I just got a look at my panel schedule for Lunacon
, March 14-16, and whoa. When I filled out the webform telling the con programming folks which of their panels I thought I’d make sense on, Paganism in Fantasy Literature was the one I was most certain they’d choose me for.
Nobody told me Margot Adler was coming!
The program’s firming up, so I went to check out what panels I’m on and with whom. There on the screen is a table with names in the left column and everybody’s answers to the why-pick-me question in the right. My answer rambles about Tales from Rugosa Coven, my adventure at the Parliament of the World’s Religions, and so on, for several lines.
Margot Adler’s answer is one sentence long, but really, does she need a sentence? She’s Margot Adler.
::whoops, stutters, reexamines own blurb and concludes it’s self-indulgent, admires simplicity of Adler’s one sentence, fangirls at family members who think maybe they’ve heard Adler’s name on NPR::
Tomorrow I’ll post my whole convention schedule. Right now I’m borrowing a cup of internet from my folks, and really it’s time to go home. The Comcast guy’s not coming to install at the new place until Wednesday. So, yes, here I am preparing to launch a book, finally, with a publisher that’s equipped to make it count, and I have to get into the planning and promotion home stretch with no internet connection where I live. It’s been Somewhat Challenging. Then again, if a setback that small were enough to stop me, I wouldn’t have made it this far.
Far enough for somebody to think I belong on a panel with THE Margot Adler. I can’t stop grinning.
I can’t be the only person who’s ever involuntarily burst into song with this spontaneous filk while ringing up at Ikea. My Google fu fails me when I check to see how many thousands of others have independently invented it — all the internet wants to give me is directions to every Ikea near an avenue. While I waited with my whimsically named purchases and balky children (or was that my whimsically named children and balky purchases?), I dreamed of Carolina Kostner skating her lovely Olympic short program through the warehouse, launching her triple Salchows over preassembled specimens of the Expedit shelving system.
The worst of the move it behind us now. We still haven’t unpacked enough of the kitchen boxes to find a single knife, but every hour gets us closer to having a real functioning household.
My books are all under my own roof again! Not that my shockingly numerous new shelves are assembled and ready for the Opening of the Boxes yet. Tomorrow we’ll have a family barn-raising and break out our collection of Ikea-issued Allen wrenches. If there’s enough champagne to go around, I may even get the rellies singing.
This week I tried to plow through a book that is almost certainly excellent in small doses. For this week’s review at Black Gate
, I wrote about the first volume of The Apocalypse Triptych,
an anthology series edited by John Joseph Adams and Hugh Howey. Adams is the King of All Anthology, and Howey’s been on my TBR list for some time. Their table of contents is full of awesome people. The stories I was able to make it through were all glorious specimens of their kind. Alas for me, the first volume of the triptych, The End Is Nigh,
requires that every single story lead up to the end of its world. One stunning end of the world story, well, that you can withstand, even if it’s powerful and keenly felt. Two dozen end of the world stories was more than I could face, and I had to put the book down about a third of the way through, precisely because it succeeded so well on its own terms.
Meanwhile, my six-year-old has tightened his professional focus. For a while, he started half his sentences with, “As a rock scientist, I …” Now he plans to be a rock scientist who does field work on exoplanets, thanks to a NOVA episode about the Kepler telescope. Boy, was he upset when we told him interstellar travel would take more than a human lifetime. He scowled for a couple of days, then proclaimed his solution: He would replicate himself into an entire ship’s crew of clones, and make new versions of himself every time one of him started getting old or died. That way, several of him would make it to every one of the exoplanets he wanted to study.
I like imagining this solution for several reasons. It more than satisfies my parental hope to see my child outlive me and, better yet, guarantees fulfillment of the classic parental curse, May you have children just like yourself! Oh, this week especially, I enjoy picturing my son grown and wrangling a dozen of his young clones while they demonstrate the full range of his problem behaviors.
Why are both my kids’ problem behaviors so out there this week? Because next weekend we move into our new house. We’re packing again, leaving my father-in-law’s place after eight long months in limbo. The kids want their own rooms, and a mammal for a pet, and all the other benefits of moving, but they’re not so sure about all this change. Leaving their grandfather behind is probably their least favorite of the changes to come. We’re a little giddy, a little crazy, a little hair-triggered. The end is nigh!
Publishers are trying the Netflix model. It’s so clear now that people prefer to consume film and television series in watching binges, and there’s always been such a vocal subset of the book-buying market that waits to buy a series until the last volume is published, that we’re going to see some experiments with releasing sequels six, or even three, months apart, rather than the traditionally preferred year
I wonder what acquiring editors will be advising newbie authors to do now. Back in the late Cretaceous Period, when I had just finished my first novel, all the editors at writing conferences and fan conventions were unanimous: don’t bother working on the second volume of your series until the first volume sells. The rationale then was that editors could fix problems in the first novel, and then they’d stay fixed for the whole series, because all the sequels would be undertaken under editorial guidance, whereas if the author was already on volume five and there were problems that threaded through the whole series, it would be much harder to fix. Also, in the editors’ experience, authors were harder to work with when they were several volumes’ worth of committed to something the editors felt to be a flaw in the work.
Some will say that self-publishing is the solution to this problem, and that no writer of series should ever have been deterred. Although there’s a case to be made for that view, a good editor can help a writer find the best, truest version of a book — a version that’s a revision pass or two beyond where the writer stopped when s/he thought it was ready to submit for publication.
The first two short stories I sold taught me this lesson the hard way. John O’Neill put me through three strenuous rounds of deep structural revision on “The War of the Wheat-Berry Year,” which was above and beyond the call of duty for him. There was no guarantee until the third try was in that he would buy the story at all. His every suggestion made the story stronger, and the process laid the groundwork for a cordial working relationship that continues at Black Gate some eight years later. The second short story I sold, “New Jersey’s Top Ghost Tours Reviewed and Rated,” was accepted exactly as I submitted it at what was then one of the top short fiction markets in the genre. I felt thrilled, vindicated, endorsed, all of that. When the story went up on the website, I discovered a couple of jarring sentence-level infelicities that had escaped me, ones that I think would stand out for most readers. Every time I think about that story, I flinch about those two sentences, and I wish there had been a step in the process in which both the editor and I could have looked the story over one last time for improvements. Which editor would I rather work with now?
And which kind of editor would I rather have as a partner in preparing a novel for the big time? Easy choice. I’d pick the collegial perfectionist over the laissez-faire congratulator any day.
Would it help my Big Book now if I could admit that the second volume in the series is 75% complete in working draft?
Does this new development in the publishing business clinch the question of whether to polish the Big Book at its current length or to split it into two shorter volumes? In the market of eight years ago, it would have meant automatic rejection to submit a first volume with an admission that one sequel was done and the next one nearly so. Now, that could be an advantage.
Or — hell, why not? — I could look at the four-act and five-act structures of Big Book I and Big Book II as places to split each of them into novellas. That would put me at four volumes finished, ready for release at three month intervals, while I knocked out revisions to the five acts of Book II one at a time. Easy peasy. Except that nothing’s that easy, and the Big Book never gets that lucky. And, despite the fact that I’ve had a surprisingly easily time selling novellas, it doesn’t seem possible that the big publishing houses will embrace novella-length series installments.
I wish there were someone I could ask whose answer I could trust implicitly. Ain’t no such person. We’re all stumbling in the dark together into the future of books.
My journeyman weaver protagonist probably started to learn drop-spindle spinning when she was five years old. I started learning it about five weeks ago. Here’s one of the earliest human technologies, something our forebears figured out how to do with rocks — literally, rocks — and it is kicking my butt. And that’s okay, actually. When you take up in your fourth decade a thing that Peruvian peasant girls are taught when they’re toddlers, you will not get Peruvian-quality results in five weeks, no matter how simple the task.
It’s a little late for me to take up the kind of hands-on martial arts research M. Harold Page puts into his fiction (I reviewed one of his books here). When his protagonist notes how the weight of a weapon shifts on uneven footing, I know Page is writing from the body’s memory, not just from the medieval treatises he’s read. My own brief time as the Worst Varsity Fencer at Vassar may add up to more swordplay than most fantasy writers have done. My absurd but earnest efforts at Tai Chi have served me in good stead as a writer of combat scenes. Still, a writer who writes from a state of total immersion stands out.
I’m so grateful to writers who share what they know from that state. Sue Bolich’s series of blog posts on horses in fiction gets my full attention every time. There are arts, trades, and survival skills I have no business taking up, especially as a parent of young children, and horseback riding is one of them. When I first set out to write the Stisele novel, I spent several days hanging out at a dressage stable, trying to observe and note absolutely everything. The owner of the stable had studied under one of the last Chilean cavalry officers with actual horseback combat experience, and I got to pick her brain a little. Just when I was about to talk myself into getting serious about learning to ride, a friend who’d been riding regularly since childhood had a life-threatening riding accident. To avoid being thrown by a panicked horse, she threw herself, which is probably why her skull fracture left her comatose for a couple of weeks, instead of killing her instantly. Verisimilitude in fiction is a virtue, but not one worth dying for. My friend recovered, thank goodness. I haven’t been back on a horse since, though, and with the kids in the picture now, I probably never will be.
The drop-spindle seems to be a keeper. It helps that the spindle doesn’t require a pasture, or stabling fees, and that the spindle is unlikely to kill me. Fairy tales aside, I’m not that worried about spinning wheels, either. I get to try one of those out tomorrow, and I’m almost as excited about that as I was about getting on a horse for the first time. The drop-spindle requires no special time set aside for it, which is a blessing, since, right now with our relocation almost accomplished, I rarely have time to catch my breath. Spinning is highly compatible with listening while my six-year-old practices reading aloud and my three-year-old builds block towers. Practicing longsword form would be less so. When I’ve read enough about botanical dyes and early mordants to avoid frantic calls to Poison Control, I may follow my tapestry weaver heroine further into her trade.
My publisher and the convention programming folks at Lunacon
just confirmed that there will definitely be a book launch party for Tales from Rugosa Coven
. This is a big deal, in part because Lunacon is not one of the annual events where Dark Quest Books
usually hosts a launch party (Thank you, guys!). In order to squeeze it into the press’s budget, we’re banding together with William Freedman
, author of Land that I Love
and Mighty Mighty
, and probably the editors of The Garden State Speculative Fiction Anthology
. Bill Freedman’s a lucky find, someone to share the work and expenses of a launch with, and I haven’t read his book yet. I hope the anthology’s ready for release on time, because one of the things I miss about living in Jersey is hanging out with the folks from the Garden Speculative Fiction Writers
You’ll like them, too. And the publicist at Dark Quest makes excellent chili. You should totally come to our party.
We’ll have free food that is actually real food, along with the usual Dark Quest pastries. (Now I want Neal to start a bakery to go with his press. Quick, name three ominous confections that would be sold at a shop called Dark Quest Pastries!)
We’ll have readings, and raffles of mysterious objects yet to be determined that are entertainingly relevant to our various books. (Amusing suggestions are welcome.) If we’re very lucky, we’ll also have the pleasure of your company.
Unless you’re my mom. She’s allergic to fantasy literature, and that’s actually okay. Mom, you would not groove on The Bone Season
Everybody else, rush to wherever you procure new books and get your hands on it. Just don’t read the book jacket synopsis. Beware the spoiler!
You won’t find spoilers in my review at Black Gate, but if you just want to skip ahead and rush straight to the book, that is entirely merited in this case.
So far, I’ll be doing things at Lunacon
, and Free Spirit Gathering
. I’m working on setting up author appearances at bookstores large and small, and will add any that coalesce to the shiny new events page
on my website, as well as my author profiles at Amazon
. The soonest of the known events is still months away, so there are plenty of details still to work out. I’ll post more specific announcements here when things firm up, and when I add new dates.
If you know of an event or a venue where it would make sense for me to show up and do authorial things, please let me know. I’m still learning how to be wherever my potential readers are, in person and online.
I’ll be running something fiction-related on the program at Free Spirit Gathering
this June. The folks putting the event’s program together are brainstorming with me to figure out what form this fiction-related thing should take. We’ve been guessing what people would want to attend, and it occurs to me I can just ask.
We all agree there’ll probably be interest in a general discussion of Pagan fiction, covering both creative and publication-related aspects.
But should there also be a Pagan fiction workshop, not in the vague sense of thing-that-fits-into-a-60-minute-block, but in the specific sense of a gathering of active writers with manuscripts, working together to make the manuscripts better right there and then?
If the answer is yes, then two workshop formats come to my mind. I’m hoping more variations or formats come to your minds, and that you comment to tell me about them, because both of the ideas I have could be problematic to implement.
The Old-School Writing Seminar Model
A small group of people, capped at something on the order of 10 participants, pre-register. They commit to emailing one another their manuscripts, capped at something on the order of 15 pages, something like six weeks in advance. They also commit to reading and preparing comments on one another’s manuscripts before gathering. During the festival, this group meets to discuss the manuscripts in, say, two sessions of 90 minutes each with a break or a meal in between.
There are reasons this is the most common model for how to run a writing workshop. That said, I don’t like all those barriers to participation. I want to open it up, preferably in a way that actually works.
The Drop-In Daily Workshop
Every day of the festival, or at least every day I can be there to facilitate, there’s a 60 or 90 minute open workshop. Everybody’s welcome, including people who have no plans to participate directly. People bring their works in progress, preferably with a five-page passage preselected to work on. Somebody other than the author reads the passage out loud, cold. (It can be incredibly informative to hear someone else read your work cold.) After five pages or ten minutes, everyone who has listened to the reading is welcome to comment, with the author asking or answering questions at the very end of his or her time. Then we move on to the next text. People who have come to a previous meeting with a manuscript and not had a turn get first crack at a turn at the next meeting they attend. Shortages or sequences of turns can be sorted out by drawing straws, rolling dice, flipping coins, whatever.
This model is potentially chaotic. I’ve seen it work beautifully with a long-established group that’s been meeting for a decade or so, nearly all of whose members have published at least one piece at the professional level. Whether the model can work at a gathering not focused on writing — a gathering, moreover, of several hundred people, most of whom haven’t made a study of the professional side of writing — is a perilously open question. Widespread interest could be catastrophic, and small showings could be awesome, or vice versa. Anything might happen.
I’m game anyway, unless somebody has a better idea, or talks me into the safe-but-exclusionary Old School Model.
What do you guys think?
It’s kind of comforting to have a deadline, now that we’re dealing with frozen pipes in the house we’re trying to sell in a state where we no longer live. No matter how nutty things get, I still make a priority of reading and reviewing at least one book every two weeks in a genre I love. This week, I reviewed
Laura Anne Gilman’s Heart of Briar.
It’s what a paranormal romance might look like if Clark Ashton Smith
and C.L. Moore
wrote in collaboration with… okay, I don’t actually read any big name romance writers, but the name that really comes to mind is Angela Korra’ti
, a writer friend whose recurring protagonist is a software tester of Faerie-American and African-American heritage. Anyhow, Heart of Briar
is a fun book that does some very surprising things with romance genre conventions. To figure out whether it might be your
fun book, go read the review.