God's War is a Very Good Book. I confess I'm yet to read the rest of the Bel Dame Apocrypha—in my defense, the series is only now being rolled out locally—but when the author approached me about composing a potential guest post for you folks, I don't mind admitting how warmly I welcomed the suggestion.
Immediately I started wondering what I could possibly talk her into. Kameron Hurley has written some incredibly progressive pieces in the past—like this essay for A Dribble of Ink, currently being mooted for a Hugo—but she also writes a lot of lists. And I... I don't love lists.
But a list with a difference? A list about lists? The more I mulled what had begun as a joke over, the more I realised how interested I'd be in reading her response. And to Kameron's credit, as you'll see, she took my suggestion (almost) completely seriously.
So, it’s guest post season for me, with work, here, here, here, here, and here and... oh, you don’t even want to see my calendar for the rest of January.
Let’s get meta instead.
When you approach bloggers for guests posts (as I approached Niall), it’s often best to ask them if there’s a particular topic they’re interested in. It’s their house, after all, and it makes sense to pick a topic of interest to their readership. Funny enough, Niall sort of (flippantly, I think) asked me what five guest posts I wouldn't write if somebody asked... and that got me thinking.
Because, dear reader, though I’ll happily talk about health crises, institutionalized racism, and critique the SFWA—there are some topics these days that I won’t touch.
Here are my top five:
1) Posts disparaging the work of other writers (except maybe John Ringo)
As I’ve gotten more entrenched in the world of books, I've learned just how much sales, word of mouth, and connections actually matter in this business. Everything they tell you as a n00b is true: after you reach a certain level of literary “good” a lot of your lucky breaks will depend on who’s aware of you, who knows you, who knows somebody else they think might like what you like, etc. If you’re going to bash another writer’s work in public, you need to be willing to burn both that bridge and, potentially, any bridges linked to that author. That doesn’t mean don’t CRITIQUE an author’s work—I’ll recommend books and still note that they have a pointless rape scene, clunky prose, or some plot gaps—but I don’t go on the warpath like I used to do back in the day. A couple of the authors whose work I formerly maligned on my blog have actually turned out to be incredibly supportive colleagues ten years later—but it took ten years to iron things over. At this point, I’m only going to eviscerate another writer if I feel their fiction is incredibly damaging from stern to sail, and I’m OK burning that whole ship down.
2) Posts primarily about issues surrounding rape and sexual assault.
I’m pretty well versed in this area after ten years of research into revolutionary armies and mass atrocities and my own sordid experience living in a rape culture. When you’ve read a good portion of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission transcripts and get told by society from birth that you exist to be assaulted in service to the sexual needs of another, there are some topics you just no longer want to engage with at length. I prefer to do the heavy lifting on other topics. This one doesn’t exist to be debated, for me. It’s something that suffuses everything, so to have to engage with folks who don’t see it takes too many spoons. I’d rather be using those spoons on other things, like creating worlds that interrogate this stuff.
3) Posts about my spouse
When my spouse and I hooked up, I made an active decision to not blog about our relationship. This was not a rule beforehand—I’d been known to write some pretty blistering things about folks I’d dated prior, or, if not blistering, well, at least brutally honest. But my readership was smaller then, and so was the internet. I could still blog about my employer and not worry they were Googling me. Times have changed. So have I, and so has my readership. My spouse actually gets annoyed about not being part of the broader public narrative of my life. I had to explain to him that it wasn’t because he was of lesser importance than other things I spoke about, quite the contrary—it was because I considered what we had to be ours, and no one else’s. It was the one thing I had of my own that I didn’t consider something open for mining into posts for public consumption (like this!). As I’ve gotten older, I find myself plunging deeply into a lot of my life’s experiences to come up with material. But the relationship I’ve had the last five or six years—well, that’s mine. Folks who are looking for sickly syrupy marriage-y relationship-y posts about my personal life and rah-rah find-the-one-you-love rants will likely come up cold. Besides, I always hated those people who rah-rahed about their children and marriages. They always felt like Abercrombie & Fitch ads, silently judging my roaring single life. I hated those jerks.
4) Posts about babies, childrearing, or “childfree” living
This is similar to #3. Listen, I’m not a motherhood guru or childfree-living aficionado. I write sword-sociology-science fiction stories, and though that certainly involves me re-imagining ways that humans bear and raise babies, I could really give a crap about how other people do it. As with the choice of a spouse, spouses, or no spouse or alt/whatev, people’s choices about whether or not to have children and how they raise them isn’t something I’m going to nose my way into. I’ve had to watch too many friends deal with well-meaning assholes telling them how to carry and raise their own children. This is all related to this weird squicky assumption we all have that women belong to others, that women are objects to be moved and managed by others, not autonomous individuals. What I *will* talk about, however, is legislature that puts limits on the rights of women to control their fertility, from contraception to abortion rights. Choice is something I believe wholeheartedly in—but whatever your personal choice, I have no advice on hand. Live a full life. Live it exactly the way you want it. Fuck everybody else. I’m going to go write some fiction about other ways societies could manage things that aren’t as squicky.
5) Posts about self-publishing
Like most writers, I have a few stories and a story collection for sale at various digital shops. I think I’ve made, like, a whopping $100 on them. I’ve made more on straight Paypal tipjar donations via my blog than I have self-pubbed fiction. I also make something like $20 a month on Amazon affiliate links—way more than my monthly fiction take. So though for some self-publishing may seem like the Second Coming, or a Revolution, or, more likely, an elaborate Pyramid Scheme, I see it merely as another publishing option, with the same number of benefits and drawbacks as other methods. We’re writers. Making money on words—cutting through the clutter—is tough. I’m far more interested in talking about how writers of all sorts cut through that clutter than I am in how they serve it up—via their own websites, third party sites, or through trad publishers. The platform ain’t the meat of it. The meat is in seeing the signal in all the noise.
BONUS: Related to #1, unless I’m in a very special situation (like this one) you’re also not going to get me to publicly rant about problems or issues with agents, editors, or publishers. I wouldn’t write a post about the annoying people at my day job, either. Because—you don’t shit where you eat. One of the things you have to realize, as an author, is when it’s time to use your public platform for good, and when it’s just you feeling frustrated. There are plenty of other places for writers to be privately frustrated. If I’m going to rant in a blog post about something related to my fiction life or my day job, it’s going to be because I think the possible good is going to outweigh burning the bridge (and possible future bridges – remember, you don’t just burn one link, but all the links that link has with everyone else). I never post thoughtlessly. Words matter. I’m a writer. I know that better than anyone.
Kameron Hurley is an award-winning writer and freelance copywriter who grew up in Washington State. She is the author of the novels God’s War, Infidel, and Rapture, and her short fiction has appeared in magazines such Lightspeed, EscapePod, and Strange Horizons, and anthologies such as The Lowest Heaven and Year’s Best SF.
God's War is out today in paperback. To celebrate, I have a copy of the novel to give away to anyone based in the UK. All you need to do is leave a comment or help me pimp this magnificent piece on Twitter.