Updated with new inspirational quotes, links to sources, and a new Kanban tab. Save a copy for yourself, and tell a friend!
Note: This post was written five years ago. I wish I had posted it then, but frankly it didn’t feel safe to do so then. With the strange–and welcome–sea change currently happening, it seems relevant. For what it’s worth, two of the people quoted or referred to herein were women, and two were men. Bias, it turns out, exists along all axes.
I’ve let myself be talked out of posting on this subject multiple times. The argument is generally the “protest too much” problem of lending legitimacy to falsehoods by acknowledging them at all. I understand that argument, and until this weekend it seemed adequate. Haters, it is said, gonna hate.
So I didn’t blog about it when a colleague said to me, in front of a room full of people, that “Some of us had to do more than marry well,” to get where we are in our writing careers.
I didn’t blog about it when a fellow student said that they were mystified by my presence at a writers workshop. “Can’t you just give it to John and have him tell you what’s wrong with it?”
I didn’t blog about it when in that same workshop an attendee who learned that my first sale was to one of John’s anthologies said “Well, isn’t that a coincidence.” Or when I was telling a friend about that, and how hurtful (and insulting, to both of us) it is that some people assume that John bought that story because we were dating (we weren’t) and that friend said–without a hint of embarrassment–“Oh, yeah, that’s what I thought, too. But now I know you both, so I know better.”
So the problem here is that it’s not just Haters. It’s colleagues, and even friends.
This weekend something happened that has acted as the proverbial last straw. Someone was so absolutely certain of their assumption that all of my work must be edited by John before it’s sent out that they actually lied–in front of a handful of colleagues–and claimed that they had seen John’s notes in Track Changes in one of my submissions. John and I looked at each other in surprise, and said things like “That’s strange.” And it is very strange indeed.
Today I downloaded the file from the actual submission email, and not only are there no notes from John–which I knew there wouldn’t be because he never saw it until after it went out–but there are no Track Changes applied to the file at all. So there is no chance of a simple misattribution, as I had hoped. The story was completely made up.
This person assumed such an extreme level of plausible deniability because it never occurred to them that it was even possible for their cute anecdote about John editing my submission to be demonstrably untrue.
Folks, you might want to sit down for this revelation:
John does not edit my work.*
Many writers are happy to have their partners critique their work. Their partners are often their first readers. It’s generally not a problem, because the partner is either not in the industry or their credentials are perceived to be equivalent. The author’s success is not credited to their partner. I don’t have that luxury, because in our case I am perceived as a New Writer (where “new” means more than a decade of working my ass off to learn my craft) and John as an Established Professional (with a near-equivalent period of working his ass off learning his). Because of that, people assume that I write to some sub-par level and he fixes it for me.
Every time someone makes that assumption, they take that decade away from me. Every time someone credits John with my career, or the quality of my work, they undermine the thousands of hours that I’ve put into this. It’s hurtful, it’s insulting, and it’s factually incorrect.
And I’m fucking done being polite about it.
* I really shouldn’t have to add that yes, of course, he edited the few stories that he purchased from me, because he was the editor of the publication. For a list of all of my editors, see my bibliography.
I was just listening to Liz Gilbert’s Magic Lessons #207 with Neil Gaiman (who apparently is my Jungian Archetypal Muse of choice, about which more in a moment) for the nth time while also trying to plan out a project that I am terrified to begin.
I’ve always been a reader and writer–you know what I mean, because you probably were, too. I was the kid who checked out three books from the school library in the morning, read them under my desk, and exchanged them for three more the next day. Growing up, I was most passionate about Ray Bradbury, Madeleine L’Engle, Lois Duncan, Stephen King, Meredith Ann Pierce. Words were my thing, even while I dabbled in painting, drawing, sewing, and collage. I wanted to be a writer, a creator of books like those on the library shelves. There was nothing more important, more beautiful, than the written word alone and the ideas it could express, the aspects of humanity it could illuminate.
Then, in 1991, I walked into a comic book store and my life changed forever.
The first thing that drew my attention was called Black Orchid, because (a) it featured a female protagonist who was not wearing spandex, and (b) was illustrated in a style that felt more…authentic? Outsider? I don’t know. These were not cartoonish panels; this was something else, pencils and pastels, soft and beautiful. A melding of illustration and text that spoke to me of the possibility of the medium. The publisher was Vertigo, a still new-ish imprint of DC. The art was gorgeous, but the writing was something I could identify more directly with, and having loved Black Orchid, I then devoured everything else the writer had out; namely, Sandman, which tickled all of the right neurons and completely re-wallpapered my gothy little brain. I was 21 years old, newly married, broke, and pregnant, and my life’s goal was to write for Vertigo, and then-editor Karen Berger.
And I tried. My then-husband and I bought 50 comics we couldn’t afford every single month. I studied. I drew. I wrote Sandman fan-fiction comic scripts.
Then I had a baby, and a divorce, and complicated things further by discovering a thing that Gaiman had previously done with Black Orchid artist Dave McKean called Violent Cases (which I must have encountered in one of its re-releases, as it was in color and it must have been 1993 or 1994 when I found it). I read it, cried a bit, read it again, and then despaired, because frankly, they’d done it. They’d made the thing I had wanted to make, but they’d done it better than I could ever hope to. I was a single mother living in poverty. There were rats in the apartment and childcare to pay for. The comic I’d always wanted was in the world; why bother making anything else? I had more important things to worry about. So I quit.
Several years later came a second marriage, and a second baby, and long nights up with my new daughter, and I remembered. I started again. And I had a dream:
A night street, a corner under a street light. I’m worrying about the comic I’m writing, or trying to write, which I’m supposed to pitch to someone in the dream-building across the street; a portal fantasy about two sisters based on my daughters, which I’ve titled “Keys.” How to fill 26 pages with panels and beats and a splash page and tight dialog; I just don’t know enough. Out of the mist walks a dream-Neil Gaiman, hands in the pockets of his signature black leather jacket, who pauses beside me for only a moment. He doesn’t even look at me, as if he’s addressing the street light, or the moon: “Not twenty-six. Four pages. Start there.” And he walks away.
I took this to heart. Four pages. How do I write a story in four pages?! I came to understand that I needed to learn more: plot, character, voice, and most importantly, how to finish a story. I was now 30 years old, and I’d learned a few things about life, such as: When you want to learn how to do something, seek out people who are doing that thing, and do what they did.
So I learned to write prose, from people whose work I admired, and from workshops and conferences and online critique groups. As luck would have it, my favorite author had started one of those new-fangled “web-logs” as he worked on his next novel, which would be called American Gods. I looked to his blog for advice on creativity and drive; I looked to the Science Fiction and Fantasy Writers of America for advice on craft and the business of publishing. And I had another dream:
A loft; red brick walls; clearly something I got from television or film, since I’ve lived in California all my life and spaces like this one just don’t exist here. It’s a party, and in the corner is none other than Dream-Gaiman, surrounded by friends and admirers. Someone beside me encourages me to approach him, and assures me that I can ask him absolutely anything in this moment: any advice, anything at all, and he will definitely answer. I approach, nervous, and he looks at me, expectant; I freeze, and realize that there’s nothing he can tell me at this point, because I already know what he will say: Make mistakes. Finish things. This time I’m the one to walk away, leaving him to his people.
Eventually I finish things; I make any number of mistakes. I start sending my stories out; eventually some of them are published; a few get a little bit of attention. Anthology invitations and reprint requests come. I volunteer for a magazine, in an effort to study and learn the difference between mediocre stories and great ones. (Eventually I meet Neil, and he even does me a favor as a friend-of-a-friend, a favor related to someone else’s dream of him, which makes all of this feel even weirder.) Eventually I edit an issue that champions women in the science fiction field; the work wins a Hugo and a British Fantasy Award, which I am very proud of.
None of which, you may have noticed, is making comics.
Now I’m 46 years old, and I’m working on a novel, which is the thing that we who come from short stories are all supposed to do. Life has been generous enough to arrange itself so that working on the novel is my job. I love my novel. It’s fantastical and sexy and gothy and grotesque; it has science and magic and politics and passion. I’m deeply attached to it; I’ve put countless hours into it. I think it has great promise.
But lately I’ve been thinking about those comics I started all of this in the service of. Those four-page comics that my Jungian-Neil Muse told me to start with. I’ve started thinking about how some of my shortest stories might fit into that format. I’ve started gathering materials: paints, papers, fabrics, beads, embroidery hoops, broken glass, chalk, rusted nails and paper dolls (things comics aren’t typically made of, but I’ve always thought they SHOULD be made of, things Dave McKean convinced me they could be made of). I’ve started sketching panel layouts.
And then, last Tuesday, I had another dream, the details of which don’t matter. Just Dream-Gaiman, who looks up briefly from what he’s doing and says:
“You know, I’m still waiting for you to show me what you’re capable of.”
It’s taken me a few weeks to be able to write this. I haven’t been able to look at pictures until now, and even now looking at them really, really hurts. Those who have had that special companion, that animal who was more than a dependent and amiable tenant, but who was your legitimate friend–you’ll get it. Those who can put the words “just a” and “cat” together in a sentence won’t.
I saw him on Petfinder in early 2008 and immediately knew we were each other’s. He’d been left in the night drop at the shelter; he was probably six months old at the time. He was with me for nearly a decade, through some very shitty times and some incredibly good ones. He grew from a fairly timid and skittish kitten into an incredibly affectionate, confident, reliable friend with so much personality.
He and Suki got along great from the start. Before the other cats came along, if I asked Suki, “Where’s the cat?” she’d eagerly bound over to him and boop him with her nose. (On the other hand, when we added Jack, our Aussie mix, to the family he made a very big show of attempting to climb the fence and run away from home. He couldn’t get over the fence, and quickly learned to ignore Jack.)
When John came into our lives Chewie immediately adopted him as his own, and eventually even warmed up to all of these interloping kittens we kept bringing home. Yoda was his go-to cuddle buddy, but everyone wanted Chewie’s attention.
But human people were his favorite. He had a way of sitting on you while somehow channeling gravity to make himself heavier while he settled into a good long purr. Purring was really his default; he could purr contentedly, indignantly, furiously, or anything in between. Preferably while sitting on you and being petted.
He also liked clothes. Our guess is that it made him feel special and more like one of us, being the only cat who got to wear clothes. He would practically strut in his walking harness.
None of these pictures really do justice to the sheer volume of cat that was Chewbacca. For scale, here he is with my daughter, who then was roughly 5’1:
On September 14 I found him on the bed, with Yoda sitting next to him looking at me like it was MY FAULT his friend wasn’t cuddling with him. He was just gone; there was no more Chewie animating all of that floof. It was totally unexpected. We’d had two other cats in and out of the vet over the previous weeks, but Chewie was fine. He was down to a good weight and perfectly healthy. Except for the part where his heart stopped and he died. I cried for fifteen hours straight (I didn’t even know that was possible) and continue to, off and on, almost a month later. I’d had the good fortune over the past few years to have forgotten what a broken heart feels like.
Chewie was one of a kind, absolutely irreplaceable, and nothing feels the same without him.
I miss you, buddy.
Nerds on Earth has reviewed the anthology By Faerie Light, in which I collaborated with Jeffrey Scott Petersen on “Blight.”
From the review:
“A township is in dire peril as a seemingly unkillable beast terrorizes and consumes their citizens. Their only hope might be a tenuous bargain with a dreaded creature of legend.
I really dug the approach to this story, as a fable held the key to a possible savior for the village. Will the party believe the young child who offers it as a solution? Will they risk an alliance with one evil to defeat another? And will things go as planned…?”
I’m tickled that the reviewer called out “Blight” as potential “campaign fodder”–especially since I’m currently working on one of my own as my D&D group crawls toward the end of a six-year campaign. That forest of bone might have to make an appearance…
By Faerie Light is available for the Kindle for $4.99.
This week the cover for the upcoming anthology The Sum of Us was revealed! I am delighted to have my story “Things That Creep and Bind” included. The theme of the anthology, as described on the Laksa Media site:
If we believe that we are the protagonists of our lives, then caregivers—our pillars—are ghosts, the bit players, the stock characters, the secondary supports, living lives of quiet trust and toil in the shadows. Summoned to us by the profound magic of great emotional, physical, or psychological need, they play their roles, and when our need diminishes . . .
These are their stories.
The book will be available in September 2017. More information, including the complete Table of Contents, can be found here.
Here it is! The 2017 Tools for Writers workbook, with the ever-popular Word Count Tracker. Please feel free to share.
People are starting to ask about the 2017 version of the Word Count Tracker. Truth is, I totally forgot about it until a few days ago. I’ve started working on it and hope to have the link posted here by the end of the week, so check back then!
I don’t think I’ve ever gone into a new year with quite this much uncertainty before. It’s hard to imagine what the world is going to look like a few months from now. Perhaps that’s why I’ve been focusing inward lately, on the things I can control: on home and family; growing, making, and preserving food; trading social media for video chat and hand-written letters; canceling professional travel engagements and planning family trips instead.
And getting back to writing. In 2016 I finished and sold a short story for the first time in three years: “Things That Creep and Bind” will appear in The Sum of Us, edited by Susan Forest and Lucas Law, in mid-2017. I was thinking of my grandparents when I wrote it, about their struggles caring for my mother in her illness. Those memories also brought up things that I learned from them about home-making, frugality, and self-sufficiency under adverse conditions, things that I’m finally learning to apply.
2017 will also see the publication of my first two comics issues: Pet Noir #3, co-written by Pati Nagel and myself, and Pet Noir #4, my first solo script. Both were capably edited by Kymera Press founder Debbie Lynn Smith.
As 2016 grinds to a close, there are still so many things waiting to be created, whether they’re books or stories or comics or gardens or events or any other form of art, craft, or expression. I’m sure I’m not alone in feeling that I can’t find it in me to greet the new year joyfully this time, to ring it in with champagne and cheers. So I’ll see it in quietly instead, with hope, creativity, and effort.
Here’s wishing you and yours a safe, healthy, creative and hopeful New Year.
Editors Jaym Gates and J. Daniel Batt are Kickstarting a new anthology of speculative fiction that I am super excited about, Strange California.
“Strange California is 26 tales of strangeness, lavishly illustrated, that will pull you into another world, a world where migrant girls stand up to witches who live in orange groves, where trickster magpies try to steal souls from Russian sisters in the early days of Fort Bragg, where water is both currency and predator, and Gold Rush-era ghosts wander the streets of San Francisco alongside panther ladies.” (From the Kickstarter page.)
If it funds, it will include a story of mine set in Temperance, the fictionalized version of my hometown that originally appeared in Fireside #1, fifty years after the events that established the Temperance Society for Historical Preservation.
We’re about a third of the way to our goal of $14,000, which will pay for the content and production of this lavishly illustrated anthology of West Coast Weird.
And check out this line-up you’ll be making happen:
Back the Kickstarter if you can, and help us spread the word!