Tuesday, June 28, 2022

Brief Essays on Genre, Part 9: On Alzheimer's as Muse



On Alzheimer’s as Muse


When I was sixteen, my father contracted early-onset Alzheimer’s. A year later, he was no longer recognizably himself.


When I was sixteen, I knew I would be a scientist, though not what kind. A year later, I was determined to be a writer.


When I was twenty-nine, I sold my first story. I never became a scientist.


--Michael Swanwick

Thursday, June 23, 2022

"Reservoir Ice"



I'm in print again! The July/August 2022 issue of Asimov's Science Fiction has my new story "Reservoir Ice." Here's how it begins:


The problem was, they didn’t meet cute. Anything but. They were brought together by Zipless, an app that combined a deep reading of the user’s sexual desires and a wristbit that chimed if they neared the edge of the partner’s comfort zone. “Hello, I’m—” Matt began to say when Laura opened her apartment door and, “I don’t care who you are,” she replied, grabbing his shirt with both hands and ripping it open.


But, believe it or not, the story is not about sex. It's about love and romance and relationships and how difficult these can all be when you and everybody else have the ability to go back in time to undo your and their mistakes.


That opening paragraph, by the way, is one of the worst possible ways to begin a story. If I had the time, I'd tell you why.

And because I know . . .


Oh, what the heck. Some of those reading this blog are looking for writing tips. So I'll make the time to explain.


A quarter century ago, when I sold "Wild Minds" (one of my favorite stories, by the way) to Asimov's, its editor, Sheila Williams, told me that opening a story with a sex scene--even a mild one such as I'd written, with no explicit verbs nor any mention of body parts--was almost always the sign that the story was written by an amateur and not at all publishable. She was amused to find herself actually buying one.


So that's it in a nutshell. Open a story with a sex scene and you'll negatively impressed its editor at a time--the beginning--when you most want to positively impress her

Why did I do it, then? It's a character fault. I don't respond well to even the most benevolent authority. In second grade my teacher told me I couldn't begin a sentence with the word "and." And I've been doing it ever since. To such a degree that one of my final chores with any story is going through it to take out as many of those constructions as I can.


So don't learn from my example. Listen to Sheila. And watch those "and" sentences!



Tuesday, June 21, 2022

Brief Essays on Genre, Part 8: On Literary Awards



On Literary Awards


The purpose of most literary awards is to convince authors whose work is beloved by their fans to keep writing even though their books may not earn enough money for them to quit their day jobs.


Many best-selling writers are never nominated for those awards and resent that fact. They are, however, missing the point.


--Michael Swanwick

Tuesday, June 14, 2022

Brief Essays on Genre, Part 7: On Literary Movements



On Literary Movements


If you absolutely must join a literary movement, start one yourself. By the time you’ve heard of somebody else’s, it’s over.


--Michael Swanwick

Friday, June 10, 2022

One Day E-Book Sale! In the Drift! Saturday Only!



I've been informed that the e-book of my first novel, In the Drift, goes on sale tomorrow, Saturday, June 11th, for one day only. Sale price: $1.99. Available only in the US. 

I'm also told that the promo type is "ORM - The Lineup NL." Not quite sure what that means, though I'm guessing NL means Newsletter. But if you want to sign up with The Lineup and get notifications of good deals on e-books, you can do it here. It's free.

And in case you're wondering . . .

How did I come up with an odd title like In the Drift? Well, I didn't. My working title was The Drift, but when the novel was in production, I was told that wouldn't do because it sounded like a horror novel. Which made perfect sense. My book was a post-meltdown science fiction story. But then they told me what they'd come up with. Ugh.

Worst part of all this was that there were only a couple of days to re-name the book and I couldn't come up with anything good. So out it went.

In the Drift was a fix-up of three novellas with two short connecting sections between them. The first novella was titled "Mummer Kiss." A year or two later, I got contributor's copies of the French translation and yanked out my French dictionary to see what Baiser de Masque, the lovely title its translator had given it, meant.

It meant Mummer Kiss. 

I felt so stupid.

This is why nobody should ever submit a novel to a publisher without coming up with a good title for it first. You can't trust them to do a better job of it than you can.



Tuesday, June 7, 2022

Brief Essays on Genre, Part 6: Writer's Block



On Writer’s Block






--Michael Swanwick

Sunday, June 5, 2022

The Making of The Very Pulse of the Machine



You can tell that Love, Death + Robots has been a big hit for Netflix because the powers that be are spending money promoting it. 

One nifty thing they've done is to make a short video on the making of The Very Pulse of the Machine's animation. In it, director Emily Dean talks about the process of adapting my story and why she made the choices she did. I found it fascinating.

That's the video up above. Or you can go directly to it on YouTube by clicking here.

 They also did a short video for the animation of Justin Coates' story "Kill Team Kill" which you can see by clicking here.

And because I know that gonnabe writers are looking for tips...

A close reading of any well-made story will teach you a lot, and that goes for animated stories as well. After you've watched the video I want you to focus on two things:

First, note how Ms. Dean went out on the beach and dragged a weight to create a reference and how she dove onto her bed for similar reasons. Prose writers have to do very similar things when research a story or novel. If you don't know what something looks or feels or smells or whatevers like, find out. It's not always dignified, but it's part of your job.

Second, note how beautiful the dancing women scene was. As Emily Dean states, in the original the description was sparse: 

Weeping, she passed through the eerie stone forms. The speed made them shift and move in her vision. As if they were dancing.

And that's all. I didn't have to describe the dance because that happens in the reader's mind. Animation is a more literal form so it has to be shown. But prose fiction is a collaboration between the writer and the reader. You must learn to trust your collaborator.

That's all for today. Class dismissed. 



Friday, June 3, 2022

E-Book Sale! Bones of the Earth! Tomorrow Only!



I've just been told that the e-book of my dinosaurs-and-time-travel novel, Bones of the Earth, goes on sale tomorrow, Saturday, June 4th, for only $1.99. This applies to the United States and Canada only.

So what, you may well ask, is Bones of the Earth about? Well, superficially there's a mystery as to the nature of time travel and who or what made it available--to paleontologists, of all people!--long, long before it could possibly have been invented. And a tale of survival and community among a group of researchers who find themselves marooned in time at the very end of the Maastrichtian Age. But what it's really about is the nature of scientific research.

I spent well over a year researching the novel, interviewing scientists, studying fossils,  reading papers, and attending conferences. At the end of that time, I could sit in on any conversation between paleontologists and understand every word they said. I couldn't contribute to the conversation, mind you. But I could understand it.

In the process, I became fascinated by the paleontologists themselves and in the ways their lives were interwoven with their careers.They really  are a fascinating batch of people.

Also, there are dinosaurs. Lots and lots of dinosaurs. As I finished each chapter, I gave it to dinosaur reconstruction artist Bob Walters, who would read it and then return it with an embarrassingly long list of corrections. After rewriting the chapter, I would send it to the late Ralph Chapman, paleontologist and structuralist, then working at the Smithsonian, and he would return it with an equally long and humiliating list of corrections. So that when I turned in the typescript to my publisher, it was as accurate a representation of dinosaurs as any ever written.

Of course, by the time Bones of the Earth was published, new discoveries had been made so that it was only almost perfectly accurate. And if I went through it today, I could doubtless create another list of inaccuracies. But I won't. Because that's not my job.

That's what other people are for.