So as it turns out, there’s one small problem with winning a Hugo.
(Other than the fact that it hasn’t actually arrived yet, which we are trying to track down. I am assured that Hugos do NOT go missing, and the very nice woman in charge has vowed that I shall have it, but I admit to a bit of trepidation.)
No, the small problem is that at some point in the next month, your treacherous brain sits up and says “Well. Now what?”
You may be doing something as innocuous as mulching the garden, or laying out the burlap over the area that you’re going to turn into a path, and you straighten up with your hands full of landscape pins and go “….um.”
This is not as simple a question as it could be, particularly when you are moving mulch around and wondering vaguely why the one story you thought you were writing, which was mostly Snow White, has now turned into a thing about truffle pigs.
It is lovely to have won a Hugo. It is like getting a note from the teacher to excuse you from having to worry about whether you have talent in Particular Art Form X.
I am done with Digger. I am not, probably, done with comics in perpetuity (never say what spring you won’t drink from, as some clever Greek gentleman said!) but I am not working on them right now. When I think of The Next Project, I rarely think comics. And to a certain extent, getting a Hugo feels like the grace note there—job well done, that’s a wrap, what’s next?
And so then you spend the next few loads of mulch going “Well?”
The Dragonbreath books are awesome. Hamster Princess, I think, is going to be even more awesome yet. But they’re also a fairly narrowly marketed beast, and while other people read and enjoy them (I hope!) they’re basically fluffy kid’s books.
Now, this is not me disparaging my work. I think fluff is an extraordinarily important genre that gets no respect. If the Dragonbreath books didn’t manage to be both engaging and not-intimidating, they would fail their target audience. And I get e-mails every couple of weeks from parents going “My kid is not a reader, and this is the first book they’ve ever asked me to go get the sequels–THANK YOU.”
You get an e-mail like that, you put it with the turtles you’ve helped across the road and the bats you’ve unhooked from drop ceilings as “Stuff I Hope Counts In My Favor When I Die.”
So I’d like to keep doing the kid’s books, but that’s not the thing that I think of when I think “Well? What next?”
And what I realized, somewhere around the fifth load of mulch (which contains traces of dog vomit slime-mold, which are out in force this year) is that the book I really really want to write is the one that sits on the comfort shelf. The book that somebody picks up when they’re in bed with the flu, when their boyfriend dumped them, when they’re sick or sad or tired or beaten down.
I have dozens of those books. Lots of them are YA, or I found when I was a YA myself. Jinian Footseer, which I read when I was fifteen and which works for me as well now as it did then. The Grand Sophy. The Crystal Gryphon. Bridge of Birds. Most of Pratchett, particularly stuff with the witches. Lots of McKinley. When I was eight or nine, I read The Hero And The Crown about eight hundred times. I checked it out from the library over and over. Most of her books end up on that shelf—Rose Daughter and Deerskin and Spindle’s End and The Blue Sword. A couple of Star Trek novels. The Wounded Sky. My Enemy, My Ally. Uhura’s Song. Chain of Attack (which is comfort reading to no one else on earth, but it was the book I had with me in the hospital and read over and over again when my grandmother was dead in all the important ways and what was left was hooked up to machines, which ought to be a goddamn war crime.) Diane Duane’s Young Wizard books. Curse of Chalion. Sharon Shinn. Juliet Marillier. Hodgell’s God Stalk (though not the sequels so much, but the first one is still magic.) Tombs of Atuan (but not Wizard of Earthsea, go figure.) Henry Miller’s Earthman columns, which I read when I had swine flu and vowed that if I had to die some day (which seems likely) I wanted it to be in the garden with dirt on my hands, as he had.
There are books that were comfort reading when I was young that I don’t dare go re-read because part of growing up without breaking is learning to judge your younger self kindly. There are many good and great and glorious books that I admire. I loved Perdido Street Station. Every other page I went “DAMN I wish I’d thought of that.” Barbara Kingsolver’s dialog is better than mine will ever be. American Gods is a masterwork, no doubt about it. But those are not the sort of books that I want to write right now.
Unfortunately “makes me feel better” is not really a genre, unless you count that Chicken Soup crap. Even if you get rid of the outliers (we’ll ditch Chain of Attack and Earthman) the common factors wander around a bit. But yeah. That’s the shelf I wanna be on.
Whatever the hell that shelf is.