|Fresh Dirt Archives: April-June
June 26, 2005
June 26, 2005
I am running for trustee with great reluctance--and I think that's my best qualification for office.
I have been a member of HWA since my professional career began back in the late 1990s. I came in with a great deal of respect and even awe for the organization's history and membership. The respect has lingered even through sometimes-lackadaisical leadership and turbulence. I firmly believe the HWA has rediscovered its essential mission and has steadily improved during that time, thanks to the dedication and vision of a number of people. Otherwise, I would have left long ago.
Writing organizations aren't necessary for individual success. HWA could fold its tent and slip off into the night and it wouldn't stop any of us from dreaming, persevering, and crawling the hard, unlighted road. We're here because we want to be, not because we have to be. I could tell you that I've sold a few books and stories, and published a decent number of articles about writing, but that doesn't mean I'll make a good trustee. Some of the most ineffective "leaders" have great careers and are simply far too busy to roll up their sleeves and contribute to a communal effort. What I have to offer is a Pandora's box of ideas and a little bit of courage to admit failure.
Frankly, I think the board of trustees, at least during my time as an HWA member, has failed to generate real ideas, take prompt action, be fiscally responsible, and absorb some of the weight from the president's shoulders. I think the board has failed to communicate with the membership. I think the board has functioned more as a wall than a bridge.
I have nothing but the greatest respect for the individual trustees, and have met or communicated with most of them. Therefore, I think any fault (if indeed it is a fault, because the best governance is clumsy and hotly debated) lies with the way the bylaws are set up and the way the board has traditionally operated. I have covered a number of boards as a journalist, and I've found new voices are often muted by the dull drone of "experience." The positive idealists who should be serving are usually those who end up quitting in frustration or sulking in silence. I'd like to see if this seemingly universal trait of boards could be overcome. Not that I arrogantly expect to serve as a single-handed agent of change-quite the opposite; I am very eager to learn what the other trustees really think and what their goals are for HWA.
To address what I see as shortcomings, I offer a little real-world experience. I recently served as secretary and voting board member of the regional chapter of the Mystery Writers of America, where I kept minutes of board meetings as well as membership records. I'll contribute my experience with record keeping whether or not the membership approves the proposal to require board minutes. I am currently involved in MWA's agent access plan, in which agents have agreed to fast-track the work of new writers who have been vetted by published members.
My main ideas are pretty simple. The Stoker Awards are a great publicity tool but they have consumed too much of our time, money, and attention. I would like to see it be one component of our efforts rather than what seems to be the only thing we have to show the world. I favor joint promotional efforts of our active members who have works to market, including an expansion of Joe Nassise's Dark Whispers effort, so that we have a cheap and easily distributed newsletter to go out to readers, bookstores, and libraries, and a separate public newsletter available to writers of any stripe. I support expansion of HWA presence at publishing trade shows, fan conventions, and writing events-not necessarily to recruit new members, but to raise our collective and individual profiles. Affiliate members should be encouraged not to rely on HWA to help them along, but to inspire them to greater heights by embracing our resources and following the positive examples of our more successful writers. Recruitment just to boost numbers and funds doesn't help us; better to add one beginning but contributing and professionally minded member than 10 established writers who will complain and quit.
If elected, I will continue to express my opinions and even publicly criticize the board and HWA if necessary, and I welcome criticism of my own actions or lack of actions. I will continue to offer ideas and plan ahead. I will work with the board majority when I agree and vigorously oppose it when I disagree. In short, I won't accept mediocrity and ambivalence. Because I still believe.
I believe HWA's future is so beautifully dark we can finally take off our shades.
June 15, 2005
June 11, 2005
Hard to believe The Home will be out in about six weeks. I feel like I haven't been very organized with my pre-release promotion this time, though I think it will be reviewed more widely than my previous books. I'm planning to do a couple of different things this time that are geared toward the Internet.
Apparently The Farm is okay at its current length, which will come out to 416 pages in the printed book, assuming I don't get wordy in the revision. Okay, back to work. More later.
June 9, 2005
Sold a sarcastic ghost story "Must See To Appreciate" to the Third Alternative, which will soon be changing its name to Black Static to denote a more horrific slant. Editor Andy Cox has a keen eye for talent (of course!) and puts together some of the most respected magazines in the fiction world, including Crimewave and Interzone.
June 7, 2005
Since the Stoker Award balloting is over, here's my predictions for the winners, to be announced June 25 in Burbank, Ca. Please note that I have no inside information, and in some cases my predicted winners are not who I voted for and obviously not who I think is most deserving. These awards are technically for superior achievement, not "best," so I suppose it doesn't really matter which is best, huh?
King, Dark Tower VII
Wow, typing them
out, it's obvious there are waaaay too many
categories. The Horror Writers Association addressed this by cutting four categories
for next year. Buy me a hot chocolate someday
and I'll tell you the reasoning behind my choices.
June 5, 2005
Looks like some of my novels will be published in German with a small press. I've had a short story published in Germany but this offers a chance to reach a European audience. The books probably won't be out for three or four years, though.
May 30, 2005
May 25, 2005
We've also secured an HWA table for DragonCon this year, so hopefully members will attend in good numbers. DragonCon is one of my favorite conventions, though it's not necessarily a greta place to sell books because of all the distractions.
May 17, 2005
May 14, 2005
May 7, 2005
May 5, 2005
Saw a great concert last night. Paul Westerberg put on a show, with broken guitar strings, cigarette smoke, blown lyrics, and impromptu jams that wandered off into the land between notes. In short, everything you expect in a great rock'n'roll show. He and the band played a number of songs from his former band, The Replacements. A highlight was his performance of "Mr. Rabbit," one of my daughter's favorite songs, and I shouted at the title between songs every time Westerberg cocked an ear to the audience for suggestions. I think I had added to my high-range hearing loss, but those are the tones I don't want to hear anyway: fire alarms, whining dogs, literary critics.
April 29, 2005
I've been recruited to write a story set in "The Red Church" universe, so I'm letting ideas simmer for that. Approaching the climactic showdown of next year's novel. The first chapter of "The Home" is now posted at the site. The bookmark distribution is ghoing so well, I'll have to get more printed. I've already gone through 5,000. A big thanks to everyone who is helping out by taking them to their local stores.
April 24, 2005
Stephen Sommerville's interview with me and Stephanie Simpson-Woods is in the webzine Insidious Reflections. You can download the PDF for free. I also have an article in there on horror sections in bookstores.
April 19, 2005
In my forthcoming novel "The Home," my mad scientists use an experimental electromagnetic treatment to cure mental disorders. Lo and behold, my hokey pseudo-science has actually become a real thing. The researchers call their version "repetitive transcranial magnetic stimulation" or rTMS, which is about as cheesy as the "Synaptic Synergy Therapy" or SST that is featured in my novel. I don't think their version causes paranormal activity, though!
April 14, 2005
I've got my taxes done like a good American and scraped the bottom of the barrel to send in my share. I'll just take a leap of faith and assume money will be there when I need to eat next month. I also need to get cracking on the next Scottnews newsletter. It will have a brief excerpt of The Home, so sign up if you want to be among the very first to read some.
In gardening news, I've planted seven different kinds of greens: a variety of lettuce, spinach, kale, collards, mustard greens, Swiss chard, and turnips. We had frost last night, and snow in the higher elevations, so I hope my seeds will wait a couple of weeks before they come up. The soil is really looking great; the worms are fond of the llama poop I laid down last year and my compost heap managed to break down a little despite the cold weather. Next up for planting are some of the root crops.
April 8, 2005
I've been reading on some of the message boards about concerns over high prices on the secondary market for limited edition books. Part of the concern seems to rise from the fact that a lot of people buy two copies of a 300-copy or 500-copy print run. They'll keep one copy and hoard the other as a short-term investment. Some books apparently fetch obscene prices, up to 10 times the original selling price in less than a year of release. I don't know much about the book collecting market, but I was a dealer in the 1990s heydey of the sports card and comic book fads, and I see some of the same warning signs of a crash: contrived collectibility, where the product is sold for its investment value rather than for the object itself; sale prices that seem totally out of whack with the intrinsic worth of the item; a feeding frenzy in which the sellers seem almost as desperate to unload as the buyers are to hoard; and no concern over the long-term health of the field. At least there isn't a book-collecting price guide yet, a harbinger of the death of comic and card collecting. (I know, I know, people still collect them, but you don't see them being sold in every store in America, the way they were 10 years ago).
Maybe I'm wrong, and book collectors are happy with their purchases because of the words themselves or the wonderful design and production elements. But when underestablished writers are selling new books (some of which are poorly edited) for over $100, I don't see how there can be a secondary market for that book in a decade, especially if the writer doesn't improve. And when new books sell for many times what it costs to own a classic first edition of a proven bestseller, you have a risky market.
The sports card market was largely built on the hype over rookie cards of rising stars. A few busts, a few off-the-field disasters, and a few slides into mediocrity, and those cards fell to a fraction of their peak value. When's the last time someone asked for a Jose Canseco card? Overproduction certainly didn't help. Probably 20 million Shaquille O'Neal rookie cards are in circulation. When the baseball card market died, a funny thing happened. The old cards, the ones truly limited not because of planned investment value but because of natural attrition, continued to climb. Tiny cards stuck in tobacco packs between 1908 and 1911 were worth about $75 in 1995, even for no-name players, while Honus Wagner's card was worth several hundred thousand dollars. Today those no-names book at around $275, while Wagner is an auction item for the very elite.
As for comic books, the fad of creating multiple covers for the same book seemed to ring hollow eventually, and gimmicks such as trick numbering or foil-stamped covers drove up prices in the guide books. Today it's rare to find any of those comics that are worth more than the original selling price. Yet the Golden Age comics continue to climb in value.
Maybe books are entirely different, but the law of supply and demand is an undeniable force in all value systems. Personally, I wouldn't want to be caught trying to peddle a stack of modern limited editions when it's time to pay my daughter's college tuition.
April 3, 2005
Well, the answer, as in most things, is "It depends." The HWA's expressed charge is to promote "dark literature," which historically has embraced both horror and dark fantasy (and, in some cases, when the membership so desires, even the psychological thriller). I supported Moorcock's selection for a number of reasons, none of them being an attempt to broaden the definition of horror or to ridicule the genre. The pool of candidates wasn't that large because of eligibility criteria (the long answer is on the HWA site, but basically the writer must be alive, at least 60, or have been published 35 years earlier). The key language in selection is the candidate must have been "influential" in the field. I liked some of the other candidates, who are probably more associated with the genre labeled "Horror," but for various reasons I thought Moorcock was a better choice this year.
I assumed the committee would present a united front and that would be that. However, some committee members chose to distance themselves from the selection once it was criticized. Fair enough. There were no vows of secrecy, no conspiracy, no ulterior motives that I could see. But if you acknowledge Moorcock is a dark fantasy writer, and if you acknowledge that dark fantasy constitutes "dark literature," and if you acknowledge that Moorcock has been influential, then there is no controversy. For my part, I read Moorcock when I was reading Vonnegut and Brautigan, before I ever read anything labeled "Horror" (and before the genre had become a marketing category). I'm not even sure I would have picked up a horror novel if not for Moorcock. To me, that's influential.
Some of the other eligible LAA candidates are among my personal favorites (namely, Dean Koontz and James Herbert), but I didn't support them this year for various reasons. I'm sure they'll be so honored in the next few years, when future committees make no-brainer decisions which will result in no discussion, no controversy, and no interest on the message boards.
As I stated on the Shocklines message board, Moorcock's selection is no more controversial than recent Stoker Award winners or finalists such as American Gods, Lullaby, The Lovely Bones, Veniss Underground, or the Dark Tower Books. Horror has always been flexible, which is a source of irritation for the dyed-in-the-wool, supernatural cheeser fan, or a poke in the eye for those who think their writing is a little more "high-minded" and shouldn't be dragged down into the genre ghetto. Big deal. None of us own "Horror," and horror could care less what any of us think. It does fine with or without us.
As for me, the whole incident reminded me yet again why it is wise to never be put on a committee of any kind. Rock on, Moorcock.
April 2, 2005
One of the cool quirks of my house is the occasional outbreak of ladybugs. I suspect they moved in with a ficus tree I bought last fall. About every two months, I'll come home to find a couple dozen of them clinging to the ceiling or pressing against the sliding glass door. Since they eat harmful aphids, I'm glad to have them around for the garden. But coaxing them outside sometimes takes a bit of doing.
Our local national guard troops are returning from Iraq, including a guy I work with. I'm glad they all made it back safely, despite my aversion to the war itself. It will be interesting to see how the public welcomes them. I'm sure there will be at least one protestor, our local militant pacifist, but I think most people have gone on with their lives. Too bad the war didn't give us cheaper oil, but I guess there is no perfect world.
-- copyright 2005 by Scott Nicholson
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