Thirty Years of This Shit

About thirty years ago, my first book, Jar-head, came out.  This is a good time to take a look back.  It would be an excellent time to reflect on the changes in the publishing industry if, in fact, I had ever paid attention to the publishing industry.

It is a privilege.  I have held, since 1986 when I quit my day job, that writing well enough to publish is a matter of hard work and dedication, and making a living at it is a matter of dumb luck.  I had a lot of dumb luck.

I’ve gotten lucky in my covers (I mean, holy shit have I gotten lucky in my covers).  Early on, a lucky break (that I still don’t entirely understand) gave me what is called a “lead spot” sooner than skill or sales ought to have provided it.  I’ve had amazing editors, who know what I’m trying to do, and want me to do it better, and know how to help.  I’ve had an absolutely amazing critique group that did the same.  Above all, I’ve gotten lucky that, when I tell the next story I wish someone else had told, it turns out that enough other people like it to keep a roof over my head, food in my mouth, and the lights on.

I’ve had the opportunity to learn from some of the best.  I’ve had the opportunity to teach (which, as anyone who has ever taught can tell you, is one of the best ways to learn).  And learning is a joy.  I’ve been a process geek for almost the whole thirty years; I’ve developed a fascination for what makes a story work, what makes it fail to work, and where there are boundaries that can be pushed.   Of all the emotional changes writing has put me through, “bored” has never been one, and I think that is in part because I happened (there’s the luck again) to have a deep fascination for process that constantly plays into my love of story.  Sometimes I think of a cool story idea and I go, “I must tell that.”  Sometimes I think of a cool way to tell a story and I go, “I must try that.”  Sometimes I think of a really cool line: “I must write that.”  Sometimes I think of a fascinating thematic question: “I must explore that.” Sometimes I think of a fascinating person: “I must follow him around.” All of these things bounce off each other, and keep me interested, and indeed, delighted.

Yes, writing has been good to me.  Professionally, ten years ago I promoted myself to senior writer, and five years ago I gave myself a corner office, so it’s all good.  Maybe in ten years I’ll give myself a gold watch.  Writing makes me proud and keeps me humble.  It makes me crazy and keeps me sane.   I make a living doing something I love.  It sometimes infuriates me that so few people have that opportunity.   I hope and believe that someday that will change.  In the meantime, for as long as I’m able, I’ll keep writing the next sentence.



Published by

Avatar photo


I play the drum.

47 thoughts on “Thirty Years of This Shit”

  1. Finding Jhereg on the shelf at my local supermarket started a 30 year love affair that I still can’t fully explain to my wife (a non-reader). Thanks for sticking with it.

  2. And please, for Paarfi’s sake.. another 30 years to come :)

    I stumbled across To Reign in Hell early on; being a sarcastic kid I picked it up, but something about it _disturbed_ me .. was just so powerfully at odds with something in my unbringing that it jarred me; given I was raised as an atheist (parents had a rough time growing up and gave up on their baptist upbringing) I hadn’t expected it at all; I thoroughly enjoyed it, but it was somehow tough going. Very weird! But that stuck with me. I never give away a good book.. it becomes a part of you, if its worth reading. Its scary when you read Jonathan Lethem, since its terrifying if any of that gets to be part of you, but I digress..

  3. Later I came across Cowboy Feng and I thoroughly enjoyed that as well (though many people say that was just phoned in.. I loved it :O); just a fun romp at the time, though I realize I haven’t re-read it. But it was enough to make me think ‘who is this guy, what else has he done?’ .. and I found Jhereg.

    I’ve read a Vlad book every year since; some of these old paperbacks are worn through .. treasured classics. Later, 500 Years.. again, I really loved that. Like reading Zelazny.. I admire the quick wit, quick dialog and fast movement of the works, being swept along in a fun ride.

    Thanks for the good times; I can only hope for many more :O

    Wow, wordpress bug.. can’t hit Post Reply on a long reply!

  4. You’ve no idea, Mr. Brust, how comforting I find the final sentence in this wee testimonial. Thank you.

  5. I’m glad that you love doing it, because I love reading it, and I very much hope that this happy state of affairs will continue for at least another 30 years…

  6. It has been a pleasure to read your work ever since I picked up the Phoenix Guards, and it was sort of one of those magical moments of re-discovering how awesome books really are. I’ve re-read that and 500 Years After numerous times. For many years I’ve been a proud Paarfi fangirl, and enjoyed everything else of yours I’ve read. My feverish re-read of/catching up on the Vlad books before Memorial Day last year was great fun, because Vlad always is, and it was cool to compare the different ways those books are constructed. The whole Incrementalists project blows me away. And Agyar. And Freedom & Necessity. I don’t know what my point here really is, but I love you and I love your work and feel like saying so.

  7. Jeff, Cowboy Feng is definitely worth that second read. There’s a lot there which doesn’t shout at you the first time around, that’s worth noticing. If there’s a big problem it’s that after you spend the effort to learn how to read it, there isn’t any more of it — no sequel and none likely ever.

  8. @J Thomas. Now I’m pondering the idea of a non-terrible sequel to Feng’s and I don’t see how it’s possible. That was my first Brust book, back in 1989, and I loved it enough to grab the first book of his series, and here we are all these years.

    Thank you very much, Steve, and I’m glad you’re as happy to be writing ’em as we are to be reading ’em.

  9. I “discovered” you way back in High School, when a friend introduced me to “JheregandYendi”, an amazing two-part work that I must have read at least a dozen times in rapid succession, never suspecting how far your universe would grow.

    The thirty years that you’ve been writing covers my entire adult lifetime, and has provided a steady stream of joy throughout. Thanks for sharing; I’m looking forward to continuing the adventures with you…

  10. Jeff Mitchell (@skeezixcodejedi):

    > Wow, wordpress bug.. can’t hit Post Reply on a long reply!

    It’s not a wordpress bug; i just tested making a six paragraph (456 word) comment, and it worked. May be a browser issue; what’re you using?

  11. Yay! Please keep writing. I’ll keep reading and loving your work. Dang, 30 years already? I must do an Anniversary read of your books. (An excuse, sure, but a good one.)

  12. -I’ve gotten lucky in my covers (I mean, holy shit have I gotten lucky in my covers).-

    Seriously! I’ve seen some of the crap other fantasy artists get!

    Still, needs more mustache…

  13. I was wandering through the Miami airport during a delayed connection after picking up my new daughter from Colombia. A stop in the bookstore yielded my copy of Jhereg. I knew it was out there, but I hadn’t expected it to pop out on the display rack and grab me. Circumstances had meant that I hadn’t been in the same room with my brother for nearly two years, but reading Jhereg was like sitting listening to him tell one of his trademark long stories. As Steve’s sister, I loved it; I laughed, I cried. As his sister, I wondered if he could do it again; if he could do something that didn’t sound like Steve.

    For thirty years now, I’ve watched in awe as my baby brother did it, over and over again Yeah, the covers are great. But it’s what’s inside that has kept people (including me) coming back for more. May the well never dry up. Happy Anniversary, Doodlebug!

  14. Skye: Thank you! I am more than honored to be your break; I hope it works out that way.

    Cynthia: Now you’ve made me cry, too. Keep it up, and people will stop thinking I’m an ALPHA and just think of me as some guy with feels and stuff.

  15. For values of “this shit” that equal GOOD SHIT.

    I remember that Minicon before Jar-head was out, but it was in the process of being published…at least, that’s how I remember it these 30+ years later. There’s a photo somewhere around here of you and Martin and Reen, most likely, sitting near the front of the room just before Opening Ceremonies was going to start. It was the first time you were going to be among the pros named as being in attendance, and by golly, you were there to hear it; there’s no way you were going to be in the bar.

    Long, strange trip. Good, long, strange trip. How the heck did it get to be 30 years? Surely it isn’t more than a dozen, or perhaps 17….

    “Writing makes me proud and keeps me humble. It makes me crazy and keeps me sane. I make a living doing something I love.” Yikes. This is true of design for me. Trust one of my favorite writers to put it into words. Thank you.

  16. Just wanted to say a huge and heartfelt Thank You for the 30 (!) years of writing you’ve given us – your books are like old friends to me and each time I hear of another coming down the pipe I’m like a kid waiting for my birthday. Can’t count the hours of laughs, Deep Thought (TM) and pleasure you/they’ve provided.

    Joy and health, peace and wealth to you – and many MANY more years ahead.
    yrs, JP

  17. The first time I encountered your name was in Dragon magazine — I think it was a short interview and a stat block for Vlad as a D&D character?

    Next time I went to the library I checked out everything they had by you — Jhereg was actually the 5th or 6th Vlad book I read, because they didn’t have a copy. Very courteous of you to write the rest of the series such that the ending of the “first” was still a surprise. :D

    Thanks for always pushing forward with each new book!

  18. David and I were living in Massachusetts when you sold the book; it was right before Minicon. You didn’t call us. You just met us at the airport wearing one of the buttons that Minicon was handing out to professional authors in attendance. You were also grinning from ear to ear. But honestly, we just thought you were glad to see us. You had to tell us in words. “Ace bought the sucker!”

    It was a very happy Minicon all around.


  19. Jhereg was, I think, the first book I read in junior high. Certainly it’s the first one I read that’s stuck with me for all fifteen years since then. Next was Yendi, and from there I conquered all the other existing Vlad books in as close to chronological order as you permit.

    I discovered Vlad before I discovered film noir. He was the first hero I ever rooted for whose morals I didn’t agree with. I read the Phoenix Guard before I knew about the Three Musketeers. When I wrote my first oh-god-I-can’t-remember-it-without-wincing novel at sixteen, the desktop of my computer read “And Now, I’m Going To Tell You Something Really Cool.” (Hopefully I’m getting better at doing that successfully).

    At 4th Street, you asked me at one point if I was familiar with your work. I blurted “a little, yeah,” or something like that, and I’m not sure if the wryness came across; you have yet to publish a novel I haven’t read at least once (and the only ones I haven’t read twice are really damned hard to find). Saying that at the time would have felt too much like sucking up, but it’s a nicely nostalgic occasion to say it now so I’ll try not to feel embarrassed about it.

    The other thing that it occurred to me to say was a quote, from memory (and thus prone to error, but let’s try)

    “There is a similarity, if I may be permitted an excursion into tenuous metaphor, between the feel of a chill breeze and that of a knife as either is laid across the back of one’s neck. I can call up memories of both. The breeze is inevitably going to be the more pleasant of the two…”

    Can’t wait to see what the next fascinating process is. Tiassa was a treat, and I’d speculate that my good impression of The Incrementalists is no secret, either.

  20. Dumb luck is still luck. I’ve had more than my fair share of it too. Congrats on the success and hi5 for recognizing it. Keep it up so I can keep benefiting from it. :)

    Now, I’m off to thank the person who first introduced me to your work for having done so many years ago for having done so. Can you imagine how different the last 6 years that we’ve known each other would have been had that one event not happened? Life is weird.

  21. @ Matt Doyle — *fistbump* I also read Phoenix Guards before I’d heard of the Three Musketeers. Pretty sure I’d have skimmed the stupid abridged version assigned in English class without even noticing it, if not for Steve. It is his fault that swords, intrigue, and “history” became Cool Stuff for me, and I read it in full, and loved Dumas. I still love Dumas, just not as much as I love Paarfi.

  22. Your reflection reminded me a bit of Shawshank Redemption…

    “Red: Thirty years. Jesus. When you say it like that…
    Andy: You wonder where it went. I wonder where ten years went.”

    Congrats on the milestone! Been along for the great ride since I first came across Jhereg in 1985 or so. Thanks much for having us along.

  23. Congrats on the anniversary!

    The first book I read of yours was Dragon, which I found in a library on holiday. I only got to read one or so chapters before I had to leave the book behind, and spent the next few years looking for it… I lost and found the piece of paper that had your name on it so many times that I eventually just stuck it to my wall and copied it out whenever I went on the search. When I eventually found it, I was a little worried that it had acquired a mythic, unrealistic status in my mind–but no, it was just as good as I remembered it.

    Thank you for all the delightful stories, and may you continue enjoying writing them for many years to come!

  24. I read “To Reign in Hell” first. It suited my contradictory nature and I loved the idea of there being a different version of “The Fall” to fling at my family. :) Since then I have read everything else and loved all of them. Vlad became my hero and I have loved almost all of the books. Teckla is a tough read for me. :)

    Paarfi actually inspired me to go read Dumas. I had never read ANY classics before that but I had to go read the 3 musketeers after reading 500 years.

    Mr. Brust, thank you for 30 years of awesome writing and wonderful stories.

  25. I eventually got talked into reading Jhereg after considerable exposure to Brust fans on my MUD, Lost Souls. One of my more valued collaborators loved the Vlad series, and for many years, “Sethra Lavode” was recognizable to me as the name of the MUD’s biggest, most badass evil female player character. Once I picked up Jhereg and went, “oh, first-person-smartass narration, I missed you so”, it was all over.

  26. I wish I could go back 15 years or so and tell youthful fangirl me that someday we would get to actually vacuum Steven Fucking Brust’s bedroom floor, for real. *swoon*

    But honestly, now I’m just lording it over all the other fans. I should stop.

  27. I’d seen that! I hadn’t looked at the source, though, which seems to have been written in 2003, which actually means that my parallel invention of it was about three years earlier (and in reference to the Chronicles of Amber). I feel so validated today! (The blow of finding out that my PUA/MRA t-shirt idea had already been done has taken some recovering from, you understand.)

  28. Between that and me crawling around the floor with the shopvac, veloci-snarling about living in the Hipstercene, you really ought to feel validated today.

    (What was the tshirt idea again? All I can think of now is making a fake pua/mra union local, and that’s just wrong on so many levels.)

  29. *beam* You had me at crawling around on the floor.

    (Something like “PUA/MRA You Are Not Forgiven” in the style of “POW/MIA You Are Not Forgotten”. The person who’d already done it had a lamer line, but had thought to put a fedora on the silhouette, which is a touch that hadn’t occurred to me.)

  30. Don’t worry, the fedoras will be okay. Only once they’ve been thoroughly tarred by association can they be heroically reclaimed! It’s a bittersweet tapestry of life itself.

  31. Thanks for keeping-on with the sentences, and especially for some sentences years ago in a short, encouraging note mailed back to a fanboy in Idaho. A successful fantasy author? Dime-a-dozen. A considerate correspondent? Priceless.

  32. I can agree with Scot there. The first time an author answered a letter or email I wrote them, it was an inquiry about the details of the Cool Stuff Theory of Literature.

  33. I saw the cover of Athyra through the thin plastic of a grocery bag which was filled-to-bust with other books. The bag was in a closet which contained many other bags and boxes of books. I noticed Athyra first, pulled it out, and began reading immediately. I was in 8th grade.

    …You speak of dumb luck.

    Thank you for writing well, being passionate about it, and respecting yourself and your readers enough not to crank out drivel or pad your words with filler. Very much obliged.

  34. I hate to be a fanboy but… dammit. I am a fanboy. Please continue with the channelling of the awesome.

  35. I discovered your books way back in college. A friend was moving, and left me a bag of books with a note saying that some of these were crap, and some were great, and for me to have fun figuring out which was which. I don’t recall the rest of the contents of that bag, but I know that the first few Vlad books were in there, and so I discovered the first 5 of those books…..and with each new book, I prep myself by rereading all the previous books. Then I read the new one the day it is released, and then, just because I am not ready to let go of Vlad’s world just yet, I’ll generally read the new one again, and then any others that strike my fancy to have another go at…usually I read them in published order, but sometimes I try to read them in chronological order (as much as that is possible *cough cough* Dragon and now Tiassa too)

    Anyway, thank you for over 20 years of enjoyment in this world of yours….I hope indeed for 30 more!

  36. by Aaron Copland (1900 – 1990) , “I’ve heard an organ talk sometimes”, 1949-50 [mezzo-soprano, piano], from Twelve Poems of Emily Dickinson , no. 10.

Leave a Reply