SFWA | Science Fiction & Fantasy Writers of America
Science Fiction and Fantasy Writers of America, Inc. was founded in 1965 by the American science fiction author Damon Knight. Science Fiction and Fantasy Writers of America informs, supports, promotes, defends and advocates for its member writers. SFWA is a professional organization for authors of science fiction, fantasy and related genres.
SFWA thanks Eleanor Wood and Spectrum Literary Agency for more than twenty years of service to the organization. Eleanor signed on as SFWA’s agent in 1997 after SFWA’s previous agent didn’t want the job anymore and was an immediate success, nearly doubling the advance for the next Nebula Award anthology. At the time, she was one of the last great agents to take a 10% commission, so SFWA (and the editor and contributors) received even more. From the 1998 Nebulas in Santa Fe on, Eleanor delivered highly informative “State of the Publishing Industry” speeches, and was a fabulous source of publishing information that allowed SFWA members to better navigate the rapidly changing book world.
I still vividly remember how much Eleanor helped when SFWA’s auditor found a serious discrepancy in how Pocket Books was paying royalties for Star Trek books exported to the UK and Australia – they weren’t paying anything, contrary to the language in their boilerplate contract. SFWA complained to Pocket but was met with repeated demurrals; it was only when Eleanor took over that they capitulated, not only paying a fair compensation to all the authors affected, but getting the contract changed to more fairly pay authors in the future.
Over the years, in addition to selling the Nebula anthologies (soon to be called Nebula Award Showcases) every year like clockwork, Eleanor also managed to sell a three-volume anthology of Grand Masters’ work, a daring anthology of foreign writers in translation, and more, including reprints of the great SF Hall of Fame series. Royalties from foreign editions, classy hardcover reprints, and more started rolling in.
Although selling books to publishers is the glamorous part of a literary agent’s job, the part few think about is the computation and paying out of royalties to the individual contributors to anthologies, which can be ever more burdensome as the total amounts received from the publisher get smaller and smaller. Until recently, SFWA was not in a position to be able to do this reliably, and this makes us more than grateful for Eleanor’s willing to do this. The Nebula anthologies couldn’t have existed otherwise.
In short, we want to thank Eleanor for two decades plus of work with SFWA, which, owing to its volunteer nature and regular turn-over of officers, can often be frustrating. Agenting for a writers’ organization includes an obligation to uphold its values and SFWA greatly appreciates all she hasdone to help the organization advocate for and promote science fiction and fantasy writing.
Novels are like long, committed relationships. They take months to years of your life, and they require complete and utter devotion to their singular purpose. Certainly, there is something to living inside of a novel, breathing inside of it, thinking about it every moment of your day. It’s an all-consuming thing, as exhausting as it is rewarding.
But once it’s gone, once it’s over? It’s like the ending of a relationship. I wrote about it here, and I called it my post novel blues. While short stories are quick trysts and poems are kisses in the dark and never spoken of again, novels are things that demand attention, commitment, and every last bit of yourself. So when they end, they can end like a bad marriage. And the longer it takes to write them, the harder it is to move on.
But, after any relationship, moving on is necessary. And for me, I have a lot of false starts. I try and do short stories, but they never truly satiate that novel itch. That need to sink down once again and live inside the text of a work. Something only a novel can do. Then come the rebound novels. Oh, those almost-loves! That’s what I want to discuss today. I’m not saying my experience is universal; of course it’s not. But I’m going to lay down what I go through in case it helps some wary writer out there going through the same thing, and wanting to know that they’re not alone. That they can survive this whole ordeal.
Rebound novels can be frustrating. For me, it takes a few ideas. A few almost runs. A few months to maybe a year to get into the next big thing. Sometimes I’ll just start writing something exactly like what I just finished. Of course, that never works out. Then I might try something completely different, rushing into it, blindly following the excitement of something new and shiny.
But it’s not time yet. It takes a while to mend your heart and move on. I think this is why so many writers go through a sophomore slump. What are they writing? They’re writing rebound novels, of course. Not the true thing, not the love thing, but a pale specter in the shape of a book, beckoning to you. Promising only frustration in their wake.
I think that’s a big problem, that if you rush out another pitch to fulfill a contract right away, you might sell your editor on a rebound novel. And the road ahead will be a painful one, just as Michael Chabon experienced writing Fountain City — a book sold on pitch. Five years and 1,500 pages writing later, he abandoned it.
Yes, even a rebound novel can be long, and frustrating, and still broken and not right. And like some rebound relationships you know it’s wrong, but you will keep working on it anyway. Because you want it to work, you need it to work. But alas, it’s only a rebound novel. Once he ditched that one and started working on The Wonder Boys everything became easier.
Sometimes I think the whole rebound novel experience is an iterative one. That you’re not creating failures, but you’re instead working towards whatever the next novel will eventually become. Each minor failure and broken heart gets cannibalized and pulled together, all the research and character designs, plot synopsis, all of that, will eventually lead you to the right one, the next one, the novel that will haunt you until completion.
And I think that’s the best way to look at rebound novels. Not as a string of failures, but rather as an evolution of the process. Would Chabon be able to work so quickly on Wonder Boys if he hadn’t worked on Fountain City for so long first? You can see the echoes of what he went through in penning his sophomore novel in Wonder Boys. With the one character working on a giant, magnum opus for years and years and never finishing.
Every time I finish a book I go through this pattern. It takes months and months and months before I find that next brilliant and beautiful thing to work on. The one that catches fire and takes off and becomes a true love kind of thing.
And when it does? Oh. The pain and suffering leading up to that point is always worth it. All those dead ends, false starts, and late night brainstorming sessions all pay off. Because in the end, it leads you here. To this next true novel, the one you’ve been waiting for. The one that will sing.
Paul Jessup is a critically acclaimed/award-winning author of strange and slippery fiction. His novel Close Your Eyes is currently out from the Apex Book Company. You can visit him at pauljessup.com or on Twitter at @pauljessup.
MTSU Write is proud to announce Camp Writerhaven, a new writers’ retreat for wordsmiths in all genres at Rockvale Writers’ Colony June 20-23 and July 14-20. Camp Writerhaven provides writers time and space to grease their creative engines and produce the literary fruits of focused productivity during two sessions at the idyllic Rockvale Writers’ Colony in College Grove, TN, a serene historic campus tucked into the rolling hills of Tennessee. “We wanted to give writers a way to escape the distractions of life and help facilitate their writing process by providing the perfect environment, encouragement, and inspiration,” says MTSU Write director Jennifer Wachtel Kates. Both the shorter session one and week-long session two will provide a special time of community, focused energy, and quiet reflection.
Session 1 (June 20th-23rd)) will feature a Meet the Mentors Mixer where both Writerhaven campers and the general community can get to know the MTSU Write program mentors. Session 2 (July 14th-20th) will offer a full week of sanctuary for writers working on substantial projects. Both sessions will include craft colloquia taught by award-winning writers. These focused sessions will dive deep into specific elements of the craft of writing. “Writing can be very solitary,” says Kates. “A retreat like Camp Writerhaven carves out time to write while also bringing writers together to deepen their sense of community.” Participants will enjoy private rooms and bathrooms at Rockvale as well as the numerous comfortable and inspiring nooks, corners, and cozy spots throughout the property. Each day, participants will observe quiet hours for focused writing time, followed by writing oriented afternoon activities, communal dinners, and time to share work around the evening campfire. “It’s like summer camp for grownups with a creative writing focus,” Kates adds.
From the challenges of life on a floating Arctic city, to epidemics of forgetfulness and zombification, to an Earth occupied by amphibious aliens, the Neukom shortlist forces readers to grapple with uncomfortable twists to familiar storylines of climate change, social justice and technological innovation.
The second annual speculative fiction awards program will be judged by Ann and Jeff VanderMeer. Awards will be presented for a debut book and for a book in the open category.
“Artists and writers continue to take on the important role of challenging us with their visions of ‘what if,’ often picking up where scientists and technologists either neglect to or forget to go,” said Dan Rockmore, director of the Neukom Institute. “This year’s entries are testament to the extraordinary creativity and thoughtfulness that is finding its means of expression in speculative fiction.”
2019 Neukom Institute Literary Arts Awards Shortlist of Books:
“It’s been gratifying to play a part in reading and selecting such unique and strong fiction from so many different points of view. We’ve particularly enjoyed encountering writers we had not read before—and it’s especially gratifying to find so many new voices, who we believe readers will be encountering for decades to come. The Dartmouth prize is a much-needed addition to the current slate of science fiction awards,” said spec fic writer and co-judge Jeff VanderMeer.
The winning books will be selected from the shortlist in late May.
Each award winner will receive a $5,000 honorarium that will be presented during a Dartmouth-hosted panel to discuss the genre and their work.
“We’re looking forward to selecting the winners. This is such a strong list and a difficult choice for us but a very good problem to have! It’s wonderful to see so many writers taking chances and showing us other ways to view the world we live in today and what our tomorrows could be,” said spec fic editor and co-judge Ann VanderMeer.
The Neukom Institute for Computational Science is dedicated to supporting and inspiring computational work. The Literary Arts Awards is part of the Neukom Institute’s initiative to explore the ways in which computational ideas impact society.
About the Neukom Institute Literary Arts Awards
The Neukom Institute Literary Arts Awards is an annual awards program to honor and support creative works around speculative fiction. Established in 2017, the awards program is an open, international competition sponsored by the Neukom Institute for Computational Science at Dartmouth College. The awards aspire to raise general awareness of the speculative fiction genre, as well as the interconnectivity between the sciences and the arts. The awards serve as part of the Neukom Institute’s initiative to explore the ways in which computational ideas impact society.
Founded in 1769, Dartmouth is a member of the Ivy League and offers the world’s premier liberal arts education, combining its deep commitment to outstanding undergraduate and graduate teaching with distinguished research and scholarship in the arts and sciences and its leading professional schools: the Geisel School of Medicine, the Guarini School of Graduate and Advanced Studies, Thayer School of Engineering, and Tuck School of Business.
The SFWA Market Report is compiled by David Steffen, editor of Diabolical Plots and administrator and co-founder of the Submission Grinder, and editor of The Long List Anthology series. You can support Diabolical Plots and the Submission Grinder on PayPal or Patreon.
Scientist Jack Cohen (b.1933) died on May 6. Cohen primarily worked in the field of reproductive biology. He was a lecturer of zoology and comparative physiology at the University of Birmingham and later worked for a private hospital in London. He was a visiting professor at the Weizmann Institute and has taught at the University of Warwick and Durham Business School.
As a science fiction fan, Cohen found himself advising many authors, including Anne McCaffrey, Larry Niven, David Gerrold, Jerry Pournelle, and Harry Harrison. He teamed with Ian Stewart and Terry Pratchett wrote four volumes in the Science of Discworld series, the first of which earned the three authors a Hugo Nomination for Best Related Book. Cohen and Stewart also wrote other non-fiction books as well as the novels Wheelers and Heaven.
Thank you to those of you who took the time to vote in the SFWA Board elections. The results as certified by the Elections Committee and the Executive Director are as follows:
President: Mary Robinette Kowal (unopposed)
Secretary: Curtis Chen (unopposed)
Director-at-Large: 3 Open Positions (winners and runners-up listed alphabetically)
(W) Andy Duncan
(W) Jeffe Kennedy
(W) Sarah Pinsker
Walter L. Fisher
Eric James Stone
William Alan Webb
Tobias Buckell has been asked to fill the position left vacant by Lawrence Schoen’s resignation.
The SFWA Board and staff would like to thank those who volunteered their time and expertise to run for office in the 2019 SFWA elections and those who continue to serve the organization in various ways. Many of our programs and services, committees, and Board of Directors are run via volunteers.
Additionally, each year, the elections would not take place without the volunteers who make up the Elections Committee: Fran Wilde (Chair), Matthew Johnson (Member), Laura Anne Gilman (Member), Maurice Broaddus (Member), and Kate Baker (Executive Director & Adviser).
For more information on running for office in the future, please visit: Elections
As a writer of science fiction, fantasy and horror who often finds myself in spaces with writers and readers of more realist fiction, the three questions I’m most frequently asked with respect to my worldbuilding choices are:
How do you decide to what extent your worldbuilding should deviate from the existent?
How do you come up with the specifics of geography, culture, society, etc to keep your world believable (or at least, help the reader maintain suspension of disbelief)?
Do you do all of this worldbuilding BEFORE writing, WHILE writing, or AFTER writing?
I’ll just answer the third because it’s simple: all three. It’s virtually impossible to do ALL of your SFF worldbuilding prior to writing your book/story. How much weight is given to each stage depends on the author (some prefer to do a lot before starting, some build nothing before writing). My own preference is to build the foundation–just enough to get me started, then build more along the way, and go back and change stuff after I’m done.
It’s how to get that foundation right I think most writers desire, as questions 1 and 2 above reveal: how do you decide what to build, and how much? And my response is this: a good place to start, I believe, is extrapolating the existent.
To extrapolate, as Dictionary.com defines it, is to infer “an unknown from something that is known.” Basically, it is easier to create something new from something that already exists (either in the world, or in your own creation). Whether that’s starting from the big-picture story world/planet and cascading downward (like N.K. Jemisin’s Worldbuilding 101 suggests), or from one little specific event/fact/object/situation and considering the story world impact, the approach is the same.
Because I write a lot of contemporary SFF, I usually start with one or two deviations from the current world: magic, new science, alternate origins, secondary planet/world, etc. How is your world affected by this difference? In David Mogo, Godhunter, my starting point was deities falling to Lagos and living among humans.
The adjustment of your world’s inhabitants to this deviation will dictate social systems to various degrees, from economy to cultural norms to legalities. In David Mogo, the Lagos government, in typical Nigerian government fashion, flatly turns a blind eye to the existence of these gods and responds by moving the functioning parts of the state to a new location in the outskirts, turning the majority of Lagos itself into a ghost city. This rings true because it’s extrapolated from present government behavior.
Remember that the more deviations your world has, the more different your world will be from the present, and the more room you have for making stuff up. But also remember this will create more moving parts that all influence one another (a matriarchal alien race ruling a human space station in 2200 might require approaches to law, economics and cultural norms radically different from what we currently know and practice). Also remember this means more explanations each time your reader encounters something new.
Think “where” and “when/how”
When and where is your story set in this new world/place? How has this place evolved from its beginnings? Just like 1870s and 1980s Mali differ, and 2019 Prague is very different from 2019 Kinshasa, so will different places in your world be different in time and place. Each community will feel different, both along their own timelines and versus other places. This Twitter thread by Eleanna Castroianni illustrates this beautifully: Think of site/location as where, as physical geography; and place as how, as “what it’s like”, which is largely influenced by the when.
Consider what this means for the inhabitants–how they’ve incorporated this evolution into their everyday life. If there is magic or science, how have these been woven into life, birthed new technologies and manners, transformed society over time? Remember that every character will be a product of their time and place, and will not only embody it, but also interact with strange elements by comparing them to things from their own time and place.
A word on borrowing from existent cultures: If one of your societies/cultures/people is based on an existent one, feel free to not get locked into its aesthetics and requirements, though beware of misrepresenting it. If you’re not 100% sure, borrow only loose forms of identity (e.g. mannerisms, food, etc.) and leave out the heavier stuff like nomenclature/language, history, traditional ways of dressing, etc. Make new stuff up there.
What sparks your story?
With your (1) deviation + effects; and (2) place + time (or where + when/how) now set, situating your character in this existing situation becomes easy. In David Mogo, ten years into gods and humans living together in Lagos with the government largely removed, I knew people would try to fix things themselves. Introducing David Mogo as a demigod-for-hire made sense, as well as people being reluctant to trust him (for good reason: he was half the thing they feared). This was the world’s/story’s existent equilibrium about to be upended.
Usually, your narrative arc/story will start when a catalyst threatens this equilibrium. In David Mogo, a wizard asks David to capture a god for him, an unheard-of request. This leads to a series of events catapulting David to the center of something bigger than himself.
What equilibrium in your story world is being threatened? How will this shift things, and what are the responses of its inhabitants? Where do your protagonists fit in this change? Answering these questions adequately will give you enough to get your world, characters, story, and writing going all at once.
Suyi Davies Okungbowa is a Nigerian author of Africanesque stories featuring gods, starships, monsters, detectives, and everything in-between. His godpunk novel, David Mogo, Godhunter, is out from Abaddon in July 2019 and available for pre-order. His internationally published fiction and nonfiction have appeared in Lightspeed, Fireside, Podcastle, The Dark and other periodicals and anthologies. He is an MFA candidate in Creative Writing at the University of Arizona, where he teaches undergraduate writing. He tweets at @IAmSuyiDavies and is @suyidavies everywhere else. Learn more at suyidavies.com.
Since March 2018, I’ve been writing a monthly short fiction review column for Skiffy and Fanty. A year ago, I didn’t have too many thoughts on reviewing, but now I find I can have long conversations about it. There’s just so much to it: How do you select what to read or review? To what extent (and how exactly) do you critique what you don’t like? How do you treat authors fairly? Do you couch your reviews in the language of opinion? How do you check your own biases? And how the heck do you balance your personal, subjective experience with an actual objective thing that exists in the world? Recently, after I read Andrea Johnson’s Month of Joy post on Skiffy and Fanty about book reviews, I got thinking about what exactly reviewing is, who reviews are for, and why I do it.
I loved Andrea Johnson’s shameless answer to the question of who her reviews are for: “My book reviews are for me. […] My book reviews are a letter I’ve written to myself about something I’ve read.” For her, reviewing is less about assessing a work and more about reacting to it. It’s a way to process something she’s read and record her experience of reading it. That resonated with me a lot. Reviewers come to reviewing with many motivations, and I think a lot of us are motivated by a desire other than wanting to assess a work for potential readers.
For example, there’s the desire to talk about something we’ve read, to share our thoughts on it, to bring a book to our community of fellow readers and say, “I loved this! You should read it and let me know what you think!” This is what motivates much of the book blogging I’ve done on my own personal blog. On my blog, I hardly ever actually “review” anything, although I continually blog about books. Instead, I share my thoughts, the things I’d be sure to tell a friend when she asks me what I’ve been reading. It’s not reviewing. It’s discussing. It’s participating in a conversation about books, about literature, about this thing called SF that we love. To some extent, all reviewing is this, but some reviewers lean more heavily into this social aspect than others. I’d postulate that a lot of reviews are written not just for the readers, or rather, not just for the readers of the reviews. For us reviewers, it’s a way for us to do what fans love to do: squee about stories we love and encourage others to read them and join the conversation.
That’s why I got into reviewing. My love/obsession with literary SF had hit the point where I was aching for community, aching to engage with other SF nerds. I couldn’t read all these amazing things and then just … not talk about it. By reviewing, I get to participate in and contribute to the SF community, to finally engage in conversations with other SF nerds. I read short stories, and then I write about not only my favorite stories but also the most interesting stories, the ones that give my mind the most to chew over.
For example, I got to rave about gender diverse pronouns when I reviewed Capricious Issue 9. I had a chance to talk about how I often don’t feel represented in romance stories when I reviewed K.M. Szpara’s “You Can Make a Dinosaur, but You Can’t Help Me.” I was prompted to reflect on dis/ability when I reviewed “Assistance” by Kathryn DeFazio and then again when I reviewed “The House on the Moon” by William Alexander, and I got to analyze the possibilities for depicting marriages and families in genre fiction when I reviewed “Harmony” by Seanan McGuire alongside Rafeeat Aliyu’s “58 Rules to Ensure Your Husband Loves You Forever.”
My reviews are written for readers: I avoid significant spoilers, and I use my reviews to shout out my favorite stories, stories that I think other people should check out. To some degree, my reviews are also for writers, as I try to spotlight stories by new writers and writers with marginal identities, writers whose work may not be getting the attention it deserves. But, like Andrea Johnson, my reviews are also for me. For me, reviewing is a chance to discuss new works, an opportunity to begin (or continue) a conversation. It’s an opportunity which in my experience can be somewhat hard to come by, and it’s one for which I’m deeply grateful.
Cameron N. Coulter thinks incessantly about speculative fiction, gender, and intentional communities. His poetry has appeared in Eternal Haunted Summer and Eye to the Telescope. He reviews short genre fiction for Skiffy and Fanty and blogs about social justice, simple living, community, and spirituality at The Ruined Report. He also likes to perform poetry, design ebooks, and tap dance. Cam can be found on his website at cncoulter.com or on Twitter @camncoulter.
Ever since I first started taking writing seriously as a teenager, I’ve always written to music. Back then it was a bit more difficult than it is now, in the days of Spotify and gigantic playlists that can stretch on for hours or even days. Back in those days I would make mix tapes for my writing, each story and scene would get its own mixtape of songs that I felt carried the tone and the emotion of what I’m trying to convey.
There was a bit of art to it, back then. I wanted it to flow correctly, so I could keep on writing without pause or interruption. I would take songs that had a certain harmony and made sure they crescendo at the right time, following the narrative rise and rise and rise of how scenes and stories are constructed. I would also take a key song, one that surmised the tone and narrative themes I wanted to express within a story. Or maybe a song that inspired me, that gave me character names and sharp images of what could happen within a text.
Some things have changed these days, others haven’t. You don’t have to listen through each song when creating a playlist, as you do with a mixtape. You don’t have to worry about crescendo and rhythm and pitch that matches an exact narrative, you can just fit them together and put it on random. You’re not limited to an hour or so on a physical medium, you can have music stretch on and on for hours or even days.
I’ve taken to construct playlists for themes, for scenes, for characters, for entire novels. For me, the emotional power of the music is the most important part. I want an emotional harmony, one that rings true with whatever I’m working on.
For short stories? It’s simple. Sometimes I only use one song on repeat and that’s it. For the short story The Music of Ghosts (published in Interzone), I just listened to Hans Zimmer’s Time, from the Inception soundtrack. Other times I’ll just have a long generic writing playlist, that seems to work fine when I don’t have a specific thing in mind.
Though, that one has a bit of a drawback. If you put it on random, and it switches from a beautiful, melancholy song to a Wagnerian battle ode with loud drums and singing? Well, that shocks me right out of the story and I have to try and find my way back in. It’s why I rarely use a large playlist and prefer to craft tiny playlists that work for a certain mood, scene, or inspire a story or a character.
Back when I was doing mixtapes I had to have music with lyrics in it. Tori Amos’s Under the Pink and Boys for Pele were favorites. As well as Sonic Youth and Tool. These days, however, I need the music to either be instrumental or in a language I don’t understand. I put on a lot of post-rock, like Godspeed, You! Black Emperor, A Silver Mount Zion, and Mogwai. These swelling walls of guitars contain the exact emotional frequency I feed on while writing.
Other times I’ll mix it and match it all with soundtracks to video games, movies, and tv shows. Again, I want something that carries emotional weight and seems to fit together with how I picture the world of the story and the characters inside.
It’s a tricky thing, to get all of these right. I’ve found that if my playlist doesn’t quite work, the stories suffer and tend to be a frustrating affair. It’s taken a lot of experimentation through the decades I’ve been doing this to get it just right. And even still, I find myself tweaking the playlists over and over again, just to get that right sound. That right emotional feeling.
When I hit it, the writing becomes poetry and moves to the music. Like a dance, the words stepping in time to the orchestral summoning. If it’s bad? The words clunk and clatter, I find it hard to concentrate, and I end up starting over and over and over again.
Not a perfect process, mind you. But it’s one that works for me, and something I think can help just about everyone else out there with their writing.
Paul Jessup is a critically acclaimed/award-winning author of strange and slippery fiction. His novel Close Your Eyes is currently out from the Apex Book Company. You can visit him at pauljessup.com or on Twitter at @pauljessup.