Archive for February, 2016

The Secret City, the second of the Stolen Future Trilogy, is now available as an e-book at all major retailers. And if you haven’t yet gotten your copy of the first installment, The Invisible City, it is on sale for the next week at a mere $0.99!



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I have written before about the greying of convention fandom, notably in the context of the Westercon. I’ve also written about the differences between SFF cons and mystery conventions. I’m here to say that they have one significant–and possibly disturbing–commonalty: Their attendees are getting old.

Again, there is nothing ageist about this observation; it’s just an observation.The average age of attendees at a mystery convention like Left Coast Crime is even older than at the Westercon. (I’m going by appearances. Obviously, I didn’t go around asking people’s ages.)  And if you discount the authors, it’s even worse. The latter fact may stem from the fact that mystery cons make more of an effort to attract and present new authors.

One of the concerns I have is that an older crowd is less likely to be into the new technologies that are becoming so important. (You can call that ageist if you want, but I’m dealing with broad generalities here.) If you want authors to show up, they have to feel there is a benefit. Having several hundred potential fans of your work in one place for an entire weekend is a great opportunity, but several hundred social media-involved fans is a better one.

I don’t know if the age issue is a matter of economics, or reader preferences, or that younger mystery fans just don’t go to cons. (Same goes for SFF fans.) But if something doesn’t change, in 20 years there won’t be enough people to fill the panel rooms.

I believe that the arc of history is nothing if not squiggly. Nothing moves in a straight a line. So I am not predicting the end of conventions, but they will have to change. Will the change come from within, by committees finding a way to reach out to a younger demographic, or from without, with a technological advance that results in everyone attending cons via interactive holograms (dramatically lowering the cost of attending)?

Likely the problem will cure itself. Although right now the upcoming generation seems virtual-centric, every generation changes as it ages. Personal interaction will become more important, and while the average age of attendees may plateau, people will still want to attend conventions.

On the other hand, if everyone attends holographically, they’ll be able to make themselves look younger, at least.

Reminder: The Secret City launches tomorrow! This is your last chance to buy it at the reduced pre-order price!


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When one is at the beginning of a period that may see significant developments, it is often useful to stop and take stock of where one stands. So, because I’m starting a new novel and Downton Abbey is ending (and I’m not sure which is bigger), that’s what I’m going to do.

First, I am pleased to announce I have signed a contract to see “Dead Guy Walking” reprinted in an upcoming issue of Digital Fantasy Fiction. “Dead Guy,” as I like to call it, is a story of magical realism inspired by a true event that never happened. Which event, will be yours to decide after you’ve read the story.

Second, The Secret City, volume 2 of the Stolen Future trilogy, is currently available for pre-order at a reduced price. It will launch on February 29, at which time the price goes up, so why not simply pre-order now to save yourself some money and allow time to clear your calendar? And if you haven’t read the first volume, The Invisible City, you’ll still have time before your pre-order comes in.

And finally, I have begun the concluding volume of the trilogy, The Cosmic City, which I hope to have available in time for Christmas. It will be a race, but I think I can win.

With the Nebula nominees out and the Hugos due to be announced in a couple of months, conventions to be attended, and books to be written, there should be things to talk about over the summer.

At least now that it’s February, our New Year’s resolutions have been thoroughly trashed, and we don’t have to talk about them any more.

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It’s awards time again. We’ve already had the BAFTAs and the Grammys, the Oscars on soon to arrive…and our little corner of the world is not to be left out. Nominations have just closed on the Nebulas, and the Hugo nominees are open (which reminds me, I have to nominate).

As everyone (who pays attention to these things) knows, the last few years have seen more than usual contentiousness in the Hugo arena, and last year was a plain disaster. Talk about “a tale … full of sound and fury, signifying nothing!” I mean, honestly, except for those directly involved in the awards (i.e., the nominees), these things don’t mean a whole lot. When you’re talking the scale of the Academy Awards, yes, a win can mean serious money, but in SF, not so much. It’d be a hell of a thing to win one, but other than yourself, who would that affect? According to the pitched battle we saw last year, apparently a lot of people.

My personal less-than-scientific survey points to most of the people most hyped up about this subject actually being writers, which could explain much, as they have an actual, or at least potential, interest in the outcome. But that would assign a selfish motive when as far as I can see, the greater part of the argument stems from a disagreement over what kinds of stories should be nominated for awards: fun stuff that puts “story” first and restores the classic “sense of wonder,” or edgier fare that seeks to explore deeper into who we are and what we’re doing to ourselves and each other–and in doing so often puts emphasis on who is in the action, rather than on the action itself.

I will not take sides; I like both. One day you want a napoleon, one day you want a donut. But which do you find in the Great British Baking Show ? Which should you?

As far as I’m concerned, awards are for exceptional work. “Exceptional” implies “unusual,” perhaps “unique.” For this reason, award tend toward the edgy. Doesn’t matter which award. That’s why the Best Picture Oscar didn’t go to Star Wars, Avatar, or The Avengers. Fine flicks, but not really Best Pictures; we’d seen it all before. Comedy doesn’t get the proper respect, either, probably because those voting have never tried to write it.

There is an element of the emperor’s new clothes here; sometimes people vote for the new because they want to be thought of as au courant, and are afraid they’ll be seen as old if they don’t. But most people vote this way because they want to reward the artist who has shown them something new, who has seen the future first, and taken the risk. (Because the same old stuff is safer. Not necessarily easier, but safer. Not that there’s anything wrong with going back to the classics.)

So I won’t take sides in the sense that you have to choose one or the other of your friends after they break up. But I will say that I stand with the “edgy” crowd when it comes to awards. Not that the “classic” can’t win (and in no way is the importance of “story” diminished), but those that stand up, stand out.

Actually, I guess that should be, “Those who stand out, will stand up.” As in, stand up to walk to the podium. Me, I’d probably trip over something, like Dick Van Dyke. And nobody would appreciate it, because comedy gets no respect.

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So it’s been an exciting week in my little corner desk of the universe. I’ve had a story go up on a Hugo-winning podcast (read by a Hugo winner), I sold a reprint, I had four other stories come back with less fanfare, another (for which I have had high, but unrealized, hopes for years) is due to be judged by another market at any minute, and I had a book giveaway on LibraryThing that was oversubscribed (i.e., more people requested it than there were copies available).* Given that I’ve had months go by without any of these events occurring, this is a whirlwind.

And yet, my life is essentially the same as a week ago. I am no more famous than I was (so far as I can tell), I am little richer than I was (nor will I be when I’m paid), and nobody’s called me to make a movie deal of my podcast story. I will admit that at the beginning of the week, with all of these events (most of which were predictable) ahead of me, I had high hopes that my time was now. And really, I’m old enough to know better.

This is not to say that my time is not yet to come, it is simply recognizing that fame, fortune, love, whatever it is you’re looking for, doesn’t simply crash down on you like a lightning bolt that gives you super-speed. This is a very difficult lesson to learn, because we don’t want to wait–we want our fame and fortune now.

When I was in school, I approached every date, every dance, every opportunity to meet girls as if it was my last. Not in a dashing, devil-may-care way, but in desperation. (I was not exactly the captain of the football team, if you see what I’m saying.) It wasn’t until I gained some perspective that I realized that things take time. The girl I was going to fall in love with was right there all along, but our relationship required time to develop into what it became, and still is.

So it’s okay to get all excited and think, “This is it! This is my big chance!” as long as you realize it won’t be your only chance. I have other stories out there, and maybe one of them will hit it big. Or maybe it’s the next story I write. I know a lot of writers who have been dying of despair in January and counting their award nominations in March. After all, J.K. Rowling was flat broke before “Harry Potter” hit.

On the whole, however, I’d prefer to avoid more weeks like this one. They’re exciting, but draining. If Steven Spielberg is going to call, I wish he’d just get it over with. Maybe I should check my messages…

… Okay, nothing. But tomorrow is another day… Hey, that’s catchy. I bet I could work that into a story.


*I have two other giveaways running on LibraryThing if you care to look.



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I’ve warned before of the dangers inherent in choosing to become a writer–not that I expect it to stop anyone (because writers never really “choose”), but more as a signpost along the way, so the lonely and weary scribe knows he’s not alone. But my previous efforts were geared toward external threats, the kinds of things that come at you from other well-meaning and hopeful ink-stained wretches when you’ve attained some minor level of success. Today we’re going to talk about internal threats, the sort of hazards that are the most dangerous, because they’re already inside your head.

Although it takes many forms (like a virus, it mutates), the number 1 problem boils down to this: You compare yourself to other writers. And while it won’t make a bit of difference, I’m going to say it anyway:


Writing isn’t baseball; you can’t set the season slugging record. It isn’t politics; you don’t win by becoming president. There are awards, and goals, but there is no goal line. And there will always be someone who sells more than you, or writes faster than you, or gets more Twitter followers than you.

But of course, you’re not trying to compare yourself to Rowling, or King, or Patterson. You’re comparing yourself to Jane in your writing group, or Bill who wrote in college (like you), but now he writes Star Wars tie-in novels and you can’t make enough to buy a Star Wars action figure.

Yeah? Well, you’re not Jane and you’re not Bill. People write and sell differently. You want to know a secret? Most published authors are scared to death their publishers are going to drop them. They don’t have any more job security than you do. Even the self-published ones. Can you see writing 3-4 books per year for the rest of your writing life? You think they don’t worry about that?

Fiction writing is like teaching. If you don’t love it for itself (or some aspect of it), if you’re only in it for the money, you aren’t going to make it. But there must be something to it, because everybody wants to try his hand at it. The secret to writing success (by which I do not mean money), is to focus so much on your own work that you might as well be a brain-dead zombie to the world. It’s hard enough to do your own writing, let alone the amount of marketing required–if you worry about Jane and Bill and J.K. and Steve and all the rest, you’ll never have enough time.

But do not despair. There’s a cure for this zombie plague. Study your craft and write a lot, and you will succeed. You will eventually even make a little money. You can look around and see all those other people comparing themselves to you, and you can tell them:

“I know this blog you should read.”

And then you’ll go back to doing what you love.


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What do you do if you’re the attorney appointed to defend an alien who helped exterminate a third of the human race?

My story “Rights and Wrongs” is now being podcast free of charge on StarShipSofa. The narrator is none other than my Taos Toolbox classmate, the Hugo-award winning author David D. Levine.

“Rights and Wrongs” examines the question: “Is it paranoia when somebody really is out to hurt you?” In this case, though, the question runs both ways. Five years ago, the shapeshifting Jani’i invaded Earth. After their defeat, one surviving Jani’i used his abilities to hide out here in search of a new life. Now he’s been exposed and put on trial for murder–but a murder he may not actually have committed. Is it right? Is it fair? And how do the ends justify the means?

Is it paranoia when the whole world really is out to get you? It depends on what you did…

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