Just a quick note to tell you about my schedule at Can-Con.
Book launch of Blood and Water. Short readings by Kate Heartfield, Jean-Louis Trudel, Derek Künsken, and Agnes Cadieux. There will be books on sale at 25% off (special offer good for launch only). And Snacks!
Friday 8 p.m
OPENING CEREMONIES -- I have a speech. I promise to be bright, brief and bold. I'll try to be funny too. Your mileage may vary.
Friday 9 p.m.
Blood and Water Party. It's in my suite. Watch for the signs. There will be snacks. There will be drinks. At midnight, I turn into a Troll and ask you to leave. It's also my bedroom.
Kaffeeklatch. Bring your own coffee. It's not in the bar. Room 2, I think. Come chat, ask questions. It's after 12 so I should be fit to answer them. (Thank you Derek for not scheduling me on the morning after I host a party)
The East Block Irregulars Go to Chicago: WorldCon as a business adventure for writersHayden Trenholm, Marie Bilodeau, Derek Künsken.
Writing Idol: Bring a page or two of your story (no names attached). I'll read it aloud until 2 or more of our judges give the thumbs down. Followed by a brief insta-critique. There will be blood tonight! With Alan Neal, Eric Choi, Leah Bobet, Paul Jarvey
Media Guest of Honour Alan Neil interviews Author Guest of Honour Hayden Trenholm for CBC’s All in a Day. Pretty much covers it. It will be edited for radio so come hear the parts CBC doesn't want you to hear.
Saturday 8pm (panel ends at 8:45)
Creating Intensively: the 30-day novel, the 3-day novel, the 24-hour comic book and Clarion Write-a-thon. Hayden Trenholm, Dominic Bercier, Nicole Lavigne, Kate Heartfield. I won the 3-day novel competition and finished second (twice) in a 24-hour play-writing competition as well. I wish I could still write that fast.
The Realities of Space Travel: Economics and Exploration Eric Choi , Hayden Trenholm (M), Cenk Gokce, Jean-Louis Trudel I promise to drink lots of coffee before showing up. (Not the world's greatest morning person).
Editors: Anthology Editors discuss editing The Dragon and the Stars, Blood and Water and Imaginarium Hayden Trenholm, Sandra Kasturi, Eric Choi You've been to the launch, bot the book (right?) and drunk (for free!) at the party, now hear how Blood and Water was put together.
Lessons of the Script Kristopher Waddell (film), Hayden Trenholm (plays), Dominic Bercier (comics)
Whew! It's a busy couple of days. I'll be around for an hour or two after I finish my programming but since I have to fly to Yellowknife in the morning -- don't look for me at the dead dog!
Fri Aug 31 1:30:pm -- 3:00:pm
Transhumanism: Where Do We- as Homo Sapiens Go From Here?
Western society is rapidly moving toward a time when many dreams of the transhumanism movement, such as advanced genetic engineering, prosthetics, organ/neuro-implants, and age retardation/reversal will become reality. The question is how society - including speculative fiction writers - will respond to this evolutionary change in human beings.
Brad Aiken Edward R. Rosick Hayden Trenholm James L. Cambias Jonathan Stars
Fri Aug 31 6:00:pm -- 7:30:pm
Ethics of the Near Future
Ethics is now being expanded to cover social responsibility (earlier CSR) and governance. Besides it is becoming more global, helped by modern communications. What will be the end result, and how will that affect politics and literature?
Hayden Trenholm Jonathan Stars Lisa C Freitag Tad Daley Tore Audun Hoie
Sat Sep 1 12:00:pm -- 1:30:pm
Climate Change and Society
Discussion of anticipated impacts of climate change: impacts to human health, lifestyles, national security, disaster preparedness, and critical sectors such as energy and food production. Will the changes impact all segments of society equally?
Ben Bova Doug Fratz Hayden Trenholm Jeffrey Liss Ramez Naam
Sun Sep 2 3:00:pm -- 4:30:pm
What Energy Sources Are Sustainable?
Scientific experts discuss the options for future energy, and the pluses and minuses of each.
Corry L. Lee Doug Fratz Hayden Trenholm Howard Davidson Ramez Naam
In my last entry, I talked generally about writing groups – what they can do for you and what they can’t. However, I gave short shrift to the subject of critiquing with the promise to treat it more fully later. It’s later now.
Everybody who has ever given or received a critique of their writing knows some of the basic rules:
I suppose I could leave it at that – but when have I ever just left it at that?
The first thing that every critic should acknowledge: You don’t know it all. Sometimes, the person you are criticising is a better writer than you are. But they don’t know it all either. Unless, your writing group is seriously imbalanced, you will have one or two skills where you are better than the person across the table. To be effective at criticism, you not only have to know the writer’s weaknesses, you have to know your own strengths weaknesses. Eventually, you have to come to know the strengths and weaknesses of everyone in the group. You may be able to help writer A and B with plotting; but not writers C and D – because they are better than you! On the other hand you might be able to help them with dialogue.
A critiquing group is a bit like a Free Trade agreement – each partner has a comparative advantage over each other partner in a specific area and so has something different to offer to each one. That’s what lifts you above being “the guy who rags about adverbs” or “the gal who hammers on the 3-act structure.” Because the critique is about the specific work in front of you, you can’t deliver boilerplate; you have to find different ways to help.
The first basic rule I mentioned is the one about not taking it personally. It was first because it is the hardest to follow – especially for beginning writers. I’ve seen the look on people’s faces when I’ve overestimated their ability to take it – or underestimated how much my ‘clever’ comments can cut. To all the people I may have hurt during critiquing sessions, I’d like to say: Suck it up! (See, Liz is right, I really am incorrigible.) Seriously though, unless, like Harlan Ellison, you think if you can stop someone from writing, you certainly should; being sarcastic and kicking people when they’re down is not the best long term strategy for a happy and healthy writing group. And, surprise, surprise, it may be you who winds up leaving the group, not your targets.
Still, a critiquing group should never be a mutual admiration society. Your comments should always be tough and always insist that the writer improve. All I’m saying is mix a little honey in with the vinegar and don’t give people more than they can handle.
Obviously, the longer you’ve been in the business, the tougher your skin becomes. All those stupid rejection letters have to be good for something, right? Most people will tell you that I don’t pull many punches at the best of times but I don’t take the gloves off except with the people I think are as good (or better) than me.
Giving a critique is one thing; accepting one is quite another. I remember when I first started writing plays. I took a ten-week workshop from two-time Governor General Award winning playwright, Sharon Pollack. She taught some classes but mostly we did group critiques with Sharon leading the way. I had written a particularly strange piece based on, wait for it, Dungeons and DragonsTM. Her central comment can be summarized as: why the f*** would anyone want to write about this anyway? She then went into great detail about plot, character and dialogue. I took it all to heart and produced a new draft, keeping only 8 pages out of 68. Her comment: Why the f*** would... You get the point.
Don’t get me wrong. It was a truly execrable piece of writing on every level you can imagine. I learned a tremendous amount from her workshop and Sharon and I became the best of friends – and when I got better as a playwright, she was the very first one to tell me so. But the biggest lesson I learned: YOU CAN’T PLEASE EVERYONE! So you better please yourself.
The Story belongs to you. It is your child and it is your nemesis. You must struggle with it. You must discipline it. You must give it moral direction. In the end, you must set it free to live its own life. (You must learn not to overwork a metaphor.)
Listen to all criticism – listen only to that which serves the work.
Great advice – How do you know? Everyone has to sort of figure that out for themselves but I rely on two things: instincts and the democratic method. Sometimes, you just know when a critique has hit the mark. It feels right. Usually, the critic has focused on something you feel uneasy about. You know there is a problem but you can’t quite pin it down. Or, the critic holds up a fun house mirror to the work allowing you to see it from a completely different angle. It is that new perspective that will lift the work to the next level.
Democracy works. too. If everyone focuses on the same scene, you know it must be changes; if they all see the same problem, you know how. Sometimes, there is a split opinion. Then I choose the side that I feel is closest to the mark. Just remember though, this is an Animal Farm democracy – some critiques are more equal than others. After a while, you come to know that some people’s strengths are a perfect match for your weaknesses – or to put it more bluntly, they are a better reader of your work than anyone else, including you.
Which brings me to the final point. The purpose of critiquing changes over time. When you first start out, you pretty much take whatever is offered. Everyone seems like a better writer than you. Over time with practice, confidence and success, you will seek out different kinds of critiques and different kinds of critics. I no longer rely only on other writers – I seek sophisticated readers, as well. I even tell people not to bother with certain elements of the work – I don’t want to change them because they say what I want. It is my work and I’ll live or die on my own judgement.
Eventually, some writers internalize the critiquing process, they learn to examine their work with alien eyes. Or they simply follow their highly honed instincts and the responses of few perfect readers. I’m not there yet and maybe I never will be.
It’s all about the work.
At some point in every writing career, almost everyone either joins or considers joining a writing group. Depending on how you define them, I’ve belonged to at least two (more if you count the extended writing courses and workshops). I was active in the Imaginative Fiction Writers Association (IFWA) of Calgary from 1992 until my move to Ottawa in 2002 and I still remain an honorary member. For the last five years I’ve been part of the East Block Irregulars (EBI) here in the nation’s capital.
Clearly, I’m a fan, but only up to a point. Not every writing group suits every writer; some suit none. Nor does a group that works at a certain point of your career, work forever. In this, as in much else, there is nothing constant save change.
Everyone has to make up their own mind about the value of writing groups but one useful guideline you might use: if you feel better about your writing when you leave a group’s meeting that when you went in – you’re in the wrong group. A writing group isn’t there to make you feel good; it’s there to make you a better writer.
Don’t get me wrong. Participating in a writing group shouldn’t be as painful as going to the dentist and you shouldn’t hang around with people you can’t stand or who abuse you on the off-chance you’ll get a few clues on being a better scribe. So while writing groups are not mutual admiration societies, drinking clubs or places to get dates (though they are occasionally all of those thing – I met my wife in a writing group), they can still be a pleasant social break from the usually solitary life of pounding the keyboard.
To me, a good writing group will help you be a better writer; a great group will make you a more frequent writer, and, yes, a happier writer.
In a nutshell that’s what belonging to a writing group should do for you.
First, it should help you improve your writing. There are several ways this can happen. The most common is through the critiquing process – whereby you read each other’s work and offer suggestions as to how to make it better. Because critiquing is so important, I’m going to devote an entire blog to it in the next few days. But a few points before I leave the topic:
Critiquing is not about you, it is about the work. That means more than simply not taking comments too personally; it also means that you aren’t trying to impose your vision on someone else’s story and you don’t let them distract you from the story you want to tell. You, in the end, want to write the best story YOU want to tell (and vice versa).
Criticism has to be useful which means it has to point out strengths as well as weaknesses in story telling and it has to be aimed at the person who is receiving the critique. If someone is having trouble with the mechanics of writing, a critique focusing on the use or allegory is not likely to be much use.
There are other ways that a writing group can help you improve your writing. Writing exercises can help you focus on particular elements of the writing process. Along the same lines, group members may be able to direct you to useful resources, books or web-sites on writing or even good examples of fiction similar to what you want to write. I’ve actually heard (beginner) writers say: Oh, I never read science fiction (or mystery or whatever) because it might contaminate my writing. What nonsense! Writing is a conversation with other writers. If you don’t listen, you don’t learn. What’s more if you don’t know what has been done in the field, the chances of you doing something fresh are virtually zero.
Some writing groups arrange tours (labs for SF writers; singles’ bars for romance, etc) or bring in guest speakers. Write what you know sometimes means (though not always) write what you can find out.
A second thing that a writing group can do for you is to help you write more. While I don’t quite ascribe to the need to write one million words of crap, there is no question that the more you write, the better you will get at it. Although, there are exceptions to every rule. Certainly if you wind up getting so involved in writing group activities that you are actually writing less, you need to step back and reconsider.
There are several ways a group can increase your productivity. Most groups require you to submit work for critiquing on a regular basis. IFWA used to require at least two stories a year to remain an active member (though exceptions were made for professional editors). EBI requires you to have at least one paid publication credit before we’ll even consider you (and even then we keep the group small and require a fairly lengthy review process for admission). Anyone who isn’t actively writing on a regular basis feels our approbation – though we’ve never had to throw anyone out. Yet.
Challenges are another good way to keep the words coming. At many groups, there are open challenges to write stories on specific themes for readings (IFWA has been doing that for years for the local SF convention) or for as many members as possible to submit to the same anthology, for example, this one.
About 15 or 16 years ago (long before NaNoWriMo) IFWA invented write-off weekends, a short form writers retreat. Groups of writers – as many as 20 or 25 – all gather in the same place to write together. It’s not collective creation but it is creating collectively. Usually we shared meals and had a reading from what we produced. The concept spread – I’ve attended several gatherings at Robert J. Sawyer’s place and at EBI we’ve gone one step farther. If it works for a weekend, why not a lunch hour? You can often see 2 to 5 members of EBI gathered at a local mall (we all work downtown) bent over our laptops or journals producing as much as we can over fast food. My personal record is 780 words fuelled by General Tao chicken. Competitive? You bet. Useful? No question.
But how does a writing group make you a happier writer? Writing is a solitary pursuit but it doesn’t have to be a lonely one. A good group can offer support when you’re feeling down about your work or when you’ve had one too many rejection and they can help celebrate your victories. Most of all they can give you a place where being a writer isn’t ‘odd’ or ‘special’ but a normal part of everyday life. And, if you’re lucky, you may find some people who can be friends for life. I know I have.
The big problem for many people is finding the right group or, sometimes finding a group at all. Most cities have one or more writing groups active at any given time. You can often find info about them at libraries, community centres or on-line. Some groups like IFWA are open to new members; others, like EBI, are semi-private or even closed. Starting your own group is another possibility. Attending a workshop (IFWA started that way) to find like minded writers is one way; social media (EBI began on FaceBook) is another.
The key thing is to find the right group and not be afraid to move on if it doesn’t or stops working for you. A few rules of thumb might help.
The group should have writers with a range of experience – but the range shouldn’t be excessive. You should feel you have something useful to say about writing to every person in the group. At the same time you shouldn’t feel intimidated or think you have to do what the most experienced writer thinks.
The main focus of the group should be on writing, writing technique, getting more writing done, and, of course, writing. The social component or discussions of the business of writing should be there but shouldn’t eat up more than a quarter or, at most, a third of your time together. Less is probably more.
The group should meet regularly for critiquing – IFWA meets once a month, EBI, between once every two weeks and once every two months, depending on how many stories are being produced (we’re a much smaller group). But it shouldn’t meet so often that it gets in the way of writing. If you meet more often it should be for collective writing sessions.
Size matters – EBI has 8 members (though one is currently in China for a year) and we find that about exactly right. IFWA is much larger (at one point it had 40 members) but encourages smaller groups to form for critiquing based on genre or experience-level. Too large a group can lose focus of members let it.
Finally as you get experiences, your needs will change. You may begin by needing help with story structure or writing mechanics but eventually begin exploring allegory and meta-fiction, if you really must. Hopefully, your group will grow with you. If not, find a new one that serves your needs. Your group may go but the friends you make will be with you forever.
You can’t roam the writing blogosphere without tumbling over someone’s take on the transition from traditional publishing to whatever is going to replace it – print on demand, e-books, self publishing,
alternative publishing. Here’s another one.
I am largely catholic in my views on the matter. Books will be written; books will be published; books will be read. The mechanism by which that happens is largely irrelevant – except to those who make money from it. Because ultimately this is about: the transfer of information/ideas/art
from creators to consumers in exchange for value. I use the term value deliberately because not all writers (or musicians, painters, actors) are in it just for the money. Some want recognition; some want to make art. But make no mistake; a value transaction does take place. It all depends if you are feeding the id (money), the ego (recognition) or the superego (art).
Personally, I tend to side with Samuel Johnson, who said: “None but a blockhead writes except for money.” Obviously, I’m not simply in it for the money – if only because I can make way more money doing other things. I write because I like to tell stories and putting words on paper (screen) is more socially acceptable that dominating social gatherings with endless blah-blah-blah. Who wants
to be a bore? And it gives me an excuse for avoiding things I don’t want to do: “I’d love to come to your son’s recital but I’m trying to finish my novel,” or, more commonly, “Honey, I’ll clean the bathroom as soon as this chapter is done.”
Of course, people are always cagey about their income – they either are making a decent income and don’t want to make you feel bad about the fact you’re not (or are worried you’ll ask for a loan or, worse yet, a recommendation to their agent/publisher). Alternatively, they are making very little and are embarrassed to tell you – because low income from art is another way of saying: “no one cares about my work.” Take comfort – even the most successful writer in the world has more people who don’t care about their work than do. (Harry Potter books have probably been read by 200 million people; that leaves 5.8 billion who haven’t read even one – including me).
The first thing to know is that the vast majority of people who work in the book business make little or no money from their efforts. Writers, editors, publishers, distributors, book sellers – far less than 1% of them ever get rich from doing it. Only a minority have made decent livings (and all I mean by that is a lower middle class income). Most – even those who do it full-time – live in poverty or depend on a spouse to support them. I have a friend who won the Governor General’s Award twice but only had a regular income when the Old Age Security kicked in. I have another friend who has been widely published but has never earned more than $30,000 a year from their art, usually a lot less. There are lots of publishing interns in NY living on less than $10000 a year (how, I don’t know).
Oh, some people are still making big bags of money – Rowling and Brown, the owners of Amazon, a few of the biggest publishing companies (though maybe not for much longer). At the same time, advances to new writers are in free-fall and the average a typical writer makes per book has
declined too. The most successful writers are taking an ever larger share of the market at the same time that the total number of books available (thanks to e-book self publishing) have sky-rocketed. Meanwhile, no one seems to know if the total market for books has increased at all.
The impact on writers incomes suggests it isn’t or at least not much.
I spent six years writing full-time (well except for the teaching, acting and occasional stint as a bartender). In my best year I made the princely sum of $18,000. Let’s say $24,000 in 2012 dollars. But on average I made about $12,000 ($15,000). Doesn’t sound like much does it? It isn’t but, thanks to a supportive spouse, I could live on it. Then came year six, when a combination of factors dropped my income to a mere $6000. End of full-time artistic career.
Since I went back to a regular job, I’ve averaged between $1500 and $3000 a year, writing part-time. This is despite a significant web-presence and having won numerous awards for my writing. It’s a nice hobby (one I spend 20 hours a week on – earning $1 to $2 an hour, before expenses.)
Yes, I know there are people who claim to make millions self-publishing their e-books. They even write books to tell you how you can do the same. You probably can’t.
There have always been people in the right place, at the right time, with the right product (yes, I called books, a product). In other words, luck, persistence, talent –those are the keys and you not only need all three, you need them in just the right mix. Oh, and sheer volume helps too. Six crappy books a year might make as much or more than one good one. There is nothing new about this and it is equally true whatever delivery system was used. (Tennessee Williams – who always claimed poverty – died before the Internet was born with an estate of $11 million; Bulwer Lytton (“It was a dark and stormy night”) lived like a king off his writing: hundreds of plays and novels, proving quantity is an alternative to quality when it comes to making dough.)
Does this sound discouraging? Maybe – but if you can be discouraged from writing by what I’ve said, then you probably shouldn’t be doing it anyway. The fact that bank-robbing is a low income, high risk job doesn’t discourage bank-robbers either. (Maybe because there is nothing more high status in prison than bank-robbery – feeding the ego!)
Money. Just a couple more thoughts. Does e-publishing (self or through traditional publishers) give more money to writers than traditional publishing?
First, writers receive a royalty based on sales. For traditional books, that royalty runs from 8% to 15% depending on format (hard-covers pay more but sell less; mass market paperbacks, the opposite), publisher and fame/success of the writer. That means roughly $0.80 to $5.00 per book sold. Given the bias toward paperbacks: $2 to $3 a book seems about right.
E-books pay a higher royalty – quite often about 25% but given that e-books sell for less than an equivalent paper book, that works out to, oh, about $2 to $3 a book. Self-published e-books often sell for even less (to attract more buyers to make up for the loss of even the minimal publicity publishers provide) but can garner as much as a 70% royalty. Oh, look, $2 to $3 a book (and no guaranteed income from the advance).
So how many books do you need to sell to make the poverty line in the USA? 5000 a year. That’s 14 a day, every day for a year. To make my best income as an artist. 10,000 to 12,000 books a year. To make a decent lower middle class living –at least twice that. Which by the way would put you half way to being at the low end of best-seller.
And free books? 70% of nothing is still nothing. And as for 10000 downloads of your free book.
I suspect, they suffer the same fate as Steven Hawking’s A Brief History of Time. The most widely
distributed science book ever – but how many were actually read? I’ve downloaded a few free books (not counting the famous public domain ones) even a few for 0.99. I’ve started few and finished none. I don’t bother anymore – my experience has confirmed my prejudice that if it’s
that cheap, there must be something wrong with it.
And pirates? Oh, I know they’re just sharing (though how so many of them get rich from doing it is unclear to me). I’ve heard all the arguments – they increase your readership, your fame, your
popularity and influence blah, blah, blah. And it will eventually increase sales. Yeah, you know, like the way shoplifters return to buy things in the stores they stole from.
Have I discouraged myself? Not in the least. I still hope to make enough money to pay for travel to SF conventions and book fairs, to subsidize my own reading and art consuming habits, maybe even pay for a trip to Paris or a few meals at a five-star restaurant. Strictly research, of course.
Besides what else would I do to fill my empty hours? Housework?
I know I’m three weeks late but in my defence let me remind you that it is Chinese New Year – time for Rabbits to become Dragons. Not a bad metaphor for the year just past.
Last year, I experienced both highs and lows but generally I feel I’m at a better place today than I was a year ago – not a bad result given the laws of thermodynamics and the inevitable effects of entropy.
Let’s start with some statistics: I started 35 books and finished 34 of them. The best was Room by
Emma Donahue, followed by Robert J. Sawyer’s Wonder (made sweeter by being dedicated to my wife and me). I read six books and countless articles on Paris between the wars – research for my new novel – ranging from good to excellent. I learned a great deal but I’m not finished yet. I also
watched 45 movies though I turned six of them off before the end. An even dozen were seen in movie theatres – the most in quite a few years. The best of the bunch: Hugo and The King’s Speech, though Midnight in Paris was a close third – Woody’s best in a decade. My best video
experience was Paris, je t’aime, a quirky little film anthology. I also watched a lot of TV on DVD – notably The Big Bang Theory, Stargate Universe and British shows, Sherlock and Being Human.
I saw several great concerts – mostly at the Ottawa Jazz Festival, including Paco De Lucia, Elvis Costello and Robert Plant. Joshua Redmond was also excellent. On the down side, I didn’t go to live theatre even once – perhaps for the first time in almost thirty years. I went to three SF
My writing career took several odd turns as well. I didn’t publish a novel or even a single short story – my first dry year since 2003. Still, my novel, Stealing Home, was nominated for both the Sunburst and the Aurora Award and my short story, The Burden of Fire, published in Neo-Opsis Magazine in 2010 won the Aurora for best short fiction. These were my 8th nominations and second win. Despite the lack of publications, I was plenty busy as a writer. I conceived and researched a new series of mysteries set in Paris between the wars and wrote the first/second drafts of the first book. It is out to first readers and I will write a fresh draft this spring. My research included a six-day solo trip to Paris in October and I have another eight day visit planned in June. This time Liz gets to come. It looks like my Ottawa French lessons are finally paying off. At the end of the year, I took on a fresh challenge when Bundoran Press hired me to edit their new anthology, Blood and Water, due out in August, 2012. And I managed to write four short stories as well, all currently in the mail or in revision.
My writing group, the East Block Irregulars, had some changes and some big successes this year.
Founding member, Derek Künsken, sold his third story to Asimov’s become SFWA eligible, while Matt Moore and Marie Bilodeau were both Aurora nominees. Another long time member, Peter Atwood, left Ottawa for a year in China but remains a full-fledged if inactive member. We welcomed
Geoff Gander and Agnes Cadieux to our ranks. We strongly encourage each other to keep writing and submitting and actively critique each other’s work. And we have loads of fun, too.
On a personal note, Liz and I moved from The Place That Shall Not Be Named to a lovely downtown condo. We are poorer but much happier. We became grandparents for the second time and Liz started a new job (and developed asthma). And we both were successful at our diet – though our plan to lose years rather than pounds seems to have fallen by the way-side.
Of course the year was not all about me. We had the astounding rise and untimely death of Jack Layton, the long-sought majority of Steven Harper (rabbits to dragons indeed), financial crisis part 2, the Arab spring, Canadian climate cowardice, pipeline battles and Republican turmoil – notably the rise and fall and rise of Newt Gingrich. And of course the usual round of marriages, deaths, shootings, election triumphs and losses, books
and movies rise and fall (a few perhaps destined to be classics but not nearly
so many as the media hipsters think).
Gosh, can 2012 possibly match that?
Forgive me followers for I have not opined; it’s been over a year since my last blog session. Thank you, thanks very much – I’m in town until next Tuesday. Try the jumbo shrimp.
The hardest thing about (re-)starting a blog is coming up with a timely topic. There have been no shortage of political developments since November 2010 and I’ve even had a few new writing adventures. E-books appear to have turned the corner and become the last big thing. Heck, I even have a second grandson to brag about, not to mention countless exciting trips here, there and
I guess I’ll have to make this a regular thing – along with Twitter, Linkedin and Facebook. As Leslie Winkle might say – ‘call me.’
Maybe the best place to start is to say why I stopped and why I’m back. Unlike smoking or collecting Christmas music, quitting a blog is remarkably easy. It requires a conscious decision to blog, you have to go someplace special to do it, and there is some effort involved – blood, sweat and tears even if only occasionally in the literal sense. Yes, blogging is like going to the gym – you know you should and you feel good after but it doesn’t take much to keep you away.
So it wasn’t you dear followers – if any of you are still there – it was me. When I started to blog, I could find nothing to say. And when I was full of outrage, insight and wit, I was often away from a keyboard (or too full of wine to properly use one).
So what has changed?
New year – new attitude. Don’t get me wrong, this is not the result of a resolution. As a friend of mine used to say: Goals are for hockey players.
However, 2011 had its share of trials and tribulations. It also had a number of real breakthroughs, professionally on several fronts and personally as well. I’ve decided that 2012 is a good time to translate all my dreams into reality. With the Mayan apocalypse pending (which I refuse to dignify with a hyperlink), I’m running out of time.
My own personal apocalypse may be a little farther off but, believe it or not, I expect to retire in six or seven years. Though I won’t be plunging into the abyss any time soon, I should soon be able to see it on the horizon. Neat – no more dentists; no more back pain. Given my somewhat dissolute life –graduate school, 12 years in the arts during my (supposedly) most financially productive years and a general failure to settle down – retirement will be more pewter-coloured than golden. Que sera, sera.
So, my goals this year are simple. Increase my income now so I can ensure my security (yes, I still do believe in that word despite how twisted it has become since the ‘spooks’ got a hold of it) for the future. And find a way to transition successfully from part-time writer and full-time policy wonk to full-time author and part-time grumpy old man.
My revenue plans are my own affair but as to the rest:
I’ve got a new mystery novel I’m in the process of having critiqued so I can begin marketing this spring. And I’ve started work on the sequel. Set in Paris. Which justifies going there. Again.
I’ve an old SF novel I am furiously re-writing to have ready at the same time.
I’m editing a collection of short stories for Bundoran Press– both for the fun of it and to put another arrow in my quiver.
I’m beginning the process of finding an agent – not easy but I’m getting good advice.
And I’m going to 5 conventions this year to help me market myself and my projects.
And I’m Facebooking, Linking, Tweeting, and yes, blogging! Watch for me here or over at http://eastblockirregulars.wordpress.com/with other members of my writing group. I may not manage once a week – but I’m aiming for more than once a month.
I’ve had my schedule for SFContario for some time – but I’ve just been too busy to get it posted.
SFContario is the new science fiction convention being held in Toronto November 19-21, 2010. Hope to see you there.
Sat. 10 AM – Ballroom BC
Short stories and Novellas; Where’s the love? Sure, we say we love reading shorter works, but it’s the novels that sell, and awards for
shorter fiction tend to go to successful novelists. Why don’t short stories and novellas get more respect? (Stephanie Bedwell-Grime(M), Leah Bobet, Michael Swanwick, Hayden Trenholm)
Sat. 11 AM – Essex Hallway Autograph session
Sat. 1 PM – Courtyard
Keeping the Science in Science Fiction The technology of a story is critical to any work of science fiction. How does a writer keep the science believable and interesting in order to maintain the enthusiasm of the reader? How do you make unrealistic science, FTL drives, time travel etc., believable to the reader without reversing the polarity of the tachyon beam and rerouting it through the deflector dish? (Dr. Alex Pantaleev, Robert Sawyer(M), Alison Sinclair, Hayden Trenholm, Robert Charles Wilson)
Sat. 3 PM – Ballroom BC
Exposition versus Character At a Clarion workshop, Michael Swanwick said "All writing is about finding the correct balance between dinosaurs and sodomy," referring to the balance between science (setting/exposition) and fiction (characters and plot). John Campbell argued that too much character got in the way of the science. Was he right? How should authors balance these aspects of a story? Has this changed over the history of science fiction? (Ed Greenwood, Violette Malan, Robert Sawyer. Caro Soles, Hayden Trenholm (M))
Sun. 11 AM – Ballroom A
Writing the Future A lot of people seem to think the future will be like the past but with better gadgets. How do you create a credible near future (up to 50 years from now)? What things are likely to change and what will stay the same? Technological and scientific change are important but they aren't the whole story. How do you incorporate probable or possible changes in the environment, economy and politics, culture and social mores into a believable future? (Madeline Ashby, Ira Nayman, Dr Alex Pantaleev, Hayden Trenholm(M), Robert Charles Wilson)
Sun. 1 PM – Gardenview Reading from Stealing Home
A while ago, I read a book that by all accounts should have been a great success. It was filled with fascinating ideas cleverly expressed, likeable and lively characters, a strong narrative and so on. The book has garnered many positive reviews, been nominated for some significant awards and appears to be selling well. I’ve read a number of books by the same author and generally enjoyed them all, some more than others, of course, but still I was surprised at how flat this one seemed, how little emotional or even intellectual response it generated in me.
It took me a while to figure out why. In fact, it took another book, this one so unrelentingly bleak I couldn’t bring myself to finish it. (I did skip ahead to the final chapter – I was not wrong in my assessment; it never got any better.) But I’ll focus on the first novel I mentioned.
It was so relentlessly optimistic, and having heard the writer talk about it, deliberately so, that its brightness washed out all the shades and shadows fiction needs to function effectively. Even the antagonists weren’t evil, merely misguided, and there was no problem, no matter how serious, that couldn’t be solved by rational discourse.
At first, I thought the problem lay in my own perceptions and biases. Perhaps I take too dark a view of human nature to be able to enjoy the pleasure of these characters as they inexorably ‘made the world a better place.’ Trouble is – I’m not what most people would call a pessimist. Quite the opposite, in fact. I really believe that love conquers all, that adversity brings out our best qualities and the highest human virtue – kindness – is also the one most frequently expressed.
Yet, stories need a degree of darkness if only to provide contrast to the light. Take ‘Twelfth Night,’ arguably one of Shakespeare’s best comedies (okay, it’s mostly me who argues that). The play begins with a devastating shipwreck – there is apparently only a single survivor, a young woman cast up on the shore of a foreign land. Her last memory is of watching her twin brother drown. For her own protection she disguises herself as a young man and soon falls in love with a man who has become so cynical about romance that he has rejected love as foolishness. Not exactly a great start for the inevitable happy ending (Aside: A Shakespearean comedy ends in a wedding; a tragedy, in a funeral). It is only Viola’s struggle against adversity – callow servants, double dealing officers, spiteful lovers, death itself – that makes her final triumph so satisfying.
Fiction is neither real life nor is it life as we would wish it. Fiction is both a distillation, and therefore concentration, of life and at the same time, a simplification of how life really happens. Oh, sure, there are lots of post-modern novels that try to replicate the ordinary – with all of its inconsistencies, ambiguities and lack of resolution – but who wants to read that crap anyway.
In the past, I’ve mentioned Italo Calvino’s unfinished “Memos for the Next Millenium,” which outlined the values in literature for the 21st Century. They were: Lightness (as opposed to heaviness, rather than darkness); Quickness; Exactitude; Visibility; Multiplicity and Consistency. He believed good literature contained all of these and great literature balanced all of them. To those values, I would humbly add – Brightness and Shadow.
Hayden Trenholm is a playwright and novelist who lives in Ottawa, ON