Saturday, April 30, 2011

Placeholder

I'm attending World Horror Convention this weekend and it's awesome. I will write a blog post. Just... not before I get a little sleep.

Friday, April 29, 2011

The Coming Glut of Questionable Productivity

I think this is possibly a bad idea, but I do love group projects. As such, I have joined my real life writer's group in joining "Story a Day in May". Thirty-one stories in thirty-one days. What could possibly go wrong...?

Thursday, April 28, 2011

Obey

A fabulous essay on authority, nihilism, and fantasy.

Wednesday, April 27, 2011

Author Profile: Saddam Hussein

A fabulous friend sent me a link to a couple of articles about novels written by dictators, with a special emphasis on Saddam Hussein's allegorical Zabiba and the King, in which a pagan king of ancient Iraq learns to love the beautiful and pious peasant Zabiba, and apparently there is also some (possibly metaphorical) sex with bears. (This as opposed to the "erotic" novel written by Dick Cheyney's chief of staff Scooter Libby, which featured actual sex with bears.)

The other book Hussein was a part of creating, and this is true and sort of creepy, is, in beautiful calligraphy, a Koran written in 27 litres of his own blood. The book poses a dilemma for Iraqi muslims, because it's not remotely halal to write the verses in blood, but now that it's written, it's a Koran and can't legitimately be destroyed either.

Monday, April 25, 2011

Kurt Vonnegut, Avec Charts

A friend linked me this lovely article in which Kurt Vonnegut diagrams the progression of multiple narratives. My personal favorite is the Kafka.

Saturday, April 23, 2011

Self-publishing

I've been reading some of the back and forth between TheWriteAgenda and Predators and Editors, Writer Beware, and the Science Fiction Fantasy Writer's Association, most of which seems to center around whether or not PublishAmerica is a pernicious predator on par with some sort of deep sea angler, dangling dreams in front of hopeful new writers in order to draw them into their toothy maw or whether they're really stand up guys who are providing routes of access for the little people into a market strangled by cronyism and a Manhattan bottleneck.

Incidentally, this is straight from the PublishAmerica website, bold original:

"Each day, an average 125 new authors who are looking to find a book publishing company ask us to publish their book, more than 30,000 per year, an absolute record in the industry. While we pride ourselves in maintaining lower acceptance barriers than any other traditional publisher, like all serious book publishing companies we have to be picky as we can only accept the works that meet our requirements in both areas. Our contract includes no author fees, period."


They have also apparently accepted one book deliberately written to be unpublishable and one book which was the same 30 pages repeated over and over, which doesn't say much for their review process.

It's also a little difficult to take TheWriteAgenda seriously because the Science Fiction & Fantasy Writers' Association is loaded with individuals whose names I know and whose work I respect, and Predators and Editors and Writer Beware have both been highly recommended to me numerous times in blogs and interviews of genre editors, writers, and columnists. TheWriteAgenda is, by contrast, an unspecified number of anonymous individuals who are not releasing their names purportedly for the noble purpose of not detracting from their crusade by taking time to self-aggrandize and peddle their own works.

But, whatever, really. I have trouble believing they'll have all that much of an impact. Anecdotes and weird politics of disinformation aside, this and a few other incidents both online and in my personal life have made me look a little more closely at self-publishing and e-publishing.

In the interest of full disclosure, I currently have absolutely no interest in self-publishing. I'm looking for the prestige that comes with validation by the current system. That's not just shallow glory chasing- I've read and genuinely respect a lot of the writers who comprise organizations like the Science Fiction and Fantasy Writers and Horror Writers of America. I've exchanged some really lovely e-mail, even in the form of rejection letters, with traditional short fiction publishers. I've sat at home and read multiple editions of Wilding and Datlow's "Year's Best Fantasy and Horror". I'm a writer specifically because I dream of someday being able to sit at a table with Kij Johnson, Tim Pratt, and Kelly Link and have them respect me as a peer.

I also, quite notably, lack a burning belief that I have, to date, written something that, in its present state, absolutely deserves to be published no matter what anyone says, which I think is kind of the cornerstone of self-publishing. And that's the thing of it- you have people who believe that, and they're absolutely right. There are authors who have built up huge fan followings and/or catapulted themselves into lucrative publishing deals. But then you've also got the Jacqueline Howett types, who've put out something full of spelling errors and get spiky when you point that out; but that's really the problem. When whether or not you do get published is entirely dependent on whether or not you can pay the cost or use the technology, there's not a mechanism up front to sift out the best from, well, those who perhaps might have benefited from a bit of gate-keeping. The best signal gets drowned in a flood of noise, and you have to rely on a new sort of gate keeper on the back end. Ultimately they're more democratic, and this is a point in their favor- popularity aggregates by word of mouth and the playing field is leveled, at least in theory, down to the skill and tenacity of the self-published.

I'd like to pause for a moment to make a few armchair observations, as an aside, about the future of publishing. I don't think traditional publishing models are actually in danger of dying, as long as they're willing to adapt to the new technology and the shifting market place. Some have, and they really seem to be doing well. I do think consolidation, especially as parts of larger corporate entities (Harper Collins, for example, is owned by Rupert Murdoch's News Corporation), tends to favor streamlining cost of production and a market strategy of fewer products designed to have the most broad appeal. The Top 40 model, in radio. While it doesn't necessarily mean those works selected are bad, it disincentivizes niches, risks, and untested talent. I suspect as the big six become more consolidated and printing technology becomes cheaper, we'll see a wider blossoming of small presses specializing in those three avenues, and the very best of e-publishing is just one more logical step in that direction.

I think the main problem, though, is not self- or e-publishing in and of itself. It's all the sharks in the water. Nobody wants to wait for their dreams to come true, and lots of people have promised a shortcut up and then run off once they had your wallet. Traditional publishers had the strength of their reputation as a safeguard against that sort of thing, though vanity presses and scams certainly flourished in their shade. (Not that that stopped Harlequin from trying to cash in on their name with an in-house vanity press.) With e-publishing, everything is relatively new and easy and the legitimate channels aren't well differentiated from the traps. But then you have the absence of gate keepers reducing the need for vanities at all. Why pay someone several thousand dollars to print your book when you can upload it right into the Kindle store yourself?

Ultimately dreams make you vulnerable. I don't think this makes it bad to have dreams, but you open yourself up to some hard knocks either way when you put tear yourself up, arrange it into words, and then try to get someone else to spend money on it. Most people won't, whether it's a traditional print editor or someone whose ninety-nine cents might conceivably buy them a heath bar instead of your book. Traditional publishing puts a lot more of that rejection up front. E-publishing downplays the rejection early on, but sometimes neglects to mention that even after you're published, that indifference still affects you profoundly.

Some people make it. Most people don't.

I love webcomics. For about the last ten years and some change, it has cost virtually nothing but a creator's time and effort to have a comic published on the web- so let's work for a moment on the shaky premise that the Kindle is the Keenspot for the tens. Over the decade, there have been thousands of these little comics being born and dying out. Ten years later, there are less than fifty comics that provide their creators with a living. It's one of those problems that sorts people into half-full and half-empty types. Thousands fell by the wayside, struggled in anonymity, or at the very least had to keep a day job (horrors!). The attrition is staggering by anyone's standards. But slightly less than fifty people who loved what they did were able to do it for a living, when they never would have been able to otherwise, which, you have to admit, is pretty damn cool.

So I guess those are my thoughts. The odds are still stacked against you, no matter how you chose to publish, but either way, you stand a chance to make it if you're good, and if you can put in the work.

Thursday, April 21, 2011

The Death Throes of a Native Language

http://www.guardian.co.uk/world/2011/apr/13/mexico-language-ayapaneco-dying-out

The last two speakers of Ayapaneco are not speaking to each other.

We're going to lose dozens, if not hundreds of languages in our lifetime.

Tuesday, April 19, 2011

Street Art!

I absolutely adore street art. There's a lot of Banksy in this compilation, but a lot of others as well. It's gorgeous.

Monday, April 18, 2011

Sweepers Reprint!

"Sweepers" (originally published in Shock Totem) is going to be reprinted in the anthology "After the End: A Post-Apocalyptic Collection" edited by Mr. Shane Collins over at Static Movement. There's no firm date for the release yet, but it looks like it's filling up fast.

And it has a spectacular cover. Look at that thing.

Sunday, April 17, 2011

Diabolical Plots

Diabolical Plots is a webzine that does some great articles on writing craft. Go check them out.

Saturday, April 16, 2011

On Juggling

I'm coming to the conclusion that I need more discipline in sticking with projects, as I've been flitting from thing to thing lately like a butterfly on meth. I have my novel printed out and I've been making a lot of notes about it. What I really need to do, but don't like to admit I need to do, is put my pen down and read it straight through, then read it straight through again while making notes. I have also started two short stories I'm working on writing concurrently- one for a specific market and one I've just been banging away on when I don't feel I'm up to the first. It's fun, there are dream wolves.

And then on top of that I've also been going through my back catalogue of stories and sorting them into piles based on how much work they need. I've been surprised at some of the stories I found- really quite early ones, even- that only need superficial work, while some that I've always looked back on fondly I have, on closer inspection, decided to trunk as taking too much to fix. I've found old stories I had been content just to let sit as past experiments which, now that I read them through again, had some great, powerful ideas at their hearts. I've been making notes on these and putting them into a large achordian file under the labels "close", "partial rewrite", "total rewrite", and "trunk". I also have at least one of them I've been actively rewriting.

I've also also been managing the "business end", turning over submissions again as they get rejected, getting ready for the con, and managing the blog. I added some advertisements and a blogroll tool that I just love to death. (It's at the bottom right corner of the webpage, and it will continue to scroll through the blog and news posts of dozens of really great sites). And I've been reading articles about publishing, reading magazines, and listening to interviews with authors and editors. I'm in a face to face writing group I've and signed back up to a critique site.

This all looks like I've been very productive, but that's a trick of the light. Finishing one third of each of these things doesn't actually add up to any one thing completed. The last thing I finished, edited, and sent out was about a month ago.

I'm not exactly sure why it's been hard to pick one thing and stick to it lately. It's something I need to manage better, but I'm not sure it's something I need to stamp out entirely. When I'm beating my head against one thing, working on another measurably helps me clear out the blockage, especially in the first draft phase. Looking at multiple things to edit lets me prioritize and gives me insight for what I write in the future.

I can get all the balls up into the air. The question is, can I move fast enough and with enough dexterity not to drop them now?

Wednesday, April 13, 2011

Holy Cow

The most comprehensive list of writing articles I've ever seen.

Tuesday, April 12, 2011

Goodkind Parody Blog

I usually don't encourage open mocking of anybody, but I kind of figure if you make public statements about how the rest of the science fiction/fantasy community is driving away readers with their cynical, one-dimensional moral decrepitude, you've sort of earned it.

Enter Sandstorm Reviews' Terry Goodkind Parodies.

They provide a helpful summary of some events in the sword of truth series and links to relevant quotes, as well as Goodkindian send-ups of other famous fantasy works.

For what it's worth, I don't actually have anything seriously against Mr. Goodkind or people who enjoy his works. I've had a lot of friends who loved them. I ended up putting them down pretty quickly. They weren't my cup of tea- I felt like I was being handed down interpretations of characters (eg. wise and surprisingly a wizard, or charismatic secretly evil demagogue) that didn't at all line up with my observations of them, and I found it off-putting. But they're best sellers with a lot of dedicated fans, so your mileage may vary.

Friday, April 8, 2011

Gynofantastique

I recently came across Broad Universe, which has as its mission statement the goal of equal representation and pay of women in fantasy, horror, and science fiction. It's a cool site with great articles, and I intend to be a part of it, but I'm not completely convinced about the urgency.

Women certainly aren't under represented as readers- in fact on the whole I'm pretty sure we tend to read more and buy more of the books. The almost exclusively female romance market makes up about 40% of all fiction books sold. And any metric that shows how women are excluded from genre fiction feels like a kind of tautological privilege of the areas of the genres that are male dominated. Sure, The Hunger Games might be one of the best selling dystopic sci fi series on the shelves, but that's Young Adult, not hard or military science fiction. Big virile man authors like Martin and Erikson are dominating epic fantasy, so obviously we don't need to acknowledge the fantastic work women like Kelly Link, Kij Johnson, Catherynne Valente, or Vylar Kaftan are doing in slipstream and postmodern fantasy. Regardless how one may feel about all the sexy vampires and sorceresses of urban fantasy, Stephen King is probably the only horror author who beats them out in sales.

And even within the boys' treehouse genres, you've got ladies like Ursula LeGuinn, Mercedes Lackey, Tanith Lee, Poppy Z. Brite, Robin Hobb, Margaret Atwood, Octavia Butler, Robin McKinley, Storm Constantine, James Tiptree Jr. and Andre Norton off the top of my head.

Sometimes it feels like the question people are actually asking is “Hey, why aren't women writing Heinlein?”

Well, because we're not Heinlein, obviously. Only Heinlein was, and he was a product of his gender and his time, as we are. Women do have a thing or two to bring to the table as far as telling stories about the battle hardened group of space marines dropping onto an alien planet with guns blazing, the orphan farmboy who finds a magic sword and saves a kingdom, or the serial killer on a spree of rape and murder. We have some things to add about what it means to be a man, because it's both different and the same as what it means to be a person. But I suspect we have a lot more to add about what it means to be women. It doesn't preclude space marines and gunslingers and magic swords; rather, it includes things that may have been overlooked when folk were putting those things in the center of the stage: menarche and child birth, rape as more than a galvanizing force for the avenging hero, clever princesses and subversive witches, what it feels like to be objectified and denied agency and to overcome that, and romance. Romance from insipid and silly to heart-breakingly complex.

Not that men haven't said, and continue now to say, great things on those topics too. I don't think anything's off the table. Rather, I think we all benefit from the conversation blossoming in all directions.

I don't feel like women aren't getting a fair shake right now. Everywhere you look, ladies are taking home hugos, nebulas, book contracts, and movie deals. J. K. Rowling and other lady authors have initialized their names and James Tiptree Jr. took on a male handle completely, but Tim Pratt and other men have also written under initials, and men who write romance routinely do so under femal pseudonyms. We do come from a legacy of male domination in all literature, perhaps especially so in the speculative fiction genres, and I know there are a few pockets of boy folk hanging “no girls allowed” signs (demanding all science fiction be Heinlein, and all fantasy be Howard), but in all my interactions that feels to me like it's an attavistic minority. If anything, it feels like there's a really healthy cross-pollination, where men and women will cite each other as important, formative influences. I do think it's important for all of us to take a moment and make sure we're giving each other a fair shake, and not to assume what we like or what we already know is the only valid way to do things.

And I feel like right now, we're doing really, really well at it.

It's possible my optimism about this stems from the fact that I am a native of "a more enlightened time". Both of my parents were feminists. No one in my childhood told me my options were limited by my chromosomes. My father's favorite writer is Annie Dillard and his favorite musician is Joni Mitchell, and he taught me square roots several years ahead of the school schedule because he felt I had a talent for math. I never had to swim upstream. I don't remember all the hurt and pain commensurate to being raised to believe I was worth less.

It's probably impossible to have a completely objective view of the gender and accomplishment landscape, but from where I stand and look, it's a beautiful time.

Thursday, April 7, 2011

Voices from Shared Worlds

A really cool piece about the Shared Worlds teen writing camp Jeff Vandermeer helps put on.

Friday, April 1, 2011

Tim Pratt

And we continue on with spotlighting authors:

Tim Pratt is one of my favorite people currently writing. He has a series of urban fantasy novels which I haven't read, the first of which is Blood Engines (he also has a stand alone first book called the Strange Adventures of Ranger Girl). I fully intend to read them at some point, but for the moment my tremendous regard for Mr. Pratt comes entirely from his voluminous library of short fiction (collected so far in Little Gods and Hart and Boot and Other Stories).

This is a man who knows how to write a really bang up short story, with everything tying into an emotion or concept. Off the top of my head, my favorite stories I've read or listened to of his (and this is a fellow who has made a lot of his work available in one free format or another) are Jubilee, Hart and Boot, Annabelle's Alphabet, Cup and Table, Restless in My Hand, and the Terrible Ones. Pratt has a fabulous handle on mythology, trivia, and genre tropes, and a lot of his stories are a mix and match of all these things soldered and still burning into the seams of the world we know. They tend to be smart, thoughtful little bites of wonderful, and I hope you do check some of them out.