New writers are often advised not to read reviews of their work. The theory goes that reviews are for readers, not for writers who can do nothing whatsoever to make amends for whatever glaring faults the reviewer finds in their work. Worse yet, a few bad reviews–or maybe only one or two–just might dishearten the newbie author to such an extent that they wreak havoc on further creative endeavors.
What this well-meaning advice neglects to address is how a new writer, or even a well-established author with numerous publications to their name, is supposed to resist the siren call of the review. In my own case, for the longest time, I wouldn’t even admit to reading reviews of my work because I thought it showed a character flaw. Over time, I came to see that a great many writers, maybe even most of us, do read published reviews of our work. I suppose we could justify doing so on the grounds that it’s nonsensical for us to be the only ones who have no idea what professional reviewers are saying about our body of work. A lot of us also read Amazon and Good Reads reviews written by readers. Again, it seems to make sense to find out what our fans, no matter how numerous or how sparse, think of our stories.
There’s another reason to read reviews. Writing is, inescapably, a solitary profession for long chunks of time. It can also seem frustratingly like casting one’s work into a black hole from which not a solitary ray of feedback escapes. Who wouldn’t want to hear something?
Besides, there are times when that feedback can be extraordinarily gratifying. Take for example, Rich Horton’s review of the my own story, “Conservation of Mismatched Shoes,” in the July 2019 issue of Locus. It’s his favorite story in the issue! Mark me down as thrilled. Thrilled, I tell you! This isn’t simply a matter of basking in his kind words. My reaction has everything to do with the fact that while writing this one, I really struggled to portray the teenage protagonist and her older brother. Rich Horton deemed it “[a]n honest story, convincingly characterized.”
I intend to keep on reading those reviews!
It’s the beginning of the month, which means my Patreon statement shows up today listing the wonderful writers, editors, and other creators whom I support via Patreon each month. Yeah, no doubt about it, I feel good each time this arrives and I can see how I’m helping, in my modest way, these terrific people to do marvelous work. But…
Here’s the thing: My Patreon list is nowhere near as inclusive of diverse and/or marginalized individuals as I wish it were. Oh sure, I buy lots of books, magazines, and other works created by folks from all sorts of backgrounds. But still. It’s time, maybe past time, for me to take a hard look right now at who I support and how much.
Fifty years ago today I thrilled at the Moon landing, which I watched on a a grainy black-and-white TV with my parents and brother. From that day forth, the kid who was me believed she could, one day, work on the Moon if she wanted to. After all, our later-reviled President, Richard Nixon, told us that “The sky is no longer the limit.” Oh how I could hardly wait to land my own job on the Moon!
Technology has come a long way in fifty years, which is how I was able to sit on the national Mall yesterday evening with thousands of others watching a projection of the Apollo 11 rocket onto the Washington Monument. This was part of a program in which NASA and the Smithsonian commemorated the momentous achievement of all the women and men who poured their passion into making Apollo 11 a reality. And there I sat on the grass remembering my own dream job on the Moon.
Actually, my trip down memory lane began on a rainy night at the ballpark some days earlier. There, I chanced upon a replica of Neil Armstrong’s space suit, which got me to musing about what happened to that kid who thought she could work on the Moon when she grew up. I’ll tell you, dear readers. That kid, who is as much me as she ever was, went on to get a job on the Moon! That is to say, I became a science fiction writer and found out that when I unleash my imagination, the sky is indeed no longer the limit.
Hope you can come see me and other talented writers at Balticon this weekend in Baltimore’s Inner Harbor. Here’s my schedule. Also, I’ll be reading from “Conservation of Mismatched Shoes,” that just appeared in Amazing Stories.
Friday, May 24
6pm – 6:55pm
What are Literary Awards?
Friday May 24
9pm – 9:55pm
Readings: Burke, Cooley, Smith
St. George Room
Saturday, May 25
6pm – 6:55pm
Gender in Genre
Sunday, May 26 Friday
2pm – 2:55pm
Just How Many People Live in Your Fantasy City, Anyway?
Mount Washington Room
Monday, May 27
1pm – 1:55pm
Writing Interactive Fiction
Pride of Baltimore II Room
Why should I go on a writing retreat when I have a home office set-up that gives me plenty of opportunity to amass all the words? I mean, it takes time and money to travel, eat out, etc. Even considering that many of the daily distractions won’t exist, will it be worth it to head out to do what I can do right here?
These questions swirled through my brain as I packed my bag not long ago and left for a retreat with some of my writer buds. I’ve done writing retreats several times before and have always come home rather surprised at how much I managed to accomplish. And that’s with–or despite–ubiquitous high-speed internet and face-time with people I haven’t hung out with nearly enough.
I’ve been giving some thought to why it’s easier for me to write in the company of other writers. For me, it’s a matter of accountability. When I see the intense concentration of my friends’ faces as they sit together grinding out words, peer pressure seizes me. My urge to sink into social media drops away. I find myself opening that unfinished piece and wrestling with it. Oddly enough, writing on retreat works best for me when I’ve reached a knotty place in the story. I find I’m less inclined to throw in the towel.
Caveat: Your mileage may vary. No two writers go about it in exactly the same way, so I’m pretty sure retreats don’t work well for some. Nonetheless, if you get the chance, give it a shot!
By which, I am thrilled to announce my debut in issue 3 of the revived Amazing Stories. Kudos to Steve Davidson (the driving force) and Ira Nayman (astute editor) for publishing some fine short stories in the first three new issues of Amazing Stories.
Seeing my story, “Conservation of Mis-Matched Shoes,” in this revitalized magazine feels like an alternate universe. Wait, I’m getting ahead of myself. You see, the story is about navigating the multiverse. Hope you’ll give it a read!
I’m thrilled to say that my interactive fiction game, T-Rex Time Machine is but one of a double handful of science fiction and fantasy works written by Taos Toolbox alums in the past year or so. Hope you’ll check out the wealth of reading featured on Walter Jon Williams’ blog. They all make great last-minute gifts for yourself or someone else!
Do you love books? The Baltimore Book Festival is free! What could be better than spending a Friday, Saturday, or Sunday listening to terrific writers talk about books? It’s all at the Inner Harbor on September 28 -30. I’ll be part of two panels on Friday:
2 pm. Research, or “How I Spent My Whole Day on Wikipedia”
Whether a writer is after something historical, scientific, cultural, or trivial, it’s easy to fall down the rabbit holes of research. Let our authors tell you about the places they’ve gone for a single reference, as well as tips on how to do effective research.
Panelists: Sue Hollister Barr, Elektra Hammond, Kosoko Jackson, KJ Kabza, Marianne Kirby, Rosemary Claire Smith
3 p.m. Beyond Borders, Beyond Maps: The Everything Else That Shapes A World
Worldbuilding is more than just inset maps. It’s about economy, culture, politics, food, entertainment, modes of transit, class structures, gender roles. Panelists talk about creating worlds, and how much they know that doesn’t ever make it to the page.
Panelists: Denise Clemons, Vera Brook, L. Penelope, Jon Skovron, Rosemary Claire Smith, Na’amen Gobert Tilahun
Check out the rest of schedule! See you there!
This is not your usual con report cataloging who I saw, who I wish I’d seen, and so on. It’s about magical gifts from Worldcon. Because these gifts are assuredly magic, I’m giving one or more of them to you.
1. The gift of a wondrous place. Within the fleeting writerly community known as a convention, there exist wondrous places. I was privileged to give one of these to a newly minted Clarion grad. The place was the SFWA suite. Because SFWA needed to limit access, I could get him in as my plus one. Like the best of magical gifts, this one came back to me when I heard the next day how thrilled he had been to be there and talk with all the creative folk therein. That brought back my own memories of my first time as a guest of an “established pro writer” in the SFWA suite and how it spurred me to continue onward toward my own career goals.
2. The gift of a connection. It’s so simple to introduce someone to someone else knowing they have a shared interest, or maybe several, and can pursue that together. It could be professional or pure fun, doesn’t matter. This gift also came back to me when I was introduced to several good people who already mean much to me.
3. The gift of envy. I’ve come to see that most every writer I know aspires to create more compelling work, to reach a broader audience, to be recognized and make a difference in the lives of their readers. There’s always someone who’s produced more and better stuff than I did or than you did. These are the seeds of envy. Yes, the seeds can sprout into soul-crushing bitterness, but only if we let them. For the longest time, I stuffed that envy down deep because I feared it would harm me. Then I saw that some folks envied me for what I’ve created. Wow, that was remarkable and all-the-more-so when they were the very writers whom I envied.
What I’m saying is that when the green-eyed monster comes to visit, try this: Treat envy as a two-way street. Take some time out from your own yearning for the accomplishments that others already have, whether it’s publications, awards, money, or anything on your career bingo card. Look at how some of those same writers, or others, are envying you for something you’ve done that they see as out of their reach. We all have our unique abilities. You do you.
And now, faithful readers—for if you’ve gotten this far, that is most assuredly what you are—here is your magical gift. It’s meant especially for everyone who wasn’t at Worldcon this year, or any year, and longed to be. You can reach that special place and feel that connection and find ways to deal with envy through the magic created by others. For our fleeting science fiction and fantasy nation, and a batch of its citizens, will come within your reach at some point. Then it’s a matter of letting the magic envelop you. As readers, you totally got this!
Here’s where to find me at Con Jose Aug. 16-20. Bay Area peeps: this means you!
16 Aug 2018, Thursday 16:00 – 17:00, 210F (San Jose Convention Center)
Sometimes, main characters in a story are ordinary people – not everyone is extraordinary. Can such a focus make a story more powerful? What makes them appealing? How does such a story differ from a story of heroes and villains?
Panel discussion with Cecilia Tan (M), Nick Mamatas, Christine Taylor-Butler, Rosemary Claire Smith, Sheila Finch
18 Aug 2018, Saturday 15:30 – 16:00 SFWA Table (San Jose Convention Center)
Stop by and I’ll sign promo materials for T-Rex Time Machine (my interactive fiction game) or any magazines or anthologies you brought with my stories and/or articles.
Clarion 50th Reunion Party
18 Aug 2018, Saturday 20:00 – 23:00
Many, many Clarion classes come together to celebrate fifty years of the boot-camp for writers that launched so many careers. Mine included!
EAT YOUR WORLD (Read Your Food)
19 Aug 2018, Sunday 16:00-17:00 location TBA
Dive into Worldbuilding is throwing a party. Juliette Wade and others will bring foods inspired by fiction. Author attendees will be invited to read food-related snippets from their work.