Saturday, November 28, 2009

Green Avenger is Back


One of my favorite webcomics is actually updating again! About two years ago, I was following the Green Avenger when the character disappeared, then the comic stopped updating.

Well, both the character and the series are back!

Three cheers for Superheroines who look like people! Hips and lips and everything!

Wednesday, November 25, 2009

What it Takes, What it Gives

Josh Vogt at the Examiner noted that NYT-best-selling author Lynn Viehl recently posted her royalty statement and information about what her costs and income were on that book. It's hard to make a living even on the best seller list.

I'd hat tip Vogt, but he posted three links to Viehl's blog (Paperback Writer) and none to the actual statement. Bad Josh, bad. No hat tip.

So, Hat tip Alley, NTSFW.

Noveller - Say What?

Oh, yes, the Onion.

Monday, November 23, 2009

Scott Carter, Warlord of the Internet

Okay, not.

I was poking around on Dean Wesley Smith's blog, and he pointed over to a Scott William Carter post on the subject of Internet Engagement.

He mentions famous folks like Scalzi and Gaiman, and where he thinks they might be relative to, say, himself.

After perusing the scale, I'd say I vibrate in the 3 to 5 zone, depending on the week. In a bad month, maybe a 2.

Hat tip, Dean Wesley Smith.

Neither Fish Nor Fowl, But Tasty...

Phil Rickman posted recently about his problems with developing branding for his unique writing combination - The Spiritual Procedural Genre. He writes novels that are non-cozy non-horror non-romance yes-paranormal yes-suspense fiction with a female vicar protagonist.

It's a fascinating stroll down a successful midlist career, trying to explain what your story isn't to people who desperately want to sell it as something else.

Aprilynne Pike on Firsts

Debut novelist Aprilynne Pike - and I can say that for another couple of months, since the sequel to the wonderful Wings hasn't hit the stores yet - has written an important post recently on the subject of first novels and the goals of a writer.

I had dinner with another friend the other night and about halfway through the conversation, I realized that her goals are not the same as mine were when I was in her position. She falls into the, I would like to see this book in stores, category. And the next realization struck me rather hard. It was that that's okay.


Sure, you can have any goal you want for your writing. Aprilynne lists quite a few she's heard recently. But she also suggests that maybe you want to plan your publication strategies based on that goal.

Most authors tend to spend their careers in the genre they first break out in, and at the level at which they break out at. Bestsellers tend to continue being bestsellers (whether or not it's justified), mid-listers often talk about how hard it is to break out of the mid-list range, and it is surprisingly difficult to move from a small publisher to a big one.


I'd point out those words I italicized above - the genre they first break out in, and at the level at which they break out at. Given the various definitions of "break out", that's almost a tautalogy. When you have built enough of a loyal following at one level, then produce a work so good that it gets them proselytizing on the street, then you break out to the next level.

Obviously, once you're at that level, if you change genres, you've abandoned your audience and have to earn your level again.

It's a great post. Go read it.

Hat tip, Editorial Ass.

Sunday, November 22, 2009

Roundup

Joe Konrath recently posted the utopian version of a kindle's future, complete with advertisements that don't bug anyone. A reader countered with the dystopian version from gnu.

While I was out of touch, Camille Cannon Eide over at Extreme Keyboarding was a finalist in the Mt Hermon/Zondervan First Novel Competition, and signed with a literary agent. Her novel is currently under Extreme Rewrite, which explains her absence from the blog. Get it done and get back, please!

Julie Weathers parades her perfectionism with a philosophy writers can all salute in her iChapters post. Do each chapter so well the readers would pay for that chapter and want the next. Okay, I also think you have to complete enough story arcs (ie novels) that the readers can get a chance to fall in love with you rather than just your beautiful stories. But that's my business background overpowering the artist. It's still an awesome sentiment.

But please remember to print out your "permission to write crap" certificate over at Absolute Write, or you may never finish anything you write.

Friday, November 20, 2009

Vanity versus Vanity Smackdown

Okay, given the title, you can understand that I'm not sure whose side I'm on on this one.

Harlequin decides they want to set up a joint deal with a vanity publisher, and SFWA then declares that all of Harlequin's books are no longer SFWA-eligible.

Ummm, wow.

I'm sorry, but I cannot get behind SFWA on this. It's one thing to say that books published on a pay-to-play basis are ineligible, and it's another to denigrate every author published by any imprint under the Harlequin umbrella. It's the height of hubris. SFWA has clarified that their defenestration of all Harlequin imprints is not retroactive, and that it can be reversed anyway if Harlequin corrects its business model to what SFWA considers professional.

Against the other side, Harlequin is simultaneously using its brand to sell self-publishing, and then NOT branding the resulting slush as Harlequin. That's pretty clearly... well, I can't say fraudulent in the technical, legal sense... but it's kind of a triple bait and switch - first, encourage beginning authors to send their works to your traditional publishing house, second,use your cachet to switch them over to your self-publishing house, and third, don't let them even use the cachet you sold them. See Jackie Kessler's analysis here.

Oh, I did think up a great and truthful marketing slogan for the joint venture: "Horizon: the place where you never arrive".

Thursday, November 19, 2009

What a Fun Study

Okay, so four female scientists walk into a bar. Later, they applied for a grant to find out why no one would buy them a drink...

Well, I don't know that it happened that way, but there are signs in this article in the Telegraph that the female scientists need to interview some males.

It turns out that combining 40% bareness, tight clothing and provocative dancing gets the most guys to approach you. Less clothes than that gets less attention from the guys.

The female scientists jumped to the conclusion that more than 40% bare is a signal for "general availability and future infidelity". I have to snicker at that, because it assumes that men approaching women at a dance club are looking for permanent monogamous relationships rather than "general availability" or - ahem - a dance? Not what I would call a "scientific assumption", given what I remember about club-hopping guys from my younger days.

I would put forward two other hypotheses to be tested - first, that women who cover 60% of their bodies with tight clothes are more selective about presenting their assets than those who let half or more hang out. Second, that the most powerfully attractive thing about a woman is often the part that the man imagines.

Racquel Welch was a sex star for decades without uncovering more than that 40% number. Okay, there were a few swimsuit scenes, but more often she was wearing full scuba gear and the guy only lowered her zipper four inches. She'll always have a perfect body to all her male audience.

This post also relates to writing... Ansen Dibell, in his excellent book Plot (in the Elements of Fiction Writing Series) noted that "[t]he monster you imagine, as a reader, is much more frightening than the monster you see."

Be sure to cover up that 60% or more and let the reader imagine the scariness of the monster, the sexiness of the hottie, the honor of the hero. Of course, make sure you understand and meet your audience's needs and expectations. If you're writing for midgrade, you need to spell things out a little more than for an adult audience.

If you're writing erotica, you spell out other things.

Tuesday, November 17, 2009

Firsts and Firsts and not being boring

Over at the Kill Zone, James Scott Bell has written an awesome post on first person writing and first chapters,

But what if you introduce yourself to the guy and he says, "Did you avoid the cops outside?"

You look confused.

"Because I got stopped by a cop right out there on the street. He tells me to hit the sidewalk, face down, and then proceeds to kick me in the ribs. I say, 'There's been a mistake.' He gets down in my face and says, 'You're the mistake. I'm the correction.'"

What are you thinking then? Either: Am I talking to a criminal? Or, What happened to this poor guy?

What your reaction isn't is bored.


Check it out.

Saturday, November 14, 2009

Sexsomnia

Okay, so different countries have different judicial systems, right.

So, in Canada six years ago, this guy takes some drugs and drinks a bunch, goes into a woman's room and has sex with her while she's asleep. She wakes up and says, "Who are you and what are you doing?"

He says, "Jan?" Ooops, wrong room.

The Canadian justice system says, well, he didn't know he was committing a crime, so no crime. Also, he's not crazy, so no psychiatric supervision.

The Globe and Mail reports that the victim read a statement to the Ontario Review Board overseeing the case, and that the board said she was brave for doing so, but the report doesn't say whether her statement was in favor or against the rapist's release.

Well, okay then.

Friday, November 13, 2009

Definitions of Well Written

Over on Mysterious Matters about a month ago, Agatho (?) has published a few great tips on what "Well Written" might mean. And he has them well in order, from the things that almost everyone will agree bother them, to the things that are nice-to-have. I can't say that number 8 (a sense that the author is an interesting person whom I would like to meet) has ever been high on my list for novels, unless you count first-person-viewpoint-characters as "the author".

Since one of Agatho's points was about sentence variety, here's a quick pointer back to Alex Moore's discussion of that subject.

For another definition of well written, Alicia Rasley at Editorrent has just posted a "Quick Turning Points Schema" which summarizes the reversal points in the standard three-act story (such as a screenplay). Call it classic or call it cookbook, but it's something to measure against, and it works.

Editorrent does miss a few beats in the standard screenplay. For example, where she puts the initiating event, there are often two points in a screenplay - the first "Inciting Event", where the person finds out *what* they need to do, and the second "Plot Point One" where they decide *how* they need to do that. The *how* is usually modified at the "Reversal Point" halfway through the story. Examples from Ehow, better fiction and Lost Zombies Film School.

Wednesday, November 11, 2009

Punk Dino Starts a Trend



Over at National Geographic, they are reporting on what appears to be the great uncle of a brontosaur. Aardonyx stood on two legs, but was adapted to walk on four.

Theres's also another sauropod (picture to the right) that wears a mohawk. The punk dino is Amargasaurus.

Update 14 Nov - Here's another article, this one from Canada's newspaper The Globe and Mail, about Aardonyx.

Tuesday, November 10, 2009

Random Use of Candles

Literal video version of Bonnie Tyler's version of "Total Eclipse of the Heart".

Watch out for the dancing ninjas, Eva Peron and the Arthur Fonzarelli clones. C'mon, you want to see it. It's like a surrealist emo version of "Village of the Damned"...



Hat tip, Jill Wheeler.

Amber Argyle can write

I've been meaning to point out a great post by Amber Argyle for a while. She goes over a few of her least favorite things that amateur writers do.


Amber Argyle also recently posted on synopses/summaries.

In essence, you are boiling down 80K words to a .5-1k summary, which means you have to focus on a single character and the major plot, and only include any subplots that are needed to make the story make sense. Another great tip, I believe from the reply posts, is to leave out names in the synopsis-- label people by their relationship to the protagonist or their profession.

Friday, November 6, 2009

Plot Driven Vs Character Driven

Interesting discussion over on edittorrent about Plot Driven vs Character Driven stories. I found their take on the "difference" between how the words are used in the literary world versus the romance world was fascinating.

Look at these definitions -

Character-driven: When something about the character's essential self leads to a particular action or event in the story.

Plot-driven: When a character takes a particular action so that the result is a particular plot point.


Honestly, even in an action movie, there is something internal about a character that makes him take whatever actions he takes. The failure, I believe, in edittorrent's way of looking at plot and character, is that it assumes something about the author's intentions, as opposed to the actual work produced. It also assumes that "plot" means there is a fixed endpoint the author is trying to get to, whereas "character" has some open vista of exploration of the characters.

Ummm. That ain't the way I write, or anybody I know.

In fact, if you go to Damon Knight's Creating Short Fiction, it's more a process of narrowing the possible plot based upon "what's the worst thing I can do to this character?" and narrowing the character based upon "who's the worst person this could happen to?" Except that I can't find it in that book.

Aargh. Where is it???!

Perhaps Orson Scott Card's Characters & Viewpoint?

Yes! Page 23.

I only had to check nine books to find it. And in the process I ran across something relevant in Sol Stein's Stein on Writing. He points out the obvious truth that the key to a reader's interest is giving the character a strong need and then thwarting it. The need is the character-driven part, the single need, the thwarting and his attempts to overcome the thwarting are the plot part.

My take: if the need is something external, like stopping a terrorist from blowing up the next bomb, you end up with a plot-driven piece. If events cause other events, willy-nilly, without input from the characters, you have a plot-driven piece. If the need is getting Mom to stop ... doing something annoying ... then you have a character-driven piece. If the events have no real relationship to each other, except that they happen mostly in sequence to the same people, then you have a character-driven piece.

But in either type, you'd better have a lot of the other, or the middle third of your audience will get bored to tears.

Disturbing Animals

Okay, as long as I showed you the vaguely disturbing photos of a bear that seems to have started molting into either a kangaroo or an elephant, I might as well let you in for something else disturbing: a ray-gun packing shrimp.

No, I'm not kidding.

How Writers Write

The Wall Street Journal's Weekend Journal just printed an article by Alexandra Alter about how several award-winning literary writers write. Margaret Atwood, Richard Powers, Anne Rice -- and a lot of writers that Spec fiction readers won't have heard of -- are represented in sidebars. (Well, they're sidebars in the print version, they're inline in the online version.)

Hat tip, my lovely wife Gail, who handed me the print version!

Thursday, November 5, 2009

Can you Bear seeing a Bare Bear?


Over in Germany, some South American bears are having a little problem with their winter coats - they don't have any! It's a pretty punk look, with just a bit of fuzz on the head and bare wrinkles everywhere else.

The reporter quotes "some experts" as thinking it may be some kind of genetic condition, because, well, just because. More likely they have either a diet or pest/disease issue, since it's affecting only the female bears, and all of them.

But if you've ever wondered what a bare bear would look like, go there.

Wednesday, November 4, 2009

Billy Steadman 2 On The Way


The saga of poor Billy Steadman and his dragon-western adventures began in "Billy Steadman, the Dragon and the Virgin Bride", which appeared in last years' Strange Worlds of Lunacy Anthology from Cyberaliens Press. The story begins when the stagecoach Billy is riding gets attacked by a pregnant dragon, and, well, it just goes on from there...


Now, the second installment, "Billy Steadman, the Dragon and the Fishing Hole" follows Billy starting a few months down the road, when he'd like to get out of the house and get some distance from his new bride, to do some thinking. That's not really something Billy's good at, but he's sure as heck going to try. But first, he needs to stop at the outhouse....

"Fishing Hole" was accepted a while back, has now received its final polish and is off to the editor for inclusion in Cyberaliens Press's upcoming Silly Western anthology. Because nothing western could be sillier than dragons and outhouses and smartass horses with leather shoes.

Monday, October 12, 2009

FTC what?

Okay, so the FTC, which doesn't apparently care about real advertisements, is trying to make it so that endorsements on the net are easier to believe.

So according to wired, the FTC is threatening to fine any blogger who does a review after getting a freebie and fails to disclose the fact.

The FTC says that the established media have established credibility, and so are not subject to the rule.

Ummm. Wow.

There really ought to be a punch line, but I'm too flabbergasted at the illogic.

Update November 5 2009 - Colleen Lindsay at The Swivet has now posted a wonderful disclaimer, which I now adopt. Paul Neuhardt's disclaimer starts like this:
DISCLAIMER: Be it known by all here reading that the following may or may not be the case in any given book review I post:

1. If I talk about a book, I might have gotten it for free from someone with a vested interest in the success of that book. On the other hand, I might have found it abandoned in the seat pocket in front of me during my last plane trip. I’ll try to let you know on a case by case basis.


Click through to The Swivet to see the whole thing.

Sunday, September 6, 2009

Redneck Noir

All right, so this author, the queen of redneck noir goes out and shoots her father in the butt.

And the Michigan police claim she was aiming to kill.

What else need I say?

Hat tip, Pub Rants, who says that not all publicity is good publicity. Wanna bet?

Confidence

So, I've been fighting this left-brain/right-brain battle for a few months, and I've finally gotten back the attitude that writing is more important than method of writing.

Okay, so I'm writing again, and maybe a little blogging as well.

I just found a little item on confidence by Murderati author Toni McGee Causey.

I have to agree that confidence accounts for a lot in writing. Which is one of the reason that the "show not tell" maxim is poisonous to young authors. Honestly, do you think Neil Gaiman has a problem with telling? If he wants to tell, he tells. And he does it with confidence, style, and masterful language.


Hat tip, Janet Reid.

Monday, August 3, 2009

Write or Die

Okay, so life has been a bit busy lately, but I just managed to find something that might help me get some draft writing done.

A truly evil tool, over at Dr Wicked's

Hat tip, Bad Language

Monday, July 27, 2009

When I grow Up I want to be...

...the funny and fabulous Rosemary Clement-Moore!

An absolutely awesome writer who had the chops this year to take the RITA for Best YA novel, for Hell Week, which I reviewed here! If you haven't bought it yet, go buy it, for gosh sakes. Well, start with Prom Dates from Hell.

Oh, and if you pop over to her LJ blog, check out the LOLdog from July 24th. Haz a happy. Check.

There's a picture of her and the other two finalists here.

Gosh, I go to s/l/e/e/p meditate for a couple of m/o/n/t/h/s weeks and great things happen and nobody tells me. Sheesh. Well, I'm busy protecting everyone on the astral plane and doing other bitchin psychic stuff.

Tell ya later.

Tuesday, July 7, 2009

The Return of Secret Squirrel

And the cop said, "Is that a squirrel in your cleavage or are you just happy to see me?"

You just have to see it. AOL news.

Hat tip, James Taranto, Best of the Web Today, July 7 2009

Tuesday, June 30, 2009

Clarion graduate Shawn Scarber Deggans sent NTSFW a link to Writer J. Steven York's post about how to be a bad agent.

Seems it takes very little.


Shawn also posted on his website an official copy - excuse me, uncontrolled copy - of his company's official zombie attack preparedness plan.

Monday, June 15, 2009

Han Solo, P.I.

Over at Door Number Six, Rob Rogers has pointed out the title credits for the TV series "Han Solo, P.I.", complete with Magnum P.I. theme music. It's amazing how late-seventies it looks. Oh, yeah. It was.

Brilliant.

Thanks for the tip, Rob.

By the way, when's your next book coming out, hint hint?

Thursday, June 4, 2009

In Praise of Fantasy

Over on the Literary Lab, Tara Maya has posted a wonderful apologia [defense/explanation] of the Fantasy genre, specifically Epic Fantasy.

There is also such a thing as fantasy written for adults however, although even this is often mistakenly foisted on children. For instance, I read The Last Unicorn in Middle School, and didn't much care for it, except I liked the cartoon version of the unicorn girl, because she was pretty and angsty. Not until many years later did I re-read the classic and realize it wasn't a children's story at all, nor a coming-of-age story as so many epic fantasies are, but a coming-of-middle-age story.


Read it all here.

Sunday, May 31, 2009

Strawberry Patch in the Clarity of Night

Sorry I haven't posted lately. This one is worth the wait, if you haven't ever been there before.

There's a yummy little blog that I browse occasionally, called The Clarity of Night. Author Jason Evans takes pictures and writes brief stories based upon some aspect of them.

Here's a mystery about a "Strawberry Patch".

Enjoy.

Tuesday, May 19, 2009

Zombies, Canadians, and other surreal things

I'm not sure precisely what to make of Kelly Link, but it's certainly entertaining to try to make something sensible of her. Here's a link to "The Hortlak" online, one of the surreal short stories in her Magic for Beginners book, now available for free download from the same page.


The zombies were like Canadians, in that they looked enough like real people at first, to fool you. But when you looked closer, you saw they were from some other place, where things were different: where even the same things, the things that went on everywhere, were just a little bit different.

...

Maybe his friend Dave had been telling the truth and there was a
country down there that you could visit, just like Canada. Maybe when the zombies got all the way to the bottom, they got into zippy zombie cars and drove off to their zombie jobs, or back home again, to their sexy zombie wives, or maybe they went off to the zombie bank to make their deposits of stones, leaves, linty, birdsnesty tangles, all the other debris real people didn’t know the value of.


Go visit, see if you might like her stuff. Enough people did to give her short stories three Nebulas, a Hugo, and a World Fantasy Award.

Tuesday, May 12, 2009

Professional Authors and Gateway Standards

Randy Ingermanson has some interesting things to say about writers. He divides pre-published writers -- most of us at NTSFW -- into peer groups like a high school: Freshman, Sophomores, Juniors and Seniors.

Seniors are people who
A) regularly write luminous prose,
B) have developed many contacts in the industry,
C) continually write and send excellent queries and/or book proposals,
D) regularly are requested for sample pages,
E) often get encouraging rejection letters from agents and editors,
and so on.

They are operating on all cylinders as a near-pro writer, but are still unpublished. Seniors are also frustrated beyond belief.

For Juniors, the above adjectives and adverbs become less superlative, and for Sophomores, they become pretty spotty. Let's not talk about Freshmen.

Honestly applying the above standard criteria, I believe that most of us in NTSFW are Sophomores and Juniors. Despite now getting paid for ghost writing, and having a novel under contract, I consider myself a Junior who is concentrating on becoming a Senior.

The standard of work for a Senior to graduate to professionally published author is higher than the standard of work for a professional author to continue publishing. This is a gateway standard, not really a double standard, because you only have to meet it once. It may seem painful when you are on this side of it, but you'll be quite glad for it once you have earned your way through the gate.

* * *

Why does the gateway exist? At least three practical reasons.

First, your first published novel has no time requirement. You literally have no deadline, so you can make it as perfect as your ability allows. Everything you write after that will have deadlines, and will have to be just good enough.

Second, there's the obvious matter of name recognition-- to be a good risk for publication, a novel by a nobody has to be better than a novel by a known person, who a certain number of prior readers will buy on the strength of the prior book. (Actually, psychology shows that on average they will actually *enjoy* the book more when it is by an author that they already enjoy than if the same work were written by an unknown. One of the various psychological "priming" effects.)

Third, closely related to the second-- as you gain a track record, you will have more leverage to keep the "darlings" that you really should have killed, if you had possessed enough sense to take the excellent advice of your agent and editor. Your work will not be improved as much in the editing process. Do you suppose anyone says "no" to Stephen King?

So, there are a number of reasons that professionals might be able to publish a product that a first-time novelist cannot. And all of them make sense, no matter how painful they are to first-timers like us.

* * *

But there's another major factor involved. Perceptual bias on the part of the writer-reader. Writers are the harshest critics, especially those of us who are learning to write, and trying to develop a particular set of workable rules for our own writing.

We are so busy training ourselves to not make certain so-called "mistakes" of writing, that we diminish our enjoyment of alternative forms. In essence, we judge a work by the "mode" that we are attempting to learn to write, rather than evaluating it on its own terms.

Take a painting as a metaphor. Looking at a French Impressionist masterpiece, we could evaluate it as a incompetent piece from the POV of classical photorealism, horrible from the POV of cubism, and/or pedestrian from the POV of surrealism. And it is.

So what?

Honestly, I tried to reread Mark Twain's Huckleberry Finn last year, and couldn't get a dozen pages due to the excessive use of misspellings to represent dialect. This is a book I absolutely loved as a boy, and can't bring myself to read now.

Likewise, I only managed to get about halfway through Susanna Clarke's Johnathan Strange and Mr Norell, which won the 2005 Hugo award. There was a plot there, and a fascinating universe, but I kept waiting for the *story* to begin. Because of my training as a writer, I wanted to connect to some particular character, rather than bouncing around the universe observing things occurring to a range of people, from a distance. The novel's style was modeled after a Regency (Jane Austin-type), but with scholarly footnotes that led ever deeper into the lore of Clarke's world. Readers and Hugo voters loved it. Someday, I might untrain myself so I can love it too. But not today.

How does this apply to us as "junior" and "senior" writers?

Remember that the rules we are taught have limited applicability. (Although we may not be aware of the exact limits.) They describe one particular mode of writing.

Remember that the vast majority of all things written and published do *not* belong to that particular mode which is being vaunted.

Remember that awards are won by those who create their own mode, not by those deciding to slavishly adhere to a mode designed by others.

Remember to read widely, especially among acclaimed books, to diversify your repetoir, to stretch your abilities, and to find new things that are fun for you.

Remember to read as a reader first, to experience the effect of a work, THEN go back and read as a writer to find out how that effect was achieved. Don't dissect the dog until you're done playing "fetch".

Pay attention to how all the parts work together. What did the writer gain by violating your standard rules? What did she lose? What other adaptations was she forced to make, and how did they work together?

And above all...

Feel free to abandon a work if you are not enjoying it, even if it IS famous. Life's too short to read bad books.

Wonderful Interviews on Vision

Are you a Pantser or a Plotter?

Vision magazine has a series of interviews with various authors about how they build their stories.

Fun reading.

Thursday, May 7, 2009

New Review up : Hell Week by Rosemary Clement-Moore

It just occurred to me that I didn't cross-link here my April 18 review of Rosemary Clement-Moore's Hell Week.

Drat.

Pull Quote:

In Hell Week, the second installment of Rosemary Clement-Moore's Girl Vs Evil series, aspiring girl reporter Maggie Quinn begins attending the local college in Avalon. Her sixth sense, barely acknowledged by Maggie in the wonderful Prom Dates from Hell, is now giving her strong warnings that all is not well in Avalon's Greek Row. (As if it took witchcraft to know that there was something scary there.)


Read it all here.

Wednesday, May 6, 2009

New Review Up: Peter and the Starcatchers by Dave Barry and Ridley Pearson

I just posted a new review for the book Peter and the Starcatchers over at Abandoned Towers.

It's the first in a series of books by Dave Barry and Ridley Pearson that build an unauthorized prequel to J.M. Barrie's Peter Pan and Wendy, the 1911 source for Disney's 1952 Peter Pan character.

Here's the lede:

Orphaned kids, Pirate ships with huge brassieres for sails, near escapes, giant flying crocodiles, shipwrecks, mermaids with sharp teeth, massive storms, belch humor, talking porpoises, and bashing the bad guys with coconuts.

What more could you ask?


And don't forget --

"Pirates. It's a good thing they're idjits."

Tuesday, May 5, 2009

Wings is out!!!


Aprilynne Pike's debut novel Wings is now available on aisle three.

I've only read the first bits of it, so I can't do a review yet, but you can sample it yourself on HarperCollins' "Browse Inside" feature.

I'm looking forward to my own copy.

Friday, May 1, 2009

Want to Smell Something?

I don't normally talk about my personal life on this blog, but I thought I'd share this moment:

"Want to smell something really good?" asked my 9-year-old son, Alexander, as we were waiting in line at Sonic this morning.

"Sure." I thought it was going to be some food or candy or nuts... this week he's started packing his own lunch because his parents apparently don't know how.

Alexander fiddled with his backpack for a moment and then pulled out his brand new copy of Charlotte's Web, which they're reading in class. He fanned the pages under his nose and inhaled -- "Mmmmmmmmmmmm" -- then passed it to me.

I smelled it. Mmmmmmmmm. Gentle smell of cheap pulp paper and cheap ink. Not exactly like a fresh copy of F&SF when I was twelve, but close. Very close.

There's a saying: The apple doesn't fall far from the tree. Such are the moments of being a parent.

Tuesday, April 28, 2009

Playing with Another Person's Preciousssss

Wow.

When fans get up to putting together their own unauthorized high-quality movie, what do you say?

hunt for gollum image


On the one hand, it's too cool to believe. On the other hand, letting it happen uncontested might lead to a plague of really bad things, such as, oh, Russet Noon, the unauthorized off-off-off-Broadway musical based upon the unauthorized screen adaptation of the unauthorized homage novel...

It burnsss, my precioussssss!

Monday, April 20, 2009

Liars, Agency, and the Passive Voice

The passive voice -- and the related issue of fuzzy agency -- has some interesting features regarding its effect on the reader. But first, let me make sure to define my terms.

When grammarians say "passive voice", they are generally referring to a sentence in which the subject of the sentence is the object of the action of the verb.

I was hit by the ball John threw.


On the other hand, there is another class of sentences where causation is just plain fuzzy. The agent is missing.

The cup broke.


In some languages, that's just the way the verb "broke" works -- or worse, the agent himself can be held to be the victim of the broken cup. The sentence "I broke the cup", when translated properly to Spanish and literally back, returns as "The cup broke itself at me"!

In English, the agentless sentence "the cup broke" is acceptable, but problematic. When spoken by a person who was there, without further context, that sentence implies that the speaker is intentionally dropping information about the "agent", the person who broke the cup. The omission is likely to be a passive lie.

In addition, that type of switch can flag an active lie. Active liars have a tendency to disassociate from the part of the story that they invented, so that things just happened, rather than being done or directly experienced by the liar.

On the other hand, when the speaker was not personally there, there is no such implication in a sentence exhibiting lack of agency. When I say that the gas main broke downtown, or that a bomb was dropped on Hiroshima, there is no reason to infer that I was the one that broke teh main or dropped the bomb. This lack of agency is common in historical writing, especially where the identity of the actual agent is not clear from the record. One does not know, for example, whether it was Ronald Reagan personally or one of his staffers who came up with the Solomon's solution in the following anecdote -

In February of 1982 a Christian protester named Mitch Snyder began a fast to protest the naming of a nuclear submarine "Corpus Christi" - Latin for "Body of Christ". Of course, the name was chosen by following the pattern of naming submarines after U.S. seaports, not as an affront to any particular religion; the U.S. Department of the Navy refused to change the name for over 40 days and 40 nights. Snyder was becoming weaker all the time. Eventually, the word came down from the office of President Reagan - the name of the submarine had been changed. It was now, "City of Corpus Christi".


Some fiction writers object to the use of this fuzzy agency in narrative summary, since it reminds them of what liars do. My suggestion for other writers is to be careful about your method of switching focus, so as not to trigger this association. If you are keeping tight focus on a particular person's POV when you are writing your scenes, then make sure to present your summaries from that same POV, as modified by the time and space element involved. If the POV character knew the agency of the act, then include that information, but only if it doesn't overcomplicate getting your reader from scene A to scene B. Definitely do not include information in narrative summary that your POV character couldn't have known across the time and place of the summary.

On the other hand, if you are writing primarily in an omniscient style, just be consistent in your practice.

Hat tip for advancing the subject, Tricia of NTSFW.

Saturday, April 18, 2009

Keeping Them Straight

I've been trying to figure out how certain authors can introduce loads of characters and have the reader keep them all straight, while other authors produce characters that all run together, despite having different names and backgrounds. I have managed to come up with a few guidelines for discussion.

1) People can hold only 3-4 facts at a time in their head. So one strategy is to introduce your characters in small constellations.

In Prom Dates from Hell, Rosemary Clement-Moore introduces six people, the "Jocks and Jennifers", together as a unit, with one queen Jennifer and two sidekick Jennifers. They are defined by their relation to the group, and only later do they receive more differentiation.

On the other hand, in Hell Week, Clement-Moore introduces several (7?) sorority rush characters at the same time, naturally all female, and there's never enough face time to get them all descrambled. (This can work on the movie screen, since you can give visual tags and nobody cares what the actual name of the Die Hard terrorist in cowboy boots is.)

2) Give your characters tags, especially constellation tags.

A tag can be a relationship, a hobby, a visual cue, a consistent metaphor... literally anything that allows the reader to track the character. Thus, the three Jennifers in PDFH were Jennifer "Major" (Queen Bee), Jennifer "Minor" (sycophant) and Jennifer "Thespia" (actress). Jennifer Major is introduced in action in the first few pages, leading the female Jocks and Jennifers. Thespia is introduced -- where else? -- at stage practice. And so on.

The tag can initially be based upon the constellation that you used to introduce the character, especially where there are "natural" tags in that group. A small family has one father, one mother and one or two children, and no one will have trouble keeping them straight if the children are at all different in temperament or gender. A work group has a boss, perhaps a "kid" or "new guy", perhaps one character with some other special attribute (secretary, bruiser, the lone girl). A schoolroom has a teacher, principal, bright student, class clown...

Are these cliches? More like archetypes. Calling the concept of "father" a cliche is like saying the rules of physics or biology are cliche. Use the known psychology of the reader, to make life easier on the reader. It's your job.

3) Introduce important characters in characteristic action -- action related to their tags.

In Cold Fire, book 3 of her Circle Opens quartet, Tamora Pierce introduces twin characters one at a time, the first in a skating scene, the second cooking. She then goes on in the next scene to introduce the fire-fighting hero-antagonist of the book, giving him a major scene to himself as he rescues two children from a burning building.

On the other hand, the family of the twins is introduced as a group (father/mother/other kids/servants) by their relationships to the established characters.

4) Reserve each tag to that one character.

If your tag for one similar character is "actress", then you can never ever ever allow another similar character to be seen acting. If your tag is "choppy hair" then that had better not be a common style, and you had better not mess with that hairstyle until your reader is so familiar with the character that the reader would recognize the character blindfolded and dipped in butter sauce.

5) Reintroduce the character with the same tag in a similar context.

Whenever the character reappears, float that tag either explicitly or implicitly. Don't hesitate to parade the tag, but you can be subtle as time goes on. You don't have to say "bruiser", you can show him muscling open a coke machine. You don't have to have the whole constellation there, just at least one other person from it, or an object that will evoke it.

6) Reintroduce the character with the same tag in a different context.

If you can successfully put the individual character in a different context, and the reader can track his identity, then you have successfully created a character that is differentiated in the reader's mind.

Friday, April 17, 2009

Passive Voice Education

IN HONOR OF STRUNK AND WHITE:

Many notes are posted around the Internet about the passive voice, half of them about how the passive voice should always be avoided, and the other half about how the first half should be taught exactly what "passive voice" means.

In the 1970's, educators were convinced that they should use a philosophy -- one hesitates to say "methodology" -- called "natural language instruction". These educators congratulated themselves on their sophistication, but many failures occurred as a result of those teaching methods. Students who did not take foreign language instruction were trained improperly, if at all, in the subject of grammar. There followed a corresponding increase in lack of knowledge about the passive voice, and about other grammatical concepts.

Nevertheless, many of the omitted grammatical terms and concepts are admittedly overcomplicated and beyond the needs of typical Americans. As with psychological terms, words having to do with the simpler grammatical concepts are stretched to uses beyond their actual denotations, to cover conditions that may have different technical terms but a similar "flavor". This extension of concepts beyond their defined bounds is found useful by many people.

With this convenient extension, the necessity of learning terms such as "mediopassive" and "stative", which are useless to the majority of people, is avoided.

POP QUIZ - how many of those sentences are technically "Passive voice"? Show your work in the comments!

Tuesday, April 14, 2009

Stephen King and Unnecessary Words

Debra L Schubert's recently posted (here and here) about Stephen King's On Writing, an interesting book to struggle with, and one from which I have already posted a short excerpt over on White Flow
.

Here's one of the key ideas she pulled out:

7) Eliminate ALL unnecessary words. Seriously, all of them. This is different than "Kill your darlings" (which SK did NOT pen, btw). This refers more to the excess words we writers place in sentences because we're so darn smart, lazy and enamored with description.


This idea is very dangerous if you misunderstand it. Sure, eliminate words that don't do anything. Pay close attention to intensifiers like "very" and "excessively", which often weaken the construction of the sentence they are in. Pay attention to meaningless verbal tics, to avoid... like... extra STUFF... that... like... slows down the STORY.

On the other hand, look at popular authors like George R.R. Martin and J.K. Rowling -- and, ahem, Stephen King -- and tell me, please tell me, that there are no words that an editor could cut if she wanted to...? Tell me that every single word and paragraph is there in service to the story...?

It just ain't so. Words do not merely impart meaning. They also add to cadence, to flow, to the sound of the sentence in our mental ears, to meter, to flavor. So-called extra words can be useful to calm the pacing during a reaction scene, or to give a sensation of floating to the reader.

WORDS DO THINGS!

Words are exceedingly delicious. Make your sentences tempting, not just "sufficient".

Hat tip Spy Scribbler.


Oh, King also made a dubious differentiation between plot and story. Which, I believe, is a factor in why his novels are so long.

Monday, April 13, 2009

Is the term "Appendage Furloughing" pulling your leg?

Satirist Joe Queenan on the Wall Street Journal Online reports that the world is following President Obama in abandoning the fierce rhetoric of the Bush era in favor of kinder, gentler terminology.

Yet, if the intention of the Obama administration is to tone down the confrontational rhetoric being used by our enemies, the effort is already reaping results. This week, in a pronounced shift from its usual theatrical style, the Taliban announced that it will no longer refer to its favorite method of murder as "beheadings," but will henceforth employ the expression "cephalic attrition"...


Read the whole thing here.

When an offer is not enough

It's important to realize, and then to remember, that there are a lot of factors to the business of writing and publishing.

Agent Janet Reid points out that even having a (small) offer in hand might not make it worth an agent's time to take you on.

Just about any agent blog will tell you that the agent has to truly love your work before he/she will commit to taking you on as a client. An agent is committing to a relationship based upon your future career; the first sale is just the beginning of the relationship.

Nerd Boys Don't Sparkle in the Sunshine...

A while back I noticed a link on Stacy Whitman's Grimoire to a video by John Green called "How to Make Boys Like You"

Here's the Youtube video -


Have to admit he's dead on with the stuff about Warcraft and being yourself.

Although I do believe that "being yourself" works for some values of "yourself".

Tuesday, April 7, 2009

And there was much rejoicing!!!

Realms of Fantasy Lives!!!!

Apparently Warren Lapine (Tir Na Nog Press) has purchased the [insert a dozen superlative adjectives then delete them] magazine from Summit and plans to revive it, editors and all!

Here's the month-old news on SFScope, Locus, and realmsoffantasymag.com

Locus also points to this comprehensive Q&A posted over on Slushmaster.

Hat tip, Gerald Warfield!

Beginnings and Hooks

Okay, so sometimes I come across a new blog I love and have to run back through entry after entry of great stuff. Tara Maya writes about different ways of beginning your novels - Relay versus Marathon.

This is a great way of looking at "story" in the novel form. Clearly, your initial hook does not have to be the driver of the whole plot. It can be. For example, in Naomi Novik's first Temeraire book, His Majesty's Dragon (HMD), the story begins with the capture of a French ship, and discovery of the dragon egg which will hatch into Temeraire. This is the seminal event in the major arc of the book. It is also the moment when the main character's status quo ante (prior life) is destroyed. This is the Marathon method.

On the other hand, in C.C. Finlay's The Patriot Witch (PW), the story begins with a lesser hook - the main character, Proctor Brown, is a farmer and a minuteman, and is hoping to court the daughter of a loyalist businessman. The first chapter consists of Brown attempting to press his suit, while the historical and alter-historical elements of the American revolution put themselves in place to interfere with Brown's hopes and plans. He wants this marriage badly, and is dropped into dramatic situations that require him to make tough decisions. Shortly, he turns to having worse problems, then worse again. This is the Relay method.

Of course, it could be argued as well that HMD is an episodic novel rather than a single arc, with new mini-goals for the captain-and-dragon team popping up every fifty pages, and so it could be looked at as a different kind of marathon. But the major question of the novel HMD is not "how will the dragon beat X" where X is whatever plot issue is in front of Laurence and Temeraire, but "how will Laurence (and Temeraire) find a place to fit in?".

The key here, to making the Relay work, is to make sure that your initial hook is closely related to your overall arc. This could be thematically, or um, plotfully, if that could stand for the word I don't have.

Basically, make sure that the initial hook contains elements that are equivalent or analogous to similar elements in the full book. In the case of PW, the initial hook for Proctor Brown contains the exact elements (colonist versus loyalist, hidden magic) and at least one of the same antagonists (Major Pitcairn and his men). Thus, if the reader buys into the initial hook, they will happily transfer to the new hook when the story becomes larger.

Human Strangeness, Antwerp Style

Linked from Tara Maya's Tales, comes this YouTube moment of Perfect Human Strangeness in Antwerp's (Belgium) Central Station. I'd really like to see one of these things live, although I'd probably end up dancing along, one way or another...



On seeing these, I always wonder how many regular people joined in. The camera work seems to show it happening, but due to the complicated choreography it doesn't seem likely that true "instant joiners" could have stayed in sync with the rest.

I sure would like to believe they did, though. That's part of the joy of the thing.

Wednesday, April 1, 2009

Revenge of the Dreaded Spaghetti Weevil

Via Terry's Place, for your April 1 enjoyment, a Panorama documentary from 1957 about the Swiss Spaghetti harvest:



Actually, 1957 was a good year for the crop, due to the low incidence of spaghetti weevils.

Sunday, March 29, 2009

How to Win the Russet Noon Lawsuit

Full Title: How to win the Russet Noon Lawsuit and make a Million Zillion Dollars

The latest bit in the Russet Noon Saga seems to be that the author of that particular apparently-infringing work (note I'm going legal here?) is considering putting it up in installments on her blog. Now, since any traffic would make her some money, it still doesn't fall into the realm of fair use and she still can end up paying Meyers (or any other copyright holder) all her profit, plus penalties.

It occured to me, after Lady Sybilla dropped by, that there is a single escape clause at this moment. Parody.

Because the actual work has not been unveiled, only a number of really heavy-handed promo pieces, that the whole thing could still be played for laughs. This will result in death threats, of course, but it can still be quite profitable.

Here's what I'd do, if I found out that my wife was suffering from split personalities and had just produced Meyer fanfic under the name "Lady Sybilla". I assure you that this is NOT the case, but go with me here.


  1. I would continue the promotional acts in progress, writing-oblivious-press-releases, hiring-actors, and other items designed to bullbait the Meyer / Little Brown / Summit (MLBS) right holding groups.

  2. I would act for the next three months in all ways as if the original serious fanfic novel was going to come out on schedule in some way.

  3. I would quickly rewrite the story with the following two changes - 1) every bad habit Meyer has as a writer would be exaggerated, and 2) all the characters would be vegetables, primarily potatoes: Sparkly vampire potatoes, hairy lycanthrope potatoes, angst-filled teenage celery.

  4. When I finally published it, the blog universe would reverbrate with the power of the hoax -- even if the parody wasn't particularly well done -- and any legal actions by the MLBS group would become moot, since (A) the novel is obviously parody, and (B) the sardonic marketing for the parody is not itself in any way a copyright violation.

  5. Then I would change my name and cash the checks anonymously, fearing for my life each time I signed the pseudonym.



A million zillion copies would be sold. Well, a few thousand anyway.

But what I'd really like is for someone else, not Meyer or Sybilla, to write this work and publish it, since it is settled law that titles are not copyrightable!

Saturday, March 28, 2009

Russet Noon Analysis

Okay, so someone has written a popular series and you love it so much you want to write a sequel. Not only that, but you'd like to scoop some some profit off that other person's gravy train.

What do you do?

Well, if you're honest and like to obey the law, you either (1) ask permission or (2)you go get another idea. Otherwise, you write Russet Noon. (I started to give them a link, then decided not.)

Here's some words from the press release of the publisher (whose lawyer should know better):

"When fictional characters become such an intricate part of the popular psyche, as is the case with the Twilight Saga, legal boundaries become blurred, and copyright laws become increasingly difficult to define. This is especially the case when actual cities like Forks and Volterra are used as the novel's settings. Such settings are not copyrightable, as they are considered public domain. Similarly, the Quileute Nation is also not copyrightable, and neither are vampire or werewolf legends. Copyright laws protect writers from unauthorized reproductions of their work, but such reproductions only include verbatim copying. Characters are only copyrightable if their creator draws them or hires an artist to draw them. Stephenie Meyer herself borrowed a great deal from previous works dealing with these mythologies."


This isn't a hard call at all. The claim that because Meyers' writing is *popular*, any person can make fanfic and publish it for a profit is laughable on its face. That's tantamount to saying there is no copyright protection at all for characters, situations or fictional events.

I doubt that any judge will take more than three heartbeats to reject the claim that *popularity* blurs the boundaries of copyright law. Popularity actually acts in the favor of the copyright holder, since it raises the likelihood that the infringing work is motivated by profit. To demonstrate: if anyone wanted to get inspired and write a Vlad Bumbleblood, Hobbit Vampire fanfic novel, based upon my character, I think we could rule out profit as a primary motive.

Contrary to their publicity argument above, fictional characters are copyrightable to the degree that they are fixed in a medium (not necessarily a visual medium), and recognizable (rather than stock characters). Like, um, having names and descriptions and unique personalities. Existing locations may be public domain, but their use may not. For example, if there is a storm drain in a certain Dallas city block that I say has a nest of giant tap-dancing spiders under it, the Dallas storm drain is public domain, but the spiders are mine. Even if they are "stock" giant tap-dancing spiders.

Meyers has put together a universe based from certain legends, made certain personal assumptions and changes to those legends (sparkly vampires out during the daylight in the Pacific northwest), and populated it with recognizable characters. Not only that: those characters are in specific situations; this book is a sequel based entirely on those situations for those characters; this book mentions the past events invented by Meyers for those characters, etc.

I just wonder if the real motive behind this is to create massive publicity for something else by "Jacob and Bella". Or if they're just that ignorant of the law.

Apparently it's been withdrawn, but we'll see where it ends up. Remember that by definition that this is a "derivative work" based upon Meyers' series, so she actually owns the rights to this novel as well.

Oh, and read this humorous take over at prlog, which makes fun of both the authors and the screaming zombie Twilight hordes.

Tuesday, March 24, 2009

Race in Speculative Fiction

There's a big brouhaha -- possibly even a kerfuffle -- about race in speculative fiction building out there. Some of it seems pretty silly, or political pablum, to me, but here's part of the thread I pulled over here to avoid hijacking Editorial Ass's website.

Here's an anonymous rebuke to me:

Dal Jeanis--I hope you'll reconsider what you just wrote on this. As mentioned once previously in this comment thread, comparing "other" races to eg elves and ogres in itself shows that we have obviously NOT reached a point where there is no racism in literature. Depicting a character "of another race"--ie not white, since white IS our standard default--is far from a comprehensive solution to racism in literature. In those Victorian novels, for example, most "minority" characters are just like Fagin in Oliver--hurtful caricatures that buy into the worst stereotypes in order to "build character."


I'll have another post on it later, but here's my reply comment:

Okay, Anonymous 5:00 - My comment was clearly about SFF - speculative fiction, and specifically Hugo nominees, not "Victorian novels" in general. If you know enough Hugo-nominated Victorian novels in the last ten years to make a plural, please list them. I'll even accept Nebula, World Fantasy Awards, Stokers, Edgars and so on. Paranormal RITAs need not apply.

I read, study and write speculative fiction, and while no one can read everything that's out there, I'm very familiar with the best that gets published, since it's what I aspire to.

I refuse to allow anyone, especially anyone too cowardly to leave their name, to make blanket statements about the literature that I read. Especially ignorant statements based upon prejudice. You want to play, back it up with facts. So put up or shut up.

I'll even give you a single character to research. You tell me exactly how the very capable Stephen Black character in "Jonathan Strange and Mr Norell" is a "hurtful stereotype", given the social context of being a black human being in 1800's England.

Do it without cribbing from Wikipedia either. Read the book and use quotes from the actual text.

Or backpedal graciously. Your choice.

Dal

NOTE - I said "even ignoring spec fiction genres where the races are completely different". So I was specifically walking away from the discussion of nonhuman races, whether cliche D&D types like ogres or fanfic Klingons, or exceptional and subtle examples such as those crafted by CJ Cherryh, Robert Sawyer, AE Van Vogt, David Brin, Octavia Butler and Samuel R Delany. I walked away from discussing all the spec fic stories where the races have real, biological differences that have full expression in behavior, rather than being primarily cosmetic such as those within our own species. Those are cool, awesome, deep stories, which allow a full and honest metaphorical examination of the subject of race.

I also didn't deal with the hard scifi fast-forward posthuman characters for whom race is a silly retro concept - you can't even really determine their species, since it's just a matter of convenient reference.

Spec fiction has grown up. Go insult an easier target, or at least read enough to have an informed opinion.

Or come over to my blog and discuss some more.


And here's the place for that!

Ride-Along Adrenaline Rush

Romantic Suspense writer Juliet Burns recently posted on Sizzling Pens a fascinating glimpse into Fort Worth's police ride-along program, called "Citizen’s Police Academy".

The scariest part of the night for me came when we were called to check out a residential alarm and while searching the perimeter of the house, my officer found the back door open...


Lots of neat stuff there.

Friday, March 20, 2009

Tribbles and Threats, Tribbles and Threats

Some interesting scuttlebutt over on Sci Fi Wire regarding David Gerrold, Harlan Ellison, Star Trek, Paramount, and lawsuits.

The article implicitly brings up the question of whether a screen writer should get paid when his work is digitally sampled, as David Gerrold's Trouble with Tribbles was for an episode of DS9. Actually, almost every TV series has an occasional "canned" episode where they re-use clips of other episodes, with minimal extra contexting to pretend the episode something new. I hate those episodes, but presumably the writers of the original episodes should be getting paid some royalties.

As an IP creator, it's tempting to claim that Gerrold should get paid every time that something he made up (be it tribbles or particular now-cannon-historical events) gets re-used in derivative work. On the other hand, this work of Gerrold's was itself a derivative work from Roddenberry's and, arguably, from Heinlein's "Martian flat cats".

I would expect that, pretending that the TOS and DS9 episodes were stand-alones rather than part of series owned by the same people, that if the creators of the DS9 go-back-in-time-and-fight-tribbles episode were sued for plagiarism or copyright infringement by Gerrold, that they would lose. However, that area of law is more judge-decided than principle-based, as the Wind Done Gone (WDG) and Doctor Juice cases proved a couple of years back. The WDG case is particularly instructive and relevant, since the writer even used for the title a corruption of the title of the infringed work (Gone with the Wind) -- and used characters, the events and even important dialog points as a structure to support her novel which took place on the back side of Mitchell's story. Sound familiar?

Yep. GWTW done got sampled.

As far as the Harlan Ellison suit is concerned, there are two questions. One, what rights did Ellison sell versus retain? Two, when did Ellison become aware of infringement? Three, how long after that did he file suit? Umm, okay, that's three questions. So combine the last two into "is his lawsuit timely"? I'll discuss those in reverse order.

TIMELINESS

Tort law typically gives three years after the tort is discovered for the injured
party to file suit. Since the alleged infringement occurred over decades, and Harlan certainly kept up with the derivative work, I'm not sure that his suit can be well founded.

On the other hand, there was apparently an earlier settlement in 1982, according to this article in Deadline Hollywood, so it may be that Ellison can be fighting against a later breach. I doubt it, though, since the suit is attempting to recover damages across the whole forty years, and the wording of the lawsuit itself, filing here, includes the following wording:

15.Ellison avers that since he never received proper notice or accounting related to Paramount’s various exploitations of the City teleplay, the applicable time limitations have not yet began to run on claims for payment from those exploitations.


So, he is claiming that willful ignorance keeps the legal clock from starting. It's a ballsy claim, but I doubt that it will hold in a court of law. Some of his older infringement claims are likely to fall away if and when Ellison's paragraph 15 fails. But elsewhere in his filing he's kept his knowledge of when he learned what quite fuzzy, so I'll assume he's on his best game there. Paramount will have to prove that Ellison knew about particular infringments in order to exclude them, if he wins the basic point that they owe him anything.

In addition, it looks like Simon and Schuster recently (2006-7) was licenced to put out a 3-book Crucible series that's a clear infringement -- basically amplifying the events in the episode, focusing on each major TOS character -- and the 3-year clock won't be a problem there. Which means that there might be a presumption that Ellison will win something in the lawsuit on the merits, if he has any rights to collect on.

WHAT RIGHTS?

The bottom line question in the lawsuit is whether the definition of "publication rights" in the 1960+1966 WGA agreement is inclusive or exclusive. Does it mean just the publication of the word-for-word script, or does it cover a novelization? If it covers the novelization, does it cover derivative works of the novelization?

Any reasonable reading of "publication rights" with regard to City on the Edge of Forever would seem to include those Crucible novels. However, that's not how the WGA seems to be defining the terms - they seem to be claiming that only literally printing the screenplay is a publication right. This is the major legal issue in the case, and it's a contract law thing and an IP right law thing, not a "who's the good guy here?" question.

And once that part is decided, it may reach to deeper and more gnarly questions. Does it allow the writer to collect anything based upon the aspects of the production that were not part of his conception? For instance, the heart-shaped rock called the Guardian of Eternity was described how in Harlan Ellison's original screenplay? If I recall correctly, it was some kind of corridor of statues. So, do the royalties (if any) on Franklin Mint plates showing that harp-shaped thing go to Ellison, or to the rewrite guy, or to some forgotten DesiLu production designer?

Interesting to watch, but I'd hate to put any money on the outcome from what I know. Oh, actually I'd lay about five bucks there will be a settlement in 2010-11 with no terms disclosed. Which would put the lie to Ellison's "just doing it for my fellow writers" line.

Stay tuned.

Wednesday, March 18, 2009

New Review Up: Patriot Witch by CC Finlay

I just posted a new review for the book The Patriot Witch over at Abandoned Towers. The book is available for free download on scribd and on the author's site in a PDF format.

Here's the lede:
What does it mean when you get a free PDF download of a book, and you feel like you have to buy a physical copy just to tear it up?

It means it's a damn good read.


It's the first novel of a new trilogy by author Charles Coleman Finlay (aka CC Finlay), who is also a Nebula finalist for his novella "The Political Prisoner", which is also available to read for free online here.

Enjoy!

Monday, March 16, 2009

White Flow from Rosina Lippi

Crackling hot off a sparkly email, I just put up a new post on the White Flow blog by Rosina Lippi, author of Tied to the Tracks and Homestead, among six other novels in print.

Here's a teaser -

...
And there’s a glimmer, very faint. It's appeared so gradually you’re not sure how long you’ve been seeing it. Now it's a faint line in the darkness, and then, more slowly, intersecting that line, another one. A corner. A window? A door?
...

Monday, March 9, 2009

The Sky Above Me...

Allen Abp148 wrote a post recently about "How much Description is too much?", where he lists three types of writing he finds excessive:

The first is obvious description. Obvious description is the type that leaves people saying “duh” and putting the book down. Things like “The sky above me”, “The ground below me”, don’t laugh, I’ve actually read these in published books.


I'm not sure I understand what the problem might be with the above phrases. Presumably, Allen is claiming that the phrase "above me" and "below me" are redundant, since the sky is always above and the ground is always below.

But can't there be value in calling the reader's attention to the fact that, well, "me" is in the picture, in relation to that sky or ground? Why not?

I mean, honestly, is there a rule that you can't remind the reader that the main character or narrator is there, in the picture? I often see sentences like, "Jane could see [or Jane saw] Dave stab the knife into John's pants and draw blood". and I wonder if "Jane could see" or "Jane saw" might better be deleted. Perhaps it's more immediate to say "Dave stabbed the knife into John's pants and drew blood". But isn't something also gained by reminding the reader that it's Jane's story in which Dave and John are fighting?

And, besides that, isn't there a difference in cadence and rhythm if you add "above me" rather than delete it? And isn't much of writing about such choices of the sound of words and lines and sentences and paragraphs, and how the words draw the reader on into your word and your characters?

This all harkens back to the editorial fad of trying to kill every last word and line that is not essential. That might be a good idea if you are sending the story by Western Union teletype... errr... sorry, no such technology anymore... typing it on a cell phone, maybe? Writing a Twitter novel?

But it's not a given for anyone else.

Write whatever works. Make it sound good, make it draw the reader in and lock them into the viewpoint character, (if any). Make them care.

Tuesday, March 3, 2009

What Killed the Thesaurus?



SnorgTees says this animal was the first dork of the Juraissic period, although from the text it appears it may have been the last.

Buy the Tee here.

Hat tip, Lizard Lair.

Monday, March 2, 2009

The most lovely person.. says the beagle

Quote from the undercover beagle -

“She is the most lovely person - beautiful, warm, nurturing, compassionate, powerful, eloquent, charming, funny. It’s just that she is also a nutcase who attacks people.”


This is from a Timesonline story of a gay activist who infiltrated the animal rights terrorist group ALF dressed as a beagle.

You can't make this stuff up.

Tuesday, February 24, 2009

What happened to my blog?

I'm noticing the layout seems to have gotten messed up. The sidebar now drops down until after all the posts. And I didn't do it.

Sigh.

...DAYS LATER...

YAY! I solved it. Apparently failed to properly close a tag on the Shot of Tequila post, and as the technical XML terminology goes, "that was messing with stuff".

Fixed it by changing the options to show less posts until the sidebar corrected itself, then looking at the problematic post until I noticed it didn't have a "greater than" sign at the end of a close-tag.

Continuity

Lots of chattering out there recently on continuity this week. For instance, Laura Anne Gilman at SFNovelists writes about how annoying continuity slips can be to a reader. Deborah Teramis Christian writes about her challenges in keeping her multiverse straight, and her personal wiki for that multiverse. David Weber, who was Writer Guest of Honor at ConDFW this weekend, posted an authorial note regarding his multiple Honor Harrington series [what the heck is the plural of series, series's?] and the fact that an occasional scene is going to have to appear in multiple novels, generally from different points of view, because that is what works for what he's trying to do.


While there are many details that author/creators must remember and control, there are some realistic strategies that you can use to limit the effect of slips.


  • Memory is not perfect: People don't always remember things correctly, so thinking that you met someone on planet A when you really met on station B is par for the course among humans. If you're a subtle author, you can intentionally drop in a few of these mistakes by a POV character, and then the unintentional ones will seem planted. This also allows some really cool effects like getting the reader to anchor characters together and see parallels.

  • History is not perfect: Actually, History is like a mashup collage seen in a funhouse mirror, especially once postmodern academics get through with it. There is no reason that people in a novel will have a clear view of events that happened even five years before - the stories that people have told about the events will have gained more credence than the actual events.

  • Information has a viewpoint : When you are using POV and telling what a character knows or believes, the character doesn't have to be right. That information may be faulty in some basic way, and it definitely should include whatever biases would be natural to that character.



    At best, fiction is an attempt to create understanding about [pseudo-]events that happened in a particular way at a particular time. In order to create fiction, even "creative nonfiction" about real events, we have to delete massive amounts of information. We are collapsing a general superimposed wave form into a single line and then abstracting that line to an aesthetically pleasing abstract presentation in the form of language.

    Get it right if you can, but you can also get it artfully wrong, and please just as many readers.
  • Monday, February 23, 2009

    Life's Sweet Inevitability... and Cons

    I just spent the weekend walking the tightrope, balancing between loving and nurturing my family -- pronounced "seeing" -- and learning, promoting and chatting with friends at ConDFW. I got to the other end of the rope with honor, home life and dignity intact. Well, honor and homelife anyway; it was a con.

    I'll try to blog a little this week about what I learned at the Con, especially at an indie publisher panel I attended. I may point you to some authors I met (and/or I may end up reviewing ARCs for you.) And I'll definitely be reviewing Rosemary Clement-Moore's second book Hell Week as soon as I can clear six hours to read it.

    But that's not what this post is about.

    The private-public balancing act from this weekend reminded me of a post I wanted to point you all to over on Jay Lake's website. Jay is one of the most prolific spec fiction writers of my generation, or at least I'm expecting him to be by the end of the day.

    Both Jay and I think about the "end of the day" a bit, because we are colon cancer survivors, and it does affect how we see the world. This post is one he wrote in January about that awareness, plus Calvin and Hobbes. Enjoy.

    Friday, February 20, 2009

    Join an Experiment, Get a Shot of Tequila

    Action / Mystery writer JA Konrath, author of the Jack Daniels series (Whiskey Sour etc) -- and of the blog A Newbie's Guide to Publishing -- is running a little experiment to try to save his beloved GPS unit "Sheila".

    He's offering a PDF download of an original 75K word novel (a trunk novel he's refurbished, with Jack Daniels and her partner as bit players in someone else's story). The novel is called Shot of Tequila. And it's available for 99 cents by paypal.

    Read his post here.

    Wednesday, February 18, 2009

    Wii Dance Dance Revolution for the Klutz

    All right, so I haven't blogged in a Wiiik.

    Oh, did I just mis-spell something? Nope.

    I got a Wii and some cool accessories as a single big combo present for my birthday and Christmas. It's imminently practical, since it should help me in my goal of losing another thirty pounds this year over the twenty I lost last year. Of course, since the Wii is the hottest thing since stock scams, the console finally arrived in late January, and because our living room television is vintage 1980-something, it took me another two weeks to get it properly hooked up.

    We've worked our way through Wii Sports, Wii Play, and a week of WiiFit, which is a totally awesome -- if a bit too partonizing and cutesy -- way of working your muscles and balance. We are all losing weight.

    Then today I started trying to get Dance Dance Revolution Hottest Party 2 (DDR2) to work.

    Okay, so I open the box, and there's a big pad and the game disk. So far so good. Now I look at the cord coming out of the pad. It doesn't fit any of the visible slots on the Wii. Check the box. Yep, this is the Wii version. Check the instructions in the box. No explanation.

    Google the problem. It turns out, there's a whole bunch of hidden slots on top of the Wii. Flip open the concealed lid, doesn't look right. Flip open the other concealed lid. Plugs in perfectly. Yay!

    Start DDR2. Pad seems to be working; it does allow selections on the screen. Yay.
    Play with the options. Choose beginner. Start it up.

    Booo x 14. Unable to hit a single beat. Three full games. Oh, and by the way, it cuts you off after fourteen mistakes. Rack and Ruin!

    Try again. Try to hit in advance of the beats. No change. Try to hit after the beats. No change. Really, just at random I ought to be able to get some beats right. Nope.

    Google this problem. No one else on the planet seems to think that DDR2 beginner is too hard.

    Now, I've been doing step-dancing on the WiiFit games, and getting good scores, so I know I'm not totally a klutz. (My wife would graciously decline to comment, and luckily, she isn't around...) Is this thing just set ridiculously tight on the beginner level?

    All right. Play with the options more. Find the one that lets you dance to the end of the song even if you muff it egregiously. (Those words clash, don't they? How about "muff it spewfully"?) There's a whole screen of stuff you can turn on and off in the learner levels. Metronome, claps, and so on. You can even turn off the song itself and slow down the beats.

    Still zero points.

    Finally, being the technical wiz I am, I decide that there are a couple assumptions I can just check at random. I switch the pad's plug from the Wii's back controller slot to the front one.

    Bingo. I get points! I break a sweat. Maybe I can learn to dance on this thing.

    But first, I'll post this in case someone else runs into the problem. The first pad cable on DDR2 for the Wii plugs into the farthest front slot.

    Probably everyone with a modern console already knew that, but there are those of us late adopters who might need to know.

    And, by the way, Nintendo and/or Konami - really stupid to have the Wii reading that back controller slot for the controls, but not for the dancing itself. Kinda confuses things for us N00bs.

    Monday, February 9, 2009

    Strengths and Weaknesses

    It's a fundamental precept both of real life and of good fiction that a person's greatest strengths are also their greatest weaknesses and often vice versa.

    For example, the character who has an indomitable will, that allows him to persist against incredible odds, generally is also pigheaded when he is wrong. (Something DC failed to do with silver age Green Lantern Hal Jordan -- who is almost preternaturally reasonable in applying his strength of will -- but, if I recall correctly, used properly with Kyle whatshisname.)

    Well, this principle is being tested now in biology, where scientists are using HIV's fast mutation rate against it. They have done trials with a new drug called KP-1461, which takes the place of the cytosine and thymine base pairs during reproduction, quickly mucking up the genetic machinery.

    It's certainly an interesting idea, but I'm not sure it's a good one. Sure, given that mutations are overwhelmingly nonpositive for the mutated organism, an increased mutation rate in HIV should lead to a decreased viral load. However, given that there are billions of HIV virus "cells" in any given patient, aren't we giving them a pretty high aggregate chance to win the genetic lottery with a really good mutation? Especially if we use this on thousands or millions of patients?

    One thing you have to remember: sometimes a strength is just a strength.

    Sunday, February 8, 2009

    A Set of Testes looking for...

    According to this story on AP, two species have just been eliminated from the scientific lexicon.

    One of the eliminated species?

    "This thing was basically a set of testes looking for the female," Johnson said.


    Yeah, we've all met a few of those.

    New Review Up: Modern Magic by Anne Cordwainer

    I just posted a new review for the book Modern Magic over at Abandoned Towers.

    It's a series of twelve to fifteen linked short stories (depending upon how you count them) by debut author Anne Cordwainer, which together paint a novel (or "story cycle") of a family of powerful mages, one of whom... um... isn't.

    Oh, and by the way, there's a launch party!

    Thursday, January 29, 2009

    He wrote HOW many stories?

    Prolific flash writer Michael Kechula has some tips over on Katie Hines's blog, specifically tips about writing short fiction. And by prolific, I mean, makes Jay Lake look sedate.

    Kechula's tips:

    1. Write openers that grab attention.
    2. Omit excessive detail. It burns up precious word count.
    3. Omit long sentences, especially those with semi-colons.
    4. Consider including 1-word, or 2-word sentences for impact.
    5. Include dialog. Big chunks of narrative create yawns.
    6. Use contractions. Especially in dialog. One word is saved each time.
    7. Use words gained from items 2 and 6 to enhance the plot.
    8. Omit anything that may throw readers out of the story.
    9. Keep moving the story forward.
    10. Keep characters down to a minimum.
    11. Read your draft manuscript out loud. Better yet, record it and listen to the story several times.
    12. Edit, edit, edit.


    And if you want to know precisely how many stories he's published in the last four years, go read it. Unbelievable.

    Wednesday, January 28, 2009

    Why Science Fiction

    Alan DeNiro writes over on Book Spot Central an article titled "Why I Write Science Fiction: An Apology by Alan DeNiro"
    DeNiro is the author of the forthcoming YA novel Total Oblivion, More or Less (Bantam)and a story collection, Skinny Dipping in the Lake of the Dead (Small Beer Press).

    Hat tip The Swivet

    I thought it interesting to compare to Marti Steussy's essay on the same subject: "Why I Write Science Fiction". I adored Steussy's two novels in the 1980s; she's sort of an Andre Norton with a harder edge and sharper mechanics. The essay includes some excerpts from Forest of the Night, which I especially liked.

    Tuesday, January 27, 2009

    RIP RoF

    Ouch.

    SFScope reports that Realms of Fantasy has announced that April will be their final issue.

    This saddens me no end, not just because a couple of my stories are begging to visit there, but because RoF was a professional speculative fiction venue with a viable, growable, non-geriatric demographic, and a clearly different sensibility that I enjoy as much as, say, Strange Horizons.

    I have to admit that stories in the big three classic SF magazines (Analog, F&SF, and Asimov's) more often bore me than not. There was an article on the web that I can't find now, discussing how those magazines reflected their older demographics, both in style and subject. The stories are all about old people dealing with old people's issues, or stories with nostalgia value, more or less. There's also a political bias that further cuts down the sales potential.

    Honestly, even though I'm about to qualify for associate membership in the AARP, I like to read stories about different people with different problems. I like coming of age stories, love stories, tech stories, lots of things. I don't mind stories about middle aged people, but that's not all I want to read. Where's the wonder?

    Well, it was over at RoF, while it lasted.

    hat tip Shawn Scarber, who sent this by email to NTSFW.