Friday, November 3, 2017

And As Always...


I'm on the road again! I'm off to the Fourth China International Science Fiction Conference in Chengdu. Chengdu is the capital of Sichuan Province and, not coincidentally, the home city of Science Fiction World. Which has, as its many friends like to point out, the largest readership of any science fiction magazine in the world.

I will do my best to keep in touch. But the winds of politics are fickle and the Great Firewall is no joke.  So I can guarantee nothing. I think I've found an honest and legal workaround. We shall see. If it doesn't work, I'll share my adventures with you upon my return.

With me safe travels!


Thursday, November 2, 2017

Sales! Sales! Sales!


Despite my blog's title, I don't flog my books all that often here. I have publishers to do that for me. But a good deal is a good deal, so when my stuff is put on sale, I figure I have an obligation to those who might want to read it. So here goes.

(I'll pause for a second to put on my straw hat and grab my cane. And...)

Good news for ebook bargain hunters!  Open Road Media, my favorite ebook publisher, has just announced a binge of one-day-only sales of my books. It begins with Vacuum Flowers being featured in The Portalist's weekly deals newsletter, on this coming Sunday, November 5. The ebook will be downpriced to 1.99 across all US retailers on that day.

But that’s only the beginning! Vacuum Flowers will be featured in Early Bird Books (EBB), Open Roads Media’s daily deals newsletter, on November 17. The ebook will be downpriced to 1.99 across all US retailers on that day and that day only.

And that’s still not all! Bones of the Earth, In the Drift, and Vacuum Flowers will be featured in The Portalist on November 19. Again, the ebooks will be downpriced to 1.99 across all US retailers on that day.

Remember, these are one-day-only deals. So if you read e-books and you’re curious about any of the above titles, mark it down on your e-calendars.

You can subscribe to EBB here so that you'll get the direct link to the deal on the day that it appears in the newsletter.

You can subscribe to The Portalist, the premier digital destination for fans of science fiction and fantasy, here so that you’ll get the direct link to the deal on the day that it appears in the newsletter.


Wednesday, November 1, 2017

My Favorite City Stoop In All The World


Philadelphia has a temporary art project going on now called Monument Lab. Artists were given a free hand to reimagine and comment on the concept of monuments. One of the most pleasing of which was the replacement of several park benches with actual city stoops, salvaged from demolished houses throughout the city. People stop to sit on them, hang out, flirt, do all the usual things people do on stoops in the city.

Up above is my favorite stoop in all Philadelphia, the one to 280 S. 23rd Street. That's where Marianne Porter lived long ago when we were both in our twenties and working at the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania's Bureau of Laboratories. My apartment was only two doors down. We were friends then, but there was not the least hint of romance in the air.

Then, one bright Saturday morning, I was taking a duffle of dirty clothes to the laundromat and saw Marianne sitting with her father on the stoop, eating ice cream cones. I stopped to say hello, we had a brief, innocent chat, and I went on my way. Not one of us had the slightest inkling that the world had just changed, changed utterly.

Roughly a year later, we stood in front of an altar and, in front of God and our families and friends, pledged our lives to each other.

That was thirty-seven years ago today, and we are still married. Happy anniversary, Sweetie. And many, many more to come.

You can read about Monument Lab here.


Monday, October 30, 2017

Brown Autumn


On Monday, I put up a Halloween story here. I was going to write it on fallen leaves, but this year the weather was dry and the frost was late, so we had a Brown Autumn. There weren't the variety of bright leaves such a story needs. Consequently,  I made do with a single illustration and the story in text.

Halloween has come and gone and so I've taken down the story.

Next year, if the leaves turn early and bright enough, I'll write the story out the way I originally intended, one word per leaf, and post it again.

Until then, stay warm and keep reading.

Above: A leaf. Beautiful, isn't it? Last year at this time,  a leaf from that same tree was blazing scarlet.

Friday, October 27, 2017

This Week in Glitterati History


I attended two local literary events here in Philadelphia this week. Not bad, eh? The first was the premier of the SFWA-sponsored reading series Galactic Philadelphia, held Tuesday in the fireplace room of the Irish Pub.

Reading were Gardner Dozois and Lara Elena Donnelly. A pretty high-powered crowd of people showed up, including Lawrence Schoen, Gregory Frost, Samuel R. Delany, and Sally Grotta. Plus, of course, the proverbial others.

Pictured above are (l-r): Marianne Porter, Gardner Dozois, Susan McAninley and Frank Crean. Sitting about, talking, before the event began.

Both readings were very well received indeed. The crowd was warm and friendly and the atmosphere was notably gemutlich. Bill West took a terrific shot of the crowd smiling in appreciation of Gardner's reading which Delany posted on Facebook. I don't snipe people's FB photos. But if you use Facebook, you can find it there.

Pictured above: Lara Elena Donnelly. The photo, I hope, hints at her quite excellent stage presence.

So the evening was a complete success.

Equally good, as far as I'm concerned, was Henry Wessells' lecture on Mary Shelly and Frankenstein at the Rosenbach Museum and Library.  The Rosenbach has a fabled collection of rare books and manuscripts, and is currently celebrating the centenary of the writing of both Frankenstein and Dracula with a small but stunning display of related materials. I don't know about you, but having the opportunity to read from some of the original manuscript pages of Frankenstein: or the New Prometheus, and see the changes and corrections that Mary Shelly made as she was writing it, fto follow the workings of that brilliant mind, illed me with wonder.

I won't give you the Cliff Notes version of Henry's lecture. (Henry is a bookman and works for James Cummins, Bookseller; he once handed me a Shakespeare Second Folia; he really does know his stuff.) Other than to say that he holds to the belief that Frankenstein was the first science fiction novel and that he took the presence of two doubters in the audience (me and Chip Delany, though for different reasons) with grace and good humor. And that it was very well received by the audience. And that he provided those present with a great literary trivia question:What were the first words spoken by the Creature in the novel?

That's Henry up above.

The lecture was part of a series of events scheduled to support the exhibit, arranged by Edward G. Pettit, the Manager of Public Programs for the Rosenbach. Best known locally as "the Philly Poe Guy." The man knows pretty much everything about Gothic literature.

So the evening was a success. How big a success? When we got home, Marianne and I went onto the Rosenbach website and bought memberships.

And I know you're wondering, so....

The first words the Creature says in the novel are, "Forgive this intrusion."

Above, top:Michael Swanwick, Henry Wessells, Samuel R. Delany, and Edward G. Pettit, being literary in Philadelphia.


Wednesday, October 25, 2017

Why Your First Novel EVEN MORE Shouldn't Be Volume One of a Trilogy


It needs to be said regularly: Don't start your career with a trilogy. I first published the essay below in 2010, but everything in it still applies.

Plus, I've added three more reasons why this is such a bad idea. Simply because over the years, people who made this mistake shared yet more regrets with me.

Read, learn, and send the link for this to friends who are gonnabe writers. The poverty and grief this prevents could be your own.

Why Your First Novel Shouldn't Be Volume One of a Trilogy

Three reasons, basically.  One is artistic, the second psychological, and the third pragmatic.

The artistic reason is that at the beginning of your career, you're learning faster and improving more swiftly than you ever will again.  That, and the fact that the mere act of publishing a book makes you a better writer, means that the prose styles of your first and second volumes will probably be considerably different.  Most readers won't pick up on this.  But the best ones will.  And your very best reader is yourself.  It's going to bug you to your dying day.

The psychological reason is that nine chances out of ten, no matter how much you love your first novel when it's fresh out of the oven, several years down the line you're going to end up disliking it.  It may not deserve your dislike.  But this is an observable phenomenon.  Writers wind up being embarrassed by their first.  And if your first is volume one of a trilogy, that's three books you're going to end up unhappy about.

The first two reasons are trivial, really.  But the pragmatic one is desperately important.  Here it is:

The timing of publishing is such that the "numbers" for your first book -- the sales figures, basically, the book's profitability -- won't be available by the time you turn in the second volume.  Since your editor liked the first book, the second one is a pretty sure sale.  But by the time you've finished writing the third volume, however, your publishing house will know the numbers.  And if the numbers aren't good, the book will not be bought.

Which means that book will not be sellable.  No other publisher will want to buy volume three of a trilogy whose first two volumes are owned by another house.  You'll have to wait until your first two books are out of print, revert the rights, and try to sell the trilogy anew.  But that will take years, and your dream-child will at that point be damaged goods.  Unless you've subsequently become extremely popular, it will probably still be unsellable.

Imagine how it must feel to have two published novels under your belt and then find you can't sell your third.  It must feel exactly like being fired for incompetence.  It is going to discourage the hell out of you.

But wait! There's more! 

Let's imagine that your first two books luck out and your editor wants the third. That means you're stuck with that editor. If you like the editor, that's good news. But if you and your editor can't agree on what your books should be... If you fight like cats and dogs... If you think he or she is crazy or vindictive or just doesn't know the job... Then you've got years of misery in front of you.

Nor does it end there. Let's imagine that you signed a three-volume contract on the strength of your first book. It makes perfect sense for the editor to do that. It locks you in at as low an advance as you're ever likely to get in your career for books Two and Three. If the first two don't sell, the editor can cut losses, fork over the advance, and wash his or her hands of you. Plus, if your agent wasn't paying attention, the contracts will have a "basket accounting" clause.

What, you ask, is this? It's a very simple way of not paying royalties for as long as possible. Let's say you get an advance of seven thousand dollars per book, half payable upon delivery of the book and half upon publication (a publishing term meaning anywhere between six to eighteen months after publication). And let's say your book earns out (sells enough copies to pay for your advance). In fact, it earns ten thousand dollars. That means they owe you three grand, right?

Not with basket accounting. With this clause, you don't get a penny in royalties until all three books have earned out. So your second book brings in another ten thousand? That's six thousand dollars they don't have to fork over until well after your third book is published.

By which time, you're likely to be feeling a little annoyed at your agent for letting you sign the contract in the first place. Which is the sixth reason why starting your career with a trilogy is a bad idea.

A writer's relationship with his or her agent is extremely important. Much the same as I was lucky in love, I was lucky in agents. But I've known many people who couldn't get along with their agents at all. Maybe they wanted to write Regency romances and the agent wanted them to writer SF thrillers. Maybe the agent had no interest in the sort of thing they wrote and went about selling it with all the enthusiasm of a vegan peddling calf's liver. The reason doesn't matter. Because, just as you're stuck with your editor, you're stuck with your agent. A new agent isn't going to want to pick you up mid-trilogy. Your current agent isn't going to let go control of a book they went through a lot of trouble to sell. So there you are.

Fighting with your editor, bickering with your agent, and watching your books rack up royalties that you won't get to touch for years.

And remember. . .

If you simply must write a trilogy, then go on ahead with a clean conscience.  All the best books are books that the the author had no choice but to write.  And all writing advice is like pantyhose -- anybody who tells you that "one size fits all" is lying.

But if any or all of the evils detailed above happen to your career, don't say that nobody warned you.

Above: A bottle of wine from Some Young Punks Winery. Just to cut the mood of doom and gloom.


Tuesday, October 24, 2017

Winooski, My Town


I was doing some preliminary research on a novel I might (or might not) write three or four books from now when I ran across Winooski, My Town, a paean to Winooski, Vermont, by A2VT That's where I grew up. It amazes me how many of the shots bring back memories.

Also, these guys are really good, aren't they?

And while we're on the subject...

Did you know that Winooski was once the front-runner to become the world's first domed city? You can read the entire remarkable story here.