Monday, November 24, 2008

Philcon weekend

I know this is early, but today's post is in lieu of a Thursday post for the week.

Had a good time at the con Saturday. Traffic on I-76 was bad, as usual, so it took longer to get there than Google Maps predicted. I went to the galactic empires talk, which was interesting particularly in its discussion of varying forms of empires and viable interstellar commerce. Other talks I went to included nanomaterials (some food for thought there), science fiction and romance (I came out covered with girl cooties--it didn't help that the moderator kept saying "sci-fi"), how to know when to stop revising (one panelist suggested passes for structure, content, style, and grammar; Lawrence Schoen disagreed), and poked my head into both the funny fantasy discussion (I'm not doing parody, know I'm not, so the discussion wasn't much help) and the LJ meet-up (didn't see any names I recognized).

I also went to Tim Powers' talk. He had a lot of interesting things to say, such as that he doesn't want to be pertinent or topical; he wants to entertain. He also had an amusing anecdote about the Christian neighbors whose Bible he set on fire with a magnifying glass while he was trying to read it.

One cool thing I discovered: Reno is doing a Worldcon bid for 2011. I paid for pre-support and would love it if others would support their bid as well. (

After some deep thought (and encouragement from husband), I went back Sunday.

Started off with Xtreme neurology. They discussed some interesting advances, and I'll have to look up some of the papers. I guess there are some possible advantages to a graduate degree in molecular and cell biology.

I went to two market-related panels: "Meet the editors" and "Editing anthologies." Neil Clarke says that they need more science fiction. Hildy Silverman says Space and Time could use some shorter stories--something to keep in mind if you plan to sub there before next Sunday. Marvin Kaye says that the Sherlock Holmes Magazine can use any kind of crime or puzzle story, especially if it's reader-solvable. Darrell Schweitzer and Gardner Dozois both say if you are putting together a single-author collection, please do the markets that have published you the courtesy of acknowledging them. Also, lousy market for reprint anthologies--no one's buying. Dozois also said he couldn't understand authors or agents who thought that having a story in a year's best anthology diluted the market for the author's collection.

Marvin Kaye also has strong tense preferences. Specifically, he railed against past perfect, which he referred to as the compound past. He said that the magazines are simple past (so probably not a big fan of present tense, either), and the sight of "had" just tells him that the author started the story in the wrong place. I would guess that if a single instance of past perfect were used to show that this is the moment of change that starts the story for the protagonist, it would be acceptable, but I don't know. ("Linda had written to me a dozen times about my father's increasing lack of lucidity before I bowed to the inevitable and made arrangements to go home.") Keep it in mind if submitting to him. And maybe as a general rule, too, about being sure you've started in the right place.

I caught up with Darrell Schweitzer in the dealer room and asked if he ever did anthologies with some stories solicited and some open sub. He said he's still new at the anthologies but would someday like to do an anthology that's all open submissions. He also said that the best way to get solicited to be in an anthology is to get known. For good markets, he suggested Weird Tales, Talenones, Interzone, Paradox, and Space and Time. He told me he'd never heard of Hadley Rille Books, which bummed me out a bit until I remembered Justin's story from a Hadley Rille anthology got tapped for a year's best anthology. It's not an invisible market.

The "Science fiction,religion, and reason" panel was very interesting. Lots of stuff about Jesuits. Tim Powers talked about chimps and sign language--they can lie. Does that mean they sin and should be baptized? Angels and ascended humans came in for some discussion as well, with one panelist commenting that perfection precludes conflict. I have some story seeds and at least one bunny that have to get larger for me to use.

Last panel I went to was on details and series fiction. Very charming and entertaining panelists. Prologues and appendices were discussed, as were things that have to be repeated in every book. Catherine Asaro, for example, has a spaceship drive and a double star planetary system that need to be explained every time, or she will get e-mails of complaint. No one was a big fan of series where the characters don't change.

Let me know if you have questions about specific pamels. I'm definitely looking foward to next year! (Boskone seems bigger, though.)

Thursday, November 20, 2008

Pros and NaNos

Professional writers fall into a number of camps regarding NaNoWriMo.

The ones that irritate me (Yes, let's get them out of the way first!) are the ones who sneer and say, "Well, 50,000 isn't really a novel, so these people are just fooling themselves." Why, yes, let's just tell Bruce Coville and Jane Yolen that their books don't count as real because they're too short, shall we? Or the many other fine authors of chapter books and middle-grade books.

"Oh, well, I meant novels for adults!" Right. Like the Silhouette Desire imprint (target word count: 50,000-55,000) or Harlequin Blaze (target word count: 55,000-60,000)? Or the many fine novels of yesteryear in their reprint variety, still available because modern readers actually do enjoy short reads sometimes?

But even when these writers qualify their words by saying something like, "In modern science fiction novels, you need a novel of about 100,000 words if you want to be published," they're overlooking the obvious: There is no rule that says a Wrimo has to stop exactly at 50,000 words. Nor will Chris Baty's flying guilt monkeys come steal a Wrimo's keyboard if said writer durst continue writing the same story once December 1 rolls around.

In 2005, Michael Stackpole, in his Secrets podcast (review coming after I've listened to more of them, I promise), talked about NaNoWriMo, and he did make a comment about how 50,000 words wasn't enough for the genres he writes in, but how for someone learning to plot and write, it could be a good exercise. Then he goes on to give specifics on how to plot for that length (including a rule of thumb that I'd never heard -- you need 30,000 words to give a character a complete arc; not sure yet whether I agree with him), seemingly without considering the possibility that his listeners who were interested in NaNoWriMo might either write more than 50,000 words during November or that they might keep going once December rolled around, continuing to write until they had a first draft of a publishable length.

Then there are the pros who basically don't care. They feel it has nothing to do with them, wish those who want to participate the best of luck, and go on about their professional lives as they normally would. This is a classy response.

There are pros who participate every year because it gives them a month they can schedule just to write, all thoughts of editing and other deadlines shoved aside for the nonce -- wild, frenetic writing, thousands upon thousands of words, one or more complete first drafts thrown into the computer in a passionate rush, to be edited to brilliance the following year. Lazette Gifford is one such participant.

Then there is the final category, the one I want to be in -- the pro who is a pro because of NaNoWriMo. These are the people who pour their hearts into their first drafts, edit, polish, submit -- and get published. This year's Wrimo Radio podcast (week one) featured an interview with Lani Diane Rich, whose first NaNovel was also her first published book. She now has eight books in print, three of which began their life for NaNoWriMo.

No, not every novel written during November will achieve this dream. But then, neither will every novel written during the rest of the year, even those written by pro writers who decide to do something outside their comfort zone on spec. Writing takes hard work and editing and more editing and lots more hard work, and the goal of publication isn't always achieved. But people like this give me, and others like me, hope that if we keep working at it -- during November or throughout the year -- we might get there too.

Tuesday, November 18, 2008

Best podcasts for writers, part 1: Writing Excuses

Welcome to my first podcast review. Once a week, I'll give you the scoop on what I think are some of the best podcasts out there. Some of them will be writing podcasts; others will include fiction (short and long) as well as nonfiction.

First up, I bring you the writing podcast Writing Excuses. This is a group podcast by Brandon Sanderson, Howard Tayler, and Dan Wells. Brian Sanderson is the author of the Mistborn trilogy (of which I have the first one sitting on my hard drive because of's giveaway earlier this year) -- among other works -- and is also the author tapped to write the concluding book of Robert Jordan's Wheel of Time series. Howard Tayler makes a full time living from his Webcomic Schlock Mercenary, which I urge everybody to check out. Dan Wells writes horror novels and sold a trilogy to Tor earlier this year. The first book will be titled I Am Not a Serial Killer.

I subscribe to the podcast in iTunes. I haven't listened to this week's episode yet, and there is one earlier episode I haven't listened to because they say it contains spoilers for The Dark Knight (episode 34, "What the Dark Knight Did Right"). The DVD is supposed to come out next month, though, and I'll listen to that episode then.

They discuss a wide range of topics, from plot twists to hating your writing, to submitting to editors, to writing groups. They record podcasts at cons, and have often had guests on the show. I particularly enjoyed the episodes with Phil and Kaja Folio, Lou Anders, and Steve Jackson. One of the strengths of this podcast is that they don't discuss just one medium for story-telling.

The liner notes on the Website are well worth checking out. They include links not only to sites discussed in a particular episode (such as but also to Sanderson's First Law (on magic systems), as well as a download of Dan's Bunny Book.

If you're looking for a wide range of writing-related topics, covered with good humor, check out this podcast. You can also get their entire first season on CD for $10. It won't take too long to get a feel for the podcast because it's only "Fifteen minutes long, because you’re in a hurry, and we’re not that smart." Except that they are.

Thursday, November 13, 2008

I'm back . . .

I know that I haven't posted here for just over three years, but I'm going to try again, mostly to test whether or not I can reliably update more than one blog at a time. I'd like to believe I am getting closer to a publishable novel, perhaps under a pseudonym, and when I reach that point, I'd like to know that I can devote time to an author blog to interact with readers without having to share with them such things as how my cat is doing or the like.

Thus, this post is my notice of intent.

The current plan is to post twice a week, most likely on Tuesdays and Thursdays (and look at that -- today's a Thursday!) on writing-related topics. I'll include such things as reviews of podcasts, process posts, and where I currently am on projects. I may still post such items on my other blog, but it casts a wider net, so they will be merely one type of post found there.

Starting this up right before the holiday season may be the best test as to whether I can do this on a regular basis; if I can do this now, with everything else I have going on, I should be able to do it under any circumstances.

Here's to renewed ventures!