Don't Shake the Flask

Because you don't know if it'll explode

Tag: David Boop

Notes from MisCon 27, Part 7

(To see all my posts on MisCon, including last year’s notes, go here.)

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.

Panel title: The Role of Religion in Science Fiction/Fantasy
Panel members: David Boop, Deby Fredericks, Joyce Reynolds-Ward, Peter Wacks
Panel description: This Sunday morning we’ll talk about religion’s role in scifi/fantasy. Is it necessary? Can you write a society and not have religion? How do you make a religion? What do you research? Where do you begin? Join us to learn the ins and outs of religion in genre writing.

PW: I leave out rants about religion from social media, etc. But it does bleed into my writing. How does it bleed into writing?

DF: Religion is often used as an antagonist in SFF. In real life there are skeptics and deniers of climate change who base their beliefs on religion. These get slapped down, but we should also be respectful. Shoot at people’s beliefs advisedly.

PW: Or be offensive about everything like South Park.

JRW: Consistency matters. Conservatives and Protestants are not the same as Catholics, Lutherans, etc. American bishops aren’t the same as the Vatican. Some of us are wired for religion. Some do religion and sci-fi well, like Russell’s The Sparrow. Orson Scott Card incorporates religion into what he writes. The biggest issue is that many write from an outsider’s perspective and don’t get into the internal battles and dialog. Poorly written, it’s just ritual and evil clergy.

DB: It’s not necessarily what the media says but what they portray. The stories should deal with redemption, crisis of faith, and facing one’s fears. The cliche evil religion is too obvious.

DF: That’s why people use churches and cults. These organizations have resources like the government. They have many members and bases to provide a continual source of conflict. While a small group of bandits can be wiped out in one go.

DB: It’s descended from the Cold War generation, where everyone suspected everyone else. You can compare the country to a religion. But there are shades and different levels. Example: Game of Thrones.

JRW: Religion fuels the believers. There are explicit rituals for particular purposes. For the fanatics, it’s the rationale of true believers. An example is Frank Herbert’s Dune.

DF: Members of a criminal gang will likely yield at the end. But religious followers are less likely to surrender. These are different kinds of fight.

PW: I started from a hopeful place. That faith in itself could change worlds and universes. People get caught up in the bad side of the coin. Is there a good side?

JRW: The best stuff doesn’t proselytize. It presents how it affects the character.

PW: How do you write without religion?

DF: Anne McCaffrey didn’t plan for religion on Pern. Is this realistic? We look for patterns in everything. We want to control unknown events.

PW: Lack of faith is a religion.

DB: In society, we can’t escape religion. At some point, someone wants power. The quickest way to get it is to say that you are ordained by God. And there are people with delusions of grandeur.

JRW: It taps into an emotional resonance in the brain. I believe some people are hardwired for faith.

DB: As an author, you can research and explore other worlds and religions to at least understand some of their motivations.

PW: How much of your writing is taking the world in and preaching it out? Do morals come out of the book or just a character on a soapbox?

DF: We all write our own belief. But we must also be aware of the audience. They don’t want religion and don’t want to deal with that. So you give them what they want. Religion can be part of world building. Use religion as set dressing rather than preaching.

JRW: Everything we write reflects our own morals and ethics but we have to be careful promoting one thing. The audience isn’t friendly towards preaching. Be nuanced.

DB: I make sure the voice in the story is the character and not me. I’m careful that what the character preaches is not necessarily what I would preach. Transcend your own belief. Otherwise it’s the same character all the time. Every character is different. Make it clear that it’s fiction.

JRW: Sometimes I’m seduced by a character. One of my recent characters is a woman who becomes a goddess but is unlikeable in some ways.

Q: For most people, religion gives them answers they don’t have to understand. Is this valuable in real life?

DB: Lewis Black said that religion is used to keep people in line. Some people just want to be told what to do.

PW: It’s useful in defining societies in SFF. For instance, in a generation ship, they may need faith and trust. It defines societal ethics.

JRW: It’s used as a support structure, social structure.

DF: It helps in sharing resources in a disaster.

PW: In Good Omens, they shared cookies. It’s a standard.

Q: How do you develop your own religion? How hard is it dealing with all the different facets?

DB: I took a look at the current progression of religion and tried to see what would happen in the future. I decided that everyone agrees that there’s a god and removed the dogma.

JRW: In my fantasy story, I have seven gods that did battle. They’re modeled on Greek mythology.

Q: With faith and religion, is faith in a person or is it in a religion?

PW: It’s only when many people have the same faith that you get a religion.

DF: And they have it at the same intensity.

JRW: Religion has ritual, structure, and protocols.

PW: Religion needs a divinity. Although now we say that media/capitalism is a religion.

DF: Capitalism is about commerce, not personalities. Religion needs a personality. Although now, corporations are trying to be seen as individuals.

PW: There are personalities that represent commercial media, so it’s getting dangerously close to becoming a religion.

Q: How easy is it to write a galaxy-spanning self destructive cult or religion?

PW: It depends on the quality of writing.

DB: Write about it if it is needed for the character to change. If the character changes too easily without a challenge, it’s not interesting. If the cult/religion is just use as flavoring, it doesn’t add to the story so it should be cut.

JRW: You can’t write a galaxy-spanning cult because it will splinter and there’s the problem of communication.

DB: An example of a galaxy-spanning cult is in the trilogy The Damned by Alan Dean Foster.

DF: As writers, we need to grab a common trope to get rolling. When revising, we need to flesh things out. Use something that is unique. Even if you use a cult, find something about it that makes it unique and a surprise.

Notes from MisCon 27, Part 5

(To see all my posts on MisCon, including last year’s notes, go here.)

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.

Panel title: Learning the Game: Query Letters/Elevator Pitches
Panel members: David Boop, James Glass, Rhiannon Held, J.A. Pitts, Patrick Swenson
Panel description: It’s the game we all have to learn: how to sell our books. Our esteemed panelists will talk about what it takes, how to do it, and all those little details they wish new authors knew.

JG: Let’s start with the assumption that you’re a new writer without an agent and you’re trying to get published. How do you get yourself recognized and be seen by the main editor out of the slush?

JAP: It depends. Everyone is different. I met my editor at RadCon and we did not talk about books. Eventually I sent an e-mail and she said to send her the manuscript. There’s always someone who will break the rules.

PS: I met my editor at Clarion West on week five in the 1980s. I learned how editors worked with stuff sent into Talebones where I was an editor. It was because of Talebones and Fairwood Press that I got recognized in the business first.

DB: I owe it all to conventions where I met other writers. My first book was published by a small press. Get to know the editors as people. Ply them with alcohol while you remain sober. I found out that I graduated at the same time as an editor at Baen. Pitch when you know what they publish.

RH: I got my editor first when I got a short story critiqued. Think of the editors as human beings rather than dollar signs.

JG: The context is important. I started writing short stories. From my reputation as a short story writer, I got an agent. When I wrote a novel, I started at Baen because the editor there knew I won the Writers of the Future Contest.

PS: It doesn’t hurt to know someone.

JG: Even another author, a big author, can get you there. I’ve gotten a recommendation from C.J. Cherryh. Context in industry.

RH: It’s not only your writing talent but your social talent. Prove you’re intelligent, pleasant, and that others can work with.

DB: It’s no longer the idea of the solitary writer. Now editors want to know if you’re going to be a brand, if you can do readings, and decide on that. There’s no one way to do this right. You can try writing short stories, going to cons, workshops, etc. One will strike gold eventually. Persistence.

JAP: They used to give you a contract from a synopsis of your story. It’s now changed. Everything’s on Facebook now. Publishers will google you. Will they find you blogging about writing or drunken pictures from the last party? It’s all for public consumption. When you meet someone, you don’t know who they know. The query is the first person contact. It’s short and succinct and now they do it by e-mail. The rules to writing queries is used to deter people because they already have huge slush piles. You need to pique their interest if it’s not solicited. And have stuff ready for them when they contact you, unless you’re an already established author. You have to have product.

PS: When I worked at Talebones we had a couple hundred submissions in a month. If you’re a slush reader at an online mag, you learn a lot about the process and get to meet the editor.

JG: I published ten stories in Talebones. Everyone’s connected. Get your name out there. Produce something. I once did an elevator pitch for Tor. Learn to summarize your book in ten seconds.

RH: For my first novel, my editor wanted the whole thing after I sent a synopsis. I got an agent after I sold the book and that was when I used the pitch. I “synopsized” my synopsis since it was too long. It’s a lot about marketing–what genre fits and what’s different. Something the same but not a clone.

JAP: When editors acquire books, they only have a certain number of slots. Editors need to go up to the board to pitch your book so they use your pitch.

JG: Editors can love your book, but marketing can stop it.

DB: Or if editors already bought something similar.

PS: I gave a long pitch to an editor and his eyes started glazing over when it went too long. But he was more interested when I gave a short pitch. I didn’t have a pitch until I got an agent.

JAP: Don’t pitch until you’ve already written it. Otherwise you will lose them.

DB: Not every time. I got them reading three chapters. They bought it when it was completed.

JG: When you’re getting started, you need everything written.

RH: When I wrote my first book, I only found my theme after I finished writing it. When you pitch, you also need a theme.

DB: You need to lead with emotion. Why should I invest in these people?

JG: There are one minute and ten minute pitches, which are rarer. Some workshops have pitch sessions.

JAP: Cascade Writers is in July. They’re reading pitches and they will tell you if it worked or not. You can still do it without meeting face to face.

DB: There’s also the Rocky Mountain Fiction Writers Colorado Gold Conference.

JAP: Publishers want to buy your product.

PS: They need to eat so they want your stuff.

JAP: It’s not a zero sum game with e-books. There’s collecting and reading. There’s no shortage of people buying.

DB: You can be more specific in particular genres. For instance, I know someone who publishes nothing but gay space pirates and they’re popular.

JG: Amazon has changed the game with publishing. In a query letter, explain the book, how long it is, what it’s about, what special qualifications you have for it, and ask if they would like to see a partial. Then you wait.

JAP: Look at their guidelines. If it says, “don’t do X”, then don’t do X. You don’t want to piss them off.

RH: It’s a test that you’re following directions. Make a good impression.

PS: There’s no excuse nowadays. Everything’s on the internet.

JAP: If you get rejected, don’t argue with them. Agents will post that out there.

JG: Even if they stung you, write a thank you letter.

PS: Actually, some editors don’t even want that.

JAP: Be polite. It’s like a job interview. They want to see if they can work with you.

DB: You’ve got to roll with it. It’s not always about the writing. It could be just the fit. Maybe they will want your next story, so don’t burn that bridge.

JG: If they want the partial, you want to include the synopsis so they know what goes in the story, that there’s an end, and that you know how to write a synopsis.

RH: I’ve revised my synopsis as many times as my novel. You want main character arcs, not events. For example, if the theme is how your character deals with fear, you want to only include what relates to the arc.

DB: I once sent in a twenty page outline. My agent told me he wanted a synopsis that was five pages. Don’t include sub-characters or events that won’t move the character.

JG: Keep it short. Leave some mystery. Don’t tell all of the story, like the back jacket blurb.

RH: But reveal the ending. Don’t stop before the end. The editor wants to know.

JG: There could be years of delay. Always send the first chapters and then the manuscript. Then it’s up to them.

JAP: And while you’re waiting, write the next book.