Controlling The Creatives

26 March 2015

From Kristine Katheryn Rusch:

Right now, a visible group of people in the field of science fiction are engaged in a protracted battle about the genre’s future. Both sides are practicing a nasty, destructive campaign against the other, and not worrying about the collateral damage they’re causing on the sidelines.

Those of us who’ve been in the field a long time have pretty much abstained from the arguments. Not because we lack opinions. We have opinions and have discussed them with each other privately, but we remain quiet because we’ve seen such protracted battles before.

When I came into the field in the 1980s, I watched the remnants of two such protracted battles. The first was about the legitimacy of Star Wars and Star Trek and whether or not Trek and SW fans even belonged in the genre, let alone any writers who admitted they enjoyed those things.

That first argument spilled into a sillier side argument about whether or not tie-in writers tainted their writing skills by writing novels in someone else’s universe. Hugo Award winner Timothy Zahn pretty much destroyed the naysayers by writing excellent sf novels under the Star Wars label and making a small fortune doing so.

The second argument was about whether fantasy was a legitimate genre. The writer-critics agreed that slipstream fantasy—the kind that where you can’t tell if the fantasy is something that really happened to the character or something that he misinterpreted—was legitimate. But the rest of it? That could’ve been crap, as judged by the terms the writer-critics used, like “fat fantasy novels,” as if they were all the same or “elfy-welfy” novels that obviously weren’t up to any kind of quality whatsoever.

When I published my first novel, a not-quite-fat fantasy novel set in a magical kingdom, a writer-friend told me that I had just ruined the career I was building because I was writing crap fantasy, not real literature.

. . . .

If you think these kinds of arguments only occur in the sf genre, think again. In the past few years, I participated in a few group projects in the romance genre. In two cases, one of the participants was a male romance writer, and I’ll be honest: until this sf argument started, I had never before seen such naked bigotry between writers.

Some of the female romance writers hated that a man was involved, wouldn’t admit that he could contribute anything of value, and essentially treated him (if they spoke to him at all) as if he was an imbecile. These women, all of a certain age, had had the same experience themselves in reverse in their real-world careers, so I was stunned that they would turn on a fellow human being like that, but turn they did.

. . . .

While these distinctions might sound silly to the casual reader, they’re extremely destructive to writers inside the various genres. I know of writers who stopped producing in the genres they loved because of the vicious attacks from one side or another. I also know of writers whose outspoken nastiness destroyed their careers with the very editors (and readers) they wanted to sell books to.

Since the advent of indie publishing, it’s not as easy to destroy a career as it was in the past. An editor might not want to take a toxic writer into the fold, but the writer can self-publish. You’d think that would solve the issues of divisiveness—if writers want to write something, they can—but it hasn’t. If anything, the problem has grown more pervasive, louder, and uglier.

Personally, I believe that a writer’s politics and religious beliefs (including beliefs about a favorite genre) should remain off-social media if at all possible, and that arguments in favor of one thing or another should be made in person, if at all.

I think it’s more important to incorporate your worldview into what you write and let the readers decide whether or not they want to read your work than it is to win an argument that will seem quaint fifteen years from now. Of course, I also believe that we should all look at the way people live their lives rather than focusing on the words they use or the color of their skin.

. . . .

My tenure in the publishing industry has shown me that these bitter disputes are really about change. One side resists the change while the other side advocates for it, and they remain locked at each other’s throats, calling each other names. The thing is, as they’re screaming at each other, other writers are quietly effecting change by doing what they do best—writing fiction.

. . . .

The problem with all of these arguments, from the cozy versus the hard-boiled, the fantasy versus science fiction, the women versus men, the white folks versus people of color, is that they prescribe how a story should be written.

What’s wrong with writing a story from your own heritage? If the story’s from a perspective that hasn’t seen a lot of print, then write it. If the story’s been done before (as is the case with so much white American-European fiction), write it anyway.

Write it. Because it comes from your personality, your knowledge, and your heritage. That story will contain your passion. Write it and let it find its audience.

I know that a lot of curated fiction—stuff that came out of traditional publishing—closed and barricaded the door to people of color (in almost all genres), to women (in most genres), and to men (in the romance genre). I know that these issues still need resolution.

I also know that indie publishing has allowed these voices to finally be heard.

That’s change, and so many people are so terrified of change that they react with startling bigotry and language or behavior that they would never use in polite company. Social media has allowed a lot of horrid things to slip through the cracks—racist, discriminatory, biased and just plain ugly stuff.

And because of it, so many newer writers are backing away from topics that they could easily write about now that the gatekeepers have lost their hold on the entry points into various fields. These newer writers are letting the opinions of others—others who, in the scheme of things really don’t matter much—shut down the creative process.

What these newer writers don’t realize is that a lot of these arguments are a last-ditch effort to control the conversation—and more importantly, to control the creatives.

Link to the rest at Kristine Katheryn Rusch and thanks to Bruce for the tip.

Here’s a link to Kristine Katheryn Rusch’s books

Helpless in the Face of Your Enemy: Writers and Attack Novels

20 March 2015

From author Harry Connolly via Black Gate:

Some writers plan their careers.

They scan the top of the best seller lists, think Hmm… here’s a police procedural, this one’s steampunk, these two are zombie novels, and this one’s about angels. Great! I’ve been wanting to try steampunk. I’ll write a steampunk murder mystery about a pair of mismatched cops. One will be a zombie and the other will be an angel. No, a fallen angel who has lost his celestial whatsit.

Which is a silly example, obviously, but authors manage the non-silly version to great success. As I recall, John Scalzi has said that he wrote Old Man’s War because MilSF seemed to be selling well. There are others, too, but I hesitate to name them because writing to the market has a bit of a stigma attached to it, although it shouldn’t. More power to them, I say.*

Me, I can’t do it. Not that I haven’t tried, but I can’t make it work. I don’t read fast enough to sample the sales lists widely, I can’t make myself write a book without screwing around with the tropes of the genre, and I suffer from attack novels.

. . . .

The first book I ever sold was an attack novel. So was the first book I ever started and abandoned. They haven’t all been, but when they come on me, all I can do is put them off until I finish whatever’s on deadline.

At the beginning of March, I released an attack novel that I started five years ago, and in every way that matters, it was a book I shouldn’t have written.

In fact, I shouldn’t even be talking about it here.

. . . .

I’ve put off writing about my attack novel long enough. For this final blog tour entry, I want to talk about that book, why it was absolutely the wrong thing to write, and why it couldn’t be denied.

I can almost pinpoint the day that the attack novel hit me. I was finishing Game of Cages, my second book for Del Rey, when I began to think about protagonists and exposition characters in urban fantasy. They were all Buffy and Giles: young fighters and the knowledgeable elders who told the fighters what to do.

But why did it have to be that way? In the modern day, sensible people don’t solve their problems by strapping on plate armor and a broad sword. They use peaceful means. The law. Diplomacy. Compromise. And yet, ever urban fantasy novel I read — set in major cities around the world — was written as though the characters lived in a lawless world of might-makes-right.

“Only trust your fists. Police will never help you,” is the quote, right? For thriller narratives, it’s a fine thing,*** but did every urban fantasy have to be a thriller of some kind?

At the same time, I was coming across a lot of articles, interviews, and news stories about people treating older women as though they were invisible: actresses who could not find roles to play, wives whose husbands had finally made their fortunes turning them out in favor of trophy wives, and so on.

Taken together, those observations made me want to read an urban fantasy novel with an older female protagonist, a book where the character who knows what needs to be done doesn’t pass that information like a shopping list to a young character. I wanted a book where she does it herself.

Link to the rest at Black Gate and thanks to Cora for the tip.

Here’s a link to Harry Connolly’s books

We’re all genre readers now: Can we finally stop the tired “pixies and dragons” vs. literary fiction wars?

14 March 2015

From Salon:

From the moment  a profile of him  appeared in the New York Times late last month, it was obvious Kazuo Ishiguro was going to be getting grief. “Will readers follow me into this?” the British novelist said of “The Buried Giant,”  his new book set in Britain during the Dark Ages, when dragons and ogres were regarded by the populace as simple facts of life. “Will they understand what I’m trying to do, or will they be prejudiced against the surface elements? Are they going to say this is fantasy?”

It was only a matter of time before someone in the fantasy/science-fiction world would take very public offense at these remarks, especially since Ishiguro didn’t go on to issue a neon-lit, marquee-size disclaimer stating that he sees nothing wrong with fantasy. There is no one more tetchy than a genre reader who suspects his or her favorite books are being denigrated — even when they’re not.

. . . .

I disagreed with both Le Guin and Kakutani; “The Buried Giant” is not, in fact, a fantasy novel. Like Ishiguro, I intend no knock on fantasy by making this distinction. It’s a genre I love, and the subject of my own book. Yet, just as people who dislike reading about ogres and wizards may turn up their noses at “The Buried Giant,” readers who love Tolkien, George R.R. Martin or Le Guin are likely to be disappointed with it, as well, especially if they expect a similar experience. Le Guin was one of them. She complained of “The Buried Giant” that “a fantastic setting requires vivid and specific description; while characters may lose touch with their reality, the storyteller can’t. A toneless, inexact language is incapable of creating landscape, meaningful relationship, or credible event.”

Longtime Ishiguro readers will recognize that “toneless, inexact language” could describe much of his work. From “The Remains of the Day” to “Never Let Me Go,” his fiction conveys an image of the world through the limited perspective of people who don’t understand, or who refuse to see, crucial aspects of their lives and environments. The reader views the story through this pinhole aperture, gradually acquiring a different picture. But the resonant emotional effect of Ishiguro’s fiction comes from the reader’s understanding of the tragic interplay between the aperture and the world on the other side of it — and, ultimately, every human being’s hobbled grasp of our true condition.

. . . .

The trouble is, few contemporary readers take a long view of literary genre. All of the books we label “genre fiction” today are novels or short stories, essentially modern fictional forms. In that sense, George R.R. Martin’s novels, for all their magic and dragons, have more in common with John Updike’s realistic fiction than they do with “Sir Gawain and the Green Knight.” A chivalric romance like “Sir Gawain,” besides being written in verse instead of prose, has a different conception of character, different narrative strategies and makes different uses of figurative devices than the novel. It’s the expression of a culture, the Middle Ages, with a fundamentally different concept of the universe, society, stories and the self.

. . . .

Now that the novel has swallowed and digested nearly all of the literary genres that preceded it, the term “genre” serves as a marketing rubric under which we group related novels. What connects them is, typically, motifs. Science fiction usually features advanced technology or a futuristic setting. Crime fiction has murders, detectives and clues. Fantasy has dragons and wizards or other supernatural elements from myth and folklore, or simply posits a world in which magic is real.

Still, motifs are not the same thing as form, and all of these books are recognizably novels, an essentially modern genre, even if “the novel” is fiendishly hard to define. Jane Smiley’s excellent “Thirteen Ways of Looking at the Novel” proposes that the novel is a long prose narrative that has a protagonist, or central character, although there are now novels in verse, ensemble novels and novellas that dance on the line between the short story and its bigger relative. Nevertheless, Smiley’s formulation is good, and the works that conform to it tend to share, as well, qualities that are harder to nail down, such as an effort to create and explore plausible human psychology in the main characters and a series of events that constitute a shaped plot.

Link to the rest at Salon and thanks to Tom for the tip.

Sir Terry Pratchett, renowned fantasy author, dies aged 66

12 March 2015

From the BBC:

Sir Terry Pratchett, fantasy author and creator of the Discworld series, has died aged 66, eight years after being diagnosed with Alzheimer’s disease.

“The world has lost one of its brightest, sharpest minds,” said Larry Finlay of his publishers Transworld.

The author died at home, surrounded by his family, “with his cat sleeping on his bed”, he added.

Sir Terry wrote more than 70 books during his career and completed his final book last summer.

He “enriched the planet like few before him” and through Discworld satirised the world “with great skill, enormous humour and constant invention,” said Mr Finlay.

. . . .

Despite campaigning for assisted suicide after his diagnosis, Sir Terry’s publishers said he did not take his own life.

BBC News correspondent Nick Higham said: “I was told by the publishers his death was entirely natural and unassisted, even though he had said in the past he wanted to go at a time of his own choosing.”

Link to the rest at the BBC and thanks to Eric for the tip.

H. P. Lovecraft letter sheds light on pivotal moment in his career

4 March 2015

From Cultural Compass:

One of the joys of archival research in the Ransom Center is wandering off-track to follow hunches or simply indulge one’s curiosity. The subject of my thesis is early weird fiction, and while the bulk of my time at the Center was spent investigating material from the 1890s relating to Arthur Machen, M. P. Shiel, and John Buchan, I couldn’t resist looking up H. P. Lovecraft in the old card catalogue. I found a single item listed on one index card: a letter from Lovecraft to J. C. Henneberger. The name was a familiar one: Henneberger was the publisher who established Weird Tales magazine in the 1920s, the pulp title that is remembered today for publishing several of H. P. Lovecraft’s most influential stories.

The letter was several pages of closely packed typescript sent from 598 Angell Street, Providence, Rhode Island—the house the family had moved to in 1904 after the death of Lovecraft’s grandfather—and dated February 2, 1924. The year was to be a significant one for Lovecraft: he was about to uproot himself from his home of 20 years to join his soon-to-be wife Sonia Haft Greene in Brooklyn. Lovecraft struggled to find work, the marriage failed, and some have identified this episode as being the point from which many of his subsequent troubles and frustrations ensued. A common lament is that it all could have been so different: soon after the letter was written, Henneberger offered Lovecraft the editorship of the Chicago-based Weird Tales. If Lovecraft had properly seized this opportunity with both hands, the story goes, he would have established himself as the man of letters he was born to be, and avoided languishing in obscurity and poverty for the rest of his life.

. . . .

Lovecraft’s concerns go considerably beyond his lack of confidence in the availability of suitable material, and beyond even his lack of faith in the tastes of the wider reading public. They even go beyond his negative opinion of the “whole atmosphere and temperament of the American fiction business.” For Lovecraft, the problem was contemporary culture itself:

We have millions who lack the intellectual independence, courage, and flexibility to get an artistic thrill out of a bizarre situation, and who enter sympathetically into a story only when it ignores the colour and vividness of actual human emotions and conventionally presents a simple plot based on artificial, ethically sugar-coated values and leading to a flat denouement which shall vindicate every current platitude and leave no mystery unexplained by the shallow comprehension of the most mediocre reader. That is the kind of public publishers confront, and only a fool or a rejection-venomed author could blame the publishers for a condition caused not by them but by the whole essence and historic tradition of our civilisation.

Lovecraft’s frustration with the bland timidity of the mainstream could hardly be expressed in more forthright, if perhaps histrionic, terms.

. . . .

Lovecraft expands on his projected novels Azathoth and The House of the Worm, neither of which were ever to materialize. He ruminates at length about what makes good weird fiction, and is generous and enthusiastic in his recommendations of authors he considers would be an asset to Weird Tales. He also outlines what he regards as the only feasible plan by which Weird Tales could perhaps successfully operate: the engagement of a small pool of appropriately gifted ghost-writers that would enable an editor to accept submissions not of publishable quality but demonstrating the required spark of originality. It’s difficult not to speculate that had Lovecraft accepted the editorship, this pool of writers would have inevitably included members of that ‘Lovecraft Circle’ who are now considered some of the definitive genre writers of the period: Clark Ashton Smith, Robert E. Howard, and Robert Bloch. Alas, it was never to be.

Link to the rest at Cultural Compass and thanks to Ryan for the tip.

“Are they going to say this is fantasy?”

3 March 2015

From Ursula Le Guin via Book View Café:

Kazuo Ishiguro talked to interviewer Alexandra Alter (NYT 20 Feb 15) about his forthcoming novel The Buried Giant, which takes place in a non-historic just-post-Arthurian England. Everybody there has lost most of their longterm memory, due to the influence of the breath of a dragon named Querig.

Ogres and other monsters roam the land, but Querig just sleeps and exhales forgetfulness, until a pair of elderly Britons with the singularly unBriton names of Beatrice and Axl arrive with the knight Gawain and a poisoned goat to watch a Saxon named Wistan kill Gawain and then slice the head off the sleeping dragon. Beatrice and Axl wander on in search of their son, who they now remember may be dead, until Beatrice falls asleep in the boat of a mysterious boatman who rows her off to a mysterious island while Axl wanders back inland.

A wild country inhabited by monsters, an old couple who must leave their home without knowing exactly why, a sense that important things have been, perhaps must be, forgotten… Such images and moods could well embody a story about the approach of old age to death, and indeed I think that is at least in part the subject of the book.

. . . .

Mr Ishiguro said to the interviewer, “Will readers follow me into this? Will they understand what I’m trying to do, or will they be prejudiced against the surface elements? Are they going to say this is fantasy?”

Well, yes, they probably will. Why not?

It appears that the author takes the word for an insult.

. . . .

‘Surface elements,’ by which I take it he means ogres, dragons, Arthurian knights, mysterious boatmen, etc., which occur in certain works of great literary merit such as Beowulf, the Morte d’Arthur, and The Lord of the Rings, are also much imitated in contemporary commercial hackwork. Their presence or absence is not what constitutes a fantasy. Literary fantasy is the result of a vivid, powerful, coherent imagination drawing plausible impossibilities together into a vivid, powerful and coherent story, such as those mentioned, or The Odyssey, orAlice in Wonderland.

Link to the rest at Book View Café and thanks to Chris for the tip.

Here’s a link to Ursula Le Guin’s books

How to Apply for SFWA Membership with Small Press or Self-Published Credentials

2 March 2015

From author and SWFA Vice President Cat Rambo:

As you may know, the Science Fiction and Fantasy Writers of America, (aka SFWA) had a membership and changed their membership criteria pretty drastically, admitting self-published and small press members to apply if they can prove they’re making an amount of money equivalent to the advance a writer would make from a traditional publisher and qualify for SFWA: three thousand dollars over the course of a year. The year does not need to be Jan-Dec, and it can be any period after January 1, 2013.

Income can come from crowdfunding, but in that case, the book must have been delivered to the funders in a timely fashion. You can combine advance and royalties, but they must fall in the same twelve months.

The income is net, not gross. If you spend ten thousand bucks printing books and then sell them for three thousand dollars, that would not count. Mainly this is there to keep people from faking their way in and I’m not too worried about small publishing expenses counting here, myself.

Link to the rest at Cat Rambo and thanks to Maggie for the tip.

Here’s a link to Cat Rambo’s books

The Greatest Advice For Science Fiction Writers: “Ask The Next Question”

27 February 2015

From Open Road Integrated Media:

Theodore Sturgeon, who would have turned 97 this Thursday, February 26, had a motto that inspired his writing and his outlook.

. . . .

As Sturgeon himself explained:

“This guy is sitting in a cave and he says, ‘Why can’t man fly?’ Well, that’s the question. The answer may not help him, but the question now has been asked. The next question is what? How? And so all through the ages, people have been trying to find out the answer to that question. We’ve found the answer, and we do fly. This is true of every accomplishment, whether it’s technology or literature, poetry, political systems or anything else. That’s it. Ask the next question. And the one after that.”

Link to the rest at Open Road Integrated Media

12 Biggest Blunders That Evil Wizards Make

25 February 2015

From i09:

There’s nothing more awesome than an evil wizard. Commanding the forces of darkness, chewing the scenery, wielding objects of terrible power… it’s a great gig. But it’s not one with a lot of job security. Here are 12 terrible mistakes that evil wizards always end up making, which prove their downfall.

. . . .

1) Falling in love with one of the good guys

Depending on which version of the story you go by, Morgan le Fay falls in love with either Merlin or Lancelot. And this love is generally something that gets in the way of her ability to screw with Arthur and take down Camelot — she’s too busy imprisoning and/or stalking the object of her love to hatch any other plans. Meanwhile, in Legend, Tim Curry wants to destroy the last unicorn, but he gets sidetracked into giving Mia Sara a gothy makeover.

. . . .

3) Not making sure the hero is really dead

This applies across the board, since mystical villains are really fond of terrible death traps. But it’s especially true when you’re ordering someone to kill a baby. How often does that actually work? Inevitably, the baby gets smuggled away or replaced with another baby, or they kill a decoy baby made of lunchmeat instead, or whatever. If you really want that baby dead, you’d better see a tiny mangled (but still identifiable) body afterwards. Otherwise, you can be pretty sure they’ll be back, in a dozen years or so.

. . . .

8) Getting Tricked Into Fulfilling A Prophecy

This is basically the Voldemort clause — you hear a prophecy of your own destruction, and then you get so obsessed with it, that you basically cause it to come to pass. Voldemort doesn’t need to go after Harry Potter’s parents, but by doing so, he seals his own eventual doom. But it’s a common failing for evil wizards — they try so hard to thwart a prophecy of their own death, they cause it to happen. Likewise, Bavmorda the evil queen in Willow tries to prevent the birth of Elora, but just causes Elora to be sent into exile where she’s taken in by Willow. Basically, if you hear of a prophecy of your own downfall, just ignore it — if it’s true, it’ll happen anyway, but anything you do to try and stop it will just give it more weight.

Link to the rest at i09 and thanks to Eric for the tip.

Oh No, She Didn’t: The Strong Female Character, Deconstructed

25 February 2015


There’s been a lot of talk lately in the science fiction and fantasy community about “strong” female characters, with various authors weighing in about how to write them, what they are, and why the term is flawed in the first place. There are discussions of deadly tropes and how to avoid them. This is all fine, and I agree with the points made for the most part; the last thing we need is a rehash of eyerollingly blatant male fantasies. But with all the focus on writing techniques on the one hand, and political imperatives on the other, I wonder if we’re not losing sight of the big picture.

Just as I don’t imagine most women want to be thought of as “female writers,” the idea of “female characters” as a category for discussion seems problematic. That this category continues to thrive, and to spawn essays and blog posts—including this one!—points directly to the underlying problem: we are issuing prescriptive Do’s and Don’ts about the depiction of women as if they are a separate, exotic species. There is of course good reason for this—frequently in fiction, and in genre fiction in particular, women are depicted as alien beings, even when it’s with the best of intentions.

. . . .

There is an uncomfortable feeling in online discussions about how to write “female characters” that some are squinting hard in their attempt to see women as people, while others are approaching the subject with the dutiful submission we bring to a meal of thrice-washed organic kale. One subset wants writing tips on how to take on the otherworldly she-goddess; another wants to make sure we are doing feminism properly. The first reminds me of Robert Jordan’s Wheel of Time, where through innumerable books and sexual experiences, the male characters never cease to lament their inability to understand women. As to the second, well, I think feminism is complex, and what constitutes a feminist character should be part of an ongoing dialogue, not a set of precepts sealed in blood. It is also individual: Lisbeth Salander annoyed the hell out of me, but for others she was empowering…and I’m not out to argue someone out of their empowerment. At twenty-one I found Joss Whedon’s Buffy empowering, and I know that is not for everyone.

What I think is missing from some of these discussions is: writing a fully realized character of any gender requires one trait above all others, and that is empathy. When a female character goes off the rails, it is often because the author experienced a failure of imagination; while he could imagine all the emotions a man might feel in a similar situation—and in the case of literary fiction written by men, this is often recounted in great detail—he has neglected to understand his female characters in the same way. Instead there is a hyperawareness of her beauty and sexiness even from her own perspective, such as in Jeffrey Eugenides’ The Marriage Plot; an inability to grasp how the character might experience life from the inside. I think when male authors make this mistake it’s because they forget we don’t see ourselves the way they see us. I don’t want to go so far as to call this a lack of empathy, but it is certainly a failure of imagination.

Link to the rest at and thanks to HN for the tip.

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