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Everything you want to know about writing … and then some.

January 15th, 2012

 

 Any questions?

Lots of presenters conclude with that phrase. I’m different. I like to start with it.

The strategy may not be as harebrained as it sounds. I’ll explain.

I’ve just returned from my biannual residency in Writing Popular Fiction at Seton Hill University, where I always open my presentations by passing out index cards and asking the MFA candidates to record questions that come to mind during the lecture. Naturally, they can raise their hands as we go, but the question cards ensure that important inquiries don’t get passed over in the race toward the bell.

During the final hour of each three-hour presentation, I collect the cards, shuffle them, and spend fifteen minutes discussing them with the students.  It’s a collaborative process. I don’t profess to have all the answers.

At last week’s residency, my presentation on “The Art of Revision” generated some terrific inquiries ranging from the nuts and bolts of manuscript style to deeply theoretical thoughts on the writing process. And as is always the case, a few questions were left unasked and unanswered.

So what do you say we revisit those questions here? I’ve got all the cards, reshuffled and face down. We’ll try one card for starters, do a few more later in the week. Sound good?

So here’s the first one:

How do you show a scene break in your manuscript? Do you use an asterisk, hashtag, or simply a blank line?

This one generated some good discussion, with some of the students preferring a set of asterisks while others suggested that a single hashtag was best.

Indeed, the SFWA website still recommends the hashtag. Vonda N. McIntyre’s wonderfully detailed document on the subject is available there for free download. Go check it out if you haven’t seen it. It’s been the genre standard for many years.

Personally, I prefer the hashtag, but I was intrigued to hear from Christopher Shearer that at least one professional editor recommends avoiding them in favor of simply leaving the space blank.

I recall an amusing story that Harlan Ellison told about his manuscript for “I Have No Mouth and I Must Scream,” about how he cut some graphics from a computer magazine and pasted them onto his manuscript to indicate line breaks.  

I sometimes do stuff like that too: a serpentine line for my novel Vipers and a staring eye for my collection Visions. My editor didn’t complain, and the manuscripts were accepted. Nevertheless, if I were a young writer casting my first manuscripts to the wind, I’d opt for the hashtag.

What do you think? Please submit your questions, comments, suggestions. As I’ve said before, the best part of this blog is often in the talkback.

I’m out of space and out of time. We’ll do more questions later. For now, I yield to the power of the hashtag.

#

 

Airships and Sherlock Holmes

October 22nd, 2011

The master sleuth and Master of the World.

What’s not to love?

The World Fantasy Convention has just released its program schedule for 2011, one that offers an impressive blend of topics centering on this year’s theme: Sailing the Seas of Imagination.

At the con, I’ll be joining a discussion about airships and reading from my latest Sherlock Holmes mystery “The Executioner.”

First up, I’ll be joining  Jetse de Vries, Eric Flint, Charles Gannon, and Cliff Winnig for a panel titled “To Sail Above the Clouds: Airships.” Here’s the description:

With Steampunk’s popularity, airships are rising too. Sometimes they’re treated just like sailing ships. (Airship pirates!). Sometimes more like trains or planes. What is unique about this form of transportation that’s grabbed the attention of Steampunk? What has literature done with it and what does literature get wrong and right? (Friday 2:00 PM)

Lately, I’ve been thinking a lot about airships, working on a new story tentatively titled “Zeppelin to the Moon,” which brings together Professor Challenger (The Lost World), Mr. Bedford (First Men in the Moon), and Count von Zeppelin (the renowned airship designer) on a mission to rescue the inventor of cavorite from the clutches of the Grand Lunar. Sound interesting?

 “To Sail Above the Clouds” will mark my second appearance on a steampunk-themed panel this year. The first was two months ago when I joined my good friends Paul Genesse, Anton Strout, Gregory Wilson, and Maurice Broaddus at GenCon for a presentation titled “Make it Steamy: A Look at the Steampunk Genre.” That event really packed them in, with nearly 100 people in attendance. One of the highlights was Maurice’s account of his forthcoming “steampunk story with all black characters.” It’s title: Pimp My Airship. Looking forward to that one!

Paul and I also got the chance to reminisce about works that introduced us to the tropes of steampunk. His was the Ray Harryhausen 1961 film Mysterious Island (soon to be released in a limited-edition Blu-Ray  from Twilight Time). Mine was Karl Zerman’s 1958 Vynález zkázy, released in the States as The Fabulous World of Jules Verne. I remember catching that one at a drive-in near Philadelphia. The world has never been the same.

Also on the bill at this year’s World Fantasy will be a Saturday night book launch and party hosted by Edge Science Fiction and Fantasy Publishing.  This will be the big debut for Gaslight Arcanum: Uncanny Tales of Sherlock Holmes, the third in the critically-acclaimed series of anthologies edited by Charles Prepolec and J. R. Campbell. I understand that Paul Kane will also be there, reading from his entry “The Greatest Mystery” – one of the anthology’s standout horror stories.

And of course, as always, there will be the WFC mass-autograph session on Friday night, where I’ll be looking forward to meeting old friends, making new ones, and signing copies of Gaslight Arcanum, as well as Veins, Vipers, Visions, and last year’s collection This Way to Egress. (All titles will be available in the dealers room.) I also hope to have some preview material for the forthcoming Voices: Tales of Horror, which Fantasist Enterprises will be releasing later this year.

If you’re one of the thousand or so people lucky enough to be attending this year’s World Fantasy Convention (memberships sold out last winter, making this year’s con one of the hottest tickets around), I’ll look forward to seeing you there.

Oh yes, and did I mention Neil Gaiman is this year’s Guest of Honor? Should be a good time.

Whether you’re attending or not, please consider leaving a comment below. I’m particularly interested in hearing about when you first encountered the wonders of steampunk.

Perhaps it was Mysterious Island or The Fabulous World of Jules Verne, or maybe it was with more recent works, ones actually published under the steampunk banner. Either way, feel free to chime in. 

In Praise of Indie Bookstores

September 25th, 2011

Eljay's BooksYou walk inside. Right away you sense you’ve arrived someplace special. Books fill the aisles, stacked on a combination of antique, handmade, and prefab shelves. And there’s art, lots of it: on the walls, tables, and even painted directly onto the chairs. But best of all, you’re greeted by someone who knows books – a manager who reads, knows the store’s inventory, and who has mastered the art of supplying you with a basket of books that you possibly didn’t even know about when you walked through the door.

There’s nothing like a good independent bookstore.

Today I’m pondering the merits of such places, possibly because I’ve just finished editing a story about one of them (Between Books) for my forthcoming collection Voices, but also because yesterday I spent a thoroughly enjoyable afternoon at Eljay’s Books, an independent bookstore that has become a Pittsburgh institution – for good reason.

It’s managed by Chris Rickert, formerly of Pittsburgh’s now closed Joseph-Beth Booksellers, who  invited me to bring the 21st Century Scop to Eljay’s after hearing me speak at Confluence this past summer. I’m glad she did. I had a terrific time, and for the entire afternoon I forgot the month’s pressing deadlines. (I’m currently proofing the galleys for Voices, finishing book three of the Veins Cycle, and trying to get started on a new steampunk story for Edge Science Fiction’s forthcoming Professor Challenger anthology.)

One benefit of doing an event at an indie store is the kind of people who show up for your reading. They tends to be serious readers who enjoy learning about, discussing, and buying books. The big box stores can sometimes generate this kind of turn out (like the ones that often greeted me at the Borders in Wilmington DE, but that was due in large parts to the efforts of Delaware resident W. H. Horner, my editor at Fantasist Enterprises). It’s the personal touch of the indie bookstore’s PR force that brings them in.

Yesterday’s event gave me the chance to share some of the new material from Voices, the forthcoming collection of horror stories that I really should be working on now (and which I intend to get back to as soon as I click the publish button for this blog entry). It’s always reassuring when a group of serious readers reacts favorable to stuff that’s in the pipeline.

Lawrence C. Connolly at Eljay's BooksI also had the chance to revisit some greatest hits, stories from Visions and This Way to Egress as well as excerpts from Veins and Vipers – mostly  read to music from Veins: the Soundtrack and The Legion of Incredibly Strange Superheroes (now disbanded but still one of the best science-fiction rock bands ever). You can listen to studio versions of those readings here and here.

Got some free time today? Why not go out and visit your town’s independent bookstore. If you live in Pittsburgh, make a bee-line to Eljay’s, where you’ll be able to meet the wonderfully entertaining  Brian Koscienski & Chris Pisano, who will be signing their collection of comedic horror Scary Tales of Scariness

As for me, it’s back to work.

Keep reading!