Less Than a Week, Now

This little blog feels like a community to me.

To be sure, you are not all my friends, nor am I yours. Some of you make me grit my teeth and scowl a lot; others make me roll my eyes. But all of you–regulars and occasional visitors and people I admire and people who just barely tolerate me–are part of the little world that makes up this blog. Those people (I believe there are three total) that I’ve banned, I’ve banned because they interfered with that feeling.

That’s what gives me the freedom to talk about what’s on my mind, whether politics, philosophy, writing, whatever. I’m comfortable here. If I want to talk about my feelings regarding the upcoming release of The Incrementalists, I trust you people to let me ramble and not assume I’m trying to publicize it (I’ve done enough of that, for chrissakes)–in short, to understand that I just kind of need  to organize what’s in my head.

I want to talk about my feelings regarding the upcoming release of The Incrementalists.

Jen and I are in Austin where Skyler, Scott, and Egan White have graciously put us up. Skyler and I have been working. In between sections of the new one, I’ve been checking my email to see if samples of the audio book have arrived yet, and going to Goodreads to see if the rating has maybe climbed a bit, and watching the counter at Incrementalistsbook.com tick down, and checking to see if there are any new reviews.

Those are things I never do.

I honestly do not  understand why this book feels so different to me.  I’ve had books that were as much fun to write (The Phoenix Guards), and books that gave me the same glow of a job well done (Agyar) and some that filled me with the same combination of humility, awe, and pride at what I’d been a part of  (The Gypsy, Freedom and Necessity).  But this one is different in ways I do not understand, and many of the effects are not good.

I have taken “marketing” myself well beyond the point I could ever imagine I’d do.  I am working with a publicist at Tor. Me. Working with a publicist. WTF? I’ve never done that. I’ve never felt the desire to do that. I could never have imagined myself doing that. Yet, here I am. Now, I have to say, that part is (for now) a lot of fun, and it feels really good to be treated like a bit of a star. No complaints. But why am I doing it, and why do I care? It isn’t a career thing, because I am still woefully incapable of thinking in career terms: it’s about the book.

In some measure, one is always--always–blind to the quality of one’s own work, or at least to how it will be received: look at how many people like Yendi or Cowboy Feng; at how many people do not like Teckla or Agyar.  That’s part of the biz.  But this time, I can’t keep the difference between how I feel about it and how the reader will feel about it  from getting into my head.  Just for the record: if you are a writer, don’t do that. Don’t let that happen. It is a bad thing.

In my head, this book is special–an achievement in which I went beyond myself–a master work.  In my head.  Only in my head. That is hard to grasp. By now, I’ve seen several reviews. Some of them are all I could wish for, and more (“call it genius at work”!!! and the one by the Little Red Reviewer that I’ve reread twenty times). And of course, some of them just pan the book, and those aren’t terribly upsetting.

But many reviews, like the wonderfully perceptive one by Stefan Raets at Tor.com, are saying, in essence, “Yeah, I liked it. Flawed, but not bad.” The question of, “Why are  you reading reviews, you idiot?” is valid, but beside the point.  What is dawning on me is that the book is, well, a solid, fine, decent novel I can be proud of. It is not the potential award-winner that I’ve always craved more than I’d like to admit; it is not the book that will turn the entire sf community on it’s ear; it is not the book that will go out into the world and leave huge footprints. It is a good story well told; some will come to love it as much as I do, some will hate it, and some will go, “Oh, that one. Yeah, I enjoyed it.”  Just like other books.

It is not a problem that the book is like that; it is a problem that I care that the book is like that. And it is a problem that I don’t know why. Why this one and none of the others? All of the stupidities and insecurities of the first-time author are popping up in me, right down to the urge to obsessively call my editor and say, “How are pre-orders?” I know better than to do these things; I just don’t understand why, after thirty years, I suddenly want to.

This post constitutes an effort to get past that, to put it away. Right now, it is not interfering with my ability to work–work on new stuff is going extremely well.  But when, in just under 5 days, the book hits, and the entire universe does not instantly change, that’s when I fear it’ll start fucking with my work. And I cannot let them happen.

So I’m telling you about it, in hopes that just expressing these things will help alleviate them.

Thanks for listening.


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44 thoughts on “Less Than a Week, Now”

  1. I’m an academic, doing quite a fair bit of scientific writing. For some of my writings (especially grant proposals) after I finish I got the feeling that I have put a big chunk of my soul into it, because essentially it contains my position about how I want to make science advance (from my humble position), and their success/failure affects me quite a lot (academic reviewers can be very nasty!).

    About Teckla, I’ve read the book twice in different stages of my life, and I think that you can’t fully appreciate the book if you are too young.

    Thanks for all the books!

  2. Nobody else writes quite like you. It would be nice if the industry showered acclaim and filthy lucre on you in the same measure as it does others, but it is what it is. I wish everyone else had the same good taste to like Firefly, Lincoln, etc, but I do, and to know that you do as well reassures me that at least /somebody/ gets my taste and is producing great content.

    For me, it’s enough to know that nobody else writes quite like you.

  3. Maybe you put something of yourself in this book that you feel didn’t go into the others?
    (and I liked Cowboy Feng, btw)

  4. All I can say is that from the first time I picked up Jhereg, I have REALLY enjoyed most everything I have read of yours. I have missed several of the last few due to work/study schedule, but hope to some day catch up on all of your work.

    I’m sure it’s not what you need to hear (though I’m pretty sure you love it anyways) but in the thoughts of many of your readers (mine included) you are definitely worthy of awards.

  5. you are the only author where I will re-read sentences or entire paragraphs just for the joy of the way they are built, all though the book. every book.

  6. I hope the book exceeds all expectations: it deserves it. I was privileged to read a super-advanced draft, and I anticipate rereading it in h/c.

  7. Congratulations. It sounds to me like your “I just wrote a book! I’m an author now!” cherry somehow re-grew after thirty years, and now you’re popping it again.

    I guess I can see how you’re concerned for it affecting your work, but I don’t think it will. Feeling those new-author chills that I can only imagine (and hope to experience) are not the cause of new authors making mistakes, I don’t think. Hmmm, let me restate that. They may very well be, but you are an experienced author, and you have 30 years under your belt, and they won’t shake you as much as they would someone who has yet to get there bearings.

    Do you see what I’m trying to say? I don’t know how or why you’re suddenly feeling great, but I don’t think it’s a problem and you should enjoy it while it lasts. Eventually it will wear off, with a bang or a whimper, in a week or a month, I don’t know. But you can care about your work -after- you’ve thoroughly enjoyed this strange new feeling that you have undoubtedly earned.

    You earned it. So congrats. :)

  8. I’m not a writer, so in many ways I am just shooting in the dark here.

    Have you considered that it might have something to do with which elements of the underlying premise of the novel came from you and which came from other people? I know that all novels have a mixture of both.

    In some ways it reminds me of my experience with running roleplaying games. While I thoroughly enjoyed playing in worlds created by other people, and have many fond memories of that experience, it was not until I created my own campaign world that I became obsessed with the experience. I know that in interviews you have said that Vlad and his world came from a homebrew roleplaying game. Therefore, while you were intimately involved in the creation, the initial impetus was not yours. After that, obviously, you not only made the world your own, but did it beautifully. In some ways this is the first from scratch worldbuilding that you have done in a long time, at least publicly.

    Regardless, I look forward to reading the book and hope that it brings you the accolades that you deserve.

  9. Writing’s weird, right? Especially when you realize there are /readers/.

    The Gypsy is about the only book I’ve ever slowed down my reading to try and prolong. Freedom and Necessity was also pretty great. I’m glad you’re excited about the new one, and feel like it can stand with your other collaborations.

  10. Well, you know why I love Feng’s, and everything else, and having heard you do a reading from this one I know I’m going to love it. As for the seemingly outsized hopes you have pinned to it, enjoy the hell out of it and then let it go. Sort of like sending a child out into the world, I imagine.

  11. Honestly? I’ve noticed. You’ve been pushing this one a bit. I just assumed you were in financial straits and either needed the sales or their secondary effect of a career boost. Don’t get me wrong, I’m pretty sure that I have every book you’ve ever put out and I await each new one on pins-and-needles, I’m your fan. But I don’t see a lot of them on the shelves when I hit the store and they don’t come all that frequently and, frankly, it seems like you’ve been hurtin’ before. So. You say you’re just excited. That’s great, but if you’re reasons are really something a little more base, well, that’s just life. It’s OK.

  12. I love this blog too, the posts are fun, the comments and discussions are great.
    As for the reaction to the book, maybe its because you have had a change of heart? Kind of a reaction to your (and your sisters) medical problems rather than anything to do with the book specifically? Just wild speculation, obviously, but that would be my guess.

  13. People don’t like Teckla? Really? Sure I can see people being jarred by how different it is than the Vlad books that precede it, and I have to admit there are times when I can’t read it because I know it will put me off my mood. Yet, should that warrant people not liking the book for itself? Just seems odd to me.

    I wonder if your odd feeling emerges simply from the fact you ARE involved with a publicist, and are therefore deliberately getting invested in what ‘the world’ thinks of the book.

  14. Not to diagnose anyone, but from my own experience, I have suffered from some generalized anxiety disorder in the last year. I’m not a writer, my job is furthest from this sort of feeling of spending time putting a work together and then waiting for it to be released and judged. But I understand anxiety, checking and rechecking things, worrying about future outcomes, wondering what is going to happen. And having been through some of that myself this year, well it’s difficult and painful and distracting, and the running in circles and rechecking can drive you over the bend. I think writing about it helps. Meditation and exercise both helped me but it also took time.

    I really loved Agyar – didn’t realize it was the red-headed stepchild of your works.

  15. My vague sense is that you feel that The Incrementalists is *important* in a way that you’re not used to assigning to your work. And that you’re probably having trouble processing that because you have significant inhibitions against feeling that way, which means you have significant inhibitions against recognizing that you’re already feeling that way — so you only get the chance to recognize it in the dissonance when others don’t feel the same way.

    And I think it is important, in potential at the very least. Some people are catching glimmers of how that’s the case already. Others won’t because it would never occur to them to think of fiction that way. For a lot of people, I think, it’ll only become clear after several sequels, for somewhat technical reasons.

    You know how one of your talents is in intuitive worldbuilding and conveying that sense of a living broader context without getting all clunky and Tolkienish about it? In a fantasy setting like Dragaera, the reader cannot help but constantly engage with this, and generally is impressed as fuck by it. In The Incrementalists’s modern mostly-real-world setting, though, means that the backdrop can largely be mistaken for what’s already taken for granted. On the one hand, that means you perceive most clearly the significance of the work because the implications are there in your head, and it will take some time and chewing on for other people to get there. On the other hand, it means that there’s a shortcut people can, and in some cases instinctively will, take around much of your normally exemplary making-the-reader-work, which is to assume that the same cognitive boxes they habitually apply to the real world also apply here and any discrepancies are random noise. Which is unfortunate, but probably only partially avoidable.

    So basically, what I’m saying is that anybody who doesn’t think The Incrementalists is SUPER AWESOME is just lazy.

  16. It seems actually kind of perfect to me that the reception is like that. To me, it IS a master work; it is a special book, one that has already become part of my loosely-defined personal canon. Prior to this, you were one of the Terry Pratchetts to me, people whose writing I really like who write books I don’t. This book was a gasping shivery amazing experience that I wanted to repeat as soon as I finished it. I’m still processing what it did to my head, which is also entirely appropriate.

    Of course it is not for everyone, and of course it is not going to be a HUGE GAME-CHANGER. That would be completely out of character. It did and will do exactly what it should. It changed me, a little. And I’m going to change the world, a little.

  17. Since it sounds like the caring isn’t affecting your work and you are having fun, my first thought is to just say, go with the flow and don’t worry about it too much.
    My second thought is that if you really want to understand why this book is different than I would say that you would have to decide what is different about your world in general. Why this book and not others? Rather like asking what were the events and material circumstances surrounding the Communards resulting in their arguing with each other. The answers lie in the particular circumstances and not in the arguments themselves.
    Since I haven’t read it yet, I can’t comment on the size of the footprints it will leave. But, getting people to read it certainly has an effect on that and so publicity isn’t a bad thing.

  18. The difference between ‘literature’ and ‘genre fiction’ has been discussed many places and many times before. I’ve always read SF&F for entertainment, but just because it’s labelled ‘Fantasy’ or ‘Science Fiction’ doesn’t mean the occasional book can’t transcend the label. When I recommend ‘Agyar’, or ‘War for the Oaks’, or ‘Wizard of the Pigeons’ to friends or acquaintances, I recommend them simply as books — no genre label required.

    I would suspect that at some point in their careers most writers want to be respected as a writer, period. Not just as a writer of genre fiction, not just as a writer of fantasy, and not even just as a writer of bestselling books. How can one be an author and *not* want to be in the same company as Fyodor Dostoyevsky, Thomas Hardy, Ernest Hemingway, William Faulkner, Bronte, Beckett, Melville, et al?

    ”nineteen eighty-four’, ‘Ape and Essence,’ ‘A Handmaid’s Tale,’ and others have crossed over genre boundaries to be considered on their own merits as fiction. Unfortunately this cross-over tends to be one-way; ‘literary’ authors can write genre fiction and their novels are still taken seriously, but rarely do we see genre writers get their books received or reviewed as serious works of fiction. If George Orwell had spent the years before ‘nineteen eighty-four’ writing exclusively for ‘Astounding,’ ‘Amazing Stories,’ or ‘Weird Tales’ would it lessen the literary importance of ‘nineteen eighty-four?’ No, but would it have been received with the same acclaim? I doubt it.

    ‘Agyar’, ‘War for the Oaks’, and ‘Wizard of the Pigeons’ are great works of contemporary American fiction. I have no qualms placing them on the same shelf as John Barth, James Morrow, David Foster Wallace, etc.

    I can’t guess at why the upcoming release of ‘The Incrementalists’ has you nervous/anxious//obsessed – but rest assured there are readers that appreciate your writing for more than just an exciting tale well-told.

  19. I suppose the presence of a certain proportion of “tolerated acquaintances” is what makes it a real community, rather than a walled garden.

    In re: your anxieties for this book, maybe the causal arrow goes in both directions? Because you’re doing new things for this book, the book feels like something new, different and momentous?

  20. It occurs to me that one reason a person might be reluctant to admit to feeling a sense of significance to one of their works is the desire not to be pretentious, and the related desire not to be seen as pretentious. This brings to mind something Warren Ellis once said that I found rather revolutionary:

    “Pretentious” is one of those adolescent words that decodes as “your act of ambition makes me uncomfortable”.

  21. *makes a dedicated atheist’s best attempt to imitate the silent sympathy that Job’s friend offered until god effed with his head and made him start offering unwanted advice*

  22. chaos: You’re probably right. But turn it around, for a second; could you listen to someone say, “:My book is really important,” without thinking to yourself, “What a pompous ass”? I couldn’t.

    larswyrdson: Heh. Nice. :-)

  23. Steve: Heh, yeah. “Show, don’t tell” applies. Which is what you’re doing by things like leaving your comfort zone to work with a publicist. So, good work!

  24. And to think you recently needed a lit to remind yourself of why you should be an optimist. As long as you’re able to feel so completely wowed about something you’ve done, you don’t need to be reminded the world is an awesome place; you clearly already know it.

    I’m sorry my work schedule will keep me from the signing in Houston; it’s a shame to not share in the kick off party for what is so clearly a spectacular happening for you.

  25. Maybe it just *is* that good, or that important. It’s impossible to say that about one’s own work without sounding like a complete twat, of course, but I recognize the feeling, and I don’t think you should be ashamed of it. Artists are supposed to be ambitious! Or what the hell are we here for, if not to reach for heaven?

    You’ve clearly written something extraordinary, and I can’t wait to read it.

  26. I’ve been reading your blog for years but I don’t post. One reason is that I don’t feel knowledgeable enough to contribute to political discussions, despite being in agreement with most of your positions, and the other is that I’m a typical introvert so I never express myself about anything. I guess this is as a good a time as any to say something.

    I think you need more publicity, much more publicity. Your books are amazing, they deserve the exposure and they deserve the awards. I have read almost all your books multiple times, they are special and unique. The build up is always worth it, any subtleties are worth thinking about, and you always deliver beyond expectations. You earn the reader’s trust and it just keeps getting better. It keeps my brain stimulated even if it takes me a long time to read them (I’m a little dyslexic). I even slow down from my usual “slow” and read out loud when I’m alone at home.The khaavren romances were the most fun to do that, I was reading the narration in my head, and the dialogs out loud.:-D

    I’m saying this very honestly: You made me love reading. I discovered your books 8 or 10 years ago (when did the Book of Jhereg came out? It was then.), and in that time frame, looking up what else your fans read helped me discover other great writers that keep me interested (so far, Robin Hobb/Megan Lindholm, Gene Wolfe, Terry Pratchett, Many Gentle (just started rats and gargoyles) and I’m sure I’ll add Skyler White to the list soon), but your books remain the special ones that I anticipate for months and keep looking back here “Is it out yet? When is it coming out?” I can’t wait for The Incrementalists to come out, and it’s impossible I won’t like it.

    Also, completely off-topic, thank you so much for your post about remaining optimistic in a fucked up world. I really needed that, and it really helped.

  27. I love Teckla unreservedly. I also love Agyar. I never have understood why the latter didn’t win an award, or why some of your other books didn’t.

    I remember very belatedly reading Tim Powers’s Last Call (which is an amazing, wonderful novel, as you know), years after it won the World Fantasy Award, and saying to David, “I will never win a World Fantasy Award.” “Why not?” said he. “Because,” I said, “beer and cancer.”

    I didn’t really mean that literally, but I think most awards have a bunch of unspoken requirements in addition to those that the book be good and that for whatever reason the people who decide on the award think it is good. I never put those things in, whatever they are. I always thought you did — not to win awards, but because you use a much, much broader canvas and are willing to take so many structural and aesthetic risks.

    I think The Incrementalists really is important — and it’s an amazing wonderful novel, as you may or may not know — but I don’t know if it has the beer-and-cancer aspect down or not. I hope so.

    I hope you enjoy the heck out of the book tour, anyway.


  28. Thanks, Pamela. Bottom line is: You may be right about the awards stuff, but the bottom line is, it bugs me that I care about it. It damages my self-image. :-)

    I think the book tour is short enough that it’ll be over before the fun stops. Hope so, anyway!

  29. I loved the book, and am about to put my review on GoodReads, but Steve, I gotta tell you, this post both comforts me and makes me feel a touch of despair. I’ve written lots of good, solid books and not been overly concerned with the reviews. But when we try something completely different and lay ourselves bare on the page, we can’t help but care — even though that’s the last thing we should do if we want to keep our sanity and our ability to write in a clear and unpolluted space. Which is perhaps why I’ve been holding onto this manuscript I care about and which is completely different from anything I’ve ever done for at least 18 months now. Hmm.

  30. Thanks Karen. But you know what I’m going to say: put it out there. I mean, shit, worst case, you won’t actually *die*. You’ll just want to. And it needs to be there. Seriously.

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