Reader Request Week 2015 #9: Writing Related Short Bits
And now, quick answers to questions related to writing, publishing, and such-like topics:
Standback: “What’s your take on the state of short fiction in the genre? Print magazines, anthologies, e-zines, and anything else? Is the form viable and sustainable? And how much of an audience does it actually have?”
I suspect short fiction in the genre is healthier than it’s been in years, because there are so many outlets for it, and both e-pub and self-pub have expanded the ability for authors to distribute. I see a lot of Kickstarted anthologies that previously would have had to wait for a publisher to greenlight them that now directly appeal to a niche audience, and I see a lot of authors taking their shorter work and putting it up for sale electronically, creating a nice second market for that work. I personally do very well selling short fiction online, via Subterranean and Tor. So, yes, I’m bullish on it.
Angua: “What is your stand on fan fiction and other transformative works? I’m not merely asking if you are ok with your characters and worlds to be interpreted by fans, but also what intrinsic value do you see in such works, if any?”
My stance on fanfic is the same as it’s been for years: I’m cool with it, and if people are writing it about my stuff, it’s a positive thing because it speaks to how invested they are in the world I’ve created. The intrinsic value? I think it varies from fanfic writer to fanfic writer. The one thing I particularly see fanfic having value in is letting newer writers have a low-pressure space to explore their own writing skills, as some of the creative work (characters, situations, etc) is already done and they can focus on other aspects. Many excellent pro writers have now come out of fanfic space. It’s not to say that’s the only value to it (or that all fanfic writers want to be pro writers), but that’s an advantage I see.
Beej: “The word ‘brand’ gets a lot of mockery, but I think you’ve established a brand for yourself: snarky, ‘light’ SF, often with an element of mystery. How much of that is deliberate? How much is a function of your own personality and tastes?”
Well, it’s definitely deliberate, and it’s definitely a function of who I am. I write what I like to read, by and large, on the adage that one’s first and best audience is always one’s self. The sort of writing I do isn’t the only sort I like, nor the only sort I can do (see The God Engines as evidence of the latter), but it’s a reflection of my general tastes. Also, as a practical matter relating to sales, at this point when people think “Scalzi” they often do have a particular style in mind, and it does behoove me to continue in this vein, commercially. Fortunately I still like this vein, and I have opportunities to do other things when I want to change things up. So it’s all good.
Caroline: “What was the title of the first science fiction book you read? Was that book what drew you to science fiction?”
The first science fiction novel I can remember reading (which may be different from the first I ever read) was Farmer in the Sky by Robert Heinlein. I liked it so I started reading more Heinlein and also more SF, so I guess you could say it drew me to the genre, yes.
Devnull: “If I recall, you attended your first SF con after you sold a novel. Do you think your relationship with con-going SF fandom is different than it would be if you had attended them before becoming an SF pro?”
Oh, probably, although obviously it’s difficult for me to quantify how. I suppose honestly it’s the difference between coming into any well-established subculture as an adult rather than as a younger person (or being born into it, as many of my friends in fandom were). I’m a citizen of SF/F fandom, but I’m a naturalized citizen. It doesn’t mean I don’t love it (or find it exasperating) any less, just that I started from somewhere else before coming into it. I like to think I still hold dual citizenship, with my other “country” being journalism.
Samantha Bryant: “Thinking back to the beginning of your career (first book). What do you wish you had known?”
Not really, because my first book was published when I was 32 and my first novel at 36, and in both cases I had been a professional writer long enough that there were no real surprises, and I was well-positioned to handle whatever came next — which was good because my first non-fiction book was a big failure, and the first novel a big hit, so they were definitely contrasting experiences. In both cases I handled them pretty well, I think.
Cat Amesbury: “If you could have a roundtable conversation with Heinlein, Mary Shelley, H.G. Wells, and Octavia Butler, what would you discuss?”
Almost certainly what a pain in the ass publishers and editors can be. It’s a staple of writer conversation.
A. Sebastian: “Is the publishing industry, and by extension, Hollywood, ready to invest real dollars on fantasy books featuring girls?”
I think the publishing industry already does invest lots of real dollars in fantasy books featuring girls (a quick check of both the YA and SF/F shelves in your local bookstore will confirm this). I would also be wary of taking the “and by extension, Hollywood” argument as a given. My experience, which is not entirely insignificant, is that they really are different beasts.
Rherdman1953: “If you were offered a cameo role in a movie/tv adaptation of any one of your books, what would your favorite one be?”
I could see myself being John Perry’s son at the opening of Old Man’s War. But I’ll note I’m not hugely interested in having a cameo. If I were going to be on screen I’d want something that would qualify me for SAG membership.
Dapeck: “Tom Bombadil: Important to the world-building of Middle Earth, or just needlessly weird?”
I’m not a Bombadil fan, and it’s one of the reasons why I think the Peter Jackson version of LoTR is many ways a superior telling of the story of Lord of the Rings than the books are (this is a very contentious position).
Just Good Sense: “What is the likelihood of you finding another publisher for—and updating—the Guide to the Universe and the Guide to Sci-Fi Movies? (They’re great, but could use a little refresh.)”
The rights to both have reverted back to me so it’s possible it could happen but as with anything the question is time and scheduling. Of the two I am mostly likely to update the Movies book, although if I do I would probably recast the book rather a bit while updating. We’ll see. But don’t wait up.
George William Herbert: “You wrote one book in another (now-deceased) author’s universe, more or less. If you could chose any still living author’s universe to write another book in, who and what setting?”
None, because I did that “write in another author’s universe” thing once and doing it again doesn’t interest me. I did recently write a short story in another writer’s universe for an upcoming anthology (more details later, I’m not the one in charge of these announcements), and I did that mostly for fun. But again it’s not something I’m actively looking to do more than once.
Rene Quebec: “Lock In in its bare bones, is actually a pretty good crime thriller. Have you given thought to writing outside of the genre?”
Yes, although as Lock In shows I can write any number of things and still be inside the genre, which is a nice thing, too. SF is a pretty flexible genre in that regard. As for writing outside the genre, as a practical matter the issue isn’t interest or opportunity (preeeeety sure I could sell a contemporary mystery, for example) but, once again, time.
Andrew: “What do you think about Eric Flint’s idea of changing the Hugo and Nebula categories to differentiate between novels, short novels, multi-volume, and series?”
I think it would be a lot of work and if someone wants to try it, I wish them joy. The only lit-related Hugo I’d personally be interested in adding at this point is a Young Adult Hugo; I think its absence is notable and a bit ridiculous given how huge YA is as a science fiction and fantasy market these days.
Anne: “When you write here on controversial topics, you are clear, direct, your prose builds, you include links that are interesting and to the point, and there’s humor. Do you have to do rewrites and research, then let them sit, and go back for re-reading? Or is what I read frequently off-the-cuff?”
Mostly off the cuff, but occasionally researched. And sometimes inbetween. Note as a former journalist, current freelance writer and as a grad of the University of Chicago, research is not something I find particularly onerous, especially in the current era of All the Information At Your Fingertips. You can find a lot of information, of good quality, pretty quickly these days.
Docrocketscience: “Being an ‘expert’: So, you hold a BA in Philosophy, but have been paid to write as an expert on various topics, such as film, finance, and astronomy. I understand that film criticism is mostly just expressing an opinion, and that you likely did significant research when writing the ‘Guide’ books. I’m also familiar with (read: have heard of) the adage ‘Fake it till you make it’. But, has the notion of presenting yourself (or being presented) as an expert in a subject in which you lack more traditional bona fides ever given you pause? If so, how do you reconcile? If not, why not?”
It doesn’t particularly bother me because I find that the more time you work/write in a field, the more your backlog of work — if it is of good quality — answers the question of your expertise for you. It also helps to, you know, not overstate your bona fides. I’ve written science books but I’m not a scientist, and I’m happy to note that. Likewise, my experience with finance is as writer and consultant, not as, say, an accountant. I’m perfectly happy with letting people know of my experience and then letting them decide, based on that and on the writing at hand, what they think of the information I bring to the table.
Tim: “What are your thoughts (if any) on the new Harper Lee novel, Go Set a Watchman, scheduled for release later this year, as well as the controversy and questions regarding her condition and wishes for the novel?”
My own personal gut feeling about this, unsupported by anything else, is that if Harper Lee had wanted the book out there in the world, it would have been out there already. Other than that, no opinion.
Yoyogod: “As a science fiction writer (and occasional ukelele player), what are your thoughts on filk music?”
If it makes people happy, then filk on.
Knightwork: “Since you’ve recently made another lap around the sun, would you reflect on the advance of writing technology in your life? Would you still be a writer if you were stuck with using an old Olvetti typewriter, white out, and carbon paper?”
I’ve always made it clear how delighted I am I came of age when computers started being the primary way to put down words, as the ease of editing it affords is hugely congenial to my personal work flow. I don’t want to say I wouldn’t be a writer if I had had to work on a typewriter, but I can say I imagine I would be a lot crankier about the writing and editing process, and also that the first thing I would have done when I became successful as a writer would have been to hire a typist to rekey everything after edits, because honestly, retyping is a bunch of bullshit, right there.
Lanternhues: “How would the discovery of (or the being discovered by) an intelligent alien species change the science fiction genre?”
Well, a lot of first contact stories would go right out the window, that’s for sure.