Monday, April 30, 2007

Fantasy Writing not Writing Fantasy

So, if you could be working on any writing project at all right at this moment, what would it be? Disregard deadlines, marketability, contracts, career outlook--just think about what you'd be writing if no one was looking over your shoulder. Okay, got that? Now why is that what you really want to write? If it's not what you're writing, why isn't it?

Me, The Eye of Horus, book II of The Black School. Because I really want to know how it goes. I know what happens in a big overview kind of way, but one of the things I love most about writing is filling in the gritty details and the Black School is full of gritty details. Why am I writing something else? Because WebMage III is under contract and I have a deadline. Which is not to say that I don't enjoy writing WebMage III, just that I really love the Black School, in part because there's more that I don't know there.

Your turn.

Friday, April 27, 2007

Wyrdsmiths at Wiscon

This is the con that most of us go to. So I thought we might want to post our schedules for people who are interested. To keep the post from getting too huge, I'm going to put mine in comments and only note the Wyrdsmiths party on the front page. Sunday night Room #623.

Story and Critique

Over at his livejournal Frank Wu is talking about critique and one's partner/spouse/SO and the ultimate fact that an artist has to own their own work and have the final say on what happens with it. I responded over there, but thought a cleaned up and prettified version of what I had to say might be of interest to y'all here.

My wife is my first reader but she is also not an arts person (physicist). Most of her comments are of the "comma here" and "I love this bit" variety. Because of that I tend to listen very closely when she says "this doesn't work for me," because a story problem's got to be pretty glaring to pop for her. Then I figure out why it doesn't work and whether that's a failing of transmission (what I want to come across didn't) or of content (she's unhappy with the thing as I intended it to be).

Once I've got that I do what I do with every single critique I get—decide whether a change will make the story better in my opinion. If it will, I make a change. If not, I don't. I say a change because while I may not make the change suggested by Laura or one of my other readers, I do look very closely at anyplace someone has a problem and often change something there even if it's not what was suggested.

One important subnote when I say story, I mean "story," not my artistic vision. For me story is king and I know my vision is imperfect. I have blind spots and weird twists of personality and color preferences for the background. Sometimes those things serve the story I want to tell, sometimes some of them get in the way and I need to figure out how to get around them.

That's what critique is for, showing me where my vision and my intent don't mesh and helping me to find ways to sync them back up. It doesn't matter who gives the critique, what matters is whether or nor it will help me tell the best possible version of the story I want to tell.

How do you deal with your critiques? Who's your best reader? If your SO reads your stuff, how do you handle it when you choose not to listen to them?

Thursday, April 26, 2007

Quick Hit

Miss Snark on the importance of writing.

Quick Hit: Writers' Groups Lake Style

Sometime ago, Jay Lake posted about writers' group dynamics.

Comments? Observations?

Wednesday, April 25, 2007

Quick Pixel Hit

The International Pixel-Stained Technopeasant Day Master List version 1.0 with many thanks to duskpeterson (LJ name) who is putting it together.

Patience is a Virtue...Arghh!

A comment by CJD in the Goals post which included this "the struggle is with embracing that kind of strange patience (embracing uncertainty and 'no applause,' as the Buddhists say)" got me thinking about writing and patience and the fact that it's one place I am quite Zen.

One of the first things I learned back when I started down the writing road was how to be genuinely patient about things I had no control over and the corollary skill of figuring out which things I do and don't have control over. It's an important skill for a writer to try to develop.

I don't have control over how fast magazines will respond to my stories. I do have control over how many stories I have in the mail, and who gets what when. I don't have control over whether or not a given market will buy a book of mine. I do have control over how good the book is.

At one point this led my father-in-law to comment on my being type z*. This was in regards to a waitress having forgotten to get my order in with the cook so that my food failed to come at the same time as everyone else's. My response was just to smile and tell her to get it to me when she could. I don't have control over when my food comes. I do have control over whether or not to let it raise my blood pressure.

I get a lot of questions from friends and family about when will I see covers, copyedits, royalties, etc. I can usually answer these questions with educated guesses based on contract language, past experience, etc. and if asked I will dredge up the information but I don't think about it much otherwise. I'm not sure, but I think this drives some of them crazy—that I have to work to give them such important information and that it doesn't seem to interest me.

But those are all whens that I can't control, so there's very little point in worrying about them. Things I can control are how I react to the cover, when I turn in my copyedits relative to my deadline, and what I'll do with any royalties.

This is not to say that I don't get impatient, just that I try very hard not to. In my case that means learning not to think about the things I can't control, and to focus intensely on the ones that I can. It's something midway between denial and low grade meditation. I'm sure there are other ways of handling the issue of writer's patience, and I'd love to hear what y'all do on the subject in comments.


*subsequent events have caused him to rethink that one, it's not that I'm type z it's just that the hyperfocused version of me mostly comes out when I'm sitting at my laptop with no witnesses.

Catch of the Day

Writing is mainly recreational. I'm not happy when I'm not doing it.
—Christopher Hitchens

Tuesday, April 24, 2007

Pitching and Pitches

Great post and thread over at Making Light on pitches and pitch scams, with a big segment on why pitching is pretty much pointless for unpublished novelists. I agree heartily, though I still think it's worth having an idea of how to do it for two reasons.

1. Sometimes an editor asks about what you write and it's nice not to sound like a babbling cretin.

2. Eventually, if you're skilled and lucky you'll be published and pitches do sometimes sell books once you've got an established reputation.

But, it's not a key skill for the beginner, and if the very thought gives you cold sweats, go over to Making Light and reassure yourself that it's not something you really need to worry about at the moment.

Post aPixelipse

So, two things. First, our own Lyda Morehouse has a few e-freebies floating around as well, as she mentions over on her own blog.

Second, audience participation. Should have done this yesterday but I wasn't thinking as clearly as I ought. Please, if you're one of our readers, feel free to post links to some of your online work in the comments to this post.

Quick Hit: New Earth-Like Planet Discovered our Solar System, which may actually be habitable (or inhabited)! World Science News has this story about it.

Monday, April 23, 2007

More Free Be...Words. Yeah, words!

In keeping with the Technopeasant uprising of the day, I have posted an adventure fantasy short-short story entitled Moonlighting (first published in 1990) over on my live journal. Since it runs less than 1000 words, a summary seems a bit, well, redundant.


Free Beer -- OK, Not Really, But...

Free Wyrdsmiths Short Fiction.

Kelly McCullough:
The Uncola Originally appeared in Cosmic SF Vol #4
When Jabberwocks Attack Originally appeared in TOTU #22

Sean Murphy: Stories

Naomi Kritzer: See seperate post below.

As has been mentioned elsewhere, there is some gentle debate among the professional community of fantasy and science fiction writers about the utility and advisibility of allowing some of one's work to appear online for free.

The most recent round of the debate started when the outgoing vice-president of SFWA* posted this screed in which he called those who give away content on the web both "webscabs" and "Pixel-stained Technopeasant Wretch." For some unknown reason this did not sit well with the more technologically liberal-minded among us.

In particular, it set off Jo Walton to declare "Monday 23rd April is International Pixel-Stained Technopeasant Day" and propose that a bunch of us who write professionally should post some item of our work for free viewing.

I am gleefully adding my name to the list of writers giving it a whirl by posting the two stories listed above:

The Uncola is a near future snarky science fiction piece about the ungoing cola wars between the big brands.

When Jabberwocks Attack is a humorous contemporary fantasy piece that gives a college his chance to break into the newly booming field of magical reality TV.

I hope that you enjoy them.

For a complete list of all the stories and other bits added to the list, please look at Jo Walton's master post here. Or go to the livejournal community set up for the effort here. I will also endeavor to post a copy of the inevitable master list here at the Wyrdsmiths blog in a day or two.

*Science Fiction and Fantasy Writers of America.

Sunday, April 22, 2007

International Pixel-Stained Techno-Peasant Day

For International Pixel-Stained Technopeasant Day, I decided to put up "Masks." (I'm putting it up tonight because Mondays are a busy day for me, plus it's my birthday so it'll be even busier.) This is one of two short stories I wrote that's set in the same world as Fires of the Faithful and Turning the Storm. The other one, "Kin," sold to Sword and Sorceress XXI, but this one never sold. Last spring, I put it in the Wyrdsmiths' anthology.

The protagonist, Domenico, is Eliana's violin teacher in Fires. The story is set years earlier, and the idea came from a slash fanfic story that Lyda Morehouse wrote after reading one of the later revisions of Fires. You do not have to have read Fires and Turning for this story to make sense, and it includes no spoilers for the novels. Also no seriously naughty bits. It's work-safe except inasmuch as your boss may get irritated with you for reading fantasy short stories instead of doing your job.


Some other stories of mine you can find online:

Comrade Grandmother
My WWII / Baba Yaga story, published at Strange Horizons. This was translated into Hebrew and reprinted in an Israeli webzine.

Brother Mac, You Are Healed!
This is about a college student who faith-heals computer equipment. Originally published at the now-defunct Planet Relish.

The Devil's Mailbox / Faust's SASE
This was my first published work. It's very short. It originally appeared in Scavenger's Newsletter. If you're an SF/F writer and submit to some of the big U.S. SF/F markets, you'll probably find it a lot funnier than other people will.

Seven Deadly Sins and Writing: Pride

Writers, like Milton's Satan, thrive on an excess of confidence… of pride. I don’t think you can survive the revision/rejection process without it.

When I finish a piece of writing I look at it and think, “Genius! My God Am I Brilliant!” (yes, all capital -- ask my partner if these aren’t the exact words I utter.) Then, while the feeling is still all shiny and new, I send my brilliance out into the world – to critique group, market, or my editor – and then when the verdict comes back, I say, with the exact same conviction, “Jesus, I suck. Arrgh, I’m an idiot!” I might even sink into a blue funk for a minute or two, then, I revise and the next thing you know I’m a genius again.

Am I bi-polar? Maybe, but I also believe that this strange emotional flip/flop is part of what has kept me in the game for as long as I have been.

Successful writers are wired wrong, like inventors (or was it geniuses?) Anyway, I read somewhere that the difference between an inventor like Thomas Edison and your Crazy Uncle Floyd (you know the one who tried to build a flying bus) is that Edison failed more often and more constantly. Edison just never gave up. Not even after his head bled from banging it against the wall so many times. Not even after normal people would have quit.

People like to talk a lot about how writers need to have a thick skin. I believe that part of gaining that tough hide has to do with self-confidence. I spoke at the Wis-RWA Chippewa Falls chapter meeting on Saturday, and one of the members there asked me how I dealt with people who told me I couldn’t write. My response was immediate: “I didn’t listen to them.” I told her she shouldn’t either. Listening to anyone who tells you that you can’t do something is hazardous to your mental health. Just say, “no.”

I think it’s silly how much time some people invest in discouraging others. Despite what I said about winning in my earlier “deadly sins” post, I do actually believe that there’s room in our field for everyone. Yeah, sure, there are only so many slots for books being published each year, but if trends continue the number of those slots will only continue to grow. Publishers are publishing more books now than ever before.

Yet many writers are, more than any other profession I know of, actively discouraged from pursuing their craft by others in their field. I’ve heard hundreds of horror stories about the (typically) college composition or English professor that denigrated a student for writing something that contained a fantastical or science fictional element in it. I’ve also heard plenty of SF workshop veterans tell about scathing critiques that caused them to seriously consider abandoning writing all together.

That would be a crime.

The problem here, of course, is that the answer can’t be: just don’t listen to anyone but your own inner Muse. Why? Because that *would* be the writerly version of the sin of pride. You have to be willing to listen to critiques of your work, because there are things that readers see that the author simply can’t. A willingness to learn from one’s mistakes is, in my opinion, paramount to developing the craft of writing.

Someone else at the RWA meeting asked me how I dealt with that aspect of critique, and I said that I long ago divorced myself from my words. I’m married to my idea (or characters, theme, whichever, or all), not the text on the page. If a fellow writer can give me insight into how better to express my idea, I embrace it. I write to be understood. Honest critique helps me make my point better.

There are times, of course, when critique is motivated by other things, and is less than honest, so you still need to develop an ear for “what is rot, and what is not.” You need to have enough pride to believe in your vision, listen and learn, and never listen to idiots.

Saturday, April 21, 2007

Response to Several Posts

I could have used the comments function, but I'm going write a post.

First, about envy. I have it. I manage to keep it pretty far down, often below the conscious level. But it remains, even after all these years, chewing away at me. Why did Jonathan Lethem get a MacArthur Genius Grant? Why couldn't I sell the sequel to my best novel? What has been the point of a fair amount of pretty hard work?

I will grant that I have gotten a certain number of goodies, though very little money. It often does not seem like enough.

Now, on the other hand, when I say I write and people ask if I have published anything, it feels good to say, "Five novels." And if they say -- as one of my coworkers did on Friday, "I'll have to find out more about you," I can say, "Just Google my name. You'll find out plenty." That feels pretty good too.

But the envy and the frustration remain.

As for publishing on the Internet, Asimov's puts award-nominated stories by their authors up on their web site. This is a way of reaching people who haven't yet read the story and might vote for it. They used to mail copies of Asimov's to everyone in SFWA, when they had stories up for the Nebula, but that can get expensive. I have always agreed to have my stories posted. Am I going to say no to Gardner Dozois or Sheila Williams? Not a bit.

I also agreed to the Eleanor Arnason issue of Strange Horizon. A story, a couple of poems, an interview and a critical essay on my work. Am I going to say no to that?

The story had been previous published and reprinted in the Datlow and Windling anthology, but I was willing to give Strange Horizon whatever they wanted. As I remember, they paid. But the point was the exposure.

My boss at my current job found the story on the Internet, and the job -- a Book Center -- ended by using the story for the once-a-year, fine art, handmade book they do. So the story now exists on the Internet and in a handmade book that unfolds to 36 feet and has amethysts set in the cover.

I have several stories on the Internet, due to Asimov's and Strange Horizons and Dave Lenander, who maintains my web page. I figure it does nothing but good for me.

I did mention goodies above. The Internet publications are among my goodies.

I don't know about superstitions, but I buy nice paper and leather folios from Levenger's and fine pens everywhere I can find them. I decided years ago that I was going to use good tools, when I wrote. This reminds me that I am serious about writing.

Goal and Response

So, I've been thinking about the responses to my R E L I E F post. Some great stuff in the comment thread in there, btw, particularly CJD's note at comment 11 (I may have more to say on that part of the subject later. I need some thinking time first.)

More immediately, I was thinking about Lyda's comment about dancing in the streets and wondering why it didn't quite resonate for me. Sure, I shouted myself hoarse over my first story sale, and there was definitely some dancing with the second book contract, but not as much as many of my friends and family expected. In thinking about it, I've developed a theory about why that is.*

It has to do with goals. It has never been my primary goal to sell this book or have that series be a runaway success. Sure, that's always been an intermediate goal and a hope, but what I really want as a writer is to continue writing and growing and to have a writing career that ultimately covers my costs so that I don't have to do anything else. My attention is never focused on the book that's written, it's always focused on the next one and the ultimate goal of a writing career.

That's why I danced a little bit when WebMage III and IV sold where I didn't for I and II—because III and IV were sold on proposal. I was more excited because the book contract was for the next book, not the last one. So, yes I get excited about sales, and it's always a huge kick to see my books on the shelves, but what really gets me going is thinking about the next book.

*this is strictly my experience-different writers will likely have wildly different milage.

Friday, April 20, 2007

Seven Deadly Sins and Writing: Envy

There was a period when I couldn’t read science fiction novels.

I’d finished my second novel (actually, what became my first in print, Archangel Protocol) and it was being shopped around by my agent. I was still actively writing – I’d started a third novel and was trying to perfect the art of short story writing. I was in four writers’ critique groups, attending SF conventions, a member of the National Writers’ Union, and generally doing a whole lot of science fiction and writing-related work.

My partner is an avid reader, so we’d often end up at bookstores, and I found I was actually kind of mildly irritated just walking past the aisles labeled science fiction/fantasy. After the fourth or fifth time it happened, I started to examine my reaction.

I realized I was jealous.

Because of the way most bookstores shelves their novels, the publisher’s logos were prominently displayed in row after row after row that I passed. Just seeing those familiar icons made me inwardly seethe; I wanted one of those next to my name, damn it.

Beyond that initial gut reaction, I also had trouble reading science fiction because my life had become consumed by critiquing it. If I actually got through the green haze of my jealousy and picked up one of those books on the shelf, I couldn’t read it without starting the critiquing process.

And believe you me, no one – not even the genre masters/mistresses – passed my muster in those days. Everyone sucked. I was always at LEAST a good a writer as Ms.-Tor-Published-Her-And-Not-Me.

I couldn’t enjoy reading science fiction.

I can’t not read (just as I can’t not write), so I turned to other genres. I read a lot of romances and mysteries. I also discovered that SF short fiction bothered me less than long form (probably because though I was writing short stories and sending them out to market, I knew I wasn’t very good at the shorter forms.) Although I still had plenty of times when I threw Asimov’s across the room and shouted, “WTF? How did that crap get published when I didn’t?”

When my first book published, I relaxed. I could read SF/F again, and I did, copiously. But jealousy and envy continue to haunt me. There are some writers in my field that I’ve refused to read out of spite because in my mind, “they’re famous enough.” (Keep in mind that I’m generally deranged this way. If a movie becomes really popular, I won’t go see it….just because. I’m probably the only person on the planet who hasn’t seen Titanic.)

I don’t think that writers can successfully avoid being jealous and envious of one another. It’s a competitive business, after all, and most of us entered it to win.

Jealousy can be a motivating force, if you let it. I find it fuels my ambition, for instance, and I try to embrace that side of it when I can. I determinedly rose from the ashes of my career partly out of spite and a keen desire not to let the bastards get me down.

I don’t always deal with it very well, though, hence my years of avoiding my own, beloved genre. What about you? Who/what are you jealous of? Have you found good ways of dealing with it?

Thursday, April 19, 2007

R E S P E C T and R E L I E F

As part of a longer post over at her personal blog Lyda wrote: Writers, in particular those who haven’t got book or short story credits to their name yet, have a hard time convincing their friends and family that what they do is real and important. Getting a paycheck is something you can wave in people’s faces to say, “Yes, actually, I got paid to write, thank you very much.”

This brought me back to trying to explain to people how I felt when I sold WebMage (the novel-when I sold the short story I was unambiguously delighted). Now, let me first note how fortunate I am in my friends, family, and writing community. Pretty much from the get go, I've had incredible support from people who really believed in me and what I wanted to do. In particular, my wife, Laura, has never wavered in the slightest in her belief in my writing, not even at those times I myself was wavering.

When I sold the novel I had quite a few friends who were not upset exactly, but certainly concerned about my apparent lack of wild excitement. Part of this was because I was going through a particularly difficult family trauma and there was fear on the part of my friends that the strain of that was devouring my joy. There may even be some truth to that hypothesis. But it wasn't the whole or even the majority truth, because I was intensely engaged in the experience of having sold a book. It's just that what I was feeling was mainly relief.

Relief from my own occasional conviction that I was never going to make it.

Relief that I would never again have to say yes, I'm a writer of novels but...

Relief that I had not let down all the people who had supported me on my way here.

Relief that the long trial of apprenticeship was over.

I have had a hard time explaining this to a lot people with two exceptions: Other writers-who have been there. And Ph.D.s-who have also been there. With the latter, all I had to say was "Do you remember how you felt when you passed your defense? Like that." And the response was a knowing nod or a wry smile.

Selling the book or passing the defense means you have passed through the fire. It doesn't mean that you're going to have a career or be a success. It just means that you have survived the ordeal of getting to the place where those things are now genuinely possible. That may sound pessimistic, but it's not. It's the voice of relief, and it's everything.

Wednesday, April 18, 2007

Harrison's Very Afraid, revisited (thoughts beyond the curve of provocation)

All right, so maybe I’m not done talking about this worldbuilding thing, after all. There’s so much that’s fascinating in Harrison’s post, so much that’s seemingly not even addressed in all the blogologorrhea about this elsewhere (pace the thoughtful discussions in forums like Goblin Mercantile Exchange, for instance). I can’t claim to have read even a fraction of the responses that the original post generated—it’s like trying to count the gulls over a landfill—but after a quick and disheartening survey, it felt to me as if no one could negotiate his or her way past the curve of provocation generated by the n-word and push on through to the end of the post (it’s fewer than two hundred words long):

& in other worldbuilding news: Bush administration announces War on Climate Change — "We’ll fight with smoke & mirrors."

Here’s what’s on my mind. After reading what seems to be a rhetorically flamboyant screed against the pains of gaming-supplement-style writing masquerading as sfnal storytelling, at the very end, seemingly as a by-the-way, we find . . . the Bush administration?

And in other worldbuilding news: I’d like to offer a beyond-the-p-curve suggestion that the substantive body of the post doesn’t end where it seems to, at the end of the previous paragraph. The short final bit invoking Bush isn’t an afterthought. It’s connected carefully and purposefully to the rest of the post by the final repetition of that already-many-times-repeated term worldbuilding. And it appears in boldface, no less, so that we’re sure not to miss it.

Go back for a moment to the final sentence of Harrison's previous paragraph, which characterizes the worldbuilder’s readers as victims (and thus, by extension, the worldbuilder as a perpetrator). Strong language! And isn’t very afraid (the Lovecraftian final italics are Harrison’s) also a strangely horror-struck reaction to the surely minor literary sins of the gaming-supplement-style writer? Harrison doesn’t come across as being a writer who’s afraid of much at all. But here he’s very afraid, directly after which we encounter . . . George Bush.

I wonder if this doesn’t throw open a window onto a deeper grammar present in Harrison’s post.

By a process of anamorphosis, perhaps, is Harrison training his keen and savage eye on the world that George Bush is building? In railing against the exhaustive—and exhausting—excesses of the worldbuilding impulse, is he actually talking about the all-consuming, world-flattening juggernaut of so-called globalism or global capital, driven with increasing ferocity by the dual ideological engines of neoliberalism and latter-day U.S. empire building, as it imposes the totalizing (read: exhaustive) instrumental narratives of Western rationalism on the non-Western world, bent on creating a new global-level state that in its increasing penetration of every dimension of public and private life is making all too horrifyingly real the attempt to "exhaustively survey" (and surely surveying, so closely suggestive of surveillance, is a technology of dominance, discipline, and control) "a place that isn’t there"—yet!—but perhaps all too soon will be everywhere, or for that matter is here already? That terrifying smoke-and-mirrors world of the "global economy," "total connectivity," and "more security, more freedom"?

The world that’s being built before our very eyes, which makes us very afraid?

In-Between the In-Between and Superstitions

Writing novels for deadline is a weird process and one that I’ll never entirely get used to, partly because there’s a lot of hurry up and wait. I rushed like a demon to get my first draft done so that I could send it to my “beta” readers (Wyrdsmiths’ being, of course, the alphas…. Although I have to write the novel so quickly that, given our every other week meeting schedule, they almost never get to read the entire book.) Naomi and Sean volunteered to read the whole thing, and while they’re reading, I wait.

Naomi actually finished really quickly, so after giving myself one last night off, tonight I’ll start the first round of revisions.

I actually revise a lot. I’ll try to get these first revisions done early next week, and then I’ll give that new draft to my partner (proof reader and plot spotter extraordinaire) and Ember Blackwell (my most expert paranormal chick-lit reader) for a final round. What this usually means is that I’m doing some fairly major re-writing right up to my deadline.

Then, of course, the book still isn’t done. My editor, contrary to popular belief, does edit. After a month or two, I’ll usually get a several page, very detailed e-mail critique from her which constitutes my official revisions. Those usually take another week or so to do, then I send the official paper copies to her and we’re off into the next set of revisions – which are mostly copyediting and stylistic.

See, a lot of hurry up and wait. It seems that at this point it’s the in between the between the novel phase…. And it makes me anxious.

Part of my jitters come from the fact that I’m not very good at making the most of my down time. A better writer would probably jump into the next project. I tend to spin my wheels and waste copious amounts of time reading and watching TV. I usually do, at least, work on a proposal for the next book, but I have a very useless superstition about not starting the next novel project until the new contract is negotiated.

It seems like writers have a lot a superstitions. Naomi and I once talked about how we both like to have the special notebook for each novel, and that we can both easily waste a lot time finding JUST the right one. And maybe a special pen…. Yeah, that’s what I need to start. I'm sure you know how it's goes.

Do you have any writing related superstitions?

Interview of Me

Up over at Word Nerd.

Tuesday, April 17, 2007


So this started as an internal response to Sean, but got too long.

Let's see, a couple of things here.

Rights: I'm currently thinking that rather than a creative commons license I'll just go with a basic copyright statement ala the kind that Strange Horizons uses or perhaps a slightly stronger version of the sort used by Cosmic SF (more on both below).

Hosting: I personally am going to put my stories The Uncola and When Jabberwocks Attack up at in html form for ease of reading and because the site is owned by me (rather than say, blogspot).

Links: I will intially put up a post here linking to Jo Walton's page for this exercise. Once everyone's checked in at Jo's site, I'm guessing that some enterprising techie type will compile a list of all the links, possibly organized by SFWA/nonSFWA or Pro/Semi-Pro/Amateur. Once that happens, I'll either link to that page or post the links here either front paged or in commments to the original post (how exactly that works depends on lots of factors).

Gaydar: Since this would be a pre-pub publication I'd check with my editor on that one. While I've seen your contract and I'm pretty certain that you have the right to sell or post the story pretty much wherever whenever, it's always a good idea to discuss such things with those who have a stake in the process in advance.

Copyright Notices:

Strange Horizons' looks like this: "All material in Strange Horizons is copyrighted to the original authors and may not be reproduced without permission."

Which could be amended for our purposes to something like:

All material is copyrighted to (your name here) and may not be reproduced without permission.

Cosmic SF's is similar though a little wordier saying something about not being reprinted or reproduced in any manner without the permission of the editor (or in this case the author).

Pixel, Pixel, Pixel, ...Post!

I can certainly get behind Kelly's business sentiments that he's laid out below, and I have to agree rather heartily with Stephanie Zvan's comments in Kelly's post below--assuming that you don't have personal oppoosition to posting your work online, there's no reason that we shouldn't take advantage of Dr. Hendrix's faux pas and the ensuing firestorm turned rally to our best effect.

After all, a spark doesn't start a conflagration unless the right conditions exist: oil in the floorboards, a barn of exceedingly dry hay, or another image of your choosing, but soaked in twice that amount of gasoline. No, more. MORE.

Clearly, the revolution has begun.

So here's the deal, at least as far as I'm concerned. Kelly, I know you're already looking into what Creative Commons licensing is most applicable in this case, and knowing you, you'll have found a few options. Could you post links and info here as to what and where we can access that CC license, and relevant details on the process.

Also, I'm in. I had my reservations about this, but the more it is discussed, and the more fine tuned the idea becomes, the more I'm hearing that people are thinking about the potential hazards and are working through those carefully. I've sold my short story "Gaydar", and I'd happily make at least the beginning of it available online, and let people know where they can find the whole story in the future.

Also, Kelly, what's the process look like for this? Are we going to post a link to the main listing of everybody's works, or does everyone post links to everyone else's work, or do they dirrect traffic here, and from here people can find links to our individual pieces?

And who else is in? Do we have a Wyrdsmiths "block" for people to wander up and down? Who else out there in reader-poster-pixel-land in going to jump this particular shark?

At the risk of Sounding Mercenary (Pixel etc)

I'm going to go into some of my reasoning for why I think this is a good time for me to give away some stories, and they're mostly business driven.

I personally am planning on putting up a couple of short stories that I've already sold elsewhere, so it is work that I've been paid for. I'm also planning on holding onto the rights, so they will still be eligible for paid reprints at a later date.

I'm doing this because I'm confident that I'm a good enough writer that at least a few people who read the free stuff will be motivated to go and buy my book-which would have the effect of paying me for posting the stories. It's not quite a reprint fee, but it has the same effect.

Will that really happen? I don't know.

Will I even know if it does? Probably not.

On the risk side, the main thing that most writers worry about are piracy issues. I understand the worry, but I'm going to go ahead and trust my readers.

It's an experiment. For me it feels like a low degree of risk for a reasonable payoff. That's not going to be the case for everyone.

Monday, April 16, 2007

More Techno-Peasant Fallout

If anyone's really following all the nitty-gritty of this debacle, Hendrix was interviewed by Galley Cat regarding his use of the term webscab. Also, John Scalzi, who is currently running for SFWA president has a very thoughtful and detailed response here.

Hendrix-stained Pixel Posting

I am responding here to the comments in Kelly's post below:

First, let me clarify that my use of "hollow gauntlet" isn't in any way a response to Kelly's posting, or to Jo Walton's. It's refers to the inherent idiocy of Hendrix's delivery of his position--which was framed in an exceedingly confrontational way. As to myself, I already do post stuff up for people to read. Not entire novels, granted, but stories now and again, poems for sure. But was I planning to post anything just now? Not particularly. And I'm not going to hurry up and prepare something because Hendrix mouthed off, or because people got ticked about it, either.

I'm just saying that Hendrix's post was seething with unexpressed anger and he decided to take this out on people that he disagrees with, which happened to be a very poor move. The man's a writer. I don't for a second believe that he didn't know what he was typing when he used "wiki-cliki, sick-o-fancy" and "webscabs", and ended with "Have a nice life." That's about the biggest "#^@% You!" the guy could have put in there, particularly given the frame that it was his departing from office speech.

And let's be fair. I read plenty of piss and vinegar in some of the posts suggesting the reprisal of the "technopeasants". The entire idea of a day where we post up our work is--while perfectly valid and even a good idea on its own--tainted in the respect that it is in response to Hendrix's comments, and because of the tone of their delivery, his comments don't particularly deserve that degree of attention. Now, if this day had been planned beforehand, and this was merely an extra surge in standing behind that, then yeah, I'd be right there too. But as Jo says in her own post, this day is "in honor of Dr. Hendrix".

Do I think posting work online is a valid, and valuable, way to promote your work and the work of those around you? Absolutely. I think it's a fantastic idea.

Will I do so to afford draw further attention to the argumentative, paralytic prose of a self-styled Luddite? Methinks not.


For those who are interested, Cybermancy is now available for preorder on the Amazon UK and Amazon Canada sites (And, presumably, all the other Amazon sites as well, but I haven't checked). Easiest to go to the site and search for ISBN: 0441015387

Pixel-Stained Technopeasant Day-April 23rd

Jo Walton is posting here about the controversy Lyda mentions below. She suggests Pixel-Stained Technopeasant Day for April 23rd as a day to post something of professional quality online for free. I, for one, am in.

Sunday, April 15, 2007

The Great Clomping Foot of Nerdism

On M. John Harrison's blog:

"Every moment of a science fiction story must represent the triumph of writing over worldbuilding."

(Speaking of dust-ups . . . )

New Blog Dust-Up

There's a big fight going on involving the sitting VP of SFWA and "Pixel-Stained Technopeasants" (or, as he would call them/[us?]) "webscabs," I came across it here, but apparently it orginated there (a long way into the post, btw.)

I was suprised Hendrix (SFWA's VP) included bloggers among those "rotting the organization from within" with our webscabbing. Interestingly, I just co-instructed a workshop this weekend at the Loft about authors and the web. One of the things we touched on very briefly was the amount of "content" that writers, in effect, give away for free as part and parcel of author self-promotion. I have to admit that despite the somewhate over-the-top union rhetoric language Hendrix employs in his rant, he raises some mighty thorny issues that I don't think should be so quickly ridiculed. What about content we provide for free? I think about this a lot when I read some of the interviews bloggers post; I *sell* my interviews. Are they undercutting my ability to do that? (I don't think so necessarily, but an interview is never something I'd chose to "give away" on a blog.) Many of the posts here could just as easily sell to writing magazines as articles, yet we give them away. The National Writers Union took the New York Times to court over the issue of whether or not it was okay for them to post printed articles on the web without additional compensation to the writer (reprint payment), and the Supreme Court said, in effect, "You must pay writers seperately for on-line writing. Those are seperate rights you're buying." Yeah, Hendrix comes off as a loon, but these are serious issues for writers everywhere.

Comments? Opinions? Rants?

Friday, April 13, 2007


So, I stumbled on this iteration of the sci-fi/skiify/SF/Science Fiction discussion, via Frank Wu who links to Lucy Snyder.

This one fascinates me. I personally use sci-fi, SF, science fiction, and speculative fiction pretty interchangeably, and I've never understood the conniptions some folks have about the term sci-fi. This is despite the facts that I'm a third generation fan, that I've been going to conventions for 25 years, and that I write and publish in the field.

I really don't get it. Yes, some people use the term to denigrate the field. However, for those who think science fiction is a waste of time, it's not about terminology it's about content. They're going to dump on science fiction no matter what you call it. In my experience they also use the term science fiction to denigrate the field. If you talk to them about SF, they assume you mean San Francisco until you explain it to them, then they dump on SF. Likewise speculative fiction.

This whole debate seems to me to be a sterling way to let the people who hate the field define the way you should talk about it, and to turn the term sci-fi into something that people who are on the pro science fiction side of the fence use to bash each other over the head with. In short: getting worked up over sci-fi seems terribly counterproductive.

Anyone have any thoughts on the subject?

Quick Hit—Agents

Another old post from Making Light this one on the getting of agents. Again, a ton of useful advice.

Also, no post on agents would be complete without mentioning Miss Snark. If you are writer in search of agents or agent related amusement go and read. Always worthwhile.

Thursday, April 12, 2007

Wyrdsmiths Party at WisCon!; or, What Really Happens at Con Parties

Every year, the Wyrdsmiths host a party at Wiscon on Sunday night, to showcase new works that have come out throughout the year, sometimes to release an anthology of our work, and always to hang out and reconnect with old friends and make new ones, over a beer (and we mean real beer, not fizzy amber blech of the mega-brew labels).

This year, we are inviting other authors to join us on Sunday night for the party at Wiscon.

Maybe we can even get Jay Lake to stop in for a while, if he's around. Looks like he had a good time at Norwescon! (Thanks to Patrick Swenson over at Talebones for posting the evidence!)

RIP: Kurt Vonnegut, Jr.

Copied from Elizabeth Bear, via scarlettina, but worth quoting again:

Some writing advice by Kurt Vonnegut Jr. on the subject of short stories, from Bagombo Snuff Box:

1. Use the time of a total stranger in such a way that he or she will not feel the time was wasted.

2. Give the reader at least one character he or she can root for.

3. Every character should want something, even if it is only a glass of water.

4. Every sentence must do one of two things -- reveal character or advance the action.

5. Start as close to the end as possible.

6. Be a sadist. No matter how sweet and innocent your leading characters, make awful things happen to them -- in order that the reader may see what they are made of.

7. Write to please just one person. If you open a window and make love to the world, so to speak, your story will get pneumonia.

8. Give your readers as much information as possible as soon as possible. To heck with suspense. Readers should have such complete understanding of what is going on, where and why, that they could finish the story themselves, should cockroaches eat the last few pages.


Also, check out Vonnegut's "Fifty-Third Calypso" over at Barth Anderson's blog

RIP it up, KV.

The End and other Small Triumphs

Though I'm far from finished with my WIP, I would like to report that all the major scenes are written and I officially typed "THE END" on the third book in the Garnet Lacey series (titled either Drop Dead, Gorgeous or Bloody Charming).

Go me.

This book has been causing me no end of grief, however, so I suspect I'll still be reworking it until the very last hour before my May 1st deadline. Still, I'm that much closer.

And when I'm all the way done, do you know what I'm going to do (besides sleep and actually say more than "do you want to hear the next chapter?" to my partner)??? I'm going to watch Battlestar Galatica until my eyes fall out.

Monday, April 09, 2007

Dancing the Linguistic Two-Step: Contract Language 101

Actually, I'm in relatively no position to post this topic as if I were teaching a course on it. After all, I've just received my first contract for a sale, and had to sort through it to figure out what it meant.

But that's exactly why I want to talk about it. Because the language of contracts is, necessarily, legalese (or some pidgin thereof), and how those words impact me and my rights and holdings with regard to my story matters, rather a great deal.

Here's the relevant paragraph out of the contract I just got:

1. The author hereby grants a non-exclusive license to include the Story as part of the Work, in any and all editions in English throughout the world. It is understood that all rights not granted under this contract are reserved for the Author’s sole use and disposition. The rights granted under this agreement apply only to use in the Work as a whole, and the Story may not be licensed by the Editor or Publisher to newspapers, magazines, other publishers, or other media apart from the Work; all such requests will be forwarded directly to the Author to negotiate separately.

So, some of this reads easily enough--these rights apply for all future editions of the book printed in English--in French, or Somali, say, they'd have to come back to me and renegotiate. Also, I retain all other rights, and they can't resell my story outside the context of this anthology; those requests must be passed along to me.

Okay, but that first line is a doozy. After checking on my suspicions, I was correct (which was a relief for the wordsmith inside): this is a contract for non-exclusive rights, i.e., I could sell this to another market at any time--now, even--and it won't matter a whit to this publisher. They are purchasing the right to print my story in this anthology, in any editions printed in English, throughout the world--and that's it. I can send it out tomorrow to someone else. They didn't even purchase "first print rights", so technically, even if it came out in another magazine first, they'd have no complaint.

Contract language can be exceedingly more complex than this--and most usually is, I suspect--but it suddenly struck me, since I'm going through it for the first time (even though I've seen other people's contracts), that the specifics of contracts can be quite confusing, particularly to a new author, and that if we have access to information or experience that has taught us important lessons in dealing with contracts and negotiations, it would be useful to blog about it here.

What about you? What contract linguistics have you encountered? What snares await the unsuspecting writerfolk? What pits should we avoid?

Friday, April 06, 2007

The Tone of my Comments

I read over my comments -- checking to be sure I wasn't repeating myself on production, which I sort of am. I think I need to work on tone. My comments aren't upbeat enough.

ICFA was fun. I got to talk with Melissa Scott and Brian Attebery. People told me how wonderful my writing is and how much they enjoy teaching it, which is very nice to hear. I often don't take my writing seriously. Sometimes as I write, I think this is utterly cool. What a neat idea! But a lot of the time, I notice what's wrong, not what's right, usually at the level of sentence structure. This sentence is awkward. That sentence does not sing.

It's good when other people say they like what I do.

I added two birds to my life list: the ring-necked turtle dove and the boat-tailed grackle, both common around the hotel pool. The grackle is native. The dove is Eurasian, but has settled into Florida and looks quite happy.

Between Novels

I have been between novels for thirteen years now, during which time I wrote enough stories to make two and a half collections. So the time has not been entirely wasted; but this does not work out to a very high rate of production. I figure I have averaged 115 manuscript pages (28,750 words) a year over the past 35 years. My work speed has been very on and off. The fastest I ever wrote was Ring of Swords in 18 months. Some years I write nothing.

I don't entirely miss novels. My favorite form of writing is linked short stories. I figure each section has the compactness and tightness of short fiction, while the continuing characters and situations give the complexity of a novel.

But I've been wondering if my current problem is boredom. Maybe I am tired of the kind of writing I've been doing in recent years. Maybe I should try something new: a huge, trashy, epic quest fantasy, for example. Though that might be too ambitious. Maybe I should try a compact, slightly trashy, epic quest fantasy. A modest quest. A peasant traveling to get rid of a doom-ridden kitchen chair at the sawmill where the wood was cut...

Obviously, the above paragraph is intended to be silly. But most of my recent fiction tries to do fairly difficult things. The absolutely current story is about time travel, quantum computers and the relation of the quantum universe and the universe we see and feel. It's also a tall tale and a joke. I am collecting copies of Science News and New Scientist with articles that might be relevant, since the story's science can be a joke, but I don't want it to be stupid. It hurts to think about the story. Quantum gravity is not a strength for me. (Yo, Kelly! How is your wife on quantum theory?)

I wonder what would happen if I relaxed, kicked back and wrote something undemanding.


I think you brood over rejections early in your career. After a while, you figure they happen. They may still sting, but you know you aren't going to figure out what was in the editor's mind.

Thirty years ago, Robert Silverberg rejected my story "The Warlord of Saturn's Moons." It was published by New Worlds and reprinted in Pamela Sargent's Women of Wonder series and the Norton Book of Science Fiction, edited by Brian Attebery and Ursula K. LeGuin.

Somewhere along the line, Silverberg told a friend of mine he would have bought the story, if he had ever seen it. I think I still have Silverberg's rejection note. He said he liked the story, but it wasn't science fiction. He then rejected the next story I sent him, saying it was science fiction, but he didn't like it. Damon Knight published that one in his Orbit series.

Gardner Dozois rejected my story "The Garden," when I sent it to Asimov's. George Zebrowski bought it for an anthology, and Gardner put it in his Best of the Year collection.

David Gerrold once sent me -- decades ago -- a form rejection which was intended to be comic. It said, if I remember correctly, if his mother were dying and the only way he could save her was to accept this story, he wouldn't.

I returned the rejection to him, explaining that it was not acceptable; and he sent me an apology. He must have been very young then, and it was meant to be a joke. But I really did not think it was acceptable.

Writing into a Corner

This is in response to Lyda's comments.

I have a novel, the sequel to Ring of Swords, which I have never been able to sell -- until recently, when Aqueduct Press became interested. The trouble is, the book as written isn't properly focused, per three of the four people who have read it. Ruth Berman says it's fine as is; but the other three -- the noted scholar Brian Attebery, the noted author Ursula K. LeGuin, and the noted editor Timmi Duchamp at Aqueduct Press -- say the book has problems.

Because the book is a sequel, I thought it was about the people in Ring of Swords. But it has ended being about three other people; or rather -- at the moment -- it is caught betwen two sets of people. It should be about the hwarhath home world and especially the women on the home world, because that's what people expect. But right now, it is about other things. So I have to shift the center of the book. Timmi thinks it won't take a lot of writing to do this. We shall see.

Thursday, April 05, 2007

Post Novel and Internovel, a Survey

A couple of folks have been talking about what happens to them between or after books. Bear. Monette. Lake. Smith. Ennui has been mentioned. Boredom. Scatter. Anxiousness. Since the vast majority of the folks who are reading this blog are writers, I wanted to ask you about this.

First, my own response: I find the topic fascinating in part because it's so alien to the way my process works. Generally when I finish writing a book the thing I want most in the world is to start the next book. That's because somewhere around three quarters of the way through the last book the next big idea has occurred and it's all pretty and shiny and stuff. By the time I'm done with the current book, the line edits, and the beta draft I've had this really cool idea waiting for weeks at the very least and I want to play with the new toy. I want it a lot.

In fact, if I don't get to play with it I start to get a little strange, or as my wife puts it I leak weirdness. The longer I go without touching the new idea, the more I leak.

This is not to say that I don't have novel ennui or scatter or anxiousness. I just have them at a different place—typically a third of the way through the new book.

So, what I'm wondering is: What happens to you when you finish the book? And if you don't get inter-or-post novel effects, where do you get them? This is of course an essay question.

Wednesday, April 04, 2007

Awards News

The Tiptree!

Writing Yourself Into a Corner

I remember when Naomi Kritzer first joined Wyrdsmiths and she was worried that she might write herself into a corner and never be able to finish the novel she’d started. At the time, I told her with utter confidence that it was simply not possible to get stuck like that. Besides, I said, you’re a good writer; it’s just _not_ going to happen to you.

Luckily, she believed me and went on to finish what would become FIRES OF THE FAITHFUL and TURNING THE STORM.

Now, I find myself wondering if I lied – not to Naomi, mind you, but to myself.

I always thought that the fear of writing one’s self into a corner was completely groundless. Words are erasable, after all. Any corners you might wander into (speaking, of course, as an organic writer,) are either solvable by rolling with it and thinking up some clever escape plan for your protagonists… or by simply hitting the delete button until the “corner” disappears.

In a lot of ways, the fear of writing one’s self into a corner is really the fear of revision. The fear that you could, as I have, write a novel for a year and realize (a month before the deadline, no less,) that the story you’ve written isn’t really about the person you wrote it about, but that other guy whose been tagging along the whole time. I had this utterly terrifying discovery while writing APOCALYPSE ARRAY and ended up throwing out over two-hundred manuscript pages and completely re-writing a third of the novel – all in the month before the book was due on my editor’s desk. It was the only time in my life I was grateful for having been laid off a job. It was a hell of a corner to erase, but I did it. Our heroes made their clever escape.

However, I must admit that this is one of the biggest problems with my particular style of writing – that is to say, organically, without an outline, without a net. You can make pretty painful mistakes. I’m still not entirely sure I believe you can write yourself into a place that ends your story prematurely. Not permanently, anyway.

Sometimes, though, the entire structure is rotten and you have to tear the whole thing down, keeping only the core idea to build back up on.

That sucks.

And, I’m forced to admit, constitutes officially writing yourself into a corner. Luckily, I’m still half right. A good writer will survive it, regardless.

Tuesday, April 03, 2007

Quick Hit

Making Light on the slush pile and rejections. If you've ever wondered about the process, go here read the post and the comments.

This is an oldie but a goodie and it's the post that inspired me to write on rejectomancy. I just stumbled on it last night and have been very impressed by the content, the humor, and the good advice.

Monday, April 02, 2007

Rejects and Rejectomancy

Rejectomancy is the art of reject divination, or trying to figure out what the editor or agent really meant from the few short sentences of the rejection letter. By and large it is a fruitless and frustrating pursuit, especially with form letters. Even with personal rejections it's not a great idea, though some of those can be quite clear. That's because what a reject means is very simple:

This story did not work for this editor on this day. That's it.

The best illustration I've ever had of this principle comes from a mistake I made, emphasis on the word "mistake," as in do not do this.

I have something like 400 rejections to date. One of them is for a story later sold to that same editor at that same magazine with no rewrite. At the time I had something like 25 stories out making the rounds. When you have dozens of stories going to dozens of magazines and anthologies with wildly different response times, careful bookkeeping becomes very important. I'm pretty good at these things and keep a spreadsheet with pages arranged by story, by market, and by editor. Unfortunately, I somehow failed to log the particular rejection in question (a personal). It was from an editor who had bought other stories of mine and who was actively looking for me to submit more as he told me at World Fantasy a few weeks later.

At that time he asked me what I was sending him next. Having failed to log this particular story, and having forgotten he'd rejected it, I mentioned the title, gave him a two sentence pitch and promised to drop it in the mail ASAP. So, I did that. Then about two weeks later, I stumbled on the rejection in my to-file stack and realized what had happened. Aiee! I thought. This was and is a significant faux pas. So, I quickly banged up a note admitting to and apologizing for my mistake and offering to pull the story. It crossed with the acceptance and contract in the mail.

Same story, same editor, different day, different result.

I am not suggesting that anyone should resubmit a story to an editor who has already seen and rejected it, far from it. I screwed up. I also got lucky.

So, the moral of the story is: reject = not for this editor on this day, send it on to the next one. Nothing more. Nothing less.

Quick Hits

Eleanor on SF and book clubs.

Interesting take on pitches over at the Samhain Publishing Blog.