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Thursday, May 6, 2021

A Twelve-Step Program for Writers • Part 6


 

 

In 1997, in a few minutes of whimsy, I knocked off twelve lines of highly concentrated and somewhat snarky advice for writers seeking to develop or repair their writing careers. To my surprise these words of wisdom remain available on the SFWA web site. To my even greater surprise Guy Stewart has taken the time and trouble to explicate them in depth. Herewith, Guy’s Commentaries.

—Bruce Bethke

The sixth step:

We are entirely ready to let someone else take the blame for the way our last book tanked.

As I only HAVE one book, I can’t exactly address this. My ONLY book is still being sold even though (as I talked about earlier), the contract I signed was essentially a work-for-hire and they continue to print copies (it’s ranked #1,775,076 today!) and sell it. So I can’t actually say it tanked…it’s just that I signed a stupid deal and have absolutely no one to blame but myself. I stopped promoting the book ages ago because I have little desire to lend my name to a poor deal I made when I was young.

So then, I’ll move on to the present. I have a science fiction manuscript that made it out of the slush pile at BAEN BOOKS. My agent is confident that VICTORY OF FISTS will sell somewhere. (It never did…) I had a short, kids’ science fiction story in the January issue of CRICKET MAGAZINE, and have had several more as well as appearing a half-dozen times in ANALOG Science Fiction & Fact. So what’s up now?

I’m looking at my platform whilst reading the book CREATING YOUR WRITER’S PLATFORM (http://www.barnesandnoble.com/w/create-your-writer-platform-chuck-sambuchino/1111306282?ean=9781599635750) in which Chuck Sambuchino forces me to ask the question: “What is my visibility as an author?”

That’s what a platform is.

It’s relation to the sixth step of the Twelve Step Program should be obvious, but if it’s not, it goes something like this: If you’re invisible as an author, then your book will tank.

Apparently, the halcyon days of book promotion tours on the publisher’s penny are gone forever. In fact, as far as doing tours at all, there are fewer and fewer places that a flesh and blood writer can go to. If there’s nowhere for a writer to go, then how do we let people know that we’ve written a book?

One way, I suppose would be to talk to all the people you see, but as a writer sees few people in a day, that’s sort of a moot point. How about the people you email, text, FB or otherwise interact with in cyberspace? How many of you have been to a webinar? (Scary fact: the dictionary program of Word RECOGNIZES THE WORD WEBINAR AS A REAL WORD AND IT IS ALREADY A PART OF THE STANDARD DICTIONARY!) How many of you even knew what a webinar was in 1990? (According to the online dictionary, the word is a portmanteau of “webcast seminar” and was coined in the early 90s.)) How many of you have led a webinar? (I can now say that I have – several times.)

With the birth of the cyber platform comes the necessity of having some sort of online presence. That of course, has created an industry dedicated to creating a class of cyber etiquette for authors. How many times can I mention my writing before my friends and online contact begin to block me—or worse yet, start to mark my FaceBook posts and emails as SPAM or junk?

So, in this cyber world, is Bruce’s Sixth Step even a valid statement anymore, because the only answer possible is that I AM THE ONLY ONE WHO CAN PROMOTE ME!



 

Guy Stewart is a husband supporting his wife who is a multi-year breast cancer survivor; a father, father-in-law, grandfather, foster father, friend, writer, and recently retired teacher and school counselor who maintains a writing blog by the name of POSSIBLY IRRITATING ESSAYS (https://faithandsciencefiction.blogspot.com/) where he showcases his opinion and offers his writing up for comment. He has 72 stories, articles, reviews, and one musical script to his credit, and the list still includes one book! He also maintains GUY'S GOTTA TALK ABOUT BREAST CANCER & ALZHEIMER'S, where he shares his thoughts and translates research papers into everyday language. In his spare time, he herds cats and a rescued dog, helps keep a house, and loves to bike, walk, and camp.

 

NEXT TUESDAY: Step 7, We humbly hope our new publisher will not find out what we said about our last publisher. 

Tuesday, May 4, 2021

A Twelve-Step Program for Writers • Part 5


 

 

In 1997, in a few minutes of whimsy, I knocked off twelve lines of highly concentrated and somewhat snarky advice for writers seeking to develop or repair their writing careers. To my surprise these words of wisdom remain available on the SFWA web site. To my even greater surprise Guy Stewart has taken the time and trouble to explicate them in depth. Herewith, Guy’s Commentaries.

—Bruce Bethke

The fifth step:

We have proclaimed to God, to ourselves, and to anyone else who would listen the exact nature of the many failings of our former editors and publishers.

Before I go on here, I should say that I have a deep and abiding respect for Bruce as a writer, an editor, a teacher, and especially as a friend.

I hesitate to presume anything so rash as that I “know him”. Our lives have intersected a number of times, in several ways, and at more than a few venues. We’ve lunched together, worked together, and argued. But I cannot presume to know him because much of our relationship is mostly through the Internet these days.

On the other hand, I do know that he has a razor sharp sense of humor, a critical and perceptive eye, and I take anything he says seriously.

However, I do NOT take everything he says at face value!

When WORKING together, I interpret his comments to mean exactly what he says. In personal commentary, I ALWAYS take his comments to be carefully and clearly expressed. When we discuss the state of the world however, I take what he says as I would take a grain of sand (some would say “salt”, but I’ve learned his crystals aren’t that small, so I’ll say sand here and imply that it is a granite crystal): a possible irritant designed to elicit honest discussion or to simply make me think.

A bit of background before I go on: I am the oldest child in my family, first born male child and a son of privilege. I married into a family in which I was the last adult before the children were counted and figured sometimes I BELONGED at the children’s table at Thanksgiving.

As the usual oldest, I was always cast as the part of a parent, or the shoemaker or the princess’s father in high school. I had one friend who was older than me and mobs of friends who were younger. I was consistently cast in the role of “mentor” and have been my entire life. I had no older brother; I had no one to kick my metaphorical ass when I made stupid choices or decisions.

From the beginning, Bruce became my mentor. He’s not a lot older than me (I got to be a grandfather first!); but as far as writing and life experience, he is indeed my mentor. His wife was diagnosed with breast cancer before mine was and as a result, he was able to pull me up beside him and be a shoulder on which I could lean. He was an “award-winning author” first; published first; created a genre-defining word first; and was an editor first.

All of this I say to point out that I don’t take EVERYTHING he says as serious and sometimes have to search a bit to find the meaning.

The meaning here, if I may be so bold as to speak it, is that we should refuse to burn our bridges no matter how awful our experience. By this I do NOT mean that we be doormats to whims of agents and editors, I mean that gossip, slander (even if it’s true), and bad-mouthing someone is NEVER appropriate; not because “today’s junior prick is tomorrow’s senior partner” (in case you were wondering, it’s a line from WORKING GIRL) but because nothing ever happens in a vacuum and everything is fodder for character building.

Bruce is a smart man; he has learned from experience. He takes what he has learned and passes it on. Sometimes he passes it on without embellishment and sometimes he makes me dig for meaning. This is a “dig for meaning” kind of wisdom.

And if it wasn’t meant that way? Meh. That’s how I’m going to take it!

 


 

Guy Stewart is a husband supporting his wife who is a multi-year breast cancer survivor; a father, father-in-law, grandfather, foster father, friend, writer, and recently retired teacher and school counselor who maintains a writing blog by the name of POSSIBLY IRRITATING ESSAYS (https://faithandsciencefiction.blogspot.com/) where he showcases his opinion and offers his writing up for comment. He has 72 stories, articles, reviews, and one musical script to his credit, and the list still includes one book! He also maintains GUY'S GOTTA TALK ABOUT BREAST CANCER & ALZHEIMER'S, where he shares his thoughts and translates research papers into everyday language. In his spare time, he herds cats and a rescued dog, helps keep a house, and loves to bike, walk, and camp.

 

NEXT THURSDAY: Step 6, We are entirely ready to let someone else take the blame for the way our last book tanked. 

Sunday, May 2, 2021

Clash of the Schlockmeisters 3: Revenge of the Stiffs!

Once upon a time there was an absolutely brilliant science fiction and horror writer named Richard Matheson. You know his work, even if you don’t immediately recognize his name: a quick glance at his list of film credits on IMDB should elicit at least a few gasps of surprise, as a tremendous number of his novels and short stories were adapted for movies or television scripts and he did a lot of work adapting other writers’ stories to screenplays as well. 

When looking at his bio on IMDB, bear in mind also that this is just a list of his work in visual media. In the 1950s he was a regular contributor to Galaxy, F&SF, and the rest of the pulp magazines, producing quite a few stories that continue to show up in “Hall of Fame”-type short story anthologies, and he wrote a bunch of novels that continue to live on in screenplay adaptations. Rather than recapitulate his entire career here, though, I’ll just point you to his Wikipedia page if you want to learn more, and finish with my assertion that if you’re an aspiring science fiction or horror writer and you don’t know Richard Matheson’s work, you should, if only to keep yourself from trying to rewrite stories he was writing and selling to magazines and as TV series scripts 60 to 70 years ago.

Which brings us to today’s topic. In 1954 Matheson wrote a clever little vampire/zombie horror novel entitled I Am Legend. This novel has been adapted to film three times: first as the 1964 Vincent Price film, The Last Man on Earth, again in 1971 as the Charlton Heston film, The Omega Man, and at last under its original title as the 2007 Will Smith film, I Am Legend.


The Vincent Price version is both the most faithful to the original novel and surprisingly good, for being a Vincent Price film. Apparently Matheson liked working with Vincent Price, as he wrote the screenplays for Roger Corman’s 1960s series of Edgar Allan Poe movies, all of which starred Price.

After The Last Man on Earth, though, true to Hollywood, the subsequent remakes continued to drift further and further from the original source material, until the use of the original title for the 2007 Will Smith version begins to seem like an ironic joke. So to kick off today’s discussion:

1. Which of these three films is the version most worth watching now? 

2. Which is the version best avoided? 

3. Did you know that The Last Man on Earth is in the public domain now, and that you can download or stream a fully legit copy from The Internet Archive?

4. For that matter, did you know that The Internet Archive exists, and that you can find an amazing amount of public domain material there? If not, why not?

5. Finally, given that Will Smith’s character didn’t just die but blew himself to little bits at the end of I Am Legend, what is your reaction to the news (I am not making this up) that Will Smith has signed on to star in the “Untitled I Am Legend Reboot,” which is currently in development?

The challenge has been presented. Have at them, hammer and tongs. And always remember:

Have fun!

See you tomorrow,
~brb