Monthly Archives: February 2015

About K.T. Bradford’s Challenge

KT Bradford, aka Tempest

K.T. Bradford, also known as Tempest, recently issued a controversial* challenge to speculative fiction readers. The headline of her piece, appearing in xojane, is: “I Challenge You to Stop Reading White, Straight, Cis Male Authors for One Year”

Hmm. Intriguing. There’s a lot more to the piece than its title and  I can’t do it justice by writing “about” it. It’s not long; I’d go read it if I were you. The rest of this post will be waiting when you get back.

Predictably, there was foofaraw, mostly from a certain small, vocal segment of White, Straight, Cis** Male people whom I suspect reacted as much to the title as anything else. Like many other folks, I was curious about what one particular writer who fits that demographic thought about the piece and the surrounding foofaraw. I figured I had a pretty good idea what John Scalzi would say, and that it wouldn’t be a lot different than the way I thought. I was mostly right.

Where Scalzi and I agree:

  1. It’s only a year
  2. It doesn’t have to start and end on any particular date.
  3. In the grand scheme of publishing, it’s extremely unlikely that a large enough group of people will be avoiding white straight cis male authors to ruin anyone’s career. If I don’t read a book by John Scalzi (or some relatively unknown white straight cis male) within a particular span, nothing says I can’t read it once the year is up. There are unlikely to be a ton of people doing it the exact same time as I, so White Guy will still sell pretty close to the same number of books within a given year as he would have otherwise.

Where Scalzi and I differ:

He’s satisfied that what he reads is varied enough. He doesn’t feel the need to accept the challenge because he already reads, enjoys, and learns from many diverse writers. Besides, if he stopped reading white, male, straight, cis writers, he wouldn’t be able to read his own work, and since he makes his living as a writer, he’d be up a creek.

On the other hand, I think my reading list could use some shaking up.  Plus, I don’t have the same problem he has. I could choose to take Tempest’s challenge and still be able to read/revise/proof my own work.

My plan:

This challenge isn’t a boycott. It’s a way of opening one’s eyes to other viewpoints that have not, historically, gotten much exposure. There are so books by different kinds of writers out there. The time I spend reading something from the dominant viewpoint is time I can’t be spending expanding my horizons in a way I find especially intriguing.

So I think I’ll give it a try, once I’ve finished reading this year’s Nebula-nominated works by regular white dudes. Because I’m probably going to the Nebula weekend this year…it’s finally in Chicago!

Tempest provides a few handy lists of interesting writers, providing 1- books by women, 2- books by writers of color, and 3- books in translation. I can’t wait to see what I’ve missed.

*Controversial to some people, though not so much to me. Upon reading this challenge, I felt like I was part of the choir to whom Tempest was preaching. There are a few white, straight, male, cis folks who are not pleased. To put it mildly.
**For those not familiar with the term “cisgender,” it means a person identifies with the gender they were assigned at birth, rather than being transgender.

What Brandon Said

I met Brandon Sanderson last Friday. In addition to the many stories he’s written, he’s also partially responsible for a podcast called Writing Excuses, which offers help to people like me who want to write fiction. It’s a great podcast; I listen to it a lot.

Since he’s so helpful online, and is willing to meet people in person to sign his books, I thought I’d ask him for some writing advice. He said this early in the evening, when he was just chatting with everyone, and reiterated it for me later, so it must be important. In any case, it makes a lot of sense. I’ll need to paraphrase it, because I didn’t record him, but it goes something like this:

Many people, when they are writing, tend to think of the piece they’re writing as the product when they should be thinking of themselves as the product. The piece itself may or may not turn out to be wonderful, and the writer may or may not sell it, but with everything you write, you develop as a writer. You get better and learn from everything you do. So think of yourself as the product.

My takeaway from that is—writing is process; writer is product, or the sum of the process. There’s always hope!

I like it.

Brandon Sanderson

Cookie and Brandon

Yesterday was one of those days when a blog post just wasn’t going to happen, but I have a good excuse! Cookie and I went to a Brandon Sanderson book signing at Anderson’s Bookshop in Naperville. Firefight, the second book in his Reckoners series just came out.

Here’s the copy he signed for me

For Catherine, Calzone stuffed with dynamite. That’s how he signed it, I kid you not. I have a feeling this signature was an arbitrary choice on his part, but in case it wasn’t, I’m choosing to take it as a compliment. Why? Because it’s just cryptic enough that I can!

In a future post I will share the invaluable writing advice he imparted to me. Consider that your teaser!

More of the WIP

A medicine show wagon, smaller than Dr. Miracle’s

Still editing like crazy. This section takes place after Slim has well and truly hooked up with Dr. Miracle’s Medicine Show. Here’s the previous version:

Their wagon moved so slowly that Thérèse walked beside it easily. Slim flanked the wagon on the other side. He felt well enough, and didn’t want to be seen as any more of a liability than he already was. Dr. Miracle drove. Mary had left the group within five minutes of their setting out, and no one made any comment. After the way Thérèse had ignored Slim’s questions yesterday, he decided not to ask why Mary had left. Instead he asked where they were headed.

Thérèse’s lips curved up to one side. “Didn’t you hear? West.”

“Is there a town, or even a state we have in mind?”

“We’ll stop at the first town that seems likely for our purposes,” Dr. Miracle said.

Dr. Miracle seemed by far the most loquacious of Slim’s new companions, but that didn’t really mean he was forthcoming. He seemed to like to talk a lot, but that was not the same thing.

Dr. Miracle seemed to reconsider. “I suppose there’s no call to be especially secretive, Mr. Holloway. If my map is accurate, the next place that we are likely to find need of our services is a little hamlet by the name of Green Willow.”

And here’s the revised version:

The medicine show wagon trundled down the dirt road behind two phlegmatic horses, Dr. Miracle at the reins. Thérèse and Slim accompanied it, one on either side. Mary had deserted the group within five minutes of their setting out. Two hours passed with no sign of her, and no one made any comment. After the way Thérèse had deflected Slim’s questions yesterday, he decided not to ask why Mary had left. Instead he asked where they were headed.

Thérèse shot him a sidelong glance. “Didn’t you hear? Away from Fish Creek.”

“Is there a town, a state, or even a territory we have in mind?”

Dr. Miracle said, “We’ll stop at the first town that seems likely for our purposes.”

“Do you know what I like about you, sir?”

“I imagine there are so many things it’s hard to choose among them.”

“I was thinking of one thing in particular. You are by far the most loquacious of my new companions. I appreciate a good conversation.”

“We have that in common, son.”

“There’s only one fly in the ointment.”

“Somehow I knew you would find one.” Doc’s mouth curved up as he regarded the horizon. Slim tried to see what the old man might be looking at, but saw only a rut-filled  road, low hills, tall grass and the occasional tree. Still no sign of Mary.

“Do you want to know what that fly is, Doctor?”

“If you want to tell me.”

“You are not what I’d call forthcoming. You may like to talk a lot, but that isn’t the same thing.”

Dr. Miracle chuckled. “I suppose there’s no call to be secretive, Mr. Holloway. If my map is accurate, the next place we are likely to find need of our services is a little hamlet by the name of Green Willow.”

The idea with the later version was that I wanted Slim to be more engaged with his companions, especially Dr. Miracle. I also wanted a clearer sense of the setting. And fewer adverbs.

Showing more work

wikimedia commons image, artist unknown

Second in a series of indeterminate length, showing revision work on a novel-in-progress, currently titled Dr. Miracle’s Medicine Show

Here’s another early section of the novel, which introduces new characters:

Mary poked the campfire for the hundredth time that evening, wishing there was some way she could help. A sound brought her head up. Thérèse’s black cat, Noir, leapt from the opening just before Thérèse eased down the canted steps. Thérèse looked fifty years old tonight, though Mary knew she was no more than twenty-five.

“How is he?” Mary asked.

Doc hadn’t wanted Mary in the wagon, and she hadn’t wanted to be there. His gray, drawn face had made her uneasy.

“He’ll be all right. For now.“ Thérèse came over and stirred the fire as if even on this warm night, she felt cold. She didn’t meet Mary’s eyes. “It’s just—he isn’t getting any younger.”

Mary didn’t know how old Doc was, not for sure. He seemed to have aged a lot just in the last few months, though. Therese wasn’t telling her everything. Despite her fear, this annoyed Mary. She might be just a kid, but she wasn’t a fool. When the silence stretched too long, Mary finally said, “What’s wrong with him?”

And here’s the above section, revised:

Mary poked the campfire for the hundredth time that evening, watching sparks dance and settle and wishing she knew what to do. Doc hadn’t wanted her in the wagon, saying she was too young. Normally when he said that she would argue, but his gray, drawn face kept her quiet.

A sound brought her head up. Thérèse’s black cat, Noir, leapt from the wagon opening just before Thérèse eased down the canted steps. Though she was no more than twenty-five years old, Thérèse looked more like forty tonight.

“How is he?” Mary asked.

“Comfortable, more or less.“ Thérèse stirred the fire as if even on this warm night, she felt cold. She sat on a camp stool, not meeting Mary’s eyes. “It’s just—he isn’t getting any younger.”

Stupid thing to say. Mary had seen how fast Doc had aged in the last few months. She didn’t know exactly how old he was, not for sure. She didn’t even know exactly how old she was, though according to Doc’s best guess, she was ten or eleven. She challenged Therese. “You ever met anyone who gets younger?”

Therese stared into the fire. Noir jumped into her lap and she stroked him absently.
When the silence stretched too long, Mary said, “What’s wrong with him?”

Going for the “Most Improved” certificate

Editing Central

So, it’s editing month. I hope I’m making the novel better. That’s the goal, anyway. And now you get to see me show my work. I reworked the opening, starting with:

A tall, beefy blond man pushed open the swinging saloon doors and looked in. Like everyone else in the room, Slim Holloway took notice.

The big man turned his head back over his shoulder and spoke, but Slim couldn’t make out what he said. A shorter man, perhaps 35 years old and better dressed than anyone Slim had seen since leaving Wichita, entered the saloon.

“Afternoon, Mr. Routledge,” the bartender said.

And ending up with:

A creaking hinge distracted the mousy clerk Slim had trained his Gift on. The little, balding man was no longer entranced by the pair of sixes he held, his attention drawn by the sound. So much for Slim discovering what else might be in his opponent’s hand. No matter. Slim’s own hand wasn’t one he cared to bet on; he’d mostly focused on the clerk because the game itself had been boring and not likely to gain him the funds he needed.

He withdrew from the middle place, the part of his mind he used so he could see through other people’s eyes, and returned his focus to the material world. He was just in time to see a hulking, fair-haired man at the saloon entrance, his meaty hand on one batwing door. The others at the table—a couple of farmhands and a blacksmith—also had their eyes on the entryway.

The big man looked back over his shoulder and said something, but Slim couldn’t make out what. It must have been some sort of summons or all-clear, because when he stepped through and held the door open, a normal-sized man entered the saloon. A bit of gray hair at the man’s brown temples made newcomer look as if he might be in his late 30s or early 40s.

“Afternoon, Congressman Routledge,” the bartender said.

Yes, the new opening is longer than the old opening, but it solved one genre-specific issue. In the earlier draft, magic wasn’t introduced until around page 4. In the revision, magic is set up more quickly. I was also trying to set the scene more concretely by using more sensory detail.

What do you think? Is one version better than they other? Does one make you want to read further, while the other makes you want to put it back on the shelf? Opinions welcome.