I’m writing after a bit of a silence to say, thank you.
On October 2, 2012, I walked to my friendly neighborhood book store and saw a copy of Three Parts Dead on the shelves for the first time.
Then I took a long walk on a bright autumn morning down the bike path under leaves just starting to change. Friends texted congratulations, and screenshots of the book on their phones and e-readers. I checked Amazon, which I’d never do these days, and saw a ranking number higher than the number had been the day before! This seemed exciting, though I had no idea what the respective numbers meant. (I still don’t.) Anyway: breathe that autumn air, smell the world die and rise again, it’s your first day as a newbie novelist.
Then I circled back around home, took the trusty AlphaSmart into my living room, and started writing Full Fathom Five.
It’s been a hell of a ride.
Four years, five novels, two games, a few short stories, three seasons of serials, a handful of award nods, and an awful lot of conventions later, I’m writing on a different keyboard, with different music on the stereo, but the action stays the same. I’ve made new friends, and kept most of the old, and every day I wake up, make coffee, walk my wife to the train, and find some place to sit where I can dive into the work.
Ever since I was a kid, I’ve loved telling stories. Writing calms and focuses me. I like watching a pen make marks on paper. I’m one of those weirdos who enjoys the action of typing. (Don’t ask me for my opinions on keyboards. Neither of us have enough time.) When I’m at my desk (or, let’s be honest with ourselves, at a table in a local coffee shop—sorry, True Grounds!), the dust bunnies in the corners of my dining room and the grocery shopping I should have done before and all the half a dozen business things I haven’t done yet all fall away, and the goal gets simple. When I surprise myself—or when I bait a hook I know someone will bite—there’s this neon glee.
And readers have been with me all along.
That remains the most gratifying part: people read my weird stories about wizard lawyers and vampire dads and folk tale trolls, and love them, and pass them on. For all I like writing for its own sake, I don’t think stories take place in some sort of sacred space independent of audience, and even if they did, publishing those stories places them in a context, whatever we will. To publish—the verb we still use, even when we’re talking only about moving bits around—is “to make public.” As far back as you go, stories are written for folk to pass around and discuss, from little hand-printed illustrated zines like the ones that eventually became The Tale of Genji to the traveling storytellers who read chapters from Journey to the West to kids in villages they passed. We tell stories and hear them to make sense, to take strength, to be drawn to laugh or cry or love or think, in a world built to numb.
Sometimes this feels vital. Sometimes it feels like fighting in a long, slow war on many fronts, in which an engagement may take decades, a battle centuries, and none of us will last to see whether we, as a species, win or fail. Sometimes, happier times, it feels like a useless activity, in the best, most Zhuangzi-esque form of uselessness: the sort that denies others the power to use us. You probably remember the story about Zhuangzi and the envoys from Chu? King of Chu sends two envoys to recruit Zhuangzi as his minister. They find Zhuangzi down in a holler out back of a shaggy shack, in his PJs, fishing. “Zhuangzi,” they say, “come to the palace of the King of Chu, and be prime minister!”
Zhuangzi says, “Well, boys, I hear in the king’s palace there’s an ancient sacred turtle, dead these last few thousand years, and every day the king prays to it, and lights incense, oh sacred turtle, thank you for your gifts, and so on. Now, if you asked that turtle, do you think it would rather be dead in the palace, or here, alive, dragging its tail through the mud?”
“Alive,” the envoys say, “dragging its tail through the mud.”
And Zhuangzi says. “Me too!”
So, thanks for playing in the mud.
There’s more to come! I’m writing a space opera with strong Journey to the West overtones; over on Twitter I’ve been talking a lot about the current project, a Pathfinder novel with a sort of Nick and Nora sensibility if Nora were from a Dorothy Dunnett novel and Nick were a woman and a cop in Mechitar, city of undead. (The Pathfinder folks seem to think I would be a good hand at writing undead things. I wonder why?) The Highway Kind heads back to Tor sometime in the next couple weeks, and boy am I excited to share that one with you.
But for now, I just wanted to say: thanks.