That was the title of a panel at Lunacon 2016, the New York science fiction convention I attended this past weekend. The other panelists and I discussed the merits of stories that have a message. Science fiction is the literature of ideas, but nobody likes their fiction to preach at them. So are stories improved when their authors have a message to get across, or harmed? I found the question to be a thought-provoking one, so I wrote about it on Novelocity.
What if you never had to sleep? It’s something I’ve thought about off and on ever since I read Nancy Kress’s masterpiece, Beggars in Spain, about genetically-modified children who don’t need to sleep. My friend and fellow author Josh Vogt has been thinking about this question, too, and has popped by to tell us his thoughts. The second book of his urban fantasy series, Maids of Wrath, comes out in early April. Here’s Josh on his love/hate relationship with sleep…
Can we all just admit that? It eats up almost a third of our actual life. Time we could be doing things. Important things, too, like binge-watching Doctor Who to catch up on the latest seasons, or searching hours on end for the funniest cat video on YouTube.
Or, y’know, working and writing and whatnot.
For as long as I can remember, sleep has been my enemy. My nemesis, of sorts. It is something to be opposed for as long as possible, and woken from as quickly as possible so the conscious hours can be taken full advantage of. Sleep still irks me to no end. In fact, if someone presented the world with a trial pill that could eliminate the need for sleep, sign this lab rat right on up!
But you know what? Until that happens, sleep is necessary for little things like health and sanity.
Sad, I know. It’s an unavoidable truth, though. I learned my lesson after a string of bouts with insomnia left me something of a shambling wreck, unable to focus, unable to write, functioning on auto-pilot and wishing for nothing more than a solid night’s rest. I’ve come to accept the fact that sleep has to actually be a priority in my life if I want to maintain any sort of balance in my energy levels—and thus be able to keep my writing productivity going full throttle for as long as I can.
Without this thing I hate, I cannot have this thing I love.
Yet I can’t deny the facts. When I take what steps I can to have a good night’s sleep, the next day tends to go far better than if I’d pulled an all-nighter or forced myself to stay up until 3am just because I didn’t want to accept defeat.
Why do I gripe about all this? Because just as sleep is an undesirable I’ve realized can actually be helpful, so there are other undesirable elements within the writing process—ones I ignore dealing with at my own peril.
This can be anything from criticism of my writing to rejection from publishers to bad reviews to envy of others’ success, and much more. I have to work at each of these, handling them in ways that give me the opportunity to grow as a writer, rather than remaining complacent, becoming stagnant, or getting angry and entitled. I want to learn how to accept constructive criticism better. To embrace the sting of rejection as a challenge to improve my craft. To not have an online meltdown and troll reviewers until my reputation is trashed. And to applaud my peers’ accomplishments, because they well and truly deserve it.
All of this takes ongoing work, just like keeping my sleep schedule and routines intact. But I can at least know even when I’m struggling with something I don’t enjoy (or hate altogether), it will bring about a healthier mentality, lifestyle, and approach to writing in return for the effort. And, at the end of the day, I know I will have earned my rest.
Author and editor Josh Vogt’s work covers fantasy, science fiction, horror, humor, pulp, and more. His debut fantasy novel is Pathfinder Tales: Forge of Ashes, published alongside his urban fantasy series, The Cleaners, with Enter the Janitor (2015) and The Maids of Wrath (2016). He’s an editor at Paizo, a Scribe Award finalist, and a member of both SFWA and the International Association of Media Tie-In Writers. Find him at JRVogt.com or on Twitter @JRVogt.
It’s an exciting time to be a science fiction author. SF movies and TV shows are at an all-time high in popularity, and new shows are being made from novels all the time. I’m excited to announce that the television rights to my quantum physics thrillers SUPERPOSITION and SUPERSYMMETRY have been picked up by eOne Entertainment Group, whose catalog includes The Walking Dead and a number of Syfy’s popular shows.
So what does this mean? An “option” is just what it sounds like–there’s no guarantee that a TV show will actually be made. There are a lot more novels that are optioned than are actually produced. But it does mean that there are people working on putting the concepts of a show together, hiring a screenwriter, and moving things in that direction. And my Hollywood agent (yes, I have a Hollywood agent–how cool is that?) is the same one that represents George R. R. Martin and Game of Thrones, so he and his agency kinda have some experience in the world of television. Just a little.
The competition, as with everything in this business, is steep. The odds are against it. But a TV show made from one of my books? That would be just about the coolest thing in the world.
The German language version of Superposition will be released in June of this year, an exciting event for me, as it will be my first book released in that language. And check out this über-cool cover! In German, the book will be titled “Quantum”, I guess because “Überlagerung” doesn’t have the right ring to it. If you know anyone who speaks German (and more importantly, reads science fiction books in German), let them know!
That’s right, author Lawrence M. Schoen and Tor Books have just released the marvelous new novel Barsk: The Elephants’ Graveyard. It’s about uplifted elephants–elephants that have language and culture like humans–and it’s like nothing you’ve ever read. It might sound like a children’s novel (Horton? Dumbo?), but these elephants are deadly serious. There are other animals as well: cheetahs and sloths and bears and yaks. They can talk to the dead–some of them, anyway–through a fascinating technology that raises interesting questions about memory, legacy, and free will. I’ve invited Lawrence to join my blog today and tell us how he came to write about such an intriguing topic.
So, Lawrence… how did you come to write about anthropomorphic animals?
I’m tempted to tell you it all began a long time ago in a galaxy far far away, but the truth is it was back in the late 80’s when I had just started teaching at New College in Sarasota, Florida. At 27, I was the “boy professor” with the ink still wet on my doctorate, and for my first teaching gig I was actually living in the campus dorms right alongside the students. It was an odd time in my life, as I was closer in age to most of the students than the other members of the faculty (indeed, some of my students were older than me!).
One of the courses I taught was Psycholinguistics, and one of the students had a roommate, Watts Martin, who was very much into anthropmorphic fiction. Most of the interest in this sub field focused on the artwork, but Watts was pushing the writing. He edited and published Mythagoras, a zine dedicated to anthropomorphic fiction.
Anyway, back then there was a popular comic in the field by Steven A. Gallacci called Erma Felna, EDF. Erma was an anthropomorphic cat serving in the Extraplanetary Defense Force, kind of like the Federation from Star Trek, and fighting against the Independent Lepine Republic (ILP), a different kind of federation made up mostly of anthropomorphic rabbits. The comic was so popular that it generated a roleplaying game spinoff. One day, Watts approached me about being part of a group of gamers to give it a go, explaining that I could roll up a character and it could be almost any “race” I wanted. In that instant, something just clicked in my head, and the worldbuilding that would become Barsk exploded. I remember the exchange went something like this:
Me: I want to play an elephant.
Watts: Umm… that’s not an option. We can probably fake it though…
Me: Right, an elephant. From a planet where there are nothing but islands. And the islands are full of rain forests. And it rains. Every. Day.
Me: And the elephant grandmothers on that planet, they have an expression. They say, “So, do you think it will rain today?” And they laugh and laugh and laugh!
Watts of course remembers the exchange differently. The part that lingers in his mind goes more like this:
Lawrence: We believe the only proper way to kill the rabbits from the ILR who’ve invaded our homeland is to pick them up by the ears with our trunks and smash them against a tree.
Me: Umm… the rabbits are armed with military rifles.
Lawrence (without missing a beat): There’s not many of us left now.
Two things about this are worth mentioning. First, we never did play the game (and to this day, I can’t recall why). Second, in that moment I vowed to start writing a novel about those elephants. This is more than a bit insane because, while I’d written some short stories at that point, I hadn’t managed to sell a one, and here I was pledging to write an entire novel!
Watts didn’t blink. In the months that followed, he published the first two chapters of what would eventually become the first draft of Barsk in the pages Mythagoras. Not long after that, I left Sarasota to teach at a college in Lake Forest, Illinois and Watts and I fell out of touch until just a few years ago when he showed up in my autograph line at the Nebula Awards Weekend in San Jose, California. He continues to write and promote anthropomorphic fiction, and in fact has been nominated several times for the Ursa Major award and won the Coyotl award.
But that’s how my writing Barsk all began, a chance conversation more than twenty years ago with the roommate of one of my students who just happened to be on his own path to being a writer of furry tales. It’s one of those stories that’s so unlikely it has to be true, because as fiction it’s unbelievable.
Lawrence M. Schoen holds a Ph.D. in cognitive psychology, has been nominated for the Campbell, Hugo, and Nebula awards, is a world authority on the Klingon language, operates the small press Paper Golem, and is a practicing hypnotherapist specializing in authors’ issues.
His previous science fiction includes many light and humorous adventures of a space-faring stage hypnotist and his alien animal companion. His most recent book, Barsk, takes a very different tone, exploring issues of prophecy, intolerance, friendship, conspiracy, and loyalty, and redefines the continua between life and death. He lives near Philadelphia, Pennsylvania with his wife and their dog.
My friend Megan O’Keefe has a book coming out! Not just any book, but her first book, called Steal the Sky, and it’s due to launch on January 5. I have it on good authority that it’s an exciting caper of a novel, a conman’s attempted heist of an airship, that sounds a lot like The Lies of Locke Lamora (which I loved). Here is Megan herself to tell us about a small part of this book, namely… a hat.
When I set out to write Steal the Sky, I knew I wanted Detan to have a friend, a sidekick. Someone he could rely upon in a pinch, who could function as a level head when Detan’s scheming inevitably spirals out of control. Tibal, aka Tibs, is the sidekick I set out to write. He’s hiding a deep vein of anger, but he’s ultimately smooth and calm, the steady hand guiding Detan as he pinballs across the Scorched Continent.
Upon receiving feedback from my beta readers, however, I discovered I’d inadvertently inserted a third sidekick: The Hat.
There’s nothing particularly special about this hat. It’s big and it’s grey, and it has a roguish dip to its wide brim. Eventually it earns itself a character-building singe, and that sweat stain around the band is never coming out. It doesn’t speak, or hover, or do anything that Michael Bay would feel compelled to add a lens flare to. But one of my beta readers had written, in all caps right at the top of her comments: LOVE THE HAT! MORE HAT!
Well. You can’t ask for feedback any clearer than that.
While the hat might not be anything special to look at, it functions as a symbol of Detan and Tibs’s friendship. As it changes heads throughout the book, it becomes a physical manifestation of the back-and-forth nature of their relationship. On one occasion, its simple presence nearly brings Detan to tears. In Detan and Tibs’s messy, transient world, the hat is something solid they can both hold on to.
Needless to say, when I saw the first drafts of the cover for Steal the Sky, I was delighted to see that the hat had been included in all its floppy grey glory.
Megan lives in the Bay Area of California and makes soap for a living. (It’s only a little like Fight Club.) She has worked in arts management and graphic design, and spends her free time tinkering with anything she can get her hands on. Steal the Sky is her first novel.
It’s a science fiction book bundle! My Philip K. Dick award-winning first novel, Terminal Mind, is available for the next three weeks as part of a bundle of 9 science fiction e-books by various authors.
How much does it cost? Good question: you can decide. Here’s how it works: You enter an amount you think the 9 e-books are worth to you. If it’s at least $3, then you get 5 of the 9 books (including Terminal Mind). If it’s at least $12, then you get all 9 books. Simple as that! You can even decide what percentage of what you pay goes to the authors. Check it out!