The Invisible Hugo

So, this happened:

http://www.jimchines.com/2015/08/invisible-and-the-hugo/

When the totals were released for the Hugo nominations and people could see what might-have-been/should-have-been on the ballot instead of what the Puppies shoved on there, I was startled to see that Invisible: Personal Essays on Representation in SF/F would have been on the Best Related Works ballot. I’d known, in a vague way (because at one point Jim let us know) that Invisible was eligible, but I didn’t really think a whole lot about it. I got caught up in the Hugo madness after the Puppyclypse, and it completely slipped my mind.

So seeing it there felt like a blow one catches in surprise, unprepared. Am I disappointed that I can’t add “Hugo-nominated” to my credits on my cover letter? Well, yes. At this stage in my writing career, I’d be pretty foolish not to know that would give it a little boost. But is that what really hurt? No.

I believe very strongly in Invisible, in what it set out to do, in what Jim’s vision and his generous sharing of his time and his platform were meant to accomplish. Each essay in the collection speaks to me, and hopefully to others. They’re voices saying “I too am human. See me. Understand what it means to be to be able to see myself in the work that’s put out. Give me a little time, a little space, a little empathy, because I want to be present in all of this.”

The LGBT people who are tired of the “Evil, Dead Lesbian” trope and the promiscuous gay guy and the trans prostitute. The PoC who are tired of every dark-skinned character being the bad guy. The women who only get to see themselves presented as a prize for the hero to carry off or the evil stepmother. The people with medical conditions that no one bothers to understand and who are usually presented as a “lesson” for the hero to learn. See us. Let us be people and not conditions a character is burdened with.

To have had the opportunity to be part of that is an experience I will cherish forever. I’m so proud of it, and everyone who shared themselves there. To know that others acknowledged it and thought it was worthy of the nomination is an enormous honor. And to see it shoved aside by the very behavior that we were setting out to combat is immensely painful.

Here are Brad Torgersen’s own words when announcing this year’s slate: “Likewise, we’ve seen the Hugo voting skew ideological, as Worldcon and fandom alike have tended to use the Hugos as an affirmative action award: giving Hugos because a writer or artist is (insert underrepresented minority or victim group here) or because a given work features (insert underrepresented minority or victim group here) characters.”

There it is. Affirmative action. Box-checking. You only got your awards because you’re a victimized group and we feel sorry for you. Everything you said in those essays? Yeah, we don’t care about any of that. We don’t see you. We don’t want you here. We want our status quo back.

I grew up having to scrounge for strong female characters in my fiction. I wanted Chani to be a 3-dimensional character who wasn’t just the savage mother of Muad’dib’s son and daughter. I mention her particularly because the hints of who she was made me want so much more of her story, which of course was never forthcoming. I wanted female characters who weren’t victims, who weren’t vain witches or helpless princesses, who weren’t rape victims and prizes that were handed out.

Then, I “met” Jill. Katharine Kerr’s Deverry Cycle blew me away, in no small part because of Jill. She was strong, adventurous, and with a strong father and a strong lover she still made her own decisions, made her own way in the world. In fact, she decided to walk away from both those men, despite loving them terribly, because it was the right thing for her own life. She had agency, and lordy I loved her. So when Katharine Kerr wrote an essay about “Boy’s books” in Invisible, it dizzied me. Was I really sharing space with one of my heroes, talking about exactly what she helped bring to my life… because she needed it in hers?

I love Invisible, I love everything it stands for. I watched the Hugo awards with bated breath, waiting to see if the Puppies’ hateful message would be rewarded. When it wasn’t, what I felt was mostly relief, but also pride that fandom was truly rejecting this behavior. That they were standing up for their beliefs, their diversity, their commitment to fair play. But I can’t help but think how differently my heart would have been beating if I could have watched those awards with excitement and pride in the work itself, and in all the people on all the ballots who worked so hard and so well to get there. That, for me, is tragic.

The Hugos Kerfuffle

I’ve been watching the whole Sad/Rabid Puppy Hugos nonsense go on for a couple of months now. I could go on and on at length about the worst excesses of the movement, but I think that’s been covered pretty well. And it’s not what I want to talk about. If you DO want an overview of the dirty details, stop by file770.com and read the daily roundups. Mike does an outstanding job of finding and curating those links.

But what I want to talk about is the ostensible reason that the Puppies started. Not the leadership, but the rank-and-file (Sad) Puppies who felt that the stuff they liked wasn’t on the ballots, wasn’t getting awards, wasn’t getting attention. The decision to game the ballot came from people who felt (rightly or wrongly) disenfranchised and were led to game the Hugos in response.

Here’s the thing though: talking hatefully about how “Nutty Nuggets” have changed and “conservative/MilSF/pulp SF doesn’t get published,” and complaining about people self-promoting on blogs isn’t how you get people on board with your movement.

Talking lovingly about the work itself is. In the course of the file770 discussions, I’ve managed to get other people to buy books I loved, because I loved them and talked about them. When you say to someone who truly loves SFF that you loved a book, they want to know why.  They want to love it too. If you say you thought the prose was tight and well-written or lyrical and beautiful, if you tell them that the characters moved you, if you shout about how much fun the book was to read… people will read it. People want to experience this, and that’s what books and stories really are. They’re experiences that we can have just by picking up some paper and reading some words.

Talk your works up, don’t talk other people’s works down. When you tell me that you think Jim Butcher’s Skin Game was the best-ever installment of the Dresden Files, I want to hear about it, I’m open to discussing that. I’m a Dresden fan! I would love to discuss the text with you, and the previous books, and be excited about the future books! I’m there with you!

But when you tell me that Ancillary Justice was only given so many awards because of “affirmative action” and “gender messages,” I no longer want to talk about books with you. If your first reaction, upon entering someone else’s home, is to tell them how ugly the wallpaper is and that their dog stinks… they’re probably not going to want to invite you to come in and have a nice cup of tea. That’s your loss, because sharing our joy can make both of us happy.

Take it out!

If you’re sitting there debating whether or not you can lose a scene without hurting anything… the answer is yes. You just don’t want to.

I think this chapter will actually work better without this scene. Maybe the whole book. The information can be moved later without hurting anything.

But dammit, I liked that scene. Poo.

Mind the Gap

Hey, who put this plot hole here?

Re-writing the first two chapters, naturally, left several weird scene-bits and event-followups in chapters 4 and 6 (possibly others, I haven’t gotten to scanning the other chapters in that particular strand of my three-setting plot) that had to be pruned. For some of those scenes, they were completely hacked out, being no longer necessary or depending on an earlier scene that no longer existed. For other bits, I could whittle away at them with a knife instead of a machete.

I’m finding that I really like FE more in this draft. She’s coming across as a much stronger character with much more agency. In the last draft, the plot sort of drove her ahead of it and she was mostly a reactive character. Now she’s much more of a takes-no-shit sort of woman, who knows who she is and doesn’t doubt her ability to weather this storm.

And reaching the end of chapter 4, I suddenly found myself saying… wait, what?

There’s a huge plot hole here! Or maybe not a hole, but at least a pothole. How I never noticed it before I don’t know, because it doesn’t depend on anything taken out. It’s just… weird and nonsensical.

Why would a character in a panic who knows she has a long journey ahead of her wait for several hours before leaving a place that she hates and is disrespectful and threatening to everything she is? And why choose to begin that long journey at night, in a rainstorm, after waiting those several hours?

Honestly, I’m dumbfounded. And sort of surprised none of my beta readers asked about it. And really surprised I never caught it, because I know it’s been in several revisions now.

I sort of like finding things like this. I had to rewrite most of Book 3 because I suddenly realized that Patrik would be… well, dead by chapter 3 at the latest, and he’s sort of really, really freaking important. No Patrik, pretty much no book. Yet he was acting so recklessly that there’s just no way he’d survive. Oops! It was okay because it was a first draft, so I can excuse myself for not realizing that the setting would basically pound him flat for his hubris.

But on the other hand, this is just sort of embarrassing.

Sometimes I feel like I never want to publish this thing, because every revision catches a lot of crap. We live in hope!

Burn down the chapter to save it

There’s a half-sad, half-exciting moment when you realize that  there’s too much you need to change in a chapter for the text to be saved. It’s time to burn the town down and move it four miles to the west.

See, my editor helpfully pointed out that my chapters were in the wrong order, because the interesting character was 3 chapters back. To which I was forced to respond that in fact the main protagonists were actually in the first two chapters, but not the POV character. In fact, the POV character is what I call a “supporting actor.” He’s a great character, and necessary for moving the action along in several places, but what he does is move the action along for other characters. There’s very few occasions were a big plot moment revolves around him, if any. So why is his POV the first 2 chapters? Mostly what he does is stand around serving as an audience expy and watching the action. Not good.

But to put the POV where it belongs – with Fire-Eyes and Patrik – it would be impossible to save most of the actual text. It’s completely Keth’s text, and in order to move the POV, I have to delve into some backstory-hints for both characters, stuff that Keth doesn’t know (in some cases, never knows) and a completely different perspective on every event.

She also pointed out that there’s a lot of dead space in the chapters, stuff that’s either partially left over from other drafts, or just draggy sections that can be implied rather than shown in minute detail. Those details are never really important in the rest of the book (which I know and she doesn’t, having only read the first 3 chapters) so they don’t need line-editing as much as they need to be ripped up and tossed on the fire.

The thing that made me nervous is that the original real draft — and several drafts after, yes, this has been retuned a lot, and I could go into why but not now — the first POV was Fire-Eyes’. The thing that made me get rid of it is that it introduced setting information for a part of the world we literally never see again. Fire-Eyes and Rain-Shadow come from a piece of the… cosmology, I guess, that is never again visited in detail. Well, not that I know of. I can’t see it happening, but who knows what a future book could bring.

At any rate, some of my readers were confused by the way the setting does a 180 and never comes back, so I got rid of those chapters and gave the intro to a more “narrator” style POV. Like the narrator from Into the Woods, Keth is also a character who gets dragged into the story (and fed to a giant in many ways!) but since he never visits the place FE and RS come from, that ambiguity was never introduced.

It felt uneasy to be cranking back to a previous draft and trying to fix what was wrong with that iteration. After all, the editor edited that chapter, shouldn’t I be trying to salvage that one? Well, no. She was right — that’s not time for Keth’s voice.

I think I managed to do a good job of taking the POV back to FE without going in-depth into stuff that’s never important. Something very cool and creepy came out of it as well. Patrik’s chapter also made a lot more sense, and I think gives the reader more information about his character and background that aren’t “told” to them by Keth. They get to watch it happen in Patrik’s actions. And the length of both chapters was reduced and streamlined.

All in all, I definitely think it was a positive change and does the text a world of good. Of course, now I have to go through at least chapters 4 and 6 and possibly a few others to prune deadwood, because there’s a lot of text referencing stuff that’s been changed or removed. Hooray! Edits!

Edits and Freak-outs

So, I got the edits back for the first three chapters of my novel back yesterday. I’ve gotten edits back for short stories before, and they mostly consist of “can we move that word around” and “this sentence isn’t really necessary,” to which I generally agree wholeheartedly. I usually accept edits with very little protest, simply because while I have faith in my ability to put together a story, I don’t have nearly as much faith in my skill as a wordsmith.

The one thing I’ve always regretted about not getting my novels traditionally published was missing out on a professional editor. So C and I earmarked the tax return money for this year to get the first novel edited, then send it out to the world of e-publishing.

Frankly, I’ve been amazed at how empowering this process is. When I stopped beating myself up for my inability to write a proper synopsis and “sell” my story to a publisher and instead focused on the abilities I do have, everything became much easier. I’ve got 2 artists working on my cover and my internal maps, I put out feelers to multiple editors, and I’ve been working to force the book into a good enough condition that I can send it out without feeling like I failed to make my child presentable on her first day of school. I’m not focusing on judgement, or whether or not it makes any money, or anything like that. I just want to get it out where I can share it with people.

So back to that point… editing. My friend BD* put me in contact with a lovely editor* of their acquaintance, and after contacting her, she agreed to review my first three chapters on a sort of “trial basis” of editing. Probably so that she could judge whether the full work was worth her time, and so I could judge if this was a working relationship I wanted to pay to be in.

I wholeheartedly do. There was very frequent contact between us as she negotiated other projects (to which, naturally, the unpaid work took second stage) and filled other obligations. I even sold a story to her magazine while we were at it, which was amusing and gave us both, I think, a sneak preview into whether I was a pain in the ass to be edited and whether she would make unreasonable demands as an editor. She even gave me a heads-up on the day before I was to receive said edits, occasioning me to cancel all other plans so that I could sit home and lean on my F5 key all day.

For those who do not know, I have some fairly profound anxiety issues, ADD and some medicated mental illness. That means it’s a bit difficult for me to deal with being over-stimulated at times. When her email with the edits attached came in (absolutely lovely, not only line edits but also a general overview of what she saw as the faults in the writing in general and what she saw of the story so far,) at 2:49pm I spent a lot of time glancing at the email long enough to read a bit, then running around the house to find something to clean.

I was a bit like a puppy, actually. So over-stimulated that given the opportunity, I might well bite the shit out of someone, despite being in no way unhappy. Directing myself onto household chores that I could do for 15 minutes or so before diving back into the edits was the best I could do. Focus for any length of time was really impossible.

I’ve found that I always write best if I’m “stealing time” from something else. I used to write so much better when I had an outside job, if I wrote during dead times at work. I write well when I’m supposed to be cleaning or cooking something specific, or if I’m supposed to leave the house to go somewhere. I have the habit of turning on Skyrim (it blocks my computer from doing anything else, frankly) and then writing longhand, playing occasionally as I search for a word or my characters are changing the scenery around. Sitting down and trying to force myself to do work my brain wasn’t on-board for never works for me. I envy people who can be workmanlike with their writing (Steven King is one) but I am not one of those people.

Of course, the edits themselves were immensely comforting. Not because she went easy on me (I don’t believe she did – editors that pet down their writers and don’t slap their writing in line has lead to some very disappointing sequels in several series… and I’m gonna leave it at that and not name names) but because I understood every single thing. There’s not a single cross-out or highlight that made me go “Huh? What is she even talking about?” And only one note that made me go “Well, that complaint gets taken care of in later text, it just doesn’t seem relevant immediately.”

Most of the line-edits I sheepishly agree with. I’m very verbose. You… may have noticed that thus far. I love words and sentences, I love to be understood, and in an effort to have things understood I often get tiresome and redundant. It overjoyed me to have someone yank the reins and go HANG ON NELLIE! Some of them made me cringe with embarrassment because yes, I clearly don’t need that… and that sentence really sucks… and I feel very amateurish now. And since that was the point, I’m happy to have that.

More to the point, a couple of the overview note she gave to me were so spot-on I cried a little, because they’re problems I already know are there but I’ve never been able to articulate well enough to fix. Oh, that’s what I’ve been doing! Now that I know that, I can’t find it easier and kill it on my own (one hopes!)

At least one of the notes was so frustrating, but she was kind enough to actually reply back-and-forth with me a little bit on some of those issues. Again, there was so much enlightenment for me in this brief exchange. I now completely understand how most of the authors I read put thanks to their editor in the acknowledgements of every single book. It’s amazing to be able to go back and forth with someone who seems to really get the way you write and how to punch it into shape.

And as important as any of that, she said “I think you’re too hard on your writing. You’ve got more skill than you give yourself credit for.” And “I was intrigued by your story and if you think I’m a good match for this project I would be happy to continue working on it with you.” Those two things together as as much as I could have really let myself hope for from a professional. I’ve had many friends read the books over the years (some of them multiple times in multiple 100k+ drafts, and for that I love and deeply pity them…) and they’ve always told me the books are enjoyable reads. But I’ve never felt confident they were enjoyable enough that someone who didn’t already love me would like them as much. Those comments gave me hope on that score… without sparing my feelings as they punched the text around.

Due to the high levels of stress and energy I was expending yesterday, I went to be super early (3 hours before I usually even consider toddling off) so now I have all day to make lovely notes and tear everything up and see what I can do about applying these edits to the rest of the story.

And I can already see how shit is going to trip me up in here. This is the disadvantage to having already written three and a half books in this series and getting the first three chapters edited… there’s so much stuff that will need to get combed through the rest of the text. And I’ve been living with this story for decades at this point (though to be honest, it bears almost no resemblance to its original, thank godzilla) so standing far enough back from the story to get a good look at the text itself is sometimes difficult.

But I will leave those musings for another post. Then I’ll have one to write!

* I have deliberately not linked to these two people, because at this point it seems presumptuous? I feel like I need to finish all the money-related details before I can really say “this person is MY EDITOR!” They will be linked later, but right now I just feel too thin-skinned to want to drag attention onto the post. Which is why I publish it on the internet, naturally