Tuesday, October 25, 2011


I'm safely at the Town and Country in San Diego as World Fantasy Con will take place in a few days.

I didn't bring my laptop (too heavy and luggage limit), but I do have an iPad and a wireless keyboard with me (it's still no replacement for a full-fledged laptop--maybe someone can give me a MacBook Air as a present), but it's enough to get some writing done and perform these kinds of updates. (At least until my keyboard battery lives.)

Also, if you need to reach me, as long as I have WiFi, I'll be on Twitter, Messages (charlesatan[at]yahoo[dot]com), and Skype (charlesatan).

Friday, October 21, 2011

October 21, 2011 Links and Plugs

The blog will be on hiatus from October 24 ~ November 6 as I will be at WFC. (I'm sure John de Nardo of SF Signal will satisfy your linking needs.)

Oh, and the all-important World Fantasy schedule...

Interviews and Profiles


Goblin Fruit Autumn 2011

Thursday, October 20, 2011

October 20, 2011 Links and Plugs

The blog will be on hiatus from October 24 ~ November 6 as I will be at WFC. (I'm sure John de Nardo of SF Signal will satisfy your linking needs.)

P.S. Signal-boosting Stone Telling's call for submissions.

Interviews and Profiles

 Ishtar edited by Amanda Pillar & K.V. Taylor

Wednesday, October 19, 2011

Bryan Thomas Schmidt: 7 Tips For Being A Good Beta Reader

One of the things I’ve learned in the past year from working with editors and beta readers is how important a role these folks play in the creative success of any published product. Now there are good editors and bad editors, good beta readers and bad beta readers. I’ve been lucky with my editors so far but had a few beta readers who left things to be desired. (Actually my current crop are fantastic but took a while to find them.)

What you need to understand as a beta reader is that the author needs your focus and honesty to make a good book or story. In fact, without you, the story can’t be all it can be, so you’re actually participating in the creative process and can have huge influence over the final product. If it’s good–and even better because of your thoughtful attention–you can proudly brag about that, and I’m sure the author will credit you in the Acknowledgements as well.

So what does it take to be a good beta reader? Here’s Seven Tips:

  1. Pay Attention. You need to read with focused care. Note everything that engenders a response in you. You don’t necessarily have to report them all in your notes, but pay attention, nonetheless, and analyze how that works as you assess the story. Because the author needs to know what works, what doesn’t, etc. This requires you to read with more effort and thought than you might be used to. So it may challenge you. But it will also enrich your reading life in later efforts by teaching you to look at things more deeply in ways you hadn’t imagined.
  2. Ask Questions And Seek Answers. If you have unanswered questions or are confused, those are the first notes the author needs. Often we’re so wrapped up in our story with all its details, we don’t realize we’ve underexplained things or done so in a convoluted way. We desperately need you to point it out to us. And we’re thankful when you do. Sometimes what seems perfectly clear to us won’t be to you. This has happened many times editing my novel, and I’m always grateful for those chances to make it better.
  3. If You Get Annoyed, Let Me Know. If I over explain or over foreshadow and ruin the surprise, I need to know. I need to know what bores or annoys you. You’re smart enough to realize when it was unintentional, so tell me, because I need to know.
  4. Offer Me A Little Praise Too. I’m nervous and excited to put my work out into the world. I need to know the bad stuff, yes. But it’s also helpful to know what you liked. What made you laugh or smile? What surprised you in a good way? What made you want to shout and read it to someone else? Those things matter, and hey, the process is so long, I need the encouragement to keep going. Please let me know.
  5. Don’t Be Afraid Of Hurting My Feelings. If I ask you to beta, I am giving you carte blanche to be honest. I need it to make my work all it can be. If I asked, you’re probably someone I trust or at least whose opinion I value enough to believe you can help. And although some of your notes may frustrate me, I won’t take it personally or hold it against you because I need your help. And in the long run, my writing will be better for it not just with this project, but every project to follow.
  6. Take good notes. Either on the manuscript itself or via comments in Microsoft Word or on paper. Whatever the case note page and paragraph numbers and be as detailed as you can. The more you give the author, the more helpful your notes will be and the more impressed and grateful the author will be for your time and effort.
  7. Check your political, religious and other opinions at the door. You should do this any time you read if you want to actually be informed by the experience. If you are only reading to reinforce existing opinions, your goal is not to grow. Being a beta reader is a challenge, growth is inherent for both you and the writer. It is liberating to set aside preconceived ideas and look at things in a new light, through someone else’s eyes. Reading it fairly doesn’t mean you have to agree or change your mind. But if you intend to help the author, you cannot operate under your own prejudices. Writers are human, our own biases do shape how we see the world and how we project it in our writing, no matter how hard we try to avoid it or how often some deny it. But it’s not your book. The beta reader’s responsibility is fair feedback, untouched by bias, to help the author make his or her book the best of theirs that it can be.
Well those are my seven. No list is perfect. But if you take my advice, you’ll have good success as a beta reader and probably get lots of chances to read stuff before anyone else. How cool is that?

Bryan Thomas Schmidt is the author of the space opera novel The Worker Prince, the collection The North Star Serial, and has several short stories forthcoming in anthologies and magazines. He’s also the host of Science Fiction and Fantasy Writer’s Chat every Wednesday at 9 pm EST on Twitter, where he interviews people like Mike Resnick, AC Crispin, Kevin J. Anderson and Kristine Kathryn Rusch. He can be found online as @BryanThomasS on Twitter or via his website. Excerpts from The Worker Prince can be found on his blog.
THE WORKER PRINCE Blog Tour continues tomorrow with an Author Profile and Excerpt http://andrew-reeves.tumblr.com 

October 19, 2011 Links and Plugs

The blog will be on hiatus from October 24 ~ November 6 as I will be at WFC. (I'm sure John de Nardo of SF Signal will satisfy your linking needs.)

Interviews and Profiles


The Bone Key by Sarah Monette

Tuesday, October 18, 2011

Filipino Bibliophile Podcast Episode 2: Paolo Chikiamco

About Paolo Chikiamco:
A lawyer by training and a writer by inclination, in 2009 Paolo resigned from one of the top law firms in the country to establish Eight Ray Sun Publishing Inc., driven to take advantage of the burgeoning ebook market to allow Filipino Speculative Fiction authors a chance, not only to reach an international audience, but to eventually make a living from writing.

Paolo’s articles have appeared in the Philippine Daily Inquirer, Philippine Online Chronicles, and Code RED Magazine. His stories have appeared in the Digest of Philippine Genre Stories, A Time for Dragons, and The Farthest Shore. He won third place in the 2009 Carlos Palanca Awards in the Short Story for Children (English) category.

Website: Rocket Kapre

00:01 - Introduction
00:13 - Paolo Chikiamco interview
00:37 - Alternative Alamat
01:22 - Flipside Digital Content
01:28 - Hannah Buena
01:29 - High Society
02:46 - Komikasi
03:03 - Dado de Guzman
05:09 - Honeylein de Peralta
06:36 - Komikon
08:49 - Comics:
18:23 - Alternative Alamat contributors and contents:
29:14 - Paolo's Publications:
39:19 - Tor.com
42:17 - Philippine Genre Stories

Listen to this episode
Download this episode (right click and save)

October 18, 2011 Links and Plugs

The blog will be on hiatus from October 24 ~ November 6 as I will be at WFC. (I'm sure John de Nardo of SF Signal will satisfy your linking needs.)

Interviews and Profiles


Another of my eBook babies:
Above/Below by Stephanie Campisi and Ben Peek or Below/Above by Ben Peek and Stephanie Campisi

Monday, October 17, 2011

October 17, 2011 Links and Plugs

The blog will be on hiatus from October 24 ~ November 6 as I will be at WFC. (I'm sure John de Nardo of SF Signal will satisfy your linking needs.)

Interviews and Profiles


Here's a local title that I'm looking forward to:

Dumot by Alan Navarra

Sunday, October 16, 2011

Filipino Bibliophile Episode 1: Gerry Alanguilan

About Gerry Alanguilan:

Website: http://gerry.alanguilan.com/

Elmer: http://alanguilan.com/sanpablo/elmer/ (you can also download a copy of the first part at http://alanguilan.com/sanpablo/elmer/elmer01.cbr)

Credits include:

Writer/Artist: Wasted, Timawa, Lastik-Man, Crest Hut Butt Shop, Johnny Balbona, Humanis Rex!, Where Bold Stars Go to Die, Elmer.

Inking: Wolverine, X-Men, X-Force, Superman, Batman, Fantastic Four, Iron Man, Wetworks, Grifter, High Roads, Silent Dragon, Ultimate Avengers: Crime and Punishment, Superior, 
Ultimate Avengers vs New Ultimates: Death of Spider-Man

Portfolio: http://alanguilan.com/komikero/portfolio.html

00:02 Introduction
00:51 Q&A of Elmer 2nd Edition Book Launch at National Bookstore Bestsellers with host Jiggy Cruz

National Bookstore: http://www.nationalbookstore.com/
Jiggy Cruz: http://jiggycruz.blogspot.com/

30:48 Gerry Alanguilan Interview

33:24 SLG Publishing: http://www.slgcomic.com/
35:53 Johnny Balbona: http://alanguilan.com/sanpablo/johnnybalbona.html
35:59 Komikon: http://www.komikon.org/
36:05 The Marvelous Adventures of the Amazing Dr. Rizal: http://gerry.alanguilan.com/archives/430
36:54 Komikero Group: http://gerry.alanguilan.com/archives/category/komikero-group
37:42 Avengers Trailer: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=eOrNdBpGMv8
38:52 X-Men First Class: http://movies.yahoo.com/movie/1810159061/info
39:27 Doctor Who: http://www.bbc.co.uk/doctorwho/dw (Warning: vague spoilers!)
41:35 Visprint: http://visprintpub.blogspot.com/
43:26 The Philippine Comics Art Museum: http://alanguilan.com/museum/
44:45 Philippine Graphic/Fiction Awards: http://www.fullybookedonline.com/revelations/
45:36 Wasted: http://wastedonline.blogspot.com/
46:33 Darna Lives!: http://darnalives.blogspot.com/
46:53 Komikeron Films: http://www.youtube.com/user/komikero

Download this episode (right click and save)

Podbean Page

Friday, October 14, 2011

October 14, 2011 Links and Plugs

Interviews and Profiles


Lavie told me to plug so:
Osama by Lavie Tidhar

Thursday, October 13, 2011

October 13, 2011 Links and Plugs

Deborah Biancotti asks me and others how they deal with burnout.

Interviews and Profiles


 Pathfinder Tales: Death's Heretic by James L. Sutter

Wednesday, October 12, 2011

October 12, 2011 Links and Plugs

 Just want to plug the Thief of Lives by Lucy Sussex eBook from Twelfth Planet Press.

And Amazon expands into SF publishing.

Interviews and Profiles

 ODD? edited by Ann & Jeff VanderMeer

Tuesday, October 11, 2011

October 11, 2011 Links and Plugs

Interviews and Profiles


Halloween edited by Paula Guran

Monday, October 10, 2011

October 10, 2011 Links and Plugs

Interviews and Profiles

Darkfall by Janice Hardy

Friday, October 07, 2011

October 7, 2011 Links and Plugs

Interviews and Profiles


Angel Arias by Marianne de Pierres

Thursday, October 06, 2011

Book Review: In Other Worlds: SF and the Human Imagination by Margaret Atwood

The elephant in the room when it comes to Margaret Atwood writing a nonfiction book on SF is her attitude towards her own novels: "It certainly isn't science fiction," she once replied when asked whether The Handmaid's Tale was science fiction. Thankfully, Atwood is aware of this, and addresses it right from the very beginning. You might not agree with it, but there is an attempt at an explanation, and this in turn shows how meticulous the author is when it comes to details. It reminds me of Philip K. Dick's reply when it comes to science fiction vs. fantasy. It's semantics (it's interesting for example how SF is in the title, as opposed to science fiction or speculative fiction), a debate that hasn't really ceased in the present. In that sense, Atwood is a geek like us, the way a science fiction fan might quibble whether Star Wars is really science fiction or fantasy, or debate who would win in a fight, Superman or Captain Marvel. She has me hooked and In Other Worlds: SF and the Human Imagination doesn't sound so far fetched.

The book is divided into three sections. The first--and most interesting to me--deals with Atwood's initial experiences with SF and she relates it to mythology, psychology, philosophy, and feminism. She covers a broad spectrum here, everything from comics (the Golden- and Silver-age type) to ustopias (a combination of utopias and dystopias). There is an attempt to make these stories personal but for the most part, her discussions on theory, the rich history of the genre, and how it's all interconnected, reads something more scholarly rather than a confessional. Which isn't a bad thing, but this isn't a memoir as much as Atwood expounding on her views.

The second section, which is easily the meat of the book, is Atwood's reviews and critical analysis of various SF books, everything from H. Rider Haggard's She to Kazuo Ishiguro's Never Let Me Go. She explains why (and defends) it's SF, and then breaks it down. Here, Atwood's passion for the genre shows and it's intelligent reading. She doesn't just praise but also highlights weaknesses in the story. Some of the works, for example, are problematic from a feminist point of view.

The third section, aptly titled "Five Tributes," features self-contained excerpts from Atwood's previously published work and which she describes as homages to various SF forms. I was initially skeptical at the concept but upon reading them, they work as is: brief, compact short stories that work as far as their agenda is concerned (albeit quite transparent). It's also the shortest section in the bunch. To a certain extent, this section seems out of place, mainly because the previous two sections deal more with nonfiction, while this is clearly fiction. Still, if you want a holistic view of Atwood's relationship to SF without ever reading her novels, this is a good companion considering the word count limitation.

The book also comes with an appendix and while it only features two articles, they are essential reading. One is Atwood's open letter to a school which has banned her books, and the other is a discussion on the Weird Tales covers by Margaret Brundage.

In Other Worlds: SF and the Human Imagination
is an interesting and welcome companion to the discussion of SF. It's interesting to me because of the female perspective Atwood brings to the discussion and she brings up several interesting points. In a way, I feel this book is long overdue, especially considering the genre controversy surrounding Atwood. Maybe some readers won't pick up the book solely for that fact, which would be a tragedy. And yet, it's also not perfect, and if I had a major complaint against the book, it's that it falls prey to the same problems of many "scholarly" books that deal with the genre, which is its tendency to look too far back into the past as opposed to the present. And for the modern reader, that is perhaps Atwood's shortcoming here: that she is familiar and discusses SF that is decades old instead of contemporary ones.

October 6, 2011 Links and Plugs

Check out my buddy Andrew Drilon's latest comic, Supermaker.

Interviews and Profiles



Plugged the print version before but now you can the eBook!

The Honey Month by Amal El-Mohtar

Wednesday, October 05, 2011

October 5, 2011 Links and Plugs

Interviews and Profiles


The Sacred Band by David Anthony Durham

Essay: Publishing Favors the West

As a writer--and reader--living in the Philippines, I want to talk about publishing, and how it favors the West (i.e. the US/UK).


Right now, print is the dominant form of publishing. For a lot of people, it's not a "book" if it's not printed, even if it's self-published. So it's important that I first tackle this topic.

First, there's the "Big Six" publishers. Guess where they're based and who their primary audience is?

They're able to leverage the English language--right now it's probably the closest we have to a universal language--and that would seem like it's a two-way commitment but that's not the case. US- and UK-published books finds its way to bookstores elsewhere: India, Asia, Australia, etc. The reverse isn't necessarily true, even if Indians, Singaporeans, and Filipinos write in English. Don't even get me started with translation (or at least the proportion of work that gets translated from English, as opposed to English).

This, in turn, feeds the cost-effectiveness of offset printing: because bigger publishers have a larger base of readers, they can also afford to do large print runs, which in turn means lower-per-unit costs. A lot of US-published books, for example, are cheaper when compared to locally-published books using the same material, dimensions, and number of pages. (If you're wondering why local publishers don't have Advanced Reader Copies or ARCs, it's because they can't afford to do a separate print run.)

There's print-on-demand, but as far as my experiences with local print-on-demand services go, they're not as flexible as their US counterparts. It's nothing compared to the services provided by Lulu or Lightning Source. One of our prominent local Print-On-Demand companies for example is Central Books, and their packages start at a minimum of 50 copies.

There's the issue of the price of the book: for US/UK retailers, they might pay for shipping (depending on their agreement with their distributor), but they're certainly not paying to ship it across an ocean. And yet, at least here in the Philippines, local bookstores manage to sell import books lower than their US/UK Suggested Retail Price (SRP). Objectively, import books are cheaper here, but relatively, they're not. Minimum wage is around $8.00/day. You can do the math on the discrepancy there, and how much it's really costing a Filipino to invest in a book. (Sadly, the reverse isn't true: books from the Philippines sent to the US isn't cheaper but more expensive.)

It can also lead to a problem of public perception. Import books get their own diverse shelf categorization: Fiction, Non-Fiction, Romance, Horror, Science Fiction, etc. Local books get one shelf: Filipiniana. I can tell you now which shelves tend to be visited by Filipino customers, and which are less frequented.

Oh, and guess what, a lot of countries don't have their own Amazon store. We can forget about free shipping. And have to deal with, uh, expensive shipping costs. (The books might get taxed, but that's a policy of individual countries.) And forget about 2-3 days of receiving the book, or even a week. It takes a month to order a book, at least using conventional means and without costing you an arm and a leg. Americans cite Amazon as one of the most popular online bookstores. The rest of the world uses Book Depository, because it gives the illusion of free shipping (my only qualm with Book Depository is the huge carbon footprint it leaves, mailing you packages one book at a time).


Now for a lot of people, they'll see what I've written above and think that eBooks are the solution. After all, the problem of print is its geographical logistics and its associated costs.

But you're mistaken, at least if we're talking about the major publishers. (Independent publishers can do their own thing such as sell books on their own website, but there's honestly a huge disproportion to people who shop for eBooks at individual authors and publishers vs. a huge retailer like Amazon or iTunes.)

First off, there's the affordability of eReaders. Remember what I said about $8.00/day minimum wage?

Second, even if I could afford an eReader, is it available locally? There are no problems obtaining an iPad here (but remember, the latest model gets released later than the US) but it gets trickier if you're aiming for a Kindle or a Sony Reader.

I won't even mention the dilemma of figuring out how to use the device. But figuring out a way to legally purchase a book is. Not everyone has a credit card or PayPal account.

Or better yet, the major retailers won't sell to me.

For example, here's what the US iTunes store looks like (click to zoom in):

Here's what the Philippines iTunes store looks like (click to zoom in):

Even if the author and publisher wanted to sell me books, they can't, unless it's an App. Because Apple won't allow it. At least not without the workaround of obtaining a valid US billing address, credit card, and using prepaid iTunes cards to make purchases.

But readers should rejoice right? I mean previously, only the US, UK, France, Germany, Australia, and Canada had access to Books. Last week, Apple opened it to 26 new countries in Europe. The world has an estimated 196 countries.

Amazon has different kind of problems. As a consumer, I have to deal with the ambiguous $1.99 international Whispernet surcharge (you're still paying it if you download it from your computer). Granted, this doesn't apply to each and every country outside of the US (Australia isn't affected by this anymore for example), but it's there.

As a publisher, I have an entirely different set of problems. There's taxes for example. But a bigger concern is their tiered pricing that, well, favors the West.

You see Amazon has two tiers for pricing of eBooks: you can get 70% royalties if the book is priced between $2.99 and $9.99. Otherwise, it's 35%.

Except even if the book is priced between $2.99 and $9.99, you won't be getting 70%, because:

Basically, your buyers need to be in one of the following countries in order to receive 70% royalties:
  • Austria
  • Canada
  • Germany
  • Liechtenstein
  • Luxembourg
  • Switzerland
  • United Kingdom
  • United States

Otherwise, it's good old 35%.

Which is great if all my customers are from the US or the UK. But if you're a Filipino buyer? So not only am I being charged $1.99 extra, the publisher's royalties are halved just because I don't reside in a first-world country?

So will eBooks be the great equalizer? They could be. Just not in the ecosystem of Apple or Amazon, unless majority of my customers reside in the US/UK.

Book Review: The Urban Fantasy Anthology edited by Peter S. Beagle & Joe R. Lansdale

We all have preconceptions when it comes to the term urban fantasy: I've seen some people use it as a synonym for paranormal romance while others have attempted to return it to its "roots" or subvert it (such as anthologies like Paper Cities, Leviathan 4, or another book I'm currently reading, Naked City). But Tachyon Publications, over the past few years, has done some interesting scholarly reprint anthologies like The Secret History of Science Fiction and The Secret History of Fantasy, so I approached this book with the same kind of paradigm.

Editors Peter S. Beagle and Joe R. Lansdale tackle the dilemma of urban fantasy by dividing the book into three sections: Mythic Fiction, Paranormal Romance, and Noir Fantasy. In retrospect, this actually makes sense if we're talking about the history and evolution of the sub-genre. What immediately caught my attention was the introduction preceding each section. Charles de Lint, Paula Guran, and Joe R. Lansdale respectively share their insights in their field of expertise. In that context, the anthology is invaluable.

Where the book becomes a strange beast is the story selection, at least in tandem with the corresponding field it represents. Don't get me wrong, there are some powerful stories included in the book: "A Bird That Whistles" by Emma Bull, "Boobs" by Suzy McKee Charnas, and "The White Man" by Thomas M. Disch are easily favorites, but the question is how do the rest of the stories fit with the themes of the anthology? I had no problems with the Mythic Fiction section, with Neil Gaiman's "The Goldfish Pool and Other Stories" and Jeffrey Ford's "On the Road to New Egypt" standing out, but problems with expectations pop up when it comes to the other two sub-genres. As Guran writes in her introduction, "I'm not even sure all the fine stories selected for the pertinent section of this anthology can be assigned to this subgenre." It's not the quality of the stories that gets called into question (although this book does have its share of mediocre choices), but how it fits the parameters of a certain field. I was hoping Mythic Fiction, Paranormal Romance, and Noir Fantasy would provide concrete guidelines and boundaries, but when you start reading the stories included in the Paranormal Romance and Noir Fantasy section, it only adds to the bafflement.

Now lack of genre boundaries isn't necessarily a bad thing--it's why I love interstitial fiction or prefer the term speculative fiction (or fantastika if that's what floats your boat). But in this kind of anthology, especially one where the types of stories are theoretically divided into categories (although a lot of writers, of course, resist categorization, and as Lansdale puts it, "I am not a proponent of isolationist fiction"), these are hopefully the guide points for readers. Of all the three, Noir Fantasy is what seems the vaguest for me, although I certainly enjoyed the various stories, such as "The Coldest Girl in Coldtown" by Holly Black and "On the Far Side of the Cadillac Desert with Dead Folks" by Joe R. Lansdale.

It's possible that the editors were aiming for breadth of scope rather than narrow, definitive flavors in each sub-genre, but overall, there's a sense of trial and error more than serendipity. From the book, I get Mythic Fiction; some of the stories in Paranormal Romance feel forced or could have belonged to the two other categories; and I honestly don't know what's going on with Noir Fantasy.

If you're reading The Urban Fantasy Anthology for the stories, it's fair game as it has its share of gems and disappointments (thankfully more of the former than the latter). If you're interested in the evolution of urban fantasy, the introduction to each section is invaluable, and despite my complaints about the story selection, the individual sections do help. As far as execution of its theme and concept however, The Urban Fantasy Anthology falls short of being a definitive, go-to guide.

Tuesday, October 04, 2011

Book Review: Context by Cory Doctorow

I'm an omnivoracious geek: tabletop gaming, anime/manga, comics, science fiction and fantasy and horror, technology, etc. are all within my circle of interests. Now Cory Doctorow's realm of expertise doesn't necessarily coincide with mine, but you know he's also as omnivoracious as I am. Context is a compilation of Doctorow's various essays, whether it's parenthood in the 21st century, his geeky gadgets, life as a writer and a reader, futurist, or simply being an efficient entrepreneur. The book, after all, starts out with "Jack and the Interstalk: Why the Computer is Not a Scary Monster," which is how the author uses technology to aid him in raising his daughter, and ends with "Close Enough for Rock n' Roll," which narrates how new media is changing (or already has done so) the industry.

As an artifact, Context is interesting: why pay for content that you can get for free? I'm more than familiar with Doctorow's nonfiction and in fact read several of what's reprinted here. But that's also part of Doctorow's Creative Commons philosophy and so puts into practice what he talks about. There's also comfort in finding everything in just one place. Does that make the book perfect? No, not really. Several of the essays date themselves as far as the context is concerned, with allusions to articles and events that aren't included in the book. But so what? The smart reader will catch on and Doctorow doesn't hide the fact that these are reprints from blog entries and published articles. Similarly, that's also the strength of this nonfiction collection: each essay is brief and precise, probably no longer than a thousand words each, so going through them isn't a chore. Whatever you feel with regards to the author's beliefs or agenda, you can't deny that the content isn't engaging or accessible. They're also very compartmentalized so one can move on from one topic to the next, with little concern for chronology.

Holistically, the book captures the multiple facets of Doctorow. Ideally, the book would have grouped the essays in categories, but it's short enough that this mixture of agendas and topics isn't that big of an issue. Because of the scope in topic, it's also difficult for me to imagine for a geek to not be interested in at least one article included in the book. It might be about parenthood; it might be about how the various corporations are behaving; it might simply be a technology question; or a consideration close to my heart, how the Internet can be leveraged for writers. Of course on the other end of the spectrum, if you're the type that has really narrow tastes, then it's very possible you won't feel you got your money's worth for such a diverge range of topics in which you might only be interested in just one.

October 4, 2011 Links and Plugs

Interviews and Profiles


 The Other by Matthew Hughes

Monday, October 03, 2011

Interview: R.A. Salvatore

As one of the fantasy genre’s most successful authors, R.A. Salvatore enjoys an ever-expanding and tremendously loyal following. His books regularly appear on The New York Times best-seller lists and have sold more than 10,000,000 copies. Salvatore’s most recent original hardcover, The Two Swords, Book III of The Hunter’s Blade Trilogy (October 2004) debuted at # 1 on The Wall Street Journal best-seller list and at # 4 on The New York Times best-seller list. His books have been translated into numerous foreign languages including German, Italian, Finnish, Greek, Hungarian, Turkish, Croatian, Bulgarian, Yiddish, Spanish, Russian, Polish, Czech, and French.

His latest novel, Neverwinter, will be released on October 4, 2011.

For those unfamiliar with your recent books, what sets your Neverwinter Trilogy apart from the previous one, Transitions? Will they need to read Gauntlgrym to understand Neverwinter?

What sets it apart from the others? Nothing, I hope. You see, that’s not how I plan and write these tales; I’m not trying to “up” my previous work, or anything like that. What I’ve been doing for nearly a quarter-century now is walking the road of adventure along with Drizzt and his friends (and his enemies). Unlike many other authors in this genre, I use a different model for my series. Instead of piling one story on the next, building a gigantic web of dozens of intertwining storylines, I try to write each book as a snapshot along the road of adventure. The series is more akin in structure to Sherlock Holmes or James Bond than it is to Jordan’s “Wheel of Time.” Each book has a beginning, a middle and an end, and a new reader can pick up any of the books and jump right in. Hopefully a reader starting with a later book, like Neverwinter, will be intrigued enough to go back and read Homeland or The Crystal Shard to better understand the characters involved.

That said, there certainly are particular elements of this book, as with all of them, that intrigue me. In these recent events, these side-streets along Drizzt’s road, I have a new dynamic growing around the dark elf. For most of his adult life, he surrounded himself with friends of like character – companions who would sacrifice themselves for him, as he would for them. Now, not so much, so the tension created is both emotional and, potentially, physical.

Perhaps a testaments to the endurance of your fiction is how the story of Drizz't and his companions have gone through different editions of D&D.

a. From a creative standpoint, what are the challenges and rewards of writing in a shared world that undergoes these kind of changes?

b. At this point in time, why is the cosmology of D&D 4th Ed. the best atmosphere to write Drizzt's stories?

Through all of the changes, I’ve tried to keep two things in mind: the notion that these are novels, not game modules, and the feel, the taste, the smell, the look of the vision of the Forgotten Realms put forth by Ed Greenwood. It’s not always easy, and I don’t agree with all of the changes, and sometimes, honestly, I feel like people get lost in semantics and can’t see the larger picture. For example, when AD&D went from 1st to 2nd Edition, they made some “class” changes. I was writing Homeland at that time, which was a prequel story, set more than half a century before the Icewind Dale Trilogy.

I got a call from Jeff Grubb, the coordinator of the Realms at the time (a dear friend and a brilliant writer and designer). Jeff started off the conversation by asking me how I was going to kill Artemis Entreri. I was flabbergasted, as I had only begun to explore this character, and he was showing great promise as a mirror image of Drizzt. To my thinking, Entreri was becoming a staple in the stories of Drizzt. So why would I kill him?

“There are no assassins in 2nd Edition,” Jeff explained, referring to a change in the game rules to get rid of the controversial (because of role-playing implications, I expect – remember, this was in the 1980’s, when groups like “Mad About D&D” were claiming that playing D&D was akin to devil-worship and other such idiocy). Jeff went on to explain how they were eliminating the class in the world by having an evil god suck up all the souls of the assassins. They could kill Entreri like that, but they liked him, so they were going to let me determine the method and manner of his demise.

I reminded Jeff that I was working on a book set decades before Entreri was even born, so unless he wanted me to go and kill Entreri’s grandparents, there really wasn’t much I could do at that time.

He wouldn’t take the bait, and a 20-minute back and forth ensued where Jeff insisted Entreri had to go and I argued against it. It got pretty heated for a while there, when finally, in complete exasperation, I just yelled out, “I don’t understand why I have to kill Artemis Entreri!”

Jeff replied with equal stridency, “Because there are no assassins in 2nd Edition AD&D!”

“He’s not an assassin,” I said.


“He’s not an assassin. He’s a fighter-thief who takes money to kill people.”

Jeff paused and thought about it for a while, then happily replied, “Okay, we can do that.”

That’s how Drizzt has survived. I don’t sweat the details. I roll with the changes, approaching the novels as though they’re stories about real people acting within the framework, whatever it might be in any given era of D&D, available to them. The particulars of magic, infravision vs. lowlight vision, drow abilities, this god or that goddess – all of them, are just dressing, because at its core, The Legend of Drizzt is a continuing story about people, about the heart and soul, or lack thereof, of an assorted group of lovable or hate-able individuals. The spells might change, but the morals that guide character decisions do not.

You've written other characters in the Forgotten Realms setting, wrote a series with a different publisher, and collaborated with your son on three novels. How have these experiences shaped the way you currently write your books?

Oh, it’s more than that. I’ve written several series with several different publishers, and even done a couple of Star Wars’ novels, and a “Tarzan” novelization. From a strictly mechanical point of view, my style is very set now. If I know what I want to accomplish in a scene, it’s effortless to write it now (after more than 50 books).

But that’s the mundane answer. More importantly, something happened a couple of years ago which changed the way I think about what I do. I don’t remember exactly what the catalyst might have been – likely a fan letter relating a poignant story of how Drizzt had found someone in a dark place and helped him through it – but all of a sudden, I came to realize that what I was doing was much more than telling stories.

I’m a huge fan of the old “Cosmos” series by Carl Sagan. Sagan called “Cosmos” his spiritual journey. I always thought that was a quaint notion – I didn’t really get it.

A few years ago, Paul Goat Allen, a reviewer for Barnes and Noble, did a piece called “The Tao of Drizzt” and another one relating his spiritual journey with Drizzt. As I mentioned earlier, I get a lot of letters from people who have let the series into their lives; I always found this humbling and overwhelming, but I don’t think I ever took a step back and asked myself “why?”

A couple of years ago, I subconsciously did just that. Again, I don’t remember the particular catalyst, but I came to understand that my writing, particularly this series which has been beside me for nearly a quarter of a century, is really a way of sorting through my own spiritual journey. Through these adventures, I ask of myself the question of “why?” all the time. As Drizzt and his friend, and his enemies, as all those other characters in all those other novels, sort through their dilemmas, their moral quandaries, their fears and their hopes, there are times when I’m expressing my own beliefs, but more often than not, I’m sorting through my own issues as I type.

When I wrote the book Mortalis, the 4th book of the 7-book DemonWars series, for example, I was watching my best friend, my brother, wither away from pancreatic cancer. Mortalis is all about the grieving process; writing it was the catharsis I needed to get through that awful year. My writing is my catharsis, my spiritual journey, my way of making sense of…life. I write because writing is my way of looking into my own thoughts and heart and soul. Carl Sagan had his “Cosmos” and I’ve been lucky enough to find mine.

How has your writing process evolved over the years?

Once again, on the mundane, mechanical level, it’s changed quite a bit. I used to be much more structured in my schedule – I had to be, because I had young children. I’d get them off to school and get to work. I only had a few hours to get my word count. Now I’m an empty-nester, so my time is my own. I write when I feel the urge and look at my deadlines in terms of a weekly, or even monthly, word-count, instead of a daily job.

Other than that, though, I write now the same way I did when I first started. Even the revelation I explained in the previous question hasn’t changed that. I write by putting myself in the place of my characters, by acting as them to understand what they might do in that situation. It’s a one-man play with many characters, and that desire to delve into the psyche of even the minor players on that stage is the enjoyment of it all, and the method I use to search every perspective on an issue.

People often ask me about outlines – yes, I do them. I have to, by contract, and they really are a valuable guide in remembering where you are on a particular story. But I think of an outline like a telephone pole, a straight-line explanation of the beginning, the middle and the end. As I write the book, that pole become a tree, with all of these strange branches growing every which way. It occurs to me that I write a book the way other people read a book. I really don’t know what might happen on the next page, which drives me along just so I can find out what the resolution might be. That hasn’t changed, not one bit, and if it ever does, if writing these books becomes stenography or purposeful manipulation, I’ll just walk away.

Do you ever feel constrained writing about Drizzt? And what elements of the character appeal to you up to this day?

The short answer is no. If you’re asking about the constraints of a shared world here, dependent upon a game, again, I focus on the truisms that transcend the physical limitations. If you’re asking about the particular character – am I tied down to this one dark elf, love it or leave it – then the answer is absolutely not, because Drizzt walks his journey as I walk mine. I saw the world very differently when I started writing this series. I was 28 years old and thought I knew everything, and was sure that I’d live forever, and oh, wouldn’t the world be grand if everyone would just listen to me? Now, I’m 52, and know that I don’t know anything and God or the Flying Spaghetti Monster help us if I ever became King of the World.

My perspective has changed, and so has Drizzt’s. We recently put all of the Drizzt short stories together in a single anthology, and in that process, I was able to go back and annotate them, mostly to explain my frame of mind and what I was trying to do in that particular story. Have you ever sat on the couch with the old photo albums? It was the same experience; I was transported back to the time and place of the writing. These tales, this work, is my life’s album. I’m afraid to contemplate the profound darkness I’d find if I ever grew bored with it.

A lot of your novels are divided into three- or four-book series.

a. What are the advantages and challenges writing for this peculiar format?

b. How much do you treat each book as a stand-alone novel, and how much do you pace it or setup the larger story arc?

Well, mostly what you’re talking about is marketing, honestly. I rarely write my books as trilogies or quartets or anything like that (The Cleric Quintet being an exception). Publishers in this genre want trilogies – I blame Tolkien!

For the Drizzt books, TSR and then Wizards of the Coast use these divisions to help the bookstores stock the books and help the readers keep things straight, but from my perspective, I’m walking down the road with Drizzt, finding adventure and figuring out the meaning of life. I won’t say that the particular trilogies are meaningless to me, and I do try to frame a larger theme or storyline over the arc of each of the books within that trilogy. So if I had to quantify part B of your question, I’d say that it’s about 75% stand-alone, 25% part of a trilogy, and 100% melded within the grand story that is my journey with Drizzt.

As long as I keep my eye on the long-game, the little challenges like making titles and cutting up trilogies and quartets and quintets don’t even qualify as an inconvenience. I just worry about what goes between the words “Prelude” and “The End.” The rest is noise.

How has your relationship with fans changed over the years, especially with the popularity of the Internet, podcasts, etc.?

In the beginning of this career, I was determined to keep R.A. Salvatore and Bob Salvatore as two different people – my public face and my private face, so to speak. I still live in my hometown; the people here know me as Bobby – a teammate, a coach, a friend. I still get asked how much it costs me to publish a book, or, “Do you think you’ll ever try to get published beyond this region?” A close friend went with me to GenCon a few years ago and witnessed a two-hour signing line. It took me two weeks to slap the shocked expression off his face.

I often said back in the early days of my career that if I won the lottery, I’d write more but never publish. I’ve never been comfortable about that “fame” part of this career. Because of the accessibility of the internet, the intrusion on privacy, this connectedness (whether real or fake), that line has blurred and become all but inconsequential.

There are good parts to that and bad parts. It’s a wonderful thing that people can share their thoughts and tales with me via Facebook or e-mail. As they tell me how my stories have touched some piece of their lives, their stories, in turn, touch mine. I’ve met people battling cancer. I’ve become internet friends with so many soldiers and their families. I met a man whose son had special needs. He had read The Highwayman, whose hero was afflicted with severe physical challenges, and told me that he would read that book to his son, and that his son would walk someday. How can an exchange like that not enrich my life? How blessed am I that this man felt comfortable in relating such a story? When I wrote what I thought was the end of Artemis Entreri in Road of the Patriarch, so many people came forward with their personal stories and how those related to Entreri, and expressed their desire for me to follow him further along his road to redemption, or at least some sense of inner peace, that I knew I had to do it.

On the other hand, the sheer scale of the accessibility requires me to construct some boundaries or lose my mind! It’s not so wonderful that 5-10 people a week send me their manuscripts to read and critique (which I simply cannot do). Publishers frown on authors reading unpublished work, and how could I ever begin to read those (and why would I ever think myself qualified to do so?) and still have time for my own life and work? And of course, saying no can elicit some pretty strong negative reactions. I can’t imagine how truly famous people – athletes and actors – get through the day. I entered into one e-mail exchange with a woman who subsequently created this entire fantasy life as my soul-mate, and another with a guy whose every e-mail fluctuated erratically between a conversation on the truth of sword-fighting vs. the Hollywood style I employ and his explosive outrage at me over this or that perceived insult. It was, to say the least, quite bizarre.

So is the accessibility of social media a good thing or a bad thing? Well, it’s pretty much a mixed bag for me, as it is for everyone else, I’d expect. I continue to enjoy the hell out of meeting my readers - or just fellow fantasy enthusiasts and gamers, whether they read my books or not!

What other projects are you currently working on?

Other than my continuing Drizzt work, I’m betwixt and between. I’ve got a lot of irons hovering over the fire, but I’m biding my time before putting any in. Will I do another DemonWars series? Is there a movie on the horizon? My work with 38 Studios on the video games isn’t quite finished and shows some serious possibilities for some incredible projects, as well.

In short, I wake up every day wondering if it will be the day I get a call that rushes me off in a new and exciting direction. Right now I’m staying busy with the third book of the Neverwinter Trilogy – almost done! – and the 5-issue comic series of original Drizzt stories I’m writing with my son Geno. I’m biding my time, but I expect one or more major announcements within the near future.

What advice do you have for aspiring writers?

I always tell beginning writers the same thing: If you can quit, then quit. If you can’t quit, you’re a writer.

I’m not being facetious at all. It took me a long time to put a name to it, but I’ve always understood that writing is a personal, spiritual journey. It’s not about “getting published” and the supposed fame and fortune. It’s certainly not a short-cut career to a good living. The truth is, if you don’t need to write, the business part of this career will destroy you. And when I say “need” to write, I mean exactly that. A writer is someone who will not be happy unless he or she is writing. A writer has stories clawing at the inside of his or her skin, demanding to be told.

If you don’t feel that, if writing won’t be a spiritual journey for you, then, for the sake of your sanity, go do something else.

If you are a writer, then accept the responsibility. It’s your life and your work, so don’t spend your time with insecurity, poking around for affirmation from other people. Follow your heart and your voice to tell your stories. This journey is not paint by numbers.