IT’S HERE! IT’S HERE! MY FIRST!
Presenting…my very first Reference Librarian column in Analog! I had a great time reading a bunch of recent science fiction novels set on and around the Moon. Having sent some fictional astronauts to the Moon in my last Analog story, it’s fascinating to see what other contemporary authors can do with it as a setting. Check it out if your taste runs to alternate history, unusual lunar communities, a Moon book to read to young kids, or a nonfiction book on building and driving Moon buggies.
The books I review are:
- Hot Moon by Alan Smale
- Goliath by Tochi Onyebuchi
- Sweep of Stars by Maurice Broaddus
- The Moon and the Other by John Kessel
- Molly of the Moon by Mary Robinette Kowal
- Into the Airless Wilds by Earl Swift
I hope you’ll read my thoughts, then let me know what Moon-based stories you have enjoyed recently.
MY 2022 YEAR IN REVIEW
I’m pleased to announce that I had a couple of items published in 2022:
- Etruscan Afterlife appeared in The Reinvented Heart, edited by Cat Rambo & Jenn Brozek
- The Holy Wars of Mathematics: A Secret History of the Calculus of Chicanery, which appeared in 99 Tiny Terrors, became available via Amazon.
My Virtual Appearances (still available to watch!):
- Go Indie Now panel on writing hard science fiction
- Go Indie Now panel on love interests in fiction
- Con-Tinual panel on archaeology, anthropology, and paleontology in fiction
My In-Person Appearances:
- Balticon 56 (science fiction convention in Baltimore)
- Chicon 8, (World Science Fiction Convention in Chicago)
- Multiverse (SF & fantasy convention in Atlanta)
Most Enjoyable Reads:
- Hot Moon by Alan Smale
- The Water Dancer by Ta-Nehisi Coates
- She Who Became the Sun by Shelley Parker-Chan
- A Master of Djinn by P. Djèlí Clark
- Booth by Karen Joy Fowler
Most Unexpected Pleasure:
- Being invited to write a regular column. Details soon!
- San Diego to Seattle via plane, automobile and overnight train
- Runner-up: summertime spent at a lake in the Adirondacks
Best Educational Opportunities:
- Smithsonian Institution on-line classes about art, archaeology, and world heritage sites
- Close Runner-up: The Rambo Academy classes for writers at all skill levels featuring many different aspects of our craft.
Best Museum Experiences:
- Japanese American Museum in Los Angeles
- Royal Ontario Museum, especially dinosaur fossils and minerals
Most Entertaining Streaming Series:
- Enstrom almond toffee
Things to come in 2023: Watch this space for announcements about:
- Murder at the Westminster Dino Show
- Who’s a Good Hellhound?
- Other fun stuff I can’t disclose yet!
THOUGHTS ABOUT NANOWRIMO
National Novel Writing Month is November. It’s when lots of authors set out to write a whole novel, or at least 50,000 words of one, in a single month. Some writers can do so. Some cannot or chose not to. Many fine writers ignore the whole thing. That said, NaNoWriMo can be useful for newish writers in several ways:
- It gets them in the habit of writing.
- It gets their families, friends and those in their household in the habit of expecting them to be absorbed in writing.
- Lots of words, or at least a goodly number, end up on the page, words that can later be supplemented and improved later.
- It provides camaraderie with other NaNoWriMo writers. Thus, it can counteract the lonely aspects of this solitary endeavor.
Nonetheless, NaNoWriMO doesn’t work for everyone year after year. Here’s why:
- It causes some of us writers to compare our output to that of others. Now there’s a surefire way to sap the joy out of writing. Plus, it increases the pressure to crank out the words.
- It leaves those working on short stories, essays, poetry, and creative nonfiction feeling like afterthoughts.
- New writers who don’t end up with 50,000 words can feel like they’ve failed. Never mind that life events, holidays, academia, and work schedules are not conducive to a month of intensive writing.
- It takes some doing to adapt NaNoWriMo’s word count to the process of revising a work in process.
Final thoughts: if you are a writer and NaNoWritMo works for you, that’s great! If it doesn’t, for whatever reason you can identify and even if you don’t know why, please don’t think of it as a failure or yourself as a failure. Creative writing is not a win/lose competition.
THE DREADED EDIT LETTER
This isn’t a real edit letter, although when procrastination sets in, an edit letter awaiting a response can feel this old. Let me back up for those who might not know what an edit letter is. After a story or book has been accepted for publication, the acquiring editor will usually send the author a letter explaining whatever changes the editor believes will improve the work. They range from minor stuff like commas and hyphenation of words, to adding or deleting sentences or paragraphs, or more significant issues. Sometimes editors will point out plot holes or the need to explain more about how a character acts or feels. They may include suggestions or leave the fixes to the writer.
As a writer, I never know what the edit letter may contain until it pops into my inbox. Thus the trouble begins. By this I mean brain weasels take hold before I have a chance to open the email. The brain weasels scream that the editor has decided not to publish my work after all. No, I reply, that’s absurd. Next the brain weasels say the editor has major problems with my work, intractable problems. That’s absurd, too, I reply. But wait. What if the editor has found something I don’t know how to fix?
You can see why I’m tempted to postpone opening the edit letter. When I do, it’s fine. Rather, there are some good suggestions that make for a better story. with relief, I fix stuff. As I turn in the revisions, I swear I’m never going to let the brain weasels play their tricks on me ever again. Then next time…
KEEPING SECRETS (WRITER EDITION)
A writer should have a secret. This advice was given to me years ago when I was first learning to craft fiction. Readers love surprises, the theory goes, with an important caveat. The writer must lay the groundwork so that the reveal comes as a surprise, but then the reader thinks, ‘yes of course, even though I didn’t I see that coming.’
Real life, being messier than fiction, also requires writers to keep secrets from their readers and even other writers. There can be exciting news but it’s not yet time to announce it. Frequently, it’s not the writer’s place to disclose the news. Maybe the author sold a new story or book, learned their work will be republished, or accepted a business opportunity, was asked to appear at an event, got nominated for or won an award, received a favorable review, or racked up impressive sales figures. You get the idea.
The writer may be sworn to secrecy until the project or event is announced and everyone sends their congratulations. If the writer seems pleased but not giddy with excitement, this may be because they’ve had weeks or even months to absorb the happy news.
Keep in mind, those of us with intense imaginations (we are writers, after all) have already envisioned the exciting event in considerable detail. By this, I mean not only what we’ve achieved but sometimes the possibility of the project crashing and burning. Thus, simply finding out how things turn out can spark relief as much as anything else.
Might these musings be a long-winded way of hinting that you may want to watch this space? I’ll leave that as an exercise for the reader.
58 BOOKS ON WRITING (PLUS ONE I HATE)
Hey writers, how many books about the craft of writing fiction are on your shelves? Mine contain 58, not that I’ve read every word of all of them. I’ve only dipped into parts of some. There are general how-to’s and more specialized ones on plot, character, dialog, scenes, point-of-view, structure, suspense, emotion and such like. There are others devoted to a specific genre like science fiction, mystery, etc. Some (maybe most) give the ambitious reader exercises to try at home. Many dissect sentences and paragraphs that achieve superior results.
And now you’re waiting for me to get to the book I hate.
First, I think it important to tell you why I reacted as I did. This one came into my life recently. That means it had some tough competition, like Nancy Kress’ BEGINNINGS, MIDDLES, & ENDS and Donald Maas’ THE EMOTIONAL CRAFT OF FICTION, and books covering a broader range of artistic endeavors like David Bayles and Ted Orland’s ART & FEAR. The latest one that didn’t measure up was written by a professor who is overly fond of quoting his own work. Even when he drew examples from other works, many of his examples left me indifferent. He also exuded impatience at encountering the same weaknesses again and again in succeeding classes of students taking his courses. My sympathies were with his students. Worst of all, I’m searching to come up with something–anything–I learned for my investment of time and money.
While pushing onward through his chapters, I wondered what my reaction would have been if I had read this one years ago when I was a newer writer. Would his points have impressed me before my forays into 57 other books on writing? Is my response largely because his work is more suitable for Creative Writing 101 whereas seminar material is more my speed?
Lastly, why am I telling you this? The reason is simple: As writers, we find ourselves on a seemingly never-ending quest to improve our story-telling skills. Rather than growing annoyed at a writing manual that doesn’t work for us, lets go find something more tailored to whatever it is we’d like to learn, whether that’s working in a specific genre (romance, detective stories, historical fiction, etc.) or tackling a specific format (novels, short stories, screen plays, or multi-volume series) or developing ways to write despite adversity in our lives.
Do you have a book about writing that you found particularly helpful to the point that you return to it for fresh guidance?
MY NEXT STORY DROPS ON MARCH 10!
I tell you this now so you can get in on the ebook for a discounted pre-publication price. My story, “Etruscan Afterlife,” combines an ancient sarcophagus for two people with a mechanism for uploading the human mind and thereby escaping death. It will be in The Reinvented Heart along with stories and poems by some incredible writers such as Jane Yolen, Naomi Kritzer, Fran Wilde, Seanan McGuire, Lisa Morton, Xander Odell, and Beth Cato. Paper copies are expected to be available in May. Still undecided? Check out this review! Kudos to editors @catrambo and @@jenniferbrozek
WRITER’S LIFE: WHEN TO SAY “YES” OR “NO” TO AN OPPORTUNITY
Throughout a writer’s career, opportunities come along. It’s almost always gratifying to be asked to write something, especially when it’s unexpected. New writing-related projects hold out hope of growing an author’s readership. I don’t know a single writer who thinks they have more than enough readers. For lots of us, our first instinct is to say yes.
Some projects are no-brainers. Others are require serious thought. For me, unexpected offers have included solicitations to submit stories for themed anthologies and to work in a different genre or medium. That’s how I’ve written a screenplay, a game, and branched out from science fiction and fantasy into essays, detective fiction, alternate history, and horror. Other opportunities have involved teaching, mentoring, judging, collaborating, and presenting at an in-person or on-line event.
Here’s my advice: Be open to these offers and be careful! First do your due diligence in looking into the business proposition. Also, be sure, to stop and consider what else is on your plate. Many writers–including me–have more current projects and hoped-for future projects than time in the day. There usually isn’t a sure-fire way to decide if a shiny, new opportunity should get to shove something else aside, especially when the upstart arrives during a particularly busy period. Sure, FOMO is powerful. Nevertheless, you really don’t want to say yes, only to have to back out when the realities of over-commitment set in. Nor do you want your personal life and obligations to suffer.
Ah well, if nothing else, this is a better class of problem for a writer to have. It also illustrates that few writing careers proceed as planned or imagined. Best of luck to you!
READ THE ANALOG READERS’ AWARD FINALISTS FOR FREE
For a short time, the stories Analog readers voted the best of 2021 are yours to read right here. I’m so honored to have “The Last Frontier on this list with these fine stories.” I had a great time creating an alternate timeline featuring a woman in the Apollo space program. Hope you’ll give all these stories a read!
MID-WINTER BLUES AND SUMMER FROLICS
With the recent cold snap and pandemic seemingly everywhere, I’ve been huddling indoors making plans for all the places I maybe could visit when warmer weather hits. I’m mostly planning trips around science fiction and fantasy conventions, so my first task is looking at where I might be going: LA, Chicago, Atlanta, and New Orleans, if the universe cooperates. This led to updating my bio, which means figuring out who I am as a writer.
Don’t worry, the dinosaurs will always tromp through a fair number of my stories and essays. Nonetheless, I am branching out. Recently, I took a stab (pun intended) at writing a murder mystery as well as a screenplay. Sure didn’t see either of those coming. I’m also looking into a collection of my short fiction, some of which is out of print. Stay tuned!