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Future, as you no doubt may be aware, is basically the premiere, most high-profile writing contest for new, upcoming, unpublished and undiscovered SF&F authors.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

Interrogating the Text #5: The Hunger Games

This is a continuation of my occasional series on what I can learn on the craft of writing from reading the stories of accomplished professionals and examining and understanding my reactions.

For an explanation of what I’m attempting in this series, go here.

In the second post in my in this occasional series (what was actually a three part post), I tackled a novel I had just finished.  Having recently finished Suzanne Collins‘ widely-acclaimed The Hunger Games, I thought now was a good time to similarly analyze this book – the recent release of the film notwithstanding.  (Note that Dear Wife and I have not seen it, yet, but intend to.  Getting a babysitter on short notice is not generally easy – especially when all your stand-by babysitters are themselves going out that same weekend to watch the same movie.)

Obviously, now, no links to the book – but if you haven’t read it you can probably obtain a copy from your local library, and a nearby bookstore is almost certain to have a copy.

I picked up The Hunger Games on the recommendation of Dear Wife, who picked it up on the recommendation of other friends.  She read it a couple years ago while I was still in Grad School and thus unable to read it myself at the time.  But with the movie coming out this year, I was determined to give it a read before seeing the film.  (And in fact I finished the book about a month ago… I just hadn’t had time to write this up, yet.)

I will say, right off, that I didn’t have the same conflicted relationship with this book that I had with the last novel that I analyzed in this blog (the aforelinked The Magicians).  Whereas I found the ending of that book problematic, I found the ending of this book mostly to be quite satisfying.  That said, I don’t come to this analysis without some criticism for The Hunger Games.  But criticism aside, it’s a good book and well-worth the read.  It doesn’t have the same lyrical narrative flare and style that some of the other works I’ve analyzed have.  But that’s of necessity, being in the first person perspective of the protagonist.  Obviously, though, the book has become a phenomenon for a reason, and that reason is valid.

By now you’re likely familiar with the book and its plot.  But here’s a short run-down anyway (and my usual warning: There will be spoilers): it’s the dystopian future, and what was once North America has given way to the oppressive regime of Panem, as ruled from the Capitol. Continue reading

Interrogating the Text #4: Jay Lake takes a “Long Walk Home”

This is a continuation of my occasional series on what I can learn on the craft of writing from reading the stories of accomplished professionals and examining and understanding my reactions.

For an explanation of what I’m attempting in this series, go here.

Today, I want to talk about a story I read recently by author Jay Lake called “A Long Walk Home“, which you can read for free at the website of Subterranean Press.  “A Long Walk Home” is the first science fictional story I’ll review and analyze for this series.  As with all the stories/novels I’ve discussed so far, I definitely enjoyed reading Jay Lake’s “A Long Walk Home”.  There were, however, some things about the story that disappointed me, which I shall get to in due course.  To follow along, you might want to go check the story out first, then hop on back here, as there will be spoilers in my analysis.

“A Long Walk Home” starts pretty strongly, as we’re introduced to protagonist Aeschylus Sforza, thereafter referred to as Ask.  The year is 2977 – the distant future – and Ask is an enhanced human.  These technological enhancements give him increased strength and durability, longevity (and presumably immortality, as we shall see), a perfect memory, and a direct neural connection to whatever information network exists in the future.  Except Ask is cut off from the network, deep underground exploring the strange and mysterious caverns on an alien planet called Redghost – a planet that has been colonized by humans and looks faintly like a far-future version of the American Frontier of yore. Continue reading

The Passing of Anne McCaffrey

I heard the news yesterday.  One of the elder craftsmen and great figureheads of the SF&F genre, Anne McCaffrey, passed away on Monday.

If I’m totally honest to you, dear reader, I’ve never read any of the Pern books, nor anything else written by Anne McCaffrey.  But her influence on the genre is still felt, and I know her passing will be a sad one for the legions of fans she has earned in her lifetime’s worth of work. 

It’s a strange thing to admit that I’ve never read any Pern books, given my unapologetic obsession with all things draconic.  My particular obsession takes the form of an interest in dragons of myth and fantastic literature, whereas in time McCaffrey’s dragons were revealed to be science fictional in nature.  See… I may not have read those books, but I’m at least familiar with some of the core tenets of her world.  As I said, her influence on the genre is felt, even by one such as I who has not read her work.

My understanding of McCaffrey’s influence is that she was an early pioneer of bending genre expectations and tropes between fantasy and science fiction.  Technically speaking, her Pern series is sience fiction: starring as it does the descendents of space-faring humans who’ve colonized a world and genetically re-engineered one of its species to more closely resemble mythological dragons, or something to that effect.  (Most of my knowledge of the specifics comes not from reading the Pern books, as I said, but from reading about them.)  But many people have read and continue to read Pern as fantasy, despite the latter revelations about the history of Pern, and her writing apparently was such that you could happily read it either way.  For a long time I think she was fairly unique in this sort of genre-bending, but I suspect that we’re beginning to see and will see still more such genre mash-ups as time goes by: both fantasies that are really sci-fi and science fictions that are really fantasies and many other such combinations which are spawning whole new genres.

Another big influence, I suspect, was her portrayal of dragons.  The concept of dragons who telepathically bond with a given rider is something that’s been explored in other fantasy stories – notably Eragon and the other books of Christopher Paolini’s series – but which was first pioneered, to my knowledge, in McCaffrey’s Pern books.  Her take on dragons will continue to be a source of inspiration for generations of fantasy fans and authors to come.  I know even my own takes on this most venerable of fantasy species has been touched by McCaffrey.  That’s how the genre works: a grand master lays down some innovative ideas in a celebrated work, and new writers take those ideas and turn them into other new ideas through a process of iteration and mutation, through homage and parody and carbon-copying and any of a number of other ways, until those ideas are so threaded in the history of the genre that it’s inseperable.

Anyway, I can say without reservation that though I myself never read her books, yet I know her presence in the genre will be missed.  May she find herself flying with dragons in that great beyond.

Have you read any of Anne McCaffrey’s books?  If you’re a writer, have you felt her influence on the genre?

More about Anne McCaffrey’s passing here and here.

The YA Revolution

Some ten years ago, as a young man still in college, I could proudly claim that I hadn’t read any children’s books since I was, in fact, still a child – largely excepting my personal pet favorite, “The Chronicles of Prydain”.  I was an adult, and throughout my teen years and into my early twenties I was reading adult fiction. 

But by that point in time, a publishing phenomenon had begun.  The Harry Potter books were taking the reading world by storm, and a new movie adaptation of the first book in the series was soon due.  I hemmed and hawed and pooh-poohed.  I didn’t read children’s books.  I was an adult.  Other adults might read children’s books, but they were quite beneath me.  Such is the folly of a young man straining to be something more than he yet was.  (And, I suppose, still yet is.)

And then I saw the movie.  And I relented, and I read all the books then extent.  And they were fabulous, and I looked back at my amateurish self and cursed him for not relenting sooner, for what sort of childish sop is so elitist and snobbish that they look down their noses at good books just because of how they are marketed?

Since then, the craze has continued, and it has boiled over.  I’m not talking about the Harry Potter craze.  I’m talking about the YA craze. Continue reading

Finding What to Read (Part 2)

Last time I talked about my “To Read” list, but I didn’t get to the gist of what I wanted to talk about, which is: How do you decide what goes on your reading list?  How do you find books you want to read?  How do you learn about new authors?

For myself, the books on my list have ended up there through any number of circuitous paths.  The George R. R. Martin books, for instance, I’d been hearing good things about for years before I finally bought a copy of the first four at a used book store.  I think I first heard about them on a forum I used to frequent at an RPG community site, where those books came up often in favorites lists.  Brandon Sanderson, meanwhile, I became aware of when he was chosen to finish “The Wheel of Time” after Robert Jordan’s untimely passing.  (Jordan’s books, on the other hand, entered my consciousness mainly because my parents bought them when I was younger). 

Most of the books on my list, however, came to this list over the last couple years, and especially after I started this blog.  I started collecting links to the websites and blogs of different authors.  Continue reading

Finding What to Read (Part 1)…

Being Part the First:

In Which I Declare My Official “To Read” List

During the past three years of grad school, I did very little writing and very little reading.  I finished one novelette-length short story.  I read two novels (both “Wheel of Time” books, and actually only half of the second), half of another novel and a few small volumes of short stories.

Since graduating a few months ago, I’ve upped the amps on my writing.  But my reading is still continuing at roughly the same pace.  Largely, I’d felt so deprived of writing while I worked on grad school that I wanted to focus my free time on writing, at least until I was in the thick of my novel and making solid progress (i.e. at least until I had actual draft wordcount on the novel, and not just background stuff).  But my slow reading these past few years hasn’t stopped a tsunami of excellent fiction from exploding into my consciousness.  It’s for that reason that my “To Read” list has grown into something of an unmanageable behemoth, and an unstoppable juggernaut.  To make anything like a dent in that list I’d have to take a few months off from work and dedicate a lot of time exclusively to reading.  Which… ain’t gonna happen.

At some point, I’m going to pivot some of my time to reading a little more again.  Because it’s not like other writers are going to stop writing awesome books just because I haven’t had time to read them.  And if I don’t read those awesome books, I might die unfulfilled.

Right now, my “To Read” list is broken into four parts, and looks like this:

I. Books I Own

A Clash of Kings* by George R. R. Martin

Mistborn: The Final Empire¹ by Brandon Sanderson

Elantris by Brandon Sanderson

The Way of Kings¹ (signed) by Brandon Sanderson

The Children of Amarid¹ (signed) by David B. Coe

The Name of the Wind¹ by Patrick Rothfuss

A Storm of Swords by George R. R. Martin

A Feast for Crows by George R. R. Martin

The Guide to Writing Fantasy and Science Fiction by Philip Athans with introduction by R. A. Salvatore

The Writer’s Digest Guide to Science Fiction & Fantasy by Orson Scott Card and the Editors of Writer’s Digest with introduction by Terry Brooks (this is a combo volume of Orson Scott Card’s How to Write Science Fiction & Fantasy and Writer’s Digest’s The Writer’s Complete Fantasy Reference) Continue reading

Prescriptive and Descriptive Genres

I’ve been involved in a number of discussions on genre, recently.  As I thought about the many genres and subgenres of speculative fiction – and indeed even outside speculative fiction – I realized that what defines one genre from another is not always consistent.  Some genres have more rules than others, or more specific rules, or rules about different things.  To put it in a simple dichotomy, some genres are more descriptive and some are more prescriptive.

What do I mean by that?  A descriptive genre merely describes what a genre or body of literature looks like.  A prescriptive genre is very codified, and if you fail to abide by that code, you can’t really be said to be writing in that genre.  As I thought about the subject deeper, I concluded that the difference lies in a specific subset of rules: those rules governing the form and structure of a genre.

Descriptive genres are less specific about rules governing form or structure.  They are less formulaic by default.  Instead, the rules governing a descriptive genre are rules of elements.  If certain elements are present in a work of literature, it can be said to belong to the associated genre.  If those elements are absent, it may not be a work of that genre.  These elements may be aspects of setting, character, plot, style and technique and so on.  Fantasy, in the general, categorical sense, is a fairly descriptive genre.  Does the story include elements of magic, mysticism, mythology, the supernatural, or the numinous?  If your work includes these elements of non-real, non-mundane, then it is a work of Fantasy.  Mainstream or Literary fiction is similarly fairly descriptive.  Does the novel employe so-called “literary” techniques (and usually, but not always, does it eschew the non-real elements for a mundane and frequently contemporary setting)?  Then it is a literary novel. 

But many genres are more restrictive and confining than that.  Continue reading

Boys vs. Girls: The Audience of Speculative Fiction

So, earlier this week, I wrapped the first draft of “Story of G”, and I put out a call hoping for some beta readers to provide some feedback.

I was extremely gratified by the response.  Besides my Dear Wife, I’ve got three others currently reading, and anticipate another one or two readers after that.  That’s a much better feedback response than I got with “PFTETD” last year.  Then, besides my Wife, I had a grand total of 2 readers before I went to final edits before submitting the piece.  But I noticed something curious this time around: all my latest beta readers are ladies.

That observation reminded me of this post by author Blake Charlton from last year.  In it, he asks whether the market for speculative fiction books has shifted to cater overwhelmingly, perhaps exclusively, to girls over boys.  I had wanted to blog about that, when I read it, but I guess I never quite felt up to the challenge.  It is a charged and sensitive topic.  In noticing now, however, a shift in my beta readers from all-boys to all-girls a year later, I feel compelled to consider the issue a little more.  I’m delving into some politically choppy waters here, and I know going in that I won’t arrive at any firm conclusions, but I’m very interested to explore issues like this. 

As a writer, I write first out of my own interest and love of speculative fiction – that is to say, I write to entertain myself.  But secondly, I write to be read by others.  Whether those others who read my work will be predominately female, male, or some more equitable mix of the genders will potentially matter to me, especially if the demands and tastes of the one gender group turn out to be very different from those of the other, in which case the question of how best to meet those different demands and tastes in my work becomes quite pertinent.

To dispense with the obvious: I am a boy.  Well, a boy of the somewhat grown-upish variety, but a boy nonetheless.  And I read (and write) speculative fiction – particularly of the Fantasy variety (though “Story of G” is not strictly Fantasy). Continue reading

The Depths of Genre, the Heights of Audience Expectation

I regularly read the Magical Words blog, whree a group of speculative fiction authors joined together to offer writing advice and stories from the word-mines.  Over time, I’ve become ever-so-slightly more active a commenter on the posts, sharing my own thoughts and experience.

One recent post got me thinking about Genre.  In it, fantasy author Misty Massey begins a series of genre-definition posts similar to what you’d find on fellow writer-blogger T.S. Bazelli’s blog.  The post and ensuing discussion made me think about genre a lot (so much so that I was accused of overthinking the matter; I deny the charge as I don’t generally think it’s possible to overthink anything, and more likely to underthink something; I’m guilty of the latter as often as anybody else, but I’d rather be guilty of the former, which I think is no sin).  So, this is going to be a long post.  I’d split it up, but I think I’d lose something salient to my point in doing so.  My intention is to inspire deeper thinking on this topic – maybe even overthinking.  So put your thinking caps on.

Misty sets off on this whirlwind tour of the many genres and subgenres and subsubgenres of Speculative Fiction by discussing high and epic fantasy.  But before launching into discussion of individual genres, she says this:

When you’ve finished your manuscript and are ready to send it out into the world, one of the most important things to know about it is what genre it belongs to. Once upon a time, if a book had magic in it, it was fantasy. Period. Tolkien was fantasy, Tim Powers was fantasy, Glen Cook was fantasy. That’s no longer true. Genres have split and split and split again, becoming more and more specialized as the audiences demanded. Where once agents said they read fantasy, now they say they only want comic paranormal romance, dark epic or dieselpunk. Which puts the writer into a quandary – how do you know what you’re writing? Continue reading