Communion Of Dreams


In defense of laziness.

I started this blog 9 years ago. Well, OK, that isn’t technically true until next Saturday.

That was 1,823 blog posts ago. And something on the order of a million words, give or take about a hundred thousand, according to my best estimates.

During the same time period I wrote another hundred thousand words or so for freelance articles (here, and elsewhere). And 187 blog posts/another 100,000 words here.

In addition, I helped write/compile/edit Her Final Year (which is available for free download today, btw). And rewrote/edited Communion of Dreams (also available for free download today) at least twice.

Oh, and I’ve been working on St Cybi’s Well. Have about a hundred thousand words done on that.

That’s between one and a half and two million words, depending on how you want to figure it.

And saying it that way sounds a bit impressive, and makes me feel better.

Feel better?

Well, see, I haven’t put up a blog post in almost a month.

And only 10 in the last three months.

And St Cybi’s Well was supposed to be finished more than two years ago.

What gives?

I’m not entirely sure. It’s not writer’s block, exactly, since I have been making progress on SCW, all along. For the last few months I have been in a steep downturn in my usual bipolar cycle, but it hasn’t been so bad that it has caused me the sort of depressive lethargy which can be deadly — I’ve actually had a clear mind and have been fairly productive in other aspects of my life.

Perhaps it’s just laziness.

But I’m not lazy. Oh, I mean that I can be lazy, sometimes, but it is just not usually a defining characteristic of my personality.

Perhaps …

… I dunno, perhaps it is just something that happens to authors, sometimes. And that’s OK. Really.

I guess you could call it unprofessional. Un-workmanlike. But let’s go ahead and call it laziness.

You know, like the laziness of everyone who is overweight. They’re too lazy to go to the gym.

Or the laziness of everyone who isn’t rich. Because clearly, they just don’t work hard enough to earn money.

Or the laziness of all those people who don’t do well in school. Hey, a little more effort, and they could have graduated from an ivy league.

Or the laziness of being judgmental, thinking that you know what other people need to do to improve their lives. To meet your expectations.

Oh, wait, that really is lazy. Sorry.

 

Jim Downey

PS: This isn’t meant in any way to excuse my failure to meet my obligations with my Kickstarter backers. Any such who would like a refund are certainly welcome to it; and for those who continue to tolerate my delay, I will make it up to them when the project is finished.



Get lucky.

“I’d rather be lucky than good.” — Lefty Gomez

* * * * * * *

In a fairly soul-baring piece by Emily Gould about the reality of struggling to be an ostensibly ‘successful’ writer, this should give even the most optimistic person pause:

In 2008 I sold a book-in-progress for $200,000 ($170,000 after commission, to be paid in four installments), which still seems to me like a lot of money. At the time, though, it seemed infinite. The resulting book—a “paperback original,” as they’re called—has sold around 8,000 copies, which is about a fifth of what it needed to sell not to be considered a flop. This essentially guarantees that no one will ever pay me that kind of money to write a book again.

 

* * * * * * *

In a discussion over on MetaFilter, successful Science Fiction author Charlie Stross had some thoughts on the above-cited essay. Here’s an excerpt from his comment:

In 2001 I had a gigantic stroke of good luck: I acquired a [good] literary agent and sold my first novel. It was about the tenth novel or novel-shaped-thing I’d written since 1990, on my own time. The advance was, eventually, $15,000 for US rights (a good first book advance in SF/F) and £3500 for UK rights. Note that a new novelist can’t get follow-on book contracts until their first book has proven itself in print — to justify the advance money the new contract will cost the publisher — so I had to keep up the freelance journalism for a few more years.

 

* * * * * * *

“A gigantic stroke of good luck.”

But Stross is a good writer, right? I mean, doesn’t he deserve his success and popularity? The meritocracy of the marketplace and all that?

Perhaps. From an NPR story the other day:

Several years ago, Princeton professor Matthew Salganik started thinking about success, specifically about how much of success should be attributed to the inherent qualities of the successful thing itself, and how much was just chance. For some essentially random reason, a group of people decided that the thing in question was really good and their attention attracted more attention until there was a herd of people who believed that it was special mostly because all the other people believed that it was, but the successful thing wasn’t in fact that special.

Salganik came up with a clever experiment, one which allowed a large number of teenagers (30,000) access to several dozen songs by promising but as yet unsigned bands. The way the experiment ran created 9 different iterations of ‘reality’, to see whether the same song would become the most popular one in each test run. They didn’t. In fact, the results were wildly divergent:

“For example, we had this song ‘Lock Down’ by the band 52 Metro,” Salganik says. “In one world this song came in first; in another world it came in 40th out of 48th. And this was exactly the same song. It’s just in these different worlds, history evolved slightly different. There were differences in the beginnings, and then the process of social influence and cumulative advantage sort of magnified those small, random initial differences.”

Now obviously there are many different things that have an impact on success and failure — money, race and a laundry list of other things — and after this work, which one person in the field described as a seminal paper, Salganik went on to do similar studies with parallel worlds that suggest that quality does have at least a limited role. It is hard to make things of very poor quality succeed — though after you meet a basic standard of quality, what becomes a huge hit and what doesn’t is essentially a matter of chance.

 

* * * * * * *

Another comment a little after Stross’s in that MeFi discussion offered a different perspective that’s worth considering:

Emily Gould’s example is crucial because she is the primary example of a writer who had succeeded. She did everything she was supposed to do: came to NYC, produced a ton of successful content for a big brand website, then continued on her own to create a huge internet presence, and then branched out into conventional media (the NYT piece) and eventually a six-figure book deal. If you think of the thousands of writers who are racking up credit card debt writing for free or almost on free all those websites we read every day, they are trying to become Emily Gould. Regardless of what they might think of her work itself, that’s the approximate career path they’re trying to follow.

So when people are glibly like, “Oh, she lived in a one-bedroom apartment in Brooklyn, there’s your problem,” what they’re saying is: the pinnacle of this career is one in which you will never be able to afford to live on your own, never mind have kids or financial stability or even a regular writing paycheck, the end. And that should really give us pause.

Because, sure, you can say “She should never have come to New York, she should always have kept a full time job in a different profession, etc. etc.” But to work for Gawker, she had to come to New York. To gain the kind of name recognition she has, she had to work full time posting and networking and Tweeting and, basically, working for free. And when her book failed, it didn’t fail because it was “bad” – because she wrote, in the book, the exact same way she wrote online. For better or for worse, that was what people liked. The real, applicable lesson is that the book failed because the people who read her stuff online didn’t care enough to pay for it in print.

 

* * * * * * *

“I’d rather be lucky than good.” — Lefty Gomez

I used to think that this was wrong. In fact I was quite confident that my intelligence, hard work, and focus could overcome any barrier. And there’s absolutely nothing wrong with any of those things.

But I’ve seen too much life to still believe that. Yeah, I’d rather be lucky than good.

Back to work.

 

Jim Downey



Whither SF?

I’ve mentioned Charlie Stross several times here. As I’ve said previously: smart guy, good writer. I disagree with his belief in mundane science fiction, because I think that it is too limited in imagination. Which leads almost inevitably to this formulation on his blog today (and yes, you should go read the whole thing):

We people of the SF-reading ghetto have stumbled blinking into the future, and our dirty little secret is that we don’t much like it. And so we retreat into the comfort zones of brass goggles and zeppelins (hey, weren’t airships big in the 1910s-1930s? Why, then, are they such a powerful signifier for Victorian-era alternate fictions?), of sexy vampire-run nightclubs and starship-riding knights-errant. Opening the pages of a modern near-future SF novel now invites a neck-chillingly cold draft of wind from the world we’re trying to escape, rather than a warm narcotic vision of a better place and time.

And so I conclude: we will not inspire anyone with grand visions of a viable future through the medium of escapism. If we want to write inspirational literature with grand visions we need to dive into to the literary mainstream (which is finally rediscovering fabulism) and, adding a light admixture of Enlightenment ideology along the way, start writing the equivalent of those earnest and plausible hyper-realistic tales of Progress through cotton-planting on the shores of the Aral sea.

But do you really want us to do that? I don’t think so. In fact, the traditional response of traditional-minded SF readers to the rigorous exercise of extrapolative vision tends to be denial, disorientation, and distaste. So let me pose for you a different question, which has been exercising me for some time: If SF’s core message (to the extent that it ever had one) is obsolete, what do we do next?

Well, I dunno about Charlie, but I plan on writing a couple of prequels to Communion of Dreams, which I understand have touched something of a nerve in people precisely *because* it is hopeful in the face of a harsh reality.

Jim Downey

(PS: sometime today we should break through the level of 500 total sales/loans of CoD so far this month. Which is almost twice the previous month’s tally. Thanks for affirming my vision, folks!)



Game on.

One of the principal characters in Communion of Dreams is a mystery child who is a prodigy at Game theory.

Game theory first started to interest me back in college, when I was studying economics (one of my undergraduate degrees). I haven’t kept track of all the developments in the field since then, though I do still pay attention when I see something relating to it. And this item caught my eye over at MetaFilter (and if you don’t read MeFi, you should – it has the most intelligent and diverse conversations I’ve found online, and such writers as John Scalzi and Charlie Stross are regular participants). It is a brilliant application of Game theory:

Here’s another brilliant application: get your *free* copy of the Kindle edition of Communion of Dreams all day today. You don’t even need to own a Kindle – there’s a Kindle app/emulator for just about every computer/tablet/mobile device out there. Seriously, it’s free – and it is good, going on the reviews (an average rating of 4.8 stars from 16 reviews to date). Go download it now, if you haven’t had a chance to do so yet!

Jim Downey