All posts by Spencer Ellsworth

Spencer Ellsworth lives in Bellingham, Washington. He has published work in The Magazine of Fantasy & Science Fiction, Michael Moorcock's New Worlds, and a good half-dozen other markets. He teaches at Northwest Indian College, plays bass for the band Pawnbroker, has a wife and three children, and writes his little brain out.

Winning Scholarship!

I’m very glad to announce that I’ve received the Jay Lake memorial scholarship to the Paradise Lost writing workshop in April. PL is a workshop for “neo-pros,” meaning those who have completed a major by-audition workshop or published short stories. It was originally established as a soiree for graduates of Viable Paradise, hence the name.

VP was an amazing moment in my life where I got a much-needed kick in the pants and learned a lot about writing. I’ve been wanting to do the Paradise Lost workshop for years, this year especially, because I would get to hang out with the crass and craft Chuck Wendig.

So I’m grateful. More than that, I’m honored, because the scholarship is in the name of my much-missed friend, Jay Lake. (Who the hell is Jay Lake? If you remember that, yay.)

For the five people in the world who didn’t know him, Jay was a writer who wrote copious amounts of science fiction, and also blogged through his cancer in excruciating detail. (The “who the hell is Jay Lake,” for those who don’t know, was one of his con giveaway pins, playing on the fact that it was impossible not to know him.)

Jay was a friend from the time I met him. He was always encouraging. He remembered the few pieces of my writing that he had read and when we talked about writing, he would emphasize my strengths based on what he remembered. I was one of thousands of writers he was at least a part-time mentor to. He was never fake—he was friendly and complimentary and available. He preached persistence and he lived persistence. Despite cancer, he continuted writing like crazy, battling through the depression and anxiety that came with cancer, caring for his daughter, cooperating with his ex-wife, and maintaining a robust dating life, especially for a sick dude.

I am honored to have this scholarship in his name, and maybe to contribute a little bit of good to the world in his name.

Writing, Media, NaNoWriMo, Braaaains

I am not a natural fan of zombies. I came to zombies late in life, through The Walking Dead (the comic, not the show). Most of my life, if I had been inclined to use the term “zombie,” it would have been in Stan the Man’s verbiage–I was a Marvel Zombie from my rotting brain to my rotting feet.

Zombies are a really good symbol of capitalism, globalism, the torrent of information–an apocalyptic wave eating our brains. Who hasn’t felt that way on eBay? I want to stop looking at guitars. I don’t NEED need another guitar. But unlimited window-shopping is such a wonderful time-killer. Unlimited Facebook feeds in which my friend from high school got a new dog and people are reblogging articles about news and philosophy and science.

And so that brings me around to my favorite/least favorite time of year, NaNoWriMo. I’ve done it most of the last few years, with a break in 2012. This year I’m not really sure if I’ll do it. I registered and came up with a novel and then came up with a better one, but I’ve never, not once in my life, been this busy at work, and my competitive nature makes NaNo exhausting.

I love NaNo for this reason: who thought the Internet could make writing feel like a party? It’s the ultimate misanthropic activity and NaNoWriMo makes it into a giant marathon–people cheer and make you feel great for what is, really, a questionable personal choice.

Salon hates NaNoWriMo. I think they miss the reasons why NaNo is a phenomenon.

We all need more actual books, I’ll give them that. Read more books. Read fewer Facebook feeds and interesting articles and message boards.

NaNoWriMo, though, is part of a collective battle against that zombification. In order to deal with the tidal wave of information coming from the Internet, writers of the generation that has embraced NaNo–and most of the NaNos I know are in college–take a month to frenetically reaffirm the value of a story they can tell. It’s a kind of shout against the darkness. A valiant defense of our own brains.

In Which I Missed It!

Oh my gosh, well, color me silly. I totally missed that my story “Talking Animals” went up on Every Day Fiction!

It’ll only take you a couple of minutes to read it. So go read it!

Now that you have read it.

This is one of my very favorite pieces I have ever written. It fell out almost completely perfect, and referenced a lot of my favorite books. I really enjoyed thinking about a twisted version of anthropomorphic animal stories, since those were always my favorite books as a child. I also enjoyed blurring the lines between fantasy and reality as I wrote about the ways the rats–are they real? are they not? you don’t know!–destroyed the other animals.

The final line was originally “and cheered for NIMH.” I love that line still, but after enough comments about the specificity of the reference, I decided it needed to be “the rats.”

 

 

Wrap-Up!

This was meant to be a post for the end of the Clarion Write-a-Thon. Ha. BUT. I’ve been writing like crazy.

First, my soft underbelly: I post fanfiction related to James Roberts’ Transformers: More Than Meets The Eye comic series (NO SHUT UP IT’s ART OF THE HIGHEST CALIBER) at Transfans.co.uk under the name bumblemusprime. Get the comic series, then read my sticky fan tribute!

I swore off fanfic in 1994. See, after reading Mossflower to pieces, I wrote my own Redwall novel, and, with no Internet to guide me, sent it to Brian Jacques. He sent back a note saying “Your story is well written, but you need to think of your own ideas and characters!”

I vowed to heed him; sorry, Brian Jacques, but the MTMTE series is that good. Vow broken.

PS: Brian I not-so-humbly submit that my novel, at the age of fourteen, was fourteen badgers’ worth better than The Bellmaker. You phoned it in on that one.

Ahem.

I reached my Write-a-Thon goal earlier this week. I completed a short novel at 51,000 words, which is pretty good for me, considering my typical novel runs around 150,000 words. Life goal achieved: be brief!

I cooked on this novel. On high heat. Broil, lots of salt. Extended food metaphor here.

When I cook my prose quickly, I don’t cut and rewrite. A crucial character needs a whole new plot and arc, but I just wanted to get through to the end and so I limped him along as a passive whiny brat.

I learn from writing badly, in theory. Well, I learn but it’s hard to say what at this point… which also comes from writing quickly, because one ends in a stunned daze, a few pounds overweight, sucking chocolate and coffee like a babe at the teat. Usually I can see the cracks and the poor judgment and the curdled milk in the cake at the end of a hot, hard session (METAPHORICAL, you pervs)(the cake is a lie, too).

I’m not sure that I improve by writing fast. I produce, though! Afterward I’m a bit too dazed to really find the good heart of a piece. Herein lies a great critique of NaNoWriMo: that in its heart, each NaNo is a bucket of diarrhea. Whaddya think, dear readers who are writers? When you charge ahead, heedlessly vomiting words, saving any self-analysis for revision, do you learn? Or do you, yes you, right there in the corner, excise and revise?

There is a comment section–use it! The ghost of Brian Jacques is watching.

Going Dark

I am going dark for a bit on social media.

“No!” you gasp, gasping for more gasps, “why, the horror?”

Because the world doesn’t deserve any more sentences as bad as that one. Among other things. I’ve got a project I’d really like to finish. I needta update my Clarion West Write-A-Thon goals to reflect completion of this project, a space opera, rather than the historical novel I was working on, which I’m setting aside to percolate for a bit.

So I’m taking a week off, and hoping just to write through the week.

Wish me luck, and chocolate.

Having A Moment

I am having a moment.

I have pro’d out, as they say, from Writers of the Future. My fourth pro-rate short story is coming out soon (stay tuned!).

TL:DR for the link: it’s a quarterly contest, with respectable pay, for new science fiction writers who have not published more than three stories at “pro” rates (5 cents a word or higher). Multiple Honorable Mentions and Semi-Finalists per quarter, ten Finalists, three winners.

I always thought I’d place or win the contest. I got two Honorable Mentions back about 2005 or 2006.

I was a finalist twice in 2007. Two times in a row. I came close and lost twice over six months. That is a very special pain. I often wonder where I would be as a writer if I had won. (Don’t get me started on how I was shortlisted for Octavia Butler’s last year at Clarion.)

After 2007, I went for a few years submitting ever single quarter, and got nothing. My stories, which had once been loved there, even embraced, were just flung right off.

I got discouraged and angry at them. I’d never gotten any guidance (like they gave other finalists) and besides, a couple of exposés had been published on the high-level Scientologists running the place and their links to cases of institutional abuse. I’m willing to give Scientologists the benefit of the doubt as individuals, but I’m not crazy about organized religion.

After hearing from Anaea about the experience of winning, I’m both relieved and sad. Relieved because it sounds like things are a bit weird. Sad because… I really thought I would win one day!

My wife used to point at a particular dress in a shop window and say “I’ll get that when you win Writers of the Future.”

We used to say “we’ll travel when I win the grand prize in Writers of the Future.”

I am having a moment.

 

EDIT: So, I’m still not pro’d out, with no word on when the new Beneath Ceaseless Skies comes out, and just for kicks, I entered the contest. (Okay, not just for kicks. I really need to earn something off these short stories that have piled up over the years.) I doubt anything will come of it, with my history of heartbreak, but hey… I would love for this post to be proven wrong.

What It Means To Give A Platform To Hate Speech

So, I’m a writer, yes, (with a story forthcoming in F&SF!) and I’ve finally achieved some measure of “success,” as we gauge such things. I publish short stories. Some of them are reprinted or podcast. I hang out with a lot of people in this field and enjoy their company and their respect.

 

I’m not a fan of self-publishing or nontraditional approaches. It works for some people, but I want my work to be a part of the professional sf field as much as I want an audience.

 

At least I did until this weekend.

 

Vox Day, the neo-Nazi who was removed from SFWA for hate speech, has been nominated for a Hugo. This is due, at least in part, to conservative blogger and writer Larry Correia’s recommendation.

 

Correia’s confrontational and dismissive of his opponents. I don’t like his politics or his tone. But he’s absolutely right that there’s no “ballot stuffing” in the Hugos. People widely campaign to win these popularity contests. I thought Lev Grossman was a poor choice for the Campbell in 2011, when a writer as original and refreshing as Saladin Ahmed was on the bill. For that matter, Correia was too. But Grossman, who made the transfer to sf from a long career in mainstream fiction, just plain had more friends. That’s how the award works.

 

So Larry has a platform. He promotes work that he thinks needs exposure in the Hugos, and wants a greater voice for conservatives in the mostly-liberal organization. Some of his recommendations are right-on. Toni Weisskopf at Baen is overdue for a nomination as long-form editor, whether you like Baen’s quirks or hate them. Don’t mistake this, though, as simply a promotion of work based entirely on quality. Larry is promoting a slate of work that reflects conservative and conservative-friendly work.

 

He can do what he wants. But he sure isn’t doing his field, his people, or his allies any favors. When Larry recommended Vox Day, he included the works of a known eugenicist, spreader of hate speech and misogynist. I’m not going to repeat Day’s disgusting words–Bleeding Cool repeats plenty of them above.

 

And the simple face is that if Larry had respect for his community, he would have drawn the line at including Day. He would promote genuine dialogue between liberals and conservatives, not liberals and neo-Nazis.

 

Instead, it’s probably more important to him that he irk John Scalzi, who drummed Day out of SFWA for his hate speech, and is well-known as a liberal. And this under the pretension that this is about “quality of story.”

 

Let’s wake up. It’s 2014. Realpolitik, people. No one votes by quality of work in a vacuum. We’ve all read our friends’ stories first. I’d like to see more Native American writers represented in sf, by hell, because I work on a reservation, and I think Native voices are an important part of the most imaginative of fiction genres. It would be stupid for me to pretend otherwise. I will read everything I can and vote for the best work, but no human being is without bias entirely.

 

We are a community. We need to think about who we are giving a platform to by supporting their work. What happens when a scumbag like Day is given a platform, and given support by, a majority of people in this community?

 

This community is built on the beauty of the imagination. Everyone has a right to imagine the future, to imagine faraway lands, and everyone can access the beauty of the imagination. Day’s platform and Correia and his fans’ support for Day says that certain imaginations are not welcome.

 

(Triggers coming up)

 

Day is recycling and prettifying every abusive man’s “stupid cunt” and “fucking bitch” toward women. And many women who look at the sf field will see it as just another domain of abusive men and those who support them. They will take their voices and their imagination elsewhere

 

Day is recycling and prettifying every racist’s “dumb Indian” and “black thug.” And many Native Americans and African-Americans who look at the sf field will see it as just another organization that gives racism a voice. They will take their voices and their imagination elsewhere.

 

Correia doesn’t seem to get that just because he can recommend Day and he can rub John Scalzi’s face in it, he has a responsibility to his community not to. He hasn’t stopped to think that maybe, if more conservative voices need exposure, he shouldn’t alienate minority and women’s voices in the process. Because he’s characterized his opponents as whiny liberal wusses, he’s not going to bother to engage, he’s just going to provoke the blanket opposition.

 

Just because you have civil rights, doesn’t mean you negate your civil responsibilities.