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Results 1 - 16 of 16
1. Lessons From Hollywood: Never Marry Someone In The Same Industry As You

We’ve all seen A Star is Born, right?

Aspiring actress meets established alcoholic actor whose career is on the downward turn. He helps her get her break. They fall in love and get married. She gets more famous as he gets drunker and less famous. She tries to help him unalcoholify.1 He fears that he is holding her back and goes for swim in the Pacific Ocean. A very long swim.

Moral: there can only be one! No marriage can support two actors or two writers or two artists or two anything that can lead to fame. THERE CAN ONLY BE ONE FAMOUS ONE IN A RELATIONSHIP! Otherwise there will be long non-returning swims in the ocean. And tearful declarations of undying love from the one who doesn’t go for a swim as the credits roll.

There’s the 1937 version, the 1954 version, and the 1976 version.2 Then there’s What Price Hollywood? from 1934, which is the exact same movie except instead of the swim the washed-up actor shoots himself.

My favourite is the 1954 version because JUDY GARLAND! The singing! The emoting! The clothes! It is hilariously divine. Though it defies anyone’s imagination that anyone could ever fall in love with James Mason. I mean, come on, the guy is super creepy. He was born to play super creepy bad guys, not heroes. Even washed-up alcoholic loser actor husband heroes. In 1954 I would have cast Robert Mitchum even though he was way too hung, er, I mean, young. Just because I really like young Robert Mitchum. Oh, okay, how about Henry Fonda. Can you imagine? No, me neither. How about Jimmy Stewart? Actually, Jimmy Stewart would have been perfect. Think of his performance in Vertigo. Totally neurotic and unhinged. Not sure there would have been much chemistry with Garland but, hey, there was zero chemistry between her and Mason so it could hardly be worse.

Wow. Now I want to recast all my favourite films that have casting issues. Oh, oh, oh! Dorothy Dandridge as Maria in West Side Story. She was too young enough! She still looked plenty young in her 30s. And unlike Natalie Wood she could sing.

*cough* I digress.

Where was I?

Right. The lesson from this much re-versioned3 film. Never get involved with someone who’s in your industry. Only one of you can be successful. There has never—in the history of the world—been a couple who were both well-known in their industry and had a happy marriage. Seriously I am sitting here trying to think of a single example and I’m failing.

Well, phew. I’d hate to think that anything I learned from Hollywood was not true.

If you feel the urge to name some of these non-existent couples you’re only allowed to pick dead ones. Or at least one of them dead. Otherwise they will break up within the week. Please, no jinxing happy relationships! Not that there are any happy artistic relationships.

  1. Yes, that’s a real word. Oh, hush.
  2. They tried really hard to get Elvis Presley rather than Kris Kristofferson. Can you imagine? Maybe he wouldn’t have died in 1977 if he’d starred in it. Or maybe he would have died sooner. We’ll never know.
  3. I can too make words mean anything I want them to mean.

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2. On Getting Notes From First Readers

As I may have mentioned, once or twice, I recently finished the first draft of my Sekrit Project novel. And, yay verily, I was full of joy. There was dancing. Bouncing. Happiness and even more joy.

After the joy I spent a few days tinkering with it, fixing the egregiously rubbishy bits, adding things that needed adding, moving chapters around. As you do.

Then I sent it off to my wondrous, fabulous, worth-more-than-their-weight-in-mangosteens-and-other-precious-things first readers.

Then I kicked back and watched loads of Olympics and blogged and did many things that have nothing to do with Sekrit Project. And there was more joy.

After a week there was still some joy on account of OLYMPICS OH HOW I LOVE THE OLYMPICS but there was also creeping OMG THEY ALL HATE IT WHY HASN’T ANYONE GOTTEN BACK TO ME ABOUT IT NOT EVEN MY OWN HUSBAND IS IT REALLY THAT BAD thoughts.

Then yesterday one of my readers got back to me. She liked it! PHEW.1

But more importantly Meg had really smart, useful notes for me. And I got to talk with someone who was not me about Sekrit Project and most especially about the second half of the book and the ending.2

I think I got a little giddy. It was such a pleasure to finally talk about it. Poor Meg. I plied her with a million and one questions. And she answered them all for me in really useful ways. I have a much better idea of what is and isn’t working and how to fix it. Scott also came through with notes on the first half of the book. There was bouncing and dancing.

Both Meg and Scott’s notes were full of questions about character’s motivations, aspects of the worldbuilding that didn’t make sense to them, why certain things happen when they do and so on. Questions that make me realise that I had not achieved what I thought I had. All too often the book was too subtle, too opaque, too confusing. All of which I am now brimming with ideas for how to fix.

This world and people I have created changes once other people have seen them. Meg and Scott’s comments and questions have changed how I see them too. I love this part. I love how it gives me a million and one ideas for making the book better.

Have I mentioned that rewriting is my favourite part of the writing process? This is why.

I know there are lots of writers who can figure out all this stuff for themselves. But I really depend on feedback. I need to know how readers respond to what I’ve written because all too often what I think is there is not there. And I can’t discover that by reading and rewriting my book over and over again. I can’t do it alone.

So now I can rewrite to deal with all those problems and work towards the general embetterment of the book. And once that’s done I send it off to my agent. Then when both she and I are happy it gets sent out to editors. Who will in turn send me their own notes.

At least that is how I do it.

Trust me, every writer has their own methods. Some never show anyone anything other than their agent and editor. Some talk constantly about their book and what happens in it as they write and have several people read it as they go along. Some, like me, only let people read it once they have a complete draft. Some have everyone in the world read it and comment. Others none.

Whatever works for you is how to do it.

  1. Yes, no matter how many books I’ve written I am always nervous about how the people whose opinions I value most will respond to my latest one especially in its raw state.
  2. Usually as I write the first draft I read chapters out loud to scott every three or four days. But this time he only got to hear the first half because he was overseas while I wrote the second half and totally rewrote the first half and he has not yet finished reading the complete draft.

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3. Seven Years of Freelancery + CBCA Shortlisting + Debut Novel

NOTE: I am in Sydney, Australia where it is already April Fool’s Day. However, my blog is set to NYC time cause I was too lazy to change it.

- – -

April Fool’s is the day I began my career as a full-time freelance writer. Back in 2003, having sold only one short story, I took the completely insane plunge. The first year did not go well, but since then it’s mostly worked out great. I’ve been very lucky indeed.

For my own benefit some stats:

    Books sold: 81
    Books published: 72
    Countries books have been sold in: 153
    Countries said books have been written in: 64
    Published words: 400,000 (Guestimate.)
    Books written but not sold: 25
    Books started but not finished: 32 (Guestimate.)
    Ideas collected: 2,372,456 (Precise measurement. I have an ideaometer.)

This week, as if in celebration of my seven years of freelancery, I discovered that Liar has been shortlisted for the Children’s Book Council of Australia’s 2010 Book of the Year. I fell over I was so shocked.

Let me explain: For those of you who did not grow up in Australia, the CBCA awards are the most prestigious and longest established awards for young readers in Australia. USians: think Newbery. As a kid I would read the award winners and most of the shortlisted books every year. When I was nine I wrote a letter to the editor I was so indignant that the latest Patricia Wrightson6 book had not been considered for a CBCA because the judges decided that it was too old.7 Nine year old me’s head would have exploded to learn that one day something I wrote was going to be shortlisted for a CBCA. Frankly, the me of 2010’s head is not exactly in one piece having learned the news.

*Heh hem*

Congrats to everyone else on the shortlists and to the notables as well, which include my partner in crime, Scott Westerfeld8 and many, many, many other wonderful writers.

Today is also the day Karen Healey’s first novel, Guardian of the Dead is published in Australia, New Zealand and the US of A. Set in New Zealand, NOT AUSTRALIA AS SO MANY MISGUIDED USIAN REVIEWERS SEEM TO THINK,9 Guardian is one of the most original and unputdownable novel debuts I’ve read in ages. In fact, I was just discussing how cool it is with Melina Marchetta. How could you not buy a book that Melina Marchetta is recommending? I’m not going to tell you anything more about the book except that you should all run out and grab a copy. RIGHT NOW. OR I’LL JUST KEEP SHOUTING AT YOU. AND NO ONE WANTS TO BE SHOUTED AT.

That’s all. Happy April Fool’s day! Don’t believe a word anyone tells you today.

  1. One non-fiction tome, two anthologies, five young adult novels.
  2. 8 in September
  3. Australia, Brazil, Denmark, France, Germany, Indonesia, Italy, Japan, Korea, the Netherlands, Spain, Taiwan, Thailand, Turkey and USA.
  4. Argentina, Australia, Italy, Mexico, New Zealand, Thailand and USA.
  5. One I hope will be some day. The other NEVER.
  6. Who was my favourite write in the entire world and died recently. A sad day for Australian letters.
  7. 2 Comments on Seven Years of Freelancery + CBCA Shortlisting + Debut Novel, last added: 4/2/2010
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4. I’ll Know I’ve Made it as a Writer When . . .

. . . I finish a whole manuscript.

. . . I learn how to rewrite that whole manuscript.

. . . I get five/ten/fifteen/one hundred/etc rejection letters from real-life agents.

. . . I knuckle down and rewrite the book again. And again. And again. Etc.

. . . I get a request for the whole manuscript from a real-life agent.

. . . I get an agent.

. . . I get five rejections from publishers.

. . . I get ten rejections from publishers. (Would you believe twenty rejections? How about thirty? One hundred? One thousand? One million?)

. . . I start writing my second/third/fourth/fifth/etc book despite the fact that the first/second/third/fourth etc book hasn’t sold yet.

. . . I get an offer from a publisher.

. . . the deal is announced in Publishers Lunch.

. . . I get my first real editorial letter.

. . . I have my first hissy fit about my first editorial letter.

. . . I knuckle down and rewrite the book.

. . . I get my second real editorial letter.

. . . I have my second hissy fit about my second editorial letter.

. . . I knuckle down and rewrite the book. Again.

. . . (And repeat. Or not. Depending.)

. . . I get my first copyedit.

. . . I have my first hissy hit about my first copyedit. (Only robots speak without contractions! “Me and LJ” is how my character would say it NOT “LJ and I” because my character is not the FREAKING QUEEN OF FREAKING ENGLAND!)

. . . I get my first ARC (Advanced Readers Copy) of my very own book with my name on the front and EVERYTHING. Oh my Elvis! It’s real, people. Book by me! *faints*

. . . I get my first page proofs and am overwhelmed by the urge to completely rewrite everything and make the book, you know, ACTUALLY GOOD!! (Also notice that I use the word “actually” way too much and that is BY NO MEANS the only word I use WAY TOO MUCH. Wonder if I have also overused CAPS and italics and exclamation marks!!! Consider getting publisher to cancel book. Actually.)

. . . I get my first good review.

. . . I get my first bad review.

. . . I get my first meh review.

. . . I am enraged by an eleven year old who enjoyed my book but wished it was as good as [redacted]‘s bestselling piece of [redacted] about [redacted].

. . . I get my first box full of my own finished actually TRULY REALLY book what I have written MYSELF!!!

. . . I open said book on a page with a typo of “actualy” and the CAPS and italics in the wrong places.

. . . I realise that it is the last book in the entire world I wish to read.

. . . I go to my local bookshop and there is my book in a real actual book shop.

. . . I get a query from my publisher wondering where my next book is.

. . . I miss a deadline.

. . . I miss two/three/four/five/etc deadlines.

. . . I get my first query from Hollywood which goes nowhere.

. . . I am sent on tour to promote my book.

. . . I bitch and moan about being sent on tour to promote my book.

. . . I am not sent on tour.

. . . I bitch and moan about not being sent on tour to promote my book.

. . . I get my very first fan letter. Someone read and enjoyed my book enough to write to me! Best. Day. Ever.

. . . the fan letters I get make me cry because they are so moving.

. . . the fan letters I get make me cry because they are so illiterate.

. . . I get more fan letters than I could ever possibly answer.

. . . I become a New York Times bestseller.

. . . I am disappointed when my next book only reaches no. 8 on the New York Times bestseller list.

. . . I am not a New York Times bestseller.

. . . I think about killing those entitled bastards who whinge about their books only getting to no. 8 on the New York Times bestseller list.

. . . I quit my dayjob.

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5. Writing to the Market

Last week I very much meant to respond to Sam X’s comment on my post about becoming a brand versus writing what you want to write but last week was crazy busy. Plus I soon realised my thoughts were many and it was going to have to be its own post.

Here’s part of what Sam X said:

Still, I think there is a bit of a complication in what you wrote. “…whether you’re writing for yourself or writing as your job: write the books you want to write.” Writing as your job does require at least a token thought to the story’s marketability, and perhaps some changes to the overall story you’re telling so as to buttress that marketability–in which case it’s not purely the invention of your imagination, but a combination of that and market concessions.

I don’t think that’s a bad thing, simply a factor that needs to be understood when critiquing stories. Yet it does take a little away from the romantic notion of simply writing what you want. But you’re a working writer: Maybe you can illuminate this for us?

What I didn’t make clear in that post was that I was largely addressing people who aren’t published yet. As it’s mostly amongst aspiring-to-be-published writers that I see these conversations taking place. I truly think it’s a total waste of time for any writer—published or not—to be worrying about whether they should concentrate on “being a brand” but it’s especially pointless for those who haven’t found their own voice and writing style. Before you’re published is the time to be experimenting and exploring and honing your craft and figuring out what kind of writer you are.1

Once you’re published, yes, there are ways in which you do have to think about the market and whether what you’re writing is commercial or not. If you write a romance with an ending in which the hero and heroine do not get together no romance imprint is going to buy it. But maybe a non-genre fiction imprint will. There could still be an editor out there who adores your book. It’s just that what you’ve written is not a romance.

Which is to say that once you’ve written your book or proposal and it’s as good as it can be is when you and your agent should start thinking about who will be a good fit for it. If it goes out and no one bites then you start thinking about whether you can change it to make it more commercial. Maybe you can engineer it so heroine and hero get together at the end and thus find a home for it at a romance house.

When I say “commercial” I simply mean “will sell”. What is or isn’t commercial is not a static thing. When I was writing Liar, which has a deeply unreliable narrator, who keeps changing her story, and is, um, prickly and is a book that does not have a clear-cut ending I was convinced it was deeply uncommercial. I worried that my publishers were going to hate it and would end the contract and demand the advance back. To date it’s my bestselling novel. So what do I know?

Zombies versus Unicorns was done as a lark. I never thought it would sell as well as it did. Anthologies notoriously don’t sell well and are more a prestige kind of publishing project. I suspect the draw of Holly Black’s name had a lot to do with ZvU‘s success. Not to

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6. Getting Started

I have a writing problem which is shared by many writers: I struggle to get started.

I wrote about this problem a bit way back in 2009 when I confessed to almost destroying my professional writing career before it even started. The first six months of being a full-time freelance writer was one great big procrastinatory guilt-ridden hell.

Since then I have reigned it in so that it’s only a struggle at the beginning of a first draft.

For the first week or so on a new book it is a major effort for me to look away from whatever online or offline spectacle is calling to me in order to start typing. I’ll have the open scrivener project with the initial idea jotted down. Girl who always lies. And I’ll think, well, do I know enough about lying? Maybe I should look up what recent research there’s been? So I do that. Then I accidentally look at twitter. Or someone’s blog where a flamewar has started. Then my twenty minute break reminder will buzz. So I have to get up and stretch and someone will text me and I’ll realise we haven’t chatted in ages and call them. And as I walk around the flat chatting I’ll realise that I haven’t emptied the dishwasher and once it’s emptied I have to load it with the dirties. And then I’ll be hungry and have to make second breakfast and in doing so I’ll notice that some of the parsley in the garden is going to flower and I’ll pick those bits and kill some bugs and check for weeds and make sure the passionfruit isn’t growing over to our next door neighbour’s deck. And then I’ll realise we need pine nuts for the dinner we’re going to make so I have to up to the shops.

And like that. At which point the sun will be setting and it’s time to down tools and I’ll have written precisely no words of the new novel I swore I’d start that day.

The next day there’ll be more of the same. And that will keep on until for some miraculous reason I start typing actual words that turn into actual coherent sentences of novel-ness.

The next day the struggle will be a little bit less bad and every day will be better than the day before until I’m on a roll and the novel is actually being written.

By the time I’m heading to the climax and then the end of the book it’s really hard to not write.

It goes like that unless I take a break for a holiday, or get sick, or for some other reason stop work for four days or more. When I return to the book it’s as if I’m starting all over again. Aargh! It takes several days, sometimes more than a week, to get back into the swing again. Drives me nuts.

I have developed several methods of dealing with this annoying tendency of mine.

Procrastination is good

The first is to simply accept that procrastinating is part of my process. Often I’m unable to get started on a new novel because I’m not ready. I haven’t found the way in: the right voice, the right setting, the right starting point. I haven’t done enough research. All that futzing around is me finding a way in. It’s necessary and without it I can’t write my novels.

Though sometimes I’m just flat out wasting time. RSI has meant that I do way less of that online. I consider that to be a blessing because it pushes me out to the garden or out of the house altogether a lot more often. Nothing better for thinking things through than being away from my computer. Long walks, I love you.

Research

Not having done enough research is often the reason why I can’t get started. I need to know more about that world and those characters and what their problem is.

Before I could really get going with Liar I had to find out a lot more about lying. Why people lie, what kinds of lies they tell, the difference between compulsive and pathological lying.

Same with the 1930s New York City novel. I needed to know so much more about the city back then, about the USA back then, about how the USA wound up where it was in the early 1930s. So the idea kicked around for quite a long time before I could write anything down.

Sometimes a novel springs from research I don’t realise I’m doing. I’ll be reading a non-fiction book or listening to a fascinating radio show or see a great documentary and it will give me a great idea. That’s how my sekrit project novel, what I just finished first draft of, got started.1

Many books at once

I have learned to always jot down new ideas. For me they’re rarely ideas, per se, more often they’re a fragment or beginning. That way I always have a novel to turn to when I’m stuck on the one I’m supposed to be writing.

The first words I wrote of Liar are:

I’m a liar. I don’t do it on purpose. Well, okay, yeah, I do. But it’s not like I have a choice. It’s just what comes out of my mouth. If my mouth is closed then I’m cool, no lies at all.

That did not make it into the book. I don’t even know whose voice that is. It’s not that of Micah, Liar‘s protagonist. But I jotted that down in 2005 as the first spark of the book that was published as Liar two years later.

At the time I had already started, but not finished, the book that was to become How To Ditch Your Fairy and was on deadline to finish Magic Lessons, the second book in the Magic or Madness trilogy. I was also hard at work on the Daughters of Earth anthology. It was not a good time to start a new book, but I was stuck on Magic Lessons: so the day before it was due with my US publisher I started writing HTDYF.

Yes, I was a bit late with Magic Lessons. From memory, I think I was no more than two weeks late, which is not too bad. Starting HTDYF when I did meant that after I’d sent off the first draft of Magic Lessons I could get back to work on it. And in between ML rewrites and copyedits and proofs and having to write the last book in the trilogy I kept going back to it. It was a wonderful respite from what I was supposed to be writing.2

Turns out that what works best for me is to always have more than one novel on the go. Right at this moment I have recently finished the first draft of my sekrit project novel. But I have ten other novels that I’ve started, ranging from the 1930s New York City novel, which is more than 100,000 words long, to a rough idea for a novel of 126 words.

If I get stuck with the book I planned to work on I turn to one of the other books. Often I’m writing back and forth on several different books at once until one of them takes off. Sometimes I’m totally unable to decide and poll my blog readers or ask my agent or Scott. That’s how I went with Liar back in 2007 and put down the lodger novel and the plastic surgery novel both of which I know I’ll get back to some day. Actually I got back to the lodger one a few years ago before it was swamped by the 1930s NYC novel and then Team Human.

If I get an idea for a new book I always jot it down no matter where I am with the main novel I’m working on. Sometimes that novel takes over. The novel I just finished came to me very strongly a year ago when I was feeling overwhelmed by the sprawling NYC 1930s novel which had just hit 100,000 words with no visible sign of ending. I hadn’t, in fact, gotten up to what I thought would be the book’s first incident. ONE HUNDRED THOUSAND WORDS and I wasn’t at what I thought was the beginning. AARGH. In my panic I started a whole other novel.3

In conclusion: There may be a good reason you can’t get started. Procrastination can be your friend. It’s okay to flibbertigibbet from one novel to another and back again and then to another and so on. Other writers will have other solutions and processes. Do whatever it is that works best for you.4 Zombies should not, in fact, be added to all stories. Just the ones that need zombies.

  1. It’s a sekrit project for no particular reason. I just really enjoy having sekrit projects. Makes me feel like a spy. What? I get to have fun!
  2. That’s one of the many reasons I don’t like writing books under contract. A contract for one book just makes all the uncontracted novel ideas seem that much more shiny.
  3. Co-incidentally, or not really, me and Sarah Rees Brennan started writing Team Human at another point when I was overwhelmed by the NYC novel. I suspect there will be one or two more other novels before I finish the damn thing.
  4. Unless it involves hurting anyone.

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7. Fan v Pro

The discussion in the fanfic post got me thinking about the differences between writing to make a living, as I do, and writing solely for fun.

Many people in that thread talked about how writing fanfic was a learning experience that prepared them for becoming a professional writer. And there’s no doubt that that’s how fanfic has worked for many pros. However, the vast majority of writers of fanfic not only don’t become pros, they have no desire to do so. They write fanfic for a variety of reasons: fun, community, because writing is something they can’t not do and so on—they don’t do it as some kind of apprenticeship for becoming a “real” writer.

I know professional writers who also write fanfiction. So clearly it’s fulfilling a need that their paid writing isn’t. I also do a lot of unpaid writing. You’re reading some of it right now. Often I enjoy writing posts here more than writing novels.

Or, rather, I have a much less stressful relationship to this writing than I do to my novel writing because there’s not much riding on this blog, whereas my ability to pay my rent, buy food, stay in the profession that I love is tied up in the novels I write. Sometimes it takes awhile to push that stuff aside and just write. For me blogging is a relaxation; writing novels is an economic necessity.

Which is not to say that it can’t be fun. It can. I wouldn’t swap my job for any other job in the world. I love it. But it’s still my job and comes with all the stresses that any job has, including anxiety about losing said job.

Not everyone who spends a lot of time writing wants to be a professional writer. Frankly, I think that’s sensible. It’s very hard to make a living as a professional writer. Even if you do manage it’s just as hard to make it a sustainable career. I know lots of writers who’ve been able to support themselves for a year or two or four or ten but then demand for their work dwindle, fashion in the publishing world changes. In the 80s horror was huge, now not so much. YA’s big right now but who knows were it will be in ten years. Romance is pretty much always the biggest selling genre and yet it has the lowest advances. I know of romance writers with multiple bestselling books who only get around 20k per book.

The majority of pro novelists, who are making a living, write a book a year. Many write two or three or four a year. For many writers that’s an impossible pace to sustain and it can suck the fun right out of the writing. There are lots of reasons for not making writing your main profession. Most of the published writers I know are not full-time. Many of them claim to be happier that way.

When writing becomes your full time job it completely changes your relationship to writing. It becomes a business. You can’t wait for your muse to show up. You have to force it when you’re not in the mood. You have to meet deadlines. You have to think about whether there’s a market for what you want to write. You can’t just write whatever you feel like unless you happen to be lucky enough to have a market for what you feel like writing.

In which case you’re probably Nora Roberts. Lucky duck!

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8. Why I Love Strange Horizons

Since everyone else is professing their love for Strange Horizons and urging folks to support their fund raising efforts I thought that I would jump on the band wagon. What can I say? I’m a sheep.

Like Scalzi and Nora, my first fiction sale was to Strange Horizons way back in 2001. At the time I had been trying to sell one of my short stories for just about a gazillion years. I thought it would never happen. So I would love them for that alone. But that is not even close to the best thing about Strange Horizons I love it and read it because it is a breath of fresh air in the stale and fusty world of adult genre. N. K. Jemisin puts it this way:

I love the speculative fiction genre, but it’s sick.1 Not dying—that’s crap—but not healthy either. The problem is societal, but because SF is the genre of society’s idealism, the symptoms of the sickness tend to be more visible here than in mainstream fiction. The cure for this sickness is, IMO, for the genre to take some collective purgative and restorative measures, like jettisoning old business models that don’t work and old attitudes that are actively harmful, and try something new.

SH represents this newness. They’re a new-paradigm speculative fiction market in every sense of the word: online not print; nonprofit not commercial; collaborative and not One Single Editor’s vision; weekly not monthly/quarterly/whenever the people involved get around to it. They actively seek out voices within the SF community that don’t get heard enough, whether those voices be newbies or PoC or writers from non-Western countries or literary writers or socialists or whatever. The fact that they’ve managed to stick around this long, in an era when SF magazines are dropping like flies, speaks volumes to me about the sustainability of their model. They offer a desired service to the community, ergo they’re still in business. And the fact that their authors (and the magazine itself) keep winning awards speaks to the quality of their work.

This, to me, is what an SF magazine should be and do.

I love Strange Horizons‘ diversity—in all senses of that word. So many adult genre anthos and magazines are the same voices over and over again. I quit reading them. I never know what I’m going to get when I read SH. That goes for the fiction as well as the non-fiction. It really is the best.

Do I think it’s perfect? No. For obvious reasons I wish they did a better job covering the world of Young Adult and children’s as well as manga and graphic novels. However, I’m well aware that they are an entirely volunteer organisation and they can’t do everything and what they do they do better than any other publication out there.

Bless you, Strange Horizons.

  1. I actually don’t think the whole genre is sick. I agree that the adult literary wing of the genre is in trouble. Children’s and YA are doing great, manga and graphic novels ditto.

1 Comments on Why I Love Strange Horizons, last added: 8/19/2009
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9. What’s Age Got to Do with It?

Why do so many people have an obsession with how old people are when they make art?

Hmmm. I think that sentence demands a bit more context. I keep seeing comments like, “OMG, Buffy is amazing and Joss Whedon was only in his early 30s when he first created it.” Or Arthur Rimbaud was one of the most influential French poets ever and he quit writing when he was 19!”

There must be something wrong with me cause I think, “So what?”

Either the art is good or it isn’t. Who care how old the person was who created. Doesn’t make it any better.

Not to mention that there’s an argument that the only reason people are still talking about Arthur Rimbaud is because he wrote all his poetry before he was nineteen. According to this argument his work was amazing for a teenager and that’s the only reason we remember him today. Well, that, and his truly crazy life, which makes for astonishingly entertaining biographies.1 And the fact that his lover, Paul Verlaine, was a one-man publicity campaign, who would not shut up about Rimbaud’s supposed genius.

*Heh hem* I digress. Is Buffy the Vampire Slayer amazing because Joss Whedon was only in his early thirties2 when he started working on it or is it amazing because it’s amazing?3 I say it’s simply amazing and Whedon’s age is irrelevant.4

If a book or a poem or a movie or a computer game or a painting or whatever blows you away why does it matter how old the person was when they made it?5 If they were 62 does it stop being amazing? How about 72? If they were only 20 does that make it more amazing? Why? Explain to me cause I don’t get it.

Some people write their best work when they’re young. Some when they’re old. Some when they’re middle aged. Some are pretty consistent throughout their career. Some, like Georgette Heyer, have mixed careers, dotted with marvellous and indifferent work throughout. No matter how old you are you can only do the best you can at that momet in time. Not to mention that no matter how old you are, what you think is your best work, others may think is your worst.6

I think what bothers me about this constant, “OMG this book is amazing! And the author was only 12!” is that it undercuts the idea that those of us who make a living writing (or creating other art) work really hard at and strive to improve. It feed into the myth of genius, of someone just producing great work full blown out of no where, without an apprenticeship, without any hard yakka, or learning, or improving. I happen not to believe in genius. I don’t believe art comes out of nowhere.

I do, however, understand the feeling of panic when you realise that, say, Georgette Heyer’s first novel was published when she was a teenager. By the time she was fifty years old she’d published close to 40 novels. Many of my favourite writers have prodigious and enviable outputs. Patricia Highsmith for one. I still haven’t read all her novels and short stories. Diana Wynne Jones has also published an astonishing number of wonderful books and they keep coming. Yay! On the other hand, Octavia Butler, Jean Rhys and Angela Carter have a relatively small volume of work. All of which I treasure and clutch to my chest. My favourite Jean Rhys novel, Wide Sargasso Sea, was published when she was in her seventies. If I can write half so well when I’m in my seventies, well, I’ll be very happy indeed.

I do envy writers like Wynne Jones and Heyer. I’ve published five novels, but my odds of writing another thirty-five before I turn fifty are, well, forget about it. Or even before I’m seventy. I’m not a super fast writer. I was able to keep up the one-novel-a-year pace for five years and in those years I was trying to write two a year. But next year there’ll be no new novel from me. I doubt I’ll ever write as fast as one a year again. But I have just as many ideas as I ever did. Sometimes I freak out realising that I may not live to write them all.7

But never for very long. Because, honestly, there are other things I’m more worried about not doing before I die. Like spending enough time with the people I love. Doing as much good as I can. Watching my friends’ children grow up. Eating more mangosteens. Stuff like that.

  1. I recommend the Edmund Wilson one. No, I haven’t read it. But, hey, Edmund Wilson.
  2. And when did accomplishing something in your early thirties make you a prodigy? Please.
  3. Except for those of who don’t think it was amazing.
  4. Except for all of season seven, and too much of seasons four, five and six, which are the opposite of amazing.
  5. For the purposes of this rant, I’m ignoring the fact that many works of art are not created by a single person—Whedon did not make Buffy alone—especially not movies or television or computer games.
  6. I think the best novel I’ve written is the first novel I wrote. It’s unpublished.
  7. You know when I’m not freaking out about this world I live in melting into the sea.

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10. Writing Goals Redux

A while ago I posted about my writing goals. I updated it a year ago with the publication of How To Ditch Your Fairy. But now I have published Liar which is in a whole new genre and allows me to cross even more off my lists.

My goals are not stuff like Become NYT Bestselling Author or Win Nobel Prize. Winning prizes and making bestseller lists is not something I can control, but I can control what I write. So that’s what my goals are about. Simple, really.

First the genres:

  • Romance
  • Historical
  • Crime (what some call mysteries)
  • Thriller)
  • Fantasy
  • SF
  • Comedy
  • Horror
  • Mainstream or litfic (you know, Literature: professor has affair with much younger student in the midst of mid-life crisis)
  • Western
  • Problem novel
  • YA

The publication of Liar allows me to knock three genres off that list. Though cheatingly I only just added one of them—problem novel. What? It’s my list! I can add to it if I want whenever I want. I could have added unreliable narrator and pretended it was a genre, too, you know. But I didn’t.

All I have left is western, historical and litfic. I’m writing an historical right now. The western is still aways off but will definitely happen. I also have a couple of ghost stories in mind so horror will also get knocked off. I don’t think I’ll ever manage litfic. Unless you think I can claim Liar as litfic? If more than one of you says I can then I’m crossing it off.

I’m also aiming to publish books that use the following povs:

  • First person
  • Second person
  • Third person limited
  • Omniscient

Why, yes, Liar does allow me to cross off another one: second person. Go, me! And the 1930s novel makes much use of omniscient. I will conquer the entire list! W00t!

And the last list:

  • Standalone
  • Trilogy
  • Series

Which sadly remains unaltered because Liar is a standalone. But I suspect the 1930s novel is a series. Though it might just be another trilogy, which would be really annoying.

My happiness at crossing stuff of my list is great. What have youse lot been crossing off your writing goal lists?

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11. What Novel I Wrote Next

Searching for something else entirely, I stumbled across this old post from March 2007 where I asked my faithful readers to help me choose what to write next. I decided it would be fun to do an update. Fun for me, anyways.1

First on the list of possibilities is this one:

The compulsive liar book narrated by a—you guessed it—compulsive liar. Downside: will involve lots of outlining. I hates outlining. Plus it’s going to be so hard! Upside: whenever I mention this one folks get very excited.

Sound familiar? Why, yes, it’s the book I wrote next: Liar which published in September this year. As it happens it involved no outlining at all. But I was right it was hard. Much harder than I knew at the time. It also generated more excitement than I anticipated.

The other now completed item on the list was this one:

Try to write a short story. I’ve had a brain wave for completely transforming a story of mine that’s never worked into one that will. It involves making the ending not suck (why did I not think of that before?!) and setting it a couple hundred years ahead of where it’s set now. It involves no research. Downside: I suck at short stories. Upside: Not starting from scratch and may lead to an actual good story. That would be cool!

The story was “Thinner than Water”, which was published in 2008 in Love is Hell. You can find a bit more about the story here. Even if I do say so myself it is an actual good story. I’m proud of it. But it was many years work and I think I’ll be sticking to novels from here on out.

I don’t know why the 1930s book isn’t on that list. I was already thinking about writing it in October 2006. Though the specifics didn’t come together until a fortuitous conversation with Cassie Clare in 2007. (Thank you, Cassie!)

The other idea on that list I’ve made a substantial start on is this one:

Protag’s father goes missing presumed dead on account of he and protag’s mum very into each other. Mum is forced to take in a lodger to help pay the mortgage. She advertises for a female uni student but takes in a strange youngish man who has no visible means of support and yet pays the rent on time. He’s gorge and speaks a zillion languages but the seventeen-year old girl protag doesn’t trust him. Her twin brothers (eight years old) almost immediately fall under his sway. I could go on, but it’s just not very pitchable. Alas. Downside: Not very ptichable. Tis one of those books that’s clear in my head but takes months to explain. Sigh. Upside: tis very clear in my head.

I have, in fact, recently resumed work on it. Though as I am at work on many other things that does not mean the lodger novel will be finished any time soon.

Actually none of the other things I’m working on is included on that list. Mostly because I hadn’t thought of them way back then. Which just goes to show you that ideas really are a dime a dozen. Why, I just got a new one yesterday that I’m valiantly struggling against given that I already have four novels on the go. Five would be too many.

It was lovely looking at that list from almost two years ago and realising that in the intervening time I’d written two of them. Novels take ages and for me short stories take even longer. It will be many years before I write all those books. If, indeed, I write them at all. Most likely I’ll forgot about them and move on to other shinier ideas.

Because it’s not about the ideas, it’s about what you do with them. My barely sketched out idea of Liar from early 2007 doe

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12. Guest Post: Varian Johnson on Battling Time Suck

Due to boring circumstances beyond my control, I will not be online much in February. Fortunately I’ve been able to line up a number of stellar guests to fill in for me. Most are writers, but I also thought it would be fun to get some publishing types to explain what it is they do, teach you some more about the industry, and answer your questions, as well as one or two bloggers.

Varian Johnson is not only a wonderful writer—you must read My Life as a Rhombus—he’s also an engineer who builds bridges. Real ones that you can walk or drive on. Why, yes, I am very impressed. Varian’s yet another writer who has a job in a completely unrelated field and still finds time to write novels. I begin to suspect that the one can be very inspiring for the other.1 Though writing at 5AM? Eeek.

- – -

Varian Johnson is the author of My Life as a Rhombus and the forthcoming Saving Maddie. He’s a fairly lazy blogger, though you can find him on Twitter quite a bit. He is also active with The Brown Bookshelf, which he strongly suggests you check out as soon as you finish reading this post.

Varian says:

When Justine asked me to write something for her blog, I immediately said, “Yes.”

Then I said, “What the hell am I thinking? I don’t have time to write a post.”

After spending an hour or so thinking about how I didn’t have time to write a post, I decided to write about exactly that. Making time out of no time. Time management.

Because, Lord knows I’ve dealt with my share of time management issues. For all practical purposes, I have three “jobs”, all of which I’m juggling with varying degrees of success. Among other things:

1. I’m trying to write a new novel (due to my editor in seven months, which may seem like a long time, but as this is the first uncompleted novel I’ve sold, I’ve found myself spending quite a bit of time completely freaking out).

2. I’m teaching a course on Children’s Literature at a small liberal arts university. (Love the students, love the teaching, but the grading . . . grrr. I’d rather eat Lucky Charms.)


Lucky Charms

3. And I happen to also design bridges. (And “bridges” isn’t a metaphor—I mean honest to goodness, concrete and steel structures, like this.)

Of course, I haven’t listed all the other writing-related things I do—promotion for the new book (which hits stores in March—eek!!!), author events, tax stuff, etc. And I have a lovely, beautiful wife that I actually like to see every now and then, and a lawn to maintain, and—well, you get the picture. I have a lot going on.

So, clearly, I should know a few things about time management. Except I don’t. I mean, I have a few tricks that work from time to time, but in general, I often fiddle with my schedule, trying to tweak it just enough so I can make it through the next book without a nervous breakdown / heart attack / dismemberment by axe-wielding wife.

For what it’s worth, this is what I try to do:

SET UP OFFICE HOURS: I write—or at least attempt to write—every morning, at the ungodly hour of 5:00, when I’m the freshest. I type away a bit on my manuscript, answer a few emails, send a few twitter messages, and down a gallon or so of coffee. From 8:00 to 10:00 that night, I wash, rinse, repeat. Ditto for Saturday and Sunday morning

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13. Guest Post: Lauren McLaughlin on Babies & Novels

Due to boring circumstances beyond my control, I will not be online much in February. Fortunately I’ve been able to line up a number of stellar guests to fill in for me. Most are writers, but I also thought it would be fun to get some publishing types to explain what it is they do, teach you some more about the industry, and answer your questions, as well as one or two bloggers.

Today’s blogger, Lauren McLaughlin, is a crazy talented YA writer, who has one of the more unusual backgrounds of all the YA novelists I know. She used to be a Hollywood producer. This means that she has more confidence than anyone else I know and is extraordinarily good at saying “no” and meaning it. She is also one of the most focussed and driven people I’ve known. I am all admiration and awe.

- – -

Lauren McLaughlin is the author of Cycler and (Re)Cycler, both YA novels about a teenage girl who turns into a boy for four days each month. She can be found all over the internet, but tends to materialize most frequently at her blog and
on Twitter. She strongly encourages people to read things for free whenever possible and has thusly provided the first three chapters of Cycler as a free download here.

Lauren says:

Greetings Larbalestians!

The wise and wonderful Justine herself has invited me to occupy some air time on her blog, which I am only too thrilled to do, being a friend, as well as a fan.

I’m still fairly new to the world of publishing, having only published my second novel, (Re)Cycler, in the fall of 2009. But I’m even newer at being a mother, so I thought I’d share some thoughts on what it’s like to be a rookie at these two endeavours.

Novels and babies can both be challenging, but if I had to crown one the Supreme High-Maintenance Pain In The Butt, I’d have to go with the novel. Babies spend the first three months in a semi-vegetative state and have no problem whatsoever about informing you, quite loudly, when they’re in need of something. Novels, on the other hand, never inform you of anything, but rather sit there dumbly while you work your tail off. And only after you’ve invested a week/month/year/lifetime in their progress do they casually scream that you’ve COMPLETELY FAILED AND HAVE TO START OVER!

You can’t start over with babies. They have to adjust.

Also, novels never look up at you in blind dumbstruck love then grab a fistful of your hair and suck it while nuzzling into your shoulder. (I know, it sounds gross. Trust me, it’s transporting.)

Because of deadline pressure, I had to work through the first four months of my daughter’s life. It was difficult at times, squeezing in writing sessions between the frequent feedings and changings, but luckily my husband was around to pick up the slack. And when I turned in that final draft, I took two whole months off, something I’d never done before. In fact, I’d never had more than two weeks in a row off in my life.

It was strange indeed to face each day without a gaping blank page staring back at me. The only thing staring back now was my daughter. And without the pressing need to squeeze four hours of writing into each day, life seemed to open up for us. I could truly focus on her and enjoy our time together without ever feeling crunched.

Alas, after two blissful months of full-time motherhood, my editor delivered her rewrite notes and it was time to be a writer again. But something had changed. My novel was a futuristic story about teenagers and surveillance, and all of a sudden I realized I wasn’t just writing about the future. I was writing about my daughter’s future. My editor, brutal genius that she is, had already done a bang up job of pointing out all the little ways I had failed. And now, I foun

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14. How to Get Published? Don’t Ask Me

There’s a lot of shockingly bad advice about how to get published online. Much of it comes from unpublished people who know nothing about the publishing industry and are bitter about their own inability to get published.1 But some of it is from actual published writers with careers, who have a bug up their arse about the evil of agents, or small presses, or big presses, or whatever, because of a particularly bad experience they’ve had. Or who are coming out of one genre and acting like their advice applies to all genres.2

Then I read this very sensible piece by Jay Lake, which solidified for me something I’ve been trying to say for awhile now, which basically goes like this: before you take someone’s advice pay careful attention to where that person is coming from. Are they qualified to be giving this particular advice?

Now, it’s pretty obvious that if you wish to be published taking advice from some who has never been published is usually not wise. But Jay’s bigger advice is that often taking the advice of someone with a thriving career is also not wise because too many times what they can tell you is how they broke into the field. Problem is that happened ten, fifteen, twenty, thirty, forty years ago and the field has changed since then.

So that when an established writer tells you that you don’t need an agent to get published they’re not lying. Back in the day when they were first published you didn’t. They’re also not lying when they say they continue to be published without an agent. But they’re neglecting to mention that that’s because they are known by those publishers. Someone looking to sell their first novel is not and given that so many of the big publishing houses are closed to submissions an agent is usually a first-time author’s best bet for getting published at a big house.

Any advice I give about getting published has to be taken with a large grain of salt by anyone who isn’t trying to break in to YA in the US. I have no idea how to get published in Australia—even though I’m Australian. I wasn’t published there until after I sold in the US. I still know far more about publishing in the US than I do about my own country. Nor do I know much about any market in the world except YA in the USA. If you’re trying to break into Romance or Crime or Literachure I’m useless to you.

That said, I’m probably not the most useful person to you for breaking into YA in the US either. I know about half a dozen agents well. There are way more reputable ones than that. I follow all the publishing news, far more than most YA writers, but I still don’t know that much about what goes on in those publishing houses and what all the editors are looking for. I know many editors, but I’ve only worked with a handful. You only really know an editor well when you’ve worked with them.

I know I said above that you shouldn’t be taking an unpublished person’s advice, but there are some great blogs by such writers detailing the process of trying to get published, which have very sensible things to say about query letters and the nuts and bolts of submitting to various different publishers when you don’t have an agent. All stuff that I know very little about. I have not written a query letter in a decade. Someone who’s actively trying to get published right now knows way more about query letters than I do.

I can talk about what it’s llike being a journeyman YA author. I can give you an author’s view on how you get published in more than one country and a variety of other topics that have to do with being a YA author with five novels under her belt. But take what I say about breaking into this field with a grain of salt. For that you’ll get better advice from agents and editors and bra

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15. Where to get your work critiqued

Several people have written asking if it’s not kosher to ask pros for help where can they get their work critiqued?

That’s a very good question with many answers.

For most of my years of being unpublished almost no one saw my work.1 Thus I did not improve much. But in the five or so years before publication I started swapping my work with other unpublished writer friends.2 What a difference having a few readers makes!

I was lucky enough to live in big enough cities that finding other beginning writers wasn’t too hard. (Sydney and NYC.) But I know many of you are more isolated than that. Or you’re too shy to admit that you want to be a published writer.3 For you I recommend online critique groups. Personally, I have never tried them because back when I was starting out they didn’t exist. But I know many people who’ve had great experiences with them. The Critters workshop for science fiction & fantasy is one I’ve heard good things about.

Anyone want to share their online critting experiences and/or recommend some good online worshops?

I also know many people whose writing lives have been dramatically changed by going to real life intensive workshops such as Clarion (also for sf & f) which operates in Australia and the US of A. Does anyone have other real life workshops to recommend?

Of course, something like Clarion lasts six weeks and isn’t free. Many people can’t afford that amount of time or money so it’s not going to be possible for everyone. Fortunately most online workshops are free.

And remember that crit groups and workshops don’t work for everyone and that they’re not all created equal. Just as some critique partners will work great for you and others won’t, and that may also vary from story to story.

Please chime in with any other suggestions and recommendations.

Thanks!

  1. For those who don’t know it took me twenty years to get published.
  2. Here’s the story of how I wrote my first novel thanks to my wonderful critique partner Johanne Knowles.
  3. It took me years to admit it to any but my closest friends and family.

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16. Going freelance, an embarrassing tale

I’ve been writing stories since I first learned how to write a sentence. But I did not become a full-time writer until 1 April 2003.1 In those many many years before I became a full-time writer I wrote in between doing other things. In between going to primary school, high school, university, and my various jobs. I’d always have at least two documents open when I was at uni. One was the essay I was supposed to be writing and the other was the story or novel I was writing on the sly. When the going got tough with one I’d switch to the other. Writing was something that I snatched time to do. It was my secret joy and I never had as much time to do it as I wanted.

A while back I solicited opinions on whether a friend of mine should go freelance or not.2 One of the interesting things mentioned in the comments was how hard the transition from part-time to full-time writer can be. Hope said:

She might find, disaster of all disasters, that when she quits and has all the free time in the world, that she can’t get any work done. If she is writing successfully now, it might be because the structure of her life encourages it. Sometimes, we get more done in 15 minutes, when we know that that is all the time we have, then we would if we had all day.

Garth Nix chimed in to agree:

When I first became a full-time writer in 1998, I actually wrote less over the next year than I had when I’d been incredibly busy with my day job.

Diana Peterfreund agreed:

Oh, and tell your friend that if she *does* quit, expect it to take a year or more to get into a professional schedule. It’s been that way for me and for a lot of writers gone freelance I know.

The rhythms of writing full-time are entirely different from writing part-time. When I went freelance the same thing happened to me. Suddenly I had all the time in the world and my writing came to a grinding halt. Procrastinatory habits of a lifetime scaled up to unprecedented levels. To the point where all I did was faff about It was insane. I didn’t write a damn thing.

I did try. But I just couldn’t. I’m not sure what was stopping me. But it felt like fear. Here I was doing what I always wanted to do. But I was so completely terrified that I’d blow it that I . . . well, froze. Thus leading to the very strong possibility that I would fail at doing what I’d always wanted to do.

But then through pure luck I had a chance at a ghostwriting gig. Scott encouraged me to go for it, seeing as how I was doing nothing on my own projects. He thought it would be a good learning experience.

It was. But not in the way he was thinking.

Dear readers, I blew it.

I continued to faff. I missed deadlines. I wound up having to write the book in a matter of weeks. It was as good as a book can be that took two weeks to write. Hint: Not very.

I was given a kill fee, which was less than the advance. As in, I had to return part of the money I’d been paid.

My first professional writing gig and I blew it.

Not long afterwards I was given the opportunity to pitch my Magic or Madness idea. Miracle of miracles, Eloise Flood went ahead and bought it from the proposal. The ghostwriting debacle had left me ashamed and demoralised. This was my chance to prove to myself that I wasn’t a complete washout, that I could do this full-time thing. I had grave doubts.

I wrote the first draft of Magic or Madness in eight weeks and turned it in six months ahead of the deadline.3 It was a vastly better book than the ghostwritten one. At least partly because I’d written that poor broken shell of a book. I’d had a practice run at writing a YA. I told myself that the ghostwriting disaster was ultimately a good thing. Without it Magic or Madness probably wouldn’t have been as good.

That may be true but it doesn’t change the fact that I blew my first pro writing gig.

It’s taken me a lot longer than a year to learn how to write full-time. I think it wasn’t really until last year—2008—that I’ve exhibited anywhere near the kind of discipline necessary for this gig. I still faff but in a more controlled manner. I’ve not missed a deadline since Magic’s Child in 2006.

More importantly I’ve never again experienced the paralysing fear that almost nuked my career before it began. By the time I finished that first draft of Magic or Madness in January 2004 I knew I could do this full-time writing thing. I’d also learned it was a lot harder than I’d imagined.

I’m still learning. When I’m in writing mode very little can distract me. However, getting into writing mode remains a struggle. I seem to have lost the ability I had when I was a part-timer to write in between other things, to get a useful amount of writing done in short bursts. Now I need at least three clear hours and the first hour is often spent pushing past my resistance to writing. But it’s so much better than that first year. I’ll take it.

Happy sixth anniversary to me!

  1. Wow, this is my sixth anniversary. How bizarre.
  2. She didn’t.
  3. Which tragically meant they just moved up the publication date.

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