Feeds:
Posts
Comments

It is with great humility and corresponding vanity that I accept the universal proposal that the Hugo Award be renamed the Brian Award. I would like to express similar appreciation for all of those who have supported the movement to have the Sturgeon Award rechristened the Lowe Award, and the Nebula Award as the Wormhole, in my honor.

If anyone has any further accolades to heap upon Your Humble Servant, please do not delay, as after today the opportunity will not recur for a year.

#SFWApro

Recently, I saw in my Facebook feed one of those memes that people insist on putting up that they assert describes the world, this one contending that if you are not where you want to be in life, it’s solely and completely your own fault for making bad choices. Although I usually ignore such things on the basis that it’s not worth fighting over someone else’s unsubstantiated opinion, this time I had to make a comment to the effect that “only people who’ve actually managed to succeed ever make pronouncements about how everyone else’s failure is his own fault.” Your typical working stiff would never say something so dismissive. Why was I so moved, you ask? Because I’m a writer, and writers have a nearly unique point of view on this question.

The truth is, the “you made your choices” argument is garbage. You are not defined solely by your choices; there are 7 billion other human beings on this planet and their choices affect you every minute, not to mention the sheer randomness of nature and the entropy of the universe. People can and do work all of their lives, make the best choices they are capable of making, and still get nowhere. It’s sad, but it’s true. Read a modern novel some time.

“A novel?” you ask. Yes, because as I said, writers have a POV that most people don’t, for two reasons:

First, writers spend most of their lives absolutely at the mercy of others. From the time we submit our manuscripts to the day our books are declared out of print (or we are), we don’t control our own fates. Editors accept or reject, and on their own schedule. Publishers pick marketing plans, covers, blurbs, prices… The public decides to buy or not to buy. Will your book become a movie? Don’t ask me, it isn’t my call to make. We don’t even choose to write; we have to. The only thing we control is whether to submit our work for publication.

Second, because we write, we understand power. No one will argue that power doesn’t run the world, and in a writer’s world, he is the only power. Characters are born, live, and die by our whim. (I still recall the first time I decided to resurrect a character in a subsequent draft.) Every book is a universe and we are its creator, imbued with absolute authority. If you think that doesn’t give you an understanding of power, try it sometime and see.

And yet, even we are subject to higher powers; in the end, it is the public (assuming the story gets that far) that decides if we have made the right choices. (Ironically, there is never a consensus.) The characters can’t make choices; if they did, I assume they would choose to be published, to be read. So if I, who have absolute control over my characters’ thoughts, emotions, actions, and lives, cannot control their destiny, how do I control my own?

This is not to say I’m a fan of nihilism and nothing you do makes any difference. That’s known as “giving up.” We’ve all been at that point, but usually we find a way to continue. And things, in the general sense, do get better. What I’m trying to say is that dismissing everyone else’s struggles as their own shortcoming is just a way of saying, “Nyahh, nyahh, I made it and you didn’t and I’m better than you.”

And you know what, if that’s your idea of success, then you’ve missed the whole point. And I don’t care how good your book is, I don’t want to read it.

#SFWApro

I knew March was going to be a month. For me, submissions tend to return in waves. It doesn’t matter when I send them out (although for some reason I do seem to send them out in bunches), they always come back in a deluge of (mostly) bad news. And between the things that should have come back in February and those that were simply coming due,I knew that March was going to be a trial.

It had gotten to the point where I was willing to welcome a rejection, since I had not gotten word on any of my submissions in a while. And I got my wish, since I’ve had six in the last five days–including three today. This is evidence of two things: One, just because you’ve had some sales doesn’t mean you’ll never get more rejections; ironically, it may mean you get more, because you’ve built up a catalog that you can send out as reprints.* Two, if you want to be a writer, you need a thick skin. Rejections are not personal (except for personal rejections), but they do hurt. You need to be able to weather that. It’s just part of the job.

Waking up to three rejections at once, though? That’s not a trial, that’s… well, it’s Thursday.

Honestly, though, today’s rejections didn’t hurt so much. For one thing, they were all reprints, and that “I’m never going to sell this thing” feeling is gone. And some of them were the kind of thing you just throw at a market to see what sticks. Your mantra should always be, “Don’t self-reject,” but you know when something is a long shot.

It also helps to get that story out again as soon as possible. I try to plan ahead so I know if a story comes back, I have another market in mind. (Saves time, too.)

And sometimes you just need to know that something is happening. When your fate is being decided maybe three thousand miles away by people you’ve never met using arcane methods you can’t begin to fathom, well… okay, that’s Congress. But also the publishing business.

So feel free to send a little sympathy in the direction of your favorite author (whoever that is), but don’t worry. The pendulum swings both ways, and the joy of success wipes out the pain of failure.

For a little while, anyway. As long as it’s not a Thursday.

*Seriously, as soon as you sell a story, start checking out its reprint possibilities. It’s found money.

#SFWApro

Pleasing Your #1 Fan

I’ve been struck lately by the questions I’m seeing on writing sites on line: People keep posting that they’re working on their first novel, and they have a choice of various elements they can include or directions they can explore, and asking the collective mind, “Which should I do? What would make the most impact?”

You want to make an impact? Don’t ask anybody what to do. Write the story you want to write, and own it, and be damned what anyone else thinks. Like the swashbuckling anti-hero in your favorite movie likes to say, “It’s easier to ask for forgiveness than to ask for permission.” That’s lousy life advice, but if you want to be a writer, it’s the attitude to take. You don’t need to ask permission to write a book.

If I had listened to everyone else when I spent all those years trying to break in, I never would have–because most of those voices were saying, “You can never break in. The odds are too great.” And if I had listened to other voices after I started having success, I never would have written the books I did, because they weren’t “commercial” enough. Screw that; I wrote what I wanted and had fun doing it.

The truth is, the market doesn’t want anything new, until it does. Nobody would have recommended Tolkien write Lord of the Rings, way too long and too classical. George Lucas loved Flash Gordon so much he wanted to make his own movie just like it, and there was such a market for that he could barely finance it… Asking the crowd gets you the crowd’s opinion.

Maybe, though, you don’t need to make an impact. Maybe you just want to write what you want to write–and that’s great. So long as you remain true to yourself. Because let’s face it, most of us will never get as famous as Tolkien or as rich as Lucas. There just aren’t enough fans in the world.

If you remember one rule, though, you can get by: Always try to make Fan #1 happy. And the corollary to that rule is: Fan #1 is you.

And it’s easier than ever, really, to keep yourself happy. Say you want a traditional book contract, but the book doesn’t sell. No publisher wants it/can figure out what to do with it. But you’re really proud of it. (You must be, if you sent it to publishers.) So you self-publish it. Worst-case scenario, you put it up on Amazon and no one wants it. It sells fifty copies.

But you know what? One of those copies will always live on your desk, a reminder that you did what you wanted to do and you finished what so many people never start: you wrote a book.

You started. You finished. And from the table of contents to “The End,” you told a story that had never told before, or ever will be again.

And you didn’t need to ask anyone’s permission.

#SFWApro

I just ran across what the author claims is a list of the fifteen Worst Sci-Fi Movies Ever Made. For scientific rigor, the choices were limited to “feature films with at least 5,000 Rotten Tomatoes audience reviews, 10 Rotten Tomatoes critic reviews, and 10,000 IMDb user reviews.”

Well, as any true afficiando of bad SF movies will tell you, that’s the best way ever devised to come up with a list which is completely and utterly wrong.

If they wanted truly bad movies, they would have used entirely different criteria–like calling me and a couple of my friends. Bad movies don’t get 10,000 IMDb user reviews. Why? Because they’re bad. Truly, and in some cases hilariously, awful.

What resulted here was a list of bad recent SF movies, and that’s what makes this list, despite its enormous shortcomings, valuable–because all of them are relatively recent, and in color. This points up a serious problem in movie-watching circles: the refusal by many people to watch any movie in black-and-white.

Now I know there are so many movies out every year that no one can watch them all, and even if you do limit yourself to color films, the list would stretch over your lifetime. But the outright dismissal of all B&W movies? Seriously? Do you even realize that films were faster in those days (i.e., the dialogue was faster) and the movies shorter? (You can get in a lot more of them than the bloated tentpole pics of today.)

If you eliminate black&white films, you will never discover the joys of William Powell and Myrna Loy exchanging witty quips that would leave today’s couples gasping. You’ll never see the pathos of war as expressed in “The Best Years of Our Lives,” a movie with as much resonance today as ever. And how can you say you’ve lived until you’ve watched Erroll Flynn or Tyrone Power swashbuckle across the screen, blades and smiles flashing?

You could spend hours (and so could I) just listing classic comedies like “Bringing Up Baby,” “His Girl Friday,” or “My Man Godfrey.” And dramas? “Casablanca,” “Citizen Kane“… some people even like “It’s a Wonderful Life.” Not to mention Hitchcock. And as long as we’re talking about science fiction, I remind you of a little film called “Frankenstein.”

Limiting yourself to color movies cutting yourself off from decades of really excellent films that, no matter what you think, are still relevant today. Yes, those old movies can have problems from a modern perspective–but there were a lot of color films made up through the 1970s that have the same problems. (And watching the cars and clothes in old movies is a terrific lesson on day-to-day living in the last century.)

So if you’re going to cut black-and-white movies from your viewing, at least don’t have the chutzpah to say you’re compiling a list of the worst science fiction films of all time, because you’re not. And not only are you simply wrong, you too are missing true classics (some of which, admittedly, were only make in black-and-white because the producers couldn’t afford color): “Plan Nine from Outer Space,” “The Creeping Terror,” “The Giant Gila Monster“… Trust me, on this list, “Tarantula” doesn’t even make the cut.

#SFWApro

I am pleased to announce the latest volume in the Stolen Future universe, my continuing saga of the world of the 863rd century: The Valley Beneath the World, Book One of The Fugitive Future trilogy. This book is set between The Invisible City and The Secret City, and can be read on its own. (I wouldn’t recommend it, but I am biased.)

In the five years since Keryl Clee disappeared, his best friend Arlen Timash has ranged half the world in search of him without success. But when Timash incurs the anger of Earth’s alien conquerors, the Nuum, he must flee beyond their reach–only to crash-land in the frigid wastes of the Antarctic continent. Taken prisoner by an unknown race, he finds a lost city under the ice, whose very existence could alter the balance of power for the entire planet. But this is a civilization at war, with its own secrets, and the victor will be the one who is willing go the furthest to protect them…

Thankful for You

We’re celebrating Thanksgiving on Sunday this year, for reasons, and before we get around the (small) table to say what we’re thankful for, I have to share one of those things with you, and that is: my readers. It’s an act of supreme egotism to write a story and send it into the world and expect people to pay to read it. After all, I’ve been telling stories almost all my life–we all do–for free. What’s so great about these?

I still find it utterly astounding (or amazing, or fantastic, or startling) that anyone finds my work worth spending their precious time on. Yet my Amazon reports tell me that’s exactly what folks out there are doing. They’re reading my stories.

It’s nice to make the money, of course, but like most authors, if I were in this just for the money I’d’ve given up years ago. They tell you “don’t quit your day job” for a reason. But the thrill of knowing that there are people out there–fans of the same kind of stories that I grew up reading so voraciously–who are getting the same feeling I got from reading Burroughs or Dent or Hamilton or Asimov, from reading me…? You can’t buy that.

I’m also thankful for the gift of being able to tell stories. Writing well is a skill, and I’ve spent most of my life honing it, but the ability and the desire to tell stories is a gift; you either have it or you don’t. But as thankful as I am for the visions that I can offer to you, there’s one thing for which I am even more thankful:

That there are readers out there who will let me share my visions with them.

Thank you.

#SFWApro

The Choking Rain is Free

This weekend only, The Choking Rain, first in the Nemesis series, is FREE on Amazon.

A mysterious series of deaths is sending shockwaves through 1932 Los Angeles. The feeling of optimism that was raising the city since the announcement of the Summer Olympic Games is being subsumed by the terror of men dying in the streets, in broad daylight, clutching their throats as if to dislodge the murderous hands of an invisible strangler!

Dragged into the mystery by an attack on his family, Eric Reinhold can only call on a small band of friends to help him as they find themselves ensnared in a web of violence and fear. And when one of their own is gunned down by brutal gangsters, can the survivors win against a criminal mob backed by the might of an entire foreign nation?

From the streets of Beverly Hills to the steaming monster-hunted wilds of the South American jungle, an international terror plot of horrifying scope is gradually unveiled, a plan that has only one aim–to bring down the United States itself in preparation for a second Great War…

And the only hope the world has rests on the shoulders of a dead man.

This anthology, featuring my story among many others, is now live. It’s currently an ebook but a hard copy is on its way for those who live for getting my autograph on everything.

Check out my interview at the New Pulp Heroes blog. I reveal undisclosed details of my past in pulps, my favorite new flavors, and my upcoming projects–all new and never before seen (mainly because no one has ever asked)!