Lois McMaster Bujold Answers Three Questions about Self-Publishing

26 June 2016

From Eight Ladies Writing:

Today, we welcome to the blog Lois McMaster Bujold, whose new e-novella, “Penric and the Shaman” came out yesterday, June 24, 2016.

. . . .

MD: You have a long history of publishing. You were writing and assembling a fanzine with friends back in the 60s, you wrote short stories that were published in established magazines like Rod Serling’s The Twilight Zone Magazine, then your novels were published by the well-known SF publisher, Baen Books, and two of your fantasy series were published by HarperCollins’ Eos Books (now rebranded as HarperVoyager)—(HarperCollins is one of the Big Five publishing houses). So, in some respects, you are returning to your roots with self-publishing the novellas, “Penric’s Demon” (July 6, 2015) and now “Penric and the Shaman”. Why?

. . . .

I entered self-publishing piecemeal and cautiously. In late 2010, my agent had been learning about the then-new Amazon and other e-publishing programs that wanted to work with established agents, and I had a backlist book, The Spirit Ring, the rights of which were free of all entanglements. Because I had no intention of writing frontlist sequels to it, it was pretty much unsalable to regular publishers. I also had a career in Britain which was dead in the water, permanently stalled. (Long story there.) We decided to use The Spirit Ring to experiment with this new e-market, since any income would be better than the nothing it was then earning. So I did a new edit (very kludgily, as I’d never had to pay attention to such things as my own under-formatting before—I have since learned-by-doing how to do it better), my agent’s resident art- and e-wizard did the e-vendor-formatting and cover, my agent did the vendor-page copy, and we put it up to see what would happen. All very home-baked.

Its first month in the Kindle store, it earned about $230, which was as much or more as it had been making in six months as a weak backlist paperback. It continued to earn a couple hundred a month for the next few months, and my agent expanded us into the iBooks store and Nook, and they paid some more. In the spring of 2011, Amazon expanded us into the UK e-market, and a bit more came in.

And about this point, I woke up big-time and began looking around for more of my backlist that had e-rights free.

Which was not much, but I did have some novellas that had free rights as singletons. So we got those up and stood back to see how it went. It went well, the prior indie e-sales failed to fall off, and it then occurred to me that while most of my e-rights to my backlist were tied up with my American publishers, this was not so with my late UK publishers. I’d never sold The Hallowed Hunt there so we tried that next on Amazon UK. The Sharing Knife tetralogy had also never sold in the UK, so that went up early, too, by which point we were all getting the hang of this. My agent also got some dead UK rights reverted to us. I spent a good part of early 2011, when I was stalled out on the novel-in-progress by reason of story-line problems and medical distractions, editing my old Vorkosigan-series titles for British and World e-placement, through the new country-specific Amazons and iBooks; one by one, we put up all the available titles.

So that when the really big (and hard and scary) decision came around at the beginning of 2012, when a large chunk of my Baen backlist came up for license renewal, I had accumulated a year and a half of my own data and experience with which to make it a rational one. I did not renew my e-rights with Baen, but instead kept them and put the old e-books up as indie titles. (Baen retains paper rights, as they can handle those better than we can. They may also sell my old titles in their own e-book store, and of course they have regular publisher-rights on my newer titles.) The results have been astonishing, not only because I am now getting e-checks every month that are enough to live on and then some, but because my own financial analysis proved dead accurate.

. . . .

So anyway, last year after I’d finished Gentleman Jole and the Red Queen, and thought, “Gee, I’d really like to try indie e-pubbing an original work, not just a backlist reprint, and see what happens,” I wasn’t flying wholly blind. And I had this idea for a character, and I didn’t want to plunge into another novel-length work, but I love novellas. They are long enough for character development, but lack the miserable middle that is such a grind at novel-length. Or at least the middle murk doesn’t last as long. Hence “Penric’s Demon”, which has done very well for me so far.

MD: And so far, how do you like self-publishing? What was the most pleasant surprise? And the worst?

LMB: I really like self-e-pubbing for the artistic freedom, including that of length, the absolute lack of deadlines, contracts, or the need to please other people—or worse, my horror that my work might let them down by not doing well enough to justify their investment in it and me. Also, no book tours, nor any more energy spent on PR than I care to invest. There is very little between me and the reader.

Link to the rest at Eight Ladies Writing and thanks to Krista for the tip.

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Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them

25 June 2016

Harry Potter and the secret of the magic money tree

14 June 2016

From The Daily Mail:

Oh dear. The owl has been sacked already. On the first night of Harry Potter And The Cursed Child, a live owl escaped backstage and flew through the auditorium of the Palace Theatre in London, ending up in a corner of the dress circle, right next to me.

It was quite possibly a barn owl but, unable to see its Equity card, I wasn’t sure. As owl minders thundered around in a bid to recapture the bird, it just sat there, blinking — well — owlishly.

. . . .

After seven epic novels, eight epic films (the last book so very epic it had to be done in two instalments), three supplementary booklets, two new films based on one of those booklets, a website called Pottermore with more than 20,000 words of additional material, plus a Potter encyclopaedia in progress, one might have imagined that J. K. Rowling would have laid down her quill and congratulated herself on a good job well done.

After all, in Harry Potter she has created one of the most successful and much-loved characters of all time, not to mention one of the most successful film franchises ever, having taken more than £4 billion globally.

. . . .

 More than 450 million copies of Harry Potter books have been sold around the world, while the Harry Potter theme parks in Hollywood and Florida are packed every day.

Link to the rest at The Daily Mail and thanks to Toni for the tip.

Read science fiction – Our global crisis simulator

5 June 2016

From TeleRead:

At the Brain Bar Budapest futurological congress in Budapest, Etienne Augé, Senior Lecturer at the Erasmus School of History, Culture and Communication at the University of Rotterdam, and Founder Director of CHIFT (Community for Histories of the Future), spoke on “Why do we need science fiction? Recipes for crisis management.” Augé is one of the best exponents of a Three Days of the Condor-style think tank approach to science fiction, where the genre serves as a reservoir of scenarios for actual real-world crisis management. So if you want to know how to save the world, get reading, people.

Running through examples including 1984, Farenheit 451, Soylent Green, and Gattaca, Augé outlines how “we study what science fiction can tell us about crisis in the past or the future … What we do is study science fiction to see what extent we can predict the future.” And he makes a case for science fiction as a discipline that exists both to actual invent the future, and also “to prevent things … to warn us against possible forms of the future … not to predict, but to invent, and prevent.” Instancing H.G. Wells, who actually forecast the widespread use of submarines, but who also cautioned that “my imagination refuses to see any sort of submarine doing anything but suffocating its crew and floundering at sea,” he touches on Orwell’s prediction of a society “observing each other constantly” over social media, and Bradbury’s prognostication of a world that burns books because “books do not make people happy, they make people think.”

Link to the rest at TeleRead

The Chinese Government is Setting Up Its Own Major Science Fiction Award

5 June 2016

From io9:

[D]uring the latest national congress of the China Association for Science and Technology, chairman Han Qide announced that the country would be setting up a program to promote science fiction and fantasy, including the creation of a new major award.

Throughout much of its genre’s history, China’s science fiction has had a legacy of usefulness, often promoted to educate readers in concepts relating to science and technology. This new award will be accompanied by an “international sci-fi festival” and other initiatives to promote the creation of new stories.

In the last couple of decades, China has enjoyed an unprecedented boom when it comes to science fiction. Since the 1990s, dozens of authors have broken out and written a number of high profile books, creating a viable community. Every year, Chinese science fiction magazine Science Fiction World issues its own major award, the Galaxy.

Link to the rest at io9

Middle Eastern Writers Find Refuge in the Dystopian Novel

31 May 2016
Comments Off on Middle Eastern Writers Find Refuge in the Dystopian Novel

From The New York Times:

Basma Abdel Aziz was walking in downtown Cairo one morning when she saw a long line of people standing in front of a closed government building.

Returning hours later, Ms. Abdel Aziz, a psychiatrist who counsels torture victims, passed the same people still waiting listlessly — a young woman and an elderly man, a mother holding her baby. The building remained closed.

When she got home, she immediately started writing about the people in line and didn’t stop for 11 hours. The story became her surreal debut novel, “The Queue,” which takes place after a failed revolution in an unnamed Middle Eastern city. The narrative unfolds over 140 days, as civilians are forced to wait in an endless line to petition a shadowy authority called The Gate for basic services.

“Fiction gave me a very wide space to say what I wanted to say about totalitarian authority,” Ms. Abdel Aziz said in a recent interview.

“The Queue,” which was just published in English by Melville House, has drawn comparisons to Western classics like George Orwell’s “1984” and “The Trial” by Franz Kafka. It represents a new wave of dystopian and surrealist fiction from Middle Eastern writers who are grappling with the chaotic aftermath and stinging disappointments of the Arab Spring.

. . . .

Science fiction and surrealism have long provided an escape valve for writers living under oppressive regimes. In Latin America, decades of fascism and civil war helped inspire masterpieces of magical realism from authors like Gabriel García Márquez and Isabel Allende. In Russia, the postmodern novelist Vladimir Sorokin has published disturbing and controversial futuristic novels that surreptitiously skewer the country’s repressive government.

Dystopian themes are not entirely new in Arabic fiction. But they have become much more prominent in recent years, publishers and translators say. The genre has proliferated in part because it captures the sense of despair that many writers say they feel in the face of cyclical violence and repression. At the same time, futuristic settings may give writers some measure of cover to explore charged political ideas without being labeled dissidents.

“These futuristic stories are all about lost utopia,” said Layla al-Zubaidi, co-editor of a collection of post-Arab Spring writing titled “Diaries of an Unfinished Revolution.” “People really could imagine a better future, and now it’s almost worse than it was before.”

Link to the rest at The New York Times and thanks to Terrence and others for the tip.

Building Fantasy Worlds and Learning as You Go

7 May 2016

From i09:

Fantasy novels are known for their incredible detail and fantastic settings. From Middle Earth to Westros, stories often live or die depending on where they’re set. Martha Wells, who’s recently released the latest installment of her Raksura series, outlines how she builds her own worlds.

. . . .

Your latest book, The Edge of Worlds picks up in your Books of the Raksuraseries, the first three of which were published in 2011/2012. Why pick up the series again after four years?

Actually there have been two other books that are part of the series, a two volume set of novella and story collections. Stories of the Raksura I: The Falling World & The Tale of Indigo and Cloud, which came out in 2014, and Stories of the Raksura II: The Dead City & The Dark World Below, which came out in 2015.

I kept going with the series because I’m still having a lot of fun with the world. I love writing about my matriarchal bisexual polyamorous flying lizard-lion-bee people, and I’ve had encouraging words from a lot of readers who wanted to see more stories about them.

There were elements of the world that I had in mind since I started the first book that I hadn’t had a chance to explore yet, and I wanted to take the opportunity to take the story to the conclusion I originally had in mind for it.

. . . .

Your books have frequently received praise for your world building, and I noticed that you had studied anthropology in college: how has that figured into your writing? What’s most important when creating a new world?

I think that when I was trying to create imaginary worlds, it helped me to know how the real world works. Even if I was going to have a world with so much magic that physics and biology are affected and changed by it.

Studying how real-world cities worked at various times in history, and how cultures and religions change over time, and the kind of technologies that cities in the ancient world developed, and how different cultures interacted with each other, all helped fuel my imagination and let me create my own cultures and cities.

. . . .

Are there any particular cultures or religions that you’ve been drawn to when it comes to building new worlds? Who do you reconcile the lessons of modern cities and society and utilize them in a fantasy world?

I don’t think I’m drawn to any particular culture. I love looking at places like Mohenjo-daro or medieval Benin City, for example, with interesting infrastructure. One of the things I’m working on right now is a fantasy city using a lot of magical technology and figuring out how they would use it for things like mass transportation. There are a lot of strange and forbidding places in the series, but it’s also fun to come up with environments that people would actually like to live in.

Link to the rest at i09

12 Novel Adaptations That Should Get a Do-Over Reboot

1 May 2016

From i09:

We’ve all been there: a favored book is snapped up for adaptation, with a whole lot of potential behind it: solid cast, crew, production values, etc. When it hits theaters, you walk out wishing that they’d done everything differently.

It’s often said that there book is always better than the movie, and there’s a long history of that being true, because Hollywood simply didn’t get what the book was about, or did any number of other things wrong.

But, the movie version of a book isn’t always inferior: just look at Blade RunnerMinority Report, Children of Men or Jurassic Park, with films that rival or even exceed their source material. It’s possible to get the book right, or to get a good version of it.

For all the complaining that people make about Hollywood not greenlighting original projects, let’s face a reality: adaptations from books, reboots of old movies, and the general recycling of content will continue. With that in mind, here’s, a couple of films out there that we wish Hollywood would go back and do over again, hopefully better than before.

. . . .

A Wizard of Earthsea

Back in 2004, Lord of the Rings was in theaters and everyone was trying to jump on the epic fantasy bandwagon, including the SciFi channel. The result was an incredibly poor adaptation of A Wizard of Earthsea, something that author Ursula K. Le Guin has publicly slammed the adaptation:

A far cry from the Earthsea I envisioned. When I looked over the script, I realized the producers had no understanding of what the books are about and no interest in finding out. All they intended was to use the name Earthsea, and some of the scenes from the books, in a generic McMagic movie with a meaningless plot based on sex and violence.

The show’s screenwriter, Gavin Scott, recently noted that he had very little contact with Le Guin, which could have helped.

It’s a shame, because Earthsea is one of the really great works of epic fantasy fiction. It’s set in a fantastic world, and uses magic in a brilliant, philosophical way. If handled properly (ie, not Whitewashed), this could make for a great adaptation.

. . . .

World War Z

When it comes to miserable movie adaptations, the most common thing to hear when Max Brooks’ World War Z is mentioned is “maybe they should have actually adapted the book.” Aside from the title, there’s not much crossover with the source material. The movie, follows one character through the zombie apocalypse, while the book follows a whole bunch of individual stories. Even Brooks noted that “it’s only World War Z in name only.”

There’s not likely to be any sort of do-over here – World War Z 2 is on its way. That’s kind of a shame, because apparently, the original script written by J. Michael Straczynski was a really great adaptation of the novel.

. . . .


Like Starship Troopers, this one falls under the love-it-or-hate-it category. There was David Lynch’s fantastic movie Dune, and the SciFi miniseries Frank Herbert’s Dune, that came out in 2000. Both are reasonably competent adaptations: They get the broad story right, but there’s something about Herbert’s novel that neither have really been able to capture.

Dune is a really tough book to adapt, because it’s such a dense and rich story. Still, given the trend for thick, dense novels to make their way onto television, it would be interesting to see if an HBO-style, 10 episode season series would work for this.

Link to the rest at i09

The great escape

29 April 2016

From Aeon:

The only people who hate escapism are jailers, said the essayist and Narnia author C S Lewis. A generation later, the fantasy writer Michael Moorcock revised the quip: jailers love escapism — it’s escape they can’t stand. Today, in the early years of the 21st century, escapism — the act of withdrawing from the pressures of the real world into fantasy worlds — has taken on a scale and scope quite beyond anything Lewis might have envisioned.

. . . .

I’m emblematic of an entire generation who might, when our history is written, be remembered first and foremost for our exodus into digital fantasy. Is this great escape anything more than idle entertainment — designed to keep us happy in Moorcock’s jail? Or is there, as Lewis believed, a higher purpose to our fantastical flights?

Fans of J R R Tolkien line up squarely behind Lewis. Tolkien’s Lord of the Rings (1954) took the fantasy novel — previously occupied with moralising children’s stories — and created an entire world in its place. Middle Earth was no metaphor or allegory: it was its own reality, complete with maps, languages, history and politics — a secondary world of fantasy in which readers became fully immersed, escaping primary reality for as long as they continued reading. Immersion has since become the mantra of modern escapist fantasy, and the creation of seamless secondary worlds its mission. We hunger for an escape so complete it borders on oblivion: the total eradication of self and reality beneath a superimposed fantasy.

Language is a powerful technology for escape, but it is only as powerful as the literacy of the reader. Not so with cinema. Star Wars marked the arrival of a new kind of blockbuster film, one that leveraged the cutting edge of computer technology to make on-screen fantasy ever more immersive. Then, in 1991, with James Cameron’s Terminator 2: Judgment Day, computer-generated imagery (CGI) came into its own, and ‘morphing’ established a new standard in fantasy on screen. CGI allowed filmmakers to create fantasy worlds limited only by their imaginations. The hyperreal dinosaurs of Jurassic Park (1993) together with Toy Story (1995), the first full-length CGI feature, unleashed a tidal wave of CGI blockbusters from The Matrix (1999) to Avatar (2009). The seamless melding of reality and fantasy that CGI delivers has transformed our expectations of cinema, and fuelled a ravenous appetite for escape.

. . . .

The world is not made of atoms. It is made of the stories we tell about atoms.

. . . .

As the technology of escape continues to accelerate, we’ve begun to see an eruption of fantasy into reality. The augmented reality of Google Glass, and the virtual reality of the games headset Oculus Rift (resurrected by the power of crowd-funding) present the very real possibility that our digital fantasy worlds might soon be blended with our physical world, enhancing but also distorting our sense of reality. When we can replace our own reflection in the mirror with an image of digitally perfected beauty, how will we tolerate any return to the real? Perhaps, in the end, we will find ourselves, not desperate to escape into fantasy, but desperate to escape from fantasy. Or simply unable to tell which is which.

Link to the rest at Aeon and thanks to Julia for the tip.

Compelling Science Fiction

11 April 2016

From Compelling Science Fiction:

We are a new online science fiction magazine focused on ‘hard’ science fiction. All our stories are freely readable on this site, and we also provide a DRM-free subscription for .mobi and .epub formats through Patreon to read on your favorite e-reader. You can support us at any level you feel comfortable with. Your support allows us to provide high-quality stories in a simple, no-nonsense format and pay a professional rate to the authors who write them.

This first issue contains five excellent (dare I say, compelling) stories. We start with Lawrence Buentello’s “Gaia’s Children,” an intense tale about planetary colonization. Our second story, Aaron Wright’s “Reflection,” gives a glimpse into the life of a sentient hospital. We follow that up with “Mean and Clean” by Marie DesJardin, a lighthearted look at a unique alien life-form. “Opportunities for Lost Children” by James Beamon comes next, giving an interesting take on mind transference. Rounding out our lineup is “the Art of Failure” by Robert Dawson, an exhilarating first contact situation with a clever resolution.

Link to the rest at Compelling Science Fiction and thanks to Keely for the tip.

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