Wednesday, October 31, 2012


Kris Rusch wrote a three part series on her blog on why writers disappear. All at once, you notice that someone whose work you liked is no longer publishing.

The reasons are the usual: writing pays too little money, and you need to get a day job; you need health insurance; personal crises drain your financial and emotional resources; publishers are no longer interested in your work.

Rusch points out that many writers change their names to get away from bad sales records, or move into a new genre.

Or people simply lose interest in writing. They proved their point and said what they had to say. More painful, the creative springs can run dry, who knows why.

I think I (sort of) fit into the category of writers who became less visible, maybe even invisible. Back 15 or more years ago, I looked at the neat little report that the Social Security Administration sends on expected Social Security income; and I realized I had spent too many years working low paying jobs and part time. I did this in the theory that it would leave more time and energy for writing; and it more or less worked out.

But now I needed to build up my Social Security; and I needed to save some money. So I began to work longer hours, at somewhat better pay. I found these new jobs both interesting and draining, and I wrote less than before.

When I got laid off in 2009 and wasn't able to find a new job and formally retired, I finally had time to write. I've had to relearn writing. At first it was really difficult. I no longer enjoyed working on stories. Slowly -- very slowly -- I have gotten my creativity back. Maybe not all of it, but enough to produce new stories that I like and want to place.

And I've noticed that working on a writing career takes time and energy -- networking, corresponding with editors, reading contracts, proofreading stories before they are finally published. I realized years ago that freelance writers have two jobs: getting contracts and then writing the novel or whatever it is; and the marketing is as hard as the writing. I'm relearning that now.

Look over this post and notice how often I have written "job" and "work." Writing is a job. It is work.

Tuesday, October 30, 2012


Lovely clear morning outside. The almost full moon has finally set.

I have been focused on Hurricane Sandy, in part because I have friends and family in the East, also because it seems like the wave of the future. As far as I know, all the weather models predict more severe weather as a result of global warming.

The size of the storm is amazing. MPR news said this morning that beach front areas of Wisconsin are being evacuated, due to storm surges on Lake Michigan. Waves up 33 feet high have been predicted. Lake Superior, the most western of the Great Lakes, may have waves as high as 20 feet. So a storm hitting the coast of New Jersey is reaching almost all the way to Minnesota. We are not usually effected by hurricanes.

I need to correct the above. If there are 20 foot waves on Superior, the storm has reached Minnesota, though it isn't likely to cause damage.

I just checked the Duluth Shipping News website to see there are any photos of waves crashing against the lighthouse at the Duluth shipping canal. None posted yet. Maybe later, or maybe Superior will remain calm.

On Being an Unemployed Writer

One of my colleagues on the Wyrdsmiths blog referred to herself as an unemployed writer, because she doesn't have a contract at the moment.

This got my goat, and I wrote the following:
I don't think a free lance writer can be unemployed, if he or she is writing. I checked an online dictionary. Meaning # 1 is "to hire." Meaning # 2 is "to keep busy." Meaning # 3 is "to use." Meaning # 4 is "to occupy or devote."

If you don't have a contract, you are unemployed in meaning # 1, but not in meanings # 2, #3 and #4.

I have almost never written under contract, because I don't like the pressure. Instead, I write the story I want to write and then try to sell it. In most cases, I do manage to sell it, though I have never made the kind of money that other Wyrdsmiths have and do.

I told one of my editors years ago that my income from writing paid for conventions and Laura Ashley skirts. I no longer buy Laura Ashley clothing. So maybe now -- in a good year -- my income from writing pays for conventions and J. Jill clothing.

Because I don't like pressure, I write slowly. I think a bit of pressure might help me write more quickly and more, which is one reason I have two contracts right now.

In any case, I don't think of myself as unemployed, but rather as self-employed.

Friday, October 26, 2012

Postscript to Preceding Post

I have to say that there is pleasure in getting angry over something that doesn't matter. In the end, The New Yorker's opinion will not have any effect on the writing I enjoy. When I get angry at politics or economics, the anger involves fear and frustration, because it does matter and I have so little power.

The opinions of anti-choice Republicans can end in grave harm for many people. Mr. Krystal's opinions only matter in a tiny elitist enclave that the rest of us can avoid.

So I enjoy a short burst of righteous anger when faced with Mr. Krystal. But now I need to calm down and move on to things that matter.

Thursday, October 25, 2012

Genre Fiction

It's amazing how easy it is to get me angry. This, for example, did the job. Arthur Krystal in The New Yorker...
What I’m trying to say is that “genre” is not a bad word, although perhaps the better word for novels that taxonomically register as genre is simply “commercial.” Born to sell, these novels stick to the trite-and-true, relying on stock characters whose thoughts spool out in Lifetime platitudes. There will be exceptions, as there are in every field, but, for the most part, the standard genre or commercial novel isn’t going to break the sea frozen inside us. If this sounds condescending, so be it. Commercial novels, in general, whether they’re thrillers or romance or science fiction, employ language that is at best undistinguished and at worst characterized by a jejune mentality and a tendency to state the obvious...

One reads Conrad and James and Joyce not simply for their way with words but for the amount of felt life in their books. Great writers hit us over the head because they present characters whose imaginary lives have real consequences (at least while we’re reading about them), and because they see the world in much the way we do: complicated by surface and subterranean feelings, by ambiguity and misapprehension, and by the misalliance of consciousness and perception. Writers who want to understand why the heart has reasons that reason cannot know are not going to write horror tales or police procedurals... Good commercial fiction is inferior to good literary fiction in the same way that Santa Claus is inferior to Wotan. One brings us fun or frightening gifts, the other requires—and repays—observance.
I realize this is a classic example of a guy who identifies with "literary" fiction defending what he likes. He may know mysteries and adventure stories. I suspect he does not know science fiction.

What he describes as "literary" sounds like the classic bourgeois novel of character and psychology. These can certainly be good. But they have were done in the 19th century and early 20th century, and I see no reason to do them again. If I want to read one, I will get out James or Proust.

Speaking of Conrad, an African writer -- I think Amos Tutuola -- has pointed out that The Heart of Darkness uses the entire African continent as a backdrop for the psychological problems of one white man, as if that enormous continent, full of societies and people, had no other useful purpose.

I can't say if this criticism is right, since I haven't read Conrad and don't intend to. Tutuola sounds more interesting.

In any case, the author of the above essay is not interested in what interests me -- which is change, technology, new ways of seeing the universe, big social questions, and fiction that pushes the limits of reality. The inner workings of the Western bourgeoisie really don't grip me.

And I don't like it when the essayist pulls in Odin. I presume this is a reference to Wagner's Ring Cycle. Odin is a seriously strange and scary being -- king of the gods, defender of hospitality, god of war, death and poetry. This is the guy who gave an eye for wisdom and sacrificed himself to himself to get knowledge of runes. He belongs to the world of magic and mythology, not to the world of psychological novels; and if you encounter him now, you have entered the realm of science fiction and fantasy.

Tuesday, October 16, 2012

Writing News

I have three stories coming out at online magazines in the next month or so. Two are reprints: "Ace 167" at Lightspeed and "The Glutton" at Apex. The third is original: "Holmes Sherlock" at Eclipse Online, a new magazine edited by Jonathan Strahan.

Friday, October 12, 2012

Foul Mood

I was in a foul mood yesterday and found it difficult to do anything productive. I'm not sure why. Maybe the time of year. I like the colder weather, but not the increasingly shortness and darkness of days.

In any case, I got almost nothing done. Today, I finished one story -- it's out the door -- and revised two more stories. This is a slow process. I print a story out and revise it with pen or pencil, then input the changes, then print it out again and go over it again. Some stories require many, many revisions. Others are done after I have gone over them two or three times.

The two stories I revised today will have to be gone over at least one more time.

In addition, I did some inputting to an unfinished story. I have four stories done and bouncing from editor to editor, plus another five stories still in-house.

Monday, October 01, 2012


Patrick is out of town again, this time to conference in Duluth. I made chicken stock today and made the final revisions on a story. Tomorrow, I will make a vegetable soup with the stock and work on another story, which is almost ready to go out.

The hardest part of writing -- for me -- in making the final changes, saying, "it's done," and sending the story out.