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Tossing your reader in the deep end

‘I am a watchdog. My name is Snuff. I live with my master Jack outside London now. I like Soho very much at night with its smelly fogs and dark streets. It is silent then and we go for long walks. Jack is under a curse from long ago and must do much of his work at night to keep worse things from happening. I keep watch while he is about it. If someone comes, I howl.

We are keepers of several curses and our work is very important. I have to keep watch on the Thing in the Circle, the Thing in the Wardrobe, and the Thing in the Steamer Trunk – not to mention the Things in the Mirror.’  A Night in the Lonesome October, Roger Zelazny, 1993

To some authors drowning one’s readers may have a certain attraction… I mean, if you think your customers are deplorable idiots who should read your work because it will help to ‘educate’ them on the correct attitude to the cause du jour, I can quite understand it. After all, they fail to respond correctly most of the time. But while it may well be a very fashionable desire these days, it’s got serious drawbacks, besides wet paper. Read more

One Hundred Short Years…

A historian and novelist’s musing on history, fiction, and a milestone date.

The guns on the Western Front stopped firing one hundred years ago today. I am one link away from WWI, in that I have a friend and a supervisor who both knew relatives who participated in that conflict.

In some ways, the century that separates us from the end of WWI is amazingly short, because of the longer lifespans that developed in part because of medical technology and practices that arose from warfare in the 20th Century, and in part because of the documentation of that war. In other ways, it is hugely long. The world changed far faster between 1918 and 2018 than in most of the rest of human history.

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The problems of success

As pointed out last week, Mad Genius Club has been around for over 10 years, now. This means it’s older than the average career of a fiction writer… and more than twice the lifespan of the average indie writer. The advantage of a group blog is that as writers get burned out, they can take a break or leave, but the group is still here – and thanks to Dave Freer, Sarah Hoyt, and Amanda Green holding down the cornerstones and surviving through it all, this place is still awesome.  (Check out their books! Good stuff, and thanks to long careers, they have lots to choose from!)

As the bloggers and commenters have been here a while, the questions start to change. Starting out, the problems are simple, clear, and everybody has them. How do I tell the story in my head? How do I get published? How do I get noticed? But when you’ve been around long enough, you have the problems of success, and the problems of having a career. When and how do I end a series, and how do I minimize the impact to my income, and draw readers to other books? When do I rebrand all of my covers, and rewrite my blurbs? What are the advantages and disadvantages of anthologies, or of going hybrid? How do I get my rights back? When is it time to incorporate? What provisions do I make for a literary trust in my will?

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Lashing the Muse

So I have a problem. On one hand, I want to write, and am delighted when the muse awakens and sends tendrils of stories out into my head so I can write them down. On the other hand, when those tendrils become tentacles of the kraken and threaten to take over my brain… that’s a problem. I need to find a balance. A way to bottle up the muse, so to speak, and only let it out when I can actually write, because there’s a fair amount of time when I can’t. Or at least, when it’s highly inconvenient to have the muse tickling at my backbrain while I’m supposed to be concentrating on something else.

So, what I need to do is lash the muse to the bowsprit, and stick wax in my ears, and only once we’re past the sirens, let her go again to infect me with the madn… er, stories. Unfortunately, so far my attempts at this have yielded a sulky muse who tends to plop down on deck and fold her arms and stubbornly pout when I remove the lashings. This is less than ideal.

I can’t let her loose all the time. When it’s a particularly loud story, with a bright voice to the main character (and if it were that voice on the side character, I’m writing the story down wrong), it’s hard to keep my mind on the day job. As much as I enjoy writing, I can’t afford to make it my day job and give up science (for many good and complex reasons, not just because Science!) Look, you, being a Mad Scientist requires a higher degree than I’ve got. And more madness. I’m just.. I dunno. I’m an aspiring Mad Scientist. Maybe someday.

So the muse needs to be locked up, at least some of the time. I mean, it would be easy to lock her up and throw away the key. Um. I think it would be easier. I will admit I’ve not tried to actually do that. I have enough trouble with my brain wanting to explore all the shiny interests, trying to force it to focus on only one thing at a time usually backfires. So stopping writing altogether might be like that. It would leak.

The stories leak. I find myself wandering around work, with half my brain off in another universe. It’s not safe. So I write when I can, which is less than I’d like. When I finally get to the place and time where I can sit down to the story, I’m too tired to string together coherent words into anything other than, possibly, vogon poetry. I’m pretty sure there’s no market for that, except possibly as an interrogation method, and even then you’ve got Geneva Convention violations, inter-Galactic war crime trials, not to mention the interrogators whose brain has leaked out their ears. It’s no use.

So I keep steering through the straits of Charybdis, with Scylla sucking on one side and the whirlpool of distraction on the other. And the damn muse keeps snatching the wheel when I’m not looking and pointing us at those story sirens. Spoiled brat.

(Header image ‘Clown Pong’ digital art by Cedar Sanderson)


Digital dilemma?

Apple is moving ahead with a new video streaming service for its customers, which looks likely to expand to affect books as well as visual entertainment.  In the excerpt below, bold, underlined text is my emphasis.

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Kate is being held hostage by the internet gods

Poor Kate. She’s traveling right now and has found herself at the mercy of hotel internet, almost non-existent hotel internet. In the message she finally managed to get out to Sarah and me, it had taken five minutes to load email. She was terrified she’d grow old and die, her body not being found for months or longer if she tried to get WordPress to load and then upload a blog post. So I said I’d throw something together. So bear with me as I try to get my uncaffeinated brain to function enough to work.

Over the last few days, I’ve been giving a lot of thought to what Mad Genius Club is. The blog has come a long way since Sarah and Dave started it 10 years ago. (In fact, it has been 10 years and month almost to the day since our first post went live.) In that time, we’ve seen changes in writers and in direction. The template has changed and so has the tone of the blog. That’s all good, at least it is in my opinion. The last thing Sarah and Dave wanted was for the blog to grow stagnant. Read more

Reading Authors


The customary idiocy is doing the rounds of Facebook again.  All about reading authors that aren’t white males.

I don’t know about you, but not being a roman augur, I don’t read authors, I read books.  I never learned to read entrails, and besides, it’s probably illegal.  Or at least would get me an angry letter from the SPCA.

Seriously now, don’t I think that the author’s biography and his and her background influence how and what they write? Don’t I want to read new and fresh things? Read more