Joe Abercrombie: Best Served Cold, and Lee Marvin and Machiavelli

Junot Diaz-blurbed Joe Abercrombie has a new novel out called Best Served Cold. This past week he’s been guest blogging on Omnivoracious, talking about his novel and the influence of, among others, Machiavelli. It’s an interesting look at cross-pollination between heroic fantasy and other genres and approaches.

Lee Marvin and Seedy Underbellies

Machiavelli and Medieval Total War

Bloody History

Mark Charan Newton on Things He’s Learned About Being a Writer

Some concise and useful thoughts, especially for writers with only a couple of books out. Here’re the last three on his list (below). The very last one is crucial. The second-to-last is influenced by how hard you work to position yourself for luck. The third-to-last depends on how many open channels and how much white noise you’re willing to carry around in your head. Me, less and less these days. I can see a time coming when I can tolerate none.

8. Following the debate on forums and blogs only makes you tired. Of course you want to monitor what people are saying; doesn’t mean you should. Scott Lynch’s summon author spell seems to work for the most part, thanks to Google alerts, but it’s hard to know when to stop.

9. Luck matters just as much as talent. Kind of speaks for itself, really.

10. I knew this anyway, but getting a writing contract doesn’t mean you can give up your day job. Not that I’d want to, since mine is fun, but the money (for 99% of new writers) isn’t enough when you sign a deal. The initial advance is broken into smaller payments, for signature, manuscript delivery, publication in hardcover, paperback etc. Then you need to earn that advance before you get royalties, which takes time to accrue.

Am I Doing Something Wrong?

This site has all of these cool photos of writers’ workspaces. The photographer writes about the project’s genesis on the site:

There is a powerful aura of creative energy that surrounds Michael Swanwick. I can tell you this with absolute certainty, because I’ve felt it. Some time in late 2008 I got invited to a party at his house, mostly or entirely, I suspect, because he mistook me for someone else. While there I asked if I could see his Hugos, since I knew he had five of them. “Of course!” he said, jovially, and lead me up to his office. This I thought in stunned wonder as my eyes crept across the expanse of it, is a place of great significance and it needs to be seen. It was like I’d cracked open his skull and seen the gears of genius.

Hmmm. Well, I don’t actually have a set place that I write. I write in bars and coffeeshops. I write at the kitchen table sometimes. I write in the livingroom. None of these places seem particularly like a sanctuary. I am more likely to think of a particular type of notebook as my writing area.

I do have an office, as pictured below, but I wouldn’t say it’s VanderMeer Central or anything. Am I the only nomad around these here parts? And what do you think my office space says about me as a writer?

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MUMPSIMUS MINDBLOWING SF

Matt Cheney has a list of some mindblowin’ SF, much of it by women.

I don’t know Mike Ashley, I don’t know his editorial methodology (assuming there is one, other than to gather a bunch of stories, stick a title on it, and send it out there), and I am not interested in sitting in judgment or being righteous, especially based on one book. It’s also unfortunate that’s there’s an implied guilt by association that sticks to the contributors to the anthology, who have absolutely nothing to do with the decision-making process.

That said, it is mindblowingly stupid in this day and age not to make more of an effort to find more diverse sources for fiction for your anthology.

That said, if I knew in advance that an anthology would only have white males in it, I would not be interested in having my work in said anthology.

Do I think this is a result of blatant prejudice or sexism? No. I think mostly it’s the result of carelessness, lack of thought, and lack of effort. Pure laziness, and editors who come across more as packagers.

But it’s also a result of lack of access, which does speak to marginalization. It also speaks to the Cult of the Personality, and the weird idea that experienced writers hit a home run every time out. Yes, I know this is a tangent to the main discussion going on out there in the blogosphere, but I have nothing original to add to that discussion. So, takes deep breath

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Daniel Stowe Botanical Gardens

I love botanical gardens, so it was a happy confluence when I noticed a sign for the Daniel Stowe Botanical Gardens at an exit off of I-85 on my way to the Charlotte airport after Shared Worlds. I had three hours until the flight, so I stopped at the gardens for a good forty minutes. Such gardens often strike me as somewhat fanciful, even fantastical, in the confluence of whimsical elements. This garden was interesting because of the high number of water features.

It was a doubly delightful detour because it turned out I could drive on from the gardens to the airport, and the whole drive–to the gardens and then on to the airport–was through just lovely, scenic countryside and small towns. Next year, Ann and I will definitely want to explore the area further.

Anyway, here are some photos, with the whole set on flickr.

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World Fantasy Award Finalists (and Steampunk II and Steampunk Prime)

Congrats to all of the nominees for the World Fantasy Award–the ballot is reproduced after the cut. Special congrats to my wife Ann, who has never before been a finalist and now has two nominations! (This also means she’s been up for the Hugo, Shirley Jackson, and World Fantasy Awards this year.)

I’m up as co-editor of the Steampunk anthology (sixth or seventh nomination?, with two wins). Seems as appropriate a time as any to mention we’ll be co-editing a Steampunk II (reprints from the last ten years) for Tachyon and that I have sold the definitive book on Steampunk–art, photos, and text–to a publisher in NYC. (Thanks Jake and Leslie, among others.) And, might as well throw in that the next three Best American Fantasy volumes will be edited by Minister Faust, Junot Diaz, and Catherynne M. Valente (more on that next week).

Finally, Last Drink Bird Head will be out for World Fantasy, where in addition to serving as two of the GoH we will be having a Finch/Booklife/LDBH release party at the convention (Thursday night) and it will of course be called LAST DRINK BIRD HEAD: The Book Release Party to End All Book Release Parties.

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Burning Angels: Ballard and Vance

Strange juxtapositions to come back to after two weeks: the Jack Vance anthology (mine is either among the strongest or weakest in there, depending on various reports) and the best of Ballard, along with some stones from Shirley Jackson.

Odd coming back after two weeks of such intensity and non-stop work, living in a little ivy-strewn cottage with two old dogs outside to greet me whenever I left or came back. Good company in the form of Ann and Holly Black, and then Tobias Buckell, Will Hindmarch, and Darin Bradley along with faculty, TAs, RAs, the students, and others. Some days it seemed like I’d been there a million years. Other days like it was a single moment.

The flight into Atlanta was nuts. In the middle of bad weather, the pilot seemed to come in at the wrong angle and we pulled up groaning at the last second and came back around to try again–and got it right this time. Followed by a creaky flight to Tallahassee and back into the known world.

With a Wilco song in my head and an image that came to me during the almost-crash: of an angel with flaming wings burning through the aisle, trailed by a flickering, inexorable komodo dragon, smelling of rotted meat. Fodder for the story I’m working on called “Komodo.”

Other inspirations, too, to go with the perspirations–like the woman in the airport bar who bought the meals of soldiers headed out to Afghanistan. Or the other woman who had missed her flight because she’d been transfixed by a really good jazz pianist. It happens. It happens all the time. (Although it really shouldn’t.)

Back now and trying to find the point and the focus again–even as I have to submerged for the next few mornings to work on the top sekrit project with native species and deal with other stuff in the afternoons. Time for Ann to take the router again.

What College Creative Writing Programs Are Sympathetic to Non-Realist Fiction?

One question that came up a couple of times at Shared Worlds from the older students was: What creative writing programs would you recommend?

The answer isn’t as easy as you might think, because for those writers whose work veers toward non-realist fiction–whether you call it fantasy/SF, surreal, magic realism, or whatever–the best programs may or may not be those traditionally thought of as “elite”.

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Shared Worlds Chapbook, Design by John Coulthart, Text from the Students

Although I will be blogging generally about the teen writing camp Shared Worlds (for which I serve as assistant director) over the next few days, I thought I would start out with something specific: the Shared Worlds chapbook that collected their artifact and bestiary writing exercises in saddle-stapled form. With great support from the teaching assistants and Cathy Connor in IT, we were able to create and print this nice memento of the students’ experience within about four-days–largely due, of course, to John Coulthart’s expertise and experience.

The exercises only capture a little snapshot of what the students were up to–and they produced a lot of cool stuff, including their full story in week two–but we thought it important to give them something to take away from the camp. In the back of the chapbook, we included space for autographs. So after we surprised them with it on the second Friday, the students were able to go around and have everyone sign it, too. (See photos below.)

John did great job with the images, and as you can see one student, Noah, even included diagrams as part of his artifact entry.

The two exercises were really about leveraging and stretching your imagination. On the first day each student got an “artifact”–an object that they had to recontextualize in their shared world, which meant they had to by the end of week one, with their worlds fairly complete, to turn in two to four paragraphs on how that object fit into their milieu. It could be something owned by or of significance to a character, a piece of a country’s history, or just about anything. Part the point, given that many of the artifacts are pretty mundane, ordinary things, is to show the students that anything in the real world can be fodder for their fantastical writing. Some students even used their artifact paragraphs as the basis for their complete story in the second week.

The bestiary exercise has them pair up and write about their partner as if that person were a fantastical animal, using their powers of observation (in a nice way) to tell the reader something true about that person. This exercise served as a nice way to get a fanciful author’s bio for each student in the back of the chapbook. (It’s also part of a longer series of exercises Ann and I do as part of adult workshops.)

Here, then, are a few relevant photos, with more on Shared Worlds generally tomorrow.

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