I still have somewhat limited internet access–but I wanted to let you all know that on March 17 I’ll be at Pandemonium Books and Games (4 Pleasant Street Cambridge, MA 02139) from 7 to 11pm. I’ll also be at Vericon that weekend, but, seriously, come see me at Pandemonium!
So! This will have to be much shorter than I wanted it to be, since I got home from my fabulous week-long Scandinavia Mini-Tour last night, and this morning a bunch of heavy wet snow did something fatal to my internet access at home, so I’m typing this at a cafe.
Anyway! Over the last week I’ve been in Oslo, and in Stockholm! I visited Outland, where I talked to readers and signed books. I also visited the Oslo public library and was interviewed by Norwegian author and translator Ørjan Karlsson–and also got to answer questions from the audience. It was a wonderful time, and I had a blast! I did manage to get lost on at least one occasion, but that was okay, it just meant I saw more of Oslo than I would have otherwise. Thanks to all the folks who suggested I visit the Vigelandsparken, which was very unusual and cool. (It was on my way back from there that I got lost, so it was a day full of adventure!) At any rate, my stay in Oslo was great fun, I met wonderful people and had a lovely time. And Outland is a wonderful store, the folks in Oslo are super lucky!
Then I flew to Stockholm, so I could sign books at Science Fiction Bokhandeln. Which, it turns out, is also a wonderful bookstore! I met even more wonderful folks, signed a lot of books, answered questions, and generally had a great time. I also got to have supper with the two winners of a contest the store had held–the prize was having supper with me and a few other folks. Thanks, Anna and Anders! It was great to meet you and I really enjoyed getting to hang out with you.
I left both places loaded with gifts–mostly tea, Anna, I had some of the Earl Grey for breakfast this morning!–and had a chance to try new food (I think I need to see if the international grocery here carries brown cheese….) and just generally had a wonderful time. I really, really hope I have a chance to go back some time.
I did this a while ago on Tumblr, made some weekly posts about my old short fiction, and a recent tweet reminded me that a lot of my readers aren’t aware of most of the short fiction I’ve had published. Which, I mean, if you’re not into short fiction, cool, scroll by, but just in case you are interested, well.
So, my very first SF&F sale was a story called “Hesperia and Glory” which appeared in issue number four of Subterranean Magazine. It was guest-edited by John Scalzi, so, yes, he was my very first editor. The entire issue was made freely available as a pdf, which is where that link goes. There’s a lot of good stuff there, including Rachel Swirsky’s first SF&F sale!
(My first ever sale ever was a story to True Confessions. It wasn’t spec fic, and since stories in TC were supposedly ONE HUNDRED PERCENT TRUE writers didn’t get a byline and all names in the ms were changed before publication. Trust me, you’re not interested in reading it.)
Anyway. Hesperia. I knew that John Scalzi was guest-editing an issue of Subterranean, with “science fiction cliches” as the theme. So while I was at Clarion West, I pounded out a draft and turned it in for the final week of the workshop. It had, at the time, the brilliant title “Help I Need A Title.”
Michael Swanwick was our instructor that week. Now, he put a huge amount of energy into teaching. Seriously, I don’t know how he did it. He read everything we’d submitted for the entire six weeks, plus our application stories, and gave us extensive comments on all of it. What a gift, right? It was amazing. And he had lots of things to say about my story for the week. All of which I duly noted down because I am no fool–if Michael Swanwick is going to give me writing advice I am damn well going to take it.
On the way home I was thinking hard about how to apply his advice, when I suddenly realized that in fact all the advice he’d given me was wrong.
See, he’d misread my story. (It was, as all my first drafts are, pretty awful, so that was no one’s fault but mine.) And he’d given me all that advice based on that misreading. But it took me several days and a long train trip to realize that. And to realize that what I needed to do was to re-write it in such a way that Michael Swanwick would not misread it.
Yeah, that took me some time, and some amount of banging my head on the desk, but eventually I ended up with “Hesperia and Glory,” buffed it all to hell, and sent it off. And nearly died of delighted shock when I got an acceptance back. Nearly died of shock a second time when Rich Horton asked to put it in his Years Best antho for that year.
In a lot of ways, that was one of the most important lessons I learned at Clarion West, and one I’m exceedingly grateful to Michael for teaching me–that all the best advice in the world (and trust me, it was fabulous advice for the story I appeared to have written) isn’t useful if it’s not for your story. And that in the end it’s you, the writer, who has to make that call.
So, “Hesperia and Glory.”
Dear Mr. Stephens,
It is entirely understandable that you should wish a full accounting of the events of the last week of August of this year. If nothing else, your position as Mr. John Atkins’ only living relative entitles you to an explanation.
I must begin by making two points perfectly clear. The first is quite simple. The account you have read in the papers, and no doubt also received from the chief of police of this town, is entirely false.
My second point is this: there is not now, nor has there ever been, a well in my cellar.
If you’re into audio, you can hear it read at Escape Pod.
Well, it turns out, I’m not the only one. Yesterday AudioFile Magazine announced the shortlists for the Audie Awards. And the science fiction category looks like this:
Ancillary Mercy by Ann Leckie, narrated by Adjoa Andoh, published by Hachette Audio
Aurora by Kim Stanley Robinson, narrated by Ali Ahn, published by Hachette Audio
Golden Son: Book II of the Red Rising Trilogy by Pierce Brown, narrated by Tim Gerard Reynolds, published by Recorded Books
Jurassic Park by Michael Crichton, narrated by Scott Brick, published by Brilliance Audio
Star Wars: Return of the Jedi: Beware the Power of the Dark Side! by Tom Angleberger, narrated by Marc Thompson, published by Listening Library/Penguin Random House Audio
So, those other readers must be pretty amazing too, is what I’m thinking. Because, I mean.
Hooray for the awesome Adjoa Andoh!
Do you want more information about my visit to Stockholm this month? Check out this link.
If you scroll down, you’ll see this:
Vinn en middagsdejt med Ann Leckie!
SF-Bokhandeln bjuder på en middag med Ann Leckie och representant från SF-Bokhandeln efter hennes signering hos oss. Vill du passa på att prata rymden, sf och allt annat med en av sf-världens intressantaste hjärnor?
Mejla [davidb at sfbok.se] och bifoga ett exempel på en fråga du vill ställa till Ann!
Which the “translate this” button renders as
Win a dinner date with Ann Leckie!
Sf Bookstore to buy me a dinner with Ann Leckie and representative from sf bookstore after her signing with us. Do you want to take the opportunity to talk space, sf and everything else with one of the sf-the world’s most interesting brains?
E-mail [davidb at sfbok.se] and attach an example of a question you would like to ask Ann!
I know, probably everyone who would be able to enter the contest could read the Swedish, but.
Anyway, check it out!
I just got an email from a person–who shall remain nameless–curious about why I might have blocked them on Twitter. I had a spare moment while tea was brewing and decided to reply. Having done so, I thought it might be worth linking to my blog post about Twitter and also posting my reply (without any identifying information).
I don’t block people for not liking my book. In fact, I’m friends with several people (on Twitter and in real life) who don’t like my book.
I block people who annoy me or who strike me as potential annoyances, not just people who tweet at me. I make no apology for this–I’m on Twitter to hang with my friends, not be annoyed. And with the exception of my friends and family, no one is entitled to any more of my attention than I wish to give them, on Twitter or anywhere else, and in the past few years the number of people demanding my attention has increased tremendously. My experience of Twitter is much more pleasant for me since I began blocking very freely.
I don’t recognize your name, so I have no idea what you might have tweeted that would have led to my blocking you. It might easily have been a random tweet in a conversation that I happened to see while I was in a bad mood. I honestly don’t know–though your putting “award winning” in quotes in your email, as though the awards weren’t legitimate or real, suggests some possibilities to me.
You are, of course, perfectly entitled to whatever opinion you might have about my book and its many awards. You are also perfectly entitled to express those opinions. I have no obligation to pay attention to them.
May your next read be more congenial to you.
TLDR–I block people on Twitter who annoy me. If I’ve blocked you and you’re curious as to why, this is why. It might have been a trivial thing, it might have been something big, who knows? It isn’t necessarily any sort of judgement about you as a person, just me curating my twitter stream for my own use and convenience.
The Oslo stop is at Outland Comic Book Store, February 20, 2016 at 2pm, like it says on the blog sidebar. I’m probably also going to be at the public library talking about AI on the 19th, but I don’t have details about that yet. Then the next day, the 21st of February, I go to Sweden! Or specifically, Science Fiction Bokhandeln in Stockholm at 3pm.
Check out the links for more complete information. I plan to try to bring pins with me, by the way. I’m looking forward to this, it should be great fun!
So, a lot of people have already weighed in on the brief twitterburst the other day, when Neil Gaiman, in a well-intended tweet encouraging folks to apply to Clarion, made an unfortunate choice of words. The things I’d have said first off have mostly been said. (Disclaimer–I went to Clarion West in 2005 and found it to be a transformative experience. It is, however, not for everyone, not necessarily good for everyone who applies or attends, and not a possible choice for everyone who might want it or benefit from it.)
In the followup to that, though, I’ve seen a few comments about how the original tweet was obviously hyperbole and people were overreacting and mobbing Gaiman and it was just another example of pointless twitter outrage.
So. For starters, Gaiman? Can safely ignore most of what went down on Twitter in the past few days. He stands in a position of amazing privilege on that score (and on several others, but those aren’t at issue right now).
But many of the people speaking out the other day cannot safely ignore Gaiman. His status is such that even casual statements of his carry weight. And writing (at least, writing fiction, at least, among the writers I know, which at this point is a considerable number) is fraught with all sorts of anxieties. I don’t know many writers who aren’t neurotic about their writing in some way, and the rest are probably just hiding it well.
You develop different ways to cope with those anxieties–you have to. You have to have some kind of psychological defense against rejection, and eventually, if you’re lucky, bad reviews. You have to find some way to persevere in the face of constant apparent failure, because it can take years, sometimes decades, from first sitting down to write seriously until your first sale. You have to find some way to continue on in the face of writers who sell in their first couple of years out, who hit big with their first novel, while you’re still typing away with, you think (possibly incorrectly–keyword: neurotic) little to show for it, and what do they have that you don’t?
One of the handiest ways to do this is to assign whatever rejections/bad reviews you can to the Inconsequential bin. “That’s one reviewer, what do they know?” or “That’s just one story hitting one editor at the wrong time.”
There are people (or particular submission situations) that are difficult if not impossible to assign to that bin, though. Your personal heroes. People of very high status in the field. Prestigious publications or workshops. Much, much harder to say those rejections or negative comments mean nothing, when they’re so widely vested with such significance. Any given writer’s cry of protest at one of those doesn’t necessarily mean they can’t take rejection or bad reviews generally, or don’t have the fortitude to deal with life as a writer. It means that this particular situation is beyond the edge of where they can currently pretend it doesn’t matter.
I’m at a place now where I can consign nearly anything to the Insignificant bin. One star reviews at goodreads or amazon? If I happen to see them, they generally make me laugh. On the rare occasion that a negative comment does truly get under my skin, I can dry my tears with the cloth I use to dust my awards, and console myself with a stop for ice cream on the way to the bank to deposit my royalty checks. I can afford to be amused at most things I see, and pay no attention to any of it unless I want to. It would take a disparaging remark from one of my personal heroes to cause any noticeable pain.
Three or four years ago this would not have been the case. Three or four years ago a couple of close-timed rejections could leave me contemplating giving up. And I had it easier than many–my whole family, from when I was small, had encouraged me to write and constantly validated the idea that I could be a writer. I had a degree from a fairly prestigious university and no debt from that degree (because my parents were employees at that university). I grew up speaking a prestige dialect of American English. I had (still have!) a super-supportive husband with a decently-paying job. My children were (and Mithras willing will continue to be) both healthy. I myself have so far been able-bodied, and not in need of much (if any) help or accommodation. And with all that, it was hard.
Imagine if I’d had even more piled on. A family, maybe, who didn’t understand or care about or actively opposed my wanting to write. Bigger financial difficulties. Health problems, or family members who needed my constant attendance and care. What if I lived outside the US?
What if, on top of all of it, a writer I looked up to, with very high status in the field, quite casually said that I NEEDED something to be a writer that I knew I could never have?
Now, Gaiman has no obligation to worry about the emotional states of every new or struggling writer. He can quite easily ignore a day’s cloudburst on twitter. But a lot of struggling or aspiring writers? Can’t ignore him as easily. And by speaking, they send a message to other, silent folks on the sidelines–don’t let this stop you, do your best to put this tweet in your Insignificant bin, keep writing.
This is, by the way, part of the reason I absolutely despise the “discourage aspiring writers, because if they’re really writers they’ll write anyway” thing. Who the fuck is anyone to decide who is or isn’t meant to be a writer, who does or doesn’t want it badly enough? Fuck that. It’s hard enough in the best of circumstances, nobody needs that extra noise. Help where you can, and let people decide for themselves. But that’s a whole other rant, and I have things to do today.
What it says in the title. A while ago, pre-orders for Sword opened, but were only available to folks who had purchased numbered copies of Justice. Now it’s open to anyone. According to the website, both versions are nearly 90% sold out, so if you want one grab it. Also, check out that gorgeous cover art by Lauren Saint-Onge.
I found The Poetics of Science Fiction on academia.edu and downloaded it and am mostly enjoying it and learning things from it.
Stopping to note, though, the section on Pulpstyle, which is actually pretty cool and illuminating in a few ways (specifically comments about the use and effects of particular pulpy techniques). But then–
More noticeable than these stock lexical variations are adverbial qualifications to reporting-clause verbs. This addition of adverbials helped the pulp writer to earn an extra few half-cents. Characters rarely just say or sigh or mutter something; they do it „meditatively‟, „savagely‟, „bitterly‟, „softly‟, „curtly‟, „briskly‟, „carefully‟, „doubtfully‟, „uncomfortably‟, „profoundly‟, „heavily‟, „dispassionately‟, „beatifically‟, „urgently‟, „tiredly‟, „unhappily‟, „drily‟, „unsympathetically‟, and so on. Even more profitably, pulp writers often expanded adverbial qualification into an entire extended phrase, so characters do things „hurriedly and efficiently‟, „slowly and thoughtfully‟, „extending his arms in a similar gesture‟, „in Rod Blake‟s voice‟, „between a cough and a sneeze‟, „sighting the ion-gun at the nine flapping, rapidly vanishing things scuttling across the red dusty planet‟, and so on.
Now, this stylistic feature is inarguably part of the described style. He goes on to quote a few sentences:
Blake stared. He stared with steady blank gaze at that perfectly impossible Japanese maple. He gawked dumbly.
Rod Blake sat down and laughed. He laughed, and laughed again.
They moved. They moved hastily back across the sand dunes to the ship.
The author here explains this as a product of the writers wanting to make more money–they were, after all, being paid by the word, and therefore had no incentive to be efficient, and on the contrary plenty of incentive to pad things out.
Here’s the thing. Publications that pay by the word don’t generally just want huge-ass manuscripts. They have upper limits–either explicitly stated in their guidelines, or unstated but definitely influencing what they’re likely to buy and publish. When you’re writing for such a publication, there’s no percentage in needlessly padding out your story for a couple extra cents. In my experience, you’re far more likely to be ruthlessly economizing, slashing whatever you can to fit your story in the amount of space you have.
And speaking just from my own experience, these examples don’t sound like deliberate padding to me. They sound like hurried writing. In fact, they all remind me very much of the more egregious examples on display in the work of Lionel Fanthorpe, who rather notoriously wrote whole novels over a period of days, hundreds in the space of a few years, mostly by, from what I can tell, free-associating into a tape recorder and passing that off to someone else to type out.
And I gather the writers for these pulps weren’t making their money on the extra cent or two in every ms–they were making it by sending out as many stories as they could to as many magazines as would buy their work. They had to write quickly and efficiently–no long and careful polishing for the successful pulp writer!
And editors aren’t–weren’t–stupid. They had a certain amount of money to spend, a certain number of pages to fill, and readers to satisfy. The whole “it was so long because he was paid by the word” thing is just foolish–the editor would reject it or if you were lucky cut it down or demand you cut it down to within acceptable limits. And the result needed to be something the magazine’s readership would probably enjoy, or at least enjoy enough to be willing to buy the next issue, otherwise the magazine would lose readers and hence advertising dollars.
No, those repetitions and extra words are more likely due to super-fast writing, by people who weren’t (yet, or ever destined to be) very good writers, who were typing on paper that cost them money to begin with and a fair amount of effort to make corrections on, and who had a pressing need to finish the story and get a new blank page onto the platen ASAP.
Seriously, I’m enjoying this book, but I do wish the “it’s padded out because they were paid by the word” thing would be seen for the foolishness it is.