Monday, February 1, 2010

January Links & Things

I spent a few hours the other day trying to tweak the code on my previous blog post so that it worked correctly with Safari, Firefox, and Chrome. The blog worked perfectly using IE, but not the other three browsers, which actually are used more than IE. I tried everything; I must have reviewed and tweaked the blog post code (seven printed pages) a half-dozen times, but I couldn't get the blog to list properly on those three browsers. I slept on it, and then tried a different kind of search the next day and discovered that the code I was using for the "jump" break (i.e. "Continue reading...") was obsolete; Blogger had updated the template code, unbeknownst to me. I deleted the old code I had entered, inserted the new jump code, and here we are. Would have been nice to have received something from Blogger proactively; instead I had to do a multitude of Google searches until I found the problem explained, along with its fix, in the Blogger Help forums. I sure could use those hours back!

Following are my links and such for the month of January. 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.

  • In an earlier blog post, I wrote about my involvement in Andrew Fox's novel The Good Humor Man, Or, Calorie 3501 (Tachyon Publications, 2009). Unfortunately the book didn't get the attention that I felt it deserved. With the constant talk on the news, news-magazine programs, health-oriented websites and blogs, etc. on the alarming increase in obesity in this country, particularly childhood obesity, I thought that these folks would have eaten up this book! (Sorry, I couldn't resist...) Thankfully, io9 has published Chris Braak's thoughtful, and thought-provoking, review: Headline: "One Lipsuctionist's Wild Ride Through American Gluttony" -- "Fox's presentation of the Good Humor Movement -- the neo-fascist organization that, in order to preserve an overburdened healthcare system from the catastrophic expenses associated with obesity -- doesn't just seem frighteningly plausible; the way [liposuctionist Dr.] Schmalzberg describes it, it actually seems like kind of a good idea. The underlying intelligence of the novel is its recognition that, even in organizations whose actions are manifestly evil, the individual members of that organization imagine themselves to be doing good.... an intensely interesting, wild ride through a wickedly accurate depiction of the American psyche that, fortunately for all of us, doesn't bother hewing too closely to its ideological forebears. This is more than just a goofy reversal of Bradbury's classic [Fahrenheit 451], but a witty, incisive satire all on its own. By turns heartbreaking and mesmerizingly grotesque, The Good Humor Man is well worth the read."

  • Another series of books that I had the pleasure to edit is Matthew Hughes's Henghis Hapthorn trilogy (Night Shade Books), which consists of Majestrum (2006), The Spiral Labyrinth (2007), and, finally, the just released Hespira. Henghis Hapthorn is a freelance discriminator (read: investigator/detective) in a world where the scientific method and technology are quickly losing ground to the emergence of "sympathetic association" (i.e. magic). It's a delightful series, which I have seen described as "Sherlock Holmes meets Jack Vance's Dying Earth." You can read Chapter 1 online, on the author's website, but be forewarned: the series builds upon itself beginning with the first book, so you really need to read the series in order. The Publishers Weekly starred review concludes with: "A droll narrative voice, dry humor and an alternate universe that's accessible without explicit exposition make this a winner."

  • Author Philip K. Dick spent his final years in Southern California, specifically Orange County. Scott Timberg, for the LA Times on January 24, looks back at PKD's years in the OC, based on interviews with his ex-wives and comments from Tim Powers (which Powers gleaned from his journals). Some revealing content, particularly PKD's marital divorce advice to Powers (PKD was married and divorced five times). The article also touches on the events and paranoia that caused Phil to flee from Northern to Southern Cal, and his health issues, which affected his writing. (via @maudnewton)

  • Author Jeff VanderMeer shares with us an excerpt from his recent publication Booklife: Strategies and Survival Tips for the 21st-Century Writer (Tachyon Publications) -- "Seven Points to Consider When Submitting Short Fiction": "1) Standard approaches are still the norm; 2) There are complexities to the term "highest paying market"; 3) Repurposing the public perception of your fiction may be important; 4) Pro rates do not necessarily mean an overall level of pro quality stories; 5) Breaking your standard submission cycle may teach you something new; 6) To a new writer, encouragement can be a kind of payment; and 7) Not every writer's career path is the same because not every writer's fiction is the same." For all the specifics, you'll just have to read Jeff's blog post. (via @ericrosenfield)

  • If you think that publishers are looking for big fat wordy fantasy novels, think again. Lit agent @ColleenLindsay, of FinePrint Literary Management, has more than a few words to say on the subject of "word counts and novel length." It's an old post, but since Ms. Lindsay continues to see such abuses in the submission queries that she receives, she has retweeted this blog post yet again. Colleen writes: "If a contract calls for a book that is 100k words and you turn in one that is 130k, expect to go back and find a way to shave 30k words off that puppy before your manuscript is accepted. Remember that part of the payout schedule of an author's advance often dangles on that one important word: acceptance." The word counts are broken down into these areas: middle grade fiction, YA fiction, urban fantasy/paranormal romance, mysteries and crime fiction, mainstream fiction, and science fiction and fantasy. A must read. There are more than 65 comments posted that are also worth reading.

  • But before you worry about word counts, you had best master the art of writing first! Caro Clarke points out "four faults" that all beginning writers make: "As an editor, I know when I am reading someone's first novel. I have nicknames for the four give-away faults beginners make: (1) Walk and Chew Gum (2) Furry Dice (3) Tea, Vicar? (4) Styrofoam. I see at least one of these in every manuscript where the author has not mastered the craft of writing before submitting his or her work. What are these four faults and, more importantly, how can you cure them?" If you want to know what these four faults are, and determine if you are guilty of them yourself, then you'll need to read this essay.

  • io9 asks: "Seriously, What's So Bad About Adverbs? -- Aspiring science-fiction authors receive one piece of advice above all others: Forsake the adverb, the killer of prose. It's terribly, awfully, horrendously important. But why?... So really, the advice should be: 'Use adverbs sparingly. And don't use any unnecessary words at all.'" Charlie Jane Anders, the author, goes on to provide examples of what not to do with adverbs, as well as how to use adverbs effectively. It's a good piece with examples from actual works of science fiction (well-known works at that). And as of this writing, there are more than 190 comments. (via @daj42)

    Stephen King once said (or wrote): "The road to hell is paved with adverbs." -- and a mighty painful road it can be. (And don't get me started on participles!) I recently edited a manuscript and wanted to take this opportunity to share with you a few of the sentences contained therein... To be honest, I rarely use actual examples like this in my blog -- I have the utmost respect for authors, and for the skill of writing -- but there is an important lesson that needs to be communicated here, particularly for beginning writers: DO NOT WRITE LIKE THIS! There, I've said it; I feel much better now.

    The older woman, more than a foot shorter, enveloped D in welcoming, forgiving arms, leading her carefully, affectionately, lovingly from the room towards the stairs.

    They further helped him to regain a sense of perspective, so recently, dangerously and threateningly warped.

    G noticed that their host sniffed the air suddenly, surreptitiously, seeming to weigh up whether or not to mention something.

    He was flicking doubtfully, dauntedly, through the book.

  • Colleen Lindsay also (virtually) pointed me to an older post (like a year old, but still very much on target) on the subject of "high concept." The blog post was written by Scott Waxman of the Waxman Literary Agency. Just what is "high concept"? Does your book have it? If not, can you conjure it up (i.e. write a book specifically to create a "high concept")? Scott writes: "...I would encourage you to think about three things: 1. it is all in the execution but no one will ever see your execution if your premise doesn't catch their attention; 2. it's hard to be attentive to things we don't recognize on at least some level; and 3. who do you write for? If it's for readers, think about it not as selling out, but about seducing people into your world, giving them a point of entry that lets them feel comfortable. High concept is all about the touch of recognition that makes readers ready to go along on your ride. High concept is about making it easier for people to pick up what you're putting down..." A piece well worth reading, especially if you plan to pitch your new book as "high concept"!

  • Michael Hyatt (@MichaelHyatt) has a well-written blog post entitled "So You Can't Seem to Land an Agent -- Now What?" Michael begins with a brief overview of the industry -- the number of books published versus the number of unpublished manuscripts out there. He then offers "eight concrete actions you can take if you find yourself in this place" -- that is, unable to find a publisher because you need an agent, and unable to acquire an agent because you're not published (read: chicken and egg): 1) Re-evaluate your commitment; 2) Embrace the challenge; 3) Ask for feedback; 4) Revise your proposal; 5) Widen your prospect pool; 6) Build your platform; 7) Resubmit your proposal; and 8) Consider self-publishing. "And finally, don't lose heart." You'll need to read this piece for all the details behind these eight actions. Michael also provides three examples of books that faced many rejections (one as many as 53) before finding a home. (via @RachelleGardner)

  • Speaking of agents...Dean Wesley Smith continues his blog series on "Killing the Sacred Cows of Publishing." In this post he specifically covers the topic "Agents Knowing Markets" [or lack there of]. What is of real importance here are the comments -- more than 100 as of this writing. If you are a new writer in particular, or a writer who is having some professional difficulties with your existing agent, then you'll want to read this post as well as the comments. In fact, one could consider these comments alone a pro course on agents.

  • Author Cherie Priest talks about what authors do -- and do not -- have control over in the publishing process. If you are a new author, and in particular, new to the publishing process, you may be surprised what little control authors have. If these are truly issues for you, then you may want to pursue your publishing career within the small presses, as many of them tend to yield more control to the author. What authors typically have absolutely no say in whatsoever: the cover, the book's cost, size and format, distribution, quality control, digital availability, schedule, foreign availability, and turning the book into a movie. For details on each of these, you'll need to read Cherie's post.

  • Craig Morgan Teicher (@cteicher) at eBOOKNEWSER (a spinoff of has begun a series on "The Making of an eBook," in which "[I] will follow the process a small publisher goes through to turn a manuscript into an eBook.... from coding to uploading to marketing. And I'll talk to other presses to learn more about their challenges and hopes." Teicher is a poet and fiction writer, and his forthcoming book of stories and fables, Cradle Book, will be published by BOA Editions. He had requested that the publisher also make the book available as an ebook, but the publisher stated that the budget wasn't there and they were still testing the ebook waters with a couple of their titles. So, Teicher decided to investigate the ebook process himself.

    Teicher has now added additional
    Parts to this post -- Parts 2, 2.5, and 3 (scroll down for the earlier parts). I had hoped for more progress by this point (two weeks), but obviously the author has other responsibilities in addition to turning his fiction collection into an ebook. I know: patience, patience...

  • Author @WarrenEllis posts the POD/PDF sales numbers on his nonfiction collection Shivering Sands. As there was no marketing/PR done for this title, Warren seems to be fairly satisfied given that the book was released on November 4, only three months ago. Be sure to read the comments as Warren adds to the discussion.

  • Author Marc Laidlaw thinks "book trailers are dumb. Partly it's due to the fact that most are badly done... partly it's that the experience of watching a trailer is nothing like reading a book. A movie's trailer at least gives you scenes from the movie it advertises. A book trailer gives you nothing of the experience, which is that of reading a written word." He goes on to suggest an alternative form of book trailer: "What I'd like to see is something closer to a written trailer -- a heavily edited, chopped-up, artfully scattered and rearranged, breathless set of passages from the book itself. Stray sentences, evocative names, intriguing set-pieces -- spoiler free, or at least extremely misleading. Something that gives you the flavor, the scent of a book; sentences that convince you that you've got to dive in and find them in context." And in a follow-on blog post he provides a written "text trailer" for John Cheever's Bullet Park. (via Jeffrey Ford)

  • I don't watch American Idol, but if I understand correctly, an elderly contestant on the January 13 show performed a song called "Pants on the Ground." Why do I bring this up? Because in my November Links and Things post I included a vid link to Jimmy Fallon impersonating Neil Young performing "The Prince of Bel-Air." And, not to be outdone by American Idol, Fallon once again impersonates Neil Young, only this time he performs -- you guessed it -- "Pants on the Ground." If you are familiar with Neil Young's music, circa the 1970s, then you'll appreciate Fallon's phrasing on this song, how he ends the song on a single word, even his harmonica playing. Bravo! is all I can say, being a huge Neil Young fan. Fallon's performance is worthy of a standing ovation! Enjoy.

  • Speaking of music and early performances, here is a rare 1957 photograph of The Beatles: George Harrison age 14; John Lennon age 16; Paul McCartney age 15 -- gawd, their just babies!

  • My brother-in-law passed away last year... we spent hours the weekend after his funeral trashing the house, his records, his online files, trying to find user IDs, passwords, bank account information -- most to no avail. His son was now executor of the estate, but he had no information whatsoever. From the months of bills that had piled up we were able to determine most of the bank and credit card accounts, to which his son would now have to present a death certificate in order to gain access. Having the IDs and passwords sure would have made life simpler, especially since their time-share property had gone into foreclosure, and also a credit card company was calling, pestering for payment. The Washington Post, in a very revealing article entitled "Web sites let online lives outlast the dearly departed," discusses just this type of situation and describes new dot-com companies that meet these, and other, needs.

  • And lastly, I will end this month's wrap-up with this recent [December] announcement from NASA: "Many of the biggest achievements in aeronautics research are chronicled in books rich with detail, personal stories, surprising twists of fate and revolutionary discoveries that have influenced the experience of flight for millions of people. These books are now being converted for download and use on digital reading devices such as the Kindle, SONY Reader and, eventually, the nook." Currently, NASA has the following e-book available for free download: X-15: Extending the Frontiers of Flight by Dennis R. Jenkins; the e-book is available in Kindle and SONY editions now, with the nook to follow. Here's the blurb for the book itself: "The X-15 was the ultimate 'X' vehicle. Built in the 1950s, she became the fastest and highest-flying winged aircraft of its time. During 199 flights from 1959 through 1968, she collected data about hypersonic flight that was invaluable to aeronautics and to developers of the space shuttle. This book describes the genesis of the program, the design and construction of the aircraft, years of research flights and the experiments that flew aboard them." A few of the flights hit an altitude of 50 miles or more, thus qualifying the pilots for astronaut status. Very cool. Thanks, NASA! (via @mikecane)

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  1. Having received it at World Fantasy Con, I started reading Magestrum over the weekend. Delightful read so far, and stumbling across your name in the front matter was a fun surprise. Thanks for the great links in this post!
    -J. Daniel Sawyer

  2. Hi, Dan,

    Yes, the swag bags at the World Fantasy Con contained a variety of first editions courtesy of Night Shade Books. Titles by Greg Egan, Matthew Hughes, Mark Teppo, and Walter Jon Williams were just a few that I had seen. Glad you are enjoying Majestrum. And I hope you find some of the links listed here useful.

    - marty