Monday, February 23, 2009

Law & Order UK! (No, I'm not kidding!)

Some of you who know me in REAL life know that I am and have been a Law & Order junkie for at least fifteen years. All the Law & Order spin-offs, too. Doesn't matter which one; I know them all by heart. It is television comfort food for me. If I'm at home alone cleaning or doing chores, I'll often turn on a Law & Order re-run just to hear familiar voices in the house.

So I was thrilled to learn today that there is a new Law & Order spin-off already airing in Great Britain: Law & Order UK! Even better? It stars Battlestar Galactica alum Jaime Bamber and Dr. Who alum Freema Agyeman! It's like all of my TV fandoms rolled into one pretty new package. Now, if only I can figure out how to watch it here!

Dear Earthlink SpamBlocker users:

Three times this weekend I tried to send query responses to people with Earthlink addresses. Each of these three bounced back to me with an email requesting me to fill out a SpamBlocker form. Just for future reference, I don't fill out these forms. I delete them. Most agents delete them. If you've taken the time to query us, take the time to add us to your approved email recipient's list. Otherwise, you may wonder forever why you didn't hear back about your query.

Friday, February 20, 2009

For those of you who think being a writer is too hard...

...this thoughtful post over at agent Kristin Nelson's blog about the gifted Irish writer Christopher Nolan should be enough to give you a much-needed reality check.

Nolan, who won the Whitbread Award in 1988 for the extraordinary memoir Under the Eye of the Clock, suffered from a debilitating form of cerebral palsy. Christopher Nolan died today at the very young age of 43.

Wednesday, February 18, 2009

More on JRR Tolkien: Love his work? Hate it? Why?

My previous post pointing out Richard K. Morgan's opinionated essay at on JRR Tolkien and The Lord of the Rings has stirred up some fun debate in the comments section of my post. Richard has been good enough to keep stopping by to address/argue/debate some of my readers. And it certainly seems to be a heated issue.

But Richard isn't the first prominent SF/F writer to discuss the many flaws in Tolkien's work. In the Fall 2000 issue of International Socialism Journal, China Mieville discusses Tolkien at length, both the debt that the fantasy genre owes him as well as the serious problems with Tolkien's most famous published work:
For Tolkien, the function of his fantasy fiction is 'consolation'. If you read his essay 'On Fairy Tales' you find that, for him, central to fantasy is 'the consolation of the happy ending'. He pretends that such a happy ending is something that occurs 'miraculously', 'never to be counted on to recur'. But that pretence of contingency is idiotic, in that immediately previously he claims that 'all complete fairy stories must have it [the happy ending]. It is its highest function.' In other words, far from 'never being counted to recur', the writer and reader know that to qualify as fantasy, a 'consolatory' happy ending will recur in every story, and you have a theory of fantasy in which 'consolation' is a matter of policy. It's no surprise that this kind of fantasy is conservative. Tolkien's essay is as close as it gets to most modern fantasy's charter, and he's defined fantasy as literature which mollycoddles the reader rather than challenging them.

In Tolkien, the reader is intended to be consoled by the idea that systemic problems come from outside agitators, and that decent people happy with the way things were will win in the end. This is fantasy as literary comfort food. Unfortunately, a lot of Tolkien's heirs--who may not share his politics at all--have taken on many tropes that embed a lot of those notions in their fantasy.
And over at the blog, Kate Nepveu has been systematically re-reading and writing fascinating commentary on every chapter of the The Lord of the Rings, one chapter at a time.

So I wanted to open this up to a wider debate, since I know that so many of the readers of this blog are fans of and/or writers of genre fiction:

JRR Tolkien: Do you love his work? Hate it? Why?

Jump into the conversation!

Richard K. Morgan on JRR Tolkien: The Real Fantastic Stuff in The Lord of the Rings

Over at the Random House Suvudu blog, my friend (and one of my favorite writers!) Richard K. Morgan has posted a great essay on why - although he's not a fan of JRR Tolkien - he's found surprising things to love about The Lord of the Rings. Very thoughtful piece; well worth reading!

Tuesday, February 17, 2009

New contest! Query haiku!

Okay, a new contest to keep y'all occupied so that I can free myself up to get caught up on reading. (Not having a working Sony Reader any longer is seriously cutting into my productivity and my reading time! I protest!)

In any case, here's a new contest, and it's a lot harder than the last one: Submit your query in haiku format. And you need to follow the rules for haiku formatting. Three lines, first line consisting of five syllables, second line consisting of seven syllables, third line consisting of five syllables again. Leave your query haiku in the comments field below. (Anonymous commenting is on, so have at it.) The contest is open until midnight Friday, EST.

The top ten haikus will be posted on the blog next week. Winner will get his/her real query letter critiqued in depth.

Think of this as exercise in thinking concisely. And have fun!

Friday, February 13, 2009

Guest blogger Marisha Chamberlain on author self-promotion.

We asked debut novelist and FinePrint client Marisha Chamberlain to talk a little bit about author self promotion, a subject that is the bane of many a new author's existence (as comments in many of my previous blog posts have pointed out):
Do I Hafta? – A New Novelist on Book Promotion
by Marisha Chamberlain

As I write this, my first novel, The Rose Variations, has been out for just a few weeks, and the buzz has been terrific. This is partly due to the efforts of an outstanding agent (Stephany Evans) and a remarkable publicist (Sarah Reidy) at Soho Press. But I’m working hard at it, too, and I started without a clear model to follow about how to promote your own book.

Social psychologist, Carol Dweck from Stanford University, in her book, Mindset: a New Psychology of Success, published startling findings that show that talent and high intelligence (which many writers possess) can actually undermine success. Why? Because of an unexamined conviction that if one is required to make an effort, it means one might not be supremely talented. Could that be at work in some of these lackluster fiction events by novelists whose work is sublime on the page? I suspect so. Dweck shows us in study after study that effort equals success. Artistic success plus marketing success—that’s what we writers want. No matter how terrific the writing is, if it doesn’t reach readers, what’s the point?

So let’s say a strong effort to market is intrinsic to the writing life. If we accept that, maybe we can face the numbers. Such as: a first novel must achieve hardcover sales to readers of a certain number, in the thousands, for the novel to come out in paperback, and even more crucially, for a second manuscript by that same writer to be sellable. Is that enough to motivate the excellent, if grumpy and introverted, writer? I don’t think so.

The private writing self moans—do I hafta? Do I really hafta do a radio interview at 6 in the morning, followed by a classroom visit at 11, and a reading that evening, of this novel I finished two years ago, when I just want to hole up in my study and work on the book I’m writing now?

Yeah, I hafta. Because if my book doesn’t sell and I haven’t done everything I could think of to get it into the hands of readers, how grumpy am I gonna be then? However, if I can find ways to get back to my study, even in the middle of book promotion, then I remind myself of what it’s all for: to make a life of this. To bring in enough dough to go on writing. Regular writing hours on a new project hidden from public view—that’s what keeps me going, promoting the book that’s out there now
Marisha's new book The Rose Variations came out on February 1st from the extraordinary Soho Press.

Friday, February 6, 2009

Dear Ken Starr: Love can't be voted away.

"Fidelity": Don't Divorce... from Courage Campaign on Vimeo.

And in related news, the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals has ruled against the Defense of Marriage Act, stating that it denies benefits to gay federal employees' spouses. More here. (via Nicola Griffith)

Wednesday, February 4, 2009

The scariest new horror writer writing today meets the galaxy far, far away. (And it's bloody good fun!)

Joe Schreiber scares the living crap out of me. No, not as a person. He's a perfectly nice fellow. But his novels are terrifying. Like blood-curdling. I first came to be familiar with Joe's writing when my good friend Keith Clayton, who was at the time an editor at Del Rey Books, acquired Joe's first book Chasing the Dead. And then made me read it. Alone. At night. (Did I mention I was alone?) Which wasn't very nice of Keith. And was also utterly brilliant of him. Because Chasing the Dead is hands down the most frightening novel I have ever read in my life and after I read the manuscript, I didn't sleep for the next three nights. (Like, not even a little.) And I haven't stopped recommending Joe Schreiber since.

Now Joe Schreiber is bringing his particular brand of sheer bloody mayhem to a rather unexpected world: the world of Star Wars. Yeah, you heard that right. Joe is writing the first-ever horror novel set in the galaxy far, far away. And it's brilliant!

That's all I can tell you about the book, I'm afraid. If I told you anymore, I'd have to kill you. And then my friends at Del Rey and Lucasfilm would have to kill me. And then they'd have to hire Sam and Dean Winchester to burn my body and salt my ashes when I came back to haunt y'all for tattling on me. So no details!

But I can share with you the cover art, which is astoundingly creepy and awesome. (Click the cover above to see the full-sized art on

by Joe Schreiber will be coming out in our galaxy in October, 2009. If you're a fan of intense horror - even if you've never seen Star Wars (surprisingly, there are still people who have never seen Star Wars) - I guarantee you'll have a blast reading this book. Here's a great interview with Joe about Deathtroopers over at Bookspot Central. Enjoy!

Self-promotion or, Warning: being a published author means you are entering a whine-free zone.

A recent comment on a writing blog caused me to start mumbling under my breath and making impolite mutterings to my cats and furniture. (This is what one does when one is housebound and sick for a long time.) I'm paraphrasing the commenter here, who said something to the effect that s/he missed the good old days of publishing, when writers only had to write the books and publishers marketed them all, but alas, writers no longer live in that world and now we are (wailing and gnashing of teeth!) forced to (horrors!) self-promote!!!

I have news for you: We have never lived in that fantasy world.

Not ever.

Most authors have been responsible for the bulk of their own self-promotion all the way back to Dickens' time. (And Dickens was a master of self-promotion, by the way.) Because publishing brings in such a narrow margin of profit, publishers have always relegated the bulk of their promotional resources to those books that they see as their best opportunity for a return on their investment. And the more money they have invested in the manuscript, the more they're going to want to promote that manuscript. It's pretty simple math.

But authors have always been expected to do their own self-promotion and outreach. It's in every author questionnaire ever sent to an author by a publisher. It's in every conversation an agent has with a potential new client (and if it isn't, it should be): What will you be doing to aid in the promotional efforts for your own work?

It just seems that today I'm hearing writers complain about it a lot more.

Well, stop whining and suck it up. Every job comes with unpleasant tasks, even being a published writer.

When I first started working in bookstores in the early 1980s, new authors came by our tiny little store every week to self-promote, setting up their own signings, and leaving flyers, brochures and sample chapters that they'd created themselves. And might I remind you that this was years before word processors, people. Think about how much time and energy they'd invested. (Have you ever tried using rub-off typesetters letters from film? It's not easy!)

They had elaborate mailing lists - MAIL! ON PAPER! WITH STAMPS! - that they'd use to invite friends, neighbors and business colleagues. (Stamps, people! USPS!) And it worked, because the writers worked their collective asses off.

In 1985, one local writer drove himself to every tiny little bookstore in the San Francisco Bay Area (including ours) to introduce himself to the booksellers and talk about his new fantasy novel about...(wait for it!) cats. The author was Tad Williams. The book was Tailchaser's Song; it's still considered a classic of modern fantasy and - more importantly - it's still selling.

The rise of the Intarweb has only made the author's job that much easier. The marketing tools at your disposal - many of them completely free! - are endless and amazing: blogs, websites, Facebook, Twitter, Good Reads, Library Thing, a million other social networking sites, chat rooms, writers forums, YouTube, Google video, video blogs, podcasts, iTunes, free access to the internet at nearly any library (yeah, you just don't have that excuse anymore so let it go).

You want to create a professional looking postcard to give away? There are places for that, like Vista Print. Another great place, GoCard, will even distribute the postcards for you. Want to create a flyer? Open up MS Word and look at the free templates available. Or go online, where even more free templates are available. Don't know what good marketing or publicity is? Buy a book! There are dozens of great ones out there written by professional PR people designed specifically to help you self-promote. Like this one and this one and this one.

Do any of the millions of creative and positive things that are available for you out there to promote your own book. But what I don't want to hear you doing anymore is moaning about how the writer has to do all the work.

Suck it up, people. Things are hard everywhere and whine-time is officially over.