This Is About as Political as I Ever Get

With regard to the upcoming election:  What John Scalzi said.


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Take Care, People.

Hurricane Matthew looks set to romp and stomp all over the state of Florida, and possibly a goodly chunk of the Atlantic coast.  Some people who might have otherwise been reading this have probably already evacuated to safer climes; for others, I direct your attention to this web page on emergency jump kits, also known in the trade as bug-out bags.  (Full disclosure:  The author of the list is also my co-author.) They’re the bag you keep packed to grab when the state police come around your neighborhood telling everyone that the dam has busted/the wildfire has jumped the firebreaks/the chemical plant has exploded and you need to get out of there now.

If you’re a writer, your jump kit might also need to contain a means of continuing your work – anything from a paper notebook and pencils to a cheap netbook and a mouse, depending upon your purse and your habits.  And it’s never a bad idea to keep a current backup of the work-in-progress on a thumb drive you can grab on the run and shove into a pocket, as well as another backup on Dropbox or Google Drive or whatever offsite server you trust with your data.

For right now – stay safe, and take lots of mental notes on the storm while you’re getting slammed by it.  You’re writers, and everything is grist for your mill.

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Lo! A Review!

Speaking as an editor and instructor of writers, one should never obsess over reviews, because that way madness lies.

On the other hand, there’s nothing like a good review to brighten a writer’s day.  If you’re friends with a writer, and spot a good review of their work, it’s an act of kindness to let them know about it.  If you spot a bad review, don’t bother – even if it’s one of those completely off-the-wall, did-the-reader-even-read-the-story bad reviews – because for one thing, they’ve probably already heard about it from those other friends who make a habit of kindly supplying people with all the bad news they might ever need, and for another thing, it will only depress them.  See madness, above.

All that being said, there’s a nice review of the Altered States of the Union anthology over here at the Legendarium, in which the reviewer calls our story “Gertrude of Wyoming” a “shrewd and intelligent thriller.”  Considering that those were exactly the qualities we were aiming for, I for one am pleased.


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One of the Pleasures of This Job

It’s always good when a student, or a client, does well.  Debra Jess was one of the workshoppers at Viable Paradise XVI, where I was one of the instructors, and after that, she was one of my editorial clients.  And I’m pleased as punch to say that her novel, Blood Surfer, has won the National Excellence in Romance Fiction Award (NERFA) in the Paranormal and Futuristic category.  Blood Surfer was also a finalist in the Best First Novel category.

Needless to say, I am tickled pink on her behalf.

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One Reason I’m Glad I Don’t Write Children’s Books

Or don’t write them any more, to be specific . . . My co-author and I started out in middle grades and YA, but moved on to writing for grownups (and for any kids tall enough to reach the bookshelves on their own, which was how we ourselves were raised – any book we could get off the shelf was acknowledged to be fair game*) a few years before the explosive growth of social media made being pecked to death by chickens inundated by critical commentary a fact of life.

It can’t be helped, I suppose. Nowhere else in publishing are there as many gatekeepers and barrier-builders between the writer and the intended audience as there are in children’s literature – and because by and large the gatekeepers, and not the intended audience, are the ones spending the money, nowhere else do the gatekeepers get listened to so intently. And the gatekeepers want a lot of sometimes mutually-exclusive things. They want the books children read to be relevant – relevant to exactly what, can change whenever the wind blows. They want the books to have diversity and inclusiveness and representation – but not necessarily too much of it, or of the wrong people. They want the books to put forth good moral values – all sorts of moral values, defined in all sorts of ways by all sorts of groups who frequently can’t stand each other. And they want books to be challenging, as if being a kid weren’t hard enough by itself without having your recreational reading turned into some kind of spiritual or mental calisthenics.

And these days, every gatekeeper – every social activist, every moral missionary, every concerned parent – has a Facebook page or a Twitter account and is primed to post. Given that saying anything – anything at all, including nothing – is capable of whipping up at least one portion of that vast crowd into a froth of wrath, it’s amazing how many writers for young people nevertheless keep on trying to get their stories into the hands of their actual intended readers.

God knows, if I had reason to feel that no matter what I wrote, somebody would want to drop the internet on my head, I wouldn’t be nearly so well-behaved and gracious as most children’s and YA writers have to be nowadays.

*It’s also the way we raised our own children, on the grounds that – in our opinion, anyhow – we turned out all right.

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Not How It Used to Be

This weekend, this year’s Worldcon in Kansas City announced the winners of the Hugo Awards – and the results were reported as news in a variety of non-fannish outlets, from the Guardian to Slate.

‘Twas not always thus.  Within the living memory of fandom,* the science-fiction community could carry out its debates and fanfeuds without anyone else caring or even noticing, because in terms of literary respectability, sf was a pariah genre, ranking well below mystery fiction or even westerns.  (Only romance fiction ranked lower on the respectability scale, possibly because it suffered from the added stigma of girliness.)  Newspaper and television reporting on sf conventions was heavy on the “look at these people in their funny costumes” factor and light on “listen to these people talking about everything from literature to politics.”

These days, we can’t count on that comfortable obscurity any more.  Science fiction and fantasy have become dominant storytelling modes in both film and television; mainstream authors are working with science-fictional and fantastic tropes more and more often, and doing a better job of it than they used to – sometimes, they don’t even try to pretend that what they’re writing isn’t sf or fantasy, which is another big change; the President of the USA is a Spider-Man fan who’s been known to engage in lightsaber battles on the White House lawn and to flash the Vulcan salute.

And it’s hard, sometimes, to let go of the habits and defensive reflexes from days gone by, before the geeks and nerds took over the earth.  But we’re fans.  We can adapt.

*Taking, as one does, oneself for a yardstick – I can remember being told by the writer-in-residence instructor of a creative writing class, back in my undergrad days, that I was “wasting my talent” writing science fiction.  (Everybody else in the class was writing “coming of age in the South” stories.  My position on that was that having come of age in the South and survived the experience, I ought to be exempt from having to write – or, for that matter, to read – about it afterward.)


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A Trio of Links

The Folger Library is sending Shakespeare’s First Folio on tour.  It’ll be making one stop in each of the fifty states, including Hawaii and Alaska; you can find your state’s Shakespeare stop here.

Also, a reminder for writers who might want to transform lived experience or known history into fiction:  Fiction has to be believable, while reality is under no such constraint.

And finally, an interview with one of the many authors over the decades who have been Carolyn Keene, about writing Nancy Drew novels.  Full disclosure:  I’ve never been Carolyn Keene, but I have been one-half of Victor Appleton.  Twice.  And I can vouch for the truth of this article.

My only beef is with the interviewer and/or the editor on the Slate end of things, who persist in referring to the author as a “ghostwriter.”  She was not – and doesn’t call herself one.  A ghostwriter is writing under the name of, and in the persona of, an actual person who is the purported author of the book.  Sometimes this is a flagrant pretense, but sometimes it’s for a good reason – if, for example, the “author” has an important or interesting story to tell, but absolutely no writing chops whatsoever.

At any rate, a writer for the Nancy Drew books, or the Tom Swift books, or any of a number of syndicated properties, is not a ghost writer.  The proper term for what they’re doing is writing under a house name – so-called because the name “Carolyn Keene” or “Victor Appleton” or whatever is owned by the publishing house, not by the writer of a particular book.  Which is how I can have in my personal library a Tom Swift hardcover from the mid-1920’s that used to belong to my father, and a couple of Tom Swift paperbacks from the early 1990’s that were co-authored by me and Jim Macdonald.

And “Victor Appleton” wrote them all.

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