Happy Birthday, Sam Clemens

Today is the 176th birthday of Mark Twain. My appreciation of Twain’s work deepens as I get older, and the work of his that I like best has changed as time has gone on as well. Twain not only wrote with eloquence, humor, charm, and passion about America, he did so on behalf of America. More than any other writer he seemed to embody the national consciousness, and he remains arguably the best articulator of our nation’s view of itself.

If you never saw Ken Burns’ documentary on Twain, I highly recommend it. It’s available at Amazon and on Netflix.

This seems like a good time to give Twain’s rules of writing, from his essay “James Fenimore Cooper’s Literary Offenses.” I often distribute these to students in my writing classes emphasizing craft.

Mark Twain’s Rules of Writing

1.  A tale shall accomplish something and arrive somewhere.

2.  The episodes of a tale shall be necessary parts of the tale, and shall help develop it.

3.  The personages in a tale shall be alive, except in the case of corpses, and that always the reader shall be able to tell the corpses from the others.

4.  The personages in a tale, both dead and alive, shall exhibit a sufficient excuse for being there.

5.  When the personages of a tale deal in conversation, the talk shall sound like human talk, and be talk such as human beings would be likely to talk in the given circumstances, and have a discoverable meaning, also a discoverable purpose, and a show of relevancy, and remain in the neighborhood of the subject in hand, and be interesting to the reader, and help out the tale, and stop when the people cannot think of anything more to say.

6.  When the author describes the character of a personage in his tale, the conduct and conversation of that personage shall justify said description.

7.  When a personage talks like an illustrated, gilt-edged, tree-calf, hand-tooled, seven-dollar Friendship’s Offering in the beginning of a paragraph, he shall not talk like a Negro minstrel at the end of it.

8.  Crass stupidities shall not be played upon the reader by either the author or the people in the tale.

9.  Events shall be believable; the personages of a tale shall confine themselves to possibilities and let miracles alone; or, if they venture a miracle, the author must so plausably set it forth as to make it look possible and reasonable.

10.  The author shall make the reader feel a deep interest in the personages of his tale and their fate; and that he shall make the reader love the good people in the tale and hate the bad ones.

11.  The characters in tale be so clearly defined that the reader can tell beforehand what each will do in a given emergency.

In addition to these large rules, there are some little ones. These require that the author shall:

12.  Say what he is proposing to say, not merely come near it.

13.  Use the right word, not its second cousin.

14.  Eschew surplusage.

15.  Not omit necessary details.

16.  Avoid slovenliness of form.

17.  Use good grammar.

18. Employ a simple, straightforward style.

Mortality Bridge E-Book Is Out

The e-book version of Mortality Bridge is now available! I worked closely with the layout artist to be sure the digital version adhered as closely as possible to the printed version’s typographical quirks and conventions , and we found alternative solutions where it could not. It was a learning experience, and I am very happy with the results, as well as deeply appreciative of the time, effort, and consideration taken to achieve this.

As I described in my Big Idea post on John Scalzi’s Whatever blog, it took literally half my life to write and publish Mortality Bridge. It was an exhausting amount of work and I had to grow a lot — as an artist and as a person — to do justice to what the book wanted to be. I’m more proud of it than anything I’ve ever written.

I’m also aware that it’s one of the least commercial things I’ve done. I could not be happier with my publishers, and they have been stalwart champions and supporters of a novel that tries to be a beautiful book about terrible things (which can be kind of hard for a major publisher to wrap its head around).

But because they are smaller, indie publishers, there isn’t massive marketing muscle behind the book, and despite rave reviews from some very high-profile sources, it doesn’t have the visibility of the major players in the industry — especially here in the holiday season.

So I’m asking for your help in getting this scrappy pound puppy into good homes. If you enjoy Mortality Bridge, please:

  • Review it on Amazon or iTunes,
  • Forward this announcement to anyone you think would be interested in the novel
  • Tweet, blog Facebook, G+, and/or forum post about it
  • Link to the Mortality Bridge website and recommend the sample chapters
  • Write your congressman (okay, maybe skip that one)

Thank you for your support!

Amazon Kindle
iTunes
Barnes & Noble
 [E-Reads]
MobiPocket
(Kindle)
iTunes / iBooks
ePub (Nook)

LJWC – The Downloadable Deluge

Here’s the second class I recorded at this year’s La Jolla Writers Conference. Since this is the one where I claim some authority on developments in digital media, naturally the recording inexplicably cuts off with about twenty minutes left in the class. Most of my lectures & readings record without a hitch, but LJWC remains cursed for me somehow. I promise to work on that next year. Player & download links after the description.

The Downloadable Deluge: A Life Raft for the Digital Tsunami
Boyett’s popular, interactive Digital/New Media discussions at LJWC serve as: A catalyst to writers struggling to keep pace with the astonishing rate of change in an industry in transition; a fire drill to help writers prepare for, exploit, or avoid what may be headed their way; a wake-up call to writers entrenched in media and business models that are becoming increasingly limited, if not outright archaic. This discussion of the state of the art is a survey of the year’s significant events at the intersection of art and technology, and a look ahead to see what may be in store for writers in a digital world. We’ll talk about e-books, piracy, copyright, advertising, revenue, distribution, representation, and much more. These are always pretty lively sessions!

[audio:http://www.steveboy.com/audio/boyett_-_digital_tsunami_-_ljwc_2011.mp3]

DOWNLOAD [01:17:55] 105MB, 192K

LJWC – Revisionism

Here’s the first of two classes that got recorded at last weekend’s La Jolla Writers Conference. Player  & download link below the course description.

Revision: The Real Art of Writing
Sure, you make your first draft the best it can be. But it’s easier to make it great on revision than on the first try, and knowing that can let you give yourself permission to not be perfect out of the gate. Even if your initial draft is terrific, revision is essential to condense, clarify, and clean up a manuscript.Steve Boyett will revise his own first-draft copy on an overhead projector to illustrate common mistakes, solutions, aesthetics, continuity, and more to demonstrate that revision can be as creative as the original act of writing.
[audio:http://www.steveboy.com/audio/boyett_-_revisionism_-_ljwc_2011.mp3]

DOWNLOAD [01:03:01] 88 MB, 192K

Home Again, Home Again

See, it's much better when I'm not the one taking pictures

Back from a ten-day jaunt around Southern California that included attending World Fantasy Con and teaching at the La Jolla Writers Conference, with readings at both and an all-too-short stay in Los Angeles inbetween, visiting favorite places and what friends I had time to see (and apologies to the friends I wasn’t able to visit). I met a lot of great people and participated in some terrific events, but I was definitely glad to be back home.

The La Jolla Writers Conference was wonderful. It was my third year here and the students were as sharp as ever. My classes were well-attended and I talked for three solid days until I sounded indistinguishable from Tom Waits.

Bad weather put a crimp in what is normally a nicely social event. Rain & cold kept everyone off the grassy courtyard and had them scurrying to classes and putting to bed early. I thought this sort of weather was illegal in San Diego. Luckily it didn’t put a dent in the LJWC scheduled activities.

I also met uber-selling writers Jan Burke and Andrew Gross and had a terrific time with them. The three of us held a reading on Saturday night and it was a blast. Jan & Andrew write myster/thrillers, primarily, and I was amazed at their sense of timing. Both of them stopped their readings at the exact right moment and left me wanting more. So next day I bought the books (Jan’s Bloodlines and Andrew’s Eyes Wide Open). Clearly they knows what they is doing. I’m looking forward to reading them.

As you can see from our hat-swapping, I have a teeny tiny head

I usually forget to take pictures at these things cuz I run around like an overcaffeinated mayfly, but this year LJWC had Alana Renfro as their official photographer. At dinner Saturday night I wore my brown porkpie hat and Alana had her oh-so-Irish cap (I dunno what they’re called; I always think of them as British Racing Caps worn by men who drive Jaguar XKEs). So we switched hats and took this picture, which even a camera-conscious pundit such as myself has to admit is chock full o’ coolness. Plus I’m wearing the studio-wardrobe brown pinstripe suit jacket I got for a steal in Los Angeles. I sez hellyeh.

Every year at LJWC I lecture on digital media and related innovations and developments as they apply to writers. Naturally this means that I always screw up recording my classes with my digital recorder. This year was no exception. Despite charging four AAA batteries before the event, two of them went dead on me in the middle of classes and didn’t record, and at the end of one class I hit “stop” and recording started — meaning I hadn’t recorded that class, either.

Fortunately some did get recorded, and I’ll be posting them here over the next week after I have a chance to clean them up.

Meantime, a big hollah to my LJWC stoodeez.

Cory Doctorow Reviews Mortality Bridge

Cory Doctorow has posted his review of Mortality Bridge on BoingBoing.net.  Among other nifty things, he writes

…Niko’s race through Hell is one of the greatest supernatural adventure stories of recent memory…. It is not a mere allegory about sin and redeption, cowardice and nobility: it’s also a damned good story, which sets it apart from almost all existential allegories.

I’m pretty sure I owe Cory either Beer for Life or My Firstborn Child, which seems a perfectly fair bargain, considering his many kindnesses.

LJWC Schedule

Here’s my teaching schedule for the La Jolla Writers Conference.

Friday, Nov. 3

1:00 – 1:50 PM
Revision: The Real Art of Writing
Sure, you make your first draft the best it can be. But it’s easier to make it great on revision than on the first try, and knowing that can let you give yourself permission to not be perfect out of the gate. Even if your initial draft is terrific, revision is essential to condense, clarify, and clean up a manuscript.Steve Boyett will revise his own first-draft copy on an overhead projector to illustrate common mistakes, solutions, aesthetics, continuity, and more to demonstrate that revision can be as creative as the original act of writing.

2:00 – 2:50 PM
The Craft of Fiction
Save the Art discussions for Starbucks — this class will focus on the elements of fiction and the techniques involved in crafting them. Elements such as dialog, character, action, setting and physical description, tone and atmosphere, voice, and more will be illustrated to help students identify their own strengths and weaknesses, and approaches for improving their craft in all areas.

Saturday, Nov. 4

4:30 – 6:20 PM
He Writes Purty, Don’t He? The Wonder and Danger of Lyric Prose
Saying you’re in love with language is one thing. Proving it is something else. This workshop will look at what goes into creating beautiful prose — meter, image fusion and juxtaposition, “pure” narrative and soliloquy, 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. We will also discuss potential pitfulls of lyric prose, including “purple” prose, obscurity, marketability, pretentiousness, and more.

9:30 PM
Steven R. Boyett leads off LJWC’s new series of fiction readings by faculty members.

Sunday, Nov. 5

11:00 – 11:50 AM
Revision: The Real Art of Writing
Sure, you make your first draft the best it can be. But it’s easier to make it great on revision than on the first try, and knowing that can let you give yourself permission to not be perfect out of the gate. Even if your initial draft is terrific, revision is essential to condense, clarify, and clean up a manuscript.Steve Boyett will revise his own first-draft copy on an overhead projector to illustrate common mistakes, solutions, aesthetics, continuity, and more to demonstrate that revision can be as creative as the original act of writing.

1:10 – 3:00
The Downloadable Deluge: A Life Raft for the Digital Tsunami
Boyett’s popular, interactive Digital/New Media discussions at LJWC serve as: A catalyst to writers struggling to keep pace with the astonishing rate of change in an industry in transition; a fire drill to help writers prepare for, exploit, or avoid what may be headed their way; a wake-up call to writers entrenched in media and business models that are becoming increasingly limited, if not outright archaic. This discussion of the state of the art is a survey of the year’s significant events at the intersection of art and technology, and a look ahead to see what may be in store for writers in a digital world. We’ll talk about e-books, piracy, copyright, advertising, revenue, distribution, representation, and much more. These are always pretty lively sessions!