Here it is, middle of January, and I haven’t done a wrap-up of 2016. Well, what can be said of such a year?
Politically, I think I have said enough. You can revisit if you wish, especially via the links to my favorite posts back just a little way. Personally and professionally…
I finished a new novel. It is currently in the hands of my agent. As time passes and I hear nothing the usual swarm of doubts begin to devil me. It’s probably not as good as I hope, possibly not as bad as I fear, but if things run according to form it won’t much matter. I continue to write in a manner that I’ve long characterized as half a bubble off.
Which has me contemplating where to go. I’ve decided to devote 2017 mostly to short fiction. I have one more novel to finish, the final in a trilogy I feel I’ve been living with forever, which my agent feels very positive about. Since the first two books are done and have not yet found a home, I’m not in as huge hurry to complete the third one, although of late I’ve been having some stray thoughts on where to take it that are the beginnings of an itch to finish it. Regardless, I am committed to short fiction for the time being. I’ve already written two new stories and I am working to complete a novelette that’s been sitting stewing for a bit over a year now.
I declared a goal to myself. Before I die I want to have published 100 short stories. Which means I have about 40 to go. It’s as arbitrary as any goal, I suppose. I have roughly 20 stories in my files in various stages of completion, and maybe 10 more that are done but require revision. A few have been the rounds and not found homes, so maybe I should take them apart and put them together again, only better. I have one I know that I have written four versions of to completion and can’t decide which one works best (or at all).
All of which prompts contemplation of the worth of doing what I do. Yeah, I tend to do that a lot. But one reality (out of many) is the fact that I am now 62. Figuring out what I want to do when I grow up has become somewhat problematic.
Along those lines, I had a small revelatory experience in 2016 that has been working on me since. I have been privileged to work (day-job) with some extraordinary and talented people. One of them is a new novelist, her first book came out last summer. It’s a terrific novel, I recommend it (Kea Wilson’s We Eat Our Own), and she and I have had many conversations about writing and publishing. One day when I was complaining about the dismal condition of my career, she brought me up short by telling me she thought I was very successful. “You have twelve books out.” It caused me to reassess my own metrics regarding “success.” I’m still reassessing, but I have decided to stop sulking about it. These things really are relative outside certain narrowly-defined parameters.
When I attended WorldCon in Kansas City last August, I did so with a different attitude and enjoyed the whole thing much more.
My main concern now has to do with finishing the work I want to do. I’ve got that one more novel I mentioned above, but I also have one great big epic I want to write—it’s all in the back of my head, waiting for me to get around to—and a few ideas for other books I’d like to do. Setting the 100-story goal is part of that. Finishing. Leaving a legacy.
No, I’m not dying. I in good health. I had a whole round of tests last year. I’m fine. Still going to the gym, still doing my 100-push-ups-a-day, still being a taunt to the young guys at the gym. (You’re how old? No!) But I’d be a fool to look at life the way I did 30 years ago. I don’t have time to waste.
Of course, I will waste time. It’s built in. Humans do that. We should learn to enjoy it.
Along those lines, though, things have gotten to be a bit better in that we can waste time on things we like more than in previous years. The situation that has bogged us down for the last four (which I won’t discuss here, but my close friends know about it) has reached the point of being naught but an occasional annoyance. We’ve been cleaning house, relaxing, getting to the point where we are allowing ourselves to do things like go to the movies if we choose or just sit together reading. The pressure has eased. Life seems a bit broader.
As long as we don’t obsess over the news.
No politics here, I said. Although just a comment, that the way things have come to pass, we seem to have witnessed a nationwide example of the efficacy of Dunning-Kruger. (I’ll just leave that here, unexplained for the time being.)
Culturally, I feel beaten about the head and stomach with all the deaths. The two that hit me hardest were Keith Emerson and Greg Lake. They, among others, provided the soundtrack of my youth. Their music still thrills me. Much imitated, but nothing to compare. I wasn’t happy when Umberto Eco died. David Bowie didn’t go down too well for me, either.
2017 doesn’t seem to be starting off too well itself, but…
All in all, though, 2016 has turned out to be a year in which I began to be comfortable with what I’ve done, who I am, and where I might be going. It helps to have a good partner, and I have that. Donna and I celebrated 36 years together last spring. Between us we have tackled the many-hued exigencies of timeless conundrums and come out the other side of various rabbit holes with our fluffy whites intact (if a bit rumpled and smudged). I appreciate her, in the full meaning of the word.
I have no idea where this year is going. I feel we have gotten onto a space mountain ride. We may come out on the other side of the galaxy.
One thing, though: there will be more stories. It only ends when the stories stop.
It’s getting down to the wire. That will make sense later. For now, a contemplation and a photograph.
This weekend past was Archon. Number Forty. 40. Donna and I have been attending this, our hometown con, since 1982, number six. I’ve missed a couple, I think we missed one, but by and large it has been a regular thing. In years past, some of the vitality seemed to go out of it. They had some hiccups, which are now quite obviously in the past. This one was pretty damn good. Writing and books were more evidently on the menu and the panels I attended were well attended and well received. Even the Sunday ones.
For my part, there was a pre-con event last Thursday evening at the Brentwood Recreation Center. I hope to establish this as a regular thing, a Thursday evening event with the GoH, Toastmaster, and perhaps one other writer, sponsored by Left Bank Books with the convention. This year, Ellen Datlow and Bradley Denton were our guests, along with Ann Leckie. It was a fun evening. My intention is to broaden the scope of science fiction/fantasy for a general audience, draw attention to Left Bank Books as the go-to bookstore in St. Louis for speculative fiction (as well as all the rest), and spotlight these writers and editors for people who don’t normally attend the conventions. I ferried Ellen and Brad across the river to the event and moderated the talk, which took on a life of its own.
It seems remarkable that, in hindsight, we’ve made friendships which depend on annual visits. Great people show up at these conventions and I got to see them. Lynn and Selina of Yard Dog Press, who publish my work but, more importantly, are part of the rich community I am pleased to be part of. Vic Milan, the apparently permanent M.C. for the Archon masquerade, which always produces some remarkable entrees. Mitch Bentley, artist, as well as Allison Stein, John Kaufman (who did the terrific cover for my short story collection Gravity Box), Michelle and Rich, who run the art show, which is now becoming another regular feature for me.
Connecting up with Brad was a treat. I guess I’ve known him since 1992 or so. He is a fine, fine writer, a blues musician, and one of the best people I know. He’s had a rough few years lately and I wish him all the best. I’d like to read more of his fiction. If you haven’t read Brad, do so. Find his books.
I got to meet one of my favorite actors, if but briefly. Claudia Christian, who played Susan Ivanova on Babylon 5, a show Donna and I have been binging on since the unfortunate death of Jerry Doyle, who co-starred as Security Chief Michael Garibaldi.
All in all it was a good con. If I am a bit melancholy it’s only because I get to see some of these people at such long interludes and the pressure of time weighs more each year.
But. The art show. I actually sold a piece this year. This one, in fact. But I had a couple of new pieces as well. This is one, which I call Way Station.
Others may interpret it differently, but I’m sticking with the title, a reference to Clifford Simak’s terrific novel. (Another one which, if you haven’t read it, do so. Too many good things are forgotten because they get buried under the avalanche of shiny new baubles.)
I’m particularly pleased with the fantasy images I’ve been producing the last few years. I’m getting better, I think.
I don’t know when the next con I’ll attend will be. No doubt Archon 41, but other than that? It depends on much. I’ve handed in the current novel to my agent, I’m working to finish another one (possibly a YA), and I need to write some short stories, some by request. I’ll be busy this winter.
Meantime, to all my friends who I see far too seldom—be well. I’d like to see you again, sooner than later.
Archon 40 has come and gone. Much cool and neat stuff happened and I got to reconnect with friends. I’ll do something at more length maybe later. Meanwhile, I am back in my lair. I have stories to write. So, until later….
In my previous post I talked about the use—misuse—of a term: Snowflake. It was brought to my attention that I myself may be misusing it or at least misunderstanding it.
It derives from Fight Club, as a negative. “You are not special snowflakes…you are not unique…” More or less. Tyler Durden exhorting the new members of a club no one is supposed to speak about. Which kind of automatically makes them special. Exclusive club, deeply hidden, secret, and very radical. How much more special can you get short of joining the Masons or being recruited by the NSA?
The term then entered the language by way of gaming, applied to people claiming unique privileges—usually unearned—in the course of some rule-heavy role-playing extravaganza. It went from there to an appellation attached to Millennials of a certain mindset who had absorbed the pseudo-Montessori-esque lessons of specialness and uniqueness and then took it to the next level as sinecure that they, being unique and special, can do no wrong and are allowed to exercise a degree of privilege and intolerance based on that assumed status.
Like all such terms, obviously, it has been handed on, re-purposed, reapplied, contorted, enlarged, expanded, and now, today, it is being used to label anyone even glancingly allied to that other wonderful term that has come to be applied as a derogation, the Social Justice Warrior.
That’s the problem with labels. They start out one way, they inevitably become something else, and then history gets retroactively rewritten to incorporate the new meanings.
Democrats belong to the party of Jim Crow.
Republicans freed the slaves.
As if those claims describe what they are intended to today.
What I have witnessed and heard is the appropriation of the label Snowflake by people who are unfriendly to messages and arguments about social justice, equality, political correctness, diversity, and related issues so they can apply it where needed to shut down debate. Classifying someone as a Snowflake (or a Social Justice Warrior) is little more than an attempt to categorize what they have to say as a specific kind of rhetoric which we are not obliged to listen to or credit because it only describes the presumed delicate, unique, and supposedly privileged character of the speaker. We don’t have to listen to them because, well, it’s just the way they are.
And somehow these delicate souls manage to harass the virtuous manly men (male or female) who have right on their side to the point of silence.
I haven’t, if you’ll forgive the mixed usage here, seen the silence. On either side, frankly. What I have seen is a big fat fence raised between the deponents made up of labels.
Now, labels can be useful. I like to know which aisle contains the pet food as opposed to the household drygoods as opposed to the liquor. I like to know which building houses what services and addresses are very handy. I even like knowing what kind of music I’m likely to find on what station and it is helpful to know where in the bookstore I can find History as opposed to Humor.
But when it comes to people, labels are useless impediments to dialogue and intercourse. And just because those people over there insist on using labels does NOT justify labeling by anyone else. Because it is the nature of such things—language—that usage is hijacked, meanings change, and context shifts.
Back in the Sixties, there was an event in San Fransisco. There was a funeral for Hippy. The label, the tag, the identity. Because the people at the core of the counter culture saw what was happening—that what they were, how they dressed, talked, acted, was about to be appropriated as fashion. They knew that all they intended, all they meant for themselves, all they held important was about to be changed by the normal misuse of the American dialogue. So they declared Hippy dead and they held a funeral. There was, after that, no authentic hippy.
It didn’t stop the entire country from assuming it knew what a Hippy was and that they were all around.
In the Fifties the label Communist was horribly misapplied. A wide net of philosophical and political opinions caught people up and labeled them and lives were ruined. Because it’s easy to think in labels. Action follows thought.
I don’t care for labels like that. Especially when deployed in such a way as to shut down meaningful dialogue.
What I am seeing is the use of a term that once described something quite different being applied by people who think they have the right to determine what is meaningful by excluding what they think is without merit.
Does this go both ways? Of course. Labels have universal utility. They are shorthand. The problem with them is they make it easy to not think.
Just in case anyone thought I meant something else.
I’ve heard it a lot recently. Snowflakes. “Those snowflakes.”
It’s an insult. It means, apparently, thin-skinned, easily offended, a lightweight, someone prone to knee-jerk reactions to certain things which the ones applying the label don’t see the problem with. “We mustn’t offend the snowflakes!”
What topics? It has something to do with political correctness, which is another one of those labels which has lost valence through overuse and misapplication.
What is political correctness?
Well, others may have their definitions, but mine is to speak truly about a subject rather than resort to cliché. To find out the reality before talking through one’s hat, using whatever popular cultural handles that may be lying around.
You can pretty much pick the topic and find disagreement over things ranging from stereotyping to cultural appropriation. There’s the popular opinion, then there’s the fabrication, and then there’s the reality. P.C. ought to mean we go for the reality, which requires a certain amount of work and a bit of sensitivity, which seems in short supply. And if you have no sensitivity, why would you bother to do the work?
Of course, if you don’t do the work, where will you ever get any sensitivity.
So we have a new label, a category—actually a steel-reinforced closet—into which and by which we can dispense with the need to deal with the issues raised by the behavior being tagged as that of a Snowflake. Once so labeled we can simply use that term to dismiss whatever might be upsetting them.
It’s hard then to know if what is upsetting them has any legitimacy because the conversation has now stopped.
Here’s a thought: those applying this new label seem to believe that these are delicate people who get flustered at the mere mention of opinions with which they disagree. What if that’s not it? What if it’s more likely the final loss of tolerance for dealing with attitudes, opinions, and treatment with which they have been subjected to for years and they’ve finally reached the point of saying “You know what, if you can’t see through your own bullshit, I don’t have to either help you or put up with it anymore.”
What if a good number, maybe the majority, of people being labeled Snowflakes are actually of such a toughness that it took years and decades of being misheard, misunderstood, categorized, dismissed, and otherwise bullied before they finally just had enough and decided to slam the door in your face?
I’ve been bullied. The one thing that becomes clear, finally, is that being bullied has no rational cause. Nothing you can say or do will change the fact that the bully just wants to hurt you. It’s not rational. They will bully you because you don’t fit some cool profile or they sense that you’re vulnerable or—more relevant to this situation—that you, just by being, represent a threat to their self-image. You can’t negotiate, you can’t “be reasonable,” and you sure as hell can’t educate them out of their desire, their urge really to put you in a box and keep you there.
You abuse someone long enough they will snap back. Right now, voices are being heard that have needed to be heard and certain people, who thought as long as the room was quiet everything was fine, are trying to shut them down. This is nothing new, this has been the reality for a long, long time. Now we have some acting out. Now we have some payback. Now the “nice, quiet, well-behaved so-n-so who was never a problem before” is standing up saying enough, and so a new label is required?
What you are seeing as hypersensitivity is really just the final loss of patience. If the conversation had been engaged honestly long ago you wouldn’t be facing a challenge to authority like this. And claiming you’re the ones under siege is one more example of the myopia of too-long hegemony.
Every time now I see or hear that label being used I think “Have you looked in a mirror lately? If anyone’s being hypersensitive…” But no, that’s wrong. It’s not hypersensitivity. It’s insensitivity.
Now, go to your room. Write a thousand times “I will not be an insensitive jerk and pretend it’s a defense of conservative principles.”
You just don’t like the message and you think creating and using a new label will fix the problem. Like that ever worked before.
I have completed the current version of my new novel. Nits have been picked, threads tucked, and spells checked (I hope!) and it is off my desk.
Every time I get to this place, I crash. Yesterday I hit the couch for some of the deepest nap-time I’ve had in recent memory. When I come out of it, I look around at the ruined landscape of my environment, at all the things that have been on hold while in hot and sometimes panic-driven pursuit of the final draft, and I plan on how to put it all back into some kind of order. Cleaning. Getting reacquainted with the dog. Maybe attempt to catch up on some reading.
But that first day or so after is usually taken up by just drifting from room to room, contemplating what I am not about to do in the next hour, being lazy. Sighing a great deal. Maybe playing some music (not well) or doing some photo work.
Which I did this morning. Archon is coming up and I’ve elected to be in the art show again. I have some new images that need finishing up and prepping. I did a couple of those but mainly I played.
So until I get serious about tomorrow, here’s an image as place holder. I shot this in Kansas City recently, with my phone. Now, the pixels in the phone and the resolution leave much to be desired, but it ain’t bad, and if I work some magic in photoshop I can get some interesting stuff. For this, though, I went old school, just because I like the lines and the mood.
Now, compare that to the one below, which I shot in Dallas with my SLR.
A bit of a theme going on here? Yeah, well.
I have a ton of work to do in the coming year. Fingers crossed, you will be seeing some new short stories from me. I’ve been invited into a couple of anthologies and while in K.C. at the worldcon I got more than a few “Where’ve you been and when will you send something to me?” from some people. I know, it surprised me, too. Who knew I’ve been missed?
So, recovery for a couple of weeks–Archon in two weeks away–and the more grindstone time. My nose is diminishing even know.
I was eleven when Star Trek premiered. I’d seen the previews all summer, I was salivating in anticipation. Just from those minute or so clips it looked just so cool!
We watched the first episode—Man Trap—and disaster struck.
See, I was a somewhat “sensitive” child. I hate horror. I was prone at an earlier age to nightmares. I recall a couple of times waking up screaming. Of course, I’d been like four or five. It had been years. But my mother was adamant about keeping me away from anything that would curse my nights and ruin their sleep. She was skeptical that this—this—Star Trek Thing—wasn’t just another monster show. I remember trying to persuade her that, no, it’s about spaceships and other planets. No monsters.
Well. What was the thing in Man Trap other than a classic scary monster?
I missed half the first season because of that shaggy critter.
We lived downstairs from my grandparents and I took to sneaking up there to watch it. They had an ancient ANCIENT television, in a pale maple cabinet and a very low-res gun painting the picture on an old tube, so the picture was anything but sharp.
Even so, there was something about it that just took hold.
It is difficult sometimes to explain what Star Trek meant to someone like me that year. It was amazing. It was miraculous. It was where we wanted to go.
Somehow, Roddenberry and his writers had constructed a thing that had life beyond the edge of the television tube. We knew the Federation had length, breadth, and depth. It had substance. It was a place. Not like anything else on tv at the time that could even begin to call itself science fiction, this was a universe and we knew it would welcome us in if we could just–just—kind of—maybe—slip in there, past the electrons, and sort of step through.
Of course, it did what written SF had been doing for a long time. The difference was the medium. I never knew anyone else growing up who was remotely interested in reading the books and magazines I did. Everyone watched television and more than a few watched Star Trek.
It embedded and evoked an idea of the world and life that extended beyond the ordinary in a way that far exceeded its primitive SFX and pasteboard sets and often mediocre scripting. It wasn’t the individual episodes that mattered, it was the proposed future portrayed.
We didn’t have any of that stuff. Today we have a lot of it.
I saw the entire first run eventually, all in brilliant black-n-white. We didn’t have a color tv till the latter part of the Seventies.
It didn’t matter. I could close my eyes and see all the colors.
My dad, who had a problem with obsession, didn’t like my growing dedication to the show. “Split your head open with an axe and a bunch of starships would fly out of it,” he would say, as if that were a bad thing.
Well, it wasn’t school work.
But today I’m a published science fiction writer, and I didn’t learn how to do that in school.
More, though, in some way the optimism and vision of Star Trek became part of my general make-up. I think I’m a better human being because of it.
It was just so fucking wonderful.
At MidAmeriCon II, the good people at SciFi4Me did an interview. With me. Go fig. But, hey, thank you very much!
Worldcon is over, I am home, weary and pumped and amazed and frazzled. So much happened, it is difficult to sort it out and deal with it cogently.
This may have been the best worldcon experience I have ever had. Barring the first one, way back in 1984, in L.A., when Donna and I roamed around gawking at all the startling stuff and sitting in panels listening to the writers we were reading and finding books in the dealers’ room Walden and Dalton just didn’t stock, the worldcons in between have been mixed bags for us, often fraught with my anxieties of trying to become a pro writer and feeling alternately despairing and enthusiastic. Whipsawed.
Not so this time. Almost from the minute I set foot in the convention center I found myself treated with a collegiality I’ve experienced before but never so thoroughly and consistently.
Over the course of five days, I interacted with peers and pros and fans at nothing but high levels of sometimes ego-boosting wonderfulness.
The best part was finding old friends I didn’t expect to be there. One in particular, a man I met way back at the very first convention I attended, Archon 6, and with whom I’ve had almost no contact for several years, was standing in the dealers’ area. Like a mirage or a ghost, I stared at him a few moments before realizing that, yes, Ed Bryant really was there.
Ed is a short story master. He has several collections to his name and the stories are wonders. He was kind and patient to a young wannabe who often did not know how to take advice. He’s been suffering poor health for some time and I never expected him to show up at a worldcon, but we spent several hours together in conversation, a now cherished experience.
The other face I did not expect to see was that of Daryl Gregory. Daryl has over the last few years become something of a Big Deal, though he would probably dispute that. It wouldn’t matter to me in any case, as we are Clarion classmates and I know whence the droids are buried.
He was in company with his new companion, Liza Groen Trombi, who is top person at Locus Magazine these days. It was a pleasure to make her acquaintance. We all went out one evening for dinner, ending up in typically dramatic fashion almost caught in a thunderstorm. One of those evenings when I glance about for the camera crews and wonder who is in charge of special effects.
The principle motivation for my attending turned out to be one of the best parts. As I said in an earlier post, I had not intended going. But then my agent, Jen Udden, told me she would be there and wanted to meet, so plans changed again.
I am especially glad about this. You can work with someone long distance a lot and work perfectly well, but a face-to-face makes a difference. It adds a layer and validates opinions. I have no idea what she came away with, but I am even more confident that I’m in excellent hands.
We met for lunch at a Kansas City great, Jack Stacks BBQ. I’d never been before. It’s in the freight yard area adjacent to Union Station. I had a bit of a scramble getting there, but made it almost exactly on time (I hate not being punctual). They seated us on the patio and we proceeded to overeat on some of the best barbeque around.
We cabbed back to the hotel and she introduced me to some of her other clients. I reconnected with Maurice Broaddus, whom I’d met several years ago in Ohio.
My panels were all well-attended and produced the kind of discussion I look forward to. The Generation Starship one in particular, in company with Gregory Benford and Pat Cadigan, was a learning experience as well.
I am, as it has turned out, getting too old for the party scene. For one thing, my hearing is not what it once was. If the crowd is too large, I have difficulty sorting out individuals. This was especially hard at the TOR party, which was thunderous. (Someone had a decibel meter app and said it was about 110 db.) But I had to go to Roomcon and hear Bradley Denton in his role as Bland Lemon Denton, play along with Caroline Spector, with extra vocals by Sherri Dean.
The Marriott bar was watering hole central. Meet-ups for dinner and other excursions most often took place there. The SFWA suite was also in the Marriott and it was trhere that I saw the live feed to the Hugo Award ceremony. Though not all, I came in late. But I saw enough to feel very positive about our field. The rockets went to deserving writers for exemplary work. Despite the bellyaching of certain factions in the genre, this year’s winners show how much the work has grown and developed and, if I may say so, matured.
However, George R.R. Martin’s Hugo Losers Party was still the place to be afterward. George had rented a restored movie palace, The Midland, nearby. Attendance was invitation only. I managed to get in (thank you, Paul Burns) and stayed through George’s handing-out of the “Alfies”—Hugo substitutes for those works which had, by some lights, been unfairly pushed off the final ballot this year by the manipulations of a disaffected element.
The Midland is incredible. George spared no expense. The bar was open (courtesy of Random House) and the attendance was…well, let’s just say that no one was sorry to see that element mentioned above be offered a rising finger of salute.
All in all, it was a great party.
The band provided for the night’s festivities was new to me but apparently a K.C. fixture, the Black Crack Review. I asked someone what kind of music they played and was told it would be a blend of George Clinton and Sun Ra. They did not disappoint.
Sunday, like every other last day of a worldcon, was both pleasant and melancholy. I did a podcast interview for SciFi4Me, ran around saying bye to too many people to name, did my autographing session—which was another egoboost, as I had a queue waiting when I arrived—and my last panel, on interstellar colonies (which complemented the earlier one on starships, though the consensus this time was generation ships simply will never happen). I did not stay for closing ceremonies, but instead return with my hosts for a wind-down dinner at their house.
Monday morning I hit the road for St. Louis and made good time.
There are several takeaways from MidAmeriCon II, which was not without its controversies. I will discuss one of those later. But one of the biggies for me was a renewed sense of welcome and excitement. The possibilities of doing new work and being part of what I’ve always considered the best kind of fiction. I’m pumped. Just wait for this new novel.