December 2, 2013
A sense of fatalism has set in, rather than panic. I think this is a good thing, I think. Just over three weeks until Christmas. I’m really missing that week of a grace period we usually get between Thanksgiving and the first of December. But now it’s December and HOLY CRAP IT’S DECEMBER. I have no idea at this point if I’ll be able to get everything done — and finish the draft of the current novel, as I blithely thought I might be able to do this month. I’m making up to-do lists every day and just plugging along as best I can.
The current novel project hit the wall last week, right on schedule at 50k words, and being busy over the holidays with socializing and visiting and riding horses and so on meant I didn’t have the motivation to sit down and hash out the problems. I think I can do that now, and get back to work, and maybe get close to finishing. That would be nice. I want to have a good long time to revise and get comments from beta readers on this one.
I did, however, finish and send off a short story, which is always nice. I have a couple more short stories it would be nice to write in the next month or so. Along with finishing the novel. And a couple of other projects sitting on the front burners. And this is why I often feel overwhelmed. (And this is after Project Learn To Say No So I Don’t Burn Out, which has actually been moderately successful.)
I’m making some of the presents I’m giving this year, which is where that sense of fatalism comes in. Will I finish? Won’t I? Who knows! I may spend actual Christmas day with my hands soaking in warm water. It will be worth it — for one thing in particular, that I’m keeping secret until I can actually get it done and get pictures. This will be the most epic gift I’ve ever given. But I keep running out of supplies so I have to get more this afternoon before I can finish it.
I also usually do a a lot of baking for the holidays — I give cookies and candy as gifts. I should get started.
Then I have the trip to New Mexico this weekend and the book tour in January to get ready for.
Whew. Okay. Deep breaths. I can do this.
November 22, 2013
I have news! I have upcoming appearances to publicize! Here they are!
December 9, 7 pm, Jean Cocteau Cinema in Santa Fe, NM: “Dangerous Talk About Dangerous Women.” Many authors from the Dangerous Women anthology, along with editors George R.R. Martin and Gardner Dozois, will be here reading from and talking about their stories. The theater is also running films on the theme of “dangerous women.” Here’s the event listing, scroll down to find this one.
January 10, 7 pm: The Book Bin in Salem, Oregon. Please note, this is at their new location in East Salem.
January 16, 7:00pm: Joseph-Beth Books, Cincinnati, OH.
January 17, 7:30pm: Quail Ridge Books, Raleigh, NC.
January 18, 1 pm: Eagle Eye Bookshop, Atlanta, GA.
I’m also scheduled to be guests at two conventions next year:
April 25-27, ConStellation, Lincoln, NE. I’ll be the Author Guest of Honor.
September 26-28, FenCon XI, Dallas, TX. I’ll be the Special Guest leading the writing workshop.
March 28-30, AnomalyCon, Denver’s steampunk convention.
May 13-18, RT Booklovers Convention, New Oreleans LA. This’ll be my first time at this con.
August 14-18, Loncon, the World Science Fiction Convention in London.
I’m also planning MileHi Con, but probably not Bubonicon this year. Too much traveling already…
I’m excited, because the book tour includes several stops I’ve never been to before. For all you folks who are always asking when I’m going to get to the east coast — this is it! I’m heading east! Huzzah!
If you’re wondering why I’m going to some towns and not others, and some stores and not others, there’s a lot of reasons — timing, what works on the schedule… and what stores asked to host an event with me. If you want me to come do an event in your town, find a local independent bookstore that does a lot of events, or a local convention or book festival or such, and put in a request. Tell them you want an event with me. No guarantees that it’ll happen, but the more people make requests like this, the chances increase.
November 20, 2013
My vacation reading was Iain M. Banks’ The Hydrogen Sonata, another wonderful fun read in the Culture universe, though a bit melancholy: the story revolves around an entire civilization moving on to a new plane of existence, and I kept overlaying that with knowledge of Banks passing away earlier this year, and the whole thing took on the feeling of a long farewell, which made me very sad. But still a great book.
One of the sub-themes/plots is about what happens when people back up their minds and then transmit/manifest versions of themselves in artificial bodies in order to travel more quickly to different parts of the galaxy and so on, a process that it turns out is relatively simple and common in the Culture (note: this is a vast oversimplification of the whole thing. Read the book to learn more!). Existential questions arise: is your copy still you? When your copy goes out and has a bunch of experiences, it returns and reintegrates those experiences into your original self, but then you have two sets of experiences/memories for the same period of time — is one of those more “real”? Does it matter? If we are made up of experiences, doesn’t that copy somehow become its own person after enough time and experiences have passed? Good meaty stuff here.
So, I had this thought, of how lovely it would be if I could make copies of myself so I could write all these things I want to write: the next Kitty book, the Voices of Dragons sequel, the subversive epic fantasy, the screenplay, and so on and so on. A different copy of me to write each of them! But then I realized — no, I don’t think having multiple versions of myself to write things would work at all. Because those clones would, eventually, be different than me, and the books they would write would not be the books I would write. What we write is made up of our experiences, and those experiences include everything I learn and think and gather up as I’m writing each book. The next Kitty book written by the me who has written the Golden Age books and the YA space opera and all that would be different than one written by a hypothetical me who had not written those other books. I really want all the books I write to be my books, and I want the experience of writing each thing to contribute to the writing of the next thing. I want the cumulative benefit of writing all those books! Even if it takes more time than I would like.
So, on that note, I wouldn’t mind taking part in some of the Culture’s life-extending technologies…
November 8, 2013
This includes my story, “The Best We Can,” and it gives me an excuse to talk about my thoughts on possible first contact scenarios, and why I wrote the story at all.
First off, I do think we’ll find evidence of extraterrestrial life within my lifetime. Fossil microbes on Mars or something swimming under the ice on Titan. Something. But we may even find extraterrestrial intelligence. It’s not going to happen at all like it does in the movies, or like it has on any number of Discovery Channel mockumentary scenarios. In fact, it’s probably not going to be very cinematic at all. It’ll come from the examination of tiny pixels, and the analysis of mountains of data. It’ll take years to confirm.
The search for exoplanets — planets outside our solar system — has been more successful than anyone dreamed. According to Exoplanet.org, 755 planets have been confirmed, along with 3455 unconfirmed planet candidates. That’s over four thousand planets, and the number is constantly growing. (This is one of the reasons I get cranky when people insist that not having a space shuttle means the U.S. doesn’t have a space program. You want a space program? Here, have FOUR THOUSAND EXOPLANETS, BITCHES.) You use this data to extrapolate the numbers in the Drake Equation for determining the likelihood of finding alien civilizations, and the results start to look ridiculously probable. Which leads to the attendant question of course — why haven’t we been able to talk to them yet? And the answer is, to quote Douglas Adams: space is big. Really big. Hugely mindbogglingly big.
Astronomers use a few different methods to find planets: with the transit method, they can track changes in light that occur when a planet passes in front of its star. Tiny little eclipses. They can measure the gravitational pull that planets and stars exert on each other. Direct imaging has also become possible.
I think at some point we’re going to find a star system that obviously has planets, but the data is going to be wonky. Astronomers will find light where it shouldn’t be, on the shadowed side of a planet. They’ll find something orbiting something else that predictions say shouldn’t be there — because it’s artificial. It will be evidence not just of life, but of civilization. And it’ll be dozens and dozens of light years away, and it’ll take a lifetime for our message saying we know about them to get there. Maybe we’ll finally get that radio signal SETI’s been looking for — but it’s not going to be a message meant for us. It’s going to be a random alien thing, noise sent to the stars, like what we’ve been sending out for the last 80+ years. Plus — it will likely have been traveling for many, many years. Whatever evidence we find, whether light or radio or something else on the EM spectrum, will be old by the time we get it. Maybe ancient. It will be a message in a bottle, and likely an accidental one to boot. Discovering extraterrestrial life is going to be like archeology.
And it will be so bloody frustrating, won’t it?! We’ll turn to the heavens, shouting, because what we really want is to talk to them.
This is what was driving my story: the idea that we’re going to find the holy grail, incontrovertible proof of alien civilizations. And we’re not going to be able to do a damn thing about it. We’re not going to be able to talk to them. We’ll just have to gather and catalog the data and try to figure out what it means. I know the story depressed a lot of people because of its depiction of bureaucracy overwhelming the wonder of discovery. But really, I meant there to be a thread of hope as well: because hey, we found life. We found civilization. We aren’t alone. And that’s very likely going to have to be enough, at least at the start.
November 6, 2013
I was asked this at one of my signings earlier this year, and it’s a great question. Specifically, I was asked about the differences in gender, and if it was different writing a male character versus the female one I’ve been writing. I expect I’m going to get asked this a lot when we get close to Low Midnight’s release date (which I don’t know yet, alas), so I thought I’d throw the answer up here.
What I answered: no, the difference in gender is not a factor when I write about Cormac. Because the biggest difference between Kitty and Cormac is not, in the end, their respective gender identities. It’s their dispositions and their entire outlooks on life. Kitty is a chatty idealist. She wants to think the best of everyone and everything, she believes it is possible to make the world a better place. And she talks. A lot. Cormac…doesn’t. Cormac is a cynic. A borderline sociopath. He would rather shoot you than be friends with you. He knows the world is a brutal place and you either eat or be eaten.
That’s the kind of thing I was thinking about while writing Cormac. Just like when I write Kitty I’m focused on her dialog, her philosophy in life, her goals, her loyalties. To define them according to their genders would essentialize them in ways that I think would make them less interesting.
I’ve written male points of view before — a number of my short stories have male points of view, and half of Discord’s Apple is from the point of view of Greek soldier and spy Sinon. Again, I wasn’t so much focused on him being male as I was on his more relevant personality traits: his loyalty to Odysseus, his identity as a Greek soldier, his sense of fatalism that never quite edges into despair. Writing the Cormac novella several years ago convinced me I could, in fact, write an entire novel about him. And again, I focused on his cynicism rather than the fact he’s a guy.
Seriously, don’t think of it as writing good male characters or female characters. Just write good characters.
October 23, 2013
This topic came up in casual conversation at MileHi Con. I said “Maybe I should blog about this.” And Dmitri said, “Yes, do it.” So here we go:
Take an improv or an acting class. If you don’t have a background in theater, take some kind of class that gets you on stage, gets you speaking in public and thinking on your feet.
It’s one of the terrible ironies of the world that writers — some of the most introverted, wrapped up in their own brains people — are so often asked to speak in public. They’re asked to be entertainers — not on the page, but in person, on the fly. And it doesn’t seem fair, but being entertaining in public really does sell books. I know this. (And this is why I’ll always choose being on panels over sitting at a table in the dealers room. I’m no good at hand selling my own books. But I can be entertaining on stage.)
If you’re a newly published/about to be published writer, and the thought of appearing on panels or giving a talk or even doing a reading terrifies you, or leaves you at a loss: take a class. The skills you learn, you’ll use forever. Some of the most engaging writers you’ll meet have some kind of background in theater. (Take it from me, once you’ve done a tap routine in a leotard in front of an audience, nothing will faze you.)
Here’s a secret: The stage is a safe place. If you get bad stage fright or have never appeared on stage, you probably don’t believe me, but it’s true. There’s a social contract — you have to clap for the person on stage. You have to respect those on the stage, because they have the courage to be up there, to step outside reality, to be bigger than life. You can do things on stage you can’t do anywhere else, like break out in song or speak with authority, and all those people out there have to applaud you for it.
So yes. Take an improv class so you learn to act on your feet. Take an acting class to get over stage fright. Both will teach you to project a persona: the persona of the entertaining author in public.
October 21, 2013
As is often the case, it’s not so much that I’m overstimulated and brain fried after the convention this past weekend. It’s that I have a million things to do and I haven’t been home working for three days. It’s a really nice day out, so I’m going to try to get some outdoorsy chores done — I’m happy doing it, because the sun feels so good. I drove through a bit of a snowstorm picking Lily up from my parents yesterday, so I’m reminded that winter is on its way and I need to enjoy the sun while I have it.
I purposefully arranged a low-key convention for myself. I wanted to lay low and talk with people and maybe buy some art and jewelry and tea. I did all these things! I even went to the “Heroes of Cosplay” bitching panel and a couple of us came up with the cosplay/costuming reality show we’d like to see. I may start dressing up at cons more — I just get so excited about it.
Highlights for me also included getting to spend time with Guests of Honor Seanan McGuire and Cathrynne Valente, both of whom I’ve known for years but I rarely get to see them and have actual conversations. I recruited them to co-host the Midnight Hour with me and we all had a fabulous time.
And that was my weekend. Big smiles, I’m telling you.
October 18, 2013
This weekend is Denver’s literary SF&F con. I’ll be there! I’ve got the usual collection of panels, readings, signings, and shenanigans. Plus — Carrie and The Midnight Hour returns, with special secret guests and surprise audience participation activities. Woot! The schedule and all kinds of other info are up at the website.
While I’m on it, I’ve got a couple of other upcoming events:
October 26 I’m taking part in a “Monster Author” book night and panel at the Parker Library for Halloween.
November 2, I’ll be at ReadCon, at the Farr Library in Greeley.
A bit further on, December 9, I’ll be in Santa Fe for a multi-author event promoting the George R.R. Martin and Gardner Dozois edited anthology Dangerous Women. I’ll get a link up when I have it.
Wow, things are getting busy again…
October 16, 2013
Awhile back Jeff VanderMeer asked me some questions about writing for a “how to” book he was doing.
Last week, in exchange for my literally one-paragraph contribution, I received a copy of the book.
Oh my gosh, you guys, Wonderbook: an Illustrated Guide to Creating Imaginative Fiction is amazing. It’s full color, fully illustrated, with diagrams and pictures and visualizations, and, and… It’s going to take me months to go through and process it all. I’m very much looking forward to it. “How to write” books are kind of hit or miss — they either speak to you or they don’t. But this is one that should have something for everyone. And it’s just so pretty to look at. It’s a writing book and an art book.
To give you a taste, Jeff sent me a jpg of my bit, one of a couple dozen “revision snakes,” which collectively illustrate that there’s no one right answer for “How many times should I revise my manuscript?”
Seriously, this book is so pretty.
October 11, 2013
Over the last year or so, folks all over the internet have produced a lot of commentary about women heroes, costumes, depictions of women heroes, the unrealistic contorted poses we see women strike on various urban fantasy novel covers, and so on. Author Jim C. Hines famously demonstrated how ridiculous those poses are, when it isn’t sexy women making them. Kevin Bolk made this wonderful picture of what it would look like if all the male Avengers held that ass-out pose that is de rigueur for women supers. This week, folks have been pointing me to this set of artwork redesigning various women heroes in more sane outfits and body types. Here’s another set of redesigns, in a slideshow. Let’s just go ahead and look at Women Fighters in Reasonable Armor while we’re at it.
I’d like to try to sum up in a nutshell why all these discussions, while visually instructive and astonishing, miss the underlying issue.
Mass media — comics, movies, etc. — don’t design women heroes to look like heroes. They design them to look like pinups. These creators/artists/designers aren’t looking at real-world kick-women like Mia Hamm or the Williams sisters or Cecily Fay (link goes to YouTube clip). They’re looking at Bettie Page. They’re looking at issues of Playboy and a whole catalog of pinup art for some kind of model on how to depict women. It’s not that these designers think these unrealistic depictions and costumes are somehow realistic and reasonable. It’s that they don’t care. Reasonable heroism is not in their specs.
The whole issue came to a head for me a couple of years ago when that awful, awful new Wonder Woman TV costume design went public. I talked about it. This is why we can’t have nice things, ya’ll.
Until that changes, until designers take women heroes, women on book covers, and women in heroic art in general, and design them to look strong and capable and heroic rather than making them look strictly sexy, in the narrowest possible definition of sexy, we’re going to keep having this problem, and we’re going to have to keep talking about it. Until we convince both the creator and consumer sides to reject the aesthetic we’ve all been trained to think of as normal for the last generation or so, we’re going to have to keep talking about this.