Still here…working on book

No, I haven’t died, though it might seem that way. There have actually been a number of things I’ve wanted to write about, but haven’t had the time. Ah, most of the ideas have fled now. I should give one update, though—my friend got out of Lebanon pretty early on and in good shape, for which I’m deeply grateful. She got a ride out on a U.S. Marines helicopter, so a big thanks to all of you involved in the evacuation. (No connection, but shortly after that, I got a nice email from an army sergeant who discovered one of my books while stationed in Bosnia, of all places. He said that later, while stationed in Iraq, he was always looking for good SF to read. That gave me great encouragement.)

I’ve been working hard on Sunborn, trying to beat down a group of chapters that just wouldn’t shape up. I think I’m getting a handle on it now. Also, it’s summer musical time at Arlington Children’s Theater, which one of my kids is in, and for which I’m once more helping out on the sound board. We’re in dress rehearsals for Damn Yankees right now, and have performances starting this coming weekend and going right through the next. (Fortunately—given that we’re in the middle of a heat wave—the theater has upgraded its air conditioning!)

Listen, I’d love to stay and have a drink and chat, but I’ve got to get back to the book! See you later!

New Manned Spacecraft Named Ares

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According to Astronomy Magazine, NASA has announced a name for the replacement to the space shuttle:

As the space shuttle Discovery prepared for launch Friday, NASA announced the name of its replacement. The Crew Launch Vehicle, which will ferry astronauts to Earth orbit as early as 2011, is now called Ares I. The monstrous heavy-lift rocket, designed to loft cargo headed for the Moon later in the decade, is called Ares V.

Ares, the Greek word for Mars, is a nod to the agency’s vision of one day sending astronauts to the Red Planet. The numerical designations salute the Apollo-era Saturn I and Saturn V rockets, the first large U.S. launchers specifically designed for human spaceflight.

Ares. That’s way better than CLV. And I like the “I” and “V” designations in salute to the Saturn that took us to the moon, my favorite of all rockets. Pictures and more details at astronomy.com.

Jim Baen (1943-2006)

Jim Baen, founder and publisher of Baen Books, died on June 28 following a stroke from which he never awoke. He was a major figure in the science fiction field, and one whose influence has been felt in many ways. His death marks another sad milestone in the field.

I knew Jim only slightly. He bought my second short story, “Alien Persuasion,” for Galaxy Magazine, back in—actually, I’m not sure. I think it must have been 1975. My story was published at a time when Galaxy was in financial trouble, and it didn’t last too long beyond the appearance of my story. (That story was my first venture into the star rigger universe, and ultimately became the first part of my second novel, Star Rigger’s Way.) Jim Baen later went on to work with Tom Doherty at Ace Books, then at Tor Books. He finally became publisher of his own company, with Baen Books. My sympathies go out to all those at Baen Books, and his family and friends.

For a more complete and knowledgeable obituary, see David Drake’s web site.

Guest Book Review: The Revealers

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Today I introduce what I hope will be a continuing series of guest book reviews! The first entry is from my daughter Julia. The Revealers is a young adult novel by Doug Wilhelm, and it has gained a fair amount of attention in middle schools because of its theme: physical and psychological bullying among adolescent kids, especially in schools, mostly under the noses of teachers and administrators. Here’s the review…

The Revealers
by Doug Wilhelm
reviewed by Julia Carver

“This book was wonderful to read. There are hundreds of stories out there about people who get back at their bullies, but this book gives a wonderfully unusual angle on it. In this particular case, the middle-school kids getting bullied take a scientific approach, studying their tormenters to find out such useful information as why bullies bully, how bullies chose their victims, and, (drum roll please) how bullies can be stopped. I love reading stories like this, probably because I never got back at my bullies. I think that is why such stories are so popular – while a person is being bullied they don’t have the confidence to get a bit of their own back. By reading (or writing) books like these, they can do so in retrospect.”

Thank you, Julia. I might add that the author has created an online resource center for people who would like to know more about the subject, or who’d like to use the book in their schools to address the issue of bullying. He’s also turned it into a play, which has been performed in a couple of middle schools in Vermont.

Stolen Flowers?

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Today’s Boston Globe has a story that should chill the heart of anyone hoping to break into Hollywood by writing a screenplay.

Maybe you’ve seen last summer’s acclaimed movie Stolen Flowers, starring Bill Murray and directed by Jim Jarmusch. I saw it on DVD, and enjoyed it very much. But perhaps all is not as it seems, where the creative origin of the movie is concerned. So claims author Reed Martin, who is suing the film’s producers as well as his former agent, who Martin says shopped around his screenplay for years before abruptly and inexplicably dropping the project. The movie, according to Martin, bears way too many similarities to his screenplay to be a coincidence. According to the Globe:

“When Reed Martin saw “Broken Flowers,” he wasn’t laughing or applauding. Martin, a freelance journalist and adjunct professor of film marketing at New York University, left the theater with a knot in his stomach.

Virtually all the film’s characters, scenes, and sequencing were his creation, or slight variations thereof, Martin concluded, from the ex-girlfriend who talks to cats to the pink envelope that propels Murray’s odyssey.”

It’s not just an idle or frivolous claim, or so believes John Marder, a top Los Angeles attorney specializing in entertainment copyright and contract law, who filed suit on Martin’s behalf. Martin registered various early drafts of the screenplay with both the Writer’s Guild and the U.S. Copyright Office, so he should have plenty of evidence to support his claim.

This will be an interesting one to watch. But sobering, very sobering, if you were thinking of writing a screenplay on spec and shopping it around.

Tomorrow, something cheerier—my first guest book review!

P.S. If you liked the “N.S.A. Wiretapping” I mentioned in the entry below, there are more Walt Handelsman animations where that one came from. I especially liked “No Place Like Home.”

New Friends

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Before the memory of the Young Writers conference fades, I want to mention a few of the interesting people I met there, and what they’re up to.

Philip Baruth is a novelist and teacher in Vermont. But he’s also a political blogger, and runs a blog called the Vermont Daily Briefing. Though a lot of what he talks about is Vermont politics, some of it is pretty funny even for outsiders. Try this entry about Senate hopeful Rich Tarrant, who chose Bachman Turner Overdrive’s “Taking Care of Business” for a campaign song. It’s hilarious, sort of in the same way Dan Quayle was hilarious.

Marjorie Ryerson is an astoundingly articulate and energetic woman, who walked away from a tenured faculty position because she felt she had more important things to do with her life. (The fact that these other things didn’t necessarily pay was an annoying side effect.) She’s an author, which is enough for many people, but one of the other things she did was found an organization called Water Music, “an international, non-profit project designed to help the earth’s waters” through the arts and music. Her book, Water Music, is a spectacularly beautiful collection of photographs combined with poems and mini-essays by musicians, who are helping the cause by putting on benefit concerts. She’s working with the UN (UNESCO, if I’m remembering correctly), and in addition to trying to raise awareness among Americans of the importance of protecting our water heritage, she’s working overseas to help provide clean drinking water to populations who (unlike many of us) cannot take it for granted.

Doug Wilhelm has written a young adult novel called The Revealers, which deals with bullying in the middle school years. The book has been so successful in raising consciousness about the issue that it’s being used in many middle schools as a resource for focusing attention on the problem of bullying. Doug recently adapted the novel as a play, and that has been successfully put on in several middle schools. (My family is reading it right now, to see if it might be something our local theater group might be interested in trying.) The other thing you should know about Doug is that he’s about 8 feet tall, and you can pick him out of any crowd. (Okay, okay, 6′ 10″ — close enough.)

Finally, the director of the workshop, Matt Dickerson, is not just a teacher of computer science, but a writer of nonfiction literary analysis—his latest book being From Homer to Harry Potter, with another one coming on the subject of Tolkien and environmentalism—and the author of a historical fantasy novel. He also has a son who’s a budding SF writer. He’s also a hell of a nice guy, and he puts on a whopping good conference.

Fabulous Writing Conference for Young People!

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I’ve just returned from four days at the Bread Loaf, Vermont campus of Middlebury College, where I was one of twenty-two writers teaching at the New England Young Writers Conference. It was my first time at this annual event, and it was an amazing experience, working with talented high-school-aged writers from all over New England. I can’t remember the last time I had so much fun in a gathering with other writers, or felt so humbled by the talent around me (and I’m referring as much to the students as to the professionals).

It was also the nicest, most welcoming bunch of people I’ve met in years. It rained the whole time I was there, but I didn’t see a frown all weekend. Though I was the only science fiction writer among poets, nonfiction writers, and young adult and mainstream fiction writers, I felt completely at home—more at home than I sometimes feel at SF gatherings. I’ll remember with pleasure both the adult friends I made and the group of kids I worked with, and for that matter the girls who came over at the dance and asked me to join their group on the dance floor, “because only the kids are dancing, and if you dance with us, maybe the other adults will join in.” And they were right—all the grups in the place heaved themselves up and we danced the night away.

I was invited to bring my family along, and my younger daughter came with me, diving right into the workshops and making friends with other kids, despite being a couple of years younger than most of them. They’re already emailing each other back and forth. And though older daughter didn’t come*, one of her friends from school turned out to be there.

One reason I’m going on about this is that I want to get the word out that this is a terrific event. If you’re a high-school aged writer or know one or teach one, check it out at http://community.middlebury.edu/~neywc/. (The web site is a bit pedestrian, but it’s maintained by the college, not the conference staff. It doesn’t do the event justice.)

*Older daughter opted to stay home to go to the prom, taking the opportunity to get her hair cut in a Mohawk. Oy. I’ll say, though—after looking at the prom pictures of her friends in wild and colorful hair styles, and noting that most of the kids didn’t bother with dates but just went with friends—that they seemed to have a much better idea of how to have fun than I did at that age.

Nebula Awards for 2006

The results are in from the Nebula Awards® banquet put on by the Science Fiction and Fantasy Writers of America (SFWA), and here are the 2006 Nebula Award winners:

  • Novel — Camouflage, by Joe Haldeman
  • Novella — “Magic for Beginners,” by Kelly Link
  • Novelette — “The Faery Handbag,” by Kelly Link
  • Short Story — “I Live with You,” by Carol Emshwiller
  • Script — Serenity by Joss Whedon
  • First annual Andre Norton Award for young adult SF — A Modern Tale of Faerie, by Holly Black
  • Damon Knight Memorial Grand Master Award for lifetime achievement — Harlan Ellison
  • Author Emeritus — William F. Nolan

Congratulations to all! You can view photos from the event at http://www.midamericon.org/photoarchive/06neb01.htm.

To Plagiarize or Not to Plagiarize

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I don’t know how much coverage this story has been getting outside the Boston area, but a big story in the Boston Globe lately has been the rise-and-fall saga of 17-year-old novelist and Harvard student Kaavya Viswanathan. Viswanathan’s novel, “How Opal Mehta Got Kissed, Got Wild and Got a Life,” was published to great fanfare, then challenged by another author and publisher as being uncomfortably similar to a Megan McCafferty novel called “Sloppy Firsts.” “Opal Mehta” was withdrawn from retail stores—something like 50,000 hardcover copies!—with the promise of a revised edition. But with new revelations that some passages are uncomfortably similar to passages in Meg Cabot’s “The Princess Diaries,” the book has now been cancelled altogether. You can read a fuller summary on boston.com (you’ll need to register to view it).

It is, of course, impossible to know whether this young author knowingly plagiarized passages from other books, or simply unconsciously and unwittingly imitated works she had read and loved (which she insisted was the case). I felt considerable sympathy for her, at least before the later revelations emerged. All writers absorb thoughts and words and images from books and stories they read, and all that goes into the cerebral, intuitive percolator along with experiences from life. A young writer with relatively little life experience is naturally going to draw more on what she’s read (and seen on TV), relative to experience, than she will ten or twenty years later when she has more real life to draw from. As my friend, writer Rich Bowker said, “When I was that age, whatever I wrote pretty much sounded like the last book I’d read.” And I think that’s pretty universal.

On the other hand, plagiarism has become a common disease in today’s world. Students plagiarize. The CEO of Raytheon borrowed heavily from others, without giving credit, in a booklet of management advice—and now he’s not going to get his next raise. (Shed a few tears, people!)

This Harvard student was under pressure to produce a book to fulfill a half-million dollar, 2-book contract with Little, Brown (that’s right—half a mil to a first-time novelist for an unwritten book—why don’t I get those kinds of contracts?), and she was working with a big book packager, Alloy Entertainment, which “helped shaped her book” and incidentally shared in the copyright. So the situation was ripe for corruption. Why would a publisher offer that kind of money for an unwritten first novel to begin with? Was it because she’s young, beautiful (the Globe has printed her picture repeatedly), and smart? Was it because the book packager was a reliable creator of commercial successes? Damned if I know.

But as I think about this case, and all the other recent cases of award-winning writers who have fallen in disgrace when it turned out they lied or faked research or, yes, plagiarized—and when I think about the distressing number of cases of scientists who have falsified their research—I want to stand up and holler to the world: DON’T LIE AND CHEAT, YOU MORONS, BECAUSE YOU’RE GOING TO GET CAUGHT!

And then, after a while, I calm down again and fume about politicians instead. Them, we expect to lie and cheat.

Galactica Website

It seems I’m getting a lot of visits here from people who found a mention of my Battlestar Galactica: the Miniseries novel on http://www.gateworld.net/galactica/. Hi everyone! Yes, it’s true that you can read here a lot of my thoughts on writing BSG. But you’ll have to scroll down a ways. There are probably half a dozen entries, if you look far enough. (Or do a search.) Anyway, welcome and feel free to look around the place. It’s small, but we’re all friends here.

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