I've been following the thoughtful posts and commentary following Niall Harrison's article in Strange Horizons on the various inequalities women writers endure in genre fiction from Juliet McKenna, Kari Sperring and Aliette de Bodard, It's all interesting, puzzling, irritating, and necessary to know and try to understand. It's made me wonder what do those statistics actually mean beyond the obvious, and what is the impact on sales? I think it's pretty safe to say there will be a big impact on these female writer's careers - reviews are important for reputation and word of mouth.
One thing Aliette wrote about was "the pervasive notion that the things men do are Important; and the things women do are not" and it brought me up cold because it reminded me about a BBC report I read recently about the fighting in Libya. The full article is here but it's quite long so to avoid wading here's the salient bit:-
" An old woman, in her late 70s at least, I'm told, entered the bank (in Tripoli) to collect her 500 Libyan dollars ($410; £253) in state aid announced a couple of weeks ago. There were two long queues - one for men and one for women. She stood in the men's queue.
The men urged her to move to the women's section. "Why?" she challenged.
A man told her: "Ya haja [a term of respect for an elderly woman] this line is for men, women is the other one".
She loudly replied: "No. All the men are in Benghazi."
Whether or not this particular event really happened it's powerful stuff, it means something and it resonates deep inside. There's a bit of me that cheered her on, another bit that appreciated the sanguine humour, the acidity of her attitude and the resultant humiliation of the men.
So, I laughed a painful laugh, she was putting the men in their place, calling them out. This is exactly the kind of real-world moment that would transpose almost unchanged into fiction. It's powerful stuff, it means something. After a while I started to wonder what IS that exactly?
Layers on layers.
She didn't call the women out. Why was that, exactly? Why do I feel that would not work in any culture anywhere in the world? Why is it inconceivable for a man to stand in the woman's queue and say the equivalent thing and get the same effect?
Swings and roundabouts.
I think there is something very deep-rooted going on here, under personal attitudes, under culture, possibly all the way down to instinct and reflex. In times of trouble, in times of chaos, men form themselves into bands and women do not. Why is that? In terms of physicality and biological role it's obvious, but like so many 'natural' things like infant mortality, disease and hunger we have overcome them.
Rational intellect is perhaps our greatest ability because that is what helps us transcend our natural heritage - not ignore it or trample it, but accept it, and then make a decision to do, or be, something else. We need to do things for each other, do new things, stop doing others, give things up and start doing others. This includes the need to give up the idea that death in one group of people is somehow more or less shocking than another irrespective of when or how that happens, accidental or otherwise, whether they pick up a gun or blow themselves up on a bus. And that it is in certain circumstances it is the duty of part of the population to put themselves in harm's way whether they like it or not.
I wonder do we really not want that? Or is it a case that we cannot help think these things about each other? How do we ever get real equality if this is the layer upon which everything else floats?
So, does all this mean I'd never use an encounter like that in my writing? Are you joking? It's powerful stuff. It means something.
A recent conversation got me thinking about all the different things that go into being a writer: motivation, passions and interests.Big topic, short blog, here goes:
I came up with the idea there are three types, two pretty obvious and one, to my mind, much less so.Probably the most obvious are the ‘selfish’ – they’re wrapped up with you own opinion of yourself.Others are more to do with your imagination and intellect – what fascinates you, and finally there are also things that concern how you relate to other people.
It’s a great idea, obviously it must be, I thought of it!Exactly.You need an ego to be a writer, not only to take the rejections and cope with your own mistakes and failings but simply to believe other people will be interested in what you write.As has been said many times writing is not necessarily an easy life but to be good at anything you need to work hard, no different from any other self-appointed task nobody asked you to do.You need an ego with a marathon runner’s stamina to keep going and you’ll also need the self confidence to manipulate words and shape them to your will.And you’ll need to believe you’re good enough, or at least have something that strangers will like, people who might very well wish to be informed or entertained, or make a living from words, but not necessarily by yours.These inner urges I’ll call reasons of the self.
Then there are the things that drive you to put finger to keyboard: your sheer love of writing, the pleasure of spinning a story, weaving characters, new worlds and places, the sheer joy of invention.You might also have a burning urge to write about certain things, urgencies that drive you from personal experience, ideology, discovery of obscure events and people you find vital and fascinating.Or it might simply be a desire to entertain, the only thing you thought you were any good at, the only thing you ever wanted to do.You could call these reasons of the mind.
Personally, it’s hard to say which of these two come first, it seems to me one begets and informs the other, ego and intellect.You need something from both of these sets (though to shoot the whole thing in the head I know at least one person who loves to write but isn’t worried about being published).Then there’s that third thing, and this was the one that really interested me because it’s not something I’ve heard talked about anywhere near as much as the others.
When you write you write for two groups of people– yourself and your audience.Obviously you’re deeply interested in yourself, your condition and ideas – it’s a given.Back in that conversation I came to realise that you have to be interested – even fascinated – in other people: what they do, why they do it and most importantly how they feel about it.This all needs to go beyond simply developing observational skills, you need to not so much get under as get behind their skins to look out at the world through their eyes and see it and feel it from their point of view, understand why they did what they did and what drove them.Then you’ll understand how you might feel about it too.
Why should you want to do this?So you can do the same for your characters, make them real, make them bleed and weep, cry out in rage and ecstasy. If you don’t care that much about other people, if your basic nature is solipsistic, if you lack any real urge to know why they are who they are, you won’t be as good a writer as you could be.Obvious, really.
At the beginning of the year I set myself two targets:
Write 3,000 words a week for 48 weeks of the year.(A total of 144,000 words.)
Finish the first draft of ‘the Shopping Trip’
That was the ambition.Did I succeed?No.
These are my stats: -Words written: 97, 391 -Average words/week : 2,209(for 48 weeks) -% target:67.6% -Weeks over 3,000 words:12 -Weeks with 0 words: 9 -Least words in a week: 97 -Most words in a week: 5,499 -Draft finished?:No
So I didn’t do it, not even very close, but I’m not too disappointed.All things I considered I think I did pretty well in what turned out to be an unexpectedly tough year.I nearly made 100,000 words.
From January to mid September I was looking after my increasingly frail father and running his home.From that point there was his funeral to organise and his affairs to wind up.Yes, I had my sister to help, and she was fantastic, but she was living in Australia until November, and also coping with the accidental death of her husband at the beginning of the year and her emigration back to England.Some weeks it really wasn’t very easy.
In writing terms I have some good things to look forwards to.The first draft of The Shopping Trip will be complete very soon, (new target end of January).I am excited about this book and can’t wait to get it test read, final drafted and submitted.I have one agent who said he wants to see it, and an editor who may well want to.
There is also the launch of PS Publishing’s Catastrophia anthologyat Fantasycon on 18th September.This includes a short story of mine, is a great sale and my first ever launch.
Elsewhere in writing Million Monkeys goes from strength to strength.My writing group, the T Party now has at least half a dozen writers with agents, authors with books just, or soon to be, published and others being regularly published and talked about.My own feeling is that for the group 2010 could be a nice year.In the family my daughter has written, and started submitting her first novel and started on her second, and one of my sons has good ideas for a non-fiction book of his own.Good stuff all round.
Personally, if the door slams on the arse of 2009 on its way out I shall cheer.Here’s looking forwards to 2010.I certainly am.Peace on Earth.Have a good one, everybody.
Off to Eastercon tomorrow and it's been hectic, with the added bonus of dear old Dad (91) deciding to take the doctors thoughtless advise that he gives up his Meals-on-Wheels food for a week for digestive reasons I shall spare you the details of. Thanks, Doc. And thanks also for not bothering to tell anyone else in his care team, nor me, or suggesting any alternatives for his main hot meal of the day.
Calls to social services, arranged for them to cook for dad at no notice whatsover, and I will shop for extra food. Gosh, how we laughed. Social Services people are wonderful. NHS? Hmmm....
I've been doing loads of reading and prep for the Writer's Workshop my writing group is doing. 3 stories done so far, one left for tonight. I've also been putting together what I'll need for the Dragon's Lair session - the synopsis, opening pages, plus a few prompt cards. The later hopefully helping me remember my snappy, comprehensive answers to the questions I've tried to anticipate coming from the panel. As I'm doing a reading too - first ever, but am trying to remember all the rules for public speaking from a course I did some 20 years ago - I've been rehearsing that too.
I've a couple of ideas to make the pitch more memorable and entertaining, but will only do those if the venue looks appropriate. If you're there, you might see them!
Pounding the mean streets of New Malden last night, I was thinking about why I do what I do when I'm writing a novel, and why it seems to work. Now I'm on my third book, The Method is reasonably well established, and boils down to this: 1. Do some world design and character development until it's rich enough that you can't bear not to start writing. (1-2 weeks) 2. Write until you feel your ideas, which now feel thin, vacuous and trite, can no longer sustain the narrative. this seems to be about 30,000 words; at my current rate about 10 weeks) 3. Go back to design a. Make a list of all your characters - including the new ones which have made bids for fame so far - restate their motivations, objectives and outcomes, and make an explicit list of all the scenes they will appear in - adding any scene detail as it occurs. b. Put together a spreadsheet of all the scenes in sequence, using what you've written as a start, then add all the new scenes in the correct order. Add columns for characters so you can see who is in which scene, and highlight the PoV character if appropriate. (2-4 weeks) 4. Write the book scene by scene, referring to notes so you don;t miss all the cool detail and dialogue sound bites you thought of along the way.
So I started thinking this is like taking part in a play, and you're trying to understand the story and the characters. First of all someone tells you a bit about it, and you get interested. Then you read the actual script, just enough to get a feel for they style of the dialogue, the setting, and the characters. Third I'm actually in the rehersals, trying to get everything perfect, until finally it's show time.
That's the plan. Let's hope it will be all right on the night.
Edited by the multi-talented Allen Ashley, Catastrophia will be will be "a collection of stories loosely themed around the theme of catastrophes, disasters and post-apocalyptic fiction." Publication is expected to be summer 2010.
rock and rolled and a whole load of other stuff too. 2009 (including Christmas 2008) has been a pretty difficult year so far with an ailing father requiring daily care, and my sister loosing her husband in a car crash. Slowly life is returning to some form of normality, though in terms of caring for dad that will never be as it was and I don't believe he will now ever regain his full health or mobility. So it goes. He's 91 at the end of this month and as a WW2 glider pilot, has literally been through the wars, surviving some desperate injuries and living with disability ever since. Looking after him can be tough at times, but he deserves much consideration. One side effect of all this is that I simply do not have the time, nor the energy to keep my leather work going (www.tinb.co.uk) and I have decided to mothball that project indefinitely. I'll still be making a few things for pleasure, and for friends on request, but for the foreseeable future the Traveller in Black business is closed. Which means that the free time I do have will be devoted to writing. This year the ambition is to write 5,000 words a week (I tried 1,000 words a day but that is just not possible some days), stay focused, and write, write, write. Many thanks to Terry Edge for the motivation and inspiration to do this!
Well, I've been a good boy and have been keeping the novel and short story submissions going out the door regularly the past few weeks, as well as writing regularly. So far the result has been a rejection from Writers of the Future for a short story, and a rather encouraging one from an agent about my Ace Timewaster novel. It was still a rejection however, and I learned long ago not to consider complimentary rejections as a form of success.
I've also recently decided to revisit my first novel, a more traditional fantasy that did the rounds some years back (Gods, I've just looked, it was 97/98). At one time I really thought I'd made it with this one when it was shortlisted by the Virgin Worlds imprint. The imprint folded a few months later and as it had thoroughly done the rounds by then I decided to put it to one side and move on. Now i think it would be a good idea to take another look at it, and so have decided to embark on a total rewrite. I'm intending to rewrite from scratch, 130,000 words as it stands now.