Kelly McCullough writes fantasy, science fiction, and books for kids of varying ages. He lives in Wisconsin with his physics professor wife and a small herd of cats. His novels include the WebMage and Fallen Blade series — Penguin/ACE, and the forthcoming School for Sidekicks — Feiwel and Friends/Macmillan. His short fiction has appeared in numerous magazines and anthologies. He also dabbles in science fiction as science education with The Chronicles of the Wandering Star — part of an NSF-funded science curriculum — and the science comic Hanny & the Mystery of the Voorwerp, which he co-authored and co-edited — funding provided by NASA and the Hubble Space Telescope. Kelly on Twitter, Facebook, G+
Did you hear the #$*&! groundhog saw its shadow?
Does this answer your question? I hiding here until spring.
I kill it with my mind!
I kill it old fashioned way. Groundhog, meet…teh Claw!
Six more weeks of falling through the snow crust. *dogsigh*
You’re not serious, are you?*
There will be snow? Will we get to play? Because that would be AWESOME!*
*Pup Freyja: https://www.facebook.com/sleddoginthecity?fref=ts and Cat Casey
appearing today courtesy of the marvelous Jodi Thibeault
So, there’s an NPR article making the rounds right now. It purports to be about whether the quality of art is primarily responsible for the popularity of art. Leaving aside that I don’t think the methodology of the study addresses the question the article seems to be claiming it does, this is a subject that makes my bones itch.
That’s because I’m not at all sure we can have anything like an objective standard of “good” for something as subjective as art. I strongly suspect that we can draw a line between bad and competent, but once you’ve crossed over into competent, I think that things go very very fuzzy.
First off, what constitutes good? For example, in writing, is great prose ultimately the true measure of good? Or is it something else entirely. Good or great pacing is also a skill. So is good or great character, or world, or story, or simply the ability to evoke emotional response. I have read things with very meh prose that are still amazingly excellent works do to other aspects of art and craft and vice-versa.
Also, who gets to decide what constitutes good? That’s a huge question, both in terms of expertise and of culture. There are things that I as a professional writer might judge to be bad prose because of my own personal context when I read it, while an inexpert or early reader might find the very same prose amazing because the writer is doing important things with simple structure and words.
On another axis, there are things that I may find deeply moving or fun because I’m a middle-aged, cis-gendered, white, straight, liberal, atheist guy from the midwest. Those same thing could be frankly appalling to someone who doesn’t share my cultural biases.
Audience matters, and good for me is almost certainly not good for everyone. While I absolutely want experts deciding whether a bridge design is sound, experts deciding on esthetics is a dicier proposition. Posit for a moment that “good” is actually a democratic proposition, in which case it may be that good for the many who are not experts is better than good for the few who are.
Mind you, I don’t know the answers to any of those questions, but every time I see someone trying to make objective decisions about something as subjective as whether art is good I get a little bit itchy. I’m not at all sure these questions have answers that aren’t entirely situational, and I’m skeptical of arguments that say that they do.
February 24, 2014 in Publishing
Contrary to the opinion of any number of beginning writers, editors are not supervillains hunched over their desks scheming fresh ways to crush the souls of unpublished writers.
In point of fact, they are deeply invested in your success. The only person in the world who is anywhere as close to as invested in that story of yours being a work of undiscovered genius as you and your most supportive friends and family are is the editor who is about to read it. Trust me on this.
First off, the editor is dying for something new and good to read. They have just read bits of several stories that are so bad they want to claw their eyeballs out, and have done so knowing that, that which has been seen can never be unseen. They have read any number of stories that are meh at great cost in time, and they have read a few that were so close that they were holding their breaths and rooting for this author to make it across the line, only to have it go flat at the end. This is no fun. Successful stories are.
Second, they make what little money they make in this industry by publishing successful stories. If you send them an awesome story, you are helping them buy lunch. This is a very good thing when you’re a starving editor and not trivial.
Third, the discoverer of new talent gets some of the credit for that talent. The bigger the talent the more reflected glory there is. Discovering the next Nnedi Okorafor or Jim Hines gives you major editorial bragging rights. And if you find the next Neil Gaiman, well: Wiktory!
Fourth, and most important, editors edit because they love the field. The slush pile is not a fun place to dig, and finding a gem there is cause for major celebration. I know a lot of editors, and watching their faces light up when they talk about helping to launch the career of some new writer whose work they can love is a truly joyful experience. They know exactly how hard it is to make it in this world, and how much it will mean to that undiscovered writer to have the validation of that first acceptance letter. They know they are going to make a writer’s day, or maybe even their whole year, and they absolutely love that they get to do that. It is one of the things that keeps editors going on the bad days.
The editor is not your enemy. They want you to succeed, desperately and sincerely.
Handing the keys over to my brilliant, lovely, and very tolerant wife for a moment:
“Is Kelly McCullough really as strange and silly as his posts make him appear?
No. He is much more strange. This is a friendly note from the writer’s spouse. What Kelly puts on the internet has been processed through his multiple filters. What you don’t see is the variety of oddness that comes out (a) before his filters are in place in the morning, or (b) occasionally makes it past a few filters to be stopped by the “is this for public consumption?” filter.
Imagine waking up on a weekend morning to have your bed partner roll over and start telling you about Princess Mooina and the Connecticut Buffalo in King Heifer’s Court. Or having your dearly beloved jump out of a room shouting “They can take our lives but they canna take our guitars! Long live Robert the Bruce Springsteen!”
He has little personal dignity, a strong set of morals, and no fear of looking “silly”. Given the slightest prodding, he will stand half naked in the snow wearing goat pants, or be videotaped in slow motion being hit with a snowball. And those are the ones that get posted in public. At home he will practice muppet ballet wearing bicycle shorts. He will pose, superhero-style, wearing nothing but slippers and a woolly cow hat. His brain goes from camouflage to camel-flage to llamaflage. And then he starts positing what llamaflauge looks like. And all you see, dear readers, is that he posts the “Llama song” video on his feed.
This is my life. And I love it. He is far sillier and much stranger than what he posts online. He brings much joy and laughter to the world, and this world needs it. Many kisses and hugs to my wonderful love, and many thanks to his family, friends and fans who keep him happy and silly.”
Kelly here again. And now I’m all verklempt.
I find that after ~16 highly outlined novels, I mostly don’t need that scaffolding these days. The outlines have become internal to my head.
To elaborate: I find now that if I know where I’m going (almost always before I start the book) I no longer need to do much advance outlining. The things that I need to make a coherent story of the target length with all the bits that are needed for something to be a story are in my head in a very firm way.
If X is my goal then U, V, and W have to happen structurally to provide the story beats. It’s much less mechanistic than that, but that’s more or less how it works now. I know that the plot tools will be there when I need them, so I can focus on the themes and character and bigger picture.
I started to get the first flashes of it around novel number 10 and I’ve been using it ever since, but it really kicked in solidly with Crossed Blades, which was number 17.
This is almost entirely a function of experience. I’m up around 4-5 million words of fiction written counting all the stuff that fell by the wayside. I’ve got around a million words in print, another million that’s forthcoming or that I expect to publish, and 2-3 million that ended up on the cutting room floor.
That last 2 million plus was at least as valuable as the stuff I kept, since it represents reflection and change. I used to cut ~4 words for every survivor when I started. These days the ratio is reversed, but it took 20 years to get here.
The process has allowed me to create heuristics for writing a Kelly McCullough novel, heuristics which I constantly work to improve as I strive to become a better writer.
It’s that experience and that practice at solving the problems of writing a novel that allowed me to write Blade Reforged in 100 or so days and have something I could turn in without massive rework. Likewise, writing Drawn Blades in 88 days.
It used to take me a year to write a novel because I had to do a lot of backing and filling that I can avoid now. Mind you, I prefer to have 150-175 days, but it’s nice to know I can do it in less when I have to. Unfortunately, the only way that I know of to get there is to hammer out the work day after day and year after year.
*Importing and expanding my contributions from a Twitter conversation about plotting/outlining with Paul Weimer, Tobias Buckell & Damian G Walter
February 21, 2014 in Writing
This started as a comment in Justine Larbalestier’s post about writing physical pain. I thought it might interest some of you here, so I’ve ported it over:
In my first published novel (WebMage) I wrote a good bit about a knee injury my central character incurs in the first couple of chapters and about how it affects everything he does from there on out. In that case I was writing from the personal experience of the aftermath of a torn cartilage injury that I lived with for more than a decade before I had the insurance necessary to get surgery.
Rather than focus on the pain itself (which sucks but isn’t all that interesting) I focused on the things that it simply made impossible. With my injury the pain was intermittent depending on whether a bit of the torn cartilage had flopped into the cup for the end of my knee bones or not. If not, I could do many things just fine, but always with the awareness that might suddenly change. If so, there were all sorts of things that were simply too painful to do–long walks, walking any distance more than about 50 feet without my cane, running, stairs, etc.
I think the random length cyclic nature of being able and unable to do things was the most interesting thing about the injury, so that’s what I focused on. Since that’s a component in many injury type pains it’s not a bad departure point.
Three chairs, three cats.
The committee for feline domination takes a meeting.
Is it cold in here, or what?
The feline collective “helps” with gaming