Category Archives: Publishing

Rejecting the Roots of Science Fiction

I know, I know, I am a broken record about this stuff. But it never ceases to amaze me (in an unhappy way) how the so-called writers of Science Fiction, seem to be in such a huge hurry to run away from the roots of the field. I’ve read and listened to all the many arguments — pro and con, from both sides — about how Campbell rescued the field from the Pulp era, but then New Wave in turn rescued the field from the Campbell era. So it might be true that we’re finally witnessing the full maturation of SF/F as a distinct arena of “serious” literature, but aren’t we taking things too far? Does anyone else think it’s a bad idea for the field to continue its fascination with cultural critique — the number of actual nutty-bolty science types, in SFWA, is dwindling, while the population of “grievance degree” lit and humanities types, in SFWA, is exploding — while the broader audience consistently demonstrates a preference for SF/F that might be termed “old fashioned” by the modern sensibilities of the mandarins of the field?

Brad R. Torgersen, “The Martian and Mad Max

Cutting Corners with Other People’s Ideas

Some Christian publishers are taking the expensive step of using plagiarism software during their editing process to guard against intentional and unintentional plagiarism, according to World Magazine. Emily Belz writes:

Most publishers think authorial self-preservation, strict contracts prohibiting plagiarism, and a good team of editors will result in a plagiarism-free book. But when plagiarism is unintentional—a missed citation or a miscopied note from a research assistant or just sloppiness—those checks can be insufficient.

I saw this kind of unintentional plagiarism or sloppiness while editing a set a workbooks a few years ago. Usually I was verifying a quotation to see if the attribution was correct, and some of them had incorrect or odd punctuation, so I tried to find an adequately sourced quotation in order to correct what my manuscript. A couple times I found the quotation and surrounded text were all quoted from another work and improperly attributed.

Professor Collin Garbarino gives World this explanation for this persistent problem. “We’ve got some pastors writing books on topics that they only superficially understand. If you haven’t mastered the subject matter, you’re going to have to rely on someone else for your ideas. If you’re under a deadline, you might cut corners.”

How Significant Is a Book’s Truth Claim?

According to Geoff Dyer, who says his next book is “a mixture of both fiction and non- but will be published as non-”, the strength of the distinction in anglophone culture has waxed and waned. “Orwell’s biographer Bernard Crick points out that ‘12 of the 14 pieces in Penguin New Writing in 1940’ – which included Orwell’s Shooting an Elephant – ‘were of a then fashionable genre that blurred the line between fact and fiction,’” Dyer explains. The nonfiction novels of Truman Capote and Norman Mailer blurred the lines again in the 1960s, he continues, and the boundary is “perhaps going through another porous phase right now.”

At first glance, this article on the demerits of the labels “fiction” and “non-fiction” seems to disparage the need to state whether a book claims to reflect reality or to be a work of imagination. Quoting  a translator, Richard Lea writes:

The division between “the writing of imagination and the writing of fact” that seems so obvious to the anglophone readers “doesn’t seem straightforward at all to much of the rest of the world.”

But how many non-fiction books do not represent the truth, because of shoddy research or editorial bias? How many fiction works have taught us profoundly deep truths (isn’t that what we love so much about some novels)? Perhaps claims of truthfulness should be done in ways other than publisher brands or bookseller shelving, but the reason we say truth is stranger than fiction is because when something bizarre actually happens, it doesn’t have to be as believable as something we make up. You might say, “That could never happen,” but if it in fact happened, that’s all the rationale you need.

Melville’s Lost Novel

What manuscripts by accomplished authors have been lost to us over the years, snatched by bibliophilic Huns or discarded as immature? The Smithsonian has a list of ten of would likely be the best lost books. The Shakespearean play on a character in Don Quixote is incredible to imagine, but here’s a good story of the great Melville doing his normal thing and finding a dead end.

On a trip to Nantucket in July 1852, Herman Melville was told the tragic story of Agatha Hatch— the daughter of a lighthouse keeper who saved a shipwrecked sailor named James Robertson, then married him, only later to be abandoned by him.

The tale would serve as inspiration for a manuscript titled The Isle of the Cross, which Melville presented to Harper & Brothers in 1853. But the publisher, for reasons unknown, turned it down. And no copy of the manuscript has ever been found. In an essay in a 1990 issue of the journal American Literature, Hershel Parker, a biographer of Melville’s, claims, “The most plausible suggestion is that the Harpers feared that their firm would be criminally liable if anyone recognized the originals of the characters in The Isle of the Cross.”

“Please Keep Silence”

Gui Minhai, a naturalized Sweden, originally Chinese, has worked with four other men in “publishing books about political intrigue among China’s Communist Party leaders; now they are in the custody of mainland Chinese authorities, apparently charged with selling illicit books.”

In January on state-controlled TV, Gui “confessed” to being convicted and paroled for vehicular homicide. Now he is emprisoned for having broken that parole. His daughter, Angela, doesn’t believe it. She’d never heard of any wreck, killing, or conviction until the newscast. What won’t be confessed is the government’s rounding up everyone in Gui’s publishing company to stop them from writing criticism of the government.

Angela Gui said she received a Skype text message from her father’s account a day or so after his TV confession on Jan. 18, when she was widely quoted in foreign media as saying she had never heard of the vehicular homicide case he cited. The message told her to “please keep silence.” Judging from the grammatical errors, Gui said she didn’t believe her father was the author.

New Film Award: The Duranty

The Victims of Communism Memorial Foundation (VOC) has announced a new film award “to highlight Hollywood’s feats of cluelessness, naïveté, and deceit when telling the history of socialism, communism, and the Cold War.” The Duranty Award is named for reporter Walter Duranty, who took what Stalin said as gospel and used his reports as PR for the Soviets.

“With each passing year, Hollywood’s historical amnesia about communism and the Cold War grows more disturbing,” said Marion Smith, VOC’s executive director. “The film Trumbo portrayed Hollywood’s most influential communist as an American martyr for free speech, ignoring the fact that communist regimes were—and from China to Cuba, still are—serial abusers of human rights and freedom of conscience.”

The award is an attractive chunk of fool’s gold to be given this year to Trumbo, a film about a communist screenwriter, and that film’s lead actor.

Are Literary Mash-ups a New Horizon for Publishing?

Still from Pride and Prejudice and Zombies
Still from Pride and Prejudice and Zombies

Is the literary mash-up a passing fad or a fertile new genre? The art of mashing up involves putting together two completely incongruous genres, only to discover that something in the high-cultural original matches the low material with which it is mixed. In Pride and Prejudice and Zombies the Bennet girls prepare themselves for encounters with the undead just as enthusiastically as they prepare themselves for husband-hunting in the original.

The Guardian’s John Mullan suggests several ideas, like this mashup of Paradise Lost and X-Men.

John Milton was surely a super-hero bard avant la lettre. All those angels tumbling from heaven’s crystal battlements, flying across the universe to visit Earth. Think of the war in heaven, where the fallen angels pit “their engines and their balls / Of missive ruin” against the less well-armed Cherubim. It could surely have profited from the involvement of Wolverine and Gambit, while Satan’s concordat with Magneto would challenge the Archangel Michael, even with his sword that “felled / Squadrons at once, with huge two-handed sway”.

Twitter’s Quiet Suppression

For months, the news on Twitter has been that they don’t know how to monetize their platform of 232 million users. We’ve seen some advertising and promoted messages, but apparently they don’t make enough money. Ian Schafer suggests Twitter and its many critics don’t know what kind of company it actually is.

Maybe Twitter is deciding that it’s identify is to censor in the name of social justice.

For years, social media companies have been besieged by a new wave of progressive advocacy groups who demand restrictions on political speech under the guise of preventing “online abuse.” These are the groups who now make up Twitter’s dystopianly-named “Trust and Safety Council.”

That council has acted within the last few hours to suspend popular conservative tweeter Robert Stacy McCain (@rsmccain). Before this, they were slowing down the use or discovery of certain hashtags, as described below.

Breitbart.com argues for organization for all of us.

Conservatives and cultural libertarians are the most likely constituency to rise up, as they are the ones being predominantly targeted, but this is really a battle that should be taken up by all social media users. The Twitters and Facebooks of the world are not like the media empires of old; they are entirely reliant on users. Properly organised, users could hold them to account, in a way that would make investors sit up and listen — but they are not yet properly organised.

Publisher Pulls Book of Smiling Slaves

For several months, the publisher Scholastic had plans to release a book this year called A Birthday Cake for George Washington in which slaves in the Washington estate scrambled to make a cake after running out of sugar. School Library Journal said the beautifully illustrated book painted a “dangerously rosy impression of the relationship between slaves and slave owners.” Particularly troubling was that the slave were shown to be smiling.

Activists on one side are pleased the book has been pulled, but activists on the other side are saying they’re shocked.

The National Coalition Against Censorship and the PEN American Center argued in a official complaint, “Those who value free speech as an essential human right and a necessary precondition for social change should be alarmed whenever books are removed from circulation because they are controversial.”

I have to wonder what Scholastic was thinking when they edited, reviewed, and produced this book.  Were they of the same mind as the NCAC to publish anything of a certain quality? And what of that mindset; is no topic, view, or depiction of history unpublishable? If Scholastic had rejected this book upon its proposal would that have been the same censorship they are decrying now?

Freedom of speech or expression is a great principle within a sound moral framework where truths and recognized authorities can be appealed to. But secularism and its attending ills have pulled the banner of freedom from its pole and dragged it with them wherever they go, saying freedom is meant to be sullied, torn, and battered because it is a virtue on its own. Liberty in law is bound by the privileges of patriarchy, but freedom means whatever the ___ I want or anyone else wants with the enabling of the rest of us. That’s unsustainable.

The Flatoy Book

I hope I’m not out of line quoting a paragraph from my own translation, in progress, of a promotional booklet for the Norwegian Flatøy Book project. This passage discusses the decision of the Icelandic bishop Brynjolv Sveinsson to turn the big manuscript (two volumes) over to King Fredrik III of Denmark in 1556. The original author is Prof. Torgrim Titlestad:

Brynjolv built on insight that had been developed within the Icelandic culture ever since Arngrimur’s pioneering work in the 16th Century, but he was possibly more aware than the others of the unique civilization-building impulses contained within the Norse heritage, as especially expressed in Flatøybok. Flatøybok can be understood as a kind of “Noah’s Ark” of ideas, stocked with the fundamental concepts of the Norse world in order to survive as a time capsule in a threatening future. This distinguished Flatøybok from older saga literature. The book was a “generational ship,” laden with the experiences of many people over many generations. The Norse culture had grown up outside the sphere of Roman dominion, and thus was different from European feudal culture with its comprehensive, hierarchical class structure. The Icelandic author Bergsveinn Birgisson (1971-) has expressed himself on the message of these medieval authors to the world (2015): “We had our own unique culture up here in the North, with a value of its own, which we desire to preserve for future generations.” And as his spiritual ancestor Brynjolv might have said, “And we would wish that the world would learn from it.” Brynjolv desired to send this “ark” to Copenhagen so that the book might be published and made available to European readers. Flatøybok was meant to sail out into diverse intellectual harbors and then cast off again for further voyages around the world.

The CT 2016 Book Awards

Christianity Today has released the results of their annual book awards. Many attractive titles, including this one:

Science Fiction Theology: Beauty and the Transformation of the Sublime by Alan P. R. Gregory (Baylor University Press)

“Our culture is awash in science fiction. From post-apocalyptic young-adult blockbusters to hard sci-fi novels, the genre’s star has never burned more brightly. Science Fiction Theology demonstrates a masterful understanding of what makes it all tick. While the casual fan may find the book’s density off-putting, others will find themselves deeply edified by Gregory’s rigorous tracing of the dialogue between science fiction and Christianity. The dialogue, it turns out, is very lively, even when trafficking in distortions. The chapter on Philip K. Dick, an author criminally ignored by religious readers, is itself worth the price of admission.” —David Zahl, director of Mockingbird Ministries

(via Hunter Baker, who was a judge for these awards)

Surviving Your Book Promotion

Fame and Fortune Weekly Dime Novel Story PaperVery few authors believe they have sold enough books. Don’t seek personal validation for your career through book sales.”

Ed Cyzewski has a new book out today about the calling and career of writing, Write without Crushing Your Soul.  He observes how experts have differing ideas of what works and you can’t copy one writer’s successful habits to gain your own success (though perhaps that works for some).

I once asked an editor at one of the Big Five publishers about balancing traditional with new media advertising, and she said to do all of the traditional stuff and to then do the new media stuff until I dropped. That may have been realistic for success with a Big Five publisher, but it’s hardly possible for the average author who wants to have family time, personal pursuits, or some sort of spiritual practice each day.

I tried to follow her advice for a season, but over time I found that trying to dive into all of the social media marketing options out there at the same time meant I did all of them poorly.

He says he built an email list for a personal newsletter, which I hear is a strong marketing technique. Readers respond to email solicitations more than social media links, especially if they believe they have already gotten a good return from the emails they’ve received up to that point. There are different ways to do this. The main idea is to recognize and utilize your strengths.

Quiz: Rejected Novels

Author Marlon James, who won this year’s Man Booker award for his work A Brief History of Seven Killings, said his first novel, John Crow’s Devil, was rejected seventy-eight times before being published in 2005.

“There was a time I actually thought I was writing the kind of stories people didn’t want to read,” he said.

The Guardian states many critically acclaimed books were rejected at one time or another and not just by mothers who won’t surrender their children to state-issued mind-control agents. Here’s a quiz on “great rejected books.”

Kingkiller Rothfuss Lands Huge Media Deal

“Honestly, I’ve never been very interested in a straight-up movie deal,” said Patrick Rothfuss, author of The Kingkiller Chronicle. But now he’s got a movie deal combined with TV shows, video games, bobble head dolls, and underwater theme park off the coast of Iceland. (I may have gotten a few of those details mixed up.)

Lars reviewed the two existing novels earlier this year, The Name of the Wind and The Wise Man’s Fear.