Some Frequently Asked Questions about Patreon and Me

After I posted about signing up for Patreon, I got a few questions which other people may have too, so let me answer them here.

How often do you intend to post?

Over the past couple of years, I’ve written about two stories a year. I’d like to write more, and I think this will encourage me to do so, but I’m a slow writer with a day job. I definitely won’t post more than once a month. (If you’re worried, though, Patreon allows you to set a maximum amount you want to spend per month, for ease of budgeting, and please feel free to do so. I know how that goes.)

Are you posting the stories on your blog?

Yeah, I’m continuing to post the stories for everyone to read here. Right now nobody has heard of me or read my writing, and that’s what I’m hoping you’ll help me change. So to some extent, yeah, you’re supporting me doing something I would have done anyway.

What do I get if I support you then?

Partly faster posts. It’s a lot easier for me to convince myself not to screw around submitting to token markets if I know people care about and read my stories. Also I’m posting outtakes, “demos,” little bits and pieces of really raw behind-the-scenes stuff for backers only here on Patreon—for example, the beginning of an (unfinished) sequel to my “Hitchhiker” story.  (I don’t want to seem to slag on token markets here; a lot of them are run by friends, or people who could be.  I just don’t think that it’s worth submitting to all of them, all the time.)

Will you mail your stories to my house like Cat Valente did?

Maybe! When I started doing this, I wanted to be really careful not to make promises I couldn’t keep no matter what happened. As it goes along and we all get more comfortable with this, I’m open to new ideas. Would you like me to mail my stories to your house? Let me know!

Living by Grace, or, Will You Support Me on Patreon?

Edit: TL;DR I’ve signed up for Patreon.

As you know, I write stories. Sometimes they’re science fiction or fantasy, depending on how you squint and turn your head. Sometimes they’re just little bits of life, mine or someone else’s. Sometimes they’re weird and misshapen. Here are a couple:

I submit these stories to magazines (a loose term in the age of e-publishing). Mostly they send them back with polite little form notes.  They regret that they are unable to respond to each submission personally, but they are unable to publish my story.

And that’s fine. They don’t owe me an audience.

Every once in a while I get a personal note back saying that the story was strong but not the kind of thing they publish, or that it made them think but didn’t quite work for them, and I cherish those notes.  (They’re even from magazines you’ve heard of, statistically speaking.  So I can’t be that nuts, right?)

Once I’ve sent a story to all the eligible markets—or at least the markets I would respect in the morning—I usually post it here on the blog. For short stuff (flash-length pieces) or weird stuff (black humor), that’s easy to justify to myself, but I find it hard to post longer pieces.

There’s always another token-paying magazine which might publish them. Although… if a magazine is paying me $5 for a story, how many readers does it really have? Is it worth the heartache to get my work in front of those few strangers?

There has got to be a better way for people to meet my work, and for me to meet them, than this endless low-stakes spaghetti-throwing competition.

While she was doing it, I subscribed to Catherynne Valente’s Omikuji stories.  The deal was, you paid once a year, and then every month or thereabouts she would mail an original never-before-published story to you. Real paper, wax seal, with a little note about life and work and the weather in Maine, signed by her.

Everything but the signature was laser-printed, of course—by the time I subscribed, there were enough of us that hand-writing would have about killed her—but even so there was a personal touch about it, and I came to look forward to when the cream-colored envelope with the red border would arrive in the mail.

The stories were usually short, suitable for reading over breakfast. Theoretically each mailing she would choose someone to receive something extra-special, though I never did, and for me neither that nor the exclusivity of the stories was the point. Just that steady contact did more to make me a part of her community than a dozen series could have.

I am not as prodigious a writer as Catherynne Valente, nor am I trying to support myself on my fiction as she does, so I can’t promise stories as often or as regularly, and I don’t want to ask you to pay up-front.  Still, I’d like Patreon to be something similar—a little community of us.

I’m still learning how to do this fiction-writing thing. I’ve only been working at it seriously for a couple years, far fewer than I’ve worked at any of the other things that I think I do well. I don’t fit neatly into boxes—my own or anyone else’s. I don’t know how to be approachable yet, how to win the reluctant reader’s trust. I know my reach exceeds my grasp.

Still I can’t shake the conviction that my stories have value. Sometimes they’re the stories I want or need to read.  Sometimes they’re the stories I’m too scared to read.  I say in them the things I know no other way to say.

Amanda Palmer has a TED Talk on “The Art of Asking”, and I think the idea she espouses is profound, if not always simple to act on. She doesn’t use these words, but I will: as an artist, I exist by the grace of the people who support me—by your free gifts. You don’t owe me an audience. You don’t owe me that support. But if you’re willing, I’ll accept it.

Will you support me?

Science Fiction Gives Us the Tools to Live in the Future, and We’re Not Using Them

The Bouletcorp: Exobiology my love

The Bouletcorp: “Exobiology my love”

I feel like this a lot about science fiction. Like we’re living in the future, today, right here, but we’ve installed screens in our spaceships on which to watch the futures of the past on rerun. I like the reruns sometimes, don’t get me wrong, and rewatching them sometimes shows me that they are more incisive about the present than my memory of them would have it, but they’re still not the view out the window.

Here’s Charlie Stross lamenting that the present has stolen his plot again, as though as soon as it became reality, it was no longer interesting or valuable to write about.

I know that speculative fiction is definitionally premised on speculation, the counterfactual. I feel like that’s not the only thing it does, though — it also gives us tools to help us understand and cope with change in the world, the change we’re experiencing right now, and we’re not using them, and I don’t know why. Maybe we’re too overwhelmed by it already.

I really liked William Gibson’s Pattern Recognition, and the rest of that trilogy, for how it used — I’m going to call it a science fictional worldview, although I can’t write down a good definition of what that means — to explore the very recent past, and to help to set it in some kind of perspective.

A science fictional worldview is, it’s — materialistic, in the philosophical sense of that term; rational; it enjoys and approves of technology but understands and acknowledges technology’s limitations even when it asks if they’re necessary; and it just as much understands and identifies with humanity even when it asks if humanity could be otherwise. Maybe there are other things that I’m missing.

I feel like this, the complete package, is missing from our discussion of the present right now, and it’s a lack I feel keenly. Obviously it’s something I try to do in my own writing, but… I can’t do it alone, you know? I’m not even sure if the gap is really there or if I’m just imagining it, half of the time.

Plot and Meaningful Choice

I don’t talk much about how I’m submitting stories to magazines here, because I don’t find it very interesting as a reader.  I got a personal rejection letter this week which has rearranged how I am looking at the conventional arc plot, and plot in general, though, so I want to leave it here for further reflection.

The letter said, in part:

[The story] devoted much more time to explaining the worldbuilding than to constructing a conflict in which the characters had to make choices.

I had been thinking of plot in a sort of good-versus-evil, Hero’s Journey kind of context, which I don’t like, and feeling very bound by the idea that the character needs to change in some way.  Saying that “the character needs to change” phrases it in the character’s passive voice, though — the author changes the character by manipulating them like a puppet through the action of the narrative, which as a reader I always find very flat.

Saying “the character needs to make choices” phrases it actively for the character, and makes it the author’s job to use the narrative to construct an environment in which the character needs to make choices, which I like.  I think I know how to do that.

So that idea has reduced my anxiety about plotting, maybe enough that I know how one or two of these stories go.

It also idea lined up nicely with this bit, from Rules of Play (p. 33), a book of academic game design theory, which chapter I had just read a couple days before:

Playing a game means making choices and taking actions.  All of this activity occurs within a game-system designed to support meaningful kinds of choice-making.

That is an interesting symmetry, which I had not noticed before.

At first I thought John Brunner’s The Squares of the City might be an example of that symmetry breaking down — or at least I didn’t care much for the book, whose action is based on a famous chess game, and which I found to be much more a narrative where the characters were acted-upon.  But the Internet reminded me that Brunner’s main character explicitly represents a piece on the board, and it’s not the pieces whose choices are meaningful but the players’.  So my reaction supports the thesis after all.

Anyhow, I don’t know what it means.  But it will bear thinking on.

Three Things I Learned After Viable Paradise

'after the rain i' by suttonhoo on Flickr (CC 2.0 by-nc-sa)

A short, informal note to the graduates of Viable Paradise 17.

It’s been a month since you stepped off the ferry from the island.  (Or off the plane.  Or out of the car, if you live on Martha’s Vineyard.  It can happen.)  You crossed the threshold of your home or your apartment, and you weren’t the same person who had crossed the other way a week and change before.  Now you crossed it a fresh-faced and eager graduate of Viable Paradise — the seventeenth Viable Paradise, to be specific — inheritors of a long tradition, ready to go out and write and publish and change the world.

A month on, I bet that has faded some.  The demands of your job, your partner(s), the kids, the pets, laundry and bills and video games…  A lot of the leaf-litter out of which lives are made is still there.  And that leaf-litter makes good and necessary soil, so don’t mind it too much.  It feeds lives and stabilizes them, and when the rains come it stops them from washing everything away.

In the same way that in book series we look for our characters to learn and grow between volumes as well as during them, so the learning of Viable Paradise doesn’t end at the Oath.  Here are three things I learned after Viable Paradise:

  1. The Oath says, “I will submit to paying markets only.”  But how do you find paying markets?  It turns out that SFWA maintains a list of paying markets which it considers “pro” markets in its membership requirements.  This is especially useful for short fiction, as almost all of the markets listed accept unsolicited submissions and have a link to their guidelines.  This doesn’t cover semipro markets, but Asimov’s can’t ever accept your Thursday story if you don’t submit it, and you may as well start at the top.  Following the SFWA list, you can keep your story productively tied up for months.
  2. If and when you run out of pro markets, there are a few sites that can help you find semipro markets.  Ralan is one.  The Grinder is another, and the one I use.  Both are free and donation-supported.  The Grinder is also a story-submission tracker.  It can be an unfortunately attractive avenue for cat-waxing, and it can feel a bit like playing Progress Quest to watch my little purple dot advance through the forest of red rejections (it provides graphs of the past 12 months of recorded submissions to each market), but I find it a useful tool.  (Okay, let’s be honest: it’s exactly like playing Progress Quest, if Progress Quest had random character death.)
  3. I’d strongly encourage you to join the Codex Writers’ Group, which you’re all eligible for now that you’ve graduated from VP.  It’s an incredible community of writers sharing critiques, experiences with markets, acceptances, rejections, laughter, and tears.  The way I actually find semipro markets to submit to is by watching where other people on Codex are submitting.  Even if you just lurk, there’s so much knowledge in the discussions available just to read, I’ve found it extremely valuable. It will also show you that even big-name, Hugo- and Nebula-nominated writers get rejected out of the slush pile.

And that’s the secret fourth thing I learned after Viable Paradise.  I still write stories one word at a time.  Many doors are closed yet, and maybe they’ll open later once I’ve learned more, or maybe that means they’re not the right doors, and I need to go find the right doors first.  The embarrassment of opportunities my life has provided me means I’m writing standalone prose fiction more slowly than I would like, which is not the same thing as not writing at all.

And so I put my head down and do the work, trying to nurture and grow the seeds that were planted on the island.

Toes in the soil, hands reaching upwards towards the sky.

While of course I hope for wild and quick success for all of you, Viable Paradise 17 grads, in the event that that doesn’t happen, I still hope that, whatever else is the case, a year from now you can say that too.

Toes in the soil, hands reaching upwards towards the sky.

The post image is ‘after the rain i’ by suttonhoo on Flickr, used under the terms of its Creative Commons 2.0 Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike license.  The photo has a short accompanying microstory — go check it out!