Friday, October 30, 2015

Fallen Leaves (October 29)


"Once It's Over Life Is No Big Deal"

Lud-en-Brume -- Illustrated!


Look what came in the mail! It's Lud-en-Brume, a new French edition of Hope Mirrlees' fantasy classic, Lud-in-the-Mist.  Better yet, it's fully illustrated with some eighteen ink-wash (I'm guessing) drawings by artist Hugo de Faucompret. The illustrations are, by my interpretation, not of the sedate surface of Dorimare and environs but of the wildness that lies underneath all existence in Mirlees' universe.

This book, from Editions Callidor, is the first illustrated version of Lud-in-the-Mist ever and a real treat for Francophone fantasy lovers. It part of the L'Age d'or de la fantasy, a series that (so far) also includes Le Loupe des steppes, Vol. 1 by Harold Lamb and Les Habitants de mirage by A. Merritt.

Kudos to editor Thierry Fraysse for making all this happen.

Cover above and representative illustration below.

And where, you ask, is Ask Unca Mike...?

Ask Unca Mike is on hiatus until such time as new questions are received.


Thursday, October 29, 2015

Wednesday, October 28, 2015

The Second Thing To Do After You Make Your First Sale


This post is addressed at as-yet-unpublished writers.

Sometime in your future your first professional sale is going to appear in print. The absolute first thing you're going to do is whoop loudly, jump up and down, fling things about, grab the nearest person of appropriate gender and attractiveness and plant a big kiss on his or her lips, brag to all your friends, call your mother, explain to her why it's a big deal, accept her congratulations, get drunk (unless you're a teetotaler, in which case you'll go wild by pouring yourself an extra cup of Lhasa Apso), dance, sing, make a nuisance of yourself, and roll into bed either alone or not depending entirely on personal preferences.


Yes, the whole sticky mess of reaction may be considered one thing because, let's be honest, it's all of a piece.

The second thing you should do is to start a bibliography.

I know this sounds silly, but trust me. Look up the formatting, write your name at the top of a blank sheet of paper, and below it type the information. As for example:

“The Last Smurf”, Lazarus Long, ed.,  Dangerous Smurfs, NY: Tor, 2016.

Only not in italics, of course.

For a terrible bleak instant, your first publication is going to look pretty pathetic. One bare line on a vast expanse of white. Suppress that feeling. Print out a copy, file it where you can find it, and save the electronic file.  Not long after (because you are a particularly fine writer), the story is picked up for a resale anthology.  Now your entry looks like this:

“The Last Smurf”, Lazarus Long, ed.,  Dangerous Smurfs, NY: Tor, 2016.
        Reprinted in: Ender Wiggins, ed., Smurfs of Wonder
        San Francisco: Toad Press, 2017.

A year passes, during which you've sold another story, and your maiden effort has been reprinted in a best of the year anthology and translated into Elbonian.  Meanwhile you've sold another two stories. Now your bibliography looks like this:

“The Animus of Inwit”, Bisson's Science Fiction, Vol. 25: Nos. 10 & 11, 
         October/November, 2017.

“The Last Smurf”, Lazarus Long, ed.,  Dangerous Smurfs, NY: Tor, 2016.
        Reprinted in: Ender Wiggins, ed., Smurfs of Wonder
        San Francisco: Toad Press, 2017.
        Genly Ai and Hari Seldon, eds., Year's Best Smurfs, NY: 
        Albuterol, 2017.
       Translated as: "Zygnadj Szmrf", Wznstn Szmth. ed., Smrgf 
       Oof, Gyznyd, Elbonia: Yngvy Press, 2018

"Son of the Last Smurf", Susan Calvin, ed.,  Again Dangerous
        Smurfs, NY: Tor, 2016.

Now you're getting somewhere!  More importantly, since you've only got one entry to make at a time, the task of assembling a comprehensive and reliable bibliography is an snap.

Provided only that you made it the second thing you did after after receiving your first publication in the mail.

Above: A flower. For you. In honor of your first professional sale.

Tuesday, October 27, 2015

Fallen Leaves (October 27)


"I Flew Halfway Across The Forest"

Monday, October 26, 2015



There are so many serious things I could post about today...

But the heck with that! Samhain is coming!

In honor of my Irish ancestors, I carved a jack-o-lantern the same way they would have -- out of a turnip. The hollowing out and carving of faces into roots and gourds of various types is, I remind you, a Celtic invention, and one that goes way back. Don't you go believing any of that malarky the Web will tell you about Stingy Jack, either. The original story is a terrifying one and not to be shared with children.

It turns out that carving a turnip is not as difficult a task as you might think. I'm definitely adding it to my Halloween repertoire. In fact, as of now, it's an official household tradition.

If you're crafty, you might want to consider doing this yourself. Get as big a turnip and as small a candle as you can.

Enjoy the holiday! Don't let the boggles get you. And remember to keep a stone with a hole in it with you at all times, as a charm against glamour.


Fallen Leaves (October 26)


"I Was A Poet -- It Made No Difference"

Sunday, October 25, 2015

Saturday, October 24, 2015

Friday, October 23, 2015

Ask Unca Mike


Science fiction and fantasy writers are a group are extraordinarily generous with advice to new writers. A moment's thought, however, reveals that this is just encouraging talented young people to occupy the publishing niches and win the awards that would otherwise go to to us Old Hands. Ask Unca Mike is an attempt to rectify this deplorable situation.

Cutting to the Chase


What good is science fiction?


Money. Through hard work and sheer brilliance, Unca Mike manages to earn the same kind of money that he could have made working as an accountant. But it goes beyond that. Every now and then, a science fiction story is picked up for a movie or television series, and that pays the salaries of some very expensive producers, directors, and actors -- to say nothing (or at least quite a bit less) those of the cameramen, electricians, caterers, and script writers.  Even better, if the show is a success, it can go on for decades, spinning off other movies, other series, novelizations, video games, ceramic figurines, toys, bath towels... Is there an object yet which has not been re-branded by Star Wars or Star Trek? Probably not. So, again, the answer to your question is: Money, great big gobs of the stuff.

Unless you're the original creator. In that case, as I said, you'll be lucky to pull down the salary of an accountant. Philip K. Dick did a lot worse.

If you have a question for Unca Mike you can post it below. Or write to AskUncaMike ("at" sign) I'll respond to those I have the best answers for.

Ask Unca Mike appears here on Fridays.


Fallen Leaves (October 23)


"I Wanted To Be More Than Just A Leaf"

Thursday, October 22, 2015

It Always Snows on Robert Sheckley's Grave


Last Sunday, I was in the Hudson Valley, visiting family, so I made a pilgrimage to Robert Sheckley's grave in the Artists Cemetery in Woodstock. Sheckley was one of the giants of science fiction in his day, largely forgotten in his own land, but still revered in Russia.

This was not my first attempt to visit the grave. A year ago last March, I went there but could not locate the grave because it was covered in snow.  Here's what I wrote then:

Eight years ago, on a dark and bitterly cold day I drove from Philadelphia to Kingston, NY, to attend Sheckley's funeral.  It was an extraordinary event.  Three of his ex-wives were in attendance and a fourth sent her regrets that she was unable to make the trip.  His daughter, noted writer Alisa Kwitney gave a loving and moving memorial that began with the words "Robert Sheckley was a terrible father."  Barry Malzberg made an extempore speech that was one of the best things I've ever heard, a genuine work of literary art.
I got up then and said a few words on behalf of the Russian people.  This may seem a little cheeky of me, but I knew his readers there would want to be represented.  Sheckley -- and his clear-eyed, razor-edged satiric humor -- were big as big in that part of the world.  When he collapsed in Kiev, months before his death, it was front-page news in Pravda.

Some years before -- and I was lucky enough to be able to tell the man this in person -- I was guest of honor at Aelita, Russia's oldest SF convention, in Ekaterinburg.  This was a year after Robert Sheckley was goh.  During the press conference, organizer Boris Dolingo was asked how the attendance numbers compared to the previous year's.  Looking directly into the television cameras, he said, "Swanwick is a writer.  Sheckley is a god." 
Bob liked hearing that.  And at his funeral, his family were glad as well.

It was snowing when Marianne and I found Sheckley's grave. In my experience, it's always snowing when you go to visit Robert Sheckley's grave. I had no flowers, so I drew a heart on a leaf and left it on the stone

I apologize for being a day late with Wednesday's post. I've got a lot on my to-do list these days.

Above: Marianne placing a pebble on Robert Sheckley's grave.


dream diary [October 22, 2015]

I went to the cafeteria of the educational institution where I either worked or was a student for breakfast. The only thing they were offering was brie on toast, which was tasty but not filling.

Curious as to what time it was in the waking world, I awoke and checked my phone. It was 7:05 a.m. so I willed myself back to sleep. As soon as I did, the cafeteria workers showed me a single-spaced typed list of what foods they were offering at what times. According to the schedule, the foods changed every few minutes.

Some time later, my dreams returned again to the cafeteria, where they offered me palladium on toast.   Even dreaming, however, I knew it would be a bad idea to eat palladium, so I forced myself awake. Half an hour had passed, and I decided to get up.


Fallen Leaves (October 22)


"At Least I Wasn't A Willow Leaf"

Wednesday, October 21, 2015

Fallen Leaves (October 21)


"Whom Storms Could Not Fell, Age Did"

Tuesday, October 20, 2015

Fallen Leaves (October 20)


"I Fluttered To The Beat Of A Different Drummer"

Monday, October 19, 2015

A Simple Exercise To Improve Your Prose Style

Today's post is for gonnabe writers and, to a lesser degree, new writers.  My apologies to everybody else.

Let's take a cold, hard look at your prose.  It's not as good as you wish it were.  Otherwise, you wouldn't be bothering to read this.  There are a lot of complicated and/or difficult ways to improve it.

Here's a simple one.

Print out a full double-spaced page of something you're currently working on but unhappy with the sound of.

Done?  Okay.  Get out a highlighter, the kind that you use or used to mark up textbooks for purposes of study.

Got it?  Great!  Now mark every word in your text which refers to something tangible, something that can be touched or seen, or even smelled.  "World" or "lemon" or "bathtub," but not "beauty" or "concept" or "feeling."

The brighter your page, the more vivid, the more tangible your prose.  The dimmer, the duller.

Here's the thing:  Primary words move us.  Secondary and tertiary words do not; their purpose is basically structural.  Words like "and," "or," "however," and "since" are like lumps of clay.  They hold the bright words together but, like the grotting in a tile floor, do not excite our admiration.

Nor does a phrase like "excite our admiration" catch the eye like "pour honey on golden toast."  It may be necessary for the sense of your passage, in which case it should not be discarded. Clay has its uses, as does grotting. But it's the primary words that will bring your prose to life.

And, yes...

You can do this exercise with verbs and adjectives.  But that's only if the first exercise is of use to you. Not every exercise is of use to every writer.  Seek out those which are of use to you and disregard the rest.


My apologies for posting this so late in the day... as always, I was on the road.


Fallen Leaves (October 19)


"I Was A Fool For Love"

Sunday, October 18, 2015

Fallen Leaves (October 18)


"I Was The Greenest Leaf Of Spring"

Saturday, October 17, 2015

dream diary [October 15, 2015]

I dreamed of a college teacher, unhappy with his society, who discovered a way to phase from his world into a parallel society. As a necessary consequence, the process turned him into a woman. This angered her students and college administration, but she escaped before they could do anything about it.

The new society was better but far from perfect. For a time, the teacher was a local celebrity, a woman who was semi-tranparent and not entirely there. But as she solidified, they took her presence for granted.

In short order, the new woman learned the basics of dress and makeup. But she didn't know the nuances of being a woman in her new society, so she never fit in well.

Once, she had sex with another woman, but the experience made her feel uncomfortable with herself afterward. Another time, she got very drunk and had sex with a man.  That too was unsatisfactory. She was, she realized, neither straight nor gay, but an ungendered woman.

Sometimes, she masturbated, weeping for loneliness.

Finally, she decided to move on to the next society. She confided to a male colleague that she had an intuition the next society would be far better than this one."

"Woman's intuition?" he asked, amused.

"No," she said. "Just intuition."


Fallen Leaves (October 17)


"Let The Young Follow My Example"

Friday, October 16, 2015

Ask Unca Mike


Science fiction and fantasy writers are a group are extraordinarily generous with advice to new writers. A moment's thought, however, reveals that this is just encouraging talented young people to occupy the publishing niches and win the awards that would otherwise go to to us Old Hands. Ask Unca Mike is an attempt to rectify this deplorable situation.

Three Characters In Search of a Paycheck
Hey Unca Mike!

Working on a story where three characters are each doing their own thing, and it all comes together in the end. How do you balance their page counts? It always seems like one is always dominating the story, or falling into the background. Any tips?

Future Trilogist

You bet! Remember that you're being paid by the word and write your story three times, with a different protagonist for each version. Michael Moorcock did this once for a trilogy in which Elic of Melnibone, the Eternal Champion, and I think it may have been Hawkmoon go questing together in order to save the universe. The beauty part of this scheme (as Hemingway would have put it) was that only the opening and closing sections were original to each book. The body of the adventure was word for word unchanged.

Moorcock is a genius. Go thou and do likewise.

If you have a question for Unca Mike you can post it below. Or write to AskUncaMike ("at" sign) I'll respond to those I have the best answers for.

Ask Unca Mike appears here on Fridays.


Fallen Leaves (October 16)


"In Life
In Death

Thursday, October 15, 2015

Wednesday, October 14, 2015

Protecting Yourself From A Martini Snob


Let's imagine you find yourself cornered at a party or a convention or, indeed, any other social event by a Martini Snob. You know the type... an insufferable pedant, full of trivia about the history of that noble drink, and pronouncements from on high as to exactly what is and is not a Martini. Someone like (cough) me.

You'll want to put the dastard in his place, of course. But given his (it's always a him, isn't it?) superior knowledge of a subject you never felt the least inclination to investigate, how?


Wait for a brief lull in the torrent of words -- even the most long-winded has to stop to take a breath -- and ask, "Do you prefer your Martinis shaken or stirred?"

Nine times out of ten, the Martini Snob will draw himself up and haughtily declaim, "Shaken, of course!" Because if one doesn't chill the Martini by shaking, there is no excuse for collecting shakers.

"Ah," you'll say. "Interesting."

"Interesting? How so?" the Martini Snob will ask suspiciously.

"Because you express a disdain for Martini-like drinks and yet that's exactly what you're drinking -- not a proper Martini, but a Bradford."

Nonsense will come out of the Martini Snob's mouth. He may even sputter. But you will endure it all with a saintly smile. Then, when he finally comes to a stop, you'll whip out your smartphone and suggest that he look it up.

Yes, technically speaking a proper Martini is always stirred, not shaken. Putting the fixings in a shaker and giving it a good rattling magically transforms it into a Bradford.

That's "technically," of course. Nobody uses the term in polite company. Save for the poor soul who's been cornered by a Martini Snob.

So do I use the term myself...?

No, of course not. Whenever I fix a cold, steely Martini, I employ a cocktail shaker. And afterwards I completely eschew the term Bradford for the more dignified moniker of Martini. But I know it's wrong. Very, very wrong.

Wrong in the same way that some of the sexual practices you enjoy so much are wrong.


Fallen Leaves (October 14)


"Just As I Was About To Achieve Enlightenment"

Tuesday, October 13, 2015

Fallen Leaves (October 13)


"I Had A Good Life --
This, I Guess, Is The Price"

Monday, October 12, 2015

Throngs of New York


I spent Sunday at the New York Comic Con, autographing copies of Chasing the Phoenix, and at times all I could think of was the line from Don DeLillo's Mao II, "The future belongs to crowds."  There were a lot of of people there.  Last year racked up over 150,000 distinct visitors and since this year's con was sold out months ago, I can't imagine there were any fewer this time around.

Here's the thing, though. DeLillo's novel, first published in 1991, was a dark meditation on the death of liberal humanist values -- privacy, the primacy of the individual, literature, personal agency, and so on. And in the crowds of people paying for the privilege of being allowed to buy into corporately branded fantasies, you could certainly see something like that, if you chose.

But it didn't look like that from the floor.

There were some superficially positive things -- a nice mix of skin colors, the fact that women and girls were far from a rarity -- that you could write off as irrelevant. But so many of those people looked to be having fun in a way that didn't seem to have anything to do with herd mentality. Parents brought their children. A lot of those children came in costume. And sometimes the parents wore costumes too.

It was striking how many people were in costume. It seemed obvious to me that this was their way of emphasizing that however the exhibitors might see the event, it was not for them a solely commercial operation. They were there to celebrate their love of popular culture.

It wasn't a crowd in the sense of DiLillo's despairing vision, mindless and controlled, but something more democratic, and more joyful. All those values that intellectuals were despairing of were in full play -- only focused not on winners of the Penn/Faulkner Award but on Deadpool and Buffy and Power Rangers Dino Charge.

Of taste and scent, no argument," as Avram Davidson liked to say. You can make grumpy noises that, really, people out to have more elevated tastes than they do. But you can't argue with joy.

Above: But it really was very crowded.


Fallen Leaves (October 12)


"I Should Have Gone For Tenure"

Sunday, October 11, 2015

TODAY At New York Comic Con!!!

I'll be at the NYCC today. If you're there, why not say Hi?

There are two events:

A signing at Noon (booth 2223).

A panel, GET OUT OF YOUR CHAIR AND OFF THE PLANET in the afternoon.

It should be fun. I'm looking forward to it.

Fallen Leaves (October 11)



Saturday, October 10, 2015

Friday, October 9, 2015

Ask Unca Mike


Science fiction and fantasy writers are a group are extraordinarily generous with advice to new writers. A moment's thought, however, reveals that this is just encouraging talented young people to occupy the publishing niches and win the awards that would otherwise go to to us Old Hands. Ask Unca Mike is an attempt to rectify this deplorable situation.

A Real Quandary

Dear Unca Mike,

This is a real quandary. I have always shied away from mass-market bestselling science fiction. I've always preferred writers like (if anyone could be like) Lafferty, Hughart, Swanwick, Waldrop, etc. Yet, I am reading The Martian right now and loving it. Why? It is a bestseller, is being made into an immensely popular movie. Worse yet, it has a storyline that might even make the puppies happy (or at least less sad for a brief moment). It is a story about a clever guy doing clever things in space to get himself out of improbable deadly situations. It should read like a piece of "Golden Age" pulp, yet I can't put it down, and I'm really enjoying reading it. Is it actually a good book, or am I failing at being a literary snob?



If you have a question for Unca Mike you can post it below. Or write to AskUncaMike ("at" sign) I'll respond to those I have the best answers for.

Ask Unca Mike appears here on Fridays.


Fallen Leaves (October 9)


"Had I Known Death Would Be So Common
I'd Have Died Sooner -- And Avoided The Rush"