Know When to Hold ‘Em and When to Fold ‘Em

December 12, 2014 in About Kelly, Musings, Writing

Almost every professional writer or artist or performer that I know has a deciding-not-to-quit story—that moment when they decided to persist in the face of great adversity and keep writing or dancing or pursuing their photography. It’s the nature of the beast, it’s a tough, draining, demoralizing road, and sometimes you want to give up…and that’s okay. Sometimes giving up is the right answer. Sometimes, you’re not on the right road. I say this as someone who has succeeded at writing to a degree that’s incredibly rare. I also say this as someone who decided to quit, and walked away from acting.

I didn’t always want to be a writer. In fact, I didn’t seriously try to write anything for publication until I was in my early twenties. My degree is in theater with a performance focus. At the age of eleven I stumbled into an acting class by accident—a story I’ve told elsewhere. I stumbled into acting and I fell in love. I was a pudgy awkward kind of kid, raised on Shakespeare as much as Tolkien, with a storyteller’s instincts and a quick mind. Theater was perfect for me.

It let me play at being someone else—someone better and more handsome and funnier—and it gave me a sort of simulated popularity that I’d never experienced before. When I was on the stage I was cool, and I could make people laugh or clap—or, at least, that’s how it felt when I got the laughter and applause. It felt great, and I became wholly focused on the goal of becoming an actor from around the age of twelve. I took classes, I acted in plays, I did improv, and various sorts of performing with Renaissance festivals. I was quite good, and I know people from those days who say that they thought I was one of the few who could actually make it and earn a living as a performer.

They’re probably right. I could probably have made it to a place where I was getting enough character parts in paying shows to barely scrape by…at least for a while. But I was never going to make it big. I was never going to become a star of stage or film. At best, I might have become a big fish in some local community theater pond. That’s nothing to laugh at or condemn, but it’s not what I wanted.

I wanted the dream, and I simply wasn’t hungry enough, or pretty enough, or funny enough to manage it. I wanted it, but other people wanted it more, and many of them were better than I was ever going to be. I mostly pretended to myself that wasn’t true, but there were moments where I could see it, and again, there’s no shame in that. I was good, and I could have been very good, but you have to be great, and lucky, and, to borrow a phrase from the late Jay Lake, you have to have psychotic persistence. Being gorgeous is a huge help too. But I kept at it. I worked hard to get better. I tried.

And then I met the woman I was eventually going to marry, and I started thinking more deeply about my future and what I could accomplish and what would make me happy, and I had to make the hardest decision I’d ever made to that point, the decision to quit theater. I still loved it, and to this day there are parts of the whole enterprise that I miss enormously, but it was never going to make me happy, because I was never going to get where I wanted to go with it. So, I walked away, and I haven’t done a show since. It wasn’t easy and it still hurts sometimes, like I cut a part of myself off forever, but it was the right choice, and I’ve never doubted that. Just like I’ve never doubted my decision not to quit writing at a particularly low point in my life a decade or so ago.

I have friends who’ve walked away from the arts completely and who are much happier for it. Sometimes, you have to fold your cards and walk away from that particular table. Sometimes, quitting is the right choice.

A number of years ago I was sitting around a table with a bunch of novelists at the World Fantasy Convention talking about the people we knew who had started when we did but then later walked away from writing for one reason or another. It was very much an Auld Lang Syne moment—old friends fallen away as time passed and the road grew too steep or the costs to high for them to keep along the path—and every one of us was aware how easily that could have been us. I know people who are better natural writers than I am who couldn’t continue, or harder workers, or who got a much faster start. We all did. There’s no shame in it, only sadness for what might have been. On Thursday, my brother-in-law and fellow Wyrdsmith announced his decision to fold out of the game. I wrote this mostly for him, but also for all the other writers I know who’ve made that same decision.

So, deciding not to quit or deciding to quit. I’ve made both choices in my life, and I don’t regret either one. The important thing isn’t what you ultimately decide, it’s that you make the right decision for you.

Reblog: A Question Answered

December 7, 2014 in About Kelly, Musings, Reblogging Project

Lately I’ve been posting a lot on Facebook and Twitter about vivid and bizarre dreams. Someone asked me where I get these things, and I thought that since the answer is writing related I’d toss it up here as well:

Unusual density of cross-linking in my neural networks. Or at least that’s the operating theory as it’s strongly in sync with family medical history. It’s part of why I write. When I’m writing a lot, I don’t remember my dreams much at all and when I do they’re almost always about the story I’m working on and useful to moving the story forward. When I’m writing less, my dreams tend to be wildly uncontrolled and extremely vivid. Since I’m currently in wait and see mode for which project is next up, I’m not really writing and the side effects are starting to get me.
(Originally published on the Wyrdsmiths blog Dec 31 2009, and original comments may be found there. Reposted and reedited as part of the reblogging project)

Julie and Julia (Movie Review)

November 15, 2014 in Musings, Reblogging Project

I went and saw Julie and Julia with my now on sabbatical wife yesterday. We biked up to the theater and got in about two minutes into the movie, thus possibly missing something. Overall it was a fun sweet movie.

The thing I liked the most about it was it got the little moments of publishing exactly right: The hit in the gut as you prepare to open what you’re sure is going to be the umpteenth rejection for something you love. The sheer jubilation of an acceptance or seeing that first book. The little happy spurt from fan response.

Yay for all that.

The thing I liked the least about it was the perpetuation of the stereotypes of the neurotic, self-absorbed, and/or clueless writer: It had the “I’m not a writer if I’m not published” freakout. The complete clueless wild-ass-guess about typical advances. The complete lack of clue on figuring out how to deal with publishers ahead of time. Etc.

Now, those stereotypes work because an awful lot of writers are subject to one or another of them, and a lot of writers do learn about business the hard way by signing bad contracts or doing stupid things with their careers, or totally relying on the Cinderella faerie godmother mode of success to whack them upside the head with the publishing stick. At the same time it has never been easier to learn how not to do those things. There are a million and one resources on the web for learning about the business of writing and understanding what is and is not likely to happen.

Someday I would like to see an aspiring writer who has done their homework and who understands what they’re getting into portrayed on the big screen. I think it would be simply lovely to see some story about the writing life that didn’t rely on the same old conflicts and stresses.

Which is not to say that I didn’t like the movie—I did, quite a lot, actually—just that it didn’t cover a lot of new ground.

(Originally published on the Wyrdsmiths blog Aug 29 2009, and original comments may be found there. Reposted and reedited as part of the reblogging project)

A Part, Yet Apart

November 11, 2014 in About Kelly, Cons, Musings, Professionalism, Publishing, Reblogging Project

So, I’ve been thinking about the science fiction convention experience and wondering if I’m alone in my relationship with cons or whether it’s something more general to writers attempting to make their way up the pro ladder. Because, as a professional genre writer I find that I feel both a part of the convention community and apart from it.

It has not always been this way for me. I am a 3rd generation fan, my mother and grandmother were part of the effort to save the original Star Trek series and somewhere around here I have a typewritten note from the series producers thanking them for their efforts, along with a black and white publicity photo. OTOH, they were not convention going fans. It wasn’t until I was 15 that I first went to a convention, the old MiniCon, when it was huge.

I had a blast. And for about a decade I went to MiniCon every year. Then, for various reasons I stopped going. It was about the same time that I got really serious about my writing and decided to make a career of it, but the two events were largely unrelated. Then for maybe 6-8 years I didn’t attend a con. I finally started going to conventions again in my early 30s with WisCon, which I first went to for the combined allure of a writer heavy convention and a feminist/academic convention. Since my wife is an academic who does research on women in science from within the physics department she now chairs, it made for a great twofer.

Because WisCon is much more professional and academically oriented than MiniCon was, it took me a number of years to notice how my relationship with conventions had changed. It wasn’t until I started going to MarsCon and CONvergence in the Twin Cities that it really hit home.

I used to go to cons as a fan/actor and make costume/clothes changes every couple of hours. I never went to panels. I always went to parties. I wanted to make a certain kind of splash and I often did. I certainly gave the concom people reason to roll their eyes at me on occasion, like when I was playing in the pool in 30 pounds of chainmail or sliding down the steel slope between the escalators. I felt completely immersed in the experience and as though I was surrounded by my people.

When I returned to the convention scene I did so in professional clothes (I even wore a suit coat from time to time, though I draw the line at ties). I attended and was on tons of panels, mostly about writing. I rarely went to parties. I went out of my way to not stress out the concom folks. I was shooting for a very different kind of splash.

Now, some of that is simply that I did an enormous amount of growing up between the two phases of my convention-going, but a lot of it had to do with my changed relationship to the genre. I no longer saw the creators of the various f&sf media as people apart from me, people whose job it was to entertain me. I had come to think of them as my peers and, in ever growing numbers, my friends. Andre Norton was no longer ANDRE NORTON! She was someone I shared an agent with. Instead of seeing NEIL GAIMAN, I see someone I’ve had tea with. The concom was no longer a mysterious entity whose radar it was best to keep off of. Rather, the people running the convention are long time friends and  acquaintances.

At the same time I’ve grown closer to the people making things run at conventions and the creators of the field, I’ve grown more distant from the general population of fans. That’s partially because you interact differently with someone who is a fan of yours than you do with someone with whom your primary point of commonality is a shared fandom of someone else, and partially because knowing more creators and more about the process makes me much more reluctant to indulge in some of the more nasty sorts of criticism I once might have made. It’s not so much that I don’t have strong opinions about whether I like something or not as that I’m much more reluctant to think of my taste as being the same thing as good taste or to claim that there is one true standard of quality. Again, a lot of that is simply growing up, but not all of it.

So, while I find that I go to many more conventions than I used to and that I still love the experience I have in some ways stepped out of my old role as a part of the clan and into a new one that holds me at least a little bit apart from the clan. It’s role that I am proud to have assumed, but it is not always a comfortable one.

(Originally published on the SFNovelists blog Aug 2009, and original comments may be found there. Reposted and reedited as part of the reblogging project)

CONvergence 2009 GoH Report

November 4, 2014 in About Kelly, Cons, Events/Appearaces, Musings, Reblogging Project, Surreal

CONvergence 2009 day 1 (W) Kelly’s Con Report

I’m going to break my con report across multiple days because it was a really experience dense con for me. 2014 edited to add: I have compiled it back into one post for the reblogging project.
Packing and the drive in

Getting everything we needed for GoHing at a 4 day convention into the Smart was a fun challenge. It was also really cool to drive the brand new micro-car in to the convention. It was the last time I was allowed to drive for the weekend as both Laura and I were concerned that I would be too distracted once things got going.

Arrival

Laura and I arrived on Wednesday evening and were met by Mandy Temple who gave us our room keys in the club floors of the north tower. We unloaded and grabbed some snacks at the club lounge then checked the room out–pausing periodically to look down at the Smart and squee. After unpacking we headed down to the pre-con reception.

Reception

The reception was a big informal event with snacks and drinks and fabulous cake.

I met up with my guest liaisons there, Lisa and Jenn who had signed up for the task of making sure I made it to all my programming and generally catering to my every whim as a GoH, tasks at which they excelled. I also met liaisons Anton and Megan, and Mandy’s husband Mark. I met several of the others as well but the six named here are the ones who primarily took care of Laura and I. The liaison corps is incredible and we were pretty much treated like royalty for the duration of our stay with the con, though I am perhaps a bit too midwestern to revel in it as much as I should have.

Other points of note:

This is when I got my amazing custom designed badge and signed a poster with the same Mel/Connie art as the badge for the chai drink recipe they asked me to concoct for Cof2e2 (the con’s coffee house). I called my drink the Tickled Goblin: chai, milk, chocolate, and whipped cream. I also chatted with a young fan named Jon who was quite excited to meet the author of a book he very much liked.

I was already pretty dazed by everything as I was introduced to Chris Jones (who did the amazing badge art) and Jon Olsen (who was involved in THACO) as well as several more con-com folks. I also re-met Peter Verrant and Michael Lee. After that I sat around with Laura and Pat Rothfuss and chatted with an ever-changing circle of people, many of them old friends, including Tim, Pat, Karl, Jody, Angie, Ed, and several more folks whose names are currently escaping me–have I mentioned that I’m really bad at names? After a while the reception wound down and Mandy escorted us back up to our room to make sure we were comfortable.

Post-reception

We chatted very briefly with Mandy as she dropped off a big bag of snacks and soda (they’d asked me for a list several days before) and my master schedule, which included several non-public events like the GoH group photo shoot and my interview time and location. I also handed off the items I’d brought for the charity auction: a copy of the Weird Tales that debuted my first story (the original WebMage short), a limited edition promotional paperback that ACE put out with a number of authors’ first chapters entitled “Urban Noir,” and a custom license plate (Womp Rat) from a Hyundai I’d owned back in 2001–a Hyundai’s not much bigger than 2 meters….

After that, Laura and I collapsed in a happy heap and went to sleep.

CONvergence 2009 day 2 (Th) Kelly’s Con Report

Pre-Panel

Started the morning with breakfast at the Original Pancake House with Mandy, Mark, Megan, Laura and returning GoH Brian Keene who I’d never met before–great guy. OPH can do most of their pancakes and waffles gluten free which made them a great fit for Laura. Wonderful food and good company.

Afterward we headed back and wandered around the con for a bit, catching up with numerous friends, and people-watching–which latter is one of the great joys of CONvergence. I didn’t have anything scheduled until five, and was pretty much free to roam until then, so we did.

Panel

My first panel was at five “Going from a Poor Unpublished Author to a Poor Published Author” with fellow GoH Pat Rothfuss. It was pretty much the Pat and Kelly show and a fun panel since I like Pat (having previously guested with him at the Chippewa Valley Book Festival) and we play off each other well. The focus was mostly on how you get from writing to getting paid for writing, and surrounding subtopics.

Opening Ceremony

My next event was Opening Ceremonies scheduled for seven, where I would have the arduous task of standing up and waving to the crowd when they introduced me. Yay, very hard to blow standing up and waving, right?

The plan was to head over about ten minutes before the event began and meet my liaisons for an escort down to the front row. At a quarter to seven we were standing on the bridge-side balcony overlooking the pool. At the time I noted that we needed to get moving in about four minutes, since we didn’t have far to go. Five minutes later, my liaison Jenn, magically appeared to let us know it was time to escort us over to the main stage. Let me note that I hadn’t seen either of my liaisons in over an hour, nor noticed anyone else from the liaison corps. Yet, in the very instant that I was in danger of being a minute late, Jenn appeared. I will happily recommend any of the CONvergence liaisons for Secret Service duty should they want.

So, then we get into the back of the main stage and find out that the previous event is running a little long. I took that as a sign that I had a moment to duck off to the men’s room and did so. When I came back I discovered that from the back Jenn and Laura are very nearly twins (see my pictures below). I managed (only just) not to wrap my arms around the wrong redhead and we waited two more minutes before heading down to our seating.

Okay, you remember that I noted that all I had to do was stand up and wave at the right moment? Well, I blew it by standing up way too early and then being stuck there for some time when the very on top of it techies hit me with a spotlight through my whole intro. Everyone else, perhaps learning from my mistakes, got it right, standing briefly at the end of their intros. Sigh.

BTW, I normally skip opening ceremonies at conventions for a variety of reasons, but these were fabulous–fast, funny, and soon over. Several of the other GoH with much more experience at this whole routine told me that these were the best they’d ever seen.

Dinner

After the ceremonies we headed out for dinner. We being me, Laura, fellow GoHs Pat Rothfuss and Dwayne McDuffie, Dwayne’s fiancee Charlotte Fullerton (who writes for a number of television shows), Anton, Megan, and fellow Wyrdsmith Sean Murphy (who is also my brother-in-law). Over the next 2-1/2 hours we had a wide-ranging discussion about art, politics, religion, and all those things you talk about with smart opinionated people. 2014 Editing to add that this dinner stands out in my memory five years later as one of the great dinner conversations of my life, and I am so happy that I got the chance to meet and really talk with Dwayne McDuffie before death stole him from all of us way too early. Every time I think about that loss I cry.

And then to bed.

Since Friday was going to be my longest day of the convention Laura and I headed to bed pretty much right after dinner.

CONvergence 2009 day 3 (Fri) Kelly’s Con Report

Breakfast

We had breakfast at the OPH again, this time with Dwayne, Charlotte, Anton, and Anton’s friend Tom. Laura had banana pancakes, and I had basted eggs and country bacon, yum. More cool conversation. Dwayne, like Laura is a physicist, and Charlotte told an amazingly cool story about meeting Jim Henson when she was a kid and how he helped her start down the path to becoming a TV writer.

Programming!

I was highly scheduled on Friday with no passing time between my first three events, which meant I was a little late to my reading. If not for the efficiency of my liaison Jenn, I’d have been a lot late, and probably never have found the photo shoot.

12:30 PM: Beta Reading: Relying on the Honesty of Friends (Panelist(s): Kelly McCullough, Elise Matthesen, M. K. Melin, Kathy Sullivan

This was a fun panel with a lot of useful advice on how to give and receive critique.

1:00 PM: GoH group photo shoot.

We got a tour of the back passages of the hotel on our way to this event, which was in a section of ballroom seemingly cut off from everything but the catering entrance. We were all pretty punchy for the session and got some great silly shots including one with Joel Hodgson punching me in the jaw and another recreating the shooting of Jack Ruby–did I mention we were really punchy? The final, official, version has Dwayne and I and a couple of others holding Joel horizontally in the air in front of the rest of the group. Dwayne’s taking most of the weight with me getting much of the rest. There was also a really great group shot with us and all of the liaisons. Afterward we signed copies of our badges and a number of tee-shirts as prizes for various awards and charity purposes. As a side note, we also signed a set of the group shots on Saturday for similar purposes.

2:00 PM: Kelly McCullough GOH Reading

I was about 8 minutes late to my own reading, and then it took a couple more minutes to get started as the con was giving Inkheart tees away to people who showed up in an unannounced prize. I read from SpellCrash, the forthcoming final book in the WebMage series and it seemed to go over well. I was still mighty punchy though, so I did more humorous and editorial asides than I might have otherwise. Also, being late meant I was forced to end with my protagonists falling through space, instead of at the rest point I’d hoped to get to a couple of pages later. After the reading, one of the people from the MNPoly room party stopped by to invite us to stop by and see the life-size mural they’d done of my Furies as part of their Greek gods theme–punchy as I was this didn’t fully register but I did jot down the room number and promise to drop by.

3:30 PM: Inserting Humor Into Your Writing
(Panelist(s): Kelly McCullough, Brian Keene, M. K. Melin, S.D. Hintz, Jerrod Balzer, Patrick Rothfuss

I think there were actually even more of us there because of one or two late additions, and the room was packed. The panel went all right due to handing over the moderation to Pat, who isn’t afraid to be a hard-ass moderator, but it was a little unfocused as usually happens with large panels.

Before the panel, my liaisons stopped by to make sure I got fed, and somewhere in here is when I started leaning on them for stuff that I just didn’t have the time to do. I asked Jenn to fetch me some caffeine, and either she or Lisa kept showing up with diet coke when I needed it thereafter and Megan offered to run grab me some egg rolls from the con-suite which sounded lovely, so she sprinted off to fetch them. Have I mentioned how very taken care of I felt at this con? Thank you all!

Afterward another of the MNPoly folks stopped by to let me know about the mural. She also noted that she was cross-playing as Raven from my books. At this point the idea of a mural and someone dressing as one my characters seemed cool, but still didn’t really sink in due to the intensity of my schedule thus far.

That’s also when the folks from the House of Toast stopped by and got me to come up with a toast recipe–which I wrote on the paper plate they handed me and then signed, promising to try to stop by their party later.

5:00 PM: Why Writers Should Archive
(Panelist(s): Kelly McCullough, Meredith Gillies, Elise Matthesen, Lynne Thomas

Another fun one. Lynne, who archives my stuff, graciously consented to be the moderator. In addition to being a fine moderator, she is both articulate and funny. So are Meredith, who I had never met before, and Elise. That’s really all you need for a good panel, but this one also had the fact that all of us are passionate on the topic going for it. Oh, and props. Meredith had brought some copies of items from her collection (she runs the giant bat cave under the U of Mn) and I had hauled along a box of manuscripts that I needed to pass off to Lynne.

Intermission

In which I slipped my handlers’ leash and went to dinner with friends from out of state. Okay, that’s not completely true. I asked my liaisons nicely what I needed to do if I was going to go off grid for a bit and let them know where I was going and that I would be back after dinner. Laura and I then went to dinner at the Good Earth with our friends Tom Foster (who was Laura’s office mate in grad-school) and Pamela Gay (who is a big name astronomy podcaster among the many science outreach hats she wears).

Furies…OMFFSM!

So, after dinner we stopped back at the room, dropped some stuff off and then headed for the parties. We did stop in at House of Toast briefly in here, but they were really packed and we ended up getting distracted by something shiny and wandering off before we got any toast 🙁 We also stopped at COF2E2 and I had a Tickled Goblin which was actually quite yummy.

Then we went to MNPoly and there were my Furies and Jess in Raven garb, and I pretty much stripped all the remaining gears on my mental transmission. The red carpet treatment and all the attention I was getting had already made this both a fabulous and surreal weekend and led to midwestern me losing a steadily increasing number of gear teeth–going further and further into a sort of state of shock–but the mural and crossplay just completely blew my mind. I was really stunned and humbled and it wasn’t until we came back a bit later with Lynne and Michael Thomas, and Michael made some comment about how cool it was that I had someone cosplaying my main character and life-size fan art that it actually sank in. WOW, just WOW.

Later, (~10:30) as I was standing on the bridge-side balcony people-watching and trying to process the whole experience, Brian Keene came along with a couple of bottles of really smooth bourbon and sent one of his liaison’s off to find a cup for me–Laura can’t drink it because of possible gluten issues (2014 ETA: new research has shown bourbon is fine for celiacs, so YAY SCIENCE!). His timing couldn’t have been better, because A) I was still kind of shocky, and B) I had agreed to do a bit for villification tennis at 11:00 that included me taking a stage kick to the groin and I hadn’t done stage-combat or any kind of show in years, which meant that, C) a little loosening up was called for. The bourbon definitely loosened me up.

11:00 PM Vilification Tennis Main Stage

Having never been to a Vilification Tennis match before I didn’t really know what to expect beyond having a vague idea that two sides would be hurling (often unprintable) insults at each other. This despite the fact that VT and I had overlapped at the Ren Fest by a year or two.

The intro delivered by Tim Wick who is the VT referee was both very funny and quite offensive. That’s the point, and it was strongly suggested that if you could be offended now was the time to leave. After the initial part of the intro Tim wandered up to the front of the audience and introduced and picked on me, well us really, Tim, myself, and our old friend Karl who wasn’t there. Tim and I have known each other since we were 6 and have been friends since we were 9 and Tim killed my very first D&D character, so there was a fairly rich vein to tap in terms of growing up geek together. Not, as Tim pointed out, that either of us has moved out of geekdom.

Apparently being a middle-aged balding science fiction author who is married to a physicist doesn’t make me one of the cool kids. Who knew?

My bit in VT was a sort of half-time interlude in the shape of a family-feudesque gameshow, played for laughs not points. We got quite a few. I also got a mock “kick in the junk,” a knee actually, but kick was the phrasing in the question. Apparently I haven’t forgotten how to make it look real, since I got a number of very concerned sounding “are you okays?” from the other players. Oh, and I also got rug burn on my knees–from a different bit about which I can only say: “Khaaaaan!”

Then it was over and very late and time for me to go to bed.

CONvergence 2009 day 4 (Sat) Kelly’s Con Report

Getting going

As some of you may recall I ended Friday in a case of complete gearstrippage due to all the cool stuff that had happened. Thus I began Saturday in a sort of advanced state of shock exacerbated by knowing what my first panel was going to be. More on which, later.

I had an earlyish panel, so we didn’t have time to got for breakfast and I just asked my liaison if she could grab a couple of sausage and egg biscuity things from Burger King for me and some yogurt for Laura and bring them by the room. I found asking for this remarkably hard to do, despite the fact that that’s one of the reasons they assign us liaisons.

I’m not that into me

So, my first panel on Saturday was one that I had very mixed feelings about beforehand:

11:00 AM: The Works of Kelly McCullough (Panelist(s): Kelly McCullough, Eric Heideman (mod), David Lenander (mod)

The reason for this is that I’m just not that into me. Now, don’t get me wrong, I’ve got a very healthy ego and I love to be the center of attention–I am a former actor after all. But at the same time, one of the joys of writing for me has turned out to be the time I spend alone sunk into make-believe worlds. Over the 18 years I’ve been writing, my extrovert/introvert balance has shifted from 90/10 to something more like 50/50. Beyond that, I feel like I haven’t really got a large enough published body of work to make for much of a discussion.

Maybe in five years if all the books now under submission are published*(next paragraph) there will be something to be said about my body of work. But now…I was more than a little worried about this panel. Needlessly, it turns out. David and Eric were fabulous at making me feel comfortable and making comments and asking questions that really made for a good discussion. Further, I had a great, interested, audience that included quite a few people who had beta read for me at one point or another and who could talk about my work in ways that never would have occurred to me. That said, this panel took a lot out of me, both in terms of worry beforehand and hard mental work during.

*which would bring me to 25 across 9 series when the proposal books are added in 2014 ETA currently at 1o across 2 series with two more scheduled, one in a new area of genre entirely and as many as four more that may be out over the next year independently—still not that into me, but at least there’d be something to talk about.

Which is why it was great that my next panel was:

12:30 PM: Meet the Wyrdsmiths (Description: Kelly McCullough, Lyda Morehouse, Naomi Kritzer, Sean M. Murphy, Doug Hulick

where I could sit back and let my fellow Wyrdsmiths carry most of the load. I’ve done four or five of these panels now, and they’re always an enormous amount of fun, in part because I know going in that the panel will go well. There are any number of ways a panel can fail: bad group dynamics, bad moderator, lone wolf panel hijacker, insufficient material, no audience interest…. With the Wyrdsmiths I know that 1-4 aren’t going to be an issue and that thus far the audience has been amused by “The Wyrdsmiths Variety Hour.” Even more than that though is that I know going in that I will be on a panel with friends who share my passion for writing.

In which I “volunteer” to moderate

After the Wyrdsmiths panel I had my third back–to-back programming item of the day.

2:00 PM: Genre Blender (Panelist(s): Kelly McCullough, Jeannie Holmes, Matthew Davis, S.D. Hintz, Dana Baird, Jerrod Balzer

When I arrived at this panel I was intercepted by my liaisons bearing diet coke and asking what I wanted them to bring me for lunch. Lunch? That’s a great idea. What are you having? Pizza? w00t! Me too. Can you tell I was getting used to having minions?

Since I hadn’t really had much previous interaction with the other folks on this panel I asked the “who wants to be the moderator?” question, which is essentially an invitation for everyone else to say “You!” which they did. I was okay with that for a number of reasons. 1) I’m pretty good in the moderator’s chair. 2) I would often rather moderate than hand the gavel to an unknown quantity. 3) The moderator doesn’t have to talk as much as everybody else if the panel is of any reasonable size.

So how did the panel go? Funny you should ask. I have almost no memory of this panel beyond the opening. I know that it went fairly well despite being somewhat low energy, beyond that…. No idea. Several days of being on had put me in a sort of fugue state where audience response was of more interest to my processing centers than precise tracking of what the hell I was saying or other higher cognition functions.

Then my pizza arrived! It turns out that the blurring was from lack of food as much as anything, and eating helped me recover enough for:

3:30 PM: Kelly McCullough Signing

I headed for the table where I was supposed be signing, pizza in hand (actually I ate at the table in the passing time between events).

our narrator (me) pauses and blinks because…there were people waiting in line to have their books signed, twenty minutes ahead of time.

Now that may not seems unusual to the people reading this, but this is the first time I’ve ever had a signing go like that. Usually I get to a bookstore about ten minutes early, get set up, and maybe one person arrives just at the opening. Then people trickle through, or if I’m reading, there are people waiting when things start, having arrived at most ten minutes early, and most of the rest show up in the first five minutes. I don’t know how many books I signed because I was too busy signing and chatting with my readers to keep track (another first), but Laura and my liaisons tell me that I had 20+ people, which is more than double my next largest pure signing event and bigger even than most of my reading/signings. Again, stunned and humbled.

Time for a liedown

This is the point at which Laura, in consultation with Jenn and Lisa decided it was time for me to go have some down time, which was a really good idea. Then, since we had five conflicting invites to dinner, mostly from people we get to see rarely, we had Jenn and Lisa scare us up some take-out and went back to our room, inviting our various dinner invitors to come back and hang out with us. 2-1/2 hours of not being on as GoH was just what the doctor ordered. I loved the whole CONvergence experience and would sign up to be a returning GoH in a heartbeat, but it was really nice to spend some time just chilling with old friends. Plus, there were fireworks. Our room had a great view of at least two sets.

After that we headed out to the parties, MNPoly (since several of the gang hadn’t yet seen the Furies) and Skepchicks, because that’s where a number of our friends were hanging out. Not too long after that Laura turned into a pumpkin and I had to take her back to the room, where I almost immediately conked. As it turns out, our timing was perfect, as a medical emergency resulted in a half hour lockdown of the entire wing of parties we had just left, which would have resulted in me falling asleep in a corner of the skepchicks room.

BTW: This programming event never happened. I swear.

11:30 PM: Guest of Honor Cage Match (Panelist(s): Patrick Rothfuss, Kelly McCullough, Trace Beaulieu, Frank Conniff, Brian Keene, Joel Hodgson, Mary Jo Pehl, Dwayne McDuffie

CONvergence 2009 day 5 (Sun) Kelly’s Con Report

DAY 5

Yes, really, Day 5–this was a very long, very cool con.

We started the day off by hitting Perkins for breakfast with Anton who happened to be the first liaison we bumped into: “Hi Anton.” “Would you like to go out for breakfast?” “Yes.” “Let’s go.” Everyone should have liaisons.

After breakfast we made our way back to the convention and crafted a scavenger hunt for Jenn. No, really. Laura was doing some kids’ science programming and she needed 2 toilet paper rolls, a stack of 3×5 note cards, a cup of peanut M&Ms, a foam plate, and a couple of other things. So I called Jenn and asked if she was up for finding a list of strange items for Laura’s event, and not only was she up for it, she seemed pretty happy to have an actual challenge as part of her liaising. It took her just under half an hour.

While Laura was teaching science to the kidlets, I wandered off for a chat with my friend Karl, who I do not get to see very often, the exigencies of life and schedule being what they are. In the process I ended up providing another old friend with the final square on his nerd bingo card: “published science fiction author,” and having my picture taken with a very polite young fan (young being a relative term which I now apply to anyone under the apparent age of about 25).

Back at the kids programming room Karl got sucked into helping rearrange furniture and I bumped into the fan who picked up my old license plate and the copy of Weird Tales at the auction, and we chatted for a bit. Turns out he grew up a mile or two from where I’m now living. Then Laura was done and we were off to my interview.

Interview, for a con?

Yep. CONvergence does a video-taped interview with every GoH, usually as late as possible in the con so that they’ve had a chance to experience a good chunk of the con. I suspect it also helps to give the interviewer and interviewee some common ground beyond the GoH’s work. That latter wasn’t a problem with my interview since it was done by Tim Wick who (as was mentioned earlier) I have known since I was 6.

It was actually a lot of fun as Tim and I have crossed each others’ paths with varying degrees of contact on and off for 35 years now and it’s interesting to talk about the parallels and divergences. For example he got out of theater as a primary career in part for the same reasons I did–falling in love and realizing that theater and real relationships make for a really really hard mix to manage.

Apparently some of the notes we struck hit home for our camerawomen as well (another theater refugee) who said she had a real hard time not laughing so loud as to be heard on camera several times. I’m not sure if any portion of the interview will be available anywhere other than the CONvergence 2009 DVD, but if it is and you’re still curious about my rug-burned knees story, there’s a close up of the injury and an explanation in the interview.

Bigger picture

The other thing the interview did for me was to help put the whole weekend in perspective since career perspective was part of the flow of conversation. The biggest component of that in regards to GoHing is, in retrospect, getting a sense of how much the work I do matters to readers. As much as I may make light of what I do, telling stories is important. It’s important enough that good stories change peoples lives. That’s why we have fandoms and cons and why people like me get the amazing opportunities we do to connect with readers, both through our work and through things like being invited to be a Guest of Honor at a convention or to read and sign our books.

At a big multi-media con like CONvergence my part of that is only a tiny sliver of what draws in fans, but it’s still important and that’s very very cool. It’s stunning and humbling as well. Enough so that if this writing thing ever takes off to the degree that Laura and I can afford that getaway place in Scotland, we’re naming it “Flabbergasted.”

Final panel

After the interview I needed to head off to my final major piece of programming:

3:30 PM: The Twin Cities School (Panelist(s): Kelly McCullough, Hilary Moon Murphy, Michael Merriam, Ruth Berman

In which we talked about the Twin Cities writing scene: Whether there’s a distinct regional voice (no). Its history (deep and long). How you can be a part of it (write something). Why it’s so strong (incredible fan support has a huge amount to do with it). Etc. This was a fun, hopeful, panel to close out the con.

Jerry Pournelle was wrong

My next event was closing ceremonies where I was supposed to get up and say something about my experiences at the con when I was introduced. Here is approximately what I said:

“Jerry Pournelle was wrong. I’m a Writers of the Future winner, an event where they treat you amazingly well. So well in fact, that Jerry Pournelle told a bunch of us: ‘Enjoy this experience as much as you can, really soak it up because you will never ever in your writing careers be treated this well again.’ Jerry Pournelle was wrong. At CONvergence I was treated not just as well as I was treated at Writers of the Future. I was treated better. I’ve had an incredible experience here this weekend. Thank you all so much.”

Other random notes from closing ceremonies: I got a tribble. So did Laura. They were on all the GoH seats as well as scattered throughout the main stage seating. I got to see Dwayne hit a near life size picture of Wolverine with a cream pie, and Brian hit himself with another. Like opening ceremonies, these were handled expeditiously and professionally. I now know the ASL sign for ball–translated from the chanting of the crowd demanding the return of the beach balls we’d been batting around.

Dinner

After closing ceremonies we went to Khan’s Mongolian Barbecue. “We” being the GoH’s and spouses, all or most of the liaisons, and some substantial chunk of the concom–something like 40 people in all. Dwayne had at least three fortune cookies because he couldn’t get an actual fortune, just platitudes. In fact, with two exceptions all we got were platitudes and only one of those exceptions was a fortune. The best non-conversation/company thing about Khan’s was the incredible care they took with Laura’s food, scrubbing out a separate cooker and having the manager cook her meal himself to make sure her food didn’t get contaminated with gluten from the house sauce. On her second go-round the manager went so far as to take her food away from her before she could eat it and to personally fill a new bowl and cook it for her because he realized that the cook he’d assigned the task had made a mistake with the sauce. Incredible service.

Dead dog

With our return to the hotel we headed for what had been con-suite and sat around with Brian, Jenn, and Lisa for a bit, noshing, chatting and drinking more of Brian’s bourbon. Since we were pretty beat, we decided to call it quits sooner rather than later and were actually about to head back to our room when Anton showed up and “very subtly*” suggested he’d really like it if we stayed around for just a bit longer. Then he went off and made a quick call. Okay, at this point we kind of guessed something was up, but even so I was totally stunned when Perrin showed up with a big blue box and handed me a beautiful glass award/sculpture thingie commemorating my stint as a GoH.

One of things about this con that I have to note here was the capacity of the people involved, both at the concom level and in terms of fans for surprising and delighting me. Every time I thought to myself, “well, that’s it, I’m so blown away that I can’t be blown any further” along would come someone or something else to make me that much more happily astonished.

Now, as you will remember, Laura and I had been on our way to bed before the trophies arrived. But of course we had to stay for Brian’s presentation. And then Dwayne and Charlotte showed up so we stayed for that (Pat was in his room asleep at this point but came out later after we had left). And then Perrin insisted that, if I was going to make happy sounds about Brian’s bourbon, I really ought to try some of the single-malt he was carrying for comparison and I would have been a very ungracious GoH to refuse that, right? But some hours later we finally did head for bed, where I did not pack before sleeping, which will amaze and shock those who know me well.

And then it was Monday and time to return to the real world, where I do not have liaisons eager to make sure that I get fed and caffeinated on a reasonable schedule, nor people lining up to get me to sign their books, or invite me to parties displaying murals of my characters.

Alas.

And, yes, of course, I’m going back next year.

PICS OR IT DIDN’T HAPPEN

CONvergence 2009 (photo) post

Here are a few photos from my camera for con.

We got our new Smart car the day before the con

IMG_2284
The car from our room

IMG_2297

My badges…OMFFSM Chris Jones drew a
Connie/Melchior hybrid badge for me!

IMG_2325

Did I mention OMFFSM? This rocks!

IMG_2326

My schedule is on the kiosks…coooool…eeep.

IMG_2302

Vilification tennis, in which
I get rug burn on my knees

IMG_2307

OMFFSM it’s a life-size mural of my Furies!
Created by the folks at the MNPoly party
They also had someone (Jess Karels)
who was cross-playing Ravirn

IMG_2313

A really cool raven mask—nothing
to do with my books, just cool

IMG_2315

One of these women is my wife, one is one
of my guest liaisons. I managed not to grab
the wrong redhead during the convention,
but it was close a couple of times
My mother-in-law had the same problem

IMG_2309

From the front the resemblance isn’t
_quite_ as strong, but wow

IMG_2308

Finally, this was a complete surprise
and I was pretty much speechless
(not a normal condition for me, btw)

IMG_2322

And that’s just skimming the visual surface. It was an incredible weekend.

(Originally published on the Wyrdsmiths blog in multiple parts on July seventh, ninth, tenth, twelfth, fourteenth, and fifteenth, 2009, and original comments may be found there. Reposted and reedited as part of the reblogging project)

People like stuff that you don’t. Get over it.

September 15, 2014 in About Kelly, Musings, rant

This is a rant that grows out of the whole anti/pro steampunk kerfuffle that the f&sf genresphere has been aflutter with of late in which many on the two sides are flinging great gobs of words at each other like punctuation-laden poo. It’s not pretty and in many cases it seems to be a mix of sour grapes and tribalism, and it looks just like every other variation of this argument we’ve had for the last fifty years. The only real difference being what sub-genre/genre/literary sensibility we’re arguing about.

One of the things that we as a genre community seem to be most vulnerable to is the idea that our personal favorite type of writing is the only type of writing that other people should love and pay attention to, and that anyone who disagrees that our pet subgenre is the one true form of worthwhile writing is a poo-poo head. This tends to be expressed in one of two ways:

1) I want more of my stuff, and why isn’t everyone writing and publishing that? “Waaaaah!” *POUT* It is often accompanied by the stomping of rhetorical feet and tearing of hair. It mostly looks like highly articulate toddlers throwing a tantrum because the world isn’t treating them and their pet interests as the center of the universe.

2) How can anyone believe that XXXXX is worthy of their attention and dollars? XXXXX is immoral and anti-intellectual or just plain bad. The people who read/write it are dupes/exploiters or simply uncultured. If people really understood the underlying dynamic of XXXXX they’d realize that and come over and read YYYYY which is the one true way. It mostly looks like even more articulate toddlers throwing a tantrum because the world isn’t treating them and their pet interests as the center of the universe.

People, get a freaking grip! Not everyone likes what you like, and that’s okay. In fact it’s wonderful and healthy and necessary for the survival of a culture. Diversity of thought and idea and taste is one of the single most important parts of our ongoing survival as a species. It’s what drives us to try that funny looking new fruit, or accept that those who don’t look and think like us are people too, or take a long walk over the hill and find out there’s cool stuff over there.

The tendency of people to act as though stuff they don’t like is awful and bad for the culture if not downright immoral is one of the human tribal reactions that I find least attractive. It’s genre fundamentalism and it’s ugly and petty and basically unhealthy, both for the culture and for the head of bile it builds up within the person in question.

Does this mean I’m immune to the impulse? Of course not. There are sub-genres I think are stupid or hateful or bad for people. When my stuff doesn’t sell as well as somebody else’s stuff I get a little jealous and pouty. Hey, I’m human. However, I really do try to throttle it down because it’s bad for me and indulging the impulse is bad for the culture. And I sure as hell don’t throw a public tantrum about it.

If you were a geek in school (and if you’re reading this, the odds are pretty good) you remember what it was like to have the cool kids looking down on you for loving Star Trek or Dr. Who or reading those funny Lord of the Rings books. This impulse to say my genre/subgenre good = your genre/subgenre bad is the exact same shit. Do you really want to be doing that?

(Originally published on the Wyrdsmiths blog Novemeber 10 2010, and original comments may be found there. Reposted and reedited as part of the reblogging project)

Art and Death and Finding the Right Words

August 26, 2014 in About Kelly, Art, Musings, Writing

I recently had an experience that both moved and shook me. I’m going to tell that story first and then I’m going to try to talk about being a writer and experiencing a moment both from within and at one remove. The story:

I was on vacation in the Dominican Republic when I got an urgent message from my friend Pamela Gay—a gifted astronomer and podcaster.

A very close friend of hers, author and podcaster P.G. (Patrick) Holyfield, was dying of cancer—quite possibly within the next few hours—and would it be possible for me to record a goodbye message for him because my books had been important to him.

I don’t know if I can quite convey how that hit me. I’ve never met Patrick and I didn’t really know anything about him before that moment. I had one moment of complete terror when I read the message. What could I possibly say to a dying man that might make his path a little easier? While my forebrain was trying to get a grip on that, my backbrain was typing a reply to Pamela. Of course I would do it.

How could I not?

Here was a dear friend asking a favor for a dying man who had cared about my words. How could I not find a few more to help him on his way? For that matter, even if Pamela wasn’t someone I care about, even if you removed her from the equation, the question still stands. It was simply the right thing to do.

So, I grabbed my iPhone and I walked out into the dark tropical night and I recorded a message. I did it in several short fits as I struggled to find the right words and my voice kept trying to break as I did it. I don’t know if it eased Patrick’s passing—I hope that it helped at least a little—but I’m told that his family was aware that I was a writer that mattered to him and that it meant a lot to them.

As I finished my recording, the sky opened up and started pouring rain. If I were religious, I might take that as a sign of some sort and maybe find comfort in it. But I’m not, and that’s not how I find meaning. I find it in the right words. I’m finding it as I write this, I was finding it that night as I spoke to a dying man, and I will find it in the future as my brain cannibalizes the experience and puts bits of it into my fiction.

Because that’s what writers do. We analyze and pick and pull and we try to find ways to lay out the bits we extract so that others can see them. The shiny bits. The sweet bits. The horrible bits. All of them. And we don’t just do it later, we do it in the moment, and sometimes we hate ourselves while we’re doing it.

My grandmother, Phyllis Neese, was a second mother to me. I loved her completely and unreservedly. When she died a few years ago it gutted me. And I used that. I stood by her bedside after they disconnected the life support and I waited for the monitors to go still, even though it tore at me to do it. I did it because I loved her and because I owed it to her and because it was the right thing to do.

And every second that I stood there, a part of my brain was standing back and looking on at what I was doing and how it felt, and it made notes. I couldn’t not, and it made me feel like a vampire—here I was in one the hardest, rawest, most devastating moments of my life, and I was making mental notes about it for later use.

It wasn’t the first time, and I knew it wouldn’t be the last, and I really didn’t much like that part of myself in the moment. Nor for years after. It seemed somehow horrible and inhuman, and it wasn’t until I was trying to think of words to say to a dying man that I found a different sort of meaning for that experience. Just as it had with my grandmother, a part of me was standing back and observing the part of me that was talking to Patrick.

It seemed ghoulish at first, but then I realized something. The part of me that had stepped back and watched while my grandmother died was handing me things from that moment to use in the present one. The part that stood and took notes while I was hurting was the same part that gave me what I needed to at least try to ease another person’s death. It’s not a vampire, it’s a witness.

We step outside of ourselves in these moments so that later, when someone needs the right words, we have a place in our hearts where the hard things are written: a record that we can share and maybe, just maybe, ease the pain for someone else. As writers, when we hurt or grieve or bleed, we stand apart in some ways and we take notes. We do it because we can. We do it because we must. We do it because somebody has to try to find the right words.

For the first time in my life I’m entirely at peace with the observer in my head. I don’t know how much my words helped Patrick that night, but I know that trying to find them helped me—that Patrick helped me. I’d like to believe that, through this essay, they’ll help a few more people along the way.

P. G. Holyfield was a writer. He knew what it meant to try to find the right words, and I hope that he would be pleased to know that he’s helped someone else to find a few of them.

Thank you, Patrick. Hail and Farewell.

_______________________________________

The original post about P.G. Holyfield’s cancer diagnosis and sudden decline can be found at specficmedia.com.

Pamela Gay has written a touching tribute and farewell to her friend P.G. Holyfield at her site.

Finally, I want to say a quick thank you to my friend, essayist and generally wonderful writer Patrick Rhone for taking a look at this essay and reassuring me that it was something I ought to share with people.

Musings on Art and Practice and Joy

August 10, 2014 in About Kelly, Art, Musings, Writing

I want to make a point about art and success and failure and practice and motivation. Over the course of my 47 years on the planet I have mucked around with visual art, music, dance, acting, martial arts, 3D design, and writing. I have been decent at some of those, good or even very good at others, and I now make my living writing. There is a reason that I left many of those things behind while mastering the writing,* and that’s what I want to talk about here. It’s going to be a bit rambly because there’s no way to get at this without providing a good bit of background.

I recently had reason to want to sketch something. Unfortunately, I don’t have the necessary skills. Not anymore, anyway. My degree is in theater, and, as part of that I took a fair number of design classes. If you can’t draw a set or costume concept you can’t really build it. Now, I never got very good at free-handing an original composition, but I did get to be pretty solid on architectural style projections and good if never great at copying line drawings and altering them to suit what I needed. So for example, drawing a rose from scratch was more or less beyond me, but taking a small sketch of a rose that someone else had done and copying and altering that copy at a larger scale to create a drawing of multiple roses was something I could do well and with relative ease.

Which brings me back to the thing I wanted to sketch this morning. It was a pretty simple composition and something I could easily have done when I was in practice. But I quit doing that practice when I left theater for writing. At that time, my writing skills weren’t all that much better than my drawing skills. Some, certainly, but not bunches.

I’m going to leave that there for a moment and jump over to music which is the absolute bottom end of my range. I have never been particularly good with musical things. I have a decent ear, and a wide vocal range—one of my theater voice teachers characterized it as one of the widest she’d had in a student. I can even carry a tune…briefly. On the other hand, my rhythm is terrible and while I can hit the notes, I tend to jump keys from verse to verse. I noodled around enough with guitar and piano to discover that learning the fingering was relatively easy. What I lacked was drive and timing.

I was a decent dramatic actor, and a good comedic one, possibly even very good when it came to improv. But even very good isn’t enough to make a living at it. I had the physical chops for the dance side of the business, but there again my lack of rhythm was an insurmountable barrier. Those skills worked better in martial arts, but injuries sidelined me out of that arena. I’m still quite good at 3D design—good enough to design and build complex structures in steel that involve cutting, grinding, and welding.

The reason I’m still decent with 3D design is that, for me, it’s fun and useful. From my first encounters with it, I had enough talent to complete things that were functional, if not pretty, and to see where I was failing and how to get better. The same is true of writing, only more so.

From my earliest compositions for classes I have always been able to express myself better than most. Teachers gave me praise, and even when it felt like a huge and painful chore I had a sense of accomplishment when I finished something. Sure, many of those things are awful by my current standards, but by comparison to my then-peers I was always doing pretty well.

When I first bailed out of theater, I sat down and wrote a novel in about four months. It’s not a very good novel, though it’s not utterly awful. More than that though, I had a ball writing it. Even when I completely punted sentences or whole scenes, I could see that it was actually a book and I could see it day to day. It was a practice novel—though I didn’t know it at the time—and the practice was fun because I was accomplishing something in the exact same way that I was accomplishing things with 3D design.

I was making something visibly useful and entertaining even if it wasn’t up to professional standards. I never had that feeling of accomplishment with dance or music, or really even drawing and drafting. I wasn’t good enough to find the practice an end in itself, and so, I wasn’t motivated to do it and get better. I had many of the necessary tools to become good at those things, but I never did, and it was all about joy. I take joy in writing and building things and so I have gotten very good at them. I took joy in acting and martial arts, but other things caused me to leave them behind.

There have been several roads I could have followed in life, even several forms of art that I might have mastered. What has drawn me into my present career as a science fiction and fantasy author was joy in the practice as well as the end result. Without that, I don’t think that I would have succeeded. I can’t speak for anyone else, but the secret of my success so far is simple:

Finding joy in practice.

____________________________________

*I’m not prone to false modesty, or really, modesty at all. I’m not as good a writer as I intend to be someday, but I’m very, very good at it.

Sometimes you Feel Like a Duck

June 3, 2014 in About Kelly, Musings, Writing

Saw one of those writer posts that makes me feel an odd duck. My authorial dream has never been the JK Rowling rich and famous package. My goal has always been to simply write the stuff I want to write and make enough money so I don’t have do work that isn’t writing.

Mind you, I wouldn’t say no to the whole NYT bestseller and movies thing it if it came along. It’s just never been a first order goal. More than that, I have friends who are at that level of success and it’s not without it’s downsides.

I’ve never been all that award or critic focused either. My main goal from day one has been to produce fast, fun books that casual readers and fans can love, with a strong secondary goal of not making my peers and more critical readers want to fling the book across the room. Basically, what I am trying to do is produce well written commercial fiction that a broad spectrum of people can have fun reading. I do try to put in layers for those who want to look for them, and I am enormously happy when people who are better prose artists than I am like my work, but really I just want to write stories that people want to read. Everything else is gravy.

Public Metrics

April 25, 2014 in About Kelly, FAQs, Musings, Writing

Anyone who has followed me on social media for any length of time knows that I generally post my wordcounts and workout metrics. Anyone who has followed me through the end of a book knows that I also post my edit metrics to the extent that is possible.

There’s a reason for that. Well, several, actually. Since I am occasionally asked about it, I thought I would put together a post, so I can point people at the long form answer when it comes up. So, in rough order of importance…

1) Accountability. I am my own boss. With the exception of a few hard deadlines in the course of a book’s production, I don’t answer to anyone for anything. I don’t have to have a daily wordcount. I don’t have to have a weekly one. I don’t have to workout. All those things are my personal marks to hit. Since I’m lazy as well as a workaholic (both true, don’t ask) I know how easy it would be for me to ignore the work until the last minute. But you can’t do that with a book.

A book is an endurance event, and you have to keep chipping away at it. Likewise getting and staying in shape. It’s a daily process, no last minute cramming. By posting my metrics for all the world to see, I’m forcing myself to have a visible personal mark, and when I faceplant, I do it in the open. It keeps me honest and makes a huge difference in getting things done.

2) Visible model of a working artist. When I started writing there was no real internet, no good way to see what the day-to-day of a working writer looks like. Turns out, it’s fairly boring. You get up, you do your not-writing work, mostly sitting on your ass in front of a computer, you write, likewise mostly sitting on your ass in front of a computer. Posting my metrics provides a model for people who are interested in becoming writers. Hey, that’s how McCullough does it, maybe I can do it too… And, the workouts? If you’re a writer and you don’t have a fitness regime of some sort, all that ass sitting will turn you into a giant bowl of pudding.

Part of providing a model is posting when I fall behind or below my goals as well. Hey, look, I’m behind. Hey, look, I didn’t make my goals for the week. Hey, look, my brain took the day off and the rest of me went with it. Hey, look, I decided not to lift heavy things. Having to post that stuff is motivational for me—I REALLY don’t like failing. It also shows that you can do this and faceplant from time to time and still come out fine. I have never missed a deadline yet, though I know it will happen eventually.

3) It entertains me. Much of what I do I do because it entertains me. I did a university classroom visit recently—they were reading WebMage. The professor asked me:

So, I see that you have a ton of little references and in-jokes in this book that your target audience will probably miss—the “Say goodnight, Gracie” joke for example. I’m a generation older than you are, and that one isn’t something even everyone of my age would get. Since your audience is mostly a generation younger than you are, why do you put that in? Or some of the more obscure Shakespeariana?

My answer: Because it entertains me. There are other reasons as well, but the main reason I do many things is because they amuse or entertain me. Posting my metrics both bad and good entertains me.

4) Writing is a solitary business. I work at home alone, with only cats to keep me company. I am also an extrovert. I adore throwing parties and hanging out with cool people. Basically, I sustain myself with the blood of the living. Writing doesn’t give me much chance to do that. And, no, working in coffee shops or other crowded venues doesn’t work for me. I’ve tried. I’m about ten times as productive working in the quiet with no one around, and I need to be that productive to stay on top of my workload. Posting metrics is my equivalent of having coworkers or hanging out with the other gym rats—and no I don’t actually enjoy working out with other people either. I do much better when I’m competing only against myself.

5)  Social media presence. One of the things that the modern working writer really needs is a way to reach out to fans. In my case, I use social media, and social media is hungry, it needs content. Sometimes that content is funny bits that fall out of my head. Sometimes it’s microfiction like Dragon Diaries. In any case, you need to keep feeding it. Metrics make a good snack.

So, I post my metrics good and bad to stay accountable. I do it to show beginning writers what my day looks like. I do it because it entertains me. I do it because social activity keeps me sane. I do it because it works as promotion and engagement. For me at least, posting my metrics is a huge win.