Monthly Archives: August 2011

The Rise of Writers Versus Readers, a theory presented with no evidence whatsoever…

So, I have this theory as to why there are as many aspiring writers as there are readers, and why it seems like there has been an explosion of writers in recent years. It has nothing to do with word processors. It has nothing to do with the rise of outlets for writing in the age of the internet.

I think it’s simpler than that. People are unfulfilled working in this country. People grind their lives away pursuing the goals of shareholders and stockholders and upper management and do not have work that interests them, if they have work at all. For the approximately 25-30% of the country unemployed or underemployed, this purposelessness is exacerbated by the general economic woes involved. Ergo, writing books is a home-based business that solves certain problems that home-based businesses often have.

1) Cost of entry is low. A word processor and a web connection and access to mail is all that is required to start.
2) It can actually lead to huge success, if one is dedicated and talented enough, unlike plumbing or envelope stuffing. This is not actually a scam.
3) The work is enjoyable. It is not a grind, most of the time, to sit in one’s cave and make stuff up.

With a down economic climate, and one in which real wages have not kept up with demand, we are going to see people get their hustle on, and try to work harder to make something more meaningful. That most work in this country is about as interesting as scraping your face against a cheese shredder only makes the interest in writing more so. Everyone who enjoys reading a book and wants to find a way to increase the annual income in a direction towards meaningful, soulful work will get the virus to scribble into the night.

It’s the economy. For the last twenty years, the Reagenomicon has decimated the middle class, and everyone needs to find something to get that hustle on, and get that income up, and find work that doesn’t involve layers of management and goals that make no sense most of the time and a culture of greed and efficiency that extricates surgically the soulfulness and joy of good, hard work.

I have no evidence for this. I have done no research. It’s only a theory.

Because writing books is hard, and reading them is fun. If more people had fulfilling work, that met their goals and desires financially, there would be more people just reading books and less people writing them.

(I’d still be writing them. This is my megaphone to shout at the world. I would be screaming from my mountaintop even if no one cared to listen. I’m like that. I suspect most of the writers I like best would also keep at it, because none of us are in this for the money nor do we actually make very much money.)


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Returned home from Armadillocon

At the end of every convention, I feel like the only adequate report that can be offered is this: I survived. I love conventions. I get to meet very cool people from all over the country and the world and we discuss important questions like “Could Red Sonja kick Conan’s ass?” and “What are you doing in the ePublishing sphere and is it working?” You know, the highs and lows of pure geekery.

I could namecheck lots of people, but I would like to give a shout out to my workshop participants who all seemed very upbeat and positive at the end of the workshop, despite all of the efforts of the instructors to turn them into the cynical shells of men that Matt Bey and I have become after years of working in the field of SF/F. Thanks for signing up and I hope you encourage other aspiring writers you know to sign up in the future! Also, thanks to Stina Leicht for running the show, and organizing everything down to the point of a much better vegetarian sandwich than I would have otherwise gotten for lunch! Go Stina!

(You know who Stina Leicht is, right? She wrote this:)

I attended some awesome things, including panels with people, all very cool. I also attended some readings by Martha Wells, Matt Bey, Patrice Sarath, Michelle Muenzler, and Rob Rogers. In particular, I’d like to point out Rob Rogers because I discovered that has written what sounds like an excellent and timely sequel to Devil’s Cape, and he has just released that fine first novel full of superheros and circus freaks out into the world as an eBook you could go pick up right now!

Let’s see, who did I meet…

I’m missing people. I know I’m forgetting people. If I forgot you, I’m sorry, but this is devolving into such a pimp-thread, I may have to get a gold cane and a cape just to get to the end…

One topic of constant conversation among the con-goers was how low attendance was at cons all over the country, how people just weren’t showing up. There were people I expected to meet that weren’t there, at all. I know times are hard, but it’s hard to see it happening right there in front of me among one of the best conventions in all of the south.

FenCon is coming. I won’t be there, but I wish I could. If you’re in Texas, go. It’s a great Con. Lots of cool people, awesome panels, and good times will be had.

The journey was long. Texas is in a serious drought. When I drove in, it was raining so hard in Louisiana that I had to pull over and rest along the side of the road. I crossed the border into Texas and there was an instant shift from green to brown. There’s this big Catfish shack on the border between Texas and Louisiana, and the rear of it is green, out by the dumpsters, but the front of it is brown where people are parking their pickup trucks. Drive down into Austin and see how desolate it’s become there. Everyone’s zeroscaping their yards. Everyone’s talking about the politics of water and the death of the aquifer that’s been open for business too long, too long, and too widely. There’s a reason people weren’t building up so much before, you know. It wasn’t because they didn’t want to push into the hill country. It’s because there isn’t enough water for everybody. Once upon a time, a farmer would stand up in the courtroom and say that, and people would respect him. These days, they just laugh him down. 100 years is a long time until everything runs out. Lots of money to be made between then and now. Who cares that it is an eyeblink of a protozoa clinging to a grain of the sand of time? They don’t. They don’t care what world will be left for the people after them whom they will never meet. By then, they’ll be long gone. Pull the water up from the ground. Keep building above the aquifers. Retail malls and outlet malls and housing complexes as far as the eye can see, because 100 years from now, when these empty concrete shells collapse upon their imperfect construction, designed for less than 100 years life, there won’t be a person left on this ground that has a choice about it, and by then all the money accumulated will help drive the family ever east, ever east, ever east, back where there is an ocean and some mountains that will stay up above the rising waters of the great, big melt.

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I think this is the 3rd time I’ve been "done" with this thing…

The problem with integrated collections about Greek Mythology is that there is quite a lot of mythology to play with, and no shortage of ideas bouncing around my head.

I think I’m done. This is the third time I thought I was done.

Time will tell.

I’m at my father’s house, passing through on my way to austin. the dogs are anxious. they want to go around the block. they want to play and eat and play some more.

I think they might be right.

so, in the mean time, it’s going to be all steampunk all the time, then.

I don’t actually believe in Steampunk as a literary movement. I believe in it as a fashion movement that was such a powerful and timely aesthetic idea that it tumbled out into other forms of art. It’s like how there are really strange poems and plays from Marcel DeChamp’s hobby-horsery, but it was always, really, about the paintings and sculptures and breakdown of form and imagery and definitions of the visual, tactile arts.

Still, I’m writing me some. It’s going all right. Time will tell.

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The Future of Everything

I am in Texas, at my mother’s house, surrounded by brown, drought-ravaged yards and plants, sitting in an air conditioned house with a glass of water beside me and the constant distraction of dogs.

I have decided to reveal the future of everything.

The future of business, every business, is the death of every business, because they will all collapse under the weight of changing business models and bad investments and better competitors.

The future of reading is the end of reading, because literacy was invented and is more precarious than we could possibly imagine in a world where reading is not as valuable a skill as programming, and it is only a matter of time until programming is the preferred language in text form.

The future of programming are programs that design other programs, because people couldn’t be bothered to learn all the intricacies of whatever language of programming iterates while machinery produce tool after tool after tool.

The future of machinery is to get smaller. There are only so many power plants that can run on this earth without killing us all, and we are already over our limit.

Get smaller. Think local. Think illiterately.

We will walk away from all these futile devices, and return to agriculture.

We will tumble away from agriculture as crops fail and new insects learn to eat old plants. We will have to forage.

We will all be foraging, with no businesses to hire us, and no books to teach us, and no programs to bother reaching out a robot hand to ours and no power plants to send the bill collectors after us.

We will all be foraging.

There will be tribes.

They will want to leave messages for each other that will look like heiroglyphics on stone walls.

This is what will happen to us, and to everything with us.

Also, the sun is a finite resource, and even if it is a slow burn, it is the only burn we have.

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Something I just wrote about in tweets…

Read backwards as I just cut-and-pasted it.

In the current climate, it is still better to pursue major magazines first, but unless a semi-pro carries some cachet, it’s better to DiY.
29 seconds ago Favorite Reply Delete

The experience has changed my perspective on short fiction, in general, and I expect I will be doing more original short stories via eBook.
1 minute ago

The bits are always distributed, exactly where people can find them, and I just have to keep producing more data bits…
2 minutes ago

Though I still think it is not fully “here” as a writing business. In two years? Three? Five? The accounting and distribution is too good.
2 minutes ago

The other neat thing is patience: I’m not racing against the death spiral to move units of product. I’ve got no PR, no hurry, and just write
3 minutes ago

And, that this amount is small is a temporary thing, I think, as more and more readers turn to eBooks on their various devices and many small amounts add up over time.
4 minutes ago

It’s simply breathtaking to open up a browser window, and know what I’m owed and exactly when it will arrive to the day. Even if it’s small.
5 minutes ago

My eBook experiments indicate to me that this will be the future of books, if only because of the way accounting and payments work. #ontime

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I’m in this anthology…

My short story, “Dedalus and the Labyrinth” is the very first story in this collection, from Apex Publications, among what appears to be an excellent bunch of stories.

This particular work of fantasy was the first glimmer in the brain of what was going to become a science fiction/interstitial novel called MAZE that’s coming out when it comes out from Apex.

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My agent is a very smart and talented man, and I agree with him almost all the time, and sometimes I have doubts. Nagging doubts. I am mortal, you see, and no matter what when you are a writer you are plagued with doubts. Is this the right project to pursue? Is this good enough? What if the market shifts and this sort of thing becomes cliche? Am I going to get paid on time this time, or do I get to wait for months again before the unnamed group that owes me money pays me the money I need to live…

Lots of doubts and confusion in the career of a writer, you see. And, we have most of the day to sit around and think about things, and it takes a strong force of will to quiet ones’ doubts.

I have doubts. I agree with my agent, in theory, but I have doubts.

My literary agent has advised me to put this particular project on hold for a while, and even then thinks only the smallest of the small publishers would be after it. I agree with him, in part, because I can only think of a handful of places to submit this particular integrated collection of stories, none of them offering the sort of advances I could muster with the literary steampunk cinderella story I’m pulling out of my head with sharp tines at the moment.

Then, I second-guess my agent because I also think that maybe this is a powerful thing that the world would love, if it knew it existed, and maybe some of it is the best writing I’ve done to date. My imagination will not let this go. My gut will not let this go. I think maybe my agent knows epic fantasy really well, and literary fiction really well, and the in-between stuff maybe he doesn’t know so well because there isn’t the sort of money involved that one would get with the stuff that has a clear category, but defining a category is the way to build a career and my gut says this is the right thing to pursue and publish. I think that the writers that have seen pieces of this project, the good writers like Liz Hand and Scott Wolven and Jim Kelly, have completely flipped out for it.

Pieces of this thing have been selling to magazines. One was in The Raleigh Review. Another was in the Journal of Unlikely Entomology. Another will be in Paul Jessup’s Coffin Mouth. When it comes to Greek Mythology, the women and the monsters never get to tell their own stories. Always they are the tossed-away baggage and victims and ruins left in the wake of the gods, goddesses and mighty heroes, who all mostly acted like selfish asshats and were praised for it. We all think of Orpheus, and never wonder what Eurydice wanted when she did not answer to her name, or what the Nemean Lion thought about becoming such an icon of a monstrous man, or what happened to Ariadne after she was abandoned on an island and had to just live her own life after the labyrinth and after Theseus. (Gosh, Theseus was such an ass…) Circe was a mighty sorceress with her own goddamn island but all anyone remembers is that a man committed adultery there, abandoning her wondrous immortality for a woman that he wouldn’t see for nineteen years. Nausicaa became a woman without Odysseus around, and maybe she had her own odyssey. The muse never gets to tell her own version of things. Sing, muse, for yourself.

Anyway, it’s a book. It’s very strange. It’s shifty, too, with some things in the past and some things in the now, and many things in between places, with magic and whimsy and surrealism as casual as breathing. I’m trying hard to clean up the last three of the fictions that I think that I want: Io and Cerynitis and Aphrodite/Athena. Maybe there’s more stories to tell, because there are so many women and monsters of mythology that didn’t get to speak their own stories.

I want this book to be in the world somewhere. My instinct is telling me once it is picked up it will be loved by the sort of people you want to love your books, the sort who read lots of them and share them with others and really care about them. My agent says no one will want it but the smallest of the small presses, and we should sit on it a while because maybe I’m going to keep writing more of them and maybe the market isn’t ripe for this sort of thing. Maybe it won’t be for a long while. I don’t know if I agree with him or not, the more I think about it, because if the writing is good – if it is really, really good – maybe. Just maybe.

What do you think, world? Anyone out there have any ideas or insight?

Do you, my fans, become excited at the thought of a Literary Steampunk Cinderella story, or would you prefer more surrealism and fabulism?

When I wake up tomorrow, I will work on what you tell me to work on, either/or. It is unfair not to say too much about the steampunk project when I go on about the other one, but the very words “Literary Steampunk Cinderella” are about enough when you consider the sort of books I have already written, and sort of what that might look like in my capable hands.

What should I work on today?

I’ll be volunteering on this farm until late afternoon. When I get home, we’ll make dinner with what they give us on the farm, and then I will work. My time working will be dictated by you.

(Also, if you happen to be a publisher and your interest is piqued by this collection idea, no harm in dropping me a line, is there? I mean, it’s not anyone’s fault you read this on my blog. No harm telling me why it would never work, either.)


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do you speak bee? (and, a giveaway…)

I’m writing new stories, frantically, some under deadline, some not. I’m writing and writing.


I speak bee. No one believes it, but I learned the language. My mother taught it to me, when I was very young. What you do is you place honey on your finger, your nose, and then a splash of floral perfume upon the back of your jeans. Then, you go into a field to speak to the bees, who find you because of the smell, and then they watch you to see what you have to say. You shiver, and move forward, then shiver again. Shivering looks like shaking your butt, like shimmying, but it’s not. It’s shivering. It’s a complex language. It took years of practice.
My mother was an expert. She could guide the flocks of bees over the highway, into safe harbors all over the city. Someone had to keep them safe from the killing men, that came in fancy trucks to spray the streets. Someone had to protect the bees from the changing places, where the old buildings that should have been a refuge were doomed to be rebuilt.
In this world, no one cares about the bees. Father doesn’t care about them. He doesn’t believe in my mother. He says the powerlines have changed everything. Everything will be connected together that’s human, and anything that can’t ride along the lines might as well be forgotten.
My mother agrees with him when he says that, but she still taught me to speak bee….


There’s a giveaway next door, at the Night Bazaar, where I was asked to speak a little about world-building, and I did, late at night, when I was awake far too late, because I was afraid of something terrible.


Often, I am bored by world-building in the books I read. I’m not really into “cool” worlds. I read for characters and to find the questions of my life that I did not know I was supposed to be asking. I mean, really, what matter whether a river is purple or a mountain is made of glass if the people of that world are not changed by it in some fashion, and not just in that they need special shoes to walk on the purple water and climb the glass mountains? I mean imagine that the glass of the mountain is a metaphor for a bright, shining, religious lie, and it is so massive that all the stained glass windows in the world have been thrown up together into one, huge monument to the lies. I mean that the character who climbs this mountain discovers a truth upon it that makes the monument a lie, because the thing that inspired it all was wrong to begin with. Things are different for a reason, and it has to do with art. Otherwise, we’re just messing with reality for the sake of making reality cooler than it is, and it feels lazy to me because reality is actually very cool, already.


Go there, and leave a comment there, and be entered in a giveaway to receive both LAST DRAGON and NEVER KNEW ANOTHER.

Comment here, and I will offer you nothing but a nod, which is invisible to you as far away as you are from me in this world

I noticed a story in the New York Times about something Angie and I did yesterday, by the way. We have so many foraged figs from a friend’s backyard. She’s out of town, and told us to sneak into her backyard and take figs. She has so many, and they’re just sitting there, ripe and delicious and about to rot. So, we pulled in yesterday morning, slipped into a strange backyard, and went nuts to gather about six pounds of figs right from the tree at a house that’s abandoned for most of the summer. I call them our “ninja figs” because I felt like a ninja sneaking into a yard to get them. (We were invited to do it, and not trespassing, but her neighbors didn’t know that!)

The people in this article are friends of friends, on the local farmer’s market scene where my fiance works every day. They’re right to do what they’re doing, too. At the EAV markets, every dollar of food stamp is worth two dollars in produce. The people who need it most get what they need at a better price.

Don’t let the food rot on the tree or the vine, I say. Atlanta has so many empty houses, empty yards, empty lots. If we don’t do something about this place, we’ll end up like Detroit, all hollowed out and polluted with drugs and crime in all these empty houses. I hope it works out for us.

I’m going back to work, now. Input/output… Io…. Mourn with the bees..

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[Re-post] I Want to Throw Indiana Jones Off a Cliff and Watch Him Die, Apparently

[With the malware-splosion of the Apex Blog, I’m digging around in my backup files to repost all the things I did there, here. This first appeared at the Apex Book Blog, about a year ago.]

You know that game with the wise-cracking hero, and how he is all clever and athletic and a he has a sassy, flirtatious relationship with the female lead, and he is smart and tough and funny and… Yeah, it’s an archetype you’ve seen a lot of if you have been playing games. Whether you are a Prince of Persia, Nathan Drake, Spider Man, Serious Sam, Master Chief, Gabriel Knight, Dante, Ezio Auditore, etc., etc., etc., you know you are both a brilliant, competent dude, and always ready with a quip about how brilliant and competent you are. These characters could all probably be voice-acted by a young Harrison Ford to great success.

I’m sick of him. When I was playing Prince of Persia – the newest one, written by Andy Walsh – I was so sick of this guy that I kept imagining how great it would be to jump off a cliff and watch him actually land with a splat of blood and death. I don’t blame the writer. I blame the company that chooses to ask the writer to make their character sound like Indiana Jones.

As I was thinking about how much I hate this archetype – because I’m sick of his self-confident smirk in the face of danger – I got to thinking why this has persisted. It seems the only alternative is the brutal, angst-ridden guilty characters of GTA:IV and God of War. Think about it: either one is a total smirking man-muppet, or one is a total, raging pain monkey. There is little nuance, for the most part. in between these two macho extremes.

Because, for the most part, you’re playing characters that are supposed to be facing great peril, and deadly consequences, these two types have persisted. Most likely, your character is a mass murderer who leaps heights and distances that would make normal men break limbs against odds epically awful.

That wink at the crowd, or that comedically gruesome emotional angst, is the way designers have to try to deal with the reality that their characters are inhuman, and operating with inhuman expectations. They don’t have human emotions. When they kill someone, it’s nothing. When they jump from a burning building, a hundred yards, to grab a rope and swing over an exploding bridge, the characters’ emotional “stance” sets a tone that alienates them from the moment they’re in. A wise-cracking character always has their verbal defenses up, smirking to reveal the unreality and lack of actual consequences in the moment. An angst-riddled character is so inward-looking they never see what they’re doing beyond their emotional blinders, a pocket of pain like gravity weighing down an unfelt, shallow-to-everyone world.

Main characters in games – especially male ones – have an emotional distance from the moment they experience. They are always above the people around them, slightly better, slightly faster, or blessed with slightly better aim. They are special and the world treats them as such.

If I were to draw a graph of immersion, then, I’d have the player who is holding the controller, separated over, then the character that is above the world, then the game world, like so: PLAYER ->MAIN CHARACTER -> WORLD. As a cipher, the main character tends not to be part of the world in which they inhabit. As sick as I am of the wisecracking main character, it is the way that many games choose to keep their main character a little separated from the world around them, to allow them to be the cipher of the player in the living room with the controller.

I was thinking about this, as well, because I just saw the excellent film, Scott Pilgrim Versus the World, and it played like a game. Scott was the emotionally distant main character, a cipher for the audience, a little aside and above the world in which he inhabited. If one really thinks about it, were he truly engaged with the world he lived in, fully, he would never be able to separate from the persona in which he inhabited to grow as a person. Around him, all those quirky, funny, character-types are locked in their idiom, but none of them are capable of changing who they are without the action of the emotionally distant Scott, who seems to define everything around him.

At once, walking away from the film, I felt like I had lost something because I did not have, truly, that same clique of quirky, exciting, interesting people around me. But, the more I thought about it, the more I realized it is because I am emotionally engaged with the people around me as people. I am not distant from my friends and close relations. There is no player using me as a cipher for this world. I am totally immersed.

Indiana Jones archetypes are really a part of a larger problem, that the player cannot truly immerse in the virtual worlds. They need someone to stand aside of that world, and above it, carrying the loa of the player like a voodoo god.

That same perspective of emotional distance is all over books, too. But, as our characters do not have to be mass murderers to be interesting, in books, we are able to have a more mature immersion with the world of the book. We can approach characters as equals, for the most part. We do not need a wise-cracking, good-looking, super hero to carry us safely through the perils of the book. This may be what people are thinking about when they don’t consider video games an art form on par with great works of literature, that can carry the reader a while in someone else’s true skin.

But, I really thought Scott Pilgrim’s movie was fantastic. I thought it spoke to the truth of the human condition, despite the unrealities built into the design and application. The veil of the unreal placed over Scott and Ramona’s relationship enhanced the story, I thought, into the realm of art that spoke to the human condition.

The reason I thought this probably had something to do with how Scott Pilgrim did not sound like Indiana Jones. Unlike Nathan Drake, one could imagine Scott failing, hurting, or giving up, because Scott isn’t just an archetype. He may be our cipher in that shiny world, but he is also ridiculously, painfully human. He’s just as confused, stupid, weak, and petty as we are; and when he rises out of himself into true heroism and self-esteem it feels like it means something about how relationships and our desire to connect meaningfully with the people – to immerse ourselves in our world truly and completely – mean giving up that emotional distance. In the end, that’s what he does. He leaves his shiny, brilliant, cool world behind to be with the woman he loves, in a real, grown-up relationship.

And now I’m going to Amazon to buy the graphic novels…

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Word to the Wise: Armadillocon is coming

All you Texas-area, particularly Austin-area peoples best be getting prepped for the awesome ArmadilloCon Convention going down in a couple weeks. I’m taking my suits to the drycleaners tomorrow morning to get ready, clearing the car out for the drive, and wondering what I should read Friday night, when I’ll be exhausted from a full day of teaching with Matt Bey of Space Squid in the writer’s workshop.

Even right now, I’m reading the stories over, thinking hard about them, and getting my act together to figure out what must needs be said about the stories for the workshop.

When I’m not doing that, I’m getting ready for a guest coming in from out of town, passing through on a crazy roadtrip.

When I’m not doing that, I’m poking around for some kind of new employment. I’m getting sick of hanging around the house. I’m too social to want to spend this much time by myself. I’m not shaving enough. I find myself unshaven, wearing clothes that don’t match, and it’s horrible. I find myself wasting time because it is there to be wasted instead of maintaining a rigid schedule. I work better when I have to schedule. I feel more urgency with my writing time.


Also, and related to yesterday, with the update to the Kindle, one should be able to discover my latest experiment in ePublishing of projects that have no future in any other form, in this case a thing full of my bizarre poetry.

I hope not to mention this again, because I was reading some Ann Sexton earlier today, and I suspect I will not be going down in Norton Anthologies. I think it’s good for a laugh, though, if only because I write poetry about robots, zombies, and whatever bizarre things bounce into my head when I’m stuck somewhere with nothing to do but think and scribble things.

But, enough about that. The next time I’ll talk at all about poetry will be at a round robin reading in ArmadilloCon, where I will regale you with some of my not-remotely-immortal work!

ArmadilloCon, people, focus on that. It’s coming soon, and it should be a wild time. Howard Waldrop, Paulo Bacigalupi, Stina Leicht, Patrice Sarath, Lou Anders, Scott Lynch, Martha Wells… I’m telling you, it’s going to be great. I’m driving in from Georgia.

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