Thursday, August 31, 2006

How Writers Should Behave In Public

If you start to see a bit of recognition and success (and perhaps, eventually, some financial profit) as a writer, you will also discover a new and strange change in your life:

You have become two persons.

1. The Private You - the person who eats, sleeps, works, lives, goes to the bathroom and is pretty much like everybody else.

2. The Public You - the figure appearing in the media, who most people associate with your writer name/pseudonym.

Why is it important to keep these two roles apart? Why not simply insist, like Popeye, that "I yam what I yam and that's all I yam!"
Because you risk going insane.

Your "public persona" will be subjected to scrutiny of a kind that never happens to "ordinary" people. Complete strangers will make absurd claims about your personality as if they were close friends. This can be frustrating. If you do not explain to yourself, "They are talking about my public persona, a role, not the real private me," then you'll lose your grip of who you are.

Always assume about "well-known" people: "I don't really know this person. This is really a stranger to me."

Between the reader and the successful writer lies a veil of prejudices, hearsay, gossip, unrealistic expectations, fears, projections and desires. And the more successful a writer becomes, the worse this problem becomes.

Nobody expects Mr. Totally Unknown Writer to outdo himself with every new book. But Mrs. Bestselling Writer will always struggle against ever-rising expectations; no matter how well she does, someone will try to spin it that she's "not doing as well as expected" or is already a has-been.

Now, about the "public persona," the "you" who appears at conventions, book fairs, conferences and interviews.... I think that regardless of fame, it is possible to project a public "you" which combines parts of your genuine character with certain rules of conduct.

10 Rules of Thumb for your Public Persona:
1. Be sincere about your beliefs and convictions.
2. Avoid self-destructive behavior.
3. Be polite.
4. Be consistent.
5. Show a sense of humor (if you have any).
6. Do not lie.
7. Be considerate of other people's feelings (to a point).
8. Only lose your temper when no other recourse is possible.
9. Dress and groom your public persona with care.
10. Always keep your teeth clean and your breath fresh.

When I see photos of writers during various gatherings and functions, certain kinds of writers stand out from the crowd:
A) Those who are well groomed and smartly dressed;
B) Those who look like homeless people;
C) Those who have horrible beards.

What IS it about writers and beards?
In 90 cases out of 100, a beard does not make you look distinguished. Those few who do, look distinguished also without beards.
Big, stripy beards that seem like they're trying to escape your face are even worse.
Goatees should be reserved for the lead singer of Metallica.
A well-kept three-day stubble is OK, but four days marks the beginning of a beard.
Women's mustaches should be shaved at all times.

Shaving your head bald may work - but then again, only if you have a handsome cranium.

Keep a spare shirt available at public occasions. If you happen to spill something on your shirt, you don't want the big unsightly stain to follow you around the entire event.

Some people sweat a lot. (I'm one of them.) Industrial-strength deodorant, black shirts and frequent face-wiping might lessen the impression that you're enacting "Richard Nixon Losing His TV Debate Against JFK."

And please, do not grope women on stage.

Sunday, August 27, 2006

Now Let Us Praise Homepage Updates

This week's homepage update is small... but not insignificant: the 13th installment of my ongoing serial of satirical verse, "A.R.Yngve's READING BOOK".

Chapter 13 is titled "Men In Uniform"... have a look.

Saturday, August 26, 2006

Snappy Dialogue Or Cliché Hell?

Some sample dialogue from the Precinct 20 story I'm writing on:

They went to the local McDonald’s. She ordered a burger, salad and coffee; he ordered three Filet’O Fish, salad, a mug of coffee and ice cream.

“Your stomach must be made of pig-iron,” she remarked as Garris began to eat.

“You’re not scolding me for eating after a colleague just died?”

“I think you’re into comfort food. You didn’t drink much at the party.”

“So what’s your vice?” he said, and gulped down the last bite of his first fish burger.

Her face froze momentarily. Then, with a wry smile: “I’d never tell a colleague.”

Yes, I know people don't talk like that in real life. But kitchen-sink realism can only get a story so far.

Thursday, August 24, 2006

How Do You Choose What To Read?

There's the Gutenberg Project, with an online catalog of over 18,000 free books (and growing, as ever more old books enter the Public Domain)...

There's, the world's biggest (and most accessible) bookstore...

There's all the good, established authors who are not only releasing a lot of new novels, but also releasing older books for free reading online...

And in addition to that, there are so many well-stocked bookshops near you - in train stations, shopping centers, convenience stores, and kiosks.

So I ask you, the average reader: How do you do it? Faced with this fantastic range of available books, all old books plus the recent and present ones... how do you choose what to read? More and more, I'm being overwhelmed by all this limitless choice.

And I'm starting to seriously wonder if it's pointless that I should write new fiction, when I'll have to compete with both the sum of all books written plus the flood of other new releases.

How do you do it? Please tell.

Saturday, August 19, 2006

Stuff I'm Writing...

I'm writing on several things right now:

-Work on my "Military SF" novel THE TALE OF THE SOLDIESSE is going very slowly. At least I have written over 70,000 words so far...

-I just completed a new short story (2,900 words) and sent it to this new zine. It got rejected about five hours later - a new personal record! - and I'm wondering whether I should rewrite it or toss it.

-Another "Precinct 20" horror-mystery story in progress, "Natural Enemy," is turning out much longer than I thought -- primarily because it involves more character development and scene-setting than previous stories in the cycle.
Perhaps I'll split it into two parts...
(I am already thinking of creating a chapbook collection of all the "Precinct 20" stories, to be sold here.)

-The third TERRA HEXA novel is still in the early planning stages. I am trying to figure out how much plot I should cram into it -- I have a tendency to put in a lot of plot.

I recently saw TRISTRAM SHANDY: A COCK AND BULL STORY, the film based on the comic novel (or "meta-novel"). Great fun! See it.

Friday, August 04, 2006

Charlie Stross On Genre And Zeitgeist

The awarded and lauded science-fiction writer Charlie Stross has an interesting post on his weblog: "Genre Neurosis 101."

The central thesis of the post (and do read the debate in the Comments section) is that after the terrorist attacks on the U.S. on September 11, 2001, American Science Fiction lost some (or much?) of its previous optimism about the future.

Stross notes:

"This turning away from the near future is going to be remembered as one of the hallmarks of the post-9/11 decade in American science fiction, as the chill wind of change blows through the hitherto cosy drawing room of the American century.

"The Brits aren't drinking the Kool-Aid — well, some of them are serving it up in pint glasses, but most of them have got better things to do with their time — and this is why just about all the reviewers in the field are yammering about a British Invasion or a British New Wave or something: it's not what the British are doing, but what the American writers aren't doing that is interesting. "

Read the rest.

What about countries that are not only lacking in optimism, but have none at all? Are there any active SF writers in, say, Iraq? (Or North Korea? Or Sudan?) I'd love to learn about people who try to write science fiction in the countries where you'd least expect it...

Tuesday, August 01, 2006

On Mel Gibson And Evil Stories

Mel, this is God: What the hell were you thinking?

Jokes aside... I don't think being a drunk, or even a pampered celebrity drunk, is any excuse for vile bigotry. "In vino veritas," and this sure confirms any suspicions raised by that icky film THE WHIPPING OF THE CHRIST -- sorry, THE PASSION OF THE TORTURER.

(By the way, my mother -- who comes from a Catholic family and volunteers for a church charity in her retirement -- thought THE PASSION OF THE CHRIST was a sick movie. I agreed: it was an exercise in sadism that completely missed the point of what Jesus preached.)

One dark truth about any sort of creative endeavor -- such as writing -- is that anger can be a driving force. Even hate.

I'll admit that some of my own books and stories were written in anger. (Anger against corruption in politics, against war, bigotry, oppression and stupidity...) Authorial fury is no guarantee of quality -- rather the opposite -- but a big psychic "push" of anger can fuel the writer and make him or her accomplish more than usual.

But what happens when the hate overwhelms the work -- or the artisan? (I don't want to use the word "artist" here because it's so loaded with pretensions.) When does the creative passion go too far and become downright pathological? Can stories hurt people?

They can.

There are books that should never have been written -- evil stories that contain evil messages and try to poison the reader with hate. Many political and religious pamphlets are of that sort. But you can also find evil in fiction -- myths masquerading as fact, stories claiming to be based on fact, stories that warp history to suit a bigoted agenda.

One particularly evil type of fiction is the "scapegoat myth":

1. Some atrocity, wrong or slight is committed against a people tagged as "good." (Not because they do good things, they just are.)

2. The "good" people quickly find that they have been wronged by representatives of another people, who are somehow, magically, a single entity -- and therefore all equally responsible for the wrong.
(This blame extends to those who have no knowledge of the deed, or were born after the wrong was done, but are related to the "guilty" people.)

3. The "good" people, having thus justified themselves, try their hardest to persecute and annihilate the "scapegoat" people.

Scapegoat myths are toxic: they have killed people throughout human history, and still do.

I'm convinced that our species has evolved from hairier and stupider primates, and that we share many of the worst traits of chimps. So I've come to suspect that "scapegoating" derives from ape behavior. Anyone who writes or tells stories that spread scapegoat myths, tries to tempt us: "Don't think. Just find the weaker opponent, kill him and take his females. Your might is your right."

Deep down, the bigot who spouts myths about "evil peoples" longs to cast off his humanity and become an ape -- a murderous, unrepentant primate. Do not listen to his stories. Do not read them. They are evil.
ADDENDUM: Denis Leary sings the "Mel Gibson Blues" (Caution: explicit lyrics, but this is humor, satire... don't listen if you don't understand satire.)