Sunborn is now available in mass market paperback, from Tor Books—everywhere fine, cosmic, headbanging, epic, sensawunda, character-driven hard-SF is sold. (And if you don’t find it in your local emporium, please ask for it! You’ll be helping enormously.)
For the first time in my life, I was so preoccupied by other things that I totally failed to mark the day my new book went on sale. How bad is that? It’s been officially available since December 29, and it only just hit me last night that it was actually out. I did receive my author copies a few days before the publication date—in itself a first, I think. Then I went on with life and blanked on the whole thing. Don’t do what I did! It’s not too late to give it as a gift!
Now, I must hit the web to see if I can find a good image of the cover. Ah, here we go, from the Tor-Forge store:
Last summer I appeared as a guest lecturer at the Odyssey writing workshop. What I talked most about was story structure, what it is, and why it’s important. The folks at Odyssey have just posted an excerpt from my lecture as a podcast that you can listen to online, or right-click on to download as an MP3 file. They have a number of similar excerpts online, and if you’re interested in hearing writers talk about the craft of writing, here’s the list of lectures. If writing is one of your interests, check them out.
Or at least, those of you in the U.S., where we just celebrated a day of remembering things we’re grateful for. For me, it was an atypical one, as my wife is in Puerto Rico with her parents, and my older daughter was at her boyfriend’s house. Younger daughter and I enjoyed the afternoon at the home of good friends, with lots of terrific food.
The last month has simply flown by. Teaching at MIT, and simultaneously running the Ultimate SF workshop, has been both time-consuming and thoroughly enjoyable and rewarding. All the students have been great to work with, and have been bringing some real talent to their writing projects. I’ll be surprised if I don’t see at least a few of their names in print in the next few years. Meanwhile, I’ve had a bunch of family issues going on, which has taken a lot of my energy and is one reason why I haven’t posted in a month. Another is that I’ve been experiencing serial computer failure. First my laptop: a nasty virus infestation, then a wonky hard drive, and finally the whole machine kacked. Only a couple of days after that, my office computer blew its video card. (That, at least, was fixable.) A few days after that, my PDA fritzed out. It felt almost like a concerted attack. Anyway, I’ve got a new laptop, a black Dell Inspiron named Cygnus-X for the black holes Cyg X-1 and Cyg X-3 (maybe). I know some people who have had bad experiences with Dell, so wish me luck. It seems like a good machine. What really sold me on it is the keyboard—vastly better for touch typing than any of the others I tried out. Anyway, so far I really like it.
So…back to getting some real writing done soon? Here’s hoping! I got some cheery encouragement in the form of actual royalties for my ebooks that went on sale last Spring. That market truly seems to be picking up.
Yes, indeed. I was driving to the store in the rain—and it didn’t really even feel that cold out—when I noticed that some of those raindrops were falling too slowly, and splatting too big on the windshield. By the time it was over, we had a steady fall of inch-and-a-half wide snowflakes. (Two to three centimeters, for you metric folk.)
Just a little joke the warming globe is playing on us, I guess. Or not. (This is not disproof of global climate change, by the way. One of the predictions of the warming of the Earth is that climate patterns may behave in unexpected ways.) For all I know, snow in New England in mid-October is well within the range of our crazy weather, anyway. But it sure felt weird. I was just pondering taking the air conditioners out of the windows, not an hour before.
Our Ultimate SF Workshop began tonight (okay, last night at this point), and it looks like we have a great group of aspiring writers, including people from a variety of walks of life. We almost cancelled the workshop last week because we only had three confirmed students. Today we had eleven confirmed, and one more possible late-joiner. Full house! Lots of good workshopping ahead of us.
“People tend to look at successful writers, writers who are getting their books published and maybe even doing well financially, and think that they sit down at their desks every morning feeling like a million dollars, feeling great about who they are and how much talent they have and what a great story they have to tell; that they take in a few deep breaths, push back their sleeves, roll their necks a few times to get all the cricks out, and dive in, typing fully formed passages as fast as a court reporter. But this is just the fantasy of the uninitiated. I know some very great writers, writers you love who write beautifully and have made a great deal of money, and not one of them sits down routinely feeling wildly enthusiastic and confident. Not one of them writes elegant first drafts. All right, one of them does, but we do not like her very much. We do not think that she has a rich inner life or that God likes her or can even stand her. —Although when I mentioned this to my priest friend Tom, he said you can safely assume you’ve created God in your own image when it turns out that God hates all the same people you do.” —Anne Lamott, Bird by Bird
Picking up the thread I began a couple of months ago, I’m going to continue spinning out some of my recollections of the writing of each of my novels—how they came about, what sticks in my memory of the creation process.
I talked before about my first novel, Seas of Ernathe, which was also my first novel of the Star Rigger universe—but not the first story set in that realm. That was “Alien Persuasion,” a short story that I sold to Galaxy magazine and which appeared in 1975, prior to the novel. (Jim Baen, years before he went on to found Baen Books, bought my second published story.) That was a joyous breakthrough for me. The joy was tempered by my discovery that Galaxy‘s publisher was seriously behind in paying its writers. Nevertheless, they did publish it, and paid me for it, if somewhat late. (I was still waiting for payment for my first story, to Fiction magazine, at that time—so Galaxy was, I think, the first publisher to actually send me a check.) The story came out with lovely scratchboard illustrations by Freff, one of which I later bought from the artist. It’s hanging on my office wall right now.
What does this have to do with my second novel, Star Rigger’s Way? Well, after finishing Seas of Ernathe, I was casting about for the next thing to write. I had gotten an agent, Richard Curtis, who was waiting for me to float a proposal. I thought about “Alien Persuasion,” a story about a human star-rigger and an alien rigger who had to learn to work together to survive. It seemed to me that what I had so far was the beginning of a story, not the full story. So I outlined a storyline to follow, noting that a rewritten version of the short work would form the first several chapters of the novel, and sent it off to my agent. Time passed. I had, during the writing of the first novel, moved from Providence, Rhode Island to Cambridge, Massachusetts, and was doing odd work to keep body and soul together. (Eventually, I worked for UPS as a sorter on the night shift, a job I truly loathed.)
In 1976 or ’77, I was wandering around a local SF convention, Boskone, not knowing much of anyone. I had one novel published or about to be, and felt like a fish out of water—a pro, sort of, but not really. I eventually found myself in a quiet room, chatting with a writer and an agent. The writer was Joe Haldeman, whom I had just met at a SFWA business meeting. After a while, Joe and the agent got up to go to a publisher’s party, and I meekly asked if I could tag along. Sure, they said. We went up the elevator, to a room somewhere. They went in. The host of the party, standing by the open door, stopped me and said, “I’m sorry, this isn’t an open party.” (In those days, closed publisher parties were much more the rule.) Then he looked at my name badge. “Jeffrey Carver,” he said. “The star rigger story? I have your book proposal on my desk at Dell Books. I’m planning to call your agent on Monday to make an offer. I’m Jim Frenkel. Come on in.” And that’s how I got into my first publisher party and learned at the same time that I’d sold my novel.
I don’t remember much about the writing of it. I’ve written in “Of Consoles and Dragons’ Claws” some of my recollections. Mainly I remember that I was tentatively feeling my way into a career path of writing in much the same way Gev Carlyle, the hero of Star Rigger’s Way, was making his way into his career of star rigging. Rather similar, the process of writing stories, and of steering starships in the Flux through the power of imagination—as my friend Jane Yolen later pointed out to me.
I had no idea that I would be writing a series of novels in the star rigger world. I was taking things one day at a time, one story at a time. This was a good beginning. The Science Fiction Book Club picked up the novel, and that got it in front of many more readers than the paperback alone would have. Years later, Tor reprinted it, and I had the chance to do a thorough line edit of the text. And now, just last spring, I went through it one more time, for the Ereads ebook. And rather to my surprise—I really enjoyed reading it again.
If you get the chance to read it, I hope you enjoy it, too.
Things are looking much better in Joe’s recovery. According to his wife Gay, he’s out of intensive care and in a rehab facility. He’s able to sit up, eat a little, talk a little, and—according to Gay—smile a lot. I’m guessing he’s really happy to be alive and kicking, and surrounded by his wife and friends. I expect he has a ways to go on the road to recovery, but it’s all just so much more hopeful now.
Meanwhile, I’m settling into the business of teaching a university class, and continuing to enjoy working with the students there. Next week, they’ll be handing in rough drafts of their short stories, and we’ll be dissecting them (in a nice way) in workshop sessions. I got my MIT employee card—I look like part of the maintenance staff—and put it right to work at the MIT Humanities and Sciences Library. There was a book I wanted to use for next week’s class, and they didn’t have it. Some hunting around established that it was available in quasi-ebook format, and darned if they didn’t get it for me to read on my computer in just a couple of days. (The interface to read it is atrocious—the people at netlibrary and the publishers who work with them should join the 21st Century and learn how to make real ebooks—but that’s not the fault of the folk at the library. My hat’s off to them for being so helpful.)
Meanwhile (again), my own Ultimate SF Workshop is gearing up to start this weekend. Craig (Gardner) and I weren’t sure if we’d have enough people to run it, but we delayed the start by a week, and that seems to have made the difference.
Today the paperwork rolled for me to become Visiting Wizard at MIT, and I met for the first time with Joe Haldeman’s SF Writing class. (Actually, my title will be “temporary lecturer.” But Visiting Wizard is so much more motivating, don’t you think?) The class went well, considering that I jumped in midstream, and was trying to fill Joe’s shoes without too much sense of disruption. The students pitched right in and participated, and I found them to be a bright, interesting, and likable bunch. Good insights, and a lot of enthusiasm. I enjoyed meeting them all and look forward to reading their work. I was helped immeasurably by the volunteer assistance of Antony Donovan, a former student who is now Joe’s longtime friend and helper.
Meanwhile, Joe remains in intensive care in a hospital in Cincinnati, with his wife Gay right there surrounded by friends who are helping her in every way possible. He’s been under sedation (unconscious, mostly) and on a ventilator for over a week now, following emergency surgery for twisted bowel and a severely inflamed pancreas. It seems to be the latter that’s keeping him in stable critical condition with a steady fever. I don’t know anyone in the SF field who doesn’t love Joe and Gay, so we’re all just waiting and hoping. He’s got a lot of people sending thoughts and prayers his way.
It isn’t often that any of us get to see our work turned into film or TV, and even less often that it’s done well. When my friend Rob Sawyer sold his novel Flashforward to ABC for a new series, I was happy for him—but not necessarily optimistic about what the results would be. Well, so far, I call it a major success story!
We watched the first episode of Flashforward last night, and I thought it totally rocked. Well written, engrossing, good acting with likable characters. All told, I was left eager to see how this series will develop. This is one of Rob’s books that I had never gotten around to reading, so I can’t comment on how the show compares with the text, but from what I understand Rob is pleased with what they’ve done.
My only complaint: the credit that said “From the novel by Robert J. Sawyer” was in miniscule print at the end, and lasted for approximately a quarter of a second. Come on, ABC! You can do better than that to recognize the original author!
In recent months life has thrown a fair number of curveballs, including some pretty nasty ones, to people close to me. I haven’t written about it, mostly because it’s personal to those folk (although I might mention that my wife loses her job this week—funding gone—so that one’s close to home). The latest is that my friend and colleague Joe Haldeman—whose work I’m sure you know—great writer, great guy—was taken seriously ill last weekend. He’s in the hospital in intensive care right now. (Prognosis good, I’m happy to say.) One spin on this particular curve ball is that Joe’s SF writing class at MIT was left temporarily without a teacher. I got a call. And yes, I’ll be filling in for Joe for however long it takes him to get back on his feet.
So, for at least some weeks, I’m going to be, sort of…part of the MIT faculty. There’s a sobering thought. Doesn’t MIT, like, run the world or something?
Ironically, I was just gearing up for the beginning of my own Ultimate SF Writing Workshop, which I co-lead with Craig Shaw Gardner. So it looks like I’ll be working with student writers on Sunday nights (Ultimate SF) and Tuesday nights (MIT). I think it’s going to be a busy next few months.
I’ve posted here about the new editions of my earlier novels, but I haven’t talked much about the books themselves, how they came about, and what they meant to me when I wrote them. Well, where better to do that than here on Pushing a Snake Up a Hill, which by the way is a pretty good summary of how my writing career has often felt.
Let me start with my first book, Seas of Ernathe. It’s not just my first novel, but my first novel of the Star Rigger universe, a future history that I’ve enjoyed writing in, and that seems popular with readers. It’s not the first story in the Star Rigger chronology, though. In fact, it’s the last! It’s set in a time long after the skills of starship rigging were lost to humankind. It’s about the rediscovery of the art of rigging.
How did that happen? Do I always do things bassackwards? No, not always. But in this case, I didn’t actually know much about the history at the time I was writing. I can’t say exactly why this particular story popped into my head, but here’s how it happened:
Go back to 1974 or 1975. I was living with some friends in Providence, Rhode Island, just off the edge of the Brown University campus (from which I’d graduated in 1971), working on short stories while waiting tables, teaching scuba diving, and diving for quahogs in Narragansett Bay to make ends meet (barely). I’d sold a couple of stories: the first to Boston’s Fiction Magazine, for a promise of $50 (collected years later), and the second to Galaxy. In both cases, the magazines went bust not long after publishing my stories—not my fault, I swear! In any case, the story published in Galaxy was called “Alien Persuasion,” and was my first expedition into the tricksy Flux of rigger space, where star-pilots navigated through a sensory web in a hyperdimensional realm that was objectively real, but that took a tangible form based on images projected from the rigger’s mind. (Remind me to tell you more about that when I write about Star Rigger’s Way.)
During this time, I’d been submitting short stories to some of the original anthology editors—in particular, Robert Silverberg for New Dimensions and Terry Carr for Universe. Both had responded with encouraging rejections. On one occasion, in 1974 (or possibly 1975), Terry Carr wrote back with another rejection—but with a twist. He asked if I’d like to write a novel. It seemed he had made a deal with a new SF line to sign up new writers and shepherd their books into print. If I could just send him an outline and three sample chapters…
I stood dumbfounded, his letter in my hand—then flew to my Olympia manual typewriter and began pounding out an idea for a novel—a completely new idea, one that had come into my mind just at that moment, when needed. It made use of my star rigger background, indirectly, and also my underwater experience as a scuba diver. The story was set on a watery world called Ernathe. Visitors to that world wanted to know what strange tricks of the mind enabled sea creatures of that realm, the Nale’nid, to focus on reality in ways that enabled them to travel instantaneously, and to manipulate matter in a variety of ways. Could this be connected to the secret of the lost art of star rigging? Perhaps, perhaps…
I wrote the novel in a little less than a year, if memory serves. By the time it was finished, I’d moved to Cambridge, Massachusetts, where I was living with a different set of roommates and working the night shift sorting boxes for UPS. Seas of Ernathe was published by Laser Books in the summer of 1976.
I clearly remember the moment I first saw a copy—not, as you might think, an advance copy from the publisher. No, I was walking down Mass. Ave. in Central Square when I encountered Drew Whyte, an SF fan I had gotten to know during the previous year. Drew always had bags of books with him. On this occasion, he had a copy of my new book, which I had not yet laid eyes on. He passed it to me. There it was. My first novel. In print, at last! I had done it! It was real! Huzzah!
Cover art by Kelly Freas
I hated the cover instantly. Noted SF artist Frank Kelly Freas had been hired to do all the covers for the Laser Books series. Apparently he wasn’t given much money or much time, because to say the least, the Laser covers were not the highlight of his otherwise distinguished career. Lord, I didn’t know whether to cheer or weep. I settled on cheering.
Seas of Ernathe stayed in print for a year or so, and then it was gone. But it had set me on an important writing path, starting with making the transition from short stories to novels. The next two books were also star rigger books; more on those later. For now, I’m happy to say that Seas of Ernathe is back in print, from E-reads. You can get it as an ebook from a variety of outlets, including Baen Webscriptions and Fictionwise, both of which offer it in multiple, DRM-free formats, including for the Sony Reader, the Kindle, and the iThing. You can also get it as a trade paperback wherever fine SF trade paperbacks are sold! Here, I’ll make it easy. 🙂