So you want to run a reading series, do you? That’s fantastic news! The more places authors have to showcase their work, the better. But while running a reading series may seem like a cakewalk to the casual outside observer, there are many things you must consider to make sure your series is successful.
I’ve been co-hosting the Fantastic Fiction at KGB reading series in Manhattan alongside Ellen Datlow for over eight years (the series itself has been running since the late 90s), and in that time I’ve learned many things about how to run a successful reading series, some of which I’ll share with you here.
There is a cliche that suffering makes one a better artist. I don’t know if that’s true, but I do know that when I was suffering, I made less art.
I was a struggling artist for years. And, yes, I know that’s also a cliche. But it’s true. I lived paycheck to paycheck, hoping that I wouldn’t get sick, that some great expense didn’t burst into my life and wreck the fragile life I was building. I could not afford health insurance. For a single, self-employed individual in his early thirties, the health plans were all in the $1000-$1500 per month range. That was more than I was paying for rent. So what I did was:
- Run three times a week
- Look both ways twice before crossing the street (yes, this is true)
- Try to eat healthy
- Pray to any deity that would listen for my well-being
I did this because I was terrified. Terrified that I’d get sick and wouldn’t be able to pay for it. And what do you know, I did get sick. I herniated a disc in my neck, C5-C6. If you don’t know, that’s where a major nerve bundle passes and connects to pretty much every point in the body. The result? Excruciating pain, numbness, tingling, and a general sense of constant malaise. I would often take up to twenty Advil and half as many aspirin just to get through a single day. And by “get through” I mean barely squeaking by. I was depressed, angry, and bitter. I couldn’t write when I was in so much pain, which was every day, and I recall one Thanksgiving that I couldn’t even sit at the table with my family and had to go lie on the floor for an hour. Because I couldn’t afford health insurance I had to separate from my family on one of the few times a year I see them. Yeah, it sucked.
I suffered for years. And while I tried to write as much as I could, oftentimes the pain was just too much.
I won’t bore you with the details of how I got better, but it took me years, and I still have to be cautious. And while I’m not sure that if I’d had health insurance I would have healed more quickly, it’s likely that had I visited a doctor and gotten the care I needed I would have been in less pain. Yet, because I feared for my financial well-being over my physical one, my writing suffered. I’m sure there are many thousands of artists, perhaps millions, who have similar stories to mine.
And here’s the thing: the surest way to kill art is to kill the people who make it. I don’t know what the GOP plans to replace the ACA with, if anything, but I do know that if they don’t offer a low-cost, subsidized plan for low-income people, artists all over the U.S. will suffer. And guess what? So too will their art.
I’ll be at the Arisia convention in Boston this weekend. It’s a great convention, and I’m looking forward to it! Here’s my schedule. Hope to see you there!
Story Architecture: How to Plot Your Story
Marina 3, Writing, Sat 5:30 PM
Deborah Kaminski (m), Michael Carr, Felicitas Ivey, Matthew Kressel, Suzanne Palmer
“A well-crafted story resembles a suspension bridge. How much backstory do you need at the beginning? How quick should you get to the inciting incident? What the heck is a midpoint? What milestones should you plot before you write a single word? And how do you get to your ‘all is lost’ moment without losing track of why the heck you started writing in the first place? Whether you’re a plotter or a pantser, creating a roadmap will help your protagonist get to their destination.”
How to Self-Edit That Steaming Hot Pile of Crap
Adams, Writing, Sun 10:00 AM
Trisha Wooldridge (m), Jacqui B., Alexander Jablokov, Matthew Kressel, Ken Schneyer
“Have you ever gone back to edit your story, only to ask “Who wrote this $#!t?” Can you fix it? Where do you start? Our experts will teach you how to identify which elements you wish to save, how to spot plotting and pacing issues, why adverbs are so bad, and what tools are available to make self-editing easier. Bring a butcher knife…it’s time to conduct surgery on your baby…”
Is Optimism Just Nostalgia in Disguise?
Marina 2, Literature, Sun 11:30 AM
Andrea Hairston (m), MJ Cunniff, Matthew Kressel, Nalin Ratnayake, T.X. Watson
Description We are hearing, after a long sojourn in dystopia and postapocalypse, that optimistic SF is making a comeback. Is it really the case or is the optimism of yesterday just another type of nostalgia? When climate change, postantibiotic medicine, and resource depletion are major factors in our lives (topics that are not always as well addressed in optimistic SF), is there a way to temper our optimism and inspire those who might be able to face these problems?
Tor.com recently posted the cover art by Scott Bakal for my upcoming story “The Last Novelist,” and all I can say is, Wow. The colors are just so striking and stunning. I love the giant fish in the background, which actually features in the story, but you’ll have to read the story when it comes out in March to get the context!
So that cryptic message I left a few weeks back about a story sale? Here it is: I’m supremely happy to announce I’ve sold “In Memory of a Summer’s Day” (which some may have heard me read at KGB last month) has sold to Ellen Datlow for her forthcoming Alice in Wonderland-themed anthology called Mad Hatters and March Hares. My story is about a jaded guide who gives many daily tours of Wonderland, which people come from all over the world to visit. No word yet on when the book drops, but it seems now to be some time late in 2017.
Here’s the full table of contents:
- Gentle Alice Kris Dikeman (poem)
- My Own Invention Delia Sherman
- Lily-White & The Thief of Lesser Night C.S.E. Cooney
- Conjoined Jane Yolen
- Mercury Priya Sharma
- Some Kind of Wonderland Richard Bowes
- Alis Stephen Graham Jones
- All the King’s Men Jeffrey Ford
- Run, Rabbit Angela Slatter
- In Memory of a Summer’s Day Matthew Kressel
- Sentence Like a Saturday Seanan McGuire
- Worrity, Worrity Andy Duncan
- Eating the Alice Cake Kaaron Warren
- The Queen of Hats Ysabeau Wilce
- A Comfort, One Way Genevieve Valentine
- The Flame After the Candle Catherynne M. Valente
- Moon, Memory, Muchness Katherine Vaz
- Run, Rabbit, Run Jane Yolen (poem)
Rocket Stack Rank reviews “The Singularity is in Your Hair,” my story in the Cyber World anthology edited by Jason Heller & Josh Viola, and they have nice things to say:
The little reminders of the narrator’s humanity scattered through the story (e.g. “Mom’s gotta change my diaper”) keep us aware of her terrible situation, and her bravery through it all is heartbreaking. Especially when we see how her one source of hope has evaporated… Clever use of VR and AI. — 4/5 stars.
A narrative that has been emerging from the white, blue-collar demographic who supposedly voted Donald Trump into office is that globalism has destroyed their way of life. And for many of the poorest communities in the US, it has, primarily because the industrial manufacturing base that made this country thrive in the 1950s up through the late 80s has been devastated. The United States has shifted from a country that manufactures materials to a country that manufactures information. There is no way in hell a US company will pay the union wages to build an iPhone here in the US, when it can do so in Asia for a fraction of the cost. Donald Trump, despite all his hyperbolic campaign rhetoric, cannot perform a miracle and bring that manufacturing base back to the US, especially not if he deports all the illegals, the cheapest form of labor here (since they get paid far under minimum wage, but still get paid gobs more than sweat-shop workers in Asia.) In short, globalization won’t stop because some real-estate tycoon of questionable business skills wills it so.
With increased globalization comes increased multiculturalism, and with a more interconnected world, there will be more connected people. This is a no-brainer. Provincial, isolated communities (local as well as national) are now confronting, sometimes against their will, other groups/cultures/ideas of which they historically have had no contact. And why is it that the coastal cities, the ones where these supposed “Coastal Elites” dwell, have the most open policies and feelings toward multiculturalism? It’s because these cities have been multicultural for a long time.
Let me take you on a brief tour of my local grocery, called Valentino’s, in Ridgewood, Queens, New York. (Queens County, for the record, is the most diverse county in the United States.) An Orthodox Jew shops next to a Muslim woman in full burka, next to a Serbian woman buying fruit, next to a Polish man at the deli counter, while the two checkout clerks speak Spanish to each other. There are white, black, brown and other folks all shopping, all minding each other’s business. (The 1980s Benetton commercials have nothing on this place.) Besides a few people getting angry when someone cuts the lines (and oh, boy, are there lines), I’ve never heard someone speak a racist slur here. People just want to get their fresh produce and go home. And here’s why: no one really cares about anyone else as long as they have their own needs met.
Many groups: white, black, gay, straight, women, men, etc., etc. are not having their needs met. And so we have: Trump, the supposed “stir shit up” candidate who promises to meet the needs of those groups angry enough to get him elected. It doesn’t matter that he won’t meet any of their needs; what matters is that the angry folks express their rage. Trump’s win is their catharsis. (The Left has been pissed too, but apparently not pissed enough to win the electoral college.)
The Right has been pissed for a long, long time, and the Left really had no idea how deep that rage went. You can thank Facebook’s filtering algorithm, MSNBC, and generational narcissism for keeping the Left blind to that sentiment.
The political movements on the Left: rights for LGBTQ people, Black Lives Matter, a woman’s right to choose, quality healthcare for all, have been framed by the Right as taking away their liberties. The Right has said to their constituents, “These crazy Lefties are stealing your fresh produce and leaving you with little or none for your families.” And those hearing these messages look up from their TVs and smartphones (all manufactured in Asia for slave wages) and see their shattered communities, ravaged by globalization, of jobs shipped overseas, never to return, of a collapse of the once-indomitable manufacturing base, they see terrorism and a world in a blitzkrieg of technological transition, they see a black president upon whom they project their most profound fears and hatreds, and they say, “Yes! Those Lefties with their neoliberalism and their policies of openness are destroying my world! There is no fresh produce left for me and my family, and it’s the Lefties fault!”
The Right has pulled off the greatest trick since Keyser Söze: they’ve convinced people the negative effects of globalism are the Left’s fault.
The Right has shifted all the blame onto the Left’s movements: Black Lives Matter has been reframed as an attack on law and civil society (which is why the Right’s response is either “All Lives Matter” or “Blue Lives Matter.”) Rights for LGBTQ people have been reframed as an attack on marriage and traditional families (which have been collapsing long before gays got the right to marry, and trans people could use any bathroom they choose). Obamacare has been reframed as government interference into people’s lives. (Remember the “death panels” ?) The Right has shifted the blame away from the real cause of people’s suffering: namely that 50% of world’s wealth is concentrated in the top 1% of people, who are the ones making the decisions that benefit a tiny few and not the other 99%. But any attempt to discuss a fairer income distribution and taxing the super-rich is immediately shot down as “socialism” and evil. “You worked hard for your money, so don’t let the government take it away!” Never mind that those at the very top often do very little work at all.
Here’s the thing: none of the Left’s movements (Black Lives Matter, rights for LGBTQ people, healthcare, women’s rights, etc.) will actually harm people, but will do much to improve the quality of people’s lives. Happy, healthy people with their needs met will create communities with reduced crime, with stronger familial and community values, and better economies. It’s the Left’s job, therefore, to deconstruct the Right’s argument and redirect the blame for the devastation of the US’s industrial manufacturing base onto its real causes: the shift in the US from the manufacture of material to information; cheap labor in Asia and elsewhere; unavailability of a fair minimum wage; failure of job retraining programs, and a dozen other things having nothing to do with the Left’s progressive agenda. The Left must shift the blame away from multiculturalism, which is an effect and not a cause of globalization. It must show that diverse communities make stronger communities. The Left must realize that, along with its most popular and valid political movements, it must address the collapse of the US manufacturing base and all of the people that left behind from that. It must address the massive wealth inequality and how that hurt the poorest communities the most. And most of all, it must do this while still championing its progressive causes. The two are not mutually exclusive.
The Left must reframe the argument as: When marginalized, underprivileged, economically downtrodden groups improve their stations, everyone, not just those specific communities benefit. A rising tide lifts all boats. We’re all in this together.