robertsloan2: Ari sweet (Default)
[personal profile] robertsloan2
It's been a while since I wrote about Talent.

I still believe in my Talent Rant. There is no such thing as Talent. It comes with being human, fluency in my birth language, wanting to write at all. It's motivation.

I have many personal reasons why it was worth all the trouble of learning how to write well enough to finish and sell fiction. They're personal, some are probably common and others aren't. It matters to me. It's become part of my self-identity to think of myself as a Science Fiction Writer. Every now and then I step on a rake of self-recognition and understand something that went into that motivation.

Out of all the macho boy-things and man-things that I could settle on for my future, Science Fiction Writer did not take being able to run, throw or catch a ball, have quick reflexes or even be able to stay on my feet a long time in front of an easel. Being an artist was what other people wanted me to do. Painting is satisfying and I love doing it. I don't produce enough of it to live on and it didn't work as a day job for a writer.

They're similar in some ways, it almost worked to support my writing on my art. Would have worked at the time if I'd had the medication and mobility aids I do now, except that the city it worked in got devastated by Hurricane Katrina and the market changed and it is no longer a cheap place to live. It was never optimal because of climate and social issues. I didn't belong in New Orleans the way I do in San Francisco.

SFWA has recently blown up again in another sexism-racism scandal. This was with John Scalzi as President, someone whose blog I read and perspective I trust. If Scalzi couldn't shut down that level of racism-sexism-bigotry in the industry publication, why would I ever join SFWA? I wanted it, the SFWA card was one of my personal success milestones.

But when I was litle, I wanted to be a Boy Scout. They got to do the cool stuff, camping and canoeing and leather working instead of baking and stupid girly stuff. Girl Scouting was not fun and I didn't stick with it long. I also got in trouble all the time just for being myself because as a transboy, I reacted to everything like a boy. Turned out that Boy Scouts were the creepy right-wing religious and social indoctrinators while Girl Scouts admitted a little girl like me. Points to the Girl Scouts. I think they even do the camping and fun stuff now, that a lot of real girls and women objected to their limits and busted them.

The scandal did two things. One, I read N. K. Jemisin's speech, the one that two old white conservative columnists freaked out over, loved it. On the basis of her speech on racism, I ran over to Amazon and bought two of her books. Much to my delight, she wasn't just a good read. N. K. Jemisin's novels slammed up out of the 'good books' category up into "Irresistible Rereads, Favorite Authors To Read For Style" category along with Ray Bradbury, Harlan Ellison, J. K. Rowling, Stephen King. Baum and a few others. She's gone past Stephen King, because there are King books I didn't like. Well done ones, I just didn't like their themes or characters. So far Jemisin's got me hooked on all levels.

I don't often find new authors I love that much, so that's a treasured experience.

The other is letting go of the SFWA milestone. I don't care. I thought that I was going to go indie with my novels but write and sell enough pro short stories to get my SFWA card. Other writers' associations do accept independent authors as pro, usually on a level of financial success comparable to a new-author pro contract. That's what makes sense to me. It's not which market you take your books to, it's whether once you do it gets successful enough to call it pro. If financial success is going to be a criterion at all, it should be measured by looking at the money earned, not whether you went through X traditional distributors or struck out on your own. Pro publishing has been losing its appeal for me for several years.

I write social SF. My fantasy novels are social SF. I use magic instead of space ships but the tropes of both genres come into it and I'm really looking at the cultures involved. Raven Dance and its universe are pure SF but have some fantasy creatures in it, urban fantasy ones. My vampires and werewolves washed up there, probably because in storyland they belong in cities. Occasionally I dip into horror tropes and turn those into SF by looking at them sideways, taking them as themselves and looking at them in a different context.

Most of my novels talk about monsters that aren't. That's what I was as a little kid - a little boy a lot like other little boys of the bookish, brainy sort. H. P. Lovecraft was a sickly child. Kids that stay in a lot because they're too sick to go out have the time and motivation to lose themselves in books and want to write them.

Before I got out into SF Fandom, I thought it would be an accepting, supportive group. Friendly to future wniters - someone joked that half of fandom wanted to publish a novel. Friendly to who I am and what I read and what I wanted in life. I didn't meet gender expectations and aside from a very small group of personal friends, got frozen out and shunned. I wasn't even capable of meeting gender expectations. I didn't understand them or credit them with any validity.

Now that I'm turning 59 in December, living in San Francisco, living on the edge of deep poverty even in the best place in the country for me to survive, things are different. SF is not a social haven or a supportive community. It's more in need of an overhaul. Yet when I was here before, the political GBLT community had no interest in SFF and looked down on me for being into it. Everything had to be now and topical-realism. Except that's not me either. I'm still that dreamer. I can't just protest. I tell stories.

I look for community and my communities are fragmented. I don't even get out much now. Today, for the first time, I'm going to a free seniors-and-disabled luncheon at the GBLT center. I have a housing clinic to attend this afternoon, it'll cost me $2 to go and $2 to return by Paratransit so I might as well go early and catch the free lunch. Meet people around my age, much closer to it than any other group, find out what they're like and see if I fit in.

Scared to death of this lunch.

I've been burned so many times in so many ways. If it's not one thing, it's another. Poverty and disability issues were a barrier in the pagan community even when they were accepting of my gender. Poverty and disability issues were a barrier in a lot of different situations. Not likely to apply in this one - that's something I'll have in common with others at this lunch along with age.

I'm not just a square peg in a round hole, I'm this weird shaped asymmetrical unique-shape that there isn't a hole anywhere that remotely fits. It always takes knocking out and shutting down some big part of who I am to fit in smoothly. I get a lot of emotional support about my art because I enjoy painting beauty and encourage other artists. If I don't mention politics, I'm reasonably safe in art groups online. Offline there may be problems.

Offline there are often logistic difficulties I can't surmount. Most of all, that's not Who I Am the way being a Science Fiction Writer is. Painting and drawing are things I do for myself because I enjoy them. They're one of my best ways to recuperate from stress and to get a lot of social support with very little time and effort. It doesn't take a lot to go through a bunch of pictures I like and type a few thoughtful targeted compliments. I critique by positive comments on what I do like about someone else's work. It's easier than picking on beginner errors or trying to look for what could be improved, especially in finished works.

They know what's wrong with it by and large, what they need is support that the cool stuff is happening. Sometimes just describing it accurately in neutral and pleasant terms is enough to give both accurate feedback and lift the creator's spirits. There's my personal small protest against the culture of bullying, the culture of vicious personal criticism that's endemic to this country. I don't know what it'd be like to live in a more cohesive, supportive country.

I do the same thing in writers' groups. Some people prefer harsh critique. I can't set myself on a pedestal to know what's wrong with someone else's writing, especially when I can't tell if something is experimental. Did they break a rule on purpose to get an effect? Or did they do that out of ignorance of the rule? I write intuitively by feel and don't even have the 'rules' memorized. But I know how rare support is and it doesn't hurt to give it.

I turn the criticism thing inside out because I got too many people who attacked me on every nit picking topic they could think of. If they took me up head-on about my identity, I'd stand them down. So instead they'd turn it into a thousand small attacks, often about things I couldn't control anyway. My posture or my body odor or my cussing when pushed to the wall or being cussed at, double standards always apply in that sort of bullying.

I also figured it out decades ago why I got discouraged so much from writing and encouraged in art. My pictures could be interpreted without any political or social content. If I draw a leaf, it's still just a leaf. If I write a story, it has a slant. I was incarcerated in a Catholic school while I disagreed with every point of dogma. All the English teachers picked on theme and slant and graded for it at the same time they picked on grammar and spelling. I couldn't tell the difference and the criticism sometimes got witty and vicious.

I was writing the wrong genre and the wrong type of story with the wrong moral. I wasn't writing for the market and nothing would have convinced me to write to that market. Just as today nothing would convince me to write to the market of people who disagree violently with everything I believe is right and true. It's at best deceptive and self destructive, at worst it encourages my enemies and strengthens their grip on society. No reason for me to do that. Least of all money, there are cleaner ways to earn a dollar.

SFWA doesn't mean what it used to for me. I'm still a Science Fiction Writer though. That's part of who I am. SFWA just got dethroned as an authority defining what that is. I wrote a science fiction novel - Raven Dance is one. It's in print, my name's on it. Whether I'm a good Science Fiction Writer or not, I definitely am one and intend to go on doing that. When I get to where I earn a living on it, that's a big real milestone. One that may mean more economic security than I've ever had in my life.

If my books stay in print and keep earning when I'm too sick to do more, then I've got something that keeps going when I can't. Any one of them is a ticket in the Literary Lottery. My chance that a book might break out to turn into a big success improves the better I write and the more books are out there for readers to discover. It wasn't my first one, big deal. Lotteries don't pay off that often - but I can play again and again. Also some past winners get found years after they first went into print, so I can't count anything that isn't a breakout as a failure.

What I need to do is just keep going, edit the novels I have finished and make them available. That's the path. If the only job I ever wanted is the only one I'm capable of doing, so be it. That's better than just giving up. Just giving up means dying, there's nothing better I can do with my life. At any point I considered giving up on my writing, I was also feeling suicidal.

So I'll keep doing it and the heck with authorities of any kind. My readers like it and that's enough for me.

And the good news is that I discovered N. K. Jemisin, whose novels are wonderful. Her style is inspiring too, reading her books gets my writing itch going. I have to do things like that. She's got an original perspective and she's carried the entire genre farther in my direction than I've ever seen. So I've got a new imaginary friend to help coach me on writing. If I ever meet her in person I'll be awed until I get to know her and find out if we like each other. Right now I don't want to, because imaginary friends are important to keeping sane.
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