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Friday, February 26, 2010

On Saying No

I find it quite hard to.

In particular, I find it a constant struggle to turn down or step away from offers of employment. Seems reasonable, doesn't it? Look at the unemployment situation out there! Why would anyone turn down work, especially when it's teaching work at the college level? At the best of times these jobs are hard to get. And now that's even more so. When I accepted the Associate Professor job at Cal State Fresno a few years back it was in an attempt to take a bite of that security pie.

Problem was, my family wasn't happy in Fresno. They wanted back to our house in the woods in Western Massachusetts. It was hard for me to leave the job for a variety of reasons, but when I did it was with plans to return to a near-fulltime writing life. That's what I headed toward in late June...

But by late July I'd accepted offers that meant I was doing as much teaching work as before. (I was even getting less money for it - though we were back in our chosen home, so that counts for a lot.) Instead of making daily progress on Acacia 3 I was only nibbling at it, and spending the bulk of my work life reading, critiquing, planning lectures, grading, etc. Don't get me wrong. Teaching is very good work. In particular, I enjoy the teaching I do for the Stonecoast MFA Program. That could easily be part of my life for a long time. Problem is that I'd added other stuff to that and allowed it become the center of my work life, instead of a just a component of it. How'd that happen?

Several things. There's the old notion that I still have to build my resume, get more credentials, more respectability. There's the dire economy. There are fears about the future of publishing. There's the understanding that as a writer I have very little control over my publishing prospects. (So, so much of it is out of the writer's hands. This is something I know aspiring writers don't understand.) There's the quantifiable numbers on a contract, compared to the ever changing mystery of royalty statements. There's the lingering desire to do right by my mother. As much as she supported my writing, she herself leaned toward steady, dependable employment. There are a lot reasons. I can see and understand how it happened, and I can recognize the virtues of it.

Thing is, I didn't become a writer to secure a teaching job. I became a writer to write and to be read by an audience of readers. The thing is... the longer one doesn't write, the more doubt creeps in that one ever will write again. That's not acceptable.

So I recently said no to a new offer of employment. No. It means I'm scaling back the teaching a bit, and hopefully pushing forward on the writing throttle. (By the way Stonecoasters, this changes nothing about my relationship with the Stonecoast MFA Program. That I'm quite happy with.)

Do you approve?


Sunday, December 06, 2009

A Reader Question

A while back I got an email from a very kind person - one that liked my Acacia books! It began rather interestingly...

Hi David,

Excuse the personal nature of this email, but having finished your second book in the Acacia trilogy, something has awakened inside of me, a realization I've been waiting many years for.

Ah... Interesting beginning, the kind that could actually go anywhere. In this case, though, he went on to describe his college life and education, how he ended up with a very useful degree from a wonderful college, and then felt totally lost on graduation. He's now gainfully employed in a foreign land, but...

I still feel lost, incomplete and totally unsatisfied. Something's been tugging at my core, every day reminding me that I should be doing more, that there's a talent going to waste (like Dariel!)...

And what might that be?

Well, I finished The Other Lands (Acacia, Book 2) last night, and suddenly felt this connection. A spark was ignited and I sat there, trying to understand that feeling (perhaps you'd woven some spell from the Song of Elenet in there somewhere!?). It was more than just the thrill of having read such an amazing book, with characters that were so deep, so interesting, so much like me yet living in a richly fantastic world. It was the realization that I had parallel worlds like that living inside my head, with characters that had stories that needed to be told, that had been there all along, they'd just never met anyone like them before, like Corinne or Mena or Dariel.

Hey, I know the feeling. Actually, that's just why I started writing. I did have stories in my head that would come and go, and at some point it occurred to me that if I wrote them down they might stay and grow into something. They did.

What D is saying, essentially, is that he wants to be a writer.

I hope this is not too much to ask, but I was hoping for some guidance in terms of how to pursue this calling. I would love to pursue an MFA, so what are your thoughts on this. Is it necessary? Where could I go?...

More than anything though, I'd just like to thank you so very much for writing these two amazing novels. They are beautifully human, enticing and wholly absorbing works of literature that have inspired and awakened me to follow a new career path. I have no idea how to follow this path, but I see it now, and that's the most important thing. Thank you!


Wow. That's quite something to hear. I've had the "should I get an MFA" question before, but never framed with such specific mention of my own work. I'm honored. Although, with that, comes a certain sense of responsibility. Like, I don't want to be the cause of D leaving a good job for the perils and poverty of a literary career. Or do I?...

I checked with D that he didn't mind my sharing our interaction, and herewith I include my response.


Wow. Thanks for writing. I'm very pleased to hear how much you got from my books - and how it's prompted you to consider a new path in your own life.

You remind me of a very good writing student I had when I taught at Cal State. He was one of our top candidates, writing great stuff about his experiences in the military. I had no idea he had an interest in fantasy, but we were talking one night and he admitted that it was reading The Lord of the Rings (as an adult) that made him go, "Wow. Hey, this is amazing. This writing thing is what I want to do with my life." And he's doing it. Still in the MFA, but still writing and reading good stuff. (And, yes, he got a full fellowship, so it's his job for about three years.) So, that can happen...

I don't think anyone has to do an MFA to be a writer. The most important things are 1) that you write, 2) that you get feedback on what you write, 3) that you read and read and read, 4) that you persevere with it and stay patient. Getting a writing career going is usually a long endeavor. Even authors that may appear to arrive fully formed have likely been writing for six, eight, twelve years before the manage to break through in print. Patience is a must.

And it's also a must that you be able to live with uncertainty. There is no one best way to go about being a writer. There's no guarantee that it will happen, or that it will happen soon. I do, however, think that anyone that devotes enough time and effort to writing can make a life out of it. That may mean being a bestselling author, but odds are very much against it. It may mean being a modestly read author. It may mean being a teacher and lover of literature. It's impossible to predict ahead of time, but all those paths can lead to a rewarding life.

So what do I suggest? First off, I can't suggest that you quit your job and totally change your life around. That may be a great idea, but I wouldn't want you writing me in five years saying I hadn't warned you that making a life in the arts can be really hard. If you do really need to make a change, though, I mainly suggest that you find a way to make reading and writing nearer to the center of your life. That may mean doing it late at night after a day of work. It may mean joining some sort of writers group to get feedback from others. It may mean getting a different job, one that somehow allows you the free time to write. Or it may mean going for an MFA program.

MFA's offer three things that I think are important. 1) Joining one makes it clear to you and everybody else that you're going to focus on writing for at least a few years of your life. It's proof you're serious. 2) It means you'll get feedback and interaction with other aspiring authors. That's a good thing in lots of ways. 3) It gives you the credential to apply for teaching jobs. That's a path many writers take - teaching while they write.

If you're interested, start looking into programs. They all have websites these days. Look for programs that sound good to you. Apply to a variety, I'd say, in different areas and with different levels of competitiveness. The top programs are great, but you can also get a lot from more modest programs too - including financial aid. I wouldn't want to suggest any one program, because there are so many and they offer so many different things.

Best of luck with it all!


And that's that. What's the latest word on what D's going to do? Well, apparently he's going to get cracking on his writing and wade into the research about MFA programs. All good. I wish him the best.

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Saturday, November 07, 2009

A Revelation

I had one. I've been writing, folks, working on Book Three. I've a long, long way to go still. I mean a long way to go. But that's not anything I haven't budgeted for. I'm still planning on delivering this one with about the same gap as I had between books 1 and 2. Consistency, that's what I'm going for. But in this case that also means I'm in the fairly early stages of cranking this one out.

Thing is, I've been living with something of a conundrum for about the last nine months. I knew one thing that was meant to be the climatic event of one of the story lines. It's solid. It's there. It's the culmination of three book's worth of character and plot and history work. It's big.

Other thing is... I had this other plot element that in introduced in the first chapter. I wasn't quite sure what to make of it. Had an idea for how it tied in to the very end of the book, but the problem was that tie-in clashed with the previously mentioned conclusion. Seemed like I couldn't have them both. Until last night.

I gave my wife some stuff from the new book to read. She did. We were in the kitchen talking about it, and I got to mentioning this clashing plot idea problem. I opened my mouth and said, "So obviously it's not going to work to have both. I've tried but I ca..."

I literally paused in mid-sentence. Why? Because for no good reason at all I'd just figured out how I could have both things. Between beginning that sentence and getting four words into it the answer jumped out of hiding and starting do a shimmying hula hop victory dance right in front of my face. Just like that.


And that, friends, is a bit of my creative process. I kissed the wife and danced around myself, and then stood at the sliding door staring out at the backyard for a while, amazed at how this whole process works.

I got my doubled-barrel ending. I'm very, very pleased about that.

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Tuesday, October 06, 2009


Artist extraordinaire John Picacio has been nice enough to give The Other Lands (Acacia, Book 2) cover treatment a shout out at Missions Unknown! Take a look at the other choices that caught his HERE.

(By the way, the image here in one of John's, the cover of Subterranean's Muse of Fire, by Dan Simmons. Pretty cool, huh?)

Just got word that a new podcast interview I did recently with Jon Armstrong has gone up on his site, If You're Just Joining Us. It was a pleasure talking to him. I'd first done so a little over a year ago also, back when we were both up for the 2008 Campbell Award. (For the record, Jon did get more votes than me that time around. So the eventual win this year was definitely a come from behind deal.)

He's always fun to chat with. Oh, and you can listen and then tell me how I don't sound anything like you'd imagined... It's HERE.

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Friday, July 17, 2009

Wow, I've Been Busy... and Torque Control

Yikes. I've gone about a week without posting. I haven't done that in a long time. Strange to think, really, as this blog thing is such a feature of my life these days. But... I got back from Readercon and then went straight into preparing for the Stonecoast MFA residency. That's where I'm writing from now, and I'm still dead tired. So this will be brief. Really, I just wanted to say hello. So...


Other than that... an awesome, detailed and insightful review of Acacia: The War with the Mein recently appeared from Torque Control.

If you need convincing that the book is worth a read please take a look. Or do the same if you're gearing up for The Other Lands (Acacia, Book 2) but could use a reminder of what the first volume was all about please check it out.

It's HERE.

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Monday, May 25, 2009

Why I Loved My Trip To France So Much - Part Two (The Last)

I got to tell you, I'm still floating around with French music in my head. I think Gudrun's getting tired of hearing me talk about it. I really should move on. And I will. It's just that I had such a good time over there. (Not TOO GOOD a time, if you're worried about it. Just the perfect amount of good.)

Anyway, in an effort to move on, this will have to suffice as my concluding Imaginales/Paris post. (Until next year, hopefully.) I'll just give you a collage of high points, interspersed with photos of some of the people I spent time with. I'm not even going to try to mention everybody, cause I did meet a lot of people. But here's a few of them...

Other authors! Some of the foreign guests included Patricia Briggs (see photo), Bruce Holland Rogers and Hal Duncan. I had great fun meeting all of them. Patricia and her husband, Mike, made for great company. I think Patty is probably the nicest New York Times Bestselling author that I know. (And I do know a few.) Bruce impressed me with his European ways. Dude read a story of his... in French! (He's from Eugene, OR.) Hal is... always great fun. He may be embarrassed by my mentioning that he and I couldn't hang with the French contingent of revelers one evening. We got as far as 2am. Our hosts apparently kept it going until 8am. Slept for an hour, and then all of them were up about for another day by 10am. I was impressed. And if you happened to have read Vellum and were a bit confused, you may be comforted to hear that Hal doesn't have any idea what it's about either. Oh, and I briefly met Roderick Gordon & Brian Williams, the Tunnels authors.

Some of the many French authors I met included Pierre Bordage, Sire Cedric (That's the guy pictured to the right here. He wears only black and lives a life much like David Dochovny in Californication. He's terribly cool, in a band, and darn near perfect, in a goth way. About all I can say against him is that he's from Toulouse and has the region's accent. For some reason the Parisians found this very amusing. Here's a video of him fondling a stuffed sheep.), Johan Heliot, Jean-Philippe Jaworski (His debut novel, Gagner la guerre - To Win the War - sounds incredible. It won the main Prix Imaginales this year. I'd love to read it, but it's not translated into English and it might be awhile before my French is up to the task. Alas, such in the case with most French authors. So few of them get translated, and almost none have been able to move on the English), Carina Rozenfield, Meneas Marphil, Edouard Brasey (Wonderful guy that knows an awful lot about an awful lot), Sophie Audouin-Mamikonian, Bernhard Hennen (Actually a German writer that's sold tons of books about elves), Jean-Louis Trudel, Pierre Bottero, Thomas Day (Whose name is not really Thomas Day. Mysterious.)...

So that's the authors done. They were fun and all, but the trip wouldn't have been the trip without all that spectacular people that made it happen. Surely this starts with everyone at Le Pre aux clercs. My editor, Carola Strang, fed me snails. Aurelie Streiff dragged me around Paris at Jungle Speed, yelling "Bon!" often. Isabelle Lerein got me to rethink a major plot feature of the third book (!). Benedicte Lombardo... well, she's the one that first read Acacia and proposed Le Pre aux clercs publish it. Lots of great people there, and, honestly, it's quite humbling to see the work they do getting my work to readers. Thank you all.

Oh, time for a photo. Here's Aurelie to the left...

...and to the right is Annaig Houesnard. She's also in this image. (Might as well get them from both angles.)

Annaig was one of the translators (along with Sylvie Miller, Lionel Davoust... oh, and Heloise and Katrina... and most everyone else at some point) that allowed me to communicate. Kinda cool. Imagine... I'm in a panel with several distinguished French authors. I get asked a question in French, and one of these lovely people (Lionel included) leans in and whispers the translation in my ear in accented English. I respond, and then they instantly make me sound more sophisticated by transforming my thoughts to French. I could get used to that. For that matter, I should have a translator for speaking in English, somebody that can both make sense of what the moderator asked and then make sense of what I said in answer. I should look into this...

It was also nice meeting Thierry Arson, the book translator who is working on The Other Lands right now. I got to meet Didier Graffet, the artist that did the French Acacia cover, and got an early sketch of the next one. Very nice. Go check his site out. He does good work.

I also did a couple of book store visits and met a couple of Xavier's - Dollo and Vernet. Thanks for having me out. And thanks also to Christine and Damien for being good company in Rennes as we did an interview for Elbakin.net. I'll let you know when that's up.

And, of course, Stephanie Nicot gets a big mention for coordinating so much of the Conference - and for reading and like Acacia so much! Thank you.

Okay, so at this point you may be wondering a couple things. Like what's up with that yellow cat? And, hey, David, did you win that award? These are linked questions. The yellow cat is the award. That's right, no fancy gold plaques or shiny towers for the folks in Epinal. They opted for a colorful collection of plastic cats as the award. Frankly, that's cool by me. I rather wanted one of those cats.

Alas, it was not to be. Ian McDonald won. Congrats to him. He wasn't at the conference, and this lead to considerable temptation as I schemed up ways to make away with the trophy. But I play fair. I'll just have to write more books! Good things come from writing books, as I'm sure is obvious by now. And, yes, this is what it looks like. I've been caught on film publicly caressing the plastic cat. It just felt right at the time...

There were other highlights as well. I had dinner one night in Paris in this private club that you had to whisper the password to get into. Nice. Plush inside. All old books and rich crimson colors. I half-expected to find a coven of vampires ran the place, but nobody bit.

I rode a high speed train.

I drank all sorts of things and ate such good food! I had these mouth watering scallops for lunch one day, and then about an hour later the chef showed up at the convention, sporting his Harley Davidson gear. He actually bought a book for his daughter. She is like eight years old. When I pointed out that it might not be ideal for younger readers, he said she'd grow into it. Which I'm sure she will.

I met up with Pat Rothfuss and Sarah and had a drink at a sidewalk bar. Not the type of thing that happens every day. Pat took a picture. If I can get it from him I'll post it.

I ate sushi in an underground grotto in Paris...

I could go on, but I've been too lengthy already. If you've read this far thank you. I trust you've no doubt that I really did enjoy this trip. I want back. And soon. With the family, too. My kids would look too cool speaking French...

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Wednesday, May 13, 2009

Paris and Jokertown

I'm in Paris. Yep. The miserable flight is over. I'm on the ground. I'm just catching a breather before heading to Epinal by train in about an hour. So, other than a warm welcome here by my editor, Carola Strang, I don't have too much to report. Well... I have already seen the Eiffel Tower, l'Arc de Triomphe, the Seine, the Louvre and a statue of George Washington. I have pictures to prove it, but they may all be blurry, taken as they were from a moving car. I'll take a look at them later.

I did want to mention some Stateside news. I'd just heard confirmation of this from GRRM a couple days ago, but he's gone public with it now on his Not A Blog - Back to Jokertown. He's announced the title and subject of the new Wild Cards book, and announced the main authors writing for it this time. Go take a look. (And, yes, I'm one of them!)

Okay, gotta catch a train...

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Thursday, April 09, 2009

For You Sad Bastards

I don't know much about this journal, but I like the spirit of this. The Marginalia literary journal wants to commiserate with you on rejection - as well as give you a wee present for it. Here's what they're offering...

"Nobody likes rejection, but every rejection gets you one step closer to publication—we mean it! For a limited time,
Marginalia is offering a Sad Bastard discount: send us ANY 10 of your rejection slips and a dollar, and we'll mail you an issue of Marginalia for your perusal."

Here's the link.

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Friday, March 27, 2009

Tom's Glossary

This comes courtesy of Elizabeth Moon, who just mentioned it in the writers' group I'm part of. It's good for a chuckle, although also rather insightful about the writing life and business.

Check it out here: Thomas Christensen's Glossary of Book Publishing Terms.

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Friday, October 31, 2008


...I'd like to confirm that I finished The Other Lands at 7:30 am yesterday. I emailed it to my editor a few minutes later, and then got into the waiting taxi to zip off to the airport.

I'm now in Calgary. Tired. (My sleep patterns have been crazy the last few weeks.) Vaguely sick-ish feeling, but also - when I remember - pretty happy.

Of course, my editor will read the book with his critical eye. So, my happiness is tempered by a ghostly dread lingering at the corners of my vision...

Oh, and Happy Halloween!

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