Saturday, December 1, 2007

The Hidden Dangers of Writing

One large mug of coffee + scattered pile of open notebooks + lying on carpeted sitting room floor = "MOTHERFUCK!!!!!"

Friday, November 30, 2007

The not-so Big Scary Idea

In the midst of writing a post on setting and worldbuilding, I was distracted by The Big Scary Idea and The Big Scary Idea Business Plan (originally pointed out at Torque Control).

On the surface it sounds like a wonderful Utopian ideal for genre. One gigantic site to Rule Them All. Massive advertising dollars funneled into the pockets of (and stop me if I'm wrong, here!) pretty much everyone, from contributors to "associates". Huge quantities of user-generated content. Community. Web 2.0!

(A quick aside - Personally, I like the idea of Blues 2.0 better:

End aside.)

Ahem. Yes. So, glorious vision and all that.

I just don't think it would work.

What I think they're attempting with this Big Scary Idea is a consolidation of interests, drawing upon several streams of 'fandom' (if you will) and offering a single all-inclusive outlet for creative types working within the speculative fiction genre. It would be the SpecLit uber-zine, so to speak.

I don't think anyone wants that.

Lovers of speculation tend to gravitate and clump to their very specific niches, without crossover. People who love Star Wars go to the Official Website. People who love speculative artwork are welcome to browse and participate on, for instance, and CG Society and the Sijun forums, while deviantART offers not only a showcase to artists and photographers, but also the ability to earn income from prints. Meanwhile... we already know how READERS gravitate to various online venues.

(One flaw in the Big Scary Idea is it's failure to include or even consider the wider gaming and comic industries, whether that gaming is console- or paper-based. To me, this seems the greatest area for a speculative creator to explore in growing his/her audience. More on that another time.)

So what the Big Scary Idea must do is to entice already-entrenched users from their current homes.

Their form of enticement? REVENUE!

While I'm not very conversant with the details of Web 2.0 and it's varied ephemera, I'm intimately familiar with the dream of Earning Income Through Advertising. Every blogger, I think, eventually stumbles into stories of their compatriots earning god-awful sums of ad revenue through their ever-so-popular blogs and dreams of duplicating such a feat. I know that's why I have Google Ads running on my blog.

Of course, I've only earned $0.04 to date on AdSense. But I'm not griping.

Rather, let's consider the unholy nightmare of attempting to quantify who-earns-what by ad click-through, one of the Big Scary Idea's primary forms of revenue to the content contributor.

If a content provider had 1% of total views over the course of a month, BSI’s ad revenues were $1M, and the % redistributed was 70%, the content provider would earn $7K that month.

That sounds really, really good, doesn't it? Bearing in mind that if the BSI is receiving 1 million page views per month, and 1% of those page views means 10,000, that's quite a hefty return on 10K views of a short story.

But is it even remotely realistic? I somehow doubt it.

Web economics is far from my strong point, but to me this accounting model proposed in the Big Scary Idea just doesn't add up.

Still, from a user's perspective, I don't see anything that I can't conceivably already do on my own. I could, in theory, become my own cottage industry on the internet without the help of a site like the Big Scary Idea. I can keep writing this blog, and continue building an audience until it's possible to include more advertising. If I get a wild hair up my rear and decide to create a work of art, I can set up a deviantART account and sell prints there... and further broaden my audience base by interacting with that community. I can create merchandise and sell it through CafePress. If I create a short film, I can post it on any one of a dozen video-sharing sites, again growing my audience.

And I could do it all without having to worry about dealing with income based on user ratings.

Thursday, November 29, 2007

If you couldn't tell...

I decided to take a little time to clean up the design, and make it (hopefully) more readable and easy-to-use.

Wednesday, November 28, 2007

Conan: The Phenomenon

John J. Miller of NPR's "Between the Covers" talks to Paul M. Sammon, author of Conan: The Phenomenon.


Monday, November 26, 2007

Post-Turkey Flu

Though I dare not link the Thanksgiving turkey with the subsequent bout of flu I've been suffering, the fact remains that I have been ill and am only now beginning to feel more up to snuff.

Therefore, regular blogging will likely resume tomorrow.

I felt I should warn you.

Friday, November 23, 2007

The writer's strike and the larger economics of writing

Douglas McGrath has a very good piece at Newsweek (found via John August, who is blogging the strike) that puts writing into perspective for those who do not understand the reality of it:

When video came into being, a new accommodation was made, allowing a small residual for tapes and then DVDs. I am not being hyperbolic when I say "small." For a DVD sold for $19.99, we are paid 4 cents. To put that in perspective, that means that to pay for one tank of gas, a writer needs to sell 1,500 DVDs. To put it another way, it's a penny less than if we returned an empty can of Coke.


Right now, if you go online and watch a streaming version of a TV show, the company that owns that property is getting paid by the advertisers whose commercials appear at the top of it. Just like TV, but with one difference: the writers are paid no residual, not even the four cents. The companies say they don't need to pay us for this: it's "promotional." By that I suppose they mean that it promotes the size of their earnings from smaller to larger.

I've been thinking about this all morning, because it's something that impacts all writers.

Why is it so difficult for writers to get paid?

I lie. I actually started thinking about this last night, when I was looking through Echoes of Valor II, edited by Karl Edward Wagner. In his introduction to several stories by C.L. Moore, Wagner writes:

She practiced her typing skills by writing down some of these adventures and submitting them for publication to the pulp markets. This wasn't a bad idea, since her first sale netted her a neat $100.00 - equal to a month's salary a the bank. This story was "Shambleau", published in the November 1933 issue of Weird Tales....

I lie again. I really started thinking about this when I read John Scalzi's piece on Making Robert Heinlein Money.

According to the same calculator Scalzi used, Moore's first story sale netted her the equivalent of $1586.92.

Once upon a time, a speculative fiction writer could make a living.

OK. Of course that isn't fair, as many writers do earn a living from their writing. But as a new writer looking at paying markets, the numbers are daunting. A prospective author who dreams of making a living from her writing would be better off taking a job at McDonald's, it appears.

But that isn't what this post is about.

What I cannot fathom is why writing is such a marginalized vocation, why the writer's compensation is so minimal compared to the actual work involved. Furthermore, what is it about writing that allows us to forge ahead despite the pittance returns?

What are some ways to boost a writer's income? At this point in time, is it possible for a writer to begin from base 0 and build a lucrative writing career commensurate with the work involved?

These are some of the questions that have been floating around in my post-Thanksgiving-torpor head.

Harlan Ellison says "Pay the writer."

[Full Disclosure: To date, I have earned nothing from the Amazon Associates account for this blog. On the other hand, I have now earned exactly $0.01 from Google Ads. I have now earned $0.01 from my writing. I'm on my way!]

Waking up

This is extremely acceptable morning wake-up music.

Nina is so awesome.

Thursday, November 22, 2007

Stupid garbage javascript...

I'm trying to use Share This on here, but it seems wherever I put it on the Blogger page elements it just sits there, rather than embedding in my posts. So now I've tried to add it as an element to each post, but when I went and pasted the script in, it only shows on the most recent one.

Does anyone reading this have any idea on the proper way to embed the script so it will show up properly?

Update: Apparently it doesn't work.

So I did this instead.

Today's Mantra

Wednesday, November 21, 2007

Moleskines and Me

This is where it all happens for me, scribbled down in six different kinds of Moleskines.

And one big piece of paper that quickly becomes useless.

I love using Moleskines for working out all the niggly little details involved in creating a world. Mostly I love using them because they're compact, portable, and each style can be used for different aspects of creation.

For instance, guess what the large sketchbook is filled with? Yep. Maps and sketches.

What frightens me most is knowing that I've already invested $70.70 (plus tax) in this single novel.

Not counting my laptop, of course.

And everyone seems to think writing is such a glamorous vocation.....

Speaking of Thanksgiving...

...I thank all of you that have visited in these first four days. It is awesome!

The Plot Against Plot

The shadowy figure materialized through his swimming vision, canted like a crooked tower over his sprawled form. His boot heels thudded against the floor as he tried feebly to push himself away, but the liquor and amerdol weighed him down and made his limbs leaden. There was no sound except the ragged gasps of his breath as he raised his arms and pushed his knife upward. It cut air, then abruptly shuddered to a halt as its tip entered flesh.

The moment stretched.

Ereas pushed harder, and it was like sawing at burnt meat. Something warm spattered his hands and he had no more strength left. His arms dropped.

Someone shrieked, but it sounded faraway, muffled by the roaring in his ears. He couldn't see through his tears, and his head was filled with thunder. So much amerdol. The weight of the figure crushed down on him as he slid toward the silence.

He thought, What have I done?

What he's done, actually, is made life difficult for himself.

Like me.

I've been plotting. Not to stab someone (though, a couple of frustrated times, the thought did occur to me...), but in the literary sense.

I hate plotting.

Plot, I've discovered, is quite different from "I know what happens in this story". Knowing the story, knowing what I am going to write about... that's easy. Plot is a pain in the ass.

This novel is my first whole-hearted attempt at... ummmm... a novel. To say I've been learning a lot would be fairly silly, I'm sure, but it's true.

Plot has been the toughest.

Recently I read The Blood Knight by Greg Keyes. And honestly I think his Kingdoms of Thorn and Bone series is one of the finest-written epic fantasies on the shelves. Keyes is one of those flat-out good writers able to balance clarity with style. But one thing that bothers me about these novels is the convenience of the plotting. In The Kingdoms of Thorn and Bone, the main characters crisscross the map, yet somehow manage to keep bumping into one another. And perhaps your life is different but I have never, for instance, bumped into one of my former co-workers that moved to New Jersey while we both happen to be vacationing in Paris.

That would be convenient plotting.

In plotting this novel, I find I just can't do it. To me, plotting has to be driven by cause and effect. Ereas, in a drunken and drugged-out stupor, recklessly stabs someone he shouldn't. He's like the rich kid who believes he is untouchable. He's like the board members of Enron, and he's shocked when there are consequences.

But actions and consequences are the lifeblood of plot. The characters do things because of who they are. Those actions have repercussions. When I sit down to plot out the novel, it becomes a game of charting those consequences. It's long. It's tedious. And I hope, eventually, that it is more realistic and believable than having characters bump into each other while crisscrossing the globe.


I just looked at my visitors and realized there are a lot more people visiting today than the last three days combined.

Hello everyone. Pleased to meet you. Feel free to post comments and all that regular bloggy stuff. I appreciate your visits.

Tuesday, November 20, 2007

Digest Blues, Final


While writing my last post, Lou Anders posted another round-up regarding the magazines (even including mine, woot woot!) which basically renders anything more I would have to say moot.

For instance:

Paolo Bacigalupi on starting a new magazine for boys and starting one for girls.

And at The Homeless Moon, an open source speculative fiction magazine model that pretty well sums up all of my further thoughts on the matter.

Therefore, I think enough has been said on the subject.

Digest Blues, Part Three

It strikes me that I am a complete and total hypocrite. On the one hand, criticizing the fans of Heroes for attempting to dictate the direction of the show. On the other, discussing what the digest magazines can do to save themselves.

So goes life, I suppose.

B: Garner Relevance

If, as we presuppose, the "Big Three" have lost relevance in the modern speculative fiction community, how to gain that relevance back?

There are several tactics I can think of that would help all three magazines regain some of the lost ground.

The root of the problem appears to be declining readership. I think all involved can agree that the "Big Three" have taken a huge hit over the past decade, if the circulation numbers charted through Dozois' annual Best of collections are accepted. The heyday of the digests would seem long past. Whether this has impacted the profitability of their endeavors is not for me to say. But certainly the circumstantial evidence would at least suggest that this has, indeed, impacted their relevance in the field.

The most glaring failing of the magazines that I can see is their failure to engage with the genre community in any impactful way. Though Van Gelder has suggested that we are merely an online community discussing how great the online revolution is, I think such a point fails to take into account that, unlike those who refuse to engage with the internet, those of us online are receiving the benefits of both online and offline media.

By distancing themselves from the net-based community, the "Big Three" inadvertently shoot themselves in the collective foot.

The truth of the matter is, the digests fail to appeal to several important markets in one fell sweep. While it is true that many traditional readers of the magazines have not embraced the internet, it is still the media of choice for many burgeoning readers. By not engaging online, the digests fail to encounter the all-important influx of new readers and, by proxy, new customers. To be honest, their collective failure to engage fully online seems willfully entrenched. Old-fashioned. Worse, uncaring.

It is true that websites do exist for all three magazines, but they are, as one commentator put it, "vestigial at best". In fact, I find it extremely bizarre that the messageboard for F&SF is actually located on another publisher's website.

I think it is absolutely essential that the magazines radically transform their web presence.

The best way to do this would be to create a community-based website.

To date, there are few user-friendly features on any of the "Big Three" websites. Nothing about the websites engender a sense of identity, nor of community. Speculative fiction fans are notoriously tribe-oriented, but these websites fail to reflect that.

In essence, I would suggest tearing down the old websites and starting fresh. Make the websites, for starters, clean and clearly accessible. Organize things. I cannot say how often I've longed to find a particular review column on the Asimov's website and failed miserably in the process. Using a CMS-based web design would at least clarify the sites and turn them into easily searchable, open-ended websites.

However, that is only one step. It is necessary to encourage reader participation. For example, Dave Truesdale's columns have a link to "discuss at the messageboard", but no commenting feature at the articles themselves. Nor is it easy to find a simple listing of all of Dave's columns; I had to click about several pages to discover them. Further, continuing with Dave's columns as an example, there are no contextual links. This is not writing for the net; this is reflective of the dead medium of print, rather than the living medium of the internet.

Wisdom would also suggest that messageboards are a vital component to community websites... and each site does have a messageboard. It is my experience, however, that each one represents an entrenched mentality. These messageboards are not, in practice, open to all.

But messageboards are not the end of community. None of the magazine websites embrace the wider community of readers and writers. There may be links to some websites, but as we have seen, the interconnectedness of the blogosphere is far more representative of community-in-action. In all ways, the three magazines fail to engage in the genre dialog - they exist, instead, within their meager bubbles of online space, sequestered from the rest of the field.

As I mentioned earlier, it is rare to find any representatives of the magazines participating in the online discussion. It may be unfair of me to suggest that this is a failing of the staff; I certainly do not know what their time management and workload entails. Yet I find it difficult to believe that engagement is impossible. I know that Simon Spanton of Gollancz finds the time to comment on blogs. Other publishers run their own blogs, some of which are listed in my sidebar. And one cannot suggest that Lou Anders is shies away from the internet.

But having a strong web presence is only one step toward relevance.

Quick observation on the digests

Of the 43 sites currently listed in my blogroll, only five have links to any of the "Big Three" magazines' websites.

The Reviewer's Rules of Engagment

I figure I need a break from discussing the digests, so I've decided to instead post my Rules of Engagement for Reviews. The following loosely define what I aim for in writing a review, as well as what I hope to encounter in the reviews I read.

1. Brutal Truth or, as John Clute would have it, Excessive Candour. The reviewer is obligated to express his/her views of a work with utmost honesty, whether praising excellence or defining flaws.

2. Professional Impartiality The reviewer has no allegiance or ties to any author, publisher or publication. It is essential that the reviewer reflect only his/her own representation within a given review. Trust is the core of the reader/reviewer contract.

3. Basic Knowledge The reviewer is obligated to present context for a work's placement within the genre. Using Brutal Truth, the reviewer should fearlessly situate the work under examination, whether praising inventiveness or defining been-there-done-that repetition. Hence, the reviewer must be conversant with the history of the field and its literature.

4. Entertainment The reviewer must do his/her best to entertain readers. Having an opinion is commonplace; expressing that opinion with vim and verve is what distinguishes the masterful reviewer.

5. Clarity is an essential component to the successful review. The reviewer should have the ability to express complex thoughts and ideas clearly within the body of the review, leaving that review accessible to any reader. Not all readers are sophisticated, doctorate-possessing literature professors. Be aware of the range of your audience.

6. Lack of Pretension The reviewer may utilize any suitable style for any review, whether straightforward or lofty and elitist. Beware, however, of the dangers of slipping into pretension. Gazing wistfully into one's own rear end may be suitable in private, but in public fails to fulfill requirement #4.

7. Viewpoint The reviewer will fully engage with the text under review, and is necessarily required to present his/her own unique interpretation of that work. A review should be the individualistic expression of the reviewer's innate taste.

8. Thoroughness The reviewer is obligated to present a thorough (though not necessarily extensive) opinion of the work under review. A good review, by its nature, cannot be entirely "spoiler-free", especially if the work's failure lies within the details of the plot, or even its resolution. While the reviewer must be cautious and tactful in examining such elements, to avoid such would be dishonest.

9. Lack of Agenda As with professional impartiality, the reviewer must opt to represent no particular agenda. Criticizing a text for its political underpinnings, philosophical stance, sub-genre or, worst of all, due to the personality or identity of the author under review, is forbidden.

10. Love No reviewer who does not love the field in which he/she works is worth anything. Remember always that literature is a community of lovers, and let that color the crafting of your reviews.

Monday, November 19, 2007

Stupid meme!

Oh no! This can't be! Not so soon in my blogging career!

(via Antick Musings)

Digest Blues, Part Two

As mentioned earlier, the digests require a makeover. A sort of "Designer's Eye for the Stodgy Digest", if you will.

This is the cover for the current issue of Analog:

It is ugly.

Here, I've created my own vision of the cover to Analog. Keep in mind, I have not read the issue; this is merely my own vision of what it could look like standing on the shelf. I'm no designer, so it too may be ugly. However, I think it hearkens back to the past style of Analog, while giving it a more modern, techy style.

Artwork by Neville Dsouza, swiped without permission.

The interior design should also reflect the new approach. I imagine a very clean, grid-based approach, but with more embellishment, using call-outs and varied columns. Clarity is important; however, the page design should also include something of interest as well.

Just one example would be something like this:

Of course, I have no idea if it's possible to print gray tones on the paper used in printing the digests. But the fact is, it isn't all that difficult to create modern pages.


This is the October/November cover of Asimov's:

Again, I have no idea what the contents are about. My example is solely based on the desire to appeal to the teenage, gamer, rebellious crowd. I focused on using an image more in line with Greg Egan's writing, as I'm not very familiar with Allen Steele's work. I selected a moody, abstract photo and gave it a cross-processed look to accentuate the "edginess".


The Magazine of Fantasy and Science Fiction is trickier. In many ways, it would be too easy to go overboard, swinging too far in one direction. Generally, their covers are pretty simple, following a distinct formula. Moreover, the logo creates a difficulty: does the designer continue to use a plain logotype, or split it up to reflect the fantasy and science fiction? It will be interesting to shake it up a bit from the general style:

In the end, I decided F&SF would benefit most by taking an elegant yet stylish, clean yet semi-Romantic approach to cover design. Rather than attempting to fit the art with any particular story, it would be better if F&SF were to use more abstract, expressionist-styled art. The goal here is to exude a particular aura.

Artwork again swiped, this time from Loïc "e338" Zimmermann.

I don't pretend to think my "covers" are any better than the current designs used by the digests. After all, I'm not an artist, nor a designer. What I know I merely picked up from being interested in photography and occasionally hanging out at print shops. But my goal here is to simply suggest that it is possible to update the styles of the magazines, by doing so, the magazines will find it easier to cement their positions when defining who it is they wish to reach. The entire process is one that is tied together, feeding one from the other. There are no simple answers of "Do this, and you will be relevant". It is an ongoing process.

Next, I'll take a look at the second step the magazines can take to increase their relevance.

Digest Blues: The Lament of the Big Three

For the past month, the "Big Three" genre magazines - Asimov's Science Fiction, Analog Science Fiction & Fact, and The Magazine of Fantasy & Science Fiction - have come under fire from multiple sources, heralding the Imminent Demise Of The Digests (tm). An exhaustive tracking of this debate would seem impossible, but some of the highlights include:

All of which adds up to, I believe, more reading than an actual issue of one of the "Big Three". Of course I'll happily try to boost that up to a novel's worth of reading.

My Take on SFF Magazines in General, and The Big Three in Particular

There was a time, not so far off in the past, when I was an avid reader of the genre magazines. As a kid with only four television channels, I was far more apt to be found curled in a chair with a book or magazine. The books came from the library. The magazines I bought myself.

Perhaps this experience colored my perception of the magazines, but I have always thought of them - the three digests in particular - as an entry-level introduction to speculative fiction. They were cheap. They were filled with many different writers; if you disliked one story, it was easy to flip the pages to another. Purchasing a novel was a painstaking process, because it was important to find just the right one: an outlay of over two dollars required a substantial return on that investment, after all. But the magazines were an easy, quick purchase, at least a buck less than a novel.

When I was reading the magazines, they were important. They helped to form my opinions on speculative fiction. They introduced me to countless authors I'd never heard of. They urged me to write; I knew that if I could come up with an interesting story, one of the magazines might buy it. They kept me interested in the community of speculative fiction.

Around that time, I started to discover back issues of other magazines in second-hand stores, rummage sales, even flea markets and comic book shops. It all went hand-in-hand. Armed with ten dollars I could glut myself on speculative fiction every week.

I bet you remember those days as well.

...And Today

The digests have lost their relevance.

What were once vital and important arbiters of taste in speculative fiction have descended into myopia. They are no longer the touchstones of the genre community. Instead, they are read by a decreasing number of entrenched fans.

"Entrenched" could be the warcry for the three magazines. Despite minor size changes, fluctuations in page count, and the (very) occasional change in editors, the digests have remained essentially the same product they have been for decades. While book publishing has evolved in the same decades, and in tandem with the rise of the internet and its impact on all things, the digests continue to slog along within the tight strictures of their highly-defined niche.

The "Big Three" just don't matter anymore.

But what about the future...?

The question raging on everyone's minds seems to be: "What does the future hold for the digests?"

Most are singing the death knell of the digests. Consensus opinion implies a certain decline and eventual demise for all three of the magazines, replaced by the internet and upstart 'zines serving a variety of niches. Indeed, this is a trend that is visible even now: witness the expansion of online markets like Strange Horizons, Hub Magazine, Heliotrope, Clarkesworld Magazine and more. Or witness the venerable small-press success of Lady Churchill's Rosebud Wristlet or Electric Velocipede.

It would seem the digests have been consigned to death. Roll out the blindfolds, please.

An Alternate Plan for the Digests

But can the digests be saved? Further, should the digests be saved?

I think so.

Here I present a possible alternate path for the "Big Three". I post it in vain, of course; the internet presence of the magazines is woefully under-represented, and I doubt anyone connected with the magazines (save for, perhaps, Gordon Van Gelder or John Joseph Adams) will even stumble across this post... or give a crap if they do. Still, why diminish my fun?

A: Embrace the digest format... with tweaks

Believe it or not, the digest format is a handy one. In my opinion, it is the optimal size for a magazine - easy to handle, large enough to read comfortably, and still damnably cheap to produce. There are many magazines still using the format or a variation of the format. Postscripts utilizes the format to generally good effect, while 2600: The Hacker Quarterly offers a DIY, lo-fi variation. Granta is no larger, yet produces a beautifully clean design that is attractive as an object.

The major hurdles the "Big Three" face as digests are failures of design. Compared to the magazines listed above, the "Big Three" exude an archaic, lost-in-the-Seventies design. In order to maintain a relevant presence in shaping the speculative fiction field, the "Big Three" need to attract new readers. This injection of new blood has to begin with expanding their audience appeal, and a good place to start that expansion is in offering an attractive design.

In order to produce a useful design makeover, we have to consider who it is we wish to attract to the magazines. Once we have defined our target market, we can then work to incorporate a balanced, stylish design that will appeal equally to those segements.

As a base assumption, we will say the current content will not change (beyond small tweaks, to be discussed below), and that we only wish to entice new readers to the magazines.

Now then, here is our strategy for each of the three digests.

Though already the best-selling of the three digests, I think it is possible to position Analog even more strongly by appealing to the tech and scientific communities.

To me, Asimov's has always represented the most rebellious, cutting-edge of the the three magazines. I think it would benefit most by positioning itself even stronger as such, by appealing to the intelligent teen and counter-cultural mid-twenties crowd, with a healthy dollop of gamers added into the mix.

The most broadly-appealing of the bunch, F&SF would be best served by branching out its appeal to younger readers as well, roping in some of those Harry Potter and Lost fantatics, while also appealing to more women.

As this is an incredibly long entry already, I will continue my thoughts in the next post. Also, it will take me a bit to create mock-ups.

Sunday, November 18, 2007

Foundations of Taste

No author appears fully-formed, "Venus on the Half-Shell"-like, from nowhere. In truth, authors are a conglomeration of influences both overt and covert. Often, it takes outside eyes to discern the many hidden influences that creep into a writer's work.

On the other hand are those influences so powerful, so altering, the writer has no problem pointing to them.

What follows are some of the works that have influenced either my writing or my taste in fiction. I think the list is a telling one.

The inimitable J.G. Ballard. The stark, mesmerizing, dangerously fragmented, hallucinatory prose. J.G. Ballard is a writer in a class of his own, and few can aspire to produce such gems. Ballard's influence on speculative fiction has been wide and deep, a long-ranging and indelible mark on the entire field.

There is a wealth of information on J.G. Ballard on the web. The JG Ballard website is the perfect beginning, while Rick McGrath's First & Variant Editions is an amazing storehouse. Ballardian is an interesting and useful site.

Leigh Brackett rests in a very special corner of my writerly mind. Her stories bounded across the lines of planetary romance and sword-and-sorcery, but unlike many of the authors before or since, Brackett brought a noir-ish, hard-boiled angle to the field. There is something inherently compelling in her Noble Savages, and the elegiac tones of her later stories were particularly appealing.

The internet is a barren wasteland when it comes to Leigh Brackett, alas.

While many speak of the brilliance of Samuel R. Delany, citing novels like Dhalgren and Nova or his influential criticism, the Return to Nevèrÿon series is often overlooked. This intricate sword-and-sorcery series spans four book-length works, including short stories, novels, appendices and essays. Charting the transition from a barter to a monetary economy, the stories of Nevèrÿon address a wide range of subject matter, examining sexuality and identity, semiotics, literary criticism and AIDS. It is sometimes tedious, always challenging, and in the end thoroughly rewarding.

The best Delany website is Jay Schuster's Samuel R. Delany Information.

Lord Dunsany is probably best known for The King of Elfland's Daughter, but for me it was his short stories and prose poems that left an enduring imprint. At his best, Dunsany was a masterful stylist, weaving dense, provocative atmospherics with a high, poetry-like diction no author has yet matched. Much like his admirer HP Lovecraft, Dunsany used words like paint on canvas, whether clotting his stories with thick globules like impasto oils or presenting a luminous, pastel-hued watercolor. Through the accretion of precise details and evocative sweeps of his literary brush, Dunsany built stories drenched in magic.

There is an official Dunsany website, and a useful page Great Science-Fiction and Fantasy Writers. There is also a large selection of works online.

Was Philip José Farmer the first speculative fiction author to create a secret history of the world? I don't know. Yet the Wold Newton tree has fascinated me for decades, and Doc Savage: His Apocalyptic Life was my introduction to this complicated game of literary play, and it is one that has stuck with me. And I am not alone; secret histories apparently send out siren calls to many excellent authors, like John Crowley, Tim Powers, Mary Gentle, Michael Moorcock, Peter Ackroyd, Chris Roberson, Alan Moore.... What better company could a writer keep?

To learn more about the Wold Newton universe, just visit the official Philip José Farmer website and click around.

Few writers can match M. John Harrison. He is arguably the most literary speculative fiction writer. In fact, Harrison is so good, his works require multiple readings just to gather a vague sense of what he has accomplished. And while his Viriconium novels and stories left a mighty impact, it is The Course of the Heart which dropped my jaw.

There is an official M. John Harrison website, and he also blogs at Uncle Zip's Window.

The Night Land is William Hope Hodgson's frustrating masterpiece. This end-of-time novel is one of the most nihilistic, brutally unreadable, grandiose romances ever written. Does that sound contradictory? It is; Hodgson is a study in contradictions. However, the sweep and power of this novel is amazing despite its sheer unreadability. In a single word, The Night Land is awesome.

There is an entire website devoted to The Night Land. Enter at your peril.

Fritz Leiber is the crown prince of sword-and-sorcery, from the coining of the very term itself to the production of its greatest works. How to define the impact of Leiber's Fafhrd and the Gray Mouser? These spirited stories, filled with chills and sly wit, intelligence and grand adventure, have been a favorite since I first discovered fantastic fiction more than twenty years ago. The stories have seared into my consciousness, never unseated by time. More than any other fantasy writer, Fritz Leiber has been my patron saint.

Unfortunately, no good Leiber websites remain.

Added together, Michael Moorcock's accomplishments in speculative fiction are a litany of shaping and influence. The scope of his involvement in the field is daunting to consider, whether it is his fiction or his editorial work or his criticism under examination. I need only say Elric of Melniboné once I suppose, for the reader to understand what I mean. Moorcock has touched us all, whether through his direct influence or as a reaction to his influence.

Still vital today, he maintains a vast community website, and can be found in many places on the internet.

A cursory search of the internet would lead me to think Catherine L. Moore has been all but forgotten in the genre community, which is a shame. This pioneering writer burst onto the scene with the masterful short story "Shambleau", and the boy's own club of the pulps were never the same in its wake. Though she quit writing fiction in 1958, after the death of her husband Henry Kuttner, she left behind an impressive body of work that still stands as some of the best "weird tales" ever written.

Joanna Russ has marked me in many ways. Known primarily for her groundbreaking feminist science fiction and literary criticism, her stories of Alyx were my initial introduction to her work. These genre-bending tales were the precursor to Mary Gentle's later White Crow stories, and their skirting the lines between science fiction and fantasy were no doubt influential to many of today's cross-genre writers.

There are few Russ-related resources on the internet. glbtq has an overview, as does There is, however, a wealth of Russ-related material within Science Fiction Studies.

Of the "Big Three" Weird Tales authors remembered today, Clark Ashton Smith is my favorite. I find Howard's objectification of women and rampant racism distasteful, while Howard's unrelenting purpleness and nihilism leave me wanting. Clark Ashton Smith, on the other hand, straddles the divide while offering some of the most lushly decadent prose ever produced. While his penchant for obscure verbiage may be off-putting to some, I rather revel in it. The diversity of his writing is also to be lauded, from the straightforward fantastica of his Averoigne tales to the exotic, death-obsessed tales of Zothique. There is only one Clark Ashton Smith; he was a unique voice.

The Eldritch Dark is the source for all Clark Ashton Smith information, while S. T. Joshi's website is a treasure trove of related material.

Jack Vance didn't create the concept of the "dying earth" story, preceded as he was by William Hope Hodgson and Clark Ashton Smith. Yet no other author save Gene Wolfe has given the sub-genre such a lasting imprint. Likewise, Vance's influence can be traced throughout the field since 1945, whether discussing Wolfe or Dungeons and Dragons. But it is his language that is most influential; his wry, sublime, ironic style has been copied more than once, but there is only one Jack Vance.

The Jack Vance Archive is indispensable, while the Jack Vance Info Page is also helpful. If you can afford it, the Vance Integral Edition is a grail for Vance readers.

Gene Wolfe is, without doubt, the most blatantly intelligent speculative fiction writer. His works are indescribably dense, florid, convoluted, painstaking, and awe-inspiring. His influence on me is nothing short of revolutionary, a word junta.

Lupine Nuncio is the best Wolfe-related website.

While this list of influences is by no means exhaustive, nor even very offbeat, the above authors have nonetheless left lasting imprints on me. Throughout my reading life these have been the writers who have consistently stretched my definition of fantastic fiction. At every turn they have challenged me. And at the end of the day, these are the peaks I aspire to achieve in my own writing.

God bless them for providing such lofty spires.

post proto: mission and explanation

With the shadow of middle age haunting my every increasingly creaky move, thoughts have begun to stir like half-formed serpents within my hind brain. Thoughts of despair, of fear, of failure. The years are moving on, and I haven't moved with them.

It's a familiar tale, this one.

Writers are born that way. It is a defect, like club foot or a congenital heart defect. I wrote every day for most of my life, scribbling stories and fantasies down in notebook after notebook. From my mind spilled fevered visions of far-off lands, of tragic heroes and gigantic, impossible swords. It is the way my brain works.

Yet life found a way to distract my attention. I got married, had children, went to work in a cubicle perched at the edge of the Pit of Hell. I set writing aside, taking pleasure instead from reading the works of other authors, living vicariously through their words, their stories. Later, I found the internet community of literary fandom, and took more pleasure reading it all: reviews, screeds, short stories, the babble of authorial voices chattering from blog to blog in a gossamer web of technique and passion. Years have accrued. My middle has thickened. And I felt a wanting.

It is time for me to become an author.

Much comes attendant with writing. Over the course of time, I've discovered a desire, perhaps a penchant for review and critical thought. I have spent years weeding through my thoughts on the fantastic and my basic views of speculative literature. I hope I have gained insight.

Spurred by Aidan's interview with bloggers I created this blog to share these things.

This is a blog of reviews, of random thoughts, of technique. With this blog I will chart the course of my own writing. I will engage in the genre dialog that is such an important aspect of speculative fiction.

After many years positioned as an onlooker, the desire to join finally overwhelms the silence. It is time for me to join the game.