Intimacy. I love being inside folks (behave). Opened emotional worlds offer a level of trust that elevates the simplest shared experiences into things of enduring beauty. Things of human glory. Simply knowing that a person sharing themselves with you will not hurt you creates a sense of security that ripples your entire being.
Books do this. Is there anything more alchemical than seeing markings on a page or screen and, through them, knowing you are intrinsically loved? The level of intimacy books create is immediate, all-encompassing, and -- if the relationship is good -- remains in your perception of this world for long after you've completed it. Books become friends, lovers, or teachers because it is the author's job to be friend, lover, and teacher. James Baldwin, a man whose mind I'd undress for at a moment's notice, said, "The role of the artist is exactly the same as the role of the lover. If I love you, I have to make you conscious of the things you don’t see.” Which won't always be pleasant but it will always be magnificent. Is there a more fulfilling level of intimacy than that? I love you enough to risk exposing myself (and that's the only fear there is, isn't it, fear of exposing some imagined weakness), whether it be to pain or glory, because the goal of connection is a noble and essential one. We literally create the future through intimacy (procreation); we literally create the future by bridging minds (ideas); without the warmth of your hand in mine there is no point in walking a lovely tree-lined street, a sandy beach, or even the Louvre. Art that does not seek a bond of intimacy does itself a huge disservice.
Feelings I had when I experienced certain sections of books come to me today just as clearly as remembrances of certain kisses. A lover whispered something to me so potent once that I became a god-angel in the span of two seconds. One Hundred Years of Solitude did that to me too. Mil Millington's Love and Other Near Death Experiences did it. Angry Candy by Harlan Ellison regularly touches a shoulder and causes me to wistfully smile. Octavia Butler's Kindred is my sister, and Toni Morrison has made love to my brain more times than I can count.
The intimacy of writing things that will expose the essential humanity of you, the writer, to that of we, the readers, is a gift that neither the Orisha, Olympus, nor the pantheon of Egypt, with all their power, could impart. It is a human thing born of the one need we all have the moment our souls enter and re-enter this world: to communicate. To say, "I am here" in hopes another will respond "I am too." We're here to create "we", otherwise all this beauty surrounding us, all this magnificent melange of sensation, pleasure, thought, and evolution, is an unfinished amusement park. A shell.
If I'm going to walk, write, cook, make love, sing, nap, dream, I'd much rather do it with a sense of you. Solitude is excellent, but the instant I hear you say "Is anybody out there?" I want you to hear a definitive, undeniable, unswerving "Yes."
'Cause that's me hoping your hand slides perfectly into mine.
One of Liv Warfield’s songs blasts the chant, “You could call it the unexpected or you could call it ‘WOW!’” Pretty much sums up my World Con experience. Lots of firsts for me over the course of five days in Kansas City. First World Con, first time voting and being a part of the Hugos. “Hugo Award Winning” showed up on the cover of so many books from my youth it became a symbol of power, a symbol part of me hasn't yet grown too cynical to still believe in. Back then there seemed to be a correlation: I dove into authors who put their souls into their works and were recognized for it. Hugo-winning, to me, meant exceptional in some way.
Wee dogs have recently tried to pee on that. I’m not saying that an award is the end-all and be-all of anything. Growing up, I read all kinds of books by all kinds of authors. I also missed all kinds of books by an even greater array of authors. Still, I felt as if that stamp meant something.
What did it mean? 1) That my imagination was about to get a workout; 2) that I could assume a certain level of craftsmanship; 3) that other folks—writers and readers alike—enjoyed a good mental journey just as much as this poor black kid from Detroit. The “black” is important here, because the publishing industry to this day too often will not represent, publish, distribute or read work that’s “too far from the mainstream.” So in all my ignorance, all my zeal, I thought the Hugos represented, above all else, possibility. I didn’t dive into the cogs and gears of how the Hugos were awarded. I assumed they were impartially juried.
I suppose in that respect, I thank wee dogs for peeing on it. It woke me up to certain things. That wasn’t their intention, and, hell, sucks to be them, but Zigs is all up in their mix now. I attended the fucking Hugos. I wasn't nominated, I wasn't there to be slavish, but the kid who grew up wondering if everybody else realized they had no mouths but they had to scream was there as a writer. A writer of new dreams.
And as introverted as he is he attended a packed-room Tor Books nighttime jam. His respect for Tor is solidifying, and he's cool with that. Check out Tor.com and you'll see what I see.
He deepened friendships with authors Cerece Rennie Murphy and Marguerite Reed, both of whom will likely be receiving Hugo nominations in the coming years. He learned from Christine Taylor-Butler and Bill Campbell. He's in this blog now namedropping some of the fabulous writers he met: Kij Johnson, Larry Niven, Maurice Broadus, Ellen Datlow, Max Gladstone, Karen Bovenmyer, Ken Liu, Eileen Gunn, David Gerrold, Robert Sawyer; saw Robert Silverberg and GRR Martin from a distance, had breakfast with the Mothership Zeta crew, hung with Dave Robison of Ed Greenwood’s Forgotten Realms/Onder Librum empire (Dave even did a quick Periscope interview with me), got to hug Charlie Jane Anders again, saw not one but two real life astronauts as they walked the ugly carpeting of the Kansas City Convention Center (Jeanette Epps and Stanley Love, pictured above), finally had the insane pleasure of being in the same time & space with Kelly Robson and Alyx Dellamonica, and at one point seriously considered being a part of Frank Wu’s commune should Frank Wu ever start one. Frank Wu loves what he’s doing. No cynical fart cranking out cynical fart words he. There’s enthusiasm and fun and joy and just enough of the unexpected that he makes folks smile and want to say…
Yeah. You can call me a fanboy, you can say I’m a dreamer, you can accuse me of naivety, or you can step away from fear, pretense, and ignorance and simply appreciate the breadth of work being produced in this wondrous century and, in all due wonder, whisper along with me, “Wow.”
Two amazing writers nearly the same shade of brown as me took top literary honors at the 2016 Hugos. That's mind boggling. Not that NK Jemisin won for best novel, boggling that it's the first time in Hugo history that an African American--let alone an African American woman--has won that particular honor. That speaks volumes of shame at an industry that intones the words "boldly going where no one has gone before" while simultaneously slapping at the hands of those reaching for the doors. There's pride in her win, but there's also:
Michi Trota, the first Filipina Hugo award winner for her work with Uncanny Magazine, made us cry at the Hugos, not just because of her excellent acceptance speech, but because that speech was in and of itself evidence of more than lip service, it was her ironclad dedication to seeking out new life and new civilizations. It was reality.
Call it the unexpected. Me, I prefer to call it…now.
If you care to see a full listing of wondrous things go here. Genders, nationalities, wonderful people in the skins they’re in, world views and humors, maybe a dash of foolishness or two. Not America con. Not white guy con. Not fawn over the past con. Not you’re-only-allowed-to-play-in-the-sandbox-when-we-want-you-to con. Not beware-of-the-dog con. I want to be surrounded by the awesome variety of voices asking answers of the celestial sky. It's a pleasant sound, an inspiring sound that drowns out the incessant noise of an industry that, as author and publisher Bill Campbell perfectly summed up, is not built for inclusion.
Isn't that America? A lot of yapping from a small percentage, while those of us with better things to do go about the business of maintaining reality. There’s been enough barking to last a while. Maybe we'll see an Age of Creativity drown that out.
Merrie Haskell, author of many books and winner of sweet awards (you might wanna check out Handbook for Dragon Slayers) said something very illuminating during a recent panel regarding the writing life. The gist was that we, as writers, will often plan six ways till Sunday for failure, but when it comes to success: Crickets; success is for the gods to decide. We'll, for instance, have in the backs of our minds 'Well, if this doesn't sell I can always go back to fighting honey badgers. Hours weren't bad.' And we'll have a file of local honey badger tournaments saved in multiple locations. We'll have 15 other markets to submit to if this, our best, most awesomest story, receives the expected rejection. We'll think no way is this agent going to rep us so we either don't try them or we ride into their query pile on the ship Half-Assed Self-Fulfilling Prophecy (full disclosure: I have been mate on that ship).
Plans help center us in reality. They tell us where our heads are. Please no one send the hastage #NotAllPlans.
Back-up plans are great and necessary...but what about the go-forward plans? How often do we think 'Wow, when this book finds an audience I can go to cons and fill myself with enthusiasm and set up a Thank You, Readers fund for pizza and ice cream socials'? Granted, the failures and successes, there's no guarantees for either, but that's kind of the point, innit? We treat failure as a given when it is not, but give the options for success not even half that due.
As writers, hell as people, we need to remember that digging a hole means we have the physical and mental strength to move dirt out of the way. Planning for success means when somebody says yes...what's your next step? You don't want to be caught just sitting there going fuh-fuh-fuh. You want to feel a little more that you're more active than that. It's perfectly cool and all right to take a little pride in flipping the script and planning how you want to arrange your dirt piles.
I suspect there's an art to that, and I look forward to seeing your earthen gallery.
I don't know about you but I'm a sucker for a good book recommendation, and there are certain authors who somehow--TO THE DETRIMENT OF MY PREMIUM FAUX LEATHER WALLET--manage to bring the recommendation thunder every. single. time. Same as you, I have very particular tastes when it comes to reading. I can't go where I've been a million times before; filler is a Kryptonite stake dipped in nasty and trimmed in ugh; lazy, uninteresting prose = the backhand learned from Joyce Carol Oates during that year on the mountaintop. So when certain authors recommend a story or book I immediately break out with "Thank you, sir, may I have another?" I know they're not recommending their mom or their cousin (unless their mom or cousin has written a helluva book).
A good recommendation is an act of communion.
What makes for a good rec?
When a writer's work hits another writer's sweet spot it's, well, it's
And the recommending writer has no shame sharing this with you. The enthusiasm bursts like Pop Rocks. Giddyness is a good sign.
Clear directions. When a writer is really impressed, she'll say "Buy this." Not "consider" not "mebbe" not "you might also like." I heard a preacher say one day, "If I had time to tell somebody I'd tell everybody." That stuck with me, that directive to go forth. I read. It rocked. I read again. Witness.
Sensibilities. I guess that kinda goes without saying but respect the sensibility of the recommendation. Writing is an empathic activity, and a good empath can sense where a writer is coming from. This is reflected in the recommendation. It doesn't mean you're going to have the same emotional experience every time. Joy needs to be a varied thing. A primo book reccer builds up a diverse catalog. Excellence will be the common theme but excellence crosses all genres. A discerning writer of science fiction can read a romance novel and be blown away, and vice versa. Do you sense this inclusiveness? If so, you may trust your recommending writer's judgment.
Brevity. A good recommendation doesn't spoil the potential reading experience by telling you every little thing about the book. Not even a review should do that (unless you're an ass), and there's a difference between a recommendation and a review. Rec is small plates. Review might be dinner. There are a ton of unspoken-but-understoods in a recommendation. Mind meld. Simpatico. Sometimes the more brief the recommendation the more intense the book love. You get "OMFG!" from a trusted source, you know to get your ass to a book store.
And then: the actual reading. You've bought the book and brought to it all the "you" necessary to make the reading experience flower. A recommendation might prime you but it doesn't color the experience. Being told something is good doesn't automatically make it so. A book has to reach into you and rearrange a few things. It's feng shui of the mind. You're not looking for perfection, you're looking for flow. The recommendation pushes you and the book away from the shore; the rest is up to you. There are so many books out there. So many writers. So many outlets. Book recs can be great guideposts. Even if you don't like what you read you tried something new (which can happen; we both might like cheesecake but you're a heathen who puts whipped cream on your cheesecake and I can't even). An expanded mind is a wonderful thing.
Oh, and on the practical tip: Ideally, book recommendations lead to book sales. More sales means more cool things get written and published by more cool writers whom you may not yet realize you love. So writers, keep recommending. Nobody who loves reading (and that's what the best writers are: avid readers) treats this enterprise as "The Highlander" game. There can always be more than one. Readers, keep feeling the love.
End result is this. We are indeed Groot.
Life, the universe, and everything creative
Towel Photo credit: EvelynGiggles via Foter.com / CC BY