Don’t Forget to Dream

D.S.I Helium 3 Transport Vehicle by Adam Burn

I’m sitting in the coffee shop; A-bear is playing his heart over at preschool, and I’m just not getting into it this morning. Derp move number one, I’ve been tugging at my chin hairs while I read from the ever expanding athenaeum of “Advice Offered to Writers on Writing and Stuff.” The truth of the matter is that I’m not sure what I’m going to write next, and my Twitter feed has once again delivered up this highly distracting narrative in which I willingly participate. Hunched over and fuming, once more, it occurs to me that this is not a good way to live your life.

More importantly, it doesn’t seem like a very productive way to spend your precious writing time.

It’s probably not helping that the new baristas have changed up the music, and I’ve since had to plug my headphones in and crank up the subtle white noise of Coffitivity. Yeah, that’s right, I’m listening to “Morning Murmur” — a recording of a coffee shop while sitting in an actual cafe drinking coffee — how’s that for bathos?

“So what, precisely, is the problem Matt?” you ask.

Well, I started with this blog post from the esteemed and successful Chuck Wendig: Peaks and Valleys: The Financial Realities of a Writer’s Life. Realize, in no way is this me jumping onto his current cluster event. Rather, it’s me taking a critical look at why I seem to come away from his advice posts feeling defeated and ready to quit.

This post and the advice it references are just one member of a distinguished lineage of columns I’d like to label “The Stark Reality Collection.” I’m starting to wonder if it’s even possible for authors, especially those in the SFF community, first to begin making a living from their work and later not tell the world how hard it’s going to be. Often I come away from reading this stuff convinced I’ve done everything wrong. I live in the wrong place, I know all the wrong people, I didn’t go to the right school, or workshop, I write the wrong things, and I put my pants on the wrong way — that’s how wrong I feel.

Defeated before I begin, my options seem limited. Maybe I should just take Wendig’s intimation and “move on to more stable ground.”

Here’s the thing. Fiction moves me. Let me say that again. FICTION MOVES ME. I love a good story. Terry Pratchett’s farewell piece The Sheperd’s Crown recently reduced me to a blubbering mess more than once. And I can’t tell you how much I’ve learned from my recent readings of Kim Stanley Robinson’s Wild Shore Triptych.

I know that I’ve discovered my earthworm. I know that my stories are good enough, and my writing is compelling and entertaining. And yes, I love doing this, even when it’s fucking difficult.

Standing up to assert these strong feelings of self-determination and conviction I rip the headphone out of my computer and nearly dump hot coffee all over my lap. “But really,” I say to myself taking a calming breath. “I don’t need anyone to tell me how hard it’s going to be.”

Want to help successful-author-making-a-living-from-your-words? Stop telling everyone about the big pile of shit we can look forward to wading. That’s the thing about piles of crap; they’re apparent. Everyone knows that they’re there, usually because, much like yourselves, we’re busy trying to clean it off our shoes.

Better, tell us what moves you. Why did you stick with writing even when you weren’t sure when your next meal was coming? What do you do in the morning to warm up for writing? What inspired some piece of fiction we can’t put down. How do you deal with criticism fro your readers or even your editor? Writer’s, especially the good ones, I’ve realized have developed strategies to exceed the piles of crap life leaves on our paths.

I write a lot, I don’t sell a lot (yet). I know that I’ve yet to develop a “real” audience. The numbers necessary to lift me out of this valley just aren’t there yet. This is the sole reason I keep looking into the Library of Stark Reality. I’m looking for feasible ways to grow my audience as I get ready for near term release dates. Want to help? Tell me about the concrete things you did to expand your audience.

And while I acknowledge that it won’t always be easy, this morning I’m resolved that as I build my author platform and find more readers, I will endeavor to imagine with audacity. The boundaries that limit me aren’t worth talking about except when exceeded.

 

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Off to the Editor

Oh, that’s a good feeling. No, strike that, it’s a great feeling! I just submitted a 7,500-word short story for an upcoming Future Chronicles anthology. Doomsday Chronicles isn’t due out until February 2016, but my story is very done. I’m very satisfied with the work as well.

This piece should cement my SFWA membership, if not this year, then early next year. Added to this In Goat I’ve managed to turn out an entertaining, compelling, topical tale I’m certain will make readers think. So, yeah, I’m congratulating myself just a little bit. I think this may be an overlooked part of writing for a living that more authors need to take in hand. Celebrate your accomplishments people.

“What’s next?” you ask. I’m contributing to another anthology — this time steampunk’s Drifting Isles — and I’ve already begun this one. It’s due in November so I’ve got time and since this tale is outlined and just needs words I’m going to have more time to work on other things concurrently. So I’m left wondering where I should focus.

The top contenders are two novel-length projects and a novella length speculative fiction piece. Counterfeit Horizon is something like 70,000 words (currently) of very rough work. Part of my reluctance in finishing this story — that I began back in 2013 — is the sheer volume of editing that it’s going to take. Counterfeit was my first attempt at a novel length anything, and consequently it’s just riddled with mistakes and plot holes. One strategy I’ve been contemplating is to junk the old manuscript and just re-write the story using the characters, settings and plot I’ve already developed. I wrote the bulk of Counterfeit Horizon during NaNoWriMo, so I know I could knock this out comfortably in a short space of time.

Second is the novella project. Fire Weather is almost there now; a short sprint could have this piece ready for publication by late winter. With the incredible fire season, we’ve seen this summer the story is topical. Right now my big problem is that the tension in the tale tends to fall off. There are interpersonal battles, health issues, and of course, the fireline fight, but when I read my work I’m left wanting more. This story needs some Spike, and my feeling is that I don’t know how much to add. I suppose I can add spice in small amounts, reworking by chapter and scene, until I think it’s got the right flavor. Now that I write this out, this begins to appeal to me.

The final candidate is Winter City Above the Clouds. The first two chapters have been written, and I’ve spent some time this summer working on the outline for this science fiction epic. This project is daunting. And what I mean by that is that right now, I’m looking at what I want to do with it, and I’m not entirely sure I have the skills necessary to reach that lofty goal. I’ll be making everything up, and this tale requires a rich, expansive cultural backdrop just to make the stage believable.

Of these projects, Winter City is where I’d like to be spending my time, it’s where I go to get lost in my own imagination right now. I based my first Future Chronicles contribution Ser Pan Comido in the universe I’ve been developing for Winter City. So it has that element of guilty pleasure about it. I just don’t want that to interfere with the final quality of the piece. Better, I don’t want to find myself back in the same situation I’m in with Counterfeit Horizon.

Conclusion, it’s sometimes very easy to be your own boss and other times it approaches impossible to be at the helm. Option paralysis is real.

DetCon1 Redux (Part One)

I’m sitting just outside the DTW jetty that will eventually have a plane parked at its other end. This plane will take me to PHX and thence further on, and hopefully home, to SEA. While I sit, sipping an iced chai from the coffee stand down the concourse, I’ve been reviewing the last four days. Trying to form the lessons I’ve learned into something I can use moving forward. Articulate the wisdom of those who have gone before me.

I should note that in addition to all the learning and networking I had an awesome time. The North American Science Fiction Convention happened to to intersect with the NetRoots Nation convention. This proved a particularly good sort of kismet for all involved. Every time I had a little down time I was approached by someone from the adjacent affair who would invariably say something like “What’s this all about?” or “I don’t read science fiction, but I want to more ….” In some small way all that curiosity and social boundary crossing I think enriched the experience for all involved. Plus, I believe the verdict was that DetCon1 had the better room parties.

From the get-go my convention schedule seemed subject to change. The Vice President’s visit to the same building meant that I got stuck in some amazing traffic. As a connoisseur of the finest road bound cluster events in Norther America and beyond I can say that this was a classic Interstate stoppage. Ultimately, this meant that I missed my scheduled reading. But don’t feel bummed for me because the agile and capable staff running the convention from the table in the green room busted a move and helped me find a spot on Saturday. Opposite Jim Hines. Which was awesome. Did I happen to mention I read opposite Jim Hines? I should probably say that again, opposite Jim Hines.

Had I nothing to read other than a crap pile of words I would still fail to see how this could have gone badly for me. Jim Hines…. Rather my first reading at a convention turned out to be a fairy tale princess event with butter and bacon. We (and mostly he) packed the room. It was standing room only and as we got ready I couldn’t help grinning madly because I knew that I had selected a black arrow from my quiver.

Chapter four of the second book in the “sports in space” series is about the naval space program’s super secret Atlatl gunboat system told from the point of view of Gunnery Sergeant Capston. I had rehearsed the reading a bunch the night before, I wanted it to go really well. I knew there were three good laughs in the manuscript and the potential for a cringe. They happened, all where I had anticipated they might. Even better I know how I can do a better job next time.

The reading was an amazing learning experience and it also served as a great opportunity to get to know Jim Hines a little better. What a great guy to be friends with. I am really looking forward to Geek Fan Expo in September where we’ll both be special guests.

Speaking of readings, I caught John Scalzi and Jacqueline Carey combined reading. A memorable hour of my life, and one which I can now refer to in an effort to make future readings of my work all the better. Both of these excellent authors are also the very best public readers.

So, yes, watching these two masters read was very helpful and informative. I also got to spend some time face-to-face with them both as well as others. A memorable tid-bit that Scalzi left me with was something like, “The operating mode of writing is failure, so get used to it. Submit, and while you’re waiting write some more. Eventually, you’ll get sales.”

Finally, John’s wife Kristine was at the convention. Much like my wonderful Tess, Kristine is a capable, smart, and loving woman who teams up with her main man in the creative process. Perhaps the most important take away from our conversations was that I was reminded I really need to listen and pay attention to what Tess has to say about my work. Perhaps more importantly what she tells me about the way I conduct my business. She is my first, best fan in addition to my partner. Also, “never compromise when it comes to your work.” Kristine gave me this fundamental as a guideline and then we enjoyed a beer in between panels. If you’re reading this, I’ve heard you both. Loud and clear.

And with that, I must leave you. The plane is at the far end of the jetty and the scent of anticipation is running through the crowd. Yes, there will be more. Stay tuned, big announcements are blog bound.

Author Interview Mel Hearse

Ladies and gentlemen, today I give you what may be the last in my series of author interviews for FROM THE INDIE SIDE. Let me say, before we get to the introduction, that this has been a lot of fun for me. An eye opening experience, but alas all good things must come to an end. Currently, I don’t have any more scheduled interviews. If you’re reading this and thinking “Hey, what about my story?” don’t fret. I would very much like to speak with you. Drop me a line and we’ll make it happen.

Now, on to the introduction. Today we’ll be talking with author, journalist and Mom Melanie Hearse. Check out her website, she has a journalistic bibliography a mile and  a half long. Interestingly, however, her contribution to FROM THE INDIE SIDE, THE GREATER GOOD, was a first step into the world of fiction. It’s an interesting mashup of Mother’s Day and Tales from the Dark Side and I’m sure you’ll enjoy it too.

Mel, who lives and works in Australia, has a novel on the way and has since produced several short stories. I had the opportunity to sit down with her and ask a few questions. I hope you enjoy her answers as much as I did.

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News

First, the good news. This weekend I received a letter from the DetCon1 Programming folks and I quickly shot off a reply. I’m headed, once again, to Detroit, Michigan for a summer convention.

I don’t know what it is about that part of the world, but man you “Yoopers” sure have a thing for SFF. I’m not complaining. Not even a little bit. In fact, I’m sort of ecstatic to visit Michigan in the middle of the summer. I’ll get to hang out with the mucky-mucks for a couple of days. Meet new friends and share with colleagues. I’m currently planning on driving so if you’re interested you’ll get to experience my overlander first hand.

Yesterday I nailed down my reservation at the hotel, and there is even the possibility that my beautiful and talented wife might join me on this excursion into intense geekery.  And for that I am even more excited than I have the words to express. I might have to bump up the reservation and get a room with a view.

In other news I have lined up a couple more author interviews for FROM THE INDIE SIDE. Be excited, you’re going to get buckets of new author blood really soon. Peter Cawdron is due this upcoming Friday. Followed by Ernie Lindsey, Susan May, and Mel Hearse.

In the mean time, if you’re looking for something to read you won’t be disappointed with this anthology. The diversity of voices and tales means that you can pick and chose what you’d rather read based on your mood in the moment. And, even though it is thicker than a Chilton’s Auto Repair manual, it won’t break your budget at $4.99 (kindle price).

While you’re supporting independent authors you should give me a try. I’ve just put out a short story of my own which is turning into something of a series. ON THE LEFT FOOT: A TALE OF THE LONG EARTH is only $0.99 on Amazon and it will transport you from that dull, slightly musty bus seat into an otherworldly back country filled with the rich scents of waking pine trees and fresh trout.

Also, last weekend I added another couple of thousand words to the next in the “sports in space” series UP SLOPE. It is on target for spring release and I’m pretty happy with how the story is coming along. You don’t need to read the first in the series to understand the story, but if you gave THE BIG RED BUCKLE a gander you would not be disappointed.

Next up, this morning I was browsing through your many, many Facebook posts when I came across a real gem from Jacqueline Carey, who is a formidable presence in the the world of wordsmiths to say the least, and she has something really poignant to say about our professional organization.

I don’t mean to imply that the blame for all that ails SFWA lies with its most senior members.  I’m sure it doesn’t, but I can only speak to what I’ve observed, which is that there’s an undeniable generational push-back against changing mores that’s a significant part of the problem.  I don’t want SFWA to lose its identity or its sense of history, but if it’s going to remain relevant, it needs to adapt.  Honor the past, but celebrate the present and look toward the future, too.

I can thank my wife Tess for getting me hooked on Carey’s Kusiel series, late night readings from Kushiel’s Dart were something of a treat back in the early days of our relationship. It is sexy stuff, but with careful and complete construction, deep plots that make it difficult to sleep (even though you have work in the morning).

At ConFusion I had only the briefest of encounters with Carey, but her opinion, and the action (or inaction) she is willing to undertake in order to achieve a clear and unmistakable expression, is admirable. And she has done a wonderful job of laying out all the things SFWA might be missing its maddening rush to cling to BS and drama.

I mean… seriously?  The publishing industry is undergoing seismic changes, changes that affect every single author in (and out of) the genre.  E-book pricing and royalty rates, the antitrust lawsuit, DRM, the rise of indie publishing, Amazon’s slow-burning bid for a monopoly, dwindling brick-and-mortar stores, the commodification of fan fiction, promotion in the age of social networking, the Google Books lawsuit, the consolidation of the Big Six into the Big Five, etc.  There’s a lot to talk about!  And yet when it comes to SFWA, it seems all the oxygen in the room was—and still is—being sucked up by a discussion that has no business taking place in this day and age.

When I first started to accumulate rejection letters one of my primary motivations to be a writer was SFWA membership. I wanted to be included in the group and run along side others doing the same thing. In my past life as an engineer I belonged to a variety of professional organizations, and for the most part, this was a useful and even necessary requirement for inclusion within the network of people working in the field. They kept me appraised of the major currents in my industry and helped me make good decisions that ultimately made me a better engineer.

The realization that SFWA membership might be beyond my reach, even with the growing collection of SFF bearing my name, gave me pause. I started to ask myself, “What could I get out of this relationship if I take the time to jump through their hoops?” The answer that I reached basically amounted to not much that I couldn’t find on my own. I’ve got KBoardsGoodreads, and conventions for community, inspiration, and to keep me appraised of what is and isn’t happening in the writing world. The organization’s Writer Beware blog tends to be far behind the 8-ball when it comes to breaking news and new predatory practices that harm creatives, and its contributors spend at least half their time tooting their own horn. The organization has become, in many respects, just a breading ground for drama and discontent.

So, with that in mind, I’m going to extend some kudos to Jacqueline Carey, I think she is doing a good thing and I hope the best for her and wish her luck. Yes, she has lost her nomination privileges for the Nebula, but her opinions are already well respected. I’d happily read anything she recommended, her cogent and considered opinion has lot more weight than an award.

And finally, I wanted to take a moment to pass along the announcement that Michael J. Sullivan‘s next book is available for pre-order. And if you order now, you’ll get a pile of extras and bonus stuff … early. This is a series I’ve had on my W2R list for a while and Mr. Sullivan is an excellent dude.

So, I will round out today’s news and announcements with one more place for you to spend your hard earned dough on books. Click on through to this announcement for all the details and goodies.

Excellent Article on Forbes

Oh yes, please strip away the mystery. Really enjoyed this article. Plan on reading it again, and then maybe one more time just to make certain the meaning sinks in.

Michael J. Sullivan, author of HOLLOW WORLD gives some excellent advice for indies as well.

Run a Giveaway – Sullivan gives away advanced reader copies (ARCs) of his books on Goodreads up to 6 months before the book is available in print.  This gives the books more value to contest winners who read them before the general public.  “I was only giving away two copies but 2,700 people entered and I got the member names for all of them,” Sullivan told me.  In addition, each contest entry generated a story on that person’s activity feed on Goodreads, which became free advertising for the book.

Build a List – In Sullivan’s world, building readers can be a one on one chore, but the numbers add up quickly.  “I used to go to malls and stand in a bookstore for an event for three hours and I’d get 5 people to read my book.  But then they’d write back to me and some of them would become fans and recommend my books.”  Goodreads makes the same process much easier.

Participate in The Community – Sullivan stresses a central point about communities – they treat others in the community best.  The secret to being promoted within a community like Goodreads is being a good citizen and participating not just as an author but as a reader.  Sullivan was also one of the first authors to friend virtually every reader who gave his books positive ratings.  As a result he now has over 51,000 reviews of his books on Goodreads.

 

An Opinion

Today, io9 put up a blog post “10 BOOK SERIES THAT WOULD MAKE EXCELLENT TV SHOWS” and it got me to thinking. Top on their list of possibilities is Kim Stanley Robinson’s Mars Trilogy. A personal favorite of mine, one that I go back to time and again, and re-read because it is just that good.

This ambitious, huge series is nothing but political conflicts and complex worldbuilding, with a huge dose of philosphy thrown in. The first colonists land on Mars and debate the ethics of terraforming the planet, and incidentally humanity’s place in the universe. Over time, the series also gets into questions about how to organize scarce resources and the best form of government. HBO or Showtime could turn this series into an addictive, bleak, hypnotic drama — like BSG, only even more adult and grounded

Now you might imagine that I’d be giddy and happily agreeing with the author CHARLIE JANE ANDERS, but I’m not. After reading a story I rarely, if ever, want to see it produced on any screen. My experience tells me, that any film treatment of one of my favorite stories will invariably fall so far short of my expectations that I won’t just be disappointed, but downright angered. And frankly, I don’t need any more opportunities for anger in my life.

So, I understand that this is going to be an unpopular opinion. As an author, I also understand that this is where the money is. Selling the rights to a story you’ve written is a lot like finding a never ending seam of gold buried under a mountain you own top to bottom. But raise the question of film remakes with me and you’d better have a comfortable seat. There are just so many mistakes that are made in the process of transforming a story into a screen play.

Start with Peter Jackson’s treatment of J.R.R. Tolken’s masterpiece trilogy THE LORD OF THE RINGS. Say what you will about Tom Bombadil and the bog wraiths, but that is fully a third of the first book hacked from the first film as if it were so much dross. Trolls? How are you going to manage trolls in the HOBBIT after you’ve already portrayed them as mindless, hulking beasts in the RINGS? And don’t even get me started on the masterbatorial CGI yank fest of every single battle scene in every single film thereafter. These films are what happens when you take a perfectly wonderful story and add a mountain of cash and a stinking pile of dumb.

And author involvement seems to be little remedy for the outrage that will invariably occur if directors, film crews, and production people get their hands on a story. I’m sorry Mr. Martin and Sir Pratchett, but your written words are far superior a medium than the lackluster renditions of your works that make their way onto my television screen. I find myself wanting to enjoy these stories on the television as much as I did when I read them in their written form. Desperately wanting that much enjoyment, but what is painted on the screen never seems to get me there, and I go to bed, after every episode, unfulfilled.

Tell me again, how much money did this little production make?

I know I may have infuriated a potentially large cross section of my readership, so at this point let me take a moment to point out that this is my opinion, nothing more. You can like film remakes of any story all you want and your love for these won’t be any skin off my back for certain. Hollywood and major broadcasters will likely continue to create abridged film versions of stories I love despite my feelings on the topic. And just to be clear, if someone ever picked up one of my stories and said, “Well hey! This is wonderful. I’d like to make a film about people racing paragliders on Mars,” I might actually take them up on an offer. If they offered me the industry-standard, J.K. Rowling sized swimming pool of loose twenty dollar bills I would probably jump on it, the story be damned.

However, I think it is important to understand that we lose something in the telling of stories when our attention is focused solely on the screen. And too, we are losing something vital to our humanity if we fail to read, or if the narrator is unable to convey the importance of the words. Here is where the deficit occurs. Sure a director can capture a few good threads from the fabric of a complex and well woven tale, but this is like reading the Cliffs Notes to Tolstoy’s WAR AND PEACE and pretending that you understand the entirety of the tale.

Maybe it is my imagination, or the fact that as I read I can picture some scene and hold it in my mind. Or maybe it is that by allowing a director and his film staff unfettered access to a story they invariably imagine things differently than I do, and I am unable to find common ground with their version, or surrender my vision of the story scape. But I want to close my eyes and imagine Saxifrage Russell tip-toeing through the Martian tundra as I see him fully in my mind’s eye.