Wednesday, December 16, 2009

The Fermi Paradox Redux: Is Anybody Out There?

My blog post of March 18 -- entitled The Fermi Paradox -- detailed the genesis of the anthology Is Anybody Out There? that I am co-editing with Nick Gevers, to be published by Daw Books in June 2010. So far, it has been more than a two-year journey, and nearly three years will have passed by the time the book actually sees print.

In that initial post, I stated that Nick and I hoped to have the contents of the anthology determined by December -- which is, like, now! And, in fact, we have selected the stories to be included in the book. On December 13, I sent an email to all the authors with a listing of the contents. One of those authors posted the contents list on her LiveJournal, and then two other sites picked it up, and now I see that the information has spread from there -- so an appropriate web search over the past day or two would have yielded the results. But now that you are here, instead of there....

Submissions to this anthology were by invitation only; however, I think you will be surprised (and hopefully impressed in the end) with some of the "new" authors included in the anthology. We had 23 stories submitted, from which we chose 15 -- written by a total of 17 authors (two of the stories are collaborations). We also asked yet another well-known SF author to draft an introduction to round out the book.

But I'm going to keep you in suspense a wee bit longer while I mention a couple other items. Because of my involvement in this project, I occasionally receive links via email and Twitter for articles and such related to the Fermi Paradox. Recently @projectblackcat sent me a link to the January 2010 editorial in Sky & Telescope magazine. The editorial, entitled "Where Have All the Aliens Gone?" was written by Jacob Haqq-Misra (a Ph.D. candidate in meteorology and astrobiology at Penn State University) and Seth Baum (a Ph.D. candidate in geography at Penn State). The authors write: "If growth outstrips resources, human civilization may collapse. This could also explain the absence of extraterrestrials: despite the seeming vastness of the galaxy, perhaps exponential expansion is also unsustainable on a galactic scale." It's an excellent, albeit brief, editorial that tells us, in conclusion, that we had better "become responsible consumers and ensure our own long-term survival." The editorial is available via a
PDF, and can be found on the last page of the file.

So this got me hooked on Sky & Telescope. The magazine has a new article online entitled
"The Chance of Finding Aliens" by Govert Schilling (an astronomy writer in Utrecht, The Netherlands) and Alan M. MacRobert (senior editor of Sky & Telescope). It's a very lengthy (5 pages), detailed article, broken down into numerous sections. In one of those sections, the authors delve into -- and at great length -- each expression that comprises the Drake equation, which is used to calculate the potential number of extraterrestrial civilizations in our galaxy:


The article gets quite technical discussing each of these expressions, with calculations, graphs, and postulations -- and I'll leave this part of the article to those of you who might find this interesting. But it is the last page of the article that really piqued my interest. Schilling and MacRobert write:

And here is perhaps the most important point of all: the Fermi paradox turns the definition of "optimist" versus "pessimist" on its head when it comes to life in the universe.

If star-traveling intelligences are extremely rare or nonexistent, despite the abundance of planets where life can begin, there must be some kind of "Great Filter" that prevents the emergence of interstellar colonists. Is the Great Filter something in our past, or our future? If we've already passed it – that is, if the filter is the origin of life, or the leap from prokaryotic to eukaryotic cells, or the leap from single-celled organisms to large multicellular animals, or from animal brains to human brains -- then the great test is behind us, and our way is open to spreading to the stars.

But if the Great Filter lies ahead of us -- for instance, if technological civilizations arise often but always destroy themselves -- then we are doomed. We will never get to the stars. Because (by definition) we are extremely unlikely to beat the odds that have already filtered out all who made it as far as we have now.

So, if there is in fact some "Great Filter," is it behind us? Are we simply holding ourselves back by not investing enough funds -- and thus effort and technology -- in human planetary travel? Or, is the "Great Filter" in front of us, and we are doomed to extinction because we will inevitably destroy ourselves -- either through war of one form or another, or through the unrepentant, excessive consumption of all our natural resources?

Thursday, December 10, 2009

Charles Stross: On Her Majesty's Occult Service

In 2001, as an acquiring editor for Golden Gryphon Press, I proposed an idea to the publisher: a new line of signed and numbered, limited edition chapbooks. To which, after much discussion, the publisher agreed. I had already been in contact with Alastair Reynolds regarding a short fiction collection (which I ended up editing years later for Night Shade Books; see my lengthy blog post on the Reynolds collection) -- so I asked Al if he would like to submit a novella to launch our new limited edition chapbook series. And, much to my joy, Al agreed. He currently had other commitments, but he said he could begin work on a new novella shortly after the new year (2002). The end result was Turquoise Days, which premiered at ConJosé, the 60th World Science Fiction Convention. (I would like to share with you in detail how I met with Al in the lobby of his hotel in San Jose, California, the day before the start of the convention, after which I trucked up boxes of Turquoise Days to his hotel room, where we chatted at length as he signed 500-plus copies of the book. But I won't because this blog post, really, is about Charles Stross and his "Laundry Files.")

Around mid-2002, while Al and I were finalizing the edits and such on his novella, I began seeking out an author for the next title in this chapbook series. Howard Waldrop had already committed to writing a chapbook story -- what became A Better World's in Birth! -- and for those of you who know Howard, you'll understand when I say that it took a year for his story to be completed and published. So, in the interim, I was looking for another author and story. (I wasn't successful, but not for lack of trying; the Waldrop novelette was actually the second published chapbook in the series.)

One of the first authors who came to mind was Charles Stross. I had read quite a few of his stories, particularly "A Colder War" (Spectrum SF #3, August 2000; available online in its entirely on infinity plus1), and I was hearing a great deal of buzz regarding his forthcoming novel, Singularity Sky2, due from Ace Books in 2003. So, I emailed Charlie on August 2, 2002. In addition to introducing myself and Golden Gryphon Press, I promoted the new limited edition chapbook series and asked if he would consider submitting a story. I was aware that Charlie was scheduled to attend ConJosé, so I invited him to drop by the Golden Gryphon booth in the dealers room so that we could actually meet and chat a bit.

Charlie sent a reply that very same day:

"Firstly, I'm up to my eyeballs in work right now. I'm writing a series for Asimov's SF which will turn into a fix-up novel [Accelerando, Ace 2005], I'm working on book #2 of a contract for Ace [Iron Sunrise, 2004], and my agent is hoping to sell a tetralogy [Merchant Princes series] -- only one book of which is written so far! -- in the next couple of months. (Meaning, yet another big fat novel to write.) Therefore I almost certainly won't have time to write an original novella for you before March of next year.... However, if you're willing to settle for slightly-less-than-100%-original.... There's a second possibility, but this one is slightly offbeat. You may have seen my short novel "The Atrocity Archive", which Paul Fraser is currently serialising in Spectrum SF. It's 76,000 words long; he's running it in issues #7 through #9. Book rights to this short novel have not been sold; my agent is focusing on my SF work... [this is] a borderline horror/SF/thriller crossover... If you'd like to look at it I'd be happy to send you a copy and if necessary get [my agent] Caitlin Blasdell to talk to you about rights.... let's meet up and chat about things at ConJose."

It just so happened that I already had issues #1 through #8 of Spectrum SF, but issue #9, containing part three of "The Atrocity Archive," hadn't been published as yet. So, Charlie graciously sent me a file version of the complete novel for my reading pleasure. But what intrigued me even more so about "The Atrocity Archive" -- enough to request the full novel file from Charlie (remember, I hadn't yet read the final part 3) -- was Nick Gevers's review in the August 2002 issue of Locus Magazine. Nick concluded his review with the following paragraph:

"The climactic scenes of The Atrocity Archive -- battles in the snow beneath a galaxy of dying red suns -- form one of the most compelling and intellectually engaging narrative sequences in the SF canon, the logics of demonology and physics in astonishing tandem. Sequels are possible; they surely must come; but for the time being, the priority should simply be to see The Atrocity Archive published in proper book form after the limited availability of its serialization in Spectrum SF."

After reading that first sentence, re: "one of the most compelling and intellectually engaging narrative sequences in the SF canon," there was no way I was going to pass up an opportunity to be the one to acquire and publish this novel. However, I typically acquired books that were between 90,000 and 120,000 words, and Charlie had told me that "TAA" clocked in at about 76K words. So on August 19 [I know, I'm getting way ahead of myself, as this is after the WorldCon] I emailed Charlie and asked if he would be agreeable to writing an afterword -- I was thinking in terms of a two- or three-page afterword on the genesis of the novel; I also asked Charlie if he could recommend a fellow author to pen an introduction to the book. Charlie suggested Ken MacLeod for the introduction, and he also responded that "An afterword is possible." Fortunately, Ken agreed to contribute an introduction, and Charlie did indeed write an afterword -- a 5,550-word afterword entitled "Inside the Fear Factory," in which he made a case for the thriller novel as horror; he also wrote about British author Len Deighton, famous for his spy thrillers (e.g. The Ipcress File), and the influence behind the writing of "The Atrocity Archive."

But one thing still concerned me: in addition to an introduction and afterword, I felt the book still needed some new fiction; I told Charlie that I believed his hardcore fanbase/readers would have already obtained the three issues of Spectrum SF that contained the serialized "TAA." I wanted to be able to offer these folks something more than just the fine quality of a Golden Gryphon Press hardcover: preferably some new fiction. In his email response on August 19, Charlie made the following suggestion:

"Alternatively, can I interest you in a stand-alone novella about Bob, set not too long after the events of 'The Atrocity Archive'? I was going to write it for Spectrum SF, and would still like a chance to throw it at Paul, but if you insist on some 100% original content my arm can be twisted.3

Background: ...the novella, 'The Concrete Jungle', is a separate part of the story: it falls naturally between novels #1 and #2. It's about basilisks, the mystical significance of the Milton Keynes bicycle path network, Bob's evil scheming line manager, and what the British government is really spending money on in place of ballistic missile defense. 'The Concrete Jungle' is about 25% written, with a design length of 25,000 words, and was basically waiting for me to have an excuse -- and time -- to finish it."

Okay, before I go any further, for those of you not familiar with Charles Stross's Laundry Files, I guess a bit of an introduction is in order. From the dust jacket copy I wrote for The Atrocity Archives (note the plural from of "archives"; more about this in a bit), which was published in 2004:

In the world of "The Atrocity Archive," Alan Turing, the Father of Modern Computer Science, did in fact complete his theorem on "Phase Conjugate Grammars for Extra-dimensional Summoning." Turing's work paved the way for esoteric mathematical computations that, when carried out, had side effects that would leak through the platonic realm of pure mathematics underlying the structure of the Cosmos. Out there in the multiverse there were "listeners" -- and sometimes these listeners could be coerced into opening gates. Small gates through which minds could be transferred and, occasionally, large gates through which objects could be moved.

In 1945, Nazi Germany's Ahnenerbe-SS, in an attempt to escape the Allied onslaught, performed just such a summoning on the souls of more than six million. They opened a gate to an alternate universe through which the SS could move men and matériel. But their summoning brought forth more than the SS had bargained for -- an Evil, patiently waiting for countless eons, now poised to lunch on our galaxy, on our very own Earth.

The protagonist in these novels and stories is Bob Howard (not his real name; and I'll leave you to determine the origin of this alias) -- a geekish demonology hacker extraordinaire -- who works for a supersecret intelligence organization known as "the Laundry," formerly the Q Department in Britain's Special Operations Executive (SOE). Whereas the SOE was officially disbanded in 1945, following World War II, the Laundry was secretly maintained and exists to this day. When Bob's not trying to save the world from unearthly horrors, he has time sheets to complete and field liaison meetings to attend. The Laundry Files are a unique mix of the British espionage thriller, Lovecraftian horrors, non-Euclidian mathematics, computer hackerdom, and Dilbert-style office management.

Wednesday, November 25, 2009

November Links & Things

I'll be offline throughout the Thanksgiving weekend -- and the following week I'll be finishing my current project. So, I decided to post this month's Links & Things now, as opposed to later.

About this current project: I'm editing/copyediting the forthcoming (third) "Bob Howard/Laundry" novel by Charles Stross, entitled The Fuller Memorandum, to be published by Ace Books next year. The first two titles in this series are The Atrocity Archives (2004) and The Jennifer Morgue (2006), which I had acquired and edited for Golden Gryphon Press. And thanks to Charlie Stross's recommendation, I am able to work on this third title as well. I'm on target to complete my work on this book next week, after which I hope to blog about how this project came about.

Until next post... Here are my links and such for the month of November. I've listed them here, all in one post, and with additional detail and comment. You can receive these links in real time by following me on Twitter: @martyhalpern.

  • For those of us who bemoaned the demise of Firefly on Fox seven years ago -- and must now content ourselves by watching the series on DVD -- the writers of ABC's Castle, which stars Nathan Fillion, gave a bit of a shout-out to Captain Mal Reynolds with this opening clip from the Halloween episode. This is just pure fun!

  • And in the same spirit, here is Jimmy Fallon with a spot-on impersonation of 1970s Neil Young, singing "The Prince of Bel-Air." I am a die-hard Neil Young fan, and if I was just listening to the audio of this performance, I would swear it's the man himself. The only thing missing would be the myriad patches on Neil's/Jimmy's jeans. A wonderful performance.

  • Every month there's always some big blowup in the world of writing and publishing; last month it was the new Federal Trade Commission guidelines, and this month it is the new Harlequin Horizons imprint. Essentially, Harlequin announced a new imprint for self-publishing. When they reject an author's submission -- a work that's not good enough to be published by the Harlequin name -- they will suggest/recommend the Horizons imprint through which the author can self-publish said book that wasn't good enough for Harlequin. Unfortunately, the author will pay to have this book self-published, get only 50% of the NET (not cover price) of each copy sold, and Harlequin makes all the rest of the money. In response, the Romance Writers of America (RWA) have dropped Harlequin from their "approved" publishers list. Jackie Kessler, an author of dark fantasy and paranormal romance ficition, has done a line-by-line breakdown of Harlequin's response in her current blog post; as of this writing there are more than 125 comments.

    Update: In an article in the San Francisco Examiner, Harlequin has announced that they will rename this self-publishing imprint, thus removing the Harlequin name. And, the
    Mystery Writers of America have also threatened sanctions against Harlequin, removing their name from MWA's list of approved publishers as well, if Harlequin does not respond to accusations by December 15.

  • If you are a fan of cover art, web site io9.com presents "A History of Science Fiction Classics, Told in Book Covers." The books include 1984, Brave New World, Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep, Fahrenheit 451, I, Robot, Neuromancer, Stranger in a Strange Land, and War of the Worlds, to name but half of the titles. From hardcover dust jackets to paperback covers, with a few foreign editions thrown in for good measure, the covers are all here. Some great cover art, to be sure.

  • For all you Fantasy geeks: on SciFi Scanner author Mary Robinette Kowal (@MaryRobinette) talks about "The Eight Worst Anachronisms in Fantasy" movies. For example, in Kate and Leopold (2001), Leopold, Duke of Albany (Hugh Jackman) knows the plot for the opera La Boheme -- a play that didn't premier until 1896, yet the movie takes place in 1876. In King Arthur (2001) barbed wire is used, but it doesn't get invented until 1874. The comments provide additional examples. So, words of wisdom for all Fantasy writers: Do you homework! Fact-check!

  • According to TheBookseller.com, "A group of US authors, including Ursula K. Le Guin, is bypassing the traditional publishing process by publishing direct on Amazon's Kindle and Sony's e-reader. Book View Press was founded earlier this year by members of Book View Café, a co-operative of 27 award-winning and bestselling authors." Other authors in the collective include Vonda McIntyre, Sarah Zettel, and Laura Ann Gilman. In fact, Ms. McIntyre is serializing her novel Superluminal (Houghton Mifflin, 1983) on Book View Café, with free weekly downloads. Chapters 1 through 11 are currently available.

Thursday, October 29, 2009

October Links & Things

I'll be attending the World Fantasy Convention in San Jose this weekend (Friday through Sunday, possibly this evening as well), so I'm posting my Links column a couple days early. My schedule has been extremely hectic this month: in the past two or so weeks I was contacted by three different publishers all wanting projects completed by mid-November; I think I've negotiated my way around all of them, but only time will tell. Said hectic-ness also explains why there hasn't been any blog post this month, and also why this Links post isn't as long as it typically is; it takes a lot of time to read hundreds of Twitter posts and RSS feeds daily, and then select only those links that I feel are of some value to include here.

Speaking of Time... This is when I wish I had Hiro Nakamura's power, which would allow me to stop time, and then get a lot more work done.

I'm hoping to have a "big announement" soon (big, at least for me) and it will hopefully provide a lead-in to a new blog post. Until then, here are my links and such for the month of October. I've listed them here, all in one post, and with additional detail and comment. You can receive these links in real time by following me on Twitter: @martyhalpern.

  • At the top of my list this month is the new Federal Trade Commmission guidelines (a downloadable PDF) for bloggers, and how it impacts the "little" book blogs (or the "little" music blogs, or the "little" clothing blogs, or...). Richard Cleland, of the Bureau of Consumer Protection (i.e. the FTC), states in an interview: "If a blogger received enough books, he could open up a used bookstore." This guy has got to be kidding, right? The FTC expects bloggers to return, or throw away, or donate every single free book they receive; otherwise, the book must be declared as compensation, and noted in the blog that it was received for free. Also, any commercial link(s) on a blog for a book that has been reviewed must be removed. BUT, these guidelines do not apply to newspapers, magazines, and other such commercially sponsored blogs: their reviewers, who are getting paid to review, can keep their books, and any commercial links on the page are okay. Does it sound like the newspaper and magazine industries -- because their buisnesses are hurting -- have been hustling the government for support against these competing "little guy blogs"? If you are a blogger, or you support individual blogs, you need to read this material.

    Here's the
    Dear Author blog with a piece entitled "The FTC and the Unreasonable Case of Disclosure"; and from Jeff Jarvis of the BuzMachine blog: "FTC regulates our speech." Be sure to read the comments on this latter blog, which at this time number 150 and are as important as the article itself.

    And Jack Shafer at
    Slate.com takes a shot at these new guidelines as well, with a great piece entitled "The FTC's Mad Power Grab: The commission's preposterous new endorsement guidelines." (Note: all these blog links on the new FTC guidelines via @RonHogan)

    After the blogosphere shitstorm that arose with the announcement of the new FTC Guidelines, Richard Cleland clarifies some points with PRNewser via
    mediabistro.com: "We have never brought a case against a consumer endorser and we've never brought a case against somebody simply for failure to disclose a material connection." Of course, Elizabeth Lordan, FTC Public Affairs Specialist, also clarified that the per offense "$11,000 figure is old information that used to be a part of the boilerplate in our press releases when court order violations were announced." The current per offense figure is $16,000.00! We appreciate the clarification, Ms. Lordan!

    And a last update (I promise!) from
    Publishers Weekly on 10/19/2009: Mary Engle, an FTC lawyer, spoke recently at KidlitCon 09, a conference of children"s book bloggers. She stated that the FTC "never intended to patrol the blogosphere....We couldn't do it if we wanted to and we don't want to." She went on to say that these guidelines "are intended to put meat on the bones of the 'endorsement and testimonial' guidelines first issued in 1980." She used a Proctor & Gamble campaign, called "Vocalpoint," as an example. According to PW: "Either clarifying or backpedaling from [Richard] Cleland's statements [see above], Engle said Saturday someone with a 'personal blog, writing a genuine or organic review,' did not need to disclose how they got the book or assign it a value."

  • If you are an author, an editor, a publicist, a publisher -- anything! -- you absolutely must read this special piece in The New Yorker on modern book publicity. It's the "Shouts and Murmurs" column and the article is entitled: "Subject: Our Marketing Plan." Here's how the article begins: "Let me introduce myself. My name is Gineen Klein, and I've been brought on as an intern to replace the promotion department here at Propensity Books." A must read...

  • Literary agent Nathan Bransford answers the question: "What Do Literary Agents Do?" which may indeed surprise you. Bransford's blog post breaks down the lit agent's responsibilities into these headers: The Filter, Pre-submission Editing, Submitting to Editors, Negotiating Offers, Negotiating Contracts, Keeping Track of the Publication Process, Subrights, Career Shaping, and The Ultimate Advocate. Bransford writes: "This is just a basic list, and there's often more to it than this. It's quite a catchall job, one that requires a long apprenticeship, time in the business, a strong work ethic, a good eye, and a passion for books.... For all of these tasks the agent receives income based only on commission -- again, the agent is only paid if/when the author is paid." As of this posting, there are 84 comments; most worthy of your time as well. (via @inkyelbows)

  • And speaking of agents, Colleen Lindsay (@ColleenLindsay) dissects a "successful" query letter she received in February from Kelly Gay, author of The Better Part of Darkness. Colleen discusses Kelly's query letter, point by point, and with commentary. The query letter led Colleen to request to see the manuscript, and the rest, as they say, is history. As an added treat, author Kelly Gay discusses the query letter from her own perspective on her blog. A must read for any author who has a query letter to write soon (or an author who has had a recent query rejected).

Wednesday, September 30, 2009

Mark Teppo's Codex of Souls Seeks the Light

I began writing this blog the first weekend in September, but incoming projects and deadlines prohibited me from finishing the blog post at that time. So, what follows is what I initially wrote, and then I will continue on from there.

* * *

On Tuesday I delivered the final edited manuscript for Mark Teppo's novel Heartland: The Second Book of the Codex of Souls to publisher Night Shade Books. The due date for delivery of the edited manuscript was that day, September 1, but the manuscript had in fact been completed a few days prior. I told Mark that I would sit on it until the 1st just in case he or I came up with any thoughts, issues, or last minute edits. Neither of us did, which is always a good sign.

Just as a point of information, the
"Codex of Souls" is a planned ten-book series, though I believe only the first three titles, so far, have a home at Night Shade Books. Personally, I have no doubt that all ten books will assuredly see publication. Book one, Lightbreaker, was published this past June, and Heartland will be forthcoming in early 2010. Each book contains a teaser for the next title in the series; book 3, Angel Tongue, is scheduled for publication in 2011.

I've been working on Heartland for most of this past month. I read through the author's manuscript twice: making notes and minor edits the first time, then I gave the manuscript an intensive editing review the second time around -- sending the author an email as each question/concern arose. At this stage I was working on hardcopy -- I only edit on hardcopy! Once the editing and review was complete, I then keyed in all the edits and notes directly into the author's manuscript file using MS Word's "change tracking." Without "change tracking" I would be forced to deal with hardcopy from start to finish: I would have had to photocopy the marked-up pages and mail them to the author. However, "change tracking" negates the need for all of that. For those unfamiliar with "change tracking": My initial edits/changes are entered in a red font; the author's follow-up edits/changes are entered in blue. So it is easy to keep track of who entered what. Plus, anything deleted is automatically moved into a box in the right margin so one can view deletes as well as adds. And, of course, any change can be rejected by either person. Comments can also be added anywhere, when necessary, to explain edits, to ask questions/clarifications, etc. A great little tool. How did we survive without this years ago? Yeah, I know, photocopy and mail.

So far Mark and I have churned out at least 165 Heartland-related emails discussing the finer (and not so finer) points in the manuscript.

Before I proceed any further, I would like to include an excerpt here from Heartland -- just one paragraph from the hundreds of paragraphs and more than 132,000 words -- with Mark Teppo's permission, of course:

It's a funny way to remember someone: as a sensory phantom haunting you when they are gone. They become a collection of elusive details; you cannot remember them completely, and the more you struggle to put the puzzle together, the more you obsess about the gaps between the pieces. But, when you find these people again, when you crush them to you and inhale their smell, when you hear their voice, when you feel their touch, the pieces arrange themselves and you can’t fathom how you didn't see the whole picture before.

When I read words strung together into sentences to form a paragraph like this one -- well, all is right with the world. (What? You were expecting a quote of some heinous deed, or of some magickal display of power? -- Ahh, but I'm a romantic at heart.)

If the Codex of Souls series had to be classified/boxed/labeled, then I would be forced to say it is Urban Fantasy (with a strong male protagonist). But this series is so much more than that. I don't read much contemporary fantasy these days, as the stories are so overrun with romantic supernatural vamipiric zombies, but you won't find any of that in the Codex of Souls. Blue Tyson, in his
mini review, called Lightbreaker "An urban fantasy novel that is a lot more Hellblazer, Mage and Highlander than it is high heels, hot pants and horizontal vampire mambo. There's even a Watcher society and sword fighting." Lupa, at Pagan Book Reviews, writes: "Teppo's story is based on Western Occultism, particularly Qabalah and other forms of ceremonial magic. To be sure, there's a lot of fantasy element to it -- souls shoving each other out of bodies with visible results, qlipothic spirits zapping rival mages -- but the author knows his stuff as far as basic Western magical theory goes."

Recently, I was
interviewed by Charles Tan for his Bibliophile Stalker blog. In that interview I mention one summer during college in which I had read Castaneda’s The Teachings of Don Juan: A Yaqui Way of Knowledge, Ken Kesey’s One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest, Tom Wolfe’s The Electric Kool-Aid Acid Test, and Jack Kerouac’s On the Road – all in succession. If Lightbreaker had been published at that point of time in my life, the book would have fit in quite perfectly between Castaneda and Kesey. How about that for a summer's beach-reading experience!

Monday, September 28, 2009

September Links & Things

I'm posting my September links a couple days early, so that I can get this out of the way in order to work on my next blog post. I've completed some major deadlines (though I have more to come the beginning of October), but I have just enough breathing room over the next day or two to work on a new blog post. This new essay has been an on-again/off-again project for months now; I've actually started it twice but got interrupted with other projects and deadlines -- you know, the ones that inevitably pay the bills! But more on all that later.

So, here are my links and such for the month of September. I've listed them here, all in one post, and with additional detail and comment. You can receive these links in real time by following me on Twitter: @martyhalpern.

  • Kristine Kathryn Rusch continues her online Freelancer's Survival Guide with "Setbacks (Part One)." Kris writes: "The real key with setbacks isn't preventing them; it's surviving them when they happen. Over the years, I've become a connoisseur of setbacks. I'm not interested in other people's misfortunes (except as grist for my own fiction), but I am interested in how other people survive those misfortunes.... There are four categories of setbacks and probably a million subcategories. The four major categories are: 1. Financial; 2. Mechanical / technical / production; 3. Physical; 4. Emotional." The author covers the first two categories in great detail in Part One, and I'll be looking forward to Part Two, since the "Emotional" category is one I'm particularly interested in reading.

    Update: Actually,
    Part Two deals with "Physical Setbacks." Guess I'll have to wait for Part Three to read what Kris has to say on "Emotional Setbacks." And finally, "Setbacks (Part 3)" which deals with five types of emotional setbacks: Fear, Anger, Betrayal, Failure, and... Success.

    Here's a link to the
    Table of Contents for the Freelancer's Survival Guide. If you have found the information useful and informative that Kris has been providing in this weekly series, please subscribe to her blog and/or its RSS feed, or follow Kris (@KristineRusch) and/or me on Twitter. I love what Kris is doing, and have been happy to share this with my blog readers, but due to time constraints I won't be maintaining ongoing series in this monthly Links update.

  • M. J. Rose is the best-selling author of numerous novels, most recently The Memorist. She recently published an Op-ed piece on PublishingPerspectives.com entitled "Publishers Must Change the Way Authors Get Paid." Her gripe is that authors are more and more responsible for promoting their work; in fact, many publishers now require it of authors! So the author invests his/her time -- and money -- and yet there has been no change whatsoever in how the author gets paid by the publisher for their work; the same old royalty schedules still apply. Rose writes: "It used to be that the author wrote and the publisher published. Publishing meant everything from editing to distribution to marketing. Now, more and more books are not being published, but instead are merely being printed. No one walks into a bookstore and says to the clerk — 'I'd like to buy a book that I never heard of and that you never heard of.' Someone has to do the marketing and get the word out. And if that's going to be a shared responsibility, so be it. We all have the same goal in the end. But our contracts and the way we get paid can't remain the same. It's time to start a new chapter."

    In response to Rose's Op-ed piece, Robert Miller, President and Publisher of HarperStudio, wrote a follow-up piece entitled: "
    Re-thinking the Publisher/Author Partnership." I think "partnership" is the key word here. His concern is: "What amount of marketing effort should be expected of the author before their royalty changes?" He feels that both parties should be doing everything possible to promote the book; but what if the book doesn't make money? Who takes the loss? So Miller believes that "publishers and authors should be equal partners, sharing profits fifty-fifty, as we are doing in all of our deals at HarperStudio.... This financial structure requires both parties to think responsibly about costs, since both parties will be charged for those costs at the end of the day."

  • A new collective of self-published authors -- Backword Books -- has launched, initiated by the efforts of Henry Baum, of Self-Publishing Review, which I have referenced quite a lot in my Links & Things postings. The 9/3/2009 issue of Publishers Weekly featured an article on Backword Books: "Baum is convinced that literary self-publishing will eventually achieve the same sales results as those of traditional presses. 'The vetting system is out of whack in the publishing industry' said Baum…. 'It's literary writers who are having a tougher time of it in today's climate, not just reaching an audience, but getting published in the first place. With Backwords, the hook is the writing itself. That's our strength.'"

  • Author Dean Wesley Smith kills another sacred cow in his ongoing blog series "Killing the Sacred Cows of Publishing." The latest entry is on "Rewriting": Dean states: "Robert Heinlein's business rules have worked for many, many of us for decades and decades, and his rules go simply: 1) You must write. 2) You must finish what you write. 3) You must not rewrite unless to editorial demand. 4) You must mail your work to someone who can buy it. 5) You must keep the work in the mail until someone buys it. Those rules do seem so simple, and yet are so hard to follow at times. They set out a simple practice schedule and a clear process of what to do with your practice sessions when finished. But for this chapter, note rule #3. Harlan Ellison added to rule #3. 'And then only if you agree.'" Dean goes on to explain how rewriting can make stories worse than better. I'll leave you to read his words and decide for yourself; as for me, I'm not in total agreement, as I'm on the receiving end of those manuscripts.

    Dean has added the next chapter to his "Killing the Sacred Cows of Publishing," this one on "
    Agents." He lists 12 bulleted points that he defines as "standards of this industry and you can infer what you want from these standards to help your own writing and your own fight against this myth." For point #7, Dean writes: "Editors never know what they want to buy until they see it. An agent who tells you he or she knows exactly what an editor wants is just full of crap."

    And yet a third chapter has been added to Dean's "Killing the Sacred Cows of Publishing" -- "
    Workshops." Big Workshop Myth #1: "A WORKSHOP WILL HELP YOU FIX A MANUSCRIPT." Dean goes on to explain why a writers' workshop will NOT help you fix your manuscript, but he does give some insight into what a workshop WILL help you with, and he concludes by stating: "...there's nothing a workshop can do to help you fix a story without killing it. But you can learn stuff from a workshop that will help you make your next story better. Your focus always has to be forward, toward learning and writing the next story.

    This will be my last entry on Dean Wesley Smith's "Killing the Sacred Cows of Publishing." You can learn when a new chapter is posted by following @DeanWesleySmith and/or me on Twitter. Or you can subscribe to Dean's blog.

  • The Editor Unleashed website, subtitled: "Writing, Publishing, Social Media and Community," has published a list of the Top 25 Best Writing Blogs of 2009. Writing blogs were first nominated by readers, the list was then culled to the top 50, I believe, which were then voted upon. I wish I had had the time to check out the initial 50 but, alas, I don't even have time to write my own blog entries! Anyhow, the Top 25 are broken down into categories "Publishing Trends," "Marketing and Social Media," "Creativity," "Fiction Writing," and "Freelance Writing." Lots of kudos in the Comments, as well. If you're a serious blogger on writing and/or a serious writer, you should check out these 25 blogs.

Monday, August 31, 2009

August Links & Things

Here are my links and such for the month of August. There aren't as many as there could have been, as I've had to become a bit more discriminating this month due to big projects and short deadlines. But hopefully everyone who reads this will find something of interest. These links are all from my previous tweets. I've listed them here, all in one post, and with additional detail and comment. You can receive these links in real time by following me on Twitter.
  • I'm co-editing a theme anthology on the Fermi Paradox, to be published next year by DAW Books. One of my contributing authors, Paul Di Filippo, sent me a link to an article from MIT's Technology Review entitled "Fermi Paradox Points to Fewer Than 10 Extraterrestrial Civilizations." Making a number of assumptions, such as advanced civilizations will send out probes first to investigate other worlds (just as we have sent out the 10 Mariner probes, for example), and if "these probes can leave longer-lasting evidence of a visit -- evidence that remains for 100 million years -- then there can be no more than about 10 civilizations out there." Intriguing reading.


  • SF Scope reports: "This October, the Library of America will be celebrating the foundations of fantasy and horror in American literature by publishing the two-volume American Fantastic Tales, edited by Peter Straub." The two volumes -- 86 stories plus an introduction to each volume by Straub -- can be purchased separately, or as a boxed set. The article lists the complete table of contents, including the story title, author, and original date of publication. The stories date from 1805 to 2007.


  • Kristine Kathryn Rusch continues her online Freelancer's Survival Guide. Now that she's finally completed her seven-part discussion on "Money" (in all its glory -- and pain), she's begun a new topic: "Employees (Part One)" -- or, "People You Hire To Do Stuff for You." Kris writes: "Here's the most important thing to remember about anyone you hire for any task: No one else will care about your business as much as you do. No one else will work as hard as you do. No one else will ever have as much at stake in your business as you do." Kris repeats this mantra in "Employees (Part Two)," but she also concludes this section with: "Finally, my advice on all things -- the more informed you are, the better off you'll be. That goes for employees, workers, finances, and just about everything else covered by this Freelancer's Guide. Stick to that principle and you'll do well -- even when hiring others to help you keep your business afloat." (via @KristineRusch)

    And one of the most important aspects of freelancing: "Time": "So I have a monthly nut—the amount it takes me to live every single month.... You need to figure out what your time is worth. You need to factor in the intangibles as well as the tangibles. (I don't take a lot of pain-in-the-ass projects; nor do I take projects that'll require me to leave home for months at a time.) You'll need to make sure you make your monthly nut plus some profit. And you'll need to factor in how much work you can actually do versus how much you think you can do."

    And, of course, "Deadlines": "Keep your deadlines. Be on time for your appointments. Open your stores on time and don't close them early. Respect your clients. Then they'll respect you in return."

    And "Patience": "You have to be so patient that at times it feels like you are doing nothing but being patient."


  • The New York Observer headline: "Note to Authors: Make Your Deadlines!" Evidently, in these difficult economic times, publishers are now starting to require that authors make their deadlines! Gawd, what a unique concept! Publishers are using late deadlines as reasons to renegotiate contracts, and even require that authors repay the advance. And if the book is way past deadline, publishers are now considering whether or not they still want the book. But as the article quotes at the end: "The reality is, you don't have to worry about lateness if they want your book. You only have to worry about lateness if they don't." (via @powells and @jay_lake)


  • The website "Marooned - Science Fiction Books on Mars" has compiled a list of 20 links to online stories about Mars. Authors include Kage Baker, Mary A. Turzillo, and Liz Williams. The blogger is calling it The Mammoth e-Book of Mindblowing Mars SF. Good -- and free -- online science fiction!


  • And speaking of "mindblowing SF," Matthew Cheney's blog, The Mumpsimus, has a list of "mindblowing" SF stories -- all but two by women authors -- that have knocked his socks off, so to speak, over the years. I was pleased to see my friend Judith Moffett's story, "Tiny Tango" (Asimov's, February 1989; reprinted in Dozois's Year's Best Science Fiction: Seventh Annual Collection, and Pamela Sargent's Women of Wonder: The Contemporary Years anthology) included in the list; it was a finalist for both the Hugo and Nebula awards. [Disclosure: I helped Judith with a bit of PR for her latest novel, Bird Shaman, and I acquired reprint rights for her first novel, Pennterra, for Fantastic Books.]


  • Unless you've been hiding underground, I suspect you've heard that director John Hughes passed away on August 6 at age 59. Hughes directed such wonderful movies as Ferris Bueller's Day Off, Weird Science, The Breakfast Club, Some Kind of Wonderful, Sixteen Candles, and Home Alone. Evidently, he began a "pen pal" correspondence with a young girl between 1985 and 1987, and that young girl, Alison -- now, obviously not so young -- shares her thoughts and those letters with us, including a telephone call she received from John Hughes in 1997, during which he explained why he left the Hollywood film rat race. Wonderful reading; guaranteed to bring a little moistness to ye olde eyes, no matter how much of a curmudgeon you are. As of this writing, there are over 1,330 comments, some just as wonderful -- just awesome. Enjoy! And thank you, Alison, for sharing with us this tribute to director John Hughes.


Monday, August 24, 2009

Marty Halpern Interview

Charles Tan interviews me today on his acclaimed blog Bibliophile Stalker. Charles asks a number of questions including how I got started in the field, my current projects, what, in my opinion, are the necessary skills for the various editor roles, and so on. I think I'm fairly straight forward with my answers, though pages would be required to fully respond to most of the questions. Regardless, the interview is more than 3,400 words so there is still plenty of content for inquiring minds.

If you should happen to read the interview, and have some additional questions or issues or comments for me, I would be most grateful if you would post them here on "More Red Ink" at the end of this blog entry. This will allow me easier access to respond, and in addition I will automatically be notified so that I will be able to respond in a timely fashion.

So I hope you'll click over to Bibliophile Stalker and check out the interview. It's my first online interview since early 2003, when Golden Gryphon Press publisher Gary Turner and I were interviewed
on SF Site by Nick Gevers (with whom I am currently co-editing an original anthology), upon the publication of The Silver Gryphon anthology.

Monday, August 3, 2009

July Links and Things

Since I just posted a new blog essay on the 31st, I thought I would wait a few days before posting July's links. And there are indeed a lot of them -- hopefully something to satisfy even those who think they've seen/read it all! In fact, to cut down on the number of these links in the months ahead, beginning this month (August, not July, as this is still July, so to speak) I'm no longer going to post any ongoing serializations. So if you are reading the serialized fiction being posted online by Cory Doctorow, Tim Pratt, Catherynne M. Valente, and John Shirley, then you may want to subscribe directly to those blogs/websites. I'll still tweet when new pieces are posted but I won't list them in my links listings in the future, only if it's a new serialization. You can receive all these links in real time by following me on Twitter. I have listed all of the July links here, all in one post, and with additional detail and comment.

The first July links entry is the publication of the reprint edition of author Judith Moffett's first novel, Pennterra. This was my first acquisition for Warren Lapine's Fantastic Books imprint, which, by the way, now has a new website. I had the pleasure of meeting Judith for the first time at ReaderCon in Boston last year, and we've become virtual friends, I guess you could say. Judith Moffett is not your typical SF author! She is an award-winning poet with a PhD from the University of Pennsylvania, a couple of Fulbrights under her belt, and grants from both the National Endowment for the Humanities and the National Endowment for the Arts. She is also a world-class translator of Swedish poetry, who presented at the 1998 Nobel Symposium on Translation of Poetry and Poetic Prose. The list of accomplishments in her Wikipedia entry is awe-inspiring. When Pennterra was originally published in 1987, Nebula Award-winning author Michael Bishop wrote: "Stunning... the best first novel I have read in at least a decade... dangerous and breathtaking to behold." Ms. Moffett has a new novel available as well, Bird Shaman, that was published to coincide with her ReaderCon appearance; you can read about the new novel on her website and even order a signed and inscribed copy directly from the author (and at a discount, too). So am I plugging both of these books (and the author)? You betcha!

Here are the rest of my July links and things:
  • Author, geek, futurist Bruce Sterling gave the closing talk at June's Reboot 11 Conference. Video available. According to boingboing.net: "In his closing talk from last month's Reboot conference in Copenhagen, Bruce Sterling guesses at what it will be like to live through the next ten years: 'It is neither progress nor conservatism because there's nothing left to conserve and no direction in which to progress. So what you get is transition. Transition to nowhere.'" Ya gotta love Bruce! (@bruces)

  • CrunchGear headline: "Indie Kindle author lands book deal." Boyd Morrison, self-published author of the Kindle ebook The Ark lands a two-book contract with publisher Simon & Schuster; the contract is for The Ark, to be published in hardcover in 2010, and the sequel. Morrison became a member of the Kindle Boards and did all his own self-promoting. This is the first reported instance of a self-published Kindle author scoring a book contract with a major publisher.

  • Author John C. Wright (The Golden Age et al.) shares his writerly expertise with new writers in his "Ten Commandments for How to be a Writer." Actually, there is an Eleventh Commandment that John refers to as the "unwritten rule": "When you get a rejection slip, be thankful." His insights on rejection slips are quite inspiring.

  • The Deadline Dames (@DeadlineDames) are a group of nine urban fantasy & paranormal romance authors. Dame Devon has posted an essay entitled "A Forest Full of Trees," in which she discusses rewriting/revising one's manuscript. Good stuff, for writers and editors both. She lists twenty-one "Big Picture Revision Questions" to ask yourself about your manuscript. #4: "Are the senses fully employed? (Sight, smell, touch, taste, sound)" #10: "Is the dialogue working to move the story forward in ways the narrative can't?"

  • Author Holly Lisle's (@hollylisle) blog provides a lot of step-by-step material for writers. A recent entry, "How To Create a Character," lists six bullet points, followed by a lengthy discussion on -- you guessed it -- character creation. The last bullet point is: "Do write from your own life." At the end of this blog post, you'll find a link to a "Character Creation Workshop," which links to a "Dialogue Workshop," which links to a "Maps Workshop," which links to a "Scene Creation Workshop"... Also at the end of the "How to Create a Character" post is another link on "How To Finish a Novel," which links to "How To Revise a Novel," which links to "How To Collaborate," etc. You get the idea. You could probably spend days, if not weeks, on this site.

  • Author Kim Wilkins steps us through "The Science of [Self-] Editing" -- the author doesn't include the word "self" in the blog title, but I feel the need to do so, since "self-editing" is far different from what I term "editing." Regardless of the nuances, Kim has some good stuff to say about the self-editing process: "For those of you embarking on a self-edit, the most important thing to remember is to be methodical and detached.... I do this, all the while imagining that I'm not the person who has to fix it. Makes it far less overwhelming (though a little more pathological)." She goes on to explain her own [self-]editing process.

Friday, July 31, 2009

At Home with Jack Vance

Jack Vance at 92At 92 years of age (soon to be 93, on August 28), author Jack Vance is finally garnering some long-overdue, well-deserved attention in the media. And considering that he hasn't published any new fiction since 2004 (novel Lurulu, sequel to Ports of Call, 1998; both from Tor Books), this is indeed a remarkable accomplishment. Why all the media attention now? Because Vance has two books that have just been published by Subterranean Press. First and foremost is Vance's autobiography, This Is Me, Jack Vance! (more on this in a bit). The second title is anthology Songs of the Dying Earth, which is subtitled "Stories in Honor of Jack Vance." Songs features some of the best writers in the genre: Neil Gaiman, George R. R. Martin (who co-edited the anthology), Lucius Shepard, and Dan Simmons, to name only four, with an appreciation by Dean Koontz. What makes this book even more special is that Vance himself has written a new preface to open the anthology.

Carlo Rotella, director of American Studies at Boston College, wrote an excellent and lengthy piece (nearly 3,700 words) on Jack Vance entitled
"The Genre Artist" in the July 15 New York Times. Rotella's introduction to Vance's fiction occurred when he was 14 years old, and he's been reading the author's work ever since. In this article Rotella quotes from a number of Vance novels, quotes from contributors (Tanith Lee and Dan Simmons) to the Songs anthology, and even quotes from Pulitzer Prize-winning novelist Michael Chabon: "Jack Vance is the most painful case of all the writers I love who I feel don't get the credit they deserve. If 'The Last Castle' or 'The Dragon Masters' had the name Italo Calvino on it, or just a foreign name, it would be received as a profound meditation, but because he's Jack Vance and published in Amazing Whatever, there's this insurmountable barrier." Well said, Mr. Chabon! I'm awaiting my copy of This Is Me, Jack Vance! from Subterranean Press, but in the meantime I have Rotella's article to tide me over. By the way, Rotella notes that "Vance takes pride in his craft but does not care to talk about it in any detail, going so far in his memoir as to consign almost all discussion of writing to a brief chapter at the end." If you're not familiar with Jack Vance, this article is a great mini-introduction to Vance's work, and his life. Kudos to Carlo Rotella.

I personally lay all the blame for my rampant book collecting on Jack Vance... Well, that's not really fair: his mass market paperback publishers Berkley Medallion and DAW Books actually share that dubious honor. I was already an avid book reader, but it was Jack Vance's Demon Princes series that drove me to my bibliophilic behavior. I don't recall how the Demon Princes series was brought to my attention, but in the early '80s I made a concerted effort to track down these five books. Now, you have to remember that at that point in time, there was no internet; there was no "online" in which to do an online book search. In those days we actually had to visit bookstores; and we used the telephone and, dare I say it, book catalogs sent through the mail to acquire specific titles. My favorite bookstore was Books, Inc. in the Town & Country shopping center near the corner of Stevens Creek and Winchester boulevards in San Jose. Books, Inc. closed down not too long after the Barnes and Noble superstore opened about a block away; and now the entire Town & Country shopping center is gone, replaced by the upscale Santana Row. But back to Books, Inc.: The store was a panacea for SF readers in particular because the management never returned a book. Regardless of the number of copies they ordered of any particular paperback, those copies would remain on the shelves until they sold. You could find paperbacks on the shelves that were years old, the pages often yellowed from age. So that's where I went to purchase the five volumes in Vance's Demon Princes series. The first three books in the series -- Star King, The Killing Machine, and The Palace of Love -- were published in the '60s by Berkley Medallion; the final two books in the series -- The Face and The Book of Dreams -- were published by DAW Books in 1979 and 1981 respectively. Unfortunately, I only found one of the DAW books on the shelf. A clerk assisted me by looking up the other four titles in Books in Print (available as a set of humongous hardcovers as well as on microfiche). It turned out that two of the five titles were out of print -- one from Berkley Medallion and the first book from DAW. And, not understanding the stupidity of publishers at the time, I couldn't comprehend why any publisher would allow the middle books of a five-book series to go out of print. It just didn't make any sense to me -- then. But in the course of looking through Books in Print, the clerk discovered that the series had been published in a hardcover edition by an independent press called Underwood-Miller. Great, I said, let's order them. Sorry, said the clerk, we don't deal directly with that publisher, and those titles aren't available through our regular distributor. Sigh... Time to go home and make some telephone calls to other bookstores in the area.

This is how I discovered genre bookstore Future Fantasy in Palo Alto, about a 25-mile drive from where I live. I telephoned the store, and yes, they could order the books for me, but I would have to pay for them in advance. So I made the drive to Palo Alto, only to discover that the store proprietor would only order one volume at a time -- even though I was willing to pay for the five books all at once, up front. Not sure of her rationale; but keep in mind that this was the early '80s and each of these trade hardcovers cost, I believe it was, $20.00 each -- so the set of five books was $100.00 (plus tax). Anyhow, I paid for the first book in advance, returned to the store a couple weeks later when the book arrived and paid in advance for the next one in the series, and so on until I owned all five books. Of course, I was now hooked on hardcovers and limited editions, having been in Future Fantasy -- browsing and buying -- six times over the span of about three months: the road to ruin, you might say. Future Fantasy moved a few years later to a larger store, but then the local competition and the internet finally took its toll and the store closed as well.

Thursday, July 16, 2009

12 Stories Do Not a Collection Make

The big announcement last month concerned my friend Alastair Reynolds, author of the superb space opera novels Revelation Space, Redemption Ark, and Absolution Gap, among others -- all part of his Inhibitors-Conjoiners (aka Revelation Space) universe. According to the announcement and mini-interview in the Guardian, Reynolds has signed an unprecedented contract with publisher Gollancz in the United Kingdom: the contract calls for ten books over a span of ten years for 1-million pounds sterling [that's $1,620,660.00 as of this writing]. Congratulations, Al!

Al and I have worked on a couple of projects together over the past few years: a limited edition chapbook novella (Turquoise Days, Golden Gryphon Press, 2002) and a short story collection (Zima Blue and Other Stories, Night Shade Books, 2006). [I'd love to link to additional information on Zima Blue but all NSB editions are out of print.] And hopefully there will be another project in the foreseeable future. If all the authors with whom I've worked, or will work, had the professionalism, moral integrity, care and respect for others that Al Reynolds displayed during these two projects, I would be in editorial hog heaven.


With this new multi-book deal, Al no longer has to worry about sample chapters and outlines and pitches for his next book contracts (at least for the next nine years), he can now devote that time to the craft of writing. And we, his readers, will continue to delight in the fruits of his labors. If you're not familiar with Alastair Reynolds's short fiction, check out his story "Spirey and the Queen" available online (included in Zima Blue); and if you're into audio, Al reads his new story "Scales," his first military SF story, as part of the original Guardian Books Podcast series.

So, you wonder, why am I spending so much time chatting about Alastair Reynolds? Because I'm going to use his collection, Zima Blue and Other Stories -- and specifically how this collection came together -- as my example in this essay on short story collections.

In recent years I have noticed a trend among "young" authors -- particularly those published by small presses, and to be even more specific, the print-on-demand (POD) small presses -- to publish a new short story collection as soon as they've accumulated (and that's the correct word I wish to use) a dozen or so stories. If the writer is sufficiently prodigious, that could easily work out to a collection (or two) a year. As a point of clarification, I use the term "young" loosely here. Author William Gibson was thirty-six years old when his first novel Neuromancer was published in 1984; Lucius Shepard was thirty-eight and Jay Lake was forty when each won the Campbell Award for best new writer. In response to an age question on his blog, John Scalzi has written an excellent
essay on why new, young writers are typically in their 30s when they finally get published; he even lays out his own writing career as an example.

I realize authors need income, and if they are primarily a short story writer, then a collection of said stories is one of the few (if only) income-generating options open to them once the stories themselves have been initially published. I understand the need, and the rationale, but...

In my tenure as an editor, I have worked on twenty short story collections; not a large number in the overall scheme of things, but not too shabby either for the small press business. I am referring to the full package here: working with the author to develop the collection, selecting the stories, determining story order, editing and copyediting the stories, and whatever else was needed to create the book. Authors included Kage Baker, Michael Bishop, Jeffrey Ford, M. Rickert, Lucius Shepard, Jeff VanderMeer, and, of course, George Alec Effinger, plus a handful of others. And though I'm far from being an expert on story collections (every author and every book always has something new to teach me), I have had a wee bit of experience.

Often, an author and/or the author's agent would send me a manuscript consisting of a predetermined set of stories and word count. In every instance I worked with the author to change the contents list and increase the word count. This was necessary because the author and/or the agent included weak stories and insufficient word count. However, had those manuscripts been sent directly to a POD press, they undoubtedly would have been published as is; possibly with little, if any, copyediting (and certainly no editing), which, depending on the press of course, is typically the responsibility of the submitting author.

What happens is, the author floods his own market with his short fiction collections. Each collection, without doubt, contains excellent, maybe even great, stories; but each collection also contains one or more stories that should not have been included in that particular collection, or should simply not have been collected -- ever. Consequently the author (and publisher) ends up with a good collection -- but not a great collection. The collection garners a couple or so reviews if the author is lucky, but nothing memorable comes of the book, and it is all too quickly forgotten. All the author's hardcore fans will most likely purchase the book, but beyond that? Sound familiar? I'm sure if you are a reader of short fiction, and short fiction collections in particular, an author or two comes immediately to mind.

As an acquiring editor for Golden Gryphon Press, I first contacted Alastair Reynolds via email on April 16, 2001, regarding a short story collection. Al had already published about sixteen stories as well as his first novel, Revelation Space. (Second novel, Chasm City, would appear about three weeks later.) At this point in time, I had read quite a few of Al's short stories: "Digital to Analogue" (In Dreams, edited by Paul J. McAuley and Kim Newman, 1992), "Spirey and the Queen" (Interzone, June 1996), "Great Wall of Mars" (Spectrum SF #1, February 2000), "Merlin's Gun" (Interzone, May 2000), and "Hideaway" (Interzone, July 2000). There was no doubt in my mind that Alastair Reynolds was going to be one of the preeminent SF writers in the years to come, and I wanted to be the first to snag a collection of his stories. Unfortunately, I was too late...

Al responded the following day. In the email, he raved about Golden Gryphon Press books (he said that he had just obtained a copy of the Robert Reed collection, The Dragons of Spring Place). Unfortunately, Al also informed me that about a month earlier he had made a commitment to publisher Night Shade Books for a short story collection. But here's the caveat: Al told me that he suggested to Night Shade that they wait another year or two for the collection to ensure he had a "sufficiently good core of strong stories to justify a collection." So Al chose to delay his own collection by at least two years (waiting a minimum of one year and publishing the book the following year) -- even though two small presses were clamoring for a collection now -- because he wanted to ensure a quality collection. Shocking!

I've had authors turn down my solicitation for a short story collection for a variety of reasons: they had promised a collection to another publisher (others authors, in addition to Al); they planned to include a collection as part of their next contract negotiation with their NY publisher; they could make more money with another publisher; or they were just too busy now to even bother. I've had an author respond that they passed my inquiry on to their agent, who then completely ignored me -- even after follow-up emails; some professional courtesy would have been nice, even if their response was simply to tell me to just go away. But I've never had an author turn down a short story collection because they felt they didn't have enough quality fiction to be included in the book. You have to understand my surprise because the five Reynolds stories that I mentioned above totaled nearly 65,000 words. And he had another ten or so stories in addition to these. Certainly enough word count overall, and the quality of these five particular stories was not to be questioned.

My follow-up email to Al that same day was a hardcore sales pitch. I did all I could to place Golden Gryphon in the spotlight and even suggested two different collections to Al so that both publishers would be satisfied: one collection now -- for Golden Gryphon, of course -- and a second collection in a couple years for Night Shade. Al's response? He still insisted that he didn't have enough strong stories and that he wanted to wait for another year or two, but he did like the idea of two collections, broken out by his "future history" stories (a la Revelation Space) and his other stories. I expressed my enthusiasm for either collection -- though I had a definite preference at the time for the "future history" stories. [Remember this two-collection idea for later reference.]

Fortunately, Al and I continued our email dialogue. But I'm no fool, and I anticipated Al's increasing popularity in the field, so in a May 10, 2001 email, I posed the following scenario: In a year or two from now, when Al (and Al's agent) is negotiating a new contract, his UK publisher, Gollancz, asks for a short story collection. What does he do now that he has already committed (albeit only verbally, but one trusts Al on his word) to a Night Shade Books collection? And though I didn't bring this point up, I was also concerned that Al's contract with Gollancz included first refusal rights, which would mean they would have first dibs on any collection proposal. That collection might not interest them now, with Al having published only two novels as of 2001; but what about one or two years from now? Thus my concern for delaying said collection.

In Al's response the following day, he wrote: "The points you make are good, and I can appreciate your argument about moving sooner rather than later. From what I can gather, though, there's not much enthusiasm among the mainstream UK publishers for short fiction collections, so I suspect this won't be that big an issue. Gollancz have never once mooted the possibility, or showed any interest in my non-novel activities. I suspect they'll be happy just to deal with novels from me (and if the current book stiffs, they may not want to talk novels either...!)."

I, in turn, responded to Al that I think he underestimates himself, given his newness in the field (only two novels to date), and referred to UK authors Stephen Baxter and Greg Egan (actually Australian but published in the UK), both of whom have had highly touted short story collections published by "mainstream UK publishers." Regardless, Al and I agreed to postpone any further discussion on a collection until after he completed work on his third novel.

Wednesday, July 1, 2009

June-End Links & Things

The time I would have normally spent last week writing a new blog entry went into responding to interview questions from Charles Tan -- a 3,300-word interview to be more specific. The interview will appear on Bibliophile Stalker on August 25. I'll send out a link tweet when the interview appears. If you want to know what's happening in the genre, and if you enjoy reading interviews with authors, editors, and publishers, then Bibliophile Stalker, Charles Tan's blog, is a must read.

The new blog post I've been working on for this week has morphed from my original idea, and if you are a writer, whether it be fiction or nonfiction, then you know that a morphed idea can get away from you and it becomes more difficult to pull the idea together once again. I'm still working the idea.

For now, and since the end of June has passed, I'll go ahead and post my links and such from the past two weeks. There are quite a lot of them, to be sure, and hopefully everyone who reads this will find something of interest. These links are from my previous tweets. I've listed them here, all in one post, and with additional detail and comment. You can receive these links in real time by following me on Twitter.

  • I'll begin this post with one entry on singer, songwriter, and performer Michael Jackson: This is the one MJ video that everyone should watch; go ahead, it's only one minute and twenty-one seconds long. Enjoy.

  • Okay, okay, just one more... Music critic Roger Ebert's eulogy, if you will, entitled "The boy who never grew up: Michael Jackson, 1958-2009": Roger writes: "He lost happiness somewhere in his childhood, and spent his life trying to go back there and find it. When he played the Scarecrow in 'The Wiz' (1978), I think that is how he felt, and Oz was where he wanted to live. It was his most truly autobiographical role. He could understand a character who felt stuffed with straw, but could wonderfully sing and dance, and could cheer up the little girl Dorothy."

  • David Halpert on Scifi Watch (@ScifiWatch) gives us "15 Ways Publishers Can Increase Sales, Save Money, and Promote Publicity." I personally like point #11: Highlight Editors Blogs: "If there's something I love more than reading the blogs of my favorite science fiction authors, it's reading the blogs of their editors. Editors are largely the face of a publishing house, working hard behind the scenes to bring you the literature on the market today. They're also very knowledgeable and at times candid about what goes on in their daily lives....If you don't already highlight an editor's blog on your publishing website, DO SO IMMEDIATELY! It will easily increase traffic to your publishing house, and with any luck increase sales as well."

  • As promised on June 15, award-winning author Catherynne M. Valente posted online Chapter One of her new novel The Girl Who Circumnavigated Fairyland in a Ship of Her Own Design. She'll be posting one new chapter every week on Mondays, and estimates that she should finish the novel in time for the holidays. Each chapter will also be available as an audio download. In her current adult novel Palimpsest (Bantam Books; the main theme is a sexually transmitted dream), one of the characters referred to a children's book that she had loved; at the time, the book -- The Girl Who Circumnavigated Fairyland -- was completely nonexistent. Not any longer. Chapters Two and Three have now been posted as well. And check out the wyvern icon at the end of Chapter Three (and future chapters) for a link to the author's audio commentary. There's a PayPal tip-jar, so to speak, on the site, and Cat is asking for your help to support her writing.

    Here's a
    background post from Cat Valente on The Girl Who Circumnavigated Fairyland in a Ship of Her Own Design.

  • And another writer is in financial need: Tim Pratt, author of the Hugo Award-winning short story "Impossible Dreams" (Asimov's, July 2006), plans to write and publish (every Monday) an online novella series, entitled "Bone Shop." He's hoping to support his efforts through reader donations. On Tim's Live Journal, he posts some background information on his character Marla Mason, who appears in his novels Blood Engines, Poison Sleep, Dead Reign, and Spell Games. His LJ entry also links to the Bone Shop and Marla Mason websites. And here's a link to Chapter One, posted as promised on June 29; at the end of the chapter is a link to the author's notes.

  • In a thoughtful essay aimed at e-book publishers, JA Konrath, author of the Lt. Jacqueline "Jack" Daniels thriller series, reveals his Kindle sales figures for a number of his books -- a rare disclosure from a published author. He also offers some helpful hints for those uploading books to Kindle. Konrath writes: "With 1.5 million Kindles sold, I could sell 200 books per day, for 720 days, and still only reach 10% of all Kindle buyers. If we include all of the iPhone and iPod Touch owners who can download a Kindle ap, along with continued Kindle sales, I should be able to sell quite a few books before coming close to saturating this market. If the $90 per day trend keeps up, that's $32,850 a year. Not a huge amount, but not chump change either." (via GalleyCat) $32,850 not a huge amount just from e-book sales? Of course, you gotta have a book – or books – that folks are willing to pay to download!

  • If you're a fan of the television series Fringe, and especially of actor John Noble (Denethor in The Lord of the Rings movies), you'll enjoy reading what the actor has to say of his portrayal of mad scientist Walter Bishop, via Variety: "I admire the pure part of his mind and that, fundamentally, he's a kind man. It must be terribly hard for someone of his intelligence and abilities to actually relate to anyone, but he still tries in his own Walter way."