Posted in Publishing, writing

The Value of Stories

We’ve talked before on this blog about the worth of the writer, and lamented about places that expect writers to provide content for little or no money, often trying to entice new writers with the idea of gaining clips and getting ‘exposure.’ Paper mills and content mills (like Helium) suck writers, desperate to be published and earn a living at writing, into their stables, often paying pennies or less.

Now comes James Frey (yes, he of “A Million Little Pieces” fame, famously scolded on national television by Oprah) with a new scam. If you haven’t already heard, he’s been trolling the MFA program at Columbia for his YA publishing venture, offering possibly the most ludicrous, shady contract ever seen to anyone who will sign on. There are three very fine blog posts about this already that I’ve read, from John Scalzi (which is still smoking, I think), and don’t miss his open letter to MFA writing programs, Maureen Johnson, and Sarah Rees Brennan, to which I can add nothing except many ‘Huzzahs!’

So why is it not ok to take these flaky contracts? Why should writers demand their fair share? Why not write for nothing while building a name, a brand, a portfolio?

More to the point, why SHOULD you? Rose Fox at Publishers’ Weekly’s Genreville said it best:

Stories are so important. If they weren’t, there wouldn’t be so many people trying to steal them.

Posted in books, NaNoWriMo, writing

I Boldly Went

Where everyone was going today: Back to the stores. I have never in my life ventured out on the day after Christmas, but I felt a burning urge to get out of the house today. The weather, while not idyllic, was not bad. It was a bit blustery and chilly, but sunny and dry. Good enough, I’ll take it. So where did I have to go so badly that I dared risk life and limb among the post-holiday shoppers? The bookstore. More specifically, my home away from home, Powells. I was on a quasi-mission, hoping to locate a copy of a Tarot deck that has recently become scarce, due to some sort of copyright war. Anyway, there were none to be had at Powells, but there were certainly more than enough books.

I treated myself to a book that Harlan Ellison has stated is “One of my favorite nightmare novels.” It says so, right on the front cover of The Book of Skulls, by Robert Silverberg. The edition I picked up is the 2006 edition (it was originally published in 1972 and won a Nebula Award), and the cover says “Soon to be a major motion picture” although I can’t find anything about it online. There is no information at the mother of all movie sites, Probably just as well, Hollywood would doubtless turn it into a splatter-flick, gore-fest. It tells the stories of four friends who discover a book, the titular Book of Skulls that leads them to a secret sect in the Arizona desert who, for a horrific price, will grant immortality to two of them. There’s been some criticism of the book’s classification as sci-fi (it was nominated for a Nebula in 1972, and both the Hugo and Locus awards in 1973), but sci-fi and fantasy/horror have long been lumped into one category. People still debate about the genre Frankenstein belongs to. Is it horror? The first sci-fi?

I also picked up Alastair Reynolds Revelation Space . This one is a hard sci-fi novel, originally published in 2000. Reynolds has a PhD in astronomy, and worked at the European Space Agency which informs his work. The story concerns a scientist who is on the verge of uncovering the reason for the annihilation of an advanced civilization 900,000 years ago. Sounds like someone doesn’t want him to find out what happened to them.

I finally picked up John Scalzi’s Old Man’s War after reading about it now for ages online and how Scalzi used the internet to create a fanbase, which aided him in getting published. The premise is a decades long war in space for the few habitable planets out there. In this universe retirees, senior citizens, are recruited to serve two years in the military, allowing the green troops to benefit from their wisdom and experience. In exchange for two years service in combat, provided you survive, you get your own little homestead on one of these planets.

And last but not least, I also took home Jasper Fforde’s The Eyre Affair, which, while it’s not classified as sci-fi (it was in the Mystery section), I think it could easily fall under sci-fi, as an alternate universe story. From the back cover:

Welcome to Great Britain, circa 1985, where time travel is routine, cloning is a reality (dodos are the resurrected pet of choice), and literature is taken very, very seriously. England is a virtual police state where an aunt can get lost (literally) in a Wordsworth poem, militant Baconians heckle performances of Hamlet, and forging Byronic verse is a punishable offense. All this is business as usual for Thursday Next, renowned Special Operative in literary detection, until someone begins kidnapping characters from works of literature. When Jane Eyre is plucked from the pages of Brontë’s novel, Thursday must track down the villain and enter the novel herself to avert a heinous act of literary homicide.

I picked this one because I’ve never read any Jasper Fforde, but he contributed a Pep Talk to NaNoWriMo this year that I really enjoyed and thought I’d like his writing. It sounds almost Pratchett-esque, although I don’t really like comparing authors to each other all the time. Fforde even has introductory notes and material at his Web site.

Now I just have to decide which one to read first…

Posted in writing

Publishing of the Future

io9 has an article on a recent publishing conference, the O’Reilly Tools of Change for Publishing Conference which was held in New York back in February.

The author of the io9 article quotes John Scalzi, author of Old Man’s War, talking about blogging and building a community of readers, vs. simply rushing to put up a Web site to promote a book once it’s published. I think this is important. There’s a whole lot of selling going on on the Web, but after the initial visit to such a site, why go back? We know how and where to find stuff if we want to buy it. He also talks about not blogging just about the writing process (which he calls “incredibly boring”) but about other things that interest people that keeps them coming back. He also talks about using the blog to build community and have conversations with people. I think we can all think of one or two writers who’ve lately been in the news whose Web sites are strictly marketing venues. And we don’t appreciate it. We DO appreciate authors who respond to readers and fans, and with luck I will someday have the chance to be one of those authors.

Scalzi talks about interaction with his readers working for him since he’s been blogging since 1998, and that maybe that window has passed. I disagree. I think blogging and engaging with readers will always be popular. People wrote fan letters in the days before the internet, then there were the fan boards. I don’t see the desire to connect with an author diminishing in the future. (Although as Margaret Atwood says, “‘Wanting to know an author because you like his work is like wanting to know a duck because you like paté.” Maybe, but why would you not want to know someone whom you find interesting?)

Further down Patrick Nielsen Hayden, editor at Tor Books, talks about Twitter being the newest thing, and now is the time to pounce on it if you are so inclined. I’m having visions of flash fiction becoming the new standard length novel. If Twitter is going to be the medium of the future people’s attention spans will be reduced to nanoseconds, from the current 30 seconds they appear to be. I can’t say I have any interest in Twitter, although I guess that could change in the future. I guess. Yes, you can engage more immediately with readers, but do we really want our lives to be ruled by this? It’s instant messaging on steroids. How do you get away from it and get anything done?

There is a long video on the io9 site if you want to see it (forty minutes worth) as well as other videos posted at the conference Web site.