Kicking off another year with this “for the good of the order” thing. Late but here. In this installment, I look back on 2018 in my SFF writing life–(big tings happened)–and what I might hope for in 2019. Here we go.
The first time I did one of these back in 2015, I wrote about discovering that I was indeed a writer and my hopes for my writing life. Since then, a lot has happened. I became a junior tenure-track scholar. I expanded my family by a factor of twins. I had my first book published. And I’ve had to figure out how to balance everything so it doesn’t all collapse in on me. How am I doing? Were my goals met this year? Did I manage to find the perfect balance and reach the flawless Omega molecule state of writing-work life-family-life-uniformity? Let’s find out!
Write More: At the top of the list, of course, is every writers pledge to just write more. Writing is like a stunning spell–to paraphrase Harry, it’s an author’s bread and butter. This year was a mixed bag. For the first half of 2018, I got some writing done. Mostly this was through using a method I’d employed to get through my academic writing–whereby I tracked my SFF writing daily and allotted time in a daily schedule. I wrote about the process here. Sticking to it was friggin’ hard. In between SFF writing, I had lots of academic work to churn out: book proposals, conference proposals, proposals of proposals, not to mention a book chapter for an edited volume and fellowship applications. Did I also mention, that in February I found out we were having twins?
So was the schedule helpful? Yeah. I didn’t get a whole lot done that Spring semester SFF wise. But I was able to sneak in bits of writing usually between 10 to 11:30PM on weekdays–provided my brain hadn’t turned into Swiss cheese by that hour. My SFF project was a novel. And though the amount of writing was small, being consistent allowed me to slowly push forward, to sketch outlines, characters, etc. By the end of the Spring semester I’d gotten to about Chapter 5. Not bad. But watch how time works.
Once classes ended in May, the space-time continuum opened up in earnest. 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 a conference in Cuba and another in Barbados? Looks like some space has opened up on my to write. Long day talking about the African Diaspora in Havana? Grab a Cuba Libre, post up on the top of the hotel room where I can look out on the bay–and WRITE. Writing was my reward. And I took every spare moment.
So peep it–it took me from January to May to write five chapters in the novel. Between May and July, with more free-time on my hands, I knocked out the ENTIRE THING ending at 26 chapters. So in the end, I got at least five times work of chapters in three months than I did in five. But the slow determined pace I’d set earlier in the year provided a foundation for me to run with things once time opened up.
Unfortunately, I got just about no other SFF writing done. Did you not hear about the twins? They were supposed to arrive in October. Decided they wanted to be sweet summer children and arrived in July. Do the math. After 100 days back and forth to two different NICUs, glad to say our daughters are healthy and arrived home sometime around the holidays. Overjoyed! But any time for SFF writing has vanished. I mean not a measly shred. Looks like for next year, I’ll be writing about managing your time while writing and taking care of twin infants. Will let you know how it goes.
Finish.The.Damn.Story: As I’ve said many times, there are folders, endless folders, on my computer (now Dropbox) with unfinished stories. Because I had a new novel to finish under my belt, I put this one on the back burner. For the most part, I didn’t really return to unfinished tales in my super vault. Perhaps this year, if I can find the time, I may dive back in.
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 had diminished to nothingness. UNTIL NOW! I wrote a whole NOVEL last year! Not a novella. Not a novelette. But a N-O-V-E-L! The curse is broken and now all I wanna do is WRITE MORE
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. Got way better in 2017. 2018 was aite. Read lots of short stories–many of them in the award-winning Black Literary SFF magazine, FIYAH. Mostly though, I went chewing through novels. N.K. Jemisin’s Obelisk Gate, Justina Ireland’s Dread Nation, Fonda Lee’s Jade City, KF Laung’s The Poppy War, Rebecca Roanhorse’s Trail of Lightning, Nisi Shawl’s Everfair, the entire existing Powder Mage series by Brian McClellan, Lara Elena Donnelly’s Amberlough…I even managed to plow through Brandon Sanderson’s massive epic Oathbringer. And my TBR ain’t even been dented. This year I’d like to return to reading more short stories, though I’m enjoying the long form novels. Bring it on!
Submit: So my submitting in 2018 was pretty… non-existent. I submitted one story, to an invited anthology. That means, don’t expect to see lots of short stories by me anytime soon. Sorry. The good news, as I reported last time, was that in 2017 I submitted about six different stories. And somehow I managed to sell them all. Whuut? So 2018 was a bit of a publishing fest for me. In February I had a short story called The Secret Lives of the Nine Negro Teeth of George Washington in Fireside Magazine. I had a reprint of my novelette Ghost Marriage in Apex that month. In June I had a novelette called A Tale of Woe come out in Beneath Ceaseless Skies. And in August I had another novelette titled The Paladin of Golota published in Heroic Fantasy Quarterly. Was on a roll! My biggest event however was the publication of my novella The Black God’s Drums (New Orleans, orisha and steampunk) that same August 2018, out via Tor.com publishing. The book has been met with all the praise I could hope for and more, including an unexpected Alex award from the American Library Association just this month. Whhaaaaaaaaat??? Thank you each and everyone for your support! Creeper, Ann-Marie, and I all appreciate it.
Next up, will be my novella The Haunting of Tram Car 015 ( a return to the world of A Dead Djinn in Cairo), due out from Tor.com Publishing February 19. So 2019 may not see nearly as many stories published as 2018, but won’t be a complete bust.
Re-submit: Re-submitting, as ever, remains my kryptonite. Sending a story that got rejected to a second place is always a challenge. Last year, I did exactly that. One of the stories I sold (The Secret Lives of the Nine Negro Teeth of George Washington) was first rejected in my first submission. Soon as I got the rejection, sent it to the good folks at Fireside Fiction who jumped on it. Wouldn’t you know it? Accepted. And now it’s on a Nebula awards reading list. Ska-doosh! Don’t self-reject! Ever!
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. As I already noted, 2018 got quite a few stories of mine out in the world. 2019 will see less, though The Secret Lives of the Nine Negro Teeth of George Washington will see a reprint in a “best of” (can’t say which just yet) anthology. I’ll also have a story called Night Doctors out in an anthology. And of course, The Haunting of Tram Car 015 is right around the corner.
Writing Boldly: After the horrible events of November 2016 (you know of what I speak!), 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 published last year were in that vein. And hopefully I’ll have more to come.
Get More Involved in Mainstream Genre: For the past three years, I’ve 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 2018 I tried to get more involved. I again attended Readercon (fourth year in a row) which was an overall positive experience–including getting to sit on panels with stellar authors. Thanks to having a book come out in 2018, I’ve also been doing interviews, podcasts, and more–forcing me to get out there. In September I was fortunate enough to get an invitation to participate in the Brooklyn Book Festival, where I interviewed N.K. Jemisin! I know! SHUT THE FRONT DOOR! That was grand! Later in the Fall, I got to do a reading and book signing at the Boston Book Festival. Loved it! For 2018 I again decided my first “get more involved” act was to finally apply for membership in SFWA. I didn’t. Why I won’t take the plunge I dunno. But it’s ridiculous, cuz that was one of my goals of getting published in the first place. I would still also like to try and 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. So I made moves this year in getting my name out. In addition to all the podcast and other interviews, I tried to publicize my books a lot. That meant retweeting reviews, posting wonderful photos of The Black God’s Drums taken by readers on Instagram, and generally trying to interact with those who actually take the time out to read my stuff. That still floors me. Ya’ll actually wanna read stuff I came up with in my head? For honest and for true? And I am eternally humbled by it.
Big Tings: In 2018 I got an agent. I talked to TV and movie executive and producers interested in my work. It’s been AMAZING so far. Can’t wait for next.
Blog More: All I can say is that 2018 was better than 2017. Will see what can be done in 2019. Ain’t making no promises tho.
So, all in all, a good year in this SFF writing life. I’m thankful to be here. And thankful to all I’ve managed to accomplish or be blessed with. Here’s hoping that 2019 lives up to your hopes as well. Till next time. Excelsior!