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Welcome New Readers, and Mermaid gets Klausnered

I wanted to say hello and welcome to all of the new readers who’ve found this blog over the past month or so.  Please make yourselves comfortable, and feel free to say hello or to just hang out and lurk if you prefer.

It’s interesting to see the pattern play itself out.  I’ll post a rant or weigh in on a current controversy in the genre, and the readership grows.  A few days later I’ll post a day-to-day update on the writing, and the friends list starts shrinking back down.  C’est la vie.

To be clear, this is not an all-rants, all-the-time blog, and I hope people will feel free to friend or defriend, and read or not as the mood strikes.  The only real theme here is “Stuff Jim Felt Like Writing About.”  That might be sexism in the Hugo Awards or it might be a kick-ass LEGO wheelchair.  With my next book coming out in a month, I’ll probably be talking about that too, because even though it’s my fifth book with DAW, I still get excited and freaked out about this stuff.  I hope to keep things interesting and entertaining most of the time, but if you don’t think so, that’s okay too.

So hey, speaking of The Mermaid’s Madness [Amazon | Mysterious Galaxy], I’ve seen my first public review of the book, courtesy of reviewer savant Harriet Klausner.  It’s a pretty standard Klausner review, which means spoilers, strange details that don’t completely match the book, and one or two spots where she tries too hard to be clever.  (A “regal coma”?  Really?)  Review is here if you’re interested.

On the other hand, it’s the first review of the book.  Klausner is kind of like the first robin of spring.  Her song might be a little off-key after the long winter, but that doesn’t matter because you know there will soon be an entire flock chirping up a storm outside your window.  (Or, to extend the metaphor, leaving their droppings all over your beautiful book.  But I’m not going to think about that today.)

Hugo Awards: Shaped that way for a reason

“If in the written fiction categories, no selected nominee has a female author or co-author, the highest nominee with a female author or co-author shall also be listed.”

This is a proposed amendment to the Hugo Awards introduced at a Worldcon business meeting earlier this month.  The amendment was immediately nuked from orbit.  (It was the only way to be sure.)

Today I came across a post by Yonmei, talking about why she proposed the amendment.  Two of the points she makes:

“Books by women are less likely to be reviewed by than books by men (this applies even to Locus – in fact, it was Locus that was offered as a specific example at the Broad Universe panel on Sunday morning at the Worldcon.) …  So a book by a woman is less likely to become known because of a good review.”

“In the overall pool of readers, there is still a bias by men against buying ‘women’s books'”

She also points out that every year from 2000 through today, one or more of the Hugo award categories has ended up with an all-male shortlist.  Never in this time period has there been an all-female shortlist.

This leads to two questions:

1.  Is this actually a problem?

2.  If so, how do we fix it?

Regarding #1, I’m reminded of the all-male Manthology, and I can already hear the same arguments being prepared.  Yes, it’s statistically possible to get an all-male (or an all-female) list at random.  I believe the fact that it keeps happening so consistently, and so one-sidedly, is a problem.

#2 is harder.  Yonmei’s amendment would have guaranteed no more all-male shortlists.  However, I’ve read several female authors already protesting that they wouldn’t want to be on the shortlist simply because of their second X chromosome.  (On the other hand, how many male authors make the shortlist thanks to that Y chromosome?  Not that their stories weren’t good, but would they have made the final cut in a truly gender-blind situation, or would they have been the runner-up while a female author took their spot?)

Changing the Hugo rules has the advantage of being quick.  If that rule had passed, 2009 2010* would be the last year to have an all-male shortlist.  But as I look at this, I don’t necessarily see a problem with the Hugo rules; I see a problem with the genre as a whole, with readers and editors and reviewers and so on.

I do believe things are moving forward, but it feels like a slow change, requiring an awful lot of work and discussion and awareness.  And sometimes we do have to change the law first so the culture can follow.  (Desegregation being the first example to come to mind.)

I don’t have an answer, except to keep pointing this stuff out when it happens.  Keep challenging the assumption that it’s normal to have male-dominated award ballots, anthologies, and so on.  Keep ridiculing the fact that so many projects purporting to represent The Best of our genre are still dominated by the White Boys Club, because The Best of our genre is so much better than that.

For myself, keep expanding my own reading.  I grew up reading white male authors, and those habits are still present, which means I need to make a deliberate effort to break them.  (This list on the Tor.com site is a good start.)

As always, I’m very much interested in hearing what the rest of you think.


*Thanks to Steven Silver for the rules clarification.

One Question Interviews

Yesterday was my day to blog at SF Novelists.  This time I talk about the ups and downs of starting a new novel: That New Manuscript Smell.

Some of you might have seen this already, but Nnedi Okorafor’s My Response to District 419 — I mean District 9 is very much worth reading.  Go.  I’ll wait.

#

Five weeks until The Mermaid’s Madness [Amazon | Mysterious Galaxy] comes out.  Anxious?  Me?  Not at all.  I always spend this much time Googling for pre-release reviews.

I’ve also been trying to figure out how best to promote the release online.  I’ve talked about writers and promotion a fair amount over the years.  It’s always a balancing act between wanting to sell the book and getting so obnoxious you just turn people away.  Some lines are pretty clear cut.  Others less so.

For a while, some of the SF Novelists group were doing interviews to be posted when one of us had a new book out.  I did this with Stepsister, and looking back, I don’t think that worked too well.  Authors interviewing other authors can be effective, if it’s a good interview.  But in this case you still ended up with the same interview being posted multiple times all over the place, and I suspect that got old quick.

I wonder how many people even read these lengthy interviews.  Maybe if it’s a big name like Terry Pratchett, but how many of you actually read author interviews from random midlisters?

So here’s the deal.  I’m going to try the interview thing again, but we’re doing it differently this time.  You’re all invited to play along, but you only get one question.  You can ask anything you’d like, serious or silly.  Just make that question count.

What I ask is that you post your question and my answer on October 6 when Mermaid comes out.  If you want to say a little about Mermaid or Stepsister, that’s wonderful, but not required.  The only requirement is that you link back to the index of questions.  (I’ll provide that URL.)

Questions should be sent to mermaid@jimchines.com any time between now and 10/2/09.  I’ll answer every question I receive.  (Please note that I’m not guaranteeing a serious answer to every question.)

What do you think?  I’m hoping this will lead to a lot of fun and interesting posts without being overwhelming or repetitive.  I could always toss in a free book for a random participant, or let people vote on the best question?  Maybe a copy of Strip Mauled, which should be coming out the week before?

Overnetworked (Now with 100% more Twitter!)

I’ve said from time to time that I wasn’t going to join Twitter.  It turns out I lied.  https://twitter.com/jimchines  This is entirely the fault of my publisher, who have their own Twitter account at @dawbooks.

I’m officially at the point where I’m overnetworked.  I think I’m going to try to balance this out by closing out my MySpace page.*  I don’t use that one, and this way I can pretend I’m not adding yet more online timesuckery to my life.

I don’t know how much I’ll be doing with Twitter yet.  I understand that social networking is the Big Thing, but I find the more I try to do, the more … diluted I feel.  Trying to follow everyone on LJ and Facebook and my Google RSS feed already means I find myself skimming most entries.  There are days I realize I’m more intent on “catching up” than I am on actually reading or interacting with folks.  Twitter looks like it has the potential to make that even worse, especially since a lot of the people on Twitter are folks I’m already reading elsewhere.

For the moment, I’m only following people on Twitter if I don’t already read them on Facebook and LJ.  Hopefully I’m not violating any Twitter etiquette by not automatically following everyone who follows me.

We pause now as Jim reboots the computer, losing half the blog post he had composed.  Grumble.

I’m probably overthinking it all.  I’ve got two goals, the first of which is to be accessible.  If someone wants to check out my web site, great.  If they prefer LJ or Facebook or Goodreads or whatever, no problem — it all gets mirrored there.  Goal #2 is to keep in touch with my community — other writers, readers, fans, and randomly cool people.  Oh, and it would also be nice if I could still do things like write the next book, see my family, keep the day job, and so on.

Hm … maybe if I signed my kids up for Twitter, I could–

Ahem.  Anyway, how do other folks handle it all?  Do you use one site differently than another, or is it all basically the same stuff in different formats?  (I do like the @ and # functions in Twitter, from what I’ve seen so far.)  Help a Twitter newbie out here.


*Does anyone use MySpace anymore?

Snow Queen: Day 1

Cry havoc, and let slip the plotbunnies of war!  Today I wrote the first 660 words of Scourge of the Snow Queen!  (Title may change between now and 2011.)

I had hoped to post a celebratory snippet.  Unfortunately, anything from today’s writing would completely spoil the ending of The Mermaid’s Madness [Amazon | Mysterious Galaxy].  Stupid ongoing plot threads.

This is the first book in the series where I feel like I need a prologue, or at least some sort of “Previously on the Princess Action show…” introduction.  I did that sort of thing in the goblin books and had fun with it, but I’d really rather not do it again here.

Ideally, I want brand new readers to be able to pick up the book and dive into the story just as easily as those who have read the first three books.  That means no introductory crap that will bore new and old readers alike.  Just start the story and give the background details as they become necessary.

Whereas the first three books have their own storylines, this one relies more heavily on what came before.  It’s a new challenge, one which I’d like to say I look forward to conquering, but to be honest, right now it’s a pain in the ass.

Fortunately, I’ve got 13 months and change to figure it out 🙂  For now, I’m just enjoying that new-story smell and looking forward to everything I get to play with in this one.

Writing Popular

One of the earliest pieces of writing advice I remember was that writers — especially new writers — shouldn’t try to write to trend.  In other words, don’t look at today’s hot books and set out to write whatever’s currently leaping off the shelves.

There are problems with aiming for trends, not the least of which is the glacial pace of publishing.  Say Cyborg Unicorns are the hot new thing, so you set out to write your own cybercorn book.  You spend a year writing your book, another year submitting, and then if you actually land a deal, it could be yet another year before the book comes out.  In this highly optimistic scenario, you’re already three years behind the trend, which means there’s a decent chance the rest of the world has moved on to Shakespearean Cthulhu*.

Of course, an established writer can go directly to the publisher saying, “Let me write you an awesome cybercorn book.”  If you’re a fast enough writer, you might have more luck riding the current trends.

But that leads to the other objection, one which I admit is totally bogus**, and that’s the idea that a real author writes from the heart without worrying about trends or popularity.  The best stories are the ones the author loves.

The thing is, I have no proof for this.  I think my writing is better when I love the story, when I’m excited about the ideas and the characters and so on.  But can a skilled writer churn out a tale he doesn’t care about and still make it good?  Why not?  I don’t think of writing as a mystical art, inspired by divine muses.  It’s a craft.  A good carpenter can produce beautiful bookshelves even if she doesn’t particularly love shelves — or even if she doesn’t love this particular set of shelves — right?  Why doesn’t the same apply to writing?  Doesn’t a writer who refuses to write anything she doesn’t absolutely love risk falling into the same trap as the one who refuses to write until the muse gives him the perfect story idea?

None of which changes my deeply held conviction that I write better when I love what I write.  Maybe the love doesn’t make it better; maybe it just makes it easier.  All I know is that I try to write what I love, and while this approach hasn’t made me a New York Time bestseller, is seems to work for me.

All of this is a long-winded way of talking about my drive to work this morning, where I was brainstorming more ideas for the fourth princess book and realized how much fun it could be to write to one of the current trends:

Princesses vs. Zombies.

Sadly, I don’t think I’m going to do it.  The idea isn’t right for the series, and doesn’t fit with everything else I want to accomplish in book four.

But wouldn’t it make one hell of a story?  Danielle, Talia, and Snow kicking undead ass together.

Who knows, maybe I’ll have to do a fifth book after all….


*Note to self: pitch this anthology!
**Yes, I grew up in the 80s.

Random Updatery

Memo to self: insulin is a wonderful drug, one which is much more effective when you remember to take it.  Sigh.  It’s been ages since I’ve seen a number that high on my glucose meter.  (402 if you’re curious, with normal being around 80-120.  I am not pleased with myself.)

Marriott update: The Stamford Marriott has responded to the outcry over their victim-blaming defense in a rape case.  They are stating that the legal case has been handled by their insurance company, and they are asking that this defense be withdrawn.  Details here.  I did not expect this, and I’m pleased to see them trying to get that defense stricken, even if the article makes it seem like they’re mostly worried about saving their reputation.

Mermaid countdown: 42 days until The Mermaid’s Madness [Amazon | Mysterious Galaxy] comes out.  Gosh, getting Red Hood turned in means I can stop worrying about my deadline and start freaking out about Mermaid’s release.  Yay!  If you need me, I’ll be scouring the ‘net for advance reviews and watching the Amazon pre-order ranking 🙂

Since I’ve got nothing else to blather about this morning, I’ll leave you with this pic from 2 Much Caffeine.  Click for a larger view.  (He’s also got some other fun pics, including steampunk LEGO and an Indiana Jones scene, but this was my favorite.)

 

How do you know the story is done?

On Saturday night, I e-mailed Red Hood’s Revenge to my editor.  This is the time when we do the Snoopy dance.  (Or we would if I hadn’t immediately turned around and messed up my back.  Sigh.)

Overall, the book took just over a year from the day I started writing.  The manuscript came in at 91,000 words, but I suspect it will grow once I have the revision chat with my editor, not to mention feedback from my agent and a few others (including one Seanan McGuire, author of the forthcoming Rosemary and Rue [Amazon | Mysterious Galaxy], who reads scary fast and wrote things like “better than MERMAID”  and “brilliant.”  My ego, it is pleased.)

So how did I know the book was ready?  The easy answer is that my deadline told me.  Of course, the original deadline was 8/1, and I ended up asking for a two-week extension.  So what changed between the 1st and the 15th?  How could I tell this draft was the one I could turn in?

I knew I wouldn’t make the original deadline because I was aware of specific problems with the book.  I knew the character of Red Hood as I had written her was boring, and needed to be changed.  I knew the sequence of events near the end didn’t make sense, and I had to rework them.

That’s really all there is to it.  If I know there are particular problems I can fix, it’s my job to fix them.  This is very different from the vague sense of “I don’t know if this book is good enough, and what if it sucks and my editor drops me and I’ll never work in this town again???”  To paraphrase Douglas Adams, that’s just perfectly normal paranoia. Every writer in the Universe has that.

I could go through my draft again for another month, adding a bit of description here and there, fixing typos and maybe changing the occasional confusing word or phrase.  But I’d just be tinkering.  I’m not actually working on the story anymore, I’m just polishing a few smudges.  I’m stalling.

This is not the same process I went through ten years ago.  Today, I trust myself to spot the huge, story-crippling flaws in my drafts.  Ten years ago, I was blind to them.  (As witnessed by some of my trunked novels.)  This is why my process back then required more beta readers, usually at least 4 other sets of eyes to help catch the gaping plotholes and other problems.

I still don’t have 20/20 vision with my own work.  I know my editor will point out problems that will have me kicking myself.  I know I’ll spend another few weeks rewriting Red Hood one last time to fix them.  If there ever comes a day when my editor tells me my story is perfect as is, I’ll know it’s time to find a new editor.

The goal isn’t to make the story perfect.  If that’s the standard you’re aiming for, you’ll never send it out.  The goal, at least for me, is to make it the best story I can.  The trick is recognizing when I’ve reached that point.

Why it’s your fault if you’re raped at the Stamford Marriott

Potentially triggering discussion of rape and victim-blaming.

Yesterday, tinylegacies pointed me toward an article about a woman who was raped at gunpoint by a stranger in the Stamford Marriott parking garage.  The woman filed a civil suit against the hotel, claiming her attacker “had been in the hotel and garage acting suspiciously days before the attack, as well as the afternoon of the attack, and the hotel failed to notice him, apprehend him or make him leave.”

The full article is at http://www.stamfordadvocate.com/ci_13048639

The article is too vague for me to judge the hotel’s responsibility.  Did they receive complaints about this individual?  What does “acting suspiciously” mean?  Was the rapist’s behavior something a reasonable person should have noticed?  What security precautions should be in place?  I have some ideas, but I think these are questions to be answered in court.

What really struck me was the approach the Stamford Marriott took in defending themselves.  They claim the victim was careless and negligent, and “failed to exercise due care for her own safety and the safety of her children and proper use of her senses and facilities.”

Let’s break this down.  Gary Fricker stuck a gun into this woman’s back, forced her and her children into her van, and raped her, threatening to do the same to one of her children.  The Marriott claims that this was “unforeseen and beyond their control,” but at the same time, they’re blaming the survivor for her carelessness, for not being sensible enough to avoid “mitigating her damages.”

In other words, it’s not the Marriott’s fault, because everyone knows rape is the victim’s responsibility.  If she got herself raped, that’s entirely on her.  She should have … well, what should she have done differently?  What are we really asking victims to do here?

  • Enter parking garages at your own risk!  (Make sure you bring a big burly man to protect you!  Don’t forget bullet proof jackets for yourself and the kids!)
  • Use common sense!  Everyone is a potential rapist, so don’t let anyone get within 100 feet of you or your children.*
  • If a guy sticks a gun in your back and threatens your kids, it’s your duty to “mitigate the damages.”  I suggest spontaneously developing superpowers.  Freezing time is a good one, as is the ability to generate a magical force field.  Superspeed will do in a pinch.
  • Stop worrying about your kids.  If this woman had been searching every shadow for potential rapists instead of wasting time watching her children, this whole situation could have been avoided!  If your 3-year-old gets run down by an idiot driver, that’s a small price to pay for your safety.
  • Avoid places you might be raped, including parking garages, hotels, dark streets, your own home, your friend’s place … actually, you should probably just lock yourself in a bank vault and be done with it.

The Stamford Marriott has attorneys who are responsible for defending the hotel in a lawsuit.  It’s their job, and I understand that.  But why is this an acceptable defense?  The lawyers should have been laughed out of the courtroom the instant they made such a bullshit claim.

Maybe they would have been, if not for the fact that it works.  Because too many of us still buy into the idea that survivors of rape deserved it.  That they were asking for it, or they were careless, or they were drinking too much, or they were dressed slutty, or they didn’t scream or fight back enough, or….

Lawyers play this defense because it works.  As pissed as I am with the Stamford Marriott and their attorneys for spouting this crap, I’m even more disgusted with the society that continues to believe it.

—-
*I don’t know how many times I’ve heard men complaining, “Why do some women say I’m a potential rapist just because I’m a guy?  That’s sexist!”  Well gosh, could it have anything to do with incidents and reactions like this one?

Laughing at Myself

“So when are you going to quit the day job?”

I can’t blame folks for asking the question … again and again and again.  We’ve all seen the movies, the writers living in luxurious homes, sharing a limo with their agents on the way to the big booksigning, and so on.  J. K. Rowling has her own castle.  And didn’t Stephen King buy Maine a while back?  Dan Brown’s GDP is expected to surpass Canada’s by 2011.

No matter how many times I explain that most of us are getting four or low five digit advances, the myth continues.  People remember the glamor and the glory of those martini-sipping New York authors, tapping away at the laptops for two minutes an episode and spending the rest of their time enjoying the accolades.

Now we fast forward to me the other day.  I was catching up on Facebook, and I came across Amber Benson‘s post where she talks about having to eat out less to save money.

My first reaction: But aren’t actors all rich?

Sigh.

Jim C. Hines