Saturday, March 27, 2010

Reviewing self-published books

I've received lots of yummy books in the mail of late. I love getting books by my favorite authors delivered to my door. I also get unsolicited requests to review books. That's ok, too. I even say yes to some of them. Now this is a well-worn subject. It's going to continue to be bandied about because of the advent of print-on-demand technology.

What am I talking about? Self-publishing, of course. This is going to step on a lot of toes. Please don't misunderstand me. I wish all the best to writers who can make it work. Here's the problem from a reviewers standpoint. When a reviewer starts accepting self-published books, his or her TBR (to be read) pile starts looking like a slush pile.

I think the only way forward for self-published works that are good is for there to be some other form of vetting. Granted, the ivory towers of the top publishers may not always be the best authority of what is good or what readers will like. But it's better than just the author deciding that for us. Anyone can publish a book, with or without talent, if they self-publish.

Now let's talk about reviewers. Personally, I'm not just a reviewer. I'm a writer. I like to review books because I get all these lovely books delivered to my door and it makes me read more -- which is good for my writing. I don't get paid for my reviews. I just get to keep the books. This is not just true of me. I don't know any reviewers who make their living just reviewing books.

I hate it when I get a book for review and don't like it. I don't like giving bad reviews. Most especially, because I'm a writer, too. I'd rather just give it a pass than give it a bad review. My editor at Mostly Fiction, bless her big heart, feels the same.

I wish there was a better way. Are there reviewers out there that are paid to read self-published works all day in the hopes of finding a gem? Or could there be another way of vetting these works? Freelance editors, perhaps? But then, how do we know the freelance editor isn't sayin' it's good stuff because it's their third cousin's book and they owed their uncle a favor?

I have so many books to read. I'll never run out. I like what I do. I don't want a slush pile, especially since I'm not getting paid for reviewing these books. And this isn't my main gig. I'm first and foremost, a writer myself. I want to be a best-selling author, or at least be read by enough people that I can make a difference, make people laugh, make them stay up all night reading.

But I do wish authors who choose this route all the best. Really, I do.

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Wednesday, March 24, 2010

Telling on my friends

Emilie Bush's Chenda and the Airship Brofman is a quarter-finalist in the
Amazon Breakthrough Novel Award Competition! Of the 5000 entered in its
category, hers is in the top 250.

Lancer Kind's story, "KanjiKiss", was translated and published in the biggest sf mag on the planet. Bet you don't know which magazine that is.

Seanan McGuire's Late Eclipses and The Brightest Fell (Toby Daye books four and five) have officially been acquired by DAW Books.

Robert Sawyer reports: "Still too soon to announce which property, but had an amazing meeting today with the director, the screenwriter, the star, and two of the executive producers for an adaptation of one of my novels ... "

Finally, though I refuse to twitter, I know others thrive on it. And I love lists.
100 Fun Twitter Feeds for Serious Sci-Fi Geeks

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Thursday, March 18, 2010

Science fiction author, Joe Haldeman

I was introduced to Joe Haldeman's work in the pages of Analog Science Fiction and Fact, where I read Marsbound, the first book (which was serialized there) in that trilogy. Haldeman has authored over 30 books. He's received Hugos and Nebulas for short story, novella and novel and several other prestigious awards for his science fiction novels and stories. He teaches writing as an adjunct professor at MIT. I'm sorry I didn't get to meet him in person at Radcon. He was billed as the husband of the Fan GOH, Gay Haldeman. Behind every great man...

When you're done with the interview, don't forget to check out my review of Starbound at Mostly Fiction Book Reviews later today.
(photograph by Mary G. Haldeman)

AW: How are you? I know you experienced some medical problems last year and into this one.

JH: Recovering pretty fast. The docs say it will take a year (until September) to get back to normal strength, after months of confinement. But I managed eleven miles on the bicycle a couple of days ago and hope to do a twenty-miler within the month.

AW: What themes run through your sci-fi stories and novels?

JH: Identity, responsibility, love, understanding. Big machines and explosions. Anything except the term "sci-fi," which is odious.

AW: Why is "sci-fi" odious? Is it like someone calling our beloved San Francisco, Frisco?

JH: Ann, the neologism "sci-fi" demeans and trivializes science fiction.

It's not the word's definition. It's the connotation.

Is your wife, Gay, your number one first reader?

JH: We don't have a regular schedule. She often is the first person besides me to read one of my books.

AW: Do you launch a new story or novel from a character, a "what if?" or a world?

JH: Depends on the story. The current one, Earthbound(sequel to Marsbound and Starbound) started with a character. Camouflage started with an idea, a what-if, generated by a science-fiction world. The Hemingway Hoax was a literary challenge. The Forever War started with a line (the first line of the book).

AW: When did you begin writing? Has it always been science fiction?

JH: I began writing poetry in the second or third grade. At least four of my books are not science fiction.

AW: Tell me about your most memorable con or book signing experience.

JH: Winning my first Hugo, for The Forever War, was my most memorable convention experience. I was on top of the world. Heinlein was there and congratulated me. He said he had read the book three times.

AW: Do you read other genres? Which ones? Does this help with your science fiction writing?

JH: I like to read mysteries when I'm traveling. I've read westerns, biking out west. I'll read any genre except romance, and little high fantasy. Every book I read has some influence on my writing.

In Marsbound and Starbound you feature a unique take on first contact. How did you come up with the idea of a race created by aliens to communicate with us?

JH: The idea actually came from thinking about mayflies; insects that only live for hours. If they were intelligent, how would we communicate with them? We might create a translator race, fast enough to talk to them but not too fast to talk with us. (Or a series of translators.) The Others in the Marsbound trilogy are creatures who live so long and so slowly that we are like mayflies to them.

AW: What are you working on now?

JH: Earthbound, the last book in the Marsbound trilogy.

Visit Joe Haldeman's Web page.

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Wednesday, March 17, 2010

Increasing the odds and the faces we show each other

As I stared at a rejection for a story today, I was not only dismayed that the story so many editors liked, had been rejected once again, but because I'm running out of SFWA-approved venues to send it to.

AND I don't have enough stories in circulation. I need to take my own advice and think several moves ahead. I need to have ready two or three other appropriate target magazines to send each of my pieces to upon rejection. Rejection happens. We have to plan for it and move past it. I often refer to it as kicking my chicks out of the nest. Of course, just having the next place lined out may not be all there is to do. We have to make sure the magazine still open for submissions, the guidelines haven't changed and --all too often-- reformat it.

For instance, if it was formatted for a print mag and you're sending it to an ezine, you may have to lose the double spaces between lines and the hanging indention for the first line of each paragraph (using instead an extra line between paragraphs). Still others demand .text docs, which is even more work, putting all those underlines before and after words that need to be italicized. A great many of my stories have inner dialog and even aliens projecting thoughts. Therefore, I'm big on italics. >sigh<

So, I think my answer to this is to schedule a regular time when I go through all my original and reprint stories that have been rejected and send them back out. One of the reasons people are chronically late is that they underestimate the amount of time things take. I think this is part of my problem. I need to get a grip on how long it takes to send out submissions and schedule times throughout the year to do it. That's why I like the Broad Universe mailing parties. That's precisely what they're for. Only the last one occurred when I had no time to spare, alas.

I'm still loathe to reformat a piece for the following magazine. It might (hopefully!) be all for nothing.

That's enough about rejection. One can only take so much, you know. ;)

I still haven't received my contributor's copy of The Mystery of Fate: Common Coincidence or Divine Intervention? It looks like it's a very professionally put together antho.

I did manage to knock out two book reviews and an article for a local magazine this week. And I've made progress on a story for an anthology. Maybe this weekend I can work on a rewrite of one of my new stories thus increasing the odds of both rejection letters and acceptance letters. It's rare that the first one is an acceptance. It's all a process. Oh, we weren't talking about rejection anymore, huh?

I tried to edit my recording of a radio interview and got stuck. I think I'm going to have to ask for help with this one. I was the only guest on an hour-long show. That's more of me than most people want to hear at once and the file is gynormous. I want to edit out parts into a more manageable size and also separate out the part where I read a short story on the air. It would be nice to offer a story read by the author on my website.

I found some SF news you might be interested in over at Locus. Namely, the 2010 inductees of the Science Fiction Hall of Fame: Octavia E. Butler, Roger Zelazny, Douglas Trumbull and Richard Matheson. So I knew there was a SF Museum in Seattle and I also knew that there was a music museum, in fact I was there the year it opened. But I had no idea they were one in the same place: Experience Music Project/Science Fiction Museum and Hall of Fame. Egads! I feel like I've been living under a rock. Anyway, that's where the ceremony will take place in June.

Those of you who share listservs with me have already seen this, so talk amongst yourselves. The Speculative Literature Foundation is offering a $750 grant to a budding speculative fiction writer of 50 years of age or older. The deadline is March 31st, so don't delay if that's you.

Finally, I've been thinking a lot about privacy, or our lack thereof lately. And the choices we make when we post things online. As in face to face encounters, we have different faces we show to different people. Some of us do this more than others, but I refuse to believe there are people in this world that don't do this. So, when we're posting all this stuff online, are we some sort of weird composite? One that is not really who we are either, because we're picking and choosing what we say instead of prompted by someone's pointed questions?

I'm a big fan of House. A recent episode had a woman who blogged about EVERYTHING. She couldn't do anything without blogging about it. This character made the statement that you can know a person more through their blogging than through actual conversations. Her rationale was that she was (and presumed others were) more honest and open in her blog than face to face or on the phone. She shared every last detail on her blog including arguments with her husband. Personally, I think if anyone really is like that, they need help. That's really obsessive.

Well, like it or not, this is my science fiction writer face. I try to stay on topic and my readers come back because they know what they'll find here.

And then I read this article in the NYT about online privacy and identity theft. Makes you think.

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Friday, March 12, 2010

Douglas Adams - Happy Belated Birthday!

photo by Chris Ogle

This post should have been yesterday, on Douglas Adams' birthday. But, you know, stuff happens. So, pretend I posted it yesterday and we're good. Or we could do the time warp again and I will have posted it yesterday. Douglas Adams died May 11, 2001 at age 49 of a heart attack. His memory lives in on. And on and on...

Anyway, Happy Birthday, Doug!

I would love to list 42 reasons why everyone should read every novel written by Douglas Adams. But what with playing Starship Titanic, enjoying my long, dark teatime and washing my towel, I just don't have the time. I haven't made a dent in the dishes and I still need to make dinner. I was going to have beef tonight, but it was just too cheeky. Besides, I think it was lying about its tender rear. I intercepted a transmission from Zaphod yesterday. He said he'd be dropping in for fruit loops and shaving cream tomorrow. Of course, I could be wrong, since my babelfish has a virus. He might have said the Vogons are coming. But don't panic! I'm not going to ramble on forever. Now for the Birthday presents.

In honor of Douglas Adams' birthday, I'd like to share all kinds of cool widgets and things. Follow these links to HHGG swag.

Squidoo has movie clips, free wallpaper from flickr, the radio version of HHGG, links to T-shirts, mousepads, etc.

The complete radio series at BBC Audiobooks America.

Fan HHGG on facebook.

Now, if you're not sure you've read every book he's ever written, go here to double-check.

Finally, a commercial from our sponsor (my publisher):
In the spirit of the cult classic The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy by Douglas Adams: Beautiful Aranna Navna plans to conquer the galaxy one planet at a time. She steals the Awesome Lavratt, a mind control device, from a freighter in Horace Whistlestop’s junkyard. She takes Horace, too. With the Lavratt, Aranna manipulates the thoughts and desires of everyone around her —- until she gets to the Emperor of Calistania. Then things go from bad to worse for Aranna. The Lavratt, however, has only just begun! Oh, the fun you can have from a small cube with mind control powers. Travel the galaxy with Tyrantz Lavratt. Silly science fiction at its best. All puns intended.

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Wednesday, March 10, 2010

Cloudy days and dog day afternoons

Things are quiet on the writing front and I have been too busy to troll for SF news.

I got the weekly email from The Red Room wanting me to blog on their featured topic. This one was share your most embarrassing photo from high school and blog about it. Why on Earth would I want to go and do a fool thing like that? I mean, really?

But I thought you might enjoy this picture my hubby took. He posted it on Facebook with the caption, 'alien space ship or just a cloud?' Kind of spooky, huh?

And here's hubby (Patrick Wilkes, btw) with our dog, Alegro, a couple weekends ago up on a hill near where we live. They call it a mountain. Having lived near the cascades, I call it a hill.

Obviously this one was taken by my husband with the actual camera, as opposed to my camera phone.

I haven't once blogged on The Red Room's featured topics. I would just as soon blog about, oh, I don't know, WRITING? Or my genre. Not about my favorite this or that or special memory or whatever. I guess if I ever became famous, people might be interested in all that. Maybe. But then I wouldn't have to blog on five different sites any more!

I write all day on weekdays, some weeknight evenings and weekends. Red Room will just have to wait.

Speaking of which, I'm half-way through with the next Awesome Lavratt tale. Horace and the Askaran (big lizard guy from chapter 1) are back. I've been posting teasers on Facebook. Horace just got lizard puke in the face. I love torturing poor Horace.

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Friday, March 5, 2010

Published again! and media magnetism

I've obviously managed to get on a sci-fi media database. I received two emails in one day this week from TV station marketing people. TLC and Comedy Central both have new shows they'd like me to tell you about.

The Comedy Central show, Ugly Americans, may appeal to the young male audience. It's on the Comedy Central station after 10:30 PM for a reason. Ugly Americans is an animated show featuring various, somewhat less than human (or more than human?) creatures like zombies, devil women and vampires who all invade New York City. Well, invade is not really the right word. They act like freakily dysfunctional New Yorkers who can't last 60 seconds without alluding to sex. It premieres on St. Patrick's Day, believe it or not. It's very much like an animated, but smutty, Men in Black. Trailers can be viewed here.

TLC sent me a press release about Paranormal Court, their one-hour program in which psychic medium, Robert Hansen, helps families who have lost a loved one gain justice and closure. Hmmm. Sounds like Judge Spooky. March 27, 10 PM on TLC.

Now to MY news! A short memoir that I wrote about finding my sister, entitled "The Rosary" has gained new life. After a very long wait, the second anthology to pick it up is now available. The volume is called The Mystery of Fate: Common Coincidence or Divine Intervention? Read more about it and purchase it from Amazon or on the publisher's website. Can't wait to get my copy!

Finally, I learned of this article on writing, Writing a story - 12 important elements of dialog, by A. J. Barnet, on a LinkedIn group and thought it worth sharing. Barnet encourages the use of dialog and gives many basic tips on writing and dialog. I'm a dialogaholic. I still think I need to try screenwriting...

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Tuesday, March 2, 2010

Female spec fic writers and romance in sf/f

What a tremendous response to my questions, "Why do I read more male SF writers?" posited last week. There were so many great suggestions (I did ask for them) of speculative fiction authors who happen to be female that I thought I would compile a list for my readers from the comments given last week. I love lists.

But before I dive into the list, I'd like to point you in the direction of Robert Appleton's posts on Romance: Bookvana and The Galaxy Express. Robert Appleton explores the topic of romance in speculative fiction and comes at it from a unique perspective, that of a male writing romantic speculative fiction. It's definitely worth checking out. There's also a book giveaway tied to the first blog I cited.

Now, the list, in no particular order, of speculative fiction authors who were mentioned that I should read if I want spec-fic without romance. Some of the commenters may have fudged a bit on the no-romance thing, but the list is still populated by authors they enjoy reading.

Mary Rosenblum
Octavia Butler
C.J. Cherryh
Connie Willis
Lois McMasters Bujold
Anne McCaffrey
Madeleine Le'Engle
Ursula K. LeGuin
Sharon Shinn
Andre Norton
Elizabeth Moon
Jo Clayton
Kathleen Ann Goonan
Julie Czerheda
Joan Vinge
Jacqueline Carey
Janet Kagan
Nancy Kress
Susanna Clark
Chris Moriarty
Linda Nagata
Robin Hobb
Steph Swainson

And the following list from Nancy Jane Moore:

Gwyneth Jones
Laurie J. Marks
Vonda N. McIntyre
Anne Harris
Brenda Clough
Sarah Zettel
Rebecca Ore
L. Timmel Duchamp
Sue Lange
Sheri Tepper
Suzette Haden Elgin
Suzy Charnas
Nisi Shawl
Nicola Griffith
Kelley Eskridge
Kelly Link
Mary Gentle
Lisa Tuttle
Molly Gloss
Andrea Hairston

And one commenter suggested looking at Women Writing Sci-Fi, Your Picks and Tip Tree Award winners.

That ought to keep us busy supporting female spec-fic writers! And don't forget to check out all of the fine ladies I've interviewed. A complete list can be found to the right.

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