Not an awards eligibility post, just some random year-end back-patting

Hello friends. I don’t do awards eligibility posts anymore, because I’m a literary author now and all our awards are juried awards. No, I’m just kidding–it was because I was terrible at awards log-rolling, and it never went anywhere for me.1 But I did publish a lot of stuff this year! I published, umm, three essays: two on LARB and one on LitHub. One of my LARB essays, on the dreariness of book club discussions, was one of their top posts this year, according to their year-end wrap-up post. My LitHub essay, about literary fiction and money, was widely shared online and received lots of favorable comment.

When I first started publishing literary criticism last year, with my "The Myth of the Classically Educated Elite", I felt as if I’d really broken through and found a way of reaching a new audience. But this year I’ve reconsidered a bit. Dealing with LitHub was a prolonged and kind of embittering process. Felt like it created a considerable amount of extra aggravation in my life that I don’t need. So where I started the year excited about pitching new publications, I’ve come to a place where I’m being considerably more selective about what I write and what I pitch. Personally, I continue to really like the LA Review of Books. They’re not the fastest, but they’re very no-bullshit. You can trust them. Not sure whether my relationship will continue there now that Boris Dralyuk, who’s always been my contact, has stepped down as Editor in Chief, but I hope that it does!

Outside the realm of literary criticism, I’ve lost track of what I’ve published. I think that I had five stories come out. One in Analog, "Citizen Science". One in American Short Fiction, []"Goodwill"]( One in the South Dakota Review, "Endings". And one in Saundra Mitchell’s YA sci-fi anthology, Out There, My story for the anthology, "Nick and Bodhi", is kind of a corker. Probably my best story out this year.

I also had poems in North American Review, Cellar Door, Cherry Tree, and Tampa Review. None are available online, but that’s probably a good thing because I don’t think any of them are something to write home about.

No book-length publication this year. Spent most of the year writing a new draft of my under-contract YA novel, Just Happy To Be Here. It’s possible the publication of the book will be delayed by the Harper strike (which my editor, Steph, has taken a leadership role in, for which I am very, very proud of them). But maybe it won’t be, who knows! Am aiming for a Jan 2024 release date. Working on line edits now, which should be the last round of edits.

Was on submission for most of the year with a literary novel for adults. It was a miserable experience. Many rejections. Felt really bad about myself. But then it landed on the desk of the new publisher of Feminist Press, Margot Atwell, and she fell in love with it. Still feels kind of strange, Feminist Press is so highbrow. Like, there’s a lot of room between them and HarperTeen! But I’m really happy to have a home, and even happier to be so highbrow. Have been doing heavy, heavy revisions on the book, tentatively entitled The Default World for the last two months. Aiming for a June 2024 release date.

So my first book came out in 2016. MY second in 2020. Now I have two books coming out in 2024, so you might expect three in 2028, but I’m breaking the Fibonnacci sequence by releasing a book in 2025! I just signed a contract for an as-yet-unwritten nonfiction book that’ll come out in 2025. You’ll never guess the publisher. I mean it. I could give you twenty guesses, and you still wouldn’t be able to get it.2

So what did I write this year? Well I did a new draft of the YA novel, which took about three months, and I also did a substantial revision, where I rewrote about a third of it. That also took about a month. I spent two months rewriting the literary book. And then I spent at least two months on an adaptation of a count of monte cristo (a trans woman comes back to take revenge on people who screwed her over in her male life) that just never went anywhere. And I spent two months on a sci-fi novel that never went anywhere. And I spent at least a month on a linked collection that at least produced a number of stories I’m excited about, but ultimately I couldn’t convince myself that it’d really work as a standalone project. Other than that, I wrote maybe seven stories: three of which are for anthologies and four of which were on-spec and are as-yet-unsold.

I didn’t do a lot of submissions this year. I kept meaning to put together a submissions package. I subbed a literary story I really liked, but for the rest of it, nonfiction, sci-fi, poetry, etc, I just felt like it didn’t matter much. I’ll still improve as a writer, whether the work gets published or not, and it didn’t seem all that important to seize the moment.

Being on sub royally sucked, but if I can compartmentalize that, it was a very good year. I got a lot of writing done. Particularly when I was working on my under-contract projects, writing was easy and fun. When I was trying to generate new book ideas, it was pretty painful. I’m working now on a new literary novel idea, but it seems extremely uncommercial. I’m having fun writing it, but really don’t know if I’ll go the distance with it.

I usually date the start of my writing career to December 2003, when I sent my first short story submission (to Ellen Datlow at SciFiction). That was nineteen years ago. Since then I’ve accumulated 2009 short story rejections, and a whole mess more rejections for other things. I do feel a bit like a writing professional, even though I don’t get paid much, and I’m still really learning. I don’t take bullshit anymore, but I also don’t produce bullshit. Life is too short to get upset over edits or delays or any of that other stuff. I think knowing that I’m not the source of extraneous drama has made me more confident in pushing back when I genuinely do want something. When it came to putting the literary book on sub, I had a pronounced opinion (it’ll never be a better time to sell this book than right now so let’s send it to as many people as possible), and my agent was willing to be convinced by me. When I had questions about editors, I asked them. But if the answer was "they’re ghosting us", I didn’t get too mad. I asked for the truth so I got it. Felt good!

My MFA advisor told me once that it’s really hard to sell a second book, and even selling a third book can be quite difficult, but he’s found that if people sell a third book, they usually find their niche and manage to keep on publishing and make a career. I thought the idea was ludicrous at the time, but it’s proven to be true. I sold my third book last year, and now here I am with books four and five selling in rapid succession. Bizarre!

I don’t keep track anymore of how many words I write, so can’t provide detaileds stats like I could in my early years. I generally write a few hours a day, I think. I sit down in the morning around 9:30 or 10:00, and if it’s coming then it comes. Usually stop by 2 PM and try to do other things for the rest of the day. Recently have gotten better at incorporating reading into my daily schedule, and I now treat reading like an essential part of my career. But my reading news (along with personal stuff) will have to go in a different post

Out There ed. by Saundra Mitchell, cover

  1. All these references to awards eligibility and log-rolling are sci-fi world inside baseball stuff. And yes I spent a half-hour trying to figure out how to enable a more advanced version of markdown inside the WordPress editor just so I could more easily write this footnote, because that’s the kind of person I am now. 

  2. It’s princeton university press! I know, right? What a trip! An editor at PUP reached out to me after reading several of my LARB essays, and we put together a proposal. 

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