Archive for July, 2009


Goodnight, Charles

When I got to work yesterday morning, I heard the bad news: my boss, Charles N. Brown, was dead. For those who don’t know, Charles was the founder, editor-in-chief, and publisher of Locus, the magazine of the science fiction and fantasy field; basically the trade publishing magazine for the SF business. Also my day job for the past, oh, seven years and eleven months.

I owe Charles a lot. First of all, he gave me a job when I desperately needed one, having just moved to Oakland with no prospects. I was lucky; one of my Clarion workshop teachers happened to be one of Charles’s best friends, and she vouched for me, so I basically had the job as soon as I interviewed.

I started out driving the boss around, which was the low-man-on-the-totem-pole job, but it was also an opportunity to hear all his stories about the field. And since he was a fan from, oh, 1947 or so (he read his first issue of Astounding at age 10 and was a science fiction convert for life), he had a lot of stories. He seemed to know everybody in the business, where all the bodies are buried, and he was an endless fount of fact, opinion, jokes, and (occasionally) withering disdain. Over the years I moved up the ladder, doing more and more writing and production work for the magazine, and eventually became senior editor, where one of my responsibilities is writing obituaries.

And so, yesterday, I started writing Charles’s obituary. I hope I do it well. I’m trying to write it as he would have wanted.

I had issues with the man sometimes, certainly, and he could be cantankerous, curmudgeonly, and stubborn, and had a tendency to demand things be done his way and his way only — I won’t pretend he was perfect. (I noted to some other staff members yesterday that we who worked so closely with him are unlikely to descend into hagiography now that he’s gone.) But he was also a friend and a mentor who helped my career in immeasurable ways. He connected me with my agent, Ginger Clark. He gave me a valuable and astute critique on my first novel, even though angsty fantasies about art students and magic doors and coffee shops were pretty far away from the conceptual, sociological, and hard SF he most loved. He introduced me to more people in the business than I can count. He taught me to edit, and to write copy very quickly in a way that requires minimal editing afterward. Access to his research and fiction libraries expanded my horizons beyond my ability to describe.

And on a more personal level, he taught me how to make a moist Thanksgiving turkey, taught me about wine and Scotch, shared my love of screwball comedies and barbecued meat, and was never stingy when it came to bringing vast platters of dim sum into the office. We had champagne when we finished an issue, and in the summers, we’d sit on the back deck after work and drink wine I could never afford otherwise and ate cheese and told bad chokes. He threw great parties.

He gave me a job working in a beautiful art-filled house in the hills. A job that, in many ways, defines a lot of my adult life.

It’s hard to imagine that life without him.


Never too stressed to hype


That’s pretty much been my life the last couple of weeks. Writing is a great job when you only have to write when you feel like it. But when you’re under deadline pressure? Well, actually it’s still a great job, just a bit more stressful, maybe.

Wanna hear what I sound like when I’m stressed? Wanna hear me talk about writing short stories and losing the Nebula Award and from whence my interest in Norse mythology came and what it’s like to be an author with a debut novel during a lousy economy and other things?

I blab on these topics and other things with podcaster/writer Shaun Farrell on Adventures of SciFi Publishing.

Shaun’s also running a Norse Code giveaway contest. Details here.


Thirteen what??

by Diana

First off, I apologize for not posting on my scheduled day last week. There was something of a perfect storm of distractions, including a holiday, a broken down vehicle, and manuscript revisions.

The last one is the biggie, and is what’s had me working a fairly solid sixteen hours a day for the past couple of weeks.

I’ll say this–my editor is an awesome goddess. Editor Goddess read through the manuscript I turned in to her for Blood of the Demon, then read it again (and possibly even read through it a third time) and in due course sent my manuscript back to me with line edits, notes, markups, and comments. Along with the manuscript came a letter with explanations of her comments and notes, as well as more detailed exposition of the areas where she had issues and what she wanted to see me work on in the revision. The letter for this book was thirteen pages–single spaced. However, the Editor Goddess knows what the hell she’s talking about. There wasn’t a single suggestion or comment that would have changed the basic story or characters. What she did point out were places where I’d tried to gloss over details, or where the character interactions fell flat, or where my timeline didn’t make sense (uh, yeah, was I smoking crack?) She didn’t let me get away with any sort of laziness, and forced me to get to know my characters better than I’d ever thought possible.

So, I figured I’d share with y’all the process I used and the stages I went through in the revisions of this novel:

1) Open FedEx package. Pull out manuscript and enclosed letter. See that the letter is thirteen pages long. Single spaced. THIRTEEN! Whimper. Set manuscript aside and read letter. Cry. Read letter again. Resist urge to cry again. Grudgingly accept that editor knows what the hell she’s talking about. See the very short turnaround time requested. Cry.

2)Put my big girl panties on and get to work

3)Rename a copy of my manuscript with “revising” at the end of the filename. Go through the marked-up manuscript and enter the line edits into the new file. (I know that many of these line edits might be cut when I start rewriting, but this is the easiest way for me to re-read the book and go through and see what my editor said in her notes.) Using a different color pencil, make my own notes as I go along. Be amazed at how a couple of months away from the book gives a different perspective.

3)Once all the line edits are done, start from the beginning again and begin to address some of the issues raised in notes. Start with the issues that merely require rewriting of existing scenes. Make notes on separate sheet for issues that are going to require a lot more work. Make other notes for the timeline (which I now see has some major problems. Seriously, how did I screw this up so badly?)

4)Go through the chapters and create a calendar. Start looking at the Big Issues. Glumly accept that I have to write at least two new chapters and a number of new scenes. Make notes on the calendar to detail what needs to go where. Figure out where new stuff needs to go. Start writing the smaller scenes.

5) Write the new chapters. Hate them. Rewrite the new chapters.

6) Make a list of remaining issues/things that still need to be written/rewritten. Start chipping away at them and crossing them off as I complete them. Do a wordcount. Whimper at the realization that I’ve added almost ten thousand words to the manuscript.

7) Start reading through from the beginning, fixing remaining issues as I go. Decide that it definitely sucks less than when I received it.

8 ) Read through it one more time.

9) Send it back to Editor Goddess. Wait for the second round of revisions.

10) Reintroduce myself to my family.


I’m actually at #8 right now. I’m hoping I can get to #9 by the end of the weekend. I’ll let y’all know how #10 goes.


Wait, I have to do what?

So I’m editing editing editing sleep eat dayjob editing crying editing right now, and sadly found myself without time to write the long post about villians I had slated for this week. (But strangely not without time to read Mark of the Demon, nom nom nom!!)

ANYWAY, instead, I thought I’d take the opportunity/copout to ask a question I’ve been quietly fretting over for some time and, as several of our Magic District denizens have had first hand experience with this of late, now seems to be a good time to ask. Namely, how does one go about marketing ones book?

I know Diana has a great ad up on Smart Bitches, and internet ads on sites full of people who would be interested in your book does seem pretty optimal, but I was wondering, what else is there? What else have my fellow authors tried, and of those, what worked the best? How do you even tell if advertising/promotionals work? What was the most fun to do?

I’ve read several articles on self promotion, but most of the advice doesn’t feel right for my book. If I had a romance, I think it would be easier. Romance reader have well known online hangouts. But my series is light action fantasy, all swordfights and magic mixed with comedy. I don’t  know where I should focus my efforts, and with a baby on the way and a day job freshly given notice, I don’t have the luxury of boucou bucks to experiment with lots of different approaches.

And so I turn to you, gentle, clever reader! If you ever saw something and thought “man, that’s an awesome way to promote a fantasy!” I’m all ears! If I try something, I’ll report back on how it works! If you read a good article, I’d love to see it, and if you tried something that you wish you hadn’t bothered with, then I’d really love to know. Even if you were just wandering around and saw something that made you want to buy a book, I want to know what and why. Nothing is too small to further my knowledge!  Thank you in advance, anything at all is greatly appreciated.


Ideas Between the Lines

Went to see “Twelfth Night” last night, as part of New York City’s Shakespeare in the Park theater productions. It was wonderful — Anne Hathaway did a phenomenal job as Viola/Cesario, the music was beautiful, and the whole production was side-splittingly hilarious. Considering that I had to get in line at 5 a.m. that morning to get tickets, and then didn’t get home ’til 2 a.m. after the play that night, the production was very much worth the lost sleep.

That said, though… as I watched the play, I found myself wanting to know more about the characters and their relationships — both the ones depicted and the ones that weren’t. What were Sebastian and Antonio up to all that time they were together after his rescue? Why did Duke Orsino take so quickly to the idea of Viola as a lover — even while she still looked enough like Sebastian to pass? Was Lady Olivia really fooled by Viola’s crossdressing, or was she genuinely interested in Viola as a boyish-looking woman? And poor Malvolio; what would’ve happened if Olivia had wanted him, given their differences in station?

Yeah, that’s right: I’ve got a hankering for Shakespeare fanfic.

Uh-oh; I’ve invoked the dreaded f-word. I’ve been a reader and writer of fanfiction for many years now, though most of mine was done waaaaay back in the 20th century, in fandoms that most Westerners have never heard of (Japanese anime, manga, and video games). I’m aware of the controversies regarding fanfiction in the English-language pro-writer sphere; a lot of professional authors regard fanfic as a threat to their copyrights, trademarks, etc., and have been quite vocal in denouncing it. And yeah, I’ve heard the cautionary tales, which are frequently raised whenever the f-word debate rolls around. Legal troubles are a legitimate danger — but then, there’s always danger of something like that in our litigious society. I could get sued for the way I spell a character’s name; it’s not likely to get very far in court, but I’d still be out a few grand in lawyers’ fees. No way to avoid that, so I’m not going to spend all my time looking over my shoulder.

My views on fanfic are pretty much in line with those of the OTW; I think derivative works of a certain nature — a fannish nature — are fair use. And more than that, I think they’re beneficial. If readers write fanfic based on my work, that means they’ll probably read my work. If they get it from a library or a bookstore, that means more money for me. And sure, they might get it by borrowing a book from a friend, buying it used, or downloading an illegal copy from somewhere, none of which nets me any income. But for every person who does that to write their fanfic, there will be others who are inspired — possibly by that fanfic, or simply by the existence of a fandom — to go and buy my book. It’s free publicity that will last long beyond any marketing push by my publisher, or the most successful self promotion I might do. It could help keep my book in print longer. It could make me a bestseller, or at least keep me out of the midlist death-spiral. I won’t ever read those fanfics (can’t avoid lawsuits, but that doesn’t mean I’m going to paste a target on my forehead) but I do hope readers write material based on my work. Frankly, I’d be flattered.

Because my own experience with fanfiction is that it grows out of particularly vivid characterization, worldbuilding, and/or plot development by the canonical author. The canon isn’t always Shakespearean in quality — frequently the exact opposite — but there’s still something compelling enough about the source material that it leaves readers hungering for more. Dreaming about it. Babbling to friends about what they would do if they lived in that world, or met those characters, or ended up in a situation like my plot. And yeah, the really compelling stuff isn’t always in the canon overtly, but instead appears as subtext — reading between the lines, so to speak. The stuff that’s hinted-at but not there. There’s no guarantee that any fan interpreting this subtext will come up with the same explanations for it that the original author would; their interpretation might actually annoy the hell out of the author. But that’s OK. Because the fan wonders, and cares enough to speculate, and thinks deeply enough about the material to come up with a plausible answer to that speculation.

The egogasm I would get from knowing readers are that caught up in my stuff would probably make me explode.

Unfortunately, I won’t find out whether my novel is compelling enough to inspire fanfic for quite a few months. In the meantime, I’m going to need to keep busy. So, uh, anybody got any good Shakespeare ‘fic recs? Send privately if you’re embarrassed. I won’t tell!


Put on your Sunday clothes

What does a writer wear?

It’s a silly question, on the face of it, and the answer’s along the lines of “look in the mirror, dumbass.” But given that I’ll be going to Readercon this weekend, it’s one that’s currently on my mind.

See, a writer in her natural habitat (a Studebaker) can dress however the hell she wants, since there’s no one around to care. (Write in a beanie copter! Write in a bathrobe! Write in your lucky pants! Write in the nooood! okay maybe not considering the scratchiness of the desk chair.) But when I go to cons or when I’m in other situations where I’m identified as a writer, I always get very self-conscious about my appearance. Granted, I’ve got enough image issues that I’m self-conscious anyway, but this just amplifies them all.

I know that what I look like will have much, much less bearing on people’s opinion of me as a writer than the actual work I’ve done. And I’m well aware of the danger of a cargo-cult approach to this: i.e., if I dress like a writer and act like a writer and own the same china pattern as a writer, then in theory I can pass as a writer — without the pain of all that actual writing stuff!  I’ve fallen into that pattern of thinking before, and it only ends in tears. Or at least lousy china patterns.

However, it does provide a focus for something that I’m convinced all writers do: obsess over trivia.

So in a setting where I’m going to be seeing a lot of people who I like and whose opinions I respect, how do I go about “looking like a writer?” Business casual, and all the assorted stigma that goes with that? Comfort alone, with a fine disregard for the standards of the mundane? Corsetry (which, damn, some writers look fantastic in) or other period wear? Black t-shirt and jeans? Cat ears? Makeup versus no makeup? Big shiny pink ribbon tied around my neck? Given Nora’s post from last week, I’m guessing the shirt with “Buy My Book” written across it is not the best choice, much as I love the shirt itself. (I always want to imitate Precious Roy when I’m wearing it, which is probably another reason I shouldn’t wear it out in public.)

I know I shouldn’t have a single definition of “how a writer dresses” given that the writers I know all have very different personal styles.  Yet there’s some weird weight on this when I consider how I want to appear, and for some reason I can’t quite wrangle it back into the realm of common sense.

Then again, maybe we’re back to the “obsessing over trivia” again.*

* Even more fun when you’re behind schedule!


My, problem

So I’ve been editing my heartbreaking work of deathless prose over the past week (insert weeping and gnashing of teeth), as well as reading over some of my old posts on the Magic District, and I’ve discovered an interesting proclivity for one of the smaller, mundane, but still baffling and venomous members of the grammar family. I am, of course, talking about our friend, the comma.

Let me let you in on a secret: I hate grammar. Hate it. I’m bad at it, I can’t understand it half the time as it applies to my own work (but I’m ok with other people’s, how weird is that?), and most of the time I feel like it just gets in my way of what I want to say. While I’m confessing, I can’t spell either. Never could, and everyone’s always so surprised at this.  “But you’re a writer!” They say. “How is it that you can’t spell?”

This is where I point out that spelling and writing have as much to do with each other as milling and french baking, usually in a snippy, defensive voice.

The truth is I wish I could spell, because language is my medium, and every time word gives me red squiggles under a word, I feel like I’ve failed to understand the ocean of English where I make my living. This is also why I’m deeply ashamed of my inability to grasp grammar. Far more than spelling, grammar is a vital part of the language. It’s the structure that gives emotion, timing, and meaning to what would otherwise be just an outpouring of raw words. Getting it right is the difference between “Word’s grammar editor said Rachel is hopeless” and “Word’s grammar editor, said Rachel, is hopeless.”

Both are true, but you get the point :D.

In the end, the only solution to my embarrassing grammar disability is practice – reading complicated sentences, writing complicated sentences, working to get them right, doing it again, repeat ad infinitium – and knowledge. Not just understanding that a sentence is wrong (I can usually tell that much myself) but why it’s wrong. Thankfully, the internet is full of grammar buff websites, and there’s always The Elements of Style, which is always by my side. I may never become grammar whiz, but hopefully, with practice and careful application of editorial advice, I can someday write without constantly worrying I’m making a fool of myself… Well, at least not grammatically…


Push It! (just not too much)

Today I’m going to talk about pushing it.

…Um, no, not that kind of pushing it. (Though competence and efficiency are indeed good things.)

I attended a small conference a couple of months ago to hear talks by several fiction writers I respected and admired. A lot of other up-and-coming writers were at the conference for the same reason, including several who were in the same boat as me — books forthcoming, success hopefully imminent, now in the unenviable position of having to promote themselves and their work. Since my book won’t be out for countless, interminable months (well, OK, seven, but that’s what it feels like), I kept it low-key, giving out my business card when I spoke to people, introducing myself where it seemed appropriate or OK, etc.

Another writer was, hmm, less circumspect. At the conference’s intermission, he circulated through the crowd, handing out glossy flyers and chatting up everyone he saw to promote his forthcoming book. He caught me while I was having a conversation with a fellow writer about where we were going to eat lunch, and interrupted us to give his spiel. Wasn’t exactly interrupting a conference on world peace, granted, but it was an interruption. We took his flyer, listened politely, then tried to leave. He walked with us for several steps, trying to finish the spiel, until we pointed out that the intermission was only 1 hour and we were really hungry. That finally shook him off.

But later, after the conference had resumed, the same gentleman came up to the audience microphone to ask a question of the panel we’d all come to see. I don’t remember his question, because he used the opportunity to pitch his book again for ten minutes. Though he clearly had his own street team in attendance to show support, I could see many people in the audience rolling their eyes and squirming. The conference organizers kept looking at each other, as if trying to figure out which one of them should shut him up. It can’t have been comfortable for the panelists, who were forced to politely listen. It was horrible.

After the event, I found the guy’s lovely flyer in my bag, and very deliberately threw it out.

Maybe that seems like an extreme reaction. But I think it’s also an illustration of something I’ve heard other writers speak of, in regard to self promotion: your personality is your best advertisement.

Not to say we all need to have +10 Charisma, but it certainly helps to not be an annoying asshat. Which was how that guy came across to me: pushy, and unprofessional. But more than that, I can’t help but wonder whether any writer who’s that tone-deaf to other people’s social cues is going to be savvy about characterization, dialogue, and all the other ways of depicting social interactions in fiction. It may be an incorrect assumption on my part — I’ve known some socially-inept writers who were phenomenal at writing people — but it’s still what I’m likely to think. Especially given that this guy’s problem wasn’t just ineptness, but rudeness.

I’m still wrestling with the issue of self-promotion, trying to come up with promo ideas that suit my personality style — I’m ridiculously shy in some circumstances — and which won’t rub my potential audience the wrong way. (I’d welcome any creative suggestions here, BTW.) But I do know one thing: I’m going to be hypersensitive to how hard I’m “pushing it” in the future.

Though I suppose I could always try bringing a boombox to the next con… I can dance better than those guys, too. Hmmmmm.


Where the story ends

Well, I’m back, wedded and rested and ready to blog. (Okay, so the last one doesn’t necessarily follow from the first two, but you get the idea.) And now that I’ve recovered some fraction of my brain — I don’t have to plan anything any more! woooo! — I’m going to ignore the wedding clichés from my last post and concentrate on something else entirely: the end of a story.

This is actually vaguely relevant to the last couple of weeks: because we didn’t go immediately on a honeymoon afterwards, we still each had a few obligations. One of mine was the monthly BRAWL meeting, for which I’d promised to have a story ready. And I did have one that I’d worked on as a distraction in the week before the wedding. All it needed was revision.

However, as I was revising it, two days late and muddying through the bits that had once been so clear in my head, I got a page and a half from the end and realized something: the end of this particular story was terrible. Embarrassingly so. Bad enough that I decided I could not in good conscience submit it to the group.

Now, I’ve submitted stories with major flaws to BRAWL before, and I undoubtedly will do so again. I suspect members of BRAWL can think of several I submitted that had lousy endings as well. But for some reason this one just seemed too bad to send out, and while some of that may be due to post-nuptial brain, I think it’s more that I consider the end of a story incredibly important. If it doesn’t work, the story as a whole fails.

Endings are, for me, much more important than beginnings. I’ve read one too many books and seen one too many series where I enjoyed it all the way up to just before the end — and then had all those expectations shredded. (This is one of the reasons I’m reluctant to watch the fourth season of Doctor Who, since the last episode of the third season pissed me off so very much. Great buildup and then pffft! all that wasted. Gah.) This is why I’m a little wary of recommending series that aren’t finished, since a bad ending can sour me on the rest. Although it doesn’t really keep me from starting new series. You’d think I’d know better.

It shows in my writing process as well: I tend to think up the endings to stories first. (The failed story was a rare exception.) I knew the end to Spiral Hunt even back in the first, unrecognizable draft; I even had the same basic shape of the climax of the story, even though the people and setting and motivations all changed. I knew the end of Wild Hunt before I started writing it, and I knew what the end to the third book would be as well. Even as I’m working on it right now and changing things mid-draft (let’s toss a character in! Oh crap, that means I’ll have to redo the rest — oh well! Works better this way!), I know where I’m headed. Hell, if I ever write a fourth Evie book, I know what its end would have to involve, even though I know nothing else about the plot. It’s as if I can see a few shapes in the fog, and the beacon that guides me on is the endpoint of the story. So the end is overly important to me, sometimes to the detriment of the writing process, as is the case with the failed story that may, at some point, make its way to BRAWL.

What endings spoiled the rest of the story for you — or just made you reluctant to read the story again? Conversely, are there endings that saved stories? Writers, do you know the ending first, and if not, how do you know if the ending you get to is the right one?