Archive for May, 2009


How does it feel?

I feel numb. Dizzy. Kind of swimmy in the head and a little bit ferswoonish in the gut. Because my book comes out tomorrow (that’s Norse Code, for you search engine bots), and I know of at least one person who’s already bought it at a bookstore, and that means it’s probably too late for another revision pass.

I went to a Catholic school for one year, first grade, and was taught that erasing equalled cheating. If you put down the wrong answer, then you have sinned, and that’s between you and God and Father Hoben or if you’re lucky Father Bond who’s nicer. An eraser cannot absolve you. We had a math quiz, and I put down a wrong answer (let’s say it was 5 in answer to 4 + 2). Realizing my mistake before handing my paper in, but lacking an eraser, I did the only logical thing I could think of: lick finger, rub away my sin, and absolve myself with a confidentally written 6.

So, tomorrow, as my book hits the shelves, that’s what I’ll be doing: Smearing saliva over every copy of my book I can find and penciling in corrections to all the egregiously poor choices of language and story I made.

I know this entry doesn’t make a lot of sense. I blame the ferswoonishness.


tim’s sunday quickie: gateway drug

The first grown-up novel I ever read was Stephen King’s Carrie, at eight years old. There were always lots of horror/thriller novels in my house, and Carrie was, for whatever reason, the one I picked up. I didn’t comprehend all the stuff about menstruation, but telekinetic destruction was quite marvelous, and from then, I was hooked. My great-grandmother had a spare bedroom full of science fiction paperbacks; one of my great-aunts had Clive Barker’s Books of Blood; the local library had the first couple volumes of The Year’s Best Fantasy and Horror. I read ’em all.

Watching The Twilight Zone probably had a lot to do with it, too.


Diana’s sunday quickie: this path of madness

Today’s quickie topic is about how we each first got hooked on science fiction/fantasy.

I place full blame on my mother. I don’t know where she got her love of the genre, but she was definitely the one who first led me to what if stories.  She gave me books by Asimov, Heinlein, Clarke, turned the TV to Star Trek, and took me to see Star Wars. I read the Skylark of Space series, everything by Anne McCaffrey, and fell deeply deeply in love with Doctor Who. Through the Pern and Who geekdom, I found some of my nearest and dearest friends in high school, and when I went off to college (Georgia Tech–chock full o’ geeks!!) I found many more like-minded people who were more than happy to share in the love of science fiction and fantasy.

Being a fan of science fiction and fantasy is such an intrinsic part of who I am today, that I can’t even imagine what kind of person I’d be like today if I hadn’t found that amazing world.

A boring one, probably.


Nora’s Sunday Quickie: The Gateway Drug

My Quickie is being posted a bit late today because it’s about something I can’t actually remember: how I got hooked on SF.

If I search back to the point at which I first wanted to seriously write SF, it’s vividly clear: I had just seen Disney’s Witch Mountain movies. Lying awake in bed that night I thought, wow, those were pretty good followed by but I could do it better. And the next day I started writing something. (I thought it was original, but it was pretty much Witch Mountain fanfic. Thank goodness the Internet wasn’t available to me back then, or that hideousness would still be available for the world to see.)

If I think back to the first time I read and loved SF, though, I hit a blur. My favorite children’s stories were fairy tales and stuff about monsters and fantastic adventures. I had other books, but just didn’t like them as much. From that I graduated to kids’ stuff like Choose Your Own Adventure novels, and again I preferred the skiffy ones. I have a vague memory of reading some book about a guy traveling to the Moon and finding it covered in a forest, where he saves the sentient inhabitants (who were “mushroom people”) from an epidemic sulfur deficiency by giving them a chicken, to lay eggs. (Er, does anybody remember this?) It was so insane that I went looking for other stuff like it, and blundered onto Bradbury, who didn’t hook me at the time, and Asimov and McCaffrey, who did. Sometimes their books were in YA, and sometimes they were in the grown-up section, so I kind of time-shared between the two. Finally noticed a whole rack of the precise kind of books that I liked, so happily shunted over to it… and that was SF.


Margaret’s Sunday Quickie: Nudged over the edge

There was a program called Reading Is Fundamental that came to my elementary school at least once a year.  It used to be one of my favorite days: you’d go down into the cafeteria, and on every table there would be books and books and books.  The hard part was choosing just one.  I’m not sure how old I was — fourth grade through sixth grade, something like that — when I brought home a book chosen solely on the basis of the dragon on the cover: The Hero and the Crown, by Robin McKinley.  

While I grew up reading a whole lot of proto-fantasy — loads of mythology, a whole spectrum’s worth of Andrew Lang’s fairy books, Oz and Wonderland and Narnia and the rest (I still remember my father making the voices for the Scoodlers in The Road to Oz) — this was the book that pushed me over the edge.  It took a while for me to read and understand it; there’s an extended flashback, a long origin story, and scenes that are incredibly painful not just from a physical perspective.  But I read it over and over, then later on at least once a year, and it became a kind of touchstone for me.  And it told me that magic and dragons and quests were things that could be written about seriously, and that while happy endings were not always sparkles and rainbows, they were still possible.

I started taking fantasy more seriously after that, and it opened up not just new genres but new ways of reading.  Maybe it was just the right book in the right place; maybe I would have headed down this path anyway (likely, given my tastes at the time), but The Hero and the Crown is always the mental signpost in my life that says “Dragons Ahead.”

(What’s funny about this is that I’m fairly certain the book my sister brought home was one that could have pointed me in a slightly different direction: Nine Princes in Amber, by Roger Zelazny.  Only because she was the one who picked it up, I refused to read it for a while.  Obviously, mine was the better book, because it was mine! …I lost out on a lot of good books because of this reasoning.)


rachel’s sunday quickie – humble beginnings

The question this week is: ” What book (or show, or movie) got you started reading fantasy and/or science fiction?”

For me, this question took some thinking. I grew up as a little geekling in a geeky house. Both my parents read Darkover and Pern books and my dad read me Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy before I was old enough to get any of the jokes. Fantasy and SciFi were just a part of my life, which was awesome, because I loved them, so pinning an exact moment is hard. But, if I had to pick just one, just one work that set me on my current path more than anything else, it was probably the Ralph Manheim translation of Grimm’s Fairy Tales. These were the original stories, full of bloody magic and horrible death and princesses who made their lovers cut off their own heads as a sign of faithfulness. I ate these things up. This is the first book I can remember reading. We had the enormous, bible-sized hard cover version, and I know every story in there backwards and forwards, rolling cheeses, glass mountains, little blue dwarves and all. 

Lots of other works had a deep impact on me, especially the Last Unicorn and Patrica Wrede’s Enchanted Forest series, and Le Mort d’Arthur (I loved that as a kid), but it was the world of Grimm’s Fairy Tales that really set the stage for all future fantasy in my mind.  Seriously, if an traditional fantasy author doesn’t set their setting, they get stuck with little German villages for a backdrop in my head. Let this be a warning!


Greg’s Sunday Quickie – By the authority of the mystic guardians of the universe

Our Sunday Quickie topic this week is the book or movie or thing that first got us into science fiction and fantasy. I actually can’t remember a time I when I wasn’t into science fiction and fantasy. Maybe it was the syndicated reruns of Filmation superhero cartoons. There was Superman and Batman and Aquaman, but the really cool ones were the “science-y” ones, like Green Lantern (a “cosmic crusader whose magical power ring accomplishes the impossible”),  Hawkman (a “scientific genius from another world”) and The Atom (who owes his powers to the “magic alchemy of nature’s most awesome sources of energy”).

They were pretty bad cartoons, but, hey, I was maybe four.

And then there was The Six Million Dollar Man. And Ark II, and Land of the Lost, and you pretty much couldn’t turn on your TV without bumping up against some goofy and perfectly awesome science fiction and fantasy.

And by the way, as I’m writing this, the Land of the Lost movie trailer just started playing on my TV. And all I want to say about that is this: Screw you, Will Farrell. Screw you. If something like that had been my first exposure to science fiction, I may very well have grown up illiterate.


Let’s get this baby started!

I’ve been working on a proposal for a new series, with the hopes that if it sells it could possibly be something that could be released alongside the Demonic Lords series. (Don’t challenge my delusions! I’m all about the unrealistic expectations!)

For a relative newbie like me (i.e. with no sales record), a proposal generally consists of an outline, and sample chapters (first three.) I had a really cool concept, I knew who my characters were, and so I took about a week and managed to put together a fairly comprehensive chapter by chapter outline. Once that was done all I had to do was write the first three chapters and I’d be good to go.

No big deal, right? I settled down to write and churned out a solid 2500 words or so, which took me to the end of chapter one.

Then I read it. And I realized that even though it was a good scene, it didn’t work as the first chapter of a book. There wasn’t a whole lot of narrative tension, there wasn’t much to hook the reader, and I hadn’t established much in the way of personal stakes for the main character.

 Okay, so I set that chapter aside, and tried again. I perused my outline and tried to figure out how else I could get things rolling. Came up with another idea that I thought would work, and tried again.

1500 words later, I realized that this one wasn’t going to work either.  It was possibly something I could use later, or at least could refer to in backstory, but it didn’t start the book. Again, no solid hook, not much tension, etc…

 By this time I was ready to pound my head against the wall. How was it that I could know exactly what my book was about, know what was going to happen, know all of the twists and turns and red herrings, and not know where exactly I needed to dive into it?

While I was cursing and frothing with frustration, I came up with a perfect (and utterly absurd) analogy for the situation: My story was an egg, and my pathetic attempts to find the perfect entry point were like the sperms’ attempts to penetrate that outer layer and get the process of cell division started. (Those of you who follow me on Twitter may have seen me come to this realization. [g])  The more I thought about this, the more I realized how well this fit. I knew that if I could just find THE spot, the right scene to open with, everything else would start flowing. The cells.. er, scenes would start dividing and my baby would start growing.

Eventually, after much gnashing of teeth and pulling of hair and chewing of nails, I found the right place to start it. My little prose sperm burrowed in and fertilized my story egg, and I was able to write a first chapter that I was happy with.  It had a hook! It had tension! There was a great deal at stake for the main character! And most important, it was the kind of chapter that would (hopefully) make the reader turn the page to read chapter two! I had a little story embryo!

And now (much to everyone’s relief, I’m sure,) I’m going to resist the temptation to make more writing/fertility analogies. (I’ll leave that to y’all! 🙂 )


Admitting to an infection of words

The day I got my agent was the happiest day of my life. When I got Matt’s message on my voicemail saying he wanted to represent me, I think I almost had a heartattack. I’m not just being rhetorical there, like my chest started to hurt and the room got kind of dark, but unrelenting joy pulled me back to the land of the living. (I told this to Lindsay, Matt’s wonderful assistant, when I called back, and Matt’s first words to me when he picked up the phone were “Don’t have a heart attack, we want you to write more books!” People, life does not get more awesome than that right there.)

So I had my agent, at long last. I had a party, I told my parents. A few months later Matt sold my book and we had another party and I called my parents again. In short, wonderful times. However, from the moment I got my agent until now, I’ve been in this weird limbo. My books are all coming out together at the end of next year, so, while I am published and frantically writing book 2 of the series to meet my deadlines, I’m not really published. This is a bump in the road when I tell people I’m an author, because the first thing they say is “Oh! Where can I buy it?” or some variation. (It was especially bad when I had an agent, but the book hadn’t sold. Now at least I can give them a publisher and a date as opposed to standing there going “Well….”)

This isn’t really a new problem, though. Maybe I’m the only one who gets this way, but have you ever tried answering the question of “So, what do you do?” with “I’m a writer” without feeling supremely uncomfortable? Like everyone who writes, I always wanted to, but I stopped telling people about it because saying “I want to be a writer” is like saying “I want to be an astronaut” or “I want to be in the NBA,” everyone thinks it’s impossible and does their best to let you know just how impossible it is, even if you’re eight. But with astronauts and basketball, people may still add the old “if you try really hard, you can make it!” angle. With writing, you don’t even get that. Probably because there’s no clear path most people see to being a writer. It’s just something impossible that happens to people who aren’t you. I’m a fast learner, and after one or two occurrences of this, I began to answer that I wanted to go into advertising.

This is the weird little dance I’ve been doing all through my life, through school, through college, even after college when I really was writing quite a lot. When I was in all ways except for the book contract, a writer, I never said “I’m a writer.” Because if you say “I’m a writer” to other people, they immediately assume miles of hardcovers with your name in glossy, five-inch printing at the center, and disabusing them of this viewpoint is unpleasant for everyone involved.

These days, however, I am a published author whose book just hasn’t come out yet, so why is it still so hard. I’ll be at home writing and the pesticide guy comes by to spray the house and here I am in my pajamas, so he gives me this “you’re unemployed, aren’t you?” look, and I want to shout “No! I am an AUTHOR!” But… I don’t. I say my job lets me work from home in the mornings, which is true, kind of. It’s not like I’m ashamed, I just can’t seem to tell people what I do.

Before, when I was unpublished, admitting I was a writer felt like I was admitting I was a silly, unrealistic dreamer. Now, it feels like bragging. Look! I did the impossible! Maybe it will get better when my book comes out and I can have something concrete (or, woodpulp, as the case may be) to shove into people’s hands, “Here! I made this!” I hope so. I worked way too hard for this to keep telling every plumber or chatty UPS guy that I’m a graphic designer.

Working from home.



Family 101

My cousin, folks: W. Kamau Bell, a kickass comedian. If any of you live in the San Francisco area, he’s got some events coming up; go check him out!

Why am I promoting my cousin here, for something that has nothing whatsoever to do with fantasy? Because he’s family, and that’s what we do.

I’m also mentioning him because he’s done me a great favor, though he doesn’t know it. (Well, he will as soon as Google Alerts him, but anyway.) See, he pulled this trick first — telling his folks he didn’t want to do the traditional career thing, or the traditional go to college/get a 9 to 5/immediately get married/have kids/get old and die thing. In fact it was quite the (minor) family scandal when he quit school — Ivy League, no less — and ran off to start studying comedy instead. But I think because he broke so many paradigms, my mother didn’t freak out when I called her to say I was quitting my job to write books about gods and magic and stuff. I think Kamau’s existence may have saved me a few worried phone calls, and perhaps an involuntary commitment.

(And if you’re reading this, Cous? I owe you dinner.)

See, although my extended family has known for years that I was a writer, they mostly assumed it was a hobby, not that I was serious about making a career of it. I can’t blame them for thinking that; I didn’t make much money from this “career” of mine until lately. But part of the problem is also that my family has pretty standard working-class values; most of them believe pretty firmly in jobs, not careers. A job is something to pay for the things you needed in life, and maybe get rich if you were lucky. A “career” — i.e., doing something you enjoy, regardless of whether the money is good — just wasn’t possible before my parents’ generation, and even that was pushing it. So now that my generation is coming of age (all 4 of us, within this particular family nexus), and two of us have run off to join the circus play starving artists, I imagine there are some folks in my family who are skritching their heads a bit.

So I find myself having to answer all sorts of puzzled, sometimes uneasy, questions. No, I won’t be going on Oprah. No, they’re not going to make a movie out of my book, or at least not until it makes a crapload of money. And speaking of money, no, I’m not rich; I’m actually struggling to afford health insurance, thanks. Also, maybe you shouldn’t tell the matron’s group at church to buy my book, Mom, given the alternative religious cosmology and kinky sex scenes in it. I dunno. Up to you. (While we’re at it, Mom, please don’t read my book, ever. –Haven’t worked up the courage to say that one yet. Not sure it would work if I did.)

That said, though, the most surprising and significant expectation I’ve had to manage is the fear on some of my family members’ parts that I will write about them, in some creepy tell-all way. This too is understandable; the literary headlines seem to be full of mainstream authors thinly (sometimes very thinly) veiling real-life interactions and experiences in fictional form. Which is the thing I’ve had to realize: most people’s perceptions of writers are shaped by exceptions and extremes. Stephen King and J. K. Rowling get written about a lot, so everybody thinks all writers are like them. (Yeah, I f#$@ing wish.) The media hypes writers who excoriate their families for a buck, so everybody thinks all writers are like that. The fact that 95% of what I write is fantasy/sci-fi and takes place in a secondary world notwithstanding.

So I’ve had to do a lot of reassuring and trust-building. I explain, to anyone who asks, what the book is about — and I’ve had to steel myself and mention the content, so that no one will be surprised when they hit page 205 and their hair catches fire. I tell them what my life is like, day to day, and I’m careful to note the mundanities: the struggle to meet my word-quotas, taxes, and what a freaking nightmare my apartment search was. (Ever try to convince a landlord that you’re a safe bet when you don’t have regular income? Not fun.) I gripe about my work day, and let them hear how much I worry about sales and distribution and marketing materials.

But in the end, is my family less perplexed by what I’ve chosen to do? I don’t know yet; all this stuff is too new. I suppose we’ll have to wait and see.

(I’m calling this “Family 101,” note, because I don’t currently have a partner or children, which to my mind is kind of “Family 601” or “Grad-level Family” or something. When I acquire the aforementioned, I’ll be sure to update you on the next stage. Or perhaps one of my upperclassmen/women among the Magic Districtees will share.)