Thanks to the Ecstatic Days Guest Bloggers!!

As I’ve already noted, I have absolutely LOVED the guest blogging over the past five weeks. (Some of which may continue into tomorrow and Friday.) I’ve enjoyed the diversity of opinions and posts, and going forward it’s given me ideas for expanding the scope of the blog.

I’m a little too tired to compile all of the names, but if each guest blogger would leave a comment on this post with some info on their current work or projects and any relevant URLs, I’m sure readers of Ecstatic Days would appreciate it. And if readers want to heap praise on the guest bloggers, I’m sure they wouldn’t mind…

Flotsam and Jetsam from a Book Tour…


(Some of the flotsam brought back–things people gave me, places I went, hotels I stayed in, traffic tickets I got, and more. Not including the cookies Emily Jiang baked for me or the fig bread Caren Gussoff made. Or the freebie books all the great indie bookstores gifted me with. For a larger version of the photo, click here.)

I thought I’d be getting away from book tour stuff soon, but the fact is that when you’re away from home for 44 days, things pile up and even the things you bring back with you must be dealt with in some way. So you’re going to have to put up with some posts dealing with the detritus of a book tour, in part because this blog also serves as a kind of record or journal of my writing life.

It’s exceedingly surreal to be on the road that long, to move so quickly from place to place, to experience so many different types of environments, both natural and human-made, to experience so many different types of people. It seems to last forever and it seems to be over in a split-second, and then you’re back in the comfort of home and it appears to have been a daydream of some kind, except for all of this physical evidence of what happened, of what you did, of where you went. There are parts of it I’ll never forget as long as I’m alive, and parts of it that ghost through and tunnel into the fiction for years to come.

Anyway, I also brought back a lot of books, which I’ll address in a separate post, but for now, something I brought back in physical form–Scott Eagle’s art for Secret Life–and stained glass based on Eric Schaller’s art from the title page of my City of Saints & Madmen, which got sent to me via email while on tour…

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Look on with Awe: Bellysnatcher Approacheth

Some of Eric Orchard’s stunning art for a collaboration he and I are working on called Bellysnatcher, based on a dream I had. We’re not worrying about grade level at the moment. Just creating the darn thing. The other stuff will sort itself out. I’ll be done with the story part in about a month.

Worrying Out of Order

Will Hindmarch is a freelance writer and designer. He also blogs at The Gist and Gameplaywright.net.

[Thanks to Jeff VanderMeer for lending out his venue during the marathon Finch/Booklife tour, and thanks to all my fellow guest bloggers for thoughtful and thought-provoking reads these past few weeks.]

With ever-fewer exceptions, modern writers must also be modern marketers, presenting not only their works to their readers, but their identity as writers. Some books sell because of their stories or their characters, others sell because the story of the writer makes the rounds through the audience first and draws the reader in, because the writer‘s character wins the audience over.

Great and lousy stories alike find audiences this way, as do new and established writers. For the successful author, the arc of a career is a meta-story made up of the victories and setbacks of individual books. Was your favorite author’s second book not as good as the first one? It’s a second-act reversal! Is the new one a triumphant return to form? A hoped-for and rewarding twist in the tale!

Is it fair of us to try and devise a career tale based on such sketchy evidence? Is it what we should be doing as readers?

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Coming Home…To an Embarrassment of Riches


(Murder by Death sent me copies of the green vinyl version of their soundtrack!)

I’m just getting back into the swing of things, and probably won’t be up-and-running for another few days, following the massive thirty-event book tour that had me on the road from October 28th until December 12th. Any guest bloggers who want to keep posting through Thursday, feel free. I’ll return Thursday afternoon with comments on books I bought while on tour, among other posts.

The book tour was awesome, and I will write about it all in depth, but for now: the embarrassment of riches that awaited me upon my return. Those riches also included Finch being on holiday year’s best lists for the Washington Post, Barnes & Noble Review, the Wall Street Journal, and San Francisco Chronicle, a blurb from Lev Grossman, full-on reviews in the LA Times and Washington Post, and an upcoming Onion AV Club feature. It also included Booklife being picked up for publication by A&C Black in the UK and several other projects I’ll talk about next week.

Anyway, below the cut you’ll find rayguns and much more…

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Professional rates don’t mean you’re a professional

Guest blogger Jason Sanford often rants on his website at www.jasonsanford.com. His fiction has been published in Interzone, Year’s Best SF 14, Analog, Intergalactic Medicine Show, Pindeldyboz, and other places, and has won the 2008 Interzone Readers’ Poll and a Minnesota State Arts Board Fellowship.

I tried to stay out of the great rate fail debate, aside from posting some snarky Cliffsnotes to the whole affair. But it turns out I snarked prematurely, because after I posted a new writer naively waded into the affair, saying established writers were only trying to prevent the newbies from succeeding. After having a great stack of screaming outrage shoved down her throat, she probably staggered away thinking, “What the hell? Why are writers so touchy about short story pay?”

Here’s why: In our hearts, we know making professional rates for our short stories mean we’re still being paid nothing at all.

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Does Art as Social Justice Lead to the Artist as Unpaid Social Worker?

Yasmin Nair, guest blogging at Dakshina, examines the connection between art and social justice with a skeptical eye, suggesting that the connections are not as straightforward as naive writers often want to believe. She also looks at how the idea of writing as a social justice project feeds into the undervaluing of writing-as-labor:

The notion that the production of art is separate from the nitty-gritty of art as labor. While I would never blame artists themselves for their woes in terms of getting paid, the truth is that many of us have a hard time seeing ourselves as laborers who ought to be fairly compensated. Most of us have been trained to think our work is sacrosanct, that our work is not labor, that it is above petty commerce, and that we must make art only for nobler causes. When you add on the patina of social justice, many of us are reluctant to or unable to negotiate with those who are supposed to pay us, in part because we do care about the issues and the people affected by them. And, in part, because, frankly, too many of us have assimilated a deeply privatized notion that our art is so profound that it can and should directly effect social change – monetary value be damned. The result, as Andrew Ross puts it in a seminal essay, “The Mental Labor Problem,” is that “…the new profile of the artist as a social-service worker is coming to supplant the autonomous avant-garde innovator as a fundable type, increasingly sponsored through local arts agencies.” In the case of the Artivist Coalition events, artists were deployed as semi-mystical healers, responsible for shining a light on matters that should be the purview of social workers and politicians.

Which is, of course, interesting in terms of the pay rate flap, as another one of those excuses which comes up for the fact that writers are not compensated for their labor is that art is unlike real work and should be done for love not money. (I note that the problematic form of this argument is not “I write for love” but “I write for love, and that’s pure, but you are tainted because you write for money.” We once had someone write into podcastle that if we accepted their submission, they would refuse payment, because they didn’t believe that writers should get paid. This is certainly a decision they were entitled to make for themselves, but the indictment of all payment-seeking writers is problematic. Why should love and money be mutually exclusive reasons?) Nair goes on to say:

writing is profoundly devalued to the point where it is seen as work without labor – anyone can write, the argument goes. Just build a website, and pound away.

To be clear, I think it is always a good thing if people want to write more. The problem is that the apparent democratization of writing today comes along with a profound devaluing of its worth as labor that ought to be fairly compensated. Take, for example, the notion of the “citizen journalist.” Someone once had the bright idea that all it takes for a robust and civil society is to turn a group of citizens, armed with little more than basic web access and digital cameras and the ability to pound keys, to make society accountable for its ills. In return, they usually get little more than a free byline. So, what the term “citizen journalist” should really refer to is “unpaid schmuck who will work for free in hopes of a byline.” I also happen to be a professional journalist. I once covered an event and got some exclusive photos as well. When I returned home to file the story, I found that a local website had already “reported” on it. The citizen journalist in question had simply cut and pasted a press release from one of the organizing groups, without even acknowledging that the words were taken verbatim from the document. A reader who assumed that the reporter actually talked to people at the event was unlikely to see the inherent bias in the article. As as activist who has written a fair number of press releases, I know that they are always written ahead of time, regardless of what might actually transpire at an event, and about the careful crafting and messaging that goes into projecting events as spectacular successes. Without important information about the source of the material being divulged to the reader, the “citizen journalist” was able to pass off a cut-and-paste job as journalism. In the end, this is what brings down the quality as well as the expectations of what good journalism should be and it makes the work of journalists look like something that requires no effort and, hence, something that can be done for free or very little.

Let me be fair: I am also a blogger, and that work is entirely for free (a fact that escapes the notice of irate readers who summarily call for my “firing” by editors who are themselves making just enough to keep the sites up and running). I understand the value of producing work that might entice and create a reader base for my writing. But all of this goes on in a social and political environment where people assume that it is not only okay to underpay writers, but that writers should, if worth their salt, be willing to be exploited…

The situation is hardly helped by the fact that artists like me are expected to function without the basics like health care and that, as a freelance writer, I cannot seek unemployment. I have sprained the same knee twice in two years, leading to a drastic reduction in my earnings. Intrepid journalism is hard or impossible if you have to ask a fast-trotting subject at a political rally to please slow down so that you can keep up with them. I live with the knowledge that a slightly more serious accident could wipe me out. I do various gigs around town to make what I can and I try to carve out chunks of that most precious commodity, the drug of choice for writers: Time…

Most people unacquainted with the reality of a writing life cannot grasp the fact that while writing is not taxing in the same way as hard physical labor, it is draining, and not something you do on the fly… For writers, our work is not our reward; the amount paid for our work is the just reward.

I’ve cut a great deal of the connective tissue to try to highlight some of the article’s main points, particularly as they relate to artists who may or may not also think of themselves as activists. (I do consider myself to have an activistic purpose with some of my work, but obviously not all SFF writers do or should — it’s good for the field to have writers with varying motivations.) Her article also approaches the topic from the point of view of artists who are trying to make a living from their work, which again is a connection between her and me, though obviously not all artists are seeking to make a living off of writing and I do not mean to imply that all artists should be.

But ultimately, whether or not it’s also a hobby, writing is also work. It deserves respect as labor. Nair’s analysis of writing-as-exploited-labor is thought-provoking. It does concentrate on certain manifestations of writing, but that’s because she’s writing out of her own experiences, and the article is more interesting for that.

Go to Dakshina to read Nair’s whole article.

The Reading in the Closet

Will Hindmarch is a freelance writer and designer. He also blogs at his home site, The Gist, and his game/story operation, Gameplaywright.net.

What’s happening here? This is Jeff VanderMeer perched and balanced above his audience during his reading in Manuel’s Tavern’s storage closet in Atlanta on Friday. Why have a reading in a bar? In the closet? Because at least it’s quiet.

manuels10

Thanks to all who came out to the reading in Manuel’s on Friday. Thanks for following us into an unlikely venue and being great sports about it. One day we shall tell the others that you were there that day, for the readings on the closet ladder, atop the televisions, in the back room of an ATL bar. The others won’t understand, but that night wasn’t meant to be understood. It was meant for stories. So: Cheers.

Update: Here’s are nine more images from the night, on Flickr.

Got pictures from the event? Share them in the comments!

Review of Alaya Dawn Johnson’s Racing the Dark (Agate Bolden, 2007)

Alaya Dawn Johnson’s debut novel, Racing the Dark, was released in 2007 by Agate Bolden. The epic fantasy is the first in the Spirit Binders series.

Racing the Dark begins when thirteen-year-old Lana is initiated as a diver who seeks and finds Mandagah jewels, a profession that provides her island’s main commercial export and is also religiously significant. The jewels Lana finds during her initiation mark her as chosen by the spirits, but Lana hides this fact so she can attempt to have a normal life.

The island archipelago where Lana lives is in turmoil — her home island is suffering from environmental changes that seem to be caused by the great spirits (including water, fire, wind and death) which are struggling against their bindings. When the Mandagah fish become endangered, Lana’s family flees their home, looking for work on the inner islands. Lana becomes ill from hard labor and poor diet, forcing her mother to promise her as an apprentice to a witch in order to get money to pay for a cure.

The novel follows Lana through the major periods of her life, as she learns magic from the witch, takes on the spirit of death, meets the spirit of wind, and falls in love with the spirit of water. We leave her abruptly in the middle of the climax, paving the way for the sequel.

As I contemplated what to say about this novel, I came across a review by Niall Harrison of Alaya Dawn Johnson’s short story, “Far & Deep,” which appeared this year in Interzone.

“This is how you trail a novel,” writes Harrison. “‘Far & Deep’ shares a setting with, but is not extracted from (or is sufficiently well-adapted to stand apart from), Johnson’s Spirit Binders novels.”

He goes on to say:

“Far & Deep” is not as firmly controlled as I wanted it to be; the stabs of emotion that punctuate the predominantly cool narrative tilt, a little too often, a little too close to melodrama for my taste. I don’t think the revelation of the world and the mystery are quite geared correctly; we don’t always learn about the possibility of a thing and the significance of a thing in the smoothest progression…

All this is to carp, however. They are little criticisms. The busyness of the story — the many details of setting, the deft character portraits, a sense of events with forward momentum — the basic shape of it all — carries you over such details, on a first reading, and leaves you looking forward to Johnson’s next tale.

While I don’t feel that the momentum of Racing the Dark carries the reader over its flaws on first reading, the rest of Harrison’s review is spot on for my impressions of the novel. Racing the Dark is a flawed text, but a rich one, full of minor faults and major successes.
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Mega Thanks to the Guest Bloggers (who can continue)

Just back from the book tour. Tired as heck. Going to hunker down and do nothing through Wednesday. I have LOVED the guest blogging here and would just like to say to all of the guest bloggers, thanks, and please feel free to continue through Wednesday if you have anything left to say. I really have had a great time reading all of the posts.

I will return Thursday.

Jeff