Kicking off another year, looking back on 2016 in my writing life–and what I might hope for in 2017.
Last time this year, I wrote about my trials, successes and hopes for my life as a SFF writer in 2016. How did those go? With the usual mix of successes, failures and lots of WIP. C’mon, let’s take a look.
Write More: Once again, I pledged last year to just write more. I’m guessing this is what every writer pledges every year. Who says, “write less?” How’d that work out? Eh, a mixed bag. For the first half of 2016 not so much. Spring 2016 I had both a full-time fellowship and a dissertation on my plate. Was also on the academic job market–a full-time gig of its own. All of that took up not only my time but any mental creative energy I had stored away. Kind of shoved SFF writing to the edge and then tumbling over into the abyss. The good news, completed and defended the dissertation, finished the fellowship and landed a job (I survived the PhD!) by mid May. And just like that, I had time to write!
I fell back into it easier than I’d thought–mostly because I was rushing to meet anthology deadlines. From May through July, I got a few stories started, finished some, and jotted down notes for others. Of course, it couldn’t last. Got the job remember? By the Fall, I had moved to a new city, learned a new commute and was trying to settle in as a junior scholar. SFF writing got put mostly on hold–again. BUT, at least once a week I tried to get into the mood by looking over old stories, thinking up new ideas. I just didn’t do any substantial writing. (There was also that utter dismal pit of doom called the U.S. presidential election which sucked up much of my mental energy and most of the goodwill for humanity left in my soul.) Good news–by Winter Break I’d found my mojo again. Once the last finals were graded, I dove back into writing. And I’ve managed to get a bit done, though not nearly as much as I’d hoped. The greatest trick I’ll (still) have to figure out going forward is how to carve out physical and mental space to write.
Finish.The.Damn.Story: So I said before, there are folders, endless folders, on my computer (now Dropbox) with unfinished stories. I’d planned to return to them in 2015. That didn’t happen much. So in 2016? Some success–kinda. I didn’t finish any of my unfinished tales. BUT, I did write whole new stories based on some created worlds. One of them even got published! More on that below.
Novel Writing: As I said last go round, before 2010 I was a novel-writer. Either that or novellas. Couldn’t keep a story down to less than 7500 words for nothing. Since then, though, I’ve developed the skill–if not perfected it. The good news is that I’ve gotten a few of those stories published. Bad news: my novel writing game has diminished to nothingness. In 2015 I pledged to get back to novel writing. I didn’t. In 2016, I double-pledged to get back to novel writing. Well, turns out I had to settle for novel editing. One of the things I did this past summer once I had time was return to a YA fantasy novel I’d written back in 2010. It was a complete re-read and rewrite. Best part, once it was done I managed to secure some beta-readers. They finished and got notes to me in October. In late December, I FINALLY got around to reading them. Now I’m brainstorming on my next move before entering the Thunderdome of querying. I’m also stuck between which of two other novels to begin. Wish I was a bit ahead. But at least I’m back in the game.
Read More: Reading is essential for me to create. It just helps the imagination. So I pledged in 2015 to start reading again, and I read A LOT. This year, I read a little less. But I read nevertheless. This included short stories in online SFF magazines as well as novels by N.K Jemisin, Sofia Samatar, Max Gladstone, Fran Wilde, Naomi Novik, V.E Schwab, Steven Erikson, Brian Stavely and Edward W. Robertson–to name a few. And got more on the list. New stories and books are something I’ll never run low on. About the one place I just haven’t gotten better at is comic books. I was once a comic book reading machine. I collected every X-title, lots of Marvel, even Image and some indie stuff. Still got the original Infinity Gauntlet series under plastic with backboards. Then I fell right the hell off and have struggled to get back on. And nothing, not the much praised Saga or Ta-Nehisi Coates writing Black Panther, been able to get me back on. I just start, then drift. Might have to just charge this one to the game. But in 2017, I’ll try to rekindle my comics love. Again.
Submit: My 2016 submitting numbers weren’t stellar. I didn’t submit much until late the summer and by the end of the year got in about six stories. That’s really nothing. The good news: three of those were sold. One was published in December in People of Colo(u)r Destroy Fantasy, and the others should come out in 2017. Another of the six was offered a rewrite, so we’ll see where that goes. And at least one other I have plans to resubmit, as it came close to being published first time around. In 2017, I hope to submit more stories–provided I can create them fast enough.
Re-submit: Re-submitting remains my kryptonite. Or at least I don’t do it well. Hard enough to find markets that fit my stories length. If I jump over that magic 7500 words (my sweet spot is usually about 9,000) my markets become severely limited. Self-rejection, of course, also plays its nefarious role. Nevertheless, I’m specifically waiting to re-submit at least two stories this 2017. I also have a 15,000 story (the one that got me back into writing) I’d love to see re-published somewhere that takes reprints. So working on all this.
Get Published: Let me keep it gully, one hun’d and all things of that nature. I write to get published. Sure, I also write for the art, the joy of it, the self-expression and really lofty goals. But getting published is key. Because getting published means my stories will be read. And at heart, I’m a storyteller. I get excited when I think of my stories being read by other people–how they react, what draws them in, what keeps them reading. So whenever I manage to get published I consider myself fortunate. And I celebrate my wins. In 2016 publishing was good to me–if not in quantity, then in quality.
The first story I saw published this year has been the biggest sale of my writing career. In May, just one day before I did my doctoral hooding ceremony, Tor.com published my steampunk novelette A Dead Djinn in Cairo. It turned out to be a small hit. I don’t think any other story of mine has gotten this much publicizing and reached so many people. I even got a bit of fan art! The story has since gone on to make some lists, including Tor.com’s Best of 2016.
My second publication of 2016 was in the Myriad Lands Anthology for Guardbridge Books. The story was Redemption for Adanna, a sequel of sorts to my 2011 short fantasy story Shattering the Spear. The story was actually my first set in this world, but I had never been able to get it published. There’s more to come, as the character plays a decisive role in that YA novel I’m working on.
My third publication was The Mouser of Peter the Great, which was published in the Hidden Youth anthology from Crossed Genres–the follow up to the Locus-awarded nominated Long Hidden. This story I really enjoyed writing, in part because it allowed me to pull on the lesser explored history of Abram Gannibal and bone up on my Slavic folklore!
Unlike the previous three publications, my fourth published story was actually written in 2016 during the summer. The Things My Mother Left Me was published in the Lightspeed-Fantasy Magazine special issue People of Colo(u)r Destroy Fantasy. This story held its own special place for me, because it was the end result of a world I’d built years back–but never been able to construct a sale-able story in. There’s even a bit of art I commissioned for this world that was part of a Schomburg exhibit. Blogged about it all here.
So that’s four stories published in a year I didn’t get much writing done–and three of them in SFWA Qualifying markets. I consider that woot worthy. So, WOOT! If any of you are looking for stories to nominate for award-y things, keep them in mind.
Writing Boldly: You’d think, given all that’s happened in 2016, this would’ve been easy–to get back to writing bold speculative fiction or what writer and activist Walidah Imarisha called “visionary fiction.” This includes the use of “science fiction, horror, and fantasy genres to envision alternatives to unjust and oppressive systems.” I did a bit of this in 2015, though none of my ventures managed to get published. I just never got around to doing it in 2016. Although, I did get the spark of the idea for the creation of a vehicle dedicated to doing just that–a black SFF spot called FIYAH. I bloggy-thinged about it in a previous post earlier this week. I figure that has to count for something! But there’s no doubt that 2017 is going to have to be bolder. The American electorate has decided to elect a bigot and has empowered a new rise in white supremacy and authoritarian fascism. If we’re going to survive this, if we’re going to RESIST, writing will be key. And brilliant, daring SFF will be essential. As it always has been. So in 2017 and going forward, my writing is going to try and reflect that however it can. I will be creating stories with heroes and heroines of color, of marginalized persons going up against Dark Lords and long odds–and showing them WINNING! Because we’re all going to need that encouragement.
Get More Involved in Mainstream Genre: In 2015 I promised to become more involved in genre altogether, to see what I might be missing out on. Because so much of this literary world is about creating relationships and just being aware of what goes on in these spaces. Now, there’s a lot of drama that also takes place in those spaces–which is weird to me cuz watching nerds beef will always be weird to me. Always. I mostly stay out of the dust ups but I pay attention and take notes. But in in 2016 I tried to get more involved. I again attended Readercon, which was an overall positive experience–if also filled with some wince-worthy moments. Met amazing people like Mikki Kendall and John Wisell. Sat on panels with big names like Tim Powers and Catherynne M. Valente (!!!) Reunited with my old writer’s group BSFW which was cool as hell. Also made some connections overall in the SFF world, especially through social media. Perhaps the biggest experience I had was sitting on a panel in October at Medgar Evers College called Imagination Unlimited: Fantasy Fiction and Black Literature with (wait for it) author N.K. Jemisin. It was just as amazing as it sounds. For 2017 I’ve decided my first “get more involved” act will be to finally apply for membership in SFWA. It’s time. I might also try to attend more cons, like that Wiscon I’m always hearing about…if such a thing actually exists.
Market Myself: This is one thing I’m not great at doing. And yet I’ve heard on more than one occasion that it’s pretty much needed in this biz. Thing is, I find the whole act strange. I can’t even send out my stories more than once or twice without feeling like I’m spamming. I’m much better at retweeting others who tweet it first. Still, I made some steps this year in this direction. Mind you, none of it involved me taking the initiative. In March I sat in on the London-based Kugali Podcast where we chopped it up about everything from Harry Potter to Gods of Egypt. Fun times. The British-based intellectual fantasist spot The Thinker’s Garden interviewed me in September. I participated in a few others (including something forthcoming from Media Diversified also based in London) that will be making their way to publication. Kicking off 2017, on January 10th, I’ll be on a panel and reading at The New York Review of Science Fiction. Bigly! Lastly, I finally bought the blog domain name pdjeliclark.com for this spot. Sometime soon, I’ll perhaps revamp the whole thing to something more modern. And even–wait for it–take a writer’s photo! 2017 goals.
Blog More: Hey. A brotha tried ya’ll. I don’t know if I’ll ever return to the days of lengthy historical treatises on here. But I’ll attempt to sound off every now and again. I put a few pieces up, including my Submitting (SFF) While Black which made a surprising ripple throughout the literary geeksphere. So for 2017, I’ll see what I can do.
All in all, not a bad year. I know, I know–that’s a heckuva thing to say about the general blasphemy that was 2016. But it is what it is. Hope I can top it next time around the sun.