It’s a little late for Thanksgiving, but then again, I’ve never been a big fan of shoving all the thankfulness onto one day. That always seemed to me to be a recipe for being an unappreciative jerk the other 364, because, hey, Thanksgiving’s got it covered. A suitably reverent tweet in the morning, maybe a few “Likes” on Facebook status updates on other folks saying they’re thankful, and we’re done, right? Meh.
Me, I’d rather cheat the calendar, or, at the very least, pull a Canute number on encroaching Christmas for at least one more day, and think about things in this very, very strange life that is professional writing that I’m thankful for. And with that in mind, here’s a very incomplete, deeply scattershot list of a few of the things that I’m thankful for – as reader, as writer, as book reviewer, as whatever.
Because, really, it’s rough out there. There are a ton of folks always eager to take anyone and anything that isn’t theirs down, simply because it isn’t theirs or isn’t them. That’s another reason to give thanks – to let the folks out there who are doing good and generous and noteworthy things something positive, a note of appreciation tucked in with the din of RWAH RWAH RWAH YOU STIIIIINK that can rise to the heavens like burning oilfield smoke. And from the other side, there’s plenty of self-interested chest-pounding, deliberate stalking of controversy in search of the elusive page hit, and general jackassery that can obscure the good stuff that’s out there. That’s a shame, too.
So, without further ado, a baker’s dozen writing-related things and people I’m thankful for.
1 – Girl Genius – Brilliantly inventive, effortlessly inventive, frequently hilarious, this gaslamp fantasy adroitly avoids the Dickensian miserablism that lurks at the heart of so much steampunk. Unafraid in all the right ways – talking cats? Hat-obsessed killing machines called Jagermonsters? Talking castles with a mean streak?? – it takes chances, embraces possibilities, and trusts that the audience is smart enough to keep up. Then there’s the protagonist, Agatha Heterodyne, who is smart, resourceful, courageous, and unlikely ever to be portrayed onscreen by Megan Fox. I’m thankful that three times a week, I get to read a tiny piece of something so brilliantly crafted.
2, 3 & 4 – Matt Forbeck, Chuck Wendig, and Mur Lafferty – They love writing. They enjoy writing. They share their love and enjoyment of writing in every way imaginable, and they do so generously, without arrogating unto themselves the status of self-proclaimed “guru”. The world is full of people who will gladly tell you how to write in exchange for your workshop fees or your allegiance or your guaranteed thumbs-ups on Facebook. How refreshing, then, to have three folks who are so eminently the real deal willing to share what they know, not to make themselves look good, but because they genuinely want to share.
5 – Jack Cady’s “The Night We Buried Road Dog” – It’s a ghost story. It was written two decades ago. I just discovered it this year, and it’s pure magic, a reminder of how good writing can be, even in the most unexpected places. Originally published in 1993, it’s a story about a young man who drives classic cars very fast across the wide-open spaces of the American West, the mysterious figure of the “Road Dog” who haunts those same highways, and the man he works for, who digs a grave for his beloved car. It’s also about ghosts, and about growing up, and about love and memory and finding one’s place and a whole lot of other things I can’t go into without spoiling things, and so I leave it to you to discover, if you haven’t discovered it already. To me, it stands for the idea that there are always undiscovered gems out there, waiting for the joy of the first encounter. (and yes, I know, “Road Dog” won a Stoker and has been reprinted in F&SF and all that jazz. It was new to me. So might it be new to someone else. Don’t judge; just envy the blue lightning of initial discovery)
6 – The community of the Game Narrative Summit at GDC Online, and the fine folks who put on STAGConf, and everyone else out there interested in good storytelling in games – Because the craft isn’t static. Because as new media evolve, as new hardware makes new techniques viable, there’s always room to learn and grow. And so, Stephane Bura and Tom Abernathy and Rhianna Pratchett and Alexis Kennedy and Jeremy Bernstein and Mary De Marle and too many other folks to count, I’m thankful you’re out there doing good work, pushing boundaries, and genuinely giving a damn about how to do this insane job right. Because God knows it would be easy enough to say “It’s just a game” – that’s what some of the critics think, right – and just fill in the blanks of a thousand “Arrggh, he shot me” variants. I’m happy and I’m humbled to work in a field that’s constantly generating concepts like StoryBricks and Andy Walsh’s Ondemand Storytelling and Well-Fed Snakes and a whole bunch of other approaches, all championed by folks who have a keen passion for telling good stories in the medium that speaks to so many of us. Thank you for being out there, guys. Thanks for never stopping. Thanks for making it a thrill to keep up.
7 & 8- ChiZine Publications and Tachyon Publications – I think every the CZP book I’ve seen is gorgeous and memorable, and even the ones that I haven’t necessarily enjoyed have been manifestly themselves, interesting and different and most emphatically not trend-sniffing. Their monthly readings, which I’ve dropped in on a few times, are simply fun, a celebration of the fact that, hey, books are gettin’ made here, folks. Tachyon’s books are elegant, visually understated and always thoughtfully put together. These two aren’t the only smaller presses whose work I’ve enjoyed this year, far from it, but they’ve been the ones whose output has most consistently ended up in the hallowed “read this next” spot on my night table. And for their willingness – and for Apex’s, and Angry Robot’s, and a whole bunch of other people’s – to put books out there that don’t just play it safe in cover art and subject matter and author choice, as a reader and reviewer I’m emphatically thankful.
9 – Anne McCaffrey – I didn’t read a whole lot of her books after the Dinosaur Planet series wrapped up. My first exposure to “The Ship Who Sang” was in a comic book adaptation called Starstream. I never had a secret recipe for klah, and I never had a stuffed firelizard doll I sat on my shoulder at conventions. But the very first videogame I worked on was an adaptation of one of her novel series. Throughout what was a grueling and messy development process, she was always extremely pleasant to work with and generous with her creation. I think I can truthfully say that without Anne McCaffrey, I wouldn’t be where I am, doing what I’m doing today, and for that, I will always be thankful.
10 – Local booksellers – The Regulator, one of the anchors of Ninth Street. Books Do Furnish A Room, tucked away in an unassuming blue building at the back of a gravel lot, where only those in the know and the lucky will stumble across it. Chapel Hill Comics. McIntyre’s. The Brier Creek B&N, where the staff has always been unfailingly polite, friendly, and well-informed. Many, many more. The Raleigh/Durham/Chapel Hill area is blessed with an abundance of places bookish people can find treasures. Yesterday, in two stops, I picked up an oral history of Negro League baseball, an award-winning science fiction novel, a “non-fiction” account of hauntings along the Maine coast, and a volume on the unit charged with stealing art treasures back from the Nazis. Thank you for feeding my habit.
11 & 12 – My niece and nephew – Because you like to read. Because you want to read. Because put together, you’re not yet bar/bat mitzvah age, and you both love books. You could not make your uncle prouder.
13 – Bull Spec Magazine – Not just because of the magazine, though the magazine’s great. Strong fiction from a mix of local and international authors, gorgeous covers, the occasional readable book review *cough cough* – it’s good stuff. Or to put it another way, I bought a subscription for my dad, and I write for it. But another part of what makes me thankful for all the work Sam Montgomery-Blinn and team have done putting Bull Spec together is this: I’ve been in Carolina for a dozen years, and until Bull Spec came along, I never found a writing community. You’d think in a region that had John Kessel and Lewis Shiner and David Drake and Mark Van Name and all sorts of other writerly types wandering around loose, there’d be more of that, but no. Bull Spec became something a lot of folks coalesced around. Sometimes it was as simple as Sam sending out an email saying “Hey, you guys know about this thing coming up?” Sometimes it was a formal event, and God help the poor waitresses who had to attend to a post-reading horde of writers. And sometimes it was the thrill of seeing someone you knew in print. All good things, and for that, I am thankful.
The list doesn’t end here, of course. It would be a sad and small world if it did. But to everyone and everything above, and to everyone and everything else out there that makes life a little better for the reading/writing type, thank you.