You all asked writer-related questions this week; here’s a compendium of short responses.
Madely: Comics books: Do you read them, or if not did you used to read them? Any favourites? And would you ever think of writing some?
I like comics generally although at the moment I’m not reading any; my big comics-reading years were in college and right after, which is where I discovered folks like Neil Gaiman and Kyle Baker, who I still follow professionally. I actually wrote for comics in college; there was a University of Chicago comic book called Breakdown, which featured such notable writer/artists as Jessica Abel and Ivan Brunetti, and I authored a story called “Chemuel: Angel With an Attitude,” which was drawn by my friend Richard Polt (who is now a notable expert on Heidegger). I’m not opposed to writing more comics in the future, although at the moment it’s not something I’m actively pursuing. I’ll note there were plans at one point for an Old Man’s War manga series, but it fell through.
RevRob: What way of us buying your books helps you out the most? (Pays the best, provides better press, stokes the ego most. . . ) Maybe rephrased better as: How would you prefer we buy your books?
As long as you’re buying them new, really, it doesn’t matter. Buy them in hardcover, buy them in paperback, buy them electronically — at the end of the day it pretty much all comes out in the wash. If such things are actually hugely important to you, then buy the book in hardcover the week it comes out, because that’s my best shot at getting onto the New York Times bestseller list, and that makes my publisher happy, and I have to admit that I don’t mind, either. But otherwise it’s pretty much all the same. I’m glad you’re buying the books, and my royalty rates on each format are perfectly good.
Komavary: Being a well-translated author (Hungarian edition of OMW is coming soon! Finally!), what is your stance on foreign (genre) works translated to English? How do they affect your reading? Do you seek them out, give them the same chance as English books or you don’t bother much with translations? Also, in a general sense, how do you see the relationship of English and non-English science fiction? (One-way cultural export, living conversation or something else?)
I don’t really see that much in the direction of non-English SF having an impact on writers and readers here because there’s not enough in translation, and what is in translation doesn’t sell particularly well. Non-English SF has a huge influence elsewhere, for example in film and comics, but in the written field it’s a desert. I know of grassroot efforts to change this and I do applaud it since I’m reasonably sure we’re missing out on some great SF. I’m personally happy to read SF/F or any other work in translation, because, being depressingly monolingual as I am, how else will I read them?
Dave Nichols: Since books pay the mortgage etc. Have you ever wished social networking had never taken off? No twitter, Facebook etc? Would you be happier in a garden shed miles from distractions quietly turning out masterpieces?
You know, I did an admirable job of procrastination before there were social networks or the popular Internet. If they didn’t exist I would still find ways not to do work. So I really can’t blame the Internet or Twitter for that.
Kevin Williams: What would you change in our copyright/trademark/patent regime to make it sane and useful to society, while still protecting producers?
Addressing copyright only: 75 years for corporations, 75 years or life + 25 for individuals (whichever is longer), renew from that point annually at the cost of $2 to the n (where n is the number of years past the end of the initial term of copyright), with the sums generated by the renewal going to pay down our national debt (in the US, at least) and then into a general fund. Seems like a good way to a) make sure significant value is extracted from the work by the creators, b) let the public benefit either from the work in the public domain or the revenue extracted from those unwilling to release the work thusly.
Regan Wolfrom: How do you feel about bigotry and hate within the speculative fiction community? Do you believe that there is an increasing polarization between progressive authors/editors/readers and their more socially conservative counterparts? Does it feel strange to run into people at conventions and other events who you know are actively involved in advancing goals that you may personally find abhorrent?
I feel about bigotry and hate in spec fic as I feel about it everywhere else: It’s stupid and wrong, and I like to think I’m on the side of the angels on this, although like anyone I have my moments of cluelessness. That said, I think we need to be careful in the implicit association of “conservative” and “bigoted,” and likewise “progressive” and “non-bigoted,” because while there are some real-world correlations, I know a fair number of conservatives who oppose bigotry on explicitly conservative philosophical grounds, and I’ve known people who sign onto progressive ideals but who also show their asses on matters of race/gender/sexuality and so on.
As regards seeing people at conventions who hold differing political opinions than mine — including people who I’ve clashed with politically online and elsewhere — well, in some ways that could be anyone, right? I’ve previously and pithily described my personal politics as “I believe in the right of same-sex married couples to carry concealed weapons,” which means that if I wanted to, I could spend a whole lot of my time getting into political arguments all over the spectrum. But generally I’m not at a convention to do that. If I there’s someone I find personally abhorrent for whatever reason, I usually avoid them. But most people don’t rise to that level, regardless of politics.
Claire: Feminism! Do you think about it when you write? Do you think about it as you raise your kid?
I don’t generally actively think about it, no. I do think about representations of women in my work and whether they are doing things that reflect their own agency rather than simply existing to support the (so far usually male) protagonists of my work. To be honest about it, the single most useful thing to me in this regard has been the Bechdel Test, because it’s simple and yet also really effective in helping to keep one’s work from being a desert of female agency. But I don’t know if that counts as thinking about feminism in any real sense. I don’t want to give myself undue credit.
Do I think about feminism as I raise my child? To the extent that I (and more accurately, we) have raised our daughter to question assumptions related to her gender, and also to stand her ground against anyone who tries to put her into box, yes. But I’m not comfortable claiming a feminist cookie, if you know what I mean. Athena’s feminist sense of self — and she definitely has one — is rooted more in her own initiative than it is in our top-down application of it. Which I think is probably more useful to her in the long run.
Trevor: How has Baconcat affected you as a author/writer financially and in regards to work? Speaking for myself I wouldn’t have found you if not for Baconcat.
Baconcat brought folks into Whatever for the first time, and it’s still something that gets around, both online and off, which I find deeply amusing. And my subsequent association with bacon means that any time that particular meat shows up in one of my books, people in the know get to enjoy a moment of inside-joke-ness. But in terms of direct effect on my financial life as an author? It’s not really had an impact. I don’t sell books because of Baconcat, in other words, and often those people who know of Baconcat and not of me, who then learn of me, are surprised that, you know, I’m not just a nerd in his mom’s basement. Alternately, people who know of me and not of Baconcat are often taken aback that I would do something like that to my cat. The cat, I should note, doesn’t care one way or another.
Eric: A lot of people seem to think that reading a book is a more wholesome activity than watching TV or playing video games, though to me they’re just different mediums through which we gain ideas or enjoyment. What are your opinions about this?
I don’t know. Reading a pornographic book is not more wholesome than watching Mr. Rogers, nor is watching Best Sex Ever on Cinemax more wholesome than reading Beatrix Potter. Which is to say it’s not the medium, it’s the work in question. I personally have a balanced diet of several entertainment media, which suits me fine. I will say to date I find video game porn unedifying.
Gary: What are your thoughts on the use of the acronym “TL;DR” (too long; didn’t read)? Do you think this is a cop-out (“Oh, that’s at least a paragraph. My lips get too tired by then.”) Or do you think it necessary in order to deal with people who bury you with inanity (and insanity)?
On one hand, “tl;dr” feels like an advertisement for willful ignorance — “what, you can’t condense your point into a 140 characters? Screw you, I’m going home” — but on the other hand there’s a lot of long, badly-written, meandering crap out there online, and life really is too short. And there’s the fact that on the occasions where I am reading slush (i.e., unsolicited fiction submissions), I’ll stop reading a submission as soon as I get bored with the writing, which is often before the end of the first page. No, I don’t care if it picks up later, because I’m bored now.
Let me put it this way: If you’ve written something well, I’ll read it even if it goes on at length, but if you write poorly, I won’t finish it even if it’s Tweet-length. So, I wouldn’t use “tl;dr.” I might use “ws;sr,” which is “writing sucks; stopped reading.”
DaveA: You frequently talk about friends and people you respect among science fiction and fantasy authors, hanging out with them at conventions, etc. You seldom/never talk about the largest-selling authors in the genre (David Weber and Misty Lackey come to mind; I could think of others.) Do you not talk about best-selling authors because (a) they don’t need the advertising, (b) you don’t respect their work, (c) you don’t like them, (d) you just don’t run in the same crowd, or (e) something else? And, for some reason I really want to know… what do you think of David Weber’s works?
I like David Weber’s work just fine, but I don’t know him very well. I’ve met him precisely once, last year at ALA in New Orleans. He was lovely and we got along well, at least from my point of view. Likewise, I know Ms. Lackey professionally but not personally; I don’t believe she and I have been at a convention together. I tend to talk about my friends in science fiction and fantasy because they are, you know, my friends, and I see them and have fun with them. My not talking about someone in the field shouldn’t imply anything other than that I’m not talking about them.
Mike Turner: Do you feel you could come under the classification of a sesquipedalian author?
Generally, no. I tend not to use long words just to use long words; I will use a long word if I think it’s the best word, however. And anyone who looks at the length of my novels (i.e., short) knows I don’t say in a quarter of a million words what I can say in 75,ooo.
That said, this entry is right at 2,000 words. Time to close it up.