I’m back! Well, for the moment. Kicking off another year with this “for the good of the order” thing. Almost two months late, but here. In this installment, I look back on 2019 in my SFF writing life–(big tings happened)–and what I might hope for in 2020. Here we go.
Last year, I mentioned that the first time I did one of these was back in 2015. In that initial installment I wrote about discovering that I was indeed a writer and my hopes for my writing life. Then a whole lot happened. I became a junior tenure-track assistant professor in 2016. In 2017 I bought a small Edwardian castle in New England. In 2018 I expanded my family by a factor of twins. Also in 2018, I had my first book published–well a novella. Since then, 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 finally manage to find the perfect balance and reach the flawless Omega molecule state of writing-work life-family-life-uniformity? Did the spinning top fall at the end of Inception, or what? What happened when Angela ate that egg exactly? I can’t answer those last two, but stick around and I’ll tell you about the others.
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. 2019 was interesting. In 2018 I did the unthinkable–I wrote an entire novel. In 2019 I spent a long-ass time editing it. Editing is a beast! And really that did suck up a lot of any free time I had to write. The rest went to completing an academic manuscript, for which I finally pressed the SEND button on a week ago! YAY! I didn’t write any short stories in 2019. Not a one. Not even the beginning of one. I didn’t even have any short-story concepts come to mind. Short stories were a graveyard.
I did manage, however, to write an entirely new novella.
So it seems I now have a trade-off. I’m managing to churn out some long form writing. But my short stories are taking a serious hit. I’ve even had to turn down solicitations to anthologies and the like. Heckuva Catch-22. Part of my reason for writing short stories was to practice the craft and get my name out there so I could get back to writing long form novels and the like. Now that I’m here, short stories have fallen by the wayside. And as one writer straight up put it to me in purely practical terms, there’s simply more financial return in long form writing than short stories. It’s not even comparable. Writing short stories over long form novels when you have an agent who’s eager to get you out there, is leaving money on the table. Literally.
But I like writing short stories! I like small worlds and characters I may or may not ever return to. I like short outlines that don’t require entire pages in Scrivener to plot out, as with novels and novellas. I don’t miss submissions and waiting and then possible rejections. No one likes that. At all. But, short stories remain good practice to jog my imagination and help me practice writing. So how do I get back to creating more shorts? Dunno. Maybe in between the long form writing. Maybe I need to read more short stories to get the muses going. Will check back in a year, and see what happens.
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’ve had novels and novellas to finish, I put this one on the back burner. Wondering if it may be time to surrender them completely to the void. Some of these stories’ origins date back to the late 90s. Yeah, I was a whole different person then. Me, but not me. How I thought, my writing, my ideas, have changed vastly in 20+ years. Some of those stories still excite me. Others are embarrassing, or worse, boring. There’s maybe one or two I’d like to fiddle with. And letting go is hard. But maybe many of them need to remain in deathless sleep.
Novel Writing: So as you all know, before 2010 I was a novel-writer. Either that, or, novelettes or novellas. Couldn’t keep a story down to less than 9000 words for nothing. Then I figured out how to be a short story writer and got some published. But my novel-writing game diminished to nothingness. Not no more! Wrote a whole NOVEL in the past year and a half. And a whole novella. Got two more I expect to get done in the approaching years. So, don’t think this is a thing I need to be concerned with–at least for the time being.
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. For 2019, had a bit to chew on. Didn’t read as many short stories unfortunately, but managed to dive into novels: Naomi Novik’s Spinning Silver, Rivers Solomon’s An Unkindness of Ghosts, Marlon Jame’s Black Leopard, Red Wolf, C.L. Polk’s Witchmark, Zen Cho’s The True Queen, Ann Leckie’s The Raven Tower, David Mogo’s God Hunter, Rebecca Roanhorse’s Storm of Locusts, Tasha Shuri’s Empire of Sand, Evan Winter’s Rage of Dragons, Mary Robinette Kowal’s The Calculating Stars, Kwame Mbalia’s Tristan Strong Punches a Hole in the Sky, Sarah Gailey’s Magic is for Liars, Cadwell Turnbull’s The Lesson, and the entire The Bear and the Nightingale trilogy by Katerine Arden as well as Theodora Goss’s Alchemist’s Daughter series. Lots of great stuff here! This year I’d like to get back to more short stories, even though I’m enjoying the long form novels.
Submit: So my submitting in 2019 was pretty… non-existent. I submitted one short story: a reprint to an invited anthology. So again, don’t expect to see lots of short stories by me anytime soon. Sorry. The good news–guess who signed an author’s contract? This guy! I now officially have a two-novel and two-novella contract with Tor! That means while I don’t have things to sling into the submission void, I have things that are now due–to which I’m contractually obligated. Which is kind of weird. The whole writing a thing, not really with a hard deadline, and then pitching it out to see what happens, and then moving onto the next thing, has been replaced. Now it’s: I promised the thing, I signed a contract for it, I got an advance, editors are expecting the thing, get it done already! Don’t get me wrong, I’m thankful to be here! But it’s a whole notha beast. Not just writing, but responsibility. The best word for it? A job.
Anyway, the good news is–I’ve got one novel submitted. And just got another novella submitted. The novel’s not out until 2021 (publishing is slowwww!) but the novella will be here in Fall 2020. It’s called Ring Shout. Read all about it here and you can pre-order it here and at other pre-ordering places.
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 didn’t have much of that to do–as I didn’t actually submit much. But here’s a reminder of the year previous. One of the stories I sold in 2018 (The Secret Lives of the Nine Negro Teeth of George Washington) was rejected in my first submission by a big name pro market magazine. 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 even won stuff. 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. In 2019 I didn’t publish much, except a novella with Tor called The Haunting of Tram Car 015. It’s done well enough to earn a Nebula nom, so sometimes one good joint beats a large volume. This Fall 2020 will also have Ring Shout. Plus the aforementioned author contract with Tor?
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’ve published in the past few years were in that vein. Those I have coming up, promise to do more of the same.
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 2019 I tried to get more involved. I again attended Readercon (fifth year in a row) which was an overall positive experience–including getting to sit on panels with stellar authors. Thanks to having books come out in 2018 and 2019, I’ve also been doing interviews, podcasts, and more–forcing me to get out there. In August I got to attend the Decatur Book Festival in Georgia, and sit on a panel with Kira Jane Buxton moderated by Milton Davis. Then in September I once again got to attend Brooklyn Book Festival where I sat on a panel with NK Jemisin and L. Penelope moderated by Teri Clarke (it was a Black Lady Panel–*clap clap*–plus me). Finally, in October I got to be on two panels at NY Comic Con hosted by my Tor editor Diana Pho.
So all in all, pretty good I think. Plan to do more this year to get out there!
Market Myself: Still hate it. Still feels awkward. And self-centered. And yet, these stories ain’t gonna sell themselves. So I made moves this past year in getting my name out. Most of that really was due to my publicists, an agent, and folks asking me to do podcasts and other interviews–all of which I’m super thankful for. Got to Eat the Fantastic with Scott Edleman and was featured in a write up in Locus magazine. It’s also meant retweeting reviews, posting wonderful book photos taken by folks 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? I remain eternally humbled by it.
Oh, I also got a whole author’s website! It’s all nice and shiny and sparkly–go check it out here. Wrote about the process of building it too.
Big Tings: So, 2019 might also be known as my award year. I got nominated for stuff. Or rather, my stories did. And sometimes, they won. It started in January 2019, when I learned the American Library Association had gifted The Black God’s Drums an Alex award. Whaaat? Add that to my travel list, because I got to go to Book Con in June and they gave me a medal! An actual medal! Like they gave Han and Luke! But oddly not Chewie… Anyway, in February, I found out that both The Black God’s Drums and my short story The Secret Lives of the Nine Negro Teeth of George Washington were finalists for Nebula awards. In March, The Secret Lives of the Nine Negro Teeth of George Washington was nominated for a Sturgeon Award. Then in April, both stories were finalists for Hugo awards. In June, they were again nominated for Locus awards!
What is even happening?!!?
In the end, The Secret Lives of the Nine Negro Teeth of George Washington took home a Nebula and a Locus award–which are now sitting nicely above my fireplace. Never, ever, ever, never, ever, never did I think my stories would be nominated for awards. Or win them. So I’m still gobsmacked. Yup, I just used that word. Gob + Smacked! And humbled. And thankful. And all those kinds of things.
Blog More: We’ll see. I’m out here trying.
So, all in all, a good year in this SFF writing life. Stellar in some ways. I’m thankful to be here. Thankful to all I’ve managed to accomplish or be blessed with. Thankful for readers (LIKE YOU) that make it happen. Here’s hoping that 2020 lives up to your own writing hopes as well. Till next time. Excelsior!
I hope some conferences come up in Egypt, or maybe Morocco to soak up more experiences for future novels. You have a gift for sharing other realities. Good luck with your busy life.
Yes blog more please!
I’m so glad your stories won awards.
A french fan
Just a thought–I have no idea of the economies of scale–but I contribute to a few authors on Patreon (NKJ, Kameron Hurley and a couple others) because I want to show support and because I want you all to have the financial freedom to create interesting things. You know, if you ever want to give up that teaching gig. 😉 I’d love to contribute. As well as see more in the Tram Car world. Best of luck in 2020.
Thanks so much. I don’t have a Patreon at present. I actually do like my day job as a historian. 🙂 Plus I don’t know that I write as consistently as some of those other authors, who truly dedicate a good share of their time to writing/creating. But it’s a thought I’ll keep in mind for the future! Thanks again.