From time to time I’ll recommend—not review, mind you, but recommend, and yes, there is a difference—books that I think authors should have on their shelves. Some may be new and still in print, some may be difficult to find, but all will be, at least in my humble opinion, essential texts for any author, so worth looking for.
Having seen it recommended by writers and artists alike here and there, I checked a copy of Show Your Work! by Austin Kleon out of the library, and finally took the short time yesterday to read it. It’s a very small book, physically, with huge type and lots of graphics, so an easy one-sitting read. I would definitely recommend it, especially for newer authors, anyone seriously thinking about getting into the indie publishing game, and especially the introverts out there—and I know there are a lot of us! The book does a nice, accessible, easygoing, and positive job of psyching us up to do exactly as the title states: show our work!
It’s a book about putting yourself out there alongside your work, and if I keep typing I’ll have basically retyped the book, so go out and find it and read it for yourself, and take from it what you will.
The one thing I’d like to focus on is Kleon’s idea of the cabinet of curiosities. Rather than filling a physical curio cabinet at home with knickknacks and tchotchkes, Kleon encourages us to share our sources of inspiration on the Internet.
Okay, then, challenge accepted, with prompts courtesy of a list of questions on pages 76-77 of Show Your Work!
Where do you get your inspiration?
I know this is going to feel like a copout answer, but the only real answer is everywhere. The slightly more honest answer is I have no idea. Inspiration just… appears. From where? Well, I’m not a spiritual person, so won’t give you any sort of metaphysical answer, but the human mind is a complex, and exceedingly weird place. From time to time, shit just pops out of it.
What sorts of things do you fill your head with?
Novels, poetry, short stories, graphic novels, movies, TV series; and books, articles, and YouTube videos about books and writing. And, as above, everything I see, hear, feel, touch, taste, or otherwise experience. I have never found it possible to not fill my head with everything, the result being it’s a rather crowded place, and never shuts up. Ever.
What do you read?
See above… I really do make a concerted effort to read as “all over the place” as I can. This year I’ve embarked on my personal long books challenge, and thanks to an overwhelmingly busy January that’s gotten off to a rough start. I’m still only in Volume 1 (of 4) of War & Peace, which was January’s book, and not yet hallway through February’s book: The Essential Ellison. But I’m not looking at this challenge as a monthly thing. The goal is to read all twelve by the end of 2023, and there’s still an awful lot of 2023 left.
In the meantime, my random behavior modification prompts occasionally tell me to read a book from one of my various collections. To whit, I’m currently reading an ACE Double: Bring Back Yesterday by A. Bertram Chandler/The Trouble With Tycho by Clifford Simak.
Do you subscribe to anything?
I gave myself the challenge, last year, to subscribe to some literary magazines, and I’m actually reading them. I’m currently working through the March/April 2022 issue of Asimov’s. I still have unread issues of and/or ongoing subscriptions to: The Paris Review, The Sun, Wax Paper, Not One of Us, A Public Space, Interzone, Weirdbook, and Rattle.
I subscribe to these YouTube channels: Jordan Sorcery, Jules Burt, bibliosophie, Media Death Cult, Book Blather, Robin Waldun, Outlaw Bookseller, JV Hilliard, Storied, Bold Books and Bones, Bookpilled, and a bunch of Vegas YouTubers.
What sites do you visit on the Internet?
I have bookmarks organized into “Daily Links,” which I check in on each day of the week…
Mondays: Arts & Letters Daily, Public Books, and the New York Times best sellers
Tuesdays: PublishersMarketplace, Locus, and Open Culture.
Wednesdays: Publishers Weekly and Inverse.
Thursdays: GoodReads, TED, Literary Heist, and The Marginalian.
Fridays: Literary Hub, YouTube, and The Reprobate.
What music do you listen to?
I have an iTunes library consisting of 12,978 songs, which would take 34.7 days to listen to all the way through, and occupies 97.51 GB of hard drive space. My iTunes library on shuffle is one of the greatest cultural achievements in human history. In it you will find every song ever released by Cocteau Twins, which is my favorite band.
What movies do you see?
I love science fiction, horror, comedy, and smart, grown up drama. I haven’t gone out to a movie theater in years, but I watch way too much TV at home. I just watched David O. Russell’s Amsterdam late last night and loved it. I liked The Menu, too. And last October I made it a point to watch one independent film a day. The ones I liked the most were: Spiderhead, Apostasy, The House, Luckiest Girl Alive, Windfall, Heavy, The Devil All the Time, Naked Singularity, The Snakes, The Father, Pig, and The Lost Daughter.
Do you look at art?
Yes, but not regularly. Not as much as I should. I went through a mini Bruegel period a couple months ago, but I do need to look at more art.
What do you collect?
What’s inside your scrapbook?
I don’t have a scrapbook. Do people still have scrapbooks? I have notebooks, which are mostly work-related notes, etc., but I haven’t looked at anything like a photo album in… years. Decades?
What do do you stick on your refrigerator?
Who’s done work that you admire?
Too many people to list here, but let’s hit the all time favorites, in no particular order: Harlan Ellison, Cocteau Twins, Andrei Tarkovsky, Mark Z. Danielewski, Elvis Costello, Gary Gygax & Dave Arneson, H.P. Lovecraft, Tom Waits, Robert E. Howard, Edgar Rice Burroughs, Gene Roddenberry, and Stan Lee.
Who do you steal ideas from?
Literally anyone and everyone. Definitely see the list above for starters.
Do you have any heroes?
No. If you look at the list of people whose work I admire you’ll find at least a couple people who weren’t necessarily terrific human beings. And in a world where no one can hide anymore, it’s harder and harder to practice any version of “hero worship” and not end up with… Bill Cosby…? So I’m going to pass on this, and even recommend that we don’t have heroes anymore. Let’s take each other at face value—our work, at least.
Who do you follow online?
I’m pretty much confined to Twitter. Here are some people I follow there, in no particular order:
…and lots, lots more…
Who are the practitioners you look up to in your field?
I met David Hartwell at a convention once and I think he’s had a huge effect on my reading since I was a wee tot. Other than that, editors tend to be the guy behind the guy, behind the guy… so it can be difficult to tell who’s doing my job better than me, but I know there are lots of them out there. I’m forever indebted to my old TSR coworker, the late Bill Larson, who taught me more about the craft of editing than any one person.
…and that wraps up my Cabinet of Curiosities. I hope you didn’t mind me showing my work here and I hope this, and Austin Kleon’s book, inspires you to share your own “cabinet.”
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Editor and author Philip Athans offers hands on advice for authors of fantasy, science fiction, horror, and fiction in general in this collection of 58 revised and expanded essays from the first five years of his long-running weekly blog, Fantasy Author’s Handbook.