Retirement

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In two weeks I will be retired, or as a friend of mine wisely calls it, refocused. Still it will be a strange thing not to work for someone else. I took my first paid job when I was fourteen (though I did freelance for a few years before that as a lawnmower and snow-shoveller and berry-picker). I still have the pay-stub from my first regular job. It was for $4.65 for 3.5 hours work. That was obviously a long time ago.

Since then I’ve worked for a lot of different people and organizations – mostly on regular salary though sometimes on contract. It has been a varied life. I’ve worked as a library assistant, a gardener, a chemist, a research manager, a house painter, a labour negotiator, an actor, a bartender, a pizza cook, an arts administrator, a policy advisor, a medical researcher, a telemarketer, a political assistant and several other professions I now forget.

During that time I did work for myself as well. I spent my teenage years selling greeting cards door-to-door and, later, took research jobs on contract. Of course, I’ve been a freelance writer for more than  25 years and, most recently, an editor and publisher for my own company.

I expect that I’ll keep writing on a regular basis and I hope to even make some money in the process. But it’s not the same as having to go to the office every day. I only have myself to answer to and only I can make me sit at the computer and work. I expect to be a pretty easy going boss. Although I intend to write a novel between now and the end of September, that’s only about 900 words a day of new prose. I can generally do that in an hour or two. There will be research, of course, and re-writing and editing, not to mention the publishing company, but still, I don’t plan to write every day and I don’t plan to work any more than 4 hours in any given day.

But what will I do to fill the time? After spending most of my life working 8 or more hours a day – for someone far less easy going than me – what will I do to stop from being bored?

Even to ask that question suggests you don’t know me very well. I can’t stand being inactive – it doesn’t just bore me it makes me grumpy. So I will read and walk and talk and party and cook and travel and photograph and think and watch and listen and play and dream up adventures to do or write about.

Retirement? I don’t think so. Refocus – it is a wiser term.

And that’s ten minutes.

Regarding Taste

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The Romans would say: De gustibus non est disputandum. The French might shrug and murmur: À chaque, son gout. In English, we might argue: To each their own or more cuttingly, there’s no accounting for taste.

These thoughts struck me yesterday when I was adding a couple of books to my Goodreads account. Some of them were new acquisitions and another was an older book I’ve just started to read because the author, whose other books I’ve admired, recently died. I thought it was time to explore one of his few novels that I hadn’t yet read. What I noticed was that the book had middling reviews on Goodreads – or rather it had wildly divergent reviews gaining almost as many one star ratings as five.

Was it a case of you either love it or you hate it or was there something else at play? Certainly, it has been shown that nothing more negatively affects a book’s rating on mass reading sites than for it to win a major award or otherwise be subject to public approval. A positive review in The New York Times might do the trick.

There are, after all, hordes of trolls who are never happy unless they are crapping on what other people do or love. Or perhaps it is the response of the high school student who comes to hate novels because too many teachers have told them they are ‘good for them.’ What more damning praise could an author ever ask for?

To me, taste is indeed as the Romans, French and English all agree: an unaccountable and individual thing. Our language is full of such expressions. One man’s meat is another’s poison. Your trash is my treasure. We acknowledge it and yet grow rancorous when someone disagrees with us about this being the best book ever written and that being the most incredible film of the year.

Taste is not a matter for elites – read it to make yourself a better person or, better yet, read it to see just how stupid and without perception you are – nor for democracy. Popular is not a measure of quality simply of, well, popularity. Some popular things are, of course, of the highest quality and some things are ignored because they deserve nothing better.

And who is to say which is which? History perhaps decides what has lasting value – or perhaps not. It is estimated that only 10% of every film ever made still exists today. Recently a cache of old silent movies were discovered frozen in Dawson City, Yukon. Of the hundreds recovered only a few existed in other prints. For many of the rest, there wasn’t even a list somewhere or a newspaper article archived in a dusty vault to record their existence.

Besides who has time to wait on history? I know what I like and need neither the experts nor the masses to tell me if I’m right or wrong. I guess what is really driving this blog is all the reading I’m doing as a publisher. Some of the things I like I realize others might not find to their taste; things I reject, many might love. But as the publisher who pays the tab, whose taste should I obey if not my own?

And that’s ten minutes.

 

No End in Sight

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I talk a lot these days about retiring. What I’m really talking about is moving from one occupation to another. Frankly I’m tired of working in a regular job – getting up every day to someone else’s schedule and trundling off to an office where my activities are constrained by those around me and the systems in place to manage the work.

I’ve never been keen on systems. I didn’t mind school but found plenty of ways to circumvent or at least ameliorate the rules. It was not a case of rebelling – I was a radical but not much of a revolutionary – but of co-opting them to my own interests. Being smart and working hard can buy you a lot of freedom. It helped that the high school I went to had 2000 students and my university only 1300. You could choose to be invisible if you liked – or you could stand out in ways that seemed to buy into the system while secretly subverting it.

Good times.

Real life was never so easy. Governments and corporations have had a lot of practice shackling their employees, locking us into the iron cage of bureaucracy. Small businesses – unless you happen to be the owner – are nothing but arbitrary fiefdoms where employees are treated like family – in the worst sense of the word – and expected to work like slaves.

Work – the curse of the drinking class.

But, having been smart enough and lucky enough to work in a place that offers a defined benefit pension plan (indexed to inflation) means that soon I will celebrate, not freedom 55 but freedom 61 or 62 (the timing remains uncertain). I will have an income free from any obligation.

It’s as if I was suddenly a member of the gentry in a Jane Austin novel!

But as they say a man with an income is soon in need of, well not a wife – I have one of those – but an occupation. Something useful – at least to them – to fill the hours until happy hour. Without it, happy hour may start to come at 10 in the morning.

But what to do? Fortunately I’ve been planning for these days for a very long time and have plenty that will fill my hours with interesting tasks while still leaving me free to pursue my real hobbies of traveling and sampling all the various foods and drinks the world has to offer.

I have my publishing company and my writing. I don’t see giving up the latter – ever – and as for the former, well, that depends upon other people, those who choose to buy or not buy the books I publish. But for now it continues to beckon me. After all, writing and publishing have their own benefits and not merely in terms of being engaged in a creative process but in being engaged with creative people.

That’s what keeps your mind young even as the rest of you ages into decrepitude. Even after my body stops moving my mind can journey to far shores.

I’ve seen the alternative and it isn’t pretty. Wasting away in body AND mind. No, I’d rather go out like Robertson Davies, starting a short story on the morning of my death at age 90.

But that’s ten minutes.

David G. Hartwell

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As I write this, David Hartwell is hovering on the edge of death. He suffered a massive brain bleed yesterday and is not expected to survive.

David, for those of you not in the field, was one of the most influential editors in the history of science fiction. He was responsible for the careers of many who work in the field today. And he was especially interested and generous to Canadians.

Unlike other public figures many of us have been mourning this month, I knew David. Not well, but well enough to say that I liked and respected him and always looked forward to seeing him at science fiction conventions we both attended.

I knew David as an editor before I knew him as a man. His collection of the Year’s Best SF was always the one I turned to first. We had similar tastes, I guess, and thinking about it, I would have to say that he influenced my own style as an editor and anthologist. How sweet it is to remember that David was the one who handed me my Aurora Award for editing the anthology, Blood and Water. I recall that his smile couldn’t have been bigger and warmer than if he had won the award himself.

I suppose I first met David in Chicago in 2000 at the TOR party at the World Science Fiction convention. It was a brief introduction and we hardly spoke but we met again off and on over the years. And more and more we would find time to talk – about books, about the progress of his young children through school, about whatever topics came up.

I’ve never been much of a note taker – even in university – so when I tell you that I often wrote down things that David said on panels or on those occasions he gave a lecture about the history of SF or the process of editing, maybe it will tell you how much I admired his intellect and his erudition. What David didn’t know about SF may not have been worth knowing.

Anyone who spent even a few minutes with him will remember David’s kindness, his curiosity, his subtle wit, his intelligence or, if nothing else, his wild taste in neckties. In fact, David’s neckties were so famous that they actually created an exhibition of them for the art show at the World SF convention in Montreal.

The last time I saw David in person was in Ottawa at the end of October. He had decided to drop in at the local convention, coming all the way up from New York to be with us. David was one of those people who was as much a fan as a professional and I think he genuinely loved to be with those of like mind and spirit. We chatted for a good half-hour beside the Bundoran Press table in the dealers’ room. Again if was a wide ranging and happy talk – despite some personal troubles David was going through.

If I had known it was going to be the last time I would speak to him, I would have told him how much I admired him. I can’t do that now so I’m telling you.

And that’s ten minutes.

A Final Pitch

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There’s only twenty nine hours (and counting down at a regular pace) to fund our Bundoran Press Anthology, Lazarus Risen. You can find the Indiegogo page here.

Thanks to the generous support of a wide range of people — including some regular readers of 10 Minutes of Words — we’ve reached the point where we can pay writers 3.5 cents a word. For a five thousand word story, that’s about $175, not bad but I’d like to do better.

Writers struggle to make any kind of a living from their work. Even another $25 or $50 for a short story can make a real difference. So if you like science fiction, why not pop over and give us a look? Even a $10 donation gets you a copy of the e-book; $25 gets you the e-book and a print book.

Give a bit more and there are some other great perks — including some critiques by some well-published writers. Even if you don’t write yourself, you probably know people who do and those critques — solid writing advice — make great Christmas gifts.

So that’s less than ten minutes — why not use the remaining time to go make a donation? And you could share this blog and the Indiegogo page around while you’re at it.

Losses

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Last weekend I attended SFContario where the annual CanVention – the national SF con – was also being held. Each year they give out the Aurora Awards and this year I was nominated in the category of Best Related Work for Strange Bedfellows. I would have liked to win as I am very proud of that book – an anthology of political science fiction. I didn’t, which was a bit disappointing especially when I discovered that I was in first place until the final round of balloting. Such is life with preferential ballots.

Still, I could hardly gripe. I did finish second to a very deserving OnSpec magazine. Given that I support them every month through Patreon, I obviously think they are worthy. And there is always next year.

Meanwhile, on Monday the NWT territorial election was held. I had a number of friends running – most of whom did not win (though some did). My boss’s son was one of the losers and though he finished respectably (almost) tied for second, I’m sure he is feeling disappointed. I know the experience from my own electoral career and suspect he is probably second guessing himself now. What could I have done differently? Why didn’t people support me? Whose fault is it? His disappointment is significant – it feels like a personal rejection – but may be less severe than the incumbent MLAs, including two Ministers, who lost their seats. It is well known that losing your seat can lead to depression, though it usually passes in a year or so.

And, in any case there will be another chance to run for office. In a democracy it happens with great frequency at one level or another.

To put all this in perspective:

On the Friday evening before SFContario, I learned that Barry King, an SF writer and organizer had died suddenly from complications of pneumonia. He was in his forties and I had seen him only a few weeks before, when he seemed in perfect health. I didn’t know Barry really well. We had met half a dozen times and I had recently bought one of his stories for my latest anthology, published in October. He had invited me to take part in Limestone Genre, a new SF gathering he had helped organize last year in Kingston.

I had got to know him well enough to know he was a smart witty man, a good writer, and was well loved by his friends and of course his family. Their sense of loss makes anything I or my political friends experienced in the last week completely trivial. For Barry, for Barry’s family and friends, there is no next year, there is no future opportunity. There is only the permanence of loss and grief.

My heart goes out to them but in the end only time and their love for each other can heal the loss they have experienced.

I was once told that when a bad thing happens to you, you should ask yourself if it will matter one year or five years from now. Losing an award is a transitory thing, losing an election is forgotten in five years. Losing someone you love never goes away. Perspective.

And that’s ten minutes.

SFContario

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I’m here at SFContario in Toronto and have a few minutes before my first event of the day. I’ve been going to science fiction conventions since 1979 and always enjoy seeing old friends – and making new ones. After all these years I’m still surprised that there are some people in Canadian SF that I don’t know – but of course new writers enter the field, every week or so, thus it never gets truly old.

This is the first convention I’ve attended in nearly three years where I haven’t had to spend my entire time alternating between panels and the dealers’ room. I decided to come simply as a writer this time and left my publisher hat at home. It makes for a much more relaxing time and I seem more able to just sit and chat without thinking about where I need to be next.

The Guests of Honour include Peter Watts who I’ve known for years and Saladin Ahmed whose books I know. Hopefully by the end of the convention I’ll know him too.

Last night I attended an autograph session and sold a few books – which was a nice bonus. I also went to the pin ceremony – wherein everyone who has been nominated for an Aurora Award for the first time gets a very nice commemorative pin. Many of the people from Ottawa asked me to pick theirs up for them so I wound up with six in my pocket. What am I offered?

I attended the Canadian Science Fiction Association AGM this morning and soon will head off to participate in my first panel of the day on Economics and Speculative fiction. Later in the day I’ll be talking about Publishing in the Digital Age before finishing off with a panel on future energy sources. I’ll spend dinner with friends tonight and take in any room parties that might be on offer.

Tomorrow is the big event – the Aurora Awards brunch and presentation. I’m up for an award for Strange Bedfellows but even if I don’t win I may have to pack some hardware home as I’ve promised to accept the award for four other nominees. If all goes well, I’ll be very busy.

Finally, I’ll appear on one last panel on Multiculturalism in SF – where I will meet Saladin if I haven’t managed it before. Then it’s a long train ride home where I can relax and read submissions to Bundoran Press.

And that’s ten minutes.