Give Me Back My Alcohol

A bunch of friends have been passing around a piece on Facebook by a woman who quit drinking who has now been observing drinking culture among women and finding it strange. I found a lot to nod along with.

Over the weekend there was an incident at a convention where a panelist handed out shots on a panel. I thought at first it sounded like she was handing out shots to her fellow panelists, but people who were there said she was handing the shots out as a reward for people brave enough to ask questions of the panelists. She got in trouble.

I’m not really interested in this trouble. Sounds like the right thing happened and she acknowledged it was the right thing that happened and she was sorry and everyone moved on.

But I keep thinking how much work people–like this person! This very person, in fact!–have done to try to increase diversity among genre participants. If you’re nervous about asking a question and question askers get liquor, do you feel like you’re being welcome to participate if your religion forbids the consumption of alcohol? Or same scenario, but you’re a recovering alcoholic.

If you want people different than you to feel welcome to participate in things, sometimes that does mean changing your own behavior. Some old, beloved traditions–like everyone drinking all the time–will have to be modified or left behind.

I am Providence

I read Nick Mamatas’ I am Providence yesterday and it’s the kind of book where the negative Goodreads reviews are right, but so fucking what? I stayed up late to finish it, my head propped up on three pillows, my arm resting on the couch cushion. I literally came as close to reading in my sleep as possible. Which has been kind of my dream my whole life, so that was nice.

I don’t really want to talk about the plot. This isn’t a review. But I am going to be mulling over a lot how Mamatas conveys, as an author, confidence and authority. A lot of weird things happen. His narrator is confined to a drawer. Fuck, his narrator is already dead, so there’s no reason to wonder what happened. He died. But as a reader, I trust that this is worthwhile to spend some time with.

This is something I’ve notice in Mamatas’ writing in general. Instead of an authorial stance of “this is fun!” or “this is scary!” or whatever, it’s always “This is worth thinking about.” Not that his work can’t also be fun or scary, but there’s a consideration of his subjects that I appreciate and that, to me, signals “You can trust me to tell you this story.”

Like I said, I feel like that’s something worth mulling over.

Year of 100 Rejections

Got another rejection on Friday. You’re supposed to immediately get back up on your horse and try the trick again. But you know, I think sometimes it’s okay to put the horse in the barn and decide you’ll try again later after the cuts and bruises heal.

I read Roadside Picnic, which was fantastic. It has my opinion on aliens–which is that it’s pretty arrogant of us to even assume they’d notice us if they did show up here. And the debt TANIS and the Southern Reach trilogy owe to it are obviously deep.

I’m down. I’m feeling better than I did on Friday and I’m not defeated or anything, but I’m down. This part is really, really hard.

Clinging to this Afghan

I got a tough rejection yesterday. It had been so long, longer than they said they were going to take, long enough that I got my hopes up that maybe, just maybe, I’d made it through the first hoop.

That was stupid of me.

And I’ve tried to rationalize–obviously, the fact that they had it this long made it seem like a plausible project. And I turned right back around and sent it out again. And I hyped myself up and said Year of a Hundred Rejections over and over again to myself, which, even though I’m not aiming for a hundred rejections, ever since I read that article has become a kind of mantra to me.

But I’m still really bummed. So, I took the evening to work on this afghan. I tucked tails like tails have never been tucked. I bought quart bags to put my rows in so that I can keep the color scheme straight. I found a sharpie so I can number the bags.

I also did a crap ton of dishes, because apparently the Butcher has decided that having a girlfriend is more fun than doing one’s household chores and I will do a crap ton more tonight.

But tonight I am also going to tuck the last thirty tails on these 600 squares and then sort them by color and put them into baggies by the rows they will occupy in the afghan. And it will be so satisfying and the person who gets the afghan will love it and I will feel like there’s one artsy thing in this world that I am pretty good at.

Because I’m just not feeling it with my writing at the moment.

It’s not that bad!

I think the first two chapters reworked solve a lot of problems with the book. The thing is that I was thinking of the structure of the book like a spiral. You start out in this kind of ordinary space and you proceed inward until you’re suffocating on terror (or something. I think the book is creepy like a mouth full of cobwebs, not like a murderous clown in your shower.).

And I still really like the end. I’m really proud of how everything comes together and is rightfully disturbing on a lot of levels.

But one thing M. said to me about the beginning was that if he didn’t know me, he wouldn’t have gotten from the opening chapters that this was a ghost story. And A. told me that she thought I should start with the chapter where the ghost hunters appear.

And that got me thinking that both of them may be seeing the same weakness with the opening. So, now I cut a bunch of non-ghosty stuff, and reworked the beginning so that the unusual nature of the house is apparent right up front.

I also did another printed out pass on the manuscript and have an alarming number of typos to fix.

But I’m feeling okay about things, I think.

The Dog

I woke up to a huge puddle of piss in the kitchen. We got clear to the back of the yard and I realized the dog didn’t have his collar on. We had to come back for it. I got halfway on our walk and I realized I wasn’t particularly angry or upset about either thing.

I don’t feel like I’m becoming a mellower person, just that the things I want to be angry about are not these small things.

The thing that sucks about your 40s is that people die and when they die, they’re not that much older than you. Like, there goes Pat Summitt. And can you imagine? One of the most brilliant minds in college basketball struck down by Alzheimer’s. Because the universe likes a sick and tragic joke.

Whatever you love, whatever is most fundamental to you, you’re going to lose.it. It’s depressing, but it makes me feel such urgency. Will I get the thing written before I can’t write any more? “The thing” being the work that makes me feel like “Yep, I did it.”

I worried a little that the pee in the kitchen might be the start of kidney problems, but the Butcher tells me that the dog wouldn’t get off the porch last night. I am slightly annoyed that the Butcher didn’t then take him off the porch. But would I have? I can’t say.

Pyramid Schemes

One thing I’ve been noticing is how much of the “writing life” is a pyramid scheme. I didn’t put that together until I was talking to S. about it one day at lunch, my irritation with not knowing whether I should pay for an editor or pay to take this or that workshop or…

You hear a lot of advice about how, in writing, the author gets paid. The author does not pay.

At the same time, everyone wants to sell you a book about how to write, or, if you know how to do that, how to market. Take a cruise! Go to a workshop! Hire an editor!

Like, how much money am I supposed to outlay before the “the author does not pay” rule kicks in?

Today I am a “Minor Genre Writer!”

I got my contributor copies of Fantasy & Science Fiction in the mail yesterday. I am surprised at how nice it feels. There’s something about being published in a place your parents have heard of that makes a person feel legitimized.

I was also surprised at how, rereading the story, I cringed at every second of it. Every mistake, every rough edge, every thing I wished I’d handled kind of differently just stands out so much to me seeing that it’s too late to do anything about it. I still laughed, though, so I think that’s a good sign.

This year has been a bear so far and I have been basically keeping my head down and powering through it and I’ve not been doing as much writing as I’d like to be doing.

So, it’s weird, at the same time that I had this big success, I’m still sitting on this novel no agent wants to represent, unsure of how to proceed. I’ve got a couple of stories out on submission and they’ve been out long enough that I should hear back any day if they’re rejected. I need to gut up and send the Metallica story back out.

That was one nice thing that I will hold in my heart about Hypericon is hearing a guy who’s been in the business a long, long time talking about how he still doesn’t know if he’s doing it right and how he still feels jealousy and confusion. That’s good to know. It’s not me floundering–or not only me floundering–it’s just part of what it means to be a writer.

I don’t know what I’m doing and I don’t know how to do better. It’s a relief to just admit that. I am floundering. But, it’s okay. I’m not trying to earn a living from writing at this point. I’m trying to figure out what works and to improve my abilities.

Also, I think the October stories are done! There’s going to be a musical component this year but I have to figure out how to work it, especially since one of the songs does not yet appear to be up on YouTube.

But I’m genuinely not sure I could have done this even ten years ago. Not just because I didn’t feel this same feeling of urgency–like I have to do it now or miss my shot–but because I don’t think I’d have been able to take the rejection, which even now, I do better about taking in theory than in actual practice.

And I’m still left to marvel over the weird situation that puts us in as a culture. How many good stories are we missing out on because the process for getting those stories out there is more than they can handle?

I guess, too, doing this kind of work is why I’m less than impressed by arguments that we have to keep Football Player X on the team even though he beats his wife because he’s got a once-in-a-generation talent or that we shouldn’t judge Famous Director Y because of the terrible things he did because think of his great art.

There are so many talented people in the world who don’t navigate through the fucked-up system. Who just live their lives. The idea that there’s only one is just…there’s not only one talent. There may be only one talent who could stand to work the system, but there’s not only one.

I guess what I’m dwelling on today is that writing is hard but it’s rewarding and pleasurable and eventually, I hope, you get a feel for what works. But the other part–knowing if you’re ready to submit, knowing how to submit correctly, persevering through a lot of “no”s, believing in your work even in the face of those “no”s, etc.–it’s also really hard.

So, shout out to all of us floundering in it.

The Gap, Again

I think it’s because I was at a meeting earlier this week where industry people were openly talking about the grave downside of capitalism, at least as we practice it here in the United States–any business that sells something to consumers which increases profits by finding ways to keep workers’ wages low ends up killing itself, but it usually takes so long that only the people in the business near the death of the business realize the problem and then it’s too late.

In other words, if consumers and workers are the same people, you have to pay your workers enough to consume your product or you’re committing slow-motion suicide. If consumers and workers aren’t the same people, you’d better hope there are enough consumers out there making more than your workers to make your business model work or you’re committing slow-motion suicide. Note that, if every business is trying to keep workers’ pay as low as possible, all businesses face the problem of not having a large enough pool of well-paid consumers who need their shit.

I keep thinking that we’re seeing this gap replicated over all parts of our society. You have something–in the case of what I care about, stories–and there’s a huge industry that takes those stories and sells them to consumers.

But you have a growing group of consumers who can’t or won’t afford the stories. They start looking for free or cheaper stories. I mean, as expensive as video games can be, what’s they’re per-hour cost? I bought the Butcher one of the Borderlands for $50 when it first came out. I don’t know how much he’s played it, but I bet I pretty easily have only spent $1 an hour on his entertainment with that game at this point. It’s roughly $7.50 an hour to see a movie. Depending on how fast or slow you read…

It’s one of the things I’ve been thinking about with the rise of fictional podcasts. That can’t be a money-making proposition by any stretch.

I guess I don’t have a fully formed idea about this except that it seems like the rise of the online magazine and the podcast and such are, in ways, people making art for people who can’t or won’t afford to consume it through traditional channels.

If a very few people will ever be lucky enough to make a living making their art and if audiences prefer not to pay for art (or to pay much less for it), I just…

I don’t know, really. I just know that it seems like a real gap between The Industry, as such, and what producers and consumers who can’t get access to The Industry are doing and I wonder what that means.

A Woman with a Project

I went to see T.J. Jarrett read poetry last night. God, she’s good. And I came away feeling really inspired by how she thinks about her work and how she struggles with it. It’s good to see artists considering how their minds work.

I think it’s also good for prose writers to read poets. A poet, a good poet anyway, has a relationship with a reader like two people at either end of a jump rope, each also somehow also jumping. Each word must have the necessary weight and efficiency to get both the creator and the reader up in the air. Or maybe the poet is so far from the other end of the jump rope that she can only trust that, since it still goes up and around, someone out of sight jumps for her.

Prose writers get more rope, make nets instead of exercise equipment, but it’s good to see what someone can do with language, metaphor, at its most pared down.

There is No Path

The hardest thing, I’ve decided, about publishing is that there’s no path. A lot of people are trying to do a similar thing, but everyone kind of figures out their own way to do it and the way they did it may or may not be available to the people who come after them.

I read a post today by an agent who was answering a question from a writer. The writer had had pretty good success with her first book at a smaller publisher which then went out of business. But the success had been good enough to put her on the radar of her second, bigger publisher, but bigger publisher didn’t promote her second book and it didn’t do so great.

The writer asked if she was done or if she should query under a pseudonym.

The agent’s advice was basically, yes, she was done and she should find smaller presses because no agent is going to want her. Her only choice, if she wants to stay in the big fish pond, is to write a blockbuster that will force the industry to change their minds about her.

It just has me wondering how long I should query agents on the novel or if there comes some point when I should start looking at small presses. I mean, frankly, I want to write the kinds of things I want to read. I don’t need to write books as my career and I’m not looking to be a full-time writer at this point.

I read a book this weekend, which I’ll leave nameless, which I liked a lot, that came out of a smaller press. I think my novel is that good. Should I send it to that publisher?

How do people decide what kind of press to approach? Am I doing it wrong?

Ha ha ha, lord, that’s the question that just permeates publishing–Am I doing this wrong?

No

One thing that is screwy about writing is that you have to learn to hear “no” a lot and you have to keep persisting. (I guess interesting things could be written about this and rape culture, not that I’ve phrased it this way, but I’m not talking about that.)

I think, though, that a lot of under-represented groups in publishing have been socialized for our own safety to pick up on subtle cues about where we don’t belong and where we might be unsafe. A “no” is a stop sign. It means, “holy shit, do not proceed. For your own safety, do not proceed.”

So, I wonder how–especially when it’s really not safe to proceed, when the culture is racist, when the editors treat fat women writers like an impossible anomaly, when it feels like you have to be in New York to get anywhere, etc. etc–you work up the nerve to proceed.

Obviously, some do. But I wonder what kinds of stories we’re missing out on because others are like “Hey, that sign said ‘do not enter.’ Okay, I will not enter.”

I Did Some Stuff!

I sent the Metallica story off someplace. If they don’t want it, I’ll send it someplace else!

I worked a little on my October stories.

I wrestled with this afghan, for which there’s never enough yarn. But I’m loving it. I love how the white circle looks. I like the bright colors. I’m excited about my idea for how to connect the squares in an interesting way. I think I have a neat border to try.

I didn’t, however, do any weeding. I’m just not feeling like gardening and I’m not sure why.

The new kitty brought a rabbit in the house last night and ate it. She must be so fast and patient. And tired of our crappy cat food?

But why doesn’t she use her hunting skills on the mice that get into the kitchen? I don’t understand.

Nerves

This morning, I read the Metallica time-travel story to the Butcher. When I finished, he said, “Yeah, that’s good.” Each word with its own weight.

He did make me change it from “that interloper Robert Trujillo” to “that dude from Suicidal Tendencies Robert Trujillo,” but that was the only thing.

I don’t know why I’m so nervous about sending it out. I know it’s a good one. I guess because I’m in complete violation of all my writing superstitions. But man, I’m happy to just sit with liking it and I need to get to submitting it.

Books, Stories, Fun

Yesterday, I sat around, ate Thai food, talked about book publishing stuff, and the Metallica-time travel story I’ve been working on. Then I got to tour Third Man!

It was awesome. The Butcher is right. I’ve been too in my head lately. I need to get out and do some stuff even if I feel like I’m too busy to do anything. I feel tremendously better.

I tried to convince the folks at Third Man, after seeing how into old equipment they are, that they should head over to the Masons’ Grand Lodge and see their stage set-up.

I told them they could drop my name if they wanted to, though they wouldn’t need to.

Then they asked me if I was a Mason, and, of course, being a woman and someone who likes hanging out with gay people, I am not. Illuminati all the way, here. But on my drive home, I got the giggles thinking about the fact that literally the only people in town who might be “Oh, Betsy Phillips sent you? Um, okay, sure, come on in.” are the Masons! And possibly the Tennessee State Library and Archives–though, again, obviously, anyone can already go there.

But also, I think that I’ve figured out my discomfort with the Metallica story. The plot of the story is “scientists invent time travel, immediately decide to make young Metallica fight old Metallica over old Metallica’s audacious plan to get old and change.” So, it would seem that the climax of the story would be when the Metallicas confront each other.

That should be where the emotional oomp is.

But I think the emotional oomp of the story comes right before that, when one scientist is remembering the first time he saw the video for “One.”

The plot-dictated climax isn’t the emotional climax. And, on the one hand, I think that’s fine, because it’s a story about nostalgia and how the past is and isn’t connected to the present. It’s supposed to kind of peter out just when you want a brawl.

But man, on the other hand, it feels weird to me every time I read it, like it’s just not shaped right.

Whore

It’s funny to me how much whores are looked down on in our culture, while at the same time, a woman who doesn’t look like someone a bunch of people would want to fuck is so devalued. I mean, I know it’s because women are devalued period. But there’s something really fucked up about how much of our culture is “You are bad or evil or fucked up or victimized if someone gives you money to fuck you,” while at the same time being “Well, sure, of course we give more money to women who people will want to fuck.”

Like where’s the line? Of course there is no line. But god damn.

Anyway, this from EW:

Still, you can’t count on selling a book on the writer’s talent alone—so while factors like being photogenic or savvy with social media won’t make or break a deal, they can definitely sweeten it. “I actually knew very little about [Sweeney] when I bought The Nest,” says her editor at Ecco, Megan Lynch. “I didn’t know that, for example, she knew Amy Poehler well enough to approach her for a blurb. That was a happy bonus.” Lynch stresses that while she would never “decline a book I loved because I felt like the author wouldn’t be able to handle an NPR interview, it would certainly affect how determined I might be: Am I going to hang in for another round at auction, or drop out?” Herr, for her part, acknowledges that an author’s appearance can affect an advance — “We look at all of that stuff” — but insists, “We would have paid her the same money if she weighed 500 pounds and was really hard to look at. That’s my firm belief.”

I can’t really express how this makes me feel. It makes me mad in every sense of the word. I want to believe, have to believe, I’m getting rejected because my story is just not what people want and that the next story could be better, could find a home.

But I can’t become the kind of woman you want to look at, if you don’t already find me pleasant to look at. And the idea that my work is fine, but someone has looked me up on the internet and seen me and made the same judgement that the fucking Pith commenters make about me every day, that men in my family have made about me, that the whole fucking world every day… it just makes me feel insane. Like, what am I even doing, striving for something that the people who can give it to me literally think I am unworthy of?

Intellectually, I know that, when someone tells you that you’ll only be worthy of something once you achieve some arbitrary, unrelated thing, they’re intentionally trying to keep you from the first something. They’re trying to improve their odds of getting love or being successful or whatever by slamming the door in other people’s faces.

I know that.

It still sucks. This is the only body that I have. This is the only face I have. And I’m only getting older. This is literally as good as I get. To think that might keep me from success as a writer sucks.

Story Just for Me

I’m so happy with how “Jesus Has Forgiven Me. Why Can’t You?” went and how much people like it (and will hopefully like it some more when it comes out) that I thought it might be fun to write another thing based on people in my life.

I started this story about a pastor who befriends an alien.

I’m going to finish it. And then I’ll have to change it pretty substantially if I ever want to try to publish it. Because it has ended up being sad and uncomfortable.

Whenever I saw writers talking about writing stories “just for them,” I used to roll my eyes. But, I get it now. Sometimes you write something because you have to.

It doesn’t mean anything has to happen with it after that.

Poetry Sucks!

Last night, Sara and I went out to Oz to the Poetry Sucks event. It was awesome. I continue to wish I had a word for how I feel about Rita Bullwinkel’s writing, where I want to both force her work into the hands of everyone I know AND I burn with jealousy, because who would read me once they’ve read her? If you ever seem me walking through the streets of Nashville in an incandescent yellow flame, you can be sure it’s rage about something the legislature has done.

But, if you see me burning in an incandescent white/blue flame, it’s just my jealousy over Bullwinkel’s talent. Where is her book contract? How is she not famous? How is she not Nashville’s Kelly Link? I don’t understand why she’s not exploded over the nation yet.

Ciona Rouse was amazing. I’d like to see her read again.

But I was most surprised by Todd Dills, who I’ve known on and off, but not well, for a few years, but who I’ve never seen read. He utterly transforms. It’s like watching a man possessed. His facial expressions are different, his voice booms in a way it normally doesn’t. You feel like you have been moved physically, like three inches to the left.

It was amazing.

And then Chet announced we’re doing another one in August and he pointed everyone at me. So, hey, I guess we’re doing another Poetry Sucks! in August and I’ll be reading at it.

More details as I know them. I will probably read from my F&SF piece which is a blasphemy full of derogations, so that will be fun.

Music in Fiction

I got to meet Ed Tarkington last night! He was just like you’d hope he’d be. We talked for a minute about writing about music in fiction and I told him how much I admire his ability to get at what music does for a person, or, at least, what it meant to people my age when we were younger, the way it created a kind of private space for us to make sense of ourselves.

I tried to talk him into the new Ray LaMontaigne album, which, though I am not a big Ray LaMontaigne fan, I am massively in love with. It is an album, I think, meant to invoke the private relationship between a listener and an album.

And I told him about the Metallica time-travel story and it tickled me because, yes, anyone our age immediately sees the rightness of trying to bring young Metallica into a situation where they can fight old Metallica.

Which means I have doubly broken my own superstition.

Oh well, these are weird days. You lose someone everyone loves, the  world feels shakey, like it’s not clear if the connections will hold without that one, awesome knot.

Writer Superstitions

I have this superstition that I shouldn’t talk about any short story I’m working on except in the most generic of ways unless I know what’s going to happen to it.

So, if I’ve sold a story and I know it’s going to be published, I’ll talk about it a little more concretely than I will if I’ve just written a story.

I had been blathering on about my Metallica time-travel story because I thought the premise was actually hilariously dumb and, if anything came of it, it would be that I posted it here in October. So, no harm, no foul. I knew what was going to happen to it, it was fine to talk about it.

But I actually think it might be pretty good. Oops. Maybe I should try to sell it first, before assuming it’s an October story.

It got me thinking–how do you decide which stories are good enough to shop? Obviously, everything you write is not going to be great. I probably spend too much of my life organizing things like a wrestling card, but it’s a useful system for me.

You have a roster of ideas. Down at the bottom of your card are ideas too new to be any good yet and old ideas you’re not ready to let go of. Sometimes interesting things can happen if you slam those new ideas and those old ideas together. Then you have your mid-card–ideas you know are pretty good, stories that are fairly solid. Maybe, with some work, they could become superstars, maybe they’re not. Hard to tell sometimes.

Occasionally, you just have a headliner right off the bat. Both stories I sold that are running this year, I knew when they were done that they were something–“The Four Gardens of Fate,” which Apex recently published (they were the first place I submitted it), and “Jesus Has Forgiven Me. Why Can’t You?”, which is going to be in F&SF in July (which I submitted to four places). And don’t get me wrong. It sucks to be rejected, but some stories you just know in your gut are getting rejected because you haven’t quite found the right editor.

But I look now and I see that I only submitted “It Came from the Sunny Side of the Mountain” to three places before I gave up and decided to use it as an October story. And why? This is what I’m getting at. I had a feeling “It Came from the Sunny Side of the Mountain” was a strong mid-carder. I wasn’t sure it was a headliner. But I knew “Jesus Has Forgiven Me. Why Can’t You?” was good. So, sticking with it was easier.

I’ve written two stories this year (not counting the stuff I’ve been half-assing for October). One, until I looked just now, I could not remember for the life of me what it was about. Ugh. Probably a mid-carder then. And then the other is this stupid Metallica story, which, maybe, I underestimated.

Fannish Boy

I have a rough draft of my time-traveling Metallica story. It still needs some tweaking, but it makes me happy. It ended up not being so much about the band, but about fans of the band and what we want from artists with long careers and such.

I was telling the Redheaded Boy about it and I realized, though he’s younger than the fans in my story, he is exactly the kind of person I was writing about. He knew every iteration of the band. He has opinions on when and how they’re doing their best work. He is vague acquaintances of Dave Mustaine and told me Mustaine has the presence of an old lion.

I think I’m going to need to read this story to the Redheaded Kid to make sure I have the fannish stuff right. And I am, I find, a little nervous about that.