Checking in: CA-1 North Equals Ecstatic Day (and Facebook)

As I talked about on the Borders Babel Clash blog yesterday, I spent a blissful day driving up CA-1 North along the California coast from Los Angeles to San Francisco. I spent the night in Monterey before moving on up to SF. It was a mindblowing experience. It was a kind of totally chaste orgasm for the senses. Texture, image, smell, taste–everything. I felt like every circuit in my body was in danger of getting blown out. The only place I’ve ever felt anything similar was when Ann and I drove up the coast from Cairns toward Port Douglas. Stunning mountain/sea vistas and an amazing shades of green. It’s a day that I’ll remember for the rest of my life.

Gigs continue to go well, and I’ve met some fascinating people. The Book Soup event cracked me up because they had two sets of chairs in narrow rows at right angles, with me at the corner, the erotica section behind me. Not only was there some giant naked ass on a coffee table book directly to my left, but I got whiplash trying to look toward both audiences. But it went well, and I picked up a ton of Europa Editions, which Book Soup was kind enough to have in a separate section so I didn’t have to root around in the fiction section.

I’m very much looking forward to the SF in SF event tonight at the Variety Theater. I’m staying with Jacob and Rina Weisman right now, and they’re incredibly thoughtful hosts and great fun.

In other news, I’ve given up on using Twitter for updates and am just Facebooking my experiences with photos and text as a kind of mini-diary. So check my status feed out on Facebook if you’re interested in the day-to-day stuff. (And: wow! awesome guestblogging, folks!)

Here’re some photos from my adventures the last couple of days.

[Read more…]

How cover art influences book sales (at least, for one picky reader)

Guest blogger Jason Sanford often rants on his website at His fiction has been published in Interzone, Year’s Best SF 14, Analog, Intergalactic Medicine Show, Pindeldyboz, and other places, and has won the 2008 Interzone Readers’ Poll and a Minnesota State Arts Board Fellowship.

Here’s a simple story about how important cover art is to an author’s book sales. There’s this struggling new writer named John Scalzi, who has a first fantasy novella coming out called The God Engines. Okay, I’m being a bit silly—we all know Scalzi. But for me, this book wasn’t an automatic buy. While I’ve really enjoyed Scalzi’s science fiction novels, I wasn’t sure I’d buy a fantasy from him.

Scalzi1Then I saw the cover by Tomislav Tikulin (see right) and decided to take a pass. This isn’t a pan on Tikulin. I usually love his art. If you go through his online portfolio, you’ll see a ton of amazing illustrations, any one of which would make me buy the story they’re based on. But in this one case, the art didn’t work for me, so I decided to take a pass.

[Read more…]

100 Words

Guest blogger Kameron Hurley does most of her ranting at her blog, Brutal Women. You can find  some of her recent fiction in Year’s Best SF 12, Strange Horizons, and EscapePod. She currently makes a living as a marketing and sales copywriter in Ohio, and has sold or nearly sold or sort of sold or is still in the process of selling a book called God’s War, which may or may not actually be published at some unspecified period from an as yet unspecified publisher. Stay tuned.

When I interviewed for my current job as a copywriter, one of the questions they asked was, “What happens when you’re not inspired? I mean, when you’re not in the mood to write? When you’re not feeling creative?”

I laughed. “Writing is a job,” I said. “You work at it the same way you would any other job. Even when you don’t feel good. Even when it feels like all you’re writing is crap. You endure.”

This has been a great mantra for my day job work. I write copy all day long. I write copy when I’m hungry, miserable, tired, depressed, exhausted, uninspired, stressed out, and under pressure. Because it’s my job. You write copy or you starve.

But when it comes to my second job… when I get home every night and kiss my partner and work out and eat some food and trudge upstairs to start writing fiction… well, that same “write or starve” mentality just doesn’t motivate me.

I worked far better when I was either actually starving… or under contract. Having a book contract makes it feel more like write-or-starve work. When you’re just plugging away for yourself… most days it’s like pulling teeth.

The worst is when I’ve gone weeks or months without writing anything of note. Getting out of the habit of writing is like getting out of the habit of eating well or exercising. You fall back into bad habits and suddently it’s all World of Warcraft and MST3K and coming up with new and interesting ways to eliminate sugar and carbs from common recipes.

And those first few days of getting back into your routine are torture.

These days, my fiction writing has too-often fallen into that category: something tough and time-consuming that I know I need to do because, dammit, it’s good for me. After sitting in front of a computer writing all day, the last fucking thing I want to do when I come home is sit in front of the computer for another 3-4 hours working on writing projects.

Hence, all that dithering.

But what gets me back on track? How do you roll back into a routine after falling from grace?

I tackle writing wipe-outs the same way I tackle work-out wipeouts. So, I haven’t worked out in a week and it’s tough to get back into it. So I say, OK, I’ll just do 10 minutes tonight. Or, I’ll just do half that pilates video, or just one of those weight training circuits (instead of all 5). Then the next day I say, OK, just 10 minutes. You can do 10 minutes. And by day three I’m like, hey 15 minutes, huh. You can do that.

And 15 goes by like a breeze and suddenly you’re at 20, and it’s only a matter of time before you’re back up to 30-40 min a day 5 days a week, and you don’t feel quite so doughy anymore.

Writing is like that.

Cause see, if you sit down after a long break and say, “I’m going to finish this fucking chapter tonight,” or “I’m going to write 2,000 words today,” after six weeks off… it’s like saying you’re going to hop on the treadmill and run 5 miles after playing Assassin’s Creed and World of Warcraft every night for the last four weeks. Chances are, you’ll fail. Then you’ll feel bad about yourself. Then you associate that bad feeling with the actual working out you *did* do, and you’ve totally scarred your writing experience.

When I put together my new writing schedule, it looked a lot like my workout schedule after a couple weeks off. For the next two weeks, I need to write just 100 words a day on Babylon, the third book in my God’s War series.

Yes, you read that right:

100 words.

I got this idea from Tobias Buckell. See, anybody can write 100 words. And chances are, after the first 50, you’ll warm up a bit and write *more* than 100. I cleared 500 tonight without really thinking about it.

Small steps. Little increments. Writing novels, in particular, is an endurance sport, not a sprint. One of my big mistakes after every writing hiatus is to try and attack the issue head on with crazy 5,000 words a day goals that left me burned out and miserable after a few days.

But 100 words?

This blog post is over 700.

100 words about an exiled bounty hunter picking up a contract on a diplomat? I can SO do 100 words about that.

It’s easy to forget that writing isn’t always about big word counts and huge sacrifices. Sometimes it’s just the small, steady, accretion of words.  Even just 100 at a time.

A Fine Creepy Texture: The Illustrations of Aleks Sennwald

S.J. Chambers is an articles editor for Strange Horizons.  Not only has her work appeared in that fine forum, but also in, Yankee Pot Roast, Mungbeing, Fantasy, Bookslut, and The Baltimore Sun’s Read Street Blog.  She is also currently working with Jeff as Master Archivist for The Steampunk Bible.

Hi, everyone.  As you probably gathered from above, I’m S.J. Chambers and I  am a writer and editor.  I really love talking to people and finding out why they do what they do and love what they love.  As a result, I’ve come to befriend really interesting and creative people who I’d like to introduce to the Ecstatic Days readers though a series of “conversations.”

Rom by Aleks Sennwald

Rom by Aleks Sennwald

Aleks Sennwald is an up and coming freelance illustrator living in New Jersey.  Her work has been showcased in various online forums like Jewcy magazine and can be found popping up within the pages of esteemed publications such as The Oxford Press, The Deal, Paste, The Vegetarian Times, Fantagraphics Books, Spectra Pulse, Games For Windows, Rizzoli Publishing, and Bantam Dell Publishing.  Her work is characterized by tight compositions and excellent attention to texture, as well as bold and unique color combinations. Aleks was kind enough to sit down at her computer and chat with me for two hours about her work and the illustrator’s life. [Read more…]

Weird (and awesome) link! Green porno.

So, to start with, I am almost totally alienated from pop culture. Ironically, I’m much more tapped in now (at 27) than I ever was as a teenager. Pop music, movies, what? I can name like three Madonna songs and that’s primarily because I went to Sarah Lawrence College (where the stereos flip wildly from “Vogue” to Wagner’s The Ring Cycle to Sondheim in Concert).

The one form of popular media that I do intake regularly (and much more than is good for me, no doubt) is television. For a while, I was puzzled by my obsession with shows like Dexter and Project Runway, until I finally figured out that I’ve become super-saturated with prose what with writing all day, and reading for the magazine I edit, and having recently acquired my fiction MFA. Television gives me a chance to salve my narrative addiction without tapping into job- and school-related stressors.

And via the miracle of television, I’ve become able to pretend I know things about movies, too. How? Because of wikipedia.

Oh, wikipedia. Your choice of subjects is sometimes amusing. You have articles on the careers of every minor character from Are You Being Served. I love you for that; I really do.

All this brings me ’round to the beginning of my story, which happens while I’m rewatching season two of 30 rock. Jack’s ex-wife, played by Isabella Rosselini, romps around acting beautiful and ridiculous. I pursue my stealth activity of looking her up on wiki so that I can pretend I have a clue about the movie industry — and lo and behold, wikipedia presents to me (via Isabella Rosselini and the Sundance Channel) the most wonderful of all possible gifts. Green porno.

I gape. Isabella Rosselini is vamping it up in a beige body suit with painted nipples, pretending to be a snail.

As a fly, wearing enormous compound-eye glasses, she scoffs at a falling newspaper and then mounts a cardboard model of another fly. “Flies have sex multiple times a day,” she says, flashing the camera an enormous grin as she continues her pelvic thrusts.

These videos, most of which last under two minutes, star Isabella Rosselini as a host of animals. She employs papier mache, cardboard, and puppetry, to explain the sex lives of these creatures. She strikes a brilliant balance between didacticism and actual pornography: these videos aren’t going to arouse most humans, but you can imagine them being titillating to anthropomorphic flies and snails.

It’s not a big surprise that undersea angler fish — who live in the depths of the ocean, fishing for their prey with a luminous lure — have bizarre sex lives. But while the story of their extreme sexual dimorphism is fascinating and even somewhat shocking, I think green porno is most interesting when it portrays animals that are closer to home. Earthworms live in everyone’s backyard; they are as ordinary as muck. But despite their at-hand mundanity, their sex lives are still alien.

The real lesson of green porno is: thank god you’re not an insect, especially if you’re male.

No, wait, the real lesson of green porno is: life is strange. And also, thank god you’re not an insect, especially if you’re male.

Green porno has been out for a while, but for some reason, it hasn’t seemed to catch fire in my part of the blogosphere. Consequently, I intend to plug them for all they’re worth until they become ubiquitous and everyone knows how spiders mate.

You can watch all of the green porno videos — including some that haven’t made it onto youtube — on the sundance channel’s website.

How I learned to stop worrying and tolerate the day job.

Eden Robins writes what she has just decided to call quirky fantasy or “quirkpunk.”  She is also co-founder of Brain Harvest: An Almanac of Bad-Ass Speculative Fiction and lives in Chicago where she dreams of advances in non-dairy cheese technology. Her day job is pretty cool, but she’d still like to quit it someday.

In honor of Jeff’s thoughtful and helpful new guide to the writing life, Booklife, I thought I would offer my own less helpful advice on living through the life before you get to the good stuff.

I’ve seen a lot of advice from writers about day jobs — when to quit, when not to quit, how to quit, how to deal with the aftermath of quitting/not quitting — in fact, most of the advice I’ve come across deals with that exciting time when a writer has to decide when and if to take off the training wheels of day jobbery.  This, I’m sorry to say, is not helpful to me. I am not anywhere near a place where I can quit my day job, though I certainly one day hope to be. Nevertheless, I have to live my life now and not then, and so do most aspiring writers that I know.

So how do you manage those eight or so hours a day where your time doesn’t belong to you? So many writers I know hate their day jobs, but this really shouldn’t be the case. Surely there’s a way to work on your dreams while not dreading half of your waking life?

I don’t have a perfect solution, but over the course of the past several years, I’ve honed a set of rules for myself in choosing a job I can live off of while still enjoying myself, relatively speaking of course. Few writers desperately want to be at their day jobs. If we did, we would make them our regular, for-real jobs. Note that these rules are not applicable to everyone — just me — but I encourage others in a similar boat to come up with their own.

But before I get on with my rules, I’d like to take a brief moment to talk about the day job choice of Going Back to School. When I first decided to become a writer, I thought A-ha! What I will do is Go Back to School for something utterly unrelated to writing. This is not a terrible choice in and of itself, but it was a terrible choice for me. I didn’t think it through, and I ended up starting and then quitting a master’s program in which I had no business enrolling. But this tactic can work for people who are very good at managing time and multitasking several different projects and ideas at once. Particularly if they study something in the field that they enjoy writing. Every so often I think about this idea with yearning, so perhaps someday I will Go Back to School and become an Expert in something that I enjoy writing about. But until that day, here are my rules for choosing and thriving in a day job:

1. It must be unrelated to writing. I’ve found, and maybe you have too, that people who know you’re a writer are always trying to get you to be a newspaper reporter (or, at least, they were… when there were still newspapers). If you’re funny, they tell you to write for Saturday Night Live. If you’re politically-inclined, they tell you to be a speechwriter. Personally, there is nothing more exhausting to me than writing all day and then coming home and writing some more. If I just enjoyed putting words to paper, I would do something other than fiction, trust me. As it is, I just like writing fiction.

1a. The exception to this rule is what I have heard called “word math.” This is basically writing that doesn’t take much creative initiative, or writing about a subject that you know so well that it takes almost no energy to do. Curriculum, web copy, press releases, that sort of thing. Word math.

2. It must be interesting, but not too interesting. Have you ever wondered how you can sit all day from 9-5 doing absolutely nothing and then come home and be utterly exhausted? Me too. That is a definite day job no-no. On the other hand, a job that is too exciting, keeping you on your toes every moment of the day is, by definition, exhausting. So you have to find a happy medium. Something that keeps your interest in a low-level, Flight of the Conchords in the background kind of way.

3.    It can’t make me dread getting out of bed every day. Tough one, right? I don’t have to look forward to work, but I can’t want to burrow a hole in my mattress either.  A lot of times, people will tell you to get a job that has “interesting characters” that you can “take notes on.” Well, for me anyway, it doesn’t take a lot of “interesting characters” to make me want to burrow a hole in my mattress. It may sound like good research potential to work as a dental receptionist or a singing waitress but it loses its luster very quickly.

4.    It can’t start before 10 am, and it can’t include weekends.
Don’t roll your eyes at me. These are my rules. I’m happy to work late, but I want my mornings and weekends free. I do most of my writing in the morning before work, so the more time I have, the more writing I do. It’s important to know and work with your strengths.

5.    Ideally, it would involve a four day week and health insurance.
Now you really hate me. But I’m trying to make a point here. Make rules you can live with and try and find a way to make them work for you.

I’ve actually managed to find a job that follows all of these rules, but it has taken a long time, and I’ve had to hone these rules through trial and error. It’s not perfect. I still get bored/tired/cranky/wistful/envious about a future that doesn’t exist yet in which I am endlessly prolific in my writing and money/happiness/accolades rain from the sky. But the fact is unless you have a trust fund, you have to have a day job. This day job will take up a lot of your time, so you should probably find a way to enjoy it. And though I can’t say from experience, I would bet that enjoying your day job now will make the transition to a full-time writing life much smoother — because if you’re not constantly dreaming about your success and how glorious and full of singing angels it will be, you’re less likely to be disappointed by the fact that being a full-time writer is a day job too.

What editors want

Caren Gussoff writes urban science fantasy, whatever that is. She’s also co-founder of Brain Harvest: An Almanac of Speculative Fiction. She lives in Seattle with her husband, the SFF artist Chris Sumption, and their two cats, Molly Bloom and Paul Atriedes.

So, not only did I get to see Jeff read from Finch last week, but this past Monday, I attended a salon/lecture he hosted on some ideas taken from Booklife. I’m not gloating–OK, maybe a little–but the salon/lecture got me thinking about my own “book life” and inspired me to read the whole book in pretty much one afternoon. I’m neither here to praise nor bury Caesar here (but it is an excellent and brutally honest book that shares a lot of hard-won wisdom about making your way through the world as a writer), but instead to add a pseudo-addendum about what I’ve learned from getting to don an editor’s hat for Brain Harvest. I’ve blogged personally about this a few times (what I’ve learned from reading slush, the truth behind your query letter, etc), but for you, the writers among you dear Ecstatic Days readers, I humbly present to you “Five Truths About Editors” (the brutally honest, hard-won wisdom edition).

1. Editors want you to follow their guidelines. Seriously. It doesn’t matter how arbitrary, persnickety, or obsessive-compulsive they seem to you. The guidelines are there for a reason–even if that reason is to simply make that editor happy. Editors usually make as much money at editing as writers do writing–you know, not much–and so they do this for the love. They’re just as cookoo-bananas too. So, keep them happy; move up in the line.

1a. A corollary to this is that these cookoo-bananas editors can also be a bit delicate. Do yourself a favor. If you are going to address your cover letter to them (as opposed to “Dear editor,” which is usually sufficient), spell their name correctly. Really. It’s a small kindness. A cheap show of respect. Just a good citizen thing to do.

2. Once in a blue moon, contests will charge a reading fee. Yes, this seems to initially violate the infamous Yog’s law (coined by James D. Macdonald), that money must always flow towards the writer. Thing is, if a magazine is reputable, established, non-profit, or doesn’t sell advertising, this reading fee is, indeed, counter intuitively, flowing towards some writers: paying the judges some sort of honoraria and funding the prize money to the winning writer. That money may just not initially seem to flow to you, in particular. But karma has a long memory.

2a. Did I mention that editors do this for the love? Editors of reputable, established magazine are not taking your reading fees or subscription money and living fat on a tropical island. Trust me. Most of them realize at this point in the game that if they wanted to be rich, they’d have learned to play the electric guitar.

3. Some editors are jerks. Just because they’re an editor doesn’t mean that they have unquestionable taste, good manners, or common courtesy. That being said, if you run in with an editor who’s a jerk, or for that matter “just doesn’t get you,” move on. Don’t argue with them. Don’t send them hateful emails. Don’t badmouth them at cons. Don’t endeavor to teach them manners. It’s probably not you, anyway. Just send your work elsewhere. And if you must hold a grudge, then remember: when you hold up your first Hugo and pump your fist at the adoring crowd, that will be crow enough.

4. I’ve said this before, but it’s worth repeating. As a general rule, editors are harried, overworked, and 2 weeks behind on everything. Slush piles grow exponentially. They have no desire to make more work for themselves. So. If they ask for something else, they mean: send us something else because this piece doesn’t work, but we think you’ve got potential.
Asking for another piece is not a blow-off. It’s a rejection of one piece, yes. But it’s an open door. Come through it, and don’t be shy about reminding them that they asked to see something else.

4a. The ugly flip side of this is when they say something along the lines of “Good luck placing this elsewhere,” they mean, um, exactly that. They are not asking to see a rewrite or another iteration. You should never need a decoder ring to decipher a rejection letter. While they are usually couched in politeness, they pretty much say what they mean.

 5. This sounds like 2.a, but editors are your ally, not your enemy. I know it more often feels like you are a lone warrior attempting to execute a novel strategy against an enemy as you pack up your latest literary gem and send it off, fingers and toes crossed, that it will land on some human person’s desk or screen and that they will, you know, like it. But editors like writing. They like writers. They open the slush pile rooting for you. They do. It’s every editor’s secret dream to be a part of discovering the next genius god, to have a small hand in helping that genius god develop and get their genius god work into readers’ hands. We’re gatekeepers of a sort, yes, but we’d dying to let you in. Keep knocking on the door.

From the Road: Blurry but Unbowed….

(Oh dear. This isn’t going to end well.)

You peeps? You still out there? Can you tell me what day it is? I think it might be Wednesday, but I’m not sure.

The book tour goes well–I’ve just written a little bit about it thus far for the Omnivoracious blog, including a mention of the remarkable Tio’s Tacos.

I’ve also started guest blogging over at Borders’ Babel Clash, along with David Anthony Durham and Paul Tremblay, who I’ll be reading with at the Boston Borders on November 20th. Check out posts on book covers, reality in fantasy, and more.

(The awesome students at CalState San Bernardino)

I’m heading back into Los Angeles this afternoon following a lovely event and dinner at Cal State San Bernardino, set up by the maximally talented Glen Hirshberg, who is truly a scholar and gentleman.

Tonight I am at Book Soup on the Sunset Strip, starting at 7pm. I’ll be telling the “professional cockroach” story, reading from Finch, giving a teaser of Booklife, and taking questions. I hope to see you there. Come on out and I promise you an entertaining show.

Now, back to your regularly scheduled programming. Voila! Huzzah! (Nope, not punch-drunk at all…)

(Jon Strongbow and his cool art, Pike’s Place Market, Seattle)

Genre fiction and Tie-in Fiction – a conversation between Mark Charan Newton and Dan Abnett.

Mark Charan Newton was born in 1981, and has worked as an editor for imprints covering film and media tie-in fiction, and later SF and Fantasy. His first novel, Nights of Villjamur, is published by Pan Macmillan (Tor UK), and will be released in June 2010 from Random House (Bantam Spectra).

In a previous life, I worked as an editor of tie-in fiction for properties of 2000AD and New Line Cinema – further adventures, not merely novelisations of screenplays. It was an immense amount of fun. The books were entertaining, the stories possessed many facets, and the authors were great to work with. They handled the job as seriously as any other writers I’ve met, and took immense pride in their work. For many, it was a stepping stone to getting their own work published. For others, they developed their craft in worlds belonging to others, exploring aspects that couldn’t be covered on the screen.

I’m now a writer of original fantasy fiction, and I’ve been hugely lucky in the reception to my work, and this difference in attitude between original and tie-in fiction has interested me, and even shocked me.

So, meet Dan Abnett. You might have heard of him. He’s sold over 1.2 million books – a staggering number. One of his Warhammer 40,000 novels was the 8th bestselling SF and Fantasy title in the UK in 2008 – overall for the year. He writes popular comic strips for Marvel. He writes further adventures for Dr Who. He writes audio adventures. As well as recently releasing Triumff, an original novel, he’s the undisputed king of tie-in fiction. But, I can sense from some of you out there that by mentioning the phrase tie-in, you’ve automatically lost a little enthusiasm.

Why? That’s what I want to explore with Dan. We had a conversation about tie-in fiction, work for hire, and original fiction, the stigmas associated, and why such snobbery only seems to exist in genre fiction. I really hope that we can change people’s opinions about what seems to be the black sheep of the literature family.

[Read more…]

Niches, Typecasting, and Stereotypes

The other day, I was chatting with some of my co-workers at my day job, and the subject of Dragon*Con came up—of which I’m a director—and particularly last Dragon*Con, where we had Leonard Nimoy as a guest.  The discussion got around to how he has embraced his Star Trek lineage now where in the past he tried to distance himself from it, not wanting to be typecast forever as Spock.

It started me musing upon the nature of fame and creative pigeonholes.  From where I’m sitting, as a writer whose last name isn’t “King” or “Rowling,” it’s still an occasion for shock and thrilled confetti throwing when I encounter someone who’s actually heard of me or read my work.  This industry doesn’t exactly bequeath household-name celebrity status on a regular basis, plus I’m primarily a short story writer. So yeah, I’m a far cry from and don’t consider myself to be “famous.”  But even with the (very) minuscule amount of recognition I get, I and my work still get typecast.
[Read more…]