Lawrence Dagstine: “On the state of Science Fiction…”

…And a few other thoughts.

The following essay pertains to mostly science fiction.  It’s an opinion-based essay and nothing more than that.  These are my views, take it for what it’s worth.  It derives from something Harlan Ellison originally wrote on his Webderland Website a few days ago, a paragraph which can be found here: http://harlanellison.com/home.htm

Harlan Ellison thinks SF is dead.

Harlan Ellison thinks SF is dead.

 He might be right.  Here is what he wrote:

“Literature is dead. Civility is dead. Ethical considerations are dead. Common sense is dead. Dignity, respect, responsibility are dead. It is a cheapshit spur-of-the-moment tawdry and empty-headed congeries of societies, here, there, everywhere. It is a universally cheapjack time in which a steadily more ignorant and venal species has become drunk on notoriety and the scent of Paris Hilton’s thong. Science fiction is dead? You just noticed? You come late to the literature party; the hyenas have long since been attracted to the stench of stupidity; text them for me: bon appetit.”

HARLAN ELLISON / 28 August 2009

Now…

Did you know there are over 100,000 readers of science fiction, fantasy, and horror out there? At the same time, in any given year, there are around 100,000 submitters of genre fiction out there.  Worldwide, that is a rough estimate.  I was surprised to learn from one hobbyist publication that during their quarterly reading periods, they receive anywhere from 300 to 500 manuscripts.  And they only pay 25 bucks.  So the next time you get a publishing credit or get shortlisted for a story slot, give yourself a pat on the back, because getting published in genre fiction nowadays is sort of like trying to win the lottery.  Actually, if you live in New York, it’s probably easier to win the Take Five or one of those Loose Change/Bingo scratch-offs.  Or you could just pay-to-play (many esteemed venues such as F&SF are doing it, even though for years such places advised against it).  That’s code for broke.  Still, there are much more writers than there are magazines (it’s sad), and buying something as simple as a sample issue or two can help a magazine stay alive and keep slots – part-time and full-time jobs for those who struggle – open and afloat.  Then you have the whole e-revolution and how prices just went down on X-BOX 360’s, Nintendo Wii’s, and Playstation 3’s.  Now that makes it a whole lot easier to introduce a new generation to geek-a-ture.

Everybody has a story to tell, but not everybody wants to listen.  People are laughing now at devices like the Kindle, the iPhone, the Sony eReader.  I’m thinking way ahead of that, wondering what will replace those devices in twenty years time. 

Amazing Stories

Amazing Stories

Remember the days of Jack Vance, Frederick Pohl, Philip Jose Farmer, Ray Bradbury, Theodore Sturgeon, A.E. Van Vogt, Fritz Lieber, Frank Herbert, Robert Heinlein, Isaac Asimov, Arthur C. Clarke, and yes, guys like Harlan Ellison? Remember the days of Richard Laymon, Robert McCammon, Hugh B. Cave, Charles L. Grant? Remember female authors such as Vonda McIntyre, Connie Willis, Ursula K. Leguin, and Octavia Butler? And yes, there are some notable British names I’m leaving out, that should be included.  Nowadays Stephenie Meyer is the NEW Stephen King, and I still don’t know what to make of Margaret Atwood all these years later.  Eventually I’ll have an answer.  In 2009 we can’t wait to read about vampire Bill Compton sucking on little Sookie Stackhouse’s titties—yesteryear it was Spike humping Buffy—or tuning in to the next great classics: Fringe (yesteryear it was The X-Files).  Everywhere there are zombies, werewolves, boogeymen or things that go bumpity-bump in the night.  And vampires.  From TV to movies to comic books to graphic novels.  Zombies, werewolves, vampire crossovers.  Zombies, werewolves, vampire subgenres.  It’s kind of like the Measles, but without the vaccine. 

Before all the clichés, before all the contrived storylines and slightly more mainstream pieces with beginnings but no middles and ends… before the slice-of-life vignettes which were supposed to relate to us, our inner demons (grrr!), or be politically daring and poetic to our ears and somehow symbolic, but was actually crappy and confusing rather… You had character-driven stories, plot-driven stories, protagonists you cared about, antagonists you cursed beneath your tongue, and most of all, innovative ideas.  Some of those ideas would eventually become what you see before you today.  Some of it yet to make its debut in society.

FACT: 75% of genre writers will die poor, starving, or rely on insubstantial bank funds as their nest egg.  Most don’t want to believe change is happening, or that evolution is impossible, and that it is going to stay that way.  A vast majority already have one foot in the coffin.  Otherwise, older, former editors and writers are about eight to ten years away from being maggot food regardless.

“Ah ha, Mr. Dagstine! But I have a Limited Edition of 500 copies from such-and-such-a-press in hardcover dustjacket.  It’s science fiction literature at its finest!”

No, trust me.  It isn’t… Paging Adam Roberts, paging Adam Roberts…

There are six-billion human beings on the planet Earth; most are from Asia.  There are more books than there are people.  Out of that 500 Limited Edition run from that Small Press, you might sell 250 to 300.  Perhaps more, and those will be to your colleagues.  It’s a race against time to write and get read (if, even after your death, technology has not evolved yet again and you are preferably read).  The other day I stared at a non-fiction check for $400.00 (Dagstine is my nom de plume for horror and scifi).  Then I looked at a micro-press pub and said I must be holding my prick in my hand.  My advice: take any money you make in this profession and fucking run!

 

Maybe Harlan Ellison is right.  Maybe science fiction is dead.  And maybe horror is just one big keg party where you get to check in but you don’t check out.  Maybe fantasy is for the LARP’ers who refuse to abandon ye’ olde dungeon.  Better yet, maybe we should save ourselves the glum silences and troubles of the clinical depressions that await us twenty, thirty years down the road.  What do you think? Should we start filling  those Zoloft prescriptions a little early?

Lawrence R. Dagstine

P.S.: If you still enjoy what you do, naturally, just go with the flow.  Me, I guess I’ll still keep on submitting, keep on trucking.  After all, what else is there? 

Lawrence Dagstine: “The Writing Life…”

In the last few weeks I’ve had the honor of giving four different authors and artisans blurbs.  Blurbs help sell a work.  Or at least give it that little helpful “boost”.  It’s a nice feeling.  It isn’t the first time I’ve done it, and it probably won’t be the last.  The purpose of this post, however, is that a younger author contacted me concerning the number of print credits I have.  Which would be 350 at the moment (give or take a few; probably more, and I really don’t include stapled-up fanzines and all that).  I do need to sit down one of these days and fix up my webpage a bit, but when you live a high-octane life like I do, you’re lucky if you have time to get down a single paragraph in the period of a week.  Some weeks, of course, are much better than others.  Time is a major factor, and there are only 24 hours in a day.  Some writers are fast at what they do, but then they have that luxury.  Unfortunately, I do not.  Some churn out crap.  I try not.

With so many of these micro-presses self-publishing each other to each other these days, with eBooks officially taking center stage as we head into the second decade of the new millennium, and with magazines both large and small coming and going at the speed of an asteroid, it’s really hard to tell what or who will be in in the next twenty years.

This leads me back to my conversation with the younger feller.  Oh, but you have 350 publishing credits.  Rocket fuel, my man.  Rocket fuel. Yeah, but that ought to get you some kind of book contract right on the spot.  Rocket fuel, my man.  Rocket fuel. But you have a short story collection finally.  Rocket fuel, my man.  Rocket fuel. Here I am, age 35, and I will tell you that this is only a tiny stepping stone for many other things to come in the fiction field.  Which, if you were not a stubborn bastard like me, you’d quit tomorrow.  Because only a mental case or a true agoraphobe would be involved in a game like this, especially in a generation where books are just not as important and attention spans are at an all-time low.  Come, let me slap you in advance.

I remember first getting into the written word when I was 21, making the transition from art, because I desired a little more.  I feel I came into this game late, because the entirety of my twenties was spent partying and traveling and experiencing life to the fullest.  I never really sat down and concentrated the way I do now in my later years.  Yes, the experience and reading paid off — that, along with the Vanity Press errors I made years back; yikes! — but even that means diddly squat when it comes down to a 20 to 80 dollar payday.  Newbies gladly sell their souls as if they were verb modifiers.  There are rumored to be at least 100,000 aspiring writers of genre fiction out there.  Now that’s a pretty round number for the ones that go on at it, so stand in line.   I may have all these appearances, a new collection, another on the way, but at the end of the day it’s just rocket fuel…

It’s safe to say that where the last three to five years were spent making short stories, the next three to five will be spent crafting novellas and novelettes.  What about that 200,000 word novel? Where’s that big epic book? Rocket fuel, my man.  Rocket fuel. Writing is a lifelong craft, and practice makes perfect.  Kind of the same way a store clerk eventually grows to supervising manager or maybe head foreman.  That’s just how it is, and that “is” often happens in old age.  Sometimes trenches are meant to be dug, tested, pioneered.  I would have to honestly say that I am not ready for that perfect 200,000 word novel — that serious book — for at least another ten good years.  Which is why right now I need the rocket fuel, and the small stuff, the paved road, to show me what I’m worth later in life.

Everybody wants to be the next big thing.  Look at yourself in the mirror and find your true self, and you’ll know that it doesn’t take words to breathe truth into who you are.  If somebody asked Lawrence Dagstine for a “How To” book on writing science fiction, I might recommend Orson Scott Card.  If somebody wanted a “How To” book on writing horror, I’d probably point you in the direction of Mort Castle.  Workshops and boot camps are fantastic; too bad I can’t leave the East Coast.  But if you really wanted the underbelly of the beast, the task of the artform at hand itself, then I’d recommend John Gardner.  As this gentleman in the link below has demonstrated so modestly.

Advice on Writing:

http://www.pobronson.com/index_advice_to_writers.htm

Simplicity and writing do not go hand in hand (Po Bronson knows), as should be the case with any creative endeavor.  There is the process of getting your thoughts down in so many hours per day.  There is the process of outlining and research.  You have tone and structure.  Dialogue and characterization.  Theme and summation.  Depth, motive, conflict.  Consistency and plotting (one of my weak points, I feel).  Beginning, middle, and end.  Showing and not telling.  Jeez, I could go on forever.  Or I could just go and write.  I can hear that young man harping now…  But Lawrence, when are you going to give us our Narnia? Eventually, my man.  Eventually…

Summertime will be approaching soon.  Many are probably wondering what the hell is the other purpose for this entry.  What is the purpose of anything? Well, I’ll be busy writing those lengthier works, the ones you anticipate, pimping, marketing, sipping on pina coladas and laying in the sun.  Things are going to slow down a bit.  Consider this an early draft for my departure from the public sphere.  I’m going to go live life and scream.  And I’m going to write, whether I get some invite or not.  Write.  Eat.  Sleep.  Sun.  Chocolate pudding, Rice Krispie treats, and banana cream pie.  Why? Because if you want the next generation Narnia, then I owe at least that much to you

With Love,

Mr. Lawrence Dagstine

P.S.: I, too, would probably work in a closet for some peace of mind…lmao.

Amazon’s Kindle 2: “The Wave of the Future…”

Ten to fifteen years ago, a new technology was developed called print-on-demand (POD).  Publishers and small authors alike who didn’t know any better explored it as a means to getting their works into print.  The Web, fairly new by publishing standards, helped become a vehicle for this phenomenon.  Back in those days you didn’t have to worry about garages or basements filled with over 500 or more titles not being sold.  No, you could order two or three at a time without having to sweat. Vanity presses took the most advantage of this, but now anyone and their mother can become a writer-turned-printer-turned-publisher (if you get the gist).  Still, no matter how far POD has come, no matter how much it has been utilized and what it is capable of, media in the form of a virtual entity will eventually – no, I’m sorry, inevitably – reign supreme.

Amazon’s Kindle 2: http://www.amazon.com/gp/…548931&pf_rd_i=507846

So toward the end of February 2009, Amazon’s new eReading gadget, KINDLE 2 makes its stunning debut.  You can go and preorder it now for a mere $359.00 – kind of steep, if you ask me – or you could wait five to ten years until every book, magazine, and news periodical known to man makes the switch regardless.  And that goes for the unknown or semi-popular ones, too. Think about it: saving trees and saving money, even saving shelf space unlike ever before, while being able to listen to music, read your favorite blogs, and go wireless on buses and subways or the road.  Amazon and Sony know what they’re doing.  In these tough times, where publishing companies are laying off hundreds if not thousands, where pro and non-pro magazines are folding left and right or going on hiatus, companies like Amazon are taking small steps through the cracks into what I call the ‘future of written word-related media’.

E-publications are more cost-effective than print.  So get with the program now, before it’s too late.  I’ll miss hardcovers and paperbacks like every other reader or writer from my generation. But if we don’t assimilate now, we may be missing out on a mighty fine resurgence.  Only in a different format. 

What do you think of the Kindle 2, or eBooks and eReaders in general? 

Come, take a KINDLE poll with me…

Cheers,

Lawrence R. Dagstine