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Side Show Freaks

I am featured in the Side Show Freaks blog writing about “Rights and Wrongs,” how it came about, how it almost didn’t, and how, unfortunately, it all matters.

Hugo Awards 2014

I should be ashamed to say it, but I have now spent nearly as much time reading reactions to the Hugo nominations than I have reading Hugo nominees. And if I hadn’t spent some quality time reading Nebula nominees so I could vote for them intelligently, I’d really be in the soup. But I will do my best to make up that disparity later.

So, how ’bout them Hugos, huh?

Was there bloc voting? Was there ballot stuffing? Does a bear do his unmentionable stuff in a forest? Answer: I don’t know, I don’t know, and I’ve never met a bear in the forest.

Everybody seems to have an opinion, if not of the works then of the authors. The one thing I haven’t seen is any discussion of the works by anyone who has read them all yet. I have seen several blogs which exhort this course before voting, but even they seem to have a personal opinion of authors whose work they haven’t reviewed, or at least of the tactics which ostensibly got those authors on the ballot.

Here’s my take: Read the stories. Vote on stories you think are worthy of awards (not just stories you like). I read and enjoy authors whose politics (if I know of them) I would not agree with. I might even vote for them. I might vote for someone whose politics are completely unknown to me. (Note: You cannot reliably infer an author’s politics from his/her work, but that’s another post for another time.)

Any author worth his ink will agree with that last paragraph, or at least the first part. All of us want to be judged worthy for our fiction. Any time nominees (including ourselves) are nominated solely because we have a like-thinking bloc, or we are the flavor of the month, or even because people just like us, we are diminished, not magnified, by such attention. We want to write great fiction and be honored for excellence, just like honorees in any other category. Anyone who doesn’t, who just wants the award for its own sake, doesn’t deserve our company (or at least mine). And that goes for anyone who would vote for somebody just because his personal political/social opinions happen to mesh with the voter’s. If people ever vote for me for an award, I want to be able to tell myself it’s because I wrote a damned fine bit of fiction. (On the other hand, you can buy my books for any reason you like. I won’t quibble.)

There’s nothing wrong with promoting works for an award, be it your own or someone else’s. I was mentioned in such a blog once and I’m still thrilled. After all, nobody can read everything, and you wouldn’t want good fiction going unnoticed. But whether you’re an author or a voter, the work should stand on its own. At least, it should if you want to awards you vote for–or win–to mean anything.

Right here. And paired with the incomparable Cat Rambo. What else do you need to know?

 

It’s supposed to be bad for authors to pay too much attention to reviews, but hey, it’s my first.

I’m really too tired to write (okay, too tired to type), but I wanted to get this entry down while it was clear in my mind. Today my wife and I finished the annual two-day marathon known as volunteering at the Los Angeles Times Festival of Books.

We work as author escorts (this year renamed “speaker escorts,” apparently to reflect the Festival’s increased involvement of art and music). Our job is to guide authors and their entourages across the USC campus (the site of the Festival) to their speaking engagements and autographing sites. For this we get a t-shirt, lunch, free parking, and front-row seats to some pretty interesting panel discussions. (One year we were backstage for an Aimee Mann concert. A few years ago, I was personal escort to Buzz Aldrin. I was closer to him than anyone but his interviewer. It makes a good conversation piece.) We also, we like to joke, sometimes protect authors from too-eager fans.

And that’s the most amazing thing. These authors have fans. I’m not talking about “Can I have your autograph?” fans, although there are plenty of those (sometimes literally hundreds), but “Can I have your autograph on my (fill in the body part)?” fans. We’re not talking J.K. Rowling here, but one YA author today signed books (and only books) for 90 minutes after her panel. And she’s only got three novels out. If you think kids aren’t into books, you weren’t there this afternoon.

And let us not forget this is in Los Angeles. Tinsel Town. Videoville. If an annual bookfest in LA draws 130,000 people (as this consistently does), then the printed word is far from dead. Every one of those fans in line had a physical book, mostly hardcovers, many more than one.

There weren’t any chairs left at the panel talk today, and then we stood for 90 minutes while the authors were signing, then we walked them back to the green room. For the second day in a row. In addition to walking the festival shopping on our own. So yes, I’m a bit worn out.

And next year we’ll go back to do it again. Unless, of course, I’m one of the authors on stage.

 

My newest novel, Once a Knight, is now live at Smashwords. It’s the story of two men, Bruce Legume, the legendary White Samurai, Whose Coming is Foretold in Terms Both Glowing and Long-winded, and Stephen Legume, horse thief, card sharp, and wife-stealer. When Bruce is exiled from Japan (was it a technicality, or something more mysterious?), he must set out half-way across the world to discover the secret of his long-lost family. Unfortunately, his long-lost family starts with Stephen.

Bruce has a quest. Stephen has nothing better to do. Together they will fight pirates, Vikings, assassins, and lipgloss-crazed Amazons on their way to unraveling the Family Secret, which holds the key not only to their own survival, but to the life and liberty of nations.

Can they solve the riddle of their birth? Can they win out over the hordes who want to kill them? Can they keep from killing each other?

Alone and alienated, Bruce must put all of his faith into Stephen as guide, mentor, and friend.

Hey, even the legendary White Samurai is entitled to one mistake.

If you’re like me, for years an aspiring writer, you probably get a special thrill every time the Beatles’ “Paperback Writer” comes on the radio. I dream of the day I will, in fact, be a paperback writer. (Yes, hardcovers are better, but that’s not what the song’s about.)

And yet, I also can’t help but think, every time, of how much of a hash the writer in the song makes of his pitch. I mean, can you count the mistakes?

1) “Dear sir or madam, will you read my book?” Okay, right there, learn the editor’s name! And if you can’t find it, say, “Dear editor.” For heaven’s sake, stop flaunting your ignorance. Not that there isn’t plenty to go around.

2) “I need a job, so I want to be a paperback writer…” Oh, brother, if you need money, you are in the wrong business. First, you’re submitting your novel over the transom (without an agent), so your markets are limited. (They were less limited back in the day, but still.) Second, even if you sell, it’ll be months before you see any real money–as in, maybe never. The advance on a first book is not going to pay your bills for long, and you’ll probably never see another cent from that book.

3) “His son is working for the Daily Mail. It’s a steady job, but he wants to be a paperback writer…” An aspiring writer writing about an aspiring writer. How original. But he did point out that “it’s a dirty story,” which should net him points.

4) “It’s a thousand pages, give or take a few… I make it longer if you like the style, I can change it round…” Oh man. Assuming we’re talking a thousand manuscript pages, that’s a 250,000 – 300,000 word novel. There are trilogies that only run 300,000 words. Make it longer? Make it stop! And if you can “change it round,” it’s not done. Or else you have no idea what you’re doing. Any editor that reads past this point in your letter has had too many martinis at lunch.

5) “If you really like it, you can have the rights.” I sincerely hope I do not have to explain what’s wrong with that sentence.

6) “It could make a million for you overnight.” Sell the story, not the sales. It won’t make a million overnight. The editor knows that, and the writer should know better than to say it.

7) “If you must return it, you can send it here / But I need a break…” Don’t be whiny.

The moral of the story is, don’t take novel submission advice from a songwriter, not even one of the greatest writing teams of all time. Because while Lennon and McCartney might have sold a novel with that pitch, you won’t.

I still love the song, though.

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