So I finally got around to reading that Elizabeth Bear post on ten things about writing and thought, fuck yeah. Particularly Number 2:

"It helps if you honestly like to blow stuff up. Or at least write about blowing stuff up."

Which is pretty much how I sold Stealing Light to Tor UK. People asked me what the book was going to be called and, when I hadn't made up my mind to call it Stealing Light, I replied: 'Blow Shit Up'.

Every time I think about this, I keep imagining a scene from that old US tv series 'Dream On', particularly where Marty, in his day job as an editor, has a conversation something like this:

Sleazy author: I'm going to do an updated version of Moby Dick. Chock fulla sex.
Marty (rubbing his temple) Great, great. What's it called?
Sleazy author: 'Dick'.

If it was me, it would go something like:
Me:'First, I blow something big up. Then I blow something really fucking big up.'
Peter Lavery (rubbing his temple). Great, great. What's it called?'
Me: 'Blow Shit Up'.

Also number 3 in Liz's list:
"All books are broken. Some are less broken than others. Some are broken in ways that a particular set of readers do not mind in the least. If you can find out the group of people who do not mind the ways in which your books are broken, you have identified your target audience. Unfortunately, this fact does not excuse you from actually learning to write."

All true. Sometimes you just have to put down the laptop and step away from the book, sir. And keep your hands in sight.

OK - I just checked out Mamatas' comment on all these 'ten things about writing' comments flying around right now: and one of the commonalities appearing is the old hoary one about how being a writer doesn't impress people. Particularly girls.

My observation has been that the people who come to the above conclusion are missing something, and generally have some concerns over how well they're successfully communicating with the opposite sex at the best of times. If it doesn't work for you, it's not that they find writers dull: they just find you dull. That doesn't mean you are actually dull, but I rather suspect a lot of people who come to this erroneous conclusion are failing to see the whole picture concerning how they're perceived by others. Fine, you're a writer. But be an entertaining, interesting writer (or even just person) who tells funny jokes and seems like fun. Then you're somewhere. But please don't indulge in fatuous statements that don't hold up to analysis.


I came across this Observer article about where inspiration comes from via Liz Williams blog, but there's so much waffling nonsense in the article I ended up skimming most of it. I don't know why, but when people talk about 'inspiration' it seems to inspire them in turn to get a bit poetic, which isn't often a good idea.

Inspiration: it's simple. Your brain randomly associates from second to second. You are genetically programmed (via the DNA of your distant, distant ancestors) to envision the possible course of a day spent mammoth hunting: your species advantage is you can 'see' the grassy plains, and the herds waiting to be hunted. But you also have a strong imagination, perhaps too strong. There might be monsters! With big, sharp teeth! That leap out at you from the dark. Lions, tigers and bears.

What happened to your ancestors during the day's hunt is the reason human beings tell each other stories. It's where it all comes from. 'Inspiration' simply refers to the human brain's capacity to randomly associate a variety of elements from moment to moment, nothing more - part of a process of embellishment whereby a wolf sighted on a distant hill becomes a towering multi-fanged beast chased off by remarkable acts of bravery, the intention being to boost the story-tellers standing in the community.

Nothing airy fairy about it.

I had a terrific moment of inspiration a couple of months ago when I glanced at a book about serial killers on someone's bookshelf and recalled an idea concerning memory transference I'd used in Angel Stations.

Then, bam, it hit me ... forty-eight hours later I had a fully worked out plot for a story set in the present, a direct result of randomly associating something I'd used in a book with a blurb on the back of a cheap true crime paperback. One concept crossed with another concept led to another, fresh concept: two plus two makes five. That's inspiration.


A fair amount of flack is being directed towards a new sf review column in the New York Times at the moment, and not without some justification. From the review:

"As that lone subway traveler who still occasionally rides to work brandishing a dog-eared edition of "A Canticle for Leibowitz" or "The Illustrated Man," I realize I'll never enjoy even a fraction of the social standing afforded to the umpteenth passenger who is just now cracking open a mint-condition copy of "The Kite Runner" or a fresh paperback of "A Million Little Pieces" purchased after it was discredited, and I don't expect this to change any time soon."

Now, a lot has been said here, here and here about the review, and there's not a great deal I can add, but it did occur to me that the above quote says a lot more about the social context in which people exist within the literary/arts scene both in the States and here in the UK than it does about science fiction.

A while back, I posted this entry, about my experiences with a guy running a writer's group in Glasgow: to say he was dismissive of me once he realised I was a published science fiction writer is putting it mildly. When I think about that experience together with the social concerns of the NYT reviewer in question - to fear losing social standing by being seen reading sf on the subway (talk about a fragile ego!) - it makes you wonder what life is like in the mainstream publishing world.

Reading between the lines, it would be a forgiveable mistake (assuming you take this guy as representative in some way of the mainstream literary world) to end up thinking the mainstream literary community as a whole is as concerned with appearances as Itzkoff apparently is. I rather suspect this isn't the case at all: but I'm prepared to believe it means everything for a select few - a means, perhaps, to gain respect and standing within certain circles, to get invited to certain dinner parties.

Or so they might think. These are the kind of people, I'm prepared to bet, who get exactly as much respect from the wider literary community as they seem prepared to dish out to sf writers. And horror writers, and thriller writers ... and pretty much everyone, I guess, they'd be scared to be caught reading on the subway by someone perceived to be just a little higher up the social ladder.
I randomly stumbled over this excellent online argument by comic artist Scott McCloud in favour of micropayments to artists, writers and musicians who put their stuff on the web: it's something that's played around in my head before, and brings to mind the time I helped out on a local small press comic (more than a decade ago) and ended up pointing out the cover price of the comic was, in fact, ten pence less than what it cost to actually produce each issue. Unfortunately, the others involved ignored this and the comic sank about five minutes later ... But yeah, I sometimes thought of putting one or two short stories up on the net, with a purely voluntary option to click on a paypal button and pay, say ... five pence? Two? Twenty-five? Meh. Maybe.