Kicking off another year with this “for the good of the order” thing. In this installment, I look back on 2017 in my SFF writing life–and what I might hope for in 2018. This should be interesting.
Last time I wrote about my trials, successes and hopes for my life as a SFF writer–which was butting heads with my new life as a junior tenure-track scholar. How did things shake out? Were my goals met? Did I manage to find the perfect balance and reach the flawless Omega molecule state of writing uniformity? Let’s find out.
Write More: At the top of the list, of course, is my pledge to just write more. Writing is like a stunning spell–it’s an author’s bread and butter. This year, as usual, was a mixed bag. For the first half of 2017, I got little to no writing done. Spring 2017 was still part of my first year as a junior scholar. What writing I got to do was wholly academic: book proposals, paper proposals, proposals of proposals. And it didn’t end there. May, June & July were spent attending conferences and doing research in Spain, London & the West Indies. My passport is looking hella-tight. Did I also mention, that in August my wife and I bought a whole house?
So when did I get a chance to write? Once classes ended in May, a subpocket of free time opened up. I shifted small bits of the time I’d usually spend prepping lessons and grading papers into SFF writing. It meant I was writing on the go. Got that paper hammered out for the conference in Spain? Looks like some space has opened up on a trans-Atlantic flight to write. Finished outlining a new chapter for my academic book proposal? SFF writing time! Long day at the National British Archives staring at atrocious nineteenth-century writing? Grab a pint and knock out a page or two. Writing became a reward. Like dessert. I just had to finish my vegetables first.
With this rhythm, by the time Fall semester rolled around I’d finished at least three short stories. And I’d worked on editing another one. Gotta say, not too shabby. Was feeling myself so much that I got cocky with it. Boasted that I could maybe get a whole novel done over the Fall semester. All I had to do was carve out maybe an hour here or there to write. Why not?
I got a chapter. As in one. As in I wrote a total of a chapter between September and December. And about half of that was written during Winter Break. Ah well. Back to the drawing board. One of these days though, will figure it out. The trick is to keep trying.
Finish.The.Damn.Story: As I’ve said many times, there are folders, endless folders, on my computer (now Dropbox) with unfinished stories. I’d planned to return to them in 2015. That didn’t happen much. Tried in 2016. That got some slight success. How about in 2017? For the most part, I didn’t really return to unfinished tales in my super vault. I did, however, return to stories I’d sketched the outlines of previously. Or I returned to revise some completed stories. A few of those I submitted, with success. More on that below!
Novel Writing: So before 2010 I was a novel-writer. Either that, or, novellas. Couldn’t keep a story down to less than 9000 words for nothing. Since then, though, I’ve developed the skill–if not perfected it–of the short story. The good news is that I’ve gotten a few of those stories published. Bad news: my novel-writing game has diminished to nothingness. In 2015 I pledged to get back to novel writing. I didn’t. In 2016, I double-pledged to get back to novel writing. Mostly I got into novel-editing. So how about 2017? So, a few interesting things happened this year. I didn’t get back fully in the swing of novel writing. But, I did jump in–even if, at most, I completed only a chapter. Baby steps. The other interesting thing is that I’ve actually had queries from editors and publishers at well known presses, essentially asking, “how about that novel? got a novel? hey, how about a novel?” It’s weird AF. Because a few years back, I couldn’t figure out how to get an editor’s attention. Now, I got it. But I got no product. Or at least, the material I had previously needs an update. Let me rephrase. I do have one product–a YA fantasy novel. After an editor queried, I sent off that manuscript to him. I think that was June. I have heard nothing since. And that’s all I have to say about that.
Read More: Reading is fundamental. Support RIF. As a writer, it also helps the imagination. Back in 2015 I pledged to start reading again, and I read A LOT. In 2016, I read a little less but got my reading in. 2017 was pretty decent. And there was lots to read. Read lots of short stories–many of them in the new Black Literary SFF magazine, FIYAH. Others came from online magazines or Tor.com novellas. Things that stand out: Tade Thompsons, The Murders of Molly Southborne, Cassandra Khaw‘s A Song for Quiet, Ken Liu’s Wall of Storms in The Dandelion Throne series was probably my favorite novel read. I also got back into Naomi Novi’s Temeraire series, which was a familiar treat. Love that damn endearing and flawed dragon! Jumped into a new interesting read quite by chance: Harry Connolly’s The Great Way trilogy. Also went digging in the crates. Reread Ray Bradbury’s Martian Chronicles and Invisible Man, which were as fantastic as I remember. Also reread Neil Gaiman’s American Gods to better enjoy the television adaptation. For 2017, got more on the list–mostly novels that are sitting on my shelf staring at me. One in particular, about stone eaters and “evil earth” swearings, is top on that list. My intended return to comic books was a bust. Again. Don’t know how to recapture that magic.
Submit: As in 2016, my 2017 submitting numbers weren’t stellar. In 2017 I only had one story published. And I’d submitted that in December 2016. I didn’t submit much until the summer of 2017 and by the end of the year got in about six different stories. That’s really nothing. The good news: somehow I managed to sell them all. Whuut? 2018 is going to be a bit of a publishing fest for me. I’ll have a new story out in Fireside Fiction Magazine in February. I’ll also have a reprint of a story in Apex that month. Sometime in the Spring, I’ll have stories out in both Heroic Fantasy Quarterly and Beneath Ceaseless Skies (I’ve been trying to get into BCS for damn ever! Big win!). My biggest sales however were the announcements back in November of two print and digital new novellas to Tor.com. The first of those, The Black God’s Drums (New Orleans, orisha and steampunk) will be out in Fall 2018. The second, The Haunting of Tram Car 015 ( a return to the world of A Dead Djinn in Cairo), will be out in Winter 2019. There may be one or two other shorts in smaller venues. So I’m gonna call 2017 a win in this department. Let’s see what I can do this year.
Re-submit: Re-submitting, as ever, remains my kryptonite. Sending a story that got rejected to a second place is always a challenge. But this year, I did exactly that. One of the stories I sold was first rejected elsewhere. Soon as I got the rejection, sent it somewhere else. Wouldn’t you know it? Accepted. More of this in the near year. Don’t self-reject!
Get Published: Ever keeping it gully, one hun’d and all things of that nature: I write to get published. Sure, I also write for the art, the joy of it, the self-expression and really lofty goals. But getting published is key. Because getting published means my stories will be read. And that matters to me more than anything else. While 2018 is going to see a few stories of mine out in the world, 2017 was a bit short on the publications.
The only story I published this year was The Angel of Khan el-Khalili. Set in the same world as A Dead Djinn in Cairo (an alternate early twentieth-century Cairo, where magic, djinn, angels and steampunk all co-exist), the story follows a young girl who goes to the famous bustling souk one night, in search of a miracle. The story appeared in the print anthology Clockwork Cairo: Steampunk Tales of Egypt, edited by Matthew Bright and published by Twopenny Press.
I also had one reprint. My Tor.com 2016 story “A Dead Djinn in Cairo” was reprinted in Volume 3 of The Long List Anthology, which features stories from the Hugo Award Nomination List.
Outside of stories, however, I did publish some other SFF. In February, co-authored a piece on Tor.com with author Troy Wiggins on the origins of FIYAH. Also did a book review for Strange Horizons in April.
Writing Boldly: After the horrible events of November 2016, getting back to what writer and activist Walidah Imarisha called “visionary fiction,” has definitely been on my list. This includes the use of “science fiction, horror, and fantasy genres to envision alternatives to unjust and oppressive systems.” The resistance needs SFF like never before. I pledged that in 2017 my writing was going to try and reflect resistance however I could: with heroes and heroines of color, with stories of marginalized persons going up against Dark Lords and long odds–and showing them WINNING! I think many of the stories I wrote this year were in that vein. And hopefully the fruits of it will be seen in 2018. Look out for em’!
Get More Involved in Mainstream Genre: For the past two years, I promised to become more involved in genre altogether, to see what I might be missing out on. Because so much of this literary world is about creating relationships and just being aware of what goes on in these spaces. I’m not for the drama that also takes place in those spaces–cuz watching nerds beef will always be weird to me. But in in 2017 I tried to get more involved. I again attended Readercon (third year in a row) which was an overall positive experience–including getting to sit on panels with Naomi Novik and the like. For 2017 I decided my first “get more involved” act was to finally apply for membership in SFWA. I didn’t. Dunno why. But I’m seriously considering making the plunge in the coming days, or weeks, or month. We’ll see. As before, I might also try to attend this Wiscon I’m always hearing about… if such a thing actually exists.
Market Myself: Hate it. Feels awkward. And self-centered. And yet, these stories ain’t gonna sell themselves. I made some steps this year in getting my name out. Kicked off January 2017 on a panel and reading at The New York Review of Science Fiction. That same month, also sat in for a great talk with Mark Burman of BBC radio on Ray Bradbury and the concept of Mars in SFF. That was dope. With two novellas coming out in 2018 and 2019, marketing will be at the top of my priorities. So, hopefully I’m getting better at it.
Big Tings: 2017 saw some “big tings” happening in my SFF life. My publishing slate in 2016 got me included in the Locus Recommended Reading List and listed among the Notable Stories in The Best American Science Fiction and Fantasy, 2017. Also got more than a few queries of interests from editors and publishers. Kind of amazing. Perhaps the biggest thing, however, which I’ve kept hush on, was the selling of the option rights of one of my stories to a studio. The process started last December. It took a media agent and lots of back and forth wrangling to finally hash out a contract. Legalese is exhausting! Now, options are just that. There’s no TV show or movie. This studio is now trying to get someone to pick up the story to do just that. Most of these deals end just where I started. So the odds are, it’ll go no further than this. Still, heck of an accomplishment–whatever happens.
Blog More: That was a bust. I got a few things in here and there, mostly Game of Thrones recaps. But the hopes of returning to the days of lengthy historical treatises didn’t happen in 2017. Will see what I can do for 2018.
So, all in all, not a bad year in this SFF writing life–given that 2017 was pretty much a garbage fire in every possible way. But we persist. Here’s hoping that 2018 lives up to our hopes. Till next time.
Awesome work! I hope that you reach your goals and so much more in 2018!
I always love your contributions to panels at Readercon, and I’m glad to hear that it sounds like you had (in many ways) a great year!