What do I mean by that? I mean that when half the critique group LOVES your story and the other half HATES it, this is not cause for despair. It is, in fact, cause for rejoicing. It means your story found its target audience. It is resonating with readers. It has touched people deeply enough that they will grab their friends by the shirt collars and insist on telling them about it.
Yes, it would be nice if every reader was part of your target audience. But that does not happen very often, and a story that wins a cadre of adoring fans is far, far preferable to one that everyone agrees is mediocre.
Do not worry about the people who hated your story. Listen to their comments, use them if you can, but focus most on the feedback from the people who adored it. These are the people who sensed the beating heart of the story. These are the people who can form it into what it was meant to become.
Your stories exist for the people who love them. Everyone else is bonus coins.
I just finished checking the galleys for Twelve Tomorrows, forthcoming in September from MIT’s Technology Review. My contribution to this anthology is another “deep thought” story, falling somewhere between Movement and Godshift in literary style. I recall that I was reading work by Heinlein at the time I wrote it.
The story builds on one of my pet theories about artificial intelligence. Current AI research tends to focus on intellectual models: logic systems, Bayesian learning, neural networks and interlingua, for example. I’ve always felt that this was a somewhat limited way to view cognition, and that when it comes to emulating consciousness, the endocrine system is at least as important as the brain’s neural pathways. Human identities are embedded in emotional experience, not merely in rational thought.
Remember Lt. Commander Data’s inability to feel emotions? That’s because his positronic brain was modeled on the human nervous system. He had an incredible capacity for abstract thought, but could not mimic the function of adrenaline, seratonin, and other hormones that affect our moods.
The Cyborg and the Cemetery postulates an artificial intelligence that emerged from the link between a synthetic brain and a human endocrine system. It assumes that a scaffolding process was used, with the immature AI observing and learning from its human partner. Interestingly, very little of this is mentioned within the story itself.
In addition to playing with AI (one of my favorite all-time science fiction topics), I also wanted to explore a thematic issue. Science fiction has historically focused on technology’s ability to dehumanize us. From the Borg in Star Trek to the treatment of precogs in Minority Report, science fiction repeatedly shows us images of humans hemmed in by technology. This can certainly happen, and often does happen, in the modern world. In the Cyborg and the Cemetery, I deliberately set out to explore the opposite supposition. I wanted to show how technology can give us back our humanity, instead.
cross-posted from nancyfulda.com
A wise acquaintance once told me that raising a child is not the same as baking a cake. There is no magic recipe. There are no secret strategies that produce consistent results for every child or for every family. There’s just you, and your child, and the thousands of different ways you interact every day.
I’ve found this to be very true. My children react to some situations the way most of their classmates do. They react to other situations in ways that are uniquely their own. At certain stages of their development, they needed clear consequences to help them see the way their actions affected those around them. At other stages of development, they were utterly unable to see the connections between their choices and my subsequent parenting decisions. Strictness, in such situations, was not helpful. Over the past ten years, I have come to view parenting much in the same way that I view writing, or sculpture, or any other art form. Certain general principles apply. The secret lies in discovering which principle to rely on at any given moment.
This week I’m re-reading Adele Faber and Elaine Mazlish’s How to Talk so Kids Will Listen and Listen so Kids Will Talk. My mother gave me this book when I was pregnant with my first child. It’s a practical handbook about how we communicate and, perhaps more importantly, how we can encourage others to do the same. It builds off the assumption that a child’s feelings are just as important as those of an adult, and just as deserving of recognition.
I’m not too thrilled with the commercial descriptions of this book. They make it sound like a brittle list of parenting commandments, inflexible and unsuited to any but an extraordinarily typical family. The reality is much more refreshing. I first read this book when my son was two, and found the ideas intriguing. Many of the more pragmatic suggestions were irrelevant to me then. But the concepts have stayed with me, and have probably influenced my parenting style more than I will ever realize.
Parenting, like any other skill, involves both practice and theory. I find parenting books useful primarily because they offer a unique opportunity to step back and examine the way I interact with my children. They shake up my assumptions about the shoulds and should nots of childraising. They encourage me to change, even if I don’t always change in the way the book’s author intended.
The best parenting books also provide useful tools for dealing with problem situations. Like any other tool, these work best when applied astutely, and are no replacement for authenticity and human empathy.
How to Talk so Kids Will Listen and Listen so Kids Will Talk offers a lot of useful tools. I value them enough that it seemed appropriate to dig out the book for a refresher course. So far, I have not been disappointed.
cross-posted from nancyfulda.com
Yesterday, I noticed that she had invented a new game. She kept opening the box lid and moving her fingers across the compartments as if typing on a keyboard. Then she would 'click' to take a picture of the toys sitting in front of the mirror.
I love the modern world.
To all you wonderful, beautiful, diverse SFF people:
In a recent conversation with other authors who are practicing a religious faith, it became apparent that many of us feel social pressure to hide our beliefs. I’m not talking about common politeness and self-censoring during conversations at conventions and on the internet. That’s a no-brainer. I hope anyone who’s met me in person can testify that I’m not the kind of jerk who goes around rubbing other people’s noses in her opinions. I’m talking about something else. I’m talking about feelings of rejection because of who we are and what we believe — independent of any specific actions we have taken. Feelings of invalidation and dehumanization. Fear of being ridiculed or publicly dogpiled if we allow our religious affiliations to be known.
In a follow-up to that conversation, someone asked me to describe any specific actions which were leading to these feelings. I floundered. I’d been feeling subtle pressures for years, but did not have words to describe them.
Well, I’ve spent a few days thinking about it, and I now have words. No one is obligated to fix my problem, but I would appreciate it if people chose to try. I want a SFF community where we can ALL feel welcome. Where we can ALL accept one another’s differences despite the fact that those differences sometimes put us on opposite sides of political conflicts. If you would like to help the writers of faith within the SFF community feel accepted as individuals, just as I hope you would like every other sub-group to feel accepted, here are some things you can do:
- 1. Please do not ridicule faith in God or equate it with blind obedience. Unless you have spent time interacting with a wide variety of organized religions, you probably have no idea what the word actually means.
- 2. Please do not express support for me with one breath and emphatically distance yourself from my beliefs with the other. I know you mean no harm, but it makes me feel shunned and villainized. Within SFF, my views on religion are in a stark minority. No one is going to assume you share them. There is no reason to make a big deal about the fact that you don’t.
- 3. When I make a post like this, please do not tell me to stop whining because other people have it worse. Yes. There are people who have it much, much worse than I do, but my problem is still here. My pain is very real. Please do not invalidate it by claiming I have no reason to be upset.
- 4. My religious beliefs are part of who I am. No matter what you think, I cannot simply yank out the pieces you find objectionable and toss them aside. Please do not expect that I do so.
- 5. When, within an appropriate context, I mention a controversial church doctrine, please ask for more information before you start explaining* why that doctrine is wrong. Doctrine is a complex beast. The fact that I accept tenet A does automatically mean that I hold views B, C, D, E, or F. And it certainly does not mean that I approve of actions G, H, or I. I am happy to engage in polite discussion, but I don’t like being talked down to based on imagined opinions that have been invented for me.
- 6. I realize that many people within SFF have had horrible experiences with members of organized religions. I am not those people who mistreated you. Please do not treat me as if I were. Once we have gotten to know each other, you may conclude that I am a despicable person, or you may decide that I am actually quite reasonable. I can deal with either option, but please do not reduce me to a stereotype.
- 7. There is a tendency within the SFF community to demonize those who hold controversial opinions even when those opinions are expressed politely. This is divisive. Please stop. The fact that someone disagrees with you you does not make it ok to lob insults.
I love science fiction. I love fantasy. I love all the myriad styles of storytelling in between and I love the people who gather to discuss the craft and business of writing, both in person and on the internet. You are all AMAZING people, and I am honored to walk among you.
Thank you for listening.
*Several readers pointed out that the word I originally used here, ‘mansplaining’, is both derogatory and inaccurate to the situation. I agree. I shouldn’t have used it. Hence the change.
Comments at Livejournal
cross-posted from nancyfulda.com
I’ve had a couple people ask for a comprehensive list of my online fiction. You know, stuff that can be read for free in a web browser.
I’m not positive this list is comprehensive, but it is at least nearly so. More recent publications are listed near the top. Older stories are at the bottom. Happy reading!
Dawn, and the Stars, A Dark Expanse tie-in story, published by Deorc Enterprise, May 2013.
A Song of Blackness, Beneath Ceaseless Skies, October 2012
Godshift, Daily Science Fiction, March 2012
The Death and Rebirth of Anne Bonny, Daily Science Fiction, January 2012
All or Nothing, Daily Science Fiction, January 2012
Simulating Sentience (article), Clarkesworld, September 2011.
That Undiscovered Country, Baen.com, 2011.
Movement, reprinted at Escape Pod, originally in Asimov’s Science Fiction Magazine March 2011.
Like Rain From Silver Skies, Basement Stories, January 2011.
The Scream at NewMyths.com, December 2010.
Nothing This Fun Could Be Good For You: A History of Evil Entertainment (article), Clarkesworld, December 2010.
Knowing Neither Kin Nor Foe in Beneath Ceaseless Skies, April 2010.
The Breath of Heaven, reprinted in Kasma SF, originally in The Sword Review, 2007.
cross-posted from nancyfulda.com
One of the reasons I love writing is because of the things it allows my subconscious to tell the rest of my brain. I’ve never yet written a story that didn’t include a couple of surprises, little turns of phrase which change the color of the universe in my eyes. I’ve always said that I hope my readers come away from my stories as a slightly different person than they were before. I know for a fact that I come away as a different person after writing them.
This week Dawn, and the Stars appeared on the Dark Expanse web site. This is one of those stories that I thought would be an open-and-shut case. The objective was to explore Chitter culture and physiology, set up a couple of story elements for later on, and end up with a short, sweet, intriguing-but-not-particularly-deep bit of space opera.
As usual, my own story surprised me.
(No, really. If you’re the type of person who likes to experience stories before discussing them, go read it now. It’s really short.)
Near the end of the story, a hive-bred alien is struggling with an assignment to join a starfaring expedition — something his genes were never intended to handle, and which fills him with dread. He doesn’t think he can do it. He feels genetically inadequate.
As he turns to go, one of the geneticists calls him back. “Jaktul,” she says. “Remember that a Chitter is more than his genetic pattern. Our genes determine the landscape of our existence, but not the path we take across it.”
That, right there, is the cogent description of the complex interaction between nature, nurture, and agency that I’ve been mulling over for years. And it just popped out. I had no idea the geneticist was going to say that until I’d already put the words on the page.
Like I said, this is why I love writing fiction. Because on the first draft, I get to experience the story right along with the reader.
And I learn something new every time.
cross-posted from nancyfulda.com
The Association for Mormon Letters has selected “Godshift” as its 2013 award recipient for short fiction. This delights and astounds me. The AML is an insightful and highly literary organization, and I’m pleased that they found value in the concepts I sought to explore in the story.
They’ve also written up a lovely description of the story on the AML blog:
Nancy Fulda gives a realistic depiction of what might happen if God, the unchangeable and infinitely merciful, changed. It’s so difficult to write a believable story wherein characters reach a mind shattering conclusion, but Fulda pulls it off brilliantly.
While at first glance, this story seems to be a classic cautionary tale of how science can overstep its bounds, there are a few crucial differences that make this short story different from the archetype. First, the overwhelming fact that, in this story, science is actually changing God’s reactions rather than having God’s reactions change science. Second, the younger generation argues for a more conservative approach to science, while the older generation plunges rashly forward.
I love analyses like this, because I inevitably learn something new about my own work. Mr. Bigelow is correct: this story does invert traditional generation roles regarding scientific impetuosity. And I never realized it until just now.cross-posted from nancyfulda.com