Meanwhile, Back at the Ranch

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The writing retreat was fabulous. I got more writing done per day there than I had been getting done in a long time at home, and that’s on top of spending time out hiking and enjoying sand, wind, and sea of Cape Cod. I’m back home now, and the trick is going to be finding a way to keep it up.

The carrot on a stick is in front of me, though. (Or maybe it’s a whip at my back.) My editor has put Sunborn in the schedule for fall of 2007, which means he needs it turned in by fall of 2006. Which sounds like a long way off, but trust me, for a long book with serious issues, it’s not. So I am hard at work. And must leave off the blog for now.

Writing Retreat

Wow. There’s nothing like getting away from the daily grind and sitting in a beautiful location. Near the ocean. Fire in a fireplace. Peace and solitude. (The jacuzzi turned out to be at another place, where I am not; but that’s okay, I don’t even mind.) I’m already making better progress on the book. Plus, I spent a couple of hours walking along the salt marsh and the beach, watching crows, playing chicken with the waves (and losing). This is great. I should do it more often.

Something about a fire in a fireplace and writing: they go together like, I don’t know, wine and cheese. (Hey, there’s an idea…)

Great Book on Writing

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I’ve just finished reading a wonderful book on writing. It’s Bird by Bird: Some Instructions on Writing and Life, by Anne Lamott. It’s not a new book; it was published in 1994, but I had never seen it. The reason I started reading it is that my younger daughter, Julia, was assigned it for a fiction-writing workshop. I browsed through the book like a good dad and was immediately hooked. It’s not so much about the mechanics of writing or getting published—though it offers plenty of good advice—as it is about the experience and the mindset of writing, and of living. It’s hilarious, it’s heartfelt, it touches on every insecure nerve a writer has ever felt, and it’s encouraging. (I, feeling blocked, picked up an Amazon-reader-recommended book on writer’s block at the same time, and found that I kept picking up Bird by Bird instead.) Some excerpts:

Getting Started:

The very first thing I tell my new students on the first day of a workshop is that good writing is about telling the truth. We are a species that needs and wants to understand who we are. Sheep lice do not seem to share this longing, which is one reason they write so very little.

Short Assignments:

E.L. Doctorow once said that “writing a novel is like driving a car at night. You can see only as far as your headlights, but you can make the whole trip that way.” You don’t have to see where you’re going, you don’t have to see your destination or everything you will pass along the way. You just have to see two or three feet ahead of you. This is right up there with the best advice about writing, or life, I have ever heard.


Writing a first draft is very much like watching a Polaroid develop. You can’t—and, in fact, you’re not supposed to—know exactly what the picture is going to look like until it has finished developing. First you just point at what has your attention and take the picture… The film emerges from the camera with a grayish green murkiness that gradually becomes clearer and clearer, and finally you see the husband and wife holding their baby with two children standing beside them. And at first it all seems very sweet, but then the shadows begin to appear, and then you start to see the animal tragedy, the baboons bearing their teeth. And then you see a flash of bright red flowers…that you didn’t even know were in the picture when you took it, and these flowers evoke a time or a memory that moves you mysteriously. And finally, as the portrait come into focus, you begin to notice all the props surrounding these people, and you begin to understand how props define us and comfort us, and show us what we value and what we need, and who we think we are.


Of all the voices you’ll hear on KFKD [the voices in your head], the most difficult to subdue may be that of jealousy. Jealousy is such a direct attack on whatever measure of confidence you’ve been able to muster. But if you continue to write, you are probably going to have to deal with it, because some wonderful, dazzling successes are going to happen for some of the most awful, angry, undeserving writers you know—people who are, in other words, not you.

If you have any interest in writing, whether you’re a beginner or a pro, I highly recommend it.

Publishers Sue Google

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I heard through the Authors Guild today that a number of major publishers have sued Google, through the Association of American Publishers, following the Authors Guild in its lawsuit against Google for its Library project. This makes one wonder about the Google claim that copyrighted material was being used only with the permission of the publishers.

As I may have mentioned before, Yahoo has joined in a coalition with several other companies and libraries to begin a similar book-scanning project. However, they say they’re only scanning material for which they have copyright-holder’s permission, or which is in the public domain.

This is going to become very interesting before it’s over.

More on Authors Guild and Google

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The Authors Guild sent out a more detailed explanation of their reasons for suing Google for putting copyrighted works online. I have to say they were pretty convincing. I’m just going to quote them:

  1. Google is a commercial, not a charitable, enterprise. Google is worth roughly $90 billion, making staggering profits through its online advertising programs. Its investment in Google Library is intended to bring even more visitors and profits to its website and ancillary services. The Guild is all for profit, but when the profit comes from the works of authors, the authors should be properly compensated.
  2. Google is scanning entire books, not just “fair use snippets.” Google is digitizing countless texts, your books, in their entirety — every sentence, every carefully chosen word — without your permission. That Google presents browsers with small selections of your work doesn’t change that.
  3. It’s not just public domain books. The Guild has no objection, of course, to the digitization of public domain works. The Google Library project goes far beyond that, encompassing works that are still protected by copyright, including in print and out of print works.
  4. Out of print doesn’t mean public domain. Out of print works are valuable. Out of print works are republished every day, bringing welcome new advances to authors and the prospect of new royalty income. That Google is willing to sink so much money into digitizing these works is further proof of their ongoing value.
  5. Authors (and the Guild) aren’t opposed to making their works searchable online with a proper license. With a proper license, in fact, far more than “snippets” could be made available to users. The opportunities are boundless, but it all starts with a valid license. This is no big deal, really; businesses large and small sign license agreements every day.

Tsmacro, in a comment below, remarked that most authors probably will gain rather than lose from this enterprise. He may well be right. But that, in the end, is not really the point. The point is that copyright means that the creators of works are reserved the right to control how their works are copied and distributed. Most writers, if asked, would probably grant permission. But some wouldn’t. And that’s their right. (Caveat: the situation may be complicated by what permissions authors have granted their publishers for e-publishing, and whether the publishers granted the rights to Google.)

The part about Google doing this for profit is really the clincher. Even if many authors might benefit—they don’t have the right to make a profit from reproducing work without permission.

Note that the music industry, in the end, woke up and realized the need to license music downloading—and everyone is now benefiting from it. Is Live!

I think I forgot to mention that my online guide to SF and fantasy writing, oddly enough called Writing Science Fiction and Fantasy, is now available online for anyone to peruse and use. It’s not what you’d called finished, exactly. It’s proving to be a much bigger job than I realized to fix all the funky formatting from the earlier html, and get all the navigation links in place. But the first handful of lessons are in good shape, and you can get around the whole course using the contents page.

The guide covers the fundamentals of story writing, including getting from idea to story, world building, creating human and alien characters, plot and conflict, language and style, finishing what you start, workshopping, submitting to publishers, and more. It’s geared to the younger aspiring writer, but I hope could be useful for anyone looking for a little jump start.

It grew out of a course I created for MathSoft’s StudyWorks Science some years ago, and now I’m putting it up for free as a public service. And SFF.Net is hosting it as a public service, as well.

If you know of any young aspiring writers, send ’em over. And please spread the word.

It’s at

Authors Guild Sues Google

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Well. Timing is everything. After my comments last night about Google’s display of book pages, I got a notice today that the Authors Guild has filed suit about this very issue:

NEW YORK — The Authors Guild and a Lincoln biographer, a children’s book author, and a former Poet Laureate of the United States filed a class action suit today in federal court in Manhattan against Google over its unauthorized scanning and copying of books through its Google Library program. The suit alleges that the $90 billion search engine and advertising juggernaut is engaging in massive copyright infringement at the expense of the rights of individual writers.

Through its Library program, Google is reproducing works still under the protection of copyright as well as public domain works from the collection of the University of Michigan’s library.

“This is a plain and brazen violation of copyright law,” said Authors Guild president Nick Taylor. “It’s not up to Google or anyone other than the authors, the rightful owners of these copyrights, to decide whether and how their works will be copied.”

It’ll be interesting to see how this plays out. I’m a member of the Authors Guild, but I’m not immediately sure that I agree with them on this. Whether Google’s usage properly falls under “fair use,” I’m not sure—and I suspect it hinges partly on what percentage of any given work they’re displaying. I know when Amazon started doing it, there was concern about whether books in which smaller contributions played a bigger part—such as collections of poetry, cookbooks with individual recipes, and so on—would be adversely affected, more than something like novels.

Speaking for myself, I’m happy to have excerpts available, as I figure it won’t hurt sales and might help them. But I agree that authors should have the right to say. Should publishers ask them before offering their books to Google? Yes. Did mine? Not that I can recall.

I’ll be watching this.

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