In my position as SFWA President, sometimes I have to confer with fictional characters.
Let us begin by acknowledging that this is a rancorous period, full of clashing agendas, bewildered onlookers, and all too many innocents caught in the crossfire (although it is not the first time we’ve seen these storms, nor will it be the last.). And that right now making an eligibility post particularly mentioning Hugo Award categories like Related Work is something that some of us are circling and wondering about.
And my answer is yes. Yes, you should. Why?
Because it helps people discover the work that you’re proud of. You know what you wrote. You know what you want to make sure they see. It’s okay to say, “Hey, if you’re looking to read something by me, I would try this.”
Because it helps people read widely. Every writer in F&SF should — well, I don’t want to make it seem mandatory so I won’t say that you must do this, but you should at least feel free to make eligibility posts. So when someone’s poking around, they can find your stuff and read it.
I’m finishing up the Moving from Idea to Draft class, or rather finishing up the writing phase and still need to shoot a couple dozen little videos, ugh. But I wanted to share this from the introduction to the class because I thought it might be useful for some people plus maybe tantalize a few into trying one of my on-demand or live classes.
I begin with some basics of story mechanics. Quite probably much of it will be familiar — feel free to skim if you feel like you’ve heard all of this before. Continue reading →
I heard the news about David Hartwell’s accident last night; it makes me inexpressibly sad to see one of the people who have shaped the speculative fiction landscape for so long pass. Others will tell you of all his wonderful accomplishments; I want to celebrate his life by recounting a few moments of it that I was privileged enough to share.
I first met David at the Locus Awards in 2006. I was incredibly nervous and introduced him to someone else as “David Hartman,” an error I would perpetuate for several conventions because I’d be so nervous about doing it again that I inevitably would. He was gracious about it every time.
He had an exhaustive knowledge of not just speculative fiction, but popular media in general. Connie Willis sent me to him at some point when I was researching screwball comedies, and we had a wonderful half hour session in the bar with me frantically scribbling titles down on napkins. He was always a pleasure to talk with, and full of interesting nuggets of information.
His dress style was inimitable; I wish more of our editors followed his example. I’m going to miss glancing over a convention crowd and being able to instantly spot him. He was one of the things I could count on at certain conventions.
January has brought some sad passings, including Bowie and Rickman. It breaks my heart to see David added to that list. He was definitely one of the influencers, and the publishing world will be changed by his passing.
Update: Locus says the obit was released prematurely. Keep an eye there for updates.
We just launched a very cool new effort. Here’s the release:
Crowdfunded self-publishing has emerged as a viable and increasingly popular path to creative and financial success for writers, and we continue to develop new initiatives to assist our members in their crowdfunding efforts. Now we are looking to expand our outreach beyond our own membership, to support the field at large.
Beginning in January, SFWA will be making small, targeted pledges to worthy Kickstarter projects projects by non-members, designating them a “SFWA Star Project.” Projects will be selected by the Self Publishing Committee, coordinated by volunteer Rob Balder. Selections will be based on the project’s resonance with SFWA’s exempt purposes, and special preference will be given to book-publishing projects in the appropriate genres.
Funds for these pledges will come from the SFWA Givers Fund, from a $1000 pool approved by the Grants Committee in December. When a pledge results in receiving a donor reward such as a signed book, these items will be auctioned off at fundraising events, to help replenish the Givers Fund.
As the landscape continues to change, we face the organizational challenge of finding new ways to inform, support, promote and defend writers of fantasy and science fiction. We hope that this kind of outreach and recognition will not only benefit writers, but also help raise awareness of SFWA’s core mission among independent professionals and their readers.
Over the past few years, I’ve been helping with the effort to open SFWA doors to professional writers publishing outside the traditional structure, to the point where we are the only writers organization (I believe) to accept crowdfunded publications as membership qualifying material. The Star Project effort ties in nicely with that and it’s gratifying to see SFWA continue to expand to match the changing needs of professional F&SF writers.
Rob Balder, who initially proposed the project, has been very patient with the way the wheels at SFWA grind exceedingly and tiresomely slowly at times. Speaking of which, I just got the mail this morning confirming our NetGalley account — we’ll be making that available to members who want to use the NetGalley system to put up books for review. That’s also been in the works a while and part of the slowdown has been my own chaotic inbox and a couple of pieces of mail getting lost in there.
Towards the end of next month, you’ll see yet another very cool project unveiled and available to SFWA members. (I am terrible with secrets and throttling back the urge to spill the beans, but I want it to have maximum impact. But so cool, and so far above the original vision that I have HUZZAH written multiple times in my notes for the demo. Are you intrigued? 😉 You should be.)
At the beginning of next month, I’ll be at Kevin J. Anderson’s Superstars seminars as a guest — looking forward to meeting everyone there.
Oh! And one more change while I’m thinking about it. Cynthia Ward is moving her excellent Market Report from the SFWA Bulletin to the SFWA blog, which I think will solve a couple of issues and also make it available on the website.
Neil Gaiman has been catching a lot of flack for this tweet.
People are, understandably, saying that the equation clarion + student = pro writer is not the only way you can reach that particular sum, and they are absolutely correct, although the drama is — as is often the case on the Internet — a bit hyperbolic.
This is the fact of F&SF (and any other genre) writing — there are writers disadvantaged by gender, or race, or sexuality or other physical circumstances. But there’s also a big group — which contains a disproportionate number of those differing physically — affected by economic issues.
If you have the economics means to attend a convention, it can give you a career advantage, primarily in terms of industry contacts. The degree of advantage depends on both luck and how willing you are to make the most of the time at the convention.
But there is nothing being taught at a workshop that you cannot pick up by yourself, given time, though it is true that workshop teaching can often be inspirational, effective, and sometimes entirely life-changing.
Being able to attend a convention or workshop is not just a matter of being able to pay the substantial fee. It’s being able to travel and most importantly — it’s being able to take time away from both work and family. That’s an incredible privilege.
I was able to do this because I had a partner willing to let me quit my job and try writing for a while. A decade later, I have yet to make half of what my Microsoft salary was through writing; I continue to persevere. If I had a family to support, it would have been incredibly difficult to do it — perhaps simply impossible. It gave me an advantage, and it also kicked me in the ass to be productive, because I was intensely aware of just how lucky I was.
Neil is — obviously — not saying you can’t be a writer without such a workshop. Note that Gaiman himself did not go to such a workshop, as far as I know. He is, though, enthused about the workshop (as befits a former instructor) and aware of what a big advantage it can prove.
But it also depends on what you make of it. In any class there will be those who persevere and those who fall by the wayside. Of the people in my writing workshop from decades ago at Hopkins, only a handful are still writing. Ten years later, a few members of my Clarion West class seem to have dropped off the face of the planet.
You have to want it hard enough to work for it, no matter what. You have to be willing to make time for writing words down and thinking about the order and what happens when you rearrange them. You have to have a hide hard enough to survive the day when there’s three rejections plus a nice fan letter whose writer is confused and thinks you’re someone else with a similar name. You have to be willing to trim away some bullshit activities and substitute stuff that lets you work at your craft, like reading or taking online classes or whatever. That’s the part you need.
A while back, I read someone saying that we all have someone who gives us permission to call ourselves a writer. For me, it was John Barth: sitting in his sunlit Hopkins office, a bookcase framing his smiling, balding head talking about my stories and a fellowship he wanted me to apply for is something I will always remember. But that is less important than giving yourself permission to call yourself a writer. It’s harder — it requires a certain amount of adamant ego and determination — but that permission can — and must — come from inside as well as externally. That’s the most important component, and you can do it with or without the aid of a workshop.
TL;DR version? Ain’t nothing going to substitute for hard work. Why aren’t you writing?
Later addendum: Most of the workshops do offer some scholarships; if there’s one you’re interested in, I do suggest asking about what financial aid is available.
I’ve made some changes to my monthly newsletter, most importantly that it’s going to a more frequent mailing rate but adding some stuff to compensate.
I’m moving to a weekly format that will cover:
News of and pointers to new fiction, including links to the free Patreon stories I publish each month
Info on upcoming live and online appearances
A special give-away each month including signed copies, electronic and audio books, classes, and other surprises
A 2-5 minute video covering tips and what I’ve learned about writing recently
The letter will go out on each Monday, starting January 25, 2016. This month’s giveaway is available only to newsletter subscribers; it’ll be mentioned in the January 25th one and has a January 31st deadline.
At least, those are my mental tags for the two classes. The first is Description and Delivering Information, and it’s how to get what you need on the page while avoiding big clumps of information and as-you-know-Bob that make a reader stumble and fall right out of the story.
The second is Moving From Idea to Finished Draft and I will be curious to see what all the work I’ve been doing on the on-demand version will end up doing as far as enriching the class goes. In the class, I talk about all the different possible ways a story can start to form in your head (like a scene, a character, a concept, a form, etc), and strategies for how to flesh each of them out and make them into complete stories. The on-demand version is currently at 11k words and I think it’ll be closer to 20-25k when it’s done, but I’m learning huge amounts in the process of writing because it’s making me sort out a lot of thoughts in an organized fashion.
In other updates, I just added the We Are All SF! convention in Ocean Shores in November to my 2016 roster (ugh, I need to update that page). I also believe that in the weird way of magazines, I should be seeing the March issue of the Magazine of Fantasy and Science Fiction with my story “Red in Tooth and Cog” in it, which still makes me squee and explode in interior confetti.
If I were truly organized, this would have appeared on New Year’s Day, but I had a very nice weekend instead. Now it’s Monday, and I’ve had my coffee and homemade yogurt and done some stuff. I’m feeling good about the year and have made the usual sorts of resolutions. Things that I’m trying in 2016:
More productive. Daily writing, no matter what the circumstances, shooting for 3k, but taking 1k as the absolute minimum. Getting the novel done, done, done, and a slew of other stories and projects, all stuff I’m looking forward to, but which must be banged out and then (ugh) revised. Daily free-writes to get warmed up and help me listen to my unconscious. Doing some of the daily little practices that end up accumulating, like practicing my Spanish on Duolingo.
More organized. Sitting down in the morning to take ten minutes to sort out my day and write the three most important things to get accomplished. Tracking things better. Having a household system where things have their designated place and get put there, and eliminating the clutter clusters, the places where stuff gets dumped and remains. The new house helps with not just the act of having to purge and sort that moving involved, but in having more spaces to put things.
More mindful. That same morning moment helps me figure out my day and live it more purposefully, less prey to random disorientation and derailing. Keeping a daybook/journal where I jot down ten things about the day, as well as a short list of what I got done, and the more important occurrences like visitors, trips, etc. Giving my poet-side time to sit and think at times.
More healthy. With the move, I’m walking more, and with the Fitbit, I could be tracking that and making sure I hit at least 5 miles a day, but hoping to be closer to an average of ten by the end of the year. Fewer eat-ALL-the-sweets moments and more fruits/veggies. Focusing on positivity and trimming negative crap out of my life where I can. Celebrating things that should be celebrated and practicing gratitude for being alive in such a nifty world, under what are pretty darn good circumstances.
I thought about trying to map everything out in Habitica but in the end I’ve just got a journal page with it all listed, plus I’m trying to build in habits that let me audit how I’m doing.
Part of mindfulness is the occasional moment where I remind myself that I have managed to do okay so far, and that despite feeling like a hapless mess half the time internally, I put on a reasonable facsimile of a responsible adult with an actual career and stuff. That’s kinda key too. While my inner teenager does give me a lot of pleasure, she’s also pretty insecure. To me, taking care of all those internal personae seems crucial, and it’s that part of me that’s actually achieved a semblance of adulthood.
Currently working on a couple of collaborations and a story whose title makes me laugh every time, but actually seems to have some social commentary at its heart.
Happy 2016, everyone! Here’s to health and happiness, to an overall increase in human empathy and a decrease in insecurity and meanness. Here’s to living life in a way that’s meaningful, rather than treading water and waiting for things to occur. Here’s to wonderful words and songs sung together, full voiced and beautiful, even with the occasional disharmony to make the rest sound all the better.
Now that we’re all moved in to the new place, I can find books when I want to refer to them.
I’m finishing up the year by trying to wrap up writing the on-demand version of my Moving from Idea to Draft class. This is a tough translation, because the live class depends heavily on what the students have brought: I try to help them go deeper into the idea each has brought to class and show them ways of fleshing it out.
For the on-demand version, what I’m doing is looking at each of the various ways I’ve seen stories develop and doing a section on each, looking at what it is, what it gives you to help with fleshing out the story, possible trouble spots, some ways to proceed with it, and then two or three exercises to refine skills with that, each with a basic and then an overachiever version, a model I used with the Description and Delivering Information class. There’s twenty-three sections altogether, but here’s the section on starting with a plot, minus the exercises.
What It Is:
Some stories begin with a plot. This is a complete story: you know the problem, some basics of the characters and what will happen. Perhaps it’s something you’ve generated or taken from elsewhere. Perhaps it arrives pre-made in your head (and you should glory in it when it does, in my opinion), so all you need to do is sit down at the keyboard and write it out.
If you can describe in a few sentences what will happen in a story, you know the plot. For example:
A little girl takes cookies to her grandmother and encounters a wolf along the way. When she gets to her grandmother’s house, the wolf is waiting to attack. A nearby woodsman comes and kills the wolf. (Little Red Riding Hood)
A man steals the defense plan for a planet that is immensely wealthy. When he tries to use it, he finds out that the defense is constructed out of (because this is a spoiler of an excellent story, you should go read it) and meets a terrible fate. (Mother Hitton’s Littul Kittons, by Cordwainer Smith)
What it gives you:
You know the overall flow of the action: this happens so this happens so this happens and then it ends this way. You know the basic story pattern: that tension increases until the climax, and then rapidly falls. You know the source of the tension and usually the basic conflict: how the wants of two or more entities are collide in some fashion.
You have some sense of where it begins and a stronger sense of where it ends (although the reverse is not impossible). Connie Willis says to begin at the moment when the problem becomes a crisis. I don’t know that I agree that you should always do that, but it’s certainly better, in terms of story tension, to start with a moment where the problem is already taking place than to start with an idyllic landscape that slowly goes bad.
You may or may not know the characters involved, but you have some broad basics, and know some of the things about the character that affect it most for you, which will probably include gender and approximate age.
Similarly you have some broad basics of the setting, the overall world of the story, although you may need to think of specifics pertaining to scene locations.
More importantly, often you have an impalpable feel for the story, a sense of the overall tone and emotion that will help you shape the words as you write. To make the most of that, spend a couple of moments thinking about the atmosphere of the story. What movies or books might you compare it to? What is the overall emotion, both yours in writing it and what you want readers to take away?
What you need to think about:
What do you bring to the story that makes it unique? There are only so many plots (opinions of the actual number differ, with some saying seven, others numbers like 3 or 36, but the fact of the matter is that at a certain level you will not be able to do anything genuinely new unless you are more of a genius than I, and so you should look at what you bring to the table: the unique details of your life and experiences, your emotions and understandings, and your sensibilities. What instances of this plot have you witnessed being played out in your own life, perhaps as actor, perhaps as audience, and what of that experience can you draw upon?
Specifics of the action may be lacking in your broad overview, in which case you will need to flesh them out. Your burglar steals something – what? Who owns it and what defenses against thieves do they have? Your bounty hunter is chasing her prey, but what crime has that prey committed? Specifics of the location are something that you may well need to flesh out, in which case try to think of aspects that are particularly engaging and use those as interesting backgrounds to add interest to a scene: make that important conversation take place while the two are racing on ice skates through a city’s lower levels or at a party whose main entertainment are levitating performers who are half-dragon, half-human. What can you use?
Things to watch out for:
Sometimes when you go to put these stories down on paper, they are not the well-fleshed entities we hoped, but incomplete things, hints of lines that don’t tell us the entire picture, whispers instead of words, a sense of brushing up against one side of the story in the dark rather than holding it in its entirety. In such cases, I usually build a mind-map, writing down the details that I know and expanding from that. I’ll build on how to do that in the next section, Possible Next Steps.
Be careful of the generic. We all have a set of flimsy and unconvincing stage sets in our heads that, when examined with care, can probably be traced back to specific television shows or movies. My desert island will always have Gilligan lurking in the underbrush, for example, and any Victorian London scenes have to be forcibly wrenched out of the black and white of the old Basil Rathbone Sherlock Holmes movies.
Possible next steps:
Take your two or three sentence description and expand on it, stretching it to five hundred words by expanding on generic details with specifics and figuring out the overall timeline.
Write out list of scenes then develop the basics of what happens in each scene: they go to the movies, see a clue in the opening, and try to rush out of the theater only to find a bunch of lamias in the parking lot ready to brawl; they fight with the lamias and defeat them by throwing soap bombs at them, but Ellen’s arm gets broken in the process. You will probably tell it in chronological order, but it’s not too early to think about mixing it up if you think it would accomplish something in the story, like provide additional pleasure for the reader by allowing them to assemble the pieces of the puzzle.
If you’d like to be notified when this class is released, sign up below:
2015 was a good year for publications, including a few nonfiction ones. Huzzah! Part of that was the Patreon campaign, another was the flurry of promotional pieces I released to accompany my first novel. 34 stories published in one year is a record for me, although many of them were flash pieces and/or self-published either as publicity for my novel or for my Patreon campaign. Here’s the month by month breakdown, with some stats and what’s coming up in 2016.
I wrote nonfiction column #PurpleSF for Clarkesworld Magazine and my short story “The Ghosteater” appeared in Thirteen: Tales of Transformation, edited by Mark Teppo. The story involves a traveler, Dr. Fantomas, and his companion, who are asked to investigate a haunted restaurant, and it takes place in Tabat.
I lounged about the house eating bonbons in February. Well, not really. But I didn’t get anything published.
My flash fiction “Bit Player” appeared in Daily Science Fiction, after I wrote it during one of my Flash Fiction Workshops. I went to Emerald City Comicon and had my first book release party there, plus sold it at the Wordfire booth, meeting all sorts of delightful people in the process.
“The Subtler Art,” a story set in relatively new locale Serendib, appeared in Blackguards: Tales of Assassins, Mercenaries, and Rogues, featuring retired assassin The Dark and her spouse the wizard-alchemist Tericatus in a game of marital oneupmanship. Also appearing that month was The Haunted Snail, a flash piece (yup, written during one of my classes) in DAILY SCIENCE FICTION, and two Patreon stories, a horror piece titled “Reality Storage” and a story set in the same world as the Blackguards piece, “The Owlkit, the Candymaker, the Beekeeper, and the Brewer”.
And Ad Astra: the SFWA 50th Anniversary Cookbook, which I co-edited with Fran Wilde, appeared, and was a thing of joy and wonder, mostly due to Fran’s effort, as well as those of Sean Wallace. I will remind you all that the cookbook is eligible for a nomination for Best Related Work when Hugo nominations come around, mainly because I love that little book and think it deserves a nod.
Patreon story 2611, a horror story set in the apartment complex we have been trying to move out of for several years, appeared. I wrote this last year while we were living in a horrible temporary apartment and trying to get everything packed up and ready to go; most of the events are based in reality.
I went on retreat down to southern California and got some work done on Beasts’ sequel, Hearts of Tabat. “California Ghosts” appeared on my blog for Patreon as I switched the campaign over to publicly viewable.
Steampunk story “Snakes on a Train” appeared on my blog as part of the Patreon campaign. During the same month I attended Sasquan in Spokane, which was a lot of fun, and read “The Owlkit, the Candymaker, the Beekeeper, and the Brewer” there.
September Talking in the Night, a literary flash piece appeared on my blog for the Patreon campaign. At the same time, “Marvelous Contrivances of the Heart” appeared in Recycled Pulp, edited by John Helfers. That story owes much to the old Twilight Zone episodes and I hope it manages to evocatively tell the story of an unlikely artist and the consequences of the pieces he creates.
And we moved into Seattle proper, or rather West Seattle, which is AWESOME, and involves an apartment with multiple great writing spaces, including a kitchen table that looks out towards the sound and the mountains.
My first on-demand class, Literary Techniques for Speculative Fiction Writers, went up. I took 1500 words of notes for the live workshop, which is based on one I developed for Clarion West and which is one of my most popular classes, and ended up expanding them to 15,000, so I think counting this as a non-fiction publication is quite valid. I still need to go back and reformat and clean this one up somewhat since I’ve learned so much about formatting and setup since then; that’s on the list for January.
At the end of the month, flash piece “As the Crow Flies, So Does the Road” appeared in Grendel Song, newly revived by Paul Jessup.
Two more on-demand classes went up, the Character Building Workshop and Reading to an Audience. As I worked on the former, my ideas about how to shape these classes continued to refine themselves; I’m looking forward to using a lot of what I learned in doing these in classes for 2016.
One piece of past experience that’s been useful in assembling them is a stint of work I did writing study guides for college textbooks, for a range of classes that included economics, retail marketing, and terrorism. I used the software’s capacity to create mini-quizzes with the Character Building Workshop, in a way that led to my only complaint, someone who thought the quizzes were silly.
They are silly — mainly because they’re intended as an amusing interlude that nonetheless gives you a chance to review the core concepts of the material just presented. I’d be curious to hear other takes on them from people who’ve looked at the classes. Should I cut those?
December publications included my take on Mrs. Claus in “He Knows When You’re Awake” for Jenn Brozek’s Naughty or Nice holiday anthology, and forthcoming “Dark Shadows on the Earth”.
I also finished up with another nonfiction essay for Clarkesworld Magazine, this time On Reading the Classics and an essay on what I hope for SFWA in 2016 for this blog.
I hope to have one last writing class, Moving from Idea to Draft, done by the end of the year and am working on that, but these classes tend to get more complicated as I write them and this is no exception.
Stories coming out in 2016 include “Red in Tooth and Cog” in The Magazine of Fantasy and Science Fiction (booyah, that is a longtime goal and I am still so tickled to have hit it; “The Mermaid Club,” a conspiracy tale about underground feminists, co-written with Mike Resnick; science fantasy, “Haunted,” co-written with Bud Sparhawk; “Call and Answer, Plant and Harvest,” set in the same city as the owlkit and Blackguards stories, which will appear in in Beneath Ceaseless Skies; “Tongues of Moon Toad” in The Bestiary; Preferences in Chasing Shadows (edited by David Brin) and The Threadbare Magician in Genius Loci, among others.
Status of Current Projects
I need to finish up Hearts of Tabat, and that book was the main casualty of a year whose events included cancer on one side of the family, dementia on another, and a death among my favorite in-laws. I have about 115k words on it and need to make them all make sense and flow nicely into each other. I know the main action of the two books after that. I have some other stuff I’d like to write.
Collaborations coming up include a couple with Rachel Swirsky, one with David Boop, a stroy with Emily Skaftun and Randy henderson that we need to finish up, and one with Tod McCoy.
Upcoming on-demand classes include Creating an Online Presence for Writers, Flash Fiction, Revising and Rewriting, Linguistics for Speculative Fiction Writers with Juliette Wade, Creating Your E-book with Tod McCoy and quite a bit more. And there’s another round of live workshops coming up in January-March.
Books coming out include:
Neither Here Nor There, another two-sided collection, this time with a focus on fantasy (Hydra House)
Hearts of Tabat (Wordfire Press) and (maybe) Exiles of Tabat
Creating an Online Presence for Writers, 2nd edition
Some Overall Stats:
Stories published in 2015: 33, including flash pieces
Novels published: 1
Nonfiction books published: 1
Number of on-demand classes published: 4
Large writers organizations on which I served on the board: 1
Number of books read: bunches and bunches
Number of blog posts written: I will fill in this number when I have more time.
Happy holidays to all my readers. I hope your end of the year ruminations leave you feeling happy with what you’ve brought to the world over the last twelve months, and that you’re moving forward into productivity and joy in 2016.