Guest Post: M. H. Thaung Discusses How and Why Do People Make Bad Decisions?

When I read or write fiction, I like seeing characters make bad decisions and then deal with the consequences. However, if they make those decisions for implausible reasons, they can appear silly or inconsistent rather than attracting sympathy. If they’re forced into decisions because of overwhelming external factors, they may come across as lacking agency. In both cases, the decision seems made purely to further the plot rather than arising naturally. For me, the sweet spot is when readers can appreciate straight off (or shortly afterwards) that a character has made a misstep with likely repercussions, but it’s understandable why they ended up in that situation.

In my day job in a pathology lab, mistakes can have serious, even fatal, consequences. We try our hardest to minimise them as well as spotting and correcting them as early as possible. When (not if—we’re human, after all) a mistake happens, we investigate the reasons and see what we can do to prevent a repeat. Additionally, at corporate level, we are expected to attend courses on how to make systems safer. Such training can be a chore, but for me it has one significant plus: it’s fertile ground for ideas about where characters may go wrong.

I’d like to share here how I set up my characters’ unforced errors, allowing them to make plot-influencing mistakes in a realistic manner. The concepts aren’t new, but using risk management ideas helps me to flesh out details. This isn’t an academic treatise, so I have cherry-picked knowledge from workshops on error, mandatory training and general wider reading. Also, the definition of “wrong” in this context might be fluid, but I’d view it as something suboptimal for the character’s intentions (and interesting for the reader).
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Notes from the Internet Presence for Writers Panel

This is from the panel on Internet Presence for Writers from Norwescon a few weeks ago. Participants were K.G Anderson, K. Tempest Bradford (moderator), Chimedum Ohaegbu, and myself.

Panel description: We’ve all heard the warnings, “Be careful what you put online; it’s forever!” Is this really a concern? We’re encouraged to have a heavy online presence, but sometimes it can feel like walking on eggshells. Hear pros share how they balance their fanbase and personal sharing, where it’s gone right and gone wrong.

One of the keys is to be findable on the Internet. You should have a website, and that website should have a means of contacting you. You would be surprised how many writer websites do not have the writer’s name on the front page.

Along the same lines, that website should look professional rather than amateurish. If you must have squid, Karen observed, make them professional looking squid.

Curate your presence and don’t be random about it. You want to think about your online presence. Look at your social media and the last 20-25 things you’ve posted. How many are positive? How many are negative? How many are informative? That’s the presence you’re projecting online. People are drawn to people who care about people.

Have a newsletter. Raven Oak’s was held up as an example.

Facebook groups are more useful than Facebook pages. (note from Cat: I’m been hearing this for a while and it did lead me to start up a group, which so far has been livelier and more active than anywhere else for me on Facebook.)

Post proportionately and consistently.

Don’t let social media overwhelm your energy. You must have something to promote or all of this is pointless.

Use Twitter tools like Buffer or Hootsuite to keep things manageable by scheduling posts. Twitter lists are also useful. Cat keeps a private list marked “interactives,” which is people who frequently interact or repost her stuff, which is the first place she pulls from when scheduling posts. Another is a public list, Women in Fantasy and Science Fiction. To see what lists you are on, go to your Lists page and click on “Member of”.

Explore Twitter hashtags like #writingcommunity, #writerwednesday, #followfriday. On Instagram, look for #bookstagram and other book-related hashtags.

Blogging is coming back, but you need to have content that people want. Mary Robinette Kowal has a series called Debut Author Tips, for instance.

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Guest Post: Thoughts on How and Why to Write Non-Human Protagonists by S. R. Algernon

As a writer, sometimes I find myself inspired to write by seeing other writers use a particular device and wondering what I can do with it. Having grown up with Star Trek and the Twilight Zone, and having encountered Babylon 5 in my teenage years, I felt confined by the typically anthropomorphic aliens, particularly the ones that were obvious stand-ins for Russians or Romans or other human cultures. The aliens were usually in supporting roles, and their biology, worldview and motivations were usually within human norms, not counting special abilities. I appreciated these characters and their stories, but I wondered how far writers could push the envelope in adopting an alien perspective. The Star Trek episode “Devil in the Dark” gave agency and purpose to a non-humanoid life form, and works like Lem’s Solaris, showed aliens that can be beyond alien understanding, but I wondered what stories could be told from non-human perspectives and how they could contribute to the genre.

Footfall by Larry Niven and Jerry Pournelle gave me a more expansive sense of what could be accomplished by setting a story within a non-human perspective. The Left Hand of Darkness by Ursula K. LeGuin and “Story of Your Life” by Ted Chiang inspired me to consider reproduction and language that departed from the human norm. They drew me to non-human stories and came to enjoy stories that normalize aliens and de-normalize human experience,

It is important to distinguish between stories that aim primarily to tell an alien story and those that use the alien as a prop in an allegory about human society. While the latter trope is common (“Eye of the Beholder” in Twilight Zone, “Let This Be Your Last Battlefield” in Star Trek, etc.), they can be too neatly prepackaged, so that the audience merely interprets the message, as explained by the human characters, rather than engaging in an alien experience.

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Guest Post: Andrew Hiller Finds ‘S Wonderful at the Baltimore Faerie Faire

What fun! I really didn’t know what to expect when I accepted the Author of the Year recognition from the Baltimore Faerie Faire, but there was belly dancing, big bands, folk music, a hoard of really cool/fun people…

AND I was given a key to the Faerie Kingdom!
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Norwescon Editing Panel(s) Notes

I was on two different editing panels at Norwescon this weekend.

I’ve taken the liberty of combining my notes from both panels, but my notes from the first panel are much better and actually contain a page of quotes from participants, while on the second panel, which was my 4th of the day, I was much less energetic and just wrote down the questions and two notes, and am reconstructing some things from my memory, so I cannot vouch for total accuracy. In each panel, we did something that I picked up from Mary Robinette Kowal, taking questions from the audience before starting the panel, and using those to drive the conversation. It’s a great technique for wide-ranging, discussion-driven panels.

Want to Be An Editor?
Where can or do you begin? It’s hard to get an editing position when you don’t have work under your belt. Listen to editors share the details of how they got started and learn some of the pitfalls to avoid.
Chimedum Ohaegbu, Gordon Van Gelder, Cat Rambo, Jasmine Silvera

Need An Editor?
Need an editor? What can you expect? How do you find one that fits within your budget, has a good reputation, and is knowlegeable of your genre?
Cat Rambo, Cory Skerry, Rhiannon Held, Jasmine Silvera

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Where I’ll Be: Crypticon 2019

Picture of someone in a knitted Cthulhu mask.Here’s my schedule for Crypticon, here in Seattle at the end of the month. Come say hi if you’re around! I proposed most of these panels, so I’m excited about them.

What Is SFWA and What Does It Offer Me as a Writer?
6 pm, Cascade 3&4
A discussion of the Science Fiction & Fantasy Writers of America and what it offers indie, hybrid, and traditional genre writers.

How Do I Get Started Writing Horror?
7 pm, Cascade 1&2
Focuses on the nuts and bolts of writing stories, researching markets, and sending stories out.

Haunted Pacific Northwest
12 PM, Cascade 5&6
The Pacific Northwest is full of spooky stories. Come listen to stories of local ghosts and cryptids.

Writing Creepy
4 pm, Cascade 3&4
How do you write in a way that makes the hairs on the back of a reader’s neck stand up? How do you convey the horrible in a manner that leaves the reader wanting more. Come for writing tips and tricks that will help you creep your readers out.

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What I’m Looking Forward to about This Year’s Nebula Conference Programming: An Appreciation of Kate Baker

Back when I was VP of SFWA, Executive Director Kate Baker told me she had a dream. “I want to make the Nebula conference -the- premier conference for professional F&SF writers,” she said. “Something that no one wants to miss. A conference so good that if someone has budget for only one convention each year, that’s the one they know they’ll get the most value out of.”

It seemed like a pretty good goal to me. After all, the Science Fiction & Fantasy Writers of America is over fifty years old, has close to 2000 members, including some pretty impressive names, has and continues to do major work in the field protecting professional F&SF writers, and gives out one set of the industry’s major awards as well as the recognition of the SFWA Grand Mastership.

It’s five years later, and in my opinion, Kate’s done what she set out to do. She didn’t do it alone, of course. She had the help of a whole lot of amazing SFWA staff and volunteers, including the amazing Terra LeMay and Steven H Silver. Mary Robinette Kowal got turned loose on programming the last couple of years and has been doing a stellar job. And others have made their mark with additions, such as the Nebula Award Alternate Universe Acceptance speeches or the mentoring program led by Sarah Pinsker or (I’d like to think) two I’ve contributed: the volunteer appreciation breakfast as well as the spouses and partners reception that have been regular features (and I hope will continue to do so!) Or the Book Depot, because I don’t know of ANY other con that takes as much care to make sure that its authors — including the indies — can sign and sell their books there. And there’s a fancy Nebula website, which remains a work in progress as more and more gets added to it, preserving the history of the Awards.

We’ve only got a small fraction of the schedule so far, with plenty of new stuff getting added every day, but here’s some highlights.
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Recent News and Changes from Chez Rambo

I’m very pleased to announce that Tor has acquired my recent space fantasy (maybe?), as part of a three book deal, and I’ll be working with Christopher Morgan there. While I’ve had a lot of short stories published traditionally, this is the first novel to go through that, and I’m looking forward to seeing what the process is like. What is the book about? Well, I’m actually not sure of the genre but have been describing it as a banter-driven space military fantasy in which a group of ex-military turned restauranteurs get an unexpected package, just as things start exploding. I’m 40k words into the sequel.

I’m so pleased by this and blissed out to the point where I’ve been grinning all week. The book was written last October/November as part of a change in my writing routine, and if that routine pays off this well, you better believe I’m going to stick to it. So — up at 5:30 AM and off to the gym, then only writing through 11 AM. I love these characters, who are a lot of fun, and they’ve informed me they’ve got plenty of story to tell.

This does change a few things: I will not be taking new coaching clients, and the only editing projects I will be doing are ones where I really want to be doing the edit. I will still be delighted to write stories for anthologies as well as sending stuff out — I’ve been finishing up a couple of stories this week. I’m also going to be stricter about no internet till 11 AM and will be a lot more hardass about not scheduling calls or other stuff during that time.

I will still be teaching and running the Rambo Academy for Wayward Writers — I get so much inspiration from those classes that I would be sad not to do them and I do want to eventually have on-demand versions of all of my classes up there. After 2019 is over, though, I may start claiming a few more weekends for my own.

For those worried about the plight of Bella, Teo, Adelina, Sebastiano and the other Tabatians, I remain committed to being a hybrid author and I do intend to finish up the Tabat Quartet. =) If you want Tabat snippets and other creative pieces, please consider supporting my Patreon. Or encourage small press efforts by picking up one of my collections (Altered America (steampunk), Near + Far (SF), or Neither Here Nor There (fantasy)) or the Tabat novels from Wordfire Press! Otherwise, you might like to try the recent anthology that I edited, If This Goes On, from Parvus Press. Curious about how all this writing happened? Pick up my nonfiction book, Moving From Idea to Finished Draft.

I’m done with the SFWA presidency as of July 1. Those of you who remember back before that time will recall how alarmingly productive I could be when I set my mind to it. You have no idea how much is coming. =)

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Where I’ll Be: Norwescon, 2018


10:00am – 11:00am @ Cascade 9
Sienna Saint-Cyr, Cat Rambo

Reading: Cat Rambo
1:00pm – 1:30pm @ Cascade 3
Cat Rambo (M)

Negotiating Contracts
3:00pm – 4:00pm @ Evergreen 3 & 4
Cat Rambo (M), Patrick Swenson, Yanni Kuznia, Jack Skillingstead

Writing Class: Writing Fiction with Empathy, Insight and Hope with Cat Rambo
4:30pm – 6:00pm @ Cascade 12
Cat Rambo (M)


Want to be an Editor?
10:00am – 11:00am @ Cascade 9
Chimedum Ohaegbu, Gordon Van Gelder, Cat Rambo, Jasmine Silvera

Autograph Session 2

11:00am – 12:00pm @ Grand 2

Nancy Pearl, Mary Robinette Kowal, Daniel Koboldt, Neil Clarke, Tran Nguyen, Yanni Kuznia, Kurt Cagle, Rhiannon Held, Kat/K.R. Richardson, Cat Rambo, Jack Skillingstead, Patrick Swenson, Kay Kenyon, Sienna Saint-Cyr, Peter Orullian, Lisa Mantchev, Louisa Morgan, Brenda Cooper, Laura Anne Gilman, Sandra M. Odell, John (J.A.) Pitts

What is SFWA? (Science Fiction Writers of America)
1:00pm – 2:00pm @ Cascade 11
Cat Rambo (M), Curtis C. Chen, Adam Rakunas, Patrick Hurley

Need an Editor?
4:00pm – 5:00pm @ Cascade 7 & 8
Cat Rambo (M), Cory Skerry, Jaym Gates, Rhiannon Held, Jasmine Silvera

Online Presence for Authors
5:00pm – 6:00pm @ Cascade 7 & 8
K Tempest Bradford (M), K.G. Anderson, Cat Rambo, Chimedum Ohaegbu


Writing Class: Writing Your Way Into Your Novel with Cat Rambo
11:30am – 1:30pm @ Cascade 13
Cat Rambo (M)

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Writing Contests and Fees

I recently tweeted this: “PSA/Pro tip: Do not submit to writing contests that charge entry fees. No ifs, ands, or buts.”

Many folks agreed; others wanted to argue a bit. Let us remember here that I am speaking as someone representative of professional writers, and that I have some experience with selling short stories as well as editing and publishing them.

One thing that guides my thinking is this: There is a thing in science fiction circles known as Yog’s Law, which is that the money always flows towards the writer. (If you are self-publishing, that flow may get circuitous, but generally you should not be putting money into increasing the profits unless you are getting the lion’s share of them.)
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