As a part of Apex Magazine’s subscription drive, I was supposed to run my interview–which, for the record, I did in a timely manner–with Jason Sizemore YESTERDAY. But I flaked. So I’m running it today. Also, they have a lot of nifty things up for grabs in their store, like that cool She Persisted print that I can’t believe no one has nabbed yet. Apex was the first place to pay me for my fiction, so I have strong feelings of loyalty for them. Also, the more they’re able to thrive, the more I get to say “Oh, yeah, I was published by the same folks who published Famous Author X.” I enjoy that. Okay, enough. Here’s the interview:
1. Hypothetical situation: Both the podcasts TANIS and The Black Tapes have a new episode, but you only have enough battery left to listen to one. Which do you choose and why?
Why would you ask such a cruel question?
Let’s get this straight: I love both shows equally. They’re some of the best cross-genre work I’ve encountered in any media. My hat goes off to Paul Bae and Terry Miles for their ability to make believable audio drama out of some fantastic research.
Having said that…I must go with The Black Tapes. I have an audio crush on The Black Tape protagonist and narrator Alex Regan. If I’m down to my last battery, I want Alex Regan to accompany me to the end.
If I had to guess, Paul Bae and Terry Miles will be tapped for television at some point. The big bucks will draw them from TBT and TANIS, and the shows will be wrapped up. If the journey is fantastic but the destination is a bit of a drag, does that mean the experience is a waste? No.
But adding a powerful ending that makes sense and provides satisfaction can turn a good work into something you’re talking about decades later.
Short fiction has one advantage over longer forms of entertainment: the ending doesn’t have to “pop” to the degree of a novel, movie, or television show. As you indirectly pointed out, the longer you ride along with something, the bigger the expectations at the conclusion. Your ending needs to be “earned.” This means it needs to fit into the overall plot and theme. A classic conclusion fail is LOST the television series. Not enough information was given to the viewer to earn that ludicrous and obvious pull of our emotions in the last church scene. A classic conclusion success is the Ambrose Bierce story “An Odd Occurrence at Owl Creek.” The big twist is earned because the reader *knows* the unlikelihood of everything proceeding it.
A handful come to mind immediately: “Jackalope Wives” by Ursula Vernon, “Lazarus and the Amazing Kid Phoenix” by Jennifer Giesbrecht, and “The Gentleman of Chaos” by A. Merc Rustad.
A more practical way to view this phenomenon is to realize that most of the time we already recognize that they’re monsters, but because of their place in society or social structure, we let it go because we mistakenly see it as advantageous or benign. Ignore the monstrous side of something, then perhaps you’ll earn their favor.
I cite the election of Donald Trump as the ultimate expression of my point.
Hard to say. He’s fiercely loyal. Wants my love and attention. He’s also well-fed.
I would answer with “probably not???” and hope for the best!
Jason Sizemore is the Editor-in-Chief of Apex Magazine. Sadly, shortly after this photo of him was taken, Pumpkin did indeed eat him. Happily, after a few days, Sizemore reappeared at his desk with no memory of the gruesome incident. He seems fine and himself, though maybe a little taller than he used to be, so his family mostly decided to not ask questions.
Sizemore is the author of the short-story collection, Irredeemable, which I liked a lot, though, if I’m being honest, I find a little intimidating. You tell yourself “editors edit, authors auth, and they’re two different skills contained in two different people.” But no. Not for him.
He also wrote For Exposure: The Life and Times of a Small Press Publisher,
which is part memoir, part roast. It famously contains the story of the time Sara Harvey saved Sizemore from an East St. Louis hospital.
Also, rumor has it that Sizemore has three small pebbles embedded in the palm of his left hand from a childhood bicycle accident while he was fleeing the Pilot Knob witch child. That can’t possibly be true. Everyone knows that witch child was over by Marion, not up in the Kentucky hills where Sizemore was a kid. But if he didn’t have an encounter with the witch child, how is it that he can control the weather now? You can follow him on Twitter @apexjason. He or one of his spectral doppelgangers is probably following you already.
I have informally given myself a goal of writing one short story a month. It’s not going that great. Ha. It’s also not going that bad. I mean, I should have two stories and the start of another and that is, indeed, what I have.
But the one that is just started was my February story.
I don’t know what will come of these, if anything. They’re very personal in a way that makes me uncomfortable but also, I think, compelling. So, I don’t know. I have stories I’m already shopping around and I never know if it makes sense to put new ones in the pipeline or wait and see if the old ones are going to clear out.
I’m also annoyed and confused about what to do about a piece that I sent to a market I was not familiar with–I mean, I’ve read it, but I don’t know anything about the folks on the back end–and I haven’t heard back from them, yeah or naw, way, way over the amount of time Duotrope says people usually hear from them.
So, I sent them an email just to ask if they were still considering it or if I’d missed the rejection. That was three weeks ago. I’ve heard nothing.
I’m not sure what to do next. Let it play out a little longer? Withdraw the piece? I just want to know if I should be doing something else with the story or if I should just keep waiting.
I didn’t do anything all weekend. I mean, I finished that afghan and I did dishes forever and some laundry and walked the dog and wrote a Pith post. But I saw no one and had no real deadlines and slept a lot.
And I’m feeling pretty good this morning. It’s definitely not as bad as when I started the medication, but I’m feeling the change in medication. No use in denying that. And it was nice to have a weekend where I could just be all “I will be a weird ugly tired mess in my own home” and I was!
I’ve been trying to write stories about aliens, to expand my repertoire to include “sci-fi,” but I had to admit to myself this morning that I just don’t find them very interesting. I don’t know if this is a lack of imagination on my part, but we barely understand cephalopods. It took us a long time to recognize how intelligent they are because their intelligence is so different from ours. And those are carbon-based life forms distantly related to us.
I’m not convinced we would recognize aliens if they got here. And as for communicating with them, I just don’t believe we’d have a whole lot of success at it.
So, it’s hard for me to figure out what I would find compelling about unrecognizable things passing unnoticed among us having either no effect on us or no effect we ever noticed. Like, how often does an ant contemplate an eagle, you know?
Anyway, so that’s something I learned about myself: eh, aliens. Don’t want to write about them.
Which is weird because I like to read other people’s stories about aliens. But whatever, the brain is a weird place.
Do not adjust your crazy pills the same week that you are trying to finish two pieces for The Post that you absolutely want to get 100% right and in which you have heavy-duty day job stuff going on.
But all my pieces are turned in! Tonight I may even do the dishes for the first time since…I genuinely can’t remember. It may have been two weeks. The kitchen looks like an annex of the dump.
But over at Pith I wrote about this weird happening in Nashville back in the 1880s–The Willapus Wallapus.
And on Tuesday, I wrote about Adia Victoria’s vexed relationship with Americana music.
Today I just sent them a post on hauntings. It should be good, I hope.
My first post for the Post is up!
The reaction to it has been really wonderful. I mean, I’m sure someone someplace is saying something shitty about it, but I didn’t, myself, hear from a single asshole. I heard from a ton of people who loved it.
And it feels pretty wonderful to have written something that found a large audience of happy people. It kind of reminds me of my New Shackle Island piece, but on a much larger scale.
I also got to have this weird experience where I wrote this and then someone at the Tennessean wrote this. And on the one hand, certainly we need to get the park fixed, so I’m all for a higher profile discussion, and also, if the information has been in the Tennessean all along, then hell yes, who is better to comb through their archives and get a definitive answer than the Tennessean?
But come the fuck on! If you’re going to use the piece I wrote as the outline for your piece and just use the quotes I already found instead of finding your own, then use my name.
Ha ha ha. It is super flattering, though. I don’t think I’ve ever written something before that caused the Tennessean to feel compelled to also address it.
And thirdly, last night when I got home, the dog went for a gallivant in the neighbor’s yard and I called for him and he ignored me and then I said, “Come on, buddy. It’s too muddy for me to come get you.”
And he came home!
2 things for the Post done to my satisfaction.
1 short story submitted to a new market.
2 emails asking about submissions I haven’t heard about way after they said I’d hear.
1 pith post written
1 dog walked
1 email sent about an interview for another Post post.
In unrelated news, I tried to watch The Transporter last night and, frankly, what I need is a station that plays Jason Statham movies nonstop so that I can flip back and forth between Law & Order and Statham glaring at things. I also still wish we could submit someplace “doing boring things in a menacing way” to Jason Statham. Like, can he make cleaning out a litter box scary? Can he make holding a puppy terrifying? Can he make grocery shopping exciting?
Can he make working all morning on your writing tasks full of kicks and punches and evil looks?
–I haven’t read a book of prose since October.
–I haven’t sold a short story in a year.
–I sure haven’t sold this novel.
–I have written a (one) story in the past…um…probably also since October.
–I think I’ve been doing good work at the Scene and the drugs definitely help me feel like I’m not on the verge of getting shot or murdered in some other way by my commenters so I’m going to score that twice.
–I got to write for the Washington Post and they’ve asked me to come back again in February for a few posts.
So, I’m going to be honest. I threw everything I had into that novel. I know I have always had anxiety and I know it increases as you age, but I also suspect that writing the novel and trying and failing to sell it exacerbated the problem. And I feel like I’ve been nursing some wounds and trying to get back to the feeling of why I love fiction in the first place. But it’s taking me longer than I’d like.
But also, if I’m being honest, I sometimes wonder why I want to be a good fiction writer so much when I’m doing pretty okay in the non-fiction department. But also, I suspect, if I wanted it as bad on the non-fiction side, I’d be in just as much agony about where I am there, too. So, I still think that my attitude toward non-fiction, “this is what I do because it is interesting to me and we’ll see what happens” is the right one. And I’d like to get back to that place with fiction.
–Both short stories I published last year (though not for lack of trying to publish more, just for the sake of honesty about how hard the grind is) appear on Tangent’s list. They gave “Jesus Has Forgiven Me. Why Can’t You?” three stars! That puts me in the same company as Alyssa Wong and Kameron Hurley and a bunch of other people whose work I really admire. So, that’s amazing.
–You can vote for your favorite Apex Magazine story of last year. Cough. Cough. “The Four Gardens of Fate.” Cough. Cough. (Though you would also not be wrong to vote for any of Ursula Vernon’s stories and, my god, I still am not done thinking about “After We Walked Away” by Erica Satifka. I’m just saying, there might be more deserving stories, but this is about self-promotion!)
–I wrote this funny post for Pith, which even made me laugh as I was writing it.
–As you recall, before Christmas we had had kind of a bummer on the “How to get Future Mrs. Butcher a ring” plan. But I had advised the Butcher to talk to my mom alone about this and see what she could shake loose. He did that AND he called my aunt who called my grandma and now there is a Grandma/Aunties conspiracy to find a good ring for the Butcher. AND my dad has given a heartfelt, tearful speech about how he’d love for the Butcher to use the diamond from the ring they gave me for Christmas a few years ago once my dad learned that I had offered that ring to the Butcher. Which, yes, makes me wonder if I was too dense to get that the “women in your family are just sitting on useful rings for you that they will not share; here are all the reasons why” lecture at Christmas was directed at me, but, folks, I told you that I’m on drugs that–though the fog is lifting–massively fuck with my head so…yeah, I’m going to miss out on the lectures only obliquely aimed at me.
But maybe that’s ungenerous. Maybe the generous thing to think is that we’re all fucking broken and messes and we’re all trying and often failing to be the kinds of people we want to be and, if we can, we should give people opportunities to try again and maybe they’ll have their shit together this time.
–We got to watch the video my mom shot of our brother’s wedding and it was lovely, as weddings are, but in the background, my niece was marching…literally marching…around. Like, damn, she heard that weddings had marches and by god, she was going to make sure this wedding was not lacking in marching. Back and forth and back and forth. By the end, the Butcher and I had the giggles so bad.
–Also, we got to see video of my niece doing dangerous train stunts and it further cemented for me that she is my idol. After all, when was the last time any of us climbed out of a moving locomotive and across a coal car and into the passenger area and back? We are not Old-Timey James Bonds. But my niece is, apparently? Also, if you want to talk about how age mellows you, my dad would have thrown a shit-fit if we had climbed all over Santa’s train at the mall like the stunt crew for Captain America, but his granddaughter does it and he’s shooting video of it and showing it to anyone who will look.
–I’m genuinely not sure that “Jesus Has Forgiven Me. Why Can’t You?” is a better story than “The Four Gardens of Fate.” I mean, I trust others’ judgement on these things, but I’m just saying, as the writer, it’s hard for me to say. I like them both. I kind of thought “Four Gardens” was better. But maybe funny counts for more than I thought?
I have been thinking about how my parents, as Midwesterners, have discouraged us from feeling too high and mighty. M. and I were trying to explain this to C. the other day, the kind of innate pessimism of Midwesterners. Don’t hope for too much. Don’t think this is going to work out. Work hard and rise to the middle.
One thing that has always confounded and delighted me about living in Nashville is how, with just the luck of being where an editor could see me, I’m now in a position where U.S. Representatives know and read me. I just don’t think that would have happened if I had stayed in Illinois and I can’t quite say why except for, in Illinois, I just wasn’t one of the people that could happen for and down here, there’s not that same barrier, whatever that barrier is.
And yet, still, the idea that I have written something that’s appeared in the Washington Post is ridiculous to me.
I sent my piece in early and told them it was so I had time to rewrite it if they didn’t like it. They told me it was great and I needed to have more confidence in my writing.
I kind of joked it off by saying that all my critics who think I suck can’t be wrong. But I was more put in a mind of that conversation with C. and M. Some people are raised to believe that the world is for them, that they can fail and not have missed their one shot, and that they can do whatever they set their minds to, because why not?
But a lot of us were not. And I have always felt like I am getting away with something here, every step of the way. I know I say all the time that talent is ubiquitous. And I believe that. But I also think that a lot of talented people are trained to not take the shot, lest someone more deserving not get the chance to play. And I think a lot of us believe that we must not be that talented, really, because we see so many other talented people.
In other words, really, we’re trained to self-stack the deck against us so that our “betters” don’t have to waste time doing it.
And I certainly have that tendency, myself, ingrained in me since birth, passed off as “pragmatic” and “realistic.” But I’m trying to not let it stand in my way too much.
Anyway, I don’t really know how long this gig will last or what it will become. I’m taking it one piece at a time. But if they ask me, I’m going to say yes.
I’m just about done with the peacock afghan. I’m really depending on one annoying thing shaping up in the wash, but we shall see.
I got my story done and sent off–the fiction one–and my other story done and sent off–my non-fiction one. I went to Tractor Supply. I got my hair cut.
It’s been a pretty jam-packed couple of days.
A while back a pretty well-known author announced she was going to be writing a short story a month and then she was kind of shocked when one of them was rejected because apparently she’d never been rejected before. And I’ll admit, in my pettier moments, that I have laughed at this long and hard because, whoa boy, the people who will dole out writing advice without first having subjected themselves to the hard parts of writing.
But I have been a little jealous of her determination. I haven’t sold anything this year. Which means I, as of yet, have nothing coming out next year. Along with the submitting and being rejected, there’s a lot of waiting. A drawback to failed novel (though I’m not ready to call Ashland failed, but I have also failed as of yet to place it) writing is that writing a novel takes a lot of time and concentration and when you’re doing that, you’re obviously not writing short stories. And when you’re not writing short stories, you have nothing to put in the pipeline.
Most of the stories I wrote this year are going to run right here at the end of October. Is that a wise publishing strategy? I don’t fucking know.
But I’ll tell you what. I love it. It’s literally one of my favorite things that I do all year–tell you stories for Halloween.
So, you know, you have to strive and struggle in some ways, but in other ways, fuck it. Do what you love in a way that brings you happiness.
Well I’m back. I think it went well. I don’t really know. I brought a bunch of copies of “Allendale” to give away and I did, eventually, give them all away. So, for me, that was success. But other people were disappointed that book sales across the board were so weak.
I went to a few panels. The Legend Tripping Missouri panel was fun but weird and I left after one of the guys explaining all of the places you could go to look for cool stuff turned the panel into a ten-minute therapy session about the time he got possessed at a prison. Which is not to say that I don’t understand why you might need a therapy session after that, but…
I have to say–and I say that as someone who embarks on my own pack of weird shit from time to time–ultimately my problem with most paranormal researchers comes down to the fact that, if I were a ghost, these are exactly not the kinds of people I’d be reaching out to. I always, always, feel like I understand why paranormal researchers are reaching over, but I also always end up feeling like the great yawning need they have to touch something on the other side would, if I were on the other side, make me skittish about reaching back.
Like, to be blunt, consider it this way. You’re at a bar, which we’ll call The Spirit World, and a bunch of strangers stumble in looking to get laid. Do you approach the person calling out “I’m a virgin. God. Please, just touch me. I am here to be touched. Touch me, please! I have studied how to be touched. I think I may have been touched once before. Was that you? Please, touch me again.” or do you feel safer going up to the person who’s laughing with his friends and putting off more “I’m at ease in the world” signals?
I am not a huge Counting Crows fan, but there’s a deep truth in “We all want to be big, big stars. We got different reasons for that.” I don’t exempt myself from it.
My panels were a mixed bag. Our sexuality panel went well, I think, though I was the only one who cursed and I think I came off as kind of a fuddy-duddy. I also think my thoughts about sexuality are fuddy-duddy-ish. Oh damn, in some ways, I am metaphorically shouting “I am a virgin. Was that you who touched me?” Ha ha ha. But the thing is that sexuality is complicated and changing and there’s no real right way to do it (and a bunch of wrong ways) and once we get all the LGBTQIAetc. stuff worked out, like I said, young people will think the best way to organize your lives is to live in pods of eight people with no set gender or sexuality and a whole new set of words to describe the roles of people in the octopods and our current avante garde ways of handling this stuff will be seen as so old and square. And I’m okay with that. If past roles are too constraining, then we have to accept that present roles will eventually be as well.
Even if we fought really hard for them and they’re deeply meaningful to us.
That’s a tough thing to accept, but it’s the truth.
Anyway, and I was on a panel where half the panelists didn’t show up and there were only three audience members but it turned out really awesome and interesting anyway, because I guess those three audience members really, really wanted to talk about books.
I was also on a panel where the one guy on the panel was so super good that I was kind of like “Why doesn’t he just dominate the panel and the rest of us will shut up and acquiesce to his superior knowledge?” And then I laugh when I think about it because when in the history of the world has there ever been any moment when everyone in a room thought, “We should shut up and let this one dude speak the whole time because he’s really insightful and interesting?” BUT THIS DUDE WAS! He was the unicorn! He didn’t try to put his head in my lap, though, so maybe I’m not as much the “Was that you who touched me?” of the con as I fear. Anyway, go, dude, whose name I don’t remember, but how much do I need to remember it when you’re literally the only dude who has ever been on a panel where he should have just talked the whole time? Like won’t he be easy enough to find again? Eventually, mobs of angry men are going to chase him with torches and farm equipment out of jealousy. The rest of us can just follow the glow. The panel was on how we would fix the endings of things that we liked but which ended stupidly and dude was a genius at it. I did get to say “child orgy” a bunch because I had to complain about It.
Then I was on the panel on race and diversity. That was my first panel. It was…not good. First, it was designed to be all white people. The moderator tried to get non-white people to join the panel and she did get a guy, but it didn’t really erase the fact that the panel was set up as “white people talk about whether or not to include non-white people in genre storytelling,” which is just at its core a racist set-up. You can’t un-racist a panel that is racist in its very conception. And so it was two white women (me and the moderator), the Asian guy who joined us, and the white guy who started the pre-panel banter complaining about how if we go down “this” road, we’ll have to rename Washington state because it’s names after slaveholders. Right then, I knew it was going to be at least a minor shit-show.
It was. Dude had apparently decided that sci-fi/fantasy wasn’t really that racist, ever, and that if people could just appreciate the history of the genre, they’d see that, so he would educate us on the history of the genre, which resulted in him saying “yellow peril” repeatedly while looking at the guy who had generously agreed to diversify the panel. And the worst part, the part that made me just want to crawl under the table and die, is that he did that thing…I don’t know if I’m adequately going to be able to describe this. You know how some people use racially charged terms in order to be straight-forward racist assholes? “Hey, [racial slur], I’m going to kick your ass.” Okay.
But then there’s another type of white person use of racial slurs where we use them to try to show that we’re down with the group we’re talking about, like our ability to use the slur in their company, even maybe, in our biggest fantastical dreams, with them, proves that we’re cool. Like, I guess, a good example of this is David Simon using the n-word in a Tweet. Or this guy repeatedly talking about “yellow peril” while looking at and nodding at this poor guy, like “Aren’t I wise? Aren’t I insightful? Aren’t I down?”
I wanted to die of the shame and embarrassment he should have been feeling.
Anyway, I tried to bring up the recent Fireside report and how it showed that basically, if you’re a black woman writing short genre fiction, you’re not getting published. (I didn’t talk about this at the panel, but it’s obvious to me that the problem is that most genre editors only know a handful of black women writers and they’re all working on novels. The editors don’t have a deep bench and they don’t have the self-awareness to realize it. Also, when you have some editors who are some shade of “puppy,” if you don’t make it incredibly clear on your submissions page that you’re genuinely open to diverse writers, diverse writers won’t submit to you for fear of accidentally submitting to one of VD’s buddies and we all know how VD thinks about and treats black women writers.)
Anyway, the white guy kept insisting that editors just want good works and I was like “If that’s the case, then where are the black women short story writers?” Like does he literally think that it’s more likely that black women just aren’t writing short stories, or not writing very good short stories, or is it more likely that they’re being met with obstacles they can’t navigate around? Talent is common. The talent is there. The problem is in the pipeline.
But then! Then he said that editors in sf/f have always been focused on good stories and not on writers’ attributes, as proven by the fact that, back in the olden days we had a lot of women and minority writers writing under names that gave the impression they were white men.
So, that was a shitshow. And I thought the moderator tried to complicate his responses and treat him with respect even as she did. But at some point, man, I just felt like she was, and I was, too, let me be clear, adding to the problem by being on the panel and talking to this guy respectfully.
But I’m also not sure what fighting with him would have accomplished. I can’t help but feel, too, that there’s a trap here for authors were talking about diversity and butting heads with a guy who would talk about “yellow peril” as if it proved how knowledgeable he was about Asians, where the discussion, even the fight, is performative nonsense–wheelspinning that lets us feel like we’re doing something without having to do the tough stuff. Even though this stuff, too, is tough. But it’s easier to say “I’ll be on this panel and argue about race” than it is to say “I’ll potentially tank my career by not publishing with people who don’t at least try to get this stuff right.”
For those of you in the know, you’ll also be amused to know that the dude claimed he was a chaplain.
Of what? Where? Conveniently, he never said, which, of course, leads me to believe that talking out his butt about race is not the only thing he talks out his butt about.
A while ago I was at an event and there was a guy there and I was a little tipsy and I had an idea. So, I wrote him a note telling him to do something and I stuffed it in his hand. Then I went home. Many months past until yesterday.
I had lunch with a person who told me a lovely story about the guy doing the awesome thing I had instructed him to do. And the lunch person thanked me profusely, saying she knew it was because of me.
So, that felt super awesome. But it does make me wonder, should I have all along been leaving notes full of good ideas in people’s hands?
Y’all, today I did some shit. I finished my book review–Girl meets house. House has ghosts. Girl comes to regret loving house.–which I started last week and thought was stupid, but when I looked at it again today, I could figure out how to fix it. When I got back to the house after getting the dog his medicine, I thought, if I’m having a day where I can figure out how to fix things, let’s figure some shit out.
I fixed the story I wanted to submit to the anthology. But was it blasphemous enough? It did involve a woman kicking two pantheons to the side and racist bikers punching a baby and I came up with the best title ever–“Many Strangers Walk the Road to Emmaus”–but I took a look at a story I swore would never see the light of day because it was two personal and too painful and I ended up thinking that it was much more blasphemous, if more subtly so. Let me put it this way. I would let my dad read “Many Strangers Walk the Road to Emmaus.” I will never let him read “Lefty.” I’m not sure if someone who’s not a minister’s kid will get all the core heresies of “Lefty,” but I still decided to submit it anyway.
Taking into account the feedback I got on one of the rejections of the Metallica time-travel story, I rewrote the ending a while ago and then let it sit. I went back through it today and decided, yep, the feedback was right and the new ending is much better. I sent it out again.
I read through my story about the woman who gives birth to crawdads in Walmart and I loved it all over again so I sent it back out. So, that’s three submissions and the book review.
Sometimes shit just breaks loose. I’m not sure why.
Ha ha ha. He hasn’t been a butcher in a million years. But what kind of nickname would “Guy Who Does Some Crap I Don’t Quite Understand And Goes on Trips” be? Nicknames, once given, shall not be updated.
Anyway, while he’s out of town, I’m coming to appreciate all he does, like keep the cats entertained, the dishes, filling the dog’s water bowl every evening, going to the grocery store, getting the mail, rolling out the garbage, bringing the cans back in.
I’m just like, my god, there’s another basic thing that needs doing in this house all the fucking time. And I’m not doing the litter box. Those jerks can just poop outside like regular animals.
I haven’t been doing something for the book every day he’s been gone, but I have gotten a lot more done for the book than I have most of the summer. That feels good. I know I’ve said it before, but I’ll say it again–writing is one skill. It is hard but, if you read a lot and know what you like, you can flounder toward writing something you’d like to read and, eventually, write something that you enjoy reading. You can share it with your friends. They may also like it.
The submission process is a whole other equally as difficult skill set. I mean this for both short stories and this damn novel. They’re often conflated into one thing–like if you just write well enough, the submission process is a minor technicality, nothing to worry about. But folks, no. It, too, is hard and requires skills you don’t know you need until you’re crying because you don’t have the skill and you’re not sure how to cultivate it on such short notice.
So, I guess what I want to say is that I was a little fucking snobby about people not being real writers if they’re not submitting. But I also want to acknowledge somehow that this second part means something, too, and has weight and leaves scars. And for most of us, it’s an ordinary, tough, part of being a writer that is mostly invisible to outsiders.
Also, last night, in the dark, I stepped on mouse entrails. I heard the new kitty singing. I knew what it meant. I still did not tread carefully.
I think I mentioned that my cousin lectures me pretty much all the time on how to take a compliment gracefully, because apparently I don’t know how. I thought of her last night when at the thing I was so worried about because people kept saying such nice things about my work.
It’s especially weird to hear people describe me as brave. I think, if you read here, you know why. I don’t feel brave. I feel afraid and anxious and like a walking mess. I guess I don’t quite understand what brave really means when applied to me. Brave is actually doing shit which I do not do. I am, at best, brave-adjacent.
So, anyway, when complimented, I’m trying not to launch into my usual, “Oh, no, it’s not that big a deal,” because it annoys my cousin and it then spurs the person into trying to talk me into it being a big deal, which then prolongs the massive discomfort I feel.
I am, instead, trying to just say, “Thank you.” But I feel like I must not have a very good poker face because I can tell by their reactions that people don’t believe that I believe their compliments.
It’s funny to think about it too much. I mean, first of all, I know I look at other writers and I see them getting heaps of praise and I kind of envy that, like, wouldn’t it be nice if everyone thought I was so awesome? And then I send my fiction stories out into the world and they make barely perceptible tiny ripples and I still envy the people who are good at it.
Meanwhile, I go out back, wrestle with pigs, and when people cheer for me, I don’t know how to take it. It doesn’t make me feel satisfied. I feel like it’s kind of embarrassing that people have noticed I have this dirty hobby.
I think, though, that this is really unfair to myself and I need to stop doing it. I need to just view writing as writing and not look down on one way I do it.
Anyway, there was no massive blow-up like I was so worried about. She didn’t even talk to me and I was busy talking to other people.
I’m making myself a vow that I’m going to do one thing for Ashland every evening that the Butcher is not home for the rest of the month. There is no other way. It just has to be done.
I finished the short story I’m working on. The tone is weird. Maybe it’s not weird. It makes me feel weird to read it. I have written a lot of those stories this year. Most of them have been too personal to send out. This one may be, too, but I want to submit something to this anthology, just because I need to get back up on the horse in the short story department, too.
My parents called and eventually asked how things were going. I told them about a problem I was having and my dad said he told me I should have done all my writing under a pseudonym. He never told me that, but whatever. It’s too late now.
The pseudonym he says he recommended is just my middle name with my same last name. I don’t know anyone in real life with my middle name. I’ve never heard a person say it who I did not first tell it to. Maybe that would be different if I went to Sweden and hung out in their nursing homes.
But, as it is, it feels like a very private thing. It’s not a secret or anything, but it’s just something that feels like a thing my great-grandmother left me, which I cherish, but I wouldn’t recognize it as my name, as a way to identify me. It just doesn’t seem like something for everyday use.
I’m overthinking it. I’ve just been bummed and frazzled for a while and I can’t shake the feeling I’m screwing up in a bunch of ways I don’t realize. And I don’t think I actually am. I think this is just a shitty thing my brain is doing to pass the time. That’s frustrating.
I’m working on a short story for an anthology I’d like to be a part of, kind of about fucked-up things that happen to people when they interact with gods. It’s going slowly, but I’m enjoying writing it.
The beautiful butthole afghan is going well, I think. It’s got 16 motifs, eight in each color way, and I’ve got five of the first colorway done. I’m very excited to see if I, indeed, have enough yarn to do all eight. It certainly looks like it, though, and that pleases me.
I’ve started a new podcast, The Magnus Archives. I’m not very far into it, but the episode I listened to yesterday, “The Piper,” took my breath away. It’s about World War I and about a mysterious piper that plays on the battlefield and only some soldiers can hear him. There is a moment when the narrator realizes that they’re somewhat near Bremen and he kind of mulls that over–whether this piper is that piper or what–and he says something about how he wonders if they, these soldiers, are the children of Bremen, lost to carelessness and greed, or if they are the rats who annoyed the rich people in the first place. I’m paraphrasing. That’s not exactly right.
But I gasped when I heard it. And I didn’t know if I could go on listening or if I needed to stop or what. It was extraordinary.
One drawback to being a writer is that you experience narratives as a set of skills and tricks you want to either emulate or feel you pull off better. It’s nice to still have moments where you’re just caught up in the story and you’re not playing “scrutinize how this works so you can steal it. Or try to.”
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 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.
I have an interview on the F&SF site. I sound self-assured and funny!
I got back on. Just for the record. I read that 100% of the books that aren’t submitted never get published and 99% of the books that are submitted never get published.
So, that’s depressing, but there you go.
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.
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.
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.
If you want your very own copy of F&SF, here are the details!