WorldCon 2016: Is cyberpunk still a thing?

Disclaimer: I am not perfect and neither are my notes. If you notice anything that requires clarification or correction, please email me at melanie (dot) marttila (at) gmail (dot) com and I will fix things post-hasty.

Panellists: Cory Doctorow (moderator), Matt Jacobson, Patrick Nielsen Hayden, James Patrick Kelly, Pat Cadigan

thecoolestparkinggarageevar

Joined in progress . . .

PNH: Cyberpunk is a course correction.

MJ: I think of cyberpunk in terms of the Max Headroom tagline: fifteen minutes into the future.

CD: The first generation/layer was written by people who were not computer professionals. The second focused on current technology and near future extrapolation. The third layer is an aesthetic.

PC: The first generation of cyberpunk writers was the first to grow up with mass media (television, radio, etc.). The Vietnam War was the first to be televised. They wrote about the influence of media and extrapolated what the influence of mass media might be in the future.

CD: In the 1980’s, money had a huge influence on the political process.

PNH: An aesthetic is a number of people who have similar intuitions about the world. It’s deliberately referencial.

JPK: Bruce Stirling tried to “end” cyberpunk, but the readers weren’t listening.

MJ: A thing would be whatever catches people’s attention.

PC: Cordwainer Smith and Alfred Bester were influences on cyberpunk.

PNH: Science fiction is one big conversation.

MJ: Cyberpunk has been taken over by tech noir. Shows like Mr. Robot and Person of Interest.

JPK: Cyberpunk emerged pre-Apple. For most users, a computer is indistinguishable from magic.

CD: The whole point of Mr. Robot is to strongly distinguish technology from magic.

MJ: Pokemon Go demonstrates just how easy it is to know where anyone is, anywhere in the world.

CD: Actually, your device uses the statistics from the game to triangulate your location and reports the information to Nintendo. That’s a lot more scary.

PC: In the early days of the internet, there were the BBS’s, the bulletin board services. Genie—the conversation never ends. Now mass media is to ambient, we’ve stopped seeing it. Information (and misinformation) is ubiquitous.

PNH: Science fiction has been doing the virtual presence thing since 1929 with the fanzines.

MJ: Cyberpunk intersects with maker culture. High tech is repurposed.

CD: The liminal moment was a queer programmer, Jennings. Cyberpunk concerns itself with the frontier of self and interrelatedness.

And that was time.

Next week: science fiction as epic.

And, of course, in the meantime, I’ll be curating Tipsday and Thoughty Thursday for you.

Be well. Stay safe. Love unconditionally.

That is all.

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CanCon2015 day 2: The history of science fiction

Presenter: Dr. David G. Hartwell (and, his site).

DavidHartwell

Sorry for the poor pic. It was the best of the bunch I took 😦

Frankenstein (1818) was actually a collaboration between Mary and Percy Bysshe Shelley. The Bodleian library holds the original manuscripts. They reveal four distinct hands. That it’s the first science fiction written by a woman is therefore debatable.

Aphra Behn, Margaret Cavendish, and Jane Louden could be contenders.

Many of the manuscripts from the early 20th century are now being re-examined.

Facsimile reprints only lasted 15 to 18 years for the research set. Now we have Google Books, Project Gutenberg, and the like.

There have been no organized, concerted efforts dedicated to science fiction. It’s something fun for academic researchers. The early works, in particular, don’t get a lot of attention.

After Shelley, we have Jules Verne (1828 – 1905) and Edgar Allen Poe (1809 – 1849).

Poe was, arguably, not a great writer, but he more or less created genre fiction, specifically mystery, science fiction, and horror.

Kafka (1883 – 1924) and Edward Bulwer Lytton (1803 – 1873) published speculative works as well.

There was a growth in modern nationalism and military invention at the end of the 1800s. The machine gun, the tank, and the air plane. It was largely considered the end of war the way it had always been fought. Governments other than monarchy developed.

More’s Utopia and Plato’s speculations were considered thought experiments. They were never realized.

By the 1890s, there was a large body of work that could be read and mimicked.

George Orwell was considered to have wrote scientific romances.

Currently, it is thought that the ‘important’ science fiction is written in one language, but there are French, German, Polish, and Italian writers in the genre.

Q: What is proto-science fiction?

Science fiction is a conscious effort. If it’s accidental, it’s proto-SF. The second consideration is that there has to have been an audience for the work.

Q: What about other literatures?

There are Arabic texts describing aliens that date back to Medieval times.

Q: Is Tom Swift considered science fiction?

Not really. It’s more adventure.

All imaginative literature got scrunched together and separated from ‘proper’ literature. The fantastic exists in literature since Gilgamesh. That doesn’t mean it was what we consider fantasy.

Q: What’s the difference between a techno-thriller and science fiction?

In the techno-thriller, the changes are temporary. The world reverts to normal. Science fiction tends to change the world permanently.

J.G. Ballard’s work usually involves a disaster of some variety and humanity must live with the results. It’s not the optimistic attitude of most science fiction.

Between 1920 and 1940, the literary establishment had to start excluding written material to maintain their elitism. The typical modernist text of the time was normal life with psychological insight.

John Updike wrote about The World Treasury of Science Fiction. He said it couldn’t be first rate literature.

The attitude of the literary establishment toward science fiction is not acceptable.

Q: Could you comment on Orwell? What about Huxley and Burgess?

Burgess liked reading science fiction, but his only analogue is A Clockwork Orange. Orwell wrote in the tradition of H.G. Wells. He would have been appalled if anyone called him a science fiction author.

Science fiction and fantasy are marketing categories.

Genre is an interaction between the author, the text, and the reader. There’s direct feedback. The traditional genres (literature, drama, poetry) don’t necessarily have that.

There was a fair amount that I didn’t get written down with this particular presentation, but it was still a great source of information. It filled in a few gaps for me from my previous studies. I have a feeling that Dr. Hartwell could have kept going 🙂

That’s it for this week.

I’m off to Bedfordshire (as in bed).

TTFN!

Tipsday: Writerly Goodness found on the interwebz, Dec 20-26, 2015

Here’s a little Writerly Goodness for you 🙂 Looks like I really did take a holiday last week. Yay me!

K.M. Weiland talks about coincidences in your fiction and what mistake in means you might be making.

C.S. Lakin calls these stylistic devices. I call them rhetorical figures. I lurves me some rhetoric. I blame the politicians for rhetoric’s pejorative connotation 😦 However you choose to look at them, they’re a lot of fun and can add something special to your writing.

Dan Blank says that creative work is performance. Writer Unboxed.

Why writers need human connection. Jamie Raintree guests on Writers in the Storm.

Chris Winkle shares lessons learned from the awkward writing of The Sword of Truth. Mythcreants.

George R.R. Martin uses it. So does Robert J. Sawyer. Find out why Wordstar is the preferred word processor for these authors.

And speaking of nifty writer tech, here’s Jamie Raintree’s new writing and revision tracker*. This is the spreadsheet that revolutionized my attitude toward my writing. I hope it will do the same for you 🙂

*This year, Jamie’s made the spreadsheet fairly foolproof. You can only enter data into certain cells. So much easier. I’ll still do a little post on how to set it up, but it won’t be as extensive as I thought based on past years.

Before you launch a Patreon for your writing, read this. Nicole Dieker for The Write Life.

Madeleine Monson-Rosen recounts the twelve happy accidents that helped save science fiction. i09.

Now this is my idea of a happy Christmas: Jolabokaflod. NPR.

Hope you had a wondrous holiday.

See you Thursday!

Tipsday

Tipsday: Writerly Goodness found on the interwebz, June 21-27, 2015

W00t! You wanted moar writerly goodness? Well, here it is!

In local publishing news, Latitude 46 moves into the void left by Your Scrivener Press. The Northern Life.

Listen to K.M. Weiland’s weekly podcast (and subscribe) or read her companion post. Last week’s offering: What every writer ought to know about omniscient point of view (POV).

How to make your secondary characters truly memorable. Katie’s Wednesday vlog.

Will readers find you protagonist worthy? Angela Ackerman on Writers Helping Writers.

The bigger the dream, the greater the resistance. When resistance pays you a compliment. Steven Pressfield.

The four dangers of writing and critique groups. The title says ‘hidden dangers,’ but they’re not really hidden. First-timers and eternal optimists might be blind to them, though. Jennie Nash on Jane Friedman’s blog.

How to write about guns without sounding like a doorknob. Benjamin Sobieck (who was much more polite about it that I was) guest posts on Jane Friedman’s blog.

The Listen Inside podcast from Readers in the Know features chapter 2 from Veronica Sicoe’s The Deep Link.

The ten best literary love songs brought to you by Quirk Books.

BuzzFeed compiles their list of the 53 best opening lines in literature.

Not to be outdone, Penguin Random House offered its list of captivating first lines.

In case you weren’t already crushed by the weight of your unread book stack, BuzzFeed compiles this list of ALL 339 books referenced in Gilmour Girls.

i09 lists its essential cyberpunk reads.

ZDNet shares their list of 26 essential science fiction novels that will help you prepare for the future.

Where Japanese science fiction has been and where it’s going. Japanese Times.

The 2015 Sunburst Awards finalists announced on the CBC.

And here’s Quill & Quire’s piece on the awards.

The brilliant ideas that didn’t make it into Pixar’s Inside Out. i09.

I must say that Phil and I are enjoying Sense8 quite a bit. Then again, we love well-developed character and story. The slow burn is just fine with us. Here’s Bram E. Geiben’s take on season 1 for i09.

Moar season 2 fodder for your Droughtlander jonesing. Carter Matt.

See you on Thoughty Thursday!

Tipsday

Ad Astra 2015 day 1: Science fiction for a young adult audience

Panelists: E.K. Johnston, Charlene Challenger, Leah Bobet, Jane Ann McLachlan

YA SF panel

Having just been in a session, Leah was a tad late . . .

JAM: Has fantasy done a better job reaching the YA audience? Who is the audience for YA SF?

LB: There’s the problem right there. Is YA about and geared to young adult readers, or do readers just find their ways to it? Adult authors will write YA SF to “convert” younger readers. That’s a bad reason to write YA SF.

EKJ: Girls are starting to look for science fiction in the YA section.

LB: It’s really YA novels that are paranormal at the core. Authors are starting to cater to YA readers bored with standard paranormal.

JAM: Who are the readers of YA? There are a lot of adults who are looking for, perhaps, a simpler plot or a more youthful protagonist.

LB: I wouldn’t trash readers.

Mel’s note: There was a bit of awkweird at that point. Leah confessed to a lack of sleep but continued to make her point. For the record, Jane Ann’s remark wasn’t intended as a slight to readers of YA of any age, nor was it intended as a slight to the authors of YA, of whom she is one.

EKJ: One of the things that YA does well is include something for readers of all ages.

CC: I remembered being intimidated by SF as a kid. Star Trek: The Next Generation made is accessible. [SF] elevates the human condition.

EKJ: It asks the important questions.

LB: SF is no longer about showing your geek pass card. It’s rooted in outsider culture.

JAM: Are there more female protagonists in YA SF? What does this say about the authors? The readers?

LB: Traditionally, SF has had a massive issue with sexism and misogyny.

Q: Would genre crossing novels find readers in YA?

EKJ: Maybe. That’s the charm of YA. It encompasses all genres. It would probably be an easier environment to break through with a cross-genre book.

Q: What makes for a good YA novel?

EKJ: The pacing is faster, length is a little shorter than the average novel in the adult category. The story doesn’t make them feel bad for being a teenager.

LB: In 2014, the biggest trend was adult readers, particularly women readers, reading YA. As a result, the YA market became huge. Advances were five times the advances in other categories. Publishers had the budget dollars for editing and promotion.

EKJ: Check out Midwinterblood by Marcus Sedgwick.

JAM: Most YA share common themes: leaving home, dystopia, romance, authentication. Most are written in first person, present tense.

EKJ: Second person is rare, but it can be mind-blowing when done well. Fan fiction is a great way to learn the conventions and break them at the same time.

LB: Understand the conversation you’re entering.

JAM: What’s the difference between YA and adult fiction?

EKJ: Flexibility is the key. The main differences are the age of the protagonist and the age of the reader.

CC: The YA journey is outward. The adult journey is inward.

LB: It’s the reading culture. Adult SF is the classic authors like Asimov and Heinlein. It’s not accessible to new readers.

LAM: There is accessible adult SF. The Time Traveller’s Wife is an example, but is it really SF? Young adult is distinguished, in my opinion, by the intensity of emotion and its sense of optimism.

And our time was up.


I’m going to have to defer my next chapter post until tomorrow. I’ve had a couple of evenings out, I have full-tum syndrome (sleepy) and it’s late.

Until tomorrow, be well.

Tipsday: Writerly Goodness found on the interwebz, Feb 8-14, 2015

K.M. Weiland offers advice regarding your climax’s place, not structurally, but setting-wise 🙂

How to achieve originality in your fiction. Katie’s Wednesday vlog.

Roz Morris exposes four dialogue crimes.

How to tell your critique partners exactly what you need. The Write Practice.

Jamie Raintree shares her strategy for scheduling breaks to avoid burnout.

Kurt Vonnegut maps out the shapes of stories. The Washington Post.

Sylvia Plath on life, death, hope, and happiness. Braipickings.

Seven women in the book industry who champion diversity. Quill & Quire.

Is the science in your science fiction accurate? Plausible? Why it matters. Charlie Jane Anders of i09.

Nina Munteanu presents lessons from a linguist. Reverse engineering with Steven Pinker.

Want to add some colour to your diverse characters? Idiom from other languages. TED blog.

Tyler Cowan asks us to be suspicious of simple stories. TEDx Mid-Atlantic.

 

New Outlander footage from E! online. For the anguish of droughtlander. It will be over soon (ish).

And that’s a wrap for this week.

See you Thoughty Thursday when I have more to contribute to your inspiration files.

Tipsday

Review of The Occasional Diamond Thief by Jane Ann McLachlan

What Amazon says:

On his deathbed, Kia’s father discloses a secret to her alone: a magnificent and unique diamond he has been hiding for years. Fearing he stole it, she too keeps it secret. She learns it comes from the distant colonized planet of Malem, where her father caught the illness that eventually killed him. Now she is even more convinced he stole it, as it is illegal for any off-worlder to possess a Malemese diamond. When 16-yr-old Kia is training to be a translator, she is co-opted by a series of events into travelling as a translator to Malem. Using her skill in languages – and another skill she picked up after her father’s death, the skill of picking locks – she unravels the secret of the mysterious gem and learns what she must do to set things right: return the diamond to its original owner. But how will she find out who that is when no one can know that she, an off-worlder, has a Malemese diamond? And how can she bear to part with this last link to her father?
Kia is quirky, with an ironic sense of humour and a loner. Her sidekick, Agatha, is hopeless in languages and naive to the point of idiocy in Kia’s opinion, but possesses the wisdom and compassion Kia needs.

The Occasional Diamond Thief

My thoughts:

The Occasional Diamond Thief is a fabulous adventure, but it also offers thoughts and feels for readers of all ages.

In The Occasional Diamond Thief, McLachlan’s protagonist, Kia, learns the truth about herself by learning the truth about others.

Kia is the youngest of three children. Her father, a space ship’s captain and merchant, returns from a trip to another planet with the illness that eventually kills him. He is secretive and haunted, but Kia wants his love and approval.

She believes her facility with languages will accomplish this and so learns the difficult Malemese. Unfortunately, hearing the language worsens her father’s condition.

Kia is also at odds with her mother, who is strictly religious and seems to resent Kia’s connection to her husband through the language of Malem. In an attempt to protect both spouse and child, Kia’s mother forbids the speaking of Malemese in the house.

When her father dies, Kia is with him, and he commends to her an incredible diamond. Determined to solve the mystery of the gem, but escape her mother’s oppressive grief, Kia applies to become a translator. Independence is a challenge, and Kia must turn to thievery to support her life as a student.

She gets caught, and as a consequence is sent to Malem as a language teacher for the Select who assisted her in the theft. Once there, Kia must solve the mystery of the diamond, risking her life and that of the Select, uncovering a conspiracy that has its roots in the highest levels of Malemese society.

Kia believes her mother harsh, but learns that she was only trying to protect the ones she loved. Kia believes her father is a thief, but learns that it was his compassion that placed the diamond in his custody. Kia believes the Select and her order, the O.U.B. are attempting to manipulate her, but discovers that they are only trying to make it possible for Kia to right old wrongs. Kia believes the Malemese people to be cold and barbaric, but experiences their capacity to love first hand and fights to free them from a fearful legacy.

McLachlan has created a simple, but compelling universe that doesn’t strain credibility and serves as the perfect backdrop for Kia’s journey. She even weaves in a sweet love interest that proves to have his own secrets. Woven into the overall plot are mystery and thriller elements that will keep readers turning pages.

McLachlan’s novel is reminiscent of Madeline L’engle and Ursula K. LeGuin’s young adult fiction.

My highest recommendation.

My rating:

5 out of 5 stars.

Jane Ann McLachlanAbout the author:

Jane Ann McLachlan is the author of a short story collection, CONNECTIONS, published by Pandora Press, and two textbooks on Professional Ethics, published by Pearson-Prentice Hall. She has a Science Fiction novel, Walls of Wind, on Amazon under her pen name, J.A. McLachlan, and a second science fiction novel, The Occasional Diamond Thief, coming out on Dec. 2, 2014. She is a professor at Conestoga College in Kitchener, and lives with her husband and daughter in Waterloo, Ontario. Her goal is to write and publish the kind of stories you hate to finish reading.

http://www.janeannmclachlan.com/

WWC 2014, day 2: Blending science fiction and fantasy

Panellists: Stacy Dooks, Nina Munteanu, Greg Bechtel, and Ian Alexander Martin

Nina MunteanugregbechtelIan Alexander MartinSD: Genres are breaking down. Clarke’s third law states: Any sufficiently advanced technology is indistinguishable from magic.

NM: Why do we have genres and should we still?

GB: Yes. It’s for the reader. How else will we know what to buy and read?

NM: Publishers and imprints have the genre printed right on the spine, though.

IAM: I say I don’t like categories and genres, but when I go to my publisher, I use them. I may not like it, but I have to use them.

SD: Genre is your navigational touchstone, your compass point. You can get tricked into reading a genre you weren’t expecting. Stephen King is known primarily for horror, but then he published the Dark Tower series.

IAM: Using categories to restrict authors or stories is bogus.

NM: Do we need to re-educate our readers, then?

GB: Word of mouth is how you find out about books. Now it’s moved online.

NM: It started with Amazon. People are finding their books in new ways now.

IAM: Chapters is its own competition. If you buy online you save 20% over the bookstore prices.

NM: Is it still germane to categorize books?

IAM: Categories in bookstores is an American invention. In the 50’s or 60’s it migrated to Canada. Before that, everything was alphabetical by author, regardless of genre or category.

NM: It’s a different way of looking for a book. When you look for a book, do you look for an author, or do you look for a genre?

Q: People who are already published can bend the rules. What about someone who’s writing?

SD: It’s important to establish the ground rules for your universe. Don’t get derailed. Take Star Wars, for instance. It’s the biggest blend of science fiction and fantasy out there. Don’t try to explain the fantasy elements, like midichlorians. Don’t let anything come out of left field.

GB: We all seem to be agreeing that blending science fiction and fantasy can be done and has been done successfully. What advice do we have for the writers in our audience?

NM: To me, it’s all about the reader. When you read my books, you know what you’re getting. It’s about consistency.

SD: You make a covenant with your reader.

NM: As soon as another writer takes over a franchise, the reader can tell.

GB: You can break your rules if you set it up. Foreshadow. (Mel’s note: Kelley Armstrong said much the same thing in her workshop on writing fantasy at CanWrite!)

IAM: You should trust your reader to “get it.”

NM: You can be subtle.

Q: Blending is one thing, but what is genre? Is it the trappings, or are there other criteria?

NM: I teach how to write science fiction at the University of Toronto. That’s one of the first things my students have to learn is how to define the genre. In science fiction, science is the premise, the ‘what if?’ Fantasy doesn’t have to have magic, but it’s based more on myth and folklore.

SD: In Star Wars, you have all the trappings of science fiction, but at its core the story is a mythic one.

NM: Even if there’s something inexplicable about it. Sometimes, it’s better not to explain.

Q: So is it the fantasy element that enables the story?

NM: Take a look at Diana Gabaldon. Her books defy categorization, but when Outlander was first published, it was stuffed in the romance section of bookstores, even though the author insisted on the more general ‘fiction’ category. Sometimes trying to pigeon-hole your novel can backfire. I wrote what I called a romantic science fiction story. An artificial intelligence ran society, but romance was the main thread. It was dark though. Both partners died. It bombed with romance readers. It was well-reviewed, but romance readers hated it (where was the happy ending?) and science fiction readers loved it.

GB: Margaret Atwood is another example. You don’t want to disappoint your readers’ expectations.

Q: Is genre mainly the concern of publishers and marketing departments? Do you need to focus on it when you’re writing?

NM: You need to understand genre and how that’s going to affect where your novel is placed. New writers who blend are not as marketable.

IAM: Not during the creative process, though. Afterward, yes.

Q: Before the 50’s fantasy had to be disguised as science fiction.

Q: As a new author, how should you present your blended novel?

IAM: I’d be more interested in your mix. Do your research. Approach those publishers that have a track record with blended fiction.

GB: Find a publisher that produces novels you like to read and approach them.

NM: Books used to be marketed by genre. Identify what your book is and sell it for what it actually is.

IAM: Online recommendations may not be accurate. Genre is important for retail, library, and the marketing department. It’s not so relevant to the end user/reader anymore. Social interaction is the key to discoverability.

Q: I didn’t understand that Star Wars was a blend. Now that I think of blending in this light, Final Fantasy nailed it. How much does the visual element contribute?

SD: Science fiction and fantasy is a marginalized genre.

IAM: The general reaction is, “You’re reading that? Read [the classics] instead (Asimov, Clark, etc.).”

NM: The visual element enables blending.

GB: Buffy the Vampire Slayer was a wonderful cross-pollination of horror and action-adventure wrapped in a coming-of-age story.

Q: Fantasy is magic-based. It doesn’t necessarily track for me. Can you make a science-based magic system?

IAM: Absolutely. You can do it if you do it well.

NM: Ultimately, fiction is story. Serve the story.

Next week: When words collide day two continues with Mark Leslie.

Six questions with J.R. Cameron

John Cameron

John Cameron

I’ve never understood why it’s become common practice to write the author bio in the 3rd person. John R. Cameron lives in Sudbury, Ontario. If you’re taking the time to read my bio, isn’t it because you’re essentially interviewing me for a chance to be a part of your life for a short while?

Hi. I’m John.

I have a wife and a kid. They often drive me to the brink of madness; not a difficult thing to do, considering how close to the edge I already am. My daughter is a hellion. At the age of six, she’s both bright and bold, obstinate, and pushes every button I have. My wife blames my genetics: “I was never like that,” she claims. I deny it, despite knowing that I was also an uncontrollable child.

I’m thirty, and a teacher. I’m very worried about the current state of education. I’m concerned about the future, in general. I don’t think we all necessarily need to be alarmists, though I do believe that if you look at the world around you and aren’t a little worried, you and I probably aren’t going to agree on much. (Don’t worry, I’ll pretend not to look while you navigate elsewhere. There’s plenty of other entertainment online. Crushing Candy, and so forth…)

_______________________________________________________________________

WG: When did writing first come into your life (or vice versa)?  Give us the origin story of John Cameron, Superhero Writer.

JRC:        I’ve been an avid reader my entire life. I was one of those people who sat around saying, “I’m going to write a book one day,” but just never got around to it. I can’t claim that I couldn’t have found the time. I’d be lying if I did. I’ve pissed away a solid three decades of my life. Over the past few years, it’s like the thoughts running through my mind have turned into a constant third person narrative. We’ll call it the ‘itch’, I suppose. I realized the day was coming when I’d open a Word file, and start typing. I just didn’t know when that day would come, or what I’d be writing about. Until this past winter, I’d never made any attempt at a serious literary endeavour.

WG: What was the idea that became The Second Lives of Honest Men and how did it occur to you?

JRC:        In December of 2011, I walked away from a terrible car crash. This was only because of blind luck, or fate, or whatever you’d like to call it. I slammed into a guard rail doing 100 kilometres an hour, backwards. I was pushing it – trying to get home on the first snowy day of winter, before the roads got worse. I rounded a bend, and low and behold, that stretch of road was worse. I fishtailed back and forth over the slush, trying to correct my course. It was a hopeless effort, and I quickly lost control. I clutched the steering wheel and braced myself against the seat, preparing for the inevitable. I blew out seven posts of the short, twenty post rail, coming to a dead stop in the middle of the highway. It was the only guard rail on that side of the kilometre long stretch.

I could have hit one of the many rock cuts, or been flung into the deep, stony valley between the East and Westbound lanes. Instead, I momentarily laughed off my good fortune while I waited for a tow truck. I even went bowling that night. When you walk away from an accident like that, the implications of ‘what if?’ begin encroaching on your soul. The harder you try not to think about it, the more the darkness grips you. I eventually came to terms with what mortality really is, and what it really means. I spent the better part of 2012 in a deep apathy, as I began seeing a lot of things in an entirely new light. I questioned how I’d been interpreting the world around me, and what my role was in it. In October of 2012, I was watching television with a good friend while we discussed the problems of society; how the moral compass seemed to be broken. An advertisement for Spielberg’s Lincoln came on during a commercial break. I made an off-hand remark, something to the effect of, “Maybe that’s what we need – Honest Abe to travel through time, and come fix things.” The idea was one I simply couldn’t shake. A premise, characters, and a rough plot formed in my head over the next few weeks. When I had enough pieces of the puzzle, I opened up the Word file and set to work.

WG: How long has it taken to take The Second Lives of Honest Men from idea to finished manuscript?  Can you give us some idea of your drafting or revision process in your response?

JRC:        My first draft took me seven weeks, working on it 8-10 hours a day, often more. I think the word is ‘obsessed.’ Once I felt that it was reasonably polished, I printed ten copies, and brought it to my first group of beta-readers. A month later, I met with each of the readers, gathering honest, critical feedback. After this process, I had a pretty good feel for what the book was lacking, and had some ideas how to improve it. I made several major changes to a couple of characters, altered some aspects of the plot, and narrative… It was a fairly extensive edit, that added about 6,000 words to the manuscript. I brought the second draft to a Philosophy professor and a History professor, both of whom were very encouraging, and willing to offer more great feedback. The third draft was a less exhausting revision than my second one was, and it saw its way to several more professors (three English professors and another History professor), and to many other people in my life. Again, all the feedback was extremely positive, and the additional advice was also great. One of the English professors convinced me to do two things: Write a fourth draft to fix a few lingering problems, and hire a professional editor. I’d hoped to avoid the latter. He made the case that no matter how good the book was, ‘Even Stephen King has an editor.’ That’s a rather humbling statement if ever there was one. So, I wrote the fourth draft, and had it professionally edited.

WG: When you mentioned your genre to me, you admitted that it sounded convoluted.

Writerly Goodness challenge time!

Imagine I am a high-powered literary agent, like Kristin Nelson, Janet Reid, or Donald Maass.  If I told you I could negotiate you a six-figure advance if you could nail down your genre, what would you say?

JRC: I always try to explain it like this: If you asked George Orwell what genre 1984 fell into, I seriously doubt the answer he would have given is “Science Fiction.” (Or, like me, he simply cringed whenever he was asked the question.) That’s the genre we typically associate with his novel, however; that is, the genre that our culture has branded it with through the passing of time. My book (should anyone ever care enough to define it) will undoubtedly be classified as science fiction. Like 1984, it’s set in an urban dystopia. I tried to use only as much science fiction as necessary to carry the plot, and have been relentless in making that aspect of the book accessible to readers of all genres. Personally? I think of The Second Lives of Honest Men as a character driven, philosophical odyssey that touches on technology, truth, freedom, hope, and redemption.

*Sigh.* I’m not getting that advance, am I?

WG: All kidding aside, you’ve opted for self-publishing over a traditional publishing deal.  Why have you chosen that route?

JRC:        Several reasons. I feel that my book is very relevant to today’s world, and the problems which we’re facing as a society. I’ve seen so many authors who try to go the traditional route, and they often end up disappointed, jaded with the system, and their hard work sits on a shelf (or in a file) for years. Eventually, they simply give up on it, the moment of ‘now’ having passed them by. I can only imagine how many great books have been written by authors who never saw their work get published. I don’t want to be one of them.

Over the past five years, the traditional publishing model has been flipped upside down. E-book sales represent about 30% of the market, a number that’s sure to climb as people continue to shun paper, using digital formats instead. The big traditional publishers won’t look at newcomers, and the small ones often don’t have the push to establish a new author. Big or small, traditional publishers expect authors to do most of their own promoting, then thank you for your hard work by taking the lion’s share of the profit. I don’t blame them for the business model: Most books don’t do well, and they ride out the losers by standing on the backs of their best authors. By self publishing a well crafted e-book at a modest price on all the major e-sellers, and having Print on Demand paperbacks available through Amazon, I can access a world-wide market. There are many successful authors using this business platform, bypassing traditional publishing routes to put food on their tables. Being able to take care of my family while I do what I love – I think that’s the dream of every author, no?

WG: What’s next for you and The Second Lives of Honest Men?

JRC:        I’ve heard people say something to the effect of, “Writing the book is easy. The hard part comes after.” Let me tell you something: Writing the book wasn’t easy. My first draft may have only taken two months to complete, but they were also two of the most emotionally draining months I’ve ever been through. Still, the parable isn’t wrong in the sense that the harder part does come after. The editing process required a vast amount of work. The biggest obstacle was learning to put my faith in other people’s opinions. I only gave the book to people that I trusted to tell me the things I didn’t want to hear. And they did. It was always painful, as I listened to their advice over a hot drink (or a cold beer.) I’d scowl, counter-argue, and on some points I’d simply hold my tongue. After a number of days, (or weeks), a smattering of what they’d said would start sinking in. I’d be haunted by their voices as I tried, in vain, to sleep. I worked hard on the manuscript, mollifying the voices one by one, and repeating this process through each new draft (and each new round of well meant criticism), until I could finally rest. I passed the manuscript off to my editor the next day, and sent her a cheque. I struggled with the decision of what to write in the memo field. I finally settled on, ‘In Editor We Trust.’

Navigating the world of self-publishing has been an ordeal of its own. The Internet brings you a lot of information, but almost all of it conflicts. I made mistakes along the way – none fatal, but some costly. The good thing is that while I was waiting for my different rounds of beta readers to give me feedback, it left me plenty of time to prepare the other aspects of the book that a publisher normally takes care of: conceptualizing the cover, finding an artist, an editor, the best places to list the e-book, to promote the e-book, hiring (and working with) a website designer, finding a company to convert the book into slick, multi device / multi client formatted .epub, .mobi , and Print on Demand files…

Anyway, long story short… It’s finally all come together. The book is now for sale on all major e-sellers, and available in paperback through Amazon.

The Second Lives of Honest Men - cover

The Second Lives of Honest Men – cover

The website is up, and I’ll be using it as a platform to coordinate my Facebook, Goodreads, and Twitter accounts. You can visit at www.johnrcameron.com , www.thesecondlivesofhonestmen.com , or www.embracetheirony.com. (All three domains lead to the same website.)  I have a well crafted, fun short story that I’ve made available on the website for free: Moonshine Perfume. I’ll also be writing short essays (I think they call them blogs, now) to accompany any more short stories that I find the time to write.

I’ll have a table at the Paranormal Show in Sudbury, Ontario, on November 30th, where I’ll be premiering the book and signing copies. The Paranormal Show itself is “a spectacular assortment of Supernatural feats that will make you question everything you thought you understood about REALITY.” – For more info, check out the Facebook page, https://www.facebook.com/events/590105517693380/

Come for the stage show, stay to check out the great work of local artists and authors.

I’ll be having signings at some of the more traditional outlets early in the new year: dates to be announced.

You can also find me on Goodreads, https://www.goodreads.com/author/show/664867.John_R_Cameron , on Facebook, https://www.facebook.com/embracetheirony , and on Twitter, https://twitter.com/EmbraceTheIrony .

Thanks for a great interview, John, and all the best with your future authorial adventures!

What kind of “-ist” am I, anyway?

Over the past few months, I’ve been seeing a lot of blog posts and articles on sexism and misogyny in writing and publishing.

Just to refresh your memory:

There have been scandals involving Penguin and the Science Fiction Writers of America (SFWA).  Patty Jansen has posted extensively on women in SF.  Being one of those women, she has an inside track 😛  Just search by that string, “women in SF” on her blog, and see the results.

John Scalzi frequently posts about online and real life harassment and recently talked about his thoughts on feminism and whether he considered himself a feminist.  He wouldn’t be insulted, btw.

Being a woman writer who writes fantasy and SF, among other things, I have a stake in these issues.  I share much of what comes across my desk on these topics on Facebook, my primary avenue for curation.

Yes, I know, get with the times, Mel.  Why aren’t I doing this on Pinterest or putting out a Paper.ly on the topic?

Cause I’m writing.  That’s why.

So what the heck am I?

This all has got me to thinking: what variety of “-ist” am I?

I don’t think I’m a feminist.  I espouse feminist views and support the goals of feminism.  The problem is that I’m a bit more than that.

I believe that everyone, man or woman, gay, lesbian, bisexual, or transgendered, of any religion, spirituality, or world view (including atheism), of any culture (I don’t believe in race, we’re all human) to do or say what they wish, so long as it does not violate the law, or the civil rights of another human being.

There’s a pagan tenet that sums up my philosophy: an’ ye harm none, do what you will.

I also believe that bullying should be a crime, because of the evil it fosters.  Yes, I said evil there folks.

I believe that animal cruelty is a gateway crime and that penalties for it should be increased and enforced.

I believe in the right of a woman to do what she wishes with her body.

I think I’m going to stop there, before I get into trouble 😉

So what does that make me? I don’t know.  Maybe you’ll have to sort that one, dear reader.