Wednesday, March 30, 2011

Legwork

Not my own, mind you. This is an article Chris Gavaler wrote about promotion after his first novel was sold to Harper Collins. It highlights the increasing trend of authors being expected to handle and pay for their own publicity. Not that this is an issue for me yet, mind.

Tuesday, March 29, 2011

Technology and the Supply Side of Physical Fiction

I've been looking into the physical costs of printing books and magazines, and I've found some neat stuff.

Mag Cloud- an hp service to print glossy on-demand physical magazines for the "long tail" at 20 cents a page. Basically a magazine version of the well known and apparently generally groovy print on demand book service Lulu.

The Espresso Book Machine- which can crank out a paperback book in about 4 minutes.

If any of you guys know anything more about machines that can print and bind books and/or magazines, I would love to hear about it!

Friday, March 25, 2011

Private Person

I took a creative writing class back in college. All of us were assigned poems and all but four of us were assigned short stories. The remainder, which included me, were assigned "creative nonfiction"- that is to say a narrative presentation of something true from our own lives.

What I wrote was a rather loose narrative of sitting at my keyboard, having had an incident of genuine personal revelation that was truly important to me, and all of the reasons I had no intention of writing it for the class. It got a mixed reaction from the other students, but the teacher liked it, so I suppose that's alright.

I've been thinking about it for a number of reasons, though the immediate catalyst was reading other writers' blogs and watching them share things so heartbreakingly personal that I would hesitate to discuss them with the best of my friends. And here they were, flinging them out into the uncontrolled void, to land on who knows what sharp rocks, to be exposed to the unknown elements of other people's minds and hearts. I was jealous, mortified, exhilarated, and I think a little ashamed.

Part of the reason I think it's all knotted up in my mind is that that specific honest emotional component is something I had genuinely loved about those writers' stories, and I think it's something that's often missing from mine. And I don't think there's a good way to fake it, which means I would need to open myself up to the weird distant intimacy that comes when you really put yourself out into your fiction. I'm not really comfortable with that, except in very specific ways. I think the thing I'm least willing to share with people is joy, honestly, and I think it's fair to say that my writing comes out a little darker and more hopeless for it. Joy's a funny thing sometimes- light and delicate as a soap bubble, and while it's probably tougher than I usually give it credit for, I have a terrible tendency to hoard my little joys to myself, for fear that others, not understanding, will mishandle them or mock me about them. I'm generally quite a happy, upbeat person, but if I were a house, I would tend to entertain on my front porch, and most of my back rooms would be tightly locked.

In life and in writing, it's something I probably need to work on.

Wednesday, March 23, 2011

Monetizing

I'm considering taking advantage of google adsense offer to pay me money to put ads in the blog. I'm not completely sold on it, and I'm a little bothered by the part of the adsense contract where people who do have it aren't allowed to discuss the revenue they bring in. Would ads bother any of you guys? have any of you had experience with this program you'd like to share?

If people say they're bothered, I absolutely won't. If I do go ahead with it, I'll probably start with a trepidatious little add somewhere in the sidebar and see what kind of money that makes.

Tuesday, March 22, 2011

Moorcock on Tolkien

Just as a fair warning, Moorcock is not necessarily a Tolkien fan. This is a reprint of an older article talking about epic fantasy (Tolkien and those after him) in terms of bourgeois Tory infantilism and the language of nostalgia and nursery rhymes.

Epic Pooh.

Side note, apparently Moorcock now lives not too terribly far from me, in a town where we used to go camping. Which is pretty cool and may necessitate a field trip.

Monday, March 21, 2011

Sword and Sorceress

Thanks to Lindsey Duncan for bringing it to my attention that it is once again almost time for Sword and Sorceress anthology submissions, which has become an annual Matter-of-Principal thing for me. I very much believe all out fun swords and sorcery stuff should be just as much a playground for the ladies.

The trick, and this is going to be a stretch for me, is to make sure it isn't grim. Which sounds easy when you just say it like that, but not-grim is really not my strong suit. The stories I'm familiar with from this anthology set actually seem to me to tend strongly towards what I would consider light fantasy.

Well, time to stretch, I guess.

Sunday, March 20, 2011

Blog of Fire and Ice

The Blog of Fire and Ice is a fun chapter by chapter review of the works of George R. R. Martin, with really adorable tongue and cheek observations like:

"Things I've learned about the Starks: they name their swords, live in a place where it snows during the summer, and attend their first executions at age seven. I get it George, they are total badasses. When I was seven my parents wouldn't let me cross the street, let alone keep a giant wolf as a pet. Other things I've learned: Theon is an asshole, Jon the bastard has superhuman hearing, and Lord Stark has no executioner on the payroll."


It's a hoot if you've read the books.

Saturday, March 19, 2011

Review!

Ken Allen Wood, who is, as I've said, an absolutely fabulous person and as wonderful an editor as you could ever wish for, pointed me to a very complementary review of Shock Totem #2 over at The Hat Rack. My story Sweepers got a special mention that made me squeal with girlish joy.

Friday, March 18, 2011

On Making Money

I think we all pretty much have a dream that we're going to become J.-K.-Rowling-wealthy from writing, and then fill our jacuzzis with champagne and underwear models, while using the cash that isn't currently piled up as a makeshift ottoman to undermine the democratic uprisings in whatever country makes our favorite fruit so that our smoothies never get too expensive. Or somesuch like that. Something so wild we can immediately recognize it as a fantasy that we probably ought to keep to ourselves.

And then there's the dream that one might actually be able to support oneself with fiction writing.

I know everyone in the world can point to someone (someone they believe to not even be particularly talented) who has, without what looks like any terrible effort, ascended the sales charts and done quite well for themselves financially. But for each one of those infamous hacks, you can wave your hand across the dark sea of anonymity and the storms above will illuminate the pale and tragic faces of hundreds, possibly thousands of people who've written more than a dozen fairly decent novels and not sold a single one, as well as the hordes of people, huddling in lifeboats of overburdened metaphor, who have sold those dozen novels, but still need to continue as teachers and clerical workers to make ends meet.

Some time ago, I made a decision that I sometimes regret; though on the whole I think it was the right one. That is: I'm not even going to try to write for a living. On the one hand, it does mean I can be more choosy in terms not only of what I write, but of what I submit and where. It shifts my priorities. Since cash is not particularly among them (not that it wouldn't be nice, mind you), the two things I tend to aim for are my own enjoyment and a certain amount of prestige. I tend to feel like if something I've written isn't good enough to perform competitively in a pro market (or a market that I know publishes stories and authors I enjoy), then it simply isn't good enough.

On the other hand, I don't have as much riding on this as someone who needs to succeed financially as well as emotionally. I'm free to be something of a dilettante, and I can't say it does wonders for my discipline. I do sometimes wonder what I would have accomplished if my priorities had been different, and I had believed (rightly or wrongly) enough in my ability to make a living doing this that I had been willing to put all my chips down on it.

Then again, on what is perhaps a grotesque third hand, I'm able to pay rent and eat food originally intended for human consumption, which would not be a guarantee if I were surviving entirely on the fruits of my pen.

The funny thing is, I think if I were to have the option of someone who would work to support me while I tried to write professionally (say, a spouse, or one of those horrible sounding men who posts on craigslist promising to pay your rent or tuition if you'll just let him put his hands on you), I can't say I would do it. Even if the other person could afford it, I'm not sure I could in good conscience let them work all day while I played, and I would, I think, feel this terrible guilt that what I was doing was probably not living up to the money they were putting into it. (Some male friends of mine have commented that in the case of a spouse, I would also be having sex with them, so it evens out, which makes it so much worse, because in that scenario I'd feel I was both a hack and a prostitute.)

I may at some point reevaluate, but there it is for the moment. Not writing for money- not out of nobility, just out of morbid pragmatism.

Saturday, March 12, 2011

Huh!

There is apparently an Internet Speculative Fiction Database of which I am now a part.

Nifty!

Friday, March 11, 2011

Fantastical Holidays

Writing Excuses did a podcast on second world holidays, which I quite enjoyed. My personal favorite was Mary Robinette Kowal's advice never to "take a real world holiday and just file off the serial numbers."

I had some thoughts and they are as follows:

Some common themes in holidays, many of which overlap in single holidays:

Celebrations- something has gone well and the holiday commemorates that. Or sometimes, like Mardi Gras, it's merely a celebration of life. Birthdays, harvests, Independence days, the day Guy Fawkes didn't blow up parliament, Girls' day and Boys' day in Japan (where they celebrate basically having healthy, living children), Christmas (where Christians are celebrating the birth of a savior), wedding anniversaries, weddings themselves, the festivals for the favorite local crop (hundreds of southern US towns have peach or watermelon or strawberry festivals), and so on.

Elegies- remembering what has been lost. Memorial day, Dia de Los Muertos, more recently in the United States the 11th of September, Anzac Day in Australia and New Zealand (which is in memorium for the dead from the Gallipoli campaign in World War I).

Fertility- both human and harvest. Planting celebrations, spring dances, Valentines Day, Honen Matsuri (or Japanese national penis day (you probably shouldn't click that link at work)), Mayday, etc. Generally these tend to have a lot of plant and flower themes and decorations, even when they're not about the harvest, and chances for young men and women to show off for each other.

Memento Mori- reminder that life is fleeting and death will eventually come. This used to be a bigger thing in Western culture than it is now, but you can still see some of it in Halloween, All Saints' Day, Dia de los Muertos, and in Japan it's nominally the reason to contemplate cherry blossoms for the few days they bloom every year (hanami). Memento Mori holidays tend to be in winter.

Proving and Rites of Passage- holidays can be a time to display one's mating plumage, one's wealth or beauty, or one's readiness to be an adult. I found this article looking for the annual Vanuatu land diving festival, and it's got some good rites of passage in it, including the Ethiopian one where they line up all the village cows and have the young men run across their backs, which was the other great one I knew. A lot of festivals may have beauty pageants, strength or athletic challenges, cooking contests, riddles, puzzles, hunts, or even just lotteries (proves you're luck/blessed) with prizes and recognition for the winner.

Historical commemoration- probably the one we're most familiar with, honestly, celebrating historical people and events. Independence day, Martin Luther King Day, Cinco de Mayo, Veteran's day, Christmas (for Christians, this is a very important bit of history), any Saint's feast, President's day, Juneteenth (also known as Emancipation day), Bastille day, and so on.

Commitment to Ideals- when we pick a specific virtue we're supposed to be practicing year round and recommit ourselves to it. Lent and Ramadan (piety, temperance, and self-denial), Yom Kippur (atonement), Thanksgiving (gratitude), Mother's day and Father's day, Valentine's day. These can be some of the most important holidays in their respective cultures, and in religious cultures they often come with a hefty dose of church.


Which is a point worth bringing up. A society will celebrate its tradition generally in a way that's within the bounds of what's important to that culture. Holidays in the US almost all involve a big meal and buying things. Holidays amongst strictly catholic cultures almost always involve a special mass. Holidays in a community that's very interdependent will tend to involve at least a potluck if not an actual potlatch. Think about what's important to your society and that will help you determine if they're going to have a Ramadan or an American Valentines day.

Another major and excellent point the podcast brought up was that not everyone is going to be excited about or on board with your holiday. Plenty of people hate Christmas. It might make them feel alone, or poor, or simply stressed out by all the obligations. Fake holidays will mean different things to different people, the same as real ones do.

The best holidays I have written have tended to be made from one or more isolated pieces of real world holidays remixed and tailored to the society, with a few arbitrary decorative nods that give it the feel of specific tradition. For example, let's take something easy like gift giving from Christmas and strip away all the Christmas off it. Our holiday is primarily just the gift giving, and lots of it. Then, rather than making it a celebration for family and people you get on well with, let's toss some Yom Kippur into the mix- these are gifts of atonement and they are given to people you have wronged. For an arbitrary element, let's pick the color orange- the gifts are always wrapped in orange cloth or paper, or at least have an orange ribbon, so much so that in our society orange has this pervasive conotation of shame and wrongdoing. Picking a time of year is trickier, because it changes what the holiday means depending on where it goes: put it in fall, at harvest time, and it becomes a message of "you are in a position of excess, you should be generous and balance your accounts"; put it in winter and it not only takes on a memento mori quality, but it means people who have been wronged are getting gifts and help in the coldest, darkest part of the year, when they likely need it most; put it in spring, and the emphasis seems naturally to be new beginnings and putting old feuds behind. All of these are great, and there's a hundred potential stories that can spring up: a person who has seriously wronged someone but does not have the money to get them a sufficient gift, and must risk wronging someone else to do it; someone who holds a grudge for something serious, but receives no present or one too small to satisfy their sense of justice; someone who doesn't think they've been wronged at all, but suddenly finds themselves the recipient of a lavish anonymous gift that indicates someone did something terrible to them that they don't know about yet.

So those are my thoughts on made up holidays.

Thursday, March 10, 2011

Novel-ish

My writing group has decided that March will, for us, officially be national novel finishing/editing month. I'm not entirely looking forward to how much work it will take to bang this thing into shape, but it's nice to have people you're going to see once a week to ride you about it.

Tuesday, March 8, 2011

Happy International Women's Day!

I had no idea it was International Women's Day until a gentleman friend of mine mentioned it to me, and forwarded this lovely article. If you're looking for inspirational ladies, it's a fabulous list.

Sunday, March 6, 2011

More Fiction Podcasts!

As you guys know I'm a big fan of the fiction podcasting (I work a job where I'm sometimes driving up to five hours a day). At least three of the big fantasy/sci fi magazines have put out their own audio fiction podcasts.

Clarkesworld's Podcasts are everything you would expect in terms of the literary quality of the magazine. I'm not as enthusiastic as I could be about the host, who tends to end the podcasts by explaining the story in case we missed the point, but the fiction is top notch, and especially nice if you're into a little bit of literary experimentation.

Beneath Ceaseless Skies puts out excellent quality stories across a very broad range of fantasy subgenres (including a pleasantly surprising amount of western). While they're billed as adventure, they tend to be pretty thoughtful, contemplative pieces. Not so much sword fighting adventure as a sense of pushing out into the unknown.

Tor.com tends to run quite long, but a lot of them are very good fun. I recommend "Lightbringers and Rainmakers" especially. Like the fiction on Tor.com, they don't shy away from doing tie-in stories set in the worlds of books they publish, which is alternately awesome and frustrating. Still, very much worth a listen.

Saturday, March 5, 2011

Weird

Let's start, I suppose, by offering up a couple of definitions and examples of "weird" with regards to fiction, because the broad speculative fiction mega-genre includes within its legion ranks magic talking animals, tentacled aliens, and people who turn into wolves, and we take all these things as fairly prosaic.

There is weird fiction that's weird by virtue of a wholey novel or improbable premise. One of my favorite novels, Snow Crash, opens with a half-korean half-african american hacker who has, in the course of his employment with a mafia-run pizza delivery service, come to realize people are far more intimidated when he carries a sword than when he uses his standard issue gun. It's like a Chomsky sentence; all the parts are gramatically correct, but it still takes you a moment to parse because you're not used to the combination. One of my other favorite novels, Even Cowgirls Get the Blues, opens with a discussion several pages long about the relative anal temperature of a couple of animals, notably the oyster and the hummingbird, and the philosophical conclusion that while hummingbirds can generally only make a tiny, wet, white mess, out of the anus of the much cooler oyster, you get a pearl. The larger book is about a woman with freakishly giant thumbs who becomes the world's best hitchhiker, people who worship a giant clock, and a dude ranch to promote vaginal douche products.

That doesn't get any less delightfully freakish when you stretch it out across a whole book, and it's a champion level of weird I don't get anywhere near approaching.

Part of the reason I was thinking about it was having just listened to The Things by Peter Watts (link), which I think expands well beyond what must have been its original aim to tell an old sci-fi horror story from the monster's point of view. A large part of the weirdness here is the outsider looking in.

So here are my guesses about the inherent appeal of weird.

In the first part, completely strange and novel experiences tend to leave a stronger impression. I think when something meets our expectations we have a tendency just to skim over all the parts we already intrinsically understand and just look at the few differences. But when the whole thing is different you're forced to look at and to examine the whole thing just to try to make sense of it. Weird requires far more engagement to comprehend, and when there's something there behind it, I think it makes for some of the most rewarding reading (the example that comes to mind for me is the end of "Canticle for Lebowitz" which is weird and horrifying and tragic and transcendent, certainly for the viewpoint character, but I think for the reader as well).

On the other hand, I've read stories that were intensely weird, but when you unwrapped them, they didn't seem to be saying anything-or worse, they seemed to be saying something utterly trite- and I've found these to be generally disappointing. Though again, something like Jay Lake's "Clown Eggs" really stands up for me, so perhaps the larger issue is that the stories I don't care for stand up as weird, but fail to be a story so much as a chronologically ordered series of events. Possibly chronologically.

Novelty can be a very beautiful thing, that only really works the first time you see a thing- not that you can't enjoy it later, just that at that point it's no longer a surprise. There's a lot of play involved in a good bit of weirdness. Much of it occurs seemingly for its own sake- oh certainly it functions to create an atmosphere within the piece of distortion, of unreality, of a space where anything could happen, but I know when I'm writing something off, or reading it in some of the people whose weirdness I like best, there just seems to be a joyfulness about figuring out just how strange a thing you can ram into a story and have it hold, an electric sort of flirtation with disaster.

There's the lure of the exotic: things so outside our ordinary that they don't exist in a realm of sense. We can make ourselves tourists on the other side of the looking glass.

I also think, for me at least, there is in part some element of feeling like a weird outsider myself at times, and coming to identify with being outside the norm. That's hardly an unusual feeling, but I think there might be something to the idea that one might glom on to stories that seem unique, outside the main stream, subversive, or what have you, because that's something one likes about oneself.

Speaking of subversive, there is a school of thought that surrealism and weirdness works to undermine a rigid dominant, logical, or categorical paradigm, which I guess is true, but I don't think that's generally the appeal in so many words. Then again, if you say the same thing in non-academic speak; that weirdness gives one a chance to play around outside the expectations of every day life, it sounds about right, but more true because it has the emphasis on playing rather than sterile deconstruction.

And I guess when it comes down to it, that whimsical playfulness, even in the dark, somber surrealism, is what I love about weird.

(edit: I apologize for the rambling above. I wrote it all quite late at night)