Autumn Is Coming


Just got word from Mike Davis that my story "Cul Du-Sac Virus" is going to be included in his Autumn Cthulhu anthology. As an avowed lover of Autumn (there really is no better season) I'm both honored and excited to have one of my stories among the leaves.

 

 

 

 

Friday
May182018

That Weird Blog Entry You Write After Not Sleeping for Days

My family is sick, very sick--my son stricken with his first serious fever/ear infection, my wife suffering from the worst cold I've ever seen. I have been up for three days straight taking care of them both and my thoughts have become strange. 

I was at a family funeral last weekend, the death was both expected and something of a mercy, but still quite sad for all that. All the disparate branches of my clan drove, bussed, and flew to the family farm in southeastern Ohio to see off the matriarch who had held us together.

My brother and I were speaking to a distant great-aunt, a delightful woman we’d never met before who couldn’t stop talking about how wonderful our family was.

She was right, of course, our family is wonderful.

We remarked on how lucky we are in that particular regard, to which she countered: “You’re not lucky, you’re blessed!”

Not wanting to provoke bad feelings, we agreed, but the intentionality implied in her statement really got me thinking. I consider myself a self-interested deist--I sincerely hope there is something divine behind the curtain of our reality, be it a “God” in the religious sense, or just some flavor of universal zeitgeist collecting the unspooled thoughts and dreams of those of us who have shuffled off this mortal coil.

But, in both cases, I don’t think there is any sort of personality behind happenstance. Good things happen to bad people (take the current U.S. President, for example), bad things happen to good people, bad things happen to bad people, but, most of the time, normal things happen to normal people. It’s just how the world works, I suppose.

Which leaves me with the understanding that, should there be some manner of unmoving mover behind the skein of our existence, it either: 1) Doesn’t intervene (either on principle or due to some inscrutable goal); 2) Doesn’t care; 3) Doesn’t understand, or; 4) Doesn’t really notice.

Before I rumble off on some Ligottian tangent, I’m not really preaching nihilism, just a flavor of neglect. Still, humans have always been good at finding patterns (recognizing them, not to mention how they shift and interact is the basis of intelligence, after all), so it makes sense that, in the absence of information to the contrary, we can construct just about anything we wish.

And yet, I still worry about what will happen to me after I die. It’s a purely egotistical endeavor, but one I spend quite a bit of mental bandwidth grappling with.

The rest I spend on writing.

By now, I’ve pretty much accepted I have no control over anything apart from the production side of the authorial process. I write, I send stories out, most are rejected, some make it through the gauntlet. I am lucky in that regard, luckier than most, in fact. And for that I am eternally grateful.

And yet, amidst the crawling chaos of publication schedules there is occasionally the glimmer of kismet, stars aligning as if guided by the brush of some divine hand.

I wrote: “All of Us Told, All of it Real” in mid-2016 as a sort of companion piece to “How Lovely is the Silence of Growing Things.” Both stories grapple with death and frangibility of memory, specifically the memory of those who pass on and how it is constantly reconstructed and recapitulated by those who remain.

I wrote: “All that Moves Us” sometime in 2017 for Turn to Ashes: Volume II, a local Columbus anthology whose previous iteration I’d very much enjoyed. I was thinking about emotions, desires, and how they very frequently seem disconnected from intentionality. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve been made to feel sad, or angry, or happy, or any of a dozen other rootless emotions. Emotions shape how we perceive and interact with the world, and yet (as with luck), so much of it seems driven by chance.

Here, I veer once again into Ligottian pessimism. I can make myself write, but I can’t make myself want to write.

Luck. Emotions. Desire. Self-similarity across scale--like a Mandelbrot set, or a Koch Curve, or the fern fronds--infinite regression to a non-existent mean. The finer measure we use, the longer the coast becomes. Maybe there’s intentionality in the design, maybe it’s all happenstance.

All I can say is that I wrote two stories, years apart, both set in southern Ohio/northern Kentucky, both about similar subjects. I sent one of them to dozens of markets, had the other picked up by the anthology I wrote it for, then, on a whim decided to send it out for reprints. Both stories came out this May, both in podcasts, both with performed by consummate readers--one at the NoSleep Podcast and one at Strange Horizons.

Maybe it’s luck. Maybe I’m blessed.

Either way, I’m grateful.

Monday
Mar192018

My Semi-Charmed Life: 2017 Writing Income Report

Well, my taxes are filed and another year of writing receipts have been tallied. As I did last year, I figured it might be worthwhile to throw the totals up here to give something of a “view from the middle” of the authorial life.

Quite a few professional authors post their income on their various blogs (Kameron Hurley, Bradley Beaulieu, and Jim Hines to name a few), but what about the rest of us ? For reference, I consider myself solidly semi-pro in that I do make money writing--although certaininly not enought to call it a career.

So, without any further prevarication…

I was lucky enough to place four stories with pro markets (>6 cents a word), three in semi-pro publications, and sell the reprint/audio/visual/translation rights to 9 stories from my back catalog. However, this doesn’t mean I’ve received payments for all of them. I don’t want to get too granular with regards to actual publications, but here is a general breakdown of my writing income for 2017:

Quite a banner year--my best ever, in fact.

As far as expenses go, this year was relatively modest. Having a young child at home, I was only able to attend two conventions (one in my hometown and one in Los Angeles). There’s also my website, which I paid to have upgraded and redesigned. I think it was worth the investment--hopefully you agree. There are also professional dues, publication tracking, a small cut taken by publishers, and a reasonable allowance for purchase of genre books and publications.

As with last year, there are quite a few ways I could have cut down on expenses--switching from Duotrope to a free service like Submissions Grinder, trying to hit more local conventions instead of flying across the entire country, moving my website from Squarespace to a free site like Wordpress. Having said that, these are the things that seemed like a good idea at the time.

So, in summation:

2017 Income:     $4,744.03

2017 Expenses: -$2,098.69

2017 Total:         $2,645.34

Believe me, I’m as surprised as you.

 

Monday
Jan222018

I am Very Lucky

This is a big day for me, one of perhaps a handful of times in my life I just KNOW I'm never going to forget. Today, my story "Path to Glory," went live on the Black Library site. For those of you who don't know, The Black Library is the fiction arm of the hugely popular Warhammer franchise. 

I tried to think of things to say. Like, how I can't remember a time where Warhammer wasn't a part of my life. How some of my earliest memories are of playing Heroquest and Battle Masters with my father and brother. How I used to rake leaves and mow lawns to save up enough for unit boxes. How the faintest whiff of glue and primer still brings back fond memories (like all young idiots, I primed in a poorly ventilated area, so it might just be the fumes talking). How I reveled in stories of Eisenhorn, and Gotrek, and Horus, and Malus Darkblade, and Gaunt's Ghosts, and the Blackhearts, and on, and on, and on.

I tried to think of a way to say how surprised and honored I was when Charlotte Llewellyn-Wells (the submissions editor for Black Library) reached out to me to see if I'd be interested in writing something for Age of Sigmar. I've been publishing stories for over a decade (and writing for much longer), but I never, never thought for a moment that I'd have the chance to see something published by the Black Library. The first story I ever wrote was for Inferno! magazine. It was a juvenile sword and sorcery piece about a dwarf thief trying to steal art from an eccentric wizard. I never mustered the courage to send it in, but neither did I forget it.

I tried to think of a way to tell you all how much this means to me. How surreal it still feels. I've played everything from Warhammer Quest, to Blood Bowl, to GorkaMorka, to Chaos Gate. Thanks to the Black Library I've stood shoulder-to-shoulder with the Imperial Guard on a hundred wartorn worlds, I've delved into the sewers of Talabheim with Felix and Gotrek, I've slipped through the misty woods with Gaunt's Ghosts. I can't quite believe now I have the chance to pass that along. 

I tried to think of a thousand things to say, but all that came, again and again, was: Thank you.

Thank the Black Library for so much fine fiction. Thank Warhammer for giving me uncountable hours of joy. Thank Charlotte and the other Black Library folks for taking a chance on me. And, most of all, thank you for reading. I can't tell you how much it means to me. 

 

Friday
Dec152017

Listen Closely

Being the parent of a small child, it's almost impossible to find time to read. Sure, I can snatch ten or twenty minutes while the little ruffian is napping or on my lunch at work, but that's a pale shadow of the long afternoons I used to spend neck deep in genre fiction.

As you can imagine, podcasts have been a godsend.

Before having a kid, I mostly listened to podcasts about history, comedy, movie reviews, or investigative journalism--things like: Oh No Ross and Carrie, or The Dollop, or Faculty of Horror, or Samurai History, or Greatest Generation you know stuff about other stuff, but as my fiction itch became harder and harder to scratch, I found myself veering sharply into genre waters. 

What wonders awaited.

I'd be remiss not to mention Pseudopod (Horror), or PodCastle (Fantasy), or Escape Pod (Sci-fi)--flagship genre fiction podcasts for close to a decade, but recently I ventured farther afield, finding such delightful fare as The District of Wonders (purveyors of Tales to Terrify, StarshipSofa, and Far Fetched Fables), not to mention the fact that a number of my must-reads have also begun producing audio content, I speak specifically of Apex and Beneath Ceaseless Skies.

And, well, being an author myself, I figured I might as well submit stories to them. What began as a need to fulfill my urge to fiction has rapidly become a lifestyle. I can't tell you how amazing it is to hear something I wrote performed by a talented reader. Lest I risk burying the lead, this is my roundabout way of saying one of my science fiction stories just went up on StarshipSofa.

I honestly think "How I Killed Your Mother," is one of the best science fiction stories I've ever written. I'm not claiming it's good, or that you'll love it, only that it's possibly the best fiction I'm capable of. So, if you're here because you enjoyed something I wrote and you enjoy podcasts, I'd be honored if you give it a listen.

Friday
Nov032017

Is the Answer Japan?: A (Very) Basic Guide to Writing about Other Cultures

When I was in junior high, a good friend, Tony Masters, invited me to an Akira Kurosawa film festival at Youngstown State University, the local college. Although I'd never heard of Kurosawa, like any youngling in the mid-nineties I was an avowed fan of Japanese culture (this was before total media saturation, when the only anime you could grab were bootleg translations or DBZ reruns on Toonami, and samurai/ninja were the stuff of culturally insensitive fighting movies starring white dudes with big hair who were "raised by 'oriental' masters"), so I happily agreed to come.

It was an eye-opening experience in more ways than one.

Not only were we two thirteen-year old idiots amidst a gaggle of highbrow college kids (mostly freshmen and sophomores, but to my teenage self they seemed the height of sophistication), but nothing in my Ninja Scroll/Dragonball Z-filled experience had prepared me for the subdued mastery of Kurosawa.

Stray Dog, Sanjuro, Throne of Blood, Ikiru, and, of course, Seven Samurai--if there was a formative moment in my young life, if was that film festival. It drove me to study Japanese in college, pursue a Master's Degree in Japanese History, spend years of my life in Tokyo and its surrounds, and write a billion stories about Japan.

I spent enough time neck-deep in Nihon to have all my illusions shattered, reap a whole new crop of illusions, then have them shattered, again (I'm currently on my third iteration). But you didn't come here to hear me babble about how many stories I've managed to get published or how much I love a Taiga dramas.

Let's discuss the zō-san in the room.  

It's been weird being a white guy who wants to writes about Japan. No, wait, I mean--it's been weird being a white guy who wants to write about Japan the right way. Although I've spent decades of my life studying Japan there's always the looming specter of cultural appropriation inherent in everything I touch.

I know, I know--poor me, right?

Thankfully, genre fiction isn't as resolutely white and male as it was even a few years ago (we still have a long way to go, though). This means that more authors are exploring cultures outside of the standard European analogs that have dominated western fantasy and science fiction since its inception. Despite what the alt-right shitheads in various fringe writing groups would have you believe, it's been a true breath of fresh air to see more publications appealing to underrepresented writers. I mean, one of the points of genre fiction is to explore unfamiliar ideas and concepts, and, to be completely honest, I can only read so many stories about white dudes captaining spaceships--pew, pew, fist pump, warrior race!

Part of this trend is the problematization of white male privilege in the authorial sphere. In the wider context white men have had it good, real good, and losing privilege can feel like losing rights. I mean, who wouldn't mind having dinner and a glass of scotch waiting for them after a long day? You work hard. You deserve it.

Problem is, so does everyone else.

But I'm not here to talk about that. I'm here to talk about creating fiction outside your own experience. We're genre writers, it's what we do, right?

So you want to write a story about Japan, or Ancient Egypt, or featuring a Mexica protagonist battling Conquistadors, or basically anything outside the White European-American paradigm. Well, I don't claim to be an expert, but as someone who genuinely loves a different culture, and who's been trying (with varying degrees of failure) over many years to write about it, I've got a couple suggestions:    

 

1) Don't

I don't mean don't write, I mean don't just write. Before you even consider writing a piece drawing on another culture, you need to seek out writers from said culture (native writers, not other white folks). I guarantee there are some amazing authors whose fiction will give you real insights into what it means to be from the culture you want to write about. Seek out their stories, their novels, and, for fuck's sake, GIVE THEM YOUR MONEY.

At its heart of darkness fiction is a business. We can call for equality and uplifting of marginalized voices all

 we want, but if no one is buying their stuff, they're going to get swept back under the rug by the white folk who are stealing their ideas. It's a lot easier to read a story about someone else that has been filtered through a lens of whiteness than it is to read a story written about someone else written by someone from the culture they are writing about.

My gateways into Japanese fiction were Sōseki, Akutagawa, Tōson, Ōhara, UedaKurimoto, and Murakami, but there are quite a few anthologies of Japanese short fiction in translation that contain some truly stellar work.

Unfortunately, some cultures/religions/races/genders aren't as well represented in fiction…oh wait, I forgot, we have the internet. No matter what culture you're interested in, if you truly are interested, I'd be willing to bet you can find someone, somewhere producing fiction. Find them, read them, and again, GIVE THEM YOUR GODDAMN MONEY.

Need a place to start? Throughout this post, I've interspersed mastheads from a number of publications that focus exclusively on underrepresented groups. They can all be purchased for the price of a cup of coffee. They've all got free stuff to read, but really, shame on you if you don't buy an issue or two.

There are plenty more out there, these are just my favorites. If you have a particular publication that features underrepresented groups, please post it in the comments. I'll buy an issue.

 

2) Do Your Goddamn Research

I'm not talking about skimming the Wikipedia entry on The History of Nepal, I'm talking about reading a couple articles, blog posts, and essays written by people from area of interest. Again, you're on this webpage, so I'm gonna assume you've got access to the internet. Don't just research what you're interested in, research what happened before, after, and nearby what you're interested in. Culture is context, and context is king. If you really want to try and conceptualize something outside your current frame of reference, you've got to understand not only what it is, but what happened around it.

Oh, and books, articles, stories even academic treatises are all trumped by the ability to actually sit down and communicate with a person from said culture. This isn't always feasible (say, if you're writing a story about Wako pirates in the 1600's), but if you're interested in some fiddly bit of historical detail from a particular place or time, I'd be willing to bet there's a person from said place or time's modern equivalent that is also interested.

 

3) If You Can, Have Someone of that Race/Gender/Ethnicity/Culture Read Your Story

First, know that this is a privilege. Do not impose your work upon anyone. If, by some chance in your reading and research you've had the amazing opportunity to cultivate a working relationship (or even friendship) with someone of the place/culture/gender/etc. you're writing about, then count yourself extremely lucky.  

If you're genuinely interested, and they're genuinely interested, it never, ever hurts to get a second opinion. They may not be an author, but I can guarantee if they're a reader of genre fiction from an underrepresented group, they've got a laundry list of shit they're tired of seeing writers get wrong. Again, be super careful about this, nobody wants to be pressured into reading something. If they offer, fine. If not, let it drop. Also, keep in mind that reading and critiquing are work. Depending on your relationship it might be weird offering to pay someone to read your stuff, but, then again, it might be welcome. Still, if you want someone to do work for you, offering to pay them isn't a bad idea.  

 

4) Accept that You're Going to Get Most of it Wrong

There's no way around it. No matter how pure your intentions, no matter how embedded you feel you are, no matter the months of research you put into your work, know that you can't possibly capture every nuance. You're going to be ignorant. You're going to be offensive. You're going to make mistakes. Someone is going to call you out on it.

When they do. LISTEN. THINK. CONSIDER. CONSIDER AGAIN. Then reply.

Don't try to defend your work. I know, I know, you put a lot of time and effort into it. Listen to what people are saying. Apologize for getting wrong what you got wrong. Then, try to start a dialogue.

Yeah, there are trolls out there, but if you come at honest criticism with an open mind and acceptance of views outside your own, I feel like your good intentions will come through. This is where items #1 and #2 will come in handy. If you've done your reading and research, you'll be able to engage in a dialogue with your critics rather than imposing on them to educate you about what you got wrong.

Let me repeat: It is not their job to educate you.

There is a wealth of information at your literal fingertips. If you've done your research, you'll be able to better recognize the gaps in your understanding when they're pointed out to you.

So, that's it.

"But, Evan," you say. "That sounds like a lot of work. I just want to write a two-fisted adventure where a Zulu tribesman hunts a were-jaguar."

I'm not saying you can't. Just keep in mind that this is the type of work people of other cultures, backgrounds, races, ethnicities, genders, etc. need to do every goddamn day to function in a society where whiteness, maleness, and heterosexuality are considered the default.

Somehow, they manage. I bet you can, too.