Why you deserve it

I have just finished watching season 1 of Skin Wars on a friend’s recommendation. It is very very far from my usual sort of thing: it’s a reality show that’s a competition in body painting. My friend promised that it was very low on the interpersonal cattiness/drama, with lots of very skilled work and a certain amount of people learning stuff about their art, learning from each other. New art and learning? Hey, I’m there for that. And I was immediately hooked, and I will definitely watch the other two seasons, especially since my friend is a person who would have warned me if there was a lot of body-shaming weirdness in store.

One of the things that fascinates me is that the artists involved in this were often financially struggling–it’s not a fast route to fame and fortune–and they had pretty well-entrenched justifications for why they deserved success that were not always easy to dislodge by circumstances that really should have dislodged them. Examples:

I have put in the time. I have worked long hours. This is a competition with firmly set time limits, around each piece and around the competition as a whole. Each artist gets literally exactly the same amount of time. There are no examples of artists putting their feet up and being done early, and beyond that here is absolutely no way for anyone to put in more time than anyone else. Eventually this got clarified to:

I have put in the time. I spent my whole life learning this. Finally someone turned to the person who kept repeating this and said, how old are you? and determined that they were very close to the same age. And that they had both spent their whole life learning it, so…yeah. Not a distinguishing feature. I’ve seen both of these at conventions, though: I have devoted more time to science fiction than the other people at my day job! And I’ve seen a certain amount of it in various factions in the field who are convinced that they are the ones who are truly, deeply devoted–and that that kind of devotion has to be what matters. (Spoiler: it does not have to be. Sorry.)

I need it the most. My living conditions are worse than other people’s without recognition. There are indeed need-based scholarships for various types of study, and I’m very glad. But they’re usually clearly labeled, and “I like your art a lot” and “I think you need money” are not actually the same thing–and “you should like my art a lot because I need money” doesn’t actually work very well.

I need it the most. I poured my heart into this piece. “You should like my art a lot because I need validation” does not turn out to work better than “you should like my art a lot because I need money.” It is often a great idea to pour your heart into art. I recommend it. Then make more art and pour your heart into that. Also technique at the same time.

I have the most technical skills. Ever heard a pianist play Hanon? They are finger exercises. They are finger exercises, they are to make you a technically better pianist, and nobody plays them in concert because they are no fun to listen to. (Or play. Freakin’ Hanon.) Okay, okay, they have a certain hypnotic power, they can be impressive, but…at the end of the day if you are showing up and playing Hanon, nobody is buying your book, your painting, or in the most literal sense, tickets to your piano concert. (Freakin’ Hanon.)

It is apparently really, really hard to say, “Mine is good. Here is what I did well. Look at this part. I deserve this because mine is really good art. I combined the technical and the creative, this has thought and feeling and everything it’s supposed to have, and who cares whether I picked up those skills in two minutes or ten million hours, who cares whether someone else thinks that they are overall better than me and paid their dues more than me, here is the thing I made, it doesn’t come with dues, it comes with awesome.”

It is even harder to say, “I don’t know what’s missing. I did everything right. It’s just not happening for me. Can you help me see what’s going wrong in my piece?” And sometimes there are ten million answers, and sometimes there’s one answer, and sometimes there…isn’t. And sometimes the artificial contest structure of a reality show has made something happen that reality doesn’t support, it has made a thing where there is a winner and a loser where actually in a group of ten there might be three pieces that really work and four that don’t and three that meh, or ten that meh, or any other combination of numbers.

But the attachment to previous explanations of why you deserve it, the strength of that: that really got fascinating for me, and I will be riveted to see whether that continues for future seasons.

Surfacing and more

1. I have a story up at Lightspeed today! Surfacing is available for your reading pleasure. They also did an author spotlight. Go, read, enjoy! The illustration by Elizabeth Leggett makes me very happy. You can also get the entire magazine in ebook format or subscribe so that you get every month in that format. All as you prefer.

(If you were wondering what happened after The Salt Path, this is one of the pieces next to it in the mosaic.)

2. Speaking of illustrations that have made me happy, Julie Dillon, who did the gorgeous illustrations for my two previous Tor.com stories that are sort of peripherally linked to this story, has a new Kickstarter!

3. I now have heard back from the editorial staff in such a way that I feel I can say that the story I sold and referenced obliquely earlier was “It Brought Us All Together,” which has found a home at Strange Horizons.

Not Our Kind

I have been sitting on this good news, and now it can be told! My short story, “The Hanged Woman’s Portion,” will be included in the anthology Not Our Kind, along with other cool stories by other cool people, and you can see all the information about it here on the antho Kickstarter page.

Because yes! It is a Kickstarter! It needs kicking and starting, and the publisher asked if we could talk a little about our stories. So first of all, when Nayad asked me to be part of this project, I was thrilled, because for all the stories I have published, no one has ever invited me to be part of an anthology before this one. The theme is outsiders of various kinds, and I immediately thought of a human woman in an alien jail. It can be hard enough to navigate a criminal justice system in your own country, but as a foreigner, how much harder–and then a literal alien, a person of a different species from a different biosphere–how much more difficult would that be, trying to figure out the rules, the norms, the customs? Human assumptions about how we relate, how we gain sympathy or lose it, become even more important in that setting. I had a great deal of fun writing this story, and it was great working with Nayad on it. I haven’t read the others, but the experience of working on this one makes me expect great things of the rest.

In the Kickstarter rewards, there are critiques from me and brownies from me and many other cool things from other people, as well as the anthology itself. Go have a look! I hope you like what you see. I think you will.

And the title’s a quite good one, too.

You know what short story writers like?

Magazines. We really, really like magazines that publish short stories. (Y’know. Like the ones we write.) Which is why I commend to your attention the Kickstarter for Uncanny magazine. It’s the new project from the twisty, uncanny brains of the Thomases, who used to work with Apex and who were some of the editors I worked with on the Apex story some of you may have enjoyed earlier this summer. If I listened carefully (I’m pretty tired, so you should go listen carefully yourself), it looks like their business model is to have subscribers get an early e-book version of the magazine and then provide the stories online for the general reader, so if you help fund, there’s more stories for you early and then more stories for everyone eventually. I think pretty much everyone who reads this can get behind that idea.

So: Thomases! Weird speculative fiction projects! Track record good, outlook positive, go think about their new thing and whether you have two dimes to rub together and throw into making it go.

Prepare to help me hobbit!

Today is Sunday, and my birthday is Saturday. I have already read two books (one paper, one ebook) that were early birthday presents, because I am spoiled and because apparently the concept of delayed gratification is not a strong suit at the moment. Anyway, in making a dinner reservation for this evening, I got asked, is it anybody’s birthday? and usually I lie and tell them no, because I don’t want to make the waitstaff feel obliged to sing as well as their real jobs, and I worry that they will give me a nasty piece of white cake instead of letting me decide whether I want good dessert or no dessert. But this time I chirped, “Yes, it’s mine!” Because this year, honestly, with all the horrible and disappointing news the world has brought us in the last week, I kind of feel the need for all the birthday assistance I can get.

This post is a list of things you can think about getting for yourself–or just drooling over if you don’t have the spare cash–as presents for yourself for my birthday. Sadly, I can’t get them for all of you. I am not that much of a wealthy hobbit, to be able to buy all of you these lovely things as presents for my birthday. But I will at least show you the shinies that I would get you, if I could have a proper hobbit party and give you all the proper hobbit presents that I would like to give you. (Please note that this is the opposite of the usual wishlist: I am not asking you to get this stuff for ME but for YOURSELVES. Not that I wouldn’t like it also, but some of it–like the Kickstarter stuff–I already have, and mostly: the point is you, not me.)

1. Nerd coloring books. Specifically, Dinosaurs With Jobs. Mostly I would get this for my old college friend Scott, but the rest of you might want it too.

2. Chad Jerzak Raku ceramics. Saw these at the St. Kate Art Festival. Very cool.

3. Fresh Mud Pottery. Also at the St. Kate Art Festival. So many things in the gallery, be sure you look at the slide show.

4. Elise’s Current Shinies. Ooh. Shiny. So many shinies, so few body parts to hang them from.

5. Tim always has lovely things. Here are two of his newer ones (that first link was from the Pop Art Minneapolis series, the second the newest Reader photo).

6. Richard Shindell and Lucy Kaplansky are doing a Kickstarter. For those of us who have been yearning for another Cry Cry Cry album, even two-thirds as good will almost certainly be good enough. (Did you miss out on Cry Cry Cry? Here they are singing Northern Cross. The third member is Dar Williams. Oh, fine, here’s another: By Way of Sorrow.)

7. Julie Dillon, who has done the gorgeous art for my Tor.com stories, is also doing a Kickstarter. Many ways to support her art; go look.

Any other loveliness you want to share with each other? There’s a whole week before it’s my birthday, and the comments section lies before you.

Good things, early June

1. Apex Magazine’s June issue is out, and in it my short story The Salt Path. Go, read, enjoy. This is one of the good times when I went back and reread it and discovered that I actually did write the story I wanted to write. It’s in the same mental framework as my Tor.com stories have been, in case that matters to somebody other than me.

(Okay, in case it matters to somebody other than me and Alec and Timprov.)

2. Speaking of Timprov, now that the Kickstarter has succeeded, those of you who didn’t get in on it–or possibly didn’t order enough copies of the book or prints–can pre-order copies of the book or order copies of prints here.

3. Speaking of things that are shiny and gorgeous, Elise is having a shiny sale. I have already bought some of the wonders, but I generously left some for you! See how I am nice to you and want you to be happy? Go. Be happy.

two additions

1. With the Reader: War for the Oaks Kickstarter closing at 4 Central Time, I hear that it now has a Pamela Dean essay included in the photo book. Very, very cool. Go, little Kickstarter, go!

2. You can add to the pool of dragons in my friend Marie Brennan’s Memoirs of Lady Trent series if you want to design your own. Write up a description of no more than two hundred words of your new dragon or draconic cousin sub-species, send it to dragons.of.trent@gmail.com with the subject line “DRAGON: [your dragon name here],” and if your dragon is among the chosen ones, you’ll get an ARC of the new book, which is full of sea serpents. I should totally do this, because I can easily be bought with sea serpents, but since I often get ARCs as a reviewer, I’m going to leave it to those of you who imagine draconic species but don’t usually get sent free sea-serpenty books. But think of your 12-year-old self (or if you are 12, think of yourself): “you just write a short description of a new kind of dragon, and if they like it, they send you a free fantasy novel.” That’s a pretty good deal.

(If you start noodling with dragons and writing it up and think, “Wait, this new kind of dragon is too awesome to give to Marie Brennan, I will go write my own dragon story,” I bet she would consider that a pretty nifty outcome too. More dragons for everybody! But no free book in that case.)

The Reader: War for the Oaks: Kickstarter!

The Kickstarter is up for The Reader: War for the Oaks, and Tim has done a beautiful job. You can see some of how gorgeous the photos are on the page for it, but they’re even better in person. There’ll also be essays in appreciation of War for the Oaks in the photo book (possibly one from me–we’ll see what he thinks!). And if you’re so moved, there are gorgeous prints and photo cards for extras. Some of you have gotten examples of Tim’s photo cards in the mail from me–way better than Hallmark, frankly, suitable for pretty much any occasion, festive, congratulatory, consoling, pick your mood yourself.

This has been a lovely project to support, and I would really like for him to be able to do more beautiful nerdy things in this vein. The Kickstarter is starting strong, but it still needs support. Please go look at the page and think about backing it. Thanks so much.