Saturday, November 29, 2008
Thursday, November 27, 2008
We were all stunned.
It was an understandable reaction; after all, folks in the San Francisco Bay Area were still reeling from the news just nine days before that Bay Area Congressman Leo Ryan had been gunned down in Guyana while investigating the apparent suicide of more than 900 members of Jim Jones' People's Temple, most of them former Bay Area residents themselves.
When I was sixteen, I wasn't yet aware of what an extraordinary loss Milk's death was. I hadn't yet figured out my own sexual identity, and it would be several years more before I educated myself on the history of gay rights activism.
But on this day of giving thanks for so many things, I wanted to also take a moment to give thanks for the courageous work that Harvey Milk did, laying the foundation for bigger and bolder gay rights activism on a national level. He certainly wasn't a saint, but he was a true American hero. And he is still missed.
Anyway, I just wanted to say...Thank you, Harvey.
Wednesday, November 26, 2008
Tuesday, November 25, 2008
Pat has recently resurfaced and is writing again at her blog, Holt Uncensored. In her most recent post, she talks about the idea of having online royalty statements for authors.
Monday, November 24, 2008
I have what I think is a tween novel. Who should I query for that? I can't find many agents who say they specifically want 'tween--lots of MG agents, lots of YA agents, but 'tween is still so new that I am having trouble finding a 'tween agent. Who should I query? Both MG and YA agents, and hope that I find one in between? Should I call it a 'tween, or just pick MG or YA?
Technically - at least as a marketing term - middle-grade and 'tween are the same thing: kids who are somewhere between the age of about nine and twelve. But many folks in publishing consider 'tween books to be middle grade that's aimed strictly at girls. Not sure why this is.
My gut reaction is that you should just call it a middle grade novel if it indeed skews younger, and a YA if it skews older. You won't really need to say much more than that as your query letter should be able to give the agent or editor all the rest of information that s/he will need to position your book.
Hope that was helpful!
PS: Yes, I guess I'm open for questions today. Fire away!
Saturday, November 22, 2008
My old pal and former San Francisco roommate "Max" (names have been changed to protect the innocent) out in Portland, OR, pointed me to his band's website, where you can download some awesome, loud, thrashin' speedy, insanely-fast, pop punk. Fer free.
Check out Hit & Run now!
(Max is the drummer, btw.)
Friday, November 21, 2008
the Limits of Reviewing,
and in Particular Certain Books,
viz. Octavian Nothing, Volume II
In 2006, I wrote on my own blog about M.T. Anderson's The Astonishing Life of Octavian Nothing, Traitor to the Nation; vol. 1: The Pox Party, one of my favorite books of recent years, a book I have no reservations about calling a masterpiece and even, perhaps, a work of genius.
I put off reading the second volume, The Astonishing Life of Octavian Nothing, Traitor to the Nation; vol. 2: The Kingdom on the Waves until recently, mostly because I feared disappointment. There is often talk of the difficulties writers have with a second book -- "the sophomore slump" -- but there is a similar difficulty for readers, one that occurs not only with sequels, but also with any second encounter with an author who once blew your mind. Merely replicating the experience is not enough. Once a mind has been blown, it develops tough scar tissue, and a larger force is necessary next time.
Or, rather, I should say, "Once my mind has been blown..." I have no doubt that there are readers who have much less durable scar tissue than I. I've met them. Some of them are my friends. I envy them all. They enjoy reading much more than I do, because it provides reliable pleasure. Reading, for me, provides an immense amount of disappointment, frustration, and vexation. The scar tissue is just too thick, and Kafka's axe needs sharpening after each successful blow. The reason I keep reading is that when I do encounter something like the first volume of Octavian Nothing, the effect is overwhelming -- the joy of reading the book has stuck with me and returns even now when I hold the memory of that reading experience in mind.
I am stalling. Dissembling. Dithering. I am reluctant to say what I should say, and what I should say is that, yes, the second volume of Octavian Nothing disappointed me. Worse, I sometimes found it tedious, a word I would never associate with the first volume. I want to explore that response here not in the way I might in a review, which at least tries to appear to rise above the reviewer's own particular tastes and situation. Here I want to indulge the very subjectivity we so often hide in reviews, since the job of the reviewer is to make the (futile, perhaps) attempt to speak to more than one person's experience of a book. No, this experience is mine alone.
I have seldom had a more complex reaction to a book than I have had to Octavian Nothing II. It is an impressive novel, as assured in its technique as the first volume, and I have no trouble saying that the two books together are equal and perhaps superior to one of my childhood favorites, Johnny Tremain. Only a few other new novels published this year (that I am familiar with) are as richly textured or as deeply thoughtful as Anderson's. It should solidify his place not only among writers for young adults, but among the pantheon of important American writers.
And yet, of the 561 pages of text in the beautifully-produced Candlewick Press edition of the novel, I found somewhere around 300 of them generally unengaging and sometimes utterly, painfully dull. I don't expect the majority of readers will have this experience, though, and many will probably enjoy the second book more than they enjoyed the first.
One of the great virtues of the first book, for me, was that it was not primarily about action. Certainly, plenty of events occur and actions are taken. But the actions and events are scaffolding for ideas -- in fact, I have no hesitancy about calling the first volume a novel of ideas. This particularly makes sense given its setting: Octavian is the subject of experiments by philosophers who seem, to our 21st-century eyes, insane and cruel, but who operated from perfectly justifiable beliefs by 18th-century standards. Part of the joy (and horror) of the first novel derives from how beliefs different from our own lead to various actions, and how characters respond to those actions in differing ways, producing new ideas that also lead to new actions.
The second volume continues to have actions that derive from ideas, but there are fewer ideas, and most of them are familiar from the first volume. The second volume has at its center Octavian's time as a soldier with Lord Dunmore's Ethiopian Regiment, a group of (primarily) freed and escaped slaves recruited by the British army to fight against the rebels in the American Revolution. Neither the Loyalist viewpoint nor the experience of African Americans in the Revolution has been common in fiction (Kenneth Roberts wrote from the Loyalist POV in 1940's Oliver Wiswell and notable recent examples of the POV of slaves include Christian Cameron's Washington & Caesar and Laurie Halse Anderson's Chains). It is important for us to see the Revolution from these perspectives, though, because the exhortations of "liberty" and "freedom" that fueled the rebels rung hollow for African Americans, and the debate about slavery was an important part of the debate about independence from Britain. The British, particularly Lord Dunmore, understood this, and Dunmore's November 14, 1775 Proclamation had a tremendous effect, helping to cause what historian Gary B. Nash has called "the greatest slave rebellion in North American history -- one almost too shocking for the American public to contemplate even now."
Dunmore's proclamation was not a key to perfect liberty, though, and there was no easy choice for slaves during the Revolution, because despite fine words from both sides about natural rights, most Americans and British were only willing to emancipate the other side's slaves. Anderson does an excellent job of showing the dilemma's Octavian faces as he contemplates freedom (the idea and actuality), and the last sections of the second volume are powerful, presenting us with an Octavian who has experienced great loss and disappointment and who struggles against an entirely justified bitterness.
The hundreds of pages that caused me such disappointment, though, were the middle ones. Octavian and Dr. Trefusis escape Boston and go to Virginia, where Octavian joins the Ethiopian Regiment and reunites with his friend Pro Bono (who has renamed himself William Williams). The beginning of this section is fascinating, because Octavian now moves from the rarified, upper-class atmosphere of the College of Lucidity and must live and work with people who have experienced the more common and ordinary forms of slavery. His manners, his words, and his ability to read all raise suspicions. Anderson is smart and informed enough not to make these encounters simple, and he convincingly imagines other rifts within the group -- tensions between, for instance, people who have recently been brought to the colonies from Africa and people who have never set foot on the continent of their heritage, as well as tensions between people of different ethnic groups within Africa. What unites people? becomes a potent, nagging question throughout the novel.
The central section of the book is important, too, because there is so little historical evidence of what the members of the Ethiopian Regiment experienced. Their stories have been forgotten, neglected, lost. There are various reports of what happened to and with the Regiment (reports to which Anderson is faithful), but just about nothing reveals the inner lives of the slaves and soldiers at the time. Here is where historical fiction, carefully and responsibly imagined, enters, presenting us with educated guesses about daily lives lost to a historical shroud.
The problem for me as a reader was that Octavian's experience is oftentimes one of waiting and wondering, and very little of his waiting and wondering allowed new insights into the world or characters, insights that I had not gleaned from the previous book or could not have figured out on my own. This is a particular problem for me as a reader: I quickly grow bored when the writer spends time describing or explaining things I could have imagined or figured out without much help. The brilliant strangeness of the first volume disappears in the second, when Octavian is in situations familiar from other historical fictions. Similarly, the many scenes of disease are less powerful in the second volume because the scenes of disease in the first volume were so effective, both agonizingly sad and achingly suspenseful. The second volume's central story is so much one of "and then this happened, and this happened, and this happened..." that I often found it difficult to care much for any of the actions or the characters attached to them.
And here the reviewer must stop and emphasize that first-person singular pronoun. I have become peculiarly indifferent to the sorts of narratives that are fundamentally about what happens next. Or rather, I have become indifferent to these sorts of narratives in written fiction -- I'm still perfectly capable of enjoying them in movies and TV shows, which is a good thing, because that's what 99% of movies and TV shows are based on. I used to be able to read such stories with at least a little bit of pleasure, but not in recent years, despite my attempts again and again. I like my fiction to gain its momentum from something other than action and event, partly because when I desire action and event, I watch a movie or TV show -- a quicker, easier return on the time investment.
What the second volume of Octavian Nothing has going for it beyond the questions of freedom and history, beyond the actions and events, is the language, and had this been my first encounter with M.T. Anderson's faux-18th-century style, that probably would have been enough to keep me going strong through the middle section. Here is where the first volume most obviously got in my way as a reader -- the language of that first book thrilled me because it was such an excellent performance, and because Anderson, like all great performers, made it seem effortless. The second volume is equally excellent and seemingly effortless, but it is no longer new. Indeed, I even began to quibble with it in a way that I did not when reading the first volume. (Why, I wondered, did he employ so many short paragraphs and short sentences? When reading the first volume, I thought this was a fine strategy for creating a version of 18th-century style that is more accessible to modern readers than a more accurate approximation would be -- Anderson generally gives us 18th century vocabulary within 21st century structures -- but by the middle of the second volume, I kept pining for [if faux] Pynchon or [if real] Sterne. I swatted these thoughts away with a qualm-swatter built from my respect for what Anderson really had accomplished, but nonetheless, they buzzed through my head throughout the second half of the book.)
All of which is just to say that there is no justice in continuing to write well after writing a masterpiece. Or, more accurately, that the reader who has perceived the previous book as a masterpiece is a reader unlikely ever to be pleased by what follows. Or, still more accurately, that when I am that reader, I am unlikely to be pleased.... (Here is where the reviewer is little more than a child whining: "But I want it the way I want it!")
Finally, I thought I might end all this divagating with an example of Anderson's extraordinary writing, because though the second volume had me swatting at qualms and left me wishing for something to blow through the scar tissue of my mind, it is moments such as the following that make me think, despite my own inability to truly appreciate it, the book is nearly the masterpiece of its predecessor:
When it was ordered that the soldiers should bathe in saltwater twice daily to fend off disease, I saw a reigment walk into the sea at dawn.
The ocean was ruddy, as were they, and some passed into the sea from the shingle, and others rose from the sea and waded to shore. They came forth dripping, shivering, naked, and made for the land, lit by the first sun, as if the Creator had determined to make a new race of men from the foam, this one perfected, gentle, and dandled by light.
Tuesday, November 18, 2008
So, in no particular order:
- Twitter: I generally post a link to each blog post on Twitter (in addition to having serious debates with authors about the merits of bats vs. werewolves). You can find my Twitter feed here.
- MyBlogLog: A wonderful tool that allows me to see what people are actually clicking through to on the blog, and what they read most often. You can join the Swivet community on MyBlogLog here.
- The Blogger "Follow Me" service, or what I like to call "The Box of Tiny Heads": This is a good tool as it feeds all the Blogger-hosted blogs that you follow onto the Blogger dashboard when you log in. To add your tiny head, click the link to the right that says "Follow this Blog".
- Subscribe by email via FeedBlitz: Yeah, if you're truly that lazy, you can now just have Swivet blog posts emailed to you. Head over to the sidebar on the right to sign up.
Monday, November 17, 2008
Via Ron Hogan, this hilarious story about a third-grade teacher trying to read the classic childrens book Blueberries for Sal to her class. If you don't remember the story, it involves a confrontation between a small boy and a black bear, both of whom are after the same patch of blueberries. Here's what happened when the teacher asked the class what they thought would happen next:
And it gets even funnier! Read the whole thing here.
So what do you think happens next, Mrs. G. asked him brightly.
What do I think? I think Sal is a goner.
Oh, no no no no no, said Mrs. G. quickly, I've read this book hundreds of times. Sal doesn't die. The mother bear is a nice, loving bear.
The kid wasn't having any of it.
I saw a show on the Discovery Channel, he said, bears are unusually aggressive. A mother bear is called a sow, and a sow is very protective of her offspring. A sow will always attack if she thinks she or her cub is being threatened.
To bring it on home, the boy took his finger and slowly slid it across his throat.
In any case, Authoress just posted my list of winning entries over here if you would like to read them for yourself.
A big thank you to Authoress for letting me participate! It was a lot of fun!
Sunday, November 16, 2008
Originally, I was going to write a guest blog about how publishing is like Survivor and Jeff Probst--who is not a hosebag!--would represent agents and Mark Burnett would represent editors and all the writers of the world are (get this) SURVIVORS, but I couldn't tie it all together, so just pretend I did and it was clever. Instead, I'm going to talk about writing YA, the responsibilities therein, and debunk a few YA myths born of said responsibilities along the way... so I guess that means if you don't write YA, I got nothing for you. Sorry. Didn't mean to get all exclusive there. But if you scroll down to the last paragraph, I'm sure there will be ~*sparkles*~ and those are for everyone!
So I write YA novels because--as I said in my first guest post here--I love it. I love doing it. There's a fantastic sense of immediacy in the genre that I'm very drawn to as both a reader and a writer and I could read and write it all day. Pretty straightforward, right? Right.
One of the most interesting things about writing young adult novels is the sense of responsibility that can be and is projected on you by others because you're writing for young adults. I've gotten into some pretty intense discussions about this topic with people from all walks--writers, readers, that poor stranger I accosted on the street--and there never seems to be a consensus about this. If you write YA, are you responsible for your teenage readers? Do you have to be worried about your words unintentionally negatively influencing the Adults of Tomorrow? Do your novels and characters have to serve as a kind of moral compass for them?
Talk about your loaded questions, huh? And it's amazing the way they can and do inhibit people who are interested in writing YA. Consequently, a lot of the questions I've seen from those who want to write for teenagers often begin with, "I can't do X in a YA novel, can I?" And even though there are so many groundbreaking, amazing YA novels out there right now that blow all these can'ts outta the water, they still seem to persist and so I'm going to present to you four old hat "Why Are They Still Common?!" myths about writing books for and about teenagers that personally drive me nuts:
Myth #1: You can't swear in a YA novel
I see this unintentionally hilarious question a lot for some reason. "Can you swear in a novel written for teenagers?" Why yes, Virginia, you effing can. Whether or not you should depends entirely on your character and your story, though. Swear with care--that's my motto! Which, rest assured, has absolutely nothing to do with moderation.So in case it wasn't obvious, my answer to all those questions in the fourth paragraph is a straight 'no' across the board. I've personally always felt my responsibility is to my story, my characters and to be as honest and true to them as I can. Anything less feels like an insult not only to them, but to the people that will be reading.
Myth #2: If someone has sex, they must a.) die or b.) contract an STD or c.) end up pregnant in a YA novel.
Not so! Judy Blume totally tackled this one and Judy Blume is the Law. It's okay to portray teenagers having sex, enjoying it, even, and what's more, living to tell the tale. Some people might insist otherwise, but... they're not Judy Blume and like I said. She's the law.
Myth #3: If a character does something 'bad' (ie underage drinking, drugs, stealing, murdering people/puppies etc.) they must be punished for it.
Nope. When writing YA, certain people will want and demand expected consequences when it comes to portraying the grittier parts of life, as though presenting anything but is to lead your teenage audience astray and to glamorize negative behaviours they will then go out an emulate. But the fact of the matter is, sometimes people drink in excess and they don't wake up hungover, sometimes they do drugs and they don't get addicted, sometimes they steal and they don't get caught and sometimes they do something Very, Very Bad like kill a puppy and they walk away without looking back. It's okay if one of these types of people happen to make an appearance in your YA novel.
Myth #4: If you write it, you are advocating/endorsing it.
One word: seriously?!
But I'm very interested in hearing from other YA writers and readers on this matter! What say you? Are YA writers responsible for their readers? Should they worry about unduly influencing them? If you write YA, do these things concern you? Weigh in, please!
And, as promised: ~*sparkles*~
Thursday, November 13, 2008
Wednesday, November 12, 2008
Did you know?
- He collects Spider-Man comics.
- His favorite TV show is The Wire.
- He is totally a Mac person. (Take that, Microsoft Vista!!!)
- He auditioned for a black pin-up calendar at Harvard...and was rejected. Yes, rejected. You will never see that bony little ass of his coming back to haunt him when he comes up for reelection in 2012. (Thank God.)
Edit to Add: More evidence of Obama's nerdiness here!!!
Tuesday, November 11, 2008
PS: And if you haven't already, you should really check out David's book Superpowers, which is filled with pure awesome.
Monday, November 10, 2008
- Don't write down to your audience; kids are more aware of the world than you think they are
- Don't try to use your book to cram morality down their throats; they get enough of that at school and in church
- Vampires rock, but not romantic vampires. Make them mean again, please! (I laughed out loud at this, because I'm frequently thinking the same thing when I read queries.)
Also good: books with videogame-style plots involving zombie attacks, alien attacks, robot attacks or any excuse to shoot something.
I couldn't agree more, Max!
By seventh grade, I was somewhat frustrated as a writer. I had failed to find anyone who would publish my stories, and I began to think this whole writing biz was rigged. I'd done what all the guidebooks told me to do, I thought. I'd memorized each month's WD (we'd become so close we thought of each other by our initials). Why wasn't I published? What did those other people -- all those published people -- have that I didn't, aside from a few years?
I first sold a story the summer between the seventh and eighth grades, though not to Asimov's. Instead, I had lowered myself to doing what I'd sworn I wouldn't do -- I had submitted a story to a magazine aimed at (gasp!) kids. It was called Merlyn's Pen. One of my teachers had suggested it. The story they published, "The Nauga Hunters", went on to be reprinted in anthologies and even, about fifteen years after it first appeared, was adapted as a "reader's theatre" play performed by a professional company in schools throughout New England.
I sold a few more stories as well as some poems to Merlyn's Pen, but Asimov's continued to reject me. So did everybody else, for that matter. Occasionally, I got an encouraging rejection slip, but mostly I got form letters. I didn't start publishing fiction with any regularity until I was in my late twenties. Some of the reason for that is that I got sidetracked, spending about five years trying to become a playwright, then a few years trying to become a poet. (My genre ADHD frequently proves to be a handicap.)
Looking back, I often wonder: What didn't I know then? What didn't the guidebooks and Writer's Digest prepare me for, or what of their advice was I blind to?
Sure, some things had to do with my youth, but I think a lot of what I wouldn't learn until later could also be applicable to many aspiring writers, and so here are some musings on a few differences between my aspirations, my perceptions, and the realities of the world, some things I wish I could tell my younger self...
1.) Let your weaknesses be your strength.
The lesson I should have taken from the success of "The Nauga Hunters" (a story about two kids in rural New Hampshire) is that writing about what you know isn't as bad as it sounds. I thought my life was boring and spaceships and aliens were more interesting, but I didn't know how to write convincingly about spaceships and aliens. Some writers have a great talent for imagining worlds and landscapes and all sorts of weird stuff. I don't. The things that interest me -- and this is as true of "The Nauga Hunters" as of every story that has been successful for me over the last twenty years -- are language and psychology. I like to explore how people express themselves, how they develop ideas of who they are and who other people are, the stories they (we) tell each other to justify behaviors, the ways words can complexify life, the ways reality is expressed and obscured by how we talk about it.
I could never write a plot-heavy commercial novel that was in any way interesting. I kept trying to write commercial science fiction when I was young because I thought if I just practiced enough, I might get it right one day. If I had put even a little bit of that energy more toward writing about language and psychology, I probably would have gotten more personal rejection slips than I got, and I might have even sold a story or two. I definitely needed to keep writing and writing, because there's no other way to learn to write, but I was trying to claw my way up a cliff when there was a ladder right beside me.
2.) Writing programs are sometimes useful, sometimes not.
I've been to all sorts of different writing workshops over the years. I'll probably go to more in the future. I like being around people who care about writing, and I love talking shop. But when I started going to workshops, and at first when I was an undergraduate in NYU's Dramatic Writing Program, I thought workshops would teach me The Secret. I'd read the writing guides -- heck, I'd memorized them! -- and I hadn't learned what The Secret was, so I figured it must be kept by the teachers of writing workshops.
Here's The Secret: There is no Secret.
I really learned that when one of my NYU teachers, a wonderful writer himself and a marvelous teacher, asked me how I wrote so consistently. I was flabbergasted. "Practice?" I said sheepishly. "I thought so," he said, apparently disappointed. He thought I'd found The Secret and could tell it to him.
Other people have written plenty about the risks and benefits of workshops, so I won't rehash all that. I've gotten the most out of them when I've had the least expectations, when I've kept an open mind, and when I've had the luck to have the right workshop leader at the right time. The most profound workshop experience I ever had was with Barry Lopez at Bread Loaf -- I arrived at a time when I didn't think I should keep writing fiction or anything else, and Lopez convinced me that writing can be a noble activity when done carefully and honestly. Some of the other people in our workshop disliked his approach, because he did not stick to workshop protocols. Instead, he led us to discuss why we did what we did, what we wanted to do it for, and what we expected to accomplish. (Outside of class, we got one-on-one feedback on our stories, but I didn't find that half as useful.) At another time, I might not have been ready for Lopez's wisdom; that summer, though, it did more for my writing than 100 critique sessions would have.
I feel similarly about MFA programs. Curtis Brown literary agent Nathan Bransford recently wrote a post titled "If I Were Running an MFA Program...", and it's worth reading, particularly the discussion in the comments section. There can be a bit of a disconnect between what students think an MFA gets them and what schools intend the students to learn -- most (but not all) MFA programs do not spend a lot of time on the nuts and bolts of publishing, for a few different reasons (one of which is that this information is relatively easy to find on the internet and in libraries), but a lot of students leave MFA programs thinking they now know all they need to know about the industry they've been studying for a few years as an art. There's a difference, though, between the art and craft of writing and the art and craft of getting that writing published. This is something that all the writing guides I read when young really did teach me well -- from an early age, I knew the basics of agents, contracts, etc. The information is out there, and it doesn't require an advanced degree to find it.
My lack as a young writer was not so much a lack of skill as a lack of knowledge of myself and the world. I thought if I could just write nice sentences, I'd win a Pulitzer by the time I was 20.
I desperately wanted to major in playwrighting as an undergraduate because I thought the workshops would teach me the skills to get my plays on Broadway. I was annoyed to find many of my peers at NYU writing pale imitations of Pulp Fiction (the hot movie among aspiring screenwriters at the time), but it took me a little while to realize I was writing pale imitations of Christopher Durang and Samuel Beckett. We all imitated because we hadn't figured out how to tap our own experiences and interests, and our interests and experiences weren't yet broad enough to produce work of much depth. A little bit of this had to do with our age and various levels of talent, but much more of it had to do with our inability yet to tap into the deep currents of our lives. Chris Shinn, who was a couple years ahead of me at NYU, was smarter than the rest of us and figured this out early, writing Four while we were still trying to figure out what we wanted to say. But it isn't a matter of age so much as of personality -- we all discover our subject matter at different times, and bloom at different rates.
If I could go back in time and talk to my younger self, I'd say: "Don't worry about it so much." I thought if I didn't accomplish x, y, or z by a certain age, I'd be a failure.
Actually, I might have been happier if I had been able to give myself permission to study something in college other than writing. But I was convinced the only way to become a good writer was to major in it. Not so. For many people, in fact, the best way to be a good writer is to spend some time doing things other than studying writing. My writing benefited more from my time working in a high school on Manhattan's Lower East Side than it did from the classes I was taking when not at work.
Some of the best writing advice I know appears in the introduction of Barry Lopez's (yes, him again) About This Life:"Read. Find out what you truly believe. Get away from the familiar. Every writer ... will offer you thoughts about writing that are different, but these are three I trust."4.) Publication will not solve your problems.
I read Sue Erikson Bloland's "Fame: The Power and Cost of a Fantasy" too late. I had already learned or intuited many of its lessons by the time it was published in The Atlantic. If I had read it when I was fifteen or sixteen, it might have given me some comfort. Or not -- at fifteen or sixteen, I probably wouldn't have understood how much it explained. I wanted to be famous. I wanted the world to love and admire me. I wanted to show everybody ... something:Many writers about narcissism ... have suggested that narcissism (or grandiosity) is, essentially, a defense against shame -- with shame defined as a sense that the self is deeply flawed or deficient. To feel shame is to experience the self as small, weak, insignificant, powerless, defective. It is the experience of the self as not good enough.I had plenty of self-hatred as a kid, and I wrote to try to escape it, to try to prove that I was good at something, good for something. I thought being published frequently would turn me into a worthwhile person, somebody other people might even want to be around, somebody people might revere. In my most grandiose moments, I wanted to be a guru -- I wanted people to come to me for advice and wisdom. I sought advice and wisdom from writers, and so I thought if I became a writer, I would then achieve a kind of wholeness.
Alas, it doesn't work that way. Publication can be fun, but I don't think a healthy psyche finds it much more than that. If you haven't been able to find balance and contentment in your life, publishing won't help you, and, if anything, it may hurt. It may encourage arrogance or it may cause new neuroses -- the common fear, for instance, among many successful artists of all sorts that one day somebody will find out "the truth" and prove to the world that you are a fraud.
I really sympathize with J.D. Salinger these days, writing but not publishing. It's not a bad option.
5.) You'll be fine.
There's more to life than writing, but writing can be a way to discover life. Use it for that, and you'll surprise yourself sometimes with what you find. Those occasional moments of discovery make all the false starts, clunky sentences, discarded pages, missed opportunities, embarrassing mistakes, and creative failures disappear just long enough to stop stinging.
Sunday, November 9, 2008
I first met Matt as I have met so many great people in the book industry: virtually. In 2003, I was working at Del Rey and - as always - was trying to find new and non-traditional venues for promoting writers like China Mieville and Alex Irvine. More and more often I found myself turning to then-fledgling network of literary bloggers, critics who tended to embrace anything that was good writing without holding the fact that it was genre writing against it. I came across Matt's wonderful literary blog, The Mumpsimus and discovered someone who was writing elegantly about genre fiction, blending the passion of a true fanboy with the critical eye of a literary theorist. (Of course I started bombarding him with books immediately and he still blames me for the roughly four thousand review copies he gets in his mailbox every week.) It was only afterward that I discovered Matt also wrote fiction himself; indeed, that he was a wonderful - and prolific - short story writer whose work was widely-published and well-respected in the industry.
This past Saturday, Matt and I got into a conversation online about a wonderful post that agent Nathan Bransford wrote last week about MFAs and their shortcomings in preparing writers to actually become published writers. Tomorrow's post by Matt is a direct response and a great addendum to that post.
More about Matt, in his own words (because I made him write this last night at midnight!):
Born under a rock, where I was left to fester until discovered by roaming Jewish Mormon Indians of French descent, who stuck me on the Mayflower and hoped I'd teach some Puritans a thing or two. I didn't.You can read a wonderful interview with Matt here,and sample some of his published short fiction here, here, here, and here. You should all be regularly reading his blog The Mumpsimus as well. And, lastly, you can read a loving tribute that Matt wrote about his [recently-deceased] father over at Strange Horizons here.
Actually, the above is a lie. I'm sorry.
I'm not related to Dick Cheney. Or, rather, I asked my father about this, and he said that sometime in the 18th century, the family split into two strands: the successful strand of doctors, lawyers, and politicians; and us. Big Uncle Dick came from the successful strand.
I grew up in a gun shop in central New Hampshire. I fled at age 18 to NYU to study Dramatic Writing at the Tisch School of the Arts, because I wanted to be a playwright. I left after 3 years, disillusioned and bitter, to finish up at the University of New Hampshire with a B.A. in English, though, being burnt out, I avoided all writing classes there.
After graduating from UNH, I taught English at the New Hampton School for 9 years and also became the Director of Performing Arts, because nobody else was crazy enough to do the job. I got a sabbatical year at New Hampton and used it to do the class work in the Master of Arts in Liberal Studies program at Dartmouth College, where I wrote my thesis on the early writings of Samuel Delany. In 2007, left New Hampshire to teach at the Frisch School in New Jersey, but returned home a few months ago after the death of my father. I'm now selling off his business and teaching at Plymouth State University.
I'll probably be in New Hampshire for a while, because every time I leave it does something to make me have to return.
Past publications include work in English Journal, One Story, Failbetter, Las Vegas Weekly, Locus, Web Conjunctions, Rain Taxi, Lady Churchill's Rosebud Wristlet, SF Site, Pindeldyboz, Abyss & Apex, Ideomancer, the Internet Review of Science Fiction, the anthologies Logorrhea and Interfictions, etc. I also write a column for Strange Horizons and am the series editor for Best American Fantasy (Prime Books). Upcoming work includes stories scheduled to be published by Weird Tales and in an anthology edited by Paul Jessup, as well as introductions to reissued editions of Samuel Delany's The Jewel-Hinged Jaw and Starboard Wine from Wesleyan University Press. And I probably still owe somebody a review of something...
I was nominated for a World Fantasy Award in 2005 for The Mumpsimus, and my story "Blood" from One Story was listed in Best American Short Stories (Stephen King, ed), Best American Mystery Stories (Carl Hiaasen, ed.), and The Pushcart Prize as one of the stories they almost included in the book, but God told them not to.
Stay tuned for tomorrow's column.
And you can apply online.
(Myself, I'm applying for the new official puppy-sitter position. Squeeeeeeee!)
Saturday, November 8, 2008
Edit to Add: Um, this is satire, folks.
Friday, November 7, 2008
Bascially it boils down to this: In order for a big box retailer to be able to purchase the heavily-hyped Fall 2008 titles - the titles whose sales will make up the bulk of their income for the year, by the way, thanks to good old-fashioned holiday consumerism - they must come up with cash by returning pretty much everything they bought in Spring and Summer 2008. Which means that publishers must eat those books. Which means layoffs and other Really Bad Things.
In October, bookstores returned so many books that most publishing companies had more coming into them than going out of them. For some companies, the incoming number was more than several months' outgoing.Great advice. Now go read Moonratty's entire post!
Although bookstores are suffering (and how), it was the publishing houses that had to absorb the cost of this cash flow creator. This is why Impetus, a relatively new indie company without the history to survive this shock, folded. Some houses lost so much money in returns in October that profits from the entire rest of 2008 have been negated. Can you imagine? Losing enough in a month to destroy your entire year? (Keep in mind that publishing is a very low profit margin enterprise in the first place; now see how if one month involves more outgoing than incoming money you can easily undo the good of an entire year or more.)
Now you can see the ripples that are happening, the layoffs, the dwindling advances, the precautions about acquiring anything in this climate. If publishing companies are shelling out money to publish books that bookstores only bother to stock for a minute and a half, we are all going to hemorrhage money until there is nothing left standing.
This would be a bad situation for more than the sake of my job or your future novel. It's about a lot of things--education, hampered information dissemination, conglomerations swallowing mass media, censorship. Whatever. I could extenuate, but I'll spare you. The point is, when you have a problem, the best thing to do is try to solve it.
For anyone who cares about the book publishing industry and wants to do their part, there's one simple action step:
Buy a book this weekend.
Wednesday, November 5, 2008
Dear California voters: Let me introduce you to two of the people whose rights you want to strip away.
I realize that to you gay marriage must rank up there with bad things like storms of locusts and boils and bloody plagues and a second season of The Bionic Woman. I get it. Somehow the idea that two gay people who love one another and whom would like the right to be able to become legally committed to one another is abhorrent to you. I'm also guessing that most of you who voted for Prop 8 don't actually know any gay couples. How do I know this? Because it's always easier to dehumanize someone and take away their civil rights if they don't really exist to you.
So, with their permission, let me introduce you to one of the married gay couples whose civil rights you're working so tirelessly to strip away:
This is my baby brother Craig (on the right) and his husband Jack (left). They've been together as a monogamous couple for more than fifteen years. Longer, in fact, that most heterosexual couples that I know.
So what can I tell you about these two big scary homos, hmmm? Well, when he was a kid, Craig had a love affair with the Titanic and all big ocean liners. He collected Titanic books and memorabilia and had Cunard and White Star Line posters all over his room. Now, as an adult, he actually gets to sail on all those big ships he loved as a kid; he and Jack go on several cruises every year. (I kinda don't get the whole cruise ship thing so I tend to tease them mercilessly about it, but hey, they don't understand my love of San Diego Comic-Con, so I guess we're about even.)
And Jack? Jack loves car races. He's an unapologetic Nascar fan (yes, gay Nascar fans exist - shocking!), and has an enormous collection of Matchbox cars that he's had since he was a kid. Craig and Jack both love Christmas; they go nuts every year decorating their house for the holidays and they create spectacular and realistic tableaus for their huge collection of Department 56 Dickens houses. (They also both have questionable taste in sweaters on occasion, but I suspect that's from being exposed too early to The Cosby Show. Shhh! Don't tell them I said anything.)
Jack and Craig were introduced by Craig's friend Eileen, who has been one of his best friends since eighth grade. (Totally heterosexual, in case you were wondering.) They were married fifteen years later in Eileen's backyard, surrounded by friends and family (and margaritas). It was a wonderful day.
And you've been trying your damnedest to invalidate all of that. Why?
No, I don't really think that this post will change your minds. Bigotry is a pretty ingrained mindset. But I thought I'd at least remind you that the people whose lives you're fucking with? The men and women you're choosing to relegate to the status of second-class citizen? Well, they're actual human beings.
Fed up with the hate,
PS: If there are any other gay couples out there - married or otherwise - who'd like to come forward and introduce themselves, feel free to drop me an email with a photo and your story. I'd be happy to post it here.
If there is anyone out there who still doubts that America is a place where all things are possible; who still wonders if the dream of our founders is alive in our time; who still questions the power of our democracy, tonight is your answer.Amen, Mr. President.
It's the answer told by lines that stretched around schools and churches in numbers this nation has never seen; by people who waited three hours and four hours, many for the very first time in their lives, because they believed that this time must be different; that their voice could be that difference.
It's the answer spoken by young and old, rich and poor, Democrat and Republican, black, white, Latino, Asian, Native American, gay, straight, disabled and not disabled — Americans who sent a message to the world that we have never been a collection of red states and blue states; we are, and always will be, the United States of America.
Nation Finally Shitty Enough To Make Social ProgressMore here.
After emerging victorious from one of the most pivotal elections in history, president-elect Barack Obama will assume the role of commander in chief on Jan. 20, shattering a racial barrier the United States is, at long last, shitty enough to overcome.
Although polls going into the final weeks of October showed Sen. Obama in the lead, it remained unclear whether the failing economy, dilapidated housing market, crumbling national infrastructure, health care crisis, energy crisis, and five-year-long disastrous war in Iraq had made the nation crappy enough to rise above 300 years of racial prejudice and make lasting change.
Sunday, November 2, 2008
Today I am going to share with you some stuff I've learned about self-promotion on the internets.
So my name is ~*Courtney*~ and I heart the internets. This is a good thing, seeing as it's my primary way of putting myself out there as an author with a book coming out. The world is at my fingertips, and I've chosen to take advantage of that in as many ways as I can without annoying the frick out of people. Most people. Ideally, I hope I'm entertaining readers whilst simultaneously reminding them at perfectly timed intervals my book is available for purchase on...
Oh, what was that date again*...
I had a website and blog before I had an agent or a book coming out because I guess I'm just one of those people who chooses to believe THE INTERNET CARES WHAT I HAVE TO SAY, so when it came time to start waving my book around, I had that ground covered. My online self-promo journey began in earnest when my editor suggested I get a MySpace. It all kind of snowballed from there. At the time of my writing this, I'm on five bajillion social networking sites. It's been a learn-as-I-go type experience, and in the end, I think it'll have been worth it, especially in terms of 'meeting' some pretty darn awesome people and knowing that I did what I could when the opportunity arose. Both of these things are very important to me.
Lately, I've been seeing a few incredibly helpful blog posts about self-promotion and marketing your novels. They are absolutely fabulous and everyone should read them. I decided I wanted to give back a little as well, and that this guestblog entry would be my contribution to the topic. I can't and won't even pretend to be in the same league of helpfulness of Michelle Moran and M.J. Rose, but I humbly offer this social networking site guide up to you guys and hope you all get something out of it.
with which to promote yourself
Why you don't want to do it: it's MySpace.
How it can be fun: It's awesome featuring your favourite song of the moment on your profile, which will give you an inflated sense of self-importance, at least so far as your musical taste is concerned. Also, it will take hours upon hours to pick the perfect song--which also has to match your MySpace layout perfectly, of course--so by the time you do, you'll feel pretty accomplished. MySpace = learning to foster a sense of accomplishment in yourself and we could ALL learn to pat ourselves on the backs way more often, let's face it.
What you'll get out of it: It's a good way of getting on other author's radars because apparently all authors have MySpaces. Connecting with readers? Uhm. I'll let you know after December...
Tips: MySpace isn't as interactive as you'd think, what with all the adding people and thanking them for the adds and stuff. Bulletins are good for important news updates, but for the love of God, do not SOLEY blog on MySpace. Not enough people will see it because they are drowning in profiles. Cross-posting is the best way to go.
Cheat: If you friend lots of bands, you look way more MySpace Popular than you actually are.
Something you may never understand, but that's okay: Why people thank you for the add.
Why you don't want to do it: Well, you actually did until it became The New Facebook. And now it sucks. You also run the risk of being found by your old 'friends' from high school.
How it can be fun: ... I guess trying to figure out where the hell everything is since The New Facebook was implemented could constitute as a type of fun?
What you'll get out of it: If you're MySpace wary, I've found Facebook is--or should I say was--a less overwhelming version of it. I guess it still can be! There are many opportunities for interaction. You can comment on everything. Status updates, posted items, walls. You can join groups, create groups, message lots of people in one go. Communication ease is not a problem on Facebook. It's a great way of making your presence known without being totally obnoxious.
Tips: But it's way easy to be totally obnoxious on Facebook. Do not message people every single minute about your book. It's okay if you don't pimp yourself out for 24 hours. Do not blindly send people flower growing applications and zombie bites and things like that. Save the attention grabbing for the stuff that needs attention (like your release date). I personally keep the flowers and zombie bites for close friends and even they tell me to back off sometimes. Now, I'm not saying to cut out the stuff you enjoy from the sites you're on (because you should enjoy them), but I am advising you to send your zombie bites wisely. And whatever you do, DO NOT mix your personal Facebook with your professional one or you will likely end up crying at some point.
Cheat: I don't really have a Facebook cheat, but I feel like if you got drunk before you logged onto The New Facebook, you could have a super easier time understanding it?
Something you may never understand, but that's okay: WE WEREN'T FRIENDS IN HIGH SCHOOL. WE HATED EACH OTHER. WHY ARE YOU ADDING ME?
Why you don't want to do it: What! Someone doesn't want to be on GoodReads? WHAT?
How it can be fun: GoodReads is so awesome, you guys. It's a social networking site about books! You can share what you're currently reading, what you've read, give opinions on it and connect with authors. I heart GoodReads. It's so classy. I wish there was a GoodMovies exactly like it. Somebody get on that.
What you'll get out of it: Book talk!
Tips: Do not just blindly add people on GoodReads. It's not a social networking site about accumulating as many names on your friends list as possible (indeed, you can be booted off of it for doing just that). Reading is fun, reading is intimate and sharing a good book with people is like sharing a secret. It's not a place to be LOUD, basically. Don't be MySpace Loud on GoodReads. You know what I mean.
Cheat: I also do not have a cheat for GoodReads, but get all of your friends reading Twilight at the same time. It is guaranteed fun, I promise.
Why you don't want to do it: You don't know what it is. And it sounds scary.
How it can be fun: From the website: "If blogs are journals, tumblelogs are scrapbooks. You can also look at tumblelogs as slightly more structured blogs that make it easier, faster and more fun to post and share stuff you find or create." This is all true. Tumblr is a GREAT solution for those who want an internet presence but can't keep up with the demands of a regular blog, and it's a fun supplement for those who DO blog and don't want to clutter their blogs with more scrap-booky type stuff (youtube videos, LOLcats, quotes, etc). Re-blogging might be one of the best things that happened to the internets, in my opinion. Oh, the time I have saved!
What you'll get out of it: The satisfaction of doing the blogging thing in a few quick clicks while being able to connect with people at the same time just can't be beat.
Tips: If you are writing for younger audiences, you might want to reconsider re-blogging that R-rated LOLcat. Maybe.
Why you don't want to do it: IS there a world in which people do not want to tweet?
How it can be fun: How do I tell thee? Let me count the ways! I love Twitter. Every tweet is like a punchline in 140 characters or less and I know some pretty hilarious people, so my Twitter account keeps me very entertained. It's like IMing people without feeling guilty for hanging around on an IM program. You know. When you should be writing.
What you'll get out of it: EVERYTHING. My life is richer for having a Twitter account (I can't be objective about this one, you guys). News travels fast on Twitter. That's a good thing, mostly. Especially if it's good news and it's about you.
Tips: You can use your Twitter as a career update feed, but I think it's a thousand times more fun if you're using it to interact with people. I think it must be nearly impossible to follow over 100 people though, so if you want to stay on top of things, keep your Following list to a manageable amount.
Cheat: If you do follow a lot of people, double-check the @ Replies on the Notice setting. You can select whether you want all @ replies, no @ replies or @ replies to the people you're following. This can cut out some of the clutter and prevent you from overlooking the important things.
Something you may never understand, but that's okay: Why people hate Twitter. WTF is up with that.
Friendfeed is what you need when you are on five bajillion social networking sites like I am and you want to make sure people have a one stop shop to find out what you're doing at any given moment EVERYWHERE. If you're a busy bee, go Friendfeed. You'll be so glad you met.
So there you have it. In closing, I would like to say that in a perfect world, books would ~*sparkle*~ for themselves, but as I am sadly reminded every day I wake up and
But I am totally going to use the internet to ~*sparkle*~ for my book.
And so should we all.
* IT'S DECEMBER 23RD!