Most of the links below are to my own blog posts. But some are to images, and one or two link out. Some of the years have round-up posts, some do not.
This will be a long post: ten years is a long time; a lot has happened; and the world has changed a fair bit. Of course, it had been changing rapidly in the previous decade.
By the time the Great Recession began in 2007 (or 2008, depending on how you squint), I had seen the way publishing was going for midlist writers and decided to change direction: I let go of my old agent, but instead of getting a new one and selling a book on chapter and outlines, I began to work on the book that would become Hild. But I knew I would not make any money from it for years. At the start of the new decade the effects of the recessions were still very much with us. It was almost impossible for freelancers to make money. Kelley and I launched Sterling Editing, and helped those writers who had actual jobs and health insurance to make their work better. We also picked up a variety of freelance and consulting work where were could: we built websites, we taught, we advised corporate executives about their online presence. What money we did make almost all went on healthcare: our annual out-of-pocket medical expenses until just last year averaged about $35,000. It was a very hard time for us, and for many people we knew. I lay awake more than once worrying we would end up living in a paper bag under the overpass eating cat food.
In the last year of the last decade, and this first year of this, I was also spending a massive amount of time working with a non-profit organisation that was going through the dangerous transition from founder-led to semi-professional. I believe that at one point it came very close to collapse, but it is now thriving. It was brutally hard work, and unpaid, but not a decision I regret.
The social media revolution of the beginning of the 21st century began to accelerate. In 2008 I moved my old-fashioned website’s Ask Nicola feature to a standalone blog, Ask Nicola, (still up, because I still haven’t got around to linking everything on the ‘new’ site)—where in the first five years I averaged 330 posts a year. The Yahoo Group I’d started in 1999 began to fade. I joined Twitter. I launched a YouTube channel. And of course, like half the rest of the world, I joined Facebook—not sure when, exactly, but I’ve never liked it that much as a platform; it feels sorta pushy and intrusive. I do, however, like Instagram—though a bit less than I did since FB fucked with the feed order and gave us no way to customise it. There’s also LinkedIn, both for me, and for Aud Torvingen, who has a surprising number of connections. Social media really changed the nature of this blog. I’m okay with that. I find that I use it now not only to communicate via slightly longer-form pieces but to archive meaningful personal and career moments.
So. This was the year that the VIDA Count began, that the first Uber customer hailed a ride, and SpaceX was the first privately funded company to successfully launch, orbit and recover a spacecraft. Additive (3D) printing was about to take off. Book world was still clinging to the 20th century. Publishers like Macmillan still thought they could stand up to Amazon (they couldn’t). Digital book sales were beginning to eat into print sales—though the most popular e-reader, the Kindle, was itself only one step beyond that first primitive, pointy trapezoidal thing with no back light; the Paper White didn’t come out til 2012. Borders was still around. B&N was still regarded as the Great Satan by independent booksellers, and indie bookseller were in a parlous state. Self-publishing was beginning to look like a thing. Audible was in its infancy and had been owned by Amazon only 2 years, and ACX was still a gleam in some executive’s eye. Book publishers began to merge. Many bookstores closed; Borders is running its digital sales through Amazon—everyone with two brain cells to rub together can see where that will end. Blockbuster filed for bankruptcy. Not coincidentally, this is the year that Netflix streaming app became available for iOS, Wii, and smart TVs. At this stage, for most people ‘bingeing’ was a word associated with gluttons and alcoholics.
In 2010, I turned 50, just nine days after Kelley. We held a 10-day birthday jubilee. My liver shrivelled a bit, but it was worth it. In 2010 I was still doing yoga but later that year I moved to sabre. Given that sabres were originally used as a cavalry weapon, it seemed ideal to use sitting down.
I taught a fair bit, including Lambda Literary’s emerging voices workshop. For the first time my fiction was nominated for a Hugo Award—for the first short-fiction I’d written in a decade—and I decide I am GOD.
At the beginning of 2011 I did not yet own an iPhone or an iPad but bought an iPod Touch which used what I affectionately referred to as Crapcam, which took lovely, gauzy-looking photos that hid a multitude of sins.
A while later I bought my first iPhone 4S, and I was amazed by Siri. Borders filed for bankruptcy. Games of Thrones debuted and I was struck by the serious lack of imagination of the show-runners when it came to cod-medieval fantasy sex. During this period I wrote several of the posts that are perennial blog favourites, such as Writers Manifesto, and Lame is so gay.
Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell was repealed. And at the end of the year the biomedical research paper I had known about for over a year, written by a friend, was finally published, announcing that MS is not, in fact, an autoimmune disease but a metabolic disorder, specifically, the result of a faulty lipid metabolism. I felt filled with hope, and in a rush of energy I inaugurated what has since become an annual tradition: blowing up the Christmas tree.
I finished Hild. The rewritten ms made an impressive stack.
My new agent sent it out to publishers. I knew it was a good book; I knew it would change things for me. When it sold to Farrar, Straus and Giroux for a goodly sum, I went practically insane with joy.
A few months later I got my first (and still favourite) ukulele, Jeepster, and recorded some songs. Disabled artist Riva Lehrer came to Seattle and we collaborated on a mixed-media portrait, which turned out pretty well and in fact sold so fast I never did get to see the finished thing. Oh, well.
DADT had just been repealed, and we could all sense the winds of change blowing from the Obama Whitehouse. One of the most amazing changes was the passage of the ACA (Obamacare), signed into law March 2010 because it meant I could no longer be refused coverage for previous conditions, which widened my choices considerably. The cost did not go down, but at least it was no longer climbing 20% a year. We spent election week in Vancouver and ignored the madness; on returning to another 4 years of Obama (yay!) I made a surprising—to both me and Kelley—to become a US citizen.
This year I did two round-up posts:
I should have known this was going to be a year like no other when, right out of the box, the pope resigned. I did author photoshoots for Hild and liked the results so much I asked the photographer to shoot me and Kelley.
Then I became a US citizen. Then we were in New York for BEA, doing five events a day to promote the upcoming publication of Hild. I also won an award.
Just days after getting back from New York, on the silver anniversary of when Kelley and I met and fell in love—the Supreme Court struck down DOMA and paved the way for marriage equality. A month later, Kelley and I were co Guests of Honour at Westercon, where we also held a mini-reunion of Clarion class of 1988. Two months after that, on the 20th Anniversary of our first, non-legal wedding, Kelley and I got married. After many conversations, we decided we would reclaim an old and honourable word, and call each other wife.
Then Hild came out and for the rest year my life was all Hild, all the time: a national tour for the hardcover; interviews; essays; book signings. Right at the end of the year: a handshake on an amazing movie deal for Hild. Seriously—just the option money was as much as many conversion prices.
This was a hard year. Apart from the crushing financial disappointment of getting the movie contract, and then the producer walking away, and constant travelling—a UK tour, followed by another US tour for the paperback—I had some awful health-related issues. You can see both encapsulated here: happiness and general delight at the world—but that arm strapping as a harbinger:
But even the hard-times were tempered by joy. I had an amazing life-changing eye procedure that meant, for the first time in my life, I didn’t need glasses: going from -17 and -16 dioptres to 20/20 vision seemed—still seems, no was—a fucking miracle. I also published another short story. It didn’t win any awards, but “Cold Wind” seemed to strike a chord among artists.
After years of complaining about the treatment of women in the literary ecosystem, and taking small steps to address that (see, for example, Taking the Russ Pledge), I finally got cross enough to put together some statistics. I wrote a blog post, Books about women don’t win big awards: some data. The world went mad. It was my first experience of a post going truly viral. It’s easily the most-read post I’ve ever written. It was read and reported on all over the world; I did dozens of interviews. A $50,000 prize was established as a result; and a Toronto Literary Festival celebrating women’s voices.
For the first time, Kelley and I spent a wedding anniversary apart, but it was for the best of reasons: Kelley was in Perth, Australia, on the set of her movie, OtherLife. And speaking of movies, with Carol the world discovered (gasp!) that people would pay actual cash money to watch women on screen.
By this point I had long ago set aside my sabre; I was still occasionally doing archery but eventually it got too difficult to go pick up the arrows. At this point that I faced reality, got a wheelchair, and came out as a cripple.
I also enrolled as a doctoral candidate at Anglia Ruskin University, Cambridge. It was an experiment for all of us: I would do the whole thing remotely, as a reasonable accommodation. But, oh, I loved—loved, loved, loved—academic access to multiple institutions. I learnt at warp speed. A month later, we heard the results of the Brexit referendum, and I knew that night that Trump would be the Republican nominee, and perhaps even President. I was not happy.
I coined the hashtag #CripLit, and, with Alice Wong, launched #CripLit, the first Twitter chat for disabled writers. There were many other hashtags launched before and after this time, too: #BlackLivesMatter (2013), #OwnVoices (2015), and #MeToo (in 2017, though the phrase had been used since 2006 by Tarana Burke). By the end of 2016 we needed them more than ever. I’m not going to dwell on the last three years of politics, though, because it’s just too fucking hard. If you want my opinion, you can read blog posts such as Punching nazis, How to defeat an autocrat, and Passport to a perilous future. This was a time where, in the US and UK and many other places, we saw the resurgence of autocracy and kleptocracy, voter suppression and the subversion of legal and legislative process. I argued myself hoarse with many US citizens that a nation’s institutions are only as strong as the ethics of those elected to uphold them.
After I wrote the first draft of my PhD thesis, I wrote the first draft of So Lucky. Then I submitted my thesis. Then I rewrote So Lucky and sold it to Farrar, Straus and Giroux. Then I defended my PhD thesis and become Doctor Griffith.
Another big triumph this year: I finally managed to revert the rights to all three Aud novels. Oh, that made me happy! I also learnt how to travel with my wheelchair: we went to San Diego for the North American premiere of OtherLife. It’s currently streaming on Netflix; go watch it.
We had had a few erratic years, but financially things were a little less dire; we were getting by on our writing and freelance consulting incomes—Kelley was bringing in the lion’s share—keeping our heads above water, though sometimes only just. But it was stressful, and Kelley was juggling entirely too much. And politically and economically we were beginning to wonder if we could stay in Seattle, or even the US. This year I felt so unsettled I couldn’t bear the idea of blowing up the tree, so made reindeer dance instead.
One ray of hope in an otherwise relentless depressing political and cultural year, Get Out made money at the box office.
Ursula Le Guin died. She was a friend—we’d had her to the house, been out for dinner many times—but not one of our very closest friends, so I was astonished at just how hard her death hit me. Perhaps it was because this was a time when we most needed her voice. I was still feeling it when I narrated the So Lucky audiobook the following month. But I focused.
Surprisingly, I was still feeling Ursula’s loss when So Lucky came out. Sadly, though, I was not a bit surprised at some of the ableist crap apparent in the reviews I got for that book.
In June it was the 30th anniversary of meeting Kelley, and I put together 30 Years: a love story in photos. I wrote a short story, “Glimmer,” and posted it on my website as a free audio download. I began to write nonfiction about disability, including for the New York Times. I was beginning to think: We can do this. Plus, the world was making great strides in movie representation terms. Black Panther, Wonder Woman, and Crazy Rich Asians were all hits.
We were still skating from precarious contract to precarious contract, though, and nothing seemed to be changing except our expenses, which were growing—it’s not cheap being a cripple. And we had to pay a serious chunk of change for a wheelchair-accessible van with hand controls. Thisput us at our absolute limit, and maybe a bit beyond, and then we found out that a contract Kelley had been relying on the for first quarter 2019 could not, in fact, be relied upon. We were facing a black hole with no solution in sight. In middle of numb, blank despair, just two days before Christmas, Kelley was offered a full-time, permanent job. Health benefits! Social security payments! Tax relief! Paid time off! It was a Christmas miracle. This year I blew things up with enthusiasm, and we had a lovely holiday and New Year.
This year has felt like a surreal mirror-image of the future I imagined as a child. We don’t have flying cars, but we do have killer drones. It’s not the government who is listening to everything we say, but Big Tech; they’re watching, too. And we invited them in because we decided privacy is a reasonable sacrifice for convenience. SpaceX and Blue Origin, two companies founded and owned by billionaires, have rockets that take off and land again on their fins, just like the pulp SF of the 30s. We don’t really have working autonomous vehicles, but we do have electric cars—it’s just that if you live outside big metro areas, well, good luck recharging. We no longer have Concorde; planes go a bit slower, and are a lot more crowded. And for those of us in wheelchairs, well, access has not improved nearly as significantly as we had hoped since passage of the ADA in 1995. Having said that, many organisations are now beginning to pay attention and make at least a gesture (pitiful gestures in some cases; I’m looking at you AWP). Bookstores and libraries are most definitely paying attention except, oops, for Long Island City, New York. And the world has finally woken up to the fact of climate change (something I began worrying about in the late 80s with the discovery, and relentless growth, of the ozone hole), though of course are not doing anything about it. Perhaps they are confused by some of the extreme weather events we’re having, which are not always about being too warm: Seattle, for example, saw record-breaking snow early in the year. I do not understand why governments can’t see that the kind of grinding conflict and migration we’ve had these last ten years are a direct result of environmental degradation. Just look at history. Only this time it will be much, much worse.
However, to stay sane I’ve had to focus on things within my own personal zone of control: there’s nothing much I can do about Trump, about Brexit, about the Supreme Court and every other damn thing except vote and occasionally use this and other platforms to make my voice heard. So this year I’ve been internally focused.
Part of that internal focus is the result of dealing with so much grief. In March, my father died. Less than a week later, our oldest and best friend in Seattle, Vonda McIntyre, died (and I still haven’t been able to write anything for or about her, apart from this very short piece that came out a few days ago). Somehow, and I’m not sure how, in the following three weeks I managed to learn to drive with hand controls and pass my driving test, fly to the UK to give Dad’s eulogy and start dealing with his estate, and travelto Vancouver to give a plenary speech at IONA, a medieval conference. Not long after that, my aunt died. Grief and exhaustion overwhelmed me; I felt as though someone had stuck a blender in my brain, then poured the resulting slurry into a bucket of eels.
And then I abruptly thought, Well, fuck it, if the world keeps trying to beat me bloody, I’ll beat it right back. I took up boxing. (I love it. If you box, come and join me at Title Boxing Club—fully accessible—in Greenwood any time.)
Secure in the knowledge of where the next mortgage payment is coming from, I got a new toy: an iPad Pro, with Pencil. I use it now for everything except long fiction: photo and video manipulation, audio recording, social media, and writing short pieces. We’ve come a long way, baby, since the beginning of the decade, and Crapcam.
This year I also made some stuff happen with my fiction, which I discuss in a writing update: Hild, Aud, Ammonite and more. I celebrated 30 years residence in the US with Kelley. I was delighted (and seriously surprised) when So Lucky won the Washington State Book Award. And perhaps most exciting, energising, and just plain lovely of all, we got kittens: Charlie and George, survivors of a litter of six.
If they could survive the horrors they were born into, and even evolve a higher consciousness, then, fuck yes, we can survive anything the next decade throws at us.
The next decade
In one decade we’ve gone from hardly anyone having a smartphone to a fully app-based society. Drones herd sheep. TV has changed forever. Bingeing is a thing. And a lot of the most popular shows are adaptations of literary properties. Publishing itself has, meanwhile, changed to the outer edge of recognisable. Today we have the Big 5 publishers, and a variety of small, specialised independents. B&N has come perilously close to closing; but the remaining indie bookstores are thriving. However, Amazon owns at least 50% of the US book market and I doubt that this will decrease anytime soon.
Tech behemoths like Amazon, Apple, Google, and Facebook have changed our world to an astonishing degree. Let’s Amazon and its home city of Seattle as an example. Amazon has remade whole chunks of Seattle in its own image, including South Lake Union, a neighbourhood that formerly consisted of parking lots, abandoned warehouses, and cheap artists’ living and working space. (One such space, Re-Bar, is hanging on. I love that place.) In just eight years, rent-plus-utilities in Seattle have gone from around $700 a month to almost $1700 a month. Not coincidentally, homelessness here is now epidemic.
Then years ago, the protestors of Occupy were bringing attention to income inequality. What difference has it made? I believe it helped begin a trickle of change. Those protesters are now probably protesting homelessness. Or the climate crisis. Or gun violence. In a decade that saw horrors like Sandy Hook, the Parkland shootings, and the massacre in Las Vegas, there had been zero significant movement towards gun control. This year alone, as of writing this, there have been 418 mass shootings in the US. But people are talking about it. Change takes time.
This decade so many people have done so much work on so many fronts—the Women’s Marches, Me Too, Black Lives Matter, Standing Rock, Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women, homelessness, anti-fascism (and anti-racism, and anti-white supremacy), Occupy, legalising cannabis—that it’s hard to keep track. There is so very much to do—but it does make a difference. To take just on example: popular culture. Films by and about women are beginning to make money. Women seem to own TV drama and comedy. Books by and about women, by and about women of colour, by and about queer people, are winning awards. But it just a beginning, and it’s fragile. We need more people like the judge who resigned in anger at the explicit sexism of judging.
So how will the next decade unfurl? As I’ve said before, I have no idea. All I know is: it will be nothing we expect; what will make a difference is staying alive to the possibility of change; staying open to feeling; ready and willing to assume good intent and to be kind to one another—but also ready to call bullshit in no uncertain terms. That’s my plan, anyway. My wish for you is that your New Year is exactly as exciting as you wish it to be, and you get to spend it how and with whom you like. See you on the other side.