So… I figure maybe you’ve noticed there’s shit going down in the SF community.
(I feel this statement will be true whether this blog article finds you this week, or next week, or in October, or the weekend of World Fantasy, or on my mother’s birthday. If you want links, ask me. I generally know what’s up.)
Shit, as we know, comes from assholes. But let’s save the sphincter talk for another day. This, my dear friends, is about Us.
We SF/F/H writers are a diverse, talented, beautiful, savvy, well-informed brainalicious hive of stunningly–omg so stunningly–hardworking artists. We labor to churn out novels and stories and poems and jokes and reviews and how-to-write essays for our newest worker bee friends. We donate money we barely have to Kickstart fantastic projects because holy shit, we have to read that book! We Patreonize other stuff. We help each other when we need our DNA sequenced, our roofs patched, our cats vetted, our teeth pulled. We communicate, and we do it better than 90% of everyone. And when justified snarking is called for, in service of truth, justice and the ongoing fight against malignant retrograde thuggery, some of us snark so well! So hilariously and passionately that even though it brings the rest of us flocking ringside to fights we’d rather not witness, the sheer virtuosity of the LOLs make those essays a weird pleasure to read… even as they call down people whose staggering hypocrisy gives us all the runs.
Battles, I feel, aren’t just about the barbwire and the trenches. They’re not just lobbing the poop shells back at the other guys. I appreciate the shell-lobbers. Thank you, thank you, from the bottom of my heart.
Another thing fights are about is morale. And I saw some cries of despair on the Internet this week that made me think that ours may be starting to stink.
I’d like to think there’s an alternate universe somewhere where Chuck Wendig got to spend a morsel of his time and wit and considerable talent this week on a hilarious, profane, cunningly crafted essay about how Saladin Ahmed’s first book should be read aloud at Boy Scout campouts. And in that alternate universe, the thing gets crazy-wide play and thousands of shares. I think we owe it to ourselves to, some fine year, take turns emulating John Scalzi’s Thanksgiving Advent project until it’s a total fucking meme. I want to live in a world where our hilarious giants of the blogosphere don’t have to spent quite so much time looking up the stats and quotes that prove some tiresome dude’s specious homophobic allegations about this person or that one are not only wrong, but ridiculously, mind-bogglingly, allergic-to-logic much? wrong. I want someone to make me laugh until the tears run while saying something unexpected and improbable about how awesome the last SFWA business meeting was and they can’t wait for the next one.
There’s a deep-set cynical part of me that absolutely hates any kind of talk that smacks of what (my interior monologue always wants to assure me) is namby-pamby peace and love positive thinking malarkey. I am not really a here’s my other cheek, go ahead and smack it if you wanna kind of woman. Definitely not why can’t we all just get along? guy. But people, we are a cool fucking community and love–unlike mortgages or even Netflix–is free. I think we could do worse, in terms of upping our game, than writing each other some overt unabashed public goddamn love letters. To claim back a little of the time and energy and attention that’s being devoured, vampirically and with malice, from our pool of creative energy. To shower it on the laudable, the brilliant, the fer the love of YouPickTheDeity deserving. To be about us, if only to remind ourselves that whatever else happens, we’re creatures too fine to let ourselves get sucked down to the bitter hater marrow.
So: Hey, man, I love you guys. Like, ummm… Happy fiftieth, all of SFWA! I OMG hearts and ponies love so much about you. For starters, not a week goes by that I don’t send some student of mine to Writer Beware to keep their ass from getting handed to them by scammers.
I love Susan Palwick for spinning her own wool and praying with sick people when she’s not writing books I love. I love Nicola Griffith and Kelly Eskridge for their lifelong crazy love of music and the Eighties Dance they’ve lobbied for at the upcoming Readercon… when they’re not writing books I love. I love Peter Watts for being hilarious and brainy and questioning every idea I have so closely that every magic system I come up with sounds–after he interrogates it–like it could be quantum physics if only he was writing my stuff instead of me. I love Nalo Hopkinson for making weird lovely dolls and dresses and nurturing new talent. Sarah Chorn, I love the conversation about disability in SF that you’ve brought into the party. I love David Gerrold for trudging the mucky path to the upcoming Hugo Ceremony with dignity and commonsense and even flashes of humor. Thank you, David! I love Pat Cadigan for soliciting hand-crocheted are-you-kidding-me snake hats while she’s doing chemo. I love Michael Bishop for being a superlatively humane human being. I love the writers who created and run the Book View Cafe and Kristine Smith for sharing recipes that make me drool and Gemma Files for knowing every goddamned thing about movies ever. My sippy cup runneth over. I could go on and on and on. We blow my mind.
After each of the above call-outs, please do add the phrase, “… and also being a kick-ass writer.” Because every one of these things–every one of these people and their fiction too–deserves it own standalone essay. I could do a whole separate list just about the books and characters I want to thank so many of you for creating. And another separate list about the amazing editors and publishers who publish our words and make us look even smarter than we are and hire kick-ass illustrators to dress them for the party. There could be a whole other other list for Locus and Clarion and Turkey City and the Science Fiction Museum … well, you get the idea, right?
I will mail a copy of my most recent hardcover, signed in pink Sharpie with a big goddamned heart on it and my sincerest thanks, to the first three people to write one of these love letters. (And to then tell me about it, and send me their address). Maybe you don’t want my recent hardcover; maybe you’d rather have one of my killer story critiques or an ship or island on Stormwrack named after your dog, or an only-available-in-Canada copy of the Bond anthology coming out in November. Maybe you’d rather whatever it was got signed in teal Sharpie. All your Sharpie colors are belong to me. We can talk, is what I’m saying.
I am offering this blatant open challenge cum bribe to you all: now and then, let’s use our time and talent to create and something, here in our lovely shared fictional palace, that splatters the Internet with that same happy we’re all getting from the baby sloth videos we’re turning to, in desperation, after a hard day on the Facebooknets has plunged us into a pit of misanthropy. Let’s give each other the hit of dopamine now and then. We probably won’t use up the Internet’s supply of kitten pics anytime soon, but why take chances?
Fighting the shitzkrieg is non-negotiable. Frontline fighters, I salute and love you! But if we can’t all occasionally jitterbug madly, with a bottle of hootch and the best band we can scrape together on any given moment’s notice… well, I fear that way lies a lot more rubble and far less magical city.
Kelly’s Tor.com novella “Waters of Versailles” will be out next week, on June 10th. It will be available for free reading on the site, as always, but you can also advance-order your very own keeper copy in the Kindle store, via iTunes, from Barnes and Noble, Chapters Indigo or from OmniBooks.
Kelly was working on this story in the months before we decided to leave Vancouver, and on through the stretch when we were, literally, in transition. It was a intense and freaky time, as we scrambled to figure out how to get ourselves and the cats across the country. Even at the height of the chaos, there were mornings where we would get up, walk the mile or so to Kafka’s, on Main Street, and spend a couple hours there drinking espresso and working at their beautiful communal project tables. We were still getting settled, here in Toronto when she finished the novella. Despite a massively multilayered upheaval on our homefront and in our working lives, Kelly didn’t put a foot wrong with the writing.
Sure, I’m biased… but Ellen Datlow says it makes her cry every time she reads it.*
“Waters of Versailles” is historical fantasy, and Kelly sometimes describes it as a story about “sex, magic, and plumbing.” It is also about deciding who you are going to be–about trimming away the frills and focusing on what matters. It is funny, sexy, heartbreaking, and frightening by turns. The backdrop of the palace and courtier culture is rich, beautifully researched, and–just to make it extra rich and delicious–infused with magic.
In other news, it has a gorgeous cover, by artist Kathleen Jennings.
*And all you people who want to sell to Ellen, I bet you want to know what makes her cry. My darling, that’s what.
If you happened to be outside my front window right now, this is what you would see. (Please don’t step on my flowers while you are there, you mad stalker! I actually got some bulbs going that the squirrels have so far neglected to eat.)
My birch trees are busting out fine new leaves, perfect little chlorophyll-laden shapes, with edges like serrated knives, and I have been writing Novel Writing III critiques about a meter from the bird feeder, which is exceedingly popular with the local sparrows.
Yesterday tasted of summer. It was bright and sunny and the house got a little bit stuffy. You could walk outside in a dress. No tights, no coat required. Kelly and I strolled out through a cherry blossom-infested U of T campus to Bloor Street, and a matinee of the film adaptation of Far from the Madding Crowd. This was a speed version of Thomas Hardy. Look, a girl! Look, a boy! Another boy! A third boy! Unhappiness! Misery! Woe! Boom! Conveniently, we’re now back to one available party representing each of the sexes. Someone read the damned banns already.
To sum up my emotional reaction to this particular costume drama: the horses were pretty and nobody got hanged.
We came home, waited for it to cloud over, and climbed into the hot tub. This enabled me, later, to phone Vancouver, say “Thank you for giving me life!” and proceed to brag about how awesome a day it had been.
Today it is cooler and foggy.
I have a schtick on Facebook whereby I’ll often give the cats (whom we adopted 358 days ago, I’ll have you know) super-sekrit spy names for the day. Moose and Squirrel. Joe Dick and Billy Talent. Laundry Chicken and What’s Going On? Today it was Johnny Fever and Venus Flytrap, which has spawned a small conversation about whether anyone could successfully reboot WKRP In Cincinnati and, if so, how? My position is that it would have to start exactly like the Battlestar Galactica reboot: Earth gets nuked, but Cincinatti survives. For obscure reasons (one friend claims this would be Johnny’s paranoia in action) the radio station was shielded against EMP.
Red Wigglers the size of Cadillacs would be roaming the Midwest, which makes it all seem like a mash-up with Dune.
Continuing on with the random, I am pondering a few fine linguistic details within the Stormwrack universe. A few of these came up when I was reviewing the copy-edit of A Daughter of No Nation. I got a query about when I use “in Fleet” as opposed to when I use “the Fleet.” (Answer: ‘in Fleet’ when they mean the city, and the words ‘in Tacoma’ could be used just as correctly. ‘The Fleet’ when we’re talking about the subsection that is a navy: “We’ll be sending the Fleet around to see if you’re in compliance with the Treaty.”) I had been doing this correctly but without conscious thought.
And here’s something that doesn’t happen to literary writers all that often: I had already known that the portions of the Hidden Sea Tales that take place on Stormwrack (as opposed to in San Francisco) were playing out, linguistically, in Fleetspeak. This means that those scenes played out in Fleet and were translated, by me, into present-day English. This is something that’s essentially invisible to everyone but my wacky imagination, but it became something of an entertaining conceit through the copy-edit process.
See, I’m no Tolkien. (I know, you’re shocked.) I don’t actually speak Fleetspeak. And the poor copy-editor really doesn’t speak Fleetspeak. So there was a bit of them going “Here’s a foreign word,” and me going, “No, that’s actually a real English science word. I had to look it up, too.” And them going “Here’s another foreign word ,” and me going, “It’s not foreign in Fleetspeak.”
Them: “Here’s another another foreign word.
Me: “Yes, that one’s Erinthian. Obvs. We can italicize that.”
None of which actually happened face to face, you understand. I’m describing a process of me talking to pencil marks on a 600-page manuscript that is now, blessedly, wrapped, taped, bar-coded and in the hands of Canada Post.
The c/e did a meticulous, thoughtful job and I’m so fucking grateful you can’t even imagine.
Finally, I am groping for a verb I can noun (or a noun I can verb) to describe a particular element of the magical inscription process, whereby a spellscribe takes an existing spell and creates a variation on it. I played with embroidering, but it’s long and unwieldy and not quite right. The embroidered spell? A broidery?
The closest equivalent to the variation/embroidery process would be someone taking a fiddly gourmet recipe and creating an undeniably different–but recognizably similar–food. Going from curried plantains in coconut milk to… maybe something with green mangos?
Why am I not currying plantains tonight? Why am I not currying plantains right now?
(This post ends with a Gotham spoiler.)
I walked into Portland Variety this morning and my order was already sitting out waiting for me; coffee freshly poured, almond financier plated, two baristas, one representing each of the majority genders, grinning with that genial “Ha ha gotcha!” face that you just have to love.
Then I headed into the back and an adorable young man whom I’d swear I’d never seen before looked up from his MacAir. He said, in purest dulcet tones: “I know this is your table, but I’m leaving in just a minute. If you want me to clear out now I can totally do that.”
To which, obviously, I said “Oh honey, that’s insane, I can work anywhere.”
It kinda made me feel like Don Falcone. Only cooler, with less tendency to speak in a weird mash-up of upspeak and a monotone, and vastly less likely to go strangling people for reminding me of my mother.
Yeah, boss, we gotcha table forya. You want we should take this guy out in the alley and teach ‘im a lesson?
Clearly I am terrifying.
Yesterday I threw together a quick post about how things have been filled with what we around here, semi-ironically, call virtue: writing, teaching, flossing, hard work, tax accounting, healthy food, yoga, and sincere attempts to get 7-8 hours of sleep a night. I wanted to let you all know I hadn’t died or forgotten how to blog, more than anything.
Now I want to just as quickly throw together a note about a few attempts, made recently, to tarnish up that hardworkin’ halo. Because what that kind of behavior gets you, eventually, is burned the fuck out. I know it, you know it. (The cats, they don’t know it. This is because they get halo points from activities like stealing lettuce, one leaf at a time, out of the salad bowl and licking it to death in various corners of the apartment.)
Fun things! I bought us tickets to see Second City’s How to Kill a Comedian. We went on the Thursday before the long weekend; it was like a sketch comedy version of all the political things that sift up in my Facebook feed. Laughs were had. Also bellinis.
Kelly and I also went to a very convivial gathering of writers and book lovers on Good Friday,in a part of town we hadn’t seen.
Marine disasters! I am reading Eric Larson’s Dead Wake: The Last Crossing of the Lusitania aloud to Kelly in some of our downtime. The kittens join us on the bed and roll around looking adorable while we learn about people getting torpedoed, sunk, and drowned.
Lakefront birding! Part of my necessary mental process for writing requires a certain amount of walking around outside, staring blankly at things like the lake. To that end, I finally made it to Humber Bay Park East a couple weekends ago, and shot many icicles as well as this red-necked grebe and some other birds.
It turns out this is the park I’ve been looking for since I got here: big, easy to get to, bird-infested, open seven days a week, and with deliciously varied terrain. Barb and I used to go to Jericho Beach every couple of months to chase bunnies, raptors, warblers and hummingbirds. This has a very different look, of course, but there’s a similar feeling and I am excited about exploring it more.
Marital Disasters! A Masterpiece adaptation of Hilary Mantel’s Wolf Hall is on. It has Damian Lewis as Henry VIII. If this is news to you, I totally understand if you need to go hyperventilate into a brown paper bag now. OMG, OMG, OMG.