January 13, 2015
A lot of ink has been spilled, by me as much as anyone, about the genre ghetto. The mainstream publishing industry pointedly ignores genre in all those spaces it considers respectable, like newspaper reviews, literary awards, and adult conversations. Meanwhile, genre fandom often resists analysis and criticism from mainstream culture, insisting that their corner of literature has its own rules and standards that a “non-fan” can’t understand merely by reading a genre book. There are a lot of shots lobbed about high culture and low, the people versus the establishment, fans versus experts.
And yet there is more self-aware crossover now between literary fiction and genre fiction than there has ever been, in the short fiction markets in particular. The golden age of pulps might have passed on, but in its place is an incredibly fecund culture of online literary ‘zines with expressly speculative mandates. When I stopped reading fantasy fiction fifteen years ago, we were still in the age of Locus, Asimov’s, and Realms of Fantasy. When I returned a couple of years ago, most of these glossies were dead, but the internet was teeming with stranger things, more experimental things. The internet had this effect on everybody over that fifteen-year period: anybody can publish anything, so they do. Fringe projects abound, but there’s a difference in SpecFic:
Literary SpecFic isn’t the fringe. It’s an increasingly sustainable share of the short fiction market with a demanding, critical audience willing to pay for the product. In no small part because of the precedent set by the pay rates of the old pulps (and the writer’s unions that sprang up around them,) literary short fiction markets with genre flavours now pay more and more reliably than most “mainstream” literary markets, a distinction you can see in the talent they attract. (These inroads have been less marked in novel-length works: there, a literary SpecFic work is still likely to be marketed and branded as “literary”, downplaying the genre aspects of the work.)
The overtly hybrid form is being led by short fiction. SpecFic short fiction is good. It is important. And it is all but invisible to the mainstream.
A year ago, there was a lot of talk on Twitter about a need for more serious criticism of this fiction. Not only is there more material being released than your average reader can sort through, but much of it is complex material that benefits from a close read. Critics help to sort and decode, to lead the conversation.
There were (and are) some phenomenal critical sources, like Strange Horizons and The Cascadia Subduction Zone, but these focused primarily on full-length works, including anthologies. Other places – Tangent Online, Fantasy Literature, and Locus Online – covered short fiction in brief; overviews without much analysis. There was a need for regular, ongoing, critical coverage of the wealth of material coming out of the periodicals.
As it turns out, there was a need for a lot of regular, ongoing critical coverage of this material. Once the spores took root, short fiction review columns popped up like mushrooms in October. I like to think of 2014 as the beginning of a new critical era in genre fiction. Now we have Amal El-Mohtar’s Rich and Strange up at Tor.com, K. Tempest Bradford covers short fiction at io9. Fantastic Stories of the Imagination has Gillian Daniels and just a couple of months ago, Nerds of a Feather started a “Taster’s Guide” to a flight of interesting short fiction each month.
And, of course, I have maintained Clavis Aurea now for over a year.
In a recent Twitter discussion about award eligibility, Niall Harrison (Strange Horizon‘s editorial force) pointed out that while critics are technically eligible for the Hugo Awards’ Best Fan Writer, “…it’s a poor fit and almost never happens.” Individual essays occasionally get nods (such as last year’s winner, “We Have Always Fought” by Kameron Hurley,) but it is hard to define a critic’s body of work as a whole. You could perhaps nominate their blog or a single, standout column. Critics have not, historically, had their own brands the same way fiction writers do.
I believe this year is different. The same ‘zines who have raised the bar for quality SpecFic short fiction are housing and branding critics with definable, nominate-able bodies of critical work.
I would love to see this trend recognized in this year’s awards season. Literary criticism in genre isn’t new, but it is newly normalized. There is a new critical culture. We’re showing that genre isn’t a ghetto: it’s a metropolis.
You are eligible to nominate for the 2015 Hugo Awards if you were a member of Loncon 3, a member of Sasquan, or the 2016 Worldcon, MidAmericon 2. The nomination period opens January 31, 2015. You will be able to nominate up to five people or works in each category.
Critics and their works are generally eligible for both Best Fan Writer and Best Related Work. You could nominate the critic (say, Amal El-Mohtar) as Fan Writer, and their column or blog (say, Rich and Strange) for Best Related Work.
Let me rephrase that. You should nominate a critic for Best Fan Writer, and their body of work for Best Related Work. I hope very much that you will consider nominating me and my column, Clavis Aurea.
Critics are a vital part of the literary landscape and they work hard. As literary SpecFic continues to push boundaries, reach new audiences, and gain new respectability, these critics will have had no small part in the shaping of the genre. That’s a role that deserves to be recognized on the ballot.
Hug a critic!
Next week, I’ll be laying out my own choices for the categories I intend to nominate in! Stay tuned!
January 5, 2015
I have a certain fondness for backlists. I like to push back, as much as possible, against the trend towards literature as ephemera. It is sad when a book fails to outlive its author. It is sadder still when it is consigned to the blue bin if it fails to take off in its first year of life. The saddest of all, in my opinion, is the $0.99 ebook, designed to be read and deleted, leaving not even a dusty volume behind as artifact. If a book was worth reading ten years ago, it should be worth reading today.
For the same reason, I love the idea of reprints. Great stories should be remembered, read again, and re-introduced to new readers. Short fiction writers should see the same long tail for their work that mid-career novelists might. Old stories gain new meaning in recent contexts, if we can only spare the time to look back.
I am terribly pleased, then, that Apex Magazine has asked me to be their new (and first) Reprints Editor! Once per month, I’ll have the chance to find and dust off an older gem for inclusion in their subscriber edition. I will still be contributing Clavis Aurea, my short story review column, to these issues, so now you have two good Charlotte-related reasons to go subscribe, if you haven’t already.
Not a bad way for me to start 2015! I have a shiny, warm feeling about this year!
December 30, 2014
I know New Year’s resolutions are bunk. Why not make a resolution on April 4th? Why not yesterday? Better yourself all the time, self! You don’t need an arbitrary calendar date to do it!
And yet there is something in the tradition that is more effective than a spontaneous declaration of intent, the way a cup of tea somehow tastes better on a snowy evening. A year is always longer than I think it is, and when I allow myself to go back and open the time-capsule that was last year’s resolutions, I am always pleased to see how much more I have accomplished than I thought. So I will make them, so I will look back on them.
This year’s resolutions were staring me in the face anyway. After reflecting on 2014, it is clear what I need to do in 2015.
Although 2014 was a banner year in sales & exposure for me, I didn’t actually write much more to tide me over into 2015. I completed three short stories, one of which is already spoken for. Of the remaining two, one is a very long short – almost a novelette. This will be a hard sell. If I want to publish more work in 2015, I need to write more.
In 2015, I want to write one short story per non-hectic month. I will round it off to 10 stories. In number terms, I’d like this to represent about 5,000 words a month, or 60,000 for the year – double what I wrote in 2014.
I have been bellyaching about the need to read more here since 2010. Back then, I lamented falling short of a goal of 50 books a year. Oh my God. I would kill to read 50 books a year now. Last year I read fewer than 10 novels – though I read hundreds of short stories. This doesn’t help me keep up with the lit scenes, it doesn’t help me critically, and it doesn’t help me as a bookseller. I need to read more.
This year I will set the target at a modest 12 novels for the year – one per month. Surely I can read 12 novels in a year.
I feel so busy. I have freelance obligations, editing clients, a short story contest to run and non-profits to volunteer with. Oh, and a full-time job and two young children. How on earth am I supposed to ramp up my writing and reading?
I love the internet, I really do. And for someone like me, who has trouble navigating real-life social situations, social media is critically important to my mental health. But there is truly no good reason I should have to check Submission Grinder twenty times per day. Or be unable to close all the tabs for a solid, focused hour. Or have all my Dragonvale notifications come up as push alerts. *ahem*
In concrete terms, I resolve in 2015 to spend at least one uninterrupted hour a day disconnected. Close the tabs, put the phone in a drawer, write or read. More than one hour a day would be brilliant – but I don’t want to make promises I may be unable to keep. Let’s shoot for an hour.
That’s it. The key to achieving your goals is to set achievable goals, right? Go forth into 2015, self. You can do this.
December 23, 2014
I love to hear about publishing progress. To be honest, it makes me feel 300% better about every bloody nose and concussion I get knocking my head against publishing’s thick stone walls. Nobody writes perfect, publishable material every single time – so we’re told. It helps me to see in concrete terms how often a respected author is rejected, how often they have to revise, and how often they have to put a piece into a runed iron box, bury it, salt the land, and move away. It helps to know you can face a lot of failure and still see respectable success afterwards.
I am only in my second year of submitting stories, but I want to share my numbers anyway. Compare and feel stronger, my lovelies. It takes a lot of swings – and a lot of misses – to finally hit.
In 2014 I submitted a dozen or so short stories 76 times to magazines, websites, or anthologies. 45 of them were form-rejected, but another 26 merited very nice, encouraging rejections.
Two of my favourite pieces are now on their 14th and 16th submissions. They’ve changed a lot from the first, but I still love them even if nobody else does – yet.
My newest piece is only on its 3rd submission. The piece before that – ‘La Héron’ – was sold on its 6th try to a venue who had rejected it two months earlier. I like to think this shows improvement in my writing.
I sold 4 stories in 2014. 1 of these was sold at pro (according to the SFWA) rates. Another was for semi-pro. Both were ten-fold or more improvements on my previous best sale.
In 2014, I had 3 stories published. My daughter told her friends at school I was a “famous author” and took one of my anthologies for show & share to prove it. My first true fan! I participated in my first panel at the Toronto Public Library and gave my first interview where I only lied a couple of times.
My reviews not only appeared in Apex Magazine on a bi-weekly basis, but in Canada’s biggest national literary review, the Quill & Quire. I participated in some literary list-making over at the 49th Shelf and a round-table on Con-going at SFSignal.
As if that wasn’t enough, I also edited novels, novellas, and short stories, a cookbook and a boardgame manual for a dozen clients. I threw myself into a very intensive short story workshop with Mary Robinette Kowal. I participated in a 6-week “Artsy Games Incubator” for writers with the Hand Eye Society and published my first piece of interactive fiction, Utopia. I took over as Contest Administrator for the Friends of the Merril Short Story Contest. I even edited a volume of short stories for charity, Chamber of Music.
2014 has been an incredible year of firsts for me. 2015 will, hopefully, be the year I solidify my ground. Where does this path go? I have no idea! But I’m on it, so I’ll find out and let you know when I do.
Oh, and one last thing: I finally set up a Page on Facebook for my writerly doings. Drop in and throw me a like! There’s no communication like two-way communication!
Onwards to 2015!
December 15, 2014
The fantastic and talented Andrew Leon Hudson (whose new weird Western, End Trails, will be available soon – excerpt here) has interviewed me at his blog, The Cartesian Theatre. I think interviews like this are hilarious, so I had a bit of fun with it. Hope you do too!
December 11, 2014
I read a tonne of science fiction & fantasy short stories this year – upward of 500, at least. Picking from the pile my favourite stories of the year was incredibly difficult, but the final six really are all that. Check out my full Best SFF Shorts of 2014 (plus list of honourable mentions) at Apex Magazine!
December 1, 2014
The way I write about him, you’d think I have something against Neal Stephenson. I swear I don’t, I really think he’s the most genius genius of all geniuses. I love him to death and want him to be my best buddy. But I also stand behind everything I say about his latest Big Idea short story over at Apex Magazine…