I’ve made a pleasurable habit of reviewing the list of books I’ve read during the year and looking back over the biggest writing lessons I grokked along the way.
If 2013 was the year of the short story, 2014 (for me, at least) has certainly been the year of the anthology. Some would quibble that all anthologies are merely a collection of short stories but since the theme of the anthology and the stories selected are part of the reader experience, I think the anthology is more than just a collection of shorts. I read more than a dozen short story anthologies, including the massive (111 short stories, one of which is mine) 2014 Campbellian Anthology, edited by M. David Blake. I sold two of my short stories to themed anthologies in 2014, both of which will be published on 2015.
Unlike last year, I did manage to reach my goal of reading 60 books this year (I stopped taking the newspaper, and thus I no longer waste time doing the crossword and Sudoku puzzles. If only I could wean myself off FB so easily…sigh).
- Favorite anthology: Hands down, this was Nightmare Carnival, edited by Ellen Datlow. I’ve got a real love carnivals, circuses, and stories about the mysterious and exotic people associated with them. This collection rang all my bells. A tip of the hat (and to Ellen again) for Best Horror of the Year as well.
- Favorite new (to me) authors: Dan Simmons where have you been all my life? I’d never heard of him before, but on a friend’s recommendation, I picked up his Song of Kali and was absolutely blown away. I followed that one up with Summer of Night, Hyperion, and Carrion Comfort. All brilliant, all wonderful. I put Summer of Night on my top 10 best books list. I also enjoyed the first two books in Scott Lynch’s Gentleman Bastards series–a lot of fun.
- Notable Classics: I was shocked and stunned by Theodore Sturgeon’s powerful Some of Your Blood. Wow. Just, wow. I’ve got seven or eight more of his shorts on my ‘to read’ list, and I can’t wait to read them. And I had never read anything by Octavia Butler until this year, either; I enjoyed Kindred very much.
- Favorite Writing Book(s): Lawrence Block made a big impact on me. His Telling Lies for Fun and Profit is a book I’ve reread twice again already. I can see myself reading it before I start every new novel. The way he talks about structure and storytelling really resonates with me.
- Favorite Books from Favorite Authors: I am a huge Richard Kadrey fan, and this year, I picked up the third volume in his Sandman Slim series, Aloha From Hell. Great fun.
- Biggest Disappointment: I picked up a couple of books this year with high expectations, but just couldn’t get into. I suppose that with age comes wisdom, and rather than force myself to wade through them, I gave them up to a good home at my local library. Both were traditionally published books, and had garnered good reviews in the trades, but I just don’t have time to waste trying to read something that doesn’t grab me. So from now on, I’ve sworn off trying to read disappointing books.
- Lesson 1: I don’t know why, but this year (a year where I received more rejections than I ever have), I stopped worrying about rejections. I honestly don’t feel bad about them anymore. Earlier this year, I got a chance to participate in a series of discussions where editors were picking stories submitted for their themed anthologies, and was stunned when they turned away from some GREAT stories that I thought were wonderful. But here’s the lesson: they picked the stories THEY liked; the voice THEY thought was wonderful. Or that fit the theme of what they were going for best. And I realized, that with so few slots available, of course they are going to buy the ones that move them, or stay with them the most. And after listening to these editors ague back and forth about stories they loved (or didn’t love), I realized that of course a story that moves one editor may not move another. I’ve sold three short stories to three different editors. I thought they were good stories, but I’m confident that those stories wouldn’t have been right for every editor. I guess I’ve reached the point where I’m not insecure about my writing anymore; it’s more about whether a particular story is right for a particular editor or audience. In the end (once you reach a certain level) it’s just a matter of taste.
- Lesson 2: 2014 was (by far) my most productive year yet. I wrote more than 300K words this year, resulting in two novels, 8 short stories, more than 50 blog entries, and a novelette. But in spite of making two professional sales (both of which will be released in 2015), I also received more rejections this year than I ever have. Rather than being disappointed by those results, Indie publishing has changed the way I look at publishing and myself as a writer in a very positive way. It’s given me the gift of independence, and control over my own work. I’m not saying it’s the only way to go, but it’s fun in a different way from the fun of writing. There’s a real satisfaction in looking at my author profile on Amazon, Kobo, or Barnes and Noble and seeing a body of work with my name on it.
- Lesson 3: This year, more than any, I’ve started to realize what a small world the (genre) writing community is. As networks go, writers are more tightly connected than any other group I’ve ever worked with. I’ve got writer friends and great mentors who were befriended and in turn mentored in their day by other greats in this industry. And I’m starting to see the names of people I went to workshops with in publications like LOCUS and on pro panels with some pretty big names at CONS. It seems to me that everyone who has been around long enough seems connected with everyone else. It’s funny, but in my previous business career, I always had trouble remembering people’s names; but when it comes to writers, every one of them is memorable.