Wednesday, July 17, 2019

Monday, July 15, 2019

[Archives] How I Find New Authors to Love

E. Duranty by Degas
This post first appeared in 2011, but is well worth repeating.

Once upon a time, I gobbled up every new book of fantasy and science fiction that I could find. I'd trek to my local independent specialty book store or my local branch library and devour each month's arrivals. Now getting to the closest (general) bookstore requires a trek, our local library branch is in danger of closing (or maybe not, it keeps changing), not to mention losing its human librarians, and the number of new books has multiplied beyond any hope of keeping up with everything that's being published. I don't recognize many of the authors, at least not under those by-lines.

One way through the deluge is to connect with authors online. (Shameless Promotion Hint: Book View Café is a wonderful way to get acquainted. A whole community of fabulous writers with a wide range of styles and genres is right here -- we will now pause while you read a short story from a writer new to you. Okay, aren't you glad you did?)

Conventions also work well for me as a way to sort through the enormous number of new titles. I'll hear someone talk on a panel or read aloud from their work and be impressed with what a strange and thoughtful mind they have. Sometimes, I'll meet them afterwards and be curious about their stories. Sometimes when I hear a writer in person, I'll pick up a book whose title or cover would not otherwise appeal to me or I'll be willing to read something outside my usual "taste zone." Since I believe in supporting other writers, especially newer ones, I usually buy (at least) one "unknown" book from the dealers room. This has the additional benefit of helping out my friendly convention dealers, who get even friendlier and more diligent in carrying my own books. The next step is a request for an autograph, which is a pleasure for everyone involved. So many times, the few moments it takes can give a writer, even an established writer, a lift. "Wow! Deborah J. Ross bought my book -- and asked me to sign it!"

Friday, July 12, 2019

Short Book Reviews: Fairy Tales, Dragons, and the Russian Revolution

The Last Tsar's Dragons, by Jane Yolen and Adam Stemple (Tachyon)

This dramatic yet playful re-telling of the days leading up to the Russian Revolution (with dragons!) offers a variety of delights, from the courtly intrigues and madness of Rasputin, to the Jews huddling in the burrows to avoid the tsar’s dragons, to the machinations of the revolutionaries, to an entirely new meaning of the term “red death.” I believe the authors, seasoned professionals both, had way too much fun concocting this tale.

A little knowledge of the Russian Revolution is desirable for enjoying this book, and I fear that younger readers, who think “Putin” when they hear “Russia,” had little understanding of the tumultuous events leading to the formation of the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics, and the principle movers and shakers of those days. On the other hand, The Last Tsar’s Dragons would make a great addition to a serious class about the early part of the 20th century. By shifting the narrative of power to metaphor, while preserving actual historical and occasionally fictional characters, this could and should provoke lively discussion.

How to Fracture a Fairy Tale, by Jane Yolen (Tachyon Publications)

When it comes to giving classic (and not-so classic) fairy tales a new twist, nobody does it better than Jane Yolen. This collection includes her children’s book, Sleeping Ugly, which I read aloud innumerable times to my own daughters. Best of all, though, are Yolen’s own comments on the tales, the nature of fairy tales, and how we grow and heal through story-telling.

The usual disclaimer: I received review copies of these books, but no one bribed me to say anything in particular about them. Although chocolates and fine imported tea are always welcome.

Wednesday, July 10, 2019

Monday, July 8, 2019

Writer's Block: Lowering Standards?

I just finished Sandra Tsing Loh's review of Battle Hymn of the Tiger Mother (Amy Chua, Penguin) (about which I may write a completely separate blog post) in the April 2011 Atlantic. Loh writes:

I follow the old writer's chestnut: "When you face writer's block, just lower your standards and keep going."

Cute, I suppose, and encouraging in its own way, but I'm not sure I agree with the mindset. I had never heard such a thing, and I've been publishing professionally for over 30 years. Maybe it's the difference between mainstream writing (and the expectation of peerless prose?) and genre writing. Or that the mentors I've have and and the pros I hang out with have a more organic approach to writing, an appreciation for story-telling over meticulously "beautiful" language? Or has this writer never been truly blocked, only impatient and self-critical?

Whatever the reason for my not hearing this before, I find its underlying premise destructive: that writing (i.e., composing a first draft) must somehow embody one's highest literary standards. Not to put too fine a point on it, but this is nonsense! If you can just "carry on", what's going on isn't writer's block. It's elitist self-indulgent pifflebunk. If worrying about your "standards" interferes with the flow of your writing, then maybe you're trying to write and to critique yourself at the same time, and it might be better to get out of your own way and just write!

You can always edit and polish to your heart's content, but get the story down first.

For a long time in my early career, I wrote perfectly awful first drafts. I mean really bad in almost every sense -- except the passion I brought to them. Grammar, plot, characterization, prose style, you name it, I butchered it. As a consequence, I learned to revise with a vengeance. I learned that all of these things, these "literary standards" things, are fixable. The only thing that can't be changed is inserting "heart" into a story when it isn't there to begin with. (Or maybe some writers can do that, but I can't.) I'd a thousand times rather write--or read--a story with that core of fiery truth than with the most sophisticated technique in the world.