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New entry Nov 16

Critter Notices

Critters is 22!

Yes, 21 years ago Critters was born. Wow! Thanks so much to all of you, who've made it such a resounding success!

Books from Critters!

Check out Books by Critters for books by your fellow Critterfolk, as well as my list of recommended books for writers.

How to Write SF

The Craft of Writing Science Fiction that Sells by Ben Bova, best-selling author and six-time Hugo Award winner for Best Editor. (This is one of the books your ol' Critter Captain learned from himself, and I highly recommend it.) (Also via Amazon)

A Guide to Barsoom

The ultimate, definitive GUIDE TO BARSOOM from ReAnimus Press. NOW IN PRINT EDITION TOO. The best guide to Edgar Rice Burroughs' Mars series.

P&E Seeks New Caretaker

Unfortunately, much of the data on the P&E site has become stale and outdated, and needs a new caretaker with the time required to update the site. The listings are being removed until they can be updated by a new caretaker.

Note that the P&E/Critters Annual Readers Poll will run as usual in January.

If you are interested in taking the reins of P&E, and possess what's needed — at least 20hrs/week to volunteer, excellent investigative skills, in-depth knowledge of the publishing industry, ability to detect scams from not-scams, thick skin, good web site skills, good writing ability — please get in touch. Thanks for your interest!

Interviewed!

I'm being interviewed live on public radio for Critters 20th birthday. For those who want to listen, it's on the 10am (Mountain time) show on Thursday, 11/19/16, on Colorado Public Radio - www.cpr.org has streaming on the site or it's 90.1 FM in the Denver area. [Interview is done, you can listen on the site]

Free Web Sites

Free web sites for authors (and others) are available at www.nyx.net.

ReAnimus Acquires Advent!

ReAnimus Press is pleased to announce the acquisition of the legendary Advent Publishers! Advent is now a subsidiary of ReAnimus Press, and we will continue to publish Advent's titles under the Advent name. Advent was founded in 1956 by Earl Kemp and others, and has published the likes of James Blish, Hal Clement, Robert Heinlein, Damon Knight, E.E. "Doc" Smith, and many others. Advent's high quality titles have won and been finalists for several Hugo Awards, such as The Encyclopedia of Science Fiction and Fantasy and Heinlein's Children. Watch this space for ebook and print editions of all of Advent's current titles!

Network speeding up

I'm switching the connection over to a new, shiny 10X faster network because of all the load. There might be bits of downtime as your boxes learn new addresses and things. Should be brief. Let me know of any prolonged outages you see.

Preditors & Editors Changeover

With the very sad passing of Dave Kuzminski, who ran P&E, I've taken over the P&E duties. Lots of what I hope are improvements; check it out at pred-ed.com.

Critters Server is Dying has been Replaced

See important details here in my blog. Let me know if you find anything that isn't working right. (Manuscripts are now available for this week, FYI.)

Book Recommendation

THE SIGIL TRILOGY: The universe is dying from within... "Great stuff... Really enjoyed it." — SFWA Grandmaster Michael Moorcock

Announcing ReAnimus Press

If you need help making ebooks from manuscripts or print copies—or finding great stuff to read—look no further! An ebook publisher started by your very own Critter Captain. (And with a 12% Affiliate program.) [More]

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Critters Inverviews

An Interview with Lawrence Watt-Evans

Critter member Kari Tulinius interviews Lawrence Watt-Evans, Hugo-award winning author of a multitude of short stories and dozens of novels, including the Ethshar series:


Do you read fiction while writing?

Sometimes yeah -- if I don't, I'm more prone to slow down and stall. It's almost as if I need to put words in to get words out.

Do you find it alters your own work?

Sometimes; not usually. And when it does it's usually for the better -- I'll see a way to do something better because the author I'm reading did something I didn't expect.

Do you only write genre fiction, or have you written other forms of fiction?

You'll need to define your terms.

Read my story "Sit!" in URBAN NIGHTMARES, edited by Josepha Sherman and Keith Decandido, and tell me whether it's genre fiction or not, and why -- then we'll talk.

Do you prefer to write genre fiction, and if so, why? Did you learn anything writing other forms of fiction that you feel has improved your skills in genre fiction?

I simply don't worry about genre unless I'm writing for a specific market. A good story is a good story; genre doesn't matter.

Have you written any nonfiction--articles, books, travelogues, restaurant reviews, personal essays, whatnot?

Tons. I used to write a weekly column for the COMICS BUYER'S GUIDE, for one thing. I've written for everything from THE SAGEBRUSH JOURNAL to STARLOG, the Louisville Courier-Journal to the Bedford Patriot.

Do you find that such writing helps your fiction, or merely gets in the way?

Neither. It's simply irrelevant. It's another way of using words. You're doing the equivalent of asking a race driver, "Does mowing your lawn affect your driving?" They both use gas engines and move forward, but that's where the similarity ends. Likewise, nonfiction and fiction both use words to get a point across, but are otherwise not connected.

What is your educational/personal background (are you a PhD physicist, high school graduate, Army brat, jazz musician, skydiving hobbyist, father of ten, etc) and how has this affected your writing -- subject matter, characters, worldbuilding, ideas, etc.?

I'm a college drop-out -- majored in architecture at first, flunked out, then returned and majored in comparative religion, minored in art history. I've got a wife and two kids, three surviving sisters, a brother; my parents are both dead, but my father was a college professor from an old-money family and my mother was a Unitarian church secretary with British parents. I travel when I can, and generally try to take in as much of the world around me as possible -- and I use ALL of it in my work: Architecture, religion, art, love, parenting, siblings, death, academics, tradition, clerical duties, everything.

What are you tired of seeing in genre fiction? What staples of the genre would you like to see go to their hard-earned and well-deserved retirement, in favor of something (please, anything!) else?

Rightful heirs to the throne as heroes. What the hell is this obsession with hereditary monarchy?

How long did it take for you to get from "serious about writing" to "selling writer"?

Depends how you look at it. I wrote my first story at age eight, but didn't have the nerve to submit anything until I was sixteen or seventeen. At seventeen I started selling feature articles to the local paper -- so is that nine years, or none? I started seriously writing fiction with the idea of selling it in 1974, when I got kicked out of Princeton -- I'd written a couple of stories, and submitted them, back in '72 when I was writing those feature articles, but I hadn't been very serious about it. I sold my first story in 1975.

And I sold my second in 1979. So is that one year or five?

After '79, though, I was definitely a selling writer, since that second story was a novel.

Did you participate in a workshop?

No.

When do you think that the right time to quit is?

When it isn't fun any more.

How did you keep writing in the face of rejections?

I didn't take it seriously enough to let the rejections bother me. I accumulated seventy-two rejections between February '74 and June '75, on twenty-eight stories, and just figured that even if I never sold anything, I could impress people just by showing them the stack of rejection slips. I didn't let it be a big deal to me; I knew I could always sell real estate.

How do you process raw story ideas? How does a basic idea for a story become a whole story?

Just by building it up logically. For example, my novel THE CYBORG AND THE SORCERERS began with the image of a modern-day soldier in grundgy fatigues carrying an assault rifle and the usual arsenal, standing amid the barbaric splendor of a medieval great hall, surrounded by courtiers and nobles in silks and velvet who don't realize that the gun is a weapon and that this one unkempt man could probably defeat them all.

I wanted to write the story that scene appeared in, so I just began working it out, step by step -- who is this guy and how did he get there?

I knew I didn't want any magic or interdimensional stuff -- I wanted it to be science fiction, with no deus ex machina possible, no all-powerful outside forces meddling. Okay, so it's the future, on another planet, where a civilization has reverted to barbarism and a soldier from an earlier, more advanced time has shown up. How'd they revert? A nuclear war would seem reasonable. And this soldier would be from that same war. How'd he get to his future? Relativistic time dilation makes sense. So here's a soldier long after his war has ended -- why is he still carrying those weapons? Well, he's still fighting. Why?

And so on, until I had the entire novel plotted out.

What comes first while processing aforementioned ideas, characters, plots, setting?

Any of 'em. For NIGHTSIDE CITY I started with the setting, Epimetheus; for THE MISENCHANTED SWORD I started with the spell on the sword; for the Lords of Dus I started with the character of Garth; and so on.

What do you focus on while creating plots?

Getting to an ending that will satisfy the reader.

How do you create characters? Do you primarily base characters on people you know, or create them from whole cloth?

Whole cloth. Generally, I know what I want the character to do, and then figure out what sort of person would do it.

On a few occasions I've based characters on people I know, and it's usually been a bad idea. I don't do it any more.

How do you integrate these characters into a story?

The characters and the story result from co-dependent origination, to use a Buddhist term -- one can't exist without the other. These characters are the people who live through this story -- any other characters would produce a different story, and any other story would have to be about different characters.

What do you keep in mind while writing character interaction?

That each character has his own goals and interests and prejudices -- they're not just plot engines or sounding boards.

How important are characters in your stories?

Without characters there are no stories.

How much does the setting influence your characters?

Depends -- sometimes the setting is irrelevant, and other times the character's entire personality is shaped by the setting. There's no general rule.

What do you keep in mind while creating the setting?

This is a place people live -- it has a history, an economy, politics, a social structure, and they all interrelate.

Are your settings based on extrapolation of a single idea or is it a multi-idea setting?

It depends -- but you know, you can't base a setting on a single idea, not really. You may START with a single idea, but if you don't flesh it out with lots of OTHER ideas, it's not a setting, it's just a stage.

How much time do you spend doing background research?

Depends. I've been known to start a novel without doing ANY research, and to spend six months researching a short story. I do what I feel is necessary before I'm comfortable writing the story.

How rigorously do you "plan" your settings? How nailed down are your settings when you are writing?

It varies. I'm big on consistency, so if I'm writing a story set in Ethshar, say -- where I've set six novels and seven short stories -- I will make absolutely certain that I don't contradict anything I've said before, that the action all fits on the maps I've drawn.

If I'm using a new setting, though, I'll adjust it to suit the story. In TOUCHED BY THE GODS the size of the eastern plain between Seidabar and Govya kept changing as I worked my way through the first draft; I only made it consistent in rewrite.

What stylistic pitfalls are especially important to avoid?

Trying to write above your level. Far too many new writers, especially in fantasy, think that "writing well" or "style" means using big words and fancy sentences. It's not so. Any would-be writer should sit down and read Hemingway just to see that you DON'T need to complicate matters.

Not that I object to having and using an extensive vocabulary; what I object to is using words that are NOT part of one's actual vocabulary, words that have shades of meaning the author doesn't understand. "Scarlet" doesn't just mean red -- it's a specific SHADE of red, and if you don't mean THAT EXACT SHADE, then don't call it scarlet no matter HOW spiffy you think it sounds.

What do think is the difference between writing a novel and a short story/novelette/novella?

Martha Soukup once said something along these lines: A short story is about the single most important event in the main character's life. Event, singular. I think she's right -- a short story is set-up and delivery, wham, it's over.

On the other hand, a novel is an entire series of events, a progression, building up gradually. You can afford grace notes, extra little touches, changes in direction along the way.

A short story is a kiss; a novel is a seduction.

A novelet is a long short story -- a more elaborate set-up, maybe some preliminaries, but still a single delivery and done. A novella can be either a long novelet or a short novel -- usually it's a short novel. The line does get blurry.

Structurally, a short story is simple -- you write only those parts that lead to your point. A novel is complex -- you build up several structures, and hope they all fall into place at once.

You are one of the relatively few writers who write in many genres and are respected in all. What do you think is the difference in writing horror, fantasy or science fiction?

Emphasis. Horror is the most internal of the three -- you're interested in the emotions; not the events, but their impact on the characters. Implication is vitally important -- the reader can always scare HIMSELF more than YOU can scare him, and you need to lead him to do that, not spell everything out.

Science fiction is the most literal and rational, but it, too, uses implication heavily -- you can't describe the entire world you've invented, so you imply it with the telling detail. Everything needs to fit together. Events are more important than emotions -- we're playing with worlds, rather than souls.

Fantasy is explicit -- it's metaphors made tangible. Events and emotions are interlocked. The external world and the character's internal reality are connected, reflecting each other.

As a science fiction writer you are well known for your parallel world tales. Anything that needs special consideration for these stories?

These are science fiction stripped of science and boiled down to pure thought experiments -- exploring possibilities and imagining what effects they'd have on people. Personally, I think many writers are really bad at them because they don't think things through to the logical end -- they just look at it as another playground for adventure stories. I figure that if you're going to write parallel worlds, you need to consider the underlying logic and work from that, rather than just say, "Okay, so there's a gateway to a world where the Nazis won..."

Why'd they win? Where'd the gateway come from? Why did the research that led to the gateway get done? Why is there only ONE gateway? Etc.

In your novels you often successfully blend together many different genres, such as in your Three Worlds trilogy. Anything there which needs special attention?

You need to treat your different settings consistently and keep them in proper balance -- turning an all-powerful wizard loose in Luna City is probably not going to work, and Richard Seaton's Skylark would make short work of the average Dark Lord.

Any final advice?

Write what you'd want to read.

-- Lawrence

My Web page is at http://www.sff.net/people/LWE/ Last update 4/24/98

"Reader-friendly, unpretentious, and informal..." Gregory Feeley


5 Jul 1998

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