Archive for March, 2009


Waiting games

I’ve realized that in order to survive as a writer, you have to have one very essential skill. No, I’m not talking about grammar, or the ability to craft beautiful prose, or a keen grasp of plot dynamics.

I’m talking about patience.  Holy crap, but you have to have absolute bucketloads of patience in this biz! First there’s the patience when you start querying agents. Then there’s the agonizing wait after one of them nibbles and asks for a partial. And if they then request the full manuscript, dearest gods above and below, but the seconds drag like eons while you anxiously await the verdict.

But then you achieve that next step! An agent calls and offers to represent you! Hurrah, no more of that agonizing waiting!

Err…  Except that now you get to experience the joy of being “on submission,” and you have to ramp up the patience one more time as you wait to hear back from editors who have your manuscript. Some people are lucky enough to hear good news in just a few weeks, while others languish for months and months… (and some folks, even with an agent sending the book out, never do get a yes, but we’re going to try and stay a bit more positive here!)

Then you get The Call from your agent. Yay! Your book sold!  Now all you have to do is wait for your book to come out, right?


If only it were so simple.  No, then you get to wait for your editor to send you a revision letter, because even though they loved the book enough to offer you money for it, they have puh-lenty of “suggestions” for ways it can be made better.

After revisions there are some smaller waits, such as waiting for the copyedits, and the page proofs, but those are somewhat minor waits, because it’s not like you’re waiting on someone to give their opinion.

And that’s what so hard about so much of the waiting in this game–you’re not just waiting for something to happen. You’re waiting for someone to give their opinion of something you’ve labored for months or perhaps years on. Each one of those “Will they love it?” waits is a time for massive nail-biting/comfort eating/endorphin-producing-activity of your choice.

Right now I’m going through another one of those agonizing “Will they love it?” waits: reviews. Holy crap, but I think this is the hardest one so far! The advance copies were sent out long enough ago that I know the recipients have had several whole days–at least–to read their copy. Days! Several! So why haven’t they written their reviews yet? Why can’t they read–and write–faster??  What’s wrong with these people? *sob*


The next wait will be the wait to see the sales figures. I’m not sure I’m going to last through that one.



It is an amazing time to read fantasy

As I’ve mentioned before, I’m an awful nerd who plays World of Warcraft. It is, in fact, the #1 way I interact with people I don’t know. Spending several hours in a voip server with 25 people you don’t know very well can be a harrowing experience, especially if things are going badly and there’s a lot of downtime while we wait for the main tank to get back from his 25th cigarette break. This is time I like to fill by recommending books.

See, I think that the number one reason people don’t read isn’t that they don’t like to. Most people like books just like they like any story medium, they’re just used to thinking of reading as a pleasure activity, and there’s very little out there in the way of book advertising. Book reviews are generally in newspapers and tend to favor literary, “good for you” books. Genre review websites are generally aimed at people who already like reading for pleasure and are looking for something new. However, there’s not much for people who are nerds, but just don’t know there’s fantasy out there besides Dragonlance and LotR. This last category especially applies to WoW players.

So, as someone who plays WoW and thinks books are awesome, I take it upon myself to spread the word. I tell people about awesome books I’ve read, and why they’re awesome. Generally speaking it works out well, and I actually get tells from people asking me for more book recommendations. The other day, however, I encountered something that sent me into furious nerd rage. I was in a raid that had stalled out, (imagine 20 bored people between 18 and 35 sitting at the computers with nothing to do, chatting over on screen text and via headsets), and I was passing the time by talking about Tim’s Marla Mason series (gotta give a shout out to mah peeps!) which I’ve been reading and loving. People were interested, as they usually are, and then this total ass (who’d been an ass all night, but that’s another story) opened his mouth.

“Fantasy is boring,” he said. “It’s all stereotypical dragons and elves.”

Needless to say, I couldn’t let that slide. Someone was wrong on the internet. But, as I laid out all the dozens of amazing, interesting books that did not fit his blanket statement but couldn’t be classified as anything other than fantasy, I realized something I hadn’t really thought about before.

It is an amazing time to read fantasy (or spec fic, or scifi, everything really!). Gone are the days of fantasy novels being the sole purview of the nerd in the corner. Thanks to videogames and other popular media that openly embrace fantastical elements, fantasy is cool again (maybe for the first time?). But even better than mainstream acceptance of the genre are the amazing stories coming out of fantasy authors. I mean, we’ve got Neal Gaiman, Ellen Kushner, Sharon Shinn, Naomi Novik, Jeff VanderMeer, China Miéville, Sarah Monette. We’ve got Harry fricken Potter. We’ve got the whole New Weird movement, dark fantasy, urban fantasy, epic fantasy, we’ve got subgenres we can’t even categorize. I walk into a bookstore (or, more likely, cruise over to Amazon) and I am literally stunned in place by the amazing variety of fantasy I can read. Sure there’s stuff I don’t care for, but the point is that there is just so much awesome out there, so many amazing, interesting, unique, inventive books, it’s almost impossible not to find something that grabs you.

In the end, I managed to convince the asshole to give Jeff Vandermeer’s Veniss Underground a try, since he said he liked Bioshock. I’ll probably never know if he read it, but it doesn’t really matter. The point is that somewhere in the wide world are 20 people who now know there are awesome things happening in the genre. The good word is spread a little further, and that’s good enough for me.

So, in the spirit of the post, what are you reading? Give me more books to be excited about!


The God Tangent

I’m a Battlestar Galactica fan. I like the original recipe version — hey, what’s wrong with cheese? — but I love the reimagined version. So as you might imagine, I and friends have spent the past few days reacting to BSG’s stunning series finale. In particular we’ve been reacting to the explanation of some of the show’s greatest mysteries as the biggest deus ex machina I’ve seen since Medea.

I’m not going to say more about BSG for fear of spoiling things for those who haven’t seen it. But I’ve been noodling something in the wake of those discussions, which is whether there’s a difference between fantasydom and SFdom on the subject of religion.
Continue reading ‘The God Tangent’


Fantasy and motherhood

Recently, I went back to an old series I’d loved as a kid and reread it from start to finish. It hadn’t aged well, or perhaps I’d aged in a different direction from the book.  That’s always a possibility with revisiting something from childhood, and I’d kind of expected it in this case, as I’d long grown away from this particular setting. However, it made for good comfort reading, and I mostly enjoyed going back through the long plot progression.

But there was one thing in particular that bothered me this time through, and I’m not sure why it caught my attention only now: Not only were all the female characters treated as if wife- and motherhood were the natural end state of being female, but once these characters became pregnant, most of their old personalities evaporated. It was as if they’d abdicated their roles to the potential roles of their offspring, sometimes dramatically. (The warrior queen who turned into the distracted, slightly deranged twerp was probably the most notable of these.)

I’m not yet sure if this is indicative of a larger trend — I’d meant to do more research before writing this post, but my internet connection went down (which is why this post is late) — but I’m going to go out and make a sweeping statement in hopes of being proven wrong: Fantasy has a very weird and problematic approach to pregnancy and motherhood. Continue reading ‘Fantasy and motherhood’


My shameful lie about short fiction

From time to time I get asked if working to establish oneself as a short story writer is helpful when trying to write and sell novels. My stock answer is that, while it can’t hurt, it’s hardly necessary, and that the only really good reason to write short stories is because you love writing short stories. Shorts pay too little and require too much labor to make them worth writing for any reason other than you love writing them. Writing them doesn’t teach you how to write novels any more than running sprints trains you to run marathons. Also, the audience for them is small, and in talking to book editors and agents, I’ve come to the depressing conclusion that many of them, probably most of them, don’t follow the short fiction field.

In thinking about it, though, I’ve come to realize that my stock answer is a load of horse poo. I was lying. Short fiction totally helped me sell my first novel.

With the exception of a few anomalous print appearances that nobody read, I date the start of my short fiction career to 2001, and while I’ve never been the most prolific writer around (I mean, I’m not a freak like Tim Pratt), I’ve been able to count on a handful of publications in good anthologies and magazines every year. A few years ago, I started to get occasional inquiries from book editors wondering if I had a novel in the works. In each case, the conversation began with them mentioning some specific story of mine they’d read. Indeed, Juliet Ulman, the editor who acquired Norse Code for Bantam, initially wanted to know if I had a novel based on my story, The Osteomancer’s Son, which she’d read in Asimov’s. I’d like to believe that Norse Code is so brilliant that it could have radiated right through a manila envelope and compelled an editor to lift it off a slush pile and write me a check, but that’s not really how it happened. My short fiction publications helped.

And, no, writing short stories is not like writing novels. Novels are longer, obviously, but they’re also shaped differently. They require different rhythms, different approaches to pacing, to weaving plot and character. More than that, though, they require a different degree of faith to complete. If you finish a short story only to find that it’s a big pile of suck, you’ve wasted a few days or maybe a few weeks. It shouldn’t be devastating. But do the same with a novel, and you’ve squandered your ENTIRE YOUTH.

Which is why it’s useful to work on short stories, at least until you’ve done it enough and failed at it enough and garnered enough rejections that you move beyond that point and start to sell some. Because then, even if you squander your better years on unsaleable novels, you can take some satisfaction in the success you’ve experienced as a short story writer. And the science fiction and fantasy genres have long, proud traditions in short fiction. Success in the continuum of those traditions ain’t no small thing. It’s good to be able to feel good about something when you’re in the depths of novel despair. So, yes, while the best reason to write short fiction is because you enjoy writing short fiction (life’s too short to spend it doing non-mandatory things you don’t enjoy), I can say that short fiction helped launch me as a writer of novels.

And if my novel career withers and dies before it’s had a chance to really get going, I know I have a form and a field and a home for my other writing. And since I enjoy writing short stories, I’ll be okay. Now, if you hate writing short stories, most of the preceding is probably irrelevant to you. Short fiction is by no means the only path to novels. But it was mine.


Greg’s Sunday Quickie – Authors and parenthood

Our question for this week’s Sunday Quickie: Are authors like parents to their characters?

Short answer: No.

Characters are distorted manifestations of ourselves. Our experiences, our perceptions, and our memories get blenderized and expressed in language that sparks experiences, perceptions, and memories in the reader. And it’s the reader who then creates characters in his or her own head.

So, if that’s parenthood, then I was totally lied to in health class.


Margaret’s Sunday Quickie: My megalomania is showing

Authors are like parents to their characters?  Well, maybe.  In the sense that the characters wouldn’t exist without the author, and children wouldn’t exist without their parents.  But the dynamic is so dysfunctional that even cold-blooded abusers would wince.  

I set fire to my characters.  I kill off their friends.  I turn them into stone or destroy their livelihoods or pervert everything they have known and loved.  If I’m stuck for a plot point, I find a new way to screw things up for my protagonist and see where this takes her.  I find a perverse glee in finding a character’s breaking point and then jumping up and down on it while chanting “it’ll all work out in the end!”

I’m given to understand that parents do not, in general, do this to their children.

Now, I do love my characters, and I care about what happens to them.  But it’s not a love that wants to spare them pain, or even bind up their wounds and make them oatmeal afterwards.  It’s a love that wants to see them dance and dance well for my amusement — if they are in good shape for the dancing, so much the better.

In short, I am not much of a parent to my characters.  I am, instead, like unto a GOD. And not one of the nice ones, either.  I demand sacrifices of emotional resonance and character development!  I will smite thee with plot hooks and plot twists, and the weeping and the gnashing of teeth will be mighty but not to exceed the space I have allotted for it in chapter fourteen!  I will excise characters from the narrative the minute they become unnecessary and consign them to the outer darkness of unrevised drafts!  I will…

…uh…I will stop getting so worked up on a Sunday afternoon.