I was going to tell you a long involved story about why my head’s shaved now, full of car chases, a bag of money, and four Persian cats playing ukuleles. But after sitting here for a long time…I can’t. More precisely, I won’t, I have limited emotional energy and trying to be cheerful and/or hilarious about it (because we laughed so much during the event, I can’t even tell you) would drain that down to null.
So I’ll be brief.
Christa was one of the three people who got me through the divorce. She’s one of the three people who took turns coming to see me, to check on me, and to lighten the agonizing load of depression and anxiety, week after week. I’ve known her since she was a teenager, and she’s grown into one of the bravest, funniest, smartest adults I’ve ever had the pleasure of meeting. She’s one of the (very few) people who can call me at 3am from a foreign jail and say “GET ME OUT OF HERE,” and have me roll out of bed and get on a plane to mount a rescue operation, and vice versa. (Note: this hasn’t happened, but it’s nice to know, right?)
Christa is in her mid-20s now. She has Hodgkin’s lymphoma.
Since she’s so young, she’s on a pretty aggressive chemo. Her hair started falling out by the handful last week, so she got some wigs and shaved her head–and then she came over and shaved mine.
“Are you sure?” she kept asking. “You don’t have to do this, you know.”
The hell I didn’t. Fuck cancer, man. Fuck it. This is my girl, one of my two best friends in the entire world. We’ve relied on each other, gotten each other through so goddamn much.
The worst thing is that this is an enemy I can’t hunt down and beat the shit out of for her.
I asked Sutton, “What do you say to the indie writer who reminds you that Walt Whitman was self-published?”
“You are not Walt Whitman,” he said. “The 21st century is different in so many ways from the 19th that the comparison is meaningless. No one is forbidding you from self-publishing, but neither is anyone required to pay attention.”
We both agree that books from indie writers will only increase. “It may engender a whole new stream of book reviewing,” Sutton said, “but I doubt it, because people are more interested in writing self-published books than in reading them. And if old media is so passe, why do they care so much about what we think?” (Washington Post)
This is, in large part, why I’m considering no longer offering editing services. The sheer enraged entitlement of anyone who thinks it’s “easy” to write a book, that they don’t have to study craft or do their due diligence on the industry itself, they can just vomit up whatever wish-fulfillment or fanfic they want and have it immediately make them buckets of money, is bad enough. (I am well aware I am generalising here.) But when that entitlement slops over into the egregiously bad behaviour one sees daily–well, it’s worse than reading slush, and that’s saying something. It’s getting to the point that I’ve refused clients because their expectation is that I’ll introduce them to an agent, give them a magic handshake, or that my job is to kowtow to them instead of to edit.
I realise these are several different issues–the self-publishing shit volcano, the idea that an author who publishes with a trad house is somehow a “gatekeeper” or a “traitor,” the culture of entitlement on the internet, the ease of firing off an email or blog comment when someone’s opinion has pissed you off–but added together, they make me tired.
I also wonder whether people were as entitled before the internet, but this just puts it on display and gives it a venue. Given the plus ca change involved in humanity, it’s not unlikely.
I am SO GLAD I am not reading slush anymore. Even years ago before people could scratch out some bellybutton lint and expect to be paid for it on Amazon, one would get nasty, hate-filled screeds from a certain slice of the slush pile. It’s only grown worse, and seems to be bleeding over into other people who want to get “published” (if you can call it that) by hook, crook, or any other method. I understand wanting to get your story out to the world, I really do. My understanding and compassion, however, does not excuse you treating someone badly, making death threats, or calling you a “toof aced lieing cunt[sic]” like the email that landed in my inbox this morning.
*eyeroll* AND YOU WONDER WHY I TURNED DOWN THE CHANCE TO EDIT YOUR 130K MAGNUM OPUS, SIR. If the only word you can spell correctly is “cunt,” there is not enough money in the world to pay me for the headache.
Anyway. *clears throat* I’m not sure how this is all going to shake out for the industry. But until the market adds some quality control, my time might be better spent knitting.
“OH, MUM,” he greeted me, “I WAS SOOOO LOOOOOOOONELY. I DIDN’T THINK YOU WERE EVER COMING BACK.”
“It’s been ninety seconds,” I told him. “Come on. You’ll enjoy this.”
Since he’d just awakened, he stretched luxuriously, yawned, and smacked his jowls before he ambled after me. Halfway down the deck stairs, though, he realized Something Was Happening In The Backyard. He scrambled down the last flight, made the sharp right to head towards the larger portion of the backyard, and stopped dead for a moment.
“That’s right,” I whispered. “Go get it.”
“Holy crap,” Tarzan blurted from near the garage door, peering around a huge rhododendron probably older than both of us. “Are you sure this is a good–”
It was too late. The game was afoot, the rocket had achieved liftoff, the cavalry was charging.
I should have known it wouldn’t be so simple.
“EXCELSIOR!” Beauregarde screamed, wriggling from under Miss B’s paw. He eyed the almost-sixty-pounds of bulldog bearing down upon him at high speed with no trepidation at all. “FOR MY BIPED PRINCESS! TO ARMS, TO ARMS!”
And the silly, stupid baby squirrel shot forward to do battle.
I stood there, mouth ajar. Tarzan began to laugh helplessly, the merriment of a shipwreck survivor who sees a fleet of sharks approaching. He reached for his pocket, and I realized he was grabbing his phone.
Odd realized something was not quite working the way it should and put on the brakes, but he had quite a lot of momentum–bulldogs are very dangerous over short distances–and his frantic scrabble to halt made me wince.
Beauregarde darted underneath Odd. Odd let out a short, frantic bark and scrambled away, tearing up chunks of the yard as he finally managed to stop.
Beauregarde stopped on a dime, tail twitching, and eyed him balefully. “STAND AND FIGHT, ROGUE!”
“Oh dear,” I began, and Odd, his pride pricked (or his tiny little brain deciding to take one more whack at solving the problem in its accustomed manner) dashed for the soaked, offending furball once more.
Again, Beauregarde darted underneath the rushing bulldog train, but Odd wasn’t going nearly as fast. He halted and gave me an agonized, amazed look.
Tarzan’s laughter intensified. I pinched the bridge of my nose to stave off the incipient headache.
“KNAVE! SCOUNDREL! VILLAIN!” Beauregard howled.
And Odd, dimly understanding that his new friend was taking shelter beneath his bulk and making strange noises, decided to take a page from Miss B’s book. He put his head down, snorfled and danced until his jowls draped over Beauregarde’s hysterical screaming, and began to lick.
“Oh, for Chrissake,” I began, and Tarzan all but buckled, bending over and holding his stomach.
Spent the morning in a clinic waiting room–no, not for me, I’m fine. Offering moral support. (Though, as always, I’m not so sure how good I am at being moral.) A waiting room is full of raw material. You see so much–the harried mother with five children, the elderly couple who alternate reading newspaper articles to each other, the man who leans away from the woman he’s with when her name is called. The receptionist who brings coffee and a thick medical textbook, the delivery people with their various envelopes, releases, boxes, biohazard containers…
Well, there’s never any shortage of stories in any public space, really. As a writer, one is constantly watching. Filling the hungry well with experiences.
Near the end of the waiting, I walked a few blocks to bring back coffee and breakfast–when you have to drink radioactive goop, they don’t want you having brekkie–and along the way, watched the panorama of traffic. Sometimes I think being a writer means constantly accepting a place outside–the perennial observer, merely noting. It all floods into that dark hole, so that when you drop a pebble in a story will ripple up the stone throat.
Summer. Sunshine. Idiot catcalls from some of the passing cars. The young man and the old in the coffee shop, their heads–one white-haired, one dreadlocked–bent over a chessboard. The smiling girl at the counter with a lilt to her voice and a fresh hickey on the side of her neck and a looseness to her hips. The woman in a charcoal suit and skirt, with fresh-polished shoes, her tip a whole dime after she spent minutes dithering about if she wanted sugar-free caramel syrup or regular. The middle-aged man, so thick he looked square from the back, who almost pushed me off the sidewalk because he “didn’t notice” I was walking there too. (Certainly not a gentleman.)
Turning off the main street to walk to the clinic, breathing a sigh of relief, arriving just as she comes out hungry and irritable. Freeing the coffee from the drink container, seeing how pale and trembling she is as she claws a cigarette free of the pack, taking the paper sheath from the straw so she doesn’t have to worry about it. Outside the same sunshine, gleaming on cars parked in serried rows as a woman almost-shouts into her cell “–but what about SCHOOL, you don’t understand, what about SCHOOL?” Bees drowsy in a bank of flowers still damp from the morning’s sprinkler-washing.
Quiet conversation. The terror of diagnosis. Knowing what you’re fighting is almost always better than not knowing.
Hugs. “I love you.” Other errands to run that morning, quickly, so I don’t think. Home, in my office with the cedars outside the window and the dogs, worn out by the change in routine–I left the house before we’re usually awake, and while they like the idea of early breakfast they do NOT enjoy the alpha being gone–snoring in their accustomed spaces.
The whirl of color and sunshine goes into the well. The stories, half-formed or just tiny bright bits, fall in too. Everything, large or small, falls into that deep darkness I’ll mine later for the right words, the certain slant of light, stringing together the beads on language-cord.
Everything except the fear, and the dry rock in my throat. To care is to risk, and seeing the biopsy scar on the body of someone you love, someone you cannot imagine being without, is not a story now. That rock will not fall into the well. It sits in my chest, and the only thing worse is thinking of how awful it must be for the person you love.
It’s not a story to them either.
We fight for those we love. None of my usual weapons will do. I’ll find new ones. I will hope that someday, this dry, dry rock can be dropped into the well, and I will turn to my friend and say, “Remember that morning when…”
And she will be alive to smile, or grimace, or just shake her head, and say “You know, I do.” Or, “No, it’s all just a blur.”
No, I’m not drinking before blogging–though that holds a certain charm, really–the bottle is for proportion and perspective. I feel inordinately proud that I’ve grown a cubit-long cucumber. (And now all I can think of is Bill Cosby going “Riiiiiiight.”) Technically I didn’t do anything but plant, water, and weed, but I still feel ridiculously proud.
Saturday I finished the revisions for the first Gallow book. It’s clocking in at around 74-75k now, and several new scenes have been added. Now I sit and bite my nails and hope it doesn’t suck.
I took yesterday off to recover a bit, and managed to bomb over the river to Powell’s and Everyday Music with my writing partner. Then someone else made me dinner (let’s call him Tarzan, shall we?) and I was able to stumble off to bed and collapse.
The most exotic part of yesterday was my morning run, and not for the usual reasons. I’ve rehabilitated my ankle, so now I’m working back up to regular mileage. Yesterday was a “long” run, and of course Miss B thought she was in charge of two-thirds of it. What I’m going to do when that dog is too old to run is beyond me, I’ll probably look like a drunken sailor because I keep expecting an invisible dog to try and HEEEEERD me. But that’s not what made it…interesting.
I was on a long straight shot down a local road, running under trees and savouring the shade, when I saw a man waving frantically about two blocks ahead of me. Of course I slowed, and began scanning for the problem–car accident? Altercation? Did he have cohorts? I grabbed for the hand-loop on Miss B’s leash so she didn’t lunge until I was ready for her to, slowed further, and popped my earbud out. “Are you okay?” He really did look distressed.
He was a bit unshaven, gold-rimmed spectacles, wrinkled chinos, a polo shirt that was just a little past “not so fresh.” But this is Vancouver, we’re spitting distance from the rumpled-hipster parade of Portland, so he wasn’t really outre, just a little…crumpled. No blood or damage I could see, but he was sweating an awful lot–it was a warm morning, though. I couldn’t see a car accident, I couldn’t see if he had any confederates, and there was a fence instead of houses to my left, so he hadn’t run out of a house to seek some sort of aid.
He grinned, widely. “HELLOMA’AM. I AM WALKINGFORJESUS. DO YOU HAVE ANY SPARE CHANGE?”
I actually stopped, staring at him. Miss B made a low noise in her chest, the sort of do not come near my human, I mean business I rarely hear from her. I replayed what he said inside my head, and decided he had indeed told me he was walking for Jesus and asked for spare change.
My mouth opened, and what fell out was, “I am running, and I do not have time for bullshit.” I hopped off the sidewalk and gained speed, Miss B still making her grinding noise. When she does that, it’s best to listen.
I suppose he wasn’t ready for such a prompt response. I had almost gotten my earbud back in when I heard his final shot.
‘YOU ARE GOING TO HELL! SATAN HAS YOU!”
I wanted to round on him and tell him that I’d already survived childhood, hell holds no goddamn fear for me, and anyway, I don’t run with my pockets full of quarters to give out to shady fucks my dog doesn’t like. But why bother? Also, just getting away from the crazy and keeping my heartrate up and my stride long was probably the best response, since getting in an altercation would mean that I’d have to call the cops after I put him down and really, I did not have time for that bullshit.
It was only later I started trying to figure out what the hell had actually happened. Was he homeless, high, just desperate, figuring that saying “Jesus” would make a scam go easier, or what? Of all the times I’ve been accosted while running, this is one of the more puzzling.
Anyway, I turned in six and a half kilometers at a good steady 7:21 per, so I’m well on my way to getting back to regular running. What Walking For Jesus Man wanted or actually meant is beyond me, and is probably going to stay that way.
ETA: I know that grammatically, it should be “Fewer Books For You.” I didn’t do that, partly because “Less” fits better in social-networking headline space, and partly because I’m a contrarian. Also, it makes me think of the soup guy on Seinfeld. “LESS BOOKS FOR YOU!”
Dear Readers, let me tell you about my editor.
I have been with my editor at Orbit—Devi Pillai, who Anya Devi in the Kismet books was loosely based on–for over a decade now. She shepherded me through the Valentine series, consoled me through the end of Heaven’s Spite, took a chance on the Damnation Affair, and loved a certain hedgewitch Queen so much she kept asking about it for years until she could finally buy it. She remains an editor I trust implicitly. When she sticks to her guns and insists, I generally rethink my position and trust she’s right, and (far less often, because I rarely dig my heels in unless it’s Important) vice versa. She understands my working style, leaves me the freedom I need while ensuring I get the support I often don’t know I need to turn in my best work.
Not only that, but she advocates for me tirelessly in editorial and marketing meetings. She fights for my books, she fights to bring my books to you. She is everything an editor should be, and it’s largely because of her faith in me that I can write full-time and pay my mortgage.
Including the last Bannon & Clare book, The Ripper Affair. Here’s a screenshot of the Amazon page for the Ripper Affair this morning:
Preorders are largely how publishers forecast how well a certain book will do. Those forecasts create numbers that are used when, for example, Devi makes the case to buy another series from me while I’m finishing up writing the current one. It’s not fair, but it’s the only metric the publishers have in some cases, for all sorts of reasons–frex, it can take over six months for the contracts department to get all situated. (Contracts people are by their nature picky and detail-oriented, and that’s fine, it’s just frustrating sometimes.)
All of this is backstory (hello, exposition!) to what I am about to tell you.
The full, nasty effect of Amazon removing buy buttons (like they did when squeezing Macmillan for more cash a few years ago) and removing the ability to preorder a publisher’s upcoming books doesn’t hit the publisher. Sure, the publisher is who Amazon can blackmail most directly–Amazon’s a huge distributor, and if they decide not to distribute, that’s lost revenue, since ease of buying is a component of consumer activity. (Translation: every time you make a consumer go somewhere else, they are fractionally less willing to buy the damn item that’s costing them time and headache.) There’s also lost revenue from people who buy only through Amazon (they have their reasons, natch) and that means a publisher can’t afford to take a chance on certain authors. The publisher takes the visible hit, but the ripples spread out and hit midlist authors, or debut authors. And while I am not the latter, I am most certainly the former.
In other words, Amazon’s behavior right now is impacting my ability to sell more books to Orbit, since when preorder numbers take this kind of hit it’s harder for Devi to fight for me in acquisition meetings. The numbers for B&C were already not good enough for me to do the “B&C travel to different countries” books we were all looking forward to. Amazon’s blackmail of my publisher makes it harder for my editor to justify taking a chance on me next time I’m up for a contract with them. (It isn’t fair, but it’s a business decision, and I understand as much.) This impacts my ability to write full-time, to continue producing those stories you love (or love to hate) at my accustomed rate. Because I have to pay my mortgage and feed my kids, and if this won’t do it, I will have to spend my time doing something else that will.
Amazon is obeying the natural behaviour of corporations. Corporations are not people, but once they reach a certain size they start behaving like any greedy organism. They metastasize. The effect of this is passed down through the ecosystem to yours truly–and also to you. Less time for me to write those stories means less Lili books for you to read. It means less books from other authors you may like or love, as well. If Hachette has to cave and agree to Amazon’s predatory terms, I will feel that directly, because that money will come out of budgets that take a chance on me, the midlist author.
As Elizabeth Bear said this morning, Amazon is hoping customers will turn on the publishers and force them to do Amazon’s bidding. If you’re fine with that, and with the effects I’ve described above, okay. I naturally don’t agree with you, but okay. I have Amazon links, affiliate and otherwise, on this very site for your convenience, not mine.
Hachette has been keeping its authors apprised of developments in this situation. They’re doing their best to take care of us, because we are, after all, their bread and butter. Hachette isn’t the bad guy here. (I should hope that my regular Readers know that I’d tell you if they were, srsly, mortgage be damned.) Please think about buying somewhere other than Amazon, even if it is a little inconvenient.
Nazarian showed up in the comments to the Passive Voice post. I encourage you to go read through and note what her comments did not include, and what, as far as I can tell, her online begging for money has never included. Here’s a (by no means exhaustive) list:
* An apology for stealing the royalties due to those authors who believed in her enough to entrust her with their work. She could start with reading Scalzi’s post on how to apologize.
* Concrete accounting of where the missing royalties went–if you’re asking for more after over $170K (by one reckoning) has disappeared, posting a detailed breakdown of where all that cash went is a good idea.
* Getting an accountant or escrow officer to oversee the disbursement of these funds she’s asking for to the authors in question. (Note that Nazarian says she doesn’t have the “time or money” for this, though I’m sure someone with accounting experience in the SFF community can be found, OR the Indiegogo campaign can be modified to include such a cost.)
* An explanation of why her Indiegogo campaign to ostensibly benefit the authors whose royalties were stolen is “flexible funding” (as Nazarian’s other Indiegogo campaigns to self-publish her work have been). This is a concern because “flexible” means that even if the full amount isn’t raised, Nazarian gets the cash. You could argue that it’s better for the authors to get some money even if the campaign doesn’t reach its goal, but I invite you to cogitate upon whether they’re going to see any from a person who won’t engage oversight and down whose gullet so much has already disappeared.
* Clear, verifiable transparency in accounting for whatever funds she has taken in through Norilana Books, her various fundraisers, and “loans” from “friends” in the SFF community.
I find it saddening and a little grotesque that Nazarian still has a core of defenders, most of whom seem to think it’s okay for her to continue asking for money because “she’s a good person” or “the Norilana books were so pretty!” or some other reason. Even if Nazarian has merely been tragically misguided or just the victim of awful circumstance, if these people truly want to support and defend her, now is the time to say, “Honey, let’s find an accountant for you and start sorting this mess out. No more excuses. Also, stop spending all your time in comment sections of posts detailing how your behaviour looks more and more like theft the longer one examines it. Just stop.” I really don’t care how “nice” she is personally. My ex-husband was incredibly charming in person, and it helped him “borrow” money he never repaid from all sorts of people. “Nice” does not mean “trustworthy.” Whether Nazarian is untrustworthy because of circumstances or through intent also does not matter much at this point. The bare fact is, money keeps vanishing and she keeps asking for even more.
Also, it doesn’t make a damn bit of difference how pretty the books are, or how Norilana “took a chance” on them or “was asked to publish” them. For multiple YEARS now, authors have not been paid for those pretty books. Who has? Nazarian. Who admits she doesn’t have (and implies she has never had) a separate business account for author royalties, just her own personal bank account. (Yes, that’s one thing I just can’t get over in all this, that admission.)