Hello everybody. It’s the day after Thanksgiving here in the States. I hope you all sufficiently stuffed yourselves with turkey or tofu, depending on your preferences. But now that we’re solidly into the consumerism orgy that is the holiday shopping season, I thought it was time to hit on a topic that has been brewing in the back of my head for a bit.
A number of very popular stories have hit social media recently, including signs in several Wal-Mart stores asking for donations to help feed needy employees, or McDonald’s workers being told how to avoid hunger pains. Related, and most interesting to me, is a new law recently passed in Washington State that sets the minimum wage at $15 per hour.
Predictably, this move has been met from certain quarters with cries of government intrusion into the free-market, a sense of entitlement on the part of minimum wage workers, and numerous predictions of a cataclysmic increase in the price of goods and services to the public at large.
First of all, as I’ve said before, I am a conservative. I support low taxes, a relatively free market, and an unobtrusive government. So it may surprise many of you to learn that I support Washington’s experiment.
To understand why, let me define a couple of terms, so as to avoid confusion later. First up is Full Time Employment. For many decades, it has been generally accepted here in the U.S. that a person is considered a full-time worker if they work forty hours per week. The old labor refrain of “Eight for work, eight for sleep, and eight for what we will” seems to be a reasonable balance. Excluding weekends, this is where the entire concept of the forty hour work week came from.
Second is Minimum Wage. For many conservatives and business owners, the concept of the minimum wage is nothing more than the absolute least they are required by law to pay their employees, but I take a slightly different outlook. To me, a minimum wage must both logically and morally be tied to a minimum standard of living for the term to have any meaning. As far as I’m concerned, a true minimum wage would be one that allows a full-time employee to afford rent, transportation costs, groceries, electric, heating bills (for those of us in the northern latitudes), health insurance, and some modest contribution to a retirement account. If an employee’s pay for a full week of work can’t cover these minimum expenses, then how exactly does it qualify as a “minimum wage”?
“But!” shouts people not actually on the bottom rung of the socioeconomic ladder, “If we pay them enough for all of those things, the price of our Big Macs and Tall Chai Lattes will go up! And that’s not fair!”
Well, as a conservative, here’s my problem with that argument. We are already paying that extra cost. Right now, we make up for the artificially cheap prices for goods and services created by low wages by paying more taxes into the welfare and other social safety net systems, be they housing assistance, SNAP, or a dozen other programs that help the working poor close the gap between their “minimum wage” and what they actually need to survive.
I don’t approve of that system. Here’s a simplified version of why. I don’t eat at McDonald’s, yet every Big Mac sold in this country is supplemented by MY tax dollars going into welfare, (and beef and corn subsidies, but that is a WHOLE other rant). If you are shopping at a business that doesn’t pay its full time workers enough to live, I am picking up a portion of your bill.
This is why I support raising the minimum wage to reflect an actual minimum living standard, so that people who work full-time do not have to be dependent on government, and the people buying goods and services from these establishments actually pay the true price for them. Doing so will not only reduce the working poor’s dependence on government and taxpayer welfare, but also increase their own buying power, expanding consumer spending and demand, which is the true source of economic expansion and job creation in this economy and all others.
Raising the minimum wage is truly the pro-business, free-market answer. If you’re not paying your employees enough to live, then you aren’t a free-market business. You are a recipient of corporate welfare provided by the American taxpayer. And welfare of any kind is something conservatives, as I understand the term, are supposed to be against.
Well, it’s Monday everyone, and if you’re here in the Midwest with me, you just got walloped by storms and the temperature dropped thirty degrees overnight.
As a consolation prize, this month’s guest post comes from fellow author and geek extraordinaire, Michael R. Underwood. He’s here to share his story of unusually sudden success, and the extra work it entailed. The journey of Geekomancy is a reminder that there is no one true path to publication, and that you need to be ready for anything. As always, please take a moment to peruse my guest’s websites and blogs, and consider supporting their work. Enjoy!
Michael R Underwood:
From Rough Draft To Pub-Date
I finished the rough draft of GEEKOMANCY, my debut novel, in late November of 2011. I did a quick revision in order to prepare it for a novel contest in at my online writing group. Even as I turned it in there, I knew it was a bloody mess that needed a lot more work. The first round of revisions were big things like “This opening is terrible. I’ll cut and start with the actual character introduction,” and “This can be in 1st person or 3rd, but not both. Bad Mike.”
At the same time, I went ahead and posted several chapters of the barely-revised manuscript on a site called Book Country (an online writing community with strong discussion and critique elements). My intent was to show the book’s entire revision process on the site, to get some extra feedback and give myself additional external accountability.
Little did I know that an editor from Pocket/Gallery, Adam Wilson, would be browsing projects on Book Country, looking for novels to acquire for his list.
In January 2012, I got a message from Adam noting that he’d read the excerpt of GEEKOMANCY on Book Country and saw on my blog that I’d finished a draft, and could he perhaps take a look at it?
This is not a normal thing in publishing. I got really really lucky, and for that, I am very grateful.
But as I said above, the manuscript was a total mess, and I *knew* that there was lots more revision to be done. But Adam wanted to see it anyway.
And when an editor asks to read your full manuscript, You. Say. Yes. (a corollary of the GHOSTBUSTERS rule).
Less than two weeks later, I had an offer for GEEKOMANCY, and a rather early pubdate. Ebooks are much easier to drop into a schedule, since you don’t have to bother with the physical distribution and sell-in process.
To zoom through some steps, I signed with an agent and signed the deal, and moved very quickly into revisions.
After you sell a book or submit a book that’s under contract, the editor gives you an Editorial Letter. They vary in length depending on the work and the editor. The letter gives the editor’s overall evaluation of where the manuscript is, and what big-picture changes they would like the author to consider.
Adam’s main notes included a request to bring more of the Geekomancy magic system into the spotlight, and to zoom in on a sequence where Ree (the main character), is testing out her powers. In the first draft & revision, I just kind of had her leap into the deep end and hope things worked out. Following Adam’s suggestion, I found an appropriate subject for Ree to emulate (Geekomancy allows people to watch a film/TV show they love and then emulate some aspect of said film/show), which in this case was the first episode of the BBC SHERLOCK. That sequence came out really clearly right away, and judging by reader feedback, did exactly what Adam said it needed to in terms of setting the rules and putting some ‘wow’ on the page.
One by one, I took Adam’s notes and went at the manuscript with a mission, my focus targeted to specific efforts instead of being stuck looking at a 90K word chunk of prose and telling myself ‘make it better.’ This, my friends, is where editors are worth their weight in gold. Having an experienced reader who is invested in your success give you challenges on very specific ways to improve your work is an incredible asset.
Shortly after I turned that in, Adam came back and said ‘so…what if we could get this book out for San Diego Comic-Con?’ which was only three months from that point, and four months earlier than we’d discussed for the book’s release.
It meant two incredibly busy and stressful weekends doing the copy edit and then the page proof pass, but with the Pocket Star Production team overclocking their awesomeness, we got GEEKOMANCY out into the marketplace for SDCC, all less than six months after it had sold in the first place.
The whole process was a whirlwind, where publishing is usually very slow. My experience was uncommon, but in this publishing climate, uncommon is getting far more frequent.
If there’s one piece of takeaway from my journey from rough draft to publication, it’s this: give yourself every opportunity you can.
Michael R. Underwood is the author of GEEKOMANCY, CELEBROMANCY, and the forthcoming ATTACK THE GEEK, YOUNGER GODS, and SHIELD AND CROCUS. By day, he’s the North American Sales & Marketing Manager for Angry Robot Books.
Mike lives in Baltimore with his fiance. In his rapidly-vanishing free time, he studies historical martial arts and makes homemade pizza. Mike blogs at michaelrunderwood.com/blog
and Tweets @MikeRUnderwood.
Hi. How are things? Great, glad to hear it. I had the chance to see Ender’s Game on opening night, which I must congratulate you on. It was one of the finest movie adaptations of a book I’ve seen. Considering the source material, that was no small feat.
I should tell you that many of my friends and colleagues did not go to see the movie. Many of them chose to participate in the boycott started by members of the LGBT community, in protest of your very public views against the basic humanity of homosexuals, and perhaps even more importantly against your contributions to anti-marriage equality causes. Indeed, it is these views that define you for an entire generation of readers. They believe you to be intolerant and hateful. A bigot.
I declined to participate in the boycott, but not because I support your quixotic quest against queers, (that was just for the sake of alliteration, you understand) but because I’ve read much of your work already, and believe that such claims about your character are incomplete. While it’s true that I find your opposition to homosexuality repugnant and indefensible, I believe it’s not the whole story.
You are a mystery to me. A contradiction. I am not one of those people who believes you can really separate the art from the artist. I do not believe that creatives “channel” their work from a place outside of themselves, be it a God, or ill-defined aether, or some sort of cosmic internet of consciousness. I believe art comes from within.
Which is my problem with you. You see, I simply can’t fathom how the man that wrote Ender’s Game and Speaker for the Dead can hold the views you do, much less take pride in them.
With both the Formics, (I see the movie dropped “buggers”, which I wasn’t entirely happy about) and later the Pequeninos, you crafted two of the most alien races in sci-fi literature, and two of my favorites. Only the ‘Tines’ of Vernor Vinge’s A Fire Upon the Deep and the ‘Pierson’s Puppeteers’ of Larry Niven’s Ringworld compare in my mind among the ranks of fully-developed, believable, yet truly alien races. You managed to write them both in ways that made them so outside of our experience as humans that it was difficult if not impossible to relate to their existence.
And yet, AND YET, you wrote them with obvious love and compassion. Compassion for their unique circumstances, and love for their differences. But you’ve gone further than this. When it was suggested that a method might be found to alter the Pequeninos reproductive cycle to make it more human, “How dare you,” Andrew Wiggin snapped, “We didn’t come here to attack them at the root of their lives. We came here to find a way to share a world with them.”
He loved them exactly as they were, just as he loved the Formics. Andrew believed, with all his soul, that every sentient creature was deserving of love, compassion, tolerance, and respect. How different, how alien they might be was not important. You even came up with an incredibly clever and insightful Hierarchy of Foreignness, to define the different levels of how ‘alien’ something is to human experience.
You wrote all that, Mr. Card, and it was beautiful. That is why I didn’t participate in the boycott, and why I have strongly advised others not to as well, because boycotting your work would also mean cutting themselves off from what I believe to be the best argument for equality, acceptance, and a universal love that I have ever read.
So what prevents you from seeing it? What prevents you from applying the same simple standards you created for the Buggers and Piggies to homosexuals? Can you honestly sit there and expect me to believe that my gay and lesbian friends are Varelse? Because that’s what your public stance is arguing for; a war against the basic human rights and dignity of many millions of people, simply because they enjoy a different set of genitals than you would prefer. How is THAT such a crime that you are unwilling to find a way to share a world with them, with the same level of respect and compassion Ender showed for the Buggers? How is that minor difference enough that you can’t see that straights and homosexuals are not only the same species, but spring from the same culture, language, and shared history?
How can you not recognize homosexuals as Utlanning?
People are calling you a bigot, Mr. Card. People whom I respect. But I don’t actually believe that is the whole story. The intuitive, creative part of you, free of whatever baggage doctrine and dogma has burdened you with, has written something amazing, inspirational and pure. Something worth sharing and spreading and championing. Something that deserves to be timeless.
That part of you knows the right answer. The only answer. It is your life’s work. Please, consider listening to it.
Your humble servant and fan,
Patrick S. Tomlinson
Alright everybody! As promised, I’ve been lining up some author friends to share their first novel stories while we wait to see how my little manuscript fares out in the big scary world. First up is a good friend of mine that I bonded with through violent arguments on social media, Erik Scott de Bie. Erik has done great work in the fantasy field, especially within the Dungeon and Dragons Forgotten Realms setting. Here’s what he had to say about getting his first novel published. And please, when you’re finished, follow the links and help support a fellow traveler and artist.
Erik Scott de Bie:
Persistence is the foremost ability of a writer. Not talent, not connections, not marketing know-how, not charisma–persistence. Practice, push, repeat. Never give up.
I’ve got no real magic for getting your book published. Unless you’re extraordinarily lucky, it’s a crappy, frustrating, demeaning experience that will make you hate yourself, your writing, and the publishing world. You’ve just got to push through it, because you know your quality and you know what you want.
If you want a guide to writing and publishing that novel you’ve been kicking around, here’s a post on my blog that might be helpful: http://erikscottdebie.com/welcome/eriks-guide-to-writing-a-book/
What I’ll say about getting my first book published is that I did not expect so much revision. The first draft of GHOSTWALKER (Wizards of the Coast, December 2005) that I submitted . . . Well, it’s my own fault for writing way over the suggested word count. The contract was for 70k – 90k, but I sent in a 115k manuscript. This prompted a very polite email from my editor saying: “The highest we can go is 100k. Make it so.” And just like that, I had to cut FIFTEEN THOUSAND words from my book. And do it within about two weeks.
And I did it. There’s an entire chapter I cut out, significant amounts of description, repetitive passages, and the like. But I did it, because that’s what a writer has to do. Be persistent.
I suppose the real lesson here is “always write within the margins.” If they say they only want 90k words as an upper limit, give ‘em that. Digital publishing mitigates the problem, because word count doesn’t matter as much when you’re printing it on 1s and 0s rather than paper, but doing it right the first time is the mark of a professional. And part of that is a question of experience: the more novels you write, the more you’ll get a sense of what you can accomplish in a certain word count. The more editing you have to do after submittal, the more likely you’re going to mess up, so it’s best to do it right the first time.
But if you’re like me and you have a persistent length problem (i.e. you write way too long all the time), you’re going to have to learn to cut and cut well. Self-editing before submittal is important—cutting the fat from your story and getting down to what you absolutely think you need to say. If there’s cutting after that, it can feel like pruning off muscle and sharpening the bones of your book. But here’s the thing: making your book sharper makes it better most of the time.
The real trick is being able to cut without damaging the story—odds are you put stuff in for a reason, and you don’t want to lose its effect if it’s helpful to the story. Like a really good plastic surgeon, you have to be able to make small incisions, peel away the skin without damaging it, do your work, and make the scars not show. After all, you want your book to live a normal life after the surgery, and not have people stop and stare at its freaky appearance.
Back to Ghostwalker, the first thing that went were lightly relevant passages that the editor recommended I nix. (Editors can be amazingly helpful with this.) These were passages that didn’t further the plot any but only developed characters in ways I could accomplish more efficiently during more relevant scenes. Then we got to I borrowed chunks of text from scenes to blend elsewhere, then chopped out the donor scene. An entire chapter (wherein my hero faces down some lycanthropes in the forest) turned into a three sentence reference early in the book (about some adventurers cleaning out a band of lycanthropes a couple seasons back), and I cut the chapter. Then there were descriptive passages I could write more efficiently—things that didn’t need as many words as I gave them. Then—only then—did I start cutting meaningful stuff from the book, and by that point I just have to lose a couple hundred words.
The result was a sharper, tighter, stronger, rich, and dense book than what I had submitted, and so my debut was pretty awesome.
The takeaway here is to write the right book, at the right length, with the right density, packed with meaning, the first time. Barring that, however, always look for ways to write efficiently—make every scene develop both the plot and your characters, keep your scope tight, and never be afraid to cut things that aren’t working for you. And that will make your first novel way, way more likely to see the light of day.
Erik Scott de Bie is a 30-something speculative fiction author, best known for his work in the Forgotten Realms setting (including his SHADOWBANE series). He’s publishing three books in the next year: the space opera PRIORITY: HYPERION (set in the Traveller universe), the fantasy SCOURGE OF THE REALM (for Broken Eye Books), and SHADOW OF THE WINTER KING, the first of his epic apocalyptic fantasy WORLD OF RUIN series. His work has appeared in numerous anthologies, including WHEN THE HERO COMES HOME, HUMAN FOR A DAY, and many others. He moonlights as a Game Designer, and has contributed work to Dungeons and Dragons, Iron Kingdoms (the Warmachine RPG), and the forthcoming Red Aegis. He lives in Seattle, where he is married with cats and a dog.
Find him on his website (http://erikscottdebie.com, including his bibliography), Facebook (www.facebook.com/erik.s.debie), or Twitter (www.twitter.com/erikscottdebie)
Well, I wasn’t going to do one of these political posts again for a while, but the traffic’s been a little slow around here since the last one. So, give the people what they want, I suppose.
There is a brewing controversy over the implementation and bugs found in the www.healthcare.gov system, accompanied by generous helpings of finger-pointing. And there is no doubt that a serious problem with the site exists and needs to be fixed within a tight schedule. Here’s what’s being overlooked in most of these discussions. The website itself was never supposed to exist.
To explain why, I’m going to use an analogy where a business stands in for the U.S. government. Such analogies have myriad problems from an economic standpoint, but they remain popular among a certain group, so here we go:
You’re the CEO of a huge, complex business spanning… we’ll say fifty different semi-autonomous departments. Each of these departments have their own locations, culture, and managers. One day, you decide it would be a great thing to throw a company-wide pizza party. So you go to the Board of Directors to get approval for the party, who votes in favor of it.
So, the company-wide pizza party is a go. But while you know the best pie joint near your office, the other fifty offices are in totally different cities. You don’t know what the other departments like re: pizza. Are they New York style lovers, Chicago, or that mutant California crap? Who knows! You want everyone in the company to get the best pie for their local tastes, so you send a memo out to all of your fifty managers and tell them that the Board of Directors has approved a pizza party and you want them to organize theirs locally to make sure everyone gets what they like. You even release funds from petty cash to pay their costs.
This is when the problems start. Thirty-four of your managers refuse to take the money or organize their own pizza party at the local level. See, apparently they’ve spent the last four years telling their employees that you’re a big jerk who will never do anything nice for them, and they can’t stand the idea of you getting any sort of credit for something their people might enjoy. But by now everyone in the company is expecting a party regardless.
So with just days to go, you’re stuck trying to organize party plans for these thirty-four insubordinate managers who flatly refused to do the job the Board of Directors ordered them to. You still don’t know what everybody wants in each of your departments, so instead of tailoring each party to local tastes and preferences as you had planned, you’re left with no choice but to go online and do a massive Papa John’s order.
Now it’s the day of the party, and the employees under the sixteen managers who DID THEIR FUCKING JOBS have a great time eating pizza from their favorite local joint. The other thirty-four departments are stuck eating Papa John’s, who’s sauce tastes like watered-down ketchup on a good day, and those are the ones who actually got their pizza in time for the party to start. Now two thirds of your employees are angry that their parties were a bust, and your insubordinate managers are busy blaming you for their failures, some because they’re angling for your job when you retire in a few years.
That is what happened with healthcare.gov. Under the ACA signed into law more than three years ago, it was the responsibility of each individual state to set-up their own healthcare exchange. Thirty-four mostly red states refused to do so, despite the fact the law included provisions to pay for the majority of the work. The federal government then had to step in and very quickly design a website that would integrate not only the nearly three-dozen non-compliant states, but a bunch of federal agencies and many dozens of insurance carriers, because remember, all the healthcare exchanges do is drive consumers to private, non-governmental, for-profit insurance companies.
Apple’s website crashes every time a new iPhone rolls out. Diablo III’s servers crashed like an Italian cruise ship the day the game was released. Is anyone actually surprised a hastily-constructed website that nobody in the federal government actually expected needed to be build in the first place is having some trouble early on?
And now I have a shooting-fish-in-a-lunchbox-with-a-gatling-gun prediction. In a year’s time when the real numbers on the effectiveness of the ACA start coming in, and the sixteen compliant states show greater enrollment rates and better insurance premiums than non-compliant states on average, Fox News, Rush, and every other “conservative” mouthpiece will scream and shout about how the President is somehow maliciously punishing red states for voting against him, completely ignoring the fact that their own governors and state houses have been doing everything they can to sabotage the law’s effectiveness, denying better, more-affordable healthcare to their own citizens, just to prevent their political opponents from getting any credit for improving their lives. Wait for it… wait for it…
CORRECTION: It has come to my attention that Utah and Mississippi made the decision late to set-up their own exchanges instead of kicking responsibility back to the feds, bringing the total to eighteen states plus D.C. which have done so. But this still leaves twenty-five states that rely entirely on healthcare.gov, and seven more that are “Partnership” states with a weird hybrid system.
After some mild distractions, (which garnered exponentially more web traffic, ahem…) I’m happy to report that Any Port in a Storm has nothing to report. Since the last episode, the only notable thing that has happened for my manuscript is a personalized email from the publisher confirming receipt of said manuscript, with a promise to get back to me soon.
“Soon” in publisher/agent language does not line-up with what a normal person might expect it to be. This is in no way a slam on anyone on that side of the industry. What many writers don’t appreciate is the sorts of lead-times a book requires before it’s going to go to print. Even if you somehow manage to send in a completely clean manuscript that requires no revisions, (which, incidentally isn’t going to happen on your first book, or your second, and probably not your third) the process will still take many months to work its way through all of the people within the publishing house who have to give their approval on the project, not to mention actually being fitted into the publication schedule.
Remember, there is a finite amount of time in a given year to squeeze in things like producing cover-art, marketing, and the actual physical publishing of many thousands or tens of thousands of copies of a book, to say nothing of generating reviews, distribution to retail outlets, etc. All of those steps take time, and if publishers rush out too many books all at once, titles run the risk of being lost in the noise. These constraints and business considerations are why houses have a limit on the number of books they can churn out in a given fiscal year. It really is nothing personal.
That’s just how this process goes, and the entire point of this blog-series was to give writers a realistic review of the experience of trying to get a book published. Which is why I’ve popped in to say I have basically nothing to say. However, I can say that I’ve lined up a number of authors to guest-blog about their own experiences getting their first book published from the other side of the door. The first of these guest-posts is due up next month, and the author in question is a simply terrific guy and an ENORMOUS geek. I’m sure you’re all going to love it!
After the smashing success of my last post on the government shutdown, I’m steering back away from the political and returning to talking about writing, anticipating an accompanying and deeply depressing drop in web traffic as a result.
Still, I’ve learned something exciting and really want to shout about it, so here goes. As my first two novels cool their heels in editor limbo, I’m in the active phase of research and outlining of my third book. Research can be tedious and time-consuming, but sometimes your efforts are rewarded with amazing little gems of knowledge. So let me tell you, in my own words, about Project Orion:
For anyone who doesn’t know, Project Orion was a serious attempt to build the first interplanetary, even interstellar spaceship. As best as I can determine, the core concept was first suggested as early as 1946. It used a completely new and untested method of creating thrust called Nuclear Pulse Propulsion. Sounds a little dry, right? Well, let me flesh this out for you.
Basically, what we’re talking about here is a Giant pogo-stick powered by a chain-fed, nuclear bomb-shooting machine gun. The idea is you detonate a series of nukes in rapid succession directly behind the ship, which is protected by a giant ablative metal plate that both blocks much of the radiation and thermal energy from damaging the ship and its nuggaty human passengers, and acts as a pusher plate to transfer the energy of the exploding bombs into forward momentum. This plate is fixed to the ship by a ring of two-stage shock absorbers, working exactly like the shocks on your car to transfer the force more smoothly, again mainly for the benefit of the meatbags strapped to their chairs inside.
Legend has it that the whole concept for Orion came about after Wernher Von Braun, the imminent German rocket scientist we sort of confiscated from the Nazis, and Robert Oppenheimer, one of the fathers of the atomic bomb, hooked up at a rave and dropped acid, then woke up in the desert outside Vegas three days later surrounded by plans frantically scribbled into bar napkins. The historical accuracy of this legend is dubious at best, but that’s how I chose to believe it happened.
The truly ridiculous thing about this is that not only did the physics work out, but several different projects run by the Air Force, NASA, and even the British all went well past engineering feasibility studies. So serious were we about building one of these things that not only had scientists designed a shaped-charge nuclear bomb using a uranium containment chamber to maximize the propulsion efficiency of each explosion (because a normal nuke isn’t scary or powerful enough) but they actually brought engineers from Coca-Cola into the program as consultants to basically up-size a soda-can vending machine to shit these things out the back of the ship once a second. How badly do you want to be in on that conversation?
Coke Engineer (being held in a basement in Area 51): “So, you want us to build a vending machine that can throw out several thousand, 300lb, 6 inch diameter ‘Soda cans’ once a second?”
Air Force General: “Yes, my airmen are very thirsty.”
CE: “You’re building a nuclear bomb machine gun, aren’t you?”
CE: “AREN’T YOU?”
Several designs were considered, everything from a small prototype massing a few hundred tons, all the way up to an eight million, yes MILLION ton behemoth that could hypothetically act as a habitat for a manned mission all the way to the nearest star. Which you would reach surprisingly fast, because the upper speed limit for one of these babies is around 0.05c, or 5% the speed of light, and that’s if you want to slow back down again when you reach your target. An unmanned probe could cook twice as fast. Nor was all of this mere conjecture. A proof-of-concept vehicle using conventional explosives actually flew. Here’s the footage, from 1958!
And it wasn’t just kooks who got wrapped up in this idea. The famous physicist Freeman Dyson was heavily involved in planning it all out, in fact here’s his son George giving a TED talk back in 2002 on the subject. Carl Sagan had said at one point that an Orion drive probe or starship would be a very handy way to get rid of our nuclear weapons stockpiles, a sentiment I tend to agree with.
So what happened to Project Orion? Well, like all great ideas involving nuclear weapons, there was some resistance. At first, NASA wanted nothing to do with the project, so the USAF took charge of it and, naturally, classified everything so the public never knew we had designed this amazing thing. Funding was also an issue, because the design had to compete with traditional chemical rockets just as both were literally getting off the ground in a serious way. There was also some hippie shit about radioactive fallout and the Nuclear Test Ban Treaty in 1963. But the fact remains that Orion is the only design we have today capable of attaining such high velocities that will not only work, but will work with readily available technologies, indeed technologies that have been available for more than forty years already.
There’s a way, all that’s needed is a will. Now what might give us the will, I wonder… [returns to his new novel outline]
Hi. My name is Patrick, and I’m a conservative. And as a conservative, I’m furious at the behavior that has led to the shutdown of the U.S. Federal Government. But even more than that, I am positively livid at the weak-kneed media and the larger population that continues to believe that both parties in our system of governance are equally responsible for the current situation.
Let me explain this to you simply. This is a Republican shutdown. It was completely unnecessary. The only members of Congress who forced this issue were entirely Republican. Only the Republicans have spent the last three years boasting to their base about how they were going to shutdown the government.
And further, let’s look at the sequence of events that led to this nonsense. A law the GOP didn’t like (despite being a conservative law with 20+ years of history inside the movement, indeed born from within the movement itself via the Heritage Foundation) was passed with majorities in both chambers of Congress, thus meeting the approval of the Legislative Branch. It was then signed into law by the duly elected President in the Executive branch. It then went on to survive a lawsuit filed by members of the GOP in the Supreme Court, despite the Judicial branch being currently held by a Conservative-leaning majority, including Bush II appointee, Chief Justice John Roberts, who wrote an opinion in support of the constitutionality of the law in question.
The law has therefore gone through the entire Constitutional framework of checks-and-balances as designed by our founders. Not only that, but the engineers of the law then went on to face the voters once more in the 2012 election cycle. Guess what? Not only was the President reelected, but his party won more seats in the Senate, AND gained more seats in the House, (while actually winning a majority of votes nationwide in the House, but were unable to take the chamber due to extremely skillful gerrymandering on the part of the state-level GOP, but that is another post).
The ACA is the LAW. It has withstood all of the tests it needed to in order to be called a law. Now, if the GOP wants it to be repealed, there is a mechanism available to them written into our Constitution which has served us for over two-hundred years. That mechanism is elections. If they want the ACA repealed, all they must do is go to the American people with a compelling message and get themselves elected to a ruling majority by retaking the Senate and Executive Branch. From there, they can repeal the ACA through the exact same Constitutional process that passed it in the first place.
Here’s the problem. They tried that in 2012, and failed. No matter how the country feels about the ACA (which is an open question for any number of reasons I’m not going to take the time to get into here) they were given the choice to let the GOP take control on the promise of rolling back the law. We, as a country, declined. As President George W. Bush said in 2005, “Elections have consequences” and one of those consequences is the duly elected ruling majority gets to set legislative priorities and domestic policy. The GOP, being the losers of four out of the last five election cycles, and for good reason, have decided that such Constitutional niceties don’t apply to them, and have taken the historically UNPRECEDENTED step of shutting down the government with the demand that the sitting President undo his signature domestic policy achievement as the ransom for agreeing not to destroy the economy.
THAT is why this is the GOP’s shutdown, and THAT is a far, far bigger threat to our democracy and our Constitution than the ACA could ever be. And anyone who doesn’t clearly see that is a fucking idiot.
Good morning, everyone. It’s been two weeks since I came home from WorldCon San Antonio. It was a productive convention, and in the aftermath Any Port in a Storm was sent out to an agent and an acquisitions editor (my friend Michael R. Underwood has some smart things to say about attending conventions as an aspiring author, btw). The invitations to submit meant my little novel needed a query letter. There are many good resources online that can help you write a solid query letter, but I thought it might help if I included what I drafted up for my little novel that might:
Mr. [Name omitted],
[Name omitted] introduced us at WorldCon. I had a blast talking with you and everyone else over the weekend, and hope you did as well. As I mentioned yesterday morning, I’ve recently finished a new fantasy novel named Any Port in a Storm that I think compliments [Publishing House Omitted] already impressive line of sci-fi and urban-fantasy titles. So here goes:
Katagida is just another small-time smuggler plying Icarna’s vast and unforgiving seas. Alone in the world except for Zephyr, her faithful Seabat companion, Kata’s horizon never extends beyond finding the next job. But when the dark clouds and thunder of war threaten to engulf everything she knows, Katagida finds herself thrust into the eye of the Storm. As specters from her murky past rise from the depths, can Katagida keep her wits and her skin intact while the weight of unimagined worlds press down on her shoulders?
Any Port in a Storm is an epic fantasy novel weighing in at 108,000 words, including a short glossary and character list. It was written with Adult fans of fantasy and swash-buckling adventures in mind, but would also be a great fit for NA audiences.
My work has appeared in Andromeda Spaceways Inflight Magazine, The Crimson Pact Anthology series, and The SFWA Bulletin. I’ve also written tie-in fiction set in the BattleTech universe for Catalyst Games, and am an active member of SFWA. I hope you enjoy the book, and I look forward to hearing from you.
Patrick S. Tomlinson
And that’s it. I’ve reminded them of our shared conversation, explained why I think my work might be a good fit for their company, (which also shows that I’ve done a little market research) given a short summary/pitch for the book, given it’s length and intended market, then a short review of my past accomplishments. Query letters/emails should be short and to the point. Much longer than this and you risk an agent or editor glossing over your letter or skipping right to the next one entirely.
It’s been two weeks since I sent this letter out, and since then, nothing has happened. Well, nothing on my end. There has been no reply from either person, nor would I have expected one yet, or for many weeks or months more. Typically, you can expect that your novel manuscript is going to spend anywhere from ninety days to an entire year in the hands of an agent or editor before you get an answer. During this time, there really isn’t anything you can do to help the process along. After ninety days or so, it’s not considered impolite to drop a brief note reminding the recipient of the manuscript and gently asking if they’ve had a change to review it, but that’s about as far as you should push it. The waiting game can be the most nerve-wracking part of the job.
However, there is one thing you shouldn’t be doing while your manuscript cools its heels, and that is sit around waiting for the phone to ring or your email notification to beep. You’ve probably been writing and revising for a year, perhaps more by the time your book is in good enough shape to send off, so take a break if you feel it necessary, but don’t let that vacation stretch on too long. There isn’t much down time if you want to be a writer, and the best way to increase your odds of success is to get on to the next project.
As of right now, I have two novel manuscripts in the hands of two different editors. Since sending Any Port in a Storm out, I’ve also sent a short story to the Writers of the Future contest, written another short story and submitted it for an upcoming anthology, outlined two additional shorts set in the BattleTech universe, and started working up character studies for a third novel. The BattleTech shorts I’ll have done by next week. The novel I plan to have finished by the end of the year. This is not to brag about my work-ethic or boundless creativity. There are many writers that crank out far larger volumes than I do, of better quality. The point is to drive home the importance of not waiting around. Not only will the next project get your mind off the fate of your manuscript as it works its way through the Labyrinth that is the journey to publication, but it will give you yet another chance to wow someone and get that all important ‘Yes’.
If you put enough torpedoes in the water, you’re going to hit something eventually.
Hello gang. I’m back home and ready to step back into my ‘regular’ life. This installment of After the Draft was supposed to focus on writing a good query letter and synopsis for your novel, (an exercise I’ve previously compared to editing the complete Director’s Cut Lord of the Rings trilogy into a gif file), but as often happens in life, events didn’t adhere to my carefully planned timeline.
I spent the weekend in San Antonio at WorldCon. For those of you who do not know, WorldCon is short for The World Science Fiction Convention. It is home to the Hugo Awards, often called the Nerd Emmys. At six to eight thousand people, WorldCon is a medium-sized convention by today’s standards, but as opposed to the throngs of fans tens of thousands strong at places like ComicCon, WorldCon is a haven for industry professionals and amateurs, veterans and upstarts. Here, you’ll find authors, agents, publishers, editors, podcasters, artists, and illustrators all cavorting through whichever series of bars or pubs happen to be close by. It is, in short, exactly where you want to be if you’ve just finished a novel.
Granted, I hadn’t written a synopsis yet, or even a query letter, and I had only heard back from one of my Beta readers by this point, but I had a first draft (finished the read-through and line edit in the hotel room the first night of the con, actually) and it would have been silly to pass up the opportunity to network, shake hands, and talk to the Key Masters of the publishing industry face-to-face. Now, I’m not saying that new writers trying to break into the industry MUST attend conventions. This kind of dynamic social environment isn’t for everyone, and the ranks of writers have more introverts among them than society at large. Conventions are expensive, and can be both physically and emotionally draining.
My excellent roommate and I described going to conventions as an aspiring author like this: Imagine going to one of those speed-dating nights at a local hotel bar… for five days. Just like speed-dating, you have to dress up, remain witty and charming, not appear desperate, needy, or creepy, and basically maintain a polite lie about your true intentions. Just as you can’t sit down across from someone you’ve just met and say “Hi, I think you’re attractive. We should go have sex now,” you also can’t just come right out to an agent or editor and ask them to take a look at your shinny new manuscript and sign you to a multi-book deal. Social norms insist that some lubrication is required to get the wheels spinning first. Oh, and speaking of lubrication, you’re probably going to be drunk and sleep-deprived for the majority of the time.
So, not for everybody, and there are plenty of authors who have broken through and gotten their work published without ever attending a professional con. However, if you’re one of the more socially-capable among us, these events certainly don’t hurt either. Let me be very clear, after seeing what I have and watching several friends break out into amazing debut authors, I do not believe this is a who-you-know industry. Talent and hard work are absolutely critical. Without them, you’re not going to get very far.
But there are many thousands of talented people out there shouting into the void, and you need to find advantages, no matter how small, that will make you more visible to the people making the decisions so your talent has the opportunity to be judged in the first place. One of the best ways to do that is face-time. We are a social species, and in the age of vast networks of virtual-friends, the simple act of shaking hands and sharing a laugh over a drink has more power to connect than ever before. Human beings are just going to show preference to people they actually know. Fair or not, that’s just how it is folks.
Once you’ve decided to go to Con and network, there are some things you must do to prepare. First and foremost is to work up an elevator pitch. This is nothing more than a short, thirty second spoken commercial for your book. There are many dozens of sites and blogs that can help you write one, but you MUST practice it. Say it out loud many times so you can hear yourself saying it. Just like speed-dating, you must be ready to whip it out smoothly and confidently when the time is right. Fumbling your presentation probably isn’t going to get you the results you want from either situation.
I failed to do this, which with my stand-up comedy side project, is a rather inexcusable unforced error. I found myself in the embarrassing position of having my book pitched better by the friend who introduced me to the acquisitions editor of an important house than I ended up doing myself. Fortunately, it was the last day of con and everyone was exhausted, so there may have been a little more wiggle room given.
So, as of a couple hours ago, Any Port in a Storm has been read by one Beta reader, line-edited, formatted, and submitted to exactly one agent and exactly one editor. And there it will remain until I get word back from them. I have previously learned that it is very bad etiquette to submit a partial or complete novel manuscript to more than one editor at a time. Doing so will not make you friends.