7:32pm, 29th January 2020
On 2019, and awards, and the stupid ways my brain works
This is an awards post. This is not an awards post.
I've been putting this off for ages (I'm what, two months past everyone else?) because I don't know how to write it. But maybe I just need to write it and accept that it will be as messy and tangled as my thoughts on the subject.
Here is the lede unburied: I am not putting myself forward for awards consideration any more.
Though I'm not going to decline nominations, or be displeased in the slightest, or stop rounding up what I achieved in a year.
Messy and tangled.
(This post is still a list of everything I had published in 2019; you can skip straight to it if you'd rather miss the introspection.)
So look, here's the thing: I still absolutely and utterly believe the general wisdom that you should always do an awards eligibility post and shout about your own work because no-one else is going to do it for you. You are all amazing and you deserve your work to be considered. Everything that follows is absolutely and utterly personal and should in no way be taken as worth a damn to anyone else.
But having tried the awards push thing since 2016, I've come to the decision that it's just not healthy for me.
This is going into the weeds of the stupid ways my brain works, so forgive me a moment.
If I'm going to do a thing, I have to do a thing. No half measures, because the sunk cost fallacy has its claws in me deep. So if I write up an awards post but I don't make sure to research all the categories for people? And don't make sure I get the post on various round up posts? And don't send out my best work to people volunteering for awards reading, or to juries like the WFA? And don't and don't and don't? Then writing the original post was a waste of time. If I'm going to do a thing, I ought to do it properly.
Then the other bullshit tendency my brain has kicks in, something I'm really trying to train myself out of because it harms my writing and creativity in so many ways: I absolutely and utterly believe down to my soul that effort in = results out. I know it doesn't! And yet it's a stupid trick my brain plays on itself, to the point I will over-revise stories and polish the life out of them because I believe in some stupid ancient lizard bit of my brain that trying harder must make something better.
And so, having put the effort in to all this awards consideration bullshit, my brain starts to expect results out. Which is absurd. Then after months of keeping up with all this, when the lists come out and I'm not on them anywhere, my brain gets all torn up and starts beating itself up for not being good enough.
I am aware of how ridiculous all this is. I do not, to be clear, have any logical or actual expectation of being on awards ballots; I am firmly in journeyman territory right now, still developing and learning, and even if I weren't I have no right to expect recognition and celebration. But there my brain goes.
As I say: the stupid ways my brain works.
And there's something else as well, which I will say fast and blunt in the hopes I don't say it wrong: I'm a middle-class cis white Anglo man. I already have every advantage in publishing and in life. I don't need awards too.
So. That was a few hundred words on why I'm not doing awards eligibility stuff any more because it's not healthy for me. And now I'm going to list all the stuff I had published last year, because I think that's healthy for me. This is not, I promise, a contradiction.
Another one of my brain's bullshit tendencies is to always be focused on the next goal. By and large that's a pretty useful thing: keeps me keen, keeps me working, stops me resting on my laurels. But if I'm not careful it means I forget all my achievements and focus only on my shortcomings. Forcing myself to write out everything I had published in a year always, always ends with me going "oh shit, I actually did alright this year", because up to that point I've always thought I achieved sweet fanny adams.
So this is not an awards post, because I am not submitting myself to the stress and anxiety therein. Functionally speaking, however, it is not much different to an awards post in that it still lists all my eligible work, because it's important to make myself recognise my achievements. The distinction may seem so vanishingly small as to be less than the Planck constant, and yet it is--somehow, someway--meaningful to my brain. It is honestly healthier for me like this.
Here is where, buried deep in the guts of all this, I admit that everything here is quite probably sophistry. I am naught but a weak-willed man desirous of your adulation and approval, and this may well be trying to have my cake and eat it. It probably is! I don't know. All that matters to me is that this is better for my brain. What you do with this information, this year and henceforth, is absolutely up to you. You're a competent and intelligent adult; you don't need my opinion on what you should do. Nominate if you want. Nominate other people if you liked their stuff more. It's what you were doing anyway, of course: I'm just trying to convince my brain we're out of that loop.
Four (!) originals, including my first in a Big Three magazine, and one reprint. Huh. That's... actually pretty good for a year in which I feel like I've done no writing at all. Though I suppose that's because this unproductive 2019 will result in a barren 2020, but anyway, this is meant to be the good news bit. Stories! Stories.
Diabolical Plots, April 2019; 2114 words (short story); fantasy.
In a generational shift that some claim threatens the fabric of existence and the sanity of all humanity, surveys show that worship of the Elder Dark is at a record low for one particular group--millennials.
Bob Rawlins is worried. "When I was growing up in the 1950s, I made my obeisance before the Manifold Insanity every night, uttering the invocations to satiate the Watchers Just Beyond and keep them at bay for one day longer. But young people now aren't prepared to make the necessary sacrifices."
I remind him that human sacrifice was deemed unnecessary and illegal in 1985, and animal sacrifice in 2009.
"Well I don't mean literally," he says, though there's a note of longing to his tone.
Millenial thinkpiece x Lovecraft = this absolute nonsense. I had too much fun writing it and I hope it tells. It was the first story published for DP's 2019/20 season, and I'm more than a little proud of that fact. It's already got a reprint slot lined up for next year, though I don't think I can mention where yet. It's somewhere good though ;)
PodCastle, June 2019; 3830 words; fantasy; reprint.
Ursula lifted her snout to look at the mountain. The meadowed foothills she stood in were dotted with poppy and primrose and cranesbill and cowslip, an explosion of color and scent in the late spring sun, the long grass tickling her paws and her hind legs; above that the forested slopes, birch and rowan and willow and alder rising into needle-pines and gray firs; above that the snowline, ice and rock and brutal winds.
And above that, at the top, God; and with God, the answer Ursula had traveled so far for: what kind of bear am I meant to be?
She shouldered her bonesack and walked on.
My favourite story becomes my favourite narration. Eliza did such a perfect job here it made me cry. I wrote the story with her voice in mind, and it was still better than I could have hoped for. If you only follow one link from this post, please listen to this one.
Cast of Wonders, July 2019; 2138 words (short story); science fiction.
Vikram watches with growing uncertainty as Isaac turns round and around, searching for a landmark in the heavy fog. Neon signs glow through it like stars, tinted green by the algae; it's like a rainbow galaxy surrounds them, dotted with light. They may as well be floating in a nebula cloud for all they can see of San Francisco, anyway.
Vik signs a question. Their face-masks muffle whispers, and they daren't raise their voices and alert any drones, of course. They're not stupid. Every SF kid knows sign language for fog running, and Vik has picked it up fast since moving here from Sacramento.
Do you know where you're going? Vik exaggerates the signs so they're obvious even through plastic goggles. Every inch of skin is covered for them both.
Vikram and Isaac go running in the algae-riddled fog of future San Francisco, for the most important reason there is to teenagers. This one went through a lot of revisions, switching viewpoint from Isaac to Vikram and growing to about three times its original length, so I'm pleased it actually came together in the end. I also remain hugely grateful to the sensitivity readers who picked things up for me on this (anonymous at their request); I learnt a lot from the process on this one.
Analog, November 2019; 1013 words (short story); science fiction.
Aidan stretches forward on old knees and lifts a rock from the nursery pool. There's a juvenile starfish on its underside, grown enough, so he drops it in his bucket with the others.
It's been a decent bucket. Never would have guessed it'd outlast him on the farm.
He eases up and sets off down the wooden piers raised between pools. There's dark clouds reflected there: a million mirrored acres of trouble. Storm's coming. Best shut the sluices.
My first time in one of the Big Three print magazines. Never would have guessed it'd be Analog I broke first, either; I am the softest of soft writers, but here we are. Never self-reject! There's a couple of lines here I'm rather fond of, and I like the delicate sentiment I got at (though you may find it clobbers you round the head, of course), something different from my usual. It's possible I'm getting old if I'm starting to think like this.
Consequences of a Statistical Approach Towards a Utilitarian Utopia: A Selection of Potential Outcomes
Diabolical Plots, December 2019; 1209 words (short story); science fiction.
Michelle smiled, exhausted, as her baby's cry filled the hospital room. The lights above her were harsh and cold, and the sheets beneath her were tangled and scratchy, soaked in her sweat and stinking of iodine, but none of that mattered against such a beautiful sound. She heard it so rarely--just once a year.
"Congratulations, Mrs Bergeron," said the midwife. "It's a girl."
"Oh, thank you so much! I'm ecstatic!" She looked over at Nathan, cradling baby Danielle face down in his strong arms. A Happiness Moderator stood by them, uniformed with the usual black suit and easy smile; he lined up a large needle at the base of Danielle's skull and implanted the HappyChip with a swift movement. Danielle's cries quieted, then turned to a happy giggle.
In case you thought the Millennials thing was the most ridiculous story I'd gotten published this year, here's something even dafter. It's quite staggering to me that David pays me money for the right to share these ideas of mine with the world, but I'm very grateful and gratified that he does.
I narrated eight stories across six podcasts, and presented a few episodes of PodCastle too (one, two, three, four). I've done a chunk of graphics work for EA, and entertained myself immensely pretending to be a dragon. And all this in a year where I feel I've not done anything because I've been too damn busy with real life.
I also went to WorldCon in Dublin, where I pretended to be a badger and met so very many of you and had a bloody wonderful time all round. If I got to spend any time with you this year, IRL or online: thank you. Community remains the absolute best part of all this, and I am as committed an introvert as anyone here, so that's saying something.