Lots of stuff for you all this week!
To start off—the excellent Mur Lafferty hosted me on her podcast, I Should be Writing. Thanks, Mur! The interview is here, and is great. Alas, though, it was cut off right at the end. Basically the only thing missing is a longwinded analogy I was about to launch into about ideas, poker, and writing. Twitter-person @tamahome02000 asked for the end of the analogy, so here it goes.
The Poker Analogy
Ideas are like the hole cards in poker—in Texas Holdem you’re dealt two cards in the hole, your private hand no one else can see, and five cards to the board, which everyone else can see. All players try to construct the highest hand of five cards from any combination of their hole and the board. In this analogy, the “board” is all the aspects of writing to which everyone has access: the current state of the English language, the publishing market, trends in your chosen genre, whatever.
So you think, ah-hah, to win at writing I just need THE BEST IDEA POSSIBLE. I will never commit to a board unless I am holding the nuts. One of the funny things about Holdem and writing alike, though, is that the board develops over time—you first bet without seeing any board cards. After the first round of betting, three of the five total board cards are revealed. After another round of betting, you see the fourth, and after the third round, if anyone’s still playing, you see the fifth. The best idea you could possibly have in the first round—pair of aces, say, the most valuable hand you can build with only two cards—might not intersect at all with the board. Your buddy went in with Ace-8, but the flop gives her two more eights and there’s nary an ace to be seen—and hell, even if you do crack an ace on the turn, your three of a kind will lose to her eights full of aces.
Because in writing, as in poker, success doesn’t result from an idea (hole) or circumstance (board). You need both of these, sure—but success results from play. Let’s go back to our Ace-eight example earlier. You can’t see your buddy’s hand. You play super conservatively—you never commit unless you have, let’s say, pair of kings or better. All night long. Your buddy, you know, plays a little loose—and plays a wider range of hands, among them Ace-eight. She sees the flop with you, and it’s, say, 4-8-8. She bets conservatively; you commit more, thinking she has a pair of kings, and she re-raises, and all of a sudden you start thinking, shit, she has the eights. But does she really?
And so on.
As poker players go I’m something of a sieve through which money flows, so let me cut to the point: you can always be outplayed, even if you have the best hole cards in the game. Which is just to say, the better a player you are, more you can do with the cards you’re dealt.
Which is not to say that hand composition doesn’t matter! Good players aren’t afraid to fold, as Kenny Rogers reminds us. But they’re not afraid to play, either, and where some people might see garbage, a good player sees opportunity.
And the only way you become a better player, of course, is by playing. So if you’re sitting at the keyboard thinking, gosh, if I write this idea down then it’s gone and I will never have any more ideas ever ever ever, well… you’re probably shooting yourself in the foot. The more you hesitate, the less progress you make on your own art.
Look for the right ideas, sure. Sometimes the perfect idea hits you like a bolt from the heavens. Sometimes it doesn’t don’t. A good writer can do something awesome in both cases.
Oh yeah and success.
I have very little idea what I mean by ‘success’ above. I don’t mean making money. (F. Scott Fitzgerald died poor and drunk.) I don’t mean being published by the Big However Many We’re Saying They Are These Days. (Contemporary equivalents of the Big However wouldn’t publish Lady Chatterly’s Lover, Ulysses, or Howl. Virginia Woolf self-published most of her work. Though don’t think that invalidates Publishing, either—it worked for Faulkner, Hemmingway, Steinbeck, Edith Wharton and Ralph Ellison. Pace Frank Baum, there are many roads to the City, though see above as to the question of whether any of these roads is paved with golden bricks.) I don’t even mean showing anyone your work, though I caution folks against taking the Emily Dickinson route. I might mean writing things worth reading; knowing you’ve made something that scares you, or makes you proud, or sends a message, or fights a power, or tells a truth, or mourns what’s lost. I might mean being able to write things worth writing. Though we can’t stop there: we’re in Tautology Country!
As you read this, I’m traveling to the airport to fly south for the International Conference on the Fantastic Arts. I don’t think I’m on any programming, but if you’re there, say hi! I plan on bringing one suit and an assortment of brightly-colored short-sleeved shirts, because new spring in Boston is about as spring-y as new spring in the Borderlands (which makes Canada the Blight I guess?) and I won’t get to wear anything flower-printed in my hometown for another month at least. I’ll be returning from ICFA on Friday, though, so I can be a guest at….
Vericon is Harvard’s student-run convention, and looks to be crazy this year—the con isn’t terribly large, but they have an all-star cast of literary guests. Here’s my schedule, though you really should check out their website for more info.
10am – 11am – Selling Your First Novel – M.L Brennan, Luke Scull, Saladin Ahmed, Max Gladstone – Writing it is difficult, and when it’s done that’s when the trouble really starts. How do you sell your first novel in today’s market? – Lead by Shuvom Ghose (Sever 113)
11 am – 12:30pm Panel on Interactive Media – Max Gladstone, Luke Scull, Patrick Rothfuss – So, this panel is geared towards discussing the challenges and advantages of story-writing for media other than the printed word. How does having to deal with player interactivity affect story? How do you tell a story in conjunction with music and visuals? Those and similar questions will be the focus of this panel. – Lead by Ore Babarinsa (Sever 113)
BOOK SIGNING — You should all come to my signing of course, but some other people are signing whose presence just might be worth your attention, and by just might be worth your attention I mean absolutely come to this signing oh my god look at these people. All of these events are at Harvard Book Store in Harvard Square!
Patrick Rothfuss : 1pm – 2pm
Jo Walton & Scott Lynch : 1:45pm – 2:15pm
M.L. Brennan, Saladin Ahmed & Max Gladstone : 2:30pm – 3:00pm
Luke Scull & Greer Gilman : 3:15 – 3:45 pm
1pm – 2pm – Seen One Elf, Seen ’em All – Saladin Ahmed, Scott Lynch, Max Gladstone, Shira Lipkin
How do you get away from codmedieval Europe fantasyland? There’s am exciting recent trend towards more original kinds of fantasy worlds, ones drawing on other cultures. What are the advantages and disadvantages of this new approach? – Lead by Carl Engle-Laird (Sever 113)
3:30pm – 4:30pm – Worldbuilding Panel – Patrick Rothfuss, Saladin Ahmed, Scott Lynch, and Max Gladstone
This panel focuses on crafting a setting, and how one actually builds the story. Further, it’ll also touch on influences, both literary and culture, for your writing, as well as what you think goes into your work. Lastly, It’s also an opportunity for guests to ask you about details of your worlds, and discuss the things off the beaten path in your works. – Lead by Carl Engle-Laird
8pm – 10pm – Milk and Cookies -Lowell Lecture Hall – This is totally optional, so if you’re exhausted by this point, feel free to return to your hotels and rest. That being said, if you want to do any sort of readings of your own work, or even just share some your own personal favorite works, please participate! To explain the concept of Milk and Cookies, it’s a HRSFA/HRSFAN tradition where we all get together and share short stories in a circle (or in the case of Vericon, several circles), while sharing snacks, particularly the eponymous milk and cookies.
And, because I have no regard for your personal productivity—turns out there’s a Two Serpents Rise page over at TV Tropes! *sniff* I’m so happy….
Happy, and as you may have guessed from the above, busy. That’s all for this week. Have a great few days, see you this weekend maybe, and catch you on the flip side!