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>Exeunt the Annus Horribilis

So, 2009 ends with a whine, which is probably pretty apt, all things considered. From my perspective – which is, admittedly, a wee tad biased, it’s been a true Annus Horribilis (with options on a ‘orrible anus as well) with the constant question of whether my day job will still be there, economic woes, the publishing industry playing lemmings when not doing things that – at best – leave people scratching their heads and wondering where they can get whatever these people were on at the time.

Since I have issues with late nights, I’m not likely to do anything dramatic like stay up and watch anyone’s fireworks or anything, unless I get sucked into the current WIP.

So… gazing into zee crystal ball (genuine imitation crystal, $1-99 at Wal-Mart!), what do you see for 2010?

I see ebook readers becoming a more mature technology, maybe one showing up that actually does what I want it to. EBooks becoming more prominent – and more contentious. Someone is sure to try to claim that they own ebook rights for anything they published in dead tree lo! these many years ago, especially if the author has sold the ebook rights to someone else after untold years of out of print-ness (if they haven’t already done so, which wouldn’t surprise me).

I’m not sure when it will happen, but someone, somewhere, will go big with DRM-free eBooks, and begin the slow cracking of the DRM Curtain (this is a little like the Iron Curtain and the Bamboo Curtain, only messier and full of holes – if you know where to look and what to do with the finger you poke through one of the holes). By the end of the ‘teens, eBooks will probably be bigger than dead tree, or close to it, and will be predominantly DRM-free.

What are your predictions? And how happy will you be to kick 2009 out the door in the hope that 2010 will be better?

P.S. Me being me, I’m a tad reluctant to say 2010 couldn’t be worse – if I say something like that, the universe goes out of its way to prove I’m wrong.

>A Funny Thing Happened On The Way To Print


This is partly publishing business and partly life, and it occurred to me that you guys might want to know what sometimes happens as a novel winds its way between writing and publication. And how it changes.

So, a little chronology and history on what happened to my novel Darkship Thieves, which comes out from Baen on Jan.5

1 – April 1996 – After one of the worst times in my attempts to break in, a time when great effort led only to a flurry of rejections, and after retreating into Austen fandom for six months, I realized I couldn’t take anymore just writing things that would never sell. So I rejoined my weekly writers’ group and sat down to write a story for it. Only the story ran to twenty thousand words, giving me exactly two markets: Analog and Asimov’s, neither of which I’d cracked at the time.

The novelette started with a guy – yes, you read that correctly, guy – in the hospital, trying to figure out how to rescue someone else, ina profoundly unpleasant future Earth. All noblesse oblige and stuff.

2 – rest of 1996 – wrote the novel, since I couldn’t sell it as a short. Over the time writing it, I realized it was the first time I was consciously wondering if I was giving the reader enough clues, etc. Up till then, though I’d been writing for nine years, I’d written mostly for me. Honestly, I consider this one of the big hah hah moments in my writing career.

3- Just before Christmas 96, send out a bunch of queries to agents. One answered. We’ll call her Ms. B Lister. She said she liked my idea, could she see the opening. Of course she could. I think I beat all records at getting those first chapters mailed.

4 – Ms. B Lister liked it – to my shock, by then – and wanted the rest. I sent her the rest. I didn’t hear again till April, when she told me my story was hampered by two enormous coincidences being used to propel the plot, and also she didn’t like that my guy woke up with amnesia. Right. So I went back and rewrote it over a week. This caused the incident of the Shrodinger fish (Younger boy was supposed to feed the class fish. I went into deep re-write seclusion. NOTHING else happened. The fish were okay, but until we got there, they could have been dead or alive. And I didn’t even know fish could look happy to see you!)

5 – It is October 97 before Ms. B Lister got back to me. She was slow. OTOH though she had a couple other suggestions, she liked the novel, she wanted to sign me on, and she was sure it would sell. Around this time, first twinge of doubt, since she told me sometimes things didn’t sell for inexplicable reasons. Take, for instance, something she represented, a fantasy about the young Lenin. Yes, you read that correctly. She couldn’t figure out why it hadn’t sold.

6 – at a less frantic pace do rewrite, send it back in and we’re now in 98 and I’m selling a few short stories. My friend Rebecca Lickiss (look her up if you’ve never read her) is planning to attend the Oregon Writers’ Workshop that spring. I won’t say she bullied me into going – she might have. I honestly don’t know who thought about it first, but we both applied, were accepted and ended up going. The instructor for the novel weekend (as opposed to general course) was Ginjer Buchanan and we were supposed to bring a proposal for a completed novel. Oh, yeah, I forgot to mention that after finishing the rewrite and between waiting for agent’s reply, I wrote Hall of Judgement, the first novel of the Red Baron. So I outlined that, and tried to make it a selling outline and all that.

7 – Went to workshop. By means I’m not allowed to divulge, they ensured everyone wrote a new novel outline the day before Ginjer arrived. It had to be an idea we’d never even thought of. I’m stuck in a little house by the sea, far from the internet on which I’d already come to depend as a fast research tool (even if I verify things on books/primary sources if available, afterwards.) How in heck could I do this? Mostly I wrote historical sf or space opera, both of which required research. Okay, okay, tel you what. I just wrote this short story about Shakespeare being a robot, and I did a massive amount of research – besides having been a Shakespeare buff for years. I’d do a novel involving Shakespeare. It’s not like it would sell – I mean, in twenty four hours or less? Right.

8 – I’d make it fantasy – no time to really think through time-travel or anything else. So… elves. And having recently watched Shakespeare in Love (Yes, they did threaten to throw me out of the theater for mumbling. How did you know?) I decided to solve the fair boy/dark lady thing by making an elf a gender changer. (Look, it was late at night, okay?) Plot kind of came from that.

9 – Meeting with Ginjer who liked the Red Baron novel but was afraid people would think he had been a Nazi (She might have been right. Yeah, I know, but she MIGHT have been. Trust me.) However, she’d also seen Shakespeare in Love and she LOVED the other one. The fatal question was asked “How soon can you have this to me?”

10 – Next six months consumed getting novel to Ginjer who bought it in three days. During this Ms. B Lister did everything but physically whine and snivel, because – I guess – this is not the path she saw for my career. By November I’d had enough. I went to my first convention – World Fantasy – and came to an agreement with another agent. We’ll call him Mr. Hot Shot.

11 – Mr. Hot Shot, perhaps reasonably, told me to forget that space opera and write more in the hot, hot, hot Shakespeare series. We sold two more books in 99.

12 – I finally gave the space opera to Mr. Hot Shot to read. Worldcon 2000, he told me he’d read it and it was pretty good but he had some revision notes. I was used to this, no prob. However when we met, he had no revision notes and had decided it was NOT good enough to submit. This solidified other suspicions I had that he actually did NOT read my stuff but got his receptionist – six months out of college – to read it, and he only read her notes. Um… Okay then. It would have been okay if he’d told me up front, but he didn’t. I gave him one more shot.

13 – November 2000 I send Mr. Hot Shot an outline for what was to become Heart Of Light. Unfortunately, since I’d signed with him, he’d developed a “One Right Way To Write A Successful Book” theory. This had already caused problems with the second Shakespeare book, but now he told me I’d written the wrong book and wanted me to put in all this formula stuff. (That book too underwent a massive revision before publication, but formula it was not.) I called a friend and started negotiations with her agent.

14 – First Shakespeare Book comes out a month after 9/11. I think it tanked so bad it cratered. Hard cover, unknown author. Nothing on the spine, not even “fiction” which works fine with push but without push… ah well. There were people hurting a lot worse at that time, but to me it felt like my career had also just died. I had two books in pipeline, still, and I thought I could make it, though.

15 – Of course series entered death spiral. Meanwhile I had new agent. I’d rewritten the space opera yet again, realizing that for a man to have that level of aggression he came across as psychotic. Well, a woman did too, but it wasn’t THAT bad. You weren’t afraid of her. So, Athena was born. New Agent liked her, but she seemed at best lackadaisical at sending it out. (Actually at sending anything of mine out.) Mind you, we got along FINE other than that.

16 – World Fantasy 2003 it looked like my writing career was completely dead. A month later, I got a chance to write a project for Baen with Eric Flint (which needs to be rewritten and will now be called The Shakespeare Gambit.) Now, you know, going from “dead” to “someone wants me” was exhilarating. I told Jim yes over phone. (At any rate he was a man whom it was very hard to say “no” to.) I told Ms. New Agent. She didn’t seem happy, but went along with it. Contract arrived. She didn’t like this and that and the other, which was amazing since Baen contracts are ONE or two pages, and written in English. She finally told me it was her or Baen. Well… I’d had her for two years. And she had yet to sell anything for me. Yeah, it was a REALLY hard choice.

17 – Having muddled through and managed to fire Ms. New Agent – hard that, truly 😉 – I started working on project with Eric and trying to sell a house. Somewhere in the middle of this, and I’m sorry, I don’t even remember the year, there was the famous phone call of “Sarah, do you have anything to sell me?” I had the space opera on Jim’s desk, so I thought he must be asking for something else. Well, he wanted the book in a month and I’d just started a book because of a dream I’d had. Also at that point, I was brow beaten into thinking I was a fantasy author. So I sold him Draw One In The Dark and he bought it in twenty minutes (beating out my three day record.) From here on, chronology gets fuzzy, since I’ve been busy as heck and often lost track of time.

18 – Somewhere along the line I hired La Agent. La Agent took me on for two reasons – the Magical British Empire and the Musketeer Mysteries. At the time I had an offer from “Mr. Way Up THERE” agent, but he wanted me to do a book a year or maybe every two years, and get a job teaching in college the rest of the time. Look, might be great for someone but not me. So, I took La Agent. She quickly sold the Magical British Empire and the Musketeer Mysteries. I didn’t even try the space opera, now convinced there was something fundamentally wrong with it. Oh, yeah, Sarah’s Diner – my conference in Baen’s Bar – was born soon thereafter.

19 – I was now writing and on the hook for three or four books a year. So the logical thing happened: I wanted a challenge. (G). While recovering from crud, I was reading my old stuff. I agreed with Jim my latest incarnation of the space opera was no-go. You see, I’d workshopped it so much, and tried to explain EVERYTHING that the first three chapters were molasses. But I remembered that the book USED to be decent. So I went to first version, and there was a light there. Purely for fun, since I knew NO ONE would buy space opera from me, I sat down and wrote a first chapter, with Athena but putting the old “life” back in and Heinleining the details, in the way I knew now, with almost ten novels below my belt. The response of the dinerites shocked me. They practically threw their greasy cloaks in the air. They did threaten my life if I didn’t give them more.

20 – I posted another few chapters in diner. At this time, it was not unusual to get emails saying “I read 80 pages of Darkship Thieves. WHERE is the rest? Mail me the rest, please!” Right. You know who you are.

21 – Toni informed me that though she was looking for fantasy, she was buying DST. So I stopped posting it, and started making with the finishing.

22 – And that, children and babies, is the glorious story of Darkship Thieves. Which opens thusly:
I never wanted to go to space. Never wanted see the eerie glow of the Powerpods. Never wanted to visit Circum Terra. Never had any interest in discovering the truth about the darkships. You always get what you don’t ask for.

Which was why I woke up in the dark of shipnight, within the greater night of space in my father’s space cruiser.

Before full consciousness, I knew there was an intruder in my cabin….

Okay, now… what about the above surprised you? I confess this book has had a harder road to publication than most, but others are often convoluted. Did you know things could take that many turns? Does it make you see any of your own stuff – or even stuff you’ve read – in a different light? Talk to me! I’ve been ill, it’s almost New Years and I need distraction!

Oh, yeah – and may the new year bring you everything you need and some of what you wish for!
Edited 12/31/09 — Welcome Instapundit readers. Look around for a look at the mad, mad world of publishing and writers. Many thanks to Glenn Reynolds for the link.

>This is a ‘There’s no excuse, I’m just having fun’ Post.

>Because we all need to take a break some time. Down here in Australia nothing happens from early December until the end of January. We call it the silly seasons.

The schools and UNIs have their holidays (UNIs don’t go back until March). In the business world staff take their holidays so, except for retail, all businesses are on go-slow. From what I’ve heard it’s not like that in the northern hemisphere. But it’s midsummer here and so hot, all you want to do is lie around by the pool or at the beach.

So here are some fun things because writers are insatiably curious about people and the world in general.

First of all 9 Things we learned about us in 2009, by Rachel Rettner. For instance, did you know that some adults still have baby fat, or late sleepers are more alert than early risers?

And from that we move onto Humans: The Strangest Species by Robert Roy Britt. You could spend hours trawling through this page and all its links. Why do humans get freckles, get birthmarks, spread urban legends, see things that aren’t there, join cults or believe in UFOs? Just for starters. Ever wondered why we’re not all beautiful, since females supposedly choose who fathers their children?

Then, because it is a topic that’s guaranteed to wake up a bored audience, The 9 Most Provocative Sex Science Stories of 2009, by Sally Law. Would you believe pulling out is almost as effective as using a condom? (Don’t try this at home folks. And if you do, don’t sue me. I’m only repeating what I’ve read).

And on the same topic, Sally Law’s 10 Surprising Sex Statistics.

These holidays I’m going to recharge my creative batteries. I’m going to read heaps of books, both fiction and non fiction and see lots of movies. What are you going to do, to recharge your creative batteries?

>Sorceress of Karres – and publicity

>I’m going to be travelling on Monday – heading up to Johannesburg for our flight out to Australia, so I wrote this piece in advance. I’ve got a book (SORCERESS OF KARRES) coming out early in January so this is a soupcon of self-promotion and about the subject of the same.

In the long-ago, far away happier times authors wrote books. After all readers wanted the best read possible and beeing good with words didn’t mean you were good at anything else. In fact the opposite was probably true, as every single bit of research shows true genius is almost always narrowly focussed. Being a great golfer doesn’t make you a Geophysicist, and being an Oscar-winning actress almost certainly means that your grasp of politics is on a par with your ability to programme in MATLAB. And having a good way with words probably means you’re a solitary reader who spends a lot of time in company of imaginary people and may well have the social/publicity-skills of a wolverine with a fetish for red lacy underwear and flashing at retirement complexes. That’s why in those far-off happier times authors wrote. Agents sold their books to publishers, publishers hired staff to deal with the publicity etc. and the bargain was that each of you brought your special talent to the party and the reader got the best of everyone’s ability used to tempt them into buying.

Well, the old compact is no more, and, for 95% of us, if you want to be a writer of fiction, you’re going to have to make contributions to selling your books to publishers, and to publicity and marketing. Or you can hope you’re in the 5%. Your call.

Now for me this is all as natural as a swimming is to fish… NOT. I’m still unsure how to do this, what works (or even if it does). Cons, blogs, bookmarks, t-shirts, getting on Radio, doing tours, readings and signings (unless you’re 5% these will be at your own expense, and entirely organised by you.) However, in the nature of things the fact that you have no skills or resources for this and that promotion and marketing can and do have a huge impact — will not influence the decision of the next acquisition editor. So it has to be part of your game plan, as much as writing every day was.

So if anyone has any bright ideas on how best to do this – I’m listening. We all are.

>Agents, agents everywhere…so how do I get one?

>Last Monday, Dave blogged about an e-mail he’d received from someone asking if he knew who besides Baen accepted unagented submissions. One of the reasons for asking was because the unpublished writer didn’t want to have to pay an agent. Reading Dave’s blog, and the comments that followed, I thought it might be time to do a post about what an agent should do for you, as a writer, and what you should expect to do for yourself. Of course, as soon as I started researching today’s blog, I realized this isn’t something that can be covered in just one post. So, for the next several Sundays, I’ll be discussing agents, publishers and what a writer’s relationship with them should be.

It’s hard to find an agent these days. I’ve heard said that it is often more difficult to find an agent than it is a publisher. To be honest, I’ve had my fair share of rejections from agents. Some have happened so quickly — my record is less than half an hour after submitting via e-mail to an agent that had just blogged that their response time was slower than usual due to backlog — that I’ve known they didn’t look at the query. Some have never been answered — a growing trend with some agents who accept e-mail queries. You need to check their guidelines to see if they respond only when interested. But many more have been at least positive if apologetic rejections. Like Dave, I respect the agent I was referred to even more because she turned me down and didn’t just take me because a client asked her to look at my work. Still, I continue the quest for an agent even as I look for publishers not only for my novels but for my short-stories as well. The lesson is to do your homework and to be persistent. I can help with the former, the latter is up to you.

When looking for an agent, the first place to check is Preditors and Editors. Not only does the site list agents and rate them, but it also has a number of pages that contain information about agents, editors, and other information you need to know as a writer. But the most important page for those looking for an agent is here. From it, you can check to see if an agent or agency is NOT recommended. If there is red ink following the agency’s name, I highly recommend you not submit to them. Especially stay away from Writer Beware Top 20 Worst Agents. Along that line, don’t forget to keep a regular watch on the Writer Beware website and the Writer Beware blog. Not only will it give you information about agents, but publishers and anything, really, in the publishing industry that we, as writers, need to be aware of. One final place to check when considering whether to send to an agent or not is the Absolute Write Water Cooler. It may take time going through the posts, but there is a wealth of information there as well.

I’ve just told you how to find agents you don’t want to deal with. So how do you find an agent you do want to deal with? Victoria Strauss wrote The Safest Way to Search for an Agent. It contains some excellent advice and links. To what she said, I’d add to do an internet search for the agent as well. Check their blogs and websites. See if their clients blog about them, etc.

What should agents do? Also, what should you ask an agent before signing with them? Listed below are some good links that answer these questions.

This is a good place to leave off. Next week, I’ll pick up the thread, adding in some of the agent blogs I follow. In the coming weeks, I’ll post about some of the publishers, traditional and electronic, who take unagented submissions and what their guidelines might be. In the meantime, are there any questions or comments you have? Are there any good links you’ve found that have helped you in your search for an agent? Do you think writers need agents, why or why not? Finally, what do you see the role of agents being in the growing e-book age?

>Science, Technology and Space Combat

First let me wish everyone a very happy Boxing Day and hope you celebrate it in good company.

Today’s thoughts are about space combat as depicted in Science Fiction.

Some SF Warships are set in a universe or science that is so different from today that no meaningful scientific analysis of their technology is possible. I wrote a short story featuring such a ship in my short story ‘In Command’ in Baens’ anthology ‘Transhuman’. My story consentrated on the ship’s captain, the only living person on the giant warship unless you count the AI.

Iain Banks has written a whole series of brilliant novels about The Culture, a space-dwelling civilisation based around giant AI controlled ships that use a science so high that it makes electronics look like a stone chisel.

I play games with toy soldiers and have had fun with many space combat games. The picture above is of an Imperium battleship from the Warhammer 40K universe.

These drift through the currents of a ‘warp’ inhabited by psychic daemons, guided by three eyed navigators who can ‘see’ into warpspace. Otherwise, they are huge WWI battleships with tens of thousands of crew hauling on chains to load the guns.

Other stories look at near-future space warships. TV and films almost always get the science utterly wrong. Space has no resistance. You apply thrust to increase acceleration in a specific direction and that is all you can do to speed up, slow down or change direction. In gravity well, where all near-future space combat is likely to happen, the overwhelming force is gravity so all movement is along orbital tracks. Given that craft will have limited fuel supplies then spaceships cannot go anywhere and will move from place to place along predictable orbital solutions. A reasonable analogy is with sailing ships that tracked along wind routes. The predictability of navigation means that defensive mines and battler stations are a real possibility.

There is no shock wave in space so blast weapons are useless. The best ship killers will be bullets fired from something resembling a machine gun. Shells with proximity fuses, that fragment into flak would work. Missiles that are small spacecraft would also be a possibility. They would probably look like balls with two offset motors on booms to control course change and would fire their engines sporadically.

Lasers might be useful as a sniper device but the energy needed to power a ship killer would be prohibitive. Maybe a one shot weapon powered by a preloaded capacitor/battery would work.

Nukes would be great because of the radiation (not blast) that they generate.

The ideal warship would have no crew. People don’t belong in space and a ridiculous percentgage of mass and energy of a warship design would be needed to protect them just from space itself, let alone enemy action. The mathematical nature of space warfare makes it ideal for computers, communication links to ‘pilots’ being used for strategic decisions, like changing the orbital approach.

Last but not least, electronic warfare, detection (active and passive) and stealth, will be overridingly important. The first side to detect and plot the track of an enemy is likely to be the victor. An anology is with submarine warfare.

1. So what would a near future space ship be like? How would you design one?

Here are a couple of websites to stimulate the little grey cells:

Finally, for fun, let’s hear your version of a fantasy/ultra-technology space warship?

>Merry Christmas & Happy New Aliens!

Wherever you are – white Christmas in the snowed-in north or Christmas by the pool in the sunny south – all the best for a great day. But will there be aliens celebrating with us?

Have the aliens already arrived? Or have they been and gone at various times in the past?

Periodically I have gone over UFO accounts on the web, and at one point looked obsessively at those British UFO archives that were released a few years ago. Its fascinating stuff. Undoubtedly lots of people have seen lots of things that cannot be explained.

Take the recent sighting of the UFO over the Kremlin (see inset photo – from Courier Mail). I kind of blinked when I saw this blurry image, which looks exactly like one of the smaller Stargate Goa’uld spaceships, the Tel’tak scout-ship. In fact the whole triangular (pyramid-like) shape was just a little two weird a co-incidence. Especially having something like a Goa’uld spaceship (say commandeered by SG1) hovering over the Kremlin is something I could have expected straight from a Stargate series script. Maybe April Fool’s Day is in December in Russia.

Lots of famous people have publicly stated they have seen UFOs – air force pilots, astronauts. The fact that various governments took the investigation so seriously for so long means that something was going on.

Given the massive distances and energy cost of likely space travel, it does make sense that arrivals would be smaller, likely even automated. Perhaps designed to gather data, but not capable of engaging into any sort of dialogue with species they encounter (unmanned & any AI’s not ‘authorised’ for contact). Perhaps civilizations within 50-100 lightyears – amused enough by Metropolis and Charlie Chaplin and similar early EM transmissions – have sent automated scout craft as a first response. If so – then maybe the first of these scout craft have already returned for download. That means the ‘manned’ response could come within the next few decades.

I personally hope we have been observed for thousands of years. Can you imagine getting your hands on the alien database with actual photos of Caesar going up against Vercingetorix at Alesia? Or satellite footage of the building of the pyramids at Giza?

So what’s your take? Have they been here? Is it all just atmospheric phenomena and deflated weather balloons? Or better yet – have you seen one?