Don't Shake the Flask

Because you don't know if it'll explode

Month: June, 2012

A Peek into MisCon 26, Part 18

In the panel transcriptions, I’m mostly paraphrasing what the panelists said. If there are any errors, they’re mine and mine alone. For any corrections, just drop me a note.

Previous posts: Part 1, Part 2, Part 3, Part 4, Part 5, Part 6, Part 7, Part 8, Part 9. Part 10, Part 11, Part 12, Part 13, Part 14, Part 15, Part 16, Part 17

The final panel I attended was called “Lore of Swords” which was presented by Diana Pharaoh Francis, Ruth Frey, George R. R. Martin, and J.A. Pitts. (AQ is an audience question.)

(Left to right: George R. R. Martin, Ruth Frey, J.A. Pitts, Diana Pharaoh Francis)

JAP: Why are people so fascinated with swords? Most of history, you just didn’t want to get killed. So why would you use a sword?

DPF: It’s a good weapon. It needs skill. And you can use it on horses. In urban fantasy, a steel sword is 92% iron. Magical creatures don’t like iron so it works better than shooting with lead.

RF: For the historical aspect, why is there this mystique? Lots of weapons were used historically. One classic is the axe. The axe could be deadly, but you could also use it around the house. Not much metal was used to make it. On the other hand, the sword used a lot of metal. Back in that time, knowledge about metal working was not advanced. A sword was only good for one thing, like Alton Brown’s “uni-tasker.” It was for kings, the aristocracy, and warfare. The technology was very advanced so it would seem that the smiths wielded magic to make them. So there was the mystique, the swords were given names and passed down through the generations. In the 13th and 14th centuries, the common people could afford swords now, but there was still the mystique. If you think of films like Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon, the mystique crosses cultures.

GRRM: What she said. Swords are cool, man. There are different types of swords–cutlasses, rapiers, broadswords, etc. There are a hundred and one varieties. So you can decide what’s best for what purpose. It’s not like that with other weapons. A spear is a spear. If you found a dead knight, you would take his sword. A sword could do a lot of damage in battle. Is killing thirty-seven men in battle an exaggeration? Maybe not. The knight had armor and sword training while those thirty-seven men just had pointy sticks.

RF: Knights were trained since they were seven years old. While everyone else was just rounded up when it was time to fight.

GRRM: It was good to be a knight, especially in battle. A spear can be potent, but most spearmen were not trained and the spears didn’t have metal points. Swords were a status symbol. It was like a Lamborghini while a spear was a Honda. They had magical sword legends. But no one names their axe. (Who calls their axe ‘Fred’? Maybe I should…) Legends beget legends. Modern science fiction and fantasy also picked up on swords like Excalibur and contribute to the mythology. Like Elric’s Stormbringer. Or the Valyrian Steel sword in my stories.

RF: There’s a nice updating of it in science fiction. An example is the Jedi light saber which is a variant on the sword. The amount of training and variety of techniques you can do contributes to the mystique. If you give an untrained person a sword, he won’t be able to use it. Someone who can use it will seem magical.

JAP: I started my book by picking a sword for a short story. I picked the Norse sword Gram. If you have a powerful sword, it will make your opponent scared.

DPF: I needed to figure out what you couldn’t do with a sword. If it’s a long sword, you don’t put it on your back. If the sword is belted to the waist, it would be difficult to sit and walk with it. It would make it hard to mount a horse. I’m into realistic weaponry. If you have a hand or half sword, then it doesn’t have the sharp edge. In battle, a long sword would be a bad idea since you could cut down your own people. So what are you capable of doing with it? Can you wear it day to day? What’s the maintenance?

GRRM: It will depend on what sword you’re writing about. The type of sword could drastically change your fighting technique and whether you’re wearing armor or other type of clothing. In fencing, the sword against sword is primarily defensive. In medieval times, defense was the shield. I can see film choreography, but it is not realistic. It’s for show not killing. In real life, it’s to kill and they will aim for your leg, not the shield. In film, you seldom see hits on legs. But on Viking battle fields, you will see remains where the wounds were on the legs. It’s not like theatrical shows. Fights are generally short and over in minutes. All it takes is one mistake.

RF: I study the use of weapons as a martial art. But that will bore the audience since technically you want to end the fight quickly. On the battlefield, you might not necessarily want to kill people. You just want to maim in order to neutralize while the others after you will finish them off. Reality is brutal.

JAP: How much on the battlefield relies on luck rather than skill? Is it due to the mystique of the sword?

RF: Probably. Some people buy too much into the mystique. For example, the Agincourt French knights were devastated by the English archers because they thought they were invincible.

GRRM: You’d think by Agincourt, which was eighty years after their defeat at Crecy, they would have learned their lesson. But knights were generally the terror of the battlefield. The mounts were also part of it.

AQ: What length determines a long knife and a short sword?

RF: People argue over it. I would recommend looking at Oakeshott’s Topology of Swords. It’s classified on a spectrum so it’s hard to draw the line.

AQ: Why is there still a mystique for the sword? We have machine guns and atom bombs now.

GRRM: Swords are cool. Replicas are being made of the swords from my books at Valyrian Steel. But there is a mystique about guns. Every night I’ve been in Montana, the dinner conversation inevitably went back to guns. Guns provoke a similar mystique. Is it about killing people? No, because you can kill people with kitchen knives. Are there legends on it? It’s undeniably there. There aren’t many legends on other medieval weapons. And other replicas don’t sell as well. Other weapons don’t have the glamor of the sword. No one names their morning star. Why does magic not attach to some of the other weapons? Well, there’s one example, the warhammer which Thor had named. The warhammer is better in a fight than a sword. Nonetheless…

JAP: But you need strength for the hammer. And swords are superior to guns when fighting against zombies. You don’t need to reload. In D & D, the sword does more damage than the morning star.

AQ: Do you act out fight scenes?

DPF: Yes. Also I can imagine it in my head. There was no penicillin at that time, so you will want to kill your opponent before you get scratched. A cut could kill you.

JAP: I do taekwondo to see how the bodies move while fighting. It’s not what you see in films and comics. You should call the experts.

RF: Definitely make the play physical.

GRRM: No, I don’t act it out. It’s a good way to smash furniture, destroy your house, cut off your fingers, conk your own head, and spray your brains on the wall. I like to watch the TV show Deadliest Warrior, especially the first two seasons. They tested medieval weapons with computer simulations between Spartans and ninjas. With their tests, they used packs filled with gel simulating blood so you could see the damage. There were weapons that could cut through a pig carcass. Defense always wins. One mistake in writing fight scenes, and I’ve been guilty of this, is pitting guys with heavy armor against a quick guy in light armor and having the guy in light armor win. But in reality, he would lose.

RF: One caveat. If you have five or six lightly armored guys against one guy in heavy armor, they can take on the knight.

AQ: There are sword making differences between the east and west. For Japanese swords, two materials in layers were used to make a strong blade. Did the Europeans ever catch on?

RF: The Japanese compensated for the poor materials they had on hand. The Vikings and Norse would also do something similar. But as the technology got better, the metal became good throughout.

GRRM: It did develop independently in the west. Damascus steel, which was brought to Spain by Moorish influences, was highly prized. In recent decades, samurai swords also assumed the mystique while people began discounting western knights as oafs. But that was also martial arts. A samurai blade was sharp because there was no armor. It’s useless against armor. Only magical swords don’t get blunt. If you pit a knight against a samurai, the knight would win.

RF: There are an insane variety of swords, but they’re not all from the same time and place. They’re finely tuned for when and where they were developed. A fight between a knight and a samurai would never happen because they weren’t in the same place.

AQ: What are the best books on swords?

JAP: There are these books by George R. R. Martin….

GRRM: There is a book by John Howe who is a Tolkien artist and a re-enactor.

RF: I would suggest Ewart Oakeshott’s Classification on Swords and Arms and Armor of the Medieval Knight. There are also medieval texts online by classic medieval masters.

JAP: Don’t use Wikipedia, but you can use their sources.

DPF: I do research on swords and fighting in different cultures. I also see how blacksmiths make swords. This will inform how the character will do things.

AQ: How would people wielding great swords, like giants, fare in battle?

GRRM: Most two-handed swords were not used in battle. They were usually used for ceremony and cutting off heads. In battle they were clumsy. However, in post-medieval times, there were large groups of pikemen. Soldiers using those swords were used to break up the pikemen formation so the horsemen could come in. They were not used to fight. But if you write fantasy, you can do this for a superhuman like Hulk but not a normal human.

RF: They did double duty and it was a hazardous job.

AQ: Can a sword made of better material cut through a sword of poor quality?

JAP: Due to the laws of physics, no.

RF: You can break one on impact, but no, you can’t swipe through another sword.

GRRM: It will notch it, but there’s no swiping through unless that sword is made of butter. So what’s your favorite sword fight scene? Mine is the fight between Inigo Montoya and the man in black in The Princess Bride.

RF: The Duellists by Ridley Scott.

JAP: The final Boromir scene in Lord of the Rings.

DPF: Rob Roy.

AQ: How about Errol Flynn?

GRRM: In the original The Adventures of Robin Hood. It’s a classic. But Errol Flynn actually didn’t know what to do. Basil Rathbone had to figure out how to make the idiot look good.

* * *

And then there were the closing ceremonies for MisCon where there was a screening of the MisCon 27 Trailer and the announcement that next year’s guest of honor is Jim Butcher.

A Peek into MisCon 26, Part 17

In the panel transcriptions, I’m mostly paraphrasing what the panelists said. If there are any errors, they’re mine and mine alone. For any corrections, just drop me a note.

Previous posts: Part 1, Part 2, Part 3, Part 4, Part 5, Part 6, Part 7, Part 8, Part 9. Part 10, Part 11, Part 12, Part 13, Part 14, Part 15, Part 16

The “What is Urban Fantasy?” panel was presented by Diana Pharaoh Frances and J.A. Pitts.

(Diana Pharaoh Francis [left] and J.A. Pitts [right])

DPF: I wrote about an ugly vampire who didn’t become pretty after being turned. So what is urban fantasy? A lot of it isn’t so urban now.

JAP: I think of Charles de Lint and Peter S. Beagle. Now paranormal romance has taken over. But urban fantasy has been around for a long time.

DPF: There’s also War of the Oaks.

JAP: Urban fantasy has something magical in the recognizable world. Like Buffy or Harry Potter.

DPF: Sunshine by Robin McKinley had a different world, but it was recognizable from the day-to-day actions. Urban fantasy has a quality in the present or maybe slightly in the future and has real kinds of places like grocery stores.

JAP: And cars. There’s crossover into romance and hard-boiled mystery. Like Jim Butcher’s Dresden Files. There are different flavors. Usually you don’t know until you read it. It’s also marketing.

DPF: There are many contemporary fantasies that are not urban. Lisa Shearin has real stuff in an epic fantasy situation. In Kari Sperring’s Living with Ghosts, it’s not usually urban even though it has cityscapes and is Victorian. There’s an unpacking of mystery.

JAP: If the characters enter a Starbucks, it’s probably urban fantasy. You also have to look at the attitude and morals of the characters. There’s a significant amount of women point of view in urban fantasy. You can see this from all the published books listed in Publishers Weekly.

AQ: Does epic fantasy have to be non-technological with swords and such?

DPF: In my epic fantasy series, I wrote that stuff so I knew it was epic. But you can put it in the present. But you need elements like big battles.

JAP: It’s how they categorize. If you don’t have most of those tropes, they won’t market it as urban fantasy. Christopher Moore is marketed as mainstream even though he has some of those elements. I write urban fantasy because I like it.

DPF: C.E. Murphy has an epic quality in her Shaman series even though it take place in the present day.

JAP: You should worry about your story before figuring out the genre. Don’t come to the wrong conclusion. It’s usually for the editor to decide.

AQ: Can you have an urban fantasy in a non-western setting? Why does everything take place in America?

JAP: It’s because that’s where all the Barnes and Nobles are. But you do see blogs that talk about books that are set outside the US.

DPF: Marjorie Liu is a world traveler and sets her books in different places.

JAP: If it’s not contemporary, they won’t market it as urban fantasy.

AQ: Kylie Chan, an author who lives in Hong Kong, does Chinese contemporary fantasy.

JAP: You need to search out stuff if you want stories outside of America.

AQ: What about Japanese manga getting imported to America?

JAP: Nick Mamatas blogs about it.

DPF: Lauren Beukes does South African fantasy. Nalo Hopkinson’s Brown Girl in the Ring. There are books out there so dig a little bit.

JAP: There are different types of urban fantasy, too. There’s some with alternate histories or hidden histories which don’t alter what we see.

AQ: How do you balance character, setting, and plot in urban fantasy? Is there not as much world building since it take place in the present day?

DPF: I would disagree with that.

JAP: Some people don’t, but I like to do world building.

DPF: You need to add the details to make it vibrant. It’s a different kind of world building. Sometimes it’s all action because readers are impatient. In urban fantasy, it’s very common to have a murder, crime, or major event on the first page. For epic fantasy, you can wait for that later. In urban fantasy, you do the world building at the same time as the action. But sometimes you need to stay focused on the forward motion and mention the details later.

JAP: The number one thing in urban fantasy is character. For the primary character, it’s all about the characterization.

AQ: If the characters go into a different dimension, is it still urban fantasy?

JAP: It depends if they come back.

DPF: In Ilona Andrews’ series The Edge, the characters can cross back and forth between the Broken and the Weird, ordinary and magical dimensions. In Wen Spencer’s Tinker and Wolf Who Rules, the characters go to an alternate plane and come back to Earth. It depends on how it’s handled.

JAP: Does the magic affect the real world? In Andre Norton’s Quag Keep, it doesn’t so it’s not urban fantasy.

AQ: What if you have a story where your character becomes a computer and then comes back?

JAP: That’s probably science fiction. Write it first and then let the editor decide.

AQ: In The Chronicles of Narnia, the characters came back from a magical world, but it’s not urban fantasy.

JAP: That’s a portal story.

AQ: In a lot of urban fantasy, either the character already knows about the magical world or the character is a normal person who finds out about the magical world. Are there challenges in writing either one?

DPF: My characters start out knowing about the magical world, but they have to tell everyone else about it.

JAP: Do you find it easier than the other way?

DPF: I don’t give my characters time to react, even if they don’t know anything about magic. They have to deal with things now and can’t waste time thinking about it. That’s why kick-ass heroines are common in urban fantasy. Because you need action right away. But there’s a danger in putting in an info dump with sidekicks.

JAP: My character doesn’t believe in magic. I find it difficult because of the info dump. It’s past the point of discovery.

AQ: I’ve gone to writing classes where they’ve told me never to write a particular thing. But I viewed it as a challenge.

JAP: Break the rules or it will be boring. My writing group found out there was an editor who didn’t want anyone submitting stories about babies, vampires, or cats. So we all wrote baby vampire cat stories and sent them in. He actually took one of the stories. But then the press went out of business. If you kill a dog, do you have to be the bad guy? You can do anything if you do it right. Don’t be afraid. Practice and write every day.

AQ: Is there a science fiction writer’s group in Missoula?

Panel: You might want to check with your local bookstore or library.

JAP: Look online for writer’s workshops.

AQ: Do you use existing mythologies or something made-up?

DPF: My stuff is mostly from existing mythologies. It’s about magical things that have disappeared. What happened to them? And if they came back, what would they be like? It’s a rich area and I can pick mythologies from all over the world. But there’s nothing wrong with making it up.

JAP: I use Norse mythology, but I screw with it. You can stick enough to it to recognize it, but don’t be afraid to twist it. Is it right for the story? If it’s boring, then don’t write it.

AQ: What about turning D & D gaming stories into novels?

JAP: Lots of editors don’t buy it because it reads like a gaming session. Write to the character.

DPF: In those stories, characters are way to thin.

JAP: Make sure it’s robust.

AQ: How would you categorize Ellen Kushner’s Swordspoint? It reads like fantasy, but there’s no magic.

JAP: It sounds like it’s interstitial.

DPF: Kushner is part of the interstitial movement.

JAP: It’s fantastical but mundane.

DPF: You know it’s fantasy because of the Tom Canty cover. So maybe it’s a story of a magical place that is focused on the people who don’t do magic.

JAP: Where do they shelve it?

DPF: In fantasy.

AQ: Do you have modern good and bad guys in urban fantasy or are there strictly paranormal villains who have nothing to do with real life?

JAP: In the Dresden Files and urban fantasy in general, there’s a mixture of both.

DPF: My character has superpowers so she would easily defeat the ordinary bad guy. So you need a worthy opponent for your character. It’s not interesting if the characters aren’t challenged.

JAP: If there’s a big battle scene, people should die.

AQ: Do you bring in politics to urban fantasy?

JAP: It will date you. Don’t put in specific details to date it. You don’t have to say it to stay contemporary. Unless you want it to be specifically dated. But it’s good in a thriller. Otherwise, steer away from it.

DPF: I agree. You can have place things in the background. But current events will make it seem dated.

AQ: What if it’s based on science?

JAP: Then it’s probably science fiction. Write the story, then market it.

DPF: Read Subject 7 which has magical science and altered DNA.

AQ: It seems like 90% of the urban fantasy heroines are red-headed and wear PVC on the covers. How do you reconcile writing characters and marketing?

DPF: Writers don’t write characters that way. Marketing does it.

JAP: The cover is there to make you pick up the book.

DPF: My husband says that if they put 3D breasts on book covers, men will buy the books without knowing why.

JAP: In urban fantasy, there are women on the cover, but most women don’t pose like that.

DPF: You should check out Jim Hines’ blog where he poses like women on covers.

AQ: How do you write women? Isn’t it hard for a guy to do?

JAP: It’s not true. Women are people (most of the time). I had no men in my life until I was twelve. I trust women more so I write women. I did a lot of research and got an education on privilege, white male privilege. I had good insight from my experiences and good first readers. But it’s like that for all writers. No one writes about characters just like them–unless you’re doing an autobiography. I had fans who were shocked that a woman didn’t write my book.

* * *

Stay tuned for the final part which is all about swords.

A Peek into MisCon 26, Part 16

In the panel transcriptions, I’m mostly paraphrasing what the panelists said. If there are any errors, they’re mine and mine alone. For any corrections, just drop me a note.

Previous posts: Part 1, Part 2, Part 3, Part 4, Part 5, Part 6, Part 7, Part 8, Part 9. Part 10, Part 11, Part 12, Part 13, Part 14, Part 15

The first Monday (5/28) session I went to was a panel called “Publishing Options Today.” It was attended by S.A. Bolich, Margaret Bonham, Darryl Branning, and Deby Fredericks. (AQ is an audience question.) Note: While it seems to me that the big publishers aren’t particularly swimming in roses and rainbows right now, I felt that this panel was more biased towards small publishers and self-publishing–seeing that there was no one from the big houses on the panel to offer a counter viewpoint.

DF: I’ve done podcasting. It’s do-it-yourself.

SAB: Or self-publishing.

DB: It’s harder to break into big publishing.

MB: Big publishers are still looking for things, but it’s getting tighter and tighter. They’re run by marketing, not the editors. So it will come down to the marketing. They’re looking for the next bestseller.

AQ: What’s midlist?

MB: Midlist is when you sell between 5,000 and 80,000 copies. For non-fiction, it’s lower. If you’re not hitting the bestseller lists, they don’t want you. For smaller publishers, they may keep you but you will have to change your name. If your second book doesn’t do well, they will drop you. In a month, maybe one in a thousand people might get published by a big publisher. Even less than that actually break even. And less than that become best sellers.

SAB: But don’t get discouraged. I started in slush and got turned down at the last minute at three publishers. It may be because of the competition or the subject isn’t hot or your story is unclassifiable. That’s why you should go to a small press if it’s unclassifiable. Because the big publishers don’t know how to sell it.

AQ: What are the submission requirements?

MB: I do get some odd queries, but I give them a benefit of a doubt. The guidelines say I want established writers, but that’s used as a gatekeeper. You could say that we met at this con and I’d be more likely to look at it. Cons can also help you meet agents and editors.

SAB: It’s not guaranteed but it’s possible to get through the door that way.

DF: If they see you talking, they will notice. They want an author with a great presence to speak for their publishing house.

MB: Are you willing to market your books? Most houses don’t pay for that in their budget. So you need to bust your ass to promote your book whether it’s published by a New York house or self-published. A bestseller is usually over 80,000 copies sold to customers.

AQ: What if your initial run is 10,000 books. What’s the time span for you to sell out?

MB: It varies from house to house. For romance it’s about one to two months. Three months if you’re selling greater than 80,000 copies. And some by six months.

SAB: Hardback has a longer arc since it’s one year until the paperback. For the paperback, you’re only saving shelf space.

AQ: In a bookstore, they only keep books on the shelves for 90 days.

MB: If you’re really good, a hardback will sell 35,000 copies or more.

AQ: So basically you have to sell 10,000 copies per month or you’re out.

MB: Yes.

AQ: How do you interest the publisher with the next book?

SAB: By earning out your advance.

MB: They will profit from you before you earn out your advance. But a good sign is if you do earn out the advance. You have to push your books for three months or you’re gone. If you have good sales, then you could maybe stretch it out longer. Most books sell only 500 copies.

AQ: But what if you sell 10,000 to 20,000 copies over a lifetime?

MB: But that’s for non-fiction. Some non-fiction sit six months or more on the shelf before they’re sold. But they’re usually on “evergreen” topics (like books about dogs). Fiction is not evergreen. It’s entertainment. It’s like movies. Movies are in theaters for two weeks and then they’re gone.

SAB: E-publishing is a whole other industry. You never go out of print with e-books. And it gives you a chance to build an audience over years rather than weeks.

DF: The expense is more for a print book, but even for e-books, you still have to pay for staff salaries and office rent. There’s lots of back and forth on what the price of an e-book should be.

SAB: For e-books, you still need an editor and a cover designer. You need to send it to reviewers and there are other people who are supporting the book.

AQ: The publishers used to use other distributors, but now they let Amazon do it.

DF: Well, Amazon puts restrictions on what you can charge. And there’s also Google scanning all the books and putting them out for free.

AQ: So can you sell directly from the author?

DF: You may still need to pay for staff.

SAB: You can set up your own server.

MB: E-books are a different paradigm. You can use contract people and offer a bigger percentage. For a big house, it’s 9-11% For a paperback, it’s 7-8%.

AQ: How do you avoid a small percentage? Don’t they have bad marketers since they basically don’t do anything?

MB: The marketers get into mass distribution.

DF: The big publishers have an editorial staff through which books go through the process of being vetted. For e-publishing, the editor is often not there, thus all the typos. Authors are now aware of this, but there’s still a bad perception about e-publishing. So big publishers are still seen as purveyors of quality.

MB: How many people actually look at the publisher? Most don’t.

DF: As a reader, you trust that you’re getting your money’s worth from a big publisher.

MB: Small and medium publishers do have staff.

DB: You might need to pay for an editor if the first paragraph is filled with typos. For that, readers will give you a one star review and won’t look past the first page. If you don’t have a support system, try social media sites. But if you advertise, you will annoy people. Although there are some people who say that if you’re not annoying people, you’re not doing enough.

AQ: If I get spam all the time from a person, I won’t forward it.

DF: For social networking, you can do as little or as much as you want. You can alternate talking about your kids getting braces and your publication dates. You can chain your Facebook, Twitter, and blog together so if you publish a post in one, it will publish it in the rest at the same time.

AQ: I like authors who listen and meet people rather than just blasting everyone with marketing.

SAB: Sometimes I forget to respond to someone on Twitter.

DF: Twitter on my cell phone can be bothersome. But I will check it once per day.

SAB: You have to be careful about social networking. You should enjoy it first. I like Facebook but not Twitter. If you do five hundred different things, you’ll have no time and it won’t be fun. Pick and choose where to build your following.

AQ: You can do short story marketing by writing more stories. Or put your work up on the internet for comments–but you need to develop a thick skin. How do people calculate net with big and small publishers? Can you lose money even if you’re doing well?

MB: There’s a certain percentage of net royalty. For my company, we offer 50% net. So when a book is sold, 50% goes to the author and 50% goes to the publisher to pay for the cover and editing. It can be paid out quarterly or biannually. The publisher can also do hold backs, when the bookstore sends back unsold books with their covers torn off. If you calculate per title, it will be different. You might get a higher net profit from Amazon than a bookstore where the author and publisher might have to split $1.50. If it gets sold directly at a con, it might be $4 or $5.

AQ: What if it’s from a big publisher?

MB: 10 to 30 cents.

SAB: For a hardback, the author gets very little.

AQ: Does a slush author get less than an established author?

MB: It’s sometimes true. It depends on the agent who actually works for the publisher.

AQ: Does Amazon put restrictions?

MB: Yes and no. There are no restrictions. However, if you join Kindle Select, for 90 days you can’t sell any other place, but you’re allowed to borrow and there are free days. But there are ways to get around that.

DF: How much do you charge for self-published work? Since I had a young adult book, I considered the fact that kids don’t have money of their own so I decided to give it away. And hopefully later they may buy my other books.

SAB: A marketing strategy is to give away a free sample. And hopefully that will lead them to buy more expensive stuff. It’s a hook.

DF: But there are expenses. So the cost of self-publishing is not for free. When I did podcasting myself, it cost $35 for the copyright. You have to assess your own budget.

SAB: One downside of this is that people start to expect free stuff. Some people think that all content should be free. But an author needs to make a living. So “free” is not necessarily a great way to market for everyone.

AQ: Editors usually make books readable. I’ve heard horror stories of books getting rushed out with no copy editing. Why are people rushing? Is it because they’ve cut the staff?

SAB: Some just don’t pay attention to grammar.

DB: There are some blogs that do book reviews and they will say what errors are in the book. I heard about an author who started arguing with a reviewer and used profanity.

SAB: That’s the worst thing for an author to do.

MB: It looks very bad.

DF: The editorial staff has been cut significantly. For instance, in children’s fiction publishing, the very best editor was let go. The publishers think that anyone can do editing so they hire a 22-year-old intern. The editors who are left have less experience and have no chops to debate with marketing.

AQ: What about side income?

DF: I have three books from a small press, but I get a little side income from school visits. It pays for the fee to do the podcast. Be personable so you can be invited to speak to teachers and at cons. Decide where to spend the money. Income may not necessarily come from book sales.

* * *

Stay tuned for Part 17 which is a panel on urban fantasy.

A Peek into MisCon 26, Part 15

In the panel transcriptions, I’m mostly paraphrasing what the panelists said. If there are any errors, they’re mine and mine alone. For any corrections, just drop me a note.

Previous posts: Part 1, Part 2, Part 3, Part 4, Part 5, Part 6, Part 7, Part 8, Part 9. Part 10, Part 11, Part 12, Part 13, Part 14

The panel “Conquering Writer’s Block” was presented by Eldon Thompson. Remarks were also made by J.A. Pitts, Deby Fredericks, and Peter Orullian. (AQ is an audience question.)

ET: George R. R. Martin puts writers as either gardeners or architects. Most writers, about 99%, are gardeners. Most writer’s block is due to lack of preparation, insufficient plotting, unruly characters, vague setting, or an unclear theme. Insufficient plotting comes down to insufficient outlining. You should do whatever works for you. On the macro level, you need the major moments. Most people know their beginning but not so much the midpoint. I would recommend looking at story structure books. Why? Because you need to know what the maximum impacts are at certain parts in the story. You need to reverse engineer it. Pick major moments and use them as manageable chunks. Then set the obstacles.

ET: In Hollywood, there’s more structure. You need to advance the plot every ten minutes. However, you don’t need to be married to your outline. You can sketch it out. There are people who refuse to outline–like Tami Hoag who writes thriller mysteries. She says that it’s not fun to write if she already knows who did it. But you don’t want to trick the reader so you need to plan out how to misdirect and plant clues. To prevent boredom, you need to build conflict in every scene. If you know the big strokes, you can then focus on the details.

ET: Can you avoid unruly characters? I don’t think so. Terry Brooks viewed characters as trying out for roles. If the character doesn’t fit the role, then you either rewrite the role, kick the character out and stick to the role, or try to force the character into the role. If you’re tugged into a different direction, trust your instinct. You need to know your character well. Who they are. What they want. Where, when, why. These are things you know in the back of your head. Elizabeth George says it’s pathological behavior. You need to know how they will respond if the character doesn’t get what they want. You need conflict in every scene, even if it is subtle. If you can’t find the conflict, stage it differently.

ET: For vague setting, it is the easiest to skimp. Setting sets the tone. If there are arctic waters, it might be murder mystery. You might set a horror story in a remote camp. Science fiction and fantasy settings are critical whether they’re real or imagined. Avoid dinner scenes. Static scenes are not as dramatic. Phone calls are easy in reality but they’re not as exciting. In Star Wars, you had light saber fight scenes in strange settings like lava. The opening in Empire Strikes Back was an ice world. If you use geography, setting can dictate plot points and conflict. One example is in fantasy where you have different questing groups that need to meet at a particular place and time. You need challenges for your characters–swimming, freezing, falling, etc.–don’t make it easy on them.

ET: If you have problems with theme, did you lose track of the emotional core of the story? Did you even have one in the first place? Revisit the premise often. Figure out how you want to express it. The character objective is not the same as the author objective. For fiction, don’t preach. Relay the viewpoint. Listen to the subconscious because it will tell you where to go. If something feels wrong, it is because it is. You need patience if there are no deadlines. Stop, look at things at different angles. Look at all the facets. If it’s hard to see it in a linear fashion, turn it over and over. You can also use the avoidance technique–do something else first to free your mind.

JAP: Sometimes if you have writer’s block, you may need to fix your life first. I had a friend with writer’s block, but it was because he had dying relatives. For others, it was cancer treatments. Don’t beat yourself up about your writing when it’s actually depression. Take to someone about your other problems. But there are others who just make excuses, so you better know what your problem is.

ET: Some write for therapy.

AQ: I have writer’s block because I’m afraid of writing dialogue.

AQ: To learn how to write dialogue, you could talk to a reporter. Notice how people gesture while their talking and their facial expressions.

ET: Dialogue is king in Hollywood. Look at other people talking. How the character feels about things will inform the dialogue. Know your character beyond what is superficial. Don’t do too much description.

DF: You need a good balance. Sometimes you can turn description into dialogue. It will improve with the characters.

AQ: Know the goal and motivation.

ET: Let the story tell itself so it won’t be so hard.

AQ: It’s okay to pause in your writing. There are online tips.

ET: What if you’re afraid to stop? Clear writing comes with clear thinking. Scenes come alive better with dialogue but scenes can be too long if there’s too much dialogue. Skip the chit chat.

AQ: What if you have a deadline?

ET: With a deadline, you have less choice. You need to plow through and maybe stay up at night to get it done. I was once at a writing workshop where I had to write a story about a colosseum which was due the next day. But I got stage fright at 2 AM and I ended up staying up all night working on the story. However, when I turned it in, people really liked it. Otherwise, I would have taken my time with it. Writing is hard, so you may be looking for an excuse. You need to force yourself to finish and plunge through. Don’t wander.

AQ: Do you have a minimum word count you do each day?

ET: Yes. If I don’t hit a certain word count, I don’t get to go to the gym.

AQ: What type of word count do you use?

ET: Around 1,600 to 2,000. More if there’s action. It depends on the writer.

AQ: You might have a fear for writing, but you can force through with a word count goal.

ET: Writing is like exercise.

AQ: Would you promote brainstorming?

ET: In groups? I don’t do one. A writer’s group is like the blind meeting the blind. A certain amount of fear is necessary, otherwise you think everything is perfect. You need to figure out how to do it better. If you lock yourself into a corner, you can’t cheat. It’s like playing chess against yourself.

AQ: I do mindmapping software. I work on one character at a time and see how they say it.

DF: Just put something down even if it sounds lame. Then you have something to work with.

AQ: Do you revise? I get rid of the delete and backspace key. You need to give yourself permission to write the “shitty first draft”. Daniel Abraham learned to silence his inner critic with the word count. And I do it at 3 AM when the inner editor is asleep.

ET: I also write at night and then look it over in the morning to eventually polish it later.

PO: You need to practice. You need to get it inside you so you already have the rules internalized. This will help you be completely out of the critical brain.

ET: You need to internalize the structure. Practice. Read it over and over or watch movies. You should not think about that while you’re writing.

PO: It’s okay to be arrogant while you’re writing, but have someone look it over. Get out of your own way. It’s part of your craft. Don’t just show up.

ET: You need to learn the fundamentals.

PO: There’s a lot of romanticism about talent. Most writers work at it so the journeyman metaphor is more apt.

AQ: Some say you need to write ten thousand pages of crap first.

ET: Or a million.

AQ: You need to be in the mindset that you’re crushing the character.

PO: You can’t wait for it. Some stop writing while they’re hot.

ET: It’s building up the writing session. You stop in the middle of a scene so it’s easy to start later.

AQ: Or stop in the middle of sentences. If you’re OCD, you’ll have to finish it. But it can backfire if you can’t remember what you were going to say.

ET: If you have to write it down to remember it, then it’s not worth it to write it.

PO: When I had deadlines, I would fall asleep while writing and end up typing my dreams.

AQ: There was a painter who got blocks. But he just painted anyway, thinking that he would throw it away. But it eventually turned out to be a good idea.

ET: It’s like the free flowing exercise.

PO: Words are not sacrosanct.

ET: Not even the ten commandments. The first ones got destroyed in the Bible. We all get writer’s block, but it will be easier to get through it if you know the ending.

* * *

Stay tuned for Part 16 which is on publishing options.

A Peek into MisCon 26, Part 14

In the panel transcriptions, I’m mostly paraphrasing what the panelists said. If there are any errors, they’re mine and mine alone. For any corrections, just drop me a note.

Previous posts: Part 1, Part 2, Part 3, Part 4, Part 5, Part 6, Part 7, Part 8, Part 9. Part 10, Part 11, Part 12, Part 13

The panel “Mastering the Revision Process” was presented by J.A. Pitts, Diana Pharaoh Francis, Andrea Howe, and Vicki Mitchell. (AQ is an audience question.)

JAP: There are several schools of thought about revision. One, there’s just spellchecking it and sending it out. Letting your heirs publish it. Or what most other authors do. Three to six month revisions.

DPF: How do you know when the revision is done?

JAP: I have a deadline.

DPF: But what if you don’t have a deadline? You’re never done.

JAP: Make sure the story is told adequately. It’s inevitable that the editor will ask for changes. Put it away for a while and then read it with fresh eyes.

DPF: I don’t look at it again until I get it back from the editor.

AQ: So you stop revising if you can’t look at it anymore?

DPF: Just put it away.

JAP: My opinion is that a mistake for beginning writers is to revise while writing and to rewrite too much.

DPF: But what if you have to fix fundamental problems?

JAP: Then it’s architectural.

DPF: It depends on the nature of the change. I print out every chapter as I go and put post-it notes for the problems. Then I don’t revise until I’m done with the first draft.

JAP: I only revise what I’ve written from the day before.

DPF: I find that it bogs me down. I need to get the draft done and I can’t fix it until it ends.

VM: After a few pages, I do spell check but I don’t edit heavily. I always overwrite the first draft.

DPF: What’s overwriting?

VM: I put in too much description, weak words, and so on.

AH: There are too many adjectives and too many words like “and then”, characters that don’t need to be there, characters that repeat themselves. I find that with a lot of teachers. They like to repeat things because they think that’s how people will learn.

DPF: Or characters getting from one place to another.

JAP: You should show but don’t tell. If you find yourself telling but not showing, cut the telling.

DPF: I have a friend who tells and shows.

VM: It could include strings of prepositional phrases like “in the”, “with the.”

JAP: There are people who are “putter inners” or “taker outers.” If you make your descriptions too thin, put in more description. If you need to cut stuff, then take out.

DPF: Figure out what kind of writer you are. Don’t use purple prose and grandiose language–the best, the grandest, etc.

JAP: But you can have that if you have a character who speaks that way.

DPF: In Bleak House, there’s a character who talks a lot. But it’s done for effect.

AH: Make sure it still makes sense. Don’t cut too much.

AQ: So how do you fix it?

JAP: Add more words. Read aloud. Set it aside and read it later. Add what feels right to make it more robust. Find a writer that you like to get how it feels. Share it with other people.

DPF: Imagine it taking place on a stage and you’re the audience. Does it make sense? Is there enough detail? Or is there a lot of flabby prose where the verbs and nouns are not working hard enough?

JAP: I like to highlight all the -ly words so I can go back later.

DPF: So you’ve just finished a novel and you need to edit. What do you do first? How do you approach it?

AH: I generally look at the style if the story is there and give you an estimate on my editing services or tell you to get a critique group. If the person likes the estimate, then we move forward and look at story, character, continuity, and punctuation. If you’re not working well with the editor, then it’s time to find a new editor.

JAP: I do a lot of writers’ workshops. I read it first to see if I can tell what you’re doing there and get first reader impressions. Then I do a critique read to see what needs to be fixed with continuity. Then I talk to the person to see if I’ve actually gotten it. If there’s more than one person who doesn’t get your story, then you’re not clear. It’s also called witch doctoring.

VM: I go through the manuscript, juggle things, and mark things up until it looks okay. Unless there something seriously structurally wrong. Then I may do something as drastic as cutting a character.

JAP: Always save your revisions in a separate file.

DPF: I call it my “jug file”.

JAP: Know what your book is about.

DPF: I’m a linear writer. Others piece together scenes like a quilt. I do a read through and then linear revision. Anything that changes in the beginning will go through the rest of the book. I look for global things like character, plot, consistency, tone, dialogue, voice. You need to list out the elements you want to look at. Revision is not just changing and reshuffling words. It’s about cutting and adding pages. The revisor is different from the drafter. That’s why you don’t revise as you write. Be brutal with revisions.

JAP: And compassionate since you have to live with yourself. If you’re conflicted about a change, put a post-it note on it and come back to it later.

DPF: Don’t revise your original draft. Save different versions.

AH: And backup.

VM: Keep it in current form on a current operating system and program.

JAP: That’s not necessary. George R. R. Martin writes in WordStar. It’s only in DOS, not Windows. But do backups.

DPF: Multiple backups.

JAP: I don’t trust the cloud because it’s not secure and Apple’s cloud has crashed before. Have copies on disk and hard drive. Have copies in different places.

DPF: And put it in the refrigerator.

JAP: But you have to wait for it to cool.

DPF: There are levels of paranoia. I do Gmail, Dropbox, backups on my laptops and desktop, flashdrives, and hard drive.

AQ: I know someone who lost all his copies when his office burned down. So you need an off-site backup.

DPF: Since I work at a college, I also have backups on my campus computer. I also backup the most current version. I use Dropbox as a carrier.

AQ: Before you sent your work to a professional editor, did you pay an editor?

Panel (all): No!

JAP: Start with people who will do it for free, like a writer’s group. Learn by doing, like editing the work of others. If you’re self-publishing, you might pay an editor. Cultivate alpha and beta readers.

AH: I send people to critique groups.

DPF: You can benefit a lot from that.

VM: You can also teach yourself.

JAP: There are two levels of writer’s groups. There’s the apprentice level which will just do line edits and spell check. Then there’s the journeyman level where they will look at character consistency and actually work on the story.

VM: Watch out for the group that will only say that your story is wonderful. That won’t help you.

JAP: Or your mom, spouse or best friend. If someone says that it’s not bad but you just need to be more clear–fix it.

AQ: How do you deal with the editorial process and about being told to change and cut things?

VM: I had a story where the editor gave me a list of suggested things. Half of those things missed the boat. So I wrote back telling him why it shouldn’t change–and he ended up buying the story. Only argue if you have a good reason because they would know the market.

JAP: Ask yourself what you want in your career. Give justification and establish clear communication. If it gets rejected, remember that it will not be the only thing that you will write. Be able to walk away even if you’re sacrificing that first sale. For example, I had a friend who was told to cut out the section that mentioned that a character was gay. But that detail informed who the character was. The editor argued that he had to take it out because then libraries wouldn’t buy his book. But he stuck to his guns and was willing to lose money to keep the story. But make sure you’re polite and don’t throw it in their face.

DPF: Remember that the editor likes your writing already. They’re smart. So after some private screaming, you’ll realize that most of their suggestions are right. For the things you don’t want changed, call the editor about it. But always talk in the context of the story. For example, I was told to cut a long scene because the rising tension had dipped. But I managed to fix it by adding more tension. Talking matters. The editors can sense the problems but it’s up to you to think about why they made the suggestion.

VM: Media tie-ins have their own bag of horrors. I had a copy editor who rewrote my book.

DPF: That’s copy editor hell.

VM: So I called up the editor and told him what happened. And the copy editor never worked for that company again.

DPF: Copy editors should be looking for continuity and grammar. It depends on the house. Your manuscript will come back with marks from the copy editor. You can implement the changes or mark it with STET.

JAP: Also use change tracking.

DPF: Then it goes to the printing stage. Some copy editors act like editors so you have to cry foul. You may call the editor and request not to work with that copy editor. Copy editing is the last possible place to edit before type setting and the proof stage.

AQ: So going back to editing, what percentage goes through construction, punctuation, etc.?

JAP: It depends on how good you are at each thing. Some do one pass with everything, like S. M. Stirling.

DPF: I do one pass since I’m an English professor, but every writer is different.

AH: I do one pass with everything.

VM: I also do one pass.

JAP: I was a C student, so…

* * *

Stay tuned for Part 15 which includes a panel on writer’s block.

A Peek into MisCon 26, Part 13

In the panel transcriptions, I’m mostly paraphrasing what the panelists said. If there are any errors, they’re mine and mine alone. For any corrections, just drop me a note.

Previous posts: Part 1, Part 2, Part 3, Part 4, Part 5, Part 6, Part 7, Part 8, Part 9. Part 10, Part 11, Part 12

The program notes for the panel “From the Villain’s POV” stated: “There’s a reason writers stick to good guys: writing from the point of view of a villain is hard. Join us for a discussion of how to write from the bad guy’s perspective, and how to create and maintain empathy for your monster even when they are doing horrible things.” The panelists were M.J. Engh, Deby Fredericks, George R. R. Martin, and Peter Orullian. (AQ is an audience question.)

GRRM: I don’t believe in villains.

PO: A villain isn’t a villain in his own mind. So is it really the villain’s point of view or not?

DF: I don’t believe that villains don’t know that they are the villains. They want what they want and they’ll try to justify it.

MJE: I agree with George. People do bad things to each other. You can understand why they do evil things, but you don’t have to forgive them.

GRRM: Some call the villain the hero from the other side. Like the Greeks and Trojans. You lose sight of it during a war. You tend to demonize the other side. That’s where knights in shining armor came in. However, knights were far from glamorous. They may have taken oaths to protect the innocent and so forth but actually they murdered and did a lot of other horrible things. Drama arises from the tension between high ideals and corrupt ideals. The knights believed their own press. They thought they were the good ones. Villainous acts doesn’t make the villain.

PO: Villains know what they’re doing is wrong.

DF: I work in an elementary school where the kids are constantly jockeying for position. They know that what they’ve done is wrong. But it’s status. Someone of higher status will believe that striking someone does not matter because he will choose the perk of status.

MJE: They’re sure that others won’t see it as wrong because they did it, but if others do it, those others would be wrong.

DF: At the end of the year, there’s a lot of equipment damage on the playground with balls on the roof and so forth. The last remaining good ball is a precious resource. We have to explain to the older kids to be kind. Although some teams spontaneously include the younger kids.

MJE: That’s why grown-ups teach morality. What about hard-wired morality?

GRRM: Something happens when they grow up. They do some monstrous acts without thinking it’s wrong. Like during war or 9/11. Did they lose the ability to tell right from wrong? History is worse than my own books, making them look like Rebecca of Sunnybrook Farm. Gordon Dickson planned a series of nine novels–three science fiction, three historical, and three contemporary–with the theme of the moral evolution of humankind. However, he never got to write them.

DF: Adults fudge the truth, thinking that the kids can’t handle the truth. But in George’s books, he doesn’t shrink back from what the characters will do to get to the throne. Be honest in what you’re sharing and don’t fudge.

PO: There’s moral relativism and there’s what M.J. said in the “Psychology of Evil” panel. That morality is hard-wired. That there’s a universal morality. It’s like how the settlers or the Native Americans viewed manifest destiny. So what morality should we subscribe to?

DF: Empathy needs to be taught. If the leader goes around killing and raping, others will do what the leader does. If the leader is restrained, then the troops are merciful.

MJE: There’s evidence for hard-wired morality. In some recent studies of babies of about six months or so, they have a sense of fairness. They share equally. They attach labels of good and bad, sharing and greedy. It’s an innate sense of fairness. But that’s also subject to cultural influences. So does the end justify the means? People may think that in some situations it does because humans have a tendency to think like this.

GRRM: Gordon Dickson said that we have a tendency to identify with larger groups. In moral evolution, it looks like we’re going in the right direction if we take the broad view. For the Cro-Magnons, life was like Hobbes, nasty, brutish and short. It was centered on the family. Then there were the Greek city states. And then the Roman Empire. But even they didn’t include everyone. They still thought there were barbarians outside of the empire. The US is a country of immigrants like a melting pot or salad bowl. I like to think of myself as Terran. I have morality without nationalism in A Song of Ice and Fire. Primarily, the characters identified with their house. In the Hundred Years’ War, it was the Capetians and the Plantagenets, not France and Britain. It’s still happening today. Villainy is not a member of the group. So broaden the group to evolve morality.

PO: As writers, we used to have just a protagonist point of view, like Dudley Do-Right. Now we have multiple points of view so we can sympathize with the other side. But do we still write that or do it with an edge for one side that we cheer for? Or are there equally heroes and villains?

MJE: Not all characters are equal or there would be no story. You can empathize but the reader or writer doesn’t have to approve. How do you make characters good and bad so not to tempt the reader to identify with the wrong character to cheer for?

PO: Is everyone behind the same guy in Game of Thrones?

The audience laughs.

GRRM: We watch who orders which house T-shirts. And we had orders for all of the houses so there’s a mixed response. It’s a fallacy that history is a tale of good and bad guys. However, moral relativism isn’t true. Everyone is not equally bad. You can’t place equal blame. Look at each individual case with objectivity. I was raised as a Catholic but don’t practice anymore. But I find myself still rooting for the Catholics in history. There’s an innate tendency to root for your team.

DF: There’s an interaction between the writer and the reader. We guess the story that you want to read. If there’s a misstep of character, the readers will get angry. Thomas Covenant committed crimes that the readers didn’t like. So there’s a balance between expectation and how the writer tells the story. George challenges the reader to be flexible to see the other viewpoint.

PO: You need to show failings, how people are. When I finally realized that my dad was not perfect, it was crushing. You can show that good characters fail, but you still root for them.

GRRM: If you read my blog, you know I’m a football fan. So there’s the juxtaposition of the rational and the emotional. I know there are good and bad guys on every team and that they’re just doing their job. But I have emotional reactions to particular teams. You can create villains in your own mind.

MJE: I recommend my own book In the Name of Heaven. There are no good guys as groups. Everyone persecutes each other because all of them thought they were doing right. Morality hasn’t caught up with Zeno’s stoic ideal. It’s natural for humans to identify to their own.

AQ: What about privilege within the same group?

MJE: You’ll have more opportunity to do villainous things. Anyone in authority will tempt revolution and abuse.

PO: There’s the saying “absolute power will corrupt absolutely.”

AQ: Doesn’t everyone have their own personal journey?

GRRM: Yes. Every character will have a journey. Their choices are the milestones. Will they leave people to die or steal their food? It’s a question of choices and personal agendas.

AQ: You have a vast array of characters. Do you find that some characters are more difficult to write their point of view?

GRRM: Bran. It’s hard to write a young kid. How much does he understand what he sees? And I don’t write the three-year-old. How much do you remember when you’re three? I don’t think it’s difficult to do villainous characters. How difficult was it to write Arslan?

MJE: It was difficult. It took me eight years. It probably had something to do with exorcising my own demons. But once I got into it, I understood him but did not forgive. I was very disturbed when a reader showed me a first edition of the book that he had gotten from a used bookstore. There was a lot of underlining in the book where it was clear that the previous reader saw Arslan as the hero. So the writer needs to take responsibility.

AQ: How easy or difficult is it to generate a scary scene? Do you bring in a richly described villain?

GRRM: Fear doesn’t come from a scary villain. It comes from the fear that the hero won’t survive. The hero could be facing seventy-four orcs with a penknife and it might not be scary. The author needs to give cues and establish that nobody is safe.

* * *

(The Iron Throne from Game of Thrones)

* * *

Stay tuned for Part 14 which includes a panel on the revision process.

A Peek into MisCon 26, Part 12

In the panel transcriptions, I’m mostly paraphrasing what the panelists said. If there are any errors, they’re mine and mine alone. For any corrections, just drop me a note.

Previous posts: Part 1, Part 2, Part 3, Part 4, Part 5, Part 6, Part 7, Part 8, Part 9. Part 10, Part 11

The subject of the panel “The Many Ways to Tell a Story” was: “Stories come in many shapes and sizes, from books to comics to games to television and movies. How is storytelling the same among these media, and how does it differ? What are the challenges unique to each? What makes a good book versus movie versus comic?” The panelists were Kenneth Hite, George R. R. Martin, Peter Orullian, and Eldon Thompson. (AQ is an audience question.)

(Left to right: George R. R. Martin, Peter Orullian, Eldon Thompson, Kenneth Hite)

GRRM: How do you like to tell your story?

PO: I like multiple viewpoints to tell the relationship the characters have between one another. A person who does single viewpoint well is Patrick Rothfuss. You have to ask yourself whose eyes you’re telling it through.

ET: There are certain similarities despite the format. There are pros and cons.

KH: I provide the format in gaming as the gamemaster. Some role playing games have an implied story while others are broader. They allow as many stories as possible to emerge organically. Night’s Black Agents is a spy thriller with less handholding. For other fantasy games there’s a different framework.

GRRM: The gaming aspect is interesting. Is the video game a new art form? There are various forms that existed to tell stories. Poems, plays, and TV weren’t considered legitimate forms for storytelling when they emerged, but now they’re accepted. Are the video games developing in this direction?

PO: I work at Xbox and we prepare them like a franchise. In Halo, the first element is the story. It’s before developing the game engines or pixels. Then you figure out how to use the game itself–like novelizations, webisodes, or developing a movie. Corporations now look at this to create something novel. In transmedia, the story experience is larger than the sum of its parts.

ET: Transmedia has different facets. King’s Dark Tower series is too big for traditional film. Gaming can still deliver a story to the audience. It’s where the reader tells his own story. The API can allow gamers to build it. What’s limited is time development, so you can bring the gamer into it.

PO: Like fanfic.

ET: You could make that argument.

KH: In the tabletop game, you start from scratch. You can use any story or any character. There’s no set way to determine it. There are two types of video games: some have one arc where you can do side quests. In other games, you can do almost anything. It’s like a sandbox. But it’s hard to say it’s the same type of narrative like Gilgamesh or Casablanca. Narrative is collaborative in gaming.

GRRM: Consider the new versions of Sherlock Holmes like the one on the BBC or Robert Downey Jr.’s version. But Sherlock Holmes is in the public domain. Real Sherlockians would reject these new versions. There are lots of entertainment forms including video games which continue to evolve. But can it ever evolve into art? Art is usually the product of a single person. Our culture lauds artists as great. An author is given credit for bringing a book to art. Are video games waiting for its Shakespeare or due to its form, it will never come to pass?

KH: Bioshock is rather primitive. But you can’t say that they can’t be art.

PO: I would argue that the Shakespeare of video games is already here. They spend millions in development. There are cut scenes. And you feel like you’re participating with the story. There are alternate endings.

KH: That’s not unknown in novels. Bram Stoker had different endings.

PO: Storytelling is not mutually exclusive. You can bring people to the story. Transmedia can bring color. I would say it’s a Renaissance in gaming happening now.

AQ: What about PC gaming?

PO: The cloud is making it all converge so you can do gaming on any platform. Everything primarily resides in the cloud. It’s called cloud sourcing.

AQ: As a musician, I find that there’s a parallel between jazz musicians and gaming in regards to collaboration.

GRRM: You have a collaboration in a band. But the audience is still passive. In gaming, you involve the audience. So maybe it’s like karaoke.

KH: In role playing, you can draw a contrast with other art forms. It’s like a “jam session”. But can you call a jam session a composition? Is it just pure music or are you actually playing something? There are narrow stories in indie games.

GRRM: I’m nervous about collaborative things. Most great art are tragedies: The Great Gatsby, Romeo and Juliet, Casablanca, Citizen Kane. Part of us loves this stuff. But generally in a collaboration, you end up with a happy ending.

KH: When they staged King Lear, it ended up with a happy ending.

GRRM: If you give the audience a right to select the ending, then you may lose the tragic endings. That’s the danger.

ET: If you have no emotional attachment, there’s no reason to put in a happy ending. If everyone is telling the story then someone will ask, “why are you killing my character?” You lose the emotional power.

KH: The Odyssey has a happy ending.

GRRM: But only Odysseus had the happy ending. Everyone else didn’t.

AQ: What about Diablo? There are games that end happily or tragically or are ambiguous. Don’t you have to trust that they hire the right people to make the game? Isn’t there a different Shakespeare for everyone?

AQ: Halo seems like it has less of a story. They put out a new one, it seems, every month. Are there more commercial concerns that hinder storytelling?

PO: No. They have to think about a successful franchise. But they also think of the story. Of course, not all people will like the story just as not everyone has the same favorite novel.

KH: Like Merry Wives of Windsor.

AQ: Is there a plot to a video game if you have a controllable character?

PO: The video game is on rails, so you will get to the same endpoint no matter what you do.

GRRM: But what if you don’t want to shoot the bad guys?

KH: Then you bought the wrong video games.

GRRM: But I could negotiate with them…

PO: Have you read your own books? There are many video games from Bejeweled to games with an open world.

AQ: What about open source?

PO: There will be open source, but it’s like the Cliff Notes. Look at the construct, but never at the expense of the story.

KH: If you open up print, people will rip it off. One example was Dickens. His work was so popular during his lifetime, they wrote fanfic about it.

AQ: For adapting Game of Thrones to the screen, did they add scenes that you didn’t write? Did they need your approval?

GRRM: They didn’t need my approval. I think the extra scenes were fine as long as it added to the character, but I also dread it because it adds to the time it takes to tell the story.

AQ: How do you feel about new scenes when you haven’t finished the story?

GRRM: Well, we’ll find out down the road.

AQ: Is writing video games friendlier than Hollywood?

PO: There are some committees in video game development, but there’s someone who has the story bible and the shareholders. But it’s not as complicated as Hollywood.

ET: It’s more like TV than film. Less cooks in the kitchen.

GRRM: But isn’t there a problem with finding the Shakespeare of video games? That industry is very corporate. Is there a room for a visionary? Sid Meier is known for his games. But Halo has no byline. Is it all group think and committees?

PO: Single authors are emerging. Like the apps on the iPad. Draw Something had 55 million downloads in three weeks. Mobile gaming has the advantage of the size of its audience. Smaller game developers can be nimble. And bigger corporations are looking for small game developers. So gamers can now think about story and game design.

KH: There are other corporate cultures–like the Japanese and French–where people buy based on creator. It takes a while to get recognized. It was a while before Shakespeare got his name on his plays. For comic books, it wasn’t until Frank Miller and Alan Moore came on the scene in the 80s.

PO: But you need to distinguish it from names that are actually franchise names.

KH: Like Clint Eastwood or James Cameron.

PO: There’s opportunity for a person not part of a studio.

AQ: What about crowd funding?

PO: It’s like Kickstarter.

AQ: With all the new video games, what will happen to books?

GRRM: Books are not going anywhere. Platforms are changing but people still love reading.

PO: Video games may replace the table top games.

KH: There are people who only do World of Warcraft or watch Buffy because it fulfills all of their entertainment needs. But for most people, they like several different things.

GRRM: I began going to science fiction and fantasy cons in 1971 as a comics fan. But every year, those fans get older and there aren’t many kids. But it’s because they’re traditionally hostile to new media which keeps out the kids. And that makes me worried. But then I come to a convention like this where there are younger people. There’s Comic-Con but it’s not exactly the same. It has a wider, younger base. Publishers will find out that younger people will read. So people will do video games and books. And get gamers to read.

* * *

Stay tuned for Part 13 which is a panel on writing villains.

A Peek into MisCon 26, Part 11

In the panel transcriptions, I’m mostly paraphrasing what the panelists said. If there are any errors, they’re mine and mine alone. For any corrections, just drop me a note.

Previous posts: Part 1, Part 2, Part 3, Part 4, Part 5, Part 6, Part 7, Part 8, Part 9. Part 10

I attended part of a presentation called “An Overview of Victorian Clothing History” by Kass McGann. It was interesting. The myth that you could cut your throat on starched collars was debunked. The collars were made of cellulose so you could get a bruise, but it would be impossible to cut yourself. From the late 1860s to 1880, the color palette was incredibly bright and flashy–despite all those sepia-colored pictures–because artificial dyes had just been invented. And the so-called health corset or s-curve corset was even worse than the regular corset because it still kept pressure on the waist and put pressure on the spine which killed a lot of women.

The panel “Gender Roles and Societal Change” was presented by M.J. Engh, Deby Fredericks, and Parris ja Young. (AQ is an audience question.)

(Left to right: M.J. Engh, Deby Fredericks, Parris ja Young)

PY: I came of age in the 1960s.

DF: I grew up when women still used male pseudonyms.

MJE: I was one of those authors who used initials. Because I wrote a violent first novel.

PY: Nowadays there are more women in leadership positions. So is the situation improving? In the prehistoric age, they had Venus figures and fertility icons which made people think it used to be a matriarchal society.

MJE: That idea is in the book The Goddesses and Gods of Old Europe. It’s a possible point of view. But I don’t think matriarchal society was necessarily peaceful.

PY: Then after that women start getting put down and squeezed out. When did it start?

DF: There are phases in things that come and go. Sometimes the swing takes a thousand years.

MJE: Take for instance Roman history during the first emperors. The typical Roman woman had more independence than 19th century women. They could run their own business or not take their husband’s name.

DF: But civilization collapsed and Europe had to start again. In the Dark Ages to the year 600, there were a lot of generations.

AQ: Didn’t that put the church back into power with Constantine? That’s a 1500 year swing. In classical Greek civilization, it was considered strange to be in love with your wife.

MJE: But it was different in Athens than from Sparta or any other city-state. You need to start in the neolithic period. Women held all the secrets of planting and harvesting, maybe. But when people settled down, they started having hierarchies that were taken over by men.

DF: Priorities changed. They had more to protect. Usually men protected family and community. Priorities change if you have stuff to defend. Men usually fight but women don’t have the gut instinct for that.

MJE: Since there was no hunting, men were running out of things to do.

AQ: There were no written records back in those times so people thought it was all peaceful and idyllic. But one example was the Mayans. People thought they were peaceful until they had a breakthrough into their language and they found out that they really weren’t that peaceful.

PY: Margaret Mead and Jane Goodall watched the animals and said that they were kind to each other. But during the 1960s when there were a lot of hostile takeovers, there were more brutal observations of animals.

AQ: Isn’t it more of a class movement? The lower class always had to work, so maybe this is an upper class thing.

MJE: It’s changed. Back in the day on the farm, the woman did all the housework and the farming, but she was never called the farmer, only the farmer’s wife. Now she can be called the farmer.

AQ: The frontier states were early to adopt that.

DF: That was because there weren’t that many people in the frontier in the first place. If there was an opening for a postmaster and a woman was available for the job, she became the postmaster.

PY: Jeannette Rankin was the first woman to serve in Congress even before the women’s vote.

DF: It may seem like these are slow changes, but it has to do with the young adopting a viewpoint that the older people don’t hold. Like interracial marriage or gay marriage.

AQ: All of this seem to be preceded by war.

DF: That’s seminal to the minority experience as well.

AQ: And society’s view on sex in literature is from the influence of society.

DF: One example is Silent Spring which started the movement for environmental consciousness. Before, there was the notion of “better living through chemicals”. There had been no science done on the side effects. Rachel Carson noticed that spraying of insecticides caused the dying of birds. She was called a hysterical woman scientist and people were shocked that she was raising her nephew who was born out of wedlock. But now, we do things differently when we think about trash or fuel consumption.

AQ: But the same thing happened in World War I, after it women were told to go back. In fantasy, Edgar Rice Burroughs had a princess wielding a sword, but at the same time there were a lot of other books where the hero was still saving the damsel in distress.

DF: Another example is Tarzan. Many people don’t know that there is a black maid in that story who constantly needed to be saved and was superstitious. Every work mirrors its time.

AQ: Like Nancy Drew.

PY: There are some great women’s roles in Game of Thrones.

AQ: How would you address work that comes out today? I think there’s a shift towards misogyny with video games. Or even Dr. Who. It’s not reflecting a progressive view. With all the comments on YouTube, young men grow up thinking that it’s okay to denigrate women.

DF: I was disappointed in Diablo III. All the female characters were in bikinis.

AQ: I want more naked men.

AQ: Patricia Briggs has a strong female character in Mercy Thompson.

DF: The problem is with political discourse, the influence of media, talk radio, the audience throwing chairs. But it’s not tolerated as it once was.

AQ: The people making games are catering to the lowest common denominator due to economics. But I also see other games and books where there is better treatment of women.

MJE: The thing is, you can complain about it now. It’s getting noisier. The general trend is for improvement. Things could be a lot worse, so don’t give up.

AQ: There’s also a trend for women to be kick-ass and have traditional male characteristics. What about traditional female roles?

DF: The trend for kick-ass heroines is a sales tool because the audience is still men. Young men are more accepting about kick-ass women, but they still have to be in a bikini.

AQ: But it’s problematic for men if you give them characteristics that are traditionally considered female.

PY: Women can multitask. Men target things. In a relationship, they both have to give up something.

DF: But a lot of it is socializing.

AQ: But a stay-at-home dad is still derided.

DF: In anime, there is a joke about women who can’t cook. But food is important.

AQ: The stereotype of women who can’t do anything has been turned into the stereotype of women who are mean and violent.

* * *

Stay tuned for Part 12 which contains a panel on telling a story in different media.

A Peek into MisCon 26, Part 10

In the panel transcriptions, I’m mostly paraphrasing what the panelists said. If there are any errors, they’re mine and mine alone. For any corrections, just drop me a note.

Previous posts: Part 1, Part 2, Part 3, Part 4, Part 5, Part 6, Part 7, Part 8, Part 9.

The panel “Pitching Your Project” was presented by James Glass, J.A. Pitts, and Eldon Thompson. (AQ is an audience question.)

JG: Are there different kinds of pitches?

JAP: I first met my editor in a bar. And we didn’t talk about books. It was only later that I sent an e-mail and asked what she wanted. My editor said, “Send whatever you’ve got.”

ET: I can’t understate the personal connection. Go to film festivals. Make a connection so they will remember you. So if you have a chance to talk to an editor or agent, don’t just jump into your project. For an elevator pitch, the harder you do your work, the easier it is. And unless you’re a proven writer, when you pitch, your work should already be done. It should be ten to fifteen words. A teaser pitch is about one sentence. A two page synopsis is longer. Be able to pitch in different formats. An expanded pitch would be like a jacket blurb. Take time to craft a pitch at each length.

JAP: You don’t know when you’re going to pitch. So be prepared. Practice.

JG: My elevator story is over three floors. It was at WesterCon for the novel Brain Gate. I was in the elevator and Tom Doherty got on. He asked, “Jim, what’s new?” So I had ten to twelve seconds to tell him about my novel in two sentences. Then he said, “It sounds interesting. Talk to David Hartwell.” It can happen unexpectedly so you need to be prepared.

JAP: But don’t do the bathroom pitch. I heard about the story of a Penguin editor who had to go to the bathroom in order to get away from some woman. But while she was in the bathroom stall, the manuscript was slipped under the door. Once I was in the elevator with the editor and asked her how she was doing. She said her dog died. So all I could do was say my condolences. Don’t be a jerk or they’ll remember it.

JG: For a short story, you can just send that in. The story will go to either the slush stack or A stack. Here, the editors want you to succeed. But novels are a different ball game. A good place to pitch is a convention like a big regional one. NorwesCon or WesterCon. WorldCon can get hairy since there are so many people.

JAP: You can also meet editors and agents in a bar but don’t be a stalker.

ET: In Hollywood, you mostly pitch in person. In books, you usually do a query letter. In Hollywood, you set up a ten to fifteen minute meeting. Agents are notorious for doing something else while you’re trying to pitch. Producers are better because they’re more invested in the project. If the producers like your sample, then they want you to write their stuff as a “hired gun.” If you love your work, go the book route and worry about Hollywood later. In Hollywood, scripts are written by committee. You can make a good living at it, but unless you’re a writer-director, you have no say.

JG: George R.R. Martin mentioned that things are also written by the director.

ET: Sometimes the director shows up without the script and starts changing things. For scripts, it possible you will have nothing to show after six to nine months of work. Whereas if you write a book, you do have something to show.

JG: But there’s the money.

JAP: I work at Boeing so I make enough in the day job to write in the cracks.

ET: Do what you love. Because otherwise, how do you deal with the BS? You need to deal with it.

JG: What about written pitches? You can do a short pitch at a party. You need to play it by ear. Are they receptive? As a new writer without an agent, you want to break in. But many publishing companies don’t want unsolicited work. However, some pubs, like Baen or Ace, will see unsolicited manuscripts. You need to learn the difference between partials, query letters, and a synopsis.

JAP: The most important thing is to have the best possible novel to be written. Because that’s the final pitch. My editor might take two years to get back to you. So be ready for it.

JG: Say you want to send your work to a big house that doesn’t want unsolicited work. Do you send a query letter?

JAP: We mentioned it in the query panel. You don’t want to waste their time so do an elevator pitch. The editor will remember if you’re nice and kind. When you’re ready, send it in.

JG: Do you go in cold?

ET: More commonly, target the recipient. Do your homework. Pitch the story in one sentence. You need a core idea. Who’s the character and what’s at stake? There are lots of resources out there about writing a synopsis. If three-fourths of your synopsis is the set up and the rest of the stuff is tacked at the end, you give a false sense of how the story goes. You need to pace the query at the rate as the story. You need a teaser or hook. Examples are Titanic, Kissing Jessica Stein, and Billy Elliot.

JG: It’s analogous to the summaries in TV guides.

ET: They’re log lines.

JG: You need a short paragraph which includes that your novel is complete, something about the novel, and something about you related to the novel. And then a short inquiry about what they might like to see like a partial or the first three chapters. But the time until you receive a reply to see the partial can be long. So just wait. And write a thank you letter.

JAP: And while you’re waiting, write something else.

JG: Baen bought one author’s book and while he waited, he wrote books two and three. Which Baen subsequently bought.

AQ: There’s the Query Shark.

ET: You need to lead with your strongest point. Don’t reference any weakness.

JAP: Don’t tell them it’s been rejected elsewhere.

JG: Print out a new copy to send in to other editors because they will know others have read it. The partial should contain a synopsis.

JAP: Learning to write a synopsis is critical. Don’t hide stuff. Give out the important relevant details. Tell them the ending.

JG: How long should the synopsis be?

JAP: It depends. My publishing house wants ten pages or less. Try to keep it short. Two to three pages is better.

ET: In Hollywood, don’t send in ten pages.

JG: So it’s whatever that works for the editor.

ET: Find out the guidelines. A two page synopsis for a 250,000 word novel.

AQ: Is it 250 words per page?

Panel (all): Yes, double spaced.

JAP: Keep it within 500 characters.

ET: Or less, like Twitter.

JG: It should also be entertaining. Don’t be dry. Think of it as an expanded jacket blurb. You could leave some mystery, but you need the ending. Take the synopsis seriously because it’s a selling tool.

ET: Whoever you’re pitching to, they want the same thing–something that’s proven–but also something new and fresh. For example, take a new tack on proven stories. But they won’t take you if it’s too similar or too different.

JG: In pitches, do you compare it to the media? For example, you say your story is “Darth Vader in New York City.”

ET: Do something appropriate. Be true to your material. Don’t compare it to Hunger Games if it’s not like it.

JAP: Run it by other people. Some pitches are insulting such as “Like Good Fellas but with characters.”

AQ: In a Hollywood pitch, should you have a line up for many things?

ET: Yes, they want to know you have more stuff. Think of your career. You want a breadth of material.

AQ: Does anyone still write plays?

Panel (all): Yes.

AQ: What about slush readers? How do I get into doing that?

JG: Graduate from Brown, I suppose.

JAP: You should meet editors at cons, read Locus, blogs, and magazines. E-mail the editor. They’ll contact others if they don’t have an opening. They won’t pay you, but you will learn a lot about what not to do in writing. Check Ralan and Duotrope. Query places.

JG: Nowadays there are less slush readers but the editors read more slush.

AQ: How much do you value your publishing company? Some publishers don’t read their books unless they sell 5,000 copies or more.

ET: Editors do less editing now due to volume. The more you can do, the more likely they will hire you.

JAP: More books are published in one month now than the entire year of 1952.

JG: At Tor, there’s only four people who do it all. The more work you do, the better.

ET: But I don’t want to do my own marketing. So the publishing house is valuable for that.

JG: They send stuff out for you. But publicity, not so much although places like Tor and Ace are better about that. They’ll send your stuff to Publisher’s Weekly to get reviewed. But some houses don’t do that.

AQ: Is there a difference between large and small publishing houses? What about electronic and traditional publishing?

JG: It’s the same deal. You need to check with the individual houses.

JAP: But you pitch the same to all those places.

JG: But don’t neglect the small press. It’s a start. And you can build a career from there.

* * *

Stay tuned for Part 11 which will include a panel on gender roles.

A Peek into MisCon 26, Part 9

In the panel transcriptions, I’m mostly paraphrasing what the panelists said. If there are any errors, they’re mine and mine alone. For any corrections, just drop me a note.

Previous posts: Part 1, Part 2, Part 3, Part 4, Part 5, Part 6, Part 7, Part 8

Since I’ve been planning to do a sci-fi story for June’s Camp Nanowrimo, I thought the next panel would be particularly informative. “Psychological Issues in Deep Space” was presented by Joyce Reynolds-Ward and James Glass. (AQ is an audience question.)

(Joyce Reynolds-Ward [left] and James Glass [right])

JG: I had worked in the space industry but mostly on ion engines and the physical end. But what happens on longer space missions? It would take at least a year to get to Mars. You have to consider weightlessness, muscle deterioration, and being in close quarters with other guys.

JR: What are the psychological effects when suddenly you find yourself floating and there’s no one to catch you? What about generational ships? Educating the young? How will the kids’ minds change? And if they’ve lived their whole lives on those ships, what do they take for granted? There’s research that says that maintaining a healthy mind requires access to natural settings. There were studies in which subjects looked at scenes through either a window or a camera. Subjects looking through windows were more relaxed. Would being in space without these natural settings change the human organism or can we replicate these settings indoors?

JG: I can get natural light from a lamp even when it’s gloomy outside. So what’s the lighting in the ship? Lighting can have an effect. On a generational ship, maybe the kids are used to the artificial lighting.

JR: To what degree is this a hardwired need or a psychological need?

JG: Before you’re born on earth, for nine months you live in an environment that has no gravity. And then, when you come out, you’re suddenly in gravity and bombarded by light. So when does the hard-wiring start? Is it learned? If you disrupt a cycle, there are psychological issues. There will be issues if you transplant people to a planet with seven hours in a day from one with twenty-four hours. Even when people go to Alaska from the south, people can’t get used to the change in daylight.

AQ: Does anyone do research on psychology on different geological locations?

JG: People have done studies on psychology at the south pole, especially on sleep deprivation. Apparently at the south pole, people can’t go to sleep.

AQ: There have been experiments done underground on circadian rhythms. People underground adjust to their own cycle and turn on their lights whenever they want.

JG: It would be the same in an undersea colony.

JR: The environment is cut off.

JG: Space is also a zero-g environment. Artificial gravity may also come with problems. Like the Coriolis effect.

JR: What kind of personality is recruited to go to space? In skiing, people practice falling.

JG: It’s the rush.

JR: You might need to recruit that same personality.

JG: Similar to recruiting for submarines.

AQ: Project Mercury called for extreme sports people.

JG: Or test pilots. But in space, there is no ejection seat.

AQ: They say that you need a slightly aberrant personality–unstable, loner, antisocial, wild, not gregarious.

JG: But in a cabin with other sweaty guys?

JR: You need someone with boundaries.

AQ: In 2001: A Space Odyssey, David Bowman was very calm and unflappable. He was flat, like a dead fish. Clarke and Kubrick thought that this was the sort of personality needed for space.

JG: On the other hand, you have Chuck Yeager. He was quick in extreme senses. But he was also a party animal and hot shot.

JR: Like extreme sports kids. How athletes prepare and analyze sports is like how astronauts prepare for their missions.

JG: You have to know where you’re going to the foot because you don’t want to go off the cliff.

JR: They’re wired for sound.

JG: You need to distinguish the psychological issues between a normal person and an adventurous person. Those guys are unflappable, fearless, well prepared, and love risk.

JR: But there’s also a lot of inaction on a trip to Mars.

JG: You’re sitting for a year without doing anything because the ship is on automatic.

JR: They might need to play World of Warcraft or some kind of deep immersion training for physical and mental preparation.

JG: There’s boredom.

JR: Adventurous people have little tolerance for boredom.

JG: You should stick to the psychology of people who are being recruited to these missions.

AQ: What about cryogenics?

JG: That’s not looking good. We don’t have the chemicals for that like insects. We have to do it artificially. Best is the quick freeze because otherwise the cells would rupture. But the problem is the thawing. Freezing is not done well except in insects and some small animals.

AQ: Could you bring plants and animals with you?

JR: But how can you get the payload up? You could do cloning, but right now it’s only for breeding purposes. And there are some problems. Cloned sheep age more than cloned horses. And there are issues with pigs.

JG: We don’t know the long term effects on the brain from weightlessness, even with exercise. There are no studies on the long term. But there is forgetfulness from being up in space. The brain needs a certain amount of stimulation. And in space, it’s a static environment.

JR: The psychological and the physical are intertwined.

JG: You can eliminate muscle deterioration with exercise. But you can’t prevent bone loss because that needs weight. You can’t with zero-g.

JR: Maybe you can walk around with shackles to replicate gravity.

JG: Or spin the spacecraft to produce gravity.

AQ: Is it possible to make a spinning space station?

JG: Wernher von Braun had such an idea, but it never came to fruition because of economics.

JR: How far have we got on that technology?

JG: Well, the space program is dead, but there is the private sector. There’s no money for a Mars mission.

JR: Neil Armstrong mentioned that we need to be prepared for a congruence of factors in order to get to Mars: economy, people in the right place, inspiration.

JG: But the space program came out of a fear of the USSR and the atom bomb. When the danger was over, the public lost interest. There have been psychological studies on satellites but no studies on going to Mars where no one will come out to get you. So how do you prepare? Out of fear?

JR: What kind of mentality do you need if there are outside threats?

JG: On a ship, one danger is a solar flare. If one comes up, you only have twelve minutes. The hull is thin. If there isn’t anything else, you will die. A meteor the size of a marble can destroy your ship. So what’s the psychological effect of that?

JR: One analogy is that of the explorers in the 15th and 16th centuries. How many ships and fleets got lost?

JG: You think and dream about all the things that could go wrong. I dreamed about all the possible mishaps when I was going mountain climbing.

AQ: What about the opposite effect? Kids don’t think about the atom bomb or they’d go bonkers.

JG: Maybe that’s true for children. But I remember during the Bay of Pigs, the adults were certainly thinking about it.

JR: I remember in the late 50s, we were thinking about Nixon and Kissinger.

AQ: What’s the minimum crew needed? Is it for a stable social group?

JR: Yes. They’re doing studies on these things now with climbing groups, the Antarctic station, and the space station.

JG: You need four or five people. Three’s a crowd.

JR: You need an odd number.

JG: For a colony, maybe around three hundred?

JR: It’s a one way stop, so plan for genetic drift.

JG: And inbreeding.

JR: Any genetic conditions could cripple a colony.

JG: But one bad apple can screw everything up.

JR: Consciously culturate each generation. Allow for wild cards. And how will they function off the ship?

JG: Gene Wolfe in The Book of the New Sun, theorizes that on a multigenerational ship, eventually there will be no memory of the home world. In Elizabeth Bear’s Jacob’s Ladder trilogy, the AI systems on the ship are considered gods because people can adapt so well within two or three generations.

JR: Soon there’s no one in living memory who’s been off the ship.

AQ: Other examples of authors who have written about it are Harlan Ellison, Poul Anderson, and Heinlein’s Methuselah’s Children.

JG: The psychology moves towards normal when there’s no one who’s been off the ship.

JR: There’s also physiological change.

JG: The type of fear changes. The fear of a meteor going through a ship may become less, like a meteor coming through the atmosphere.

AQ: Some say that as technology becomes more advanced, society will become more tribal.

JG: Yes. Wolfe does that.

AQ: On a colony ship, jobs may become inherited positions.

JR: That can be dangerous. What if a war breaks out between factions? The more time you spend on the ship, you will change in ways that are more congruent to a generational ship. It’s like now how kids get used to new technology.

AQ: So how long will take to get to Mars?

JG: One year to go to Mars. And two years to get back.

AQ: The Russians have an experiment where people are sealed in for 500 days. Seven men only, ground based.

JG: But you need the real test up in space with all the dangers and no gravity.

AQ: on NPR, I heard it was a one way trip.

JG: Some claim you need to find water and make your own fuel, but they’re not taking this seriously. It takes longer to get back because there are orbital problems. You also need to take into account staying on Mars for some time. Because what are you going to do once you get there? And there’s another batch of problems you’ll encounter on Mars, like UV. So in summary, you need to recruit people who are like astronauts or submarine operators. These people have separate psychological problems from normal people. They should have no fears for risk or falling, but they should also be cautious. They might even have less psychological problems. And are these fatal issues? Probably not.

JR: I would be interested in what the generational issues are for people living in space. I would definitely like to explore this.

* * *

Stay tuned for Part 10 which will be about pitching the story.