The Creative Bone

A few people have said to me of late, “I don’t have a creative bone in my body!”

So many layers to unpack.

Often people say this sort of thing if I speak for longer than 1.6 seconds about my writing, which I have generally learned to avoid doing because it’s like when the physicians in my extended family start reminiscing about their med school cadavers. Talking about the parts of writing that are recognizable in a capitalist system are fine: “I have sold six stories.” “I received a grant.” If I can eke out a decent elevator pitch for a story or book, cool. But talking about process? Yeah, you gotta read the room.

It’s only that sometimes they ask. “How do you come up with the idea for your stories?”

And then I sort of do this thing where I try to answer, and then after 1.6 seconds, there’s usually a shake of the head and a smile with glazed over eyes and they drop the line, “I don’t have a creative bone in my body.” A lot of times people say that with their hands held outward, as if to ward off any suggestion that they get too deeply involved because that could turn out like Artex the horse in the swamp of sadness.

Here they are in happier times, because animal-adoring friends have told me that the actual swamp scene gives them nightmares.

So many layers, so much unpacking. For one thing, folks have fallen for the myth that talent is this binary thing, wherein you have it or you don’t. Also they mistake creativity for quality output, when it’s not, it’s process not product. Also hearing about something foreign to their daily lives makes many people feel like they’ve pooed in their pants.

Mostly, though, I’ve been trying to figure out how to respond. Conversationally, it’s really cutting a person off at the knees.

So here it is, my answer to the creativity bone. I’ll make a QR code and hand it out, you are welcome to do the same.

“I don’t have a creative bone, either. It’s a skill I’ve worked at. Creativity is just what happens if you stop wondering for 1.61 seconds if everything will turn out okay in the end.”

New Story

My story “Mercy Rides Free” is now available to read for free, aptly, at Cossmass Infinities. This one goes out to all the caretakers of headstrong 7-year-olds everywhere!

Favorite Reading of 2022

Some favorites released in 2022:

Sea of Tranquility. Multiple timelines, a sci-fi edge, well-drawn characters. A story about plagues and how much we can affect the world around us. My favorite of the year.

Joan Is Okay. A touching and hilarious voice, an endearing narrator, and an engrossing story of New York in 2020, COVID and all.

Tracy Flick Can’t Win. Sometimes, contemporary fiction really nails the experience of characters who are frustrated in life. In redeeming them, their stories can also redeem us.

Faith, Hope and Carnage. If you’re not already reading The Red Hand Files, you ought to. Nick Cave speaks and writes about grief, loss, creativity, and faith with compassion and poetic insight.

The Long Answer. Something akin to auto-fiction, this story lays bare the deeply profound, painful, and complex ways that childbirth and motherhood can impact our lives.

Border Crossings. An illustrated travelogue from a writer and watercolor artist who traveled the Trans-Siberian Railway, before 2020 made that all but impossible for Americans.

All the Horses of Iceland. A Tor.com novella with beautiful, tender language to describe a harsh time and era in Scandinavian and Eastern European history.

Amongst Our Weapons. I’m not calling it a guilty pleasure, because I don’t feel bad about it in the least. But Aaronovitch’s entire urban fantasy/mystery series are delightful and gripping page-turners.

Don’t Look Too Close: 2022 at a Glance

This year was an exercise in changing focus. Many times.

I began the year by sending out queries for a novel, and then promptly putting that novel out of my mind to focus on a new book. Then, in the summer, I turned to short stories for a bit to give the other book time to marinate. I knocked out seven stories and was rewarded with more fuel for the submission fire.

Y’all, the rejections. So many. A lot of personal rejections and a good number of holds, but a lot of rejections that left me wondering what I need to change to make it past that final hurdle. There were feelings of sad.

Then, in the space of a few weeks this fall, I found myself with an offer of rep from an awesome agent for the book that I’d fooled myself into forgetting about, plus two story sales – to be followed by a third in December. (January 8 is the release date for my story in Cossmass!)

And now I’m working on a new new book for my new agent (on whose advice I’ve stepped away from the book I was working on in the spring) for the new year. So in terms of focus, that’s… book / new book / stories / book edits / new-new book.

Which is all to say – NO, it’s NOT true that if you just stick with it then success (however that’s defined) will inevitably come. But it IS true that publishing, even short stories, is unpredictable as hell.

There are so many posts and tweets and newsletters from writers and agents and editors telling writers that they need to find their reward in the process and not the outcome. I agree with this advice, although because I enjoyed some professional wins in the back half of the year, I risk coming off as insincere in repeating it.

But I’d better repeat that advice to myself, over and over, because not every year will end the way 2022 did for me – and I want to keep writing regardless.

Also, transparency:

My short story acceptance rate for 2022 was 4.5 percent. My rate on novel queries – that’s queries that led to requests for pages – was 4.7 percent. (The novel before that was roughly 10 percent.)

See you in the new year!

Past Cast Hast Passed at Last

In 2022, I have read not one, not two, but three novels in which people experience some variety of trauma as young theater students, and then years later confront the effects on their lives. They’re all very well written, but I gotta say, you guys… I don’t know what kind of theater classes y’all attended, but in my experience, theater ed is typically less lit fic trauma and more Crucible cast party.

still: Crucible Cast Party

For real, though. No doubt there have been theater teachers who’ve taken advantage of their students. But there have also been many, many amazing arts educators who have rescued more misfit souls than you or I can count.

Cover reveal for Superstition

My horror story “Justice Turns the Balance Scales,” about a masked theater performance gone horribly, horribly wrong, is set to appear in the anthology Tales of Fear, Superstition, and Doom. I look forward to sharing more when it’s released!

Cover image for Tales of Fear, Superstition, and Doom, with moons, a train, and a very creepy stag!

New Doors

It is with delight and no small measure of astonishment that I can announce that as of a few weeks ago, I’ve signed with Eric Smith of P.S. Literary to rep my comedic novel about what might have happened if they hadn’t flipped the switch to save the grid during the Texas Snowpacalypse of 2021. I’m wildly excited to see what we can accomplish with this partnership.

The book went out on sub at the end of October, and let me tell you: I plan to enjoy saying, “I have a novel that’s out on sub” for as long as I possibly can.

Ideally to be replaced with, “I have a novel coming out in…” but you know what I mean. It’s not easy getting this far, and honestly, the experience of finding representation after trying for so long is a little like leaning on a single, locked door for years on end, and then it suddenly opens… only to find myself in a hallway with many, many other locked doors.

Except now there’s somebody inside saying, “Oh hey! Let me go knock on some doors for ya. I know some great ones.”

I won’t lie. It’s pretty rad.

Other News

Twitter is going through all that stuff. If you’re on Instagram, connect with me and watch me figure out how it works.

Upcoming: cover reveal on the upcoming Superstition anthology, in which I have a story!

Drought and Deluge

Dudes. Sale to Kaleidotrope, as of last night. Set to run sometime before the end of 2024. Nifty, huh?

While you wait, may I recommend the following for your newsletter reading pleasure?

More from me in a few days. (Things appear to be tumbling forth, don’t they?)

September Renewal

Two weeks ago, a cool front came through, marking the first relief Central Texas has had from its second-hottest summer on record. Suddenly, we can breathe again.

September sky

In quick succession, a few other developments have tumbled forth. I’ve signed the contract for my horror story “Justice Turns the Balance Scales” to appear in a forthcoming anthology from Redwood Press – so forthcoming that it might even become available this fall. The story is about a staging of the ancient Greek tragedy Agamemnon. The magic of the actors’ masks turns literal, and the spirit of each mask overtakes the will of its actor. (To get into the mood, check out the track “oresteia” from cutneckk and kirxcy.)

There is others news, too, that needs its own post. Soon!

ArmadilloCon 2022: Imagining Your World in Other Media

It was great seeing everyone at ArmadilloCon last week!

I had the pleasure of hosting a workshop on exploring worlds and characters through other creative media, something I’ve written about before. This time, I was joined by Jessica Reisman and Donna Dechen Birdwell, and with the attendees, we brainstormed a list of activities writers can pursue around their central story or novel, for fun or profit.

workshop brainstorming

I hope you enjoy!

Religion and Nationalism in SFF

One of the panels I’m moderating at this weekend’s ArmadilloCon is on Religion and Nationalism in SFF, at 8 pm. I’m including a list of books that explore religion and nationalism together in some fashion. After the panel, I hope to update this list with titles that the other panelists mention.

Atwood, Margaret. The Handmaid’s Tale.
Butler, Octavia. Parable of the Sower.
El Akkad, Omar. American War.
Kuang, R.F. The Poppy War.
Lewis, Linden. The First Sister.
Palmer, Ada. Too Like the Lightning.
Rather, Lina. Sisters of the Vast Black.
Shawl, Nisi. Everfair.
Topping, Zac. Wake of War.

Thanks for your interest in the panel!