Never made the connection before, have you? (Neither have I, to be honest.) And why is that? Because they don’t want us to. If I never blog again, you’ll know why…

  1. If the job’s done right, no one ever sees the hand behind the scenes.
  2. You can train for it, and you can practice for it, but when push comes to shove, you’ll only survive if you were Bourne for it.*
  3. Eventually, you can go to lots of exotic locations and someone else will pay for it.
  4. When you’re on assignment, you live or die on your own.
  5. If you make a mistake with a gun, someone you never see will attack you.
  6. Sometimes it’s better to use an assumed name.
  7. Your assignments will be handled through “the agency.”
  8. You know you’re good when someone has a contract on you.
  9. A single failure can end your career.
  10. You don’t retire; you die on the job.

*Sorry, I couldn’t resist.



Type a Mile in My Shoes

If you want to know what it’s like to be a writer, the best way to learn, obviously, is to write something. I recommend it; you might learn something about yourself, aside from your writing skills. For this exercise, it doesn’t have to be anything good, nor does it even have to be original. Fan fiction will do. No one else is ever going to see it; in fact, you should probably shred it when you’re done. Having someone read it is not the point (although that is a part of being a writer, so you can choose to have someone read it if you really want to).

The second-best (and far easier) way is to read a story by Theodore Sturgeon called “Microcosmic God” (1941), reprinted in The Science Fiction Hall of Fame, Vol 1 (1970). In it, a scientist creates his own race of miniature sentient beings inhabiting a sealed environment which he controls completely. They live an accelerated lifespan compared to humans, and he watches them evolve as they solve the life-threatening dilemmas he sets for them. Eventually, they… Well, I’ll let you read it.

The point is, that Kidder, the scientist in the story, illustrates what it is like to be a writer: You control everything that happens, and (to an extent) how the characters react and evolve.* I have no doubt that was the inspiration for the story.

The problem is that you control everything. Sometimes your characters take over the story, but sometimes they have absolutely no idea what to do next. If you’re inclined to let characters have their head (as I am), this can be a disaster and bog you down for days. If you’re a writer who does not outline, and writes what comes when it comes for re-arranging later, it can take you years to put out a book.

Readers, unfortunately, have a hard time with this concept. If you haven’t tried to create an entire world, with people and scenery and a history that you are writing as it happens, you can’t know how hard it is. So I recommend you either try, or you read Sturgeon. Either will illustrate the difficulties of creation.

Warning: If you are planning to be a writer, you could do worse than reading a lot of Sturgeon (and Bradbury. And CL Moore.). Just don’t let the fact that they do it so much better than mere mortals keep you from trying it yourself.


*I firmly believe characters have minds of their own and may possess definite opinions as to their path in life.


My wife is into a particular series of books that has an active fan group, particularly on line. Lately she has developed a new pet peeve, one with which I whole-heartedly agreed as soon as I heard it. It is as follows:

A great many people seem to want spoilers. They cannot abide not knowing what will happen in the future, even though there may be several more books in the series already published and the answers are there to find. Now, however, she is running into people who want spoilers for events that not only occur in the next book, but the same book, or even in the same chapter.


Are they that lazy? And forget about being lazy, if they hate the writing so much, why are they reading the book?

Notice I didn’t ask if they hate the story. I’m talking about the writing. Writers spend anywhere from a few minutes to a few months (some spend years) picking and choosing exactly the correct turn or phrase for their masterpieces. (I tend toward the “minutes” end of the spectrum, but still, I do try.) And they spend even longer plotting the story, laying out clues and foreshadowing so that they can lead you down a path that ends in a huge surprise. That’s why we do it. If it wasn’t meant to be a surprise, we wouldn’t bother.

Seriously, we spend far more time writing this stuff than anyone ever will reading it. All we ask is that you invest the time to realize the experience as we have laid it out for you. It’s not like you have to do a lot of work. In fact, it’s supposed to be fun.

I’m not trying to be a curmudgeon here (okay, I am), but trust me, it would be much easier and faster simply to publish a synopsis or an outline, if that’s all anyone wants. But we write stories and books because we love them, and we want you to love them, too. We want you to appreciate the craftsmanship that goes into them. Reading until you get to an interesting point and then running to the Internet to get a spoiler is like buying a holiday mocha, sucking off the sprinkles and whipped cream, and throwing the coffee away. I mean, would you watch the first half of Designated Survivor and then call a friend in an earlier time zone to find out what happens after the commercial?

I guess one could wait for the books to be turned into mini-series. But beware, there are no commercials on cable. You’ll just have to enjoy the whole thing the way the author intended.


Balancing Act

There is only so much time in a day. The trick is to make the best use of that time. Hence my problem.

I have switched in the past year from writing short stories to self–publishing novels. This creates difficulties, because it turns out that writing novels on a self-publisher’s schedule requires even more time than writing a respectable number of short stories in a year. (This is exacerbated by the fact that no one expects you to write short stories on a schedule.) It requires, in my case, about twice the time.

Given this, I have abandoned writing any new short stories for the foreseeable future. I still have a catalog of unsold stories, however, and I am still trying to sell them. In our wonderful Internet age, new markets spring to life every month, unlike the Dark Ages of the Nineteen-Mumble-Mumbles when I started. So all those stories that haven’t yet found a home need constant attention in case a new possibility opens up.

But what happens when a new market opens that fits a story in your inventory perfectly–except that the story’s the wrong length? Can you extend a too-short story? You can, but it’s a tricky and dangerous game. Cutting down a too-long story is easier, but not easy, particularly when (as in the example which prompts this post) you’re talking several hundred words (a typewritten double-spaced page).

On what do you spend your time? The short story, which if sold will generate a few hundred bucks, or the novel, which is going to be published but each copy will only generate a couple of dollars and whose ultimate sales numbers are as speculative as that story sale? Not only that, but the story market has a finite closing date, whereas your book has a publishing schedule that you’d really like to keep.

If I were a best-selling novelist, this wouldn’t even a issue, but I’m not and it is. I know which way I’m leaning…



I was going to call this article “Loscon Post-Mortem,” but that sounds like a real downer; I mean, the con is over, but it’s not dead… So then I thought, “What do you call it? I can’t call it a ‘post-Loscondom’…” So never mind. It is what it is.

It seemed to go very well. I had three panels, one per day (unlike some who had back-to-back panels, which is not fair), and I participated significantly in all three. Only one time did a question set me back, and I managed to make a joke out of it while I organized my thoughts and came up with something tangentially related to the subject under discussion. People even took notes, which I found gratifying.

The convention itself was typical of its ilk, small but enthusiastic, and I thought the programming choices were above average. The age range extended further than normal, with more younger folks attending–always a good sign.

Personally, I was surprised to find that being on a panel made me feel more like a professional than actually selling stories. When you sell, you may see the numbers, but there are no individuals attached to them. When you’re a panelist at a convention, you are face-to-face with people who paid money to see you speak (or as one of my peers put it, “paid money to see Tim Powers speak,” but you’re part of that package). And when they come to see you, they pay attention and take notes and ask questions as though you have some authority on the subject.

To paraphrase Uncle Ben, “With authority comes responsibility.” Those folks are there to learn from you. That means you’d better be professional and prepared. You may think you’re a nobody because you haven’t published 10 novels with New York houses, but those people in the audience? Most of them haven’t published the 35 short stories you have, and they want to be you. I should have realized that earlier, because it wasn’t long ago that I was just like them (still am, but with loftier goals), but until I sat in one of the chairs behind the table, I didn’t really know it.

I was mostly prepared this time, and when I wasn’t, I extemporized. Next time I’ll do better.

Because that’s my job.



Year-end Sale!

Who wants to wait until Black Friday? And who wants a sale that only lasts one day? (Hint: the answer to both these questions is, “Not me.”)

Therefore, on the theory that it’s no good selling something if you can’t give your friends a good deal, starting tomorrow, November 23, and running all the way to December 31, all novels in my electronic catalog are being reduced by 25%!*

You want time-traveling adventure on a far-future Earth where aliens rule mankind and recreated dinosaurs roam deserted cities? We got that.

You want to go back to the 1930s, where mysterious dangers hide behind every door and globe-trotting heroes fight the forces of evil and tyranny? We got that.

You want to visit a fantastical (and hysterical) medieval land where an exiled samurai and an untrustworthy card shark turn out to be long-lost brothers, battling fashion-obsessed Valkyries and the Pirate Brother’ood while arguing over whose fault it was they got kicked out of another tavern? We got that, too!

Act now, because prices like this do not come along every day!**


*Except for The Invisible City, because it’s already free!

**Every year, yes. Every day, no.

One of the great rallying points of self-published authors and those who champion them is that now the Big 5 publishers* no longer control what you and I can read. With the self-publishing revolution, everyone can be an author, an editor, a publisher. As the printing press allowed for underground pamphleteers to get out their message, the desktop publishing industry made books available to the masses no matter what the New York Literary Establishment might decree!

Yeah, about that… Turns out the NYLE, like any cog in an ecosystem, had (and still has) its uses. The NYLE is, among other things, a gatekeeper. The complaint was that it “suppressed” books by deciding which were worthy of publication, using criteria that were both arbitrary and secret. Now that publishing is a home industry, the NYLE’s role is diminished. But all of those “suppressed” books that are now popping up everywhere? Many of them were suppressed for a reason: They weren’t very good.**

We need gatekeepers. There are too many authors and too many books to keep track of, even in a small niche like SF or mysteries. Somebody has to say, “This is good,” or nobody’s ever going to buy it, not only because they can’t find it, but because (honestly) most people don’t want to spend money on an unknown quantity. (I sure don’t.) But who are the gatekeepers of this Wild West of words?

You are. Everyone who reads a book can go on to Amazon or Goodreads and leave a review. It doesn’t take more than checking a box. A couple of clicks and you’re done. You have contributed to the mass gatekeeping operation which is the only way to deal with the mass publishing operation going on in every neighborhood in America (and much of the rest of the world). And you need to do this.

Independent authors have no marketing budgets (although the Big 5 do). Independent authors have no sales force (although the Big 5 do). Independent authors have no connections with all the bookstores in town (although the Big 5 do). The only thing indies have is the power of their readership to rank and review. Your words, your ranking can be seen by everyone in the world–just like the Big 5’s ads can. But if you don’t review, then the stories you want–the books you shouted about and blogged for–go away. This gig doesn’t pay a lot, and it doesn’t take but a couple of disappointing books to make an author go back to selling insurance.

You think you can do better than the gatekeepers? Fine. Now’s your chance to prove it.

*The number changes all the time.

**This is not to say that the traditional publishers only ever published what was worth reading, either.