First meeting of the incognito writers group

A few of us here in Champaign-Urbana are trying to get a local writers group going again. Caleb Wilson, Kelly Searsmith, Charlie Petit, and I got together last night at the Urbana Library for the new group’s first meeting.

I had suggested that we might want to talk about a name for the group, simply because I knew I would want to post about it and thought it would be handy to be able to call it something, but everybody else seemed to want to go straight to the critiquing. Kelly suggested that the group could remain incognito for the time being. That was good enough for me—I’ll just call it the incognito writers group until we decide we need a better name. [Update: I’ve created a page for the Incognito Writers Group.]

It’s really nice to have a local writers group again. The actual writing part of being a writer is such a solitary activity, it’s worth making the effort to generate some amount of actual interpersonal contact. And we’ve got an excellent selection of writers: three Clarion grads and an intellectual property lawyer. (I’ll resist making a James Watt joke.)

It’s a real boost to be around people who understand what it’s like to write fiction—people who understand the rush that comes from getting a bit of dialog just right (and the anguish from trying and failing), the absorbing intensity of world-building, the stoicism needed to keep persisting in the face of rejection. When those people also understand crafting a good story, writing vivid prose, and developing compelling characters, so much the better.

One other thing we didn’t talk about was opening the membership up to other people, but I suspect the group would be even better with a couple more people. If you live in Champaign-Urbana (or close enough to attend monthly meetings), write some variety of speculative fiction,  can demonstrate a seriousness of purpose (regularly submitting stories to markets, attending well-regarded workshops, etc.), and you’d be interested in joining, see the Incognito Writers Group page.

WisCon

WisCon, originally uploaded by bradipo.

Arrived in Madison to attend WisCon.

Ran into Dora, but failed to get a picture.

Went to The Gathering and got a fake tattoo.

Went to the dealer’s room, saw Nnedi’s new book at DreamHaven and snapped up a copy.

Had dinner at the Afghani restaurant Kabul.

Now reviewing the program book and plotting strategy for seeing Dora’s and Nnedi’s panels and readings, and as many other interesting readings as we can fit in.

Sorry there aren’t more of us from the 2001 Clarion.

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WisCon by Philip Brewer is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 3.0 United States License.

Tobias Buckell on ebook pricing issues

Toby has a good take on ebook pricing issues.

Very briefly, mainline publishing houses would prefer to go with a pricing model similar to the model for physical books, where books start at a premium price when they’re new and then are sold at gradually cheaper prices. Amazon, on the other hand, wants to sell a cheap(ish) $10 ebook edition of new hardbacks, because that’s a price point and market segment that drives sales of the kindle, but shows no sign of further lowering the price as cheaper editions of the physical book come out. (One supposes Amazon’s theory is that there are a lot of people will pay $300 for a kindle to read the latest bestsellers for $10, but many fewer who will pay that much to be able to read last year’s bestseller for $4.)

The whole issue (Amazon taking down the Buy button for most books sold by Macmillan imprints, etc.) has produced a lot of talk by non-authors about how publishers are obsolete anyway and authors should just produce and market their own ebooks. But that sort of talk just goes to show that they don’t understand that publishers are specialized venture capital firms (as opposed to specialized manufacturing companies).

Fellow sf/pf writer Karawynn Long

Just heard from Karawynn Long, a fellow sf writer who’s also keeping a personal finance blog:  Pocketmint.  (With Catherine Shaffer, this makes three of us sf/pf writers–I wonder if there are any more?)

Pocketmint is full of personal stories turned into larger lessons.  I rather liked Downsizing appliances to save money, which tells the tale of finding perfectly good freezer in the garage of a new house. Because it was so handy–already there and running–they started using it, rather than going to the work to reorganize the garage to use their own smaller freezer. The core of the article is a link to the US government’s EnergyStar calculator, which she used to figure out how much money they’d save using their own newer, smaller freezer. Then there’s the story where she caught a mistake the bank made that could have cost them $6100.  Lots of good stuff.

I’d actually read her sf work back in the day.  She had a story in Enchanted Forests, where she shared the table of contents with Bruce Holland Rogers, and she had a story in Century, a market that I submitted to but never sold to.

I’ll be keeping an eye out for her new work, both pf and sf.

Tobias S. Buckell’s Sly Mongoose

Sly Mongoose by Tobias S. Buckell

Pat Rothfuss:  “Oh my paws and whiskers! Well, mostly my whiskers.”
“Oh my paws and whiskers! Well, mostly my whiskers.”

So, Toby had a little contest, where he asked for captions for this picture of Pat Rothfuss in cat ears.

I’m not normally a contest sort of guy, but the prize this time was a copy of Sly Mongoose.  I’m a fan of Toby’s work and had bought Crystal Rain and Ragamuffin in hardback, but my income has been a bit constrained since I became a full-time writer.  I’ve cut back on book purchases, and Sly Mongoose was among the things I’d have liked to buy but hadn’t.  So, I entered (with the caption shown), and I won!

When the book came, I set aside Anathem to read it right away.  (Seriously. As I said, I like Toby’s work.) Here’s some thoughts.

I’m always a little cautious of books about a hyper-competent hero.  It’s a kind of story that’s hard to do well. To provide some dramatic tension you either need hyper-competent villain or else you need to cripple your hero.

There’s nothing wrong with doing those things–you just need to do them in an interesting way.  Toby’s efforts to cripple Pepper (both physically and emotionally) serve the purpose in a craftsmanlike way.  But his villains are where the story really comes to life.

The floating cities of Chilo are in opposition, because it’s a hard place for humans to live–some are doing pretty well, while others are just getting by.  In the greater universe, the Ragamuffins are in opposition to the Human League, because they have different visions for human progress.  They’re both opposed to the alien Satraps (because they have a really different vision for human progress), but not every human is, because the aliens have a lot to offer an individual human.  I’ll let you read the book to find out just whom the zombies are in opposition to (although I expect you can make a pretty good guess).

Because I’m me, I always notice whether a novel has the economic underpinnings done well, and Toby does a great job with that–the tough life in the floating city of Yatapek, and the better life in some of the more prosperous cities.  It’s good stuff–illuminating the story, while staying in the background where it belongs.

If you like space opera, big battles, spiffy weapons, cool aliens (and cool alien places), and stories of tough people doing their best in difficult circumstances, Sly Mongoose is one of the best new books out there.  Zombies are just an extra special bonus.

[Updated 2011-03-30: Because a lot of people come to this post on searches about Patrick Rothfuss, I wanted to mention that I talk a bit about him and his writing in my post Characters who learn.]