There’s Nothing Inherently Wrong With Self Confidence

February 26, 2016 in About Kelly, rant, Writing

Every so often I am reminded that I am not like all the other children. By which, I mean that I do not suffer from the same set of confidence issues that many of my writer peers deal with. This is not to say that I don’t have my own personal set of writer neuroses, or that I have always believed my work is amazing, but simply that I am not and really have never been subject to imposter syndrome.

I suspect part of this comes out of my Open School background where I was taught to believe in my bones that I could do anything I wanted to do, if I was willing to work hard enough for it. It is worth noting that I was not taught that I would be good at something from the start, that I was inherently talented at everything, or that I wouldn’t experience a lot of failure along the way. In fact, I was taught and internalized that it would take hard work, that I would have to face a lot of failure, and that talent mattered much less than being willing to do the work. I was also taught methods for realistically assessing my progress toward my goals and the necessity of accepting responsibility when I fall short.

As I said, I’ve never had imposter syndrome. I have had any number of moments where I fell short and realized I needed to work harder to reach the next level with my writing.  Then I went on to do that work and moved on and up. It’s been a hard slow climb—I’ve got five hundred rejection letters that speak to that—and there’s still a lot of room for me to grow and improve, but I think that it’s fair to say with twelve published novels and dozens of short stories under my belt at this point that I’m making my way up that wall. I’m just taking a different route than those of my peers whose issues include dealing with imposter syndrome.

There is no one right path to becoming a successful writer or artist. Don’t ever let anyone tell you different.

My brief career as an internet troll

September 7, 2015 in rant, Silly, Speaking Up

As a middle aged straight white guy, I don’t get trolled on social media very often. But I see it happen to friends all the time. That’s why, when I saw a particular tweet go by from Mary Robinette Kowal, I saw an opportunity to play a twitter game with a friend, and well, you’ll see it below. I think what we ended up with is something that’s more useful than a game.


Mary’s post on the exchange is here. As something of a palate cleanser here’s a picture of Mary and I as best man and matron of honor at the vow renewal for our friends Michael and Lynne Thomas. I don’t know about any of the rest of you, but even briefly playing the troll makes me feel more than a little filthy.

KellyMary

Photo credit Sean Michael Murphy

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

February 26, 2015 in Musings, rant, The Genre

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 their mistake 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 to take a long walk over the hill and find out there’s also 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 November 10 2010, and original comments may be found there. Reposted and reedited as part of the reblogging project)

How to Train Your Dragon II (Wasted Opportunities)

January 26, 2015 in Musings, rant, Writing

As it turns out, I have strong feelings about this movie and the bloody stupid waste it makes of great storytelling opportunities.

I watched about two thirds of How to Train Your Dragon II last night with my wife. When we hit the lovely reunion scene we decided the story was about to go to hell in a terribly predictable manner because older people aren’t allowed to have happily ever afters in this sort of movie. So, I went and looked up the rest of the plot online and we stopped the movie at that point and put it back on the shelf. This is because we were quite happy with the movie up to that point and didn’t feel any need to go on to the unnecessary cost scene that we had both seen coming. While I’m sure that the rest of the movie is lovely, I have no desire to see any of it.

I have zero patience for the whole: It’s a cartoon movie, some beloved parent/mentor/older person must die or sacrifice their happiness for the young protagonists to learn the true meaning of sacrifice/responsibility thing. It’s sloppy, lazy storytelling and doubly so in this instance.

Hiccup doesn’t have a responsibility problem with being chief—he’s plenty willing to take responsibility in dangerous circumstances. We’ve seen that time and again. What he’s got is a scatterbrained creative personality problem. I’m an author, I know dozens of scatterbrained creatives. Tragedy does not magically transform them into decisive organized leader types. It just transforms them into _heartbroken_ scatterbrained creative types. Dad’s death will not magically make Hiccup an appropriate choice for the next chief.

Compound this with the fact that there’s a natural successor on hand, one who has even been identified as someone who is going to become part of the chief’s family in the near future—in the first minutes of the movie we see Stoic identifying Astrid as his future-daughter-in-law—and the argh factor goes through the roof. I’m not a huge fan of leadership transfer by heredity, but if you have to do it, Astrid fits that bill, as well as the much more important one of being a natural leader.

Astrid is decisive, smart, adaptable, understands how to manage people (Hiccup included), willing to listen… She’s a perfect candidate to be the next chief. How much better would the movie have been if Astrid had rescued Hiccup (safely), instead of having the stupid sacrifice scene, and, this had caused dad to realize it was his future daughter-in-law who ought to become the next chief, and not his entirely unsuitable son?

Not only would that have made a less cheaply predictable story, it would have given Hiccup the chance to continue to roam and do the things that made him happy without feeling guilty about the fact that Astrid is running the village—because, let’s be honest, she’s the one who’s going to be doing the job anyway. Astrid would have the title as well as the workload, Hiccup would continue to do what he’s best at, and it would be much easier to justify a sequel. Wins all around.

It’s the sheer laziness of the writing there that gets to me. Sigh. Deep breaths.

Here endeth the rant.

 

Success in Writing

December 21, 2014 in rant, Reblogging Project

It’s actually easy. All you have to do is be very good, work very very hard, get very very very lucky, and survive in the business long enough for people to notice. What could be simpler?

And, yes, I did eat my snarky flakes this morning. Why do you ask?

(Originally published on the Wyrdsmiths blog Feb 19 2010, and original comments may be found there. Reposted and reedited as part of the reblogging project)

No, the publishers are probably not going away tomorrow

December 19, 2014 in Musings, Publishing, rant, Reblogging Project

I personally adore reading on a screen—when my publisher shifted to an all electronic work flow for editorial I was delighted—and it’s certainly very likely that e-books will become a large part of books sold sooner rather than later. At the same time, I don’t think that books are going away any time soon and I’m not at all certain that the shift to CD and MP3 is a good comparison to a shift to e-readers.

For one thing, the formats killed off by digital music had much shorter histories and testing periods. The LP lasted what, a bit over 40 years as the primary delivery system for recorded music? (2014 edit: and is now undergoing a renaissance among audiophiles) Recorded music itself goes back to the 1850s and has had significant format improvements every 20-40 years. The book in codex form goes back to Republican Rome with only minor changes—that’s 2,000+ years of optimization.

For another there’s the delivery model. Publishers, in one form or another, go back further than the codex (Sosius and Co would be a Republican Roman example). Record companies? Not so much. It’s perfectly possible that digital is going to completely and utterly change all that in a year or five or ten, but everyone said the internet made recessions obsolete too, and look what happened there.

The codex (and many of the big publishers) have survived the advent of talkies, radio, television, the serious audiobook, and (so far) the e-book. The weight of history is currently on the side of publishers and physical books surviving for at least a while longer and e-books only becoming a part of the mix.

Is it possible that physical books will go away completely? Meh, we’ll see. Become boutique items only? Probably, but it may well take a lot longer than the digital visionaries expect it to.

Are publishers going away? Almost certainly not. Despite what many people have been saying lately, they serve a lot of valuable purposes in the production of books. Will the current publishers be the publishers of tomorrow? Some of them probably will, some won’t. Just as some of the publishers of yesterday are the publishers of today.

(Originally published on the Wyrdsmiths blog Feb 8 2010, and original comments may be found there. Reposted and reedited as part of the reblogging project)

No, Really, Publishers Do A LOT For The Author

December 18, 2014 in Musings, Publishing, rant, Reblogging Project

I wrote the note below in response to someone saying (for the 5,000th wrong time in this Amazon thing 2014 edit: Macmillan Amazonfail Feb 2010) that publishers are no longer necessary because of internet distribution of ebooks. It takes a lot of money to produce a book in terms of editing, copyediting, PR, and even gatekeeping (yes there’s value to gatekeeping, it helps readers find books they have much better odds of enjoying). Now, the particular comment I was responding to was a slightly more sophisticated version of the “you don’t need publishers” argument in that it at least acknowledges that those things need to happen and suggested outsourcing. But that’s still not a terribly workable model because it ignores the economics of the situation. So let me address that:

Under the current model one of two things happens: 1) I write the book, my publisher buys (the rights), fronts all the other costs, and I get paid so that I can eat while I’m writing the next book, then—assuming I earn out—more money comes in on a regular basis starting between 6 months and several years after publication, allowing me to continue to eat. 2) My publisher buys the book on proposal and I get paid in advance to write it, then they front all the other costs and the rest follows.

If I want to become my own publisher I have to front all those costs myself and have to wait till the book earns out (maybe) to recoup those costs (again maybe) up to several years after I’ve fronted them. But, since I don’t have a spare 3-20k* sitting around that I can bet on a possible return potentially several years down the line, what actually happens is I stop writing and find a new job and there are no more Kelly McCullough books. So, yes, ____ was pretty much all wrong.

And that’s without accounting for things that my publisher does that don’t go directly into the making and selling of the book, like my publisher’s legal department—which I hope never to become any more familiar with than I am now. In a perfect world none of my books will ever get involved in a legal dispute of any kind, but if someone decides to sue me for any reason whatsoever in regards to my writing, the fact that I have a major publisher on my side significantly reduces the chance that a frivolous (or otherwise) lawsuit bankrupts me.

*Updated to add: I should probably also note that 3-20k is what a publisher pays for copyediting etc. and that the price they get based on their volume and reliability is much better than the price I would be likely to get for those same services (assuming I want a similarly professional job).

(Originally published on the Wyrdsmiths blog Feb 3 2010, and original comments may be found there. Reposted and reedited as part of the reblogging project)

My Problem with Polemicals against Happily Ever After

November 18, 2014 in rant

Over at SFNovelists Alma Alexander is talking about her problems with Happily Ever After endings. The parts of her argument that touch on her tastes in fiction as a writer and reader I have no problem with. The parts where she seems to be talking about absolute values on the other hand I find to be genuinely and deeply troubling. (Note: she has now clarified what she means to a greater extent and her post bothers me less, but I still think that there is an argument in there that needs refuting in greater depth) Let me quote two pieces to demonstrate what I mean:

1: “There is no such thing as a happy ending. Tolkien knew this – a writer who had not understood this concept could not have ended “Lord of the Rings” with such a terrifyingly truthful story like the Scouring of the Shire (and Jackson’s adaptation of the book into the saccharinely-ended movie shows that he has NOT understood this fact at all). Ursula Le Guin understands this perfectly (for an outstanding example, go re-read “The ones who walk away from Omelas”).

The best we can hope for is a resolution, and perhaps an epiphany – and, yes, love of good people along the way.”

2: “When it comes to writing, and characters, this is an important thing to know.”

These statements strike me as seriously problematic if that “know” is taken literally to mean knowing in the sense of an absolute truth. Now it seems to me that this is not entirely what Alma is getting at, especially after clarification, but there is still a strong implication here that the more real or true a piece of fiction is, the better it is, and that argument is one that is a huge problem for me on several levels.

First, I’m not a big fan of absolute statements about what people should read or write, and any argument that one kind of fiction is objectively better than another is inherently an argument that presupposes what people should read.

That would be enough to make me feel a responsibility to argue against the point all by itself. It is however a less serious issue than my other problem with the argument, and I want to preface this next piece with the note that I absolutely do not believe that what follows is what Alma is intending to argue. At the same time, I believe that even the weaker version of the argument carries certain implications by its nature, and they are quite problematic.

Here’s why. It’s a half step from saying Happily Ever After is not real and therefore not as good as a darker ending to one of the traditional attacks made on f&sf by those who prefer literary fiction, i.e. that lit fic is more real and more serious and thus inherently better than other genres.

More disturbingly, it also echoes the serious fiction/realist fiction argument that has been made by chauvinist academics and critics to devalue Romance in specific and more generally women’s fiction and women authors as writing less important works because they don’t hew to a maximally realist line as defined by said chauvinists.

Again, I don’t believe for an instant that Alma, an exceptionally skilled author and a woman, is trying to argue the inferiority of women authors or of women’s fiction. But I do think that she has made an argument that if accepted at face value lends credence to those other, much more pernicious, arguments.

(Originally published on the Wyrdsmiths blog Sept 8 2009, and original comments may be found there. Reposted and reedited as part of the reblogging project)

You’re kidding, right?

November 10, 2014 in Publishing, rant, Reblogging Project

At Tor, there is a discussion of an anthology titled “The Mammoth Book of Mindblowing Science Fiction” that includes not a single female author or author of color. The discussion include links to an outstanding post by Angry Black Woman on the same subject. As a straight white male science fiction and fantasy author (SWMSF&FA for short) I can’t begin to tell you how much it pisses me off to see anthologies populated entirely by white male science fiction and fantasy authors. More than that, I am utterly appalled by the reflexive (some might say kneejerk) defense of such things. Take for example the one by Paul Di Filippo which the Angry Black Woman takes apart so beautifully in her post. It makes me want to turn in my SWMSF&FA union card. Oh, and footnote 29 in the Angry Black Woman’s post is made of awesome.

(Originally published on the Wyrdsmiths blog Aug 7 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)