Writers are supposed to be honest, right?
I’m so tired. I have so much to do, my brain is juggling so many things, and I’m so tired.
I am certain I’m not the only person who’s coming out of the pandemic with a to-do list fatter than the old Metro West Yellow Pages. The amount of practical stuff that’s backed up is staggering: dental appointments, the ophthalmologist, checkups and routine tests. Not just for me, but for my kid, and for my parents–the most logistically complex set of appointments on the list.
The last time I took my dad to the ophthalmologist, he forgot he’d come with me, and nearly walked out of the office on his own. Now he’s impaired enough that nobody in the office would lead him to the exits without finding out who’d brought him; it’s my mother, more likely, who’d just forget, and wander outside hoping she’d see something that would remind her how she’d come to be there and how she was getting home.
My dad’s much worse. I don’t know what to think about that. Spouse pointed out yesterday that so much of this leaves me feeling numb because it’s an ongoing crisis. We’re in coping mode all the time, and there’s no space to have feelings about what’s going on. Which doesn’t mean I don’t; I get overwhelmed sometimes, and I find myself in tears while I drive to the grocery store or feed the cats or make snacks for The Kid. I cry for a bit, but it doesn’t interfere with the actual doing of things. There will be time for tears later; right now, there’s Everything Else.
We have to sell their car. We have to consolidate all the stuff they have in storage. We have to keep an eye on the money. Time-consuming, practical tasks. Those can be helpful sometimes.
But I still have work to do. Never mind I’m the only person saying that–I do. I have stuff I want to have written, and that means I have work to do.
A bunch of Twitteratis linked to this Guardian article today. I almost didn’t click on it, because demographic arguments give me a headache. There seems to be a tsunami of sorts in publishing journalism (less so in publishing, I think) when people notice folks who are not white guys are actually selling books. Everyone wants to know why, and if (oh god are you kidding me??) it’s somehow a bad thing because it implies things aren’t really equal.
I’ll always remember Ruth Bader Ginsberg, who astutely observed that nobody looked twice when the Court was all men, so why would it be a problem if it was all women? But I digress.
The article, as it happens, is discussing contemporary literary fiction, which is (believe it or not, book journos!) a fairly slim slice of the book market. How slim? I don’t know. I don’t really care, either, as it’s not a genre in which I write. I’ll read in it now and then (I had occasion this morning to pick up an ebook copy of The Kitchen God’s Wife, which is one of my favorite books of ever), but for the most part I read mystery, romance, SF, and fantasy. Some of it’s literary, some of it’s YA, but most of it would be considered ordinary, mass-market, adult genre fiction. What I write, of course, is SF. Why that genre instead of the others? I don’t know. That’s where my imagination goes. It also says something about my utter disregard for things like commercial viability that out of the four I chose the genre with the smallest market.
SF–and I mean strictly SF, not fantasy or UF or horror–is dominated by men. There are some outstanding female SF writers, but most of the “names” are men. I await the Guardian’s hot take on that one; I suspect it’ll have some mumbling about women being more into tarot cards and men being socialized to be logical and that sort of nonsense. I would enjoy throwing several volumes of Martha Wells and Linda Nagata straight at their heads, but it wouldn’t change anything.
People forget women write science fiction. People forget women write anything, but somehow–possibly because of some hard-earned, well-deserved successes in the last several years–women’s overall profile has improved in a lot of genres. There has been some tremendous adult SF written by not-men, for the entire lifetime of the genre, and maybe the recent successes of authors like Wells will open some minds. (One of my favorite anecdotes is from a friend in my writing group meeting a guy in a bookstore who asserted he never bought SF written by women–all with a Lois McMaster Bujold tucked under his arm. I suspect he thought her name was Louis; I thought Louis Sachar was Louise for years.)
What am I getting at here? I suppose don’t know. SF (as distinct from fantasy) is a small market, and there’s not a lot of room for big successes, and it’s excellent that some of the recent ones have been written by writers who aren’t men, but men still dominate there. Some of those men are extraordinarily good, yes, and I don’t think I’d even notice if it wasn’t treated as some kind of once-in-a-millennium seismic event when a woman publishes a good SF book, which is within five years (less, really) erased from the memory of trade publishing marketing departments.
Marketing is indeed a big deal. It’s the one piece of the puzzle that it’s almost impossible to tie into with self publishing. Most of it happens before the book is released, to get reviews into publications that are read by retail sales channels. As the book approaches publication you might see reviews written for readers, but it’s the distribution channels that get wooed first. Before the pandemic (don’t know about now), people chose most of their reading browsing physical bookstores. There is no widely available, inexpensive way for self publishing to tap into that.
Do readers care who wrote the book? Sometimes, yes. I spent most of my adolescence seeking out science fiction and fantasy written by women. With mysteries, though, I didn’t focus like that, and I mostly read Jonathan Kellerman, Ian Rankin, and James Lee Burke along with Carol O’Connell and PD James. (I read cozies for a while, but a lot of them annoyed me, and absolutely nobody approaches Agatha Christie where cozies are concerned.) With romance–absolutely female-dominated, and poorly treated for that very reason–I choose by setting, and I’ve narrowed my reading down to a short list of authors who tell the sorts of tales I like.
I did not find any of the authors I read regularly on social media. They were all recommended by friends (or my mom; we used to trade books all the time), or they were books that looked interesting when I was rummaging in a bookstore. They were marketed in a way that made them visible to me. Once visible, I could have a look, read a few pages, decide if it seemed like something I’d enjoy.
I’ve missed a lot of great books this way, I’m sure. We all miss great books. At the same time, we all have TBR lists longer than my driveway. Does the Guardian have a point, that maybe we’re missing good stuff because of demographic shifts? I mean, haven’t we always?
So here I am at the other end of another rant, and I’m still tired. I have two short stories and two novels in progress, and it’s Sunday and I think I’ll play some video games until The Kid gets up and steals the PS4 for Subnautica Below Zero. Tomorrow I have to take The Kid to the dentist, and as my two-weeks-after-second-shot lands this Thursday, I need to start making appointments for myself. Might as well grab a little R&R while I can.