Fanfiction and Me

Wednesday, October 22nd, 2014 | Posted by marthawells

Starlog 40-smallI was introduced to fanfiction after The Empire Strikes Back came out in 1980, when I was around fifteen. This was long before the Internet, and fanfic was printed in fanzines, fan-produced magazines that were mimeographed or xeroxed, or if the editor could afford it, offset printed. But finding them, if you didn’t already know someone who knew about them, was nearly impossible.

As a lonely, feral, anxiety-ridden, teenage fan, my only connection to the fandom world at all was Starlog magazine. Back then, Starlog was a lifeline for me, and it not only featured articles and news about TV shows, movies, and books, but also fan groups and conventions. (I chose the university I went to because Starlog had an article that mentioned its student SF/F club and convention, but that’s another story.)

The magazine also had a section of small cheap personal ads in the back for fan-related merchandise. One issue, a fanzine called Facets, dedicated to fanfic about Harrison Ford’s various characters (mostly Han Solo and Indiana Jones) bought an ad, and I sent my money in (I don’t remember how much, probably less than $10) and bought a couple of small fanzines.

I was hooked. The back of each fanzine was filled with ads and flyers for other Star Wars fanzines, and I dived in and ordered more.

At their height of popularity in the 80s and early 90s, Star Wars fanzines were gorgeous productions. There were zines that were more than 300 pages long; with color covers and black and white illustrations; and filled with stories, poems, and cartoons. The best editors would copyedit the stories and some made suggestions and asked for revisions, helping the writers produce their best work.

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Selling Short Fantasy, Science Fiction and Horror Fiction, Part I

Sunday, October 19th, 2014 | Posted by Derek Kunsken

Asimov's Science Fiction February 2014-smallA little while ago, I blogged about The Economics of Short Fiction and feedback was that there’s interest in a short series (no pun intended) on the selling of short fiction, which is a fascinatingly complex topic.

To be clear, this won’t be about the craft of writing. I’ve got lots of thoughts on creativity and the craft, some of which came out in an interview I gave to the excellent podcast the Creative Writer’s Tool Box.

In this first post on selling short fiction, I want to tackle three important pieces: (1) finding markets, (2) knowing the markets, and (3) knowing yourself.

So let’s assume you’re reading this post because you’ve written a short story, of say 5,000 words, and you’ve never looked at markets before. That’s where I was about eleven years ago.

Finding markets

There are a few places that compile market information on publishers of short fiction. I know some people swear by others for their multifunctionality [like www.duotrope.com or The (Submission) Grinder], but I find www.ralan.com far easier to use because independent of filters, there’s a list I can just browse. I’ve donated money to Ralan because I find this site so useful.

At Ralan, under the banner, you’ll see links to click on Pro markets, Semi-Pro markets, Pay markets, and Token markets (which I believe was once called 4-the-luv markets, which seemed more evocative to me). Pro markets pay SFWA rates, which are 6 cents a word and more. Semi-pro markets pay 3-5 cents a word, pay markets pay 1-2 cents, and token markets are anything below that. Ralan also shows you the lengths they publish and any sub-genres (ex.: sf/f/h means they take science fiction, fantasy and horror).

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Putting the Epic into the Modern Day Fantasy

Friday, October 17th, 2014 | Posted by Managing Editor Howard Andrew Jones

Tom DoyleToday I’m turning over the Black Gate rostrum to the talented Tom Doyle. Take it away, Tom!

When my first novel, American Craftsmen, went to Tor’s production department, I received an odd request from my editor: could I put together genealogical notes and a family tree for an appendix?

An appendix? That sounded like Lord of the Rings territory, with its line of the Kings of Númenor. My book was set primarily in modern America, with a style that probably owed as much to the techno-thriller as fantasy. How did I end up with a story that required an extra, often-mocked feature commonly associated with door-stopper epics?

Perhaps my subconscious was partly to blame: I enjoy all sorts of speculative fiction, but I was raised on the big epics of high fantasy and those still give me a special kick.

But mostly, I had made deliberate choices to include certain story and style elements based on their own merits, and only after the appendix request did I realize that those elements are particularly highlighted in the epic genre.

So what elements of epic did I put in a contemporary fantasy setting, and for what purposes? First, and my use of this element is the main reason my publisher probably thought I needed an appendix, epic characters don’t just have background detail; they have histories.

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Crossing the Threshhold: Making Ultra-Long Fiction Work For You

Thursday, October 16th, 2014 | Posted by Managing Editor Howard Andrew Jones

Erin M Avans Author-smallToday I’m turning over the Black Gate rostrum to the talented Erin Evans. Take it away, Erin!

I have a confession to make: I have a word count problem. I always have. Short fiction is a struggle. My short stories are secretly novelettes, the few true short stories I’ve written begun as flash. I struggle mightily to keep my novels leashed, but, readers, I mostly fail.

There are those that say a novel has no business being over 100,000 words, and from an editor’s perspective, I agree. More than that and there’s certainly fat to be cut, scenes you don’t need and characters cluttering up the page. More than that and you’re asking a lot from a reader — a narrative that stretches that long risks becoming meandering and slow. It risks losing your reader’s attention. It risks being put down.

But for all I know “the rules,” I love a big, fat tome of a book. Epic fantasy is my jam — and I know I’m not alone. So it’s not surprising my latest book, Fire in the Blood, eventually broke free of the leash and came in twice as big as it was supposed to be. I turned in the final manuscript, waiting to hear back that I needed to cut a whole novel’s worth of words (or more).

But my editor couldn’t cut it by much. This story was meant to be big. “I think you found your stride,” she said. “Congratulations: you’re meant for epic fantasy.”

Words every long-writing author wants to hear. Here’s how I got them.

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Why Did I Say That? Or, The Perils of Writing a Series

Friday, October 10th, 2014 | Posted by Violette Malan

Christie StylesA frequently heard complaint about a series, whether in book or TV form, is that the characters never change, and that they keep doing the same things over and over. Another frequently heard complaint is that the characters have changed out of all recognition from the ones we first knew and loved, and why do we never see them doing some of the things they used to do?

Why does this happen, you ask? Because writing a series is more complicated than it looks.

For one thing, you don’t actually know you’re writing a series until you’re on your third, or even your fourth, book. Sure, you may be planning to write a series long before that, but you’re not actually writing one until then. It probably isn’t until your third or fourth book that you have to consider one of the all important factors: will my characters age?

Agatha Christie famously regretted making Hercules Poirot a retiree when she wrote her first book about him, The Mysterious Affair at Styles, but she didn’t realize then that she’d be writing those novels for another 50 years. Rex Stout’s Nero Wolfe and Archie Goodwin, along with their recurring secondary characters, simply don’t age. Even though the world goes on around them, with very few exceptions each of their stories is told as if it was a single, stand alone novel.

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Is Size Important? Or, The Short Story Anthology Examined

Friday, September 26th, 2014 | Posted by Violette Malan

Ellison DangerousIt’s well known in the publishing industry that anthologies don’t sell well. It may be a fact , but it’s one I don’t really understand. I’ve been buying and reading anthologies my whole life and I’m at a loss to explain why others don’t enjoy them as much as I do.

Anthologies come in different flavours, of course. There’s your original anthologies versus your reprint anthologies. Then there’s your single-author collections versus your multi-author. Original anthologies can come in either multi-author or single-author, and . . . well, I think you can do the math for yourselves.

Probably the most famous multi-author anthology of original stories is Harlan Ellison’s Dangerous Visions (1967). A glance through the table of contents is like reading a Who’s Who of famous and celebrated SF writers – many of whom were novices at the time of publication. There’s Robert Bloch, Philip Jose Farmer, Philip K. Dick, Larry Niven, Fritz Leiber, as well as Theodore Sturgeon, RA Lafferty, Samuel R. Delany, Roger Zelazny . . . okay, you get the idea.

Dangerous Visions, and its follow-up, Again Dangerous Visions, are examples of a themed anthology. In this case, writers had to create not only a story of the future, but the story had to show a dangerous future. Physically dangerous, like Larry Niven’s “The Jigsaw Man” or spiritually dangerous, like Leiber’s “Gonna Roll the Bones” (my husband’s favourite story of all time).  Sometimes, the danger lay in the author’s pushing the envelope of what contemporary mores were, like Farmer’s “Riders of the Purple Sage” or Delany’s “Aye, and Gomorrah.”

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Self-Publishing Checklist: The Random No One Tells You, Part III

Sunday, September 21st, 2014 | Posted by Patty Templeton

there-is-no-lovely-end-switchblade-smallIn Part One of this series, we looked at Firming Out Your Expectations, Picking Your Publisher, and how to do a Reality Check on Your Book Format.

In Part Two, we unraveled the mysteries of Finding or Commissioning Art, Merchandise, and Hiring a Proofreader.

Still with me? Then take a deep breath, ’cause we’re going to take your book in for a three-point landing in Part III, starting with how to Upload your book.

7. Upload Your Book

  • Do you want to buy a block of ISBNs? Do you want to have a custom ISBN? Do you want a free ISBN?
  • Do you want your POD publisher listed as your publisher or do you want to create your own imprint?
  • Is your back of jacket summary ready?
  • Is your author bio and photo ready?

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Hearing the Voices of Dead Authors in the Present Tense

Monday, September 15th, 2014 | Posted by Nick Ozment

tolkien lighting pipeThere are a number of citation styles for a variety of fields, but the two biggies are MLA (Modern Language Association) and APA (American Psychological Association). The latter is used in the natural sciences and research fields. The former is used in the humanities — literature, philosophy, visual and performing arts — so it’s the one I grew intimately familiar with while earning my bachelor’s and master’s degrees in English Literature and Language.

MLA is also the one I primarily taught my first-year composition students during my nine years as an English instructor (which, in retrospect, was a bit of a disservice to all the kids who were going on to pursue non-humanities degrees). In my defense, it is the style primarily used in high school, so it is the one that most students entering college have some degree of familiarity with — which is strange when you think about it: it’s as if our secondary-school system assumes most students will go on to pursue degrees in theater or English. The way I couched my presentation of MLA went something like this: “Whatever field you go into, you will have to write papers that follow a particular formatting and style guide. It may not be this one — it may be APA or Chicago — but using this one will get you accustomed to using one.”

In recent years, I’ve had to get more familiar with APA because I do a fair amount of copy-editing on the side for education, sociology, and psychology professors who write their chapters and academic papers in APA style. The differences between the styles are myriad — each one, after all, has its own labyrinthine manual of hundreds of rules in small type (with sometimes counter-intuitive indexing — as anyone who has spent wasted minutes vainly searching for the guideline pertaining to this one particular set of circumstances knows). Whatever the differences in details, though, their main purpose is to provide a consistent way for other scholars to easily locate the sources one has cited.

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Self-Publishing Checklist: The Random No One Tells You, Part II

Saturday, September 13th, 2014 | Posted by Patty Templeton

Patty Templeton's Self-publishing Checklist-smallIn Part One of this series, we looked at Firming Out Your Expectations, Picking Your Publisher, and how to do a Reality Check on Your Book Format.

How are we doing so far? Still okay? Good.

So you have a manuscript. You have decided on a publisher. You know weird tips about how your book’s format can affect its price and distribution. Now what?

4. Find or Commission Art

  • What is your vision for your front cover, back cover, and spine?
  • What are examples of books you admire that are in your book’s genre?
  • Do you want to create your own cover, hire someone to do it, or hire your POD publisher to do it?
  • What artists do you admire who fit the tone of your book?

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Where Did the Cat Come From? Or, Who Translated This S&*%?

Friday, September 12th, 2014 | Posted by Violette Malan

Christie 2Talking about subtitles last week got me thinking about book translations. It’s a different beast, of course; for one thing, translating prose isn’t subject to the same time constraints that translating dialogue is. So that should make translations better than subtitles, right?

In general, I think that’s true. However, with one exception, I’m going to focus on occasions when it’s been done badly. After all, when the translation’s done well, no one notices.

We all know examples from our mundane lives of unfortunate, or impossible, translations. I’m sure everyone’s heard the story of Chevrolet having to change the name of their Nova for the South American market. In Spanish, “no va” means “doesn’t go.” Not the best name for a car.

As I’ve mentioned before, I often read in Spanish to keep in practice, and since my preferred reading material is genre (Fantasy, SF and Crime), this has often meant that I’m reading books translated into Spanish.* This can be helpful, since I often own the book in English, and if something gets away from me (miss the meaning of two or three critical words and the whole paragraph can go wonky on you) I can check the original, which is far superior to hauling out the dictionary and trying to sort it out piecemeal. I learned this the hard way.

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