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Archive for April, 2017

Last weekend was Los Angeles’ annual “Who Says We Don’t Read?” gathering. Every year 150,000 people gather at the USC campus over a weekend to “celebrate the written word.” And this year, despite an unseasonably warm Saturday and the March for Science, they did it again. If you care at all about books and you’re anywhere within 500 miles, you should come to this.

My wife and I volunteered (both days!) as author escorts, leading groups of authors (and entourages) to their panel discussions, and signing areas for autographs. This involves, naturally, a certain sense of longing, since for once I’d rather be led than leading, but it’s satisfying nonetheless. We’re performing a service for the speakers and the attendees, we get a reserved front-row seat, and it’s not arduous work–except…

Hmm. How do I say this? I’m an author, and I’d like to be on one of those panels some day, so I don’t want to speak ill of the team…I guess it’s just that authors are not used to being the center of attention. I’m not saying they’re treated like rock stars at this thing, but they do get a lot of attention. And sometimes when we need them to do one thing, they’re busy doing another, which is Being Admired. That’s when we have to find a diplomatic way to separate author from fan without offending either and get the author to where he needs to be because fifty other fans are waiting for him. (Yes, him. It’s usually the men, for some reason.)

Over the years, I’ve gotten pretty good at this, and as far as I know, I’ve never caused offense. But every time it happens, I have to ask myself: Is that Me? Will that, if the opportunity ever arises, be Me? I certainly hope not.

But then again, if the opportunity ever does arise, I’m not going to waste it either. So to that hypothetical author escort at that hypothetical Festival of Books where I’m a guest author, I’m sorry. I’m sorry if I’m making your life difficult. Believe me, I’ve been there.

But I’ve never been here before. And damned if it doesn’t feel good.

#SFWApro

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I caught myself tonight thinking, “I really hope I get a sale soon!” Because it’s been, you know, four weeks.

Really, self? This is what’s it’s come to? You went (mumbledy-mumbledy) years before you sold a story, then it was every couple of years, and now you get withdrawal symptoms if you don’t sell one every month?

Gee, you’d think you were trying to make a living at this or something. I’ve figured out the problem: Writing stories is compulsive, but selling stories is addictive.

I’m not trying to toot my own horn here. I’m not bragging because I sell half a dozen stories in a year (okay, last year it was ten). There are a lot of people out there who sell a lot more than I do and to better-paying markets, as well. (And I’m not even terribly jealous of all of them. Some of them are my friends. Them I’m only a little jealous of.) It’s just that I find it amusing how quickly one can go from, “Lord, please let me sell one story before I die,” to “For heaven’s sake, I haven’t had one sale since last month!”

So if you’re a pre-published author, let me make two points: (1) I feel you. I remember what it was like, and I hope that you don’t have to work as long as I did to start selling; and (2) Don’t think once you sell it’s all wine and roses. You just trade your problems for new problems. Nicer problems, I’ll grant you…

…but there still isn’t a Hugo on my mantelpiece. And I haven’t made a single sale since I started writing this post.

#SFWApro

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I’m sitting looking at a picture of an original Star Wars movie poster–and when I say Star Wars, I mean Star Wars, not A New Hope. I put the “old” in old-school; I saw Star Wars the night it premiered–because I saw the poster featured on “Antiques Roadshow,” and I thought the appraiser under-valued it, so I looked it up. And now I’m looking at it, and I see three pretty much unknown actors listed, followed by Peter Cushing and Alec Guinness, who were anything but unknown. It follows that George Lucas paid a pretty penny to get them. Which leads to the question:

What did he think he was doing?

I don’t mean that pejoratively, as in, “Was he crazy, spending that kind of money on a space opera?” I mean, really, what did he think he was accomplishing? What do any of us think we’re accomplishing when we write a story or make a movie or paint a painting? And more to the point, should we be proud of what we’ve done?

You look at Star Wars now, and it’s gone way past “global phenomenon.” But back in the day, we didn’t know it would do that. Certainly when that grandiose poster was printed, nobody knew if the darn thing was going make a dime. It could easily have been laughed out of the theater–and would have, if it hadn’t made so much money. So it’s easy to say now, “That’s something George Lucas can be proud of!” But what about before?

You’d hope no creative person would release story or movie  that he wasn’t proud of, but we know that’s not the case. (Where there’s a buck, there’s a way. And someone who is proud of it–proud of making a buck, anyway.) But is that legitimate? Are we allowed to be proud of a story if no one ever publishes it? I mean, seriously, are we allowed to be proud of a story that sucks? Are we allowed to be more proud of it if someone publishes it–and then it wins a Hugo? On the other hand, are we allowed to be proud of writing a story that wins a Hugo–even if we ourselves don’t think it was worthy?

It is said that, “Pride goeth before a fall.” But it’s also said, “Don’t submit a story you wouldn’t want others to read.” So pride is bad, but without it, nobody knows you exist. And in the end, you may be the only person who even thinks you should be proud of what you’ve done–which sounds like a great recipe for a fall to me.

I sent a story yesterday to a major magazine. I had real hopes for it. I was proud of it. I thought this could be my chance to break into a new market. I went to bed happy. Fifteen hours later, it came back. A form letter, not even a personal note. I was proud, now I’m fallen.

But I sent it out again immediately. Because I’m proud of it? No. (Although I am.) I sent it out again because I like it. And that’s even more important. You can be proud of doing a job well even if it’s a job you don’t like. But to do a job well enough that you like it, well, that’s something to be proud of.

#SFWApro

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Today Cirsova magazine, which has been nominated for a Hugo as Best Semi-prozine, announced its nomination package (i.e., the selection of stories it wants to present to voters), and one of my stories, for a wonder, is in there. This is, of course, a great hardship for me, since now if I say anything about the Hugos, I have to include a disclaimer. (I’m not sure if this post counts.) This does not mean I’ve been nominated myself, but it’s thrilling to be thought worthy to be a part of the magazine’s pitch to the voters.

On the other hand, it’s also an awesome responsibility, because now I’m the de facto ambassador for the talking gorillas and human/wolverine hybrids from the future who told me the story in the first place. (Yeah, it’s that weird.)*

If you’re not going to Helsinki in August, you can read the story here for free. If you are going to Helsinki, all I ask is that you give all of the nominees a fair shot.

Happy reading!

 

*Shameless plug: If you like this story, it was an inspiration for my novel The Invisible City, available here and here.

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I recently attended the end-of-season banquet for the UCLA women’s basketball team, of which I am a long-time fan. Yes, the men’s program at UCLA has a long and legendary history (of which I am justifiably proud, although I had absolutely nothing to do with it, but that’s college sports for you), but I have found the women’s team to be a more rewarding experience to watch. The men’s program has constant turnover from one-and-done players who just use college as a way station on their way to the NBA. Very few quality players stay four years, so what’s the point in getting invested in them? If they don’t care, why should I?

On the distaff side, however, there are no lottery-ticket deals in their future. Even the few who proceed to the WNBA won’t get rich off of it. Which leads to the question: Why do it? College is hard enough, why make it even harder?

Simple: because they love the game. And you can tell when you watch them: the drive, the tenacity, the unwillingness to give up even when the score is lopsided and the clock is winding down. These women have taught me a lot about toughing it out–and that is the number one skill a writer needs, too.

It is said you have to write a million words before you learn how to write. Seems pretty solid to me. How long that takes is up to you–but even if you do it, it’s not like there’s a magic switch that clicks on at that point and suddenly you’re selling stories to Asimov’s. Or even Cirsova. Some people sell their first story; others take decades to reach that mark. If you can’t stick it out, if you can’t summon up the self-confidence, the drive, or simply the stubbornness to keep writing even when all of your friends have secretly written off your chances and only ask, “So, are you still writing?” because they’ve run out of small talk–then you won’t make it. Not because you can’t–you simply won’t.

I have seen my team play with seven players out of 14 unable to suit up because of injury–for the entire season. And every one of those women played like she was the only one who could do her job for 40 minutes because she was the only one who could do her job: There was no one else. I have seen them come back from 20 points down in the second half–when even I had secretly written them off–because they didn’t know how to quit.

I had already started selling when I became aware of how remarkable my team was, so the lessons they taught weren’t quite so essential, but when you’re a writer, self-doubt is never far from your doorstep. And when those creeping doubts ring my doorbell, I look back on that team–my team–and I remember that we all need to rely on the same resilience if we’re going to succeed, that same knowledge that doing our best is going to help us, even if we lose this game, because there’s always the next game.

Look at it this way: Charlie Brown lost practically every game he pitched, but he never stopped showing up. I like to think he grew up to be a writer.

#SFWApro

 

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I just finished writing about 500 words. I should have written more, but I’m writing longhand, and you can only go so long before you have to take a break. Besides, I’m up to the point where I have to make a point, and I’m not sure how I’m going to do it. But I will.

When you’re really going, writing seems almost automatic. You don’t really have to pay attention to what you’re doing. It’s like driving, where  you can watch the road and listen to the radio and think about what you’re going to do when you get to work, all at the same time. (And like driving, you can’t write while you’re on the phone.)

I don’t think I had noticed that before tonight. At the same time the words were unspooling, I was able to look at them almost objectively (never totally objectively). As I watched myself scribble them (and scribble is the right word, believe me), I marveled at (a) how they arranged themselves so neatly, and (b) how good they looked. Not that I claim to be Shakespeare by any means; it’s just that I can still recall how I used to write years ago, and the difference is profound. But I wonder if the real miracle isn’t either of those things, but rather how I was able to separate my brain into two parts, one writing and one watching. Usually when you write, your brain is separated into “writer” and “editor,” and the toughest part is stuffing a sock into the editor’s mouth so the writer can work. This wasn’t that. The observer did make a few cogent suggestions, which were followed, but mostly he let the writer work. It was he who found the whole process amazing. (The writer was too busy to care.)

Oddly enough, now that I’m blogging, the two halves seem more in partnership. I stop and edit more, and the writer doesn’t mind having the editor peer over his shoulder. It’s a funny thing.

It’s a funny way to live, if you think about it. Writer vs. Editor. And then there’s Marketing Manager… Thank goodness they’ve got him locked in the closet for the duration.

#SFWApro

 

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