About impostor syndrome

I was a rodeo princess.

Whiskey and me

When I was a teenager, we lived on an acreage west of Hinton, Alberta, in the foothills of the Rocky Mountains. It’s beautiful country, but not a great place for a bookish kid to live — especially pre-internet.

I wasn’t naturally athletic. Quite the opposite, in fact. But I was naturally horse-crazy. I competed in the local rodeo and summer gymkhana meets, riding in the barrel racing competitions along with a variety of other timed events. I did steer riding only once. It was the most frightening thing I’ve ever done, next to driving in Sicily.

When I was 14, I lost the rodeo queen competition. Yes, there were tears (I was only 14!). The next year, I was first runner-up, which officially made me Rodeo Princess. Always better to be the princess than the queen, if you can manage it. All the glamour, none of the responsibility.

Lucky and me

But despite all this outdoorsiness, I was a nerdy kid at heart. I never felt comfortable in my rodeo princess skin. I always felt like an impostor, a poseur, a fake.

Writers talk about impostor syndrome a lot. We don’t often acknowledge that it’s not a phenomenon confined to the writing world. Impostor syndrome happens to everyone who’s actively working at getting better at something that most people don’t have the guts or the ambition to try. It happens whenever we’re taking risks.

One of my barriers to becoming a better barrel racer was psychological. I was too scared of getting hurt to really push the speed. Plus, I was working on learning the skill by myself, so I could never see what I was doing right or wrong. And, crucially, I didn’t have anyone to coach me through my fears.

Writers don’t take physical risks, but we take psychological and emotional risks that are just as scary. We have to, or we don’t get better. This is why most of us crave relationships with other writers. We need peers and (occasionally) teachers or coaches to show us the risks are worthwhile, tell us what we’re doing right and wrong, and reassure us that we will get better if we just keep working.


About all those best-laid plans…

In December, when I was making my writing plans for this year, I vowed to write five 5,000 word stories. You see, I’d just finished a very long novella (Gods, Monsters, and the Lucky Peach — coming in March!) and I was itching to write shorter. I had all five planned out. So, it’s September. How have I done with that goal?

Let’s see what I’ve been up to:

  • Wrote and sold a 15,000 word novelette (We Who Live in the Heart, published at Clarkesworld — my tenth story sold!)
  • Wrote a 7,000 word story (currently on submission)
  • Currently revising a 9,000 word story (hope it will end up much shorter)

That’s not too bad. The word count is decent. But then, that’s not all I’ve been doing this year:

  • Wrote two columns for Clarkesworld (The Dream of Writing Full Time and Being James Tiptree, Jr.)
  • Revised Gods, Monsters, and the Lucky Peach twice (no small task)
  • Planned a sequel: Time, Trouble, and the Lucky Peach (will be so much fun!)
  • Planned a book I’m dying to write (even more fun!)
  • Planned three more short stories in the series of five I’m currently obsessed with

When I look at this list, I feel pretty darn productive. Also super excited about writing these things.

And in case that looks just too virtuous, I also started and gave up on a story that just wasn’t giving me joy. And that’s okay! Not all ideas work out and not all are worth the time it takes to make them click.

Gods, Monsters, and the Lucky Peach ready for preorder!


Cover for Gods, Monsters, and the Lucky Peach, out March 16. Cover by Jon Foster http://www.jonfoster.com/
Gods, Monsters, and the Lucky Peach, out March 16. Cover by Jon Foster http://www.jonfoster.com/

My time travel novella Gods, Monsters, and the Lucky Peach is ready for preorder! The release date is March 13, 2018 in both trade paperback and ebook. Pre-orders matter, so if you’re inclined, please do!

Here are the links:

Check out these amazing blurbs! How  could anyone resist?

Gods, Monsters, and the Lucky Peach is a tour-de-force, with nuanced characters in a masterfully conceived world of stunning, mind-bending eco-tech. Absolutely brilliant storytelling. I didn’t want it to end.” ―Annalee Newitz, co-founder of io9 and author of Autonomous

“The far future, the distant past. Time travel, bioengineering, office politics ― and ecological consulting. How could I not love this?” ―Peter Watts, author of Echopraxia

“A necessary meditation on the nature of change and the sacrifice required to manifest it, Robson’s novella pulls no punches, spares no rods, and leaves no idea unexamined.” ―Madeline Ashby, author of Company Town

And here’s the cover copy:

Experience this far-reaching, mind-bending science fiction adventure that uses time travel to merge climate fiction with historical fantasy. From Kelly Robson, Aurora Award winner, Campbell, Nebula, and Theodore Sturgeon finalist, and author of Waters of Versailles

Discover a shifting history of adventure as humanity clashes over whether to repair their ruined planet or luxuriate in a less tainted past.

In 2267, Earth has just begun to recover from worldwide ecological disasters. Minh is part of the generation that first moved back up to the surface of the Earth from the underground hells, to reclaim humanity’s ancestral habitat. She’s spent her entire life restoring river ecosystems, but lately the kind of long-term restoration projects Minh works on have been stalled due to the invention of time travel. When she gets the opportunity take a team to 2000 BC to survey the Tigris and Euphrates rivers, she jumps at the chance to uncover the secrets of the shadowy think tank that controls time travel technology.



What it’s like to lose a Hugo Award

My Campbell Finalist pin!

tl;dr It’s pretty darn great.

Ten days ago, I was in Helsinki, Finland, on a whirlwind trip to WorldCon and the Hugos. I only had four days of vacation left for the year. With travel days, this gave Alyx and me exactly four days on the ground. A lot of expense for such a brief trip, but I wasn’t going to miss my chance to attend the Hugo Awards as a finalist.

As the Hugo administration keeps reminding us, the John W. Campbell Award for Best New Writer is technically not a Hugo. But it’s presented at the Hugos, and I got a chocolate Hugo as a loser’s award, so you know, it’s a Hugo in the mind of nearly everyone.

So what was it like?
Nutty. Crazy. Helsinki is beautiful and I would gladly travel visit again if I had the slightest excuse. If Helsinki was a big cake, we just took a finger’s scoop of the icing. I’d like to visit more of Finland’s spectacular art galleries, and do proper justice to the Finnish way of sauna.

No, silly, what were the Hugos like?
The ceremony was loooong. A three-hour award ceremony is a marathon. I wish I’d brought snacks. I did bring water, however, and that’s a story.

About a half hour into the ceremony I was contemplating how, more than twenty years ago, I attended my first Hugo Awards at the 1996 Worldcon in LA. I was in a reverie, a blissful daydream state thinking that if I’d known I’d one day attend the Hugos as a finalist, it would have blown my mind. And then I reached for the my bottle of water, which I’d grabbed on my way out of the pre-awards reception. I didn’t realize was carbonated. When I twisted the cap, I sprayed myself, Alyx, and everyone around us.


The Campbell was the second-to-last award, and sure, I was disappointed not to win, but not horribly. On a scale of one to ten, it was about a three at the time and now is zero. I’m very happy for Ada. She deserves every success.

However, I did feel foolish for thinking I could win, which was painful but mostly dispersed by morning. Being a finalist is wonderful. Winning would have been amazing, but it does come with a certain amount of pressure. So maybe — just maybe — being a finalist is the best of both worlds. And that lovely pin in the first picture is mine forever.

A great gallery of official Hugo Ceremony photos is available here. And here are some of my photos from the trip.

Alyx and me at the Hugos (before I sprayed us)
Alyx and me at the Hugos (before I sprayed us)
We stayed in the Katajanokka neighborhood, which is filled with amazing Beaux Arts apartment buildings.
We stayed in the Katajanokka neighborhood, which is filled with amazing Beaux Arts apartment buildings.
Helsinki has amazing doorways!
Helsinki has amazing doorways!
Another unbelievable Helsinki doorway
Another unbelievable Helsinki doorway
Helsinki doesn't even have to try to be beautiful
Helsinki doesn’t even have to try to be beautiful
My chocolate Hugo among an array of Finnish candy. Mmm, salt liquorice!


My futures include disability

The Bubble Nebula, also known as NGC 7635, is an emission nebula located 8 000 light-years away. This stunning new image was observed by the NASA/ESA Hubble Space Telescope to celebrate its 26th year in space.

I never thought to wonder why I include characters with disabilities in my stories — and especially in my SF stories. They’re not boxes I’m checking; they’re simply people who worked in the stories I wanted to tell.

Mikkel in “Two-Year Man” has Fetal Alcohol Syndrome. Jane in “We Who Live in the Heart” uses a wheelchair. And in the forthcoming “Gods, Monsters, and the Lucky Peach,” my 83-year-old hero Minh had her legs amputated when she was a child, and her friend and colleague Hamid is a little person. Minh and Hamid are members of a generation known as the Plague Babies — people who were hit hard by parasitic pandemics and spent their childhoods dealing with medical interventions. This generational shared experience has huge repercussions for the 23rd century Earth of Lucky Peach and is a foundation of the story’s world building.

Recently, I realized why these characters come naturally to me and why I’m interested in the issues. I also realized I cannot envision a future world that excludes people with disabilities, and even more, I don’t want to envision that future.

My reason comes straight from the heart.

My brother was born without an esophagus. This was the early 70s, and he nearly died. The story of his life isn’t mine to tell, but I witnessed it and remember a lot. I saw how much he went through as a baby, as a boy, and as a young man. Photos of his pain-etched little toddler face still bring tears to my eyes.

To be clear, I have never thought of my brother as a person with a disability. I doubt he identifies himself in that way. He’s just a person living his life. A loving dad, good husband, and all-around terrific person. But I came very close to losing him when he was a baby, and he is only here today by a twist of good fortune that put an answer in my dad’s hands when the hospital had given up on trying to save him.

People say, “In the future we’ll be able to make sure nobody is born with X, Y, or Z.” Okay, but what does that mean? Human development isn’t always going to be predictable. Parents who have no reason to worry can birth a child who requires medical intervention to survive, while babies born with serious problems can live and even thrive.

People also say, “In the future we’ll be able to fix disabilities. Even if someone is injured, we’ll be able to fix them.” Okay, but not everything is fixable. Not every medical risk is warranted. Not every procedure is worthwhile. And not everyone wants or needs to be fixed. A person who is managing their disability is still disabled, after all, and managing one’s own life and making choices for oneself is the foundation of human adulthood.

If we envision a future that excludes the possibility of people with disabilities, then that future (a) embraces eugenics, (b) is a perfect place where nothing unexpected happens, or (c) is a place where all problems can be fixed perfectly with no repercussions. Option a is horrible, option b is undramatic, and option c is simply unbelievable.

Despite all the doom and gloom the world is going through right now, I believe in the future. I truly believe humanity will go to the stars — not soon, not easily, but we will get there. And I believe when we do, people with disabilities will be a big part of that success story.


I know nothing about being disabled. For actual information, please see John Wiswell’s “Evil isn’t a Disability” at Fireside, and Elsa Sjunneson-Henry’s articles at Feminist Sonar for starters.

And please support the Kickstarter for Disabled People Destroy Science Fiction. It’s going to be the most ass-kickingest of all the Destroy series.


On being a Campbell Award finalist

Sometimes the news is too good, it’s hard to know what to say about it. Where to start? An amazing thing happened. I can’t believe this, it’s so great…

Okay, how’s this:

A dream came true. I’m a finalist for the 2017 John W. Campbell Award for Best New Writer, which will be presented at the Hugo Awards on August 11, at WorldCon in Helsinki. This is absolutely the award nomination that every new SFF writer dreams about, and I assure you, I’m drinking in every drop of joy it brings.

My fellow finalists are Sarah Gailey (my friend, great writer, and awesome human), J. Mulrooney, Malka Older (making such a splash with her work), Ada Palmer (her novel is up for the Best Novel Hugo!), and Laurie Penny. If you’re voting in the Hugos (and of course even if you’re not) please check out their work and if voting, download the packet of our work and vote your heart.

I will always say vote your heart for everything. Not because I don’t want to win (of course I do!), but because I care more about people voting for the right reasons that I do about winning. I’ve loved SF my whole life. The past two years of drama over the Hugos has been deeply upsetting, and I hope this year will be the first step in getting the awards back to normal.

Anyway, enough of that. I’m so excited about being a finalist! My wife and I will be going to Finland for WorldCon and I simply can’t wait. My plan is to have a terrific time, stay up late every night, see old friends and make new ones. Because that’s what it’s all about in the end. It’s not about winning or losing, but the people you meet along the way.

Lucky Peach coming Spring 2018

On March 13, 2018, Tor.com’s novella program will publish my time travel story Gods, Monsters, and the Lucky Peach. It’s a big novella, just 300 words shy of 40,000 words, which is about half the size of your average novel.

So why not make it a novel?
That’s what everyone said when I told them the first draft was 50,000 words! But it’s not quite that simple. To make it a novel, the story would have to be a lot bigger. This is a tight novella-sized concept.

But it’s going to be an actual book?
Yes! An actual physical book with gorgeous cover art (which should be revealed sometime in the fall). Which means I get to include a dedication, acknowledgements, and all that real book stuff.

What’s it about?
A fluvial geomorphologist, a gay veterinarian, and a research assistant walk into a bar…

No, wait. Here’s the elevator pitch:

In 2267, Earth has just begun to recover from a mass extinction event, but the invention of time travel by secretive think tank TERN has blocked the flow of funding for long-term ecological restoration projects. Minh, an elderly fluvial geomorphologist, has spent her entire life working to restore ecosystems, and she’s enraged at having her life’s work disrupted by the illusion of quick-fix solutions to the world’s problems. When Minh gets the opportunity take a team to 2000 BC to conduct a past-state assessment of the Tigris and Euphrates rivers, she jumps at the chance to uncover TERN’s secrets.

Why did you decide to write about this?
I’ve worked in professional services firms for most of my life, and I’ve learned that takes an incredible amount of effort to get humans to work together.

In this novella, the world economy is designed around the idea that the only thing of value is a person’s time. The basic economic unit is the billable hour. Natural resources have no value because everything, including food, can be fabricated at the atomic level. Labor is done by robots. If you don’t like the standard of life where you’re living, everyone has the basic human right to take their projected billable hours elsewhere – basically vote with their feet.

I call this the Transparent Economy, where all transactions are measured and tracked. This is the same economic system I use in my Clarkesworld novelette “We Who Live in the Heart,” which is set on a distant planet 600 years in the future. I’m currently working on another story set in Toronto in the near future, which deals with the origin of this system.

This is a utopia, right?
Definitely not. The Transparent Economy has some definite drawbacks. One is a lack of privacy. Another is the simple fact that the world has humans in it. Even if we had a utopia, we’d find ways to make drama.

But nobody has to work, right?
Hah! Computers, robots, and databases will never be able to do everything. Plus, many people like to work. I think a major contributing factor to happiness is knowing your time is well spent and valued by others.

How does the time travel fit into all this?
Time travel is a big complication. It was invented about ten years before the story begins.

Are there paradoxes?
No! I don’t care for time travel paradoxes. I think there’s tons of drama to be had from the simple fact of time travel being possible.

So how does your time travel work?
Every writer designs their time travel physics to suit the kinds of stories they like to tell. Mine is specifically set up to be essentially useless – it can’t be used to change anything. You can go to the past, do whatever you like, and come home, but you can’t stay there. And once you’ve returned home, you can’t revisit the same past timeline you visited before. Each trip is to a fresh timeline. There’s no way to build on anything you do in the past.

I wanted to explore how time travel with no consequences can be a big problem and people can still get themselves in HUGE trouble with it even when, on a basic level, it’s only good for tourism.

And historical research.
Oh yes, lots of historical research! And ecological research too. And a lot of other things — but it’s especially good for getting yourself into trouble.