Monday, July 31, 2006

From the Novel to Collaborations

Posted by Trent Walters at 6:44 PM
This continues the conversation from the writing of "Calorie Man" and novels), which began with the original post about the general mechanics of everyday writing. The subject matters range wildly; hence, the short posts.

Lou Anders
Paolo Bacigalupi
James Gunn
Pamela Sargent
George Zebrowski

JG: What novels interest you? What criteria do you use or just instinct?

LA: Mostly instinct. 3000 words does not demonstrate writing a novel. Enough twists and characters that it makes me interested. He thinks PB should write a novella first.

GZ: I’ll buy it sight unseen.

PB: Great. I’ll hand it to you, and you can close your eyes.[laughter]

JG: You can always plot or develop characters. Creating world important. Best short stories in which novel is implicit, with tendrils branching out.

PB: Thought about that. Hints of greater world. Liked that about other stories. Bigger world hinted. Create lots of indicators without having to nail down all the mystery they indicate.

PS: Star Trek books you have background world and characters (although we invented characters). Don’t collaborate much. Dangerous to explore hints of real life creeping in. [GZ and PS] had bodies of work behind them first [before they collaborated]. We did it because we liked the show. Not the same emotional investment. GZ good at first draft. PS controlled final draft and characters. At each stage the other person did not interfere. Would not argue against collaborator. Only do collaborations after you’ve developed own voice. If done too soon, you don’t learn to develop defects.

GZ: I worry about collaborations. Nobody will think that’s your major work.

JG: No problems with Jack [Williamson in ], who didn’t care what JG did. Not profitable or useful enterprise. Pohl/Kornbluth. Kuttner/Moore. They talked it over first, wrote until tired, back and forth. One would say, “Okay, I’m done. You’re on.” The one who felt strongest about [story elements over which they argued], won the arguments. They forgot who wrote what. Moore estimated how much of who wrote what.

GZ: I balk at stories with 3 people writing one story.

JG: That’s the [usual] pattern of screen plays. [directs to LA]

LA: We wrote weak spots so that they can focus and then talk person into your own solution. [laughter] I hated revision. He [his writing partner] wrote/edited after I was done.

GZ: Work only cares if it hangs together.

LA: I’ve trained myself to collab, stop at 80% done.

Terry: How do you do science research?

Sunday, July 30, 2006

Calories and the Novel

Posted by Trent Walters at 10:30 PM
When we last abandoned our panel heroes, George Zebrowski had asked Paolo Bacigalupi how “The Calorie Man” had come about, from creation to finish.

PB: It began in Bangkok with a fat white man who had just walked out of a girlie bar. (was “The Wind-Up Girl”). But kept getting energy-based thoughts--peak oil. I’m not sure I believe we have enough oil and coal for future. Read Hubbard’s peak. What if we didn’t have any? An economy not based on fossil fuels at all. What kind of economy would that be? Building big energy companies based on grain (calories). You can store energy in springs, to create portable energy. Introduced 15 characters. Had 3 plots going. New technologies kept coming up. Gets bigger and bigger. So kept paring as building. My son was born. Kept packing. Couldn’t see that multiple plot lines couldn’t be in 11,000 words. So most interesting thing was calories, the GM crops (control, intellectual property (from Mundane list), Indians flipped out [over something] and dragged that in as well. Peak oil, GM -- from that he created character who could carry out idea. Character integrated into world of points trying to make. Calorie smuggler to find gene-ripper who may have solution to problem. Muddy process of finding what was interesting about story. Once shifted focus, it didn’t make sense to set in SE Asia. It’s a grain story so it has to be set in deep farming regions, with Mississippi as road transport. Very little at beginning became story.

GZ: Sprague de Camp also had a “calorie” story. All that happens was two sleds chase each other over ice. Running and running, until one stops. Slide rule, calculates the number of calories they’d expended and finds that the others could not have survived. Hero turns back.

LA: Don’t do a calorie anthology.

PB: Still kicking around doing this as a novel. Back story is coming out in Asimov’s. Spin-out ideas still pretty neat. Yanked out early story character. Asimov’s story a bit more of an entertainment, but not as important. Working with central mass again. How might pull apart. Cultural appropriation: Process of girding self for writing story that he has no business writing about is daunting.

LA: It does sound like a novel I’d be interested in.

JG [to LA]: What novels interest you? What criteria do you use or just instinct?

How will Lou Anders respond? Does he expect novels to be accompanied by Alexander Hamiltons? or by dancing girls? What is the secret of selling a novel to Pyr? Stay tuned!

Saturday, July 29, 2006

Mechanics of Writing

Posted by Trent Walters at 9:51 AM
This was too long, so I'll post the rest later. Besides, they went off-topic. I'll leave a cliff hanger where Zebroski asks Bacigalupi how he wrote "Calorie Man."

James Gunn asked: "How do you manage to write?"

Panel participants (in this section):

Lou Anders
Paolo Bacigalupi
Bradley Denton
James Gunn
Pamela Sargent
George Zebroski

JG: Silverberg wrote 25 pages/day and sold them. Got an office next to a prolific mystery writer, who said he couldn’t write a word listening to Silverberg typing. Later, Silverberg wrote it out by hand until he got it right and became most methodical. [Siverberg had a few different periods of writing: Early (fair), Flowering (60s-70s, considered some of his best), and Renewal (80s+, more lush, richly imagined, usually), but I didn't ask which period this was]

PB: Steady accretion. 1000 words/day If he has started, it's easy to keep going. Getting going is the hard part. Rented office space above bookstore. Structure of office has helped. Works on ideas without sense of where story’s going. Starts with character, then throws in another. Plays with character/scene until "Oh!" Writes scenes with resonance but without knowing where it's going. [Perhaps an inner resonance?] Once he has structure, it goes faster. Goes thru until can’t think of what to do with it. Hands to mother and friends--readers outside of genre--so that they know what he’s talking about. They say what they think it’s about. Asks whether certain intended ideas are clear.

GZ: Has office on one end of house. 2 ways of writing. 1) At computer from notes, pieces, plans. Quick process because prepared. 2) Keeps notebooks all over house. Grabs them when ideas occur. Can be work that he’s been working on. Also has “open door” -- needs distraction to let things come up. Doesn’t let things by that happen that way. Has a “secret shift” where his thoughts are stuffed. 30-40 stories accreting this way. Though [they] may not be the main thing he’s working on. Distractions allow new ideas to come in. Sometimes has a vision of novel. If in shower, has to remember so he can write things when gets out. Judges ideas when awake and rested. If tired, won’t judge the ideas. Process is unstoppable, never runs out. Won’t telephone in the midst of work. Inspired by talking with people. [How do you know when it’s finished?] Shows passages to PS. They don’t depend on each other to solve each other’s problems. Sometimes he gets story idea, but thinks Pam would do a better at it though she rejects 9/10 ideas.

PS: Having a place that you only write is important. Worked in one corner of the room. Got used to falling asleep to the sound of George’s typewriter. Operant conditioning: That place is used for only one thing. Don’t dine there afterwards. Have a habit of when you know you’re going to write. Don’t even ask IF you’re going to write. Don’t decide. You ARE. Time of day doesn’t matter. Now that I’m working outside of writing--had structured full-time writing around a regular day--work-days you have to structure writing around that. On bus to work, she thinks about things, works out story problems. Carrying around a small notebook helps.

JG: First thing that new writer has to learn is that he writes better at one time than another. Don’t think you have to have special circumstances to write.

PB: If wakes up and move to write, he can write all day. Once awake, brain can’t tell him to stop. Easily distractable and will go do those [errands].

PS: Used to warm up writing personal letters. Email doesn’t work that way. Email may distract all day, so doesn’t look at until end of day.

GZ: Sometimes does something while tired, stressed and overextended, but can look good next day.

BD: His methods are similar to those described. He Gets chores done in morning. Starts at 1 and works for 5 - 5 1/2 hours. Dogs sleep behind chair. At four dogs let him know its time to walk. Started [keeping a] notebook because [he kept] forgetting ideas.

GZ: Terrified of forgetting. Notes get combined: sometimes 3 different files he realizes belong together. Like Sorcerer’s apprentice: Brooms bring in buckets of water[ideas].

LA: Journalism taught him to write every day. Developed habit. Writing is not inspiration. Now gets burst of inspiration toward deadlines. Took 2 different play and slammed together. Similar to Shakespeare in Love. Waited too long to sell because American Pie came out--only teen comedies sold.

JG: Do you have trouble turning off the internal critic?

PS: Yes I do. Hard to turn off.

GZ: Reader-critic likes X (early critic has to fall in love); the later critic wants to throw everything out.

PB: Has a hard time turning the critic off, especially if [the story's] too obvious (see ending before wandering into it). Go through scenes. Likes when he first read them, but later thinks he was on crack when he wrote or rewrote. Goes back to earlier versions to decide which version better. Middle scenes hard. Has lack of clarity during initial stages--easy to get muddled. Early on forced self to finish a story, which meant he had to work on despite critic. Now he is able to write several stories at once.

GZ: Sometimes a story is a reward to work on after you get this story done.

PB: His inner editor asks: Is it important or an entertainment? Is it okay to write an entertainment? Lately, allowed self to write entertainment.

GZ: Critics get together: Is this as good as you can get it? Once had an idea he never turned into a story: two astronauts orbiting Earth. Mormons have underground records to baptize non-believers into Mormonism, happening without knowledge. Atomic war occurs. “Now we’re all Mormons.” Why haven’t I written it?

PS: Because it sucks. [Laughter]

GZ: Sometimes if you have too much of a point, it becomes an editorial.

BD: The more I write, the worse it gets. Outline, carefully detailed. Never at a loss for what happens next. Now finds a better path and has to write a new outline. My favorite part is the blue pencil and marking m.s. up. Cut out all that doesn’t matter. Sentences are as good as he can make them. Doesn’t know what else to do with it, then hands it to his wife, Barb. She reads more quickly.

PB: Writes until nothing left for him to do. Never hands over if still has an idea of what he can do. Tries ruthlessly to get it [done?].

PS: Otherwise we get so derailed from process.

GZ: If enough filters. Started from old notes for short short--even if theme anthology [That is, he searches his notes for theme anthologies and doesn't try to come up with an idea at the spur of the moment because, presumably, these ideas had already inspired him]. Abandoned working on his earlier talk. If he had kept refining it, it would have been a book.

Paolo, how did you write “The Calorie Man,” from creation to finish?

Wednesday, July 26, 2006

Lou Anders and Paolo Bacigalupi Interview Each Other

Posted by Trent Walters at 6:03 PM
Lou Anders

Paolo Bacigalupi (again, no website but a new interview about "Calorie Man" over at Sci Fi Wire; also see the various links I posted earlier)

LA: Michael Swanwick “Letter to a Young SF writer”: No comforting fables. Lies about the nature of truth.

PB: Has problem with SF. Questions [the possibility of] space exploration, or even making it to another world -- misses the questions he’s interested in. Many questions we’re not talking about.

LA: Space program built on forced labor camps.

PB: PB has been accused of being depressive because of being an environmentalist. Hidden stories don’t seem to have resonance in our society. The bigger the space program, the more resources wasted.

LA: [Pyr is] not publishing difficult to read, experimental, [but] accessible, action-oriented SF that is innovative and genuine SF. I don’t think space opera is synonymous with dumb. Sean Williams, not as well known here. Mad Max meet Ursula LeGuin. He's influenced by quantum theory and multiple worlds. LA experimented [by foisting one of PYR's] fantasy novel on Orkin man who read fantasy. Loved it. [If it's] appealing on one level, [you'll have] something to take away from it.

PB: How much does it pay homage and how much of it is new?

LA: Worlds fission and swallow each other up. If we are in a multi-verse, so Sean was ahead of science.

PB: What is your sense of numbers for intelligent novels for intelligent readers?

LA: Hardcover: low thousands. Tradepaper: 10,000. Norman Spinrad in Asimov’s reviewed 5 titles. Contrasted with Moorcock. Pure SF for literate SF readers. Amazing they think they can make a living at this. Compared comparable writers on Bookscan. Stephenson’s novels (123 thousand in hard cover) -- high level mathematics, 100s of characters, complex story. Richard Morgan’s Altered Carbon (40 thousand): Shows impact of tech. Poor vs. rich. [i.e. intelligent SF can sell]

PB: What’s the ceiling with this publishing experiment? Do you have time to work out kinks?

LA: Always have pressure--don’t work without. Fantastic critical success [so far]. So they’re not going to throw in towel, but obviously we need sales. We have been getting word of mouth. Our biggest is Resnick’s book. We’ve got four more [of his?] like it, so they should be off my back for a while. River of Gods barely lost Hugo. Also hard SF, and very difficult. Cheryl Morgan: 1st wave, explore space; 2nd wave, cyberpunk; 3rd wave, global SF.

PB: History writes itself regardless of what we think. We interact with cultures in ways we never have before. Other cultures can tell us much about who we are.

LA: Globalization may bypass us. Korean rap important to Chinese. New Dr. Who popular elsewhere. Scifi channel was not interested until the big DVD sales.

PB: Not necessarily bypassed but more communication. Hesitant about writing about other cultures. More than respectful exploration.

LA: Why is SF not leading charge on environmentalism?

PB: This is what inspires me: Here’s another problem. We’re reticent about being a smelly environmentalist. Something not sexy about it. Hungry for complex stories. It’s a challenge to go after story about plastic bottles and what’s in them. Refers to RS’s comment from David Hartwell (going to lose readers here). Doesn’t like downer stories himself, actually likes Honor Harrington [Yes, PB said that].

LA: How do you grow readers?

PB: Don’t write stories like mine. How many stories of that would you publish?

LA: Published Keith Brooke’s Genetopia.

This may be where I asked [either party, although PB in particular since he seemed to make contrasting statements over the weekend] something along the lines of: "[According to your present working theory of SF,] it seems to me you stand in opposition both to genre (hidden stories without resonance for our culture, also Ordover’s prescription for space opera) and non-genre (SF's estrangement), and yet you write very strange, very SF'nal stories. How do you reconcile these?"

LA: Vanguard in short fiction can work. [This is a summary, sorry. I had to pay attention to his answer since I had asked the question, which memory says was essentially uplifting. So get the DVD.]

PB: People can take a little, but maybe not a collection. GVG can take a risk once a year. Not sure if he could do prolific production. GVG can mix magazine. Half an hour can be depressive.

LA: "Calorie Man" not completely depressive. Ending was upbeat, with hope and promise.

PB: I struggled with that ending.

Reader: At what point is space opera dumb?

LA: John Meaney -- go out and buy.

PB: We need stories that bridge our consumer behavior to sustainable future. Usually, trend-lines get worse and worse.

LA: Problem may have get close to boiling before we act with technologies.

PB: Humans have not adapted well to long-term threats as opposed immediate adrenaline threats.

LA: Paul di Filippo does positive near-term futures.

GZ's question/statement to PB: Literature is the human heart at war with itself (SF = humans at war with themselves). Everything I’ve written is grim. You have to look at it clinically. Welcome to real literature.

Eric Reynolds [who has an anthology forthcoming, with phenomenal authors involved: Stephen Baxter, Terry Bisson, G. David Nordley, Mike Resnick, Rudy Rucker, and Robert Sheckley--I haven't seen the final product, so cannot comment]: Think of [PB's kind of fiction] as preventive medicine.

PB: Pop-squad in F&SF (oct?) Asimov’s (Dec?), Fast-Forward (Feb '07), also in [follow link in earlier report] -- free trial access. Would like to be able to make some portion of living as a writer. It's an expensive habit.

Science News

Posted by Trent Walters at 9:54 AM
Via Physorg, build your own biodiesel! Find some old McDonald french fry oil and store it somewhere well-ventilated. Replace the glycerol with methanol and lye.

Nano self-assembly (sort of)? Say it ain't so!

Chemical lithography doesn’t "succumb to many of the defects and limitations of previous lithography techniques.... [It arranges particles] controlled by differences in reactivity....

"[S]cientists pre-patterned [silicon] wafers using etching techniques based on a phenomenon called “atomic step movement.” Because atom-high steps innately exist on silicon surfaces, the scientists could move these steps during high-temperature treatments to fabricate a desired pattern. Chemical reactions (between the silicon, nitrogen and oxygen) caused very thin nitride linings to form in accordance with the atomic step boundaries, thereby pre-patterning the wafers."

Via Scientific American, the World Cup for Soccer traded for greener prospects:

"In Tamil Nadu, India, Women for Sustainable Development, a nonprofit organization, will oversee the installation of 700 to 1,000 biogas reactors--simple enclosed pits about the size of a well into which villagers dump cow dung. The fermenting mass generates gas, which fuels stoves and replaces kerosene. Two other sustainable energy projects will take place in South Africa. One will capture off-gas at a sewage treatment facility and burn it to supply electricity to Sebokeng, a township near Johannesburg. The other will replace a citrus farm's coal-fired heating system with one that burns sawdust--a by-product of wood processing usually discarded.

How do bears improve local ecology through wasting food?

Spawning salmon bring ocean-derived energy into land. Salmon provide bears fat to "hibernate" during the winter.

"[B]ears actually fertilize the forests, nourishing them by discarding partially eaten salmon carcasses.... Flies, beetles, slugs and other invertebrates colonize the carcasses almost immediately and deposit their eggs there. Gulls, ravens, crows, jays, magpies, mink, marten, and other species of birds and mammals readily and often quickly make a meal of the carcasses.... [M]ore than 50 species of terrestrial vertebrates [are] nourished by salmon carcasses.... [And to benefit plants,] rain and microbial activity... break down the carcasses, making the nitrogen, phosphorus available."

Global warming explained: "water vapor and carbon dioxide... absorb a portion of the infrared heat radiated by the Earth's surface.... It will be difficult to slow or stop this global warming thanks to the warming of the Earth's oceans as well."

Get a weather station for your home.

Tuesday, July 25, 2006

Robert Sawyer and George Zebrowski interview each other

Posted by Trent Walters at 3:09 PM
Robert Sawyer

George Zebrowski (no website found, but this is an interview with a link to a story and a review)

RS: We've been meeting at the same conventions, etc. for 20 years.

GZ: We've talked about movies....

RS: We both love Planet of the Apes. It's the secret to winning the Campbell.

GZ: [hard to hear]

RS: We're both writing about the here and now

GZ: What I see most--the point is essential... the cogency[?].

RS: Both into personal and philosophical conflicts. Passionate and devoted to this literature. Don’t think it’s the literature of science but of philosophy. Focusing of definition helps us engage in what we do. SF is more for philosophy extrapolated.

GZ: [SF is] Awareness or knowledge fiction--understand “science” that way.

RS: Merrill library -- MC(SF)^2 . We all had a gut reaction that this betrays what we’re trying to do.

GZ: Merrill notes in [her old anthologies] Best SF that she's always searching for meaning of “science” in SF. That’s how I first started to think about it. Take Vonnegut’s view: dropped “SF” term. Nonetheless, he always had an SF attitude.

RS: Merrill is an example of writer-editor [GZ earlier said that the writer-editor was key to genre--RS and GZ have worn both hats].

GZ: Writer-editors created category. With Galaxy and F&SF, both run by Campbell’s pupils (who took away most of his power).

RS: What editors do you credit for shaping you today?

GZ: Campbell. Talked with 6 hours. Eager to talk. Told GZ that SF elements have to be more SF than magic. Eric Frank Russell was his favorite writer.

RS: When I teach, editor and writer relationship can be perceived as adversarial by beginning writer. But ideally it is positive: Both have same goal: Work as good as possibly can be.

GZ: [changes mind?] Fred Pohl most influential. An editor [Cele Goldsmith?] rejected first book yet encouraged, said had good spots. Most editors are writer-editors. She had a jazz muscians attitude.

RS: The Listeners, influential [probably James Gunn's novel most often noted]--in several [of his novels] were SETI. What’s all this SETI? a reader had asked, and RS realized it was Gunn’s novel that had inspired him. So not just scientists influenced by JG's novel.

GZ: Realistic SF may be reinterpreted in future.

RS: Fiction about science and scientists. Scientists had personal lives, gives humanity to characters.

GZ: Points out Fred Hoyle, Benford.

RS: What are you working on now?

GZ: Stories shine more brightly put together. Finished crime novel where physicist has to confront whether science means anything. “Settlements” --agreements people make.

RS: Starting new trilogy. Soon WWW may become accidental AI as approaches number of synapses in human brain. Usually hand-waving, but now doing much research.

GZ: All human civilization have to step back from ourselves.

RS: Hominids: Who we are and how we behave--evolution.

GZ: Who are we and where we going (if anywhere).

RS: Was pleased to hear Betty Ann Hull’s noting that RS had avoided foisting answers on reader. The purpose of art is to present questions or else answers can be soapboxing. To be a scientist, you have to be very specialized. SF writer can be grad student his whole life and can change major at will. Are there new ideas? Fred Pohl’s rec: New Scientist.

GZ: We’re all part of one system. Was writing worth it?

RS: Yes, it was worth it. My parents were grounded in realities. His mother said, "Do you know what the odds are against that?" Father said, "You’ll be gambling while everyone else is working to establish themselves." As long as it makes you happy, that’s all that matters.

GZ: My step-father said I couldn’t do this. Couldn’t wait to show his first novel sale/published. It was worth it, but it wasn’t easy.

JG: Notion of philosophical fiction -- social commentary. My impression of your work: You’re revisiting great themes and commenting. Done consciously?

RS: Yes. I’m striving to present concepts with modern lens. Our view of robotics is a 19-year-old's [Isaac Asimov's, when he wrote his first robot story] view of robotics. Agrees with Ordover’s idea that it’s time to retell these old stories. Most common review: "Sawyer breathes new life into old idea." Likes new ideas, but prefers to reexamine the old ideas. He's sophisticated in the SF sense: Knows what has happened and takes it further. Parts with Ordover on ? [Probably the idea that SF is not derivitive enough]. Resnick and Larry Niven -- what is it you try to write in SF? Niven: Writes what he loved to read as child. Resnick: writes from his present time of life. Sawyer wants to combine these impulses.

GZ: Genius time travel stories. And he thought they were all done. Loved Ringworld, but wished it didn’t become Edgar Rice Burroughs novel.

RS: Doesn’t know if he’ll be innovative everyday, but will [always] be reflective.

GZ: We’re making connections all the time.

Diane Turnshek: What is a futurist?

RS: Company pays $3500 for talks. Library pay $100 for reading. We have the gift to take all of this science and make it digestible. Here are the issues raised, and problems. That’s also a futurist.

GZ: Discovering possibilities in science magazines. Take complex things and make accessible.

RS: Both fantasy and SF. Fantasy: can’t get there from here. Need to make right personal and economic choices to make SF a reality. What we do in storytelling: tell to denizen of story’s milieu.

GZ: Estrangement gives you perspective. Our greatest ability is to step back.

Reader (to GZ): How do you organize 35 years of stories?

GZ: Black Pockets: three types of horrors (personal, political, metaphysical); Swift Thoughts (greatest hits, grab bag).

Sunday, July 23, 2006

The Good and Bad of Releasing Novels Online

Posted by Trent Walters at 7:42 PM
This discussion is most dynamically set against this provocative piece by Cory Doctorow over at Locus (which is probably indirectly a response to Harlan Ellison's lawsuits to prevent online piracy).

Robert J. Sawyer debates (in 1, 2, and 3 posts) Evo Terra (1 post), a radio journalist who also serializes novels in podcasts.

John Scalzi weighs in with his actual numbers to put his success in perspective.


Off topic, off Mundane SF matters entirely, Rick Kleffel does an NPR program on the prospects of a singularity.

Thursday, July 20, 2006

Campbell Conference Reports Elsewhere

Posted by Trent Walters at 4:35 PM
Rob Sawyer and Lou Anders have both weighed in with thoughts about the conference.

I thought Chris reported that Anders' and Zebrowski's speeches were up at the Center website, but I still don't see them. Lots of good material to see, however.

James Gunn and Bradley Denton interview each other

Posted by Trent Walters at 3:28 PM
James Gunn
Bradley Denton

This, too, was taped for a new archive of films on SF writers.

BD: Gunn is a legend in SF, and also one of the foremost critics, teachers, reviewers. My instructor at KU. I knew very quickly someone he could learn from. Followed around as grad student. Read “The Listeners,” before meeting.

JG: Any one thing you’ve learned.

BD: Sell it twice. [laughter] “Sergeant Chip” [winner of 2005 Sturgeon] has almost no dialogue. Finally, learned to get rid of dialogue.

JG: Many influences growing up. One thing he did was write plays. “Thy Kingdom Come”: Christ comes again, runs for office, and no one wants to live up to ideals, so they crucify Christ again. Took radio writing class. Radio dramas on KC history, but no one was interested. So he wrote 1st SF story, “Paradise” and sold it to Thrilling Wonder Stories in 1948. Wrote 10 stories for year. Sold third story in John Campbell. Eventually sold them all. Who wants to be wealthy when you can be writer?

BD: How did you learn to "sell it twice?"

JG: My second period of freelance. Dell started SF line. World SF in Chicago. Met agent, Fred Pohl, who sold 4 stories, so quit job to go back to writing. Difficult to serialize novels at this time. Three months writing novel. Decided to write novelettes first, then combine into novel. Met Jack Williamson with whom he hit it off with. Jack had hit writer’s block, with several novels half-written. Who would turn down writing a novel with Williamson [This became Starbridge]? Hartwell reprinted, but had the attributes reversed: Williamson had exuberance, Gunn experience. Fred Pohl collaborated with Williamson successfully, but JG stopped collaborating because it took just as much time as writing on own. Moved to Lawrence. Managing editor of alumni publication--took a few months off to write. A prolific period: Joymakers, The Immortals. Tired of writing for others.... I tell students now: Only write what only you can write. Then you wrote traditional. When did you begin the transformation to write only Brad Denton stories?

BD: Began by copying Galaxy and Worlds of IF. Not unusual to write those you admire. No watershed moment. Very gradual. It took 5-6 years of hanging around you [James Gunn] that I changed. Sold “Music of the Spheres” to F&SF -- part of Master’s thesis -- selling it twice in a sense. Reads JG’s definition of SF from Road to SF. How people react to change is what I tried to change in my stories. Most of my characters are not very smart--the people I grew up with. A conscious effort in Buddy Holly... The closest I’ve come to writing a real SF novel. How has your approach changed?

JG: It’s gotten a lot harder. I used to write 10 pages/day. Now 3-4/week. Raymond Chandler: The more you learn about writing, the less you have to say. Many influences--a vast variety of materials, reading broadly. Never took classes in creative writing, wished he had instead of trial-&-error (except for class with Caroline Gordon--see “Powder Keg” which she tolerated and even gave him an A). Learned that fiction rules could be applied to SF. First line implies story. Much technique to learn. My writing became more dense. Increased concern for metaphor and images and overall impression. Breaking Point: trying to apply problems of SF. Taught in London with Christopher Priest, who said, “I’m pointing behind me my childish enthusiasm.” But I wanted to do SF a lot better.

BD: Gunn was always working and door always open. Thought writers were cloistered. But JG never minded being [pestered].

JG: I always wanted somebody to come by and stop me. Writers shouldn’t demand special circumstances. If phone rings, should be able to move on from there. Otherwise, just another excuse. Writing is very solitary. What PS said isn’t true for him. Teaching is working with someone else. Also, always write something different. Wouldn’t write sequel to The Listeners though it had more influence on SETI than any other book. Nothing may come of it, but at least people were influenced.

BD: Don’t give up. If goes wrong, do again. That’s The Listeners.

JG: Published 2 books a year for several years. What kind of project could continue for 50-75 years without result? [i.e. SETI]

BD: Things are not what they seem.

JG: Very perceptive. Also not presented in the way they will be. Sagan’s favorite quote [from the book was] “Frank Drake... what an ego.”

BD: What favorite memories do you have [of being in the field]?

JG: You and John Kessel won Sturgeon and Campbell awards: [he thought] “I’ve passed the torch.” Also Desilu Playhouse put on “The Cave of Night,” also The Immortals’ TV movie and series. Name up there in bright red letters. Got more fan mail after Digest article. “You sold a story,”--that changed my life. Exploring the wat it would be-- from first novel. Same as. The Listeners: Dedication to certain goals.

BD: Always have Gunn’s definition in mind when writing SF.

JG: Disagree with Ordover (thru def) that SF has to stick with tried and true. Like George’s writing, JG's is highly controlled, perhaps too much. But we have to be who we are.

BD: As a child, he felt father, a sheet-metal worker, didn’t get him. Didn’t disapprove, but didn’t understand. Dad let him know he’d read Star Wars novelization. [some chuckles] But that meant a lot to me, that he was trying to connect with the thing I loved.

Wednesday, July 19, 2006

Interview between Kij Johnson and Pamela Sargent

Posted by Trent Walters at 6:27 PM
The full length interview was taped and should be available on DVD in the future.

Kij Johnson
Pamela Sargent

PS: Fox Woman -- beautiful book, which led PS to buy a KJ story for Conqueror Fantastic. How get into?

KJ: Nonfiction slut. Loved these diaries from Japan. Wrote “Fox Magic” at Clarion -- increased interest.

PS: Had to imagine inner lives of Mongolians [for Ruler of the Sky].

KJ: Fantasy: Take existing facts and interpolating. Filling in what we don’t know. Make up what goes between. More research needed to do this kind of work.

PS: Fills gaps that historian can’t do. You capture more of what is real by filling in because 21st historians may use the lens of their own time. For instance, a writer can infuse magic which is thought to be real in its time.

KJ: Why Mongolia?

PS: Did research, and though she should use it professionally. Wrote YA. Describes. Maybe inner city kids would be able to relate to a Ghengis Khan, but then was unsure if Khan would be good role model. What are you doing now that’s not writing?

KJ: Had always been an anti-jock. Has been rock-climbing. Taught how not to fall. Thought about why she’s climbing. We tend to live in our brains as grow. We hardly move into our bodies. A whole world where you don’t necessarily think or feel. Just do. We don’t know what action really is.

PS: Also anti-jock in family of jocks. Always the score-keeper. Camp forced physicality of life--a utopian existence. All female-camp environment may have been an influence.

KJ: How have you been spending your time?

PS: Elephant in room. Point of writing. 9/11 is the starting point (although 2000 election may also be). Ask self: Why am I doing this? Thinks there’s a deep cultural crisis. This is on top of publishing crisis GZ has been talking about. Promoted grass-roots candidate that she happened to see in action. Background: increased drive-bys, etc. What can be done before spousal abuse starts? But instead of being about this, reporters pester about campaign finance. This is instructive because what you see, when you’re supposedly being, that there’s more going on. If a lot of thing going wrong, grass roots may be active. Media not focusing on this. PS stands outside in rain during polling to show how this candidate is like John Kerry.

KJ: [You've edited the] three essential feminist [SF] anthologies.

PS: Ovular. Crime usually the result of breakdown of families.

KJ: Does this relate to what you want to write?

PS: May pass out campaign literature. Has to have a feel she’s doing something. Sometimes writing is like going out into blackhole. So many crises facing culture, which makes you feel more irrelevant. Maybe we should go back to clay tablets and papyrus.

KJ: Also has crises of faith in writing. Fantasy is the inner life. Greatest praise: You changed life.

PS: Contact writers. Readers think, "Why would they want to hear from me?" Every communication is a treasure.

KJ: Attempt to change people’s perceptions. Treating women as people was enough to be concerned feminist.

PS: Sometimes you have to do something else. You walk away from writing and now you know what to do with work. George will do electrical work. Sam e function. Using brain in different way.

KJ: A practice to keep out of writing. Writing about climbing explores different kind of psyche. Do something that will radically affect. Physical prose and physcial style. A good way not to write. Documenting the process, mentally and physically.

PB: Writing about other cultures, do you have a sense that...

KJ: Cultural appropriation?

PB: Using for own artistic ends.

KJ: All artists are outside culture. At least for my writing, I spent years learning how dogs thought. How does a dog perceive? Have to come up with a new vocabulary. It’s an alien intelligence. So are cultures. Trying to get into alien way of thinking--do with respect and research. Japanese people and scholars say you got it right--2nd best compliment a writer can get. Writer has to explore alien thinking, carefully. Appropriation is disrespectful or approaches with preconceptions. But you can’t avoid. Sin boldly. Most women probably did not think as women do today.

PS: Wanted to write about women warriors.

KJ: Huge spread of women in our political culture.

PB: Or different vocabulary of what feminism is.

KJ: Fun to ask what women would think several centuries ago. Describes man coming in for sex three nights in a row.

PS: Write about connections between women relationships in women warrior culture--the support troops. Everybody had a role in this culture at this time.

Reader: What questions should feminism be addressing?

KJ: In my stuff, I’m interested in self and other--where blurs or clearly is delineated. Now, looking for common ground. Where do self and other become the same? So much conflict is tribalism.

PS: Are we gonna make it? Bothers me more and more. As a culture in decline, that’s also playing a role in fiction.

Tuesday, July 18, 2006

State of Novel

Posted by Trent Walters at 11:19 PM
Lou Anders
Paolo Bacigalupi
Robin Wayne Bailey
Bradley Dention
James Gunn
Kij Johnson
Chris McKitterick
Pamela Sargent
Robert Sawyer
Diane Turnshek
Fran Van Cleave
George Zebrowski

CMcK (has read many of the top fifty novels for the past several years for the Campbell award): Many good novels published. Thinks getting better.

GZ: Think battle for better SF has been won. Lem thought more new, intelligent writers. Summer Isles beautifully written.

PS: Problem is not the WRITING of the novel but the publishing.

GZ: Opposition and confrontation has led to competition.

JG: In the past 8-10 years [of judging the Campbell], more than half [of the contenders] came from Australia, UK, Canada.

RS: Elizabeth the II is the Borg queen. [laughter] If there is an issue with American publisher: American endings are happy, Canadian are sad, and British have no endings at all. US conquers problems. Canada does not have that feeling (We hope Americans will solve that problem.) Australians and Canadians congregate in dark corners. RS has to go back and forth with American publisher. The only SF [publisher] in Canada are small press, not considered an economic force.

LA: British Space Opera now has exuberance. Britain has gotten over dreams of empire, and ready to join EU. US writers have little hope for future, have a hard time imagining a good one

JG: Problem with Hugo electorate (happening more in Nebula, too) is that voters have only heard what is good as opposed to having read [the nominees]. Campbell award judges may prefer downbeat endings. Farah may feel strongly that this is the way it ought to be.

CM: We’re a diverse group. Nobody can set out to write a Campbell award winner.

RWB: Think it’s because of lack of participation [in the voting of awards]. Until increase participation, results will be skewed.

RS: Only a few dozen actually even nominate.

LA: [If I can] get 12 of my buddies to nominate, then we can dominate SFWA. [laughter]

GZ: Can we do something about campaigning. Don’t institute rules, but a [SFWA] president could say, “We’re watching.” State the code of conduct. Publish a shame list.

PS: State of SF novel? People always pushed themselves [on others] in SFWA, but the number has been increasing. It’s a function of the competitive marketplace. But now the awards [have been messed up]: [now it's] used to build resume.

RWB: The SF I see is increasingly safe. No Stand on Zanzibar. Good but not challenging. SF will strangle itself. SF is 6-8% of market. Jingoistic military SF. Jim Grimsley -- publisher canceled his child abuse story. Less willing to offend. Michigan mother complained Asimov’s story.

RS: Hartwell will write in margin: “You will lose your readers here.” But not forced to get rid of. [In other words, publishers are aware of ways they might lose readers, point them out, but leave it up to the author to decide upon.]

KJ: This causes an economic downturn but it comes back around.

JG: $10,000 paid for Zanzibar, not intended to be a bestseller. Won awards, controversial. The notion of selling a lot of books is a recent one.

GZ: Notice the direction of this discussion. We discuss all the reasons why we fail.

CM: Not a good first novel but difficult.

RS: [His small press is] publishing writers away from TOR. Nick DiChario had been waiting for market conditions for a less plot-driven novel. Still waiting, so RS published. Our writers aren’t living on these quality books.

JG: Susan Allison: average mass-market pb sold 15,000, down from when Gunn first started writing. Need more young readers. Few of his students have read outside of mass-market. Hard to even get a response from editors, which Gunn suspects it is the commodities of the market.

Reader: Generic dumbing down. Readers don’t want to be challenged: want simple, fun.

KJ: Disagrees somewhat. The roots of SF were bad. It isn’t the readers that changed, but SF,

LA: We’re publishing literate, challenging SF. Our best book is Resnick’s space opera.

Reader: $150 will only buy you 6 to 10 books/month. May spend on lattes instead.

JG: Income spent on books probably less.

Reader: What’s the demographic [for SF]?

JG: Has grayed considerably. May be why SF has had bestsellers in 80s.

KJ: Don’t have anybody who is recognized excepted Kevin J. Anderson

GZ: Isaac said THEY [the publishers] decided who would be a best-seller.

RWB: DelRey created the Terry Brooks best-seller. David Eddings.

GZ: Not a level playing field.

JG: Maybe we need more Judy Lynns.

GZ: Judy Lynn was getting idealistic.

JG: She always was idealistic, but also had business acumen. Baen was willing to try something new. SF no longer has its center anymore. In 50s, field felt like it had enthusiasm with readers and writers.

PB: My sense of SF is that it’s clubby. Speaks to itself with common language. History is wonderful but inward-focused. Asimov will not work with his wife. It’s not because story quality. [Thinks lack of ] “Why is there a camera in the eye? That’s just glitter,” a non-SF reader asked of an SF story. SF also white. Like environmentalism. What is future of groups if only one racial quality.

PS: Women have been trying to reach a broader audience. Jane Austen Book Club incorporates SF people. Sheree Renee Thomas doing Dark Matter anthologies. Seems to be going on mostly among women.

RS: Your representative sample is based on Wiscon. The core reading audience doesn’t reflect country population. A few anthologies are not going to address problem. Baen made distinctive packages in order to attract US military. It's a "bank job": In and out of the bookstore and nobody gets hurt.

GZ: We like to think SF readers can go to any section. But we don’t. Some readers read nothing other than space opera, get arrested in one kind of thing. Model of fluid, omnivorous reader is rare.

RWB: Published popcorn fiction. Tasty but not good for you. Doesn’t challenge you. If you read too much, probably not thinking. Some books will make you stop and think.

CM: Hard to know field reading for Campbell award. [i.e. his sample is presumably skewed toward the higher end]

RS: We can have complex adult novels.

PS: Hand to literate reader who can be challenged

JG: Paolo objects to what’s inherent to the genre. Field already playing down idea-content. We’re already sacrificing ideas in search of something we may not get anyway: More readers. is supposed to address that, to have readers grow up reading SF. Fred Pohl: novel is a lesson in how to be more like me. SF tropes used to talk about failure of human condition, as opposed to talking about human change. We need to educate SF readers and not dilute product.

PB: Worried about shrinking genre. Why? Readers often say: Oh, that’s not as dumb as I thought it would be. Sometimes [the image of fans?] just speaking Klingon interferes with reader enjoyment.

GZ: What do you do about an art like opera where audience doesn’t want all this singing?

RS: NY reviewer. We have a deflector shield. We say, Itzkoff is mistaken. Mystery fiction does not set out to use arcane knowledge or puzzles to separate the wheat from chaff of SF readers. People go to opera to feel superior. We’ve contrived an art form to feel superior.

Reader: That’s why we use term “mundane.” [We pause for station identification--a different definition of "mundane" is referred to.]

Reader: Mystery reader not lost; it’s not exclusive.

RWB: Why did Anne Rice sell so well? Because they don’t require prior knowledge of Stoker, of history and vampire novels. If it eschew jargon, better seller: It doesn’t require.

Reader: Novel is dying form. Why not interactive with computer? Graphic novels are popular.

RWB: I prefer more active art forms.

[Trent quits semi-transcribing to interject that SF is estrangement, and to remove this is to remove the SF-ness, but no pause in conversation occurs. He decides he is tired of transcribing, anyway--he'd been at it for an hour and a half--except for a few interesting notes. He missed transcribing, for instance, the voices of a few young people in the audience, as the topic veered toward enticing the younger reader to explore science and science fiction.]

BD: Teachers, tell your students not to buy my books. If all teachers did that, I’d be flying here in my private jet next year.

KJ: Bring new readers in by seeing what they nee.

FVC: To be in Mensa, people perceive smart are missing something.

Reader: Anti-science.

Reader: Make science fun.

JG: [People tend to] read SF because student is poor (likes story) or because student is bright.

DT: Julie Czerneda has closed anthologies for young, but includes reading guides. Accelerated reader programs -- no juvenile SF.

New Brains, real and not so

Posted by Trent Walters at 11:07 PM
With transplants and an enzyme called "sialidase," researchers can regrow nerves even in the spinal column, which has prohibitive enzymes.

Elsewhere, the BBC reports of researchers who want to simulate in computers the fail-safes of biological brains--to idiot-proof electronics.

Friday, July 14, 2006

Cyborg Cometh

Posted by Trent Walters at 2:52 PM
Scientific American, reporting on Nature, said that a chip placed into a paraplegic man's motor cortex:

...enabled him to open and close the fingers of a prosthetic hand as well as use a robotic arm to pick up pieces of hard candy and drop them into a technician's hand. He could even control his television, all while conversing with those around him.

Claims for a non-petroleum-based plastics and other oil-saving techniques

Posted by Trent Walters at 2:36 PM
Building new plastics from starch:

Natural starch particles are roughly 30 microns or millionths of a meter wide. Ecosynthetix bases its technology on converting these granules into ones just 50 to 150 nanometers or billionths of a meter large. At that size, the nanoparticles have 400 times more surface area than natural starch granules. This means they require less water when in use for adhesives and thus less time and energy to dry. Instead of running at 350 degrees F, drying can take place at room temperature instead, saving $1 million in natural gas per year, van Leeuwen said.

The nanoparticle adhesives could also help replace the polyvinyl acetate, PVA, and polyvinyl alcohol, PVOH, used to help laminate graphics onto cardboard.

How to succeed at or survive writing

Posted by Trent Walters at 1:53 PM
Various authors (and editor) on writing:

Lou Anders
Paolo Bacigalupi
James Gunn
Kij Johnson
Susan Linville
Pamela Sargent
Robert Sawyer
George Zebroski

James Gunn opens by quoting Fred Pohl:

1) way of desperation (story due tomorrow -- write fast and furious
2) way of inspiration (write when muse strikes)
3) way of sanity (4 pages/ day -- pay bills)

All three ways work. Must write.

So what are the secrets of production?

Robert Sawyer: Everything seems suddenly more important than writing:
8-hour day or word count (2000) (for first draft)
Can call it a day once hit 2000. You have incentive
If you’re in middle of something, you can pick right up.

(Gunn -- Yes, Hemingway, but Gunn prefers finishing scene so he could think about next scene.)

Kij to Sawyer: How affect revision?

RS : Overwrites 125,000 -> 100,000
Writing is hard work

JG -- if you love to write, you're doing something wrong
GZ -- what if you like to suffer writing like I do?
JG -- Likes rewriting since all need to do is tinker. M.s. slows down -- no worries. Start at beginning and work way to slow-down

GZ -- accretes -- find things missed. A “put-it-inner”
KJ : 6500 story. Accrete parts -- wants to study character, add subplot. Just keeps adding
RS: Outlines
GZ: Programs brain to write w/o Think of whole thing at once. Wake up to new story holes, every week. Never at a loss
Creative dreaming -- dream lucidly -- wish fulfillment that make sense
Dream -- workable is first
Van Vogt woke self every two hours

RS: Typewriters forced serial writing. Wordprocessor does not force linear production
GZ: Disagrees. Wrote end of Macrolife first (20,000 words)
JG: Writers make excuses for not writing. Writes in office with door open. Write whenever and however you can
GZ : Stealth writing, the secret shift. If something occurs to you, write it down.
RS: Doesn’t schedule vacations during 1st draft. Doesn’t worry if he misses a day. Just finished a novel. Between assignments.
GZ: Sometimes waits[wakes up?] to writing.
RS: Don’t write linearly, because always some portion you can work on
KJ: If you’re bored with writing, then skip ahead. You might find you don’t need those scenes.
GZ: Learned that every part should be the good stuff.
LA: Elmore Leonard: Doesn’t write the bad stuff
JG: What do you do after a workshop? Send stuff to get published. Marked difference for writers. Editors evaluate coldly. Always write with a purpose and know what that purpose is: To move somebody. All should contribute to final effect:

GZ: Infinity One. Walked in, hand-delivered.
RS: It doesn’t matter who you are. It’s the story.
PB: William Gibson advised to write short. PB wanted write cooler, differently. John Clute & Elizabeth Hand advised on his story: de-Cyberpunk it--gun to write different
KJ: Important to meet people
PS: No confidence. Sold 1st story to Ferman after GZ fetched out of wastebasket. Got tough for a couple of years. Could not meet editors.
PB: Gordon Van Gelder rejected next 3 stories, still rejects.
KJ: Skill will rise, but also luck and also people you know (nice, intelligent, clean, regular contributor vs. other )
PS: Clean m.s. Short cover letter (says “I am sane.”). Presentation should be...
LA: ...human.
GZ: Being nice to editors can do trick.
PS: But you don’t know it wasn’t the story that sold the story [as opposed to being nice].
LA: [to verify GZ's point] Won’t solicit stories from jerks. Too many good writers to work with. Won’t look at unsolicited or unagented. Agents who know science fiction. Bought Infoquake thru slush. Reads some short fiction mags, reads for van guard of what’s happening in field. Attend cons, read Locus. Rule for networking: Only approach if you have something to offer in return. Be a reviewer.
JG: If you're going to review, learn how to review, for god’s sake. [silent applause from Trent]
KJ: Began in small press -- now had a publication credit. Kind of a slush process. Next story was medium press, Pulphouse. Then pro: Amazing. Met people. Worked in publishing. Met more people. Good, disciplined, and passion. But also circumstance carries you over.
JG; Not in favor of cover letters. You don’t have to sell yourself. William Gibson sold a few small stories. Terry Carr noticed.
GZ: Terry’s editorial policy was, once author established himself, to let author have last word. Locus makes writing feel like a horse-race.
RS: Gibson: World con in Australia so it didn’t matter that he was unknown. Ace Special -- got less money. Paolo right -- write better. Story has to be about something. Have to have something worth saying. Try to do something major. If you aren’t socialable, hide. If you are, socialize. If you don’t present well, hide
JG: [as an aside] Pohl introduced book as Necromancer at Nebula. Gibson thanked everyone for helping write Necromancer [as opposed to Neuromancer.]
DT: meeting people helped her realize that what she thought was a rejection was a request for a rewrite
LA: Publishers do less to promote. You need to be out there pushing. Need charisma.
RS: You have to get out there and sell. Sign your own books. Though do not try to sell people. Put in hands of people who will appreciate.
JG: Reinforcing DT’s story, JG told Pat Ford to send Schmidt. But Ford didn’t understand Schmidt didn’t reject. JC standard rejection: “It’s amusing but it ain’t SF.”
GZ: Pohl: When I didn’t care about the buck, it took care of itself. Best results were writing his own stories.
RS: Stanley Schmidt called despite many rejections. Shoot high first.
LA: Sometimes writers over-submit to editors. Get sick of seeing their names/stories.
PB: You may not know if it’s a good story. By time I finish, I hate all stories; they're worked until I’ve done all I can.
SUL: Rejection doesn’t mean the story’s bad.
RS: Yes, Paolo’s right. Get it as good as you possibly can, FIRST. First drafts can piss off editors.
PS: Especially true for anthologies if already have another -- even if they think is genius.
LA: Don’t have time to read whole m.s. if he know it’s wrong, even if knows the guy
JG: on Pohl, re: Heinlein. Write, finish what story, revise only at editorial order (Gunn unsure if he agrees with this standard of revision), send until sells. Persistence is name of game. Can’t categorize story even if rejected--“Old Folks at Home” rejected because slick by SF mags, rejected by slicks because SF.

Economics of being a writer

GZ: Diversify: edit, articles, interviews. Persist. If you chase money, you end in disaster.
LA: Marusek: Alaska log cabin, salmon, 2 hours of graphic design/ day
KJ: need marketing support
GZ: Joseph Conrad: Go forward any way you can. Willfulness generates
PS: Careers: supportive spouses, sympathetic to writers. Pick boring job that doesn’t drain creativity
GZ: It's like "Stargold’s End": Invent your way out -- willfulness
JG: Only recently could people make a living at writing. Mostly people had dayjobs. James Blish got writer’s block each time dropped day job. Some of best writing is by part-time writers.
GZ: You’d be surprised on how much you can live on.
PB: What do you want out of writing? Tie-ins. To make living -- sacrifices needed. Half-time job.
GZ: Write stories constantly; they’ll come back to help you.

PS: This was an attractive profession to those who love to read and read. Grew up reading Charlotte’s Web, Bambi, Nature of the Universe
PB: Wanted to be best-selling author. Early ego kept him going--feeling that he would break out. Inspired by New Yorker, newspapers, biographies.

Wednesday, July 12, 2006

John Ordover vs. George Zebroski on Publishing (the gloves are off!)

Posted by Trent Walters at 1:12 PM
Thus JO refutes GZ:
Publishing is a slippery business.
They're putting much money at risk: 150,000 into a book
POV to both sides
Fantasy outsells SF 20:1 or 5:1
SF is everything and anything it wants to be. No one way to do it right, except a way to market it better.
SF fears being derivitive.
Good or bad, world considers SF as space opera.
Fantasy derided for being cookie-cutter, but for readers, they know who and where they are within 10 pages. Get comfortable in 2-3 min.
Some books are so new/original they’re difficult to get into.
Lensmen are superheroes who use the force.
Asimov/Heinlein/Clarke -- still occupy similar milieu.
SF working against itself [by trying to always make it new].
Literary borrows SF tropes, but that doesn’t mean that SF should borrow from literary tropes [I ought to have questioned him to which tropes he referred].
David Drake, John Ringo, Bujold -- the closer to space opera, the better selling.
Mystery audience expects murder early on. What if don’t solve murder? [It wouldn't sell. Therefore,] Some different ideas are bad ideas.
Asimov convinced reader someone else did it, then convinced reader who real murderer is.
Sharon Lee/Steve Miller turned old fantasy tropes into SF ones, which is what George Lucas did.
New and original doesn’t always make money, but sometimes it does. Sometimes editor may be too well read where they reject old idea that may be good to revisit with today’s sensibility.
Definition of SF: Anything that has SF tropes: Robots, aliens, time travel, set in future, new level of technology.

I brought up Kevin Brockmeier’s “The Ceiling,” an interstitial story for which I developed a cool theory about interstitial fiction that nobody was interested in--theory cached here, so it may not exist in this world much longer--but it isn't SF because it doesn't examine the SF'nal phenomenon. After I brought this up, JO altered his definition somewhat.
Innovation should be 5% of what is published. Bread and butter is old tropes reworked. (Later said, 10% innovation). Weave into production.
Not enough Space opera being done. The reason tie-ins made in-roads because tie-ins provided more space opera needed--the bread-and-butter universe.
The farther from tropes, the fewer the readers.
Asimov lauded for robots that didn’t rebel and for universe populated only by humans. It needs only to be initially familiar.
CSI popular because of this.

Publisher POV: Fast but okay story writers fill in for writers that don’t fulfill. Splitting novels in half sell three times as many of a novel than if it were only one. Harder to generate sense of wonder for those who’ve seen it all. Sometimes, sense of wonder is what is generated.

Tuesday, July 11, 2006

Notes on a George Zebroski speech about the ills of publishing

Posted by Trent Walters at 5:07 PM
These notes are part of a long essay on publishing problems. They may or may not reflect others' opinions. Zebrowski claims to have the data demonstrating everything he says, which will be published on the CSSF website. After the speech, I asked if the information might get him into hot water with publishers. He said the data is old, so it shouldn't come as a surprise or be controversial. Because this is important, please accept my apologies if I mis-transcribe. I didn't inject myself into the notes, intentionally.

(The speech was proposed as a counterpoint to Lou Anders' enthusiasm about the future of publishing; however, Anders' and Zebrowski's speeches were most intriguing in light of John Ordover's statements, later more frequently referred to--perhaps being even more thought-provoking, controversial, if at times dubious.)

Gunn on George Zebrowski -- writer, occasional agent, editor

GZ's speech:

Writers’ working condition -- Bambi meets Godzilla -- adapt or get squashed -- refusal to revert right

Deprive authors of book sales, withholding royalties, etc.

Royalties (in big publishing) -- fictional -- tells nothing -- writers can’t afford to find out records that might not even exist anymore. [Publishers?] fail to comply.

--Blacklist of authors -- his uncorrected proof published was as is, even though he corrected on time
--Bookstores paid to display books prominently
--Writers can be misled of what’s in warehouse
--Might promise contract -- deny author of finding out what publishers must show
--Problems are endemic, full housekeeping would ruin
--Fate of book is decided long before published
--Horse-race fixing
--Writers not given actual print runs and sales
--Publisher can make profit even if author hasn’t earned out advance
--Writers’ organization not keeping publishers accountable
--Why not? Fear of writers knowing truth
--Contracts are a labyrinth
--An editor said: Merits of book don’t determine book’s success
--Warehouses -- errors programmed into system
--Many writers are paid next to nothing.
--Checks delayed and their amount cannot be verified
--Mentions Harvard plagiarist & how she was made to be famous by publishers even though she had no track record to think she would be a good author

SF Matters & Why It Should Survive

--Don’t need to be rich to write
--Pragmatic -- get to admit what will not do: Be bad first, be good later
--live for merits
--Blish said: Is the work about anything? If don’t answer this, the work trivializes SF
--Campbell's critical stance: change spooks readers in a good way
--SF w/o thought not worthy of title of SF
--Weinbaum: SF can criticize social, political, etc. Won’t fit into formulaic commercial writing.
--Importance of critical SF -- ways out of human maze -- hopes and fears
--Nothing easily worked out in SF
--Quickly written = quickly get $
--Lem quote: SF is a jail unless connects itself to science
--SF has been declining in science
--Pretentious? You bet. [This was in reference to lofty goals of SF, suggesting that lofty goals are not a problem but should be desired.]
--[The genre's love of] an amorphous definition of SF is laziness.
--SF novel stuffed with novelties can be too much like fantasy.
--Asimov’s definition best: “Remove future, etc. and substitute ‘change’ and can still be SF.”
--Pointless adventures and games.
--SF maps out human repairs or avoids poor futures
--SF writers as editors created genre: Editors today don’t edit.
--Gaugin on Van Gogh: Owes to no one. Has something to say. [Goals of the SF writer]
--Contracts are minimum conditions b/n parties though used as maximum conditions
--Will be posted on CSSF site -- also going into hands of Eliot Spitzer.

Monday, July 10, 2006

Campbell Conference Reports

Posted by Trent Walters at 3:30 PM
Paolo Bacigalupi [2nd link includes photo] won the Sturgeon. His award-winning story, "The Calorie Man," is up for a Hugo as well and available on the F&SF webite. Paolo has a story out on High Country News (free-trial registration may be required). The story, "The Tamarisk Hunter," he said, needs to be revised for an SF audience as this version was written more for those familiar with HCN [an editorial explaining its background why they chose to publish SF].

Robert Sawyer won the Campbell. Cheryl Morgan expresses an oblique disapproval of the Campbell-award winner, but the award is debated by some of the top minds in the field.

Congrats to both winners.

Upcoming posts will be notes from the Campbell Conference. The CSSF website plans on posting at least two speeches.

The CSSF must be one of the more active advocates for increasing genre boundaries. Perhaps one of the more interesting projects CSSF is undertaking is the AboutSF program, which has a wiki for teachers at all levels to upload or download course materials and Accelerated Reader tests. One teacher claimed to have had a bit of trouble, though I see someone has managed to post something. If you're a teacher, give 'er a try.

Notes from a speech by Lou Anders

Posted by Trent Walters at 1:38 PM
The actual speech is supposed to appear on the CSSF website, later--just in case I mis-transcribed.
Beginning: back door -- media, pitched screenplays
Online publishing startup:
Live Without a Net -- 2 years, critical hit (Dozois, Hartwell)
Prometheus -- secular humanist publisher, Center for Inquiry, science & philosophy
-- therefore, SF is a natural fit for them
--8 titles/season -- compliment Prometheus agenda -- Real SF commitment
--Robert Charles Wilson: “human contingency.” World = different place. Could have been different than is. And will be different. Need to utilize imagination.”
SF = skepticism, rationalism, opens mind to notion of change
Quote from Dozois’ introduction to “Galileo’s Children”
SF not just escapism. Even Star Wars opens wonders of universe.
Epic fantasies are most popular
Shrinking midlist -- pressure to produce next S. King
Harder to be smarter than merely competent
Publishing smart fiction is chancy
Predominately SF, pitched as a little higher than most SF
“Pure quill SF” -- not to stray into slipstream. Smart SF audience.
If you build it, will they come?
Pronounce as pyre or pier (Greek word for fire, related to “Prometheus books”)
National distribution thru Prometheus
Archival quality editions
Name authors, & new authors (published in magazines)
One classic reprint/season
Response = 290 reviews since March 2005 (<10 were negative) SF Site --“leading imprint in field”
Asimov’s -- “quasi-movement”

Ian McDonald -- Brasyl -- multiple worlds, alternate history, “Bladerunner in the tropics”
Adam Roberts -- Gradisil -- political
Joel Shepherd -- Breakaway