Feeds:
Posts
Comments

There was a discussion in my peer group concerning the passing of Leonard Nimoy, and whether it qualified as “untimely.” It was pointed out that he lived to be 83 years old, well past the American average, and that he had, not ironically, “lived long” (as well as “prospered”). Given that fact, although we were not prepared to see him go, we should consider that he had lived well and fully.

Not surprisingly, this lead to more thoughts about death, specifically about those I have known who did not have a chance to “live long.” I have lost three friends from college now, bright people who were never able to fulfill their promise because they left this life too soon. I wondered what they might have accomplished given more time, and the thought reflected back: You have the time they didn’t. You’ve been given the chance they weren’t. What are you doing?

I like to say, “Don’t ask yourself where the time has gone. Ask yourself where it’s going.” And with me, as with most of us, it’s going toward working, commuting, catching up with “Downton Abbey”–and writing the occasional piece of fiction. I haven’t done anything great with my life, and odds are I will never make the difference in people’s lives that Leonard Nimoy made. Few of us ever have that opportunity, and fewer take it.

But that’s no reason to despair, or to panic, because as long as I’m alive, I may have that opportunity still. We look at famous people now and we recognize them, but who on that train knew the name J.K. Rowling the day she dreamed up Harry Potter? Did you know who Leonard Nimoy was before “Star Trek”?

I’ve seen it happen time and again: one day you’re in the dumps because it’s all going nowhere, and the next day you’re in a TV series, or you’re nominated for a Hugo, or maybe you just sell a story, and suddenly life is all about possibilities, and people know your name.

Some gain success early. It may build, it may peak and die away, leaving one to wonder what he’s going to do for the rest of a life that may already have seen its apex. The thing I’ve noticed about success, though, is that it’s never really in your grasp. The success I’ve gained in the last few years would look really impressive to the seventeen-year-old who first started writing sword-and-sorcery stories on a manual typewriter in his bedroom, but it’s not enough for me. I dream of being a full-time writer, but I know enough full-time writers to know that even that is only a step, not a culmination. So we keep at it. You have to; resting on your laurels is comfortable, but it never gets any better.

I’m pretty sure that I haven’t peaked already. I don’t know if I ever will. But I know that I will die trying. And that’s the way I want it.

I currently have a grand total of two stories out on submission. It was only a few months ago that my submissions numbered 11, a high-water mark reflecting the dual realities that (a) I had more saleable fiction to offer than ever before, and (b) there were more fiction markets out there. Alas, no matter how large a number (b) is, the agreement on (a) seems limited. And now (b) has shrunk because trying to draw water over and over from the same well with the same leaky bucket is no good (and ticks off the well’s editor).

I tried to stave off the inevitable by pushing stories on reprint markets. This had some success, making the paucity of available stories a good thing. I even tried subbing to markets where I knew I stood little chance of success, just to generate something in my in-box, even if it was a quick and impersonal rejection. (This is not to say that I subbed to inappropriate markets. I wouldn’t send a novelette about a crime-solving 26th-century billionaire playboy to a magazine that only takes alternate history shorts set prior to the 20th century–although I do have such a story if anyone is interested.)

Why would you send out stories only to be rejected? you ask, and well you might. The thing is, writing is a lonely business (surprise!) and any human contact is welcome, although some forms are more welcome than others. And I see my friends on writing boards reporting their successes/failures, making me wish I had more to contribute, to get in on the conversation. So, yes, I’m just pathetic. But if you can’t live with that fact, you shouldn’t be a writer. Get into a business with a higher success rate, like acting or lottery player.

The bright side (read: excuse) is that my lack of submissible stories is largely due to the fact that I have been concentrating on a novel for the past year. (The downside of that is that it was supposed to be done by now, but life gets in the way.) And there are new markets appearing pretty often these days, so things won’t always be so bleak. Not to mention that I now have three novels and a non-fiction booklet out there in e-book form; their continuing struggle to be noticed gives me another outlet for manic number-checking.

And yes, there’s this right here. My blog allows me take a break from paying work and just publish a little bit of what I want, unfettered by worries about sales or pleasing an editor. In the end, I guess we all just want to be heard. And that’s all I have to say today.

Unless I go out on Twitter…

Would-be Must-see Tee-vee

I don’t write fan fiction, but like anyone else I like to dream about mixing up some of my favorite shows, and pretending that characters on different TV shows are somehow related through actors who play on both. (Example: If one actress plays the mom on two different shows, then her “children” on those shows are siblings, right?)

In that vein, I have envisioned some cross-overs of genre interest. Some are silly, most are ridiculous, and some are downright impossible, but a few of them really get the nerves jumping. “What if–?” we ask. It is, after all, the essence of speculative fiction.

Once Upon a Time Lord

Star Trek: Atlantis

Touched by Angel

The Amazing Super-Man

Battlestargate Galactica

The Kyle XY Files

The V Diaries

Arrow the Vampire Slayer

Tell me there aren’t some seriously cool ideas here.

The secret to being a writer is simple. It’s just not easy. One of the ways you know you are a writer is when someone (usually someone close to you) comes up and says, “I have this great idea for a story. Why don’t you write it and we’ll split the profits?” I don’t know of a single writer who has ever said, “Sure, let’s do that,” and I doubt I ever will. Why? Because ideas are a dime a dozen. We all have notebooks full of them. (I have at least three.) How do you think we got to be writers in the first place–by not having ideas? Believe me, this gig doesn’t pay as it is; if we had to split every check with a co-writer, the cemeteries would be full of authors who starved to death.

The reason this model doesn’t work is because non-writers do not understand the difference between “ideas” and “inspiration.” Writing is like dating. There are millions of potential dates out there, only a fraction of which are available to you. You put these few down in your little black book. These are ideas. You might date a few of these; you might date a lot of them. But only a select number will suit you at all, and only one (typically) will be right at any given time. This is the girl you keep going back to, the one you call at odd hours of the morning just to hear her voice. (And with luck, this is the girl who doesn’t scream, “It’s 3AM! Are you insane? I have to work tomorrow!”) This is inspiration.

It’s possible to be inspired by someone else’s idea, but it’s rare, and usually results in an equal collaboration. In general, however, you are only inspired by your own ideas. This is where fledgling writers can get it wrong: they are so enamored with the idea, they think it’s inspiration. But it’s like being infatuated as opposed to being in love. You need to go deeper. An idea is a start. An inspiration is what speaks to you so much that you take that idea and develop it into a story, a tale about people and how that idea affects them. This is what readers want, to see that other people have the same feelings they do, to be validated because the people in your story act the way they do, or the way they want to act. Readers want to be inspired.

And how can you inspire readers if you’re not inspired yourself? That’s why other people’s ideas won’t work for me. They don’t inspire me. And that’s why, if you have that idea that inspires you so much that you think someone could make a story out of it? That’s why that someone should be you.

“Paying the Tab,” my short exploration of grudges, forgiveness, and revenge which originally appeared in Daily Science Fiction, is going to be podcast by MedusPod.com, the folks who brought you the brilliant rendering of “Dead Guy Walking.” After the hilarious send-up of dead guys and the women who won’t miss them, I am really looking forward to their handling of this entirely different type of story.

Interesting facts about the Hugo Awards that you probably didn’t know (or much care about):

Stephen King has never won a Hugo for fiction.

J.K. Rowling has not won a Hugo for fiction since 2001, and only two of the Harry Potter books were nominated for Best Novel.

George R.R. Martin’s “Song of Ice and Fire” novels are still awaiting a Hugo.

If you could name three better-selling SF/fantasy authors…well, you can’t. These people have literally hundreds of millions of fans. If the Hugos were a popularity contest, these folks would need to build extra wings on their houses to hold them all. So why do they have only one Best Novel Hugo between them? Probably because Hugos are voted on by members of the Worldcon, and 99.999% of those millions of fans aren’t Worldcon members.

About now, you’re asking yourself: Is there a point to all this?

Sadly, yes.

And I use the word “sadly” advisedly, because for the third consecutive year, there has been published a slate of proposed Hugo nominees dubbed the “Sad Puppies” slate (hereinafter “SP”). SP started as an effort by self-proclaimed conservative authors to combat what they perceived to be a liberal bias in Hugo voting. (I am short-cutting a lot of background here. If you want, google “Sad Puppies.” I haven’t the space to supply a representative sample of links.) This year, the political thrust seems less apparent, a welcome development. Works should be nominated on their own merits, regardless of their authors’ personal choices. And presenting your recommendations for nominations, whether individually or as a group, no problem! Go for it! However, the slate still presents for me an occasion for head-shaking puzzlement.

You see, the Sad Puppies represent themselves as promoting “entirely deserving works, writers, and editors — all of whom would not otherwise find themselves on the Hugo ballot without some extra oomph received from beyond the rarefied, insular halls of 21st century Worldcon ‘fandom.'” They say, to those Worldcon members who are evidently disenfranchised, “this is YOUR chance to make sure YOUR voice is heard.”

Yeah, well, if you’re a member of the Worldcon, then your voice is already as loud as anyone’s. You have the same right to nominate and vote as anyone else.

The problem seems to be that there just aren’t as many of them voting for Hugos as the SP would like. Or else they aren’t voting the way the Sad Puppies want them to. They can’t understand why popular books don’t get awards. Well, ask Mr. King, or Mr. Martin, or Ms. Rowling. The best candidate isn’t always elected President, the best movie doesn’t always win the Oscar, and the best novel doesn’t always win the Hugo. You take your electorates as you find them.

The SP slate, though, isn’t satisfied with that. Members are on record soliciting people to buy Worldcon supporting memberships just so they can vote SP. Now I realize $40 isn’t a lot of money these days to some of us, but a lot of us have a better use for $40 than supporting a political agenda in what amounts to a small, private club. Put your money where your mouth is, SP; set your books out on the net for free and I’ll bet you’ll get a lot more fans, some of whom might even vote for the Hugos.

But hitting up your supporters to shell out $40 to help you win a trophy because otherwise they wouldn’t vote for you on their own? That’s sad, puppies.

There are a lot of jobs you can’t have without a license: doctor, lawyer, mortician, hairdresser…heck, you can’t even own a dog without a license. And yet you don’t have to get a license for your cat. What’s up with that? It seems that if you want to have a job where you affect one person at a time, you need a license. But if you want to have a job where you affect thousands, or millions, of people at a time, you don’t. What’s up with that?

Let me explain. People go nuts over actors. They pore over their relationships, follow their lives, memorize the names of their kids. Some name their own kids after the actors. Some name their kids after the characters the actors play. Think about it: Real people whose entire lives are being patterned after a fake person. You think actors have no affect on people’s lives?

Writers do the same, albeit in more subtle ways. After all, the actor doesn’t name his character. You may think you’re honoring your favorite sci-fi hero by naming your kid Orion Andromeda, but really you’re paying tribute to the writer who created Orion Andromeda (the character, not your child), and who put the words in the mouth of the actor who you think you are complimenting. It doesn’t matter the show or the movie, it all starts with the writer.

If writers are so powerful, then, and so subtly influential, why aren’t they licensed? How is it they are allowed to manipulate us behind the scenes, unseen and unaccountable? I call upon Congress to act to curtail the power of these shadowy figures. Surely a Congressional committee issuing subpoenas to writers, questioning their associations and their political affiliations could only benefit us all.

Legal support for licensing exists. Securities salesmen need to be licensed. A security is an investment in a common scheme designed to gain a profit based on the efforts of others. How does this not include writers? They enter into a common enterprise to publish a book or a script. Everyone and his brother puts in effort to sell it (and to make it better) to the point where the writer has nothing to do but sit back and implement the suggestions of everyone who had nothing to do with creating the actual story. Then they sell it to bookstores or movie studios who in turn market it to the public. The writer reaps the benefit of all this effort on his behalf. I mean, after he drafts the silly thing, what else has he had to do? I offer this parallel as an aid to lawmakers in their important work.

The pen is mightier than the sword, which is more dangerous than guns because swords never run out of bullets. And words, they can cut a lot more people than swords, millions at a time. Writers have the ability to shake public opinion, focus movements, inspire men centuries later.

How are these guys allowed to run around without proper supervision?

Follow

Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.

Join 464 other followers