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Posts Tagged ‘reading’

When you’re pre-published, all you can think about is that first sale. You look at the books on the shelves, and the authors sitting in the front of the room on con panels, and you wistfully imagine how wonderful it will be to join their company as a published author. And it is wonderful. There’s nothing I’d rather be. (Well, maybe a superhero.) But nothing’s perfect; in this case…
… when you get there, all you can think about is that next sale. The pressure is the same, only different. You are glad you’re now a “real” author, but it doesn’t make life easier. In fact, it makes life harder, and particularly in one critical area. In that one context, life is better when you’re not yet published.
Because, ironically, the more you write, the less you read. And reading’s necessary. Not only is it the reason you got into this gig in the first place (assuming you could read before you could write), but it’s how you re-charge your batteries, and how you see where the field is going. It also supports the publishers whom you want to publish you.
I read less than I used to, and partly it’s because I write more than I used to. Now I’m making an effort to balance the two. You should, too. It’s good for you, and it’s good for the field. If you want, you can call it research.
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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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I get a lot of pitches for ways to get your self-published book noticed. Paid reviewers, unpaid reviewers, virtual libraries, PR companies, Amazon, Smashwords…everybody is out to help the poor writer get readers. What I can’t figure out is, with so many writers out there now, why do we need help? If all the indie writers simply read all the other indie writers, everybody would get rich (or at least sell respectably).

I do not claim not to be part of the problem: I don’t read my fellow indies, either. The problem is, I have little time to read anyone, and the few authors I like pretty much fill it. Now this, of course, is my problem. And it is most certainly a problem, since writers need to “feed their heads” more than most. I write better when I’ve been reading; I suspect most of us do. I should do a lot more of it.  (Of both, actually.)

So if writers aren’t reading, who is? And is that why indie writers can’t get readers, because nowadays so many people are busy self-publishing that no one has time to read?

We had dinner at a fish restaurant tonight. I am not terribly fond of fish, but I’ll eat some, and there’s always something else available. (After a detailed examination of the menu, and consultation with my wife and the very patient waitress, I chose the shrimp pasta. The waitress was very enthusiastic about the cheeseburger. I am nothing if not transparent.) But in talking of the choices afterward, my wife said, “You have to take some chances.” (To me, shrimp pasta with a spicy red sauce is taking a chance.)

It is not my intention to encourage reading more independent writers; I can hardly do that if I don’t know what I’m recommending. (I could recommend myself, but that would hardly be helpful, let alone objective.) But I would encourage people (myself included) to read more broadly, to branch out, take a chance.

If we can take chances with what we put into our mouths, why not with what we take in with our eyes? After all, a paperback (let alone an e-book) is a lot cheaper than a good fish dinner, and if you quit when you’re half-way finished, no one can see the leftovers on your plate and blame you for wasting food. (“There are illiterate children in China who would love to read that book!”)

A lot of people would choose the cheeseburger book. Others would go for the hazelnut-encrusted halibut novel. It doesn’t matter; they both go well with a glass of wine, and we all have to eat.

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I talked a bit ago about “classics,” and how some believe if you haven’t read them, you’re not properly a part of fandom, or some such silliness. As I pointed out then, there’s too much going on now to keep up with, let alone all the books and stories by people who have gone before.

But it’s not really a “fandom” issue, as in one affecting only readers; it affects writers, too. And for us, it really is an issue, because if you haven’t read with some breadth in the field, you will find yourself simply repeating what’s been done before. (Unless, ahem, of course, that’s what you meant to do.) And since this is (ostensibly) a forward-looking field, rehashing past glories isn’t the smartest way to go. (Please, do as I say, not as I do.)

Still, I’ve found recently that even writers haven’t necessarily read as widely in their own field as you’d think. A surprising number of my peers (based, granted, on a very small sampling) have not read some of the “great books” and “classic authors.” Even more haven’t seen many of the best-known entertainments, including Star Trek and its descendants, Battlestar Galactica (the second; the first is totally excusable), and the Alien movies.

It is certainly not my intent (nor my place) to out any of my fellows, but I can out myself, solely as a catalyst for conversation. In this increasingly judgmental world, with everyone and his brother being demonized for any “incorrect” speech and your reading choices labeling you a “sad puppy” or a “non-fan,” I want to stand up for being yourself. If there’s something you’ve never read or seen, or you didn’t like some classic story, or even if you like something that you’re afraid other people will think silly, say so in the comments after you read my confessions. I won’t judge. As you will see, I’m in no position to do so. So let’s begin…

  • I’ve never finished reading The Lord of the Rings. I have seen the movies.
  • I’ve not, on the other hand, seen any Alien movies.
  • I didn’t read Frankenstein until it was assigned in college.
  • I have a large collection of 1930s and 1940s pulp reprints, and I love them to death.
  • I was a big fan of Lost in Space.
  • I’ve missed the last two seasons of Doctor Who. Ironically, it’s because I haven’t had the time.
  • I hated Rocky Horror. Although I do love Rocky the Flying Squirrel.

Looking at it now, I can see my greatest failings have been outside the genre, doubtless because I spent too much time in the genre. Although I was an English major, for example, I never read To Kill a Mockingbird until this year. And I’ve never seen The Godfather.

Please, someone make some even more appalling confessions. Not that I’ll be judging you, of course.

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Science fiction movies have taken over Hollywood. That’s a given. While there’s a lot of room still for other types of movies (and always will be, I hope), it’s the SF films that rake in the bucks. (Okay, it’s superhero films that rake in most of that, but they’re a subgenre,)

Now SF is taking over television. We really should have seen it coming: Fantasy has ruled commercials for as long as TV has been around. SF has always lurked around the edges, maybe one new show every season, but in the last few years it’s strutted into the spotlight, so much so that now there’s an entire network devoted to SF (which shows wrestling. But I guess that’s a form of fantasy. I just don’t want to know whose fantasy.). And again, the rising star is the superhero show. Must be the lousy economy. Everyone has power fantasies.

Okay, practically everybody goes to SF movies. And practically everybody watches SF on TV. (Twenty million people watch a show that’s about guys who watch SF movies and TV.) It’s not a big deal any more. You can cop to it. No one will look at you funny.

Unless you read the stuff. Then you’re a nerd.

I’ve noted before, Sheldon and Leonard and Howard and Raj are the biggest nerds on TV, and they hardly read any SF.* What is it about reading SF that makes “normal” people want to snicker and point at you behind their chai lattes?

I think it’s not what we’re reading, it’s that we’re reading. Reading has never been the #1 hobby for most Americans. And if you are caught reading in an airport or at the beach, it’s escapist stuff–but not SF. At least not the stuff found in the Science Fiction section of the bookstore, er, Amazon.com. It’s “safe” escapist lit, the kind other people also read, you know, NY Times bestsellers. Because if you’re going to read something “out there,” at least make sure it’s safe, i.e., vetted by the popular culture. If you read something nobody’s heard of, you’re a nerd.

And if it’s known, it’s no longer “that sci-fi stuff,” but literature. (With a small “L.”) If it’s Twilight or Dan Brown or anything that’s been made into a movie, really, it’s okay. You’re excused. You’re not a nerd. Why? Because lots of people read it, and they aren’t nerds, right? Same as the TV shows and movies. It can’t be weird if everyone does it. There’s safety in numbers. And you know why that is?

It gives you a place to hide. Right there, in plain sight. A popular book is a sign, a password that lets the rest of the world know you’re just like them. You can watch those movies and TV shows, just don’t read “that sci-fi stuff” if you want to fit in. People will know you’re different. They’ll avert their gazes and roll their eyes.

But you know what? You’ll be so immersed in your book you won’t even notice.

*They do read comic books voraciously. Classic stuff. I am highly envious of their collections. The writers know what they’re doing.

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For the better part of the last two decades, it has been my considered opinion that the decline of fantasy and science fiction literature can be expressed by its increasing similarity to that universally-acknowledged fount of conformity: television. Go to the SF section of your favorite retail bookstore (or should I just give in and say “Barnes & Noble”?), and you will see without much effort that 90% of the selections can be broken down into a very few classes: military, Buffy-esque, steampunk, supernatural mystery. It’s like cable TV with four channels that anyone watches and a bunch of golf channels that only get a dribble of viewers. Or so it seems.

But until today, that was as far as my simile extended. No more is that the case! Not content with the idea that our literature was becoming more like TV, our friends at Microsoft have come up with a way to make the books themselves more like TV. I think this was what ruined the Romans.

In my day (he said his cranky pre-Millennial voice), the pictures you made from books were the pictures you made from the books. Part of the charm was that no two people saw the same character the same way. Your book was your own private world, and if you wanted to imagine that the hero/ine looked just like you, you could. If you wanted the villain to look like your boss, that was okay, too. A book was a collaboration between you and the author, and that lead to all kinds of differing interpretations that in turn lead to book groups, and convention panels, and English lit majors who can’t get jobs.

Now they not only want to make your favorite story into a TV series, they want to make your book into one. I’ll be the first to admit that TV is fun, addictive, and occasionally even original. But it requires no imagination. Even radio required you to make the pictures up in your head. Everybody knows that the scariest scenes are those you imagine yourself, and the sexiest fantasies are those you construct in your own mind. You’re not going to convince me that the best stories are not those you play out in your own head–and where do you think the training to do that comes from? Novelists don’t get their ideas from television. They learn narrative arcs and characterization and foreshadowing and world-building from other writers’ written words.

So if you want a generation of television writers, turn their books into television. If you want novelists and short story writers, turn the TV, and the HoloLens, off.

Note: I first learned about the HoloLens here. You could check it out.

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It is pretty commonly accepted nowadays that parents want their kids to experience a wide variety of activities, like soccer, ballet, kick-boxing, etc. (and even reading), but they also don’t want their kids exposed to any type of danger, or even unpleasantness. Kids are growing up with more allergies, for example, and it’s theorized that it’s because they’re not allowed to get dirty. It seems reasonable to me, but I don’t know the science.

What I do know is books. I’ve been an avid reader since I learned how. My house had a lot of books in it (although not as many as I have now), and no one ever told me what I could or couldn’t read. I tried reading House of the Seven Gables way too early, for example, and gave up after a few pages, but nobody told me I couldn’t read it. (Note: Must read House of the Seven Gables sometime.) This extended even to those (few) books that contained racy material. My parents knew they were there (they had bought them, after all), but nothing was forbidden. And although I skimmed a few tomes to find the juicy parts, I wasn’t permanently scarred. (I didn’t write Fifty Shades of Grey, for example.) The point is, my parents trusted me to make my own decisions about what to read. (Maybe they thought I should read less and play outside more, but that’s another subject.)

Apparently, however, you no longer have to trust your kids. In fact, it is now possible to feed them adult literature without the adult parts. Why you would want to do this is a mystery to me.

Let’s say that you want your kids to read classic literature, like, say, Shakespeare. Shakespeare wrote what was, for the 16th century, some pretty bawdy stuff. Do you take that out? “No,” you say, because your child won’t understand the subtext anyway. To which I ask, “Then why is he reading it?” If you don’t allow for the full experience, warts and all, the child will not benefit. You don’t read great literature to learn to read; you learn to read to read great literature.

The first rule of fiction is “Take out anything that doesn’t count.” In other words, only include what’s necessary. This is more applicable to short fiction than to novels (and some very famous authors have thrown the rule out of the window right around the half-way point of their seven-book series), but the rule is still the rule. There are’t many hard-and-fast rules in writing, but this is one of them.

The corollary to this rule is that anything the writer left in, he intended to leave in. He intended that you should read it. That includes swear words. My stories, as a self-serving example, tend to have few swear words. But I have written at least one story where the viewpoint character spouts the F-word almost continuously. Why? Because he’s an F-ing serial killer, and a lousy excuse for a human being, and that’s how he talks. If you remove those words, you take something away from my story–and not what I want you to take away from it.

Life is messy. Literature is life imbued with order. But that order was invested in this world by the author, the author who is trying to tell a story, and make a point thereby. You mess with the story, you mess with the point.

Life is messy. You can throw a bubble around your child, but bubbles burst. Literature can be messy, too, but it’s a contained space where a child can dabble in the world’s dirt before going out into it.

After all, you wouldn’t want your kid to be allergic to literature, would you?

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