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Bundled Up With Strangers

23 Apr

My most personal connection to the SFWA e-book bundle of science fiction currently being offered by Story Bundle lies in the anthology, Strangers Among Us, edited by Susan Forest and Lucas Law. In part it is because I have a story included (Marion’s War) which I consider one of the best short pieces I’ve ever written (including the two stories for which I won Aurora Awards). More importantly, the anthology contains some of the most prolific and best known Canadians working in the field – as well as a plethora of newcomers. Many are good friends; others I only know by their reputations. I certainly felt honoured to find myself in their company.

My story, about an aging former commando who finds herself thrust back into an alien war, was inspired by my own experience with PTSD after witnessing the murder of Corporal Nathan Cirillo at the Canadian War Memorial several years ago. While my own case was mild, it helped me understand the struggles that many former soldiers face every day.

All of the stories deal with similar issues of mental health and alienation and a portion of the sales of the book are donated to the Canadian Mental Health Association. Despite the theme, this is not a collection of despairing or depressing stories. There is humour and adventure, sorrow and triumph, all the range of human (and alien) experience you might imagine.

Strangers Among Us is only one of twelve great science fiction books you will get for as little as $15US.

What are you waiting for? Buy it here.

Strangers_Among_Us_Cover_Final

Story Bundle 1

22 Apr

A couple of years ago, I had the pleasure of purchasing and editing M. Darusha Wehm’s book, Children of Arkadia, for Bundoran Press. I knew the moment I read the first few chapters that this was the kind of book I had been thinking of when I purchased the Press. It was a political novel of big ideas, one that built on the history of science fiction while also turning it on its head with a modern thoughtful interpretation.

Plus it was a great story with great characters and a fascinating setting – where could you go wrong with AIs and revolutionary idealists all living and growing together on a space station orbiting Jupiter? Well, as it turns out, the answer to that question is what makes this book great science fiction.

And don’t just take my word for it. David Larsen of the New Zealand Herald (Darusha is a dual Canadian – New Zealand citizen living in Wellington) had this to say about it: “Wehm writes novels of ideas in which the ideas genuinely matter… [I]t’s a pleasure to see political and ethical questions, so often relegated to the background in science fiction, allowed so much scope to drive the story.”

Amazing Stories reviewer, Ricky Brown described it this way: “M. Darusha Wehm has created a complex future where the delusion of choice is blurred by the nurturing guidance of artificial intelligence….  From a fan of dystopian science fiction who is always looking for intriguing points to ponder, this book fits the bill.”

So why Am I talking about this now? Because Children of Arkadia is available as part of bundle of e-books from the good folks at Story Bundle – available now until May 4th 2017. It’s a great deal: 12 books for as a little as $15US. More than that, it is an opportunity to support the educational programs of the Science Fiction and Fantasy Writers of America (SFWA).

So what are you waiting for?

Children-of-Arkadia-Front-Cover

Tie a Bow on It

15 Apr

With six days left in the Aurora Story Bundle offer, I realized that I was running out of time to tell you about all the great books included in the bundle – just as you are running out of time to buy them at such a great price. It is time, as they say, to wrap it all up and tie a bow on it.

I first met Helen Marshall a few years ago at the Ad Astra Science Fiction Convention in Toronto when she was working for Chizine Publications as an editor. We only spoke briefly a couple of times – once was in the hub-bub of the infamous Chizine room party – but I was immediately struck by her incisive wit and intelligence. It turns out I wasn’t wrong as evidenced by this tremendous collection of short stories which was an Aurora finalist and, also, the 2015 World Fantasy Award winner for Best Collection. Oh, did I mention she has a Ph.D.? Worked it in around all the great writing, I guess.

Gifts for the One Who Comes After Cover Final

I’ve known Susan MacGregor for enough years that I can’t quite remember when we met – though Facebook tells me we’ve been friends since 2008. Goes to show what Facebook knows. In any case, we met from time to time at conventions in Western Canada, both when I lived in Calgary and later when I made journeys west, where we would have brief but intense conversations. But I knew her best for her association with On Spec Magazine, where she was an editor. It was sometime during that time we discovered a mutual love of flamenco dancing – she as a dancer; me as a spectator. I was thrilled when her first novel – The Tattooed Witch (included in the bundle) – came out and even happier to be partnered with her in this book bundle.

The Tattooed Witch Review

Another convention and on-line friend is Caitlin Sweet, a Toronto writer who I think I first met in Montreal at the World Science Fiction Convention. Caitlin has been writing for years but finally began to get the recognition she deserved with The Pattern Scars which was both an Aurora finalist and winner of the CBC Bookies Award in 2012. Recently her book, The Door in the Mountain, was a finalist for the Sunburst Award. I think we’re going to see a lot more award winning fiction from Caitlin in the future. She’s not someone you want to miss.

The Pattern Scars Review.jpg

Finally, I would be derelict if I didn’t mention my own entry into the book Bundle, the anthology, Blood and Water. While I won the Aurora as editor, an anthology is only as good as the stories it contains. While I can’t mention every story, I’d like to highlight a few writers you may not know but soon will. Gerald Brandt made his first (and only) short story sale for that anthology; Gerald’s first novel, The Courier (book one of a trilogy) was just released by DAW. Brent Nichols and Jennifer Rahn both had stories; this year, I’m editing novels by both of them for release this fall. Derek Kunsken has been published numerous times in Asimov’s and Analog magazines and I’m sure we’ll soon see a novel from him in the bookstores. I could go on but you get the picture.

Blood and Water Review

So that’s it – ten great books at a great price. Now all that’s left to do is for you to head over to StoryBundle.com and pick up the bundle.

 

Bundled Up (Writing from Yellowknife)

8 Apr

You might think from my last couple of blogs that I know everyone in Canadian SF. While I have been kicking around the field for decades (I went to my first SF convention as a fan in Halifax in 1980) and sold my first SF short story in 1995 (after a few years as a playwright and ‘mainstream’ fiction writer) – there are still a lot of people active in the field I’ve never had the opportunity to meet.

Two of those are Sean Stewart and Karin Lowachee – though I do know them quite well through their work. Which is why I’m so happy to be sharing space with them in the Aurora Award Story Bundle. They are both great writers and these are great books.

Still, just because I haven’t met them doesn’t mean I don’t have a story to tell. The Canadian SF world is a small one – unlike most places we only need two degrees of separation to link us all up.

Karin was living in the Canadian North when she wrote Cagebird and while it’s not central to her story, the isolation and beauty of place leak into her work. As it turns out, I spent nine years in the North myself (though I’m not 100% sure we were there at the same time), but we never met. Even if we were there the same years, the North is, after all, a really, really big place but now that I’m sharing a Story Bundle with her, I sort of feel I can say: Congratulations, neighbour.

Cagebird Review

My connection to Sean may be even more ephemeral – all we really share is that we both won Aurora Awards. However, I did hear a great story about that. Apparently, Sean had to fly somewhere right after getting his trophy so he threw his trophy in his luggage and headed out. Anyone who has seen or touched an Aurora Award knows that wasn’t the wisest move; it’s not called the most dangerous award in SF for nothing. On arrival at his destination his shirts were in shreds. They say the packing instructions you now get with the trophy were written with that in mind.

Nobody's Son Review

So now you know these fine authors a little better – you should head over and buy the bundle. Great books at a great price.

Story Bundles 2

5 Apr

In my last blog, I mentioned that Douglas Smith and I both appeared in an anthology edited by Robert J. Sawyer and Carolyn Clink – which also connects me to the third author in the Aurora Story Bundle: Candas Jane Dorsey.

Candas was a founding member of The Books Collective, the Edmonton-based publishing company that then published the Tesseracts series of books featuring Canadian writers. Candas was and remains an important figure in the Alberta writing community and I frequently ran into her both at science fiction conventions but also at literary and theatre events. I lived in Calgary while she was in Edmonton so we didn’t see each other more than a couple of times a year but it was always a pleasure. In 1997, her first novel, Black Wine, was published and it was extraordinary, winning numerous awards, including Canada’s Prix Aurora Award. And deservedly so – it was a sensational debut, a powerful story, beautifully written.  I’m happy to share space with such a wonderful book.

Black Wine Review

I didn’t see Candas very often after I left Alberta but a few years ago we ran into her at a convention. She was running for municipal office in Edmonton and we both thought our role reversal was amusing. When she was founding a publishing company in the 1980s I was running for office; now, I was the publisher and she was the candidate which just goes to show you never know where life will take you.

Which brings me to Dave Duncan, author of West of January. Dave was born in Scotland but moved to Canada in the 50s to work as a geologist in the petroleum industry. He didn’t start writing until he was 51. Two years later, in 1986, he made his first sale just two weeks after his career in the oil business came to an abrupt end. Dave took the plunge into full-time writing and more than fifty books later he’s still at it – which means he has now been an author as long as he was a geologist. Dave lived for many years in Calgary and every year would have the local SF writing community over to his place for a barbeque. Dave and his wife, Janet, were great hosts and Dave encouraged literally dozens of young writers – including me. Last year, he was inducted into the Canadian Science Fiction and Fantasy Hall of Fame.

West of January Review

Every time I speak to Dave – too rarely these days – he always tells me that he is done writing. Then more books appear – including two this year.

You can check out Dave and Candas’ work (along with 8 other great books) at StoryBundle.com.

Story Bundles

3 Apr

Aurora 004Winning or even being nominated for an award is a great thrill. I’ve now been nominated for the Prix Aurora Award (Canada’s fan-voted speculative fiction prize) 11 times and I’ve won three – most recently for the anthology Blood and Water, which I edited in 2012.

But the very best thing about awards is the company you get to keep. Virtually every significant writer of SF in Canada has either been nominated for or won an Aurora Award. I’m lucky enough to be able to count many of them as friends as well as colleagues.

Which was why I was happy to have Blood and Water included in a bundle of Aurora winning and nominated books now on sale at StoryBundle.com. It’s a great list of writers and books covering the gamut from fantasy to science fiction and includes novels, short stories and my anthology of Canadian writers.

The whole thing was put together by Douglas Smith who has been nominated for the prized trophy even more than I have. Doug and I do way back – to before we even met. We both sold our first story to Tesseracts 6, edited by Robert J. Sawyer and Carolyn Clink. We didn’t meet until I moved to Ontario and started to attend Ad Astra, the Toronto SF convention. Since then we’ve maintained a mostly digital (though occasionally face-to-face) relationship. And I still recall the great dinner I had with Doug and his family when we were both nominated for Canada’s juried SF Award, the Sunburst Award. Neither of us won – but just like the story bundle, we were in great company. Doug’s book was a collection of short stories, Chimerascope, which was also nominated for the Aurora Award that year and is a key part of the bundle. Doug is a fabulous short story writer and his stories have been translated and published in over 25 countries.

Chimerascope Review

Robert J. Sawyer and I go back even farther; he likes to call me his writing student (which is true) but I was the one who hired him for his first teaching gig, out in Calgary. We’ve been great friends ever since (he was a guest at my wedding in 2003) and he’s one of my favorite writers. I have all of his books – most of them autographed – and I even appear as a minor character in his latest. Quantum Night. So, I’m obviously happy to be keeping him company in the Story Bundle. Starplex is a great hard SF story but it’s also a mystery which puts it right up my alley. It not only won the Aurora Award but was nominated for the Hugo and Nebula as well. Rob has been called the Dean of Canadian SF and rightly so; he has won 14 Auroras and been nominated another 30 times. I was fortunate enough to award him his lifetime achievement Aurora a few years ago – a nice trophy to go alongside his Hugo, Nebula and John Campbell Awards.

Starplex Review

In the coming days, I’ll highlight a couple of other old friends, as well as some newer ones – and two writers I only know through their work. In the meantime, why don’t you head over to StoryBundle.com and pick up your summer reading?

 

Short Stuff

14 Feb

When I was young and first reading science fiction and fantasy, short novels were the norm rather than the exception. Many of the books I read – indeed many of the famous books in the field – were relatively short, forty or fifty thousand words or under two hundred pages. In fact all the major science fiction awards still define a novel as work of fiction over 40 thousand words.

The reasons were varied but the low cost of mass market paperbacks versus other formats was a factor. As well, the readers of such books were more interested in plots and ideas and less in characters or literary style. This is not a knock against these books – a lot of them hold up today and are still read by a lot of people, which is more than you can say for some of their more literary contemporaries.

Sometimes, even shorter books would make it into print. Ace – which is still a major SF imprint – used to publish novellas as Ace Doubles. Read one story and then flip it over and red the other. Two ripping yarns and two exciting covers for the price of one. The format proved so popular that, when I was a teenager, I joined a book club that offered literary formats in the same style, though they were cheap hardcovers. I may have been the only 15 year old boy of my acquaintance who had read all of the Bronte sisters and most of Jane Austen. I sometimes think the format was the trick to suck me in – though it was the content that kept me reading.

Short novels were nothing new and not only in the genre fields. Two of the classics of the early twentieth Century – The Sun Also Rises and The Great Gatsby – were not much longer than those novels by Heinlein or Norton. I’ve sometimes wondered if technology had something to do with it.

Hemingway described his writing process thusly. The first draft was written by hand (standing up) and the second draft corrections were made right on the page. Only then was a draft produced on a manual typewriter. Every subsequent draft had to be re-typed, usually by Hemingway himself. Revisions were made by hand, or sometimes, as he typed. By the time it was approved by the publisher he had typed the book five or six times. No wonder he kept his prose economical!

First novels were often (though not always) short in those days. Second and subsequent novels got longer, maybe because the authors could afford to hire typists. In those days, too, there was a significant cost differential for printing a small book as opposed to a larger one – while prices didn’t necessarily rise as dramatically.

Of course, there have always been long novels – War and Peace comes to mind – but what was termed popular fiction (Hemingway and many of his compatriots would not have been offended to have their work so labelled; they wanted to be widely read) tended to be shorter rather than longer.

In the genre field, short novels lasted well into the sixties and seventies. This may not be surprising, science fiction also retained a large market for short stories in mass market format – even as that most quintessential form of America writing was finding fewer and fewer outlets. Short story markets for non-genre short fiction still exist but generally don’t have as wide a readership as they once did and nothing to compare to that of genre.

But then came word processing. Suddenly the limitations on producing long novels were no longer a technical one but one of markets. And those markets were changing. More and more readers demanded more from their books than plots and ideas. Character and setting – world building – became a bigger part of the literature and books, especially in the fantasy world (which always did run longer than pure SF), began to lengthen. As printing costs fell, profitable books could be almost any length and the typical SF novel climbed from 60 or 70 thousand words to almost 100K. Novels of 150 thousand words or even a quarter of a million in fantasy became common place.

Some people complained that the new technology that allowed longer novels to be written with less physical effort had ruined the genre. It seems that someone or something is always destroying science fiction. But the market had spoken – as it always does in commercial fiction – and like it or not, longer novels became the way of the world. They were more popular and more profitable. Maybe that – rather than some quaint conspiracy theory – is the explanation of why some books are more popular than others.

So you might think that as a small publisher, I would be inundated with massive tomes and that I would eagerly publish them. Well, I do get a few but the longest I’ve published has been under 110K and most have been in the 75K range.

As usual, the reasons are various. First of all, I like short novels. The growing length of fantasy novels is one of the reasons – though not the main one – I mostly quit reading fantasy ten years ago. As well, the length I mentioned is an economic sweet point, the place where costs are not too high while the price I can charge maximizes revenue. A short book costs a bit less but the price is generally lower; you can charge a bit more for a big book (though not a lot) but the costs are also higher. Price is not a tremendously important factor in the sales of print books but it is a small one. It may be a factor in digital books – but probably not a determining one. Studies have been, well, inconclusive, no matter what proponents on both sides claim.

Still, short is one thing but SHORT is quite another. During my latest round of submissions, I received far more submissions under 60K words than I did over 100K which mark the limits of my preferred range. In fact, a lot of the books, quite well written ones at that, were under 45K words, some as little as 33 thousand. Many of the rest barely topped sixty thousand in length.

This too may have a technological cause or even a sociological one. Digital publishing – nearly all of the submitters of short books have tried their hand at self-published e-books – doesn’t care about length. While there is a cost in terms of editing and cover design, the cost of printing is irrelevant and distribution is relatively cheap (though as always marketing is the issue). People may well be as willing to buy a short novel (or novella) as long one in part because, for one thing, they aren’t confronted with the physical thinness of the volume.

And, then there is NaNoWriMo that encourages people to write 60K ‘novels’ in a month. Not everyone succeeds but many of those ‘failures’ still have a relatively complete 40 thousand word manuscript that they then polish and improve without significantly lengthening them. Having once won the 3-day novel writing competition, I would argue it is a lot easier to write a novella than a full-fledged novel. Expectations are lower so it is easier to meet them.

While the general rule is that most books benefit from having 10% cut from them – there is even a writing guide that focuses mostly on that process – these days short  books almost always feel incomplete to me. Characters are not fully developed; plots have gaps, worlds and even ideas are sketched rather than painted. The final versions of these slim volumes are almost always ten or even fifteen percent longer – and are better books for it.

But adding 15% to a 35K manuscript still barely qualifies it as a novel even in genre terms. Add any more and it will either becomes bloated or turns into something the writer never intended to do. So, sadly, even though some were very good, I have almost always had to reject them.

Hmm, maybe I can look into the economics of publishing Bundoran Back-to-Back Books. It would at least save me the trouble of having to come up with back cover copy. Would you buy two short novels printed back to back?

In the News

Our next book is Transient City by Al Onia which will feature our first attempt at back cover art. We hope you will find it appealing. Watch on Goodreads for a giveaway in a few days or go to NetGalley to get an uncorrected proof review copy in PDF format.

A new report from Amazon suggests that while a lot of people are making a little money from self-publishing, only 40 have really hit the big-time in the last five years.

Meanwhile incomes from full time writing continues to fall – not exactly news but still disturbing. At the same time rich authors are getting richer. The 1% doesn’t just exist on Wall Street.