One of the crazy things about this publishing biz is the way the corporate machine sometimes chews up the authors that it works with. I've just been chewed. A small chew. A good one. No lasting harm done. All in the name of my career and betterment of my work, etc. But still, I've spent the last week with the copyedited version of The Other Lands (which is what you see to the left here). And it was a doozy of an edit.
I should mention that the copy edit part of production happens after the standard editor has approved the book. It's accepted. Money is released. Oh happy day! But then the book goes to the copy editor, and a whole new level of torture is inflicted on the manuscript (and the author).
I don't know how it is for other authors, but in my experience the copy edited manuscript of a novel arrives one day, with a note saying it has to be back in NY like... uh... four days later. Four days! That's what happened this time. In the past I'd managed this fine, but this time there was more work to be done, and staying up all night wasn't gonna be the magic fix.
The other thing is that the copy edit is both incredibly intimate and yet also cold and official. On one hand you've got all these marks, queries, red lines, incredulous comments about your lack of logic, the pointing out of glaring mistakes, the questioning of your understanding of basic laws of physics and human anatomy... I'm serious. I mean EVERY page gets torn up, and that's when the book is in fairly polished condition. So you get tons of critical comments but never, ever, ever, in any way does the copy editor make a positive comment. Nothing. All the red ink, but not one, "Nice use of active verbs". The whole thing is a rather daunting experience. (I imagine some of my students hooting with glee at this.)
The good news is that I've now been through this five times. Can't complain about that. I have returned the much improved manuscript of the book to Doubleday, and hopefully we're back to smooth sailing. Lest I sound ungrateful, I'm happy to admit that the copy editor did a wonderful job, and I can't thank her enough for tearing up my pages so thoroughly. I just want you all to know that I've spent a week in a state of coffee-jazzed fear and loathing. Glad that's behind me. Onward, now, to dreams of massive success and accolades!
Over in the UK, the short list of titles up for the Arthur C Clarke Award have been announced.
Song of Time: Ian R. MacLeod - PS Publishing The Quiet War: Paul McAuley - Gollancz House of Suns: Alastair Reynolds - Gollancz Anathem: Neal Stephenson - Atlantic The Margarets: Sheri S. Tepper - Gollancz Martin Martin's on the Other Side: Mark Wernham - Jonathan Cape The Clarke Award Website is here.
Mary Robinette Kowal, the current reigning Campbell queen, has started a series of interview features with the rabble that would like to grab her tiara. She sent me some questions a few days ago, I shot them back to her fast, and she's posted them. Take a look here.
As I send you over there, I realize that in one of my answers I made a wee announcement that I hadn't actually made here yet. It's a Kowal exclusive. Perhaps I should say a word about it, though. So, go take a look and then come back and we'll talk.
I'll just look at puppies until you get back...
Okay, so you're back? Right. You may have noticed that I announced over there that I'll be leaving my full-time teaching job at Cal State Fresno. Yep. Crazy, huh? With this economy? Are you loopy, David? (That's me talking to myself. Sorry...)
Well, yes, it may be a bit loopy, but it may also be wonderful. When we moved West three years ago, we were following the teaching jobs that were on offer. Good jobs. Engaging teaching. Grown-up security. But we were also leaving behind a house in the woods in Western Massachusetts, a house and community we really rather loved. We've decided the time away has been enough. We're going back. (There's more to it than that, but that's the short version.)
So what am I going to do for a living at my "house in the woods"? Part time I'll continue to teach for the Stonecoast MFA Program. It's a low-residency program that includes Popular Fiction in its curriculum. I get to hang out with James Patrick Kelly, Kelly Link, Nancy Holder and Michael Kimball (just to name a few folks), and I get to work with material that's often close to my own interests.
But that's just part time. More significantly, my full time job will be... writing. Writing books. Writing stories. Writing blog posts, essays, reviews. Writing stuff. I hope that excites you. It excites me, but it'll only work if I have some help from my friends.
So don't be shy out there. If you like my work buy a title every now and then. Tell friends. Give chunky books as birthday present. Write a blog post or review. I'll appreciate it each and every time, and in return I'll focus on being the best writer I can. And I'll make sure that if you do care about my characters and the worlds they live in I won't make you wait too long between books about them.
Apart from being happy and answering lots of emails, I haven't progressed a lot with my thinking on the Campbell Award and/or the Hugos. I'd like to think I'll have thoughts on both in the weeks to come, and I'll share them here.
One thing I didn't say with the last post is congratulations to all the other Campbell Nominees. You guys are standouts, and I'm glad to be in the mix with you. Let's hang out in Montreal, if not before, and let's be friends moving forward with our writing lives. Sound good? I hope so, because the part of me that wants to win this thing is a close relative to the part that's just glad to be included, that wants to be a part of something and to make friends and allies for the future.
Last year Jon Armstrong, another Campbell Nominee, did a series of interviews with the other nominees for his series If You're Just Joining Us. He did them as audio interviews. Very cool. I'm not quite that tech savvy, but I'd love to post features on each of the other Campbell contenders. We might as well use the occasion to spread the love. Hopefully, I'll soon be able to offer you some quality time with these authors.
So that's that. On another note...
The young lady to the left here is my daughter, Maya Calypso. This evening I watched a rather interesting exchange between her and her mother. I was sitting to the side, so I heard things with a bit more clarity than my wife. I should mention to preface that we rather like nice sweets here in the Durham household. Not generic chocolate bars, but confections with... well, real chocolate and such in them. It's those delicacies, frugally dispensed, that this is about.
It went like this...
Maya (from the other side of the room): "Anviano lafl aoml aif nibubuv caramel?"
Maya (after exhaling with exasperation, and then vocalizing with a speech-therapist's pronunciation): "Can I have three caramels?"
Gudrun (relieved to have finally made sense of her daughter's mumblings): "Yes."
I sat there impressed. One caramel became three, all by the process of limited - and selective - communication. As has happened many times before, I just learned something from my daughter. Not sure how to use this new knowledge, but I'm filing it away for future reference.
The Hugo Finalists have just been announced! I've been looking forward to this for a while, both because I plan on being in Montreal for WorldCon and because... well, I am in my second year of eligibility for a John W. Campbell Award. And, friends, I'm on the list!
The John W. Campbell Award for Best New Writer
Aliette de Bodard* David Anthony Durham* Felix Gilman Tony Pi* Gord Sellar*
It sounds - according to Jay Lake - that something very big and very unfortunate is happening in terms of copyright law, something that will eventually effect us all. He's a smart guy. I believe him. I also feel a bit powerless to do anything or to shape my feelings about this into a usable form. How about you? Take a look at Jay's post to see what I'm talking about...
Last night my son and I were out with a flashlight and one of those sponge mops trying to hook some oranges from high in our orange tree. We've harvested all the lower ones already, and haven't gotten around to borrowing our friend's orange picker to get the rest. Hence, the questionable use of household cleaning supplies. I won't go into why we were doing it at night...
Anyway, we were doing a pretty good job, really. I'd just managed to scoop up an armful and was about to call it quits, when my daughter rushed out of the house shouting that Neil Gaiman was on The Colbert Report. You know how I am about Neil, yeah? Well, this news sent me stumbling toward the door, bumping into lawn chairs, dropping oranges and at risk of stumbling into the pool the entire time. I made it, though, and I watched Neil and Colbert chat about knives and death.
I saw this on The Swivet and almost thought it was a joke. And then I clicked through and read the article and... still thought it was a joke. But it's not, is it?
It appears that in an attempt to distance itself from "geeks and dysfunctional, antisocial boys in their basements with video games and stuff like that" the Sci Fi Channel will be... um, changing it's name to SyFy.
I'm sorry. I'm still not sure this isn't a joke. It's not April 1st, right?
I have to thank J.S. for getting me to take care of a bit of long-neglected business...
Namely, I'd always known there was something wrong with my RSS feed. I'd just never gotten around to fixing it. I'd told my wife a while back that I'd wait until somebody wrote me and asked about it. To which she replied that not many people would think to write an author with that query. To which I replied, "Sure, but it'll happen eventually." And it did. J.S. was that person, writing this...
"I subscribe to the RSS feed of Patrick Rothfuss blog; I think it's wise for any published author to maintain contact with readers through blogs. And thus I am pleased to see that you also have a blog. My only disappointment is that I can't find a link to the RSS feed on the webpage. Perhaps this is intentional, but if it's not, would you consider adding one? I doubt I'm the only fan who would appreciate the ability to subscribe to your blog and be updated every time you update it rather than just check the webpage every now and then..."
If Pat can do it, I should at least put in the effort!
With that prompting, I went to work. You'll now notice the "Subscribe Via RSS Feed" button on the sidebar. If you're at all interested in following my humble posts here please consider clicking on it. And let me know if there are any problems with it. I'm hoping, though, that it'll work fine and provide plenty of options on just how to receive the feed.
So there, that's done. Now I just have to continue to find interesting things to write about...
A couple of weeks ago I came across a mention of my work by another author. It was in an aside, as the post was really about something else - a race-related discussion. Acacia was mentioned, and, though the author (who is white) had kind things to say about it and about me, she expressed some unease about an aspect of it. It wasn't a very specific post, but from what I can gather she didn't much like that I'd created a fantasy world that seemed based around the European colonial template, even if my central power was olive to brown skinned, and even if the rest of the world was multi-racial. She said she expected "better" from a writer of color.
I've thought about this quite a bit since then. My first reaction is to agree that Acacia is a European-feeling (Mediterranean, specifically) colonial power, one that's olive to brown skinned and rules a multi-racial world. Ah... That's what I wrote alright. I feel fairly satisfied with that slight tweaking of the standard model, and I'm happy to say I do have plans for... well, for doing a thing or two to change that model before the series ends. I don't exactly think my choices were groundbreaking. Nor that I'm alone. But I do think one of the most effective ways to work forward thematically is to take established templates and swirl some new variety into them.
That, however, wasn't enough for this writer. She wanted more from me. "Better." What do you think about that?
I have to say that I'm skeptical as to whether it's "better" that she wanted. I'm more inclined to believe she wanted "different" in ways that were directly influenced by her perceptions of my racial identity. I'm being very specific about my words here. I don't mean different because of my race. I mean different because of her perceptions of my race. I am, after all, an African-American. Sure, my blood is plenty mixed, but still. I'm black in the simplistic categorization of this country.
And that makes me wonder if what happened with this author is that she - in well-intentioned and generously liberal ways - got excited about the addition of a black writer to the genre. Perhaps instead of another Celtic or Anglo influenced epic, I'd deliver an African variant. Cool! And that is cool. There's plenty more room for that, and I love it when authors do just that. My friend Nnedi Okorafor does that, and her work is terrific. But that's Nnedi. She does it because she's particularly inspired to and quite closely linked to writing Africa-based fantasy.
For me the ties aren't so complete. I'm a kid with long-mingled blood, the product of European and African and Eastern roots. My family's ancestry was mixed in Trinidad and Barbados, in the plantations of Virginia - all colonial systems and some of them very European indeed. I've grown up in mainstream America, but I've spent a portion of my life in Europe and I'm married to a European woman. My kids both have two passports: one US, one UK. They always will.
What I'm building toward is this: doesn't it make perfect sense - considering who I am - that my fantasy world would be built on a European colonial template centered around olive to brown skinned people in a multi-cultural world that's in for big changes? For me that's not imitative. It's not a choice meant to win or lose white or black readers. It's just me, and the things that will come in the future books are built on exploding some of the tensions inherent in this - and in me.
As a black writer should I be required to be the antithesis of pre-existing racial bias in the genre? Should I write "black fantasy" to clash with the firmly entrenched "white fantasy"? Does my worth, in this genre, come from how well I do things differently than white writers? And is my work to be measured by how it deconstructs existing norms? I think there's plenty of value in all of that, but it's not the primary way I work. I don't see why it has to be. Certainly, I've always said that I hope my ethnic identity informs my fiction. But even as I said that I was aware that I meant it in ways that might be less than obvious to readers.
I can't help thinking that the author's disappointment that my world wasn't more obviously different is like the disappointment one might feel going to their Indian friend's house hoping to get an "authentic" Indian meal, only to find that the friend made a lovely Eggplant Parmesan instead, served with a spinach and feta side salad and a pretty good Chilean wine from Trader Joe's. It's a good meal. Yummy. You can't quite complain to their face, but... you were really hoping for a curry.
My point? That Indian friend may make you a curry next time. And proudly. But they shouldn't have to make a curry because that's going to suit the needs and expectations of a particular guest.
Nor should I. If you come to my house for dinner you may get the West-Indian curry that my mother first taught me how to make. Or you may find the sushi I learned to make and love when I was a teenager. Or Thai-inspired dishes. You may find a heaping bowl full of Scottish fish pie, or a display of pungent French cheeses, or homemade pizza. You'll likely be a bit amazed at whatever homemade dessert Gudrun whips up. In any event, come with an open mind and I guarantee a good meal, with something on offer that will hit the right spot.
But I'm getting carried away with this food metaphor and making myself hungry. Back to books...
I suppose I do think that the author's sense of unease with aspects of Acacia were the result of expectations she shouldn't have brought with her. Thinking positively, I will take it as a reminder that I do write from a naturally different perspective than most fantasy writers - and I should be mindful of making the most of that. Thing is, I never lost sight of that. I do, in fact, have a plan, and this plan is shaped by who and what I am as an author of color. Yep. It is, and it is in ways that don't need to be obvious to most readers.
Thing is, how this plan manifests and develops is up to me. To me. Not to someone that - even with the best of intentions - wants my writing to be an antidote for illnesses she's identified.
What do you think? I'm not putting this out there with complete certainty. It's more that I'm thinking in writing...
Tir Na Nog Press just purchased Realms of Fantasy from Sovereign Media. That's lucky. From the news release...
"Lapine is not anticipating any changes that will be visible to the public. Realms will continue paying authors the same rates, on acceptance, and leave the editors in place. He hopes to have his first issue out in May."
Have you seen this portrait? It's just been unveiled as possibly the only portrait of the Bard to have been painted during his lifetime.
It's not terribly different than other portraits I've seen, but there is a crispness to the details. This interests me not just because it's Shakespeare, but because I've come across the problem of attaching too much emphasis to particular images of historical figures that may not be true likenesses at all.
Hannibal, for example. I've always found it rather amazing that each book on Hannibal has images of him included, a coin, a sculpture, plenty of paintings. They all present them as if they are valid images, and people walk away thinking they are. But none of them are! Most of them were made hundreds (or thousands) of years after his death, by people that never saw him.
When I've pointed this out I've often have felt some reluctance to it. Like I'm making something vague that shouldn't be. It's like many would rather say, "I saw that bust of Hannibal, that's how I think of him. Don't know what your motives are for muddying the waters..."
I know what my motives are: being clear on the very limited certifiable facts of distant history, and being aware that imagery can redefine meaning in ways that aren't accurate - often intentionally so.
Anyway, I'm off post topic, but that's what I was reminded of when I saw this story. Here's a cat that was famous in his time, surrounded by artists in a culture in which portrait painting was big, studied by millions over the years. And only now might we be seeing the single portrait painted by someone that actually knew him in life? I don't see that the article below names the artist. Maybe they'll figure that out in another hundred years or so... New York Times Article.
Yes, I just got my plane ticket for the Imaginales conference in Epinal, France. I know I mentioned that I was going a few weeks back, but now I know I'm going. If only I knew who was really going to be there with me...
But I guess they'll update the website soon, and, hey, what's it matter? I'm going to France! As an author!
Last night I took on the task of explaining the economic crisis to my daughter and son. I choose a lecture format, with the kids standing in front of me as I discoursed on lending practices, the virtues and perils of credit, the need for responsible decision making. Lots of fun stuff. Metaphors in abundance.
I talked for about a half hour before my son suddenly leaped into the air, excited, chopping the air with his hand as he smile demoniacally. Was he attacking me? Had he lost it completely? Was he in revolt?
No. He'd GOTTEN it. He'd figured out what the frick I was talking about! He wasn't just cutting me off either. He seemed genuinely pleased to discover his father wasn't talking utter, mind-numbing jibberjabber.
I was well pleased. (And now they have no excuse for racking up massive credit debt - like their parents once did.)
Via the writer's group I'm part of (SF Novelists), Tim Pratt just wrote this and said we could spread the word...
"The SF and fantasy divisions of Random House (Del Rey, Bantam Spectra) are giving away the first books in various series as free PDFs through their Suvudu.com portal. The first five books they're giving away are Assassin's Apprentice by Robin Hobb; Her Majesty's Dragon by Naomi Novik; Red Mars by Kim Stanley Robinson; Settling Accounts: Return Invasion by Harry Turtledove; and my own Blood Engines. I'm thrilled to see them do this..."
I just heard that Solaris Books is for sale, as confirmed in this Locus story. I guess this doesn't mean they're done for, but it must be very worrying for their authors. Solaris is only a couple of years old. Reportedly, they've been making a profit - just not enough profit for the powers that be.
Take a look at their website: Solaris. As of this writing, there's no announcement of this news up. What you will see, though, is a backlog of news about recent signings and accolades, including one about my friend Jetse De Vries. Anyway, I wish all their authors the best as they ride this out.
I have this friend Pat. You might have heard of him. He wrote a book. People loved it. Made him famous and wealthy. His readers then promptly began demanding another book. Pat, being the generous guy that he is, wants to produce said book. Actually, he wants to have produced it like a year ago. Alas, easier wished for than done... This is one of several cartoons Pat has up on his blog. Also, he has a long, detailed explanation of what's up. I think it's a brave, honest and insightful mediation on the creative process and the pitfalls of... well, massive success.