One-Third

Not as much progress as hoped on MARE NUBIUM — but considering last week was packed with something almost every night, writing time was extremely limited. Here was the run-down:

– Tuesday, choir practice (a standing appointment until we take a break after Independence Day)
– Wednesday, Cary Public Art Advisory Board
– Thursday, Triangle Filmmakers’ Special Interest Group (not that I make films, but it’s fun)
– Friday, Vacation Bible School training session
– Saturday, graduation party for four young-uns from the church
– Sunday, the usual plus a Special Called Business Meeting

Then today I spend half the day burning up very expensive gasoline going all over Cary and back and forth to the Baen office in Wake Forest. It seems I spent the other half standing at the counter in the Post Office while they tried to figure out the International Reply Coupons I was cashing in to send responses back to a couple of authors.

So, given all that, I don’t feel so bad that I only made it to a little over 33,000 words. I’m calling that one-third complete, and right now I feel pretty good about it.

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30 Thousand

Another week, another 5000 words on the novel. If I can somehow sustain this rate, I might be finished with the first draft of MARE NUBIUM by Explorers’ Day.*

Shoot, I’ll be thrilled to make it by Halloween, if that means getting it cleaned up and submission-ready by New Year’s.

Onward!

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*My preferred name for Columbus Day.

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DRAGONFORGE, by James Maxey

Finished reading DRAGONFORGE today, on the plane from Atlanta to Raleigh-Durham, and I must say my friend James Maxey has crafted a tight, compelling story that picks up where his excellent BITTERWOOD left off. I thoroughly enjoyed DRAGONFORGE — but how could I not enjoy a book in which one of the leading characters is a dragon named Graxen the Gray?

Seriously, James did a great job expanding and enriching the future world he described in BITTERWOOD. I haven’t been reading much SF or F recently, because I see quite enough in the slush pile that already distracts from writing my SF novel, but I’m glad I read DRAGONFORGE to be reminded of what good genre fiction is supposed to be.

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25,000

Yesterday I passed the 25,000-word mark on MARE NUBIUM, which for me is pretty good progress for a week. Considering the time I spend at my two jobs, I don’t know that I can maintain that pace (this week I had the advantage of some concentrated time in a hotel room). I’m going to try not to get down on myself if I slow down a bit — so long as I don’t stall out again.

The good thing is, given my 100,000-word target, this means I’m roughly a fourth of the way through the thing. But now I should quit with the blog entry and try to get a few words in. ๐Ÿ˜‰

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YouTube, MeTube

I didn’t expect to make the cut (which may mean there wasn’t a cut), but there I am on the “videoblog” fantasy author Gail Z. Martin made at ConCarolinas. Here’s the YouTube link. I’m the last person she talked to that day, right after GOH Mike Resnick.

Surprise, surprise, as Gomer Pyle used to say. And of course I didn’t take the opportunity to plug my web site. Ol’ dopey me.

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ConCarolinas Schedule

Opened my ConCarolinas schedule this morning to find that I’m assigned to a half-dozen panels, including one I specifically didn’t want to be on. So here goes:

Friday
6:00PM โ€“ Best Books Youโ€™ve Never Heard Of – NOW ACCEPTING SUGGESTIONS ๐Ÿ˜ฎ

Saturday
9:00AM โ€“ Fantastic Animals – That is, animals as characters in fiction … done well and poorly
10:00AM โ€“ The Science Panel – What’s up in the world of science, especially with respect to story potential
5:00PM – Putting the Science in your Science Fiction – A nice follow-on to the 10 a.m. panel

Sunday
11:00AM โ€“ Whereโ€™s My Personal Jetpack? – In which I whine (and channel Daniel Amos*) about not having a rocket pack
3:00PM โ€“ Cover Letters – What to do and what not to do, as demonstrated by the slush pile

The con is the 30th of May through the 1st of June, in Charlotte. Visit the ConCarolinas web site for more info.

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*Quick, without resorting to Google: who was Daniel Amos?

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New, just for fun, on the SWF: Space Strategists

One of the folks on Baen’s Bar posted a link to a list of the “Greatest Space Strategists In Military History,” featuring characters from some famous science fiction print and film franchises. So of course I cross-posted it in the “Space Warfare Strategy” portion of the Space Warfare Forum.

It fit right in, even though it’s ๐Ÿ˜‰ just for fun.

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The View From (Under) the Slush Pile

Some of my writing friends asked me about what I look for when I read slush for Baen Books; especially, what makes a book a good potential fit for the Baen line.

Before I answer, let me point out that if a manuscript is at all close to being publishable, I pass it to the publisher, Toni Weisskopf, and let her make the call. She instructed me early on that she only expected me to send her the top 1% of submissions, but I’ve actually sent her more than that. Some I’ve only marginally recommended, if I thought they were good books but might not be quite right for Baen.

That being said, I don’t know if this characterizes any kind of Baen “profile,” but I look for:

1. Stories that are adventurous and fun at their core. Think “golden age of SF.”

2. Stories that are exciting, if not actually action-packed. (Lots of people believe a Baen book must have a battle, brawl, barfight, gunfight, knifefight, or fistfight on every other page. That’s not entirely true, but it’s not entirely false either. Baen fans appreciate action; and what’s more, they know well what makes for realistic action and are ruthless about inconsistencies.)

3. Stories that make sense — e.g., with science, economics, etc., that ring true — and are internally consistent. (This requirement is quite clear in the Baen guidelines.)

4. Stories in which characters’ actions and the consequences of those actions make sense and seem plausible.

5. Stories that, under all the events and characterization, are essentially hopeful. Basically, in a Baen book you should know pretty well who the good guys and bad guys are, and the good guys need to win. Dark and difficult things may happen in a Baen book, but the whole story can’t be dismal.

Note that manuscript mechanics — spelling, grammar, and punctuation — aren’t on the list. That’s because, as Toni puts it, “Story trumps all.” So a good story (i.e., a good SF or F story) has a chance even if the manuscript isn’t pristine. But you still need to proofread well and correct all the typos you can, because you don’t want us to get distracted from the story you’re trying to tell.

When I ran this list by Toni, she wrote,

You can also add that I want to be charmed by the author. Slush is like a blind date — heck, it’s like speed dating — first impressions count. And there won’t be a second date if we don’t see something that could sustain a longer relationship.

Respectfully submitted,
the GrayMan

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The Candidates and SF

On her “Fabianspace” blog, my friend Karina Fabian posits the candidates’ positions on the crucial issue of Science Fiction:

Let’s take just one point: the return of Firefly. I can understand McCain not addressing this — though he’d love the guns and horses, his staff would have to work him into the idea of science fiction as a whole.

But Obama? He’s a democrat — how can he not be aware of a television show? Oh, that’s right. It was on Fox.

Hilary, I think hinted at it with her campaign ad: It’s 3 AM and the terrorists strike. Who do you want in the White House? The answer is obvious:

Malcolm Reynolds.

I love it.

Karina also graciously supported my “Anti-Campaign” in the same blog entry. And even though the Anti-Candidate didn’t get any votes in yesterday’s big primaries (I haven’t seen the results from lower-level races), I vow to stay out of the race until the bitter end! ๐Ÿ˜‰

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The State of Science Fiction

My fellow Codex Writer, Rick Novy, posted a pair of blog entries on the relative decline of science fiction compared to fantasy. He made a clear distinction between the written word and movies: both genres do well in theaters, but for some time F novels have sold better than SF. I think the revitalized LOTR franchise and the wildly successful HP franchise explain some of the current popular interest in F as a genre, but they don’t explain the decline of SF.* (Read Rick’s comments: F Vs. SF, and Who’s Right?)

I agree with Rick that the “new wave” of SF, while it freed SF to tackle things it hadn’t tackled before, also hurt the genre in a fundamental way. I discussed this with Alethea Kontis and Edmund Schubert last year at Dragon*Con, and said then I’d like to see some research into the number and circulation of genre magazines year-by-year from the pulp days to today. I contend that the numbers — which no doubt fluctuated year-by-year due to natural variation — probably fell off precipitously around the conjunction of the “new wave” with the success of the Apollo program. That is, just as the core readership of SF saw the realization of a SFnal dream, their own literature seemed to turn against them and delivered a completely new reading experience that they didn’t appreciate as much.

Maybe I’ll do the research myself, in my copious spare time. [:rolleyes:] Oh, yeah, I’ll get right on that.

With respect to the movies, I’ve pointed out to many people that a great many of the top grossing films are SF or feature SFnal tropes, and they’re usually surprised to realize it. It’s easy to say that movie audiences tolerate SF because the movies make the SFnal elements more accessible than do books — you can see the starship, rather than just imagine it — and that’s why SF readership has declined. But I think there’s more to it than that. If most of us read in order to escape our humdrum, workaday world, F now offers us a clearer escape path: we see items every day that populate many SF stories — computers and cell phones and other gadgetry from which we might be happy to escape for a little while — but not many of us see elves or wizards in the office or the house.

I hope Rick is right, and SF as a genre has matured rather than having died. After all, the novel I’m trying to write is pure SF about environmental engineers working to keep a lunar colony alive. Not exactly riding the current wave, am I?

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* For non-fen, LOTR = Lord of the Rings, and HP = Harry Potter. For the really acronym-challenged, F = fantasy, SF = science fiction, and SFnal = science fictional.

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