Sunday, July 31, 2011


The Mars photo (and the current situation in Washington) remind me of the Shelley poem:
I met a traveler from an antique land
Who said: Two vast and trunkless legs of stone
Stand in the desert. Near them, on the sand,
Half sunk, a shattered visage lies, whose frown,
And wrinkled lip, and sneer of cold command,
Tell that its sculptor well those passions read
Which yet survive, stamped on these lifeless things,
The hand that mocked them, and the heart that fed;
And on the pedestal these words appear:
“My name is Ozymandias, king of kings:
Look on my works, ye Mighty, and despair!”
Nothing beside remains. Round the decay
Of that colossal wreck, boundless and bare
The lone and level sands stretch far away.


What has the Opportunity rover found on Mars? While traversing a vast empty plain in 2005 in Meridiani Planum, one of Earth's rolling robots on Mars found a surprise when visiting the location of its own metallic heat shield discarded last year during descent. The surprise is the rock visible on the lower left, found to be made mostly of dense metals iron and nickel. The large cone-shaped object behind it -- and the flank piece on the right -- are parts of Opportunity's jettisoned heat shield. Smaller shield debris is also visible. Scientists do not think that the basketball-sized metal "Heat Shield Rock" originated on Mars, but rather is likely an ancient metallic meteorite. In hindsight, finding a meteorite in a vast empty dust plain on Mars might be considered similar to Earth meteorites found on the vast empty ice plains of Antarctica. The finding raises speculations about the general abundance of rocks on Mars that have fallen there from outer space.

I read the news this morning, which is almost always a mistake. I think we should vote every politician in Washington out of office and elect cats instead.

Friday, July 29, 2011

More on Writing

I finished Natalie Goldberg's Writing Down the Bones and am still working on Julia Cameron's The Artist's Way.

There's a lot that I like in the Goldberg book especially. She is absolutely right when she says that you have to read a lot and write a lot, if you want to be a writer.

But both books still seem to argue that anyone can be a writer. I'm not sure. Most people in our society are literate and can put words down on paper. Does that mean they can become good writers? I've known people who worked for years on writing and never became very good. Why not? A refusal to listen to criticism, often. An unwillingness to study their craft closely. A lack of imagination. A lack of feeling for language. Maybe simply a lack of gift, whatever that may mean.

Cameron and Goldberg are both teaching people how to be saner, which is great. But the focus required to be really good at anything may not result in a well-adjusted person. I am very much a fan of sanity. I would never encourage anyone to be less sane and happy. But being good at anything requires a lot of time, a lot of energy, a lot of focus. It may make you a wee bit unbalanced.

For example, there is this story:
Olivia Gentile’s Life List is the remarkable story of Phoebe Snetsinger, a woman trapped by her life as homemaker, who found liberation in bird watching. Diagnosed with terminal cancer, she began traveling the world, not seeking a cure, but in search of rare birds—becoming a kind of ornithologist’s heroine, and living another eighteen years.

What this review (by A.M. Homes) does not mention is that Snetsinger flew the coop, left her family to chase rare birds. She was a very focused lady, whose achievements were remarkable.

She died in 1999 in a car accident in Madagascar. Her last bird, per Wikipedia, was the Red-shouldered vanga, only known to science since 1997.

Comments on the Previous Post

Josh Lukin has pointed out that lousy right-wing politics did not start with High Modernism. There were many 19th century writers who had bad politics. I'm sure he's right. My post skips from the Romantics to the early 20th century, missing a lot. One problem is, there is a lot of 19th century western literature I have not read.

When I think of the 19th century, I think of Dickens, the Brontes, Melville. Twain, Dickinson and Whitman. That is hardly everyone.

Terry Garey says there is good writing which is recording, rather than an attempt to change anything. True enough. I would be hard put to do a political analysis of the following:
so much depends
a red wheel
glazed with rain
beside the white

or this one, also by William Carlos Williams:
This Is Just to Say

I have eaten
the plums
that were in
the icebox

and which
you were probably
for breakfast

Forgive me
they were delicious
so sweet
and so cold

Thursday, July 28, 2011

Writing # 1

I finished Long Quiet Highway. A good book. Now I have started Writing Down the Bones. Like Julia Cameron, Natalie Goldberg sees writing as therapy or self-actualization or meditation practice, which I do not.

It can be. No question. But that isn't what it is for me. For me, the important part of writing is the work itself. I am an artist. I make art.

I started mulling over my idea of being an artist. First of all, you are not likely to be a Zen master, at least in the west. My ideas of art and the artist come from the Romantic tradition: the solitary genius, who gives all for art like van Gogh. The rebel, like Byron who died in the Greek revolution against the Ottoman Empire.
The mountains look on Marathon---
And Marathon looks on the sea;
And musing there an hour alone,
I dream'd that Greece might yet be free
For, standing on the Persians' grave,
I could not deem myself a slave.

Shelly writing, "Poets are the unacknowledged legislators of the world."

Shelley and Byron and Mary Shelley wrote in the shadow of the French Revolution. van Gogh is much later. His life is closer to the Bohemian and High Modernist ideas of art and the artist: the poet starving in a garret, Proust writing A la Recherche du Temps Perdu in a cork-lined room. There is a shift away from politics in the High Modern idea of art, which is why you can have major artists with lousy, right-wing politics. High Modernism is about art for the sake of art, pushing the limits of art, creating something genuinely new and individual. As archie the cockroach says:
expression is the need of my soul
i was once a vers libre bard
but i died and my soul went into the body of a cockroach
it has given me a new outlook upon life
i see things from the under side now
thank you for the apple peelings in the wastepaper basket
but your paste is getting so stale i cant eat it

archie is both a mocking of the idea of the solitary genius and a straight up, sympathetic portrayal of a starving artist, who is obsessed with his art.
boss i am disappointed in
some of your readers they
are always asking how does
archy work the shift so as to get a
new line or how does archy do
this or do that they
are always interested in technical
details when the main question is
whether the stuff is
literature or not

Writing # 2

I grew up around art museums and with stories of 20th century visual artists. I got both of the idea of the artist as a rebel, a revolutionary and the artist who gives all for art. A lot of the artists had messy personal lives. They were bad husbands (usually husbands) and parents. They drank too much. They stayed out late with other artists or other women. What mattered was the art.

In no way were they Zen masters.

I don't think you need to mess up your personal life to be an artist. Better to not drink, not cheat, not go crazy or die young.

None the less, I focus on the art, not on self-improvement.

I sold my first short story in 1972. It came out in New Worlds in 1973. That is 40 some years of working at writing. More than that, since I began writing in grade school. As far as I can tell, my writing has not made me a better, saner person. But I am a better writer than when I started.

I have no problem with people using art to explore their lives, understand themselves, become saner and happier. But what they doing is art therapy, not art (I say, being something of a snob).

My irritation with the idea of the "professional," working writer, making production, is also tied to what art is to me. I'm with Byron and archie.

I'm a lot more with the Romantic idea than with High Modernism. Art should explain the world and change the world. Artists should speak for those who have not yet found their voices. It should be for the world's sake, rather than purely for its own sake or for the artist's sake.

I'm not saying any of this is right and true. It's what I think.

Wednesday, July 27, 2011

Learning to Write

I also started rereading Natalie Goldberg's Long, Quiet Highway, which is about writing and Zen practice; and I got the Nook version of her how-to book about writing, Writing Down the Bones.

Why am I doing this? Maybe I will learn something.

Thoughts on Captain America

I saw Captain America last night. It has a nice retro look and feel. However, it's a sad movie. At the end, Steve Rogers has lost everything. I wonder -- having seen two Marvel movies now -- if superhero stories are simply too repetitive.

The colors were mostly grays and browns, with white in the snow scenes. At times the colors were so muted, I seemed to be watching a black and white movie. The only real color I remember is the Red Skull's blood red head and the sparkling red, white and blue of production numbers when Captain America is selling E bonds.

Thor, on the other hand, was set in a shining, science-fictional Asgard and New Mexico with sunlight pouring down.

Captain America is about a decent guy learning to be a hero. Thor is about a hero learning to be a decent guy.

Thor is about loss also. At the end, Bifrost has been broken, and Asgard is isolated from the rest of the universe. Thor has lost the woman he had learned to love. It didn't feel as sad to me. Thor is in Asgard, which is his home. Captain America has lost his home, the US in the 1940s.

Learning to Write

I ran across a reference to Julia Cameron's The Artist's Way. It sounded interesting, so I got a Nook copy. It's a book on breaking through creative blocks. I guess that's as good a way of describing it as any: part 12-step program, part self-psychoanalysis and part the practice of writing. It makes me uneasy, because Cameron talks about God a lot. However, I've been playing with the book, trying some of the exercises.

One exercise is to write three pages every morning, without planning or revising. Just get words on paper. I have found this very hard. Mostly I write, "I have nothing to say." Of course, I don't have a writer's block, and if I am writing, I want to be writing my current story. Though I could write more. I figure the exercise is to get one in the habit of writing. Maybe I need that.

The next exercise I like: make an artist's date with oneself, a block of time to go out alone to do something that feeds the creative impulse. So I went walking along the river last week. I'm thinking of going to museums, attending concerts. None of these require company.

Another exercise is pick five careers you'd like for yourself. I picked paleontolgist, bird watcher, traveler, poet and social thinker. I do three of the five, to one extent or another. I could do the fourth -- traveling. Nothing holds me back. The fifth -- paleontologist -- is a dream. I don't really want to be somewhere in the desert with blazing heat and no bathrooms, digging up fossils. And I don't want to be sitting in a museum somewhere, using a dental pick and a toothbrush to free bones from their matrices. I like reading and thinking about paleontology.

I guess another dream career would be union organizing. But I've tried organizing. I'm terrible at it.

Maybe it would be easier to write.

Sunday, July 24, 2011

APOD with NASA Commentary

An example of solar-powered flight, NASA's Helios aircraft flew almost one hundred years after the Wright brothers' historic flight on December 17, 1903. Pictured here at 3,000 meters in in skies northwest of Kauai, Hawaii, USA in August 2001, the remotely piloted Helios is traveling at about 40 kilometers per hour. Essentially an ultralight flying wing with 14 electric motors, the aircraft was built by AeroVironment Inc. Covered with solar cells, Helios' impressive 247 foot wide wing exceeded the wing span and even overall length of a Boeing 747 jet airliner. Climbing during daylight hours, the prototype aircraft ultimately reached an altitude just short of 30,000 meters, breaking records for non-rocket powered flight. Helios was intended as a technology demonstrator, but in the extremely thin air 30,000 meters above Earth's surface, the flight of Helios also approached conditions for winged flight in the atmosphere of Mars.

Saturday, July 23, 2011

APOD with NASA Commentary

Magnificent island universe NGC 2403 stands within the boundaries of the long-necked constellation Camelopardalis. Some 10 million light-years distant and about 50,000 light-years across, the spiral galaxy also seems to have more than its fair share of giant star forming HII regions, marked by the telltale reddish glow of atomic hydrogen gas. In fact, NGC 2403 closely resembles another galaxy with an abundance of star forming regions that lies within our own local galaxy group, M33 the Triangulum Galaxy. Of course, supernova explosions follow close on the heels of the formation of massive, short-lived stars and in 2004 one of the brightest supernovae discovered in recent times was found in NGC 2403. Easy to confuse with a foreground star in our own Milky Way Galaxy, the powerful supernova is seen here as the spiky, bright "star" at the left edge of the field. This stunning cosmic portrait is a composite of space and ground-based image data from the Hubble Legacy Archive and the 8.2 meter Subaru Telescope at the summit of Mauna Kea, Hawaii.

Tuesday, July 19, 2011


The day has improved. I found a new web site,, and a book on pterosaurs coming out from Princeton University Press in the fall. I will order the book as soon as I can. In the meantime, I will read the essays on the web site.


Eclipse of the Sun, painted in 1926 in the Weimar Republic by Georg Grosz. The image comes via The Activist blog. Notice the dollar sign in the sun behind the headless man at the head of the table.

I have been looking at Georg Grosz art my entire life. But I think you have to be as angry as I am now, looking at the situation in America, to fully appreciate Grosz.


I woke up feeling pretty good and thought, This is my favorite part of the day. Patrick is still asleep. The apartment is quiet and cool. (We have air conditioning, but it is not holding its own against the 90+ midday and evening heat.) I drink freshly made coffee and eat toast with marmalade.

Then I made a mistake: I read the news. The problems of the Murdoch publishing empire are fun, but I am not enjoying the budget struggles of the US Government and the State of Minnesota.

Now I am grouchy.

Obama's Cure

This is from Michael Hudson's blog. He's an economist I pay attention to.

When I was in Norway one of the Norwegian politicians sat next to me at a dinner and said, “You know, there’s one good thing that President Obama has done that we never anticipated in Europe. He’s shown the Europeans that we can never depend upon America again. There’s no president, no matter how good he sounds, no matter what he promises, we’re never again going to believe the patter talk of an American President. Mr. Obama has cured us. He has turned out to be our nightmare. Our problem is what to do about the American people that don’t realize this nightmare that they’ve created, this smooth-talking American Tony Blair in the White House.”

Monday, July 18, 2011


What's that astronaut doing? Unloading a space shuttle -- for the last time. After the space shuttle Atlantis docked with the International Space Station (ISS) last week, astronaut Mike Fossum underwent a long spacewalk that included carrying a Robotics Refueling Mission (RRM) payload from Atlantis' cargo bay to a platform used by the space station's famous robot DEXTRE. On Earth, the RRM box would have the weight of about three people and be much more difficult to carry. Pictured above on the far left, DEXTRE prepares to help move a failed space pump back to Atlantis. Visible behind the astronaut is the space station's Kibo Experimental Module. The much awaited final shuttle return flight is currently scheduled for 5:56 am EDT Thursday, July 21.

Friday, July 15, 2011


I'm going to talk about money, since writing is -- to a considerable extent -- about money.

First of all, it is not easy to write while working full time.

Second, publishers used to want one book a year from writers. That was how you built a career: by building an audience. I could never write that quickly, in part because I was working a day job. What I am hearing now is that publishers want two books a year. What I am also hearing is that the money you make from writing two books a year isn't really a living.

This is a Catch 22. In order to write enough to establish a career and be able to become a full time writer, you need to be a full time writer already.

A lot of the writers I know have a partner who has a day job. This provides health insurance, which is increasingly expensive, and gives the household some financial stability; and the writer can focus on writing, rather than on making a living in some other way.

My technique for many years was to work part time and write part time or work full time and then quit and write full time for a while. This enabled me to write five novels and gain a modest reputation. I never made a living.

Then, around fifteen years ago, I looked at the neat little printout that Social Security used to send everyone and realized that I wasn't going to have enough for retirement. So I focused on working and building up my Social Security for 10+ years. Now I'm retired, with enough money to survive, and am writing full time. It took me till I was 66 to become a full time writer.

Always remember that I am a slow writer, who tinkers a lot with her writing and who takes time off from writing to think or enjoy life. Way back, when I was much younger and publishing was different, I had dreams of making a living as a writer; and I got very frustrated because my career never took off. I finally realized that I was not going to be one of those miracle writers, who can making a living from a handful of books, and I felt I simply could not write enough -- which was one book a year in those days -- to build a mid-list career. What I settled for was writing the best I could and building a reputation. If possible, I want to be part of the history of science fiction and the history of American literature.

I am not trying to be depressing here. I guess I am saying, think about what you want from writing and think about what you feel you can do. I found it easier to work day jobs, with benefits, than to write quickly; and I realized that what I really wanted was to write as well and carefully as I could, to have the luxury of discarding bad work and of walking away from bad deals.

Wednesday, July 13, 2011

How to Write Mid List Fiction # 1

I have been reading Kristine Katherine Rusch on the business of writing, because it's been a long time since I thought about writing as a business, and publishing is changing, due to Kindle and Nook. She sounds authoritative, and the topic is interesting to me at the moment.

Then I got to her advice on how to write, if you're going to survive as a writer. I'm less sure about this.

Rusch says writers should think of themselves as storytellers, rather than authors. I think she's telling people to not take themselves too seriously. Don't think of yourself as a fine art or literary writer.

She says writers should write fast, not worry about revising and not worry about style. Practice will make one a better writer and practice will enable one to find one's "voice."

According to Rusch, the famous writers -- the ones we still read, like Dickens and Shakespeare -- wrote fast. It is certainly my impression that Dickens was a fast writer. He wrote 14.5 novels in 34 years. That's half a large novel a year, which is impressive, but not as impressive as Rusch, who can write four to six novels a year.

Shakespeare wrote 1.6 plays a year during his working life, which is lot more than most modern playwrights, though Shaw must have him beat. Again, this is impressive, but not as impressive as the number of words Rusch has put out. Remember that a play script is a lot shorter than a novel.

Then there are the novelists who were far less prolific: Emily Bronte (1 novel), Charlotte Bronte (4), Herman Melville (4), Jane Austen (6), Lady Murasaki (1), Wu Cheng'en (2). This is off the top of my head. All these people are still read. I am not an Emily Bronte fan, but I love Jane Eyre, Moby Dick, The Tale of Genji, The Journey to the West and all of Jane Austen's novels.

I suspect all of these writers revised and thought about style. Shakespeare had an amazing vocabulary and was a master of the mot juste. I don't think that this came out of nowhere or even from writing a lot. It came from study and thought and craft. Here is Macbeth, after murdering King Duncan:
Will all great Neptune's ocean wash this blood
Clean from my hand? No, this my hand will rather
The multitudinous seas incarnadine,
Making the green one red.

And from a dictionary:
1591 (adj.) "flesh-colored," from Fr. incarnadine, from It. incarnadino "flesh-color," from L.L. incarnatio (see incarnation). The verb properly would mean "to make flesh colored," but the modern meaning "make red," and the entire survival of the verb, is traceable to "Macbeth" II ii. (1605).

I add the dictionary quote because it's interesting, and "incarnadine" is a neat word. It rolls off the tongue. Redness spills from it.

How to Write Mid List Fiction # 2

Rusch is talking about production writing. I borrow the term from weaving. When you go to an art fair and find handmade scarves for $50, you are looking at the work of a production weaver. Rather than make elaborate and difficult works, which will cost a lot and may not sell, she makes many works quickly: scarves, table runners, napkins. This is not bad work. Often it's lovely. But it's designed to be turned out quickly and to sell at an affordable price.

There are production potters and silversmiths. I have a lot of work by both. The point is to do work that is predictable and can be turned out quickly. Experiments take time and may fail and have to be redone. You do them to learn. But if every piece is an experiment, you are going to lose money.

Rusch excludes "literary" writers, the people who live off grants and teaching, from her discussion; and she excludes writers with day jobs, and writers who do well enough to publish a book every few years. As far as I know, Harper Lee has been living off To Kill a Mockingbird since 1960.

I think she underestimates the number of writers who can live off one book a year. That is the normal production rate for the mystery writers I read. This is time enough to revise and think about style, unless you are slow as I am.

But she is talking about production rates that amaze me: four to six books a year!

I can't argue with her advice to production writers. I can't imagine wanting to be one. I try to make everything I write an experiment of one kind or another. If I think I've written this particular story before, I toss it. I revise. I worry about style, constantly tinkering with words.

I have never come close to making a living as a writer. I once told an editor that what I made from writing kept me in conventions and Laura Ashley skirts. It's pocket money.

So, why do I write? To entertain myself. To deal with life. To impress my friends and relatives. To gain praise and pocket money. I would like undying fame, but will keep on without it.

The Last Approach

For the last time, the US Space Shuttle has approached the International Space Station (ISS). Following a dramatic launch from Cape Canaveral last week that was witnessed by an estimated one million people, Space Shuttle Atlantis on STS-135 lifted a small crew to a welcome rendezvous three days ago with the orbiting station. Although NASA is discontinuing the aging shuttle fleet, NASA astronauts in the near future will be able to visit the ISS on Russian space flights. Pictured above, Atlantis rises toward the ISS with its cargo bay doors open, showing a gleaming metallic Raffaello Multi-Purpose Logistics Module. Over 200 kilometers below lie the cool blue waters of planet Earth. The much-anticipated last glide back to Earth for the Space Shuttle is currently scheduled for next Thursday, July 21.

Sunday, July 10, 2011

Storm on Saturn (Courtesy of Cassini and NASA)

A storm on Saturn, so big that it wraps all the way around the planet. Photo taken by the Cassini space probe and posted on Phil Plait's Bad Astronomy blog.

Saturday, July 09, 2011

Last Launch

Space shuttle orbiter Atlantis left planet Earth on Friday, July 8, embarking on the STS-135 mission to the International Space Station. The momentous launch was the final one in NASA's 30 year space shuttle program that began with the launch of the first reusable spacecraft on April 12, 1981. In this reflective prelaunch image from July 7, Atlantis stands in a familiar spot on the Kennedy Space Center's pad 39A, after an early evening roll back of the pad's Rotating Service Structure. The historic orbital voyages of Atlantis have included a Hubble Space Telescope servicing mission, deployment of Magellan, Galileo, and the Compton Gamma-ray Observatory, and seven trips to the Russian space station Mir. Scheduled to dock once again with the International Space Station on Sunday, Atlantis has now made its 33rd and final trip to orbit.

Thursday, July 07, 2011

Even More About E-Publishing

Another cross-post from Wyrdsmiths:

Doug Hulick comments on my post below, asking how likely is it that anyone would buy foreign rights for a self-published e-book. Not likely, I would think. Two questions occur at once. Could English language readers get the original e-book on Amazon? This would knock out the British and Commonwealth Market. Given that translating costs money, would it be cost-effective to translate an e-book, which may be available at Amazon in English? How would it be sold? As print on paper or an e-book? How big are the markets involved? How creative are most publishers?

Doug also points out that Michael Stackpole is an established author in the world of paper books. Marketing becomes less of a problem, if people already know you name.

Finally, Stackpole writes very fast. Per his essay, he can write a novel in two months. That's six novels a year. This will give you a considerable backlist, over time. It also means you might have enough spare novels so you can try self-publishing.

If it takes you a year or more to write a novel, you are less likely to take risks with it.

Wednesday, July 06, 2011

Publishing and E-Publishing

What follows is a post from the Wyrdsmith's blog, commenting on an essay by Michael Stackpole:

Stackpole begins by talking about how little the New York publishing houses do for most of the books they publish. This is true. It's also nothing new. I had four SF novels published by New York houses between 1986 and 1993. What did the houses do for me? They copy edited the books, not always well; they printed them; they put covers on, usually with bad art; and they sold the books to bookstores, especially the chains. My books might have gotten a modest ad in Locus. That, so far as I know, was it; and that was 20+ years ago.

At the time I was furious at the lack of marketing. Now I think of it as par for the course; and it is not nothing. The New York houses do produce books that look like science fiction, which is important for reaching a science fiction audience. Much of their cover art is not good, though it has gotten better, due to the use of photography and computer graphics. (You no longer need to worry about artists who can't draw hands or do a three-quarters view of the human figure.) However, the blurbs and the cover copy are often pretty good. According to my editor of 20+ years ago, it's the covers and word of mouth that sell most books. Not reviews and not ads. The art grabs attention, and then -- I suspect -- the cover copy finishes the job of selling. If one is lucky, there is also word of mouth.

The New York houses get their books into bookstores, especially the chains. I check every time I go to my favorite Barnes & Noble and always find books by Kelly, Lyda and Doug.

All of this matters, even though we wish our publishers would do more.

Stackpole goes on to argue for self-publishing; and there are times when self-publishing may be a good idea, especially now, when you can produce e-books and sell them via Kindle and Nook. But the problem remains marketing.

The current system filters and channels. First if all, publishing houses do not publish just anything, though it sometimes seems they do. People who (in theory) know about books make decisions. Work that looks unsellable is not bought. The art and marketing departments decide how to package the book; and the sales team pitches the book to book store buyers. This is not a trivial task. The buyers can refuse to buy. I had a book pulled from production back in the 1980s, because the chain buyers did not like the (marvelous) cover.

Then the book store shelves the book in a section devoted to SF. In most cases, the section is of limited size and mostly contains recent books from New York houses, though some books and authors remain in stock, because they keep selling. When books first come out, they go onto the new release shelves, where they are more visible and have less competition.

I pick books by going to the new release shelves on a regular basis and looking first for authors I know and then for books with covers that look interesting. And I am influenced by word of mouth and (in some cases) reviews.

So even the minimal job a New York house does gets your book to a place where potential readers are likely to see it.

I have no idea what happens, if you self-publish an e-book. How do readers find it, among all the books on Amazon, Kindle and Nook? If they know your name and can spell it, they will find you. But what if you're an unknown author?

More About E-Publishing

In his essay Michael Stackpole writes:
When you get to the end of this blog, you’ll see advertisements for books of mine. I know from experience, that the advertisement will sell, over the next week, a dozen copies of the books mentioned. The ones sold off my website will pay me 95% of the asking price immediately. The ones sold through Amazon will make me 70% which gets paid in 60 days.

A dozen books a week is 624 a year. Stackpole prices his books at $5. This results in aa annual gross of $3,120. Stackpole's net will be between $2,964 and $2,184, depending on whether the books sell off his website or at Amazon.

Kelly and Lyda and Doug and Naomi can correct me, but my understanding is the current New York advance for a book by a new author is $5,000. I think there's an argument for selling to the New York houses, if you can.

The old advice for SF short fiction was start with the top markets, the ones that pay the best and are the most visible, and then work down.

It would seem to me that the hierarchy for novels starts with the New York houses, then goes to the SF specialty presses. Like the New York houses, the specialty presses produce books that look like science fiction. Some of them can get their books into chains. All of them (I think) are on Amazon. They have websites and catalogs. Many of them sell at conventions. And the best of them have good reputations. What they publish is worth looking at.

I would put self-publishing last. You get to keep more the revenue, if you self-publish, but you also do more work; and you are alone, without whatever help a publisher can provide.

When does one self-publish? My tendency right now would be to self-publish work that cannot be otherwise sold. Short story collections are very hard to sell, especially to the New York houses. Out-of-print novels have almost no market. You aren't going to make a lot of money, unless you have an extraordinary back list. But money is money, and it will mean that people who like your work can find it.

(Having said that, all of my out-of-print novels are available on Amazon, along with the three small press books I have done. All of Lyda's Archangel books are available, as are all of Naomi's books. Of course, if they are being sold by used book sellers, we don't get a cut.)

I would also argue that it's important to keep publishing, to remind yourself and the world that you are alive and writing. So if you hit a dry spell and can't sell, it may be a really good idea to self-publish a chapbook or collection or novel. It's another line in your bibliography. It's a new and recent publication date at Amazon.

Tuesday, July 05, 2011


I went to the bank and the main library, then to a coffee shop to write. Then I walked along the Mississippi. It's high for this time of year. Part of walk near the Upper Landing is under water and closed off. The Lower Landing, where a lot of tow boats dock, is also under water and closed. Nothing is docked there now.

The day started overcast. By the time I took my walk it was sunny and into the 80s. A bit warm for me, but I enjoyed the river and the flowers planted along it. Most looked like wild flowers to me, though I saw some barnyard roses. And milkweed and butterfly weed.

I'm currently working on a fantasy that begins with an incident in the Egils saga, where Egil kills two slaves. At the time, Egil was 80 and blind, so it seemed impressive. Though hard on the slaves, who had done nothing wrong.

In my story, one of the slaves is not killed, but escapes into the land of the elves. I'm giving him a guided tour of elfdom: first the light elves, based on Icelandic folk tales, then the dark elves, mentioned briefly in the Prose Edda, and finally the Irish fey.

This is the fourth story I've written that uses saga material or Icelandic folk lore. I figure the stories ought to be a chapbook, titled The Hidden Folk, which is one of the names for elves in Iceland.

The stories are not all about the elves. One is about the undead slave Glam in the Grettis saga. Another involves the devil and trolls. A third involves hydroelectric power and trolls. Only this last story involves elves. But all the stories are about dark and hidden things.

Monday, July 04, 2011

More on Marketing

I'm going to talk about some of the plans I have. I'm not sure how much I am actually going to do.

The main problem I have is actually getting the work done and out. I can solve this by myself. Buckle down! Write! Finish! Get the stories out!

The next step (obviously) is publication. I have enough short stories for five collections. The big New York houses publish almost no short story collections. So I need to go to independent presses. There are a number of these: Night Shade, Tachyon, Golden Griffin, Aqueduct... I have an ongoing relationship with Aqueduct, so I will go there first. However, I have a contract with Aqueduct for the sequel to Ring of Swords, and I need to finish it, before I go to Aqueduct about any other books.

The backup plan is to self publish the collections as e-books and market them via nook and Kindle. Naomi Kritzer over at Wyrdsmiths has done this and can talk about what's involved.

There is also the question of my out-of-print novels. There are four of these, and e-books sound like the right solution. It's possible I can find an independent press willing to do the work. If not, I can do it myself with help. I don't know HTML. But there are people who will turn a book into an e-book for not too much money. Again, Naomi knows more about this than I do.

Once I have books available, I can think about marketing. What I'm doing now is watching what other people do.

I said I don't think things like bookmarks and post cards and refrigerator magnets don't help much. However, they don't cost a lot, and they are fun. I have one of Kelly McCullough's magnets up on my refrigerator, and I am always happy to get bookmarks. I'm using one of Lyda Morehouses's right now.

The key thing, I think, is to pay attention to how much marketing is costing you in money and time. As a fun sideline, it's okay. But if it sucks resources better put into writing, pull back.

The late Joel Rosenberg gave me wonderful advice once. He said, "Most of what happens in publishing is outside our control. We need to focus on what we can control, which is getting the writing done and out."

Sunday, July 03, 2011

More Con Report

I also went to a discussion of the writing of Cat Valente, which was both interesting and somewhat depressing. Interesting because her work sounds interesting, and depressing because she is a very fast writer who is getting a lot of recognition for her work at a young age. Writing fast helps, of course. Since she is winning awards, she is likely to be a good writer. (Not all awards are given to good books. But she has won the Tiptree and Mythopeoic Awards. These are both juried awards with good track records.)

Good, fast writing in enviable.

Finally, I went to a discussion of the Short Fiction of Eleanor Arnason. I more or less highjacked this and talked about marketing problems, maybe because of the marketing panel and Valente discussion.

Later, I reread the discription of the discussion. It was supposed to be on the Short Fiction of Eleanor Arnason as literature. Well, it's always a bit disconserting to think of one's work as literature. Rather like the shock of finding out that one speaks prose.

I swear, next time anyone wants to talk about my work, I will sit in the back and keep quiet. I publish the damn stuff. It's out in the world. Other people have a right to their opinions.

Con Report

I went to three panels at CONvergence. One was on marketing for writers. I have real doubts about how much effective marketing most writers can do. The panelists talked about making bookmarks and postcards, going to cons, having a blog, being on facebook, taking out ads in trade magazines. These are fairly typical ways to try and increase visibility.

I am acutely uncomfortable about self-promotion. It doesn't fit my Minnesota idea of the right way to behave. Don't push in front of your neighbors. Don't blow your horn.

It was explained to me at Wiscon that self-promotion and marketing are different. Marketing is finding your target market and ways to reach that market. When I heard this, I thought, "Wiscon is my target market: feminist readers of science fiction and fantasy."

I'm not sure what else I can do, besides going to Wiscon every year. Go to a few other cons. Make friends. Be a decent human being. Believe in people and art and good politics and life.

Back in the 1970s, I set out to become a good panelist, in spite of introversion and stage fright. I think I've done a pretty good job. I did it, because I wanted to become more visible in the field, and I wasn't sure my writing would ever become known. And because there were things I wanted to say about people and art and politics and life.

Anyway, I found the panel a bit depressing. It sounded like the same ideas for self-promotion I've heard before, and which do not seem to work especially well to me.

However, publishing is changing rapidly, as we all know; and writers are trying to figure out all the possible ways to use the Internet and e-publishing. Borders is in chapter 11. Barnes & Noble is trying to sell itself. I'm not sure of the future of the brick and mortar chains. Nor am I sure of the future of the big, New York, print-on-paper publishers.

Because the situation is fluid, it seems like a good idea to pay attention.

So I will.