World Science Fiction Convention and Salt Lake City Comic Con

In 2012 I was fortunate to be literary science fiction’s triple-nominee: Nebula award, Hugo award, Campbell award. This means I got to go to Chicago’s Chicon 7 (World Science Fiction Convention) and participate on panels as a featured guest, as well as suit up for the Hugo ceremony proper. I had some good moments in Chicago. Mostly meeting old friends, and many new friends alike. I got to enjoy a slice of the Worldcon limelight. I didn’t win anything, but this was okay by me because the Hugo and Campbell are not cash prizes. Plus, the Campbell tiara certainly looked better on the female winner than it would have on me. So I left Chicago satisfied that I’d gotten the most I could out of it.

In 2013 I was fortunate to be invited to sit at Kevin J. Anderson’s WordFire table at Salt Lake City Comic Con, in addition to sitting on panels as a special guest. This was Utah’s first ever Comic Con, and had been expected to draw as much as 30,000 attendees. That it drew an estimated 70,000 attendees was a complete surprise to even the most optimistic con-planners. Certainly none of us who were working the vendor tables expected so many people. And the panels were almost universally packed. Standing room only. It was a complete blow-the-doors-off five-alarm success story. Biggest inaugural Comic Con of any kind to have ever been held anywhere in the country. I left SLC Comic Con feeling like I got way more out of it than I’d expected going in.

Observations, from the pro side and the fan side:

Worldcon is smaller as well as older. Both in terms of its historical roots, and in terms of its total audience. I think the best estimates place Chicon 7’s attendance at around 5,000 people. A fraction of SLC Comic Con’s. So if you were a producer of product looking to move your wares, the Comic Con was definitely the place to be. SLC Comic Con also had youth. There weren’t a lot of younger fans in Chicago—at least not ones who weren’t joined at the hip to their parents. SLC Comic Con had piles and piles of families in attendance, but also a large contingent of teenagers too. Something I didn’t see a whole lot in Chicago.

Worldcon had editors and agents, whereas SLC Comic Con had actors. Anyone who came to SLC Comic Con hoping to find a literary agent or a receptive editor from a major magazine or novel house, went away disappointed. There were some people from the regional publishing scene in attendance, but nobody national that I knew of. Worldcon on the other hand had many editors and agents from magazines as well as novel houses, both large and small. It was definitely the better venue for prospective writers or new authors (like me) with a track record, and hoping to expand their professional contacts and/or secure interest from people with the ability to pay for work. Whereas SLC Comic Con was a great place to come and meet your favorite actor from any two dozen different television and movie franchises.

Worldcon had the traditional masquerade, but SLC Comic Con had far more costumed fans, per capita. Perhaps one in four SLC attendees was dressed up (or dressed down, in the case of certain people) for the event. Chicago did have some costume people, but they were much fewer and further between. And some of that costuming was definitely tied to after-hours parties—occasionally of the risqué variety. (aka: “Bar Fleet”)

As business ventures, I found both Worldcon and SLC Comic Con advantageous—just for different reasons.

When I went to Renovation in 2011 and Chicon 7 in 2012 I was there strictly as a new pro writer, looking to making connections. Meet old friends and make new ones, sure, but the business connections were the key. Talk to agents. Secure open doors. Etc. SLC Comic Con on the other hand was a chance to actually put finished product in front of brand new eyes. People who’d never heard of me before, and who were coming from outside the somewhat insular community that calls itself “fandom” in the parlance of Worldcon. These were general audience consumers. The kind of “big tent” audience I ultimately want to reach, because that’s the kind of audience I came out of as a teenager. And that’s where the vast bulk of the money is too.

Oh, sure, as a teen, I probably read more SF/F than many similarly-aged fans who were strictly television or movie fans. But I still came into the genre “sideways” as a writer, because I didn’t do it coming up through the traditionally inculcated ranks of “fandom” which still consider film and television to be separate and apart from Science Fiction (capitals) as we know it. Therefore I think I felt much more comfortable at SLC Comic Con. I recognized myself in the young eyes of the many teenaged boys tromping past the WordFire table: just out with their buddies, having fun, sneaking peaks at the more scantily-clad female costumers, picking up game stuff, maybe buying some comics or books, and just generally enjoying being part of the event—utterly oblivious to Hugos or Nebulas or Campbells or anything else associated with Worldcon.

Which is not a putdown of Worldcon. Really, it’s not. I’m just noticing the differences. I thought Worldcon was pretty good, as a business trip intended to establish connections. I met my editor at Baen Books because of Renovation 2011. I got to sit on a panel with my editor (now retired) at Analog magazine because of Chicon 2012. There was solid value (for me, as a new pro writer) in Worldcon as a result.

But as a seller of merchandise, and as someone who was a fan of Star Trek and Star Wars in my youth, and who wore those stripes proudly when I broke into writing science fiction in 2009, SLC Comic Con definitely felt more homey. More crowded, true. But more homey. I was a comic collector for a few years as a teen. Aliens and X-Force and Sandman. I remember those days, and I remember my enthusiasm. I’m still an enthusiast (albeit older) for certain beloved animation franchises, such as Robotech. There was nobody dressed like Rick Hunter or a Zentraedi warrior at SLC Comic Con, but if we’d been holding SLC Comic Con in 1986, there might have been. (May still be?) Gotta see what kind of costumes come out of the woodwork for next year. And there will most certainly be a next year, based on 2013’s receipts.

Looking to the future, I do have to wonder about the long-term prospects for Worldcon. In the 1950s and 1960s Worldcon could count on a steady stream of young fans and aspiring writers to bolster the ranks of established fans and pros. Now, the large bulk of young fans and consumers flock to the general interest cons (such as Comic Con) or the many special-interest anime and gaming cons—which didn’t exist when Worldcon was the con.

Just as newspapers have suffered in the era of instant world-wide internet media, Worldcon has suffered in the era of fan-interest diversification and mainstreaming of the genre as a whole. Ergo, sci-fi isn’t just something restricted to your parents’ basement anymore. It’s a multi-billion-dollar enterprise spanning games, movies, television, comics, and literature alike. The genre has left the nest, so to speak. And it’s doing very, very well.

The Hugo award could continue without Worldcon, assuming Worldcon folds up. One of the more well-known genre cons (such as DragonCon in Atlanta) could adopt the Hugo. Or Worldcon could simply shrink down to become a purely professional event for lit industry insiders: writers and agents and editors, much like World Fantasy con is now. In which case the Hugo would become a truly niche literary award, like the Nebula. Meaningful to those of us on the “inside” but otherwise unknown to consumers and fans on the “outside,” which (based on conversations I had at SLC Comic Con) isn’t much different from the way things are now. Of the hundred or so people I engaged in conversation longer than one minute—while I was working at Kevin J. Anderson’s book table—perhaps ten of them knew what the Hugo or the Nebula awards were. I had to explain it to the rest because my short story collection Lights in the Deep has the words, “Hugo, Nebula, and Campbell award nominee” emblazoned across a gold banner right at the bottom of the cover, under my name.

Now, I understand that there are a lot of people who are defensive about Worldcon’s purpose, its prestige, and also its future.

I am not writing this as a criticism of fans of Worldcon, nor is this a criticsm of those who volunteer to produce the yearly Worldcons. I am writing this as an observation and evaluation for the many fans and prospective writers who have all asked me (usually quietly) about my experiences. Ergo, which con(s) offer the most bang for the buck?

So, these are my observations. Take ‘em or leave ‘em. I’m very much about the bang-for-your-buck conversation, because it’s the one I have every year when planning my calendar.

I do think every new writer (especially Writers of the Future winners) owe it to themselves to go to at least one Worldcon—for as long as Worldcons exist. As the most venerable of the cons, it’s still an experience to go and rub shoulders with the many great writers in the genre, meet editors, and make yourself into a known quantity on the radar of those who consider Worldcon to be a focal point of the SF/F publishing industry.

Then, if you can, the next year, go to DragonCon or a Comic Con. San Diego. New York. Salt Lake. Seattle. See if you can arrange to be on panels and have some product to sell at a table. Evaluate for yourself which venue works best for your career goals and interests, not to mention your personality.

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Now for sale: LIGHTS IN THE DEEP

I am very proud to announce the official public release of my short story compilation, Lights in the Deep. Containing ten of my award-nominated, award-winning short science fiction pieces which have appeared in the pages of Analog Science Fiction and Fact magazine, as well as Orson Scott Card’s InterGalactic Medicine Show. Also included are introductions by Stanley Schmidt, Mike Resnick, and Allan Cole. With my additional commentary on the genesis of each story, plus non-fictional interludes devoted to friends, mentors, and the state of the genre.

This compilation is being released through WordFire Press, courtesy of Kevin J. Anderson and Rebecca Moesta. WordFire did a brilliant job producing the book—both hardcopy, and print versions. I’m grateful to all the hard work that WordFire et al put into this book, and I am especially pleased to have secured award-winning science fiction and fantasy artist Bob Eggleton’s permission to use his artwork for the cover. It’s the same painting Bob did for one of the book’s keystone stories, “Ray of Light”, when that story first appeared as the cover story for the December 2011 issue of Analog magazine.

TABLE OF CONTENTS:
Introduction 1 by Stanley Schmidt
Introduction 2 by Mike Resnick
Introduction 3 by Allan Cole
Outbound
Gemini 17
Influences: Allan Cole & Chris Bunch
The Bullfrog Radio Astronomy Project
Exiles of Eden
Writer Dad: Mike Resnick
Footprints
The Exchange Officers
Essay: On the Rise of Fantasy and the Waning of Science Fiction
The Chaplain’s Assistant
The Chaplain’s Legacy
The Hero’s Tongue: Larry Niven
Exanastasis
Ray of Light
Denouement

WordFire’s put a plethora of buying options at your fingertips. But first I want to make this special offer—to everyone who has requested it: you can get a personalized, signed print edition of Lights in the Deep for just $20.00 US. That covers the book, as well as shipping and handling. $20.00 US through PayPal. Just click, and your personalized, signed copy of Lights in the Deep will be in the mail to you.

Otherwise, please take a look at the following links and prices:

► AMAZON: $4.99 US – Lights in the Deep ebook.
► AMAZON: $15.99 US – Lights in the Deep trade paperback.
► B&N $4.99 US – Lights in the Deep ebook.
► KOBO: $4.99 – Lights in the Deep ebook.
► SMASHWORDS: $4.99 – Lights in the Deep ebook.

Of course, like the man says, that’s not all! I am also proud to announce that my novella “Reardon’s Law” is officially released in the military science fiction anthology Five by Five #2: No Surrender, from WordFire Press. “Reardon’s Law” joins four other military SF tales from established veterans of the form: Kevin J. Anderson, William C. Dietz, Aaron Allston, and R.M. Meluch. Reardon’s Law takes you on an adventure beyond the boundaries of the civilized galaxy, to a place where one military cop—Kal Reardon—is all that stands between the forces of the anarchic Ambit League, and the bleeding-edge military hardware the Ambit League desperately needs to re-start a war that everyone else in the Conflux of worlds believes is permanently finished.

As an incentive to buy, I am making an offer similar to the one I made above. If you’d like a personalized, signed copy of Five by Five #2: No Surrender and a personalized, signed copy of Lights in the Deep, the total price for both books is $35.00 US. Click here and you can get both books personalized and signed by me, dropped into the mail.

Otherwise, please take a look at the following links and prices:

► AMAZON: $4.99 – Five by Five #2: No Surrender ebook.
► AMAZON: $14.99 – Five by Five #2: No Surrender trade paperback.
► B&N: $4.99 – Five by Five #2: No Surrender ebook.
► B&N: $14.99 – Five by Five #2: No Surrender trade paperback.
► KOBO: $4.99 – Five by Five #2: No Surrender ebook.
► SMASHWORDS: $4.99 – Five by Five #2: No Surrender ebook.

Finally, I want to give a friendly shout out to fellow WordFire author John D. Payne, whose novel The Crown and the Dragon is also being released through WordFire Press and is being produced as a major motion picture! Like Lights in the Deep and Five by Five #2, John’s book is available in a range of options. Please do click through and take a look.

► AMAZON: $4.99 – The Crown and The Dragon ebook.
► AMAZON: $14.99 – The Crown and The Dragon trade paperback.
► B&N: $4.99 The Crown and The Dragon ebook.
► B&N: $14.99 The Crown and The Dragon trade paperback.
► KOBO: $4.99 The Crown and The Dragon ebook.
► SMASHWORDS: $4.99 The Crown and The Dragon ebook.

The Hero’s Tongue: Larry Niven

author note: as excerpted from my pending short story compilation, Lights in the Deep, which debuts at Salt Lake City Comic Con the weekend of 5-7, Sept. 2013 . . . .

I stumbled across Larry Niven in 1992.

At the B. Dalton bookstore in Cottonwood Mall, Salt Lake City, to be precise.

No, not Larry Niven the man. Larry Niven the writer.

Having just finished the first two books in W. Michael Gear’s Forbidden Borders series, I was impatient. The third book wasn’t due out for at least a year, and I wasn’t quite ready to return to my tried-and-true library of Pocketbooks Star Trek novels. So I trotted off to my favorite bookstore and idly scanned the shelves. Hoping for one or more titles to leap out at me. Kind of like a literary blind date.

At that time, Larry Niven was a name I’d only ever seen in passing: in the back pages of Omni magazine—amidst the book club selections. So when I spotted the books N-Space and Playgrounds of the Mind, something in my unconscious said, “Hey, you keep seeing that guy pop up, why not give him a try?”

Little did I know that N-Space and Playgrounds of the Mind were not, in fact, novels. Little did I also know that those two books would absolutely consume and regurgitate my imagination over the next four months, such that I would never look at science fiction the same ever again.

Much has been written in other places about The Great Larry Niven, most of it before I was old enough to drive. But at that particular point in my life I didn’t know Larry Niven from Adam, and had absolutely no idea how much of an impact he’d had on the literary science fiction field in the 1960s, 1970s, and 1980s. To me he was just another writer, and the stories and excerpts in N-Space and Playgrounds of the Mind so thoroughly captivated me—fresh, without preconceptions, prejudices, or expectations—I went on to buy and read virtually every book Larry had ever written, or would ever write from that point forward.

Such was the level of my enjoyment of his work.

I mentioned earlier—with my piece on Allan Cole & Chris Bunch—that it’s impossible to read a million-plus words of a writer’s work, and not have that writer’s sensibilities, cadence, idioms, sense of humor, etc., rub off on you. In both large and small ways. So it is again with Larry Niven. The man I credit above all others for not only showing me a new and amazing way to tell science fiction stories—the “hard” way—but also for teaching me to love short science fiction as an art form. Because he does it so damned well.

Some writers credit Ray Bradbury or Harlan Ellison in this regard.

Me? All credit to Larry Niven! And to those two paperbacks. Which I have read and re-read so many times over the years, they’ve grown yellowed and fragile. Overused, one might say. Though in a loving and tender way.

Not long after I broke into professional science fiction myself, I met Larry Niven in person, at the Roosevelt Hotel in Hollywood, California. It was my big chance to do what I’d been too afraid to do in 1993, at CONduit in Salt Lake: accost Larry and impress upon him my admiration for his work.

I thought I could keep my cool. Being a recent winner of the very contest Larry himself judged. I thought I could maintain my professional (albeit brand new!) demeanor.

I am embarrassed to say I went full fanboy. Full! Fanboy!

Thankfully, Larry was a patient chap, who suffered my exclamations with a smile. His wife too. They were gracious and kind.

I did it to them again the following year, when I brought and pressed my abused copies of N-Space and Playgrounds of the Mind into Larry’s hands, with a pen, and said, “Larry, these books are why I write short science fiction! Would you please sign them?”

Again, he suffered my exclamations with a smile.

Little did I know that my Writer Dad, Mike Resnick, would eventually line me up to collaborate with Larry Niven, for Arc Manor’s Stellar Guild series. A project which I wrapped up at the same time I finished my edits for the very book you’re now holding in your hands.

Being able to collaborate with Larry Niven—to write in one of his worlds—has been one of those serendipitous things for which I could not possibly have planned. Dreamed, yes. But not planned. A junior point guard just starting out in the NBA does not plan to scrimmage with or take pointers from the great John Stockton. A guitar player two steps out of his garage, making waves in local venues, does not plan to play with or open for Eric Clapton or Jimmy Page.

Perhaps the best compliment Larry ever gave me during the process, was that my style seemed to so closely match his own, he had a difficult time telling the difference between my prose and his.

You can’t buy that kind of thing. Nor steal it. It is a gift. More valuable than diamonds or platinum. I shall take it to my grave as one of the straight-up most heart-warming things anyone has ever said to me, about my writing. Your basic good feeling, as Tom Clancy said in his introduction to N-Space.

So, everything you’ve been reading in this book, it’s partially Larry’s doing. Without my having adored Larry’s work first, I’d have never gotten up the nerve to try my hand at making my own stories.

Because in the same four months when I was reading Larry for the first time, a locally-produced science fiction radio serial called Searcher and Stallion had picked me up to work on some sci-fi scripts for them. So that between doing the scripts and thinking, hot damn, this is fun, and reading Larry’s stories and thinking, hot damn, this is amazing, and people pay Larry to do this, I got it into my brain that maybe I could do what Larry does too.

Twenty years later I’ve been the 2012 triple-nominee for the Hugo, Nebula, and Campbell awards, and I’ve won the Writers of the Future award, as well as the Analog magazine “AnLab” readers’ choice award—Analog being the premier “hard” science fiction magazine in the English language, where Larry himself still publishes. Seems to me I can’t talk about my career or my successes without speaking of the tremendous influence Larry’s had, and still has. Just because he’s terrific at what he does.

So I’ll give a big salute to the man who created the Kzinti and the Ringworld and the Smoke Ring. Who peopled his books and stories with amazing men, women, and aliens; some of whom think as well as you or I do, just differently. Pak Protectors and Outsiders and Grendels and Pierson’s Puppeteers. A menagerie of delightful, incredible, and essentially believable creatures. Who often exist in stupendously amazing yet utterly scientifically plausible places.

Folks, that’s not easy to render. Trust me.

But Larry makes it look effortless.

▼ ▲ ▼ ▲ ▼

WordFire’s put a plethora of buying options at your fingertips. But first I want to make this special offer—to everyone who has requested it: you can get a personalized, signed print edition of Lights in the Deep for just $20.00 US. That covers the book, as well as shipping and handling. $20.00 US through PayPal. Just click, and your personalized, signed copy of Lights in the Deep will be in the mail to you.

Otherwise, please take a look at the following links and prices:

► AMAZON: $4.99 US – Lights in the Deep ebook.
► AMAZON: $15.99 US – Lights in the Deep trade paperback.
► B&N $4.99 US – Lights in the Deep ebook.
► KOBO: $4.99 – Lights in the Deep ebook.
► SMASHWORDS: $4.99 – Lights in the Deep ebook.

Influences: Allan Cole & Chris Bunch

author note: as excerpted from my pending short story compilation, Lights in the Deep . . . .

Up until age 15, almost all of the science fiction I read was related to either the Star Wars or Star Trek franchises. The Sten novels by Allan Cole and Chris Bunch were the first non-Wars, non-Trek books I picked up from the sci-fi section at my local bookstore. I bought them precisely because I’d previously read Bunch and Cole’s Pulitzer-nominated Vietnam war novel, A Reckoning For Kings. Being a fan of technothrillers and military fiction in general—hat tip to Tom Clancy—I was curious to see what might happen if the sardonically-humored characters and delightfully rich settings of a Bunch and Cole war story like Reckoning were adapted to a Star Trek-like future history setting.

I was not disappointed.

Sten is the eponymous saga of a boy at war with his fate: a factory slave, destined to live a short, brutal life in the belly of a planet created specifically for hellish forms of industry. There are eight books in all, detailing how that factory slave beat the odds, went out into the wider galaxy, grew to manhood, had many adventures, and reluctantly attained much glory and greatness—a hero with cement shoes, in the words of Sten’s creators.

You can therefore blame Bunch and Cole for my unconscious tendency to write about ordinary men and women—even boys and girls—who find themselves capable of doing extraordinary things under often terrible and difficult circumstances.

I also think that a lot of the literary flavor—specific word choices and style of word usage—in the Sten series, and also in A Reckoning For Kings, seeps around the edges in my own stories. At an almost unconscious level. Which makes sense. When you read and re-read and greatly enjoy over a million words of prose from the same pair of authors, it’s practically inevitable that they’re going to rub off on you; assuming you too are a writer.

It was only natural that Allan Cole became the first bona fide professional I sought advice from, when I was barely into my twenties and tinkering with my first original stories. I still have yellowed printouts of our e-mail conversations, almost two decades after they occurred. Allan may not know this, but when I was at my worst—down in the dumps, rejected, and barely producing any new prose at all—I would pull out those e-mails and re-read them. As a reminder to myself that a real pro still believed in me.

I was particularly proud, then, to inform Allan of my first professional fiction sale. It’d taken me a lot longer than I’d expected, but I was thankful to be able to point to that story—my winning entry in the 26th annual L. Ron Hubbard Presents Writers and Illustrators of the Future Contest—and announce that Allan hadn’t helped me in vain. His investment in time and shared wisdom had at last paid off.

I’ve kept Allan abreast of almost every publishing success I’ve had since.

To make sure he knows it’s still paying off.

Something I’d have cheerfully done with Chris Bunch, too, had he not died in 2005.

The suspected culprit was exposure to and complications resulting from Agent Orange: the infamous deforestation chemical rained on the jungles of Vietnam, back when Chris Bunch had been a Ranger patrolling those jungles. It was Bunch’s experience—in the Army—which infused much of his work with an undeniable air of military authenticity. Something I found strong and compelling as a teen, but which later grew to screaming volume when I myself entered the service.

Chris won’t ever read these words, but I’d like to write them anyway.

Hey Bunch, you know all that stuff, about the military?

Those things you wrote?

It was all true. Every last fucking bit of it.

Thank you. For the stories. And for your service.

And thank you, Allan Cole, for taking the time to coach a hopeful young man who was rough around the edges, but had a lot of big dreams.

Now, some of those dreams are coming true.

▼ ▲ ▼ ▲ ▼

WordFire’s put a plethora of buying options at your fingertips. But first I want to make this special offer—to everyone who has requested it: you can get a personalized, signed print edition of Lights in the Deep for just $20.00 US. That covers the book, as well as shipping and handling. $20.00 US through PayPal. Just click, and your personalized, signed copy of Lights in the Deep will be in the mail to you.

Otherwise, please take a look at the following links and prices:

► AMAZON: $4.99 US – Lights in the Deep ebook.
► AMAZON: $15.99 US – Lights in the Deep trade paperback.
► B&N $4.99 US – Lights in the Deep ebook.
► KOBO: $4.99 – Lights in the Deep ebook.
► SMASHWORDS: $4.99 – Lights in the Deep ebook.

The Torgersen Equation

In many professional fields, there is usually a formula you can follow to become successful: pick a career path, obtain the necessary schooling and on-the-job training, apply what you’ve learned in day to day operations, gain additional experience, learn from mistakes, seek additional career progression training, continue to practice what you’ve learned, et cetera. A doctor therefore knows she’s successful when she’s in her clinic or her hospital doing medicine or surgery, and pulling down a nice paycheck as a result. Similarly, a pilot knows he’s successful when he’s flying airplanes (military or commercial) for a living. And so on and so forth. For dozens upon dozens of careers. It’s usually the same. In each case there has been a prescribed path, navigable with a little talent, usually some brains, but most of all a lot of discipline and hard work.

But is there such a formula for authors? A to B to C to D?

Kevin J. Anderson is fond of telling people his excellent popcorn analogy: wherein hard work and productivity are keys to being successful in the writing business. I deeply love the popcorn analogy, and think it extremely apt. But while I was reading through some commentary today (regarding the changing roles of publishers) I was also reminded of something else: the famous Drake Equation, which is used to guesstimate the number of potential technical civilizations in the Milky Way galaxy.

I’d like to propose a new equation for fiction writers, in the spirit of the Drake Equation.

If we use the letter S to represent total SUCCESS, we can use St for TALENT, Sw for WORK ETHIC, Sp for PROCRASTINATION, Sc for COMMERCIAL APTITUDE, Sl for LIFE SETBACKS, Sa for AWARDS, and so on and so forth. Each of these will contribute positively or negatively to the equation. So, someone who may not be that talented, but who can be prolific, stands a better chance of success than someone with lots of talent, but poor work ethic. Someone with an eye for projects that have commercial appeal might succeed despite poor work ethic and mediocre talent. A talented, hard-working author can overcome a life setback, while awards might offset lack of broad commercial appeal, etc. There are many other factors that can play into it. I am not sure publishers/agents are even the largest or most important factors, though they can be.

St * Sw * Sp * Sc * Sl * Sa * (insert more factors here) = S

My own general hunch is that hard work and being prolific, with perhaps a smidgen of talent and commercialism, will set an author up to have a career. Make it a nice career if this person happens to be a decent chap with a good personality, who can work well with others and is easy to get along with. Harlan Ellison has crazy talent (by most estimations) but has also been notoriously difficult to work with in his career, thus he’s potentially offset his St with the negative Sd, for DIFFICULT PERSON. (Eric Flint cites Robert Urich in this regard: a journeyman actor who always had lots of work, because he was punctual, friendly, proficient, didn’t cause drama on the set, and was easy to get along with.)

To go back to the Kevin J. Anderson popcorn idea: authors who can generate a lot of books and short fiction seem to have a better overall outcome than authors who spend their time investing in just one book, one series, one idea, etc. It’s the single, polished “kernel” versus the whole mess of kernels. The more you have in the popper, the more you will pop. Some will be duds, but many won’t. And with a bit of luck (Su) you might even stumble into the feedback loop wherein word of mouth and publisher interest/push reinforce each other — to such an extent that the project goes viral/exponential, like the Harry Potter books. Your chance of having an exponentially/virally-exploding project get better, the more “kernels” you have in your popper — provided that you use the right oil, and the butter isn’t rancid. (grin)

Now. For a little hard talk.

There is a recent explosion (in the last six years) of writers going directly to self publishing (indie pub) without putting in the hours on their craft. In many cases these people will complain bitterly when the sales aren’t there, despite frantic marketing and networking. To include lots of hours and more than a little out-of-pocket money. In these instances I think the writers are applying boatloads of principles familiar to them in standard businesses or other professions with a set “model” of how to get ahead. But because writing is an entertainment business, I often quote Eric Flint, who says that good writing just isn’t that common. And I think he’s right.

So, we’re witnessing a massive surge in self pub from people who are in love with the idea of being AUTHORS, while not necessarily having the chops to be good writers. At least not right out of the box. (NOTE: In my own case it took over 850,000 unpublished words and 17 years of toil, before I sold my first piece of professional fiction.)

Most readers were not aware of the “iceberg” of a writer’s career (just the top showing what was publishable, and all the rest below the waterline) because the “gatekeeping” system of editors and publishers kept the public from seeing the slush tsunami coming out of the depths of the Aspiring Writer Ocean. Now with indie pub, self pub, e-pub, et al, the slush tsunami is on full display.

And buyers are (I strongly suspect) becoming even more reliant on curators/gatekeepers: to help winnow the grain from the chaff. Whether it’s a trusted publishing label, or a reviewer, or even a starred system like Amazon.com uses. Heck, when Oprah was still on television, one good mention from her in her book club could practically guarantee a bestseller. Because a very large number of consumers trusted Oprah to “point the way” towards the good stuff; in an era that predated indie pub.

Which is not to say that the curators/gatekeepers/reviewers are infallible, or always get it right. We all know of books or movies or music that make us cringe, yet these things were/are soaringly popular anyway. We also know of books and music and movies which got huge push in the marketplace (from their producers, studios, publishers, labels, and so forth) but the projects fizzled out due to lack of audience traction: the fish simply would not bite!

Dean Wesley Smith once told me (rather sternly) that just because I don’t like a thing, that doesn’t make a thing bad. A man like Dan Brown obviously found a way to tell a singularly engaging, compelling story without necessarily being an artisan wordsmith. Which is worth (I think) paying attention to. Because there are a ton of very talented, beautiful wordsmiths in the field who will never be able to quit their day jobs due to the fact they are “boutique” writers who haven’t found a way to tap commercial veins; or even openly eschew commercialism altogether as venal or petty or beneath their sensibilities.

In the end, how you define “success” may not match someone else’s definition. Once upon a time the Science Fiction Writers of America was composed strictly of working professional SF and F authors who earned the majority or totality of their income from their fiction — and could prove it with royalties statements and bank receipts.

Now?

Success appears to be a moving target. One author may not be satisfied with anything less than six or seven-figure deals and movie options. Someone else may be content with the occasional short story sale to a critically-acclaimed academic review. The “rules” by which each of these authors operates will be different, and there might not be a lot of overlap in terms of attitude, or outlook.

Me? I think it’s possible to strike a happy medium between art and finance. And I am old enough to have grown up in the era of traditional publishing, thus some of my benchmarks are tied to achievements or accomplishments in that realm.

But I am also young enough to see that publishing is passing through a rather turbulent period — the rules of the game are being overturned by technology. Everyone involved in publishing (from the writer to the consumer, and waypoints in between) are feeling the shift. And how it all shakes out is difficult to guess at this point. Thus I think it pays to pay attention to examples of people finding success via non-traditional models. Not because non-traditional is the new “best” way, but because non-traditional is at least a way that didn’t exist even a decade ago.

Which takes me back to fretting over the sea of new authors putting their work on the indie market before their skillset/talent can sustain the effort. Contrary to popular opinion, writing stories and books worth reading is not easy. Almost everyone who is doing it for five figures (or more) per year (and I am now one of those) had to go through a teething period. The gatekeepers provided a gauge against which to measure ability. I know this was true for me, and is still true in most respects. Passing the gatekeeper test is a good way for me to keep myself honest — and it’s fun, as well as lucrative too.

Thus if your LIFETIME PRACTICE (call it Sr) is shallow or even nonexistent, even a ferocious amount of MARKETING (call it Sm) won’t necessarily get you the results you want. Because sooner or later readers can tell if you’re not camera-ready. You won’t have honed your abilities to the same degree a doctor or a pilot has honed her abilities — through long hours and years of training. Maybe once in a blue moon some fortunate soul can emerge spontaneously, with a gift for writing so sparkling in its wholeness, that no honing is necessary. 98.9% of the rest of us have to slog through the trenches: write, get rejected, write some more, get rejected some more, and write again still.

Indie pub lets you skip the honing as well as the gatekeepers.

And I fear indie pub also lets too many people skip success, too.

So take a look at your equation: what factors are involved, and where do you think you might be weak? Could you stand to improve somewhere? Devote hours or energy to something that maybe isn’t fun or sexy, but which is absolutely necessary? Are you overlooking or ignoring anything that might make you embarrassed? Heck, what’s your real motivation, anyway? Do you love and enjoy the process of writing? Of making stories? Or do you simply want the fame (Sf) and the glory, without some of the unglamorous work?

Hat tips: Hugo/Nebula winner Mike Resnick, Nebula/Hugo nominee Nancy Fulda, Nebula nominee Jake Kerr, bestsellers Eric Flint and Kevin J. Anderson, and Codex members James Beamon and Nicole Cushing.

Superstars Writing Seminars 2013

One thing I’ve noticed lately is the proliferation of writing workshops. Everyone and their dog seems to be teaching one. Dozens upon dozens of workshops. So how do you determine which ones are worth their salt? My rule has always been: I don’t spend any money on continuing education unless I am sitting at the feet of the people I most wish to emulate with my own career. This has been true of craft, but it’s also true of business. And to my mind it’s the business aspect that is almost more important than craft. Most new writers will figure out the craft aspect sooner or later, if they keep working at it. But even a very skilled craftsperson can spend an entire career lost at sea if (s)he doesn’t take the time to learn the business. And professional writing is a business, make no mistake about it. Sometimes, six and seven figure business! With so much riding on your business decisions, I think it’s prudent to devote as much time as you can spare to your business plan. But where to start?

I first attended the Superstars Writing Seminar in January of 2011, at the urging of bestseller Kevin J. Anderson, whom I had first met at the 2010 Writers of the Future workshop. I had all of two professional short story publications under my belt, was terribly excited (and terribly nervous) about the road ahead, and felt like I needed to spend a few days immersed in an environment that would help me figure out how I wanted to tackle the rest of my writing career: my 12 month plan, then my 2 year plan, then my 5 year plan, et cetera.

Superstars Writing Seminar did not disappoint. Every single speaker was a top-drawer professional with a proven track record of success — the kind of success I wanted to achieve. I did not want to be a boutique writer. If I’d been satisfied with payments in contributors copies and having only a few dozen friends and family read my work, I’d have never bothered submitting my work to professional markets in the first place. But because I’d decided that any activity requiring as much of a time investment as writing required (to produce the stories and hone my craft) it ought to jolly damn well pay for itself. Or, in the case of some of my writing heroes like Larry Niven, more than pay for itself.

I am pleased to report that almost three years later, everything I learned at Superstars Writing Seminar has proven to be, not only accurate, but prophetic. There is wisdom and practical guidance at Superstars I think has been invaluable to me. So much so that I still go back and review my Superstars Writing Seminars audio files on a regular basis, either to parse out some new detail that wasn’t popping for me in the beginning, but which screams out at me now — or to remind myself of some things I already knew, and just needed to have re-hammered into my brain. Because it’s easy to get side tracked and lose focus.

If you’re a new writer, or you’re a working writer who feels like (s)he could be getting more “bang for the buck” in terms of progress, dollar-per-hour value, and so forth, I can’t think of a better place to go and learn than Superstars Writing Seminars. It really is a special event. Jam-packed with excellent information, advice, anecdotes, things to think about, ideas to take your career in a new direction, or even pick up a career that’s idling or has stalled out somewhere along the line. I feel that even those publishing regularly and doing well could benefit, as there is a synergy at Superstars (between attendees and speakers alike) that tends to generate a unique conversation that I don’t think you can easily get anywhere else.

There’s still plenty of time to sign up. This year’s workshop will be held in lovely Colorado Springs on May 14, 15, and 16. I’ll be there helping out. I’d like to see you there too. My initial investment (of time and money) in 2011 has already paid for itself several times over — and continues to pay for itself. Again, workshops that propose to help you with craft, are a dime a dozen. But workshops that can actually help you with business, taught by successful business-savvy writers who are full-time at what they do, and loving it?

Do yourself a favor and make the decision to commit. Not just because it’s a bang-up fun three days, but because it can literally change your life. I know it did mine, and I am glad I went. Again, the money I invested has more than come back to me — and then some!

On Being Unprofessional

I’ve been in the “pro” science fiction biz for almost 3 years. In that time I’ve become used to the idea that not every writer or editor is a professional — in the sense that what “professional” means in the world of the arts can often be very, very different from what it means in the every-day world working world that most people are familiar with.

In my military career there are very strict standards and expectations: of behavior, of decorum, of how we each speak to and treat each other as uniformed servicemembers. There are lines you don’t cross. Or if you do cross them, there are defined consequences. This is also true in the professional healthcare and business sector. Both major hospital networks I’ve worked for have had very specific rules regarding what could be said, what kinds of behavior and even attitude were to be tolerated — or not tolerated — in the workplace. And so forth. Again, with defined consequences for crossing the line.

There’s nothing like that in publishing, from what I can gather. And especially in science fiction — which is its own little (sometimes strange) niche of the publishing world — behavior I’d recognize as “professional” according to my civilian and Army standards, sometimes seems tough to come by. People are . . . eccentric, to use the kindest word I can think of right now.

Which is why I very much appreciate it when I see true professionalism displayed (waves enthusiastically to my Analog editors and Dell Magazines, as well as Edmund at IGMS, and Co.) and why I also note it when it’s specifically lacking.

Notice I name no names on the last count.

We have (unfortunately) a notable collection of writers and editors in science fiction who have taken it upon themselves to act as exemplars of unprofessionalism. And why not? This is an “art” field after all. Some people revel in the fact that they can be 100% unprofessional in practice, manner, speech, attitude, and interpersonal interaction, because this is the badge of the artiste. Hey, if people still pay them and they still have sycophants, who’s going to tell them they’re doing it wrong?

I say bull. Unprofessional is as unprofessional does. People who wallow in their bad habits, bad manners, bad tempers, and bad attitude will sooner or later develop bad reputations. Perceived status within the field is no protection, either. One day cock-of-the-walk, the next, a feather duster. Be an unprofessional often enough, to enough true professionals, and people won’t want to work with you anymore.

Now when I run into someone who is an unprofessional I say to myself, “Ah, your days are numbered, sir.” Because even in an artistic field, that kind of crap has a way of cumulatively catching up with you. Whether you’re a writer or an editor or an artist. You may be brilliant, but if you’re a cantankerous pain-in-the-ass, or a snob, or you like to pick fights, or you’re simply prone to displaying uncivilized behavior, this kind of stuff builds negative karma. Little by little, publishers and writers alike will steer clear of you. I can think of half a dozen notable examples right now. Again, I name no names. They know who they are. And most of my friends in the biz know who they are too.

Hugo, Campbell, and Nebula Awards Reminder

My chariot for the season is, of course, “Ray of Light,” the novelette which first appeared in the December 2011 issue of Analog as the cover story — see above. It’s already landed on the Nebula award final ballot, and stands a good chance of going the distance to the Hugo award final ballot too.

How do you vote for the Hugo?

Also, and perhaps more importantly, how do you vote for the Campbell award — given to this year’s most promising, new science fiction writer?

Simple:

If… you are an attending or supporting member of Chicon 7 (the 2012 World Science Fiction Convention); or
If… you were an attending or supporting member of Renovation (the 2011 World Science Fiction Convention)
If… you are an attending or supporting member of LoneStarCon 3 (the 2013 World Science Fiction Convention)

…you can *NOMINATE* works and/or authors in all categories! The window for nomination closes at the end of this week, so if you meet or match the criteria above, please stop over at the Chicon 7 web site and cast your nomination vote.

On that note, I should mention that I had other works in print in 2011. “The Chaplain’s Assistant” was in the September 2011 issue of Analog magazine, and is eligible for the Hugo in the short story category. As is, “The Bullfrog Radio Astronomy Project,” which came out in the October 2011 issue of Analog. There is also my short story, “Exiles of Eden,” which appeared in Issue 22 of Orson Scott Card’s Intergalactic Medicine Show.

Many thanks to anyone and/or everyone who gives any of these stories his or her nod of approval. I’m still trying to figure out how to attend Chicon 7 — financially — but it’s been my experience that things have a way of arranging themselves. Since my friend, mentor, and collaborator Mike Resnick is going to be the Guest of Honor at Chicon, I think I’d better jolly well find a way to go! Even if it means sewing myself up in someone else’s oversized baggage; just an oxygen bottle and some heavy sedatives. (grin)

Drill weekend tips for practitioners of Military Fiction

It’s that weekend again. When I suit up and put my boots on. As often happens the Friday before, I spend a little time checking out what servicemembers — current and prior — are saying around the internet. Writer and Marine veteran Dave Klecha had some good thoughts for writers this past Veterans’ Day. It reminded me that for the past two years, the local-to-Utah “Life, The Universe, & Everything” science fiction and fantasy writers’ symposium has done a, “Military on Military SF,” panel — on which I’ve participated — and what Dave writes is what comes up on that panel quite often, too.

I want to riff a bit on what Dave wrote, and on the content of those panels, because I think these points are important for anyone who wants to write about the military and military life, and do it halfway convincingly. Be it contemporarily, or as part of a broader science fiction or fantasy conceit.

Every soldier’s experience is different. This can’t be emphasized enough, IMHO. The military is literally a society unto itself, with almost every possible job and role being occupied by a man or woman specifically trained to be there. And the different branches of the military — Navy, Army, Marines, Air Force, Coast Guard — have their own subcultures which overlap somewhat with the others, but retain a degree of uniqueness that I think some writers — who haven’t served — too often overlook. And then of course there’s the Citizen Soldier experience — Guard and Reserve — which again overlaps with that of Active Component, while still retaining uniqueness. And this is just the United States military. Go outside the U.S. and you see the pattern replicated across the militaries of hundreds of nations. Like an insane Venn diagram, with countless thousands of circles that overlap each other, and yet also don’t overlap much at all.

Soldiering is not just about shooting or blowing shit up. Most of the time soldiering is about extraordinarily mundane things. Like sweeping and mopping floors. I’ve been in the Army Reserve almost ten years, and in that time I’ve had the handle of a GI mop or broom in my hands far, far more often than the stock of a rifle. The thing is, when you sign on that dotted line, raise your hand in front of the flag, and put on the uniform, you are basically agreeing to do whatever the nearest NCO (non-commissioned officer) tells you to do. Which means you are bound by law as day labor. And in the pay grades of E-1 through E-4 this usually entails lots and lots and lots of menial, boring, maintenance work. Cleaning the barracks. Cleaning the kitchen — I may have been one of the last cycles to still do KP at Ft. Jackson, South Carolina? Cleaning weapons after going to the range. Cleaning your boots, and your helmet, and your load-bearing vest, and just about everything else. All in preparation for one of an endless number of inspections. Which is what NCOs often spend a lot of their time doing: checking up on the Privates to make sure things are getting done to standard, because much of the time, they’re not.

Basic Combat Training (aka: Boot Camp) is mostly about teamwork. It is also a weed-out. Yes, there is the, “Break ’em down and build ’em up aspect,” but by and large BCT — at least the version I experienced — was primarily about learning to work around and with other people. Usually in less-than-ideal conditions and under less-than-ideal circumstances. And often with guys (or girls) you didn’t particularly like. And they didn’t like you. And somehow you have to figure out a way to lug Ammo Box A across an idiotically-devised obstacle to equally-idiotic Point B. And this is just a dress rehearsal for the real thing where you will again be asked to spend time around people you may not enjoy, and who may not enjoy you, and yet you will all be tasked with performing various jobs and accomplishing various missions with less-than-ideal time constraints, materials, etc. Those who can’t hack this — who cannot find a way to get along and work it out — tend not to make it. The physical training isn’t even the thing, although for a civilian marshmallow man like me, PT in the initial entry phase was hellish. But if you can climb that small mental hill, you’re fine. That’s not necessarily what snags you up. It’s learning to bunk with and shit with and eat chow with and generally live on top of a bunch of other people with whom you are stuck for no reason other than you’ve all been ordered to do it. One of the latest U.S. Army rah-rah TV recruitment campaigns had a very apt line in it. As troops are seen climbing over an obstacle, the words…. THE POWER TO GET YOURSELF OVER — THE POWER TO GET OVER YOURSELF…. reads across the image. Emphasis mine. Thin skins and fragile egos cause problems. BCT doesn’t eliminate all of the unsuited. But it does eliminate many. And contrary to popular belief — you can check out any time you want. Quitting is an option. I saw lots of people do it. Still see people do it. Heck, the Army will even “fire” you if you want. Happens all the time. You just have to not mind getting a Dishonorable Discharge, or a Discharge Under Other Than Honorable Conditions. I myself would sooner cut my nuts off, but that’s just me.

Most soldiers have never shot at, much less killed, another human being. I was in a college class about 6 years ago when a remarkable thing happened. A young woman, upon learning I was in the Reserve, got a sour look on her face and remarked, “Well, it’s a shame that your job is to kill people.” That took me by complete surprise. My job — my military occupational specialty, or MOS — was to shuffle papers. More specifically, I was the Army’s equivalent of Human Resources. A clerk. Rear Echelon Mother Fucker — REMF. Yet because this young woman’s conception of soldiering had been formed (doubtless) by movies and television, she thought that I — indeed, all of us — were half a step away from being serial murderers. Even my daughter got me a few years later when, holding one of my ACU patrol caps in her hands, she asked, “Daddy, do you kill people?” In both instances I had to offer the same answer: no, honey, Daddy does not kill people, and hopefully Daddy won’t ever have to kill people. Even among front-line infantry units, the numbers of men who have significant fighting and/or killing under their belts, is just not that large. If the average soldier really had to go to work and kill people on a regular basis, it’s probable we’d all be put out of the service as PTSD cases. Because killing — especially the close up and personal kind — is jarring. It leaves marks on its perpetrators as well as its victims. And unless a man is a psychopath or sociopath, that kind of event — events? — will stick with him for the rest of his life. In bad ways, often. And thank goodness most of us are blessed to be able to avoid it for most of our careers. Even in a war zone. Because most of us aren’t infantry. Most of us have other jobs — which may or may not involve weapons, patrols, or other potentially bloody duties.

Not everyone is gung-ho, or bleeding heart, as a result of serving. Dave hit on this a little bit when he said that the politics of servicemembers are all over the map. And it’s true. I would say that, in the aggregate, the U.S. military probably has a minor imbalance towards what we in the U.S. might call, “conservativism,” but this is not a guarantee. In my time in uniform I have met other people in uniform who are terrifically liberal in their views — socially, economically, and as relates to foreign policy — so I think it’s safe to say that just because someone serves, or has served, it doesn’t guarantee that they’re going to be an R. Lee Ermey clone — to exemplify one of the better-known and more outspoken veterans who may be recognizable to a civilian populace. Also, service and combat does not “make” people any certain way. People may or may not have a change-of-heart based on their experiences in the service. People may or may not have a change-of-heart based on experiencing combat. From what I’ve seen, people often walk out of the service with many of the same views they took into the service, and those views range across a very, very wide spectrum. Likewise, you have a great many patriots who do it for their country, but you also have a great many people who simply do it for the money, or because they literally had nowhere else to go. I myself had never, ever considered a military career, until 9/11 that is. But then, as I have noted before on this blog, 9/11 began a whole-sale paradigm shift for me, so I may not be the best example. Just be careful that you don’t make sweeping assumptions — to one side, or the other. If every one of your military vet characters is a war-hating hippy protestor or a cigar-chomping kill-’em-all John Wayne, you’re probably doing it wrong.

Militaries — all militaries — are bureaucracies. As such they are prone to follow what famed writer and veteran Jerry Pournelle has deemed his Iron Law: the goals of the organization will often become secondary to the perpetuation of the organization itself. This creates a thousand and one ways in which the letter of the proverbial law trumps the spirit of the proverbial law. Asinine and seemingly nonsensical regulations abound. Forms required to fill out forms required to fill out forms, in order to fill out yet more forms. Labyrinthine chain-of-command and approval channels that make it hellish to requisition equipment, manpower, ammunition, anything and everything that may be crucial to accomplishing training or a mission. In nearly every case, the military is almost guaranteed to have erected a way to make it harder for the person — the soldier, the NCO, the officer — to get his or her job done. And because the rules are so often dense, contradictory, or just a massive fucking hassle, this invites all kinds of creative thinking . About how to work around, under, above, or through the regs. Such that the military then becomes a quasi secret society, complete with special handshakes and code words and winking and nodding, as people invent a “black market” system to aid them in their struggle to follow orders and get their assigned tasks completed — while lumbering under the weight of a bureaucratized structure that is contra to quick, efficient, plain-spoken or otherwise common-sense approaches.

I could write more, but I think that covers it for now. I would just recommend to everyone interested in writing anything about the military, this beloved novel that first came to me in 1988. Long before I’d joined. It was as eye-opening and illuminating as any Tom Clancy or Stephen Coonts techno-thriller. It’s called, A RECKONING FOR KINGS, and it’s by my friend and mentor Allan Cole, and his (late) writing buddy, Chris Bunch. Chris was an Army Ranger in Vietnam, among many other and sundry things, and Allan’s been around the world, was raised in a CIA family, and together they so thoroughly managed to display and replicate — authentically — the military, in this book, that I am not sure I’ve seen a volume before or since which can match it. It’s not that easy to find. It’s been out of mass market circulation for a long time. But it can still be had at Amazon and around the internet. Absolutely and completely worth your time. Even if you’re not into “war novels” this one is absolutely about more than just war. It’s a marvelous (if fictitious) drama that shows the battlefield of Vietnam from both sides, and manages to be entertaining, hilarious, tragic, and deeply moving, all in one volume. Most importantly, it does not preach. It merely tells. And it tells so well I cannot recommend it enough, even 23 years after having first read it. (click the image above for Kindle version, or click here for the trade paperback.)

Please don’t ask me about your Kickstarter

Lately there has been a lot of buzz about Kickstarter. My understanding is that Kickstarter isn’t much different from a PayPal “tip jar” in that it’s a relatively quick and easy way for anyone who wants to, to put up a signpost on the Internet that says, “I am doing this thing, and I need your financial help to do this thing, please send me money!” For full-time freelance writers especially, this appears to be a perfect way to solicit support from the readers and the fans: if you read and like me, and you want me to keep doing what I am doing, please send me your dough. Reminds me 100% of my days in community radio, when we’d get on the air twice (or more) per year, and spend at least a week (or more) politely begging listeners for donations. Telethon, baby! Been there, done that.

Part of me thoroughly sympathizes with the predicament of the full-time freelancer, and for my full-time freelancing friends who are making hay with Kickstarter as a result, I say: more power to you.

But I won’t be using Kickstarter. Even if I had enough traffic on this site that I thought it would net me a significant amount of money.

Why?

Well, to be blunt about it, I work for a living. And before my freelance friends come to my virtual door and blow my virtual head off for saying it like that, let me explain. I have not just one, but two steady paychecks rolling into my bank account every month. The first from my day job with a sizeable healthcare company, the second from the United States Army Reserve. When I’m not selling fiction — happens a lot less these days, thank goodness — it’s not a disaster. The bills still get paid, there is still food in the fridge for my family, the lights stay on, and the house is kept warm. I decided two years ago, when I sold my first piece of professional fiction, what the criteria would be for me to go to full-time freelancing. And the bar is set so deliberately high, it’s probable I’ll retire from my work first — just like L.E. Modesitt, Jr.

Second, and more philosophically, I’m not comfortable asking people to pay me for anything which does not yet exist. Back when I was doing community radio, we were at least presenting listeners with a product in real-time. We didn’t ‘thon with the promise that we’d eventually get on the air and begin playing They Might Be Giants or Phish or Skinny Puppy or Kraftwerk. We were already on the air, anyone could listen to us day or night, and all we were asking for was a fresh infusion of cash to keep the power on and the transmitter warm.

Doing a ‘thon for a book project that’s still theoretical… I dunno, sounds too much like speculative investing. Even if you like the writer in question, there’s no guarantee (s)he will deliver. If you know anything about the history of publishing in the U.S. then you know authors are notoriously tardy when it comes to delivering product — John Varley being perhaps the best (worst?) example, when he turned in STEEL BEACH approximately 8 years late.

Now, I don’t know about you, but when I pay for fiction, I expect to be able to read it the moment my money crosses the desk — or the electronic interface, if we’re talking about the internet and e-books. I don’t “invest” in the possibility that someone might write a book, and that I might enjoy. I want the damn thing in my hands — or on my screen. Every now and again I will — out of pure kindness or charity — throw some bucks into a PayPal tip jar. But in those cases I do so with the understanding that I expect nothing in return, and there is no implicit obligation on the part of the receiver.

And obligation is the thing I’d feel worst about, if I was trying to get people to pay me for a book I’d not yet written. The moment the first nickels appear on the meter, I’d feel locked in. And while that’s fine for an actual publishing contract with a publisher, I feel the relationship with readers is altogether more personal. Last year I tried to start up a “free” novel on-line, and it rapidly ground to a halt because I was frustrated with the scope of the project, did not plan well, and was embarrassed when, after a few months went by, I had to abandon progress altogether and formulate a new plan. If I’d had readers forking out dinero for that book, I’d have felt utterly trapped into blundering ahead as best as I was able. And looking back on it now, the results would probably have been unsatisfactory for me, and for the readership as well.

That book will still be written. But I’ll write it when I’m ready again, and I won’t expect a penny from anyone until I have a finished product to present.

This is, of course, my personal decision. I am not trying to impose my opinion on the world, as if it were the only valid one out there. But I’ve been seeing this Kickstarter thing a lot, and a lot of people are making a big deal about it — and now I’ve got other people e-mailing me and asking me for money to fund their various writing projects. So what do I do?

I’m going to be the Grinch. If you are not prepared to sell me a finished book, please don’t e-mail me asking for money. I will happily buy a completed book. I will not fund a theoretical book. I am sorry if this hampers your efforts. It’s not personal. It’s a rule I am making for myself, and it affects everybody — even my friends and associates in the business. Please don’t come to me with your Kickstarter solicitations. If I get any Kickstarter solicitations, I will politely decline them. Not because I am a miser or because I am rude. But because I don’t feel comfortable being your investor. I will be your friend, I will cheer you on, and I may buy your finished product when all is said and done. But I think the onus is on you, the writer, to finish the product first. Before you get the money.