World Chinese SF Association Reprint

WRITING 02I first announced this back in January, and now “A Hint of Jasmine,” an Eli Mothersbaugh story from the August 2004 Asimov’s SF has been translated into Chinese and published online by the World Chinese SF Association (WCSFA). I’ve had work translated into Russian and Japanese, but this is the first time for Chinese. It feels a little strange to look at a story of mine and realize that I know what it says, but I can’t read a word of it. It’s in two parts, so here are the links: (1st part) (2nd part)

There’s also an interview.

All in Chinese, of course. I wonder if talking about myself is more interesting in translation? Probably not, but one can dream.


Reprint for WCSFA

WRITING 02Starting off the new year, I’ve just sold a reprint to the World Chinese SF Association (WCSFA). Reprints in general are a good thing. They get your stories out in venues/areas that might not normally come across them, and the WCSFA certainly applies. I’ve had stories translated into Japanese, French, and Russian, but this will be the first time for Chinese, so I’m looking forward to it.

Strictly from the business side of things, reprints are money for work already done. That is, stories you would have—and did—write anyway continue to pay off for you. Sort of an investment in the future. Even those of us who don’t earn most of our income from writing can appreciate that.

The story is “A Hint of Jasmine,” one of my Eli Mothersbaugh series. This was originally published in Asimov’s SF back in August 2004. WCSFA has also bought reprints from Ken Liu, Aliette de Bodard, and Caroline M. Yoachim, among others. I know the story will be in good company. I’ll likely mention it here when it’s published. I’ll go look at it myself. Won’t be able to read it, but that’s all right. I know where to find a really good English translation.

Letting Go

WRITING 02I’ve written stand-alone books and stories and series books and stories. One advantage I’m finding with the stand-alone books/stories is that it’s easier to move on. Rather like the emotional difference between a brief fling and a long-term relationship. Note that this has nothing to do with either the quality or the emotional impact of a stand-alone book versus a series on the reader. I’m talking more about the length of time one spends in the headspace of a particular character or set of characters, and then one day, poof, you know you’re not going to be going there anymore. That’s the effect on the writer.

Some of you may have read a couple of my Eli Mothersbaugh ghost hunter stories. I wrote the first one, “Wrecks,” back in 1996. I wrote the last one (or rather I finished the last one, since it went through several iterations), “Diva,” in 2006. I’d spent ten years in Eli’s head, and when I finally realized that the story I was revising for the umpteenth time was going to be the last one, it was more than a little depressing. See, I liked Eli, and I liked reading about what he’d been up to, which was why I was writing those stories in the first place. Or to paraphrase The Most Interesting Man in the World (srysly?), “I don’t always write series, but when I do, they are not open-ended.” There’s always an overall story arc, even if I don’t realize what it is from the beginning. I finally realized that “Diva,” had left Eli in a good place, and he wasn’t inclined to budge from it. I haven’t written a new one in five years, so I must have been right.

Knowing where I’ve been, series wise, tells me where I’m going. The Laws of Power series, currently including The Long Look and Black Kath’s Daughter should eventually reach to four books, but that’s it. When I write the last one, Marta’s story will be told. I know I’ll grieve a little when that happens, since I’ve been writing about the character since 1994. The same thing will happen eventually with Lord Yamada. I’ll reach a point when I’ll know I’m done–or that he’s done–and that will be that. And it’s going to hurt a little when that happens. Yes, I know that none of those characters are real, but they were as real as I could make them.

The end has to sting at least a little bit, or I didn’t do my job.

Why Doesn’t the Skeleton Sing?

eBook cover for Ghost Trouble--The Case Files of Eli MothersbaughI don’t usually get story ideas from dreams. Usually because my dreams are an ungodly mess in terms of story, and I usually can come up with something better—and more coherent—when I’m awake. Story ideas have happened a couple of times, but no more than that. What happened on my last outing to the dreamtime was something a bit different—I got, not a story, but a question.

In the dream, someone asked me why my skeletons didn’t sing and I was answering that question.  Which sort of tells you all you need to know about my dreams. Silly things, the lot of them. And though I’ve never written about an animated skeleton I have written plenty of ghost stories staring my paranormal investigator, Eli Mothersbaugh, and the same principles applied. I have always considered the Eli stories to be science fiction, not fantasy, on the “change one thing and let the logic of your world building arise from that” school of science fiction construction. In Eli’s world, ghosts are a fact. A scientifically demonstrable, repeatable under laboratory conditions fact. And, as I was explaining in the dream, skeletons don’t need air, which is a good thing since they have no lungs and therefore no breath. Singing requires breath and vocal chords. Skeletons have neither, therefore skeletons don’t sing. Or scream, or talk, or do much of anything that requires breath. In the case of a paranormal ghost this isn’t even an issue. Of course an animated skeleton could talk in that situation, the same paranormal forces that would animate a skeleton in the first place would certainly not balk at speech. Logically, of course, it couldn’t talk, but then logically it wouldn’t exist in the first place, unless….

Unless the implied rules of the story universe which it inhabits allows for it. Since the thing exists in the first place, then it follows that it would be able to speak. Yet Eli’s universe has no animated skeletons. It might have ghosts that manifest visually as an articulated (not articulate) skeleton, but keep in mind that Eli’s universe is our universe, or rather one very much like it. With one small change. Ghosts may exist, but they have no physical form. They are pure bio-remnant energy in a more or less cohesive unity. In order to speak, they have to use that energy to manipulate sound waves and it takes a lot out of them, so most don’t bother. There was one exception, and if you’ve read the story “Diva” in the Eli Mothersbaugh collection, you know what—or rather who—that exception is. Yet even there a logical reason for Madame Caldwell’s ability exists. Has to exist, because the rules of this story universe require it.

Which brings me to my point, finally (Seriously, if you’ve stuck with me so far you had to be wondering if there was one, by now). Every story is set in its own universe, even the ones that appear to be set in our own, with the exception of series, in which case they’re set in their own universe. Most of the rules of that universe—and you might call them physical laws, but it goes beyond that—are implied in the setting and development of the story itself, and not always made explicit. That doesn’t matter. What does matter is that you violate those implied rules at your peril, because the reader won’t stand for it.

Whadya mean, “won’t stand for it”? How are they going to know that you’ve done so? They don’t know what the rules are! Oh, but they do, because everything they’ve read of your story up to that point has told them what they are. You imply, consciously or not. They infer, consciously or not. And when you break your own rules, they’ll know that something is not right. They might not know precisely what isn’t right, but they’ll know that something is off. And they’ll start thinking about what that something might be rather than being caught up in the story you’re trying to tell them, and you might as well butter it at that point, because that particular story is  toast.

I’m not saying it’s impossible to pull off, mind. It can be done, especially if you’ve used a bit of misdirection to make the reader infer something that you did not in fact imply, but that’s very tricky to pull off, so you’d better have a really good reason for doing it. Readers like being fooled, but you have to do it honestly. Otherwise you’re playing fast and loose with the rules, and remember you never get to decide if those rules work or not. The reader does that. And their decision is always final.

Afterwords to “Worshipping Small Gods”

These are the afterwords/author’s notes I wrote for the stories in my second collection, Worshipping Small Gods. They didn’t appear in the actual book for two reasons. 1) There wasn’t room and 2) They hadn’t been written yet. I think the second reason is probably the one that matters. Some readers are interested in this kind of thing, some aren’t. If you fall in the “aren’t” category, you can bail now. Fair warning. Continue reading