Back at Home

And my in-house editor is ready to go!

Also, it’s cold as balls right at the moment: -2, without windchill. Yes, I know other places in the US are colder at the moment. You know what? -2 is cold enough. This isn’t the Freeze Your Gonads Off Olympics. And if it is, I’m happy to let someone else take the gold.

I think I’m done traveling for a whole month. I don’t even know what I’ll do with myself. Actually I do: I’ll write. It’s kind of my thing.

Hope if it’s cold where you are that you’re keeping warm. And if it’s warm where you are, well. Have your smug little moment, I suppose.

The Big Idea: Kevin J. Anderson

It will be no surprise to learn Kevin J. Anderson has written a lot of novels — he’s one of the most prolific authors working today, not only in the genre of science fiction and fantasy, but in all of fiction. But he’s also written quite a lot of short fiction as well. Over the past six months has collected much of that decade-spanning output into a series of “Selected Stories” book, the (for now) last of which has been released today. Anderson is here to discuss the collecting, curating and publishing of those works — and because there are four of them, rather than do my usual thing of putting purchase links at the bottom, this time if you’re interested in one or more of the books, click the cover and it will take you to the Amazon sale page for the book.

KEVIN J. ANDERSON:

It’s not often that a writer gets to look at decades’ worth of their writing with an objective eye. I spent the last year and a half combing through all of my published short fiction—well over a hundred stories dating all the way back to 1978—so I could compile a four-volume set of my “Selected Stories.” (It’s the “selected” stories rather than the “complete” stories because even I don’t have copies of some works and, frankly, a few of those early pieces were better left buried in the contributor box.)

Simply gathering and rereading all of those works was quite illuminating. I remembered the stories, since they are my creative babies, but remembering them was different from reading them. I began the process of sorting the stories by genre, which proved to be a bigger than expected challenge, since I write widely and produce many different types of fiction. The collections sifted out into a full volume of fantasy, one of horror and dark fantasy, and two volumes of science fiction, the second of which was just released. In total, over 500,000 words of short fiction, 90 stories ranging from novella length down to flash fiction.

I didn’t want this to be just a bunch of random stories like a big bag of literary potato chips, but rather I intended it to be a real retrospective, giving readers some sort of context about the stories, what inspired each work or what sort of thematic connections they had with other tales. These works had been written over the span of four decades, but compressing the time scale and reading them all at once highlighted certain consistent concepts that I visited again and again, sometimes because I still had more to say on a subject, other times because the ideas wouldn’t leave my brain.

I wrote a brief introduction to every single story illustrating some technique or inspiration, maybe just an anecdote related to the piece. Readers going through the collection would have an interesting take on what was going on in my life at the time, how I approached the craft and art as a writer, my philosophy on certain things, and even little Easter eggs that would otherwise go unnoticed.

Now, that seemed like a good idea when I started the task, but then I had to come up with something to SAY about ninety stories. In doing so, though, I discovered parallels I didn’t even realize, subtleties that my subconscious (as coauthor) had slipped in without my forebrain’s knowledge.

I grew up in a small town in Wisconsin, a rural farming community where my dad was the town bank president. I call it a cross between Norman Rockwell and Norman Bates, and it was definitely not a “nerd-friendly” place. I was the oddball kid who read comic books, Famous Monsters of Filmland, H.G. Wells, Andre Norton, and Edgar Rice Burroughs. I avidly pored over Vampirella magazine whenever I could get my hands on a copy, and my parents didn’t quite know what to do when their son was so interested the scantily clad, sexy space vampire, though in all honesty I was far more captivated by the monsters than the cleavage. I was picked on by the other kids, teased for getting straight A’s in school (because I would much rather read than go out and play). Remember the kid Ralphie from A Christmas Story?  That was me.  

I sought refuge in alien worlds, science fiction, fantasy, horror, and comics, and then I would escape into my writing. When I was around ten years old I spent all the money I’d saved up to buy a Smith Corona electric cartridge typewriter, because I wanted to be a writer. Many of the early stories in these collections were plunked out on that electric typewriter. I published my first story when I was a Junior in high school, fifteen years old (and that story, “Memorial,” is included in Science Fiction, Volume 1).

Some of my small town experiences, and nightmares, became the basis for an entire sequence of Bradbury-esque dark fantasy tales set in the mythical Wisconsin town of Tucker’s Grove. Those 13 stories are interspersed throughout the fantasy and horror/dark fantasy volumes. Though I had many bad memories of small town life, my real Wisconsin childhood wasn’t nearly as bad as what I put my characters through.

Over the years I cowrote many stories with a spectrum of collaborators, sometimes as a learning exercise, sometimes by assignment, sometimes because I needed a person’s specific skills or experience. My coauthors include Brian Herbert, Doug Beason, my wife Rebecca Moesta (yes, we’ve collaborated on many stories and novels, and we’re still married!), Sherrilyn Kenyon, Mike Resnick, Dean Koontz, Kristine Kathryn Rusch, Gregory Benford, Sarah A. Hoyt, and Grammy-award-winning singer Janis Ian and Neil Peart, legendary drummer from the rock group Rush. They’re all included in these collections.

A lot of the stories were done at the request of an editor, so that the writing became a sort of parlor game or an improv act. Like many Golden Age pulp writers, when an editor would show them the cover painting and instruct them to write a story to order, I was often asked to create a tale about solar sails or cloning or virtual reality or even purple unicorns, and I would say “I can do that!” One piece (“Controlled Experiments” in Science Fiction, Volume 2) was from an anthology in which every single story began with the line “There were rats in the souffle again.”  I’m sure literary divas shudder in horror at the very idea, but to me that demonstrates an author’s flexibility and creativity. Give me a challenge and I guarantee I’ll entertain you.

The hardest part of putting together these four volumes was the paperwork. Simply digging up original copies of all those initial publications, trying to track down copyright dates, then scanning and proofing those old stories—the sheer drudgery of compiling was the reason the project took a year and a half.

We released the four volumes through my own publishing house WordFire Press. Because these were my babies, I insisted on doing all the interior design and layout myself. Working with my brilliant graphic designer Janet McDonald, we created the covers. WordFire released them in ebook, trade paperback, hardcover and audio (so there’s no excuse not to get a copy).

I’ve published a lot of books—about 160 by my latest count—but putting these collections together gave me an unexpected overview of a lot of words, characters, settings, and ideas. It’s also inspired me to write a few more stories that have been hanging out on the back burner of my imagination.

It probably won’t be too long before I have enough for a volume 5.

—-

Visit Kevin J. Anderson’s site. Go to the Wordfire Press site. Follow him on Twitter.

View From a Hotel Window, 1/27/19: West Hollywood

My hotel room overlooks a dog park, how cool is that?

As I believe I noted before, I’m here in town for a couple of days to have meetings and schmooze and maybe even see a friend or two, as one would here in the City of the Angels. Should be fun.

How was your weekend? Tell all!

The Big Idea: James Fell

In today’s Big Idea, James Fell explains the title of The Holy Sh!t Moment, and how it perfectly encapsulates not just the book, but the process of making the book itself.

JAMES FELL:

I wasn’t keen on the title.

The sample chapters and proposal were ready. We just needed a name.

“Come up with a list of about ten and send it to me,” my agent said.

I did, and he replied, “Let’s go with ‘The Holy Sh!t Moment’.”

It had been near the bottom of the list. “Really? I’m not sure about that one.”

“We don’t have to be married to it, but publishers will like it so it’s good for pitching. It describes perfectly what the book is about. We have time to think of something else.”

But we never did. My agent was correct that publishers liked it. Raved about it, in fact. So did most everyone I told the name to, so long as they weren’t the type to clutch pearls over a swear word.

I had a holy shit moment about holy shit moments.

I wanted to branch out. Also, I wanted more fame and fortune. I’d been writing about health and fitness for seven years. I was a regular in the Los Angeles Times and the Chicago Tribune, despite being a Canadian living in Canada. I had a reputation as a no bullshit guy, a myth buster, a fan of science and evidence.

My first book was a science-based weight loss guide published by Random House Canada. It did well up here, but we couldn’t sell it to a big house in the U.S. My agent explained why: “The United States is ground zero for stupid diets.”

Despite having ample reach in the U.S. via writing for a variety of American publications, and a popular blog and sizeable social media presence, the New York houses weren’t interested in a realistic and moderate approach to losing weight and getting in shape. Keto was the new thing. If I wrote about how cutting sugar cured cancer, I’d get a book deal.

Fuck that.

When it came to losing weight, I’d written a lot about motivation. There are more ways to transform your body than there are beers in a Munich autumn; I’d focused on the critical component of inspiring movement and better eating.

After a conversation with my agent, I realized if I could motivate people to lose weight and keep it off, I should be able to motivate them to do other things. Science-based motivation though. Not that cheesy “rah-rah you can do it!” ad nauseum crap or someone proclaiming to have the “secret”. I knew there were good self-help books that didn’t devolve into pseudoscientific dumbfuckery or motivational Pablum. I figured I could write one of the good ones.

But I needed a hook, so I rode my bike.

My Argon Krypton is my idea machine. For three months, I rode Calgary’s ample pathway system, blasted Rush on my iPod, and let my mind wander.

On one such ride, I saw a man running toward me; he wore a Boston Marathon shirt. I smiled and thought, I did that.

It launched a cascade of remembrance, because I’d been such a terrible runner in my youth. Gym class was the worst part of my day, and I wondered what changed. This next part will seem like bragging, because it is.

How did I go from an unathletic, unpopular, overweight guy who was flunking out of college to getting two master’s degrees, qualifying for the Boston Marathon, having millions of people read my work, and marrying a hot doctor?

Told you: bragging.

Change happened in the space of a few seconds where I woke up to the reality of my life. I lamented the notice from the University of Calgary that said I was being kicked out due to my poor grades. I was distracting myself from my troubles with the school newspaper and saw a quote from, of all people, folk singer Joan Baez.

“Action is the antidote to despair,” it read.

I don’t think what most people need to change is only to read some inspirational quote. But if it hits at the right time, it can open a new window in a person’s mind. In a flash, I realized my situation was of my own making, and I had the power to fix it. I’d been a lazy man, now suddenly inspired to take action to make things better. Awash in the relief of seeing light at the end of the tunnel, it became the moment that split my life in twain, dividing it into “before,” and “after.”

It was a deeply emotional sensation that put my motivation into permanent overdrive. Recalling the experience on that bike ride, I wondered, What is the science behind such an event?

I screeched my bike to a halt and almost fell over due to neglecting to unclip from the pedals. I pulled out my phone and began to search popular books on life-changing epiphanies. All that existed were collections of anecdotes; Chicken Soup for the Soul kind of thing, not science. I’ve had two stories published in those chicken soup books. Don’t hate.

I typed into my Facebook page a post asking people if they’d experienced a sudden epiphany that transformed their lives, then hopped back on my bike and rode home.

Before getting in the shower I checked Facebook. The comment field had exploded with inspirational tales of life-changing moments.

My agent liked the idea. I dug into the research, interviewed dozens of world-renowned psychologists, and filled it with stories of people whose sudden “Holy shit!” moments had changed their bodies, helped them beat addiction, sent them back to school or on a new career path, brought them back from the brink of suicide, realized their true gender, even inspired them to change the world.

And, science fiction fan that I am, I peppered it with references to both Star Trek and Star Wars. There is a chapter on religious epiphany; as a nonbeliever I struggled to choose an opening quote. I finally decided on Darth Vader:

“I find your lack of faith disturbing.”

—-

The Holy Sh!t Moment: Amazon | Barnes & Noble | Indiebound | Powell’s | Audible

Read an excerpt. Visit the author’s site. Follow him on Facebook and Twitter.

View From a Hotel Window, 1/24/19: Chicago

Mmmmm… snowy parking lot. 

I’m in Chicago for personal reasons (no public appearances, sorry), and then I’ll be off the Los Angeles for meetings (also no public events). My life is interesting.

This is it for updating here today, but if you need more of me, I and Leigh Alexander did an AMA over at Reddit earlier today (I literally got off the plan, opened up my laptop, and did it at an O’Hare gate) where we talk about science fiction, writing, and other stuff. I may have hinted at interesting stuff there I’m not supposed to tell people about yet. Just saying.

Today’s Thing I Am Not Okay With

Google’s spellchecker attempting to correct “all right” to “alright.”

NOT OKAY WITH THAT, GOOGLE.

New Books and ARCs, 1/22/19

This week I have two — count them, two! — super sized stacks of new books and ARCs for you, and here is the first of them, filled with reading goodness. What here is calling to you through the computer? Tell us in the comments!

First Pass Oscar Predictions, 2019

Most of you know I was a professional film critic waaaay back in the day, and one of my hobbies every year is to look at the Academy Award nomination list when it comes out and guess, based on my experience, which people/films will walk away the awards. My prediction rate: Pretty decent! Usually I get five of the six main categories (Best Picture, Director, and the lead and supporting acting categories).

This year, before I begin, I’ll note: Kind of a weird year, nomination-wise. There are some heavily expected films/filmmakers in there, but also a bunch who… really weren’t? At least, they were a surprise to me. And there were some surprise omissions as well. All of which makes this a pretty damn interesting year for the Oscars, and for guessing who will win.

So let’s check out this year’s list and see how it goes.

BEST PICTURE 

Black Panther
BlacKkKlansman
Bohemian Rhapsody
The Favourite
Green Book
Roma
A Star Is Born
Vice

Eight nominations this year out of a possible ten, and an interesting spread. For years my usual advice would be to toss out of consideration any film that doesn’t also have a Best Director nod — which this year would punt Black Panther, Bohemian Rhapsody, Green Book and A Star is Born — but this year I wouldn’t do that.

Two of these films, however, I think we can take out of contention immediately: Black Panther and Bohemian Rhapsody are the first off the boat. Black Panther gets a deserved nod in the category, but its other six nominations are in (sorry) undercard categories: No directing, acting or screenwriting nods here. Plus it’s a superhero film. It took the Academy until 2003 to honor a fantasy film, and it took another fifteen years after that to honor a science fiction film. It is correctly nominated in the category, but I don’t think the Academy can bring itself to give the nod to a superhero film (here; more on this later). Bohemian Rhapsody, on the other hand, has a Bryan Singer problem, as the director is in bad odor at the moment for being an alleged sexual harasser and predator, and also for being fired off the film essentially for being a flake. Rhapsody winning would be an embarrassment; these aren’t the Golden Globes, after all. People would actually care.

After that? It gets tricky! Honestly I feel like there are good arguments for each after this point. But let me rank them anyway. I don’t think The Favourite is actually the favorite, but 10 nominations, including director, screenplay and its domination of the actress categories, really can’t be overlooked. It could pull off a surprise. Likewise, BlacKkKlansman isn’t one I see making the final cut, mostly for subject reasons (it’s not usual winner fare), but it was well-regarded and it represents a comeback for Spike Lee, who, honorary awards aside, is fucking owed a competitive Oscar if you ask me. No one can say BlacKkKlansman isn’t of sufficient quality for a win. It could win.

Green Book is next out for me. It did well at the Golden Globes, but its awards season PR campaign has been a bit of a nightmare, what with its primary white actor tossing about the unexpurgated N-word in interviews, its screenwriter having to apologize for bigoted tweets and its director having to apologize for (checks notes) flashing his dick on previous movie sets. So all of that is a thing. Plus, you know, that whole “Driving Miss Daisy 2.0” issue, which maybe isn’t 100% fair, but when you have a Best Picture field that also includes Black Panther and BlacKkKlansman, it’s not hard to see which film in the field is targeted at white folks who want to feel good about how far we’ve all come. And, well. Here in 2019 and in the thick of the Trump Years, “how far we’ve all come” is well up for debate, isn’t it. Which brings us to Vice, which, whatever its other qualities, is a film about Dick Cheney, so, uh, yeah. Maybe I’m overestimating liberal filmmaking’s visceral disgust of the former vice president, but I don’t seeing it making it first past post out there in the Hollywoods.

So we’re down to A Star is Born and Roma. For me the big surprise of the Oscars is Bradley Cooper’s omission in the Best Director category (don’t feel too bad for him, he’s nominated in three other categories), and I think that’s indicative of how much the heat behind this seeming-juggernaut of the awards season has cooled. But cooled or not, I still think it’s one of the two films that has the best chance, especially if the actors branch of the Academy is scandalized that one of their own was not honored as director and seeks retribution/compensation (See: Argo). Beyond this the story is classic Hollywood, frequently told but as it happens rarely honored with awards, so maybe this time is the charm.

But then there’s Roma, which is brilliant and distinctive and classy and everything the Academy loves to see in a Best Picture winner, has great production story to boot, and is from a director who everyone loves (who also shot and wrote the film and is nominated in those categories). It’s the closest thing this year to the front runner, buuuuuuuut there are two wrinkles: It’s also nominated for Best Foreign Language Film and it’s from Netflix. I’s fair to say the Academy hasn’t quite figured out what it thinks about, or wants from, that streaming service, and maybe there’s some residual animosity/whatever there (Disclosure: I have deals with Netflix for things in development/production. I like Netflix, personally. They give me money!).

The A Star is Born-winning scenario is Roma winning the Foreign Language award and Alfonso Cuarón winning Best Director (and/or screenplay or cinematography), leaving the field open for Bradley Cooper’s film. It seems unlikely the Academy will vote for Roma for Foreign Language and Best Picture. So who the Foreign Language winner is will be your first big clue of how the evening will go.

If you put a gun to my head about it, I’d say Best Picture will go to A Star is Born, because, aside from everything else, it wouldn’t hurt the Academy these days to honor as Best Picture a film that made more than $100 million at the domestic box office (the last one to do that: Argo, six years ago). The Academy members know their organization is reeling from PR issues and could use a hit, in more ways than one. But Roma could very definitely take it, and possibly should. If neither of them do it, who knows? The only thing I do know is that if Green Book takes it, black Twitter is going to be lit for the next week afterward.

Will Win: A Star is Born
Should Win: Roma 

DIRECTOR

Spike Lee, BlacKkKlansman
Pawel Pawlikowski, Cold War
Yorgos Lanthimos, The Favourite
Alfonso Cuarón, Roma
Adam McKay, Vice

Congratulations to Pawlikowski for (probably) punting Bradley Cooper out of the fifth Best Director slot and for raising his profile considerably. He won’t win here, but if Cold War wins in Foreign Language (which it probably will, if Roma does not), he’ll still get his moment and it will probably be good news for Roma, too. So everyone wins (except, uh, A Star is Born). I’m pretty sure Lanthimos and McCay are along for the ride here, although of the two I think Lanthimos has an outside chance, and we should all watch the next few weeks to see if The Favourite’s star rises generally. I think Spike Lee has a reasonable chance although again this might just be me projecting my come on for fuck’s sake it’s Spike Lee feelings here. For all that I’ll be mildly shocked if Cuarón doesn’t walk with this one. This is as close to a gimme as this year is giving us.

Will Win: Cuarón
Should Win: Cuarón

LEAD ACTRESS

Yalitza Aparicio, Roma
Glenn Close, The Wife
Olivia Colman, The Favourite
Lady Gaga, A Star Is Born
Melissa McCarthy, Can You Ever Forgive Me?

Probably the most competitive category because there are good arguments for everyone here: McCarthy is stretching herself as an actor and the Academy loves that; Aparicio is literally coming out of nowhere (from the Hollywood point of view) and that’s a deeply attractive thing for voters; Colman is an actor’s actor and I suspect has a lot of admirers in the acting branch and beyond; and Lady Gaga is Lady Gaga and she basically carries A Star is Born on her surprisingly naturalistic shoulders.

In any other year, I’d put chips on Gaga and Colman, but here’s the thing: This is Glenn Close’s seventh Oscar nomination, and if anyone deserves the “career award” path to an acting Oscar win — in which the Oscar win is less about the particular performance than the recognition that the person should seriously have won by now — it’s Close. Does Close deserve the Actress Oscar for The Wife, against all the other performers in the field this year? Maaaaaaybe? Does she deserve an Oscar? Oh hell yes she does. I suspect the Academy members know it, too.

Will Win: Close
Should Win: Colman

LEAD ACTOR

Christian Bale, Vice
Bradley Cooper, A Star Is Born
Willem Dafoe, At Eternity’s Gate
Rami Malek, Bohemian Rhapsody
Viggo Mortensen, Green Book

I think Mortensen is one of our most interesting actors generally and I can watch him in just about anything, but he certainly hasn’t been helping himself recently on the PR front, and I don’t really see this being the role that nets him an Oscar (I suspect Mortensen, who is quirky, is probably okay not winning, so). Aaaaand I don’t think Actor is the Oscar Vice is going to get, Bale’s method acting aside (he’s already got an Oscar, and he’ll be back, so he’ll be fine). So that leaves Cooper, Dafoe and Malek. Malek’s possible, and in fact I think this is Rhapsody’s best chance at a big award, but Cooper is in a similar(ish) role and his film is generally less problematic. On the other hand, if Star wins Best Picture, Cooper picks up an award there, and Academy members do like to spread awards around these days. But on the other other hand: Willem Dafoe, who like Close is certainly eligible for the “Career Oscar” treatment, and whose performance as Vincent Van Gogh is widely acclaimed. I am personally vaguely annoyed that a 63-year-old actor is playing “the final years” of a man who died at 37, but honestly who cares what I think about that.

This category I’m not sold on any particular person being the front runner, but for now I’ll go with Dafoe and see if it sticks in the next few weeks. If not Defoe, I’ll say Malek, with Cooper consoling himself(!) with a mere Best Picture statuette.

Will Win: Dafoe
Should Win: Bale

SUPPORTING ACTOR

Mahershala Ali, Green Book
Adam Driver, BlacKkKlansman
Sam Elliott, A Star Is Born
Richard E. Grant, Can You Ever Forgive Me?
Sam Rockwell, Vice

Ali and Rockwell have won Oscars within the last couple of years and I don’t think there is a huge belief among Academy members that they absolutely must have another one right now, so I’m going to go ahead and drop them out of consideration. Adam Driver I think is happy to be here! Good for him, I think we’ll see him in this category again at least a couple more times in the future. I don’t think it’s his year (although if it is, that’s gonna be a good sign for Spike Lee). I’m delighted to see Grant in the category as I’ve been a fan of his since How to Get Ahead in Advertising, and I think there is a pretty good chance he’ll get the nod. But at the end of the day I think it’s Sam Elliot’s to lose, and I will be surprised if he does.

Will Win: Elliot
Should Win: Elliot

SUPPORTING ACTRESS

Amy Adams, Vice
Marina de Tavira, Roma
Regina King, If Beale Street Could Talk
Emma Stone, The Favourite
Rachel Weisz, The Favourite

Stone and Weisz already have Oscars and again there’s not a huge rush to give either another. And after that, who knows? Any of the other three could take it. My money is on Adams, who is a multiple nominee, is edging into “she should have an Oscar as some point so why not now” territory, and whose Oscar win would take care of Vice’s Oscar recognition generally. But King and de Tavira should not be counted out, particularly King, who already won a Golden Globe for this role, and otherwise has recently won an Emmy. So: We’ll see!

Will Win: Adams
Should Win: King

Other Awards: I’ve already talked about Foreign Language — if Roma wins, it’s likely to be A Star Is Born’s night; if not, then Roma is still in the running for Best Picture. If Lady Gaga doesn’t get Actress, she will be able to content herself with an Original Song Oscar, as “Shallow,” which she co-wrote, is a prohibitive favorite in the category. In the screenplay categories, I’m feeling The Favourite and also maaaaaaybe BlacKkKlansman, the latter being a place where Academy members have a chance to give Spike Lee his competitive Oscar (but I’m very soft on that prediction). If you’re wondering where Black Panther has a shot, see Costume and Production Design, with (I think) Costume being the best chance (It’s also up in the Sound categories, but I don’t have a feel for those).

I do think a superhero film will win an Oscar: Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse is I think the hot tip for the Animated Film Oscar. Incredibles 2 might still take it (which would not be the worst thing, it’s perfectly good!), and I have to say I have a soft spot for Ralph Breaks the Internet, because my pal Pamela Ribon co-wrote the screenplay, and it’s hilarious. But, yeah. Spider-Man was a game-changer, and if it doesn’t win, it was robbed.

I’ll check in again just before the actual ceremony to see if my feelings about the categories have changed at all. In the meantime, you may now entertain your own Oscar thoughts in the comments.

The Big Idea: Django Wexler

Every hero has a journey — or so it would seem — but does that have to be the journey we expect them to take? Django Wexler asks that very question in this Big Idea for his new novel Ship of Smoke and Steel.

DJANGO WEXLER:

There’s a story we like to tell in science fiction and fantasy: call it the “journey to power”.

The parameters of it are so obvious they almost don’t bear repeating. Our protagonist (orphan farmboy, penniless waif, lowly ensign) begins in a position with no power or authority. Over the course of the story, they gradually improve their lot, often as a side effect of pursuing other, more altruistic goals. The farmboy becomes a master swordsman, the waif leads a revolution against the oppressive state, the ensign assumes command of the starship in a crisis. By the conclusion, they can look back from the dizzying heights and reflect on how far they’ve come, and perhaps laugh about how provincial concerns like local bullies seem on the eve of the Final Battle.

I’m being reductive, of course, but this thread or something like it is at the root of many, many SFF narratives, and for good reason. It’s immensely satisfying — the underdog who we identify with almost automatically slowly getting the upper hand. Often there’s a contrast between those in power at the start of the story, who abuse their authority, and the hero, who wields power justly and honestly. It’s a story most of us can identify with, because almost everyone knows what it’s like to begin at the bottom of some field, and we can all enjoy the fantasy of becoming powerful enough to give petty tyrants their comeuppance.

Let me stress that this is a good story, which is part of some of my absolute favorite works. It’s in Harry Potter, The Wheel of Time, and Star Wars. (The journey to power overlaps, but is not identical to, the more familiar Hero’s Journey of Campbellian fame.) I’ve used it in my own works, many times. Winter’s story, in The Shadow Campaigns, follows her journey from lowly ranker through sergeant, regimental officer, and finally commanding general, from the front lines to the heights of power.

In my middle-grade fantasy, The Forbidden Library, the protagonist Alice becomes a powerful Reader over the course of the series, accumulating contracts with magical creatures than increase her repertoire of abilities. In fact, one of my favorite moments in that series comes in the fourth book: having spent nearly all her time since encountering magic in strange alternate worlds battling monsters, Alice finds herself spat out, alone and penniless, on a Florida beach. (The story takes place in the early 1930s, so no cell phones or internet to the rescue …) She makes her way back to her home in Pittsburgh, and in the process discovers just how powerful her abilities make her in the “normal” world — she can go anywhere, do anything, and no one stop her. I like it as a moment of reflection, that pause just before the summit where we look down at how far we’ve come.

Ship of Smoke and Steel, my new YA fantasy, has a very long history in my archives. It was originally called Soliton (the name of the colossal ghost ship that is the primary setting) and it made good use of the journey to power. Our protagonists (originally there were two of them) were poor orphans, unaware of their magical abilities, who were abducted to be given to Soliton, which collects mage-bloods for mysterious reasons. Once aboard, they had to make their way in the dangerous, lawless society of the monster-haunted ship, gradually uncovering their own power along the way.

That first attempt never quite worked out — it was part of a somewhat ill-conceived Massive Worldbuilding Project, the sort of thing that starts with “Year 0: The World is Created by The Gods” and pages of maps on millimeter graph paper, and it collapsed under its own weight — and the ideas for Soliton lay dormant in my files for many years. (Writer pro tip: never throw anything away.) When I got the chance to return to them, after more than a decade and nine novels, I decided to take a different approach. (n.b. different as in “different from what I had done before” — I certainly have no claim to originality in the genre!)

Isoka, the protagonist of Ship of Smoke and Steel, is a powerhouse from the beginning of the story. She is an adept of Melos, one of the Nine Wells of Sorcery, the Well of combat and war, which grants her energy blades and nearly impenetrable armor. When we first meet her, she’s an enforcer in a criminal organization, laying waste to a gang of rivals. And while she learns a few new tricks over the course of the book, by and large this is not a story about her coming into her power — she’s already done that.

Instead, Isoka’s story is what you might call a journey to empathy. Apart from a younger sister, to whom she’s obsessively devoted, Isoka starts the book with a callous disregard for the feelings or welfare of others, happy to slaughter her way to the solution of any problem. Soliton, when she’s shanghaied on board, presents her with a situation that can’t be solved by cutting it to pieces, both physically (it’s full of giant monsters and other adepts) and emotionally (much to her surprise, she falls in love with a princess). Her struggle with this is the heart of the book.

Why do it this way? Some of it is just how the characters came to me, of course. Some of it, as I said, is just wanting to try something I haven’t done before. And I think some of it comes from the outside world — this book was written in 2017, and with times being what they are, it’s the journey to empathy that really speaks to me right now. I had a lot of fun writing it, and I hope it speaks to all of you, too.

—-

Ship of Smoke and Steel: Amazon|Barnes & Noble|Indiebound|Powell’s

Read an excerpt. Visit the author’s site. Follow him on Twitter.

“A Model Dog”: A New Short Story, From Me, Over at The Verge

Hey, there! Would you like a short story from me to help you get through your Monday? Of course you would. So here it is: “A Model Dog,” which I wrote for The Verge as part of its “Better Worlds” series of optimistic science fiction. In it, two engineers at a very large tech company are tasked with building a robot dog. Why? And for what purpose? That’s in the story, of course. It’s a short piece (under three thousand words), and I think it’s pretty fun. There’s even an animated version, adapted from the story. It’s pretty cute too.

When you’re done reading/viewing the story, there’s also an interview with me on the site, talking about pets and tech and privacy and other such things. I may make mention of Smudge, who I know is a favorite around here. Check that out, too.

Not an entirely bad way to start the week, I’d say.

My Contribution to the Pile of Lunar Eclipse Photos From Last Night

Lunar eclipse, 1/20/19

This one taken around 11:45pm with my Nikon, and for which I did no prep; this is basically me taking a couple dozen shots freehand and picking the least blurry one. This is the one that turned out the best. It’s not too bad, all things considered. And of course it was beautiful in the sky.

It was in fact a just about perfect night for a lunar eclipse: cold as hell and no wind, so the atmosphere was not jumping all around the place, and cloudless so there was no chance the eclipse would be obscured. Athena and I watched it outside for a few minutes and then went back into the house before frostbite set in. It was worth it.

Did you see the eclipse where you were?

View From a Hotel Window, 1/18/19: Detroit

Actually the picture is from yesterday, but since the view is essentially unchanged (including the sky), I figure it’s probably fine to post. We’re in Detroit for the annual ConFusion convention, which I have been attending since 2005 and which I consider my “home” convention. It’s a lot of fun and I wouldn’t miss it for much. I’ll be hosting a dance tonight, even, which should be fun. Don’t expect to see me here much this weekend. But I hope your weekend will be a fabulous one. If you like, you can share your plans in the comments.

The Big Idea: David Mack

Author David Mack knows what you expect out of a book series. But with The Iron Codex, he’s making the argument that you should sometimes get something else than what you expect. Let’s read his thoughts on why this is.

DAVID MACK:

In the publishing industry, there are certain expectations that govern how a new book series is launched, promoted, and sustained. The Iron Codex was written to defy those expectations.

One of the most common bits of received wisdom that is imparted to authors when they embark upon the creation of a series of novels is that, while each book must tell its own story, each entry in the series should be very much like all the others under the same banner. They should share a core cast of characters. Employ the same settings. Evoke consistent themes and tones. And, above all, belong to the same easily defined and marketed genre or subgenre.

For example, if one launches a series whose first book concerns a grouchy, ghost-talking private detective solving a murder in Victorian London, one’s publisher and readers are likely to want the second book to feature the same main character, supporting cast, setting, and tropes. Moreover, it’s reasonable for them to expect that its plot will concern another mystery to be solved. Perhaps another murder, or maybe something else, just for variety. But the essential reading experience of each book in the series should be very much like those that preceded it.

It’s a logical and reasonable approach to crafting a series. It has a long track record of success.

It also was exactly what I did not want to do when I created my Dark Arts series.

I created Dark Arts to be something different. Its first book, The Midnight Front, was plotted and planned as a World War II-era secret-history war epic about demon-powered sorcerers waging secret campaigns behind the scenes of the real war’s events. But I had no interest in creating a series that simply hopscotched from one war to another. I didn’t want the progression of the series to be “World War II, Korean War, Vietnam War, Iraq War, etc.”

What I’d envisioned was a series that would follow a core group of sorcerers through different eras and regions of 20th-century geopolitical history, by telling stories best suited to those times and settings. Consequently, book two of Dark Arts is a radically different style of novel from its predecessor. Instead of another war epic, The Iron Codex is a Cold War-era spy-thriller.

Just to increase my difficulty level, I decided that book two should also have a different main character than book one; I wanted the female lead from book one to take over as the heroine. The Midnight Front had been about Cade Martin’s journey from naïveté to jaded cynicism. I wanted The Iron Codex to chronicle Anja Kernova’s path from self-doubt to self-knowledge.

Of course, switching the main character from one book to the next has been done by other authors as they developed a series. (I’m looking at this blog’s esteemed owner’s own Zoe’s Tale as a sterling example.) But often those series were more consistent in style, genre, and setting than Dark Arts promises to be.

That’s not to say there are no through-lines connecting the stories that constitute my series. The magic system, which was extrapolated from the rituals of Renaissance-era ceremonial magic, is an essential element in every book. Subplots from book one are continued in books two and three (the latter of which I am still revising for final delivery to my editor), and my supporting characters have their own arcs that follow them through the series.

Will those links be enough to keep readers from abandoning my series en masse when they realize that each new book will be a different narrative flavor? Book three is going to be a paranoid conspiracy piece about betrayal, and I have notions of making book four a high-velocity heist thriller. Of course, it’s possible book four will never happen, because I might have just committed career suicide with this unorthodox approach to my series’ genre identity.

There are a lot of reasons why this experiment might not succeed. I knew that was a risk before I started. But on some level I genuinely believe that, just as I find it more interesting to write a series that changes up its approach with each book, there is an audience that will appreciate and celebrate it. My acquiring editor certainly believed it to be a worthwhile endeavor.

If that turns out not to be the case, future generations of writers will likely use my name in whispered tones as a caution to others. But even if this experiment fails to pan out commercially, I will defend my creative choice. (Though maybe not my business savvy.) I think the Dark Arts novels are fun and unlike much else out there. I’ve enjoyed writing them, and I can’t imagine having taken any other approach to telling the tales of these characters. Now, however, my role is done, and all I can do is hope that the books find their readership via word-of-mouth.

And so I cast my peculiar narrative bread upon the waters of public opinion … and hope that my reward proves to be more than just a handful of soggy gluten.

—-

The Iron Codex: Amazon | Barnes & Noble | Indiebound | Powell’s

Read a prequel story. Visit the author’s site. Follow him on Facebook and Twitter.

My “Storming the ConFusion” Schedule

I’m going to be at the ConFusion science fiction convention this weekend, and if you’re going to be there (or are considering going, and you should!), here is what I’ll be doing and when:

Friday 9pm (Michigan Ballroom): Dance Party. That’s right, I’ll be DJing on Friday with danceable tunes across several decades to get everyone’s feet moving. Get in there and dance!

Saturday Noon (Ontario): Writers Talk About Anything But Writing. “Our panelists answer your burning questions on anything–except writing. Ask about cooking, motorcycle repair, science, the meaning of life, color theory, their favorite and least favorite airports–anything but writing! (accuracy of answers is not guaranteed).” This will be with me, Mark Oshiro and Delilah Dawson. Guaranteed fun.

Saturday 3pm (Dearborn): Reading. I’ll be reading new stuff that literally no one has heard before, plus some other bits, and then (time willing) opening up for a Q&A.

Saturday 4pm (Erie): Autograph Session. I and other writers will be signing our work.

There you have it.

Mary Robinette Kowal is Running for SFWA President and I Endorse Her Candidacy

She announced it last night. Here is her platform, which I encourage you to read if you are a member of the Science Fiction and Fantasy Writers of America (and even if you are not).

Some of you may recall that I was SFWA president once, from 2010 to 2013. Mary Robinette was my vice president for two of those years, 2010 through 2012, and was secretary of SFWA for two years before that. In my role as president, I got a chance to see her work for SFWA up close. She was, in a word, excellent. As my VP she gave me sound advice and counsel (up to and including telling me when I was wrong), she executed on policy and strategy in ways that were smart and effective, and she was my not-so-secret weapon in instances that required tact and delicacy. She was, in sum, the very best of vice-presidents.

I believe strongly Mary Robinette will be even better as president of the organization. She is a working writer, so she is aware of the day-to-day realities of the writing life. She’s well-known and is well-regarded in the community of science fiction and fantasy writing and publishing; doors are open to her, which will be to the benefit of the organization. Her track record of service to SFWA as an organization and to its members is both long and meritorious, and she knows the organization and its people as well as any person could. She is a genuinely great writer and communicator — with the awards to prove it — and SFWA could not ask for a better face of the organization.

Most importantly, Mary Robinette’s platform is simultaneously sensible and forward-looking: A combination of policies to strengthen what SFWA is already good at and can do now, and policies to make SFWA an even better organization for science fiction and fantasy writers in the future. She has good goals, and has the right skills to move those goals forward.

Finally, Mary Robinette is one of my best friends, and has been for a dozen years now. I can’t think of anyone I respect more as a person, or anyone whose unique combination of personal and professional qualities are as admirable. She is the whole package, the real deal, and one of the best people you could hope to meet.

For all these reasons, I endorse Mary Robinette Kowal’s candidacy for President of SFWA. I look forward to voting for her, and then, as a member of SFWA, having her be my president. There’s no one better for the job. I’m very glad she’s running.

The Big Idea: Brenda W. Clough

In today’s Big Idea, Brenda Clough explore the issues of power, and superpowers, and whether both are more trouble than they are made out to be — and how that affects her new trilogy, of which The River Twice is the first installment.

BRENDA W. CLOUGH:

I was born in Washington DC and have lived here, off and on, all my life. So a fascination with power comes naturally to me. All my novels revolve around power and the difficulties of acquiring and managing it, and my new time travel trilogy Edge to Center is no exception.

And what is time travel but the ultimate power? Think about it. Nothing is over, if you can go back and fix it. No battle lost, no relationship destroyed, no opportunity missed. You blew it big time. But you could go back and make everything right – couldn’t you?

Well … of course not. Who wants to read about Superman steamrollering all the opposition? The whole point about writing about power is to explore the dilemmas it generates.  My hero Jack Wragsland falls into every possible pit of knives his ability to manipulate time allows him to get into. A reasonably conscientious fellow, he does try to fix it. It does not go well.

But there’s more to power than tinkering with space/time. The main tool the human race has developed to manage untrammeled power is government. Only good governance separates Americans from Yemen or North Korea. There’s a reason people want to immigrate into the United States, and it’s not because of our climate. Living in a well-run nation allows you to get stuff done: useful things like staying alive and having a family and not starving to death, picky details like that. And writing books – are there any great novels you know of that written by a resident of Pyongyang? Think of how difficult it would be to start a decent theater project in downtown Lebanon today. If art is the fullest expression of a culture, it’s government that gives the space for that culture to flourish.

So the other protagonist is Calla Ang, heir to an (imaginary) country in Southeast Asia. The problem she has is how to manage her political power. God knows there are plenty of knife pits a ruler can fall into, and the misery this can generate is just as great as meddling with time lines. Which Jack helps her with, a couple times.

There is a solution within the story, one that both characters work towards. It’s a grown-up answer, not an action-movie solution, kind of Zen: that you don’t have to wield the sword. You can have the power, and hold it back. Sometimes the wiser path is to simply not use the maximal weapon in your hand. Of course you can dive in there, thrashing and trashing, and that makes (I trust) for a thrilling set of novels. But if you keep on throwing the big hammer, are you smart? Sometimes, as Tolkien told us, the answer is small and mundane.

I insist that my protagonists be smart. Jack and Calla make horrible mistakes, but they learn from them. They don’t keep on banging their heads against walls. They grope their way, eventually, to a solution that Marvel heroes would never fall into.

—-

The River Twice: Amazon|Book View Cafe

Visit the author’s site. Read the Book View Cafe blog.

I’m Not Saying Sugar Is Judging You, But

Sugar, being judgy.

In fact, she is totally judging you. She is in reality the most judgmental of all our cats, the cat voted Mostly Likely Not to Be Angry, Just Disappointed (although in fact she’s got a temper, so don’t cross her).

Busy Monday around here. How was yours?

The Cat Catches On Quick

“What? You want me to pose for a photo? Well, I suppose I could –”

” — wait, what?”

“Oh, I get it. Smudgeception. Very cute, human.”

Revenue Streams, 2018

Eight years ago I wrote up this piece about my revenue streams, talking about where it is my money comes from. In 2010 I had just made the switch to having the majority of my income be from writing fiction, after two decades of having other sorts of writing be my primary source of income. In that time some things have changed and some things have stayed the same, and I thought it might be interesting to talk about how my money comes in today, so you can have an idea of the contrasts.

This time I did not make a pie chart (too much effort) or specify percentages; rather I will do a ranking of the income streams, and I’m going to divide up “books” into several specific categories because I think the mechanics of the revenue streams will be of interest.

So, let’s dive in, shall we?

1. Domestic royalties: This includes royalties from my US publishers (mostly Tor, Audible and Subterranean Press, although there are others), and is mostly from novels, although I do get royalties from non-fiction, novellas and short stories as well. The main driver of my royalties is my backlist, and specifically the works that were published before my 2015 long-term contract with Tor, although I am earning royalties from some titles covered in that contract. I’ll note that in 2010 I was making relatively little money from audiobook royalties, but in 2018 audiobooks were a significant part of royalty income stream; this is due to the audiobook segment of the market expanding hugely in that time, and also, me being lucky that audiobook fans seem to like my work in that medium.

I’m very fortunate that my novel backlist sells well — the Old Man’s War series essentially sells the same amount year in and year out and is as close to constant as one can get in the business, and Redshirts and Lock In are also reliable sellers. The other standalones outside the 2015 contract go up and down but chug along. However, and perhaps surprisingly to people, the shorter pieces available in eBook form also sell solidly; people seem happy to spend a couple of bucks on a short story. The non-fiction books — mostly the essay collections from SubPress — also tend to be solid backlisters.

2. Domestic advances: My advances for my Tor books are sliced into four bits: An amount at contract signing, an amount at acceptance of the manuscript, an amount at hardcover publication and an amount at paperback. This means that in any year I’m getting a chunk of advance money on books at different stages of publication. For example, in 2018 I got five advance payments: Two for delivery of a manuscript (Head On and The Consuming FireHead On was completed in December 2017 but the payment came in 2018 — two for publication (same two books), and one for paperback publication (The Collapsing Empire). In 2019, I’ll get three: Delivery for The Last Emperox (assuming I turn it in on time, which I will) and paperback for Head On and Consuming Fire. The gist of this is that thanks to the 2015 Tor contract, my advance income is fairly predictable, so long as I finish my books on schedule, which I tend to do.

There have been years where my advances income has been greater than my royalties income; they’ll switch from year to year depending on circumstances. However, generally speaking, domestic advances and domestic royalties are usually my top two income streams at this point, and that seems unlikely to change (I’ll note a possible exception later).

3. Foreign language sales: This includes both foreign language advances and royalties. I am fortunate that my literary agency (Ethan Ellenberg Literary Agency) does a very excellent job in placing my work outside of the English language as well as inside of it. My books are currently in a couple dozen languages. The advances in other languages don’t tend to be as much as they are in the English, although they can be sizable, but if you’re selling rights in multiple languages, the amounts add up. Another wrinkle: foreign language rights tend to be term limited, so you can sell them again after a few years, either to the same publishing house or to a new one. Foreign language sales tend to track one’s success in the English language market — foreign publishers prefer you to be a hit in your own language — but if you can manage that, it’s a nice income segment.

4. Film/TV options: I have five options out at the moment, and those options come with (typically) low to middlin’ amounts attached up front, with (usually) more coming if the project makes it into production. Those options can also (usually) be renewed at a certain point. This year I had some things optioned and some options renewed. If anything gets into actual production, this particular line item could jump up in the rankings, possibly all the way to number one. But as with everything regarding the film and television industry, the time to count one’s chickens is when they’re deep fried and in a bucket on your dinner table. Also, of course, these could dry up in an instant. Hollywood is a fickle beast.

5. Speaker’s Fees: This is a relatively new revenue stream for me, and one I actually like, since anyone who’s seen me do my thing knows I like to talk and that generally speaking I can be entertaining. This isn’t ex-president money for me, but it’s not chicken feed, either, and it’s one I think I can expand, and hope to, in the coming years.

6. Consulting Fees: Occasionally people or corporations invite me out someplace to pick my brain on one topic or another. Apparently I’m an expert on some things! This is different from doing a speaking event largely because it’s I’m being a resource rather than entertaining people. This is, I will note, a markedly different type of corporate consulting than I used to do, which was mostly doing writing/editing for companies.

7. Freelance writing: I’m a “Critic at Large” for the Los Angeles Times, which means I write a few pieces a year for them, and they pay me for them, and I really enjoy both sides of that deal.

8. Video Games: Got a payment I wasn’t really expecting from Industrial Toys, with whom I was involved on Midnight Star and Midnight Star: Renegade. It’s nice to get money you’re not expecting.

9. Short Story Anthology Payments: I had a short story appear in the Robots vs. Fairies anthology, for which I was paid (and another story in the Resist anthology, the payment for which was donated to the ACLU). I wrote a couple other short stories but published them on my site rather than bother to submit them anywhere, because I’m lazy, you see.

10. Download/Streaming payments on my music: Wait, what, now? Weirdly, it’s true! I have an album of music you can download or stream, and apparently people actually have or do, since the payments show up in my PayPal account. I made dozens of dollars with my music last year! Dozens!!!

For 2019 things my revenue streams are likely to be similar to 2018, with the possibility of new streams coming online depending on how some business deals work out. I’ll let you know if or when those happen.

In the meantime: This is how it gets done, or at least, got done in 2018.

Yes, There’s a Point to Bad Reviews in 2019

Got a request:

So I read the piece. And here are some thoughts, informed by having been both a professional critic and reviewer, and a professional creative artist. These thoughts, perhaps not surprisingly, get longer as I go along.

1. The point of a bad review is to point out when something is bad, and give relevant context for that badness.

2. Some things are bad art. It doesn’t mean that the bad art can’t be popular, or enduring, or even, in time, a “classic.” “Bad art” means very generally that the creator(s) did not achieve in their art what that art was meant to be, or at the very least, what it was advertised to be by them to others. These failures happen (in my opinion) mostly for reasons of competence, or lack thereof. There are other definitions of “bad art” but this one works the most often.

3. It’s okay to call out what in your opinion is bad art, especially when your job description is “reviewer” or “critic.” And sometimes it is even necessary; someone has to point out when the emperor has no clothes.

4. Criticism itself is an art — the ability to gestalt someone else’s art and coherently, cogently, and persuasively comment on it is a skill, and a much more difficult skill to master than people often assume. Sometimes the criticism of the art is better (and sometimes arguably more important) than the art itself — Roger Ebert’s famous pan of North is a better piece of art than the film it criticizes, for example. I saw (and reviewed) the film. There is not a line in Ebert’s review that is inaccurate or undeserved, and his ability to so memorably and compactly assess the film’s flaws and shortcomings is why the review is remembered long after the film itself has been purged from the cultural memory.

Ebert was famously the first film reviewer to get a Pulitzer for criticism; there’s a reason for that. Ebert was an artist, whose medium was the film review. Other critics are artists as well.

5. Which means that their art is equally up for criticism! There are plenty of bad reviewers and critics and commentators out there, offering bad takes because they’re incompetent, or ignorant of the field or art which they choose to review, or poorly frame the context of their criticism, or are more interested in tweetable snark than cogent commentary, or whatever. Sometimes the frame for reviewing and criticism can be simple — “Is this film/album/art worth your actual money or time?” — and sometimes it can be more complex.

Critics and reviewers do not have to be artists in the field they are commenting on, but it helps immensely if they know about that field — and also, have a reasonable grasp of rhetoric and argument. Anyone can criticize, but not everyone can create good and useful criticism, the stuff that contextualizes the art in question.

6. There’s a difference between a “bad review” — a negative review of a work — and a poor review, which is a review that is poorly done. Bad reviews can be brilliantly done and useful to their audience; poor reviews can be negative or positive about the work in question but add no useful context or argument regarding the work. Poor reviews are bad art.

7. This is important: The critic does not work for the artist. The critic’s audience is (as examples) the readership/viewership of whatever media outlet they work for, a particular group with a specific aesthetic interest, future scholars of whatever medium the criticism focuses on, and so on. When I was a film reviewer, I was working for a newspaper and my audience was the readership of that paper. I was not writing for the filmmakers, or their studios, or their PR people (and most of the time filmmakers/studios/PR people understood this very well). I literally did not care what the filmmakers thought of the review; the review wasn’t for them. It was for the people looking for how to amuse themselves on a Friday night. I owed it to those people to say whether a movie was (in my opinion) worth their time and money.

8. This doesn’t mean that artist can’t or shouldn’t read reviews of their work — or have opinions about the particular reviews, or the particular reviewers — but I think it would be helpful to them to remember that reviews are almost never for them, and that a reviewer/critic/commentator has a specific fiduciary duty that is not in any way about them. And also: Sometimes a bad review can be good for you as an artist! Yes, it sucks to have someone review your work negatively, but it’s also useful to remember that a bad review isn’t always a poor review, and sometimes a negative review can cogently identify a bothersome issue that you yourself have not been able to put a finger on — and having identified it for you, you can now work to fix it in later work.

9. In the piece linked to above, there’s a bit where John Krasinski talks about mentioning to Paul Thomas Anderson that he didn’t think a new film (from a third director) was very good. Anderson tells him, basically, to keep it that to himself, realize that not everything is for him, and to support the other artist anyway, because it’s a tough field and all their compatriots need support.

And you know what? I don’t think that’s bad advice for artists generally. It’s very rare you will see me, as a science fiction author, write or otherwise publicly offer a negative review of work from other writers in the genre — I’ll tell you what I liked in the field, but I don’t go out of my way to tell you what I didn’t like. Because it’s a tough field, not everything is for me, and generally speaking I’m for helping out other people in my field even if their work isn’t something I’m personally excited about. I do this on the principles of paying it forward, and of a rising tide.

Can and should every artist do this? That’s for them to decide, and I’ll be the first to say that my position on the matter is more than a little informed by my position in my particular field, and the repercussions to me and others if I’m perceived to be “punching down” (note that both Krasinski and Anderson would be vulnerable to the same repercussions in their rather higher-profile field). It’s more to the point to say that there is a difference between the role of the artist in their community of peers, and the role of the critic, acting as a commentator and contextualizer of the field those artists inhabit.

10. Do bad reviews still have a point in 2019? Yes, obviously they do — there is still bad art out there, and it’s within the remit of reviewers and critics to comment on it, both for the sake of their direct audiences, and to help identify and explain the larger cultural context within which the work resides. The bad review runs the risk of hurting the artists’ feelings and/or enraging the admirers of that artist, but that’s their problem, not a problem for the critic.

What does the critic owe anyone? Competence, basically — the promise that a “bad review” is not a poor review. If the critic can’t manage that, then they’re as vulnerable as any other artist to justified criticism.

And that’s what I think about it.