SF Novelists Day

• Interested in a custom-painted mini of Jig the goblin?  Garden Ninja has offered one for bidding here to benefit Tu Publishing, a publisher focusing on multicultural SF and fantasy for children and young adults.

• Mel Grant’s cover sketch for Red Hood’s Revenge showed up in my e-mail today.  My biggest fear was that switching artists in mid-series would mean book three wouldn’t be recognizable as a princess book.  While I did have some feedback on the cover, I’m feeling better about this fear now.  He obviously worked very closely from the earlier covers, and it shows.  I’ll share the finished art with you all just as soon as I can.

• Today was my day to post at SF Novelists.  I used this month’s post to talk about humor (and to plug the 2009 SF/F Humor Roundup): http://www.sfnovelists.com/2009/11/24/sff-humor-roundup/

Finally, your LEGO fix.  I went small scale on this week’s pic, which comes from LEGOWOW.  This is another set that you really need to see close-up to appreciate.  I don’t know which impresses me more, the guitars themselves or the detail on the amps.  Click the pic for the full photo set.

 

Why My Books are Not My Babies

From time to time, you come across authors talking about how their books are their babies.  I’ve been thinking about the release of The Mermaid’s Madness [Amazon | Mysterious Galaxy], and decided to see how well the analogy holds up.

Part 1: Creation.  It took me one year to finish the manuscript that would become The Mermaid’s Madness, and that’s without my editor’s revision requests.  It took me mumble minutes to finish … er … well, to finish my part in the creation of what would become my child.  (On the other hand, at least my wife didn’t ask for revisions!)

Part 2: Prepublication.  It takes roughly nine months for a human baby to develop and be born.  It took about ten months for finished copies of Mermaid to start showing up in bookstores.  In both case, you have some beautiful milestones along the way.  The first ultrasound and the first glimpse of your cover art.  Preparing the baby’s room, and redesigning the web site to make room for the new book.  The baby analogy holds up better here.

Part 3: Release.  Labor is not a fun experience.  We were back and forth to the hospital several times.  The doctors tried and failed to induce labor.  In the end, both of my children were born via C-section, basically cutting my wife open and tugging the kids out.  This is not a gentle process, folks.  It was like trying to remove a basketball from a too-tight package.  The books, on the other hand?  My publisher shipped ’em to me in a Fed Ex. box.

Part 4: The Real World.  Very few people will tell you your newborn baby looks like a cross between a bulldog and a California Raisin.  People have no such reluctance when it comes to reviewing your new book.  The real baby is snuggled, fed, burped, bathed, and rocked to sleep.  Your books will receive no such love.  Some will be forgotten in the back room.  Others will linger on the shelves, along with tens of thousands of others.  Those lucky enough to find a home will have their spines cracked, and after a brief relationship, will end up squeezed onto a bookshelf and left there for months or years to come.

Part 5: Letting Go.  Your baby will likely be with you for at least 18 years.  Your book?  You’ll be lucky if it’s still on the bookstore shelves to celebrate its first birthday.  Within a month, many of those books will be setting out on their new career: stripping.  Front covers are wantonly ripped away in an orgy of shelf reorganization, and soon you’ll find these prematurely aged paperbacks discarded in back alley dumpsters.

Part 6: The Next Child.  I’ll be honest, I rarely think about Mermaid these days.  I’m lavishing all of my love and affection on Snow Queen.  This will be my seventh book.  I hope to pop out at least thirty over the course of my career.  Forget octomom, I wanna be tridecadad!  Children, on the other hand?  I love both of my children dearly, but I don’t know whether I could handle a third.

In conclusion, myth busted.  A book is not a baby.  Tune in next week when I talk about how dingos ate my book.

Blurb Ethics

• Thank you to everyone who’s offered new and autographed books for the DV Book Drive.  I’ll be continuing to collect books through about mid-December, at which point they will be delivered to the shelter.

• I’m still taking entries into the Mock Cover Contest, too.  I’ll pick the top entries and put those up for a vote early next week.

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Way back when, after I sold Goldfish Dreams to a small publisher, I started hunting for blurbs. I was fortunate to get some great ones, but I remember the individual who e-mailed to say he hadn’t read the entire book, but offered a blurb anyway.  Better still, when I pointed out that his blurb contained spoilers, he invited me to just rewrite it however I saw fit.

I’d like to say I took the ethical path and declined.  Alas, I was young and desperate. I rewrote the blurb, e-mailed it to him for approval, and slapped his name on it.  I rationalize it by saying at least he approved the blurb, but it’s not my proudest moment as an author.

Years later, I was reading Julie Czerneda‘s comments about blurbs. I can’t remember exactly how she said it, but I came away thinking of blurbs as a contract, a matter of trust between reader and author.  If a blurb from me has any impact at all, it will be because you’ve read my work, and you trust me as an author.  You trust that I wouldn’t recommend something I didn’t like.

Over the past few years, I’ve begun getting more blurb requests, which means I’ve had to decide how I’m going to approach this.  I find myself thinking about that blurb I got for Goldfish Dreams, and the one I got from Julie for Goblin Quest [Amazon | Mysterious Galaxy].  Guess which one means more to me?  Guess which of these two individuals I want to be like.

That’s led to some uncomfortable moments.  I’ve had to tell several friends that I couldn’t blurb their books for one reason or another.  Sometimes the book just didn’t work for me.  That makes for an awkward conversation, but I also try to be honest.

I had a different experience a few months back.  Jennifer Estep sent me an ARC of Spider’s Bite [Amazon | Mysterious Galaxy], which comes out in January.

It’s not a bad book.  I like the idea of using elemental magic in urban fantasy.  Gin has the strong female thing going, which I generally enjoy.  And the story is definitely a page-turner.

I still declined to blurb it, and a part of me continues to wonder if I’m overthinking it.  Spider’s Bite, like a fair amount of urban fantasy, is a pretty “adult” book.  There’s violence and bloodshed, as well as fairly graphic sexual content.  It’s a very different style than my own work, and that’s where I hesitated.

If my name were to show up on the cover, what would that signal to my readers?  What expectations does that create?  Will someone pick up this book expecting light, fun fantasy like Jim Hines writes?

I’m sure there’s overlap between Estep’s readers and my own.  People read a wide range.  And It’s not like my blurb is going to scar some innocent, wide-eyed young reader for life by tricking them into reading sex and violence.

But I wasn’t comfortable with it, and I’m continuing to try to understand where that’s coming from.  On that note, I would love to hear your thoughts on blurbs.  What is and isn’t appropriate, what works and what doesn’t, and so on.  As an author, where would you draw the line?  As a reader, what makes you lose trust with a blurbing author?

DV Book Drive

For several years now, I’ve run a book drive around the holidays to collect books for a local domestic violence shelter.

On Tuesday, I wrote briefly about the value of books and stories as an escape, however temporary.  Going to a domestic violence shelter is never an easy choice.  It can be even harder around the holidays, especially if you have children.  It’s hard to think about presents when you’re worried about your safety and trying to figure out how to start your life over from scratch.

To my author friends, if you would be willing to donate one or more autographed books, those books will be given to victims of domestic violence and their children.  You’ll be providing gifts for people who probably don’t expect them this year, and more importantly, your books can give a temporary escape from the stress and fear.

I’m also accepting donations of unsigned, new books from anyone who cares to donate.  In previous years I’ve also taken used books, but I’m told we’ve filled the bookshelves at both local shelters to the bursting point (which is pretty dang cool–thank you!).  So for the moment I’m only asking for new books.

Please contact me if you’d be willing to contribute.

Linkbacks and retweets are also very much appreciated.

Thank you.

The Nebula Thing

• Still taking title suggestions for the mock urban fantasy cover contest. And for anyone who missed it, that entry inspired Paul Abbamondi to do his own urban fantasy mock-up with Jig in a traditional cover pose. Click to view the awesomeness.

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So Nebula recommendations are now open for all works published from July 1, 2008 through the end of this year. I was actually surprised to see how much I had that qualified. Being the trend-following guy I am, I figured what the heck.

Novels:

The Mermaid’s Madness [Amazon | B&N | Mysterious Galaxy] The Stepsister Scheme [Amazon | B&N | Mysterious Galaxy]

Novelette:

“Red’s Tale” in The Faery Taile Project. November, 2008.

Short Stories:

“The Creature in Your Neighborhood” in Strip Mauled. September, 2009.
“Mightier than the Sword” in Gamer Fantastic. July, 2009.
“The Red Path” in Terribly Twisted Tales. May, 2009.
Gift of the Kites” in Clarkesworld Magazine. October, 2008.
Original Gangster” in Fantasy Magazine. September, 2008.
“Images of Death” in Imaginary Friends. September, 2008.
“The Eyes of Ra” in Cat Tales. September, 2008.
“Ours to Fight For” in Realms of Fantasy. August, 2008.

If you’re in SFWA and are interested in reading any of these, including the novels, please let me know.

More importantly, I wanted to use this as a reminder about the 2009 Humorous SF/F Roundup.  I will continue to add qualifying works to the list until the end of 2009.

The prevailing attitude is that humor and comedy are somehow lesser works.  (Much like SF/F in general is often viewed as lesser–mere escapism.)

I’ve received mail from people in hospitals with dying relatives, people dealing with death, divorce, and other crises, and I can tell you this–escapism matters.  Humor matters.  Reading a well-written book that allows you to escape the pain and stress for a few hours, that might even allow you to smile or laugh for the first time in weeks–it matters.

For that reason, I would love to see one or more humorous pieces make the ballot this year.

Mock Cover Contest

Windycon was a great deal of fun, as always.  Got to meet some new folks and catch up with friends … I didn’t have much programming, so in a lot of ways this one turned into a social con for me.  Many hugs, lots of hanging out chatting in the lobby and elsewhere.  Met some new fans, but managed to keep the ego from getting too swollen (despite certain people’s best efforts). All in all, a good way to spend a weekend.

I learned that the steampunk theme brings out a lot of costumers, which was fun to see.  Got to hear Tom Smith in concert, ate way too much food, and made it to one and a quarter of my two panels.  (DAW vs. Baen was cross-scheduled with the Writing Workshop, so sadly I only caught the last 10 minutes of the panel.)

One of the most entertaining moments was when author Kelly Swails donned a Jig the goblin tattoo and decided to pose urban fantasy style, complete with a knife she swiped from the restaurant.  Naturally, this called for the full cover art treatment.  I’m obviously  not a professional graphic designer, but I’m pretty amused by what I was able to put together last night*.

Every good goblin-themed urban fantasy requires an equally good title, right?  “Goblin Killer Blues” was suggested by archivist Lynne Thomas.  Think you can do better?  Suggest a title in the comments, and I’ll put the best ideas up for a vote.  The winner gets an autographed copy of The Mermaid’s Madness [Amazon | Mysterious Galaxy].

Have fun!


*Because this is the Internet and I know someone will ask, the answer is no, I am not writing a goblin-themed urban fantasy book.

Windycon Schedule Tweak and Friday LEGO

• Looking at my schedule for this weekend more closely, I’m doing the writing workshop at the same time as the DAW vs. Baen panel, so unless we have last-minute dropouts from the workshop, it looks like I’ll be missing that panel.  I’m sad about this, because it had the potential to be … well, lively, if nothing else.

• Since I am doing the “What Kids are Reading” panel on Sunday, I thought I’d open things up to suggestions.  What do you think are the must-read kid titles of 2009?  I’ve got some ideas, but there’s always room for more.  (I may compile a full list of suggested books after the panel and post that next week, if folks would be interested?)

• My annual domestic violence book drive will be starting next week.  Details to come.

• Finally, dear NASA — please build this.  (Only, you know, out of genuine spaceworthy materials instead of LEGO.)  This is the Carl Sagan, a mindblowing collaborative project between Lego Monster and Mad Physicist.  It even has its own shuttles!  One picture does not do this sucker justice.  Click the pic for the full set.

Updatery

• First off, a quote from author C. C. Finlay: “The third law of writing: For every fiction there is an equal and opposite re-fiction. For example, if there is The Hobbit, eventually someone will inevitably write Goblin Quest.”  I am much amused.

• The SF/F Humor Roundup is up to 22 short stories and 12 novels.  So far, so good!  I’m working on guidelines to try to cut down on blatant self-promotion.  I don’t mind authors recommending their own work, but I don’t want a list of 30 stories from every online nook and cranny.  I’m thinking of limiting self-promotional recommendations to one short story and/or one novel.  What do you think?

• I’ll be heading to Windycon tomorrow.  I’ve got the Manly Baen vs. Womanly DAW panel Saturday at 10, an autographing session Saturday at 2, What are Kids Reading on Sunday at 10, and I’ll be reading my muppet werewolf tale on Sunday at Noon.  Hope to see some of you there!

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I realized I haven’t done an actual writing update in a while.  After finishing the revisions for Red Hood’s Revenge, I started back in on Snow Queen.  I struggled through the current chapter, but it was painful.  The whole thing felt like it was stuck, and I had no idea where to go from here.

Some of the more experienced writers probably know exactly where I’m at in this manuscript.  That’s right, it’s the dreaded 30,000 word slog.  Every book I’ve done for the past five years has hit this same point, where my outline falls apart and the story crashes and burns.

Fortunately, I’ve done this enough times to recognize it.  The solution for me?  Step back and rewrite the outline.  When I’m first planning a book, my brain can’t hold the whole thing.  So I outline and do the best I can, but by the time I’ve typed 25K-30K words, I’ve changed enough that the outline no longer works.

I’ve spent the past week outlining, and I’m just about ready to dive back in.  I’m not going to start over from the beginning, because I’ve found that just wastes time for me.  But I’ve made notes about what to change in the rewrite, and more importantly, I’m excited about some of the new ideas and directions I’m taking in the rest of the story.  I’m also surprised to realize I don’t know how this book is going to end.  I honestly don’t know whether or not certain characters will survive.  That’s kind of fun 🙂

So there’s where I’m at with the writing.  Book three is done, book four is underway, and the back of my brain is quietly percolating ideas for the next series.

Diabetes Details 5: Exercise

Last night I spent two hours at karate.  (Got my promotion form for 3rd brown belt — woo hoo!)  It was a good workout, but the class only meets once a week, so I’ve started trying to ride the exercise bike a few times a week too.

There are a few reasons for this.  My day job is very sedentary.  I spend all day sitting at a desk answering questions, and then I come home and sit at a different desk and try to catch up on writing-related work.  (If you’re going to do the writing thing, it’s a good idea to do something active, just to keep your body from atrophying altogether.  /Soapbox)

I’m also doing it for my mood.  Yesterday was a craptastic day at work.  Two hours at karate, and I was completely past it.  Today was worse.  A half-hour of pedalling and watching The Daily Show, and I’m in a much better space.

Finally, exercise is good for the diabetes.  The disease heightens the chances of trouble with the majority of your internal organs, so exercise is a good idea to help counteract that.

But there’s a problem.  You see, a good aerobic workout affects your metabolism for 24 hours or more.  In my case, it’s a very noticeable effect, because it means I need less insulin for at least 24 hours after riding the bike.

If I were to get the same amount of exercise every single day, I’d be all set.  I’d just need to adjust my baseline dosage for post-workout mode, and remember to take less insulin at meals.  But because I can’t do this every day, it means I get the joy of trying to manage two baseline rates, as well as calculating two dosage ratios at meals.

Add to this the fact that my insulin needs vary from day to day anyway, depending on stress, exhaustion, activity, the phase of the moon, and Shadowstar only knows what else.  So the exercise throws yet another variable into the mix.  I’m pretty good at estimating my needs, but it’s not an exact science.

The ironic part?  Exercise usually helps you lose weight, right?  Over the past month, as I’ve tried to sort out the new dosages, I’ve probably gained weight because I keep dosing too aggressively for post-exercise mode, which drops my blood sugar, which then requires the prompt application of M&Ms.

It really is a rude disease.  But the exercise has been a good thing overall, both emotionally and physically.  I may need to keep testing more often, but I’ll get this sorted out eventually.  And in the meantime, hey–how often do you get a medically valid excuse to eat chocolate?

Top 10 Books of 2009 (Girls Need Not Apply)

By now, I imagine many of you have seen Publishers Weekly’s roundup of the ten very best books of 2009, a list which just happens to only include male authors.  Sure, the girls made it into some of the secondary lists, but the ten best?  All boys.

I would also check out Lizzie Skurnick’s response at Politics Daily, which included this bit from PW: “We wanted the list to reflect what we thought were the top 10 books of the year with no other consideration . . . We ignored gender and genre and who had the buzz . . . It disturbed us when we were done that our list was all male.”

So here’s my question: What should PW have done when they realized they had come up with an all-male list?

We pause now for the predictable response.

“You keep your quotas off of us, you damn, dirty PC police!”

Right.  Moving on, the thing I don’t get is that the folks at PW say they were disturbed by this, but they don’t appear to have done anything about it.  Did they ever take that next step and ask, “Why, if we were truly ignoring gender, did we still come up with an all-male list?  We’re talking less than a 1 in 1000 chance of this happening purely at random*, which suggests maybe we weren’t as gender-blind as we thought.”

Our own biases are hard to face.  It’s easier and safer to turn the blame outward or make excuses:

  • It’s just one list, and we have girls in some of the others!
  • Maybe more men published good books this year.
  • It’s the story that counts, not the gender/race/etc. of the author.
  • Women helped to make this list, so it can’t be sexist!
  • Maybe women should be proactive and start writing better books!

I could go on and on listing reasons that basically amount to “It’s not my fault,” and “I’m not sexist!”  We could spend the whole month debunking most of those reasons.

But in the end, Publishers Weekly published this list.  They were aware enough to recognize something wasn’t right, and I give them props for that.  But that’s much easier than actually taking responsibility.  We can say, “Oh look, a list of all men.  That’s gonna be a problem, because those bloggers are going to raise hell that we didn’t include a token woman.

Or we can stop making excuses and try being accountable for our own choices and behaviors.  We can say, “I tried to be  gender-blind about this, but ended up with an all-male list.  Huh.  I didn’t consciously try to pick only male authors, but maybe I’m not as gender-blind or unbiased as I thought.

Nobody’s asking for quotas.  Me, I’m just asking people to grow up and take responsibility for their choices.  Yes, we’re talking about an industry-wide issue that affects publishing on many different levels.  But the industry is made up of individuals, and every one of us, myself included, has our own biases and prejudices. We can ignore them and make the same tired excuses, or we can face them and try to do better.

We all mess up.  I just wish more folks would own up to it when it happens.


*Assuming a 50/50 breakdown of male and female authors.

Jim C. Hines