Award Eligibility 2018

That rough beast, its time come round again, slouches toward the Nebulas to be born — er. Hi. It’s apparently award season in SFF-land, and I am in the business of misquoting Eliot for fun and profit. Self-promotion is the order of the day. (My own ‘best of’ will show up sometime in December.) Awards season is like election season: breathless, continuous, and longer than you think. The Nebula Awards have just opened for nomination, and will be open through February 15; the Hugos will be along shortly, I’m sure. Nebula nominations are reserved for members of SFWA (at any level) — there’s a nice explainer here on the SFWA site — and the Hugos are open to anyone who buys a supporting membership in this year’s Worldcon. Most of you know this, but every so often I feel like we should be a little more transparent for those of us who don’t, or who are new.

I have two short stories which are eligible this year, both of which I am amazingly proud of. If I have to pick one, however, it is “The Hydraulic Emperor”, in Uncanny #20: about obsession, film collectors in space, sacrifice auctions, and weird alien nihilism. Also there’s the worst Grail quest pun ever.

The Hydraulic Emperor

Uncanny #20

I also have a piece of long flash in Fireside this year, called “Object-Oriented”, which is being reprinted in the Hope in This Timeline micro-anthology Fireside is putting out. It’s one of the few near-future pieces I’ve written, and one of the first that came out of my new work as a city planner with a real interest in hazards and disasters.

Object-Oriented

Fireside #53

(I’ve also been doing some more writing for Tor.com, most lately a piece on how post-disaster, humans are remarkably good at taking care of each other, contrary to popular belief: “What Really Happens After the Apocalypse”. You might want that as a chaser to “Object-Oriented”.)

I’m so very glad I got to have these two stories out in the world this year — next year, more, and also next year, a whole novel. But these two, I’m proud of.

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.

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.