Friday, May 19, 2017

And As Always...

I'm on the road again!

This time I'm in Pittsburgh for the Nebula Awards. I'm not up myself, by a friend asked me to be the designated acceptor should the Work In Question win. If it does, I'll tell you all about it.

Meanwhile, I'm in Pittsburgh! I once ticked off a lot of fantasy readers by ending a novel with the heroine moving to Pittsburgh and becoming a chemist. That one baffled me. Chemistry is a great profession. And Pittsburgh is a great city. I'd rather be a chemist in Pittsburgh than rule in Narnia any day.

Today, I think I'll go to the Carnegie. Which is that most sensible of institutions, a world-class art museum which is also a world-class natural history museum. Or is it the other way around?


Monday, May 15, 2017

Celebrating F&SF


I got an email from Gordon Van Gelder this morning (a group email, I should mention, which is a pity because he almost always says something witty in his one-recipient correspondence) mentioning that F&SF is the lead article for Wikipedia today.

Gordon also mentioned that The Magazine of Fantasy & Science Fiction is having a sale on their Website selling sample issues or subscriptions at a reduced price. But only until midnight EDT today, May the fifteenth.

Finally, for those who prefer emags, Weightless Books is having a similar sale on F&SF on the exact same terms: One-Day Good Deal Only.

So if you've been meaning to subscribe, or are curious as to whether you'd enjoy the magazine or not, today's your day!


And it's worth mentioning...

I'm shilling for F&SF here not because there's anything in it for me, but because it's a great science fiction and fantasy magazine and deserves your support.

But don't take my word for it. Buy a copy. Read it. Make up your own mind.

Today's a particularly economical day for doing that.


Thursday, May 11, 2017

How Vivid Is Your Writing? Find Out For Yourself


All my time is taken up by the The Iron Dragon's Mother these days. So here's some more useful advice for gonnabe writers:

Granted, there are times when for legitimate reasons you might want your writing to be dull and bland. But as a rule, vivid is better than not. And concrete things are more vivid than abstractions. Here's how to see how vivid (or not) your writing is.

You understand this is just a fast and sloppy test, right? Good.

Take a page from a story you're working on. (Shown above: a page from "The Changeling's Tale," by yours truly.) Now take a colored market -- I chose yellow -- and highlight all the nouns that refer to things you can actually see or touch or taste or hear or smell. Fish. Air. Aunt Kate. Feather. Bravos.

Next, take a different color marker -- red, here -- and highlight all the adjectives indicating things that can be physically sensed.

Finally, take a third marker -- you can guess which color I used -- and highlight all the verbs that indicate actions that can be seen. Stirred. Swung. Turned. But not sensed or felt or realized.

Participles, articles, pronouns, and the like are left gray. A sentence like "Without meaning to, I had caused a sensation," though necessary here, is entirely colorless.

When you are done, look at the results. If the page looks bright and lively, chances are your prose is too. If if looks gray, then your prose is probably colorless and abstract.

And that's all.

Now, back to work, both of us!

Above: Yes, I'm sure I've made mistakes in the exemplar page above. But it was only the work of a minute. You, I'm sure, will put a great deal more care into your page.


Monday, May 8, 2017

The Penultimate Step In Writing Your Novel

I'm in the final stages of The Iron Dragon's Mother, where for every two pages I write, I rip out one that already exists. This would be alarming if I hadn't been through this exact same process so many times before.

However, this stage takes up so much of my attention that I've been neglecting my blog. Well, if I have to neglect one, I'd rather it not be my novel. Still, I do feel an obligation to those who read this blog regularly. So here's some gratuitous free advice for gonnabe writers.

I may have already told you what the final step in a writing a novel is: Reading the entire novel, from start to finish, aloud. There is no better way to discover the typos, dropped words, repetitions, and other bonehead mistakes that somehow manage to survive multiple revisions. Anyone who skips this step has only oneself to blame when they manage (as some will) to slip past the proofreader and editor.

The penultimate step, to be taken after the entire thing is written but before the oral reading is to go through the novel looking for repeated words and phrases. I'm writing a fantasy novel, so the first words I'll run through the search function are "great" and "vast." Such words are endemic to fantasy and you wouldn't want to overuse them:

The red knight rode out of the vast forest on his great destrier. Before him lay the vastness of the Panchatantra mountain range with nestled  below it the great city of T'renton. He had reached the midpoint of his epic so that the remaining great deeds of the future stretched, half-vast, before him.

Everyone has turns of phrase they particularly like. (I'm partial to "He said nothing" as a single-sentence paragraph, myself.) These should be identified and then searched. If they're striking enough to be memorable, repetition will lower you considerably in the readers' esteem.

And that's all. It's not really very difficult at all. But it is necessary.

And now, if you'll excuse me, I have a novel to write.


Monday, May 1, 2017

Serial Box in Brooklyn!


Back in the day, it was a well-kept secret how much serious art is collaborative. The Great Man (almost always Men) was supposed to be like John Wayne -- solitary, independent, heroic. Which was ridiculous, of course. Even Picasso, who was the most monstrously aloof of artists when he wanted to be, accepted input from other artists on Guernica, because that was a painting that mattered too much to him to keep up pretenses.

In literature, collaboration is everywhere, both overt and covert, and when it works well, it's loads of fun.

I'll be at the Brooklyn Commons tomorrow for the New York Review of Science Fiction Reading Series. event celebrating Serial Box's collaborative and serialized genre novels. If you're local and have the evening open, why not stop by?

I honestly expect it will be great fun.

You can find all the info here.

And Speaking of Dinosuars...

My paleontology novel,  Bones of the Earth, will be featured in Early Bird Books, which is Open Road Media's daily deals newsletter on May 15, 2017. That's two weeks from now. The ebook will be downpriced to 1.99 across all US retailers on that day.

To subscribe to EBB (and I believe you have to go through them to get this deal, though I have to confess I'm not absolutely sure), click here and follow the simple instructions.


Thursday, April 27, 2017

Writing Advice Du Jour

There are days when you simply cannot find the right words to express what you want to say. How does one cope with that?

By writing the wrong words.

Write down as much as you can, as best you can, despite the fact that it comes out lousy. You can always rewrite. And you will. As many times as it takes to turn what you've written into something adequate.

Writers who rely on inspiration find that the muse visits at longer and longer intervals until one day they realize that she's never coming back again. The only way to avoid that is to write whether you're inspired or not. The muse will drop by eventually, just to lecture you on how you've gotten it wrong..

I'd be ashamed to let you see what my first drafts look like.


Wednesday, April 26, 2017

As Good A Review As Any I've Had


Writers are touchy beasts. I see it in others and I see it in myself and consequently I've given some thought as to exactly why this should be.

My conclusion is that the ability to write good fiction is such a difficult skill to master that it's only possible to muster the discipline required ifC one believes that writing fiction is the single most important thing one could possibly be doing. Which makes the writer one of the most important people on earth. Which is an untenable opinion for any sane individual to hold. We all know ourselves too well to believe that one.

Can you say "cognitive dissonance," boys and girls?

My latest collection of short fiction, Not So Much Said the Cat, received a glowing review in Foundation the other day. So, being a writer, I'm torn over whether to share it with you.

On the one hand, getting such a review in Foundation is a big deal. The reviewers' remit is not to deliver consumer recommendations (buy this! don't bother with that!) but to provide insight into the book being discussed. So in a sense, this is exactly the sort of reaction I've been writing to get.

On the other hand, to reproduce sentences like The stories gathered here demonstrate the artistry and depth to which Swanwick is capable of discussing the structure of reality, questions of authenticity, and the nature of humanity and its relationships or His ability to continuously depict these themes well throughout these stories lends credence to his nature as a writer and his skill at depicting realistic sf worlds inhabited by realistic individuals would go far beyond the social bounds of modesty.

(Though, of course, in the name or promoting not myself, I hope, but my work, I have just done so.)

So instead of cherry-picking the review for praise, I'll note an insight that Molly Cobb, the reviewer, had about my work. She said that my fiction thematically discussed, "questioons of authenticity and the nature of humanity and its relationships." Oh, and also of free will. But I already knew that.

Marianne read that and said, "Still writing about identity, are you?"

It was some thirty years ago that Marianne floored me by pointing out that everything I wrote dealt with the question of identity. That thought had never occurred to me before. But when I looked at my stories in that light, it was inescapable.

Now, decades later, Ms Cobb has just said pretty much the same thing.

I recall that in an interview once I was asked if I could name any insights a critic had given me into my own work and could not. Obviously, I had not been reading the critics carefully enough.