre-recorded, so easy for me to just ramble on. The very patient host was able to cut it into something usable (hooray!). The second was harder, because I only had about 12 minutes total, intercut with commercial breaks, host questions, and etc. and it was LIVE, so there was nobody there who could make me sound better after the fact. My natural speaking voice is rambling and ranting, and that doesn’t work for these sorts of live segments. It was a good lesson in how to properly prep for radio. You need 3-4 two-three sentence points you want to get across. Summing up everything the host wanted to talk about in 12 sentences was a major challenge, but one I need to prep better for if invited to future events.
I actually enjoy figuring out all the rules and nuances of different speaking/story platforms. I get a kick out of it. So next time I expect I’ll be far better prepped .
My spouse and I lost both of our junker cars within about two months of each other. One to transmission failure, the other to a blown engine. We spent much of the end of the year driving from Cincinnati to Dayton to Columbus in a rental car searching in vain for reliable used cars with warranties for under $10k. This was a bit of a blow for me, as we’ve paid off about $15k in debt over the last two years of grinding hard work, and going another $10k in debt felt like a huge step back.
Luckily, we seem to have chosen wisely, as our mechanic’s overall report on the car was, “There’s nothing wrong with this car. I wish *I* had this car.”
You can’t ask for much better.
That said, the expense of the car payment meant I had to drop the once a month housecleaning service we had for much of the year, which had enabled me to get a lot of freelancing work done with less stress. Oh well. It was nice to pretend we had money for awhile.
There are other issues around the house that we’ve been working on – there’s a rotten porch pillar out back that isn’t getting any less rotten, the upstairs bathrooms need tile soon to prevent water damage, there was a mouse infestation that required a shitload of traps, and at some point our peeling laminate counters will need to be replaced.
And we still need to get a fence up around the property, but I suspect that’s a task that will require several incoming book checks.
Upcoming Fiction Projects in 2014
Speaking of books, I finished another one this year, the first in an epic fantasy series about a gifted scullery maid going up against an unstoppable force bent on the genocide of her people. A sort of Game-of-Thrones-meets-Fringe epic that I had a lot of fun plotting over three books. This project was also the first to be shepherded by my new agent, Hannah Bowman, who I signed with earlier this year and who’s been a great champion of my work. At this point, I can’t see the book getting onto any 2014 calendars, so I suspect 2014 is going to be a bit of slow year for me as far as long fiction goes.
Let this be a lesson to those of you struggling to write fiction at the book-a-year pace: Just because you write a book a year does not mean you’ll publish a book a year. And just because you’ve published a book before doesn’t guarantee, well.. anything, really.
Above all, what you need in this business is persistence. Nobody cares about your success more than you.
Keep on slogging.
I do have other projects planned – there will be a new Nyx short story on the Del Rey UK blog in January, and a potential novella Kickstarter later in the year. I’ve also begun work on another set of three books set in the Umayma universe 25 years after the events of Rapture. Also contemplating some other projects – including another standalone military SF novel and second fantasy trilogy. Those are back pocket projects, though, and will depend on what happens here in 2014.
At the end of 2013, I’d like to tell you I was full of hope and optimism about the future. And to some extent, maybe that’s true. But as with Nyx, it’s a grim sort of optimism. It’s the “You fuckers can’t keep me down” sort. It’s Shepard from ME3 dragging her ass up into the Citadel. It’s continuing to move forward, even when everything, statistically, seems set against you.
When we catalogue our years – when we post to social media, or make posts like this – it’s easy for people to only see the successes. They don’t see your everyday slog. They don’t see your rejection letters. They don’t see your sales numbers, or your debt, or witness your ranting and despair. All they see are the fiction acceptances, the radio interviews, the steady day job, the snarky Twitter banter.
Maybe it’s better marketing for me to pretend my life is all Big Blog Posts and paid writing gigs and sunshine on Twitter. But that’s disingenuous. It tells people that if their life is hard, then it’s not worth the slog to try and succeed. It feeds the illusion that success just comes easily and naturally to some people, and not to others.
But success is bullshit. The easy road is a lie. There is lots of fear and rejection and disappointment in being alive. In living. It’s those moments that make the successes that much sweeter, because you know the kind of obstacles you had to overcome.
You power persistently through the shit.
You get shot in the face.
You slog on.
You level up.