Heuristic Rotating Header Image


More loot!

Patrick Rothfuss, writer and generous human being, runs a fundraiser for Heifer International each year (to which he donates a lot of his own money and even more of his own time). He’s enlisted the SFF community to good effect: this year there were all sorts of prizes available, from ARCs to autographed books to who-knows-what. Prizes were raffled off: each $10 donation got you one virtual ticket. Pat raised a lot of money for HI, and a lot of prizes were sent out.

Including this one:

prize books

I got loot!

There’s a paranormal romance or fantasy ARC by an author I’m unfamiliar with, Elizabeth Gilligan, and the Gollancz edition of the Necronomicon. Now if I get snowed in again I’ll be able to keep myself occupied.

Becoming a Critic

Since reading Elizabeth Bear’s blog regularly, I’ve been exposed to some very interesting literary criticism. I asked her how to learn that skill – I’m very analytical, but lack the concepts/vocabulary of literary criticism. Previous attempts to learn something about the formal discipline have ended badly, mostly with cursing. A lot of academic literary criticism seems to exist solely for the purpose of existing. I’m more interested in the kind with meaning.

It occurred to me that the Hugo “Best Related Book” category would be a good place to find genre criticism, and I’ll track down some of the relevant books from there. There’s also Ursula Le Guin. But who else? I’d like to at least become familiar with the basics, both as a reader and a writer, but in a way that’s compatible with my pre-existing scientific/analytical bias.

Thoughts, please.

Oh Amazon…

There was the one where you not only removed the e-book of 1984 from the store, but sucked it off of people’s Kindles without telling them.

There was the one where you classified gay- and lesbian-themed books, including YA and health books, as “Adult”, thus removing them from lists and rankings. (This was later claimed as a glitch.)

And now this. As part of a dispute between Amazon and Macmillan about pricing, you pulled all Macmillan books (including Tor), in both electronic and paper editions, from Amazon’s sale listings – generously leaving the affiliates. This has had interesting effects on your stock prices, but could be catastrophic for the authors involved, especially those with book releases this week. And that’s what pisses me off. Corporations negotiate pricing all the time, but they don’t normally shit all over the artists so directly. Amazon threw a childish temper tantrum, and the authors are the ones really paying, though they have absolutely no control over pricing or formats.

As John Scalzi suggests, go buy a book or three – Macmillan titles, from somewhere not Amazon. Not that you could – Amazon pulled them all on Friday night, and still haven’t put them back.

Scott Westerfeld put together an excellent overview of the dispute accessible to those not familiar with the publishing business. Other good and detailed articles: Toby Buckell, Charlie Stross, John Scalzi.

Jay Lake skewers what is to date Amazon’s only comment on the debate.

There’s a lot more out there, but much of it is by people who appear to be ignorant of the details of the debate and the way publishing works (hint: most authors aren’t rich, and neither are they interested in screwing their readers). I’m firmly on the side of the authors on this one, and I hope that the larger debate on ebook format, pricing, availability shakes down in a way that allows the authors to make a living, and the readers to get reasonably priced (and DRM-free!) texts.

But for now, go buy books!

Edit: Must add: Hal Duncan’s always-unique take on matters.



My attention has been pulled in a thousand different directions lately, and writing has suffered the most. Not much blogging, very little fiction. Much pondering of fiction though. I seem to have developed some sort of process for long pieces of fiction.

  1. Come up with an idea: a setting, a scene, a person, a phrase.
  2. Write for a while. This seems to be around 20-40,00 words. This is where the character development, world building, and plotting happen.
  3. After I’ve written long enough to have a feel for the characters and some idea what happens in the plot, stop and write a synopsis/outline. By this point I know what’s going to happen and how it will all end.
  4. Go back through the first chunk. Some of it will be useless, a lot of it will be wrong. Revise the best bits to make them fit with my new understanding of the shape of the book.
  5. Finish writing the first draft, really a first-and-a-half draft after the initial reworking.
  6. Revise, revise, revise.

It seems a bit presumptuous to declare that this is how I do it, since I haven’t finished anything longer than 60,000 words, but I thought it might be a useful record of what I’m doing right now. The current big project is in stage 4. I know how it goes together, and how it ends. Somehow it developed a Theme, but I have it on good authority that it will probably be okay anyway (scroll down to the listed comments).

The fiction momentum is starting to come back. I got a short story finished this weekend – it had been sadly without an ending for about a month – and it will be going out as soon as I give it a good proofreading. Another longer piece is almost done with its major revision and ready for resubmission somewhere. Wish me luck.

Friday evening I attended a reading and signing – the book launch party for The Devil’s Alphabet by Daryl Gregory. He held an after-party, and I was amused to learn that he’s only a couple blocks away. It was much fun, and very geeky. (Venn diagrams!) I’m very happy to find a congenial local SFF author. (Not that I know any uncongenial local authors; before Friday I didn’t know any.) I had a long and entertaining conversation over wine with one of the other guests at the party about being a scientist and writing science fiction. He’s a scientist, not an author, but was very interested in how one influences the other, as am I. (Note to self: I am a writer because I write works of fiction and non-fiction, and finish them, and send them out into the world. Not having a paid fiction publication yet doesn’t make that any less true. Honest.)

Anyway, I enjoyed the evening, and unusually for me was there until the end of the party. Daryl sent me home with half a chocolate cake! It wasn’t bribery, because I would have encouraged you all to check out The Devil’s Alphabet and his earlier novel Pandemonium anyway, but chocolate never hurts. Daryl also has some short fiction online.


Pirate loot, even!

One of my favorite writing blogs, Magical Words, is a group effort by several authors. A few I’d read before finding the blog; most were new to me, but I’ve made an effort to get to know all of their fiction better. I like reading this and other author blogs: it helps to remind me that people do successfully write fiction, and that every writer has a different way of approaching that process.

In December several of the authors ran contests with signed books as prizes. Misty Massey asked for holiday humor. I told a mildly risque joke made surreal by my younger brother (thereby probably embarrassing him thoroughly, if only he knew). And won!

Pirate loot

Not only do I have a signed copy of Mad Kestrel, which you all should rush out and purchase (strong female lead, magic, pirates!), but Misty threw in goodies – pirate stickers, a bandana, and best of all, pirate duckies!

pirate duckies

Those were very nearly nabbed as I was unpacking the box, and only quick action saved the poor duckies from ducknapping!

Thanks Misty!

The fictional year in review

In early October I started a Goodreads account. I’d had good intentions of keeping a list of things I’d read, but had not been particularly successful at doing it. I’m notoriously bad at remembering authors and titles, and I wanted something to help me keep track. Most of my fiction comes from the public library, so I don’t have the physical items to refer to. Goodreads has been just the thing – it’s quick and easy enough that I actually do keep track. The list includes everything I could remember reading in September.

Charlie Stross reminded everyone on his blog On my list (Sept-Dec 2009) there are nine books
published in 2009, eight of which are novels, and all of which are
SFF. I’m slightly embarrassed to say that of those nine, six are by
white males, three are by women, and one of the latter is by a person
of color. The male:female ratio quite different if all books I read in
the last third of 2009 (when I started the list) are included: 23 out
of 37 were by women, and 5 of those were actually multi-novel omnibus
editions. Overall diversity is still pretty low: only 2 of the 37,
both female, are known to me to be by non-white authors. (The caveat
is because it’s easier to guess gender than ethnicity from first
names.) The gender balance is fairly normal for me, a female reader of
SFF, but even that low ethnic diversity was due to an effort to find
new authors. Even with seeking out a diversity of fiction, I ended up with those low numbers.

I’m reading one Hugo-eligible novel right now, and have three more sitting on my stack, books I’d purchased earlier this year, all by women. One is by a non-straight author, the only example of GLBT diversity that I know exists in my recent reading. (Again, I do not know the personal histories of all the authors I’ve read this year.)

Anyone who follows online SFF discussion knows that the past year has been packed full of acrimonious debate on the role of racial, sexual, gender minorities in SFF authorship and fandom. I try to be diverse in my tastes, but even with explicit attempts to read a wider diversity of speculative fiction, my tally is still heavily skewed. It seems to be mostly availability rather than intent – the majority of what I read either catches my eye on the new book shelf in the library or gets good buzz from people whose recommendations I usually enjoy. Many of the books I read feature something other than straight white western European male protagonists (even if on another planet or fantasy millieu), but those are probably not in the majority.

No brilliant solutions, just another datapoint.


Yet another installment of “Other people’s stuff”. I’ve been out of town far too much – Saturday was the first morning in a month that I was actually at home. (Jacuzzi rooms win.) I had to make my own coffee, but the cat was delighted. All this travel and the associated preparations has put me behind on any number of projects, including (obviously) blogging. I’ve been saving interesting things, though, and will now put them here for your entertainment.

  • New episode of Shadow Unit! And how much do I love you all? I’m blogging, and I haven’t finished reading it yet!
  • From Oxford University Press: “ISLE: Interdisciplinary Studies in Literature and Environment is available online for the first time in its publishing history. To celebrate this milestone, all issues back to volume 1 are currently available FREE online until 15th May 2009.” I like knowing that journals like this exist.
  • “The World Digital Library will make available on the Internet, free of charge and in multilingual format, significant primary materials from cultures around the world, including manuscripts, maps, rare books, musical scores, recordings, films, prints, photographs, architectural drawings, and other significant cultural materials. The objectives of the World Digital Library are to promote international and inter-cultural understanding and awareness, provide resources to educators, expand non-English and non-Western content on the Internet, and to contribute to scholarly research.” Planned launch is April 21.
  • StarShipSofa has put together a podcast of all the Nebula-nominated stories. That’s a fantastic idea (and they have a great name).
  • New Scientist reviews the forthcoming book The Natural History of Unicorns
    by Chris Lavers and Joshua Blu Buhs.



Neil Gaiman wins Newbery Medal for The Graveyard Book. Hooray! (And a Medal, how cool is that?)

You can listen to Neil reading the book chapter by chapter during the book tour. (Neil is one of the few authors who SHOULD read his own works.)

Edit: I just looked through the winner’s lists for the Hugo for Best Novel and the Newbery Medal. Neil Gaiman is the only author to win both, though not for the same book. No other author has even both been nominated for a Hugo and made the honors list for the Newbery. I was rather surprised, as some excellent fantasy novels have appeared on the Newbery list over the years (though not much SF). Madeleine L’Engle was my first guess for possible other dual winners, but she is not. The Newbery is for American authors (citizen or resident), while the Hugo has no such restriction, so that may account for some of the lack of overlap.

Later edit: I double-checked the Hugo/Newbury listings. I wasn’t sure my cursory sort really was correct. Neil Gaiman is the only author to win both, but Ursula Le Guin was on the Newbery Honors list in 1972, and won the Hugo in 1970 and 1975.