Wednesday, July 31, 2013


Found my name in a list of acknowledgements in a recently released novel. On the one hand, pleased to have my input acknowledged. On the other, mildly annoyed at the implicit endorsement some readers may infer from the inclusion of my name. Because my main contribution to this novel's development was to explain why I was rejecting it. Even without having seen any of the writing, the premise struck me as a non-starter: cliches and coincidence do not a great novel make. But encouraged by friends and family, the author has now self-published.

I've downloaded the book out of curiosity, and the next time I'm in a line up at the DMV or similar, I'll read a few pages on my phone. Because I could be wrong; it could be extremely well written.

And the plot could be a lot better than it sounded. I am constantly amazed at how awful people are at writing synopsis or giving verbal pitches. But try describing the plot of, say, Romeo and Juliet without it sounding ridiculous. Can't be done. And I had the interesting experience recently of writing a synopsis for my own novel and my editor telling me, "That's just totally wrong. That's not what your novel is about at all." And am now awaiting feedback from my beta reader, and already know two things: (1) any manuscript always needs a couple of rewrites and (2) after three years of writing, I'm prepared to do another draft or maybe two, and then I'm publishing this sucker if I have to do so myself.

So I sympathize with this writer. Although my general advice is that the positive feedback of friends and family is not a reliable measure of quality or commercial potential, there comes a point where one has invested so much of oneself in a novel that commercial or not, ready or not, it's getting out there.... And that's okay. If you want your friends and family to have a copy of your book, go for it. Mine will have a spaceship on the cover.

The only downside is that if one is trying to become a professional writer, then one runs the risk of hurting one's brand if one publishes a manuscript before it is ready, or publishes an early manuscript before one has achieved professional standards.

And then there's Donal Ryan.

Friday, July 12, 2013

Next Steps

Having finished the first draft of one's novel and sent it off to one's first reader (the person who identifies necessary revisions before one can even think of sending a manuscript to one's editor), one must immediately take these next steps:

  1. start on the first chapter of the next novel to keep the momentum going;
  2. give some thought to possible revisions of the current manuscript—because, let's face it, the first reader is definitely going to identify that it drags a bit in the middle, and that the ending was way too rushed—and;
  3. prepare for interviews with Shelagh Rogers and Eleanor Wachtel.

My next novel is a parallel-world fantasy, and I am happily composing the opening chapter in my head as I fall asleep each night. I originally outlined this book in 1965, so it's been kicking around in my head for a few years already, so no problem there. (The most innovative aspect of the 1965 outline was that I made the protagonist 64. I was tired of all the 'coming of age' fantasies I was reading and thought, 'hey, why can't it be about an old guy having a coming of retirement adventure'? Of course, no one will see that as inventive now that I am myself approaching retirement age; it will just seem self-indulgent. But what can I do? It's been the same character in my head for 48 years.)

The revisions to the current manuscript I may leave until I get feedback from my first reader, on the off chance he enjoys the pacing of the middle and thought the surprise ending fully developed. No point in indulging in nervous and possibly counter-productive fiddling; though one should jot down any little oversights that come to mind: in my case, checking for gender balance and ethnic diversity, given the novel is supposed to take place in the future. Giving oneself a little breathing space before revisions also allows for perspective.... but one does not want to leave the manuscript alone too long, lest, again, the project loses momentum.

In the meantime, have been spending a lot of my time thinking about the post-launch book interviews. I imagine them going something like this:

Rogers/Wachtel: Did you have any idea that your novel was going to be as successful as it has been? That it would go viral essentially over night?

Runté: I'd like to say that no one was more surprised that I. But the truth is, my wife was considerably more surprised than I. Indeed, I think 'incredulous' comes closest to her reaction.

Rogers/Wachtel: [Laughs]* But you must have had some inkling as you wrote this how it would be received.

Runté: I was quite certain that it would flop commercially. It's strictly 1960s SF, so I thought the audience for it had all died off or at least grown too old to read much any more. I wrote the original outline 39 years ago, so it is pretty primitive SF by today's standards. But I purposely chose the simplest of the 12 novels currently in my head as my first novel, so I could try to master plot and character and pacing and so on before trying to do anything 'deeper'. So it's just a light-weight comedic novel in the style of Harry Harrison's Stainless Steel Rat or Eric Frank Russel's Wasp or maybe even Donald Barr's Space Relations.

Rogers/Wachtel: A lot of the critics are comparing your novel with Bujold's Vorkosigan series.

Runté: That's flattering of course. I am big fan of Bujold. In fact, when I was gearing up for one of my writing retreats, I reread the entire Vorkosiagan saga to get back in the mood. And I freaked at one point because there was this one scene in one of her books that was so reminiscent of one bit I had written that I started to worry that I had remembered it from her book and incorporated it into my novel without realizing.... I accused myself of unconscious plagiarism until I went back and found that scene in the original outline from the seventies, at least a decade before her book had been published, so I was off the hook. But her work has definitely been an influence on me, though I don't see that my work is anywhere as polished or as hard hitting as hers usually is.

And so on. I'd have to talk about my wife being supportive and organizing writer's retreats for me, and so on, to make up for the 'incredulous' line, though it is true she is not a big fan of SF. Except maybe for Connie Willis and Babylon 5. I like both of those too, but you can only cover so much in the interview.

I imagine it's quite an in depth interview, though, so the listener would only get the highlights on the actual program, and would have to go to the podcast for the extended, unedited version.

I'm having more trouble rehearsing my GG Award acceptance speech, because I haven't quite decided whether the book will be nominated for best novel or best YA novel. It could go either way.


*Rogers in particular has a delightful laugh.
I was actually interviewed by Rogers in 1989 about my short story in the first issue of On Spec magazine. She had asked me why I had submitted my story to On Spec and I had replied, "Because no one else would take it," and she had laughed that laugh, and said, "I wish I'd asked you that on-air!" I had, of course, meant that as a speculative fiction story, On Spec had been the right market for it, not that I had bounced it from other markets first (I hadn't) but I heard how that had sounded, and when you get a laugh like that, you just go with it.