Handsome, Ruthless and Stupid

Some random thoughts:

Over at SF Signal, one of the commenters on the Mind Meld I participated in yesterday noted that most of the people giving examples were white men, and most of the examples they gave were the works of white men. Putting aside the fact that we don’t know how many women or other ethnicities were invited to participate and perhaps did not respond, I always find these kinds of examinations interesting. In the same way, I sometimes notice halfway through a movie that every single character in the film is white, or black, and from that moment on I’m more obsessed by the monochrome nature of the film than anything else.

Personally I don’t think I’m a sexist, but perhaps I am and don’t realize it. We all think we’re wonderful people, when in fact most of us are complete kneebiters. But that’s beside the point.

The question was to give an example of SF/F worldbuilding that I thought was genius, and I used Pohl’s Heechee books as my choice. I could have used Julian May’s Pliocene/Milieu books as my example; it’s just that as I scanned my bookshelf I happened to notice Pohl’s books first and thought damn, Pohl’s worldbuilding was fantastic and I fired off my response. If I’d glanced at a different shelf, I might have added one more woman to the list.

This makes me think about women writers I would give a limb to be in the same writing class as. Aside from May, there are plenty of female writers from various genres who have rocked my socks off, and continue to do so – like Barbara Tuchman, Agatha Christie, Patricia Highsmith (perhaps my favorite non SF/F writer currently), or Dorothy Sayers. Of course, anyone who reads should be able to produce a lengthy list of authors of various genders, ethnicities, sexual orientations, and religious affiliations, without trying too hard. If you can’t, you’re probably just not reading enough.

I’ve been trying to learn how to play guitar and speak French. For several years now. I don’t learn easy. Part of this is a stubborn determination to regard human interaction as undesirable, meaning I disdain teachers and tutors and try to do these things by myself, with fairly predictable results. A year ago The Duchess, my suffering wife, bought me some guitar lessons at a local place and marched me over there so she wouldn’t have to listen to my self-invented “chords” and I have to admit I like the teacher and have made astounding progress. I’m no Clapton or Van Halen, but at least I can play something identifiable as a “song”. And I now know what a Power Chord is! and why everyone lurves power chords.

French: Not so much. I’ve been striving to learn merely to speak broken, pidgen French using various audio recording-typ lessons, and while I think I might be able to painfully mumble something a generous and helpful Parisian might be able to understand, I don’t feel very masterful. We’ll see how it goes.

Aside from all that, revisions on The Eternal Prison continue apace, with some surprisingly hefty changes. This happens to me a lot; a minor suggestion or criticism inspires a lot of writing, because I suddenly see how things could be oh so much better, and I’m off to the races. I like what I’m doing, ripping and tearing things apart and pasting them back together. Hopefully my editor will, too.


World Building at SF Signal

Hey y’all,

I was recently asked my thoughts on an example of excellent SF/F world building by the good folks over at SF Signal. Go on over and see what I and plenty of folks smarter than me had to say about it. Why not? My god, you’re reading my blog, you can’t have much else to do right now.


More Unicorn

Well, heard back from my genius editor at Orbit about The Eternal Prison, so the long dark tea-time of my soul begins in earnest. Meaning I have some revisions to make.

Here’s my recollection of the conversation, which should go a long way to illustrating the Exciting Life of a Novelist in These, The End Times:

Genius Editor: Hello! Put on some pants and listen.

ME: Uh. . .pants, pants, pants. . .hold on. . .pants, pants, where the hell–ah! Here’s a pair. Not mine, but will have to do. <grunting noise> Whew! I’ve, uh, gained a few–okay! We’re in. Shoot.

GE: I just got done with The Eternal Prison. Excellent. Best one so far. You’re a genius.

ME: Hooray!

GE: Wait, don’t start drinking yet.

ME: <pausing with bottle in air> Uh, okay.

GE: I could not help but notice that we seem to be missing several chapters. Like, the whole sequence when they visit the Center of the Earth to retrieve the magic ring? Aside from not really being in concert with the universe you’ve created in the first two books, this whole sequence is just not there. At the end of one chapter they say they’re heading to the Center of the Earth, and the next chapter it’s like fifteen years later and that whole adventure is recalled in flashback by the characters. Very few flashbacks. It was very confusing. Was there a Unicorn? Because there was a lot of Unicorn imagery that might have made more sense if we’d been given that part of the story.

ME: Got it: more unicorn. I can do that.

GE: And, frankly, the whole last third of the book seems like ten chapters from a totally different book, just pasted in with the character and place names searched-and-replaced. Which I can tell because the search-and-replacing was sloppy, resulting in Avery Cates being referred to as Avery DorCatesothy throughout. Aside from this sort of unprofessional mistake, the last third of the book, as a consequence, makes absolutely no sense. Suddenly they’re in a zeppelin on an alien planet? And there’s elves?

ME: Uh. . .would more unicorn solve this as well?

GE: No, frankly, it would not. I think you have to re-write the whole last third. You know, so it makes sense.

ME: Uh-huh. Sure, sure. No problem.

GE: Good.

ME: What, exactly, does “make sense” mean, in this context? I really don’t see why more unicorn wouldn’t work here as well. It would, you know, create a visual link between the two sections.

GE: Moving on, I can’t help but notice that several chapters interspersed throughout the manuscript are, in actualilty, Wikipedia entries, simply cut-and-pasted into the file, with no attribution or explanation. The entries don’t even seem to have anything to do with the story. For example, chapter 17 is the entry for the Heavy Metal band Iron Maiden.

ME: Shows what you know. This is deep, Joyce-ian stuff, here. You have to look deeper. I am a genius. Of sorts.

GE: Well, we can’t publish it like this.

ME: Right! I’ve been taking notes. Let’s see. . .basically, you want more unicorn. That’s what I’m getting.


ME: Oh! Right. And lose the Wikipedia stuff, despite the fact that that’s the core of the book and will win awards for us. But I should delete the Wikipedia entries. And more unicorn. Got it! When do you need a rewrite? I’m pretty open, I could have it to you by tomorrow morning. Maybe noon, but probably morning.

GE: …

ME: Holy shit, do you think there’s a Wikipedia page on unicorns? Damn, I might have this re-write for you by tonight.

GE: <dial tone>

My memory may not be what it once was, so some of the details may have been fudged in there. Back to work!


Book Roasted

I am baked to a nice red color after my Book Roast. There was pantslessness, whiskey, and thong underwear, and someone did indeed win a signed copy of The Digital Plague. Truly, a great time to be alive.

Thanks to all the Book Roast folks for a grand time, and I’d encourage everyone to check it out on a regular basis for some book-based fun.


Video Goodness

I almost forgot about this: A few months ago, when brainstorming how to get folks to pay attention to me (anything short of Daffy Duck’s Trick You Can Perform Only Once is fair game – nudity is fine), I made a little video “trailer” for The Digital Plague. No! Really! Using an array of public-domain stuff, I created a short clip to promote the book.

Then, what happened is, I was in a bar with a bunch of folks from IO9.com and chatting with Annalee Newitz (much to her dismay, no doubt) and mentioned trailers for books, planning to wow her with the fact that I had, indeed, created such a trailer. before I could brag, however, she made a sour face and said that a trailer for a book is possibly the silliest thing she’d ever heard of. This isn’t a quote, since I didn’t take notes, was somewhat drunk, and have a poor memory anyway–it is entirely possible she said something completely different, and I am just remembering it wrong. I also remember wearing a tuxedo and fencing with a large green rat in a purple smoking jacket. It’s tough being inebriated all the time.

Anyway, after having my hopes and dreams of easy promotion crushed right in front of me, I forgot all about the video for a while. Until today, in fact, when, in a brief and shining moment of sobriety, I remembered it. So here it is. Be kind. I bruise easily.


Cats Has Taste

Cats Love Me!Consider here this lovely photo sent to me by one Tez Miller from Australia. I’ve always known that cats are the smartest creatures on the Earth (exceeding Dolphins, humans, and even white mice), but here is proof! Tez added this along with the pic: “A photo of my cat Manny with The Digital Plague. Sorry he doesn’t look more enthused – he had to visit the vet today.”

Don’t fret, if you read Tez’s blog you’ll see Manny is fine. Although I think the caption to this photo should be DUBIOUS CAT IZ DUBIOUS ABOUT YER BOOK.


Random Thoughts

Happy Independence Day, everyone. Well, a day late, but what can you do. My general incompetence is always leaking all over my life, ruining everything. I’ve got nothing coherent to say, but a few random things are bumping about, so I figure I’ll make use of them and just jot them here.

I keep pretty good track of my writing projects and how they fare, especially the short stories. I submit stories pretty regularly, far and wide. So far, over the course of my entire ‘professional’ career (since I was about 18), I’ve submitted 1120 stories to various markets, and sold a grand total of 24 (sold being a loose term - accepted might be more accurate, as many, especially in the early going, were sold for contrib copies or similar). This is a success rate of 2.1% for those keeping score at home. On the one hand, this is a pretty sucky percentage. On the other, this reflects the relative lack of due diligence I perform when researching markets – I’d guess a good 20% of my submissions are doomed from the beginning because I am too lazy to research markets properly.

My success rate with novels, on the other hand, is great: Out of 8 novels that I’ve attempted in some way to sell, I’ve sold 4, for a success rate of 50%. Out of the 4 that haven’t sold, one is still being actively shopped, so there’s always hope.

Other randomness:  I just finished playing the game Portal, which was a blast. I don’t play many video games; basically I am a whore for First Person Shooter-type games and that’s about it, unless you count Text Adventures. I played a mean Zork when I was a nerdy kid as opposed to a nerdy adult. Portal is a lot of fun, and I recommend it not merely as a cool FPS game, but as a puzzle-game – the whole game is about solving puzzles, really, and you never once hold an actual gun or kill another being in the game. Well, almost never. Depends on definitions, I suppose. Still, a fun game.

I’ve also been hearing a bit about MagCloud, which is interesting to me as a DIY publisher of a zine. MagCloud is kind of like Lulu.com for magazines – they let you upload a PDF for free and claim they will handle subscription fulfilment and manufacturing, with a base cost of 20 cents a page. You can set the cover price and keep the difference, so if you’re mag costs $5 you can set the price at $6 and keep the dollar. A nifty idea, especially if they really do handle fulfilment for you. . .except, sweet jebus, twenty cents a page? My fucking god. It sounds okay at first, because twenty cents doesn’t sound like much scratch, but my little zine right now costs between two and three cents a page to produce. Granted, I am manufacturing them myself and handling fulfilment myself, but still. If MagCloud cost five cents a page, I could see it as an alternative, but this shit is bananas. An issue of my zine would have to cost $12, and that’s without me making a dime from it.

Sure, if you want to do a small 10-page kind of thing, it might be do-able, especially considering the zero startup cost. But for anything else, not workable. Unless you want to be in the same boat as folks who put their books out through Publish America, where their books cost three million dollars each and they wonder why no one will take a chance and buy one.

So that’s what’s bouncing around in my head. That and drink recipes. And my complete inability to play my guitar in time. And the fact that it’s been raining in Hoboken for about sixteen years straight.


Pay No Mind

I’m often at a loss about this whole Blog thing. I mean, I read a lot of blogs and they all seem much more interesting than this one, and I sit there burning with envy and rage, wondering why I can’t be that interesting. This leads to some serious and seriously uncomfortable soul-searching, terminating in the drunken determination to kidnap John Scalzi and force him to blog under my name. Luckily I rarely get further than the car before passing out, usually stalling in the middle of the street and rolling into a nearby tree; my neighbors, bless them, are used to being woken by the impact and come out in the pitch darkness to push my car back into its parking space, where I wake up the next day.

But I digress.

The problem with me blogging, of course, is that I am completely unsuitable for the activity. I think I can bang out a pretty decent story, and the zine, while a kissing cousin to the whole blog thing, is different in its inception and creation in just about every aspect. There are plenty of reasons I’m no good at this, and I can only pray that these reasons, when blended together by my personal spiritual glue of alcohol, despair, and irritation, become something vaguely entertaining.

1. I’m a moron. No, really. The vast, uncharted wilderness of Things I Do Not Know is. . .well, vast. I can’t speak authoritatively on much of anything, which leaves only the role of Internet Blowhard available to a man of my slim skills. This doesn’t appeal to me because of the torrents of abuse I’d have to withstand. I’m not a strong man. I can’t take the abuse.

2. I’m boring. If you can’t be the go-to expert on something, you can try to be everyone’s vicarious life. Unfortunately, here’s a typical day at the Somers Compound:

  1. Wake up. Doze off again for five minutes. Wake up.
  2. Drink coffee.
  3. Sit at my desk for roughly sixteen years, working.
  4. Make dinner.
  5. Check on the prisoners in the basement. If necessary, pick one to set free so they can tell the world what they’ve seen.

See? Nothing very exciting. I don’t hang out with celebrities or do particularly extreme things. My wife will tell you it’s hard to get me to simply leave the house. I suppose I could exploit the glamour of my debilitating drinking, but that ends in tears a lot more than you might suspect.

3.  I’m lazy. The Golden Rule for blogs is you have to post every day. You have to give folks a reason to surf over to you every day. Even if you’re not selling ads, it makes sense: If your page remains static all the time people get out of the habit of checking your site, and after a while forget you exist. If you’re putting up exciting information all the time, people will check you several times a day and your empire of thoughtspace will grow to Darth Vader proportions.

Sadly, I am a lazy, lazy man. Almost all of my interesting news, weird web sites, or cool tidbits comes from other, more dedicated bloggers, and even if I was willing to simply regurgitate their efforts here, it all seems like work, somehow. Work gives me hives.

4. I’m private. Or shy. I don’t want to post about what I did last night, or what I made for dinner, or what my wife and I talk about.  That leaves posting about writing or posting about my cats, of which I have more than you might suspect. Now I am sure there are folks who wouldn’t mind reading about my cats and their zany misadventures (possible blog post title: Kitten Spartacus Thinks He Is Big Enough to Eat 4-Year-Old Pierre and I Encourage Him in This Belief), but I’m not sure their numbers are that large. I could, I suppose, post about the craft and business of writing, and probably will do so a little more in coming months, since folks seem interested – and I know I eat up such posts on other blogs – but that’s a limited topic, I think. Besides, my craft advice boils down to: read a lot, write a lot, don’t be afraid to do stuff you’re not supposed to (curse, have dead folks narrate events, have everyone die in a plane crash at the end – hell, have fun with it). Everything else either comes naturally or isn’t there to begin with.

So, where does that leave me? Pretty much using this blog as a promotional tool, announcing things where my name or book title (or, in a holy convergance that makes me happy for one brief, shining moment, both at the same time) is mentioned, or where I will be appearing in public, shouting my name and book title over and over again (folks who live in Hoboken know you can witness this just about every night in Church Square Park, where the cops know me and gently lead me home after administering a breathalyzer). This is all well and good except, of course, that folks who read this blog regular-like generally already like my writing and thus are paying attention, so it’s kind of redundant.

Oh well. Look – I just constructed an entire post from the cobwebs and dead spiders littering the attic of my brain. This is, I submit, a form of genius, albeit unrecognized.