crazy week ahead

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I never did do an irons in the fire update post for October, and I’m not gonna do one now, either, because I’m too busy doing the things in it. Wheeeeeeeeeeeeee!

By year’s end, I have to finish Mermaid Precinct, I have to work on a game tie-in novelette, I have to write another collaborative thriller, I have to write three short stories and an essay, plus my Tor.com stuff: the weekly superhero movie rewatch, reviews of Short Treks, and stuff on the upcoming third season of Daredevil. Plus the usual stuff on Patreon, including finally catching up on my TV reviews.

This week, I also have two editorial tasks to tackle, I have to figure out which characters in “The Fall of Iaron” will be named after the supporters who paid for it and also give the story a final read-through, and I’ve got a shit-ton of karate stuff to do!

You see it’s time once again for the semi-annual black belt promotion, and this go-round we’ve got folks from both our Italian and Chilean branches coming in to be tested, as well as a mess of people from our own dojo. Tonight there’s a welcome dinner for the out-of-towners, tomorrow is the annual dojo picture (which will be a bit more crowded than usual), and then the promotion itself is Wednesday night, Friday night, and Sunday morning, with a celebration Monday evening.

On top of that, we’ve got a trip to plan. We received a very generous belated wedding gift of a honeymoon trip to Italy, and so Wrenn and I will be spending a lot of November in Rome, Firenze, Siena, and Milano. Wrenn has never been to Italy, and I haven’t been since the early 1990s, so this is gonna be fantastic.

So yeah……

 

4-Color to 35-Millimeter: Thor

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The Norse gods come to the MCU in a movie that not only brings in sword-and-sorcery stuff, but also the biggest showcase yet for S.H.I.E.L.D. The three male leads are amazing, the Destroyer is awesome, and we get a quickie intro to Hawkeye to boot! The great superhero movie rewatch looks at Thor.

An excerpt:

I truly regret that Jack Kirby didn’t live long enough to see this movie, because holy crap did Kenneth Branagh and his cinematographers and set designers do an amazing job of re-creating Kirby’s Asgard. I still remember sitting in the theatre in 2011 and gaping and bouncing in my seat and trying to not squee out loud, as the other theatre-goers would have frowned on that, when we got that opening shot of the realm eternal.

And then the Destroyer showed up and I wanted to squee again. The Destroyer first appeared in 1966 and it’s a classic Kirby creation, a huge metal machine crackling with energy. Few sites are as devastating as the Destroyer spitting fire from its faceplate, and Branagh stunningly re-creates that—with the added bonus of seeing the Destroyer flip itself around in order to repel Sif’s attack. Just brilliant.

from the archives: cosplay, still not consent

This blog entry was made after New York Comic-Con in 2015. It’s even more relevant now in the post-#MeToo and post-Kavanaugh hearings age.

One of the things I loved about New York Comic-Con was that these signs were all over the place (the two pictures show the front and back):


I posted these pictures on Facebook, and was surprised by comments along the lines of: “Makes me very sad that these need to exist at all” and “If people need to be reminded of this it is pathetic absolutely pathetic.”

And these types of comments boggle my mind, because it seems to come with the mindset that these signs being necessary is a new phenomenon. No, they’ve been necessary for as long as there have been conventions, but we’ve only just now in 2015 gotten to the point where it occurred to anyone to put the signs up.

A few years ago, an editor in the field got fired for sexual harassment. This was someone I saw engaging in pretty awful behavior at parties back in 1991 — but it took until the 2010s for him to actually lose his job over it. And that’s just one of millions of examples, which went unreported or unremarked upon, or if they were remarked upon it was to dismiss it as unimportant or an exaggeration or “boys being boys” or some pathetic variant.

The tragedy isn’t that the signs are going up now. The tragedy is that it’s taken this long for them to go up.

Short Treks: “Runaway”

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I review the first of four Short Treks mini-episodes, “Runaway” starring Mary Wiseman as Ensign Tilly, over on Tor.com.

An excerpt:

She’s scared—as scared as Tilly probably was when she couldn’t climb the same wall as her fellows and ran away in shame when she was a child. Tilly’s mother brings that up as a reason why she shouldn’t attempt Command School. Initially, Tilly is wavering. One of the best bits in the episode is when Tilly orders her espresso. First she mouths off to the computer when it tries to caution her against so much caffeine, describing the beverage as her best friend. (One hopes that Michael Burnham doesn’t take that personally…) Then she sits with the drink and discourses on how she expects nothing, not even from the caffeine. “Espresso—I release you.” She’s so wound up in the possibility of disappointment that she refuses to have expectations.

from the archives: Happy Bartolomé Day!

I wrote this piece in 2013 and five years later, it’s just as relevant with regards to both the good and bad (but mostly bad) of Columbus Day.

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Columbus Day has always been a holiday I’ve hated. Back when I was a kid, I never understood how Columbus could possibly have “discovered” something that had people on it. (Later, of course, I learned that he never even made it to North America, only arriving at the Bahamas and never getting that far.) Plus, of course, he was allegedly searching for Asia, so he not only allegedly “discovered” North America, he also mistook it for somewhere else entirely. And this guy gets a holiday?

The more I learned, the less impressed I was. The Oatmeal nicely sums up just how repugnant a human being Columbus was (thanks to fellow Chronic Rift-ee Krissy Myers for the link), but the short version is that he was a racist tyrannical homicidal gold-digging fucknut. A lot of the bullshit about Columbus that has been perpetrated over the years comes directly from an 1828 book by Washington Irving entitled A History of the Life and Voyages of Christopher Columbus, which was more of a hagiography than a biography, and also purest horseshit — but it’s the source of most of the rote myth surrounding Columbus that most people believe.

Having said that, the holiday comes from a good place. Columbus Day became a holiday in the 1930s after lobbying by the Knights of Columbus to have a federal holiday that showed the contributions of Italians and Catholics to American history. See this NPR article as well as this American Interest article (thanks to, respectively, The Mom and SM Rosenberg), [NOTE: The American Interest article seems to have disappeared into the aether, but the NPR piece is still there] but the short version is that Italians and Catholics were both heavily discriminated against in this country, and the Knights were working to reverse that prejudice. Still, while their motives were good ones — speaking as an Italian American, I can safely say that we’re still marginalized (I challenge folks to find a substantive number of Italian characters in pop culture who aren’t mobsters and/or caricatures, especially compared to the number of WASPs and Irish characters) — they really made a crummy choice of role model.

The Oatmeal suggests instead celebrating Bartolomé Day, after Bartolomé de las Casas, who was also a racist fucknut explorer, but who later in life repented and fought for the rights of the natives who were enslaved and murdered by Europeans. After all, redemption stories are way cooler than whitewashed genocide.

Or we could just call it “Monday.” Hell, I’m a freelancer, federal holidays don’t mean much to me…………..

(This post grew out of a discussion on Facebook. Feel free to add to the discussion here or there.)

my keynote speech for C3

This past weekend, I was a keynote speaker at Creatures, Crimes, & Creativity, a conference for genre writers of all stripes — mystery, SF/fantasy, horror, thriller, etc. — and it was tremendous fun. The conference includes meals, and both Friday and Saturday night’s dinner features a keynote speaker. Friday was me, and here’s the text of the speech that I gave. It was very well received, and in fact Saturday’s keynote speaker, thriller writer and all-around awesome person Jamie Freveletti, wound up rewriting her speech after hearing mine, which was extremely flattering.

Anyhow, here ’tis:

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Good evening everyone. I’m Keith R.A. DeCandido, and I’ll be your keynote speaker this evening.

About 10-15 years ago, Kristine Kathryn Rusch and Dean Wesley Smith used to run writing workshops in Lincoln City, Oregon in a beautiful house near the ocean. They had a saying up on the wall of the main room of the house and it was the one piece of advice they gave to everyone who took one of their workshops:

You are responsible for your own career.

It seems so simple when you say it out loud, doesn’t it? But it’s something a lot of writers—aspiring writers, new writers, longtime successful writers—don’t quite cotton to. Because there is one simple truth about being a professional writer that not every writer is able to wrap their minds around.

There’s a perception that writing isn’t “real” work. This is nonsense, of course, but in this country in particular there’s a perception that the only worthwhile labor is that which has immediate practical value. The horrific legacy of the Puritans who were among those who colonized North America is that art isn’t as valued as practicality.

Because of that, artists are often viewed as inferior, or at least not as worthy of being paid. Two of my least favorite phrases are “art for art’s sake” and “the starving artist.” Art is never for its own sake, it’s there to be consumed, and in our capitalist society, that means in exchange for money. Yet so often writers are the last ones to be paid, if they’re paid at all. Web sites that would never dream of not paying their web designers or server hosts gleefully decline to pay writers, as if their work isn’t actually important. (Never mind that their web sites would just be a URL with maybe a graphic or two without those writers.) Artists should never be starving.

Mild digression: I write a lot of media tie-in novels, which are work-for-hire—Star Trek novels, Farscape comics, Doctor Who short stories, etc. It’s my writing, but I don’t keep the copyright nor own any controlling interest in the fiction, and everything I do has to be approved by the licensor. Often, tie-in fiction is derided as not being “real” fiction, and that it’s keeping people from doing “real” fiction. To those people I love to point out that Michelangelo’s Sistine Chapel ceiling was a media tie-in work-for-hire. It was a tie-in to the Bible, and he had to do it with the approval of the licensor—the Pope, in this case. Of course, the counterargument comes into play here, too, as Michelangelo really wanted to be making sculptures, not painting ceilings, but he had to pay the bills.

Because yes, Michelangelo was paid to paint the ceiling of the Sistine Chapel. Hundreds of years later, it’s a work of art we study, but back then, it was how an artist made his living. For that matter, William Shakespeare desperately wanted to be a poet, but writing plays allowed him to feed, clothe, and house himself.

Anyhow, those who demean the profession of writing are almost always people who’ve never tried it—or if they have, they’re really bad at it. Writing is hard work, and it’s incredibly difficult. Which makes sense—if it was easy, everybody would do it.

And if you want to do it professionally, you need to get yourself in the mindset of being professional about it. Even if people ask you when you’re going to get a real job, or ask you what your day job is—or worse, they ask why you’re not living in a mansion lighting your royalty checks on fire with cigars. There’s this really bizarre perception that the moment you sell a single novel you’re wealthy for the rest of your life.

Another mild digression: a few years ago, I was, shall we say, between checks. Long-term, I knew things would be fine once a few projects came through, but in the short term my wife and I had absolutely nothing. In desperation, as we were horribly late with rent, we started a GoFundMe so we could at least catch up in the short term. We actually made our funding goal in a couple of days, which was awesome, and I gave everyone who donated a free short story as a thank-you.

The reason why I bring this up is because one person on a Star Trek bulletin board I frequent expressed great confusion as to why a writer as successful as I am needed financial help. Did my investments go sour or something?

Reading that caused gales and gales of laughter in my house. I rather delicately pointed out to this person that my portfolio was entirely tied up in food and shelter. Most writers aren’t Richard Castle or Robin Masters or even a not-fictional writer like Stephen King or J.K. Rowling. We’re all just people trying to work for a living, and we get paid worse than most. Hell, my average advance for a novel has actually gone down in the last twenty years, even as the cost of living has gone up.

Anyhow, I’ve been doing this for a bunch of years now. I actually have no idea when I went from being one of the young up-and-coming writers to a grizzled veteran, but here we are. I didn’t actually accept that this change had happened for a long time, mind you. And then in 2015 I was on a panel at a science fiction convention about breaking into writing. There were six of us on the panel, and we started off by each telling our stories of how we made our first fiction sale. To my horror, I was the only one on the panel whose first sale was in the 20th century.

As a rather reluctant grizzled veteran, I’m repeatedly asked for advice or bits of wisdom or sound bytes or whatever. And I have a bunch of different stock answers for advice about writing, but the one that I think is the most important—because it’s one that aspiring and new writers don’t hear often enough if at all—is this:

If you’ve decided to become a professional writer, then you have made the decision to become a single-proprietor small business.

It doesn’t matter if this nascent business you’ve formed isn’t actually earning any capital yet, or at least not much. It doesn’t matter if you’ve only sold one short story and have a ton of novels out with agents or publishers or whatever. The point is, you’re running a business, and you don’t have any employees.

And that’s how you have to look at it. This is work. This is a job. No, you don’t clock into an office every weekday at the same time, but that doesn’t make it any less a job. Every time you submit something for publication, you’re going on a job interview.

The worst thing you can do is treat it like a hobby. Another phrase I can’t stand is, “I would love to write, but I just can’t find the time,” as if time is something that rolled under the couch. If you want to be a professional writer, you make the time, and if you can’t do that, then this may not be the business for you.

Having said that, there’s nothing wrong with writing being a hobby, but then there are no expectations of professionalism there. Lots of people just write for the fun of it, and that’s perfectly fine.

However, if you’re in the business of producing writing for the public to pay for and consume, you have to treat it as a business.

And you’re your own boss. Which means your boss really needs to be a hardass. Because nobody else is going to do it for you.

Because you are responsible for your own career.

It’s much easier when you’re in a more traditional office environment. Everything is laid out for you by your supervisor, or by other externally imposed factors: you come in at a certain time, you go home at a certain time, you get scheduled breaks at various times, and what work you need to do is generally presented to you by someone above you in the company hierarchy.

Of course, if you own the company, you’re the one who gets to make those decisions. And when you’re a writer? You own the company.

Some things are still externally imposed—like deadlines—but nobody else will make you do the work. Not your agent, not your editor, not your accountant, not your significant other, not your parents, not your children, not your grandchildren, not your pets. Especially not your pets, particularly if they’re the type to jump into your lap when you’re trying to write. Not that I know anything about that.

The only person who can make you do the work is you.

Yes, to become a writer, you need to be able to string sentences together in an interesting, thought-provoking, and/or entertaining manner. It’s important to have the skills. But you also need self-discipline. You need to put your posterior on the chair, you need to put your fingers on the keyboard, and you need to actually put one word in front of the other until you’re done.

Because you are responsible for your own career.

It’s not easy. Like I said, if it was easy, everyone would do it.

Back in 1960, a group of guys became the backup band for a singer named Ronnie Hawkins. A few years later, that same group would back up Bob Dylan when he went from acoustic to electric. They were called, simply, The Band, and in 1976, after sixteen years on the road, they decided to call it quits. (At least initially. Most of the band wound up reuniting shortly after that, but that’s a whole different story.) To celebrate their career, they did one last big farewell concert, with a bunch of special guests, which was called “The Last Waltz.” Martin Scorsese filmed the concert and also interviewed the members of The Band. The concert/documentary movie was released theatrically and also called The Last Waltz, and I highly recommend it for anyone who’s a fan of rock and roll music. Anyhow, guitarist Robbie Robertson said something that always stuck with me, when talking about sixteen years on the road playing clubs and bars and arenas and stadiums: “It’s a goddamn impossible way of life.”

Being a writer is a goddamn impossible way of life.

You’ll notice, though, that that hasn’t stopped me. This year is the 20th anniversary of my decision to go freelance, and since that day in 1998 that I quit my full-time job as an editor for Byron Preiss Multimedia Company, I have been solely responsible for my own career.

It isn’t easy. It’s sometimes awful. I mentioned the GoFundMe earlier, and that wasn’t the only time I’ve been in deep financial straits over the past two decades.

I’ve been very fortunate in that I’ve been able to make a living doing this, but one of the ways I’ve done so is to do a lot of different things at once. Sometimes I’ve taken on part-time jobs here and there that had nothing to do with writing—I worked in a high school library and for the U.S. Census Bureau at various points. And being a freelancer is sometimes a detriment, as my wife and I discovered when we were apartment hunting two years ago. Some landlords wouldn’t even consider renting to us because we didn’t have W2s that showed a steady income. We didn’t have real jobs, so we were considered a risk. That damn Puritan work ethic getting in the way again.

Even when it’s just writing related, I do a lot of different things at once. A typical week for me includes writing whatever my current work of fiction is, thinking about the next two or three works of fiction, going over edits and/or page proofs of already-completed works of fiction, the regular nonfiction writing I do for both Tor.com and for my Patreon—the latter of which is totally awesome, and you should go support it, link at DeCandido.net, ahem ahem—plus I also teach four karate classes every week, I take classes at my karate dojo, plus I do editorial work here and there on a freelance basis, plus all kinds of paperwork and other nonsense. Oh yeah, and I like to do things with my wife, my family, and my friends every once in a while, and I do like to eat and sleep at least occasionally.

Like Robbie Robertson said, it’s a goddamn impossible way of life. And the only reason it works is because I make myself do it.

Because I am responsible for my own career.

This is not to say that you’re 100% alone, mind you. While writing is a solitary profession, being a writer can make you, if you so desire, be part of a very large community. Just by being here at this conference, you’re making yourself part of that community. While it’s not true of all writers, obviously—because there’s no such thing as an absolute, including that statement—many writers are very open to helping each other out.

Some people, I’ve noticed, have trouble grasping the notion that writers are helpful to up-and-coming authors. I’ve actually heard people deride the practice, saying that we’re helping our competition, which is a stupid way to look at it. There are always going to be books published. There are always going to be more books published. The sheer tonnage of books that come out every single month makes the notion of competition among authors to be stupid. There’s too many readers, too many books, for that to matter or be taken seriously. We’re all in this together.

Talking to other writers and other people in publishing also can only help you. Some of the best work I’ve gotten in my career has come from my friendships with other writers, especially since sometimes those other writers are also editors.

Sometimes those interactions will be in person, whether at conventions and conferences like this one, or events like the Writers Coffeehouses curated by the Liars Club, or statewide writing conferences, or intensive writing workshops.

There’s also online interaction. Ever since getting online became a thing in the late 1980s and early 1990s, the writing community has embraced the Internet, whether it was GEnie, CompuServe, and Usenet in the 1990s, MySpace, LiveJournal, and AOL in the early 2000s, or Facebook, Twitter, and tumblr now, writers have often congregated online to chat and network and promote themselves.

How much of an online presence you have is up to you, of course, and you have to be careful to not let that online presence overwhelm you or distract you from writing—but there shouldn’t be so little of it that nobody knows you’re there, either. It’s a balancing act, and it’s up to you to find that balance.

Because you are responsible for your own career.

Writers are always giving advice to other writers, and this speech is no different. The important thing is to listen to all the advice and to consider all the advice, but don’t necessarily take all the advice. Most of the time, the answer to any question about writing, about publishing, and about the creative life in general is “it depends.” There’s rarely only one right answer, and usually what’s the right answer for me isn’t going to be the right answer for you, that neither will be the right answer to the writer sitting next to you. You have to figure it all out for yourself.

Because you are responsible for your own career.

Thank you very much, and I hope you enjoy the rest of the weekend.

my review of Venom

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I reviewed the new Tom Hardy Venom movie for Tor.com and found it to be — er, not great. Tonally inconsistent, hitting way too many familiar superhero origin movie beats despite claiming to be not a superhero movie, a ton of mediocre performances, leavened only by Hardy having a grand old time playing both halves of the title character.

An excerpt:

Being convinced that Brock is a loser is easy because, well, he is. The only reason this movie is in any way watchable is because Tom Hardy sells the notion of Brock as this schlubby fuckup. He has just enough charm that you believe that people are willing to talk to him (the only manner in which he’s believable as a journalist is his easy ability to chat with folks and put them at ease), and he’s obviously having fun with the Gollum/Smeagol style conversations with the symbiote.

Unfortunately, half the time it feels like he’s acting in a different movie from everyone else. The plot is depressingly tired, hitting all the usual beats without anything to make it interesting. Riz Ahmed has absolutely zero charisma as Drake, his blank affect making him seem way more like a sociopath than his alleged public persona should allow. As an example, he talks to one of his homeless victims to put him at ease before he’s bonded with the symbiote, but the talk doesn’t work because he’s too flat and monotone while delivering it. Ditto for his confrontation with Dr. Skirth, Jenny Slate’s whistleblowing scientist. Skirth practically has a sign with the words “DEAD MEAT” on her forehead, as you count the microseconds until Drake kills her for her sudden but inevitable betrayal. The actual death is so predictable that every viewer in the audience predicted it about an hour before it happened, rendering the death itself perfunctory.

4-Color to 35-Millimeter: Iron Man 2

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The greater tapestry of the MCU is set up nicely, as we get hints of S.H.I.E.L.D.’s history, of Howard Stark, of how the ARC reactor was built, and even a nice preview of Thor, plus some great set pieces and double acts, not to mention introducing the characters of Black Widow and War Machine. But the sum of its parts is much greater than its whole, as overall, this is a dumb movie. The great superhero movie rewatch looks at Iron Man 2.

An excerpt:

The development of Stark’s relationship with Potts—his complete inability to actually talk to her (or anyone) like a person—is a delight, watching Rhodes try to balance the needs of duty versus his friendship with Stark is compelling (especially with Don Cheadle now in the role), and the whole movie is worth it to see Samuel L. Jackson be Fury for more than half a second, and it’s truly magnificent. In fact, S.H.I.E.L.D. is responsible for most of what’s great in the movie—besides Fury, you’ve got even more of Clark Gregg’s deadpan awesomeness as Coulson, and the triumphant debut of Scarlett Johansson’s Black Widow, who here establishes her role in the MCU as one of the few actual grown-ups, a role she will continue to fulfill in subsequent appearances.

I’m a keynote speaker this weekend at C3

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For the first time ever, I will not be attending New York Comic-Con, unless I’m able to get there for a bit on Thursday, though that’s not likely given a personal thing that came up.

But Friday, Saturday, and Sunday I will be at the Creatures, Crimes, & Creativity Conference in Columbia, Maryland. I will be the keynote speaker at the dinner Friday night, and will also be doing panels, signing autographs, and selling books for the rest of the weekend.

Here’s my schedule:

Friday

3-3.45pm: “Classic Monsters,” w/Chris Bauer, Eric Gardner, BR Kingsolver, and Austin S. Camacho (Merriweather Room)

5-6pm: book signing (Lakeview A)

6-7.30pm: dinner with my keynote speech (Terrace Ballroom)

 

Saturday

1.15-2pm: “What Goes Bump in the Night: The Paranormal,” w/Melissa Caribou Annen, Andrew McDowell, and Eric Gardner (Merriweather Room)

3.15-4pm: “Reflections of Humanity in Sci-Fi & Fantasy,” w/Glenn R. Parris, Debbi Mack, Andrew McDowell, and F.J. Talley (Lakeview A)

5.15-6.15pm: book signing (Lakeview AB)

 

Sunday

9.45-10.30am: “Fan Letters: Tales from the Fan Dark Side,” w/Rick Ollerman, David Swinson, and Rebecca York (Merriweather Room)