gonzo author stories

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NaNoWriMo 2015.

Happy start-of-NaNoWriMo, to anyone who’s doing such a thing!

True story: I’ve never actually completed a NaNo, but the month still has a special place in my black little heart, given that Liesmith was a “failed” NaNo project from 2009. Why “failed” you ask? Well, because I did manage to write 50,000 words of it… in October ’09.

My wordcount for November ’09? Zero.

Whatever works, I guess.

2017-09-05T12:53:44+10:001st November, 2015|Tags: gonzo author stories, liesmith, nanowrimo, writing, wyrdverse|


Stephen King said: “If you write (or paint or dance or sculpt or sing…) someone will try to make you feel lousy about it.” With women, if you write or paint or dance or sculpt or sing, a lot of people will try to make you feel lousy about yourself.

I know a few women who had to stop writing because of this: because it exacerbated their depression or anxiety, because they could no longer get out of bed in the morning, because they had crying jags every day, because they were contemplating or attempting suicide, because constantly stressing about how they looked and acted was paralysing them, because they were throwing up every day. I know women paying for assistants, which puts a real financial burden on them, purely in order to make sure hate mail doesn’t reach them and destroy their peace. It’s absurd to pretend that getting letters detailing what a worthless person you are doesn’t exacerbate anxiety and depression. And it’s absurd to pretend this doesn’t come from an environment of internalised, sublimated, or simple overt misogyny. I have seen male authors, people who work in publishing, and readers make fun of women who talk about such feelings (yes, including suicide attempts). These women feel they had to give up creating what they love, in order to make their lives livable. I know many more who are persisting, but whose health and happiness and creative energy is being severely compromised. Neither I nor anyone else will ever know how many female creators will never share what they’ve made with the world, because they have been scared off.

I have heard often that it’s wrong for lady creators to talk about sexism or how sexism negatively affects their lives, and that we’re making it up. I don’t know why this always shocks me so much: this is very familiar stuff at its core. “Those crazy wimmins, complaining about their lady treatment when they actually get treated SO well” is something ladies get a lot from anti-women’s-rights conservatives. I guess that’s why it’s surprising to hear it from other quarters, sometimes from other women, but at least it makes things very clear: people actually concerned about sexism do not go around saying that women should shut their dumb faces about it.

–Sarah Rees Brennan on the female author tax.

If I could quote Brennan’s entire post I would. I’ve quoted this part because, ironically, it’s what made me get into publishing in the first place. I went through a period where I was getting a bunch of hatemail from various sources over things I’d created in my pre-pro life. If you’ve never been the target of this sort of thing, let me tell you; it fucks you up. Big time. I had it relatively “mildly”, for a given value of “mildly”, and yet it caused me so much stress that, in a period of about a week, I nearly lost my job, nearly lost my marriage, and did lose about five kilos.1 In a week.

It was not a good week.

The week ended when I thought, fuckit. If I’m going to get shat on, I might as well get shat on for something I’m being paid to do, and this is why I’m now a professionally published author.

Go figure, I guess.

  1. Again, if you’ve never experienced this: you can’t eat. You either can’t eat, or you can eat, but nothing stays down. Your stomach just roils all the time, hyped up in fight-or-flight. Remember, this was caused by, in essence, people being mean to me on the internet, which is why it’s taken me years to talk about it. You aren’t supposed to talk about it. It’s supposed to be “just the internet”. What were these people going to actually do, anyway? We’re not talking death threats here. Just constant gossiping and anonhate. And hadn’t I deserved it? Hadn’t I started it by Being Female And Having An Opinion On The Internet? How dare I. []
2016-05-14T11:33:21+10:0011th October, 2015|Tags: culture, gonzo author stories, publishing|

Post-NYCC Author Coffee Klatsch at Penguin Random House.

So hey. Are you in New York on 12 October? You wanna come meet a bunch of awesome authors, as well as yours truly? Then this is your bag, baby!

2019-04-29T12:01:53+10:001st October, 2015|Tags: appearances, gonzo author stories, liesmith, stormbringer, wyrdverse|

Also: holy crap in two weeks time I’ll be on a plane to New York. That snuck up. Where the hell did August and September go?

2017-09-05T19:33:19+10:0020th September, 2015|Tags: gonzo author stories|

Anatomy of a query rejection.

Kristin Nelson breaks down query rejections.

For amusement, some of my own query rejections for Liesmith (agency names redacted):

Thank you very much for giving us the opportunity to read your submission.  We appreciate you considering us for representation of your work.

Unfortunately, after careful review, we have decided that [Agency Name]  might not be the right agency for this project.  This industry is incredibly subjective, and there are many agencies out there with many different tastes.  It is for this reason that we strongly encourage you to keep submitting elsewhere, in the hopes of finding an agent who will be an enthusiastic champion for you and your work.

We wish you all the very best of luck and success with your writing.


[Agency Name]

Not even my own name injected into that one! But at least it was a reply, I guess…

Dear Alis:


Thank you so much for allowing our agency to consider your material. Unfortunately, after carefully reviewing your query, we’ve determined that this particular project isn’t the right fit for our agency at this time.  As I’m sure you know, the publishing industry changes swiftly now, as do readers’ tastes and trends. As a result, our own agents’ needs shift and change, as well; therefore, we would like to encourage you to consider querying us with future projects as you may deem appropriate.


Again, thank you very much for allowing us this chance to consider your material, and we wish you all the best in your publishing endeavors.



[Agent Name]

This one was more “personal”, in that it used both my name and the agent’s name, but still nothing about the work itself.

I swear I got more rejections than that–although not too many more, because a lot of agencies just sent nothing if they weren’t interested–but those are the ones I can actually find in my email. Actually, I know I got more rejections than that, because at least one of the rejections I got was from Sara Megibow. Hers was the most customized rejection of them all, in that it described specific things in the story. Mostly specific things she wanted to see changed, and an invitation to resubmit if I did. So I changed the things, she offered representation, and that’s why we are where we are today.

2018-07-27T14:20:35+10:007th September, 2015|Tags: agents, gonzo author stories, liesmith, publishing, query letters, wyrdverse|

One dull star to guide them.

So… I have a bit of a confession. It’s something no author should ever admit to, but, well. I’m going to admit to it right now. Ready? Here goes:

I read reviews of my books.

Like, all of them. Or all of them I can find. Meaning if you have written a review of something I have written, there is a 99% chance I have read it. I have really strict self-imposed rules about how I respond to reviews–which is to say, I almost never do, even if they’re glowingly positive1–but I do read them. I know I shouldn’t… but I do.

This also means I read negative reviews on my books, because… I am a horrible masochist, I guess. Something like that. Or I believe in that thing about self-improvement, and sometimes reading about why people really hated a work can help me make the next one better. Sometimes. Sometimes the bad reviews are the equivalent of “ick teh gheys”, in which case why are you even here bro expectation management it’s a thing yeah? But other times I learn something.

I learn something, and then I go and cry in a corner for a while. And then I go and read one-star reviews for books way more famous than mine in order to cheer myself up.

True story.

  1. Incidentally, if they are glowingly positive, then let me know about them! My main exception to my no-responding-to-reviews rule is positive reviews that have been specifically brought to my attention by their authors. So, yanno. Tell me when you write nice things about me! []
2019-04-29T11:38:00+10:0026th August, 2015|Tags: books, gonzo author stories|


Science fiction is our attempt not just to learn from the past, but also to gain the benefit of hindsight for the present. To step outside of this time, and even our own species, and really look.

The vehicle for that gaze isn’t the starship Enterprise, or Voyager, or the Cardassian monstrosity re-badged as Deep Space Nine. Those are just settings. The real lens is the Outsider.

Spock was an Outsider. So was Data, and even Worf. Odo, and occasionally Quark. The Emergency Medical Hologram, and Tuvok, and from time to time, also B’Elanna Torres, and Seven of Nine. T’Pol and Phlox too. And those were just the regulars. We’d also have to mention the magnificent Q.

The Outsider is science fiction’s mirror for ourselves, who looks, listens, and implicitly judges. That judgement might be disdain (Q, certainly, and often Seven of Nine), puzzlement (Data, sometimes Worf), quiet vexation (all Vulcan characters), or something else entirely.

They watch, and they notice, and thus through their eyes they allow us to notice things that have been right in front of us all along. They bring things to light, sometimes by drawing attention to them, and sometimes by not understanding why there’s anything to draw attention to.

When we saw how unremarkable it was to have a woman (and an African American woman, at that) on the bridge, with a Russian alongside, it was because the Outsider failed to see any meaningful distinction between these various humans.

When we decried the ludicrousness of racial discrimination amongst aliens whose faces were sometimes white on the left side and black on the right, and sometimes the opposite, it was really the Outsider’s bemused eyes we were seeing though. The observer, whose quintessential alienness was just a thin veneer for the rationality and perspective we strive and yearn for.

In these imagined futures, the Outsider was the yardstick for our own progress. A way to measure it, and thus truly see it.

And progress brings hope.

–Matt Gemmell on sci-fi.

What Gemmell is talking about here is the reason I fell in love with SFF as a kid… and also why I can be quite disillusioned with it as an adult. Because this outwards-looking hopefulness has been replaced by inwards-looking defensiveness; ref. pretty much every single recent big budget comic-book style film about Aliens Are Bad Let’s Kill Them With Nukes, including, it must be said, the recent Star Trek reboots.

And, sorry, but I’m not here for that.

The idea of the Outsider who loves humanity for its follies but is also not part of–and thus free to judge and comment on–humanity is also why I fell in love with urban fantasy as a teenager. I’m talking 90s UF here, of the Interview With the Vampire and Sandman era. To alliterate for a moment, there’s a lot of Lestat in Liesmith‘s Lain. Lain, who isn’t human, doesn’t want to be human, and doesn’t have to play by human rules. He relies on us for his survival–as a god, he’s a kind of vampire of humanity’s collective unconscious–and will use us to his own ends, and our emotions and our fears and our dreams are transparent to him. He sits above us in the most literal sense–his office is in a big tower–but the minutia of our lives fascinates and enthralls him.

Lain is not paternalistically protective of humanity, a la Superman, but he is a seasoned and curious observer of us. He won’t save you from yourself but, if you want, he might take you out to coffee and listen while you unload your life’s story. As the narrator in the Wyrd books, Lain is the harbinger of change rather than the agent of it. To use Gemmell’s words, he is the Observer through which we see transformation in others; Sigmund in Liesmith, Þrúðr in Stormbringer, and Bich and Roxx in BAD MEME.

I occasionally read reviews of Liesmith that describe Lain as being incredibly human for a guy who’s essentially a seven foot tall anthropomorphic dinosaur. These, more than any other other reviews, are the ones that make me feel all warm and fuzzy inside. Because… yes. Yes, that. That’s the kind of Outsider I love and have tried to create in Lain; the Monstrous Other who’s more human than human by benefit of being outside humanity itself.1

Well, I mean. Most of the time. Lain’s also kinda a jackhole whose overly fond of other people’s dramatic irony and is super racist against dwarves, of all things. But no one’s perfect, right?

  1. See also: Discworld’s Death, that most beautiful of beautiful cinnamon rolls. []
2017-09-05T13:36:19+10:0013th August, 2015|Tags: bad meme, gonzo author stories, liesmith, sff, stormbringer, wyrdverse|

The things I miss about fanfic.

The big thing I miss [about writing fanfic] is the feedback and interaction with that feedback. Yes when you write pro you get long detailed reviews, which you’re told not to read. There is amazon which you’re not supposed to reply to. It seems like Goodreads blows up at least once a month when an author responds to a review. I know to ignore the haters but there is this idea going around that you shouldn’t respond to the good reviews either.

I’ve realized it’s a matter of space and audience. Reviews are readers talking to other readers, not the author. Goodreads groups are again places for readers to talk to each other. Even if people are saying nice things about my book it feels like I’m listening in on a private conversation.

-Ada Soto on going pro.

One day I’m going to write one of those listicles about The Five Things Writing Fanfic Didn’t Prepare Me For In the Profic World. They’re all going to be things like this.

Because, yeah. This was one of the most jarring transitions I had, too. Back In The Day I was an MNF; not one of the cool kids, but “known’ enough that my fics would be in the first couple of pages of results on AO3. If I posted a new fic or chapter, I could expect comments and kudos to start coming in within the hour. People would make podfic of my stuff, write spin-offs and giftfics, do translations into other languages. All that sort of stuff. It was nice and, notably, it was immediate.

It also, I think, made me a much better–and much more prolific–writer. And the stakes were pretty low; if I tried something on, and it didn’t work… eh. It’s not like people were paying for it.

I had this perception that somehow the profic world would be… like that but moreso? Or something? So it was kind of confronting to realise that actually, no. No, it’s not like that at all. Profic writing–particularly in the midlist–is incredibly lonely. It’s long stretches of nothing punctuated by a week of panic and frenzy come release time, then a month of agonising over pretending not to read reviews. It’s this enforced wall of professional distance between yourself and your audience, no matter how much either side might year to leap that chasm.

It’s also, ironically, much more difficult to “make it” in the profic world–and yes, I’m talking about even after you’ve done the agent/publisher hurdle–than it is writing fanfic.

Quick quiz: How many book sales do you think it takes to make something like the NYT Bestseller list? 10,000? 100,000? 1,000,000?

Well, no. It’s actually closer to 3,000-6,000 sales over a single week’s period. I want you to think about that in the context of how many hits a fic from a popular fandom author can get within the same time period. You want to know why p2p and transitioning BNFs have been The Hot Shit in the professional publishing world in the past? Well, there you go. Similarly, if you want to know why some of those attempts have flunked dramatically, then there you also go; the structure of how profic is produced, marketed, sold, and received is fundamentally different that how things work in fandom. That means the same strategies don’t necessarily work across the two (and, if they do work, it’s usually not more than once, where those “onces” have already been tapped out).

This, incidentally, is also why I killed my fandom identity when I first signed with my agent. I knew I’d have to make a transition from writing-for-fun and writing-for-money, and that was how I chose to do it. Some profic authors can jump between their pro writing on the one hand and their fannish identity on the other. I knew that couldn’t be me. I’m too much of a procrastinator, and fandom was too “fun” compared to profic writing, which is for all it’s a lifelong dream, is still, yanno, work.

(There’s also the whole thing about how “reads like a fanfic” is still used to denigrate the works of, almost exclusively, female authors, including by people within fandom. I have Massive Feels on that subject, which I will reserve for another time.)

Anyway, point being, there are a lot of steep learning cliffs to jump off in the transition from fanfic writing to profic. Pretty much none of them are what people expect…

2015-08-06T08:43:50+10:006th August, 2015|Tags: fandom, fanfic, gonzo author stories, profic, writing, xp|

Why manuscripts get rejected.

My “number” for Liesmith was about twenty. Twenty… four, I think? Something like that. I have it written down somewhere, but it doesn’t seem very important now (I have much more terrifying things these days, like deadlines /shudder).

Anyway, an agent, and editor, and an author all give their top reasons why fiction manuscripts get rejected.

2018-11-26T07:58:32+11:002nd March, 2015|Tags: gonzo author stories, liesmith, publishing, writing, wyrdverse|

Your opinion doesn’t matter.

(But your reaction is yours to keep.)

Thoughtful piece on the difference between an opinion and a reaction when it comes to critiquing creative media. There’s probably some nitpicking in the semantics of the phrasing in here, I think, but the essence of the argument is… worth considering, if nothing else, in this the Age of the Internet Expert.

Smart, cool, creative people know that their opinions are not them. Their opinions are a snapshot of them, at a particular time, under a particular set of circumstances.

The “you” that matters is not your opinion. What matters is the “you” that can thoughtfully generate an independent opinion. And that you changes over time. Opinions that don’t change when presented with new circumstances are not opinions, they’re dogma.


2018-05-01T10:26:16+10:006th February, 2015|Tags: fandom, gonzo author stories, pop culture, stormbringer, wyrdverse|