TWO OLD POEMS

I have to admit I’m just really behind the deadline eight-ball again, but still, I also wanted to cleanse myself and the blog of last week’s rant, so . . .

It’s hard for me to even believe that at one time I actually wrote poetry, and it’s even harder to believe that some of it was published. Here are two that I always liked, for old time’s sake, and as an example of the fact that you can write fantasy but don’t have to only write fantasy. The first was published in a magazine that only published poems that were thirteen lines long. The second in a very cool magazine I wish was still around, like they wished mine was—it isn’t.

 

 

TO WAIT

In the midst

Of a

Serious financial

Crisis

Two

Old

Men

Play Tic-Tac-Toe

Pretending

To wait

For something

To wait

For some time.

 

Originally published in Thirteen, Vol. VII, No. 2, January 1989

Ken Stone, Editor

 

 

LOST LITTLE LOST

wonderful wasp wispy smoke sister one left tonight gone gones

gone below aground beneath beneath under underneath

someone goes and someone comes and someone stays and it’s all the

same and it’s all the same and it’s all the same and it’s all the

same

and look at me in this

outfit

look at me

little lost goats going flowing left right gone to hell go to

hell to hell with you.

 

Originally published in Slipstream #10, 1990

Robert Borgatti, Livio Farallo, and Dan Sicoli, Editors

 

That was twenty-five years ago, it was at least that many lifetimes, but hell, I should start writing poetry again.

 

—Philip Athans

 

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YOU HAVE THE RIGHT TO REMAIN SILENT

Let’s start with two simple, indisputable facts:

  1. You have the right to your own opinion, and
  2. You have the right to remain silent.

I awoke this morning at 3:45 am feeling out of sorts. It wasn’t just the mysterious pain in my right elbow, radiating down my arm into my hand. It wasn’t the twinge in my back easily explained by yesterday’s uncomfortable thirty-minute stint on my uncomfortable exercise bike. This sense of nervousness has been building lately, and it’s around something that’s happening now that I think is putting science fiction and fantasy authors in mortal danger.

If you come here for career advice, please ignore everything if you only take this single bit of not just advice, but desperate request from a fellow author, a lifelong fan, and a reasonable, intellectually open fellow traveler:

Shut the fuck up.

I worked with Brad Torgersen on our ill-fated Fathomless Abyss project and found him to be creative, collaborative, funny, and a terrific writer with a broad imagination. I didn’t ask him about his personal politics because I didn’t care. He came into the project via collaborator Mike Resnick, who I knew was one of those, let’s call him “curmudgeonly” SF authors of the Old School who occasionally got “in trouble” for stuff he’d written in the SFWA Bulletin, but I don’t care because Mike is also creative, collaborative, funny, and a terrific writer with a broad imagination. Now I learn that Brad Torgersen is in the process of destroying his writing career by publically blowing up the already thoroughly marginalized and long-ago well blown-up Hugo Awards. Attacking from the political right he and Larry Correia, and some other people I don’t know intruded on the tiny little group of friends who give a statue every year to other members of their tiny little group of friends and has everybody all in an uproar—the classic tempest in a teacup that is a good thing for precisely no one.

Over the course of my very long career I’ve worked with people who are politically conservative, and people who are politically liberal. I’ve worked with Christians, Jews, Muslims, and Mormons. In none of those cases—as an editor, author, or coworker—did I ask about any of those things ahead of time, and their political or religious views not only didn’t prevent me from working with them but in fact I welcome and am infinitely fascinated with the differences in people, and prefer those differences over any sort of political, religious, or cultural bubble.

If the so-called Sad Puppies is a reaction to a perceived bloc of feminist and/or liberal voters, Larry Correia and Brad Torgersen (et. al.) creating a voting bloc of anti-feminist and/or conservative voters only energizes “the other side,” and here we are, allowing something like Gamergate to penetrate into science fiction and fantasy.

And I just can’t allow that, not because I can’t handle a conservative SF author or a liberal fantasy author but because I can’t accept that we now have to separate into this side vs. that side.

In this blog and my other writings I tend to avoid politics, and as a member of a religious minority in America I’ve learned the hard way to just not talk about religion in “real life.”

But I write about both politics and religion in fiction all the time.

I have my political views, my opinion of religion, of popular culture, of other trends in world culture and so on. And as a writer of fiction I keep all that stuff there. I don’t want to be a “liberal author,” or an “atheist author.” I want to be an author, and if you read a story I’ve written and get thinking about religion in one way or another, or another story and think about politics in one way or another, fine. If you just enjoy it for the adventure, that’s perfectly fine too. And readers are going to reinterpret—from our perspective, misinterpret—that “message” as they see fit. I not only don’t mind that, I welcome that. I can’t, won’t, and don’t want to sit over your shoulder while you’re reading any of my fiction and say stuff like, “This is a fantasy retelling of The Fountainhead but I’m not a libertarian,” or “This short story is really about how Wall Street is like a cabal of devil worshipers,” or whatever. You’re going to get that or not, agree with me or not, and it’s the discourse-through-fiction that’s the thing.

So again, here’s my career advice to you:

Shut the fuck up.

If you declare yourself a “conservative author” of “conservative SF” you will not just be carving your potential audience in half—it’s the central delusion of both the left and the right that they each speak for half the people—you’re really limiting yourself to more like one or two percent of the potential audience. Pretend God help me, I’m about to agree proto-neo-conservative Richard Nixon, who invoked the Silent Majority.

Nixon was actually right about that, though maybe not quite in the way he was hoping. The Silent Majority really is a little bit conservative and a little bit liberal, a little bit religious and a little but agnostic, a little bit violent and a little bit peaceful, a little bit terrified and a little bit courageous . . . There is no rape culture in America, and there are no “feminazis.” There is no War on Christmas, nor is there a Gay Agenda. Those are “wars” being fought by two or three people at any given time, utterly ignored by effectively everyone else, which then attract a gaggle of anonymous internet trolls who are just there to stir the shit.

Wallow in that at your own peril, authors.

I flatly refuse to limit my own audience in that way. As authors we are all running our own small businesses. I’m not going to make the mistakes that other businesses, either Chick-fil-A or Hobby Lobby, or whatever else, have made when they said: “Attention people of conscience: don’t shop here.”

I want everybody—men and women, rich and poor, gay or straight—to buy my stuff and read it and think about it and like it or not or understand it or not . . . or understand it in a way that I don’t.

If you’ve joined the Sad Puppies you have done damage to your career. If you call out, as I’ve seen recently online to stop reading anything written by white men because women and/or people of color deserve to have the genre to themselves, you have done damage to your career.

When you make any one segment of the audience out there feel unwelcome, the Silent Majority will follow.

Leave your politics in your story, leave your spirituality in your story, leave your opinion in your story, leave everything about you in your story. The story isn’t about you.

No one gives a shit about you.

We want stories.

So, Larry Correia, George R.R. Martin, and anyone and everyone who’s ever said, “Well, your side has said and done thus and so while our side is perfect and gifted of The Truth,” please, I beg you, for the good of the genres we love, and for the good of your own careers, please just stop talking.

And start writing.

 

—Philip Athans

 

 

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ONCE MORE WITH FEELING: A STAND-ALONE WITH SERIES POTENTIAL

For a long time now I’ve been telling anyone who will listen that every query letter you send out should have the title of the book you’re trying to sell plus these six words emblazoned across it:

 

. . . is a stand-alone with series potential.

 

And I really, really mean it.

But then why does it seem as though no one is listening?

Related in many ways to last week’s post about word count and the maybe-maybe not demise of the so-called “fat fantasy,” we have to also start to look at the fat-fantasy’s twin sibling: “the endless series.”

Some authors will consider themselves lucky if they end up in a position where a publisher is clambering for the next book in the series, every year, year after year for decades. Who would want to say no to that kind of predictable income in a business where income is anything but predictable? The endless or at least seemingly endless series is a staple of the genre mostly because fantasy (and to a slightly lesser degree science fiction) readers keep buying them, so it may well seem that, like the >200,000-word magnum opus, starting with a series concept is just good business. You’re giving the people what they want!

Okay, maybe, but . . .

For what it’s worth I love a great SF or fantasy series. Not only have read more than a few in the past, like Frederick Pohl’s series of sequels to Gateway (I’ve read them all), Isaac Asimov’s Lucky Starr (read them all) or Foundation series (read almost all), but I’ve written a trilogy, and one book in a six-part series, and edited more series and trilogies than I can even count. In fact, I’m always reading one book in a series, alternating now between Robert Silverberg’s Majipoor series, Frank Herbert’s Dune series which will then switch to Brian Herbert and Kevin J. Anderson’s expanded Dune series, and Ian Fleming’s James Bond books. Please believe me, then, when I say that I’m not anti-series in any way, shape, or form.

But I am realistic about the publishing business as it stands right now, and if you’re writing with an eye on making a career out of it, you should be too. And right now—and very likely forever more—the publishing business is skittish about commitment. Think of the publishing business as a man in his twenties.

They love us authors, and desperately want to meet new authors, they fantasize about the perfect author . . . but they don’t want to go on a blind date with the assumption that we’ll move in together the next morning. Think of your first novel sale as a “safe lunch.” The advance will be low, as will expectations, and you’re going to have to show up looking your best and really work hard to keep the conversation going. If that goes well, a second date will be proffered, but the jury’s still out. The crucial third date will either seal the deal or send you packing. But those dates will not be scheduled in advance.

I desperately hope that your work-in-progress novel has a satisfying beginning, middle, and end. If it doesn’t—if it ends with a cliffhanger then “to be continued in . . .”—rethink that ending while it’s still “in progress” and not “on submission.”

If you are not already a successful, published author with a proven sales track record, please don’t even try pitching your series, or even your trilogy. No one wants to commit to more than one book to start: to see if there’s a readership, to see if you’re on trend, to make sure you won’t blow up your career by getting into weird online political fights or say something absurd at a convention, or in any entirely innocent way write one of the 90% of books published in America in a given year that fail to make a profit.

If Book One of your twenty-six book series tanks, the few readers who came with you for the blind date and like you will now find you failing to return their phone calls when the publisher kills the second book in the series. Then that one book will disappear from store shelves for the same reason, and your career now becomes: Guy Who Failed to Get That Series off the Ground.

Always up for a good series, but...

Always up for a good series, but…

And in this fear- and money-driven business you’re only as good as your last book’s BookScan numbers. Even then, the biz will give you a second chance, but not with a sequel to a failed book. They’ll want a fresh start.

I know no one wants to see these genres we love reduced to the mercenary level of sales and forecasts and P&Ls, but that’s the truth. It is a business, and we all need to approach it as such . . . once the book is finished.

Pour everything you have into that book: your hopes and dreams and politics and spirituality . . . every scant ounce of creativity . . . and wrap it up so that if that’s the only book anyone ever sees from you it remains forever as a satisfying read.

Then if it sells write a sequel, and if the sequel sells write another sequel.

This idea that scaredy-cat New York publishing is going to hand out three-book deals to unpublished, unknown authors . . . just not going to happen.

But they’d love to find the next perennial seller, the next Terry Brooks or R.A Salvatore. And readers are lining up to read those series. But neither Brooks nor Salvatore signed a twenty-book deal based on the first manuscript. As fans we all voted with our wallets to keep them going.

To me, this just seems terribly obvious, but I still keep getting questions from people who are working on a trilogy and the second book is already written, and . . . I hope I don’t outwardly cringe.

How about this for an example.

When Star Wars was released in 1977 it had a very satisfying beginning, middle, and end—literally capped off with a ceremony in which the heroes receive shiny gold medals—it was a stand-alone. But Darth Vader’s TIE fighter spun off into space after the Death Star was destroyed, so the villain is still out there—it had series potential. If no other movie had ever been made, no book or comic book written, Star Wars would have stood as a great, fun, solid, complete movie.

As a rabid Star Wars fan, age thirteen, I hung on every word reported about that movie, which I loved all out of proportion. And it was only after Star Wars proved to be an immensely popular international blockbuster that I head George Lucas talking about how he’d always planned on Star Wars as a nine-part trilogy of trilogies with Star Wars (and no, I will not refer to it as A New Hope) inexplicably inhabiting the fourth slot.

I believed him then, but now . . . sorry, Mr. Lucas, but no.

Star Wars was a stand-alone with series potential.

And what a successful series it continues to be.

So maybe you really do have plans for a thirty-book mega series to be sold as ten trilogies spanning millennia of story on your created world. Okay!

But if that’s in the query letter for the first book, and if that first book ends with a cliffhanger, the world will never know.

 

—Philip Athans

 

 

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HOW LONG SHOULD YOUR FANTASY NOVEL BE?

Last weekend at a seminar at Emerald City Comic Con I was asked again about length, with the assumption that fantasy novels should be, or are expected to be, or somehow sell better if they are 200,000 words long or longer. Though there are some major fantasy best sellers in that range, I’ve always had a feeling that that assumption is simply false. But then I’m also willing to admit my own personal bias toward shorter books. So I thought I’d put a bit of research in. So this week, let’s break down some of the best selling books of all time, and some other fantasy best sellers, and see how this magical 200,000 word mark stands up.

According to List Challenge’s 101 Best Selling Books of All Time, the ten best selling books are, in this order:

  1. A Tale of Two Cities by Charles Dickens
  2. The Lord of the Rings by J.R.R. Tolkien
  3. The Hobbit by J.R.R. Tolkien
  4. Dream of the Red Chamber by Tsao Hsueh-Chin
  5. And Then There Were None by Agatha Christie
  6. The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe by C.S. Lewis
  7. She by H. Rider Haggard
  8. The Little Prince by Antoine de Saint-Exupery
  9. The Da Vinci Code by Dan Brown
  10. The Catcher in the Rye by J.D. Salinger

So how long are they? Surely the six fantasy novels on the list (I’m counting The Lord of the Rings as three books) must be monstrously enormous tomes of well over 200,000 words. Right? That’s what fantasy fans want, right?

The Fellowship of the Ring is about 177,000 words, and is the longest of the three, which get shorter as you go. The Two Towers is about 143,000 words and The Return of the King about 134,000. The Hobbit is 95,000 words long.

The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe is only 36,000 and change.

The Little Prince is a scant 16,500 words.

Yeah, I know, but there are huge fantasy novels that have sold like crazy. And indeed, there are. The eleven books of Robert Jordan’s Wheel of Time series average out to about 300,000 words each, as does George R.R. Martin’s A Song of Ice and Fire, and Steven Erikson’s Malazan series.

But only two of the Harry Potter books come close to 200,000 words (Goblet of Fire: 191,000 and Deathly Hallows: 198,000 words), and R.A. Salvatore’s mega-best selling Legend of Drizzt series averages out at just a smidge over 100,000 words each. The longest might be 130,000 words, the shortest, about 90,000 words. Even Frank Herbert’s epic Dune falls under that 200,000 word mark at 188,000 words.

In fact, of the ten best selling books of all time, only the Chinese classic Dream of the Red Chamber passes the 200,000 word mark and might be as long as 850,000 words.

The rest of the ten best selling books of all time? A Tale of Two Cities (135,000 words), And Then There Were None (approximately 95,000 words), She (121,000 words), The Da Vinci Code (170,000 words), and The Catcher in the Rye by J.D. Salinger (73,000 words).

Removing the statistical outlier of Dream of the Red Chamber and counting The Lord of the Rings as three books, our top ten averages out to 108,682 words.

So based on sales, that’s your benchmark, not 200,000 words. And also keep this question in mind: Are these massive fantasy uber-epics a fad that’s on the wane? How many times have you heard complaints about Wheel of Time and other so-called “fat-fantasies” seeming padded, bloated, or otherwise just plain too long?

In the end, of course, your book should be precisely as long as it needs to be to tell your story and put forward your ideas.

If that takes you 200,000 or 300,000 words, there are people who will read that, and those “people” even include me, who would rather read shorter books but won’t refuse to read a great book just becuase it’s long. I was a bit intimidated by the length of Jonathan Strange and Mr. Norrell, which is about 310,000 words long, but not only did I read every word of it, it remains among my most favorite fantasy novels of all time.

But if you can be as monumentally brilliant in 16,000 words as Antoine de Saint-Exupery was in his amazing The Little Prince, then that’s all the book you need to write. No one could possibly read The Little Prince and think, Yeah, it was okay, but it should be twenty times longer! And the fact that it’s short didn’t keep it from out-selling all but seven books in, y’know, the history of literature.

For the record, I sourced these word counts, which are approximations rounded to the nearest thousand, from various sources including: Word Count by Genre from worddreams…, Fantasy Faction’s Word Counts of Epic Fantasy Novels, and Great Novels and Word Count from Indefeasible.

 

—Philip Athans

 

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ACTIVE SEARCH: HE COULD SEE

Our old friends Strunk & White advise: Use the active voice. And though I’m not a 100% devotee of The Elements of Style, this is advice that every author needs to hear and do his or her level best to follow even if, like me, you occasionally (or often) fail to see the passive voice wander its way toward your own writing.

(See what I did there?)

It is simply impossible to edit your own writing. That’s why there are people like me in the world—editors. We really do actually serve a vital function, and even for you indie author-publishers out there. You can not look at your own writing objectively, and neither can I.

But that doesn’t mean either of us should surrender to whatever gaps there are in our craft and rely on the expertise of others. We need to learn how to write well, and keep learning how to write better. The simple truth is that an editor or agent who reads your manuscript will expect it to be a first draft, and therefore imperfect. But there’s a fine line—an invisible line, really—between good enough to fix with an edit and not good enough to even bother to edit. That being the case you want to get your writing as close to perfect as you can, secure in the knowledge that there’s no such thing as perfect anyway.

That’s a long, one might say “passive,” way of saying: Write good.

And one of the ways you write good fiction is not by avoiding the passive voice entirely (even Strunk & White admit it occasionally has its place) but by making its inclusion in your writing a conscious decision and not an unconscious mistake.

I already told you you aren’t going to be able to see that in your own writing, that you can’t be objective, so . . . what the heck?

Good news, people: You can’t be objective, but Word can!

One way to spot passive constructions in your own writing is to have your computer search for it, and though it may not be possible to set up specific searches that will find all instances of passive voice, there are a few tricks that will point out a few of the most common passive constructs. It’s important here to state that what you’re doing is searching for it, not replacing it. You want to FIND these phrases, then go into the text and fix them in a deliberate way, specific to that sentence, that paragraph, that scene, that collection of characters, etc.

Try this one first:

he could see

Since you can’t do a whole word search on a phrase, this will also find she could see.

This is what you might find:

He could see the space shuttle narrowly avoid the tumbling asteroid.

What’s wrong with that?

All of your writing should be coming from a specific point of view. Whoever that character is who’s seeing the space shuttle narrowly avoid the tumbling asteroid is also seeing, hearing, tasting, touching . . . experiencing everything you’re describing. That being the case, why specify that he (or she) could see this thing happening? The easy fix:

The space shuttle narrowly avoided the tumbling asteroid.

That thing just happened, and we (your readers) know that the POV character could see that, otherwise how would we know?

What the original sentence does is add a separation between your character and your reader. I’ve talked about this idea of emotional distance before. Let your readers share in the experiences of your characters, as those experiences are happening, rather than reporting from arm’s length what that character was seeing, hearing, etc. “He could see” has the effect of rendering that moment as hearsay.

But then again, Strunk & White did tell us that sometimes the passive voice is appropriate. This is why you let your computer find that phrase, but don’t let it make any creative decisions for you. If all you’re doing is replacing he could see with nothing, just deleting it, if the POV character was a woman you’d end up with:

S the space shuttle narrowly avoid the tumbling asteroid.

You want to  make the full edit.

And you may  want to leave it as is, if the context of the scene calls for it:

Galen activated the exterior camera and after tense seconds of fine tuning he thought he could see the space shuttle narrowly avoid the tumbling asteroid, then the screen filled with static.

This is stressing the fact that Galen is watching this happen through an unreliable device, so he—and your reader—isn’t sure if that’s exactly what was happening. Leave that alone.

And as always, all rules are suspended in dialog. Rarely does anyone speak in perfect, complete sentences. And characters often have to report things:

“Galen said that when he looked in the telescope he could see the space shuttle narrowly avoid the tumbling asteroid,” Bronwyn reported.

Don’t just cut he could see, use Word’s objective tool to find it then your subjective tool (your amazing creative brain) to decide if you really want that there or if there’s a more active way of saying it.

I’ll throw up some more of these in the weeks ahead, but for now let’s get back to actively writing active fiction!

 

—Philip Athans

 

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AN EVIL EMPIRE, BENT ON WORLD DOMINATION (BUT WHY?)

In August of 2012 I asked you why your villain is bent on world domination. Just as villains need motivation—we need to understand why that character is doing what he, she, or it is doing—governments don’t operate in a moral, ethical, or political bubble either. So if you’re designing an evil empire—or a kingdom of peace and plenty—that same question stands: why?

What motivates the empire, the kingdom, the interstellar federation, etc.?

This is a scan of the actual book I’m reading: an Ace edition, ©1959.

This is a scan of the actual book I’m reading: an Ace edition, ©1959.

Technology has moved rapidly forward in the last hundred years or so, and so has politics, though arguably at a slower pace. Some of us are old enough, for instance, to remember the Cold War and Ronald Reagan’s “evil empire,” the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics. As a fan of “golden age” science fiction, I tend to read a lot of SF that came out of the Cold War years, and though I’ve encountered a few examples of authors who found a way to rise above the propaganda of their day to take an at least slightly more liberal view, most tend to work from the prevailing “them vs. us” thinking.

In the February book pulled from my SF grab-bag, The War Against the Rull, author A.E. Van Vogt imagines a future in which humanity is locked in a perpetual war with the eponymous Rull, and the hero struggles with recruiting other intelligent aliens to help in the fight, before they’re recruited by the Rull.

Though I’ll admit I’m still a couple chapters from the end, it doesn’t seem as though Mr. Van Vogt was willing to break out of the Cold War mentality prevalent in the mid 1950s, when the original stories that were later combined to make this novel were written.

Here’s how Van Vogt describes this future Cold War from human hero Jamieson’s point of view:

Like all highly developed human beings who had a galactic outlook on life and the universe, Jamieson knew that for a hundred years “civilization” had had a slanted definition: a race was civilized to the extent it was able to participate in the defense against the Rulls.

From a practical point of view, no other definition could be considered.

To me that feels eerily similar to former President George W. Bush’s September 20, 2001 statement: “Either you are with us, or you are with the terrorists.”

Though that had some traction in the days immediately following 9/11, America’s allies—and other countries—more or less ignored that toothless declaration.

So if Van Vogt’s future Earth mirrors the U.S. then what of his version of the USSR?

The first time we actually get into the head of a Rull is in Chapter Twenty-two of twenty-five chapters, or page 191 of 221 pages. Up till then it’s been a one-sided struggle against an enemy as faceless as it is remorseless. But finally we see what brings the Rulls in contention with humanity:

He had come in his great anger to discover what was wrong. Many years before, the command had been given: Expand into the Second Galaxy. Why were they-who-could-not-be-more-perfect so slow in carrying out these instructions? What was the nature of the two-legged creatures whose multitudinous ships, impregnable planetary bases and numerous allies had fought those-who-possessed-Nature’s-supreme-nervous-system to an impasse?

This makes the Rull more like the Nazis than the Soviets in that they clearly see themselves as better than their enemy on a primal level. They are the perfect sentient being, so all the rest of the sentient beings are pointless. This is a sociopathic culture.

But I hope now, in our more enlightened age, we can be a bit more discerning, more thoughtful in our creation of empires, evil and otherwise.

Yes, Nazi propaganda was full of the superiority of the Aryan master race, and US propaganda during the Cold War saw the Soviets as a faceless, intractable enemy that sought to eliminate individuality—to turn us into “pod people” like we saw in Invasion of the Body Snatchers.

But the fact is that the Nazi regime, the Soviet Union, and the United States of America in their various incarnations, grew, spread, and operated for reasons that rarely if ever matched either their own propaganda or the anti-propaganda of their enemies.

Governments exist in the name of money.

They control money, raise money, spend money, steal money, horde money, print money, and so on. Sometimes they do that in subtle and even benign ways, sometimes they march us off to war in order to go get someone else’s money (in the form of oil, property, gold, salt, spices, etc.).

Governments don’t just go to war because they’re “evil.” They don’t just go to war to “destroy evil,” either. Sometimes, as happened in World War II, America managed to take the place of the British and French Empires as the global trade leader and defeat a force of horrifying, genocidal evil. Win-win.

But then what was accomplished a couple decades later in Viet Nam?

So your evil empire has spanned the galaxy . . . why? They squeeze every last resource out of occupied systems . . . but why? What is it that the aliens invading Earth actually want? In some stories we’re told they’ve come here for water, but there’s water all over the place in the universe, and it certainly seems as though it would be easier to melt a Kuiper Belt object than to invade an inhabited world, especially one inhabited by a habitually warlike species. In one movie they came here for gold.

Why would they want gold?

Frankly, we don’t really even want gold anymore—not enough to go to war over, anyway.

So then . . . why?

And just as with villains, it’s not nearly enough to just say that an empire is “evil.” If a villain is someone whose motivations we understand but whose methods we find abhorrent, that same criteria should be applied to an evil empire.

 

 

—Philip Athans

 

 

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(UN)HAPPY ORGANIZE YOUR HOME OFFICE DAY

According to Days of the Year, today is Organize Your Home Office Day.

As someone who works from home, I suppose I should recognize this day, add it to my calendar, embrace it, and . . . act on it?

I tend to think of myself as a very organized person. I’m not a huge fan of “clutter,” though often find myself surrounded by it. I’ve worked with people whose offices resemble the set of some near-future post apocalyptic epic in which the space had been ransacked and looted for anything of value, then left full of papers and broken coffee mugs and garbage.

That’s never been me. I’m tidy and organized.

In fact, I was once accused of organizing my office as a means of “work avoidance,” and in fact have accused myself of just that. I’ve advised writers to not have an office, or even a desk, and to unbind themselves from the “temple” and make themselves able to write anywhere and at any time.

And yet I seem to have entirely set that advice aside of late, attaching myself to my little home office nook up in the loft area at the top of the stairs. I don’t even have a proper office—a room with a door. Our house is just exactly the right size for a family of four, and was purchased when I wasn’t working full time from home, but still wrote in off hours on a laptop usually on the living room couch.

But as my old laptop finally starts to age out of any practical use I find myself working in what I lovingly refer to as “the downtown office” less and less, my little nook has become my office, my world headquarters, my sanctum sanctorum, and as you can see in this picture, it’s too small, too messy, and actually kinda depressing.

Boy, in the cold light of the flash it looks so depressing...

Boy, in the cold light of the flash it looks so depressing…

But there is at least a little method to the madness.

I’m right handed, so the legal pads and word list on the right, in front of the modem, are handy and useful for taking notes. The computer itself is fairly well organized, though I may have a slightly more complex than necessary file structure. I recently adopted a semi-Kanban method of putting the most pressing files in folders marked TO DO, MOST USED, and THIS WEEK, and that’s been working to keep the more pressing issues front and center.

Note the Sci-fi Paperback Grab-bag box to the far right, under a stack of papers that are waiting to be filed (which I do every Saturday). It is keeping the file cabinet drawers closed, as is my cheap but effective shredder. And my shoulder bag.

In this picture you can see the even less strictly organized left side of the desk, which is where we find piles of papers, bills, notebooks, and whatnot. Directly to the left are more or less works in progress, behind that, slightly less pressing stuff. And some pens.

Holy God do I need a new chair.

Holy God do I need a new chair.

Shit. My pony fell down.

Jesus is this depressing.

I gotta get outta here.

That’s it. Time to take my own advice and work at least half time on my laptop, and start living the plan to work off site entirely at least one day a week. I’m letting stuff like email and Twitter and the internet in general distract me, which is making me work less. That godawful chair is killing my back. The sedentary nature of my life is making me gain weight and feel terrible.

Organize my home office?

Screw that.

I’m leaving my home office.

And starting right now, I’m setting aside a couple sheckles every month for a new laptop.

Maybe this summer I’ll actually go outside.

 

—Philip Athans

 

 

 

 

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