February 2019

RHC 2019: An Unkindness of Ghosts by Rivers Solomon

This post is part of a series in which I describe the twenty-four books I read in 2019 for Book Riot’s Read Harder Challenge

Task: A book by an author of color set in or about space.

I am a boy and a girl and a witch wrapped into one very strange, flimsy, indecisive body.

Hurray, it’s sci-fi time! I read a couple of science fiction books last year (The Stars Are Legion and The Three-Body Problem), both of which I greatly enjoyed and which went a long way toward reassuring me that all non-YA / non-children’s sci-fi isn’t Dune. I really hate Dune. This is a pretty entrenched position, and I’ll talk your ear off about it given the opportunity. Nevertheless, I’m excited about being excited about sci-fi again.

Anyway. An Unkindness of Ghosts is definitely not Dune. It takes place on a generational ship called the Matilda, which left the Great Lighthouse (Earth) about three hundred years ago. The Matilda has been on autopilot, drifting through the universe ostensibly in search of a new planet. Over the centuries, a religion related to the ship and its course has sprung up, and a cruel, painfully resonant caste system has been put in place.

RHC 2019: Boom Town: The Fantastical Saga of Oklahoma City, Its Chaotic Founding, Its Apocalyptic Weather, Its Purloined Basketball Team, and the Dream of Becoming a World-Class Metropolis by Sam Anderson

This post is part of a series in which I describe the twenty-four books I read in 2019 for Book Riot’s Read Harder Challenge

Task: Read a book by a journalist or about journalism. 

I’ve only been to Oklahoma City once, when I went with some friends to see The Flaming Lips play the Zoo Amphitheater. I didn’t know it was going to be one of the last “pile in the car and sleep at somebody’s parents’ house” style trips of my life. I was twenty-three, freshly heartbroken, and completely unaware that the lead singer of the Flaming Lips is kind of a sketchy jerk, and it was 2006.

Under those very specific circumstances, there were few highs as high as a Flaming Lips show. I saw them a couple of times in college, but this third show was in another league. Being in an outdoor venue and on the Lips’ home turf brought a whole new dimension to the dancing Santas, the confetti cannons, and Wayne Coyne rolling around on all of our intensely loving heads in his giant plastic hamster ball. Honestly, it’s probably the best show I’ve ever been to. I know that’s not a particularly cool thing to say here in 2019, but it’s true. 

Day Jobs

There was a big Twitter kerfuffle recently over someone who posted what I think was meant to be an encouragement to take risks and dream big regarding writing aspirations. It came out sounding more like, “just quit your job, you coward.” He got pretty thoroughly dragged as a result, to the point that someone wound up contacting his mother over it. Good grief, internet. I do think it was a pretty ridiculous and unconsidered thing to say, but I’m not interested in piling onto the guy further. So I’m leaving his name out of this post.

Still, the whole thing struck a nerve with me. Plenty of responses were from parents explaining how financial risks become more complicated when there are kids involved (this is true). Other pretty reasonable rebuttals involved wanting to be able to, you know, eat. Considering I’ve devoted at least 10-15 hours per week for the past year to writing – actual writing, submitting, editing, etc. – with less than $300 to show for it, the whole food thing is a decent reason to do something for cash besides writing. That comes out to less than a $2 per hour “wage,” if you’re curious.

Still, I do think it’s important to have a reason to go to work that isn’t purely survival-driven (for writers and for everyone else). Sure, wanting a stable income is a huge factor in my decision not to turn in my notice and ride off into the sunset in Pursuit of My Dreams. That’s not to say I haven’t thought about it. Believe me, I have. More than once. Especially on days like today, which involved a literal dumpster fire. But I keep showing up, and that’s not the worst thing in the world.

So here’s my other silver lining of a non-writing day job
for writers. It’s fuel. I’m lucky in that I can find a lot of intellectual, creative, and social interest in my work most days, and working with the public keeps my personal social bubble from getting too opaque. That’s good for both my writing and my humanity. Even if your job is terrible, though, it’s a set of experiences and probably at least a few human interactions that you can learn from. No matter how bad it gets, it’s basically a nonstop writing prompt generator /hands-on research opportunity, right? If you’ve got to have a job and it’s bumming you out, remember that no one else alive has your lived experience, which includes work, so use it (I think all of this is true for full time caregivers as well, incidentally).

I also like to remember Pulitzer Prize-winning poet Wallace Stevens. The dude turned down a teaching post at Harvard because it meant he would have to leave his position as an insurance exec, a career he spent most of his life in. With no disrespect intended toward the insurance community, is there a less poetic industry in existence? But that didn’t stop Wallace from articulating the mortality-affirming concupiscence of dessert.

So work your job if you have to work it, and enjoy it when you can and use it even if you can’t. There are worse things in life than to be employed (and/or to spend your time caring for people you love), and there’s freedom and a whole lot less stress in not having to make a living writing fiction.

And don’t forget who the only emperor is and embroider your fantails while you can. Gonna force that click thru, folks.

Good Enough

“Good enough,” is what I tell myself right before submitting a tricky paper, clicking send on a delicate email, filing my taxes, or sending a short story out to a publisher. It’s always a cheerfully deviant moment where I’ve given myself permission to just stop worrying about something and boldly send it out in the world. It’s a moment followed by a long shower, a stiff drink, a bowl of mac n cheese, or whatever my comfort activity of the era is.

Then about fifteen minutes later there’s usually a total panic in which I bemoan my actions and frantically try to think of a way to recall whatever word bullet I just fired. But by then it’s too late and after tearing through the whole Kübler-Ross framework, I repeat my comfort action of choice and eventually, finally go to bed.

I just can’t get there with my current project. It was supposed to be a short story. Then I found myself googling “novelette publishing markets.” Then I blew through that length and got really into the idea of writing a novella. The word count range 20-40K felt roomy enough to accommodate the story without being a stressor. And now here I am at 48K, which according to my “short novel okay?” “lowest word count publishable” and “query 50000 words” searches is unacceptable. I need to find at least another 12,000 words in this story.

I know they’re there. This narrative spans about twenty years, so it’s not like I can’t find some spots to dig deeper. Every time I get to the end (and, weirdly for something I’m having this much trouble finishing, it does have a complete plot!), I can’t shake the feeling that there’s more to the story and I need just one more developmental round to coax it out onto the page.

That’s fine, it’s just driving me bonkers. I’ve spent about three quarters of a year truly believing that it’s one final spit-and-polish edit away from being cheerfully good enough. It’s starting to feel like I’m approaching some sort of event horizon where I’m infinitely one more edit away from finishing the thing.

And of course my protagonist’s Achilles heel and internal motivation is a persistent feeling that she’s just not good enough. So at least that’s easy to write?

At least I can blithely click Publish on this subpar post without too much handwringing.