The following Words are hereby decreed Illegal in the Titles of Works of General Fiction and Literature:

  • Bone / Bones
  • Club
  • Whisperer
  • Dead
  • Society
  • Wife [when defining a Female according to the Occupation of her Husband, e.g. ,The Emperor’s Wife]
  • A Novel [when preceded by a colon]
  • [Any Deceased Author]

Furthermore, it is henceforth Forbidden to have as a Protagonist any sort of Writer, or other Practitioner of the Arts plainly substituting therefor.

The following Words are hereby decreed Illegal in the Titles of Works of Science Fiction:

  • [blank]-World
  • Effect
  • Empire
  • Zone
  • Factor
  • Chaos
  • Hegemony
  • Galactic

The following Words are hereby decreed Illegal in the Titles of Works of Fantasy:

  • Chronicles
  • Dragon
  • Lord
  • Quest
  • Shadow
  • Wizard
  • Apprentice
  • King
  • Empire / Emperor / Empress
  • Prophecy
  • Doom
  • Throne
  • Sword
  • Saga
  • Rune
  • Covenant
  • Bane
  • Mage

Further, the use of a Colon in the Title of a Science Fiction or Fantasy Work shall be by Royal Approval only, and shall never accompany an Unpronounceable Neologism (e.g., Sword of Prophecy: The Fyrblyngkan Chronicles).

Furthermore, for Works of Science Fiction or Fantasy, it is henceforth decreed that Writers must show Due Cause for any Narrative Exposition, or else remove such Offending Material from Public Scrutiny prior to Publication.

The following Words are hereby decreed Illegal in the Titles of Works of Horror:

  • Dark
  • Blood
  • Death
  • Moon
  • Scream
  • Fear
  • Any gerund [word ending in ing, e.g., The Gnoshing]

Further, it is henceforth Forbidden to Invoke the Deity in the Banishment of any perceived Evil, unless Fair and Timely arrangement of adequate Payments of Royalty have been previously Arranged.

LJWC Update

My class schedule at the La Jolla Writers Conference on November 5 – 7 has changed a bit.  One class has moved from Saturday to Sunday, and I am now giving a keynote speech and another workshop.

Here’s the amended (and final) version:

Friday, November 5
2:00 – 3:50
New Roles for Writers:  Keeping Current in the Digital Age — The extreme changes wrought by digital technology across all media have finally begun to wreak havoc across the publishing landscape. A writer’s options and obligations are both transforming and expanding. The traditional models still exist, but they are starting to be but one voice among many clamoring for attention. Writers who cling to traditional publishing models as the way things have to be are tantamount to polar bears stranded on ice floes created by global warming. Denial is limiting and even destructive.  This interactive lecture will examine current publishing trends and options, skills writers will need to develop in the digital age, and directions publishing may take in the next few years. Where will you be when the dust settles?

Saturday, November 6
8:00 AM – 8:50 AM
Arm’s Reach: What You Should Have On Hand to Lead a Writing Life — This class will not discuss art and craft, but will focus on the practical aspects of living life as a professional writer. What tools should you have on hand? What methods for organizing should you use? How do you deal with taxes and deductibles? What resources should be immediately available to you? Ideally you should be able to sit at your desk and have most of the tools necessary to live as a writer in arm’s reach.

9:00 AM – 10:50 AM (ADDED)
The Writer as Performer — The book may be over when you type “the end,” but your job  as a professional writer has only just begun. Our media-saturated world is crowded with entertainment clamoring for attention. Like it or not, one of your jobs as a professional writer nowadays is to direct some of that attention toward you and, by extension, your work. We’ll discuss avenues and techniques for presenting yourself and your work, including readings, interviews, teaching, public speaking, online presence, and more.

12:30 PM – 1:00 PM (ADDED)
Keynote Address:  “Myopia”

Sunday, November 7
9:00 AM – 10:50 AM
Soliloquies and Self Indulgence — It’s been said that writing fiction isn’t really all that hard:  you simply list what happens. If you believe that fiction is about only its events and not also about the beauty of the words themselves, then this class isn’t for you. We will look at meter, image fusion and juxtaposition, “pure” narrative, indirect discourse, and other techniques and choices used by writers such as Cormac McCarthy, Jack Kerouac, James Joyce, Shirley Jackson, and others to create prose that is as musical and poetic as it is functional. Feel free to bring your own examples!

Writing After Work:  Balancing a Job and a Career — Many writers think they can kiss their day job goodbye after that first sale. The real world often begs to differ. Learning how to balance a day job and a writing career is necessary before your first sales, but it may be necessary for a while afterward, too. This class will look at ways to budget time, scheduling, and dealing with some of the conflicts that arise between job and writing career.

SF in SF

Science Fiction in San Francisco (A Perfect Fit), or SF in SF, is a monthly series of science fiction readings and films hosted by Terry Bisson (author of the truly wonderful Talking Man and Bears Discover Fire).  I don’t know how long the series has been running (several years at least), but I went last Saturday to hear Karen Joy Fowler, whose work I cannot recommend highly enough, and a writer new to me, Claude Lalumiere, whose performance was thoroughly enjoyable.

Readings are free, and proceeds from the bar go to The Variety Children’s Hospital. So far SF in SF has raised around $25,000 toward this end.

The venue is a screening room at The Variety Preview Room in the Hobart Building, and it is one of the nicer places I’ve been to hear a reading, with banked theater-style seating, sound-dampening curtains, overhead spot lighting, a congenial host, snacks & booze in the lobby, and an attentive, appreciative audience, many of whom are writers themselves.

Readings and subsequent Q & A are recorded and made available online as well.

Karen and I used to correspond many moons ago, and I hugely enjoyed seeing her again.  Her star has risen enormously over the years (a MacArthur grant, breakout literary success with Sarah Canary, commercial and cinematic success with The Jane Austen Book Club, awards, awards, awards), and it has been a delight to witness. What I like most is that none of this seems to have affected her work — she remains sui generis, she hasn’t distanced herself from science fiction as a genre, and she continues to produce intelligent, involving, and affecting work.

I had some great conversations before & after the event, and felt very welcomed (everybody seemed to know each other).

SF in SF is a terrific resource for the community, and huge kudos to Terry Bisson, Rina Weisman, and all who put forth the considerable effort in organizing it.  I’m giving a reading there on November 13, and I am hugely looking forward to it.

ELEGY BEACH Paperback has Arrived!

I will put it under my pillow and wake up smart

This showed up unexpectedly the other day and I am a happy little camper.  The wonderful Steve Stone cover translates beautifully to the mass market size (and the colors really pop on the shelf), and what paperbacks lack in durability and just plain cred, they make up for by being just plain fat.

It was also an unexpected treat to see the reviews put in the flyleaf. You tend to remember the harsh ones better than the positive ones, so seeing a bunch of really nice ones together makes me think that maybe I don’t just write good chair-levelers and doorstops after all.

The paperback contains an expanded Afterword and minor corrections from the hardcover edition. I’d like to express my thanks to my publisher’s typesetter, who did a wonderful job redoing the layout of my indulgent blank-verse section (p. 284 of the paperback, thank you veddy much) and general stylistic quirkiness.

AVALON BURNING, meanwhile, is going great guns. It’s very dark indeed and I’m loving it.

Teaching @ La Jolla Writers Conference

I will be teaching at the La Jolla Writers Conference Nov. 5 – 7. I had a wonderful time there last year (see my Feb. 2010 post about the Conference) and am looking forward to this year even more, now that I know what I’m in for. The students are sharp, talented, and demanding, and I enjoyed the interaction.

I will be recording the classes/lectures and will post them here asap after I am back.  But don’t let that keep you from attending — ya can’t throw down on an audio recording.

Here’s my schedule:


Halfway Home

Certain indicators of progress

Sunday I hit my projected halfway mark on AVALON BURNING. Truthfully I don’t think the book is halfway done at all; that milestone was based on a novel of 100,000 words, and it’s clear that this book is going to be longer than that, more in line with my usual length of around 125,000 words.  Which would mean that I have about another 80 pages to go before the halfway mark.

Still, the point of benchmarks is not to be predictive but to have quantitative measures of progress, and as a measure of progress I have to say that it feels pretty cool to realize how (relatively) quickly the book has gotten here.  A month ago I was at page 50 and had only just begun my marathon sprint. I can definitely live with (and hopefully on) writing 100 pages a month.

Of course, I would rather write five great pages than 100 mediocre ones. But that mindset, while artistically admirable and full of integrity and all like dat, is exactly what has prevented me from ever trying to crank away. The few things I have published that were written in a blinding white full-throttle-down were some of the clunkiest things I have written.  (No, I won’t name them.)  But I have realized that the reason they were clunky wasn’t because they were written quickly but because they were written quickly under very tight deadlines that did not allow revision beyond a straight proofread. Every one of those (well, there’ve only been a few) was something that I would have been perfectly happy with had there been time to give them even one good going-over.

What I’m seeing with AVALON BURNING is that the prose reflects my style and will be what I want it to be upon thorough revision, and that the clunkers of awful or unclear lines or awkward staging are more like occasional speedbumps than the vast plain of rubble I had assumed would dominate the manuscript.  It’s nice to think we can play out some mythical divinely inspired artiste and craft final, finished work in first draft, but that generally ain’t how it works. Michelangelos don’t as a rule bang out “David” in a white heat of flying marble dust.  They carve out something that looks kinda like a guy and then start in on that.  Gradually making the stone fit the shape in their mind.

And though that initial carving-out can be onerous — Sunday’s writing session was like digging through a mountain with a spoon — I genuinely love revision.  To me it feels at least as creative as the initial writing, if not more, and I am hugely looking forward to leaving blue ink all over this sonofabitch when the first draft is finished. Which I’m doing my level best to be sure is sometime in November.

Road Trip in Miniature

Kong sez hi

Last weekend I had the good fortune to visit Los Angeles on the hottest day ever recorded. It’s literally 118 degrees and I’m in the concrete monstrosity that is City Walk in Universal City sitting outside a Starbucks and drinking a large hot coffee and wondering why tourists are looking at me as if flags and cuckoo birds are coming out of my ears. But it was great good fun to run around City Walk with a notepad and camera and take pictures and let the place itself tell me how events about to transpire in AVALON BURNING should happen there. City Walk has become even cheesier and more rundown that it used to be, and I cannot wait to put the postapocalypse whammy on the joint.

I was disappointed (but hardly surprised) to learn that UCLA Extension no longer operates a campus there (in fact they seem to have shut down many of their locations throughout LA). I loved teaching writing at City Walk — it was surreal as hell to meet students for coffee before class when firewalkers and jugglers and ogling tourists were going by, and sometimes I had to stop lectures while marching bands or loud performers went by in the street outside.

Dave sez hi
Dave sez hi

I got to partially pay back my friend Ken Mitchroney for all his work helping me move to the SF Bay area by helping him move a couch to his temporary digs at Dave Schow‘s house in the Hollywood Hills. This meant getting a 200-pound couch around a Dr. Seuss-like catwalk that was not wide enough for the couch and wound around the house on three sides. In 110-degree weather. Everyone contributed ingenious solutions that worked when they were needed and I got to briefly visit with my old friend Dave. We were bestest buddies in the 80s and had a lot of adventures together. His career has burgeoned and he is a terrific writer. I used to use sections from his work when I taught classes on writing action, which I think is harder to do than a lot of writers (many of them quite lit’rary, donthca know) realize. Dave does something he calls “verb packing,” and it works gangbusters.

Ken sez hi

Road trips with Ken are always great and the five-hour drive goes by in about 25 minutes. Plus I got to have dinner and a long heart-to-heart with my friend Scott Kelley, squeeze in a lunch with my Burner buddy Kevin, and then go shopping at Ralph’s before heading back. (Ralph’s: they have things I can’t get up here. Like egg bagels. There is not an egg bagel to be found in Benicia. Or a synagogue either. But there is a Baptist church and a Mormon temple across the street from each other not two hundred yards from my house. Hmm.)

Then back to cranking away on AVALON BURNING. More on that next post.