Maledicta?

I have been criticized for the use of coarse language in my writing and, you know, that’s fucking fair. Regardless of where the scrutiny is coming from it tends to make me wonder, Could I say the same thing, but keep it pure as snow? This is completely rhetorical noodling, however, and I know it. Don’t believe me, walk out your door and gnaw on a handful of the white stuff. You’ll be spitting dirt, hair, and heavy metals for the rest of the day.

I was born in the early 70’s. Some of the worst atrocities of Vietnam War were taking place as my mother labored over my birth. The 1972 Easter Offensive was only broken by US lead sustained carpet bombing counter-campaign. While estimates of the military personnel lost or wounded during this knock-out, dragged-out slug-fest range vastly even today, we’re certain we’ll never know the actual human toll extracted from the South Asian jungles. Thousands, hundreds-of-thousands in that year alone? Just people in the wrong place, because that’s a lot of death for little more than rubber tree plantations. We know that the final tally went well into the millions of people dead in the name of slapdash policy wonks who inhabited the white halls of capital buildings thousands of miles away. Broken individuals testing their favorite military hypothesis with actual lives.

I grew up a child of the 80’s. Some would argue that this was, in America anyway, a period of relative peace and prosperity, and those fuckers would be absolutely wrong. Violence, the threat of loss, these things were everywhere, even in whitebread American suburbs. Always there was the specter of Soviet aggression, and the media played this chord constantly. While I struggle to recall most memories from my childhood, I can vividly recollect duck-and-cover exercises and the unspoken certainty that hiding under a table was rehearsal for bending over and kissing your own ass goodbye.

But it didn’t stop there, never. Red Dawn, Iran-Contra, the War on Drugs, mob battles, train wrecks, plane crashes, refugees, assassination, mass shooting, and buildings bombed; the 1980’s were a violence mill, and this was reflected in the culture of the time.

North

Some of my favorite music from that time is little more than an appreciation of my generation’s violent inheritance. And we made the best, from ribald rhymes intent on eliciting prudish moral outrage to confrontational indictments of the latest criminal insult passing without consequence. We may not have invented the grassroots response, but we did our part to perfect it. Honing our tools the only way anyone had ever shown us.

Our words got sharp. Baby boomer hedge fund managers and MTV executives making piles of cash from the sweat of our backs, politicians and generals extracting the rest right from our hides, we were justifiably indignant. And that indignation is what got us this far because it’s always better than the alternative. Despair is just going to end you.

And now the next confrontation strikes me. This morning, while scrolling through social media, I noticed a displacement maledicta (yeah, that’s fucking latin). One of those curse words composed of similarly shaped eccentric characters designed to suggest the idea of a bad word without actually saying it. “$h%#,” “&*#@&*^%,” and the insidious “@$$hole.” H … e .. double hockey sticks, the message was the product of a guy from my generation. A person who appreciates the same sort of music I grew up loving. Felt the same sort of outrage I did (and sometimes still do). A dude who can and will pepper his speech with the actual negatively pitched expressions.

“I’d rather stay a child/ and keep my self-respect/ if being and adult/ means being like you.” — Dead Kennedys, Life Sentence

Listen, I am well aware that bad words hurt, and in my forty-something years I’ve grown up just enough to understand that there is a time and place for them. So, this isn’t a diatribe against political correctness campaigns, twisted moralist minds, or hypocrisy. And, I should state, matter-of-factly, that I take great pains to improve the diction and vocabulary of my children. But I want to go on record, displacement maledictum are endlessly more insidious and potentially destructive than the actual expression of the swearing’s equivalent.

Just Say No

If your message requires the use of a sharp tool you’ve just reached behind your back and pulled a spoon from your belt. For the pen to prevail mighty, your nib must remain keen.

Writing Through

wellThis morning I’m filled with doubt. I doubt my skill at writing dialogue. I don’t feel included or capable of anything approaching the awesomeness of my compadres in the business of wordsmithing. I doubt my ability to write this story. This god damned story that has been riding me all weekend. Asking me, nagging at me, what comes next? There is the simmering possibility that I’ve reinvented myself in precisely the way I can never succeed. Creation is fool’s gold.

Ugh!I sit down at the table, unpack my laptop, and take a sip of coffee. The manuscript is staring me in the face. No, it’s looking through me, into my head, and seeing all my inadequacies and self

Still I’m panning for it. I sit down at the table, unpack my laptop, and take a sip of coffee. The manuscript is staring me in the face. No, it’s looking through me, into my head, and seeing all my inadequacies and insecurity. This machine, invented and perfected by very smart people, stands as a monument relative to all the things I’ll never do. All the words I’ll never be bright enough to string together.

But this is a discipline. Right? I’m asking myself. You don’t know what to say next in the manuscript so blog. Write anything. Just write. I am reminded of the “Neoteny” passage in Tom Robbins’ STILL LIFE WITH WOODPECKER. I now am certain I understand where this passage came. It came from the bottom of THIS well. Tom Robbins sat here panning for fool’s gold at the bottom of this well, sometime before me.

I shake the pan in the dark of the well. Slosh water through the sand, peering into the gloom, dump it, and refill. It’s the black nuggets I want, not those that sparkle in the diminished light.

“We are our own dragons as well as our own heroes, and we have to rescue ourselves from ourselves.”
Tom Robbins, Still Life with Woodpecker

Yeah, but what do I write about?

I’m writing about writing through this writer’s block. This morning, after a long-weekend spent herding a five-year-old and battling blackberries I am a juggernaut of industrial strength accomplishments. I’ve written books; I’ve published stories. Roughly two hundred words into this post I can feel myself climbing out of the well. The edges of the hole are clearly defined, contrasted black and white in the brightness of the sunshine that illuminates the world beyond the lip of the pit.

Each word is a hand hold, a chink in rough stones where I can find purchase. Momentum builds, I’m making progress. Look Mom! Look at me!

Hugo Nominations

My PIN still hasn’t shown up, but I’ve been formulating my nomination list. Last year was banner harvest for fans of SFF; a lot of new work from favorites and even some re-issued works (KSR’s California triptych performed by Stefan Rudnicki, for instance) which are eligible under new categories.

At this point in the game, I remain cautiously optimistic. But this may be because of the chronic toxicity that usually erupts within fandom around February. I came into this year’s award season expecting little; I imagined I’d make my nominations quietly.

Jim C. Hines has yet again done a bang up job of consolidating the facts while providing a cogent analysis of the issues. Seriously, these posts just might deserve a nomination for “Best Related Work” if only because they’re bringing together so many disparate pieces of a complex puzzle.

I’ve read much of the officially remastered Sad Puppies public image. Despite the change in leadership coupled with their kinder, gentler, more inclusive choice in words, I can’t help but wonder, if broadening SFF’s reach is really your goal, why associate yourselves with a brand that has consistently been used to narrow that same audience? Sure, the name “Sad Puppies” is convenient, it has a following, but, much because of this, their attempts at inclusiveness feel a lot like a positive spin campaign waged on behalf of the Klan. I guess I should be happy the official SP4 campaign is intent on collection nominations instead of calling names (still they’re having such a hard time avoiding the toxic behavior that got them into so much trouble in the past).

I guess I should be happy the official SP4 campaign is intent on collection nominations instead of calling names (still they’re having such a hard time avoiding the toxic behavior that got them into so much trouble in the past).

As I mentioned, I’m still trying to secure the tools necessary to cast my nominations. At the same time, I’ve been noodling over who-I’m-going-to-put-up-for-what, and that napkin list is starting to develop nicely. But it’s not done. All this means I’m in no hurry to cast or publish my list; the gods of the internets and ‘Merican “taste” forbid that anything on it might be labeled “message fiction.”

All the while I’m holding my breath, waiting for the flash point that we just can’t seem to get around. All its ever taken is for one habitually disgruntled author or fan soaked in the noxious broth of his self-delusion to decide there is a line between him and the rest of fandom. A line that should be demarcated with a wall. A wall that must be defended. A defense that is maintained by flinging stinking dead cow-bombs beyond their border at anyone “misguided” enough to like something they don’t. What-the-fuck-ever!

Despite owning a full-access ticket to last year’s WorldCon, I chose not to attend. Big conventions are a challenge for me. I end up having to pace myself, and often I find that internally I’m left wondering what you all must think of me. An efficient thought-loop generating machine; conventions are maddening to the point that, in the three years since my last seizure, the few times I’ve been nearest reoccurrence have been at conventions. But missing last year has also left me feeling regret. Friends and allies galore went, and I did not.

I did not go because of a potential run-in with the toxic fraction of this insular little world. The rhetoric and cow-tossing got turned up, way up, as the day approached and I let my hotel room and ticket languish.

Right now, I’m considering the possibility of making the trip. I could upgrade my ticket, find a seat on a plane, get a room. All the things. But then there is that potential, the idea that we’ve been historically unable to avoid the flash point.

Ghosts of the Tristan Basin

I recently had the unmistakable pleasure of reading an early copy of Brian McClellan‘s latest novella GHOSTS OF THE TRISTAN BASIN. He announced the story’s release on the 1st of the month, and while remaining fashionably late, I wanted to take a moment to boost his signal.

I am a fan of his Powder Mage novels; they’re complex, well-spun tales that occupy a unique place in the lexicon of fantasy. If you haven’t read these yet, then you are compelled (by the power of Grayskull nonetheless) to go forth and find your copy. However, if his novels are delicious wine his shorter works are ensorcelled versions of those aged grapes.

Brain does an enviable job of condensing his stories. Each of them helps develop his world and adds meat to the bones of his cast of characters. GHOSTS OF THE TRISTAN BASIN is no exception. If you’ve enjoyed his Powder Mager books, you’re going to want to download this one.

Pre-order below:

Buck Up, Buttercup

AuthorRank12315

Peak Chronicles Effect – end of 2015

I took this screen capture near the end of December. What you’re looking at is a combination of things, but that huge spike — from relative obscurity to in-genre notability — is the primarily a product of inclusion in Samuel Peralta’s Galaxy Chronicles. I’ve spent a great deal of time thinking on this, how it affects me and my plans, what it should mean to me moving forward.

From the peak (around #70 for science fiction authors) I have since declined. I’m fairly certain that if you asked any reader, even Chronicles regulars, “Who is Matt Thyer?” they’d be hard pressed to place my name. So besides that singular moment of self-gratification which the anthology provided for me, I’m uncertain how much good it did for my career as an author.

Still I am reluctant to view this one moment, in what I hope will be a long and eventually prosperous career, as an indication of anything. I have another short story coming out in February, and I’m particularly proud of this one. Early readers have given it kudos; specific kudos, in fact, the best kind. And Samuel has been hard at work, developing even better ways to promote the collections. This most recent peak and the eventual fall in popularity is simply a false bluff on my way to a summit.

Still I wonder, am I making wrong decisions? Instead of publishing through small and independent electronic presses should I be seeking an agent? A traditional press? Should I feel proud at being featured as an Amazon Best Seller or should I hold onto my stories until Big Ink finds me and pushes me to the top of the traditional lists?

The industry of storytelling is significantly disrupted, yet I feel an unmistakable current of hierarchy within my end of the creative process. The writing between the lines is that unless you publish via the traditional route, your works lack validity within the market.

This morning Hugh Howey took a break from gallivanting around the Caribbean aboard his catamaran and posted The State of the Industry. He talks about several salient points specific to today’s publishing industry, but, in particular, he writes the following:

As a writer, the new publishing industry brought an infinite increase in fulfillment. And I don’t mean with income, as I never sat down to write my first novel in order to earn a penny. In the old world of publishing, my stories would have gone unread. There wouldn’t have been a blog to post them to, social media to share them by, or email to send to friends and family. There was no Kindle store to upload them to, or print on demand service to make a real book. No ACX for audio. My voice didn’t exist.

I realized something vital when I read this. In the bad old days of publishing, my stories and my voice would have gone utterly unnoticed. Had I been born a mere generation earlier it’s entirely possible that I’d have a drawer full of manuscripts labeled “Frustration and Disappointment.” When they laid me to rest, perhaps they’d tuck all these stories into the box with me so that so that I’d have something to work from in my next incarnation.

As it is, literally thousands of people have read some of my work. Wow! Let me repeat that, thousands of people have read at least some of my stories. That’s a pretty incredible artifact when I unpackage it.

I started keeping journals interspersed with made up stories back in the 80’s on long trips into the backcountry, on volunteer stints building trail with the SCA, and while working in the kitchens at Anderson Camps. I kept on writing in college, throughout all my experiences in the Army, and thereafter as a “professional.” I didn’t write any of those words because I wanted to be a writer. I didn’t write these words because I wanted to be a best seller, or famous, or even because I wanted to bathe in a J.K Rowling-sized pool of money.

I never expected that anyone would ever read any of it, and the fact that a couple of thousand people have tickles me endlessly.

Sure, since leaving Microsoft and those golden handcuffs, I’d like to turn my words into money. But more important I love to tell stories, so the opportunity of combining my vocation with my passion is truly revolutionary. Many thanks to Hugh for pointing this out! Many thanks for Samual for giving me this opportunity.

Advice

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Yesterday evening, while attending my local writing group, the advice started pouring. A perfect storm of what I needed to read, who I needed to follow, in order to write a breakout novel. What I needed to do in order to achieve my goals with DISTANCE. Everyone was well-intentioned, no doubt, but once I got home and started going over my notes, I felt randomized. Like a few wheels had slipped the track somewhere down the line, and my train was dragging to a halt on under the strain of the extra drag.

Later, I spent some time talking with a friend, mostly about the first couple of chapters. His advice was concrete, easy to understand, and given the arc and direction of the story made sense. It was specific, and it advanced DISTANCE further down the tracks because it was a simple matter to integrate it into the writing process.

I’ve concluded that writers need feedback during the development of a work. I certainly do. We write alone, but we refine in a public crucible. This is one of the few professions I can think of where other people’s early opinions prove critical to the development of the final product. I’m drawing an image in mind’s eyes’ of others so it is useful to know that my sketches cross the void that separates us from one another. Engineers, on the other hand, design something THEN test that thing. While they’re hunched over the draft board, however, they’re not interested or concerned about what anyone thinks of their process. In fact, it’s likely outside inputs may destroy their eventual effectiveness.

Given the above, I’ve become very discerning when I get outside inputs. Like most writers, I’ve developed a pretty good understanding of what I want to do. Even good, pertinent counsel can distract from my end goal.

So it goes, that last night, I came to another realization. Writing a “breakout novel” is not my goal. This sort of encouragement is nudging me off the rails. Knowing this, I can easily disregard well-intentioned advice which seeks to push my work in the wrong direction.

Yeah, having a breakout novel would be great. And, while I acknowledge that some people enter into the writing process with this as an end goal, it has nothing to do with the story I want to tell. Much like winning an award or holding a lottery ticket with all the right numbers the “breakout” is a potential end benefit.

I’m sticking to the plan.