Do you envision my day beginning with a beautiful fountain pen and crisp, blank pages awaiting my musings or dare I say, insights? Do you picture me putting fresh paper into a typewriter and pounding away until The Story sits in a neat pile of pages on a polished wood desk?
Hah! Here’s one day this week: It starts when, upon waking, I realize I forgot to include something in a chapter I said I’d send off today. So I do some quick reworking via computer before breakfast. Food and tea are accompanied by a side dish of email. That’s when I discover my spam filter claimed for its own the galleys my editor sent me a full week ago. Yikes. They need to go back today.
Once that’s done, including a detour to verify that I have properly employed an infrequently-used adjective, I can get the promised chapter shipped out and eat lunch.
Next up is outlining a few scenes, which bring the conundrum as to the best point of view in a novel told from several characters’ viewpoints. None of the three choices is clearly best. I take a stab at reorganizing some scenes.
Then I look at email again and see that an editor needs my bio. Given the publication’s length constraints, I dig out a recent one and update it.
By now, thoughts of putting a well-balanced fountain pen to creamy paper are a fading memory. However, a blog post to end the day…well, here you go.
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.
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!
Here’s where to find me at Con Jose Aug. 16-20. Bay Area peeps: this means you!
16 Aug 2018, Thursday 16:00 – 17:00, 210F (San Jose Convention Center)
Sometimes, main characters in a story are ordinary people – not everyone is extraordinary. Can such a focus make a story more powerful? What makes them appealing? How does such a story differ from a story of heroes and villains?
Panel discussion with Cecilia Tan (M), Nick Mamatas, Christine Taylor-Butler, Rosemary Claire Smith, Sheila Finch
18 Aug 2018, Saturday 15:30 – 16:00 SFWA Table (San Jose Convention Center)
Stop by and I’ll sign promo materials for T-Rex Time Machine (my interactive fiction game) or any magazines or anthologies you brought with my stories and/or articles.
Clarion 50th Reunion Party
18 Aug 2018, Saturday 20:00 – 23:00
Many, many Clarion classes come together to celebrate fifty years of the boot-camp for writers that launched so many careers. Mine included!
EAT YOUR WORLD (Read Your Food)
19 Aug 2018, Sunday 16:00-17:00 location TBA
Dive into Worldbuilding is throwing a party. Juliette Wade and others will bring foods inspired by fiction. Author attendees will be invited to read food-related snippets from their work.
Like me, many science fiction writers and readers are getting word today about the passing of Harlan Ellison. Some who knew him will sit down to summon words to commemorate his brilliance as a writer and an anthologist coupled with his larger-than-life personality. I want to take a minute to pay tribute to his eloquent advocacy on behalf of writers everywhere. I can think of no better way to do so than to repeat the three words he put forward: Pay. The. Writer.
In this age of digital piracy, to say nothing of good old-fashioned scams at every turn, Harlan Ellison articulated as well as anyone that the money should flow to the writer, not away. If any of my readers are new to the business of writing (and yes, always treat it as a business as much as a creative endeavor), you would do well to keep this principle in mind when someone tries to talk you into giving them your property (which is exactly what your written words are) for free. They may say something to the effect of, “It’ll be good exposure.” One response is, “People die from exposure.” Here’s how Harlan Ellison put it.
Over the weekend, the science fiction and fantasy community lost Gardner Dozois, writer and editor extraordinaire. I’ve known Gardner for decades and wanted to share with you a single instance illustrating how remarkable he was.
Gardner did a stint as the editor-in-residence for the Clarion Writers Workshop the year I attended. Over the four-day period he not only lectured and extended his own unique brand of friendship to every one of us. It was apparent that he wanted us to become the best writers we could be. To that end, he read all the stories we submitted when applying to Clarion plus every single story every one of us had written in the four weeks we’d been there. This had to total around 80-100 stories and he read them during those four days! Then he held one-on-one conferences with each of us in which he critiqued our stories, gave suggestions for what needed work, how to tackle problematic aspects of those stories, and even told us which ones were not worth any more work. His help was above and beyond what any of us had expected, all the more so when I stop and think back on what he could and did accomplish in a mere four days.
When Gardner took his leave of us, my head was spinning! And yet, what he did not do was tell any of us that he wanted to buy our stories for Asimov’s Science Fiction. While disappointing, it wasn’t surprising that none of us had written an Asimov’s-worthy story—yet. Naturally, Gardner could see more clearly than we could that writing is a long game. He did buy from some of us later and/or gave us an honorable mention in one of his year’s best anthologies.
I came away from Clarion vowing to sell Gardner a story. Alas that never happened. But here’s what did occur: Gardner’s advice helped me sell some of my Clarion stories once they had been rewritten from start to finish. A couple of those eventually went on to find homes in Asimov’s sister magazine, Analog. So in closing, I want to thank Gardner for helping to make me the Analog writer I became.
Memorial Day Weekend, come hear me read from one of my dinosaur stories and talk about time travel, shopping at Target in Middle Earth, critiquing, writing methods, predatory business practices, anthropomorphism, and who knows what else! Here is my schedule for Balticon:
Friday, May 25
6pm Anthropomorphism in SFF
Learn how to tell stories from an animal’s unique perspective without resorting to writing humans in fursuits.
Saturday, May 26
11am Stopping the Clocks: Time Travel in Writing
In 1888, H.G. Wells wrote his first time travel story, “The Chronic Argonauts.” 130 years later, the concept is as popular as ever , with people still trying new takes on it. Why is time travel so perennial a theme? What are some of the different rules we’ve seen, and how do they make for good storytelling?
1pm You Can’t Shop at Target in Middle Earth
In your original fantasy setting, everything the characters own has to come from somewhere. Let’s talk about how to build a believable material culture for your world.
2pm Recognizing Predatory Business Practices
How to look for signs that you might not be dealing with a legitimate company – including common tactics such as pay-to-play, signing over derivative works, and others.
Sunday, May 27
12pm Readings: Sarah Avery, Rosemary Claire Smith, Carl Paolino
Authors Sarah Avery, Rosemary Claire Smith, and Carl Paolino read from their work.
5pm How to Incorporate Critique
What do you do when you have two readers giving you different or even contradictory feedback? How much are you willing to let the feedback change your work?
Monday, May 28
10am Outlining vs. Pantsing
Some storytellers require a detailed outline to start fleshing out their story, but others prefer to write by the seat of the pants. What are some techniques to help you get better at one when you prefer the other? Authors and gamemasters welcome!
Hope to see lots of you there!
Calling all Moms and Dads: Would you send your kids to colonize Mars? I tackle this subject in my guest editorial in the July-August issue of Analog. Available now. Hope you’ll give it a read. I’m always happy to hear from my readers what you think.
And while you’re at it, check out some first-rate new fiction by my writing buddies, Martin L. Shoemaker and C. Stuart Hardwick. These hot new writers are ones to keep your eyes on, and to read! Here’s the complete Table of Contents for a terrific double issue:
Are you a newish professional SF & fantasy writer? ‘Tis the season to contemplate taking your fiction writing to a new level via a terrific writers’ workshop. What’s that I hear you muttering—you’ll give it some thought after the holidays? That may well be a mistake. You see, one of the premier workshops, Paradise Lost, accepts memberships on a rolling basis. It has a limited number left for both its critique track and its retreat track. There aren’t many left. I’ve been to Paradise Lost three years running and must say that I’ve learned wonderful new things every year. Plus it’s a four-day event set in beautiful San Antonio, Texas at a perfect time of year: April 27 – 3o, 2017.
Paradise Lost isn’t for beginners as you must have a pro sale, or have attended Viable Paradise, Taos Toolbox, or be a member of Codex. But it is way less intensive than those other workshops. At Paradise Lost, you’ll have a few weeks in advance to critique roughly four works of 5000 words apiece. 20,000 words total is doable even if you’re not a fast critiquer, and I’m definitely not. There will also be time to work on your own stories, attend class, and socialize with other writers. What invariably gets shorted is sleep, but yeah you already knew that, right?
In a supportive environment, Paradise Lost really shines at:
1) Providing top-notch classroom instruction by some of the best writers in our field, and for the first time this year, by an agent.
2) Teaching you how to identify what’s working well and what could be improved in others’ stories, which translates into improving your own fiction.
3) Having experienced professionals give you thoughtful critiques of your stories.
4) Removing the preponderance of day-to-day distractions from writing, such as your day job, your family, etc.
5) Fostering genuine friendships with other newish pro writers who know what you’re going through, who can provide moral support and be there for you for years to come.
Nonetheless, a workshop is not a magic potion and cannot:
1) Make sure you keep on writing daily, weekly, monthly, or ever,
2) Force you to finish all – or any – of the stories or novels you began in a burst of enthusiasm,
3) See that you press the ‘submit’ button, and keep doing so each time a rejection comes back.
So back to the question – should you sign up? Keep in mind that-
1) It’s less time away from family, job, friends, and your day-to-day life than other writers’ workshops.
2) There is financial aid, as well as the possibility of sharing a hotel room with another attendee to reduce costs.
3) It can sure give you an injection of determination that can be vital to getting established in the tough field of writing science fiction and fantasy.
One last thought, Paradise Lost stands head and shoulders above trying to muddle through by perfecting your craft in isolation. Anything that can reduce the fundamentally isolating nature of the writer’s job is a remarkably good thing.
Sure hope I’ll see you there.
Years ago at Clarion Writers Workshop, one of my instructors talked about there coming a time when a writer stops writing. For years! Hah, I immediately decided that none of this could possibly be applicable to me. Though he was trying to be reassuring, I tuned him out. I was so wrong. Due to a massively demanding job, I ended up not writing any fiction for about ten years. Now that I’ve taken up the fiction gig once more, I’ve been thinking about my own experience as word comes of several other writers I know who are setting aside their own writing due to work and family commitments and competing priorities.
If you’re thinking about taking a break, it can be scary. Here’s what went through my head during my own writing hiatus.
- Will I ever go back to it?
The answer was yes. Once I left the demanding job and had recovered from a bit of burn-out, I began gradually by pulling out a couple of stories abandoned in progress. After ten years, they didn’t look all that bad. In fact, I could see ways to work with them, which is a compelling reason to never toss any work in progress. This led to my second fear.
2. Will I forget how to write fiction?
Nope. In fact, my demanding job had required much writing and editing. That made the resumption of fiction writing easier than ever. Those half-finished stories were a great starting point, as I could see immediately how to improve them starting with the title. In fact, I’ve sold a couple of them.
3. What can I do to help myself get back into writing fiction?
First, I resolved to write only what really interested me, like dinosaurs, and not what I thought was trendy. Second, I resolved to write about cool stuff even though I hadn’t spent decades researching a particular topic. Fact is, there will always be someone who knows more about paleontology, or many other subjects, than I do. So what? Even if I spent time learning a ton more, that would still be the case.
Second, I decided to attend a terrific writers workshop–Taos Toolbox–to get back into the swing of things. I recommend it highly.
Third, I wrote down my specific, measurable objectives in terms of words written, completed stories, etc. I started a spreadsheet to track my output on a daily, weekly, monthly, and yearly basis.
Now I’ve received word in the last month that no fewer than THREE other writers who had taken lengthy hiatuses have returned to the pen monkey gig. What’s more, they are all older than me. Truly, there’s no time like the present.