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An Un-heated Discussion

We’ve all heard about writers poring over their work in freezing garrets, but I never thought to be one. First, I live in California, where the sun is always shining, it never rains till after sunset, by eight the morning fog must disappear…oh, wait, that’s Camelot. Sorry. And second, I make enough money from my day job to pay the heating bill.

Which is a good thing, because I can’t write when it’s cold. It turns my mind to a slushy mess (as opposed to a general mess), and I get all hunched up and the words don’t flow like they should. Which is how I was tonight. I’d gotten up over 500 words (and miles to go before I sleep), but they felt slow and hard-packed. So imagine my surprise (not) when I walked by the thermostat to discover that I had never reset it from last night when I went to bed. No wonder my brain felt cold! I was cold! (No, I’m not going to say how cold. I will admit, however, that outside of California people would be laughing at me. Except for the Hawaiians. They know how to spend the winter: surfing.)

I can already feel my joints loosening as the temperature rises. Soon I will bask in the pleasure of freely-flowing sentences and long, effortless paragraphs. The words will slide easily from my brain through my fingers to the screen. My language will climb the heights of sublime exaltation. Hugos and Nebulas will be mine.

Some day. For now, I have another thousand words to write. Then I have to freeze my gifted fingers off taking out the garbage, after which I’ll try to warm up again.

Maybe I should just write in bed. If it was good enough for Mark Twain and George Orwell, I’m willing to give it a try.

#SFWApro

So I was on this panel at Loscon, and it didn’t go all that badly. I made a few points, got a laugh or two, and didn’t feel at all uncomfortable, except the hotel kept the rooms too cold. But we had a standing room only crowd, and lots of audience participation (which actually kept me from saying some things I wanted to, but hey, we were there for the crowd, not vice versa). No fistfights broke out (no matter how I tried), no one raised his voice, and no tomatoes were thrown. All in all, a pretty good return to convention speaking after 33 years.

Also, if you are a writer, I recommend getting on some panels, because you get to use the green room. The food is good and the conversation was lively.

And I used my new contacts to get a line on applying to be a guest at another con next year! I’m afraid I may be becoming addicted to fame…

#SFWApro

My trilogy, “The Stolen Future” (or at least the first 2/3) is featured today on File770.com. This is a huge honor and I am surprised and gratified.

Happy Thanksgiving to one and all!

 

Overcoming the Syndrome

It is a common theme among writers, although we dislike admitting it to outsiders, that most of us suffer from “imposter syndrome.” Now, this is hardly unique to writers (nor, I expect, to artists of any stripe, all of whom probably suffer from it), but we tend to have it bad. I have seen authors of several highly-praised novels suffer from it because they had not sold anything recently, or because a short story was rejected. Was it all just a fluke? Am I just a one-trick pony? Have they found me out?

Thankfully, I am having my best-ever year in terms of sales and publications, so the syndrome is not having its way with me at the moment. (It keeps trying, though. It does not give up.) But I recently (like five minutes ago) had an epiphany about imposter syndrome and what it takes to fight it.

I know now that although big sales and lots of them are the best way to stave it off, that isn’t the only way. The other day, I was writing my latest and it suddenly occurred to me (as it does) that various of the tidbits I had thrown into my scene partly because I thought they would enhance the mood and partly because I was just trying to keep writing, were coming together in a larger picture. I needed a big event to headline my chapter, some grave danger for my heroes, and I suddenly realized that if I combined all these little facts I had tossed around, they gave me what I needed. They formed, literally, an eco-system that explained how all the things I wanted to put into the story could work.

I was exceedingly proud of myself, not only for creating something out of nothing, but arranging it so it made sense. And I did it with pieces of my story that I didn’t have any idea fit together. Tonight, I had another of those moments. I had various dangers (okay, monsters) that I wanted to throw at my protagonists. How cool would it be, I wondered, if I could throw them all at my protagonists–at the same time? Put them in a bad situation and make it worse, right? That’s how you build suspense. But how to do it? How to make it make sense?

And I figured out a way. I sat down and relaxed for a couple of minutes and worked it all out. How to pit the monsters against my heroes, how to pit the monsters against each other, and how to resolve the problem so my heroes could continue their journey. It was simple, neat, and it worked.

And that’s what writers do. They tell stories that work.

So take that, imposter syndrome! I’m going to bed.

We can fight again tomorrow. But watch out–I kill monsters for a living.

#SFWApro

 

Loscon Appearance

After a hiatus of 33 years, I will be making my re-entry into the world of convention panelists at Loscon. This is actually the first time I have been a guest at a con, since my previous appearances were due to my being on the convention committee.

What if Star Trek Had Never Existed?” will debut on Saturday at 1:00 p.m. It explores the fannish, cultural, and scientific ramifications of a world where Star Trek never aired. I don’t doubt that the discussion could occupy the entire con, but we’ll try to bring in a definitive answer in less than an hour. (Yeah, right.)

Personally, I think that without Star Trek the entire bedroom-poster industry would have collapsed years ago. I mean, without that picture of Jeri Ryan in her Seven-of-Nine outfit…

#SFWApro

Baking a Book

Ya know how you read a really good novel, mysteries especially, but not necessarily, and in the end the author takes all those little bits and pieces and threads he’s been leaving lying around, and with a few magic passes he brings them all together into one big, cohesive ball and  you say, “My gosh, he’s been planning that all along! What a genius!” Yeah, well, maybe not so much.

See, the book you read is often not the book the author wrote. Aside from the fact that first drafts are never seen by anyone (unless you’re Shakespeare or Asimov), books don’t have to be written in order. They’re like movies, really; they can be created in any order that suits the creator. (You knew that, right? Movies are almost never shot in sequential scene order.)

Now I suspect that most writers start at the beginning and write through to the end. I do (almost invariably), but it doesn’t mean I don’t have an ending in mind long before most of the book is filled in, or even sketched in. I just don’t write the ending first because I use it as a carrot: Get to the end, and you get to write that scene you’ve been imaging all this time.

But–that doesn’t mean that everything goes swimmingly one to end to the other. Books are written in fits and starts. Even disciplined writers hit snags. And those brilliant plot lines that all come together at the end? They didn’t just magically lie down for the author as he went, rolling like a red carpet to its end. They came to him in bits and pieces, and sometimes he had to go back and change things to fit a new concept, and a lot of the time even the author doesn’t know how the threads will combine until they do. Writing a novel is like baking a cake; you can cover a lot of messy bits with enough frosting.

Great–now I don’t want to write any more. I want dessert.

#SFWApro

A New Wave?

I haven’t wanted to discuss the recent electoral developments in this space, because I want to keep my blog as much as possible about writing and genre-related subjects. Besides, everybody and his brother is blogging about the election, so what could I add? But now you’re going to get some of my opinions anyway, because there are connections between what I want to write about and the outside world. In other words, what might this election mean for the state of science fiction?

It is well-accepted that in times of societal stress, people turn more to escapism. (Whether this is true on a personal level would be a much longer and more involved discussion.) It is also becoming apparent that a lot of people are currently suffering from collective stress, so perhaps some will seek escapist entertainment, which would be good for the genre.

But there are other factors at play. For example, extreme right-wing viewpoints are becoming more emboldened. There are right-wing elements of SFF, who have famously felt marginalized, coming to the fore in the past few years. Their views are reflected in the fiction they (who are authors) write. Will this kind of fiction surge, and if it does, what will be the market’s response? How will this affect the wave of magazine issues devoted to fiction by women, or people of color, or LGBT writers? Will it, like the Sad Puppies controversy, spill over into a wider audience’s attention? Will it color non-fans’ perceptions of the community and the genre?

On the other hand, SFF has always been a bastion of left-wing thought, of revolutionary ideas, if the term “revolutionary” is given its wider definition. How will the liberal wing of SFF respond? Will we see more politicized fiction, more dystopias? Or will writers be pressured to tamp down their viewpoints in the new marketplace? And if they are, how will they react?

This election has brought us a president-elect of a kind that even most speculative fiction writers could not have imagined taking office. No one knows what he intends to do–or will be able to do. No one knows if this is the beginning of a trend or an aberration. No one, in short, knows anything, and science fiction authors, long considered our weathervanes, are as confused as anyone.

One thing is for sure, it won’t be boring.

#SFWApro