On The Matter of Jim Frenkel

April 11, 2017 in Professionalism, Publishing

I’ll start with this. Jim has no business being a guest liaison for any convention. Full stop.

Now, on to the nuance. I understand the impulse to give second chances to people who’ve done us a good turn, or to ignore reports of behavior we’ve never witnessed when it’s a friend on the grill. I even understand it in the specific case of Jim Frenkel. He was my first agent and, some years later, he was very nearly my editor. He’s bought me dinner, we’ve laughed together, been in business together and for years I thought of him as a friend.

None of that excuses his reported behavior toward women.

None of that is a reason to give him a pass on this.

One of the reasons why serial harassment happens in our society is the tendency to forgive or ignore behaviors that don’t affect us directly or that happen out of sight, if that’s more convenient for us. It’s uncomfortable to call out someone you know and have liked. It feels like disloyalty to turn away from someone who helped you out when they’re in trouble. But, sometimes, that’s exactly what we have to do.

I don’t remember ever seeing Jim make unwelcome advances or any of the other reported behaviors that have given him his reputation as a serial harasser, but I don’t have to witness a behavior myself to condemn it. All I have to do is believe the accounts of the women who were affected, and I do. It’s that simple. So, though it gives me no pleasure to say this about a man who advanced my career and who I thought of as a friend, I will repeat myself.

Jim has no business being a guest liaison for any convention.

ETA: In case it wasn’t clear, he shouldn’t be anywhere else on the concom either.

ETA 2: Corrected “I never saw” to “I don’t remember ever seeing”.

Michael Levy, an Appreciation and a Farewell

April 4, 2017 in About Kelly, Pets and other friends, Politics/Public Service, Publishing

Michael Levy, one of best men it has ever been my pleasure to know, has left the world. He was a friend, a mentor, and something halfway between a brother and father to me and to Laura.

I first met Mike in 2000, the year my wife, Laura, took her current position as a professor in the physics department at UW-Stout. The then director of research services heard that Laura’s husband was a science fiction writer and immediately thought of Mike’s work as a reviewer and scholar of science fiction. Introductions were made, and we soon became friends with Mike and his wife, Sandy. Over the following seventeen years that relationship has deepened into a connection that is as much family as it is friendship.

Mike was brilliant, giving, gentle, kind, and possessed of a bottomless and quirky sense of humor that meshed with mine in a delightfully odd sort of way. I think that the laughter we so often shared is what I will miss the most about him. We shared many meals, we played games together, and critiqued each other’s writing. We shared good times and bad and we were always there for each other. But most of all, we laughed together every time we were in the same room, even in darker moments. It hurts my heart so very much to know that we will never share another joke or quip.

Other people will talk about Mike’s many important contributions to the field of speculative fiction and they will do a better a job of it than I could, but I do want to talk a little about how his work affected mine, because my writing is at the center of who I am and Mike deeply affected my writing. One of the first things that Mike did after we met was ask to see my most recent book, though I was at that point still barely published with only a couple of short story sales to my name. It was a contemporary fantasy with the working title Winter of Discontent and I had finished the book within the last few weeks. It was steeped in theater and set in a production of Shakespeare’s Richard III. Of everything I have ever written it was far and away the most literary. Handing it to a man who was not only a speculative fiction reviewer for Publisher’s Weekly, but also an English professor was more than a bit intimidating, especially when we had only just met, but I swallowed hard and handed it over.

When Mike finished the book we got together in his office for a chat about it. Scary stuff for an unpublished novelist. I’m not sure what I expected to hear. I was proud of the book, certainly, but not at all sure I had pulled off even half of what I intended. I cannot begin to express how validating it was to hear him say that not only was it good work, it was important work. He thought it had the potential to be a big book. Not necessarily in terms of sales, but in stature. That conversation is one of the things that kept me writing in the years between 2000 and selling my first novel in 2005. Sadly, Winter of Discontent has never been published, though it has come very close several times. It is out on submission again now, after sitting in a trunk for most of a decade followed by a recent rewrite. When it sells, I will owe a huge debt for any successes it has to Mike.

Though he never got the chance to formally review Winter of Discontent, Mike did review several of my other books and was a champion of my work, taking me more seriously as a writer and an artist than I often do myself. For the last decade when Mike taught his yearly science fiction course, one of the assigned books was always my WebMage. Every time he taught it he would invite me in to speak with his class about the work, which was always a pleasure. Now, I think of myself as a commercial writer first and foremost and that is how I generally talk about my work at places like Mike’s class. But it’s not something he was ever willing to let pass unchallenged. When he spoke about my work he would argue for me having a great passion for politics and ethics in my writing, a tendency to slip deeper topics into light books, and even my literary merit. He always took my work more seriously than I do, and believed in it in ways that I am not generally willing to. My gratitude for that is boundless.

Mike was an academic mentor to Laura as well, helping her negotiate the academic politics specific to Stout, the challenges of being a department chair, the world of academic publishing, and so much more. He made us better, stronger, happier people, and we are not alone in that. Over the last few weeks we have heard similar stories from many of his friends. Wherever he went, he helped people to achieve their dreams and be their best selves. His absence is going to take a bright light out of our world. He was endlessly generous with his time, his insights, and his love. He was a great mentor and a great teacher and he made a huge difference in the lives of his friends, his colleagues, his many proteges, his students and the whole world of speculative fiction. He was taken from us both too soon and too young and Laura and I will miss him as long as we live.

How Fast I Write

July 8, 2016 in About Kelly, Professionalism, Publishing, Writing

Someone asked how fast I write compared to other writers. Since I thought that might be something of interest to some of you. Here’s my response:
 
An average working science fiction novelist can reliably produce something in the neighborhood of one book a year at around 100,000 words. Some, including some of the best, are slower—1 book every 2-5 years.
 
I can reliably write around 200,000 publishable words a year in fiction and another 50,000 of nonfiction. I’ve written 100,000 in 88 days for deadline, but that’s really pushing what I can manage. I’m considered a very fast writer by most of my peers, but there are a small number of people in the industry who are considerably faster.
 
I know writers who can produce 1,000,000 publishable words in a year.
 
Gaming and tie-in writers tend to be on the faster end of things, and, while it’s a slightly different skill set, I respect their work enormously. I can’t do some of the things they do at anything like the speed. I know because I’ve tried writing in other people’s worlds and I find it very hard.
 
For me that’s produced something like 5,000,000 words in the 25 years I’ve been writing. From there, a guesstimate puts me at something between 15,000 and 25,000 hours of hands on keyboard writing time, which has been something between 35% and 65% of the job depending on where I’ve been at in my career.

Writing and Stubborn

April 18, 2016 in About Kelly, Books, Publishing, Writing

Writer World PSA: Rejections mean you’re doing writing right.
 
I have ~500 rejections, some very recent.
 
I also have 12 novels in print, 2 under contract, numerous short story publications, poems published, and even a science comic.
 
I had 91 rejections before my first sale. My 2nd sale was to a pro market that went under before it published. It was 6 years between my 1st short story sale and my 1st novel sale. Time and rejection are normal.
 
I started writing seriously in 1991. 1st short sale 1998. 1st novel sale 2005. Novels 11 and 12 came out in 2015. 13 and 14 are due to my editor in 2016.
 
I have 12 novels or partials out under submission right now reflecting 3 series and 3 stand-alones. I’m writing a spec book between the contract books just because.
 
Stubborn succeeds.
Don’t give up because your story got rejected. Don’t give up because you got a hundred rejections. Don’t give up.

Some Thoughts on Publishing Contracts

February 15, 2016 in Musings, Professionalism, Publishing, Writing

Dear Writers: You should be reading your contracts at least as many times and at least as closely as you do your prose or poetry. Because that misplaced comma that has you so freaked out in your story? That’s not half as bad as the misplaced comma in your contract.

Over the past few days I’ve been going over novel contracts for a new project. I’ve been posting notes on how I think about contracts and why reading them carefully is so important. This post gathers all of that information in one place.

We (writers) tend to focus heavily on craft to the occasional detriment of the business side of publishing. Contracts are vitally important and signing a bad one can be deeply harmful to both your career and your psyche. So far, I have been lucky in that I haven’t yet hit a bad clause in a contract that I couldn’t live with or get changed. But part of that “luck” is knowing that there is a point at which walking away makes more sense than signing, and being willing to push on stuff you don’t like. This is one of the reasons why I’m glad to have an agent, and why my first criteria for an agent is contract comprehension and negotiation. It’s much easier if you’ve got an agent to do the bad cop side of things.

Without further ado some random thoughts while reading contracts:

Just finished the third pass through the new contracts. This one was quickly cross comparing clauses with previous contracts. I.e. have I signed something like this before without it blowing up. If yes, hooray! If no, lets double check that bit there. Next up, close read of the whole thing with notes. Whee.

Beyond the important who gets paid how much for what stuff, one thing the boilerplate part of a publishing contract represents is a sort of archaeological record of previous author flame-outs. Also, previous publisher flame-outs, rights grabs, etc. It’s instructive reading in that way as well.

The how have things gone wrong with this publisher’s past deals portion of the reading is especially critical for smaller houses. (Catherine Lundoff reminded me of this bit)

Finished 4th pass (close read) through new book contracts. Brain melty now, so, I’m off to kill orcs for a bit (Shadows of Mordor). Next up: Reeading critical bits (things I’ve flagged on this or previous passes). Hopefully by this time tomorrow I can actually sign the things.

Finally, in response to a question about whether my agent shouldn’t be taking care of this:

Rule 1 of agents and contracts: No matter how good your agent is and how much you trust them, it’s still YOUR contract and your work on the line.

I like and trust my agent. I’m very happy with my publishing house and I adore my editor. Verifying everything is still part of my job. If your book is truly successful, that contract could be a big part of your life for the next 20 years. If it’s a smash hit, that contract could be a part of your heirs lives 20 years after you’re dead. You want it to be solid and as favorable as you can get it.

Post Script: This time I’ve done six passes through the latest contracts. Now I just need to briefly discuss two paragraphs with my agent to verify my reading and I can sign them and get them out the door.

 

GraphicAudio Of Broken Blade In The House!

September 14, 2015 in Fallen Blade, Publishing

I’m incredibly excited that the first of Graphic Audio’s rendition of my Fallen Blade series is out now. These are abridged full cast audio productions of the the books with sound effects, a bit like a radio play and the are super fancy!

Broken Blade is out now, and the rest of the series is in production.

Here’s a sample:

 

fallenblade01_1

 

Some Thoughts on Communication: Clarity, Engagement, and Codeshifting

September 10, 2015 in About Kelly, Events/Appearaces, Musings, Publishing, Readings and Signings, Writing

An academic friend asked me if I would be willing to put together some thoughts on how I use communication skills in my profession. Since I’m a novelist, a wall of text fell out. I thought it might be of use to others, so here it is.

As an author with a dozen novels in print, my entire job is communication. Primarily that’s via the written word in my fiction, and on social media which I use to keep in touch with my audience and draw in new readers on the professional side, but I also do a lot of public speaking and appearances.

In the written form I mostly work at novel length, but also do things like twitter micro-fiction to keep people entertained in the long gaps between novels. Working at 140 characters is a particular challenge as you’re forced to pack a lot of meaning into a tiny space. Often, in my case including a full joke including punch line, since much of what I do is humor.

That tiny space in need of a big punch is also something I do on the public speaking side of my job. I do a lot talking on panels at science fiction conventions and literary events. When you’ve got four to six people all talking over the course of an hour event, you have on average 10-15 minutes total to address the topic, and to make an impression on the audience. Usually that will come in a series of 30 second to 2 minute chunks in which you need to try to do as many of the following as possible: address the topic, be wise, be clever, be funny, be profound, share your love of the work, share the space with fellow panelists, don’t be a jerk, advertise for you work. Note, I put advertise last. On panels your job, beyond addressing the topic, is to make yourself interesting and likable enough for people to want to look into what you do.

On the public speaking side, I also do personal appearances at schools, keynote speeches, and readings/signing at bookstores and other venues. Each of those requires different sorts of public speaking skills.

Schools are generally mix of reading from my work and question and answer. Kids are a tough audience. They get restless easily, they don’t want to be talked down to, and they’re very curious. I generally keep reading sections with kids to very short pieces and try to spend more time addressing their questions. I’ve found that treating them with complete honesty and like miniature adults in terms of respect is what works best for me there.

Another note on question and answer involves making sure your audience has heard the question and that you’re answering the right thing. With quiet speakers or people who are anxious or otherwise garble the question, I will often restate it for the audience while making eye contact with the speak to make sure I’m really representing what they’ve asked. Sometimes this involves code-shifting, i.e. taking a question that’s asked in a very academic way and shifting it into a more vernacular sort of speech. Or, taking a convolute or slangy construction and rephrasing it more succinctly and clearly.

Keynotes are tougher. I’m a writer by trade which means I normally spend my days alone with a keyboard. Giving a 30-50 minute speech followed by question and answer is a radically different environment and it always makes me very happy that my background is in theater which taught me the value of clarity, enunciation, speaking at a conversational pace, vocal discipline and sustain and how not to say “um” all the time. It also taught me to practice my speeches beforehand.

My theater background is also a huge benefit to me for readings, where it helps me with characterization, dramatic timing, and making sure my audience feels I’m engaging them. For example, I simulate lots of eye contact during a reading—making sure to look out into the audience and rest my eyes on faces in different places. That’s my theater teachers taught me to do even when completely blinded by spotlights and a dark house. I used to do actual eye contact when I could, but I can’t shift between near and far vision that well anymore.

Signings, which often coincide with readings are another and different communication challenge. You need to give a little time and genuine attention to everyone who comes out to have a book signed. These are your hard core readers, the people who most care about your work and they’ve earned that consideration. Especially those who come out again and again. I’m terrible with names, and I make that part of my patter. I let people know that I remember their faces and when I’ve seen them before even if I can’t remember names or spell them to save my life.

That connection is what’s really at the core of all of my non-fiction communication. Whether it’s chatting with people on twitter who’ve liked my work, answering fan mail, meeting readers at signings, or making eye contact while reading and giving speeches, you have to make sure to actually connect with people, to respect them, communicate clearly, and to make sure you’re giving them your best self.

I’m a local politician as well as an author, and many of these things are cross platform skills: the speech making, the clarity and engagement, etc. This is especially true of the code shifting, which I want to talk about a bit more, as it’s something that’s often overlooked or undervalued. My most valuable skill for politics, which is mostly meetings, is code-shifitng. English isn’t really one language, it just sounds like it.

Academics, for example, use one primary set of jargon when speaking casually with each other, a separate one for written communication that will be part of the permanent record, and wide variety of in-disicpline lexicons. Or, a Wisconsin dairy farmer and a corporate lawyer may well use the same words but with meanings that vary from the same, through similar, to wildly different. I do a lot of inter-English translation as part of the politician side of my life.

Code-shifting is a skill honed through theater and public speaking, but developed through growing up in a variety of settings. My earliest memories are of being rural poor in North Dakota living with my single mother and grandmother—one version of English. At six I moved to Saint Paul and became urban poor—another version. As I went to a hippie school and we moved into the middle class, I learned two more sets of the English language. At ten my mother remarried to a carpenter—yet another set terms and meanings. When I went to college I learned both basic academic and the professional jargon of theater. When I later married and my wife went to grad school, I learned both of the more advanced forms of basic academic as well as the specialized versions of education and physics.

Being able not just to code-shift, but to recognize when people are speaking different versions of English and help bridge the gap between the two is one of my best and most useful communication skills. It helps with every part of my job as a novelist and public speaker as well as my political hobby.

Darkened Blade Launch Day

April 28, 2015 in Books, Fallen Blade, Publishing, Readings and Signings

Darkened Blade is out today! One bizarre and possibly self-protective quirk of my psychology means that every time I have a book out it comes as a huge surprise to me on launch day.

*panics* *runs around like poultry sans cranium* *deep breaths*

So, yes, Darkened Blade is the 6th and final book of the Fallen Blade series and it’s out today and it would be awesome if you all went out and bought it. Maybe even two—it makes a great present, slender affordable, shiny cover, good a paperweight, absorbs spills, etc.

And now I’m off to hide under a rock until my reading tonight at the Har Mar Barnes & Noble in Minnesota

If you’re wondering where else I might be doing things that involve the book or appearances in general. Here’s my current list of upcoming appearances.

More info on Darkened Blade on it’s own page here at my website which includes an excerpt. Or the the Fallen Blade series as a whole…

Oh, and here’s a recent interview I did at Scrivener’s Soapbox podcast if the Darkened Blade launch day scramble isn’t more than enough me for you.

George Scithers RIP (2010)

April 19, 2015 in Professionalism, Publishing, Reblogging Project, Writing

On this date in 2010 I posted a farewell to George Scithers. As part of my ongoing efforts to get copies of all my various bits of creative centralized or mirrored on my own website I am posting it again here:

George Scithers has left the building and it makes me very sad. He was one of the editors who bought my first story along with Darrell Schweitzer at Weird Tales. He’s also the editor who is a part of one my all time favorite writing anecdotes which I call: Same story same editor different day.

You see, I was an idiot once (well more than once, but I’m just talking about in relation to George here). At World Fantasy a number of years ago George asked me why he hadn’t seen anything of mine recently so I hallway pitched him a story called FimbulDinner and he asked to see it.

The problem was that he had already rejected this particular story a couple of years previously, but I’d forgotten that, and apparently so had he.

Anyway, I sent it, then realized a week or two later that he’d rejected it, and sent a note apologizing for the mistake. My note crossed the acceptance in the mail, and the story was published by Weird Tales.

There are two lessons in that anecdote. First, don’t do this if you can possibly avoid it. Second, all that any rejection means is that that editor didn’t buy it on that day.

George was a splendid old fellow and I’m going to very much miss knowing he was somewhere in the world.

(Originally published on the Wyrdsmiths blog April 19 2010, and original comments may be found there. Reposted and reedited as part of the reblogging project)

Next Up: Darkened Blade + School for Sidekicks

April 3, 2015 in About Kelly, Books, Fallen Blade, Publishing, Sidekicks

So, it’s one month out from the launch of Darkened Blade, the sixth and final book in the Fallen Blade sequence, which is kind of hard to believe. After that, my next novel will be School for Sidekicks, a snappy snarky full length novel aimed at kids and all those adults who happily read fun books without worrying about target audiences which just received a starred review from Kirkus.

DARKENED BLADE  metal porthole; Shutterstock ID 82146736