Monday, April 27, 2015

Evolution of an Idea

I just don't understand this writing business, the creativity part anyhow.  Here I had a well-planned short story, had my facts in line, had a scene by scene architecture, and some variations of flow, the two protagonists and a limit of 7,500 words or less.  "Piece of cake," I said ..... two years ago.

Then another couple of characters were needed to flesh out some plot details, which led to a few words about them, which meant less words for the flow.  Of course some backstory was needed and that gave me another character sketch.  The "science" part turned out to be really, really interesting so I admitted that this might be a novelette length work and proceeded apace.

Then two sub-plots emerged involving some of the secondary characters and suddenly I had four -FOUR!- protagonists to struggle with.  Oh yeah, and the antagonist that I hadn't yet made flesh - there goes another thousand words plus the final interaction that would press upon the edge of a novella at 17.5 K words.

I took a break to work on other things (don't worry, there's always lots of unfinished crap lying about to take me away from my problems.  Of course, those are also problems that generate more ideas that get added to the pile for later work.  And so it goes..

So, last week, I got back to the incipient novella and found that my muse had solved one of the stumbling blocks and also wanted me to introduce more backstory about the McGuffin - practically an entire short story in and of itself and pushes the piece well into novella territory.  

So be it.  I now have the scent in my nose and the taste on my tongue so there is nothing to do but forge ahead to see where this story is taking me.  At least I now feel that, somewhere down the line, lies resolution, finality, and a completion eagerly awaited.  It should top out around fifty thousand words, I imagined as I closed another scene.  That would surely be enough for a two-part serial or a chapbook.  At least that's what I promised myself as I prepared for bed on Thursday night.

Then, upon awakening to the dawn of a new day I found that my muse, that wickedly inventive, dastardly bitch, now insists I tell a story within the story about discovery that might take the conclusion in an entirely different direction.  How and where this latest bit came from I have no idea and now feat that this will take the tale into novel length.

Too late to turn back.


Monday, April 20, 2015

Thoughts On the Fiftieth Nebula Awards

Soon the tribe of misfits, dreamers, and outcasts will gather in Chicago for the 50th Annual Nebula Awards. Think about that for a moment - Fifty Fucking Years!  Lord-a-mercy, could Damon Knight have ever foreseen such an event when he passed the hat to create the Science Fiction Writers of America IN 1965?

 Since that time SFWA has progressed from a fan-boys club to a world-wide membership embracing all the colors, personalities, and genders of our diverse field.  More and more our members resemble the society from which we spring.  Similarly our once outcast genre is now increasingly mainstream, as represented by the variety of stories up for this years premier writing award.

This year's Nebula Award weekend will no doubt begin with exclamations of joy, hugs, kisses, handshakes, and respect when attendees meet one another in the lobby and then rapidly progress to smaller, random gatherings wherever two or more writers, agents, fans, editors, or publishers happen to gather.  The weekend is a combination business meeting and convention, a gathering of writers at all stages of their careers, and, of course, the announcement of the most outstanding of the best writing of the past year.

A lot of official SFWA business will conducted as Officers and Board members finally come face to face with the members they've only contacted electronically at a catered business meeting held for members.  Educational sessions will be held to inform attendees on the craft and art of the genre during the day.   On Saturday night the glitteratti of our community will flow into the banquet for the presentation of the beautiful lucite Nebula trophies to the top vote-getters in each award category; service awards to volunteers, and a moment's pause for all those who have left us in the past year.

It is a wonderful, inspirational, entertaining, and physically exhausting weekend that everyone hopes will never end.

But then, sadly, it will.

[For more thoughts from the Nebula blog tour go to: 

Saturday, April 18, 2015


Some authors say they write for the thrill of telling a tale well, or the "feel" of molding words into some final, perfect form.  Others are in it for adulation and income that derives from their luck, talent and/or skill.  Almost every writer would agree that the story-telling craft is an art form.

But what is the value of art if no one views it?  What is the value of an unread manuscript, an unfinished novella, or a stack of incomplete short stories (or infinitely rejected ones, for that matter?) Horrifyingly, this last category hosts an overwhelming majority of writers' efforts that dwarfs everything ever published.  Unseen art might have intrinsic value, but unless someone other than the author sees and is affected it has no objective value.  Writing into a vacuum contributes nothing to society or move private dreams into the consciousness of society.  For a story to penetrate another's mind it must be available, recognized, and accessed.

At one time there were a limited number of arbiters acting as guardians of access, a phalanx of agents, editors, and publishers who alone dictated what they deemed appropriate to be seen by the public.  But, today the means of telling a story to a large number of people are within the grasp of anyone with access to the global Internet and a modicum of sophistication in it's tools. In some random cases this can produce immortality*, fans, and infrequently, income.

While there is a monetary value to be achieved from writing well, success in writing is more than a matter of income.   Having work acknowledged by at least one other non-family member is gratifying.  Having something accepted by a reputable editor is even more so.   In both cases the  acknowledgement validates the ideas, sweat, and tears that went into the story's creation.

And isn't that what writers need; to have their voices heard?

*So long as the server survives, anyway


Saturday, April 11, 2015

Despoiling the Commons

We live in an interconnected world where peoples of diverse backgrounds, beliefs, and dispositions rub up against one another all of the time and, quite often, in uncomfortable ways.  Most develop an insulating layer about their own constellation of beliefs and understandings that enable them to live with, but not accept those who believe otherwise.  It's a large playing field and there is sufficient room for everyone.

But most of us realize at an early age that there is a social contract that allows for discord, a way of resolving issues without resorting to behaviors or actions that would destroy the precious bubble that allows us to co-exist.  There are laws to prevent the most harmful actions, a moral code that deals with things of lesser consequence, and common decency to keep everyone but sociopaths from needlessly bothering others.  The contract we all commit to when we become part of society both protects and supports us throughout our lives and helps preserve what we value most.

We jail or fine those who break laws, we confine and try to help those who are a danger to themselves or others, but we have only a few mechanisms to deal with those with little value for human decency; those who in a moment of pique would poison the well from which we all drink, pollute the food we consume, or tear down a shared fabric that provides delight and pleasure to everyone.

Destroying a work of art, a piece of literature, the commons, or a useful social construct are equally vile for doing so not only destroys the current culture's enjoyment, but also denies their appreciation from innumerable future generations.

Just saying.


Saturday, April 4, 2015

The Illusionary Goal of Satisfaction

If  you are wondering why so many writers complain about their lack of satisfaction, let me explain:  Most of us sweat and agonize about our first sale ever or the first sale to a reputable magazine. After that happens we worry about whether we can repeat our amazing success (after only the five gazillionth rejection) but, hey, now that we've done it once....

Only the next sale or lack thereof is worse because we now know that we actually wrote something someone was willing to pay us for, and we now have, you know, actual readers, for God's sake!  Only the rejections keep arriving, propelling us into ever deepening feelings of frustrated inadequacy.  It is disheartening to write brilliant (IMHO) pieces only to see them fail in the marketplace.

Any successive sales, coming fitfully if at all, only gives us hope that we can repeat our success. Each new sale however carries an additional weight of concern since we have acquired a following --fans, perhaps-- who might somehow recognize our name.  We can't disappoint them so we bear down harder, trying to force the market to bend to our will, to accept our genius for what it is, damn it!

But the rejections continue to arrive and, infrequently, some acceptances.  Our concern now is not why we can't sell our work, but why can't we sell more, more, MORE!  And more frequently. And to the markets we most desire to penetrate. And to get nominated for awards.  What is wrong with these people, we mutter as we pound another thousand hard-earned words into the aether?  Will all these become nothing more than parts of our posthumous collection?

What I mean to say is that it never gets better.  Once a writer starts selling regularly they begin to worry that their muse might disappear.  They nightly fret that the ideas aren't flowing as easily as they remember them doing while they were struggling to gain a foothold. They begin to worry that the genre has passed them by, that their voice is no longer relevant, and that they have become less than a footnote in history.

It never seems to end, this self-doubt, this feeling of being merely lucky instead of skilled and that someday, somewhere, someone will discover that we are little more than a hack, a fraud, and a near-plagarist as well.

In the words of the song "I can't get no satsifaction..."