Saturday, January 23, 2010

Time again for those beginning writer rules

While at Arisia, I ended up in multiple conversations with aspiring writers who were seeking the magic formula for success as professionals. I told them the truth: there is no such formula. I did give them a few basic tidbits of advice, and some asked that I post those tasty morsels here. Though I think they're obvious and available online from a zillion different places, I said I would comply with the requests. So, for those who asked, here are the few rules I believe might help you become a successful writer. Note the word "might;" there are no guarantees, and, in fact, the most likely outcome is that you'll fail. Hence the first rule.

If you can possibly not write, then don't write.
It's a mug's game, so back away from the table if you can. There's nothing particularly special or magical about writing.

If you must write, then write. Write as often as you can. I recommend at least once daily. Write no matter what happens. Writing is amazingly special and magical. (Yes, this contradicts what I wrote above, but you shouldn't be reading this if you can possibly not write, so one ray of encouragement seemed reasonable and appropriate.)

Finish what you write. Fragments and clever scenes and nifty images are fine for impressing your friends, but no one's going to buy them from you.

Try to sell what you write. Hey, you said you wanted to be a professional; professionals get paid to write.

Unless someone with a job is supporting you and giving you health insurance, don't quit your day job. You have to assume you'll make precious little money after you're a success, and essentially none before it.

That's it. Those are the big rules. There are zillions of smaller rules, but if you don't learn the ones above, their smaller cousins won't help you.

Don't be surprised, by the way, if it takes you a long time to figure out which of the first two rules you're going to follow. The gap between when I first sold a short story to a professional market and when I accepted the second rule above was about 23 years and 1 month.

You'll probably either learn faster than I did or never learn.

Good luck.

Friday, January 22, 2010

A cool Arisia moment

I ducked into the con suite one afternoon to get a snack prior to settling down to eat. Sitting on the opposite side of the room, unaware I was there, a person was reading Slanted Jack. I had long wished to have the experience of seeing someone in a random public setting read one of my books, and in that moment, I got that wish.

Now, in the interest of full disclosure, I must note that the person who was reading was a friend, the lovely and talented costumer and dancer, Susan de Guardiola. (For her site with book and related info, go here.) To the best of my knowledge, however, she was simply reading the book.

So, did I handle this with a calm, quiet, authorial demeanor? Of course...not. I ran to my room, grabbed a spare copy of the Overthrowing Heaven hardback (which I had for use in the later Baen party; don't worry, I did have others), and signed it to her and presented it to her. I explained why I'd done that, and she noted that now if she reviewed any of my books, she'd have to disclose that I'd given her a free volume; I think that's only reasonable.

By the way, please don't think this trick will work again. I'd hate to go to a con and have everyone carrying copies of my books and reading them in public places, all in the hopes that I would reward them with free books, because I'd go broke doing so. Hmmm...if a whole con of people wanted to do it just once, however, and without any expectations, that would be okay. Nah, that would be past okay, even past peachy, all the way to awesome. Just a thought.

Thursday, January 21, 2010

Bill and the value of thoughtful arguments

Bill is my business partner. We've worked together for almost twenty-five years. We co-own PT, we are the only two owners, and yet we have no arbitration methods in place for disagreements; we just work them out. We always have, and I have great confidence that we always will.

What's amazing about that belief is the sheer number of areas in which the two of us disagree.

Without going into specifics, because it's not my place to give out personal information about Bill, it's fair to say that on almost all of the topics that most people would consider "hot-button" issues, Bill and I disagree. We've canceled out each other's vote in every election since we've known one another.

One of the many lessons my partnership with Bill has taught me is that I can have a lot of common ground with someone who is on the other side of all of those issues. For example, we're both fiscally conservative, a trait that no political party today (or for some time) seems to embrace.

What's been most enlightening, however, is the fact that someone who is extremely intelligent, whom I respect immensely, who is thoughtful and who considers each topic carefully, can take a position completely opposite my own.

When I talk with friends of a similar political persuasion, I notice a tendency to dismiss people on the other side of big issues as being thoughtless, or not smart, or not understanding. From my involvement with acquaintances and groups who hold opinions opposite my own, I've seen the same sorts of dismissals; the behavior is not unique to either side.

I can never do that with Bill. On any issue we discuss, his opinion reflects thought, intelligence, and careful consideration--even when I believe he's wrong. Of course, many of our differences stem from the fact that we have different starting axioms, but even when we start from the same point, we sometimes end up at different conclusions.

Some of history's greatest evils occurred when one group was able to class another group as an inferior "other," as somehow being less than them. Having done that, it's then easy to dismiss the other group as not being fully human, and then to justify doing horrible things to the members of that (no longer fully human) group.

To a far lesser degree, many political and religious discussions do the same thing to the opposition by classing their opinions as stupid or ignorant or not well thought out, and so on.

Bill has taught me a great deal over the years, and I've benefited from our partnership in too many ways to list, but one of the most valuable lessons is the constant reminder that there are multiple intelligent perspectives on just about everything.

Thanks, Bill.

Wednesday, January 20, 2010

On the road again: Boston, day 8

Boston was cold when we boarded the plane, so the pilots apparently decided the passengers would enjoy some heat. A lot of heat. And then more heat. I sweated the entire flight home, though feeling awful didn't stop me from working.

I'm in The U of Power now and vastly more comfortable. Raleigh was beautiful today--so of course I got to see very little of it. Tomorrow, the high temperature plunges twenty degrees. I can already hear the jokes about us bringing the Boston weather home with us.

I have a great deal to do, so I'm keeping this short. Before I go, though, I thought I'd share with you a video clip that has made me laugh every day of this trip; yes, I watched it daily.


I've not watched Better Off Ted, though I had planned to do so. These outtakes just gave me one more reason to try the show.

Oh, yeah: If your humor is not as sick (or raunchy) as mine, I apologize--and suggest you may not want to watch this video.

I warned you.

R.I.P., Robert B. Parker

Robert Parker, the creator of the Boston-based PI, Spenser, and one of the more influential mystery writers of the last several decades, died yesterday. I learned about it today.

I didn't know the man, never had a chance to meet him. Others who knew him will write more personal farewells; you'll be able to find them online.

What I did know was his books. I've read every Spenser, Jesse Stone, and Sunny Randall novel, as well as most of his other work. He was a compulsively readable writer. Even though it's been a long time since he wrote anything much longer than a big novella--you could finish one of his books in a few hours of easy reading--and even though I thought he'd gotten repetitious and often self-indulgent, I read them all.

And I will miss them, and him. I'll miss the chance to hear Spenser tell us again how perfect Susan is. I'll miss the Spenser-Hawk banter; hell, I'll miss Hawk almost as much as Spenser, and sometimes more. I'll miss Jesse Stone mixing a drink and staring at the water. I'll even miss Sunny Randall, the weakest of the series leads.

I'm sure a few more books are in the pipeline, and I'll read them with both joy and an aching awareness that there will be no more from Parker.

Series fiction has a special power to let us live over a period of years in a world we know is not real and yet often wish was. Parker wielded that power at least well and often brilliantly.

Parker has over the last many years become a favorite target for many mystery writers at many conventions. Much of the criticism they leveled at him was fair, but still, as Harlan Coben said in a 2007 interview in The Atlantic, "When it comes to detective novels, 90 percent of us admit he's an influence, and the rest of us lie about it."

I'm not as upset as I was when John D. MacDonald died and I realized I would never again read a new Travis McGee venture, but I'm pretty damn sad about this.


Tuesday, January 19, 2010

On the road again: Boston, day 7

As usual, I can't write much about a travel day that consisted primarily of PT work. Sorry about that. Don't worry, though; there's plenty to come.

A sad thing happened yesterday, but I didn't learn about it until today. I'll explain further in a second entry that I'll post right after this one.

Dinner tonight was at Italian restaurant Sorellina. Our food was good but no more. The desserts were a bit above average, but not great. Overall, I doubt I'd bother to go back, but I wouldn't hate it if I found myself there.

I learned late today that as of 10:00 p.m., the hotel was turning off the water in one wing of one floor of the hotel: mine. It seems a valve went bad, and to fix it, which the hotel powers that be decided they must do tonight, they had to turn off the water to these rooms until five a.m.

Did they offer to move to new rooms the poor folks this repair affected?


Did they offer to reduce the room rate for the night?


So, in the best Animal House spirit, I decided it was time for a truly senseless action, and I was the right person to take that action.

Thus, to exact a small measure of very passive revenge, when I needed to use the rest room--which required a trek to the second-floor public area, down an escalator, and in front of a large open walkway, I chose this outfit. In case you're wondering, my ensemble includes my infamous green tie-dyed shorts, my faded Science Magic Sex shirt, and, of course, the lovely dark socks and dark leather shoes.

Hey, you take your fun where you can find it.

Monday, January 18, 2010

On the road again: Boston, day 6 - Arisia, day 4

Today was a work day in con clothing. I did at least get a moderate amount of sleep, which was a lovely treat. Some work followed, then a quick lunch at Trident, a little bookstore and cafe that I quite like.

From there I scurried back to the con and was a member of a panel on businesses and business ethics in the future. I'd hoped we would focus primarily on alternative ways to create businesses in the future, but instead we stayed nearer to the topic of ethics. The audience was small, 15 or so, but hardy and quite involved, so the discussion stayed lively throughout the hour.

After much more work came a delight: dinner at one of my favorite Boston restaurants, No. 9 Park. The meal was, as always there, excellent and is so far the best I've eaten this trip.

The con is winding down; only one dead dog party and the con suite remain open. I'm going to walk to clear my head, then turn my attention to writing. At this stage of a novel, I can never get enough writing time, because improving what's there is so much easier than throwing down the words the first time. Plus, it's cool to be reading the book, even though it's in rough shape and my edits are numerous and necessary. To it I go!

Sunday, January 17, 2010

On the road again: Boston, day 5 - Arisia, day 3

Why does noon seem so early to me? Yes, that's a rhetorical question.

In any case, it came rather sooner today than I would have liked and found me on a panel on the mechanics of anthology construction. Gardner Dozois, the writer/editor guest of honor of the con, has edited dozens of anthologies. Another panelist, Cecelia Tan, has also created many, many of these volumes. My own experience in this area--all of co-editing two books and working on another now--rather pales by comparison, so I tried to limit my contributions and largely let the experts talk. The small audience of 14, which included multiple friends of the panelists, stayed interested and attentive, and they seemed happy at the end. Good enough by me.

Because I had so much to do today, we ate at the hotel restaurant. I ordered something I was sure would be safe: the appetizer beef nachos.

Alas, I was wrong.

First, what arrived was a platter piled with so many chips that I could have fed a dozen friends. Then, in a move that still puzzles me, all the cheese was melted on the bottom of the plate. The bottom. I imagine the kitchen conversation:

"Hey, how do you make nachos?"

"I dunno. Chips and cheese and meat and stuff."

"What goes where?"

"I dunno."

"How about I melt the cheese on the plate, then put the chips on top?"

"Sounds good to me."
They then added a small jar of sour cream and enough mediocre guacamole to completely fill a small teddy bear. (Don't blame me for that image; I'm reading Dexter By Design, the most recent Dexter book by Jeff Lindsay. Read it, and then the comparison will make sense.)

The result was exactly as tasty as you'd expect, which makes it all the more amazing that I ate a sizable portion of it.

The afternoon brought work, a delightful IM session with Sarah, and a frantic drive to a grocery store and some quickie marts to fetch supplies for the Baen party we later hosted.

Dinner was at Oishii, where last year we ate two of the very best meals of the trip. Each preparation we tasted was good, but not one dish was up to the norm of what they served us before. I'll hope the difference was due to us dining on a Sunday night and not a decline in the general level of the restaurant, but as with the other dinners on this trip, the food was good, even very good, but at no point great.

The late evening brought the Baen party, which I co-hosted. We had sweet snacks and many beverages and books and goodies to give away, and people came and ate and drank and took things. They also talked and visited, until the point well after two when we said the last goodbyes and finally shut down.

And now, to write some more!


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