“Everywhere I go, I’m asked if I think the universities stifle writers. My opinion is that they don’t stifle enough of them. There’s many a bestseller that could have been prevented by a good teacher.” – Flannery O’Connor
Photo credit: Debbie Ridpath Ohi, from her blog Inky Girl, ©2014
Photo credit: Debbie Ridpath Ohi, from her blog Inky Girl, ©2014
Today, I sent Debbie’s inspirational photograph to my writing group, and added the following words:
RESIST THE TRENDS. Resist the frigid breath of the publishing industry, breathing down your neck, trying to get you to focus on The Market and What Editors Want. WHO CARES. Write the best story you know how. Write you heart out, all over the page. Look into the convex lens of your imaginary audience and tell the true – the REAL true that makes you dig down and get personal and a little afraid and maybe weep a little. Write what you’re finding a glimmer of, but fear maybe others won’t understand. Write what scares you, what hurts you, what disgusts you, what seduces you.
…and THEN worry about the stupid industry.
As is often the case, the quotation shared started a dialogue with a friend. Her response (appropriately anonymized):
The problem is I did write the story that came to me, and now I’m worrying about the market, because my story won’t sell.
Not to be a naysayer and a downer, but I listened to Justin Chanda, and his speech was inspirational, BUT…
They (and by they, I mean editors and agents and publishers) say to not worry about the market and write your own story, and then in the next breath, they say, “We’re not taking ______, ________, _________, because those trends are over.” Fill in the blanks with your story idea(s).
They want the next big thing, but they also want the current hot trend. He’s right that we cannot predict the trends or write to them, but on the other hand, the trends exist and if you happen to have something that doesn’t match what they’re looking for–even if it’s well written–the answer will still be tough luck, Charlie.
I sat through that conference depressed and disheartened, despite Justin’s smiling face. Many of the agents there were closed to submissions, including conference goers. (I kept wondering, “Then why are you here?”) And all of them were pretty down on YA–especially speculative fiction. The ones who were taking submissions wanted realistic, please, something like John Green, only not a cancer book (aka trend over).
I walked away with the decision that I’m just going to write for me and not worry about publication or querying. No pressure. No what if. No fear if it’s good enough. No second-guessing the critiques I’ll receive and wondering what everyone won’t like, what I need to fix, etc. Just me and my own joy in making up a story.
…Right now, I just want to finish [my] manuscript and enjoy the ride.
Trying to experience the journey and not worry about the end…
I tried to choose my words carefully – because I know it’s easy for me to say “Oh, don’t give up! Don’t let the market rule you!” when I’ve already been published, and my friend hasn’t yet, but I believe so strongly that she will be that “yet” is the only word I can use. I replied:
And that is what I mean about not worrying about the trend.
I don’t at all belittle what was said at conference, what you heard, or what you found inspirational —
What I have a problem with is PERPETUATING. If we keep writing books that are what people want? We’re keeping the world – this dominant culture, youth worshiping, lucre-loving, hypocritically class conscious, culturally clueless, mean (girl/guy) enabling, tech obsessed – this disappointing, shallow world exactly the way it is.
Okay, so astronauts get to grow up and change the world. People expect that of the hard sciences – they’re researching, they’re making discoveries – right? People don’t expect that from art. We’re just… making pretty pictures. Scribbling words. It’s not like we’re curing cancer. We don’t change the world… or, so you’d think.
ART IS POWERFUL. The act of creation — the experience of seeing yourself reflected in a creation — we can’t possibly ignore that thrill. Art – and our place in it – has the potential to be transformative. We cannot possibly content ourselves with just regurgitating something made up by talking heads in publishing firms whose ego and paycheque is tied to perpetuating the status quo. Another-John-Green-But-Not-Cancer realistic fiction novel – my square backside; we can do better than that. We CAN do better than that. OUR stories are real – for a given value of “real” in fiction – not contrived and cobbled to meet some trend. YES, marketing and money rule supreme in the industry, but the industry doesn’t move without us. I truly believe that the best stories — and a disturbing number of outright craptacular ones and generic “meh” ones — will continue to be told.
You’re right: it’s not important to be THE best in the industry, especially because that is totally subjective. Being your best is what’s going to make creating your stories satisfying – it’s what’s going to make your words fly, and your story arc and your big-picture metaphors sing like the tapped edge of a crystal goblet – that tiny chime that says ‘real.’
Here’s to being the genuine article.
The conversation on literature and breaking into the market isn’t over, of course – this was just a piece of it. There’s a lot of hope, and a lot of despair in publishing; a lot of unrealized dreams and normalizing the status quo, but it’s still my hope that things will change. Here’s to that day.
Or, just, you know, ME.
They’ve helpfully created a page of terms for SF writers. Because spatial anomalies, tachyon emitters, isophasic signatures and quantum singularities… well, they only worked with Star Trek. SF Writers Unite to end technobabble!
The other day, I heard myself say something about a “palaver,” as in, “so we had a palaver about the whole thing,” which, when I used it, meant an annoying, big-fat-hairy-deal conversation. The Scots usage that I echoed means “a big fuss”or “a bother,” and the West African/Portuguese original usage, from whence the word originates (Portuguese palavra or ‘word,’ from Latin parabola or ‘comparison’) in the mid-18th century meant “trader talk,” or the linga franca used by tribal folk and traders. (Is this another example of what Adrienne calls my “weirdly specific knowledge”? Why, yes, I think it is…) Isn’t it interesting that my meaning of the word was halfway between two other meanings? I’m always intrigued by the “separated by a common language” aspect of the English language. I read a lot of books – and see a lot of what I perceive to be as misuses of that language, or, at least, odd uses.
But, perhaps, none so odd as the misused and egregious banged up homophone.
♦ The suffix, sapient = wise, so homo sapiens are those of the wisdom, or the Latin words for “wise men” – and refers to human beings.
♦ The suffix, geneous (not genous, sorry) = type or kind, thus homogenous, in chemistry, refers to the same type.
♦ The suffix -nym easily gives us its meaning of “name” thus homonyms are words in biology which are namesakes, and in linguistics/English are words which have the same sound, but have different spellings and meanings. See also homophone, (or homographs or heteronyms, which sound different, but are spelled the same, i.e., lead the metal, lead, as in leading the way.)
English, my people. My language is known to be hard to learn, but it sort of galls me when MY PEOPLE don’t know it. How did we all miss the whole idea that “homo” is merely a prefix, and not a bad word? Oh, wait? You’re still operating under that juvenile and egregious means of calling people homos, and meaning, offensively, that you’re accusing them of being gay? Really!??
class=Indent>… may I ask you to GROW UP!?
By now, myriad people the world over have heard of the Provo, Utah based ESL center who fired a blogger because he had the nerve to blog about homophones… and the school feared that people would associate their school with a GLBTQ people, or a “homophonic agenda.” OH, I cringe. I dramatically slap my forehead. I am tempted to dramatically slap their foreheads. But, people are comfortable in their ignorance; even knowing that the word has nothing to do with gay or lesbian people, the Utah language school’s belief is that even writing “homo” is wrong. Homo=gay, because REASONS. Elementary school, immature, confused REASONS.
And so, my fantasy letter begins:
Dear Book and Word World,
I write, because I CARE. I care about how words are used, by people who actually publish things. I care, because… we only have one English language (if you ignore the British Commonwealth) and we need to actually use it properly. To wit:
Cavalry, Calvary and Calgary? Are three vastly different things… The first is a herd on horses, the second is a Hill, and the third is a city in Canada. Listen carefully, pronounce properly, and spell specifically. Please and THANK YOU.
Your and You’re are a tiny bit over the pet-peeve line, much like there and their and they’re — but these can almost be seen as typos, and we ALL do this one sometimes… even people with multiple English degrees. A friend and I laughed just last week over discrete and discreet — it happens. But…
Reign, rein, and rain? Why am I running across this one so frequently? Three separate things, darlings, and the words are in such uncommon usage that this should be one that we catch. Only the first has to do with kings and princes.
I’m pretty sure I’ve fussed before about Peak and Peek and Pique. Only one has elevation – and the one with the q – that you rarely use – is annoyance. The other you know, right?
And if you don’t know the difference between taught and taut, I suggest a return to school. No, really. Even night classes could help.
Lightening? Lightning? Which one relates to weather?
It’s not that I’m trying to call anyone stupid, not at all. But sloppy, hasty, and lacking beta readers? Insisting that words mean what you think they do, instead of looking them up, and understanding that words have meanings that came along before you? Oh, yes, I’m calling you out on that, book people. Loudly. (Additionally, Tech Boy would like you to know that though Adverse and Averse sound alike, they’re not interchangeable.)
Writers, Bloggers and Copy Editors, Unite! Subvert the homophonic agenda. Or, whatever it is.
WHY must I have Existential Crises at 10:45 on Sunday nights? We even had a long weekend this weekend, I had plenty of time to come unglued about the glacial speed at which my current revision is going — but no. When we needed to be safely asleep and storing up hours of rest against a busy week, I start fidgeting and sighing, and poor Tech Boy says, “So… should I just leave the light on?” “No… it’s fine, we can go to bed. It’s just that…” Aaaand, we’re off. My Tech Boy is no stranger to my cray-cray, but rather than rolling his eyes or tuning me out in favor of his book – which, not gonna lie, I might do to me – he actually listens to the words behind the hysteria. He listens until I wind down, and then says a few knowledgeable things which spark something. Somehow, within minutes, I am back on track after spewing invective and doubt all over the room. I grab my bedside pad of paper and pencil, and start scribbling notes. I nod. We discuss. And, finally, much later, I sleep, at last able to actually relax. Much to my dismay, yes. There’s a moment like this EVERY. SINGLE. TIME. But, then, this is par for the course:
“There is always, of course, that terrible three weeks, or a month, which you have to get through when you are trying to get started on a book. There is no agony like it. You sit in a room, biting pencils, looking at a typewriter, walking about, or casting yourself down on a sofa, feeling like you want to cry your head off. Then you go out and interrupt someone who is busy – Max usually, because he is so good-natured – and you say:
WHY must I have Existential Crises at 10:45 on Sunday nights? We even had a long weekend this weekend, I had plenty of time to come unglued about the glacial speed at which my current revision is going — but no. When we needed to be safely asleep and storing up hours of rest against a busy week, I start fidgeting and sighing, and poor Tech Boy says, “So… should I just leave the light on?”
“No… it’s fine, we can go to bed. It’s just that…” Aaaand, we’re off.
My Tech Boy is no stranger to my cray-cray, but rather than rolling his eyes or tuning me out in favor of his book – which, not gonna lie, I might do to me – he actually listens to the words behind the hysteria. He listens until I wind down, and then says a few knowledgeable things which spark something. Somehow, within minutes, I am back on track after spewing invective and doubt all over the room. I grab my bedside pad of paper and pencil, and start scribbling notes. I nod. We discuss. And, finally, much later, I sleep, at last able to actually relax.
Much to my dismay, yes. There’s a moment like this EVERY. SINGLE. TIME.
But, then, this is par for the course:
“‘It’s awful, Max, do you know, I have quite forgotten how to write – I simply can’t do it any more! I shall never write another book.’”
“‘Oh yes you will,’” Max would say consolingly. He used to say it with some anxiety at first: now his eyes stray back again to his work while he talks soothingly.
“‘But I know I won’t. I can’t think of an idea. I had an idea, but now it seems no good.’”
“‘You’ll just have to get through this phase. You’ve had all this before. You said it last year. You said it the year before.’”
“‘It’s different this time,’” I say, with positive assurance.
“But it wasn’t different, of course, it was just the same. You forget every time what you felt before when it comes again: such misery and despair, such inability to do anything that seems the least creative. And yet it seems that this particular phase of misery has got to be lived through. It is rather like putting the ferrets in to bring out what you want at the end of the rabbit burrow. Until there has been a lot of subterranean disturbance, until you have spent long hours of utter boredom, you can never feel normal. You can’t think of what you want to write, and if you pick up a book you find you are not reading it properly. If you try to do a crossword your mind isn’t on the clues; you are possessed by a feeling of paralyzed hopelessness.
“Then, for some unknown reason, an inner ‘starter’ gets you off at the post. You begin to function, you know then that ‘it’ is coming, the mist is clearing up. You know suddenly, with absolute certitude, just what A wants to say to B. You can walk out of the house, down the road, talking to yourself violently, repeating the conversation that Maud, say, is going to have with Aylwin, and exactly where they will be, just where the other man will be watching through the trees, and how the little dead pheasant on the ground makes Maud think of something she had forgotten, and so on and so on. And you come home bursting with pleasure; you haven’t done anything at all yet, but you are – triumphantly – there.”
An Autobiography: Agatha Christie, pp. 571-572)
To think that the woman who crafted Marple and Poirot writhed on the point of her pen makes me smile. That she nagged her husband with her crazy makes me laugh. Some of us have to make several false starts to begin our writing; others of us struggle with slump-y middles, and still others of us are in agonies at the end. All of us are, at some point, an absolute joy to live with. I can never say enough good things about my Tech Boy – when I am pulling out hair and clinging to the side of cliffs, he just starts talking me down.
I think I’ll keep him.
From the Sesame Street tumblr; how many will remember her best.
Pause a moment and think of her elegant turn of phrase; Ms. Maya Angelou, whose “Dear Teen Me” letter makes me smile. You’re grown – don’t let anybody raise you. Or, in my parlance, “YOU’RE NOT THE BOSS OF ME.” Dear Ms. Maya, who wanted all women to step lively, stand tall, move those swinging hips, believe in their beauty, and not let anybody put them down, set them aside, or ignore them.
She would have been a little terrifying, probably, in person. But her work glowed with vitality and passion, and was a gift.
One of the things I don’t really do is pop culture.
Sometimes, it feels like the world moves too fast — there’s some new It thing every five minutes, and I just cannot keep up. Even when I was a kid, I was still stuck on the Last Cool Thing, while everybody had moved on to what was in… and, honestly? I never reconciled my nerdishness. I felt like a fool, every single time. I didn’t know who Mel Gibson was when I saw him, in person, on the street, in high school. D’oh!
I gave up. After college, I listened to less and less new music, kept up with fewer and fewer shows, watched fewer and fewer movies. I even made it a point of pride. I don’t have a TV. I don’t listen to Top 40 pop music. The last movie I saw was The Frog Princess. I read – because that’s as much as I can keep track of… at least I know all the new books. Mostly. It’s what I tell myself.
It took me awhile to figure out that I was still getting my pop culture news… north-by-northwest. It’s there. It ekes in. I saw that stupid tongue thing Miley Cyrus did (didn’t everyone?), I knew who Macklemore was because he made a thrifting cool. But, it breaks my heart that I missed Pharell Williams until six twentysomthings in Iran were arrested… for dancing to a song innocuously titled “Happy.”
You don’t need to understand the words to feel their defeat. Their backs to the camera, their bodies curved in on themselves, like the contrite on the mourner’s bench, as they’re forced to “confess.” They have shamed their nation, by producing a “vulgar” clip which offends…chastity. An “obscene video clip that offended the public morals and was released in cyberspace,” is the actual charge. Shame. Their bodies are shouting “shame.”
* * *
I watched the video, in which the girls wore wigs to cover their hair, in accordance with their cultural and religious mores, and then I looked up the original song. And then, I cried a bit. The Iranian twentysomethings showed some of scenes of them making their video, at the end, and the hysterical laughter was so… normal.. they laugh like goofy dorks in their country, just like I laugh like a goofy dork in mine. And, I’ve missed this — social phenomenon, of people around the world showing examples of their “happy,” and how it meshes with mine. I’ve missed an awfully perky, fun, infectious and upbeat song for far too long, and how dare I not dance, this very minute, this very day, this very LIFE — because I can???
What a shame, that I’ve been sitting… What a shame to choose to hyperfocus on whatever Issues, and not embrace gladness, at least some of the time.
CNN reports that a few hours ago, the dancers were released – not the director of the video, but sympathy is with those in front of the camera.
(And the one behind? Who can say? I hope he or she is okay…)
As I’ve listened to the song, over and over and over again (oh, yes, I am one of THOSE PEOPLE; poor Tech Boy was SICK of “That’s Alright” from the Laura Uvula CD Jules sent me) it’s like it’s taking over my pulse. Be happy, be happy, be happy. Life is ephemeral, hard things are coming; if you can dance NOW, dance.
I sold a book the other day. I’m happy. I’m getting to where I can run uninterrupted bursts of time on my elliptical machine. I’m darned happy. Tech Boy is funny and sweet and kind. My rent is cheap. I’m paying my bills. I’m honestly …okay.
… I’m happy. This is my new theme song.
And hey! I’m actually in time to be hip with a pop culture movement for once. Whad’dya know. ☺
Let nothing bring you down, my hearts. ♥
flirtation al fresco
relish the rustle -
crisp linen slides. Barely brushed
silken skin shivers
perhaps moth and rust
are the least of concerns, on
hills made for rolling
past orderly lines
and outside of boundaries
the wind entices
We interrupt this Poetry Month Haiku Fest for a blog repost.
I shared some truths about myself in 2011 when I posted about YA author Robison Wells, author of VARIANT. (That blog post is reposted below.) He had just shared publicly about his mental illnesses, and losing his day job because of his panic disorder causing an inability to sometimes leave a room, and I was feeling the horrible empathy of a fellow sufferer, having been frozen in myself one time too many.
I have thought of him often since then, thought of his courage in “outing” himself, thought of the raw grit it must take to be an artist trying to create while also trying to be, you know, okay with leaving the house (sometimes, it’s not okay, and that’s really all there is to it. Trust me on that one). I wanted to say something to him – but could think of nothing which didn’t sound weird or stalker-y, so when I read on Shannon Hale’s blog that a group of writers have gotten together an anthology to help support his family in their time of needing help, my immediate thought was, “I’m in.”
The anthology is SUPER COOL to fangeeks and to writers — because you just never know how different a novel is before it comes to publication. A lot of the pieces in this anthology are novels which were finished – but for which editors asked for plot changes which, in the end, created almost wholly new finished products. I’ll look forward to reading the original beginning for DISCOUNT ARMAGEDDON – the published one is weird and funny enough. Shannon Hale’s short story is totally original – but very different from her usual style of writing. This anthology gives you a little peep of the behind-the-scenes of the way author’s brains work.
And, the people involved in this project are some of my ALL-TIME favorites, and many of them will be familiar to you for speculative fiction for adults and teens: Seanan McGuire, Shannon Hale, Kierstan White, Dan Wells, Brandon Mull, Aprilynne Pike, Brandon Sanderson, Mary Robinette Kowal, Lauren Oliver, Sara Zarr, Jessica Day George, and tons more. The Indiegogo Page for this book is right here. Click through. Buy an ebook. Buy a hardback book. Buy a manuscript critique from one of the authors involved. Buy something you hate getting blown up. There are all sorts of ways to be involved and helpful. There are all sorts of ways to honor the courage it takes to accept help, and to be kind.
That’s all I wanted to say. Thank you.
One fine, sunny morning in college, I got lost.
I got lost on the campus of my college, that fine, sunny morning, and as I was one of the vast hordes of Freshers running around that year, maybe it didn’t seem that unusual to anyone. That it was months into the school year – nearly May – should have been a telling point, but no one noticed.
I was climbing one of those long flights of stairs and I, mid-step, was lost.
And I couldn’t breathe. And my hands were slick, and the sky wheeled in sickening loops around me. And I wanted to get away from it – from beneath it – but it was so huge suddenly, and there was nowhere to escape it. Every surface looked pitiless and hard, every building foreign, and I just knew that awful was three millimeters from happening to me. People walked by, I guess, but I was gripping onto a light post with all of my strength, and trying to stop the world from spinning out of control. And trying to breathe.
It was a profound experience, which is laminated in memory. The flight of stairs from the gym to the building below the library – some technology hub – to the three flights of stairs near the flowering cherry trees was all I could see. Going up those stairs would have put me in line of sight to the asphalt-paved road that led to the parking lot next to the English building, and my dorm. Five hundred feet, and I would have been able to see my way to safety. But, I couldn’t move that far. I slid down to the ground gripping the light post, and hyperventilated.
Eventually, I managed to get up. I was going to ask someone if they knew where I was, when suddenly, at the entrance to the library, the landscape snapped into familiarity. I was able to inflate my compressed lungs, and stop panting, straighten up, and walk stiffly – my hair and back soaked from perspiration – to my dorm.
I remember I was so ashamed. So, so mortified. And felt really, really stupid.
Sooo, I never told anyone.
I mean, would you?
It happened again. And again. And it happened at the American Library Association Annual Convention in D.C. in 2010 where I was being honored for MARE’S WAR, and I had to walk out of a room full of authors getting ready to go on and do presentations for this Speed Dating thing. I was soaked with sweat, and trying to breathe, and thinking, “Everyone knows. Everyone here is A Cool Author who Does Stuff and Knows Stuff, and then there’s you. Everyone knows, and you are such a fraud.”
Sooo, when I read of Robison Wells, Cybil-nominated author of VARIANT, losing his day-job because of a panic attack, and being just unable to do what was required of him, I teared up immediately over his struggles. Been there, done that, have the t-shirt. It’s thin and tattered and usually rank with sweat.
Sometimes, I feel so flawed. I think, “Gah! Isn’t it enough that I’m introverted and shy? Did I have to be flat-out mental (our Ms. G‘s word), too? I don’t always have an answer for that. I’ll be honest: I don’t come off as Sunny Suzy after freaking out. It’s something I can’t control, and I really prefer to, honestly, control everything. But, I do know this: I have seen the world from the point of view of someone broken. When I am at the top of my game, and you are at the bottom of yours, I’ll know how it feels. I will understand, and be kind. I will consider the courage of Rob Wells, and when I am wrecked, I will remember, “Yes, but –” and, once the clouds of doom part, go on.
It’s a tiny gift, but one I will hold onto, and not let anyone pry from my death-gripping, sweaty hands.
For the thorn, and for the rose. For the grace of courage, and the gift of empathy, I am truly thankful.