Tag Archives: writing

Money Flows from the Writer

As of January 1, most of the services on Duotrope, a popular site for tracking submissions and getting information about literary markets, will only be available to paying users. The site is currently donation-supported. According to Duotrope’s announcement, “We haven’t met any of our monthly [fundraising] goals since 2007. Quite simply, we can no longer afford to run Duotrope this way.” The new fee structure is $5 per month or $50 per year for writers.

After this was announced, a predictable wave of “Why Wasn’t I Consulted?” commentary ensued. Access to the site will remain free for editors, leading many writers (and a few publishers) to suggest that Duotrope is looking in the wrong place for funding. “We would ask @Duotrope to put the burden of cost on publishers, not on writers,” tweeted small press @CrossedGenres. “More submissions=more diversity/choice=better titles/publications. That’s the value for us.” Others suggested holding big auctions or crowdfunding pushes as one-time fundraisers.

Even those who think asking authors to pay is reasonable feel $50 is awfully steep. “I don’t see the benefit to Duotrope’s users at $50,” author and editor Michael Nye wrote in a Branch conversation. “Established writers don’t need the info on the site – we know what journals have poor response times – so this is mostly on the back of the uninformed.” Richard Flores IV blogged similar thoughts: “Let’s put this in perspective here. $50 a year means selling 5,000 words a year at one cent per word…. I don’t always get 5,000 words sold in short stories each year.  And considering the bulk of Duotrope’s listings don’t pay anything, there is not much chance of making any money on your $50 investment.”

A few people compared Duotrope to Ralan’s SpecFic and Humor Webstravaganza, a donation-funded site that offers extensive short story market listings completely free of charge, or Writer’s Market, which charges $40/yr for author access. I was surprised not to see comparisons to the Wooden Horse Magazine Database, which charges writers $149 a year. On the other hand, Wooden Horse lists plenty of high-end trade and consumer magazines that might pay $500 or more for a single article. A quick search on Duotrope for science fiction markets in the “pro” pay bracket brought up 39 markets, most of which I could have listed off the top of my head–and most of which can be found on SFWA’s list of qualifying markets, though SFWA’s site doesn’t have all the information that Duotrope does.

Some of Duotrope’s users who already know the markets are planning to switch to other methods of tracking submissions. “As the days go by, I find myself thinking that this is just the excuse I needed to put together my own spreadsheet,” writer Devan Goldstein said in reply to Nye on Branch. Flores agreed: “Duotrope offers little more than you can already track yourself. After all the most valuable feature to the writer, is the submission tracker. To be honest, all you have to do is make an Excel spreadsheet to do that. I admit that the response stats, acceptance rates, and ‘Top Market’ lists are fun.  But you really don’t need any of that information to be an author.”

As of this writing, Duotrope is standing firm. “We have always known this decision meant parting ways with some of our users,” says a post on the company’s Facebook page. “If you will not be joining us, then we thank you for all the support, promotion and participation over the last seven years, and for helping grow Duotrope from an experiment into a mature company and service. If you have already subscribed or are planning on subscribing, we can’t wait to have you along for the ride!”

In Praise of the Implausible

Going back to last week’s post about that jaded feeling that’s crept into both SF and fantasy, I wonder whether part of the problem is that many authors and publishers are too focused on the believable and the plausible.

I’ve been reading Fish Eats Lion, an anthology of Singaporean speculative fiction edited by Jason Erik Lundberg. American and English reviewers tend to describe SF/F from other countries as “fresh”, which is sort of the new “exotic”, but what it really means is that these authors are not bound by the increasingly restrictive notions of what will get white Western readers to suspend their disbelief. For example, in Ng Yi-Sheng’s story “Agnes Joaquim, Bioterrorist”, orchids foment populist revolution:

For indeed, not only was [Queen Victoria] in peril: the very building she had been housed within had been taken prisoner by an explosive growth of giant purple orchids. These vegetable horrors penetrated every storey of the edifice with an excrescence of creeping tendrils. Guardsmen openly wept as they attempted to penetrate the foliage, hacking with their parangs at the greenery.

…The Hamidian massacres had ended, for Sultan Abdul Hamid II had been found dead in his palace. Officials claimed he had choked on a fishbone, but the people knew better. They said he had collapsed across his chamberpot, mysteriously asphyxiated by a creeper that had slowly grown throughout the interior of his body, a sprig of purple blossoms sprouting from his mouth.

There is a certain sort of reader who will encounter such notions and start muttering things about rates of plant growth and photosynthesis and of course the Sultan would have felt something awry and gone to a doctor, the sort of reader whose disbelief is weighty and anchored. I think these readers are in the minority, and yet the Anglo-American SF/F canon is increasingly geared toward their demands for plausibility. We make fun of epic fantasy where you can “hear the dice rolling”, but the point of rolling dice is to emulate the real world, where certain things are more likely than other things. It makes fantasy more plausible. Compare your average dungeon crawl to, say, Bob Leman’s “Instructions”, which is entirely implausible and also one of the best and scariest stories I’ve ever read.

Ng’s orchids are implausible. They’re also beautiful. I think we need more startling beauty in our speculative fiction, more giggling, more wonder. And plausibility is in the eye of the beholder, too; after visiting lush, tropical Singapore, where enormous plants really do grow practically overnight, I find Ng’s imagery only a step or two removed from reality, whereas if I’d never left the northeastern U.S. I would struggle much more with the idea. As Western SF/F publishers become more aware of their diverse audiences, they also need to realize that catering to one culture’s idea of “plausible” is just as restrictive as saying that protagonists need to be white English-speaking men.

Diversity of attitudes in SF/F readers is also very obvious in what’s selling. Steampunk and paranormal romance are hotter than Singapore’s sidewalks, and notably unfettered by realism. How does your dirigible work? It just does!

Verne: You can't just "make things up"! Wells: Why not? Mine works just as well as yours!

I’m with Wells. Credit: Kate Beaton, Hark! A Vagrant. (Click the image for a larger version.)

I don’t actually think blueprints are boring. I’m also reading Peter F. Hamilton’s Great North Road right now, and near-future murder mysteries are about as fact-heavy as SF gets; in that context, it works. But I think genre gatekeepers need to stop catering to readers who insist on all speculative fiction being plausible, because after a while that starts to mean predictable and stale. The New Weird is a big step in the direction of gleeful fabulism, but we need more. No more rolling dice. Bring back Things from Beyond. To hell with the square-cube law. I’d love to see more science fantasy, for that matter. Ray guns! Why not? It’s a big genre with lots of room; there’s no reason to crowd ourselves into one tiny corner of it. If we want to revitalize speculative fiction, we can’t just speculate–we need to have dreams and nightmares and random flights of fancy too. Some readers love doing the heavy lifting of disbelief-suspending; it feels good, like pumping iron, and while big credulity muscles may be out of fashion in this cynical age, I say that what surprises me makes me stronger. So go ahead. Just make it up.

Back from Chicago

And boy are our arms tired: Josh transcribed 6500 words of interview and I wrote 3500 words of article and blog post on Monday (holiday, shmoliday) and we’re still recovering! But it will be worth it when the SF/F focus issue comes out this coming Monday, September 10, and you can read the profile of Seanan McGuire, the feature article on genre-blending, and the nifty little sidebar on Christian inspirational epic fantasy, plus a Q&A with Iain M. Banks. PW subscribers get instant access; the rest of you will have to wait three weeks.

In the meantime, some links to tide you over:

  • Justine Larbalestier is brilliant on “Racism in the Books We Write”. If there’s been a theme for this year in my part of the world, it’s taking responsibility; Justine’s post is a great example of how to do that without defensiveness.
  • Aliette de Bodard is equally brilliant on the scale and scope of engineering projects.
  • ChiZine is launching a YA imprint, ChiTeen. Agented subs only at this time. First books will come out in 2014.
  • There are some complaints that Worldcon could have done a better job with accessibility, even given a convention center that was an absolute maze (and probably not ADA-compliant).
  • Ustream apologizes for cutting off the Hugo ceremony; apparently once the automatic ban went into effect, they couldn’t turn it off, but it could all have been avoided if the Hugo administrators had just paid for the service. Apparently that post got a number of angry comments before commenting was turned off altogether.
  • PW reviewer John Ottinger III is part of the movement to make September 7 (today!) National Buy a Book Day in the U.S. Will you #buyabook today?

Look, Just Subscribe to FILM CRIT HULK’s Blog Already

It would get kind of boring if I linked to every brilliant thing that FILM CRIT HULK puts up, so I don’t, but I really have to single out this snarky, brutal, and deliciously smart deconstruction of the hero’s journey and the ways it’s frequently misunderstood and misused. If you write fiction of any kind, go read that post. Oddly, I came away from it wanting to write a Campbellian hero’s journey story… but wanting to do it well, and feeling better equipped to do that than I was 15 minutes ago.

And since I’m here, I will urge you all again to go read HULK’s piece on the myth of the three-act structure. Again, this post is completely applicable to fiction writing. I literally cannot recall the last movie I saw in the theater; plays and television likewise hold little interest for me. But the book/script distinction is irrelevant when we’re discussing these truly basic bones of story, so if you have any prejudices of that sort, chuck ‘em and go read those posts.

Oh, and when HULK says to watch a video of Trey Parker and Matt Stone talking about how to build a compelling story, do take two minutes to watch it. In fact, take one minute, because the good part starts at 0:53.

Deep Thoughts

For a holiday weekend, there’s been an awful lot of introspection and serious thought going on out in the interwebs.

If that’s not enough wisdom for you, have an extra bit of brilliance from Emily Post, writing about social media interactions 89 years ago:

A gift of more value than beauty, is charm, which in a measure is another word for sympathy, or the power to put yourself in the place of others; to be interested in whatever interests them, so as to be pleasing to them, if possible, but not to occupy your thoughts in futilely wondering what they think about you.

Would you know the secret of popularity? It is unconsciousness of self, altruistic interest, and inward kindliness, outwardly expressed in good manners.

Those of you who were at the Worldcon panel on social media may remember me fumbling to remember that quote. Here it is in its beautiful entirety. If this were displayed above the text entry boxes on Twitter, Facebok, and Google+, I think the internet would be a much more pleasant place.

Down with Destiny

While going over my page proofs today (yes, on paper, with a pencil, because we are seriously old school over here), I caught the term “bond-mate” in two consecutive reviews. I took one out and replaced it with an equivalent term, but this got me thinking about how many paranormal romances seem to revolve around the idea of destined partners, much as fantasy epics often revolve around the idea of destined jobs or tasks.

Does anyone else find this idea really disturbing? It’s like all the worst parts of arranged marriage with none of the upsides. It throws us back to a time when women were property and there was no divorce. You can’t even blame your parents; Fate or Destiny or God has made the choice for you, and you don’t get to argue. Initially dislike the other person? Too bad! Fate or Destiny or God has also slipped you a roofie, and you will be so compellingly attracted to your destined mate that your arousal overwhelms your very reasonable concerns. The super-hot compulsive sex will just have to make up for your partner not being someone you otherwise want to be in the same room with.

In anything resembling the real world, this would be a recipe for marital disaster and profound self-loathing. The compulsive arousal/attraction thing particularly makes me cringe. There’s a word for sex you don’t want but are forced to have, and I think that word is applicable even when it’s Fate or Destiny or God forcing two people to behave a certain way rather than one of those people forcing the other. How terrible would it be to be repeatedly compelled to have sex with someone you’re bound to forever, possibly for multiple centuries or lifetimes depending on the paranormal setting, and to have your body aroused by it every single time even when it’s really not what your mind wants, and to know that you can’t escape because Fate or Destiny or God will inexorably draw the two of you back together no matter how far you run? Even if you loved your partner truly and deeply, how could you bring yourself to touch them, knowing that their responses aren’t under their control and that in this setting there is no such thing as consent because neither of you can really say no?

If the destiny is in some way related to race or heritage or gender–all men are fighters, all elves prefer bow-and-arrow to swords, each man gets one woman and each woman gets one man, the prince raised as a woodcutter will be a terrific king because kingliness is inherited, etc.–you get double extra “no” points. Essentialism is bad enough without setting up an entire fictional world that supports and enforces it.

I could be all analytical and muse about why so many readers and writers find these concepts even remotely appealing, but I’m going to keep it personal. The more I encounter destiny tropes, the more they turn me off. Destined love is the opposite of romantic.

Freedom to choose one’s own path in life is such a fundamental necessity that wars have been fought over it and people have marched by the millions demanding it. Let’s stop mining the emotional power of restriction and the quest for freedom by writing endless narratives of people who not only have no choices but whose character arcs begin with defiant struggle and end with giving in. When destined partners fall helplessly in love, it’s no different from “He loved Big Brother”.

Give me protagonists who make choices, even terrible choices, maybe especially terrible choices. Give me all the character development that comes from debating those choices. If Fate or Destiny or God forces them to do certain things, they’re not protagonists anymore; they’re puppets, hollow and voiceless, following their script to its depressingly inevitable conclusion.

In Threes

Good things come in threes! Have some good writing advice:

  1. Kelley Eskridge: “Today I am thinking about exposition and voice. There is the voice of the character, and the deeper voice of the writer: if you spend time with the pieces I’m writing every day, I am sure you will notice certain patterns of my writer’s voice, especially since they are not yet smoothed fully into effective stories. But today I am thinking about character voice as a tool for, well, everything.”
  2. David Hines: “When I’m reading, I often play a game called, ‘Who the fuck are these people, and why the fuck do I care?’ The term ‘game’ is something of a misnomer, because it’s not conscious, or hasn’t been until I noticed my brain was doing something and tried to figure out just what that something was. It actually happens pretty deeply, on an instinctual level. ‘Who the fuck are these people, and why the fuck do I care?’ is the best name I’ve come up with to describe what’s happening, and the reason I came up with it is that a while back I realized that I’ve been playing this game when I find that a story has made me confused, or angry, or really fucking bored.”
  3. FILM CRIT HULK: “THE ACT BREAK CAN BE NEW AND INTERESTING PLOT POINT, A POIGNANT CHARACTER DECISION, A PERSONALITY REVEAL, TWO PREVIOUSLY UN-MET CHARACTERS BECOMING FRIENDS, OR EVEN, IF HANDLED CORRECTLY, SOMETHING AS INSIPID AS ‘NO! THE BAD GUYS ARE HERE! RUN!’ … IT CAN  BE ANYTHING AS LONG AS IT HAVE CHANGING NARRATIVE VALUE. THE CHARACTERS ALWAYS HAVE MOVE FORWARD IN SOME NEW REALITY/SITUATION. THE TRUE END OF ACT CREATE PROPULSION. WITH THIS DEFINITION, IT MEAN FILM CAN HAVE ANY NUMBER OF ACTS DEPENDING ON WHAT TRYING TO SAY/DO.”

(Hat-tip to Harry Connolly for the first two links.)

I realize FILM CRIT HULK’s style may not be for everyone, but trust me, if you write stories of any kind and especially if you have ever tried to write in the “classic” three-act structure, go read that post.

Unfortunately, bad things come in threes too. These bloggers explain how not to write:

  1. Shweta Narayan on “The Green Reich”: “So, Star*Line published yet another majorly racefailtastic thing, this time with extra added homophobia, transphobia, and pick-your-bigotry. And that’s the fourth in what, a year? (ETA: more like two years, my bad, the illness has screwed with my time sense. Still not good.) Of course, there’s been the predictable ‘but you’re CENSORING the poor wee bigot by OBJECTING!’ rhetoric. Again. And, of course, if only a few people speak up, they don’t count and nobody’s really objecting, but if multiple people speak up, then they’re a mob. Again. There is simply no original thought involved in the pro-bigotry rhetoric here.”
  2. badparsiqueer on the Dresden Files: “Did you walk along 53rd St and decide that this was ‘the worst a large city had to offer’? What made you think that? Was it the Starbucks on the corner? Or the farmers market that happens every Thursday morning in the summer? The Aveda salon? Treasure Island, the expensive ‘European food market’? Or was it the back door Latino club that sells empenadas and Latinoamericano magazines out of the back door every afternoon? The smoke shop with the cheap weaves on Styrofoam heads in the window? The crappy Mexican food shop that sells huge burritos for a buck? The 24 hour cheap grocery by the bus stop, where I bought my yogurt from because I couldn’t afford to shell out 5 dollars on fucking yogurt? Was it the Black people, Jim Butcher? Did they make you feel unsafe?”
  3. moniquill on “Household Spirits”: “STORIES LIKE THIS HURT ME. They hurt PEOPLE LIKE ME. The especially hurt CHILDEN LIKE ME. They hurt me because they are part of a cultural narrative that erases the reality of my existence. That claims that This is what NDNs were and Now they Are Gone isn’t it Sad? But if our good readers had been there, OH IF ONLY THEY HAD BEEN THERE, they would have been some of the Good White People and would have Joined The Natives. Yes they would. Which neatly absolves them from having to think about the fact that their ancestors didn’t and the lasting ramifications that has on native people living today. Everyone weeps cathartic tears and insistst that they’d have helped the Na’vi fight to keep out the unobtamium miners, but precious few of them then go home and help the REAL FUCKING LIVE Dineh (Navajo, to those playing the white name game) fight the uranium miners TODAY in the REAL WORLD. And why should they? The story already absolved them.”

For extra credit, compare Jim Butcher’s outraged response to #2 with the apologies from Strange Horizons and C.S.E. Cooney in response to #3, and identify which should be filed under “how to” and which under “how not to”.

Advice for Young Writers and Editors, Part II

As I have mentioned here occasionally, I mentor teenagers at my high school alma mater* who write, edit, and publish Tapestry, the SF/F magazine I worked on when I was there (lo these nearly 20 years ago). They just sent me the latest issue, which has gorgeous cover art–art folks, keep the name Esther Wu in the back of your mind, because she’s going places–and the usual excellent crop of stories, poems, and articles.

One of the articles explains that they couldn’t ask Neil Gaiman and Suzanne Collins how they deal with writer’s block, so they asked their English teachers instead. No disrespect to those teachers, of course, but my immediate thought was, “Well, I can’t ask Neil Gaiman** or Suzanne Collins either, but I know lots and lots of professional SF, fantasy, and horror writers I could ask!”

So if you would, please tell me in comments how you get past writer’s block, and then encourage your friends who are writers to chime in. I’ll forward your replies to the Tapestry team. And if you happen to have a direct line to Neil or Suzanne and they happen to have a bit of free time to help out some teenagers who are completely devoted to SF/F and the written word, I certainly wouldn’t mind hearing from them too.

* I always feel weird saying “at my alma mater” but “at my mater” and “at alma mater” feels even weirder.

** I have a bet with myself about how long I can go without meeting Neil Gaiman. I saw him at Balticon in 2006–along with Peter S. Beagle and Gene Wolfe; I can only assume the concom robbed a bank or something–and we’ve occasionally tweeted at each other, but we’ve yet to be introduced in person. There are dozens of people who know us both and could introduce us, so the longer this continues, the funnier it will get. I’m counting from my April 2007 start date at PW and aiming for at least ten years.

On a Lighter Note

Some quick fun links to balance out the heavy stuff I’ve been blogging about this week: