Thursday, December 31, 2009

Exeunt the Annus Horribilis

So, 2009 ends with a whine, which is probably pretty apt, all things considered. From my perspective - which is, admittedly, a wee tad biased, it's been a true Annus Horribilis (with options on a 'orrible anus as well) with the constant question of whether my day job will still be there, economic woes, the publishing industry playing lemmings when not doing things that - at best - leave people scratching their heads and wondering where they can get whatever these people were on at the time.

Since I have issues with late nights, I'm not likely to do anything dramatic like stay up and watch anyone's fireworks or anything, unless I get sucked into the current WIP.

So... gazing into zee crystal ball (genuine imitation crystal, $1-99 at Wal-Mart!), what do you see for 2010?

I see ebook readers becoming a more mature technology, maybe one showing up that actually does what I want it to. EBooks becoming more prominent - and more contentious. Someone is sure to try to claim that they own ebook rights for anything they published in dead tree lo! these many years ago, especially if the author has sold the ebook rights to someone else after untold years of out of print-ness (if they haven't already done so, which wouldn't surprise me).

I'm not sure when it will happen, but someone, somewhere, will go big with DRM-free eBooks, and begin the slow cracking of the DRM Curtain (this is a little like the Iron Curtain and the Bamboo Curtain, only messier and full of holes - if you know where to look and what to do with the finger you poke through one of the holes). By the end of the 'teens, eBooks will probably be bigger than dead tree, or close to it, and will be predominantly DRM-free.

What are your predictions? And how happy will you be to kick 2009 out the door in the hope that 2010 will be better?

P.S. Me being me, I'm a tad reluctant to say 2010 couldn't be worse - if I say something like that, the universe goes out of its way to prove I'm wrong.

Wednesday, December 30, 2009

A Funny Thing Happened On The Way To Print

This is partly publishing business and partly life, and it occurred to me that you guys might want to know what sometimes happens as a novel winds its way between writing and publication. And how it changes.

So, a little chronology and history on what happened to my novel Darkship Thieves, which comes out from Baen on Jan.5

1 - April 1996 - After one of the worst times in my attempts to break in, a time when great effort led only to a flurry of rejections, and after retreating into Austen fandom for six months, I realized I couldn’t take anymore just writing things that would never sell. So I rejoined my weekly writers’ group and sat down to write a story for it. Only the story ran to twenty thousand words, giving me exactly two markets: Analog and Asimov’s, neither of which I’d cracked at the time.

The novelette started with a guy – yes, you read that correctly, guy – in the hospital, trying to figure out how to rescue someone else, ina profoundly unpleasant future Earth. All noblesse oblige and stuff.

2 - rest of 1996 - wrote the novel, since I couldn’t sell it as a short. Over the time writing it, I realized it was the first time I was consciously wondering if I was giving the reader enough clues, etc. Up till then, though I’d been writing for nine years, I’d written mostly for me. Honestly, I consider this one of the big hah hah moments in my writing career.

3- Just before Christmas 96, send out a bunch of queries to agents. One answered. We’ll call her Ms. B Lister. She said she liked my idea, could she see the opening. Of course she could. I think I beat all records at getting those first chapters mailed.

4 - Ms. B Lister liked it – to my shock, by then – and wanted the rest. I sent her the rest. I didn’t hear again till April, when she told me my story was hampered by two enormous coincidences being used to propel the plot, and also she didn’t like that my guy woke up with amnesia. Right. So I went back and rewrote it over a week. This caused the incident of the Shrodinger fish (Younger boy was supposed to feed the class fish. I went into deep re-write seclusion. NOTHING else happened. The fish were okay, but until we got there, they could have been dead or alive. And I didn’t even know fish could look happy to see you!)

5 - It is October 97 before Ms. B Lister got back to me. She was slow. OTOH though she had a couple other suggestions, she liked the novel, she wanted to sign me on, and she was sure it would sell. Around this time, first twinge of doubt, since she told me sometimes things didn’t sell for inexplicable reasons. Take, for instance, something she represented, a fantasy about the young Lenin. Yes, you read that correctly. She couldn’t figure out why it hadn’t sold.

6 - at a less frantic pace do rewrite, send it back in and we’re now in 98 and I’m selling a few short stories. My friend Rebecca Lickiss (look her up if you’ve never read her) is planning to attend the Oregon Writers’ Workshop that spring. I won’t say she bullied me into going – she might have. I honestly don’t know who thought about it first, but we both applied, were accepted and ended up going. The instructor for the novel weekend (as opposed to general course) was Ginjer Buchanan and we were supposed to bring a proposal for a completed novel. Oh, yeah, I forgot to mention that after finishing the rewrite and between waiting for agent’s reply, I wrote Hall of Judgement, the first novel of the Red Baron. So I outlined that, and tried to make it a selling outline and all that.

7 - Went to workshop. By means I’m not allowed to divulge, they ensured everyone wrote a new novel outline the day before Ginjer arrived. It had to be an idea we’d never even thought of. I’m stuck in a little house by the sea, far from the internet on which I’d already come to depend as a fast research tool (even if I verify things on books/primary sources if available, afterwards.) How in heck could I do this? Mostly I wrote historical sf or space opera, both of which required research. Okay, okay, tel you what. I just wrote this short story about Shakespeare being a robot, and I did a massive amount of research – besides having been a Shakespeare buff for years. I’d do a novel involving Shakespeare. It’s not like it would sell – I mean, in twenty four hours or less? Right.

8 - I’d make it fantasy – no time to really think through time-travel or anything else. So... elves. And having recently watched Shakespeare in Love (Yes, they did threaten to throw me out of the theater for mumbling. How did you know?) I decided to solve the fair boy/dark lady thing by making an elf a gender changer. (Look, it was late at night, okay?) Plot kind of came from that.
9 - Meeting with Ginjer who liked the Red Baron novel but was afraid people would think he had been a Nazi (She might have been right. Yeah, I know, but she MIGHT have been. Trust me.) However, she’d also seen Shakespeare in Love and she LOVED the other one. The fatal question was asked "How soon can you have this to me?"

10 - Next six months consumed getting novel to Ginjer who bought it in three days. During this Ms. B Lister did everything but physically whine and snivel, because – I guess – this is not the path she saw for my career. By November I’d had enough. I went to my first convention – World Fantasy – and came to an agreement with another agent. We’ll call him Mr. Hot Shot.

11 - Mr. Hot Shot, perhaps reasonably, told me to forget that space opera and write more in the hot, hot, hot Shakespeare series. We sold two more books in 99.

12 - I finally gave the space opera to Mr. Hot Shot to read. Worldcon 2000, he told me he’d read it and it was pretty good but he had some revision notes. I was used to this, no prob. However when we met, he had no revision notes and had decided it was NOT good enough to submit. This solidified other suspicions I had that he actually did NOT read my stuff but got his receptionist – six months out of college – to read it, and he only read her notes. Um... Okay then. It would have been okay if he’d told me up front, but he didn’t. I gave him one more shot.

13 - November 2000 I send Mr. Hot Shot an outline for what was to become Heart Of Light. Unfortunately, since I’d signed with him, he’d developed a "One Right Way To Write A Successful Book" theory. This had already caused problems with the second Shakespeare book, but now he told me I’d written the wrong book and wanted me to put in all this formula stuff. (That book too underwent a massive revision before publication, but formula it was not.) I called a friend and started negotiations with her agent.

14 - First Shakespeare Book comes out a month after 9/11. I think it tanked so bad it cratered. Hard cover, unknown author. Nothing on the spine, not even "fiction" which works fine with push but without push... ah well. There were people hurting a lot worse at that time, but to me it felt like my career had also just died. I had two books in pipeline, still, and I thought I could make it, though.

15 - Of course series entered death spiral. Meanwhile I had new agent. I’d rewritten the space opera yet again, realizing that for a man to have that level of aggression he came across as psychotic. Well, a woman did too, but it wasn’t THAT bad. You weren’t afraid of her. So, Athena was born. New Agent liked her, but she seemed at best lackadaisical at sending it out. (Actually at sending anything of mine out.) Mind you, we got along FINE other than that.

16 - World Fantasy 2003 it looked like my writing career was completely dead. A month later, I got a chance to write a project for Baen with Eric Flint (which needs to be rewritten and will now be called The Shakespeare Gambit.) Now, you know, going from "dead" to "someone wants me" was exhilarating. I told Jim yes over phone. (At any rate he was a man whom it was very hard to say "no" to.) I told Ms. New Agent. She didn’t seem happy, but went along with it. Contract arrived. She didn’t like this and that and the other, which was amazing since Baen contracts are ONE or two pages, and written in English. She finally told me it was her or Baen. Well... I’d had her for two years. And she had yet to sell anything for me. Yeah, it was a REALLY hard choice.

17 - Having muddled through and managed to fire Ms. New Agent – hard that, truly ;) – I started working on project with Eric and trying to sell a house. Somewhere in the middle of this, and I’m sorry, I don’t even remember the year, there was the famous phone call of "Sarah, do you have anything to sell me?" I had the space opera on Jim’s desk, so I thought he must be asking for something else. Well, he wanted the book in a month and I’d just started a book because of a dream I’d had. Also at that point, I was brow beaten into thinking I was a fantasy author. So I sold him Draw One In The Dark and he bought it in twenty minutes (beating out my three day record.) From here on, chronology gets fuzzy, since I’ve been busy as heck and often lost track of time.

18 - Somewhere along the line I hired La Agent. La Agent took me on for two reasons – the Magical British Empire and the Musketeer Mysteries. At the time I had an offer from "Mr. Way Up THERE" agent, but he wanted me to do a book a year or maybe every two years, and get a job teaching in college the rest of the time. Look, might be great for someone but not me. So, I took La Agent. She quickly sold the Magical British Empire and the Musketeer Mysteries. I didn’t even try the space opera, now convinced there was something fundamentally wrong with it. Oh, yeah, Sarah’s Diner – my conference in Baen’s Bar – was born soon thereafter.

19 - I was now writing and on the hook for three or four books a year. So the logical thing happened: I wanted a challenge. (G). While recovering from crud, I was reading my old stuff. I agreed with Jim my latest incarnation of the space opera was no-go. You see, I’d workshopped it so much, and tried to explain EVERYTHING that the first three chapters were molasses. But I remembered that the book USED to be decent. So I went to first version, and there was a light there. Purely for fun, since I knew NO ONE would buy space opera from me, I sat down and wrote a first chapter, with Athena but putting the old "life" back in and Heinleining the details, in the way I knew now, with almost ten novels below my belt. The response of the dinerites shocked me. They practically threw their greasy cloaks in the air. They did threaten my life if I didn’t give them more.

20 - I posted another few chapters in diner. At this time, it was not unusual to get emails saying "I read 80 pages of Darkship Thieves. WHERE is the rest? Mail me the rest, please!" Right. You know who you are.

21 - Toni informed me that though she was looking for fantasy, she was buying DST. So I stopped posting it, and started making with the finishing.

22 - And that, children and babies, is the glorious story of Darkship Thieves. Which opens thusly:
I never wanted to go to space. Never wanted see the eerie glow of the Powerpods. Never wanted to visit Circum Terra. Never had any interest in discovering the truth about the darkships. You always get what you don’t ask for.

Which was why I woke up in the dark of shipnight, within the greater night of space in my father’s space cruiser.

Before full consciousness, I knew there was an intruder in my cabin....

Okay, now... what about the above surprised you? I confess this book has had a harder road to publication than most, but others are often convoluted. Did you know things could take that many turns? Does it make you see any of your own stuff – or even stuff you’ve read – in a different light? Talk to me! I’ve been ill, it’s almost New Years and I need distraction!

Oh, yeah – and may the new year bring you everything you need and some of what you wish for!
Edited 12/31/09 -- Welcome Instapundit readers. Look around for a look at the mad, mad world of publishing and writers. Many thanks to Glenn Reynolds for the link.

Tuesday, December 29, 2009

This is a 'There's no excuse, I'm just having fun' Post.

Because we all need to take a break some time. Down here in Australia nothing happens from early December until the end of January. We call it the silly seasons.

The schools and UNIs have their holidays (UNIs don't go back until March). In the business world staff take their holidays so, except for retail, all businesses are on go-slow. From what I've heard it's not like that in the northern hemisphere. But it's midsummer here and so hot, all you want to do is lie around by the pool or at the beach.

So here are some fun things because writers are insatiably curious about people and the world in general.

First of all 9 Things we learned about us in 2009, by Rachel Rettner. For instance, did you know that some adults still have baby fat, or late sleepers are more alert than early risers?

And from that we move onto Humans: The Strangest Species by Robert Roy Britt. You could spend hours trawling through this page and all its links. Why do humans get freckles, get birthmarks, spread urban legends, see things that aren't there, join cults or believe in UFOs? Just for starters. Ever wondered why we're not all beautiful, since females supposedly choose who fathers their children?

Then, because it is a topic that's guaranteed to wake up a bored audience, The 9 Most Provocative Sex Science Stories of 2009, by Sally Law. Would you believe pulling out is almost as effective as using a condom? (Don't try this at home folks. And if you do, don't sue me. I'm only repeating what I've read).

And on the same topic, Sally Law's 10 Surprising Sex Statistics.

These holidays I'm going to recharge my creative batteries. I'm going to read heaps of books, both fiction and non fiction and see lots of movies. What are you going to do, to recharge your creative batteries?

Monday, December 28, 2009

Sorceress of Karres - and publicity

I'm going to be travelling on Monday – heading up to Johannesburg for our flight out to Australia, so I wrote this piece in advance. I've got a book (SORCERESS OF KARRES) coming out early in January so this is a soupcon of self-promotion and about the subject of the same.

In the long-ago, far away happier times authors wrote books. After all readers wanted the best read possible and beeing good with words didn't mean you were good at anything else. In fact the opposite was probably true, as every single bit of research shows true genius is almost always narrowly focussed. Being a great golfer doesn't make you a Geophysicist, and being an Oscar-winning actress almost certainly means that your grasp of politics is on a par with your ability to programme in MATLAB. And having a good way with words probably means you're a solitary reader who spends a lot of time in company of imaginary people and may well have the social/publicity-skills of a wolverine with a fetish for red lacy underwear and flashing at retirement complexes. That's why in those far-off happier times authors wrote. Agents sold their books to publishers, publishers hired staff to deal with the publicity etc. and the bargain was that each of you brought your special talent to the party and the reader got the best of everyone's ability used to tempt them into buying.

Well, the old compact is no more, and, for 95% of us, if you want to be a writer of fiction, you're going to have to make contributions to selling your books to publishers, and to publicity and marketing. Or you can hope you're in the 5%. Your call.

Now for me this is all as natural as a swimming is to fish... NOT. I'm still unsure how to do this, what works (or even if it does). Cons, blogs, bookmarks, t-shirts, getting on Radio, doing tours, readings and signings (unless you're 5% these will be at your own expense, and entirely organised by you.) However, in the nature of things the fact that you have no skills or resources for this and that promotion and marketing can and do have a huge impact -- will not influence the decision of the next acquisition editor. So it has to be part of your game plan, as much as writing every day was.

So if anyone has any bright ideas on how best to do this – I'm listening. We all are.

Saturday, December 26, 2009

Agents, agents how do I get one?

Last Monday, Dave blogged about an e-mail he'd received from someone asking if he knew who besides Baen accepted unagented submissions. One of the reasons for asking was because the unpublished writer didn't want to have to pay an agent. Reading Dave's blog, and the comments that followed, I thought it might be time to do a post about what an agent should do for you, as a writer, and what you should expect to do for yourself. Of course, as soon as I started researching today's blog, I realized this isn't something that can be covered in just one post. So, for the next several Sundays, I'll be discussing agents, publishers and what a writer's relationship with them should be.

It's hard to find an agent these days. I've heard said that it is often more difficult to find an agent than it is a publisher. To be honest, I've had my fair share of rejections from agents. Some have happened so quickly -- my record is less than half an hour after submitting via e-mail to an agent that had just blogged that their response time was slower than usual due to backlog -- that I've known they didn't look at the query. Some have never been answered -- a growing trend with some agents who accept e-mail queries. You need to check their guidelines to see if they respond only when interested. But many more have been at least positive if apologetic rejections. Like Dave, I respect the agent I was referred to even more because she turned me down and didn't just take me because a client asked her to look at my work. Still, I continue the quest for an agent even as I look for publishers not only for my novels but for my short-stories as well. The lesson is to do your homework and to be persistent. I can help with the former, the latter is up to you.

When looking for an agent, the first place to check is Preditors and Editors. Not only does the site list agents and rate them, but it also has a number of pages that contain information about agents, editors, and other information you need to know as a writer. But the most important page for those looking for an agent is here. From it, you can check to see if an agent or agency is NOT recommended. If there is red ink following the agency's name, I highly recommend you not submit to them. Especially stay away from Writer Beware Top 20 Worst Agents. Along that line, don't forget to keep a regular watch on the Writer Beware website and the Writer Beware blog. Not only will it give you information about agents, but publishers and anything, really, in the publishing industry that we, as writers, need to be aware of. One final place to check when considering whether to send to an agent or not is the Absolute Write Water Cooler. It may take time going through the posts, but there is a wealth of information there as well.

I've just told you how to find agents you don't want to deal with. So how do you find an agent you do want to deal with? Victoria Strauss wrote The Safest Way to Search for an Agent. It contains some excellent advice and links. To what she said, I'd add to do an internet search for the agent as well. Check their blogs and websites. See if their clients blog about them, etc.

What should agents do? Also, what should you ask an agent before signing with them? Listed below are some good links that answer these questions.
This is a good place to leave off. Next week, I'll pick up the thread, adding in some of the agent blogs I follow. In the coming weeks, I'll post about some of the publishers, traditional and electronic, who take unagented submissions and what their guidelines might be. In the meantime, are there any questions or comments you have? Are there any good links you've found that have helped you in your search for an agent? Do you think writers need agents, why or why not? Finally, what do you see the role of agents being in the growing e-book age?

Science, Technology and Space Combat

First let me wish everyone a very happy Boxing Day and hope you celebrate it in good company.

Today's thoughts are about space combat as depicted in Science Fiction.

Some SF Warships are set in a universe or science that is so different from today that no meaningful scientific analysis of their technology is possible. I wrote a short story featuring such a ship in my short story 'In Command' in Baens' anthology 'Transhuman'. My story consentrated on the ship's captain, the only living person on the giant warship unless you count the AI.

Iain Banks has written a whole series of brilliant novels about The Culture, a space-dwelling civilisation based around giant AI controlled ships that use a science so high that it makes electronics look like a stone chisel.

I play games with toy soldiers and have had fun with many space combat games. The picture above is of an Imperium battleship from the Warhammer 40K universe.

These drift through the currents of a 'warp' inhabited by psychic daemons, guided by three eyed navigators who can 'see' into warpspace. Otherwise, they are huge WWI battleships with tens of thousands of crew hauling on chains to load the guns.

Other stories look at near-future space warships. TV and films almost always get the science utterly wrong. Space has no resistance. You apply thrust to increase acceleration in a specific direction and that is all you can do to speed up, slow down or change direction. In gravity well, where all near-future space combat is likely to happen, the overwhelming force is gravity so all movement is along orbital tracks. Given that craft will have limited fuel supplies then spaceships cannot go anywhere and will move from place to place along predictable orbital solutions. A reasonable analogy is with sailing ships that tracked along wind routes. The predictability of navigation means that defensive mines and battler stations are a real possibility.

There is no shock wave in space so blast weapons are useless. The best ship killers will be bullets fired from something resembling a machine gun. Shells with proximity fuses, that fragment into flak would work. Missiles that are small spacecraft would also be a possibility. They would probably look like balls with two offset motors on booms to control course change and would fire their engines sporadically.

Lasers might be useful as a sniper device but the energy needed to power a ship killer would be prohibitive. Maybe a one shot weapon powered by a preloaded capacitor/battery would work.

Nukes would be great because of the radiation (not blast) that they generate.

The ideal warship would have no crew. People don't belong in space and a ridiculous percentgage of mass and energy of a warship design would be needed to protect them just from space itself, let alone enemy action. The mathematical nature of space warfare makes it ideal for computers, communication links to 'pilots' being used for strategic decisions, like changing the orbital approach.

Last but not least, electronic warfare, detection (active and passive) and stealth, will be overridingly important. The first side to detect and plot the track of an enemy is likely to be the victor. An anology is with submarine warfare.

1. So what would a near future space ship be like? How would you design one?

Here are a couple of websites to stimulate the little grey cells:

Finally, for fun, let's hear your version of a fantasy/ultra-technology space warship?

Friday, December 25, 2009

Merry Christmas & Happy New Aliens!

Wherever you are - white Christmas in the snowed-in north or Christmas by the pool in the sunny south - all the best for a great day. But will there be aliens celebrating with us?

Have the aliens already arrived? Or have they been and gone at various times in the past?

Periodically I have gone over UFO accounts on the web, and at one point looked obsessively at those British UFO archives that were released a few years ago. Its fascinating stuff. Undoubtedly lots of people have seen lots of things that cannot be explained.

Take the recent sighting of the UFO over the Kremlin (see inset photo - from Courier Mail). I kind of blinked when I saw this blurry image, which looks exactly like one of the smaller Stargate Goa’uld spaceships, the Tel’tak scout-ship. In fact the whole triangular (pyramid-like) shape was just a little two weird a co-incidence. Especially having something like a Goa’uld spaceship (say commandeered by SG1) hovering over the Kremlin is something I could have expected straight from a Stargate series script. Maybe April Fool’s Day is in December in Russia.

Lots of famous people have publicly stated they have seen UFOs – air force pilots, astronauts. The fact that various governments took the investigation so seriously for so long means that something was going on.

Given the massive distances and energy cost of likely space travel, it does make sense that arrivals would be smaller, likely even automated. Perhaps designed to gather data, but not capable of engaging into any sort of dialogue with species they encounter (unmanned & any AI’s not ‘authorised’ for contact). Perhaps civilizations within 50-100 lightyears – amused enough by Metropolis and Charlie Chaplin and similar early EM transmissions – have sent automated scout craft as a first response. If so – then maybe the first of these scout craft have already returned for download. That means the ‘manned’ response could come within the next few decades.

I personally hope we have been observed for thousands of years. Can you imagine getting your hands on the alien database with actual photos of Caesar going up against Vercingetorix at Alesia? Or satellite footage of the building of the pyramids at Giza?

So what's your take? Have they been here? Is it all just atmospheric phenomena and deflated weather balloons? Or better yet – have you seen one?

Thursday, December 24, 2009

Life: a handy survival guide

So, it's Christmas Eve, and all the usual pressure to post something appropriate to the season. But which season? It's summer in the Southern Hemisphere, and who knows what in other universes and timelines. I raise my middle finger in salute to the season, and instead offer some helpful guidelines to life in general, culled from my unmentionable years of experience in this world.

I call them the rules because, well, they work as rules.

Kate's rules of life:

1. People are stupid. This includes everyone. Yes, even you.
2. There is a very special kind of stupidity only very intelligent people exhibit. "No common sense" is the least offensive way to describe it.
3. "Common sense" isn't.
4. Equal opportunity doesn't mean equal outcomes. It means everyone gets a fair chance. What they do with it is their business.
5. Life is inherently unfair.
6. Bitching about the unfairness of life not only does nothing to change things, it alienates people who could help change things.
7. Perfection doesn't happen. There will always be flies in the ointment.
8. In any gathering of people, there will be a hierarchy.
9. In any organization, there will be a bureaucracy.
10. Any bureaucracy or hierarchy exists to perpetuate itself and increase its power, irrespective of the desires of individuals within it.
11. Not only does power corrupt and absolute power corrupt absolutely, power will attract the corruptible and corrupt.
12. Anyone who seeks power is automatically suspect.
13. Lying is universal. Look at the actions, not the words.
14. Anyone who says they never lie is lying. They might not know it, but they're lying.
15. Most lies are social grease. The only harm they do is make it easier to tell the lies that aren't social grease.
16. In any organization, compare the stated purpose to the actual result. The latter is the real purpose.
17. There is no such thing as objective judgment.
18. Everyone believes they are normal.
19. Every social unit exists to divide the world into "us" and "them", and to protect "us" from "them".
20. It's a lot easier to accept the divide between "us" and "them" if you believe "them" are evil or not really human.
21. With few exceptions, no-one thinks they are evil.
22. Human capacity for self-deception is infinite.
23. Desire to believe leads to the biggest self-deceptions.
24. "Only the guilty have anything to fear" is a lie. Anyone claiming this should be removed from power immediately.
25. Left and right are meaningless abstractions. Look at the actions.
26. Follow the money. The trail smells bad, but it's like shit - better out than in.
27. Always look at who benefits most from any corporate or government decision. That's who paid for it.
28. Nothing is free. Look for the hidden cost.
29. If it seems too good to be true, it is.
30. If you have a choice between stupidity, even the most breathtakingly insane stupidity, and a conspiracy, go with stupid every time. The people you're thinking about aren't intelligent enough to maintain and hide a conspiracy.
31. Any secret known by more than one person isn't.
32. Confidential information isn't.
33. Most people don't care. So long as life stays more or less the same, they're happy.
34. Most people are scared of intelligence. Prove to someone you're smarter than they are, and they'll do whatever they can to bring you down to their level.
35. Most people are scared of anything new or different. They used to kill it. Now they just make it so miserable it kills itself.
36. Any political extreme is functionally identical to any other political extreme. They're all dictatorships of the elite. The only differences are in how the elite are chosen.
37. Beware of governments demonizing any group of people. They might start with people who you think deserve to suffer, but they won't end that way.
38. Beware anyone who refuses to compromise. Without compromise, nothing happens.
39. It only takes one to start a war.
40. Peace requires all parties involved to commit to it.
41. Evolution selects for aggression.
42. It usually isn't worth it.
43. Every rule can and will be broken. Frequently.
44. Random acts of kindness confuse your enemies.
45. Everyone has enemies. Learn who yours are.
46. Knowledge is not power. Knowing how to use knowledge is power.
47. Beware of true believers of anything. The biggest atrocities are committed by true believers.
48. Taxation is not theft. Taxation is the cost of living in a relatively well supplied society.
49. If you choose to claim the moral high ground, be certain your actions are impeccably moral or you will be exposed as a hypocrite.
50. Survival is zero-sum.
51. Success is not zero-sum, but most people think it is.
52. Wealth is not zero-sum, but most people think it is.
53. The only way out is in a box.
54. There is no way to win.
55. There is no way to break even.
56. No-one will remember how many toys you had. They will remember what you did.
57. The noble savage isn't.
58. Pre-industrial life was like rats: nasty, brutish, and short.
59. You don't have to inherit wealth to make money, but it helps a lot.
60. There is never 'enough' although there is often too much and too little.
61. Civilization isn't.
62. Civilization is the distance between life and death.
63. No-one plans to die.
64. Sturgeon's law (90% of everything is crap) is optimistic.
65. Murphy was an optimist.
66. Plan for the worst, hope for the best, and expect what actually happens to bear no resemblance to either.
67. The easiest way to make a small fortune is to start with a large one.
68. Most people would rather be at the bottom of a hierarchy than outside the group.
69. Be a cunning linguist.
70. The good old days weren't.
71. Holding the high ground makes you a target.
72. There's no such thing as foolproof.
73. Sometimes the risks are worth it.
74. The sure, safe road leads to stagnation.
75. True pacifists can only survive if non-pacifists choose to defend them.
76. Independence isn't. Everyone relies on everyone else to some extent.
77. There is no such thing as living independently. Everything you own involved some input from someone else.
78. Success requires work, skill, and luck. It takes a lot more of the last part than most people think.
79. Everyone who succeeds does so on the backs of a whole lot of people who don't.
80. Everyone who succeeds has a moral obligation to the people they climbed over to get where they are.
81. Legalizing moral obligations never works.
82. If you succeed by stabbing people in the back, expect someone to do the same to you.
83. Ideal usually isn't.
84. What you want probably isn't what you need.
85. What you need probably isn't what you want.
86. Aim for what you need first. The rest will usually take care of itself.
87. There is no such thing as a good war. There are many forms of necessary war.
88. War can never be fought cleanly. It can be fought ethically.
89. No matter how debased your enemy's tactics, don't adopt them. You can still succeed without them.
90. Benevolent tyranny is still tyranny. There's no guarantee it will stay benevolent.
91. Anything worth doing is worth doing well.
92. Anything worth doing will be more difficult than you thought.
93. If it seems too easy, it probably is.
94. Pay your debts, especially the emotional ones.
95. Everything has conditions. If you can't find them, they'll bite you.
96. The most dangerous phrase in human history is "it's for your own good."
97. The most terrifying word in any language is "oops".
98. Communism and Fascism have two things in common. Both are tyrannies. Both are evil.
99. Evil exists. It's usually dressed up as good intentions - but not always.
100. The knottiest problems in human history have usually been how to handle apparently free resources. If no-one owns it, no-one's responsible for keeping it in good shape.
101. It's probably better to be an asshole than to be just passing through.
102. Look beyond the surface. Dog poop coated with gold and jewels is still shit.
103. The best solution to any problem gives everyone involved something they want.
104. A solution that gives everyone involved something they want may not be the best solution.
105. Friendship comes without strings attached. Respect has to be earned.
106. No position, no matter how elevated, makes the person who has it worthy of respect.
107. It's called wage slavery for a reason.
108. Employers are in positions of power. Remember this.
109. If it seems stupid and pointless, look for someone whose power it increases. Of course, it may just be stupid and pointless.
110. Never blame the tool. Blame the person who uses it.
111. Technology is neutral. The people using it probably aren't.
112. Sufficiently advanced skill is indistinguishable from art.
113. The human need for religion is the most easily exploited need in existence.
114. One man's good intentions are another's utter evil.
115. Be wary of anyone who claims they only want to help you.
116. Humans generally fall into one of four "types". Followers, Leaders, Predators and Mavericks. Watch for Predators and try to be a Leader or a Maverick. The numbers are against you, but the rewards can be good.
117. Followers and Leaders do not like Mavericks. Predators don't care.
118. Race is relevant only to your doctor. Culture shapes the way you see your world.
119. Look for your blind spots and actively try to eliminate them.
120. Your actions under stress reflect who you are. Anyone who becomes abusive or domineering when stressed should be watched and treated with caution.
121. People who want power will aim for control.
122. Anyone who can control what you do or say has power over you. Whether this is a bad thing depends on the situation - so be careful who you grant that power.
123. It isn't possible to live without giving some people power over you. How much and whether it's wisely given are different matters.
124. Never play leapfrog with a unicorn.
125. Fences can protect you from what's outside them. They can also lock you in.
126. Always remember that you could be wrong.
127. Just because you can do it doesn't mean you should.
128. Never mistake passion and enthusiasm for ability.
129. Civilization is the reflection of how well we control our animal instincts.
130. Natural is not always good.
131. Artificial is not always bad.
132. Few things in life are clear-cut. If you stick to rules, people will get hurt.
133. No-one is born innocent except in the sense that they haven't done anything bad. Yet.
134. We're born animal. How much we choose to deny the animal is a measure of our civilization.
135. "If it feels good, do it," is a mantra for those who wish to give the animal full control.
136. Animals are not naturally warm and fuzzy. The ones that are are the ones we've bred to be that way.
137. It takes ten generations to go from wolf to nice doggy. It only takes one to go back.
138. Never trust a cat. They chose to make themselves more attractive to us. Love them all you want, just don't trust them.
139. A cat purr short circuits brain cells. They know this.
140. When you feed it, you take responsibility for it. That includes expensive vet visits.
141. Rights and responsibilities are not mutually exclusive. Never treat them as if they are.
142. Never insert anything into an orifice that isn't meant to go there. This especially applies to small animals and strange sexual behavior. That's what sex toys are made for.
143. Gut instinct sometimes is just that. Sometimes it isn't.
144. The human subconscious is the best pattern-matching tool in existence. Listen to those hunches.
145. Life is sometimes gross.
146. Scientific laws and theories don't need anyone to believe in them. They might have gaps and hiccups, but they're sufficiently proved that believing in them is a bit like believing in tables.
147. Anyone who says science and technology is evil needs to be reminded of flushing toilets, running water, and preemie wards.
148. Do not trust anyone who says technology is evil after being reminded of flushing toilets, running water and preemie wards. Just strip them and leave them in the empty area of your choice.
149. Never blame the tool. Tools, be they guns or flushing toilets, never hurt or benefited anyone by themselves. They have to be used.
150. It always comes down to how it's used.
151. Grammar is not your mother or father's mother.
152. Spelling and grammar are not tools of torture, they are tools of communication.
153. Learning is good. Knowing a little about something is dangerous.
154. Never stop trying to improve. It's impossible to stay static - you can only improve or decline.
155. A low tooth/tattoo ratio is never good.
156. Poverty may not be optional. Squalor is.
157. You are not your parents.
158. You are not your ancestors.
159. You are not required to stay where you were born, physically or socially.
160. Small, weak bodies can be excused. Small, weak minds can't.
161. Zero-sum is not necessarily a bad thing.
162. Incorrectly identifying something as zero-sum is a bad thing.
163. It really is stranger than you can believe.
164. There may be no absolute Truth, but there are plenty of effective truths.
165. Always remember that anything you say could be your last words.
166. Live every day as though it was your last - it just might be.
167. Your intuitively obvious truth is someone else's bizarre delusion. And vice versa.
168. Beliefs can be objectively judged by how much harm they do. After everyone has finished arguing about how 'harm' should be defined.

Additions and amendments are welcomed.

Wednesday, December 23, 2009

Shameless Self Promotion

In which I post late, and then do a shameless bit of self promotion ;)

Out now -- Gentleman Takes A Chance -- a dragon meets panther meets the unimaginable danger of a conspiracy of elder, more dangerous shifters:

"I take it The George is closed?" Tom said, and raised his hand to rub at his forehead between his eyebrows.
He squinted as if he had a headache and there were heavy dark circles under his eyes. Granted, skin as pale as Tom’s bruised if you sneezed on it, but he didn’t normally look like death warmed over. She wondered why he did now. "It’ s either closed now or it will be very soon. I called Anthony and he said it was pretty slow. He wanted to shut down the stoves and all, close and go home. So I told him fine. I know we could probably walk to The George but–"
"I looked out," he said. "We might very well not find The George in this. Blinding blizzard." He blinked as if realizing for the first time what she was doing. "Cookies?"
"Well... the radio said that there will be emergency shelters and I could only figure two reasons for it. Either the snow is going to be so heavy that the roof will collapse, or they’re afraid we’ll lose power. Can’t do anything about roof collapsing. Not that tall. But I can preemptively bake cookies. Make the house warm."
He came closer, to stand on the other side of the little table. Though he was still squinting, as if the light hurt his eyes, his lips trembled on the edge of a smile. "And we get to eat the cookies too. Bonus."
"Make no assumptions, Mr. Ormson," she waggled an admonitory finger. "This is the first time I’ve baked cookies. They might very well taste like builder’s cement."
His hand darted forward to the bowl and stole a lump of dough. Popping it in his mouth, he chewed appreciatively. "Not builder’s cement. Raisin AND chocolate chip?"
She shook her head and answered dolefully, "Rat droppings. The flour was so old, you see."
He nodded, equally serious. "Right. Well, I’ll take a shower, and then we can see how rat droppings bake."
Down the hallway that led to the bathroom, she heard him open the door to the linen closet. Using a clean towel every day was one of those things she didn’t seem able to break him of. But part of living together, she was learning, was picking your battles. This was one not worth fighting.
She heard him open the door to the bathroom as she put the cookie trays in the oven. She was setting the timer when she heard the shower start.
And then...
And then the sounds that came out of the bathroom became distinctly unfamiliar. They echoed of metal bending under high pressure and tile and masonry cracking, wrenching subjected to forces they weren’t designed for.
Her first thought was that the roof had caved in over the bathroom. But the sounds weren’t quite right. There was this... scraping and shifting that seemed to be shoving against the walls. The cabinet over the fridge trembled, and the dishware inside it tinkled merrily.
Kyrie ran to the hallway and to the door of the bathroom.
"Tom?" she said and tried the handle. The handle rotated freely – well, not freely but loosely enough that the door clearly was not locked. And yet it wouldn’t budge when she pushed at it. "Tom, are you in there?"
A growl and a hiss answered her.


Out January fifth, in time to redeem those gift certificates -- Darkship Thieves:

Inside, the lifepod bay was cavernous, and lifepods were set in a circle around the bay, each of them in front of its own eject lock. There were thirty five. Enough for everyone aboard. I dove towards the nearest one.
And saw one of the goons – from the bulk Narran, another of Father’s favorite bodyguards – near the control panel inside the lifepod bay. He was about to press the button that would lock the lifepods. Not that I knew there was such a button, but it stood to reason. He could prevent my leaving.
Instinct is a wondrous thing. I turned around, grabbed my slip and tore it, top to bottom, exposing my naked body.
It was only a second but, if I knew the male brain – and I did – long enough to short circuit his reactions for a couple of seconds.
Enough for me to jump into the lifepod and push the red eject button. I suspected once that was done nothing could stop it. But still, relief flooded me as the pod shot out into the membrane that divided it from the airlock. The membrane opened to let it through. Then the other membrane opened.
I shot out into space in the lifepod – which was a triangular vessel made of transparent dimatough and barely large enough to hold me – in an awkward position, effectively straddling the central axis of the vehicle, with my knees and legs on the floor of it, and bent forward over controls that consisted only of a joystick and a com button.
Trembling, I took a deep breath. Whatever was going on, I was sure my father’s goons would follow me as soon as they could strip off their dimatough armors and squeeze into the lifepods.
I had to get away from here. I had to get help.
Grabbing hold of the joystick, I pointed myself towards Circum Terra, which hung like a glowing doughnut in the eastern quadrant of the sky. With my free hand I pushed down the combutton.
"Help," I shouted into whatever frequency might be picking up. The cruiser for sure, but perhaps Circum Terra too. "My name is Athena Hera Sinistra. My father’s space cruiser has been highjacked."

The elves have kidnapped Sarah

and she's being forced to finish off the Christmas gifts for several universes, so it's open thread time.

As usual, keep it away from political and other hot button topics, and have fun. If you want to speculate about how Sarah's characters would celebrate, feel free...

Tuesday, December 22, 2009

Being Human ...

Joseph Merrick, Elephant Man.

I think there are two types of people in the world. There are cat people and dog people. No, sorry, being flippant there. Start again ...

There are two types of people. There are people who find anything and anyone who is different threatening, they hate change. And then there are the people who are curious about the world and invite experiences because they welcome change.

Science Fiction writers and readers, by definition, are in the second category.

Many years ago I read a book called 'Freaks', (nowadays it would not be published under this title, the authors were referring to how the disabled made their living in earlier times). Joseph Merrick was one of the people featured in the book. I remember coming away from reading this with a profound respect for these people and one line always stayed with me. 'No one loves Coffey for himself.' That quote is from memory after 30 years. Coffey worked for Barnum and Bailey and I think he was the 'Man with Rubber Skin'. I don't remember, I just remember Coffey wishing someone could see past the disability to the person inside. Having said that, the people who worked as Freaks formed a tight knit community and accepted each other.

Here is an article by Mike Treder, on how we (I think he means Western Society in First World Countries) are getting better at accepting the differences in people. He says, 'We have learned to accept differences in appearance caused by nature or by accident. And we are getting better about appreciating the diversity of bodily expression that modern society has brought. But all this is only the beginning.'

He quotes Elephant Man, 'I am not an elephant! I am not an animal! I am a human being! I am a man!'

As writers, we portray people. We sometimes write from a male perspective, or female, or child of either gender, irrespective of our gender or age. If we are Speculative Fiction writers, we'll write from the View Point (VP) of characters who are not human, dragons, elves, aliens and Artificial Intelligences (AIs). Backw hen her First Earth Sea book was published, Ursula K Le Guin was congratulated for writing about coloured characters. Before this, most fantasy had been populated by 'pasty white guys', to quote Ursula.

How often do we write about people who are disabled? (Differently-abled, if you want me to be politically correct). George RR Martin writes from the VP of Tyrion, the dwarf. When I met George at World Con in 2005, I told him Tyrion was my favourite character in the Fire and Ice series. He confessed, Tyrion was his, too.

I have a small, genderless character in my Shallow Sea series, which is currently with my agent. One of the 'Twisted', the character is not pretty and charming, but ugly to outsiders and resentful of them. And I thoroughly enjoyed writing from this character's VP. I really hope this series gets picked up by a publisher. Maybe, if Mike Treder is correct, it will, since I'm exploring what makes us human and how we treat differently-abled people.

Maybe Spec Fic readers will enjoy my Twisted character and sympathize with their frustrations. But the people who most need to learn how to empathise with others won't be reading my Shallow Sea series, or any other books about AIs, Aliens, or Orcs, because they find anything different frightening. How do you reach people who reject difference and want to live in mental strait jackets?

I used to judge a children's writing Competition for World Vision, short stories and poetry by children on the topic of refugees, persecution and hungry children. I'll never forget one 10 year-old boy who said at the end of his essay, 'Why can't we all just be a little bit nicer to each other?'

What led you to becoming a reader/writer of Speculative Fiction? Have you read any interesting depictions of characters who weren't the traditional hero/heroine? Lois McMaster Bujold's classic series about Miles Vorksigan springs to mind.

Sunday, December 20, 2009

On Agents

I got an e-mail the other day from an author - an unpublished one - asking for advice about who took slush (unsolicited) subs besides Baen. His comment - "I don't want to send my manuscript to an agent - I earn little enough without paying them." showed me just what misinformation is still out there.

The first absolute and inviolate rule of publishing (and there are publishers, agents, distributors and retailers all keen to break it) is that money flows toward the author. That is the purpose of copyright. It's there to give rights to the author, so that the creative arts might flourish to society's benefit (when I was young, we 'ad dinosaurs, and also some politicians who took the long, wide view...) An agency charging a reading fee or recommending a book doctor is not a literary agency. They're scam artists preying on people's hopes and dreams, to be regarded with the same disgust as vanity publishers (which is not the same as self-publishing).

There are plenty of agents who have set out what they do and don't do. I'm sure Amanda can point you at some of the sites - I know she has in the past. They're useful to read. What, sadly, there isn't is an equally frank set out of what authors and publishers think good agents do and don't do. The problem is that publishers have gradually changed the job of agents, and made authors very dependent on them, which is in fact the inverse of their original role -- once upon a time agents took a very small percentage of the author's income to see the author could get on with it and write with the minimum hassle. You only got an agent when you were well established and at least potentially very high-earning. The agent did all those things that so many of us are really bad at, from negotiation to being a social secretary and psychologist. At a certain level of success (a very high one) this is still an agent's role. But there are few clients that can support this (call it level A). Most of us will never be... and somewhere down the line agents started taking in lesser names and noobs. It's fairly obvious that at this level the agent has one principal purpose: to sell your book and to hopefully raise you to the next level of desirability as a client. Mostly when you read agent XYZ rant about not being client's shrink or diaper-changer that is the level they refer to - which is where most of us are, and in reality will probably stay. As publishers have abrogated the task of filtering unsolicited subs the position of agents to noobs has become the inverse of agent's original client/author relationship - you need them, they don't need you. None-the-less it's not as unequal and dependent a relationship as some agents portray. It's quite common for authors to 'move up' to other more powerful agents. However - inevitably - this situation has led to a few agents behaving like abusive husbands, with 'wifey-author' trapped in a relationship that destroys them. Seriously, just like in those reationships, the best way is not get into them in the first place, and if you are in one, painful as it may be, get out with minimum damage if possible. There are some things as an author you need in your relationship with your agent and there are some mistakes not to make. Ask me. I've made most of them. Firstly you are a person of (potential) value. Your agent is not your shrink or social secretary. They will not necessarily sell a book quickly and easily - and being 'needy' and bugging them every 10 minutes is not helpful. But you are not their secretary either. If months pass and they never communicate, and do not reply to e-mails (which are not every 10 minute needys) then really, they're not interested.
Be VERY wary about being taken on by an agent at the commendation of a better-known author-friend. The agent needs to _like_ your work to sell it. I appreciate being turned down by Sarah's agent -- it improved my respect for her. Ideally your agent (if you are published) should have read and liked your work before you approach them. If they see you as a potential cash cow, but really like a different style of book, don't. They'll be bad at selling what you want to write, and be very likely to try and push you into stuff you don't want to do. And this is not a relationship of equals - agents are often wrong (so are authors), but don't try and tell them this. Just go elsewhere.

Finally, your agent - at this level - is essentially a salesman. Do not remind them of this fact (some of them are rather twitchy about their importance), but when you go through the list of their do's and don'ts that's really all that is left. Their primary job is to sell your work. It's not quick or easy, and you need to make it as easy as possible. That means there is one author responsibility that I have never seen any agent mention: you need to give them stuff to sell. Just as getting married is not the end point in a relationship... or to put it more bluntly - If you want have a baby just because you had sex once doesn't mean you're going to get pregnant. It might never happen, but it probably won't happen if after nine months nothing has occurred... and you'd better try again. you have to keep up new proposals and books, even if you really want to sell the older ones. And if nothing happens for say 4 years of mutual effort... well accept you're not fertile together and go elsewhere.

Year in Review

The holiday season is upon us and 2009 is almost over. And, for better or for worse, it has been a year of ups and downs for the publishing industry. The most volatile issue the industry has faced is that of e-books and what to do about them. Last weekend, I blogged about Simon & Schuster as well as Hatchette Books deciding to delay certain e-books for 4 to 6 months after the publication of the hard cover edition. Harper Collins quickly joined in, announcing they, too, would delay certain e-books. All of which seems to fly in the face of the fact the one segment of the industry that is growing leaps and bounds is the sale of e-books. Where the debate will end, no one knows for certain. However, I think we are going to see more and more authors taking matters into their own hands. 7 Habits author Stephen R. Covey has moved the e-rights from a couple of his books from S&S to Amazon. Paul Carr is, in his own words, is producing " my own pirated version" of his book Bringing Nothing to the Party and giving it away free on his website to coincide with the release of the paperback version of the book. And, to add another spin to the mix, Carr's agent told him to do it. Will we see more and more of this happening? I think so. Authors, on the whole, seem to know that they have to get their work into as many readers' hands as possible and e-books don't necessarily cut sales, even when given free. They tend to increase interest in a writer's work, especially his back-list of books no longer in print, or that are hard to find. A word to publishers, isn't this what you should be worried about as well instead of the declining sales of over-priced hard cover editions?

Then there was the whole Harlequin foray into the vanity press business. Again, I had to scratch my head and wonder what in the world corporate was thinking. They obviously hadn't anticipated the quick and decisive moves by RWA, SFWA or MWA in denouncing the move and removing Harlequin and its authors from future pro status in their organizations. Again, the full depth and breadth of the fall-out from this move have yet to be seen.

We've seen Borders disappear from the UK and Barnes & Noble bring out the Nook, its answer to the Kindle. B. Dalton is closing in Laredo, TX, leaving Laredo 150 miles from the nearest bookstore.

Yet, for all the negatives in the industry, there have been positives as well. According to the Association of American Publishers, e-book sales have been on the rise. For October 2009, sales were at $18.5 million, up 254.3% over Oct. 2008. Year to date revenue is up 180.7%. Kindle sales have sent Amazon stock on the rise. The Nook premiered to mixed reviews but sold out quickly. Even Harper-Collins, one of the publishers that announced delays in certain e-versions of best sellers, is polling readers on their reading habits, etc. What's interesting is their poll, meant to determine the viability of e-books, when to release them and what their retail cost should be, is skewed because it is an on-line poll and let's face it. Those surfing the internet and taking such a poll are more likely to read and e-book than those who don't.

For another take on what happened in the publishing world this past year, check out Nathan Bransford's blog.

So, what do you see as having been the most important development in the industry this year? The most controversial? Do you agree with Jessica over at the Dystel & Goderich Literary Management blog that this has been the decade of Middle East in publishing or has it been the decade of Twilight? Finally, what do you see happening in the publishing world over the next year or two?

Saturday, December 19, 2009

White Hell of Kent

This has been a year of wierd weather in England. We have had floods, storms and now snow in southern England. The wind is blowing in off the Baltic and we have the unusual combination of precipitation and cold.

Six inches fell in a night and life has ground to a halt.

The Eurostar has been shut down after an interesting design feature revealed itself. The electrical systems fail when the trains plunge from the cold French countryside into the warm Channel Tunnel. Four trains jammed the tunnel, one after the other.

Above shows the view from my front door. Note that flowers grow outside pretty much all the year round.

The December sun peaks over the horizon.

But not for long.

The holly bush in my back garden.

View from my bedroom window over the Mierscourt Valley estate. Note the palm tree. They grow well here in Kent. We also have vinyards.

Wabbits don't like snow very much.

Friday, December 18, 2009

Holy Stardrive Batman

OK. Bad pun, but I just love the concept. You manufacture a small black hole – concentrating a tremendous amount of energy into a small volume with something like a giant gamma-ray laser. Just forget for now the small issue of the little black hole escaping and say falling into the core of your sun. You end up with a black hole no bigger than an atomic nucleus, which happens to weight around 1 million tonnes.

Then you manoeuvre this little miracle into the focal range of a parabolic mirror with your ACME black hole transporter – hey presto Star Drive. Thanks to the calculations of our wheelchair bound friend Dr Hawking, we know that this little sucker will release a continuous stream of Hawking radiation – a whole swag of different sub-atomic particles with high energy, particularly gamma ray photons. These particles will be focused by the parabolic mirror into a parallel beam, shooting out of the back of the starship driving it forward.

The starship is massively heavy at the outset – one million tonnes plus infrastructure – but that energy should be sufficient to accelerate it to near the speed of light within a few decades. Close enough to the magic ‘C’ that the magic of relativity comes to the rescue of the aging star-traveller. Time would slow down at this speed to such an extent that it might be possible to travel 2.5 million light years within a human lifetime. My organic, gravity-bound brain boggles.

What to do when we get there and our little black-hole has shrunk to nothing? Easy. Just make another one. Better take your friends with you though. Your whole civilisation might be extinct by the time you get back.

What’s your favourite star-drive concept? (No FTL cheats!)

Thursday, December 17, 2009

Passing for Normal

This is in a lot of ways the flip side of Sarah's dilemma - how you can be writer-weird and still pass for normal enough that you don't catch hell. Even though writers are kinda-sorta-maybe supposed to be a bit eccentric, there are limits, and then within the writing community there are separate standards of 'normal' that get enforced.

I could go into the biological and social reasons for it, but I'll leave that for the biologists among us. Suffice to say that every group of people quickly evolves its own norms and the most influential members of it usually end up enforcing them.

So... how do you pass? Me, I tend to fade into the background. Nothing to see here, move along. It's a useful trait at conventions (it's amazing what you hear when people don't realize you're there), but not when you actually need to be noticed. For that I have what could be called "Con Kate" who I think may be related to "Evil Panel Sarah". It's a kind of reverse fade, where you hide the bits you don't want seen by drawing attention to them in an exaggerated way, preferably one that fits an existing stereotype. I aim for "Crass, crude Australian" for the US audience - Crocodile Dundee-esque ramped up to the max, usually in stark contrast to the appearance, which for cons is "elegant". The sweet, sweet sound of brains exploding tells me when I've got it right.

The next step is to lose about half my body weight and invest in the kind of clothing that makes jaws hit the floor and women go interesting shades of green - but that one's going to happen about the same time Hell moves to the South Pole.

Does anyone else feel they have to pretend to be normal to pass muster? One of the joys of the Internet is being able to find people who are enough like us we no longer feel like we're complete and utter lunatics - but maybe I'm just kidding myself and I really am so far around the bend that I've doubled back on myself and gone quantum in some bizarrely Pratchettian fashion.

Any victi... er... volunteers, feel free to share your thoughts. Or just tell me I'm barking mad.

Wednesday, December 16, 2009


When I first started writing, I KNEW that all the editors at every house were laughing at my submissions. Perhaps this is normal. Or perhaps it has to do with my being foreign-raised, knowing I was foreign-raised. No, not in the normal way. I wasn’t raised with English speaking parents, or even one of them.

I first learned English in the classroom at the age of fourteen. It wasn’t even my second language, which was French, but my third. And if I hadn’t fallen in love with it within six months – due in part to an excellent teacher – and started reading in English in my spare time, with a dictionary by my side, when I first came to the states, as an exchange student, I’d have spoken at best broken English, like my colleagues did. And four years later, I’d still have been fairly lost. Not only was my English skewed – I knew how to say "ontological doubt" but had no idea how to say "faucet" for instance – from being learned exclusively in the classroom, but my mental picture was skewed too.

Mostly you make up an image of your homeland by growing up in it. Oh, yes, into the pot DO go the books you read, but also a million other things that mark you as a native of your generation. Things you’re not even aware of. Things of which I’m only marginally aware, because at some time they felt odd – though not anymore

When you come in mid-movie, as it were, you have to make up what went before. Years ago, in a writers newsgroup I belong to, half a dozen of us who were born scattered throughout the world, talked about this. It took me YEARS not to feel like at any moment, someone would tap my shoulder in the grocery store; while out driving; in the park and say "You don’t belong here, get out." No, this wasn’t a fear of a police state. It was just a sense that I "didn’t belong", that I stuck out, that in the "normal narrative" of history, I had no right being here. That I was, in fact, the character who rebelled and refused to follow the plot outline. Most of these women still felt that way. Most of them, too, like I did at one time, shuddered at the thought of writing an American childhood. What if you got it wrong? The majority of your readers would KNOW.

Do I still feel that way? No. I’ve watched the kids go through school here. I’ve read a ton of biographies. In the beginning (I’m not a visual person, so this was odd) I watched A LOT of TV. Not soaps because I have my limits, just... news and sitcoms, and documentaries. I heard people make references to their growing up. People about my age. And the substratum of knowledge accumulated.

I’ve learned to swim in it. And I’ve lived in the US longer than I lived in Portugal (by about two years.) I haven’t memorized the music, but I can sight-read, and hum the difficult parts.
The tell though is that I can write a childhood in the twenties almost or as convincingly as a childhood now.

Other than that, except for the dastardly accent, I can pass. You could talk to me for hours and not know. And if you know I’m hearing impaired even the accent won’t tip you off. And a lot of my readers are shocked to find I have an accent.

So what am I saying here? I’m saying that wherever you come from, if you work at it, you can do it. I’m also saying that – remember I’m the woman trying to improve on your fears – that no matter how silly this idea of being a writer sounds, you can do it.

Of course, the industry seems to be crumbling – It’s a gift. If I’d stuck to teaching, my original profession, kids would probably be learning via implant. If I’d taken that scholarhsip in computer science, we’d be using slide rules, like in Heinlein novels (and then too, every profession seems to be crumbling as it is hit by the blunt edge of fast change. I found this out talking to my dentist.) But that doesn’t matter. If editors truly don’t gather around my manuscripts to laugh at them, it should be much easier for any of you. If I can make it here, you can make it anywhere.

So, lay down on that comfy couch. Speak up. Your mother already told me everything... No, seriously. Tell me your fears. What do you think happens when your article/story/novel hits the editors’ offices? What paralyzes you? – for years I dreaded cons for fear of offending anyone. I’m sort of over that now, but do you fear it? What about this process do you dread? I tell you right now, it’s probably unfounded. Let’s talk about it.

Tuesday, December 15, 2009

What is the future of the Book?

On Saturday, I was on a panel, where one of the audience asked what was happening with the E-books and traditional publishing. All the authors on the panel looked at each other. It was one of those classic moments where we hoped someone else would jump in with an answer.

Finally, I piped up with, 'No one knows. The major publishers are all scrambling. We're all waiting to see which E-book platform is the most efficient and reasonably priced. The whole industry is in a state of flux. But I don't think the traditional book is dead.'

At which point, the librarian who was hosting the panel cheered. She said they sit around at lunch time in the library staff room and debate the whole thing. As the Chinese curse goes, 'May you live in interesting times.'

Over here in Brisbane, Australia, the Queensland Writers Centre has set up a branch of Bob Stein's Institute for the future of the Book. Kate Eltham, CEO of the QWC, announced this at the Melbourne Writers Festival. There are other institutes one in London and one in New York. If you are interested in this topic there's a blog at if:book.

One of the blogs that I found interesting was about a book on what happens in the human brain when we read. 'Reading in the Brain' by Sanislav Dehaene.

Dehaene says:

'As I started to do experimental research in this domain, using the different tools at my disposal (from behavior to patients, fMRI, event-related potentials, and even intracranial electrodes), I was struck that we always found the same areas involved in the reading process. I began to wonder how it was even possible that our brain could adapt to reading, given it obviously never evolved for that purpose. The search for an answer resulted in this book. And, in the end, reading forces us to propose a very different view of the relationship between culture and the brain.'

And there's a post on 'Vooks'. Books that are a combination of text and video. They note it works best if the books are about self help subjects like '90 Second Fitness Solution and Return to Beauty: Old World Recipes For Great Radiant Skin, which probably make a much better case for integrating video into the page.'

I think, in the future we will look back on the the first couple of decades of the twenty-first century as a watershed time in many ways. Academics will make it all seem dried and obvious, but to those of us who lived through it, it will be complex and confusing because 'we live in interesting times.'

Do you have any idea where books in all their various forms and publishing will be in ten years time?

Sunday, December 13, 2009

Pulling it together

Well, my life is a bit chaotic right now, with the boy off to have his wisdom teeth out under GA this afternoon, and us being homeless with a fair amount unsorted and unsettled now, with farewells and looming Christmas and all its and celebrations and parahenalia, added the city noise reducing my average hours sleep to about 3 a night. So... I am still writing. When this is your day job holdays become things other people have. It's been an uphill struggle... but one I have to do or get too far behind. besides we need the money... so it is really nice when suddenly - in all the chaos - threads of a story start to weave themselves. It's a complex story with 8 distinct threads, multiple POVs and huge amounts of mythology and history. It's my job to make it look light ;-). I've been really struggling -- but yesterday the muse which is not something I know how works -- that mysterious bit of writrium somewhere in the nether took hold of the threads, shook them and tugged and twisted them, added a few lost hows and whys, and I outlined chapter-by-chapter, balancing POVs another 100 000 words into what feels like a great story. Like a jigsaw puzzle it went really easily once the key items were in place. Now if I was Sarah, I could have it all written by Wednesday, but it'll take me another 20-30 days typing as fast as I can (which isn't fast). Still it feels wonderful to have pieced it together. It always does.
Does this happen to other people? And how do you make it happen?

The Grinch Comes to Visit

Going through the news from around the publishing industry this week has made me wonder if the Grinch hasn't paid an early call this year. To say the week has been interesting is too mild. For one, I'm positive it wasn't interesting in the standard Webster's Dictionary sort of way. Oh no, it was most definitely interesting in the old Chinese proverb sort of way and that always has me looking over my shoulder to see what is about to happen next. So, let's get started and see what you think.

Jenny Rappaport announced the closing of her agency, The Rappaport Agency, LLC., on her blog on the 9th. For more information, check out her blog, Lit Soup. I haven't dealt with Ms. Rappaport personally, but have heard enough about her to know she will be missed. Good luck in all your future endeavors, Ms. Rappaport.

In other agency news, Rachelle Gardner announced that her agency, WordServe Literary, is closed to queries until January 14, 2010. With the holidays coming up, a number of agencies will be taking a vacation. Others will close to queries until after the New Year. Be sure to check their websites before submitting for any updates.

Wednesday of this week, Simon & Schuster and Hatchette Books announced that they will delay e-book releases of certain best sellers and high print run books by four months after the release of the hard cover version. "The right place for the e-book is after the hardcover but before the paperback," said Carolyn Reidy, CEO of Simon & Schuster, which is owned by CBS Corp. "We believe some people will be disappointed. But with new [electronic] readers coming and sales booming, we need to do this now, before the installed base of e-book reading devices gets to a size where doing it would be impossible." David Young, the CEO for Hatchette, said they will delay the "vast majority" of e-books by 3 to 4 months. His explanation, "I can't sit back and watch years of building authors sold off at bargain-basement prices. It's about the future of the business." Add to this the announcement by Harper-Collins the following day that they, too, would delay certain e-books and you can see the line in the sand. Their delays will range from 4 weeks to 6 months. According to Brian Murray, CEO of H-C, the continued sales of hard cover books at $9.99 will eventually lead to fewer literary choices for readers because publishers can't won't be able to risk so many new authors. "We're going to experiment with this," Mr. Murray said. "Each new e-book represents a potential new marketing opportunity at a time when we need every possible hook to get consumer attention."

What does all this mean? My take on it is that the publishers are worried that Amazon, Walmart and the like will soon insist on lower costs to them, the stores, for the best seller hard covers. Right now, they are buying these books at the price dictated by the publishers and selling them for a loss. The publishers aren't losing anything, but they are scared that things will change. So, what do they do when they're scared, they lash out at what they don't understand and, in this case, it's e-books and those who read them. The publishers think that by delaying e-book versions of their best selling books, they will sell more hard covers of those same books. Wrong. Especially if the prices of hard covers go back up to the $25 - $30 range. Worse, by delaying the release of the e-book version, there will be no push and there will be lost sales there. For example, you have a new book by best-selling author X. It's his first book in three years or more and the publisher gives it a lot of push to increase pre-order sales, etc. It hits the NYT best sellers list. Then the hard cover comes out and the reviews are awful. Worse, blogs and word of mouth trash the book. Sales of the hard cover decrease and, guess what, when the e-book version comes out at more than $10 -- something else the publishers want. They want e-book prices to be closer to HC prices than PB -- no one buys the e-book. Publishers will say, "See! We knew this e-book thing was just a fad." And they will loose sales and the publishing industry will continue its downward spiral.

Except there are those publishers who do realize e-books are now a part of the industry that must be addressed and business practices must be adapted. According to WSJ-Online, Albert Greco, a professor at the Fordham University Graduate School of Business who studies the book industry, estimates that e-book retail sales could hit $201 million in 2010, still a fraction of the physical book market but up from an estimated $150 million this year. That is nothing to sneeze at, especially not when publishers are hurting for sales.

I'm going to close this by borrowing from Smart Bitches, Trashy Books. SB Sarah sums up my feelings about this mess and I just have to share. Please feel free to add your comments.

Withhold My E-book! No, no, no!

Do you like this hardcover book?
You should buy it! Look look look!

I do not like a hardback book
I will not read it, not that book.
I want to read it, yes, I do,
but not that hardback, no, thank you.

Will you buy it here, or there?
You can buy it anywhere!
This hardback book is just for you.
The only kind we offer you.

I will not buy it, here or there.
I will not buy it anywhere.
I do not want a hardback book.
I want to buy a digital book.

Would you buy it in a store?
If you buy one, will you buy more?
You can buy it here, or there.
You can buy it anywhere!

We only have this hardback book.
There are no others, if you look.
This hardback paper is for you,
and if you buy one, you can buy two!

I will not buy it in a store.
I will not buy one, two, or more.
I will not buy it here, or there.
I will not buy it anywhere.

I will not buy a single one.
Our transaction might be done.
I do not want your hardback book.
I want to read my digi-book.

We do not sell digital books.
We only sell the hardback books.
If you want e, you have to wait.
Until the hardback sales abate.
This digital is just a fad,
and in our viewpoint, very bad.
The only books are ones like these:
Buy in hardback, won’t you please?

I will not buy them, don’t you know?
This is why your profits blow!
I want to read your books, right now!
I want to read them anyhow!

I want to put them on a Kindle,
or Nook or Sony, and not be swindled.
I will not buy a hardback book,
not now, not later, you backwards crook.

Your clueless thinking blows my mind.
E-sales are climbing! Are you blind?!
See this finger, nice and high?
You can kiss my sale goodbye.

I’ll go online and find my book,
scanned page by page by pirate crook,
and you have lost all sales from me,
both now and in the future. See,
I do not want your hardback book.
I want to read my digital book.

Saturday, December 12, 2009

Operation Wedding

We are now in the wind-down phase of Operation Wedding. The cake has been distributed, the honeymoon is done and the photos are coming in. I therefore thought I would put some of them up as I am too emotion exhausted to think clearly.