Website of Science Fiction Writer Ron Collins

How about a little Fantasy In The City, eh?

Yes, I’m playing catch-up again. It’s a never-ending battle, eh?

Anyway…

I’m pleased to note that a short story of mine is in a very cool bundle of “Fantasy in the City.” It’s a great collection of urban fantasy work that ranges from sweet and light-hearted to quite deep and moody. And the authors–wow. Inside you’ll find several of my favorites (and I mean exactly that). I can’t tell you how great it is to be with these folks.

My story is “Learning the Language.” Look for notes about it below the poster board that follows.

If you’ve looked at bundles before, you know the deal. Get 8 stories for $2.99, but pay at least $3.99 and unlock all the rest. You can download the stories in whatever format you want.

This is a limited time deal (only available until July 9th), so you’ll want to go Get It Here

Fantasy+in+the+City+-+Facebook+image+1200x628

“Learning the Language” holds an important place in my heart.

I wrote this story some years back, before I had sold anything at all, actually. I had to send something to a workshop at a science fiction convention, so this is what I wrote. I knew I liked it. I knew it was good in a dangerous kind of way. Dennis McKiernan and Tim Waggoner were running the workshop, and the very kind and enthusiastic confirmation was exactly what I needed at the time. I left that workshop thinking I might actually be able to do this. Hence I’ve dedicated this edition of the story to them.

It’s a strange tale. I remember Lisa (my wife and copy editor) said she read it with one hand over the manuscript to make sure she didn’t see how what was coming next. One of the very kind reviews my collection “Picasso’s Cat & Other Stories” received said “one of the great things about science fiction is latitude, and Collins explores a whole new dimension in the surreal story “Learning the Language.” So, yes, the piece was different. Different enough that it would its way over the desks of several editors before landing in the Land/Space anthology published by Candace Dorsey and Judy McCrosky–which I have to say was a perfect place for it.

So, yeah, I’m quite stoked to see it in this bundle.

I hope you like it.

Clinton vs. Trump …

From a FB comment I made earlier …

Donald Trump is probably the least capable candidate that has ever been associated with a possible run for president in the history of the United States. I’ve never been a [big] Hillary supporter [from a policy standpoint] (or really a Bill supporter), But the idea the Trump is even close to Clinton is laughably funny to me. If this were a hiring decision by a company, Trump would never even get a phone interview. That’s even before you take into account his actual “policies” which are barely even sentences.

In all seriousness, there are times where I step back from another one of the billions of pieces of news that actually presents the Trump as if he’s a real live viable candidate, and get this weird feeling that I’m just not in a real world.

I don’t think I could manage being a journalist covering Trump. I swear. All I would do is laugh like a stoned college kid every time I talked about him.

I guess it’s good I’m not a journalist.

I’m completely fine with anyone who isn’t a fan of Clinton’s policies. That’s cool and all. For most of my life, I considered myself a moderate-right lean on the political scale. I get it. But if I were her late this year and I were debating Trump I would look at him, then look at the moderator, then into the TV camera, and then I would say “this is a joke, right? Are you freaking kidding me? I’m being punked, right? I mean, where’s Ashton Kutcher?”

The Rules, They Are A Changin’

A few weeks back I was talking to my dad about jobs and the way the world is changing. The conversation was about what “work” means, but it was as much about politics—how policies might change, and how policies of the past are going to be completely unable to deal with the population as it will be.

I should note that I am a guy in my mid-50s, done with my engineering and business leadership corporate run, and now a full time writer. My dad is a guy in his late 70s who was a working engineer for some years, then moved into academia for 20 or so years. He’s been retired for some time. We are an interesting pair, I suppose, filled with considerably different experiences.

“You have to imagine a world in which there is either very little money,” I said. “Or very little need for money. You have to imagine a world that requires only a very small percentage of its people to actually do the work it takes to sustain itself.”

What will it look like, I asked, when an AI is writing all the news? Or when it writes commercial fiction at a rate no human ever can? When robots actually run the entire manufacturing plant? When a thought cloud is making art, or movies? When algorithms manage all the logistics of something and you just push a button and things appear? When artificial intelligence is better at making snap judgements than a human is? When AI beats us at our most difficult games.

What happens when there are literally no more workers in the economy?

It was clear my dad wasn’t sure such a world was possible, and yet much of this is happening before your eyes. Science Fiction writers have been exploring this idea for some time. Star Trek, infamously, is set in a world with no currency, for example. The replicator is the metaphor for the world I’m talking about. Just say, “Earl Grey, hot,” and you get it. (Yes, I am still a geek at heart).

Seriously, this changes … well … not to be too hyperbolic, but this changes everything.

It takes almost no effort now to see that the pieces needed to make this low-labor world happen are being put in place at an extremely rapid pace. It should be simple for almost any person who steps back and thinks about what they are seeing to project the environment that drives our global economy today is going to change, and that this change will be both dramatic and radical.

At least I believe it’s simple to project these things. But there’s a trick in there. That term “rational people” is a dead give-away, right? People are, by definition, rational when they think like I think, and not rational when they differ. That’s the usual dynamic, right? But no, that’s not really what I mean. When I say rational people, I mean people who set aside ideology to look at a problem from a more base perspective (call it scientific or mathematical position).

Like most things about changing human behavior, the hard part about this discussion is getting a person to step back an put aside their biases, then see what’s happening. The hard part is to get people to drop pre-thought, and then to think rationally about the situation, to face it without fear and without the belief that the right thing to do is to go back to when it felt safe. We are terrible at that.

That said, here is an extremely interesting article that describes what’s been happening. I suggest you read it.

This dismantling of the economy does not have to be a bad thing.

In fact, if it’s done well, I suggest this change is both natural, and is exactly what the world is striving to achieve—creating an environment where everyone can be comfortable, and live life pretty much as they want to without having to deal with the Darwinian nature of capitalistic competition. Life will still be hard, of course, because it is hard to deal with being a human being. But the concepts we use to manage and control people and the economy today will not work anymore in that society because that society will be a society based on surplus rather than one based on scarcity.

This is why the conversation my dad and I had was political. Whenever all these things happen, the party and people in charge are going to be faced with an economic environment that is different from any economic environment any group of leaders have ever found themselves facing. There are things they can do to help ease the transition, and to make the landing softer. But they won’t do them.

That’s my prediction, anyway.

I predict a lot of people will get hosed over by whatever’s coming, because the conversion process (that’s been slowly building during my adult lifetime), is truly hitting a turning point. When AI can do our basic thinking and analysis for us, things change. This is when capitalism eats itself.

Note—I’m not arguing one political system is superior to another. I’m saying that the economy follows a set of “laws” like a ball follows the pull of gravity. If you believe in the basic concept of capitalism, and you fully see what AI and robotics are doing, I think you must be willing to look into a future (this is almost certainly coming in my lifetime, and maybe even in the next 10 years), and try to think through what happens when the world needs some very small number of people to do the work it takes to make all the stuff we want.

* Let’s say 15%, just to make up a number. What happens when the country/world can make all the stuff with only 15% of out population? Or, put it another way, what happens when we have 85% unemployment, and can still make all the stuff we need?
* How are these 15% taxed?
* Where does the money flow?
* Who gets paid when a robot designs the next Dodge Ram?
* The questions are endless…

I have lots of thoughts about that.

But the only thing I have to say about it all today is that I think a part of the divisiveness of our American politics of the day is actually defined by market dynamics described in the article on Deep Learning and being created by our progress as a society. The “Golden Age” of the American economy that my mostly male, mostly white friends talk about getting back to is gone (or never really existed outside that mostly male, mostly white group, of which I am a part of, of course). That economy of the 50s and 60s and 70s was a strange thing—a unique time period. It created a certain set of practices and expectations that can no longer be applied in quite the same way they once worked, and will most likely not apply at all in the near-term future.

The Donald Trump experience is all this. It’s people, mostly white, mostly what might be termed blue-collar, and mostly male who ARE losing their safe perch on life. They are losing the privilege that they don’t feel they have (but that comes out in their quest for isolationism). Whether you think they deserved their privilege or not is not relevant. What’s relevant is that people who grew up with certain expectations of economic comfort and safety are not getting it, and they are therefore not happy. They are lashing out. The less said about the details of the lashing, the better (for this post, anyway).

The Bernie Sanders reaction has a similar root, but is from a different set of people. They know the world is changing. They feel it. They are the younger, generally educated folks who can’t see how the world is going to help them get where they want to go. They are the middle-aged folks who have given their lives to corporations and watched their business leaders getting fat while they get crushed and still can’t get to the next level.

These people are complaining because they are being pinched out of an economy that is not working for them anymore (if it ever really did). They feel the change that is already happening, even if they can’t put their finger on why it’s happening.

So, yeah, the conversation my dad and I had was political merely because any conversation about how the economy is changing is by definition political. But this is a different beast, this thing with jobs breaking down. This alteration of how the world works changes the concept, logistics, human effort, and cost structure of how we supply the demand we put on the system. It changes the fundamental structure that makes raw capitalism work, and it changes the base concept of protecting people from being abused by capital that, in my limited ability to get, drives the ideology of socialism.

The game is changing.

We’re going to need to think about it differently.

We’re going to need different rules.

Rules #3 and #5

Today I got to partake in Heinlein’s Rules #3 and #5. For those of you who read my little bloggy thing and are unfamiliar with Heinlein’s Rules, these are five simple but difficult pieces of advice given by (naturally) Robert A. Heinlein. They consist of:

– – – – – – –

1.) You must write.
2.) You must finish what you write.
3.) You must refrain from rewriting, except to editorial order.
4.) You must put the work on the market.
5.) You must keep the work on the market until it is sold.

– – – – – – –

#3 is, of course, the most controversial—but that is “merely” because people often have difficulty coming to a place where they can be comfortable the simplification inherent in the idea. The point, for me, is to work on the piece until you believe in it, and then let it go.

Here are two good takes on the idea from Charlie Jane Anders and Robert J. Sawyer.

Anyway.

Today I got back copy edits on my short story “Blind Leaps” (which I think is slated to run in a soon-to-be released anthology (that I’ll announce for sure if/when it makes proper sense). There is no contract on this, yet, though. So one shall never say anything is absolute until such things as ink dries on a contracts…and even then, one never says never until such thing as a book appears!). These were turned around promptly. Yes, this is a weak application of the rule, but it still applies at present. No contract, no guarantee.

In addition, earlier I had received an invitation to submit a rewrite on a story, complete with a bit of discussion on why the editor was left dissatisfied. I looked at his comments, looked at the story, and said “you know, Ron, he’s right.” So I broke my expected plan for the day and gave a couple hours to an actual rewrite of a previously submitted story, and turned it back around to the requesting editor.

The work was not hard. The story was not long (but it’s longer now).

There are some out there who might say “of course you would submit a rewrite to an editor that suggested they would look at one.” And in general, that’s true. But not 100% of the time. If I didn’t agree with the comments, I wouldn’t have done the work. If I hadn’t agreed with them, I would have moved right on down to #5 and submitted it elsewhere.  I have two reasons to think that way. The first is that this is my work, and I have to believe in it. The second is that even with this request, there is no guarantee. It’s always quite possible the editor will look at my effort and still not like it, so if I spent the time to fix it to some editorial spec that I didn’t agree with I would be stuck in limbo if the story comes back.

So, yeah, edit to editorial request—but only when you agree with it.

See how that works?

#

I note, however, that I chose to give about half the day to this larger rewrite. This is half a day that I could have used on something else, and in fact had already planned to use on something else (which has now been pushed back a bit).

Hence the rule.

Six Days In May Hits the Press

It is, as the Flying Scot used to say, a beautiful day for a motor car race, don’t you think?

I’m smiling ear to ear today because I can finally say that Six Days in May is available for order and download.

Six-days-in-may-single_200_312

For those unfamiliar with this unique little project, this is a collaborative collection of stories that my buddy John C. Bodin and I release each year, adding a new original story with each edition. This time the new piece is a novelette titled “Do Android Drivers Dream of Electric Flags.” Like the rest of our work. it’s chock full of characters we love, making tough choices, and (of course) dealing with troubles both on and off the track.

Last year, Tangent Online gave us a marvelous review and even included “Ghost of a Chance” on their recommended reading list–which is way cool. We hope you’ll like it, too. All six of these stories were great fun to write.

Did You Buy It Last Year? Get Your Update Free!

That’s one of the cool and unique things about this project. John and I have always figured that if you buy the work once, we’ll spring you a free electronic copy this time. Just drop me an email at ron_at_typosphere_dot_com, and I’ll do the needful.

As always, early sales and reviews are the most helpful, so if you already plan to grab a copy (what great gifts a book makes, eh?), now is the time!. Your support is greatly appreciated.

- Pick Up Your Copy At These Places -

(Print & electronic versions)

Amazon : USUKCADEAU

(Electronic versions)

Kobo: USCA

Nook

 

My Last Four Books and the Beauty of Paper

The last four books I have read are:

Good Omens, by Neil Gaiman and Terry Prachet
Epitaph by Mary Doria Russell
Welcome to the Monkey House by Kurt Vonnegut
Parable of the Sower Octavia Butler

Besides being fantastic, and a shade on the older side, and aside from having been written by superstars, the thing that these four books have in common are that they were actual books. By that I mean they were made of paper.

Don’t get me wrong. I love my Kindle. I enjoy reading in pretty much every form. But I have totally loved going back to paper. I’ve enjoyed seeing the cover art as I pick the book up. I’ve liked the sense of paper against my fingers, the almost brittle, almost sharp sense of the paper against the dry skin of my thumbs. There is a smell to a real book that a Kindle doesn’t do. There’s a sense of progress to seeing the bookmark move down the pages that a kindle progress bar doesn’t give me.

Again, don’t get me wrong: the Kindle is fantastic. I love it. I would probably love any other reader I used.

But I’ve missed books.

It’s great to live in a world where you can have it either way.

The Stones, via Salon

I love reading about Exile on Main Street almost as much as I love listening to it. As a few of you know, my short story “Tumbling Dice,” which was written as part of an Oregon Coast Workshop and subsequently published by Analog last year, was essentially a retelling of that album–or at least heavily influenced by it.

If you’re a fan of the Rolling Stones, you’ll want to read this entire article. Because, well … because it’s about the Stones and about their situation and their art and all that good stuff.

If you’re a writer, or anyone else in the “entertainment” industry, you’ll at least want to read through and think about this little gem:

“Mick slipped into the room, wearing a green tweed suit,” Loewenstein goes on.“We sat and talked for an hour or so. It was a good, long chat. His manner was careful. The essence of what he told me was,‘I have no money. None of us have any money.’ Given the success of the Stones, he could not understand why none of the money they were expecting was even trickling down to the band members.”

It took Loewenstein eighteen months to untangle the contracts and deals. He explained the problem to the band in 1970: Klein advised you to incorporate in the United States for tax purposes; as this new company was given the same name as your British concern— Nanker Phelge (named after their old Edith Grove housemate)— you’ve assumed it’s the same company; it’s not. The American Nanker Phelge is owned by Allen Klein; you are his employees. Royalties, publishing fees—all of it belongs to Klein, who can pay you as he sees fit. This also gives Klein ownership of just about every one of your songs. “They were completely in the hands of a man who was like an old-fashioned Indian moneylender,” Loewenstein writes, “who takes everything and only releases to others a tiny sliver of income, before tax.”

Jagger was humiliated, ashamed. Here was the smartest rocker, the LSE student, being taken in a game of three-card monte.

This was the root cause of their entire tax exile situation, and as such stands as a great cautionary tale for the whole “be careful of what you sign,” thing that Kris Rusch is in the process of deconstructing on her blog now.

Garrick Rides With Other Teen Super Heroes!

Yes, my friends, Garrick rides again, this time in a solid bundle of Teen Super Heroes. For a limited time, you can now grab a copy of Glamour of the God-Touched (Volume 1 of the Saga of the God-Touched Mage. This is the book that was #1 in Amazon’s Dark Fantasy list (and #2 in the US) at one point. In addition to this, you can pick up a bunch of other pretty cool work by pretty cool writers. As with all these bundles, you get to adjust what you pay and what you get, and you can choose to support the charity the curator has selected. I’m quite pleased to be in this package.

You can check it out here

Montage

What, you want More Information?

Geez. Well, all right. Here’s the clippy stuff I’ve grabbed from the bundle site itself.

#
On The Teen Super Heroes Bundle

Are you a teen?

Did you used to be a teen?

Are you going to be a teen soon?

Then you know that teenagers are already the most powerful force in the known universe. Which makes teenagers with superpowers pretty much unstoppable!

In this collection of stories featuring super teens, you’ll meet:

  • Danny and Breyona, who are caught in the middle of a war between two alien races.
  • Conner, Almira, Ricky, and Flower, who release an army of Grim Reapers into the world.
  • Riley Jamison, who can change the future with his thoughts.
  • Kyle, who discovers that his family has a horrific and violent secret.
  • Blue, who hates zombies because, among other reasons, they have scared all the hot girls away.
  • Young Jin, transported by accidental magic from the icy streets of Thama to the mysterious desert world of Darha.
  • Rick, who wakes up in the hospital reading the thoughts of everyone around him.
  • Kelley Strickland, and her twin brother Jeroan, who both accidentally step into an ancient battle between two sorcerers.
  • Claire Murray, who inherits a dragon and discovers she’s a faery princess.
  • Garrick, a mage’s apprentice, who is soon to be a full-fledged sorcerer.
  • Lucy Daz, a teenage orphan, who lives a busker’s life on Damyadi Space Station.
  • Spitball, a young speedster, who races into the superhero limelight… and away from flesh-eating zombies.


From authors as diverse as Stefon Mears, Mario Milosevic, Carl S. Plumer, Shantnu Tiwari, J.D. Brink, and Sherry D. Ramsey; in genres covering Fantasy, Science Fiction, the Paranormal, and more! Enjoy tales of wonder, adventure, and excitement — all featuring fearless teenagers of high school and college age.

Sometimes the Light: A Review

Jerry Maulin is an interesting guy. He’s tall, and strong. When you first meet him, you get a can’t-miss sense of calm that radiates from somewhere inside him. Maybe that’s his super power—a stable center from which to see things. When he talks he uses only a few words at a time but always has something interesting entwined in them. Perhaps his demeanor comes from being around kids so much, or maybe he’s around kids so much because he’s got that way he does with those few words he uses. Or maybe it’s because those words are delivered in that steady tone of his that’s infused with the same power that comes from inside him.

I’ve posted about Jerry’s music before here, and here.

He was playing with a group called The Clodhoppers back then. These days he‘s with a few other guys (Shane Del Bianco, Bill Blake, Jr., and Dave Clingan) who, together, are calling themselves J. D. Maulin & the Stone Cold Dog. Today I put his new CD Sometimes the Light into the player as I sat down to write. This turned out to be good for my ears, but not so good for the writing production.

You see, the other thing that I find interesting about Jerry is that for such a strong and powerful guy, he’s an interesting song writer who touches on a wide array of ideas and feelings in ways that are quite sensitive. Sometimes the Light shines with this delicacy in several places.

You can hear it on Spotify, or get it by paying the creator at one of the usual places for music (including Amazon)

It’s a traditionally folksie mix of Appalachian blues, the Cowboy Junkies, and a little Townes Van Zandt, sung with a nod toward Ray Wylie Hubbard.

Oddly, though, it starts with a bit of a rock-ish remix of “Whiskey and Lightning.” This was on one of his other discs, but I liked the harder edge to this update, and Shane Del Bianco’s guitar was a welcomed addition. Being a guitar kind of guy, I’ll say that I thought Del Bianco’s work throughout this disc was really refreshing. I like his style, and found the use of his guitar behind Maulin’s voice brought out the best in both. That said, “Whiskey and Lightning” is a little harder-edged than a lot of the first half of the disc.

I found “The Hour” to be more interesting as a poem than as a piece of music. This is interesting to me because “The Hour” has a religious context, which isn’t my area of expertise. Looking at the song in contrast to the rest of the album, perhaps my sense of its understated musicality is partially due to the mix. The sound behind the lyrics is just kind of there until the very end, and even then there’s a sense of constraint to it the leaves me feeling the song is looking inward rather than making statements on the world.

“Such Careless Love” bounces us back into the “now,” though. It’s a touching little piece that makes you happy just to hear it. It makes me think even more of the effect of the mix on “The Hour” because here the guitar lead steps up underneath the vocal and the sharp rhythm backing to infuse the whole piece with the feeling of an early evening on the porch step with the one you love.

As with Jerry’s other discs, he gets touches of supporting help on vocals from Hanna Guy Maulin (his wife), which often adds a power to his phrasing. This is most notable in the little duet that appears as a coda to “Careless Love,” which plays behind a gentle bass line and the sound of river water. It’s all very sweet, but sweet in a good way.

We get pretty steep change of pace with “Ulysses Relapsed,” which leans toward the dramatic in both its frame and in the haunting guitar that Del Bianco lays down. The sound of “Ulysses Relapsed” is contemporary, and it’s a song that touches on the bone wearying aspect of a life where entropy is always on the increase and jobs are never really finished. Definitely an excellent piece of work.

“Sedona” is a love song to Sedona, Arizona, which given Jerry’s propensity to strap on a motor cycle and ride across the country, I assume was written in or around the city. In truth, I think you could call it just about any town in the country and make it work, though.

Darkness runs deep in “Mostly,” a song that does more than suggest what kind of trouble can come about when relationships go sour. Some interesting interplay between Del Bianco’s guitar and Carolyn Dutton’s violin give the piece a slightly Celtic feel. It’s a powerful mix that I’ll remember for a bit.

I’m not sure what song should have followed “Mostly,” but in this case it’s “Sante Fe,” an old west-style piece of country music that reminds me of something Marty Robbins might have done—though it also has a weird David Lynch-y feeling to its more modern message, which is built around faith and its purpose. I just read Mary Doria Russell’s Epitaph, and I figure (with a little juggling of a few lyrics) this would fit right in at a Tombstone bar. It’s a nice enough little song as it stands. Probably more to my mom’s preference than mine, but interesting enough. My biggest issue on the whole is that I struggled with its placement—it kind of sticks out right there between “Mostly” and …

“Trouble Bound” is a gritty folks-blues piece with an interesting little story to it, but its sound rides as much the interplay between the lucid dream wanderings of Del Bianco’s guitar and the base tone of Maulin’s vocals as anything else. It’s one of my faves.

“Away” is a tough song. It’s a look at the ramifications of war on everyday life throughout the ages.

I’ve seen him play “Sinking” before, but I think this is the first time he’s recorded it beyond the demo stage. It’s a well-done old school folk-blues story steeped in blood, vengeance, and redemption, which is a genre I happen to like quite a bit. Another favorite.

If you’re looking for the origin of today’s political strife, it’s right there in “Barricade,” a piece that asks how one can look in the eyes of the kids around us and tell them that the system is working just great. Given Jerry’s other occupation, I find that to be a pretty interesting question. The song itself sounds like a mix of modern advertisement jingo, and 1960s protest song. I could hear Joan Baez or Pete Seeger singing it.

On the whole, I loved Sometimes the Light. It’s an easy listen, and if you like contemporary folksie music with a bit of flavor, I suspect you will, too. Piece by piece, it’s a good listen. The album it fits together well enough on the whole, too , though “The Hour” and “Santa Fe” don’t really sound the same as the rest to my uneducated ear. In addition, I find it interesting that both of those pieces touch on faith, so perhaps this says more about me than it does the work itself. But when I take these two songs out of the mix, I’m left with a collection of music that drills a core down to the individual, exposes our raw struggles with the relationships and the physical world around us.

The Bridge to Fae Realm is Published!

Today’s the Day!

Yes, it’s today! The official release of The Bridge to Fae Realm is here! You can now get it at electronic bookstores near you (links below)! As always, early sales and reviews are the most helpful, so if you plan to grab a copy, now is the time!

(Aside: how may exclamation points can I use in one post!)

Here’s the back cover description:

btfr-cover-300-450THE BRIDGE TO FAE REALM

Two worlds, two futures, one path …

Jonathan Hale is a delivery guy by day, and an underground music critic by night. He’s on his own and just getting his life back together when he runs across Micaela Alandari. She’s a kick-ass fae woman with an interesting bloodline that includes a half-brother mired in a losing war effort on the fae side of the tracks.

While Jon’s worried about keeping his job, Micaela’s got bigger problems for him to deal with. If he can’t get his act together, it could mean the end of civilization on both sides of the Bridge to Fae Realm.

Sounds cool, eh?

Anyway, also as always, your support is greatly appreciated.

This is a part of the Uncollected Anthology: Out of the Woods project, so once you’ve checked it out you might want to wander over to their site to read more great urban fantasy stories from Kris Rusch, Dayle A. Dermatis, Leah Cutter, Annie Reed, Leslie Claire Walker, and Rebecca M. Senese!

Here are the links!

Amazon:

Kobo: USCA

Nook: All

Get Zombies and Monsters and Gods!


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Want to get Volume 1 of the Saga of the God-Touched Mage along with nine other really cool books with (you got it) Zombies and Monsters and Gods?

Want to set your own price for $44 worth of books?

Check out the Zombies & Monsters & Gods Bundle on BundleRabbit!

Buy the Bundle

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Old Gifts Never Die

Back in 1993, before I went to work in Corporate America, I worked in the civil service Navy. When I left, the command threw many parties—all of which I assumed were to honor me, though some of which may well have been for other reasons.(grin) One of the gifts that one of my co-workers gave me was a Notre Dame shirt.

The back story there is that I am, as many know, a Louisville guy. I grew up there, went to school there, and married a Louisville girl before becoming a displaced Hoosier. The guy who gave it to me was, of course a Notre Dame guy, and a guy I had gone around and around with in our good-natured kind of way. (Full disclosure: I lived in South Bend for a while, and my parents are from there. My dad is a pretty big Irish follower to this day)

I’m thinking about this now because I still have that shirt, and still wear it occasionally to sleep it (Yes, I’m frugal and apparently have very low standards in some areas—sue me … it’s a little threadbare, but it works just fine).

I decided to post it now because I thought he would get a kick out of it.

So here it is:

NDShirt

Dare to Be Good

In the middle of everything else going on, Lisa Silverthorne and I have embarked on a short story dare. For the past six weeks, each Monday we’ve alternated giving ourselves a prompt, and written stories (due midnight Sunday). This process is modeled after Heinlein’s Rules, and was advocated by Dean Wesley Smith back in the stone ages when Lisa and I were first learning. Dean (and Kris Rusch) called it “Dare to be Bad.” It was quite controversial in its day.

Sometime later, I think Mike Resnick talked to Dean about the transition to the next level, which he called “Dare to be Good” and which is an interesting topic to consider, too. There’s a different mindset to “Dare to be Good” … some of which might just get touched on below.

I’m writing this today because for the first time in our little jaunt, I was late on a deadline—I didn’t finish the story that was due last Sunday until this morning. My tardiness will not absolve me of my deadline for next week, of course. So I’ll just have to suck that up.

But it happens.

Given that we did six stories in six weeks for a recent anthology workshop and now are on this streak, I can say that while I’ve always found the act of writing a short story interesting, the act of writing a series of short stories in such a relatively short period is even more so. As they say, you never really learn how to write, but that instead you only learn how to write the story you’re working on and then you have to start all over again. I described it in a recent email to Lisa as feeling like you’re a perpetual beginner.

That said, one of the things that this 11+ story jaunt is reminding me is that a lot of what I’m fiddling with is information flow, and that there’s a lot more to basic information flow than just putting words and thoughts into a stream that makes sense. There’s a flow associated with getting to know a story. A feeling, maybe. In addition, so much of a short story’s basic structure makes a lot more sense once I’ve figured out what the piece is about (What it’s about to me, anyway. The reader is welcomed to consider what I write to be about whatever they want it to be about).

I find that I often struggle with a manuscript until I decide what a story is about, and then it often tends to come together quite quickly after that point. It is, unfortunately, more complicated than that, of course. Sometimes issues are related to characters I don’t know, or situations that are skewed some way, or knowledge I don’t have. Sometimes it’s other stuff. Sometimes it’s because I’m having a confidence meltdown.

The issue with doing anything creative, or anything uncertain is that when things go haywire, the cause could have a thousand root sources—and you feel like you have to find the exact root cause before you can make things better.

Such is life, right?

Sometimes it’s a mix of several things.

This was, for example, among the problems with the story I missed my deadline on—I didn’t really know what the story was about (or, in reality, I was changing what it was about like it was oil on a hot skillet…at various points I was writing like it was about three different things). However, I had also made a basic rookie mistake at about the 3,000 word mark, but charged on to 4,500 words and gotten myself stuck on plot points. I beat my head against that barrier for a full day until I finally stopped the insanity, threw away the 1,500 words that sucked, and ran a different direction. A day later the story was “done.”

The point that’s relevant to you, however, is that I think this is the way of all life.

So many people think they know what they are actually doing—they think there’s a process for accomplishing something, and you just sit down and do it. I ran into that all the time in Corporate America. But then you ask what happens when “X” occurs, or “Y” and you find that mostly people just kind of wing things until they work.

And if they miss a deadline, then they might have to listen to the boss bitch a bit, but they still go to work the next day and try to make it up. If you make a mistake, you just try again.

Writers, though—some writers, anyway—can get caught up in the quest for quality and get tied up into knots. They worry. They fret. It’s a double-edged blade: write fast and you’ve been told it’s going to be dreck—but slow writing is often due to the fact the you have no idea what you’re doing, and so it can make you feel incompetent, like you’ll never write a decent sentence ever again in your life. And if they hit a bump, they think the spigot is broken.

The spigot is not broken, though. Not forever. Life goes on. I fixed my problem by letting myself take a step back and look at it from a bunch of ways, but then basically just reminding myself that I can do this, diving in, and trying on ideas that felt right until I saw the light—or at least a light that I liked. And then I charged on.

That’s what I’m carrying away from this stint, though.

A reminder.

Build your craft. Trust your craft. Work as fast as you’re comfortably capable of working.

But create something you’re proud of, regardless of whether it “sells” or not, create something you’re proud of.

You’re capable of more than you might think you are.

And, in the end, if you hit a snag—a real snag … a thing where when you look at something you think it’s truly garbage, then sure, give yourself permission to blow a deadline, and go back. But don’t let the fact that you missed a deadline keep you from hitting the next.

Or enjoying the process.

So, yeah, Dare to be Bad: leap into this big goal of a story a week. Have fun. If you write something that doesn’t work, it’s not a big deal. But Dare to Be Good, too: if you know something isn’t working, give it room to breathe until you can do something you’re proud of.

It’s all so simple right?

Cover Reveal!

As I’ve mentioned, the the cool folks at the Uncollected Anthology invited me to play in their urban fantasy sandbox this quarter. This has been outstanding fun because it led me to write in a sub-genre I’ve often read but never really attempted before–yes, my friends, Ron Collins took his shot at playing with the fae.

The result was “The Bridge to Fae Realm,” which is a very long novella (nearly a short novel). As you might expect, and as you might be able to tell from the cover below, my fae aren’t exactly your old-school fae–which is probably why the danged story kept growing, and threatens to grow even further.

Full publication will happen May 1 (yes, this Sunday!).

You, however, get to take an peek at the cover today. I’m terribly excited by it, and hope you will be, too. One friend of mine called it “freaky beautiful,” and another called it “a kick-ass cover … absolutely first-rate.” Your mileage is allowed to vary, just not by much! It’s built around the photography of Karolina Ryvolová, an artist from the Czech Republic who clearly has more than her fair share of eye-grabbing creativity and a eye for the dramatic.

I hear ya, though … enough with the blather. Show me the danged cover!

All right, already … here it is:

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Collins-Bridge cover1-600-900

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Yes, totally gorgeous, right?

I will, of course let you know more as the days march on.

Purple Rain

So, yeah. Prince.

I know. He did stuff before Purple Rain and a whole lot of stuff after Purple Rain. He was more than his music.

But I want to talk about Purple Rain because … well …

I’ve always had this weird relationship to Prince and his music. If you’re reading this on my site, you can tell from my picture that I’m a white guy of an age to be around when he was bursting onto the scene. This meant that my real introduction to him was primarily through MTV and songs like “1999” and “Little Red Corvette”. I can add that I was in the middle (or toward the end) of growing up in Louisville, Kentucky—in other words, somewhere around the Mason Dixon line. I went to middle school in an all white public district, but when I went to high school I was lucky enough to be among the first group of kids to be bused to an integrated high school. By the time Prince was getting noticed I was in college, though.

I remember seeing (and hearing) “1999” and thinking it was an okay pop song, but seeing (and hearing) “Little Red Corvette” as something … more. Sure, it was sexual, what pop song isn’t eh? But it was clearly more overt than most. And it was bigger in ways I could feel but that I never thought to analyze back then. Looking at it now, you can see how it all works together, how the piece is about sex, yes, but it’s about what it means to be young and know you’re naïve, but not be able to do a damned thing about it except charge ahead and figure it out on the run. The sound is hollow and distant in places that accentuate the point, the production coarse and sharp at others. The look of the video is lush—pure Prince, of course. Prince’s performance, too … I mean … it was like David Bowie on Viagra, except Viagra hadn’t been invented, yet.

And the poetry. Geez Louise … go Google the lyrics. Read them and (assuming you’ve heard the song) do your best to block the music that will inevitably come into your head. The pictures they can create are remarkable. “Little Red Corvette” sounds like a lewder version of something Bruce Springsteen might have penned.

The whole thing—the package of it all—is a tightrope act, perfectly balanced.

In retrospect, this is the song that first turned my head Prince’s way.

But, and I need to say this, there were problems.

How to put it politely. Okay. Well. There is no way to put it politely, so let me just charge ahead.

As I remember that time, young men I ran with were quite culturally split on whether it was “acceptable” to be a fan of Prince, and I ran with a wide array of folks so I ran into all of the groups. The cliques were all there. I mostly hung with the Stones/Beatles/Who folks, (who I related to well). There were the Zep, Aerosmith, Bad Company 70s metal/rock folks. There were the Lou Reed/VU punkers, the Doors guys, and the southern rockers.

You might note that none of these cultures are folks you immediately connect to either the music or anything else about Prince—especially in the 80s. Since I wasn’t big into creating conflict, mostly I just shut my trap at times. But the full truth is that I wasn’t sure who Prince was at all, so even if I could have pretended to be enlightened, I probably wouldn’t have known what to say about him. The closest comparison was Bowie or maybe James Brown, but even those were way off.

I don’t want to overstate any of this. I don’t want this to be all about where I came from—but, of course, it was about culture to a degree and it would be disingenuous of me to leave out the extreme angst that Prince’s work caused in some of the circles I ran with. It was a confusing time—as they all are—and a culture’s art is important to it. I belonged to the young, white male culture, and the lines of inclusion weren’t as oft-tread then as they are now. It was, for example, not particularly cool for some people to like Fleetwood Mac [too girly], or Peter Frampton [too girly], or Dan Fogelberg [too girly] … perhaps you get the drift.

Regardless, Prince was well beyond the edge of both the ethnic and androgyny lines for acceptance in some of the gangs I hung with (repeat on the some).

So, I enjoyed some of what Prince did in the early days, but I didn’t really pay him much attention one way or the other. What he was wasn’t as obvious to me at the time.

Then came Purple Rain (which I am listening to again as I write this).

Sweet Jesus.

It wasn’t just the title song. Every piece was startling. Lisa and I had met by then and we got that album, and we both played the crap out of it. It’s brilliant. Where the movie is bloatware, the album is surgical. Where the movie is over-wrought, the album is comprehensive in its focus on youth and love and the desire to be something important, to want to love something, to want to understand what it means to be alive.

Side One: “Let’s Go Crazy” (poppy, dance-y, but with a sharp-edged guitar that spoke of what was coming as Prince gathered the kids around to talk about This Thing Called Life), “Take Me With U” (a little sweet for my tastes, but more interesting on many listens), “The Beautiful Ones” (perhaps one of the most under-rated pieces here, a story of longing so pure as to overwhelm the ability to deal with it), “Computer Blue” (lyrically simple, but musically complex, in which things go wrong), and then closing with the notorious “Darling Nikki” (which you really don’t have to be a Rhodes scholar to get, right?)

The entire first side was something any young person on the face of the earth could listen to and understand somewhere deep inside them. It was a brilliant opening. All alone, it would be ear-popping.

Then we get to Side Two.

“When Doves Cry,” “I Would Die For U,” “Baby I’m a Star,” and then, of course, the title song.

The first three run us through the story. They build off the angst of side one to allow a guy to come to some tenuous, uneasy essence of what it might mean to be a real person, achieving real things, and being someone who is true to oneself as well as others. Each piece is, alone, artistically interesting. But the three together carve a path that makes them important to be seen together. In that way, they stand as testimony to the idea that the album as an art form should always exist.

Finally, there’s “Purple Rain.”

I remember driving to a store or somewhere all by myself. We lived in Louisville, and it was a warm day. I arrived at a fairly empty parking lot when the title song came on the radio, and I decided to just sit there while it played. The song was huge. Monstrous. Pulsing with every emotion you deal with in this thing called life. As I heard it, the rest of the album dropped into my head. Is the song pretentious? Maybe. Okay, sure. But that’s what art is at its core, isn’t it? Pretentious, presumptuous, and impossible to dismiss.

Then Prince played his guitar—unleashing perhaps one of the most amazing solos ever recorded.

By itself, “Purple Rain” is iconic. In context of the story told in the album, it’s heartrendingly beautiful. If you let it, the ideas behind this album will bring you to your knees, and it’s this song that makes it do that.

That day, when the song was over, I shut of the radio and for several minutes I just sat in my car.

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I don’t want to over-state this. I don’t want to be too hyperbolic.

An artist can only do so much without the help of the person who is their audience, and the moment around that person—but there are some artists that change everything. As I look back on that time of my life, I don’t think it’s going too far to say that I never really looked at the world exactly the same way after Purple Rain.

I only wish I would have realized it more fully at the time.

What do you do about piracy?

A writer buddy of mine asked me what I do about piracy.

In that conversation, he said he was thinking about changing his release approach to address possible loss of sales (putting print out before ebooks, etc.). DRM is a weak protection, he said (which is true). In a lot of ways publishing, and indie publishing in particular, can feel like you’re sitting in a leaky lifeboat and watching the sharks circle.

This reminded me that I had planned on posting my own piracy statement here. So that’s what I’ll do at the end of this note.

Piracy is, of course, a pretty big deal at the end of the day. But, it’s also a question that comes up a lot when I talk to newer writers and almost never when I’m with people who already write for a living. Some of that difference is almost certainly a factor of experienced writers being okay with the fact that you can still swim in an ocean if has sharks. Some of that difference is probably that traditional authors have their publisher’s legal folks to help them. Some of that difference is probably that a lot of indie publishers have already started to use “free” as effective marketing approaches, so they’ve bucketed the threat that these pirates have in a different way than others.

I should start, though, with my own personal “mission statement,” as it were: All I’m really trying to do is write stories that matter, and develop a loyal following.

That’s it. So every time I take effort away from those two things, I’m probably losing something.

I should also say that I do not publish my own work under DRM. I also give a lot of my work away for free at times.

Also, it’s good to note that my basic make-up (hence, my approach and policy) says that a truly loyal following will appreciate my work and be willing to pay for it in the end, even if they can’t afford it right now. I intend to write good books for a lot of years, and I want readers to enjoy the act of paying for them (which most actually do). Sometimes, that means I get to enjoy giving them away for free—but when I do, it’s always with the idea that I’m going to benefit in the end. Think win-win, you know? Most people believe creators “deserve” to get paid for their work.

Finally, as a traditionally published short story writer, and an indie publisher of longer works, I have a very limited legal staff. [grin] This means that I am both financially and time strapped when it comes to fending off the sharks. It means I need to focus on priorities (hence, when in doubt, get thee back to the mission statement).

I realize, however, that I’m a person, so my mind can change. This is how I feel today…but it’s how I’ve felt for some time, so I doubt it will change too much. Shrug.

I find that keeping all of this in mind is helpful when I think about piracy, because, while I get my ego hurt when someone gets something from me for free that I didn’t offer them directly, for the most part it allows me to mostly let it go and focus on the game I’m playing rather than divert a lot of energy into places that don’t move me forward.

With that out of the way, let me get to my thoughts and base policy regarding pirates themselves—which I tend to split into three different groups:

Publishing pirates
“Information wants to be free” pirates
“Can’t afford to pay anything” pirates

Publishing Pirates:

Publishing pirates are the people who steal my work and put it on sites where they either make it available to people for free or sell it without paying me. Of the three groups, these people are the most annoying. They are breaking copyright law by both creating copies of my work, and distributing it—and are generally profiting from it by either direct sales or pushing advertisement. So, yeah, it’s bothersome. If I find one, I’ll drop them a note requesting they take the book down (and perhaps threatening legal action). There are also writer’s organizations that can help. But there are a gazillion of these, and only one of me, so there’s a time/dollar cost/benefit thing that needs to be run.

I’m also of the opinion that, at my current level of success, these people are only hurting me a little. And I’m aware there does exist a philosophical (and insupportable) argument that they could even be helping me a bit. Regardless, it is clear they are breaking copyright law because I had zero involvement in their action, so that upsets me.

So, yes, I know there are some people ripping me off. I’ll do my best to fight them when, like a whack-a-mole arcade game, they pop up. But I don’t go out of my way to find them or worry about them. I choose not to get too tied up into this at present because that way lies mental anguish beyond the cost/benefit study. Perhaps if I get bigger I’ll change my attitude.

Information Wants to Be Free Pirates:

The Information Wants to Be Free pirates are the most interesting of the groups. These are either a form of publishing pirate (if they actually distribute the work), or a reader with a self-serving streak or a warped … uh … view of life? … relative to mine. I kind of admire this group, though. Their passion is commendable. Those who are publishing my work under this category meet all the criteria of the above category (including the fact that they are breaking copyright law), and if I find one I’ll take the same kinds of actions.

The readers in this category, however, are different. First, they are completely impossible for me to reach out and stop. So, until I hear other ideas, my reaction is to ignore them. Second, they are not readers that I care to attract because they are withholding payment for philosophical (political?) reasons. They do not care to support the writer—or, maybe better put, they think that writers should be able to find other ways to eat and shelter themselves (I guess?). In my opinion, these readers are not particularly sharp, but they would probably respond by saying that they just don’t value the same things as I do. That way lay the conversation fodder of all politics, eh?

These readers don’t help me, but in the end neither do they hurt me (Though technically I suppose some do. Nothing is stranger to me than a person who steals a book, and then writes a negative review).

Like I say, though, as a general statement I admire the passion that’s in this group. I think these people are wrong, but I get it. Heck, there’s some chance that when I was much younger I would have felt that way, too. And since (rightly or wrongly) I have a mental picture of most of them being 15-25 years old and progressing up the maturity curve, I expect that most will grow out of it. So my basic approach to this IWTBF reader is to speak to them about the realities of the publishing world in hopes their views will “mature,” and move on.

Can’t Afford to Pay Anything Pirates

This is the group my personal policy is going to actively address.

To a very small degree I’ve been there. Yes, I had a very comfortable upbringing, but the truth is I can definitely remember what it felt like to be working a low-paying job for a few hours a week. I remember going to bargain bins to buy used records instead of the newest releases. And, yes, I fully admit that rather than buy an album I really wanted but didn’t have the money for, I might have (on occasion) made a cassette or two from music that friends had. It’s not too hard to take that memory of desire and angst I felt at those times, and amplify it to apply to what’s happening to people today.

I hate the idea that someone might have to look at one of my books and truly feel that they have to decide whether paying $4.99 (or whatever) for it will make them have to change what they plan to eat for lunch that day. And, yet, I want this person as a loyal reader—I want them to love my work so much that someday when their finances are stronger they enjoy the idea of supporting me, perhaps even because I supported them.

So, here’s my basic piracy policy: If you are in that situation, if the idea of spending the price of a book gives you that ugly feeling down in the pit of your stomach, and that is driving you to go to the pirate sites for free books, send me a note (ron*at*typosphere.com) telling me what book you want. Unless I am contractually constrained otherwise, I’ll gladly provide you one.

Other writers may not agree with me at all, and what works for me may well not work for you. Other writers may have more resources available to them to fight things. Pirates may be hurting other writers more than they hurt me (or I may be misguided and they may be stealing so much that I could afford that yacht I need to keep the sharks away … uh, have I mentioned that I moved to Arizona?).

As I said before, I retain the right to change my mind.

But those are all my thoughts and policies toward the idea of piracy as of April, 2016.

Any thoughts are, of course, welcome.

“Really” “felt” the “was”

Wherein Ron shows you some of his not so tricky tricks on how he makes his prose “better” and proves it with (of course) data … ’cause, I’m a numbers nerd at heart, you know?

Today I’m going to use the 27K novella (*) I’ve recently finished to discuss a few “simple” things one can do to shore up their micro-prose.

(*) The work in question is an urban fantasy titled “The Bridge to Fae Realm.” It should be available on or about May 1 as part of the Uncollected Anthology project. Stay tuned!

I’ll start by saying that I’m a very big proponent of fast writing—meaning that I encourage people to break whatever barrier they have to just sitting down and making words happen. Yes, sometimes those words don’t work. I often throw away a lot of words. But I almost always find the stories I draft in quick burst are much stronger than the stories I struggle over. There are exceptions, of course, but just go with me on this—I’ve been fiddling with my “process for a quarter century. I know me pretty well by now. [grin]

However, I’ve also learned that when I write quickly, I often let my prose fall into flabby patterns. You know what I mean: weak or passive sentence structures, generic word choices, and reliance on words that filter the story rather than tell it. Since I know these things about myself, I try to make my “last” pass through a manuscript be one where I specifically look for three indicators that suggest I may have missed opportunities to make my micro writing better.

These three things are:

1. The word “felt”
2. The notorious “ly” endings
3. Clustering of the use of “was” and other forms of the verb “to be”

Let me show you directly what I mean.

CASE 1: THE WORD “FELT”

My “final” manuscript weighed in at 27,127 words (115 double-spaced manuscript pages). I did a search on the word “felt” and found 46 of them. When I reviewed those 46 cases, I decided that 23 of them (fully half) were simple filtering that represented missed opportunities for making the reader’s experience better.
Here’s a fairly simple example:

Original: He wanted to pull away from her, but he felt pursuit from something he couldn’t see, and suddenly he was thinking…

Final: He wanted to pull away from her, but the raw fear of pursuit from something he couldn’t see made him flash on…

The astute of you might find that I resolved an “ly” in that example, too. Now, I’m sure other writers would do something different. That’s what makes us who we are, right? But the point I want to make here is that by using word “felt” in that sentence I was relying upon the reader to insert her own idea of what my character was feeling. The pressure of pursuit, after all, can carry many nuanced forms, “raw fear” being only one of them. I note, though, that when I fell upon the specific of “raw fear” it also helped me roll out the rest of the sentence.

Bottom line, though, Before my review I had 46 cases of the word “felt,” and afterward I had 23. The modifications I made in these adjustments added about 100 words, and in each case made the situation more vivid and appropriate to what I’m trying to accomplish with the passage.

CASE 2: “LY ENDINGS”

Like I think most writers do, I work hard while I’m drafting to keep these prose weakeners out of my work even in first drafts. But they are insidious little buggers. When I searched for “ly” in my final manuscript I found 328 of them. Wow. Almost three per page. Of course, that counts real words like “fly,” so it’s not a true count. But still, I’m always a bit sheepish when I look at a manuscript that I think has been written with moderately strong prose and find this kind of … well … weakness.

You get the drill by now. I went back and examined each case of “ly” to decide whether I was missing an opportunity to make my work better. As a result, I dumped 137 of them (leaving me with 181 cases of “ly” in the final manuscript. The rewrites as a whole added about 75 words (but to be honest, the corrective action for many of these was just to remove the offending words—which for me are often the words “really” and “actually” … which I tend to use like others might use “literally”)

Here’s another fairly simple example:

Original: The moon shined on them so strongly it made Jon remember …

Final: The stark moonlight reminded Jon …

Five words instead of eleven, which is much easier to read, and which is important at that time of the story because tensions are high and I want the reader running as hard as my characters are. In addition, I hope you’ll agree that the picture of “stark moonlight” is much more visceral than “shined on them so strongly.”

CASE 3: CLUSTERING OF “WAS”

This is a more sensitive one for me—or a more subjective one, at least. Maybe. As those around me know, I’m an engineer, not a linguist (smile). All I really worry about here is the fact that when I use the word “was” in clusters, I’m often bogging the story down and I’m often taking the voice of the piece away from my characters.

So when I search on “was” or other forms of the strange little verb “to be,” I’m really mostly interested in places where I see big clusters. I’ll take the time to resolve others, too, of course, but after having done this on a few manuscripts I tend to look at them almost more from the perspective of pacing than anything else.

Here’s an example of what I mean:

Original:
Jon sighed. This was too damned crazy.

It wasn’t fair. Really, it wasn’t. He had finally got his act together after dealing with all the shit from his mom, who made his life hell before drinking herself to death, and after dealing with the fallout of his own goddamned stupidity. He was finally figuring it out. He had a job, now. He was paying his rent. And on top of that, he had the music thing that was at least halfway happening even if it would never wind up anywhere near where he had once planned it.

Sure, he was living paycheck to paycheck, but at least he had that much.

Final:
Jon sighed. This was too damned crazy.

It wasn’t fair. He had finally got his act together after dealing with the fallout of his own goddamned stupidity, and after dealing with all the shit from his mom, who had made his life hell before drinking herself to death. He was figuring it out. He had a job now. He paid his rent. And on top of that, the music thing was at least halfway happening even if it would never wind up anywhere near where he wanted it to.

Sure, he lived paycheck to paycheck, but at least he had that much.

Again, another writer might have done something different, but this is what I did. It dropped wordcount by just under 10%, and streamlined a cluster of seven “was” constructs down to four. Arbitrary? Maybe you think so, but by looking at these things and actually thinking about them I can tell you why I chose to keep what I did.

That makes me happy.

For this manuscript, I started with 536 instances of “was,” and I ended with 401—an “improvement” in 135 cases.

FINAL ANALYSIS:

If you’re with me this far, well, I’m impressed. But the bottom line for me here is always to step back and ask myself if I made the manuscript better. In this case (as with pretty much all of them, right?) I think that answer is a resounding yes. I’ve got a story and a presentation I’m proud of, which is the part I can control.

Of course, the real test happens after a story gets published—because at the end of the day it’s always the reader who gets the last say.

Workload and the Writer

So, yeah … remember that thing about how quitting the day job to write full time will help with the work load? Not happening. This writing gig, it turns out, is just about the same as any project-oriented corporate job I’ve ever had—the multitude of projects overlap forever, and the base skillset for “surviving” is to figure out which issues to freak out over right now and which to freak out about later …which, in writer reality, means finding ways to be okay with not doing all the other things I really know I need to be doing as I go along (which in the role of being an indie publisher, is pretty much a bottomless pit of tasks … Yes, my brain says, I need to do All the Things).

In all seriousness, the sensation can be a real problem if you’re like me.

This is because I feed off achievement. I like to see things getting done. Back in the days when I was working to develop technology, I used to tell people that I didn’t really care what I did or what I worked on—I could work in a bread factory for all that mattered, as long as I had goals and deadlines. This is probably technically a lie, but it’s got that truthiness about it that is so in vogue right now.

If you’re of a psychological makeup like mine, and you find yourself with a glut of creative projects that are all kind of at the middle of their existence, you can be in for some real discomfort. Creative projects that are in the middle of their existence always feel squishy, you see? The “deadlines” are different, and the fact that they have a creative element to them makes these projects petulant. Sometimes these infantile little creatures seem to alternate between screaming at you for pushing them too hard and laughing at you for pretending you know when they’ll be done.

Over the past three weeks, for example, I’ve been juggling the following projects:

• An urban fantasy novella that has grown like a sea monkey and is due to launch May 1, he says, sneaking a sly pre-announcement announcement into the mix. (Seriously … I’m done! 27K words is it, I say. Anything else goes into a Book 2, he says, making a potentially sly pre-pre announcement).
• Two short-short stories
• A 5K contemporary fantasy short story
• One 7K+ word short story that’s in collaboration with John Bodin (yes, be prepared for 6 Days in May, available at book dealers near you soon!)
• A final pass rewrite of a 40+K short SF novel that will be book 1 of a 5 book series.
• A new short story I’m committed to write for a short story in a week dare cycle I’m doing with Lisa Silverthorne, due Sunday night but still sitting there only with my mischievously chuckling prompt sitting on the page.

And those are just the items related to word creation.

If you’re an indie publisher—which I am for my longer work—there’s more. A lot more.

In my case, that “more” has included all the support processes for launching the projects related to bullet item 1 and 4 above: things like cover design, copy editing, interstitial creation, developing what I’ll laughably call “marketing plans” and all the other stuff it takes to make something I’m going to be proud of in the end. Since I don’t actually do all that work myself (why, yes, that is my wife over there in the corner laughing her behind off at the idea of me copy editing my own work, why do you ask?), and since I often use beta readers, this also means I’m juggling these projects around a lot of “dead time” waiting for other people. Which, of course, has its own form of passive-aggressive stress.

Oh, and don’t forget submitting stories to traditional short story markets.

Gotta keep all the irons in the fire, right?

Anyway, as I’m writing this, I’m sitting here on the back patio thinking about what I have to do and remembering my friends at the day job. When they heard I was leaving to be a full time bohemian, they basically asked what a writer does all day, thinking (I’m sure) about how cushy it all sounded. And, you know, I get it. Been there, done that, still watching it unfold before my very eyes at times. Life in corporate Anywhere can be really high-paced and really high pressure.

But this writing gig isn’t any less hard. It’s a hell of a lot of work. And, yes, it is stressful, too. Have I mentioned how all this work I’ve done is essentially unpaid until the market decides if it’s worth the notorious cup of Starbucks or not? No pressure, though. Just get that novella done, all right? (full disclosure, I am not the usual writer. I am insanely lucky to be financially secure enough to take this kind of “risk” without having any real concern about needing to pay for dinner tomorrow–so, for me that financial tightrope is only scary in the normal human way, not the Please Keep Me Safe way).

But in the end what this job doesn’t have is that meeting where you sit down with the boss and listen to him or her tell you what to do.

So, yeah. I can handle that part pretty well.

The challenge, however, is to remind myself to step back and take a look at the mountains every now and again. When I do that, this job really doesn’t suck.

The truth of the matter, though, is that I could say that even back when I was in the corporate pit, too. So I suppose you can take from this what you will.

In the meantime, just in case you need it today here’s a mountain to look at. Complete with moon.

mountain-moon

Uncollected Anthology Podcast

I’m a few days late dropping this, but I saw the Uncollected Anthology folks did a pretty cool little podcast with Mark-the-Kobo-guy (grin) a bit ago. As I noted before, (*) I’ll be their May issue guest, so I thought you might enjoy hearing the leaders of the band talk about it for a bit. The podcast was actually recorded during the last coast workshop, and discusses what those workshops are like, too…so you get a double bump for your money!

Here’s a link.

More news on this very cool project coming soon.

* And, yeah, my story wound up a 20K word novella.

Check out KEXP …

I listen to a lot of music while I write. Today I tied into KEXP.org’s Youtube channel.

<< insert standard speech about how music … or anything else … was so much better when I was a kid, that kids today can’t play instruments, that it’s all … whatever it all is >>

Here are three interesting and brilliant sessions that prove those arguments … inappropriate. *

Start with any of them, and just let the chain roll. You could do a lot worse than just setting it on KEXP and running through them all.

(*) I suggest that “problem” for a lot of us older fogeys who think we need to get our music off the radio, is that you don’t find the good stuff there no more—if ever it was really there to begin with. [grin]

Kobo makes Hidden in Crime free to you!

Get a copy of Fiction River: Hidden in Crime, complete with my Derringer nominated story “The White Game”, FOR FREE at Kobo!

1) Go to the link above
2) Click “ADD TO CART” then go to your shopping cart
3) If you don’t have an existing Kobo account, enter your payment info (or, select PayPal option to avoid having to enter a credit card)
4) Enter promo code HIDDENFREE and click APPLY (this will discount the book to 100% off)
5) Complete the purchase and enjoy. And don’t forget to leave a review! Either on Kobo or Amazon or Goodreads – anywhere!

“The White Game” Makes the Derringer Short List

READ “THE WHITE GAME” FOR FREE

Thanks to the very fine folks at WMG Publishing you can read “The White Game” for free for the next several days. It’s a story I was particularly proud of even before this nomination, so I’m happy to see it available for wider readership.

Leave it to me to be away from the keyboard the week that one of my stories is provided such a high honor as to be nominated as a finalist for the Short Mystery Fiction Society’s 2016 Derringer Award. Yes, that’s right. “The White Game” has made the short list for this remarkably nice award. You can push me over with the wind of a feather’s wave. I am quite pleasantly gobsmacked. Are there more ways to gush?

I should note that the Short Mystery Fiction Society was created 20 years ago in order to help highlight short mystery and crime fiction.It currently has over 1,600 members. You can read more about it, and even consider joining (it’s free!) here.

As you might suspect from the cover I clipped to this post, this story appeared in last November’s Hidden in Crime edition of Fiction River, which was edited by Kristine Katheryn Rusch. This is a very cool series of anthologies that provides regular doses of high quality fiction from a lot of very fine authors in multiple genres. Obviously, I highly recommend a subscription.

I shall stop now before I make too much of a fool of myself.

It has clearly, however, been a very good week. [grin]

How about 30% off “Saga”

We interrupt this ridiculously comical presidential campaign to let you know that you can get the entire Saga of the God-Touched Mage series (yes, all eight volumes in one great package!) at Kobo for 30% off through the weekend. How do you achieve this momentous deal? How to you acquire such vast and bounteous treasure?

Glad you asked.

Just use Promo Code 30Feb when you go to checkout!


And for a double dose of Collins fiction, you might pick up a copy of Brigid’s Singer in the same deal. It’s book one of her very solid fantasy series (hint, hint, book 3 may be available soon, so if you like Singer, you can also grab Book 2, The Southern Dragon).

Free Kesha, and other contractual thoughts

If you’re a writer, I think you should be paying attention to the story surrounding Kesha and her contract.

I think it’s a big deal, and I want to take a few moments to discuss it. However, since I am a male, and since this has to do with sexual abuse, I think have to address that aspect first. And, since I assume that not all folks who wander over here will really understand the context, I feel the need to summarize the basic situation briefly (and probably way too simply) by stating these things:

1. Kesha is the pop singer who was known as Ke$ha some time back.
2. She sings stuff that a lot of folks like, but I admit I am not really one of those people. This is fine. You don’t need to be a big fan to discuss the situation. I am not going to pretend to be all pop-culturally savvy here. I am not.
3. She hasn’t put much music out lately, because she’s been too busy suing Sony, her record company, in an attempt to get out of her contract because she says her manager, and not coincidentally, the owner of the record company’s label she works with, has been sexually abusing her for … well … a lot of years. She’s also made it understood that he has not given her the reins to make the kinds of music she wants to make, and has body shamed her into eating disorders. Predictably, it just gets uglier and uglier from there.
4. Late last week, an injunction on her case was not granted, meaning she has to either work for SONY, or not work.
5. This has created a huge flurry of social media from many people in and around the industry.

Bottom line: Google “Kesha” and you’ll find a gazillion better summaries than I just gave you.

I don’t really want to talk about the sexual harassment element of this case, because these things are beyond my ability to adequately comprehend. But I feel like in order to talk about the rest of it—purely the contractual stuff going on (which no one else seems to be focusing on)—I need to address an opinion on the nature of her allegations.

So, let me say that I believe her manager almost certainly took horrifying advantage of her, and that in a just world she would be out of her contract with him. That phrasing “out of her contract with him” is actually more important than it may seem at first glance, but I want to start there.

Yes, there is a (very small) chance that Kesha has made it all up, a small chance that she’s merely playing with the situation in hopes of squeezing a bigger payday out of her contract. But (1) based purely on numbers it is massively more likely that she’s telling the truth and that her manager is a complete scum ball, (2) if that’s the case, there is no way our legal system should force her to fulfill a contract with an abusive client, and (3) it goes almost without saying that the risk/gamble of faking such a situation isn’t particularly wise. After all, SHE’S GOT A DEAL, you know? If she’s not telling the truth, she’s taking a huge risk in fighting against someone who has a helluva lot of power to use against her.

So, yes, I believe that in a fair world, Kesha would be free to make a new deal today because I believe her when she says she was abused. I believe that in the end, she will be found to be justified and that she will eventually win. That is my opinion. It completely sucks, and as a male I find it outright embarrassing, that women are still finding themselves in this position in 2016.

But what I want to focus on right now is that contract itself, and how that contract should make us as writers pay attention to what’s going on around us.

Thing is, since everyone is so busy focusing on the abuse angle, it took me most of a day’s worth of scurrying around to determine what her contract problem really is. When you take this effort, though, a few things become more “clear.” Bottom line: it’s a mess. For example, did you know that her problem is actually an intersection of three separate contracts? One contract (signed when she was 18), is effectively with her manager, the second is between her manager and Sony, which is NOT actually a recording contract, but essentially a services deal, and the third is between Sony and Kemosabe, the Sony label that her manager runs.

All of these three deals together essentially put Kesha into a situation that, abuse or not, leave her at the whim of her manager. He can control what she does as a professional to a degree that few people truly understand, and (again, abuse aside) it appears to be completely legal. The fact that Kesha is suing to get out of that deal (again, abuse or none), suggests to me that it not only appears to be completely legal that her manager can control her, but that this most certainly is what her contract allows her manager to do. To make matters worse, this deal apparently puts her in a situation where she owes at least SIX albums to fulfill her obligations.

Six. I mean … holy shit. That’s a lot of music. And in the lifespan of the average female pop star in today’s world, that seems to me to be just about a lifetime deal.

First things first: this sucks.

Second things second: but still, she signed the deal.

Third things third: the judge in the case says these are fairly standard deals—meaning that a LOT of artists are tied into these kinds of contracts, and if true, every one of them runs the risk of being locked into doing whatever the owner of the contract wants them to do for a very long time.

Poe, another female singer, had contractual problems of a similar but not identical nature, but apparently without the sexual abuse elements. Her issues cost her a decade of her career, and us a decade of what could have been some remarkable work. I am, you might garner, a bigger fan of Poe’s work than Kesha’s … but that fact has nothing to do with the fact that both of them got themselves into contractual binds that threaten to kill their careers.

So, I hear you…what does this have to do with writers? Recording deals are different than writing contracts.

Well, maybe. But maybe not so much.

Let’s pretend for a minute that the abuse did not happen. All right? For just a moment, let’s assume that Kesha’s accusations fall into the 2% (give or take) of such things, and that her accusations of abuse are falsely made. That means that she’s either doing it for the potential of more money (which assumes her future deal would pay her a heck of a lot more), or she’s doing it because she can’t stomach the crap her manger is telling her to sing. Or both, I suppose. Just as important, if her record company decided to not put out the albums, I suppose she’s still required to present the material in order to fulfill the contract.

And until that time, she’s landlocked.

To be blunt, this is, effectively, what traditional publishing companies have worked hard to do with writers for a long time. It is their business to squeeze as much out of writers as they can (why wouldn’t they, I suppose). They want to lock the writer into situations where they have to write what the publishing company wants them to write. And when you add in the idea of the agent, you have the same basic dynamic that Kesha finds herself in—except that Kesha is triple screwed because her “agent” also runs the “imprint” that she records for under the contract she has with the parent company.

Her career is in the clutches of her agent/producer/record company, and if they want her to play the pop ingénue forever, or whatever, she pretty much needs to do it. They decide. Poe, for example, was able to skirt her issues to a small degree by recording a few things under different names, but for all intents and purposes, she could not record under her stage name. She had signed away the ability to decide what her art was going to be. Kesha is in a similar situation.

I’ve been around the business for a couple decades now. I’ve signed a lot of contracts for short stories (which are considerably less complicated than novels). I’ve dealt with film options (which are more complicated than short stories, but generally less complicated than novels). I’ve been unlucky enough, however, to not deal with big publishers on novel contracts. I’ve done all my novel length work as an indie/small press publisher. But, yes, know several writers who have been in such ugly situations where they’ve lost control of their careers due to deals they’ve fully agreed to with publishers/agents, and due to a lack of knowledge about how the business worked (or worse, back in the day, due to the fact that they knew how the business worked, but that there was no other way that they could see to keep their careers going).

When your agent/publishing company/record company owns you, you’re at their whim.

That’s just the fact.

To my ability to understand, this thing with Kesha is exhibit A of what can happen when you sign a particularly crappy contract—and it’s also exhibit A of what the publishing world (and music world for that matter) operated like prior to the existence of independent publishing. Her deal is, once again, apparently a fairly standard deal for the traditional music industry.

And that’s why writers should pay attention to the situation Kesha finds herself in.

Even if one discounts the sensational allegations (which one should not), this is one truly smelly situation.

Now, I fully admit that I would love to make a deal with a bigger publisher sometime because they bring things to the table that are a lot of work for me. But I don’t feel any great need to do that, and I won’t do it unless the situation is favorable. I want to own my stuff, so if it screws up, it’s my fault.

And, luckily, we have options today.

Very good options. Options where we can control everything that happens to us (within the limits of anyone’s ability to determine what happens to us in anything that resembles an artistic endeavor, anyway). We do not need to sign a deal that puts our creative control in someone else’s hands. And, to be blunt, any deal that stops a person from in good faith making the art they want to make is a dangerous deal, indeed.

Sometimes you just never know

I sat down a couple weeks ago to write a story for the Uncollected Anthology project—which is a really cool publication process run by a collection (an “uncollection?”) of really great writers. When I sat down to write this story, I figured it was a 4,000 word short story. Then I did some research and decided it would be much better as a nice, crisp 6,000 worder.

I started to put it together, and decided that no, it was clearly a 9,000 word short novelette. Then one of the characters took a bit of a flip, and a new story blip arrived, and I figured it would top itself out at 12,000.

This afternoon it sits at essentially 11,000 words and appears to be on its way to at least 14,000. I’m beginning to wonder if I’m committing novella.

This is the thing about some projects.

You just never know where they are going to go.

Lisa-blue

The Horror Genre & Toni Morrison

As result of a workshop we’ll be going to soon, Brigid and I were recently talking about the horror genre, and some of the difficulties it has. Specifically, we were talking story structure, and how the key to the genre is handling the root of the terror–the “monster” as it were. I posited in that discussion that stories in the genre were often not traditional stories when it comes to their structure, that stories in the horror genre were often written primarily just to reveal the depths of the big bad thing rather than to tell a tale, and that once this big bad thing was revealed the “story” was done and the “validation” began.

I should say that I am no expert on the genre. I’m not deeply read in it, and I’m 100% certain that you can find examples of great horror being written today. But I think it’s fair to say that the great horror being written today has a lot of undertow to fight against.

Brigid, for her part agreed in general to my view, saying something like: “Once the monster is revealed, I get a lot less scared.”

Against this conversation comes a great piece written by Grady Hendrix at Tor.com regarding Toni Morrison’s Beloved and the horror field‘s reluctance to embrace it.

It’s a good read for the insider and the fan alike. And it’s something worth thinking about from all directions. I was particularly taken with the juxtaposition of the genre’s present state of playing with its tropes as a foundation vs. Morrison’s focus on the individual and the sense of terror that springs from the things we do. I’m not suggesting one thing is better than the other–though I’ll admit I personally enjoy reading stories written from Morrison’s viewpoint better than the other. But I do think there is value in understanding the difference between the two. Morrison’s viewpoint is probably harder to write, and it’s certainly harder to read (meaning it makes one become introspective in the process of consuming it rather than be more of an outside observer).

I also appreciate that Hendrix spends a moment looking at the content and the social viewpoint of something like Morrison’s work in that its content forces us to look at things that we don’t always want to look at. This is a quandary.

It’s actually a quandary that we’re seeing in the area of comic books as they transform from the printed form onto the big screen. Comics were once a field for big morality tales, in reality. Pulpy at times, of course, but they were plays on good and evil, and individual responsibility, and the cost of being a good person vs. the shame of evil. The art in these things was often glorious, sometimes not. But the stories were huge. Today it seems to me that the entertainment value of a comic is more related to the effects one can put on the screen than the stories themselves. A related area is that the social conversations around comic films are focused more on inclusion regarding casting (which I fully agree with), rather than on inclusion regarding the portrayal of cultures in fuller ways. Perhaps that will be next. I don’t know. But it seems to me that comic book movies are really just playing with the tropes of comic books rather than focusing on things that made them (for me) great.

Anyway, I digress.

If you have interest in genre, or interest in Toni Morrison’s work, I suggest you read Hendrix’s thoughts. Definitely worth the time.

Help Us Get to 2113?

The mega-news today is that you can now pre-order copies of 2113, which is the anthology of stories inspired by Rush songs that includes my work “A Patch of Blue.” I can’t begin to tell you how excited I am about this one. I spent a lot of good times listening to these guys. [grin]

So, if you’re planning to pick it up, now’s the time! Of course, if you weren’t planning on picking up a copy, I’ve got to question your sanity. At question is whether we’ll somehow manage to get 2113 pre-orders of 2113. Bang on, right? 2113. How cool would that be, eh?

You can do your part by pre-ordering in these places:

Amazon
Amazon UK
Amazon Canada

Kobo

My story is one inspired by Rush’s “Natural Science,” which is a monstrous work in three acts that’s just cool as all get-out. It was a total blast to write, partially because I got to put it on endless loop while I did it–so, yeah, the song is pretty much indelibly inked onto my brain now.

Not that it wasn’t before.

Here it is, for your listening pleasure:

What is “Good?”

skyline

Now that I’m beginning to settle into Arizona, I’ve been attending a local writers’ club. These are hobbyists, mostly—people who want to have fun putting words on the page. They give each other prompts, and they read each other what they responded with. It’s a good time.

This last session, one of them asked if the members wanted to grade the session. He explained that we could give each work a numerical ranking that spanned from poor through average and into very good, and then the writer would know if her piece was in some fashion “good.” He meant well, hoping it would help us get better. And he was shot down.

We talked about this for a few minutes thereafter and, as I was walking home, the conversation got me to thinking.

Just what is “good?”

I recently read a great piece from Ursula Le Guin about how a writer goes about making something “good.” If you are a writer, I strongly suggest you read it. If you are not a writer, I suggest you read it anyway because it’s a good piece of advice, regardless.

But I do want to make a point of the differences in these questions. My question is not “how does one make something good” but is instead, “when do I know that what I’ve created is actually good?”

The abrupt and mostly true answer is: you don’t.

At least not always, or at least not the way you might be thinking about it, anyway. It is cliché that a writer is her own worst judge.

It’s probably fair for “us creative folks” to consider it unfortunate that a person who creates something does not get to be the final arbiter of whether that thing is good or not. The writer (or painter, or film maker, or photographer, or …), instead, must be subjected to the seemingly arbitrary nature of an audience in order to make this decision. This is how it is in the big ol’ commercial world.

An audience will let you know exactly where they stand on your work, good or bad, or just merely “too short” (yeah, inside-ish joke there). And, yet …

This isn’t quite true.

As I was walking through the February winter here in Arizona, slogging through the 80 degree sunshine, downhill both ways, I thought about the question and I thought about Le Guin’s essay. I decided that she touches on the “what” part of this question in a sleight-of-hand kind of way. Here’s her quote:

The important thing is to know what it is you’re making, where your story is going, so that you use only the advice that genuinely helps you get there.

This whole creative thing, you see, is a shell game in which your goal is to keep looking under all the cups until you find that magic thing that tells you what you’re actually making. Until you’ve done that, there really is no way to know if you’re succeeding.

Let’s get something straight here first—merely the idea that you are making something is enough for you to begin and to finish. In other words, what you make does not have to be good. In fact, while you are making it, it cannot possibly be good. This is because while you are making something, there is no “good,” there is only what you are making and whether what you are making winds up being what you intend to make or not. This can be very frustrating at times, because your inner psyche will not always tell you what it is that you are making until towards the end of the process (read Le Guin’s comment there…note that nowhere does she say that the image of what you are doing actually happens when you start—only that in order to do something “good” you need to know this).

Sometimes you know what you’re going to do when you start—but not too often. Sometimes you have no idea what you are doing until right before the very end. These last are the stories that surprise you, or the stories that make you realize you started in the wrong place, or that make you understand that the entire first draft must be scrapped in order to write the real story. They are also the stories you finish and step back to say … “wow, I wonder where that came from.” Yes. It’s insidious as all hell.

Regardless, speaking for myself only, there is no “good” in the work of creation. What there can be, however, is a form of pleasure in the act of creation itself, a sense that I’m making something that no one else can ever make because they are not me. Then … and only then, really … comes this thing where I understand what my work of the day is trying to say (*). This is when I decide if something is good—or, as I’ve grown to consider it: when I become proud of what I’ve done.

That’s the key.

If you’ve enjoyed the process it was worth doing. And if, by its end, the work has made you feel something important, then it’s “good” because then you can be proud of it—even if no one else likes It, though I suggest that if you do something that makes you feel something in some way, there will be other people out there who like it. It just won’t be 100% of people, because in that sense (the commercial sense of the consumer) the term “good” means something different to everyone, and, let’s face it, there is no writer of any worth who has ever written anything that everyone considers good.

There will always be someone out there who will say TLDR, or “weak,” or whatever.

(*) Realize that what you think you are saying or doing in a piece of art is not necessarily the same thing as what everyone else will think you are doing. People bring their own biases and frames of reference into everything. At the session in question, I read “After.” This is a 200+ word story that appeared in both Analog and 16 Single Sentence Stories. After hearing it, the group discussed it for a few moments, and of the eight others there, at least three separate veins of thought existed about it. This is, in reality, one of the coolest things about being a writer. People pick things that have meaning from their own palate, and apply it to what you bring to them. Sometimes everything lines up, but not always.

So, yeah…

Create.

Do your best.

Read Le Guin’s piece and work hard to make something “good”—whatever that is to you. And when you do that work, I can pretty much guarantee that you’ll work harder to decide what “good” means to you, and you’ll have your standards shift around like mine have and like most dedicated writers I know have.

“Good,” you see, is weird. It isn’t about how long it takes: write fast, write slow, it doesn’t matter. Dig into a work, or throw it to the wind, no one cares—not even you, really. Looking back on something you’ve made, what you care about is whether you gave it the proper due, whether you did your “best” in regard to the piece and whether that effort makes you feel good in some way or another. In the end, “good” is whatever moves us.

I realize this can sound borderline pretentious. But, while pretension has its roots in the segmentation of “good,” this is idea is not pretentious of itself because this idea is the antithesis of segmentation. It is about letting the creative spark happen as it will happen, about recognizing that spark—or at least trusting that spark (sometimes over every other fiber in your body), and about conveying that spark in a way that makes you feel something. It’s about playing, it’s about valuing the thing inside you that makes things, whether that thing you are making is a happy little poem, or a splash of color you threw on a canvas that made you feel good, or a novelette that gets published to quickly disappear, or a story that gets optioned, or wins an award, or a picture you planned out and captured just as you thought it should be (or the quick digital flash that caught the love of your life in one of those perfect moments of pure accident).

The key is to be able to see what a piece says to you at the right time, or even better to be able to feel it. The key is to know that what moves you will move others. They key is to get used to the fact that what you and your work have to say matters, even if it only matters to you. Because if something you’ve made matters to you, if you understand what it means to you, then you can be proud of it.

And as a person who creates things, that is what “good” means to me.

In that light, here’s an interesting way to spend 50 minutes:



Bowie

I find myself stopping at points this morning, and just letting out deep sighs. There are passings and there are passings, you know? For me, and I assume many others, the loss of David Bowie has hit very hard.

It’s a strange sense I have, this thing with Bowie.

I loved his work. It’s widely varied and sometimes quite strange, but it’s unique and special. It catches my brain. When something by David Bowie comes on the radio, you never have to ask who it is, you know? It’s Bowie. Pure and simple. David Bowie was the only David Bowie there was, and you could not miss him even if you didn’t set eyes on him.

Not that you could miss him if you saw him, either. The man was freaking beautiful.

Startlingly. Fascinatingly. Freaking beautiful.

When I was a young guy, I didn’t get him, of course. He was just weird, you know? Iggy Stardust and the Spiders From Mars? Holy moley, eh? What the hell is that? I hope you can give me a break, though, because I was eleven when that came out, and as I was growing up my mid-western American environment wasn’t exactly conducive to the idea that a sexually androgynous weirdo from outer space was supposed to be cool (or even vaguely acceptable, for that matter).

It didn’t take long, though, to separate the truth from the … uh … preconceived biases.

All you had to do was actually listen to him. And watch him. David Bowie meant something, and only a purposefully tone-deaf idiot could miss it.

Read that clause: David Bowie meant something.

When we lose a public figure, an actor, or a politician, or a musician, we lose something special. These people often carry memories with them—good or bad, these people make a difference to us by their actions and their creations. For me, I’ve come to thinking that this is the ultimate definition of a life’s purpose. Every person is valuable, but your purpose, your reason for living, lies in what you do or what you create rather than in something intrinsic to your mere existence. I think that’s the case for all of us, but some of us—the most public of us—work on a canvas that is just a bit bigger than the rest.

Public figures mold the world by their actions and creations. Where we mold maybe ten people, or maybe a hundred, or even (if we give ourselves the benefit of the doubt and a huge spoonful of hubris) a thousand people, public figures can touch and change millions. David Bowie was no different there. For over fifty years, his work changed the lives of people around the world. My guess is that his art will continue to touch people for years and years.

But, to me, Bowie was that rare person who was even bigger than that.

By this I mean that the mere fact that there was a David Bowie walking on the planet made a difference. Standing there unapologetic in his moment of time, being who he was without spiteful intent but just because he was going to be it and to hell with the rest, making art—not just playing music, not just making a great time, not just entertaining—making art every time he stepped into a project, forcing you to accept him as he was, making you look at yourself in different ways merely by his presence. The overall collective of images and expressions that made up David Bowie meant something merely by existing. Do your thing, his existence said. Just do your thing and let everything else sod off and you’ll be fine.

We often lose public icons, but it’s rare that we lose a true artist.

Today, though, we did.

And that’s why I’m stopping here and there in the middle of my day, and sighing, not with sadness, but instead with a sense of loss that spreads all the way into the fabric of who we are.

Tangent Online does their recommended reading list

As my good friend and collaborator John Bodin said, this is a good way to ring in the New Year. Tangent Online has released their recommended reading list for the year, and four stories I’m associated with have made the cut—specifically including “Ghost of a Chance” our novelette published in this year’s edition of Five Days in May.

If you follow the link, you’ll also find an interesting overview of the Sad Puppy controversy, and some tenuously positive notes about how it may proceed in the future.

Anyway … yay us! FWIW, the entire anthology was reviewed quite positively here. [grin]

This makes me very happy. Scanning down the list is particularly cool because there are so many great names in there. It is truly an honor to be nominated, and if I ever get so blasé about being on such a list please just shoot me and put me out of my misery. [grin]

The other works of mine on the list are all short stories:

  • “Tumbling Dice” – Analog
  • “Daily Teds” – Analog
  • “The Colossal Death Ray” – Galaxy’s Edge

With this kind of kick-off, I can’t wait to see what the rest of 2016 has in store!

Me and a Tree

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THE BRIDGE TO FAE REALM
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Glamour of the God-Touched
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Lord of the Freebord
Lods of Existence

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2015

Novellas:
Lords of Existence (Feb)
Lord of the Freeborn (Feb)
Changing of the Guard (Jan)
Pawn of the Planewalker (Jan)

Novelette:
Good Luck Charm (Jan)

Short Stories:
Goliath vs. Robodog (Jan)
Fraternization (Jan)
Daily Teds (Mar)
The Grand Dangoolie (May)
The Odds (Jun)
Tumbling Dice (Jul)
The Colossal Death Ray (Jul)
The White Game (Nov)

Free Stories!

The Colossal Death Ray @ Galaxy's Edge
Good Luck Charm @ Abyss & Apex
Midnight at River's Edge @ Daily SF
Out of the Fire @ Interstellar Fiction

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