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A collaborative blog by Locus editors, contributors, and other invited guests. The opinions expressed here are solely those of the authors, and do not reflect the editorial position of Locus Magazine or Locus Online.

 




 


Editor

Alvaro Zinos-Amaro

Contributors

Alan Beatts
Terry Bisson
Marie Brennan
Karen Burnham
Siobhan Carroll
John Clute
F. Brett Cox
Ellen Datlow
Paul Di Filippo
Michael Dirda
Gardner Dozois
Andy Duncan
Stefan Dziemianowicz
Brian Evenson
Jeffrey Ford
Karen Joy Fowler
Kathleen Ann Goonan
Theodora Goss
Elizabeth Hand
Cecelia Holland
Rich Horton
Guy Gavriel Kay
James Patrick Kelly
Mark R. Kelly
Ellen Klages
Russell Letson
Karen Lord
Brit Mandelo
Adrienne Martini
Tim Pratt
Cat Rambo
Paul Graham Raven
Graham Sleight
Maureen Kincaid Speller
Peter Straub
Rachel Swirsky
Paul Witcover
Gary K. Wolfe
E. Lily Yu

Steve Rasnic Tem Guest Post–“The Long Gestation Period of UBO”

The journeys taken by my most recent novels from idea to completion have been lengthy and complex. Deadfall Hotel (Solaris, 2012) began as a novelette first published in Charlie Grant’s Shadows series in 1986. My southern gothic Blood Kin (Solaris, 2014) started with a few paragraphs written during my senior year in high school in 1968. And now comes UBO (Solaris, February 2017), a dark science fictional exploration of violence, begun during that eventful summer of 1969 (Woodstock, the first man on the moon, the Chicago 8 trial, the Manson murders and the Stonewall riots).

Generally speaking, I’m a “quiet” writer, preferring subtlety and understatement over graphic imagery, but violence has always preoccupied me–it’s that aspect of human behavior which troubles me most. So as I’ve done with all things which disturb me I’ve studied it obsessively, holding it close in order to keep it far away.

I began UBO at a time when I knew I wanted to be a writer but I had no idea how to become one. But I knew how to read and study, and although these activities had never kept me safe, at least they kept me occupied. I started collecting books on violence, reading extensively about its most iconic progenitors: Hitler, Himmler, Stalin, Jack the Ripper, et al, and I made copious notes for the novel I knew I would someday write.

I have no good excuse for the length of time many of my novels have taken. It’s not as if I worked on them every day. In part, I suspect, it’s because I fell in love with completion, and so I’ve built a career out of all those short stories (over 400 now) I’ve completed. Novels require a tolerance for delayed gratification. This is exacerbated by my tendency to drop the current novel every time an intriguing short story idea appears.

The other factor is that I’ve usually had a pretty good sense of both my abilities and my limitations. Although I’ve started many an ambitious project, I generally procrastinate until I believe I’ve acquired the skills necessary to do them justice.

And so it was with UBO (Except that wasn’t its name at first. Initially it had no name—it was just “that novel about violence.”) At the time it was first conceived I didn’t know how to write a decent short story much less tackle a novel. And so I continued to read, and study, and dream.

A dream, in fact, gave me the title, and the first hints at some sort of narrative. I dreamed that I had awakened, and found myself flying through the air in excruciating pain. A giant insect had hooked its claws through my hands at the base of my thumbs, and looking around I saw hundreds of other people in similar straits. Eventually we passed the moon, and after a period of unconsciousness I witnessed our descent onto a structure either man-made or natural which resembled the letters “U,” “B,” and “O.”

By this point I had finished a Masters in Creative Writing at Colorado State and I had achieved some success at selling my short stories. In the early 1980’s I was invited to attend a “mini-Milford” writers’ workshop high in the mountains of Leadville, Colorado. Ed Bryant was the organizer, and like the original Milford workshop, both local and out-of-state professional writers would be offering up their work for discussion and critique. I decided to workshop the first few chapters of UBO.

It was an unusual experience. Leadville is over 10,000 feet above sea level. At some point they brought in oxygen tanks for our guests from the east coast, but even the Coloradans were struggling with the altitude. Between critiques writers were passing these tanks around. The night before we workshopped the fragment of UBO we went out for spicy Italian food. I woke up in the middle of the night with intense chest pain, thinking I was having a heart attack. Then I felt the acid rising in my throat. Later I would discover I had developed a hiatal hernia. I spent much of that night sitting in the cool windowsill gazing at the stars because somehow that comforted me.

Many of the attendees didn’t much like what I’d done with UBO, although most admired its ambition. Some questioned whether you could write about that kind of violence in any palatable way. Of course it was a different time then, but it was also clear that I still had some tonal challenges to solve. Writers like Ed and Connie Willis and James Kelly and John Kessel had useful suggestions which I would eventually use in my rewrite of those chapters. And the book did have its champions, Dan Simmons and Carol Emshwiller among them.

I continued to work on UBO for the rest of that year. Our two youngest children were 7 and 5 at the time. My daily schedule was to work on UBO for about half the day, as deep in the minds of the Himmlers and the Stalins and the Rippers as I could go, and then go take care of my kids, playing games and reading them stories. Eventually the discrepancy between these two worlds was too much for me—I wasn’t up to the task either psychologically or technically—and I put UBO aside. But I continued to read, and study, and dream about the violent content of that book.

I’m not sure exactly why, but in 2014 I picked it up again. I did feel more skilled as a novelist, and I better understood some of the character and descriptive choices necessary to make it readable for a more general audience. I’d also written a brief description of UBO that was apparently intriguing enough that my editor Jonathan Oliver wanted to see an outline. Novel outlines were something I’d discovered with Deadfall Hotel—much to my surprise they made a morass of inspirational materials much more manageable. I would also soon be 64 years old. What if I didn’t live to finish it?

And I must confess—I was ready to get rid of all those violent research materials. I wanted the shelf space for new and more pleasant things. So I created a “physical outline.” I sorted all those books according to subject matter (types of violence, historical figures covered, etc.)—hundreds of them—into piles on a table along with folders full of notes. I then started removing stacks of materials which represented characters and sub-themes I didn’t think would fit into the full narrative I was imagining. A dozen or more volumes on Hitler were the first to go. I played with the ordering of the piles for a while. Then I looked at the historical characters more closely. I tried to pick a day or an event in Stalin’s life, in Himmler’s life, etc. which best embodied the themes and the traits I wanted to accentuate. Once the research materials and story notes roughly resembled the novel I wanted to write I recreated that physical outline on a few dozen single-spaced pages. All that remained was to write, and read, and study, and dream, and write some more until I found the right scenes and the right language to fill in the holes so that this 46-year-old project could be delivered to the world in February.

 

About the Author

Steve Rasnic Tem’s last novel, Blood Kin (Solaris, 2014) won the Bram Stoker Award. His new novel, UBO (Solaris, February 2017) is a dark science fictional tale about violence and its origins, featuring such historical viewpoint characters as Jack the Ripper, Stalin, and Heinrich Himmler. He is also a past winner of the World Fantasy and British Fantasy Awards. Recently a collection of the best of his uncollected horror—Out of the Dark: A Storybook of Horrors—was published by Centipede Press. A handbook on writing, Yours To Tell: Dialogues on the Art & Practice of Fiction, written with his late wife Melanie, will appear soon from Apex Books. Visit the Tem home on the web at: www.m-s-tem.com

Chuck Wendig: An Invasive Interview

Joe M. McDermott Guest Post–“The Writer Industrial Complex”

There is the writing, then there are the publishers, and then there are the consultants to writers and publishers. I refer to the third category as the “Writer Industrial Complex” and they are in the business of selling services that may or may not help books and stories along. It’s not necessarily a bad thing that this industry exists, and it can provide valuable services at critical stages of a writer’s practice. However, there is always a dark side where there’s lots of hope, a limitless supply of wannabes with money, and no accountability whatsoever. You see, the Writer Industrial Complex can always place the blame for your failure to implement their system successfully upon the feet of the phrase “Write a better book”. There are very few meaningful professional standards, and no licenses to lose. If poor student performance and bad reviews build up, it doesn’t take much to burn the website down and start over.

So, let me distinguish the two sides to a writer’s career thusly: there is the creative portion; there is the business portion. The creative portion includes making brilliant books and stories and poems. The business portion includes things like tracking book sales, accounting, marketing books, and contracts. The latter is a very dull, but necessary part of the gig.

The Writer Industrial Complex is committed to helping you sell a book with a strong hook, a marketable property, and a Hollywood-style script. None of these things are, independently, necessarily detrimental to creative energy. But, I find that inferior work is often produced when the thought patterns of the Writer Industrial Complex are permitted to blur the way writers think about their creative work as a professional endeavor. Some writers are inspired by Hollywood-style scripts. Some aren’t. Pushing everyone down the same path, and systematizing the trajectory of a career around a set of expectations–manuscript length, query letters, agents, networking, blog, business cards, etc.–creates a set of expectations that is not true to a large number of authors.

For the majority of writers, writing is not a career. This is not a profession. There are no licenses. The professional organizations that exist have very low standards for entry and being exiled from them seems to mean very little to readers and editors. This is not a job, like lawyering or doctoring or even journalism. The systems that exist around the world of publishing can be a job, sometimes, but it’s more like renting a boat as a fishing guide to tourists more than a consulting service for professionals, most of the time. Well, there is one difference between the fishing boat: Tourists who rent fishing boats will be led where the fish are. Professional writing guides and services don’t actually have to help anyone do anything beyond just spout opinions that may be sold as truth. These less-ethical writing guides just need to help you feel more confident about identifying yourself out at sea as a writer, mostly.

Now, it ain’t all bad. There are workshops and services and even academic programs that can or may help, but the questions to ask before considering paying any money to anybody include checking out the qualifications of the folks selling the service, and ensuring that what they are selling is part of the spiritual and artistic practice of the act of writing, not the fishing boats chasing whales. Clarion is part of that Writer Industrial Complex, for example, and I don’t think anyone would rationally suggest such an endeavor would be a waste of time to an aspirant of fictional practice. There are workshops and editorial services I would buy into tomorrow from writers whose opinions I respect, if I could afford them. There are editors and artists that I have hired and would hire again to help a specific project along. But, I have no expectation that any of this will do anything to help the sales of my books, or help me land a big deal somewhere. It’s all just ways to feed the creative energy that builds up inside of me, and that energy is indifferent to some vision of what a career in publishing is supposed to look like.

In the same sense there is the business side, and I am always interested in learning more where I can about that aspect of the industry. However, when I see folks suggesting that the business side of the job should start driving the creative energy by selecting projects, or changing projects to more closely match a vision of “blockbuster” writing, whatever that means, I often find the work that is produced to be an inferior sort to what came before the shift in consciousness where a writer went from amateur to professional. The business side matters, absolutely, and there’s a lot to learn. But we are better served as practitioners of the sacred trust of fiction by separating those two sides of the gig in our minds, and making absolutely certain the business end serves the artist, not vice versa. The danger of failing to do so is burning out by choosing projects that don’t feed the fire of our creative spirit, or looking back on a career where we aren’t really proud of anything we did except make money. Even worse, we may even buy in to parts of the Writer Industrial Complex that don’t have our best interests at heart, and end up not only going down a bad path, but paying for the privilege.

The Writer Industrial Complex exists, particularly on its deep and murky end, because there is this myth that writing is a profession. The only professional standards I’m aware of include not plagiarizing and not libeling. Neither one of these leads to someone losing their license to practice writing. There is very little money to be made, most of the time, and the work that aspires to money generally fails to make any. The authors that make money did not, generally, set out to do so. This is just not really a profession, or a job, or a career, in the traditional sense of these words. Thinking that way can lead to poor creative decisions, in my opinion, and to books that might sell well for a little while, but ultimately don’t stand the test of time. Our work will outlive us, if we let it. We are architects building dreams that will pass down to all who care to witness them. Reaching for a moment, or for heat in this moment, generally means our imaginary structures will burn down with that moment passing.

Writing is more like prayer and protest and painting than it is like being a lawyer or a doctor or a plumber or any other sort of profession. It is a kind of non-denominational spiritual practice that focuses our will and intellect to a point of clarity and social purpose. I see advertisements all the time for workshops and mentors and programs that attempt to sell things that systematize and professionalize the art of fiction. Query letter workshops, for example, seem like an operation of limited worth in the grand scheme. Tips to turn one’s book into a bestseller all reek of lies. The Hollywood-i-zation of our plots and outlines take at their heart a genre of storytelling that is openly considered inferior to the more rambling, less rigid structures of our great serial television programs.

Protect your practice, I guess, is what I am saying. Protect it from the fear that you aren’t doing enough, aren’t doing it right, or could be doing it better in a way that is measured externally to the self. The art of writing is the art of editing your own writing. Have faith in your first editor.

Have faith, and build a practice.

 

About the Author

Joe M. McDermott is the author of seven novels and two short story collections. His latest novel, Fortress at the End of Time, comes out on January 17, 2017, from Tor.com.

He holds a BA in Creative Writing from the University of Houston, and an MFA in Popular Fiction from the Stonecoast Program of the University of Southern Maine.

Jaym Gates Guest Post–“The Landscapes of Horror”

The most frightening self-inflicted experience of my life was when I developed an unfortunate taste for horror fiction as a teenager living in the middle of nowhere, California. I snuck The Oath, by Frank Peretti, out of my grandparents’ library and read it in the evenings, when I was supposed to be taking care of the horses.

For those who’ve never read the book, it’s about an impossibly powerful monster preying on a small town. Normally this wouldn’t have been an issue, but I was reading it after dark, in an ancient barn, in an area that gets a lot of wind. The ambience of deep shadows, creaking wood, and whining wind left a deep mark on my psyche and my visualization of horror.

When it comes to creepy American settings, the deep South is probably the first one thought of, with its swamps and old racial divides, its cryptids and devils. Sweltering, plagued with storms and poisonous reptiles and too many insects, the South certainly has its place in the American nightmare.

I lived in the South for a number of years, and understand why it is such a rich setting for horror–driving through the pouring rain in the early hours of the morning, the road crowded by kudzu and devoid of human life, it feels like some awful other planet, with monsters surely lurking just around the bend.

And yet it never had the sharp edges that I was used to.

I grew up in the foothills of Northern California, just outside of Sacramento. Colloquially referred to as ‘Calabama’ for its deeply conservative culture, the area has more than its share of infamous serial killers, mass murderers, and other horrors. Everyone owns multiple guns, knows at least three conspiracy theorists, and can probably tell you of at least one haunted building in their town.

My homeland is Gold Rush country, stained with vast amounts of blood, riddled with collapsing mines, and trying to reconcile a deeply independent, pioneer spirit with the growing pressures of modernization from the coast. My family came from the central part of the state, where the drunken perfume of orange blossoms warred with the rotting scent of stagnant canal water in the spring, and the pall of smoke from the heaters needed to keep the citrus trees alive blanketed the region in winter.

The California I know is a barely-tamed land, full of danger and contradiction. As a kid, growing up in the country, the cackle of coyotes and the screams of mountain lions became normal. While most people only have nightmares of monsters, I tended the deep claw-marks on my horse after a mountain lion attack and struggled with a deep paranoia of attack after a couple of joggers were attacked by the huge cats. Rattlesnakes were a common fear, too, nesting beneath rocks and in brush piles, while coyotes would lure dogs out to kill. And, if that wasn’t enough, the biggest economy of the area was drugs. Between meth labs and Mexican/South American cartels, it was wise to learn the signs of a place you should avoid at all costs. When I was a kid, some transients shot the neighboring ranch’s foreman in the back of the head and stuffed him down a well because he tried to chase them off the land. The local ranchers rode with guns on their saddles after that.

When I was 18 months old, my family got caught in the mountains by an early snowstorm. Miles from their vehicles or civilization, they had to finish the hike to get back to safety. We regularly went to Death Valley, too, where you can suffer heat stroke in the day and freeze to death at night. People die there every year because they didn’t bring enough water or shelter or common sense. Go west, to the northern coast, and it’s riptides, sharks, and treacherous cliffs.

The landscape of horror, to me, is barren, rather than lush, filled with the babble of coyotes and the whining wind rather than the sound of rain. Hungry oceans, mines full of restless ghosts, and forests of poison oak, manzanita, and crumbling oaks.

It was this background that inspired my current project, Strange California. Jason Batt and I were talking about our backgrounds in California–I was a native who moved away for a while, he was a transplant–and our fascination with the endless weirdness and wild spirit of the state. We both had dozens of stories, and it got us to thinking about the contributions California has made to science fiction, from Bradbury to Robinson, and its inevitable contributions to its future, as well.

The stories we got introduced me to so many new elements of my state’s culture and history, and rekindled my fascination with it. Tales of Russian sisters outwitting trickster magpies, Mexican girls facing off with Spanish witches in the orange groves, surfers chasing a transformation on the waves, Gold Rush ghosts, and magical rollercoasters are just the beginning.

I may have cut my teeth on traditional fantasy, but it was California that gave shape to my voice and dreams, and I owe it a debt for shaping so much of the science fiction and fantasy that I love.

 

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About the Author

Jaym Gates is an author, editor, and publicist. Her anthologies include War Stories, Genius Loci, Upside Down, Broken Time Blues, and more. She recently Kickstarted Strange Californiahttps://www.kickstarter.com/projects/jasonbatt/strange-california-a-speculative-fiction-anthology

J. Daniel Batt Guest Post–“Towards the Frontier”

The Santa Lucia mountains hug the California coastline between Monterey and San Luis Obispo and stare out at the dark, cold waters of the Pacific. For centuries, perhaps back to the Chumash legends, lore tells of dark figures materializing upon the edges of these mountains to gaze across the ocean. When the early migrants came to California, these figures were waiting for them. The myth of the Dark Watchers was reinforced by John Steinbeck, the Golden State writer that championed the plight of the migrant agricultural worker. In his story “Flight”, he described one of these watchers as “a dark form against the sky, a man standing on top of a rock.” Steinbeck’s reference of these creatures is even more shocking against his usual cast of common, authentic American characters.

The mythology was picked up by Steinbeck’s son Thomas. Thomas Steinbeck, remembering his father and grandmother’s retellings of the phantom observers, collaborated with artist Benjamin Brode to craft an art book in honor of the Dark Watchers: In Search of the Dark Watchers: Landscapes and Lore of Big Sur. Thomas Steinbeck begins: “And if for a brief moment they entertain the least suspicion… the Dark Watchers will literally evaporate in front of your eyes like the fog.” Later, attempting to establish their history, the younger Steinbeck notes “The early Spanish explorers, as well as the later Mexican ranchers and their vaqueros, called them ‘Los Vigilantes Oscuros.'”

On the Weird California forums, a user named Joey gave his own account: “I’m a long distance runner and most of my training is in up in the good old Californian Mountains. I had a long run scheduled so I headed out. I headed to Veterans Park here in the San Fernando Valley. Time of day was 2:00 pm I was running and up in an area where no human could climb without gear I saw a black figure in plain day light. I never seen anything like it up in the mountain. Was darker than dark could not explain it. A year past and today again January 24th I saw it again and in the same spot.” Another user, C. Gardner, commented: “Up here in the Eastern Sierras, we see the Dark Watchers all the time. They are always out at dusk and dawn. All you see is just a tall dark silhouette. They almost look like horses standing on their hind legs with the assistance of a walking stick. Its pretty creepy, and nobody has ever seen them close up. They disappear the moment you try to get closer.” They are watchers and observers only.

Imagine the immigrants slowly venturing into the expanding frontier–to the unexplored, unknown wild. California was so far removed from early European settlers that some maps showed the territory as a separate island. Those pioneers crossed the Sierras and settled the varied topography only to discover the mythological Watchers, looking at another frontier. The Dark Watchers are a unique mythology representative of the Golden State–spirits ever gazing into the unknown.

California is seen simultaneously, alternating throughout history, as both the frontier and the staging area to explore the frontier. For the early wanderers coming from the north to settle the western coast around 17000 BCE, California was their frontier. From then until now, for millions, California is synonymous with the frontier–the embodiment of the unknown and, within the unknown, the possibility for the strange and wonderful.

Near the end of 1890s, with the settlement of California, the US government declared that the American frontier had vanished. Yet, from California, hinted at by the occasional glimpses of the Dark Watchers, the vision for further frontiers was glimpsed. The frontier is that unexplored, uninhabited territory on the border of what is known.

Moving from mythology to science fiction (often called the literature of the frontier), Captain Kirk has challenged us to explore the “Final Frontier.” In the fiction of the future, California is home to Starfleet. In Roddenberry’s vision, the exploration of the new Final Frontier is staged within the Coastal State. As an unintended potential precursor to that future, SpaceX, based in Southern California, has recently laid out the plans for humanity to become multi-planetary. In Northern California, citizens and industries in Monterey are working towards the establishment of a spaceport.

The Encyclopedia of Science Fiction extols California as “pure [science fiction], that California was not discovered but invented… California [is portrayed] as the promised land, where the streets are paved with gold; and California as a place in which one may construct an advocated world.”

Out of this spirit of the invented frontier, myself and my fellow co-editor Jaym Gates have launched an anthology titled Strange California–a collection of 26 all-new speculative fiction stories exploring the complex mythologies of the Golden State. Viewed as the ever-present frontier, the borders of California are easily imagined to contain a myriad of oddities and wonders. With a brilliant artist, support team, and publisher, we’re now raising support for Strange California through Kickstarter. Visit the project at: http://bit.ly/strangecalifornia.

Whether you’re from California or not, if you’re a fan of science fiction and fantasy, this anthology has something for you.

Strange California celebrates the frontier that is at the heart of speculative fiction. The land of California has been a draw to those seeking the frontier for centuries. California not only creates this diversity of thought and experience, but invites it. It calls for us and we find from it a call to it akin to Carl Sagan’s own words, “Somewhere, something wonderful is waiting to be known….”

 

About the Author 

jasonDaniel Batt is an editor, writer, and designer. He serves as the Creative and Editorial Director for the 100 Year Starship and is the founder and organizer of the annual Canopus Award for Excellence in Interstellar Writing. His novels include Young Gods and Dreamside and his short fiction has appeared in Perihelion, Bastion, Bewildering Stories, A Story Goes On, and other periodicals. He’s most recently edited the science fiction anthology Visions of the Future published through Lifeboat Foundation. He lives in California, where he has had firsthand experience with its weirdness.

Traveler of Worlds: All Kinds of Enwonderment

Today is the release day of my new book, Traveler of Worlds: Conversations with Robert Silverberg, so it seems appropriate to say a few words about it in this space.

The word “enwonderment” is not a real word; it’s one that Bob Silverberg made up in the 90s. In one of the conversations in this book, which roams far and wide–travel, art theory and history, music, films, politics, reading habits, and of course Bob’s long and prolific career, in and out of science fiction–I asked him what he meant by the term “enwonderment.”

His answer:

“There are words like ’empowerment’ that are bandied about very freely, especially here in California. Enlightenment is also frequently heard. As well as I can remember this, I thought I would create ‘enwonderment’ as a kind of analogous noun that explains what science fiction is supposed to do.”

If you read Bob’s monthly editorial at Asimov’s, or his occasional essays elsewhere, it’s clear that he has managed to preserve his own sense of “enwonderment” over sixty years as a professional writer, no small feat. I was curious about the role that community, particularly the science fiction community, might have played in that, since the human brain seems to require access to and frequent engagement with other people’s neurons to thrive and be healthy and experience wonder. Bob didn’t think community played much of a role:

51HAwq2-+BL“I don’t think it’s related to community. I rarely talk about science fiction with my colleagues. What I talk about with them is writing, or the business side of writing. We are not discussing the miraculous new Earth-like planet that was discovered the other day, or the flyby of Pluto. That has not been my experience of the community. Though we’re all watching the same things.”

Like many of Bob’s observations throughout the book, that struck me as interesting. Before I had had much interaction with other members of the s-f community, I think I had idealized what the subjects of discussion might be, naively imagining that there would be much fevered discussion about artistic responses or intellectual discoveries or scientific breakthroughs. In reality people tend to be more pragmatic, and they don’t necessarily want to get into long, detailed conversations about something they’ve just spent eight or ten hours working on in a professional sense (i.e. science fiction). But of course once in a while, unabashedly nerdy raptures or rants do happen. Those impromptu sessions are delightful. And on subject-specific panels at conventions it’s always possible to go deep on a particular technical or thematic aspect of s-f, even “enwonderment” itself.

I was also curious if anything besides literature sparked in Bob the “sense of wonder.” He suggested that some of the exotic plants in his far-out garden might, or might have at least done so once upon a time. But ultimately familiarity “leads to a lack of strangeness. And wonder requires a certain amount of strangeness.”

Again, how true.

And yet my experience in writing this book, and in the long correspondence and eventual friendship with Bob that presaged it, may provide a flip-side to the grimmer extrapolation of that comment (namely, that as everything becomes more familiar to us, we lose all wonder). Bob is an exceedingly complex man. As Gardner Dozois points out in his lovely introduction to Traveler of Worlds, “the depth and breadth of his erudition, and the range of topics that interest his restless intellect” are remarkable. I find that no matter how many times we’ve talked about something, I always discover something new and unfamiliar in the workings of Bob’s mind, even if it’s just a subtle shading of opinion or unexpected witticism. And in those little startlements–in those glimmers of strangeness–there’s ample room for my curiosity and my wonder to be born anew.

It happened many times throughout the year of working on this book, and I expect it will continue to happen indefinitely.

May the same experience hold true for you when you read it.

 

About the Author 

Alvaro is co-author, with Robert Silverberg, of When The Blue Shift Comes and Traveler of Worlds: Conversations with Robert Silverberg. Alvaro’s more than thirty stories have appeared in magazines like AnalogNatureGalaxy’s EdgeLackington’sMothership ZetaFarrago’s Wainscot and Neon, as well as anthologies such as The Mammoth Book of the Adventures of MoriartyThe Mammoth Book of Jack the Ripper TalesThe 2015 Young Explorer’s Adventure GuideCyber WorldThis Way to the End TimesHumanity 2.0 and An Alphabet of Embers. Alvaro’s essays, reviews and interviews have appeared in The Los Angeles Review of BooksThe First LineAsimov’sStrange HorizonsClarkesworld, SF Signal, The New York Review of Science Fiction, Foundation and Intergalactic Medicine Show; he also edits the roundtable blog for Locus.

 

 

James Aquilone Guest Post–“Kickstarter: How to Fund Your First Novel in 3 Days”

The odds are against you. Most Kickstarter projects fail, and the publishing category is near the top of that list, with nearly 70 percent of campaigns not reaching their funding goals. Unsurprisingly first-time novelists have it the toughest. There are a ton of articles detailing why it’s a terrible idea for newbies to launch a Kickstarter. Had I read any of them before I launched my campaign, I may have listened to the naysayers. They make a great case against crowdfunding. After all, you have no following, no track record, and no idea what you’re facing. Yet plenty of first-timers succeed on Kickstarter and other platforms. Against the odds, I funded my project, Dead Jack and the Pandemonium Device, in three days and tripled my goal in three weeks.

How did I do it?

New_DeadJack_Cover_Web

1. Social Media, Social Media, Social Media

Social media has been my bread and butter. You can’t count on traditional, paid ads to spread the word. I ran several Facebook and Twitter ads and saw absolutely nothing from them but a dent in my wallet. I landed half of my backers through posts on Facebook pages and groups. The key? Make it interesting and mix it up. Post the cover, the video, the Kickstarter image, excerpts, artwork, etc., and also remember to include the short link with every post. (You can track the clicks on Bitly.) And don’t be afraid to push the limit. Post just past the point of where it feels spammy. You need to reach thousands of people just to get a few clicks, so prepare to become a posting machine.

2. Make It Marketable

For a first-time novelist, a high-concept novel is an easier sell. You don’t have much time to win over a backer, so a book that can be quickly pitched with an engaging premise is going to help. Popular sub-genres with rabid, in-built audiences help too—zombies, vampires, space opera, epic fantasy, etc. My book, Dead Jack and the Pandemonium Device, follows the exploits of a zombie detective and his homunculus frenemy.

3. Don’t Forget the Excerpt

A writing sample is paramount. Who’s going to buy a book from an author whose work they’ve never read? It seems obvious, but after compiling SF Signal’s Crowdfunding Roundup for four years, I saw many writing campaigns that didn’t include an excerpt. That’s asking a lot from potential backers. If your excerpt is amazing, it won’t matter that it’s your first novel. It’s just a matter of getting it in front of as many eyeballs as possible. I posted the first chapter of my book on my website, as a note on Facebook, and on guest blogs. You can even post it directly on your campaign page or as an update.

And if you have any short stories published online, link to them as I did.

4. Awesome Artwork

Don’t judge a book by its cover? Yeah, right. My campaign has succeeded, in large part, because of the amazing artwork by Ed Watson. Good art not only draws in readers—it makes your campaign page look professional. I didn’t stop with a cover, though. I included sketches of my characters and a map, and even incorporated the artwork in the headers. The more art the better.

5. Get Advice

Kickstarter allows people to view your campaign before it launches, and it’s a good idea to get as many people—especially those who’ve run successful campaigns—to check it out. I avoided a bunch of newbie mistakes because of advice I got from friends who looked over my pre-launch campaign.

6. Make a Unique Video

I went a different way with my video. Instead of prattling on about the book in an iPhone video, I let my characters do the talking. Using text and artwork, I put together a 95-second clip (with the ProShow Gold program) that introduced my characters and gave a brief synopsis of the book.

The experts say the video is important, but I’ve seen fiction campaigns succeed without one. If you do a video, keep it short, make it fun, and feature your artwork.

7. Set a Low Goal

Kickstarter is an all-or-nothing situation. If you don’t make the goal, you walk away with nada. Sure, it can be expensive to publish a book, but you don’t need to reach profitability through your project. You can use it to offset your costs. Think of it this way—if you don’t Kickstart the book, you still have to come up with all the costs on your own. Why not make $500 to $1000 to help you along before your book is released? Traditionally published books take months or years to make a profit. Sometimes they never do. That’s the risk you take. I set my goal at $1000, which would have made the campaign profitable, but I had my eye set on a higher total. I’m nearing it now and I didn’t have to spend weeks worrying about whether I’d make my goal. 

8. Have Fun

Look at the campaign as an extension of your book. From the video to the blurb to the rewards, make it unique, engaging, and entertaining. As a first-timer, you’ll have to work a little harder to land backers and attention. I have a $1 reward level, where I promise to buy a donut with the money and put the backers name in the book. It’s been a popular reward with a number of people commenting on it and having fun with it. And of course I get donuts, which is always a win!

A Final Word

Of course, crowdfunding your first novel isn’t always a good idea and what worked for me won’t necessarily work for you. Either way, research, plan, and work hard. And good luck!

 

About the Author

James Aquilone is a writer and editor from Staten Island, New York. His short fiction has been published in such places as Nature’s Futures, The Best of Galaxy’s Edge 2013-2014, Unidentified Funny Objects 4, and Weird Tales Magazine. He Kickstarted his first novel, Dead Jack and the Pandemonium Device, against his better judgement.

Visit him at jamesaquilone.com.

Josh Viola Guest Post–“Cyber Punks”

Full disclosure: My story “wysiomg” appears in the forthcoming anthology Cyber World co-edited by Josh, but that wasn’t the motivation for this post, which covers the sort of material I would normally wish to bring to the attention of Locus readers.–Alvaro

 

One particular night a couple of decades ago officially branded me a cyber punk.

I was about ten years old and hosting a sleepover in my family’s single-wide trailer. As you’re probably imagining, a sleepover in a trailer park can be a little unappealing, so I was feeling plenty of pressure to show my friends a fun time or they might never come back.

Thankfully, I planned ahead. I had just the thing waiting for them in the living room.

When my friends finally showed up, they left their bikes on the porch and I led them inside to see the box.

My trailer was like any other in the neighborhood: linoleum floors, threadbare carpet, floral wallpaper, and faux wood paneling. But just then it was the most perfect place in the world because of the box.

One friend pointed and said, “Holy crap!”

Another said, “Oh my God, is that—”

Exactly,” I said, swelling with pride.

We cracked open the box. We had to do it together; they’d have killed me if I’d opened it without them. Carefully, I pulled out a cardboard tray and removed a gray cartridge.

“Boys,” I declared, “tonight we’re playing Shadowrun.”

If you aren’t familiar, Shadowrun is sixteen-bit perfection: an early-nineties video game released on the Super Nintendo and Sega Genesis. Data couriers, evil AIs and enough violence to shame John Rambo. It was my first introduction to cyberpunk and, to this day, it is still one of my favorites.

Once the video cables were in place and a semi-static picture flickered on the television screen, we stayed up well past midnight saving Seattle from evil megacorporations. That night, I glimpsed a strange and different world. A world that’s much more recognizable and familiar today.

Several more experiences deepened my appreciation for cyberpunk. One was Akira, the closest thing I could imagine to an acid trip. The film was such a genuine sensory experience, I could literally smell the streets of Neo Tokyo. In that moment, Disney was out and Otomo was in.

Then I saw a little movie you may have heard about. It’s called Blade Runner.

Talk about flipping a switch in my skull.

The film came out about a year before I was born, but it showed me the future like an oracle. I was eleven when I saw it for the first time on my old sofa, a hand-me-down that carried the unmistakable scent of Grandma’s house. Despite its cheap, worn upholstery, that couch was the most comfortable thing in existence.

I remember the couch so vividly because, as I watched the movie, I realized how different Deckard’s world was to mine, and how badly I wanted to live in that film. My living room was cast in warm hues from frosted light bulbs and felt like some friendly, oversized terrarium. Blade Runner flashed with electric red, cobalt blue, neon yellow and phosphorescent green. Deckard’s reality seemed precision-cut by machines—foreign, beautiful, and adamantine. How could my soft, pastel existence compare?

The film was such an atmospheric experience that, to this day, when I visit new cities, I like to walk the streets at night, soaking in the glow and imagining myself inside Ridley Scott’s tech-noir universe.

So now I’m told that cyberpunk is passé?

Bullshit.

Cyberpunk isn’t dead. It’s changed, sure. Maybe it’s on the verge of a midlife crisis, trying to reinvent itself with an upgrade—preferably one that still commits to a pink Mohawk and safety-pin-festooned leather jacket. It’s re-making itself in the shadow of our new, distributed, global culture.

cover_cyber-world

The cyberpunk future I knew, with its tropes of machine-mind interfaces, virtual realities and weak governments subsumed by a multi-national megacorp, seemed fantastic–much like today’s present.

Today, almost two decades into the new century, we live in a cyberpunk world where weak governments turn to corporate-backed mercenaries to supplement military forces. Where terrorist organizations are working to shut down the electric grid. Where hackers steal passwords and credit card numbers by the millions. Where computer viruses destroy businesses overnight. Where artificial limbs are controlled by impulses from the brain. Where virtual worlds grow ever more realistic, immersive, and affordable to the masses.

I wanted to assemble Cyber World, a cyberpunk anthology and companion soundtrack, out of a desire to reconcile the grit-and-neon aesthetic of the glittering eighties with the compelling and often frightening cyberpunk reality of the new century…and to extrapolate what “cyberpunk” might mean in the future.

With the help of my co-editor, Jason Heller, our fantastic writers—including Paolo Bacigalupi, Alyssa Wong, Cat Rambo, Alvaro Zinos-Amaro, Paul Graham Raven, E. Lily Yu, and many others—the synthwave sounds of Celldweller, and the art of Aaron Lovett, I believe we’ve captured something special. Perhaps even magical.

I hope Cyber World will transport other cyber punks into this retro-future, the better to appreciate and safeguard the world we have today.

 

About the Author

headshot-josh-viola

Joshua Viola is an author, artist, and former video game developer (Pirates of the Caribbean, Smurfs, TARGET: Terror). In addition to creating a transmedia franchise around The Bane of Yoto, honored with more than a dozen awards, he is the author of Blackstar, a tie-in novel based on the discography of Celldweller. He is the editor of the Denver Post number one bestselling horror anthology, Nightmares Unhinged, and has published Bram Stoker, Hugo and Nebula Award-winning writers. His next anthology, Cyber World, co-edited by Jason Heller, will be available this November. Blood Business, co-edited by Mario Acevedo, will be available in 2017. He lives in Denver, Colorado, where he is chief editor of Hex Publishers. He can be found on the web at www.joshuaviola.com

Sharman Apt Russell Guest Post–“BFF: Science Fiction and the Environmental Movement”

In 1864, a hundred years after the start of the Industrial Revolution, the American scholar George Perkins Marsh wrote about the impact of a society rapidly cutting down its forests, destroying its topsoil, and polluting its water. Marsh thundered, “The ravages committed by man subvert the relations and destroy the balance which nature has established, and she avenges herself upon the intruder by letting loose her destructive energies.” He predicted an impoverished Earth with “shattered surface,” “climatic excesses,” and the extinction of many species, perhaps even our own.

In his own way, Marsh was an early science fiction writer.

About the same time, the conservationist John Muir was saying more plaintively, “Are not all plants beautiful? Or in some way useful? Would not the world suffer from the banishment of a single weed? The curse must be within ourselves.”

In the next hundred years, we would parse out that curse. The Age of the Anthropocene had so begun. And science fiction—in short stories, novels, and anthologies—was there to chronicle this brave new epoch, paralleling almost every major environmental concern.

I know because I was reading those books, having lived most of my life in the last half of the twentieth century. The stories I inhaled as an adolescent and young adult crept under my skin, entered my bones, and whisper to me still in their archaic language of the middle of the night. I went on to become an officially-designated environmental and “nature writer” who still reads and sometimes writes science fiction. My homage, below, to the way science fiction has kept pace with the march of the environmental movement is purely arbitrary, a list of the texts I personally remember. For each category, many readers of this will be able to list many others.

Nuclear war: On the Beach (1957) by Nevil Shute, A Canticle for Leibowitz (1959) by Walter Miller, “A Boy and His Dog” (1969) by Harlan Ellison.

Pollution: okay, actually, I have not read John Corbett’s 1934 “The Black River,” about an oil spill destroying Los Angeles—but I learned about it from the anthology Green Planets: Ecology and Science Fiction (2014) and have searched for a copy ever since. Anyone out there have one? As a college student majoring in environmental studies in the 1970s, however, I did read Silent Spring (1962) by Rachel Carson, which opens with a sci-fi-ish fable. And Where Late the Sweet Birds Sang (1976) by Kate Wilhelm, which starts with the devastating effects of pollution, includes climate change and nuclear war, and works up to cloning.

Overpopulation: John Brunners’s Stand on Zanzibar (1968), Robert Silverberg’s The World Inside (1971), and Thomas Disch’s 334 (1972). Of course, Harry Harrison’s “Make Room! Make Room!” (1969) was turned into the film Soylent Green (1973) starring the quintessential craggy and superficially pensive sci-fi hero of that time, Charlton Heston.

Climate change: from Ballard’s The Drowned World (1962) and The Burning World (1964), science fiction has always addressed Marsh’s nineteenth-century fears of “climactic excesses,” “the shattered surfaces” of Earth, and the extinction of many species, perhaps even our own. Sometimes the problem was solar flares, sometimes aliens. In the last few decades, science fiction has directly addressed global warming caused by human activity, including George Turner’s The Drowning Towers (1987) and John Barnes’s Mother of Storms (1994). The 21st century has seen a spate of such books, coined by the phrase cli-fi, tweeted by Margaret Atwood to describe her own work (MaddAddam Trilogy).

Two recent cli-fi books point to two very different approaches: Green Earth (2015) by Kim Stanley Robinson and The Water Knife (2015) by Paolo Bacigalupi.

Green Earth is an updated, mashed-up version of previous books Robinson has written in his series Science in the Capitol. This is global warming in the developed world, with likeable characters who are healthy, smart, powerful, and privileged. Kayakers paddle on the National Mall as Washington DC floods. Hikers in California mourn the loss of favorite alpine meadows. We read this book while traveling in an airplane, or at home surrounded by our middle-class stuff, and we think—yes, I recognize these people. This could really happen! Green Earth is deeply, weirdly—refreshingly—hopeful. Its most science-fictiony leap may be the thought experiment of American politicians and scientists teaming up to save the world together.

The Water Knife by Paolo Bacigalupi is Mr. Hyde to Robinson’s Dr. Jekyll. The United States has fallen apart into warring states, with refugees from the south desperately trying to reach the north. Bacigalupi draws directly from scientific research (environmental writers William DeBuys’s The Great Aridness and Marc Reisner’s Cadillac Desert) about what extreme drought will look like in the Southwest, mixes into that the horrific violence of the drug cartels happening along the border now, adds everything we know and feel about corrupt politics and amoral multinational corporations—and the result also feels frighteningly real. Yes, we think. Get the family in the car! We’re moving to Canada.

To my mind, both books are powerful examples of a new “nature writing” rooted in the tradition of science fiction as the literature of the environmental movement.

And there, I’ve said it: science fiction has long been the unofficial literature of the environmental movement, whether that was consciously recognized or even welcomed by either the genre or the activists. Perhaps this was inevitable. The Age of the Anthropocene—the current geologic era defined by the degree to which human activities are shaping the planet we live on—requires what might also be the defining quality of science fiction: some serious and imaginative thinking about the future.

 

About the Author

Sharman Apt Russell’s most recent nonfiction, Diary of a Citizen Scientist, won the 2016 John Burroughs Medal for Distinguished Nature Writing, whose recipients include Aldo Leopold and Rachel Carson. She is the author of some dozen books published in a dozen languages. Her debut science fiction Knocking on Heaven’s Door (Yucca Publishing, 2016) begins in a Paleoterrific utopia and spirals out to some very strange places. Knocking on Heaven’s Door is available in audible as well as print and digital. For more information, go to www.sharmanaptrussell.com.

Ada Palmer Guest Post–“World Building and Change in Terra Ignota”

I started going about building the science fiction future for my Terra Ignota series, not by trying to predict things that will happen, but by looking for things that have already been changing in the last two centuries, and will with certainty be different in some way in the future. This is a different way of thinking about plausibility, one that comes naturally to me because I’m trained as a historian, so I tend to think in terms of long-term change, and never assume that anything—whether a belief or a technology—will be the same in different times and places. Whether or not you think it’s plausible that we’ll have flying cars in 2450, it’s a certain thing that we won’t have the same transportation system we have now, since transportation technology and transportation culture have changed so many times since industrialization, and are clearly still changing. Thus many different possible transportation systems—self-driving planes, tunnels through the Earth, teleportation technology—are all more plausible to me than the only truly implausible thing: stasis.

I set my series four hundred years in the future, about as far from us as we are from Shakespeare, Francis Bacon, and the invention of the modern scientific method.

For example, one factor that I’m sure, thinking historically, won’t be the same in four hundred years is the size of nations and governments. We’ve seen the size of nations change fundamentally three times since 1600. Renaissance nations were effectively the size of what contiguous territory their rulers/people could conquer and hold, and “France” or “Spain” meaning a king and what he ruled more than a defined spot on a map, since countries shifted constantly as borderlands changed hands. This transitioned to the age of ambitious empires, when mostly-European conquerors competed to snatch up territories, and for a while the majority of political entities on Earth were the subjugated dominions of a few rival powers. As the nineteenth century turned to the twentieth, this transitioned again to the post-colonial era, shaped largely by the nationalist idea that every people has a right to self-determination, and that territories on a map should ideally correspond to populations with shared cultural identities. Later in the twentieth century, as the success of the United States demonstrated the advantages larger nations have on the world stage, the Soviet Union and European Union, the growth of China and India as world players, and efforts to create international bodies such as NATO and the UN, have all been experiments in the direction of a transition toward macro-nations. That’s the change that seems to be going on now.

It would be easy to call such macro-nations The Next Big Thing in Government, but if we’re looking four centuries in the future, not just one, it seems more likely to me that we will have at least two more big changes in something which changed three times in the last four centuries. So I tried to imagine a second transition, past macro-nations, caused by the new tensions between them, and the new kinds of people that will grow up in a world of macro-nations.

And just as I’ve tried to think, not one, but at least two changes into the future about the size of nations, I’ve done the same for lots of other aspects of the world which can’t plausibly stay the same because they’re already changing: the speed of transportation, medicine and lifespan, gender and gender pronouns, dominant languages, the penal system, art, identity and nationalism, movies and entertainment, education, pets, the length of the work week, space tech, race relations, what age people see as “adulthood”, what people find “sexy”; these have all changed substantially at least twice in the last four centuries.

I’m sure my answers about how they will change in the next four won’t be right, but the science fiction world I’ve created with them is plausible to me because all the things that have to be different are different. And that gives us a glance at a world a bit more alien than a lot of science fiction, alien in time and culture rather than setting. Alien to us the way we are to Shakespeare.

 

About the Author

Ada Palmer is the author of Too Like the Lightning (Tor Books, May 2016) and the forthcoming Seven Surrenders (Tor Books, December 2016) and a professor in the history department of the University of Chicago, specializing in Renaissance history and the history of ideas. Her first nonfiction book, Reading Lucretius in the Renaissance, was published in 2014 by Harvard University Press. She is also a composer of folk and Renaissance-tinged a capella music, most of which she performs with the group Sassafrass. Her personal site is at adapalmer.com, and she writes about history for a popular audience at exurbe.com and about SF and fantasy-related matters at Tor.com.


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