A quick note that my sysadmin horror story, “The Air Gap,” is now available in LampLight Magazine, volume 5, issue 4. It can be purchased from the following fine ebook retailers (list will be updated as it clears its way through various systems)
A few months back, I tweeted the following
— Hilary B. Bisenieks (@HBBisenieks) March 13, 2017
but didn’t say much else. Today, I can finally officially announce that my Miéville-inspired sysadmin horror story, “The Air Gap,” will be appearing in the June 2017 issue of LampLight Magazine.
I wrote this story way back in 2014, and for the stats-junkies and rejectomancers among you, this sale was on the story’s 22nd submission.
Remember, writing is a long game.
I’ve been sitting on this one for about a week, but honestly, I’m not going to make the March 1st deadline for this call. But maybe you can.
From the official call:
The theme is Intersections. Stories that are accepted will all have a feminist perspective and incorporate bicycling in some way, whether or not they are actually about feminism or about bicycles. We especially welcome submissions from writers of color and transgender and nonbinary writers, and seek stories that portray more diverse perspectives than are classically found in sci fi.
You know I love bikes and sci-fi, so even though I’m not submitting to this anthology, I’m keeping my eye on it.
Last night at my dojo, I was in a very small class. In fact, when I showed up, it looked like it was just going to be me and the instructor, though another person showed up partway through our warmups.
Most classes during regular training have us practice two, maybe three techniques in a set sort of way: this technique with this entry, resulting in this throw or pin. Ikkyo, nikyo, sankyo, yonkyo, kotegaeshi. (There are others, of course, but those five, and especially ikkyo through yonkyo, represent a sort of core for the practice.) We practice these over and over, static and in motion, in response to different attacks. We help our bodies to learn the movements so that we can do them without having to think, so that we can better defend ourselves against an attack we haven’t practiced against, should it ever become necessary off the mat.
We practice those techniques, and others, so that when we show up to a class attended by one other person and the instructor wants to have some fun, we can flow through attacks and find our way to a technique our muscles know.
One of the things that our senpai said during class last night was that, on either side of the technique, we shouldn’t enter with too many preconceived notions of what’s going to happen. If we attack, expecting a certain defense, or if we’re setting ourselves up to defend against a particular attack and our partner doesn’t do what we’re expecting, we’re going to have a bad time. That advice varies in usefulness depending on what’s being practiced, but for what we were doing, and for my practice as a writer, that struck a chord.
During rondori, defending against multiple attackers, I’ve frozen up or fumbled before when my idea of how I would defend didn’t line up with the attacks I was facing or when I’ve gotten partway into a technique and forgotten where I’m supposed to go next.
So often, when I get stuck on a story, it’s because I began with a firm idea of where it was going, and as I wrote my way in, it became clear that that wasn’t the direction the story was going anymore. It becomes very difficult, for me at least, to keep on writing when I reach a place where what I planned on having happen and what makes sense to happen don’t line up.
In both cases, practice helps, but so, too, does the advice not to hold to strongly to preconceived ideas of what will happen. Practice helps you connect with your partner’s energy. Improvisation lets you redirect that energy when your initial plan flies out the window. Without connecting, you may find yourself just planting your feet and trying to push or wrench your partner around. The energy in that feels wrong, and everyone, participant or observer, can tell.
Practice helps you get words on the page and connect to the flow and energy of the story. Improvisation lets you follow that story to its end, even if that end wasn’t the one you had in mind. Without that improvisation, you end up doing the prose equivalent of planting and pushing. You might get your story to go where you’d planned, but it’ll feel wrong, and it’ll show.
Now, in aikido, there is no drafting, no revision process in which you can go back over an attack and tweak and tug, here and there, until you execute a technique perfectly. In fact, there is no perfect, only a gradation of proficiency. (There is no perfect in writing, for that matter.) You can go back in subsequent drafts and smooth over the place where you planted your feet and forced your story to go the way you originally intended as sometimes we all must. In the moment of writing, though, I would prefer simply not to get stuck.
(If anyone figures out a good trick to actually applying the advice given above, I would love to hear from you.)
Anyhow, that’s your intermittent trying-to-relate-martial-arts-to-writing ramble.
Hey y’all! Long time, no see, huh?
For 2016 I did not have any awards-eligible works appear, but that doesn’t mean I won’t come on here to tell you who I think you should nominate for the final Hugo ballot.
Borderline – Mishell Baker
Is this the best debut novel I’ve ever read? Maybe. Is that question hyperbole? Certainly not! Borderline is the best book I read last year, and thankfully, it also came out in 2016.
If you like urban fantasy, read Borderline. If you don’t usually like urban fantasy, check it out anyway, because our protagonist is a disabled woman with Borderline Personality Disorder who ends up working with faeries.
Ghost Talkers – Mary Robinette Kowal
I was sold on this book the moment I heard the premise at a reading Mary did in SF back in 2015: mediums in the British army gathering battlefield intelligence from fresh ghosts during World War One. This book delivers on that promise in spades. There are lots of things I want to say about this book that are huge spoilers, so instead I’ll say this: I want Mary to write more in this world, and once you read this book, you will too. A Hugo nom can help make that happen.
Best Short Story
“This is Not a Wardrobe Door” – A. Merc Rustad, Fireside
This was the first short story I read in 2016, and the fact that it’s stuck with me these past 12 months should be an indication of how good this post-portal-fantasy story is. Seriously. It’s not that long. Go read it right now. LINK
“Our Talons Can Crush Galaxies” – Brooke Bolander, Uncanny Magazine
Short, violent, heartbreaking, triumphant. I love the hell out of this story. It’ll take you just a couple minutes to start loving it, too. Go! LINK
“The Green Knight’s Wife” – Kat Howard, Uncanny Magazine
Holy crap, y’all. This is a late addition, just rescued from my tab-purgatory today, and it’s just. Holy hecking eff, y’all. I love me some fabulism, and this right here hits that spot perfectly. Not your average wintertime story. LINK
Best Editor, Short Form
Lynne and Michael Thomas
The Thomases have done amazing work at Uncanny Magazine, which should be evident from the fact that Uncanny won a Hugo last year in its first year of eligibility. They’re quality folks.
Brian J. White
Brian is at the helm of Fireside, which has published some of the best fiction to come out in the past year. He is quality people.
Uncanny has been publishing wonderful, vital fiction since issue 1, and this year has been no exception.
Fireside has been on a roll the last couple years. They’ve published many of my favorite stories from many of my favorite authors. They also work really hard to make sure that their authors get paid and get paid well.
Best Related Work
The Women of Harry Potter – Sarah Gailey, Tor.com
Sarah’s series of essays is wonderful. You will be filled with feels and reminded that HP is maybe even more relevant today than it was when it was written. LINK
#BlackSpecFic Report, Fireside
This series of essays takes a powerful look at the state of speculative fiction today and the ways that racism is still present and insidious. LINK
Best Professional Artist
Seriously, look at this cover for Uncanny.
John W. Campbell Award for New Writers
Sarah kinda exploded onto the scene a little while ago (I even talked up the first of her stories that I read on here), and she’s just continued to shine since that time. Recommended stories include “Look,” from the post linked above; “Haunted,” Fireside; and “Bargain,” Mothership Zeta.
I’ve undoubtedly left off things that you love and forgotten things that I love, so this post may be followed by addenda. And if there’s something that you love that you think I’d love, please let me know in the comments!
Full Disclosure: I know Sarah and Sunil IRL.
Also Full Disclosure: I wouldn’t be telling you to read these stories if I didn’t think that they are very very good, even if I’d never met their authors.
“Homesick,” from Issue 36 of Fireside is a Very Sarah Gailey story. It’s full of haunting language, humanity, crab-people, and [spoilers]. Sarah’s world-building and subtle humor are on point. Come back here after you’ve read it and just try to tell me that it isn’t so Very Very Gailey.
Read “Homesick” here.
Also on deck this week is Sunil Patel’s “The Robot Who Couldn’t Lie,” which originally appeared in IGMS but is brought to you now by Fantastic Stories of the Imagination, who already published one of my favorite stories this year (another of Sunil’s, too: “Girl in a Blue Dress (1881)”).
You’ll want to gird your feels for “The Robot Who Couldn’t Lie,” especially if you’re reading it right after of “Homesick,” because damn. This story takes a very different tack from “Homesick,” but is no less affecting. It is sweet and funny (and sneaks in a Portal joke) even as it gut-punches you with feels. Grab a couple tissues.
You can read “The Robot Who Couldn’t Lie” right here.
There is a special place in my heart for both Secret Histories and Eldritch Beings, and Austin Grossman’s Crooked ticks both those boxes very neatly. The twist? Crooked is the story of the rise and fall of Richard M. Nixon, the 37th president of the US.
It’s quite a trick to take on the voice of such a well-known and often reviled figure as Nixon, let alone make readers sympathetic towards him, but that’s just what Grossman does. Never does the prose bog down in squamous Lovecraftian verbiage, yet H.P.’s influence runs strongly through the story. Of particular note is just how much of the lurking horrors of the world are left just at the edge of the page, with readers getting only fleeting glimpses at the things in the shadows. I’ve seen some readers complain about this, but I found it to be a powerful part of the story, as the horrors I can imagine are all the more insidious than what any writer can explicitly describe.
This book was 100% my jam, and I hope that you like it, too.
Because I sometimes get obsessed with such things, I was thinking about my submission queue today and about how I pick markets to send stories to. You can read that thread on my twitter starting with this tweet:
B/c I guess my brain is obsessing over sub stats rn, here are some Fun Stats:
I have an equal number of subs and rejections this year (15)
— Hilary B. Bisenieks (@HBBisenieks) April 26, 2016
This train of thought eventually led to the question of how a market pays. My policy on this is simple: I will always* submit a story to pro-paying markets before I try it on semi-pro markets, and I will almost never dip below semi-pro payment ($0.01/word minimum).
My reasoning is simple: I value and believe in my work. Not submitting to pro markets first is basically saying “yeah, this story is ok, I guess.” I don’t submit stories I think are just ok. If it’s just ok, it goes back to my writing group or other friends for further critique.
So what about if I run out of pro and semi-pro markets? Do I send to token and non-paying markets? Simple answer: no. If I can’t sell a story to the available pro or semi-pro markets, I’d rather sit on the story than send it to a non-paying market, and I won’t consider a token market unless it pays over a certain threshold.
Why? See above: I value my work. And writing is work. Don’t let anyone tell you otherwise.
I’ll take the last few stories I’ve sent through workshop as examples: each of them is around 4000 words, and each one took me probably six hours to get to draft 1. Each of them has been through at least 4 drafts with my writing group and various other beta-readers, and each additional draft has taken me at least an hour to make revisions on, bringing my own investment of time up to at least ten hours and probably more like twelve or fourteen.
I have a day job that consumes a lot of my daily spoons, so when I make time for writing, which I try to do every day, that’s a Serious Investment for me. Likewise, if I take on freelance work, that’s an investment of time that I then can’t spend writing or with my family. I do not work for free. I do not give away time that I could spend with my family.
I know that writing short fiction alone isn’t going to pay my bills. That doesn’t mean it shouldn’t pay anything. Short fiction writing doesn’t pay by the hour, it pays by the word. If I sold a 4000 word story at the minimum pro rate specified by SFWA, that would mean I’d made $240, which is pretty decent money. If I’ve put 16 hours of work into that story (and chances are good that by the time I’ve sold a story, I’ll have put in a lot more), that comes out to $15/hour, which is the local minimum wage.
With $240, I can take my wife out on a nice date and still have money left over to put into savings like a Responsible Adult. I can’t put “exposure” in the bank. I can’t pay for a nice meal with my byline.
Do I think it’s wrong that there are non-paying markets? No. I’ve even been published by a few during and immediately after college. (I will say, though, that those pieces were all written as class assignments.) Do I think I’ll never sell another story to a non-paying market? Probably not? There are some non-paying audio reprint markets out there that are great. But at that point, I’ll have already sold the story once for money, so.
*I can imagine a scenario in which there was an anthology or similar that was only paying in the semi-pro range before sending to a pro market if that semi-pro market was the perfect fit for a story.
In lieu of an actual update, I wanted to share a page out of my current work in progress, which has just started to come together in my mind. Hashtag am writing.
Listen, I’ll be the first to admit that I fuck around a lot on Twitter.
Like a lot.
I also joined Twitter way back in 2012 because I thought that as a writer, I would need it someday, even if I didn’t need it right then, because I saw a lot of authors I look up to using the platform successfully as a way to reach out to their fans and probably (at least for Scalzi) bring in some new fans of their writing based on their being entertaining on Twitter.
I’m not going to pretend that I know how this happened, but somewhere in the last four years, Twitter actually went from being just a place where I could make random observations about bikes, tech, and writing to a place where I actually have a little baby network of friends and acquaintances. (But if you pay me a couple hundred dollars, I’ll totally tell you my Social Networking Secrets so that you, too, can sit at the Cool Kids Table™ on Twitter.)
What I’m getting at, then, is that, used wisely, Twitter can actually be a useful tool for writers, and not just as a part of your Brand.
I’ve gotten great writing prompts from Twitter in the past, both from soliciting prompts and just from latching onto ideas that have flitted across my feed. Better than that, I’ve gotten some amazing, insightful feedback from folks who I’m friends with on Twitter (many of whom I’ve never met in real life), and I’ve been able to offer critiques for other folks as well that (I hope) have helped them improve their stories as well as giving me insight into my own writing through critical reading.
So, yeah, I would absolutely say that Twitter is a useful tool for writers.* If you’re a writer who’s on the fence about joining, maybe give it a try. I’ll leave it to others to talk about all the things you shouldn’t do on Twitter (and anyone who says you must do something on Twitter is either lying or trying to sell you something—probably both).
*I will offer the caveat that, as with all things, not every tool works for every person. Just because I’ve written pieces of novels and entire short stories in Vim doesn’t mean that’s the right tool for everyone else.