Wednesday, April 30, 2008

Taos ToolBox

A friend of mine asked me to let folks know that there are still some slots left at the Taos ToolBox workshop this summer. I haven't had personal experience with this program myself, but for aspiring fantasy writers out there it looks pretty sweet. It's a "two-week Master Class in Science Fiction and Fantasy, June 8-21, 2008, taught by Walter Jon Williams, Kelly Link and special lecturer Stephen R Donaldson." Nice.

I know Kelly Link personally. She's great, and her work is super smart and funny and engaging. Stephen R Donaldson I'd like to meet one day, as the first Thomas Covenant series holds a prominent place in my early reading life. And Walter Jon Williams has published so many books that he must be able to tell others how to do it too! (Okay, that's me being overly optimistic about the process, but you know what I mean. This is a good group of authors to study with.) Here's how they describe it...

Taos Toolbox will be a "graduate" workshop designed to bring your science fiction and fantasy writing to the next level. If you've sold a few stories and then stalled out, or if you've been to Clarion or Odyssey and want to re-connect with the workshop community, this is the workshop for you!

If you're interested check out their website: Taos ToolBox.

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Tuesday, April 29, 2008

On Not Taking It For Granted

Hiya. Yes, the weekend at Big Sur was awesome. Great camping, lovely weather, ocean and river swimming, hiking, the pleasure of my family's company... Good stuff. I would bombard you with photos, but I haven't quite slipped this into being a personal blog that way, so I won't inflict them on you. Perhaps in the future, when we're doing really interesting stuff, then I'll detail it here...

Right now, though, I want to mention something that happened when I got home from the trip. There was a box waiting for me. Inside it: the paperback version of Annibale, the Italian edition of Pride of Carthage. I opened it, plucked one out, looked at it for about four seconds, and then waved it at my wife as she passed by bringing in gear from the car. She said something like, "Cool" (with a Scottish accent, mind you, so it sounds... um... especially cool). And that was it. I shoved the box to the side and went out to help unload.

It was only later - when I noticed the dejected box of books on the floor in my office - that it occurred to me that it remains a special thing to get a new edition of published book. Why was I being so blase about it? It's another book! It's another example of a collective effort to get my words to readers. It's my work, and the work of translators, editors, publishers, designers and publicists, etc, most of whom live in that lovely Mediterranean country. It's kinda huge, really. If I'd never had another book published I'd be overjoyed at the arrival of this one, with it's dark cover and massive elephant. And since that's true it should also be true that I take a moment and enjoy and be thankful for this one.

So that's what I'm doing here. I'm not taking such things for granted. I'm taking a moment to be pleased. It won't be a long moment, because I've got work to do. I've got another novel to finish. There's stuff pulling on me that won't let me bask in any sense of achievement for too long. That's as it should be. It's humbling. But it also feels important to respect each success - if not for myself then for the other people that were kind enough to share it with me.

So thank you, Piemme! Thank you Italian readers that made the hardback a success. Thank you to the new readers that I hope will pick this version of the book up. Thank you for accepting my fictional take on your history.

And thanks for getting my son interested in reading Italian...

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Friday, April 25, 2008

Okay, that's it. I'm off to Big Sur. Boogie boarding. Cycling. Camping. Getting some decent air in my kids' lungs!

Just thought I'd mention it. Be well, folks!


Thursday, April 24, 2008

1,000 True Fans?

A friend on my Forum mentioned this post to me (which I think he saw because of a Scalzi connection). It's on the 1,000 True Fans Theory - Kevin Kelly - The Technium.

So, 1,000, huh? Is that daunting or encouraging? Whadda ya think?

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Tuesday, April 22, 2008

Some Questions from Kenneth...

From time to time I receive emails from people kind enough to say nice things about my work. I always appreciate that. (Thank you.) I also occasionally get questions from aspiring writers. I've tended to answer them directly, but I just got to thinking that I could also do so here, in a more general way. So, this time I'll be answering a few questions from my new friend, Kenneth. Read on if you're interested!

Kenneth asked...

Do you set for yourself daily writing goals of a certain number of pages or word count?

Uh... Kinda. Or perhaps the answer is "ideally, yes". There was a time - in grad school, writing Gabriel's Story and... well, all my novels up until the one I'm currently working on - that I did set specific word count goals. In the early days things were lean and I really had to get something published, so I wrote about two thousand words a day. Sometimes more, but usually at least that much and on a five-day work week. That slipped a little bit when writing Pride of Carthage, maybe becoming more of a fifteen hundred word goal. That's because of family responsibilities, etc.

Either count is pretty good, I think. And both quickly add up to book length manuscripts. I do recommend such goals. You don't have to always meet them, and you may not always write your best stuff while trying to. But I do find that discipline and tenacity pays off. I believe the process helps create moments of inspiration, so the more time you spend in it the better.

Having said that... I'm afraid I don't set the same sort of limits at the moment. Right now, I get done what I can when I can. In addition to my family, a lot of my time is taken up with my teaching responsibilities. I may only be in class a few hours a week, but it seems like there are always stories to be read, assignments to be graded, applications to read, letters to write, etc. It's ironic that at the same time my books are reaching more readers than ever before I'm also busier with non-writing responsibilities than ever before. I might balance things out differently in the future, but that's how it is now. I still have tenacity, and some discipline. It's just shaped a little differently now. In this, I'm no different from anybody else trying to make a writing life work.

What advice would you give to choosing an MFA program?

I guess I would say try to consider as many aspects of the program as you can. Don't just focus in on one thing. For example, a program with a great reputation might look attractive, but that doesn't mean it'll be the place where each individual will learn best. A famous writer may attract you, but just because the person is famous doesn't mean they'll make a good teacher for you.

I'd also say do the research to find out who the faculty members really are, what they've written and what they seem to be like as people/teachers. There are some prominent programs out there that just aren't going to be a fit for some writers because of a whole host of personality, style, theory issues. So don't waste your time applying to programs that don't like or support the type of writing you do. I've read applications to several programs, and it does stand out when an applicant can sincerely express an interest with working with a particular person in the program.

And after all that... take the best deal you can get. Fellowship? Jump on it. Scholarship? Same. If you can get financial aid great. If you can get a TA-ship that's terrific, too. The MFA experience is always going to be somewhat hit or miss, so I can't really recommend that anybody turn down an offer of support from one program just because they got accepted - with no perks - to another, more prominent program.

Are there common mistakes you notice in your students work or tips that you give your students?

You kidding? There are tons of common mistakes! I won't even try to answer this thoroughly. I'll just answer with the first couple of things that come to mind...

I think it's a mistake not to seek out readers and be open to the criticism they offer you. Any new writer is going to make mistakes. (Veterans do too.) Any story is going to have areas that readers might want more or less from. I am not saying to do everything thing you're told. Definitely not. Plenty of times (and for many reasons) criticism can be off-base, unfounded, malicious, or just silly. The point is as writers we need to be capable of taking it all on board, considering it, and then discarding or using what you will. You do it as student writers; you do that when working with an agent or editor; you do it when being reviewed by strangers both professional and not. It's something you should get used to early, I think. I'm always a little disappointed when I see writers wilt (or flare) in the face of criticism. Neither need happen.

Oh, and learn how to use quotation marks, attributives! Look, I'm not great with the grammar myself, but I have managed to get a reasonable working knowledge of it and/or know how to write clearly when working outside the rules. There are times, though - even at the graduate level - that I'm amazed to find aspiring writers don't know some basic things like how to attach a bit of dialog to the character that's speaking it. Such things really detract from the reading experience.

Part of why they do so, I think, is because mistakes like that suggest that the work I'm spending my time reading may just be the work of somebody who isn't truly a reader. You know what I mean? If you've read hundreds (thousands) of stories and novels - as you should if you want to be writer - you should know how to write down a conversation between two characters with reasonable grammar. You should have absorbed it over the years. When I see early signs that somebody hasn't done that I start to wonder about their seriousness as writers. I also start to wonder how much of my time I should be giving them...

And, with that mention of time, I'll conclude. I'm off to bed. Need the rest, as I plan to get up and write a smashing scene tomorrow...

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Saturday, April 19, 2008

Mini Update

Just so you know, a few weeks back I sent my agent and my editor what I'm calling "half" of The Other Lands (Acacia, Book 2). The chapters (seventeen of them) had received a thumbs up from my wife. She's my first reader always, but it was time to go to the next level...

Good news is I've heard back from them both. Positive. Apparently, I'm not crazy. (Author cackles strangely in a way that puts that assertion in doubt.) So far, the book doesn't suck. (Phew!) My editor commented "that old ACACIA magic is casting its spell once again. You really do beasties better than just about anybody." My agent said, "I am nearly done with the new set of pages and am loving them. The very cool battle scenes with these massive creatures particularly quicken my pulse..."

Oh, have I mentioned that this one includes beasties and massive creatures? Well, it does, and they're on the stage much sooner than the Antoks got into The War With the Mein.

Bad news is... Hah, there wasn't any bad news! I'm still a long way from finished, but that's not bad news. It's just reality.

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Wednesday, April 16, 2008

Orphaned Works Madness?

Recently, a student in my MFA program posted a link to our listserve concerning "Orphaned Works" legislation that's allegedly before Congress. The article she linked to was at Animation World Magazine, called "Mind Your Business: You Will Lose All The Rights to Your Own Art" by Mark Simon. I clicked over and read it, but quickly felt my suspicions rising...

The stuff he was claiming was about to happen was so absurd I couldn't imagine anyone reasonably thinking such legislation could become law. There's also the fact that he's so intent on scaring people, never states basic information like the Bill # and uses CAPS SO THAT YOU KNOW HE'S SERIOUS! I didn't get through the whole thing, but just thought it was strange. Totally frightening if it was true, but...

Fortunately, another student mentioned a follow up post, "Six Misconceptions About Orphaned Works", by Meredith L. Patterson on Radio Free Meredith. Now this one made some sense. She's a lucid writer that seems to stick to the details more than the hyperbole. I found it interesting, and reasonably comforting, actually. (Like, for example, this legislation doesn't really seem to be before Congress at the moment, much less in imminent danger of passing.) Clearly, this copyright stuff is an issue that artists have to be concerned about, but not in the frantic way that Mr. Simon was encouraging.

Anyway, poking through these articles and the comments managed to swallow an hour or so of my time. Just thought I'd share that with you...

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Friday, April 11, 2008

Acacia Mass Market Paperback Cover

Finally, proof that the paperback version of Acacia: The War with the Mein really is forthcoming!

I've just gotten a look at the cover Doubleday has for it. It's been a long process, although a circular one. They'd first told me they were going to stick with the original - and since they were planning a trade paperback the basic format of the cover would really have been the same as the hardback. (They did this with Pride of Carthage.) But then they proposed - and I agreed - to try a mass market paperback instead. At that point the word was they'd try something completely new for the cover. Hearing that both excited and worried me. I'm always keen for a cool new cover, and always worried that's not what I'll get. So that's what I've been waiting to see. What showed up? This:

"Wait," you say, "I thought they were going to do something drastically different?"

Well, I guess not. They came full circle, deciding that the original performed well enough that they wanted to stick with it. Actually, I can't complain about that. It's like the old one, but bolder. I kinda think it'll look nice in the small (but thick in page count terms) version. And it'll keep some visual recognition in play, as well. That's my thinking, at least. Any thoughts?

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Thursday, April 10, 2008

The Webmaster

I'm pleased to mention that webmaster Shawn Speakman just updated my website. It's not like anything was really changed in terms of style or formatting, but he added new content to catch up with the months since the site was created! It's a much appreciated bit of work, and I thought I'd mention it. Shawn's good at this stuff. He writes, too, as he details on his WEBSITE.

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Wednesday, April 09, 2008

Pat's ACACIA Giveaway

So here I was all proud of myself for offering up one signed edition of Acacia in a giveaway... (Nice of me, huh?)

Well, Transworld is being nicer. (Although they can't sign their copies.) They've set up a giveaway deal at Pat's Fantasy Hotlist. They're offering up five copies of the UK version of Acacia, which is pubbing in May. If you're interested, click over to Pat's and sign up!

Pat's Acacia Giveaway!

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Monday, April 07, 2008

Juno's Pulitzer

Remember a couple weeks back when I posted nice things about The Brief and Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao, by Junot Diaz? Well, I did, and in that post I noted, "I wouldn't be surprised if we see his name linked to another award also..."

The award I was referring to was the Pulitzer Prize. I'm hardly prophetic, but I was right. Junot Diaz just scooped it. You can check out the website here: Juno's Pulitzer Prize.

If only I'd been a betting man... And if I lived in a country where anybody would bet on book awards...


Sunday, April 06, 2008

Creating History?

I'm always a little surprised when I get comments on posts that are several years old. I guess I shouldn't be, though. The posts live on, and they can be discovered by anybody at anytime. This is never more true in my case than with anything to do with Hannibal and Pride of Carthage. Way back when, I posted About Hannibal's Race. It's sort of ancient history to me (pun intended, kinda), but I just had an interesting exchange. It started like this...
Anonymous said...

Well, I dont think he was black, probably some Semitic type. We shouldnt forget that his mother was an Iberian noble and his wife too, so I dont think that he looked that much different from them. But mingling of Barca family with some sub-saharan Africans is also possible...
Well, pretty strange arguing about the identity of man so long dead :)
I slightly shortened that, but didn't change any of the substance. I responded thusly...

Hello Anonymous,

(This thread has more "anonymous" posters than any other thread.)

Personally, I'm not arguing with anyone. I agree that it's ancient history, and no matter how hard we try to believe absolutes we're not going to be right about it. The truth - whatever it really was - is long gone.

I don't recall coming across anything that said Hannibal's mother was Iberian. If I had I would've been happy to include that, but I mostly recall his mother being a blank. Since he was born in Carthage and since his father had not yet headed for Spain I thought it reasonable that Hamilcar's wife be North African.

Hannibal's wife, on the other hand, was said to have been Iberian. That's exactly what she is in my novel. She's an important character in the book, really, with her own scenes.

I've said it before - and people that have read my book know it to be true - but part of what I love about the Punic Wars is the multi-ethnic/polyglot character of it. It included so many peoples, and so much crossing of cultural boundaries. I think our perceptions of race have very little to do with that ancient reality.

That said, I'm living now, so our hangups can't entirely be ignored...

Anonymous came back promptly with...

Hi, its me again. Wow, now I noticed you are a well known writer, interesting.

So first I would like to take back claim that Didobal was Iberian. I did read on wiki and few forums that she was a daughter of Iberian king, but I wasnt able to find any quotation of the source. Except of that that name sound quite Phoenician - I think Dido was founder of Carthage, right? What did you use as a source for Hamilcars biography?

So its pretty hard to tell how he really looked like, probably some mix.

I have to admit being surprised that anyone reading my blog doesn't know I'm a writer, but I guess he could come across that post in purely Hannibal terms. So I get it. There was something in that response that I didn't get, though. Here's how I explained it to him...

I was struck by your use of Didobal's name. I may be wrong about this - and if you can find any documentation of it let me know - but as far as I can remember I MADE THAT NAME UP!

There was always a little bit of info on Hasdrubal in any bio of Hannibal, but not much. I don't recall ever reading an account of who Hannibal's mother had been, other than a vague mention that the Barcas were an established aristocratic Carthaginian family. When I did have names I'd use them, even if - as in the case of Hannibal's sister Sapanibal - they were only mentioned once. But this mother figure was a blank. I combined the "bal" structure at the end of so many Carthaginian names with Dido, but... that's my authorial license at play also. Dido is the name given to Carthage's mythical founder by Romans - as in the Aeneid. In Carthaginian lore the same character is call Elissa. In my book I use Elissa as the founding queen, but as a bit of play with the fact that so much Carthaginian history came to us via Roman sources I combined their version with a Carthaginian name and come up with Didobal. If I got that name from any other source I don't recall doing so. I'm pretty sure the name is mine.

I just Googled the name and found mostly references to my own work/comments. I didn't see any mention of that name on Wikipedia. I did see that a person on some forum about Hannibal's race mentioned Didobal and that she was Iberian, and that amuses me greatly. In my novel Didobal is not Iberian. But I also don't think Didobal exists anywhere but within my fictional pages. Whomever that person was has some garbled version of this stuff - a version that includes a fictional character that wasn't even depicted in the way he thinks!


That discussion board that Anonymous must have come across is HERE. I'll quote the relevant portion. Somebody wrote:

Hannibal was 25% phoenicians (caucasian race, not black) and 75% iberian (ancient spaniard). His father was the great general Hamilcar Barca (50% phoenician 50% iberian). HAnnibal's mother was Didobal, a iberian. Hannibal's wife was too iberian (Himilce).

That's it. No mention of where he got this two thousand year old info. It's unforunate that Hannibal's wife was "too iberian". (When can you ever be too Iberian, I wanna know? But anyway...) What can I say in the face of such numeric certainty?...

I haven't heard back from Anonymous yet, but I was amused enough by this to post about it. On one hand, I'm... well, "amused" is the word, by the fact that a name of a fictional character of mine could become someone's staunch argument about an historical personage, and further amused that the character in question has already gone through "historical" morphing. I'm not in the least surprised at this because the people that have the strongest opinions on Hannibal often seem to know the least about him. Strange, that...

On the other hand, should I be troubled? Am I putting false information out in the world? Need I track down future Didobal references and set the record straight? Or will I soon find that she's worked her way into historical books? I should do a search for Imco Vaca. Tusselo. Aradna... Who knows what I'll find about these "historical" figures?

Ah, the perils - and the power - of the historical novelist...

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Thursday, April 03, 2008

A Giveaway

In the interests of offering some Acacia-reading incentives in this Pre-Campbell Award period... I'd like to offer up a free hardback copy (signed, of course) of Acacia: The War With The Mein.

All you have to do is go over to my Forum and visit the Giveaway Thread. To play you'd have to join the Forum, but I swear that nothing bad comes of that. No emails, no public disclosures, no anything strange. I promise. If you do join, just post a note throwing your name in there, and it's done. If you're in the US I'm happy to mail it to the winner via slow mail. If you're overseas we'll have to work something out with the postage. But that's only if you win, and before that you have to play!

This is all rather informal, by the way, and the selection process is hardly scientific. Here's a photo of my son shaking up the entries last time... But it works!

Oh, I'd also be curious as to your opinions on the Hugos, the novel category in particular. I have a Forum post about that, too. It's here. There's a poll you could vote in, if you're so inclined...

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Tuesday, April 01, 2008

100+ Amazon Reviews, a Look at the Numbers...

I had this idea a while back that it would be incredible when I reached 100 reader reviews on I don't mean 100 reviews for a particular book (although that's going to be cool, too). I just mean when the total number of reviews for my four books added up to a century. I know, those reviews can be joy. They can be pain. They can be gushing missives from friends or hatchet jobs by enemies... But no matter what, as an author, it's hard not to keep an eye on them...

Well, I wasn't paying attention when the number turned, but it has! Actually, I only noticed when I was at 106 reviews. 106! Do you realize that there was once a time I had exactly 0 Amazon reader reviews? Crazy.

Okay, but how's the math look? Have things gone well? Positives above the negatives? Let's take a look...

For Acacia, it looks like this: (34 total)
20 Five Star
10 Four Star
0 Three Star
3 Two Star
1 One Star

For Pride of Carthage, it looks like this: (40 total)
18 Five Star
9 Four Star
5 Three Star
5 Two Star
3 One Star

For Walk Through Darkness, it looks like this: (14 total)
10 Five Star
4 Four Star
0 Three Star
0 Two Star
0 One Star

For Gabriel's Story, it looks like this: (18 total)
16 Five Star
1 Four Star
0 Three Star
1 Two Star
0 One Star

Adding those all up by Star rating: (106 total)

64 Five Star
24 Four Star
5 Three Star
9 Two Star
4 One Star

So that's the way the numbers fall. I'm happy with that. The stinker reviews are always disappointing, but they're also a sign that the books are getting read by a wider range of people - and by more people, which is important. I'm not saying I'd encourage you to go and write me a one starred "I don't like this book cause it sucks!" review, but there's a place for them...

Wait... What am I doing? It didn't really take me that long to put this post together, but still it's been 26 minutes of my life that I won't have back again to write meaningful fiction! Why didn't you stop me? My apologies. Man, Resistance can be devious. It can even get me doing math. Enough!

I'm going to write now...

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