What we really needed was more vampires

2

Couple weeks ago I decided to give the series Van Helsing  a try. My expectations weren’t high and good thing too.

With the constant stream of disappointing fare offered by SyFy, Netflix, pretty much everyone, I pulled the plug on satellite some time back. I’m one of the binge-watchers who isn’t going to bother until the season is done and then only if I’ve heard lots of good things about it from people I trust. I don’t care for cliffhangers and they’ve been so overdone in a desperate attempt to hold on to audiences that we’ve become annoyed rather than tantalized by them. Hollywood, get a clue. Really.

I admit a moment of weakness and a desperate need for something that didn’t tax the brain too much, because I hadn’t heard about this series. It just scrolled through as recommended viewing.

I actually stopped the first episode three times to check if it was really the first episode. I was convinced I was watching things out of order. Nope. Some jackass decided it was better to drop us into the middle with no explanation, no idea who these people were, and not a SINGLE reason to care about any of them.

Ooh, vampires. Ooh, a woman Van Helsing. Yawn.

The 10,000-hour Rule

I had two questions a while back from an aspiring writer. The first one was, “I’ve got thirty-thousand words written. Should I start looking for an agent?” I hate these kinds of questions because I can’t tell them what they want to hear. So after giving them what I figured was the correct answer, the follow up question was, “Okay, so once a writer finishes the book and gets an agent, how long before they can quit their day-job.” I admit, I was a bit dumb-struck and while my brain was going “Let me break out my divination toolkit” and refusing to come up with something encouraging, I finally settled on “I have no idea.”

I still don’t have an answer (that fortune-telling kit I bought is pure bunk; don’t waste your money), but I do have some thoughts on writers, writing, and their expectations.

So here goes…

Probably like most people, I was introduced to the 10,000-hour concept via Malcolm Gladwell’s book, Outliers: The Story of Success. (If you haven’t read it, it’s a pretty quick read and well worth the time).

To condense it to its most basic form, the premise for the 10,000-hour rule is that it takes ten-thousand hours of work/practice to become an “expert.” The specifics of what constitutes “work” or “practice” or an “expert” seem to have inspired a bevy of criticisms since the book came out in 2008.

I ran a quick search on “ten thousand hours rule” this morning and was surprised to find the links “debunking” the concept preceded a link to the book itself. My understanding is that search results are ordered by popularity which suggests that people have been far more interested in the articles “debunking” the concept than not. To be honest, I’m not surprised. Who wants to be told they’ll have to put in 10,000 hours of work on anything.

Yet, the articles didn’t so much debunk as get into the nitty-gritty of what constituted practice, work, and expertise, as well as pointing out that there are physical traits and aptitude that will skew the results (No duh, experts, thank you. Honestly, where would we be without you.)

Ten years after the book came out, I still recall the example given, in that if you work a 40-hour week (and spend all 40 of those hours actually doing your job, rather than in meetings, travel, etc.) it would take 250 weeks, or FIVE years (50-week year) to become an expert at your job. I remember this because it paralleled my own work experience. It’s about how long it took to unlock that “expert” achievement level, and if you switched jobs you usually ended up resetting the clock or moving it back a bit.

Then Gladwell wrote about what it would take to get to the 10,000-hours in FOUR years: an extra ten hours per week (50 hours x 50 weeks x 4 years=10K). Again, these numbers stick with me because working as a salaried engineer, it seemed that we were always working 50- or 60-hour weeks. Problem was, of course, that those ten or twenty extra hours weren’t always “work” in the sense that we were doing our jobs. Mostly I’m casting the stink-eye at meetings that could have accomplished their goal by memo and various time-wasters like mandatory company training, i.e. HR meddling and getting in the way of doing work.

So, what does this have to do with writing? Well, I’m always stunned by the number of people who proclaim that they’ve been writers for N years, as if that means something. It’s a totally meaningless number, unless “year” in this case means 2000-work-hours, and each one of those work hours represents actual writing or something directly related to improving your writing skills.

It does not include research, except when you take said research and figure out how to use it in the actual writing process. It does not include marketing (which is promotion of your writing, but isn’t writing). I would argue that it includes editing, if we’re talking about editing that involves implementing editorial requests (in this case an editor NOT being a person YOU pay, but a person who your publisher pays). I would also say that includes any activity that goes towards developing your writing skillset, such as continuing education. This could include a class, a book related to the craft or skills of writing, taking a book you enjoyed and studying how that author did what he did.

Most writers are part-time writers. They have day-jobs. There’s nothing wrong with this. It does however mean that if you only have ten hours a week to devote to writing, that it’s going to take twenty years to get to that 10,000 hours. Unless you’re incredibly lucky, well-connected, or already in the industry in some other form, you’ve set yourself on a long, slow path to success.

There’s a faster track, a ten year one, if you double up to twenty hours a week, stick to it, and don’t veer off of it.

Most writers veer off the path at one point or another. Life gets in the way. Things happen.

You’ve won the lottery if you can devote forty to sixty hours a week to developing your writing skill set. You could actually achieve that four- or five-year plan as if you had a job. But it’s still a four- or five-year plan. It’s not a one-year plan. It’s not 30,000-words and “Should I start looking for an agent now?”

Hard work is key. So are realistic expectations. Becoming a writer is a marathon, not a spring, although sometimes it does feel like you’re sprinting the entire time.

 

My favorite FenCon panel

“Researching the Science in Science Fiction” was probably my favorite panel at FenCon this year. The panel was moderated by William Ledbetter and included Science GoH Marianne Dyson, fellow authors Kristi Hudson (not pictured) and Patrice Sarath (not pictured). Photo credit: C. Stuart Hardwick.

While all the panels were great, I really enjoy discussing the craft of writing. For a sci-fi writer, that often means research. Sometimes it means going down the research rabbit-hole and getting lost. We discussed our own experiences, i.e. how we approach it, as well as the best methods.

Doing research may sound easy. Google is your friend, right? Problem is that everything correct is on the internet; along with everything that is incorrect. The search for facts can be as muddied as the search for truth.

As a writer one must know when to stop. Research is a great way to procrastinate and still pretend that you’re “writing.” Research can also be the death-knell for your premise, your idea, and your story. So how do you handle the story-slayer? Do you write around it? Do you pull out your handwavium and unobtainium? Do you just ignore it? (Think about the sounds that spaceships in Star Wars make in the vacuum of space where sound cannot travel).

Lots of factors come into play, depending on what kind of story you’re writing. There is more rigor in a hard SF story than a soft SF one. Consistency becomes a challenge, as well as knowing how much of your research to include. After all, you did all that work. Hours and hours. Weeks and months and years. The longer you spent toiling away in the research salt-mines, the more you want to include. But that’s not necessarily the best thing for your story.

Only about 10% of what I learn via research makes its way into my stories, even the hard SF ones. It has to be absolutely vital to the story, but more importantly, it has to be something that the viewpoint character knows. I think that including things the viewpoint character cannot possibly know is one of the worst mistakes I see consistently across all genres, not just sci-fi.

Number two would be the dreaded, tension-less, “As you know, Bob” exposition via dialogue. Number three is straight up exposition, usually via author voice. We hashed out some of the best strategies for avoiding not just research pitfalls, but best practices when it comes to incorporating that research into our stories.

I’m hoping FenCon will continue to offer this panel at upcoming conventions, and if you’re an aspiring writer, I hope you’ll attend. I certainly learned a lot from my fellow panelists.

FenCon XV Schedule

I can’t believe it’s just a few days away, but FenCon XV starts this Friday.

I will be reading from “Bellona’s Gift,” (Terra Nova: The Wars of Liberation, edited by Tom Kratman, August 2019). It’s a half hour slot and the opening scene is about half that, so I will also be talking about what it’s like to get to play in someone else’s universe and the origins of this story. The reading starts at 4:30pm in the Pecan Room. Hope to see you there.

The rest of my schedule is:

Before Their Time: Technologies that didn’t make it (yet)
Saturday  1:00 PM  Irving Lecture Hall  
Researching the Science in Science Fiction
Sunday  10:00 AM  Irving Lecture Hall  
Outlander Season 3 – Voyages in Time and Space
Sunday  11:00 AM  Trinity VI  
2050 & Beyond: Four Futures
Sunday  2:00 PM  Irving Lecture Hall

I’m also looking forward to meeting Larry Niven, the guest of honor and getting him to sign Fallen Angels. I remember reading Fallen Angels shortly after it came out. I was working on my physics degree. I was also taking astrophysics at the time (it was my minor). His book had such a profound influence on me (even though at the time I was not part of what one would call “fandom”) that it has stayed with me to this day. Time has proven his mockery of radical environmentalism. It has proven the ignorance of journalists. I can’t wait to meet him. [Note to self: Don’t fangirl. Don’t fangirl. Don’t fangirl.]

My writing life: August 2018

August turned out to be a busy month. Far busier than I had expected.

On August 17th, I found out that my story for Tom Kratman‘s upcoming Carreraverse anthology (Terra Nova: The Wars of Liberation) made the cover. Call me whacky, but the donkeys are my favorite. When I was researching mule trains for “Bellona’s Gift” (my story) I learned that mule trains actually consist of a bell mare (who leads the train, because all mules have a horse as a mother and will instinctively follow her), the mules, and a donkey. Unlike mules, donkeys stand and fight. They are the equine version of a guard dog and I just couldn’t resist having one, not just for the sake of realism, but because any animal with strong protective instincts has a special place in my heart.

Also on the cover, several elements from the Carreraverse–a trixie chasing a moonbat, and progressivines. What a fun universe to play in. It was such a great honor to be included.

It was an even greater honor–and shock–to find out that I will be making my Baen debut with my name on the cover. I found this out at the Baen Roadshow at DragonCon. Even with a photographic evidence (snapped in haste) it’s still hard to believe. Terra Nova: The Wars of Liberation is set for release in August 2019.

On August 20th, I released my first self-published work of fiction, my hard SF novella, Promethea Invicta. It’s available not just on Amazon, but on Kobo, iBooks, Scribd, Nook, and Smashwords.

Shortly after releasing Promethea Invicta I got a request for an audiobook version of it. One of my writer friends (and a great sci-fi author), Karl K. Gallagher, who had recorded his own audiobooks, was kind enough to point me in the right direction. I devoured Making Tracks: A Writer’s Guide to Audiobooks (and How to Produce Them): Second Edition in a day and started experimenting with Audacity (software) via some YouTube tutorials. I found out that the best place to read was my closet.

And you guys thoughts that writers just wrote, didn’t you? I wish that were true. We wear many hats. Thinking back, I had to learn how to do layouts for my manuscripts, write ad copy, sales copy, blurbs, and use several platforms to sell my books. So there are definitely times when marketing eats up a lot of your precious writing time. Then there’s self-promotion and the introvert’s kryptonite–networking.

On August 28th, a wonderful writer’s milestone happened: I got another rejection for my novelette-length female space samurai story, called Featherlight. The reason this is a milestone is because I didn’t even blink. In fact, I’d even forgotten I’d sent it out or where. Rather than feel disappointed, I was looking at it as an opportunity to expand it past the constraints of most pro-rate magazines which tend to limit the word count to between 15K and 17K words.

Then as I was preparing for DragonCon I found out that eight outfits was nowhere near enough and packed another. Or two. This was my very first DragonCon and while I had a vague idea for what it was, it turned out to be far more intense. Only 80K people. No problem. My goal for next year is to attend as a pro.

Several other wonderful things happened at DragonCon, but I can’t yet tell you what they were. Not yet.

Which brings me back to why you might want to subscribe to my newsletter. First, I won’t flood your inbox with a ton of useless stuff, just relevant updates, maybe 2-3 times a month. Second, the social media platform I’m most active on, Facebook, suppresses content. Just because you’ve liked my author page on Facebook, doesn’t mean that you’ll see the latest updates in a timely manner or at all, since Facebook makes its money selling ads. If you only occasionally use Facebook, chances are you’ll miss my posts. So, opt-in to my newsletter (it’s really easy; just fill in the newsletter opt-in in the upper left hand corner). To quote a memorable movie line, “It’s the only way to be sure.”

If you use Twitter, follow me @HouseDobromil. It’s the Twitter version of my author page. The newsletter is better, trust me.

 

 

SSTOs and the law

Esteemed space lawyer and fellow sci-fi writer, Laura Montgomery, reverse-lawyers (i.e. reverse engineers) the realities and legalities of launching vehicles into space on her blog.

Her excellent review of Promethea Invicta looks at the real world path set up by Congress. A path that, like so many Congressional acts, delegates the actual rule-making and regulation to other entities, such as the Secretary of Transportation. Ultimately, it’s the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) that issues the needed licenses and permits.

Her Ground Based Space Matters Blog is an excellent resource for anyone that wants to learn more about private space activity, the FAA, NASA, and associated agencies.

The multi-talented Ms. Montgomery also writes excellent sci-fi. Her latest release, called Like A Continental Soldier, (Book 3 of the Waking Late series) just came out. Take a look at her author page and check out her other works.

 

Promethea Invicta, ready to rock-n-roll

I’m very excited to announce that my hard sci-fi novella, Promethea Invicta, is out.

The Sovereign Republic of Texas of 2071 is no longer part of what used to be the United States. But it is still bound by the treaties it inherited, including the Outer Space Treaty.

Theia Rhodos is ready to free humanity from the shackles that keep lunar resources out of her reach. She’s done taking “no” for an answer and she’s ready to sacrifice everything.

And her enemies are ready to let her.

Everything in life has a cost. And a price.

Available as from your favorite book seller, as well as through libraries (via Overdrive and Bibliotheca).

 

FenCon XV

Well, it’s official. I’m very excited to announce that I will be attending FenCon XV. Schedule forthcoming, and many thanks to William Ledbetter, the science track director, for the invitation. I’m also working on getting a new publication out in early September just in time for this event.

What is FenCon? Who’ll be there? Why should I go?

Answers below. Hope to see you there!

It’s Alive!


Join us September 21-23, 2018 at the Westin DFW Airpport. See the hotel link for reservations and directions.

2018 marks 200 years since the publication of Mary Wollstonecraft Shelley’s FRANKENSTEIN. Join us as we celebrate 200 years of classic and modern SF! Of course, we’ll have panel programming, concerts, hands-on workshops, and more! All the good stuff that makes FenCon theTexas destination convention!

Oh, and did we mention SCIENCE? You can’t put the “S” in “SF” without it! Oh you could try, but would it be as much fun as FenCon?

Advance memberships are on sale now!

FenCon XV Guests of Honor


 

Guest of Honor: Larry Niven
Music Guest of Honor: Marian Call
Fen Guests of Honor: Aislinn Burrows and Carmen Bryan
Artist Guest of Honor: Travis Lewis
Science Guest of Honor: Marianne Dyson
Special Workshop Guest: Martha Wells
Toastmaster: Timothy Griffin

 

Interesting write up of To Be Men

Blogger, Powered by Robots, had some interesting things to say about voices, writing, and To Be Men: Stories Celebrating Masculinity.

I decided to write about this because I’ve gotten a hold of a review copy of the To Be Men: Stories Celebrating Masculinity anthology edited by Sirius Métier and published by Superversive Press. It was published digitally about two weeks ago (as I write this) and seems to be doing pretty well, both relative to its Amazon reviews (five so far, and all five star ratings) and in terms of sales.

One thing the twitterati forgot about when they were raking male authors over the coals, was the intended audience of the story being written.

Read the rest, and his follow up posts based on each story, here.