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News, cruise, and a tough goodbye

Whew. What a couple weeks.

Publishing News!

Let me start today by getting a couple “businessy” things noted. First, I’ve seen some reaction starting to roll in regarding my story “Survivors,” which is in the June issue of Analog, and it’s all been pretty nice.

  • Two separate reviewers (Harlen Bayha & Clancy Weeks) at Tangent liked it quite a bit
  • Sam Tomaino at SFRevue calls it a “nicely done, bittersweet little story.”

Second, I’m happy to note that Mercedes Lackey had accepted my short story “Nwah” for inclusion in her next anthology of Valdemar stories. This is very exciting for me, as it will be my first one for her in that world.

Life News

Lisa and I went a bit dark to the net for some time because we were off on a cruise to celebrate our 30 years of marriage, which is a really pretty danged cool. Turns out it was a pretty great cruise, but a not so great week.

*** From here out, this post is going to be a bit of a downer, so if that’s not for you, maybe just plan to come back tomorrow when I promise I’ll be a bit more upbeat. Anyway … you’ve been warned ***

“It was a lot like life,” Lisa said a couple days ago. And it was. There was a lot of great stuff involved–how could there not be … we were on a cruise of the Caribbean, after all? But amid the sun and the stops in Jamaica and Mexico, and along with the music and playing of games, and along with the food and other fun, came two not-so-fun bits, specifically the fact that Lisa got a bug that knocked her out for a day, and specifically that we received the heart-wrenching news that Keiko, our little kitty, was under distress.

Like I said, I’ll post more on the good stuff over the next couple days. I’ve got pictures and other bits to have fun with here. But today I’m going to spend a minute documenting the fact that Keiko got sick quickly while we were away, and … well … she is no more. She was in failing health for the past several months, but had been living an active and robust life, even as we were leaving the house. However, as life can do, she took a very rapid turn for the worst. Thanks go to poor Brigid, who had to manage a lot of this from afar, and to our poor heart-of-gold neighbor, who suddenly found herself in the middle of more than she had any reason to expect when she agreed to feed the cat.

So, as I’ve taken to saying over the past couple days, it was a good cruise but a pretty bad week. I spent most of yesterday dealing with the process of rebooting the regular churn of life (laundry, grocery), as well as arranging things left behind. And I admit that I’ve also spent many moments yesterday and today catching myself thinking things as if Keiko is here, and doing things that I now realize are just part of my daily act of living. I find myself looking under my writing desk before I move to make sure I don’t kick her accidentally. I remind myself to leave a small bit of milk at the bottom of my cereal bowl for her. I glance into the living room as I climb the stairs, because I wonder if she’s sitting at one of her favorite spots by the heating vent.

So, yeah. We miss her.

She was a beautiful little scaredy-cat.

Recent Entries

“Surviviors” published in Analog

I’m pleased to note that my short story “Survivors” is in this month’s issue of Analog magazine. It’s a fun story to me because it came about as the result of a challenge that Lisa Silverthorne and I did in the day before a writer’s workshop last year. It also starts with a set of characters on Daytona Beach, which makes me think of summer vacation. Not bad, eh?

I should go and actually count it, but I think this marks my 10th appearance in Analog. Much fun.

So, yeah, go chase it down … and let me know how you like it. [grin]

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In other news … man, it’s been busy. Among many other things, I’ve been beating my head against Episode 8 of my series of fantasy novels. I do think I’ve turned the corner, though. Perhaps I’m even nearing “the end” for once and for all. (Gasp!)

“The Mysterious Case of Shojiro Sano’s Bats” released

Yes, it’s that time of year again. Baseball is upon us. Okay, technically baseball was upon the Aussies a few days ago, but Monday sees the opening of the game here in the US.

I’m pleased to be celebrating baseball’s opening day by announcing that my short story “The Mysterious Case of Shojiro Sano’s Bats” is available now available through Skyfox Publishing, in various electronic formats suitable for the reader, phone, or tablet of your choice! This is a story set in Japan, and features a baseball fan who just may have gone a little too far. Of course, this fan is also an inspector in Japanese law enforcement. If you’re a sports fan, you’ll sympathize with his plight, and if you’re not a sports fan … well … I suspect there’s something in here for you, too.

Baseball is like that, after all.

You can pick up a copy in the format of your desire at:

Amazon
Kobo (to be added shortly!)
Smashwords
Google Play

 

This story comes along with a free excerpt from my baseball novel See the PEBA on $25 a Day–which is also available on those sites, but through these links:


Amazon
Kobo
Smashwords
Google Play

Two Interesting Things Thursday

I have this habit of finding a link I think is going to be interesting, clicking on it, and then leaving it on my open tabs to get to whenever I have the time. Today I want to talk about two of these. The problem with this process, though, is that I lose track of where I was when I came upon them, so unfortunately I can’t credit the folks where I found them. Sorry about that. (Thanks, whoever you were [grin]).

Interesting Thing #1

The first is a thing about another form of art–this time photography. Or, to be precise, old-time photography. Photography that looks like this remarkable image:

It’s a simple, elegant look back on an earlier time, isn’t it? Pristine in its own way. Except, of course, there’s more going on here than you might think at first. The truth, as you will see if you follow that link, is that this place never existed. That house is a model. The car is a toy. And, yet, there is a piece here that is very much real–that being the distant background. Let’s call it the worldview.

Read the page through the link. What Michael Paul Smith does by mixing a deep reality with his own imagining of the past is pretty damned cool. And it has me thinking about writing in its own way, as I’m inclined to do on occasion. Because, to me, writing speculative fiction (or any fiction, I suppose) is all about what Michael Paul Smith is doing in his medium. Writing great speculative fiction is about drawing the world around a reader in such firm strokes that that reader feels familiar with it, that we understand it and can even then fill in our own bits of context here and there–and then using that foundation to tell us a story that is completely made up, but that rings so true that we are changed in some foundational way.

Easy, right?

Anyway, I loved these images.

Interesting Thing #2

Interesting thing #2 is more of a gender/cultural/business thing that caught my eye as I was reading along an article that Fantasy Faction published that described a panel that the Baltimore Science Fiction Society hosted recently that was about the State of Short Fiction. At this panel, several magazine and podcast editors and other insiders discussed the field of short fiction.

Ultimately, they were very upbeat about it, which is good news to me. But about halfway through this paragraph hit me upside the head.

Although none of the panelists said they explicitly look for diversity in the authors they publish, the editors have found that they seem to nevertheless publish a diverse selection of authors. Clarke said 30% of his submissions are by women and 30% are from outside the U.S. In 2013, women wrote 55-60 % of Clarkesworld’s stories. Landen reported similar numbers, saying women wrote over 50% of Daily Science Fiction’s stories and made up 30% of submissions. Sherman said women made up 30% of the submission pile at Escape Pod and Drabblecast, and of those women, he tended to accept something like 60-70%.

If you know me at all, or follow the site, you know that I am always fascinated by gender issues, and spent a considerable part of the last decade or so of my corporate life trying to understand cause and effect of them. Without going too deeply into all that again, let me say that these numbers figuratively slapped my upside the face.

I have absolutely no idea if actual numbers from these magazines and podcasts actually back that paragraph up, but this commentary goes completely against the grain of every other piece of data that I’ve seen regarding gender splits in the genre. I’m not saying these numbers are good, bad, indifferent, or anything of the like. Numbers are numbers. But I am saying that they go against the base story that’s been told for years, that they going against history, against other industries, and against the genre publishing industry’s “eyeball test.” If this data is true, then one has to wonder: is it suggesting there is a massive gender swing going on in the industry? Does it means that (at least for these markets) that the fundamental groundwork of the short fiction market has hit a decided flashpoint? That women are writing great fiction at a remarkably greater rate than men are? That selection criteria is changing? That the market is driving toward fiction written by females vs. males?

Obviously, I have no idea.

Data is so sparse it’s probably dangerous to give anything too much of a sway, but those numbers are quite intriguing–33% of the population is providing 66% of the published product. That’s a remarkable number, especially when the past has suggested that until very recently that 33% of the population was being dramatically under-represented (contributing 15% of published material? I don’t really recall the real numbers, but that’s probably a fiar number to throw around for pure conversational purposes).

Regardless, in this decidedly interesting period of the short story, it will be interesting to see where, if anywhere, this goes.

I would also say, though, that against this data I lay the experience of my last workshop in Oregon, where about 75% of the writers (who were mostly indie folks) were female. Coincidence?

Shrug?

The Big Bang, Inflation, explained

Okay, it’s an hour long, so I know a lot of folks won’t have the patience for it. But if you want a pretty reasonable understanding of why the recent news about the big bang is … well … such big news, you could do a lot worse than taking the time to listen to this podcast from the 7th Avenue Project.

Things like “The Cosmos” are fantastic for helping people get the big-picture of where science has been and roughly where it is now. But I enjoyed this conversation specifically because it took the time to lay out the history of cosmology hat was relevant to the subject at hand (the inflation model), and then built onto it in a way I think most people, if they pay attention, can actually get. The only time they jump too far from basic language is a foray into field theory.

Anyway.

I thought it was pretty cool, and it helped me while away an hour at the grocery store today.

How to prove you’re a man in 5 easy steps

If you’ve been following me for the past few months you know that in the process of becoming a full-time writer I’ve also taken over most of the daily chores around the house. This includes going to the grocery.

Step 1 – Make a list of things you want to buy
Step 2 – Get in the car and drive to the grocery store
Step 3 – Pick out all the things on your list
Step 4 – Go to the checkout lines and pay for your items
Step 5 – Put items in your car and drive home

Today I enacted this process. I flew through step 1, making a remarkably crisp list. I mean, it had everything. Well, except for the eggs that I added on at the last moment. Nothing can slip past me. No way. Then I successfully managed to complete step 2, driving calmly to the grocery store without a single accident. I ran into a small difficulty in step 3 when I grabbed a squeaky cart, but I made a quick audible at the line of scrimmage and picked out a sleeker, quieter cart (true pro here, true dat). Within 45 minutes, my cart was full. Yes, step 3, you are my play-thing.

It was, however, the prep leading up to step 4 where I realized that the process definition above is actually not complete. It turns out there are actually 6 steps to going to the grocery store. Who freakin’ knew? If you’re sharp, you’ve probably already figured out that the extra step is one that needs to be included between steps 1 and 2–that being the process where you “put your wallet in your back pocket.”

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As a result of today’s educational adventures, you’ll be happy to note that I’ve added an error-handling addendum to the process document above. In the case of said error, one merely places all groceries back on the shelf, and then proceed directly to the “drive home” portion of step five. At that point, you are free to exercise the process all over again.

Consider this your Public Service Announcement for the day.

Announcing Skyfox Publishing

Today I’m quite pleased to announce that from this time forward, I’ll occasionally be releasing work through Skyfox Publishing. This is a new independent publishing group I’ve created that will be focused on my own work, though I may well branch out a bit here and there. We shall see.

I would like to thank Jacob Schroeder for his work that led to the company’s spiffy logo. I’ll be adding genre description underneath that base logo as is appropriate on a work-by-work basis. For example, I expect you will see my first release next week—a baseball-related and mystical short story set in Japan—under the “fantasy” sub-label. The two of them might then look something like:




With any luck, we might see an update to John C. Bodin and my collaborative anthology Three Days in May (re-titled Four Days in May?) released in late April under the Science Fiction sub-label. That one might look a lot like:



This is all moving quite fast, and I’m learning a lot as I go, so you can expect considerable experimentation in this and many other aspects of the start-up over time.

And, yes, it’s a lot of fun.

A lot of work. But a lot of fun.

Fighting with my art

This past January I was at a convention and sat on a panel with Sandra Tayler. Along the way she used a phrase that has stayed with me. She had been talking about her daughter, and about times when she was “fighting with her art.”

That’s what I’m doing right now.

My production plan says that I will be complete with Episode 8 of my fantasy series by the end of the month. I still expect to succeed at hitting that goal, but right now my writing is all over the place. The problem, I think, is that I know what I want to happen (and roughly what I want the thing to be about). But I’m struggling to get back into the characters. *

* That’s my story and I’m sticking to it

I figure that I’m paying a price for setting the piece aside. If you remember, I was on a roll with it in November or December, but then focused everything I had on the Workshop in January and February. Now I’m trying to pick up where I left off, and the work is apparently feeling a little neglected. It’s cranky. I mean, the words, they come, but I know even as I’m creating them that they are not the words I want–or, maybe they are, but they are all catawampus and out of order.

This story is a little complex, after all. It has three threads that intertwine, and I’m still figuring out all the details.

And, yeah, I am fighting with my art.

That’s okay, of course. I’ve been around the block enough to know I just need to keep coming to the keyboard and keep throwing words at the page, and that eventually that thing that makes stories work will show up and all will be forgiven and all will be fine.

Merry Clayton, the art of a background singer?

Earlier this week I was listening to Radio Paradise when the Stones’ “Gimme Shelter” came on. I’ve been a big Stones fan for a very long time, and “Gimme Shelter” is among my faves. One of the many things I like about Radio Paradise (beyond that it’s manually programmed and managed by two people who enjoy using music to speak with their audience), is that the community of listeners put little bits of insight into the forums that help you learn even more about the music.

Against that backdrop, I scanned down the comments to “Gimme Shelter” and came across a discussion about Merry Clayton, the background singer who laid down the iconic sound on the piece. In the conversation was a link to an interview with her that I’m going to want you to listen to for a bit. It’s an NPR program in support of “20 Feet From Stardom,” a documentary on background singers that is worth listening to in its entirety–though I only want you to listen to the first eight minutes. I want you to listen that far because it gives you (first) the background on how Merry Clayton came to be there in the first place, and then the professionalism of her approach, and then it includes one of the most remarkable pieces of audio I have heard–that being an isolation on Clayton’s remarkable solo.

You should listen to it.

It’s raw, and powerful, and deeply moving. The thing literally brought chills to my spine.

Here’s the link to the program: Here’s the link to the program

When you’re done, listen to the song complete with the supporting power of the rest of the musicians.



Remarkable, eh?

This has got me thinking about art, and craft, and structure, and individual brilliance.

Clayton’s story of how she came to do the work, the simple professionalism by which she came to the studio so late at night, and the somewhat offhand way she finished the effort, is interesting. One could say that she just rolled in and did her job, then got out of town. Just business. Simple. Straight-forward. But then you offset that with the fact that when she got to the key bits, she asked about the lyric in order to get it. She needed to know what the song was about. And once she understood, she unleashed in rapid form, one of the most powerful moments in recorded history. And you off-set it with the reaction of “the guys” when they heard it. And you offset it with the starkly moving sound of that isolation.

Mmmmm…

I don’t know what to say about it, other than the whole package is a remarkable piece of art that, for me, both defines the period it was created in and stands the test of time–a fact that the You-tube video I’ve linked to seems to bear out pretty well.

But I ask myself a lot of unanswerable questions. Things like:

How much of her work was craft? How much raw talent? How much was raw professionalism? What does the “whoop!” that someone (Mick?) throws in at the end say about what it was like to watch someone do something remarkable like that–even a “pro?” What would it have sounded like if that piece had been sung by someone else? What if Merry Clayton hadn’t worked to understand the purpose of the phrase “Rape, murder, it’s just a shot away!” in the song.

I don’t know. That’s the thing about art, right? It’s unique. You can’t put an equation onto it and make it all work out. All you can say is that it works. Somehow.

Zelazny: The Dream Master

I recently finished reading Roger Zelazny’s The Dream Master, a 1965 Nebula award winner that I found tucked into a corner of Robert’s Bookstore in Lincoln City, Oregon. I haven’t read a ton of Zelazny in my life as a SF-follower, but I’ve been thinking a lot about him after a panel that I attended at World Con last year—a panel that asked if writers like Zelazny, Ursula K. LeGuin, and Samuel Delany were still relevant (let’s forget that this seems to be an unfair question since LeGuin and Delany are still living and still publishing, whereas Zelzany slipped this coil nearly 20 years ago).

Zelazny is perhaps best known for his Amber series, but since The Dream Master was eventually turned into the movie Dreamscape, perhaps he’s made of more relevance by this work. Who am I to say? All I can really say right now is that The Dream Master is interesting, and that it stands up to the test of time (for the most part), and that it’s bold and audacious at times. There are reasons it won it’s Nebula, I suppose.

One of the cool things about being a guy who has been around the field for 25+ years is that I’ve been able to meet and interact with many of the greats of the field. Jack Williamson. Fred Pohl. Robert Silverberg, Harlan Ellison. Blah, blah, blah. I have to admit, though, that Roger Zelazny is a bit of unobtainium to me. He passed just as I was beginning to publish, and just as I was beginning to go to conventions, so I never met him, and never even set eyes on him. This leaves him as having this ethereal quality. His writing, of course, can be jaw-dropping at times. But his style is so interesting–sparse and surgical when he needs a story to run, and deep and vivid when he turns to his inner poet. I’m not sure there’s another writer like him.

So, is he “relevant?” I don’t know. One of the best ways to judge is to see if people still read him, and, yeah, it seems that way.

You can help, of course. If you’ve never read Roger Zelazny, you can start now. And you could do worse than to start with The Dream Master.

Playing with First Line Poetry

Earlier this week I was listening to a podcast about Pulitzer Award winning author Toni Morrison. One of the speakers in the discussion had concocted a poem from the first lines of her novels. It was a fascinating thing, and it got me to wondering about my own work.

So this morning, I sat down and grabbed the first sentences from each of the stories in my collection Picasso’s Cat and other Stories, and I fiddled around with them, positioning first one sentence, then the others, looking for what they might be saying to each other, then shuffling, and then adjusting some more. Eventually a bit of a story came out to me. Perhaps it’s just me, of course. Perhaps just finding patterns where none really exist. But I liked it.

If nothing else I have to say that the cubist irony of pasting together a poem from a chunk of work titled Picasso’s Cat was entertaining unto itself. Of course, my stuff is no competition for the Morrison piece, but the process was fun and interesting, and it got me to really focus on the value of a first sentence.

So now, without further jaw flapping, here is my cobbled up poem:


A Poem From Picasso’s Cat

————-

Sure, it’s easy to criticize someone like me.

My hair is bronze this week.

The kappo should have been up and moving.

An orange-white umbrella of fire bent from the pod’s surface.

I ran down a corridor that stretched before me as far as I could see.

Dr. Gregory Paul sat frozen with confusion as his assistant reached into the time machine’s cockpit and keyed a new sequence into the control box.

Dear Mr. Gee,

Must be nice to work for someone who lets you sit on your ass all day.

Here’s the facts.

Radio waves rose from the surface of a planet in the Alpha Centauri system, cutting through an atmosphere of oxygen and acid to break into the vacuum of space.

For a moment, Sara McClintock found it easy to forget they were over fifty kilometers from the relative safety of the Ant Farm.

A new child floats in my section today.

“Look,” Muriel said, “isn’t that the longest nose you’ve ever seen?”

Alpha Centauri A was chosen for a few very simple reasons.

A road-map to writing avoidance

1. Wake up a little late, and don’t get to anything productive until something past 8:30. This is actually a great way to not write.

2. Start by focusing on something actually important that is not focused on creating words. Like tax preparation. This is what I did today, and it quite easily ate up 45 minutes of time I could have been writing.

3. Once that is done, decide that your filing system is terrible. Yes, all your files are spread out over three computers, and a backup hard drive, and the cloud. Yes, you needed to rethink the way you’re working, and yes, the two hours or more that you spent getting things arranged on your work computer will actually pay off pretty well in the end. The fact that no words were created in those two hours is merely a happy side effect.

4. Stop for lunch. While eating lunch, decide to play around with Paint.net.

5. While playing with Paint.net, decide that you really should use a live project as the trial material, so spend two hours creating the concept cover for the short story you’re planning to launch in a couple weeks. This is a remarkably good writing leak, because you can explain away the fact that you haven’t created any words with the idea that you’re doing production.

6. Go to the grocery.

7. Notice that Ritter’s is open, stop for a medium glacier. Yum. Okay, this is actually necessary.

8. Return home and spend more time refining the concept of your short story cover. This is an insidious leak, because you know damned well what happened. Your brain has been turning over the things you learned in your earlier stint, and it’s basically as hooked as a crack addict. There was just really no way it was going to go write after an hour plus of thinking about all the issues with that cover.

9. Make dinner. Okay, this is actually necessary.

10. During dinner, watch Louisville play basketball. Okay, this was necessary, and Jebus, man, that alley oop dunk from Rozier to Harrell was amazing!

11. Write a blog entry that describes all the ways a writer can go an entire day and not create a word.

The Business Plan

I spent a lot of the “downtime” we had in Oregon talking to other full time writers about scheduling their days and about developing business plans. This was quite useful. Yesterday, I actually took time to put their lessons into practice, and now—for the first time ever—I have the outlines and makings of a full-out plan for what I should be accomplishing on a month-by-month and quarter-by-quarter basis, complete with writing, pre-production, book launches, learning activities, something I’m loosely calling “marketing,” and other basic business operations activities.

This is very exciting.

Don’t get me wrong—I’m sure it’s not a fully robust plan, yet. And even if it were, every plan will change. But the handles are all there, and as I move forward, I know what I need to accomplish by when if I want to achieve some of the release goals I have in mind. For example, I can now say that the goal is to launch my fantasy serials starting in June of this year. I’ll, of course, make that announcement more official and more firm in the next few weeks as I sort through the processes I’m using. But you get the idea.

It’s integrated with my daily (weekly/monthly) tracker that I mentioned earlier. Next, I’ll add in a weekly breakdown for my standard week, and I think I’ll have the whole thing kinda together.

Hey, it was something to do to avoid writing, eh?

Sharing a TOC with That Guy from Dune

Since Kevin Anderson just noted it on his own site, I suppose it’s fair game for me to mention another cool thing about the Pulse Pounders anthology that will be the home for my short story “Fraternization.” Yes, this is the one that will also have Brigid’s story “Frostburnt,” which already makes it the worlds’ coolest anthology as far as I’m concerned. Add David Farland and Kevin Anderson, himself, to that Table of Contents and you’ve got a collection that make my heart go pitter-patter for several personal achievement reasons. Being in that mix is just so cool. But this one will also include a previously unpublished story from Frank Herbert.

You know, the guy who did that Dune thing.

You know?

That thing with Paul Atreides. Muad’Dib. The Kwisatz Haderach. Yeah, that guy.

Excuse me while I fan boy a bit more.

Kroger ads – It’s a non-male world :)

If you follow me at all you know that I became a kept man about three months ago. By this, of course, I mean that Lisa makes the steady paycheck and I am working in this weird and unpredictable world of the freelance/on-spec writer. This also means that I do a vast majority of the housework, which (even today) is not really thought of as a particularly masculine job. The most obvious way I can tell this is by the grocery store.

Though it changes at times due to various life events, I try to plan to go to the grocery for my main run on Tuesday afternoons (I go to a Kroger that’s “all the way across town”). I also tend to use other afternoons to run to a nearby store for “emergency” and other spur of the moment types of things. This helps me as it becomes a 15-20 minute productivity break and lets me get my brain off on other things for a bit. Let’s face it, guys … going to the grocery on a weekday afternoon still means that I’m in about a 10% minority.

I’m thinking about this today because I received a mailer from Kroger that included coupons. Usually these come in a flyer with various design stuff that is clearly designed for a female customer. I really don’t think much of it. In fact, it kind of slides right past me. I have, after all, lived in a female dominated house for about 30 years. I mean, it’s like … wife, daughter, cats, and one can assume all our short-lived fish fish have all been female. I really don’t think about the advertising slant to a lot of things because they kind of just slide by me, I guess. But today, the mail brought me this flyer from Kroger that is pointed directly at the male.

It got my attention. The colors were bold. The images were masculine. I picked it up, actively interested in seeing what goodies I might find in there. Good deals on apples? Specials on prime-cut beef? Wheaties? Rugged whole grain bread? Crunchy peanut butter? Ice Cream? [grin].

Turns out, of course, the only thing in there is male toiletries–you know, after shave and body wash and razor blades.

It was kind of a bummer, really.

Doonesbury – But the Pension Fund Was Just Sitting There

When we were in Oregon, we stopped at a place called Robert’s Books. It’s one of those used book stores from the heavens that get plopped down right at the corner of nowhere and Main Street and just reeks of the Fabulous. I came a way with a pair of books–Roger Zelazny’s The Dream Master, and Gary Trudeau’s But the Pension Fund was Just Sitting There, which is a Doonesbury book (Doonesbury, for the younger set, was a remarkable political cartoon of the olden days … if it were new now it would be a webzine and be shared and passed around a gazillion times, but instead it has to settle for being just a sublime piece of history).

I’m essentially browsing both since I’ve gotten home, and have made it half-way through them. I’ll probably talk more about the Zelazny in a bit, but today I’m sitting here and looking at Trudeau’s work and I’m thinking how strangely literary it is. Literary in it’s use of language and character. Literary in it’s reliance upon the reader to carry certain parts of content rather than spell everything out. This is, of course, somewhat the norm for political commentary. Sometimes you have to be there to get it. The whole run of strips on the Shah of Iran, for example, would come off stale to today’s audience. But if you were there, you just smile.

The book is copywrite 1978. So, there you go.

I remember reading these things as individual strips in the daily papers, and they were great then. But I was in High School, so I suppose I missed a lot of the nuance back then. I also missed the ebb and flow of the art of the whole–I don’t think I saw the way the stories were constructed. But, constructed they were.

Reading them here in compiled editions so you can read every run as individual entities, you see how politics and social mores were interwoven, and how they offset each other so that the stories didn’t grow old. And how the characterization elements built from frame to frame and strip to strip. How once Trudeau had his characters set, their mere appearance could speak volumes. I suppose you can say that for all the really long-running cartoon strips, but Doonesbury had it’s own satire and sarcasm-laced sense of irony to it that I think would have made it beyond cool even in the hipster world of today. The work stands today, even if the environment that surrounds it has aged more than a bit.

The book was $2.50.

Besides the $5.00 I tipped the airport emergency lady for jump starting my care, that was some of the best money I spent throughout my trip (barring, of course, the workshop itself [grin]).

Getting my act together

The Oregon Coast workshop kind of kicked my butt. Buy that, I mean it was more work than I had planned for, and as such it’s taken me a little mind-shifting to get myself back on my path. One major thing I took away from it was that as a new freelancer, I needed to stay very focused on how I was using my time. This resonates for me because while I’m being productive in this new life, but I often find myself wondering if I’m actually working on the “right things.”

I talked to a lot of folks at the workshop, and picked up on the fact that I am not alone in this issue.

Kris Rusch helped me at lunch one day by suggesting I think through the “leaks” that everyone has–that being time we find slipping away through the day that are not focused on writing production. Things like, uh, making blog posts [grin]. And several conversations with Matt Buchman were helpful in thinking through how to create a broader-based business plan focused on this writing thing. He also pointed me to a spreadsheet he uses to track his output. Spreadsheets being great, I immediately looked at it and decided I needed to make one of my own. So as of today I’ve got a daily tracker that rolls up information in weekly and monthly tables and lets me know both how I’m spending my time and how my production is coming (I split out creation of new words and a rough calculation of “rewriting” progress so that I don’t get myself faked out by counting rewriting as actual creation).

I even went back to January and roughly sketched in the data from that period. Sure, it’ll be “wrong,” but I’m just looking for a direction here. No one else cares, you know? It’s okay to be off, really it is.

I figure I’ll track this for a month or so, and then set targets.

I am, after all, a target setter, you know? I just do better when I feel challenged.

And speaking of being challenged, I know see I need to get some new words written now.

Hugo nominations open up

Now that the workshop is over, and I can turn some brain cells in other directions…

Thanks to Lisa’s gentle reminder, I note that the 2013 Hugo nominations are open. So I suppose I should be a good writer and let you know that if you’re a attending member of Worldcon, meaning you attended last year, or are already committed to attending this year, you are eligible to nominate work for the award. Given that, I wanted to take a moment to outline work of mine that I’ve seen published in 2013. No hard sell here, of course. That’s not quite me. But if you liked something here and are so inclined, consider it a reminder. [grin]

Here is the nomination form.

So … here goes.

Novelette:

  • Following Jules – October – Analog

Short Stories:

  • Operation Hercules – May – On Spec
  • Out of the Fire – June – Interstellar Fiction
  • After – June – One Sentence Story Anthology
  • The Legend of Parker Clark and Lois Jane – June – Fiction River Anthology: How to Save the World
  • Teammates – July – Galaxy’s Edge
  • Schrodinger’s Soldier – September – Third Flatiron Anthology: Lost Worlds Retraced
  • The Flying Contraption – December – Elementary, Elemental Masters Anthology

Nine pieces published. Not too bad, I suppose. And with one publication already and five more in the pipeline for 2014, things look good next year, too (hey, ya gotta enjoy it while you can, right?)

A Workshop nears its end

I’ve been at Kris Rusch and Dean Smith’s Oregon Coast Anthology Workshop for the past week. It’s been an absolute blast, but also grueling. Imagine six full days sitting in a room with more than 40 writers and watching 4-6 editors go through manuscripts. Hours, and hours of it. Days and days of it. Quite intense. Then add into this mix the opportunity to use the break windows to grab insights from all those 40+ writers on how one should go about running their business. And then add late-night gab sessions.

So, yeah, one may be getting tired. And there’s one day left—this one a broader business-oriented set of talks. For those not following my twitter or Facebook feeds, here are a few of the highlights:

  • Brigid, who is out here with me, made her first and second pro sales, putting “Gambler’s Fallacy” into the Fiction River Risk Takers anthology (edited by Dean Wesley Smith), and “Frostburnt” into the Pulse Pounders antho edited by Kevin J. Anderson.
  • I followed that up with two of my own, having Kerrie Hughes accept my story “The Grand Dangoolie” for her Steam and Alchemy edition, and Kevin J. Anderson accepted a story of mine that I will likely retitle to “Fraternization” for his Pulse Pounders anthology.
  • Yes, you got it. That means I’m going to be a TOC-mate with Brigid!
  • Add to this that my writing bud Lisa Silverthorne dropped a pair of stories into anthologies also, and it’s gone pretty danged well.

The best of all things, though, has been spending time with this collection of 50 or so people, all in my field (and admittedly seeing Brigid take to it with the confidence she has…it’s nice to see her find out that, yes, she does fit in). Nothing is better for pumping up the energy than seeing other people who are doing things you want to do, and showing that yes it can be done.

One more session today. Then home tomorrow.
And the beat goes on.

The artist’s career

I met Lisa Silverthorne in the airport on our way to Portland, and since the plane was delayed by about a billion years we had lots of time to catch up a talk about a bunch of writing things. Somewhere in here we got on the topic of our writing careers—which is a term that both of us struggle with, specifically (I think) because of the word “Career” and the connotation it has of “pays the freight.”

This is, of course, not really right.

I mean, a football player can have a High School career, a college career, and an NFL career, and in only one of those cases will he actually make any money (unless he goes to Kentucky, of course [grin]). Artists of all types have careers that do not actually pay the full freight of their living expenses. But, over the years the Lisa and I have discussed this kind of thing, when we talked about having a career in the field, it’s always included the fact of supporting ourselves to at least a very large degree on the income that comes from our work.

Of course, everyone who writes thinks like this at some point, but I don’t know that it’s a particularly healthy way to see it.
It’s a hard thing, separating financial reward from your career as an artist (yes, I know how pretentious that can sound. Just deal, okay?). But they are two different things, really. I say that now, several hours after the conversation, and while sitting in a plane thinking about it. Your career as an artist is not about what you make in the pocketbook, it’s about what you make in your chosen media. I think we get our energy streams all tangled up when we think about it the other way.

As an artist, you need to create things that matter to you. As an artist, you need to focus on filling your life up with experiences and thoughts and points of view and other fancy stuff, and you need to do that so you can find ways to keep putting yourself into the things that feed that spark that flickers in your heart. The problem, of course, is that sometimes people don’t react to them well. Or perhaps even worse, people don’t see them. In our case, as writers, editors don’t buy pieces we love or people don’t read or review or otherwise talk about in any way the things we pour ourselves into.

And that’s hard, too.

It’s really hard to keep doing the work, to keep opening the vein and giving yourself to the work when you’re not seeing the financial or critical reward or whatever your mind is set on.

And it’s possibly damaging, too, because when you don’t get that sense of feedback, that validation (for the lack of a better word), then you can start to disbelieve in yourself. And then you start to think, “well, if I just start writing things this way instead of how I’ve been doing it, then it will be more commercial and people will like it and people will notice it, and …” and next thing you know, the thing that is fueling that art you’re supposed to be making is broken, and suddenly your “career” as an artist is flopping on the floor like a dying fish because, well, that’s what it is. You’ve killed that thing you’re meant to be. You’ve killed the thing that literally makes you an artist.

Of course, the thing that makes this whole topic so infuriating is that when you look at the folks who are your inspirations, it seems like they have it all so together, that it just works. Of course they do. I’m not really sure what to say about this. I’m not successful enough to have a valid opinion, I guess. But, valid or not, my opinion is this—for a writer to have true financial success, they have to first be focused on the pure act of making things that they care about as an artist. Whatever that is.

Nominating Singer

Now that the reading sprint is over, I’m coming up for air. It’s with no little pride that among the first things I’ve done is to wander over to the DetCon1 site and nominate my little girl’s debut novel, Singer for their Young Adult or Middle Grade Member’s Choice award. Some folks might say I’m a bit biased, and how can I argue against them. But in all seriousness, this is a really good piece of work that I think deserves notice.

Nominations are open to the public, so you can do it, too. Hint, hint.

You have until the end of the month, too. So if you haven’t read the book, go the hence and pick it up. You won’t be disappointed.

Reading … Reading … Reading … the lull after the storm

Yes, it’s been quiet around here for a bit. I know. There are reasons, of course, and of course they are mostly self-inflicted (in the good way). I’ve noted before that I’m getting ready to attend a workshop in Oregon with Brigid (and Lisa Silverthorne, and several other great writers). It’s going to be much fun. But this is a bit of a unique workshop, in that each writer is submitting not one, but six short stories (each focused on its own themed anthology). Part of the gig is to have read all the stories, or at least read them far enough to gain something valuable from them when they are discussed. Have I mentioned that it appears there will be something over 40 writers at this workshop?

Take a moment to do the math. 40 writers x 6 stories = 240 stories.

We received access to them about a week ago.

That’s right, 240 stories to read in a week. Assuming each averages to 5K words, that works out to about 1.2 million words. Of course, you don’t read every one of those words. Part of this learning it to read like editors, and to then translate those reasons we put stories down into ideas and tactics that keep those reasons from creeping into our own writing. I would guess I read only 60-65% of the words submitted. But still. That’s maybe 800K words. It’s a huge chunk of work. Then … to this … add that I had the opportunity to read a draft of a novel by another friend of mine—a chance I jumped at because she’s a great writer—and you’ve got a whole new level of … uh … work. Yes, I know, shoot me dead, I have to read for something I’ll loosely call “my job.”

Anyway … as of today, I’m finally done. It’s been a long week for me, and to be honest, I don’t see how people who have full day jobs will be able to do a medium decent job of it. But that’s not for me to say, eh? It is only for me to do. I can say that I’m feeling a strange post-process energy fade.

Not to worry, though.

After all, I still have a short story to trim up, and a new novella to write…and then there’s the business book I promised to feed back on, and another research project to undertake.

It’s always something, after all.

Good News Abounds

Here I am, taking a break from a huge reading stint that is sucking up pretty much every spare moment I have (about which, more will come later), to relay two pieces of very good news from the Ron Collins writing front. The first of which is that Abyss and Apex has informed me that they are interested in publishing my novelette “Good Luck Charm.” And as of this afternoon, we’ve come to proper terms for them to do so. This is very good news to me because that is a story that I think is quite good, quite important, and perhaps just a bit … uh … creepy/eerie. It was looking for a proper home, and I think it’s found it.

The second piece of good news is that I can finally say that I’ve optioned “Primes” (my short story in the January issue of Asimov’s) to a small film company in Toronto. This means they have the right to begin working to fund and arrange to turn this story into a feature length film—a step that is by no means guaranteed, but is great fun to think about, eh?

Okay. Enough frivolity. Back to my reading.

See you in a day or so.

Lisa Silverthorne, in audio!

Cool news for a friend of mine. Check out Fiction River’s podcast of Lisa Silverthorne’s story “Speechless in Seattle.”

You can, of course, buy the whole anthology at several places … but here’s the Link that will reveal all.

In addition to begin a friend and a great all-around person, Lisa is one of my favorite writers. She’s a voice that deserves to be considerably more widely read than she is (today, anyway).

You can find a lot of her work in electronic reader form right about here. And in my opinion you can’t go wrong with her collection “Sound of Angels,” the title story of which found its way onto the preliminary ballot for SFWA’s prestigious Nebula award.

Hard work … the ticket to the game of creativity?

Even after all this time, I still get surprised about how this whole creativity thing works. You see, I’ve spent at least four days working on a final short story that’s due for the workshop I’m going to later this month. I’m sure I’ve spent at least 20 hours on it (probably more like 30). It’s together. It does something. But the honest fact is that (although it will eventually work, and I wouldn’t be embarrassed of it) I still just don’t like it. It doesn’t speak to me as well as it should. But it’s due tomorrow, and I was planning to brush it up this morning, do another pass after Lisa’s copy edit, and send it off.

As Tina Fey so famously says, the show doesn’t go on because it’s ready, the show goes on because it’s 11:30.

Last night, though, just before turning the light out, I was struck with a new first sentence. And by new, I mean NEW. It’s not a first sentence that goes with the work I did all week. Of course, when I woke up this morning (early, natch … something before 5:00), the story was just there, waiting for me. So I respected it. I dragged my ass out of bed, and ate my breakfast, and grabbed my coffee, and went downstairs, and wrote down that first sentence. Then off I ran. The first draft was done by 10:30 AM. Then came lunch, and a shower. The “smooth” was done around 3:00. Off to Lisa.

Of course, I have zero idea whether anyone else will like it. I assume they will, but a writer should always keep this weird bi-polar thing around themselves, so I’ll remain undecided for now. But I admit I like it. It speaks to me. It means something to me–something that I’m not sure I can really say about the piece I worked on for the last four days.

And so, I ask, did I need to put in the hours on this first story just to get to the stuff I liked? Or, if I just sat on my but and did nothing for the last four days, would this second story still have come to me? I have no idea, of course. But at the base of my heart I certainly feel that the hours with butt in chair Tuesday and Wednesday, and Thursday and Friday, were the ticket to the game today.

Make it mean something

I’ve been reading Chuck Wendig’s blog with some interest the past few days as he’s been talking about publishing, the quality of stories, and how that all plays with the self-indie-whatever publishing crowd. It’s good stuff (though the standard rule of thumb seems to be that I should give you the “vulgar language enclosed warning–not sure why, yes, it’s language, and yes, it’s used well).

Against that backdrop … I was jotting some notes about some story things yesterday, really just kind of free-writing in that open-minded way you do sometimes, when out came this thing:

It has to be good, right?

Yes, but no.

What is good, after all? What’s good to you is not good to me. What is good to me is probably at best irrelevant to you.

What it has to be is important–to me, anyway. And even moreso, it has to be important to me today, right now. Not yesterday, or in the future. The me of the past is gone, so he doesn’t matter. The me of tomorrow is undefined–who knows what the me of tomorrow will think. He’ll probably be different than I am now. I hope he will. So just do the work that’s important to me now and that’s good. Good enough? Shrug. What does the word “enough” have to say in that sentence. If it’s good, it’s good.

I admit I like it. Oddly, the phrase I like the most is the nearly invisible segment of “So, just do the work…” and one of the reasons I think I like that segment is that it relates directly to what Chuck Wendig is exhorting independent writers to do, that being to raise their … uh … freaking game. Or at least to pay attention to the big picture of what it means to be an independent publisher. Do the work. Pay attention to the details.

Right about now, I can hear my beloved Lisa snorting out loud–as if I can actually pay attention to details. Sheesh. But, seriously. Do your best. Respect readers. Pay attention to the business. But mostly, do all of that and write something that means something to you.

Parsing art and its creator

I’ve been writing a bunch of short stories that past couple weeks, and somewhere along the line I ran into this 60 Minutes interview with Bob Dylan. It’s got me really thinking about what being a creator means (I started to type “artist,” but I don’t know that it’s the right word. I like “creator,” though. I suppose the difference doesn’t matter, though).



Since finding it, I’ve listened to it three or four times.

Dylan is a remarkable person, an enigma, of course. He is a creator/artist beyond all things, and I think this is what makes him so hard for people to understand–I think he ties into things that move him, and he puts those things on the wire. He lets them free, regardless of his personal attachment to them. And, listen to him. Sentence by sentence. Almost every phrase he utters has a unique depth to it. Almost every word he uses has a purpose. People understand him because his ability to cut cloth into the exact shape it winds up in is so pristine. And so a lot of people followed his lead–a lead that Dylan himself never wanted or expected, a lead, in fact, that Dylan doesn’t even really see. At one point in the interview Bradley says, “… but some of your songs did stop people cold, and they saw them as anthems, and they saw them as protest songs, It was important in their lives, and sparked a movement, I mean, you may not have seen it that way, but that’s the way it was for them. How do you reconcile those two things?” And Dylan’s response is so … lucid … so lucid, but also so hard to comprehend without really separating things inside you, without parsing your intellect so crisply from your emotional self.

Think about that a little.

Poor Lisa

So, Brigid and I are planning to attend a workshop together in late February, which will be pretty danged cool–at least for me. On her side, she’s going to have to put up with being around her dorky dad for a week. My guess is that she’ll run off and hide with some other writers and leave me in the dust. Sigh.

As part of the workshop, we’ve each been required to submit a new short story each week for the past five weeks, with one more to. By short story, it’s meant to be no more than 6K per story (3K minimum). They are always due Sunday night.

I titled this one “Poor Lisa” though, because she is both Brigid and my personal copy editor. This schedule means that every Sunday for the past five weeks (and one more coming up!), she has been hit with somewhere in the range of 10,000-12,000 words to zip through–generally starting sometime in the mid-afternoon or early evening. Nothing like a rush job. Of course, Brigid is, like, this big ol’ Linguistics major, and pretty much writes well-formed prose falling out of bed, so I don’t think hers requires nearly as much work as my engineering-informed prose does.

But, still. 12K words a day is a lot for a day off, eh?

These are a lot of work for us, but I’m thinking she’s looking forward to this thing being over more than we are. [grin]

January reading

For the first time in awhile, I’m making some reasonable time to read most every day. This means that instead of reading almost wholly in the short fiction field, I’m getting into longer works. January, then, found me finish three novels, and a long novella (in addition to, of course, several short stories–I expect I’ll always read short stories. I mean, when a short story is done well it will just take your breath away). I figure I’ll do my best to post what I’ve read, and what I’ve thought about them, ranking them on a 5-star basis.

Here are what my stars will mean:

1 Star – Not my bag. Didn’t like it enough to finish it
2 Stars – Finished it, but really didn’t like it.
3 Stars – Good book
4 Stars – Very enjoyable, (if in a series, I’ll probably read more)
5 Stars – Absolutely loved this book

Here are the longer works I’ve gotten through this month:

Libriomancer, Jim C. Hines (3.5 stars)

Totally enjoyable read. I enjoyed the whole librarian as magician thing, and as a SF writer the inside references are a lot of fun.

Of Ants and Dinosaurs, Cixin Liu (Translated by Holger Nahm) (2.5 stars)

This is the novella length work (though it might actually be a novelette, I’m not sure). The story uses the ants and dinosaurs to represent different social entities who need each other, but seem to have considerable problems with communication and the distribution of power. Sound in any way familiar? I found the end to be a shade predicatble, but it was still an interesting read.

Freedom, Jonathan Franzen (3.5 Stars)

Someone gave me this book a year or two ago, and I just got around to reading it. The essentials of the plot revolve around a love triangle, and is stuffed with the politics of the past 30 years, parent/child relationships, and a flavoring of gender stereotypes. Since it’s a big ‘ole book, I started it with the idea that I may not finish it, but Franzen kept me reading–mostly because I found pretty much every character to be interesting. I wanted to know what they were going to do next. I walked away happy, though I can see where some may not share my thoughts here.

Uglies, Scott Westerfeld (4 Stars)

Yes, I’m slow to the party on this one, too.

“Uglies” is a YA story set in a world where all kids undergo an operation at age 16 tha makes them physically attractive (based on the norms of the day). There’s more here than meets the eye, though, and our lead character is a young woman who learns more and more about the world as she finds herself caught up in the political machinations of the “Pretty” overseers, the mainstream “Uglies,” and a group of revolutionary folks who are a throwback to a different time. Like most YA’s, it’s a quick read. I just finished this yesterday, so assume I’ll read book two here real soon now.

A story, stumbled upon

So I’m down in the basement today working away at this short story that’s due for a workshop by the end of Sunday. No problem. I’ve actually been fiddling with it for two days, and all is well. It’s a fine story. I am not disappointed in it.

Then, through a serendipitous event or three, I stumble upon a different thread. So I put this story away for a moment, and two hours later I find that I am transported into a totally different direction, and a totally different world, telling a totally different story for this exact same assignment.

This story is like crack to me now.

How much like crack, you ask? I’m now debating the value of staying up overnight to work on it. If I don’t, I worry that it will just keep me up, anyway. I hate the idea of throwing off my sleep cycle again now that I’ve finally gotten it back to something semi-routine, but we will see what happens.

I have no idea if I can pull this one off in a way that will actually be even semi-commercial or semi-successful (philosophical question of the day: is there a difference?). I have no idea if the thing will work or not. But it is suddenly just flat-out cool because it’s challenging. It’s like a little puzzle coming to me, due to the way I’ve stumbled upon it, in stages with twists and turns and new emotional tones and … well … it’s just fun.

As you might now tell, this is the story that I will submit. At least, I think it is. I “finished” it this afternoon in pseudo-code. It needs fleshing out at the end, and to be honest, it may need re-arranging. I really just wrote it verbatim as it came to me. It wanders a bit. That’s okay, because I love it for its wanderings right now. Tomorrow we’ll see if we can rope some of those wanderings in. Tomorrow we’ll see if it’s actually any good.

But it won’t really matter to me in the end (of course, I just lied, but we’re are a writer, we’ll ignore that fact for the moment). The mere work that happened this afternoon was worth it. The mere idea of the work. The mere attempt to create something. It was really what matters. And the irony in this is something that you, dear and poor Typosphere reader, will only get to experience if it is ever published. [grin]