Some Good News

2014_2_cover_1-reklThe good news this week is that one of my favorite publications, Clarkesworld Magazine, will be publishing a new story of mine called “Cameron Rhyder’s Legs.” Editor Neil Clarke says the story will likely appear this fall. “Cameron Rhyder’s Legs” is in some ways my most ambitious story. I wanted to tell a story without pausing for the usual infodumps and backstories. I take it for granted that the reader is with me, even though she may not be. The world my characters inhabit is complex, ever-shifting. Bewilderment is part of what I want the reader to experience. I’m really excited to see how this one is received as it’s definitely one of my favorites.

The other good piece of news I received this morning is from Belarus. The Belarusian magazine Kosmoport will be publishing my Nebula-nominated short story “The Sounds of Old Earth” in Russian, translated by Togrul Safarov. They have great covers, and they’ve published translated work by Ken Liu.

Article up at SFWA.org

I’ve been away at Readercon (at which I had a superb time and will hopefully blog about soon), so I didn’t have much time for blogging, but I wanted to mention that I have a non-fiction article up at the SFWA.org website published this past weekend called “Overcoming Self-Doubt as a Writer.” Todd Vandermark, the web editor of the SFWA site told me that the Facebook crosspost of the article is already one of the most “liked” SFWA posts they’ve ever done. At first this made me happy, until I thought about all the writers out there doubting themselves. Hopefully my article will inspire them to doubt a bit less.

Here’s an excerpt:

It’s become a cliché, the tortured writer beset by periods of crippling self-doubt. But things become clichés simply because they have been true for so many. Writing, for most people I know, is an experience of few victories and many small defeats. The little victories can make all those defeats worthwhile, but when you’re in the writing mode, staring at the screen or paper, slogging away day after day, without feedback, you can often feel like you’ve wandered deep into the woods without a guide and now you’re lost and it’s getting dark and there are strange sounds coming from that grove of trees, and at this far out no one can hear you scream. (keep reading…)

Also some excellent news to be announced here soon, once the i’s are crossed and t’s dotted!

Mentions in Dozois’ Year’s Best
Year's Best Science Fiction: Thirty-First Edition

Year’s Best Science Fiction: Thirty-First Edition

In the The Year’s Best Science Fiction: Thirty-First Annual Collection, my fiction received nice praise from editor Gardner Dozois, Gardner says:

“Lightspeed Magazine, edited by John Joseph Adams, had a good year, featuring strong work by Jake Kerr, Matthew Kressel, Carrie Vaughn, M. Bennardo, Matthew Hughes, and others.”

Later in the book my Nebula-nominated story, “The Sounds of Old Earth” receives an Honorable Mention. Gardner also lists my name among the acknowledgments.

So three mentions in one book! Now, if I can just get my name into the Table of Contents…

Self-Deception and the Fiction Writer
This is not about Hemmingway.

This is not about Hemmingway.

So by now you’ve heard (and have probably read to death) how two Wisconsin girls conspired to kill their friend because of Slenderman, the fictional eater of children created by a user on the site Creepy Pasta. The most often refrain I read in the comments of those articles echoed something like this: “How could those girls believe this was real?” or “How did their parents not sense this?” People asked themselves, How could someone be so disconnected from reality that they not only believed a fictional character was real, but they decided to kill for him too, and go live with him in his secret castle in the woods?  There must have been some serious issues at home!

This took me back a bit. I was shocked because no one, not one site I read (and granted I did not read the entire Internet, though I tried) mentioned the obvious psychological parallel. I.e billions of people all over this planet believe a fictional character is real and kill in his name. That dude’s name is God.

Oh shit, you say. Here’s another atheist rant, gotta go, bye! But before you theists and deists run for the hills (and even there are you not safe from your omnipotent God) I would like to tell you that I’m agnostic on the God thing. This is not because I have chosen the safe position, but because it is my conclusion after careful consideration of the facts. We posit an all-knowing, all-loving, ineffable deity who ultimately has our best interests at heart. Yeah? Well, he’s got some things to answer for: the Indian Ocean Tsunami, the Holocaust, the death of children in Africa from Ebola (or death of children anywhere, really), the earthquake in Haiti, the 20th century — the bloodiest century in history, the Black Plague, the 1918 Flu Pandemic, and well, a trillion other horrific things throughout human history. And before you weave your sophistry and wool over my eyes trying to convince me this is “All in God’s plan,” or “It’s human free will,” or “No one can know the mind of God,” I would reply with, “And yet you use God to justify so much of what you do.” Though even some atheists have an agenda, which is why I don’t necessarily side with them either.

But this post isn’t about religion. It’s about how we as humans self-deceive. How is it that most people get appalled that two young girls believe a horror fairy tale is real, i.e. Slenderman, and yet never connect that they themselves have been taught a horror fairy tale from a very young age, i.e. religion? The simple answer is that they’ve been trained not to see this.

Consider cat lovers. I’m one of them. I love cats, I think they’re cute and adorable and utterly alien creatures. Nothing is more comforting than having a fellow feline curl up on your lap for a nap. The Internet is half-cats. Some Google scientists set a computer brain loose on the Internet, and it learned to hunt for cat videos. Humans love cats. How many of those cat lovers, I wonder, eat meat? Seriously? I assure you, this is not a vegetarian or vegan screed against the evils of meat. I’m asking a simple question: How many of those cat lovers, who profess their undying devotion to the feline, thereafter eat their cheeseburger with a slice of bacon? Pigs certainly have higher intelligence than cats. Dogs too. Yet we are disgusted at the thought of ever eating our beloved cats or canine friends. (Some cultures do, and most Westerners think they’re sick.)

And why is this so? Because we’ve been inculcated to think this way. Cats are our friends. They warm themselves in the sun and find the most comfy spot in the entire house. Pigs and cows and birds are our food. Except perhaps cockatiels or parrots. To swap them is anathema. We believe what is culturally accepted and we reject what our culture tells us to abandon. Seldom do we think critically about these assumptions.

Another example: Love. Our culture tells us that love is heart-exploding, it is fate and destiny, it is magical and easy, and if you have to work at it, then woe be to you, because that’s not real love. But then you get a divorce rate in the United States at about 45%. For many people, the moment the relationship becomes difficult, the moment things slip from the Disney fairy tale fantasy of what we’ve been taught to expect, we assume the marriage is broken, the relationship bunk. We look for the next adventure, the next lover who will satisfy our (taught) belief that love should be easy and simple and predestined.  Don’t even get me started on how narcissistic this view of love is.

My point here in all of these examples is to hopefully make you realize how we walk through life with certain unexamined assumptions, and as a writer I find these assumptions immensely fascinating. We are walking contradictions. The politician who rails against prostitution, and yet pays top dollar for them in private. The homophobic politician or writer who openly gay-bashes and yet is discovered soliciting sex from another man in a gas station bathroom stall or has thinly veiled gay themes in his work. The narcissist who holds onto the illusion that one day she will be a famous actress, while her kids languish without a college fund. The person who feels as if she’s helped out children in need in some other country because she bought a watch that donates its proceeds to various charities, without realizing that all she’s done is feed the consumerist engine that is causing so much poverty and wealth-disparity to begin with.

We lie to ourselves. We tell ourselves stories to get through the day, and oftentimes these stories are utter falsehoods, and yet either we don’t notice, because everyone else avoids critically thinking about the same thing, or if we do notice, we bury it deep down in our psyche because it’s too painful to face.

People are contradictory. We are walking flesh bags of hypocrisy. This does not mean we are not capable of great, noble, profoundly moving things. But it means that, though we assume we are highly rational, present, moral beings in control of ourselves, we in actuality are far from all of those. Our cognitive faculties are like that little bit of iceberg that floats atop a great undersea mountain. We think we are in control, but vast portions of our psyche have been written for us by our culture and our environment, and they remain hidden from us by the simple fact that everyone else shares the same basic assumptions.

And this leads me back to fiction. When I write a character, I ask myself, What are his/her default assumptions about the world? How does she perceive her reality, and what holes might there be in her perception? In my Nebula-nominated story, “The Sounds of Old Earth,” Abner was unwilling to face an ugly truth: that his beloved Earth was gone, and he had to move or die. But he denies this ugly truth, and so creates the tension in the story.

In my story “The Meeker and the All-Seeing Eye,” the Meeker assumes the Eye is an all-knowing, benevolent dictator. A friend. But the Eye is actually a horrific monster. The Eye herself assumes that her own inner psyche is flawless, so she doesn’t even notice the rebellion occurring from within.

In my story “The Bricks of Gelecek,” the demon from beyond the wasteland deserts of the Jeen, like Midas, does not see that he destroys everything he touches, and he desperately tries to connect with the young girl, destroying her.

I’m not saying these are necessarily the best examples, but that by making your characters suppress, deny, ignore and otherwise be ignorant of entire aspects of their psyche, you are in effect making your characters real. Because nothing says “cardboard-cutout character” like a person who says exactly what she thinks, has her feelings on the surface for all to see, and is 100% sincere in all her actions. Instead, most people are guarded, quite protective of their true feelings, and reside on a broad spectrum of human insecurities.

So, if you want to make a character come alive, jump off the page, I believe you have to consider what it is they are not saying just as much as what they are. What are they hiding, even from themselves? As another example, this time from someone else, I suggest you check out the short story “Subduction” from Paul M. Berger in this month’s The Magazine of Fantasy and Science Fiction Free Digest. A rather perfect example, perhaps taken to the extreme, of a character suppressing elements of his being in order to survive.

 

My Readercon Schedule

I have a pretty light schedule at Readercon this year, which I’m okay with. More time for talking to folks I haven’t seen in a while. And drinking.

Friday, July 11, 2014

11:00 AM    F    Empathy, Identification, and Stories . L. Timmel Duchamp (moderator), Andrea Hairston, Matthew Kressel, Julia Rios, Walt Williams. At a panel at Arisia 2013, Andrea Hairston said, “I can only tell you a story if you’re a human who can hear a story and imagine what it’s like to be someone who isn’t you.” Tannanarive Due added that access to stories matters: some children, for instance, can easily find books about characters like themselves, while others have to read books from outside a position of identification. Culture creates structures of identification and empathy; or, to put it another way, ways of feeling from within and ways of feeling from without. How do stories create structures of feeling, and how can writers and readers both benefit from awareness of these structures?

12:00 PM    ENV    Reading: Matthew Kressel. Matthew Kressel. Matthew Kressel reads from a new, unpublished short story.

The Empathy panel sounds quite cool, and something I’ve always been interested in as a writer: how to connect with the reader on an emotional level. Some of my stories have been more successful than others at this, but it’s what I strive for. So I’m looking forward to hearing what others say about this.

And as for the story I’m going to read, it’s a new piece, just finished, about a future soldier trying to find his sister after a great battle. Obviously, I was trying to evoke reader empathy here, but also playing with expectations. I’m quite fond of this one, but that’s how things go. I’m curious to see how others will receive it, as it’s never been read by anyone besides myself. That’s a risk I don’t usually take, but I feel pretty confident about this one.

Hope to see you there.

On Being Grateful
Two happy fools!

Two happy fools!

Sometimes the day-to-day drudgery of life, the sheer effort of living can make it easy to forget that I’m surrounded by wonderful, caring people. But this past weekend I was reminded of how many great souls I have in my life, and how rich my life really is. Christine threw me a surprise 40th birthday party, and because of multiple misdirections, I didn’t suspect that she had invited, well, everyone. Okay, not everyone, but her family and mine (and all of them came!), and my old-school and new(er)-school friends. And though some people couldn’t make it, just knowing they would have come was enough. It’s hard to describe the feeling of walking into that space (appropriately called the Bat Haus) and seeing so many people I love and care for waiting for me. I’m stupendously grateful for all their love. Plus the whiskey they brought.

They brought a lot of whiskey.

Word got out that I like rye whiskey and Ommegang Three Philosophers beer. I went home with a small pub’s worth of liquor. My fridge has enough beer to last me until the next ice-age. Christine said, “Maybe we should give some away. There’s no room in the fridge.” And I replied, “No! I’ll make room!” I’ll let you figure out how I’ll do that.

Yesterday, the day after my birthday, Chris and I went down to the Lower East Side of Manhattan to check out the Egg Roll & Egg Cream festival on Eldridge Street. The festival highlights the Chinese and Jewish immigrants who came to the U.S. in the late 19th and early 20th centuries and built a community there. Despite coming from vastly different backgrounds, the two groups get along swimmingly and have maintained their unique culture despite a century of change. It was amazing to see older Chinese women playing Mahjong next to a table where you could make your own yarmulkes. We walked into the old synagogue there, where a cantor was singing various songs from the Jewish holidays, when we look up to the balcony levels and see my sister and brother-in-law. This meeting wasn’t planned.

The Eldridge Street Synagogue

The beautiful Eldridge Street Synagogue

We hung out there for a bit, went outside into the sun, and got an egg cream, then said our farewells.  Chris and I walked across Chinatown on our way to the West Village when I decided to turn down a street to avoid the pedestrian traffic. And there we ran into Ellen Datlow and friend. Again, this meeting was not planned. I don’t know if there was something in the air, but I never see people I know in Manhattan unless it’s a planned meeting. The city’s just too big. There are too many people. So to bump into people twice in one day is a statistical miracle. Maybe it was my good mood.

And to add icing to my (birthday) cake, I came home to this Facebook post from Sam J. Miller, who very subtly points out that my story “The Sounds of Old Earth” was listed as “Recommended Reading” in the Prime Books Year’s Best Science Fiction & Fantasy 2014:

Sam drew the arrows

In case you can’t find my name, it’s after Nancy Kress

Really, not a bad way to cap off an amazing weekend!

Now it’s Monday and the work begins again, but my heart is full. I’m so grateful to have such wonderful people in my life. Many thanks to all for all the birthday wishes!

 

Twitter Fall

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In addition to writing science fiction & fantasy, I maintain a living by working as a freelance developer, system administrator, and graphic designer. If you need a new website, IT services for your business, or a graphic designer, I’m your man.

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News & Updates

  • 07/18/2014 — Some Good NewsThe good news this week is that one of my favorite publications, Clarkesworld Magazine, will be publishing a new story of mine called “Cameron Rhyder’s Legs.” Editor Neil Clarke says the story will likely appear this fall. “Cameron Rhyder’s Legs”…Read more »
  • 07/13/2014 — Article up at SFWA.orgI’ve been away at Readercon (at which I had a superb time and will hopefully blog about soon), so I didn’t have much time for blogging, but I wanted to mention that I have a non-fiction article up at the…Read more »
  • 07/03/2014 — Mentions in Dozois’ Year’s BestYear’s Best Science Fiction: Thirty-First Edition In the The Year’s Best Science Fiction: Thirty-First Annual Collection, my fiction received nice praise from editor Gardner Dozois, Gardner says: “Lightspeed Magazine, edited by John Joseph Adams, had a good year, featuring strong…Read more »

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