#SFFPIT Today! Retweets Urgently Requested!

#SFFPit is an annual contest in which unagented authors, like myself attempt to attract the attention of agents and publishers for their novel manuscripts. It’s going on today. So if any of my followers have a manuscript they want attention for, this is a great time to get out there and start pitching. On that note…

If any of you are on Twitter and can today, I could really use your help. I am participating in #SFFPit today. It’s a Twitterpitch contest for novels to attract the attention of agents and publishers. I’m pitching two books today, and the more retweets I get, the more likely I am to be seen. Please do NOT like the Tweets (unless you are an agent or publisher and want to see the manuscripts! Then, PLEASE like them!) because that’s how publishers and agents signal they are interested! Starts at 8am CDT and goes on until 6pm. I’m @GScottHuggins Thanks very much!

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In Defense Of The Road More Traveled: Novels and Short Stories

The other day I was on a friend’s page and I saw a debate raging on whether writing short stories is a necessary, or even a desirable step, toward learning to write novels. I didn’t weigh in then because I didn’t have the time, but I kind of wish I had, because the debate seemed to miss the point from my perspective.

To summarize the arguments that I admittedly skimmed, the perspective generally expressed seemed to be that 1) short stories really only help you write more short stories because b) the pacing required in a novel is completely different, and includes iii) much more worldbuilding and the inclusion of subplots that cannot be present in the short story. So if you want to write novels, you’re going to have a lot of unlearning to do. Also, there was brought into the discussion the examples of many people who wrote chiefly novels and had enjoyed success without ever writing a short story.

Let it first be admitted that such people exist. They are slightly more common than the Harper Lees and J.K. Rowlings of the world that publish their first manuscript to worldwide acclaim. But not a LOT more. I would like to set forth my rebuttal to the above points, and add some experience of my own.

Is it true that short stories only train you to write short stories? And the answer to that, in my experience is absolutely NO! It’s completely wrong. For one thing, too many of the same skills are involved. Short story writing and novel writing both demand clarity of writing, good prose style, the construction of a coherent plot and the depiction of engaging characters. AND good short stories include excellent worldbuilding as well.

Arguing that short stories don’t help people become good novel writers is a bit like marathoners looking down their noses at people running the mile. THAT won’t help you run a marathon. To a certain extent, that’s true: the pacing and running style will be different and in may ways, more demanding. But what running the mile WILL build is basic athleticism.

However, isn’t there some truth to the idea that you should do what you want to do? Isn’t the best training for running marathons, well, marathons?

And the answer to that question is “yes and no.” Because we always have to remember that the VERY first rule for writing books that sell is, “If it results in books that sell, then it was a good method.” So, if you want to write novels, and you write a novel without any trouble, and it sells, then none of this applies to you. But for MOST of us, that’s not how the process starts. Most of us encounter great amounts of difficulty even finishing a BAD first novel. And for most of us, the first novel IS bad.

The major advantage of writing short stories (and I will admit to stealing this list from Steven Barnes) is that it is MUCH easier to finish a short story, to receive criticism on a short story, to re-edit a short story, and to sell a short story professionally. The sheer time and effort that goes into writing a novel precludes those processes from being as easy. And in the event that you write a short story that is an irredeemable pile of shit — which you are likely to do at least a few times — then you lost only a fraction of the time you would have lost writing a novel that is an irredeemable POS.

Bear in mind also that marketing short stories takes much less time than marketing novels, except for small presses and places you might already have an in with. Even for very good stories, go back and read DJ Butler’s story of how he came to sell Witchy Eye to Baen Books if you don’t believe me. It took me 2.5 years to get a rejection from one major house. They’re still considering another one of mine, four years later.

If you can stomach a decade of rejection with NO successes and few hints as to whether you are on the right track, then perhaps writing novels IS your best strategy. But if you need some success to keep going, and want some evidence as to the general caliber of your writing, then short stories are the way to go.

A minor advantage of writing short stories is that they can be bridges to novel contracts. My first novel that I get prorates for (which should be coming out later this year) happened exactly this way. I got noticed by Digital Fiction Corporation, a fine, if small, publisher, because I wrote a story that performed well for them. And many, many writers still do this today. As I understand it, that’s how Brad Torgersen got picked up at Baen, primarily because he’d been wowing the readers of Analog with awesome shorts. Now it sure as hell isn’t a guarantee that you’ll be noticed, but it is not uncommon.

Now, obviously, this advice is going to be more for people who are looking at trad pub options than for those who are determined to go indie. If you’re not looking for a publisher, then this doesn’t really matter a darn. But if you are publishing indie, and the books aren’t selling, then I have to wonder how you know the work was ready to publish.

Admittedly, that question can be asked of any work written by any author: you might ask me, “then how do you know that your unsold novels are ready to publish?” And that’s correct, I don’t until they sell. But having a dozen or so pro short-story sales under my belt means that I can look back and say that there is some evidence that I have achieved a certain level of professional expertise in writing in general. And that can be very important indeed. So if you’re having trouble writing and selling novels and don’t know what to do, I very much suggest that getting short stories out there is the way to go.

 

Preorder Day: “Day Of Atonement”

Yesterday, the release of an anthology that I have waited a long time for was announced: the Holy C.O.W. (Center of the World) anthology, which is an alternate history collection including stories that concern the Middle East. It ships July 29th.

I’m proud of this because it carries my story “Day Of Atonement” which imagines a historically different relationship between Christians and Jews. I’d especially like to thank my editor, D Avraham and my good friend Cliff Winnig for their insights on Hebrew traditions which were a vital supplement to my research, and made this story much better than it otherwise would have been.

Excerpt follows:

“Christ killer!”

The gobbet of mud struck Yossef below his ear, splattering his neck and robes. For a moment he stood motionless, his anxiety wiped away by shock and growing anger, watching the ochre mud drip down the white cloth of the kittel and the tallis that he wore over his shoulders, his prayer-shawl that his mother had made. The ragged urchin who had thrown it was grinning, and bending to pry more muck from the gutter of the Jerusalem streets.

“Shame!” The voice cracked like a whip through the quiet Wednesday morning. A few peddlers, busy setting up their stalls selling sacrifices and food, paused to stare at its source. Yossef turned, distantly wondering if anyone else could hear how close that voice was to cracking. “Shame on you, boy!” Striding past Yossef, the priest in the rough black habit grabbed the boy’s arm and twisted hard. He howled, and the mud fell. “I am not hurting you, boy,” he said, more calmly. “You but feel a small portion of the pain your sin has brought upon your soul. How do you dare to defile a man, let alone a man of God on the Eve of the Day of Atonement?”

“His people killed Christ, father!”

“Oh?” The priest raised his eyebrows and pointed the boy’s chin firmly at the soldier who stood guard at the Double Gate. “His people helped us defeat the Arabian heretics as well. But if you want to fight, there is an Imperial soldier. They, too, took part in shedding our Savior’s blood. Will you throw your mud at him?” After a moment of silence, he snorted. “I thought not. Your cowardice and unforgiveness shames Christians, not Jews. Get home, and pray to St. Nicodemus for your sins.” The boy ran off to a stall, where a bearded man wore an expression of shame mixed with fury. He dropped his gaze and hauled his son around a corner.

The priest straightened and looked at Yossef. “I am so sorry. Come, let’s get you cleaned up.” He helped Yossef unwind the tallith and folded it neatly. “I don’t suppose you have a spare?”

“There will doubtless be one in the shrine, Matthias,” Yossef said. “It is no great matter.” The tightness in his voice betrayed him, however, and his old friend’s eyes darkened with shame.

“My people should know better,” he said. “We have disgraced ourselves before the Father, and ask your forgiveness.”

“As His mercy is everlasting, so we forgive.” Yossef repeated the ritual formula, and felt his own shame. It was not Matthias’s fault: God forbid, he might have to ask the same of a Christian, someday. Matthias led Yossef up the steps of Constantine’s Church, where it nestled on the southern side of the great wall of the Temple Mount. An acolyte rushed to meet them as Matthias dipped a towel in the basin at the entrance to the nave. Matthias stopped his incipient protest with a hard look.

“I know it’s holy water,” he said evenly. “And what is more holy than lifting up the oppressed?” The acolyte looked suffused, but stepped back in silence.

End of excerpt.

Whoever Is Not For Us: Author’s Note

One of my favorite things to do when I write SF is to screw around with genre expectation. And there is one that is almost never messed with that was too fun not to try to deal with, and that is the Parasite.

In SF, whenever people are infested by an evil parasite-like creature determined to enslave them, body and mind, it is always a hideous, nasty thing. Or it’s invisible. By contrast, on the rare occasions (like STNG’s the Trill, say) that a symbiote is beneficial, it is always invisible. For whatever reason, we’re wired to believe — or maybe it’s just that we really, really want to believe — that beauty is truth and truth is beauty. It might have something to do with the fact that beautiful people are usually healthy ones, and breeding with the healthy only makes good evolutionary sense. But there’s certainly no rational reason to believe that this would be the case.

Beneficial symbiotes aren’t even common in SF. I can’t name a single case in which a disfiguring symbiote has been good for someone. The closest I can get to it is the symbionts from the Babylon 5 episode “Xenogenesis,” which was a very bold move on the part of the show. But even the hideous symbionts caused pain and disfigurement only for a moment, and then they vanished invisibly within their hosts.

So for “Whoever Is Not For Us,” I wanted to break that trend and ask what would happen if the truth came disguised in ugliness. It was a fun story to write. I hope you enjoy it.

Release Day! “Whoever Is Not For Us”

Today, “Whoever Is Not For Us,” a military SF piece with a spiritual dimension that I first “sold” in 2014,* is finally being published! It also marks my return to Don Crankshaw’s and Kristin Janz’s Mysterion website. I was in on the first anthology they released, with my story “This Far Gethsemane,” and they run an awesome ship. The story is here, and I hope you like it. I also hope you’ll back them as they buy more stories (hopefully from me!)

*to a small press which never paid or published the work and then tried to re-buy it after 18 months of hanging on to it and never answering queries. No thanks.

A Blog Post From Mirkwood: Self-Publishing.

So, for those who are unaware, this year I have tried — with many errors, sidetracks, and bad assumptions — to improve my marketing skills. And it has reminded me more than anything of how Bilbo Baggins felt when Gandalf left him with a bunch of dwarves who didn’t particularly like him at the western edge of Mirkwood with no more advice than STAY ON THE PATH. He had no idea what he was getting into, only that he could not turn around and go home.

By the very nature of this beast, however, this journey is different in one significant way. Unlike Bilbo, who was traveling only with a few folks just as lost as he was, I am traveling on a winding path, and a VERY heavily populated one. I am forever coming within shouting distance of those who are VERY much more experienced than I am and who talk about traveling through this forest all the time. The major areas I have tried to earn about this year, in the approximate order of success I have had are:

1) submitting to agents
2) self-publication
3) networking with fellow authors, and
4) creating audiobooks.

In the course of all of these things, I have encountered some of the following issues:

1) Good information is hard to come by in all of these areas. It’s not that it isn’t there; quite the opposite: there’s TONS of it! So much of it, in fact, that my specific questions get buried and washed away in avalanches of people who want to sell me stuff, or who really want to talk about what they know, or who really want to talk even though they don’t really have good advice, or who MAY know what they are doing, but are terrible teachers and communicators.

2) VERY few people, even in places allegedly set UP to answer questions, will actually take the time to answer questions. It’s hard to blame them; they’re not getting paid to do it. But almost always, if I post a question, they will respond with links. The internet being what it is these days, 90% of the time the link is to a video. VERY often, that video is over 10 minutes long. More often than not, that either leads back to 1) or on to

3) The instructions/videos I encounter are often designed for and by people who already know all or most of the jargon/acronyms, so while the information is often good (I have sat through hours, mining through the dross for some actual nuggets of useful information) I usually can’t understand half of it. And videos are AWFUL for my style of learning. I am a fast reader who loves to cut to the chase, but I am doomed to slog through hours of meaningless foliage. “Well, why not just read through the online manuals?” I hear you say? Because those manuals were written by and for people who know most of the jargon/acronyms, and they are not indexed. It is incredibly frustrating to have a single specific question that could be answered in seconds, but can’t be because the people who have the answers either will not respond, or deliver the information in vague or highly technical terms.

4) Finally, many people I encounter who could actually be helpful are operating at a high enough level that they have literally forgotten how overwhelmingly hard all of this is for people like myself that are just starting on this road. At my level, all of this is overwhelmingly hard and confusing. And all that is discouraging. Extremely discouraging, especially when you are constantly encountering people for whom it is seemingly as easy as breathing and who, to hear them tell it, were NEVER as confused or thought it was at all difficult.

Now, Mirkwood wouldn’t be complete without its share of monsters, so let me explain about the monsters I’ve encountered along the forest path. Besides the foreigners along the path who will baffle you with technical jargon or leave cryptic puzzles for you to solve on your own, you will encounter thieves, trolls, elves, and spiders.

Thieves: Probably the easiest to spot and avoid, these are the people who swear to you that they will explain it all if you will just pay their low, low price to join their platform. After all, you gotta spend money to make money, amirite? They are selling maps to the forest, bay-bee!
Well, if you’ve found one that works, good for you. But I’ve never met anyone who wasn’t already an established name that recommended one.

Trolls: There are people out there who will actively discourage you. In fact, I wouldn’t be surprised to find one pop up in response to this blog post. They’re the ones who will tell you that if you’re finding this hard, you’re just too stupid to be in this business. Often they’re the ones who have self-published 20 books that are selling really well, they will tell you. Funny how you’ve never heard of them…

Elves: Elves mean well. At least, they kind of do. Elves will tell you that they can help you, REALLY they can, but only if you ditch that freeware you’re using to write/self-publish/record and buy THEIR ONE PLATFORM. You’re not pinching pennies, are you? Only a few hundred dollars. Elves also answer every question with a 40-minute video link. They offer so much help, but its never… quite… helpful.

Spiders: Spiders speak authoritatively on everything, but every piece of advice they give you wraps you up tighter in huge strands of NOPE. Before they’ll answer your question, they want to know everything you’re doing, and you are ALWAYS doing the wrong thing. They’re like a combination of an elf and a troll: they want you to do everything their way, and you suspect they don’t really want you to succeed. They really want to be that voice of authority, though.

So why am I writing this? Perhaps it’s because it’s the advice I wish I’d been able to give myself a few months ago. Because back then, I was really hoping that all of this would be easier. It’s not. It;s been a lot harder than I thought it would be. It HASN’T been without successes or without learning. But what  have learned has been dearly bought, with a lot of time and effort. And I want you to know that if you’re there, it’s okay. It’s just part of the journey. Keep going.

Update 7/6: Decided to post to the “Audacity Users” group on FB about my specific question. Specified please no video links as answers. First answer: “I should be able to just say “compress (minimally) and normalize” and you could take it from there. It almost sounds like you’re in over your head – submitting recordings before you know what you’re doing.”
Folks, that right there is a “spider.” Answers in jargon and then criticizes you for not knowing it, while not elaborating on what you should know.
And of course, it may be appropriate to say, “You don’t know enough about what you’re doing to ask that question yet,” but if you really want to be helpful, that should be followed by: “And here is the minimum you need to know about what you’re doing before asking it.”

Short Story Release: “Whoever Is Not For Us.”

Received confirmation today that “Whoever Is Not For Us” will appear on the Mysterion website on July 8th, but for supporters of their Patreon it is available NOW.

Here is an excerpt, just to whet your appetite:

(Sorry for the lack of paragraph indents, but WordPress is particularly stupid in that regard).

Whoever Is Not For Us
by
Scott Huggins

 

The sparking hell of Main Engineering shuddered and rang like a cymbal under the blows of magnetic grapples impacting the outer hull. Marine Captain Manuel Stolz spared a single glance for Commander Ellerbee and her mate frantically working on the drive bomb.

“How long?” he said. His voice echoed in his combat suit helmet, unnaturally loud.

“A couple of minutes,” grunted Ellerbee. The Navy engineer’s hands were moving too fast for him to follow.

Too long. Stolz switched to his Marines’ channel. “Perimeter check.”

“Conrad, hatch secure.” 

“Olivett, hatch secure.”

“Plekhanov, hatch…” The lights went out with a photoflash and Plekhanov’s voice was swallowed by a roaring hiss. The boarders were through the stern perimeter, moving with a precision inhuman and terrifying. Their lasers strobed the compartment. Ellerbee’s suit sprouted holes: superheated air and flesh jetted out, knocking her body back into Stolz, smashing him into the bulkhead. Conrad slammed the butt of his rifle into the helmet of the attacker that appeared suddenly behind him. Then he leveled it at the thing’s belly. He and the alien fired at the same moment. They exploded apart from each other.

Stolz’s reflexes and enhancement took over. Riding the tailored hormones like a roller coaster, he tucked and bounced off the bulkhead, rolling back to fire his puppetcutter. The focused EMP seared through the Brainsucker’s circuit-neurons, severing the connection between host and parasite, and his target spasmed and went still. Then Stolz was through the hatch, into the weapons bay. Scanning. His bulky gun’s screen showed nothing. He sealed the hatch and moved again, bouncing from wall to wall. His back itched, but no infinitely hot finger reached out to stab him between the shoulder blades.

They wanted him alive. Wanted them all alive. It was their way.

He dogged the hatch behind him and turned forward. Then he heard the shout. “Manuel, stop!”

He stopped. He didn’t remember letting the gun go, but it hung before him in microgravity.

Zanne’s voice.

Numb, he reached for his holster. So even this prayer would be denied him. He’d had nightmares about this moment, had planned for it. And prayed it would never happen. The weight of the weapon filled his hand with heavy and final comfort. He focused his eyes on it, and the comfort drained away. 

His laser sidearm was burnt clean through. He’d never noticed the hit. And the hatch behind him was beginning to glow red. The Brainsuckers were burning through. He was trapped, with Zanne on the other side, coming for him, and he could not kill himself.

All Things Huge And Hideous: Edits Done

Short blog post today. I am happy to announce that All Things Huge And Hideous has been returned to the publisher for edits.

I less pleased to announce that my laptop is limping along sadly due to the catastrophic failure of its battery, and it is now effectively a desktop until such time as the new battery arrives. Oh well.

The Enemy Of My Enemy Is Not My Friend

One of the reasons that Deep Space Nine was my favorite of the post Original Series Star Trek is that the writers got to make some pretty bold moves. One of the boldest and most insightful, I feel, was their choice of what to do with the Mirrorverse from one of the Original Series’ strongest episodes.

In the Mirrorverse, the Federation was the Terran Empire: a bloodthirsty, dictatorial and ruthless state. And Vulcans were pretty much Romulans. During their brief sojourn in the Mirrorverse, our own universe’s Kirk tried to convince the Mirrorverse’s Spock to try overthrowing the Terran Empire in favor of a Federation. In DS9, we got to see the results.

Turns out that Mirror Spock had been quite successful at the overthrowing the Empire part. Unfortunately, that merely left the Empire in enough trouble that its subject peoples plus the Klingons and Romulans had easily conquered Earth and made humanity into a slave race. And they were still enslaved about a century later.

The Original Series had made an unwarranted assumption, and it is one that uneducated “revolutionaries” make to this day: that when an oppressive system is toppled, freedom and justice will naturally follow. They do not. To establish them requires hard work, and it is not often hard work that the “revolutionaries” are equipped to do. To take a few examples, it must have seemed to the Aztecs’ subject races that the Spaniards — whose God, notably did not demand human sacrifice — were their liberators. The French believed that toppling the nobles, and later the king, would bring them equality, liberty and brotherhood. What they got was the Committee Of Public Safety, the Reign of Terror, and Napoleon. Aleksandr Kerensky had a chance to establish a Russian Republic when the Czar’s oppression was overthrown, as did Yeltsin when the Soviet Union fell apart. They were succeeded by Lenin and Putin respectively, and the only thing better about Putin is that he isn’t using starvation as a tool for mass murder, as far as I know.

Overthrowing oppressive systems isn’t very hard, even when it isn’t easy. Not replacing it with an enemy that’s even worse is the trick.

Iron Lensman

Every now and then I have the impulse to do a little literary criticism, although I can usually control it with prescription medication. But the other day I was watching Iron Man II (I really watched the MCU out of order) and a parallel struck me that I haven’t heard anyone else talk about before, so you lucky readers get to hear me ramble on about it.

The Lensman series, by E. E. “Doc” Smith was one of the seminal works of Golden Age SF, appearing in Astounding magazine from 1937-1948, and later reworked in the 1950s as a series of seven novels. Roughly, the titular heroes, the Lensmen, were an organization that fought crime on a galactic scale. Their lenses amplified their psionic powers, and no person who could be corrupted by wealth and power could wield a lens.

The length of the series, the poverty of the plot (which generally just featured the Lensmen going up against more and more powerful foes, armed with ever-more esoteric and larger superbattlefleets) and Smith’s excruciatingly awful prose meant that the Lensman series never saw release as anything approaching a major motion picture, which is on some level a relief and on another a profound disappointment. I always thought the series might have some hope in the hands of a really awesome screenwriter. But the themes he launched were a major influence on Star Wars (incorruptible psionic supersoldiers, anyone?) Other than that, it’s hard to find a direct heir to Smith’s style of storytelling.

And then it hit me that Tony Stark is pretty much a lensman par excellance, updated for the modern world. There are several parallels: like many other writers of that generation, such as Asimov, to whose Foundation series Smith lost the 1966 Hugo for Best Series, Smith’s lensmen are trained and expected to function as scientists, and frequently make discoveries and invent new weapons and vehicles. This whole thing struck me as i watched Tony Stark invent a new element under the guidance of his father’s notes to replace the palladium in his arc reactor heart. Like the lensmen, Tony Stark relies on a scientistic talisman that grants him his power, but it is always clear that his real power is in his willingness to do the right thing. Also like the first family of lensmen, the Kinnisons, Tony Stark gets a big helping hand from his father’s legacy of great genes and connections. Finally, by Civil War we see that Tony Stark is also concerned, as was Smith, with the idea of oversight. There is a major difference here, since the lensman’s source of power was also his shield against corruption. Tony Stark loses faith in himself and his fellow Avengers, but it’s interesting to me that this lack of faith is ultimately shown to be misplaced when he goes up against Captain America. Who also has his own “lens” made for him by Howard Stark, in a sense. The shape is even similar.

Although I really liked the conclusion of the major arc of the MCU, I’m going to miss Tony Stark and Steve Rogers. I hope that another generation of lensmen — whatever they are called — comes quickly.