Looks like this wasn't the best year to have a story eligible for a Hugo that was entitled "This Story Will Win a Hugo."
There's been an avalanche of pixels spent on the Hugos and the Sad/Rabid Puppy turmoil. Some of the discussion is about how should we read authors whose personal views or actions seem repugnant? How do we separate the artist from the artist's work?
Also, and more specifically, how do I read works on the Sad/Rabid Puppy slates when I'm opposed to the tactics that created the slates in the first place?
I'd like to think that I just enjoy the art. Art exists on its own. But I know that's not true about myself. I have a tough time watching Mel Gibson, for example, knowing some of the stuff he's done off screen. I certainly can't listen to Bill Cosby the same way as I used to.
But I think the real proof that how I feel about the person affects how I feel about their art is how I read my friends. Brenda Cooper is a good example. I really enjoy Brenda's company as a smart, compassionate and funny human being. So, when I read her work, I hear her voice and I connect the work to the person I know. I'm predisposed to like it. Now, when I say that Brenda tells great stories and is a fine writer, I can say that I evaluate her work without considering the person--and, in my opinion, she is a wonderful author--but you know (and I know) that I'm prejudiced in her favor.
I probably have the same issue evaluating Carrie Vaughn, Daryl Gregory,Daniel Abraham, Kevin J. Anderson, L.E. Modesitt, Connie Willis, Robert J. Sawyer, Eric James Stone, Paolo Bacigalupi, Barb and J.C. Hendee, Patrick Swenson, and several other friends. When I read them, I also hear their voices. My feelings about them as people come into play.
So, it makes sense that people who I don't feel great about are harder for me to read. Sorry. That's just the way it is. I'm human, and my mushy, human sentiments color my judgments. I think that it makes sense, then, that I will read the Sad/Rabid Puppy slate with tilted sentiments.
So, here's the quandary that started this post for me: Kevin J. Anderson, and Kevin's novel, THE DARK BETWEEN THE STARS. I haven't read it yet, but I'm going to. I will read all the fiction nominees before I vote, but I know my initial impulse was to vote NO AWARD for all the Sad/Rabid slate-tainted works. I think there's an obvious difference between previous years where all kinds of people recommended works they liked, like John Scalzi or George R.R. Martin or HOSTS of other people have done. I recommended works I liked too. That's a part of the glorious, noisy democracy that was Hugo voting. What happened with bloc voting the Sad/Rabid puppy slate was clearly not that.
I don't get any of the defenses of the slate based on the overall quality of the work: five John C. Wright stories? Eight Castalia House nominations? The finalist list is warped.
So back to Kevin J. Anderson, a writer who numerous times has written work worthy of Hugo consideration, but like many authors (like most authors!), has never won one. But, and more critically for me, I know Kevin, and he has been one of my invisible mentors for my entire science fiction writing career. He and his wife, Rebecca Moesta, have been unfailingly kind, helpful and generous to me, starting when I first met them at MileHiCon in 1996 or 97, and ever since. Kevin edited one of the most enjoyable anthologies I own, GLOBAL DISPATCHES, and he's consistently produced fiction that I've enjoyed.
So, Kevin is my quandary, and he's why I will not reflexively vote NO AWARD for the Sad/Rabid Puppy nominees. As I said, I'm going to read them because although there's a philosophical statement to be made for voting NO AWARD, and I'm sorely tempted, the finalists are not abstractions. They're writers, some who had no clue of what the slates were going to mean. They're people, and it would be the worst sort of prejudice on my part to treat them as a uniform whole and vote against them because I'm mad at the slates.
Or, I could want them because I've been lucky to have beautiful covers on my books. I mean really, really lucky. Awesome lucky. You can see the current covers here.
And then there is this new one, Pandora's Gun. I want the art in a three-by-four foot frame. Maybe with a craftily placed spotlight on it. It will be available at WorldCon in August.
The image is a wrap-a-round, so it's twice as wide as you see here, with gobs of interesting details.
A reader on my Facebook page commented with "What are the Hugos good for?" to an earlier post of mine, where I reposted a Katherine Cramer article about all the good writers who hadn't won the award.
I think the easy answer is "not much," but the Hugo winners I've talked to have told me that there actually are numerous benefits to winning one, besides the obvious sales bump to the work (albeit a small one in most cases). This bump is pretty much limited to novel Hugos, by the way, since the best a short story writer could hope for would be reprint sales on the winning story, or maybe being able to leverage the short work Hugo into a short story collection. Either way, not much economic benefit for most of the shorter work Hugo winners.
I suspect that Hugo name recognition is a real thing too. It's the ultimate cover letter factoid which wouldn't even need to be mentioned. Not that being a Hugo winner means that the new story is any good.
I have had reported to me career perks to winning a Hugo, like guest of honor possibilities at conventions, the possibility of some paying speaking gigs, and a greater demand for the winner's work (although Hugo winners still have stories rejected too).
To me, though, the real benefit is to the writer's pride or sense of self worth. There's something very, very cool about winning an award. In the case of the Hugo, I think there is a genuine cachet to it. Certainly, if it is true that just being nominated is an honor (and it is), winning one must be a bigger one. A Hugo winner is forever a Hugo winner. The phrase "Hugo winner" will always be attached to the writer. It will be a part of introductions, and it becomes permanent in the biography. It's sort of like getting into the Baseball Hall of Fame.
To my thinking, the Nebula carries the same weight. Some people disagree with me on this.
For most writers, writing will never pay the bills or financially change their life style. The Hugo is a tangible award that says "for this one year, the WorldCon voters liked your work best." And that's a cool thing.
The award won't make the writer any better. It won't give them a leg up on creativity, and it will quickly gather dust somewhere. But still, it feels wonderful to win. It gives a writer a special pat on the back for the effort. And even though many more writers (and in some cases, different writers), deserved the award and didn't get it, at least some writers did.
And I think that's awesome.
For me, the Hugo is the equivalent of Teacher of the Year. The Teacher of the Year award is part popularity, politics and service. It comes with no money or promotion, but it does pick one teacher to highlight. There were many other teachers that year who also worked hard and were deserving. Hopefully they will get their chance in another year, and it's entirely possible that they will finish their career without the award. They weren't teaching to win it in the first place. The good work is really the best reward. The Teacher of the Year recognition is just a bit of special icing.
For readers, the Hugo award can serve as a guide to reading, but not an infallible one. There have been numerous years where I hoped a different title than the winner would have taken the rocket (how in the world didDaryl Gregory's "Second Person, Present Tense" not win a Hugo?). I don't think a reading fan would go terribly wrong reading the Hugo winners, though, and there have been amazing pieces that have also taken the prize.
From the reading standpoint, the Hugos mostly point me toward authors. It gives me a shortcut to find recommended works. I get the same boost from the various Year's Best collections.
So, all in all, that's what I think a Hugo is worth.
So, because several people asked, here are the notes:
I. No matter what I say today, idea generation is still, basically a mystery. Peter Elbow made a similar point when he tried to explain what learning how to write was like. He said, imagine a world where the people are trying to touch the ground, but for some reason they’ve come to believe that the only way to get to the ground was to reach higher. They’re walking around with their hands in the air, bemoaning the fact that they can’t touch the ground. Some people, though, can touch the ground, they just have a hard time teaching other people to do it, so they try tricks, like telling the people to tie their shoes, and while they’re down there to wave their hands around. This works, but the folks who do it also have a tough time explaining how they did it since the idea that the ground can only be reached by straining upward is intrinsically ingrained in everyone. Getting ideas is like that. People get them all the time, but they don’t have a way to tell anyone else how to do it, and when they get right down to it, they might be able to tell you when and where they got the idea, and what they were doing when they got it, but the actual mechanics of why an idea appeared in their head is still unknown. One moment there was nothing, and the next there was an idea, just like that.
II. Almost all anecdotal evidence on how authors get ideas is interesting but impractical. I work with an English teacher who is also a poet. He talks to his classes about inspiration. One of his favorite stories is that he was hiking one day and he saw a solitary crow on a power line. He said that image stuck with him and became the basis of his favorite poem. Of what use is that story to a student? He could take his whole class out to see a crow on a power line, and not one of them would get an idea.
III.On the other hand, I knew another English teacher who would take his English class out to the canyons to watch him dive off a cliff with a hang glider. They all seemed to find plenty to write about.
IV. Annie Dillard says that her best writing environment is the one that is most unstimulating. She likes a room with no view. What does seem common is that writers often do best in an unfamiliar environment. I’d read that meant that for some men, they write best at home, and for some women, they write best anywhere but home. The call of the house is too loud for some, evidently.
V. I read an interesting book called DAILY RITUALS, by Mason Currey, which was about the working habits of 161 artists, composers, and authors. What I thought was interesting was how many of them incorporated long walks into their day. That was probably the most common behavior between them (followed closely by lots of coffee).
VI.So, what I’m going to talk about will be in many ways the equivalent of trying to get you to touch the ground by misdirection. We won’t be trying to touch the ground: instead we’ll do something else and occasionally run into the ground, more or less by accident.
VII.Freewriting: This is stream of consciousness writing championed by Peter Elbow in WRITING WITHOUT TEACHERS. The idea is that the act of writing will produce ideas faster and more reliably than the act of being paralyzed in front of your keyboard waiting for an idea. Freewriting is timed writing (say 10 minutes). You can write with no prompt, or you can start with your reaction to a quote or thought from someone else. I think it’s productive to look at the summary of a plot on the back of a book, and then use that as my starting point. Freewriting means idea production at the keyboard through active effort. This activity can be used at any time in the writing process, where you may be trying to figure out things about your character’s motivation, or you are wondering what is supposed to happen next. Stop at the stuck point, open your notebook or another document, and do the freewriting.
VIII.Use writing prompts. The web is filled with them. Do a search for “writing prompts.” You can even narrow your search to “science fiction writing prompts,” “fantasy writing prompts,” or “horror writing prompts. Bruce Holland Rogers wrote his brilliant short story, “The Dead Boy at Your Window,” because he was responding to a writing prompt in a workshop, which was, “Begin a story with a lie.” He won both the Pushcart Prize and the Bram Stoker Horror Award for that story.
IX.Writing exercises: a random first line generator, like http://writingexercises.co.uk/firstlineg
X.Co-writing. Sometimes two heads are better than one. It’s an interesting exercise to work on a piece with another writer. Brainstorming and the inevitably different approach your partner takes will produce new thinking.
XI. Without know how ideas come, many people talk about the conditions where ideas seem to come to them. One is while doing any activity that requires them to be awake, but doesn’t require much thought. It needs to be an activity where the mind can wander. This list includes:
a. Long drives
b. Mowing the lawn
c. Washing dishes
d. Jogging, walking or biking
e. Taking a shower
f. Painting the house or a fence
g. Knitting or sewing
h. Proctoring a test
i. Preparing a meal
k. Raking leaves
XII. The other activity where people frequently report getting ideas is where their brain has had a chance to disengage from the busy world.
a. Going to sleep
c. Waking up but staying in that drowsy, free associative state
d. Drinking/drugs (not recommended)
e. Sickness (particularly if they’re bedridden)
XIII.It is possible to actively provoke ideas, or at least put yourself in an idea-rich environment. These are activities that creative writing teachers will use:
a. One of my favorite memories of being in an English class was my junior year when the teacher had told us that our next assignment was going to be a short story. When we came to class the next day, she’d covered the walls with photographs from magazines, and art prints. All four walls were covered. There were hundreds of images. She told us to walk around the room, studying the prints, and then when one “spoke to us,” to write the story that the print suggested. This was basically the same prompt as the the VISUAL JOURNEYS anthology in 2007, where the authors were given a set of science fiction art to choose from to write a story to, or the 2003 anthology, IMAGINATION FULLY DIALATED featuring the artwork of Alan M. Clark that operated on the same principle.
b. So, go to an art museum.
c. Listen to moody music with the lights low.
d. Go on a long, solitary hike, especially in a strange place or at an unusual time (like 3:00 am).
e. Sit on the beach or by a stream (moving water seems to be very inspirational)
f. Watch a fire
XIV. When I assign a short story to my Science Fiction class, I’m dealing with an audience who didn’t necessarily sign up for writing a story. It is a lit class, after all. So when I give them the assignment, bunches of them are at a loss for coming up with an idea. To help them, I give them the “What If” sheet. Show them the What If sheet.
XV. Ideas do not come full blown. They develop as the story is written
XVI. Where to you get ideas? How would you answer the question from a sincere, beginning writer who would really like some help?
So, to debrief the assignment, I took what I thought were the best sentences from each of the essays and put them on a PowerPoint. This is great to do in a class. Students respond very strongly to seeing their own work published (I try to use their writing in class as much as possible).
One of my favorite opening sentences was from a student who told the story as if she was dealing with survivor’s guilt. Her sentence was “I don’t rightly know how I got here. I’m not sure, after all, that I really belong in this aftermath.”
Isn’t that beautiful?
Here’s a couple of others:
• “I decided to hide. I found a path to the sewer systems below my town. Surprisingly, It didn’t smell badly as the bacteria died from the radioactivity and stopped producing gasses and breaking down materials. The rats were dead as well – small animals and small organisms alike. I trudged through the sewer waiting for hope, waiting for something to allow me to continue with life.”
• “This attack almost seemed like a holy cleansing; it almost seemed like god himself was trying to destroy the earth and end all of mankind.”
My second favorite passage was from a student who thought of the practical results of surviving a Martian invasion. How would life go on? I’m afraid that I agree with her. This probably is what would happen:
• “As you can tell, living through a Martian invasion is very impactful, and instead of lockdowns at our school, we now have Martian invasion bunkers and drills every two weeks.”
I was going through my messenger bag and I found my notes. Here's my list of bad advice to writers:
- - Try self publishing. You save time and Amazon exposes you to millions of readers.
- - Give up your day job.
- - Don't edit. You're too close to it, so you should let editors who are paid for this work do it.
- - Don't start a project until you have a complete story in your head. After all, you wouldn't go on a road trip without having already planned your route.
- - Editors respond to bribes, threats, sexual favors and appeals to sympathy. Choose the strategy that works best for you and use it in your cover letter.
- - Take long breaks from writing. Only write when you feel totally inspired.
- - If you ask for feedback on your writing, like from a writers' group, be prepared to defend yourself against criticism. Any negative comment about your story should be refuted immediately.
- - Use lots of linking verbs. Everyone is familiar with them and feel comfortable with them.
- - Try to make your characters look and sound like popular television and movie characters.
- - Use lots of familiar phrases in your writing, like "She trembled like a leaf," "He was a true straight arrow," and "Never give up, never surrender."
- - Hang out with other writers who don't write. Have weekly meetings to talk about what you might write about in the future.
- - Ideas are the true gold in publishing. The rest is just typing. Chat up your favorite authors with your ideas and an offer to split profits if they'll do the typing.
I think I have a new teacher hero.
His latest post, "Teaching: a love/hate letter," struck home.
The beginning of my teaching years were marked by three movies that oddly shaped my attitude about school and kids: ANIMAL HOUSE (1978), CLASS OF 1984 (1982), and RISKY BUSINESS (1983). I think I responded to ANIMAL HOUSE and RISKY BUSINESS because they reminded me that being a kid meant not knowing who you are. I know that puts a lot of weight on two light-weight movies, but that's what I was left thinking about afterwards. Tom Cruise's Joel Goodson (did you catch the last name there?) is caught between a fear that he will become his parents, and a fear that he will become something unknown. This seems similar to Larry Kroger and Kent Dorfman who are caught between childhood and something else, and living within their own rules or someone elses.
And then there's CLASS OF 1984, which is one of the meanest, stone-cold depictions of delinquency on film, and that's saying a lot since I have CLOCKWORK ORANGE in my memory mix. CLASS OF 1984 scared the beans out of me. I was still in my first year of teaching when it came out. Thank goodness I've never run into the level of sadism that this film portrayed.
Fortunately, later in the decade I cleansed my palate with Nick Nolte's TEACHERS (1984), and then totally rinsed the taste away with DEAD POETS SOCIETY (1989).