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My advice has also been, “If there’s a spaceship in the story, it’s science fiction. If there’s a unicorn in the story, it’s fantasy. If the unicorn is piloting the spaceship, let the marketing department figure it out.”

It is well-known that genre labels are artificial, designed only to market books to niche fandoms who might find them most appealing. (Which makes it really odd when people fight over what is “science fiction” versus “fantasy,” especially after Star Wars mashed the whole thing together.)

I was reminded of this recently when I saw a copy of The Rules of Magic, by Alice Hoffman. Now, there is no doubt that this book is fantasy: it’s about magic. But you won’t find it on the Science Fiction/Fantasy shelf, because it’s labeled as “Fiction” (as if the rest isn’t). But the author has found herself a wider audience and so escapes the genre niche. (Diana Gabaldon does the same with Outlander.)

So far, though, this is old news. What piqued my interest was a Facebook post I saw on a page devoted to “sword and planet” books, which noted that the 35th Gor novel is being published. (I was surprised; the series started in the 1960s and I thought it had expired long ago.) The post explained that regardless of what you think of the Gor books, they are certainly “sword and planet” and belong in the pantheon.

For those who have not clicked on the links, a couple of short explanations are in order. “Sword and planet” generally describes books where the hero is transported by some means to a distant planet where, although technology is advanced, the natives still use swords in their arsenals. The hero typically gets caught up in local disputes and adventures ensue. The most famous example is Edgar Rice Burroughs’ “John Carter of Mars” series, which has inspired many imitators, including my own “Stolen Future” trilogy. The point is to create a romantic adventure in the classical sense of “romance.”

The Gor books, while certainly adopting the trappings, are nothing more than soft-porn male power fantasies. Women exist only to be slaves, chained up until they can be reduced to a “happier” state through domination and mistreatment. Most sword and planet fans who have read any (the first four or five, were more adventure and less … fantasy), quit and would never go back.

And therein lies the irony of genre labeling. Fantasy fans would love for Hoffman or Gabaldon to be seen as “genre,” because those books are as much fantasy as anything you find from Martin or Gaiman or Maas. On the other hand, the Gor books are found in the SF/fantasy section, and most fantasy fans would love to see them declared less genre–or moved, as in to the “adult” genre, and preferably only in the adult bookstore.

So maybe we should worry less about labels than about what’s inside, kind of that “don’t judge a book by its cover” thing. If nothing else, it will really confuse Amazon’s algorithms.

And perhaps we could expand that lesson beyond just our books.

#SFWApro

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The question comes up fairly often, and it came up today: How far afield can an author go from established facts and still keep an audience? This is similar to our last discussion, but different. Here the question is not why some people like an author so much they will let her get away with (literary) murder, but how far an author can stretch the truth–or more specifically, how many times in one story?

I once had a story rejected because it contained Too Many Wonders. (It was capitalized in the rejection letter. I can show it to you.) The complaint was that the story had too many fantastical elements when it should have depended on one major speculation. And if that’s how the editor wanted to run his magazine, then he was right to say so. Honestly, it wasn’t the only problem with that story and he wouldn’t have taken it anyway, but I had sent in a lot of stories by that point, and I think he was trying to be encouraging. I sold the story much later, but even then the editor asked for significant changes (and he was right).

But I see stories all the time where there’s more than one speculative element! you say. And you, too, are right. If your story is set in the future, practically all of the elements will be speculative in nature. (Ironically, my story was set in the far future. Didn’t help.) The relevant phrase here is “practically all.” There’s one thing that doesn’t change, that can’t change, and that’s the human element. No matter how many changes you make, your characters have to be identifiable to present-day audiences. (Unless you’re Fred Pohl. Then you can do anything you want.)

The problem with Too Many Wonders is that they distract from the characters. I once heard it said that SF is the easiest thing to write because you don’t need characters; you can depend on gadgets and aliens and exotic settings. That is, to use a polite term, garbage. The idea of SF is to use the fantastic to explore real-world ideas without seeming to, thus allowing the author to make a point without hitting the reader over the head with relevance. (Or it can just entertain. But the best SF, the best literature, does both.)

Regardless of whether it’s serious or fun, a story should make a point. And the only elements that inhabit that story should be those that help to make that point. I thought my story fit that description, and my long-ago editor did not. You see who won that argument. So when you ask why a story should only have one speculative element, the real question is, why does it need more?

Answer that question to determine which editor will read your story. Answer that question well, and many people will read your story, over and over again.

#SFWApro

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Here is the new cover for the final volume of The Stolen Future, The Cosmic City.

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This blurb makes it sound pretty exciting…

In the conclusion to The Stolen Future trilogy, Keryl Clee finds himself at the center of a crisis which could mean the destruction not only on Earth, but of Time itself.

Hostages of a time-traveling madman who is creating an army from the past to conquer the world of the future, before Clee and Lady Maire can defeat him they must come to grips with the shocking truth behind the 300-year-old Nuum invasion of Earth.

Beset by new and powerful enemies, betrayed by the Council of Nobles itself, Keryl Clee has one last chance to unite the peoples of Earth–Nuum and Thoran, human and non-human alike–because even he is powerless against those who are coming from beyond the stars to reach…The Cosmic City.

I recommend reading it, because if Time is destroyed, it could be a real downer for your plans for the weekend.

#SFWApro

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So excited that the second volume of The Stolen Future, The Secret City, is available for Kindle from Amazon from Digital Fiction Publishing!

Here is the blurb from the publisher:

In this sequel to The Invisible City, after twenty years alone, Charles “Keryl” Clee once again finds himself hurtling through a time portal to an uncertain future.

Stranded in an unforgiving desert populated by unseen predators, Clee must find a place for himself in a world that wants him only dead. But his greatest fear is that he may not have returned to the world he left behind, that he may have traveled to an earlier or later era than that he knows, and that his love, the Lady Maire, may be long dead or centuries unborn.

Finding human treachery even more hazardous than beasts, accused of a crime he did not commit, still hunted for his attempt to free humanity from slavery decades before, Clee must find his own way as a ghost in a world where all are known, and ordered, and categorized.

Discovering that everything he worked for has been lost, and that his love has formed a new alliance with his greatest enemy, he has no choice but to fight–and just when it seems he has achieved victory, he and all he holds dear are plunged into the depths of horror as a new race arises from the nightmares of the distant past to wreak its revenge. If Clee cannot stop them, they will destroy every remnant of human civilization.

For lovers of Edgar Rice Burroughs and Robert E. Howard, The Secret City, the second volume of The Stolen Future trilogy, is a return to fantastic adventures in alien lands.

And remember, if it lives up to the hype (which it does…), please leave a review or a rating on your favorite site.

#SFWApro

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When you’re in the groove, and the writing is going well, you want to write more. You may not want to write more of anything vitally important, but you still want to write. So you think of a subject to fill four hundred words and you write a blog post. This particular four hundred words is in the form of the newsletter that I’ll probably never start.

What? you say. The writing is going well? What’s up with that? Okay, that will do.

I just finished the second draft of a short story which has been on-and-off for the past few months. I had a first draft, but I knew it had a big hole in the middle even as I finished, so I put the whole thing aside for a few weeks. (I write slowly, so things tend to incubate for a while.) Finally pieces started falling into place and I returned to it, whereupon more pieces fell into place, and now I think it’s about ready for someone to see. (Not you, my reader, you deserve better than a second draft.) I am quite pleased with the alterations I made and expect great things to result.

Speaking of “great things,” The Invisible City has been out from Digital Fiction Publishing for almost a week, and is moving along quite nicely, thank you. I fully expect that, when The Secret City and The Cosmic City come out, fame, fortune, and a Hollywood premiere will quickly follow. Invisible currently available for the debut price of $0.99 (but that won’t last). Think about it: 120,000 words of swashbuckling science fiction adventure for less than a buck. You could buy the whole trilogy for the price of a venti frappuccino. (If you do buy a copy, please consider leaving a review or a rating. It’s crazy helpful.)

But if shorter works are your bag, do not despair. I have an SF story about the importance of family, “Relative Fortune,” coming out in the November Galaxy’s Edge, and a fantasy adventure, “When Gods Fall in Fire,” in the upcoming issue of Cirsova.

And of course, my gorilla-centric unnamed novel is poking along. I still hope to finish it by the end of the year.

So that’s my life in a nutshell, with the emphasis on “nutty.” And it’s almost four hundred words…

#SFWApro

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Now that I’m about to be published by a small press, it’s got me thinking more about the small press world. Specifically, how small presses are perceived in SF as opposed to the other realm about which I know something, mystery writing. I’ve heard from SF writers that small presses do not carry the cachet of major publishers; I’m not talking about money, which is an obvious discrepancy, but the idea that going with a small press in science fiction is seen as less prestigious, whereas in mysteries…not so much. Small press mysteries have much more chance of receiving awards, for example, than have small press SF or fantasy novels.*

Why is this? Why are mystery readers seem more accepting of non-traditionally published novels? I don’t know; I suspect the answer lies far in the past, but not having been part of the mystery scene all that long, I can’t say. (I’ll have to ask; maybe I can give you an answer in a future post.) But that’s not the only discrepancy between the two (publishing-wise), and perhaps the advantages don’t tilt all the way in favor of mysteries. Because you see, where mystery writers may have more opportunities when it comes to novels, SFF writers are far ahead when it comes to short fiction.

I did a little research, and it was surprisingly easy to learn a few facts: There are approximately 192 publishers on the Mystery Writers of America (MWA) site whose novel contracts qualify one for professional membership. The Science Fiction and Fantasy Writers of America (SFWA) web site lists about 53.** (Each of these allows more than the markets specifically listed, because of imprints, etc.)

On the other hand, where SFWA has 54 qualifying short story markets, MWA lists only 22. Now, I happen to know that there are dozens more SF short story markets whose acceptances do not count toward qualifying for SFWA, and there are probably equivalent mystery magazines, but I don’t doubt the former easily outnumber the latter.

Again, why is this? Are there more SFF readers than mystery readers? Is it too hard to write short mysteries? Or is it just that there are so many more novel markets out there that fewer bother to write short mystery fiction? Does that make it easier to break into science fiction?

Beats me. It’s a mystery. And maybe trying to raise the reputation of small press books is a fantasy. But I hope in the future it’s possible, because if it’s possible in the future, it becomes science fiction.

And that’s what I write.

 

*Yes, there are and have been exceptions. But they are just that, exceptions.

**I am a member of SFWA. I used to be a (non-professional) member of MWA, but their meetings were too far away.

#SWFApro

 

 

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To celebrate the end of summer (wait, does anyone ever celebrate the end of summer?), I’ve put all of my Stolen Future and Nemesis books on sale at $.99 each. That means The Invisible City, The Secret City, and The Cosmic City, as well as The Choking Rain, The Scent of Death, and The Killing Scar. Each one $.99! That’s three books for the price of one!

Whether you’re looking for classic science fiction adventure or two-fisted pulp action from the 1930s, this is your chance to pick up some great reading at a really great price! I mean, would you rather read this or that Shakespeare guy your English teacher assigned?

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