Afternoon all! A few things to cover in today’s update. First of all, I was fortunate enough to be last week’s guest on Dungeon Crawlers Radio. If you missed it, you can find a recording here. I come in around the fifteen minute mark, and if you keep listening, you get a bonus interview with actor Ted Raimi!
Next up, I’m going to be appearing at Origins in Ohio next month. Lots of cool stuff going on there. I’ll be sitting on several panels along with a whole bevy of my talented author-type friends, some of us are sure to do a reading party of Sidekicks, and perhaps most excitingly, Eighth Day Genesis has been nominated for an Origins award! All of the authors involved in the Library, (as we’re calling the writing track programing) have collaborated to write an anthology, which will be available for sale both at the show and online, and includes such genre luminaries as Michael A. Stackpole ans Timothy Zahn. My short, “A Blank Canvas” is somewhere in the middle. If you can’t come out to Ohio, please consider supporting the authors by picking up a copy.
And finally, I have a new antho out! “A Walk in the Abyss” features stories set in Shane Moore’s “Abyss Walker” universe. With tales Shane, Patrick M Tracey, Paul Genese, and my short “Unerring”, it’s sure to be a crowd favorite. Paul also edited this one, and brought the same sharp eye that he’s used editing the Crimson Pact series. As an added bonus, you get the first five chapters of my novella “A Wererat’s Tale: The Collar of Perdition! Come check it out!
Head’s up. I’ll be a guest on Dungeon Crawler’s Radio this coming Monday, April 29th at 7:00 pm EST. We’ll be talking about, among other things, The Wererat’s Tale III, Sidekicks, my attempts at stand-up comedy, and whatever embarrassing stories Tracy can come up with. Listen in!
With everything else going on around here, I’ve completely forgotten to do my publishing updates! First of all, The Wererat’s Tale: The Collar of Perdition is now available in both trade paperback and eBook formats. Early reviewers have called it the best of the series so far. I’ll leave that to the reader, but it does have 100% more soft-core bondage artwork on the cover than the previous volumes.
Also just released is an excellent anthology, “Sidekicks!” Edited by my friend Sarah Hans as her first antho project, it focuses on the Number Two’s of the superhero world. The often overlooked proteges, lackeys, personal assistants, and groupies. My story, “Coffee and Collaborators” leads off the collection with a duo meeting in secret to keep their bosses from blowing up the planet, while protecting their personal gravy-trains. It’s one of my favorite short stories yet. The stories that follow are also excellent, ranging from funny, to action-packed, to desperately sad. A lot of the other authors are friends of mine, and I’m proud of what we’ve put together. “Sidekicks” can also be had in trade paperback or eBook format.
Please consider giving these books a try. I have motorcycle insurance to pay for while I pray for spring to actually start.
Hello all. I’m having a tough time getting this chapter going today, so I thought I’d get the juices rolling by listening to myself talk about writing and hope someone out in the aether benefits from the bolivating.
Earlier today, I had a phone chat with another writer just getting rolling on his first novel. He’d let a couple different people look at what he’d done so far, and they came back with advice nearly every new writer hears at one point or another. “Too much exposition.” “Show, don’t tell.” Often, these phrases are thrown about without additional instruction, as though their meaning were inherent and self-evident. Well, I heard that same sage advice early in my career, and had no idea what was meant. The same happened to the gentleman I spoke to today, and I’m sure we are not outliers. In time, I’ve grown to understand this previously opaque advise, and I hope I can clear it up for everyone.
When someone says, “too much exposition,” what they’re trying to tell you is your story reads like a textbook or a travel guide, not a novel. As the author, you are taking the reader out of the story. In a sense, this is natural. We all spend a lot of time telling stories about where we’ve been and what we’ve done, often in exhaustive detail. But when you do that in fiction, it disrupts the flow of the story and pulls your reader away from the very place you want them to live in for a while. Here’s an example. Let’s say you’re writing a fantasy novel and want to introduce a castle. The way most of us would explain a castle we’ve seen to another person would go something like this:
The castle was built in 1547 of granite chiseled out of a quarry ten miles down river, then floated to the site on temporary reed rafts. Its walls were over six feet thick at their stoutest, and the battlements rise almost seventy feet above the ground. In 1583, it withstood a six-month long siege from the forces of the Duke of Cromwell…
Still awake? See how I just told you everything I thought you should know? I sounded like a hung-over tour-guide working a minimum wage summer job, didn’t I? That’s exposition. Avoid it at all costs. But what’s the solution, you ask? That’s where the showing comes in. Instead of droning on and on about this new castle, what you want as an author is to let your characters, and therefore your readers, explore and learn about it for themselves naturally. You can do that either through dialogue between characters, or better yet, observations made directly from your Point of View character. Here’s what that might look like:
Claire walked up the rutted path towards the mouth of the immense castle. As she passed over the drawbridge, she marveled at the sheer mass of the structure. Its battlements reached for the clouds, nearly three times as tall as the simple, two-story houses in her village, maybe taller. Its stones were old and weathered after centuries spent standing up to the elements, but they had lost none of their strength. Indeed, the whole castle had been battle-tested. Here and there, Claire spotted pockmarks and scorching on its walls, testament to the infamous siege it had survived under the notorious Duke of Cromwell. Claire smirked a little as she entered the portcullis. The evil Duke never got the view of the courtyard she was about to enjoy. As she passed through the great stone archway, she couldn’t help but hold her arms out as far as they would go. The wall was thicker than her arm-span, and she was easily the tallest girl in her county. On impulse, she scratched at the rock of the entryway with a fingernail. To her surprise, no bits of sand came free. The castles and garrison forts out in the provinces were all made of wood or limestone. But this, it was all solid granite. No wonder it had passed the test of time. At the apex of the archway, she could just make out an inscription in the capstone. They read: Laid Down in the Year of Our Lord 1547.
See how much better that reads? You are learning about the castle right alongside Claire as she explores it for herself. Not only does the castle seem like a real, living place, but you learn more about Claire in the process, making her a more convincing character at the same time. This is showing. Yes, it took a little longer, but that’s not a bad thing. It ate up some wordcount, and managed to share all of the same information contained in the first example while being a more compelling read.
I hope that helps. I’m going to go write something now. You should too.
Today we mark the coming of a truly formidable mind. As certainly all of you know, Douglas Adams was a novelist, satirist, screen-write, and I’m told quite the MMA fighter (I made that last one up). His seminal series, A Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy, is a must-read classic of both the humor and sci-fi genres. His genius touched print, radio, television, and the silver-screen. He was a towering figure among the British people, who’s humorous insights and razor-sharp wit spoke truth to power and advanced the causes of rationality and environmentalism at every opportunity. He is among a cabal of my personal heroes who passed before I had the chance to meet them, such as Gene Roddenberry, Jim Henson, Carl Sagan, Christopher Hitchens, and which ever clone of George Lucas was responsible for the first three Star Wars and Indiana Jones movies.
But even among these great men, Douglas Adams stands above them in my own life, because the man done me wrong.
Lemme explain. No, that would take too long. Let me summarize. You see, I started reading Hitchhiker’s Guide at a most inopportune time. After watching the excellent movie adaptation, I picked up the book to see where the story went. It took me a couple of years of bouncing around between different books before I finally finished the whole five-book trilogy. For any of you who haven’t had the pleasure, I won’t spoil anything, except to say that the fifth book ends in a place that is about as bleak and hopeless for the characters as it’s possible to be. To say it was an unsatisfying way to end a series would be like saying that the Committee of Public Safety maybe went just a teensy bit overboard with the Guillotine.
Upon turning that last page of Hitchhiker’s, and with the knowledge that the author, through an epically poor sense of timing, was not going to be available to fix this lapse in good judgement, I, like so many angry nerds before me, started to put pen to paper to correct this egregious assault on decency and the proper order of the universe. That’s right, the first piece of fiction I ever wrote was Hitchhiker’s fan-fic. Don’t tell anyone. By the time I was about five chapters into this ill-advised tome, it was announced that Eoin Colfer was in the process of writing the sixth book in the series, the under-appreciated And Another Thing, so I abandoned the project and returned to the real world. It sat there, unread and unloved, in a folder on my computer for many months, until it came up in conversation one day and I emailed it out to a few friends as a joke.
Much to my surprise, everyone who read it came back and told me to keep going. They wanted to see the rest of it. And my circle of friends aren’t exactly a mindlessly supportive group of ditto-heads. We’re pretty ruthless. So I sat down, stripped out everything that connected the work to Mr. Adam’s universe, and started crafting a brand-new story. That evolved into my first novel, A Hole in the Fence, (which is still looking for an agent…). The joke was apparently on me, though, because during the eighteen months I spent writing the damned thing, it never occurred to me to investigate how many sci-fi comedies make it to print in a given year. In case you’re wondering, it’s not many.
However, other stories followed, some short, some serious, some fantasy, but all because of the angry little spark the last page of Hitchhiker’s lit in my mind. Within a few months, I had my first acceptance letter, and I was hooked on this whole story-telling path for good. So thank you, Douglas Adams, for dying when you did. But, more importantly, I, and the world, have been enriched by the fact you lived at all. And that’s all any of us can hope for.
Many of you may not know it, but in addition to writing, I’ve taken up stand-up comedy over the last few months. My first time on stage was back in June or July on a lark. A local comedy collective here in Milwaukee called the Caste of Killers was putting on an open-mic night, which happened to coincide nicely with the bucket of Miller Light and two screwdrivers I’d already had that evening, so I signed up and took my five minutes under the light.
Now I have some experience writing humor. The first novel I wrote, (still looking for an agent, ahem…) was a sci-fi comedy. But while I’ve always loved stand-up comics, I had no experience writing jokes per se. My first effort in the basement of Karma that night was met with some polite laughs and ended somewhat anti-climatically, but I had gotten the taste of something new. I started trying to build coherent sets. Jokes that tied together in a common narrative, walking the audience through a story. It wasn’t long before I realized just how much like writing good stand-up is. Anyone can tell one-liners, but with a few exceptions like the late Mitch Hedberg, the best comics don’t just recite a list of unconnected material. They tell a story. Often a wandering story filled with tangents, but a story none-the-less.
In fact, the entire exercise of writing comedy feels like writing a book, only much faster. You write rough drafts, practice, prune, add new stuff, and edit, edit, edit. Then you send your story out into the world, in this case a direct audience, and face the daunting prospect of success or rejection. But instead of months of waiting, the feedback is instantaneous. You either kill, or go home wanting to kill yourself. But then you figure out what didn’t work, change it or rip it out, and edit some more. It’s just like writing fiction, but on fast-forward.
I’ve seen my own writing improve because of this experience, mostly because of fresh perspectives and training my brain to think in new ways. I find myself being less attached to my work, and more willing to identify, change, and rip out the stuff that isn’t working. Being a dispassionate editor of our own work is one of the very hardest things writers have to do, but my experience in comedy has made the task much easier. I just imagine the blank stares of a cold audience, but instead of being at a club listening to my set, they’re in their pajamas reading my book.
Many of us wind up so focused on writing that we tend to distance ourselves from other hobbies and new experiences. This is a mistake. Real life is what informs our work, gives it color and texture beyond the words on the page. I’m not saying everyone should hit an open-mic next week, but don’t lose sight of your other interests. Make time for them. They will give you the space and time away from writing to keep your mind fresh and engaged in the real world. Ultimately, no matter what our genre, it’s that real-world flavor that really separates great writers from merely good ones.
Hello nerdlings! After burning a day on such enticing activities as expense reports, I’m back up and running from a weekend in Springfield, Missouri. VisionCon was once again a great experience. It was going to be tough to top last year’s performance, but I think the organizers did so masterfully. A few personal highlights for me included the successful launch of The Wererat’s Tale: The Collar of Perdition, judging the Saturday night Masquerade alongside the guest of honor, Aaron Douglas, (I hear he got his picture taken with the mayor) and drinking some excellent twelve-year-old Scotch with friends both new and old.
The diversity of guests was impressive, and the charitable nature of all the attendees was evident as the con raised over $4,000 for breast cancer research. Not bad for a local convention. As far as I know, VisionCon managed to break all previous records for attendance. It’s wonderful to see such a fan-focused con growing at a time so many others are struggling to stay afloat. If you’re anywhere near Springfield and like to party, come on by next February and say hello. I’ll be there to launch Book IV of the Wererat saga, and probably to get a tattoo. Yup, they had a temporary tattoo parlor setup in one of the hotel rooms!
Morning, everyone. The big dust-up in the world of geeks this week comes courtesy of D.C. Comics decision to hire world-renown but controversial sci-fi writer Orson Scott Card to pen upcoming issues of Superman. And since everyone is sharing their opinions on the topic, I figured I’d get in on the action.
I’ve actually struggled with my feelings about OSC for a number of years. For those of you who may not know. Mr. Card is a best-selling and multiple-award winning author of such famous sci-fi works as Ender’s Game and Speaker for the Dead. His work has also included writing for screenplays, video games, and other lines of comic books such as Iron Man for Marvel. Ender’s Game is soon to be released as a major movie staring Harrison Ford, among others. I consider Mr. Card to be right up there with the second wave of great sci-fi writers like Larry Niven and William Gibson. Several of his novels sit on my bookshelf as I type this.
So it’s under this umbrella of professional accomplishments that I have to confront his repulsive personal views. An active and outspoken member of the Mormon Church, Mr. Card has very publicly denounced homosexuality as aberrant behavior, and has aided in the fight against things such as same-sex marriage rights, the repeal of DADT, and other measures that would bring equality and dignity to so many of our fellow citizens. That his public statements are in line with the tenants of his religion holds very little water with me.
The predictable response to Mr. Card’s personal views, a response D.C. really should have seen coming, has been calls to boycott the Superman titles in question, and even D.C. comics in general. Many people within the pantheon of comic geekdom feel particularly betrayed by D.C.’s decision, and rightfully so. The clan of geeks has always contained a large slice of social misfits and outcasts. People who didn’t fit into the mainstream. Instead, they built their own community based on inclusiveness and non-conformity, (unless you’re an attractive cosplay chick, but that’s another post). So it should be no surprise that there is a significant overlap between the community of LGTB persons and their supporters, and geek culture. Asking a proud homophobe and enemy of equality to write for the most important comic book character in American history must have come as a real slap in the face, and D.C.’s tone deafness led them right into this trap
However, all that said, while I certainly can’t blame anyone for being upset, or choosing to participate in a boycott, in this instance, I can’t recommend it, or participate myself. Here’s why. If you haven’t read Speaker for the Dead, you absolutely must do so right this second. Leave your job, abandon your children, interrupt the lunchtime copy-room tryst with the new girl from accounting, and go buy this book. While it is a sequel to Ender’s Game, it takes place far in the future and does enough catch-up and character-building early on that it stands alone very well. All you’re really missing is how much of a bad-ass young Ender was.
What you’ll find inside the pages of “Speaker” is the most elegant, moving, and iron-clad argument for tolerance, diversity, and inclusiveness ever captured in sci-fi, or perhaps any genre. The journey the human characters take in learning about, and eventually accepting the incredibly alien “piggies” is at times challenging, heart-wrenching, and ultimately empowering. I won’t ruin the ending, but the final scene of the book caused me to weep with relief. If you boycott Mr. Card’s work, you deprive yourself of the opportunity to read a work that turns the entire argument for diversity on its ear and shakes out all the loose change. It is simply beautiful.
The experience of reading “Speaker”, then running head-first into Mr. Card’s bigoted intolerance was… jarring, to say the least. It took me a while to work through it, and it’s been percolating around in the back of my head for several years. This latest incident has given me a reason to talk about it publicly. How, I wondered, could a mind that had written something that profound, simultaneously expound the sorts of regressive, backwards beliefs that he had just penned perhaps the greatest refutation of in contemporary literature?
I really couldn’t understand it for the longest time, and in some ways I still can’t. But what I’ve come to better understand is that Mr. Card, like so many millions of people in our culture, suffers from compartmentalized thinking. His plea for religious tolerance in “Speaker” was written with the benefit of his clan, the Mormons, in mind. He has never taken the next logical step to apply those same arguments to other groups. To do so would risk cognitive dissonance, which would be an unpleasant experience indeed for someone with a mind as sharp as his. It would require a level of self-reflection and bravery that he has, alas, not yet acquired. It is for this reason that I pity him more than I loathe his opinions.
However, I also believe that even if he does not yet possess the mental tools necessary to see over the walls he has built, there are many millions of others who are not so afflicted. I think that with the core message at the heart of his seminal work, Speaker for the Dead, Orson Scott Card could inadvertently do more to further the very causes of tolerance and acceptance that he has publicly opposed. It would be a fitting fate if his accidental message of inclusiveness and diversity spread far and wide, and ended up helping liberate those his personal beliefs had sought to condemn.
Seriously, go read the book, then share it with your friends.
Wisconsin finally decided to commit to the whole “winter” thing, so I’m here basically locked into the house for the day. A few things have cropped up in the community of writers and publishing in the last week or so, and I thought I’d take a minute to add my thoughts.
First, there was the curious case recently of an editor of a small, no-pay ezine flipping out on a writer who asked a simple question about her publication. The writer on the receiving end of the tirade posted the comments to social media, where they quickly went viral. Well, viral among writers and other people connected to the craft.
Now, I’m not going to weigh in on the merits of publications who only pay their writers in exposure. Most of them are small and just starting out, trying to build up subscriptions and page-views. This very closely mirrors the journey new writers have to undertake, and I wish all of them the best of luck. Personally, I believe in being paid for my work, even if it is only a token sum. I’ve been paid as little as $3 for a piece of flash fiction before, but it was still real money that was able to buy me a significant fraction of a Culver’s Snack Pack. Other writers may feel that in the early goings, exposure is a sufficient reward for their troubles, and that’s fine. The only person who can make that call for you, is you. But there comes a time in the career of every creative where people will only start valuing your work if you do. I just decided that for me, that was Day 1.
No, what was so strange about this incident was just how much of an outlier it was, at least in my experience. From the get-go, I’ve been shocked at how supportive, even nurturing the community of writers, editors, agents, and publishers is. You have to be willing to work hard, and churn out quality material, but there has never been a shortage of people willing to extend a helping hand with advice on the business, critiques, beta-reading services, etc. I cannot tell you how many of the friends I’ve made over the last few years have gone out of their ways to help pull me along and try to find success. It’s unlike any working environment I’ve ever been a part of before. There is almost a complete lack of competition among writing professionals. It’s a fraternity, and a warm one at that. I would send a shout of thanks out to everyone who has helped me, but the list would take up far too much space, and I would invariably forget someone.
So it was through this lens of camaraderie that I read this editor’s attack, and that’s all it could be called, upon a fellow writer for having the gall to ask her a politely worded question about compensation, and for the nerve to believe her work might be worth real money. How dare she believe she should be compensated for her work the way everyone else in the universe is compensated for theirs! Not only did this editor display an incredible lack of grace and professionalism, but she had somehow forgotten the people who had in their own time helped her reach what success she had achieved. I don’t care who you are in this business, someone took the time to give you constructive critiques, someone gave your first published story a break, someone volunteered to be the Beta reader for your first novel manuscript. No one does this alone, it’s just not possible.
And maybe most importantly, someone teaches you the ‘rules’. Listen, we all make mistakes coming through this process. There is no creative writing program in the country that teaches you the rest of the story. Finding markets, submitting, landing an agent, negotiating contracts, running a social media campaign. branding, etc. We all walk into that part of the job blindly and stagger around in the dark for a while. Mistakes will be made, and all you can do is hope whoever catches you will be gentle and understanding.
I, for example, am still in the process of shopping around my very first novel manuscript. I’d sent it out to nearly eighty agents and publishers. And while I’ve gotten some solid nibbles, I haven’t managed to drag any of them back to the boat with this one yet. Then, late last year at World Con Chicago, I thought I was getting a break, when a side conversation with an acquisitions editor for one of the biggest sci-fi publishers in the business (names withheld to protect me from embarrassment) asked me to send him the manuscript. Needless to say, I was ecstatic. I ran right back to my hotel room and emailed it to him straight away. Only later did I come to realize that another person, whom had asked for a sample of the manuscript some months earlier, was actually an editor for the same publisher. I had inadvertently gone around his back and submitted directly to his boss.
Now, this is a Four-Alarm, Gold-Plated, No-No. But here’s the thing that our meanie editor above had either forgotten, or never knew. When you fuck up by the numbers, the best possible thing you can do is fess-up and immediately apologize. Acting tough, entitled, or too important for such lowly concerns is the single fastest way to stain your reputation. And this is a very small industry, with very long memories. In my case, I hadn’t known the two men worked for the same company, but even that wasn’t good enough. Unlike submitting to agents, who expect that you are blasting your novel out to anyone who’ll listen, editors at that level expect an exclusive look. This was one of the rules I hadn’t been in a position to learn yet, so all I could do was thank the man I’d wronged for educating me, and promise not to repeat the mistake. Fortunately, I hadn’t run into a primadona, and while he was rightfully irritated, he chalked it up to a rookie mistake. Would he have been willing to do so if I’d been defensive, or given him an attitude? Would you?
The moral of all this is, no matter how far down the road of succes you get in this industry, always remember that there were people there all along to help push your cart. Someday, it will be your turn to do the same for the next person coming up the road. And that ended up being quite a bit longer than I’d planned, so I’ll sign off for today. More tomorrow on “used eBooks” and “Space Marines.”