Posts Tagged ‘Isaac Asimov’

They say, “The Devil’s in the details,” but as is usually the case, “they” are wrong. Or at least, woefully inadequate as a result of gross over-generalization. If you’re a writer (or to avoid a gross over-generalization, this writer), the Devil is in the beginning.

Here’s the problem. Ever since I finished my last novel, “The Killing Scar” (available free on Kindle Unlimited!), I have been suffering from writer’s block. Other than doing yet another in a series of edits on another book that may never see print, I have not been working. I have accomplished almost nothing of a practical nature. That “almost” consists of one story whose vague parameters I have outlined for myself. (So vague, in fact, are the parameters that one of the main characters remains unnamed.)

Now, this is a story for which I have high hopes. Conceptually, it’s really good. It has emotional resonance for me, it’s simple, and it can probably be brought in under 5000 words, which gives it a wide variety of potential markets. The problem is…

… I have high hopes for this story. I think, properly constructed, it could sell to a prime market. It might even go further. And that is scary as hell.

In his autobiography, Isaac Asimov recounted writing his classic short story, “Nightfall.” Although I don’t have the source material handy, I remember that he said something to the effect that, had an angel tapped him on the shoulder that night and said, “Isaac, you are about to write the greatest science fiction short story of all time,” he would have been paralyzed. He never could have written a word.

Now I am not claiming that I am about to write (or could ever write) the next “Nightfall.” But I am afraid this story could represent a new plateau for me–and so, like Isaac (had he but known), I find myself unable to proceed. I am so afraid to fail that I cannot begin to succeed.

The solution, of course, is obvious.

So don’t call me tonight. I’ll be working. Again.





Read Full Post »

I just saw a list of the “Twenty Core SF Books Every True SF Fan Should Have On Their Shelves.” I have no problem with people publishing such lists, and I have no problem with this list in particular, particularly with the fact that all of the listed works are by women.* It’s one person’s opinion, and we all know such lists are not meant to be taken seriously, but as a springboard for discussion–the kind of intellectual discussion which seems all to lacking these days, both in SF and in the world in general.

The problem with such lists, actually, is that they appear to stand for the proposition that you can make up a definitive list of must-read books of any stripe. Let’s disregard that literature is far too wide and deep for any real short catalog–there are so many classic novels out there; I submit that if you were to list the 500 books any “real” fan must have in his library, you would still get vigorous pushback about the books you left out. I guarantee it, in fact.

And the reason is that reading is a matter of taste. I’m not talking “literature” vs. “beach reads,” I’m talking about personal preferences. I have read a good portion of the books on that list, most I’ve heard of, and a couple were completely new to me. I can tell you that the books I’d heard of but not read, I will probably never read. Yet I’ve been an SF fan for decades, and I’ll bet I’ve read good books that someone else who sees that list has not, and never will. (Again, we’re not talking about how you define “worthy” literature.)

So if I love Asimov and you won’t touch it, and you adore Lem and I can’t get through one book, which is us is the true fan? All things being equal, we both are. We just enjoy different parts of the same fandom. It’s true that things evolve, and certainly, as N. K. Jamison said recently, SF has evolved.

But nobody ever said we had to evolve the same way. That’s a very science-fictional concept, by the way –in fact, I would say it’s true science fiction.


*I do have a problem with the grammar, but that’s an argument I don’t want to get into here.


Read Full Post »

It will come as no surprise to pretty much anyone that writers think of their stories as their children. I have discussed this metaphor myself; I would find it hard to believe that any writer doesn’t feel that way. (If you’re a writer and you don’t feel that way, please let me know in the comments, because I’d love to have that conversation.)

And as we all know, parents want their children to do as well in life as they can. In people terms, it means a good job, or placing your child in the best college. In writer terms, this means placing your story in the best venue. “Best” may mean most highly regarded, most visible for awards, or highest-paying. In SFF circles, these priorities overlap until they are almost the same. Whether this is a good thing is open to debate, but it is undeniably true.

Personally,  I aim for the high-paying markets that accept stories somewhere in the neighborhood of what I’ve written, which is pretty easy because most magazines have open guidelines. In other words, besides maybe only accepting SF or fantasy, they’re pretty receptive to however you interpret the genre (short of some rather horrific line-crossing exceptions that I won’t go into). I also like markets that respond relatively quickly (but then again, who doesn’t?).

Now, there are two kinds of markets I submit to (except in special circumstances), and they are defined by pay rates: “pro” and “semi-pro.” “Pro” markets are those paying $0.06/word and above (this being the minimum rate set for qualification by SFWA). “Semi-pro” markets pay $0.01 – $0.03/word.* I typically do not submit to markets paying less.

I start, of course, with the pro venues. But what happens when you can’t sell a story, and you run out of pro venues? Do you move on to the semi-pro markets? Therein lies the problem…

Writers can get very attached to their stories, and unlike with children (we hope), writers have favorites. And every writer can tell you about “my favorite story that I just can’t sell.”  I have one, but it’s in submission right now (I believe for the 46th time), so I can’t tell you which it is. I used to have a second favorite, but it sold (to a pro market) after 35 rejections. I could sell my favorite story any time I wanted, but I refuse to sell it for less than pro rates. I will not send my baby to anything but an Ivy League college.

Nowadays, new markets pop up all the time, some paying pro rates, so I can keep sending this story out with hope in my heart. But I can’t do it with all of my stories, and some I’m not that attached to. But when you’re selling to semi-pro markets, and you’re talking about one that pays 2 1/2 cents per word versus another that pays 3, you have to weigh other considerations. Is one better known in the field? Paper versus electronic? How quickly does the editor get back with rejections? (Once you’ve had a story sitting at a market for a year without a word, you get wary.)

Since I am unfortunately not in a position to sell everything to pro magazines, this is a frequent argument in my head. Depending on the story, the state of various markets (some are only open part-time), and how long it’s been since I’ve made a sale, the argument ends differently every time. Sometimes I even change my mind after a few submissions, adjusting my expectations up or down.

There are those children who will never leave the house, and you just have to put them away. (And by that I mean stories, not real children!) But even they can surprise you. I have sold stories that I thought were out of options.

And you know what? I’m proud of them too.

*When Asimov got his start in the 1940s, he was making up to $0.01/word.


Read Full Post »

It’s been a while since I last posted, and while no one out there is setting his watch by my contributions to Internet immortality, I’ve gotten kind of used to making them, so in lieu of anything really important, I thought I’d just put a few things down on “paper.” Blame it on my need to say something. I’m a writer; it’s what we do.

Hugo controversy. Again? Even I’m tired of this by now. I do not plan to weigh in unless something really gets my goat, other than to say that I hope people vote for the works they think deserve an award, no matter who wrote it or nominated it. That’s the point. As to the controversy itself, every bad thing comes to an end. I promise. (That goes for the Hugos and the current election cycle.)

I’m working. This is shaping up to be a good year. I’ve sold three stories, and I just passed the 20,000 word mark on The Cosmic City. Honestly, it’s going places I had no idea existed when I started. Writing it’s a wild ride, and I hope reading it will be as well. When it’s finished I’m going back to short stories for a while. It’s like varying your exercise routine to stress different muscles.

A new name? I’ve been reading that if you’re going to publish in different genres, you need to adopt different names. Readers supposedly will become confused if they see an SF novel, then a mystery, then an urban fantasy, all by the same author. Isaac Asimov wrote over 100 books on all kinds of subjects (fiction and non-fiction), and it doesn’t seem to have hurt him that they were under his name. Now, I’m not claiming to be Asimov, but I wonder if that bit of conventional wisdom is true. Have things changed that much since he was writing?


Read Full Post »