Interesting chart

Putting it here so I can find it again. [grin]

Oops…

Some of you more adroit folks may have noticed that I haven’t been talking much about progress of my fantasy serial since I finished episode 8. This was the last and final episode and my “workplan” said I was then to begin production on its publication. So, Ron, where’s the beef?

The truth is that I apparently want to avoid production work so much that I’ve fallen into writing something that was, well, NOWHERE on said workplan. The fact is that words are coming along quite nicely, and I’m some 22K words into what will be either a novel or very long novella (we shall see). It’s another baseball piece, a companion to my earlier book See the PEBA on $25 a Day, only this time set in its a sibling league in Japan.

Yeah, strange.

Anyway. It’s fun. But what you also don’t know for sure is that for the past week I’ve been letting my scraggly beard grow out. You can tell, of course in the few pictures I’ve posted. But I haven’t said anything. I did it mostly as a result of having some dental surgery earlier, but I felt comfortable enough to shave the past few days, and haven’t done so. Lisa had said to let it go (I figure she just wants to see the gray). So today I came to the decision that I would not shave until at least finishing this story.

I should note that I tend to shave in the shower. And so, of course, this afternoon I reminded myself that I wasn’t shaving until the book was done as I got into the shower. I then proceeded to wash my hair, and get so involved in thinking about the plot that I went on auto-pilot and realized three swipes into it that I was shaving. I guess that’s good news, overall. To be so distracted by your book that you forget something like that. At least that’s my story.

Anyway, I kept shaving, of course.

I didn’t want to look stupid, after all.

Editors, writers, and responsibility … or “Oh, the profanity!”

I have a friend here in Columbus who runs a local writer’s collective and publishes a small-press magazine, and occasionally organizes a collection of shorts and poems to publish local writers. Very much a “for the love” kind of thing. She’s doing such a collection now, and this morning she sent me an email asking for an opinion. After we finished, she gave me permission to post the flow here. I wanted to do that because I think it’s an interesting case and it displays the role of editor/publisher and writer in the whole process, and therefore it also can be used to help clarify the whole concept of editorial decision vs. free speech thing that occasionally comes up.

Anyway, here are the relevant point to the note she sent:

There is one … who used a lot of curse words. I bleeped some of them [would you] read it and let me know if you feel I should leave them or not. I’m a bit hesitant to leave them

I knew why she was hesitant to leave them. I’ve touched on it before to some degree.

I read the story in question. It was written by a younger person, and poses an interesting, if not totally unique question about what happens to computer game characters when the person playing the game has put everything on pause. The piece was concise, and not overly deep, but was a pretty fair work. It used the term “fucking” twice, and had been altered to obscure it a little.

After reading the piece, here was my response:

[Hi!]

As editor/publisher, you get to say what you will publish. As a writer, though, I get to say what my story will include. The matter of profanity is a line of demarcation for some. I’ve heard people in the workshop say “it’s a poor writer who needs to resort to profanity.” I get their point of view, but I think that as an artist, profanity is a very important thing. A character’s relationship to profanity says much about them. If you will NEVER use profanity, then you are saying you will never write certain characters with proper depth. But I digress.

In this case, [ writer ] is a new adult person writing about something that is deeply ingrained in her culture–that being video games. Us old fogies tend to think of video games as lighthearted fare that people can while their time away with, but to the younger crowd (such as my daughter), video games today are really not seen as much different from books in that they tell stories…and have characters…and…

When I read [ writer ]‘s work, it’s about her sense that these characters she interacts with are different people under the surface than they are as you see them in their programmed roles. They relax and wind-down like the rest of us do, and they have their own relationships to deal with. In other words, they are young people, too. I can even think of them as having a relationship with them similar to one she might have with her parents. She’s away from home now, the parents can’t see her. What is she like? How does she use profanity when they are there or not there? Or I can see them as I would see cohorts at work. You share certain parts of yourself at work, but not everything. People certainly stifle their use of profanity at work vs. at home. How does that relate to the idea of personal freedom? Blah, blah, blah…

Anyway, I think it would be natural for those characters in the world [ writer ] is creating to have a relationship to profanity that perhaps some of your readers would not like them to have. Such is “art” for the lack of a better word. So, personally, while you are completely within your rights to not publish the work, I would not edit those words out unilaterally. (If I were the writer and you cut my words in that fashion without my input I would be unhappy, for example). I believe she has used those words on purpose, and she has used them in ways that are in line with the characters she’s created would use it. I think those words are part of the purpose and soul of the piece. Yes, she could write it without those words, but the words carry meaning in this context beyond what you’ll find in a dictionary.

I think this leaves you with two options.

1) If you as a publisher just flat-out do not want to include profanity in your book, you go back to [ writer ] and tell her you’ll be happy to accept the work if she will redo it to remove the profanity. If she does not want to do this, you thank her for her time and move on. This way, you are not making a unilateral decision, and the writer still holds the final decision of what that writer will publish.

2) You think about it and decide you can support the work for what it is and the statement it makes, and then you run it as she submitted it. If people complain about it, they complain about it. So be it. Depending on the situation, you could chose to explain why it works in this case, or can chose not to. :)

That’s my two cents, anyway.

I would have been happy if my friend took either direction, but I admit I was more proud of her when she replied a bit later with:

… that is how I have always felt, but I know I have received flack for it in my magazine.

I think I’ll put it back in and they can deal with it!

See how that works? Ideally the two sides meet and all is well…as the case will be here. But at the end of the day, the writer is responsible that the work is what he or she wants it to be. And the editor/publisher is responsible for deciding what they will publish–a right they can exercise whether the writer likes their reason or not.

100 Happy Days – Day 1

Indicators have come to me recently from several directions that I may not be happy. This may sound strange. I know it does to me, because on the whole I feel happy enough to me. Yet, I retain an attitude of self-reflection, and I’m willing to admit I may be wrong on most things (ha!) and maybe this is one of most things.

So I have decided to remedy my issue by taking the #100HappyDays challenge. What can it hurt, eh?

To kick it all off, today I posted a picture of myself taking a power walk in the afternoon. I am lucky enough to live a life that lets me take advantage of such a great afternoon as this to go walk in it. That makes me happy. I chose this item as the thing that makes me happy, because it was the easiest one to take a photo of between several things that made me happy today (and the day is yet to be over). Other things include:

  • The fact that Friday the 13th is, like, the coolest day ever (as I said before, 13 is my favorite number, afterall
  • Going back to bed in the morning for the first time in ever because I decided I was just flat-out tired.
  • Waking up, getting lunch, and then throwing down 2700 words of new fiction in two hours.

If you missed it, here’s the pic:




So, yeah, today was a successful day 1 of the challenge. Here’s my suggestion to you. Join me. What do you have to lose, eh? And, if you do, drop me a line and I’ll find a way to link to you so I can follow along.

Pulse Pounders antho cover released

All right, I’m a little late to the party–the cover to Fiction River’s Pulse Pounders anthology was released a week or two ago. But for posterity’s sake (and for those who missed it), here’s the beef! I’m doing some particularly cool happy dances about this one for several reasons:

  1. 1) The BIG ONE! I get to share a back cover with my absolute favorite new writer of all time, Brigid (of course)
  2. 2) I somehow find myself on a cover with Dave Farland, Frank Herbert, Phaedra Weldon, and Dalye Dermatis
  3. * please excuse this “so-cooler-than-cool” fanboy squee moment … *

  4. 3) The whole thing is done up in red-which happens to be my favorite color (grin)

Click here for a bigger (easier to read) version

The value of short fiction

A friend of mine recently posted a discussion (presumably between her and other writers) about the value of short fiction. I read it with some interest, and I wouldn’t argue with anything she said. But I’ve been thinking about this post and its question ever since reading it. The problem I’m having is that, for me, the discussion in that post doesn’t go nearly far enough. The conversation sticks to the value of short fiction in the context of a writer’s mechanics more than anything else. They do not, however, come close to defining the value of a short story as I think of it.

You see, over the past twenty or so years I’ve come to absolutely adore short fiction. A properly conceived and executed piece of short fiction can totally take your breath away like no other form really can. At best, my line of thinking falls under point #5 in the link above, but the conversation there misses so much of what I think about that it feels like mere hand-waving to me.

I mean, would the world better off without “Flowers for Algernon” (which began life as a Hugo winning short story)? Would the world of Science Fiction be the same without Harlan Ellison’s “‘Repent Harlequin!,’ said the Ticktockman,” or “I have no Mouth and I Must Scream?” Would James Tiptree, Jr. have left the same legacy without her remarkable body of short work?

The answer to these questions is an obvious and resounding “no.” And, of course, I can go on like this for a very, very long time, and, of course, I’ve only touched on the work of a few “lowly” science fiction writers–we can move freely across all genres here and find remarkable pieces of art in the short form everywhere we look. If you are so inclined, you might start with NPR’s Selected Shorts.

I suggest that the purpose of writing is to express, and the purpose of reading is to experience.

The short form provides the greatest platform there is to explore specific situations and specific elements of human nature, to focus lenses on things that matter in condensed, yet (hopefully) nuanced ways. Do we not understand life better when we pick up Neil Gaiman’s “Fragile Things?” Are we not so often moved to different ways of thinking when we pick up something by writers like Ted Chiang, Kat Howard, and Ken Liu (to name just three of what could be hundreds)? Do we not see the depths of the social positionings of those within the field of science fiction revealed (in all fashions) from their reactions to the mere existence of the recent “Women Destroy Science Fiction” issue from LightSpeed Magazine?

The short story is an art form in and of itself. As writers (above all) should value it as such. As readers we should revel in its existence. We should never for a moment doubt it for anything but the marvelous creature it can be. Would you not, after all, weep to discover a world where a vast majority of Ray Bradbury’s work had never existed?

The question itself: what is the value of a short story? is, itself specious. It is one of those dangerously faulty assertions that come from a position that suggests one actually needs to make a case for the defense, as if the burden of proof is on the short story itself rather than being self-evident for all but the close-minded to see.

The real value of short fiction, like all art I suppose, is perhaps best able to be judged through the concept of removal, by asking the questions as I’ve asked above–how would the world be different without it?

So, if you ask me “What is the value of short fiction?”

I answer this way: I thank the powers that be that we do not know, and I hope it is a value we will never have to discover.

Genre, definitions, and Margaret Atwood

This morning a friend of mine sent me a link to a Goodreads question and answer session held with Margaret Atwood interview, along with the comment that I might find it interesting because Atwood is often considered a writer of SF. I read it, and, yes, it was interesting.

Here’s the link.

I sent my friend a note back, thanking her for sending it along and added this little bit. I decided to post it here because the whole thing has been resonating with me

I think Margaret Atwood is a remarkable writer because she’s a person for whom boundaries exist but do not matter. I like to think I am that way to some degree, but I’m sure I fail often. [grin]. She is often considered SF, and I think it’s kind of interesting that many in the SF community get upset at her because she doesn’t embrace that label fully. When she does that, they feel she’s giving the genre a forearm shiver–that she doesn’t want to be involved in it. But really, she just doesn’t care about labels (which tend to be arbitrary and also generally tend to cause more trouble than they resolve, even when they are given for the best reasons…but I digress).

I’ve been thinking about this at various times throughout the day–about the clique of SF fandom that tweaks her nose for her position, about the factions inside the SF community who are often more at odds with winning arguments than they are settling problems, and about how that translates to pretty much every element of society. I’ve had several conversations lately with folks who are so firmly in one camp or the other about an issue because of some (arbitrary) definition of “whose side are you on” that they can’t seem to actually talk about the other side with even a bit of civility.

I like Atwood’s perspective, though.

She loves SF. She’s been an SF reader since longer than I’ve been alive. She fully recognizes SF as a genre–in every way that word “genre” is defined. But she doesn’t let it define her.

I’m still thinking about that.

Perhaps you might want to, also.

Or not.

Probably not. [grin]

Writing Well

Writing well is the hardest thing I’ve ever done.

The key word in that sentence is, of course, “well.”

I mean, I can always put words down on the page. I don’t believe in writer’s block in that fashion. “Writing” is easy. Writing well is a totally different thing.

This morning I’m sitting here in my basement looking at the screen as my word processor is generally focused on the last part of this Episode 8 thing I’ve been struggling with for the past three months. I know exactly what happens, and yet I’m hemming and hawing and generally thinking about how to progress. Why? Someone watching me do this would probably be pulling their hair out and screaming at me to “just freaking do something, man!”

And I’m trying. I put a few words here and there into the mix.

But what I find myself doing right now is trying to decide who gets to tell the last two bits of the story. I’m writing in multiple points of view in this episode, and I’ve been finding (not surprisingly, of course) that the selection of point of view has been absolutely critical to me. In this case, I know who owns the very last piece of the puzzle, but I have at least three candidates to carry the next-to-last piece.

Yeah, I know.

Oh, woe is me.

I will figure it out, though. And when I do, I will be a very happy guy.

Because writing well is also the coolest thing ever.

So Damned Close

I thought I would finish Episode 8 today. I thought I had one chapter and an epilog to finish. In truth, I had two chapters and an epilog. Just shoot me, okay? Put me out of my freaking misery. [grin] That’s what happens when you change a character’s story and then build it back again by a purely “pantsing it” approach. It kind of grows along its own path.

I came to this “two chapter” realization after setting down to a session this evening. I had wrestled with the “one chapter” concept all day, and essentially finished it. But I decided the last half of it needed to be carried in a different point of view. So, I did some surgery to make the split, cauterized the wound, and moved on.

So, one more day.

Famous last words.

Fixing Inconsistencies

Back in January I attended Confusion up in Detroit, and sat on a fun panel that was focused on discussing how to deal with inconsistencies in your work. I enjoyed this one because my panel mates (Kameron Hurley, Howard Tayler, Janet Harriett, Catherine Shaffer and Christine Purcell) were all pretty danged fun, and I learned a lot from listening to them.

The Reader/Writer podcast recently released an audio copy of the discussion that you might find interesting …

You can listen to it here

And, in other news, “Four Days in May” is now available on Kobo, too!

Four Days in May hits Google Play

Yes, my friends, it is true that Four Days in May is now available for Google Play users, too! I’ve updated the post below to reflect this, too. Will the wonders of today never cease!

Four Days in May is Released!

Print Version: via CreateSpace
Print Version: via Amazon

Smashwords: Multiple formats
Amazon: Kindle
Kobo: Multiple Formats
Google Play: Epub


 
We know two things today. First, Ed Carpenter is on the pole for the Indianapolis 500. But more important, we know Four Days in May, The Greatest Spectacle in Science Fiction, is now available at all the usual locations–just in time to enjoy before race day!

This group of stories is great fun (to me, anyway!)–they’re all science-fictiony goodness in its most loveable form, full of aliens and intergalactic federations and other such escapist strangeness, all told against the backdrop of the Greatest Spectacle in Motorsports.

This edition includes an original story (as will every issue of this strange continuum that John and I have planned). In this case, it’s “Neighbors in Gasoline Alley,” which tells the tale of of the first extraterrestrial attempt to take on the Brickyard. It comes highly recommended (meaning both Lisa and Tammy, our much better halves, suggest it’s some of our best work). Other stories include “The Day the Track Stood Still,” which was first published in Analog, “Oh-oh”, which was in Switchblade (a Fictionwise Anthology), and “Speeding,” which was original to the first installment of the anthology.

Hope you like it. And, yeah, we’ll update you when the Kobo and Google Play links go active.

You, can, of course, still get copies of “Three Days in May.” This whole project is experimental, and we’re not sure how everyone will react to it as we build over the years, so John and I will leave these out there on the cheap for folks to get hold of if they prefer the shorter, cheaper editions. They are collector’s editions, after all. [grin]

In all seriousness, all feedback is helpful here. I don’t want to confuse our very cool readership if I can avoid it.

A Few of My Favorite Things

If you’re like most people, you probably have a favorite number. Assuming you do, you probably have a perfectly logical reason for it even if that reason is crazy as all get out. Mine is 13. I think it started because my dad said he liked the number. I’ve always been influenced by him in these matters — heck, I still root for the Washington Redskins because he liked them … and years later I learned he liked them mostly because they used to wear really neat helmets back in the day. So my dad’s interest in the number is what started me down the path to my “13 Love,” but over the years I grew further into it. Thirteen is cool because it’s an independent thinker. It’s also often misunderstood. Others shun it, call it unlucky, but it still stands there and thinks for itself. It’s prime, too, so it’s special that way.

Colors, of course, are a natural thing for us humans to gravitate to. Lisa loves her purple. Me, I’m a red man. Black is cool, too. But it’s really about the red. REd s remarkable, but not flashy. Red is racy, but not flamboyant.

Favorite baseball team: Cubs, naturally. And, no, I didn’t live in Chicago. Love the National League, don’t get the American league.

Favorite tennis shoe color: White. Reason: so obvious I know I don’t need to mention it, except, of course that so few people seem to actually be wearing whit tennis shoes these days. They’re just … well … tennis shoes are white, you know? That’s just cool.

Anyway this is a post about numbers, you know? … ever wonder why everyone seems to have a favorite number? I mean, how is it so “human-like” to have one? It doesn’t really make sense that we would hold one number over any other, does it? So why?

But apparently, we do. To a big extent. And here’s an interesting RadioLab podcast that looks into the history of this matter. It’s only 20 minutes long.

I thought it was pretty fun. You might, too. Assuming, that is, you have a favorite number.

And if you do have a favorite number, I would love to hear what it is, and why.

Two bits of good news!

I suppose I’m a couple days late in posting this here, but I’ve had a couple nice things happen that I suppose I should put here as a consolidation for those who don’t follow every bit of my online social presence (and WHY NOT?).

First, I’m quite pleased to report that StarShipSofa has turned my little short story “Bugs” into a way-cool podcast audio version read by Colin Clewes. You can find it here. “Bugs” was first published in Analog, and I absolutely love how they’ve done it up here. StarShipSofa is a great and storied fanzine, and it’s a great honor to be included in its roster (and, yes Tony, I do wish I held a degree in Magical Engineering).

And second, I’ve come to learn that two of my stories fared quite well in this year’s Analog AnLab voting. “Bugs” (noted above), was named second place for best short story of the year, and “Following Jules” nabbed fourth place in the novelette category. I can’t tell you how cool it is to score a top 5 in both of these lists. Thanks so much to everyone who recognized my work.

“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]

#

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!)

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?

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.

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]).

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.

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.

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.

No time? Yeah, right.

Before leaving my cushy corporate job to take on this life as a full time writer, I talked to a heard other folks who were doing this, and they all said the biggest problem they had was that there was never enough time to do all the things they needed to do. You’re at home, they said. So you get to do all the home stuff. And people (and cats, for that matter) think you’re not really doing a job, so they don’t get that you’re busy. And, of course, you’re at home, so there are distractions.

I admit I laughed at them a bit. Sure, I said to myself. Those people have no idea what they are talking about. They had time running out their … ahem … backsides, and they’re telling me that?

Now, of course, I completely understand.

I don’t think, for example, that I’ve had a full workday since mid-December. By that I don’t mean I’ve been slacking off. I mean that between holidays and snow shoveling and getting up to date on a couple TV shows and going to movies while my beloved was off work herself, and the keeping of the logistics of the house going and whatnot, I’ve not been able to actually set aside a day and “go to work” like I would if I were, well, working. Today was as close as I’ve gotten, and this actually missed by a bit since I didn’t get an early enough start.

I did, however, manage to get a couple of my bigger writing projects done–a couple that you will hopefully hear more about in the near future. We shall see.

In the meantime, I’m grabbing an early dinner and getting ready to go to a local writer’s group. That counts as “work,” now, doesn’t it?

This one’s for Lisa

If you know me a little, you’ll know that I have this thing for baseball. It’s mathematics just sticks with me. 90 feet between the bases. Perfect. Differing home parks. Beautiful. Pitchers and hitters. Best match-up sport ever devised.

I love other sports, too–college basketball in particular. But baseball is to be enjoyed at a different level.

Due to my intent focus on the sport for come time, Lisa, my much better half, became a baseball fan for many years, too. It cooled as my focus shifted to fake sports (which is, perhaps something for a different blog post. But she followed the game closely for some time, and even played fantasy baseball for a few seasons–performing better than most of the guys in the league wanted her to perform. She had only one rule: Ryne Sandberg was hers.

Against this backdrop …

One of my favorite baseball writers is blogging down his 100 best players in baseball history. This one’s for Lisa.

Two fun reads

If you like action-oriented, old-time, hold-onto-your-seat Heinlienesque SF, I suggest you check out William Crow Johnson’s two books, Earth 2.0: Prison Planet and his new one, Earth 2.1: Regensis. Big books about bold characters that move. Three bucks apiece on the kindle. What’s not to like, eh?

Full Disclosure: Bill’s a writing buddy of mine (and he’s written me a very nice acknowledgement in 2.1!), so take whatever bias that might entail into account. But I’ve read them both and think they’re great fun.