Inhuman Swill : Publishing

What is the sound of one hand clapping?
What is the sound of a tree falling in a forest?
What is the sound of a story without a reader?
What is the sound of tears on my typewriter keys?

No, this post is not about my marriage, which marks its 12th happy anniversary this year. This post is actually about writers and sensitivity.

Imagine yourself at the wedding of a close friend. You're there alone, having failed again to find a date to yet another big occasion. And it's not as if you didn't try hard. The frustrating thing is that things were looking really good with ol' what's-his-name for a while there. He seemed really interested, he did. You thought there was a good chance he might even be the one. But that was before he started acting all weird and distant, and stopped calling, or even returning your emails and texts.

So here you are alone at the wedding, again.

Oh, you're not alone alone. Most all your friends are here, and they're all happy to see you, but the thing is, they're mostly all married themselves. Everyone's nice enough to you, but you can sense a certain distance developing. It's nothing personal, you know that. It's just that for married people it seems somehow easier to relate to other married people. There are new concerns, new problems, new joys that come along with marriage, and that sets you apart from their world.

Oh, you know enough about those concerns and problems and joys, because, really, even though you're strong and proud and self-sufficient, there's nothing you want more in the world than to be swept off your feet and up the aisle, and you've been preparing for it. You're ready. And it's not even that your knowledge is entirely academic. You've done plenty of dating, and you've been in your share of long-term relationships. But in the end, they were all either too casual, or they just didn't end up heading where it looked early on like they were going to head. And you're still here alone, with no prospects.

You still remember the clutch of conflicting emotions that clogged your throat when your dear, close friend, all beaming and radiant, rushed up to show you that giant, sparkling ring she'd waited for and prayed for and worked for for so long. It was maybe the biggest ring you'd ever seen, and though you were so happy for her, so very, very happy, you couldn't help but feel that poisonous sting of jealousy deep inside. You swallowed it down and hugged her hard and told her all the things you needed to tell her, that you were thrilled for her, so thrillied, and that you wished her all the happiness in the world, and that no one deserved this more than she did,

Except, deep down, you know you don't really believe that. Oh, your friend deserves her happy day, no doubt about it. She is good and kind, and she worked so hard for so long and did everything right, and you can't believe this didn't happen to her sooner. But deep down, you know, you know.

You know that you deserve it more.

She worked hard, yes, but you were right there beside her, working just as hard, maybe even harder. You punished yourself at the gym all those years. You crawled through broken glass to get to where you are at the office. You went to all the right clubs and bars, put yourself in situations where you were most likely to meet the right people. And you were never less than entirely supportive to all your friends going through the same thing, there with them in the good times, and there to pick up the pieces in the bad.

In fact, when you look at it through your coldest analytical lens, the fact that you still haven't had your turn at the altar seems proof of one thing and one thing only—that it's as much luck as hard work that makes the magic happen. And that's the most discouraging notion of all.

But things can always get worse, and now they're about to, because you've just spotted your dear friend's busybody aunt making a beeline for you from the reception line. You look around in desperation, but there's nowhere to hide, and your friends have all vanished and left you defenseless. You've known this woman for almost as long as you've been friends with her niece, and you know what she's like, and you know what's coming, but that doesn't make it any easier.

After a minute's pleasantries, as you try not to wrinkle your nose at her boozy breath, she drops the bomb. "Now, really," she says with a conspiratorial frown, patting your arm in a way that makes your flesh crawl, "why aren't you married yet, dear? We all expected you to be snapped up years ago."

You hem and you haw, because no matter how many times you hear this, it doesn't get any easier. You try to make a case for how busy and successful you've been at the office, and how you've had all those close calls, how you were sure ol' what's-his-name was going to pop the question but he took a powder instead and you still don't understand why, his excuses were so lame, but the words get all jumbled up in your mouth because you don't owe this awful woman any explanations, she wasn't there with you through all the trials and heartbreaks.

But while you're still pushing out your feeble stream of justifications, while you finally admit in a hoarse voice that you just don't know why not, your friend's aunt only shakes her head, her eyes filled with superior judgment. "What it all comes down to," she says, patting your arm again, "you just aren't trying hard enough."

And as she begins to point out all the eligible bachelors in the room, offering capsule bios and suggestions of how to win them over, you have to just turn and walk away—rush away, really, because who is she to tell you you haven't tried hard enough?

Except the sting you still feel—the one that makes hot tears try to spray though you won't let them, you won't—is because, deep down, and I mean really deep down, deep down where you live, you're afraid that she's right. You really haven't tried hard enough, because if you had then wouldn't it have been your turn up there already? Wouldn't it?

You tell yourself you should just give up, that you'd be so much happier if you just didn't care about getting married, that you should just stop torturing yourself and make yourself content with everything you do have.

But though you can fantasize about giving up, when it comes right down to it you just can't go through with it. And though you know your friend's aunt is a hateful witch and that she's wrong wrong wrong, it doesn't matter. All you can do the next day is to hit the gym even harder, to keep on trying, and to keep on hoping.

"Why aren't you married yet?" It's a horrible, horrible question—and it's the equivalent of asking a struggling writer: "Why isn't that book of yours out yet?"

The answer is, I don't know. So just, you know, be a little sensitive, okay?

Now, there are plenty of ways this already strained analogy could be extended, to describe other questions to our hypothetical wedding guest that map well to our hypothetical struggling writer, and that would be either equally insensitive or far kinder. Please suggest some in the comments.

I have a few in mind myself, and may do another post in a few days to talk about them.

The Chicago Writers Conference is Chicago's only homegrown mainstream literary conference focusing on practical business advice for fiction and non-fiction writers alike. The brainchild of Mare Swallow, it will feature such editors, agents, and authors as Chuck Sambuchino, Christine Sneed, Robert K. Elder, and Jennifer Mattson.

But it can only happen with support! The CWC is in the final eight days of its Kickstarter campaign and still needs to raise over $4000 for equipment rental, web development, speakers' travel expenses. There are lots of great incentives remaining for various donation levels, including art, signed books, and query letter or story manuscript critiques from Chuck Sambuchino and, ahem, yours truly.

But here, let Mare tell you more about the conference, and why you should support it:

So please help, and support Chicago's long tradition of literary excellence!

Chicago is getting its own down-home writers conference! The Chicago Writers Conference will take place September 14-16 at Tribune Tower in beautiful downtown Chicago. Speakers and presenters include Chuck Sambuchino, Robert K. Elder, and Cinnamon Cooper, while special readings will be staged by both Essay Fiesta and Tuesday Funk.

But the Chicago Writers Conference can only happen with your help! I'd explain why the conference deserves your support, but there's already a compelling plea from organizer Mare Swallow, Write Club founder Ian Belknap, and yours truly up on Kickstarter. Check us out:

So please kick in a few shekels and help support the Chicago Writers Conference. Several great incentives are still available, including a story critique (up to 10,000 words) from me for a mere $175 pledge. (The custom poem is already gone. Sorry!) Please help, and we'll looking forward to seeing you at Tribune Tower in September!

Frey-ing fish in a barrel

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After reading last week's New York Magazine feature article "James Frey's Fiction Factory," I was tempted to post another jeremiad against the author who proves himself time and again the slimiest, most brazenly unapologetic charlatan to disgrace our industry in the past decade.

Fortunately, doing so would be redundant, since I can just send you to John Scalzi's two excellent posts analyzing Frey's latest hijinks:

  • The Man in the Frey Flannel Suit
  • An Open Letter to MFA Writing Programs (and Their Students)

    All I will add is that you should never sign a contract with a man who claims there's no difference between fact and fiction.

  • Since we're only, let's see, a decade into the 21st century now, I figured it was probably past time to revisit my essay on "Proper Manuscript Format." I've revised it a couple of times in the past, but with all the changes in submission standards over the past decade a major overhaul was in order.

    Some hardliners may be upset with me for ceding some ground, but I haven't changed the way I format a manuscript. I do acknowledge other valid schools of thought, though.

    I've written a fuller explanation of the revisions over at my formatting blog. I hope you'll check out the updated formatting guide itself and let me know what you think. Does it go too far? Not far enough? Or do you agree?

    Dear correspondent who just forwarded me the same email he sent two days ago:

    I understand that you are impatient for a response. However, I receive more email about format questions than I can deal with quickly, and just because I haven't responded immediately does not mean I am ignoring your questions. I will get to yours after I've answered earlier messages.

    In the meantime, please refrain from getting so impatient that you repeatedly forward the same message to me. If you can't wait more than two days for a response from me, how on earth are you going to deal with the slow wait for a response from a publisher?

    The Formatting Grump

    Does anyone write back-cover copy like this anymore?


          The moment the Interpol agent and his lovely assistants landed in Holland they were in Dutch.
          He was after a drug ring. Who was after him?
          First someone killed his contact.
          Then he ran up against a lethal room clerk.
          Then a bunch of cute Olde Worlde hay dancers went for him with pitchforks.
          Then he got mixed up with some macabre puppet makers.
          It was a Netherlands nightmare—and no waking up.


    I mean, how could you not pay 95 cents for this book with a come-on like that? The Interpol agent doesn't even need a name! Uncut excitement, baby.

    I'm a little startled every year to see how many people I know well show up on the Hugo ballot. Congratulations to you all, Charlie, Paolo, Cory, Toby, and everyone else!

    But I want to give an extra huge shout-out to John Klima, whose excellent Electric Velocipede receives its first nomination this year, for Best Fanzine. It may seem odd that one of the increasingly fine and acclaimed short-fiction venues of this decade is recognized in the fanzine category, but that only speaks to the outsized mark it's been making on the field relative to its subscription base.

    John's been a great champion of my short fiction over the years. I'm proud to have had stories in a good quarter of EV's issues, not to mention having had a chapbook published by his Spilt Milk Press. With a couple of World Fantasy Award nominations and now a Hugo nomination to his credit, I'm glad to see so many other people championing John's work.

    And this news comes a week after John and Shai welcomed their second child, Easton Cade, to the family. It's a big week at the Klima household. Congratulations!


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