Out of the Woods, twice

Today you can read my latest story with Beneath Ceaseless Skies, Out of the Woods. Or, and for once I am keeping track of this appropriately, you can listen to the podcast of the same story, narrated by Folly Blaine.

This is my post-Robin Hood story that is informed by growing up with Astrid Lindgren’s Ronia the Robber’s Daughter. Go, read, enjoy!

First of the year

I have a story out in the Jan/Feb issue of Analog, my first short story of the year. It’s called “Drifting Like Leaves, Falling Like Acorns,” and it’s got companion frogs and genetically engineered flying squirrel people and much weirder stuff than I’ve had in Analog before.

Also it goes with “Uncle Flower’s Homecoming Waltz” and “The Ministry of Changes” and “Surfacing” and “The Dust Gate” and “The Salt Path,” all of those. The folder with those stories in it is called “postnuclear fantasy,” but that’s not really specific enough that other people will know which ones I mean. Anyone who has read them and has suggestions for a series title, setting title, group title, whatever, please comment or email me. I’d appreciate any help I could get on that front.

Well, that was a year for sure.

I have seen years before, and this was one.  Yep.

I wrote seventeen stories this year. No complete novels but serious revisions on an earlier novel and serious progress toward the next one. My new agent (Kurestin Armada) and I found each other in January, and I have learned a lot about doing revisions from working with her–it’s shaping the new things I write, making them better pre-revision.

I’ve already sold nine of the seventeen stories; one of the unsold ones I just finished writing two days ago. I sold a total of thirteen stories this year, so one thing that I don’t notice when I’m in the middle of it is that my work is selling faster than it used to. Nor is this because editors are universally faster than they used to be, because several major publications have been quite slow this year. In any case, last year at the end of the year I had nothing in the “coming soon!” category, and this year is quite the opposite. Much of what I sold has not yet seen the light of day, which means there’s a great deal to look forward to in 2017.

I did two writing retreats, which were really great for me, both enjoyable and productive. That’s something new this year that I hope to continue whenever possible. I also did the big trip to Finland and Sweden, and the effects of that are still making themselves felt in the stories I’m writing–and not always in the ways I would have predicted, which is perfect, which is just what travel is supposed to do. I expected to get a lot of science fiction out of the trip, and I got a bit, but even more has been fantasy. Brains! Can’t beat ’em, might as well join ’em.

Here’s what did come out, in case you missed it:

The Dust Gate, The Sockdolager!, Fall 2016.

The Most Important Thing, Nature Futures, 20 October 2016.

Upside the Head, Science Fiction By Scientists, December 2016.

How Far Are We From Minneapolis? (essay), Reckoning Issue 1, winter Solstice 2016.

Early Christmas present: The Elf Who Thought He Was Teddy Roosevelt

Some years I take a notion, and this is one of them.

I like the idea of giving fiction as a present, but I’m not embedded enough in the fanfiction community–or, let us be honest, committed or organized enough–to commit to doing Yuletide. Instead, some years I decide it’s time to give a story away for free for Christmas, to whoever wants to read it. Please don’t copy the text, but spread the link far and wide if you want to. This year Mikulas left Teddy Roosevelt in your shoe. Or rather–

The Elf WHo Thought He Was Teddy Roosevelt

Intermittent

Today I sold my third short story this week. I also had a revision request from an editor I work well with and have done revisions with in the past; while a sale is never guaranteed in those circumstances, it’s certainly better than a rejection. Two of the stories I’ve sold, I wrote this summer; the third I co-wrote with Alec Austin in early 2013. I mentioned this on social media, and my kind friends are congratulating me. That’s really nice of them, and I do feel proud of the work I’m doing.

Here’s the thing: before this month, the last time I sold a story was April. And before that January. One of the most important things that would-be writers should know is that this business is completely sporadic–but even people who know that can I think have difficulty with the phenomenon of comparing other people’s highlight reels to their own uncut footage. This week I am the superstar who sold three stories in a week. Last week I was in a drought lasting a third of a year. Same writer, same writing.

So you hear wry quotes about how intermittent reinforcement drives lab rats crazy. I have a solution to that. Do not let sales be your main positive reinforcement. Don’t get me wrong–selling stories is great. If I didn’t want to sell stories, I would write them and throw them in a drawer; it’s not like attaching files to emails and web forms and keeping track of who has seen what is deeply entertaining. But if I was relying on sales to be the reason I love this work, I would be miserable.

The work is the work. The work is its own reward. And if you’re finding that the creative work you’re doing is not its own reward–whether you’re a person who likes to write or likes to have written–then it may be time to assess what you’re doing and how you’re doing it. You cannot sell something every day, or even every week–even the most prolific writer just does not have that consistency of response. (Or probably that many markets, unless they’re writing a huge variety as well as a huge amount of fiction.) The editor who is going to love this particular piece might be on vacation this week. They might have a family emergency. They might, God forbid, have left the magazine. Or there might not even be an editor working yet who will like this particular piece–you might have to keep sending it around and being patient.

Look: a friend with a geology degree posted to Facebook a meme claiming that a career in geology sounds so much cooler if you talk about it like a six-year-old. It’s true. But: there is approximately no way to talk about my work and sound any older than that. “I make up stories about magic and the future and different worlds.” How cool is that.

So yes, we get happy about sales. We celebrate the sales. But it’s far easier to avoid getting anxious and wrung out if the main enjoyment is in making the thing you wanted to make. People are saying things to me like, “You’re on a roll!” And in fact I am. But not just for the reasons they’re thinking. I’m on a roll doing the things that will make another week like this next month or next year. Doing the things that will sit for weeks, months, without any thought of being published. It’s a good writing time for me. It’s really nice that it’s a good sale time, too. But if I attached too much to that, it would interfere with the good writing time. And we can’t have that.