Impostor syndrome

Recently I listened to an episode of Writing Excuses entitled Impostor Syndrome, with Alyssa Wong. I love Writing Excuses, and I listened to this particular episode at a time in my life when I was feeling that impostor syndrome very strongly. We all have days like that, when we come face to face with our inadequacies and can’t see anything else, when we make those flaws larger than life. I was incredibly grateful to this podcast, and I encourage you to listen to it. But there was definitely something missing for me.

Writing Excuses is made up of a bunch of excellent and famous writers. There’s Brandon Sanderson, perhaps best known for finishing The Wheel of Time series. Mary Robinette Kowal is a phenomenal writer who has won multiple awards and been published in many collections. I strongly recommend her short stories especially, but she is also an excellent novelist. I may have mentioned Ghost Talkers a few posts back. That was her. Howard Tayler has been on the Hugo ballot, and Dan Wells has a multi-book series in the John Cleaver books. They are all well beyond where I am as a writer. This podcast was in fact about that. They were discussing having “made it” but never quite feeling that you have any legitimacy.

I have not made it. This is not an example of impostor syndrome, actually. This is a bare fact. I am making it. I am in the process of climbing. That is something I can be comfortable with. There are no awards that recognize me, there are no even mediocre book deals. There has been no moment of relief on this mountain, and so there can be no sense that I do not deserve that relief. That is what the podcast was referring to: the sense that you do not deserve the relief of recognition of your effort. That you do not deserve the praise, the acclaim. This requires having praise and acclaim.

However, the feeling comes from the same place. The feeling of being an impostor flares up when I think that I will never make it. That my work will never find its audience and that this hard grind, this endless, impossible climb, will never have a moment of relief. It is the same feeling, but different.

My S.O. told me recently that it was utterly irrational to feel bad about not being successful in a field which requires so much input from other people. You cannot control readers. You cannot control agents or editors or advertisers or the people they advertise to. Each little thing you throw out is lost in a sea of media. We are inundated every day with such a massive amount of information. When you become a creator of content, you add to that sea. The additions never cease, and each year they pile on one another. All of which is to say that your voice will be lost. It takes years and years for an author to break through to the top of that pile, and many of them sink down again. You should not be embarrassed or think yourself less than for not welling immediately to the top. That is just silly.

That is what I wanted to hear from the podcast, and happily I had him to tell me that instead. Sounds grim? It is. But for me, it is a comforting bit of grim.

One of the important points that was made in the podcast was the importance of knowing why you continue to create. If you create for acclaim, you will fail. That is something that I have been wrestling with and something that I have had stated to me multiple times recently. If your focus is on selling books, you are doomed to failure. You will never sell enough books to assuage that hunger. But if your focus is on telling a story, and telling a good one – telling a story for a story’s sake – that will never leave you.

So, in light of that, I leave you with this inspiring video. I can only find the link on Facebook, so you’ll have to click through. Enjoy.

Election Day: A special post

This morning I voted for a woman for president.

Those who know me personally hear a lot about my political views. There are many who say that politics has no place in writing. I disagree, in many respects, but I understand that me telling you who to vote for is not really what I want to be doing with this platform. Mostly, what I want to do here is talk about the writing that moves me, the art of story, and, of course, the stories I undertake to write.

That said, today is a historic day. Today, women in this country were given the opportunity to vote for a nominee to a major political party who is one of us. Regardless of what the numbers are when the polls close, no one can take that away from us. We have made a dent in the cage again today, my loves. It is not broken, but each day we are closer to demolishing it.

In my work, I write a lot of women. I read a lot of women, too. If you’ve followed this far, you’ve probably figure out that being a woman is something simultaneously important to me and frustrating. I think it is that way for most women. We are scraping together pride in the face of a society that tells us not to be proud. That is the one unifying factor of our cultural representation of women: shame. You can dress it up however you like, but that is what it is. It is normal for women to hate their bodies. It is normal for women to punish themselves. It is normal for women to eat the blame. It is normal.

Nowhere has that narrative been so active than in this election.

I don’t want to talk about emails, or aloofness, or war-mongering. I want to talk about how women are not saints.

This series of tweets by Jessica Ellis rolled across my newsfeed a few days ago, and I think that it is the most real thing I have ever read. Many people have pointed out that our society has a Madonna-Whore complex when it comes to how we tell stories about women. Either a woman is a saint, or she is a monster. She is the precious flower waiting to be saved, the sweet embodiment of kindness and love, or she is a dark seductress, a violent, demented being manipulating all of us to death.

Can we all just acknowledge that shit is more complicated than that? Take a moment, right here, to say that woman can be gray? Because we can be. We are.

I was told recently at work that someone from another company considered me “very competent, but not assertive enough.” I’m paraphrasing slightly, but there you have it. For the record, the person who said that was a woman. This sounds like valid critique. Be more assertive is the call of the professional woman, right? Lean in. Do more.

Many have pointed out that assertiveness is a catch-22 for women. I want to talk about how women are never good enough. We are never going to be good enough as long as we are playing by others’ rules. Hillary Clinton knows this. She has shown it over and over again – not intentionally, surely. Women are not allowed grayness. Clinton’s campaign focuses entirely on her morality. Focuses on how she is good enough. She didn’t have a choice in that – given the election climate and her opponent, even a man would have been running on integrity and experience. But it wouldn’t have been defensive. That defensiveness, that rigorous proof of her identity as the good woman, is doomed to fail among those who will never consider a woman good enough.

But for those of us who understand that women are people? That they are allowed mistakes the same as men? That they are sometimes wrong?

Rooting for a woman as a woman is complicated. There is always an allegation, spoken or otherwise, that we are only doing it because of our shared gender identity. That we are selling out just to see someone that looks like us get ahead. I can’t deny that I want to see someone like me, who shares my gendered experiences, in a place of power. I shouldn’t need to defend that. Having lawmakers and executives from a multiplicity of backgrounds creates a better likelihood that everyone will be represented. That is how democracy works. Homogeneity is the bane of a democratic system. And yet, there are those who would tell you that my vote should not be considered valid because of a perceived bias. That I should not be proud of this day.

I am proud. I will continue to be proud. And I will cross my fingers that, come January, there will be a woman in the White House.

Your infrequent inspiration update 

It’s November and the holidays are rolling down the chute, coming whether we like it or not. I haven’t planned my entire Thanksgiving dinner yet but you’ll probably hear all about it after the fact. For now, I wanted to bring you up to speed on some of the fun things I’ve read  and watched recently.

First off, Luke Cage. Holy mess Luke Cage. There were so many things done right with this show. The research and care that went into this production blew me away. The attention to detail in the selection of the soundtrack was especially phenomenal. At first, I was a little skeptical that Luke’s vendetta with Cottonmouth was feeding into the narrative of black on black crime, but the treatment of both characters as well as the role of Misty and Scarfe and the exploration of their motivations and identities quickly quelled that fear. All of the characters in Luke Cage are wonderfully complex and well-crafted. I definitely recommend it.  I could write a book about this show, but I’ll let you watch it and see for yourself.


As for other things  I’ve been into, there have been a lot of short stories I’ve really enjoyed recently. “Fiber,” a comedy with reborn zombies and cheerleaders by Seanan McGuire, was particularly amusing. You can find that over at Tor.com. On the eery, cerebral side of the spectrum there was “What Becomes of the Third Hearted,” published by Shimmer Magazine. That one was like a punch to the gut, in a good way. I’ve also been enjoying being a Patron of Fireside Fiction and Martha Wells. Martha Wells in particular gives me a bunch of fun Raksura tidbits to chew on, which I love. I’m very excited for Harbors of the Sun to hit shelves next summer.

Speaking of novels and novellas, some recent reads have included Vermilion, which I have been wanting to read forever, and Silver on the Road. I guess I’ve been on a Western kick. Vermilion is set in San Francisco and other areas on the far west coast, during the 1800s unless I miss my guess. It is a steampunk adventure which skillfully tackles issues of Chinese immigration and labor in the rail industry, as well as gender fluidity and diverse sexualities. Silver on the Road is also an alternate West story, but set in the area between the Spanish territories and the Mississippi River following the successful bid by the American colonies for independence. The main character is a Latina woman who works for the devil, who runs a saloon in the town of Flood.

In addition to these I’ve been reading Letters from Burma as a bit of a nonfiction break and also for research purposes. It’s a very easy read, and really fascinating. I also finished Obelisk Gate on Audible, which was a wonderful performance by Robin Miles, as always. I have mixed feelings about the second book in this series, mostly because I loved the first book so much. It honestly almost stood alone for me. But it was a great story and, once I reached the end, I was definitely back on board with wherever Jemisin wants to take me. I’m currently looking for my next audiobook, so let me know if you have any recommendations!

Whew. What a list. Anyway, chime in and let me know what you have been reading below. ‘Til next time.

Reflections on October

I love October. What’s not to love? The weather breaks, the long, slow, syrupy summer finally drawing to a close. Sweaters come out. Leaves die, turning the world all shades of orange and red and yellow and bronze. It’s pretty cool.

October is a month that teaches us about death. We all know that living generally results in dying. You are born, you live, you die. This is the normal order of things, when we talk about death. There is a special something about October though, and inversion of the order. In this month, we begin to recognize that death is required for life.

The leaves fall to the ground and become an insulation for bugs and mice and critters soon to be hiding from the snow. The days grow shorter, the world colder. October is the gateway to winter, and if you are lucky you make it through the holidays intact and reach January, a long, dark month where nothing much happens and you can rest and recover from all of the joys and trials of the year before. The death of the world is not an absence of life, but a gathering for it.

This weekend is Halloween. We’ll be setting the long, wild summer to rest, dancing and singing the night away wearing the faces of other things. I promise pictures of all the wild creatures we meet. Spirits will walk. Your dead might visit you in your dreams. On this long night, you might set a plate out for them. Perhaps you will visit their graveside and decorate it with flowers and ribbons. There are many ways to make your peace with death. It’s worth doing. As Emily Dickenson noted, even if you do not make time for death, he will make time for you.

On this holiday, I am reminded that all power comes from death. That sounds sort of creepy, which is appropriate. Even the power that moves our bodies comes from the death of others – the cells of plants and animals breaking down inside of us to create the energy of life. Life only keeps going because there is death to keep it going. I’m grateful for the peace the winter will bring, grateful for a chance to reflect. Reaching this month feels like crossing the finish line of a marathon must. You’ve made it in spite of yourself. Now it is time to breathe, to reflect. Smell the falling leaves, listen to them crunch beneath your boots. Take a walk in the night and listen to the songs of the crickets before they vanish for another year. The world keeps turning. All of this will be here when you get back.

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Image from Musings of a Nerdy Girl

A Spanish ghost story

In honor of October and Halloween and all things spooky, I bring to you a wonderfully creepy poem from my travels. Some of you may know that I speak Spanish – not fluently, but well enough to get by. I actually did a few months study abroad in Spain when I was younger. Travel and languages are still something I find fascinating.

My favorite part of the Spanish language is the poetry. I took classes from a wonderful man who has since gone on to wherever such wonderful people go when they die, and he loved Spanish poetry. His favorite poet, however, was Federico García Lorca. Lorca was a young man and a prolific poet and screenwriter who was murdered by the franquistas during the Spanish Civl War for his politics and his sexuality. He actually studied in New York City for a while himself, prior to his death, and wrote a series of poems that touched on the subjugation of Black Americans. He idolized Walt Whitman, one of my favorite American poets, and created beautiful words. One of his most famous poems is called ‘El romance sonámbulo’. You can find a very loose translation, as well as the original text, here. Read it. Come back. Tell me that isn’t creepy and I’ll call you a liar.

Vamos hablar un poco de español ahorita. I promise to translate the important parts.

In the poem, we see a phrase repeated over and over. Verde, que te quiero verde. It sounds ungainly in English. Green, how I want you (how I love you) green. Green is a color of growing things, but Lorca doesn’t use it that way. Perhaps, in Spain, green is not so positive and common a color. I know when I was there that the landscapes tended to be far less vibrant with green colors than they do on the east coast of the United States. Even in spring, the colors are oranges and blues and whites, with green overbalanced by them. Another poet, Neruda, who is more famous than Lorca amongst English speakers, describes the landscape around Madrid as “Castille’s dry face: a leather ocean” in ‘Explico algunas cosas’. Federico is in that poem, already dead. They were contemporaries, you see.

So yes, green might have another meaning to a Spaniard and it certainly is used differently by Lorca. Verde viento, verdes ramas. This landscape is green not because of growing things under bright light, but for another reason. It is night. It is dark. This world is haunted.

Verde carne, pelo verde. This dreaming woman with flesh green in the night and silver, silver eyes. Eyes white with death. This is a ghost story about love lost.

The story Lorca tells is not so unusual. Star-crossed lovers feature often in our stories, after all. Romeo and Juliet are the most famous, but songs of lovers separated by death – Anachie Gordon, Standing Stones of the Orkney Isles, Annan Waters, to name a few – feature in so many cultures. It is perhaps the saddest story of all, to find love and lose it so young. To lose love, and so lose the will to live. When Lorca wrote this story, he wrote a romance, which is a ballad, a story set to song. If Halloween is about telling fearful stories, what more fearful one can there be for a person in love than to arrive at your lover’s house, mortally wounded, to climb the stairs to see her one last time – and find only a corpse, swinging on a silver rope.

Be safe this October, my dears. Shiver beneath blankets, in the light of your candles. Hold your loved ones close. Listen to the green wind blow outside your window, and think of the bitter girl who went to join her lover in death, only to find that she had left him behind.

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Writing as activism: The Ballad of Black Tom

I thought long and hard before writing this post.

This is for a couple of reasons, the principal of these being that I am white. Because of this, I want to take a moment to acknowledge that my reflections on the novella The Ballad of Black Tom are my own, and come from my whiteness, at least in part. We cannot extricate the parts of our identities, after all. That said, I am also a writer and a writer keenly interested in diverse representation and stories which get to the heart of oppression. The Ballad of Black Tom did both of these things baldly and without pulling any punches. I want to unpack that. And I want to lend my platform to this book, because it is a valuable read, perhaps most especially for white people.

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All of that said, there will be spoilers. Stop here if you don’t want those, and scroll to the end for further reading recommendations if you must. You are warned.

If you want to read this book first and come back, I encourage it. It’s a novella, so it took me about three or four hours to chomp through at most. I read fast, but it’s not a terribly serious time commitment if you want to bookmark this page for later.

No, the time commitment is in how much you’ll find yourself thinking about it afterwards.

With no further ado… Continue reading “Writing as activism: The Ballad of Black Tom”

Prioritization, the beast immortal

So I have a problem called spin-too-many-plates syndrome. Meaning I like to constantly be juggling a lot of stuff. “Like” may not be the best word, actually. Perhaps it would be better to say that I pathologically over-stuff my plate. Or that I get bored easily. Or that I am overly ambitious. Or am violently deficient at correctly estimating my resources.

Anyway.

This past weekend, I told you that the audiobook for Mother of Creation would be out. We busted butts to try to make that deadline, me and my producer both. Sleep was lost, stress was had. I cried for an hour or two when I realized it wasn’t going to happen. Part of me missing the deadline was that I was trying to do too many things at once, trying to work my day job, find a place to live, plan a wedding, write a book, and simultaneously review and publish an audiobook. It just wasn’t going to happen.

That said, we did get the book out, finally. You can get the audiobook of Mother of Creation on Audible, Amazon, or through iTunes/iBooks. If you start a free trial membership of Audible, you will get my book for free. I’m so excited to be able to offer you this opportunity and I hope that you will take advantage of it.

Focusing on one project and not deviating and meeting deadlines can be really hard for me. I’m very good on figuring out what needs to be done, but not so good on figuring out which thing should be done first. My single human form is obviously not an army, except maybe an army of bacteria. Bacteria does not write. All of this is probably the result of the fact that, like many authors, I am a creator. I am an idea person that likes to constantly be dreaming up new fluffy bubbles of magical rainbow transcendence to dazzle the world with. That makes it really hard to a) stick with one fluffy bubble to the end and b) realize which of the maintenance things need to take priority in order to preserve those fluffy bubbles so they don’t just pop and die.

I’m not apologizing for that weird metaphor. In case you were wondering about that.

Right now my list of weird half-finished projects looks like this:

  • Two projects that need edits. One needs being sent out to a beta reader group of some kind. One needs to be finalized and polished with already-received beta reader feedback.
  • A novella that needs major rewrites. This may be at the bottom of my list honestly. Another novella that also needs rewrites, final edits, and distribution.
  • Several sequels that need writing.
  • Several query letters that need sending out for various completed or psuedo-completed short story projects.
  • A short story I’ve never finished that might turn into a novella but I would like to see done regardless.
  • Several other short story ideas in the works.

That’s a lot of stuff that is floating around in my brain. Knowing which thing to work on next isn’t just about what I most want to work on next, but also about what I think I’m likely to be able to pitch successfully.

The other downside to all of this is that even when I decide on what I think will be successful and start to work on it, it’s often just as likely that I will hare off and do something else at some point that is not planned, or forget I made the plan in the first place and rehash the same tired conversation in my head a month later. I try to keep good notes, but don’t always go back through the notes that I do keep. This is general disorganization, but also a sort of pathological self-sabotage. It’s easy to point to things that you failed to do as the reason that you are failing, instead of accepting that sometimes the reason you are failing is just bad luck or lack of a complete picture.

I don’t have any tips for how to fix this, because it is something I am struggling with all the time. My only advice is to just continue forward in spite of yourself when these things happen and accept that it is a bit of who you are. Not the entirety of who you are. You are not in your entirety a being of procrastination, or you would never get anything done. Nor are you entirely disorganized, or entirely unable to follow through with projects. These are not fair descriptors any more than it would be fair to say that you always keep your work organized and complete everything you set your mind to. People are complex, life is complex, any creative work is complex.

It’s really easy to oversimplify the challenges we encounter, to see them as daunting, impossible beasts which can never be conquered. It is really easy to lose hope and never try. It can be very hard to both believe in yourself and strive to do better. After all, the first of those is a positive thing, right? Believing in yourself requires optimism and faith. Striving to do better requires some of that, but it also requires a certain self-criticism, an awareness of one’s faults. It’s very hard to hold your faults in your head and still love yourself. There are days where you might not be able to accomplish that.

On those days, I advise you to eat some ice cream, take a bath, drink some tea. And then get right back in your chair and write, write, write. Turn off the little voice that’s talking about what you can do better, and do what you can. Put another word on the page. You’re the only one who can write your story. It doesn’t have to be perfect. It just has to be yours.