Archive for April, 2009


Margaret’s Sunday Quickie: Tiffany!

Favorite character from books I’ve read recently (not counting re-reads)?  Um.  As Rachel says above, this is something very subject to change depending on the day, the phase of the moon, what I had for lunch today…yeah.  Heck, some of this varies because I’m only now catching up on certain books; I hadn’t ever read the Vorkosigan series until a couple of years ago, and now I want to build a shrine to Cordelia.  

However, I’m going to go with Tiffany Aching, from Terry Pratchett’s The Wee Free Men, A Hat Full of Sky, and Wintersmith.  Tiffany’s just starting out as a witch and has to deal with stolen (borrowed!) sheep, missing baron’s sons, small blue drunken fighting pictsies, and incursions from Fairyland — but to sum it up like that ignores so much of the elements that make the books wonderful.   She’s clear-eyed, intelligent, strong-willed — and stubborn, very sure of her own intelligence, and capable of making huge mistakes.  And she’s growing up, through the course of the books.  I love reading about her, wincing when I recognize some part of my history in hers (using big words despite not knowing how to pronounce them? check) and cheering for her as she learns the hardest parts — not of magic, which is comparatively easy, but of living in the world and caring for it.  

(It probably says something about me that one of my all-time favorite characters is Granny Weatherwax.)


Rachel’s Sunday Quickie – fangirling

The challenge this week is to name your favorite recent fantasy character. Now, I’ve said before that this is an awesome time to read fantasy, and so this question was really hard for me! Who to choose? Of course, I love Sarah Monette’s deep, complex characters, but they’re a little intense and troubled for every day adoration.  I’m also crushing hardcore on Marla Mason right now (Poison Sleep is like, eating my life in delicious, awesome bites, and I’m not just saying that because Tim paid me).  What can I say, I love my kick ass ladies. 

All things considered, I think the character I love the most for themselves, and not just the world they live in, has got to be Len from China Mieville’s  Perdido Street Station. Len is a relatively minor character, but the force of her character shines out through the bit nature of her part. In a city full of weird creatures, outsiders, and freaks, she is a freak supreme, and yet, despite that, she lives her life with such ragged determination, you can’t help coming along. Len’s an artist, a sculpter, and her love of art, her need to express herself, is one of the most truthful, resounding emotions I’ve ever felt in a novel. In fact, I loved Len so much, I almost stopped reading when bad things happened and she stopped being a part of the narrative for awhile (no spoilers! read the book!). 

All the books I mentioned are awesome, and my favorite character is constantly in flux. Ask me next week and I’ll probably have a different answer. That’s the best part of being a reader! I get to have so many favorites!


Time to throw open the doors

by Diana

I’m at the Romantic Times Booklover’s Convention this week, and I had this grand plan of doing quickie interviews of some of the urban fantasy authors here for today’s post (sort of like a “5 questions” format.) Unfortunately, it was harder than I expected to pin down authors when they weren’t busy/eating/inebriated, so in the end I decided instead to talk about the convention itself.

I grew up in SF/F fandom, and have been to more SF/F cons than I can count. In the last decade I’ve mostly limited myself to the “big” ones, i.e. World Fantasy and Worldcon, mostly because, as an up-and-coming author, I figured that those would be the most useful to me in networking, meeting new and fun people, and general enjoyment.

It wasn’t until last year that I learned about the Romantic Times Booklovers Convention, or “RT” as everyone calls it. RT is far more than what the name implies. First off, yes, it’s very heavily populated by people who love reading. And, yes, it’s very heavily slanted toward romance. After all, it’s sponsored by Romantic Times Book Reviews magazine.  However, much like the magazine, it has a reach far beyond just that of the romance field. The magazine reviews mostly romance books of every possible shade, but it also carries reviews of science fiction, fantasy, urban fantasy, thriller, mystery, mainstream, and so on.

That diversity is represented by the authors in attendance here as well. Barry Eisler, F. Paul Wilson, Piers Anthony are just a few of the non-romance authors here. And there are absolute scads of urban fantasy authors in attendance (as well as numerous panels devoted to the differences and similarities between urban fantasy and paranormal romance.)

As loyal as I am to my science fiction and fantasy roots, I have to say that for the aspiring author hoping to get a leg up, or for the published author hoping to reach out to fans and new readers, RT kicks some serious ass, and I really and truly hope that SF/F can take a tip or two from how RT operates, because I think that it can only benefit the genre.

First off, the member badges not only have the member’s name on it, but also a designation, i.e. Published Author, Aspiring Author, Reader, Bookseller, Librarian, Press, etc. My first reaction to that was a bit of a mental wince at what seemed like segregation, but as the week progressed I realized that it was incredibly useful for everyone involved when it came to networking and promotion and discovering new writers. Moreover, I never caught a single whiff of snobbery concerning the published vs. aspiring status.

Second, there’s “Promo Alley”: a long row of tables where authors can pay a token fee to rent a portion of a table to display promotional swag. Again, my first reaction to this was that there was just too much swag and too many authors and that the “signal to noise” ratio was way too high. But then I started seeing huge numbers of readers stopping and looking at all of this swag, and picking up the bookmarks, and taking–and wearing–the buttons and stickers, etc. Each member of the convention walked past all of these items several times a day, which, if nothing else, guaranteed that there would later be a flicker of recognition for an author’s name or a book cover. It was well done and nicely organized, as opposed to the one measly swag table at most SF/F cons where people can shove a pile of bookmarks into any empty space they can find.

Third, and this is the number one absolute biggie super duper way that RT kicks the absolute living ass of SF/F cons, especially World Fantasy and Worldcon:  The mass author signing is open to members for free, and open to the general public for a nominal fee (I think it was $5 this year.)

I can’t stress enough how much I believe this is a fantastic idea and one that World Fantasy and Worldcon needs to adopt.  RT partners with a bookseller (this year it was Barnes & Noble) who procures stacks of books for every author in attendance. Attendees can also bring in their own books to be signed (though they have to be marked with a special sticker before entering to avoid confusion and later problems.) Readers and fans have several hours to wander the hall, chat with authors, get books signed, discover new authors, and then can purchase their signed books at the exit where B&N has several registers set up. It’s a huge win-win scenario for everyone involved, and it has the advantage of reaching out to numerous readers who either have no interest in attending the entire event, or don’t have the financial means to do so.

I’ve heard that there’s resistance to this concept in SF/F because convention organizers want people to purchase memberships, and are afraid that if they throw signing events open to the public then there won’t be incentive for people to buy a membership to the whole thing. But I think that’s a terribly flawed supposition. The readers and fans who want to meet the authors and interact with them beyond the few seconds of face time in a signing will still pay for a membership. (After all, a membership for RT is over $400. And attendance at RT is usually well over a thousand strong, and in times of stronger economy I’ve been told that it’s closer to three thousand.)

Science Fiction and Fantasy needs to reach beyond the walls of its ghetto, and needs to give deep consideration to adopting this methodology as a way to reach out to new readers. By throwing the signing events open to the public, it will increase the opportunity to educate people about what the genre has to offer, as well as give up and coming authors a chance to interact with people who might never consider attending a convention.


A slight variation from the usual routine

So, I was going to write an entry on gender choice in narrative fiction (i.e. why do we write girls or boys?), but then I realized something. You, you person, reading this on the internet, I don’t know who you are. Do you write books? Do you write at all? Are you a fantasy fan looking to find information on an author? Are you someone who knows one of us and gets forced to read this blog by association? (HI MOM)

So, today I’m going to take a crack at the fourth wall and ask you, dear reader, to introduce yourself. What do you want to see on this blog? Would you like to see more about the daily life of writers? The publishing industry from the inside? Agents? Literary theory and how it relates to fantasy? Writing tips? Internet drama? Lolcats? Winning lotto numbers?

Help us post to the subjects you are most interested in! Now’s your chance (well, every post is really your chance, but you get the idea), tell us what you like!


QueryFail, Agents, and an Injection of Clue

So I’ve been following QueryFail. (Waits for screams of horror to die down.)

QueryFail, if you haven’t heard of it, is the latest internet storm to break over the industry. Let me ‘splain. No, there is too much, let me sum up. Basically, a group of literary agents got together on Twitter and decided to offer a free service to aspiring authors: explaining how not to get a literary agent. So they tweeted examples from personal experience — poorly-written cover letters, creepy “gifts” accompanying novel samples, authors who flat-out lied and got caught. (Complete archive here, in multiple formats. If you download the .rtf, remember to read it from the bottom up!) Everything was carefully anonymous; no author identifying info was given, and most of the examples were spoken of in general terms, with the exception of cover letter quotes. (Here are some examples, with analysis, from participating agent Elaine Spencer.) Many authors were amused and pleased by this information, and considered it valuable.

Many more authors… well, went ballistic.
Continue reading ‘QueryFail, Agents, and an Injection of Clue’


Road trip!

Sorry for the late post — I’ve been traveling today (up at 3:30 AM for an early flight, and then straight from the airport to work, and then on from there…).  And, unfortunately, because of this I haven’t had time to compose something in-depth and interesting for today’s post.

So I’m going to make this a cop-out post and ask a question instead: What kind of travel stories do you like?  By that I mean stories (particularly fantasy, since this seems to be a popular mode for quests) that involve traveling all over an imaginary world as a major part of the plot?  The Lord of the Rings is the obvious one that comes to mind, since a good chunk of it is the story of one long journey.  The Farthest Shore is another good example.  I know there are science fiction examples — colony ships, for example — but right now I’m blanking on them (probably because in order to stay awake, I managed to consume a latte as big as my head, and so have a brain marinated in caffeeeeeine).

Looking at settings that parallel our own, there’s American Gods, which could be called a road novel, though I have trouble thinking of it that way.  The Armageddon Rag has similar elements, particularly when the tour begins.  And for some reason, I always think of The Stress of Her Regard as a voyage across Europe — with stops at all the dangerous, haunted places.  It’s much more than that, but the travel is such an integral part of the story that it stays with me.

So.  Fantasy and science fiction that’s centered on travel?  Rambling quests?  Plot coupons scattered to the four corners of the world?


More writing advice, good and bad

The best advice for a writer is this: If you’re having trouble, keep writing.

Plot’s not working? Dialog sounds like a machine translation of raccoon language? Keep writing. Editors sending you nothing but form rejections? Agents don’t bother to respond to your queries? Your critique group is full of jerks, including the guy who gets unsettling stains on your manuscripts? Keep writing.

For all that writing is a state of being, a way of looking at the world and a role that can come to define who you are, before anything else it is the activity of forming words and sentences until they become stories and novels. Without writing, there is no writing. So keep writing.

This even applies to personal problems. There were many times when a hideous day (or month, or year) at the job felt a little better when I could look myself in the eye (using a mirror, as opposed to a prehensile eyestalk) and tell myself that at least I made my word quota. There were times when my world felt like a swirling toilet and creating fiction was one of the things that helped me climb out of the pot. Keep writing.

The worst advice for a writer is this: If you’re having trouble, keep writing.

Yes, I know, the worst advice is exactly the same as the best advice. I never said this wasn’t tricky.

Writing makes some people unhappy. Miserable, even. The joy they get from making stories and any resulting success is outweighed by all the rejection, poor sales, and lack of critical or popular appreciation that is too often our lot.

For many writers, it’s the actual work they’re producing that makes them unhappy. With rare exception, good writing is achieved only through bad writing, be it the proverbial million bad words that precede the first good ones, or (as in my case) the bad words that occur in the middle of the good ones. Is the solution to keep writing? Maybe. But if writing is making you and your friends and loved ones unhappy, then, Jesus, why the hell are you doing it?

You can stop. You can stop for good, or you can stop for awhile. No writing will occur while you’re stopped, and you probably won’t get better while you’re stopped (although it’s been known to happen), but you can stop.

It’s every person’s right to aim for happiness, and if writing is getting in the way of your pursuit, it’s perfectly okay to seriously consider stopping. There are plenty of other worthwhile things to do with a life. Find something else that doesn’t make you miserable and pursue that with all your heart.

— Greg