Chuq Von Rospach is a Silicon Valley veteran doing Technical Community Management and amateur photographer with a strong interest in birds, wildlife and landscapes. My goal is to explore the Western states and working to tell you the stories of the special places I've found. You can find out more on the About Page.
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Category Archives: The Writing Life
(if you aren’t interested in science fiction fandom, or worse, science fiction fandom politics and SMOFFing and all of that crap, avert your eyes and go read something else. you’ll thank me…)
So, this is a motion that’s being offered at this year’s WSFS meeting at Worldcon: To gut the Hugos of the Fanzine, Fan Writer and Fan Artist categories (pdf link), an idea put forward by one Milt Stevens. If you’re at all interested in this stuff, go read it; I’ll wait.
Oh, good lord.
This proposal is patently stupid and I expect it’ll die a quick and hopefully embarrassing death for its supporters. It’s attempting to restart a fight that was lost and done with about 30 years ago. Since I was in the middle of this fight back in the day, a bit of historical context for the twelve people in the universe who might care….
For what it’s worth, John Scalzi does a wonderful job of gutting this — the only word I can come up with printable is senile — attempt to return fandom to the good old days, if you define good old days to almost 40 years ago before the scourge of the modem. Or something like that. It’s being fronted by Milt Stevens and seconded by Linda Deneroff, which I’ll describe more or less as old school paper fanzine geeks and smofs that were well-known back in the early 80′s. Mike Glyer, of File 770 fame, seems to be cheering them on.
This is a bunch of aging comedians trying to get people to stop watching that damned Television thing and come back to the Vaudeville stages. Nothing more, nothing less. And it’ll be about as effective.
1989, Noreascon 3. OtherRealms was nominated for Best Fanzine and I ended up nominated for Best Fan Writer. OtherRealm was up against File 700 (who ultimately won), and the wonderful FOXFAX and Ed Meskys’ Niekas and the Fanzine I actually voted for, Lan’s Lantern by George “Lan” Laskowski (may he rest in peace. Miss you, Lan). Best Fan Writer was mostly the usual suspects, Dave Langford, Mike Glyer, Arthur Hlavaty, Avedon Carol, Guy Lillian and this interloper, namely me, the online fan geek. Dave Langford won (and deserved to, but I voted for Hlavaty. Surprised I didn’t vote for myself? I knew I wasn’t going to win, I didn’t think I deserved to, and it was just rather nice to be on the ballot finally… mostly).
There were — I’m shocked, you know — rumors of bloc voting and nominations that year. Not in the fan categories but in one of the pro categories. Frankly, it was mostly the usual in group political infighting. but when I went to Noreascon that year, I was rather — frustrated — to start hearing the rumors that the only reason I was on the ballot was that the people organizing the bloc nominations for that other category told everyone to nominate me as well so it wouldn’t be obvious that there was organized group nominations going on. As far as I know that wasn’t true, and I was not involved in any of it, but to be honest, having it said to my face in the fanzine room took the glow off the weekend a bit. Not even getting hit up by the groupies who were attempting to tag their dance card with as many hugo nominees as they could that weekend could fix it (for the record, I turned her down, and introduced my wife to her. She told me my wife was welcome, too… god, I do love and miss fandom some days).
One reason I know this bloc voting ‘thang’ had little or no part in OtherRealms finally getting on the ballot was because it had been a close call on the ballot a couple of previous years, and in one previous year the con committee decided, rather arbitrarily (and against my arguments) that if it was nominated onto the ballot, OtherRealms would have to qualify as a semiprozine (and therefore go up against Locus and Charlie Brown and lose).
During this time the mailing list SF-Lovers was growing in prominence and size, and by the late 80′s the membership and message volume of the list was likely larger than all of paper fanzine fandom worldwide added together, but it was ruled ineligible for the ballot for various reasons like not existing on paper and not having countable subscribers (or too many, depending on how you wanted to look at it, which would have stuffed it into the semiprozine category).
So this fight was going on literally 30 years ago and some of the folks involved are involved in this new fight, at least peripherally. Ultimately Noreascon 3 invented a special award that was given to Saul Jaffe for running SF-Lovers, and Noreason 3 (unlike previous ConComs) stopped finding reasons not to let OtherRealms on the ballot. OtherRealms complicated that argument because I had really fallen into paper fanzine fandom as well as online and it was a legimate hybrid with a legitimate paper version as well as an electronic version — and by that time I was not only pubbing OtherRealms, but I’d joined FAPA and I was involved in a number of “real” fanzine activities (we can blame Ben Bova, Arthur Hlavaty and a couple of others for igniting that bug. Thanks, guys).
The good news is, OtherRealms, which had a significant online audience (my guess: 20-25,000 at its max) made it onto the ballot. the bad news was that it made it onto the ballot because of the paper edition, which had at the time 6-700 paper subscribers. It’s going to be hard for modern online folks to understand this, but this was before HTML, before the web, before PDF, before you could embed images or even bold text in an email, so the two really were unique and different editions with similar content. So in practice, the paper edition was what was put on the ballot, even though most of the nominators and voters were readers of the electronic version.
And guess what. It happened, I finished above No Award (which was my hope) and the universe didn’t fall into a black hole. Neither did the Hugos, and neither have the fan Hugos. They’ve chugged along for 30 years doing pretty well, unless you happen to be one of those old school types who really want us all to go back to black and white TVs; um, paper fanzines. It always amazes me when I see people heavily involved in Science Fiction, whether as authors or fans, as absolutely resistant to change and progress and some of them are.
Dear old school fanzine fans: the world has changed. Get over it. Speaking as a former member of FAPA (and proud of it), there’s a lot of really good crap going on in online fandom, too. Quite whining about it, join in. Heck, even Mike Glyer has a web site for File 770 now, although from what I can tell, he seems to wish it didn’t exist some times…
this proposal is nothing more than the stars that were famous in silent movies attempting to tell everyone to kill the Oscars rather than award them to those horrors called talking pictures (because they haven’t been able to find work since the silents went away). It should be treated as the silly crap it is and quickly sent to the shredder and forgotten.
It is, frankly, terribly sad to see people still trying to fight a battle that was lost 30 years ago, and demeaning the work of a much larger group of people who are doing really good and interesting work, just because it doesn’t fit their idea of appropriate. Guess what, folks, not only do movies talk these days, they do it in color, too. You might want to try a few. you might like it.
(to the rest of the universe that’s not stuck in a time loop set 40 years ago, please don’t tell them about surround-sound or 3D or IMAX. Their nervous system might not be able to take it…)
Some days I really, really miss being actively involved in fandom and fanzine pubbing. But not today. Now I feel kinda sad for those that are that fights like this are still going on…
Over the past five years, every writer I know has been told by their agent to ‘monetise the activity around their writing’. Give talks. Go to conventions. Judge prizes. Write reviews. Write articles. Go on telly. Go on radio. Go on Twitter. Build your brand.
The problem with all these activities is that nobody actually wants to pay you to do them. Instead, you are given vague assertions that it will be good for sales, good for your profile, and if you do all these things, then my son, there will be jam for tea.
Well, I’m now 41, have written 10 books over 12 years, and for me it’s tea time. The kettle has come to the boil, the Crown Derby is laid out, the bread is sliced and I need the jam right now. In short, I want to be paid for what I do.
Yeah well, good luck with that. Alone of all the respectable professions on the planet, authors are expected to do what they do for free . . . or, at best, for good will.
In any other profession or trade, asking for money is not such a strange thing, is it? Next time you get a lawyer to drive 250 miles and then speak to you for an hour, try paying him with a few bottles of Spanish dry white and see what he says.
Welcome to the reality of working in an industry that’s being disrupted by digital technologies and online commerce. By the way, writers, you’re not the first to run into this. Welcome to the club.
Five years ago we heard this exact speech from stock photographers when microstock ate their livelihood. Ten years ago, it was musicians as iTunes turned music into digital packages sold online instead of plastic discs sold in stores.
We all want to get paid for what we do. The reality is, when the market disrupts and turns upside down, either you adapt to it and take advantage of the new opportunities, or you end up sitting in the pub with a beer whining about how your life got messed up when everything changed. What you want doesn’t matter if the market doesn’t agree with you.
We’re seeing the same disruption in other segments, too. Talk to your friendly neighborhood beat writer at the newspaper recently? Or even more painfully, the photographer that used to go out on stories with them?
This disruption wave is hitting paper magazines, and book publishers, too. It’s not going to stop, you can’t ignore it, and if you try, it’ll bury you. So you need to either commit to find and take the advantages being created, or sit back and complain and hope that your livelihood doesn’t get killed before you retire.
I got an unexpected and unsolicited tweet from the folks at The Write Agenda tonight:
I wrote back pointing out that they are spouting absolute bullshit, but the more I thought about it, the more I figured I ought to put it here in the blog, too, for the benefit of future people who might find it via searching on these issues.
For those that don’t know about the group, Writer Beware has been working to identify scammers that try to rip off or leech authors and not-yet authors, educate authors about these shady and (often) illegal business practices, and find ways to fix problems for authors where they can.
This has, obviously, pissed off a number of these people who see authors as a group they can suck money off of without returning a useful service in return.
I know a number of the people who’ve been involved in Writer Beware over the years. Some of them are friends of mine. They are doing tough work on a volunteer basis to try to get these scam operations identified and shut down.
The Write Agenda isn’t happy with this, because the people Writer Beware are trying to save writers from are the people behind The Write Agenda.
I have recommended a number of friends to Writer Beware over the years when they started trying to market and sell their first novels. it’s a critical resource for anyone who’s trying to break into the market as a new author as a resource on what kind of businesses to avoid getting involved with. (Basic hint: if they want money up front, or want you to fund their work for you, run like hell).
Even though I haven’t been a member of SFWA for a number of years, I fully support the operations of Writer Beware; if I were doing any fiction writing at all, I’d be putting some of the income from that writing behind Writer Beware.
Just to make it painfully clear: The Write Agenda is an organization attempting to confuse you about what’s going on so you don’t listen to Writer Beware when they tell you to avoid doing business with the people hiding behind The Write Agenda. Don’t listen to them. Read both web sites. Ask yourself which one is working for you, and which one isn’t. It should be obvious.
Writer Beware has my full backing and support, and if you’re trying to figure out how to sell a book or buy services to help you get your book into the market, pay attention to Writer Beware, and follow their advice about what not to do, and who not to get involved in. And avoid dealing with anyone involved with The Write Agenda under any circumstance.
That is, in case it’s not painfully obvious, my opinion.
I’ve uploaded another of my stories from back when I was writing fiction. This is my first sale and first published piece, Death Do Us Part from Alternate Kennedys, Tor, July 1992. Mike Resnick was the Editor. It was a science fiction anthology, so of course I wrote a horror story about President Jack Kennedy and a certain demon that made his life interesting. Sold in 1991 this story’s now over 20 years old, but I think it holds up well. The references are all ancient history for a huge chunk of the population, but it connects with a really interesting part of history in a different and I think funny way. Excerpt: “Bobby, if you ever, ever say ‘What could go wrong?’ to me again, remind me to have you killed. Now, what happened? This was supposed to be a nice, quiet, uneventful vacation and re-union with my wonderful, caring wife?” The President grimaced. “At least she’s home again. Hope you like puce. That’s the color of the wallpaper going in the Lincoln room.” “Forget the wallpaper, Jack. Remember that war you told me to start when we were looking for a distraction on Monroe?” “Now that you mention it, I do.” “We forgot to call it off. Congratulations, Jack. We’re the parents of a major nuclear crisis. You, me and Khrushchev.” “You set this up with the Russians?” “No. He’s doing it on his own. We’re just blowing it up onto the front page where everyone will see it.” “Oh, Jesus, Bobby. He’s a hard-nosed bastard. It’s not going to be easy to get him to back down. Nukes in Cuba.” The President rubbed his eyes. “You don’t suppose I could get Adlai to impeach me now, could I?” “Not a chance, Jack. You’ll have to deal with this one.” “Damn. You know what’s worse?” “What could be worse than nukes in Cuba?” “Jackie insisted on separate bedrooms.” Read the entire story over in my writing area. enjoy!
My stance on this hasn’t changed. As far as I’m concerned, the tech blogosphere has collapsed into a largely worthless echo-chamber filled with idiotic babble about Apple’s share price and moronic product rumors. As a result I’m officially re-launching The Angry Drunk in the way I first intended to run it almost six years ago. I’ll expand on my intended content changes below and the technical changes in a later post. I suppose the easiest way to explain my intended vision for the content here is to start by explaining what The Angry Drunk will not be. The Angry Drunk is not:
If you want to know why I’ve lost most of my interest in writing about tech and Apple, Angry Drunk pretty much nails it.
There are just too damn many people chasing too few really interesting stories, and what’s become important is to be fast and first, not insightful — or even correct. I could build a pretty successful career around making up rumors and pushing affiliate advertising, but I need to sleep at night, and I’m not interested in turning into yet another rumor site. It’s sad that I don’t even have to be right, I just have to tell people that I have sources, and they’re never held accountable for vein wrong; everyone just rolls off to the next damn rumor and starts drooling again.
Apple, of course, is held accountable for not living up to the rumors. But the rumor inventors keep getting pageviews. even the big name rumor mongers — the ones who write for “legitimate” sites (like forbes, or the financial industry) don’t get held accountable for being wrong. They just get press for their next round of ‘analysis’. Frankly, I got pretty sick of the whole mess, and I found that my entire set of tech-oriented postings were turning into “that’s bullshit… He’s full of crap… it’s all bogus….”
you know what? I don’t enjoy being a negative suck.
But I’ve been thinking long and hard about what I want this place to be about, and the kind of stuff that rolls through the geek blogosphere these days isn’t it. I’m not trying to drive pageviews. I’m not interested in doing the Gizmodo troll thing and posting 30 articles a day, each 100 words of original content or less. My interest is in studying a topic, understanding what I want to say about it, and then writing about it, and writing about it in some detail. In other words, something diametrically opposite to what seems to be the trend in tech blogging.
Although I’m starting to see a reaction to the short-fast-first, and I think it’s going to grow, and if it hits critical mass, it’s going to make some blogging sites rather unhappy. There’s a growing interest not in quick hits and fast reactions, but in actual thought and analysis, and I see the long-form content becoming fashionable again.
Fashionable or not, I don’t care. It’s what I want to write, and it’s where I’m pointing this blog. Not posting every day? Horrors. I guess I’ll survive — but I’d rather post less often, but when I post, it actually says something interesting and informative. That’s what I’m trying to do now.
And if you prefer “first post!” stuff, well, plenty of places to get that. Just not here.
Thank you for your letter regarding Random House and Hydra, and your interest in speaking with us.
Unfortunately, there is very little to discuss. SFWA has determined to its own satisfaction that Hydra does not meet our minimum standards for a qualifying market, as its contract does not offer an advance. Additionally, your attempt to shift to the author costs customarily borne by the publisher is, simply, outrageous and egregious. The first of these things alone would disqualify Hydra as a qualifying market. It is the second of these things, however, that causes us to believe that Hydra intends to act in a predatory manner towards authors, and in particular toward newer authors who may not have the experience to recognize the extent to which your contract is beyond the pale of standard publishing practices.
You extol your business model as œdifferent ; the more accurate description, we believe, is œexploitative. We are particularly disappointed to see it arising out of Random House, a well-regarded, long-standing publishing firm. Bluntly put, Random House should know better.
I want to thank SFWA for taking this stand. They’re completely right on the problems with this contract. It’s sad (but unsurprising) to see Random House moving into what can only be seen as a new-era vanity press publishing model.
As someone who was a member of SFWA (disclaimer: Laurie is still a member) for many years and put a lot of time and effort into the organization, it’s great to see how it’s grown up and gotten involved in issues that are significant to people who are trying to make a living at writing.If I were at all involved in fiction right now, I’d be thrilled to rejoin SFWA and put my money into helping them in these fights again (and people who know me know that wasn’t always true).
The sad thing is that it’s been almost 20 years (sigh) since I published my last piece of fiction — and while ebooks have created some interesting opportunities and new revenue opportunities for writers, it’s actually harder now for the journeyman writer to make a living at it, not easier.
I’ve been spending the last year investigating whether I want to reboot my fiction writing (okay, I want to. I’ve been investigating whether it makes sense in my situation. Right now, the answer is “no” but the argument with myself continues) and it’s been a fascinating thing to research.
We saw Borders implode, and Barnes and Noble isn’t looking much better — but between them, they did a good job of imploding the diversity of the industry around them. That’s nothing new, they’re following the same path that the music, stock photography, and newspaper industries have followed. This Random House imprint seems to have built its contracts around music industry traditions, which frankly isn’t encouraging if the corporation sees that at the path forward.
If you’re someone who’s thinking about doing this for a living, you really should be watching what SFWA is saying. I also strongly suggest that the only viable path for an author starting out today is through independent publishing, where you control your own destiny (but you don’t have a publication house supporting you on administration and distribution and marketing). That means you need to learn those other pieces of the business, but if there was ever any question that the existing publishing houses are no longer your friend, look at these contracts. And frankly, despite what SFWA is doing, I expect these contracts to stick, and their language to migrate into the other lines at Random House over time — these contracts are en experiment, and I expect it to work for them. And you can bet the other houses are watching
So if you do want to try your hand publishing, I suggest you start reading a few blogs and get yourself some education (you’ll need it): John Scalzi‘s blog is a perfect example of what an author blog can be and how to engage your readers and make them a part of your career; Kris Rusch and Dean Wesley Smith have done a huge amount of work figuring out how to make the indie career path work and making that information available to all of us, and the Passive Voice blog is a great collector of information about what’s going on and what is working in the writing/publishing world today.
And for me, for various reasons, I’m going to continue to sit this one out, but it’s a fascinating time for writers. Not always a fun one, but as old standard career options are being destroyed, new opportunities are being created. If I were 25 again, I’d certainly be making different decisions than I did when I chose to retire from writing 20 years ago
Update: Judy Tarr diggs in on this topic as well, over on Book View Cafe (which, if you aren’t following their blog, you should. Great group of authors over there doing interesting things in the cooperative self-publishing world and who also happen to be quite entertaining to read). If it wasn’t painfully clear my view on this, here it is: if you sign a contract like this, you are an idiot. Or at least, hopelessly naive. Unfortunately, idiots and the hopelessly naive kept the vanity press industry alive for a long, long time.
This is the fiction industry’s equivalent first step into photography’s Microstock, which devastated stock photography for many photographers. And yes, some photographers earn good money in microstock, but a lot of photographers earn a lot less because of it. Whether fiction writing can avoid the same kind of disruption I don’t know (I doubt it), but that doesn’t mean you have to sign contracts with them. Learn about doing your own publishing; the day when you have to sign with a “real” publisher is long, long gone. To me, the sign that Random House is investigating moving down this path in their contracts indicates to me they see the end to traditional publishing, as more and more authors will either start out on their own, or use traditional publishing to get started and then break off indie as soon as their career is moving. So watch out for publishers who’s response is to try to tie you up or take from you without investing in you
I realize I should also have linked to one more site: Writer’s Beware, which is managed by SFWA, and which is there to educate writers about all of the cheats and scams and bad contracts that are out there, so you don’t find out about them on your own, the hard way.
When I was about fifteen, a group of my friends and I went up to Ray Bradbury’s office to interview him for a fanzine. This was the office in a big building at the corner of Wilshire and Beverly in Beverly Hills. Ray famously did not drive a car and he could often be seen walking to and from that office, often in tennis shorts, waving to people and chatting with them on the street. As I would later understand, he was well aware of the power of his celebrity and name, and had consciously decided to apply that power for the greater good. He knew the value of a word from Ray Bradbury and would dispense them generously and with a certain glee on those he encountered, be they longtime friend or passing stranger.
He made time to talk to a bunch of us teenagers that day and the interview went way longer than necessary. He kept saying things like, “Your youth…your enthusiasm…you remind me so much of myself at your age.” When he found out that I had set my life’s goal on the mantle of Professional Writer, he took a special interest in me, especially when I made clear that I could conceive of no alternate life and that I saw it as a life, not a job. Before we left, he quietly took me aside and invited me to come back without my friends. They were nice kids and all but they didn’t have my commitment to writing so he had “a couple of things” he wanted to say to me and me alone.
Me and me alone went back a week later and he must have spent three hours slathering me with advice. Absolutely none of it was about story content. He didn’t talk about plot or character motivation or plot structure. He talked about being a writer…about living like one, working like one, thinking like one. A lot of it was very pragmatic, about how to not fantasize the profession into something it was not. It was not, for example, a profession where visions pop into your genius brain and you just type them up, send them in and get hailed as brilliant. He had worked damn hard to become Ray Bradbury and every day, he worked damn harder to stay Ray Bradbury.
It was sad to hear we lost Ray Bradbury. It’s amazing how many people’s lives he touched, and you can see that by how many remembrances are being published about him. I’m pointing at Mark Evanier’s, because it really syncs up with how Bradbury impacted my life.
I grew up down in SoCal, and I met Bradbury once. (well, ‘met’). I was eight(ish), and Bradbury came and was the honored guest and speaker at the opening of my town’s new library. His speech touched on many of the same concepts Evanier puts forward. After I got to go up and meet the man and get him to autograph a book (A raggedy paperback of “October Country”). 2 or 3 minutes of face time max, but the impression he left has stayed with me to this day. How many speeches do you remember from when you were eight?
Bradbury is the first author I remember reading by name, and he was one of the first authors I sat down and read almost obsessively, and by the time he came and opened our new library, I’d pretty much finished off his entire canon, including the stuff not available in the children’s section (the librarians gave up on keeping me in the kiddie room fairly quickly). if there is a single author that helped form my idea of great fiction, if there’s a single author that influenced what kind of writer I wanted to be, it was Ray Bradbury.
My favorite works by him are probably not the ones you’d first think of; in short fiction, it’s “There will come soft rain”, and for his longer work, “Something Wicked This Way Comes”. Some of his works were things that a 6-8 year old really couldn’t grok, but coming back to them when I was older brought out nuances and themes someone that young really couldn’t pick up.
So today is a bit of a sad day, but it’s really heartening to see so many people honoring his memory, and I wanted to quickly drop in my own memories and honor him as well. If you’ve ever read any of my fiction and liked it, Ray Bradbury is part of the reason it happened and didn’t suck.
Itâ€™s rather less legitimate to label Mr. Cameron a â€œpestilent toad,â€ because, well. He seems pretty clean. But more to the point, calling him a pestilent toad doesnâ€™t really do much other than call him a name. One may argue that he spreads the pestilence of intolerance and that his antipathy toward gays is positively amphibian, but you have to explain it and it seems the long way around, sort of like suggesting how â€œunnaturalâ€ really refers to philosophical concepts pioneered by Aquinas. It might be better to keep things simple, or if not simple, then immediately relatable to the subject on hand.
Now, ironically, should Mr. Cameron ever attempt to sue me for libel, my defense would be marginally better if I did refer to him as a pestilent toad than an ignorant bigot, because I could claim â€œpestilent toadâ€ as an example of hyperbole, since I donâ€™t really believe heâ€™s an actual pestilent toad, whereas I suspect he may be an actual ignorant bigot. But this goes back to the whole â€œpublic figureâ€ thing.
I’ve written before that I like John Scalzi as an author. Every book of his I’ve read I’ve loved. He’s not just an author, he’s a thinker. And he’s got a rather unique sense of humor.
But it’s stuff like this that makes his blog a gem, too. If you aren’t reading Whatever, you should be.