When the Editor is Your Acquaintance or Friend

This is a conversation I’ve had several times recently in varying forms, and I think it would help us all if we just had it here, in public.

I will preface this by emphasizing that I am a writer, too. I have had the very same thoughts and instincts as the ones I am about to describe, and it was only when I started to get into the editorial side of things during my time at Lightspeed that I came to understand things differently.

SO. You who read this and relate, please understand, you are not being judged. I just really want you to understand—as other editors once wanted me to understand—so that we can continue and strengthen the unique symbiotic relationship between writer and editor.

The thing that I keep hearing, sometimes directly, sometimes passively, is this:

“I do not want to take advantage of our relationship.”

This is an excellent instinct! This demonstrates that you are a person of character and integrity. The reason that you are telling me this is because we have met in some capacity that is not strictly business: a workshop; a retreat; an online writers group; the bar at a convention. We have exchanged non-working communications and have expressed some degree of actual interest in each other as human beings. I LOVE THIS. This is what makes getting out of bed in the morning worth doing.

So we have a relationship, you and I. Maybe we exchanged a couple of emails, or we stayed up ‘til 2 a.m. talking about chickens, or I told you that your work was amazing at a workshop we attended, or we had a great conversation about gardening at a convention. At some point I said to you: If you have a novella-length work, I’d love to see it.

And your ethical instinct was: I can’t send it to you, because I know you, and we’re friends now, and I would be taking advantage of our relationship. You like me, so you might look at my work differently, and if you accept it then I won’t feel that I have earned it.

I 100% get this. OMG do I get it. But stay with me.

My very first convention was World Fantasy in San Jose in 2009. There, at 11 p.m. on the night before the convention began, I met the editor of a relatively long-running and highly respected print magazine that I had dreamed of someday being published in. I spent HOURS talking to them. By the end of the night I thought for sure that I could never possibly submit a story to them because now we kind of seemed like friends. Eventually I came to understand the things that I’m about to try to convey to you, and I did submit to them, and I received a coveted Color-Coded Rejection of Hope (because this was before people accepted online submissions). I did not take it personally. The editor was doing their job with integrity, which is exactly what I should always have expected of them.

This is where I get to the Actual Points that I would like you, the writer, to consider.

#1. If you stick around long enough, you will have had those late-night conversations, workshops, email exchanges, or Twitter conversations with every single editor in the field. Because it turns out that we’re just people, moving in the same circles you’re moving in. So what then? Once you know all of us, is that the end of your career, because you couldn’t possibly take advantage of our friendship?

#2. This is hard to hear, but once you do, I think you’ll feel a lot better about your submissions:

You don’t realize it, and you certainly don’t mean to, but you’re insulting us. When you assume that because we like you, we’re going to stake our editorial integrity and careers on a story that we wouldn’t have otherwise published, but we did because we like you—just think about that for a second.

Let it really sink in, what you’re implying.

I like a LOT of people. I have very dear friends in this business.

I also reject most of their stories.

I hate it, but I do it. Because if I didn’t, I wouldn’t deserve to be doing what I am extremely privileged to be doing.

#3. This is one that we all hate. Take a deep breath. If you have a god to pray to, now is the time to pray for humility before you read on.

As writers, none of us are that fucking important. Every editor has more slush to read, more stories to either reject or love. There is always someone better than we are out there, who has submitted to the same markets, who is just as nice as we are, who wants it and deserves it just as much–or more. They have been to the same conventions and workshops; they have worked the same number of hours. But one or two or three of them have written stories that the editors have never seen, not in that voice, not quite that way–and that’s a thing that can’t be gamed.

No matter how much I like you, if you haven’t written that, you’re going to get a rejection from me.

So that’s it! Continue being awesome, continue being our friends…but please, please, PLEASE, above all…trust us.

2019 Daily Word Count Tracker is ready!

You guys were on top of it this year! There were four people in the workbook already when I went to finish updating it today. :) You can find the 2019 Word Count Tracker here:

Tools for Writers (with Word Count Tracker, Career Bingo, and more)

No changes or additions this time around, except that I’m now maintaining a single workbook year to year instead of creating a new one.

I find it so gratifying that so many people have found the workbook useful! To answer a question I get every year (Fran, I’m looking at you): No, I don’t have a Ko-Fi or tip jar or anything. I really appreciate the thought, but it’s enough that you’re using it and it’s (hopefully) helping you stay motivated.

Here’s to a productive New Year!

Cheers!

“The Crow and the Phoenix” now available at Daily Science Fiction

I’ve been working on a particular novel for a long time now–originally drafted in 2014 in fifteen minute increments, I’m now on my third rewrite after a grueling workshop with Kij Johnson and Barbara Webb over the summer. When I took my latest draft to the workshop one thing was missing: the prologue, which I had decided to cut and turn into a flash piece. Would it work as a stand-alone story?

I’m very happy that editors Michele-Lee Barasso and Jonathan Laden felt it did. It’s now up at Daily Science Fiction under the title “The Crow and the Phoenix,” a bite-sized story of 1,000 words.

And looking at it again…I think it probably does belong in the book after all.

RESIST: Tales From a Future Worth Fighting Against

Anyone else forget that they have a blog?

ANYWAY…a few months ago I had the tremendous good fortune to join an editorial team working on a Secret Project: an anthology of speculative fiction to benefit the ACLU. The book was conceived by Gary Whitta (of Rogue One fame), and co-edited by Gary, Hugh Howey, and myself. All of the authors and editors–even the proofreader!–donated our time and work to the cause.

RESIST: Tales From a Future Worth Fighting Against was originally released as part of a Humble Bundle–the “Get Out the Vote!” bundle–which raised $60,000 for the ACLU. It’s now available on Amazon in both print and ebook editions, and all proceeds after Amazon fees will continue to go to the ACLU forever.

You can buy it here.

 

Tangent reviews Her February Face: “Highly Recommended”

Tangent Online has reviewed the April issue of Diabolical Plots and had very kind things to say about my story, “Her February Face.” Reviewer Kat Day says:

“This is a beautifully-written piece that drew me in immediately. …The ending is touching and brings the story together perfectly. Highly recommended.”

You can read the rest of the review here.

Retro Review: The White Mountains by John Christopher

In which I make an effort to fill some of the gaps in my knowledge of the science fiction and fantasy published before 2000 (or “in the 1900’s,” as my daughter would say, but that just makes me feel old).

The White Mountains by John Christopher
Copyright © John Christopher 1967
Edition read: Second Collier Books edition 1988

Cover: The Tripods Trilogy by John Christopher. A enormous dome atop three articulated legs menaces two boys while drawing a third boy toward the dome via a retractable tentacle.

I was lucky enough to have a fourth-grade teacher who loved science fiction. Fourth grade was the last year in which teachers read to the class as part of the daily curriculum. (This was around 1980.) That year our teacher read Ray Bradbury stories (“The Fog Horn” and “All Summer in a Day” being particularly memorable from that time), Madeleine L’Engle’s A Wrinkle in Time (of course)–and The White Mountains by John Christopher. When I spotted an aged copy at the library book sale, I picked it up, whereupon it accumulated nostalgia and dust for two years. I found it the other day, and needing something to read, decided to revisit the book that had so frightened me and helped to shape my early understanding of science fiction.

My memory of it was confused, at best. I suspect that I conflated it with the later books in the series, which our teacher may have also read, or maybe I picked them up on my own. I remembered the books being far-future science fiction, absolutely terrifying, and largely taking place in a snowy mountain range, with a solitary protagonist in ever-present danger.

Instead what I found was a post-apocalyptic story set in the current time, a return to a feudal society after the fall of human civilization at the hands of the enormous, robotic Tripods, who now rule through mind-control via the mesh metal “caps” that are placed on every person coming of age. No one knows where the Tripods came from, whether they were made by humans or arrived on Earth from somewhere else—but capping brings an end to curiosity, a confident knowledge of one’s place in the world, and a social harmony that makes the presence of the Tripods a thing that most people neither object to nor fear.

Will, our protagonist—his name likely being symbolic—is starting to question the necessity of capping as he has just lost his closest companion, his cousin Jack, who has been capped and has joined the society of adults. Will in his grief and loneliness meets a Vagrant, a type of man whose bond with the Tripods didn’t take, leading him possibly to madness, but certainly making him an outcast in a society that functions in complete unity. This Vagrant calls himself Ozymandias, and his cap is a fake that allows him to travel without suspicion. He convinces Will that his fear of capping is valid and reasonable, and tells him that there is a society of free boys and men who have refused to be capped living in the White Mountains, who he could join, if he has the courage.

Will makes the decision to flee before his capping, leaving his family and future behind, and inadvertently teams up with his boyhood antagonist, Henry. Together they leave the land (England–a discovery to me, but maybe obvious to those who know the place), and cross the channel into France,  where they adopt a third member of their party, a young man with an inventive mind who they call Beanpole as they can’t decipher his accent (it’s really Jean-Paul). When Will falls ill, he is taken in by the nominal ruling family and nursed back to health, separated from his companions and maintaining the cover of being an average, if adventurous, Tripod-compliant boy. The three must escape the feudal enclave—where Will must part with Eloise, a girl he has grown close to, who will soon be offered up as a sacrifice to the Tripods and will live out her life in service to them, wherever it is that they abide—and outrun, outsmart, and survive the Tripods that have picked up their trail.

It was not unusual for literature of the time to have little in the way of women or girls as capable of adventure as the boys, and I tried to bear in mind that such books were written specifically for boys (we girls were meant to be reading Little House and Trixie Belden mysteries—which I happily also did); even so, I did find it odd that there were absolutely no girls or women in the entire world with curiosity and strength of will equal to three pre-teen boys who could reach the free people in the White Mountains. If I were to see a reboot of this today, I think Henry would make an interesting Henrietta, and curious and defiant people would not be limited to a single gender.

The prose in The White Mountains is formal, but simple and evocative, and the diction never gets in the way of the action. Even now I found I didn’t want to put it down, and having forgotten most of it in the intervening decades, I was eager to discover what happens next. The tension in the Tripods’ pursuit was as chilling now as it was then, and the strange traditions around Capping Day were fascinating and creepy. Will himself grows and changes in productive ways, at one point realizing that he has treated Eloise with terrible disrespect and deeply regretting it.

I’m glad this is part of a trilogy; there are simply too many unanswered questions about the Tripods, as nagging as an unscratched itch. In this book their unpredictable nature and unknown origin makes them ominous and terrifying, but if I didn’t believe that answers might lie ahead in the second and third books, I think I would leave this one unsatisfied.

The Year in Yant, 2017 Edition

I wasn’t going to do a year-end thing this year, but my friend Luna convinced me that it was worth doing. Though there may be more to it than that—a lot of things seem a lot more worth doing than they did a short while ago. More on that in a moment.

2017 saw my first publication in three years: “Things That Creep and Bind” in The Sum of Us from Laksa Media. This was a solicited piece, and I am so deeply grateful to Lucas Law and Susan Forest for inviting me to the project. If they hadn’t, I might not have written any prose at all in 2016.

And then they did it again, inviting me to contribute to next year’s anthology, Shades Within Us, and once again, I wrote when I otherwise would not have. The result was the completion and sale of my first novelette-length work, coming in around 9,000 words in the end. The story was a major overhaul and expansion of one of the first stories I’d ever submitted anywhere (so there may be some editors out there who recognize the title when they see it). Finishing something that long was a major victory for me, especially given that I’m most comfortable under 3,000 words.

I am also grateful to Diabolical Plots editor David Steffen, who bought “Her February Face,” which will come out this spring. Additionally, two comics that I either wrote or co-wrote in 2016 were published this past summer, along with at least one of the four I edited. And in the category of “passive victories,” a story of mine was optioned, which is a thing I didn’t really expect to ever be able to mark off my bingo card.

I started a new day job in the wine industry, which has been great. It gets me out of the house and talking to people other than my immediate family a few days every month, and I find it low-pressure and fun.

My D&D party wrapped up a seven-year campaign, if you can believe that. (We did take a year off in the middle while various party members dealt with big scary adult things.) We’re already thinking about our characters for the next one, due to start in January.

I started work on that comic that I blogged about recently. It’s a secondary project for now, because my primary project is a novel manuscript I originally started in 2014, which I returned to this year. I even went on a brief AirBnB retreat, where I drank copious amounts of tea and added nearly twenty thousand words. I’m still working on it, and there’s a long way to go, but I’m working at it consistently, because now I can. Which brings me to…

In the final quarter of this year I saw a new doctor, who asked me some pointed questions that no other doctor had asked. I suppose I should not have been surprised by the results. The upshot is that my depression—which I have likely suffered from to varying degrees my entire life–is now being treated. It’s early days yet, but I can report that virtually every part of my life seems better, like my baseline state of being has been upgraded from “persistently defeated bordering on miserable” to “just fine.” Previously when something exciting would happen, like a story sale, I might spike into “pretty satisfied.” Yesterday a cool thing happened–that option payment and a very kind note from the producer arrived–and I felt good. Happy. I’m able to stay on task; I’m able to take actual satisfaction in getting things done, instead of feeling that every accomplishment is merely another battle in the losing war against entropy. It’s a surprising and extremely welcome change.

So that was 2017. The state of the world aside, I’m hopeful for the coming year. My goals are fairly modest, I think, which is fine. The important thing is that they seem achievable.

As ever, I wish you and yours a happy holiday season, and a hopeful new year. I think we all earned it.