Archive for August, 2006

The (writing) life after death

August 31st, 2006

Yet another voice from the grave — someone found the outline and some notes for a novel Heinlein never wrote, and now Spider Robinson has written it.   For all I know, VARIABLE STAR might be a really good book, but I’ll wager that the publisher wasn’t thinking about its quality when they set the project in motion.   Lately there have been a number of these “dead writer speaks” projects, such as the new “Sanditon” and the pseudo-Sayers THRONES, POWERS, AND DOMINATIONS.  

 To me, these are different from the continuations of classic series, such as Sherwood’s Oz books, which are going to be much much better than the originals, or the “Endless Dune” series, which at least aren’t any worse than the orginal sequels were.  When someone creates a world, like Oz or Dune, one can make a case for setting new stories within it, assuming the author agrees — or his/her heirs do.   I have no doubt that Baum would agree, because he was a deeply commercial writer who wrote Oz to entertain others and make himself money.    Herbert — I dunno.

But this “new” Heinlein was meant to be a stand-alone, as was SANDITON.  Austen had ambitions for her work well beyond the entertainment level.  Sayers’ work deepened with every Peter Wimsey she wrote, but TPD is not a deep book.   I see these as a different kind of publisher-driven projects.  I don’t like them, for reasons that might be irrational.   I do know that I’m going to leave instructions to my literary executor to burn all my papers and wipe my hard disk when I die.   (Kevin, take note!)   I don’t want my name on any book that I haven’t had the chance to edit, revise, and polish to my (probably low anyway) standards.

How do others feel about this?

Privileging the Pretty

August 31st, 2006

I just finished reading a quite-good science fiction novel set on a Terran colony world modeled after a middle-eastern theocracy. The setting allows the author to examine the role of women–the book is clearly feminist in theme and tone–and is very nicely realized. The only thing that began to annoy the hell out of me was: why is the heroine so pretty? She is, by the time the book ends, probably in her mid-thirties, and spends most of the book (like the other woman of this world) heavily veiled except among other women and with household members; she has a profession; she’s powerful and powerfully angry; a mother in all but biological fact. She has authority, even if she lives on a world where her authority is rarely recognized. So why does the author make her so beautiful in the first place, and why does the author remind me so often of her beauty?

I suppose it is because we live in a culture that privileges beauty and considers that Pretty=Good and Beautiful=Heroic. But I think this is a trap. The rest of the women (except the heroine’s adopted daughter, who is even more beautiful) run the gamut of normal human attractiveness; why couldn’t the heroine have fit into that continuum? Because the author likes her best? Because at some moments of tension it might be easier to evoke fear or sympathy for a beautiful woman than a plain one? That it makes more sense that other characters will respond to her, help her, if her chiseled nose and damask cheek glow in the moonlight? Okay: this happens in real life. There are studies that say that the pretty people get more help in school, get a job faster, get more assistance from store clerks, and so on. And if the writer had been using this as part of her point it wouldn’t bother me; I’d very likely be fascinated. But that’s not what this book was about.

The trap, for a writer, is to use beauty as shorthand, a cheat (in the computer game sense). It’s a trap because if you let your character’s beauty stand for other things, you don’t define those things precisely. You don’t get to hone your skills as a writer. And the reader doesn’t get to know precisely what you meant.

I’m not saying don’t let your princesses be beautiful. I’m just saying: ask yourself why the damask cheek, the flawless sheet of ebony hair cascading to her waist, the dark violet eyes holding hidden sorrows, and the lingerie-model-body. If you’re going to go that far off the norm, there ought to be some reason for it.

Another 13-Line Guideline

August 30th, 2006

Some submissions have been coming to me with titles and with comments by the authors of the submissions.   I tried posting one submission with the title, but upon reflection, I prefer to post the main slab of story on its own.  If you need your title to explain something about the story, then the story isn’t finished yet.  

 So, if you want to post a title or your thoughts on the segment, please wait until your submission goes up.   Then use the “comments” window to add those details.

 BTW, in case anyone wonders why I keep putting stuff about the 13 Lines Page into general announcements, it’s because there’s no place to do it on the page itself.

WorldCon/LAConIV retrospective

August 30th, 2006

WorldCon 2006 (I forget the proper number)/LAConIV (in Anaheim) is now wrapped and the last of the stragglers have I think now left.  I left my sunglasses in the green room at the Hilton.

In attendance from Deep Genre were myself, Sherwood Smith, David Edelman, Kate Elliot and Madeleine Robins.  Except Sherwood, we ended up meeting at Madeleine’s reading on Sunday and hit Starbucks for coffee afterwards.

As David E. mentioned back during my Comicon post, too many con reports read like exercises in name dropping (which that post avoided), so I’ll try to avoid that here too, except to say that it was fun to put faces to people I’d before only known as names.  For example, David Keck, who I’d before only known as a sometime poster here on the blog, was suddenly there to talk to in person and everything at the Wild Cards reception and then on Sunday, we got to talk more after sharing a panel.

Rather than go for the gossip columnist approach, which is tacky when you’re one of the ones going to the parties and dinners, I’ll simply describe it as a novelist: There were swanky parties and simple parties, both on and off site.  There were fabulous dinners worthy of hobbit salivation and there were dinners that made me feel like I was stuck in a not terribly original comedy sketch.  (How many times can the Hilton’s kitchen’s screw up a burger?)  Terribly famous people were revealed as nice folks you hang out with in the bar.

In short, it was a con.  Panels went well from what I saw, and I saw a lot of it because I was on a lot of panels.  Apart from the usual scheduling snafus, bad mics, a spilled water pitcher and occasional overenthusiasm, things appeared to go to plan.  Name tags were ready and waiting on every panel.  Room temperatures were perfect, water was ready.  A few authors brought enough books to use for a gamemaster’s screen, but given the trouble with psuedonyms and publishing logjams, I’ll look less askance at that than I might.  Ideally you should pimp only one book at a time, but publishing doesn’t always cooperate.

The Dealers Room floor was pretty amazing even for a WorldCon, and with panels and parties, I did not manage to see all of it, but I did see a lot.  The Masquerade was also nice, with the standout being costumes for “Dancing with the Intergalactic Stars.”  I don’t know if they won, but I expect they did, since I did the same as many and left for the parties after the last entrant but before the judging.

What else should be said of the parties?  Well, I have to admit I really liked the Wild Cards reception, not because it was swanky (though that was still incredibly cool), but because it let everyone have fun and talk in a nice relaxed atmosphere and let me meet folk I haven’t seen for years or have only talked to on the phone.  Other parties?  Well, of the author’s parties, some you pretty much needed a shoehorn to get people in the door.

The fan and bid parties were vastly entertaining as well, and not as insanely crowded.  Kansas City had a “ribs tasting” which ended up being a case of too much sauce and not enough ribs, since I got to the part in time to see a table covered with bowls of various barbecue sauces.  However, that meant that the next day at their fan table, they were selling the excess bottles of barbecue sauce for $2 each.  So I grabbed four so I can do my own ribs tasting at home.

I missed the Hugo awards, but was told they went well with Connie Willis doing a great job as presenter.  The buzz about the Hugo slate was also good, with the phrase I heard more than once being “remarkably sane,” meaning that the nominees and the winners were all there as a matter of popular choice of good art, as opposed to something being pumped by media frenzy rather than quality.

Small disappointment in that WorldCon did not apparently have any swag bags of books or even cloth souvenir totes.  Maybe for sale at the T-shirt booth, but no “Welcome to the con, this if for you” like you get at World Horror, World Fantasy or some past WorldCons (including LAConIII).  However, it’s not mandatory, and my bag from WorldHorror is still sitting on my floor (though emptied of books).

And that was WorldCon, or at least what I’m conscious enought talk about after driving back last night.

Award News

August 27th, 2006

So they tell me that my story “Pericles the Tyrant” has won the 2006 Sidewise Award for excellence in alternate history, short form. I suppose I ought to mention this.

Those 13 Liners, again . . .

August 27th, 2006

People, before you post in the “13 Lines” section, PLEASE read the effing guidelines!  We have prominently displayed the link to them.  There is no excuse for not reading them.

Anyone who wants to be a professional writer is going to have to learn a few simple rules on how to format a manuscript or put together a proposal.  Why not start learning how to follow directions with our guidelines?  You’ll thank me one fine day . . .  :-)

Down for Maintenance

August 26th, 2006 will down from 10 pm tonight, Saturday the 26, PDT, to 4 am, PDT, Sunday the 27th.   Mediatemple, the host of the site, is doing upgrades and maintenance.

Worldcon is Upon Us

August 23rd, 2006

This weekend is Worldcon down in Anaheim, and many of the Deepgenre authors are attending.  Things might seem slow around here, therefore, but do not despair — they’ll pick up again, hopefully with con reports, when everyone returns.

 I’m not in Anaheim, however, and will take care of the 13 Line critique page.  We’re having some “bounce back” again of emails submitting 13 Lines to that page.  You do NOT however have to resend.  The critique address is a splitter, basically, that sends emails both to my address and to Kevin’s.  He apparently has put his on hold while he’s at the con.  Mine is working as normal, however, and so I am receiving your submissions.  I’ll try to get them up quickly, thanks to being done for the moment with my current Mighty Tome.

Other than all that, have a good Labor Day holiday and remember, don’t drink and drive.  The world needs literate people, so don’t smear yourself along some highway somewhere.  Please.

 — Kit

Revising characters

August 21st, 2006

In the midst of finishing the Flesh and Spirit sequel by a totally impossible deadline, I am developing a workshop called “Writing Characters That Live” for the Surrey Writers Conference in October. And, of course, as I develop a new workshop, I rummage through other presentations I’ve done in search of “good bits.” So, I was reading the notes for my “Joys and Pitfalls of Revision Workshop,” and these bits fell out:

Now that you have completed a draft of your story, look at your lineup of characters, and ask yourself some questions.

For each major and secondary character

  1. What do you know about the character now that you didn’t know in the beginning? Allergic to water, deeply averse to killing, hankers after men with big feet? Often we add such details to explain or enrich some plot element. You can feed these new learnings into the earlier scenes so that the detail will be grounded and not seem like just a convenience (even though it was.) Your characters will be richer.
    Continue Reading »

Mr. Earbrass and Me

August 21st, 2006

People often ask me, “What’s it like to write a novel?  How does it make you feel?”  The best answer to that I’ve ever seen lies in one of Edward Gorey’s “novels”, THE UNSTRUNG HARP, or Mr. Earbrass Writes a Novel.  This slender work has the advantage of also being very funny, unlike the process of writing a novel.

At the moment, I have just finished the final-for-now draft of THE SPIRIT STONE, all 653 pages of it, though I still have to finish the spellchecking (into 2 spelling systems, British and American), which always drives me nuts.  It’s a short drive by then.  I am spaced out, shatter-brained, scatter-brained, and half-witted.   It will take me several days to return to for what passes for normal around here.  My code name for this state is “urk urk”, borrowed frome the “Ernie” comic strip by someone whose name I can’t remember at the moment.  I’m lucky to remember my own.

Kate and I thought it might be of interest if we all discussed what we’re like and what the process is like for us at various times during the writing of novels.  Thoughts, half or otherwise?

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