April 25, 2012

There are no small presses

Only small readers.

Here are a couple of books I read recently (both from Night Shade Books):

The first is Of Blood and Honey by Stina Leicht. It's the story of Liam, a young Catholic who finds himself in the middle of the Troubles in Northern Ireland. Only he's also half-fairy, and a shapeshifter. Oh, and that world is at war too, with demons. I picked this book up because the crankiest reader I know raved about it, and he was right. The novel is nothing like what I might have expected, eyes rolling, from a book about the fey. It's gritty and violent and pulls no punches. If Tinkerbell were to show up in this world, someone would be sure to beat her to death. Maybe a Catholic priest.

The second one is Soft Apocalypse by Will McIntosh. It's a story about a group of people trying to survive a slow, frighteningly plausible apocalypse. Jasper is one of the unfortunate people--like me--who followed their hearts in college. He finds himself among the 40% of people who are unemployed, homeless and wandering with a a"tribe" of similarly unlucky folk. We get to watch the world fall down around these people. Sometimes things get better--Jasper gets a job! And an apartment! And sometimes a girlfriend!--but overall things go steadily down the tubes. Throughout it all, Jasper looks for love. This focus in unusual in an apocalyptic work, but that's part of what makes this book different: the tribe doesn't know what we know--that the world they knew isn't coming back--and they struggle to remain themselves without knowing what the rules of their world are. The Soft Apocalypse has ways of changing a person, sometimes through violence, sometimes through viruses, and these characters care about keeping their humanity. This is one of the most real feeling books about the end of the world that I've read (and yeah, that's not a small sample). The characters could easily be us.

The outstanding thing about my reading Soft Apocalypse isn't that I loved it (although I did). The awesome thing is that I read the book on the recommendation insistence of Jeremy Lassen, publisher of Night Shade Books, having just met him, because he knew I'd love it. It's obvious that he knows and loves his books the way parents are supposed to love their children.

And in the conversation I stuck my foot in my mouth, saying, "That's why I love small presses."

Lassen set me straight right away. Night Shade Books isn't a small press; it's an independent publisher. But I think my comment still stands. I love publishing that cares. Regardless of size.

April 23, 2012

Do Not Feed the Inner Editor

The life of an "emerging" writer (imagine a sleepy bear coming out of a cave, skinny from hibernation and hungry and cranky--or a butterfly, whatever) is a cycle of 1) write something, 2) send it to a market, 3) get rejected, and 4) repeat steps 2-3 until either it gets accepted or you get so sick of it that you stop trying.

See? This bear is so desperate it's eating grass.

This is the pattern I'm used to, and though it has (many!) downsides, there is one upside: if you're like me and you don't know much about markets or editors' preferences in the first place, you're free to pretty much write whatever you're compelled to write, and worry about finding it a happy home later.

There's another pattern, which until lately was purely theoretical to me. In this version, 1) an editor approaches the writer and asks for a story, 2) the writer writes the story, and 3) if it's acceptable, the editor buys it. The thing I'm procrastinating on right now is writing one of these stories.

This is awesome for a number of reasons. For one, even though the editor is a friend and I can't totally shake the feeling that this gig is charity, it does make me feel less like something that's emerging, all covered in cocoon juice or dried leaves, and more like a "real" writer. Also, it's refreshing not to worry about placing a story. In theory, this should be freeing up my mind to write it.

But my mind is a frustrating thing, and apparently not well-suited to looking on the bright side. Now that I have a specific audience to write for--a specific editor, and one whose tastes I'm fairly familiar with--my mind gets to obsess about what that editor will think. Every writer has an inner editor who lives in our heads, right? And in order to get any real work done we have to get that jerk to shut up. Well, now my inner editor has a friend. And getting them both to shut up is a challenge.

Inner Editor does not approve this post.

April 12, 2012

Spring: Season of False Hopes

Subtitle: How a Seattle Spring is like Duotrope

This blue sky? It's a lie.

This morning when I looked outside it was gorgeous, not a cloud in the sky. Trees everywhere are making mad love everywhere, blooming extravagantly in white and pink. Green things are poking through the earth and looking at each other like expectant groundhogs. It's spring!

By noon dark grey clouds filled the sky. It rained a few drops. The thin coat I'd worn to the coffee shop was insufficient to keep the wintry wind from chilling me.

This is spring in Seattle. You know it's spring because the calendar and the Internet say so. In theory, it's just over two months to summer. But you know in your heart that the calendar lies. Summer isn't just around the corner; it won't show up until at least July. Hell, it might not come at all.

Okay, so here's my analogy. Warm weather is like publishing a story. And knowing it's supposed to be spring is like watching Duotrope.com. For those of you who aren't familiar with it, it's a wonderful resource for writers, a wonderfully up-to-date database of markets complete with submission guidelines, response times, and lists of recent responses. If you're a writer and you haven't been there yet, go now!

But as fantastic as Duotrope is, it's also horrible. You can go in there (as I did today) and obsess over late responses. You can look at recent responses and theorize that you'll get a rejection soon, or worse, you can theorize that since your response is taking longer than average, surely an acceptance is just around the corner.

I did this today, and literally as I was looking at a late market and mentally spending my semi-pro payment, the rejection arrived in my inbox. Like clouds and cold rain.

April 11, 2012

Casual Sexism for the . . . Win?

After all these years believing that I am a person despite sensibly keeping my gonads on the inside, the sexism is getting to me.

There are the obvious laws: various attempts to figuratively and literally get inside women's reproductive systems, Wisconsin's regressive non-equal pay shocker, and other legislation that baffles the mind. There's the mud-slinging and conversation that goes along with these things: Limbaugh and other horrible trolls, that cracked.com article about misogyny, Amanda Marcotte's lovely response. In the SF genre, there's this thought-provoking take on the Christopher Priest rant. And many, many more.

I can almost handle most of these things, filing them under "discourse about important topics." In fact, many of the responses do an amazing job of delineating oft-invisible things. But lately I feel like that kid in The Sixth Sense. Except instead of seeing dead people I see sexism. All the time. Some of them don't even know they're sexist.

"So, I should judge her by her attractiveness?"

April 01, 2012

The Hunger Games, race, and the "default white"

Seeing humanity's worst on teh interwebs is nothing new.

So I guess I wasn't surprised by the small but heinous outcry against Rue's casting in the movie version of The Hunger Games. If you're unaware, start with this Jezebel article.

This has got me thinking (harder than usual) about character descriptions and reader expectations. In a workshop in graduate school Mary Anne Mohanraj once called me out on something called the "default white." See, I had written a story in which none of the characters' ethnicities or skin colors were mentioned except for one person of color. I hadn't even realized I'd done it.

And just in case you were wondering, I am white. (I'm not sure if there's a default for authors with other skin colors).

And yeah, I do--and especially did, as a younger writer--tend to write characters who are like me. Apparently I did not feel the need to define these characters as white, whereas if a character was unwhite I did. Shame on me. Seriously.

But here's the thing. One of the pleasures of reading is imagining one's self in the story. We find characters that we like and that we identify with, and we root for those people. One of the wonderful and frustrating things about writing is that no matter what we write, readers are going to bring their own interpretations to it. This means that if writers want readers to imagine a character a certain way, they have to be very very clear about it.

Suzanne Collins was clear about many of her characters. Rue, for example. For a partial list, see this other Jezebel article. As you can see, some of them are unclear. But on the whole the movie's actors are much paler than the book characters. And that's . . . whatever. I don't want to guess at the filmmakers' motives.

In fact, I don't want to guess at anyone's motives. I am taking this kerfuffle as a cue to look at my own writing and work on clarity of description of all the things that are important. I am looking to my own habits as a reader, and reminding myself to always read closely.

Is race one of those important things? That is a much bigger question than I can handle.

But to white Hunger Games viewers who are upset by seeing dark-skinned characters: STFU. Guess what? Human skin comes in lots of shades, and kids who don't look like you should get to see themselves reflected on screen too.