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December 2016



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Feb. 19th, 2016

criminal minds elle lucky

(no subject)

I got a draft of a critical essay about Frankenstein done today, and I'm pretty happy with the argument. It's rough yet, but I'll get to work on organizing it better when I'm not traveling and can print it out and scribble on it.

In other news, hey, closing on the house on Tuesday. Other productivity today included getting all the utilities set up. This was a long road, and I'm really glad we're coming to the end of this portion of it. There's still moving two people to handle, of course, but that's a problem for a different day. As is a quantity of rather elderly beige carpeting and some wallpaper and paint...

Feb. 18th, 2016

rengeek will and tilda

if you live for something, you're not alone.

One of the things I've realized that I need to work on in order to develop a healthier relationship with my job involves certain toxic aspects of the professional writing/publishing culture that I've done an overly good job of internalizing. And I'm trying to scrape it out of my soul, because in the long term it winds up being the opposite of productive when dealing with a creative career.

Some of that is a competition thing: "Writer X turns in three books a year and I'm a slacker if I don't, too!" And that's not great, honestly, and the sheer pressure to produce isn't great, either, and doesn't necessarily lead to good work. One has to think up new things to say between books, after all, or one ends up writing the same book over and over again. No use in that.

I think there's a certain bravado of culture among may writers that is actively toxic in a lot of ways. And it's tied to the NaNoWriMo kind of mode of "produce a bunch of stuff really fast, lather rinse repeat" pressure, and also the "THIS JOB SUCKS AND WE'RE WARRIORS FOR DOING IT" thing. It's this weird Puritan machismo in suffering.

I mean, you don't learn to write well by turning out 50K in a month once a year. It's the two pages a day or whatever that get you there. Constant practice, as with any art. And mammals don't respond well to punishment for performance. If we do a thing and the result is horrible, we generally avoid doing that thing again.

So when we punish ourself for performing by setting ourselves unreasonable goals and having impossible expectations and never acknowledging our successes? Cue anxiety and avoidance behavior.

Seriously. From now on, if I get some writing done, I'm not going to bemoan how insufficient my effort was. I'm going to have a piece of chocolate instead.

If you work for yourself and your job sucks, it might be because you have a shitty boss. Or it might be because you are suited to different work than what you're doing.

I have literally dig ditches for a living (and mucked out stalls, and done several other extremely physical and occasionally nasty jobs), and I suspect most of the people who are like "hur hur sure writing isn't hard, try digging ditches," probably have not done both. The thing is, they're both hard. Digging ditches is physically exhausting and can be quite painful, especially in hot or cold weather. But while it's meticulous work (This surprises people who haven't done it, but ditches are dug for reasons, and those reasons affect the way they slope, or how the sides are shaped, and digging ditches does in fact involve a certain amount of work with a plumb line and a level. These days they probably use lasers.) it doesn't necessarily use a lot of executive and creative function the way writing does.

Writing requires mental rest.

Digging ditches requires physical rest.

And I'm totally talking about myself here, because I absolutely have fallen into the anxiety-driven must-produce thing.

And you don't build a career by SUFFERING THROUGH THE AWFULNESS. That's different than having the discipline to get your work done.

(Comments are turned off because I am traveling and don't have time to moderate.)

Feb. 6th, 2016

hustle mickey worrying

they ask the world, and the world says no

I was asked what I published last year. And of course I'm having server/host issues, so I can't go check my trusty website, which is what I would normally do.

...which is probably why I am being asked, come to think of it.

So! A list, a veritable list! A list, I say!

Novels, 2015:

Karen Memory
An Apprentice to Elves
(with truepenny)

Novelettes, 2015:

"The Heart's Filthy Lesson," Old Venus, Dozois and Martin eds
"And the Balance in Blood," Uncanny

Short Stories, 2015

"In Libres," Uncanny
"Margin of Survival" The End Has Come, Adams and Howey, eds
"The Bone War," The Magazine of Fantasy and Science Fiction
"Skin in the Game," Future Visions

Feb. 3rd, 2016

comics invisibles king mob

meet me where the sky bleeds

So I haven't been running since last summer, really, because I fucked up my foot. It started hurting when I ran, and then I rested it and got better, and did a trail half, and it started hurting more, and then I did a book tour and walked a lot in dressy shoes, and it hurt even more, and after Worldcon I tried to run 5K with some intervals and as a result was laid up on the couch for two weeks in agony. I saw my doctor and she thought it was Achilles tendinitis: "Rest it and stretch it."

Well, it seemed to be getting better slowly. And then I danced on New Year's Eve and the next day I couldn't walk. I'm a pretty tough girl, and I was in so much pain I had to hop to the bathroom.

So, to make a long story short, I saw an orthopedic surgeon yesterday, and there's very good news: the x-rays are fine, and there's no tendon or bone damage requiring surgery. What I do have is very, very tight calf muscles, which is probably half the fact that I live and run in a really hilly goddamned place, and half that I got slack about my yoga practice starting last year.

The calf muscles pull on the Achilles tendon and the plantar fascia, causing... excruciating pain in my foot!

So I got a cortisone shot (Jiminy Christmas, that hurt. I had one in my bum shoulder before and it was no big deal: this one was fucking agony) and a PT routine, and permission to resume exercise and activity as my pain levels permit.

Er. Once I'm over the pneumonia. You know.

If the PT doesn't work, he says, they can surgically lengthen my calf muscle. So... I think I'm going to try to pick up the pace with my yoga practice.
bad girls miss fisher

all the broken hearts in the world still beat. let's not make it harder than it has to be.

I pause this livejournal for a moment of appreciation of that which is FINE:

Phew. Okay, now that I have your attention, I actually have something important to talk about, which is this:


I know this is true because I just declared it to be so. It's the shortest month, anyway, and it's already four days old, so you're getting a deal even if it is a leap year.

See, here's the thing. A lot of us, women especially, are really well-socialized to put ourselves down, denigrate ourselves, steep ourselves in self-loathing.**

This does triple duty in preventing us from fixing our own lives and also from changing the world for the better. Because it is exhausting for us, and it's exhausting for our friends, and it's a bad model for others.

Think of all the emotional energy you've devoted, over the years, to self-loathing. Think of all the emotional energy you've devoted to supporting beloved friends who are perfect in every way except they keep slashing themselves to ribbons. Think of everything you could have accomplished if you hadn't told yourself that you weren't good enough, that you didn't deserve anything, that you'd better play Paul Atreides and destroy the thing you really wanted because it was the only way you had any control over it at all.

And the thing is, that self-abnegation shit is all lies. Really it is. 90% of women are not nearly as awful as they think they are, which is a statistic that I made up on the spot. 
(05% of all people are actually horrible people, but the horrible people never think they're horrible, which enables them to be as awful as they are. I'm not talking to those people here. They're already not kicking themselves.)

So I'm speaking specifically to the non-horrible-person cis-female self-kickers when I say: the thing is, when we kick ourselves, when we marginalize ourselves, when we erase ourselves, when we look for evidence everywhere of failure and ignore the evidence of success, when we reinforce those toxic opinions of ourselves... we're not just hurting ourselves.

We're totally hurting ourselves, because we believe the horrible things we say about ourselves, and internalize them, and we feel like we have no right to have desires or take up space or want things, especially if they are things other people want too. And the thing is, yes, sometimes life is a competition. And sometimes you lose.

You don't accomplish more by holding yourself to an impossible, inhuman standard. You don't have to slash yourself to ribbons over it. That's actually not healthy.

And when we do it, we're hurting other women too. (All other women, not just cis women.) Because we're reinforcing the cultural expectation that women will be self-effacing and self-denigrating. That we'll step out of the way and make room. That our only value is in how useful we are to others, and that we'll go meekly to the ice floe when we're not immediately useful anymore.

And often when we try to quit kicking ourselves, our friends seem to kick themselves even harder. Which reasserts the social norm that kicking yourself is the way it's done, and also models self-kicking as a behavior pattern for younger women. (I also think there's a whole complex of toxic behaviors that tie in here, such as guilt-tripping and manipulation, because basically what we're doing is institutionalizing ourselves, and robbing ourselves of agency, and there are well-documented toxic ways that institutionalized people behave when they feel like they have no control over their lives.)

So obviously, we all need to quit hitting ourselves AT THE SAME TIME for this to work!

I'm not saying there's no room for self-improvement in anybody, mind you. I know I sure as hell have room in my life for personal growth. It's why I have a nice therapist I talk to on Monday mornings, after all. But I am saying that savaging yourself over it doesn't actually produce that growth.

Anybody who has ever had a dog will tell you that you don't actually get results out of any given organism by beating it silly. You get them by rewarding the behavior you want. Positive reinforcement works. Abuse just makes a creature neurotic and less capable, not more.

And since we're adults here, we are responsible for our own training. Quit hitting yourself.

A major watershed in my adult life was the moment when coffeeem, with the sort of profound wisdom a big sister occasionally hands down, said to me, "You wouldn't let anybody talk to me the way you talk to yourself." It literally changed my life, because she was right. So why do we regularly talk to ourselves in ways we wouldn't ever talk to our friends?*

So here's my challenge for February of 2016. I'm going to quit kicking myself. If I screw up I'm going to figure out why it happened and try to fix it. If I do something positive I'm going to give myself a sticker. In fact, I'm going to give myself a sticker every time I'm tempted to cut myself and don't.

So there. No kicking yourself.

And no autocannibalism either.

**(I fully acknowledge that I'm not equipped to speak directly to the experience of transwomen, and I don't wish to be exclusionary. Also, I know that some men also experience these feelings, but they seem less prevalent. Men are more often socialized to believe they deserve to exist and want things.)

*And if you do talk to your friends that way, you're one of the horrible people, and this post is not for you.

Feb. 1st, 2016

can't sleep books will eat me

oh my darling oh my darling benzedrine

Hey there internauts. Welcome back to the re-emerging chronicle of my rebooted life. Tomorrow morning, I get up and go to see a sports medicine dude about my Achilles tendon, which has been seriously cramping my style since June and, after the manner of tendons, just refuses to heal. (My heel won't heal! O Noes!) This has, needless to say, been having an extremely detrimental effect on my running and dancing and basically everything cardiovascular I enjoy doing.

The climbing was going pretty well, and the weight-lifting, before the pneumonia thing started. But curiously, it's hard to squat 200 when you're coughing up alien civilizations and your toes, so when I come back to it, I expect to be significantly deloaded. *dogsigh*

But I didn't come here to talk about sports injuries. I came here to talk about the problem of my writer brain. Which is, more or less, I've realized that writing stopped being fun at all immediately after I attended a pro-level workshop in 2007 (there was so much else going on in my life at the time that I didn't actually connect the two things until later) and turned into an exercise in willpower, grim determination, and consciously applied craft and skill and technique.

I got a lot better from thinking about it so much. But I also got a bit like the centipede that gets around just fine until somebody asks him how he rums.

So here I am with 62 pairs of red Converse All-Stars and the laces are a hopeless knot.

I was getting through basically by gutting it out for quite a while: I'm a very stubborn girl, and I can do an amazing amount on willpower and discipline. The thing is, well, somewhere in the middle of that second draft of An Apprentice to Elves, well. Something just kind of snapped. Went sproing. And the gears have been grinding louder and louder ever since.

Add that to a moderate case of overwork and burnout, and....

So I have to figure out how to relax and trust myself again, I guess. To actually engage with the stories on a level of feeling excited by them and enjoying them, instead of wading through oceans of self-loathing to get there. As regular readers of this journal will recall, all of this is of course gorgeously complicated by a really exciting history of complex PTSD, some of which has gotten kicked to the fore again recently by some triggery happenings...

Basically, I'm in the ridiculous position of having the job I always wanted, a job I love and am good at... and not being able to do it because I'm too busy second-guessing myself.

Which is why the deadline stuff is getting pushed back a bit, so I can have some breathing space and try to get rid of some of this pile of "should" and turn it into "want to" without the hyper-critical selfconsciousness and feelings of being overwhelmed and scraped thin.

But it's February 1st, which is when I told myself I'd get back on the horse, and I've printed out some short fiction I'm poking at, and I'm going to see what I can start doing with it in as relaxed a fashion as possible.

Wheeeeeee. :)

Jan. 27th, 2016

criminal minds gideon murder before coff

he's got one trick to last a lifetime but that's all a pony needs.

Something I've been thinking about a lot lately is authenticity, finding your voice, finding your self. And it's such a tricky topic--in art as it is in life. Because we all have aspirations (I hope we all have aspirations!): better selves, the person who we want to be, the change we want to see in the world. The artist we want to become.

I'm a terrible guitarist and singer. I do it for fun, and I refuse to take it terribly seriously, because I know what happens when I take art seriously: it starts to become a stressor, a thing I worry and fret about, a thing I become perfectionist over. But I still like doing it, and I still practice new things, and I have some vague aspirations to take singing lessons when I'm doing a little less traveling.

I did not, however, really learn to sing at all until I was in my late thirties. And a lot of this was because I didn't learn to stop struggling with the voice I thought I should have (I wish I had a lovely, smoky contralto) and be comfortable with my own voice until then. (I have a very high singing voice, and I don't like it very much. But I like singing, so I work with what I have, I suppose.) I kept trying to make my voice into something that it wasn't, into what I thought it ought to be, and that prevented me from working with what I did have and making it better.

This principle applies to writing, as well. And, well, life. You have a voice, as an artist and as a human being. That voice is part of who you are, and it's comprised of your core beliefs, your internalizations, your hopes and dreams and influences and experiences.

You can develop it. You can make it better. But until you find it--until you find that authentic voice, and accept it, and begin working on making it stronger and trusting it and letting it shine through--you will always sound artificial and affected. 

And there's a reason we call it "finding your voice," and not "creating your voice." The voice is there. Whatever it is, you are stuck with it. So you might as well learn to like it, and work with it, and improve it.

And when broadened out to life, this involves being who you are, rather than who you think you ought to be.

And sometimes that's hugely painful or difficult, especially when we've been socialized to believe that who we are, deep down, is somehow immoral and incorrect. Because the first thing you have to figure out is who you are. And what you want. And that it's all right for you to want and be those things, even if somebody else told you it was wrong. Even if it's risky. Even if your family might not understand. (Of course, it's also risky because it might involve important relationships changing drastically, giving up things that are precious to you, and re-assessing your investments or renegotiating your life path.)

That can be a tremendously painful process, this letting go of what you thought you ought to be, what you were invested in being--and just being what you are. Feeling your feelings, Writing your words. Making your art, which involves telling your truths.

And it's tricky! It's so tricky! Because it involves determining what is an unrealistic desire for a thing we aren't (I want to be a contralto) but not accepting limits that don't have a foundation is reality, but only in our own fears and risk-aversion (I don't have a voice at all and shouldn't try to sing). 

That learning process is part of the path to authenticity. And authenticity and saying what you mean and observing honestly, inside and out, is where we find art. Actual art.

And I think it's also part of the way out of anxiety, because anxiety arises from internal conflict (fear vs. desire, or incompatible desires, or desire vs. obligation). And if we don't learn who we really are and what we really have to say, we can't make honest art, and we can't actually accept ourselves and learn to sing as best we can with what we have.

Because we're too busy trying to imitate somebody else, or be what somebody else expects us to be, or be what we've been trained to believe we ought to be.

This is also, a lot of the time, when we're wasting a lot of energy trying to control somebody else's life or choices or art, because is we are insecure in our own choices, we feel challenged when somebody else makes a different choice, and we thus try to invalidate the thing that challenges us. Denial is a hell of a drug. The classic example, of course, is the unhappily married person trying to matchmake all of their friends. Or the guy who complains about books that have adverbs in them, because they have internalized some weird advice from some book on writing that you should never use an adverb.

Relax. Smoke an adverb if you have one.

It's all good.

Jan. 26th, 2016

sf sapphire and steel winning

hey i've never seen the sun come up in the west


[GOTO: 10]

(Is this thing on?)

Hey guys. So, it has been.... well, a long time since my last significant blogging here. It's been an interesting autumn and winter on a lot of  fronts, and I've been getting my head sorted, and I haven't felt much like talking about most of it on the internets. Also, you know, I've been trying to do more stuff that is Not On The Internets.

But I'm feeling a little more like crawling out of my hole, so. THE STATE OF THE BEAR ADDRESS.

First item: Hey guess what, I have pneumonia! Or really bad bronchitis. I'm apparently right on the cusp between. Probably the same bug that's laid out half of science fiction. According to my wonderful nurse practitioner, there's a chest cold going around that produces really thick mucus and doesn't make you cough enough, and combined with dessication from dry winter air this means your lungs turn into Petrie dishes for any passing bacterium. Result: minor epidemic of pneumonia in fairly young, otherwise healthy people.

So if you find yourself with a chest cold that doesn't seem too bad, don't be me. Take an expectorant and use a humidifier.

This is especially frustrating because it's gorgeous out--we're so far having a lovely mild winter in Massachusetts--and I want to exercise, but I'm grounded. I haven't been able to run since last summer because of Achilles tendinitis (slowly getting better. slowly.) but I was making good progress again with rock climbing, weight lifting, and yoga. And now I'm going to have to deload again, dammit. 

Second item: Yes, my website is down. I am having ISP issues, and I need to figure out a new hosting solution and do a website redesign to support the current and forthcoming frontlist, which consists of Karen Memory, the Eternal Sky world, and the White Space world. I apologize.

It may be a little while before I figure out what my solution is, because I am also in the middle of moving house and planning a wedding. Ahem. It turns out these things are time consuming.

Third item: Yes, Scott and I are buying a house and doing some other legal paperwork. Here's to the end of five years of commuter relationship. Expect kitten pictures sooner or later.

Fourth item: The Giant Ridiculous Dog says hello. He's getting on in years, but still happy and healthy and enjoying his walks.

In other news, (way to bury the lede Bear) it may also be a little while before there is another novel-length Elizabeth Bear book.

I've been talking with my agent and editors, and I'm going to be on a bit of a novel sabbatical this year. Some of this is the moving and house-buying and wedding planning (good gravy, mortgages are a lot of work). Some of it is that I have been working nonstop and flat-out for fourteen years, and, well, I'm struggling to figure out what I want to say and how to say it and to find interesting human stories I haven't already told from several angles. 

The plots are not the issue, nor the worlds. The art of inventing new and interesting characters, however, has deserted me. And I have become like the centipede who has been asked how he runs: I'm in a state where I am extremely critical of and self-conscious about my own work, and it's making it really hard to produce anything on a reasonable schedule. Since I respond to deadline pressure with self-loathing and despair, the best solution I can come up with at this point is to back the pressure off a little and try to fix my brain and creativity, because pushing through is just making things worse and I don't want to actually break myself.

Also, the success of Karen and the Eternal Sky books has been awesome, and I'm thrilled that they are getting the love and attention that they are. But I am having a hard time learning to balance the additional demands on my time with the need to actually produce new work. Which is part of why I have been spending less time on the internets: I need to assess priorities and figure out what my workflow is going to be in the future.

Aaaaaand I'm also in treatment for some anxiety and the burnout issues, and that's taking up a lot of my creative focus. <<wry face>>

(It's embarrassing to talk about, but you know, nobody actually benefits when we don't talk about mental and emotional health issues, so here goes.)

I am working on a couple of shorter pieces, though--I'm hoping that if I take a little time for myself and give myself a little breathing room, I'll grown back a little bit. So I'm not making any public commitments about those.

But one might be a Karen story. Maybe. If you're good.


Nov. 11th, 2015

bad girls firefighters

everybody's twisted, baby, trying to fit

This is slightly delayed today, because that boy I like and I were kind of buying a house. Ahem.


“I will come to a time in my backwards trip when November eleventh, accidentally my birthday, was a sacred day called Armistice Day. When I was a boy, all the people of all the nations which had fought in the First World War were silent during the eleventh minute of the eleventh hour of Armistice Day, which was the eleventh day of the eleventh month.

“It was during that minute in nineteen hundred and eighteen, that millions upon millions of human beings stopped butchering one and another. I have talked to old men who were on battlefields during that minute. They have told me in one way or another that the sudden silence was the voice of God. So we still have among us some men who can remember when God spoke clearly to mankind.

“Armistice Day has become Veterans’ Day. Armistice Day was sacred. Veterans’ Day is not.

“So I will throw Veterans’ Day over my shoulder. Armistice Day I will keep. I don’t want to throw away any sacred things.

“What else is sacred? Oh, Romeo and Juliet, for instance.

“And all music is.”

--Kurt Vonnegut, Breakfast of Champions, 1973

Sep. 6th, 2015

comics bone stupid stupid rat creatures

this is hell nor am i out of it.

It turns out art is hard.

Basically, every artist became an artist because nobody else was making the art we wanted to see so we figured we had to do it ourselves if we wanted it to exist in the world.

And then we all discovered that getting the art in your head outside into the world in a form you can recognize is a nearly impossible task.

Who set this system up, anyway?

Sep. 1st, 2015

writing eternal sky rog

and when the music stops there is only the sound of the rain

My short story, "The Bone War," is now available in the September/October issue of F&SF! It's also the featured story in the free Kindle sample for this month!   

In other news, scott_lynch's neighbors have adopted this lost homing pigeon. (Cue all the jokes about the bird's failure to compass its job, etc.)

Aug. 29th, 2015

can&#39;t sleep books will eat me

you through chattering teeth reply and curse us as you go.

I've got a post up over on Charlie's Diary about thwarting gaming the Hugos next year. Thanks for the pulpit, autopope!

In much much happier news, I'm going to talk about some books I love now.

These are things I have read in the past couple of years that are really, really good.

My Real Children, by papersky (Jo Walton), which is a great book about a woman living two lives in parallel but different timestreams. I have a quibble with the ending, but that's literally my only quibble with the book. There was a thing in the last paragraph that made me go "Huh?" So good, so gorgeously written, so understated, so completely a thing that could never be written in another genre. 

The Goblin Emperor, by truepenny (Katherine Addison), just came in second in the Hugo Best Novel award. It's about a young man growing up in exile who is awakened in the middle of the night to be told that his entire family has been assassinated and he's going to have to be Emperor of the Elves now. There only problem is that he has no training at all, and his mother was a goblin.

The Girl in the Road, by Monica Byrne, is about two women traveling great distances in different times, whose lives are joined by one unspeakable moment of violence. It's so good, you guys. The writing is top notch and the characters are prickly and weird and unreliable narrators and it's compelling as hell.

The Peripheral, by William Gibson. Apparently I am on a roll with parallel-story novels, because this is another one with two threads of narrative that weave together synthetically. It's great: I think this is Gibson's best novel, and it's a crying shame it didn't make the Hugo ballot this year. It has gunfights and philosophy in about equal measure, and it blew my socks off.

Updraft, by Fran Wilde, comes out on Tuesday. It's super, one of the best first novels I've read in a long time. It's about a girl who cannot follow orders to save her life trying to make her way through a perilous society where people live at the top of living bone towers and travel with wings. There are creepy monsters and secret societies and this protagonist who just cannot stop making things worse for herself.

Sorcerer to the Crown, by Zen Cho. Also a new novelist, this is a Regency-era thriller with sorcery duels and brutal politics. It's wacky and madcap while also being quite tense. I was reminded of those Cary Grant/Kate Hepburn screwball comedies in the way things just escalate and escalate.

Lavinia, by Ursula K. Le Guin. I've been hand-selling this book to everybody who will sit still for it. It's subtle and generous and witty and heartbreaking and I loved it to absolute death. And I have a critical allergy to Romans.

Of Noble Family, by Mary Robinette Kowal. The final book in her glamourist histories, this does an excellent job of kicking the coprotagonists Jane and Vincent out of their comfort zone and sending them out into a wider and more difficult world. These books have been moving from strength to strength, and portions of this one are serious nailbiters.

A World of Trouble, by Ben H. Winters. Last book in a trilogy, and all three of them are very good. The protagonist is a guy who was a cop in a world with an impending calamity--and extinction-event level meteor strike--hanging over it. He's trying to be a decent human being and do decent human being things, like take care of his sister. Mystery, action, characterization--all great.

Code Name Verity, by Elizabeth Wein. Oh my gosh just read this book it will knock your socks off. I made the mistake of listening to it on audiobook, and I'm sure the neighbors thought I was a fucking lunatic, walking the dog with headphones in and snot and tears running down my face while I sobbed and sobbed.

California Bones, by Greg Van Eekhout. This is a thrillery book about a young guy whose dad was a sorcerer, and who is attempting to navigate a magical underworld where all the sorcerers hang out and compete for power. It's like Tim Powers meets The Wire. I loved it.


Aug. 26th, 2015

comics invisibles king mob

stars in our bedroom after the war

Elizabeth Bear's How To Title Your Science Fiction or Fantasy Novel or Series: A Tutorial in Three Parts*

(*In which I make fun of my industry, myself, and all of my friends.)


There are a number of excellent titling strategies. For purposes of this column, we're going to ignore some of the strategies requiring a little more art and discretion, such as extracting a suitable bit of a quotation from something (A Fine and Private Place), its ever-popular subset, making up a quote, sticking it in the book, and then quoting yourself (as in my own All the Windwracked Stars), or just titling a story after the protagonist (Julian Comstock) with or without suitable subtitles.

We're going to build these titles from whole cloth! Or whole noun phrases, anyway.

The simplest titling strategy is, of course, the single unadorned NOUN. Usually one-syllable, for best impact and biggest title type, but not always: (Dawn. Dune. Dust. Skin. Sunshine. ) Can also be a PROPER NOUN--the "Title the story after the protagonist" tactic above is a subset of this-- ("Galapagos." Alanna. Cyteen, Hyperion)--in fairness, Sunshine, Dune, and Dust are also proper nouns, but they have evocative meanings of their own--or a date (1984, 2312) or even the ever-popular DEFINITE ARTICLE NOUN (The Peripheral. The Chaos.).

Also fun, pick a FOREIGN NOUN! (Idoru, Accelerando)

There's also the COINED NOUN appearing in all subforms, super popular in SFF if you can come up with a catchy word. (UBIK. Slan.) and there's the ever-popular SLIGHTLY TWEAKED NOUN (or existing construction) (Neuromancer. Streetlethal. "The Narcomancer." Doomsday Book)

If you come up with a good one of these, your friends will be jealous forever. Just so you know.

There's also the NOUN NOUN, but since those usually read as ADJECTIVE NOUN, they're dealt with below. Just find a noun that encompasses some thematic or descriptive aspect of your work, and go to town!

...But this is beginner stuff. We can do better than that.

NB: the one-word title often indicates science fiction, as opposed to fantasy. As does the next subset, the ADJECTIVE NOUN.

The ADJECTIVE NOUN title comes in two subforms, of course: ADJECTIVE NOUN proper and the slightly more common ARTICLE ADJECTIVE NOUN. This gets interesting, because I feel through entirely subjective anecdata that ADJECTIVE NOUN (occasionally ADJECTIVENOUN) usually indicates a genre book (Lady Knight, Conjure Wife, Blue Mars, Starship Troopers, Snow Crash, Lifelode, Updraft) whereas DEFINITE ARTICLE ADJECTIVE NOUN (The Broken Kingdoms. The Forever War, The Snow Queen, The Goblin Emperor, The Three-Body Problem, Ancillary Mercy, The Drowning City, The Invisible Man, The Fortunate Fall, The Illustrated Man, The Orphan Queen) could go either way, and INDEFINITE ARTICLE ADJECTIVE NOUN says literary novel to me. In fact, the only genre examples I can think of off the top of my head is A Swiftly Tilting Planet, and that one throws in an adverb for good measure. 

I'm sure there are more, but thinking about them is too far to go for a joke.

These work best if you can come up with some interesting tension in the name--two things that evoke an image, or seem in contradiction to one another, as in The Fortunate Fall and The Orphan Queen above.

We're just going to conveniently ignore The Scarlet Letter in this discussion.

This is one of the true classics of genre titling, by the way. In a statistic I just made up on the spot, I would estimate that 78.3% of genre books have some subvariant of the ADJECTIVE NOUN construction. (You can also jazz it up by going NOUN ADJECTIVE, too (Man Plus. Girl, Interrupted. I think Boneshaker probably goes under NOUN, but whatever. you get the idea.).

We also get some variants here--POSSESSIVE ADJECTIVE NOUN (My Real Children) and the ADJECTIVE NOUN'S NOUN construction with variants (Ender's Game, The Wise Man's Fear, Old Man's War, Delia's Shadow), but the basic structure is the same, though they can be a little snappier because they impart a little more action and context.

Then there's a weirdo: the unadorned ADJECTIVE VERB FORM. I think I might actually have started that one, with Hammered, but now it's everywhere--including at least a couple of other Hammereds, some Hunteds, the odd Withered and Divergent... and so it goes. Trendy now, may sound dated in a decade. Or it may be one that sticks around.

They don't pay me to be a titling futurist. Except indirectly.

Oh wait, I take it back. Kindred. That might be the ur-adjective. That one's not verb-derived, though, so it doesn't sound so weird when you think about it for too long. Possibly Octavia Butler was better at this than I am.

Which brings us to another NOUN VERB (God Stalk, Leviathan Wakes, A Dead God Dancing) and VERB NOUN (Kill Bill, Steal This Book***), along with its subset GERUND NOUN (Moving Mars, Towing Jehovah, Raising Steam)

***I can't think of any genre examples. Oh, wait, fadethecat came up with Consider Phlebas, which is also a quote, and I can't believe I forgot.  

Next up, another real classic of the genre title: the ever popular NOUN & NOUN! A serious classic of fantasy in particular. Does what it says on the box. (Blood & Iron. Rosemary and Rue. Cloud and Ashes. The Moon and the Sun. We could be here all week.)

And now, the one you've all been waiting for--the real standard marker of heroic or epic fantasy. The dreaded and all too easy to mock THING PREPOSITIONAL PHRASE title. This is totally J.R.R. Tolkien's fault, and there's no use pretending otherwise.

The Name of the Wind
Ill-Met in Lankhmar
A Stranger in Olondria
A Companion to Wolves
Gun, with Occasional Music
Servant of the Underworld

Wizard of the Pigeons
The Grace of Kings
The Lies of Locke Lamora
(extra credit for protagonist name)
The Face in the Frost
Sometimes, for variety, just a prepositional phrase! By the Mountain Bound

And you can make a series sound unified--and endlessly confuse your readers when they try to remember which book is which--by taking two Common Fantasy Nouns, working them into a prepositional phrase, and changing only one of them per series installment. I think the first time I encountered this trick was the Janny Wurts/Ray Feist "Empire" books (Daughter of, Servant of, Mistress of, if I remember, but I can never remember which order they come in. And I Liked them and read them more than once.)

Ahem. Anyway. Now that you have the constructions, you need some words to plug in. Feel free to use as many as you like. And convert them into adjectives or adverbs as needed.... for example, Blood to Bloody.

These are all great well-recognized Fantasy Nouns, and using them on a book cover will make sure that readers know what they're getting!

Part the Twoth: HANDY WORD LISTS



The Noun's Female Relative
The Girl with the Prepositional Phrase

I'm bored with these. You can figure out how it works.

Part the Bonuseth: CHANGING THINGS UP

And now, for extra credit, some titles that mix things up! See if you can figure out how these were done.

Red Seas under Red Skies
Bell Book and Candle
Who Fears Death
Set this House in Order

Search the Seven Hills
Kitty and the Midnight Hour
Queen of Air and Darkness
Three Hearts and Three Lions

Stormqueen! (Exclamation points are rarely a good idea in titles, and this one is no exception)

THE NOUN WHO VERBED (The Epithet Title): (The Man who Melted. The Woman who Rides Like a Man. The Man Who Wasn't There.)


Stars in my Pocket Like Grains of Sand.

You can all go home now. I got nothing to top that.

Aug. 11th, 2015

criminal minds garcia plan b

not even hammer can touch this

Hello, true believers! I know, I know. It's like I never come around here any more. I've been caught up in travel and work and more travel and more work--but I have some actual exciting announcements to make.

My hopefully amusing short story, "The Bone War," is out in this month's The Magazine of Fantasy and Science Fiction, fondly known throughout the genre as "F&SF." The table of contents and some links to reviews are here. It's a Bijou the Artificer story, set in the Eternal Sky world some four hundred years after Range of Ghosts and on a different continent. It is lovingly dedicated to all my academic friends.

Also lovingly dedicated to all my academic friends, my short story "in Libres," available in the May/June issue of Uncanny. I was on a roll this past winter with academic snark stories, apparently.

Pursuant to that, I would like to announce that forthcoming in Year 2 of Uncanny (kickstarter here for subscription and cool premiums), you will see the publication of my novelette "And the Balance in Blood." This is one part more academic snark and one part what happens to AD&D characters when they retire. As one does.

Also recently published, the actual most depressing thing I have ever written (sell it, Bear!), "Margin of Survival," in Volumn 3 of John Joseph Adams and Hugh Howey's The Apocalypse Triptych: The End Has Come.


On to more cheerful news!

You may have heard that my writing partner, Sarah Monette, was nominated for literally every single major fantasy genre award this year in her Katherine Addison persona, for The Goblin Emperor. She won the Locus Award for best fantasy novel, and is in the running for the Hugo and World Fantasy awards.

Well, we have finally completed work on the final book in our jointly written Iskryne series, and I am pleased to announce that An Apprentice to Elves will be out in October.


Jul. 18th, 2015

bad girls firefighters

it's your chance now girl you better dance now girl

Oh grand-daughters.
You will not know what your mothers and your grandmothers knew;
you will not know how they fought with no true hope for their own salvation. 

You will not know how they cursed and kicked to make a better world.
A world that would honor
your mind, your ambition, your desire
to be something more
than a servant, a subject, a decoration.

How they clawed and they
fought to build a world where
you could be human.

You will not recognize their grief and
pride when you stand up,
and accept what was impossible for them as your due.

You will not recognize it.
You will not remember it.

But you will live it.

When you fight for your own
daughters and grand-daughters,
and see them one step higher on the spiral.
One step closer to unquestioned,
to human.

How tall.
How tall is the stair?
Tags: ,

Jun. 16th, 2015

loose tea for loose women

write it on a pound note, pound note

Tonight I made a cocktail, and scott_lynch dubbed it the Riddle Contest. Recipe here.

May. 17th, 2015

comic tick ninjas hedge

i killed a man for flora, the lily of the west

My least favorite writing advice today is the old "cut your first drafts by 10-15%" canard, which seems to be making another round.

You know what? It's great advice for some writers, with some stories. But like all one-size-fits-all advice, it actually doesn't necessarily fit most very well.

Me, for example. My first drafts tend to grow by 10-20% on redraft, because I tend to write my first drafts without things like transitions, exposition, dialogue, dramatization, and setup for thematic developments. They're more or less nothing except plot and character development, and all the other stuff gets put in later. I also have to insert white space a lot of the time, because at novel length extremely dense narrative becomes exhausting, and that's what I naturally tend towards.

My earliest decent short stories were all around 1500-3000 words. It wasn't until I learned to unpack those, to get the interesting bits out of my head and trust that I wasn't going to make them boring by explaining them, to write them at 5000-7000 words for the same sorts of ideas, that they started selling well and attracting positive comment.

I've several times shown my students the first draft of "Shoggoths in Bloom" as well as the published version. The story won a Hugo in its longer, published version. The first draft was largely opaque and hasty, and I know this for a fact, because I took it to Sycamore Hill and sat in a room while a dozen of my colleagues told me exactly how much of it was incomprehensible twaddle.

(Not always: sometimes I need to cut things. But it's incredibly rare for that to happen, and feel free to ask my editors.)

In my experience as a teacher of writing--going on ten years of it now--this is true for a good third of my students, as well. Some of whom have struggled extensively because of this advice, which gets parroted around as if it were true for everyone, all the time.

It's not. Just as the advice to "expand that--dramatize that--explain that better" is not true for everyone all the time.

(In point of fact, I suspect that there are no generally applicable answers even for particular writers. Sometimes we'll overwrite, and sometimes we'll underwrite, and experience and good editors will eventually teach us which is which.)

The trick is not to apply some magic metric like "Oh, cut 10% of everything you write." The trick is to learn what information is necessary and what information is not, and provide the former--and as much of the latter as is entertaining and fun.

May. 15th, 2015


if you cry about a nickel gonna die about a dime

Trigger warning: Tsarnaev trial.

So, today, May 15th, 2015, a day which happens to be my mother's 63rd birthday, the jury in the Tsarnaev bombing trial sentenced a young man to die.

I live here.

Not in Boston. no. But in the Bay State. I'm in town once or twice a month. I'll never be fast enough to qualify for the Boston Marathon, but I run. I have friends who were there when it happened.

When the attack happened, I was at my partner's house, which is in Wisconsin, and I spent... days... following the unfolding events.

What I'm saying is this is my back yard.

I have lost family members to murder. I am opposed to the death penalty nevertheless, for a variety of reasons I don't feel like discussing here.

This hurts. This all hurts. This isn't the decision I think should have been made. But I am proud of my home for bringing this man in alive, and for providing due process and a civil trial (and there was pressure to do it otherwise.) I am also, simultaneously, deeply saddened that we have chosen a course that I think reflects lingering barbarism in our society.

I read this.

85% of Boston residents would have preferred a life sentence, and so would I. Even understanding that it would have had to have been a life sentence in protective custody, which amounts to a life sentence in solitary confinement.

Is that more humane than death?

I don't know.

I do know that I am not one of the twelve people who will have to live with the decision that was made today, and I know also that I am a coward, because I am grateful for that fact.

May. 12th, 2015

criminal minds garcia technopeasant

dig a hole dig a hole in the meadow

Noted without comment.

May. 4th, 2015

criminal minds garcia technopeasant

it's not the hanging that i mind. it's the laying in the grave so long.

Congrats, all!

Now back to the word mines.

2015 Locus Awards Finalists

The Locus Science Fiction Foundation has announced the top five finalists in each category of the 2015 Locus Awards.

Winners will be announced during the Locus Awards Weekend in Seattle WA, June 26-28, 2015; Connie Willis will MC the awards ceremony. Additional weekend events include author readings with Willis and Daryl Gregory; a kickoff Clarion West party honoring first week instructor Andy Duncan, Clarion West supporters, awards weekend ticket holders, and special guests; panels with leading authors; an autograph session with books available for sale thanks to University Book Store; and a lunch banquet with the annual Hawai’ian shirt contest, all followed by a Locus party on Saturday night.


The Peripheral, William Gibson (Putnam; Viking UK)
Ancillary Sword, Ann Leckie (Orbit US; Orbit UK)
The Three-Body Problem, Cixin Liu (Tor)
Lock In, John Scalzi (Tor; Gollancz)
Annihilation/Authority/Acceptance, Jeff VanderMeer (FSG Originals; Fourth Estate; HarperCollins Canada)

The Goblin Emperor, Katherine Addison (Tor)
Steles of the Sky, Elizabeth Bear (Tor)
City of Stairs, Robert Jackson Bennett (Broadway; Jo Fletcher)
The Magician’s Land, Lev Grossman (Viking; Arrow 2015)
The Mirror Empire, Kameron Hurley (Angry Robot US)

Half a King, Joe Abercrombie (Del Rey; Voyager UK)
The Doubt Factory, Paolo Bacigalupi (Little, Brown)
Waistcoats & Weaponry, Gail Carriger (Little, Brown; Atom)
Empress of the Sun, Ian McDonald (Jo Fletcher; Pyr)
Clariel, Garth Nix (Harper; Hot Key; Allen & Unwin)

Elysium, Jennifer Marie Brissett (Aqueduct)
A Darkling Sea, James L. Cambias (Tor)
The Clockwork Dagger, Beth Cato (Harper Voyager)
The Memory Garden, Mary Rickert (Sourcebooks Landmark)
The Emperor’s Blades, Brian Staveley (Tor; Tor UK)

“The Man Who Sold the Moon”, Cory Doctorow (Hieroglyph)
We Are All Completely Fine, Daryl Gregory (Tachyon)
Yesterday’s Kin, Nancy Kress (Tachyon)
“The Regular”, Ken Liu (Upgraded)
“The Lightning Tree”, Patrick Rothfuss (Rogues)

“Tough Times All Over”, Joe Abercrombie (Rogues)
“The Hand Is Quicker”, Elizabeth Bear (The Book of Silverberg)
“Memorials”, Aliette de Bodard (Asimov’s 1/14)
“The Jar of Water”, Ursula K. Le Guin (Tin House #62)
“A Year and a Day in Old Theradane”, Scott Lynch (Rogues)

“Covenant”, Elizabeth Bear (Hieroglyph)
“The Dust Queen”, Aliette de Bodard (Reach for Infinity)
“The Truth About Owls”, Amal El-Mohtar (Kaleidoscope)
“In Babelsberg”, Alastair Reynolds (Reach for Infinity)
“Ogres of East Africa”, Sofia Samatar (Long Hidden)

The Year’s Best Science Fiction: Thirty-first Annual Collection, Gardner Dozois, ed. (St. Martin’s Press)
Long Hidden: Speculative Fiction from the Margins of History, Rose Fox & Daniel José Older, eds. (Crossed Genres)
Rogues, George R.R. Martin & Gardner Dozois, ed. (Bantam; Titan)
Reach for Infinity, Jonathan Strahan, ed. (Solaris US; Solaris UK)
The Time Traveler’s Almanac, Ann VanderMeer & Jeff VanderMeer, eds. (Head of Zeus; Tor)

Questionable Practices, Eileen Gunn (Small Beer)
The Collected Short Fiction Volume One: The Man Who Made Models, R.A. Lafferty (Centipede)
Last Plane to Heaven, Jay Lake (Tor)
Academic Exercises, K.J. Parker (Subterranean)
The Collected Stories of Robert Silverberg, Volume Nine: The Millennium Express, Robert Silverberg (Subterranean; Gateway)


Angry Robot
Small Beer

John Joseph Adams
Ellen Datlow
Gardner Dozois
Jonathan Strahan
Ann & Jeff VanderMeer

Jim Burns
John Picacio
Shaun Tan
Charles Vess
Michael Whelan

Ray Bradbury Unbound, Jonathan Eller (University of Illinois Press)
Harry Harrison! Harry Harrison!, Harry Harrison (Tor)
The Secret History of Wonder Woman, Jill Lepore (Knopf)
Robert A. Heinlein: In Dialogue with His Century, Volume 2: The Man Who Learned Better: 1948-1988, William H. Patterson, Jr. (Tor)
What Makes This Book So Great, Jo Walton (Tor; Corsair 2015)

Jim Burns, The Art of Jim Burns: Hyperluminal (Titan)
The Art of Neil Gaiman, Hayley Campbell (Harper Design)
Spectrum 21: The Best in Contemporary Fantastic Art, John Fleskes, ed. (Flesk)
Brian & Wendy Froud, Brian Froud’s Faeries’ Tales (Abrams)
The Art of Space: The History of Space Art, from the Earliest Visions to the Graphics of the Modern Era, Ron Miller (Zenith)

criminal minds hotch somewhat incongruou

i dug some graves you'll never find

I've just finished reading Jeff Guinn's The Last Gunfight: The Real Story of the Shootout at the O.K. Corral-And How It Changed the American West.

He's got a really aggravating tendency to claim an understanding of motives and leave out words like "perhaps," "probably," and "allegedly" that should be liberally sprinkling this text, and he's got that annoying tendency that many male historians and biographers of generally lionized male historical figures have of getting all possessive of his boyfriends and either dismissing the women in their lives as insignificant, hysterical, clutching, or entirely out for the main chance; or of editorializing on how irritating their men must have found them.

Also, I quibble some with his description of the forensics of the infamous gunfight (this is one of those places where "perhaps" would have come in really handy), especially as he misses my pet theory about how Tom McLaury managed to take a load of shotgun pellets in the armpit (my favorite reconstruction of the fight has the unarmed Tom reaching over the saddle of Billy Clanton's horse to retrieve Clanton's rifle from the saddle sheath, and being dragged around in a circle when the horse spooks, thus exposing his side and underarm to Doc), but at least Guinn does point out that it's pretty implausible for Doc to have put down the shotgun, pulled his revolver, shot Billy Clanton in cold blood, picked the shotgun back up, killed Tom with it, then dropped the shotgun and picked up the pistol and proceeded to miss Frank in the <30 seconds of the entire fight.

However, the book is pretty impressive on historical context and backstory, and presents one of the clearer pictures of the tapestry of interwoven motivations, politics, social considerations, and economics that drove the tensions in Southeast Arizona at the time.

Guinn also makes really good sense of the stagecoach robberies, and rightly points out that gunfight was the top of the second act in this particular narrative, and not the climax at all. (The actual climax is kind of an anticlimax, as is so common the real world and why the end of the story gets rewritten when it's fictionalized for film. Curly Bill and John Ringo have to be foregrounded a heck of a lot more, and Ike Clanton kicked back to his admittedly rightful place as a second-stringer for something closer to the real world narrative to work as a story.)

What we learn from the lives of the Earp brothers, in the end, is if you have to be an Earp, be James. Live quietly and more or less without notoriety, show up for work, and die in your 80s in bed, contented and comfortably well off.

What we learn from the lives of historians of the Matter of Tombstone is that anybody who wades through the John H. Flood manuscript of Wyatt's memoirs deserves hazard pay. You can read the PTSD between the lines in every single account that mentions it.

A representative sample:

     Earp could feel the warmth of the conspirator's body as he leaned against him; the pulsations beat against his own and then there was a throb; something that felt like nerves, and the tenseness of muscles at the drawing of a gun. Earp was watching Allison and the movement of his forty-five; gradually, it was slipping forward from its holster while the marshal stood silently and looked on.

Now the assassin's thumb reached towards the hammer - quietly - then he felt a thrill, something that made his side turn cold, the side against that of the city marshal. Then he raised his eyes to another pair of eyes, and flinched, and dropped his gaze to the ground; he saw a movement at his side and he thought his end had come. Earp was two seconds ahead of him on the draw, and Allison knew that he had lost his play, and he edged out onto the walk...

May. 1st, 2015

writing carnival

if there's anything that sounds a bit like a mistake, just conjure up an e flat minor in your brain.

Because reasons.

Apr. 27th, 2015

comics invisibles king mob

come on come on come on. come over come over. come on come on come on. we all wanted this.

A little over 3000 words today, in my first chance to work on the novel since Wednesday. Didn't do any of the other things I should have done, but hey. Some days you get what you can.

The book is at 20,000 words, which is a sixth of the estimated length. And I just broke 100,000 words for the year to date. And a project that had turned into an endlessly returning zombie is finally laid to bed.

Just keep chipping.

Apr. 16th, 2015

david bowie realism _ truepenny

god moves on the water like casey jones

So I let the Magic Smoke (TM) out of my 15-year-old Osterizer a few months ago, and have been suffering a resultant smoothie deficit. Well, as a reward for a pretty decent short story sale the other day, I splashed out on a new Breville blender (basically, a poor man's Vitamix--less than half the price and rated almost as well).

You guys.

The things this blender does to kale. The things it does to rolled oats.

My enemies had better watch their backs, is all I'm saying.

Apr. 13th, 2015

writing eternal sky gage

and a red clay robe and a red clay wings and a red clay halo for my head

So I have 7500 words of The Stone in the Skull, the first book of the second Eternal Sky trilogy, which is collectively called The Lotus Kingdoms, done. I'm trying to have a bad draft before Readercon if I can.

And because I'm really, really happy with how this is coming out--apparently I've finally learned how to take that advice in the blog title and throw another bear in the canoe--here's the first three paragraphs.

My poor protagonists. I am a horrible person.

Also, very smug.

Chapter One.

The mountain wore a mirrored mask. A pale sun blazed light but no heat in the limpid, icy air and glaciers shimmered against a sky like glass. The air was so still it seemed the encircling peaks held their breaths on some portent.

Their reflections bent toward a vanishing point in the  polished egg-shape of the mirrored mask also worn by the brass man who toiled mechanically--tirelessly--up the slope of the notch below the peaks and between. A wrap of cowl had fallen back from his featureless head and his heavy hands gleamed in what might have been brass gauntlets. His brass feet were strapped into iron-thorned crampons without benefit of boots. The spikes bit into the smooth ice of a river made into rock by the cold.

A hawser thick as a woman's wrist draped over the brass man's shoulder. It stretched behind him on a weighty arc, reaching back to the curved bow of a strange ship: square-rigged, boasting a lofty reptilian figurehead gallantly painted in red and gold--but resting on two curved, ice-encased runners that bore it over the surface of the stone-hard river as if glass slid oiled on glass. A pilot stood on the little platform at the back of the bowsprit, peering up at the slopes above through a glass. Though it was early in the winter for avalanches, it was never too early for care.

Behind that ship was another....

Apr. 12th, 2015

spies mfu facepalm napoleon

russian roulette is not the same without a gun

Science fiction is a really big tent.

Hell, not all of science fiction is even science fiction. Some of it is fantasy, or magic realism, or space opera, or...

There have, in fact, been fandom wars fought over the definition of what, exactly, science fiction is. That second "F" in Science Fiction and Fantasy Writers of America was only added in much later years. (1992, per Ellen Klages and Michael Capobianco. Thanks both!) It is still unpronounced, and doesn't appear except as a drop shadow in the organization's acronym. (This despite the fact that the early pulps published both indiscriminately, and a number of our forebears wrote both indiscriminately. And I tend to see them as a spectrum, frankly.) But at this point, attempting to exclude fantasy writers from SFWA is a battle only being fought by a last few Hiroo Onodas on their tiny islands, while the world largely carries on unconcerned.

Fandom is a very big tent, too. Large enough for a nearly unlimited number of people. Prodom, too, has room for nearly* everybody. It's a big tent, and here's the thing: it's like the opposite of a TARDIS: it's not so much bigger on the inside as capable of infinite expansion.

The fact is, science fiction is not a zero sum game. Fandom is not a zero sum game. Nor is either one a single thing. Fandom is everything from zine fans, still mimeoing away but with better technology now, to anime kids with blue wigs and pleated skirts and world-changing ideas.

Prodom is also not a single thing. It's everything from the folks peddling their ideas in Hollywood, to the ones self-pubbing their first successful book on Amazon.

The Venn diagram between pro and fan is also largely overlapping, by the way. "Pro" is a smaller purple circle inside the big blue circle we name "fan." There may be a sliver sticking out that's red, but then again, that might be an optical illusion.

Both also need to make room for and include people of every demographic that are interested in being pros and fans.

Which, it turns out, isn't that hard. (I myself consider a number of writers who hold very different political views than myself friends, literary idols, and/or role models. I'm thinking of writers such as Steven Brust, Nora Jemisin, John Barnes, Tim Powers, Robert Silverberg**. I don't agree with all of their ideas, but man, I respect and admire every one of 'em. (Steve is my oldest friend in genre, somebody I love very dearly indeed, and you should see the two of us go at it.)

Hell, I don't always agree with my boyfriend on politics.

And that's okay! Because this is not a zero-sum game! The tent gets bigger! And the best part about the tent getting bigger is that that embiggening creates more opportunities for different kinds of fiction, for different kinds of fandom, for different kinds of ideas. For better arguments.

Diversity is good for us, people. The bigger and more diverse fandom is, the more markets for different ideas there are, the more markets there are. We're not actually in competition here, because the more good SFF there is, the more there can be.

That is, as long as we all play fair. And fight fair, for that matter. There's healthy communication and there's abusive communication, and I think it's good that we've started drawing some strong lines between the two. We need to draw more*.

The point is, we make our own market by reaching readers and not sucking. Those readers make more readers. Many readers support a robust and somewhat tumultuous discourse. This is how it works.

Rather than fighting over scraps, we need to be reaching out for the banquet.

It may sometimes be uncomfortable, because a diverse group is more challenging in discourse than a homogeneous one, but that's not bad.  

*Not having an Office of Asshole Removal, as previously mentioned, we can't actually get rid of some of the worst offenders. But we do have a social practice to rely on--a pretty effective one, known as "shunning." We sure as hell don't have to offer them aid and comfort, or take their advice. Let 'em set up their soapboxes in the park, as grrm wisely says, and preach it to the wind.

**The astute will notice that there is more than one end of the political spectrum represented here.

Apr. 6th, 2015

bad girls firefighters

the reason most folk songs are so atrocious is that they were written by the people

There are a number of proposals being brainstormed in the various fandom internets (remember: anarchy--lots of people working and talking in tandem) towards amending the Hugo voting procedures to prevent slate voting from completely dominating the award. I don't think any of them are particularly workable***. One of them, the idea of presenting an opposing state, is not just an awkward kludge, but a radically bad idea for a number of reasons, not the least of it being that it's still unethical to game the system even when people I like are gaming it.

But there are more practical reasons to avoid slates. One is that when you create a slate you participate in shutting out the popular voice and the emergent story. You're turning the Hugo Awards into an echo of American two-party politics, completely divorced from the actual desires of the electorate and creating a "less of two evils" approach that will be even more effective at removing any actual value from the shortlist than a single slate does.

And then the next thing you know, everybody is making slates, and I'm pretty sure you can see the non-constructive anarchy that results, and as the apocryphal said, "Fuck that noise."

So I reiterate: I will never participate in a slate, and I will never vote for a work that is nominated as a result of a slate. Slates are a wrecking tool, and I don't see how they can be used in a constructive fashion. The Hugo Awards are designed to be a consensus process. It's why they use Instant Runoff Voting rather than first-past-the-post.

See kevin_standlee, one of the more experienced Hugo administrators around, for details on how the process works to prevent abuse here. The Hugos are designed to take the five (or four, or six) most popular candidates and choose the least generally disliked among them.

Maybe we should change the award name to "Least Generally Disliked Novel," but that's neither here nor there.

I have a more basic reason for feeling that twiddling with the Hugo system is a patch at best. And it's this: as a tabletop gamer and game-master of 32 years, I can tell you that the munchkins and the min-maxxers will always be with us, and attempts to build an ungameable system actually result in more gaming of it. They also result in the social normalization of gaming, because what you wind up with is systems that are so complex that only people really dedicated to min-maxxing them can get functionality out of them at all.

What does work to prevent gaming the systems?

Community standards.

I've said for years that if anybody wanted to spend $4000, and were clever about it, they could have a Hugo award. Less, in certain categories. It's been tried. (I refer you to Peter Nicholls' cogent writeup of the New Era Publications/Black Genesis Hugo-fixing conspiracy* of 1987. That was not the first time.)

Why don't we all do it?

I have four Hugo awards. Two are for fiction; two are for fan work.

I actually did pay for one of them, the 2013 Best Fancast Hugo, because Lonecon (the San Antonio Worldcon) could not afford bases for all the winners, so several of us shelled out of pocket after we learned we'd won because the award meant that much to us.

A Hugo award isn't cheap, by the way.

But it cost me considerably less than $4000.**

There are people in this world who make a very fine living from their novels who would love a Best Novel Hugo. Some of them could buy and sell my entire family. Some of them are smart enough to get away with it, unlike New Era Publications.

Hell, I'd like to win a Best Novel Hugo one day. I know for a fact that scott_lynch would.

So why don't they do it? Why don't I do it?

Because for the award to mean something, it has to be earned. It has to mean the respect and the admiration of our fellow fans****. *****

Hugos don't come with any money. (Many other major genre awards, such as the Tiptree and the Dick, do come with a nice check.) They don't really boost your sales. (A Best Novel Hugo will sell a few more copies of that particular book, and they can certainly get some translation action going over the long term.)

So why do we treasure them?

We treasure them (and I treasure my fanac Hugos as much as my fiction Hugos) because they mean that fandom noticed we did something pretty damned okay. They're a shiny gold star, and they're peer-awarded. It's a big deal.

I'd hate to think I'd been awarded that shiny gold star not because of the merits of my own work, but because somebody twisted arms to get it for me.

But when we try to game the system through slates (which are a form of minmax, oh yes), we violate community standards and we also create the twin unethical situations of depriving others of their voice (in the sense of having their votes count) and their just rewards (in the sense of having votes for them counted).

I consider slate balloting to be a form of theft, albeit one that's within the rules******.

So. How does the gaming community respond to munchkins?

Well, we make fun of them. We refuse to play with them. We refuse to share our resources with them. We volunteer to do jobs that the lazy bastards who want to game the system are too lazy to do, and thereby we enter the conversation of the community. We make ourselves useful. We join the Worldcon and we vote and do work to support that community in the long run.

(The Worldcon is a community, by the way. There's a reason you buy memberships to a Worldcon-or any fan con--and not "tickets." You're not paying for the privilege of attending an entertainment or to vote in an award: you are paying to support a community. A Worldcon membership is dues, not admission.)

Human society works in general because it's useful, and because it has been useful in the past. There are those who take advantage of the general good-will of others, and our societal defense against those people is to deny them the benefits of association with the rest of us.

Shunning, mockery, and volunteerism are also well-established strategies for dealing with troublemakers in any situation that is mostly governed by consensus, be it a tribe, a family, or a fandom. Or a gang of kids in the local park. I believe that in the long run, fandom and the Hugos will come out of this fine.

Or at least as fine as we always are, complete with moon men and obstructionists and contrarians galore.

*Actual conspiracy, not hyperbole conspiracy

**Hundreds for bases, not one red cent for votes.

***Some disenfranchise long-term voters (no); some are overly complex or just as open to concerted gaming as the current system.

****Or at least that you're the least-disliked of the best.

*****Now, minmax and munchkining are not against the rules. If they were against the rules, the Hugo Committee could take action to remove the cheaters from the ballot. The entire goal of minmaxxing is to get away with exactly as much as the rules permit.

******What is permitted and what is ethical do not always intersect. This is why we have judges.

Apr. 5th, 2015

criminal minds garcia plan b

i spent all day yesterday waiting at a red light

Here's a thing about science fiction fandom that a lot of people who are new to the community may miss, SF prodom is an industry, yes--it's a group of interrelated sole proprietors and corporations and nonprofits all working in the same word mines.

I'm an entrepreneur. I'm a small business, in point of fact.

But I'm also a fan. And fandom intersects with prodom on a thousand different levels, not the least of which is that most SF pros are also SF fans.

And SF Fandom is a functioning, self-sustaining, multi-generational anarchy.

There is no central governing body. There is no system of government. There is no set of checks and balances, no higher authority to whom we can appeal when something hinky is going on, if it's an abusive fan, an unethical writer, or an editor who engages in harassment.

We are it. Fandom. And fandom is you and me and that guy over there who is horrible to everybody.

Fandom is an emergent property of a large group of fans. Nobody planned it. Nobody guided it. It just happened.

And it happened--and continues to happen--in large part because a whole fuckload of people decided to serve it. Not exploit it. Not attempt to co-opt it. But to serve it, with things like fanzines and Fan Funds and fan-run conventions (which are entirely staffed by volunteers, by the way, and the pros who attend them are generally not paid. If we are guests, we may get a per diem for food, a hotel room, and our travel covered. We may get a membership comped if we do program even if we're not guests of the convention, but in those cases we're paying our own expenses to be there. That's it. For a general loss of about a week's working time, and remember--nobody pays us if we don't work.).

They also serve it with the Worldcon, and with the World Science Fiction Society's Hugo Awards. Which are (again) administrated by volunteers. There's no glory in administrating awards, and a huge pile of backbreaking and thankless labor, and often a great deal of annoyance and wank and farmed or native drama.

Fandom happens because people take care of it, nurture it, and make it a fun place for people to be. Preferably, an inclusive place. If anything, we often err too far on the side of putting up with assholes, because we're bad at excluding people.

There are plenty of people in fandom who I think are jerks, idiots, pains in the ass, complete eye-rolling cramps, and/or moon men. Some of those people do valuable work for the community, even while I'm facepalming over their opinions.

All of them got into it the same way I did--by being volunteered or (as is very common) voluntold.

These people refer to themselves as SMoFs as a joke, you understand. Jobs often get done in haphazard ass-backward ways because they are done by anybody willing, and often on limited time, in the cracks of a busy life, and with little or no funding.

Some people in the community do not contribute in any meaningful way. But its awfully hard to actually run those people off, because we are--as I mentioned above--an anarchy. Fandom has no Office of Asshole Removal*.

Nobody is in charge, is what I'm saying. Fandom therefore demands both patience and personal responsibility of us all.

What we do have, though, are antibodies. We have ways of spreading information, and dealing with problems, and we have very long institutional memories. We have an understanding that any scalpel can also be used as a knife, and so--even though we make mistakes, and a lot of them, we tend to be self-correcting in the long run.

This is not the first time All Fandom Has Been Plunged Into War. It will not be the last.

But it's also not going to break fandom.

Because the great thing about anarchies is that they are very resilient, and they are also very good at establishing customs of the tribe, which is pretty much how anarchic, egalitarian, tribal societies usually organize themselves.

There's a new custom circulating in my tribe, and I think it's a good one, so I will be adopting it.

I have not in the past and I will not in the future participate in any popular award voting slate, public or private. I will not vote for any story or person or institution that is nominated for a popular award after agreeing to be on such a slate.

I believe that slate-voting is unethical and perverts the purpose of the awards--and disadvantages almost everyone, quite frankly--and I am personally invested in making sure my fandom does not decay into a series of cage matches.

That is the ethical decision I am making for myself.

I have no problem with recommendations, with Hugo discussion, with eligibility lists, with people saying "I think this is my best work last year and if you are nominating and care to read it, it's available here." (I do not particularly like the "I will send a copy to any nominator who wants one," practice, but I don't think it's unethical, just cheap.)

I have, however, a big problem with the party lever. Because I'm not much of one for parties at all.

There are some friends of mine on the Sad Puppies slate, and some people who I consider very good at their jobs. I'll be leaving them off the ballot, not merely placing them under "No Award."

Because this is how fandom's antibodies work. We each make a personal decision what we will and won't participate in, and then we stick to it.

At least the Hugo voting will be easy and fast this year**.

It usually takes me weeks to make my decisions. 

*(And in those cases where there is an organization with an Office of Asshole Removal (or, as some people call it, an H. R. Department, or a con grievance committee) that's often even more thankless work--because H.R. Departments and volunteer organizations move at the speed of Lawsuit Prevention, not the speed of the Court of the Internets.)

**Someday we'll have the 2014 Retro Hugos, though, and I'm going to be chewing my pencil over that.

Replies are turned off because I am a busy woman, and there are plenty of well-curated places to discuss the issues.

Mar. 26th, 2015

writing eternal sky gage

i got a black limousine and about thirty-seven criminals

I’ll be teaching a workshop on characterization at the Connecticut Authors and Publisher’s Association conference on May 9th. Registration is here.

Mar. 25th, 2015

loose tea for loose women

and tore clean through it

Official publication date for An Apprentice to Elves:13 October 2015.


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