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c is for cat

Rules for Anchorites

Letters from Proxima Thule

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Home Training, Mars, and Fiction
c is for cat
catvalente
GUESS WHAT.

I have another SF story out today! I know, seriously. When I say I had all the deadlines ever, I mean it. These are just the ones with quick turnaround.

Some people seemed to be upset by yesterday's story at Clarkesworld, going so far as to suggest it's so clearly autobiographical that it doesn't belong in a fiction magazine.

This I find sad and bizarre. Does it have details from my own life? Yes, it does. Every single thing I write does. I would say that The Labyrinth remains the single most autobiographical thing I've written. I don't know how to write without using my real emotions, real experience--all I have to share is my experience of the world, even when it has space and magic in it. This is what writing is, mining life for fiction. I suppose I should be complimented that those readers assumed everything in the story was true--it means I did a good job. Try reading The Things They Carried sometime--that whole book is about the terrible thin line between the truth and fiction, and runs back and forth over it constantly. This is like the entire point of literature.

But even if it were all true, I used those details to create a character. It's no more illegitimate than using creation myths that are really part of cultures living and dead. I find it bizarre to have to insist that fiction is fiction, a story is a story. Write what you know isn't some kind of pithy joke--y'all agreed when I wrote this. I wasn't just taking a rhetorical stance. I mean it. And if writers didn't use their own lives, well...listing the books that would vanish from existence would take the rest of the year. I said it was personal, not non-fiction--the best stories are personal. If I had not said that, would they have assumed it was autobiography? Not sure, I just know I'm a bit incensed at being told I didn't write fiction. I know SF isn't supposed to be about those squishy feelings, but I have no time for stories that are totally impenetrable and impersonal and just have a lot of lasers in them. I WILL LASER YOUR HEART, YO.

So I have this other story out today. And this one is completely different: How to Become a Mars Overlord at Lightspeed Magazine. A guide to achieving domination over the red planet. It's funny and it probably won't make you cry, though I can't make any promises. But it's still intensely personal, and uses some big details from my own life, because that's how I write stories, and that's where inspiration comes from.

I am extremely proud of this story, too. I pretty much don't write stories that don't connnect viscerally to the real world and how to live in it. Last I checked, that was supposed to be what science fiction was all about.

Read How to Become a Mars Overlord right now through the magic of the internet. Comment, so the folks know you read it. Listen to the podcast (I'm going to right now--it is SO AWESOME to hear someone else read my work.) And Overlord the shit out of your day.


Oh, jeez. Gene has several stories about a character named Gene Wolfe. And one of my favorite Gaiman shorts is "One Life, Furnished in Early Moorcock," which apparently was also very autobiographical.

Plus, Shirley Jackson much?

Anyway, from what I saw of the earlier comments yesterday, that story was gettin' some serious lovin', so I hope you cradle that close to heart too.

I do. I am very glad for it. But it is bad taste for the author to respond to comments on the page, so I thought I'd settle the is it fiction thing here.

AND DUDE I KNOW RIGHT? At least I didn't name the character after myself! I'm not even a science fiction writer! DAMN.

Heh. When I started to read this post, TTTC was the first thing that came to mind. Quote from the story "Notes" that I keep in my computer's notepad:
By telling stories, you objectify your own experience. You separate it from yourself. You pin down certain truths. You make up others. You start sometimes with an incident that truly happened, like the night in the shit field, and you carry it forward by inventing incidents that did not in fact occur but that nonetheless help to clarify and explain.

Arg, what does TTTC stand for?

"going so far as to suggest it's so clearly autobiographical that it doesn't belong in a fiction magazine."

I was unaware that there is an official measurement. People need to get over themselves. I really enjoyed Thirteen Ways of Looking at Space/Time.

Have just read your story in the bus; it's great, thank you very much.

"Ohio is historically a healthy place for science fiction writers" - based on what? :)

Oh, a TON of SF writers are either from or live or lived in Ohio. It's insane. I had t-shirts made for Ohio SF writers at one point.

"going so far as to suggest it's so clearly autobiographical that it doesn't belong in a fiction magazine."

um, what? Did they read the same story I did?


I am flabbergasted myself. I would not call that story an autobiography. At all. At BEST you have to ignore half the story to come away with that, at worst you have to assume you know with all seeing power what in a story is true and what isn't.

Last paragraph FTW!


Re: Last paragraph FTW!

Mwa ha ha.

Those people need to STFU.

13 Ways has left me sitting here feeling so deeply I can't find words for it. Because I'm sorry, you could just as easily have been writing about *my* life. So, are you? You don't really know me.

What you wrote there...

No. Still no words. But it cut my heart out. Yes. It fed it to the insatiable universe.

That's more than enough for me.

Those others? Like I said. They need to STFU.

I am glad, so glad, because so much experience is universal--marriage, divorce, miscarriage? That could be anyone, and that's the point of writing about it, because SF should also be about those things, because they too hurt and need healing. With lasers.

"There is no such thing as autobiography, there is only art and lies."

- Jeanette Winterson

Huh, that's a very odd reaction to have to a story, any story, but especially a sci-fi story. Writers always pull from life if they want to write engaging fiction, you're very very right, and how anyone can think that they can automatically tell what's autobiographical and what's based on reality and what's pure fancy in a story is...well, it's arrogant and bewildering.

Also, I want to read more SF that has squashy feelings. I'm not big on romance and sappy stories, but I like my stories to have a bit of emotion in them, not just impersonal robots with laser eyes. Robots have feelings too!

Everyone is always harping on that. Robots have feelings! Robots have feelings!

What about the LASERS, huh?


I am such a rampant lurker, but in this case I had to comment over there. It's so headdesk worthy.

Yeah, I don't have to tell you how much I loved both of those, right?

I am listening to Mars right now, and my Boy is listening to it too, at his work, and we are chatting about it over gchat, and I love you a lot.

I remember the first moment I thought "oh wow maybe the Glass family aren't JD Salinger's actual family - maybe he doesn't have any siblings at all!
It was a pretty big realisation. He writes quite a lot about them - especially Seymour, his soldier/suicide brother - in books that aren't The Catcher in the Rye. It all sounds really intense and personal, and I took it all completely literally, until one day I realised it could be all made up. It would never be my right to know for certain.
I really, really hope his brother didn't die like that. He chose not to tell anyone, and it isn't my business to ask.

Incidentally, in my comment I said the story would probably become (among other things) a 'toy' which was a really poor choice of words and may have come out very wrong - I meant, I anticipate months if not years of curious returnings to it, unpicking more of the science and thinking about myth/creation in new ways.

While I am sure that "Thirteen Ways to Look at Space/Time" isn't for everyone, it is most definitely SF and worthy as all get out. I had to post about it on my LJ, under the heading This Post Is Only For Those Who Truly Embrace The Ideal Of The Complete Liberal Arts and Sciences Education. (grin)

Dr. Phil

*hug* I liked that post.

I agree with you completely about sci fi. And I've been meaning to tell you that I thought yesterday's story was incredible. Its my favorite piece of yours, so far.

I noticed a few commenters making the assumption it was about you. Knowing what little I do about your life, I could see what experiences probably informed the science fiction writer's own biography, but I learned long ago not to automatically conflate the writer with the narrator/protagonist of a story. (Which is not to say that every writer writes his/herself into everything they do.)

BTW I really liked the story and managed to get an online friend to read it and comment. He liked it very much. So you have a new reader. :)