I was twelve. That summer we stayed with my uncle and aunt in Pensacola, not really welcome. There was nothing to do, nowhere to go. My aunt and uncle went off to work each day, seven days a week, to the kennel they owned, and my mom did whatever it was she did. Mostly sat in the guest bedroom reading mystery novels, from what I remember.
Which sort of left me at loose ends.
Now this could have ended very badly, but my uncle had a big, big bookshelf. And on that bookshelf were something like fifteen of the 'Year's Best SF' annuals.
And everything changed.
Each one of those stories changed the way I viewed the world, my world, in ways I had no words for. In ways I didn't even realize, and didn't show up for years, decades, some of them.
I read them all. Then I read them again.
I think, because I read them so young, I got it into my head that I could never write anything even close. At the time of course I couldn't. But I doubt I had to wait until I was forty to try. So when I started to write, I wrote fantasy. Fantasy is safe. I enjoy it. Sci fi, the sci fi I read that summer, the sci fi that became the definition of sci fi for me (Tiptree, Ellison, to give you an idea) was some far out, uncomfortable, existentially scary shit. The fact that it was painfully beautiful, stunning really- that only made it the more out of reach.
It was the world of literally. anything.
And so I shrank away from that place, the place where the horizon wasn't just limitless, but in truth debatable at best.
Then I wrote Waste Land. I would not say it belongs in one of those year's best anthologies, but I am proud of it. I also know that for some readers the ending is like a kick in the gut. It's not spelled out. It's still linear, but there are a few bars where you have to sort of hum the tune to yourself. Or make it up.
And so when I got the one star review for Waste Land that said 'didn't understand anything' I got where the reviewer was coming from. He'd wandered into a story- that story- utterly unprepared, with no real ability to 'get it'.
There's a reason Waste Land is free, and will always be free. I don't want anybody to pay for something that has the potential to mess with them.