Because I like to procrastinate on one project by beginning another, I wrote a WordPress plugin for writers in between projects. It’s called Sunray Author Manager, and you can use it to display a carousel slider of your publications, as well as a sorted bibliography of your work. Examples here and here. Best of all, it’s free. Try it out and let me know what you think.
TL;DR: I’ve put the Senses Five Press website back online.
The long version:
Some of you may know that I started Sybil’s Garage, a speculative fiction ‘zine, back in 2003. It ran for seven annual issues, and the fiction and poetry therein received lots of honorable mentions and acclaim. Many praised the magazine for its unique aesthetic (which is not at all clear from this current website incarnation).
In 2007 I was approached by Ekaterina Sedia about publishing an urban fantasy anthology she was editing. I believe at the time it was going to be called Moonlit Domes. Excited by all the great stories and authors (many of whom have gone on to do great things in the genre), I took on the task of publishing the anthology, which we renamed to Paper Cities. To my utter astonishment, in 2009 Paper Cities went on to *win* the World Fantasy Award. It wasn’t that I didn’t believe it could win, but that Paper Cities was literally the first and *only* book we ever produced, and it went on to win one of the biggest awards in the genre. I was told that had never happened before. And to my knowledge, in the history of the awards, Paper Cities still holds that record.
In 2010, I was nominated for a World Fantasy Award in the category of Special Award Non-Professional for my work editing Sybil’s Garage and publishing Paper Cities. It was my first personal award nomination, and I will never forget it.
So much happened in those long seven years. Those days seem like eons ago now, lifetimes away. And despite all the amazing things that we did, in 2010 I decided to sunset Senses Five Press. Running the magazine was simply taking up too much of my writing time. It was a blast, and it really helped me get a start in the genre, because through Senses Five Press I met and published so many great people. But because I switched focus to my own writing, after 2012 I stopped updating the Sense Five Press website. Some time later, because I wanted to be known for my writing and not for my editing, I put the site on ice.
Now, however, I think enough time has passed that I can safely turn on the site again without confusion. I have enough fiction out in the world that I’m comfortable people will encounter that first. In addition, the site has a lot of great content, including interviews with authors, short fiction, and the full tables of contents for all the issues, all of which, in the interest of completeness, should be online for people to discover. Admittedly, the site has a lot of crap too, old blog posts of mine where I waxed philosophical over some half-cocked thought I thought at the time was profound. Or maybe I was just trying to fill pages. If you are looking for a writer trying to find his voice, you might find him there.
The web has changed much since then, and a lot of the bells and whistles I added to the site look dated or quite simply don’t work anymore. That and some pages are poorly formatted. I hope you can see through all that to find something that was to me and I think a lot of other people a real treasure to be part of.
Ever since president Trump has been elected I’ve had increased anxiety about the world. Wherever your political views may lie, it’s hard to ignore his administration’s attacks on education, the environment, LGBTQ rights, immigration, the news media, and even the functioning of government itself. Right now Trump himself is under threat for obstruction of justice, and his administration may have colluded with the Russians to help shift the election in his favor. These are turbulent times.
There is a reason why the quiet cabin in the woods is the writer’s cliche. There, we can be left to do our work unadulterated by the outside world, free of distractions, free of worrying about anything except our art. Of course, reality is often much different. Maybe it’s our families, our mortgage, our job, or something else that pulls us away. But what most writers crave is a safe space in which to work on their art, a place where we can temporarily escape from the world to inhabit our creations.
An unsettled world makes this difficult. Personally, I find it all very distracting and anxiety producing. Almost every day there is another piece of bad news that comes out. I try to counter this by focusing on some good trends: the renewables market is increasing; electric cars are on course to overtake internal combustion vehicles in less than two decades; several US states vowed to abide by the Paris Accords even if the Trump administration will not; California and New York passed preliminary bills for universal health care. I also do media blackouts, where I try (and often fail) to stay off news and social media sites for a few days, to clear my head. But curiosity always draws me back. It’s the old fight or flight response. We don’t want to ignore that tiger lurking in the woods. We want to know what he’s up to, so he doesn’t kill us.
All of this affects my writing. Some of it is obvious: I’m physically distracted by the news and what it means for the world. Some of it less so: I’ve noticed my fiction has become darker and bleaker since the election, and I’m trying to counter that by writing alternate narratives, ones that provide optimistic or visionary views of the future. I’ve also found myself melancholy more often. Those who know me know I have my moods, but I’m typically happy and easy going. But more often than not I’ve lately found myself gloomy and depressed. Some of those feelings, I channel into my fiction. Some of that I just have to sit with. The world is not the place I thought it was, and that sucks, and while there are some things I can do, I have to accept that many things I have little control over.
What can we do? I think expressing ourselves, through our fiction, yes, but also elsewhere is one possible answer. When we share our anxiety with others, we put ourselves in a vulnerable position, and it’s only through vulnerability that true healing can take place. When we realize that we are not alone with our feelings, that thousands of others share them too, that can be a kind of comfort. Anyway, I’m just putting this out there to let you know that, if you feel like I do, you are not alone.
My internet privacy story “Love Engine Optimization” is out in this month’s Lightspeed. You can buy the issue now or wait until June 27th and read it for free. Looks like lots of good fiction here from Vandana Singh, Elizabeth Bear, Carlos Hernandez, plus non fiction from Amal El-Mohtar, Carrie Vaughn, and lots of others. Check it out!
A little hint on the theme of my story: when we talk of internet privacy, we usually assume the actors are large players: corporations, governments, and large criminal enterprises exploiting software flaws and human gullibility for profit. But we know from Snowden and WikiLeaks the actors can be small as well. What could one person do with full access to another’s data that a large body could not?
You can read “Love Engine Optimization” now if you buy the issue, or you can read it for free on June 27th!
C and I watched the movie Whiplash last night. I know some people thought this was a great film, but I found the central conceit extremely problematic. Essentially, the movie says that, to achieve success in art, you must sacrifice friends, family, even life. The protagonist, Andrew, literally almost dies (and almost kills another person) because of his drive to succeed. And while I get it — yeah, we must Strive, capital S, for our art, the film’s message is toxic. It says that art is in competition with life, that they are antagonists. It says that to devote fully to one’s art means one must give up all other distractions. Andrew’s teacher, Fletcher, is the ultimate narcissist, so convinced of his own utility he is unable to see how his behavior literally destroys lives. (One kid kills himself because of the abuse he receives in Fletcher’s class, but Fletcher himself is indifferent, because he’s trying to “push” the students to reach their potential.) The film’s climax comes when Andrew walks off stage (apparently a failure) and then returns to play a drum solo of drum solos (wait, no he’s not a failure!), while a bemused and angry Fletcher at first frowns and then begins to smile as Andrew keeps playing (the student has surpassed the teacher; wow, didn’t see that one coming). We are supposed to cheer Andrew on, but it’s fucking embarrassing. Are any of the other band members important, these musicians who have devoted most of their lives to their music? The film says no. It’s only the Artiste, capital A, Andrew, that matters. Everyone else plays a supporting role in his one-man show. Andrew is the one who bleeds for his art (literally). Andrew is the one who abandons a traffic accident he caused to get to a gig (we are supposed to cheer his determination). He is the one who dumps a potentially great partner because she would be a “distraction.” He is the one who feels superior to his family because they won’t be famous when they’re dead and buried (and he thinks he will.) His father, played by an ever supportive Paul Riser, just watches from a distance while eating popcorn (as we are supposed to do), ever accepting of his sociopathic, narcissistic child.
AND ALL OF THIS IS FUCKING TOXIC.
Look, I’ll be the first to tell you that there have been times, when I’m writing, and I just want to hole up in a cabin in the woods for a week or a month or a decade and shut off all outside distractions and just do the work forever. But you have to come out of that cabin. You have to remember that you are never the sole creator of anything, that everything you are is the product of thousands of people’s labor (yes, even your art). That you are not the star of your own biopic, but one actor in a very large play that has been going on for a long, long time. I firmly believe that if you are Striving, capital S, to the exclusion of friends, family, and life itself, well, my friend, you are doing it wrong. Art is enhanced by friends, family, and life, always, always, always.
A few years ago at Lunacon I was on a panel called “Privacy in the Digital Age.” This was pre-Snowden, and one of my co-panelists, at the very start of the panel blurts out, “This whole notion of privacy today is bunk! No one should have any reasonable expectation of privacy. In the Middle Ages, nothing you did was private. If you went to the market to buy a leg of lamb, every one knew this. If you got your wife pregnant, everyone knew this. If you’ve done nothing wrong, you have nothing to hide!”
Fuck, I hate this argument. It’s so malformed it’s not even wrong.
Never mind that this person did not see the irony of applying Middle-Aged standards to 21st century problems, I found his whole proposition suspect. Of course, there was privacy in the Middle Ages. (Unless you feel that every secret whispered in the dark was later announced via herald to the town square.) And even if there wasn’t any privacy at all, so what? It is a mistake to think that just because at some time in human history we behaved a certain way it’s okay if we behave the same way now.
There is an unprecedented amount of information about us being stored in the cloud, and you probably only know about some of it. You may have heard that your internet provider can now legally track what websites you visit. Your cell phone is tracking your position via GPS. Facebook, Google, Twitter, and others track what pages you visit on the web. Admit it, you were probably a little creeped out that very first time you browsed a website looking for Adidas shoes and suddenly saw Adidas ads popping up in your web pages. It’s unsettling when we realize people (or algorithms) are watching our behaviors.
But now we are handing over much more information than we ever have. Smartwatches record your heart rate, your respiration, and your sleep patterns. Department stores have hidden sensors in mannequins which track you as you move throughout the store. There are smartglasses that can record your brainwave patterns. With Siri, Alexa, Cortana, and others, our conversations are being uploaded into the cloud for analysis. Facebook (and likely others) are building extremely detailed psycho-emotional profiles about you, which they will then presumably use to sell to advertisers. There’s a lot of evidence these type of profiles were used in the most recent U.S. presidential election to manipulate the public to vote a certain way.
The point is, as more and more of our personal, intimate data is being uploaded into the cloud, it becomes that much easier for a bad actor to abuse it. The manipulation of the voting public, I fear, is only just the beginning. Worse, a lot of us are wholly unaware this is even happening. We are putting a lot of trust in these systems, and these systems have not yet proven to us we can trust them.
I benefit a lot from these systems. I like that Google Maps knows what places I’ve been to, and highlights them on the map for reference. I like that, as I’m driving, I can text my friend solely by talking to my phone. I think it’s a good thing that people are being more conscious about their health by recording their exercise and sleeping habits. All these technologies can be extremely beneficial. But we have to balance those benefits with a reasonable expectation of privacy. Otherwise, we are leaving ourselves open to a level of manipulation and exploitation never before seen in human history.