Rejecting self-rejection

So… some good news. Not only am I eligible to receive the John W. Campbell Award for Best New Writer, two of my stories are included in the reader anthology, Up and Coming: Stories from the 2016 Campbell-Eligible Writers.

But those stories would not have been included in the anthology if I’d been left to my own devices. More than that, I probably wouldn’t have been acknowledged as eligible if I not for a fortuitous push from my writing friends.

When I finish a story or an art project, I’m usually incredibly pleased it. I’m proud of the result.

… for like, 17 seconds.

After that, the narrative changes.

“I hate it.”

“It’s stupid.”

“The whole idea was kinda stupid to begin with.”

“Anyone who sees it will undoubtedly think that I’m stupid.”

“This new project I have in mind is way better, and I probably should have been working on it instead.”

I’m far more likely to trunk a story than I am to submit it for publication. And awards contention? That’s never even been on my radar. Awards are for the authors that I go out of my way to find and read.

So when the call went out for Campbell-eligible writers to submit their published works, I read the announcement and associated qualification criteria with a detachment that was too bland to be wistful. I thought, “Some day… some day.”

But according to the eligibility requirements, my clock was already ticking. ‘Some day’ had arrived.

A new writer is eligible for the Campbell for two years following her first qualifying sale in a professional market. That’s it. Then the window closes. And my first thought was, “I won’t submit. But maybe next year. Maybe. If I have some better stuff published.”

I took myself out of the running after barely even acknowledging my eligibility.

Luckily, a special guest sat in at my weekly writing group meeting. Mary Robinette Kowal is both a Campbell and multiple Hugo Award-winning writer. My writing group have all attended Mary’s seminar courses, and the Campbell anthology came up when she joined us for our online meeting.

As an aside, I’ve benefitted from several of Mary’s writing classes. If you’re quick enough with a computer to get in before they fill up, I highly recommend her as an instructor.

Go.

Go, now.

Find her online at maryrobinettekowal.com or @MaryRobinette on Twitter.

Aaaany who… I mentioned that I wasn’t going to submit for publication in the anthology and she slapped me around for being a dolt. The gist of the admonition being, “Don’t self-reject.”

Which seems obvious and true. I mean, if you never ask an editor to publish your work, the answer is by default a no. They don’t even get the choice if you’ve already drafted the rejection for them. The same is true for awards.

Submission, rejection and resubmission are elemental components of success as a writing professional. But I’m so good at giving myself reasons not to participate in final, commercial activities of a working artist.

Why is that?

For one thing, words on a page are a poor reflection of the iconic imaginings in a writer’s mind. I’ve found the same to be true of music, and perhaps this is something endemic to artist pursuits of all varieties.

I believe Guy Gavriel Kay had the right of it when he said, “I don‘t know a serious artist in any field who does not wrestle with the limitations of their own talent and energy, the space between the imagined work and what is produced.”

My own stories – irrespective of how well others appreciate them – always fall short of my expectations, even if only in some small measure. That they will always fall short is something I need to become better at accepting.

The harsh clarity of hindsight is another challenge.

I’m always learning some new piece of writing craft. It’s super easy to look back at completed works through the lens of whatever writing-nit I’m currently picking away at. The older the story, the more nits I have to pick.

Combine rear-view cynicism with a chronic excitement for each new, shiny idea and it’s easy to see how completed works struggle to compete against the vision of future accomplishments. I find it way too easy to write-off a good story as ‘just practice’ or ‘an interesting learning experience.’

But self-rejection is a miserable return for the investment of effort that the creative process demands. So rather than let my two-year window of Campbell Award eligibility swing shut, I’ve pulled aside the curtain and thrown the shutters wide.

Two of my stories appear in the Up and Coming anthology. I’m super excited to share those pages with friends I’ve made at writer conventions, classes and seminars.

Writers like Marin Cahill and Sunil Patel who attended the Writing Excuses Retreat with me in 2014. Jeanne Kramer-Smith who was in my first-ever writing class. Jamie Gilman Kress and Kim May who I met at my very first Worldcon in 2013.

I’m under no illusion that I’ll win the Campbell Award; that honor will be reserved for a writer better equipped to compress the gap between their imagined work and what manifests on the page.

But I’m part of a freshman class of blossoming science fiction and fantasy writers. I’m proud of that. And I’m very thankful that I didn’t pass on the opportunity to be included in the anthology or our debut works.

The Up and Coming anthology is free to download and available only for the month of March, 2016.

My short story The Doom of Sallee is a historical fiction about Barbary pirates and North African politics. It is set in Eric Flint’s 1632 universe and appeared in the November 2015 issue of the Grantville Gazette.

Brothers In Arms is a novella written for Star Citizen’s Jump Point Magazine. It is a tale of two ne’er-do-well brothers trying to go legit on the edges of colonized space. It was originally published in four parts starting May of 2015.

Best wishes to all the new writers out there, whatever your genre might be. And remember, don’t self-reject! I look forward to reading all of your work for many, many years to come!

 

Drive Write: Support Structures

Drive Write podcastDrive Write: Episode 15 – Support Structures

This week I’m talking about personal support structures. In particular, I’m expressing appreciation for everything my wife does to help me perform on my creative projects. I’ve been reminded of just how much having a teammate and partner means during this past holiday season. She was overseas for the past several weeks and it has been difficult to balance all my personal projects against family, parenting and the day job.

Let me know if you’ve had similar experience or challenges in the comments. And definitely let me know if you have any tips!

Merry Christmas 2013

2013 was full of family, friends, fun and firsts for us. There were many trips, visits and gatherings, each of them treasured and too many to mention here. Instead for this year’s Rogers family update, we’re going to call out some personal accomplishments.

In May, after many years of effort, study and all-nighters, Zuzi completed her post-professional doctorate in physical therapy from Texas Tech University. To fill her newly-regained free time, Zuzi has become a physical therapist for the Nordic US National Ski Team and will be traveling worldwide to keep everyone healthy and competitive on the road to the Winter Olympics in Sochi.

Andy finished the rough draft of his second novel and is neck deep in planning the third. He and the kids made up a bedtime story about stretchy, underground creatures called Droblar. The kids wanted to see the stories that they listened to each night and Andy started drawing again for the first time since high-school. The story is now unfolding online as a weekly webcomic.

Lucas (7 years old) spent the entire summer hiking Slovakia and Alaska and now continues exploring AK in his beloved Junior Nordic Program. This fall, he entered the Ignite enrichment learning program at school and is loving it!

Eva (4 years old) is riding her bike and learning how to read. She’s already mastered her online kindergarten math program and is starting in on the first grade lessons. Also, to make her mama proud, she is picking up skiing really fast – both nordic and alpine!

Merry Christmas and Happy New Year to you all from the Rogers family.

RogersChristmas2013

Scholastic Book Fair 2013

The surveys are in, the results are tabulated, and we have the flavors du jour for this year’s Scholastic Book Fair.

Scholastic Book Fair is a pretty big deal in our house. My seven-year-old goes on and on for weeks about which books might be the best pick-ups of the year. Ninjas had a strong showing in 2012. Zombies got their grey, pallid foot in the door with Steve Mockus’, How To Speak Zombie. But last year’s clear winner was Pokemon.

(You can find last year’s results here.)

Well… it all came down to a few tense moments late on a rainy Friday afternoon. Decisions were made and forms were scribbled. Now, I’m proud to give to you all the results.

Drum roll, please…

Scholastic Book Fair 2013

The winners of the 2013 seven-year-old Scholastic Book Fair Selection Committee are:

As you can see, the undead are still clinging to life (figuratively). However, the clear winner this year – and with a dominant performance – is LEGO, claiming two of the top three slots.

We’ll be watching next year to see if the blocky little figures can rival the staying power of the walking dead or if they go the way of Pikachu and friends.

Let me know in the comments if you’ve got kids and if they picked up anything sweet from the Scholastic Book Fair.

Drive Write: Worldcon Wrap-up

Drive Write: Episode 2 – Worldcon Wrap-up

Worldcon 2013 is over and in today’s podcast, I go over some of the highlights while everything is still fresh in my convention-pickled brain. If you don’t know, Texas is warmer than Alaska so I go over that little known fact. I also talk about meeting members of my online writing group, go over what the heck a kaffeeklatsch is, pimp the value of Barcon, and make plans to attend future conventions.

Listen. Enjoy. And feel free to leave suggestions/notes/etc in the comments.

 Subscribe to Drive Write

Free Fiction

If you follow me on WordPress, you probably received a notification that I’ve added a new page to the blog. Free Fiction is currently a single page with a single flash fiction story on it. Over time, I will turn this page into a section with a variety of my writing.

The pieces I post in the Free Fiction section will be:

  1. published and freely available in an online market, or
  2. pieces that I feel are interesting enough to read but are not publication-quality for some reason.

I’ll make new blog posts each time I post something new in the Free Fiction section. However, don’t expect new material very often. It is my goal to get my fiction published in traditional markets, and that process can take quite some time. If I intend to re-write or polish a piece somewhere down the road, I’ll be keeping it private until I have a chance to complete it and attempt publication.

So… head on over to the Free Fiction page and check out my first free online publication, The Innovator. And please do let me know what you think in the comments.

 

Rackin’ Frackin’ Swear Words

Today I want to talk in a very general way about using swear words and violent, sexual or horrific content in my fiction. I’m not pursuing any particular agenda, the topic is just something that’s crossed my mind recently.

But first! Yosemite Sam…

You won’t often find me swearing in my daily life, certainly not in front of kids or in my professional life. It’s not like I don’t know those words. I put myself through a lot of college working with truckers and laborers at construction sites. Some of those folks used swear words like they were punctuation.

I’m fine with that.

There are very few words that I find individually offensive. It is the intent behind the use of a word and the context in which words are used that may become hateful or harmful. You don’t have to curse to cause harm with words.

My choice on how I speak is a personal one and driven by how I wish to be perceived. It’s a question of comfort for me. But that’s my life and what I want out of it doesn’t necessarily parallel the preferences of characters in my written fiction.

Cravings, for instance, is full of mobsters and monsters. I think it’s reasonable to expect a certain amount of rough language from those characters. To write them as I envisioned them, I needed them to speak in a way that I would not.

The science fiction book that I’m writing right now, Somnus, is chock-full of smugglers and corporate sharks, betrayal and vengeance. But there won’t be a single swear word in it. Those characters don’t need to swear. The world is not our own and who’s to say what the common vernacular of a fantastical future is?

The next book I have planned is a political novel set in the 1930s. The language will be rough and, while not explicitly descriptive, the sexual content will be implicit and lewd.

So, should I be concerned about the perception of my readers and anyone they might speak to about my books? Should I be worried that a family member might read my stuff and be shocked or disappointed with me? If I write violent or adult scenes, will that reflect poorly on my professional life? Or on my family and co-workers?

I don’t think so. Not most of the time, anyway. We’re talking fiction here. The stories I tell aren’t autobiographical. I’m not writing a memoir, I’m spinnin’ yarns.

It does cross my mind, though. Somnus gets really dark in places. I’m pretty sure a tale of redemption would seem fairly flat without first getting grim. If I can pull it off the way that I want to, it’ll be fairly powerful. I just have to write some very not nice things.

Anyway, that’s crossed my mind a time or two recently. Let me know in the comments if you have similar thoughts or personal experiences with reactions to the content of your fiction.

Scary Poems

My friend Peter House (@peter_house) has been holding out on me. Pete has a blog, Gypsum Words, where he publishes his poetry.

Because this is a longish post, I’ll spoil now that I wrote a poem and
it’s published at the end of this article. You have been warned.

Peter came to work for me some ten to fifteen years ago. Despite that damaging influence, he has become a talented manager in his own right. Apparently, he is an artistic poet as well. People should be reading his stuff.

Poetry and Lyrics

I am not a huge fan of poetry and its production escapes me. This poetic failing is most apparent in my fruitless attempts at songwriting.

Music has been ‘a thing’ for me over the course of my life. I have a degree in bass performance (yes, there is such a thing). I’ve been on a handful of albums (probably none that you’ve ever heard of). I’ve enjoyed many musical successes, but writing songs ain’t on the list.

There are a couple of reasons for that. First, I guess that I don’t particularly like instrumental music. I want words. I want to hear a human voice. I want a story.

Not that you can’t tell a musical story without lyrics. I’m just stating my preference. Lyrics please.

So, given that 1) my preference is for lyrics, and 2) I habitually fail at writing them, songwriting is somewhat of a non-starter for me.

It’s All Just So Damn Personal

I think another reason why I fail is that lyrics, like poems, are too raw. They’re too close to the bone. They let on too much.

When I write, I can articulate a rhetorical or persuasive position on a philosophy, method, solution, ideology… whatever. I may or may not actually hold that position, but I can craft an argument in writing.

It’s even easier with fiction. You just start hitting keys and telling lies. And everyone knows that it’s lies because, well… it’s fiction ‘n stuff.

Poetry Scares Me

Poetry, like the lyric, eludes me because I’m afraid of it. It’s too easy to be caught out expressing something that I actually think or feel about something personal or that I genuinely give a damn about. I’m impressed and inspired by people like Pete who can write poems.

One particular poem caught my attention and it is used here by permission.

Boy Toys
by Peter House

My daughter, younger than a breath,
Has already developed a contempt
For boy toys.

Her lip curls and she calls them ugly.
Brutish, vaguely suggestive of
Violence. Or outrightly so.

Even the colors are wrong. These are not
Things one would find in a meadow.
They undo meadows.

I never thought I would prefer flowers
To tank treads. I hesitate to get preachy
But she’s not wrong. They are ugly.

I read this and I was all like, “Huh… that’s so undeniably true.” And then I was like, “But wait. There are other viewpoints with which one can look at the same objects of destruction.”

And then, because my brain is broken…

Cut to a shot of a tank with its arms spread (Yes, tanks have arms in this corner of my brain. Shut up.) Cut to the tank shrugging and saying, “Dude! So not cool. What did I do?”

The tank didn’t ask to be a tank. It could have been a bunch of cell phones and escalator stairs, but no. It’s a tank. It’s a monster that has no business living in the world it is designed to defend. Who speaks for the voiceless tank?

Maybe I Can

So I asked Pete if he’d be ok with me republishing his poem and attempting to write a companion piece to it. He agreed.

I tried to model my poem after Pete’s but this is my first rodeo so cut me some slack if I’ve made some sort of poetry-form faux pas.

And so, I give to you, dear internets, my first poem. Enjoy, comment below, and be sure to visit Pete’s blog to see more of his work.

Unfortunate Necessity
by Andy Rogers

Raw. From the earth I am remade.
If I was a wagon, I would be cherry red
And true under knee.

If a plowshare, my work would be honest
For tyrant or altruist. My memories, peals of
Laughter and shared meals.

But ugly, long of barrel and heavy of tread.
But proud, gleaming to shine like pin on lapel.
Only as I must be.

So all toys for girls and boys, little hands
Enfold them. For all rings and pretty things,
Free hands to hold them.

Well-Worn Pages: ELFQUEST by Wendy and Richard Pini

I’ve seen lots of posts lately about the 35th anniversary of Elfquest. The combination of those reminders and my son’s current fascination with the series has me wanting to express my own appreciation. I’m not going to go into a description of Wendy and Richard’s series, there’s plenty of that available online. In fact, the entire Elfquest archive is available to read in their online gallery.

treestump

These graphic novels were a big deal for me when I was young. Elfquest, along with Asterix & Obelix, were the only “comic books” I read until someone gave me a copy of The Watchmen in college.

… which is the last comic book that I read.

I’m not even sure those count as comic books. So purists, yeah… please feel free to berate me if I’ve got the vocab wrong.

Anyway, I had the comics. I had the graphic novels. I had the role play game. I had the clunky Ral Partha miniatures. I remember reading an anthology of short stories. At one point I even ordered an “animated” version of the first graphic novel. I waited for over a year for it to come in the mail. One random afternoon there was a VHS-sized package waiting for me after school. It was… disappointing, to say the least. Basically, it was a frame by frame version with some narration.

Needless to say, I was (am) a big fan. Thanks Richard and Wendy for years of entertainment with your characters and their grim world of perilous adventure.

I want to start this post with a note on subversive material. Also, you can’t talk about Elfquest without discussing Wendy’s amazing artwork. Lastly, I’ll talk about how the story itself resonated with a daydreaming, bow-hunting, farmhand hick from the outskirts of a little town in Alaska.

All of the artwork that’s used in this post, including the reproductions of Wendy’s characters, is my own from the mid to late-80s.

strongbow

Subversive Material

I’ve been surprised at the amount of conversation concerning the subversive nature of Elfquest. I’m either remarkably tolerant or completely naïve – or, perhaps, a bunch of both. But whatever it is, I never picked up on the subversive undercurrents of the Elfquest story.

elfnpcFor me, Elfquest is the tale of a dude. The dude’s entire race is under siege and in decline. He wins the heart of an amazing woman and then loses his own to their children when they are born. Worried about what the future holds for the kids, the dude sets out to find others of their kind. Strife and turmoil ensue.

That’s what I got.

However, my experience with Elfquest centers on the first four graphic novels. Those books take Cutter and his tribe from their ruined forest home to the battle for their ancestral one. Maybe stronger political or cultural agendas were introduced in later works. I don’t know. At any rate, I can’t speak to any of that and there are already plenty of people who are. Go read their stuff.

The Artwork

For me, the art is the magic of Elfquest. I find Wendy’s work completely amazing and it had an enormous and obvious impact on my own artwork.

I managed to collect a complete set of the original 32-page magazine-sized issues. Somewhat sadly, I traded the set away for in-store credit at a local gaming store some twenty years ago. But I’ve never been much of a collector so c’est la vie. Those magazine issues let me see the evolution of the artwork from black and white on crappy paper to the awesome graphic novels. I loved it when the art went from black and white to color. Everything came to life.

However, the artwork lost some of its appeal when it went from hand drawn to digital. I think that’s why I didn’t keep up with the series after the

elves found the palace. I understand the rationale behind a move to digital media. I get it, but… I don’t know. It’s just not the same.

The Story

humanduelistI think one of the appeals of Elfquest is how different it was from the other fantasy and science fiction that I was reading at the time. Wendy’s fantasy world is a vast departure from the bulk of Tolkien-inspired material out there. It’s not human-centric with a plot driven by the machinations of great cities or states of man. There are no dragons or winged horses. There are strong characters of both genders. Not just strong in the martial sense, although there is plenty of that. There are characters made powerful by the strength of their conviction. There are characters made powerful by their adherence to tradition. Come to think of it… Elfquest is pretty character driven for a comic.

If I had to choose a real life analog for the tribes in Elfquest, I think it would have to be the Native Americans as settling Europeans were displacing them. Understand that this is a comparison that I drew as a kid. I’ve never heard the Pini’s mention it but at the time, it rang true for me. I grew up bowhunting in a very rural community. Reading and listening to my Dad tell stories about legends like Ishi had as much impact on me as any of the fiction that I read. Maybe that made it easy for me to find or imagine correlations between the plight of post-colonization tribes and the struggles of Cutter’s Wolfriders.

The two are very closely tied in my mind. So much so that in the mid-80s my dad made me a sinew-backed shortbow to replace the recurve that I’d outgrown. I loved that bow and, sadly, I eventually outgrew it as well. It still hangs in the library at my parent’s house.

Dad did, of course, let me name it New Moon.

suntoucher

So, there’s a random ramble about Elfquest on the year of its 35th anniversary. It’s a shame that I’ll never get to read those four graphic novels again for the first time and with the eyes of a ten-year old. Maybe I’ll pick a favorite scene and draw something for the first time in a long, long time. I’ll post it here if I do.

What’s your favorite Elfquest scene, character or bit of lore? Leave it in the comments, below.