JJA’s new Kickstarter-themed anthology, HELP FUND MY ROBOT ARMY!!! And Other Improbable Crowdfunding Projects, is out today! Includes my story ‘Mechanical Animals’, which pretty much does what it says on the tin. Buy it for your Kindle machine!
A week or so ago, I made a solemn oath to my dear friend Valya Dudycz Lupescu, author of The Silence of Trees and founding editor of Conclave: A Journal of Character. Why yes, says I, I would love to join the Writing Process Blog Tour! I can totally have that done before Monday!
What neither of us took into account is that I am A. apparently a big fat liar, B. a pathological procrastinator, and C. would be going on a weekend trip with enough delays and re-routings to tire out a meth’d-up hummingbird. So Monday came and went and I missed my deadline. Because I’m an asshole.
But I am doing it right now, because, while an asshole, I’m an asshole that keeps my promises. Eventually.
1. What am I working on?
Nothing solid enough to be classified as anything other than gas. My pulp novelette, And You Shall Know Her By The Trail Of Dead, should be coming out at Lightspeed Magazine some time later this year, as well as another story in an upcoming anthology that I’m still not at liberty to announce. As far as works-in-progress go, I’m in the midst of re-writing a story I began at Clarion about a harpy beekeeper, a novel idea that plays like a mashup of Shadow of the Colossus and Where The Wind Blows, and something tentatively titled The Revolution Will Be Televised Before A Live Studio Audience.
2. How does my work differ from others of its genre?
That’s not a question I’m sure I can answer as thoughtfully as it might deserve. To be typically blunt: I don’t know. I’ve always been terrible at assessing my work’s merits. Like every author, I am the only me that exists, and the stuff that I write comes solely from my own unique experiences and world views, which I suppose counts for something. You are getting pure, undiluted Brooke Bolander, a species with a wild population of one. When I die, I will be extinct; there will never be any more. I AM SIGNIFICANT, cried the dust speck.
… Unless some alien consciousness is beaming thoughts and memories directly into my skull, in which case oshit.
3. Why do I write what I do?
My friends have posted lengthy, noble, beautiful responses to this question. My answer is much more pragmatic/selfish: I write what I want to read.
Now, there is nothing new under the sun, and I am well aware of that fact, and occasionally the knowledge makes me want to drink antifreeze, especially when I get what seems like a fabulously original idea and no, no, that was already done as a three-book series that sold ten million billion copies. But sometimes that enormously popular three-book series sucks, or you feel the plot could have been executed in a much more interesting way. Sometimes the idea is new enough that nobody has done it in awhile, all glory to the Muses, and you really really really want to read it, and the characters will not stop breaking shit inside your brain until you provide them with an outlet.
Images and voices lodge in my mind’s eye, and I’ve gotta dig them out (you can’t just walk around all the damned time with a plot jammed to the hilt in your retina; it gets uncomfortable). Nobody else can write those scenes (unless they crack open my skull and feast on the goo inside), so it’s up to me to do it.
4. How does your writing process work?
It always starts with a single image. I see a scene sticking out of the ground, like a pot sherd, and the archaeologist in me won’t stop until the entire thing is uncovered and re-assembled. Which means making up the plot as I go along, which may explain why I’ve never managed to write anything longer than 20,000 words. It’s admittedly a problem. I suppose either I’ll learn ways to deal with it or, y’know, I won’t.
Music is also pretty important to my process. A good song can act as a metronome for the language in a story. The rhythm of a novel’s prose is ridiculously important to me; if a word falls in the wrong spot, it’s as jarring to my inner reader as a singer hitting a bad note. Funnily enough, I can’t listen to music while I’m working, so I listen to the song first and go from there.
Alyssa is a 2013 graduate of the Clarion Writers’ Workshop. Her story, “The Fisher Queen,” appears in the May/June issue of Fantasy & Science Fiction Magazine. She is rated A for Awesome.
Bonnie lives in Texas with her partner and two literarily-named cats: Gimli and Don Quixote. Her fiction and poetry has appeared or is forthcoming in magazines such as Clarkesworld, Lightspeed, Strange Horizons, and Goblin Fruit. You can visit her on Twitter @BonnieJoStuffle or through her website: www.bonniejostufflebeam.com. She is rated B for Beautemus.
So, that pulp thing I began working on two fucking years ago? It finally sold. To Lightspeed, my glorious and ever-loving patrons. I am beside myself with glee. Look for that in the near-future. It’s … not exactly like anything else I’ve ever done, being an exercise in big dumb shooty pulp and all.
That brings my sales up to a grand total of six, five of them professional, three of those to Lightspeed, and four of them to John Joseph Adams. Not bad. Not bad at all. Maybe in another three years I’ll have enough for a short story collection that nobody will ever publish or buy! The future remains unwritten.
So I’ve been thinking about art and human connections.
Imagine you are floating in a glass bubble in space. Around you, there are others. At some point in your journey, you meet the eye of someone else, and a conversation strikes up. You know the feeling. It’s a fucking drug, that moment of connection. Nothing else like it in the world, whether it’s a burgeoning friendship or a romance or a business partnership.
The only problem is, you can never quite make contact, no matter how well you think you know them or or how hard you press your hands against the bubble walls. Close is still just close. There will always be half an inch of glass between your palms. Sometimes the comm link breaks down and you only get pieces of what they’re saying. Miscommunications turn into outright arguments.
Sometimes they go away and they don’t come back.
As I said in my WDSF essay, we’re all just ships of meat and bone, trying to find some way over, across, through that barrier. There is no real way to see inside a person’s head cockpit, which is both a blessing (I’m certainly thankful for it) and a curse. Sometimes I get the feeling that’s all a lot of art is: Attempts to ramp our sentience motorcycles over the great gorge and get across what we’re feeling in pictures so fucking clear the person looking at them will actually gain the ability to see what we’re seeing behind our eyelids. It’s the closest to telepathy most of us will ever get. I’ve managed it once or twice and lemme fuckin’ tell you, hoss, the jolt is a little like falling in love.
Emotions are such a personal thing. Maybe art is the best way of getting them across.
Okay, motherfuckers. If you want to vote for the Hugos or the John W. Campbell Award this year, you HAVE TO BE REGISTERED BY MIDNIGHT for one of three things: LoneStarCon (last year), LonCon (this year) or Sasquan (next year) by 31 Jan. 2014. That’s TODAY. By midnight.
Please note, you DON’T ACTUALLY HAVE TO ATTEND TO REGISTER. A SUPPORTING membership allows you to nominate, vote, and get the Hugo Packet. It’s an Absentee ballot, essentially, and it costs you 40 BUCKS (that’s the cost of a good fancy meal). So if you want to vote but can’t fly all the way to London or travel back in time to last August or don’t want to go to Spokane NEXT year, there is an option.
As I said in my last post, your votes are really, really fucking important, especially in the case of the Campbells. You don’t have to vote for me. You don’t even have to like what I write. You can ABHOR what I do, and I’m plenty sure many of you do. More power to you, guys. Rock the fuck on with your big ol’ bloated hatebladders. But for the love of all that is good and unholy, give SOMEONE the nod. Marc Blake released an anthology of work from Campbell-eligible writers yesterday*. It is, to be blunt, the book size equivalent of a blue whale’s dong, and it is free for download. Read. Find someone you love, and show them how much you care by spending roughly the cost of a nice fancy meal on registering and voting.
Oh, and do it before midnight. No pressure or anything.
* (Three of my previously published stories are in there, because last year I forgot to send Marc my stuff and I missed the ballot by three votes. Not this fucking time. I fail by my own lights and not my own laziness this go-round.)
Back in August, that hot, dusty country that seems so long ago and far away, I woke up on the morning after the Hugos–groggy and hungover and blister-footed, as you may or may not often find yourself on the final morning of WorldCon–and fumbled my half-blind ass towards my laptop. Logged in. Wiped the sleep from my eyes. Checked the social network scene. Noticed people were pinging me. But why? I was pretty sure no serious faux pas had been made, as far as my foggy, fugue-y brain could recall. Hadn’t called Rory McCann ‘The Hound’ to his face, hadn’t given anyone’s Hugo statuette a handjob, hadn’t told the entire city of San Antonio to kiss my ass.
Turns out this was why. The Hugo stats were out. I had come within three votes of making the Campbell ballot, but missed the mark and landed atop the longlist instead. Which is nothing to fuckin’ scoff at, to be god-damned sure, as there were far better writers than I at the bottom or not even on there at all. Still, though. A double-edged sword down my throat first thing in the morning, and (as double-edged swords tend to be) it was rather hard to swallow.
Three votes. Three people. That’s all it would have taken.
ANYWAY. It’s that time of year again, again, and I have even less of a chance of making the ballot in 2014 than I did last year. Depression has cut my output to a trickle. I’ve only made one sale this year, to the wonderful Nightmare, and it sank almost as quickly as it surfaced, being a short, slight, angsty little thing. But my friends have poked me and prodded me and ever-so-gently bullied me into mentioning that, yes, I am still eligible for the John W. Campbell Award for Best New Writer. It’s my last year. When 2015 rolls around, I will be, as they say, too old for this shit, and godspeed to the new recruits with their shiny button eyes and shiny button hearts just waiting to be ripped out.
If you enjoyed my stories last year and voted for me then and still like ‘em now, you can vote again, you glorious, stubborn mule, you. If you’ve just discovered my bibliography this year and you are so totally into what I’m peddling you will burst like a can of springy snakes and die if I don’t get on that ballot, vote for the first time! Anyone who buys a membership can vote. The rules:
Like the Hugo Awards, the Campbell Award voting takes place in two stages. The first stage, nomination, is open to anyone who had a Supporting or Attending membership in the previous, current, or following year’s Worldcon as of January 31. For Loncon 3, this means members of LoneStarCon 3 (the 71st World Science Fiction Convention in San Antonio), Loncon 3 itself, and Sasquan (the 73rd Worldcon in Spokane) can nominate any eligible author.
(A Supporting membership, by the way, means you can still vote on the Hugos and the Campbell even if you’re not in the mood to fly to London this August, although it is a lovely city and if you can you really should try and manage it. Think of it as an Absentee ballot.)
Anyway, if you need a refresher course on what I wrote last year, here’s a quick list. If you’ve never read a word of my work, hey, now might be a good time to start! And even if you hate what I’m doing, try and vote for someone, dig? There are a lot of amazing writers up for the Campbell this year, including the bodacious Bonnie Jo Stufflebeam, the eminent Emily Jiang, the terrific and foxy Tim Susman, and Andy Stewart, who has multiple sales to F&SF and thus needs no alliteration or introduction.
Her Words Like Hunting Vixens Spring, Lightspeed, February 2012
Tornado’s Siren, Strange Horizons, February 2012
Sun Dogs, Lightspeed, September 2012
The Beasts of the Earth, the Madness of Men, Nightmare, November 2013
I thank you for your consideration, I thank you for any votes you may or may not toss my way, and I especially thank you for getting me so very, very close in 2013. I may be a tiny fish in this great big pond, but for a moment you made me feel like Octoshark.
I move like a herd of turtles, but a herd of a turtles that will eventually reach its goddamned destination. A sale! A sale, by God! To Nightmare Magazine! First time placing in a horror market, and what a market it is. Look for “The Beasts of the Earth, the Madness of Men” within the next few months!
I really hope you guys like this one. Despite being quite short it took me ages to write. Fingers crossed it was worth it.
So I guess if all my friends are doin’ it, that means I should too (and if they all jumped off a cliff fuck yes I’d probably join in as well). It’s awards season in SF/FLand, and while I don’t have an asthmatic’s chance in a roomful of cats of getting nominated for anything–far too many other beautiful stories came out this year, deep ones with deep things to say and not just OH SHIT ISN’T THIS COOL appeal–I might as well be all BUY MY BOOK and mention them. All three are eligible for the Hugos, the Nebulas, and any other short story categories you might care to mention in the 2012 horse races. Some of them have even been on the Year’s Best/Recommended lists of various cool people.
In addition, I’m also in my first year of eligibility for the John W. Campbell Award For Best New Writer. So if you want to see me looking rather ridiculous in a little crown within the next two years, here’s your chance of making that vicious dream a brutal reality.
Thanks to everybody who votes, and everybody over the past year who has sent encouragement and/or praise for my silly little stories. You guys rock.
So by now we’ve already all read about the Undead Press debacle ad nauseum. I just wanted to throw a few of my own thoughts on this thing out there, because fuck knows the Internet needs one more opinion and the world was waiting for my royal decree.
Starting out is rough. You always stand the risk of being schnookered, there are unscrupulous people who want to schnooker you because of that inexperience, and you’re so desperate for validation, like a puppy trying to drive a big rig, that you’ll sell to pretty much anybody if it means your story is somewhere vaguely resembling the public eye. The problem with that, as with the aforementioned trucker puppy, is that it could all end in tears. Did that puppy get its CDL before it started? Did it do its research? No? Well, that dramatically ups the odds that Trucker Puppy is going to drive full-tilt into a knife factory, keep going, and plow through a home for tender-skinned hemophiliac children before plunging off a cliff.
We live in the Age of the All-Seeing Eye Of the Internet. It is easier to educate yourself about anything and everybody, from candiru to Camus, than it has ever been before. I am, in fact, talking to you across a great wide gulf of Pure Fucking Information. Small presses are numerous and many of them are absolutely goddamned fantastic, but for every Small Beer there are a handful like Undead Press just salivating at the chance to screw you. But! You have secret teeth, my darlings! Come close, so that I may plant my tender knowledge seeds in your fecund mind-dirt.
- Do your fucking research.
- Are you getting paid even a token amount? Can the editor spell their own name correctly? What kind of press have they gotten? Have you read anything they’ve published? Do you know other people who have worked with them? Can you find other people who have worked with them? Remember: Internet.
- Do your fucking research.
- Do your fucking research.
- Do not bend over just because you are The Tiny Fish or whatever the fuck. That’s your fucking name on the story; treat it like thunder crashes and demons make out every time someone utters the goddamned thing. Don’t be a dick. Be respectful. Do ask questions if you’ve got ‘em, though, and if the editor ignores you, belittles you, or otherwise treats you like shit, run like hell. Token payments, whether contributor copies or a bright copper penny, generally go a long way towards showing respect. They are there for a reason (unless we’re taking lit ‘zines; see below).
- Research your do.
Not too long ago, I got solicited by a lit ‘zine I had never heard of to do a story for no pay whatsoever. Now, immediately my bullshit meter started going off, as well it should have. In the SF/F world, at least, this is generally not how the game is played. So I whipped out GoogleTwit, asked around, and hey presto, they were legit. It took me all of an afternoon to dig up that info, simply because lit ‘zines are run differently and I don’t know a lot of people in those communities (if it had been a specfic market I’m sure it would have taken an hour, tops). But I had to do the research first, and until I did the research I didn’t agree to shit. I don’t know a fraction of everything about this business nor do I claim to; I’m just beginning my long journey upstream. What I do know about is staying suspicious when you’re small and the world is full of things that want to eat you. Christ, didn’t anyone else read Watership Down?
Give your Trucker Puppy CDL lessons, a map, and opposable thumbs before setting her off on the motorway. Puh-lease Do Your Fucking Research. Take a deep breath before you agree to anything and ask yourself if it smells right, even if the aroma of OMG! STORY! IN PRINT! is almost overpowering the fine bouquet of BS. You will be happier in the long run, this I promise you.