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I made the mistake of mentioning on Twitter that some day I would vent about why I hate fantasy maps, and that got enough people asking that apparently today will be that day.

DISCLAIMER THE FIRST: These are my personal opinions as a reader. If you, as a reader who is not me, happen to love fantasy maps and can’t get enough of them, that’s totally fine. This is not a judgment on you. We are allowed to like different things when we’re talking pretendy funtimes and not, say, fascism.

DISCLAIMER THE SECOND: Some of my fellow writers may read this. I want you to please understand that this is not a personal attack on you for having decided to make one of those fantasy maps. Readers have different preferences, and I’m sure you have readers who will like maps as much as I don’t like them. And in fact, despite my preferences as a reader, as a geologist, I would be more than happy to help make sure your fantasy map doesn’t contain horrendous geography for a reasonable fee. Because if they’re gonna be out there, I’d like for your maps to be good ones. And I actually do enjoy maps as objects of art, weirdly enough.

We all on the same page now? Good.

Why I Don’t Like Fantasy Maps: A Short List by Alex Acks

  1. Most of them are terrible. Like geographically, geologically terrible. You’ve already probably seen me complain about the map of Middle Earth. From my experience as a reader, and I’ll readily admit that I have neither had the patience nor time to read every fantasy book ever written, the majority of fantasy maps make me want to tear my hair out as a geologist. Many of them are worse than the Tolkien map, and without his fig leaf of mythology to justify it. (And sorry, it’s not a fig leaf that works for me.)
  2. Corollary: If your fantasy map is terrible, you have probably already lost my willing suspension of disbelief before I even dive into the book. Sorry, but this is what an MS in Geology will do to an otherwise easygoing person.
  3. Corollary: Looking at these maps will often make major worldbuilding issues lunge out at me that otherwise might have slid by. Like, for example, the question of where the hell your massive population center is getting its water when it is located nowhere near a river. Or the question of where they’re getting their food from. And so on.
  4. A lot of fantasy maps stand out very glaringly as lands that have been artificially created around a story that was already written, rather than organic geographies that shape the stories and peoples. This will often point back at the previous three points, because features and geography that are located to suit a story aren’t necessarily going to make any goddamn geographical sense. I find this artificiality annoying.
  5. There’s a tendency in certain fantasy maps to make most country borders follow things like mountain ranges or rivers. This, frankly, looks extremely weird.
  6. The number of people who don’t bother to put a fucking scale on their fucking map astounds me. A map without a scale is functionally useless.
    1. We failed student projects in field lab for not doing this, because without a scale, a map (or diagram, or picture) is meaningless.
    2. Putting some kind of scale or other surveying marks to indicate how distance on a map relates to measured distance is not a recent invention. (Even if the measurements weren’t terribly accurate at times.)
    3. If you don’t put a scale on your map, then it’s basically a relativistic perception exercise for whoever the cartographer was… which could almost be interesting if one of the characters made the map, but I don’t think I’ve ever seen that happen in a book I’ve read.
  7. I get extremely offended as a reader if understanding a book requires me to check an appendix or look at a map for what’s happening to make any sense. It breaks up the flow of reading, and a lot of times, it’s something that could be taken care of in the text.
    1. There is literally only one book I can think of as an exception to this: The Killer Angels. Which is not a fantasy novel; it’s a historical novel that closely follows the Battle of Gettysburg. It’s got some very detailed maps of the battlefield over each of the days in it that it does help to consult for understanding of things like troop movements and line of sight. I have never run across a fantasy novel that hits this level of detail, and honestly I doubt I’d be interested in one.
    2. ETA1: OH WAIT I LIED! There is one other exception, and it is a fantasy map! The map of the Stillness that NK Jemisin has at the beginning of The Stone Sky is A+ and has a scale. I didn’t feel the need to consult it during reading, but it warmed the rockles of my geologist’s heart to see all the plate boundaries laid out for the supercontinent.
  8. If the map isn’t required for understanding of the text, I’m left wondering why it’s even there. It’s not necessary. It’s more information than I need.
  9. I’d rather have the space to imagine things for myself.
  10. I don’t like that the ubiquity of unnecessary maps in fantasy literature puts pressure on me as a writer to follow suit. As someone who has drawn or otherwise generated many a map as a function of my job as a scientist, you can’t make me.

Originally published at Alex Acks: Sound and Nerdery. You can comment here or there.

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In case you didn’t notice… I HAVE A BOOK OUT AAAAAAAAAAA

And a lot of wonderful, intelligent, incredibly good-looking people with impeccable taste have been asking me if there will be a sequel. And the answer is… YES!

As a matter of fact, funny story, but I literally typed “THE END” on the rough draft for the sequel two days after Hunger Makes the Wolf was released in the US. I am in the process of editing it right now. MAYBE EVEN AS YOU READ THIS VERY POST.

I can’t tell you much more about it than that at the moment because I don’t want to get turned into a shuriken pincushion by the Angry Robot MechaNinja Squad(TM), but I can assure you of the following:

  • You will find out what the Bone Collector’s deal is
  • You will find out more about what the fuck is up with this weird-ass planet anyway
  • There is more Mag, more Hob, and a lot more swearing
  • Things will get blown up

If you’d like to get the updates as they come, hey, I have a mailing list!

I appreciate all the support and kind things y’all have had to say about my sweary space witch biker lady friendship book so far. It’s meant a lot to me! And if I can ask one more favor… if you enjoyed it enough that you want a sequel, pretty please go at least rate the book on Goodreads if you do that, Amazon, or wherever you happened to buy it from. That really, really does help. Reviews are like unexpected unbirthday presents! Also, if you have a card at your local library, consider asking them to get the book so other people can enjoy it. 

(All of the above are amazing gifts to give any author whose work you enjoy.)

And if you haven’t read the book yet, now’s your chance! You know I’m not going to leave you hanging sequel-less. And look, people have been saying all kinds of super nice things about Hunger Makes the Wolf:

“It has a wonderful weird west vibe and some of the phrasing is simply delicious. Hob is a wonderful character to follow – hers is a solid journey and I got a bit choked up when Hob stood up for what she wanted. Alex crafts a host of fascinating characters here – the Weathermen, the Bone Collector – and I reckon you’re going to love their adventures.”
E Catherine Tobler, author of the Folley & Mallory Adventures and The Kraken Sea

“This thing drips with tension – between characters, within the story itself – that makes it impossible to put down. I needed to know what would happen next, what would Hob do. Tanegawa’s World may be a desolate and uninviting terrain, but it provides fertile ground for the characters,who truly blossom on the page.”
– Shana DuBois for B&N Sci-Fi & Fantasy Blog

“It’s a science fiction Western thriller, and it is great, and I’m really, intensely, eagerly looking forward to the sequel. This is the sort of thing I really like. UP WITH THIS SORT OF THING.”
– Liz Bourke, for Tor.com

“The story is a fast-paced, edge-of-your-seat space opera, tied together with the characters’ struggles, adventures, and mishaps. If you’ve ever thought, “You know what Dune needed more of? More magic and a biker gang!” then this book was written for you.”
The Canary Review

“I was expecting a fun, quick space adventure read, but this story is so much more than that.”
Helen Lindley

“This one definitely makes it into my ‘Highly Recommended’ stack. I’d pick this one up for sure if you’re looking for a fun action romp with some unique and amazing female characters.”
All Booked Up Blog

“I’m always excited when I find a new book that makes me stay up all night reading because I simply can’t put it down. I’m doubly excited when that book is the first in a brand new series. Hunger Makes the Wolf is both those things. Needless to say that I’m absolutely in love.”
Elena Linville’s Tower of Winds

“This is a very cool novel. Hunger Makes the Wolf is a fun, fast, gripping read.”
– The Irresponsible Reader

Hunger Makes the Wolf is an entrancing addition to any science-fiction lover’s collection. The clever prose alone is enough to grab your attention, but what really makes this novel shine is how immersive it is. The worldbuilding is meticulous, the characters are multifaceted and original, and the present themes are timely and inspiring.”
RT Book Reviews

“I have to commend Alex Wells, this book was a genuine pleasure. Just goes to prove, irrespective of genre, you can’t go wrong with well-rounded characters and a plot that zips along at a good pace.”
The Eloquent Page

“Grab any science fiction book and you’ll see they all have the exact same thing in common: the plots and devices of the stories are all predictable and never stray out of bounds. They hardly even push the envelope and, with great joy, I’m glad the author never got that memo. Here’s why: Wells adds magic to the mix. It’s a stroke of genius I’ve been waiting for Peter F Hamilton or Alastair Reynolds to pull off to no avail.”
The Splattergeist

“It’s a well-conceived, smartly plotted, enthusiastically fast-paced sci-fi adventure with some cool ideas and a couple of excellent lead characters who’ve got plenty growing still to do in future books.”
SF Bluestocking

“This is one gem of a story you shouldn’t miss out on.”
Smorgasbord Fantasia

“I will be picking up future volumes.”
James Nicoll Reviews

“Sharp, honed, and brilliant.”
Skiffy & Fanty

“Obvious parallels to Frank Herbert’s Dune will draw readers into this action-packed tale of tyranny and rebellion, but Wells’s character developments take the plot in new directions, leaving the possibility of a sequel.”
Library Journal

Hunger Makes the Wolf is a great bit of sci-fi with a dash of fantasy, all cleverly disguised as a brutal, kick-ass western. I want more!”
Michael Patrick Hicks

“Angry Robot has really upped its game lately; this is one of their best recent releases. Strong debut and I hope for a sequel to start answering a few more of my questions.”
Fantasy Review Barn

Thank you, everyone. Keep reading!

PS: Slightly-less-FAQ answer: Why yes, Coyote and Dambala are totally banging. They’re basically shitbag murderhusbands.

Originally published at Alex Acks: Sound and Nerdery. You can comment here or there.

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Hey, so I don’t know if you heard about this, but I kind of wrote this little book called Hunger Makes the Wolf and TODAY IT WAS RELEASED IN THE US AAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAA

I mean my goodness, isn’t that beautiful? ISN’T THAT BADASS? And it’s a dead tree book, too! I’ve held it in my hands! I’ve listened in mingled horror and awe as my housemate read a book it took me six years to write in four and a half hours! IT’S REAL.

In my extremely humble opinion, you should go out immediately and buy a copy, which you will give to your best friend. Then buy another copy. You know. To spread the love. You can get the book at ACTUAL FOR REAL BRICK AND MORTAR BOOK STORES as well asAmazon and Barnes and Noble. Also! If you want your ebook to be of the DRM-free variety, head to the Angry Robot site.

Oh, and did I mention? IT’S AN AUDIO BOOK TOO!

AAAAAAAAAAA this is the most exciting day ever.

Originally published at Alex Acks: Sound and Nerdery. You can comment here or there.

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Recently, my buddy Paul mentioned the science fiction short story I love to hate, The Cold Equations.


To be honest, if you want a description of why I find the story morally reprehensible, just go read what Cory Doctorow wrote about it over two years ago and imagine me pointing to every word and screaming, “YES, THIS.” But one thing I do want to talk about is that I think it’s also, frankly, shitty writing craft.

Let me take a moment to raise the drawbridge, I can sense the mob lighting its torches. There we go.

I don’t know if I’ve ever made my disdain of Chosen One/Prophecy/Do X Or The World Blows Up stories clear on this blog, but there it is. I really don’t like stories that are predicated upon removing one of the major choices of its protagonist. Particularly the last – no one short of a sociopath would realistically, upon being told that the world will literally end if they don’t carry the Magic Arglebargle to the Forbidden Closet of Trumblebutt, would say nah, I think I’m good. The understandable period of denial on that one is really just playing coy with the inevitable.

Stories like The Cold Equations are that kind of agency removal on steroids, except at the end you feel like no matter how many showers you take, you will never be clean again. The entire point of the story is the removing all character agency so they are left with one shitty, reprehensible choice. They make the choice, story ends, everyone feels so bad for the poor character and the way they were railroaded by fate in the form of very particular authorial (or in the case of TCE, editorial) choices. Stories that spend a significant amount of words building baroque and frankly unbelievable systems just to force a perfectly good character into a corner aren’t so much stories as torture devices.

They’re also damn boring in my opinion, but that’s because I’m a big fan of character-driven stories. I don’t really want to see someone get moved to and fro by the winds of fate while they feel bad about the situation and do absolutely nothing.

That these stories are often hailed as being somehow realistic is even more problematic. In real life, the number of times someone is backed into a corner where they literally have only one possible choice are vanishingly small. Often times, all of the choices are varying shades of bad, but they are still there. You may feel like you have no choice, but that is not the same as objectively having no choices like occurs in The Cold Equations.

This is not to be confused with a character making a reprehensible choice and then justifying it to themselves with the mantra of “I had no other choice.” That is an intensely realistic reaction. People build their own internal narratives so that they are the hero, or they go mad.

Rather, stories like The Cold Equations are an intrusion of the author into the moral universe of the audience, an attempt to force the character’s internal narrative of “I had no other choice” onto us. They quite literally had no choice, don’t you see? You must remain on their side, dear reader. It’s a cheap way to allow a character to do something utterly terrible and still keep the audience on board. To sympathize with them. Because really, if we were put in the same ridiculous, artificial situation, we’d have to do the same, right?

Recently at a writing workshop, a friend of mine was taking critique on a chapter of his novel. (This story is being told with his permission, by the way.) He had a situation where his main character needed to pretend to have done something terrible to an innocent woman. All right. But then he asked if we, as readers, would still like the character if he roughed the woman up a little to give his charade verisimilitude. Okay, but what if he really, really felt bad about it? What if he had no other choice?

That was the point where I interjected with this question: “Why are you trying to make it okay for your character to beat up a woman?”

Later when we talked a bit more about it, he mentioned that he wanted to be unflinching in his writing. Which strikes me as something a lot of people strive toward. I have opinions about “gritty” fiction that don’t need to be expounded upon here. But my question is why, if you want to be unflinching about the badness of the situation your character is in, do you then flinch away from the negative reaction your audience may have to their choice?

When I was a baby writer, I found writing plots that forced the characters into corners so they had to make the choices I wanted, often in the pursuit of being “gritty” and “edgy.” I have since course corrected, and all of those stories have been mercifully exiled into the Trunk of Awfulness, never to see the light of day. But as I look over those early efforts, I can’t help but feel more than a little creeped out. Because in real life, I can tell you who most often uses the “I had no choice,” narrative to justify the unjustifiable.

I didn’t want to, but you made me hit you. Why would I want to build worlds in which there is no choice but the most immoral? Why would I want to convince readers that it’s a something to sympathize with? It’s something that just couldn’t be helped, because that’s the way the world is?

These are not absolutes, of course. Nothing in art is. Nothing in life is. But the next time you find yourself engineering a situation where your character has no choice, ask yourself why. Ask yourself what you are trying to accomplish. And be unflinching in your answer.

Originally published at Alex Acks: Sound and Nerdery. You can comment here or there.

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I kept meaning to talk about this earlier, but thanks to the ongoing dumpster fire that is everything to do with America right now, I haven’t been able to get the necessary enthusiasm levels going. (And yes, it’s petty in the face of all other things, but thanks a fucking bunch, Trump voters, for ruining both my BFF Mike’s birthday and my book announcement day.)

So. DO OVER. The dumpster fire still burns, but I am carving out a place to be happy and excited about the fact that I have written a novel, and a publisher liked it so much that they bought said novel from me, with actual money, and will subsequently be printing it on thin sheets made from the corpses of trees and sending it out into the world.

And the cover? IS AWESOME.

hunger makes the wolf cover

(And yes, Alex Wells is me. Written under a pen name for reasons I shall explain some other time.)

It’s a book about underdogs fighting corporate greed in the place of a weak and absent government. It’s about a fledgling labor union. There’s also gunfights and space witches, so I’d like to think there’s something for everyone who wants to take down the man. And I wrote the rough draft of it many years ago.

If you regularly read my short stories, you’ve already met the woman on the cover. That’s Hob Ravani, and her origin story made an appearance in Mothership Zeta.

I’m so excited about this, and I can’t wait til you guys get a chance to read it!

Originally published at Alex Acks: Sound and Nerdery. You can comment here or there.

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As of yesterday, I no longer have a job. I wish I could say this is because I’ve spontaneously become independently wealthy, but that’s not the case. I worked in the petroleum industry, and all you have to do is take a look at the per-barrel price of oil over the last year to understand why I’m suddenly without employment.

I’m doing my best to be positive about this. I’m not in a bad place financially, I’ve been unemployed before and I know what I need to do. And I’m going to take this as an opportunity to move back to Colorado and start my life back up there. So hey, you don’t have to listen to me bitch about how I’m Not The Target Audience for Texas any more, and that’s a good thing too. It’s a chance to move into a new phase of life and career, it just would have been kind of nice if I’d taken the leap myself instead of being, you know, pushed.

And this is why I’m writing this blog post. I need your help. Like I said, financial situation isn’t dire, this isn’t an emergency plea, but I also no longer have an income as such. If you like what I do as a writer, please consider supporting me via Patreon, or tip me to the tune of a coffee:
Buy Me a Coffee at ko-fi.com

I’m going to have a lot more time to write now, so if there’s stuff you’d like to see on the Patreon other than my incoherent movie notes, I’m very open to suggestions. I have netflix, a will to live blog, and an unending well of sarcasm.

Beyond that, I’m really looking to pick up freelance work. Obviously I’ve mostly written short stories, but I’ve also got a little screenwriting under my belt (including a year worth of courses at the UCLA extension) and am looking to pick up some more experience there. I can write reviews, and I promise I can adhere to house style just fine and refrain from dropping f-bombs as necessary. If you hear about anyone [who PAYS] looking for writers, please tell me.

I am also still applying for geoscience jobs, though those are hard to come by right now because there are a lot of geologists like me out of work. If you live in Colorado and hear about any jobs, please let me know so I can apply. I can even do field geology or mud logging, I’m totally fine with those things.

This is honestly pretty scary for me, and asking for help like this isn’t something I wanted to do. I’m really sad to have lost a job that I frankly loved (and coworkers that I adored), but I’m going to do my best to keep a positive attitude and move forward. Thank you, everyone. <3

(PS: Adorable cat gifs appreciated as well.)

Originally published at Rachael Acks: Sound and Nerdery. You can comment here or there.

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I made a little list yesterday, about some basic problems I noticed repeatedly in my slush pile. Things worth fixing that’ll help a story survive the savaging of the slush jackalopes, at least.

But what about the stories we liked and loved? And I’m not talking here about just the ones I sent acceptances for. I had 15 or so additional stories beyond those I could accept that I desperately wanted to keep and didn’t have room for. These were decisions that made me cry tears of blood because I didn’t want to make them.

The thing is, it’s way easier to tell you what doesn’t work about a story than quantify what does.

After the initial Rejectopocalypse, I had 58 stories left. How did I get that down to the stories I ended up picking?

There was a sort of two-tiered process to how I filled out the ToC . There was an initial set of stories that I read that just clicked with me so well, I put them in a file labeled “You can have these stories when you pry them from my cold, dead hands.” Each one of these stories was a hill I would have been willing to die on, so to speak. And there weren’t that many of them. They didn’t even take up half of my available space, when all was said in done.

A few of the stories that ended up on that list didn’t even make it there on first reading; I thought they were good and liked them a great deal, but wasn’t immediately ready to fight a great white shark armed with an assault rifle for them. But those stories lingered, and niggled, and refused to let me go, and a week later I was still thinking about how utterly fucked up they had made me feel. I realized I couldn’t let them go either.

But the bulk of those 58 stories in the second round were simply “stuff wot the jackalopes and I liked,”  and there were way too many of them. So I went over those with a much less forgiving eye. A lot of stories, I enjoyed, but had to tack on a mental caveat of “but X needs to be tweaked.” Unless X amounted to copyediting issues, I made myself let those go. Other quite good stories were too similar to stories that I considered non-negotiable, either in plot or tone or topic, so those I let go as well. That took us down to around 35, when things got really brutal.

I ended up dragging my excellent slush jackalopes onto a Skype call so we could sit down in real time and look at what we had. Fights were had. Alcohol was imbibed to deal with the pain. Stories were sorted into keep or go piles. But the reason I wanted the slush jackalopes on the call was that each of them had a few stories that were hills they were willing to die on, and I thought that was important. A story that I thought was very good and merely (“merely“) liked might be a gut punch to one of them. I needed perspectives from outside myself, from people who knew the shape of the slush, because otherwise I was at a stalemate of, gosh I like all this stuff equally and 35,000 words of it has to go, what do I do?

So what made for the stories we universally liked and someone was willing to fight for? There’s not a single answer, partially because I tried to choose a wide array of stories that cross the genres from hard scifi to high fantasy, the tones from utter bleakness to screwy hilarity. (You’ll see what I mean when I finally show you the ToC.) The best I can come up with is:

  • Stories with a strong narrative voice and tone. This isn’t just about first person narration; there’s a tone that goes with third person as well, that’s evident in word choice and sentence structure. Every story we loved had a consistent tone and a strong voice that made us want to keep reading.
  • Good pacing. Pacing is what knocked a lot of the stories out at the second round; pacing hiccups are one of the most frustrating things in the world to try to fix as a writer, and I didn’t even want to deal with it as an editor. I won’t say that all of the stories we kept were fast-paced; there are a couple I’d consider to have a very deliberate feel to them. But they don’t stop. They don’t bog down. They’re exactly as long as they need to be.
  • Fascinating characters. Most of them, we liked. Some of them, we just wanted to follow and see what kind of train wreck they’d be getting into.
  • The stories that were funny made us laugh out loud. Heartily. Inappropriately.
  • We have a profound weakness for ridiculous, long titles, but only if the story that follows supports it.

But those things? Aren’t that helpful if you’re looking for a blueprint, except perhaps for the point about pacing. You can get into some useful wonkery with pacing and arranging your beats and making sure none of them are lasting too long, and that might help. But I don’t think anyone sets out to write characters who aren’t fascinating, or stories that don’t have a strong tone. I’m sure everyone who sent us a funny story thought we’d find it funny.

And that’s perhaps the point. While there are objective measures (many of them grammar-based) that can tell us if a story isn’t going to work, there’s not a rubric I could give to say what does. This is your reminder, then, that getting published is ultimately a crapshoot. You could be at the top of your prose game, you could have a tight story with great characters and an interesting plot, and unless it hit one of us in just the right way to make her say I would wrestle a bear for this story, it wasn’t going to make it. And I think it’s worth remembering that the stories I was willing to go to bat for were not all the same stories the jackalopes defended with their antlers filed to razor sharpness.

I know we’ve all had the experience of reading a story and thinking who the hell paid actual money for this, my story is way better. Sometimes you might be right, but sometimes it’s that your story didn’t deliver the plot payload the way you’d hoped, because no two editors are the same. Maybe you got the wrong editor, the wrong time of day, the wrong phase of the moon. There’s no knowing. If being able to write a story that punches someone in the gut and steals their emotional lunch money is the best part of being a writer, it’s also the most frustrating. Because you’ll never know if that punch landed until you open your email and see yes instead of no.

Originally published at Rachael Acks: Sound and Nerdery. You can comment here or there.

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I’ve now sent the last of the responses for the anthology; if you haven’t gotten an email of some sort from me and submitted a story, please query immediately. This is the first time I’ve ever truly dived into a slush pile, and it was a really cool experience. I ended up enjoying way more stories than I could fit in the anthology, which made writing the last round of rejections particularly agonizing.

But after shoveling all the slush, here’s some things I noticed. These are not meant to specifically call someone out, and I will not be naming names because that would be damn rude and unkind. Any details are made up as examples.

Technical Things

  1. A lot of people apparently don’t know what is meant by standard manuscript format. But honestly, I’m not even this picky. I just want double spacing, indents on the first line of each paragraph, a readable font, your contact info, and a header with page numbers.
  2. If you can’t be bothered to send me your story in one of the acceptable document formats I list, I can’t be bothered to open it.
  3. Please don’t summarize your story for me in your query letter. I want to read your story and find out for myself. In fact, summarizing in the query letter actually makes it more difficult for me to evaluate whether your story accomplishes what you set out to do.
  4. Please make sure you have deleted all editing comments and accepted all tracked changes in a document before sending it. I really don’t want to know how the sausage was made before it arrived in my inbox. (Note that this did not cause me to reject anyone, but it was super distracting.)
  5. You’d better darn well know what you’re doing with ellipses or one of my slush jackalopes will probably take out a hit on you.
  6. Commas are extremely important. They make the difference between sarcastic insult (“Awesome, jerkoff”) and porn (“Awesome jerkoff”).
  7. If you’re not querying a piece as a reprint, it better not have been published anywhere. Ever. Things that count as publishing even if you made not a blessed cent and only your grandmother saw it: putting it in your uni literary magazine, posting it publicly on your blog, publishing it in your church bulletin, writing it up on a series of pictures that you’ve shared on instagram. And so on.
  8. Don’t tell me what the speculative element is. If I can’t locate it without you telling me beforehand, I’m not going to accept your story.
  9. A lot of stories really stumbled when it came to the integration of the first line. If I can tell it’s literally pasted onto the start of a story and nothing’s been adjusted around it, that’s not going to fill me with confidence. Also, I admit this is a weakness of such a prompt, if a narrator starts with “No Shit, there I was” and the rest of the story contains absolutely no cussing and no colloquial language, that’s going to be very dissonant.
  10. I don’t generally find puns amusing. Sorry, punsters. This is a flaw in my character I’ve never been shy of pointing out.

General Plot Things

  1. Speaking of speculative elements, it has to have a clear “what if” that is fantastic or science fictional in some way. If your main character just thinks the orange on their desk is talking to them, that’s not speculative. If the orange on their desk is actually talking to them, then it is speculative.
  2. Stories need to have a fully realized plot with a beginning, middle, and end, in which something changes. It could be the character. It could be the development of the plot itself, or a change in the world caused by the action of plot and character.
    1. What does not count as a plot: several thousand worlds in which a narrator describes the history of the world in a giant, expository dump. If there is more time spent by your character describing the world than actively interacting with it, you do not have enough plot.
    2. Personally, I prefer character driven stories, where the internal and external needs to the character either drive the plot or become developed through interaction with the plot. However, if you write a really good plot driven story (there are several in the anthology) I will still enjoy it!
  3. First act bloat is a problem I battle, myself. But the setup of the world and the introduction of the plot should be at most 1/3 of your page count. Multiple stories had a first act break was 1/2 to 2/3 of the way of the page count in, which makes for an unevenly paced read.
    1. Your story needs to have a beginning, middle, and some kind of conclusion. If it reads like the first chapter of a novel, it’s not going to work as a self-contained short story.
    2. Three act structure is most definitely not required or necessary, but it’s not a bad place to start if you’re not sure about your pacing. An alternative tool is Jule Selbo’s 11 steps (broken out here in three act structure, but actually they don’t have to be); while this is a film structure tool, it’s useful for examining the development of plot and character.
  4. Twist endings can be good, but they still need to make some kind of sense. Approach with caution. I need to be able to look back on the rest of your story and think ah, now X, Y, and Z make sense or oh man that totally screws with my perception of all those events! If your “twist” amounts to kids picking daisies in a field and suddenly a lorry comes screaming out of nowhere and runs them over, that’s not actually a twist. It’s a non sequitor.

Thoughts about the how and why of the successful stories to follow later.

And hey! I’m raising money for Act For Change by hate watching Gods of Egypt. You should check it out.

Originally published at Rachael Acks: Sound and Nerdery. You can comment here or there.

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I’m sure none of I’m about to say comes as a surprise to anyone reading this blog. But I still think it’s important to say over and over again, as a reminder to myself and others. Because women (and people of color, and people with non-binary genders, and people who aren’t heterosexual [including the dreaded bisexuals]) are not wild animals that hide in trees every time film crews happen to be around.

There are a lot of Indie speculative films that I’m excited about, but the more I build my list, the more painfully obvious it become that women are so rare in these imagined worlds, they might as well be unicorns. I don’t know how any of these people reproduce. At best, you get small films with two male characters and a single female character caught between them (Ex MachinaZ for Zachariah). At worse, it’s an entire team of men, sometimes if you’re lucky with some racial diversity, and the Token Tough Woman. Sometimes there’s also the Token Love Interest Woman. Often, they’re the same woman.

I recently had the privilege of reading some stories by unpublished writers (though I don’t think they’ll remain unpublished for long) and partway through the pile, I couldn’t help but notice that the characters within were either all male, or with a token female. There was only one story I read that had a female main character. I don’t blame new writers for this kind of thing. When I was just starting out, most of my characters were male. The first two novels I ever did for NaNoWriMo had male main characters. I was a couple years into writing my own stuff before I ever wrote a female main character (Hob Ravani, whom you will all get to meet soon, promise) and she was completely surrounded by men.

I think for me, it was partially an outgrowth of the writing I did before I switched to my own original fiction: I wrote a shitload of fanfiction. And with a few exceptions (like Sailor Moon) here and there, my fanfiction was always about male characters, because those were the ones in the anime series or book series or movie that were interesting.

Which brings us back to my list of movies and its depressing lack of women.

I know female characters can and do have interesting stories. I write stories about them now myself. But it’s this vicious cycle where we’re surrounded by media that tells us only men have interesting stories… and the education for the production of that media sure doesn’t help. Look at the beat sheet bible that gets used and overused for film writing: Save the Cat. I don’t think Mr. Snyder is expressing more than the constant background level of societal sexism when he frames all conflicts and characters as being about male characters, and getting the girl, and so on. But it still sticks with you. And then you go and write stories about men, because women are obviously boring and don’t do anything but be the girlfriend.

I finished writing and editing a second-world fantasy novel this year. One of the basic world building concepts was that where the story takes place, the female to male birthrate is two or three to one. And I still had to have it pointed out to me by my long-suffering beta reader that while there were a lot of women as background, almost all of the characters with actual speaking roles were men. And it made no sense. On the edit I went through and changed every male character into a female character unless I had a specific reason he needed to be male. Much better.

I’m working on a screenplay now, for the classes I’ve been taking. Of the core set of characters, one is female and three are male; I can’t really help that, since those three are on a tank crew in a country where crews are all male. But as I’ve continued on, I’ve made a very conscious effort to write the side characters as female unless I have a reason to make them male. And the same principle can be very easily applied to making certain characters of color exist in writing, and characters with different sexualities/gender identities, etc.

And no, this is not “forcing” “political correctness” into my writing. This is actually acknowledging that women exist in the fucking worlds we build as more than furniture in the background. Just like we do in real life. This is challenging my unconscious mental presumption that all characters somehow must be male unless there is a defining need for them to be female. And if other people have a problem with it, it tacitly forces them to admit their sexism (racism/homophobia/transphobia) out loud and attempt justification. Sometimes, in situations like that, people finally listen to themselves talk. Sometimes, other people are listening. It’s a start.

I look forward to the day when I have to go through a story or script I’ve written and switch some of the characters to male because there’s not a realistic enough number. Maybe then I’ll have finally purged that bias from my system.

Originally published at Rachael Acks: Sound and Nerdery. You can comment here or there.

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A while ago I wrote a little story about those mysterious beings known to the unfortunates who encounter them as bakery elves. This is because I have a friend who has, unwittingly, risen to the bready height of their rank. Since then, I’ve written a couple of sketches about Jester’s adventures as a unproven bakery elf:

First night on the job

Mandatory training

More may come if he keeps telling me amusing stories.

Originally published at Rachael Acks: Sound and Nerdery. You can comment here or there.

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Remember that silly story I wrote a year ago, about math and waffles and an alien invasion, only it’s really about choosing your family and loving people for who they are? (And waffles.) It’s back! BuzzyMag has reprinted it and given it oh gosh, the cutest little illustration ever.

So go read it! And eat waffles! Raise a toast to the Blender, may he rest in peace.

Oh and by the way, don’t forget I wrote a bunch of stuff last year that’s eligible for awards!

Originally published at Rachael Acks: Sound and Nerdery. You can comment here or there.

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Sure is that magical time of year again! So, this is what I had published in 2014!

Short stories:

Novelette:

All of it is available, free to read, online at the above links. If you have limited reading time, I urge you to read They Tell Me There Will Be No Pain first, then The Heart-Beat Escapementand then What Purpose a HeartStories marked with the green stars contain LGBTQ material.

I also urge you to nominate the Skiffy and Fanty Podcast in fancast and podcast categories! And I’m not just saying that because I’m one of the regular hosts.

I wrote six episodes of the Six to Start game Superhero Workout. The game as a whole is pretty awesome and deserves to be nominated for things as well if you ask me!

Originally published at Rachael Acks: Sound and Nerdery. You can comment here or there.

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So… it’s a book! An anthology, more exactly, of the five Captain Ramos novellas. Just in time for more new novellas to come out. (Soon. Very soon.)

I’ve been working on this for a while, coming up with some new material to go with the five novellas. And a title as ridiculous and awesome as Sausages, Steam, and the Bad Thing: a compendium of (mis)adventures both dashing and dire of that most infamous pirate, Captain Ramos is not just going to write itself.

And it may or may not include an extra little story about everyone’s favorite, face-eating, tiny dog, Chippy. (It totally does.)

Go! While the cake book is still fresh and warm from the oven! It’s at the Musa Publishing site!

Originally published at Rachael Acks: Sound and Nerdery. You can comment here or there.

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Written This Year

Novels: I finally, finally, finally finished King’s Hand during Thanksgiving break. I am dreading the editing because it is a hot mess and then some. And then I immediately started a new project currently called Wrath: a Love Story because I hate myself. I also put together an anthology of the Captain Ramos novellas, which involved writing new material to go with each one!

Shorter Stuff

  • Flash: 2
  • Short Stories: 3? :( Though I did serious re-edits on 3 older short stories.
  • Novellettes/Novellas: 4
  • Short Scripts: 20 (oh, okay, that’s where all my writing time went)

Consigned to the trunk of awfulness, never to return: Only one, though safe to say that at least 5 of the short scripts haven’t been so much put in the trunk as just written in there to begin with for practice.

Best/favorite story of the year: Actually, my favorite is one of the episodes I wrote for Six to Start‘s Superhero Workout game. Because it involved a ludicrous number of references to various musicals. And even though I wrote They Tell Me There Will Be No Pain last year, I’m super stoked about it having been in Women Destroy Sci-fi‘s limited edition print book and getting to be in Lightspeed!

Magic Spreadsheet Wordcount: I started tracking on the magic spreadsheet on June 24, 2013.

  • Wordcount is at: 562,047, which makes it 353,488 for the year
  • Average words per day: 968 (I can live with that)
  • Days in a row written at: 555 so that means yes, I’m at over a year of writing at least 250 words every day!

Publishing
Queries sent: 38
Rejections received: 31
Pending: 6
Most rejections received: Definitely Flash Bang, the Long Game, which now has 21 rejections total, and collected 7 of those this year. Most of the rejections I receive are not form and very complimentary. No one wants it. I refuse to give up.
Total earned: $3,109.24, a large portion of which is thanks to Six to Start. Still significantly in the red considering my outlay, but I have zero complaints. It was a pretty awesome year in that standpoint, even if I’m disappointed in my query numbers.

Published this year:

  1. They Tell Me There Will Be No Pain from Lightspeed Magazine (Payment was donated to UNICEF UK.) (12/1/14)
  2. Six episodes of Superhero Workout Game
  3. Asleep in Zandalar from Abyss and Apex (6/30/14)
  4. List of Items in Leather Valise Found on Welby Crescent from Shimmer #19
  5. What Purpose a Heart from Scigentasy (5/3/14)
  6. The Heart-Beat Escapement from Crossed Genres (4/1/14) and a little bonus material
  7. Perfect Blue, Scorched Black from Perihelion (2/12/14)
  8. A World of Speculation from Lakeside Circus (2/8/14)
  9. And Still Champion from The Lorelei Signal (January 2014)

Slated for 2014: 

  1. Only a Crack in a Black Glass Wall in Welcome to the Future
  2. The Adventures of Captain Ramos: Year One (collection) from Musa Publishing
  3. The Flying Turk from Musa Publishing
  4. Extradition from Musa Publishing
  5. Concerning Minister Wu’s Tea from Musa Publishing

Stories put online this year: 

  1. Midnight Baking

Goals for 2015: 

  1. Shut up and write. Always.
  2. Keep plugging away at the new novel.
  3. Write at least one feature-length screenplay because I believe I can do it.
  4. Then cry because I will have yet another long thing sitting on my hard drive and slushpile hell argle bargle weh weh weh fart noise sad trombone.
  5. I can still dream of having an agent, can’t I?
  6. Birthday story for Mr. TH. I know what I want to write. Just have to do it. Don’t choke, self.
  7. Finish editing second novella I owe Musa. Write the third and turn it in. Come up with proposals for one or two more for 2016.
  8. Write at least one brave, difficult, strange story that makes me weep at my keyboard.
  9. Write a few more short stories. Be better about slushpiling novels.
  10. Speaking of, get Throne of Nightmares out into a slush pile already. (Fire in the Belly actually is sitting in another, currently at four months and counting…)
  11. Submit some shorts to a festival or two because Sera believes in me.
  12. Get back out there and look for more script writing freelance work.

Other/Personal Shit

  1. Have been involved in the terrifying and Byzantine process of planning to shoot a short film. And I haven’t even been doing the difficult stuff, holy shit.
  2. Survived my first workshop at work, presented a well, wore a bow tie while doing so and looked goddamn fabulous.
  3. Had surgery on the big toe of my left foot. You know how I said shoulder surgery sucks? I’m honestly starting to feel like this foot surgery has sucked way more. Something to do with that whole foot being constantly in use due to walking and standing thing.
  4. Got divorced.

It’s been an interesting year.

Originally published at Rachael Acks: Sound and Nerdery. You can comment here or there.

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It is 11:37 in the dark of night. The hour of yeasting. Sian’s sprawled across her brand new reclining sofa, only just bought from Sofa Mart by way of a downright predatory loan because she wanted to own leather furniture for once in her goddamn life and had already decided to be buried with it. Stainmaster, they told her. Tough enough to withstand a pack of great danes or half a day with a rambunctious toddler.

But they didn’t say jack shit about evil fairies. She’s just finished part one of a two-parter for Criminal Minds and is eating hummus directly from the plastic container with a spoon because after your fourth twelve hour shift in a row while holiday music does an endless loop and summons forth the devil in the automotive aisle at Target, going to the grocery store sounds about as appealing as doing lines of ground glass off the floor of a truck stop bathroom.

Sian knows she’s fucked the minute she sees the sparkly puffs of flour out of the corner of her eye, and catches the smells the sweet scent of baking bread mixing unappetizingly with the acrid stench of scorching leather. “Oh, come on.”

Read the rest of this entry »

Originally published at Rachael Acks: Sound and Nerdery. You can comment here or there.

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Just in case you hadn’t heard yet: I HAVE A STORY IN LIGHTSPEED AW YEAH HOW DO YOU LIKE ME NOW

I’m in a TOC with NK Jemisin. I’m in a TOC with NK Jemisin. MY HEART CANNOT HANDLE THIS.

Anyway. Whew. Deep breaths. Yes. The Tell Me There Will Be No Pain is in December’s issue of Lightspeed, now available from many a fine purchasing establishment. If you want to wait (and you shouldn’t), it will be available online on 12/30. Trust me, I’ll say something on my blog when that happens.

Colonel Rathbone attends my final debriefing. I’m wearing a paper hospital gown that doesn’t cover my ass; I’ve got a breeze where no breeze has any right to be, from the back of my neck right down where the good Lord split me. But despite that I’m sweating, the backs of my thighs sticking to the paper covering the hospital table. The metal contacts set all around my head feel cold, sending little shocks that make my teeth itch…

Technically, this is actually a reprint, since the story was originally published in the special edition of Women Destroy Scifi that went to the Kickstarter backers. Not exactly a wide release, if a special one that had me super excited. So I’m really happy that this story will finally be widely available to read. It’s an important story to me, and probably the best one I’ve ever written thus far.

And also:

Screen Shot 2014-12-01 at 11.47.01 AM

$385 encompasses the original payment plus the reprint payment for being in the December issue. And you might recall what this means; it’s the same deal as two years ago with Comes the Huntsman. Story written as a birthday gift for Tom Hiddleston, funds get donated.

I hope you all run out and get this issue of Lightspeed right now. This story is incredibly important to me, for a lot of reasons. And I hope you’ll consider supporting UNICEF with me this month as well.

Originally published at Rachael Acks: Sound and Nerdery. You can comment here or there.

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I’ve realized that one of the reasons I’ve become increasingly frustrated with the whole you can tell she’s a strong female character because she spends all of her time rolling her eyes and threatening to punch the boys (as seen in The Maze Runner, for example) is that as a teenager I basically was that character. I spent a lot of my time threatening to punch people and hanging with the guys by being pretty aggressive.

You know what that got me told? You’re not like other girls. You’re cool.

And in a sort of chicken and egg feedback loop, that made me willing to laugh at and tacitly encourage some incredibly misogynist joking and “pranks.” Which also, by the way, apparently later fed into the idea that I was a butch lesbian and it was totally cool for guys to engage in some pretty sexist banter about various other women with me.

I’m ashamed of a lot of that in retrospect.

I obviously don’t think there’s anything wrong with being butch or having a masculine presentation. (Duh.) But the more I think about how that so often translates out into buying in to the most toxic aspects of masculinity:

  1. Casual violence
  2. Casual misogyny
  3. Belief that the masculine is on its face superior to the feminine
  4. Being not like the other girls or cool means abandoning other women and considering them inferior

…the more it really upsets me.

I’d like kids who were like me, struggling with being a girl while finding the feminine an ill-fitting societal construct, to be able to read about characters like them. I pretty much stopped reading books about girls/women at that age because I was reading adult SF/F and there weren’t a whole lot of female main characters to begin with, but also because in all honesty, reading about female characters putting on makeup and dresses and carrying their vampire killing guns in their purses—all of which are perfectly okay things, please don’t get me wrong here—made me feel inadequate and like an outsider. Like my books were telling me I was doing the whole being a girl thing wrong. And at that point, I generally defaulted to reading about men, because at least men got to wear trousers and sensible shoes.

(Nowadays, I do not have a problem with this any more. Probably because I’m no longer an adolescent, self-hating hot mess, and I’ve also developed a lot more empathy as a reader; I like reading about people who are very different from me.)

So basically what I’m saying is that I want to see female characters who are strong in a lot of different ways. And I want to see female characters who get to be “masculine” without doing it in a toxic, hurtful way. I want to see “masculinity” used as a character trait, not the marker that a character is different and better and strong.

Because as I’ve pointed out before, not threatening to punch people actually takes a hell of a lot more strength.

(Was going to tweet these thoughts. Realized I had way too much to say. Apparently 500 words of way too much to say.)

Originally published at Rachael Acks: Sound and Nerdery. You can comment here or there.

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I keep complaining that I’ve got serious dystopia fatigue. All the big popular properties right now—particularly in film—tend to be set in dystopias. I’m still intensely upset that Star Trek, which arguably had utopian elements in it, has been rebooted as more of a dystopia. You know. Assuming you could pull a coherent plot out of the hot mess that was the second movie I’m still totally pretending didn’t happen except for the bits with Simon Pegg.

It’s come up a couple of times recently, the question why there aren’t more utopias in writing these days. David Annandale linked to this article on Twitter a couple weeks ago. Andrea Phillips mentioned utopias and the intense difficulty of writing them on (I think) this week’s The Cultures podcast. Personally, I took a stab at trying to write a utopian shot story a couple years ago. It didn’t go well. Which is why I’m sort of shame-facedly admitting it on my blog rather than humblebragging about it.

The thing is, the more I think about it, the more it kind of pisses me off that we’re having such problems coming up with utopian fiction. I think part of the problem is the way we’re defining a utopia. If it’s a perfect society where everyone is absolutely perfectly happy and nothing ever goes wrong then… yeah. That would be a pretty tall order when it comes to trying to come up with a decent, gripping story. There’s a lot more dramatic tension you can easily harvest out of a complete hellhole where everyone is constantly fucking miserable.

I think dystopias are also really tempting because a lot of the suffering faced by real people right now, and a lot of the problems we have are based upon societal failings becoming less and less easy to ignore, thanks in part to social media. If what happened (and is still happening) in Ferguson doesn’t make you want to run out and start writing cautionary tales about the militarization of the police, you have not been paying enough attention.

Though the point also cannot be made strongly enough that if you turned down the hyperbole on dystopias just a little, you could point to that being the every day reality of a great many people in so-called “first world” countries. They just don’t tend to look like the people who write the YA novels and get sweet movie deals out of it.

Maybe that’s why dystopias have become the easy write and the easy(ish) sell at least until the market became glutted. It’s not hard to look around and imagine “this, but a million times worse.” Every dystopian book has its evil, mustache twirling, despotic leader, but the ultimate villain is the society itself. And the attraction of reading dystopian books is also pretty clear, because for the most part the message ends up being that yes, everything is total shit, but a few brave souls going through an admittedly rough heroic journey can still fix it.

It makes great escapist fiction for modern misery, because we’d all really like to believe, say, that climate change could be stopped by a single young person with perfect skin if they just get pushed hard enough. It’s a much nicer idea than the incredibly depressing reality. Society is the evil dragon, and a hero will rise to slay it, and then we can handwave off the question of what happens next because our hero’s personal journey is complete and presumably everything that follows is boring.

One would hope the boring bit that happens after is the utopia. But you never know, because no one ever writes one. And I’m starting to really think that’s a problem, because we’re writing over and over and over again about slaying the dragon of the broken and malicious social order, but not coming up with anything to fill the resulting vacuum.

And I think it’s very important that we try. I’m with Charles Stross on this one:

We need — quite urgently, I think — plausible visions of where we might be fifty or a hundred or a thousand years hence: a hot, densely populated, predominantly urban planetary culture that nevertheless manages to feed everybody, house everybody, and give everybody room to pursue their own happiness without destroying our resource base.

So now that I’ve bitched about why I think we’re here for 700 (sob) words, what do I want to do about it?

I think the first thing is, we need to stop saying that the utopias have to be perfect. At this point, I’d settle for a society that’s pretty darn good but still has some cracks in it. Like Starfleet in old-school Trek. Or even what we saw in Her, which was not explicitly a Utopia, but you get the distinct feeling that certain things just aren’t problems any more and at least everyone has enough to eat.

How about instead of imagining a society where everything is somehow perfect, we just imagine a society where everything is better. Where the society is not actively malicious and hurting its citizens? A society where everyone has enough to eat and somewhere to live and doesn’t have to be afraid of getting randomly shot by the police. How about that? At this point, those things sound quite Utopian to me.

I think perhaps because of the dystopia glut, we’ve gotten into this mindset that the society needs to be the story, when we’re writing social fiction. Because yes, The Hunger Games is about Katniss, but her antagonist is the fucked-up dystopia. In a utopian story, the utopia by definition is not and cannot be the antagonist. Hell, maybe it should even be the hero! But at the least it can be the backdrop for the story you do write.

But if the antagonist isn’t the society, where does the conflict come from?

Just a bit of brainstorming:

  • There’s always the threat from outside. You shouldn’t assume that the utopia is global, right? Though this is one that would need some real caution and deep thought, because utopia deserves better than bullshit that boils down to they hate us for our freedom. Barf. Forever. But maybe the threat is economic. Maybe the threat is a nasty colonial power that wants your resources.
  • Go for the threat from way outside and have an alien invasion? How is a utopian society—one that has presumably been at peace for a while—going to deal with suddenly needing a defense budget and soldiers? Or has your utopian society been at peace?
  • Non-sentient exterior threats also exist. There will still be diseases. Utopia doesn’t mean they will be instantly cured, or even that the resources will exist for immediate, excellent research. What kind of sacrifices will people have to make in order to come up with the necessary resources?
  • Environmental disasters will still happen. Global warming will probably still be a thing. Extraterrestrial objects might still wander into our orbital path. How will utopia deal with refugees? (Lots and lots and lots of refugees.)
  • Does curing a lot of the malignancies in society mean that there will be no crime whatsoever? Will there still be thievery, or serial killers? I have no idea, really. But unless your utopia is also a perfect surveillance state (yet still a utopia), I’d argue there might still be room for a murder mystery. And crime might be even more shocking because presumably a lot of the criminal activity that isn’t motivated by pure sociopathy will have ended once people have enough to survive and thrive.
  • Or heck, what about less violent crimes, but things motivated by ego? What about corruption and fraud? (Particularly scientific fraud!) Will there still be charlatans? Remember, sometimes the worst medical charlatans are people who believe their own dangerous nonsense. Even if money is no longer in the pictures as main motivation, what about the lure of fame and praise? In a densely populated world, I can’t help but think there’d be a big draw to feeling special and respected and well-known. Because I don’t honestly think utopia is going to cure the desire to feel special.
  • If your utopia is one with minimum basic income but money still exists, wealth can also still be a motivator for malfeasance. Why just live in your small, shitty, free apartment and eat normal food when you could get better digs and have meat that’s not grown in a vat! That stuff’s for plebes, man.
  • Is the economic system still going to be nominally capitalist? Are companies going to suddenly stop trying to be dicks to their employees just because society is awesome? Hey libertarians, here is your opportunity to write me a convincing libertarian utopia that doesn’t involve saying fuck everyone else, let ‘em crash.
  • And in that vein, there’s always the threat to society from within. Not because someone is politically opposed to no one starving, say, but because maybe people still have a tendency to be vain, selfish, and cruel. Or at the least corruptible. Just skimming a little off the top won’t hurt anything, will it? So how is your utopia going to combat that creeping threat? Who will watch out for it, and who will watch the watchers?
  • Are there sentient machines in your utopia? Genetically engineered, sentient non-humans? How does your utopia treat them? Or how does your utopia deal with other nations that aren’t utopia developing those things?
  • Will your utopia still have religion? Will there still be political disagreements? A lot of utopias seem to posit that everyone will believe the same things, but is that really the only path to utopia? Is that even possible?
  • And as a continuation of that, you see so many utopias where in many ways people have all become the same. (They even dress the same in Future Society Jumpsuits.) Can you make a utopia that’s entirely about accepting and celebrating differences? How will that even work? Will distinctive cultures survive and still be passed on between generations? Will old ways of doing things be preserved, yet still fit in to utopia?
  • Will there still be prejudices? If your utopia is completely perfect, maybe not. But if you’re going for a society that has a minimum basic income, housing for all, and good education, would those things necessarily combine to root out the shitty human desire to be mean to others who aren’t in their in-group?
  • What about the arts? What about music? What about parties? Are people still going to get drunk and end up in a field without their trousers? Oh god what if you drunk-called that appealing person of indeterminate gender from work and now they think you’re an idiot god why do you always listen to Jen, they have the worst ideas.
  • What about roadtrips? What about discovering yourself? Wouldn’t it be great to get to go on a journey of self-discovery when you don’t have to simultaneously worry about the specter of crippling credit card debt?
  • What about drugs? Will addictions still exist at all? Is everyone suddenly going to become super healthy? Is everyone going to suddenly agree on the best way to be healthy?
  • What about disability? Is the utopia for all of the able-bodied people still going to be a utopia for anyone who isn’t? Is trying to avoid this issue by waving your hand to cure all genetic conditions and fixing or preventing all injuries not only cheating but also a bit evil? If disability is incredibly rare, what is it like to be the only person, say, with amazing robot legs in utopia? Even if in utopia people aren’t shitty about it, it’s still going to be a different experience, isn’t it?
  • What about teenagers being teenagers and asserting their independence in the most frustrating way possible?
  • How about population control? Will there have to be some kind of limiting factor on population? Can you manage that without creeping toward dystopia?
  • I’m pretty sure people in utopia will still want to explore space. Or if they don’t want to, you’d better explain yourself.
  • You’ve got to be kidding me if you think people aren’t going to still feel alienated or lonely or insignificant or like no one in the world understands them.
  • Even if much of the above is invalidated because the culture is perfect, people are still going to be people. There will still be interpersonal conflicts, and romances, and just not knowing what the hell you want to be when you grow up. Are those stories worth telling? I would argue yes. Ultimately all of our stories are about people and their journey. Utopia isn’t stasis.
  • Your suggestion here. Let’s keep brainstorming about conflicts in utopia in the comments! (And please, if I have screwed up anything horribly, feel free to chew it up there.)

The conclusion I’m coming to is that it’s not that conflict can’t exist in Utopia, it’s just that maybe we’re all too damn lazy as writers. Or lazy might be too mean. I think there is a certain mental groove we get caught in, when we’re getting exposed to the same kinds of stories over and over again across the media, it’s hard to convince ourselves that other kinds of stories can be interesting.

It kind of reminds me of the profound shift in thinking I experienced when I started writing original fiction. I wrote fanfic for years and years, and as is common, I wrote fanfic about the male characters in the various series I liked, because let’s be honest. For the most part there are more male characters, and they get the interesting backstories and development. So when I first started trying to write more original fiction, almost all of the characters I wrote were male, I think because that’s what I had been so exposed to. Sometime in my second year of writing mostly original fiction, I had this epiphany that holy shit, you can write interesting stories about women too. (And then a couple years later, I had a similar holy shit moment when I realized that not everything has to have a massively explodey, action-packed finale.)

So maybe we’re not writing Utopias because they’re hard, and we’re complacent, and we’ve bought into the poisonous idea that it’s not a story worth 90,000 words if no one gets shot. Maybe it’s time we all get the dystopia out of our system, take a deep breath and say okay, now that I’ve screwed up the world, how am I going to fix it? And not just fix it, make it better.

Challenge yourself as a writer. You don’t even have to write us a book about perfect utopia. I’d settle for you telling us how to get there.

Originally published at Rachael Acks: Sound and Nerdery. You can comment here or there.

katsu: (Default)

Sameer Rahim, are you fucking kidding me?

I know people rarely get to write their own headlines, so I tried not to just punch my laptop in the screen when I saw this one: Whatever happened to writing for love, not money?

But the article isn’t any better.

I know they have to eat, but when did it all become about the money? The time when writers could live comfortably off their income was an anomaly of the Eighties and Nineties. These days, apart from a few big-money payouts for the next big thing, publishers are going back to being as cautious as they were before. And why shouldn’t they? Everyone else is tightening their belts.

I know you have kids and a mortgage, guys, but why should you expect to be able to make a living off a craft you’ve been perfecting for years? The art should be its own reward! Starving is awesome, it makes you all thin and waif-like and then maybe you’ll get consumption and it’s so romantic.

Call me a romantic but it might actually benefit a writer not to rely on books as their main source of income.

There is nothing in that sentence that I would call romantic. Because there is nothing in the least bit romantic about having to work a shit job to make ends meet while you attempt to write in your rapidly dwindling spare time. There is also nothing in the least bit romantic about working an awesome office day job like I do and then attempting to write in your rapidly dwindling spare time.

I would actually argue that there’s some good to doing a bit of work, volunteer or otherwise, outside your field at all times just because it gives you a chance to meet people and be in new situations and talk to others you wouldn’t necessarily talk to. That’s idea fuel right there. But trying to work two full time jobs is a good way to destroy your health and sanity and never have time to recharge.

Alternatively, I have heard it suggested that, rather as the bankers were bailed out by the, state so authors should be given public subsidies – the perils of which should be obvious. This isn’t China.

Yeah, I know man. Writers and dancers and sculptors won’t stop trying to crash the economy with their irresponsible gambling. (Also, special bonus for gross China reference. A+)

Luckily, the freedom offered by the internet offers a chance to resurrect the idea of writing for love, not money.

The notion was never dead. People have always been writing for love rather than money. The internet just makes distribution easier.

So far online self-publishing has been the preserve of fan fiction and erotica but it can’t be long before high-quality fiction starts to emerge.

Wow. Every time I think you can’t get more insulting, you do. Frankly, there is plenty of fanfic out there that is of publishable quality. And there’s also some damn good erotica out there too.

Right now there is a distressed writer sitting in front of her computer somewhere, worrying not about whether she’ll make enough money to give up the day job or how many copies she will sell, but obsessing over form and language, meaning and truth.

Yeah, and you know what helps the writer hone those skills that go into the art? Having some fucking time to practice them. If you’re working 40+ hours a week (and heaven help you if you have kids) your time to practice the actual craft of writing is severely limited. And then on top of it when more and more often you’re having to act as your own publicist? Eats up even more of that time. And what your readers want are books, regular as clockwork, and those books are damn hard to write and much slower to produce if they are not the main focus of your energy.

So what, people should only get paid for doing work they find hideous and agonizing? The only people who should get paid, then, are perhaps janitors, garbagemen, soldiers, and so on. Not politicians or professional athletes or scientists. Certainly not successful actors or dancers or fashion designers. Or are artists just the exception to the rule because we don’t actually produce something you deem personally worthy? Or is it just writers who are the exception, because we’re not real in our art unless we’re fucking miserable?

(This ignores the fact that being fucking miserable and depressed is not a good way to produce art.)

What bothers me most about this piece, which is so full of bullshit the stench will never leave my keyboard, is the idea that you should be happy not getting paid for work so long as it’s work you enjoy. Work is work. It requires time and energy and a big chunk of the limited lifespan you have on Earth if you want to be any good at it. And this same argument has been used for years to try to justify things like keeping the wages of teachers severely depressed. Yeah, you teach because you love it, right? It’s so irresponsible of you to want to make a decent living. The smiles of children and the glow of a job well done should pay for your housing and the clothing of your own children.

Tell me, Mr. Rahim, did you write this piece for free?

Originally published at Rachael Acks: Sound and Nerdery. You can comment here or there.

katsu: (Default)

The two are not related.

Just I’ve been talking to a few writers who are even newer to this than me and I wanted to give some perspective on the short story submission thing. I’ve now had 20 sales, not counting reprints. Out of 20 short story sales:

  • Average number of rejections per sale: 6.85
  • Fewest rejections before publication: 0
  • Most rejections before publication: 20

Keep in mind that my sales range from pro to semi-pro to one that was token payment. I don’t submit stories to non-paying markets, period. I also have 9 stories that I’ve trunked without selling, because I stopped believing in them.

The three stories I consider to be the best I’ve written thus far—Comes the HuntsmanThe Heart-Beat Escapement, and They Tell Me There Will Be No Pain—received 3, 7, and 4 rejections respectively before being published.

So basically, just keep bouncing your stories back out into the slush pile until you’ve either run out of markets (in which case you wait for a new one such as an antho to open) or run out of belief in your vision and/or your execution of that vision in writing.

And yes, I am in London right now. I’m enjoying my vacation already in my most splendidly failtastic style, which is to say I do a lot of sleeping and taking my sweet time at the gym and working at the non-geology jobs and typing on the computer while I listen to the ambient sound of a foreign city. That’s how I roll. The flight was good (I got a whole row to myself), the getting to the rental flat was a comedy of errors, and I can’t figure out how to make one of the showers work because I think its controls were put together as a joke. (The Canadian couldn’t figure it out either so you don’t get to blame this on me being a stupid American. Blame the stupid inscrutable British plumbing.)

You know, normal life in the UK when I’m here. Planning to live on a diet of toast, nutella, and bananas for the next week. Generally pleased with everything, looking forward to hanging out with friends. The pay as you go gym is unfortunately further away than I wanted thanks to us being moved to a different flat, but the space is nice. All of the guys in the strength training room very carefully Did Not Notice My Existence, which is how I prefer it. Except for one guy who made an abortive lunge for the bar when I was doing my final rep in a set of 105lb bench presses, so I had to assure him that I totally had it. At which point he started carefully ignoring me as well, but with occasional sidelong glances just to let me know I was worrying him. I try to take these things as adorable, well-meaning helper fails as opposed to anything more frustrating. (But really, people, don’t lunge at the bar unless someone actually asks for help, it’s kind of distracting.)

Looking forward to a relaxing week before Worldcon!

Originally published at Rachael Acks: Sound and Nerdery. You can comment here or there.

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Tetsugawa Katsuhiro

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