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Category: Thoughts on the Writer


I have been thinking about how to approach the torrent of revelations coming out of Twitter in recent days. Not because I am in any way close to any of the people involved, but rather because I felt I needed to. And I fully recognize that this situation is not about me, and my thoughts are unlikely to enrich it. But this blog is part therapy, and I hope I also don’t cause harm by speaking on the subject.

Several notable authors of Science Fiction and Fantasy have been dragged out for various forms of harassment of women, non-binary folks, and queer people they perceived as vulnerable. Those include Myke Cole, Sam Sykes, Mark Lawrence, Max Temkin, and Warren Ellis. Some of them I’ve met in person, others I know only through their writing or reputation. None has made any overtly bad impression on me.

And I don’t for a second struggle believing the accusations leveled against them.

It’s not even about believing the accusers in this case. Most of these men have freely admitted to their actions, with varying degrees of accepting responsibility. Some have ran away from Twitter, preferring to act like victims. Others are so far standing firm and accepting their punishment, whatever that’s worth to anyone.

It made me consider my own behavior. As a pretty firmly established gay man who hasn’t been on any kind of “prowl” in quite a few years now, I have never considered myself any kind of threat to women. More than that, in my few and limited interactions with female and queer authors, I’ve made it a point to be respectful and considerate.

But I have no way of knowing how successful I have been. I have witnessed autograph tables of accomplished, wonderfully talented women stay empty. Meanwhile, one lane over, a male author would have several lines struggling to fit into the allotted space. I have been in some of those big lines, rather than the empty ones. Of course, sometimes the reason was the particular names involved, rather than gender.

But this raises another question — if a not-inconsiderable number of the most successful writers in the field are men, do they not have an even bigger responsibility to make our shared spaces feel safer and more nurturing for women and queer folks? And what message does it send to these people, when they come to conventions and conferences, only to be met by crude jokes, belittling behavior, and other forms of often overt harassment? Because let me tell you, a super buff dude grabbing me in his lap while telling me he wants to pee on me, would NOT make me want to return to that space.

We are all capable of calling this out. And I believe we are responsible to do so. As fans, as hopeful writers — scary though that might be to our proto-careers — and as people who believe in human dignity and every person’s right to feel safe in any public space they enter. We can uplift underrepresented voices, so that these public spaces are not ran by drunken cops or writer dynasty legacies.

And in the mean time, it takes more than a Twitter repentance. Many of these dudes are fairly successful in their careers. So, put your money where your apologies are. Make meaningful steps to help women, POC, and queer authors. If you need an apology tour, go donate to a charity, or check yourself into rehab. It is high time that “taking responsibility” means more than 240 symbols on a social network.

How Dead is the Dead Author?

We live in tumultuous times. COVID-19 is here to stay, with incompetent governments mistaking wishful thinking for policy, exposing us to it on purpose. Massive global protests have finally forced us to face point blank the reality of police brutality against people of color. The economy is working for no one but the richest few.

Pandemic, economic collapse, MURDER HORNETS!

But nothing in this apocalyptic year so far is nearly as bad – nearly as horrifying – as… *checks notes*… uh, people who menstruate, according to J.K. Rowling.

In his original essay, La morte d’auteur, French literary critic Roland Barthes argues that the text is an independent entity from its author. His claim can be boiled down to ‘there are too many dimensions to any work of literature, for interpretation to be limited by the context of authorial intent’.

We live in an era of social reckoning. Trying to come to terms with how – frankly – awful many revered writers actually were (or still are). ‘The death of the author’ has acquired a new meaning. It is now used as a reason to continue enjoying works by shitty people. ‘The work is not the author, so why should I forsake both?’ There is merit to this position, but there are legitimate counter-arguments as well.

For one thing, it is easy to not care about the author when the author is no longer around. Sure, Wagner was a scamming homewrecker and a virulent anti-Semite. But Wagner is also incredibly dead, and his works are free domain. Ditto good old Howie Lovecraft, who may have been so shockingly racist, that even fellow racists of his time were like ‘Dude, come on…’, but plenty of wonderful people have since used his work to create diverse art that absolutely rejects his personal worldviews.

But what do we do when the author is very much alive? When they actively profit from our consumption of their work? Yes, I am very obviously referring to the newest TERF-y bullshit of J.K. Rowling. Who is apparently living through, and I quote, ‘the most misogynistic period I’ve ever experienced’. And seems to think it’s trans people’s fault. A horribly tone-deaf position from a person who has had every possible opportunity and privilege to learn better. She is not unique, of course. Plenty of artists have revealed themselves to hold one bigotry or another, be it because they were exposed, or because they wear it proudly on their sleeve for all to see.

There is no point in naming names. If you are part of ANY kind of minority, you know a bunch of living creators who think you are not entitled to the rights and dignity they have. Or that by you gaining anything, they will lose something.

So, do you want to give them your money? I know I don’t. But does their awfulness surgically remove all the experiences you’ve had with their works before you knew who they were? I do not believe that it does. Or at least not automatically.

I learned about Orson Scott Card’s rampant homophobia at a very intense period of my life. I was still adjusting to my own coming out as gay and my place in the world. The shock was too big. I’d had a lot of love for his books, but I could no longer read them without feeling grossed out. It affected me personally.

But Harry Potter has had a far bigger place in my growing up than Ender’s Game ever could. And I am not trans. I try to be as good an ally as I know how, but ultimately Rowling’s awfulness is not personal for me the way it is for my trans friends. And even to some of them, the messages, joy, warmth, and feelings of safety they’ve derived from these books are still there.

Are they wrong? Should they hate the books, now that the author has shown herself time and again to be garbage? Should I?

No. In the end, there is no ‘should’ here. Liking things is subjective. Supporting things has many levels. Nobody should be forced to reject something they love if they haven’t lost that love on their own. Having to separate the creator from the creation is already trauma enough.

I love Harry Potter. It is a flawed work from a flawed author, but it’s been with me for a very long time. I have too many good memories associated with it, and rejecting it would mean rejecting them as well.Will I give Rowling more money in the future, be it for books, or the movies based on them? Honestly, I don’t think I will. But this is a separate issue from appreciating a series I already own.

Art is subjective on every level. From its creator, through the work itself, to the one it’s meant for. It has to be considered on a case by case basis, or it stops being art. If J.K. Rowling is your Orson Scott Card, and your feelings of her works are too tainted to maintain any positive emotion for them, that’s ok. If you are disgusted by her, but you still love Harry Potter, that’s ok too. If her behavior has inspired you to find and read fantasy and science fiction from trans and non-binary authors – that’s AWESOME!

There is no rule for how to deal with disappointment, and anyone that tells you there is, doesn’t understand what art is.

When Your Writing is Just Absolute Shit

I have been semi-hard at work on the second draft of my fantasy novel for the past many moons. It’s a chonker, clocking at about 200,000 words (which is definitely where you want to be with a debut novel, but that’s a different stress point). This draft has yielded a lot of new material, rearrangements, as well as the realization that a side character is completely unnecessary, and should be excised in the next round of edits.

However, I want to talk about sucking. More specifically about me sucking. I do that, sometimes.

Somewhere around the beginning of the last quarter of the story, I realized that events needed to take a detour, for the purposes of tension building, try/fail cycling, and the like. Whether that detour has been successful, or even necessary, I won’t know until I get to the point where the book feels tight enough to do a speed-read. But the point is — I wrote a whole lot of new material.

Then I came back to the point where the story merged with the already existing chapters, and realized that said point also needed a complete rewrite. Characters were now in different places, their relationships changed, new information had come to light, and so forth. So I rewrote the chapter. I had some cool character beats. I felt great about it, and let it marinate for a day, before coming back to quick-edit it, and add it to the whole.

Boy, was it awful! The beats still felt cool, the story still went the way I felt it needed to. But the writing. Oh my god, the word choices, the sentence structure! It was tres tres garbage. I patched what I could, left the rest for a future re-read.

Stay with me. There is a point to this, I promise.

See, even as I was establishing my incompetence, lack of talent, and utter unworthiness to exist as anything but a cautionary tale of the hubris of thinking you can be creative when you obviously can’t… I knew that I couldn’t trust that feeling. Quarantine is tough. Anxiety. Depression. Getting on your loved ones’ nerves, and them trampling all over yours. For every moment of manic productivity, there has to be one of hopeless self-flagellation. Or rather, there doesn’t have to be one. But in my personal experience there usually is.

The point (as promised) of my sad exhibitionist ramblings is — it doesn’t matter.

I might actually, objectively, suck. I might be brilliant, but depressed. Likely, I’m somewhere in the middle, with most of humanity. But I know what I want, and what I want, is to keep writing. I believe that the only way for me to do this, is to accept that there will be moments where insecurity (or, hey — objectivity!) will get the better of me. Where even my best effort will seem like a vomit sundae. And that those moments don’t truly define what I can accomplish, how far I can go.

Accepting the feeling of suck, and moving past it. Writing even when it really seems like all you write is despicable trash. It’s the only way forward I can conceive of, if I want to come out on the other side of it.

Clarion West Online Classes – A Personal Retrospective

In the past month, the Clarion West Writers Workshop offered a number of online classes through their website. I only managed to sign up for one class from the first round, but I was lucky (read – manic) enough to attend more from the second. The experience was absolutely fantastic on several levels, and the ability to directly interact with professional writers was like being plugged into an outlet, and having my battery charged.

The subject matter of the classes varied wildly, from the use of psychological responses and types of interactions in character building, to the relationship between worldbuilding, character, and story. The structure itself was very different from class to class. Some were webinars, with Powerpoint presentations and room for questions. Others were more lecture-based, with participation, exercises, and the like.

Some takeaways:

1. I need interaction with other writers, be it published, or aspiring ones. It is becoming more and more apparent to me that on a sheer motivation level, I require contact with others who are doing or trying to do what I do. This is making me evaluate the potential to find a writing group, even though I am instinctively suspicious of such things. But it really seems like something that will boost both my motivation, and output.

2. I seem to – and this one is hard to phrase tastefully – actually, uhm, know a lot. Not in the sense of “these classes were useless”, in fact the absolute opposite. I took something unique and helpful from each and every one. But more than a few of these things were rephrasing or offering a unique perspective on information I already had.

Which, to be fair, makes sense. I have listened to hundreds of hours of podcasts, and read a massive number of books on the business and craft of writing. With each passing class, I realized that invariably the most helpful aspect was the direct exchange of ideas, and the practical exercises.

There is always more to learn, and I am likely not even done with the beginning of the process. But it does seem that at this point I actually have a surprising amount of raw information inside my head. Which means that further “learning” for me will have a lot more to do with practice and personal exploration, than simply absorbing information.

Fuck… Oh well.

3. Most importantly, I am realizing that this is truly what I want to be doing with my life. Every class, every sit down with a bunch of other faces, all of us staring awkwardly at each other and the person speaking, has been another crystal clear resonance with the awareness that THIS is who I am. Who I need to be, and what I need to become.

I don’t think any practical benefit I could list (and there were specific ones, to be sure, from each class) will measure up to this simple realization, or rather its reinforcement. Quarantine has been hard on all of us, and I have had my unproductive moments, just like everyone else has. However, after these past two weeks, I feel energized and motivated. And not simply to overcome anxiety, depression, and the uncertainty everyone is dealing with, but to know that even when I fail to do it, my path remains unaltered.

I am no less a writer just because I haven’t been published yet, or because I might have unproductive, uninspired, or flat out blocked streaks. I am more of a writer, knowing that after each of those streaks, I will be back at it, writing. Because I can’t imagine not doing it.

P.S. As for the picture of Jaime protecting my work area as the majestic panther god that he is – you are welcome.

Shall I Compare Thee to Game of Thrones?: A Treatise on Comp Titles

I stumbled onto a tweet by an indie writer recently. They were advertising their novel, and it went something like this:

If you like Lord of the Rings, Game of Thrones, The Hunger Games, Outlander, The Hobbit, or Harry Potter, [BOOK TITLE] is for you!

Now, I don’t usually try to write professional advice on here, because I don’t have the credentials to be telling anyone what to do. With that said, the problems with this tweet were so glaring, and hit me on such a visceral level, that I realized something: this is a subject where one’s credentials as a reader are actually more relevant than those as a published writer. So, here are my thoughts on comp titles.

First, what is a comp title? “Comparison titles” are works similar to yours. They are usually used when you are trying to sell said work to agents or editors, and occasionally — directly to readers. There are several formats traditionally used for the purpose:

(Disclaimer: I came up with the examples on the spot, I accept that people might not agree with them. Which would kind of make my point later.)

[TITLE] in/on/with [TYPE OF CHARACTER]/[PLACE]/[GENRE]. These are trying to tell whoever you are pitching, that your work is very similar to another work, but with one particular difference, be it the character(s), location, genre, or some twist in the story. Example comp: Mistborn is “Ocean’s Eleven, set in an epic fantasy world”. Or The Lion King is “Hamlet, but with lions.”

[TITLE] meets [SECOND TITLE]. Now you are telling whoever is in the elevator, that your work is a mixture of two other works. This doesn’t imply equal parts – your project might take the plot of one title, and place it into the world of the other, or have characters similar to one, but placed in a story, similar to the other. Example Comp: The Hunger Games is “Battle Royale meets 1984.”

[TITLE] meets [TITLE] in/on/with [TYPE OF CHARACTER]/[PLACE]/[GENRE]. An obvious amalgamation of the previous two.

Of course, there are plenty of other ways to do comp titles, because a smart writer/agent will think of the best way to sell their particular work, rather than be slave to templates. But overall, the goal of a comp title is to make people think of more famous works in relation to yours. If this already seems like a risky proposition, I would like to direct your attention back to the tweet that started this.

First and, well, blatantly obvious rule of comp titles is that they should actually fit with your work. If you are writing fantasy and your comp title uses 2001: A Space Odyssey, you are obviously misleading people, and it will take them one confused page into your work to find that out. On this level, the comp from the tweet is ridiculous, because let’s be real here. The only thing Lord of the Rings, Game of Thrones, The Hunger Games, Outlander, The Hobbit, or Harry Potter have in common, is that they are all speculative fiction. They aren’t even for the same target groups — half of those books have been written for adults, and half fall in the Young Adult or Middle Grade fields.

But there is another major risk, when picking your perfect comp title: using massive bestsellers. Here, the issue is one of finding the middle ground. There is no point in using a comparison that nobody has ever heard of. You want to use a famous title that will resonate with whoever you are pitching. But you NEVER want to use the absolute outliers. Because once you start comparing your work to Game of Thrones or Harry Potter, you aren’t telling me that you’ve written an epic fantasy full of political intrigue, or a fantastical adventure in a magic school. Instead, what you are now telling me, is that your thing has the same potential for success.

For obvious reasons, everyone is going to be skeptical of such a claim. Not only agents and editors, but also readers, most of whom have a highly tuned bullshit detector, not to mention have usually read a lot of works in the genre you are writing in. They already know your work is not the next Harry Potter, because NO WORK is the next Harry Potter. If you end up becoming an outlying success (and statistically speaking, chances are you won’t), your creation will be just as unique and incomparable to others, as Harry Potter is.

In the end, to get back to that indie writer and his tweet, I get it. I really do. Self-publishing is brutally difficult, platform and outreach are critically important. All of those titles were written as hashtags, so as to draw people that might be browsing them. But your book is not Donald Trump. When it comes to fiction — and especially in such a small and tight-knit community as the SFF genres — there most certainly IS such a thing as bad advertising. You never want to be the author with the overblown claims of his own work, because, well, nobody believes that author.

Comp titles are amazingly useful shortcuts in trying to get someone interested in what you’ve created. But they are a first step, and the second inevitably involves your actual creation. Which has to fit the way you advertised it, because there are several more steps before you reach your intended audience. So if you start with unrealistic claims or outright lies, you won’t get far.

Love (comma, Simeon) in the Time of Coronavirus

Today’s post is more stream of conscience-y than usual, mostly because I need it for therapeutic reasons. Hopefully, it’s not entirely useless to read, but either way, I have to process this.

We live in a shitty time, all the shittier for how unclear everyone is on how much we are actually supposed to panic, and on what axis. Is our health in danger? Certainly, though not all that much, unless you are old or immunocompromised. Is society in danger? Definitely, because of said old or immunocompromised people who you would put in grave danger with your healthy ass walking outside and potentially spreading a virus you don’t know you are carrying.

Is the economy in danger? Uh, yes. Very much so. Duh. Especially with this incompetent mobster in charge of government.

All of the separate factors add up to this weird miasmic feeling of disquiet, where one feels both kind of safe, and really seriously threatened. Simultaneously overreacting and underreacting in a time that is both a complete emergency, and somehow totally normal.

Or maybe that’s just me. Either way, I have been reading and listening to the professionals, I have not stocked up panic-level amounts of toilet paper, and I am overall fine. I have the luxury of a nice home, human contact, and not risking bankruptcy just yet. My situation is on the privileged end of the spectrum.

But that doesn’t mean I am immune to the oppressive feeling of doom and gloom. Self-isolation is still isolation. It doesn’t matter if you normally work from home, or that you might be anti-social or introverted. Even with company, the awareness that you can’t (or at least shouldn’t ) leave the house, and if you did, there is nowhere for you to go, can tear you down.

So what I am doing about it is, I wake up at normal times. I don’t sleep in late, just because I have nowhere to be. I dress up in adult human camo, even though no one is likely to see me. I have me super gay iced coffee (from concentrate, organic). Then I sit down and I try to do some work, be it editing my novel, scheduling a new post for the blog, writing book/movie reviews for other places, or setting up violin lessons on Zoom.

Before videogames or reading yells at me that adulting is too hard (which inevitably happens). Because then, once I log onto Destiny or puddle myself into bed with a book, I know I did something with my day.

I think it is of profound importance to act like life goes on, like you can still work, or find other ways to be productive. To me this is the best way I can think of to stave off feelings of depression, panic, or plain old apathy. Not terribly novel, I know. But it is what I can do.

A Portrait of the Artist as Another Artist, But for Fun?

This post comes to you, courtesy of Mur Lafferty. She did not write it, nor does she know of its – or my – existence. But she inspired it through something she talks about in her podcast, I Should Be Writing. Recently, Mur picked up the violin. She says she is learning it as an outlet for creative expression without any external pressure, such as she feels in her writing career. This made me consider my own relationship with art in general, and whether I am even capable of doing something in an uncharted artistic field, just for personal enjoyment.

I have been a violinist since age five. My parents – both of them working as professional musicians to this day – chose that course for me when I was an infant, and I was having music theory and violin lessons before I started first grade. This is not unique where I come from. In a quirk of the Eastern European education system, I had access to a music school that incorporated every aspect of the craft into general education. And by the time I graduated and applied to college, I had a profession.

As a child, I never questioned this, and by the time I would have, I was already good enough at it, that it was unnecessary to question. But ultimately, I never had a phase of my life, in which the violin was something to do “for fun”. And with this comes, I think, the dissonance I feel when I consider Mur’s picking up the violin for personal gratification. It makes me jealous. Because I realized that from the moment I decided that I wanted to become a writer, I also never had a phase of doing it “for fun”.

Writing is a passion for me, but I have no framework to approach it in any other way, but professional. I want to learn how to do things well, what the mechanisms under the words are. The bones and muscles under the skin. I want to understand writing, and I want to be a professional writer. To be represented by an agent, to work with an editor for a big publisher. It is a dream, for sure, but it is also a product of how I view the creation and “performance” of art. I think I can do it, or else I would never have started.

In a way, this makes me sad. I want to be able to sign up for an improv class and just enjoy myself. Or heck, even an acting class! Pick up sculpting. Painting miniatures. Whatever. But I fear that I would never be able to keep the voice in my head at bay – the one that tells me that I have to be doing this “the right way”, or not at all. And I think that by being unable to do that, I might be missing something essential from the creative process.

Do you do some kind of art just for fun? If so, what life do you come from? What drove you into pursuing this form of expression? I would love to read about it.

What Is This, And What Is It For?

I have wanted to be a writer ever since I was five. It is the first “adult” thing I remember wanting to do, actually. I probably still have my first attempts scrawled on a notebook in semi-literate Bulgarian, tucked away in a closet somewhere. It was based on the original Robotech anime, if I am not mistaken.

Wanting to write was a driving instinct, almost a knowledge that this was what I would be doing sooner or later. Life took me other places (because life is often like that), but I never stopped writing. It wasn’t fiction, though I still dabbled from time to time, but I had to express myself, share my opinions on everything. Because they were so important, you understand! Reviewing literature, cinema, or television, barfing political opinions and social commentary left and right. I even translated fantasy novels from English in a legit capacity.

History can tell whether I ever wrote anything worth reading, if it cares enough to check. But no one can say I didn’t write.

Some 25 years after that embarrassing Robotech fanfic, I am now into my third year of “trying to do the writing thing for real this time”. The external voices that said becoming a professional writer was unrealistic and childish have been replaced by my own inner insecurities. And those I know how to work with. I have written one whole entire novel that got hard trunked the moment its second draft was done, and am currently buffering on the second draft of my second novel. This one might be for real. Or maybe I got some more practicing to do before braving the real world. But I am doing the thing. Five-year old me would be super proud.

I have been reading books on writing — the craft and the business — and listened to all the podcasts. I have, if not actual experience, then at least a theoretic grasp of the world of doing this with any degree of professional success. So now all that’s left is to keep writing.

But while this is going on, I figured that I wanted to have an outlet for, well, freestyling. I don’t presume to be at a stage where I have any meaningful advice for other people who want to become writers, and I am certainly not going to claim any deep knowledge in any other field. But this thing that I am trying to do, it comes with a whole lot of thoughts, and a whole lot of feelings, and — sweet, merciful baby Cthulhu — yes, also opinions! So maybe I have something to say that will resonate with others, and maybe externalizing my internal monologue will help me figure shit out myself.

So yes, hi. I am Simeon. Welcome to my blog. It will be part review site, part random thoughts, part travelogue as I am navigating this endeavor, and life in general.

Thanks for stopping by.