John Scalzi on Neil Armstrong and Future Past

I’m grateful to see John Scalzi’s comments on the passing of Neil Armostrong. I’d been beginning to think that maybe the Science Fiction community had somehow missed this sad passing of an era. I didn’t comment immediately because I didn’t think I had anything meaningful to say. When Neil visited the moon my parents weren’t even legal yet, and I was nowhere yet near Planet Earth. By the time the last man left the moon, I was still no closer, for all practical purposes.

But after reading Scalzi’s post, I realize I do have something to add.

The achievement of Neil Armstrong and his fellow Apollo Astronauts and those who supported him is one unparalleled in history: mankind has not come close either before or since. Think about that: the greatest human achievement in history was done and gone and practically forgotten by the time I was born. Nothing, since then, has come even close. Sure, we’ve built on the shoulders of giants. But our dreams have been small dreams.

The human race is capable of some truly amazing things: Armstrong’s achievement is proof of that. And we’ve done a lot to make my childhood’s future something that is starting, bit-by-bit, to actually feel like the future. But the greatest disappointment of our future-present is the failure of manking in general and the US in particular to live up to the promise of Armstrong’s achievement.

It’s telling, in our modern day, that we’ve become so fractious and divided that we no longer have any shared dreams. We no longer look forward to a some brighter future. We no longer believe our best days are ahead of us. Instead, you have half our country trying to claw its way back to some imagined (pre-Apollo) golden age and the other half trying to hold on to the gains we’ve made as a society since then. In this divided time there is no room for the future. There is no room for bigger dreams.

In some ways the half looking backward is right: there was a brighter age in our past, but it shouldn’t have been that way: our brightest age should have been still in our future yet to come, with our present always brighter than our past.

There’s a way we can get back to that “future past”. There’s a way we can get things back on track. But we have to stop looking backwards to do so.

Whatever

I was two months old when Neil Armstrong landed on the moon and 43 when he died, and inbetween those two events the future changed. When Armstrong landed, a human future in space seemed inevitable — we’d landed on the moon, after all. How long could it possibly be until we had moon colonies, space stations where thousands lived, stuck by centrifugal force to walls which were their floors, and a second space race to Mars? Why, not long as all, it seemed, and so I lived the first decade of my life breathlessly waiting for the moon colony and all the rest of it. And also drinking Tang because, hey, I wasn’t quite ten, and Tang was pretty awesome when you’re that age.

Four decades on, we never did get the mechanistic, physical future required for those moon colonies and space stations. In point of fact that future was…

View original post 457 more words

Whence Writers of the Future? A Proposal…

So this is something I’ve been mulling over the past few weeks.  This post is more me thinking aloud, in a sense, because I don’t think I have any firm conclusions or answers.

As I’ve mentioned here before, I’ve submitted twice now to the Writers of the Future contest – going so far as to earn an Honorable Mention on the first of those two submissions.  I was and am pretty proud of that accomplishment. 

Writers of the Future, as you no doubt may be aware, is basically the premiere, most high-profile writing contest for new, upcoming, unpublished and undiscovered SF&F authors.  The contest is only open to writers who have published 3 or fewer short stories, and who have not published a work of novelette-length or greater.  The prizes are pretty lavish: 3 quarterly winners each year (with first, second, and third prizes of $1,000, $750, and $500, which alone are already pretty generous awards) – and from this pool of 12 quarterly winners a single annual winner is selected, with an additional cash prize of $5,000.  That’s a pretty incredible prize.  Heck, that’s the same as the median advance for a first-time SF&F novel contract: meaning that Writers of the Future winners are getting paid as well for their short stories as many first-time SF&F novel authors are getting paid for an entire book.  On top of this, the 12 quarterly winners are whisked off to a week-long workshop where they’ll learn from and hobnob with the various titans of the industry: established and recognized authors of SF&F.

All of this is unquestionably wonderful.  And because it’s open only to aspiring authors who have not yet made it, the contest makes for a great place to test one’s skill as a writer.  The entries are judged blind, so the only things in play are the relative merits of the stories that have been submitted and the relative tastes of the judges reviewing them.  There’s no personal favoritism.  Established and recognized authors aren’t going to get the publication slot simply because of their name recognition and because name recognition sells.  So I’ve seen it as a wonderful place to let my work sink or swim largely (although not entirely, as I’ve pointed out before) on its own merits. 

But there’s another side to this story, I am beginning to learn.

I’ve long known that the Writers of the Future contest is connected to Scientology. Continue reading

The Writing Life & The Writer’s Living

Recently, author John Scalzi blogged a link to an article about a fantasy writer, Steph Swainston, who was putting her successful writing career on an apparently indefinite hiatus in order to pursue a career as a chemistry teacher.

I was fascinated by the Independent article that features Swainston and her decision to put writing behind her and change careers.  In it she lists a few of the troubles she faced as a writer – turning her story of success into a cautionary tale.  Some of her complaints: the inwardness of writing that leads to a lack of outside, external, non-writing experience (one funny quote: “Look at Stephen King. All his characters seem to be writers.”); the loneliness of the solitary writer’s life, the trouble interacting with fans, the book-a-year publishing machine (where authors are expected to churn out a new book every year), and the outsourcing of publicity and promotion to the writer.

Any of those might be fair complaints.  And they wouldn’t be the only ones.  One entirely not-unfair complaint I’ve oft heard: the miserly compensation.  An author cannot simply be an author in this day-and-age.  Unless you live someplace with no cost of living and are as healthy as an Undying God, the average income attainable solely from writing novels and short stories is nothing to base a household’s finances on – unless you are somewhat more successful than average.  Of course, if you’re average or lower, you’ll eventually be dropped by your publisher, more than likely – which is why Ms. Swainston had the opportunity instead to withdraw from the industry of her own volition and choosing, as she was apparently somewhat more successful than average.

What’s fascinating, of course, is the contrary version of the typical writer’s story.  It goes: yeah, there’s some stuff about being a writer that sucks.  But you do it anyway because it’s worth it.  Or: Crappy pay doesn’t bother me because I’d write even if I didn’t get paid (in the case of yours truly, presently, this is very much true, seeing as I don’t get paid). And so on.  But here is a writer who has decided, after having lived the dream, that no, it is not worth it. Continue reading

At the Feet of Masters: The Writing Track at JordanCon 2011 (Part 1 of 3)

Wherein I share and elucidate the mysteries revealed unto me whilst attending the Writing Track at JordanCon 2011.

The main panelists for the writing track were Guest of Honor David B. Coe, Eugie Foster, Jana Oliver, and Brandon Sanderson.  (The details of who taught what are in my blow-by-blow account linked above.)  Attending the writing track was definitely valuable for me, as an aspiring fantasy author.  But what was surprising, in some ways, was how little I learned about the craft of writing as compared to what else I learned by attending these panels. 

Which is not to say I didn’t learn quite a lot about writing during these panels.  I suppose I was expecting to learn more about the craft.  But what I did learn, I believe, will be enough to push me up another level – or so I hope.  But let me save the big, revelatory take-aways for the end, and let’s start with an account of what I learned along the way.  Which is a long account, so expect this to go on for several posts – this is considerably more detailed and thorough than my pictorial blow-by-blow.

Writing for Younger Readers

The first bit of craft advice I learned when I ducked into the Writing for Young Readers panel a little late.  The panelists agreed that you should write your protagonist at an age one or two years older than your target audience – specifically when targeting younger readers.  This is because younger readers are aspirational – they are interested in what people older than they are think and do.  However, the older YA readers tend to read more and more like adults, so the lines get blurred considerably.  They also pointed out that mushy stuff like romance: kids totally go in for that, whatever you may think.  Yes, even the boys.  Continue reading

Addenda to the Public Service Announcement

Since I first learned about this fiasco by reading Mr. Scalzi’s blog (and later heard about it on NPR, one of the victimized parties), I thought I’d point back to Mr. Scalzi’s blogs for these updates, and make said updates known to what few of my readers who don’t regularly read said blog:

Addendum A: The entire imbroglio has been immortalized in song.  Go forth and listen.

Addendum B: A half apology is issued.

Benefit

Okay… so… if you’re into, you know, ebooks… and if at the same time you somehow follow me instead of actual famous people, and still further if the phrase “unicorn pegasus kitten” somehow piques your curiosity, and yet again also if you are a human being and therefore the sworn enemy of disease and illness, then there is a chance, however microcosmic, that you have not yet heard of “The Clash of the Geeks” and yet will be interested in the same.

If you belong in that category of the as-yet uninformed, allow me to say this: this is a free e-chapbook full of strange stories about an image of Wil Wheaton (i.e. Wesley Crusher of Star Trek: TNG fame) and John Scalzi (i.e. sci-fi author of bookshelf fame) locked in some kind of mortal combat – the former bestride said “unicorn pegasus kitten” with a lance and the latter as an orc.  The book is free, but the creators are collecting donations in return for their ridiculous efforts for the benefit of the Lupus Alliance of America, an organization dedicated to helping those afflicted with Lupus.

Therefore, if this is actually news to you (and let’s be frank, chances are, it’s not, but hey, there you go) and you’d like to help the fight against Lupus, then you should get thee hence to http://unicornpegasuskitten.com to score  yourself a copy of the ebook and to make your donation.

You have been warned…