You will be rejected if you write.
Yes, even if it’s brilliant.
Yes, even if you know the editor and are the bestest friends.
Yes, even if you work really hard.
Yes, even if you have published before.
You will be rejected if you do anything.
Apply to school.
Ask someone out.
Apply for a loan.
Try to get a job.
Are a scientist…
…a parent, a teacher…
You will get rejected even if you get back up again, over and over and over, until your bones hurt and your heart feels hollow and you doubt your very soul.
You will be rejected now. And in the future. You will realize that scraps of hope you have clung to are just so much flotsam marking the place of past rejections you refused to see.
It will hurt. Perhaps less and less after time, but still some new rejection can be sharp enough to draw blood.
So maybe you can quit, you think. Escape the rejection.
But it’s still there. Always there. You can’t quit the world, and the world is made of the word No.
But not just No,
there is Yes, too. Atop the mountainous rubble of No, the towers of Yes stand.
I’m in the middle of reading The Grey Bastards by Jonathan French. I’ll hold off on a full review right now, as I’m not quite halfway through the book, but there is one thing that I keep noticing: the book is averaging a naked woman every chapter.
Now, I’m not offended by this inherently. I like a naked woman as much as the next guy, I suppose. But these naked women…these are not love scenes we’re getting here. This is just pure sex, edging towards the pornographic. The women are described as sexual objects for the purpose of arousal. To be fair to French, he does the exact same thing to the male characters, too – lingering on descriptions of their muscular backs, their strong arms, and the rough dimensions of their penises.
French is not alone here. This kind of writing is fairly common in fantasy as a genre and in literature as a whole, and the purpose of this post is not to call out French as doing something wrong specifically so much as it is for me to wonder aloud why it’s being done at all.
Because, I kinda feel like those scenes – the graphic, sexually charged descriptive passages about breasts and buttocks and genitals – are totally superfluous to the story. Here I am, in the middle of a intrigue laden plot in a harsh land full of half-orcs and we have, suddenly and for no reason, a naked elf maiden hanging from the ceiling or the main character fondling some muscular half-orc female’s boobs. These moments are clearly intended to arouse but…like…why?
I dunno. Maybe I’m getting old or something.
I remember being sixteen or so and reading The Far Kingdoms by Allan Cole and Chris Bunch. The opening scene had the main character – the dashing, fit, and charismatic Amalric – having sex with an incredibly gorgeous woman. This scene was described in deliberate detail and, as an adolescent in the pre-internet era, it was possibly the most erotic thing I’d ever experienced. I confess to reading that specific passage over and over again. But it had nothing to do with the story and in no way advanced or improved the scene beyond giving a teenager an erection.
And, like, what the fuck is going on with that, anyway? Why do that? I’m picking up this novel for a solid adventure story – I want excitement and danger and mystery and, yes, even romance. But I’m not looking to be aroused. In fact, it’s damned distracting when a novel is trying to turn me on in the midst of what is otherwise a tense and gritty tale of survival and gore. Maybe I’m alone here, but those are totally different channels for me. I’m so concerned about man-eating centaurs showing up or giant oozes dissolving the protagonists that time spent lingering on the curve of some female character’s ass is, like, really weird.
This is not to say that sex scenes – even graphic sex scenes – don’t have their place in this genre (or any genre). I’m not even going to sit here and tell you that sex scenes should be restricted to those who are in love. What I am saying is that a sex scene needs to serve the plot somehow – it needs to be important and consequential or even just thematically related. In Neuromancer, Molly is clearly sexualized, but Gibson is making a deliberate point with that sexualization – she is a woman trying to reclaim her agency. When she has sex with Case (and yeah, that’s a pretty graphic sex scene), she is firmly in control, telling Case exactly what to do and not to do. He is powerless to resist her, physically or otherwise. That scene, and how Molly is presented in it, is immediately relevant to the characters’ relationship, to the plot, and to the broader themes Gibson is exploring. So, in other words, it works.
In general, the same rules that make a fight scene work apply to the sex scene. Random, gratuitous violence that fails to advance the plot or affect the main character is boring. The reader is not invested in the battle and vaguely wondering why and, in the worst cases, ends up skimming ahead a bit. The stakes are not clear and the relevance is not established. Same goes for sex: if two characters are screwing for no reason other than to describe how their genitals are currently in use and how much they enjoy that, then the reader is going to feel like we just took a little side trip into some weird little fantasy inside the fantasy we were already reading.
And this doesn’t even touch upon the whole male gaze/patriarchal thing we have going on, too, that is driving and underpinning the whole affair. That is arguably even more problematic and is in large part responsible for this kind of thing much of the time anyway. But that’s both a huge issue and somewhat parallel to what I’m saying here – I’ll save it for a post for another day.
In general, my point is this: go ahead and write boobs and penises! Just make sure the boobs and penises are on topic, writers!
I’ve got another op-ed piece up on Stupefying Stories’s blog this week! In it, I chat about how to write interesting, compelling, engaging heroes instead of villains (as I did last time). This is a slightly more complex issue, so it’s a slightly longer article (and leaves a LOT open to interpretation), but I think it’s a succinct list that I pretty much use in my own writing, as well.
See the article here.
Read it, comment, and, if so inclined, buy some of my books to see how I do it myself (and see if you agree!).
Talk to you all soon!
I’m good at starting short stories. Really good, I’d say. I have snappy first paragraphs, cool set-ups, neat ideas and then…
Then they tend to stall.
I never seem to know where these damned stories are going. So what if there’s a T-rex loose in the mall? Who gives a crap, anyway, and isn’t that just going to wind up being the same as the plot of the latest Jurrasic Park movie? After that occurs to me, I get disenchanted and then stop because, well, I don’t want to be derivative. I want to be original.
Maybe I’m expecting too much out of myself in the first draft. I want the story to be brilliant. I want it to sell to the best markets and get all the praise from (whoever) and win all the awards and make me the guy who is known for writing brilliant, well-selling, praiseworthy, award winning stories. And, of course, that’s a huuge amount of pressure.
But that can’t be it, because I try to do the same thing with novels and I have no problem diving into writing a novel. I just sit my ass in my chair and start churning out words, day by day, bit by bit, until a draft is done. Even revision in novels seems easier – there are so many moving parts, so many modular pieces, that altering it seems almost intuitive. Well, at least compared to short stories.
The source of all this whining is that I just finished a novel draft and now it’s an opportunity to write some more short fiction and get it out the door before the semester begins and all my writing time pretty much vanishes. I mean, how long can it take to write a 4000-6000 word story, right? I cover that in about two days while writing novels – no sweat!
I sit down, crack the knuckles (not really – just a metaphor) and start typing and I get about 500-1000 words in and…
I feel like I should be able to write a draft of 2 short stories per week. The reality is that a single one takes me weeks, sometimes months, sometimes goddamned years to see through.
Right now I have seven or eight stories with openings and no middle or end. I’m stalled on all of them. I’d call it writer’s block, but I don’t really believe in writer’s block. It’s not that I don’t have ideas, it’s that I just don’t think any of my ideas are any good. I find them boring. I don’t want to write boring stories.
I guess that’s what people mean when they say “writer’s block.” I should just put my head down and power through. That’s what I do in novels. Why is it any different for short work?
Well, it’s short – there’s no time to waste, no room to spare. I can’t dick around for twenty pages and then go back and cut it out. Well, no wait – I can dick around for twenty pages and then cut it out, but I don’t want to. I want short fiction to be a faster process than the longer stuff. I want to churn out stories every week. But writing short fiction is work every bit as much as writing long fiction is – more, if you ask me. People ask how long it took to build Notre Dame Cathedral, but do they ever ask how long it took to perfect the wheel? Sure, it’s smaller. But smaller doesn’t mean easier.
So, I’m going to go back and read the start of a bunch of stories now, see if any new ideas have developed. See if I can get these things through to the end.
Don’t hold your breath.
The release date of Book 4 of The Saga of the Redeemed, The Far Far Better Thing, has been pushed back to November 20th. Though a copy of the text has been on my editor’s desk since March, he’s swamped with work, it seems, and I’m pushed back in the queue. We thank you for your patience.
Every once in a while, somebody I know (a fellow writer, usually), points out that I should belong to Codex. Codex is a professional writer’s forum and, to be a member, you need to have sold some amount of pro work (don’t ask me how much). It is a networking site, a place to find critique groups, and often has postings by editors and such advertising various themed anthologies and so on. In other words, it would be a really great idea to belong to Codex.
I do not belong to Codex.
I honestly can’t adequately explain why not. I don’t really consider myself shy and I’m not any more socially awkward than anyone else. And yet I’m reluctant to join a community. Indeed, I am regularly reluctant to join communities of any kind. I had to have my arm twisted to join social media. My wife signed me up for Facebook without my knowledge and then just handed me my profile and said “here, your friends miss you.” If there was a club or an organization in school I was a member of, I never really felt like I was part of it. At the jobs I have held, I’ve done my best to remain a competent employee who is, nevertheless, not really central to the office culture or society. It’s a weird and probably destructive habit. I feel as though it alienates people, and why shouldn’t it? I am deliberately alienating myself from them.
When I was 8 years old, my elementary school had a chamber orchestra for little kids. They trotted out the violin, the viola, and the cello. Everybody chose either the violin or the cello; I chose the viola. Why? Because everybody else didn’t pick it. When they could make my glasses prescription into contact lenses and everybody I knew was getting them, I didn’t – I stuck with glasses and stubbornly so. I don’t like shirts with sports team logos on them. I don’t own a single piece of clothing or paraphernalia with the logo of my college or graduate school on it. Just about my entire work history has been a story of how I could earn money without having to wear a uniform or work in a team or have to deal with coworkers.
Now, as an adult, I see this whole loner thing be nonsensical and immature. I like people, and I like making friends. I care about my job and I do my best to be helpful whenever tasked to work as part of a group. Indeed, the idea that I can somehow exist apart and away from everybody else is arrant nonsense. Where would I be without my beta readers? Without the feedback from my editors and my agent? Without the support of my family? Nowhere. Nobody does this alone. Hell, nobody does much of anything alone. It’s a myth.
The myth of the loner is, I think, probably tied up in the ridiculous notions of masculinity that get imbued into us as kids. Men are strong. Men don’t need anybody. Men can solve their own problems. I read stories of the lone knight slaying the dragon or the lone hero challenging the gods and took all that to heart. If you work hard enough, I thought, you won’t need anybody. You’ll be free.
So there I was, at Readercon this past weekend. It was a good con, by all accounts – my panels were all great and I met a lot of interesting people – but I still felt this discomfort. I was sitting there, talking with Ellen Datlow on a Saturday night about our respective allergies, and I thought to myself “I don’t belong here. This is their community. I don’t have a community, remember?”
Of all the arrogant, idiotic thoughts to have. I am – and should be – a part of the science fiction and fantasy writing community. Why the hell am I going to all these cons if I don’t want that to be the case? I am not different. I am not some kind of weird loner, living on the outskirts. These people have thrown open their doors and I ought to walk right in and start shaking hands, not lurk in the shadows and listen to the music from a distance.
So I’m writing this now as an entreaty to those out there who are like me: those who have long felt that they have no people and that there is no group large enough to hold them or shaped to fit them. That’s bullshit. That’s self-aggrandizing hornswaggle. Your people are out there. Hell, they are inviting you in right now. Being a writer doesn’t mean you have to be alone all the time. Get out of your basement, meet people, make friends.
Dare to fit in.
Hello, lovely people!
This weekend I’ll be attending Readercon – a local scifi/fantasy convention in the city directly adjacent to my lovely hometown, Boston. That city is Quincy, Massachusetts – the City of Presidents! Ah, yes – I spent many a childhood year in Quincy Center, lurking through the aisles of New England Comics, Hobbytown, and the two local bookstores. It remains the first place I ever saw a pigeon with no feet, and also was the place you were most likely to see someone smoking directly underneath a No Smoking sign. And that person would probably be a cop.
But I digress.
The convention is to be held in the lovely Quincy Marriott, high atop a rocky granite knoll, a little like Castle Ravenloft, but with significantly brighter decor and better guest amenities. I will be there along with many other writer friends from the Boston area and beyond, and I entreat you to join us!
If you have a hankering to see me this weekend, here’s where and when I’ll be about:
Friday, 11am: Gamification of Story Development (Panel)
Story-focused games can be useful tools for authors. What happens when a writer draws up a character sheet for their protagonist and lets someone else play it out? Which gaming systems are best suited to developing stories? How can games support writing without creating chaos?
Friday, Noon: Book Signing!
I’ll be signing any and all copies of anything I’ve ever written at the autograph table! Please come visit! I’ll even have a few books stuffed in my pockets for sale if they aren’t on the Dealer’s Floor.
Friday, 3pm: On Dislike: Between Meh and Rage (Panel)
Writers know that reading widely is vitally important for a multitude of reasons, including learning from great books and learning what not to do from poor ones. But what can writers get out of books they feel indifferent to? Or should they just DNF and move on?
Saturday, 1pm: Finding Fairy Tales (Panel)
Did Charles Dickens write a Little Red Riding Hood novel? Is Jurassic Park a take on “Sleeping Beauty”? Our panelists will embark on a fairy tale hunt, finding them in unexpected (and perhaps unjustified) places.
Saturday, 8:30pm: Reading
I’m doing a reading! Not 100% sure what I’m reading yet, but probably one of my previously published short stories. Please come! I promise to be entertaining!
So there you have it! I’ll also be puttering around the Dealer’s Room, going to panels myself, and am always happy to meet fellow writers, fans, non-fans, or even just people who seem nice. Hopefully I’ll see you there!
Hey, folks! I mentioned a few weeks back that I had a story in this month’s Analog (on newsstands now!), but I’m back to tell you that I have an article up on their blog right now which is probably the closest thing to an academic paper I’ve written in a long while (and it is very, very far from an actual academic paper). Check it out here! It’s all about optimism and pessimism in post-apocalyptica!
It is I, Vrokthar the Skull-Feaster, Scourge of the Northern Wastes, come once again to display my scorn and revulsion at your foolish wetlander ways. And yet this time is different – this time your pathetic nation of lick-spittle cowards has seen fit to offend Vrokthar’s sense of justice. And for this you shall pay.
As a reaver – a despoiler of weak and pathetic lands – Vrokthar crosses borders on a regular basis. Borders are mere lines drawn by fat men on pieces of paper. They mean nothing. Who are these puffy ink-toads to say where and how Vrokthar might travel? If they wish to challenge me, come then – send your armies, send your soldiers. These I shall slay, as I have done before and shall do again. Or, in the case of my scouts, they shall outwit your dull and languid sentries – this is the way of things. This is battle. This is the justice of nature.
When Vrokthar learned that your pathetic and indolent ruler planned to build a wall, I at first assumed it was to prevent me from carrying off your wealth and razing your cities. Imagine my amusement when I learned it was to be built on the wrong side of your country. Ha! Much merriment and laughter was had in the longhouse that night.
But then we learned the truth. And my rage has remained unabated since.
You live in a country of such wealth that the poor and the desperate are willing to cross deserts and mountains and oceans to come and labor for you – to increase your wealth – and you treat them as swine? What manner of incompetent fools are you, that you do not see the strength in this? As Vrokthar is mighty, so do many thanes of other tribes come begging at his door. Does Vrokthar cast them out? No! Who am I to cast off one so bold as to leave their native lands and swear their lives to me? Such people are a great boon to my strength, and I wield them as one wields a sharpened sword to cleave my enemies and leave those who would oppose me bleeding on the field of battle.
But you – you nation of cowards, of base, craven weaklings – you treat these supplicants like dogs. You fear they will steal thy jobs? HA! If they can steal what you cannot retain, you should not keep it. Do you think this makes you strong, this show of empty bravado? Brandishing your weapons at starving wretches? Terrorizing those begging for succor? Were they your enemies, perhaps Vrokthar could understand – I have always enjoyed a good gloat – but they are your allies! Your would-be friends and companions at-arms! Ye feckless gods!
And then there is the matter of the children. Vrokthar must pause, for he cannot speak and glower at the same time.
You are imprisoning children. In cages. Like animals.
You wretched, urine-soaked cowards. You desiccated husks of men. You hollow-souled, craven lizards.
How dare you call me “barbarian?” You rip mothers from their children for no other reason than your own fear! Even I – who even now sits upon a throne of the skulls of his enemies – do not do such things. You call yourself civilized? If this is the culmination of your so-called civilization, then you deserve your own destruction. I have long been disgusted with your decadent, lazy, puss-filled society, but now that disgust has changed to revulsion.
No more shall I spare your nation my wrath and oh, yes, I have shown restraint. I shall mount my war-sledge and come for you all. I shall burn your wretched cities and loot your pathetic stores and raze your ground. And those you have imprisoned and abused I shall give sword and shield and mead and make them my own. And together we shall pull your absurd leaders from their castles and drive them fleeing before us as I whip their puffy backsides until their lifeblood runs down their diseased thighs.
And then – oh yes, then – I and my new legions shall feast upon whatever is left of your miserable nation. So has Vrokthar spoken. So it shall be.