Random Thoughts, v2022.1

There’s nothing new except what has been forgotten.

And in SFF, stuff gets forgotten a lot.

I’m not (this time) thinking of how every five years or so the media suddenly discovers people who are not white guys are writing SFF. I’m thinking of the age-old argument: is it possible to sell a story that’s both SF and fantasy?

I mean, yes. Obviously. This has always happened. It’s always been done. People still argue about whether Star Wars is SF or fantasy, whether anything involving ghosts or ESP is fantasy, whether SF must adhere to current physics.

On the one hand, it’s all a bit silly, isn’t it? A good story is a good story. Set up the parameters of your universe, and be faithful to them. But as a writer…for sure, you’re going to have to know how to market your Thing. At some point someone is going to say “What’s it about?” and you’re going to have to respond with something coherent. It can be hard describing your story.

But that’s true no matter what your story is. If it’s pure SF or pure fantasy–whatever those words mean–at some point you’re going to have to tell somebody about it. And it’s going to be hard.

But I can promise you, somebody somewhere has pitched a book as genre-confused as yours, and done it well. You can, too.

The bigger problem is clinging to the belief that you’ve invented something Amazingly New and Different when you haven’t. We are all standing on the shoulders of giants. We are, I think, better writers when we remember that.

I finally–I think–have all the printing issues settled with Arkhangelsk.

Way back when I published with Voyager and got cartons full of author copies, I noticed printing issues. The most common was books cut not quite to square: the covers were slightly askew, and sometimes even the interior pages. When I gave copies away I chose the cleanest copies I could, but the truth is quality control for book printing is a catch-as-catch-can kind of thing. Which, as it turns out, isn’t exclusive to the printers utilized by major publishing houses.

Automation in printing produces errors. I’ve seen two hardcover copies so far; each of them had entirely different issues, even though they were generated from the same source files. A human would have caught them. Humans don’t do this kind of work anymore, because paying enough people to produce copies at scale would cost too much. (I’m not a big fan of automation, but I don’t have a good argument against it in this case; paying enough people to quality-check every copy in the thousands a day produced by printers would make books impossibly expensive for almost everybody.)

Other people might not even notice.

I do like the dust jacket. It prints out really, really nicely. The book has a terrific weight–we chose the right size!–and it settles nicely in the hand for reading.

None of my other books came out in hardcover. That was a disappointment. Not as much of a disappointment as not getting a mass market paperback, but that was later in the cycle, and my disappointment was for different reasons. But I am very happy, right now, to have Arkhangelsk in hardcover.

I am a lot more like my father than I thought.

This shouldn’t be a surprise. My mother told me frequently when I was a kid that I was just like my father. (This was not, as a general rule, a compliment.) But he had some habits that really irritated me…and here I am, resisting doing the same things to my kid.

I sometimes fail at the resisting bit. She is tremendously patient with me.

She and I have slightly different ideas about what her college experience should be. Because her ideas are solid, well thought-out, and will have to be lived through by her and not by me, I’ve been sitting on my opinions. Mostly. She knows what I think; she knows what I want her to decide. I know pushing or demanding will result in her not listening to anything at all I have to say on the subject. I know this, because my dad used to push and demand, and damned if I didn’t do my best to do exactly the opposite.

It may just be a parent/child thing, but Spouse doesn’t seem to do it nearly as badly–or maybe he’s just more effective than I am. She has good ideas. So do we. Whatever she decides, she’ll be fine.

But it’s quite a shock when it takes all of my concentration and will power to not open my mouth and become my dad.

I have this thing where I don’t know what a book is about until it’s finished. This is a pantser thing, I think; my first draft is my outline, and it’s mostly a bunch of vaguely interrelated doodles scrawled on the walls in a dimly-lit alley. Oddly, though, once I have a full set of doodles, I can see the whole much better. Each revision is a refinement. Eventually–somewhere around the last revision, although often after the text has been locked down–I understand why I had to write what I wrote.

I don’t know what Condition of War is about yet. I have some ideas. I could probably mumble at you about them, and even sound semi-coherent. It’s coming into focus, but it’s not there yet.

I do know who it’s about, thanks to an off-the-cuff remark someone in my writing group made the other day. All of the books, one way or another, tend to focus on the change arc for a particular character. The Cold Between was Trey; Remnants of Trust was Çelik. Breach of Containment was perhaps about both Greg and Jessica, although I think Greg changed the most; Jessica just fell into a place she already belonged.

Knowing who Condition of War is about doesn’t really help me thematically. But it will give me help as I focus the revisions. There’s a lot happening in this book, and a lot is going to have to end up on the cutting room floor. At least now I have the beginnings of a guide.

Politics are very strange right now. I vacillate between cautious optimism and outright horror. On the one hand, the GOP is looking, from some angles, pretty fragmented right now, although they still agree on the worst of their inhumane policies.

On the other hand? People are banning books. People are burning books.

What are they so afraid of?

There’s this myth–and I think they all know it’s a myth, every one of them, even Suburban Parent who insists their child must never hear an expletive stronger than “Rats!” until they turn 18–that childhood is this perfect, joyous condition full of love and unfettered growth. This myth suggests that if we love our children, we’ll allow them to remain in this perfect state as long as we can. That it’s somehow psychologically unhealthy to be challenged, to recognize that the rest of the world doesn’t look exactly like what they see within the walls of their family home. This is argued, generally, by the same people who sneer at content warnings and participation awards.

Have you ever heard such a load of bullshit?

Most of the things they’re “protecting” their kids from are benign, fact-based aspects of human existence. They’re lying to their children about the world around them. Heaven forbid their kids don’t fit Suburban Parent’s vision of what they ought to be. (The number of my kid’s friends who are not straight/cis and feel they can’t tell their families is incredibly distressing.)

It feels a lot like narcissism. Lack of boundaries. Group gaslighting.

We made a point from the beginning never to police what The Kid was reading. Turns out, kids are really good at policing their own reading. They absorb what they can when they can. And in my experience, learning that the world is full of both people like them and not like them is a joyous thing. Because we are, as it happens, a widely varied species, and that’s an excellent fact that should be celebrated.

Don’t burn books. I can’t believe I have to say that. Also, Maus is a work of genius, and it’s an incredibly upsetting and beautiful read and deserves every award it ever got. I kind of feel like it’s one of those things everyone should read. Like, make it a school assignment. Make kids discuss it. Make them understand.

The past informs the present, and it’s understanding the present–specifically the ways in which things really haven’t much changed–that allows us to change the future.

We keep that understanding from our children at our peril.

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