Those of us who’ve been in the field a long time have pretty much abstained from the arguments. Not because we lack opinions. We have opinions and have discussed them with each other privately, but we remain quiet because we’ve seen such protracted battles before.
When I came into the field in the 1980s, I watched the remnants of two such protracted battles. The first was about the legitimacy of Star Wars and Star Trek and whether or not Trek and SW fans even belonged in the genre, let alone any writers who admitted they enjoyed those things.
That first argument spilled into a sillier side argument about whether or not tie-in writers tainted their writing skills by writing novels in someone else’s universe. Hugo Award winner Timothy Zahn pretty much destroyed the naysayers by writing excellent sf novels under the Star Wars label and making a small fortune doing so.
The second argument was about whether fantasy was a legitimate genre. The writer-critics agreed that slipstream fantasy—the kind that where you can’t tell if the fantasy is something that really happened to the character or something that he misinterpreted—was legitimate. But the rest of it? That could’ve been crap, as judged by the terms the writer-critics used, like “fat fantasy novels,” as if they were all the same or “elfy-welfy” novels that obviously weren’t up to any kind of quality whatsoever.
When I published my first novel, a not-quite-fat fantasy novel set in a magical kingdom, a writer-friend told me that I had just ruined the career I was building because I was writing crap fantasy, not real literature. He didn’t receive a new asshole, but only because I was little more circumspect in those days. Now, I’d simply tell him in no uncertain terms to mind his own damn business and to let the readers decide.
If you think these kinds of arguments only occur in the sf genre, think again. In the past few years, I participated in a few group projects in the romance genre. In two cases, one of the participants was a male romance writer, and I’ll be honest: until this sf argument started, I had never before seen such naked bigotry between writers.
Some of the female romance writers hated that a man was involved, wouldn’t admit that he could contribute anything of value, and essentially treated him (if they spoke to him at all) as if he was an imbecile. These women, all of a certain age, had had the same experience themselves in reverse in their real-world careers, so I was stunned that they would turn on a fellow human being like that, but turn they did.
The mystery field has its issues as well. Some of the issues also concern gender: there’s a well-known editor in the field who has said that both women and cats have no place in mystery. I’m convinced he does this to provoke, since he’s supported women in many ways (including in my own career). I have no idea what he’s done for cats.
But there’s also another division in mystery that runs really deep: there are mystery writers who consider those who write cozies (y’know, like the stuff Agatha Christie wrote) to be an inferior part of the genre, if part of the genre at all. On the other side, there are cozy writers who believe that the hard-boiled writers (like Raymond Chandler) destroyed a decorous genre with unnecessary violence.
While these distinctions might sound silly to the casual reader, they’re extremely destructive to writers inside the various genres. I know of writers who stopped producing in the genres they loved because of the vicious attacks from one side or another. I also know of writers whose outspoken nastiness destroyed their careers with the very editors (and readers) they wanted to sell books to.
Since the advent of indie publishing, it’s not as easy to destroy a career as it was in the past. An editor might not want to take a toxic writer into the fold, but the writer can self-publish. You’d think that would solve the issues of divisiveness—if writers want to write something, they can—but it hasn’t. If anything, the problem has grown more pervasive, louder, and uglier.
Personally, I believe that a writer’s politics and religious beliefs (including beliefs about a favorite genre) should remain off-social media if at all possible, and that arguments in favor of one thing or another should be made in person, if at all.
I think it’s more important to incorporate your worldview into what you write and let the readers decide whether or not they want to read your work than it is to win an argument that will seem quaint fifteen years from now. Of course, I also believe that we should all look at the way people live their lives rather than focusing on the words they use or the color of their skin.
Yeah, idealist here. One whose perfect world matches the one Dr. Martin Luther King outlined in 1963, when he said that human beings should be judged by the content of their character, not the color of the skin (or their gender or their sexual preference or—you know, all of that).
If you want to change the world, work to affect change politically or economically or through a charity. Volunteer, vote, run for office, do something active rather than try to destroy people who disagree with you. If nothing else, write fiction with the passion that you’re currently investing in online flame wars and trolling.
Screaming at an enemy, with a side dish of name-calling, only leads to trench warfare. It also has an impact on some readers. I know of readers who stopped reading favorite writers because of the Hachette-Amazon dispute last summer, and I’m sure this major fight in sf is causing readers to quietly drop writers from their reading lists.
My tenure in the publishing industry has shown me that these bitter disputes are really about change. One side resists the change while the other side advocates for it, and they remain locked at each other’s throats, calling each other names. The thing is, as they’re screaming at each other, other writers are quietly effecting change by doing what they do best—writing fiction.
The problem for writers, particularly beginning writers, is that they hear these arguments and get indoctrinated with “shoulds.” If I had listened to that writer-friend twenty-four years ago, I would never have written The Fey series, my Kristine Grayson novels would not exist, and I would have essentially cut off a huge part of my creativity.
If I had not withstood the tie-in arguments, I would never have written some Star Trek novels that I’m very proud of or got to play in the Star Wars universe—something I had dreamed about since I was sixteen years old.
I would have let other people’s opinions destroy things I love.
The problem with all of these arguments, from the cozy versus the hard-boiled, the fantasy versus science fiction, the women versus men, the white folks versus people of color, is that they prescribe how a story should be written.
What’s wrong with writing a story from your own heritage? If the story’s from a perspective that hasn’t seen a lot of print, then write it. If the story’s been done before (as is the case with so much white American-European fiction), write it anyway.
Write it. Because it comes from your personality, your knowledge, and your heritage. That story will contain your passion. Write it and let it find its audience.
I know that a lot of curated fiction—stuff that came out of traditional publishing—closed and barricaded the door to people of color (in almost all genres), to women (in most genres), and to men (in the romance genre). I know that these issues still need resolution.
I also know that indie publishing has allowed these voices to finally be heard.
That’s change, and so many people are so terrified of change that they react with startling bigotry and language or behavior that they would never use in polite company. Social media has allowed a lot of horrid things to slip through the cracks—racist, discriminatory, biased and just plain ugly stuff.
And because of it, so many newer writers are backing away from topics that they could easily write about now that the gatekeepers have lost their hold on the entry points into various fields. These newer writers are letting the opinions of others—others who, in the scheme of things really don’t matter much—shut down the creative process.
What these newer writers don’t realize is that a lot of these arguments are a last-ditch effort to control the conversation—and more importantly, to control the creatives.
In the past, traditional publishing controlled the creatives by keeping the doors locked to anything other than Our Kind’s point of view. It didn’t always succeed. Women have always had a major influence on science fiction and fantasy, even though many people deny it, and women essentially invented the modern mystery genre (dang that Agatha Christie!). Writers of color had a tougher time, but as a determined few elbowed their way into Our Kind’s gatherings, Our Kind realized they at least needed to publish a few of these books (hence the African-American section of U.S. bookstores was formed, ghettoizing the books that should’ve been on the shelf next to all the other books).
Indie publishing is allowing the creatives to break out of the artificial boxes formed by Our Kind. Women can write strong military sf. African-American writers can write about middle-class lives and middle-class values in the black community instead of being forced to write about the ghetto or voodoo magic (which they might be as unfamiliar with as Our Kind is).
And yet, writers are hearing these arguments that prescribing who should write what, and worse, many writers are believing it.
The gatekeepers are going away, so the loud voices in all the genres are trying to step up as gatekeepers.
It makes me shake my head.
So, for example…
An award seems biased toward a certain kind of writing. So what? Awards are always biased, because they’re given by a particular group, and every group—I don’t care who runs it—has a particular perspective.
If you don’t believe me, watch the Grammys or the Academy Awards every year, and read the analysis about the nominees. I’ve made a private study of the Oscars since I was a teenager, and what I learned was that the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences would rather it chose the film of the year than let the filmgoers do so.
Not that it matters much. Marvel Comics movies might never win Best Picture, but they always win at the box office.
Recognition is nice, but the best recognition in the world is from the readers themselves. (Which is why I always value Readers’ Choice Awards more than some juried award. The readers chose, not five selected gatekeepers taking a vote behind a closed door.)
Writers get so caught up in the “shoulds” and “should nots” that they twist themselves into a pretzel in the worst place possible—their own creativity.
I can remember mentally shouting down that writer-friend who told me I shouldn’t write fat fantasy novels. Every time I started a new fantasy novel, I had to silence his voice.
It wasn’t until I realized that I wasn’t writing to please him or the other gatekeepers that I was finally able to silence his voice entirely.
Because being creative is about flying in the face of accepted wisdom. It’s about writing what you want to write, in the way that only you can write it. It’s about taking risks and facing down the critics. It’s about using forbidden words and writing about topics that, judging by your appearance, you should know nothing about. It’s about facing down the bigots who say you’ve only attracted readers because your last name implies a certain ethnicity.
These people who are screaming at each other on forums and in the media? Those folks? They’re not your readers. They’re not the people who act as gatekeepers any longer. They have nothing to do with what you write.
What you write is between you and your keyboard.
When that writing is published, it’s done. You should move onto another project, and let the published one take care of itself.
You will always be a representative of your time. We all currently hold opinions that future generations will see as quaint (at best) or horribly bigoted (at worst). It might not be possible for you, in the position you’re in right now, to know if you even hold such opinions.
If you’re one of the screamers, back away from social media. You’re only alienating your friends and your readers. If you want to change minds, work on writing better fiction. You can explore all the different points of view in your stories and—oh, yeah—maybe you can learn to write from a point of view not your own.
I love what Ian Rankin has to say about writing from the point of view of his most famous character, John Rebus:
When I start writing a book, I know I am about to enter a debate with the creature I am bringing to life. My attitudes will not necessarily be his…It’s fortunate I’ll never meet him: I have the feeling we wouldn’t get along…(Rebus’s Scotland: A Personal Journey by Ian Rankin, Orion 2005)
I don’t get along with a lot of my characters. I write from the point of view of mass murderers and psycho criminals, from the point of view of bigoted cops and men who hate women.
I also write from the points of view of African-Americans in the 1970s, Native Americans in 1908 (upcoming), FBI agents from the 1960s, Vietnam veterans and anti-war protestors.
I am none of these people.
I am the writer. And as the writer, I get to choose whose viewpoint I write from. Because my last name is Germanic doesn’t mean I always use a German point of view or even a German-American point of view. Just because I’m a woman doesn’t mean all my female characters are sympathetic or, indeed, anything like me. Just because I’m white doesn’t mean that I agree with all of the white characters in my books.
I write what the story demands. I admit, I’m often using my experiences, my politics, and my opinions as starting points. But they’re only starting points. I’m often startled where these writing journeys take me. I learn about myself, and in order to write from a point of view not my own, I also have to learn about others.
The best trait good writers have is empathy. When writers are trying to shout each other down and demanded that one side write like the other side, they’re destroying the empathy—as well as their own creativity.
If you’ve been watching these fights, and taking in the “shoulds” from these arguers, let me tell you something: the loudest voices here will have to stop arguing at some point or the owners of those loud voices will stop having a career.
The people who didn’t like tie-in novels? They’re mostly gone. Those who remain have written a few tie-ins themselves.
The fat fantasy haters? The survivors have written fantasy novels. The rest are gone, including my writer-friend, who hasn’t published anything (not even a short story) in decades.
Go ahead, read the history of your favorite genre. You’ll often see these fights, and they’re often led by people you’ve never heard of. Do some investigating about those people and you’ll learn that they had a great start to a career, and something embittered them, and made them try to control others.
Indie publishing has made writing from different points of view easier, but different points of view have always found their way into print. Take a look at the way the voices of the Harlem Renaissance got published, and remained published. Often we’ve heard new voices not because they were “discovered” by the gatekeepers, but because these voices self-published or found a small press willing to take a risk with them.
If you as a writer are not willing to take risks, if you’re not willing to fly in the face of conventional wisdom, if you’re not willing to write what you want—screamers be damned—then why are you writing?
To please others? There are better ways to do that.
Yes, sometimes tackling subjects that others have labeled forbidden is hard. Emotionally and physically hard. But if those subjects interest you, write about them. Embrace the fear, and write.
Writing isn’t about doing what everyone else tells you to do.
Writing is about doing what your creative voice wants to do.
Learning to tell the difference is sometimes hard. But I can tell you from experience that learning to tell the difference is what good writing is all about.
Don’t blog about writing. I’ve heard that one a million times. Don’t write blog posts longer than 500 words. Don’t write about controversial topics. Don’t, don’t, don’t….
Yeah, if I’d listened to all that, I wouldn’t have hundreds of thousands of words of nonfiction all for free on this site. I wouldn’t have interacted with all of you and, most importantly to me, I wouldn’t have learned from you.
It is because I have learned so much from all of you that I am, with great trepidation, leaving the comments turned on this week. If you’re a screamer here to just defend your point of view, your comment won’t get posted. If I get bombarded with too many screamers, I’ll shut off the comments. Life’s too short, people, and this is my website. Go scream somewhere else.
As for everyone else—all of you who come week after week—thank you for your time and your attention. I greatly value it, and I greatly value you.
Leave a Tip Through PayPal. (Yes, White Mist Mountain is my company name)
“Business Musings: Controlling The Creatives,” copyright © 2015 by Kristine Kathryn Rusch.
Emerson knows one day his luck will run out. And when he arrives in Abbotts Creek, he soon discovers that day might have come at last.
“The Monster in Our Midst” by Edgar Award-nominee Kris Nelscott is free on this website for one week only. The story’s also available as an ebook on Amazon, Kobo, iBooks, Barnes & Noble, and from other online retailers. You can also find the story in Fiction River: Past Crime, available in ebook and trade paper.
“I ask not only black Americans but white Americans, are you not ashamed of lynching? …The nation today is striving to lead the moral forces of the world in support of the weak against the strong. Well, I’ll tell you it can’t do it until it conquers and crushes this monster in its own midst.”
—James Weldon Johnson
NAACP Field Secretary
The National Conference on Lynching
May 10, 1919
She found the postcard next to the cash register at a general store in a small town in Arkansas. The hand-tinted photograph caught her attention. She picked it up and nearly dropped it in surprise, then glanced at the stout man who owned the place.
He had been measuring a pound of dried beans for her onto a white scale mounted on a solid oak counter. The entire store smelled of spices and coffee, with an undercurrent of Virginia pipe tobacco.
The stout man had dark mistrustful eyes and a fat, petulant mouth. He wore a heavy apron over his white shirt, and his black pants had worn gray at the knees.
He was measuring her as surely as he was measuring those beans.
“My,” she said. “Is this what I think it is?”
“I dunno, miss,” the stout man said. “What do you think it is?”
“Is this that nigra what gave you all the trouble last fall?” she asked. “I heard about these dealings the first time I came through here—what was it, September? Everyone was talking about how safe they was feeling, now that it’d all ended.”
Apparently, she sounded sympathetic enough. The stout man smiled at her, although the smile didn’t reach his eyes.
“That’d be the one,” he said.
He scraped some of the beans off the top of the pile, then tied the white bag he’d put them in.
He paused, then asked pointedly, “Who’re your people?”
She’d run into that question before, and knew how to reply, no matter what name she was answering to.
“My people are in Atlanta now,” she said, “but I was raised due south of here. I’m Lureen Taylor.”
“Thomas Mosby,” he said, almost begrudgingly.
“My husband’s passed,” she said as if she were a lonely woman, unable to stop sharing, “and I don’t like Atlanta. So I’m looking for a good community with solid values where I can live out my days in relative quiet.”
She wasn’t that old, but old enough to make the story believable. It usually softened men like Thomas Mosby, although it didn’t seem to soften this one, maybe because he had seen her surprise when she picked up the postcard.
She still held it between her thumb and forefinger. If she wanted to stay in this little community for even a few days, she needed to alleviate his suspicions.
“I heard about such cards,” she said, waving it slightly. “I have never seen one made from a real event. Usually I seen the photographs of buildings or the paintings from history, never one from a real moment.”
She still couldn’t bring herself to look at it closely.
“We been recording important doings here since before the war,” he said. “We commemorate the things we’re proud of.”
The test comment. She smiled. She was committed now.
“Like you should,” she said, and ran her gloved hand over the postcard’s surface as if it pleased her. “Add this to my purchases, please.”
“I can post it for you,” he said.
“Can you?” She looked pleasantly surprised, even as she felt dismayed. She didn’t have people in Atlanta. She only knew one person there, and only because she’d been told to watch for him. Their paths had crossed on a dark and rainy afternoon three months ago in West Texas. He hadn’t seen her, hadn’t realized who she was, and probably wouldn’t recognize her now.
But she kept track of him there, knowing the danger he’d been in perhaps better than he had.
The kind of danger she was in now.
Thomas Mosby stared at her.
“Do you have a pen?” she asked. “I’ll just put a little note on it, and we can send it. That way, my people will know I’ll be all right here.”
“I most surely do, Mrs. Taylor,” he said, wiping his hands on a towel. He came over to her, handed her a pen and inkwell, and watched as she wrote:
Since you worried I would end up in a community of strangers, I thought I should let you know how safe this little town makes me feel.
She signed it Love, Lureen, and then addressed the card, hoping against hope that nothing else would rouse Thomas Mosby’s suspicions.
As soon as the ink was dry, he took the postcard from her and put it in a mailbag, but not before looking at the photograph. He nodded at it, as if he approved.
She forced herself to look down at the rest of the pile, since she couldn’t buy another. Mosby would ask why she wasn’t mailing that one, and they both knew a genteel woman wouldn’t keep the postcard as a souvenir.
The body hanging from the streetlamp was mercifully blurry. But the body was clearly male with skin darker than the skin of every person in the crowd. Some were looking up happily, others holding pistols. One young man near the post held a Bowie knife as if he planned to use it.
She wasn’t going to ask if they’d cut and dried some actual souvenirs. She didn’t want to hear the answer, suspecting it would be in the affirmative.
“It was not two blocks from here,” Mosby said. “Right outside the courthouse. The new sheriff, he thought that he could send that boy to Little Rock. And, truthfully, that boy might be in Little Rock, if Little Rock is your version of hellfire.”
Then Mosby laughed, a loud braying sound that hurt almost as much as his words.
The hair rose on the back of her head, but she smiled anyway, as if she thought him the most amusing creature she’d ever seen.
She took her coin purse out of her bag. She couldn’t stay in the store much longer before she started shivering.
“How much do I owe you, Mr. Mosby?” she asked.
He told her. After she handed him the money, he held the small cloth sack he’d prepared for her.
“Welcome to Abbotts Creek, Mrs. Taylor,” he said.
“Thank you, Mr. Mosby,” she said. “Words fail when I try to tell you how happy I am to be here.”
The postcard arrived on Emerson West’s desk on a bright May morning, in a stack of mail bundled and tied with a harsh brown string. The warm yellow sunlight streamed across his oak desk, which he’d had made special back when he opened his detecting agency a decade ago.
He liked the early mornings; the office was brighter than it would be for the rest of the day, giving him a sense of possibility. He hadn’t lost his optimism in the face of everything he’d investigated, or the frustrations he encountered. But sometimes he needed something as simple as sunlight to remind him of the good in the world.
Fortunately, most of the jobs he had done since he returned to Atlanta had been small ones such as accompanying clients who couldn’t read or write to the courthouse to fill out paperwork, thereby ensuring that the white government clerk didn’t misspell or simply fail to file the pertinent form. Some jobs were a little larger, mostly occasioned by America’s entrance into the war a year ago April. So many young men had joined up without telling their families, and finding the documentation or getting someone to reveal the military records was harder than it should have been.
Now, with 1918 not quite half done, rumors had started that the war would end within six months, but Emerson had no idea how. The newspapers proudly proclaimed that thousands of men per day were sailing overseas to get involved in Europe’s conflict, which meant that thousands of men would die there.
Emerson was privately glad that he was too old to consider going to war. Twenty years ago, he would have proudly joined up, although back then, he would have had to make a choice between enrolling under a lie to become a respected soldier or telling the truth and serving in a segregated unit.
His light brown hair, pale skin, and blue eyes made it easy for him to pass for white. He had studiously avoided passing because it meant disavowing his family. His mother had skin the color of coffee with cream. His father was darker, but was at least one-quarter white. Emerson’s paternal grandfather had been the man who owned his grandmother. Emerson’s mother never said where her white blood had originated.
Emerson had never pressed her, and now the time had passed. His parents both died ten years on now, just after he married. His wife was gone too—childbirth had taken her and the baby—and Emerson saw no point in making new ties.
These days, he passed more often than he had in all of his youth. However, he only did so when he needed information for his detecting business.
The detecting agency had started as a lark, but it had become his life. And because he was now free of family and obligation, he could go places, and do things he would never have considered as a much younger man.
The postcard slid out before he even had a chance to untie the string. He saw the back first, his name written above the words “Atlanta, Georgia,” which were the only things that served as any kind of address.
The postmark had been made four days before in Abbotts Creek, Arkansas. He did not know anyone there. He had never heard of Abbotts Creek before this moment.
The same confident hand that had addressed the card to him had also written:
Since you worried I would end up in a community of strangers, I thought I should let you know how safe this little town makes me feel.
He didn’t know anyone named Lureen. But he had seen this handwriting three times before. Before he looked through his files to make certain his memory was accurate, he turned the postcard over—and dropped it, wiping his hand on his black pants almost without thinking.
He let out a breath, reminded himself that he had seen worse, and picked up the postcard. It was a photograph showing a man hanging from a street lamp, with dozens of whites around him, most of them looking like they had achieved something great.
The dead man was blurry, probably in his death throes, and if he had been touched up, he had only had his skin darkened. But other spots of color were added throughout the postcard—red neckties and handkerchiefs, some light pink added to women’s cheeks and lips, and a bit of silvery paint along parts of the lamppost.
In thick white ink along the bottom, someone had written September 19, 1917.
Emerson turned the postcard back over. He couldn’t look at the dead man any longer, nor could he stomach those jubilant white faces.
He had spent nearly two years investigating lynchings for the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People. Walter White, who had started the Atlanta branch, had hired Emerson to accompany him on several trips into rural Georgia to investigate reports of lynchings.
White, like Emerson, could—and often did—pass.
Once Emerson was trained, White engaged his services using NAACP money to send him all over the South to gather information. Emerson had gone to Louisiana, Alabama, and Mississippi, and things had mostly gone smoothly. The only time he felt truly unmasked was in West Texas, not because he got caught or even challenged, but because he couldn’t pass for a Texan. His accent was wrong, and the attitudes he’d learned to mimic, so common in the rest of the rural South, seemed dangerously liberal in the tiny Texas towns to which he’d been assigned.
Emerson sat in his office chair and looked at that postcard. He had heard from Walter White just last week, and White had said nothing about a new case. The NAACP was turning its findings into a report they would publish to help support Congressman Leonidas Dyer’s anti-lynching bill.
With the war, the excellent performance of the colored troops on the field of battle, and the horrible race riots last year in Dyer’s home state of Missouri, the NAACP felt the time was right.
With all that Emerson had seen, he had no idea if there was a good time for that sort of bill, even with strong white Republican support. But his was not to question. His was to gather facts, so that the report to the NAACP was accurate, not filled with hate-talk and rumor.
He’d been paid well to venture into communities his father could never have walked through. And Emerson tried, always, to keep in mind the victims, especially the ones who were murdered and buried without so much as a by-your-leave. He suspected that some of the young men he’d searched for these past two months had not joined up to fight Over There, as the song said, but instead, had died horribly in some dark Georgia backwater, where no one would talk to outsiders, not even outsiders with the right accent and skin color.
But his beliefs didn’t matter. He kept doing the work, knowing someone had to report the truth. He knew that very few people could even attempt it.
Generally, the request for information came from the Atlanta or New York NAACP offices, not directly like this. But if the handwriting here was from the person who had sent the previous postcards, then perhaps he owed her enough to figure out why she had sent the card directly to him.
He stood and went to the matching wooden filing cabinet and unlocked the bottom drawer. That was where he kept his lynching files. He was afraid—even now—that he could get in trouble for the work he had done, so he kept them hidden. If someone wanted the files badly enough, they could break in, but he knew the lock would discourage the most casual searcher.
Emerson pulled out three, all of which had come from Walter White. Two had been handed to Emerson in the Atlanta offices; the most recent one had been mailed from the New York office. He opened the files, one on top of the other, and pulled out trifolded envelopes that White had included in the larger envelopes he sent.
The Atlanta trifolded envelopes had been addressed to Walter White at his former home address in the city. The New York trifold was addressed to Walter White care of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People, New York, NY, the same sort of vague address that had shown up on this postcard.
Inside those envelopes were postcards decorated with equally grim photographs, and a single page from what clearly had been a much longer letter, detailing what little the correspondent knew about the depicted scenes.
One postcard was an actual illustration, with a hand-drawn caricature of a young colored man dancing across flames as he tried to flee white-hooded members of the Ku Klux Klan. The illustration looked like something from a minstrel show, and disturbed Emerson almost as much as did the two photographic postcards.
Their subject matter was the same as the one on Emerson’s desk. He did not look at the photographs again; he did not need to. They were indelibly embedded in his mind, graphic depictions of murder, something the photographer (and those who sent the postcard) believed to be a celebration.
None of those postcards had any writing on them. The letter writer had found them and sent them, along with whatever the correspondent had discovered, to Walter White for investigation.
But the one Emerson had just received was different. It had writing on it. It was addressed to Emerson directly.
And it was signed Lureen.
He had always suspected the handwriting belonged to a woman, although he could not say why. Now, he had confirmation of it.
Emerson ran his fingers along the postcard.
He needed to speak to White before he went to Arkansas all alone. And Emerson needed to discover if White knew more about this mysterious Lureen than he had told Emerson in the past.
The Atlanta Branch could not afford the expense of a telephone, not even one with a party line. But the office did have use of a telephone at the Atlanta University, and that telephone was expensive and private.
Emerson had graduated from Atlanta University eighteen years ago now with a teaching degree he had used for only a decade. Still, he was proud to say he was part of the oldest Negro university in the United States—not that anyone asked any longer.
The telephone was located in the office of the president, and could only be used with advance permission or on NAACP business. Emerson had placed the postcard in an envelope, planning to use it with the secretary if she refused to let him call the New York office.
She did not refuse. Apparently, she understood the look on his face.
The president’s office was book-lined and smelled of cigars. Papers strewn about the desk did not concern Emerson, but the secretary covered them with a blotter, apparently worried that he would snoop.
He stood at the front of the desk, and picked up the black candlestick telephone. He placed the cone-shaped receiver against his right ear and spoke into the mouthpiece, asking the operator to call the New York office of the NAACP. He hoped she would not remain on the line after the call connected, but he couldn’t guarantee it.
He also couldn’t ask her to sign off, because that would alert her to the private nature of the call, and would probably make her more likely to listen in.
A young man answered, and Emerson asked for Walter White. The young man set the receiver down and went in search. Feeling nervous, Emerson glanced at the clock on a nearby bookshelf. The local branch would be angry if this call went on too long. He hadn’t approved it through them, and telephone calls were expensive.
White answered within a few minutes.
Emerson quickly told him about the postcard, and concluded with, “I want you to decide what I should do with this. I can forward it to you. However, if you would like me to investigate, all I need is the promise of an authorization and payment. I still have half your fee from the last job in my bank accounts and can fund this trip myself.”
White did not answer immediately, which made Emerson’s heart pound. He knew that the connection had not been severed because he could hear the hum of the wires.
Finally, White said, “I am disturbed by the method in which the postcard reached you. It is not our agreed-upon method.”
Emerson knew that, which was why he was calling. He was about to say so, when White continued.
“The woman who calls herself Lureen here is to contact me with evidence she finds of lynchings that she believes I am unaware of. I am then to dispatch an investigator, or to go myself in some cases.”
Emerson closed his mouth, and silently cursed the infernal machine he was using. He couldn’t see White, which interfered with the communication. He knew that White spoke deliberately, a habit that had served him well, and often his voice remained calm while his blue eyes blazed with fury.
Emerson wondered if that were true now.
“You can reach Arkansas faster than I can,” White said. “I would like you to investigate. Your normal fee will be awaiting you when you return.”
“Let me clarify,” Emerson said. “You want me to do what I usually do. You want me to gather facts on the lynching from last September.”
“Yes,” White said.
“I am not going to search for Lureen,” Emerson said, deliberately not making that a question.
“Good heavens, no,” White said. “I would hope that she has left the vicinity already.”
“Hope is one thing,” Emerson said, thinking of the missing young men he had been unable to track down. “But it is not certainty.”
“Indeed,” White said. “However, my agreement with this woman we are calling Lureen does not include running to her rescue. She does know that we have a legal budget should she get in trouble with the law.”
Emerson’s heart was pounding hard. “Does a legal budget matter? Isn’t she in danger of dying the same way the man in the postcard did?”
“Generally, no,” White said, his tone so curt that Emerson knew he wasn’t to ask more about the woman.
Still, he couldn’t resist one last question. “What is your agreement with her?”
“She found us,” White said. “She does this of her own accord, for reasons she has not explained. Every time I have offered to pay her or asked her to have an assistant, she has not only refused, but she has gone silent. However, I did ask her one favor three months ago. I asked her to keep an eye on you, and if you got into trouble to contact one of our branches—and me—immediately.”
“West Texas,” Emerson murmured.
“Yes,” White said. “We lost our normal investigator there. We have not found him to this day. I was afraid the same might happen to you. I wanted her to let me know the moment trouble began.”
“And that’s how she knew my name,” Emerson said.
“Yes,” White said. “It was quite a risk, since, to my knowledge she and I have never met. But I believed she would give you no trouble in Atlanta.”
“She hasn’t,” Emerson said, although he wondered what the post office thought of his receipt of such a postcard.
“I could send a different investigator if you are worried,” White said.
“Are you?” Emerson asked.
“It is unusual,” White said, “and she knows what you look like. There is more risk than you would normally face.”
Emerson clutched the center of the candlestick phone. He already knew these jobs were dangerous ones. And as White said, Emerson was closer than someone from New York or Boston. Emerson was a trusted investigator. So many others lacked the finesse to work in the rural areas where the bulk of these murders occurred.
“I understand the risk,” Emerson said. “I accept it. You will get the usual report from me in a week or two.”
After he hung up the receiver, he sat for a moment in the unfamiliar office, breathing in the lingering cigar smoke.
He had just volunteered to go back into the fight, one that had already exhausted him and taken most of his sleep, as surely as it had stolen a lot of his good nature.
But the images he had seen, the stories he had been told, would not leave his mind. He would get little rest here or in Abbotts Creek.
He set the telephone down and stood up.
He was going to go, even if it was the last thing he ever did.
Abbotts Creek was in Phillips County, slap dab in the middle of the Arkansas Delta. For such a small place, the town itself seemed prosperous enough. Emerson’s train had veered past what was clearly the main street that had several red brick buildings that seemed new—no more than fifteen years old.
The train station itself looked to support a much larger town. It had two levels and a large arrivals area, with solid wood benches and marble floors. The entire interior smelled new.
As Emerson and four others emerged from the train, the ticket agent behind the big arrivals and departures window, looked up, smiled and nodded, then returned to whatever it was he’d been doing.
Emerson let out a small breath. He would most likely be fine. He had a card identifying him as a reporter with the Atlanta Journal, only the name on it was Earl S. West, since he’d learned that the name Emerson wasn’t sufficiently Southern for some whites. In fact, it suggested a Northern man of liberal education, something his father aspired to, but which had become a handicap for Emerson in communities where he was unknown.
Usually, there were signs posted about the nearest boarding house. He couldn’t see any, so he walked over to the ticket agent. The ticket agent was a small man, with freshly cut red hair, and thin mustache. He looked to be about Emerson’s age, and just as tired.
The ticket agent had changed the sign behind him mentioning the next day’s train, and seemed about to close up.
“Beg pardon,” Emerson said. “I’d be much obliged if you could point me to a boarding house.”
The ticket agent looked up, frowned at him, that friendly smile gone as if it never had been. Had the ticket agent been looking at someone else when he smiled a few moments ago?
“Miss Dottie usually takes new arrivals,” the ticket agent said. “But they usually write ahead. Who did you say you were?”
“I didn’t say.” Emerson smiled as he spoke. “My name is Earl West, and I’m afraid I’m horribly unfamiliar with the local customs. I ask your forgiveness for that.”
“You should ask for Miss Dottie’s. It’s her you’ll be inconveniencing.” The ticket agent made a show of stamping some documents. The slap of the stamp echoed in the large space. “What business brings you here?”
Emerson reached into the pocket of his waistcoat, and pulled out his credentials. “I’m a reporter with the Atlanta Journal. We’re doing a series of articles on the recent sharecropping troubles, and we’d heard that most communities in the Delta had had some difficulties.”
The ticket agent’s face shuttered even more. “You a union man?”
The question surprised Emerson, and he decided to let the emotion show. “No,” he said with emphasis. “Who’d be wanting to unionize?”
“Some carpetbaggers been talking to the nigras around here, stirring them up, saying payments is off. Trouble started last fall, been spreading all over the Delta. Surprised you hadn’t heard.”
Especially given the story that Emerson was telling.
“I’d heard about the troubles and the discrepancies. There’s talk like that from here to Mississippi,” Emerson said. “I didn’t realize there was actual union men stirring up the nigras. That’s unusual, don’t you think?”
“I do,” said the ticket agent. “I always think there’s something wrong when one of our own decides that he don’t like us much no more, and decides to spend his time agitating the darkies.”
Emerson suspected that some of the ticket agent’s word choices were designed to irritate any white outsider who was visiting these parts.
“I just came to report on the trouble,” Emerson said. “We haven’t seen much of it yet in Georgia, but my editor doesn’t want anyone to be getting ideas.”
“Those what had ideas are gone now, praise the Lord,” The ticket agent said, and pounded that stamp one more time.
Emerson nodded, knowing better than to push harder. “If I could trouble you for directions…?”
The ticket agent looked up. “Miss Dottie’s is two blocks south on Elm. Go outside, turn left and walk straight. Can’t miss it.”
“I thank you,” Emerson said, and then walked out of the train station, the heels of his shoes clicking on the marble floor. He felt alone and uncomfortable, just like he had every other time he had done these investigations.
He stepped out of the cool station in the warm sunlight, blinking at its brightness. Wood sidewalks and a well-flattened dirt road ran through the center of town. He saw no automobiles, but several fancy horse-drawn carriages. Lots of men and women on foot, almost all unconcerned with the handful of new arrivals at the train station.
Except for a group of white men across the street. They sat outside a building with a fancy restaurant inside, chawin’ and spitting into the nearby spittoons, and watching him like they’d been told to.
The train station was on Cherry Street. Second Street took him past the men and onto what was most likely Elm.
Emerson walked with purpose, as if he had come to Abbotts Creek dozens of times.
The men, all wearing white shirts tucked into black pants held up with suspenders, watched him. He watched them out of the corner of his eye, careful not to appear as if he were actually staring at them.
He crossed into the street, felt the softness of the dirt, which suggested there’d been rains here recently, and then stepped onto the wooden sidewalk.
As far as he could tell, none of the men followed him. He took that as a good sign. He’d been followed too many times in too many other towns just as small as this one in the past.
The next street up was Elm and sure enough, the boarding house was in the middle of the next block—a white clapboard house with gingerbread trim and a well-kept fence. A sign outside said:
He squared his shoulders and walked the half block, feeling as if every eye in the town was on him. He opened the gate, and walked across a beautiful path ringed with red and pink flowering plants that he couldn’t name.
The porch had wear on its main steps, and a large brass knocker covered the main part of the solid wood door.
He knocked twice, then waited.
The door eased open part way.
“I’m enquiring about a room,” he said to the dark crack between the door’s edge and its jamb.
“Two dollars per day, ten dollars per week,” said a strong female voice. “Includes breakfast and supper, both at seven sharp. If you don’t arrive for the meal, you don’t get fed.”
A strict boarding house then. He’d stayed in some that were lax. “I presume payment is up front?”
“Yes, sir, and I do not refund.” The door still hadn’t opened all the way.
“If you have room,” he said, “I would like to pay for two nights.”
He hoped that would be all he needed. He always felt as if he was on some kind of good-luck clock when he did this work.
The door opened the rest of the way. Emerson stepped inside. The interior smelled of roasting beef mixed with heavy perfume. The door closed behind him before his eyes adjusted enough to see the heavy-set woman in front of him. She wore her steel-gray hair in a bun. An apron covered a long blue dress that had seen better days.
“I have a register,” she said. “Come with me.”
She led him into the front parlor. There, someone had set up a counter with some fresh flowers in a vase on one side, and an open register on the other.
She handed him a pen and an inkwell, along with a printed card that he had to fill out with his name, his home address, and the length of his stay.
He did all of that, using the address for Atlanta University as his own, and marked down two nights.
He took four dollars from his wallet, and handed them to her along with the card. She took the money and set it with the card, but did not put either away. Apparently she did not want him to know where the money was kept.
Then she shoved the register at him. He paused before signing his name.
The register went back two weeks. On the page across from the empty line where his name would go was the name Lureen Taylor with the city and state left off.
He paused for a moment too long.
“I require my guests to fill out the register,” the woman said.
He did, not apologizing for the extra time it took him to do so. He signed his alias, and added that he was from Atlanta. He decided not to ask about Lureen Taylor. He would find out soon enough if she remained at the boarding house.
The woman nodded, then said, “I’m Dottie and this here’s my house. You will treat it like a home and not some way station, are we clear?”
“Yes, ma’am,” he said.
“Your room is six stairs up. It is the only room on the landing. It’s a mite small but you’re not staying long. If you decide to stay for a week or more, we’ll find you something more comfortable.”
“Thank you, ma’am,” he said.
She almost smiled. It looked like that was as friendly as she got. “Stairs are back in the entry.”
Apparently, she wasn’t going to take him up there.
“Much obliged.” He turned around, taking in the horsehair furniture that looked like no one had sat in it in this century, the occasional tables covered with expensive glassware and shelves with all sorts of little figurines. He did not pause to examine them.
Instead he returned to the entry, and saw the stairs off to his right. He took them, saw the landing, and a door to his left.
The room was more of a walk-in closet than an actual room. He had to duck once inside, because the bulk of the room was under the stairs. A narrow bed with a handmade quilt pushed against the only long wall. A chamber pot peeked out from under the bed. A short table stood beside the bed, with a washbasin and matching pitcher on top. A kerosene lamp had left black stains on the underside of one of the stairs.
A tiny round window, the size of a portal, had been drilled into the wall behind the bed. The window opened, but just barely.
There was no closet, no bureau, and no place to store his things. No wonder she had said that if he decided to stay longer he would get a nicer room. No one could live comfortably in this one for a week.
He set his satchel underneath the table, as far from the chamber pot as he could. He would have thought that a nice house like this would have indoor plumbing. Perhaps it did on the main floor, but he had not been informed of it. He would have to ask somehow, without offending anyone’s sensibilities.
He pulled out his pocket watch. He had two hours until dinner, which meant many of the businesses were closing. He sometimes had to think what an average traveling man would do, and he supposed someone like him would not wander the streets, looking for someone to speak with.
So he removed his shoes and spread out on top of the covers, hoping to get some rest.
The next thing he knew, a gong had sounded below.
He assumed that sound invited all of the boarders to supper.
The large oak table in the dining room was set for eight. When he arrived, two men were standing near the sideboard, looking at a decanter and glasses. Emerson could only assume they had hoped for some kind of alcohol, but he doubted they would find any. Arkansas, like Georgia, prohibited the sale and manufacture of liquor, and genteel homes like this one did not serve any of it, even if the owner indulged.
The entire first floor smelled heavily of that roast beef, and his stomach growled. Emerson introduced himself to the men as Earl, but he did not mention his profession or give any reason for being in Abbotts Creek.
“You’re in luck,” one of the men said. “Dottie makes the best roast beef in the entire Delta.”
The other man nodded in agreement, then added, “Pay attention to her hints. If she mentions that she’s low on potatoes or needs coffee, then volunteer to pick some up from Abbotts Mercantile. We’ve learned that if we buy some of the supplies, she rewards us with good down-home cooking.”
Emerson smiled and said he would remember that. They exchanged small talk for a while—both men lived in the house and had since their wives died, claiming living here gave them the opportunity to talk with people they wouldn’t normally encounter.
They were inviting him to tell them about himself. Instead, he said, “I see that Miss Dottie also takes female boarders.”
“Yes,” said the first man. “When there are women in the house, we men are confined to the outhouse out back. Fortunately, the last woman left here near to a week ago.”
So much for Lureen. He tried not to look disappointed. As the other boarders showed up, Miss Dottie banged the gong a second time.
This close, it sounded as if the entire house would shake.
The men sat down in what seemed like their usual places, and then Miss Dottie entered, without any food at all, which surprised Emerson. His surprise only lasted a moment though, because a young colored girl, wearing a maid’s uniform, staggered in under the weight of an uncarved roast.
Emerson had to catch himself from helping her. In this town, among the white folk, this girl was an invisible servant, not a lady deserving of assistance. He studiously avoided looking at her, so that he wouldn’t acknowledge her, even as she brought out the rest of the meal.
One of the men carved the roast, then Miss Dottie said grace. She sat at the head of the table, and presided over the conversation like a queen instructing her court.
Emerson didn’t dare bring up any troubles or the sharecropping information he had received. He definitely couldn’t discuss lynching in mixed company, nor could he comfortably mention race issues.
Finally, he managed to turn the conversation to other guests, asking Miss Dottie who the most interesting boarders she had ever had were. She demurred, saying it wasn’t her place to discuss her “people.”
“Miss Dottie always has a fascinating mix,” one of the men said. “Every time I stay here, I meet someone new.”
“I was saying earlier that I was surprised to see a female name on the register,” Emerson said, hoping he sounded prim.
Miss Dottie’s gaze met his, and he felt her measure him. She finally understood why he paused.
“I’ve been to very few boarding houses that mixed male and female,” he added, disapprovingly.
“We have no women here now,” said one of the other men.
“I like them,” said the first man who’d come into the room. “They always liven up the conversation.”
“Except that last woman, what was her name?” asked a different man. “Mrs.—?”
“Taylor,” Miss Dottie said. “She left.”
“Left town?” Emerson asked.
“She didn’t say.” The man who spoke sounded disappointed.
“We suspect that Dan here scared her off,” said one of the other men. “He was too interested and she wasn’t comfortable.”
Emerson looked at the man they had called Dan. He was one of the men who lived here. He was short and balding, with a round belly. Certainly not the most appealing fellow in the room.
Then Emerson caught Miss Dottie’s eye. She was still staring at him. Something had set her off. Maybe she hadn’t liked Lureen Taylor.
He would have to tread carefully. He wanted to ask more questions, but didn’t dare.
“I saw no reason for her to leave,” said one of the other regulars, maybe in defense of the man named Dan.
“She didn’t belong here,” Miss Dottie said tightly, and the conversation died as if it hadn’t existed at all. Everyone turned their attention to the meal before them.
Emerson looked up after a few minutes to find Miss Dottie still watching him, her gaze flat and cold.
He made himself smile, and vowed to keep quiet for the rest of his stay in this place.
His vow lasted for less than an hour.
He needed to stretch his legs, and he didn’t feel safe enough to walk in downtown Abbotts Creek. So he took the pipe he rarely smoked and stepped onto the porch.
One thing he did like about nights in faraway places—the soft perfume of spring flowers, the rich sweet cut of pipe smoke, and the comfort of a good wrap-around porch. Miss Dottie’s had a swing and well cushioned wicker chairs.
But he didn’t sit. Instead, he stood near the railing and looked out over the quiet street.
After a moment, the man named Dan joined him. Emerson waited, not certain if the man wanted to defend his actions with Lureen Taylor or if he was just here for a companionable evening.
The man reintroduced himself.
“Dan McCall,” he said, extending his hand.
“Earl West,” Emerson said, and took a puff off his pipe.
“You didn’t say what brings you to these parts,” McCall said.
“It’s not for discussing around ladies,” Emerson said.
McCall looked at him sideways.
“I’m a reporter with the Atlanta Journal. We’re doing a series of investigative reports about the agitators who are stirring up the sharecroppers in the Delta and beyond. My editor’s worried our own boys might get Ideas, and he wants to use other places as a cautionary tale.”
Emerson hoped he hadn’t over-explained. He had done that before, and it had been something which made people suspicious.
“Don’t believe what they tell you,” McCall said. “It ain’t northern agitators coming down here. There’s some white lawyers from Little Rock who seem to believe that how we do business here ain’t proper.”
“Don’t you do business how you’ve always done business?” Emerson asked. He wished he’d had time to study up on this. Ironically, he was going with what he had learned from the papers.
McCall shook his head sadly. “There’s money now. The war, and all. Cotton prices are good, and them nigras, they see a dime and want a dollar. The white lawyers say we gotta write out receipts and payments, pay everyone equal for the same labor. They’re even researching cotton prices, see what white landowners are really getting paid, and making sure they give the right amount to the sharecroppers.”
Emerson took another puff of his pipe to hide his feelings. He hated the sharecropping system. It was little better than slavery—with all the rents and food taken out of the payments, and often nothing left for the sharecroppers to save or use to move elsewhere.
He hadn’t realized that cotton prices were up because of the war, but it made sense as did McCall’s interpretation. Money did bring in agitators, and for good reason. When money flowed, people thought about cheating.
“I’m surprised that you’re talking white Southern agitators,” Emerson said. “I’d thought Northern boys’d come down and stirred up things. I’d heard about how you’d dealt with that boy last September. I’d been hoping to use that as the focus of my article, how Abbotts Creek dealt with those who believed the bunkum those Bolsheviks peddled.”
McCall scratched a match on the wooden post beside him. The match flared with a stink of sulfur. He used it to light his pipe.
“That boy? Moses Ross.” McCall stretched out the name, making fun of it with his tone. “He wasn’t sharecropping. He just got too big for himself. Heading off to some school in the North or maybe Atlanta.”
Then he glanced sideways at Emerson, trying to gage a reaction. Emerson kept his expression neutral, that of a man hearing a tale which did not concern him, instead of the story about the horrifying end to someone else’s life.
“One dark night just before Moses left, someone knifed Willis Bowden to death, left his wife bloody and terrified, and we all know who done it.”
“That boy,” Emerson said softly. He’d heard these stories before. “The wife said so.”
“Oh, no,” McCall said. “She was so out of her head, she said she done it. We told her to hush up, and she did. She ain’t never said it again. Not that she has need to. Willis didn’t treat her the way a Southern lady should be treated, but he did leave her money.”
And gave the town an excuse to make an example of an uppity Negro, Emerson thought, but didn’t say.
“The sheriff arrested Moses Ross. We all knowd he liked Mrs. Bowden. But that boy, he kept saying he didn’t do nothing. His family was gonna use his school money to fight what everyone knew to be true. Took about ten days before everyone was ready, but the sheriff—who had all those misguided reform thoughts—finally saw things our way.”
So, the sheriff wanted actual law and order. Emerson nodded, but not in agreement with McCall. Just in understanding.
Which chilled him.
He had to change the subject. He didn’t want to seem too concerned with Moses Ross’s death. Nor did Emerson want to hear any more details. Not at the moment.
“What about those white lawyers?” he asked. “How’re you going to stop them from agitating?”
“We catch them,” McCall said. He spoke with such calm deliberation, it sounded as if he were talking about a picnic. “We don’t touch them, though. We just make them watch what happens to them they’re trying to convince.”
Emerson had seen something similar in Alabama. Northern labor unionists got hauled to a lynching, and were expected to cheer. If they didn’t, they were afraid they’d die. They didn’t die. They left and reported the incident to the New York Times.
“Does it work?” Emerson asked, keeping his tone calm and barely interested.
“Don’t know for sure,” McCall said. “But we ain’t seen none of them Little Rock folks for months now. And they better hope we never see them again.”
He said that last with great force, as if he were trying to convince Emerson, as if he thought Emerson was one of the lawyers.
Emerson wasn’t quite sure how to convince McCall that he wasn’t.
“Anyone else I should talk to about the ways Abbotts Creek is protecting its own?” he asked.
McCall puffed on his pipe for a moment. The smoke had a touch of vanilla, making it even sweeter than the usual blends.
“We got a meeting coming up five days from now,” he said after a moment. “But we usually don’t take outsiders to it. Maybe a few of us’ll talk to you. Don’t mind hoods, do you?”
Emerson’s heart beat harder. He wasn’t sure if he had just been threatened or if he’d just been approved for membership. He wasn’t sure he would know unless he let the men talk to him.
“No,” he said, “I don’t mind hoods. But I’d best extend my stay. I’d only planned to be here two days.”
“Do that,” McCall said, and something in his tone made the shivers run down Emerson’s spine again.
He had no idea if he was hearing things that weren’t there. His fears and imagination often put him in as great a risk as his actual identity did.
But he thanked McCall, and then stood in what he hoped was companionable silence until the house lights went out.
Emerson slept with his satchel open and his pistol near to hand. “Slept” was too powerful a word for the half-awake state he kept himself in all night. Clearly he didn’t feel safe, even here.
He kept playing McCall’s words over and over in his head. Emerson slowly realized that he had what he needed. What the NAACP wanted for its reports weren’t so much the gory details as why a lynching had been committed. Not the official story, the one told to outsiders, but the real story, the one the community knew.
Such as protecting a woman whose husband beat her so severely that she took a knife to him in the middle of the night. Clearly, the locals hadn’t wanted to prosecute her, but felt someone had to pay. And reminding the colored community that rising above their station was a bad idea was simply an added bonus.
Emerson knew he couldn’t stay here until the meeting. He wasn’t sure he should stay any much longer. He took his satchel down to breakfast, figuring if anyone asked, he could say he had his papers in it.
He wasn’t sure how much more information he would gather, but he did want to answer one more question for himself. He wanted to know what happened to Lureen Taylor.
Breakfast provided no answers at all. It was served at the long table in the kitchen. Miss Dottie was there, and she wasn’t willing to talk to him. Instead, over the fine biscuits and gravy, she said, “Mr. McCall says you’ll be needing a room for three additional nights.”
Then she looked pointedly at the satchel, and added, “But I see that he’s mistaken.”
Emerson shook his head. “He’s correct. I simply carry my satchel with me because it has my research.”
Her lips thinned, as if she didn’t believe him.
“Well,” she said. “I’m not sure if I’ll have a room. I will know this afternoon. I will tell you when you return.”
Then she stepped over to the counter and opened one of the bins.
“Lord a’mercy,” she said. “We’re in need of flour. I have no idea how I could have let us get so short of something so important.”
Then she closed the bin, crossed her arms, and looked at him. He would have understood even without the stare. If he brought the flour, he could stay.
He smiled, and nodded, not quite willing to verbally commit to her blackmail. After finishing his meal, he set his plate near the others by the sink, then thanked Miss Dottie for her hospitality.
He had put her in an awkward situation. Either she had to ask him if he planned to return with the flour or she had to trust him.
He rather liked her look of dismay.
He went out the back way, using the porch to reach the front. The town seemed quiet, even for a weekday morning. Although it was coming on nine, most folks had probably been working since sun-up.
He walked to Abbotts Creek Mercantile. He’d best take care of his purchase first. Besides, a general store in the morning was always a great place to get information.
The mercantile was only a few blocks from Miss Dottie’s. Two wagons were tied up outside. As Emerson approached, two women came out of the mercantile. One had her hair covered with a scarf, the other wore hers in a knot on top of her head. The shorter war fashions hadn’t really hit this community; both women wore dresses that brushed the wooden sidewalk.
Both nodded at him in greeting. He nodded back. Then he held the door for an elderly woman, who wore a black dress with a bustle and a hat that partly obscured her face. The dress shushed at him; expensive silk, mostly likely widow’s weeds, probably passed down from an even earlier generation. Mourning was nothing if not ubiquitous.
He followed her inside. Every general store between here and West Texas smelled the same—a hint of coffee, the faint scent of tobacco, and a dry edge from all the goods in barrels on the floor.
The elderly woman picked up a basket and wandered toward the sewing goods. The owner stood by a counter, his meaty arms crossed, his fleshy face florid.
He stared at Emerson, much the way that Miss Dottie had the night before.
“Help you?” the man asked.
“I hope so,” Emerson said. “I’m here for some flour for Miss Dottie.”
The man smiled. “Be needin’ a few more nights at the boarding house, eh?”
“I’d ask how you knew, but apparently she does this often.” Emerson did his best to sound amused at her petty blackmail.
“Keeps one of our best boarding houses in business,” the man said as he headed to one of the barrels.
He took a white sack and a scoop. He opened the barrel and started carefully scooping flour into the sack.
“What brings you to Abbotts Creek?” he asked.
“I’m with the Atlanta Journal,” Emerson said. “We’re doing a story on sharecropping—”
“What’d you say your name was?” the man asked.
“I hadn’t,” Emerson said. “My name is Earl West.”
The man tied the bag, then weighed it on the large scale behind him. One pound exactly.
“You from Atlanta?” he asked.
The question seemed to have more import than a casual enquiry.
“I am,” Emerson said, refraining from saying that all the reporters from the newspaper lived in Atlanta. Instead, he added, “We’re starting to have similar troubles in Georgia—”
“Do you know a gentleman named Emerson West?” The man set the pound of flour next to the cash register.
Emerson was so surprised to hear his own name that he wasn’t quite sure what to say. He approached the counter, and saw the pile of postcards beneath it. Then he saw the sign propped against the cash register listing this building as a post office.
He felt cold.
“There are a lot of Wests in Atlanta,” he said, hoping that would stop the man’s questions.
“There are Mosbys in Phillips County,” the man said, “and we’re mostly kin.”
Even the colored Mosbys? Emerson wanted to ask, but didn’t.
“Atlanta’s a big city,” he said, hoping he didn’t sound too argumentative.
“I been,” Mosby said. “It’s not that big.”
Emerson frowned. He could let it pass, or he could say something. He opted for bluntness. “Are you implying something, Mr. Mosby?”
“Lady come in here not one week ago, bought one of them postcards you’re near, and sent it to an Emerson West in Atlanta. Now you’re here. And I’ve been hearing of government men, investigating our justice here, trying to change our laws because they saw things they like better in France. Just making sure you’re not one of them.”
Emerson pulled out his credentials, happy that his hands didn’t shake. “I’m not with the government.”
“You wouldn’t be from one of them new-fangled nigger associations, would you?”
“Do I look like I am?” Emerson asked, hoping he sounded offended instead of frightened.
Mosby let out a small unamused laugh. “For all I know, you’re high yella.”
Emerson’s breath caught in his throat.
Mosby’s beady eyes bored right into him. “I been hearing tell of high yella niggers from some advancement association mixing with good folks, trying to stop some of our organizations from doing right. I even heard one of them high yella niggers is named White. Might think another would be named North, but West’ll do.”
Emerson’s mouth had gone dry. His cheeks were warm. He had actually flushed. He obviously couldn’t hide his reaction, so he had to give it lie.
“I have covered stories all over Dixie,” he said with as much indignation as he could muster. “And never once have I been called a nigger before.”
Mosby reached over the counter and grabbed a handful of postcards. He spread them next to the flour. The first postcard was the same as the one Emerson had received. The next two pictured men hanging from trees, one surrounded by a crowd, the other by four men in white shirts and hats. One of the men looked like Mosby.
The last postcard showed a body being burned—or worse, a man being burned alive.
Emerson made himself look at them. Then he thought about his pistol in the satchel. He’d always feared he would come across a moment like this, when he was directly confronted, and he often wondered what he’d do.
If he shot this man, Emerson would guarantee his own ugly death.
He worked alone.
What he had to do was survive to the next day.
“You trying to scare me?” Emerson asked, voice flat. “Because I came to Abbotts Creek to understand your justice, and perhaps bring a taste of it to Georgia, not to have it threatened against me.”
“I heard that this nigger association collects information on nigger killings,” Mosby said. “I got me a cousin in L’siana who met this White feller, didn’t stop him before he left. Heard tell this White was drummed out of the South, had to go to New York City to escape.”
Emerson had no idea how to deal with this kind of bluntness. He’d heard of it, but never encountered it. And didn’t know how a true white man would respond.
He decided to stick with indignation. “How much do I owe you for the flour?”
Mosby stared at him. Emerson stared back.
Finally, Mosby looked down. “This ain’t a town for niggers.”
“That’s fairly obvious,” Emerson said. “Do you think if I was one I’d be here?”
“I don’t think nothing,” Mosby said. “We’ve had lots of agitators.”
“I’m not one of them,” Emerson said. “But I assume you don’t want to sell me the flour.”
“I don’t need your money,” Mosby said. “And you don’t need to talk to Miss Dottie no more.”
Emerson didn’t know how to argue with that. He needed to leave Abbotts Creek before he really did meet with the Klan. But now, he had to find out what happened to Lureen. He had a hunch he knew, and he didn’t like what he was thinking.
“You said a lady sent one of these postcards to a man named West,” Emerson said, “and somehow that made you think I was colored. I do not understand how a lady’s postcard would make you think that.”
“Miss Dottie didn’t like her,” Mosby said.
Emerson’s stomach twisted. “I gathered that. I also had the sense Miss Dottie doesn’t like everyone.”
“Miss Dottie knows people.” Mosby looked down at the postcards, almost wistfully.
Emerson felt cold. His heart was pounding so hard it was probably audible.
“So,” he said, “will I be seeing a postcard of this lady next time I’m here?”
“No.” Mosby’s tone was flat. “But not for lack of trying.”
Emerson’s gaze met Mosby’s again.
“Because you couldn’t get a good photograph?” Emerson asked, afraid of the answer.
“Because there was nothing to photograph.” Mosby gathered up the four postcards and put them back on the pile. “Now you get. I’ll tell Miss Dottie you have no need of her hospitality any longer.”
“Then she has no need of that flour,” Emerson said, hoping the emotion in his voice sounded like rage. “Of course, she already has my money, so she can afford her own. Do tell her that her boarding house will not get a good review in the Atlanta Journal.”
“We’ll be watching for it,” Mosby said.
Emerson glared at him a final time, then gripped the handle of the satchel and left the store. He paused, his back to the wall, looking to see if anyone was waiting for him.
Cherry Street was empty.
The door banged behind him and he jumped.
The elderly woman peered at him from beneath her hat. She carried a sack in one hand. The other was hidden in the pocket of her silk dress.
He hoped to God she wasn’t carrying a lady’s pistol.
He looked at her, trying not to seem afraid.
She stopped beside him, and also looked at the street, not at him.
“Miss Taylor took the train to Little Rock seven days ago,” the woman said softly. “Before she did, she asked me to give you these.”
She pulled the four postcards out of her pocket, and slid them to his nearby hand.
Then she backed away from him and spit on the wooden sidewalk. “Now, you git!” she said. “We don’t need no agitators here.”
She crossed the street, shaking her head as if his very presence offended her.
He was trembling. He watched her go. He hoped no one had heard any of that. She would get in trouble for helping him, and she could get him in trouble for threatening her.
In the distance, a train whistle sounded. It was later than he thought.
It was always later than he thought.
He stuffed the postcards in his satchel, next to the pistol. Then he walked the block to the station, just in time to board the train.
Copyright © 2015 by Kristine Kathryn Rusch
First published in Fiction River: Past Crime, edited by Kristine Kathryn Rusch, WMG Publishing, November 2014
Published by WMG Publishing
Cover and Layout copyright © 2015 by WMG Publishing
Cover design by Allyson Longueira/WMG Publishing
Cover art copyright © Vlntn/Dreamstime
This book is licensed for your personal enjoyment only. All rights reserved. This is a work of fiction. All characters and events portrayed in this book are fictional, and any resemblance to real people or incidents is purely coincidental. This book, or parts thereof, may not be reproduced in any form without permission.
Yeah, I’m punchy. Time travel does that to me. If time travel is done wrong—and by that, I mean illogically, filled with paradoxes—it makes my brain hurt. If time travel is done right—skating past the paradoxes—it entertains me and makes my brain hurt (but in a good way). I love time travel. I think I loved it since City on the Edge of Forever, that famous Classic Star Trek episode by Harlan Ellison. I realized then that time travel can have an impact on both the people involved and on the viewer. None of this going back in time to look at monuments stuff. Making a choice between the “right” future and the “wrong” one, even if it means losing the person you love? Now that’s what great fiction—great storytelling—is all about.
I’m sure I saw time travel stories before that Classic Trek episode. I dimly recall reading A Wrinkle in Time and liking it. But City on the Edge of Forever is the first time travel story that I deeply, deeply loved. It caused me to seek out more time travel, including time travel romance. I like history too, so I hope that the writers get their history right. I also want them to get their decision-making right. I fell in love with Outlander, Diana Gabaldon’s book, the moment Claire decides to return to the 20th century to give birth and raise her child, rather than trust their futures to the dicey health and medical properties of 18th century Scotland.
Say time travel, and you’ll catch me every single (ahem) time.
Which is why I’m so excited to be part of Storybundle’s Time Travel Bundle, curated by my good friend Kevin J. Anderson. Usually I read the novels and stories in the bundle long after the bundle is no longer available, so I have trouble recommending the works. But I’ve read and loved the bulk of this bundle. In fact, I read a lot of this in manuscript form, from Kevin & Doug Beason’s The Trinity Paradox to Fiction River: Time Streams. Dean’s The Edwards Mansion is particularly close to my heart. I love his Thunder Mountain series and not only is The Edwards Mansion a great example of the series, but it also has some personal ties. Dean’s a descendent of the Edwards family that settled Boise, ID, and that family plays a role in the novel.
You can also get my novel, Snipers, as a bonus book. The way that the bundle works is this: For a minimum of $5, you get five books and Lightspeed Magazine. For a minimum of $14, you get all of the listed books, including Snipers. Considering that the standalone retail value of these books (not counting Lightspeed) is about $60, you can’t go wrong. Plus, you can designate some of what you pay to go to the listed charities.
I love participating in Storybundle. You’ll see a few more bundled books from me in 2015. But, as is the case with this bundle, the offer expires. You have until April 9 to buy these books together.
Click on over and buy the books. Don’t waste time. Because you know what’ll happen if you do. Time shall waste you. (And somehow I always picture a ticking clock with an Uzi as I write that. Hmmm. Story idea? Methinks perhaps…)
“I bet you’re sorry you rejected me, aren’t you?”
Then he bounced away from me before I had a chance to answer him. How would I have answered him?
I would have said, “Congratulations on your win,” and I would have meant it.
But had he obnoxiously pressed the point, I would have added, “I still don’t like your story.”
Editing is about taste. We reinforce that lesson every year at our anthology workshop. The writing quality in the workshop is incredibly high. We open the workshop to professional writers only—folks who’ve published a lot, whether fiction or nonfiction, indie or traditional. Some writers come back every year, partly to test their abilities to write six stories to order in six weeks, partly to see old friends, and partly to see the editors bicker.
And the editors do bicker. A lot.
Mostly, we bicker over our points of view. What happens is this: Generally one of us will think Story A is brilliant, and some other editor will think it tragically flawed. We’re editors and writers and opinionated as hell, so we argue our positions. But we respect each other, and we know that some of us have an affinity for stories that the rest of us don’t like.
When it comes down to choosing between two stories that are not to our taste, we six editors have learned to rely on each other.
In fact, we always agree on one thing: the editor who purchases the story is the final judge of its quality. That editor has to love the story to buy it.
Which I’m sure the editor who bought that Hugo-winner loved the story. I didn’t. But even then, I knew that editing was about taste.
The writer didn’t.
He also thought his shit didn’t stink.
Is he still writing? I don’t know. Is he still publishing? I don’t know. But I do know this: He’s not being published in science fiction. In fact in science fiction, his career didn’t last beyond a few years of short stories. (I’m not sure if there was a novel or not: I didn’t pay attention.)
Over the years, I’ve run into a lot of writers like this guy. One of those writers wrote one of most unintentionally funny letters I’d ever read to Dean. As editor of Pulphouse: A Fiction Magazine, Dean had rejected one of the writer’s short stories. The writer wrote back to say that he had just sold his first novel and that Dean didn’t recognize the quality of this writer’s work. In fact, the writer added, Dean should eat that writer’s manuscript for the “only words of substance” Dean would ever have inside him.
I do remember that writer’s name because Dean tells that story with great delight (as an example of writer ego/idiocy). The writer’s book appeared and vanished that year with no follow-up. I just Googled the writer’s name, and discovered that for about 2 years, he self-published a few other short stories. Nothing since 2012, though, which does not surprise me.
Why doesn’t it surprise me? Because I think this guy is a bad writer? He’s not. He’s eloquent, particularly when he’s pissed off. But his I’m-better-than-anyone-else attitude ensured that he will never have a long-term career in the arts.
These egotistical writers still exist. One book sale to New York, one major traditional honor, and the writers will believe they’re better than every other writer.
But there’s a new twist to the old breed. It’s an indie twist. I’ve seen it at some conferences and workshops in the past few years. It’s the indie writer who, after receiving constructive advice which the writer asked for, dismisses that advice by saying, “Well, I sell thousands of books per month.”
The writer usually is selling thousands of books per month. Obviously, the writer is doing something very, very right. Readers like the books and buy more.
When such writers come to me for advice on craft, I always think they’re asking about future projects, what they can do to improve their craft. When I tell them what I think they need to work on (remember, the advice was solicited), they respond with that sales thing.
So why did they come to me if they’re already doing well? These writers come to me (and others with traditional publishing experience) to be validated. They want us to tell them how very brilliant they are. In fact, they want us to understand that brilliance can happen outside of the traditional framework.
I know it can. I read a lot of writers who are indie published. I love their work. I watch a lot of my friends do exceptionally well with sales, often at thousands per month, while publishing their own books.
Those writers continue to learn. In fact, several of them came to the anthology workshop (and have come to past workshops). I’ve seen these indie writers continue to grow in ability each and every year. These writers are improving. They’re augmenting what they do well, and working hard to improve their weaknesses.
If I already know that writers can have thousands of sales per month outside of the traditional framework, why do I say that the writers who ask for advice and then dismiss it with their sales figures are like the guy who wanted me to admit I was wrong when I rejected his one short story?
Because—honestly—I worry about those indie writers who only cite their sales numbers. All writers can improve, even those of us who’ve been in the business for thirty years.
Generally speaking, writers who have such great sales figures early on have one skill that’s very hard to teach. They know how to tell a good story. Even if there are other problems in the writing—clichéd characters, non-existent setting, poor grammar—the writer’s superior storytelling skills shine through.
It’s almost like looking through a dirty window at a badly decorated house. Yes, you’ll be comfortable there, but the house could use a good cleaning, some paint, and new furniture. If the home owner made those improvements, the house wouldn’t be a good house: it would be the best house in town.
Here’s the attitude that those writers—from the award-winner to the word-eater to the sales-figure folks—don’t have. They don’t understand that if they want to grow as writers, they need to look at those awards, traditional book sales, or high volume of indie book sales as a starting platform, and improve from there.
John Grisham did that. He felt like he had a lot to learn as a writer, even as The Firm hit every bestseller list in the world, and he set out to learn even more. His craft has improved tremendously. His latest novels are amazing. His short stories are breathtaking.
Yes, the storytelling chops are still there, but they’re even stronger. Grisham always had a can’t-put-it-down quality, but the books were “thin” and not always memorable. Now, the books are not only memorable, but achingly so. Look at the storytelling chops from A Time To Kill (his first written novel) to Sycamore Row (using the same characters). In A Time To Kill, you can see the furniture move as Grisham sets the bits of his plot into motion.
In Sycamore Row, the furniture is part of the story, and when the furniture moves, we don’t see it until the author wants us to. A completely different level of skill. Both books are readable, but one is masterful—and it ain’t the first one.
J.K. Rowling also grew as a writer after her first novel sale. The first chapter of Harry Potter and The Sorcerer’s (Philosopher’s) Stone has no setting except a cupboard and a street (and maybe a street lamp). Look it up if you don’t believe me.
She continued to learn her craft even though she had already sold millions of copies of her books.
Looking back over what I just wrote, I realize you can misunderstand what I mean by the writers’ attitudes. Do I mean that because writers diss gatekeepers that the writers will fail?
Not at all.
I mean that writers who believe that one publication, one award, or some other kind of early success means that they’re God’s Gift to Literature will always vanish.
Early success is a minefield. I write this as someone who had a lot of early success. I won the John W. Campbell Award for Best New Writer in 1990. That’s hard to do, not because of the talent involved, but because a writer has to be noticed in a two-year time frame to win that award. My rise as an sf short story writer was meteoric as are the careers of most Campbell winners.
Unlike many of them, though, I survived that early success. So I’m speaking from experience here when I talk about the perils of early success. I’ve watched more writers who had success right off the bat vanish than writers who struggled for years to achieve success.
Like the beginners who win a lot of money at a poker table or hit a home run their first time at bat, writers have beginners luck as well. And it can be just as harmful.
These writers end up believing that writing is easy, and learning business is unnecessary. Writing is easy compared to, say, fighting fires or a myriad of other jobs that require dedication, intelligence, and courage. But continually telling stories and going back to the desk each and every day can be difficult.
And not everything a writer writes—I don’t care who she is—will work. Sometimes a writer has to try again and again before a story bends to her will.
I’ve written a lot about the way that a lack of business knowledge can ruin a writing career. Quite frankly, the writers who get destroyed fastest from a lack of business knowledge are the Gods-Gift writers.
Or it used to be that way.
Indie publishing has allowed a lot of business-minded people to enter the publishing industry in a way that traditional publishing discouraged. I suspect these folks will make it through the business ups and downs.
But there’s a craft up-and-down cycle as well that will eventually trip these writers up, and they won’t know why.
Readers tire of the same thing from the same writer over and over again. I know, I know. A bunch of you are getting ready to tell me that your favorite writer tells the same story over and over again, and you’re not tired of it.
And I’ll bet you cash money that writer continues to study his craft and strives to improve.
There’s a career arc for writers who don’t improve their storytelling skills. They publish many good-enough books in a few years (fewer years now than before, thanks to the short-publication time for indie books). After a while, the readers can see everything that the writer does, and after starting a novel, will see exactly how that book will end. (Or, worse, the ending will come out of left field with no warning, pissing the reader off.)
Once a reader figures out everything in a writer’s bag of tricks, the reader will move on to other writers, often without thinking about it. The reader might buy a few more of the writer’s novels, but will eventually realize he’s not reading those novels. The sales will taper off, even of the new work.
And the writer will have no idea why.
Careers in the arts are cyclical. Writers are popular for a while. Then they’re less popular. Trends are hot for a few years, and then they are out-of-date and considered stale.
Genres rise in popularity, and then the popularity falls.
Now that traditional publishing has less involvement in trend-making and genre popularity, I suspect that the downs won’t be troughs.
What I mean by that is this: once a genre becomes popular, it will gain more readers. When the popularity drops off, some of those new readers will remain. So the low part of the cycle will be higher than a previous low part of the cycle.
(In the past, traditional publishing just plain old stopped publishing the “unpopular” genre except for a few bestsellers, guaranteeing that the genre would die off. Right now, trad pub is trying to do that to urban fantasy. More and more writers tell me that they can’t sell the next book in their series or a book in their new UF series because trad pub says “urban fantasy doesn’t sell.” Yet indie writers are seeing urban fantasy sales grow.
(What trad pub is saying is that UF doesn’t sell at blockbuster levels any more, so trad pub is no longer interested. Indie is picking up the slack, and UF indie writers are doing very well indeed.)
The cyclical nature of the arts isn’t just in business and genre, but also in interest over a writer. A new writer has a brand-new, never-before-heard voice, and readers flock to that. Once the voice becomes familiar, some readers will abandon that voice for other new voices.
Surviving that familiarity trap requires more than writing the same old thing. It requires the writer to step up his game.
And the Gods-Gift writers don’t believe they need to step up their game. After all, they’ve been winning. They’re like the poker players who watch poker on TV, sit at a table, and make thousands of dollars during their first week.
Poker is a game of skill, as I’ve learned watching the career of my professional poker player husband. Like any game, there is chance involved, but the true professionals mitigate the luck factor and try to take it out of the equation as much as possible.
Beginners who don’t understand much more than what hand of cards defeats another rely on the luck factor.
And we all know—every single one of us—that luck runs out.
Gods-Gift writers are often lucky bastards, with the right book at the right time. Or with a competent short story on a topic that excites readers. Or with a series of indie books with a compelling narrative told by someone with enough skill to hold the reader’s attention—for now.
But what keeps a writer in the game over the long haul—what keeps an artist in the game over the long haul—is a genuine humbleness combined with a willingness to learn.
This very idea actually showed up on The Voice last week, when Anthony Riley, one of the contestants, said there wasn’t a song he couldn’t sing. He told this to Pharrell Williams and Lionel Richie (!). Both Richie and Williams jumped on Riley, telling him that he had to be humble.
Lionel Richie took it one step further, saying, ““If you’re great, let [the audience] tell you. Never tell them.”
Richie seems to live this philosophy. In video that accompanies his album Tuskegee, he talks about all he learned from re-imagining his hit pop songs as country songs and singing those old hits as duets with country artists, some of whom had not been born when the hits came out.
It takes courage—creative courage—to reinvent your hits. So many professional musicians of Richie’s age tour the casino circuit, playing the same old tired renditions of their past glories. Richie not only reinvented his, but he also learned from artists younger than he is.
(If you want to see what I mean, watch this duet with Jennifer Nettles. I’ve never been a big fan of the song “Hello,” but this performance of it is quite memorable, and takes it to a new level, imho.) Click here to view the embedded video.
Click here to view the embedded video.
Let’s go back to Richie’s words. What happens when the audience tells you that you’re great? Are you done? Can you rest on your laurels?
So many writers, so many artists, do. They’ve climbed the mountain. They’ve achieved greatness.
The problem is, that greatness is fleeting.
Enjoy it when it happens, but realize that ten years from now, the Hugo win or the megaselling pop hit will seem dated to a new generation.
Do you need to reinvent yourself?
No, but you do need to look at your craft—continually—and figure out ways to grow. That way, you don’t get left behind as tastes change. You don’t become Whatever-Happened-To or Didn’t-She-Write-A-Book-Once or (God forbid) Who?-I’ve-Never-Heard-Of-Her.
You’ll never appeal to all readers all the time. And, quite honestly, even when you’re at your most popular, not every reader will have heard of you.
Appealing to everyone should never be your goal.
Your goal should be to become the best writer you can be. And this year’s best-writer-you should be better than last-year’s-best-writer-you but not as good as next-year’s-best-writer-you, because, in theory, you should keep learning and improving.
Does that mean you should take classes or go to workshops, hire editors or get a million critiques? Not necessarily. You need to figure out what works for you, and how you learn. Critiques are often destructive to writers, especially peer critiques between beginners or with professors who don’t make their living as writers. In fact, on The Voice, the superstar musicians often talk to the contestants about unlearning everything they picked up in their graduate music studies. If you watch, look at the sadness on the faces of the coaches when they realize someone has (or is about to) graduate from a major music school. Often as not, those artists never make it past the third round, because they’re too technically perfect and their work lacks heart and emotion.
I learn a lot from artists in other disciplines, like music. I’ve learned a lot as I watched Lionel Richie explore the roots of his own music. I learn from artists like The Roots, who seem to know every genre of music and play them all well.
I ask a lot of questions, and when I don’t know the answer, I go to someone who does. I also have a lot of students because students are always asking new questions, questions I’ve never considered. If I’ve never considered it, then I haven’t learned it yet.
I watch things like The Voice. I read all the time. I listen to the new writers coming in, and watch what’s working for them. I still read for enjoyment. I follow trends and I stretch my craft, trying things and sometimes failing spectacularly.
One of the things I do, as a series editor for Fiction River, is read a lot of stories in genres I’m not personally fond of. When Dean and I decided to return to editing short fiction, we decided ours wouldn’t be the only voices in Fiction River.
We have a lot of different guest editors on different volumes. Those editors provide different voices and points of view. They often have very different taste than I do, and sometimes buy stories I don’t like. I think that’s a good thing—not just for Fiction River, but also for me.
Because those stories are in Fiction River and because I line edit each volume (for clarity only), I have to go deep into stories I would never normally read. I learn a lot about other forms of storytelling, about plot, about craft.
I also learn from the way that the other editors work.
I also know my limitations. Every now and then, as the supremely confused line editor, I send a story back to the volume’s editor, saying the story makes no sense to me and here’s why. I ask the editor to have the writer make a few revisions. Sometimes the editor says the story is fine and I’m clueless Sometimes the editor asks for tweaks from the author that I would never think of in a million years because I don’t “get” the story. I learn from both of those instances.
Sometimes I think Fiction River is one of the best things I’ve ever done for my writing.
I learn from doing. It’s taken me years to find new ways to learn. I’m sure five years from now, I’ll find yet another way of improving my craft.
The key, though, is that I’ll still be looking five years from now.
I am not yet the best writer I can be. I’m not sure I’ll ever be the best writer I can be.
But no matter how many awards I win, how many books I publish, or how many copies of those books I sell, I will always know I have a lot to learn as a writer.
Chasing excellence—and knowing it is ever elusive—keeps me in my writing chair. I seriously can’t imagine playing the same old hits to ever-smaller audiences. I would much rather try something new and fail spectacularly, than receive applause for something I did twenty years ago.
Somehow I’ve managed to reinvent my nonfiction career while I was busy doing other things. It constantly surprises me when someone asks for more nonfiction from me. (I would have killed for that reaction thirty years ago, as a full-time nonfiction writer.)
I’m pleased I talked to friends younger than me who convinced me that writing on my website was a good idea. I’m listening to other friends who are urging me to try other things.
I’m thinking about it all, and I’ll bring what interests me to these blog posts.
Thank you all for coming as well.
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“Business Musings: Beginner’s Luck,” copyright © 2015 by Kristine Kathryn Rusch.
“Crossing The River Styx” by Edgar-Award nominee Kristine Kathryn Rusch is free on this website for one week only. The story’s also available as an ebook on Amazon, Kobo, Barnes & Noble, and from other online retailers.
Oh, the discussions. Oh, the fights (among the instructors). Oh, the laughter.
Yes, we had fun.
And now, with deep gratitude, I return to my writing routine.
The first two days after the workshop involved catch-up, a sudden rewrite, some small promotion for this month’s book release, and this thing called sleep. Today (Wednesday) is the first day I’m even approximating my usual schedule—much to the joy of my office cat, Galahad. (By Friday of last week, he took to standing in the door of my office and yelling at me as loudly as he could. He’s on my lap and purring as I type this [and yes, that means my typing posture has gone all to hell].)
Galahad isn’t the only one who is joyful. I’m bouncing around like a kid at Christmas, despite a lingering tiredness, a possible cold (allergies?), and constant interruptions from other people’s emergencies. My routine enables my writing productivity. My routine also takes away one aspect of my work day—the stress of time management.
I felt that stress during the workshop. I had left some reading for the middle of the week, assuming I would have time for it. I didn’t, but I had to get it done, which meant that the time came from the eight hours scheduled for sleep.
I had also vowed (to myself) to maintain my daily run, but I ran a route I’d never tried before. (I ran home for lunch.) The first two days were all about clock-checking. Am I late? Will I have time to shower, change, and eat lunch before my ride shows up? A few days were dicey, and then I got the hang of it—about the time I was headed back into my regular routine.
In my regular routine, I know if I linger too long at dinner, I will sacrifice my evening writing session. My brain shuts down around 10 or 11 every night. I plan for 10 rather than try to push for 11, because that way, if I’m particularly energetic, I feel like I’ve gained something rather than merely achieving my goal.
If I get started later than usual, I lose the all-important first session where I set my daily pattern. Often, I don’t tend to e-mail and everything that piled up overnight until I’ve completed my first writing session. That way, it’s harder to knock me off schedule.
And so on and so on and so on.
The routine enables the writing, not the other way around.
For almost two years, Dean has blogged nightly about his writing routine, pointing out to writers around the world that a writing career isn’t about pushing. It’s about a regular routine, almost clockwork in its repetitiveness. If you don’t understand what I mean, I urge you to take a look—and to make sure you read dozens of the blog posts, rather than one or two.
Even when Dean gets off-routine, he’s honest about it. And you can see in his numbers just how badly going off-routine impacts his productivity.
Going off routine hurts mine too. I had eight writing things scheduled for Monday. Instead, I spent most of the time cleaning up messes from the week before. Those eight things moved to Tuesday, along with Tuesday’s schedule. Again, I dealt with other people’s emergencies.
Today, I finally got to routine, and before I started writing this blog, I checked off six of the original eight things. The blog is the seventh. The eighth will move to Thursday, along with the rest of today’s items.
I suspect I’ll be shuffling due dates and projects for another week, even though I had planned around the workshop. The workshop didn’t cause the backlog as much as the loss of Monday and Tuesday did.
In The Freelancer’s Survival Guide, I have an entire section on scheduling. (You can find it here for free or in the Guide or in the short book called Time Management.) I reread this section before I started this post, and was rather stunned to realize I never talked about routine.
Let me define terms here:
A schedule is two-pronged.
First, a schedule includes calendar items. Your day job (if you have one). Your days off. The vacation you’ll take with you and your family. The writers conferences you’ll attend. The evenings you need to take for your daughter’s violin concerts. The lunch you have every week with your fellow writers. And so on.
Second, a schedule includes your writing (and publishing) deadlines. It shouldn’t matter if these deadlines are self-imposed or imposed from the outside (by a traditional publisher, for example). A deadline should be hard and fast. You don’t miss the deadline. In the Freelancer’s Guide, I show techniques for counting backwards so that you can find the right amount of time to get the work done—without pushing the deadline.
When I talk schedule, I’m not talking about routine.
Routine is the way that you shape your day. Every day.
From the time you get up in the morning to the length of your first writing session, your routine should have some kind of pattern to it. Dean posts his daily routine on his blog.
I get up around 11, take care of household stuff, and check the e-mail for emergencies. That can take anywhere from one hour to two hours, depending if there is an emergency or not.
I have a snack when I get up, but I eat a full breakfast after that one-to-two-hour period. If I’m running late (two hours), I eat quickly and drink my tea at my desk. If I’m on the normal schedule (one hour), I linger a bit.
Then I write for two sessions, with a longer e-mail/business break in between. I go on my run, eat lunch, feed the cats, and return to work for another session (or two) before cooking dinner.
After dinner, I return to my office for a last session or two, depending on how tired I am. When I’m finished, I do any reading I need to do. I join Dean for a little television, then come back to my reading chair to read for enjoyment for two hours before going to bed with enough time to spare so that I can get eight hours of rest.
Day in, day out.
Twice a week, I change the routine. Once a week, I go to a series of business meetings. I try to schedule other disruptive things on that day as well, like doctor’s appointments, podcast interviews, dinner with friends, car repairs, etc.
The other thing that alters my routine is our professional writers lunch on Sunday, which I try not to miss. I can miss it if I’m pushing a deadline. (Yes, despite my tough talk, I occasionally push a deadline—and regret it as I struggle to get my work done.) I schedule writing that requires less concentration for that day or maybe I do some business things, because the lunch can be really disruptive.
And that’s it.
The rest of the time, I’m following the routine I listed above. I know how many writing hours I have in the week and how much work I have. If I stay in routine, I can accurately estimate what I’m capable of writing and finishing and when I’m capable of finishing it.
Without the routine, I couldn’t estimate accurately.
But the routine is more than that. It’s also a structure that requires very little thought. When I go to my office at the usual time, my brain has already started to work on the current project even before I sit down. I’m ready to work right from the start.
The routine also organizes those around me. They know that when I’m in my writing office, I’m unavailable. Unless I’m between major projects, I don’t participate in social events on the five “regular” work days. Conversely, I’m pretty easy to reach at some point in the day, if the other person is patient.
I do set up routines when I travel or when I do events in town, like the workshop. Usually I try to plan those out ahead of time, although I wasn’t able to during this workshop. I do a lot of writing on planes, a lot of business while in the hustle and bustle of airports, and a lot of research while people-watching in strange environments.
In other words, routines are essential to my process.
Most effective writers have routines. I know that many of you who read this blog have day jobs and less writing time than I have. The day jobs give you structure. Writers who get a lot done have a set time after or before their day jobs for writing. Even an hour per day is enough to finish a lot of pages.
If you don’t have a routine, if you’re waiting for that elusive muse or if you’re “too busy,” time to write down everything you do for about two weeks. You’ll find some spare time in there. It might only be fifteen minutes in the course of a day, but even fifteen minutes should get you one page per day. One page per day 365 days per year is a novel. Take weekends off, and you’ll still get a lot of writing done.
So here I am, sneezing my way through today’s routine. The cat has moved to his evening nap spot, and I’m about to move to another project—with an hour in my regular routine to spare.
Life is good.
Nice to be back in routine.
One thing that routinely keeps me writing the blog is the support of all of you. Some of you send emails or make comments. Others forward the blog around the web. And some of you donate.
I appreciate all of it.
Click Here to Go To PayPal. (Yes, White Mist Mountain is my company name)
“Business Musings: The Importance of Routine,” copyright © 2015 by Kristine Kathryn Rusch.
I’m keeping this short because I just finished a writing workshop and am behind on everything. I’ll have more news later in the week. But the big news–The Peyti Crisis, Miles Flint. There. I’ve done it. Enjoy!
Martin owned the theater when the Phantom spilled the first victim’s blood across the stage. Now, he plans to unmask the killer once and for all—if the truth doesn’t kill him first.
“Phantom” by USA Today bestselling author Kristine Kathryn Rusch was a Bram Stoker Award finalist and is available for free on this website for one week only. The story’s also available on Kobo, Amazon, Barnes & Noble, and in other online retail stores.
This one dates from that period. I’d been sitting on it for a moment just like this. I’m in the middle of a big writing workshop this week. I had hoped to get another blog done last week. Instead, I finished up 3 short stories and a few other projects, and decided to post this piece now.
(The other two posts are going to cause a bit of a stir, and I didn’t want that while teaching.)
Even though this blog, like last week’s, starts out about employees, it does apply to writers in a big way.
Here’s an anecdote those of you who have faithfully read my Business Rusch blog or The Freelancer’s Survival Guide have encountered before. I apologize for the repetition, but the context needs to be here.
Trust me. I will bring this anecdote around to writing and freelancing farther on in this post.
One-hundred-and-fifty thousand years ago (or the early1980s, whichever makes me seem older), I got a job at a textbook publishing company. I came in as the lowest of the low, an editorial assistant—in other words, a secretary with a fancy title that made me seem more important than I was.
I was barely out of college and the best thing I had going for me was that I knew how to turn on a computer. (Seriously, these people had had a new computer sitting idly because no one could find the on-switch.) We did everything by hand or by typewriter, and for the bulk of my time there, that computer gathered dust.
I had come from freelancing. My (soon-to-be ex-) husband and I owned a failing business, and we were broke. So I got a full-time job to pay the bills.
Day one, I got trained by the woman I was replacing. Day two, I came in and did everything I had been assigned to do within 30 minutes. My boss, the wonderful Editor Greg, was startled that I finished so quickly. He double-checked me, found out I had done everything right, and gave me more to do. Still and all, I was done with my tasks by noon.
With Editor Greg’s permission, I read a book all afternoon. The book was one of the company’s textbooks, but Editor Greg thought that it might be useful if I knew the product.
Day Three, same thing.
Day Four, the other secretaries—I mean, editorial assistants—waylaid me as I came into work. They explained in no uncertain terms that I had to make my 30 minutes of work stretch throughout the 8 hours, or I would make every other editorial assistant look bad.
I was baffled. I said, “Why would I want to do that? I hate being bored. And if there’s stuff to be done, I’ll do it.”
They said stuff about camaraderie and supporting your fellow employees and helping them keep their jobs, for heaven’s sake. And I shrugged and walked away. I continued to do 30 minutes of work in 30 minutes. A month or two into the job, I had read every book in the place and was getting ready to read everything in the files (I did that at a real estate job I had in college—and oh, boy, did I learn stuff) when I realized that our personal financial situation had improved.
I went back to freelancing, earned a lot more money than I did in that crazy-making job, and moved on.
I often talk about those secretaries in astonishment. I thought they were anomalies. Even though a good friend of mine—a very good friend of mine—spent his entire career at a government job that, he said, required him to do eight hours of work in a forty-hour week. He stretched those eight hours over five days, then added in another eight hours in those five days for good measure, and became the most productive person in his department.
He kept that job even though he got sick after every trip he took to an sf convention (generally one per month). He took tons of vacation time and personal days, and he still got promoted and treated well there—because he was the most productive person in his office.
I never put A and B together, not really, except to make silly jokes about the things government employees could get away with. But other friends who had corporate jobs would tell me about the folks in their offices who, no matter what anyone tried, never really did much.
Those folks showed up, shuffled papers, and went home.
After that textbook publishing experience, I stopped hiring out as a secretary for part-time work. (For a while anyway. Years later, I moved to Oregon, and was desperate for any part-time work. Then I got hired by a wonderful man [still a friend] who let me leave when I finished the tasks assigned me.) For most of my early working life, part-time work I got go augment my freelance income was as a waitress.
Waitresses in busy restaurants can’t slack off. If you do, you get fired. Or, if your bosses really don’t care, you don’t make money. Because other (good) waiters and waitresses will take your tables—and your tips. By the time I was out of high school, I could handle an entire Country Kitchen restaurant at breakfast by myself (with the assistance of someone to bus tables) and still get customers in and out of the restaurant within an hour.
And I had fun.
Why am I telling you this?
Because one of the things I learned in 2014 is that a lot of employees get by.
Dean and I own or co-own eight different businesses—not all of them to do with publishing. Generally speaking, we’re good at hiring people and for the most part, over the years, we have hired excellent folk. We have a good staff of people right now—people who work hard, care a lot, and do an excellent job.
Dean and I have hired and fired people throughout our adult lives, and also generally speaking, we tend to avoid the get-by folks. We get rid of them fast when we accidentally hire them.
How do we accidentally hire them?
They present well. They present as smart and talented and (sometimes) misunderstood. In their (excellent) interviews, they complain that they were in the wrong job. Sometimes, given their resumes, it seems like they actually were in the wrong job.
While the get-by folks talk a good game, they don’t perform well. After their training is complete, they can’t seem to meet deadlines or get work done. There’s always a reason.
Some get-by folks, the ones who’ve been in the work force for a long time, find ways to get other people to do the work for them or they meet their deadlines (just barely) with shoddy work, complaining that the task was hard and almost impossible to do in the time allowed.
When you’re a small business owner, chances are you’ve done the task yourself before hiring someone to take it off your hands. And unlike managers at corporations who supervise people whose jobs they aren’t as familiar with, you know that the excuses are just excuses.
I hate it when we hire a get-by person. Because they’re often extremely nice human beings who are fun to be around. But they aren’t good employees.
As you can tell from the mentions above, we had to deal with get-by situations at our many businesses in 2014. While dealing with the aftermath of the get-by situations (and learning just how much never got done), I had a realization about writers.
There are writers who get by.
I’ve always known that, but I hadn’t given it a lot of thought until the indie publishing revolution. Throughout my entire career, I’ve known writers who take five years to write a book (or a year to write a short story!), writers who never try freelancing because they can’t get their production up, writers who can’t seem to finish anything after the first few books.
I always thought, ah, it’s their critical voice that’s on too loud, or they really don’t want to become a writer, or they have some other interest that’s more important.
I never thought—I never realized—that a goodly percentage of these writers are simply folks who get by. These writers figure out how to game the system at their jobs. They do like my very good friend did at his job; they seem productive when they are not.
Unlike my very good friend, many get-by people seem to believe their own hype. They seem to think there’s a way around everything, that everyone else does this, and that successful people aren’t people who work hard but are people who know how to play the game well.
Does this sound familiar?
There are blogs everywhere on how to manipulate Amazon’s algorithm to make a book a bestseller. There are writers who cringe when you tell them the best way to sell your first book is to write a second. There are writers who simply do not believe that writing the next book (and the next and the next) is more important than promoting the only book.
Honestly, I hadn’t understood that mindset until I thought about the Get-By People. They have made entire careers about doing a lot of initial work to impress their employer, and then skating on that work for as long as possible. Part of the skate is a gift for hype that makes the initial work seem more important than it actually is.
You see, they say, it’s hard to write a novel. Terribly, terribly, terribly hard. The writers suffered as they wrote. The fact that they finished that novel is very, very, very important. These writers should be rewarded for their very hard, very important work. We should all recognize just how much effort these writers put into that novel, and we should respond with sales and accolades.
I never understood that point of view from a non-writerly perspective until this year. I thought it was just something weird that writers did, until I started to talk to others who have dealt in their jobs with the Get-By People.
Expecting recognition for a minimal amount of work is a get-by attitude.
Why do I call writing one novel a minimal amount of work? Because I’m mean or a show-off or a hack or freakishly productive?
No, because I know writers who have long-term careers. Most of us never talk about our productivity. Most of us never talk about how many hours we spend at the computer. As Dean often says, we are successful because we work harder than everyone else.
There are excellent employees in the world, people who put in extra hours or who are “freakishly productive” by filling their days with actual work rather than talking about movies or surfing the web.
(Are you at work right now? Is it your lunch break? Or are you supposed to be working? Or is this scheduled free time? Do you feel guilty yet?)
Some weeks I work harder than those excellent employees. But often I match them in productivity. I had just not seen them in action until the past few years.
Dean, on the other hand, works harder than anyone I’ve ever met. He’s a whiz at getting a lot done in a little bit of time. He’s more productive than I am—and I often feel like a Get-By person in comparison.
But back to that one-novel thing.
It is an accomplishment to finish your first novel. Go celebrate. Most wannabe writers never finish a novel. They may not ever finish a short story. They talk the good talk, but they don’t put in the work.
When you finish your first novel, you have taken that first step toward being a professional writer. But from the perspective of career writers, people who’ve been at it for years, you’re a baby who has toddled over to your parents for the very first time.
Yep, it’s an accomplishment worthy of cake and videos and applause.
Now, time to emulate that toddler and learn to run.
These days, most indie writers expect that first novel to be a success. I expected my first (real) novel to be a success as well. We all write because we know we’re brilliant, because the world was just waiting for our wisdom, because we have done something Mankind Has Never Seen Before.
Then those of us who want careers get over ourselves and move onto the next novel, and the next, and the next, and the next.
Right now, the Get-By People who wrote that first novel, gamed Amazon’s algorithms, and tried to convince everyone under the sun to buy that novel are leaving the writing business in droves. The Get-By People are complaining that “sales aren’t what they used to be.” They’re complaining that “free doesn’t work any more.” They’re wondering why no one is praising their (three-year-old) work.
How come these Get-By People aren’t rich and famous?
Because the publishing industry does replicate the real world most of the time.
Very few Get-By writers ever have long-term success with their first novel. That’s true of the past and it’s true now. Remember, the traditional publishing industry works on velocity. Occasionally, a first-timer writes a kick-ass novel, and traditional publishing rewards that writer with lots of push, and a visit to the bestseller list.
Sometimes, that first-timer is a Get-By writer. The Get-By traditional writer needs to write the “sophomore” effort. The Get-By writer hasn’t even started their second novel—often waiting to “see how the first one does.” The Get-By writer is usually late on that second novel’s deadline, and by the time the novel gets turned in, all that hype and promotion is years in the past. The second novel often fails in traditional publishing terms.
If that Get-By writer signed a three-book contract, the writer then needs to finish the third book, but never will. The publisher will cancel the contract or, when the publisher demands the book, the Get-By writer will shape up for one last effort. There will be no new contract after that third book.
In indie publishing, no one pushes the Get-By writer to write the second and third novels. Some Get-By writers realize they need to write a second book, but most never do. The Get-By writers who write that second book will rarely write a third.
By then, the Get-By writers are exhausted by their promotion efforts and all the work that writing is.
Besides, they didn’t get rich quick like Amanda Hocking (not a Get-By writer), Hugh Howey (not a Get-By writer) or the half dozen other writers who rose to the notice of the traditional press as indie success stories.
The Get-By writers will move on to the next scheme, just as they move to a new job in the Real World, once their employer starts pushing them to actually do the work they’re assigned.
When I quit that publishing job years ago, Editor Greg had already left to start his own business. His replacement, Young Former Salesman Boy (younger than me—and I was 24), begged me to stay.
“You’re the only one who gets anything done around here,” he said.
It didn’t sway me.
I have no idea what happened to all of those Get-By secretaries—I mean editorial assistants—who dithered at their jobs, stretching 30 minutes of work into 8 hours. I did know that Young Former Salesman Boy got Editor Greg’s job because YFSB was a top salesman—which meant he had a work ethic. And I suspect that work ethic doomed those Get-By secretaries.
If you want to be a successful writer, you can skate for a year or two or even four or five. Some of those Get-By writers are fantastic storytellers. A few traditionally published Get-By writers are great wordsmiths. Their first (and if they can, second) novels do well. Readers want another book, but they don’t get that next book—not from the Get-By writer.
Generally speaking, readers only buy a book once. (And often—if they use libraries or download freebies—they don’t pay for a book at all.) A few readers might like a book enough to buy it for someone else. A few more readers will tell friends about the book, sparking extra sales.
But after a while, readers find other writers. The Get-By writers will see their sales drop and drop and drop, and then think that no one appreciates their hard work.
But a lack of appreciation is not what happened. Readers did appreciate the work. They’ve just moved on to someone else’s work.
If you want a long-term career as a writer, you can’t get by. You can’t tweak algorithms forever. You can’t continually change your cover and blurb to convince readers you’ve published a new book. You can’t even get by in traditional publishing, because they’ll want another book.
If you’re traditionally published and have graduate degrees, you can teach. A lot of college professors dine out on that one book they published fifteen years ago. So do a lot of public speakers who go from conference to conference, rather like the one-hit wonders in music who hold concert after concert in increasingly smaller venues, playing their hit song and the ten other songs from their only album (along with a few covers).
Honestly, though, it seems to me—and remember, I’m not a get-by kinda person—that getting by is a lot more work than actually doing the work. You have to constantly figure out how to get people’s attention while hiding the fact that you’re not doing much. Seems like a whole lotta effort for a whole lotta nothing.
To say I’m not sympathetic is a huge understatement. I’m also not impressed. I’ve been known to ask aloud at jobs where I was the manager or at businesses I’ve owned if anyone knew whether we could actually demand that the get-by person we’d just gotten rid of could pay us back for all the time that person wasted.
I know that’s not fair, because as the boss, I’m just as culpable for the Get-By People as the people are themselves. I hired them; I didn’t see the problems fast enough; I have to deal with the leftover mess.
Just like the spouses and friends of get-by writers have to do when those writers finally give up or implode or just walk away from their dream.
Get-By People can survive in the real world by moving from job to job. But writers can’t. So if you’re trying to get by, ask yourself why you’re even writing. If writing is your dream, then learn how to change your habits. I realize that’s not an easy thing to do.
There are a million books out there on improving productivity or changing bad work habits into good ones. Buy those. Maybe take our workshop on productivity. Even if you don’t finish the work (and if you’re a get-by person, you won’t), maybe some of the questions will spark something in you and help you learn how to actually do the job.
The only way to achieve your writing dreams is to work on them—and even for those of us who don’t skate through life, that work is hard.
It’s also fun—and, it would seem to me, a lot more fun than just getting by.
When I came back to the blog, I did so with the promise that it would be irregular. I have given myself permission to skip weeks. I just don’t want to.
I also try to post by Thursday, although I don’t always manage it—and sometimes other things get in the way. So check the site regularly, sign up for the RSS (if it works), or watch my Twitter feed for announcements.
If this is the first post you’ve seen in a while, you’ve missed a few. Click on the Business Musings category above and you’ll find it.
And since I’ll be doing this semi-regularly and since I don’t get paid for the non-fiction, I have attached the donate button to this post.
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(Yes, White Mist Mountain is my company)
“Business Musings: Getting By,” copyright © 2015 by Kristine Kathryn Rusch.