Weekends and Might Have Beens

August 26th, 2015 § 0 comments § permalink

Hello all! I’m fresh returned from a fantastic weekend at a friend’s wedding, full of joy in life, abuzz with reconfirmed friendships, new connections, and a bit sore from dancing and alcohol.  People are wonderful, and so’s the physical world.  They have sunsets and rivers there, and you’ll never find human beings like this anywhere else.  They’re fantastic.

Also the Hugos happened this weekend!  There have been full roundups of the event—I’m a particular fan of Chuck Wendig‘s for reasons that transcend but include the fact that he curses more freely than I tend to online.  Tobias Buckell figured out what the Hugo ballot would have looked like had a small angry cabal not organized a voting bloc in an attempt to drown out the broader conversation of fandom.  It’s a cool list, with good writers on it.

One of those writers is me!  (Sort of, maybe, depending on the 5% rule.)  Which, it’s really flattering that people liked my short story A Kiss with Teeth, but I’m not at all bent out of shape, save that it would have been an honor to be on that all-star list—Aliette de Bodard, Amal El-Mohtar, Ursula Vernon, and Eugie Foster!  Foster’s not being nominated is a special tragedy, since she passed away this last year.

I feel particularly wistful for the Campbell shortlist that might have been—Wes Chu ended up on the final ballot in spite of the slate, but the rest of the nominees would have been Andy Weir, Alyssa Wong, Carmen Machado, and Django Wexler, which, god, what a group!  All these people have fantastic careers already, not to mention ahead of them.  Wong’s fiction has been burning up the award shortlists this year, as has Machado’s—not to mention her New Yorker by-lines—Wexler’s writing not one but two fantastic fantasy series, bro do you even sleep, and Weir has, in case you hadn’t heard, a movie starring Matt Damon due out in a few weeks (not to mention a great, long-defunct webcomic).  An award nomination would have confirmed what’s already obvious—that they’re the future of SFF.

I’m mostly sad for that counterfactual world because meeting my fellow Campbell nominees was such a huge part of WorldCons 2013 and 2014.  We came from all over the genre spectrum, with wildly divergent backgrounds, we wrote very different stuff, and in the years since we’ve taken different paths—but we brought a strong bond away from WorldCon, and it’s a shame the alt nominees didn’t get that chance.  So, at the risk of advice-giving, because I guess that’s what this is, um, Django, Alyssa, Wes, Carmen, Andy—say hi to one another next time you’re at the same con, okay?

Introducing Bookburners & Serial Box!

August 19th, 2015 § 1 comment § permalink

Hi, friends! Let me share something cool with you.  Come into my secret lair.

Yep. A little further back. Around the iron maiden.  Just be careful about the—

… trap door.  Sorry, I really should get better lighting in here, hold on, let me lower you a rope.  Just chill for a second.  The gators are drawn to movement.

Towel?

While you glare at me in silent rage, let me tell you about this Cool New Thing!

People-are-awesome pitch: Bookburners is Margaret Dunlap (The Middleman, Lizzie Bennet Diaries), Mur Lafferty (Shambling Guide to New York, Ghost Train to New Orleans), Brian Francis Slatterly (The Family Hightower, Lost Everything, The Slick Six), and yours truly writing an episodic supernatural procedural series for your reading pleasure.

Worlds-are-awesome pitch: Bookburners is about cop working with a team of Vatican secret agents who hunt down magic and demons and stuff from around the world, stick them in a box, and then never open the box, because that always works so very very well.  (This is the bit where I nod my head and mouth “no” in an exaggerated fashion.)  Miss The X-Files or Warehouse 13?  Like The Librarians?  This is a bit like that, only with significantly more Cronenberg.  (If you read Shadow Unit, odds are you’ll also like this!)

Formal-innovation-is-awesome pitch: Bookburners is a series of sixteen episodes of monster hunting, magic, intrigue, and team shenanigans, each of which takes about fifty minutes to read.  Each episode’s a complete story from start to finish, but they tie together in sequence.  I wrote the pilot!  And you can read it for free here, right now.  The rest of the series will be available episode by episode, or as a subscription, in ebook and audio and on the Serial Box website, once a week, starting with the series’ formal launch in September.  Here’s a page with all those details.

Formal-innovation-is-awesome corollary because this is the internet and internetters gonna net-pick: Yes, serial fiction has been around for a long time—but our main historical comps aren’t actually Dickens or Tolstoy, who published successive chapters of larger works rarely designed to stand alone.  Dickens et. al. wrote serialized novels.  IANA literary historian but I doubt one would think of what we’re doing as a novel; it’s much closer to older serial works like The Tale of Genji or Journey to the West, which are… tricky to claim as novels.  (Not impossible!  But that’s another dissertation.)  In the modern era, author-publishers have been building serialized stories for a while, but the writer’s room model gives us more flexibility—Bookburners draws off every writer’s strengths, and lets us challenge one another.  Shadow Unit is the closest thing out there to what we’re doing, as far as I can tell.  

Don’t-believe-me-trust-the-internet pitch: Here’s io9 on Serial Box!  And here’s SF Signal!  And also, it brings my fannish heart glee to report that some really cool people like the series.

Assuaging-your-fears pitch: If you’re worried about my writing schedule, you’re too kind, but don’t sweat it.  Really.  I turned in next year’s Craft Sequence book back in December, and in the next couple months I’ll turn in *another* novel, then focus on my planned Craft book for 2017.  And The City’s Thirst, another Choice of Game in the Craft Universe, will launch this fall.  I’ve been writing like a crazy person, yes, and I probably will scale back my project pace next year, but fingers crossed, knock on wood, I’ll be fine.

Now: go forth! Read!

And sorry about the gators.

 

Author Duels and AMAs and Kickstarters Oh My

August 12th, 2015 § 0 comments § permalink

Hello friends!

I’m recovering from the Odinsleep here, but here are some fun things to share!  If you want the full Tor Tour experience, it turns out that our entire Author Duel at Phoenix Books in Burlington, VT was filmed and has made it onto the web.  Check out Elizabeth Bear, Brian Staveley, Jim Cambias, and I in full high-def and well-miked glory!

I’m pretty excited by this—it’s not often that I hear my own voice on a recording without flinching.

I’ve embedded the video above, but embeds don’t seem to transfer very well to the RSS feed or to Goodreads—if you don’t see a video, try watching on Youtube via this link!

Also last week I did an epic four hour long AMA on the fantasy subreddit.  I’ve done one of these for each release so far, and it’s been enormously entertaining each time.  This round the questions (and answers) were off the wall, and included some excellent speculation on skeleton sex.  Tor.com did a roundup here, and you can read the full AMA here.

Outside of that I’ve been catching up on the many, many balls I dropped while on tour, and starting edits on The Highway Kind, which feels pretty great.  I enjoy travel, meeting readers, catching up with friends—but there’s no feeling quite like getting back to The Real Work.

Speaking of The Real Work: Uncanny Magazine is Kickstarting its second year!  Lynn and Michael Thomas and their team put together a really fantastic first year of the magazine—I mean, yes, they published a short story by me, so they have that flaw in their judgment, but otherwise Uncanny’s first year collected a great, expansive cast of fantastic writers and poets and artists, and I’m proud to be supporting their second year’s run.  I can’t wait to see their plans for Year Two.  Check out the Kickstarter! I’m part of two backer rewards: I’m offering a 5,000 word manuscript critique—warning: I ain’t gentle—and a dinner sort of thing—check it out!  Uncanny feels to me like a bright vision of where SF is going.  Scan their first year if you’re interested, and do consider backing the Kickstarter.

A Triumphant Return!

August 5th, 2015 § 4 comments § permalink

I’m back!

Sorry, everyone, for my absence the last few weeks.  I’ve been on the road—throughout the Northeast, and then to GenCon in Indianapolis!  It’s been an amazing run, but without the time I’d needed to keep up with blog posting.  I’m back now, though, just dealing with an enormous pile of work and email and the like.

Tomorrow evening I’ll be dropping by Reddit’s Fantasy community for an Ask Me Anything Q&A session—visit r/fantasy tomorrow and you’ll see my post at the page.  Come!  Ask questions!  Chat!  I’ll be there at 8pm, beverage in hand, to answer.

Some stuff that happened while I was away:

Animator and fan artist par excellence Glinda Chen produced this amazing trailer for Two Serpents Rise!  I have no words for how amazingly cool this is.  If you like it, be sure to check out her tumblr, which is full of great Craft Sequence fan art.

(Two Serpents Rise from Glinda Chen on Vimeo.)

Seriously, I think I’ve watched this trailer about forty or fifty times by now.

Other video! Google NYC was kind enough to host us Tor Books Summer Road Trip folks for a Talk at Google, which you can see here and now thanks to the marvel of modern technology:

While I was on the road, I stopped by Bryant Park to talk about Hamlet!  I had a great time, and Tor.com wrote up the event.

Also relevant: the SFF Readalongs group over on Goodreads is hosting a readalong of Full Fathom Five.  If you’re interested, drop by—there’s been some great discussion over the last couple weeks.

Speaking, also, of the last couple weeks—LAST FIRST SNOW has been doing very well.  Thanks to all of your support we had a great first two weeks.  Brilliant reviews, too!  If you haven’t grabbed the book yet, on tour I took to describing it as “a novel about zoning politics and human sacrifice,” which about sums it up.

If you have read the book, and liked it, please do take a minute to write a review at the online bookseller or review board of your personal preference.  Some libraries also have review boards the days!

Also! If you’re interested in signed copies, contact Porter Square Books or Pandemonium and they’ll be able to hook you up.

That’s all for this week—I’ll have a more sensible post next week, promise.  Peace, y’all!

Last First Reviews & Updates

July 15th, 2015 § 4 comments § permalink

Hi friends!  The book launch went really well!  We had an amazing crowd at Harvard Book Store last night—and we didn’t even boil anyone for their skin!

Yesterday was pretty wild: four excellent reviews of Last First Snow hit at once, all glowing—and that’s not even counting Seth Dickinson’s Goodreads review, posted earlier (and if you don’t know Seth’s work yet, go forth and preorder a copy of his debut novel The Traitor Baru Cormorant—it’s an awesome book).

From Liz Bourke on Tor.com: “In his Craft sequence, Gladstone is writing a fantasy of modernity, deeply engaged with the issues of our time: the power of capital, the potential tyranny of corporations, the value of the individual, the tension between romanticised pasts and lived-in presents, and the aftermaths of conflict. Last First Snow epitomises his approach. It’s the kind of book that inclines me to use phrases like tour de force.

Max Gladstone just keeps getting better. It doesn’t quite seem fair. If you’re not reading his Craft sequence? Start.

Read Last First Snow. Seriously. Read it.”

From Paul Weimer on SF Signal: “The Craft Sequence novels are ultimately about people and how they strive for change in their world, but the actual plot and themes of the novel, which revolve around the redevelopment project, are a twisting labyrinth of ideas and concepts. We see the consequences of power, the stirring of old ideas and resistance to new ones, and how class distinctions can lead to disproportionate effects of change. All of these come through clearly in the Gladstone’s writing, which is the best in the series so far. It shows multiple sides and viewpoints of the characters and lets readers judge them by their beliefs and actions.”

 

 

From Reading Reality: “The Craft Sequence is an urban fantasy series that is guaranteed to leave readers with a terrible book hangover. Each volume immerses you further into this world, and makes it that much more difficult to let go.”

From Rob Bedford at SFFWorld.com: “If Max Gladstone gave readers a story whose strength was the nuanced characters he created and developed, Last First Snow would be a perfectly acceptable novel. If he simply did half of the world-building in the Craft Sequence and featured it as the backdrop for those aforementioned nuanced characters, then Last First Snow would be more than that, an excellent novel. Those elements, combined with the twisty plot and balanced tension make Last First Snow a gem of a novel. If you’ve read previous novels in the Craft Sequence and can’t wait for the next one, then you should be very satisfied with Last First Snow as it features Max’s strengths and provides some added depth to both the world and characters who are familiar. If you haven’t read anything by Max Gladstone, then Last First Snow is a great place to jump into his fictional world and discover a smart, engaging, captivating, and imaginative storyteller.”

Oh, and I wrote a Guest Post for SF Signal, which went live yesterday as well!: “But the public story isn’t always the true one. Memories distort and spin. What seems a grim inevitability twenty years later, at the time, looked anything but. The layers of myth painted over the actual events of the Skittersill Rising tell a story the people who were there, then, would recognize as a distortion. The original protests of the Rising protected their homes, their jobs, their families; religion was involved involved but was not a central issue. Cultures clashed. Negotiations succeeded and failed. People tried, desperately, to hold their lives together.”

[EDIT OF AWESOMENESS AT FRAN’S SUGGESTION] If y’all didn’t see it when I posted it previously—plenty of reasons you might not have—check out this interview Fran Wilde did of me for SF Signal!  I had an immensely fun time talking with Fran, and some of this stuff even sounds kind of smart, like:

“FW: Elayne (who we saw in Three Parts Dead) is wrapped up in her job, in the middle of a book that speaks much about the importance of family and home, and what people are willing to fight for. Still, she’s one of my favorite characters. How much has she given up for her Craft skills?

MG: A lot—not always willingly. She was a young Craftswoman in the God Wars when practitioners of the Craft were hunted and killed before they could grow strong; she had to run to escape her own people. She threw herself into the study of the Craft out of a desire first for protection, and then for naked power. To become a Craftswoman you have to learn to think the way Craftsfolk think—recasting the world in terms of trades, exchanges, obligations. That opens up huge possibilities, but it also places an immense amount of strain on normal human relationships. She survived the Wars, and she’s become a Craftswoman of immense power, but she’s not precisely mortal any more.”

 

I’m sprinting around like the proverbial headless chicken for the next twenty-four hours until the FURY ROAD adventure starts in earnest, but I wanted to check in to wave and thank you all for your support and help and good wishes in this very exciting time.  If you read the book and like it, please do drop a review on Goodreads, Amazon, or one of the related sites—and if you don’t have a copy, the hardcover discount’s almost 50% on some e-retailers!

That order of business aside, though—thank you.

Rock on, people.  You’re excellent.

 

LAST FIRST SNOW, Out Today!

July 14th, 2015 § 13 comments § permalink

With apologies to Danny Elfman, Jack Skellington, and Tor Publicity:

My book! My book!

A box of my new book!

It’s out!

Please get it on your Nook.

Or bound!

Use a reader of your choice it doesn’t matter

I hope you will take a look!

My book!

File Jul 14, 9 20 27 AM

My book! It’s cool!

Protests and backroom deals

My book!

It’s tense—and somewhat real

My book!

The skies are filled with

Feathered lizards flying

Everyone seems on the edge

Read about it on the web!

Or read my book!

File Jul 14, 9 20 10 AM

I’m going on a tour this week

Harvard Book Store hosts tonight

With Bear Staveley and Cambias

We’ll Fury Road all right!

There are copies on the shelves today

My heart has grown another size

And with your support I feel a joy

Unseemly to describe….

kermit-flail

Do you want it, do you want it

I’m so glad that you can has

I can’t wait, I hope you like it,

This strange tale you don’t yet know—

Read my book:

Last First Snow!

Last Week Before LAST FIRST SNOW, so here’s a trailer

July 8th, 2015 § 2 comments § permalink

Friends and neighbors, I have a book out next Tuesday.  Less than a week from today!  If you can’t wait, as is my custom, I offer you: the LAST FIRST SNOW book trailer, powered by the cinema of your imagination, in its full surround-sound screenplay format glory.

LFS Trailer

Last week, a not-so-mysterious package from Tor landed on my doorstep.  I believe it contains copies of Last First Snow.  I have not opened it yet, for the package itself filled me with deep supernatural dread.

That might be because I’ve been catching up on Nightvale.

But that’s another blog post.  I’m out and about at the moment, but I will update with pictures from that box, and whatever I find therein, later this afternoon.

Other news: Fran Wilde, whose book Updraft should really be on your radars, interviewed me about Last First Snow at SF Signal!  Check it out!

I will be at Readercon this weekend!  If you are there, come say hello!

And on Tuesday July 14, I’ll be launching LAST FIRST SNOW at the Harvard Square Bookstore, as part of an event which will also feature Elizabeth Bear, Brian Staveley, and James Cambias!  You want to come buy books for yourself and all your friends!  Yessssss, you dooooooo.  Staaaaaare into my eyeeeeees.

hypnotoad

After that: ROAD TRIP WORLD TOUR FOR VALUES OF WORLD EQUAL TO NEW ENGLAND.  I posted about this earlier, but I’ll update my Events page with the proper schedule later this afternoon.

After that, though, I’ll back in New York on the 28th of July to deliver a talk on Hamlet as part of the Word for Word in Bryant Park program!  Hamlet is, well, Hamlet, so come watch me embarrass myself trying to say true things about it.

And, after that, I’ll be swinging west to Gen Con for the Gen Con Writer’s Symposium!  Here’s my Gen Con schedule.  I’m given to understand that events at the Writer’s Symposium run on a ticketing system, so if any of these seems especially awesome to you, and you’re bound to Gen Con, register ASAP!

Thursday Jul 30

9:00 am — The Business of Writing 101

7:00 pm — Craft: Novel Outlines and Synopsis

Friday, Jul 31

11:00 am — Craft: Rewrites and Second Drafts

2:00 am — Craft: Interactive Fiction

Saturday, Aug 1

1:oo pm — Gaming the Novel: How Tabletop Gaming Informs Worldbuilding

3:00 pm — Craft: Magic in the Modern World

Sunday, Aug 2

11:00 am — Read & Critique

Have a good week!  Happy waiting!

 

NPR Reviews the Craft Sequence! And I Have a Readercon Schedule!

July 1st, 2015 § 0 comments § permalink

I, um, wow—so, NPR reviewed the Craft Sequence.

I love seeing the developing mosaic of Gladstone’s world, the hard questions it asks at every turn, the uncertainty of its answers. These are books I long to talk about with people, so faceted and fierce are they, so dangerously aslant our own day-to-day grinds and so full of grace. Sharp, original, passionate — this series is everything I want urban fantasy to be.

I must have a gif around here somewhere for this.  Maybe…

ElephantTrampoline

I mean, that’s sort of right, but it fails to capture the sort of…

YodaDance

But that’s a bit too, I don’t know, competent and controlled for what I’m feeling now.  Though I suppose there’s always the traditional:

kermit-flail

 

Also: time to post some con schedules!  I’ll be at Readercon in just over a week (!!) and here’s what I’ll be doing!

Thursday July 10

9:00 PM    G    If Magic Has Always Been Real. Karen Burnham, Lila Garrott (leader), Max Gladstone, Romie Stott, Walt Williams. Regarding the challenges of “the world we know, but with magic!”, Monique Poirier wrote, “If magic has always been real, why did colonialism and genocide roll the way it did?… It couldn’t possibly be the world we know without all the painful, fucked up history. And what good is magic if it can’t have altered that?” Naomi Novik’s Temeraire books address this by keeping many elements of history familiar but dramatically changing others. In Charlaine Harris’s Southern Vampire Mysteries, paranormal entities have always been there, but they hid from ordinary humans for safety and therefore lacked the ability to influence the course of history. How do other authors of historical fantasy and urban fantasy balance the inherently world-changing nature of magic with the desire to layer it on top of the world we have?

Friday July 11

11:00 AM    ENL    When Toxic Masculinity Is the Villain. Erik Amundsen, Max Gladstone, Josh Jasper (leader), Daniel José Older. In the “New Visions of Masculinity” panel at Readercon 25, we discussed the characters in Supernatural dying repeatedly because of toxic masculinity. Fighting demons is clearly easier than fighting the cultural narrative of men as arrogant, emotionally repressed aggressors who refuse to accept advice or reconsider poor decisions. What would it look like if a male character became aware of that narrative and decided to take a stand against it? Instead of toxic masculinity traits being used to generate repetitive conflict, how can authors build the tension between what the culture wants a man to be and who he wants himself to be?
12:00 PM    F    Writing in the Anthropocene: SF and the Challenge of Climate Change. Gwendolyn Clare, Michael J. Daley, Michael J. Deluca (leader), Max Gladstone, Vandana Singh. Science fiction and fantasy have often dealt with fictional apocalyptic scenarios, but what about the real-world scenario unfolding right now? Climate change, or climate disruption, is the most challenging problem faced by humankind, and some have called it a problem of the imagination, as much as economics and environment. In the wake of the latest scientific reports on what is happening and what might be in store for us, we’ll examine how imaginative fiction conveys the reality, the immediacy, and the alternative scenarios of the climate problem.
2:00 PM    CL    Kaffeeklatsch. Max Gladstone, Charles Oberndorf.
4:00 PM    G    Dhalgren at 40. Jim Freund, Max Gladstone, Elizabeth Hand (leader), Shira Lipkin, John Stevens. Samuel R. Delany’s Dhalgren was first published in 1975. It is now widely considered a classic, yet there is also the perception that it is a “difficult” book. How much has it influenced other authors and works? Does its dream-city serve as a predecessor for more recent fantastical places such as Ambergris or New Crobuzon? How have its experiments with the form of the narrative inspired more recent works? And how might a reader approach it for the first time from the vantage point of 2015?
5:00 PM    F    Subverting, Parodying, and Critiquing Cultures from Within and Without. Phenderson Clark, Max Gladstone, Mikki Kendall (leader), Malinda Lo, Walt Williams. On a 2014 Wiscon panel on cross-cultural writing, Daniel José Older noted that representing the rituals of another culture with factual accuracy isn’t sufficient; writers also need to understand what those rituals mean to that culture. In response, Nalo Hopkinson tweeted, “And if u have that knowledge, then is it ok 2 subvert the tradition? Beginning 2 think that may be the core question… not so much who gets 2 appropriate a traditional cultural artifact as who gets to subvert it?” Older responded, “We rarely even get to talk about subversion in this context but it’s a huge part of the story.” This panel will move beyond basic questions about cultural appropriation to discuss the power dynamics and moral nuances of cultural subversion, parody, and critique by insiders and outsiders.
8:00 PM    F    Revealing the Past, Inspiring the Future. Amal El-Mohtar (leader), Max Gladstone, Alena McNamara, Sarah Pinsker, Julia Rios. When writing Hild, Nicola Griffith was aiming for historical accuracy where possible, including in her depictions of women, queer characters, people of color, and slavery in seventh-century Britain. She writes, “Readers who commit to Hild might see the early middle ages differently now: they see what might have been possible, instead of the old master story about the place of women and the non-existence of POC and QUILTBAG people 1400 years ago. And if it was possible then, what might be possible today and in the future?” What other books and stories expand our notion of the possible by revealing the truth of history? How can creators of future settings learn from the suppressed or hidden past?

Saturday July 12

12:00 PM    CO    The Animate Universe. Judith Berman, Max Gladstone, Mikki Kendall (leader), James Morrow. In Western post-Enlightenment thought, the universe is seen as inanimate, acted upon by other forces. In some cultures, however, the universe is an actor with agency. What is the role of the universe in our stories, and in the worlds we create to house them? How does an animate universe inform or subvert the author’s and reader’s understanding of meddling gods, dead gods, prophesies, fate, Chosen Ones, and quests?2:00 PM    ENV    Reading: Max Gladstone. Max Gladstone. Max Gladstone reads The beginning of Last First Snow, my next novel—due out on July 14. Or maybe the first chapter of the book after that, depending on what people are in the mood for.

Sunday July 13

11:00 AM    E    Autographs. Max Gladstone, John Langan.
1:00 PM    G    Transformative Works and the Law and You. Max Gladstone, Toni Kelner, Adam Lipkin, Sarah Smith. Let’s discuss the state of transformative works today. Copyright law and case law in this area is changing rapidly, as is the way big publishing treats transformative works. Remix culture is the cutting edge of 21st-century creativity, and we are all postmodernists. Is the law finally catching up with that, or lagging far behind? Will the fate of copyright and transformative works ultimately be decided by the whims of corporations and powerful literary estates?
So: come see!

Glengarry Glenn Editor

June 24th, 2015 § 1 comment § permalink

If you’re a cinema person, or if you’ve ever worked in or near a sales office, you’ve seen the Glengarry Glenn Ross speech. You know the one I mean. This one. (Warning: NSFW / language)

I once worked with a sales team that could recite this speech from memory. One guy told me, voice swollen with pride, that his four-year-old walked into the kitchen while he was pouring coffee one morning, glared at him, and said: “Daddy, coffee is for closers!”

Mamet wrote this speech for the film adaption of GGR—but it proved so popular he grafted it back onto the stage show, even though it’s a pain to stage, since you have to cast a whole actor for one scene. Common reactions on first exposure to the scene include rage, horror, frustration, scorn, all the emotions we read from Baldwin’s audience of broken-down real estate salesmen. But the speech is also, and it took me an embarrassingly long time to realize this, selling something; Baldwin’s character wants to sell these salesmen on being a salesman of a particular sort. He grabs attention with rhetoric, bluster, and status. (“This watch cost more than your car.”) He promises them, implicitly, that good salesmen get rich, that good salesmen get respect, that good salesmen get that greatest (macho) privilege, the right to shout at people and know they have to listen. It’s effective as it is gross. By the end of that scene, every man in that room wants to murder Baldwin—but since that’s not legal, they’ll settle for beating him at his own game. He’s sold them through their anger. They want to win, or at least to defend themselves. Attention. Interest. Decision. Action.

Last night, as the Attorney and I chatted about the differences between legal writing and fiction, I found myself thinking about this scene in a new light. Writers—writers of fiction especially—always have to be closing.

People are busy, and they live in a world filled with art. (I mean, in its loosest sense: any intentional work that captures the mind. Games obviously qualify, as do sports, either the kind you watch or the kind you play. So does the social web—Facebook, Twitter, Snapchat, etc. etc. etc., are all built to make you pay attention.) Writers come to people saying, “read this story!” And the people answer: why? I mean, really, why?

Readers do want to engage with stories—they want to be swept away, they want to be enlightened, they want to forget their lives or have their mind blown, they want to escape either in the flighty sense or the LeGuinian sense of liberation from a prison camp. But readers also want, or need, to (watch the latest episode of $Cool_TV_Show_All_Their_Friends_Watch | finish their essay | go to the gym | cook dinner | pick up the kids | answer email | plan their wedding | do $pressing_chore | play a Batman video game). Time is real estate. No one’s making any more of it. A storyteller has to convince readers that her story is worth the time it takes to hear.

And by “convince,” I mean “sell.”

This is where AIDA comes in—the Attention, Interest, Decision, Action cycle, it seems to me, holds for reader and character alike. We’re used to thinking about character motivation on a beat-by-beat level. Attention: how did the character get to this scene? Interest: why does the character care about these events? Decision: what decision does she make? Action: how does she carry out that decision? So far, so good—we’re solidly in Robert McKee territory.

But the reader goes through a similar cycle. So, when editing or breaking story, seems to me we can ask ourselves a similar list of questions about the reader. Attention: why would a reader pay attention to this? (Possible answers: because the book’s funny; because it scared the crap out of her; because it’s wise; because she wants to puzzle out some tangled prose; because the book offers an escape; because she’s angry; because she’s bemused.) Interest: why would a reader continue? (Will the villain get a comeuppance? Will Our Heroine’s scheme collapse around her? Does the reader see an echo of her own struggle? Are you fulfilling wishes, realizing nightmares, offering a laugh or a shoulder to cry on? Is your writing just that good on a line by line level?) Decision: will the reader keep going? (Yes; no; yes, but the next time you fuck up, she’s gone; yes, ecstatically; yes, but she’ll skim through each scene of endless clunky unrealistic politicical argument; yes, but only so she can rant about the book afterward) And action: the page turn. The closing book. The book, hurled with great force over Niagra Falls. The book, in a blender.

This would be a dangerous way for, e.g., me to think during composition, since my first drafts involve a lot of telling the story to myself, complete with false starts and stops, tics, and coffee breaks. First drafts are that night before a speech, pacing in my hotel room, stammering through the roughest shape of what I mean to say. Composition is about selling myself on the story. (If I worked more to Hollywood spec, I’d do this at the breaking / pitch stage.)

But once composition’s done, and I’m editing a draft—well. Time to sell the reader. Time to be the best kind of scum: fearless and inventive. Time to go through the manuscript and ask, at every turn: am I always closing? What does this line do for me? This word? This exchange?

The great thing about these AIDA questions, to my mind, is that there are many different good answers, especially to the first two. Often story structure advice boils down to “DO THIS OR ELSE YOUR BOOK WILL CATCH ON FIRE AND YOUR READERS DESERT YOU,” with implied scorn for hard writing, quiet scenes, or anything “literary.” (For a good example, see the Screenplay Seminar scene in Adaptation.) But different things interest different readers—hell, different things interest the same reader. I love Ralph Ellison’s Invisible Man, and I love Robin McKinley’s The Hero and the Crown, and I love Ryu Murakami’s Coin Locker Babies, but these are, to put it mildly, different books, deploying a broad range of techniques to hold the reader’s mind. Is the reader interested in your swordfight? In your prose? In your Kantian ruminations? In all of the above? What reason have you given her, in this beat, to turn the page?

Maybe this helps you. Maybe it doesn’t. Either way, I’m interested. I’ll use this angle as I revise the first draft I finished yesterday; you’ll see how it goes.

 

Three Things

June 10th, 2015 § 0 comments § permalink

Three things about books, sort of:

  1. I recently finished Naomi Novik’s Uprooted.  I loved it.  I loved it so much that I was kind of clutching it like a security blanket on a first read-through during a mad con weekend, drinking the prose in little sips, and as a result I’m not sure how much I trust myself to have made an accurate appraisal of the book, which is great because the only way to make a more accurate appraisal is to re-read it.  Here are some books I hold close to my heart and you should too:
    • Robin McKinley, especially The Hero and the Crown
    • Rachel Hartman’s Seraphina and Shadow Scale
    • The Wizard of Earthsea
    • If you like those books, read this one.
    • If you don’t know any of those books, read them. And read this one too.
    • Actually Robin McKinley’s Sunshine may be the closest point of comparison, even though that’s a lot less of a fairy tale; anyway just, you know, read.
  2. I’m almost done with Hannu Rajaniemi’s Collected Short Fiction.  One of the last tales, “Skywalker of Earth,” is tremendous high-octane fun—and one of the few cases of the SF genre reading itself back to itself, in the Warren Ellis tradition, that I can call to mind.  What I mean by this: Ellis, in, say, Planetary, responds to and refigures previous works of popular culture, by capturing those works within his own vision so as to attack, confront, or analyze them.  Any given issue of Planetary refigures another genre within the Planetary universe—so we find out what HK gangster cinema looks like in the Planetary universe, who Doc Savage is in the Planetary Universe, what’s up with the Fantastic Four etc. etc.  SF does this much less, in my opinion.  It seems to me that while we engage with the conceptual frameworks of previous stories, we rarely engage with their character archetypes or story structures.  When we [SPOILERS for Anathem] reach the multiversal spaceship at the end of Anathem, we don’t expect to meet Corwin coming the other direction.[/SPOILERS]  “Skywalker of Earth” hinges on a modern SF protagonist encountering, basically, Doc Smith characters; to win, she has to reinvent SF for a modern age.  It’s pretty cool stuff.  (Other examples of “reading back” that spring to mind: John Varley’s Steel Beach, which reads Heinlein into itself, and Chip Delany’s Dhalgren, which reads science fictional rhetoric as a whole.)  Anyway, if you miss Planetary, find a chance to give “Skywalker of Earth” a read.  Unfortunately it’s only in Rajaniemi’s Collected Fiction as far as I know, so that might be a touch difficult if you can’t find a copy.  No, you can’t have mine.
  3. So, they’re making a movie of The Martian.

    I haven’t read the book yet. I know that amounts to science fiction heresy for a subset of fans at this point, but, hell, what isn’t? I know I have to read it. I will! But for the most part I retain my undeservedly proprietary joy that the guy who wrote Casey and Andy, this goofy, geeky MS Paint-esque webcomic I read back in the day starring two mad scientists, their friend, a quantum police officer, Satan, a pint-sized planet-devouring critter, Grover Cleveland, and King Karl Gustaf (many of those commas should be semicolons probably) is now a mega-bestselling SF author with a movie due out starring Matt Damon.

That’s all I have for you this week, though, sadly.  I have books to write.