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.