Skip to content

Archive for

It’s Sunday morning and . . .

I overslept. And, before everyone thinks I’ve gone and committed coup here at MGC, I haven’t. It’s just that with LibertyCon this weekend, Sarah and I forgot to arrange for someone to guest blog. So, instead of having a dead day, here I am, trying desperately to figure out something to blog about.

In the publishing world, things are about to get interesting again. The Department of Justice’s case against Apple is now in the judge’s hands. Depending on what report your read, Apple either won hands down or the judge has already tipped her hand and will be ruling with the DoJ. Me, I have a feeling we’ll see a decision that sort of splits the middle — and one that will be appealed. No matter what the ruling, the issue isn’t going away any time soon. In fact, it wouldn’t surprise me at all to see the plea agreement terms between the DoJ and the five publishers to have long expired before the case against Apple wends its way through the judicial process. What that means is that, by the time this is over, we might again see a variation of agency pricing — remember, DoJ didn’t say it was inherently bad. It said the alleged collusion is what was in violation of federal law.

Then we have Barnes & Noble. The Nook, and especially Nook media, was supposed to be the savior of the company. Instead, this past year, and especially the last quarter, finds it as the albatross around the retailer’s neck. Not even the influx of cash from Microsoft has managed to stem the tide. Making matters worse, the retail storefronts have dedicated a good chunk of their stores to the Nook and the decline in sales is impacting the bottom line for the physical stores as well as the online store. Needless to say, this is making publishers more than a bit nervous as they wonder just what is going to happen with B&N over the next year.

If that isn’t enough, lines are being drawn in the sand of social media. You have one the one hand those authors and editors who have decided it isn’t enough to condemn the other side for daring to self-publish or work with small to micro-presses. After all, they are skipping the gatekeepers and not suffering for their art by waiting for someone to realize just how enlightened and wonderful their work might be (in other words, until it meets the political/social/economic trend of the day as decided by the publisher). Now many of those same authors, editors and publishers are jumping on the politically correct band wagon to condemn men who dare voice the fact they appreciate a woman for being a woman. These are the same ones who have been so quick to jump in and help publicly flog Paula Deen for uttering what is, admittedly, a word none of us — NONE OF US — should use. She’s admitted to using the word and has apologized. Whether she’s admitted to the other allegations in the suit against her, I don’t know. What I do know is that those who denounce her have already condemned her without seeing anything but her apology and the pleadings filed in the case. After all, if it’s been charged, it must be true. Right?

Yet how many of them are out there screaming that all the producers and companies who use Alec Baldwin as a spokesman or actor should drop him? After all their high fives on social media after the Supreme Court’s ruling on DOMA, you’d think they’d be after Baldwin but, since he is one of the “enlightened” — except on this particular issue — they aren’t.

And that, my friends, is an example of the double standard that is prevalent in our industry today. It is also an example of how you have to have a thick skin to survive. There are sharks in publishing and they aren’t necessarily the publishers and bean counters who live in the ivory towers in NYC. No, they are the authors who have been the darlings of those same publishers and bean counters and who now are realizing that being socially relevant might not be enough. With more and more writers moving away from legacy publishing and actually writing books readers want to read, these same dahlings of publishing are seeing their numbers drop. Not just their sales figures but their advances as well. And it is the advances they worry about.

Or at least they should, especially since most books published through legacy publishing never earn out (at least that’s my understanding).

For years, publishing has managed to survive through creative bookkeeping (ie BookScan numbers) and by knowing the mid-list authors would sell X-amount for each title. But many of those mid-listers have been cast aside. Some of the others who still have contracts to fulfill are not trying very hard to get new contracts with the legacy publishers because they have learned how much they can earn on their own. Why earn 25% or less per unit sold when you can go with a small to micro press and earn 50% or more? Or when you can publish on your own and earn up even more than that?

But it is more than just the increased royalties an author can earn by going with a small press or by self-publishing. There is the time difference between writing and publishing to consider as well. Traditionally published books generally take a year or more from the time an author finishes a book to the time it makes it to the bookshelves, whether digital or print or both. This is especially true when the book has to go through an agent for acceptance and then be shopped around. That time is much less with smaller presses and certainly if you self-publish. There you are talking weeks, maybe months, instead of years.

Then you have to consider that the publisher usually won’t order another book from you until seeing the pre-order numbers. If you have one of those wonderful contracts giving the publisher right of first refusal, that means you might not be able to write anything for anyone, even yourself, until they’ve declined to buy your next work. If that isn’t bad enough, most of the ROFR clauses don’t have a time limit on them. In other words, you could submit something to them a month after they’ve accepted your currently contracted book and they can sit on the second work until they see what your pre-order numbers are.

That is not a good thing.

Anyway, I guess what I’m trying to say with this is that there is a small group of authors and editors out there who are pounding their chests in social outrage over what happened years ago (see some of the posts about the 1930-something letter from Walt Disney denying employment to a woman because there are no female animators in the studio at that time) as well as what two gentlemen had to say about events that happened thirty or more years ago all in an attempt to prove they are still relevant. Oh, I don’t doubt some of them are truly outraged. But some of them also refuse to allow you to post on their walls if you don’t agree with them. So there is an agenda and only the “right kids” can play.

To play, you have to follow their rules. You have to make sure your male characters are sorry for being male and that they never, ever do anything that might be seen as being chauvinistic — including holding the door for a female character. Unless, of course, that male is the villain.  Your female characters have to be enlightened and strong and modern and — well, you get the message. Oh, and make sure you never have a chicks in chainmail type cover. That is bad. But a nearly naked male on the cover is good. We can objectify them all we want because, well, we can.

Rolls eyes,.

Yeah, the double-standard bothers the hell out of me. For me, I’ll write my characters as the story demands. If a male winds up being a gentleman who holds the doors and pays for dinner, so be it. If he happens to like the way the female characters looks in a bikini — or less — well, he’s human. But if she wants to enjoy looking at him, all the more power to her as well. I will not keep them from having their guns if the story demands it and if a story needs a patriarchal society, it will get one.

In other words, I’m not going to sacrifice a story just so I’m politically correct. I can and will. I write to entertain and, hopefully, make some money. If in the story I can subtly get a lesson or two across, cool. But my lessons might not be politically correct ones. After all, I do believe in the right to bear arms. I believe a man should be a gentleman and a woman a lady, although she can be a bitch at times just as he can be a cad. Big business isn’t inherently evil and government isn’t meant to be our nanny.

But that’s just me and I’ve wandered on long enough. What do you think? Should stories entertain or teach or preach or what?

 

A few thoughts and a snip

Before we get to the snippet, I want to thank everyone who came over to read and comment on my post Why?. That post was the result of my frustration as the mother of a son as well as of a writer. The mother-frustration was born of watching my son, who from an early age was an avid reader, being turned into a kid who hated to read. Why? Because his third grade teacher used reading as a punishment, purposely choosing books she knew the boys in her class wouldn’t enjoy. (This was also the teacher who decided it was up to her to teach the boys how to be responsible. Note, she didn’t feel it necessary to teach it to the girls in the class.) Then came the summer reading lists which, for the rest of my son’s public school career didn’t have one book in them that I’d want to read, much less him. Thank goodness he had an English teacher in high school who basically took the approved reading list and tossed it out the window. He introduced his students to Terry Pratchett and others and didn’t condemn the boys if all they’d been reading up until then was manga. Now my son is back to reading whenever he has the chance — which isn’t as often as he’d like — and his kindle is always with him.

Anyway, if you want to sit on the sidelines and shake your heads and wonder how publishing has survived as long as it has, just go to facebook. I haven’t checked this morning, but yesterday, my feed was filled with posts condemning Walt Disney because — gasp — back in the thirties he declined to hire a woman as an animator (iirc) because there were only male animators. These folks — and every one of them I saw were either authors or editors or publishers — condemned Disney as sexist and racist and just about every other “ist” you can think of. There was one who even said not to bother commenting if you were going to point out that it was a different time because — gasp — a “good” man wouldn’t have said such a thing.

This sort of collective guilt is part of the problem with publishing and will become the basis of another, more in-depth post later. In the meantime, go look and ask yourself “why?” Then think about how this collective guilt — whether it is real or imposed — has impacted what has been published, especially for middle grade boys and YA boys. Is it any wonder we have a generation of boys who don’t want to read what’s coming out of mainstream publishing? (Of course, I don’t want to read most of it either. Guess that tells you a lot about me.) But more on that in a later post.

On the writing front, I’m finishing up one project and will be returning to the Nocturnal Lives series next. The third book in the series shouldn’t take long to write because I already have the plot in my head. My goal is to have Book 3 finished by end of summer. If I manage that, it should be out from NRP in time for the holidays. In the meantime, you can find Nocturnal Origins on Amazon (and soon in other stores as well) and Nocturnal Serenade in most e-book stores. Nocturnal Haunts, a novella set in the Nocturnal Lives universe, is also available.

As for what I’m working on now, it’s completely different (and, gawd, now I’ll have Monty Python in my head all day) from my previous work. Some of you may have seen this over on my personal blog — which gets updated once in a blue moon because I forget about it. Anyway, this is the opening of a space opera I’ve been working on and hope to have ready to make the rounds (assuming NRP doesn’t want it) shortly after the 4th.

Needless to say, this is an unedited draft. All copyright rests in me and it can’t be copied, altered, distributed or sold without my permission.

*     *     *

“Prisoner Four One Niner Baker One-A, prepare for transfer,” a disembodied voice said from the overhead speaker.

Lips pulled back, teeth bared in an animalistic sneer, the prisoner sat up and swung her legs over the side of her bunk. As she stood, she turned away from the cell door. Her hands automatically went behind her head, fingers lacing. Almost without thought, she sank to her knees, legs spread, ankles crossed. Then, realizing what she had just done, she cursed silently, hating herself and those responsible for bringing her to this state.

Two years. Two very long years of Hell had taught her how to act. Her body responded automatically to the commands barked at her. Only when she allowed her mind to surface, to let herself fully experience what was going on around her, did she hesitate. But not this time. There was no reason to disobey, no threat yet to meet.

Those years may have taught her all too painfully how to act, but they hadn’t broken her. Not yet at any rate. But they had come close to it. Two years cut off from those she cared for, from almost all human contact. Stripped of even the most basic of human rights and dignity, she knew she was little more than an animal to break and tame to those in charge. She knew it just as she knew she could do nothing about it.

The soft swoosh of the heavily armored door sliding open broke the silence a few moments later. With her back to the door, she couldn’t see who entered, not that she wanted to. One of the first lessons she’d learned after arriving at the Tarsus military penal colony was not to look. That had been a very painful lesson, one that had landed her in the prison’s clinic for several days. It was also a mistake she’d never repeated.

That had been one of many lessons she’d been forced to endure since arriving there. With the commandant’s tacit — hell, as far as she knew it was his overt — approval, the guards could be as sadistic as they wanted. Correction for even the most insignificant infraction might take the form of a rifle butt to the ribs or kidney, and that was if she was lucky. If not, the beating that followed would leave her hurting so badly she could barely move. Even then, the guards wouldn’t send her to the clinic. After all, it was so much more fun to watch her suffer, reminding her that she alone was responsible for what happened.

She swallowed hard, forcing her mind away from past horrors, as boots clomped across the small cell in her direction. A rough hand grabbed her right arm, twisting it painfully behind her back. She flinched as a security cuff was locked tightly around that wrist. Her breath hissed out in quick pain as the process was repeated with her left arm. Moments later, similar restraints were fastened about her ankles. Then a gloved and closed around her left arm and jerked her to her feet.

Guard Captain Gavin Haritos spun her to face him, grinning sadistically. His  fist caught her with a vicious backhand. With a sharp cry of pain she staggered back, the short chain connecting her ankles tripping her. Only the man’s quick grab at the front of her jumpsuit kept her from falling. He pulled her forward and, with the ease of much practice, draped a heavy hood over her head before she could react.

Haritos’ cruel grip on her arm kept her on her feet as he hauled her out of her cell and down the long corridor. Blood pounded in her ears, almost deafening her. Fear and hatred raced through her, sparking every fiber of her survival instincts. She knew this was going to be bad, very bad. It always was when the guard captain came for her. But she could do nothing to stop him, at least not yet.

“This is your lucky day, bitch.” Haritos shoved her into one of the three lifts at the end of the corridor and she heard him slam his fist against the control panel. A moment later, the lift gave a slight lurch and she felt the car start downward. “You’re being transferred, Shaw, but that doesn’t mean the rules no longer apply because they do. If you’re smart, you’ll remember those bastards sentenced here with you. Everything you say and do from now on impacts them.”

A soft moan escaped her lips before she could stop it and fear raced like an open current through her. No matter how many times she’d been in this position before, she couldn’t help it. A transfer could mean almost anything, none of it good. Not that she could do anything about it, at least not as long as the survivors of her unit were still on Tarsus.

To her surprise, Haritos said nothing more. That was unusual for him. Whenever he’d come for her before, he’d taken perverse pleasure in detailing what horrors awaited her. The fact he’d gone silent worried her. Could he finally be leading her to her death, despite the fact her sentence was for only five years?

Dear God, what was going to happen?

Haritos remained silent as he forced her off the lift. Doors opened and closed behind them. She didn’t know how to react when, for the first time in months, she felt the sun beating down on her. They were outside. Where were they going?

It hadn’t taken long to find out. Haritos led her up a ramp. The hood might have obscured her sight, but she could hear the muffled sounds of a crew working to prepare a shuttle, maybe even a courier ship, for launch. Haritos pulled her to a halt and told her to stand still. Then he released his hold on her arm and she sensed that he had moved a short distance away. There were muffled voices. Straining to hear, she only caught a few words. Transfer. . . prisoner. . . dangerous. . . .

Dear God, was she actually being transferred out of the Tarsus penal colony?

Hope flared only to die as quickly as it had been born. She had a feeling she was the only prisoner in the staging area. That meant her people, those few who had survived the ambush only to be betrayed by those who should have stood for them, were being left behind. Was that what Haritos meant when he told her to remember them?

No!

Before she could do anything — not that there was much she could do, bound and hooded as she was — Haritos was once more at her side. She stumbled forward as he grabbed her and led her further up the ramp. With one last warning not to be stupid, he’d turned her over to someone else. Flanked on both sides by unseen guards, she was led into another lift. A few minutes later, her restraints were removed and then her hood and she found herself standing in the center of a small cell. She didn’t need to hear the announcement for all hands to prepare for departure to know she was on a ship. But a ship to where?

And what about those who’d been sent to the penal colony with her? Where were they?

Now, two days later, she stood in yet another cell, this one planetside, and fear warred with anger. She’d overheard enough from the guards on the transport to know that her fears were true — the others had been left behind on the penal colony.

That’s when an anger so great it overrode the fear of the unknown had flowed through her. For the first time in two years, she’d been separated from the survivors of her company, those poor, brave souls who had fallowed her into Hell and back only to find themselves brought up on charges right next to her. It didn’t matter that the commandant of the penal colony hadn’t let her see her people. She’d managed to get word of them from time to time and that had been enough to let her know they were all right — or at least as all right as anyone could be on the Tarsus penal colony.

It really was amazing how the prison grapevine managed to keep tabs on everyone and pass along information. It might be inconsistent, but it was there and it had been all that kept her sane. She’d never thought herself a social animal, but two years of rarely seeing anyone but her jailers had been almost more than she could handle. Thank God for the grapevine and the bits of information it brought her.

During transport from the penal colony, no one had told her anything. She’d been held in the transport ship’s brig. A guard brought her food and drink at regular intervals but he never said anything that wasn’t necessary. He certainly hadn’t volunteered any information. Still, she’d managed to work out that she was alone in the brig by the way his steps never stopped before he appeared at her cell door and she never heard anyone else trying to make contact.

She’d just noticed the slightest change in the rhythm of the ship’s engines, indicating it had assumed orbit somewhere, when another guard arrived with a change of clothes for her. She’d looked at the plain black jumpsuit with suspicious eyes. Nothing about it marked her as a prisoner, but nothing about the guards indicated she was about to be freed either. That had been the closest she’d come to breaking her own rule of “never ask a question you don’t know the answer to”.

Half an hour later, she’d been seated on a shuttle. The guards had secured her hands behind her back but they hadn’t hooded her. They obviously weren’t worried about her recognizing where she was. Of course, the only way she could do that was if she could actually see something of the lay of the land. So she’d craned her neck in an effort to see into the shuttle’s cockpit. One corner of her mouth lifted ever so slightly at the sight of the high rises ahead of them. Her heart beat a bit faster as she recognized the skyline of Fuercon’s capital city. New Kilrain. She was home. But why?

Now, after being processed back into the same military brig where she’d been held during her trial, she still didn’t know why she’d been brought back home. It couldn’t be good. They may have taken away her prison issued jumpsuit, but she’d still been brought there shackled and had been processed into the brig as quickly as humanly possible. It had almost been as if they were afraid word of her return might leak out. But why?

Damn it, what was going on?

Of course, there’d been no explanation, not that she’d asked. She’d learned very quickly after her conviction not to ask about anything. Too much talking, too much curiosity was a bad thing that often resulted in punishment, usually of the painful kind. Not that that sort of thing was officially sanctioned. But that didn’t stop it. After all, who policed the jailers? No one, at least not on Tarsus.

Fortunately, she’d heard the horror stories before arriving at the penal colony. That had helped prepare her for what she’d face. Still, it had been a shock the first time one of the guards beat her down for asking what would have been a simple question on the outside. That had been enough to convince her to keep her mouth shut. That wasn’t to say there weren’t times when circumstances forced her to break that rule and she bore scars as a result. All she wanted now was to get through her prison term. Survival was the first goal. Vengeance would come later. Not for her, but for those who’d followed her despite her protests and who had paid the ultimate price as a result.

Now, freed of her restraints and alone in her new cell, she looked around. One cell was pretty much like any other. Across from the door was a narrow bunk. Hygiene facilities were at the foot of the bunk. Exactly like her cell back on Tarsus. Nothing she could use to escape and nothing she could use to kill herself, not that she planned on that. At least not anymore. No, there were others that needed to die before she did.

“Prisoner is secured,” the guard who’d brought her to the cell radioed as he stepped back.

Ashlyn Shaw, former Marine captain, didn’t move. Instead, she stood in the center of the small cell, her brown eyes focused on some point beyond the guard, her hands behind her back even though the restraints had been removed. As the security field across the cell door activated, she gave no sign of realizing it even though the faint, high pitched hum was something she’d learned to listen for over the last two years. That sound, like a distant bunch of angry bees, meant she’d fry her nervous system long before pushing through the field. Freedom might look close, but she’d be dead — or worse — before she actually found it.

At least they didn’t close the physical door. for the first time in what had to be months, she could look beyond the confines of her cell. Of course, this wasn’t the same cell she’d occupied since her conviction. Hell, this wasn’t even the same planet.

As the guard disappeared from sight, she continued to stand there. She listened, counting as his footsteps slowly faded. When she’d been escorted to the cell, she ‘d looked straight ahead, not about to give the guards on duty the satisfaction of seeing her looking around in curiosity. Now, with only silence filling the air, she allowed herself to relax a little and her thoughts once more drifted back to the events leading up to her transfer

As soon as she was convinced the guard was gone, she moved to the door, careful not to get too close to the security field. Looking down the corridor, she couldn’t tell how far away he might be. All she knew for certain was that her cell was located at the end of the corridor, the door situated so she couldn’t see much beyond the far edge of the cell. So there might be any number of other prisoners close by but, for all intents and purposes, she was alone — again.

That was fine. Alone meant fewer chances for anyone to figure out what she planned. But it also meant she had to keep up appearances. She couldn’t let them guess what she had in mind. So she lay on her bunk, her back to the doorway. She wouldn’t let those she knew were watching her over security monitors see her curiosity or concern. More importantly, she wouldn’t let them see her planning. This was as close to home as she was likely to get in a very long while. If the opportunity to escape presented itself, she’d take it and be damned with waiting on military justice to finally get it right.

*     *     *

The two followed the guard down the long corridor. Bare white walls intersected by six reinforced doors on each side marked their path. Silence, broken only by the sounds of their steps, enveloped them. This wing of the security complex felt deserted –which it was with one exception. There hadn’t been a need to use the high security cells for a long while.

As far as the tall redhead was concerned, there was still no need to — even considering how special this particular prisoner happened to be.

Admiral Miranda Tremayne, ret., and Admiral Richard Collins were there with one purpose. They had to find a way to convince Ashlyn Shaw to trust them enough to listen. That was their first hurdle. The second would be harder. Somehow, they had to persuade her to work with them again. If she agreed, they’d secure her immediate release. It was a long shot, Tremayne knew, but they had to try. Not only for the prisoner’s sake but for the sake of so many more.

Their escort stopped before the last cell and nodded. Like every other cell along the corridor, this was a high security cell. Thick, reinforced walls with only a small opening, just wide enough for a single person to step through. That opening could be secured with a reinforced door that would slide firmly into place if activated. But for now that door was open, the security field active.

Directly across from the door was a single cot. On it lay the prisoner. Her back was to them and nothing about her revealed whether she realized she was being watched or not. But Tremayne knew better. She’d known the prisoner for years, most of the younger woman’s life in fact. She had no doubt Ashlyn Shaw, decorated Marine captain and now convicted war criminal, was well aware of the fact someone was there, even if she might not know who.

“On your feet, prisoner!” the guard barked. “I said, on your feet!”

Tremayne watched Shaw as the guard pounded his stun baton on the side of the cell once and then again. Nothing seemed to phase the young woman. Only the slight tensing of her muscles, so slight Tremayne almost missed it, betrayed the fact that Shaw even heard the guard. Interesting. The young woman had always possessed great self-control. Clearly she’d honed it to a new level during her incarceration.

“Damn it, Shaw, on your feet. Don’t make me come in there,” the guard all but growled.

Tremayne frowned. The last thing they needed was to further antagonize the young woman. Besides, were their roles reversed, she’d probably be doing her best to show as much indifference as was the young woman. Even so, she could understand the guard’s frustration. He was under enough pressure just escorting the two of them through the security wing. Collins was First Fleet’s commanding officer. Then there was Tremayne herself. So-called war hero, not that she thought of herself as such, and now a member of the Senate. To have a mere prisoner ignore his order in front of such “luminaries” had to be not only frustrating but humiliating as well.

Of course, there was nothing “mere” about Ashlyn Shaw and there never had been.

“Ma’am, I can go inside.”

The guard sounded unsure, not that Tremayne blamed him. She doubted there was anyone on the planet who didn’t know who Ashlyn Shaw was as well as her war record. Whether they believed the charges that had been leveled against her or not, they’d know she wasn’t someone you wanted to cross.

Tremayne frowned and shook her head. This wasn’t the way to proceed. If the prisoner wouldn’t respond to the guard, it was time to try something else.

Carefully judging the distance, Tremayne stepped forward, coming so close to the barrier that she could feel the energy dancing across her skin.

“Out of that rack, marine, and on your feet!” she snapped in her best command voice.

Her order met with a more pronounced physical reaction from Shaw. This time there was no mistaking the way the young woman’s muscles tensed, as if preparing to sit up. Holding her breath, Tremayne waited. Would Shaw respond or would she force herself to return to her relaxed pose on the bunk?

Several long seconds passed as they waited, but to no avail. The prisoner continued to ignore them.

Damn it.

“Admiral, let me call for backup and then we can go in.” Before the guard could reach for his com, Tremayne’s hand closed over his arm.

“No.” Most definitely not. But they had to get through to her somehow. Maybe it was time to put aside rank and go to the personal. “I know you can hear me, Shaw, so I’m just going to talk. I hope you’ll listen.”

God how I wish the last two years had never happened. Everything would be so much easier.

“Things have changed since you were brought up on charges. Those responsible are no longer in power, either in the government or in the military chain of command.” She paused, watching, hoping for some reaction. Was there a hint of tension easing in the prisoner’s body? She wasn’t sure. All she could do was continue and hope for the best. “Some things haven’t changed however. We’re still at war. It doesn’t matter that we’ve technically been sharing a truce with the enemy. All it did was slow hostilities. The fact is things are about to get bad again and you know what that means.”

Surely that would get through to the young woman. In all the years she’d known Ashlyn Shaw, there’d been one thing she could rely upon — Shaw’s sense of duty. She just hoped the last two years hadn’t destroyed it.

“Shaw — Ashlyn.” She reached out, the palm of her right hand almost touching the security field separating them. As she did, she sensed the guard tensing, ready to pull her back before she made contact with the field. “We need you. Please.”

Finally, a reaction. A slight tremor ran down the prisoner’s back. Then a bitter laugh filled the cell. Tremayne bit her lower lip to hear it.

“You forget, Admiral, that I still have three years to serve on my sentence. Not much I can do for you while I’m a prisoner. So, unless you’ve brought a pardon — for not only me, but for my people as well — you can go to Hell.”

“That’s enough, Shaw!” Collins snapped. “You may be a prisoner, but you’re still a Marine and you’ll respect the rank, if nothing else, and listen to what we have to say.”

“Respect the rank!” Fury filled the young woman’s voice as she rolled over and surged to her feet.

Tremayne gasped in shock. Gone was the promising young officer she’d known. In her place was a hard, scarred woman, a veteran of battles that had killed so many. But there was more. Her face showed scars that hadn’t been there when she’d been sentenced to the Tarsus military prison. What in the hell had happened to her in the last two years to bring her to this?

And would it prevent her from helping them, even if they managed to arrange for everyone to be pardoned?

“Ashlyn, please, just listen,” Tremayne said softly.

“I listened once before, Admiral, and it cost most of my people their lives. Those that survived found themselves brought up on charges, just like me, and sent to that hellhole of a military prison. But maybe you’ve forgotten that.”

Tremayne closed her eyes and breathed deeply, struggling for calm. She hadn’t forgotten. She’d kept the memory of that betrayal close to her. It had been why she’d retired from the military and had run for office. She’d known she needed to work the system to get those brave souls freed and their names cleared, not that she’d expected it to take this long.

She still remembered all too clearly the events that had led up to Shaw’s court martial. Shaw had done nothing wrong. She’d done her duty. She’d followed orders, despite her misgivings — misgivings she’d voiced not only to her immediate commanding officer but to the sector commander and to Tremayne as well. And what had it gotten her? Her company decimated in an ambush and the rest of them, Shaw included, court martialed and imprisoned and all in the name of face-saving by some damn-fool politicians and senior officers.

Worse, Shaw’s family – and the families of the other survivors – had also paid the price. Those in government service who hadn’t been willing to condemn their relatives had seen their jobs disappear. There had been other pressures brought to bear on those in the private sector. That could no more be forgiven than what happened to Shaw and her people, as the next round of elections had proven.

“Ashlyn, I can’t undo what happened. I wish to God I could.” Tremayne waved Collins back as he stepped forward. The last thing they needed was him losing his temper, not that she blamed him. It was his fleet about to head to the front lines, his people who would be the first to die. More would die if they couldn’t convince Shaw to work with them. “All I can tell you is that things have changed since then. Fleet leadership has undergone a turnover the likes of which you wouldn’t believe. What happened to you and your company became a rallying cry at the last elections and those politicians responsible were voted out of office. There is no chance of a repeat of what you went through ever happening again.”

“At least until the next election.” Shaw shook her head and ran a hand through her short cropped, dark hair. “Sorry, Admiral, unless and until you can tell me my people have been pardoned and are safely away from Tarsus, I’ve got nothing more to say to you.”

“Ashlyn, at least listen. Please.”

“Not until I know my people are free.”

With that, she returned to her bunk and once more turned her back to them. There’d be no getting through to her. Between past betrayals and whatever Hell she’d been forced to endure the last two years, she’d changed. But she’d given them a lever they could use, one Tremayne had already considered.

“Ashlyn–”

“Admiral, all I want is to finish serving my sentence. Then, maybe, I can finally bury my dead.”

“Please, just think about it.”

Tremayne turned and retraced her steps down the corridor. She’d realized it would be difficult to convince the young woman to trust them. As far as Shaw knew, they’d accepted the way she and her people were offered up as political sacrifices just as most of the military leadership had. She didn’t know all Tremayne and so many others done to fight to gain not only their freedom, but to also clear their names.

What she hadn’t anticipated was the change in Shaw. Something had happened to her during her incarceration. The physical scars were proof of that. But what had happened and how badly had they damaged the young woman? Obviously, she had her homework to do before she next tried to talk to Ashlyn Shaw.

“Miranda,” Collins began, his frustration clear.

“Later.” She needed to think before discussing what happened even with him.

*      *     *

The sounds of footsteps grew fainter. Part of her wanted to call Tremayne and Collins back, to ask all the questions she’d had no answers to for so long. But the other part, the part that had learned how to survive in the military prison, held her back. She’d trusted them once and that trust had cost her and her command dearly. It would take more than their assurances that things had changed for her to trust them again.

It was difficult to stay where she was, to stay quiet. Swallowing hard, she squeezed her eyes shut and willed herself not to react. Just because the admirals were gone didn’t mean she wasn’t being watched. She was damned if she’d let anyone see how badly this had shaken her. She hadn’t known what to expect when she’d been brought back to the capital, but this certainly wasn’t it.

A moment later she drew a shaky breath and held it. When she slowly exhaled, she forced herself to relax. So many emotions raged within her, too many. Among them was hope, something she hadn’t felt in a very long while. But she couldn’t allow herself the luxury of experiencing any of them and especially not the latter. Emotions were a weakness to be exploited. She might not be at the penal colony any longer, but she was still a prisoner. She’d give her jailers nothing they could use against her. Indifference was her only defense just then.

But it was hard, so very hard. Dear God, when she’d heard Admiral Tremayne’s voice, she’d thought for one moment she’d finally lost her mind. Tremayne had been the one person in the military she’d always been able to count on. She knew Tremayne had tried to speak on her behalf at that farce of a trial but the military judges hadn’t let her. Tremayne had been on her side then, just as she’d always been.

But now the admiral was asking her to help them despite how she and the remainder of her company had been betrayed. Had she been wrong all this time in believing in Tremayne? Or had the admiral really been telling her the truth when she’d said things had changed?

She couldn’t think about that, couldn’t hold out hope. Not when her people were still on Tarsus. At least she’d been able to warn the admirals — if they understood. They had to understand. Or they had to at least wonder enough about what she’d said to start digging.

Dear God, let me be careful though.

Otherwise, she’d be joining those dead she’d talked about and, despite everything, she wasn’t ready to die. Not yet. She still had vengeance to mete out first.

Near-Future Fiction

Writing near-future SF or Fantasy can be a nerve-wracking experience. How do you portray your world in such a way that it seems futuristic and unique, but without falling into the bear-trap of predicting the wrong trends?

In some senses, it’s impossible to avoid. Particularly if the story itself is driven by a unique SF idea that requires a pretty specific type of setting. This makes it virtually impossible to avoid sketching a world that will not look like reality when it arrives.

If you are too true to real-world predictions, the setting will look boring. The pace of technological advancement rarely matches the rate at which a writer’s imagination can move (you only have to look at any Golden Age SF story to realise we should all be using rocket-packs and flying cars to get to work by now. OK, communication technology was the exception.). If you try to be too realistic, you are also in danger  – paradoxically – of looking like you don’t understand technology or science. ‘What? He doesn’t even have wormholes?’ I find this a tricky balance. The engineer and futurist in me wants to sketch something that I believe is realistic in time-frame, but I am forced to go beyond this or risk my SF credibility in the eyes of editors and readers.

The best way to future-proof the fiction is to ensure that the story stands on its merits without the SF&F elements. The best SF stories of the Golden Age were driven as much by a true rendering of human emotions and drives as they were by their futuristic SF predictions. The key dilemma may have arisen due to technology (e.g. robots Vs humans), but the motivations of the characters and the situations they found themselves in still had a strong echo in the human condition and the everyday experience of being human.

In my SF story The Buggy Plague, which was set on Mars, I thought I was out there talking about computer drives with terabytes of data storage. That was a little more than a decade ago and we are already there and beyond. Yet hopefully the core story – where an archaeologist tries to stay alive on a planet where man’s own technology has taken on a sentience and will of its own (and avoid a murderer) – still stands up.

Of course it’s far easier to set the story way, way into the future. That way you can be extreme in the technological changes without ever getting caught out (mind you if you are still being read in 2758 I’d take that as a win anyway). Compare that to writing a few decades into the future. Sketching out something like David Brin’s Earth, set fifty years in the future, would involve far more detailed research into trends in technology, energy use etc.

Another way to escape the problem is to make the timeline obscure. You can portray familiar technological elements, with some new twists, yet never spell out the actual date. Just include enough familiar setting elements to bridge to the present.

The story can be set on another planet similar to Earth, where there is the implication is that the technology has been rediscovered, yet perhaps expressed and developed along slightly different lines. This allows the familiar to be placed alongside the new without direct comparison by the scrutinising reader.

The approach that probably trumps them all is to make it clear at the outset that we are dealing with an alternate timeline. One off-hand comment about the Chinese colonies in the New World in the fifteenth century places the story firmly in the nether-zone. From there you can put together just about any sort of technological mix without going off the rails. This also allows you to explicitly give the dates. You can present the world as a direct analogue to current society, without having to worry about getting the technological development wrong. I would have to say I don’t like using this. I tend to be a purist in this way – I like to try and predict our future. But that’s a tough game to play.

So how do you future-proof your fiction? Or do you just follow the story where it leads?

Cross-posted at chrismcmahons blog.

The Story of the Story

Amanda’s post the other day did a terrible, terrible thing. Several, actually. For starters, when I get asked why, I’m usually torn between answering “Why not?” and going into deep epistemological analysis (damn you spell check I did NOT mean epidemiological). But the really terrible thing it did was start me thinking about the stories behind the stories we read. Those get meta very quickly because there are usually a whole lot of the things and they’re all there to make sense of a world that really doesn’t make much sense. At least, that’s how they start…

The problem – or one of them – is that once we get a story settled in our heads and it works fairly well to describe and sort of predict what happens, there’s a tendency to hang on to it long past when it’s obviously not working. Let’s face it, to a small child the idea that everyone does what they can and gets what they need and it’s all “fair” seems pretty attractive. It’s more or less the way life is to a small child, with “fair” and “needs-based” determined by the god-like beings known as Mommy and Daddy. It’s also, in a kind of throwback tribalism, the way small hunter-gatherer bands tend to work with most things going to the communal pot and everyone getting to share in the bounty.

Of course, this works for small hunter-gatherer bands and for families because everyone knows everyone and they all have the same goal (usually “survive”). It doesn’t scale: once you get past small bands you start getting leaders who are absolute dictators. So being adaptable critters, we tell ourselves stories that explain why the leader deserves to be the leader. Often it’s “We’d all be dead without his hunting/tracking/stalking/navigating abilities” at least to start, but inevitably stuff starts to accrete to the story and you end up with the Divine Right of Kings and noblesse oblige and all (yes, it takes generations – but this kind of story lasts generations).

In many ways traditional publishing is trapped in the memes of a socially inept Victorian-era gentleman who got himself so tangled up in bogus theories that he lost sight of the people those theories rested on. He wrapped himself up in his own stories (only he called them dialectics which isn’t quite what the word means) and let them be his reality – something people are prone to do, and something damn near everyone in traditional publishing appears to have done.

So what are the stories behind the stories they publish? I rather suspect that most of the people telling them to themselves think it’s all about compassion and tolerance and fairness and social justice and stuff like that. It’s not, not really. It’s more about how they are the enlightened few and they’re going to raise the consciousness of us iggerant rubes who like that icky pulpy genre stuff by telling us what we should like and not letting us get what we really do like. Oh, and telling us how good it is for us. You know the drill, “strong women” (which means they’re not allowed to like men, because men are the oppressors for some weird reason), anything from a culture that’s mostly held to by dark skinned people (properly sanitized: don’t want to ick out the readers with the nasty stuff – those dark skinned people have to be all noble to contrast properly with the nasty imperialist pale-skinned lot who are also shallower than the NYC establishment gene pool), non-standard sexual practices (also outright deviant sexual practices although the last time I heard doing animals and small children was still frowned upon. At least if you’ve got pale skin. If you’ve got enough melanin your fondness for animal or small child-boinking will be politely ignored).

Of course, stories where anyone (presence of innie or outie not relevant, dermal melatonin levels also not relevant) makes sacrifices and works toward some goal, overcomes obstacles in the form of life, roadblocks put there by other parties for reasons of their own (reason irrelevant), or their own weaknesses, and ultimately achieves something they consider worthwhile… those need not apply. They’re not “consciousness-raising” or “enlightening”. Apparently enlightenment requires absence of anything ordinary human beings might find admirable. Who knew?

No wonder the NYC establishment is screaming blue murder about Amazon (and more to the point, the indie revolution Amazon is fueling). We proles are deserting their PC “masterpieces” in even more droves (we were deserting in droves before. Now the droves are bigger. And faster, too) and devouring that icky pulpy trash those indie writers and micro presses are producing. Some of them even have (horrors!) fans. The poor dears thought they had us safely chained in front of the telescreen, captive to their Important Message, and we slipped away and left a crash test dummy with a painted smile in the chair.

Because our story about the story is that people are fallible critters who mostly want things to stay the same but who’ll do extraordinary things to protect people they care for or for something they think is the right thing to do. On the whole, I think our stories are better. And judging by the sales of independents on Amazon, so do a lot of other people.

The Break And The Healing

So, Judith Tarr has been doing a series of posts at Bookview Café which struck a deep and resonant chord in me.  One of them is The League Of Shattered Authors and the other one (calls itself) a post on the block, called Blocks and Breakage.

I disagree with her characterization of the second.  I’ve experienced both block and breakage, and they’re different things.  I’m not, myself, sure that writers’ block as described by most people exists.  This is the stuff that beginner writers talk about under “I want to write, but my book is too vague.”  At which point you say “Just start, and the plot will come” and nine times out of ten, it will.

This is the stuff that  somewhat more experienced writers say “I wrote the story to this point, and then it stopped, and I don’t know what to do now, because it’s dead.”  And nine times out of ten the answer is “you’re too inexperienced to know where you went wrong or even that you went wrong, but your subconscious is telling you that you did.  Go back ten, twenty, fifty pages and try again.”  And nine times out of ten, that fixes it.

This is the stuff where more experienced – and incredibly neurotic – writers like me experience when they’re so insecure they write 245 first pages to the same novel, trying for the perfect one.  Letting go, admitting there’s no perfection, finishing now and revising later will et you through that.  “It doesn’t have to be perfect, it has to be finished” will do it.

But then comes that breakage.  That’s major.  That’s definite.  That feels like part of your soul has been torn asunder.

None of us is prepared for that.  Very few of us, on embarking on a writing career get told “you’ll never be secure, never.” Or “Disaster can strike at any time” or even “your success and failure will be completely out of your hands, except for a slim margin.”

And that’s where we break.  Though some break easier and some harder, and some much harder.  And some of us recover, and some of us don’t.

I think perhaps there will be fewer writers who shatter permanently – but I’m not going to promise it – now we have more control.

I’ve told this story before but six (?) years ago, the last time I cracked badly, I figured what I had was burnout, and I got a book on the burnout.  It said people burn out under three circumstances: they’re overworked, they’re underpaid or otherwise undervalued, they have no power to change their circumstances or their destiny.

They said fixing just one of those circumstances could pull you out.  At that time, I couldn’t change any of them.  This will, hopefully, get better with indie.  For me at least, just knowing I have options and some control makes things better.

The first time I cracked was when my Shakespeare series came out and … torpedoed.  I mean, not really.  Not if you look at the raw numbers.  Look, I sold 5k books in hardcover, according to the statement, on a book that came out the month after nine eleven.

But what I was told was that the book had done very badly. They’d publish the other two and then I was done.

I’d done everything “right” according to what I’d been taught.  I’d written he book that the publisher showed enthusiasm for in the way she had hinted she wanted.  I’d done my research.  I’d slaved over my editing.

This after sixteen years of studying writing and the market, and selling pro short stories.

I’d done everything I was supposed to, and then, partly because the house wasn’t particularly invested, partly because of the circumstances completely out of my control, it was all gone and it seemed like I’d never have a career.

I think what saved me there, what allowed me to claw back a little, was that those books weren’t heart’s blood.  Don’t get me wrong, I enjoyed writing them, and Shakespeare is a mini-obsession of mine. But they weren’t what I’d dreamed of writing since I was little – that was space-opera.  This was literary fantasy.  It was important, and it looked like my career had sunk with it, but it wasn’t the be all, end all.

And I started clawing back.  I refused to die.  It was hard – that year was very hard.  Sometimes I felt like I was locked in a stone room and had only a tiny little hole in the stone, through which I could push out writing in segments no larger than the papers in a Chinese fortune cookie.  The stone was the silence that enveloped me and my mind.

Then I got lucky.  I sold Draw One In The Dark to Baen, and Toni Weisskopf saw something in it (who knows what) that made her give me a conference in the Baen bar.  In those days, before facebook, before blogs, this gave me a connection to real, live fans.  I could put stuff up on my conference, and people liked it… they really liked it.  It gave me the confidence to try other stuff, to start writing again.  People were waiting for my words.  That alone was healing balm, after being told that my first book was just not good enough to sell.

The second time I shattered was more difficult, more complex.  Part of it involved murder most foul.  I have no other explanation for why the Musketeer mysteries were more or less allowed to go under, to vanish.  It has everything, including the horribly look-alike covers (first and third) followed by the two titles that don’t say “Musketeer” which had most readers (and sellers) thinking the series had ended.  It had the second book coming out when the first wasn’t shipping – it didn’t ship again for six months, at which point it had lost momentum.  Oh, it was murder right enough, or maybe manslaughter.  At that point, it didn’t matter much.

Part of it involved the strain of working with houses-other-than-Baen (it really is very much more difficult) and part of it involved the nightmare sixth grade of the younger boy replete with bullying and officers who rolled over for the bullies and punished the victim.

Part of it involved my health going seriously haywire.

I never went fully silent, but it felt like I just lacked the strength to write.  I would have the story in my head, I wanted to write it, but it couldn’t be pushed out, because I had no strength.  I started getting sick more an more.  And it wasn’t just the writing.  I pretty much didn’t want to do anything.

It has been a long slog back from that, and I’m still not fully back.  But I’m working on it.  I was talking to a writing friend who can out himself or not on this, if he wishes, and he was telling me he’s still battling it, too.  For similar reasons he had a very difficult period, he broke – shattered – badly, and he’s slowly, very slowly clawing back.  But he feels like he has no energy and trying to do the indie, too, alongside the traditional, sometimes is a mountain too far.

I can’t swear that either of us has the full solution on how to get back yet, but I’ll tell you what I’ve been doing  that seems, for now, to be working.

 

If you hit the wall, if you shatter, if you are there because your career (writing or otherwise) broke on you, this is my prescription:

 

1-      Try something different.  Not just because it might not go wrong this time, but because, frankly, your brain will flinch away less if it’s not where it got hurt before.  If you had a job doing something and it went away, try something else you’re qualified for.  If your fantasy crashed, write a mystery.  If you normally wrote at night, write early morning.  Shake it up as much as possible, maybe something will shake loose.

2-      Find someone who’ll read, or listen, or whatever.  Psychology studies swear that just talking to anyone is as effective (sometimes more) as the talking cure.  Validating your experience, saying, “it wasn’t all my fault” helps.  Sharing your work with people who’ll appreciate it helps too.  In my darkest days, pre-Baen, I put up fan fic for free in the Austen site.  No, the comments I got weren’t the most informed literary criticism.  But that’s not what I wanted or needed.  I needed people who said, “Wow.  When can I read the next chapter?”  Even if it was only ten or twenty of them, it was enough to start me again.

3-      Forgive yourself.  Even though you know it’s not your fault, part of you will be spinning the wheels of “could have/should have/must have” – this is true whether what broke was your art, your career or your marriage.  I’m here to tell you that you probably couldn’t/shouldn’t/didn’t have to.  At least if it was traditional publishing and – in this wonderful economy – even if it was any other job.  It is only in books that you always deserve the terrible things that happen, at some level.  Real life is not that well plotted.  Take a deep breath.  Interrupt the self recrimination with “what’s done is done.  Can’t change it.  Now, what can I do?”

4-      Give yourself time.  Coming back from this sort of crackup isn’t instant, and the more you push, the less able to fix it all you’ll be.  You have to learn patience, do what you can, take your time.

5-      Do things that bring you joy.  You’re like a little kid whose toy broke.  You’re like someone who lost part of himself.  You’re hurt.  You’re recovering.  Like convalescents will sit in the sun, bask in what you enjoy.  Go read old favorites, even if they’re hokey.  Go for a walk in the park.  Find happy places in the middle of the day and then enjoy them fully, thinking about nothing else.

6-      Cherish those who cherish you: fans, writing friends, family, even your cats.  Take pleasure in their affection, concentrate on making them happy.  The rest will come.

7-      Never believe it’s over.  My career has come back from the dead twice now.  While you’re alive, there’s hope.  Keep trying, and something will give.  While you’re breathing, there’s a chance.

 

Over my desk I have a framed saying by General George S. Patton “Success is how high you bounce when you hit the bottom.”  Never forget that.  If you never shattered, you don’t know how strong you are, nor what you can come back from.

Shattering is just another tool to learn about yourself.

Pick up the pieces.  Take all the time you need.  That thing about getting right back on the saddle is for people who don’t understand the level of tumble you can take.  Yes, you have to stay near the stables and sort of keep trying.  But you don’t need to get right back up and go galloping.  Just take your skittish writing’s reins.  Write a little plot here, an outline there.  A paragraph.  A few lines.  Curl up with a good book.  Dream up the story again. It will come back.

 

Why?

I was going to write a follow-up of sorts to Dave’s post yesterday but just deleted it because it ranged well over the no-politics rule of the blog. Yes, I’m in that sort of a mood. It wasn’t so much brought on by Dave’s post — and if you haven’t read it already, go do so. It is, as usual, wonderful and thought provoking and it was fun reading the comments as people remembered books that helped make them who they are now.

No, it was really brought on by a facebook post I saw this morning where another author was asking why it wasn’t enough to simply write a good story, one that entertains the reader and makes them want to finish it. This writer was tired of those who identify themselves as being “literary” looking down their noses at genre writers. You know, writers who have figured out not only how to tell a story people want to read but who have also, in many cases, figured out how to add a message to their work without having to beat the reader over the head with it. Sarah and Dave manage to do so brilliantly. Kate has figured it out as well and I hope to have it figured out one day. But, for now, I’m happy with just writing stories folks want to read.

After all, isn’t that really what we’re supposed to be doing? Writing stories that entertain? If a story doesn’t entertain, folks aren’t going to read it — or at least not finish it. If they don’t read it, then what good is any message we might put into it? That message will be lost because it was never read.

But that isn’t enough for the literati, for all too many editors and, unfortunately, for the boards of too many professional organizations these days. No, you have to be socially relevant and enlightened in your writing. You have to promote what is “right” — as is defined by those who have the loudest voice. Heaven help you if you write something that might offend someone else, especially if you are a male of a certain age.

Maybe I’m old-fashioned (and I know that means I have the wrong beliefs and should probably be silenced now. Sorry, I’m a loud-mouthed woman who isn’t afraid to exercise my First Amendment rights). But I still feel that the story is the thing we should be concerned with and not the message. As I said earlier, folks won’t read the message if they don’t read the story. The corollary to this is: why is publishing in trouble? Because it forgot that readers, on the whole, read to be entertained and to forget about their troubles.

Don’t believe me, ask yourself why so many in publishing are trying to convince us that boys don’t read. Oh, I think there are those who sit in their ivory towers in NYC who actually believe that. Why? Because they look at the sales for their middle grade and YA books and see that the majority of those buying their books are girls. So, therefore, boys don’t read.

No, quite the contrary. Boys don’t read, on the whole, about sparkly vampires or angsty teen problems. They want stories that speak to them. Adventure and fun and characters they can identify with. (Sound familiar?) So they turn to other options, manga being just one of them. But the publishing powers that be fail to recognize that fact.

Then we have those publishers and editors and writers who feel that we must address all of society’s ills with our writing and “educate” our readers so there will never be any racism or sexism or any other ism they don’t approve of ever again. We saw one example of it with the Resnick/Malzberg issue involving the SFWA bulletin. Something that should have been handled in-house was taken public by a few very vocal critics and the SFWA board caving and condemning Resnick and Malzberg. Fresh on the heels of that, some of those same people who condemned Resnick and Malzberg were all over social media calling for gender swapping of characters on TV and in the movies — Dr. Who, specifically — and warning anyone who commented not to comment if they were going to offer sexist comments about how it would be against canon to swap the gender of a character who has been male previously. Funny how they never suggest switching a female role to male.

And SFWA continues to empower these folks in order to continue being “relevant”. After condemning Resnick and Malzberg, and basically forcing Jean Rabe out as editor of the bulletin, it has started looking at the SFWA twitter feed and who can post using it and what can be posted. While I agree that there needs to be a clear demarcation between official tweets of the board and tweets from the membership, it’s funny how this only happened after the vocal minority complained about an “offending” tweet.

From the SFWA announcement, the following applies to tweets for the twitter feed @SFWAauthors:

Publication and industry-related news only. Links or statuses under 140 characters. We will not edit your information for clarity; please provide all necessary information.

Racist or sexist material may be removed upon discovery. Threats or personal attacks or obvious trolling will also be grounds for removal. Repeat offenses will be subject to suspension pending investigation and possible removal from SFWA-managed feeds. We reserve the right to clarify, question or refuse any submitted material. SFWA does not endorse or promote any information contained in this feed.

Seems pretty straight-forward, right? But note that there are no attached definitions and also note the possible conflict in information. First, what constitutes racist or sexist material? After what happened with Resnick/Malzberg, I’d be especially worried about posting something that might be considered sexist. Also, it states that SFWA won’t edit tweets for “clarity”, but that sort of implies it might edit them for other purposes. Also, when it says SFWA reserves the right to clarify, does that mean to ask the poster to clarify what they meant or does that mean SFWA can “clarify” the tweet.

Yeah, I’m being picky, but when something is this poorly written as guidance, especially in light of what has been happening with the bulletin, I’d be worried about putting anything up on the feed if I were a SFWA member.

And then there’s the bulletin. If you think they overreacted with regard to the Resnick/Malzberg blowup, just wait. SFWA has suspended publication of the bulletin. Yep, that’s right, they have suspended the bulletin for a period of up to six months. They are doing this so they can “refresh” the magazine, find a new editor and — wait for it — “conduct a membership survey and consult advisors about the Bulletin and its future direction. Many aspects of the Bulletin will be discussed, including but not limited to: its format, its aesthetic, its content, its budget, and its inclusivity.”

All very pretty until you start looking at it closely and start asking questions. First, what about the non-member subscriptions? I may have missed it, but I didn’t see anything in the announcement that addressed what they will do about those folks who aren’t SFWA members but who subscribe to the bulletin. Then there’s the membership survey. Who is going to put together the survey and what questions are going to be asked? We all know how results of a survey can be skewed simply by the questions asked and the multiple choice answers provided to the responders to choose from. Unless they simply send out a questionnaire that asks “what do you want from the bulletin?” and let each responder answer on his own, the results are slanted from the get-go.

Then we get to the advisors who will be consulted. Who are these advisors? What are their qualifications for consulting on a professional bulletin, especially one aimed at the SF/F community of writers and readers? Notice how we aren’t given that information.

But what bothers me the most is the use of “inclusivity”. What does SFWA mean by this? Oh, I have a pretty good guess: they want to make sure everyone is included (as long as you aren’t a white male of a certain age and gentlemanly bent — we’ve already seen what happens then.)

Or maybe I’m just tired of the double standard many of those who condemned Resnick and Malzberg seem to hold. It’s bad to call a woman an lady and talk about how she looked in a swimsuit, but it’s just fine to post half-naked pictures of well-muscled men on your facebook page. Give me an effing break.

Or it could be that I’m just a writer and mother who is tired of being told I have to do more than entertain my readers and who should have taught my son to be ashamed of the fact he’s a male. Sorry, the latter is never going to happen and I write because I want readers to enjoy what they read, not because it has some super socially conscious message in it.

Or perhaps it’s because I believe in TANSTAAFL and wish those in their ivory towers of publishing would remember that and learn from it.

As I said a week ago, I’m a hack and proud of it.

(Welcome to everyone coming over from Instapundit. Thanks to Glenn for the link!

Also, many thanks to The Passive Voice for the link!– June 28th)

Shaping the world

I think sort of pear shaped, hanging from heaven (a la Colombus) and maybe a little over-ripe is the image that takes my fancy. Possibly with a few emerging maggots… truly, they will turn into gauzy winged creatures soon. Ah, you can tell I write fantasy. In a somewhat different metaphorical mold, it’s hard to be a writer without being aware of the idea that we writers shape the world, rather like play-dough, or clay. I prefer the play-dough image myself, as we’re a bunch of clumsy brats, not master-potters.

The thing with this concept is that it’s both true and largely false. Books, the ideas in them do change and influence people. And people do change the societies we live in, and, rather more often, their own lives. The false part is where people like Harlan Ellison with his ‘afflicting the comfortable’ and editors who prate about their duty being to publish book that will educate the masses and words to that effect (translated, feed you swill until you become a pig, but a lesser pig, knowing your place) assume that: 1)people will eat swill 2)that the result of eating swill will be to make them into docile pigs (instead of a piggy-problem) 3)The writers and editors are actually in control of the swill and the direction readers will take from it.

Well, I think most of us – well possibly not the graduates of East Coast Colleges with degrees in English Literature and vaunting ambition in publishing – but us lesser mortals (it’s a point of view thing) know, instinctively, that it doesn’t work like that. Authors, of course, are shaped by their society, and publishing tends to follow trends not set them. Occasionally an author does break that, at least in part, but the publishing industry frowns on it. If they and their acolytes call it ‘ground breaking, unique, visionary etc., etc.’ (which they do, ad nauseum) the one thing you can absolutely certain of is that it’s yet another regurgitation of the party line. What happens is that books sometimes get through to people, sometimes a lot people, sometimes just the right one at the right time, and start them thinking. And that can change the world. But that’s not actually the direction that swill is supposed to take you. That’s supposed to do your thinking for you, and maintain the status quo, or at least the direction they see it as going. The strength I think of Golden Age books was that they awoke the imagination, got us thinking, and that they made some of us believe that we could ride to the stars, meet strange aliens, and kick their butts if need be. The eras that followed tended to do the opposite. There were always authors who broke out of that, and people who broke out of it despite the best (or worst) an author could do.

And that half the reason the world-shaping has been such a failure. The political wing that seized the levers of literature saw its power but didn’t understand the ‘thinking for yourself’ thing. They thought it was so they could think for us, and we’d listen and obey… and enjoy eating (and paying for) the swill. It’s been pointed out, repeatedly, that we readers (like my pig, Fairy, who lives in a sty at the bottom of my garden) like some things much more when they’re dressed well in story (Fairy the pig prefers gravy or milk, but it’s the same thing, really), and that’s why the sales of swill are dropping. Most of what we read for is entertainment. If you want thinking or being thought-for as major factors the entertainment better be very good (and even then like Fairy, we may nose aside the bits that they want us to get, and we really don’t like. Like carrots, in the case of my pig).

It is however true that in brilliant vision of hindsight I can see books that made me what I am – because of what I took out of them. Jack Vance’s Blue World
(which is about a Robinson Crusoe society living on water world, which has no land and no metals (they live on islands of floating seaweed) was my first sf novel. I think I was 8. It was a satire, and brilliant at that, but that flew over my little woolly monkey head. I just reveled in the triumph of human ingenuity and science over the environment, and killing the nasty kraken sea-creature alien life-form (Yes, a Margaret Atwood squid, but on an alien world, not space). Veddy veddy un-PC these days. The bad fellows who wanted nothing to do with this change-and-science-and-man-coming-out-on-top thing and thought deifying and giving appeasing sacrifices (and later human- but naughty human, like ones that liked science) would be the modern heroes, methinks. Nothing before or since stirred my imagination like that. I’ve been trying to imagine, and later write similar stir ever since.

So what book did for you? And why? (you want to be a writer – or help writers, you have to tell us why. That’s how we learn to shape play-dough, and later clay.)

Oh for those curious – A Mankind Witch

has now sold 87 copies this month. The Forlorn 4. I have prepared a new blurb and Sarah is giving me a hand with a new cover (and title), and I’ll put both up soon (together, rather than one at a time).