Lessons from authors at Balticon 43

Outside of my Balticon panel coverage in the previous post, I had a couple of interactions with authors that led me to important insights.

Charles Stross was the Guest of Honor (GoH) and I both talked with him and went to his Q&A. I also follow his blog quite closely and this is an amalgamation of all of things he has said in all of these venues that were either directed at me or could have been had I been standing in front of him, annoying him as he spoke or wrote them.

For some reason, when he discusses writing, he breaks it down in a way that makes the process sound unmysterious and so damn feasible. See his post at Tor.com about how he gets ideas stresses how easy it is if you are naturally curious and not working too hard at it. The submarine bit in The Jennifer Morgue he got from a real-life documentary about just such a thing. His rules for stealing ideas is to steal from the best and make sure they are clearly dead (but do not murder them).

He writes SF for geeks who he thinks didn't have an author writing for them. SF has been dominated by speed and power, he says, rocket engineers and frontier types. It's nearly a mature art, though and he seemed to hint that it's time may have passed, or at least the common tropes need to get replaced. His latest novel, Saturn's Children, pretty much screams that SF needs to reorient to something more meaningful and timely than interplanetary work commutes, aliens, time travel and terraforming.

His Laundry novels he just has so much fun writing and it makes it easier for him and more enjoyable. Another point in the 'do what you love' column.

He is a real geek, much more so than I. He's a fiction geek almost like Spielberg is a film geek. Something for me to aspire to.

I got an inkling that social science fiction may not be for the real geek crowd. Charlie (can I call you that, Mr. Stross?) and I had a short debate over whether increasing social complexity is a good thing or not, that I think I need to continue further, if he'll indulge me. But that aside, if no one in the shrinking sci-fi world even gets much social science, or has much interest, then my stuff is not headed toward the right place.

Stephanie Draven is a friend of mine from high school days, who probably associates with me against her better judgment given all that she and her sister know about me from back in the day. She is a recently published author with an agent, and a book deal and deadlines and contracts. Things that I learned or knew but she reinforced in my head include:

SF literature is having a hard time while romance and fantasy are doing well, in an industry that overall is doing badly. Escapist fiction seems to be doing very well, even while science fiction does well at the box office and on TV. People are drawn to fantasy for some reason in print, especially if there be vampires or bodice-ripping. Meanwhile, rivets, outer space, aliens and lasers work well visually: go figure.

Dumb down my pitches. Way down. I made a pitch that referenced Tom Friedman's pop social science classic about globalization: The Lexus and the Olive Tree. No one at the writer's workshop expressed any recognition of it. I tried other pitches out that mentioned Malcolm Gladwell's books and others. She kept shaking her head patiently, motioning to bring it down more. I stopped before I got to Captain Underpants. Apparently, it's not too hard to go above the heads of publishing acquisition folks and the marketing department.

She also boosted my confidence that Scrivener is the way to go for a writing project software. I bought it shortly afterwards, which I had been planning on doing, but did so with gusto, folks.

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