Archive for the ‘random rants’ Category

Endless Payrate Debate

Wednesday, December 16th, 2009

Wow–it’s amazing how these blogosphere debates in the SF/F writing community go viral like Sauron’s army sweeping over Middle Earth. Here’s what I think about this endless “payrate debate,” in case anyone out there in radio-land is listening (I DJed enough 2AM college radio shows to know that it’s often dead air out there :) ).

I think the fact that short fiction pay rates are not a “living wage” is irrelevant. Short fiction is a dying industry with a tiny consumer base; it can’t pay a living wage anymore. Genre novel publishing pay for mid-list writers is getting smaller every year; even with “high” advances like $50,000, novels can’t pay a living wage either. Connie Willis, at a workshop I attended, said that the era when the majority of writers could make a living at it is gone. I agree.

The only point I see in the wage debate is that if this magazine Black Matrix is spending lots of money to produce a slick glossy magazine but only paying 1/5 cent per word for fiction, their budgeting priorities are way wrong. The biggest expense for my magazine by far is paying the authors, and that’s how it should be. Isn’t the fiction the priority?

It also saddens me to see these same-old endlessly circuitous debates between pro writers and aspiring ones, like similar arguments over self-publishing. The gifted pro writers who’ve never struggled through hundreds of rejections don’t understand what it’s like to be struggling like that, and the aspiring writers don’t understand that publishing is not an elitist system that’s stacked against them. Neither truly understands the other’s point, so they argue endlessly.

The saddest thing to me is all the time they both sink into it–time that would be better spent writing! :)

Science and Awe, and F Displacing SF

Tuesday, September 8th, 2009

I read an interesting article recently in the National Post discussing how fantasy, over the last few decades, is displacing science fiction. As a fantasy writer with a PhD in research science, I’ve thought a lot over the years about this very subject.

I’ve heard the displacement of SF attributed in part to the landing of the Viking 2 lander on Mars in 1976. Before that landing, SF featuring aliens or creatures living on Mars was still reasonably plausible. But after the Viking lander sent back those pictures of the actual surface of the planet, those scenarios were obviously inaccurate. So SF had to abandon them and stick with scientifically plausible ones.

The period of that landing also included several other major things in F/SF. Fantasy exploded in the U.S. in the early 70s, fueled by the paperback release of The Lord of the Rings, and publishers met the booming demand for similar epic F with lots of new trilogies. Classic fantasy, like Conan and Fafhrd & the Gray Mouser, was rediscovered. The World Fantasy Awards were founded, giving fantasy some artistic legitimacy.

I think one of the things this new fantasy captured well was the sense of awe and wonder that draws so many readers to F/SF. After the Viking probe drained most of the speculative wonder from the surface of Mars, SF lost some of its potential for that awe in Mars as a fictional setting. I think that same pattern has repeated many times since after more recent and more specialized scientific discoveries.

Some SF, as the Post article points out, has kept using fantastical elements that modern scientists consider impossible, such as FTL drive and time travel. But fantasy still outsells SF as the choice of most speculative fiction readers. Perhaps they like fantasy’s familiarity, with its common pre-tech or paranormal urban settings. Perhaps they don’t like scientific details as entertainment (I’ve taught enough college chemistry courses to know first-hand that many people just don’t enjoy hard science). Or perhaps it’s fantasy’s unfettered awe, limited only by the writer’s (and the reader’s) imagination, heedless of scientific plausibility.

I know the reasons that I, even with a PhD in biophsyical chemistry, prefer to write and read fantasy. For one, given my background I spot the scientific misconceptions in lots of SF. More important for me is the feeling of awe. I want great characters and an engaging plot, but I also read fiction to be transported to an amazing other place. In SF, the limits of trying to stay scientifically plausible restrict things so much that it drains the awe for me.

As a response, will there continue to be more SF containing “fantasy” elements of implausible science, like time travel? Or if our society had more and better science education (a worthy but unlikely effort), would more readers enjoy SF? Or does it not matter what subgenre type of spec-fic readers are enjoying? Like George R. R. Martin says, it’s all “weird stuff.” If it still has some awe, it’s fine with me.

The Demise of Markets?

Tuesday, August 11th, 2009

In all the blogosphere hullabaloo last month over the June closings of Lone Star Stories and Talebones, my posts included, and perhaps even more timely now with the recent closings of Farrago’s Wainscot and Baen’s Universe, I came across one really interesting comment. The stalwarts decrying the sky-is-falling mourners were almost as predictable as the mourners themselves, but this comment had a seed of insight I hadn’t seen before.

Lois Tilton, short fiction author and reviewer for The Internet Review of Science Fiction, in the preface to her July column, wrote:

But what I found most telling about all this discussion was the fact that, universally, the reactions I saw were decrying the demise of markets. Not venues where readers could go to find good stories, but places for writers to sell their fiction.

Fiction magazines should be about reading stories. They should exist for readers. Not writers. I don’t believe that a magazine can thrive when its readership is comprised entirely of writers trying to be published in its pages. Yet it seems to me that this is increasingly the case in the field of SF short fiction. I think we are coming to the point where we will have no readers, only a circle of writers feeding on themselves.

I think she’s absolutely right. I have thought for years that SF/F short fiction may already be at the point where its audience is almost exclusively other writers. This very state is suggested by the common derisive story subgenre label “award winner” to denote the type of stories that other writers love and therefore are more likely to win awards but that readers in general don’t understand or find entertaining.

In fantasy especially, I think this is related to the divergence between the readership of short fiction and of novels. Fantasy short fiction has become increasingly “literary” over the past few decades, yet fantasy novels with the traditional quasi-medieval settings and plot-based narratives are still bestsellers. Many writers and short fiction fans scoff at those novels, but they are clearly entertaining far more readers than fantasy short fiction is.

This was part of my reason for starting Beneath Ceaseless Skies. Not only do I really enjoy “literary adventure fantasy” short fiction that is both literary and traditional, I also wanted to try to bring some of that popular fantasy vibe back into short fiction, with stories that would hopefully impress other writers and also entertain readers.

Only “some” of that popular fantasy vibe, mind you–I must admit that some of its plainer aspects don’t appeal to me. But I do think that in great “literary adventure fantasy,” there is enough overlap to entertain both writers and sophisticated readers.

How well is it working? Visit Beneath Ceaseless Skies, read a few stories, and see for yourself. :)

Happily Swamped

Tuesday, June 30th, 2009

So much stuff going on lately that I haven’t had any time to come up with a neat blog topic.

I’m wrapping up the podcast for Beneath Ceaseless Skies #20 that comes out this Thursday, which is a story by Richard Parks, and I need to start work on the next one. Issue #20 has two exciting young writers, Caroline M. Yoachim and James Lecky, and Issue #21 in mid-July will have a great novelette by award-winning author Holly Phillips.

Next week I’m headed to ReaderCon, where I will plug BCS and hopefully host a reading of authors from the magazine, including C.C. Finlay, S.C. Butler, Margaret Ronald, Saladin Ahmed, and Kris Dikeman. Also at the con, my writer cohorts from the Homeless Moon and I will also be premiering our second chapbook of all-original short fiction, this time based around lands from Alberto Manguel’s Dictionary of Imaginary Places.

Then I’ve got to critique thirty manuscripts and finish writing a lecture, both for the annual Odyssey alumni workshop. All while reading a month’s worth of slush!