Looking Back, Looking Forward
CONCEITED POST ALERT. Perhaps that's a bit redundant in a blog, but please forgive me in advance. This is a retrospective on 2017. Or an awards post. Or a bunch of self-obsessed horn-tooting. Whatever, it's here, and so are you.
2017 was a good year, craft-wise. I wrote 12 stories and published 7. I wrote about an album-and-a-half's worth of songs, and released an album. I finished my 2nd novel, and made major revisions to my first novel on the advice of an agent. It's substantially stronger for it. Also, I was accepted into a fancy workshop, which I'm sure I'll talk about in a few months.
Oh! And I won this thing, which takes a bit of sting out of being poor:
Most importantly, I'm getting into a rhythm. I'm getting used to the ebb and flow of writing fiction, and playing and booking gigs pretty much constantly. Everything's coming up Milhouse?
I'm in my 2nd year of Campbell eligibility: my story Anabaptist was published in Apex in February 2016. What does this mean? It means you could vote for me and I could win an award! Also: practically nothing. Still, I'll go through a few of my favorite stories that I published this year and see where I've gone over the last year in fiction.
In stories they will tell you that Gom Ilsa is a city of beautiful music, a city of symphonies, but the truth is that most of her citizens would not be able to tell a meticulously crafted string epic from the screeching of sharp nails against ceramic. The other musicians and people who listen to them are all old, steeped in mystical tradition.
My favorite of the stories I published this year. I've written and subsequently failed to publish quite a few epistolaries. I love 'em, but they're tough. This one is about a rebellious musician and the revolution he sparks through the simple act of innovation. To me, innovation is the foundation of art: the dividing line between art and craft. Revolution is a natural byproduct. Really lovely review from Quick Sip Reviews (Charles Payseur is an international treasure).
It might have had its ups and downs, but at the end of the day, modelling really let me express myself. You become what you pretend to be, you know, and by that metric I’d always been a mermaid. I just didn’t realize at first that I needed to be the best.
It's an older story, but it checks out. Vanity. Vicious backstabbing. Transhuman supermodel mermaids. This story comes from my brief stint as a yoga instructor, and probably even more so from my time in the fraternity/sorority community. It's a pretty savage world out there, even when it looks nice on the surface. I'm still not sure if this story is sad or sort of joyful, which I guess is what the story is about. Is it worth sacrificing a normal life to live your dreams? To be the best? I know, I know, of course not. And yet...
I am Ship. I ferry souls through empty space, my course set for Kepler 186, still some 550 light years distant. I am full of life’s kingdoms: plants, insects, fungi and bacteria. Humans. I am 38,000 square kilometers of airtight aluminium silicon carbide matrix wrapped around a single tiny world. I protect life from the freezing vacuum, contain it and encompass it. I am large, I contain multitudes, and I am very much alone.
“Have you always been Ship?” asks Annie Hou, age nine. “Did you used to have a name?”
I reach into my memories, into long decades of captain’s logs and maintenance charts. I shuffle through audio and video, digging through hours of conversation. It seems I ought to have had a name. Other driftcolonies had names, titles, trademarks. I dig deeper, searching teaching materials and archives. I have been called things besides Ship, but none of them true names.
This story is about the aging process, and the agonizing decline of the ones we love, and letting go. It's also about sentient spaceships. It was pretty close to home when I was writing it, but looking back, I wonder if I was pulling some emotional punches, distanced by the narrative voice. Food for thought. It received a lukewarm but fairly accurate review in Tangent.
I have been singing his song for thirty years. I cannot stop. The soaring melody is a curse, shackling me to cramped bars and coffee shops. My guitar is cracked and faded, missing strings, but I must play The song starts in C minor, at the base of the house on Struldbrug Hill.
Let me play it for you. The house had:
two creaking weathervanes;
widow’s peaks of white trim weathered by winter storms and salty gusts of ocean air;
sprawling porches, partially collapsed;
a solitary oak rising out of the center of the house, crown perched on the rooftop;
cracked windows caked with grime;
an emerald dress of dangling green, ivy only barely concealing crumbling brick;
and finally, rusted wrought-iron fencing which dissuaded all but the most persistent visitors.
Another bugs and music story. From a financial perspective, seems I ought to write more. This one is legitimately Kafkaesque. Less about music than the idolatry artists feel towards those who inspire them. Is it justified? What happens when we find out those people (or giant bugs) aren't what we thought they were?
Behind me, the rails stretched off into the distance, lit intermittently by watchfires in a vain attempt to burn away the haze. In front, mist, and the frenzied buzz of workers clearing brush and laying down new tracks for the train to unfold itself onto, devouring the forest that had stood here untouched for millennia. They laid concrete and steel foundations, carting in stamps and forges and cutters and lathes. All the machines I'd run from, hounding me down the rails. They were laying the foundations for a new factory, a mirror image of the one I'd been held in. They were going to make guns even here at the end of the world.