Notes From The Nebula Awards Weekend – the “good parts” version

Whenever the Nebula Awards Weekend, that surreal and magical time when the Science Fiction Writers of America wax nostalgic, hopeful, and celebratory, are held on the same coast as the one I live on, I happily attend. I’ve never been a Finalist (although I am a proud member of the Secret Cabal of Former SFWA Secretaries). Besides the banquet and awards, the weekend is like a mini-convention just for writers. Here are a few random notes from the panels I attended.

From Shared Worlds (in which I was a participant): Robert Silverberg said this about collaborations:. When you sell a collaboration (to a publisher, remember this is old-school writing career model) you need to get an advance that is at least twice what you would have gotten individually. There are many reasons for embarking on a collaboration (as opposed to a novel that’s basically ghost-written, with the senior author’s name added for sales shiny-ness). Saving time isn’t one of them. A good collaboration is not half the work of a solo novel. It’s at least twice.

It behooves us all to pay attention to whether we are good collaborators and if so, under what conditions. Sometimes, what makes us good writers (we’re visionaries, we answer only to our inner muses, we are pig-headed and recalcitrant, much like our cats) can make it challenging to Play Nicely With Others. Others of us find inspiration and creative nourishment in the process of working together. With some people — but not others. Pay attention. Play to your strengths.

From Writing For Young Adults: Regarding how much information to convey, kids are used to gaps in understanding and trust that eventually these gaps will be filled in. This seems to be one of the differences between YA and adult fiction, as adults already have an accumulation of knowledge and are less tolerant of the unexplained. “Expository burden” is the accumulation of unexplained material that the reader has to “carry’ through the book; before you load more on, resolve some by Making it Clear.

If your book has something controversial, make sure it’s not in the first few pages of the book, since these are the ones parents are apt to scrutinize to determine whether their child may buy/read the book.
From Writing The Other: Use primary sources whenever possible; be aware of the “thickness of filter” and immediacy that are often lacking in secondary sources. However, secondary sources can be valuable for providing context and explanation (i.e., of elements assumed/implied in primary sources).If you’re writing about a literate (or oral but later recorded) culture, seek out poetry and memoirs as especially powerful portrayals. Find “a voice that’s not your own.”

Why is writing the other valuable – for the author? For the reader? An outsider’s perspective can illuminate that of an insider, provided the power imbalances are not too great. How much information to include? Overload leads to confusion vs “watering down a culture and selling it for parts.”
There is a tropism toward the fantastic and a desire for, not fear of, the other.
Class distinctions are important in the US but are not treated the same as race, religion, sexual orientation, etc.  Related to the commonly held belief that we are an upwardly-mobile society?
Age is an “otherness,” not only from other people but from ourselves.
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Notes From The Nebula Awards Weekend – the “good parts” version — 2 Comments

  1. On writing with a collaborator, yes it is more work, more drafts. And the arguments! Oiy.
    The key is trust. Trusting the other writer’s vision and skill, and learning when to give in and when to dig a deep trench.

    The advantages? A different creative energy that jump starts my own. A different skill set and knowledge background that expands my reach into knew areas and styles.

    I’ve had one collaboration collapse into an angry armed camp with barbed wire between. The newest one is a wonderful waltz that morphs into sambas and pasa doble, and screaming temper tantrums that end in hugs and tears and “You were right, no you were right, no you…” every time the wind changes…

  2. Robert Silverberg, who made that observation, concluded he is not a good collaborator. I have to admit, I find the notion of him and Randall Garrett working together vastly amusing. And of him helping Isaac Asimov, who was dying, to finish a book quite moving. We all pay forward. And back. And sideways.