I hope it's not too late to do a "2021 in review" post! This was a really intense year, for various reasons. I published three (!!!) books, and also got to witness the debut of a television show that I had worked on for the better part of a year.
This year really changed how I think about being an author and putting books out into the world. The last time I put out a book, in 2019, I went on a big tour and visited a ton of bookstores all over the country, and also appeared in person at conventions, book conferences and other live events. It was a lot of early morning flights and random encounters, but on the plus side I got to hang out with lots of bookstore people, not to mention fellow readers and writers. In 2021, for obvious reasons, I did a lot more zoom events, podcasts, and TikToks.
I felt like in some ways, the emphasis on virtual stuff stripped book promo down to its barest essence: I was a talking head, speaking about my books to an audience. Nobody could wander up to me afterward and chat to me about their own writing. I couldn't pull together a group of random people to go out for ice cream. It felt as though the demarcation between "author" and "audience" was getting a bit more impermeable and solid, and I found that I really missed finding opportunities to just be book-lovers together. Thanks to the whole "zoom bombing" phenomenon, a lot of virtual events now have an entirely invisible audience, whose cameras are off by default, which makes things safer but less companionable. It felt like a very 2021 trade-off. Put another way: I've always tried to push back against this notion that authors should have a personal "brand," because we're people, not toothpaste. But I found in 2021 that marketing a book mostly over the internet, by necessity, forces you to think of yourself in terms of branding a bit more.
I apologize if the above sounds like I'm complaining -- I've mostly had a really fun time doing silly videos and getting to chat with some of my favorite people on zoom and other video platforms. But I'm very glad to be going to a few in-person events again, including Writers With Drinks, because I've found that one of the main perks of being an author, for me, is just having one-on-one interactions with friends and strangers who love some of the same things I do.
But anyway, I published three books in 2021, and they might make good gifts for different people in your life. So here's your handy guide to my 2021 output:
Pitch it to me in an elevator: A teenage girl on Earth is secretly a clone of a legendary alien hero, and it's time for her to journey to the stars and claim her legacy. She's joined by other kids from Earth, and eventually discovers that having a chosen family is better than being a Chosen One.
Who would this be a good gift for: It's a young adult book, so... teens. But also, queers of all ages who want to see LGBTQ+ kids saving the galaxy. Fans of space opera. Anyone who loves Doctor Who, Star Trek, Steven Universe or She-Ra.
Okay but what will it do for my tile grout? It'll make your grout sparkle and possibly start talking to you in different languages.
What did you learn from doing this book? I hadn't even realized how much people needed a book where everyone's pronouns are respected and nobody touches anyone else without consent.
What did other people say? Once and future Doctor Who head writer Russell T. Davies called it "properly, wickedly exciting," and said "I loved this book." Holly Black and other incredible YA authors also said really lovely things. NPR said it was one of the best YA books of the year. It's being developed as a TV series for Amazon by Michael B. Jordan's Outlier Society.
Pitch it to me in an elevator: When things become kind of horrible, due to things like pandemics or climate change or political nightmares, you can take care of yourself, in part, by making up stories. Activating your imagination and making imaginary friends is a good survival mechanism.
Who would this be a good gift for: Writers, for sure. Some of the advice skews a bit toward genre fiction, but almost all of it is applicable to any kind of fiction writing, and most of it would work for people doing creative non-fiction. Even people who don't consider themselves writers could find the book pretty therapeutic.
Okay but what will it do for my tile grout? Your grout will daydream way more intensely, and might invent grout characters to act out.
What did you learn from doing this book? I had to think a lot more deeply about how stories work, and how the tools of storytelling are also mechanisms for reshaping your lived reality. But also, I really wasn't prepared for how much I needed my own advice on surviving terrible times.
What did other people say? The wonderful bookstore Porter Square Books is quoting this book on their store receipts. BookRiot and KQED both said Never Say would make a good gift, and KQED called it "a friendly hug from your writing bestie who came to your coffee date prepared with a bunch of savvy advice and side of life coaching." I've been so grateful to everyone who's been talking up this book and sharing it with friends.
Pitch it to me in an elevator: These are my absolute favorite stories, out of the hundreds I've written. They range from extremely silly comedy to wistful romance to intense horror, but what ties them together is an anarchic sensibility, a love of absurdity-with-feels, and a focus on relationships between individuals (and also communities).
Who would this be a good gift for: Anyone who likes speculative fiction, especially super-queer speculative fiction. Or if you just really like weird af short fiction. A decent number of these stories appeared in literary magazines.
Okay but what will it do for my tile grout? Your grout will go on not just one epic journey, but a whole series of epic journeys, that will leave it with a deeper relationship with itself.
What did you learn from doing this book? I hadn't really taken on board how much trauma and impermenance are a theme in my work, and how many of my stories are about confronting the inevitability of loss. But also, I can't believe I got away with some of the hilarious, weird stuff I snuck in here.
What did other people say? The San Francisco Chronicle called it "irresistible and observant." Shondaland called it "brilliant" and said "There is humor, imagination, science, terror, and love — sometimes all in one story." This review in the Chicago Review of Books made my year. Autostraddle said, "The myriad ways Anders explores the relationships we form, and stretch, and break, whether in an alternate present or a post-apocalyptic future, are heartbreaking, joyous, hopeful, terrifying, and often laugh-out-loud hilarious."
Possibly my most shameful secret is that I love medleys. Like, I love medleys to an unhealthy degree. Any time someone takes a bunch of separate songs and strings them together into one semi-cohesive whole, I am just into it. It's even better if the transitions between individual songs in a medley are somewhat artificial or jarring. I love the cheerfulness and goofiness of a good medley. One of my favorite Prince songs is "The Purple Medley," a compilation of all his 1980s hits that he released in the mid-1990s, which most Prince fans seem to loathe. I obsessively listen to the a capella disco medley by the Ramapo Valley Chorus. (Seriously, listen to it: it's so good.)
All of which is to say that I am low-key obsessed with the Ladies of Soul, a group of divas who have been performing in the Netherlands since 2014 (including former Prince bandmember Candy Dulfer). Every year until the pandemic, the Ladies of Soul released an album called Live at the Ziggodome (which is an arena in Amsterdam.) If you've ever wanted to hear a group of ladies run through a hundred songs in a couple hours, then this is for you. Live at the Ziggodome 2014 sets the mood by ending on a half-hour medley of every song they could jam together. You read that right: a thirty-minute medley. Live at the Ziggodome 2017 features a "Disco & Pop Medley" that weaves together songs ranging from "Shame Shame Shame" to "Uptown Funk." The energy NEVER LETS UP. They keep going and going, running through as many hits as they can in the time they have. It's absolutely irresistible, unless you're one of those weirdos who doesn't love medleys.