IOTD

“Pinching the Bubble” – Steve Montalto

Considering what I’ve been writing about of late, this one has some special significance to me. The short story “Ser Pan Comido,” which is in copy edit with the publisher, is largely about possibility shifting across space-time with the use of the Shadow Drive and the pilots who accomplish this feat while ensconced within a timeless volume known as Pinch Space.

During my pre-writing warm up I’ve been spending a lot of time browsing DivArt lately. Sometimes I’m looking for evocative images that transport me to the places I intend to write about. Others, I need some inspiration to seed a story idea for me. Today, however, the art mirrored the idea I’ve already written. How’s that for kismet in chaos?

Dispatches From The Future (B-List)

Since I started the Dispatches I’ve been getting a minor bump in readership. That’s a good thing. Nothing like what I expect should I bleed on the blog about my seizures, but a bump nonetheless. That’s something because its not about me breaking down. Those reads are about me making something.

Also, it should be noted that I’m opening this up. I’ve written a couple so far and I’d like to see what you guys might have up your sleaves. Rules? Simple. There are some great examples of what I’m looking for at the PopSci link. These are vignettes of life at some point in the future. They should be around 500 words. More is okay, but less is much better. If you need assistance with editorial work, I’m happy to help.


Scare Tactics

“Should you decide to step out of line,” said Detective Pérez, “know that you’ve already been caught. It might seem a little like magic, but it’s math.”

The response from the classroom was predictable. A communal noise somewhere between a scoff and a irreverent chuckle. One of the kids, a skinny caucasian boy wearing an Ubu LED light up shirt and Freez boots, crossed his arms over his chest and said, “You can’t catch nothin’ Cheezer. Nothin’ but dust.”

Pérez tapped her right temple and bracketed the kid’s head with the target reticle floating in her vision. An eye blink later his dossier became an augmented vision floating transparently before her.

“Reuben Seth Wilson, you’ve already been arraigned twice in Juvy court system. And it looks like you’ve got a hearing scheduled next month for a traffic ticket. Thirty-five over the limit? Hum, you should prepare for a Reckless Endangerment charge too,” Pérez said.

The snicker-sneer was now focused on Wilson who shrunk a little in his seat. “Everyone gets caught, because everyone is in the system,” Pérez continued. “Wilson you signed a EULA when you purchased that Ubu shirt and those sneakers you’re wearing. That EULA tied you into the internet of things and gave law enforcement access to any meta-information you produce while wearing your stylish garments. We know everything about you. We’re better than Santa Clause that way, because once you’re beyond the Juvenile system we don’t have to wait for you to fuck up.”

A stillness descended on the classroom for perhaps the first time in the history of the building. “That’s right, you’re all nearing your eighteenth birthday. That’s why you’re here. The idea is that I’m supposed to scare you into minding your P’s and Q’s. But that never works. I’m a little woman, and a cop to boot. I can’t scare you with my piece or my authority, so I’m going to do it with math. Predictive data science to be exact. I know when you’re going to commit a crime before you do. So enjoy the little bit of time you have left before your next birthday, because after that day, I’ll have officers waiting to bag and tag you. You’ll be arraigned and processed and on your way to lockup from sentencing within seven business days of capture, and you’d better prey that you don’t already have a record of sociopathic behavior, because you’re future will be bleak if you do.”

The Day I Knew I Would Make It

I have come to discover through earnest personal experience and dedicated learning that ultimately the greatest help is self-help; that there is no other help but self-help— doing one’s best, dedicating one’s self wholeheartedly to a given task, which happens to have no end but is an ongoing process. I have done a lot during these years of my process. A swell in my process, I have changed from self-image actualization to self-actualization, from blindly following propaganda, organized truths, etc. to searching internally for the cause of my ignorance.

The Warrior Within : The Philosophies of Bruce Lee (1996)

This is my third attempt at this post. But this time I know exactly where I’m headed, what I want to say.

This morning the company, where my wife has worked a mere six weeks, shut its doors. An unfortunate turn of events for all involved, something juxtaposed next to catastrophe for us. We’ve been struggling since I got sick. Every time it appears we’ve found our stride something or someone trips us up. I think worse, we’re both exhausted. That’s just the way it is, the only thing left to do now is take the next step along the path. Acceptance does not matter.

I just took the dog for a walk around the neighborhood. Always an adequate salve when the need arises. It’s hot and muggy once again so I walked as fast as I could, trying to whip up a cooling breeze without breaking a sweat.

This go at writing feels about the same. Walk only fast enough to get the breeze without overheating. Pacing is important, it makes the long road possible and the dream achievable. And despite all the ups and downs of employment, health and finance, I still have a dream. I am dedicated to the practice of writing.

Thursday I will rise long before the sunshine and head to airport. I will board an airplane and head to DetCon1. There is momentum in this run, maybe not much, but who can afford in the marathon that is life to sit and lose the race?

Goats

goat/dachsund/zebra

From ON THE LEFT FOOT. Thanks Zane, I can’t get enough of this goat.

Instead, what I saw might only be described as the stare of the unconcerned. The creature nosing through last night’s leavings looked something like a goat. It had yellow eyes flecked with blue. It had horns, but they were longer than anything I had ever seen growing from a goat’s head before. And instead of curling around the animal’s ears they shot up straight toward the sky like a pair of sky scrapers. And it was short. It was like a Dachshund version of a goat. With stubby little legs and a tan and blue zebra pattern of fur along its back.

 

Synchronicity

This afternoon I put Aral down for a nap. It was a long morning, filled with lots of errands and plenty of adventures. Admittedly, I snoozed a little while calming him down sufficiently that his tiredness could catch up and pin him in slumber. When he wakes in a while he’ll be happy and ready for some new adventures this afternoon.

But I got up from his bed and tiptoed down the stairs, thinking about the next stack of boxes I might unpack, when it occurred to me that I hadn’t written much to this point in the day. So I sat down at my “desk” (a corner of the kitchen actually, carved out to support a laptop) and started scrolling articles mostly to get the juices flowing.

I am constantly amazed at how often we overlook the astounding. Especially in our friends and acquaintances. Being open to the amazing skills and abilities of complete strangers seems to require an unsustainable level of energy. Even the simple act of acknowledgment, focused on friends and family, can be a stretch. “Wow, you’ve got a very special talent,” are words we just don’t say enough. They’re not heard enough. I’m not open enough.

While scrolling I came across this video of three strangers who pick out a tune on a sidewalk. Yeah it’s not going to win a Grammy, but it is good from the get-go and it only gets better as each of these guys lends their talent to the mix.

The first guy, the fella with the guitar, had to be open to the second and third talents that just join. But in maintaining that openness he allowed something new and greater than the original song to emerge from all parts.

Recently I’ve started working on a couple of shelved projects. A friend from our days in eastern Washington approached me and asked if I might have a story idea that would lend itself to graphic novel form. “Yeah, here’s a list,” I said. Since then I’ve been feverishly hammering away at a script for an idea I had plotted out as a novel. Just recently (like yesterday) I was talking to an online publisher about the potential of picking up the Jack Isen series I started late last winter. Zane picked up the manuscript of ON THE LEFT FOOT and started sketching and now my dropbox is filling up with pencils and ink work. Considering that I’ve known Zane since a chance encounter at a coffee shop in 2008 what follows is some sort of amazing stroke of luck.

goat/dachsund/zebra

All you get to see for the moment

Zane Kinney has this uncanny ability to read what I’ve written and translate those words into the image I had in my head. That’s one of the goats! It feels to me, as if he was watching over my shoulder while I was dreaming up the story. Looking into my head. Let me tell you, as a writer, this is an amazing feedback loop. Complimentary, self-replicating moments of flow.  Each and every time I see something new pop up on my screen I eagerly open up the file to get a better look. “Hey! There’s Umoya.”

For the time being we’re keeping the graphic novel under wraps. Call it NEFARIOUS PROJECT X if you need a name. But know, each and every time I settle the little boy down for the night, I find myself rushing to my laptop to add a page or two of panels to the script. His preliminary sketches are AMAZING. And, ON THE LEFT FOOT is getting revisited, not because I have the time, but because I love to see what Zane is going to draw from that tale too.

Synchronicity is an amazing experience. You know you’ve got it when all participants are saying things like “It has been a great thing for me to play with this. It’s been liberating to be able to chase these ideas around with few strings attached,” and the work becomes a sort of playful experiment around melody and a solid beat.

Interview with Author Jason Gurley

Talented illustrator and amazing author, Jason Gurley has had an excellent premier year. He opened the anthology FROM THE INDIE SIDE with an excellent piece THE WINTER LANDS that I thoroughly enjoyed. It took me back to late nights, sitting in front of a tiny black and white Zenith watching Tales from the Dark Side and I, for one, would love to see the Winter Lands become something much larger.

Jason and I sat down and exchanged some ideas and I got his take on a lot, everything from the genesis of THE WINTER LANDS to where his writing career might be headed. I hope you enjoy the interview, and when you’re done, go pick up a copy of FROM THE INDIE SIDE.


MT THE WINTER LANDS seems like a wonderful introduction to The Winter Lands. Sort of the Old Man’s introduction to the Wardrobe. Do you have any plans to expand on this tale?

JG Thanks! I didn’t know that it would end up being the story that opens the book. Susan May, David Gatewood and Brian Spangler — who are responsible for making this book happen — made that choice, and I confess it feels a bit like an honor. I’ve published several short stories recently, and I’ve begun hearing from readers who really want to see the worlds continue. I don’t ever like to say never, but “The Winter Lands” feels as if it’s said everything that it needed to say.

MT I really liked that THE WINTER LANDS was the story of a story teller telling a story. (Read that again if you haven’t already read THE WINTER LANDS). It was the literary equivalent of a Tales from the Dark Side all on its own. It felt like the icy equivalent to Zelazny’s walking in shadow with the potential for a little Gulliver’s Travels mixed in. What influenced you when you wrote this short? How did you create the portal to THE WINTER LANDS?

JG THE WINTER LANDS wasn’t actually the story I planned on contributing to the anthology. I had a couple of stories in mind, both of which began their lives as short comic scripts. One of them, “The Caretaker”, has since been written and published. I banged away at the other — which, for lack of a better title, has always been called “My Father Who Travels Through Time” — for weeks, and was never really happy with how it was going. There’s a great story there, and one I’ll probably finish this year or next — my wife may have actually solved it for me, but that’s another story altogether — but it wasn’t quite clicking this time.

THE WINTER LANDS just started with an image, like most of my stories do. I can’t say what that image is — to do so would spoil the story — but for those who have read it, it’s the big finish of the story. For me, almost all of my stories start with an image or a question. The Man Who Ended the World began that way, with an image of a man alone in a bunker, watching the apocalypse happen on TV. I have a dozen or more voice memos saved on my iPhone — I usually get story ideas when I’m driving, so I dictate notes to myself for later. Most of those stories are unwritten, and might always be, but they’re compelling ideas. I hate to let them vanish without at least acknowledging that they happened, whether I ever actually do anything with them or not.

Some of my ideas are atrocious, and should never be explored further.

MT I know, from interviewing Michael Bunker, that you brought him into the group. How did you become involved with FROM THE INDIE SIDE project?

JG Well, that would be Brian Spangler’s doing. He approached me after he and Susan and David had already put the project together, and had signed on a bunch of authors. I think — but am not positive — that I was originally the last addition to the group. I’m still surprised that anybody thinks of me for these things, so of course I said I’d contribute a story. I can’t remember whose idea it was that I would design the cover. Might have been Brian’s, might have been mine.

In any case, soon after I joined, one or two authors had to bow out of the project. I suggested the creators talk to Michael Bunker and Peter Cawdron, and before I knew it, they were on-board and done with their stories. (In fact, I think Michael and Peter finished theirs before I even finished mine. Indies are fast.)

MT I know from reading your posts on KBoards that you’ve had a pretty good first year. Congratulations! To what do you attribute your successes in self-publishing?

JG Thanks! I don’t know what I expected at the beginning of 2013, but the year was much more interesting than anything I could have imagined. For me the measure of success isn’t all about the numbers, but about the connections I’ve gotten to make with readers and other authors. I’ve been incredibly fortunate this year to discover that not only did a few people want to read my books, they also liked them enough to tell their friends about them. They’ve shown up on Facebook and Twitter to tell me what they think of the books, they’ve emailed me and told me some very personal things about how my work has made them feel. It’s so surprising that anybody at all cares what I’m writing, and I’m grateful for every last person who gives my work a shot.

Along the way, I’ve also gotten to meet some truly inspiring authors, most of them independent authors like me. These are people who work day jobs, write in their stolen free time, publish books, then go do it again. They set the bar pretty high for people like me. They make me better at all of this. (Which isn’t to say that I don’t have a long way to go. I have so far to go.)

MT What are you doing differently or planning on changing during your second year? And how do you expect these changes will help you with as you publish more?

JG Oh, I’m not changing anything. I mean, I don’t think I’ve really thought about it quite like that. All I want to do is keep telling stories, and I’ll do that as quickly or as slowly as I am able to. I have an extraordinarily satisfying career as a designer, and in my spare time — usually after my little girl has gone to bed, after we’ve built Lego towers or banged out off-key tunes on her little green piano — I get to make up stories. Life’s pretty good already. I’m extraordinarily fortunate. I don’t know what sort of changes I could possibly make.

MT I am very interested in how other authors manage their creative process. Take us through the creation of THE WINTER LANDS. Where and when do you write? Do you have a planning process you use when you write a story or is it more ad lib? Are there any unusual tools in your tool box or critical things you must have at hand to write?

JG I write in stolen moments. That wasn’t always the case. For years I’ve worked on a novel called Eleanor, and for most of those years everything had to be just right: silence, the right lighting, etc. I was very picky. But I was a kid, and now I have a kid, and my wife and I have a house full of pets, and neighbors who put their trash out at two a.m., and we live not that far from a major road, so there are traffic sounds all day, or sirens — in short, all of the kind of distractions that would have made it hard for me to write when I was younger. But this is my life now, and writing is only a small part of that, and so I write when I can. Usually that’s at eleven p.m., or for fifteen minutes before I go to work. Now and then I’ll have a stretch of hours, and I’ll produce a huge amount of work — but I’ve gotten good at making enormous progress in small snatches of time. Give me fifteen minutes and I’ll get a thousand words down.

THE WINTER LANDS wasn’t planned at all. I do outline sometimes, but I didn’t in this case. I just let the story tell itself, and it turned out kind of slow and patient and weird, and that was the best part. I had no idea what was coming next, other than that image I was working towards at the end.

MT I’ve read and enjoyed your personal stories concerning literary agents. I can understand the idea and appeal of getting made by a big ink house — having someone else to do some of the plentiful leg work would be nice all on its own — but you seem to be doing okay right now and, if anything, your star is on the rise. Yet you wrote “[That] email nearly ruined my evening. It immediately made me doubt ELEANOR and all of the years I’ve spent on her. I thought: Maybe I should put ELEANOR in a drawer, and do something else. I commiserated with other authors, who said all the right things, and I ignored them, and moped.” Why do you think this sort of rejection cuts so deeply? Why do we, as writers, want representation or endorsement from an institution that we clearly don’t need?

JG Dean Wesley Smith has a wonderful series of articles that he’s collected into a book. They’re called “Killing the Sacred Cows of Publishing”, and I wish that I’d read them before I talked with that agent recently. They’re a remarkable bit of perspective about how dramatically the publishing world is changing, and really underscore one wonderful truth: These days, writers don’t really need anybody to help them publish. They can just publish.

I can’t speak for anybody else, but I can tell you that for as long as I can remember I’ve been in love with the romanticized nature of being an author. I think this comes from movies, or from reading afterwords by authors who describe the glorious route to publication as a hard-fought battle, but one with immense reward waiting just beyond the gates. I think I had this illusion for years about publishing that was very perverse — it celebrated the author, not the book; it celebrated notoriety, not writing. I had this idea of rooftop cocktail parties to celebrate book launches, or lecture tours to packed auditoriums — things like that. And I can’t speak for anyone else, like I said, but for me, that sort of dream was not only completely inaccurate, but completely impossible. I am a massive introvert. If someone threw a rooftop cocktail party to celebrate my book, I’d probably want to hide in a corner, then sneak out early and go home and watch a movie or something. For me to do any of these things, I have to mentally prepare myself, then do them, then take hours and hours for myself to recover from having done them. Being that kind of author would turn me into a wreck in a heartbeat.

But this past year has taught me so much about publishing. For all of the years that I’ve been writing, I craved the status of being a published author. I wanted an agent. I wanted an editor I could have a beer with. I wanted to be part of the in-crowd of the publishing world. What’s missing from all of that?

Readers.

And I’d rather have a wonderful relationship with my readers than with an agent any day.

MT You are a fan of apocalypse fiction. What about these survival stories keeps you coming back for more? Is there a specific kind of sub-genre that you enjoy more than others, for instance zombie fiction, and why? Is there a critical component, or universal thread that you think runs through the best examples of this kind of fiction?

JG Loneliness.

As I get older, I wonder if the reason that I’m drawn to these kinds of stories is that I’m as introverted as I am. When I was a kid, you might find me playing with my friends… but it was just as common to find me climbing a tree in our front yard with a book, or sitting on our rooftop, reading. I’ve always liked being alone. So when I discovered books that told stories about the rest of the planet just… disappearing, I was enthralled. I read all of the books like that I could get my hands on. Earth Abides. Alas, Babylon. The Stand.

One of my very favorite short stories is called “The Silent Towns”, and it’s part of Ray Bradbury’s The Martian Chronicles, which I try to read a couple of times a year. (My own Movement books are a sort of homage to Bradbury’s.) Like most of the stories in the book, “The Silent Towns” takes place on Mars, once mankind has moved in and set up cities and highways and made the planet its own. One day war breaks out on Earth, and everybody on Mars flies back to the homeworld. But a man named Walter Gripp stays, and the story of his daily routines was marvelous to me. He goes into a deli and makes a sandwich and pays for it, though nobody is there to notice. He’s all alone, and loves it. And one day a phone in a nearby house rings, and he discovers that while he’s the last man on Mars, he isn’t the only human on Mars. There’s a woman named Genevieve Selsior somewhere on the planet. The story of how Walter and Genevieve meet, and then the story of how Walter ends up alone again — and that wonderful final image of him just sitting in the middle of a highway on a folding lawn chair — is a near-perfect encapsulation of what I love about these kinds of tales.

But the current spate of apocalypse stories that you see in theaters has done very little for me. I get bored by stories that involve zombies and mutants and vampires and children who become ’the one’ and so forth. I’ve been looking for the perfect apocalypse story for years, one that captures the sheer loneliness of it all, without needing to inject the traditional dramatic structure of villains and hero’s journeys and such. And I think I found them, finally, a few years ago. Cormac McCarthy’s THE ROAD left me breathless. It was exactly the book I’d always been looking for.

And then, oddly enough, the perfect apocalypse movie came along, too. It wasn’t the film adaptation The Road, though. It was Wall-E. And not the whole movie — just the first twenty minutes or so, which play out in almost reverent silence while this little robot trundles through a world that is lifeless and marked with memories. I think I was the only person in the theatre watching those twenty minutes with damp eyes. It was exactly what I had always wanted to see.

Now that I think about it, though, I might have seen the perfect movie about loneliness years and years earlier, without even knowing it. The Black Stallion, Carroll Ballard and Francis Ford Coppola’s adaptation, captured that same overpowering quietude from the moment the boy lands on a desert island. Eventually both Wall-E and The Black Stallion become rich with dialogue and action, but for those brief chapters, they are everything that I love about last-man stories.

MT I see you went to Wizard World in Portland. Do you have plans to do any more conventions in 2014? If so, where are you headed? What do you get from conventions? Why are they important to you?

JG Oh, man, was that fun. I’ve actually never done anything like that at all, and I would love to do it again. A friend of mine here in the northwest, the author Erik Wecks, had organized a few science-fiction/speculative fiction book panels at Wizard World, and invited me and other local authors to be a part of them. I’d spoken in front of crowds before, but this was my first time to talk to people about writing, about stories. One reader in the audience actually recognized me and my work, which was earth-shatteringly amazingly cool. I got to meet new readers and sign a few books. It was just fun.

I don’t have anything like this scheduled for the rest of the year, but if the opportunity arose to do it again, I would in a heartbeat.

MT Is there anything you would like to say to your readers before we sign off?

JG Thank you! So many of you risk your hard-earned money and precious time on independent authors like me, and I can’t tell you how much that means to me. I hope to keep telling stories that you all enjoy!

Not a Meritocracy

An excellent example of HuffPost muckraking has been making the rounds today. Honestly, I think author Lynn Shepherd wastes a lot of valuable screen space throwing a tantrum about JK Rowling’s relative success in publishing. But there is a point at which Shepherd gets my full attention.

It wasn’t just that the hype was drearily excessive, or that (by all accounts) the novel was no masterpiece and yet sold by the hundredweight, it was the way it crowded out everything else, however good, however worthwhile. That book sucked the oxygen from the entire publishing and reading atmosphere. And I chose that analogy quite deliberately, because I think that sort of monopoly can make it next to impossible for anything else to survive, let alone thrive. Publishing a book is hard enough at the best of times, especially in an industry already far too fixated with Big Names and Sure Things, but what can an ordinary author do, up against such a Golgomath?

Lets get something straight, right from the beginning; publishing is a capitalist business, not a meritocracy. I understand this, and seldom even question the situation any more. If you publish use the tools you have at hand to sell more books. That’s the rule, that’s how it works. Right, wrong? That doesn’t matter.

Additionally, I’m not going to lay my neck down on the block and suggest that J.K. Rowling (or anyone else) stop writing, stop writing in my genre, or stop anything for that matter. Your success as a writer is your business. If you chose to tell the world about the details, good on ya.

Ultimately, I think that the foamy kerfuffle this article surfaced has a lot more to do with the way the big boys sell books than the quality of anyone’s writing. Per USA Today’s most up-to-date rating for THE CASUAL VACANCY saw a bump from not registering to #131 twenty-eight weeks after it was first listed coincidentally at the same time Shepherd published her story on HuffPost.

Shepherd goes on later in the opinion piece, but the whinge starts to gather mass and the reader is forced to ask the all to critical question “Why?”

The book dominated crime lists, and crime reviews in newspapers, and crime sections in bookshops, making it even more difficult than it already was for other books – just as well-written, and just as well-received – to get a look in. Rowling has no need of either the shelf space or the column inches, but other writers desperately do. And now there’s going to be a sequel, and you can bet the same thing is going to happen all over again.

I have to say that I’m happy for Rowling’s success. And why not, she must have worked hard enough to get where she is. Writing takes a lot of time and energy. She should be allowed to write books, just like the rest of us. Good or bad, however, it is the readers that should determine how much of our collective mind space her works take up, not very deep pockets and well refined marketing strategies.

And there is the problem, ad execs and publishing mavins, convinced that anything a Big Name writes will sell a forest’s worth of paper, are tripping all over themselves in the mad dash to sell, sell, sell. They can signal boost in a way that most of us can never hope for.

In doing so they have exposed their hand. The tell is in the fact that they can and do lavish such treatments on a few authors while ignoring so many more. And yeah, this sort of market manipulation hides so many other good works. But what can be done? Nothing, publishing is not a meritocracy.

What I Want

Recently, all-around good guy and SpecFic author Ramez Naam wrote a blog post Publishing – We’re All On the Same Side in which he outlines some observations about publishing, publishers and the people who write. At the end of this piece he writes “What I’d Like to See”.

In my dream world, what I’d love to see:

  • A little more acknowledgement on the self-pub side that traditional publishing has various advantages. Yes, it has downsides too. Yes, self-pub will be better in some situations. But the dialogue right now simply waves away the advantages to authors that can come with traditional publishing deals.
  • Fewer insults cast at self-pub books as a class, particularly on issues of quality and so on, from traditionally published authors. Really, unless your goal is to get people good and angry and harden their hearts, there’s very little point to this.
  • Less taking it personally on both sides. More compassion for and cheering on everyone who writes.

Well, I can keep dreaming, can’t I?

I really enjoyed this post and it further underscores my belief that there is a middle ground. The concept has been smoldering for a while now and the Shepherd piece just blew on it. So Mez, I hope you don’t mind, but I’m going to take a crack at this too.

For context, I am a self-published author and will likely continue to be so. I have published traditionally; a number of non-fiction, short pieces, but honestly, I don’t count these. And my fiction is weird enough that traditional publication would be a tremendous stroke of luck. That said, I am pragmatic person and writing is a career choice, so ultimately, I will publish the way that works best.

Without further adieu, my thoughts:

  • Writers get respect, yo!

    Fiction writers especially. Yeah, it’s hard. You’ll lose much sleep if you become a writer. Your conversations will become one dimensional explorations of story ideas you want to develop later. You’ll likely lose friends, for a vast variety of annoying reasons, while you’re bleeding on the page.

    Writing isn’t just a vocation, or a career choice. It’s a life style. An already unnecessarily complicated and problematic lifestyle. Like becoming a monk or a nun with about the same amount of sex. If you write, you deserve respect.

  • Stop the Whinge

    There is a lot, and I mean a lot, of envy in this business. Hell, I feel it too. At ConFusion I felt envy when John Scalzi talked about when he felt like he had made it. I too, would someday like to buy a tank of gas and not worry about where the money to buy it might be coming. I too would love to swim in a J.K Rowling sized swimming pool of cash (or more realistically, write checks to the charity of my choice with lots of digits).

    Every last one of us pours as much of their self into their work as they can afford. And that’s why, when it’s done and up on Amazon, we sit and wonder why we’re sitting at #374,097 on the Paid in Kindle Store while that worthless piece of fluff won’t release its death grip on #1.

    Ultimately, I know that it is going to take a much larger pile of words to get there. To get anywhere close to there. But the whinge does nothing to get anyone there. Bitching about someone else’s success, endlessly comparing your works to theirs, whining (often publicly) about whatever is a WASTE OF TIME.

  • Publishing is Publishing

    This might be a corollary to the previous bulleted item, but the fact remains. Publishing is publishing.

    I am super-fucking tired of the constant, low-grade squabble that goes on between the different parts of the published world. As Mez correctly points out more is better, and both parts of the community can contribute to each other. They should contribute to each other. The belief that one way or the other is somehow “better” is just ridiculous.

    Is traditional publishing working for you? That is awesome! Do you prefer the indie route to print? Let this stand as a virtual hug and pat on the back. Just getting work out there is hard enough. The “I poop on your publishing mode” attitude has got to go; it’s simian and base and it makes you look silly.

  • Be nice to one another

    This bears repeating. In fact, it should become a mantra. If you feel the urge to tear someone else down, even if they’ve just invested lots of time and effort in the destruction of another (see Shepherd), ask yourself “am I being nice?”

    It’s a truism that authors don’t really compete with one another. We mostly compete with people not reading, with them sitting on the couch, or watching television, or simply not knowing of anything good to read. I trust that most of the authors I know are supporters of other writers as a class, and that we want to see more people make the leap from “I have a book!” to “People are reading my book!” and even “I’m making a living off of people reading my book(s)!” as we did at one point (or may be in the process of doing).

    So let’s cheer each other on, and point to success, anywhere we see it.

  • What I’d like to see

    This is my dream world statement. It is also me being a hopeless optimist, publicly and without shame.

    • I’d love to see more inclusiveness from professional organizations such as The Science Fiction and Fantasy Writers of America. Guilds and Unions of yore did not increase their power and influence within their operating space by excluding a particular class of member. If there is a gateway for entry let it be legitimate. The SFWA bar for entry is antiquated at best and this hurts Science Fiction and Fantasy writers. All of ’em.All you need to be a full member of Romance Writers of America is the serious desire to pursue “a romance fiction writing career” and $95 a year. You get full benefits of membership (which are laudable) and voting rights. It makes me want to carve out time for at least one romance story a year (which would be crap I know, but still).

      Other professional organizations need to legitimize all parts of their slice of the pie. They need to do this quickly. When they do, they’ll see a huge bump in their membership and a precipitous drop in drama and ugliness.

    • More readers, yes, many more readers. And this isn’t just the self-interested sort of plea for you to be my reader. No, I think we need more readers.Guys, I’m a slow reader. I admit this because I know, in the past, it is the thing that has kept me from reading more. I’ve felt a fair amount of self-loathing and shame over this deficit.

      But stories are a critical and necessary part of our humanity. We have evolved to pass wisdom around using them. Your perfect story is out there. Whatever your handicap is – lack of time, slow reading, a crippling, misanthropic fear of overwhelming crowds in books stores – there is a ready made solution for you.

      It is my sincere belief that if more people read, even a little, every day (instead of relentlessly tuning into the boob tube or other distraction) the world as we know it would experience a dramatic and much needed shift toward the positive.

    • A lot more cross pollination. Meaning, if you read something you like SHOUT ABOUT IT. If you fear that the juggernaut hype machine of Big Ink is obscuring the voice of a really good writer you like than why are you letting that signal drown out that voice?There are ample options for feedback out there. Review the book on Amazon or GoodReads. Write a letter to the author. Tweet about your favorite read, or your last read. Tell someone at the coffee shop. The list of ready made options goes on and on. And every time you get someone else to ready, you’re cross pollinating.

      Or you could try and be really unique. Cause you’re hip and cool and your love of a story is also a sort of self-expression. Tattoo your devotion to a story on your hide. Name your child after a favorite character. Think outside the box, astound the masses, be awesome!

Interview: Andrea Johnson, Reader Primus

I met Andrea Johnson at Legendary ConFusion and over the course of a couple of days at the convention we had some exceptional conversations mostly about things science fiction. It turns out she blogs about science fiction, and I mean all of science fiction, starting with the really old stuff ranging up to the latest releases being considered for awards right now. After our impromptu introduction in the convention bar I went and read a handful of her reviews and let me say, if there can be such a thing as an expert opinion in Science Fiction, here she is.

So, it has been a few weeks since Legendary ConFusion and I’ve had some lingering questions I’ve wanted to ask. As an author I came away from ConFusion invigorated and ready to write another big chunk of words and those conversations with Andrea, or Reader Primus, had a lot to do with that.

I really hope you enjoy this interview with Andrea and when you’re done with it head on over to her blog Little Red Reviewer and see if you get inspired to read something new. Andrea has a lot of insight into the genre and some very good ideas.


MT Your biography makes me believe that you are sometimes in awe of other people’s prodigy. Yet your book reviews, I’ve read a few, lead me to the conclusion that you have a special aptitude all your own. I’ve started using your reviews to help me find new books to read and rethink some books I’ve previously read. What inspired you to become a book reviewer?

AJ I am completely in awe of other people’s prodigy. Anyone can come up with an idea that sounds cool, but it takes a talented writer to take that idea and mold it into a story that works. Thanks for your kind words about my reviews, when I first started my reviews were not very good! Reviewing is like anything – practice makes better. I’ve always been a big reader, I always had a paperback in my bookbag, always had library cards. And I wanted to talk about the books I enjoyed. A lot of my friends and co-workers read more mainstream fiction, so where else to talk about all the weird science fiction and fantasy I enjoy but online? I was part of a few scifi/fantasy forums for a couple of years, but found the reviewing blogosphere seemed a better fit for me. I wanted to be able to coherently and successfully talk about the genre, what I liked and didn’t like. I’d never been a good English student in high school, so writing reviews started as a sort of enforced practicing of applied research and written communication. Only way to get good at something is to do it a lot, right? Wow, when I put it like that, it sounds really boring! But it’s been very fun. I’m happy you’ve been enjoying the reviews.

MT It is no secret I am a huge fan of science fiction. There is a short list of authors that have inspired me to write in this genre. Who are your top three favorite science fiction books ?

I can only choose three?

DUNE by Frank Herbert – I read this for the first time in high school, and have been a Herbert fan ever since. I’ve read the entire series once or twice, and plan to do a reread (with reviews!) in 2014.

SIDESHOW by Sheri S. Tepper – Such a strange and wonderful story! There are aliens and conjoined twins and prophecies and dragons, and gods. Tepper’s newer books haven’t done much for me, but her older stuff I just adore.

USE OF WEAPONS by Iain M. Banks – I only recently discovered Banks’ Culture novels. He took space opera to a whole new level, and this particular one packs one helluva punch.

MT Why are these books important to you?

Those three books in particular pushed the envelope of what I thought was possible in science fiction. DUNE was probably the first adult science fiction book I read, so on nearly every page I was like “I didn’t know you could do that in a book!”. In my 20s I read that Tepper title for the first time, and it was the same reaction “I didn’t know you could do that! that’s awesome!”, and same again, for reading the Banks in my 30s “You can *do* that? Wicked!”.

And that’s what science fiction is all about – pushing the boundaries. That’s why I love it!

MT What are you reading right now that you enjoy?

AJ I just picked up ANNIHILATION by Jeff Vandermeer. I’ve been looking forward to this one since I first heard about it. Vandermeer is one of my favorite authors, I’m about half way through the novel and loving it. No one writes New Weird like Vandermeer, no one. Seriously, if you see his name on a book, pick it up!

I’m also reading The Book of Apex Vol 4, which is all the original fiction published in Apex Magazine during their fourth year. I don’t seem to do so well with magazine subscriptions, so finding these yearly volumes is just wonderful (Clarkesworld does one too). Apex publishes deliciously weird stuff, like you bite in and you think it’s going to taste like chocolate, but it tastes like apples instead. Suffice to say, I’m really enjoying this collection. Short fiction is wonderful, I can read one or two stories when I have 15 or 20 minutes here and there, and not feel any pressure to rush to the end of a chapter or worry about a cliffhanger.

I also have Gene Wolfe’s newest novel, THE LAND ACROSS, sitting here, and I’m looking forward to cracking it open when I finish the Vandermeer.

MT I met Andrea at Legendary ConFusion in January of 2014 where I had a great time and learned a lot. I’m curious to know, was there anything special that you took away from the convention? A unique experience, a great book, some inspiring words?

AJ It was great to meet you at ConFusion, wasn’t the con just a ton of fun? It’s the great secret of the midwest! I love their literary programming tracks, there’s always about 50 panels I want to go to, and realistically I can only go to maybe ten.

This was my third ConFusion, and every year it just gets better. In the past, I was always the “fan” who shyly wanders up to the author’s autograph table and mumbles all in one breath “Hi I love your books will you sign this oh my gosh you’re so cool” and then wanders away with a dazed look because I just got a super hero’s autograph. We’ve all be starstruck, we’ve all been there. This year I was still pretty starstruck, but I’d finally grown past being a goofy-fan. I’d finally turned into that person who can have completely normal conversations with authors, because they are like, completely normal people, who are also fans and enjoy talking about books and movies they liked. Being allowed to be part of that social scene was pretty amazing for me. I feel like I’ve snuck into a private club without an invitation.

MT Are you planning on going to any other conventions this year?

The plan is pretty ambitious, we’ll have to see how far the bank account can stretch:

AnimeMidwest is in Chicago in early July, and then DetCon1 is a little later that month in Detroit. I had a marvelous time at ConText in Columbus OH last September, so am hoping to attend that one again. We’re hoping to attend either Origins or GenCon as well. I write the Convention Attention post over at SFSignal, so the more varied conventions I can learn about, the better.

MT It takes a lot of effort, a fair amount of time, and some cold hard cash to attend conventions. Why is convention culture important to you?

AJ I recommend not looking at your hotel bill or debit card statement after attending a convention. But seriously, there’s a reason I stick to conventions that are close to where I live, because this hobby ain’t cheap! I actually wrote an article on tips for budgeting for convention trips a while ago.

Convention Culture is important to me because it’s often the only way to get face to face interactions. Communicating on twitter or over e-mail is great, but nothing beats face to face. Conventions are very casual meeting places, panel discussions often go off on the most fascinating tangents and continue later, everyone is welcome, and everyone is there to have a good time and talk to people who enjoy the same genres. I feel like everyone is on equal footing there. You can just strike up a conversation with anyone about D&D, or Redshirts, or Doctor Who, or Game of Thrones, or costumes, or whatever. I’ve had the most amazing conversations perusing the “free stuff” table and giving and getting book recommendations. I can’t think of a better way to become active in the genre community than attending a local convention. Many of them offer workshops for writers as well.

MT At ConFusion I heard you say something similar to “I’m not a writer, I’m just a blogger.” Is there a distinction between the two, if so what separates these labels?

AJ There is a distinction, and I’ve been thinking about this for a while. In casual conversation at another convention I attended, it dawned on me that I was the only non-writer in the group. Everyone was talking about short stories they’d sold, novels they were working on, discussions with editors, etc. And then it came around to me, and I said “oh, I write stuff, but I’m not a writer.”

Writers are the creators, bloggers are the sometimes critics, the sometimes gatekeepers, we’re a feedback mechanism of sorts. You create the magic, we just observe it and often pass judgement on it. Your name is printed on a real book that people will see, my name is just electrons in WordPress’s server. Writers are the ones taking all the risks, they’re the ones sitting at the typewriter and bleeding. It’s important to me that I differentiate myself as a “non-writer”, because I’m not putting myself out there, I’m not making myself vulnerable. I got the easy gig.

MT As an independent author I routinely hear and read about all the “trash” that Indies are putting out there. Your review resume contains a sizable collection from both the Indie and traditional side of publishing world. Do you think that this judgement is a fair representation of this publishing dichotomy?

AJ It’s not a fair judgement, as traditional publishers put out plenty of garbage too. But I do need to correct you: the majority of my review list is traditional published works, with perhaps 10% or less being small press or self published.

Self publishing is still very new, and I love that it’s now going both ways: traditional publishers are signing authors who did very well as self published, and traditionally published authors are self publishing titles their publisher doesn’t want to buy. It’s very unfortunate that self published works got a bad reputation for a while for being badly edited and formatted, but I feel this has vastly improved in the last few years. A paradigm shift is always frightening for the old guard, so it’s understandable to me that plenty of people are nervous about indie authors. But I’m happy to see more and more book bloggers out there who specialize in reviewing indie books. there’s a great database of such bloggers here: http://www.theindieview.com/indie-reviewers/

MT Do you have favorite cover artists? Any particular cover you love? If so, who are they and what about their cover work appeals to you?

AJ Recently I fell hard for Julie Dillon’s cover of SILENTLY AND VERY FAST by Catherynne Valente, Todd Lockwood’s cover for A NATURAL HISTORY OF DRAGONS by Marie Brennan, and while the books haven’t really done it for me, I’d love to have poster sized prints of Donato Giancola’s cover art for Elizabeth Bear’s ETERNAL SKY books. Couldn’t tell you specifically what drew me in to these pieces, but when I see them, I can’t help but touch them. The Dillon and the Giancola especially, I feel like I could fall right in.

MT Do you prefer paper books, audio books, or ebooks? What about this particular medium important to you?

AJ Paper all the way. I have a kindle and have read a few novels and anthologies on it (I mostly use it for slush reading), and I enjoy short story podcasts, but yeah, paper all the way. Reading is a fully sensory experience for me. Ingrained into my experience of the story is the weight of the book, the texture of the pages, if it’s an old fragile book that’s falling apart, or if it’s a brand new book where the ink comes up on my fingers and I’m using the purchase receipt as a bookmark. When I think about books I enjoy, I can’t help but also think about my physical interaction with the book in which the story was contained. With e-readers, I lose that sensory experience. However, have you *seen* THE WEIRD COMPENDIUM edited by the Vandermeers? That thing is ridiculously massive! no question about it, e-readers were made for things like that. How else am I gonna read it in the bathtub?

MT I’m curious to know when we can see some stories from you. Do you have anything in the works? Ideas contentedly bubbling on a back burner? Is there a story that you would like to read, but don’t want to write?

AJ Probably never. I’m not a writer, remember? 😉 I don’t see myself as disciplined enough to start that project and finish it. That said, there is a funny little idea that’s been swimming around in the back of my head for the last year or so. I’ve always had an affinity for trees, and I went through a difficult period in early 2013, when I lost two people in quick succession who were important to me. The  story is a strange mash up of trees, and mourning, and hopefulness, and ritual. In the culture of some planet somewhere, when you die, you are buried with a tree sapling in your mouth. The tree grows, and takes your cells with it as it grows tall. These aren’t magic trees or anything, there are no ghosts, no one has any illusions about what’s going on, but the planet is covered in these beautiful forests where people go to visit their dead relatives. The forest is the cemetery, but it’s so full of life – trees, birds, animals, a whole ecology that’s only possible because people die. When the tree eventually gets really big it’s cut down and furniture or small art objects are made from the wood, and given to the descendants so they can take a piece of great-great-great-Grandpa or whoever with them when they leave the planet. The residents of the planet always come home to die. Kind of melancholy but romantic – maybe a chess board is made from the wood of the trees of a couple who were married for a hundred years. Maybe the four legs of a table are all made from siblings. I don’t see it as morbid, I see it as one way a culture could honor their dead.

Is there a story I would like to read, but don’t want to write? That one. Because while I think it’s a pretty idea, all I have is a static idea. I have absolutely no idea what actually *happens* in the story.

Oh I am Happy with This Bit

Low Muscle Glycogen. Yep, I just completed a chapter which focuses on the endurance demon that ends all races. And wow, is it good. Even if I do say so myself. And I do.

Write what you know? Have you ever bonked before? Why yes I have. And after reading this bit I’m guessing that even if you have never been in the situation where your body literally gives up — while your mind screams “lift that leg, yes, one more time. Now that one, you can do it” — you will feel that pain. That sweet, sweet pain which narrows your focus and will inevitably prove to anyone who matters, to yourself, to your only competition, that you are the only God of this damned temple.