Conventions, Appearances, and Some Slight Foreshadowing

Exceedingly long time no blog. I blame — oh, a multitude of things, beginning with ‘I spent a week in Mexico City talking about risk communication with people from the World Bank’, followed by ‘having your wisdom teeth out at age 33 is horrible’ and proceeding to ‘spent the summer in New York City working for the Mayor’s Office and writing some short stories and Teixcalaan #2’. I am often sleepless but never bored.

However! I return to blogging to tell you of where you may witness me in person. And to bring you some … intimations. Oracular intimations.


Appearances & Conventions, Remainder of 2018

September 28-30: First off, we’ve got the Baltimore Book Festival, this coming weekend in the Baltimore Inner Harbor! I will be at the SFWA tent all three days, and I’m on (or moderating!) the following panels:

9/28 (Friday) @ 12 PM: ‘My Muse Is My Day Job’

9/29 (Saturday) @ 11 AM: ‘…In Space!'

9/30 (Sunday) @ 1 PM: ‘The Future of Cities, the Fantasy of Cities’ (M)

October 5-7: I’ll be at New York Comic Con! I have a signing and ARC giveaway session at the Tor booth at 11 AM on Saturday the 6th, and possibly I will exist at some other locations to be determined! Details when I’ve got them, but it should be a fun time — I’ve never done a comic con from this side of the table before.

October 11-13: I’m going to Denver for the Mountains and Plains Independent Booksellers Association conference, to chat with booksellers about A MEMORY CALLED EMPIRE. I’ll be on a panel on SFF on Friday the 12th, if you happen to be there…

November 1-4: And lastly, I’ll be at World Fantasy in Baltimore the first weekend in November. Programming isn’t out yet, but I’m hoping to be able to give a reading or be on some interesting panels!


foreshadowing

In the next week or so, you’ll see me talking about a new project on Twitter — one which grew out of an adventure in microfictional cities that was inspired by Cassandra Khaw. You’ll have an opportunity to be involved in it — in several ways — but to begin with, here’s a city, and here’s an opportunity to ask a question that will help shape this project:

It is possible, the citizens of Nahal claim, to live a whole life without ever setting foot on the land: humans were never kind enough to the earth, and it deserves some peace, bothered only by a crowding of ships in faint view, a city in exile waiting to come home to ground.

Now ask, if you would — imagining that you are consulting an oracle — any question you wish, thinking of Nahal. Your questions will be answered, in one sense or another.

New short fiction: "Object-Oriented" in Fireside #53

A somewhat belated announcement of new short fiction! My long flash piece, "Object-Oriented", is in Fireside #53 (March 2018). It's still March! I'm not entirely too late on the announcement business!

This is perhaps the first story that I've had published which entirely emerges from my new work in urban planning. (Thinking about urban planning apparently gets me to write near-future SF, which has not previously been my wheelhouse.) It is also a story which I'm incredibly pleased appears next to Marissa Lingen's brilliant "Flow", in the same issue. There are a great many ways to think about individual relationships to the physical environments, in SFF -- SFF clarifies, in many ways, how human and ecological and built-environment are already and can become ever-more-so entangled with one another. "Flow" is in a sense about accommodation. "Object-Oriented" considers resilience. I like reading "Object-Oriented" against "Flow", and asking if their protagonists, Marisol and Regina, are in fact engaged in the same kind of sacrifices; if they could exchange places.

(The part of me which is still all about writing fanfic would want them to meet.) (The part of me which is all about collaboration wants to write with Marissa about cities and wildernesses as inverse loves.)

"Object-Oriented" wouldn't have been written if I hadn't read this CityLab article about the team of volunteer architects and engineers who responded to the 2017 Mexico City earthquakes. https://www.citylab.com/environment/2017/09/mexico-city-earthquake-architects-engineers-building-damage/540576/ Think of them, when we think about what we can do in crises.

 


Also some news: I expect this coming week I will have some Exciting Announcements, and I'm planning on launching my newsletter properly -- so if you haven't signed up, get signed up now. I promise you collections of interesting peculiarities, and also the first shot at knowing what's going on with the novel coming out next year...

Reprint short fiction: "Adjuva" at Luna Station Quarterly #33

It's March, and there's a nor'easter battering the East Coast -- so I've brought you a story about wandering through deserts.

"Adjuva", originally published in 2016 in the now-defunct Lakeside Circus, has been reprinted by Luna Station Quarterly. You can read it here: http://lunastationquarterly.com/story/adjuva/

This is a story I could not have written without being a Byzantinist -- without being a historian, which is in many ways a thing that talks to the dead.

I wrote a version of it at white-heat in the deep winter of January 2012, in the University of Chicago library. I like writing desert horror in the winter. (I like writing desert horror in general.) "Adjuva"  was the second story I wrote after I decided that I was going to be serious about writing, in the sense that I would send my work to magazines. Naturally, having decided to be commercial, I promptly spat out some of the most personal, emotional, high-concept, requires-a-goddamn-Masters-in-Crusade-Studies-to-read stunt-writing fantasy I was capable of producing at the time.

I used to call this thing “Vladimir and Estragon Go On Crusade”, seriously. It is my love-letter to Crusader chansons and the Gesta Francorum and the first trip I ever took to Turkey and all the unhallowed dead. To the complexity and horror of medieval theology, and to the untold stories of Crusading -- the Byzantine stories, the Islamic ones. It is -- years before I studied narratology professionally -- a narratological story, about memory and narrative-construction and the ways in which telling stories bends time until it kinks around a point.

"Adjuva" is also a study in persistence: the first time around I sent it to sixteen magazines before it got picked up. By the time it sold I had rewritten it substantively. Somewhere around magazine #8 I knew it was broken, and even knew why, thanks to an astute editor and a kind personal rejection, but was flat-out unable to fix it -- because the problem was in fact theological. This is a very Catholic story — I’m a very Jewish person, for all that I don’t practice as much as I could — and sometimes I felt like I was wrestling with God, trying to find a way to let Michel have a way out that did not strike me as ethically monstrous. To write an ending where surrender was not only permitted but correct.

But wandering creates the desert. And narrative is a form of wandering, and a desert in its own peculiar way.

New short fiction: "The Hydraulic Emperor", in Uncanny #20

My newest short story, "The Hydraulic Emperor", is available online now in Uncanny Magazine #20: https://uncannymagazine.com/article/the-hydraulic-emperor. This is the first story I've sold to Uncanny (after many attempts!) and I'm exquisitely pleased and honored to share the table of contents with a whole group of my dearest friends in-genre: how lucky I am to get to have a story in the same issue as Elizabeth Bear's masterful and heartbreaking tory "She Still Loves The Dragon", John Wiswell's deeply insightful essay "The Stories Our Games Tell Us", and Fran Wilde's viciously important creative-nonfiction piece, "We Will See You Now".

And that's just (part of) the first half of the issue. In February the other half goes live, with stories from Marissa Lingen and my own beloved wife, Vivian Shaw, who has written a piece of near-future hard SF horror that squicked me, and that's saying something. (I'm very proud of her). This is wonderful company to find myself in. I'm glad it's the company I got for "The Hydraulic Emperor", which is one of my favorite pieces of my own work, and one I'm desperately proud of.

It's about sacrifices, and being a fan, and collecting beautiful things, and aliens, and solidarity, and I got the idea for it from an AV Club article by Ignatiy Vishnevetsky back in the dim dark December of 2014, when I was living in Fredericton, New Brunswick and thought it would never stop snowing. It took me three years to find the right way to tell it. It turned out that what I wanted to do, really, was try to write as if I was Burning Chrome-era William Gibson. The part of this story that doesn't come from Vishnevetsky is right out of Gibson's "Hinterlands".

I like thinking about objects, and what people will do for them. People are fascinatingly nasty about wanting, even when they know wanting is actively destructive.

Also I got to name a place the Hotel Terminus, which may be the most Gibsonesque thing I will ever do.

I hope you read it; I hope you enjoy it. I'm looking forward to 2018 in short fiction -- I'll have at least one other story soon, and hopefully more in the later months of the year. Short fiction remains an entire delight of mine, the skillset I'm most comfortable in, the playground to test ideas and make tiny, perfect, vicious little worlds. It's been great to get back to it, briefly, before I embark on novel #2.

2017 / lambkins, we will live

From a strange and delightful boutique hotel on Chambers and West Broadway, with a 19th-century map of lower Manhattan carved into the shower tiles like a strange and unexpected hello, I know you gift: guess what, we lived. Happy almost-New-Year.

I'm getting married in sixteen days. Throw-a-giant-party married, rather than legally married, which we've been for a while now. My wife is right next to me, playing with fountain pen inks -- she acquired this hobby by contagion from some of our other writer friends, and I am showing the first signs of infection -- and god, I am so lucky, and here is one of the ways we lived: this time last year I was terrified we'd lose the ability to be married before we got to ever do it. And so far: so far not yet.

(So far not yet for a lot of things. Because of the good work of our own hands and voices. I have never in my life been as politically conscious as I have been this year, and I don't expect this to stop; I don't want it to. My friend Max says fight for the liberation of all sentient beings, and I want to add to that and say repair the world, the temple can always be undefiled once we kick the bastards out.)

But these small things, too: a woman I love loves me, and we have had our first full 365 days together, one entire trip around the sun, and we still love each other, and we build a life, piece by piece. Her book came out in July. We went to Sweden together in August. I got an agent and sold my book and used part of the advance to pay tuition on a master's degree in urban planning. We acquired tiny plants, and killed some of them, and didn't kill others. We bought ridiculous amazing octagonal black tableware. And furniture. And books. And after a while I stopped having to go back across the Atlantic and it's just been -- us, together, piece by piece. Even while the rest of the world seemed to shatter slowly.

I wrote -- not less than I planned to, though that's also true (my academic monograph is going to be Very Late, sigh), but differently than I planned to. I finished the novel and then I added nearly 30,000 more words to it in a structural edit after it was sold, and that was hard, and that was amazing, and I'm very proud of it, and very glad to have had the help of my editor at Tor, Devi Pillai, to show me what I could do. I wrote a grand total of two short stories. (Sold both, at least.) Wrote a lot of academia. Articles, classwork. Wrote -- 2/3rds of that academic monograph, some of which is really good, some of which is tied irrevocably to how I seem to have slipped out of the spinning wheel of postdoc academia and into a sideways other life where I ... am going to build cities that don't drown, and sometimes write about Byzantium and empires and dead languages, but mostly not.

I am complicatedly good with that slip, right now, in the heart of the city I want to serve. I am angry, and will always be angry, at the way academia did not value my labor enough to pay me a living wage and provide me job security of any kind, but was happy to publish me and invite me to present my work. I am angry at being denied. But I'm good with the choice I made in the face of that denial, which was to find a new way to be useful, and to learn, and to -- oh, to be terrible and dramatic about it, to find something worth serving. This city, New York, which I love. Other cities, too, but here first and here because.

(Also the more disciplines I marinate my brain in, the more layers my fiction seems to develop; god I'm excited about seeing what I can do with these new ways of thinking about narrative.)

In the Union Square Christmas market, last week, Viv -- my wife (I still can't stop saying that) -- found a tiny shop selling reclaimed artifacts from NYC abandoned buildings, made into jewelry. There was a necklace there made from a 1950s subway token -- one from between 1953 and 1961, because it was a NYCTA token, not an MTA one. I spent a lot of time this fall writing about the NYC subway system, for both non-fiction and fictional purposes. I bought the token-necklace. I will wear it. Sometimes the universe tells you you're doing the right thing.

I wasn't sure, last year, that we'd get this far. I wasn't sure that I would. I have not been strong. I have been positively friable. But: hey, darlings, we lived.

And it is a New Year, and this is the best holiday: throw yourself into the future. Hold hands and raise voices. Celebrate with me when we can. Reach.

Two songs to see us out, one for strength and one for joy:

Grace Petrie, They Shall Not Pass - (yes it's late in the day but we can still / save tomorrow if we try)

The Mountain Goats, This Year - (I'm gonna make it through this year / if it kills me)

see you in the morning, universe.

In lieu of the traditional awards-eligibility post, this:

2017 has been an excellent year for me as a writer.

Nevertheless, this is not a post about the many things I have written which, if you happened to have liked them, you could nominate for Nebulas or Hugos or various other shiny things.

It’s not that I’m against awards-eligibility posts, ethically or aesthetically; I rather like them, both as a way of marking my own achievements for myself and for the sake of summarizing the work done in a year and sent out into the world – and I am completely unashamed about the self-promotion aspect, the outward-facing hey! I made stuff! Remember? Which is how the best of that sort of summary works: a moment of reification of the writer-self as an evaluatable object, a thing that can be spun and held up at angles to see how the light goes through.

The weird thing is that because 2017 has been an excellent year for me as a writer, I have … only one published piece of fiction in the year 2017. (I’m very fond of it – it’s called “Ruin Marble”, it’s about a possessed radio, fallen angels, the NYPL, and how to stop being an evil sorceress, and you can read it over here in Mithila Review 9. Critically, this story sank like a stone into a deep lake, without a ripple to mark its passing. So it goes. I like it; it’s in the world to read; that’s what matters.) Why only one published piece of fiction? Because even in the world of short fiction, there’s anywhere between a three- and nine-month delay between sale and publication – sometimes longer. So a story that came out in May 2017, like this one did, might have been sold in December 2016 … like this one was.

So the real question when a short fiction author who’d been averaging five to seven new stories a year suddenly drops to one story published in twelve months is jeez, what were they doing in the year previous to the year that the number dropped?

What did I do in 2016, essentially.

Here is a thing that I have learned: if, by chance, you spend 2016 visiting 11 countries for work, meeting the love of your life and getting engaged to her (thus beginning a pattern of bouncing back between Eastern time and Central European time in alternate two and six-week swings), attempting and failing to win at the academic job market, figuring out what you want to do if you’re not going to do academia and setting that project (city planning! Climate change mitigation!) in motion, being violently traumatized by the political implosion of your country, and finishing a novel?

You sure as hell are only going to write one short story in 2016. I mean. If you’re me.

And then in 2017 I spent the first half of it revising that novel, getting an agent, and having that agent help me sell it. (Which is why 2017 has been a great year for me as a writer.) I didn’t get the space or time to write short fiction again until June. (Sold the story I wrote in June – but guess what, it’s in the January-February issue of Uncanny.) And then another short story in September. (Sold that one too – but it’ll probably be in Fireside sometime around March.) Haven’t done much other short fiction – too busy revising the novel, now to editorial specifications.

People in the publishing industry talk a lot about the delay between the time when you finish your novel and the time when it’s published. Mine doesn’t come out til 2019. But I don’t think we often talk about the balance between producing short fiction and producing longer work, or about how short fiction publishing also has delays built in. I feel like I’ve had the most successful year of my life as a professional writer this year. And yet: just one story for you to look at!

It’s the balance that interests me, not the lack of possible award nominations. The tradeoffs between writing short and long, between projects that take years to come to fruition and projects that take months. I keep thinking about how this interacts with the necessity of keeping your name in the wind, as an author: you don’t’ want to vanish for a year, in terms of having people remember you exist. If I was just breaking in – if this was my first year, or if I’d had just one six-story year and then went dark – it’d be a lot easier for people to forget that I existed. Which of course is the fear. (I’m not worried now. I have a track record, and I have some very flattering anticipatory interest in the novel. But the fear is there, lurking.) As I’m shifting from the phase of ‘breaking in’ to the industry to ‘being a debut novelist’ – especially coming from being a short fiction person first and primarily – I am beginning to spend some significant time thinking about how to better control the ebbs and flows of publishing speed to produce a more linear narrative of authorial presence.

It’s a strange place to be in, this transition; a lot of people don’t come from short fiction first, so their breakthrough moment is that first novel. But for me, what I’m experiencing right now feels more like a state change: possibly from apprentice-writer to journeyman. There’s a whole new set of skills out here in novelist land. One of them is going to be time management on a years-long scale.

on voting in America, election day 2017

I am on the subway, the 1 line, somewhere under City College. I’ve come up to the city to vote, because I can’t not, right now. I have almost always voted – I was raised in it, taken to the polls with my parents, allowed once to yank the huge lever for my father back when the machines had levers to yank, that satisfying thunk sound – but I have not understood voting as a compulsion before this year. I have not understood voting as a particular form of civic sacrality. A consecration: dear city of my heart, dear my broken and disastrous nation, these fifteen minutes of my life belong to you. I inscribe myself on the shape of your future.

The ‘I Voted!’ stickers in New York State this year have a picture of a suffragette with a megaphone on them. They say, celebrating 100 years of women’s suffrage.  Did you know it has been a hundred years? I had somehow, in the violence and the despair and the narrative-breaking horror of the first year of President Donald Trump, entirely forgotten. On the subway standing next to me is a woman who is wearing the same sticker. She is young and dark-haired and startlingly beautiful, deep red mouth and a shearling jacket in grey and black. We see each other’s stickers. We look at each other’s faces. We smile, flicker-fast, mutual recognition. And I think, as sharp and as fast as that stranger’s smile, what would it be like to be celebrating in that other world where my president was a woman?

I think in that world I might not be writing this blog post. I think if I was writing this blog post in that world I would have talked about the bright arc of women reclaiming what we have been denied. I think I would be writing about joy.

I saw a thread on Twitter yesterday about trauma anniversaries. In the past three weeks I have been knife-edge fragile, balanced carefully between being the only one of my friends and colleagues who is willing to profess climate optimism, and being the one of my friends and colleagues who cannot bring herself to imagine a future where climate optimism had time to flourish. I think of all the joys upcoming in my life – my wedding, in January; my academic research being published in late 2018; my novel being published, in 2019; working as a city planner, moving back to New York to do it, in the nebulous world of 2019-2021 – I think of joy, these past three weeks, and I am plunged, Pavlovian, directly into blank despair. Nothing matters, I think. Nothing matters anyhow. None of it will happen. We are all already dead.

This is a trauma response. Intensification of anxiety and irrational patterning of thought is common around the anniversary of trauma.

On Election Day last year I was in Sweden, alone, at first ecstatic and then horrified and then violently ill as the night progressed. In the three weeks after I went a kind of mad. I think a lot of us did. It didn’t help that everyone else had also been broken on the rocks. Looking at the shattered guts of my fellow travelers – we who were just isolated enough from the cruelty and endemic oppression of the United States to believe we were living in a world bending, with effort, towards the light – oh, god, why did I think solidarity would help? Solidarity in being wounded is not a comfort. And yet I have spent this year thinking to myself: I should not have broken, I should not have been so hurt, I should have known better than to live in that other world of my imagination, where I had been safe, and expected talent and determination and the slow march of justice to bring me all that I could desire. I should have known. And I am not yet in the sort of danger that produces real trauma, I think: I may be queer and Jewish, I may have a series of gold coins that my father gave me when I was eighteen in case I needed to ever buy off a border official –

But god, PTSD? Over an election? Really?

This too is a trauma response.

So is – in a fashion – voting. Voting not just with grim determination, but with purpose and with as much joy as I can muster up. One hundred years of women’s suffrage. I inscribe myself into the future of my broken and poisoned nation. A stranger smiled at me on the train and I thought: oh. We are still here.

We are still here.

I rode the subway to Penn Station and I bought a coffee and I drank it fast enough to burn my tongue, and read on my phone an essay written by a Philippino writer, Dimas Ilaw, in Uncanny Magazine. The essay is called “The Shape of the Darkness as it Overtakes Us”. It is not easy to read. It is an inscription, too: it inscribes names and blood and death, and a violence that lives inside the skin of a people and devours. It is a beautiful essay. Ilaw is a magnificent writer. I drank my coffee and tasted cardamom and cream and thought: my broken and poisoned nation. Your broken and poisoned nation, Ilaw. I see you. I hear the names you speak.

Go read what Ilaw wrote. Go here, now. https://uncannymagazine.com/article/shape-darkness-overtakes-us/

Ilaw talks about reading, in their essay. Talks about reading and writing, and how these things are both comfort and fire. They say, close to the end:

Reader, I am writing this for you.

I do not know if you are a Filipino; I do not know if you care about what is happening in the Philippines. I do not know what is happening in your own country or whether those you care about are safe. I don’t know your politics or whom you support or anything about you; all I know is that I have to tell you this.

Your reading, too, is resistance.

I printed my train ticket. I have to go to the campus at which I am currently getting a degree in urban planning, and I need to be in class tonight, so I will travel down the Eastern Seaboard and I will do good work today, and wear this sticker, which is very small and not that sticky anymore even two hours after I put it on. I printed my train ticket and I leaked tears from the corners of my eyelids and smeared turquoise eyeliner down my cheeks. “We will refuse the silence just as we refuse our annihilation,” Ilaw says.

A stranger on a train; her lipstick, her secret shared joy that was also mine.

Throw yourself into the future like a stone skipped on a lake: let that stone be an ostrakon. Inscribe the world you want onto the face of the world we live in.

Voting in America, election day 2017.

new website, exciting publication news, and con appearances in Europe

Well, let's just do this all at once, shall we?

Hi. I'm Arkady, I write speculative fiction when I'm not writing Byzantine & Armenian academic history or planning cities, I (currently) live in Baltimore with my wife Vivian Shaw -- it's weird having a fixed address, but I've got one now, and I rather like it -- and I have just sold my first novel, along with its sequel, to Tor Books, where Devi Pillai will be my editor.

I'd tell you the title of the novel if I knew what it was. Title of novel status: assailing Fortress Tor Marketing with a trebuchet loaded with water balloons. The titles go sploosh and dissipate rapidly. In hopes of loading the trebuchet with something a little more substantive I'm currently rereading Kalpa Imperial: the greatest empire that never was by Angélica Gorodischer, which has been gorgeously translated into English by Ursula Le Guin. I recommend it even if you aren't trying to find a title for your space opera about imperialism, the colonized mind, institutional memory, and plot-bearing poetry contests.

I do have some lovely press for it already, though, and that I can share: http://www.tor.com/2017/07/26/arkady-martine-debut-space-opera-announcement/ It should, god willing and the creek don't rise, be published in 2019.

I am currently engrossed in the first round of edits for said novel, which means that the fact that I am also leaving for two weeks in Scandinavia tomorrow evening is hilariously both wonderful and terrible: going to Scandinavia! Sweden -- for my very own Byzantium and SFF conference, Reception Histories of the Future! Finland -- for WorldCon 75, the first WorldCon I've ever been to!

but my edits! (I expect I will be editing on planes.)

Schedule of where you might find me:

UPPSALA, SWEDEN (AUGUST 4-6) - Reception Histories of the Future: a conference on Byzantinisms, Speculative Fiction, and the Literary Heritage of Medieval Empire

Friday August 4th

  • Opening Lecture
  • Panel - Space Empires: Roman or Post-Roman? AKA Rhomaioi and Barbaroi in Space

Saturday August 5th

  • Panel: Histories of the Future: Apocalypse as a Future-State, Ends of the World, and the Fall of Empires
  • Discussion: What has Athens to do with Jerusalem - or Byzantium to do with the 21st Century?

Sunday August 6th

  • Panel: Empire and its dissidents: reading the speculative fiction of empire and conquest through postcolonial eyes (moderator)
  • Panel: After the decline and fall - decadence in SFF

STOCKHOLM, SWEDEN (AUGUST 7, 8:30 PM) - An evening at the Nobel Museum - What stories does science tell? From psychohistory to planet-busting superweapons.

  • In which I get to moderate an amazing panel of SFF authors, including Kameron Hurley, Elizabeth Bear, Scott Lynch, Fran Wilde, and Jo Walton.

HELSINKI, FINLAND (AUGUST 9-12) - WorldCon 75

Thursday August 10

  • Panel: Fanfic As A Writing School (10 AM)
  • Panel: Reimagining Worlds With Speculative Poetry (9 PM)

Friday August 11

  • Panel: Fantasy Warfare Not Based In Medieval Methods (10 AM)

And after that I'm just wandering around the con, having a lovely time!