13 February, 2018

but why not dragons?

So over on Facebook I see a post by a former grad-student-turned-HS-teacher, asking how to help a student of hers "transition" from epic fantasy to "more serious" literature, and I am back to being 19 again, in the TA offices, listening to the MFA grad students going on about genre in tones of great scorn, and feeling defensive and defiant. Be proud of me, readers: I did not storm in there and punk-post about judging books by their cover (the student reads books with "dragons on the cover," which is obviously proof of the contents' quality), or get high-handed about how fantasy can be, and often is, serious literature with challenging writing, jesus H, have you read N. K. Jemisin or Le Guin or goddamned Beowulf, the fuck is wrong with you?

Instead, I spent a morning on this post instead of the WIP, but hey, blog posts are still writing, and the WIP needs to percolate a little more, and goddammit.

Once, long ago, I was an undergraduate student who wanted to be a writer. I was persuaded to pursue the literature degree, rather than the creative writing degree, for reasons of practicality, which, had I interrogated them closely, were really based on fears that you can't make a living as a writer rather than any certainty that an English degree would prove more employable. (I should have gone for the astronomy degree, or the chemistry degree, or anything else in STEM. I was dissuaded by Calculus 2, for which I had an abysmal teacher, and a desire to spend my weekends playing D&D instead of in a laboratory.)

I spent much of that undergraduate literature degree reading things I did not like and trying to find ways to read and research things I did like for credit, like the forty-source annotated bibliography on J.R.R. Tolkien scholarship instead of Hawthorne or Dickens or [insert canon author here]. That, in turn, led me to his inspirations and influences, and I discovered Beowulf and Sir Gawain and the Green Knight and All The Medieval Romances(tm) and mythology, which mean going over to Classics for some of my electives (and reading the Welsh and Irish stuff on my own), but whatever. I had imagined that literature was full of dry realism, women seeking husbands and red badges of courage and scarlet As, and instead I found all this magic stuff that looked like D&D. After years of resisting the parental dictates to "read more widely" (which meant: read Dickens and Bronte and put down the Tolkien or Cherryh or the Le Guin) I saw that I could read legit literature and still get my fantasy vibe on.

But I couldn't write it, not in that MFA program, so I kept going with lit in grad school, and after a series of science-grant administrative jobs I ended up adjunct professoring in composition at a big public university. The staff is composed of people like me, lecturers with graduate degrees, and English graduate students in both the PhD and MFA programs. My office shares a hallway with several professors, some in Creative Writing, some in Literature. As one might imagine, I come into contact with a lot of academics. A lot of us like Tolkien. A lot of us are gamers. But for most of us, it's still unserious. Leisure stuff. "Real" literature is something else, something mysterious, that could be universal themes or beautiful prose and universal themes or so much cultural cache we can't get rid of it? (And okay, but why is a goddamned hairy-handed vampire more legit than a dragon, as a book's subject? Dracula, not Twilight.)

Well. In my cynical mood, I'd say what they mean by serious is Not Fun (for me, this applies also to Dracula).

The Facebook poster seems to think that her student's dubious literary analysis skills will be bolstered by Not Reading Fantasy. I think--just based on the kid I was, reading shit I did not like one bit in high school lit classes--that if the student has something to say about the work, her literary analysis will suddenly improve; but if she's bored or disengaged, well. Shitty writing. I learned to fake it, but I had good teachers who let me play with form. My essays were half the time fantastic arguments made in character's voices, weird and recursive and, because I gave a damn about what I was writing, good analysis.

Which is not to say broadening of literary horizons is not a good and necessary thing for cultural literacy and just knowing shit and hey, sometimes we find something we like--I would not have read Virginia Woolf on my own, or any of the modernists, without that graduate seminar--and sometimes we encounter concepts we wouldn't, if we stayed in our comfort zones (Like modernism. Like post-modernism. OH MY GOD, JAMES JOYCE, WHY?) But if we're talking about learning to read critically, then... why not something with dragons on the damn cover? Just because dragons aren't "real"? (Well you know what? Neither is Mrs. Dalloway, or Kurtz or the Artful Dodger. Characters and settings aren't real. They just exist on a scale of scientific-materialist plausibility.)

Here's a thought: if you want someone to be a better writer, let them write about something they care about. Dragons. Or vampires. Or women seeking husbands. Or whatever.  Then make them think critically about why they like it, why the prose is working (or not), what the author's saying. Some writing is just crap, okay! But the way to have someone realize that is not to tell them it's shit and hand them a different book. Teach them to like the thinking, and they'll start looking for writing that makes them think. With or without dragons.

28 January, 2018

the odyssey of ALLY

So hey! Ally is up for pre-order. That's the third and last book of On the Bones of Gods, the follow-up to Enemy and Outlaw, and the end of the trilogy, in which, well, things happen to Snow and Veiko and Dekklis.

Preorder is only for the e-book edition. Paperback will be available to order on March 20.

Some of you may think...hm. That's odd. Why only the e-version on preorder?

Well. See.

Ally had a long, strange journey. I sold Enemy and Outlaw in a 2-book deal, with an option for the third. So the first two came out, I wrote the third, we sent it off...and for reasons unbeknownst to me (but which I suspect have to do purely with numbers and business, because that is what publishing is), the publisher declined that option.

So there I was, with the third book finished, and no publisher, and a rejection I had not expected.

So that sucked. I despaired. I thought my career was over before it had really gotten started. And mostly I was seriously heartbroken, because, well, these characters are near and dear, you know? They live in your head for years, you get them out into the world, and then...their story isn't done but it suddenly is. Even when you know the decision not to publish isn't personal, it feels like it is.

But, you know. This is writing. Rejection(shit) happen(s).

I started the next project (and ended up throwing it out, 93K words into it, and starting over).

I polished up the manuscript I'd worked on after Ally, and unrelated and totally different project, and sent it to my agent, Lisa Rodgers.

She was sad about Ally, too, and we commiserated. She said, These things happen, yeah, and they suck, but there are options.

Yeah, I said. I can put Ally up on my blog in installments.

Or, she said, You can self-publish.

Oh no, I said. I cannot. I do not know the first thing about it.

Pshaw, she said. (Well, she might not have said pshaw, exactly, but you get the idea). The agency publishes its authors sometimes. We've got resources. We can help.

And here's where Ally's odyssey finally turned around. Lisa, like, knows people, man. She coordinated the cover art and found a copyeditor and dealt with distribution and epub formatting and all that stuff that looks like magic but is really hard work. I hired an editor and worked on revisions. All the pieces came together, and now...

Ally is here.

23 January, 2018

light is the left hand of darkness

There will be big news coming soon, but Ursula K. Le Guin just died and I am sad.

The Left Hand of Darkness and The Dispossessed, two of my...favorites? I don't think that's the right word. Two very important books for me. I didn't come to Le Guin through Earthsea; I came by accident, browsing shelves as an adolescent, and The Left Hand of Darkness sounded cool. (It was cool. It was hard. It made me think about things I hadn't before.) I don't think I understood it entirely--I mean, I was like 12--but it lingered. When I reread it, and found The Dispossessed on the library shelf beside it, and read it, I began to understand why Le Guin's name kept popping up with all the other famous SFF authors.

I was at an SFRA conference in Las Vegas in 2005 and Le Guin was a guest. I had to date published one short story. I was working on a novel, and feeling entirely inadequate to the task. I didn't actually meet her, although it was a tiny conference and I totally could have walked up and done so. I didn't even bring my books. I mean...it seemed disrespectful, somehow, to attend a conference on SFF scholarship and research and then fangirl. But I remember she told us the rejection letter story about Left Hand of Darkness  and I remember thinking, "but that's why it was awesome!" and also, "okay, if that book can be rejected, oh god."

I don't really remember Earthsea. I need to remedy that.