Tuesday, September 17, 2013

Back in the saddle, with the sores to prove it

So, by now it should be pretty clear to everyone paying attention that I have completed the Chicken Ranch book. Not only that, but I also put together a photo essay/coffee table companion book. With Chicken Ranch publication efforts now relegated to the "hurry up and wait" of the agent hunting process, I've no excuse not to turn by attentions back toward my first love--fiction writing.

Actually, that's misleading. It's more of a love/hate relationship. As is the case with many writers, I kinda hate the actual writing process. It's having written that I love.

To further my ends, during Worldcon earlier this month I rejoined Science Fiction & Fantasy Writers of America. I'd dropped out a couple of years back, not by any great design on my part. Mostly it was a case of the Chicken Ranch book utterly consuming me, and partly because of burnout. I'd volunteered in various capacities with SFWA since the early part of the decade. It was rewarding to an extent, and I believe in the organization's goals. But in my role of media relations guru, after a few years, some folks started promising me compensation for my efforts, in effect turning the media relations director into a paid position. Which is fine. I was happy to volunteer my efforts, but it's nice to know people value what you bring to the table. In any event, the compensation was a modest amount, but back then finances were tight, and even a little would make a difference. Except... well, good intentions and all that. Compensation never came through, which, again, would've been fine with me, but word got out that I'd gotten a paying gig within the organization. People made comments, putting me on the spot. It got more than a little awkward. So eventually I resigned my position, withdrew from general interactions and then simply dropped out. And to be honest, the notorious pit-fighting of SFWA got to me as well. No matter how benign a proposal, rest assured half the organization was going to feel duty-bound to argue with the other half. This inclination doesn't seem to have abated any during my absence. I missed a contentious expulsion of one member for excruciatingly bad behavior, but there's plenty of other angst to take its place.

Still, lest I sound too negative, the reason I rejoined is the same reason I joined in the first place: The social interaction with other writers and the creative stimulation this imparts. Worldcon drove home just how much my fiction career has suffered from my non-fiction efforts. People remembered me, sure. But I wasn't relevant. I hadn't published anything since 2011, when I had a little short-short in the Vandermeer's Thackery T. Lambshead Cabinet of Curiosities. And I can't remember the last thing I published before that. Folks, that's an eternity in the genre publishing world. I had zero dinner invitations during the con, sold no stories, had no discussions of potential projects with other writers/editors. That's a complete 180 from my first Worldcon back in '97, which I--with but one short story sale to Interzone to my name and no scheduled programming--ended up selling a short story and half a dozen interviews over the weekend. I came away from LoneStarCon 3 somewhat dismayed, yes, but determined to rededicate myself to rebuilding what little reputation and presence I once had in genre publishing circles. That, in itself, is a major admission.

Sunday, I completed "A Life Less Illustrated," my first work of short fiction in three, maybe four years. I mailed it off today to Gordon Van Gelder at Fantasy & Science Fiction. Last night, I submitted another story to John Joseph Adams at Nightmare Magazine. I've also got submissions in the queue at Analog and TOR.com. That's four more stories than I've had on submission anywhere in the past four years, so I'm making an effort. But my submission efforts also revealed something else to me--my knowledge of the field is woefully out of date. Looking at the submission tracking system I used previously, I realized several new major markets have come into being whilst several old major markets have ceased to be. That doesn't even scratch the surface of the changes in semi-pro markets and editorial changed. I spent today revamping and updating my submissions list, which is exactly as tedious and mind-numbing as it sounds. But it had to be done, and now I need to keep the stories flowing to get my name back in front of the reading public.

Ultimately it may not matter all that much. Being a relatively slow writer who isn't known for being prolific, there's no way I can make a career out of writing short fiction. Not even a viable secondary career. I just don't have the output to reach the critical mass necessary. If I ever want to be something more than an obscure trivia question, I have to start writing novels. I think, maybe, the intense organization and time investment that went into the Chicken Ranch book can serve me well in that regard. I understand some things about long-form writing now that I haven't previously. Granted, that's a different type of writing, but I'm knee deep in research for Sailing Venus, a YA I've been promising to write for my kids for ages. I think I've got a better handle on some plot issues and pacing that may have confounded me in the past, and I've gotten some great background information from folks like Geoffrey Landis, so that's progress. I expect I'll finish a couple of story fragments I have laying around first, to shake the rust off, and by the end of the month maybe start on the first chapter.

The long and short of it is that I feel like I'm starting new, with zero credits to my name and a very steep learning curve staring me in the face. I've got a lot of work ahead of me, and those stories aren't going to write themselves. Wish me luck.

Now Playing: The Kinks Arthur, or the Decline and Fall of the British Empire
Chicken Ranch Central

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