Archive for the ‘Junk’ Category

Writing Against the Odds

Posted: March 2, 2015 in Junk, Writing
Tags: , ,

I am going to assume all the writerly people who read this blog (*cough*most of you*cough*) have seen this article by the MFA guy ranting about people who go into MFA programs.

Not overlapping with MFA types.

Not overlapping with MFA types.

It was all over my twitter feed over the weekend. Well, at least the SFF writer chunk of my twitter feed. The NASCAR stuff doesn’t really overlap much.

I first saw it show up via Myke Cole. Swaths of writers I like and respect, both as people and as writers, had sentiments that ranged from “Wow, bitter much?” to “Fuck this guy.”

And I concur. Seriously, Fuck that guy. It makes me glad I couldn’t find an affordable and accessible MFA. I was looking into one so I could get out of my hellhole of a job into something I at least don’t hate that can pay the bills. The endgame I was hoping for was a little bit of teaching, a little bit of publishing and a big chunk of book writing. This guy makes me think I don’t have the patience for any sort of collegiate writing anything. I’ve got a friend in the Rhode Island College English program and he says there are professors that flat out say no genre work allowed in class. When I was cruising for online MFAs, one of the more promising ones, UTEP, was pretty point blank about no genre work.

So I seriously am part of the “Fuck this guy” camp. Right from his first bullet point, his article went down sideways with me.

But then I saw a couple people defending the guy.

The MFA Guy Defenders were also writers I like and respect both as people and professionals. They had well thought out points that I didn’t really agree with, but they were thought out and rational. Holy crap actual discourse!

The Defenders of the MFA Guy can talk about the same points without enraging anyone and it made me realize the writer of the article is really just a jackass more than anything. He’s a condescending jackass.

I’m not where I want to be with a writing career. Most people aren’t. The Stephen Kings and GRRMs are a million to one odds. Hell, I’m still plugging away looking for that first sale, though I think I’ve had a couple in the “close but no cigar” category of “We like it, just not a good fit here.” While I’m working on it, I don’t to bury my head in the sand and have people blowing smoke saying publishing is nothing but rainbows and unicorns crapping out gold coins and fat advance checks.

Realistic expectations with a publishing career is a good thing. I appreciate it so much when Jim Hines blogs about the yearly writing income. Agent Jennifer Laughran spelled out a breakdown of the mythical six figure publishing deal last week. (Spoiler alert! It breaks down to a crapload less than I made last year… about as much as I made moving refrigerators when I was 23). John Scalzi is big on pointing out the business realities that aren’t always friendly or fun. And if you want to hear publishing horror stories, pick through Kameron Hurley’s blog and looking for anything pertaining to Nightshade Books.

Publishing is a harsh mistress. Self publishing is just as, if not more, harsh just in different ways. I am fully aware and accept this as the Way It Is.

Some people have more natural talent and might not have to work as hard as others. Some people know the Right People. Sometimes, what you like to write just doesn’t sell. Sometimes crappy books sell like wildfire. Very few of us will ever get rich or even be able to go full time without a trust fund or a spouse/better half with a hefty paycheck. But when Hines or Laughran or Scalzi or Hurley or a myriad of other people out there in the SFF world talk about it, I am not bothered by it.

Maybe it’s just because I’ve had a rough couple of weeks what with the car exploding and not making it to Boskone and yadda yadda yadda and am a bit extra irritated lately. (The car was ‘time to buy a new one’ broken) But damnit, no one needs more negativity. Anyone who knows me for real or even just on twitter probably just snarfed at that. I get it. I’m pretty damn surly as much as I try to keep it off the blog. MFA Guy’s condescending d-bag attitude serves nothing but his ego though. There’s no “wake up call” or “brutal honesty,” just a guy stroking his ego living up to the stereotype. As a writer, MFA Guy should know that the framework behind the sentiment matters just as much as the sentiment. MFA Guy pissed off a lot of people with his attitude for no real reason.

I know what the odds are because there are some people out there who take the time to present them as realism and nothing more. The odds are long. I can count on one hand the number of SFF authors I follow on ye olde twitter that write full time without a working spouse. I live in New England with a mortgage and a kid. I spent a large chunk of my 20s living below the poverty line and it’s a not a lifestyle I will go back to. Ever. The odds of funding a middle class lifestyle on writing alone is stupid small.

I am writing against the odds anyways.

You can be honest and helpful in facing the odds with realism, or a toolbag like MFA Guy.

I’m going to keep writing against the odds

Ignoring the Blog

Posted: September 7, 2014 in Junk, Writing

I am going to spend all of five minutes not ignoring the blog to tell you how I really am ignoring the blog.

I’ve just about wrapped up Act One of the current novel which I’ve just decided I’m going to code name Minute. That’s the punk rocker godpunk novel for those who have been paying attention. Right now I’m knee deep in a update of my working outline. I’ve made some changes to the protag’s behavior based off of feedback from my first chapter. She’s less of a loaner now and it has caused ripple effects that have screwed up my outline real bad. I’ve also added a whole additional character. It’s for the better, otherwise I wouldn’t do it. But I was getting bogged down pretty bad without having the outline to work with.

On top of all that, last night I wrote a synopsis for the novel that’s going to come after Minute, code named Six. A while back, I drafted a short story starring the protag of Six. I finally figured out the set up for a novel’s worth of plot so I wrote it all down before I forgot it.

All those novel words take priority over the blog. I do have a laundry list of topics I plan on blogging about when I do magically find the time. They include…

  • Non-book inspirations to my writing
  • Checking in on the careers of authors that debuted around the time I started this blog
  • An interview with at least one author I’m not naming because I haven’t asked yet
  • Kameron Hurley’s Mirror Empire because it’s good and will be important to the genre
  • A group interview about writing with kids what since I write and have a tiny human

That’s all. Back to ignoring the blog.


Soundtrack for the Novel

Posted: April 13, 2014 in Junk, Writing
Tags: , ,

I had a conversation on twitter today about the music played while writing. This is something that fascinates me to no end. I enjoy the process of having other senses and other mediums bleed into my writing. I imagine it comes from all those years in film school.

Every novel I write, including the unfinished ones, has a very specific soundtrack and playlist. That counts double for the current one I’m working on since it, quite literally, puts the punk in godpunk.

I’m going to make things quick tonight because I have a word count I’d like to hit. Below is a sampling of the music rolling around in my noggin as I write a book about a punk rock singer with magic powers.

2 Minutos

Civet … saw them live in Hartford a few years back. Close to the sound of the band in the book I’m writing, although my protag does not look like them

Ninja Dolls


Dropkick Murphys (duh) … Fun fact: I have a crack in my cheekbone from DKM on St Patrick’s day in Boston a couple years ago

New Riot … The best mosh pit ever was these guys in Providence opening for Reel Big Fish

R.I.P. Amity

Posted: March 5, 2014 in Junk, Writing

Amity … October 15, 2009 – March 5, 2014

I didn’t want to admit this, but I have to. My novel is dead.

Really, it’s been dead for a while, but I’m saying it aloud now, today’s the day on the death certificate. It’s been in a vegetative state since November-ish. For the writerly types, it’s been trunked.

Also notice I actually admitted how long ago I started the damn thing. Fun story, I actually started it in Ireland. My reading material I brought with me on the honeymoon sucked. I abandoned it in a bed and breakfast in County Claire and started putting pen to paper. One of the protags was named Claire because of that. Anyways, I didn’t really want to admit how long I worked on it either, but I feel like I need to. Saying all this stuff out loud is the only way I can digest what went wrong and make the current work in progress better.

I actually finished the draft of my novel on my 29th birthday. I detoxed from the crazy final push of the novel where I wrote 45% of it in five weeks. Then I spent eight months editing. My edit process was mostly addition but there were plenty of subtractions. I cut out heirlooms from the twin protag’s dead mother. I cut out the first five pages all together because it rambled. I enlisted a dozen or so beta readers. Some were well versed in sci fi, some weren’t. My best beta reader was my wife. I think it was largely that she knew exactly what kind of things I needed to here while some people were hesitant to hurt my feelings. I polished a lot. I dedicated scenes to Myke Cole and Saladin Ahmed because of the influence they had on my writing. The one I dedicated to Cole was actually my favorite scene in the whole book. I polished and polished and finally, at the end of August, decided it was go time.

Querying a novel for the first time is a special kind of hell. All the other writers who have gone through it are nodding knowingly. I compiled an agent list, made data spreadsheets, wrote up my query letter, all that good stuff. I remember I stared at the computer for an hour with my hand hovering over the send button. I clicked it and almost threw up. I sent out my first batch of five at 1030 or 11 at night on a Wednesday.

At ten am the next day, not twelve hours later, I got a request for pages.

Holy shit I was jacked up. It wasn’t my first choice, but damn I was in a happy place. Even if that first one didn’t bite, I must have been doing something right and someone on my list would want to rep my awesome little space adventure of long lost pirate twins. It was a long five days until I got that rejection.

And then all the rest started coming in. I got a few one line “No thanks” emails. I got plenty of form emails. A few of them didn’t even copy my name over and just said “Dear Author.” I even had one say “Dear [Insert name].” Seriously, with the brackets and everything. Some never bothered sending anything back. Some took a really long time. The record was four months. That one trickled in back in February. Not even a nibble from anyone after that first one.

I distracted myself by working on the next (and now current) novel, with mixed results. I say they’re mixed because I am restarting it after ditching 11k words and genderflopping my protag. But the frustration was there. A lot of it. I know why form letters are used. I know how practical they are. I get all that. I still felt like I was screaming into a vacuum. If I didn’t know what I was doing wrong, how in the ever loving hell was I going to fix that?

Months removed from writing off Amity as a lost cause, I can see the forest for the trees a little bit. I’ve joined with the Online Writing Workshop. My wife and some twitter pals recommended it to me. More than one author I really enjoy have used it successfully. I haven’t put any novel chapters up there yet, but I twigged onto a pattern after some of the crits of a side project short story. (Other than the fact I suck at commas) My characters are strong. The skeleton of my plot is. But I rush from one tentpole moment to the next without letting the plot grow in between. With the short story in question, I had these two really important, intense moments I wanted to hit… and didn’t hit enough in between to connect them.

I can see where I did that with Amity now. I have these scenes and moments I’m crazy proud of. They’re not connected right though. Especially towards the end of the book, as I was hitting the high word counts in the last act, the plot makes some jumps which must have hurt it. There must have been some jumps in the front end too, since that’s the part that went out with the query letter. Honestly, I think the middle of Amity was the strongest. As counterproductive as it sounds, I need to take my time with my prose. I need to not write so damn slow, but that’s a problem of time management.

I think it was too easy to miss where I needed to tighten up the prose itself, too. I don’t think it was in a “married to the prose” kind of way. It was too familiar with it to see what was wrong. I spent years with this manuscript and my brain could just fill in the intent of the broken sentences without having to actually fix them. Overfamiliarity is also why I don’t write characters like myself.

I like to think I’m improving. I’ve gotten sick of behind the scenes work with the godpunk novel and I’ve started going headlong into the word count again. The opening is completely new from when the protag was a guy. I’ve backed up the timeline a couple days. The protags don’t need to meet on page one. I hope it’s getting better.

Most days I can convince myself that all that time spent working on Amity was not a waste. It made me better at what I’m doing and all that good stuff. I’ve had a quasi-independent sequel for a long time now. I may still write that. Bernadette, Claire and Tomas don’t want to fade off into the ether just yet, but they’re going to have to dig out of a coffin first.

Because, for better or worse, Amity is dead.


Posted: September 18, 2013 in Genre, Junk, Writing
Tags: , ,

I’m going to talk, pontificate and/or think aloud some different methodologies going into my work lately. This is another one of those blog posts that has been marinating in my noggin for a good week or two. It’s also one of those ones that needed to marinate for a good week or two in order for my thoughts to really be coherent. Not to mention I still suck at time management. That time management thing will be coming up again later by the way. This is also a blog post in two parts, completely separate but still related. Also, I’m not taking the time to write two whole blog posts in one sitting instead of just writing one.

Part One – Methodology of Writing

If you follow me on ye olde twitter, you’ll have noticed in between all the RTs, that I’ve started writing my next novel. First and foremost, yay writing! That’s what we’re all here for. Or at least that’s what I’m here for. Secondly, what’s the best way to cut down on the nervous jitters of shopping around the first novel? Start on the second. This is the Rhode Island godpunk book I’ve mentioned a couple times before, although originally it was going to be set in Connecticut. Working title is In a Murphy Minute. Usually I just name the file after the main character, the word file for Amity was originally just called Bernadette. This time I just named the file after the protag’s band. It might stay, might not.

I’m taking a lot of lessons from writing Amity and applying them to In a Murphy Minute. First off, ideas in my head rarely stew in my head for less than six months regardless of length. Novels, short stories, flash fiction… they are almost all old ideas by the time I commit them to paper. I can think of one story I’ve ever written where I came up with the whole thing out of the blue on the spot and truly pantsed the whole thing. Minute has been stewing in my head for two years at least. It started rolling around in the front of my head last year when I finished the first draft of Amity and actually let myself think about another book. I still ended up backburnering the whole thing until Amity was buttoned up completely though.

So I’m still handwriting my first draft. Crazy right? It’s the only way I can work on it during my lunch breaks at work and frankly, that’s one of the best times for me to get something done even if it is only a half hour. It gives me something positive to look for during my day. There are two big changes to my writing methodology going on with Minute versus the last book.

First off I outlined the whole entire thing, soup to nuts, before starting. When a story is rolling around in my noggin, I tend to think about the front end way more than the back end. I’m not really sure why this is, it’s just something my brain gravitates to and I just work with it as is. This has been problematic in the past. Unfinished Novel Attempt Number 2 (out of three, Amity was my fourth try at writing a novel, Minute will be the fifth) got up to 25k words before I realized all I did was provide a set up and some worldbuilding and didn’t actually have a plot. When I wrote Amity I had a very detailed outline of the first act that sputtered out into vagueness that I would meat up as I got closer to the specific part of the outline. My notebook was crazy disorganized as a result as I would cross out stuff that wasn’t valid anymore and whatnot. In hindsight, I think it killed my productivity at times. When I made my final push and wrote the last 40% in five weeks, I sat down and outlined straight out to the end before I did it. Helped me focus a lot. I found I still had the space to go off the rails if I needed to. There were single bullet points that would mushroom into entire chapters. There were also two pages that would detail out a single conversation. So I took that level of outlining and applied it to the entirety of Minute. The front end of the outline is still a little more detailed than the back end. And the whole story went a couple places I didn’t expect it to. Which is a good thing. I spent two weeks and it’s nineteen pages long, if I remember right. It’s actually in my car right now and I’m too lazy to get up and get it to count.

I think it’s been two weeks well spent and will cut down on the overall time of writing the novel drastically. I have a target Draft One Day in my head but I’m hesitant to say it out loud in case it drop the ball utterly. It’s waaaay shorter than the [redacted because I don’t want to admit how long I spent writing Amity] I took to write the last book. Like only 10% as long. And I suck at time management so I’m not sure exactly how realistic that is but I need to get more prolific with novels if I ever want to have hope of giving my day job the middle finger…. well… ok I actually give my day job the middle finger every day because I hate it. But I’d like to give it the middle finger while I’m telling it to screw forever.

The other big thing that’s different about this new books is the POV. Minute is going to be written in first person. Holy shit you have to make a lot of different choices that way. The protag has to be present for so much more when you’re plotting because if Cole (Mr. Punk Rock Protag) doesn’t see it, it doesn’t get written. More than a couple times in the outline, I felt my hands were tied with the movements of characters because I’m not used to plotting this way.

But there are a lot of advantages to this I’m finding already. Everything is much more personal, much more immediate. I’m in this guy’s head way more that I’ve been with any other character I’ve written. It’s not always an easy experience because Cole is a fundamentally broken person (another blog post coming up there). In the case of Moment, I think first person is also working to the advantage of the secondary protag too. She’s mysterious to Cole. Because we as readers never get to go into her thoughts either, she’s mysterious to us too. The question of how much to let the audience know is already answered for me. As much as she wants to let Cole know. In Amity, there were scenes that I thought it was a delicate balance. There were three protags and a lot of secrets between them but the audience knew. No issues with that here in Moment. If Cole knows it, the audience knows it. Simple.

The tone of a first person novel is also vastly different than a third. There’s a narrator tone going on with a third person. I rotated POV chapters in Amity so even if all three protags were in a scene, the audience only knew the thoughts of one. And I shifted some of the language I used depended on the POV. The difference in tone for Moment might just be since Cole is so very different than anyone in Amity and wouldn’t get along with any of them. In Amity, I doubt I swore a dozen times. I went a hundred pages or so before the first one even though I swear like a sailor in real life. In Moment I’m dropping eff bombs in the first paragraph. I swore more in the first three pages than in all of Amity. This is a Chuck Wendig Blackbirds level of swearing here. I’m dusting off some of my little use favorites like “shitknickers” and “assmuffin” and my all time personal favorite (coined by an actual sailor I went to high school with), “fuckcock.”

It actually doesn’t come naturally in my writing even though it does when I talk but it’s all part of getting into this character’s head.

Part Two – Methodology on Blogging

This is actually something I’ve been thinking about because the latest kerfluffle in the SF community came up. Seriously, can we go more than two weeks without some god damn issue or other? Especially since half of them are non issues that people turn into issues because some subset is intolerant and assholish. It actually has to do with the reviews I do on this site.

See, I love talking shop. That’s both the writing and the reading. I don’t view them as fundamentally different. If I hadn’t read a crap ton of sci fi and fantasy books since I was a kid, I wouldn’t exactly have a desire to write them now would I? I don’t have a lot of people to talk shop with in real life. Rhode Island isn’t exactly a hotbed of SFF authors. Being a small part of the community motivates me and all that good stuff. It’s why I started this blog almost two years ago. And a majority of my posts have actually been about the books I read.

Because damnit, I like talking about good books. I’ve had authors tell me that tapping out some good words about their book has given them a kick in the motivational pants. I’ve had people specifically seek out the books I’ve raved about and then they enjoyed them. My parents, the crazy well read people who have so many books in the genre that I never had to seriously bother buying my own until I was 20 have found new favorites by reading my blog. I know I’ve sold at least six copies of Wes Chu’s Lives of Tao. There’s an entire Rhode Island Air Guard unit that are Myke Cole fans because I let one borrow my copy and they all passed it around. This kind of stuff makes me happy.

And damnit, I think I’ve gotten good at writing these reviews. When I started they were a bit short and clunky. Now I like to think they’re pretty focused and usually around 1k words.

Therein lays part of the problem though. That’s a thousand words that I’m not applying to my novel. If you go back and look at my posting frequency, I was dropping two or three posts a week during summer of last year. I was reading just as much because it was slow at work and that’s how I roll. My posting frequency dropped like a rock when I made my final push for Amity. Then once I was done my first draft, I had to start doing all my Amity work on the computer at home. So any time I was spending here was eating into time I could spend on my writing. My post frequency is down to two or three times a month. I feel bad about it. The last few review posts I’ve done sat around for a week or two after reading before I had the time to type out the review. I’m feeling like that’s unfair to the book / author I’m reviewing.

The latest kerfluffle in the SFF community between writers and reviews… well frankly I think it’s kind of dumb and boils down to “Some people are being assholes” and “Some other people use the word bully over zealously for whatever ever reason I don’t give a shit enough to psychoanalyze.” But more than anything I kind of see why a lot of published authors don’t touch reviews with a ten foot pole. Which is unfortunate because I think that the ideal of a respectful, constructive dialogue can actually exist. (Search for the Gav Reads blog and Peter Brett for an example)

I actually get a not-insignificant percentage of my traffic to this blog from authors I’ve talked about RTing things on twitter. On my top ten posts, numbers two, three and ten are all review posts. But recently, all the rest of the top ten have become the ones about other stuff. Cons, and writing and genre tropes. A lot of that shop talk I love.

I think I’m going to make a concentrated effort to focus more on the stuff and shop talk kind of posts because they seem to resonate. It’s not like I have a huge audience to lose or anything. Sadly, it’s also more than a little bit of having to prioritize my time. After my family, my kiddo and my horrible day job, I only have X amount of time left in the day and I can’t spend so much of it pounding out thousand word reviews at the expense of other important things I love to do.

I think I will still pontificate about books. Being a fan of books comes first, long before anyone out in the community started writing them. I don’t think any of us should cut out the fan part of us. But I need to find a more efficient way to do it. Maybe I’ll actually use that Goodreads account I opened up back with it was new five… six? years ago. Whatever it is. It thinks I’ve been reading Un Lun Dun since 2008.

So that’s all I got today. I’ve killed 2.2k on this so I’m out of gas in terms of witty conclusion. I’m going to click “Publish” and then finish typing out a short story I want to edit up and shop around.

Or sleep.


krakenUrban fantasy and it’s nebulous cloud of variants take all those tropes from the elder statesmen of fantasy and mash it up in the real world. It quickly built up all it’s own special tropes. Personally, I think that as a subgenre, UF is finally starting to grow up. Back when I could go to Borders, the majority of UF was “Hey look, another Buffy rip off.” Girl with a [insert weapon] kills [insert magical baddie.] That’s the past. I don’t think it’s a needle in the haystack situation to find good, fresh UF anymore. These are fantastic things. Some of my favorites are Kat Richardson’s Greywalker series, Seanan McGuire’s InCryptid series and Kraken by China Mieville.

So we’ve got all sorts of new takes on the old fantasy tropes.

But there’s two parts to Urban Fantasy… what about the urban part?

Well, take a look at those three examples above… they represent the majority of where urban fantasy takes place. Pacific Northwest, New York City and London. A quick perusal of the bookshelves in my office prove this. Chalking up every book that takes place in a real world location (including bleed over from steampunk and godpunk), London creams everything. It doubles up on the Pacific Northwest which has a sleight edge over New York City. Not a single other location has more than two. In fact, most of the non-Big Three Settings are because that’s where the author lives.

Why do these places attract our imagination more than others?

New York City is somewhat easy. It is one of the oldest places in America and has always been one of the most important in just about every category you can qualify as an important city. So much of American culture comes out of New York City that I think it’s almost hard to avoid it. I think any writer worth half a damn could pull off a passable New York City without ever setting foot in that town. It’s also got age on its side, something that not a lot of American places have. We’ve got states that aren’t a hundred years old yet so New York with its 1624 founding means there’s been a lot of time for the magic and hoodoo of UF to take hold.

New York isn’t the only place in America with age. St Augustine in Florida is the oldest European settlement in the US. But since we speak English in America, most people forget about all those Spaniard settlements down south. Boston, Providence, New Haven, Baltimore, Philadelphia, hell almost any major east coast city can lay claim to age, but New York gets all the buzz. It’s a safe location. It’s weird and wild and this giant mishmash of the world’s cultures. That makes it both attractive and easy.

London fascinates Americans. There are pubs older than our country out that way. It’s older than New York by what, a thousand years, so London lays claim to the same “it’s old” argument that New York uses. I think that London in UF fascinates people so much because Niel Gaiman introduced a lot of us to the subgenre. Neverwhere is considered essential reading. Period. Doubly so for urban fantasy.

Pacific Northwest? Gah. I have no idea really. I’d like to go there on a vacation some day. I don’t really think that counts. But more than the other Big Three Settings, the Pacific Northwest has created its own set of tropes.

At least it seems that way to someone on the East Coast.

blackbladebluesThe example that set off this pontification on locations has been sitting in my head for months. It came out of Black Blade Blues by JA Pitts. The main character was driving down the highways out of the suburbs back into Seattle, frantically trying to get away from some baddies. It’s a first person past tense book so she was all “I’m just gonna have to push it to seventy and hope no cops are out, or maybe yay cops they could protect me from the baddies.” I’m paraphrasing obviously. The point is, the main character was freaked out by going seventy miles an hour on the high way.

Seventy. Miles. Per. Hour.

I stopped and out of disbelief, reread the passage about four times. Then I guffawed.

Look, I’ve never been out there, but my sister lives in Portland and my parents go out to Seattle for work and vacations. I’ve heard how driving is out there and have been thoroughly advised to not ever attempt to drive out there. Apparently police will pull you over for going one mile over the limit. In Rhode Island, unless they’re gunning for quota, the cops won’t even look up unless you’re doing twenty over. Even then there’s a good chance you’re safe because someone is going faster than you. On my daily commute, I’ll pull 65 in a 45 and still get the finger for going too slow. You’ve got to top 100 to get people to raise eyebrows on the highway. That one guy in Rhode Island who thinks it’s smart to obey the 55 speed limit on I-95 is way more dangerous than the guy doing 85 since most people are driving 70. Apparently it’s not a thing out west to drive eight feet behind the person in front of you. If I leave more space than that, someone is going to jam their car in there. Hell, they might anyways.

Okay, you get it. East Coast drivers are way different that west. I’m getting to the point.

This little localism of the Pacific Northwest completely and totally threw me out of the narrative. I read this book six months ago and it’s still poking at my brain. How does someone reconcile this sort of thing? What tropes of a city add to it’s character and what ones will just distract everyone else? I’ve got this one the brain because I started outlining my next novel which takes place in Rhode Island. There’s going to be a car chase set from Route 4 up to 295 and the four people from Rhode Island who might read that are all nodding knowingly. My commute is a half step from a car chase as is.

But that’s normal for me. That’s normal for anyone who drives around here. But when I talk about cars flying by at a buck ten, darting in and out of traffic with zero response from anyone beyond extended middle fingers, that’s going to gobsmack all the nice kindly drivers out yonder. How is this fixed?

And now concludes my 1100 word rhetorical question. Ponder and enjoy.

Unfortunately, the science fiction fantasy genre gets plagued with controversies all too often. It’s a very connected community and when lameness drops, it spreads fast. The latest one involved the SFWA Bulletin, that’s the newsletter for the Science Fiction Writers of America. I’m not a member, but it’s something I aspire to.

Honestly, I tend to skim over the controversies sometimes. Writing and the SF community is supposed to be fun and enjoyment for me. I’m not naive enough to think I’ll get to quit my day job even if I sell my novel tomorrow, so writing isn’t putting a roof over my family’s head and food on my kiddo’s plate. Those are the things I’m going to care about first. I make no secret that I really hate my day job so my day’s stress is usually used up by the time I hit my 9am break. That doesn’t leave me with a lot of patience for controversies involving shortsighted jerks.

This latest SF crapstorm was so big and so exceptionally douchey, it’s impossible to be remotely tapped into the community and miss it. The parts I read about started with the SFWA Bulletin having a rather sexist cover (chainmail bikinis in the middle of the frozen north). Some people were rightfully annoyed that a professional organization dropped all this sexist imagery over one of its very visible faces. Then some cranky old white guys put a rebuttal in the latest issue that was first in the wave of exceptional douchiness.

It’s a very dated attitude and all quite unfortunate that it’s something that needs dealing with in this day and age. Jim Hines compiled a not-quite-comprehensive list of the issue and responses. John Scalzi as outgoing president of SFWA made an official statement owning up to the faults that happened on his watch and how to fix the rift going forward.

As a generic white (now) middle class guy (seriously, ancestors go back to the Mayflower, doesn’t get much whiter or  American than that) sometimes I feel like I’m not supposed to have or talk about my opinions because some great mass of other white guys says what all white guys are supposed to say. “Oh but your a white guy, you’re not oppressed.” I can’t speak with the emotional knowledge of experience for anyone’s life but mine. Logically knowing the kinds of (insert thing)-ist behavior other people have to deal with that I don’t necessarily have to experience will never be the same as the person who has to deal with it on the wrong end. I don’t define myself as a white guy, I define myself as Mike. And while that may be one of the most generic English names on earth, I define myself as an individual and not some writhing subset of humanity that makes opinions for me.

This individual says “Fuck all that noise. Follow Wheton’s Law. Don’t be a dick.”

Look, sometimes it amazes me that the SF community can’t evolve past the racist, sexist, xenophobic, insert the -ism of your choice behaviors. I was lucky enough to grow up in a household with thousands of books. I think they insulated my home more than the walls did. I started reading my parent’s SF books when I was ten or eleven and never even had to bother buying my own until I was in college. I still read their books sometimes. There was only one qualification to being read in my household was being awesome. It didn’t matter who you were. An unproven name just defined what shelf a book was alphabetized on, it didn’t define your worth as a writer. Writing defined the writer. I grew up with Mercedes Lackley, Marion Zimmer Bradley and Katherine Kerr just as much as I grew up with Tolkein, Zelazny and David Weber. It frustrates the crap out of me that people use anything other than talent as a way to define writers. . This is a genre that defines itself as forward looking. The science fiction side of things in particular has been doing social commentary disguised as other things for decades. It isn’t the bread and butter of our genre, it’s the frickin meat and potatoes.

I want to sell my novel and become a part of the grand tradition of the genre based off how good I am, not someone’s preconceived notion of me and damnit I’m going to apply those same principals to the books I read and the authors I respect. I do my damnedest to start everyone I come across in life on a level playing field. I’m not perfect. No one is. Anyone who thinks they are is probably a tool. And believe me, there are plenty of things people can and often do to drop that opinion of them like a fucking rock really fast. Driving like an ass. Loud cell phone conversations in public. Driving with loud cell phone conversations. They make me hate you a little bit. What you are will never be a part of my opinions of you. Who you are and the things that you do are the only things that will alter my opinion of you. And if I’m buying books, my opinion of you as a person effects my decision even less because I don’t actually have to hang out with the author I’m reading. Talent is all that should matter in a writing community.

I don’t read authors like Madeline Ashby or Seanan McGuire or  Cherie Priest because they’re women. I picked up their books because they were highly recommended by the community and sounded great. I don’t read Wes Chu or Saladin Ahmed because they’re minorities. I read them because they wrote the stuff I want to read. I praise these authors not because they’re different than me, but because they are fucking fantastic. I strive to be like them and be part of their ranks.

I let this sit around in my head thinking it can’t be good to kneejerk reactions to anything. I figured some proper thought organization was in order. But fuck me I’m getting real agitated typing about the crap going on in the community. You can tell by all the swears. I swear like a fucking sailor in my real life but try to keep it off the blog. But I’m not. Cause of agitation. And that’s a good thing. I should be agitated and upset by this. Go click through some of the links on that Jim Hines page. More people need to be pissed that kind of crap is going on. It shouldn’t be fucking tolerated. Read some of these women’s stories and the dumbassery they’ve had to put up with. It’s embarrassing and enraging and I don’t even know any of these people personally. It’s just horrible. And it’s not just women that have to put up with crap. I read an author on twitter that’s mega frigging talented question if he wants to go to a con in Texas because he’s not sure if he’d feel safe as a minority.

A small segment of the community (out of touch people with hateful -isms) is harassing a large part of the community (women and minorities and anyone else under the broad spectrum of “different”). It’s horrible and embarrassing and pisses in the pool for everyone. There’s room in the pool for everyone. If you don’t want to share, go off to the corner, that one with none of the nice water jets where all the crud gathers that no one skims. You’re the crud no one skims. We should skim you away, but we don’t because we’re trying to be nice and inclusive to everyone even though you’re all assholes. Eventually we’ll get tired of the crud and skim you away and toss you over the fence where we don’t even have to look at you. You’ll be dismissed from the pool where everyone else will get to play without you.

Being quiet because white guys aren’t supposed to talk about issues that hose women or minorities or LGBT (which is a awkward acronym to type btw) is not a helpful attitude. It lets the hosing continue. Assholes make a lot of noise. All the regular joes need to yell back at the assholes along side all the people who were wronged and drown out the assholes. The SF community has a lot of good going for it. I want to add some good to it. I hope the community can grow and somehow come out the other end of the mess a better, stronger community. This long litany, liberally sprinkled with swears is intended as volume on the side of good.

Blarg. I need to go to my happy place. It’s a novel I’m writing.

About a couple women. That happen to be pirates and welders, fighters and artists. Who occasionally smooch men and occasionally fucking punch them. Who are just like the men in my book. Because we’re all people damnit.

Year End Stuff/Junk

Posted: December 23, 2012 in Junk, Reading, Stuff, Writing
Tags: ,

It’s that time of year. The end of it. But it is also conveniently, not that far out from a year since I laid claim to this here corner of the internet so there’s some logic to doing Year End thing.

Hey I said there was some. Not a lot. I’m gonna doing it anyways.

Incoming a whole bunch of headers about writing, books, authors and awesomeness. (Scroll down if you want to skip right to the book stuff.)

Cool Stuff that Happened

Oh you better believe there was cool stuff. Chunks of it happened because of twitter. I always thought it was dumb for the longest time. And back when it first started, I’m sure it was, but now there are so many people using it, twitter is starting to become self aware. More than anything else short of becoming a con rat, it gives a personality to authors. Growing up, authors were just these mythic figures that had a paragraph about them near the end of the book. Sometimes. I didn’t know anything about cons, that kind of stuff didn’t happen in Connecticut. (And still doesn’t as far as I know, unless you want sweaty anime high schoolers) There are five authors I’ve discovered this year via the twitter-blog circuit. It was a “High five as a person! I doubly want to know what you write now.” Wasn’t disappointed in any of them.

More cool things. Signed books. My copy of Crystal Rain by Tobias Buckell traveled across the country and back to pick up a signature and came back with a personalized copy of Arctic Rising. Words of encouragement scrawled on a title page actually do go a long way. Also, ever get an ARC? Holy crap they are seriously the most awesome thing ever. I won a contest by Myke Cole to get an advanced copy of a book everyone should be seriously excited for, the sequel to Shadow Ops: Control Point. That first contest winner is me. Literal cut and paste job since I’m too cheap to pony up for Photoshop and too lazy to dig up some alternative. By the way, Tredici is Italian for thirteen. The phobia of the number thirteen was too long to try to use.

My writing has progressed up to personalized rejection. Seriously, that’s a big deal. That wasn’t the coolest writerly thing that happened though. Oh yeah. Finished my book! In July I made the goal of getting it done by my birthday, early December. It was a very reasonable goal then. Once Halloween started, it was less so. I kicked ass and made it happen. Dropped 30k in November to actually rock the self imposed deadline. 30k may not sound like uber amounts, but I have a day job that doesn’t afford a lot of screwing around to write time. And a wife and baby. And I lost a whole weekend to the flu. (Flu shots are helpful my ass). Currently neglecting the blog for Amity v1.5 as I type the handwritten first draft into the computer.

Blog Stuff

  • Most Read Post – Saturday at Boskone 49. Ironically, one of the first posts. Peaked early.
  • Favorite Post – Authors Behaving Well. Also, the longest post.
  • Most International Blog Traffic – Canada. Non-English speaking, Germany.
  • Most Linked to Post – vN. Publisher Angry Robot Books quotes my review on their website.

Book Stuff (What You’re Really Here For)

Best CoverBlackbirds / Mockingbird by Chuck Wendig, art by Joey HiFi

I did a whole post a while back about the awesomeness contained in a Joey HiFi cover. It’s a crazy Where’s Waldo mosaic of the main character in the books. It’s beautiful and creepy and hard to piece together all at the same time. It’s Miriam Black in art form. There are very few instances in all the years that I’ve been reading where the cover has so perfectly represented the book I was reading. In SF, I think it’s easy for covers to just fall into background noise, more so than the actual writing that goes on in our genre. I think it’s easier to push boundaries in text, (blending genres, off the wall protags, controversial subjects, etc) than it is with a book’s cover. The cover is the marketing that a store is buying off on. Looking at the best and boundary pushing books on my Shelf of Honor, a lot of them have ho-hum covers, good at best, but most of them are in no way exceptional as far as art goes. Boneshaker is the only one off the Shelf of Honor that shows up on my Top Cover List. Angry Robot Books has no problem pushing the boundaries of cover art. They’ve had Joey HiFi design multiple covers for their authors.

Most Recommended Book Shadow Ops: Control Point by Myke Cole

When I first started using twitter and following around the SF scene around the internets, Control Point was getting a lot of positive buzz as the new cool thing to seek out and read. I knew a little bit about the actual content, wizards in the military. He was at Boskone and I saw him at a panel talking about the views of Golden Age SF. He was interesting and amusing enough that I was looking to buy him a beer in the hotel bar but couldn’t find him before I had to leave. I bought the book, read it and was blown away by how fresh it was. It’s magic in a modern setting, but I don’t think I could call it urban fantasy. UF has developed its own set of tropes and that’s not what Cole gives us in his writing. You’re not getting the creepy crawlies and fantastic creatures that most UF use as a mainstay. The red tape involved with being magic user in Cole’s world had a very authentic feel. Maybe I get that because I work for a defense contractor, but yeah, red tape out the ass if the government had magic to run with. Don’t think that meant it was a slow book, all that figurative red tape is part of the setting, not a hindrance. The kinetic pace of the writing and the completely new feel to this world and magic system had me talking it up to anyone who needed something to read. In fact, I suspect my original copy of the book is still making the rounds of an Air National Guard unit. (Keep guarding that kitchen Fred!)

Most Likely to Win AwardsvN by Madeline Ashby

I said it right in my review. It’s the line the publisher quotes on their website. “I would be extremely surprised if this book did not garner some nominations and awards. vN has changed the way I will look at AI stories.” Robot fiction is not something new. Hell, it’s probably some of the oldest examples of SF. Frankenstein’s monster is a robot made of flesh instead of metal. Asimov was one of our earliest SF masters. So writing about this concept that has been in the public consciousness for generations must have been a daunting task. But having read vN, I can never look at AI fiction the same ever again. For me, there will be pre-Ashby and post-Ashby. This book has the smarts of Neal Stephenson and China Mieville mixed in with the impact that I imagine Asimov did when his stuff was new and fresh. When my grandparents were kids. And vN one-upped it. Some of the major awards are restricted based off nationality of the author and/or publisher. Ashby needs to be an honorary citizen of everywhere so we can give her all the awards. And then make another one.

Best PublisherAngry Robot Books

The year Angry Robot became a thing, I bought a third of their opening catalog in one trip to Borders. I’ve read four of their 2012 books and have a half dozen more in my to read pile and another four for next year are on the wish-I-didn’t-have-to-wait list. They’re pushing the boundaries with their writers (See vN above) and their artists (See Joey HiFi above). It’s gotten to the point where anything they have got in the pipeline has points in its favor just by being theirs. They are putting out of a lot of books that I imagine would have a hard time finding homes elsewhere. Unique books that are tough to pigeonhole and therefore tough to market and sell. But that’s what I want to read, the new and fresh and interesting. With Angry Robot, it’s been the first time I’ve ever gotten excited over a publisher. By pushing their own people to do excellent things and fostering some of the best talent, they’re raising the bar for everyone across all of SF and that’s only a good thing.

Best Short Story “Fade to White” by Catherynne Valente

I admit, I am a dabbler with short fiction, both reading and writing it. I continue to try to do both because it is something I feel can only be good for me as a writer. Challenges and all that. I read a lot of the Daily SF stories and some of the stuff coming out of the magazines but I will admit, it’s hard for me sometimes. Longform is more my style what with my randomly pontificating thoughts and tangents. (Bet you haven’t seen any of those at all.) So when I read “Fade to White”… well I’m really not sure what I was expecting. I can tell you what I was hoping. I was hoping it wasn’t another 900 word lead up to a bad pun. I had gotten one of those already that week. I think the phrase ‘atompunk’ is what hooked me. Any subgenre is something-punk now but the phrase still got me. And I was rewarded beyond belief with this amazingly beautiful story. Just read it again and woah, there are so many feels in it. The impact of this story has been rolling around in my head since August and it won’t get out. It’s a very creepy Cold War-ish story with a lot of power behind it. This should be making the award rounds with vN.

Best NovelWell of Sorrows / Leaves of Flame by Benjamin Tate

Best Novel is a difficult thing to pin down to just one book (er… two, but they’re the same series so I count it as one). Favorites have a lot to do with subgenre or length or even just mood. I can give you favorites for all sorts of flavors of SF, favorite series, favorite stand alones, favorite when I need a quick read, favorite when I want to think. It’s endless. But I have to give the title of favorite that I’ve read this year to Ben Tate. I picked up Well of Sorrows at Boskone because I was all about authors I saw that day when I was shopping. It kind of sat around in my to read pile for a while. I was burned out on fantasy for years because it was the same old tropes. In the year and a half before reading this, there were only three fantasy authors I had read. Well and its sequel Leaves have really changed how I see where the fantasy genre is today. It’s not the Tolkien point A to point B novel anymore. I maintain that these are fantasy-thrillers. The characters are varied and the plot is deep. The storytelling has a very universal feeling to me, able to stand on its own even if it was stripped of the fantasy tropes. Tate wrote some moments that completely took me off guard and left me with jaw dropped exclamations of “Holy crap did he just do that?!”  The old point A to point B novels could never do that. Reading Well and Leaves really made me feel that fantasy had grown up and could engage readers in a way that was evolving for the better but yet retaining the best of what came before. Sword and magic have been interesting me more than they have since I was in high school. Well was the first book I added to the Shelf of Honor since 2010 and impacted me to the point of a shift in my reading habits. That’s why it edges out all the other extremely excellent books I’ve read this year for the Best Novel nod.

The Final Stretch

Posted: November 28, 2012 in Junk, Writing
Tags: ,

See what I did there? You thought I was going to say The Final Countdown. And I didn’t! Except for just now. So it’s stuck I my head now…

Neglecting the blog for a little bit more. I’m so close to being done with NaFiTFuThiMo. I actually get four extra days to boot since the original goal I set back in summer was “The End for my birthday.”

How close to the end am I? Very. I have two chapters left to go. One might get split into two because the way I’ve been structuring Amity is that I start a new chapter each time
I switch the perspective among the protags. I’m close enough to being done with a week to go that I don’t feel the pressure to finish as bad. I feel like I have the time to make sure I’m throwing down quality words.

And thus ends my experiment with posting from my phone. Ten minutes is as much free time I can spare. The word mines are calling.


Posted: March 11, 2012 in Junk, Stuff

I want to write up a post in the near future about the interplay between music and writing. It’s been something especially fascinating to me for a while since reading Finch. I’m asking about other people’s opinions on music and their writing. I made a proper page detailing the whole thing I’d like to do and all on the button above or over on this link.

I’d be much appreciative if anyone had any opinions or ideas they’d like to share.