Wednesday, January 31, 2007
In the meantime, I'm totally frustrated with blogging. The email addy I've used for ten years needed an update so I could use a new server--but now half my old passwords won't work because the User ID changed. Sheesh. Now I'm even talking gobbly gook.
And why can't I cut and paste from Word to a blog? Or from one blog to another? I mean come on, why is this stuff so hard?
I have a page at Myspace that my son's friend put up for me. And it won't recognize me because I now have a new email addy. I'm sure someone under the age of 12 can probably tell me how to fix the problem as well as reset my watch. But what I'd really like is to give voice instructions and not have to think. Really, I want to save my brain power and creativity for stories. I'm not anti-technology. i want more technology. Better technology.
Which is probably why I love to write stories set in the future--with technology I can dream up. Since I have a book coming out ISLAND HEAT around Feb. 6th I really should be blogging about it. Saying something snappy so you'll all go to my web site, look at the booktrailer and read. Maybe even better, you'll tell your friends. But I'm tired and grouchy and grumpy. And have nothing brilliant or clever to say. Sorry.
So I'm going to take a nap instead.
Tuesday, January 30, 2007
Cindy Holby wrote in her Saturday Jan 27th post here:
I write very strong characters. Characters that seem to make an impact on my fans as every letter I get mentions how much they love the characters, how much they were drawn into their lives and how much they think about them long after the story is over.
The last few weeks, I've posted some comments on Genre and how though it is enforced and defended by publishers, Genre is really invented by and perpetuated by readers.
Linnea Sinclair, in her Monday, Jan 29th post (yesterday), commented that at a panel she did, a reader expressed how she felt about writers inventiveness. Linnea discussed the creation of one of her characters.
As a fiction consumer, you can up your odds of getting what you want from a book by learning something about how publishers tell writers what they want to buy.
One of the requirements you see over and over in writers' Market Reports (where publishers describe what they're buying now) is "strong characters."
They want "strong characters" because those books (and films) make bigger profits.
But writes, publishers and readers often mean something different when they say "strong characters.'
Publishers don't mean characters the reader can identify with, nor characters that have big muscles, nor characters that impress the reader and make the reader remember their names.
Publishers mean characters whose decisions direct and energize the plot.
They want a protagonist who makes the initial move that sets the story in motion, and an antagonist who acts to prevent the protagonist from achieving the goal.
Publishers do not want characters who agonize, wring their mental hands, or worry. A strong character is a person whose "character" is strong -- who has values and sticks to them, backs them with life and limb, takes risks, stays focused on the goal, and maybe goes down swinging.
That's what publishers are currently demanding of writers. And I've never seen a Market Report where a publisher asked for "weak characters."
They don't want to buy stories where the main point of view character is someone to whom the story happens. They want the main point of view character to be someone who makes the story happen.
So what kind of book do you want to read? Do you prefer to read about someone who is a victim of circumstance and their own ineptitude or lack of forethought whose problem is ultimately solved by someone else's actions?
Sunday, January 28, 2007
I was toying with the idea of building on Linnea's and Jacqueline's previous posts about genre, with particular emphasis on comedy in science fiction romance, because some people seem to think I'm funny.
And, if comedy could be one of the selling points for my new novel INSUFFICIENT MATING MATERIAL which comes to bookstores everywhere on Tuesday (January 30th) then I ought to take advantage.
However... the iguana-with-an-erection story is topical, and it's good to be topical, even if one is an author of futuristic romances.
I just cannot leave a good double penis story alone. (I was sorely tempted to omit a noun from that last sentence for the sake of sensationalism.)
Did you see the Reuters article about the iguana named Mozart who has sported an erection for almost a week? Concerned vets have decided to put a stop to the unruly erection by amputating.
"The good news for Mozart and his mates is that
male iguanas have two penises.
Mozart, sitting on the shoulders of his keeper as camera crews
focused on his red, swollen erection, seemed unperturbed..."
Is red and swollen a problem?
I confess my ignorance. I have no idea what color a healthy, happy iguana's penis ought to be.
I really hope the vets aren't being hasty.
Who is this erection bothering most? Reportedly, the male iguana doesn't seem concerned.
As for what use I can make of news like this... well, here's how one speculative romance writer speculates.
I ask myself:
What do I know about double penises?
I know that Barbara Karmazin wrote a wonderful book, The Huntress, and the hero had one.
I've seen partially-insertable sex toys with an appendage apparently designed for simultaneous external stimulation.
I know that one fabulous theory about dragons is that they squirted fire by having two nozzles at the front of their mouths --like doubling up a snake's snorkel-- that sprayed different liquids. The liquids became combustible when combined.
I know that there are super glues, drain cleaners, and other household products --I think there is a beauty product, too-- that comes in a double barrelled container, so the substances only combine when squirted onto or into whatever they are designed to be squirted onto or into.
Now I start speculating:
I wonder why an iguana has two penises.
One to use and one to rest?
One for fun and one to get the job done?
Do they work like the cannons in Star Wars? Like pistons? One recoils while the other fires?
What if the iguana has super-glue semen? (In that there's different stuff in each barrel, and it's only effective if both barrels are discharged.)
And finally, after I've amused myself sufficiently, I ask myself:
Will my editor buy a LoveSpell Romance hero with this level of complicated, high-tech equipment.
As Clint Eastwood's Dirty Harry used to say, "A man has to know his limitations."
So does a writer.
PS. In conjunction with the launch of INSUFFICIENT MATING MATERIAL, I am running a HIDDEN IMAGE contest from January 31st until February 28th 2007.
One entrant will win a $500 bookstore buying-spree. Details, entry form, rules can be found at www.rowenacherry.com/hiddenimage/
Saturday, January 27, 2007
Some fans of our blog has asked if we would address some craft issues. And since I have just finished a book I volunteered.
I write very strong characters. Characters that seem to make an impact on my fans as every letter I get mentions how much they love the characters, how much they were drawn into their lives and how much they think about them long after the story is over.
In order for your writing to strike a chord with your readers you characters need to be real so that your reader can identify with them.
I like to compare my characters to onions. You keep peeling away the external layers to find another layer as you use deep POV to reveal their internal conflicts.
Characteristic: a distinguishing trait, quality, or property
Characterization: to describe the character….external layers
Character: distinctive quality…the complex of mental and ethical traits marking a person
Character is what rises to the top when put under extreme pressure.To make your Hero real he must have an internal conflict to resolve before he can act on the external conflict which leads to the HEA.
In other words give you hero an insecurity which leads to an inner battle.
From Rising Wind by Cindy Holby August 2007
“My brother seems to think there is something between us…”
His gut clenched.
“Is there?” She seemed anxious. As if his answer were very important to her. As important as it was to him.
What could he say? Was there? He certainly wanted there to be. He wanted it more than anything he ever wanted in his life. But wanting something and having something was two different things. That was a lesson he learned long ago and one not ever to be forgotten.
He fingers curled around the bars of the window and hers did the same and he could not resist the urge to run his thumb over her hand where it fisted at the palm.
“I have nothing to offer ye lass.” He looked from her hand to her face. “Nothing at all.”
“I didn’t ask you about your prospects Connor,” she said with a slight smile.
“Tis simple enough. I have none.” He returned it with one of his own.
“Answer my question. Is there something between us?”
She was kneeling in the dirt in the middle of the wilderness while he was in a cell about to be lashed. It wasn’t exactly the kind of life she was suited for.
Did he want her? Every part of his being screamed out for her. But what kind of life could he offer her? A cabin in the wilderness? Every day a chance that they could be killed or captured by the Shawnee? And if they did make it through that part there was the risks of every day life. Of childbirth. Of illness. Of accidents.
There was the alternative. They could live in Williamsburg. Or one of the other towns. But how would they live? How would he support her? He had no skills beyond that of a woodsman and the natural ability with horses that he inherited from his father. Could they live on a stable hands pay?
No. She was meant for better things than he could offer her. And yet she sat in the dirt waiting for his answer looking so lovely that it made his heart ache.
“Tis nothing between us,” he said and turned away from the window.
More next week!
Thursday, January 25, 2007
Recently I saw the new live movie of CHARLOTTE'S WEB, one of my favorite books. I can't say it's either better or worse than the old animated movie, which has beautiful art and songs; it's different, but each is very good in its own way. I was sorry the new film left out Charlotte's line, "I love blood," when she's explaining that she doesn't eat flies, she drinks their blood. The book and both movies place strong emphasis on the importance of friendship. The new film especially stresses that theme (through the voice-over), not only between Wilbur and Charlotte, but among all the animals. I love the way this story foregrounds love between two creatures who are so different, one of whom is generally thought of as scary and revolting. The live movie also plays up the character of Templeton the rat. In this adaptation he seems genuinely offended (maybe even a little hurt) by how disgusting the other animals consider him (even if he does deserve it). He refers to himself in third person as “The Rat” but doesn't want the others talking about him in those terms. An implicit analogy is drawn between Charlotte and Templeton, both of them regarded as repulsive by many people, and by the end they form a sort of alliance. We've discussed the possibility of an amorphous blob as a romantic hero. Could we conceive of an intelligent spider as not only a friend but a romantic love object?
This is an excerpt from near the end of my vampire novel CHILD OF TWILIGHT. Gillian, an adolescent vampire-human hybrid, has just been rescued from vengeful vampire Camille, who tried to seduce her to the dark side. What little confidence Gillian ever had in the possibility of being able to fit in with either side of her ancestry has been undermined. Roger (hero of my earlier novel DARK CHANGELING) is her half-human (but vampire side dominant) father. Claude is his half-brother; Britt and Eloise are their significant others; Volnar is Gillian's mentor (and head of the vampire elders). I enjoyed playing with the analogy between a spider and a vampire, both of them blood-drinkers, both unjustly maligned by the general public:
"She needs human blood, doesn't she?" said Britt, taking a seat next to Roger. "And she's afraid to take it, poor kid. Camille couldn't have traumatized her worse in such a short time if she'd planned it that way."
"She probably did," said Claude.
At that moment Gillian walked timidly into the room, wearing a robe of Britt's. She approached Roger and stood with her hands folded and head downcast. "You spoke to Lord Volnar? What's to be done with me?"
"Confound it, you're not on trial!" Roger moved over and gestured for her to sit between him and Britt. "Volnar will pick up your education where he left off, if you're willing to go back to him. No one will force you to do something you aren't ready for."
"That's what she said."
"Camille?" said Britt softly.
Gillian nodded. "She promised not to force anything upon me—and then she—" She covered her eyes and shuddered with tearless sobs.
Britt's fingers curled with the urge to comfort Gillian. Roger noticed Eloise leaning forward, straining against the same desire. He, too, knew better than to touch Gillian at a moment like this, no matter how much he yearned to help.
After a while Gillian lifted her head and stared at Roger. "Lord Volnar wants to continue as my advisor? He doesn't think I am irreparably tainted?"
"Oh, good grief!" Britt curbed her anger and modulated her voice to a soothing tone. "Gillian, we call that kind of thing blaming the victim. Nobody here thinks that way, and I certainly hope a creature who's lived God knows how many millennia has better sense."
"I shared Camille's—emptiness."
"That must have been terrible," Roger said. "But it doesn't have to shape your entire life. Vampires are highly adaptable, and so are human beings. Both sides of your heritage are in your favor. And another thing—would you like to spend part of your time here? Learn from me—and Britt, for that matter?"
Gillian's eyes glowed. "You don't want to get rid of me?"
"I'd hardly suggest this if I did." He felt an unexpected surge of affection, which he didn't know how to handle. It had taken him long enough to learn how to express his love for Britt. And now I want to start all over with a child?
Britt reached for Gillian, then drew back, unsure whether the girl was ready to be touched. Gillian groped for Britt's hand and squeezed it. When Britt winced, Gillian looked stricken. "I hurt you. I knew I shouldn't—"
"Stop worrying, it was an accident," Britt said. "I'm not afraid of you."
"Perhaps you should be. I know I wasn't supposed to crave human blood yet. I don't know whether I can feed safely—whether I can even associate with ephemerals safely."
Eloise said, "Are you thinking of what Camille said about being a monster?"
"Partly." Gillian tensed as she watched Eloise cross the room with the bag she'd been holding.
"Here, I got you an early Christmas present." Eloise sat on the rug next to the coffee table, stroking Gillian's clenched fingers as she might stroke a kitten. "This is one of the most beloved and respected children's books of all time. The heroine is a creature most people think of as monstrous, and she lives on blood." She got out the book and placed it in Gillian's lap.
"Charlotte's Web! Eloise, that's perfect!" Britt applauded.
Though pleased at the gift's effect, Roger was puzzled. He knew the story only by reputation. [A fable about a pig and a spider, colleague?]
[You haven't read it? How culturally deprived can you get? Take my word, colleague, it's perfect. I'll bet Volnar never would have thought of this.]
-end of excerpt-
Tuesday, January 23, 2007
My answer is, why should it be just any one thing or genre? You’ve never had rum raisin ice cream? You’ve never had mocha fudge mint chip ice cream? Must books be only chocolate or vanilla? Or how about a Cosmo Martini? Or Mango Mojito: mango rum, sugar, crushed ice, mint leaves, club soda. Our culinary palettes have expanded. Why not our literary palettes?
Translate that from cuisine to story, and what she's describing is Literature with a capital L.
Last week, I explained a little about the economic origins of genre in the demands of a reader not to waste their money on something they don't want to read.
But I didn't touch on Literature. You know what I'm talking about -- the books titled
The books published without a genre label are Literature, great and otherwise.
OK, so what's the formula for Literature -- and how do you tell Literature from Best Sellers?
Oh, yeah, "Best Seller" actually is a genre. In film, it's called HIGH CONCEPT. It's High Concept novels that get the promotion to become Best Sellers. I think I did a post here in this blog about High Concept. If anyone wants to discuss that, drop a note on this entry.
High Concept novels will break genre stereotypes and become market makers.
Literature can be LOW CONCEPT -- i.e. not aimed at the dubiously educated masses.
So, how do I define Literature?
Well, in short, I define Literature as Science Fiction.
Other people (perhaps somewhat misguided?) believe Science Fiction to be a genre. It isn't now and never has been a genre.
How can I (an SF/F writer?) say such a thing? It sounds so ridiculous!
Well - let's take a long historical look at what SF is, where it came from, and why what's happening now is happening.
Originally, some young kids (Isaac Asimov, Hal Clement, Robert Heinlein, E. E. Smith, the folks now known as First Fandom) started writing these stories. They'd read H. G. Wells and Doyle, and everything classical and everything there was and (being all geniuses, you know) they'd run out of stuff to read so they wrote some for each other basically.
Look at the list of First Fandom - see any women? Not till the 1950's or so (except married to male writers).
They were all just barely post-adolescent BOYS with a passion for things like Chess and Physics, Math and Chemistry (a lot were Chemists which is why I took my degree in Chemistry in order to become an SF writer). Science was both profession and hobby - fantasy was where they lived.
And so they wrote about young boys who saved the world, humanity, the galaxy, etc. by inventing something adults would never think of.
So the group of readers they attracted were young boys dreaming of being The Hero and rescuing the damsel from the Monster of the Week.
Publishers looked at who was buying this stuff and asked writers for more stuff like that because these kids had money for books.
Once publishers started pouring real money into making and distributing lots of copies -- well, the same dynamic I described as creating genres swung into action. In order not to lose money, the publishers had to LABEL this stuff and make sure that each one was exactly like the others only different.
(which is why Hollywood wants "exactly like everything else only different" -- which is what High Concept means essentially.)
So publishers, and the only really successful editors who could keep jobs a long time and get promotions -- successful editors! -- learned and memorized the harsh lesson, ONLY YOUNG BOYS READ SCIENCE FICTION because all the stories are just adolescent male fantasies for geekish kids.
Where did they get that idea? They were taught that idea by the writers and the readers.
The women who entered the field, Andre Norton in the 1940's and a few others, hid behind male bylines. In the 1950's (1955 I think) Marion Zimmer Bradley's short story Centaurus Changling revolutionized the field when it appeared in one of the magazines. I have it here somewhere.
It just so happened that Marion's actual given legal name is ambiguous -- spelled with the O. Only fans who knew her from conventions knew she was female.
She wowed everyone with a RELATIONSHIP story. What a shocking thing.
In the 1960's, the start of a burgeoning golden age of SF, "Adult Fantasy"allowed women to enter the field under female bylines. (notice C. J. Cherryh isn't CAROLYN Cherry). Even then, when you were writing SF you really should have had a male or initialed byline. I chose Jacqueline Lichtenberg out of sheer contrary cussedness.
Meanwhile, the geekish teens who started the field (Isaac Asimov was 19 when he sold his first story) had grown up -- and a new generation came along with college degrees in Literature (Gordon R. Dickson) and Psychology (Marion Zimmer Bradley) -- others who tried to bring Literature into SF creating the failed but huge New Age of SF sub-genre (dystopian, nihilistic, "everyman" themes).
The readers likewise grew up, but were way outnumbered by the new kids entering the field -- and face it, teens have more disposable income for books than parents with kids, cars, mortgages and pension funds.
So publishers could still pretend that SF readers were geekish teens ONLY.
Let's skip the 1970's of Feminist Polemics -- and the heaps of scorn on STAR TREK which was at that time a FAILED TV show of very VERY old fashioned SF. (it was 1930's SF)
That publisher's pretense broke down in the 1980s -- Katherine Kurtz's type of adult fantasy.
So in the 1980's I said at almost every convention:
"'Marion Zimmer Bradley wrote the Darkovan proverb that there's a hidden man in every woman and a hidden woman in every man. We are all both masculine and feminine. ' But we are (mostly) definitely male or female. As it happens, adolescent males love stories with a physical problem, physical action, and a physical resolution. Adolescent females love stories with a psychological problem, psychological action, and a psychological resolution. Adults like a balanced combination of the two - and that balanced combination is called Literature."
And though all my novels are set on other planets, or involve aliens relating intimately with humans, or in the case of Sime~Gen humans mutating into two parts which may as well be aliens, I write science fiction which is Literature."
One of my career objectives is to have in print a Sime~Gen novel (no one disputes that Sime~Gen is SF -- but it's ever so mixed-genre because it contains ESP as well as Magick) a Sime~Gen novel in every genre.
But today it isn't necessary anymore -- just look around you. Read some books labeled SF.
You can find an SF novel that contains the elements of any genre you name. Western, Mystery (hey don't miss THE DRESDEN FILES - a forensic wizard Private Eye), Action, Romance, -- you name it.
Now one good definition of Literature should be "contains all genres at once" -- if we use the definition of genre I suggested last week -- "what you leave OUT defines the genre" -- then Literature would be what you get when you include ALL GENRES.
Combine all colors of the spectrum and get WHITE.
Well, Science Fiction -- as writers on this blog are busy proving -- just naturally contains all genres. Therefore science fiction is not a genre - it's Literature.
Where did this distorted notion that science fiction is a genre come from? It's a historical artifact of the pure happenstance that several barely post-adolescent males started writing about the futurology of science - extrapolating scientific and technological impacts on human civilization.
But it never was a genre -- it's just that the first stories written were all of a certain type.
We got relegated to a straight-jacket formula for a few decades, but that was an artifact of the commercial publishing world, not a property of the essence of the Literature of The Imagination.
So today professors hold an annual Conference where they get Professor brownie points for reading papers to each other -- and they're all talking about SF/F. They call it the Conference ono the Fantastic and it's held in March every year.
If you don't think SF is Literature - go listen to them!
The fact is that the READER sophistication and general educational level has gone up considerably in the last 40 years. Genre is created by readers, not publishers. But maybe, with the advent of all these great TV shows that have SF/F elements, just maybe they won't be able to get readers to shove SF/F back into a single genre.
Maybe readers will be willing to admit they're reading Literature when they read SF/F.
Maybe not. After all, the pocketbook rules. I want to buy a book, I want to know it's got the stuff in it that pleases me -- but that it's all new. I want to read it over again - for the first time.
Monday, January 22, 2007
I hope you all paid attention to Jacqueline’s blog last week on how genres came about and how they function in the book industry. Because if you don’t understand that, then the ‘mixology’ of combining two or more genres is only going to muddle you further.
The plain fact of the matter is that almost every commercial fiction novel on the shelves today is a mixture of more than one genre. The plainer fact of the matter is very few authors or publishers will admit to that.
The why is…::points to first paragraph::. The why is why genres exist in the first place. I’m not going to discuss that.
What I am going to talk about is taking the plunge, coming out of the genre closet, breaking free, rising like a phoenix and any other bad cliché you care to throw in here. I’m going to talk about starting out admitting that yes, my book fits the bill for two or more genres. It’s a genre martini.
"Cross-genre” we’re often called when in reality, combi-genre is probably more accurate. In my case, it’s science fiction and romance and—with my current WIP, The Down Home Zombie Blues—science fiction, police procedural and romance.
Why do I do that? For one thing, real life is combi-genre, isn’t it? Your morning might be a comedy (What? No clean underwear? What? The dog puked in my purse?), your first few hours at work could be a thriller (What is that weird moaning noise coming from the copy machine?), your lunch hour might be a western (Get a long little hot doggies!) and your after work stop at the local bar might, just might, be a romance.
When I decide to craft a story, I’m very aware that all these same episodes may well occur in my character’s lives. What particular part of their lives I highlight in the book inevitably defines the genre—or narrows down the genre because, as I said, any commercial fiction novel contains multi-genres. So I highlight certain aspects of a character’s life—let’s say, Trilby Elliot in my Finders Keepers (RITA Award Finalist!) and because Trilby was a starfreighter operator, and because the opening scene takes place on a distant planet, and because Trilby’s sidekick is a very C3PO-like ’droid, Finders Keepers is deemed science fiction/speculative fiction. But when Trilby and the male protagonist, some pushy guy named Rhis, suddenly decide to stop fighting and start kissing, whoa, Nellie! We’ve got ourselves a romance.
Now, in The Down Home Zombie Blues, Commander Jorie Mikkalah is an intergalactic zombie hunter (check: science fiction), who arrives on this planet (we call it Earth and Jorie finds it apt that such a boring place is named after dirt…) via a starship (a Red Star Class Three Intergalactic Combat and Recovery Vessel, to be exact), then the genre powers that be would deem the book to be science fiction. But wait! The male protagonist is a Florida homicide detective sergeant. And he’s investigating the suspicious death-by-mummification of an unlucky human. So, hmm, we’ve got police procedural here. But wait, again! The intergalactic babe and the hunky cop start locking lips a few chapters in. Romance!
So what is it?
My answer is, why should it be just any one thing or genre? You’ve never had rum raisin ice cream? You’ve never had mocha fudge mint chip ice cream? Must books be only chocolate or vanilla? Or how about a Cosmo Martini? Or Mango Mojito: mango rum, sugar, crushed ice, mint leaves, club soda. Our culinary palettes have expanded. Why not our literary palettes?
It really wasn’t any big deal for me to craft Zombie Blues. I didn’t sit down one day and decide, hmm, I’m going to write an SF Romance Police Procedural. I sat down to write Jorie’s and Theo’s story. Just like I sat down to write Rhis’ and Trilby’s, and Mack’s and Gillie’s and all the rest.
Why I chose homicide detective for Theo’s profession was two-fold: 1) one of the opening scenes is the discovery of the mummified body (who is Jorie’s teammate) and without that discovery, there’d be no story and 2) I wanted to play the law enforcement mind set against itself. In Finders Keepers, Trilby was the independent in more ways than one. She was not just an Indy freighter captain, she was an independent personality. A loner. Rhis was the military, in control person. In Zombie, both Jorie and Theo are—by the nature of their professions—used to be in control. I wanted to put the two together and see sparks fly.
I’m a character-driven writer. If you’re a character-driven writer, I think you shouldn’t shy away from a certain professions for a character just because it might add another element or taste of another genre to your story. All science fiction doesn’t have to star scientists or spaceship captains. (I wouldn’t deliberately force a profession onto a character just to add a genre, either. It has to be natural to the character and the storyline.)
In Jacqueline Lichtenberg’s terrific Those of My Blood, one of her main characters (Titus) is vampire-like and a scientist. Most of the story takes place in a science station on the moon. Scientist-science station-vampire all bespeak science fiction.
But what if her main character wasn’t a scientist but a cop or a private detective? That could bring a whole new element into the story, possibly turning it into something like the detective/science fiction of Kristine Kathryn Rusch and her (wonderful) Retrieval Artist novels. Yes, science fiction. Yes, police/detective.
But Jacqueline’s character’s profession as a scientist was required for the character to know and do the things he did. It wasn’t a slapped-on career. It was an integral part of the plot which yes, also contained romance.
Just as Theo’s profession as a homicide cop in Zombie is essential for the plot to go where it has to go. Had he been a professional ice hockey player or an attorney, the story—and his interaction with Command Jorie Mikkalah—would be completely different.
In my upcoming February release, Games of Command, the story absolutely would not have worked if Sass hadn’t also been Captain Tasha Sebastian and Branden not also been Admiral Kel-Paten. I needed to use their ranks as well as their duties as military officers in order to create much of the conflict and tension between them. If Sass had had Trilby’s job—and Indy freighter operator—she’d not have as much to lose. And the admiral wouldn’t have the reason to interact with her as much as his did. Another genre mix: space opera and romance, with a touch of woo-woo paranormal.
Our daily lives are not all one theme: comedy or tragedy. Our flavors of ice cream are varied. Our alcoholic libations are equally as blended. Why shouldn’t the stories we enjoy be just as varied?
Feeling adventurous? Why not sit down and mix yourself a genre-tini. Let your characters live on the edge in your novel, exploring their limits and their conflicts using your full creativity. Keep it texturally rich and potent. And as always, shaken not stirred.
Just be aware that the marketing teams of the NY publishers can get mighty confuzzled when you do so. And dealing with that is a topic for a whole ‘nuther blog.
Sunday, January 21, 2007
I don't see "Thusness" being talked about very much. One of my English professors at Homerton College, Cambridge, taught me the expression and the concept, and I've never forgotten it.
At the time, I believe we were studying Alfred, Lord Tennyson's Idylls of the King. Epic poetry. Medieval Fantasy SpecRom opera with never-ending quests for the Holy Grail, swords, sorcery, treachery, maidens being surprised in their bathtubs by horny rotters. Inspiring stuff, really! That's what I remember. But it could have been Browning, or Coleridge.
Maybe someone will want to tell me that the Arthurian legends aren't SpecRom. I might answer that it all depends who is retelling them, and how.
The bottom line with "Thusness" --as I internalized it-- is that all the interwoven story threads are tied up so neatly by the end of the story that the reader is left with a feeling of great satisfaction and justice. Not only is everything explained (that needs to be explained), but there is harmony, balance, and maybe that forehead-slap of enlightenment.
"Thusness" makes a story memorable and thought-provoking (in a pleasurable way) after the last word has been read, and the book has been put away... or returned to the library. The ending is "right" and has a quality of inevitability. Of course, in a romance, it is generally accepted that, inevitably, the hero and the heroine will live happily ever after together.
That's not quite what I mean by "inevitability."
Perhaps "thusness" is like the old definition of obscenity. "...I know it when I see it."
If that is the case, how does a writer achieve "Thusness"? Some of us are plotters, outliners, linear writers. Others are pantsers, channellers. Some do both. Some put a book together like a jigsaw (I do). Some plan it like dinner... you know, it has a beginning (starter), a middle (main course), and an ending (the pudding).
"Pudding" might not be entirely felicitous. Some end with a Bombe Surprise, or cheesecake, others with a swiggable yoghurt or quick coffee. It's all good, but probably it's most satisfying if it is a balanced meal.
I try for thusness. If I have three prologues (of course, they cannot be called that), I need three epilogues. This might mean that a lot has to be cut from the middle to meet the publisher's page limit (about 400 double spaced pages at 250 wpp).
Once the ending is written --and not all authors know the details of how their heroes' stories will end when they begin-- well, then you have the linear warp, but not the weft (weaving imagery). Then, knowing how your story ends, you go back to the beginning and weave in the almost-invisible details at regular intervals.
Perhaps your editor wants the villain to be badder. (Given that badder is good English). For "Thusness" as I see it, it isn't enough to put super bad thoughts into his point of view one scene before he gets his come-uppance, though that would be the quickest and easy edit... and on a deadline, quick and easy is very tempting! In my opinion, the first time the reader sees this villain he has to be doing something bad, although it could be stealth wickedness. We may not recognize his evil for what it is, after all, he hasn't been caught.
And so it goes. A hint is woven in, and it has to be repeated, not necessarily every seventy pages, but that's a reasonable rough guide. The Imperial March was a pretty cool tune. They say the devil gets all the best tunes. It took a while before we realized that it meant that the bad guy was up to no good. Same with the Jaws horn riff. (If horns can riff).
Because Jolly Good Endings and striving for "Thusness" is important to me, I was thrilled with a recent review by "Bookmaedin" posted at http://www.ibookdb.net/review/58607
"This book also has one of the best ending sequences. Everyone in the story pulls together against a common enemy. Ms. Cherry has created a seriously evil villain. What goes around comes around, and it definitely came back on this villainous specimen.
Trust me, INSUFFICIENT MATING MATERIAL is a book you don’t want to miss. Be sure to check out the back-story in Rowena Cherry’s previous book, Forced Mate.
~Review by bookmaedin for iBookDB Review: Insufficient Mating Material"
INSUFFICIENT MATING MATERIAL will be in bookstores on January 30th.
Wednesday, January 17, 2007
Tuesday, January 16, 2007
I'll begin this discussion/explanation of genre and how a writer can use it and what a reader can do with an understanding of it -- with a personal annecdote.
There are two things I've learned about GENRE in my career that "changed everything" for me: a) it's origin and b) it's definition because of that origin.
Where did I learn these two vital things?
Believe it or not, reading Star Trek fanzines incessantly and obsessively -- and watching the field of media fanzine (on paper) publishing evolve right before my eyes. This is a 20 year phenomenon which has now shifted almost entirely to the Web.
The economics of fanzine paper-publishing are identical to the economics of Mass Market paperback publishing except that the fanzine publisher can't make a profit (i.e. must not sell at a profit material based on someone else's copyright).
Fanzine publishers doing TV show pastiche are using the "fair use" clause in the copyright contract and that applies only so long as they don't do it for profit.
That's a big difference, to be sure, but it highlights the origin and purpose of genre in stark relief.
Fanzine paper publishers must (and I mean must) break even or almost even when their 'zine has a distribution of about 1,000 copies. Nobody can afford to subsidize a 2,000 copy print run out of pocket indefinitely (unless they're Bill Gates!).
So they have to charge the cost of paper, printing (offset press printing or copying used to be even more expensive than today), postage, and office supplies such as envelopes, file folders, etc. But they can't charge for the writing. That, they give away, just as they do today online.
Immediately, this vast expense puts the fanzine publisher into "business" figuring costs against the probability of sales to cover those costs. To get the sales volume to cover costs, they start to think about content and pleasing their readers to get repeat business.
Unlike Mass Market publishers (of olde!) fanzine publishers would get LETTERS OF COMMENT (LoCs) lambasting them for including distasteful stories or poorly written or copyedited stories along with the "good" ones.
This reader feedback caused publishers to separate one type of story from another and publish them in separate 'zines with clear labels so readers would buy only what they wanted.
PRESTO! They re-invented genre in response to exactly the same market forces that Mass Market publishers respond to! Economics prevailed.
And in response to that genre invention, readers bought even more copies, guaranteed of a good read.
So fanzine publishers did more of it and the readers invented terms for each of the sub-genres.
Then came the backlash. Once in a while a publisher would include a story from another universe, or a cross-universe story (Star Trek/ Dr. Who, for example), in a 'zine, and little by little in response to reader feedback, publishers went to the "Gen 'zine" -- a general fanzine that could have stories from a long list of TV shows. Or even stories based on novel series such as Sime~Gen (Dr. Who/ Sime~Gen was invented this way.)
It's READERS who invented and named genre in defense of their pocketbooks.
It's publishers who responded by separating genre stories into separate publications and labeling them.
And exactly the same thing happened in the previous hundred years or so in Mass Market publishing. Reader pressure forced publishers to invent genre.
But throughout the decades, readers keep forcing Mass Market publishers to GUESS what they want, to guess the rules the readers want followed.
Hence the invention of the Western Romance, one of the first cross-genre innovations.
Now for the SECOND blinding insight into Genre that changes everything.
This is really more for writers than readers.
What is the core element that defines or distinguishes GENRE in the eyes of the publisher who could pay you money for your book?
Remember, this question first arose because someone asked on another blog how a writer who has an idea for a story selects what genre to write that story in. And here is the biggest piece of the answer to that question.
A Romance writer came to me with a werewolf story she (a well established professional) had been unable to sell. I read the draft she'd been submitting, and told her what to do using this insight into the definition of genre, and she sold the book and its sequel to an sf/f publisher.
Genre is defined in Mass Market publishing today not by what is included but by what is EXCLUDED from the work.
Note how I explained above that fanzine publishers got tons of letters (snailmail in those days) from readers offended by the inclusion of a story that included material they didn't like in a zine full of stories they did like. Fanzine publishers learned to EXCLUDE material of one type from a zine filled with material of another type.
And that's the origin of genre - "don't turn your readership off!"
But editors and Manhattan publishers look at it differently, especially since the advent of computerized tracking of sales.
Editors believe that if you include an element that doesn't belong in the genre (i.e. put a werewolf or vampire (horror genre) in a romance story) you exclude two readerships and can sell the book only to the portion of the two readerships that overlap. (think of the Venn diagram of two overlapping circles -- the greater part of the readership is excluded by the inclusion of "foreign" genre elements.
That's what they believe and they believe it (well, used to believe it) because of sales statistics generated by computers.
It is that belief on the part of editors and publishers that rigidified the genre structure and proved to be such an obstacle to those of us writing SF/Romance, Fantasy/Romance, SF-Fantasy, and so on.
For an editor, to publish books that fail in the marketplace is to lose a job. In judging whether to buy a Manuscript or not, the editor is using a very personal criterion -- will I lose my job over this? Better safe than sorry -- therefore genre is defined by what is excluded rather than by what is included.
A werewolf story that consists of one bedroom scene after another has the structure of a romance which (was at that time) EXCLUDED from SF/F imprints. A Romance that has the EXCLUDED horror element of a werewolf in it (no matter how handsome, gentle, kind, and tormented) was excluded from the Romance imprints.
So what happened? I told this romance writer to get the story out of the bedroom and narrate directly some of the action that took place offstage, get the woman involved, etc. She did and it sold -- but HER FANS (romance readers) went after that book. Publishers noticed the sales stats in the computers. New writers began to imitate her.
Now that wasn't the first time such a thing happened. A number of SF writers moonlight as Romance or Mystery writers and vice-versa. Authors write different genres under different names.
But now, as readers have demanded changes, publishers have begun to shift what has to be excluded in order to qualify as this or that genre.
The changes are enabled by the Web and forums and Lists and newsgroups. Publishers are getting feedback now the way fanzine publishers used to - fast, and direct.
The change in readers habits is forcing changes in publishing. I believe I alerted you to the meltdown in the distribution sector a couple weeks ago. Yet another large distributor went into Chapter 11.
This last week, several publishing announcements show us the counter moves in publishing.
Here is a headline from the Wall Street Journal (subscribers only get the article).
Publisher Perseus to Buy RivalAs Book-Industry Deals Pick UpBy JEFFREY A. TRACHTENBERGJanuary 11, 2007; Page C3
In a move that quickens the pace of consolidation in the troubled book publishing industry, Perseus Books Group, an independent publisher owned by Washington private-equity firm Perseus LLC, has signed a letter of intent to acquire rival Avalon Publishing Group Inc.
Here's the Perseus article free online from another source (if it turns up in 2 or more places, it's important). This is from Canton OH.
And here's one on HarperCollins in a deal with LibreDigital to create a services company to help paper publishers produce and market digital books (i.e. e-books, downloadable books).
This is PUBLISHING's response to the Distributor meltdown. Does anyone need a detailed explanation of what this does to a writer's existing contracts with a publisher?
Now these changes in publishing aren't just due to changes in readers' tastes in genre formulae.
There are a number of forces converging on publishers and distributors and retailers such as Barnes & Noble which is closing stores because this last Christmas season didn't keep it afloat.
But it is these economic shifts that are leaving publishers willing to explore the potentials of cross-genre -- or INCLUSION of foreign elements in a genre book.
So ask your questions and I'll answer here next week. What else do you need to know about genre?
Monday, January 15, 2007
February 1 - 15, 2007 - Pitches, Tag lines & Blurbs, Oh My!, Linnea
It’s the three-liner on the front of the book that catches your eye. It’s the two paragraphs on the back of the book that tickles your interest. It’s opener of your query letter and it’s the phrase you have at the ready when a top NY agent asks you: “So, what’s your book about? Tell me in less than three minutes.”
Pitches, blurbs and tag lines are those indispensable tools every writer must have in order to sell a book. They’re pithy, they’re short, they stay in your mind. That’s why they work. They also help you craft your marketing plan once you sell. Learn the formula for creating pitches and tag lines that will sell your book to agents and editors at conference pitch sessions or via queries, from award-winning NY-published author and former news reporter, Linnea Sinclair.
Linnea Sinclair is a former news reporter and retired private investigator turned science fiction romance and fantasy novelist. Her books include Finders Keepers, Gabriel’s Ghost and An Accidental Goddess, with three more titles due out from Bantam/Random House in 2007. Her books’ have won or finaled in the RITA, Prism, Sapphire, Pearl, Dream Realm, FWA Royal Palm and several RWA chapter contests. Her essay column for Futures magazine was a Pushcart Literary Nominee in 1998 and in 2002-2003 she was a John W. Campbell award nominee. She can be reached through her website at www.linneasinclair.com.
Registration Deadline: January 25th
March 1-31, 2007
Character Torture 101
INSTRUCTOR: Linnea Sinclair
Cutoff date to receive registration and payment: February 27, 2007
Writing Guru Dwight Swain said that it’s the author’s job to manipulate the emotions of the reader. There’s no better way to do this than for the author to put his characters through one roller coaster episode after another, taking the reader along for the ride. But how much conflict, how much character angst is too much? How can an author keep the action from becoming cartoonish? Bantam Spectra author Linnea Sinclair answers those questions and more in this fun and fast-paced (because torturing students is good, too!) workshop that explores the importance of conflict in today’s commercial fiction novels.
A former news reporter and retired private detective, Linnea Sinclair has managed to use all her college degrees (journalism and criminology) but hasn’t soothed the yearning in her soul to travel the galaxy. To that end, she’s authored several award-winning science fiction and fantasy novels, including FINDERS KEEPERS, GABRIEL’S GOHST, and AN ACCIDENTAL GODDESS (all from Bantam-Spectra), and her upcoming 2007 Bantam releases including CHASIDAH’S CHOICE and THE DOWN HOME ZOMBIE BLUES (a sci fi romance procedural). Sinclair is the winner of the Sapphire, PEARL, EPPIE, a 2006 double RITA nominee and RITA winner! When not on duty with some intergalactic fleet or deep space security agency, she can be found in Florida with her husband and their thoroughly spoiled cats.
~ ~ ~ ~
The other thing I want to mention is that authors love hearing from readers. It's one of the reasons we do this blog. I know a number of my readers read this but don't comment because--they tell me--they didn't think I'd be interested in what they have to say. OF COURSE I would! I wrote FOR you, so your thoughts and ideas interest me.
So whether you're a writer wanting to improve your skills or a reader with questions about my books--TALK TO ME. I'm here for ya'. And I love talking writing theory/ideas and I love talking about my characters.
~Linnea (getting over the flu and on medication and antibiotics now--hence the late blog. Was at the Walk In Clinic most of the afternoon...)
Sunday, January 14, 2007
I got a B grade in Biology Ordinary Level examinations --which was a pretty good grade in my day--, but the chemistry teacher competed with the music teacher to dump me (ie. both encouraged me to elect to study with the other).
The chemistry teacher lost out, in that I elected to inflict my youthful self upon her class for another year. She had what might now be described as a "snarky" streak, and I enjoyed her barbed wit, even when it was directed at me, more than I enjoyed sitting in the front row of the music class watching the music mistress's bare toes jerk in time with Beethoven's Fifth.
As you may infer, I've been a "Manwatcher" most of my life.
I write futuristic romance with a strongish bias towards character (over events, ideas, milieu). I've got my own under-the-stairs research library with fabulous resources such as The Physics of Star Trek, The Science of Star Wars, NASA handbooks about mining on the Moon, about a dozen Writers' Digest reference books on aliens, classes of stars, and worldbuilding...
In Insufficient Mating Material (out January 30th 2007) there's plenty of biology --after all, a significant portion of the story takes place on a deserted island-- and only a few NASA-inspired tidbits.
Shameful though it is to admit, I have a hard time with some aspects of science, like relativity. It doesn't help that "what is known" changes from time to time. Occasionally scientific theorists are discredited... or reinstated. It's not easy for layperson to keep up!
Actually, I occasionally have trouble with the deeper meaning of putting clocks forward and back, and the small examples of time travel in our everyday lives.
Last week, I did a bit of TimeWasting.
I googled NASA and Ask An Astronaut, to see what I could find out. What a wealth of fascinating insights, including definitive proof that projectile-firing weapons are not currently smiled upon in spaceships! (Great news for those who find sabers cool!)
My Search skills may be lacking. I had difficulty honing my search and only reading facts of immediate relevance to an alien hero revisiting Earth, who needs to know if his childhood friends will still be "the same age" as he is. I should have gone straight for The Twin Paradox (only I didn't know what it was called) or Einstein's Theory of Relativity.
That could be a useful tip, if anyone else at the moment is contemplating their own fictional heroes and heroines leaving Earth at light speed or faster, and coming home again after some time has elapsed.
I happen to be a member of SFWA -- www.sfwa.org -- and I should have asked a question on their message boards first. In fact, I asked on the MySpace Bulletin boards.
"...as the traveler approaches the speed of light, according to Einstein's theory of relativity, time would begin to slow until stopping soon after reaching the speed of light."
Helpful links that were suggested to me:
where you'll find a "game" to plug in the velocities and so on to find
out how much a traveler would age compared to his/her twin on earth.
After all this research, I may end up giving my hero a Swiss bank account!
Thursday, January 11, 2007
The fact that Asimov and his contemporary readers accepted this society as plausible illustrates a belief prevalent through much of the twentieth century and deconstructed by Steven Pinker in his penetrating book THE BLANK SLATE, the assumption that human nature is infinitely malleable. The same idea lay behind the devastating experience of the boy whose story is told in AS NATURE MADE HIM, whose penis was severely damaged in a botched circumcision during infancy. Doctors recommended that the child undergo sex reassignment surgery and be raised as a girl. Despite being treated as a girl throughout childhood and given female hormones, he/she never felt or behaved "feminine." Eventually learning the truth, he chose to be restored to his original male sex, since he had thought of himself as more boy than girl all along despite never having consciously known what had been done to him. Apparently, contra the behaviorists and their followers, there IS such a thing as "human nature." While we certainly aren't completely controlled by our genes, we can't ignore them, either.
The "blank slate" ideology underlies so much literature of the mid-twentieth century, even among authors whose philosophies are radically dissimilar. For a few decades it seems to have been one of those shared cultural assumptions no one even thinks to question. Despite their vast philosophic differences, WALDEN TWO (by B. F. Skinner), BRAVE NEW WORLD, 1984, and C. S. Lewis's nonfiction THE ABOLITION OF MAN all assume that “conditioning” can mold people into anything the conditioners desire. Skinner viewed this prospect positively, while the other authors mentioned deplored the idea, but none of them seemed to doubt that it could be done. On the contrary, we now know that certain human traits really do seem to be inborn. Babies enter the world with individual personalities rather than “blank slates,” and on a wider scale, a common set of basic reactions, emotions, and social institutions can be found in cultures and ethnic groups throughout the world. No matter how much technology changes, it's probable that our descendants two or three centuries from now will be, in the essentials that make them human, fairly similar to ourselves.
Tuesday, January 09, 2007
I was asked to discuss genres -- how a writer would decide which genre to write a particular idea in -- how a reader can figure out from the publisher's labels what books they really want to read (or avoid!).
This is a big topic and I'm way out of time for today. But I do have a great deal to say about genres - where they come from, what they're good for, and why the commercial establishment adopts them then defends them beyond all reason.
We are, as I noted last week, in a vast seachange in the Fiction Delivery System - paper publishing melting down.
And genre barriers that have been absolute and rigid are finally starting to melt down too.
Now is the time for writers to jump in there and create new genres -- and readers need to help.
If you're interested in this area of discussion, please drop a comment here and ask your questions. It's a huge topic - I'd like to carve it up into small pieces.
Monday, January 08, 2007
One of the tougher things about writing science fiction/romance based here, on this planet, in present day is that you have to be real careful about the shit you make up.
I'm finding this out the hard way as I come down the home stretch with THE DOWN HOME ZOMBIE BLUES.
I know. GAMES OF COMMAND's release date in the end of next month and here I am talking about a book that won't even be out until Fall 2007 (later, if I don't get it finished!) but it's the one I'm working on and hence, it's in the forefront of my mind.
THE DOWN HOME ZOMBIE BLUES (hereinafter DHZB), as some of you know, is my science fiction/romance/police procedural book. It's the first one I've done that's based here and (give or take 15 years hence) now. It's based in Florida in a city that's suspiciously like St. Petersburg, where I lived and worked as a private detective for ten odd years (and damn, was they odd!).
The hero is a homicide detective sergeant named Theo Petrakos. And therein lies the focus and point of this blog: writing a real life law enforcement officer. Being a retired PI, you'd think that would be a cake-walk for me.
Not. The two professions may interact (more infrequently than television and movies would have us think) but they operate from totally different perspectives and venues. So in order to write Theo and his department--the Bahia Vista Police Department--I found I needed to do research. A lot of research.
This has slowed my progress on the book enormously because--for one thing--cops don't easily talk about what they do and how they do things (for some very valid security reasons, in many cases). For another, I'm an admitted research junkie. Once I found a website or source that could provide the information I need, it was easy for me to get sidetracked by all the other aspects of what it takes to walk in a cop's boots on a daily basis. Quite honestly, fact--in the case of what many law enforcement officers deal with as part of the job--is far stranger than any fiction I could write (well, almost).
From an author's perspective, that hard part comes with melding the fact with the fiction. I wanted DHZB to have an authentic feel as to what Theo goes through and as to who and what Theo is. But I didn't want it to become a manual of police procedure or homicide investigation. I write--and I say this with all pride--space opera romance or, in this case, space opera police procedural romance. I didn't want to lose my science fiction readers or my romance readers by getting too wrapped up in the methodology of a well-executed chokehold. But I also didn't want any mystery readers who pick up the book to helicopter it because I've ignored the realities of call outs, shift work, the law enforcement chain of command and--most important--the law enforcement mind set.
I tried to approach crafting DHZB in the same manner as I would any of my other books. Let's face it, world building is world building. Whether I'm working with Port Rumor--a totally fictitious city somewhere three left turns past the center of the galaxy--or Bahia Vista, Florida which is in reality St. Pete, I'm still working with maps and charts of where things are. I'm still sketching out interiors of rooms--be they kitchens or starship cabins. I'm still working with characters whose lives have been shaped by their cultural beliefs (and I have to know those cultural beliefs). Gillie in AN ACCIDENTAL GODDESS was Raheiran, raised with spells and chants and who spent a fair amount of time on her butt in a temple. Theo Petrakos is a Greek-American who grew up diving for the cross each January in celebration of the Ephiphany. GABRIEL'S GHOST'S Chaz Bergren grew up on a space station and learned that an upside down beer bottle stuck in a corridor railing meant it was Party Time! Theo grew up playing softball on palm tree-shaded sand lots and skim boarding with friends in the Gulf of Mexico.
Contrary to what you might believe, it has not been easier writing Theo because of the very fact that he is "here", in the sense of a world that you all have been to. None of you can go to Port Rumor unless I take you there. But you can go to Bahia Vista (St. Pete) and then write me a letter and tell me the police station is NOT on Central Avenue--as I have it depicted--but on First. I know that. I turned the building around to face Central because I wanted to. It IS fiction.
Which brings me to another point. I recently received an email from a reader who deemed me "a pretty good writer" considering all the flaws in my books, one of which he stated was the way I structured my militaries, my space fleets. He instructed me to read and study David Weber's Honor Harrington series so that I can learn to improve. News flash: I'm a long time Honor Harrington reader and am well aware that Weber uses the "Horatio Hornblower" military structure for his fleets. Second news flash: my books--save for DHZB--are not Earth-based and the space fleets I construct are not 'far future' extensions of the US, Canadian, French, Chinese, Russian, Horatio Hornblower or any other military on this planet, as Weber's are.
The reality of writing UNreality--to me--is consistency. World building must be consistent WITHIN THE BOOK ITSELF. Not necessarily a duplication of what is Here and Now. If I'm writing a book set in Florida, USA, yes, you will find it to be accurate to your present experience. Though be warned! I will turn the police station around to face the other direction because I want it to. Because it is fiction.
The UNrealities I create are as detailed and researched as the reality of law enforcement procedure I've recently immersed myself in for DHZB. Do I take liberties? Absolutely. But to the best of my abilities--which I'm the first to admit are no where near perfect and never will be--my liberties have consistency. That, to me, is the goal of my world building, whether it be the officer's mess on board the Vaxxar in GAMES OF COMMAND or the interior of an unmarked police car in DHZB.
And the goal of my books? Fun. Plain and simple. I write space opera romance. If it gave you a grin and a giggle, then I'm good to go.
Sunday, January 07, 2007
I can. However, a world without grandmothers doesn't interest me, and it has been done before.
How dysfunctional were the "futuristic" societies of the sort of fiction we studied as "The Moderns" in the 1960's? I remember a rather bleak world view, when infants were incubated outside their mothers' wombs, and brought up in institutions, and segregated according to where on a Greek alphabetical scale their were judged to be in intelligence, physical ability, and career potential.
A bit like ants, really!
I like grandmothers, and family trees, and primogeniture because I think those are great ingredients for a good story, even if it is set in an alien world. When building a new world, I heartily recommend spending the time to draw up a family tree at least going back as far as the great-grandparents.
(But, don't publish dates!)
As it happens, my alien Empire is a little bit dysfunctional... and I can account for that if I wish, by claiming it is because all the protagonists' grandmothers seem to be exiles or fugitives or else they were not emotionally cut out to be our ideal of motherly when motherhood or grandmotherhood was thrust upon them.
When FORCED MATE came out, some readers were uncomfortable with Grandmama Helispeta's formal --ever so formal!-- speech. She never used contractions or abbreviations, and she always addressed other people, even her grandchildren, by their proper given names.
One of my grandmothers used to have a kind way of calling a halt to my childish dramatic, poetic, or vocal performances.
"I think that you have delighted us sufficiently..." she would say.
Another grandmother used similar phraseology to announce that we had eaten enough of her expensive Sunday roast.
"We have had an adequate sufficiency..."
That probably influenced my "Voice" when I attempted to bring Grandmama Helispeta to life. MATING NET was the story of the biggest mistake of her youthful life. It was a short story. One day, maybe there'll be another chapter. Her role is much expanded in Insufficient Mating Material, as she considers it her duty to interfere in her grandson's life.
Have a good week.
Thursday, January 04, 2007
The position he's maintaining is that UFOs, global warming, and the lethal dangers of secondhand smoke, among other beliefs, are all examples of junk science or, more precisely, unsound arguments posing as science in support of an agenda. As far as I have enough information to be entitled to an opinion on the topics he discusses, I disagree with him on most of them. I do agree, of course, that facts shouldn't be distorted for the sake of achieving a political or social goal, no matter how worthy, and I agree that dissenting positions shouldn't be squelched. What I find really interesting about this essay, however, is Crichton's discussion of the hazards of trying to predict the distant future, or even the middle-distant future. He offers the example of transportation in 1900. People in that year who considered the future of urban transportation might have worried about a shortage of horses. They might have worried about an increase in horse-generated pollution as the human population increased. But the vast majority of the city planners of 1900 wouldn't have in any way anticipated the automobile-centered culture of 2000. And even those few who imagined the rise of horseless carriages from toys for hobbyists to necessities for all would never have suspected one of the major social side effects of the automobile—the rise of "dating" as we know it (to replace the earlier custom of a young man "calling on" a young woman in her own home, where she and her family, not he, controlled the interaction).
Doesn't one of Yogi Berra's well-known malapropisms remark that prediction is hard, especially about the future?
That's one reason I don't write far-future fiction and am even leery of setting a story more than a few years in the near future. I've read somewhere that in imagining the near future we expect more drastic change than is realistic and in imagining the distant future we make the opposite error. This principle is borne out, for example, by Robert Heinlein's DOOR INTO SUMMER, published in the 1940s or '50s and set in 1970 and 2000. It envisions a 1970 in which cryogenic suspended animation is commercially available (if only to people with a lot of money) and reliable enough that those who can afford it go into deep freeze in confident expectation of awakening in good health on the exact day they've specified. The year 1970 as we knew it wasn't much like that! And I'm still waiting for the inexpensive, versatile housecleaning robots that exist in this book's 1970. (To date, all we have available are rudimentary robotic disks on wheels that vacuum or scrub floors.)
The very distant future, on the other hand, will probably hold technological wonders as unimaginable to us as nuclear energy was to most people in 1900. Yet, as far as human nature is concerned, I expect the opposite to occur. I've often been exasperated with writers who assume the structure of human society will change just as radically as technology will. Edward Bellamy in LOOKING BACKWARD, written in the late nineteenth century, visualized the world of 2000 as a socialist utopia. Capitalism, war, disease, greed, and corruption, alas, haven't disappeared yet. I get especially annoyed at authors who create advanced spacefaring societies without religion or with no family and marriage customs similar to our own. In the biblical book of Genesis, we find love, marriage, and family relationships we have no trouble recognizing as the direct precursors of those we practice today. In two or three centuries, customs that have already lasted for millennia are going to deconstruct beyond recognition? As for religion, Christianity has lasted for almost two millennia, Judaism four or five, and the great Asian religious systems even longer. A relatively minor change such as interstellar travel is likely to destroy these faiths, after they've survived the transition from an agrarian society through the Industrial Revolution to the age of the Internet?
For the next few months my blogs will become sketchier, because of the Maryland legislative session that begins next week and continues until the middle of April. I will try to surface once a week and post SOMETHING. Happy 2007, everyone!
Wednesday, January 03, 2007
The fighter and his wife looked so good I asked them if they'd be in the book trailer. Lucky for me they said yes. Little did they know they'd have to freeze in cold water and be buffeted by the high winds of a helicopter. Anyway, Circle of Seven agreed to fly in their director. But oh, was I busy. I wanted boats and helicopters and volcanoes in the trailer. I needed, makeup people, costumes, and lots of dirt to put the models in the proper attire. So yeah, I got to smear lots of dirt on the two pro fighters--a tough job, but then you know my publisher likes this promotion stuff. Such a hardship . . .
It was too much location shooting to do in a day, so I asked a friend to shoot some of the scenes ahead of time. Then my fabulous director Joe Grubberman flew in, shot the rest of the trailer, cobbled scenes together, added special effects and music to make it all look professional.
Now, why go to all this trouble? So you will read this, go to my site www.susankearney.com and be so amazed that you next read the free ISLAND HEAT excerpt on my site and buy the book. Better yet, tell your friends about the trailer, because looking is free.
Tuesday, January 02, 2007
Just when you thought your Fiction Delivery system had finally stabilized!
Posted December 29, 2006; see full article at: http://www.sfwa.org/news//2006/amsfiles.htm
Is an item about a huge book distributor filing for Chapter 11 and floating a loan to continue operations normally during the interim. This is Advanced Marketing Services, AMS, which distributes for companies such as quoted from the article, not verified by me, "Random House, which is owed $43.3 million. Simon & Schuster, Penguin and Hachette Book Group are all owed more than $20 million each, while HarperCollins is owed $18 million. The bankruptcy filing includes PGW; among the clients owed money are Rich Publishing ($4.4 million), Avalon Publishing ($2.3 million), New World Library ($1.1 million) and Grove/Atlantic ($1.1 million). "
Those are big publishers, but they can't afford to carry the distributor's debt. This is a financial (and legal) problem at this distributor dating back to 2004.
This Chap 11 filing indicates publishing in general is still melting down -- it's been about 10 years now of serious failures of the fiction delivery system on paper.
However, e-publishers are being founded right and left, though many e-publishers founded around the year 2000 have closed -- some with startling abruptness.
Now you and I know that the SF-Romance crossover story is proliferating -- more and more people are finding it great reading material.
But for a writer to deliver stories to a reader, we need (or do we?) all this advertising, copyediting, editing, printing or formatting, and distributing (or download sites).
More and more it's true that individual authors (who do NOT get the percentage of the sales price to be able to cover the expense) are required to do their own advertising.
As a reader, just how receptive are you to advertising? How do you choose a book to buy?
What behavior have you noted among your friends that might be causing paper-book distributors (and even e-book publishers) to go bankrupt one way or another?
Where is the root cause of this phenomenon? People not reading? Or reading something other than published fiction?
Or is it the $9 pricetag on a paperback that should cost $2? Are e-books overpriced?
Will success come with a cheaper distribution system?
Monday, January 01, 2007
What all that has to do with writing SFR is that it reminded me of a notation made by a reviewer of my Finders Keepers:
“Not for Linnea Sinclair the spiffy, cutting edge man-machine futures of Ken MacLeod, Greg Egan or Charles Stross…” but rather “…this novel is classic space opera, the sort of story in which rough-hewn pilots of either gender chug along space lanes in rickety old ships held together with duct tape…”
Well, yeah. Looked around your house lately? Do you have anything mechanical or electrical that doesn’t work one hundred percent perfectly?
I’m not sure where or why the notion arose that “future tech” means perfect tech. If anything, that kind of environment, to me, smacks of a world building Mary-Sue-ism (and if you don’t know what Mary Sue is in writing, then hop on over to my Yahoo Group where the topic comes up about once a month). Since setting is such an integral part of an SF novel (and an SFR novel), it then, too, should have flaws. A personality. Problems.
Fantasy writers will tell you that magic comes with a price. That is, you can’t have an all powerful magic source or system that does everything for everyone, everywhere. You pay your electric bill monthly to keep your television and toaster functioning. In fantasy, you have to have a magic bill. If a wizard can wave his wand and manifest a castle in a blink of an eye, then he also has to suffer huge migraines after doing so. Or perhaps be required to sacrifice his only child in order to do so. Or bumble through a series of magical missteps as he tries to refine the spell. Magic has a price.
So does technology and part of that price is it doesn’t work—at least, not in my books. Starfreighters are cobbled together with duct tape (quite literally, in Finders Keepers). Lifts break down with alarming regularity on Cirrus One Station in An Accidental Goddess. Weapons jam and plans fail in all my books.
Hey, and your cell phone has never dropped a call?
Failing and funky technology gives your characters a chance to test their mettle, be creative, be resourceful. It also gives your readers a very real point of identification. If you’re reading this then you have a computer, and if you have a computer then I’m 99.9% sure you’ve experienced the Blue Screen of Death (“We Apologize But The Operating System Has Experienced A Fatal Error And Must Shut Down Now—All Your Unsaved Work Will Be Lost…”). So when Trilby Elliot or Chaz Bergren or Jace Serafino suffer the same frustration, you can nod sagely and say, “BTDT. Been There, Done That.” And hopefully, that draws you more into the story.
Neither writing science fiction nor writing romance should mean everything’s perfect—not the protagonists, not the world, not the technology. Kitchen telephone wires short out. Hyperspace drives fail. A mega-million dollar cruise ship with state-of-the-art everything has sucky internet access.
Welcome to my world and my books.
and speaking of technology, let's hope this works:
Games of Command by Linnea Sinclair
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