We’ve reached May, which in Central Texas means we’ve hit the end of bluebonnet season. There are still a few purple dots on the side of the road, but they’re not long for this world.
Because this is the internet, I won’t list all the lessons this spring afforded me. Some had to do with work. Others involved deadlines. Still others had to do with youth sports. (There’s a short speculative story in there somewhere with furious parents on the sidelines. Also, I always thought Katniss’s mother got short shrift in Hunger Games.)
Regardless, I’m grateful for another spring with wildflowers and honey bees.
There’s a utilities easement not far away from where we live. When we first moved there, it was a decent sort of meadow, full of fire ant hills and nasty burs and waist-high thorny bushes and other things that want to stab you. Still, all naturally occurring parts of the Central Texas ecosystem.
Now, I like nature, but I lack exhaustive knowledge. For someone who really understands the urban wilderness, you need to read Chris Brown’s newsletter. Here’s what I do know: at some point about five years ago, the city (or someone) put down some serious herbicide. It wiped out everything in the field. Not the fire ants, but other flora and fauna like field mice and wildflowers and all the waist-high weeds.
Texas plant life being what it is, it’s all come back now. But meanwhile, without any roots to hold the top soil in place, runoff from several torrential rains carved a little canyon-in-the-making in the field.
That’s about mid-thigh on me, if I’m standing in it.
Here’s the metaphor part of this post: Rejection hits. It’s lousy. It rips gashes in parts of us we didn’t even know were vulnerable.
But look at the contours that are left! Look what can be discovered next.
Recent reads I’ve enjoyed: as usual, I’ve been splitting my reading time between genre fun and Intense Things:
Ross Gay’s Inciting Joy. A poet’s take on the shared territory of grief and joy.
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.
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.”
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!
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.
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.
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.)
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.
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.
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!
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.
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!
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.
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!