So: 2017. It’s been a great year for me, personally: I graduated with my MFA, watched my daughter graduate from high school, spent time with the family in Colorado and northern Minnesota. I went to Los Angeles with my wife and watched sunsets over the ocean and hung out with friends. I’m eagerly awaiting Christmas, which I plan to celebrate surrounded by people I love. A great year, 2017. As long as we don’t talk about creative accomplishments.
I did write a few things this year—two novelettes and a longish short story, to be exact. And they’re not terrible, even though I’m not totally satisfied with any of them. But I know I should’ve written more, should’ve written with more determination. I frittered and sluffed off, letting my work-in-progress gather more dust than an unwanted medical bill. My writer’s group helped, since I got tired of going to each biweekly session and telling my friends I hadn’t accomplished anything (thanks, everybody!). Still, I underachieved. I let myself down. In sum, I was a slacker.
And I blame the President of the United States.
Now, before you ask if my medication has been recently adjusted, let me explain. In an effort to increase my productivity, I recently examined how I was spending my free time, looking for wasted hours I could better spend writing and reading. I rarely play video games, even the smartphone ones, so that wasn’t an issue. A good deal of the TV I watch is only with one eye, while I’m doing something else. I didn’t even see half the movies I thought looked interesting this year (still need to see Get Out, and It Comes at Night, and Mother), so that’s not the problem. No—the single most time-consuming, productivity-destroying activity I engage in daily is scouring the internet for news that our country is not going to be destroyed by Donald J. Trump and his minions.
I admit that Obama spoiled me. I didn’t feel the need to obsessively refresh the Politico website, looking for encouraging poll numbers or proof that some politician out there had a backbone (or even better, a soul). Even though I didn’t agree with everything he did, I knew Obama and his administration had America’s back, and I could focus on writing and reading and being creative without worry.
Now? Hoo-boy. Every day feels like a tango with Armageddon, an Orwell novel writ large. I worry that if I don’t keep my eyes open, I’ll be aiding and abetting the dissolution of American democracy. And I doubt that I’m the only one. I have read stories before about creative types having difficulty focusing on their art in times of personal crisis. Well, how about national crisis?
Anyway, now that I’ve used the president as an excuse why I didn’t do my homework (ahem), I’ve decided to amend my internet habits in the upcoming year. I am still going to be vigilant, but not so obsessive. I’m going to read more, and read more for pleasure. And I’m going to put my work first. The awful stories about how everything is going to hell will still be there when I’m done.
Although I didn’t read as much as I wanted this year, I did read a lot of short stories. Most of what I read wasn’t published in 2017, but a few things were. Below are my picks for the best of 2017:
- Rest Stop (Gamut online)—Letitia Trent
I wish I could distill this story into a drug and inject it. Trent only needs a handful of pages to suck you in, develop character, and deliver a memorable climax. This was only one of many excellent stories published by Gamut this year, which is ceasing publication at the end of this month. I will really miss it.
- Night Fever (Asimov’s) -Will Ludwigsen
Most every issue of Asimov’s I have purchased in the last year was because it had a Will Ludwigsen story in it. He is never less than enjoyable, and this alternate history of Charles Manson in the disco era feels like it actually happened.
- The Green Eye (Black Static Jan/Feb ‘17)—Scott Nicolay
I love metafiction ( I wrote a forty page essay on it, if you’re interested). Nicolay’s tale definitely qualifies, and his discussion of childhoods remembered and fictionalized says a lot about how we cannibalize our experiences as artists.
- The Spook School (Nightmare) —Nick Mamatas
Imagine you are having a enjoyable dinner with friends—a few drinks, lively conversation, some humor. Then your friend comes around the table and punches you in the face. That’s as good of an emotional synopsis of Mamatas’ story as I can come up with. It’s online, by the way. Go read it.
- Marley and Marley (F&SF) —J.R. Dawson
Them Boys (Strange Horizons) -Nora Anthony (tie)
Full disclosure: Both Dawson and Anthony are fellow Stonecoast grads, and we were all in a Magical Realism workshop together (some great stories came out of that workshop, too). Both Dawson and Anthony take well-worn tropes (time travel and mermen, respectively) and inject new life into them, focusing keenly on the emotional states of their protagonists. I loved both stories, and am excited to see more work from both of these up-and-coming authors in the future.
Langiappe: I listened to a lot of music this year, maybe even more than usual. The following ten albums are my favorites of the year, offered without comment (they’re all great):
Everybody Works—Jay Som
A Crow Looked At Me—Mount Eerie
Pure Comedy—Father John Misty
American Dream—LCD Soundsystem
The Hanged Man—Ted Leo
I’ll be back in January to talk about Ellen Datlow’s great anthology Nightmares, and my favorite horror stories of the last decade. I hope everyone has a Merry Christmas/Happy Holiday!