Everything old is new again

You may remember that, upon selling the first book of the Wolfbreed series to Bantam, I had titled it, simply Wolfbreed. You may also recall that Bantam asked me to change the title. So, after much debate, I came up with Lilly’s Song. We’re all happy. Now, apparently some shifts in the power structure at Bantam meant that the current mucky-mucks at Bantam didn’t much like Lilly’s Song as a title. So it got changed again. To Wolfbreed.

Books on Writing: Writing Popular Fiction

Writing Popular FictionI have on my shelf of writing refrences, an interesting cultural artifact from the early 70s.  The title is Writing Popular Fiction, and is a hardcover published by Writer’s Digest back in 1972.  The author, according to the back cover copy, had sold 24 books since 1967 (yes, that’s only five years) won an award from the Atlantic Monthly, and was nominated for a Hugo award in 1970.

You may have heard of him.  His name is Dean Koontz.  Yes, that Dean Koontz.  And the amazing thing is that, unlike, say, King’s On Writing, this was written a fair bit before he wrote a single thing you’ve probably heard of.

The first thing that strikes you about this book is the lack of pretention.  The mechanistic tone Koontz takes here makes early Heinlein look like James Joyce.  He is quite in love with the systematic list; the five elements required of genre fiction, seven types of character motivation, eight types of science fiction plots, seven western plot types, four possible viewpoints, seven taboos of the gothic. . .

Here are some of the high points.

Koontz on character motivation:

Any set of character motivations, when examined, fits into one of seven slots: love, curiosity, self-preservation, greed, self-discovery, duty, revenge.

Koontz on the Gothic Romance:

For a year, an editor friend had been urging me to try a Gothic novel […] I declined, principally because I didn’t think I could write believably from a woman’s viewpoint, but also because I simply did not like Gothic novels […] I didn’t see how I could write in a field for which I had no respect.  When the science fiction market remained tight, however, I finally tried my hand at a Gothic.  I finished the book in two weeks, attached a female by-line […] The editor read it, made a few suggestions, and bought it for $1,500.

Koontz on revision:

One familiar piece of advice given new writers is: “Put it aside for a couple of days or weeks and re-read it when you’ve cooled off.”  At all costs ignore this advice.  […] When you’ve finished a piece, send it out straightaway and get to work on something new.

This is not to say this isn’t a worthwhile book. In fact, if you can find it, it is useful just for hammering home exactly how much of fiction is craftsmanship. Not to mention it is a time capsule full of surreal anachronisms not the least of which is reading a 28(!) year old Dean Koontz pontificate like a curmudgeon who’d been pounding away since the pulps.

What should you look for in a workshop?

As Promised yesterday, here’s a few bullet points to keep in mind when you look to join a writer’s workshop.

  1. Look for a group of people who are close to yourself in development as a writer.  While pros can teach beginners, a workshop is not a classroom, it is a group of peers where you’re supposed to contribute as well.  If you’re an outlier past either extreme of the group’s bell-curve, you will find the give and take of workshoping too unbalanced to be much use.
  2. When you attend, look for a disciplined and businesslike process.  The mechanics are arbitrary, but it isn’t useful if critiques go off into tangents.  Also, is there a set schedule?  A defined process to distribute stories?
  3. Speaking of talking over each other, find a group of people who are respectful of you and each other.  Any group where people are dismissive, defensive, argumentative, will be less useful even if you aren’t the subject of the snark.
  4. Diversity is a good thing to find, differing points of view can help a story and illuminate blind spots.  But make sure that the group is open to whatever you’re writing.  Even if they are, bear in mind that the further afield you go, the less even a willing critiqe can help.  (They’re doing screenplays, you’re doing poetry.)
  5. Remember you’re looking for a workshop, not a support group.  If everything that goes through the group gets effusive praise, it’s only helping your self-esteem and doing squat for the writing.

Gook luck.

A writing post to clear my head

Enough politics. Let’s talk about workshopping.

I really liked how the interview went with Mary (go read it, I’ll wait) and thought I’d put my two cents in about why I like running my work though the meat-grinder that is the Hamsters.

What I get out of it:

  1. It accelerates the time it takes to get critical distance from the work.  When revising it is important that you see what you actually put on the page, not what you thought you put there.  That only comes with distance, and I find having a half dozen people misunderstand the same paragraph is a good way to shift right into editing mode.
  2. It gives me focus.  When I plan a rewrite, there’s always some points that I think need work. Sometimes it confirms my suspicion, but many times I find that a group of people ignore the problems I see, and focus on something completely different.  It allows me to let go of issues that may not actually be problems.
  3. It gives me a deadline.  If I’m having problems producing, announcing that “sure, I’ll have something for the next workshop,” gives me a little kick in the pants.  Doesn’t work all the time, but enough times to be useful.
  4. It broadens my outlook.  I’m more likely to take risks, because whatever I do with structure, style or my characters, I have a bunch of people whose opinions I trust to talk me off the ledge if I do something stupid.

Tomorrow I’ll go over what I think writers should be looking for in a critique group. (either forming or joining)

Or, do you want Rahm Emanuel to know where you surf?

Here’s the thing I’m trying to get across.  All those of you who voted for change?  Pretty much a Fail if you ask me.  Not because I have anything in particular against Mr. Obama, but because Democrats and Republicans are pretty much the exact same creatures until you get on the whackass fringes where people get to be sincere because no one in Washington actually takes them seriously.  (My dream ticket of Ron Paul vs. Dennis Kucinich.)  The Democrats are not “change” they are exactly the same type of statist big-government control freaks as the Republicans, just with different rhetoric.  Example, you ask?  Well, the Democrats want to know your every move so they can tax you more efficiently, the Republicans want to know your every move so they can  protect us from “criminals looking to harm innocent children.”  (And we all want to protect the children, don’t we?)

So, to share my crown of bipartisan asshatery with Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood, I now present to you Senator John Cornyn R-Texas who wants all ISPs and Wi-Fi hot-spots to maintain logs of your internet activity for two years, up to and including your wireless home router.  Every-fucking-thing that uses DHCP, from your employers’ network, VOIP services, Starbucks, the local Library, the guy down the street with open WiFi, the Holiday Inn.  All of these would be required to save and maintain “all records or other information pertaining to the identity of a user of a temporarily assigned network address the service assigns to that user.”

But yeah, you Democrats are probably right, things fundamentally changed on Jan 20th and the US Government is now all sunshine and rainbows and will never ever try and abuse its power or suppress dissent ever ever again.

Do you want Karl Rove to know where you drive?

How about Rahm Emanuel?  You think it is a good idea for the State to watch your every move? Should the FBI, the ATF, the IRS and Customs and Immigration be able to track you wherever you go?  Wouldn’t it be nice if every municipality was able to issue speeding tickets retroactively without bothering to have a cop present?  How about when you apply for that government job, since they’re the only ones hiring, and they get to look up every AA meeting you’ve been to? Well, holy Stalinist autocracy, Batman, this is what we got coming unless a hell of a lot of people start saying Fuck No right now.  I’m sorry, it doesn’t matter what the intent is, what kind of legal “restrictions” are placed on the data.  This isn’t a slippery slope, this is a sheer cliff off into the Abyss.  Once they have a mandatory GPS chip in every car, what makes anyone think the state will limit it use to gouge our taxes when it could be oh so more helpful.

We can thank Secretary of Transportation Ray LaHood for being the asshat to float this particular trial balloon, one the Obama administration immediatly deflated.  The problem is, individual states are still considering it.  You think the Feds won’t take advantage of that data?

Genrewonk Interviews Mary Turzillo

Analog April 2009Today we’re interviewing a friend of many years and head of the mysterious group I refer to in these pages as the Hamsters.  I’m talking to Nebula winner Mary Turzillo about what the Hamsters are, how they came about and what it is that they do.  This is the point where I normally introduce my subject, but I think Mary does a better job than I would have. . .

GW: So, why don’t you tell us about yourself?

Okay, who am I? I’m this nutcase who loves science fiction, has loved it her whole life, and just wants to hurt people.

Emotionally, I mean.

That sounds bad. Let’s try again: I won a Nebula for my 1999 novelette, “Mars Is no Place for Children” and my 2007 short story, “Pride,” was on the final Nebula ballot. My novel, An Old-Fashioned Martian Girl, was serialized in Analog. My recent books include Ewaipanoma, Dragon Soup, with Marge Simon, and Your Cat & Other Space Aliens, a Pushcart nominee which appeared on the preliminary Stoker ballot. My work has appeared in Analog, Asimov’s, F&SF, Solaris Book of New Science Fiction, Cat Tales, Fast Forward 1, and other anthologies and magazines in English, Italian, and German.

My “Steak Tartare and the Cats of Garibabakin” is in the April Analog, and, upcoming,“Chocolate Cats from Mars”is in the revived Space and Time. I’m working on Isidis Rising, a novel set on colonized Mars. Continue reading “Genrewonk Interviews Mary Turzillo”

But it’s guaranteed

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Not only will you regrow hair, but you’ll get it dyed and feathered, get a nose job, have your teeth capped and your skin bronzed.  But, frankly, I don’t know why Bruce Willis wanted to look like Justin Timberlake anyway.

Western Reserve Writers Confrence

I just wanted to post a head’s-up on this a little in advance while there is still time for people to sign up.  I will be teaching a class at the 18th Annual Western Reserve Spring Writers Confrence at Lakeland Community College on Marh 28th.  The confrence runs between 8:30 and 1:30 and there are three tracks of programming of three classes apeice, my session is at 12:45 and will be on Worldbuilding.  The whole confrence is $59, and you can register here.