Ginnungagap

This morning over tea my wife and I clicked through a new life insurance policy questionnaire. She has meant to increase her level of coverage because what her job offers wouldn’t be a flash in the pan if she left us. I’ve been avoiding the conversation for all the usual reasons.

I’m loathed to consider my own demise. I’m even more frightened at the thought of the death of people I love. I’m afraid enough that I’ve never really bothered to name these fears.

And so here we are. What this blog seems to be to me is a crossroads, a place of decisions.

“Fear not death for the hour of your doom is set and none may escape it.”

― Volunga Saga

I’ve been reading (with my ears) the Saxon Chronicles by Bernard Cornwell. I’ve admired his protagonist Uhtred of Bebbanburg because of his unshakable belief in fate. Right now I’m on the second to the last book in the series, and even though Uhtred is an “old” man, by the standards of the time, he still feels the weavers’ hands on his thread. His faith in the Norns frees him to focus on whatever is before him. He is undistracted, always sharp, relentlessly moving through his own life with singular purpose.

“Destiny is all, Ravn liked to tell me, destiny is everything. He would even say it in English, “Wyrd biõ ful ãræd.”
― Bernard CornwellThe Last Kingdom

I find myself wanting for that surety.

I also marvel at the Cornwell’s voice. How he deftly transports his reader into his Uhtred’s vision of the world. Past the moral ambiguity of his actions and into the faith that the Fates weave his future. Yes, I love his action scenes. Sure enough, I feel my heart pound and my fires are stoked when Uhtred stands in the shield wall or when he faces Ubba beyond the hazel bows I feel his singular focus and the accomplishment of his victory. Cornwell is a master of character. Even when Uhtred is beset by ambiguity, self-doubt, or worse remorse Cornwell finds the way back to certainty. “I touched Thor’s Hammer,” and suddenly we know that Ginnungagap will consume all, the only thing that matters is what lies before us. The enemy beyond the iron clad edge of an ash shield.

“I touched Thor’s hammer, then Serpent-Breath’s hilt, for death was stalking us. God help me, I thought, touching the hammer again, Thor help us all, for I did not think we could win.”
― Bernard CornwellThe Pale Horseman

My fears? They are nothing other than the usual. Helplessness, loss, grief, oblivion; add to this I lack faith, there is no eternal Hall waiting for me when I die. Despite this I know there is the Ginnungagap and so I narrow my gaze and touch the hilt of my sword.

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Cliché

Cover Art from Danny Flynn for "Starship Troopers"

Cover Art from Danny Flynn for “Starship Troopers”

I have to tell someone. I am becoming weary of contemporary fiction outlets reviewing the works of dead science fiction authors. Every time I see another article like this, I’m reminded of the old men who frequented my coffee shop. They’d habitually sit around shooting the shit, sipping their cuppa, while comparing anything and everything of today to their bygone era.

It is statements like this that chap my hide.

“When examining military science fiction, all roads, at one point or another, lead to Starship Troopers, written by Robert A. Heinlein in 1959 and rooted in his service in the U.S. Navy.”

Good grief! All roads? Really?

Ladies and gentlemen, I’m here to tell you that there is an abundance of military science fiction available today. In fact, it’s nearly impossible to stroll the SFF section of your local library or bookstore with your hand outstretched on the spines without touching a story that doesn’t at least make use of organized conflict as a primary theme. The idea that Heinlein influenced all of these latter-day authors is just ludicrous.

My problem isn’t with Heinlein or any of the Golden Age writers. Rather, I’m taking umbrage with our community’s insistence that we continue to pay these guys homage. They had their day and, point in fact, made a reasonable living from their words. Yes, their stories are memorable, and they may even influence some of us when we put pen to paper, but their contributions to the genre canon are, at best, dated.

At worst, is the idea that Science Fiction has become a historical study. Are we so frightened of the future that we’re eternally fixated on old stories, endlessly rehashing comfortable clichés?

A Ubiquitous Award Post

Welcome to the new year. It is that time again, and 2015 was a pretty good year for me as a writer. Things got published. Things are eligible for awards.

Essays

Invisible 2 Cover-Full-689x1024 I contributed an essay to Jim Hines’ second annual anthology Invisible 2: Personal Essays on Representation in SF/F. He informs me that the collection is eligible for the Best Related Work.

Flash Fiction and Short Stories

"Walk to School"

“Walk to School”

Dispatches from the Future: B-list: Over the course of the year, I wrote a growing collection of flash fiction. As part of his recovery from kidney surgery and Inktober my friend and Army buddy Jeffrey Witty completed a illustrations for many of them.

  • I believe that this collection of stories would qualify for either Best Short Story or Best Fanzine. There are fourteen episodes within the collection, all of them are under 2,000 words (they’ve always been freely available on Wattpad).
  • Jeff’s adroit illustrations are also eligible for Best Fan Artist.  His ink work is really quite excellent; as the author, I can’t tell you how nice it is to see your words looking back at you.

Tokyo Yakuza #11: Mob Dance (6,027 words) qualifies for Best Short Story. This was a fun little project done as part of an independent tabletop game release.

Novellette

“Ser Pan Comido”

Galaxy Chronicles: Ser Pan Comido (9,891 words) is arguably my best and most popular published work of 2015. I really enjoyed collaborating with Samuel Peralta and Jeff Seymour and the Amazon sales boost this anthology produced was amazing to witness (my Amazon Author rank peaked at #71 in Science Fiction … Wow!).

  • Despite my self-doubt surrounding this story, it has done remarkably well. The collection received some excellent reviews and my contribution was called out more than once.
  • Jeff’s approach to editing was a pleasure and I hope to repeat the experience with some longer works that are on the way. If you’re filling out your ballot and need suggestions for Best Editor please consider Jeff and/or Sam.

Summary

That’s it for me (and the many people that I collaborated with last year). If you’re running behind and can only nominate one work may I suggest that you consider sending Jeffrey Witty to the vanguard. His work is good, and I’d love to motivate him to do more. He’s been secretly scripting and illustrating The Big Red Buckle and I’d love to light a fire under his can to get this done in 2016.

Don’t Forget to Dream

D.S.I Helium 3 Transport Vehicle by Adam Burn

I’m sitting in the coffee shop; A-bear is playing his heart over at preschool, and I’m just not getting into it this morning. Derp move number one, I’ve been tugging at my chin hairs while I read from the ever expanding athenaeum of “Advice Offered to Writers on Writing and Stuff.” The truth of the matter is that I’m not sure what I’m going to write next, and my Twitter feed has once again delivered up this highly distracting narrative in which I willingly participate. Hunched over and fuming, once more, it occurs to me that this is not a good way to live your life.

More importantly, it doesn’t seem like a very productive way to spend your precious writing time.

It’s probably not helping that the new baristas have changed up the music, and I’ve since had to plug my headphones in and crank up the subtle white noise of Coffitivity. Yeah, that’s right, I’m listening to “Morning Murmur” — a recording of a coffee shop while sitting in an actual cafe drinking coffee — how’s that for bathos?

“So what, precisely, is the problem Matt?” you ask.

Well, I started with this blog post from the esteemed and successful Chuck Wendig: Peaks and Valleys: The Financial Realities of a Writer’s Life. Realize, in no way is this me jumping onto his current cluster event. Rather, it’s me taking a critical look at why I seem to come away from his advice posts feeling defeated and ready to quit.

This post and the advice it references are just one member of a distinguished lineage of columns I’d like to label “The Stark Reality Collection.” I’m starting to wonder if it’s even possible for authors, especially those in the SFF community, first to begin making a living from their work and later not tell the world how hard it’s going to be. Often I come away from reading this stuff convinced I’ve done everything wrong. I live in the wrong place, I know all the wrong people, I didn’t go to the right school, or workshop, I write the wrong things, and I put my pants on the wrong way — that’s how wrong I feel.

Defeated before I begin, my options seem limited. Maybe I should just take Wendig’s intimation and “move on to more stable ground.”

Here’s the thing. Fiction moves me. Let me say that again. FICTION MOVES ME. I love a good story. Terry Pratchett’s farewell piece The Sheperd’s Crown recently reduced me to a blubbering mess more than once. And I can’t tell you how much I’ve learned from my recent readings of Kim Stanley Robinson’s Wild Shore Triptych.

I know that I’ve discovered my earthworm. I know that my stories are good enough, and my writing is compelling and entertaining. And yes, I love doing this, even when it’s fucking difficult.

Standing up to assert these strong feelings of self-determination and conviction I rip the headphone out of my computer and nearly dump hot coffee all over my lap. “But really,” I say to myself taking a calming breath. “I don’t need anyone to tell me how hard it’s going to be.”

Want to help successful-author-making-a-living-from-your-words? Stop telling everyone about the big pile of shit we can look forward to wading. That’s the thing about piles of crap; they’re apparent. Everyone knows that they’re there, usually because, much like yourselves, we’re busy trying to clean it off our shoes.

Better, tell us what moves you. Why did you stick with writing even when you weren’t sure when your next meal was coming? What do you do in the morning to warm up for writing? What inspired some piece of fiction we can’t put down. How do you deal with criticism fro your readers or even your editor? Writer’s, especially the good ones, I’ve realized have developed strategies to exceed the piles of crap life leaves on our paths.

I write a lot, I don’t sell a lot (yet). I know that I’ve yet to develop a “real” audience. The numbers necessary to lift me out of this valley just aren’t there yet. This is the sole reason I keep looking into the Library of Stark Reality. I’m looking for feasible ways to grow my audience as I get ready for near term release dates. Want to help? Tell me about the concrete things you did to expand your audience.

And while I acknowledge that it won’t always be easy, this morning I’m resolved that as I build my author platform and find more readers, I will endeavor to imagine with audacity. The boundaries that limit me aren’t worth talking about except when exceeded.