Reader Request Week 2016 #9: Short Bits on Writing

This is the part of Reader Request Week where I quickly blast through a bunch of questions on writing. Ready? Strap in.

Marc Criley: If you had J.K. Rowlings’ money in the bank, so complete freedom to write whatever and however you wanted, would go off in new writing directions? Experiment with topics and styles?

Well, you know. I already have complete freedom to write whatever and however I want. I mean, generally speaking I can write a novel in three to six months, and I only have to put out a novel a year. So that leaves me a lot of free time to do whatever I want, writing-wise. Apparently what I want to do at this point when I’m not writing novels is write on this blog and on Twitter. So, you’re looking at it.

Nicoleandmaggie: Whatever happened to 101 Ways to Use a Goat? (Was that the title?)

It’s 101 Uses For a Spare Goat, and it’s still in process, although I make no promises as to when it shows up. It happens when it happens.

John Hattan: What do you consider to be your worst book, and why?

I don’t consider any of my books to be bad, because if they were bad, I wouldn’t publish them. That said, I think probably the least of my books is my first one, The Rough Guide to Money Online. It was a non-fiction book about how to do various financial things online, back at the turn of the century. It could have been written by anyone, not only me, so there’s that, and also, of course, sixteen years later there’s almost nothing in it that’s accurate. It’s out of print and justly so. For all that, it being published made it easier for my next book to be published, and so on. It made me an author.

Logophage: What would be the characteristics of the ideal book tour stop? Any details you care to include, from time of plane arrival to venue floorplan to host behavior…

All I really need is a lectern or table, a bottle of water for if my throat gets dry, possibly a microphone if it’s a large audience, and people showing up. Everything else is fairly negotiable. I’m not notably picky.

Listhertel: There’s an adage not to judge a book by its cover, but we all know people do. I know authors get little to no say in the cover art, but do you have any preferences? Painting versus digital, people versus objects, a consistent look versus variety? Are there any of your covers you particularly love or hate (including foreign editions)?

The book cover of mine I like least is the one on The Book of the Dumb, but inasmuch as BotD sold over 150,000 copies, meaning that the cover art worked for the book, this might tell you why authors are not generally given refusal rights on their covers. Cover art is advertising, both to booksellers and to readers, and that has to be understood. I’m at a point where if I really hate a cover, I’ll be listened to, but I also know what I don’t know, so I rarely complain. But it also helps that, particularly with Tor, the art director knows her gig, and they do great covers. I would probably complain about oversexualized covers, or characters not looking on the cover they way they’re described in the book, but in neither case has this happened to me.

Heather: What do you think will happen to the literary and Sci-fi ‘canon’ as readership and population diversity is increasingly acknowledged by the publishing industry and enabled by self-publishing. As a woman, there are a lot of writers in the ‘canon’ that I’ve found very un-relatable to unreadable. I don’t think that’s uncommon.

I think canons can change depending on who the readership is, and also over time. I also think that readers make their own canon and share those with other readers. This is why for example Octavia Butler has become canonical in science fiction over the last decade; she was never not a great writer, but the number of readers and writers for whom she was formative has increased and they haven’t been shy about sharing their love of her work. So anyone who tells you a literary or genre canon is immutable is wrong. It’s not. And also, I’m happy Butler is canonical.

Ceciia: Currently Paramount has a copyright infringement lawsuit against a fan film Star Trek project Anaxar. I know that you want to be paid for your work.  Where do you think the payment line or quality control line or flatly ban is on an author’s stories presented in another author’s universe? A story created for profit is certainly different than a self published work and the original author should be paid accordingly, but non profit work?

In point of fact, if I own a copyright on a work, it doesn’t matter whether someone infringing on my copyright (i.e., beyond the bounds of fair use) is doing it for love or for money; it’s still an infringement and as copyright holder, it’s my option to tell them to quit it. My own line for this stuff is well-established: If you’re making fan work in my universes but not making any money off of it (nor allowing anyone else to do so), then groovy; the moment you or anyone else starts making money off my universes, you’ve crossed the line I care about. While I don’t care to go into detail about the Anaxar project, I suspect that the makers asking for a couple million in crowdfunding was what made Paramount say hold the phone.

Floored by Scalzi’s Awesomeness: Any chance we can see a collaboration between you and Brandon Sanderson?

Probably not. He’s busy, I’m busy, and while I did recently co-write a short story with my friend Dave Klecha, and that was fun, collaboration isn’t something I see myself doing a lot of. I’m frankly not of the temperament to do it, and I worry that I’d end up being an asshole to my collaborator. Certainly Brandon, with his slate of successful projects, wouldn’t have to put up with that; I’m not sure I’d want to make anyone else live through it either.

Daniel: Do you have any plans to continue Shadow War of The Night Dragons? Perhaps with an epilogue?

No plans at the moment, but you never know. If I did it, I wouldn’t tell people about it. It would just… show up.

MarkO: What do you make of Robert A. Heinlein?

I’m a fan! Will be all the rest of my life, too. I also recognize he’s in the process of slipping out of the day-to-day conversation of the genre, and becoming someone we discuss like we discuss Jules Verne and H.G. Welles. All things considered, this is not a bad thing for Heinlein, although I suspect it distresses some of his fans.

Araj: Do you plan on writing a full book based on The God Engines?

No. It’s already the right length.

Jordan Gray: What science fiction have you enjoyed recently? As a Person of Notoriety in science fiction, is that something you can answer?

I don’t have a problem telling people about the things I enjoy in the genre. I’m generally more circumspect about talking publicly about the things I don’t like because, yes, me slagging someone’s work could be seen as bigfooting them. I don’t need to do that.

JSto: John, I’d simply like to hear you expound on the often romanticized condition of a writer writing while falling in love, and what your experiences have been.

I’m not sure I wrote anything of note while falling in love, personally. I have three incidences of falling in love: I fell in love with my high school crush; I fell in love with my college girlfriend; I fell in love with my wife. In none of those cases is there any notable writing attached to it. As a pro writer, the fact of being in love with my life and being married is an obvious influence — it’s in Old Man’s War and Redshirts very clearly. But I think that’s different than what you’re asking. I’d have to fall in love again in order to answer your question. I’m not sure that would be great for my marriage.

Gray Othic: Would you ever consider writing a self-consciously ‘literary’ work?

Probably not, because I imagine I would get bored with it. Now, would I try writing in a style notably different than my usual one? Sure; I did it with The God Engines and “The Sagan Diary.” I think both of them are probably more “literary” than my usual output. The other possible answer to your question is whether I would write a novel or story set in contemporary time without genre themes, and the answer is, sure, if there was a story in that setting I wanted to tell. Right now there’s not.

David Karger: Do you believe that your writing can influence society for the better? Does the possibility of doing that influence your writing?

I think it’s possible that what I write can have influence, sure — I think my personal harassment policy for conventions played a significant role in getting conventions to develop and air those policies. But note that when I wrote about my personal policy, I wasn’t doing it to influence society, or even to force conventions to change their policies. I was just letting people know what my own standards were, and what I needed in order to attend a convention. I’m not ignorant that my words can have influence, but I also don’t sit down and say and now to mold the world in my image, either. Basically, I say what I want to say. If people want to sign on to that, great. If they don’t, that’s fine, too.