Wednesday, February 27, 2013

Hugo Voters, I'm Eligible...who knew?

Well apparently one of my readers did (thanks Samuel Montgomery-Blinn from Bull Sec Magazine), who wrote me today saying he thought I was eligible.  I haven't paid much attention to "Awards Season" because my books were previously published and that makes me ineligible for most of the awards.  However the:

John W. Campbell Award for 
Best New Writer

doesn't have such a stipulation.  Apparently as long as you have your first "professional" work published in 2011 or 2012, you are paid a professional rate, and have more than 10,000 copies in print you are eligible.  The fact that it was previously "unprofessionally published" doesn't matter...score!

In any case it's pretty late, and a lot of people have already voted, but I thought I would at least make a post just on the off chance that I do get a few votes (although I'm not holding my breath). The Campbell Award is not a Hugo but it is voted at the same time as a Hugo.  

Voting is open from now until March 10 and you must be a member of at least one of these:
  •  LoneStarCon 3 (the 2013 World Science Fiction Convention)
  • Loncon 3 (the 2014 Worldcon) 
  • be a member of Chicon 7 by January 31, 2013
As I said, I'm rather late to the game as nominations started on January 2 and the authors with the most number of votes will become finalists.  There are many who are eligible if you wan to see a complete list you can go to this link.  If you want to learn how to vote, you can check it out here.

So for any of those undecided that liked (or even loved) the Riyria stories, please go vote this is my last year for eligibility and it would be a big kick just to make it to the finalists stage.

Saturday, February 23, 2013

Writing Take Two

A product of the age of television I understand that film influences the way I write. As a child, I watched more television and movies than I read books. Other authors I know lived in libraries and as a result their writing focuses a good deal on prose. Moreover their whole style and structure tends to be different. They are more comfortable with narration and exposition, but mostly the flow of the story is loose and somewhat free-flowing. Instead of hard breaks between scenes, they merely back off in details covering incidents in a more distant, vague sort of way as in:

The next day she went to work as usual. She ate dinner at the café, took Albert for a walk around the park—always clockwise—and crawled into bed with Henry James and her Itsy-Bitsy book light. 

This sort of “filling-in-the gaps” technique is something I almost never do because it isn’t really cinematic, anymore than say, lots of inner-dialog. In film, those things would be handled as a music montage, and a voice-over, neither of which I care too much for. But such things are commonplace in novels—particularly older works. Books prior to Hemmingway reveled in their dense exposition that in some cases weighed narratives down to the point of drowning,  often being saved only by exquisite prose. Literature of the 19th century can often effect modern readers like first time drinkers of dry wines, they sometimes require developing a taste for them. A lot of that I suspect has to do with the new culture raised with video as our native language.

I would imagine that after being trained on the King James Bible, Nathanial Hawthorn would have been the modern equivalent to a James Patterson crime thriller.

The value of the old verses the new can be debated (I like both for different reasons) but all this I have stated merely to place in context some writing advice. The authors of the world—despite popular myth—do not belong to a secret society and all abide by the same rules, and wear ceremonial robes at night (despite what Neil Gaiman claims.)

A good deal of modern writing does reflect the influence of film, and I advocate using that analogy to assist in the writing process, even in how to think about approaching projects. (It also helps to illustrate techniques that might otherwise be harder to explain.) When people—readers and writers—imagine a scene in their heads, more often than not, they see it in camera terms—like a movie. Without thought we often see the scene form a specific angle, a certain lighting, and the lens might even zoom in, or pan as the scene progresses. We usually think in words, but we also can “see” like a camera. Keeping this in mind can help the creation process.

When structuring a novel I find it best to divide the story into sections or “scenes.” One problem I find some writers make is to write everything out connecting two scenes with light or distant narrative as with the afore mentioned woman with the Henry James book. The problem I discover with this is that these “filler” portions are by nature weak, and oftentimes writer get in the habit of writing not just connections this way, but whole scenes. Entire novels are described in a distant weak style and the writer can’t understand what it lacks. If their books was a movie, they might see that their story is just two people moving around on a blank stage without costumes. Keeping a book restricted to clear scenes helps fix this.

A little exercise that writers might find helpful is to imagine they are actually film directors. Consider showing up for the first day of shooting with a single camera, two actors and an idea of what you think ought to happen. After the first day of shooting, you’d watch the dailies and realize a lot was missing. A proper background for one, lights for another.

Just like a director, an author must build every scene. You can’t just roll film of two people in T-shirts and jeans before a blank wall. You need costumes, specific lighting, staging, props, a script, choreography, and afterward you’ll need to add in sound effects and music. Camera angles have to be considered, marks have to be hit. All of this takes time and forethought. Even the simple setting of a New York apartment might take days and thousands of dollars to set up properly. Everything that appears in the camera has to be taken into account. Photos on the walls, the color of the walls, wall paper, windows, furniture, throw pillows. Are there left out plates? Is the coat hung up or on the chair. What kind of coat? What kind of chair? All this has to be considered before the first frame can be filmed. No one viewing the finished product will notice everything you did. Few will note that there were apples in the fruit bowl on the table instead of oranges because the scene took place in autumn, but such touches do create an overall feel that might not even be conscious, but it’s still there. All this has to be done to make a rich and believable scene.

The same is true in writing.

Just because all that happens in a scene is that Marge tells Bob that he isn’t invited to the party, this doesn’t mean you can forego development. Imagine a movie where because a scene is of little importance, the film maker didn’t bother with using a setting, costumes or makeup for that three minute exchange. How jarring would that be?

Writers have a tendency to do this. Sometimes, because they themselves get bored with the trivial, they rip through them in general narration so they can return to something worth spending time on. If however you treat your novel like a movie, you’d know you can’t do that. Each scene must have as much development as every other. A ten second shot might require months of prep work and millions of dollars.

Each scene then is a huge investment of time and of words. Nothing in a book is trivial. So understanding that even minor events require the same setup, the same layout of sights, sounds and smells, a writer will pause and consider whether such a trivial point even needs its own scene. Is it worth the outlay? If the point of the scene is tiny, maybe it can be discarded, or it can be added to a later event, or help enrich an earlier scene where more happens to take advantage of that setup.

What this does is helps the writer to visualize the story in specific shots, to tighten up events, and to reuse characters, settings and props rather than introduce new ones. Reusing characters, and places help make them more real to the reader, keeps the novel from rambling aimlessly, and saves the writer from have to invest in building new ideas in the minds of readers.

Description tends to be a tricky problem for many. Most people speak and listen to others speak, but few ever need to describe a room in detail or hear anyone else do it. Setting description is then alien and difficult to master. Many just avoid doing it resulting in blind stories. Others dump flat reports on the states of places with all the acumen of Dragnet. These become dry, boring and obligatory. Just the facts ma’am.

Facing the task of describing a place might appear daunting. How do you describe everything? Looking at a setting through the lens of a camera crew can help. You aren’t just seeing something happen, you’re building a visual. Where is the light coming from? This is actually one of the first questions I always ask myself in describing any scene because it affects so much. Daylight or starlight results in such a different mood than lantern, or candle light. With any fire light you have moving shadows, so then you have to ask, where are they, what do they look like? As people move will they block the light? In daylight, is it brilliant, or cloudy? Sharp angles or vague. Lighting and subsequently the time of day is crucial for the reader to grasp events and establish moods. In movies now, they digitally tint the scenes to be more of one color or another. Everyone has seen a night scene where it is very blue. This tinting doesn’t just establish time of day, but also make it feel more creepy, magical, more dangerous, or carefree.

All this can be done in writing as well by taking care in what words are used, and what subjects are focused on.

Behind lay the long moonlit corridor of empty road. Mist pooled in the dips and gullies, and somewhere an unseen stream trickled over rocks. They were deep in the forest on the old southern road, engulfed in a long tunnel of oaks and ash whose slender branches reached out over the road, quivering and clacking in the cold autumn wind.

There is a mood to this passage because of mists that pool, unseen rivers, and branches that reach, quiver, and clack. Even before I tell you that this is the kind of place people never found bodies, you already have that sense.

If I had described the sludge like mud of the road, and the unrelenting wind and how leaves slapped them in the face, you’d have a different feel, more a sense of exhaustion, and effort. Both would aptly describe the same place and time, but steer the reader’s emotions in a different direction.

Everything needs to be taken into account when looking through the camera lens to make a scene complete.

In the new Bond movies—mostly the opening of the Quantum of Solace—the camera work is very jittery, the depth of field up close and tight, and the editing fast. All of this made understanding what was going on just about impossible, but it did establish a sense of action and urgency. Often I was tense and had no idea why. I imagine if someone filmed a shampoo commercial in the same manner I’d be on the edge of my seat hoping the beautiful blonde survived the rinsing.

In a way this is a gimmick, a trick to drive emotion. The same thing can be done in writing. Single. Word. Sentences. Provide a similar halting effect. Dropping a reader into a scene and describing only what they see, but withholding context can leave readers riveted, as they try to make sense of what’s going on.  This effect is heightened if only small specific details are used.

Hardcover book, title torn away, hit the puddle. In the distance a Buick’s horn sounded a single long note. Hard shoes clicked on pavement. Closing in. All of them.

Shearing text down to a minimalist level and punching each impression like a fast edited movie scene, you can convey that same jerking sense of intensity. You really have no idea what is happening in this scene—I don’t either, I just made it up—but it feels tense. Maybe it’s a spy thriller. But what if it was written a little differently. What if the lighting and background music was changed and the camera was held steady and pulled back to view the whole event in context?

Susan dropped her used English grammar text book right in the puddle. The book was already so worn that the title could no longer be read; now it was soaked. Her mother was in the parking lot and blowing the horn of their old Buick. Behind her the rest of the students were stampeding toward the buses.

Very different attitude.

It is also useful to know where the camera is and how many you have in order to capture a scene from the right angle. Top down scenes just aren’t as fun or exciting as a level close up shot. In writing your cameras are your points of view. A scene shot from a child’s perspective is very different from an adults—the angle is different. And a general omniscient narrator is that big, wide angle aerial shot from far away.

When you consider how many tools are at a writer’s disposal for developing any given scene, the complexity of creating a thoughtful book starts to register, and sometimes it helps to just hold up your fingers in that hooky frame and see it all as a movie.

Wednesday, February 20, 2013

An Honor to be Nominated

One of the disappointing things about being self-published is the lack of recognition in regards to award nominations. Even after getting traditionally published, my books haven't been eligible for awards such as the Nebula or the World Fantasy Award because they were previously published.

I have been nominated twice for the Goodreads Choice Awards (2010 for Wintertide and 2012 for Percepliquis) but those were selected by ratings and the number of readers who have shelved the books.  This is certainly an honor, because it is a real indication of how readers feel.  So a kind of "people's choice" awards for books and I was shocked and thrilled each time.

Today, however, I discovered that Theft of Swords has been nominated for an Audie Award. What's an Audie you ask?  Well it's not a fancy luxury car that has been misspelled. It's essentially the Grammy for Audio Books. Since 1996 the awards have been granted by the Audio Publishers Association. As I understand it they are given out during a fancy banquet as part of Book Expo in New York. I'm not sure if authors are asked to attend, and if selected I'm not sure who accepts the award (the publisher, the author, the narrator) but if there is even a chance that I might be able to walk up and give an acceptance speech that would be just too cool. Since the likelihood of that happening is slim I'd just like to say.

"I want to thank Orbit Books for optioning the audio rights, to be honest I thought a book of my stature wouldn't have such an opportunity.  To Recorded Books the audio producer who took a chance on a new, previously self-published author. To Tim Gerald Reynolds who did such an exceptional job with the narration. While I had no say in your selection, I couldn't be happier with any other choice. You've brought the characters to life and made my book seem better than it is by your excellent interpretation.  To the linguist who worked with me to get all the pronunciations correct. And offering suggestions when even I wasn't sure how certain words would be "spoken." I'd also like to thank the people whose names I don't even know, the copy editor and proof readers at Orbit, the director and sound engineer at Recorded Books. And last but not least, to my loyal fans who have been so supportive.  I write for you, and am honored by your belief in me and my books.  Oh...I hear...the music playing me off...thank you....thank you all."

Wednesday, February 13, 2013

Help me help others

From time to time, I run across various organizations raising money for one thing or another, and when I find them I do like to contribute.  For instance, I donated a set of books to Patrick Rothuss's World Builders campaign, and was just to busy to post about it.  Recently I ran across "Con or Bust" which helps to raise money to send people of color to science fiction and fantasy cons and so I donated to them as well.

They auction off donated materials and bidding is slated to end February 24th. I've offered up a signed HARDCOVER copy of Theft of Swords, and I'll sweeten the deal by adding a drawing in the book  (either done by myself, or by my talented daughter).  For those not familiar with Sarah's work she does my Plothole cartoons and also is also illustrating various members of Riyria (here is Hadrian and Royce)as a gift for her mother.

Current bid is just $15, I'm sure out there is someone will pay a bit more for this worthy cause.  If you want to bid please click here. Anyone?  Bueller? Bueller?

Friday, February 1, 2013

Confusion at ConFusion

I don’t consider myself a real author.
Some of you might be surprised by this, but I find it similar to being young and just having your first child. You don’t feel like a real parent either. You have a child, so of course you know you are, but you still know there is a world of difference between you and your parents.

When I was first published by AMI, I told myself I was an author at last. Technically it was true, but I came to understand it wasn’t. Just publishing a novel falls far short of what I understood to be an author. Some people—the ones that didn’t know any better—acted impressed that I published a book. But I quickly learned that putting out a novel through a tiny, unknown publisher and garnering very few sales, didn’t translate to what most people thought of as an author. When I resorted to self-publishing the rest of the series, I lost even that little credibility. Even when I made seven times the income of the average traditionally published author, there was still a dark cloud looming. Real authors looked at me with a suspicious, nearly angry expression that emoted: that’s not right—you’re cheating.

By the time I was published by Orbit, I had trained myself not to be taken in again. I hate thinking I’ve achieved something only to be let down. Even though I was traditionally published I knew I wasn’t anything special. How many thousands of freshmen authors land that first deal and disappear in a few months, never to be heard from again?

There has always been a debate about when you should call yourself a writer. I wrote a post on it once. I mentioned that the definition of writer is fluid and changes for each person, and alters as their career advances. Author is more specific. You at least have to write a book before you can even begin to reach for that title. But here too the definition is somewhat elusive. Just having written a book doesn’t seem enough. I wrote thirteen—all of which were just thrown into the attic. Not one ever made me feel like an author. Oddly, getting published failed to make the grade. Selling a quarter million books didn’t either. I thought being published by one of the big six would do the trick, but no…I didn’t feel a bit different after signing the contracts.

I did feel something when my wife quit her job and I became the sole support for our family. Living off the proceeds of your books does help make you feel like you might be an author. All that writing isn’t a waste anymore, and family members respect your “alone time.” As working instead of goofing off. They no longer insist that dealing with the garbage is more important than writing—which in reality it actually is.

But I still didn’t feel like an author. Still not somebody, I’m only an almost-author. Authors—at least in my mind—are identified and recognized as such. Few people have ever heard my name.

Two weekends ago I went to Immortal ConFusion—a fantasy and science fiction convention in Dearborn, Michigan. I’m not a huge fan of conventions, but I admit they do serve the wonderful function of reminding myself that I’m nobody. For years I attended many in the hopes of gaining readers, and each time came away questioning my choice of career.

Robin convinced me to go, saying ConFusion was the place where the cool kids hang out, and I should go so I can at least be seen standing near them. Robin is my publicist wife, and always after the photo-op. But seriously, a fantasy convention in Detroit? I was born and raised in Detroit, I know Detroit, and this sounded weird. I mean who goes to Detroit for Science fiction and fantasy?

Turns out a lot of really big name authors do.

Last year Patrick Rothfuss, Joe Abercombie, Peter Brett, Brent Weeks, John Scalzi, Scott Lynch, Elizabeth Bear, Robin Hobb, Jim Hines, Myke Cole, and Saladin Ahmed all attended. There weren’t that many fantasy names at ComicCon in New York. And Abercombie and Lynch came from England! To Detroit. Seriously.

The con itself is quite small, and several, like Brent Weeks, and Joe Abercombie, weren’t even on the Con’s author listing, so they weren’t there for exposure. Instead I discovered ConFusion isn’t so much a convention for fans so much as a secret convention for authors that readers in-the-know are invited to visit.

Honestly, everyone I met the first day was an author. Turns out a number of them live in the general area and just started convening at ConFusion to see each other. Then last year a who’s-who in fantasy literature got together and arranged to play an epic game of Dungeon’s and Dragons. That has to be the nirvana of every fantasy fan. 

Word of this D andD extravaganza got out. Rumor had it, they planned to do the same this year. I had to go.

I wasn’t going to play. I hadn’t played in centuries and never followed the rules when we did, but the whole thing sounded interesting. Besides, my mother lives twenty minutes away and likes when I visit.

As usual I didn’t know anyone. I never do at these things. I met Myke Cole at Balticon last year, but he was coming in late. That left me with no one I recognized. I managed to identify Scalzi because he was signing a couple of books with his name on the spine. But I don’t know the man, and wasn’t about to bother him.  

I had a prearranged meeting with Bradley Beaulieu, author of The Winds of Khalakovo, and we had lunch together. After checking, in Brian McClellan, (a protégé of Brandon Sanderson,) over heard my name and introduced himself. He’s one of this year’s freshman class. His first book Promise of Blood is due out in April and we share a publisher and editor.  I was actually reading his ARC just before coming to the con and now estimate it will be the next big thing in fantasy. Brian knew more people than I did and waved over Doug Hulick, author of Among Thieves. While we were chatting, Howard Andrew Jones suggested we grab dinner at the hotel bar.

I did a lot of hand shaking with the likes of Sam Sykes, Peter Orullian, and Saladin Ahmed and I honestly can’t remember who else. I doubt they remember me either.

A couple of fans, having learned I was coming, arranged to meet me. Robert Aldrich and I had a drink together. I had another with uber fans Mike McCrum and his wife, Susan, who had made a trip to the area a mini-vacation staying over at a nearby hotel because the convention’s one was sold out. They picked up a set of signed hard covers to add to their Riyria collection. Robin and I ended up going out to dinner with them and talking all night about how much they love my series—I’ll admit this was the highlight of the trip.

I was starting to think I might really be an author.

Then came the mass signing—the equivalent horror of picking teams in gym class. All the authors filed in and sat at tables lining the room with little paper name plates before them. Then the doors opened and in swarmed the hordes of readers carrying books and looking for their favorite authors to sign them.

A massive line formed for Patrick Rothfuss. Another sizable one for John Scalzi, and a healthy one for Peter Brett. Robert Aldrich saved the books he wanted me to sign and came over, thus saving me from complete humiliation. Brian McClellan was nice enough to have me sign a copy of Theft. Both of those I didn’t feel counted.

And there I sat, spinning my pen as the hordes rushed about ignoring me. Eyes glanced at my name. No one had a clue who I was. I’m not really an author. I just published a few books. There’s a difference.

One fella did see my name and grinned. He stopped, then walked away. Coming back, he pulled his con badge card out of the plastic holder, and turned it over. “I love your books,” he told me. “But I don’t have a copy with me. Can you sign this?”

I’m sure he has no idea how happy he made me.

In the bar I ran into Peter Brett, author of The Warded Man and Desert Spear. His latest title, TheDaylight War, was voted the most anticipated book of 2013 by Fantasy Faction, beating out, A Memory of Light. Almost a year ago at Balticon, Myke Cole had graciously introduced my wife and I to Peter. The meeting was fleeting. I didn’t expect him to remember me. Back then Myke had said Peter wanted to meet me—I nodded politely because I didn’t want to call Myke a liar. The man is in the military and looks like he could dis- and re-assemble me in sixteen seconds with a blindfold on. So pretending he might remember me I began talking to him and I must have mentioned my lack of legitimacy as an author. I kind of expected he would say, “You’re an author?” Instead he said something that surprised me. First he made a disparaging huff, and I think he might have rolled his eyes—actions that announced he was about to insult the living crap out of me. I might have actually winced in anticipation, but then he said, “You’re selling as good as I am.”

I wasn’t certain I had heard correctly.

I was still getting over the fact that Peter Brett knew who I was. Moreover, he knew how well my books were selling. And he’s right, according to Amazon rankings, we are selling at about the same rate (right now at least—in a few weeks his third book comes out and he goes on his multi-country signing tour. I’ll be left in the dust of a real author). Even if that weren’t the case, he’s way out ahead of me. I hear through the grapevine that he’s sold over a million books and I’m only a quarter of that. The gruffness of his voice and the almost irritated tone, sold me that he wasn’t being polite. Peter almost sounded like he considered me an equal.

I quickly explained his error and tried to illustrate that he was an author, and that I was just an almost-author. When I signed people’s books they were always first time buyers and hadn’t read them yet. I tried to convince Peter of his mistake, but I wasn’t successful. Granted, my heart wasn’t in the debate. I sort of wanted him to win.

Myke Cole finally arrived. He looked cold, tired, needing a drink, and discussing how he’d forgotten that dwarves made good thieves in D and D. The discussion moved on, but my mind remained on the conversation I’d had with Peter.

I still think about it.

I’m not convinced I’m a real author yet, but I’m starting to think my chances of getting there are looking better.