Goodbye Ursula Le Guin

When I first began teaching writing while I was at Chapman and eager to launch my “new career,” I got Ursula Le Guin’s book Steering the Craft and was powerfully impressed by what I learned from it along with my reading as an MFA candidate, which included many non-US authors and historic literature. I set my syllabus for my first sci fi writing class and wrote Ursula, asking if she had any suggestions for how I might best incorporate her text into the class.

Twenty years later, I know my letter to be academic courtesy and something I think nearly every textbook editor and author would appreciate. I received a letter in return of which the gist was, “You’re awfully cheeky for thinking you can teach writing.” I think this topic was of the utmost importance to her and I do recall seeing her urge many ways to write well in the deepest way.

Over the years I heard of the appalling discrimination she faced, from horrific physical comments (upon being introduced, Heinlein reportedly complimented her husband on selecting a wife with such a nice bustline) as the first, and – by the end of her life – pre-eminent sci-fi writer and thinker of the 20th century. She was above it, as anyone who achieved what she has must be.

Her mind ranged vastly, so far and so far more originally, than her much more “famous” (even today) male counterparts such as Heinlein. Asimov. Ursula was a blueblood from a family of brilliant intellectuals. She brought her breeding and keen intellect to the discussion of the betterment of humanity, and for a better understanding of what it is, and what it could be – to be human. Continue reading


The Creative Revolution: Part 4 of The Business of Books

Everyone is familiar with the “Industrial Revolution.” In the past 500 years there have been five official “revolutions” that have changed the way people live.

(1600–1740) Financial-agricultural revolution
(1780–1840) Industrial revolution
(1880–1920) Technical revolution (or Second Industrial Revolution)
(1940–1970) Scientific-technical revolution
(1985–2000) Information and telecommunications revolution

We’re going to propose #6 and we are in the middle of it:

(2015-????) Creative revolution
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Why Don’t More People Read?: Part 3 of The Business of Books

Right now, approximately 70 million people in North America (US, Canada, Mexico) regularly buy and read books. “Regularly” is defined as buying and reading at least one book a month.

This is frequently described in popular media as “nobody reads any longer.” In terms of media attention, books are considered a poor relation compared to high-interest sectors like film, TV, games and online/mobile “content.” If you count “seeing stuff” on your smartphone like news, weather reports or e-mail, nearly 100 percent of North Americans do consume popular media; only 20 percent regularly buy and read books. TRUE.
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Writers on Process and Product: Part 2 of the Business of Books

This is about what goes into making the product that comes after the cover of an e-book or between the covers of a print book, from the author’s perspective.

The only objective criterion for “is it a good book?” that has any type of measurement so far is “does it sell well or not?” And, no one seems to agree on what “sell well” is. Would this be like forever selling well as in Don Quixote? Or, selling well during its first 6 weeks of release? Or … ? Are there some consistent criteria that could help strengthen the chances of “beating the average” per-title copies sold and achieving a reliable process to consistently deliver? In 2011, this was about 12,500 for the average frontlist title from “traditional” publishers. By now in 2015, it’s difficult to get accurate figures, but analyzing reports from major publishers for 2014, it’s anywhere from 10,000 to 11,500 per-title average for books published during the current 12-month period. If “backlist” is included, this brings such sales averages down exponentially, just as including all self-published titles will bring per-title sales averages to a very low level.

Even so, Amazon, which is the business involved in publishing with the most data about its customers, is endeavoring to identify some criteria that are more universal or potentially more valid to use in presenting books to customers than “You bought Author X’s book before; here is their new one” or “You’ve been looking at books about baseball, here are some more books about baseball.”
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Value to the Reader: Part 1 of The Business of Books

Chameleon Publishing just conducted the first of three market validation surveys: the Writer Survey. We are going to analyze and respond to the first 120 responses. Approximately 55 percent of the responses are from working writers who earn more than $5,000 a year from their writing, and half have published more than five books. The survey is still open if you’d like to respond.

In this series of articles about the business of books, we’re going to use some terms that are very familiar in many industries, but which are generally unfamiliar in the book publishing industry. The first term is value.

Writers may understand value best through the words of another writer: Oscar Wilde. “A cynic,” Wilde said, “is a man who knows the price of everything but the value of nothing.”

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Gluten Free, Dairy Free Shortbread Cookies

Hey, I started this cookie thing and I rarely eat cookies any more as I’m gluten-free, dairy-free, and additive free. If you want to sell books like Oreos, as Bruce says, you need to be aware of the true quality factor.

I’ve made these several times and they are really good. Rice flour makes a delicious and crisp cookie. Adding the oat flour makes the cookies crumbly and satisfying. Fleischmanns unsalted margarine is dairy-free and makes a fantastic baking shortening.

gluten free shortbreadGluten-Free, Dairy-Free Shortbread Cookies

3/4 cup brown rice flour
3/4 cup oat flour
1 1/4 cup finely ground blanched almonds
1/2 tsp salt
3/4 cup Fleischmanns unsalted margarine (dairy-free)
3/4 cup confectioners sugar
1 tsp vanilla extract
1 egg white beaten
Demarara or Sugar in the Raw

Preheat oven to 325 degrees. Line a baking sheet with parchment paper. Soften the margarine to room temperature. Continue reading


WWW Wednesday: YES Amy Sterling Casil reads …

WWW Wednesday. This meme is from shouldbereading.


To play along, just answer the following three (3) questions…

• What are you currently reading?
• What did you recently finish reading?
• What do you think you’ll read next?


• What are you currently reading?

I’m re-reading Shards of Honor (1986) by Lois McMaster Bujold, the first book in the Vorkosigan/Barrayar books. It’s a funny thing about reviews. Look at the contemporaneous reviews for this book which launched a career, thousands of diehard fands, hundreds of thousands (if not more) readers, and a vast amount of fan-created material:

shards-of-honor“[Bujold] gives [her] characters enough emotional depth, and enough sense, to raise their story beyond cliché.” –Locus

”Bujold has a nice hand with the complications . . . All in all, Shards is a worthy effort, and worth reading for any fan of SF romance.” –Analog

These little tidbits could be best-described as “lukewarm.” Anyone with a remote clue could see this is a great book. Its fast pace and constant twists remind me of Janet Evanovich’s Stephanie Plum books, but instead of Jersey, it’s deep space.

I think that’s “Worldmaster Grey” and the Space Witch on that cover … the actual characters are Cordelia Naismith and Aral Vorkosigan, who look little to nothing like these attractive (not) images. One of Cordelia’s crew dies in Chapter 1, and Aral proposes marriage to his captive, Cordelia, in Chapter 4 or 5 or so. Then all hell breaks loose.

By the way, Cordelia and Aral fit the criteria I requested of the Baycon Romance panel and audience: Name me a romantic pair in SF/F where the female has more power than the male – Cordelia doesn’t exactly have more power than Aral but she is a Commander and a professional and calls her own shots. And he needs her. If you haven’t read these, you’ll eat these babies like popcorn …

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Tropes Must Be True!

I was a very, very bad Amy at one of my Baycon panels. I think the programming committee saw that I’d checked I’d be willing to be on the “Romance in SF/F” panel and saw “female” and added me to this all-female lineup of diehard romance writers and readers.

Yeah. I wrote one delicate sex scene 10 years ago that I had to ask Ron Collins for help with. Mel in “To Kiss the Star” suffered from unrequited love for John. I only checked the box because I figured Astá and Broos were some type of big couple, like beta readers have been saying, referencing Gone With the Wind.

knight in sour armorSo I got there late due to being unable to locate the room. Here they are talking about their favorite and/or least-favorite “romance tropes.” As seen on the beloved TV website. I think Broos and Astá might have belligerent sexual tension. Except they admit their feelings for each other and they do not actually fight, they just engage in who has the upper hand in each conversation/plot/plan. They’re involved in serious life and death business together, not Anime swordplay as depicted on the little illustration for this “trope.” The Knight in Sour Armor has a great picture – it’s a knight made out of lemons.

I’m willing to say there’s no “TV Trope” for Astá. I’ve been looking and she’s not a bitch, she’s not snarky, she’s not innocent, she’s not waiting to be saved; she is a mother and she is in love, and everything she knows and loves is at risk. Yeah, she’s damaged, but she’s still standing strong. She doesn’t let it affect her ability to trust and love. Continue reading


Women, Welcome to the 70 Percent Nebula Award Club

bowie red first light

In addition to what we here at Book View Cafe believe to be the first self-published novel to achieve a Nebula Award nomination, The Red: First Light by BVC member Linda Nagata, another 15 of the 26 Nebula Award nominees for 2013 are written by female authors. Averaging co-authorship in the mix, this brings the percentage of nominated works written by women to 68%, which I’ll round up to 70%. As a veteran of a number of battles in this conflict, I’m comfortable in saying this represents a complete destruction of what has been called “science fiction.” Continue reading


WWW Wednesday: Short Fiction Babay!

WWW Wednesday. This meme is from shouldbereading.

The usual questions being:

What have you read, what are you reading, what will you read?

mr stiffyWell, since I’m working again, I’ve been reading short fiction. I have been reading the September, 2013 Analog, where to the hilarity of my Facebook friends and students, I stumbled across “Full Fathom Five” by Joe Pitkin. I often read while I’m working out, so I was actually in the gym when coming across this story, which is … hold your britches … about a young female scientist stranded on Europa who discovers alien life.

The sort of alien life depicted in this classic sci fi cover which I like to call “Mr. Stiffy”! Continue reading