Sunday, April 29, 2007

You're A Real Writer If...

I had a glass of wine with dinner tonight and this list just started forming in me head...

You know you're a real writer if... you can answer 'yes' to at least 75% of these items:

1) One glass of wine is enough to start stupid ideas forming in your head that must be written down

2) You own a cat (minimum of one; maximum of three. A dog will do in a pinch. More than three animals of any kind and you're in a whole other category...)

3) Someone, most likely a 'friend,' has approached you and said, "I've got a great idea. I'll give you my idea, you write it, and we'll split the money."

5) Math is just not your thing

6) When you're supposed to be writing, laundry and vacuuming looks absolutely vital

7) When you're supposed to be doing laundry and vacuuming, writing is the most vital thing you can conceive of

8) When you are vacuuming and doing laundry, brilliant ideas flow like beer at frat house

9) When you're writing, brilliant ideas... uh, they uh...

8) Math is just not your thing

9) You have more rejections than you have rooms in your house/apartment

10) You could insulate at least one room of your house with books

11) (I can't think of one for #11, I have writers' block)

12) You've ever debated whether or not writers' block is 'real' or just in peoples' heads

Thursday, April 26, 2007

Is speculative literature an endangered species?

After RavenCon I got Rob Sawyer's permission to reprint the post below. I'd be very interested to hear what other folks have to say about this issue, because I think it's an immensely important question to anyone who loves the genre.

Is speculative literature an endangered species?

By Rob Sawyer

I'm quoted in an article on that topic. Author Mike Collins quotes part of what I said in response to his email question; here's my full response:

I don't think there is a decline in reading per se; more people are reading more books than ever before -- all the stats show that. However, they're reading fewer different titles; everyone is looking for a sense of community in our fragmented world, and so wants to read the things that others are reading. There simply weren't runaway bestsellers like HARRY POTTER and THE DA VINCI CODE in an earlier era; those books shattered all previous sales records.

It's pointless to talk about the decline in reading "speculative" fiction, because there's no section in the bookstore labeled that -- and, after all, HARRY POTTER and THE DA VINCI CODE, along with Michael Crichton, Audrey Niffenegger, Neil Gaiman, and Christopher Paolini are all broadly "speculative," and they're all doing just fine, thank you very much.

What we're talking about is the decline of the commercial publishing category known as science fiction, and the fault for that, by and large, lies with the publishers and the authors. SF has become increasingly self-referential, smug, and inaccessible to newcomers. Without bringing new readers in, and keeping them, the field is being whittled away by natural attrition of its established readership base -- the trend is a straight line, down into the toilet, and it's going to be very, very hard to turn it around at this point.

(from Rob's blog:

Tuesday, April 24, 2007


A great con, RavenCon. Worth the trip to Richmond, VA and then some. Props to organizers Michael Pederson, Tony Ruggiero, and Tee Morris; the con's attendance increased by 50% over last year's event and I'm sure it's largely due to their top-notch work.

I also had the great fortune to have brunch Saturday morning with author GOH, Rob Sawyer. We talked about everything from IGMS, to his tenure as president of the SFWA, to the line of SF books he edits for a mid-sized Canadian publisher. It was a real treat to have him to myself for that long and I learned quite a lot. Later that evening I also got see first-hand the seriousness and professionalism with which he aproaches being GOH of at a con. When a larger group of us (including Rob) were making dinner plans, he insisted we eat in the hotel's restaraunt because he wanted to stay where the con was. Why? He wanted to be available for the people who attended. It's impossible not to respect that kind of dedication.

Rob's new novel, Rollback, was recently released and the first few chapters are available on his website ( Don't read the excerpt unless you're prepared to plunk down $25 for the hardback, because once you start reading, you'll have to own it.

Speaking of books, I also got a chance to see an Advance Review Copy of James Maxey's forthcoming novel, Bitterwood. Based on what I saw in the ARC and learned while talking to him, I'm really looking forward to its release in July of this year from Solaris Books. James' story "To Know All Things That Are In The Earth" appeared in issue three of IGMS and I think he's an incredibly talented writer.

Dennis Danvers was at RavenCon, too, and I got to hang out with him quite a bit. I met Dennis at CapClave last year and really enjoyed getting to know him better. At one point during the con we must have spent over half an hour discussing authors such as John Steinbeck and Milan Kundera. Not exactly standard fare at an SF con, but I enjoyed it immensely. One of the next novels I'll be reading is Dennis's The Watch, which he was kind enough to give me an autographed copy of.

And coming down from the DC area to RavenCon (for his first con ever) was Jamie Rubin. Jamie's story, "When I Kissed The Learned Astronomer", will appear in a future issue of IGMS. Though "Learned Astronomer" is Jamie's first published story, having met him myself I can say with confidence that it won't be his last; he's a sharp guy with a quick mind and a genuine love for the art of telling stories.

Speaking of telling stories, I could tell a bunch of stories about another author, David B. Coe (call him 'Dave' and he will punch your lights out). The only problem is that any "David stories" I could tell would also incriminate myself and we can't have that (can we?). Suffice to say that I don't recall ever having met another writer with whom I had so much in common or hit it off with so quickly. We had even more fun than we had alcohol, and the quantity of alcohol we consumed is another thing I'm not going to go into detail about. (I hear David had written a book or three, too...)(Actually between The LonTobyn Chronicle and Winds of the Forelands, I think he's up to nine of them (see:

I had a lot of fun working on a wokshop with with Allen Wold, Peter Prellwitz, and Mike Allen. Allen Wold has been running this particular workshop at SF cons for nearly twenty years now, where he give folks the basics of what makes an effective short story opening and then requires participants to write one - in ten minutes. It's actually very effective for getting the writing juices flowing and participants always comes up with something pretty good. I really believe that pressure is good for the creative process (up to a point). Once the story openings have been written, everyone takes turns reading theirs aloud and then the panelists give a brief critique. It's a real pleasure being able to help these (mostly) fledgling writers get pointed in the right direction.

I was also on a great panel with Kelly Lockhart, Stuart Jaffe and Tee Morris. The topic was the dangers of technology and it turned into one of those panels where two of us took one side and two took the other and we just went at it. But we went at it with a great blend of fervor and respect, which always makes for a fun, entertaining panel - both for the audience and the panelists. It was my last panel of the con and a great way to end things.

Next con: Balticon (May 25th - 28th).

Wednesday, April 18, 2007

Best of IGMS Vol. 1

I am excited to announce that Tor has agreed in principle to publish a Best of InterGalactic Medicine Show Vol. 1. The book will include stories from the first four issues of IGMS, including all four Ender stories by Orson Scott Card. (Yes, I know you're all still waiting for the Ender story to go into issue four, but I promise he's working on it. An announcement about that will be made shortly.)

Details regarding the timeframe of the book and the stories to be included will be released as they are finalized with Tor.

Monday, April 16, 2007

Good Night, Mr. Vonnegut

I'm sure it's no longer news to anyone that Kurt Vonnegut recently passed away. Someone recently pointed out a little gift that he left to writer's and would-be writers of the world:

Vonnegut's Eight Rules of Writing Fiction, from Bagombo Snuff Box: Uncollected Short Fiction (New York: G.P. Putnam's Sons 1999), p. 9-10:

1. Use the time of a total stranger in such a way that he or she will not feel the time was wasted.

2. Give the reader at least one character he or she can root for.

3. Every character should want something, even if it is only a glass of water.

4. Every sentence must do one of two things -- reveal character or advance the action.

5. Start as close to the end as possible.

6. Be a sadist. Now matter how sweet and innocent your leading characters, make awful things happen to them -- in order that the reader may see what they are made of.

7. Write to please just one person. If you open a window and make love to the world, so to speak, your story will get pneumonia.

8. Give your readers as much information as possible as soon as possible. To heck with suspense. Readers should have such complete understanding of what is going on, where and why, that they could finish the story themselves, should cockroaches eat the last few pages.

Wednesday, April 11, 2007


I recently joined Toastmasters, an inernational organization designed to help people improve their public-speaking skills. I mention the public speaking part right away because when I told a woman the other day that I had joined Toastmasters, she immediately started talking about an old episode of the TV show 'Frasier' and how Frasier and his brother Niles had joined a wine-tasting club and were vying to become 'toastmaster' of their club and the usual wacky highjinx ensued. So let me say up front that this is not a wine tasting club (I save my wine drinking for when I'm reading IGMS story submssions ;-) )

Okay, get back to the point, Edmund...

There was a point?

Yes, now get on with it.


Okay, so I joined Toastmasters. My role as editor of these two magazines has me in front of more and more people, and it seems to be happeneing more and more often. And while I'm not shy (no one will ever accuse me of that), I do find that it's one thing to be on a panel with other speakers or to speak with small groups, but it's quite another thing to be up in front of larger groups, delivering a prepared speech. That, frankly, is scary stuff. Scary stuff that I am now doing. And Toastmaster is, as I already mentioned, designed to help people be better at it. I gave my first prepared speech a few weeks ago (a four to six minute introduction to me, and I'll confess my hands were pretty clammy by time I was done). It wasn't much fun.

I'm looking forward to today though.

Today I am going to be Table Topics Master, which means I come up with a series of items of questions for people to talk about, and they have no idea what those topics are until I tell them. It's an exercise in thinking - and talking - on your feet, and my theme is 'moral dilemmas.' One of my 'dilemmas' (formed, I'm sure, in all that Polar reading I've been doing) is to designate someone the leader of a expedition to the North Pole that has gone terribly wrong. Half the party is dead from hypothermia and starvation is imminent. The only option for survival? Cannibalism. As leader of what's left of the expedition, what do you do? What do you tell your people?

God, I'm looking forward to this.

I wonder if they'll ever let me be able Topics Master again?

(BTW, what would you do?)

Thursday, April 05, 2007

Chilling Writing

You probably know that I'm on a Polar kick right now, and I have a passage from the current book (Ninety Degrees North) that I wanted to share with you for a variety of reasons.

Here's the set-up: It's 1899 and an Italian Duke decides his country needs to throw its proverbial 'hat' into the Arctic ring, so he outfitts a massive expedition. Establishing a base in the Franz Josef achipelago, the Duke then sends a crew North, led by his second-in-command, Umberto Cagni.

On the way back from their new, record farthest-North of 86 34' (about 250 miles from the Pole) Cagni's health begins to fail, including frostbite in one finger, which is swollen to nearly the thickness of his wrist and black with gangrene. Trapped in their tent for two days because of a bad storm, Cagni decides it's time to attend to the finger. He wrote:

"I clear away all the black part with a lancet, which I hold in my left hand. As soon as I introduce the point of the blade into the flesh, an incredible quanitity of [liquid] matter issues forth, which gives me great relief. I strip away the covering of dead flesh, and there remains sticking out of the wound a piece of bone which has all the appearance of being dead. When I press the end, I feel a great pain in my whole arm. I realize that if I leave this useless projection, the smallest blow will cause me intense suffering and I therefore set about cutting it off. But I have only scissors and the little bone is very hard, so I suffer a great deal while taking the piece off. Over this little operation, which a doctor would have performed in three minutes, I spend fully two hours..."

Cagni allowed himself no time for recuperation and when the storm broke the next day they travelled another 18 miles on foot, his whole arm aching teribly. He did not, however, mention his discomfort to anyone because, as he wrote, 'it seems that yesterday's operation rather upset my comrades.'

Now, my first reaction to that was mixed. The first and obvious reaction was uugh, he cut off his own finger. That thought was immediately followed by a period of wondering if there were people left in this world who could even contemplate doing such a thing, much less travel so far afterwards.

At that point I remembered a story that was in the news not too long ago about a rock climber who cut off his entire hand with a pocket knife after a boulder fell on it, trapping him. So the answer was a resounding Yes, there are still people today who do these things and thank God I haven't had to find out whether or not I'm one of them.

After a little while though, I came to another realization. This section from the journal of a long-dead Italian is a perfect example of the kind of writing that I think is most powerful. It's not full of flowery or lengthy descriptions; it's not stylized to any degree; and it doesn't try too hard. If anything, its understatement is where much of its power comes from. It is a simple and direct presentation that is about the content, not the 'style'. And good Lord, is it powerful! I don't know about you, but I felt that passage in my gut.

If you want to know the kind of writing that gets me, look no further than Umberto Cagni, Italian Polar explorer...

Tuesday, April 03, 2007

More Reading

After finishing In The Land of White Death, I next read Resolute, a book centered around the search for the Northwest Passage (a supposed short-cut through the Arctic) that consumed so much, time, energy, and ultimately, lives in the early and middle ninteenth century. Much of the exploration done in that region was a by-product of rescue expeditions sent looking for Sir John Franklin, whose two ships, the Erebus and the Terror were lost there (most likely in 1846). Some were earnestly looking for Franklin, though some were undoubtedly only using Franklin as an excuse to raise the necessary funds to go exploring on their own.

Having completed the book Resolute, I have now started Ninety Degrees North, which, by happy coincidence, begins with the last of the so-called Frankin rescue expeditions and continues into the early twentieth century to cover men like Amundsen and Peary and the quest to become the first to the North Pole.

I find it interesting that there are variations in the details of the overlapping stories between the two books, though on reflection it is not at all surprising. Each expedition often resulted in the publication of journals written by several of the participants, and these journals were frequently at significant odds with each other. Who the historians chose to believe as they researched their own books goes a long way toward explaining the differences in the details (though not necessarily the differences in spelling of the names of some of the characters involved).

On the whole, these Polar explorers continue to fascinate me. They really were the astronauts of their day. And to echo what Rob Sawyer said on the way to dinner one night at ChattaCon, the research you do before writing a novel is not only necessary, it's a heck of a lot of fun.

In between Polar readings I am also doing some sporadic reading of a short story collection titled Beyond Armageddon. I will confess (take note, IGMS contributors) that I have a real penchant for post-apocalyptic stories, and this collection, published in 1985, contains many of the standards ("There Will Come Soft Rains" by Bradbury and "A Boy and His Dog" by Ellison), as well as a few that are new to me. I have to admit that part of the reason I picked it up was that it was assembled by Walter Miller Jr., author of the famous Canticle for Leibowitz. Unfortunately I found his lengthy introduction to the book, as well as his briefer introductions to the individual stories, to be rambling, preachy and obtuse. This, I suppose, explains why haven't dived more wholeheartedly into it, but only poke at it every now and then.

I've also been nibbling on a tome called Dear Scott, Dear Max, which is a collection of letters between F. Scott Fitzgerald and his editor at Scribner, Maxwell Perkins. I've always been a big fan of Fitzgerald and read anything by or about him that I can find. But this collection of letters is also a fascinating insight into the mind of Perkins, who was not only Fitzgerald's editor, but also that of Ernest Hemingway, Thoman Wolfe, and several other major literary figures of that era. There are lots of books out there about/for writing, but not nearly as much about editing, so I am enjoying this book from both sides of the equation.

And speaking of reading and editing, I am also busy reading again for IGMS. For a variety of reason the slush reading had to be put on hold for a little while. I needed to get certain info and input from OSC, and was having a devil of a time catching up with him. But those matters have (finally) been resolved and it's full steam ahead again.

So what are you reading these days?