Friday, December 29, 2006

"Ack, Argh..." *sigh*

While I was doing my reading for Wyrdsmiths yesterday, I tripped over a character saying "Ack, this paper is ripping." (paraphrased)

The interjection "Ack" just bounced me. I don't know anyone who says "Ack," though I recognize that it is a commonly used espression of grumble or difficulty. Similarly, "Argh", "Urg", "Er", "Uh", "Ah", etc., some of which bounce me more than others.

The things is, I can see the reason for the writer to want to have a tool like this at his/her disposal. This is closer to onomatopoeia for the expressive grunts that we make than anything else (though I know some would argue that point), and I don't think the abstraction of "He sighed/grunted/growled" is quite as effective. I can see a distinction between I lifted the rock, grunting and "Ungh, this thing is freaking heavy!"

But if I'm getting bounced from the story because of it, then either A)it is not being used effectively, B)it isn't the right choice of onomatopoeic interjective expression, or C)it is one with which I am unfamiliar enough to make me stop and think "How exactly would that be said? And why would they say 'Urg' instead of 'Uuh' or 'Eew'?"

How do these expresions function for you, as a writer or as a reader? Why do we persist in using them? What do they bring to the table, as a tool, that overweighs the possibility of bouncing a reader--however momentarily? And if you don't use them, why not and what do you do instead?

Why Write F&SF?

Since Lyda brought it up in her last post, it seems like an interesting question to ask each other and to try to answer. She framed it as "why write genre?" but I'm going to be a little more specific, in part because I believe all writing is genre writing. The great American novel is a genre, and a small one. Likewise literary fiction. Each have their rules and their tropes and their small subset of dedicated readers. There was a time when genre was defined as anything not part of "mainstream fiction" which is a slippery term at best. This is especially true when you consider that romance has always been considered genre and that romance is 55% percent of the paperback fiction market and 40% percent of all fiction, dwarfing all other genres. Or when you note that a lot of writing that is considered mainstream is also SF, The Handmaid's Tale, fantasy, A Midsummer Night's Dream, romance, Pride and Prejudice, or a myriad of other genres. The traditional definition of genre has always had a strong element of "that which I do not believe to be worthy of the term literature."

So, back to the central question: Why do I write F&SF?

In my case that's a fairly simple question to answer. I'm all about world building and its impacts on characters and cultures. Creating an intricate and believable magic system with a history that reaches back into the depths of antiquity and has present day implications or impacts rocks my world. Coming up with a novel idea for a space drive that alters the way we interact with our world or that recreates historical pressures of colonization and conquest fascinates me. And frankly, the genre of literary fiction doesn't leave a lot of openings for a writer who wants to build an entire world from scratch.

All genres have tropes and conventions that limit what the writer can do, but in F&SF they are fewer and much less limiting, and if you can come up with a novel way of breaking them you're generally rewarded rather than punished.

I write F&SF because it doesn't put my imagination in a straightjacket and pretend that's the be all and end all of literary creation.

So why do you write F&SF? Or genre? Or poetry for that matter?

Thursday, December 28, 2006

True Confessions and a Continuation of the Bloodletting

Of course there are a million “true” ways to write. I have always been an advocate of the “anything works as long as it gets words on the page” method. Approaching a story via idea or via character doesn’t make a lick of difference as long as the writer writes.

That being said, I think that both Kelly and I would agree that the average reader tends to identify with character first and foremost. I think we also agree that a good story operates on all sorts of levels. If that story is a genre story, then setting (ie the SF bits) are (or ought) to be key to the telling of the tale.

Admittedly, it’s that last bit of this concept that has caused me a touch of panic. One of the things that I took away from the original discussion on Jay’s post is the question of when is genre necessary to a story. That might not have been his point (in fact, I’m quite sure I read that into it), but that idea sparked a strong and probably somewhat irrational response from me for a couple of different reasons. The first, I already attempted to talk about, which is that I have found myself having to defend the point of science fiction to a lot of mainstream people. (I think I've said what I want to about that, though I don't know that I was necessarily very clear about entertainment vs. message, since a lot of people seemed to have misread me.)

BUT the second, more confessional reaction is that I am one of those writers who has often been accused by colleagues and reviewers alike of writing stories in which the SF/F/H elements are secondary to the main theme. In other words, I’ve heard a lot of people say about the things that I have written that they could just have easily have been written in contemporary settings or otherwise outside of the trappings of genre. So, when trying to articulate why genre is important to me my own personal buttons got pushed – harder, I think than even I realized because, speaking of being pushed, I was quite forcibly retired from the science fiction community by my editors.

I’m not writing this to say woe is me. I’ll be back. But, I think that one of the reasons I hit this so hard is because it’s an issue I struggle with on a daily basis -- which is: what is the point of writing? Why write genre? What is it about SF that makes it the genre I most want to express myself in?

I'm not going to try to answer those questions right now, because I don't know that they're all entirely germaine to the discussion at hand. However, for me, one of the reasons I write (and read) has always been to learn something. I don’t mean this as something lofty necessarily. Books like Janet Evonavich’s ONE FOR THE MONEY taught me something about being a bounty hunter, for instance. (It might not be accurate, but it felt real and that worked for me.) I also learned something about what Janet thinks New Jersey women and Italian men are like. So every time I enter into a story it’s to look for these sorts of things – call them what you will (truths? Pieces of one’s self?) When I write, I do give away little bits of myself in the details. This is another thing that I jumped in to defend, because it’s something that I like about reading… that glimpse into someone else’s house, someone else’s mind. Because I don’t think you can write without giving a little bit of yourself away.

Maybe this is an issue that Kelly (or others) will take issue with, but I think that it’s at the core of this discussion about “bloodletting.” I do think that writers bleed on to the page a little every time we sit down to write (regardless of whether we get there via character or idea). That’s why writing is such a personal endeavor. That’s why rejections hurt.

I also think that’s okay… even laudable. To bleed, I mean.

Separated by a Mutual Language

So, after reading more of what both Jay and Elizabeth mean with the knife and bleeding language, I actually tend to agree with them. It's still not where I start, and it's a set of metaphors and structures that I would never use to describe what they're describing, but now that I get it, it makes sense. Lyda and I still seem to have been talking at cross purposes this whole time, because what I mean by bloodletting is clearly not what she thinks I mean, and I'm guessing that what I'm getting out of what she is saying is also not what she means, but I'm sure we'll be able to work it out with swords or pistols and a little friendly bloodletting.

For the record: Yes, character-driven writing is a perfectly acceptable model. No, it is not the only acceptable model. Yes, characters are important. Without them there would be nothing to write. Yes, they need to have and to evoke honest emotions. Yes, a writer has to draw on their own experiences to craft character, though from long experience with critical readers I know that the closer I get to my own bones the less convincing are my characters-I'm a weird monkey and I don't seem to process a lot of things in a way that makes sense to the other monkeys.

My problem with the bloodletting language was that it seemed to be focusing on pain for pain's sake and not as a tool to accomplish something. I've since been corrected, but I still don't much like the language of bloodletting because what it evokes for me, darkness for its own sake, is so very far away from what Jay and Elizabeth seem to be talking about. There is too much pain in this world for me to want to add to it without very good reason. I don't like bleak stories with bleak endings, which is not to say that they're a bad thing, just that they don't suit my needs or tastes.

Wednesday, December 27, 2006

Jay's got more now

Here. I found this paragraph: The more interesting question which cropped up out of today's passage of words was whether there must be a core of strong and genuine emotion at the bottom of every story. I'm leaning heavily toward "there certainly ought to be" on this. Perhaps this is self-evident, perhaps it is not, but I chew on it nonetheless. and particularly this part of it: Our Western/anglophone storytelling tradition begins with a character in a setting with a problem. to be the most interesting part of the post.

That's because this description of story gives equal weight to character, setting (world), and problem (plot) while Jay focuses on the element of character and honest emotion. This is not to suggest that he's ignoring the other elements either in his post or his work, just to point up the emphasis on character where, from the exact same sentence in another context I might well focus on the aspect of setting or plot first. I think the lesson here is that for a story to function well it needs all three legs.

It's something I try to do in my own writing. As I said somewhere else in this huge multi-blog multi-post debate, I start with world, then develop plot, and finally add character. This doesn't mean that I ignore character or discount it. That would be profoundly foolish, and I work very hard to have believable characters. Its just that character is not at the forefront of my process and it is the thing that is easiest for me to adjust to fit the rest of the story. In some ways I think of myself as a playwright hiring actors to perform a show. It is the role that is of central import to me and its needs, not the underlying motivations of the actors.

This is not to say that I have anything against a writing style that is character driven. Among the many writers whose work I enjoy, character driven writers are quite prominent, Lyda for example—even if I do seem to be driving her to distraction at the moment. But at the same time, good characters are not enough in and of themselves to hold my attention. I need plot—if the problem isn't compelling, I will wander away. And I need setting—vivid characters with interesting problems wandering around in a nebulous gray landscape, or worse, a self-contradictory one, drive me crazy.

When I teach writing, I try to emphasize that a writer should start wherever they find motivation and follow whatever path they find compelling. There is no right way to do this. In the end, the process isn't what matters to anyone but the individual writer. It is the end result and how it interacts with the reader that ultimately decides the success or failure of a work as Jay points out that Barth so wisely notes here.

Just to be clear

Lyda, unless, I'm misreading you, you're saying my fiction is pointless and you're saying it about every single writer who isn't character driven. It sounds like you're claiming that there is one true way to write. If either of these things is really your opinion, I flat out disagree.

Characters are tools I use to explore other ideas. Do I have to make them interesting and compelling if I want people to read my stuff? Of course. Do I have to use my own internal emotions and history to do that? Likewise of course. But character is not the engine that drives my interest or my writing. Never has been, never will be. And, honestly if all that matters are the characters, why bother to write genre at all?

To Kelly, My Esteemed Colleague…

I may have missed the point, but I do have one of my own.

I still come down on the side of “bloodletting” as this has become known as – even as you are referring to it, which is the idea that an author should or ought drag up their own emotional baggage from which to write. Yet, sometimes the emotional events of our lives are too raw and, as authors, we should wait before we attempt to write about them. For instance, I still can’t write about the death of my daughter Ella. I don’t know if that particular wound would ever be best served by airing it in fiction. Probably real-life therapy would serve me better.

However, there are times when I do write from emotional experience. I think that when those things come up and a good story can be wrapped around them that is the making of a piece of fiction which could be transcendent and profound. I also think that writing is a fine place to explore the tough stuff, and the point of my earlier rant was that I think that our genre is too often seen as a place where escapism is the preferred route. However, I don’t think the majority of writing in our genre is, in point of fact, PURE escapism (which was my other point). And, as you say (and a point which I never, ever argued) there is a place for entertainment because it does feed the soul.

However, emotions are key. I think without them, there is no story… or at least no story I’d like to read.

Does that mean that I think that in order for a story to be about something it has to be character-driven? Yes, it does. That _is_ what I’m saying.

Volcano is about to swallow a town (idea-driven). Whoop-dee-do. Unless there’s someone interesting who is trying to stop this event, I could bloody care less. I think, for instance, that one of the reasons that both “Lost” and “Battlestar Galactica” have been so popular is because they’re science fiction stories which focus on people. I think both shows stumble when they try to make the episodes take on _issues_ (the Iraq war, for instance,) at the expense of the characters and/or the truthiness of their emotional experience (yes, I’m using that ironically.)

Anyway, when those shows sing it’s when they’re down at the core that Jay talks about in his original blog. And, I think that good stories go there. I think that in order for many readers to be invested there needs to be some emotional teeth, and I think we get those teeth by exploring our own emotional experiences.

Yeah, I make stuff up that entertains people, too. But, I also write for myself. I find that in order to keep my own attention when I write, I need to be writing about something that resonates for me. For me, what captivates my attention is the human condition.


Comfort and Consequences, Obtusification

In response to the ongoing furor over Jay Lake's earlier post (see Kelly's and Lyda's posts below), we should note, as does Jay on his blog, that Paul Tremblay has responded rather well to the whole conversation here. He boils the question down quite nicely to a discussion of comfort versus consequences, and in the debate over "THE MEANING OF SF/F", I think his points are founded on rather solid ground. Check it out.

And, thank you Elizabeth Bear (slapfight bigger!) for linking out to Lilith Saintcrow's excellent take on the trap of readerly obtusification, which you can find here, for yet another angle on this argument.

Missing the Point

Lyda, you seem to have skipped the point of my post. I never said that F&SF shouldn't be about something, unless you're claiming that in order to be about something fiction has to be character driven. That's not what you're claiming is it?

My fiction is not character driven and it never will be. That's not how I think. Do I try to get character right? Of course. But there are many ways to approach writing, and character is only one of them.

What I took issue with in both Jay and Elizabeth's posts was the notion of bloodletting, which read to me as the flensing of either yourself or your characters. I suspect that neither of them mean it in exactly the way I'm taking it, and if so, I freely apologize for missing the point myself. For that matter I beat the crap out of my characters both physically and emotionally, it's just that's not at the center of what I do, it's a tool I use to convey the things I want to convey and to entertain.

And, as I noted in comments, entertainment is no small thing. Neither is escapism. People need myth and they need happiness and they need stories where good triumphs over evil. Oh, and the word "truths" is a red flag for me. Different people mean radically different things when they use it, especially as a part of a compound construction like "emotional truths." I'm perfectly happy to deal in facts, which are things that are verifiable, but truths are contextual and something that is emotionally true for me may well not be emotionally true for someone else.

Are You Not Entertained? Are You NOT Entertained?

I disagree with Jay and Kelly that our genre insulates us (or excuses us) from writing about emotional truths, and I think that suggesting that it does plays into a stereotype about science fiction that annoys me. I think that a lot of readers don’t pick up science fiction (or fantasy or horror) novels because they think that we’re not saying anything important. When I tell my Loft students that I believe that science fiction is a very subversive and political genre, I get a lot of blank looks. All they can think about is ray guns and space babes.

Not that there’s anything wrong with ray guns and space babes, but I tend to agree with Elizabeth that the best science fiction and fantasy stories illuminate something about the human condition. I think that while they do provide a distance – that distance is necessary, it can provide a somewhat “safer” medium (ie the future, the not-now, the not-here) to explore really important issues of gender, race, class, religion and politics. Everyone disses the original Star Trek episode with the guys with the half-black/half-white faces as being too overtly (and painfully embarrassingly) polemic, but the truth of the matter is that when that show aired there were race riots in America. Where else could we have talked so openly about how stupid it is to judge people by the color of their skin? (The answer: in fantasy children’s stories, like “The Sneetches.” A place that is not here, not now.)

I think there is a lot of value in writing a ripping good yarn, but I do think it’s important to have something to say – even if it’s something like “the world is a ugly cruel place, isn’t that funny?” If a story has nothing to say, why write it? How do you, as a writer, propel yourself through 500 manuscript pages of nothingness? There must be something you’re trying to express, right?

Even when I’m writing romance, I have an agenda. I’m exploring something about the human condition, the bigger questions, like: is it ever okay to be a murderer? This, however, may be part of why my fiction has failed to capture a larger percentage of the popular audience.

This last point leads me back to why this whole issue ticks me off. I think that even some of our great young writers like Jay Lake can be found posting in the comments of Kelly’s rant that he thinks that much of what is written today is completely useless. Our genre is popcorn. Stupid. Without value. (Okay, Jay, I’m paraphrasing, but you did suggest that most of what is written today is written to entertain… not to plumb the depths of one’s psyche.)

I think that fiction, particularly genre fiction, should be entertaining, but I don’t think it should be without message, without a point. I think the best work is both fun and important. I think we can write plainly about the truth, and we can write about things that aren’t egregiously MEANINGFUL and still have meaning. I think, for instance, that it is a radical act to write women as heroes, people of color as existing in the future, and about class. These things I suggest aren’t earth shatteringly deep, but they can elevate our genre our of the popcorn ghetto. I think science fiction writers have a duty, as Elizabeth Bear suggests, to write something of substance. I think readers expect it, and I think that when they find it, they appreciate it.

Of course, my sales suck.

So WTF do I know?


There's a great piece by Robert J. Sawyer on "The Eight Things New Writers Need to Know" over at Writers of the Future from their December newsletter. (Originally in WotF XXII). Well worth the quick-read, and there are probably several things on that list that we should bring up here.

Writing as Therepy—Bleah, A Rant

So, Jay Lake has a post here about the "shield" of genre and writing as a way of cutting into the "core" of the writer. I found it via Elizabeth Bear's post here, wherein she disagrees with Jay, but continues the meme of bloodletting.

I wanted to post a completely opposing view. Cutting to the core doesn't interest me in the slightest as a fictional mode. If I want textual therapy, I'll write or read non-fiction. If I want genuine therapy, I'll see a therapist. I write and read not to be taken deeper into my or other people's problems, but rather to be taken out of them, to touch something transcendent above and beyond my concerns, however real and painful those concerns might be.

I write genre not as a cloak or shield, but because I really enjoy the idea of magical worlds and the emphatically not real. That's part of why I always start with world in my writing. I want to come up with a could be that is believable and even fascinating. I think of myself as an entertainer and mythologist and to me the idea that by not "cutting to the core" I might have failed is simply silly.

Writing has many purposes, and while "cutting to the core" may be the intent and interest of some writers—and more power to them—to claim that it is or should be the reason to write and read for everyone is absurd and fallacious. I'm a storyteller. I make stuff up and it entertains people. It's actually very simple.

Here endeth the rant. Flames and Kudos happily accepted.

Friday, December 22, 2006

Quick Hit

Justine Musk has an interesting article called "Writing from the Flaw" up at the Storytellers Unplugged blog that I thought resonated with some of the things we've talked about here.

Thursday, December 21, 2006

Pen Names (Hopes and Fears IV)

There are five good business reasons to use a pen name. I am likely to write under multiple names for the first two, and it is possible that at some point I will be forced into the third, though I hope not.

Overpublishing (see H&F III below). You produce more novels than the market, in the form of your editor(s) are willing to let you publish. This can be because you've got a big back catalog that shouldn't all be released at once, or because you're simply a fast writer—more than two books a year. I definitely fall into category one, and I'm hoping to fall into two as well once I can get loose of some non-writing commitments and gear up to writing at the pace I think I can comfortably achieve.

And now, a digression (are you surprised? Didn't think so). If you can write more than two books a year without a significant deterioration in the quality of your work, your chance for long term financial success as a writer is significantly increased. This is because, A, you get paid more on simple linear basis and it helps build a dedicated readership if you produce reliably and, B, a good part of writing income is a non-linear phenomena. Book advances can run anywhere from ~5,000 dollars (a typical advance for a new writer) to ~3-4,000,000-deep fantasyland for almost everyone but the tip-top sellers in the fiction markets. Advances are based on previous sales which are wildly non-linear. 20,000-50,000 copies is pretty good for a first book, and what a lot of writers sell each time out. However, every so often, for reasons that no one seems to understand, a book will hit the sweet spot in the reading public's mind and take off like a rocket. It is not unlike winning the lottery, though the returns are generally lower in comparison to the work involved. And, of course, the more books you write and sell, the more chances you have to hit big.

Multiple Unrelated Genres or Styles. Say you write sweet sappy romances, dark vicious serial killer murder mysteries, and oblique literary fantasy. The readership overlap for these is not going to be huge, and if a reader of one of these stumbles on another by dint of looking your name up and ordering from the other genre, the cognitive dissonance may cause them to have trouble reading future books from the you they liked before. In my case, I've written high-fantasy farce, adventure fantasy with a humorous element, dark adventure fantasy, urban noir fantasy, and dark to very dark YA fantasy. If you add in short stories and partials, I've also written space opera, hard sf, psychological and fantastic horror, light murder mystery, romance and a variety of poetry. I guarantee that someone going from my farcical FimbulDinner short (WT #339) to The Black School's ultra-dark WW II YA without any warning is going to feel a certain amount of whiplash.

Dead Name. Because of the way sales are now tracked and books bought, an author, even a multiple-award-winning author with decent if not great sales can end up in a position where the editor who loves their work can't buy books from them under that name anymore. This leads to one of two choices, quit writing or use a new name. For people like me, who can't not write, the choice is an easy one. It's even one I've consciously planned for and, though some writers have trouble with the idea of writing under a name other than their own, I don't. One of the reasons I'm seriously considering starting a pen name sooner rather than later is to try to establish multiple parallel careers from the get-go. For writers who choose this route there is a decision to be made in concert with their editor, which is: how open should I be about being multiple people? There are writers who use multiple pen names that everyone who wants to make even a modicum of effort can dig out. There are also writers who have pen names that are so secret that when the writer makes an appearance they do so under that name with no hint to anyone that they exist as any other person. And, of course, there are writers who fall everywhere in between.

Necessary Anonymity. This can come from having a dead name, mentioned immediately above, or from having a non-writing career that is incompatible with your literary work. For example, an author who writer fetish erotica as second career or hobby while working with children in the day job. This is one of those cases, where no matter how good and responsible the writer is in their day job, there is going to be a certain percentage of parents who would object violently to the idea.

Unpronounceable/Hard to Remember/Too Long for a Book Spine. I think this one is self-explanatory.

Other reasons. There are many other reasons why someone might choose to write under a pen name, and I'd love to hear about that in comments, but I think I've covered the bases for business choices. I'd like to note also that I've heard from a couple of editors that they prefer where possible to have writers write under their own names, and are somewhat suspicious of writers who "don't want to put their name to their work." Also, anyone submitting work under a pen name must include their real name with the submission. Names and pen names are authorial tools, use them well. And that's all for now.

So, do you write under a pen name? If so, why? Does the idea of writing under a pen name make you unhappy? Also, why?

Tuesday, December 19, 2006

Naming Names

It's always a process to name my characters. If their names are in another language, I try to search through names in that language for meaningful, revealing characteristics. Sometimes, it's just a matter of getting the right feel for a character. "No, 'Amy' feels wrong. She's more like a 'Susan,'" I'll think.

However, in ridding my office of its perenial migration of frost-fleeing beetles, I have discovered the possible root of another character's name:

Box Elder
_ox _lder
Fox Mulder

Ah ha! Bet you're all wishing you'd thought of it, yeah?


Seriously, though, how do you name your characters, your cities and cultures, their languages? What is that process like for you?

Monday, December 18, 2006

Quick Hit

Over at Making Light Teresa Nielsen Hayden has posted some excerpts from an article by Keith Snyder on Novels in Progess and solving writing problems. The post is here. Very interesting stuff.

Hopes and Fears III

Here we go again. See H&F I and H&F II for more context.

Overpublishing. One of the big things that a writer who has a big back catalog of books and/or is a fast writer has to think about after making that first break is overpublishing. Or, at least I've been warned about it, and it seems worth a mention here. There is a belief in the industry that any author publishing much more than one book every six months runs the risk of cannibalizing their own sales. The idea is that readers have a finite amount of money they're willing to spend on your books, and you can end up with a situation where people are buying one of the three books you have out and not the other two because they've released so close together that the money to buy all three simply isn't there, and that if they had been released further apart all three would have been bought.

Since this doesn't fit my own readership patterns at all, I'm not entirely sure I buy it. I think it's probably a function of a mindset built around the idea that most writers aren't going to produce more than one or at most two novels a year. Whatever the reason, it seems to be a dominant idea within the industry, so it's something that affects how books are released whether it's true or not. And, I will freely admit, they may be right. They have access to book sales data that spans years and I don't. This leads to the advice I've gotten from multiple writing and editing pros.

If you're in a position to release more than two books a year, especially early in your career, you should either write in multiple genres or write under multiple pen names or both. I'm currently working on the multiple genres model, and I'm actively trying to crack the YA markets as well as Fantasy as well as having several mysteries in various stages of plotting and execution. I will probably try the pen names route as well at sometime in the future if I can get my production up to where I'd like it to be. I'll get to that in my next post. In the meantime, I'd like to ask this:

If readers have a finite book budget for books like yours, why does competing with yourself for that market under a different name make more sense than doing it under your own name?

If someone could explain that one to me it would an enormous relief. And that brings us to the end of another exciting episode of hopes and fears. Tune in next time when Kelly will babble incessantly about the pros and cons of Pen Names.

In the meantime, any thoughts you have on overpublishing, market gluts, or the state of the market for widgets would be much appreciated.

Saturday, December 16, 2006

Hopes and Fears II

I said here that I would return to some of the things I've been thinking about after making the big breakthrough of selling my first book. So, here we are. Let me begin again with the caveat that I'm truly delighted to be where I am in my career. I have one book out that is doing well so far, one forthcoming, and five under consideration along with five proposals.

Further sales: In some ways the place you're at after selling the first book is just a matter of same game bigger stakes since you have to sell the next one now to prove the last one wasn't a fluke. I've been here before, more than once. It happened after I sold my first short story, and again when I hit the pro mark at three professional sales but still hadn't sold a novel. The order of difficulty you have in selling your work looks something like this going from hardest to easiest : 1st novel contract (1 or more books), 1st short story sale, 2nd novel contract, 3rd novel contract, 2nd story sale, further novel contracts, further story sales. No matter where you are in your career, making the next jump is always a worry. Especially since you're only as valuable as your last book's sales and only as interesting as the quality of the next one.

Writing to contract: I think this one is scary for most writers. You had however long it took to write the book that landed you a contract. Maybe you even wrote an entire trilogy that way and sold the lot. Now, you've got a contract for a book that isn't yet written and a bright shiny deadline. You may or may not have an outline, and you may or may not have ever written from an outline before. In my case I had a contract that specified a sequel to the first one. No title, no outline, nothing but the word sequel. That blank page can be scary. As of last month, mine's done, and in, and accepted, and that's a huge relief. For me this was less scary than for many because I'd already completed eight novel when I hit that blank page, but even so I had a few moments of panic.

Empty cupboard: Running out of books/stories/ideas. Which of these aflicts you will differ with your production. In my case, ideas are not a problem. If I stopped having them tomorrow, I'd still have enough plot outlines and story ideas tucked away to see me through quite a number of years of high production without any worries. But I know at least a couple of writers who tend to get one big idea at a time and then write it. They are always worried about whether or not there'll be another idea ready when they need to write the next book or proposal. That's very scary. I also know writers who've sold everything they've written. On one level you have to think cool! But at the same time there's suddenly a lot more pressure because now you're relying solely on future production to fill the pipeline. I'm not there yet, not even close, but I find the idea more than a little frightening. Knowing that I've got several older books around that I can send out is enormously reassuring. It means that if I have a huge family crises that slows or stops my production for a time, I'm not without a fallback plan.

Again, I've gone long without talking about all the things I wanted to talk about. Sigh. I guess I'll end here and get into overpublishing, pen names, and competing with yourself next time around.

As always, I'd love to hear your thoughts on all of this. So was this; A, useful information? B, silly writer angst? C, something else entirely? D, a large wombat?

Wednesday, December 13, 2006

Narrative Voice and the Sexy Single POV

Just a quick note to add to Lyda's comment on narrative voice below. I pretty much agree with everything she says, with one notable exception that she actually doesn't address, the multiple-viewpoint novel.

Multiple viewpoint makes for a real challenge to the idea of narrative voice because you have to make a decision between narration in the individual characters' voices and narration in a neutral voice-of-the-novel voice.

If you choose the former, you have to make sure that the switches between character voices aren't so violent that they destroy the cohesion of the book. This can be worked by making sure that your transitions come either at scenes that bridge the gaps between characters, and by sorting the order of your characters very carefully.

If you go for the latter the trick is to keep it from blanding out the non-dialogue scenes. You can get at this by making very slight tone and language variations from character to character and by giving the book a powerful personal voice of its own.

My own personal choice is to lean toward the latter with dashes of the former and I think I've done a fairly successful job of it when I've tried it, though the other Wyrdsmiths might do a better job of making a fair call. The Urbana had six strong viewpoints that I can think of off hand, and Winter of Discontent had four primary viewpoints and nine lesser ones. It's always a balancing act.

What about you o' wise reader? I've learned quite a number of things already by throwing open the floor. How do you handle the tone of narrative voice in multiple viewpoint stories? Am I missing some vital point here? Saying something the strikes you as dead wrong?

Tuesday, December 12, 2006

Predictive Writing and Accidental Magic

Writing about the future is a dicey business. Do you ever worry that something you write might come true? I had written about how a Pagan organization took advantage of a “freedom for religion” act in the first Archangel Protocol book. A friend of mine sent me this link:

“Jerry Falwell, Secret Druid” (World-of-Crap).

Spooky. It’s almost like I willed this into being, yet different enough that it stays just outside of the realm of magic.

Anyone else have stories like this?

Monday, December 11, 2006

“What’s My Motivation?” Creating Character Through Action, Dialogue and Intent

This post is one that appeared on Tate Hallaway's blog some time ago, but I thought it might continue the conversation Kelly started about voice:


Creating believable characters is the essence of fiction writing. But how is it _actually_ done?

First of all, I don’t think anyone really knows. So much of writing is magic, after all. (I mean that quite seriously, but maybe that’s a post for another day.) Even so, it is also a craft. There are tricks of the trade that help flat words on the page blossom into vivid, living imaginary creatures.

One such trick is what is called narrative voice.

I searched desperately for a good definition of what is meant by narrative voice and I didn’t come up with much of any use. So, I’ll have to stumble through an explanation of my own. The narrative is comprised of the parts of the story that is not dialogue. That would include all of the description, the internal dialogue (if there is any), the action, and everything (except the bits in quotations). The narrative voice, therefore, is the way – the tone, if you will – in which those parts are written.

Your narrative will be in a point of view (the usual suspects: first or third). It will be in a verb tense of some sort (past or present).

The voice, on the other hand, will convey a certain kind of personality, such as chatty, sarcastic, militaristic, hesitant, or angry. Since your story is being told, in essence, by the main character, the narrative voice (remember: the bits in between) should reflect their personality as much as the character’s dialogue and actions. It will be consistent throughout the text, ie. your chick-lit heroine will still be chatty even during the scary scenes or the sad scenes. She’ll just be chatty in a scared way or a sad way. Though not necessarily when she’s talking (dialogue), but when she’s explaining things to us, the readers.

One of the big mistakes beginning writers often make is to underutilize the narrative voice. I don’t know why, but a lot of people seem to approach those parts of the story as if they’re the boring bits. He walked into the room, yada, yada.

No, no, no. The narrative is where your character LIVES. If your critique group is telling you that your characters feel flat, this may be part of your problem.

The narrative voice is the reader’s main window into the mind, the emotional state, and the… well, character of your main character. So, he walked into a room. Is it a room he’s been in before? Does the room make him feel instantly at ease? Why? What about it? Is it the dried flower arrangement collecting dust in the sunlight that reminds him of his mother’s house? Is the room warm? And, how does this reflect the plot (or the theme)? Is this room a place in which he’s going to take shelter after having his world-view shaken after discovering his lover is a werewolf? If so, what about this familiar place suddenly feels wrong?

Plus, as I’ve said many times before I think one of the reasons readers read is to get a sense of what it’s like to be someone else. We want someone else’s take on the familiar. So he walked into a room, is there something there I might understand, relate to? Okay, so I’ve never discovered my lover is a werewolf, but what is it about walking into a room you’ve been in a million times before after hearing some world altering news that is universal to the human experience? Or maybe it’s not even that close. Maybe it’s like the feeling of wrong familiarness that you get once you’ve been overseas and come home, and you look at all the houses in the Midwest with their expansive lawns that you’ve grown up with all your life, and suddenly they seem far too far apart.

That’s part of using narrative voice to its full potential.

The other part is word choice. Part of keeping your narrative voice consistent is remembering to always use the kinds of words your main character would know when describing people, places, and things. For example, a nuclear physicist would describe a garden in a different way than a ten-year old girl.

One of the more difficult parts of writing is remembering to always stay in your main character’s head – to think like they do. One of the reasons I don’t like to read much horror, particularly the kinds of horror novels where there’s a serial killer who has p.o.v. chapters is that I hate getting into the mindset of someone so damaged. And, when a writer does it well, that’s exactly what happens. It can be kind freaky, actually. See my nephew’s blog (Sunday, January 29) where he talks about reading American Psycho.

Friday, December 08, 2006

Regarding the Wombat

"[The wombat] burrowed in the ground whenever it had an opportunity, and covered itself in the earth with surprising quickness. It was quiet during the day, but constantly in motion in the night: was very sensible to cold; ate all kinds of vegetables; but was particularly fond of new hay, which it ate stalk by stalk, taking it into its mouth like a beaver, by small bits at a time. It was not wanting in intelligence, and appeared attached to those to whom it was accustomed, and who were kind to it. When it saw them, it would put up its forepaws on the knee, and when taken up would sleep in the lap. It allowed children to pull and carry it about, and when it bit them did not appear to do it in anger or with violence. "

— Everard Home (1809)

The Shape and the Power of the Voice

Voice is the difference between fiction and a sort of journalism of events that never happened. Strong voice is "Now is the winter of our discontent made glorious summer by this our sun of York," instead of "My brother's victory made me feel good." Strong voice is "It was the best of times, it was the worst of times," instead of "things were mixed."

The single most important element of fiction is storytelling. And that can be broken into having a good story to tell and telling it in a compelling way, i.e. strong voice. It is one of the more difficult aspects of craft to master, and the vast majority of writers begin by copying someone else's voice. To have a strong consistent voice that is distinctly yours is a significant achievement.

There are series of steps where it comes to voice which most professional writers must pass through on their way to mastery:

1. Recognizing and understanding the idea of voice.
2. Writing with any voice at all (usually imitated).
3. Finding a voice of one's own.
4. Using that voice.
5. Doing so with consistancy.

There is a 6th step as well, but it's essentially optional. It is creating voices that are distinctive and personal and that also suit the tone of the written piece perfectly, so that each story is both completely yours and completely its own. That last one is very difficult, and I don't know anyone who does it with real consistency. But 6 isn't necessary to a long and fruitful career or to excellent writing. There are any number of writers whose work I love and respect who only ever go as far as step 5. Whether they could master 6 if they wanted to is, of course, an open question since it has to be exhibited to be judged.

So, any thoughts on voice? Have you found yours? If so how? The steps above? A completely different process? If there anyone whose voice you particularly admire?

Thursday, December 07, 2006

Late to the Influences Party

Most of the authors of influence for me have already been named here, so I'm just going to run through those names aqnd some other quickly: Shakespeare, Milton, and Chaucer, for their skill at retelling tales and exposing the humanity of their characters; J.R.R. Tolkein, Jules Verne, C.S. Lewis, and H.G. Wells for the grandness of their vision; Bradbury and Poe for their darkness and their lyricism; Orson Scott Card for the honesty of his characters; Hemingway for his quietude; Byron, Frost, Whitman, and Emerson for believing in beauty still; and the unknown authors of Beowulf and other ancient myths, the grandeur of whose stories is seldom matched today, and whose inspiration we draw upon so often in shaping our own tales.

There are a couple of others though that no one has mentioned, and who for me had had a significant impact:

Hermann Hesse has a fantastic dichotomy between emotion and logic that runs through most of his work, and which he spent years exploring. No where is it more in the forefront than in Narcissus and Goldmund, though it is a significant theme in both Steppenwolf and Demian, and to a lesser degree in his seminal Siddhartha. I've always been fascinated by what I believe is not an entirely artificial distinction between the gut-level, animal ways and the abstract mental ways of relating to the world, so I've greatly appreciated his work at exploring those ideas.

Guy Gavriel Kay has been and remains an inspiration to me, both for the mastery of his stand-alone works Tigana, A Song for Arbonne, and The Lions of Al-Rassan, and the imperfection of his earliest writings (The Fionavar Tapestry)--and above all, the beauty he draws out from the extraordinarily human characters he writes, whether they be beggars or kings. He is able to invoke the capacity for greatness in anyone, which I find very appealing both as a reader and as a writer, and he does so with a loving ear for the language, which is always a bright point for me. One of my biggest attractions in reading a story is in finding words well-crafted and lovingly laid out, something at which Kay excels.

And Faulkner, whom I pick up on occasion solely to remind myself that the art of words cannot, ever, become more important than communicating clearly to the reader, else I cease to be a storyteller and become instead an idiot rambling drunkenly in the inky dark blackness to myself and those unfortunate enough to stand nearby or those who would read on and on despite an utter lack of structure or sentences or even thought process evident beneath the surface of the la-ti-da tonal sounds of hearing myself talk...

Not all Faulkner, but enough.

Tuesday, December 05, 2006

Favorites and Masters, My Take

One of the things I’ve discovered is that books that I held dear in my youth don’t always stand up to re-reading now that I’ve become more aware of the craft of writing. It’s the whole Man Behind the Curtain syndrome. Magic appears less awesome once you’ve seen the strings and know to watch The Other Hand.

That being said there are specific books that I will always consider masterful, even if I have vowed never to re-read them, least I spoil the magic.

Ender’s Game by Orson Scott Card
Last Call by Tim Powers
When Gravity Fails by George Alec Effinger
Mona Lisa Overdrive by William Gibson
Days of Atonement by Walter Jon Williams
Trouble and Her Friends by Melissa Scott
Ring of Swords by Eleanor Arnason
Watership Down by Richard Adams
Zen Attitude by Sujata Massey
The Bright Spot by Robert Sydney
WarChild by Karen Lowachee
Dragonflight by Anne McCaffery
Deryni Rising by Katherine Kurtz
Fahrenheit 451 by Ray Bradbury

Short Stories:
“Grammarian’s Five Daughters” by Eleanor Arnason
“On Venus Have We Got a Rabbi” by William Tenn
“The Tale of the Golden Eagle” by David Levine
“Written In Blood” by Chris Lawson
"The Veldt" by Ray Bradbury
"Harrison Bergeron" by Kurt Vonnegut
"World Well Lost" by Theodore Sturgeon
"Eyes of Amber" by Joan Vinge

Of course the problem with these lists is that as soon as I make them I can think of twenty more books I consider masterful.

Monday, December 04, 2006

Perfect Books

Over the years I've found a few of what I call perfect books, stories where I wouldn't change a word. There are hundreds of books that I love and periodically reread and thousands that I've enjoyed, but only a few that I would call perfect, and some of my favorites don't make the list. Here they are, in no particular order:

Roger Zelazney-Nine Princes in Amber
Vernor Vinge-A Fire Upon the Deep
Robin McKinley-Sunshine
Martha Wells-The Element of Fire
Martha Wells-Death of the Necromancer
Tim Powers-Anubis Gates
Tim Powers-Last Call
Christopher Hinz-Liege Killer
Neil Gaiman-Neverwhere
Lois McMaster Bujold-A Civil Campaign
Neil Stephenson-Zodiac
Emma Bull-War for the Oaks
S.M. Stirling-Marching Through Georgia
H. Beam Piper-Space Viking
Terry Pratchett-Feet of Clay
Terry Pratchett-Small Gods
Pamela Dean-Tam Lin
Nina Kiriki Hoffman-The Thread that Binds the Bones

Sunday, December 03, 2006

Another Collection of Giants

The first fantasy novel that grabbed me and truly pulled me into the genre was The Hobbit, read between seventh and eighth grades. I'd read a lot of random things before that, but never really delved into a specific genre until that point. LOTR followed quickly, and then pretty much any fantasy & SF I could get my hands on. I was hooked. So, in terms of drawing me into it all, J.R.R. gets the main credit on that one. I know there were fantastic stories for me before that (for example, I read Greek mythology voraciously in sixth grade), but nothing as seminal as The Hobbit.

In terms of authors who have influenced me, or to whom I look as examples in some way...

Roger Zelazny
In many ways, Zelazny is The Man in my writer's book. His prose, craft, dry sense of humor, imagination, and ability to weave myth and religion and future and past together has always wowed me. He's one of the few authors I find I keep coming back to over and over, just for the pleasure of it. I can see his impact on my style, and I'm honestly happy for that. I'll always be thrilled that I got to hear him do a reading in New Mexico.

Raymond Chandler and Dashiell Hammett
I've always loved hard-boiled detective fiction in the movies and, later, in printed fiction. I tend to forget how much these two men have effected my narrative flow, my story structure, my themes, dialogue, and characters, until I start to re-read them (as I am doing now). Wow. It's sometimes frightening to see just how much I have pulled from their styles. Some of my first stories were pale shadows (or deliberate send-ups, in some cases) of their work. To this day, I still favor first person narration in much of my writing.

Edgar Allen Poe
Even though I don't write much that is classically dark, Poe was one of those authors I read early on who made a deep impression on me. His morbid imagination and sense of the darker side of man, and the world, resonated with me. He's not as much to my taste now, but he was there early on, and continues to linger.

George Alec Effinger
When Gravity Fails, A Fire in the Sun, The Exile Kiss. Holy shit.

Arturo Perez-Reverte
A more recent influence for me (the past eight to ten years?), but a strong one. His writing is simply beautiful, his plotting sharp and tight, his research and presentation fantastic. Just plain wonderful stories on many levels. Someday, maybe, I hope to write half as well.

Big Trouble In Little China
Okay, it's a movie, not a book or writer, but it's damn fun. It's also what I want at least some of my fiction to be: a fun, fast ride that you'd like to go on again (and again, and again). And, let's face it, Jack Burton has his moments as a hero, and some damn good lines, too. There are worse thing to aspire to.

An Author Who Shall Remain Nameless
Someone whose book (part of a series) I literally threw across the room in disgust in college, causing me to proclaim, "Well, hell, I know I can do better than that! Maybe I can be a writer." This is no revelation now (I know bad books get published all the time), but at the time, it was a powerful validation of my own early aspirations as a writer. It also gave me some very real motivation.

After that, there are various authors or books that have impacted in some significant way: Glen Cook's early Black Company books; Stephen Donaldson's first Covenant series (it taught me it was okay to loathe a protagonist); Walter Mosley's Easy Rawlins mysteries; Steven Brust - his first books were remarkably similar to my 0wn writing in tone and style at the time, which told me there was a market for what I was doing after all; Mike Resnick's Santiago, for the sheer fun of its space-frontier approach; Thieves' World; Alexandre Dumas; various musical artists; several good (and not so good) movies.

I am sure there are other influences I no longer remember; but the ones listed above are those that still linger in my consciousness, or that I sometimes glimpse wandering through my prose. The neat thing is, I don't mind finding them there at all.


Unpacking the overstuffed trunk of my influences seems like a messy business for a Sunday afternoon. But I can surely share what's lighting up my mind right now:

On the nightstand
Finder: Mystery Date trade paperback, by Carla Speed McNeil
DC: The New Frontier absolute edition, by Darwyn Cooke
Twilight X: War trade paperback, by Joseph Wight
The Tourmaline, by Paul Park
The Road, by Cormac McCarthy
The Odyssey, trans. Robert Fagles
Death and Taxes, by Dorothy Parker*
Good Night, Gorilla, by Peggy Rathmann
* A book of surpassing specialness: the first edition (Viking, 1931).

In the DVD player*
Battlestar Galactica, season 2.0, disk 1
Battlestar Galactica, season 2.0, disk 2
Battlestar Galactica, season 2.0, disk 3
Battlestar Galactica, season 2.5, disk 1
Battlestar Galactica, season 2.5, disk 2
Battlestar Galactica, season 2.5, disk 3
* Yes: a six-disk changer. Can you say "obsessed"?

In the CD player
Red Hot Chili Peppers, Californication
Richard Thompson, Daring Adventures
Glenn Gould, Bach: The Goldberg Variations
Earth, Wind, and Fire, Greatest Hits
Arvo Pärt, De Profundis

Quick Hit

Interesting diary on writing, with a challenge attached over at Daily Kos.


Ooh, this one sounds like fun.

Tolkien and Shakespeare are the foundations on which all my later reading and writing are built. I was raised by an English major who began to read both to me before I could speak. She read me children's books as well, but my strongest early memories of story come from the Lord of the Rings, The Hobbit, A Midsummer Night's Dream, Richard III, The Tempest, Lear, MacBeth, Romeo and Juliet, and Hamlet. The rhythms and poetry and magic in those stories are so deep in my soul I can't separate inspiration from self.

Andre Norton was the first author whose work I pursued on my own, and I can hear her sometimes as I write a sentence. She was followed by Anne McCaffrey whose influence I'm sure is there even if I can't pick it out. Then came H. Beam Piper who is still one of my very favorite authors for his ability to layer deep and intricate historical context into stories that read like space opera. As a reader I dabbled with Niven and Pournelle, flirted with Kurtz, and fell hard for Zelazney. His self-aware sarcasm and understanding that family makes for the bitterest enemies is plain to see in WebMage and its sequel Cybermancy.

After I started writing came Terry Pratchett—an international treasure and whose synthesis of humor and hard truths I try to touch on in my own lighter work—and Tim Powers—who I can't praise highly enough—is a looming shadow in my dark stories.

I'm sure I'm missing others, but those are the strongest influences, the ones I'm sure have colored everything I write. This post has also reminded me of something I've been meaning to do here, post my list of perfect books, and my definition of what that means. Perhaps tomorrow. In the meantime, think about what you consider a perfect book and what might go on your list.

Friday, December 01, 2006


I discovered SF through Star Wars, which I saw when I was four years old. It was hugely influential on my imaginative life as a little kid: I spent hours playing Star Wars alone or with friends, using pantomime lightsabers because my parents freaked out if we swung sticks at each other. I decided early on that Han Solo was cooler than Luke Skywalker (because he was) but I was deeply dissatisfied with Leia as a character (despite her excellent target-shooting skills -- Lyda commented once that clearly all Princesses in the Star Wars universe spend hours each week at target-shooting practice because they're the only ones who can hit what they're shooting at) so I improved on the franchise by adding the character of Han Solo's younger sister, who was just like Han but female.

I discovered SF and fantasy books a few years after I started reading. I re-read A Wrinkle In Time so many times that my copy fell apart. (Which is too bad; L'Engle came to town when I was about nine and my mom took me to her signing, so it's an autographed book.) I read The Hero and the Crown when I was thirteen, and re-read it fiendishly as well. I was drawn to books about outsiders: I also read Elizabeth Speare's The Witch of Blackbird Pond to pieces. (It's a historical novel set in Puritan New England: Kit, who grew up in Barbados with her Anglican grandfather, comes to live with her Puritan uncle's family in Connecticut. Mayhem -- of the dour Puritan sort -- ensues.) I also read a whole lot of post-apocalyptic kids' SF -- the only books I remember individually were by an author named Hoover, whose books are being reprinted now by Tor. There was one in particular (called This Time of Darkness, I think) that involved people who lived in this enclosed "city" because outside was dangerous and toxic. The city turned out to be underground, and the outside turned out not to be as bad as they'd been led to believe. The twist of this book is on at least one "twists that aren't" list I've seen for SF authors, but I found it both stunning and satisfying as a ten-year-old. (And it may have been original and shocking at that point.)

I was fascinated by boarding schools as a kid, and I loved the book A Little Princess. When I was 13 and lived in England, I discovered the Enid Blyton series, The Girls of St. Clare. I love the Harry Potter books, but I think having read Enid Blyton gives me a greater appreciation for them: they're written within a great English children's literary tradition (the School Story) and there are nods to the conventions of these books even as Rowling subverts them. I don't understand why Scholastic doesn't buy the rights to Blyton's classic boarding school books (there was another series, too) and promote them in the U.S. as the prototypes of Harry Potter. I'm positive that part of why the Harry Potter series was so successful was the weird appeal of the boarding school book.

As an adult, probably my favorite author is Lois McMaster Bujold. The first of her books that I picked up was The Curse of Chalion, and it's still my favorite of her books, but I loved the Miles series, as well. I really love the fact that her characters are incredibly compelling, and the plots are convoluted but (a) I can follow them without taking notes and (b) somehow everything unravels at the end with no snarls or knots -- and on top of all that, her books tackle BIG issues (freedom, slavery, fidelity, honor) in a really thoughtful way (she engages with the issues, she doesn't just point at them and say "oh look, over there, an issue!") without ever being preachy or making me feel like I'm being whacked upside the head with the moral she wants me to take away. Also, her books are hilariously funny. Reading her as a writer, her books inspire me to take risks.

There are a couple of non-fiction books I've re-read an unseemly number of times. Kind of an odd bunch. Essays by George Orwell -- I initially read this for a class on Advanced Rhetoric in college, and have re-read several of the essays periodically since. The Spirit Catches You and You Fall Down is a non-fiction book about a Hmong child with epilepsy, and how her care was hindered by the culture clash between her parents and doctors; it's a fascinating book, and every time I've picked it up for some reason I've wound up re-reading the whole thing. The Kid by Dan Savage, where he writes about adopting his son -- again, I've picked it up a few times to type an excerpt into a conversation, and wound up re-reading the whole thing.

Thumbprints On My Brain

The question of authors that inspire you came up on fangs, fur & fey and I thought my response might be interesting to people here.

William Gibson, and the all the various and sundry spawn of his “Movement” cyberpunk – I think everything I write is tainted by my first real sub-genre love affair. My fascination with Gibsonesque dystopias clearly imbues my gritty urban settings (because Madison, Wisconsin is the epitome of dark, urban grittiness… okay, maybe I was thinking of Other Me.) But, I think a case could be made that even in Tall, Dark and Dead, one can see the swirls of cyberpunk fingerprints smudging the edges of my worldview. There are a lot of punks in my writing – people who are a bit outside of the system. Plus, my vamps aren’t of the fluffy variety, they tend to fall on the darker side.

Katherine Kurtz – A major teen influence. I read every book of hers I could find and then spent hours writing fan fic and fantasizing that I was Alaric Morgan (among others.)

Eleanor Arnason – The first professional writer I ever met was Eleanor Arnason. I’d seen her speak at various science fiction conventions previously, but we bonded at a membership meeting for the National Writers Union over being both speculative fiction writers and writers of fiction (both rarities). She was the first person who made me think that it was possible for real people to become published authors.

Sandra Hill – The first funny romance I read was her Last Viking, a book that changed my mind about the romance genre in general.

Then in no order in particular: Fredrick Pohl, in particular, his novel Gateway. Star War the movie for me, but also the Han Solo books, particularly Han Solo’s Revenge. Ray Bradbury, George Alec Effinger, the Thieves’ World books, School House Rock, Sesame Street (especially the lovable, furry Grover), John Milton, X-Files, Marvel Comics and probably dozens of others that I’ve forgotten.

Who inspires you?

Quick Hit

Great post on identifying scam publishers (via making light).