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Let’s Talk About Creativity and the Fear of Losing the Magic

When my latest draft of The Broken Heavens came back from my agent with the dreaded, “start over” notes, I felt dejected and exhausted. I had been churning out a great deal of work on that project very quickly. I’d also been doing my monthly stories for Patreon, and of course, writing all day at my advertising job. I was tired. Tired of the release schedules, the deadlines, the failure after failure to hit said deadlines, and most of all, tired of writing novels that were performing well enough to keep me in the game but not well enough to ensure I could do it for a living longterm. I was tired of the grind that seemed to be going nowhere. I wasn’t even getting the satisfaction of feeling like I was leveling up. Even the writing itself, the creative process, wasn’t fun anymore. Just work.

I seriously considered just cancelling the contract for the book and just… not writing anymore. Everything I touched for months before and for some time after just felt like crap. I put out a couple Patreon stories that were like squeezing blood from a stone, and I wasn’t happy with them. I felt like I was churning, churning, churning, but going nowhere. I had two outstanding stories due to markets that I just had no inspiration for whatsoever. I hated writing. Worse, after a couple months of this, I realized I was developing The Fear. The fear that I couldn’t write anymore. The fear that I’d never write anything good again. The fear that this was it, that this was all I got, that my career was over, unremarkably, at 37.

Seth Godin calls this period in one’s career or creative pursuits “the Dip.” The Dip is that dreaded slog between creative breakthroughs where it feels like you’re expending an incredible amount of effort but not seeing any sort of improvement or gains from it. These dips are generally when most people quit their creative pursuit and go on to something else. When you start a new creative pursuit, like I did recently with painting, it’s exhilarating for the first few months or year, because you get so much better so quickly. You can sit back and – in the case of the painting – literally SEE improvement from one painting to the next. I lined up four paintings I’d completed over four different weeks once, each on the same subject, and it was amazing to watch the evolution of my skill. But after about a year or so, my improvements painting by painting have slowed down. When it comes to painting, I don’t mind this, since I’m doing it for fun. Writing, however, is my vocation, my passion, and it’s always been my goal to be the absolute best writer, to be exceptional at my craft. To achieve that means that I need to continually strive to be better, to improve my skills, to level up. I have been grinding hard on this for several years, and it took that book bouncing back to make me realize I truly was in a Dip. Nothing was leveling up. It was just me going through the motions. I hated the Patreon stories I was writing. I hated the novels. I felt like a huge failure, like I’d lost the magic that was my creativity. It felt like I’d reached the end of my potential, and there was nowhere to go from here. It felt like I’d never write anything good again.

Being aware that I was in a dip helped me get through it. I re-read Godin’s book. And then I went back to the library and begin digging up books on subjects I found interesting, in particular books about microbes and utopia; stuff that was different from my usual war-and-plants-and-bug interests. I needed to fill up my brain with something new. I took a lot of notes, skimmed a lot of texts. I wanted to experience the magic of discovery again, the magic of putting together all of these disparate things into some greater amalgamation that nobody had seen before.

I also decided it was time to go back to a series and setting that I enjoyed, that was fun, and so I wrote “Paint it Red,” a novelette set in the God’s War universe featuring my favorite “let’s be bad guys” bounty hunter, Nyx. I let myself wax on in that one about the scenery, the characters, the world. I felt the big set pieces coming together as I wrote. I experienced that wonderful feeling of throwing out the old outline as I came up with a far more exciting and viscerally interesting story as I was literally writing it. Sure, I was still grasping for inspiration. At one point, angry that I couldn’t come up with a better place to rob than a bank, I did a Google search (really!) for “interesting settings” and somehow stumbled on a video of a rat temple in India. That video sparked my imagination, and all of a sudden I had a bunch of shape-shifting parrots bound to a temple and a kid with a key wrapped around his heart that had to be dug out of him with a machete and we were off to the races. Giving in to the creative process is a wonderful feeling; when all your synapses are firing as they should, making strange and exciting connections, that’s when I feel good about the work I’m doing.

For the first time in a couple of months, I was actually having fun with the creative process. I even had time to edit the story before I posted it to my Patreon backers. I was proud of the work I’d done, and most importantly – delighted by the process itself. I also found it easier, finally, to sit down and outline some stories I owed to anthologies. Last week, understanding how burned out I was, I took a real vacation – not just from my day job work, but from novel writing work as well. I put an out-of-office reply on both my work AND my personal email. It meant I didn’t see email from my agent announcing a foreign rights sale and confirming another offer until nearly a week after I’d gotten them. And you know what? The sky didn’t fall. The world kept going. The deals didn’t disappear. I was able to step away from all the deadlines and worries and gnawing-on-my-failures-wank from my life for a whole week. I came back to the keyboard feeling relaxed and refreshed and… genuinely happy for the first time in many months.

The time away – not just from my work, because I’ve been sitting at the keyboard a lot, just not producing – helped me regain my focus. As my spouse points out, much of the time I feel I’m spending “writing” is actually time I spend feeling guilty because I can’t write, or because I feel that what I’m writing is utter shit. That’s not “writing” time. It’s my time with The Fear. So much of my writing time has been taken up talking with The Fear that I couldn’t figure out why shit wasn’t getting done. It certainly felt, emotionally, like I was working REALLY HARD. But arguing with your fear isn’t working. Feeling bad for not working isn’t working. Being angry about not working isn’t working.

So much about this business is being able to forgive yourself while you wallow through the dip and the fear that it unleashes. Many of my writing peers, and many of those in the generation just before me, dropped out of the business because of the dip, and the fear. I know people who got great advances and whose books tanked, and they bowed out. I know people who tanked right out the gate who bowed out. I know people who did well right off but were so fearful they couldn’t do it again that they bowed out. These terrible times in our careers also keep coming. They aren’t a one-off. I had a lot of trouble writing after my first contract was cancelled, and trouble writing when my publisher stopped paying me for my first series. I faced the fear when another book went out of print while yet another publisher of mine went through a sale. And I faced the fear when a book didn’t perform as well as I’d hoped it would. And here I am again, just six years into this novel career, and I’m there again, fearing that I’ll never level up, I’ll never break out, that my whole life, all that remains, will be one big churn.

Fear can be negotiated with and overcome. I know this from dealing with it so many times over the last six years. But it always comes back. It does this because we all know we have a shelf life, an expiration date. After all, we’re all going to die. So every time we face a failure, we think, “OK, this is it. For real this time.”

When writing becomes a job, so much of the joy of creation gets lost in the fear and the failure. What I’ve found is that the only thing that brings me back is the work itself. It’s finding the joy in the process, of silencing my inner critic and just telling myself, “You’re just having fun right now. This isn’t for anyone else.” It’s how I felt when I came up with a cool narrative idea for my next book. The excitement of what I could achieve bubbled up in me, the excitement of the challenge, and then there was the fear, the fear that said, “You can’t pull this off. No one will like it. Your agent will hate it. Your editor won’t understand it. You aren’t good enough to do that.” And that voice, you know, it took the joy out of the idea.

So you know what I did?

I told that voice to fuck off. Because no one needs to see that book until February. And I’m going to allow myself to have fun until then. The fun, you see, is the only thing that I can count on to bring me some joy in all this. Eliminate all the fun stuff, and it becomes a true slog, a teary roll toward a meaningless deadline.

I love writing. I love the creative process. I love the magic of discovery. But the fear comes with all that. The fear never goes away. That’s why, if you want to have a long career, sometimes you have to work through the fear anyway, and trust that you can find the magic again on the other side of the dip.

 

EPISODE 5: In this episode I chat with successful full-time writer who is “totally the SHIT on Amazon” Melissa F. Olson about author friendships.

Heya folks!
 The GET TO WORK HURLEY podcast is a monthly rant about the hustle of making a living as a writer of All of the Things.

You can support this podcast each month as a Patron or make a one-time donation.

  • EPISODE 5: In this episode I chat with successful full-time writer who is “totally the SHIT on Amazon” Melissa F. Olson about author friendships. Melissa and I shatter the myth of competitive authors, share the story of how we met, talk about why writer friendships are so vital in this lonely profession, talk about how women writers in particular can indeed have it all – just not all at once! – and offer tips to both budding baby writers and established pros on how to cultivate author friendship. Listen below or on iTunes.

 

Direct Download Link

(iTunes)

*Music credit. Remixed All Eyes and Teeth by Eaters. Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlikeLicense. 

Broken Heavens: Update (Amazon pre-orders, shifting release dates, etc EXPLAINED!)

Howdy folks!

As I’ve discussed on Twitter and on the podcast, The Broken Heavens mostly-sort-of-done-kinda-partial? draft I sent to my agent/editor was found wanting, and requires a lot of revisions. These things happen. In the mean time, the due date for my next book, the military SF novel THE LIGHT BRIGADE is due to Saga Press on February 1st.

Deadline #2 LOOMS.

Ever since we snuck GEEK FEMINIST REVOLUTION into our existing schedule a couple years back, I’ve been struggling to catch up on my deadlines. Add in the weird break between the first two Worldbreaker books contract and the third Worldbreaker book contract, with the Saga contract between them (since Angry Robot was sold, they couldn’t buy the third book for like six months or something), and my deadlines got ultra messy. Also, the US descended into fascism, of course, which is bad for everyone’s deadlines.

Anyway. Agent and I discussed these issues and decided it would be best to hit the Saga deadline on time, since I’m clearly not going to get any less late on delivering The Broken Heavens. My agent let my publisher know this just before I left for Scandinavia. The publisher did note that pushing out the date could cancel people’s pre-orders, but my agent forgot to forward me that part, so I was just as taken aback as all of your. These things happen.

Now that I have the heads’ up, well – yeah, cancelling pre-orders is pretty shitty on Amazon’s part. Though shifting the date out to 2019 or 2020 may not have cancelled them? Maybe? Who knows? It’s a thing that can happen, and I’m sorry it did for all of your who pre-ordered through Amazon and I wasn’t able to give you a heads’ up (I’m getting emails, DM’s AT WORK, and notifications of all kinds and I’d rather be writing). Writing is great, but the wheels of publishing can be really shitty sometimes, because there are a whole lot of moving parts and pieces.

Ultimately, the fault is with me for writing a book that’s very late. At this point, as said, I’m trying to save the publication schedule with THE LIGHT BRIGADE since the Worldbreaker timeline is already fucked. Sometimes you can’t force a book. I churned hard on The Broken Heavens, but my agent promised me she’d tell me when stuff wasn’t up to snuff, and she called it with this one. It will get there, but I needed to cut a lot of stuff, and as said – that Light Brigade deadline was getting closer and closer.

So despite what Amazon may tell you, no, the book is not out in 2035 (my on-signing payment for this book was $5k. I would just send it back if that were the case and move on!). It’s still on my schedule, I’m still working on it, but LIGHT BRIGADE has to take priority so I don’t miss that deadline, too. That said, it’s had to come off of Angry Robot’s publication schedule since we no longer have a firm turn-in date (“after Light Brigade” is best I can do), which means we’re not sure when we can get it back in. That will depend on when I can turn it in. And that’s all on me.

That’s the best I have for you! Sorry for the confusion. I like to have a heads’ up before this stuff happens, but there are a lot of players here and I was also traveling for a couple weeks, and sometimes these things get dropped.

You know I love you all, and thank you for supporting these books. Sorry it’s where it’s at and Amazon is weird. It’s not the publisher’s fault.

In the meantime, remember that you can get monthly stories from me via Patreon, and I will let you know when I actually TURN IN A REAL DRAFT of Broken Heavens and the book is back on the publishing schedule.

THAT information, at least, I will know for sure!

 

A Open Letter to All My Bullshit Relatives Cheering on My Impending Death

Dear bullshit regime-supporting relatives;

Hi, it’s me! It occurs to me that we have very different ideas about how health care should be managed in our country. This is no doubt due to the fact that I have a chronic immune disorder (inherited, even! Shit, as my relatives, you too could some day get the same condition!) and you don’t. You haven’t had to actually engage with what passes for health care in this country, especially prior to the passage of the ACA in 2010 when it was a fearful nightmare.

Currently, my medication without insurance – the medication keeping me alive and typing these words – is $1500 a month. When the regime you support removes protections for pre-existing conditions and allows health insurance providers to hike up rates for people like me, and reduce Medicare spending, I wonder who will pay these costs if I lose my job and the health insurance program I have. Will you? Gosh, it sure would seem appropriate for you to do it, since you are so upset about the idea of the government regulating this industry the same way it regulates the safety of our food and water. Remember how bad things were before the government regulated those things? I hate to break this to you, but there is only one law of the absolute free market, and that’s short-term profit. If you like your vacation days, your work hours, your work safety, your roads, safety features in your cars, and countless other protections via regulation that have likely saved both your lives and the lives of your children a million times over, then you might find that you actually prefer regulation to complete anarchy. People are shitty. You know this because your base instincts are some of the shittiest out there. It’s why you believe in the worst in people and why you believe that “those people” should just die if they can’t pay for their drugs. Why help people like your own niece, sister, daughter? You know: people like me?

Thank you for supporting my impending death.

Thank you for supporting the dissolution of the safety net I have known was there since 2010. The net that said, “Hey, if you lose your job, or you decide to write full time, no health insurance company can deny you coverage. You’ll be able to live.” See, I’ve been there before. I’ve lost my job and lived on expired drugs and ran up credit card debt to try and save myself. I did that, and it was a reality I never, ever want to go back to. I feared it so much that when the election happened, despite having a great job, a great spouse, a great life, I wanted to fucking kill myself. I wanted to end it all right there, because I didn’t want to go back to those days, to that huge fear that was always tapping at my shoulder.

That’s how bad those days were for me. 

Do you understand?

Do you have any fucking clue what it is, to live that way?

The truth is, you can’t afford my $1500 a month in meds. Neither can my parents (nor should they. I’m 37 years old, for fuck’s sake!). There are two ways to make healthcare even better in this country: further regulate health providers and insurance companies so that they can’t charge obscene rates for things we must have and which don’t cost them very much, and raise taxes on the 1% to ensure our country has more equal distribution of wealth.

That’s it. Easy!

But I known you don’t want that. You won’t support that. And neither will this regime.

So unemployment is death, for me. That’s exactly what they are planning to build. That’s exactly what you have supported, and I never want you to forget it.

Ever.

This is why I want you to fuck off. Fuck so far off your high fucking horse. Fuck off. I wish you the absolute worst of everything. A cancer upon your house.  A long and lingering illness for which you need constant care, for ten, twenty, thirty years. I want you kicked out of a hospital because you can’t pay. I want you to feel the full brunt of exactly what you have voted for. I want you to experience your Ayn Randian future to the absolute fullest. I want you to reap what you have sown here. And, more importantly: I want you to understand that you chose this for yourself. 

Because it’s not “those other people” you consigned to death and fear and anxiety, which would have been bad enough.

No, it wasn’t “the Other,” to you.

It was me.

Your daughter.

Your sister.

Your niece.

You are a motherfucking monster.

And I will never, ever forgive you for that. 

 

 

The Bleeding Heart of the Story: Reflections on a Career in Fiction

My first novel, God’s War, came out in 2011. It sold long before that, in 2008, but due to the vagaries of publishing, came out much later from a different publisher. I started writing it in 2003 and finished it in 2007, when I was 27 years old. This was not, of course, the first novel I’d ever written, but the ninth. And I can’t say there was anything about that novel that made it sell while the others didn’t. In truth, that book was a really hard sell, and almost never made it onto the shelves at all. But unlike my prior work, it had a pretty simple quest plot, which helped keep readers engaged, and I threw in pretty much every great idea I’d ever had – Bug magic! Centuries-long wars! Violent matriarchies! Harsh desert! Colonized worlds! – and just had fun with it.

In discussion with my agent on the latest episode of the podcast, though, I started thinking about what it was that made these books to compelling for people, and why The Stars are Legion (which was, emotionally, the toughest book I’ve ever written) seems to be doing so well. The truth is there are so many things in publishing that are beyond our control that we can’t say, “Well, this one is just a good story!” to explain why some did well and some didn’t. The Worldbreaker books have all earned out as well, and sold more than the God’s War books, but people don’t get as emotionally invested in those books as the God’s War books and The Stars are Legion. People don’t cry over them the way they do my other stuff.

It’s the emotional connection that we make with stories that makes them mean so much to us. On the podcast Hannah mentions how much she loved the Twilight books, not for their clunky prose, but for how well they captured, for her, the experience of falling in love for the first time. That was a bit revelatory to me, because these were books that I never connected with. But talk about The Girl on the Train, and I’ll tell you it’s not only the mystery aspect, but the fact that it’s a woman who drinks too much who’s being (spoilers) gas-lighted. And whoa boy did I ever connect with that whole, “Everyone thinks you’re crazy but you’re actually being set up by a nutty dude,” experience. It’s something a lot of women in particular deal with, and I was wholly invested in her discovering she was not actually crazy because it mirrored so much of my own journey toward discovering feminism. I often think that the reason a lot of YA novels don’t connect with me is that they don’t explore emotional themes that really interest me right now the way that many adult novels do. YA tends to be about finding oneself, about the first discovery that the world isn’t what you were told it was. And I’m past that and on to other things.

This discussion about the bleeding heart of the story led me to ask what the bleeding heart of the story was in my own work. It’s interesting because you don’t always know what the heart of the story is when you first begin to write. It wasn’t until Nyx fell to her knees in the ring at the end of her big fight at the end of God’s War that I knew what the heart of that story was about. Nyx struggled with all sorts of issues related to faith and submission, and independence and dependence. These were issues I, too have and do struggle with. Much of Nyx’s emotional struggle throughout all three books springs from having someone I was in a relationship with say that i was a monster. That stuck with me for a long time. Was I monster? In rejecting the weak person I had been, had I become everything I hated? Good stories tap into the very darkest parts of us, and Nyx was certainly the female Conan I wished I could be, wading out into pools of blood and coming out the other side being just as true to herself before as after. She and Rhys are tangled in the sort of snarky abusive relationship that for many years I’d assumed was love. The way they actually end up shows that I have learned something since then. In God’s War, the entire drive of the narrative is to get Nyx onto her knees in that ring, to allow her to admit to herself that what she would love, more than anything else, is just to submit to God, to fate, to the world, and stop fighting it. But she can’t. She knows she can’t, even as she admits it. The drive in Infidel was always to break them down into their component parts, to have them both lose everything and see what it made of them. And of course, in Rapture, the terrible events that they endure there are meant to break them both down emotionally so that they can have, finally, for the first time, an honest conversation about their feelings and why they can’t be together. The rest of the books: the bug magic, the blood-eating sand, the giant hornets, the bel dames, the assassinations and beheadings – existed to tell that emotional story between Nyx and Rhys.

The Stars are Legion was, famously, a difficult book for me to write because unlike with the Nyx books, I knew exactly what the bleeding heart of the story was going to be before I wrote it, and understood what I would have to write about, and that’s some scary stuff. At its heart, Legion is about women’s control (or not) over their own bodies and reproductive power. It also has not one, but two wildly abusive relationships at its core. I wrote deeply about things that mattered to me, issues related to fertility and bodily autonomy and of course, the monster inside so many of us. Once one has been monstrous, the book asked, is it possible to go back, to repent, to become someone different? Those were the bleeding emotions of the story, the burning questions, and I faced them down in all their cold, stark truth. Those are deep, powerful emotions, and beyond the gooey ships and birthing ship parts and struggling through the spongy center of some world, it’s the emotional stuff that we can all relate to on some level that powers its heart and makes it so unforgettable.

As the saying goes, folks may forget what you say, but they won’t forget how you made them feel. Fiction is very much like this, and it’s another reason I don’t like to tie up my stories into nice neat packages. I want to leave the readers with questions that they can mull over as they contemplate the story itself and how it affected them. There’s a reason I ended Nyx’s story the way I did in Rapture. And it’s not because I’m an asshole. Like the reader, I too, like to wonder what fate Nyx deserved, and whether it was the lady or the tiger stepping out of that bakkie. Nyx has done terrible things, but I understand that it’s not up to me to judge her, after all. Rhys would say it’s up to God; I would say it’s up to each individual reader. It’s not for me to decide. Such are the endings on which much great fan fiction can be imagined.

When I sit here looking at Broken Heavens and the original emotional heart of the story, I understand why it’s collapsed, like a souffle, now that I have a different ending. I had spent a great deal of time in the prior two books setting up a very specific ending. What I had failed to do in this latest draft of Broken Heavens is make it clear what the emotional turning point is for the character here so she understands she doesn’t just have two choices, those two choices I set up so many books ago. I realize that the character needs to have the same kind of emotional moment I did after the election, when my entire conception of my country and where it was headed and who were not only were, but who we wanted to be, got flushed down the toilet forever. I will never forget that moment. How betrayed I felt; how my own people had voted to destroy everything I knew and loved. It was a break in reality, for me, the moment when I felt the whole world literally lurch onto another timeline. It was among the most surreal moments of my life. And I knew I had to accept immediately that it had changed everything I knew, and was going to profoundly affect the future – my own and those of my friends and family and the world itself – in terrible ways.

Those are the emotional turning points we talk about. It’s the moment I got out of the hospital after nearly dying, and had to ask for help cutting asparagus because I was so weak. It was laying out the syringes and medication I would have to take now everyday for the rest of my life, or die. It was that understanding that I was not as strong and robust and invulnerable as I’d always assumed, that knowledge that everything I believed about the world and myself had been irrevocably changed. My future, my expectations of such, were rewritten before my eyes.

These are the emotional experiences, and the emotional moments, that we often use fiction to explore. I may not know what it’s like to chop off someone’s head, but I know what it is to be called a monster, and to wonder if it’s true. I may not have ever given birth to a world, but I know what it is to be at war with one’s body while the world itself tries to control you. We use these emotions as leaping off points, and memorable fiction understands that to endure, to touch people, takes more than explosions. It takes tapping into these very vulnerable parts of ourselves, often the very worst moments from our lives, and translating them onto the page.

This is not to say that there aren’t plenty of bestsellers that don’t do this. I just read a bestselling author who wrote a mystery novel that was absolutely emotionally devoid. I also tossed it immediately into my Goodwill pile to give away and promptly forgot even the names of the characters. But making work that lasts needs to touch people in some way. It must be memorable. It must bleed all over the page.

I get that, and yes, some days it does bother me, because frankly, I don’t want to revisit a lot of my most vulnerable moments. This is likely why I’m a discovery writer, because it allows me to sneak up on these emotions in a very organic way. It allowed me to simply write Nyx falling to her knees in the ring, longing to submit, knowing she couldn’t, and having no idea why that scene felt so powerful to me; why it felt just right. Not until much later.

But as I struggle with the massive backlog of projects I have right now, I realize that I have less time to allow myself the comfortable blinders of pure discovery writing in order to creep up on the truth. I have to face it head on, first thing. Even if it scares me.

Even if it bleeds.

GET TO WORK HURLEY: Episode 4. In this episode I chat with my agent, Hannah Bowman, about the daunting task of story structure. We answer Twitter questions, talk about why opera fans are great at writing synopses, and I admonish her for spoiling all of your favorite shows.

Heya folks!
 The GET TO WORK HURLEY podcast is a monthly rant about the hustle of making a living as a writer of All of the Things.

You can support this podcast each month as a Patron or make a one-time donation.

  • EPISODE FOUR: In this episode I chat with my agent, Hannah Bowman, about the daunting task of story structure. We answer Twitter questions, talk about why opera fans are great at writing synopses, and I admonish her for spoiling all of your favorite shows. Listen below or on iTunes.

 

Direct Download Link

(iTunes)

*Music credit. Remixed All Eyes and Teeth by Eaters. Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlikeLicense. 

Let’s Talk About the Future

Once again into the breach, the current bumfuck governing body that 62 million people voted in has failed to come to a consensus about just how much they should fuck over the people who voted for them (and everyone else, but also those 62 million).

Yet they carry on, because of course they do, despite the fact that nobody who voted for or against them agrees with what they’re doing. My best guess is that they believe they are ordained by God to make these poor decisions, as if Jesus murdered lepers instead of healing them.

But I digress.

The reason we keep calling, and we keep trying to save even the current mess that is the ACA, is that many of us would die or struggle without it. Many knew that this is exactly what current admin would try and do, regardless of who it hurt. It’s why some with chronic conditions and issues turned to a dark place after the election, and I could not blame them. I was in that dark place for a long time. I have a great life, a great spouse, a roof over my head, a job, but I despaired too. I drank too much, and I lost a lot of time. Because I knew the truth. I knew how hard this was going to be. I knew we’d fight a long time, and that even if we fought, we would probably lose again and again and again, because all those things we think are laws in this country are tempered absolutely by the conscience and decency of one’s leaders. Elect incompetent people who have no shame, and pair them with incompetent people who want power and/or feel they are Ordained By God to Rule, and you are fucked. It’s the same in every country.

I have written about what life was like for me before the ACA, and the feeling of relief I had when it passed. It’s a relief I’ve been living with for four years, and that relief has helped give me the courage to pursue my writing without undue worry. I knew I’d never, ever have to go through the fear and terror of being uninsured, living on expired insulin, ever again, no matter what layoffs headed my way.

But the repeal of ACA will bring us back to that dark time. I understand why people feel despair, because I feel it too. I hustle like hell, even with health insurance, to pay for my meds and my premiums. I can guarantee Congress that I “pay my share” at about $12k a year in premiums, deductibles, and co-pays. How many iPhones is that, Chaffetz?

Saving the ACA is pretty personal, for me. And whether or not many in my family realize it, it’s vital to them as well. I have a niece and nephew with chronic conditions. My dad has chronic issues, and both my parents are nearing retirement age, and with Medicaid under the gun and Medicare next, I have no idea how they will pay for their healthcare after they are no longer able to work.

If we save the ACA I keep my “in case I’m laid off/fired” healthcare safety net. If we save ACA I could be a full-time writer someday. If we don’t save ACA and I lose my job for any reason, I’ll probably die. Meds are $1500 a month to keep me alive (not counting premiums).

When I went to pick up my latest round of meds and the pharmacy tech asked if I knew the bill ($500) I said “Oh yes. But I’ll die without them. So they kind of have me over a barrel.”

And she said, “I guess I would die, then. That’s more than I make in a week.”

This is America. People work hard. There’s a narrative among many in this country – even my own family! – that the problem is that people don’t have jobs, or don’t work hard enough. This is an insidious lie. The truth is that care is unregulated; hospitals have no formal pricing list; capitalism is a shitty way to run a healthcare system; it’s inefficient, and the government says hospitals must pay for everyone who comes to ER, but doesn’t reimburse them for it (best they can do is claim it as a loss on taxes). Our healthcare system is overly complicated, and the truth is that what’s going to help fix it is a regulated system and a giant Medicare-for-Everyone option that forces places to agree on pricing structures and streamline them. Our current patchwork capitalist system is murdering people; it’s not providing the best care in the world. Far, far, from it.

I hustle like hell at a day job, with the Patreon, and with my novel writing to both make ends meet and live a good life. And I’m desperate to keep making money because I don’t know when it will stop and everything will turn back to what it was. Don’t tell me I don’t deserve expensive care. The whole fucking POINT of civilization is that we work together to make a better world.

We are all affected by this one way or another. Some more than others. Some later more than now. Some now more than later. It’s what health insurance and health care systems are for. If something terrible happens to you, as it happened to me, then you can rely on insurance to help you manage it. But with out of control costs and unregulated insurance carriers, you end up with a Wild West hodgepodge of scammers and incompetents. No one is there to hold them accountable. They know that.

Many fear the government, and the over-regulation of the government. I get that. But the truth is, we ELECT our governement. If they are shit, kick them the fuck out. The government works for US. They should be afraid of US. We should not be afraid of them.

Everyone deserves care. I don’t care if you work or don’t work or you’re citizen or not. We are all humans. We should care about other humans. If you think people deserve to die because they don’t have money to pay for life-saving treatment I can’t help you.

What has made humans successful isn’t our brains or standing upright. It’s that we care for each other. We cooperate. Together, we are better than one. Libertarianism sounds like a real fun idea until you break your legs in the woods. Who the fuck is going to save you then, huh?

People. People will fucking save you. Because we work together. We take care of each other. We ensure that even those who are born with the least are given enough resources and opportunities to compete with those born with the most. THAT is equality. That’s the American story we tell ourselves, but still haven’t been able to make true.

It’s working together that has led to every single success humanity has achieved over these 200k years. To survive, we must work together. And yes, that means caring for those among us who are most vulnerable. You, me, your kids, your neighbors, your friends, your future.

We can have our Star Trek future. But we have to believe in it. And we have to shine a light on it. And we have to build it. Together.

I have talked a lot about fighting. Fight the future, fight the darkness. But it’s fighting that got us here. It’s fighting that makes the 62 million so desperate and fearful. I understand, now, that this isn’t just about fighting. It’s not a war that requires guns. This is a war of stories, and to de-escalate requires more than having a bigger gun. It requires being the very best people we can be. It requires compassion. It requires cooperation.

Most of all, getting to the future we want isn’t about flailing around in the darkness, punching walls. Getting the future we want is about bringing the light.

We must be the light in the darkness.

And each of us, every one of us together, all those little pinpoints of light – that’s what will secure this future. Hope, coming together, bringing the light.

Be the light.

Believe in that future.

How Pro Writers Deal with Pro Criticism

When I started my my job at a new local ad agency, the account manager for our largest client pulled me into her office to discuss a piece I’d written. She started out with something like, “So, uh, this is a really good overview of (X)! It’s well-written, it’s –” and I held up a hand and stopped her and said. “Let’s not mince words. Give it to me.” And she laughed and proceeded to tell me that I’d misunderstood the purpose of the piece, and written it with the wrong audience and call to action in mind, and needed to scrap it and rewrite it. And I was like, sure, no problem. Because, like, getting this shit right is literally my job. These are just words. If the words are wrong, you write them until they are the right words that work for the account manager and ultimately, the client.

This is literally the job of a professional ad writer. 

A lot of writers, even professional writers at ad agencies and, of course, novelists, are not good at taking criticism. Hence the circular roundabout I sometimes run into when getting feedback on pieces. It’s meant to soften the blow, but it often just means stuff takes more time, and because we aren’t communicating honestly, projects drag, and then no one is happy.

There is the opposite of this, of course. I once had feedback from an account manager at another job whose feedback was, “This is just a jumble of words,” which is not only incredibly unhelpful, but, frankly, an insulting thing to tell someone who makes words for a living. It’s like telling an architect that their plans are “Just a jumble of lines.”

That kind of feedback says more about the comprehension of the account manager than it does about your work. Oftentimes, they say stuff like this because they don’t know how to articulate themselves. Other times, at larger companies, it can be a political thing, as all the feedback comes in writing, and they want to cover their butts if a piece doesn’t perform. I dealt with marketing managers all the time who blamed low-performing pieces on “the creative team” and of course, as the creative team, we often blamed the marketers. The blame game suits no one, though, and my best writing is always done when I get clear and concise feedback, even if it’s painfully honest. Even better is when I have actual data regarding what messages have worked in the past, which allows me to further fine-tune my pieces so that they perform progressively better over time. The truth is we are all making this shit up, and we have to work collectively to make the work that best achieves the clients’ goals.

I have been a professional copywriter for more than ten years now, and I admit that it’s helped me take criticism about my books a lot more easily, too. Instead of sitting around after an edit letter or critique going, “I’m the worst writer ever and I’ll never amount to anything,” I shrug and say, “Well, that sucks, but clearly the words aren’t right, so I’ll continue working at it until they are.”

That’s not to say I don’t still have moments of despair, but they are fewer.

So when my agent got back to me about the latest word dump that is The Broken Heavens on a call yesterday, I had ten years of experience to fall back on when she basically said I needed to scrap large chunks of it. I had followed the outline that we’d agree on, trying to get all the characters to the right place at the right time. The trouble with this sort of outline – as I felt during writing and as my agent confirmed on reading – is that it created a plot-driven story instead of a character driven story, and as my agent noted, the “plot” such as it was, was basically “lets get all these people where they need to be” which was just… a lot of traveling. So the “plot” per se, wasn’t terribly compelling either, just lots of traveling and lots of meetings where there wasn’t much tension.

When you hear criticism like, “hey, this book actually starts in the fourth act, and only about 20% of what we have may be salvageable” after you’ve spent a year working on a book and the last several weeks crunching on it, and it’s already a year late, it can be demoralizing. But good feedback is always about the work, not about the writer, and you have to remember that when you’re getting feedback, it’s not about you, or what you meant to write, it’s about the work that’s on the page. My agent and I don’t agree on everything, of course. One of my favorite characters, Meyna, is pretty much her least favorite, and I think if it was her book she would have killed that character long ago. But when my agent does her book-doctoring magic, it does mostly jive with what I know is, intuitively, the right thing to do for the story.  We spent a lot of time talking about other fantasy books and reader expectations for a third and final book. I agreed with what needed to happen and how we needed to actually start the book. Yes, it involves throwing away a lot of words, but sometimes you need to pretty much write the whole back story before you write the book itself.

Sigh.

So I’m starting some stuff over, but hoping that I can make significant progress very quickly, as I need to leave for Helsinki August 3rd and I want the next draft in by then. I mean THAT’S THREE WEEKS PEOPLE EASY PEASY RIGHT?

Sometimes the words just aren’t the right ones. This is another reason that paying writers by the word or by the project just isn’t reflective of the amount of work that goes into something. I have written books in a few months, and written half a book in a couple weeks. And then there are books like this, where you literally write the whole thing once, and then write the whole thing a second time (or a third or fourth time, in the case of The Mirror Empire). God’s War was tinkered with endlessly before it finally came out, and I tossed out the entire second half of Infidel and rewrote it from scratch at one point. For awhile there, Empire Ascendant – with its weird sky mechanics and alternating POV’s that needed to line up in a coherent way – was the hardest book I’d ever written. With Stars are Legion, coming up with the actual backstory was the hard part, but the writing itself was fun, and I wrote half of it over a long weekend.

I seem to be back to basics with this book, which has proven to be even more complex than Empire Ascendant, and the current political climate sure as hell isn’t helping any of us be coherent or productive in any of our work. But, you know: we are fucking professionals, and this is what we do. So.

You write until the words are the right ones.

So if you think that leveling up as a writer means that nobody ever critiques your work again, or every word you shit will be gold, here is your reminder: it doesn’t get easier as you go. The bar gets higher. You need to jump further, climb higher, level up. If you didn’t make a million out the gate your first time, welcome to the long slog toward the breakout book, where you constantly have to stay on top of your game or fall down and start over again.

I have heard from many writers that I was “lucky” to make it out of the implosion of my first publisher with a relatively high profile (if not high $$, though Legion sales are steady af) career afterward. The best writer career path is, frankly, to have a “hit” right out the gate and build on that success. While it’s VERY possible to get a break out later (I can think of several writers who had written anywhere from 4-11 books before their breakout book), it sure does seem easier, from the outside, to build on that success than to take the long way up like I am, slowly, slowly, selling more and more books with every contract.

But here’s the thing. I’m well aware that to write a breakout book, I have to level up my work. We like to pretend it’s ALL luck with a breakout book, and sometimes that’s true (the “Hollywood bought it!” phenomenon), but sometimes it really is about skill, about writing a story that connects with more people, a story folks can’t put down, a story that everyone goes, “You have to read this trilogy because it’s great and OMG the third book has THE BIGGEST PAYOFF AND MOST EPIC THIRD ACT.” That part isn’t luck, it’s writing a good story. And to write that good story takes consulting with other professionals and working to make the story the best it can be. You will always be the ultimate owner of anything that you write (Meyna is staying in the book!), but you have to learn when to be able to take constructive feedback for what it is and when to throw out stuff that doesn’t work with your own vision. That’s a tough skill, I admit. I struggle with it all the time. Being able to sort through feedback to find the right way through takes a lot of practice, and it’s this, too, that makes you a pro.

I have gotten plenty of feedback that I didn’t agree with, including some stuff where an editor wanted me to cut a whole chapter (I kept the whole thing) and perhaps tone down some grossness (I did not). In the second instance, that is the scene that pretty much EVERYONE who reads Stars are Legion comments on (“OMG CHAPTER 14,” they say).  My agent wanted more politics there in the opening of tSAL, and I didn’t, because I wanted to get to the gooey underbelly of the world faster, so that’s what I did. But when someone points out that there’s an emotional story missing, and the plot is just traveling, and the whole second half of the book probably needs to be composed of what you just get to in the fourth act, and you take a look at that and find yourself nodding along, well…. then you know you have a lot of work ahead of you.

Most importantly of all, when you hear that and sigh and go, “Well, it is what it is” instead of “I am a failure as a human being,” then you know you’re really leveling up your pro writer game, and congrats to you (and to me).

Now….

Get back to work.

 

LITA Talk: We Are the Sum of Our Stories

I was graciously invited by the Library Information Technology Association (LITA) to give the LITA President’s Talk on June 25th. The talk was recorded and will be shared publicly in the next few weeks.

Until then, here is the full text of the talk (minus my asides, of course).

Thank you so much to LITA President Aimee Fifarek for the invitation (and to N.K. Jemisin for the NYT review that brought Geek Feminist Revolution to Fifarek’s attention!) and everyone involved in coordinating the event. Thanks also to the Tor team, in particular Kathleen Doherty and Zohra Ashpari, for all of their support in ensuring this event went smoothly. It was lovely, and I felt honored to be there.


 

LITA TALK: WE ARE THE SUM OF OUR STORIES

So, this talk was described a bit disingenuously. And I apologize for that. What I’m actually here to talk to you about today are llamas.

Yes, I’m going to tell you a story about llamas.

#

On the surface, it’s pretty easy being a llama. I mean, all you want to do is eat, and poop, have sex sometimes, maybe raise some babies, and die old. These are desires that pretty much every llama shares. It’s something they can collectively agree on, and have collectively agreed on since there were llamas.

What they can’t agree on is what the point is of being a llama, anyway. Who made them? What’s the point of all this sex and pooping? They also can’t agree on if bigger llamas should be able to get access to more to eat, even if it means that other llamas may get less. Should little llamas have to poop in one part of the pen but big llamas poop where they want?

These are important llama questions. Pooping is serious business when you’re a llama.

These differences in such philosophical questions posed by herd life caused the llamas to all break up into divisive groups based on these different stories created around the facts of being a llama.

As divisions among the llamas escalated, they didn’t notice that sometimes there were some sheep dogs and leopards wandering among them, agreeing with their stories and planting new alternative facts into their heads, that not all llamas poop, not all llamas eat, so what do llamas really have in common anyway?

But leopards eat llamas, you might be saying, why on earth would llamas be listening to leopards, and I’d say #NotAllLeopards, why don’t you just hear both sides?

Pretty soon these llamas no longer stayed in the same herd together. They formed smaller herds. They started trusting no one but their own immediate families. The llamas could not form a shared reality, a shared story, about the state of the herd and the world around them. Soon, even their own families became suspect.

At some point, the llamas contaminated their grazing spaces. Many died of dysentery and ecoli. Some starved. But most were simply picked off one by one by the leopards who had helped nurture the stories that drove them into these little, more easily murdered groups.

The llamas all sat around blaming each other until there weren’t any more llamas left. The leopards got very fat.

That’s it. That’s all I’ve got.

Oh, you want a moral to the story. A purpose? Why share a story, if it doesn’t tell us something about ourselves, the way that stories are supposed to?

Well, I guess the moral of the story is…. Thank goodness we’re not llamas.

#

It’s certainly easier to talk about the folly of llamas and their warring versions of reality than it is to face and understand our own shortcomings. We like to believe that we are rational creatures. But as someone with a deep background in storytelling and over a decade of marketing experience, I know the ugly truth. We are not rational creatures at all. We are driven purely by emotion. And those emotional drives are most powerful when communicated through narrative.

Story is absolutely central to our understanding of ourselves and our reality. There is a theory that human consciousness begins with story. Our awareness of the world hinges on our ability to form narrative. This is why most of us don’t have any clear memories until we’re two or three years old. Before we are able to construct our own consciousness, we must be able to form narrative. It is story that makes us human.

It means we can be shaped and altered entirely by the stories we tell, the stories we are told, and the stories we choose to believe about ourselves.

Scary, right?

#

My 6-year-old nephew thrives on rules and facts. Household rules, social rules, give him a baseline template by which to measure the world. It soothes his anxiety to know exactly how people are supposed to act. When rules are broken, he loses his mind.

I like to tell him wild stories that aren’t true. When he was four I convinced him that dinosaurs weren’t extinct, just nocturnal, Which was super funny until he corrected his kindergarten teacher, during a class on dinosaurs, by announcing loudly: “DINOSAURS AREN’T EXTINCT THEY’RE NOCTURNAL.”

I know, I’m a terrible Aunt.

Before then, he was happy to believe whatever story I told him. Now he hesitates and interrogates on the assumption that NOTHING I tell him his true. “Auntie Kamo that’s not TRUE.” And when I assert it is he looks for other sources, asks his mom, his uncle, “Is that REALLY true?” in an attempt to find a consensus.

He has learned to think critically (I have turned him into a critical thinker! Mission accomplished!). He’s learning who the best sources of information are. (not me). If only those llamas could learn to think as critically as a 6-year-old.

#

The way our behavior is shaped by story has been known by prophets, governments, and marketers (for millennia. It’s why religious books are largely written as a series of parable and stories. I still remember the Bible story where the King determines which woman is the true mother of a child by threatening to cut the kid in half! Memorable stuff.

For 15 years I’ve been working in an industry that was able to convince people that tobacco was cool, and then that it wasn’t. We got people to wash their hair every day instead of every week, so we could sell more shampoo. The “tradition” of the diamond engagement ring can be traced directly back to a 1930’s ad campaign by De Beers, in which a copywriter like me came up with the phrase “diamonds are forever” and started convincing celebrities to show off diamond engagement rings.

Everything we do is made up. It’s all driven by stories.

#

Even our sense of ourselves as a nation is simply a story, one many of us learn when we’re about… six. It is a carefully crafted story of manifest destiny and independence, in which a collection of European immigrants went out into a largely unpopulated continent and tamed it to their will and gave freedom and equality to all.

The only way to stick to this sense of ourselves is to willfully ignore the fact that the country was also built through the use of genocide, slavery, and oppression. We were, for nearly two hundred years, a democracy only in the sense that Athens was a democracy, a democracy that didn’t include women, foreigners, or slaves.

Yet even here there is some truth to the story we tell ourselves, at least. This is a country of immigrants. Together we have built some great things. We have also, collectively, done and continue to do some very terrible things. These are facts we can all agree on. It’s the story around it that changes.

Hijacking the American story is much easier than we’d like to think. Because, like my nephew, we all learned these stories when we were very young, we reject much of what we learn we when are older. We don’t want to believe entire nations of people had to be murdered and forcibly relocated for this country to be what it is. We want to believe they all died of a plague. White people in this country, in particular, don’t want to believe that enslaved hands helped build our White House. We want to believe all slaves were treated well and slavery “wasn’t so bad.” It soothes our sense of ourselves.

But that doesn’t make those things true.

Stories and truth aren’t the same thing.

#

Much has been made of the rise of the internet and its power in fracturing our sense of ourselves and our stories.

But our mass media is simply a reflection of our true selves and the culture at large. It’s like a carnival fun house where we are constantly confronted with all the best and darkest and most twisted versions of our reality as individuals and a nation.

Technology has simply made abuse and misinformation easier. I get yelled at and harassed on the street constantly when I lived here in Chicago. While walking my dogs last week in Dayton, Ohio I had a guy follow me in his car, espousing my physical virtues while demanding to know if I had a boyfriend. I’m regaled by street preachers about their views of apocalypse and salvation. On trains here in Chicago I’d also encounter wandering folks who insisted we were being controlled by aliens, or…whatever.

Online, it’s simply easier for people like Todd in his boring corporate cubicle to engage in this behavior of abuse and misinformation – quickly and infinitely.

For more than two decades, we have allowed bullying and abuse online and off, on playgrounds and by our sons and daughters, by our police forces, on our college campuses, in our streets, and we have allowed it in ourselves. To achieve this, we have built elaborate stories about why this abuse isn’t really abuse. We talk about how “boys we be boys” and “women are just asking for it,” and “if people just respected people with guns they wouldn’t get shot.” And we have allowed our media to serve us entertainment and call it news.

These stories aren’t solving these problems.

#

Story has power no matter how it’s communicated. Consider an example less close to home. One without the internet.

After an airplane carrying the then president of Rwanda was shot down in 1994, members of the political elite in Rwanda launched a campaign to encourage the Hutu majority to murder their Tutsi neighbors. Checkpoints and barricades were erected to screen those with Tutsi ethnic classification. One of the most powerful tools of the genocide, however, was the radio. On an extremist radio station, Hutu civilians were encouraged to take up whatever arms they had at hand, murder their Tutsi neighbors, and take their property. Over the course of about 100 days, Hutus murdered somewhere between 500,000 to 1 million of their own friends and neighbors.

A 2014 study estimated that 51,000 perpetrators, or approximately 10% of the overall violence, could be attributed directly to the propaganda espoused by a single radio station. The station was established several years before with a clear mission of promoting Hutu dominance in the region, and shared racist jokes and urged civilians to violence. More damning, the study also found that the station had not only directly influenced behavior in the villages within reception but also indirectly increased participation in neighboring villages through social interactions. In short, mass media can and does affect participation in violence due to both direct and indirect exposure to propaganda.

#

I bet you relaxed and felt much more comfortable when I was talking about faraway Rwanda than Todd in his cubicle. It’s easier to say we aren’t responsible for dealing with Rwanda. A lot harder to admit that Todd has problems and those problems are American problems.

For decades we have called the rise of misinformation and propaganda in this country entertainment. But it’s becoming increasingly clear what they really are.

Russian chess grand master Garry Kasperov recently tweeted, “The point of modern propaganda isn’t only to misinform or push an agenda. It is to exhaust your critical thinking. To annihilate truth.”

Sometimes the only way to share the truth about ourselves is by giving it some distance. The closer it is to us, the more it hurts to see it. It’s like looking at our reflection. All we want to do is break the mirror.

#

Does truth still exist?

I have seen the attempted annihilation of truth in other countries, and I can tell you the general story of how it happens. But you already know by now, don’t you? You are encouraged to not think critically about media, but to reject it outright. You watch your government state a stance in one sentence and deny they ever said it in the second. When they are called out on this, governments then prevent themselves being filmed, so ordinary people have only the word of the already discredited media on what the government is saying. You see the pervasive spread of radio programs and Facebook pages influenced by foreign governments and bros looking to make a buck who actively spread false stories.

These are things we have witnessed. What remains to be seen is how each of us crafts the stories of these truths to shoehorn them into our internal story of the country we live in, and the people we are.

Because we would rather figure out a way to do that than confront what is really happening. The splintering of our stories of ourselves and our countries feels too much like dying.

So the leopards get fat.

#

If we can agree the world is confusing, and we often feel that we’re dying, we can, at least, ask ourselves… what happens next?

Now that so much in the world has been discredited and maligned, where do we turn? It turns out that there’s still one shining institution in America that has yet to be tarnished with the “fake news” label. It still holds a place in the public mind as an authority on fact and truth. That last bastion of truth is, of course, our libraries.

They’ve gone after your funding, sure. They don’t want to educate the populace because then they think critically. Authoritarian governments, corporations, people who want to retain power by crushing others, don’t want you to show the public how to really critically interrogate the information they consume.

But we’re not dead yet!

Children still come to libraries, young people still come to libraries, adults still come to libraries, looking for objective truth. In my hometown in Dayton, Ohio we just funded a massive new downtown library space with meeting spaces, cafes, and three floors of books. We still believe in libraries.

We unleashed firehouse of the internet on our countries without giving people the tools they need to navigate that information in a critical way. We assumed that somehow, magically, people would just figure out what was true and what wasn’t.

To help patrons, it’s not enough to show them where the information is, but also to teach them how to think critically about it. Incorporate guidelines for critical thinking in every how to use the library talk, every discussion about the internet. Hell, put up posters there along the computer banks, “Think before you click!” “Think before you share!” That sounds simplistic, but put those messages into the form of stories told by llamas who are making poor decisions, and it becomes powerful.

When I teach copywriting classes, I give my students handy green, yellow, red caution designations for common news sources and sites. It’s not that they can’t or shouldn’t see that information, no! But it urges them to think more critically about what the source is, what their motive may be, and gives them guidelines on how to navigate the vast trove of information. It invites them to take personal responsibility for the information they create, share, like, and broadcast. I teach them about hyperlinks, and clicking back, always to check the original source of a news item buried eight blogs deep. I tell them to take note of the author of the information and think about what biases that person may have. I teach them all to be little mini-historians, using the same training I was given when I pursued my degree.

Most importantly, again, I urge you to share this information about how to uncover the truth in the form of stories and fables, not bullet points. If you want people to remember the importance of critical thinking and their part in spreading misinformation… tell them about the llamas.

We unconsciously examine the biases of our own family members every day. Today, we must all be that studious 6 year old, shaping and reshaping reality, examining sources, doubting, always, but knowing the truth is, as ever, out there.

#

So finally, I realized that some of the problems I had in crafting this speech is that I was trying to tell you how to save the world with the power of story in…. 30 minutes. What can I say, I’m ambitious. What I’m going to do instead is share with you the story that is getting me through this difficult time in our history.

I tell myself that we all still have more in common than we have been led to believe. We all just want to eat and poop. Occasionally, we may want to have sex or at least have strong human relationships, we all want to live a life where we are comfortable and loved. We all want to die old.

I also have to believe there is a future. I often imagine that it’s 30 years from now, and the world here in America is amazing. We have tackled income inequality. We no longer wake up anxious in the middle of the night about medical bills or how to pay for our children’s medications, because we have all decided that we are only as healthy as the least healthy among us. We don’t worry about how to provide for our parents, or ourselves, in old age, because we have all decided to take care of each other from birth to death, just like a herd of llamas.

Our story, as a nation, has changed from one of The Hunger Games who can kill or rob more people faster than anyone else – to one of sharing for the common good. We have learned how to be kinder. Less angry. The story we tell ourselves now is that we all need each other to be here. I need other people to live because they make my shoes, my medications, they pave my roads, they fund the library that helped me learn to read, they regulate the safety of the food I eat. We all understand and value that, now. Thirty years from now.

I understand that sometimes it takes the very worst happening for us to get to that future. Sometimes, as in Europe, it takes a terrible war. Hard times. Terrible times. I tell myself that we are just beginning to enter those times.

So in this future, I’m an old woman living in an off-grid adobe hut in the middle of the desert, not because it’s the apocalypse and I’m drinking my own urine, but because it’s hot and sunny and when I’m old I want that! And I imagine these students tracking me down. And they come to me and they say, “How did you survive this terrible time in history and get through to the other side? How did you keep up hope when it looked like America had lost its story and was going to tear itself apart, with a foreign war or even a civil war?

And I tell them what I’m telling you now, and that is that I persevered because I could see the future on the other side. I could see us coming together. I had hope for this future. I could see them, these students and their shiny faces. I could see the future I built for them, and all of us. And I told that story to others.

No matter how horrible things got, so matter how divisive we were all encouraged to be, I remembered our collective story.

We all want to poop. We all want to eat. We all want to die old.

And I hope that as we go forward, there is some solace and hope for you in that as well. We are not all going to make it to that future. And that itself is a tragedy. It’s a tragedy to be here. But I believe in that future. And that is my story. That’s the real story I wanted to share with you today.

So, if there’s one thing we can all agree on, those llamas sure have a lot of problems. I hope they can work things out.

I want to thank you all for coming to story time today.

I wish you the very best.

/fini

GET TO WORK HURLEY: Episode 3. “You Don’t Own Meeeeeee” Chat about when one becomes a “real writer,” the Everest of publishing, who owns your time, Swecon roundup, and the annoying inevitability of publisher rights grabs.

Hej hej folks!
 The GET TO WORK HURLEY podcast is a monthly rant about the hustle of making a living as a writer of All of the Things.

You can support this podcast each month as a Patron or make a one-time donation.

  • EPISODE THREE: You Don’t Own Meeeeeee. Chat about when one becomes a “real writer,” the Everest of publishing, who owns your time, Swecon roundup, and the annoying inevitability of publisher rights grabs.

 

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*Music credit. Remixed All Eyes and Teeth by Eaters. Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlikeLicense.