Category Archives: Musings

Obligatory Hugo Post

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.

Best Novel

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.

Best Semiprozine

Uncanny Magazine

Uncanny has been publishing wonderful, vital fiction since issue 1, and this year has been no exception.

Fireside

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

Galen Dara

Seriously, look at this cover for Uncanny.

issue10_mayjune16_coverfinal_med

“Bubbles and Blast Off” – Galen Dara, Uncanny Magazine, Issue 10

Portfolio

John W. Campbell Award for New Writers

Sarah Gailey

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!

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My Policy on Non-Paying Markets

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:

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.


Tools for Writers: Twitter (Seriously)

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.


Practice

At the dojo where I study aikido, we talk about our practice a lot. Sensei often says that the most difficult and most important part of any practice, aikido, writing, going to the gym, whatever, is showing up. While I usually don’t have difficulty showing up to aikido, this certainly speaks to my condition around writing.

I use Habitica (formerly Habit RPG) to help maintain daily writing as a habit (though it doesn’t always work out as well as I’d like). To that end, I have a daily goal (borrowed from Mary Robinette Kowal) of writing three sentences. Sure, I could just sit down and write three sentences and then go do other things, but usually that doesn’t happen, because those three sentences are my showing up for my writing practice. Once I’ve gotten three sentences in, I’m stretched and warmed up sufficiently that I can usually pound out a lot more words.

The trick is showing up.

When we talk about practice at the dojo, we also talk about the idea of renshū versus geiko, which are two Japanese words that translate, at least roughly, to “practice.” The difference between the two, as sensei explains it, is that renshū is practice in the most basic way—mindless repetition—whereas geiko is practice with intention behind it.

The idea of geiko has stuck with me since it was first explained to me late last year. Of course I would like to write every day, but the idea that just by doing writing exercises, I will get better as a writer has never sat well with me. I know that I can’t only write when I’m inspired, but an artifact of my pre-college schooling is that I’m rather unfond of doing things that feel too much like homework, and writing exercises often slot neatly into that category in my mind.

The challenge for me is to treat writing exercises, especially those which don’t end up becoming part of something longer, as geiko, to approach them with intention and focus on what part of my writing I want to improve upon with that geiko.

Because ultimately, isn’t that the point of writing exercises?

Certainly I won’t be engaging in geiko every time I sit down to write. Sometimes, renshū is the best I can hope for, and even renshū has its place—even mindless repetition strengthens the muscles, and I think it’s safe to say that most writers want their writing to be automatic to some extent.

In the end, the hardest part of the practice is showing up, whether that means writing twenty words or two thousand.


2015: The Stats Post

So I just sent off my first submission of 2016 today, which got me thinking about submission stats and how Sunil Patel always makes me feel more hopeful about things when he talks about his submissions. I usually do these things as a tweet storm, but I figure this is a bit more accessable, so here we go:

In 2015, I submitted 7 different stories to 19 different markets for a total of 45 submissions. Of those stories, 3 were wholly written in 2015, 1 was written in 2014, 1 in 2013, 1 in 2011, and 1 in 2010.

(I’ll note here that the story written in 2013 had been sitting, mostly abandoned, for almost 2 years before I pulled it out to show to my writing group.)

My most-submitted story went out 12 times in 2015, making it my 5th-most-submitted story and is also tied for 1st place in most-form-rejections received with 11 (sharing that spot with my Most-Rejected Story).

From my 45 submissions in 2015, I received 41 rejections (with four subs still pending, with an average waiting time of about 69 days). Of those rejections, 30 were form, and the other 11 were personal. This brought my total lifetime rejections (as recorded in The Grinder) to 126, with 32 of those being personal (a bit over 1/4 personal!).

Fantasy & Science Fiction led the charge in sending out personal rejections, being responsible for 4 of my personal rejections in 2015. They were followed by Shimmer and Writers of the Future (for the purposes of my numbers, an Honorable Mention is counted as a personal rejection) with 2 apiece.

Most markets I submitted to in 2015 responded within two weeks, and in most cases, a rejected piece would get turned around and sent back out within a couple days. I cannot make any meaningful correlation between response time and type of response, even for a single market.

My conclusion from all these data is simple and is applicable to all writers: write and submit more stories.

I hope this glimpse into my rejectomantic cauldron has been useful to you.


Ok, Another Hugo Post

Charles Stross pointed out something very important on Twitter:

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Me, I was going to nominate The Shepherd’s Crown already, but I hadn’t thought of nominating All of Discworld. Now, though, I think I will.

Now, as you were.


Yet Another Hugo Post

Jeez, doesn’t the internet have enough of these already?

(It does.)

(I’m writing this one anyway.)

Some months back, I posted about how I wasn’t voting in the 2015 Hugo Awards. At the time, I didn’t think that I had the time or energy to engage with the voter’s packet, and I didn’t think I’d do the process the justice that SFF fandom deserves. But it planted a seed in my head. And the other day, I became a supporting member of the 2016 Worldcon.

Why? Well, partly because even if I agree with my dad’s sentiment about Noah Ward getting five Hugos, I wish that things hadn’t gotten to the point that they did this year. EPH, if it’s ratified next summer, should work to mitigate the gaming of the system that the Puppies did this past year, but the best way to make sure that the Hugos reflect the best things that SFF has to offer next year is to actually nominate and vote.

The other part of it is that, while I’ll probably never be 100% on top of all the good new things that come out in a single year, committing to nominate and vote in the Hugos is a personal challenge to keep an eye on new things and share the things that impress me the most over the next few months. Will I nominate in every category? Probably not, though as other people make recommendations, I’ll probably check some things out in the categories that I’d be leaving empty. Will I vote in every category? Possibly? I’ll do my best to make an informed decision, probably using John Scalzi’s method of Read Every Piece Until it Bores Me or Otherwise Turns Me Off, and base my rankings off that.

Join me (and the 74th World Science Fiction Convention), won’t you?

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A Canny Decision

Last year, I supported the first year of Uncanny Magazine on Kickstarter at a level that got me a guaranteed slot in one of Mary Robinette Kowal’s weekend intensive short story workshops. As a writer, that workshop was life-changing for me and my art. It also introduced me to a group of fellow writers who I’m proud to call friends and who I meet with regularly for story critiques and fannish talk.

Uncanny is currently running a Kickstarter for their second year of putting out amazing fiction, insightful nonfiction, great podcasts, and gorgeous cover art. And Mary is once again offering a couple of workshop slots. As of this writing, only one remains.

The point I’m trying to make if that if you want to support a great magazine and you also want to grok short story writing better, you should jump at this opportunity.

Help fund Uncanny Magazine Year Two on Kickstarter.


Brief Puppy Thoughts from a Trufan

My dad doesn’t own a computer, doesn’t go on the internet, and doesn’t have a particular desire to change either fact. He’s also been a capital “F” Fan for longer than you, dear reader, may have been alive.

He asked me over the phone today if I could give him the main Hugo winners, and when I told him that give categories had been claimed by Mr Noah Ward, he simply responded, “That’ll learn them.”

So, from someone far older than I, a thought on the Hugos and fandom in general: we will survive this like we have survived other problems, and we will learn and become better.

This, too, shall pass.


Book (Ok, Story) Boost: Sunil Patel’s “The Merger”

Internet-friend and fellow Bay Area author Sunil @ghostwritingcow Patel has an ebook out today! He wrote “The Merger” as catharsis when his employers were being acquired. Here are tweets that should tell you most of what you need to know about “The Merger” prior to reading it:

Now just go read it.

At The Book Smugglers (free!)

On your Kindle (US, not free, but on your Kindle, and don’t you want to support Sunil getting paid?)

DRM-free for everywhere (also not free as in beer, but free as in freedom)

(Other device-specific links available at The Book Smugglers link above; scroll down.)

Previously from the author: “Marcie’s Waffles Are the Best in Town”


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