Perhaps unsurprisingly, I ran out of 2009 before finishing the list. Given that I’ve managed to start 2010 with a whole bunch of stuff unfinished, much of it urgent and really needing to be done, I give you the truncated version of what would have rounded out the fifteen awesome things about 2009.
10) Non-Fiction, Part One: Booklife, Jeff VanderMeer
I’ve been known to bemoan the fact that there are very few resources for writers that actually teach you the stuff you need know once you’ve got the basics of things like “plot” and “character” and “not looking like a crazy freak when submitting” under control. In many ways the learning curve for writing becomes a hodge-podge of received wisdom and scraps of knowledge gleaned from conversation, with the occasional outright question being asked of friends and contacts further along the path when need be.
From that point of view, Jeff VanderMeer’s Booklife is one of the best writing guidebooks I’ve come accross in a decade. Very little in this book actually focuses on how to write, but there’s a lot of detail on how to be a writer. The chapters on how book promotion works and what VanderMeer does off his own bat are worth the cover price on their own (part of me dearly wishes it’d been released before Horn came out – it might have saved me from sounding like a rambling goose when people interviewed me). The book itself is freaking awesome, but there’s also a blog built as support for the book content.
This honestly would have been the best writing book I read all year if I hadn’t immediately followed it with…
11) Non-Fiction, Part Two: About Writing, Samuel Delany
Four words of advice for writers: go buy this book. I sure as hell wish I’d read it ten years ago – it would have saved me all sorts of grief and made my job as a creative writing tutor a hundred times easier. Delany is so frighteningly insightful and smart about a) how writing works, and b) why writing works that way, that I spent two months paralysed with fear every time I sat down to the keyboard. While most how-to-write books focus on the stuff that’ll make an okay writer into a good one, this one is focused on folks who have got the basics down and want to really fine-tune their process. Freaking. Awesome.
12) Call of Cthulhu Peeps
I’ve been playing Call of Cthulhu once a week with more-or-less the same group of people for nearly two years now. Our Sunday night games are an ingrained part of my schedule, to the point where nearly everyone in my family has finally learned that trying to call me on a Sunday evening is an exercise in futility for I will be off pretending to be a young chap in the 1920s going slowly mad as the reality of horrors from beyond space and time are revealed. As a shut-in writer-type who spends most of his time with the computer, getting out to catch up with the folks who play Cthulhu is frequently one of the high spots of my week. The fact that they’re generally awesome types and the campaign is starting to develop the kind of depth you only get by playing in the same setting with the same people for a prolonged period is something of a bonus.
13) The Gen Con Oz Guests
Towards the middle of 2009 I found myself organising the seminar program for Gen Con Oz on somewhat short notice. In the midst of that my computer died, right in the middle of writing up the seminar program. Needless to say, it was a frantic period filled with much profanity on my my end, but it never quite hit the level of angst it should have because the various Gen Con Oz Guests (and Volunteers) were made of unmitigated awesomeness.
I urge you to seek out and buy the work of the following folks: Karen Miller, Keith Baker, Jason Bulmahn, Marianne De Pierres, Kylie Chan, Matt Farrer, David Conyers, Rowena Daniels, Steve Darlington, and Ryan Naylor.
14) Novel Draft
As in: I finished one. The first I’ve actually finished since I was twenty, which means there was a good period of thirteen-odd years where I wandered around living in fear of the novel (of course, to be fair, I also lived in fear of the short story and a variety of other forms). And once I’ve cleared the bulk of lasts weeks job off my desk this afternoon I’m going to get back to work on the redraft and finish the damn book.
I spent seven or eight years being a PhD student who wanted to be a writer. Somewhere in the middle of 2009 I managed to invert that – writing felt like a tangible enough activity that it kind of succeeded the thesis in terms of how I thought about my process and structuring my day.
Net result: A multitude of things went wrong this year – I spent most of it broke and angry and managed to fuck-up my thesis in a moderately mundane manner – but I wrote a lot and submitted and things seemed to keep coming togehter. Stuff got published. Stuff got reviewed. Horn came very close to selling out (last word before Christmas – four copies left). People invited me to write stuff for their projects, which is one of those experiences that still bewilders me beyond all belief. Heck, the fact that people actually read things I write still catches me by surprise.
Given that I’d expected 2009 to be a wasteland as far as writing went (2008 sucked – we do not speak of it – and very little new work got done), this year has been awesome .
Which leads me to my resolution for 2010: Don’t fuck it up, dumb-ass.