March 2nd, 2006


Miscellaneous Updatery Beneath the Cold, Cold Stars

What Bear says here. For the record, my admiration for her only continues to grow, specifically in response to her very public outreach about process, technique and career. I have had wonderful friends and mentors all through my career, but Great Ghu I wish that my 25-year-old self had been able to read the Bear today.

Walked a little less than two miles this morning. Cold and very windy. Work kind of came unglued today, to the degree that I almost postponed my return to Portland tomorrow. (Which would have been a logistical disaster of nigh epic proportions.) KF and I went to lunch north of town at a country club dining room so we could spread RFQ response paperwork out and really wham on it in peace and quiet. On the way we saw a bald eagle tearing at a kill -- tried to snap some photos, but the range was too great for my little camera. Did get a nice old windmill on the way back. I'll post that later if it's any good once I snurch it out of the camera's SD card.

Omaha Beach Party tonight, with special guests garyomaha and M. The usual fractured conversations, including an interesting discussion of karma. I'm up at 3:30 am to make my flight back to Portland, so naturally I'm bloggin at 9:30 pm because, um, because. And it will be 20 degress with a moderate wind, so figure wind chill near zero when I go to the airport.

Lots to do on the plane, some Child-private school logistics tomorrow afternoon, then off to the coast to attend an OCPWW workshop on authorial career management. Little or no blogging over the weekend because of that. And next week at day job is going to be a mother burro.

Y'all play nice while I'm in the air.

A bit more on what the Bear said

As I said in my last post, matociquala speak, you listen. She's talking about pushing as a writer.

The first coherent short story I can remember writing was in high school. I actually found a printout of it a couple of years ago (given this sucker's from about 1981, that's seriously weird -- it was written on a PDP-11, and vomited out on some old dot matrix thing). It was a class assignment, in the style of Charles Brockden Brown's Weiland (one of the first English language novels written in North America, and it's genre -- take that, you academic lit snobs). I got an A, and it really probably isn't that awful.

I wrote a lot through college, on typewriters, then on an Apple II, then on a Mac 128k. I wrote more through the 1980s and in 1990 upon exiting my first marriage, joined a writer's group. It happened by accident, thanks to going on a date with zainybrain of all things. More writing.

Lo the 1990s come and go. More writing. One fanzine credit, one nonfiction credit, the Child happens, writing stops.

Lo the 2000s come. Just shy the 20th anniversary of my first short story, and dozens upon dozens upon dozens of short stories and three novels into my efforts to become a writer, I move to Oregon, attend my first OryCon, where I first meet mme_publisher and join the Wordos. Start writing again for serious. April, 2001 I sold my first short story, "The Courtesy of Guests", to Bones of the World.

20 years. Three novels and over 100 short stories before I got paid for a word. Within five years of that initial sale I've sold over 100 shorts, including work to Asimov's, Realms of Fantasy, and (with specficrider) SCI FICTION, along with Rocket Science in print and book deals with Night Shade and Tor.

It's all about pushing. And pushing. And pushing. What Bear said.

Authorial Perspective, Part 3

Note: This is a continuation of earlier posts on Authorial Perspective here and here

Back to where I meant to go in the first place, after detours into discussions of ego, the art of being interesting, and the jiggums of mailouts. (Y'all surprised me in the comments on the mailing issue, btw.) Here it goes, toughish stuff to talk about maybe.

I am quite happy with my success. In the past five years, I've won a major award, been nominated for several others, have garnered a couple of smoking cool book contracts with a couple of smoking cool editors, my first novel has met with extensive critical praise, I've got more short stories in print than I can count, I'm backed up on requests or invitations for stories to various venues, I have a variety of YB appearances and a pageful of YB honorable mentions. Etc. A combination of hard work, some degree of innate talent, enormous good luck, and the blessing of an auctorial voice that seems to resonate with readers, editors and reviewers often enough and well enough to keep my work in circulation.

(Great Ghu, now even I hate me.)

So here's the thing. I still find myself consumed with doubt, regret and sometimes envy. Why couldn't my first novel have delivered the depth and impact of Susanna Clarke's Jonathan Strange & Mr. Norrell? Why couldn't my initial foray into single-title publishing have had the range and success of Elizabeth Bear's Hammered/Scardown/Worldwired? Why couldn't my entry into the field come at the age Tim Pratt's did, so that I could have squeezed in another decade or two of useful writing life? Why couldn't I be hard-wired for cool like Charles Stross or Cory Doctorow? Why couldn't I have the thermonuclear style chops and creativity of China Miéville? Why couldn't I have the intense focus and brilliance of Ted Chiang? The hypervibrating genius of Hal Duncan?

Which is well and truly idiotic of me. I don't have authorial perspective, in the sense of rational self-perception. It's like trying to see the back of my own head, or the color of my own eyes. Sure, I can use the mirrors of reviews and critique and anecdote, but the author-that-is-me is blind to who I am.

I know the answer to this problem. The answer is incredibly simple: there is no problem. I'm not Ms. Clarke, or matociquala, or Tim, or autopope, or Cory, or China, or Ted, or geekshow. I'm me. Jay Lake. The current Jay Lake and the next Jay Lake.

This is what I was trying to get at earlier, through the widgery about ego and interesting-ness and so forth. What it means to have perspective on oneself as an author. I know my high opinion of myself has been inversely proportional to my success -- in 1996, without a published scrap of fiction, I knew I was a hot shit writer. All you had to do was ask me. Or have the misfortune to be in the same room with me for very long, frankly. Today, in 2006, I'm proud of myself and my work, but oh god the problems I can point out to you in my craft, in my process, the Big Mistake in Rocket Science, the typos in Greetings From Lake Wu, the major flaws in Trial of Flowers.

There is no crisis here. I pretty much bump along, have fun, enjoy reading and writing and having my writer friends. I like being Jay Lake. My first novel didn't have the impact of Jonathan Strange & Mr. Norrell because that's not how I work. I'll likely never write a piece as taut and brilliant as "Story of Your Life" because that's not how I work. How I work is what anyone who reads me already knows.

And I keep getting better. As long as I can tell myself that with honesty, none of the rest of it matters. Push, push, push, push.

Bonus Question: Do you function better with self-praise, or through moderation of your self-image? How critical is ego and self-confidence to your writing process?