April 17th, 2007


A classic publishing anxiety dream

Last night I had a very funny publishing anxiety dream. I had gone to visit Tor in New York. casacarona had arranged a reception in my honor, and I was to speak for an hour. I wound up in a room full of people from Tom D all the way to the newest intern, and I just freaking died. I mean, dead house. Jay not funny. Audience not laughing. People wandering away or chattering amongst themselves.

It was hilarious in a humiliating sort of way. Painful, too. Sort of like the beginning of Funny Bones imdb ] (a movie I highly recommend).

In case you don't know me in real life, I have pretty much zero fear of public speaking, and am in fact quite capable of being a terrible mic hog. In other words, this wasn't a speaking anxiety dream, because I simply don't have those. I do however have some perfectly lovely publishing anxieties, which apparently decided to go out for a walk in the dream park last night.

Wit and Erudition Postponed Briefly

At this point I owe several complex blog entries, including answers to chris_gerrib, lordofallfools and mwstover, as well as a post requested by carolecole. I'll get to those this afternoon after work.

Meanwhile, I'll leave you with these words, my response to a comment by cyperus_papyrus in the second gun thread from yesterday about whether and how I choose to shelter the_child.

I also understand there are vast risks everywhere. Part of being human is living as if we're not the one who will die today. That's normal and healthy. But the risks I accept for her in giving her freedom to walk to a friend's house, to climb a brick wall, to ride her bike, to ride in the car with me, to step into the shower -- those are all risks for which she and I both gain a clear benefit.

The risk which is forced upon me by pervasive gun ownership grants me no benefit at all, nor any benefit to her, and so I recoil from it. More than thirty sets of parents bore the cost of that risk yesterday through the deaths of their children, and what benefit do they show for it?

Hmm...what scalzi said

scalzi talks about what the Whatever is for.

I feel much the same way. This blog is where I think out loud. I'm just somewhat verbose.

Some of you like some of my thinking, some of you like other parts of my thinking, some of you are probably just here for the occasional train wrecks, such as the recent posts on gun policy. I post about writing, publishing, careers, the_child, politics, culture, technology, cars, movies, photography, generalized weirdness and Ghu knows what else. Just because it interests me.

I deliberately don't have an editorial policy or anything like that, and only with great reluctance did I adopt a comments policy. (Teresa Nielsen Hayden is smarter than me about that here.)

So, you know, all are welcome. Disputation is welcome. Agreement is welcome. Questions are welcome. I'm actually quite pleased with the recent gun threads -- for all that there has been strong disagreement, there has also been a lot of civility.

In other words, carry on. You may shop as usual. No need to return to your homes.

And thanks for reading, even if you disagree with me. Heck, especially if you disagree with me.

The sad state of affairs

I meant to post this the other day, but it slipped my mind. I was in the Oasis Cafe over on Hawthorne Boulevard. It's the kind of place where you bus your own table when you're done -- walkup pizza, soup, etc., basically. I was dropping my plate and fork off as two women came to the counter to order. They had a little girl with them, maybe 2. The kid gave me a big smile, so I smiled back and made polite conversation. (I often talk to children, especially young ones.) Without making eye contact, or even looking at me, one of the women quickly swooped the girl up and loudly said something about meeting Doug outside, then hustled out of the restaurant.

Perhaps Doug was waiting anxiously. Perhaps the child needed attention. Perhaps a large man with long hair and a beard shouldn't talk to children. I don't know. But it made me very sad.

Ziggurat Con

Ziggurat Con

what very well could be the very first D&D convention/game day ever held in a war zone. Ziggurat Con, being held June 9 from 1200 to 2100 hours at Camp Adder/Tallil Airbase, is open to all allied military personnel and civilian contractors in Iraq.

Good for them! Go, troops.

The Red Book of Skiffy

Back in the debacle of the OSC post, dirkcjelli asked:

Any possibility of a book of non-fiction writing on politics and society from Stross, Lake, Brin, Macleod, Banks, Brust etc, or do the details of the publishing industry (including making a living) preclude such a project?

autopope was kind enough to respond thusly:

Yes, it's commercially marginal, but if someone wants to edit it as a labour of love I'd be happy to contribute.

Rather further downthread, mwstover said:

...if y'all are serious about a volume of critical essays dealing with politics in today's updated ghetto, you should probably give Glenn [Yeffeth of BenBella Books] a call

So it occurs to me this might be worth pursuing in my copious spare time. I've got an iron clad rule against including myself in fiction editing projects, but I might be willing to edit this as a non-fiction effort. Unfortunately, I don't know these folks, other than the inestimable autopope. So I'm curious, who would you like to see in such a collection of essays and rants? Besides (presumably), me and autopope, along with the aforementioned messers Brin, Macleod, Banks and Brust, should they be interested in the concept.

Guns again

A last couple of points on the gun threads, then I'm going to try to let this drop.

Collapse )

What am I arguing for? A lot of things, I suppose. Acknowledgement of the dreadful human costs of widespread gun ownership. A widespread, long-term effort to de-emphasize the sexuality and emotional power of firearms. Social and financial support for unstigmatized mental health services so that disturbed and distressed people don't feel like their only outlet lies in violence. I'm arguing for a whole constellation of things, many of which I cannot name here and now. Mostly I'm arguing for a change in direction in our society. That I don't see. Not when people love their own guns more than they love the lives of those around them.

Writing Workshops for the Aspiring Author

carolecole recently asked me to comment on how writing groups work with respect to ideals vs real world dynamics, personality conflicts, differing levels of ambition, etc.

First of all, I point the reader to my post on workshop structure, and the comment thread which follows it.

That being said, it's safe to say that writing groups are highly idiosyncratic. The relationship between a writer and a group is also highly dynamic, dependent on the writer's career state and the group's state in its life cycle. Groups are also susceptible to the effect of strong personalities, even absent any attempted coup.

While all of the above are true of many social organizations, with writers groups these tendencies seem to be magnified.

Let me go to specifics. A newer writer hasn't developed good judgment or self-critical skills yet. They may well need a group which has both peers and more experienced writers, who can offer a diverse spread of critique and commentary. The diversity is important to avoid the group having a single voice, as there's a definite "workshop effect" of people writing to meet their group's (often unspoken) expectations.

This means, for example, that a group composed entirely of new writers doesn't necessarily have the experience or perspective to provide varied, market-aware critique. At the same time, a group composed entirely of mid-career writers would be accustomed to addressing issues of craft and career which a new writer is probably not prepared to handle.

It's like playing chess, or tennis. You want to work with people at or just above your level. That, of course, requires an honest assessment of what your level is. Sales track record is a good rough metric, but not accurate.

You also need a group which doesn't have a overwhelmingly dominant driver. I'm not talking about the presence or absence of a sponsoring pro (the "tall pole" group I mentioned in my earlier post), I'm talking about a person or persons who overmatch the group dynamic socially. This can create an unfortunate dynamic, often unconsciously so -- for example, someone with passionately held opinions about writing, who has to express them constantly or "correct" other people.

One of the purposes of the Clarion method of workshopping is to deal with that issue. The one minute/no dissenting voices rule allows every opinion at the table to be brought forth in a conversationally protected space. Groups with open or round robin discussion, especially without orderly meeting management practices, are highly susceptible to the dominant player. Human nature, not ill intent.

Likewise, the group needs to be of a similar degree of career commitment as the individual. If you're bucketing along writing a story a week or some such madness, a group that meets monthly over tea to discuss one or two manuscripts is probably not right for you. I'm not arguing against writers having social gatherings, far from it. Just make sure your expectations and the group's behaviors are aligned.

Finally, you don't have to like the other writers in the group, but there has to be mutual respect. Critiquing is not a blood sport, nor is it for counting coup. If you find that going on, find another group. If that group doesn't work for you, find another. Check out college libraries, go to your local or regional conventions (and especially the pro workshops there), ask at the science fiction/fantasy bookstores in your area. Failing that, try Codex, Critters, OWW or one of the other online resources.