Wednesday, September 5, 2012

On Writing under a Pseudonym

That 'Mazarkis Williams' is not actually my name has been on my mind a bit since Worldcon. Many people asked me - some angry, some just curious - why I write under a pseudonym. Well it wasn't my choice, but it was necessary. The story is long and weird, and even when face to face I can't tell all of it, so I hedge. My agent once said, "Let me be the bad guy." But when I am standing in front of someone I like and they really want to know, I can't say, "ask my agent." Instead I apologize and bluster.

What's worse is that letting anyone in on the secret is putting them, in turn, on the spot. They don't know who they can and cannot tell. They end up having to hedge themselves. Having been raised in the polite midwest by a British person, I am doubly hesitant to create awkward situations. It makes me feel terrible.

Overall the pseudonym has not worked for me personally. Anyone who is considering a pseudonym and a mysterious identity should know that it makes it difficult to associate with other authors, who are the people who drive up when your shoes are worn out and you are stumbling along the side of the metaphorical road. It makes it impossible to network, and to market your book outside of the internet. On top of that you must be comfortable with a certain level of deceit, which I am not.

But do I regret it? Well that would mean I regretted being published. No, the pseudonym is what I have - it's part of the deal, part of Tower & Knife itself. I can live with it for one more year, when, Jo Fletcher promises, everything will be revealed. See you then. For real.

Tuesday, September 4, 2012

Chicon Days 4 & 5

Sunday was difficult for me. I would rather have spent the day wrapped up in my hotel bed sparing the world from myself, or myself from the world - either one - than continue with the Con. I dragged myself around anyway, though I was not of much use. What a surprise when I learned at dinner that my mood was not unusual. Each of us sitting there holding pizza was relieved to hear that others experience that same brief, but intense, depression at conferences.

But let's get one with the good stuff.

I attended a reading by Rachel Swirsky. On the internet you can't tell how funny and charming she is. She rocked the room with her story and I'm glad I went. I'm sad that I did not introduce myself because of my aforementioned mental state.

Later I went to a panel on religion in SF literature. Let me say here that Teresa Frohock, in case you don't know, is really, really smart. I enjoyed all of her panels. This particular one discussed how to make religions believable in stories and a concrete part of the world you have created. We were reminded that faith is part of a practitioner's daily life, part of their psyche, and that if you don't capture that, it can be a bit thin.

I didn't attend the Hugos, choosing instead to put on my pajamas and watch the Ustream which, ouch, got shut down. "Watched" the rest of the award ceremony on twitter. Even as such a remove I felt part of something. I began to realize that the long, storied tradition of SF and Fantasy is bigger than one conference or one generation of writers. It was inspiring.

I got to look at and fondle some great books. Look out for Tainted City, Courtney Schafer's sequel to The Whitefire Crossing; E. J. Swift's Osiris; Betsy Dornbusch's Exile (forthcoming); Spin the Sky by Katy Stauber; and Bradley Beaulieu's second in The Lays of Anuskaya, The Straits of Galahesh. And then of course all the other great books by the other fantastic writers of Night Shade Books (Martha Wells, Kameron Hurley, Jeff Salyards, etc. etc. there is no end to it! BUY BOOKS!).

Tomorrow: on living under a psuedonym.

Sunday, September 2, 2012

Chicon Day 3

Saturday started out early with a panel on men writing female characters and ended late at night with Anne Lyle and a discussion about gender and sexuality. It really seems to be the theme of the con for me.

Much of what happened yesterday already seems like a blur, but here are some highlights. I got to meet Carol Berg a second time. There was a great panel on character building. I found out the red line was under construction but nevertheless got to the north side for a fantastic dinner with a friend, who just happens to teach writing.

The con has been great for studying the elements of a novel in ways that help writers think about our own process and our own assumptions. Eventually, working all of this out will bring about stronger, better work. I refer to worldbuilding, plotting, characters, the presentation of gender and sexuality, and pacing. To any writer who is trying to decide whether to attend a con, I recommend it - even if you are shy like myself,

More thoughts tomorrow.

Saturday, September 1, 2012

Chicon Day 2

Started my second day full-steam by going to three panels in a row. My advice to other newbies is to avoid doing this. You need time, after a good panel, to process, and anyway the seats are uncomfortable. Don't sit still in them for four and half hours as I did. This morning, I turned around and ran out of a panel, even though it had Carol Berg in it, for that very reason.

The first panel I attended on was gender in SF literature, and all other panels that day seemed to echo all that I had heard at 9 am (even the one I attended this morning, "Men Writing Women," addressed some of the same issues).

The thing is that you can't talk about gender without addressing the society that constructs the gender. Cultures set up the expectations, the restrictions, and the consequences for deviation. When worldbuilding it is important to take this into account. I came away from the panel with a list of authors that address gender successfully (will post it later, if I can read my own handwriting).

So when we talk about "feminine" traits and "masculine" traits we are, in some ways, talking more about our culture than we are about the character or the individual. Among sensible authors the consensus seems to be that writing successfully means writing about human beings and not necessarily their genders. This also applies to 'strong female characters': human first, gender second.

After panel fatigue came setup for the Night Shade Party, or rather, waiting around to begin the setup for the Night Shade Party (housekeeping had to come and fiddle with things before we could begin). In the end I didn't help at all - it seems most of the work fell to Bradley Beaulieu (sorry!). Had dinner with Teresa Frohock and E.J. Swift (Osiris), got dressed and returned for the bug-eating party (eat a bug, get a free book), which was a great success. I finally met Jeremy Lassen who was wearing a most impressive bright orange suit, and many others, too numerous and show-offy to list.

All in all it was a great day. Today there will be fewer panels and more drinking, I expect.