The Franklin Story is Live

I think it turned out fantastic. I admit to still being slightly stung that the writer never contacted me. And I have nits to pick. Like, she certainly came closer to Franklin’s net worth when he died than I did, but Franklin had to have owned more than 600 slaves when he died. He had Fairvue, which could have easily kept 600 people busy and five more industrial plantations down in Louisiana. Those Louisiana plantations must have had a thousand people each on them.

I guess the Louisiana plantations could have already “belonged” to his minor children?

I don’t know. But I like the story a lot anyway, even if I wish I’d been a part of it.

Is it ugly to be jealous in public? I guess so, but fuck it. If more people had been ugly in public in the past, I would know how to deal with these feelings, because I would have seen it done.

Editing

I read this blind item the other day obviously about Dwight Yoakam, about how other famous guys were befuddled because whenever he showed up for a Hollywood doodad, all the women would gravitate toward him and the other famous dudes would be left talking to each other.

I don’t know what Yoakam has going on in terms of bedroom skills or if he planted that blind item just for fun or what, but I thought of it while getting edited by the Post. Like, oh, lord, yes, I am grateful for the opportunity to experience this and I wish others could also experience this. Come on, girls and boys, let’s go flirt with the Post and see what it can do.

I wrote a thing, as I do, in the way I do. It was about 1000 words long. They took my thing and cut it down to 890 and made me sound smart and engaging and, I mean, I feel like I write like the Mississippi River. I have a lot of power, but I’m going to wander. There are going to be some back channels. I might run backwards for a while. I might leave some parts miles away from where I’m going now.

The Post edits you like the engineers that messed with the Chicago River. You will be navigable. You will run the other way all the time. You will delight people. And most people will not even notice that that’s not how you used to be.

Edited to add: It’s up!

There is No New York Times Cake

I kid because otherwise I’d have to sit with my pleasant feelings and just enjoy them and we all know how bad I am at that.

There’s no guide for this shit, you know? And I have friends, now, whose friends appear in the New York Times, who see the names in that paper and know those people and have their whole lives.

But my whole life, the New York Times was… I mean, if a small-town Midwestern girl ended up in the Times, either something very, very shitty had happened to her or she’d become famous. It just wasn’t otherwise a possibility.

I had dinner Saturday with some people who wanted to talk about being a writer and I realized that all the advice I had was insufficient, because you also have to be really, really lucky.

I am, in many ways, really, really lucky.

And I’m proud, too, that I’ve been working hard and trying to do good work and people have noticed.

I still had to clean the litter boxes last night, though.

Like with all formulations of “when x, then I’ll be happy,” the truth is that there’s no “x” that can do that.

You just have to figure out how to be happy independent of all the x-es.

Happenings

Some things are happening that I can’t yet talk about. But I find it interesting that I have moved, in some cases, from having imposter syndrome on a personal scale to having impostor syndrome for the world.

Like, sure, I am a better writer than I was ten years ago (though sometimes I read my old stuff and I’m blown away by how much better I was at it back then), but a lot of stuff has happened to me because I’ve been ready, yes, but ready and lucky. Like, I was just as good at the things that have gotten me opportunities before I got my lucky break as I was after I had that lucky break.

And I wasn’t alone in the pile of people who are talented and ready but haven’t gotten the opportunity.

I spend a lot of time feeling both very grateful and like, oh, a lot of this shit is also nepotism. Friends hooking up friends because that’s who they know.  The deck is stacked.

And I have to figure out how to do a better job of helping other talented, ready people I know get a foot in the door.

Pushed Back

My chapbook has been pushed back to late spring. I’m actually relieved. My dad is having his knees replaced–one this month and one next month–and I intend to go sit up there for the surgeries.

But more than that, I wanted to do a book trailer, but I need to find a place I can get fifty blue clawed rubber crawdads, and with the holidays and the kidnapping, I just lost track of wanting to do that.

But now I have time!

Jesus, Crawdad, Death

So, here’s what I know. It’ll be out early next year. It’s a chapbook–part of Third Man Book’s new chapbook series–containing three stories. The title is also, therefore, a loose table of contents. “Jesus Has Forgiven Me. Why Can’t You?” about Jesus and professional wrestling which originally ran in F&SF, “Mother of Crawdads” about a woman who gives birth to some crawdads at Walmart, and “Little Sister Death” about dogs and sadness and literary influence and St. Francis and stuff.

The chapbooks are inexpensive. The first two are both $7. They’re available at Third Man’s stores and on their website. So, that’s all exciting.

I’m toying with the idea of doing a book trailer that would be just me singing the death verse of “All Creatures of Our God and King” while dropping a luchador mask and a crawdad on the ground. Like, so the video would be shot at floor level. You hear singing, then feet enter the frame. The mask drops into the frame and then, oops, the crawdad.

I have to figure out where to get a stunt crawdad, though…

The Thing Below

So, yeah, that’s happening. Me on the same bill as Kiini Ibura Salaam and Pinckney Benedict. That distant noise you hear is me laughing for a million years.

Why would Third Man put me on the same bill as those two? I think it’s okay for me to say that there is a reason and that reason is the exciting thing I haven’t yet told you about, but which you may now have enough information to give a good guess at, and which will become public knowledge very soon.

It’s weird to have good things when everything is so shitty. I mean, I know everything is always so shitty, but sometimes we’re able to meet the shittiness with grace and love and sometimes, like now, we stand here looking at each other in horror not sure what to do.

I’d like to get back to feeling like I can act and my actions make a difference. I’m tired of not reading fiction and not writing fiction, because I’m overwhelmed by the need to know facts and state facts loudly and clearly and repeatedly hoping someone will hear them and know what to do with them.

I would like to tell you a story or a bunch of stories, like I do every year in October, but I’m going to be honest with you. I don’t have them.

I’m just here, nodding when people ask me to tell them old stories, hoping that, if I do that, someday, the new stories will come back.

Edited to add: Oh shit! They announce it in the press release. The news is loose.

Bah

I haven’t written any fiction in months. I haven’t read any books that aren’t for this story in ages. I haven’t been able to figure out what fiction does for me in the current political climate, so I’ve turned away from it.

I also have some concerns that maybe the medication has dampened it somewhat.

I try to keep reminding myself that things have seasons. It’s always eventually October again. Some summers are just hotter than others.

The Thing

The meeting about the thing went well. I’m hugely excited. It still feels a little unreal to me, but it’s always lovely to have someone say nice things about your work. So, yeah, I think the thing is happening. I will keep you vaguely updated as I know more and then specifically updated as I can.

We ended up on a side track talking about making art in the current climate and how hard it is to figure out how to talk about these things that matter so much without it turning into “Trump sucks!”

I have been thinking a lot about the Beats and about how current a poem like “Howl” seems. I wasn’t a big Linkin Park fan, though I always have a soft spot for people who love a wide range of music and I thought it was obvious they love a wide range of music. And I appreciate how their music has gotten a lot of people through tough times, that it was a voice saying, “I have been where you are. You are not alone, even though it seems like it.” And it breaks my heart that one of the men making that music, doing that important work for others did not have that himself–a voice he could believe that made going on seem possible.

Was he a best mind of his generation? I don’t know. But I do know we lost him.

And rereading “Howl” just now, I’m struck by how current it seems. Sixty years old and it still reads fresh.

The thing I think for my own creative process, though, is that I am still screaming “Look what is happening! Look at the terrible things that are happening!” and cursing the ascendancy of Moloch. I don’t know how to offer myself to you in Rockland. I don’t know how to find this holy.

 

Sitting at the Wet End of a Hose of Words

Happily, I got invited to Third Man yesterday to sit in the blue room and watch while Abraham Smith read his forthcoming book of poetry out loud. It took three hours. We had multiple breaks and were encouraged to bring our lunches, which I did.

It was a small crowd–me, a professor from Watkins who loves old history stuff, poet Ciona Rouse, Adia Victoria and a friend of hers, two women I didn’t know, but the blond one looked vaguely familiar, and I think there might have been another guy. This is why Methodists fill from the back–so you can see who all was there. But I wanted to sit close, so I may have missed who was behind me. And all the Third Man crew.

I know I’ve talked about this before, but I remain in awe of the way that Chet can set the vibe of a space and hold it. There’s a lot of trust he’s able to invoke almost instantly–“Hey, we’re going to do something cool that, if you agree to just be present for, could be wild.”

Having someone read his poetry to you for three hours is surreal. At first, I listened like I would at any poetry reading, paying attention to phrasing and imagery and trying to decide if there was a narrative to the poem or if it was a collection of images. But you can’t–or I can’t anyway–hold a three hour poem in my head. So, at other times, I was just hearing the repeating sounds of words, not even the words themselves, just the kkkkkkk or the chchchchchch and realizing that other people in the audience might have been struck only by all the sssssses.

Then my mind would kind of loop around to hearing words and phrases and verses again, but other times, I would just hear the rhythm of it.

Like, in listening so long and so intently, I forgot how to listen and had to relearn. It also felt mildly hallucinogenic. Every time we took a break and left the dark room and went out into the bright space of the porch, it felt like we were leaving some place where time had no meaning and entering a smaller, flatter world, which, frankly, was a nice respite.

By the third hour, you could see he was suffering. He would stuff first one hand in his pocket and then the other. Sometimes he would grasp his back. Often, when he moved his arms, sweat would fling off him. They mic-ed the box he was standing on, to pick up the sound of him stomping his boots on wood, but by the end, he was not stomping, just, occasionally tapping. He was wrung out.

And I was on his side. We all were, that small half-dozen or so of us, leaning in and willing him, urging him to make it to the end. And he did. And then he collapsed in a chair and I high-fived him.

He was spent and grateful, but I felt like he had done something for us, and I was grateful, too.

When I got back to the office, my co-worker asked me if it was good and I said, “I don’t know.” It seemed weirdly beside the point. It was extraordinary. And I’m really glad I got to be a part of it.

Rejection

Also, just for the sake of being honest, I want to say I had a story rejected last night. I’ve had a lot of stories rejected this year. And sometimes a story I love rejected a lot.

And it sucks.

People are all like “What are you working on?” “What do you have coming out?”

Okay, well, I’m working on a huge story about people who escaped justice and many of them are vile and it’s very sad. And I have nothing coming out. Which is also sad.

But we keep on keeping on.

Interview with Apex Magazine Editor-in-Chief, Jason Sizemore

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.

2.  Can I admit I’m nervous that The Black Tapes and TANIS don’t have an end game and thus might trail off into some True Detectives-like nonsense that makes me feel like I’ve wasted my life? That’s not my question. Just an observation. Trying to end stories sucks and it’s hard to do well. You read a lot of stories. What makes a good ending?

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.

3. I think of Jennifer Pelland’s “Ghosts of New York” a lot, even all these years after I first read it. There’s something really amazing about the way she’s able to tell this tragic story that, by the end, I wanted with my whole heart to be true. And I feel like that’s a story I could imagine people in a hundred years reading to try to understand the post-9/11 U. S. I kind of consider it Apex’s “The Yellow Wallpaper” in terms of its potential longevity. Do you have a couple of other Apex stories you think could have that kind of staying power?

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.

4.  One trope in horror is the monster who seems like a normal person or maybe even better than a normal person. Vampires are aristocratic and cool. The werewolf is mostly the guy down the block. But eventually, their true nature comes out. Do you think this is a fundamental truth or wish fulfillment. In other words, do you think bad people eventually always show their true colors to the world and vindicate their victims or do we like stories where that’s so because we only wish life were like that?

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.

5. If your cat, Pumpkin, grew overnight to be the size of a tiger, do you think he would eat you?

 

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 and pumpkin

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.

 

Writing

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.

Nothing

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.

In Which Your Narrator Learns an Important Lesson

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.

So, This is What Nice is Like

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!

 

I am on it

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?

Taking Stock

–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.

Exciting Things

–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?

Confidence

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.

Doing What I’m Doing

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.

Archon

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.

 

Is My Superpower Tipsy Note Writing?!

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?