Don’t Penalize Non-Pro Zines for Pro-Level Respect

August 14th, 2011

The committee to revise the Semiprozine category in the Hugo Awards has made their proposal, along with several minority recommendations by single members of the committee.  (Followers of this issue may remember that the Semiprozine Hugo was slated to be abolished two years ago, but a grassroots campaign led by editor and publisher Neil Clarke prevented that.)

At the core of this issue is how to define the difference between a “pro” zine and a “semipro” zine, since the former are not eligible in this category.

The committee’s recommended criteria offer a good distinction.  If a magazine provides a quarter of the income of any staff member, or is owned by a company that provides a quarter of the income of any person, it would be a pro zine. That makes perfect sense.  Lightspeed and Weird Tales,  for example, are both owned by publishing companies with full-time employees, and those magazines clearly have a different footing than Clarkesworld or Space and Time or my magazine, Beneath Ceaseless Skies.

But the minority proposal by Ben Yalow, a thirty-year fan, that any magazine that pays a pro rate for its fiction must be a pro zine, is ludicrous.  Other editors and publishers have pointed out the absurdity that such a criterion would make every zine that has been nominated in the Semiprozine category in the last four years no longer fit in that category.

The main flaw with his idea is its fundamental misunderstanding of why some non-pro zines, like my magazine Beneath Ceaseless Skies, pay a pro rate for fiction.

We do it out of respect.  Respect for authors, in an era when it’s all but impossible to make a living writing short fiction.  Respect for fans; the readers who still crave great short stories.  Respect for established writers doing great work in that form and upcoming writers using it to develop their voice. Respect for a form of fiction that has a proud tradition in our genre; that we know is in financial decline but we love it so much we do it regardless.

We pro-paying, non-pro zines feel this respect so deeply that we prioritize paying a pro rate above all other financial considerations. Look at any number of non-pro zines who have volunteer staffs–paying their authors a pro rate and their staff members nothing, for working sometimes over twenty hours a week. Look at the ones who have spartan websites or plain cover art–again, prioritizing the fiction above all else. Look at the ones, like BCS, who are 501c3 non-profit organizations, approved by the IRS as charities, because paying a pro rate for their fiction is such a priority that those zines know they will never, ever make a dime in profit.

Mr. Yalow seems to think it’s an arbitrary decision for these non-pro zines to use their money to pay pro rate rather than to pay their staffs.  He could not be more wrong.  Imagine giving an avid reader $100 to spend in the dealer’s room at a con.  Sure, it’s theoretically possible they could spend it on steampunk goggles or chainmail t-shirts.  But, as any avid reader can attest, their love for fiction means that the only actual outcome would be them walking out of the dealer’s room with $100 of books.  If not more.

This committee proposal and discussion comes at a crucial time.  WorldCon is this weekend, and Hugo business is conducted at the con.

If you will be at WorldCon and this issue is important to you (it should be, if you have ever sold a story to a semipro zine), go to the Preliminary Business Meeting at 10AM on Thursday morning.  Go there, and make your voice heard.  (EDIT: Kevin Standlee, in this comment, provided detailed information on the business schedule.  Thank you!)

With pro-paying, non-pro zines forming the majority of the pro-rate fiction markets these days, and publishing more fiction and a wider variety of it than the pro zines, it would be a sad day if the most prestigious awards in our genre were changed to no longer recognize this vibrant and crucial area of our field.

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Think She Would Trade with Me?

August 8th, 2011

Former mid-list New Weird/epic fantasy novelist Steph Swainston last month famously announced that she is quitting writing, canceling her current two-book contract, in order to train to become a college chemistry teacher.

Beyond the irony of her wanting the job I’ve already got (and me coveting hers!), her comments touch on several interesting points about the writerly life.  Yes, it is extremely solitudinous.  It can feel distancing from reality.

But that’s all within the writer’s control.  Have a family; have a life.  Have other pursuits and hobbies.  Go to conventions with your writer pals and drink into the wee hours of the morning (one of my favs!).  In addition to keeping you grounded, interactions with real people of course provide the insight into human nature that makes good fiction.

She’s absolutely right about many fans not realizing the pressure they put on authors.  It seems that in our modern TMZ paparazzi society, some fans have the misguided and selfish idea that superstars owe them something.  I’m reminded of “George Martin is not your bitch.” The self-centered obliviousness that a good many of Martin’s fans have displayed over the long delay for A Dance with Dragons is disgusting.

But I think Swainston is overreacting in things like saying that vocal fans can change an author’s next book.  Only if the writer lets them.  That too is all within the writer’s control.

I have no illusions that the life of a working novelist is tough.  Maybe “be careful what you wish for”?  It sounds like in this case it’s not the objective hardship but that such a life is not working out for Swainston.

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Two Epic Road-Maps

August 5th, 2011

Two interesting “road maps” for novel writing were online recently, from two different fantasy authors.

J.K. Rowling’s spreadsheet outline for Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix shows not only the arcs and plotlines of the characters, but also the arcs of the legends or mysteries–the plot threads that are purely news or information–and how they are growing or spreading during each chapter, even if none of that is happening on-screen (the on-screen characters aren’t hearing or spreading that information).

Fascinating.  In such an epic society-wide situation at that point in the saga, with Voldemort in the open, how much info is known about his plans and whereabouts is an important plot thread, even if it’s not in the scenes that the on-screen characters are having.  It makes perfect sense in a story of that scope that Rowling would want to track it in her outline almost like tracking a character.

Several recent blogs have discussed swords & sorcery master Michael Moorcock’s speed-writing method used to write some of the early Elric novels in only three days (!).  He mentions being very prepared, including having a list of cool fantastical images or things to use as he goes along.  (I assume his preparations also included knowing the characters well).  He used a prearranged plot format or structure–the fantasy quest–and knew general narrative problems he would need to solve. He broke goals or aims into immediate ones (must find the first magic item, in this chapter) and overriding ones (must save the world).

Likewise fascinating.  Moorcock of course was great at S&S, so the events and dialog he could come up with on the fly are far better than what most writers could.  But his strategies for planing, including having the plot structure in advance, seem astute moves no matter how long you have to write the whole novel.

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yes I will Yes

July 28th, 2011

Stylist Magazine in Britain recently posted a list of the best 100 closing lines from books.

They mentioned a lot of literary greats–The Great Gatsby, Pride and Prejudice, The Old Man and the Sea.  And several classic literary spec-fic ones, like 1984, The Wonderful Wizard of OzSlaughterhouse Five, Brave New World.

But I didn’t see them mention my fav:  Molly Bloom’s soliloquy from Joyce’s Ulysses, which forms the whole last chapter.  She wrestles with weighty emotional issues in her life, and her monologue becomes a heartwarming reaffirmation of her love for Leopold, ending with the famous words “and yes I said yes I will Yes.”

The droll literati joke is that Molly’s soliloquy also contains no punctuation. So the entire chapter is actually the last line! How could you have a better closing line than one that is an entire chapter? :)

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