Kameron Hurley, on why we are writing

 

I’ve made myself unpopular before, by suggesting that easy, cheap self-publishing is not the instant ticket to success that many writers dream it could be. The blunt, sad truth is that many self-published authors now publish too soon. In their rush to market substandard or just-good-enough work, they neglect to hone their writing craft. Or they’re so new they can’t even see the flaws in their work.

I am incredibly grateful that self-publishing (as it is now) didn’t exist when I was an utterly clueless writer in the early nineties. I wouldn’t have made much money, I’d have suffered burnout, and probably stayed away from writing for longer than my art-decade hiatus. Or I’d have had enough success to ensure I remained lazy, and never pushed myself to become a better writer.

Locus Magazine has an excellent essay from author Kameron Hurley, on her reactions to the self-publishing glut and the myths that have grown up around it.

It’s worth a read for those of us considering self-publishing: are we doing it for the right reasons, and are we prepared?

Same-sex marriage in America

White+House+rainbow

Justice Kennedy said it best, I think:

“No union is more profound than marriage, for it embodies the highest ideals of love, fidelity, devotion, sacrifice, and family. In forming a marital union, two people become something greater than once they were. As some of the petitioners in these cases demonstrate, marriage embodies a love that may endure even past death. It would misunderstand these men and women to say they disrespect the idea of marriage. Their plea is that they do respect it, respect it so deeply that they seek to find its fulfillment for themselves. Their hope is not to be condemned to live in loneliness, excluded from one of civilization’s oldest institutions. They ask for equal dignity in the eyes of the law. The Constitution grants them that right.”

-The judgment of the Court of Appeals for the Sixth Circuit is reversed.

It is so ordered.”

We’ve caught up to Ireland, at least. There’s still a lot of discrimination to tackle, not just in gay rights but in universal rights.

It’s unkind of me, but I’m enjoying the hand-wringing, rants, and shock of conservatives who didn’t see this coming.

 

Kings Rising, by C. S. Pacat

Well, no, not the actual Book 3 of the stunning M/M thriller-fantasy-erotic romance ‘Captive Prince’ series*. Because that’s coming out 02-26-2016.

Three magic words, after all these years: pre-order is live!

But my fellow fans, the writer Herself has a giveaway just for us. Go here to her livejournal page to learn more about how you might just win one of ten copies of the books.

*’WothehellisCaptivePrince?’ I almost hear some readers saying.

Oh, boy. What Cassandra Clare’s ‘Mortal Instruments’ series was to Rowling’s ‘Harry Potter’…that is sort of what ‘Captive Prince’ is to Dorothy Dunnett’s ‘Lymond’ series of historical fantasy-political thriller-magic realism books (with a whole bunch of Yaoi archetypes woven in). Both are highly revised fan fiction-inspired epics.

Except that the latter two examples involve far more writerly skill than the first two. (Sorry, JK & Clare, I like your writing but it doesn’t rock my world. Pacat and Dunnett still can after numerous re-reads. Pacat gave me the gumption not to dumb down Moro’s Price, back when I was plotting the damn thing.)

In Pacat’s case, the ‘Captive Prince’ and ‘Prince’s Gambit’ duology have been some of the most enduring and challenging examples of self-published M/M romance, or ‘original slash’. Enduring, because their sheer quality snagged a reputable agent, then Penguin-Berkley’s interest. They’ve helped build legitimacy for M/M romance outside niche e-publishers and fan fiction communities. Challenging, because the slow-burn relationship between the two male main characters is framed in a political thriller as deep and believable as Jacqueline Carey’s ‘Kushiel’ alternate-history fantasy series.

Is there sex, you ask? Well, duh, yeah. Some of it tender, some brutal – but it’s very much a part of the storyline. Readers with a tendency to skip everything but the naughty bits might as well stay at home, and read simpler books.

Believe me, Book 3 is very good news to those of us who like our slash as complex as it is incandescently hot.

Killjoys

I finally managed to see the first episode of SyFy Channel’s ‘Killjoys’.

Wow.

Bounty hunters in space, check. All major characters seem to have deep backstories, check. Writers not afraid to dole out explanations in context, check. Fight scenes! Gritty realistic future with highly contrasted settings! Great props and costuming! The promise of a big, messy, wonderful story…

It could very well be Firefly 2.0. If you have a weakness for plotty space opera, give it a try.

link: http://www.syfy.com/killjoys

Dish Network, Killjoys, and dragons, oh my

1. Oh, Dish Network. I love you on a big screen TV, but due to circumstances beyond my control, I have to watch you on a laptop system right now. And your mobile/tablet app? Your app sucks. Accept that and please fix it. You’ll get your five stars from me if you fix it before I binge-watch ‘Penny Dreadful’ over the Fourth-of-July weekend.

Your app is buggy and badly engineered, merrily dividing its time between freezing up, dumping recordings halfway through, randomly deciding where to begin a program (Five seconds early? Twenty seconds late? Anyone’s guess!), and sporting an unwieldy lag time between touchscreen command and response (yes, the tablet is just fine.) And those are the flaws I encountered tonight while trying to watch ‘Killjoys’ on the SyFy Channel.

2. SyFy Channel, I didn’t let myself fall back in love with you for a long time since your (silly) name change. After all, you were basically run by some people who adored wrestling and didn’t seem to care beans about science-fiction and fantasy programming. When something GOOD came along, I braced for impact knowing its days were probably numbered. You had some well-done epics, some spectacular and stupid-fun programs (Sharknado), and a string of okay shows overly hyped and written into ignominy (Go on, tell me ‘Eureka’ and ‘Warehouse 13′ didn’t die wallowing deaths?)

You are pulling me back into the maelstrom with ‘Killjoys’, which I only saw part of before my service provider went thud. I’m recording a later playing. What I saw was a brilliant gritty space opera hearkening back to ‘Firefly’ and ‘Dune’. You have a female leader – and she’s competent! You have some male eye candy that can actually act. You have drama, gorgeous effects, and some strong worldbuilding.

Try not to can this one the first season, and you may have another ‘Defiance’ on your hands.

3. George R. R. Martin: thanks to you and your dragons, some of my old fiber art may be getting a new-and-topical lease on life. This will be the second time I’ve obliquely ridden on your coat-tails. I owe you a beer, sir.

Crane quilt block Air and Water

Tall Dark and Gruesome…

Sir Christopher Lee’s title for his autobiography. One of the most skilled, competent, badass character actors to ever grace stage or set. We in the US tend to think of him as a villain in Star Wars or the recent Tolkien movies, but he was so much more.

He passed a few days ago, but I didn’t hear about it until today. This has been a rough year: my heroes are passing, one by one.

Here is a short primer on Sir Lee’s sheer badassery.

Machines cannot imagine

“I think the rules are crumbling and I think the barriers are breaking.”  – Neil Gaiman

“Good.” – me

In the New Statesman, Neil Gaiman and Kazuo Ishiguro share a fascinating discussion about the past, present, and possible future of speculative fiction.

I find it a wistful, slightly cynical, but ultimately hopeful field trip shepherded by two incredible guides…well worth reading for many inspirational quotes and ideas. Given the mini-controversy of the 2015 Hugo Awards (old-school SF against ‘new’ fashions in writing), and the recent loss of so many great spec-fic authors, I think the readers, writers, and viewers of genre fiction need a call-to-arms.

 

Happiness, part whatever

For now, revisions are done (again) on the fantasy novel Singer in Rhunshan, at least until my agent and possibly some editors wade in.

This is what the manuscript looked like last September:

Singer mms for blog

 

This is what it looks like now: gone from 54K to 91K, plus sequel and series synopses.

Singer mms 6-4-2015

As I was in the final stretch I got word that Tanith Lee had died. Without her ‘Flat Earth’ series as guide and good example 30+ years ago, my work would probably not exist. There are many threads in the tapestry of that inspiration, but Ms. Lee was a major part.

Note added 6-13-2015: For better or worse, the mms has been mailed.

 

 

Dryland Codex (in progress, post 3)

Here are the approximately 5″ x 4″ fabric applique covers for my accordion book Dryland Codex, which I should be finishing in June (if I don’t keep adding to it.)

Dryland Codex covers

Dryland Codex detail

The cover art and the fold-out painting on the book itself are somewhat influenced by the artwork of American artist Jane Filer. Her abstracted landscape and urban paintings have one of my recurring temptations for about a decade. She’s one of those artists who would definitely be in my ‘collection’ if I had room and finances to have one.

 

 

R. I. P. Tanith Lee

Damn. We’ve lost another brilliant fantasy and horror writer. British legend Tanith Lee died in her sleep on May 24th, after a long illness.

Sometime in 1978 in a mall bookstore in Farmington, New Mexico, I noticed the cover of a paperback in the SF&F section:

Night's Master cover

The cover artist was George Barr. The book was ‘Night’s Master’, the first of the Flat Earth series. The author was Tanith Lee. 

I must have picked up a copy and read a little way into it, even though I didn’t remember doing so at the time. I know that I drew a picture of a black horse with a mane and tail of blue flame, and a dark-haired rider crouching low in the saddle.

For several years, that picture boggled my teenage brain: I couldn’t figure out where it came from. It wasn’t anything from my haphazard made-up universes, which owed more to Tolkien and Star Wars then. I walked by that book and others from Tanith Lee, intrigued by their ‘adult’ titles and covers but reluctant to beg my Mom to buy them. (She probably would have, but I was self-conscious.)

In college five years later, I bought my own new copy of ‘Night’s Master’, and learned it was part of her Flat Earth series. Those books changed my world.

First, I finally learned the origins of that damn horse.

Second, the writing was gorgeous and fearlessly complex, at turns full of sly humor, majestic vision, rich sensuality, and deep emotion. Lee also introduced me to active, engaged alternative-sexuality characters at a time when most of them in SF&F were written as token victims or villains.

I would periodically binge on her writing for the next 30-odd years, learning more each time I did.

‘Sabella’ is one of the best SF Romance vampire stories ever told. The YA ‘Unicorn’ books are magical for their voice and strong characters. ‘Silver Metal Lover’ still leaves more-modern YA paranormal romances gasping in its dust.

I built an original cosmology from questions Lee posed first in her Flat Earth fantasies: the nature of love, the power and frailty of Mankind, and the folly of worshipping a supernatural entity *that does not care*. (Yes: whatever other philosophies she followed, Tanith Lee seemed very much a humanist.)

She was the second author (after J.R.R.T.) whose story endings can leave me sobbing and smiling foolishly at the same time. (Sir Terry Pratchett’s the third.)

Don’t get me wrong: Lee is also one of the few writers who can infect me with grinding ennui and deep revulsion. Her darker aspects match Bierce, Bloch, and Lovecraft. Her work is not for the faint of heart or the reading-challenged. She will make you look into the Abyss…and keep looking. She never left a trope unexamined or unmanipulated; she remains the only author I’ve ever seen who made incest work sympathetically in terms of a story.

I’m saddened by her passing, and selfishly bereft: I will probably never know her planned ending to the Flat Earth series, other than one tantalizing hint in a 30-year-old short-story retelling of Rapunzel called ‘The Golden Rope’. (And yes, this blog is partly named for it and the concept behind it.)

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Tanith Lee is also a sad example of changing readership and publishing fashions. Where she had been a top fantasy author in the 70s and 80s, by the mid 2000s her career seemed to falter.

As late as 2010, she remarked in interviews that while her work output was as strong as ever, she was unable to get a lot of manuscripts into print because of profound disinterest from Big Five fantasy imprints. She had been in the process of issuing high-quality revised editions of her most recognized works through a small-press publisher…but that publisher fell on hard times during the recent recession, and upcoming Lee projects have (so far) been cancelled. 

Lee was and remains a Writer’s Writer, a wordsmith whose skill is probably beyond readers who balk at descriptions of more than one sentence. She would have been an incredible candidate for self-published backlists (eh, my fellow Flat Earth fans?), but seemed unable or unwilling to take that step in time.

In her own words, from a Locus interview in 1998:

”If anyone ever wonders why there’s nothing coming from me, it’s not my fault. I’m doing the work. No, I haven’t deteriorated or gone insane. Suddenly, I just can’t get anything into print. And apparently I’m not alone in this. There are people of very high standing, authors who are having problems. So I have been told. In my own case, the more disturbing element is the editor-in-chief who said to me, ‘I think this book is terrific. It ought to be in print. I can’t publish it – I’ve been told I mustn’t.’ The indication is that I’m not writing what people want to read, but I never did.”

So amid the wistful tweets and reminiscences from authors, readers, and publishers, I’d like to rock the funereal boat and point fingers. Specifically, at the publisher where she started, and who oversaw at least one reissue of Lee’s Flat Earth fantasy series. At the other publishers who briefly carried her work, then wandered on. You (and here I mean both singular and collective ‘you’) have absolutely no right to be mourning her now.

If anything else, Lee’s example encourages me to consider self-publishing my Lonhra Sequence books, if I get no interest from a strong commercial imprint.

Note added 6-7-2015: There is some Tanith Lee fan fiction online, but not much. One of the loveliest and most ambitious pieces is ‘A Real Sky’, a work in progress inspired by Lee’s Four Bee universe from the SF classics ‘Don’t Bite The Sun’ and ‘Drinking Sapphire Wine’. It’s worth a look. 

Note added 6-15-2015: here is a lovely obit at the Guardian.

 

 

 

 

Ireland did it. The Millennials helped.

Yesterday, Ireland became the first country in the world to legalize same-sex marriage via an overwhelming popular vote.

Yup, Ireland. The same country that only decriminalized homosexuality in the early 90s, and saw its staunch traditional Catholicism reel from recent waves of child sex-abuse scandals among clergy and affiliated lay groups. Where the infamous ‘Magdalene Houses’ still operated (with their institutional slavery of young women and cesspit ‘graves’ of illegitimate infants) until the mid 90s. And where incredibly restrictive abortion laws still effectively deny women the medically-critical abortions needed to save their own lives. 

That Ireland is demographically the old, rural, and conservative religious portion* of the electorate. New Ireland flexed its younger, activist, cosmopolitan, and tolerant Millennial side yesterday. 

It’s good to see. I’m hopeful that this summer’s US Supreme Court deliberations will lead the way to similar referendums here.

*Note: I’m actually wrong here, which makes me even happier. A significant portion of the ‘Yes’ vote came from older, conservative, and/or rural voters. So, ‘family’ won yesterday – but not the ‘family’ the right-winger were counting on.

 

No. Just no. (A snarky fan fiction rant.)

I’ve mentioned before how twitchy I get while seeing the dreaded ‘Original Character’ tag in fan fiction. (While I have read killer examples, they are rare.) Too often that tag is a warning sign for Mary Sue Alerts, and all the bad writing those seem to include.

Well, I’ve found a category of even scarier story tags on my current favorite fan sites: a fresh batch of reader-insert stories, which generally seem to be from very new authors. 

I understand the temptation for new authors. We *all* put pieces of ourselves into our writing, be it original or fan work. Usually, we do it with the obvious clues filed off. 

In twenty-four years of reading fan fiction, I think I may have seen three or four Reader-as-Character pieces that were worth going beyond the first page. And I’m generally up for most kinds of literary wanking…provided it has style. 

While reader-insert stuff shows up in lots of early Trek and LotR fandom, why does it seem to be happening more often now? I blame ‘Twilight’. Bella as a character was so flat she was a perfect mirror for readers to insert themselves. The demographics of certain fan writing sites seem to skew toward younger and less-experienced writers. 

I am torn between wanting fan fiction to be a safe place for new writers to explore their craft, and a crotchety fan reader who just wants good, solid stories.

There’s room for both…as long as the writers properly tag works ‘Character/Reader’, so I can just avoid the misery and skip them.

Context reading in Adult SF&F

…or, ‘I Am Not Five, and I Don’t Read Like This:’

I’ve recently followed some online critiques of other people’s science fiction and fantasy works-in-progress. I noticed a common factor: some readers’ inability or unwillingness to deduce words from context.

One example: a friend’s Norse-flavored take on the Tam Lyn folktale held seven or eight generally unfamiliar words within the first 2900-word chapter. I could parse those words from contextual clues, and from knowing a tiny bit of Saxon and Old English (thank you, professor Tolkien!) From the other readers’ comments, I realized the words that intrigued me actually bothered them.

The readers seemed unable to accept one different word, let alone many, without an immediate explanation within the story. They seemed unable to hold that word (or many) in mind, until an explanation came up in the next paragraph, page, chapter, etc.

If the answers were not presented immediately, the readers balked. Some wanted to stop reading, until the text was rewritten with the explanation given right away.

What the hell? Is this a function of shorter, simpler texts in genre writing fashions? Too much Dick and Jane for older readers? Power-point presentations in elementary school, for younger readers? Text speak? The twenty-second soundbite of most modern media?

These are not low-skilled readers unfamiliar with science-fiction and fantasy, either. Otherwise, I might think this is going on.

(Putting Old Woman hat on for a moment). When I was a kid in the 1970s, one of the big thrills of reading science fiction and fantasy was the disconnect between words and the revelation of their meaning (and often significance). I loved the strangeness of new words and concepts. I trusted the author to give me contextual clues or an outright definition later. Sometimes much later. If I was lucky, at least it happened in the first book of a series…

Writing to reward the short attention of readers is tricky. Too many explanations too soon in the body of the story, and we verge on infodumps, ‘As You Know, Jim’ discussions, and other awkward literary devices. Too few explanations, and we’re off jousting with shadows in Foggy Metaphor Land.

I wish I could tell those reluctant readers: ‘Please try to trust the author to give you signposts when they think it’s appropriate. When in doubt, dictionaries, Google, and Wikipedia can be your friends. In the meantime, just try to enjoy the ride.’

 

The SFR ghetto: why 1992 stalled my writing career

Warning: I rant about publishing stuff. Note: by SFR I mean ‘Science Fiction Romance’.

In 1992 a well-meaning relative (who knew I loved romantic science fiction and space opera) sent me a new romance novel. I won’t name it or its author: the book spawned a series and the author is still widely published. Fine. The author earned her retirement, but I’m not paying into it.

That book broke me. It was horrible as a romance. The heroine was a doormat, the hero a rapist, the plot cliche and cheesy as any of the other ‘New Romances’ of the early 1990s. As a ‘science-fiction romance’ it was even worse: the author had no concept of physics, chemistry, astronomy or cosmology…and no apparent interest in learning them.

Several other romances around that time convinced me that their authors were similarly clueless. I saw unbelievable differences between them and the contemporary science-fiction writers incorporating romance. The SFF writers knew more about science, and they assumed their audience did, too. Those works were sparkling, witty, swooningly romantic. The actual romances that I read – and I admit I might have missed the good ones – were terrible by comparison.

So I stopped reading original romance for nearly 20 years. I read fan fiction from authors I trusted, and kept to science-fiction and fantasy original commercial work. I didn’t get back to reading romance until I started researching the new M/M romance market in 2011.

Why am I ranting today?

Because romance publishers still haven’t apparently clued in that Science Fiction Romance readers like both science fiction and romance. They keep wanting to ‘dumb-down’ the worldbuilding and SF in SFR books. I’m grateful to Loose Id for their enthusiastic support of my Moro’s Price – I never had a hint of such treatment with my editors. Other publishers are not so bold. 

Here’s Heather Massey at The Galaxy Express, giving the groundwork for the latest skirmish.

http://www.thegalaxyexpress.net/2015/05/its-2015-and-one-publisher-is-still.html

Greta van der Rol at Spacefreighters Lounge has her take on it:

http://spacefreighters.blogspot.com/2015/05/you-cant-have-science-fiction-romance.htm

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My snarky answer to this problem: readers need to ante up, too. Readers who love the science and worldbuilding in SFR books need to say that to their favorite publisher. They need to yell it at substandard publishers. They need to avoid authors who haven’t got a clue, instead of just buying more crap because it’s at least in the right genre.

Stop rewarding bad work

Cate Baum has a wonderful quote from Henry Baum, founder of Self Publishing Review: “It’s not that only the writer has to be talented – the reader has to be talented too.”

I understand guilty pleasures. I’m not saying all romance authors need to pass a Masters course in STEM. But I want to have the choice, dammit. 

Mom’s Mutant Cactus

Back in 1998-1999, I needed another last-minute entry for the Beadwork Magazine/Interweave Press miniature beadwork exhibition ‘Up:Close’. I made this piece in three days: ‘Mom’s Mutant Cactus’. Dimensions: 3″ x 3″ x 3″.

Mom's mutant cactus

It’s a mutant because it doesn’t precisely mirror an existing cactus species, and because it has a blue flower. Until we get much better at genetic engineering, that’s not something you’ll find in nature.

The cactus is built of gourd stitch on a wooden bead form, the other elements are gourd stitch as flat panels and freeform vegetation. Accents are iridescent glass buttons and pressed glass beads.

This sculpture and ‘Pocket Garden’ made it into the show and traveled around for a couple of years. The latter mini-book eventually sold at a science-fiction convention art show, but I still have this one.

I’m posting it today because my mother was an amateur cactus botanist. She never lived to see this piece, alas. When she died, I hadn’t even discovered shaped beadwork yet.

Happy Mother’s Day, everyone.

Posted in Art

A handy tip on writing for your blog: do most of it yourself or don’t do it at all.

Sure, cultivate guest blog trades for relevant and relatable posts. It’s fun and lets you network with peers. But your blog should be about your voice and vision, not someone else’s. Especially not someone you’ve hired to scrape and repackage web topics. Otherwise you’re not blogging, you’re just a spamming spammer who spams. 

If you can’t write well enough for publication, take some classes or use free online English-as-a-second-language resources until you can

Especially if your blog is your business contact and showcase.

Content writing for blogs

Happy Star Wars Day

C’mon, you gotta know this one. It went from pun to meme to geek celebration?

May the Fourth be with you.

It’s a bittersweet holiday for me. ‘Star Wars’ was my Sf&F call to action back in ’77. It galvanized my attention like Tolkien had a few years before: big settings, classic stories slightly retold, instant mythologies I could share with a few million other vicarious pre-Internet friends. I didn’t know it then, but those movies coaxed me into writing.

Though the Lucas luster slipped, I’m cautiously optimistic about the new movies. Disney and J.J. Abrams have a lot to make up for. 

Intergalactic Medicine Show: free fiction

I’ve witnessed some extraordinary discussions over the past month, as the Hugo Awards controversy continues in the science-fiction and fantasy community. Eventually, I’ll provide links (cribbed and cited from a couple of diligent AW sources) to the best explanations of what happened and why.

Part of the fallout? Free stories listed online by authors, editors, and publishers who have refused Sad Puppy/Rabid Puppy nominations this year.

The latest is a collection of science-fiction and fantasy from Orson Scott Card’s ‘Intergalactic Medicine Show’, offered by its editor Edmund R. Schubert. Schubert recently gave a passionate defense of his magazine, pointing out that it does not share all of Card’s politics, and seeks diversity from all authors and stories. 

Disclosure: I am one of the authors who recently avoided IGMS because of its perceived association. Schubert’s essay convinced me to take another look. I’m several stories in, and I’m pleasantly surprised. It takes me back to my teen years, and my mom’s subscription to the Magazine of Fantasy & Science Fiction. 

Real sense-of-wonder stuff. 

More happiness

…is adding a kickass prologue that brings the fantasy novel up past 85,000 words, which is the minimum that several great Big Five publishers want to see. Once I finish minor tweaking to answer comments from four beta readers, I should see a book around 87K.

More to the point, it’s a good book. I’m comfortable sending it out on query or self-publishing if need be.

(And one of the added scenes brings my possible self-pub cover art neatly back into canon.)