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Archive for December, 2017

I wasn’t planning to write one of these, but it occurred to me, almost too late, that while 2017 has been a horrible year for many people (for reasons outside the scope of this blog), for me, professionally, it has been not only successful, but actually profound. This was the year that everything changed, maybe forever. With that in mind (and because, like all writers, I’m just obsessive about these things), I’d like to list some of my achievements over the past twelve months.

Summarily, I sold five short stories this year, one of which was a reprint. I had four stories published, mostly those I sold last year. Just as importantly, however, I sold a record number of copies of my various self-published books, particularly in the fourth quarter. I hope to see this trend continue in the new year.

But sales were only part of the story, and not the largest part. Where a novel used to take at least a year, in 2017, I published two, and am dangerously close to finishing a third. One was written in less than two months. This represents a huge leap forward in my production, and opens up an new business model where self-publishing may become a viable part of a hybrid career path (self-published novels/traditional short stories).

I also expanded my authorial presence this year, appearing on three panels at my second consecutive Loscon as a guest. At no time did I faint, get horribly sick, or otherwise condemn myself to 1 million hits on Youtube.

And last but not least, two of my stories appear on the Tangent Online Recommended Reading List for 2017.

All in all, I’m pleased. I’m writing, I’m selling, and I still have a few ideas on the drawing board. So to all of you out there who support me, or support other writers, and especially to those who are trying so hard to make it when all the odds seem to be against you, have a Happy New Year. Make 2018 the year you want it to be.

#SFWApro

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There are a lot of “rules” associated with writing, most of which are deceptively simple in form and exceedingly difficult in practice, like: “Write what you know.” How many of us have actually had to deal with the kinds of travails found in most literary novels, let alone destroyed a space station or carried the One Ring? Or my favorite: “Show, don’t tell.” It took me years to figure out what that meant, and now I spend so much time trying to follow it, it slows the whole process. And then, of course, there is the school of thought that says the rules are only there for when you’re starting out, but when you’re established, you can break them. This never made much sense to me; in what other field of endeavor do you succeed so you can get worse?*

But there’s one rule that stands out, not because it’s confusing, but because it’s hard. I believe it’s the Number One rule, the One Ring of rules, if you will, because if you can master it you can throw the rest into a volcano…

“Write what hurts.”

Yeah, that. Think about it. All you have to do to succeed in this business is to put down on paper for the world to read the most excruciating experiences you can imagine. (Again, write what you know.) If you can do that , if you can grab onto to your feelings from these moments and express them with brutal honesty, readers will not be able to help devouring your work. You will grab them by the heart and not let go. You will sell and take home awards and be admired.

And of course you will have dredged up everything in your life that you’ve been trying to forget since you were 13 years old. That’s gonna hurt. It has to hurt, or you’re not doing it right.

Now no one says you have to follow that route. Lots of writers make perfectly comfortable careers out of books whose plots and characters are no thicker than the pages upon which they appear. Writing as pure entertainment is not only lucrative, but necessary, and requires no soul-baring. If that’s your path, follow it, as far and as long as you can.

But if you want to write something Deep, and Meaningful, then you can’t skirt this rule. You have to obey it, or at least try, as slow and messy and painful as that journey will be. And unlike therapy, it’s hard to do lying down.

Still, I guess it’s cheaper.

 

*Other than politics, of course.

#SFWApro

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If you know anything about me by now, it’s that I’m all about the work. If you’re going to do it, do it right. Respect the reader. You aren’t Amazon or Facebook or a cable company (unless you are), with a near-monopoly and the assurance that people will use your product regardless, because they have little choice. You are one creator among thousands, and a button-push away from oblivion (at least as far as any individual consumer is concerned).

Which is why is makes me so angry that concern with craft is going the way of the dinosaur. I’m not talking about self-publishing; that’s an easy target. True, the attention to details varies wildly, but it’s the Wild West, and anyone venturing therein knows that he’s taking his chances. I’m talking about people who not only know better, they have lines of defense against such things: editors and proofreaders and continuity-checkers.

More and more, the big players are getting away with throwing whatever garbage they want on the page or screen and calling it “art,” whether it’s re-making a classic movie with new characters (The Force Awakens), or re-booting an old series with a “new timeline” and forgetting everything that made the old series worth re-booting (Star Trek), or just the awful writing in a best-selling series of thrillers (where do I start?). And the reason they get away with it is because people will buy into a big, splashy franchise simply because it is big and splashy.

Now, such franchises aren’t invulnerable–unlike some of their stars. The DCU has suffered badly (by its standards) for its treatment of Batman, Superman, and the Justice League. (This year, it is appropriately ironic that Wonder Woman saved the day for the boys.) And maybe enough losses at the box office will effect change, although it will be slow, if it comes.

I’m not asking that every book, TV show, and movie be a classic, or even good for that matter. All I’m asking is that if you want my money, you respect me for more than my wallet. I have a brain. I appreciate entertainment created by someone who cared enough to do it right (e.g., the scrolling prologue of Star Wars).

And if it’s big and splashy as well as smart, I’ll gladly be your fan.

#SFWApro

 

 

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I’d like to win a writing award some day.

This is hardly news; every writer wants to win an award someday, except for those who already have, and I am fairly confident in saying that they want to win more awards some day. There are, of course, writers who say they don’t care if they ever win any awards, but I’m sure they wouldn’t mind if they did.*

I don’t feel bad about this; to be honest, nothing I’ve done has merited such treatment (although a few years ago, when the Hugos were being manipulated by block voting, I did think that I had an eligible story which was equal to anything the block voters were putting up). In fact, I have my doubts that I ever will write something that special. Which is why it’s a darn good thing it’s not up to me.

I’m sure that many writers have finished a story and thought, “Damn, that’s good, even if I do say so myself. This could actually get nominated for something.” (Actually, we all say that pretty much every time we finish, but occasionally we recognize that it might just be more than fantastical thinking.) More often, though, I think that we write something hoping against hope just to get it published, and when it is nominated for an award–let alone when it wins one–we are stunned because we don’t think it’s good enough.

I mean, face it, we never think it’s good enough; it’s never really done. There is always a verb to be made more tangible or a sentence or two to be shaved (and I actually sold a story¬†after just such an operation), but part of the trick of being a real writer is to know when to let go. After all, if it’s rejected a few times, you can always go back and edit then. But to think it’s not only finished, but award-worthy? That’s beyond most of our capabilities. Writers are the worst judges of our own work.

And that’s why it’s best that other people nominate us for awards. The best award, anyway, is having people buy what we write. Maybe we even get fan mail. But we’re writing to be read, not for trophies.

Still, it would be nice, some day, to stand at that dais and thank my wife, my readers, and my tenth-grade English teacher. Just don’t ask me how that might happen, because I’d be the last person to figure it out.

 

*There is a continuing topic question in the community: Would you rather be known as a commercially-successful writer or a critically-successful writer? There are about twice as many answers to that question as there are writers.

 

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I’m number 1! (Or at least in no. 1.) There’s a new flash fiction magazine coming in February called Factor Four, and they just bought my story, “The Deadline,” for their first issue. It’s a short glimpse into a long-term successful marriage that is hiding a very large secret.

I’m thrilled to be in at the beginning of what I hope will be a great success story. When the issue goes live, I’ll be sure to mention it here.

#SFWApro

 

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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.

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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.

#SFWApro

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