What I Did Last Year (I): On Writing & Publishing

I’ve been meaning to write a little round-up of 2015 for some time, and here it is. It’s been difficult putting the house in order, publishing- and writing-wise: so far, it seems that 2016 will be a year as challenging as 2015 was… And that’s saying a lot at this early juncture.

Still, the writing has… progressed, in baby steps. For some time it felt as if I was writing to the air and the clouds and the stars; and then, all of a sudden, I could see clearly that yes, ‘progress’ had been made. Sadly, I haven’t had a lot of time on my hands to ‘finish’ things: the writing has continued, and that in itself is a win! But, what with finding it difficult to feel ready, together with life, things have moved slowly, and I have hardly pressed the submission button much.

I spent most of the past year working on two things: making sure our small press survived; and researching and writing my third novel – my first one in English. In 2014 I joined the part-time creative writing MSt at Cambridge University, and now it’s time to show what I’ve learned. The novel is tentatively titled The Golden Key, after George MacDonald’s fairy-tale. The small press is doing okay, thank you very much. In 2015, we published the complete tales of Nikolai Gogol, a collection by a promising young Spanish new-weird writer, another book (our fourth) by Russian speculative fiction genius Anna Starobinets, and a few more things I’m immensely proud of. We contracted a new novel by Nina Allan, and took the first steps to contract another from Karin Tidbeck. We commissioned the fourth book in the Young Moriarty series, and sold translation rights in it to some other countries, which for us is a huge deal. Some reprints, mostly overdue illustrated books, had to be made. A third edition of our translation of The Master and Margarita, the first new translation into Spanish in forty years, was sent to the printers. To top it all, we managed to publish our first book in English, the mighty The Best of Spanish Steampunk. The Nevsky-UK list is underway now. In the current economy, and in my home country, simply making sure that your cultural company lives on, perhaps flourishes a little, should be enough to account for the chronic pain, the new illnesses developed, the stress and panic attacks, the lack of sleep lost over money issues, the general feeling of burnout. All in all, through sheer stubbornness, we apparently managed to keep the ship afloat for one more year; or, we could say, we managed to dodge fate once again, as the logical outcome is that we will disappear eventually.

As for the writing, when it happens it’s sheer happiness. The degree has taught me the important lesson of ‘finding the time’; submission and feeling ready are different matters. I’ve spent the year concentrating on ‘writing’, not ‘finishing’ drafts. Perhaps the slow burn approach to the novel has contributed to make that my current writing mode. Personally, I find it very hard to be ready. It is only bad in that you see other writers progressing at a different speed, and you are in the position of developing the negative idea that you’re not doing enough. My ‘game’ is different now: this last year I’ve learnt to appreciate the little time I’ve been able to give to the writing itself, to appreciate just sitting down to do it. Like I said, sheer happiness. And, yes, ‘progress’ has come, of its own accord and in ways I wasn’t expecting.

My novel in progress, The Golden Key, stands at 40.000 words at present, and the plan is to have a substantially ‘definitive’ draft by Summer of around 90.000. It has proved one of the hardest tasks I have sat down to accomplish, very much relying on a similar kind of stubbornness to that needed to keep my small press open. All I can report at this stage is that I keep soldiering on at it.

As far as the short stories are concerned, I’ve been very privileged to have managed three sales of English language stories, as well as two Spanish commissions for respected anthologies; the Spanish stories will be published this year. But the English stories all were bought and published in 2015. After months with nothing to report, suddenly things began happening. The Apex International Issue included my Clarion week one story, retitled ‘Frozen Planet’, and Weird Fiction Review published my gothic climate-change fiction short story ‘Orange Dogs’. WFR is perhaps the one magazine I dreamt of publishing in when I started writing in English. That this has happened in my first year of selling fiction in English is more than I could have dreamt of. I have to thank Ann and Jeff VanderMeer not just for acquiring the story, but for their constant support and encouragement. I also sold another story in English last year, another gothic climate-change fiction called ‘Black Isle’ to SuperSonic, a Spanish/English bilingual new magazine. Translations of Haralambi Markov into Spanish and of Rocío Rincón into English were published in SuperSonic and The Apex Book of World SF IV respectively. I also managed to produce a translation of Lisa Tuttle’s seminal collection A Nest of Nightmares, which we published in our press. To top it all, I contributed some Spanish translations to The Big Book of World SF, again edited by Ann and Jeff VanderMeer, which will be published this coming Summer.

Some good and supportive friends have asked me to mention here about my award eligibility. I really have no idea about the different rules. My first professional sale happened in 2015; however, the last Clarion report didn’t list me as eligible for the John Campbell Award. It’s confusing; but I *am* eligible. About the short stories: ‘Orange Dogs’ and ‘Frozen Planet’ should both be eligible for the Hugo and Nebula Awards; ‘Orange Dogs’ made the long list of the BSFA Award – sadly not the short-list. ‘Black Isle’, perhaps my best story, appeared in a semi-pro bilingual publication. Still, it should be eligible for, again, the Hugo and the Nebula Awards. To my amazement, ‘Orange Dogs’ has also been selected to appear in The Year’s Best Weird Fiction, vol. 3. Again, as with WFR, that was THE Year’s Best I’ve always dreamt with, so infinite thanks to its editors, Michael Kelly and Simon Strantzas, are due here.

I started contributing, rather sporadically, to The Science Fiction and Fantasy Network with articles on my favourite topic, the amazing diversity and quality of Spanish SF/F; two of my most admired publications asked for my thoughts on the year’s best, Weird Fiction Review in English, and Fantifica in Spanish. WFR run a ver nice interview with me, thank you to David Davis for taking the time to do so. I also gave a reading in English, my first, at the little foreign language bookshop Desperate Literature, run by two of the loveliest people in the universe, Charlotte and Terry, after their years in Paris’s Shakespeare and Company. Desperate Literature deserves here a mention as definitely a highlight of 2015: they opened last Summer and have quickly become a little heaven and a home from home that add layers of happiness to the English culture of the city, and to our lives.

My plans for 2016 are simple: finishing The Golden Key. And, if I am lucky, I’ll be able to submit that one story, the one that it’s been nagging me for over a year now, left in a drawer not to rot, but because I do things slowly, I find it hard to feel ready, and I need my time to gradually working things in my head. And that is not necessarily a bad thing. Perhaps now I’m ready to look at it once more, and ‘finish’ it. Or at least to let it go out into the world.

Link to Orange Dogs

Link to Frozen Planet

Link to Black Isle

Link to The Golden Key’s pinterest that I’ve just created #amwriting #wip

UPDATED: Thanks to Tamara Vardomskaya (Clarion 2014), who set me right with my award eligibility, and mentioned that I am, after all, eligible for the Campbell Award.

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