Tuesday, January 23, 2018

My Weird Spy Novel

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I was once asked by an anthologist putting together a book of ghost stories if I'd ever written one.  Why, yes, I said, it's called "Radio Waves." And it got bounced by return mail because it wasn't really a ghost story.

But it was. All the characters were dead, to begin with, and eking out a meager unseen existence in the quiet spaces of homes and abandoned buildings. What turned the anthologist off was how weird a ghost story it was. (When you die, you see, the world turns upside-down and you fall off. But if there's metal between yourself and the sky and you keep your wits about you, you can manage to stay, living upside-down and subject to dangers you don't understand.)

So it was a  particular pleasure to see my novel Stations of the Tide included in Max Gladstone's list of Five Books Featuring Weird Spies on Tor.com. For a spy novel, my book was an awfully strange one. But there's no denying that that's what the Bureaucrat (the protagonist has no other name) is -- an agent, an operative, a spy. Or as James Bond once called himself, a "troubleshooter."

You can find out what Gladstone had to say about Stations of the Tide -- and what his other quite interesting choices were -- by reading the article here.


And I should mention...

Max Gladstone is the author of the Craft Sequence novels (undead gods and skeletal law wizards) one one of the authors of the collaborative fantasy spy series The Witch Who Came in from the Cold. (I guest-authored an episode for the first season and did a decent job of it, I thought.)  You can find the second season of the serial here.


Above: James Bond is the Elvis of spies. Did I ever mention the connection between James Bond and Hope Mirrlees, author of Lud-in-the-Mist? If not, I'll have to do so someday.



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Friday, January 19, 2018

Girl Heroes

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I just now read Dara Horn's essay, Finding Science Fiction and Fantasy for Female Readers, in the Paris Review blog. The title's a bit of a misnomer since it's about specifically YA fantasy & sf but that's a quibble and my only one. The essay is about how when Ms Horn was a girl, genre fiction turned her off largely because it almost never had anybody who convincingly reminded her of herself. And how the genres nowadays have a richness of female protagonists.

It's hard today to appreciate how difficult it was Back When to imagine the protagonist of an adventure novel being female. I remember when I was a struggling gonnabe back in the Seventies that one of my ambitions was to write something with a hero who was also a woman. It seemed terribly daunting then. There were so few of them!

And then came Joanna Russ's Alyx. She was tough and capable and brave and smart. Also short. And plain.

This last came as a shock. The female leads in SF stories were always beautiful. Even Russ reflexively started to describe Alyx that way. Then, she later recalled, the character looked up at her from the page and said, "Oh, come off it!"

After Picnic on Paradise came out, it became a whole lot easier to write female heroes. It broke something loose. More and more writers -- women, mostly -- followed in Russ's footprints. By the time I'd learned my craft well enough to write one, nobody thought it was much of an accomplishment.

Which is a good thing.

And that's part of the point of Dara Horn's essay. You can read it here.

And Picnic on Paradise is still a great book. In fact, it's a classic of the genre. If you haven't read it, you should consider doing so.


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Wednesday, January 17, 2018

The First Good Writing Advice I Ever Got As A Pro

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Up above is an advance image of the Engel der Schwerkraft forthcoming German Translation of Gravity's Angels, my first short story collection. I won't pretend that I'm not delighted that my stories will be published there. (Coming soon from Apex-Verlag. Translation by Norbert Stöbe. Cover by Christian Dörge.)

By coincidence, I recently typed out one of the stories therein (I didn't have an e-file because they were all written on a typewriter) to give to a friend for non-commercial reasons. Wow, was that painful. "What's with all the italics?" I said out loud. "Why are there so many commas in strange places?"

Somehow, I restrained myself from rewriting the thing from top to bottom.

Which brought to mind the first good writing advice I ever received as a pro. It came from my agent, the then -living legend, Virginia Kidd. "Never go back and rewrite your published work," she said. "It's always a mistake."

I had no intention of ever rewriting anything I got published, so I couldn't have been putting out vibes that I might do so. Which, I immediately realized, meant that this was a universal or near-universal temptation. So there it is:

Virginia Kidd's First Rule for Writers

Never rewrite your published works.

Virginia never spelled it out -- she just lay down the law.But I'll do it for you. There are two reasons. First, rewriting a story or novel is as much work as writing a new story -- and it doesn't result in something you can sell as a new story or novel. And second, there is a certain freshness to a story that gets lost in a later rewrite. Rewrites are almost always stiffer: more formally correct and less fun to read.

Which brings to mind the second time Virginia Kidd lay down the law to me. This one I might have been tempted to do had I not been warned away:

Virginia Kidd's Second Rule for Writers

Don't write book reviews.

This one she explained to me. "Writers are never grateful for positive reviews -- they all think they deserve them. But they'll hate you for a negative one. All writing reviews will do for you is make enemies."

Which is painfully true.

If any of Virginia's other clients have rules to pass along, please do. Maybe we can assemble them into a meme. The kind of meme that's actually useful, I mean.


Above: As I said, I'm delighted to be back in German print again.


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Monday, January 15, 2018

And the Winners of the Godless Atheist Christmas Card Competition ARE...

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It's been quite a year for Godless Atheist Christmas Cards. As anyone who listened to the deliberations of the Not At All Nepotistic Blue Ribbon Panel of Family (posted here yesterday) knows, there were so many bleak and nihilistic cards that ultimately we had to throw up our hands and declare that all but the first and second place cards had placed third.

Congratulations, everyone! Take a bow.

But there can only be one. Or in this case, one plus a second-place winner.

Second place went to  artist extraordinaire Jason Van Hollander for his beautifully-printed Signum Inferni, featuring a sheet of signed and numbered hell stamps presented in an art-sleeve with an owl in robes. The stamps themselves showed members of the Pantheon of Hell, with such names as Insania and Insomnium and Absurdum.

There it is below.



In any other year, Jason's card would have been the sure winner. But this year, the winning card arrived not through the mail but hand-delivered onto our back porch in the dead of night. It was not printed on cardboard stock but hand-written on a meat cleaver with stamps affixed to its haft. Instead of an envelope, it was buried in a turnip. A turnip with a grotesque bleeding face.

And its message? BY THE HOLIDAY END YOU WILL WISH THERE WAS A GOD.

Despite the fact that it was clearly created with the sole purpose of winning the competition, the Not At All Nepotistic Blue Ribbon Panel of Family felt that we had no choice but to declare it the winner. Not just for the Godless Atheist-icness of it but because if the police had happened to notice its perpetrator slinking about our back yard, they would have discovered he had written a terrorist threat on a meat cleaver. The ensuing conversation is one that I personally would love to have heard.

So, congratulations, Sam Jordan. You not only won the competition, you ducked a long and invigorating conversation with the boys at the local precinct.

That's the "card" up at the top of the page.


And in way of apology...

I'm sorry I didn't have this up last Thursday as planned. A cold intervened, for which I hope I may be forgiven.

In any case, my apologies. I hope that that Sam's turnip made this post worth the wait.


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Thursday, January 11, 2018

The 2018 Godless Atheist Christmas Card Awards

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The Not At All Nepotistic Blue Ribbon Panel of Family has met in solemn convocation and chosen the one card out of all those received that will -- nay, indeed, must! -- be named the Godless Atheist Christmas Card of the Year.

I should mention that the composition of the Not At All Nepotistic Blue Ribbon Panel of Family (me, my wife Marianne, and our son Sean) was in way influenced by the fact that we are related, nor by the convenience of us living so near to one another. No, it simply happens that out of all the people on this planet, gosh darn it, we three are the most qualified for the task.

This year, in the interest of transparency, our IT team (Sean) has put together a movie of the Not At All Nepotistic Blue Ribbon Panel of Family holding our deliberations, including first, second, and third places. You can check here tomorrow to find out who won.

Or you can simply view and listen to the film above.

Enjoy!


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Tuesday, January 9, 2018

Odd Advice for New Writers: The Blurb Shelf

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Okay. So you're a new writer, you've made a few sales, maybe your first novel has come out. Now you've been approached to provide a blurb for somebody else's book. What do you do?

Knowing new writers, you're going to drop everything, read the book at once, and if at all possible you're going to provide a blurb. It's what real writers do, after all. It's a sign that you've made it into the Great Game! They want your blurb! Just like they want Ursula K. Le Guin's! But after that?

I suggest you start a Blurb Shelf. Find a convenient corner among your books and when you receive a copy of the book (as you should) from the publisher, place it there. The next time one of your blurbs appears, put that book next to the first one. And so on. After a while, the shelf will begin to take on a kind of personality. When it does, stop and ponder:

Do you like what you see?

Ideally, you should be blurbing the kind of writers you want to be, those who write works like your own, those you admire, and those you think are becoming worthy of being on your blurb shell. It should serve as a kind of mirror to your writing preferences.

If it doesn't... if there are books on your blurb shelf you don't want to keep... then you've become a Blurb Whore.

Is it wrong to be a "Blurb Whore?"

Not necessarily. Editors will notice will notice and start sending you ARCs (Advance Reading Copies) of new works they think you'll like. This will spice up your mailbox like nobody's business.  Plus, nobody's ever offended that you gave them praise, so you're partway to having new friends. And you're doing the work of angels by putting good writers and good readers together.

Unless, of course, your blurb shelf says that you're blurbing books you don't really admire.

In which case, you really should cut back. Because all you're doing then is filling your mailbox with stuff you don't want to read.

So have I taken my own advice?

Of course not. People who offer advice rarely do. But there are many, many things I should have done that I didn't and I'd be better off now if I had.This may well be one of them.


And speaking of coming attractions...

Sitting in solemn convocation, the Not At All Nepotistic Blue Ribbon Panel of Family has passed judgment on this year's collection of season's greetings cards. In a unanimous decision, we have chosen this year's winning Godless Atheist Christmas Card.

Keep tuned to this blog to find out what won. Same Bat-Channel! Same Bat-Station!


Above: Why, yes, I did indeed provide a blurb for one of Ursula K. Le Guin's Earthsea books. Somebody actually thought my endorsement would add luster to Ms. Le Guin's reputation. I won't pretend this wasn't a Very Big Deal for me.


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Saturday, January 6, 2018

A List of Forty-Nine Lies by Steven Fischer

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A Review

Here'show the story begins:

My name is not Levi. I am not afraid.

This is a great example of how much work a properly-chosen title can do. Two sentences into the story and we know that the protagonist's name is Levi, that he is afraid, and that we are only forty-seven lies from its end.

Reading a series of negatives and decoding them into positives would be exhausting for the reader if the story went on too long.Thankfully, Fischer knew to "write to length," as the Old Hands like to say. A novella unnaturally compressed to novelette length will feel rushed and unsatisfying. A short story made into a novella will feel padded. This is a natural flash fiction. It is, most satisfactionaly, written as one.

Were I to say much of anything about the plot of a story that is only, as promised,forty-nine lies long, it would spoil at least much of the experience for the reader. So. In summary:

It's short.

It's a good story.

I like it.


A List of Forty-Nine Lies was published in the January/February issue of The Magazine of Fantasy & Science Fiction.

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