On this day, a year ago TOR.com published my short story “The Language of Knives” and as I look back at the odd year I had, I’d like to touch upon perspective and how strangely writing careers progress. I don’t normally think about my anniversaries since short stories don’t create the same ripples novels do and their shelf life is considerably brief. (Oh, you poor, ephemeral creatures!)
I have sold 13 short stories in total ever since my first break in 2012 and for the most part no one gave a shit. I religiously Google search reviews of my work which I know isn’t what writers should be doing. It’s not good for the mental health, but even bad reviews were better than none because no reviews meant no one was reading. And that’s heartbreaking. Aren’t we all giving it all to outdo ourselves with each new project we undertake and then we send it out over and over again? I totally understand these are the rules and I’m more than happy playing the game, but you’d have to admit the game is pretty brutal especially when you’re in your twenties and have everything to prove. I’d finally have something come out, the waters would stir for the briefest of moments and honestly that would be enough to feel as though I was on the right track. It takes time establishing yourself, I repeated over and over. It takes time to be a better writer. Keep writing.
“The Language of Knives” came out on this exact day and suddenly people gave a shit, a big shit, too. I remember not being able to work the two days upon publication and directly after, because I poured all my energy in thanking everyone who took their time to read and share the story. It would be shallow to say I did this for the attention even though my ego got a good kick out of it. What mattered was that I was actually SEEN for a deeply personal story that made me feel vulnerable while writing it and then knowing it would be published. What’s all the stranger is that the story is now part of Some of the Best of TOR.com 2015. People still talk about it, want to translate it and put it on their lists of recommended work for awards, which makes all the self-inflicted neurotics and perseverance in the face of rejections worth it.
Really, I would not have achieved this without Ann VanderMeer, my editor, who loved this story deeply and saw it for what it was truly. Her patience and guidance through the initial process of editing and then publication steadied me when I was a nervous wreck. She’s played a huge part in my growing up this year as much as the publication of the story did.
By some miracle, I sold two stories within weeks surrounding the “The Language of Knives’” publication date and I thought, ‘This is it. This is how it all begins.’ And in all honesty, this may still be true since with writing careers, it’s best to take the really long term view and you never really know what’s going to happen. What happened with me immediately was nothing. I haven’t sold a thing since early 2015 and my work scheduled for this year has been all prior commissions.
It bothers me at times. I’m not going to lie but it’s also a good thing. It keeps my ego in check and has taught me the valuable lesson that you’re owed nothing. There’s only the work I have to put in my writing and continue playing the games. I’ll either luck out or strike out.
Another reason why I keep returning to this anniversary is that shortly after “The Language of Knives” made the rounds, I started the first draft of “The Mythology of Us” – the novel that so naturally grew out of this piece. I’ve been living in this story for a full year now and right now I’m almost a quarter in the first round of rewrites, which is as far as I’ve ever gone with a novel before. I’ve wanted to shift from short fiction to novels for years now and keep the promise I made as a boy to write those big, fat books that double as murder weapons. Landing the right project has been tricky until now. Things click in my head now and I have a good feeling I’ll stay on course. I’ll see the novel through the end.
Perspective is a good thing to have in these cases. Outwards, the year since “The Language of Knives” has been full of nothing (a maddening perspective). Inwards, however, it’s been a full year of ‘invisible writing’ as Karin Tidbeck helpfully puts it. The work I’m doing now will in the future pay off one way or another. I may not sell this novel for whatever reason (you’re not owed anything, remember), but I will have gone through the lessons of having written, pitched and tried to sell it. And that’s nothing to scoff at.