About twitter

I feel like I’ve spent more than I can afford on negotiating my relationship with social media. Twitter has become a burden, even though I rarely post there. It feels like carrying around library books I’ve borrowed but have no real intention of reading, just because having them makes me feel virtuous.

On the other hand, a small-footprint writer like myself has to maintain as much online presence as possible, and Twitter links to my blog. Plus, I can’t be arsed to take the Twitter widget off my website.

So I’m not leaving Twitter as such. I’m just unfollowing everybody. Even if I love you to bits. It’s my way of dealing.

I’ll try this for a while and see how it feels. I am on Facebook for my friends and family. I don’t want to use FB as a professional space–I may cut that down, too. I can be reached by e-mail via my website. My writing is out there. That’s about as interactive as I need to be.

A few words about Rochita Loenen-Ruiz

This is going to be a brief statement to clear up one or two points.

I am aware that people have read my previous post as implying that Rochita Loenen-Ruiz gave me the identity of Requires Hate, and it seems that as a consequence Rochita has been blamed by her community for outing another writer. Rochita has done nothing of the kind. At no time did Rochita Loenen-Ruiz reveal to me the identity of Requires Hate. I am capable of drawing my own conclusions from available information, and I had more information at my disposal than the average person.

If my previous blog post in any way implied that Rochita had come to me with the intent of revealing secrets or outing anyone, then I apologize unreservedly to her because it was never my intention to suggest that. I’m really, really sorry for my part in any misunderstanding.

At the time I wrote that post, I had reason to believe that misinformation about me was circulating, but because I didn’t know exactly where or how it had circulated my only option seemed to be to make a blanket statement on my own behalf.

At the same time, I was also very concerned about the people around me who were at risk, particularly my friend Rochita. I have tried to do what little I could to protect the people close to me who I felt were most vulnerable. Rochita is one of those people and it is the height of irony and a matter of deep sorrow to me that she has become the target of backlash based on my actions.

Perhaps it was a clumsy post. It was the best I could do.

I will not be discussing the matter on twitter or in any public forum. My e-mail is available on my website if anyone has reason to speak with me personally.

Toxicity and me

If a person comes to you and tells you that I have a problem with them and that I am spreading vicious rumours about them, please do me the courtesy of notifying me before you assume that I am the spreader of vicious rumours.

You might also ask yourself what possible interest I would have in injuring a vulnerable young writer. Especially when I have recommended that writer. Especially when that writer and I have barely ever interacted—and then, only momentarily and with courtesy on twitter. At least, this is the case according to them and the name that they use. I have certainly interacted with this person under another alias.

If a person tells you that my work is this or is that you might ask how it is they know this when they haven’t had the opportunity to read it yet—according to the story they tell about their own identity, at any rate.

If a person is making friendly overtures to you and if they are lovely and sweet and very, very talented, you would be right to react with disbelief if someone suggests they are anything other than who they appear to be. This is because most of us—myself included—are accustomed to dealing with basically honest people. And most of us want to make our community a more inclusive, welcoming environment so we will bend over backwards to do so.

A person may be completely disinterested in social justice; they may indeed be using that platform simply to advance their own ego—there’s no crime in this. But they may also be using a platform to cause trouble and harm. They may be lovely to your face but not so lovely behind your back.

Be careful, guys.

I believe that a person’s work should be judged apart from their character—I can’t always do this myself, but I believe in the principle that everyone deserves a fair reading. If a person is a good writer, they are a good writer. End of. I don’t have an issue with anyone’s writing or with their right to be published or recognised or their ideas and their work hailed.

I don’t have an issue with a person having a history in which they wrote politically-charged diatribes of whatever stripe. But if that person then decides to enter the professional arena then I expect them to behave professionally and play by the rules that the rest of us play by.

It is ironic that the person who now says I’m spreading vicious rumours about them is actually a person I’d recommended to multiple anthology editors on the basis of their ability and the originality of their viewpoint. When that same person used their connections to bully and ostracize a close friend of mine, and when that person’s associate behaved in a transparently racist way towards my friend, I informed my publisher of the identities of the people involved (both of them new professional writers) in strict confidence. I also informed one of the editors to whom I’d recommended them—I haven’t had a chance to speak to the other yet, but as I don’t think he’s commissioning right now it’s less of an issue. I did this because I do not want to be seen to condone these young writers’ behaviour in any way—I recommended them, after all, and they turned out to be a poor choice of recommendation. And I want to put my colleagues on their guard that one of them may in fact be utterly two-faced and that the other has behaved in a racist, bullying manner. I do not take this sort of thing lightly.

If this is me spreading vicious rumours, then I’m guilty.

I welcome criticism of my work—as a published writer I consider it a privilege to receive even the most violent criticism because this goes with the privilege of being published. I don’t enjoy it, but I can take it.

I welcome and encourage and support a more socially open and respectful environment that is inclusive across many vectors, and one of the reasons I have kept quiet about this is because the last thing anybody needs is another shitstorm where a lot of people get hurt unnecessarily. But I will not stand by and do nothing when an individual and at least one of their supporters attacks people (like my friend) who are genuinely working hard and making sacrifices to bring diversity and mutual understanding to our field. And I will not stand by and do nothing when my own reputation is attacked. It is my understanding that this is what is now happening.

It breaks my heart that this post is necessary, but I believe that the movement toward equality in our field—and indeed in the world—is robust enough that the efforts of one individual to cause harm and to divide will not bring us down.

I don’t like secrets. I have not stated this person’s name publicly only because it was given to me in confidence by my friend who is vulnerable. If she chooses not to release the name, it is not my place to do so.

I apologise to my friend who has been targeted for abuse for bringing this out in the open when they would prefer it kept quiet.

I apologise to the people who have been hurt by this person’s other identity for allowing the deception to go on for so long.

You see the position I am in? Whether I speak or don’t speak, someone will get hurt.

There are plenty of people who know what’s going on and choose to allow it. That is up to them.

re: the hostility of UK SF toward women writers

Something said to me in passing recently makes me want to clarify one point regarding my relationship with British SF.

By 1999 I’d published three mass-market SF novels in the US and sales weren’t great. My US agent told me, ‘The SF part of your career is over’ in pretty much those exact words. I was advised to move into fantasy and YA. I tried to do this but couldn’t make it work.

In the UK, my agent at the time (Mic Cheetham) managed to get me two more two-book contracts to write SF for Orbit UK. Only one of those books (Maul) sold in the US, to a small imprint. Mic encouraged me to write SF. She encouraged me to persist. My books sold badly, but I built a name here.

I am only writing SF right now because of the UK scene. If I lived in the US I’d be doing something else.

That is all.

Amphibious

Think about those whales. There’s something pretty badass about them. They’re like, ‘I used to be a land creature but I’ll become helpless on land so I can go down under the sea. And I have no gills but I’ll just come up to breathe when I have to.’

Really? Are you guys nuts? I mean, you can’t survive on land. You drown if you stay under too long. It’s a TERRIBLE IDEA. You live in two worlds, but you can’t live in either of them completely. What were you thinking?

Whales are like, ‘Oh yeah? Watch me.’

You know what I’m going to say, right?

Being a writer is like being a whale. Leaving aside the getting-hunted-to-extinction part (we can talk about that another time). It is about diving down, repeatedly, into the dream world and bringing what you can to the surface. You can’t stay down there in the imaginary world. But if you stay up in the dry real world too long, you start to wither.

I am writing this post for a friend. I hear her despair at the state of the culture she is working in, its hailing-as-spectacular the mediocre and unoriginal, its blatant disregard for her existence because that culture only recognizes certain kinds of phenomena as being worthy of attention. And I want to say to her, use your whale powers and dive down.

Working on a book is like a series of dives. Periodically you have to come up—not just to eat, sleep, converse, earn money, do the laundry, but also to take soundings with the upper world. To take your bearings in the air. This means checking in with the culture and taking a look at the environment you are going to release your work into, and hopefully getting some oxygen from it that you badly need in order to keep going.

To write well requires an amphibious nature. I think it requires an ability to stand the depth pressure, to hold one’s breath against the desire for the opinion of the collective. I can’t do good work if I’m plugged into the mains of the overculture. I need silence for that. I need to go down and not come up for as long as I can stand it.

This is an act of faith. What if you run out of air and die down there? What if you come up and the world has changed and what you were doing is no longer apropos? The longer I go without checking in for the world’s approval, the more panicky I become.

There is a real and valid tension in the desire for connection and social reinforcement, and the need for silence and solitude. It is a tension intrinsic to the nature of writing. But there’s more going on. Writers are increasingly asked to be interactive outside the already-profoundly-interactive process of our work. This expectation is freighted with consequences that I personally don’t yet understand. Some of my closest friends are people I met online. I wouldn’t know them if I hadn’t come up gasping for air. Yet I can tell you that I’m out of my habitable zone when you throw me up on the beach.

We can’t stay down all the time but we don’t belong in the air, either, my whale friends.

For my friend who inspired this post, the problem is that sometimes the air will be good. But sometimes it make you choke. And sometimes it will make you light-headed. And you never know what you’re going to get when you come up and open your lungs. If a writer is working in a politically hostile environment, she may come up for air often in search of support because there are friends up there with oxygen for her. But there is a price to be paid if the support also means engagement with political battle on a daily basis. Because a person who is having a political fight cannot dive down at the same time.

I want to say to my friend: We have to be amphibious. Whatever else is going on, we have to find a way.

Whales breathe this way their whole lives. They make an art of it. So can we.

Martial arts and Shadowboxer

This is just a brief post to draw your attention to a series of posts I wrote for Charlie Stross at his blog. I have been wanting to lay out some ideas about martial arts and fighting and their portrayal in fiction, and when Charlie offered me free use of the space I took advantage of his generosity and wrote four posts. Here they are:

Martial arts and the cycle of bullshit

Wag that puppy

Who let the dogs out

Going to the source

The last post refers specifically to Shadowboxer, which is coming out in October. I will not be doing a ginormous blog tour, but I will be making the occasional guest post here and there over the course of the next several weeks. I also plan to run a few posts here at my own blog in celebration of the book’s release. My publisher have made this free excerpt available if you’d like a preview.

While I am about it, I will draw your attention to the review in Publisher’s Weekly that says: SF author Sullivan (Lightborn) spins a kinetic, violent, and magical tale that makes excellent use of Jade’s hard-edged voice. Sullivan brings to life the beauty of Thailand and the sweat and blood of the gym, infusing them with magic and danger.

I was looking around online and I noticed that someone used the word ‘hype’ with regard to my novel. I have heard this before, earlier in my career when I was young and perceived as an upstart I guess. ‘Hype’. It’s an odd word considering that most of my books have passed so far beneath the radar of popular notice that they faceplowed the sidewalk. If you saw my sales figures you would think me idiotic for continuing to write professionally.

Having poured so much of myself into my novels and then watched most of them attract no more than a glancing notice, it’s quite difficult to take an optimistic view about this one. I am trying. I’ve said before that in my opinion it’s the best thing I’ve written (apart from the book I’m writing now). I don’t know if that statement means anything to anybody but me, but there it is.

The sound of me saying no

One of the things that has happened since I had kids is that I am constantly in an energy deficit. When they were small, I felt like I was being eaten alive. Most of my energy went to them and whatever was left over had to be scraped up and used for matters professional and creative–always with a sense of near-fatal drainage. When I started my OU degree, whatever energy I got back as the kids went to preschool and then school, went into studying. The intellectual demands have only increased as the coursework has got harder, and I am now studying final-year courses in physics.

Thanks largely to the internet I live in a field of noise. The buzz of people and their things demanding attention is a total surround. Sometimes I feel like everybody wants something from me. I feel pressure to deliver what is wanted lest I otherwise disappear into the general background static against which my identity is already barely discernable as a faint outline. And I resent this expectation.

So I’m just going to put this out there: I am not an infinite resource. I shouldn’t have to say it, but I feel like I do have to say it or I will be sucked into a vortex of Doing It All. Modern women are widely expected to be superheroes in all sorts of areas. It’s a thing now. If you’re not a superwoman then you ain’t worth the time of day to the world. Well, I have found that the more I allow myself to be regarded as a Woman Who Can Do Anything, the worse off I am. People expect miracles. I expect them of myself. It all becomes one.

At the moment I am getting ready to launch my first novel in four years. I have set boundaries on how much support writing I will do around the launch, but even so this amount is not trivial. I am embarking on the 90 credits of study I need in order to finish with the OU this year–there is a strong probability that I will crash and burn because the courses are extremely challenging and time-consuming. I am revising a very difficult SF novel under tight deadline and with high expectations–expectations on which I intend to deliver. I am handling a DVD release for my partner’s business. I have a short story due soon and several other writing projects on the backburner. They are on the backburner because my life fills up with noise. Everyone’s does.

I am not the busiest person I know, not by some stretch. But I’m a lot busier than I want to be, busier than I reckon it’s healthy for any animal to be, and so I will now be practicing saying NO. When I say no it is not because I don’t care or I don’t regard a thing or a person as important or because I don’t want to be involved. It is because I refuse to sabotage my work and my personal life by taking on too much and breaking myself.

Turning people into packhorses is another way of controlling them, you know. Making women feel crazy because we can’t keep up is also a thing. This has not escaped my notice.

Yes, I am writing this at four-thirty in the morning, since you ask.

The myth of the prophylactic attack dog

As long as I can remember I have been taking myself out. Viciously criticizing myself. I can remember, as a child of nine or so, going through my room and clearing out old stories and drawings that I’d done. My mother practically begged me not to throw them out.

‘They’re terrible,’ I said. I couldn’t stand to see them around, in their clumsiness and naivete and failure.

‘Someday you’ll wish you had them,’ she told me. And I do.

I have the same conversations with my own kids. I sneak my daughter’s artwork away and hide it before she can destroy it. One of my sons will rip his stuff up and scribble over it if you compliment it. And here I have been trying so hard not to model any self-deprecating or self-destructive tendencies.

Maybe I’ve been unsuccessful. Maybe it’s innate.

I don’t attack my own work anymore. Not even in private. I will tell you why I spent the first 40 years of my life doing it, though.

I thought I was helping myself. I thought that if I were my own harshest critic, then I would make myself stronger. If I imagined every possible way that I could be criticized and got there first, then I would somehow have the magical power to stop criticism from hurting me.

I would save myself looking like a fool.

It’s like Inspector Clouseau and Kato. I thought I was creating an internal attack dog that would ambush me and keep me on my guard. Somehow by keeping this dog chained up in my house it would act as a prophylactic against future harm.

The problem with the dog is that if you train it for long enough, it can beat the hell out of you. I mean, think of Clouseau and Kato. Clouseau wins mostly by luck, sometimes by dirty tricks. Kato has nothing to do all day but think of ways to hurt Clouseau. (You also have to reckon he despises Clouseau and is only doing this job because he’s been exploited by the colonial hierarchy—after all, he’s a man, not a dog—but that’s another story). If Kato gets tired of this charade, you just know that the bumbling Inspector is going down.

When you keep a prophylactic attack dog, you risk the same thing. You will come staggering in one night with your broken umbrella, drenched to the skin, just wanting a bit of shelter and rest. And the thing will get you by the throat and tear you to pieces. You’ll find it’s not your house anymore. The dog will lock you in the cupboard under the sink with the plunger and the bleach, eat your food and sleep in your bed—because that’s what you’ve trained it for.

It’s a long road back making friends with that anthropomorphic cigar-smooking tyrant pooch, I can tell you. Convincing it to let you have a few scraps and sleep on the rug is the best you can hope for at first.

Everyone needs an internal critic at some level. I’m not saying that I reckon all of my writing farts rainbows and every sentence I produce should be enshrined in all eternity. But the internal critic needs to be a friendly, loyal dog who will be on your side to guard you against that shit outside. Not an attacker from within. Be very, very careful how you feed your dog and how you treat it, and how you let it treat you.

For many of us, sooner or later there comes a point where work gets hard and there’s no support at all from the outside world. That’s when you feel besieged. The fear of getting it wrong stops you. That whipped feeling stops you. The resounding silence from readers stops you. And if all you have at home is a dog that you’ve trained to attack you, then that’s not the kind of dog you want.

Blue sky mining

While I was getting dressed this morning the following question ambushed me–like they do, when you’re on a writing deadline–so violently that I felt compelled to tweet about it:

Can you critique a thing while indulging in its worst excesses?

I have to finish this effing book and I’m not supposed to be on twitter and I’m not supposed to be blogging so I’m pretty embarrassed that I’ve broken my vow so quickly. And I admit when I asked this question I was maybe gearing up to go off on one. But I have changed my mind. So (although I’m digesting the comments & links, thank you for offering them) this post isn’t going to be about The Books That Got It Wrong. It’s going to veer somewhat.

Earlier today when I asked the question, I was thinking of some works that have been hailed as wonderful though they struck me as meatheaded poop playing straight for the worst side of Hollywood. Fortunately for us all, in the course of the subsequent chat I have realized something more interesting.

In asking the question I wanted the answer to be NO you CANNOT critique something and indulge in its worst excesses also. Can. Not. Be. Done.

Then I thought a bit and within about ten seconds I thought of The Shining Girls.

And then, right on the heels of that came two other books that have been talked about a lot lately, God’s War and Ancillary Justice.

(I tested NK Jemisin’s work in my mind against this question. What I’ve read of her is not so much subversion as a complete rehaul—different story)

To my mind, these works take male-dominated forms (serial killer, military fantasy, space opera) and critique their content while at the same time being good strong examples of the form and that are not afraid to go into darkness, sensation. ‘Worst excesses?’ Well, no. But if they did I’m not sure I’d blame them.

So we see male-created forms being repurposed, reclaimed perhaps, by women. It’s got to take some considerable insight, care, and cleverness to pull this off successfully. Does it also take the empathy of living inside a woman’s skin?

Could a man have written The Shining Girls? If the author had been a dude, would the book have pissed me off?

I’m afraid that it probably would have. Good thing Lauren didn’t need to use a male pseudonym.

These are some of the questions I ask myself when interrogating my sense of what feels OK, interesting and what feels horrible. It seems unfair of me. Shouldn’t the author’s name be scrubbed off the book when receiving their work? Am I not ashamed to admit how I really feel?

I’m so done with being ashamed of stuff like that. There are things I feel bad about but this isn’t one of them.

Of course, in some cases there’s no judgment call to be made.  It’s obvious that the cutting-edge edge-cutter I’ve just read is unconsidered, ill-thought, and lazy to a degree that’s inexcusable even if the author’s name is Skippy the Bush Kangaroo.

And then I realise what is really going on in my head. I am feeling oppressed by the sexy violent thriller form, which always seems to be lurking there as ‘What the System Wants.’ It has always felt like a straightjacket to me. And I feel like it’s blocking my light.

I once tried to write a story about pushing back against The Hollywood. I could do the critique part easy. I could do the played-for-laughs part about getting a bit of crunchy revenge, as a woman–that was almost embarrassingly easy. And then I came to the part where the alternative had to be offered up. And I had nothing.

Absolutely fuck all, I had.

It was like the time after a few pregnancies when I tried lean way over and grab something off a high shelf and I lost balance and fell because there was a gaping hole in the middle of my abdomen where my recti muscles used to be. I reached and I got nothing.

You know what else it was like? It was like the end of Thelma and Louise. I mean, when you’re turned your back on the whole charade, when you’ve said FUUUUUCKKKK YOOOUUUUUU where do you go except off into the blue sky? The blue sky is empty. The blue sky is falling.

So if you are Louise and/or Thelma and/or their unfortunate automobile, how do you do a Ray Bradbury: jump off a cliff and build your own wings on the way down?

This is what I ask myself as a woman SF writer—and I’m a white, American woman SF writer, so I’m like only maybe a degree or two Different to the accepted ‘norm’ insofar as origins go.  And I feel daunted.

It’s one thing to push back against a known adversary. It’s another thing to build something from scratch.

Especially when nobody wants baked-from-scratch. They want something that fits in a package. The package determines the product, it seems to me. And I see newer writers getting discouraged because of this, placing limitations on themselves when they should be in the blue sky.

There are many story forms on this planet that lie beneath the Western cultural radar. Wouldn’t it be cool to discover them? Wouldn’t it be cool to invent new ones.

 

 

 

Upcoming Appearances

Since I’m locked away most of the year studying, it’s a real pleasure to get out and about and play author in the summer months. This is where I’ll be.

Edge Lit 3      Derby, Saturday 19 July

12:00pm – Science-fiction: How Much Science Do You Need?

Jaine Fenn, Jon Courtenay Grimwood, Rod Rees, Tricia Sullivan

15:00pm – Tricia Sullivan workshop – Walking the Walk: Keeping Yourself Writing

This is mainly tricks, tips & ways of looking at things for people who have a lot of life to deal with on top of their writing. Which is most of us, come to think of it.

16:00pm: Branching Out: Writing in More than One Genre

Tricia Sullivan, Niki Valentine, Conrad Williams

Nine Worlds Geekfest           8-10 August in London

I have bought a membership and I plan to pop in for one day, either the Friday or the Saturday. I’ve joined late so it’s unlikely that I’ll be on the programme, but I will be floating around so do say hello if you’re there.

Loncon 3   I’ll be there from the 15th to the 17th and I’m on the following panels:

Exuberance and Experience              Friday 18:00 – 19:00

Our societies are full of truisms about age: youth is seen as beautiful and vital, or feckless and short-sighted; old age is thought to bring wisdom and perspective, or intolerance and resistance to change. Are our genre’s characters similarly subject to stereotype? Are there particular types and the kinds of stories that older and younger protagonists tend to be associated with? How do factors like race and gender reinforce or cut across this?

Anna Davour (M), Wendy Metcalfe, Aidan Moher, Tricia Sullivan, Caitlin Sweet

I Can’t Do That, Dave: artificial intelligence, imagination, and fear Sunday 13:30 – 15:00

From the Minds of Iain M Banks’ Culture to Portal’s GLaDOS, artificial intelligences abound in sf, and not infrequently they turn on their creators. Whether as idealisation of reason or deadly threat – or both – why do AIs have such an enduring appeal? Where do fictional AIs stand in relation to the real-world science? And to what extent has sf explored the ethical questions surrounding the creation of sentience to better serve humankind?

Madeline Ashby, Tony Ballantyne, Justina Robson, Anthony Fucilla, Tricia Sullivan

I will also be joining a morning walk ‘Stroll with the Stars’ on Saturday and Sunday from 9:00 to 10:00 am if anyone is up that early.

Bristolcon       25 October 

Too soon to say anything about programme, but with a little luck there will be a Shadowboxer-related event the night before the main con. I’ll let you know.