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If nothing else, this should prove the truth of my recent tweet: “The easiest thing about writing is thinking of ways not to.” Because if there were ever a good excuse for not writing, being able to say “I’m the President of the United States and I’m too busy to write,” has to rank near the top.*

On the other hand, writers have a lot of qualities that one would want in a president. Let’s see now…

  1. We’re patient. We’re used to fighting great odds for a long time without any apparent progress.
  2. We plan ahead. Okay, some of us operate by the seat of our pants, but by the time anyone else knows it, we’ve finished the job and made it look seamless.
  3. We know how to listen. Writers don’t write books, characters do. We just transcribe.
  4. We can take criticism. Actually, we don’t have much choice, but then neither does the president.
  5. We’re used to bad press. Not every review is positive, and we learn to ignore them. If this seems inconsistent with no. 4, then…
  6. We can handle contradictory ideas simultaneously. One beta reader wants the story to go this way. The other wants the story to go that way. Both might be good, but which is better?
  7. We know when to stop. Sometimes a story near and dear to your heart just isn’t coming together; you have to be able to put it aside.
  8. We can work with co-equal branches. You can negotiate with an editor, but you can’t ignore him.
  9. We’re not too proud to accept help. Amazon reviews! Please!
  10. The buck stops here. If something isn’t working, there’s no one else to blame.

So the next time someone tries tempting you with politics, you can say: “I’m a writer, and I’m too busy to be President of the United States.”

 

*If anyone can find an actual instance of a president ever having uttered this sentence, I’ll buy you an ice cream cone.

#SFWApro

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Being a writer doesn’t often feel like Christmas. It’s more like a Charlie Brown Halloween, where you keep trying to kick that football and somebody snatches it away at the last second. And even when we finally kick that ball, we have a way (like Charlie Brown) of leaching the fun out of the best moments. Instead of moping about commercialism, and how the holidays have lost their way, we persuade ourselves that we have lost our way, that the ball will never be in that position, waiting to be kicked, again.

(Sometimes, instead of kicking the football, we need somebody to give us a kick. Ironically, it’s usually another writer.)

There’s been a lot of talk lately about how hard it’s been for some of us to write after the events of the past several weeks. We worry about how the world is going to survive our change in government. We worry about wars and the environment and the economy and race relations. And we can’t write. We feel paralyzed.

I know the feeling. I’m still trying to get The Cosmic City done before the end of the year, and it’s been slow lately, even though I generally speed up as I approach the last act. If I didn’t have that deadline, I might not be able to write at all. But if we look at the situation realistically, we’re writers. We’re always depressed by something. It’s who we are. It’s what we do.

I can’t sit here and tell you everything’s going to be okay, because I don’t know. I don’t know if the next four years will be good or bad. But then, I didn’t know that about the last four, either, or the fifty-odd before that. “Life’s uncertain; eat dessert first.”

The only thing I can do is carry on. I’ll go on writing because it is who I am, and nobody can take that away from me. If I protest, it’ll be in writing. If I fight, it’ll be in writing. And when it’s all over, I’ll write up as fiction–a football that I can run at again and again.

Someday I’ll kick that football. And when I do, it will feel like Christmas, Charlie Brown.

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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

 

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I’m happy to announce that the podcast of my story, “Founding Principals,” revealing the shocking truth behind the Founding Fathers and the birth of our nation, is now live. Trust me, they didn’t teach you this in school.

 

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It’s that time of the decade again…

  1. When it comes to trying to get one in front of the public, no matter how excited you are at the beginning of the process, by the end  you just want it to be over.
  2. Although you can’t really tell by the cover, in the end you don’t have much more than that to go on.
  3. No matter how much you love a particular offering, someone else is going to hate it just as much.
  4. The good ones you hope will never end, and the bad ones you can’t get rid of quickly enough.
  5. Everyone will try his hand at a sequel, but not everyone should. And it won’t be as good as the original.
  6. Comedy, drama, western, romance, political thriller…in the end, it’s all about the character.
  7. An editor who can help keep the narrative running smoothly is worth his weight in gold.
  8. Spending spawns popularity. Nothing flourishes without publicity.
  9.  If at first you don’t succeed, put out a new edition!
  10. When they’re done, the best will find a place in your heart; most will simply take up space on the shelf.

And our bonus fact: If you don’t ever try one, you won’t know what you might have missed.

#SFWApro

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Plagiarism. It’s all over the news this week. You know the weirdest thing about plagiarism? It’s that the word is so hard to spell, the best way say it in print is to copy it from somebody else. Really, it’s hard.

They say that, “Imitation is the sincerest form of flattery.” But the line between imitation and outright stealing can be fine. Remember the Led Zeppelin case? In today’s whirlwind media culture, it seems like it was years ago. That involved an allegation of plagiarism, too, but it turned out to be, at most, flattering imitation.

We’ve had other famous cases of plagiarism, often in journalism. In those cases, the perpetrator was usually fired. In the present instance, that’s kind of hard because the perp was, uh, the nominee’s wife. Oddly enough, the guy who made his fame by saying, “You’re fired,” can’t do that this time. (Unless that’s what he said to his other wives. In which case, who knows?) Apparently, not even the speechwriter who helped her is going to be punished. And whatever your political persuasion, that’s wrong.

It’s wrong because plagiarism is theft. Intellectual theft. Your mom told you, “If you can’t say something nice, don’t say anything at all.” She probably didn’t think she had to tell you, “If you can’t think of anything to say, don’t steal it from somebody else.”

As a writer, I detest plagiarism. It’s akin to book piracy, where someone sells your work for his own profit. Actually, it’s the same, differing only in degree. The words you sweated over are yours. And they are yours, should you so choose, to sell. Stealing them is no different from stealing your wallet.

Your mom also told you, “Sticks and stones may break my bones, but words will never hurt me.” She probably knew better, but she wanted you to be a better person. She wanted you to believe that words people threw at you couldn’t hurt.

Words people take away from you? That definitely hurts.

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Warning: This concerns the recurring fiasco of who/what/how/why we vote for the Hugo Awards. (At this point I’m not even sure exactly why people are fighting over it.) If you don’t care about the Hugos, then (a) good for you, and (b) see you next time. But if you do care, or if you are honestly confused, then perhaps the following will prove of some benefit.

Five Reasons Why the Hugo Kerfuffle is Like the Presidential Election.

1) It’s come down to people calling each other names. (Okay, the Hugo fight started that way.) Hugo partisans have called each other neo-Nazis, Social Justice Warriors, homophobes, liberals, and other terms I won’t repeat here. Even spouses have come in for insult (on both sides). In the election debates, people call each other neo-Nazis, closet liberals, RINOs, and small-handed. Even spouses have come in for insult (on both sides).

2) The Hugos are haunted by the specter of an outsider who has expressed his desire to burn the entire program to the ground. The election is haunted by the specter of at least one candidate who threatens by his very presence to burn his party’s entire program to the ground.

3) The Sad Puppies brag that they brought thousands of new voters to the Hugos last year. Donald Trump brags that he has brought millions of new voters to his party. Whether either of their successes proves long-term remains to be seen.

4) Last year, the “No Award” avalanche lead to threats that many will boycott the awards this year. This year, the idea that certain candidates may not receive their parties’ respective nominations have lead to threats that voters will boycott the general election.

5) The Hugo controversy has pitted fandom against itself, creating fissures and scars that may require decades to heal, if ever. The election controversy is splitting the American public against itself, revealing fissures and scars that have not healed in centuries, and may never do so.

6) Bonus! Both the Hugo controversy and the election are being conducted in the most childish, self-destructive, and futile manner possible. People screaming epithets at each other has never solved an issue. It only leads to violence, which leads to more violence, which leads to five years of bloodshed from Fort Sumter to Appomattox.

I have a solution. It’s very simple: Calm down. Use your indoor voices. Behave like adults. Set an example for your children that your parents would be proud of.

Because if you don’t, I’m going to have to start sending people to bed without supper. And nobody wants that.

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