The SFWA Bulletin

In late November, I found out that I’d be acting as Production Editor for a special issue of the SFWA Bulletin, edited by Tansy Rayner Roberts. A little over three months later, the issue is beginning to land in mailboxes, and we have a new editor! But we’re already hard at work on the next issue, a special for the Nebulas. But for anyone who missed out on the news via the SFWA outlets, here’s a little on the new editor, the table of contents for the special edition, and how to obtain a copy of said special edition.

John Klima previously worked at Asimov’s, Analog, and Tor Books before returning to school to earn his Master’s in Library and Information Science. He now works full time as the assistant director of a large public library. John edited and published the Hugo Award-winning genre zine Electric Velocipede from 2001 to 2013. The magazine was also a four-time nominee for the World Fantasy Award and recipient of the Tiptree Honor List for one of its stories. In 2007 Klima edited an anthology of science fiction and fantasy stories based on spelling-bee winning words called Logorrhea: Good Words Make Good Stories. In 2011, Klima edited a reprint anthology of fairytale retellings titled Happily Ever After. He co-edited Glitter & Mayhem with Lynne M. Thomas and Michael Damian Thomas—a 2013 Kickstarter-funded anthology of speculative nightclub stories. He and his family live in the Midwest.

TOC for Issue 204 of the SFWA Bulletin
2 SFWA at Its Core – Susan Forest
3 Editorial
4 Science Fiction on the Front Line – Richard Dansky
7 Social Media & the Solitary Writer – Cat Rambo
10 The SFWA Forum – Susan Forest
10 Volunteering – Dave Klecha
11 Writer Beware – Victoria Strauss
13 Estates Project – Brenda W. Clough & Bud Webster
17 SFWA Operations Manager – Kate Baker
18 Everything Old Is New Again – MCA Hogarth
21 From the Ombudsman – Cynthia Felice
22 Website Redesign & Featured Book – Jeremiah Tolbert
23 Anti-Harassment & Diversity – Jaym Gates
27 Moving to California: The SFWA Bylaws Overhaul & Reincorporation Process – Russell Davis
32 Of Myth & Memory – Sheila Finch
36 SFWA’s MG/YA Group – Jenn Reese
37 50,000 Words Under the Sea – Ari Asercion
40 Copyright Battles & SFWA – Michael Capobianco
43 SFWA Standards for Pay – Jim Fiscus
45 Picking the Right Convention For You – Nancy Holder & Erin Underwood
53 Better Teachers, Better Writers – James Patrick Kelly
59 SFWA Annual Events – Steven H Silver
60 The SFWA NY Reception – Steven H Silver
61 SFWA Reading Series – Merrie Haskell
62 About the Nebulas
64 Interview: E.C. Myers – Tansy Rayner Roberts
Norton Award – Merrie Haskell
67 FROM THE BOARD
President/Vice President/Secretary
From the Treasurer
The Board Members Called “Directors”
74 Apres SFWA, The Deluge – Lynne M Thomas
75 Keep New Friends: Interview Rakunas & Gunn – Rachel Swirsky
78 SFWA Discussion Boards – Cat Rambo
80 Communications – Jaym Gates
IBC About the Cover Artist

For information on subscribing, contributing, or advertising in the Bulletin, please email bulletin@sfwa.org. For information on the Nebula Awards Weekend, May 15-18, in San Jose, CA, please see http://www.sfwa.org/nebula-awards/nebula-weekend/. (Non-SFWA members welcome!)

Something Worth Doing is Worth Doing Well

This refrain comes up again and again when talking to my writer friends (and not always initiated by me): something worth doing is worth doing well. It’s certainly not a controversial idea, though talking about it is not without its risks (as writer myself, I will not be providing examples of poor work to avoid shooting myself in the foot).

Put another way: we as an industry are going cheap, and it shows.

Usually it starts with the cover—bad art, or weak stock photos, with poor typography. If the cover is bad, the inside is often worse—poor layout, weak font choices, text that’s too small to read, or so big you could read it from across the room. The interior art looks fuzzy, or way too dark. Maybe there’s nothing in particular you can put your finger on, but something just isn’t right—very possibly the paper itself is poorly chosen (or left unconsidered).

Overall, you’re left with a feeling of cheapness—and it’s probably true: not enough money and attention has been put into this product.

Like it or not, this lack of detail negatively impacts the stories themselves. Fewer people will buy the book, and some people will be so turned off by the experience that they will set it aside for good. All of this, regardless of the quality of the stories themselves.

It would be easy to lay blame at the feet of self-publishers, but it’s not limited to that world. Poor quality runs throughout all levels of publishing, at least sporadically, from indies to the big names.

The blame for this lies in a few areas.

Budget

It’s been said that there’s little money in publishing, and perhaps that’s true. Spending much on something with little chance of seeing it returned doesn’t make too much sense. To create a work of quality, it does take skill (or money to hire that skill). We are at a point where it requires little to no money to produce books, even printed books—from ebooks to print on demand, a publisher does not need to outlay much cash to get a book to a reader and see a return on investment. Unfortunately, this low-budget approach shows all too often.

Too Many Hats

I’m a jack-of-all-trades kind of guy: I have an art background, I work as an illustrator and designer (and animator, and video guy, and…), I’ve done some sound work, I write. I understand there are people (and publishers) out there that can handle the whole shebang and do a fine job of it. The thing is, the vast majority of people can’t, and even those that can generally are not great at everything—I know this, all too intimately. If you’re trying to take it all on, you probably shouldn’t.

Plus, if you are taking on all of the roles, you will generally suffer from tunnel vision, and miss out on glaring problems. As the wearer of all of the hats, you are probably working in a vacuum, and regardless of problems with teams (group think, lowest common denominator results), more people means more eyes on the end result.

Another quick point here: I’m a big believer in using the right tool (or software) for the right job, but just having that tool does not make you a master of it (and mastering it still doesn’t make you a designer).

Quantity vs. Quality

Perhaps this is a flawed perception, but it appears that some go for the shotgun approach: more products offered, more sales. It may be accurate, too—I haven’t looked for research to disprove this notion—but it seems to me that spreading money across fewer books (and thus more per book) would significantly improve the end results, and the financial gains from each. No doubt there’s a tipping point, where a piece goes from appropriately treated to collector’s edition (with a price to match)—but if this is your concern, this article isn’t really aimed at you.

Contrary to what it might sound like, I’m not trying to say “you all suck!” or that I want fewer books around. I love all kinds of books, and I want to see the publishing world do better by delivering better.

There are solutions to these problems, and not all of them require more money spent (though some expectation of investing in a work should be assumed). Educating yourself, spending smarter, hiring the right people, finding others who will give you honest opinions…these are all steps in the right direction.

And these are all planned future posts. Stay tuned.

How Long Did That Take?

During a #SFFWRTCHT last month I was asked this question: “How long does it take you to do a piece from first line to finish?”* I responded with something vague about always being amazed at how quickly some pieces come together and how slowly others do. And that’s completely true: The time from first line to finish varies enormously depending on the illustration project. (Even more tricky to explain is why an illustration that only took an afternoon to complete may be more successful than one that took several weeks). One of my art professors used to answer:  “40 years and three weeks” when people asked how long a painting took (the sum of his painting career to that point and whatever time the specific painting required), which was a witty nod to how much more than just hours goes into an art piece. But as a freelancer, knowing how long a project took is pretty important career information. So I’ve been working on that.

Usually I have several projects all going on at once. On rare moments it all comes together like this**, but often it feels more like this. Last year I started using  kanbanpad to help keep track of my progress on various illustrations. I had queues such as “Not Started” “Ideation” “In Progress” and “Finished”. Recently it’s become necessary to revise how I keep track of stuff in order to avoid over-committing myself: I now have a Google doc with a whole year laid out month by month listing jobs already committed to, so at a glance I know if I can take on another project this month or that month. Also I’ve also started using spreadsheets to detail each month even more closely: When a job is started, when it is finished, (how many hours it took). Even things like print sales, art shows entered, (blog posts written). This is pretty new, the methods still being tweaked, but I’m interested in seeing what trends may reveal themselves.

As the at-home parent, my work schedule fits around my son’s school schedule and between general household management needs. And those work hours are not all art making: I spend a lot of time reading through the stories I’ll be illustrating, prepping digital canvases, collecting and/or shooting reference images. Not to mention just “paperwork” type stuff: keeping financial records up to date, monitoring correspondence, posting recent work, promoting projects, occasionally revamping my websites. I recently spent several hours finally writing up my own artist/client contract for new clients and it took me an entire day to prepare art for shipping to an out-of-town show.

While I have not yet started keeping track of exactly how many hours a piece will take from start to finish, I do know that I can finish about 4-5 illustration jobs per month and still be sane and pleasant to live with. (Which is really good to know.) Here’s a few other things I’ve skimmed from the webs that apply to the topic at hand:

  • And this interview with creatives talking about their time management methods:


*thank you Paul Weimer for asking the question!
**thank you Bo Bolander for lovely herd dogs.
***thank you Remy Nakamura for pointing me to Scalzi’s article.

Fight Fiction: a History Part I

A novelist, screenwriter, television personality and half the creative genius behind the Fight Card series, Paul Bishop recently finished a 35 year career with the Los Angeles Police Department where he was twice honored as Detective Of The Year.  He continues to work privately as a deception expert and as a specialist in the investigation of sex crimes.  His books include the western Diamondback: Shroud Of Vengenace, two novels (Hot Pursuit / Deep Water) featuring LAPD officers Calico Jack Walker and Tina Tamiko, the thrillers Penalty Shot and Suspicious Minds, a short story collection (Running Wylde), and five novels in his L.A.P.D. Detective Fey Croaker series (Croaker: Kill Me Again, Croaker: Grave Sins, Croaker: Tequila Mockingbird, Croaker: Chalk Whispers, and Croaker: Pattern of Behavior).  His latest novel, Fight Card: Felony Fists (written as Jack Tunney), is a fast action boxing tale inspired by the fight pulps of the ‘40s and ‘50s. His novels are currently available as e-books.


 

Cultural influences, tough economic times, and the hope and appeal offered by fight fiction …

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Paul Bishop

 

The fight fiction genre has become an integral part of our cultural history – especially when economic times have been as tough as the character’s in a fight fiction tale.

Even before the explosion of fight fiction stories in the pulps of the ‘30s and ‘40s, Jack London was penning fight stories for the masses, such as his classics A Piece of Steak and The Abysmal Brute, among others.  Feeding the need of the everyman to rise above his daily struggle for survival through vicarious fight entertainment, London’s fight tales were devoured.

London learned to box by sparring with his friend Jim Whitaker, and his love of the sport never waned.  Wherever his wanderings took him, London always had a pair of boxing gloves, always ready to mix it up with any challenger.  Most often, however, London’s regular sparring partner was his wife, Charmian Kittredge, with whom he routinely sparred.

Even on the Snark, travelling to the Solomons Islands, or on the Tymeric from Sydney, Australia, to Ecuador, or the Dirgo from Baltimore to Seattle in 1912, Jack and Charmain would put on their bathing suits and square off for an hour of sparring before throwing buckets of salt water on one another.  Because he couldn’t strike back against Charmain as he would against another man, London developed an almost impenetrable defense, making him more than a challenge for any man he toed the line against.

London hated bullfighting and hunting, considering them without any sporting interest.  However, the specific mano-a-mano science of boxing fascinated him.  He always tried to attend professional fights as a reporter in order to secure a ringside seat.

In 1905, he wrote one of his most highly regarded fight stories,  The Game, which was serialized in Metropolitan Magazine. The story caused a clamor when critics claimed a fighter could not be killed by hitting his head on the canvas. London’s reply was a claim to have seen it happen in the West Oakland Athletic Club.

Eventually, lightweight champion of the world, Jimmy Britt, settled things in the San Francisco Examiner when he was quoted as saying, “With … nothing more to guarantee me that he knows The Game than his description of his fictional prize-fight, I would, if he were part of our world, propose or accept him as referee of my impending battle with Nelson.”

During the height of the pulp era on the ‘30s and ‘40s, Robert E. Howard was another writer who banged out fight stories while also engaging in the pugilistic arts. Even though as a child he was bookish and intellectual, in his teen years he took up bodybuilding before eventually entering the ring as an amateur boxer.

Best known as the creator of Conan The Barbarian, Solomon Kane, and other sword and sorcery characters, Howard had a lifelong interest in boxing, attending fights and avidly following the careers of his favorite fighters.  He also claimed to considered his fictional fight tales – especially The Iron Man, and the adventures of Sailor Steve Costigan, the lovable, hard-fisted, and innocent semipro pugilist who regularly squared-off against dastardly villains in exotic ports of call – as among the best of his works.

Howard’s boxing tales and hundreds of other two-fisted stories flourished in the fight pulps such as Fight Stories Magazine and Knockout Magazine, helping a generation of readers to fight through the Great Depression and the tough years to follow.

During the ‘50s, the printed tales of fight fiction gave way to a wider appreciation of live bouts.  Television brought those fights into American living rooms for all to see.  However, as the public became jaded by the scandal of fight fixing and the real life encroachment of organized crime into the fight game, a new realism in fight fiction wrapped its hands with tape and pulled on battered leather gloves illegally loaded with lead.

Published in 1958, The Professional written by W. C. Heinz cast a harsh reflection of the seedy circus-like atmosphere of boxing with its assorted hangers-on, crooked promoters, and jaded journalists.  With his lean sentences, rough-and-ready dialogue, dry wit, and you-are-there style, Heinz brilliantly used the cynical eyes of fictional sports writer Frank Hughes to recount the trials of middleweight Eddie Brown and his crusty trainer, Doc Carroll, as Brown prepares for a championship fight.

Heinz’ novel is still as revered today as it was when Hemingway – himself an amateur pugilist and teller of fight stories such as Fifty Grand and A Matter of Colour  – declared it “the only good novel about a fighter I’ve read and an excellent novel in its own right.”

Like the fight fiction novels to be published in the ‘40s and 50’s. movies of those eras also reflected the public’s growing disenchantment with boxing in the ‘50s.  Humphrey Bogart’s last screen appearance in 1956’s The Harder They Fall – based on Budd Schulberg’s 1947 novel – dramatizes a thinly disguised account of the real life boxing scandal involving champion Primo Carnera.  Bogart’s character, Eddie Willis, was based on the career of boxing writer and event promoter Harold Conrad.  The book and film pulled no punches, showing brutal and brutish fight scenes coupled with the cynical and humiliating treatment of fighters by those surrounding them – which further reflected the middle class workers’ own feelings of punitive treatment by upper management.

Finally, in 1969, the noir edge of fight stories was capped with the publication of Fat City.  Written by Leonard Gardner, Fat City, set in the small-time boxing circuit of Stockton, California in the late ‘50s, became an acclaimed film from director John Houston in 1972.  As in The Professional and The Harder They Fall, the message of Fat City was a harsh metaphor for the impossibility of a public striving to get ahead while surrounded by forces determined to derail you at every turn.