WHAT’S ON THE SHELF: A WRITER READS
Calling all you readers, do you want more novels? Yeah, I thought so. I’ve been listening to a neat new podcast produced by the astute editor-writer-reader Rachel A. Brune. Give it a try. Oh, and if that isn’t enough of a sales pitch, you can listen to her chat with me about some of our formative reading experiences going way back. We also got to talking about what it’s been like for me to read science fiction books not only for pleasure but also for my book reviews in Analog. Rachel has interviewed a bunch of other fantasy, SF, and romance writers. She’s also t
MY 2023 NO STRESS NEW YEAR’S READING RESOLUTIONS
I’m not one to resolve to read “more” books this year. That’s too much tracking and keeping on track for my taste. Nor am I much for taking another crack at “great” works that I’ve opened before and never gotten beyond the first few pages. Instead, this year I’m going to focus on easy reading resolutions, ones I’m nearly certain will bring me pleasure and be easier to keep.
First and foremost, I will try reading a few books outside my usual genres of science fiction, fantasy, and science fact. For example, there are marvelous books about food and cooking that go well beyond mere recipe compilations to engage the senses, inform, and even serve as a bit of a travelogue to fascinating places and times.
OK, I’m on a roll! Here are a few more resolutions that seem feasible:
- I’m going to seek out more works by writers from other lands. I’ve found some of my favorite new authors by doing this.
- I want to read at least a half hour every day. I might do so as soon as I wake up, before daily events distract.
- I won’t force myself to finish any book that turns into a slog. Reading every page isn’t like finishing all the food on your plate. Come to think of it, enforced membership in The Clean Plate Club isn’t such a great idea either.
- I will seek out a few books that were made into new movies or streaming series. I usually find the book version to be a deeper, richer experience. Even when this isn’t the case, it can be fascinating to compare them.
- I can easily talk up more books I love. With so much competition for readers’ attention, authors need as much favorable press as possible from all quarters.
- I’m going to read at least one banned book. You know why.
- I’ll keep on supporting my local libraries monetarily and with book donations. Things haven’t gotten any easier for many of them recently.
Do you have reading resolutions for 2023? I’d be interested in what they are. How will you go about acting on them?
SUPPORTING WRITERS & OTHER CREATORS
It’s the beginning of the month, which means my Patreon statement shows up today listing the wonderful writers, editors, and other creators whom I support via Patreon each month. Yeah, no doubt about it, I feel good each time this arrives and I can see how I’m helping, in my modest way, these terrific people to do marvelous work. But…
Here’s the thing: My Patreon list is nowhere near as inclusive of diverse and/or marginalized individuals as I wish it were. Oh sure, I buy lots of books, magazines, and other works created by folks from all sorts of backgrounds. But still. It’s time, maybe past time, for me to take a hard look right now at who I support and how much.
WONDERFUL BOOKS BY TAOS TOOLBOX WRITERS!
I’m thrilled to say that my interactive fiction game, T-Rex Time Machine is but one of a double handful of science fiction and fantasy works written by Taos Toolbox alums in the past year or so. Hope you’ll check out the wealth of reading featured on Walter Jon Williams’ blog. They all make great last-minute gifts for yourself or someone else!
Baltimore Book Festival
Do you love books? The Baltimore Book Festival is free! What could be better than spending a Friday, Saturday, or Sunday listening to terrific writers talk about books? It’s all at the Inner Harbor on September 28 -30. I’ll be part of two panels on Friday:
2 pm. Research, or “How I Spent My Whole Day on Wikipedia”
Whether a writer is after something historical, scientific, cultural, or trivial, it’s easy to fall down the rabbit holes of research. Let our authors tell you about the places they’ve gone for a single reference, as well as tips on how to do effective research.
Panelists: Sue Hollister Barr, Elektra Hammond, Kosoko Jackson, KJ Kabza, Marianne Kirby, Rosemary Claire Smith
Science Fiction and Fantasy Writers of America Stage
3 p.m. Beyond Borders, Beyond Maps: The Everything Else That Shapes A World
Worldbuilding is more than just inset maps. It’s about economy, culture, politics, food, entertainment, modes of transit, class structures, gender roles. Panelists talk about creating worlds, and how much they know that doesn’t ever make it to the page.
Panelists: Denise Clemons, Vera Brook, L. Penelope, Jon Skovron, Rosemary Claire Smith, Na’amen Gobert Tilahun
Science Fiction and Fantasy Writers of America Stage
Check out the rest of schedule! See you there!
BEST of MIDAMERICON 2–Part 1
MidAmeriCon 2 was an all-round terrific World Con for me this year. Rather than ramble about this and that, I’m doing a series of retrospectives on some personal highlights, in no particular order. One was connecting up with writer buddies Cath Schaff-Stump and Christopher Cornell, whom I met at Paradise Lost. They’ve been putting out a podcast, Unreliable Narrators, that’s ridiculously good. For example, they’ve brought on some very talented SF writers like Ann Leckie and Charlie Finlay, who now edits F & SF.
So I was thrilled when Christopher squeezed my MidAmeriCon 2 dinosaur panel into his hectic schedule and mentioned our panel on the podcast. The ebullient Frank Wu led the panelists in a discussion of cool new developments in paleontology plus our conjectures as to courtship and mating strategies for enormous critters that have a row of spikes running down their tails. That’s a subject I’ve tackled in Dino Mate, an Analog story that’s been reprinted by Digital Science Fiction.
A SHORT STORY WRITER’S THOUGHTS ON SASQUAN / WORLDCON
I’ve returned from Sasquan, the World Science Fiction Convention thinking about the fact that in two of the three short fiction categories, no Hugos were awarded this year. Nor were Hugos given out to editors of long or short works. While there are reasons for this turn of events, which are discussed at great length elsewhere, I find that there is another troublesome development, even setting aside the political and social divisions running through the science fiction community. Namely, even in more tranquil years, short stories, novelettes, and novellas do not get the love—meaning readers, publicity, and money—that they merit. As a writer of short fiction, I’ve even had intelligent people who love good books out-and-out say with a sniff that they don’t read short stories. While I do share their love of sinking into a wondrous novel, it saddens me that these readers are missing out on so much.
They are missing out on two wonderful things. First, a writer can take risks in short fiction that might crash and burn at novel length. Some fascinating ideas and set-ups are perfectly-suited, even stunning when embodied in short stories but couldn’t be sustained at novel length. (Naturally, the trick for the writer is to discern which ones are which.) The ideas that coalesced into my second-person account of limbo dancing during the zombie apocalypse would have collapsed at a longer length.
The second reason to read short fiction is to discover some terrific new writers whose imagination, attitudes, and unique voices will bring you pleasure for years before these writers get their first novel published. With a minimal investment of time and money, you can try out new writers and unfamiliar magazines. What with so many people bemoaning their lack of time for reading, I want to point out that you can download and read short stories on your smart phone while standing in line at the grocery store or the DMV or while commuting via mass transit. It’s never been easier.
Oh and while you’re at it, make a note of the shorter works that bowled you over with their goodness. Anybody can take part in the selection of the Locus awards, Anlab ballot, and a number of other awards. If you have some selections already picked out, doing so will be a breeze.
GO SET A WATCHMAN
I finished reading Harper Lee’s Go Set a Watchman last week and have been mulling it over ever since. Like nearly everyone who has read Watchman or intends to do so, my reactions are intrinsically a product of my relationship with To Kill a Mockingbird. Significantly, I had not been introduced to Mockingbird at the formative age when it could have rocked my world views. To be sure, I admired Mockingbird a great deal as an important story, gracefully and economically told, with unforgettable characters, alive with telling events on nearly every page. But, coming to Mockingbird as an adult and as a writer, there was never a time when I could put myself into that fictional family or wish that Atticus was my father.
And so now, I’ve been asked, as a writer, what I think of Watchman. What people really want to know is what I think of the portrayal of Atticus Finch as harboring racist views. First of all, you have to realize that Atticus is a character seen though the eyes of another character, our narrator Scout. Given that Scout is a child in Mockingbird and an adult, Jean Louise, in Watchman, she must inevitably see things differently. At the very least, absent good reason, an adult character is generally less likely to comprehend other people in absolutist terms with no shades of gray.
“But wait,” some exclaim, “he’s undergone a personality transplant. How dare the author mess with our beloved Atticus. He was so noble in Mockingbird, so willing to endure the cost of standing up for his principles, and in Watchman he’s a smaller person, judgmental and in some respects mean-spirited.”
Alas, I have news for you. Writers change their characters’ personalities in fundamental ways all the time. Characters don’t and can’t exist in a vacuum. For one thing, they must evolve over time, no less than a real person who has lived another twenty years and been influenced by societal changes for better or worse. For another, the character must drive the plot and in turn is usually changed by it, just as we are all products to one degree or another by the significant events in our own lives.
And yet, character growth over the course of a novel is a different thing than a radical personality transplant. Fair enough. It strikes me that what likely happened is this. Harper Lee, like any writer, needed to come up with the right characters for the story she wished to tell. As a new writer, she began with the version of Atticus in Watchman. The story changed as she worked her way through some meaty revisions. Those changes, in turn meant that the original portrayal of Atticus in Watchman simply wasn’t right for the Mockingbird story.
There’s another factor at work that I haven’t mentioned yet, namely the role of a good editor. Though I have no special inside knowledge as to the relationship between Harper Lee and her editor, Tay Hohoff, I think it pretty apparent that she had the invaluable guidance of a terrific editor. By all accounts, it was Hohoff who suggested that Harper Lee recast the novel, setting it twenty years earlier when Scout was a child in the 1930s learning about people and about morality and about society from those around her, especially her father. You can see it in Watchman, as the passages in which Jean Louise recollects incidents from her childhood are the most vivid, the most alive and genuine in the book. Setting the novel entirely during Scout’s childhood also forced Harper Lee to ditch the Watchman scenes in which Jean Louise makes speeches to other characters in lieu of dialog, as well as other scenes that simply don’t go anywhere.
As a writer, having read the two versions in close proximity to one another, I find it enormously encouraging to see just how much an astute editor can assist a writer in recasting a story to make it the best possible. Though not every editor can work with a first-time novelist to reach the towering achievement of Mockingbird, the value of a good editor is vastly under recognized.
OMBULATING IN SUBTOPIA THROUGH A MELANGE OF PHILISTINE FLAPDOODLE
The title of this post employs five of the ten words recently chosen as deserving of more use in conversation and prose. ‘Says who?’ you may well ask. It’s a fair question.
They were chosen by vote and based on a list developed by @WordWarriors of Wayne State University. You can find the rest of the 2015 top-ten list at http://wordwarriors.wayne.edu/2015/index.php. And really, how could you not want to check out concinnity, opsimath, and the other contenders?
But why stop there? Do you realize that you too can do your part to help save your favorite words from oblivion? Any word lover can nominate English words deserving wider use.
HUGO & NEBULA NOMINATIONS, ANALOG READERS AWARD
It’s that time of year again for readers of science fiction and fantasy to make nominations for the Hugo awards. In fact the Hugo nomination deadline is March 10, 2015. It’s also time for writers belonging to the Science Fiction Writers of America to make nominations for Nebula awards. That deadline is February 1,2015. Yikes, both dates are right around the corner!
Every year I stumble upon the usual spate of articles bemoaning the fact that “too few” people submit nominations for the Hugo and Nebula awards, with the bemoaners asserting that the nominations have been rendered less meaningful by reduced participation. I don’t have a lot of patience with this viewpoint. Instead, I have an idea … If you’re reading my blog because you are interested in science fiction and/or fantasy stories, you might consider making some nominations if you are eligible to do so, and voting when the time comes.
So what is worthy of being nominated as one of the best science fiction or fantasy works of 2014? It seems like I go through the same mental process each year. First, I absolutely intend to make some nominations because there are several terrific novels and shorter works that were published in the last year. But wait, there are so many stories, long and short, that I did not read, and didn’t even open. How can I possibly put forward informed choices?
Then I remind myself that absolutely everyone who nominates is in this same position. There are hundreds of choices (or maybe more?) if you consider every science fiction and fantasy work that was published in 2014. Nobody could attempt to get even a cursory overview of everything out there. So, I’d better start making my selections because that excuse won’t cut it.
After I’ve drawn up a preliminary list, I usually see that it seems skewed toward those publications I like best, such as Analog. Well, Analog did publish 3 of my stories over the years, and one of those, “Dino Mate,” is eligible in the 2014 short story category. How could I not find that Analog stories speak to me? That’s one reason why I’ve read more of that magazine this year than any other periodical.
So I usually start by figuring out my choices for the Analog Readers Choice Awards. This is a marvelous award as it is chosen by Analog readers. You don’t have to qualify to be a member of the Science Fiction Writers of America, which is for professional writers. Nor do you have to be a member of any science fiction convention or group, which can be pricey. Anyone can fill out the Analog ballot by February 1, 2015 in the comfort of your own computer. Here it is:
But getting back to the Hugos and Nebulas, my next step after deciding on my AnLab choices is to take a look at the Tangent On Line Recommended Reading List. I love that the Tangent reviewers make such an outstanding effort to look at nearly every novella, novelette and short story that has been published in the past year. However, even just looking at what they recommend can be a lot, so I tend to focus especially those works that have 2 or 3 stars or that are written by the ever-growing list of writers whose works I admire. Here’s this year’s Tangent list:
One last thought—I’ll undoubtedly have missed some great stuff when I submit my nominations. Not to worry; I’ll be sure to read all those nominees when it comes time to vote for the Nebulas and Hugos.