- New Review at LOCUS ONLINE January 21, 2015A look at Moorcock's new novel:http://www.locusmag.com/Reviews/2015/01/paul-di-filippo-reviews-michael-moorcock-2/
- New Review at the B&NR January 21, 2015I look at a great new slipstream novel:http://www.barnesandnoble.com/review/glow
- New Review at LOCUS ONLINE January 16, 2015In the mood for some good urban fantasy?http://www.locusmag.com/Reviews/2015/01/paul-di-filippo-reviews-greg-van-eekhout/
- New ON BOOKS Column January 15, 2015My new column at ASIMOV'S.https://asimovs.com/2015_01/onbooks.shtml
- Translation Offer January 9, 2015I just read this post from Benjamin Rosenbaum, where he points out the unfair advantage English speakers have in selling stories, and offers to try to redress the balance a little by translating stories from German to English. Since he wrote the post nearly a year ago it's probably pointless to make any comments at his blog, so I thought I'd talk about what he said here.Says Rosenbaum, "I'd like to see more authors do this. I'd like to see us in the English speaking world make translation a regular part of our literary practice, the way it is for authors most other places. It's interesting, it's invigorating, and it's only right. You don't have to be a specialized translator. You could just do one a year. Why not?"So -- I would love to translate a short story from Spanish into English. Like Rosenbaum, I would do this on spec, and only worry about money if the author manages to sell the story. He suggests 25% for the translator if the story is sold, which sounds about right. Unlike Rosenbaum, though, I don't want to try to sell the story to an English market -- the author would be responsible for selling it him- or herself. Now that most submissions can be sent by email from anywhere in the world this doesn't seem like too much of a hardship for writers from other countries. And of course I'd be happy to make suggestions about where to send it.Rosenbaum seems to have thought about this a lot. I can't improve on his list of what he wants from a non-Anglophone writer, so I'll just repeat it here (slightly abridged):If you are an author from the non-Anglophone world: • Find a story you think we should translate. • The story must be under 7000 words and previously published in a significant market. • You should specifically think that it is a fit for me because of what I write, rather than just "hey I heard there's a guy who will translate stuff on spec." • Contact me here, and tell me: ◦ about the story in brief ◦ where it was previously published ◦ how to contact you.One more reason I'd like to do this -- I'm really curious about the kinds of stories that are being written in the Spanish-speaking world these days, and would love to see what's out there.
- Wonderbook and the Seven Point Plot Outline January 6, 2015I've been reading Wonderbook by Jeff VanderMeer and came across this sentence, talking about the trend for "efficient" methods to spark creativity:"In the worst creative writing books, this method is expressed in seven-point plot outlines and other easy shortcuts…" And a side-note explains the seven-point plot outline: "A simple try-fail structure… that has become a paint-by-numbers approach."I was very cheered by this, for reasons that go back nearly twenty-five years. In 1992 I taught for a week at Clarion. I'd read the students' submission stories before coming out to teach, and I was pleasantly surprised by the number of good writers they'd managed to attract. (This doesn't happen every year, believe me.) So I was very puzzled when I started reading the stories they'd written for my week. Not that they were terrible, but there was something missing, or something twisted out of true, about most of them.It took a while, but I finally found out what was going on. The people who had taught the week before had pushed the seven point plot outline. I'm going to introduce you to the mysteries of the outline, but if you're a writer, I want to beg you not to use it. The reasons for this will become apparent shortly…The seven point plot outline states that a story consists of 1) a setting and 2) a character, who has 3) a problem. The character 4) tries and 5) fails to solve this problem. (4 and 5 can be repeated any number of times.) Finally, the character 6) solves the problem, and 7) gets their reward.So the stories I got that week consisted of a character trying and failing to solve a problem. There was no rising tension, no sense of the stakes continually increasing. And the characters and setting were wildly divergent, to the point where you wondered just what the hell that person was doing in that place. It was almost as if the writers had chosen their settings and characters at random -- and I later found out that some of them had done just that.It was, as Jeff says, a paint-by-numbers approach to writing. According to the plot outline, you could write a story about a drunk coming home and trying to fit his key into the lock. He tries and fails and tries and fails until he finally manages to open the door. And his reward, I guess, is that he gets to sleep in his own bed.Worst of all, there was no imagination in these stories, no creativity, no joy of discovery. None of those exhilarating moments when you reach for something strange or terrible or beautiful, and discover you've written a story that surprises even you.But I didn't say anything to the class. I didn't condemn the plot outline. I had a sense that being professional meant not arguing with another teacher, that the students would go home with everything they had learned and sort it all out and then decide what worked best for them. I did mention rising tension, and I pointed out a few places where it could have been used. There was one story where the character and setting meshed beautifully, where the story existed as a perfect and harmonious whole, and I could have used it as a counter-example, but I never did. I still feel guilty about that.Jeff VanderMeer was in that class -- and you can get a sense of how good the writers were that he was just one of the students who stood out by the quality of his writing, and not the only one. And now, over twenty years later, I find out that he, at least, had caught on to how pernicious this approach is. So -- thank you, Jeff. I can't tell you how heartened I am by this.