Thursday, October 2, 2014

The Awful Desperation of the Fiction Writer in Today's World

I've read disturbing facts on Facebook having to do with publishers. Asking for forever copyright to a book, plus all foreign rights and movie rights, for instance. What!? Just go get a gun and shoot yourself instead, that would be a faster way to destruction. Or what about a publisher changing terms in the midst of accepting stories. What? You don't go changing terms willynilly. Not if you want to keep contributors worth their salt.  I’ll address that later.

Because really, trying to take away a writer's copyright? Insanity.

The number of years you grant is one thing and it's what you feel you can live with, but giving away your entire copyright forever? You'd have to be brain dead. Yet I've heard of a small press asking for those forever rights and maybe even one of the Big Five or Six is trying to go that drastic (for the writer) route too.

If a writer doesn't understand the strength and power of his copyright, he should get out of the writing business immediately. Do it, do it now, and don’t look back. You’re making the rest of us look stupid.

Yeah, I blame sneaky publishers for proposing such an unheard of thing, but let's blame "writers" who even listen to such rubbish without going ballistic.

Sometimes I think I've fallen down Alice's rabbit hole. If this is the way so-called publishing is going, it deserves to die. A big, rattling, snorkeling death.

Nothing gets me hotter than people taking advantage of writers or writers allowing it to happen.

Stealing copyright is like someone coming into your paid off home and saying, "I live here now, I'm taking over. I'm going to keep this house until 70 years after your death. What do you get in return? Bumkus, that's what you get."

Bottom line...there are NO circumstances under which you lose or give away your copyright forever. None. Not offers of money or the hope of heaven. None.

I've felt desperation as a writer before. Years trying to get published did that. But even then if the largest publisher in NY had offered a deal asking for all rights forever I would have embraced my desperation and said go away Junk Heap brain, I can't talk to you. You simply can’t be so desperate you would do that, can you? Again, Jesus, go cook a casserole or something instead of trying to be a writer.  You can’t possibly think giving away your copyright is an okay deal, under any conditions.

As for anthologists who change terms during the acceptance phase of compiling an anthology, well, cripes and soda crackers, what’s going on there? You want the fiction for a whole year, then you say okay I’ll settle for six months, then after stories come in you go back to a year’s rights. What? You offer a certain amount of payment then you change it, THEN you come back and change it back again! It’s like dealing with a swinging door in a stiff breeze. You say there will be just minor edits, then you go hogwallers all over the pages of stories, or so they say, and that swinging door is flying in a hurricane.

This, my dears, is not professional. Professional people do not do these things. There’s a statement of rights, a statement of payment, a true statement of editorial interference, and that’s it. It does not change on a whim and out of the blue.

I’ve been disturbed for some time when I’ve seen so many new writers giving away their stories or novels for “exposure.” Is your work not worth payment? Then don’t fucking write it in the first place! This is a profession, get it? It’s not a Look At Me I Got into an Anthology game.

Oh don’t be such a hardass, you might say.  Have a little sympathy. Sorry, I have no sympathy for morons and people indulging in stupid practices. Don’t devalue stories and novels. Don’t devalue yourself. Have a little pride, at least a little pride, for chrissakes. If you don’t think fiction is worth paying for, worth protecting the rights of, worth keeping out of pseudo-publisher hands who is stealing it and doing a terrible job with it, then hell, go along your merry ignorant way because you do not belong in the writing profession. And I’m not the only one who thinks that way.  I may be one of the few who will tell you the unvarnished truth, (because frankly, my dear, I don't give a damn.) I am not the only one who thinks writers are being used and abused and, evidently, liking it just fine.


 Bah. Move over Alice, I’m trying to climb out of this hole. It’s got too many dancing cards in it and the rabbit's wearing a hat.


Tuesday, April 29, 2014

WRITE FOR EXPOSURE! (I'll expose you to my back as I walk away.)

I've been reading submission guidelines for short stories and thought I'd just make up one of my own here for your entertainment. It is a mash-up of all the guidelines I keep seeing. "Flash fiction length to novel length. We don't pay. We crowdfund/give you a copy/make you famous/think you should be happy we even read you. We only want the best. The best of the best. It better be the goddamned Best or don't even bother sending it, okay? If you don't write as well as today's bestselling authors, don't bother. I'm serious now. You better be writing at the top of the heap because we don't play. We will keep all your rights for a year. Or five. We're thinking that part over yet. We expect you to have your manuscript professionally edited and ready to go. If we have to actually edit it, we may have to break your legs. If you go one word over the suggested length, your mother may get a knock on her door late at night. If you think you've got what it takes, take your best shot. Oh, and we don't pay. Or maybe we'll pay you to take out the trash from the office. We might pay for that."

 I suppose there's a need for all kinds of markets, but goodness, some of these aren't for the serious writer. I don't know who they're for, but not the serious writer. Harlan Ellison, of course, said it first and best, "Fuck you, pay me." Also, don't expect to keep the author's rights on a short story for an inordinate amount of time. Because you don't need it and you certainly aren't paying enough for it and we don't have to give it to you. That is the truth you need to see.
 

I don't want to go around browbeating publications, but I see so much of this kind of thing that it's gotten under my skin. Like a virus or a bug or a worm that's five feet long. It's like saying, "We don't really respect you or the writing you do. We want to see it and judge it and if we like it, we can take it for nothing, meaning you are nothing and this antho/mag/zine is nothing and the whole project is nothing, but we want you to work on something for a long time, edit it about ten times, and we want you to give it to us for twelve months or more so you can't use it in a collection of your own that year, you can't have it reprinted, you can't do bunkus with it, and all this so we can try to make lunch money off it. Also, we give you 'exposure. That's more precious than gold.'" 

That, in a nutshell, is what they're saying. And I find that disrespectful to all writers everywhere.

But then I'm a curmudgeon and I often say what I think. Probably not the best way to be, but some things just tick me off. And using writers for whipping posts and lunch money is one of those things. If a publication cannot afford to pay a pro-rate, I understand that. But on top of not offering enough money to buy a quarter tank of gas, if you also think you can ask for all rights for a year, then you must be delusional. 


No wonder so many writers turn to self-publishing. It's a real alternative to these sorts of offers. I heard people say but yeah, there are so many markets for fiction! Sure there are. And three-fourths of them are ridiculous and I suppose some writers flock to them, I don't know why. The few who pay good rates and don't try to tie up all the rights are as crowded with submissions and as competitive as a bar with free beer on a Friday night. The response time on your work? Long time. Long, long time. That's the rule. Some might be faster, but who can expect the better markets to wade through thousands of refugees from the No Pay-Only Exposure-Keeping Your Rights' bin? So you send a story and wait a year. That's always a barrel of fun.

I have no solution. I just have complaints. Well, I do have a solution. Don't treat writers like morons. Don't take advantage of them. Don't believe serious writers want to publish with you. Don't delude yourself into thinking you're doing a good thing by disrespecting writers. They're your lifeblood. If you can get it cheaper, or for free, that's what you're getting--cheap and free. Good luck with that. Keep flooding the market with cheap, free, stomped-upon writers in your projects and see how that works out for you.

Pay writers a decent wage for good work. Don't take or keep rights you do not need to take. You're probably a writer too, Mr. Zine Man and Ms. Anthology Editor. Be good to your creative partners or it's just not going to work out. And that's a truth you can take to the bank.




Wednesday, April 9, 2014

Tuesday, February 18, 2014

An Ode to Life Well Lived and Traveled

I have traveled all my life, but mainly in the land of my fathers and mothers, my United States. Here is a poem I wrote to that travel and to....

THIS LAND, MY LAND

I used to tramp this land
Like a hobo with a satchel between my feet
Riding a smoking dragon roaring
Over mountain, seeing sky kiss my hands
Then down again, down
Through valleys lush with forest calm
And water wild.

I used to roll through towns
Like one thousand horsemen with spines like spires
And eyes ablaze with coins of amber
To eat the church pipes and gather the strangers
Who, like flags, waved me hello, good-bye, good-bye.

I spent days crossing flatlands made from sun
Conjured by the mind of a god who lay prostrate in wonder
While sagebrush tacked down long gray highways
And sentinel cacti waved arms of warning
To arroyos and wide buttes and wanderers
Who knew no better than attend the event of sunrise.

I sat sleepless in darkness beneath lights, rain puddles turning
In wheels of rainbow
While wind drove men hunched as ogres toward some warm
Place, some safe haven
And silent, mesmerized as any rube, blinked away sleep,
That thief who promised tomorrow would be clear
Be washed new.

I sat on hilltops and stomped through streams
Remembering they would last longer than I
Last longer than you
Last until time plinked down the hourglass
One dribble drop at a go.

Shadows of giants swathed me 'round
Storm threw me panicked into miles distant with promise of deeper mystery.
Aspens shook and pines bowed
Cane shivered as rivers rushed maniacally to sea.
All the while I drank like a drunkard, shook myself,
My hands, my head, that any of it really existed
Or that I was there to witness.

I loved it, the rich land, more than even the universe
Dead and empty and waiting
Because it gave back whatever asked of it
It cried out I Am
Like a child just born to scream at the world.

I couldn’t own it; it was fleeting.
It was mine to embrace as a lover, merely--
Met and soon left behind in the dust
Of memory-- that wayward spirit, kindred but swift.
Left behind, I left it, for the next passenger
On the whirlwind train of life,
Intrepid and hungering for a land unbound,
To eat the mountains
To taste the waters
To lap the sunshine hiding between the foggy tops of red bluffs.

I used to tramp this land
With love so great you couldn't hold it with one million cupped hands.
You couldn't speak of it without thunder bursting.
You couldn't keep it down or wrap it in paper
Or prick it with question without bringing blood.

It lives beyond us
Until the stars wink with backward glance
And the solar system cools from a boil.
It takes us all, one day, beneath it in cool darkness and forever-time,
That land where I walked and lived and dreamed,
Where I tramped
Like a vagabond with a satchel between my feet.

Billie Sue Mosiman, February 18, 2014

Tuesday, January 28, 2014

THOUGHTS ON THE WORLD OF ENTERTAINMENT AND THE CHANGES THAT MAKE IT NEW AGAIN

I had a discussion with my daughter about TV shows and might have discovered something. She likes The Housewives' series and Teen Wolf and Game of Thrones, also The Witches of East End. She says her husband kids her about Teen Wolf. She was watching it here with me tonight and began telling me why she liked it. Because, she said, it was light. It was a little serious, but it didn't worry her. She knew the kids would survive. It reminded me when my mother aged, a woman who read detective and mystery fiction all her life and then suddenly began reading romances. I asked why. She said it was because she was stressed and romances were light and didn't bother her, they didn't make her worry. I thought of the overall psychological ramifications of people right now being so stressed. The country's in some bad shape, the economy is in the tank, jobs are not plentiful, and our congress--well, you know. So maybe people are so stressed they just can't take heavy, violent entertainment right now. Nothing even near horror was considered for the Academy Award, and it really never is. People are watching less news shows and might be moving away from violent depictions because real life is just awfully difficult for so many right now. Anyway, this may be a trend. I read elsewhere on Facebook (where this discussion originated) about the big trend in publishing is YA, also we know how well the Twilight vampire fiction and the Hunger Games did, and the DIVERGENT trilogy--all of that indicating a trend toward lighter entertainment with younger characters. I think I may be onto something! It's a generality, I know, but many things are pointing to it. My daughter said in her wise way, "We want it serious, but not bloody. We want it to be interesting and entertaining, but not something that will really scare us." I know a lot of us who write horror like fiction and film that might scare us or even worry us, but the rest of the reading/viewing world...maybe not so much. I would also mention Stephen King's last two books have been much lighter, it seems to me, than work he's done before. I think he has his hand on the pulse of the public. He always has, which is one of his talents.

King's DR SLEEP is much softer than THE SHINING. And today THE SHINING can't scare anyone. People are scared out. JOYLAND features the character when he was a young man, so there you have younger characters. Even I wrote of younger characters, teens on the cusp of being adults, in THE GREY MATTER. This was without having any insight at all; I just wanted to write of those characters to see how they might handle desperate situations. I've long ago had a change in taste in film from horror to sf or heavy crime drama. Few horror films today are worth watching, in my opinion. Most are so over the top people laugh or they get so disgusted they give up on that particular film. Or book...
 

Maybe a "tired" public is part of the movement toward lighter, less disturbing entertainment. It might not just be a stressed out nation, but one that is feeling a little helpless and in need of respite. A tired nation, with no means to right wrongs, to correct wars popping up, countries everywhere struggling to remain not just solvent, but whole and safe. It's not that the "dark" fiction factor is missing. I mean in DIVERGENT, you have a dytopian society with young characters having to live in certain types of their own societies and when of age, choosing what kind of person they want to be. It has an incredibly dark underpinning, but not graphic and not so violent that the YA group is attracted to it. It's not that people can't take serious fiction or film, they do and can, but their spirits and minds are a little overwhelmed maybe and they don't want it too REAL.

We seem to handle fantastic elements much easier than realism. I'm not a sociologist, so I'm flying by the seat of my pants, but my daughter's insights provoked these thoughts. I consulted my own tastes and how they've changed. I was watching many of those shows on the ID channel about stalkers, killers next door, women with knives, that sort of thing about real situations and slowly many of them became so disturbing for me I would turn away from them. So many victims, so much senseless violence and people going crazy who you wouldn't expect to lose their minds. And this is from a woman who has made a lifelong study of abnormal psychological states of being and the effects of it on others around a demented or damaged person. I just thought it was interesting, a trend that is trying to say something if only we can understand it.

Also, there's a clue in how we have so many superhero and comic book based films and animated films that break all box office records. People are going to movies that I'd consider cartoons, really, and they're going in droves, perhaps wishing for a happier time, more innocent, with less of an impact on both their intelligence and their nerves.
 

For the people producing entertainment (and writers and filmmakers aren't supposed to be preachers or teachers, but entertainers) if there truly is a trend and it's affecting society and that society's choice of entertainment, it's a serious reflection that's needed. Most of us can't write other than we write because storytelling is a thing ruled by personal passion. I'm not saying the passionate artist can explore other than what inspires, but we do need to know the audience and what they can or cannot take, what they prefer or will turn aside from, what our world needs most from us. It presents a conundrum, too, for dark fiction artists, if only in the realization we have more need to explore ways to not put our audiences in dire states of mind, or disturb them to the extent we lose them altogether. Perhaps we all need softening, even the world of artists, who often feel deeply and sometimes in terms of tragedy.

One of the author blurbs for my new novel talks about how the book is really about love--family love that doesn't depend on DNA--and of courage. What came from me with the book was more an exploration of love than one of evil--though evil does indeed factor into the overall story. It has nothing at all to do with romantic love, despite three young teens love the female in their midst, they love her beyond the physical, beyond even romance; they love her in a way they would sacrifice themselves for her. It is suspenseful, but the underlying theme is the strength of loyalty, of overcoming the greatest obstacles, of surviving and keeping people they love safe. As I say, it was probably a book that reflects my own change of heart at the time I wrote it, a change leading me toward interest more in the human heart and strength in life over the taking of it. I've learned something about myself!

Sometimes, and this is true, artists tell themselves stories they need to hear.


We simply can't discount the public, for whom we hope to reach and entertain. If they are telling us they are tired, they are overwhelmed, they cannot be asked to be more stressed or expected to read or watch our works then we can't really bury our heads and ignore them. The artist ignores the world and sometimes revolutionizes it. More often the artist ignores the world and becomes not just a footnote, but a cypher.

Thursday, January 23, 2014

EVENTUALLY EVERYONE SUFFERS

Life is great, even the bad times because they emphasize for us the good times. I want to get that straight out, front forward. Sometimes we go years with very little problem. The love life is intact, the children are succeeding and behaving well, the money is fine even if not excellent. We experience little more than cuts and scratches, headaches, a cold. We don't know it, no reason to think otherwise, but eventually everyone suffers. But we can't spend the good days worrying about when they might end. 

My good days have had a downward swing. Three months ago I was diagnosed with small cell lung cancer. It's incurable. It can be eradicated and ended for a while, but it comes back, sometimes with a vengeance. I'm being taken care of by one of the best cancer centers and two of the best oncologists and it appears they're really handling it with two types of chemotherapy drugs, anit-nausea drugs, and targeted radiation treatments. I have met a woman who had this and only now, ten years later, has it returned. I heard of another with it who didn't see it return for twenty-five years. I could be one of those who get that lucky. I sincerely hope for it.

I am not morose and wish for no pity. We're all human and some of us suffer disabilities or diseases or suffer in so many ways that has nothing at all to do with things like the Big C. I believe in being positive because it beats being negative every day of the year. I'm not even actually suffering so much at this point. I've lost my hair, big whoopee. I'm rocking the headgear and having fun with it. I've no problem with nausea or being able to eat, so that's excellent. If I do suffer later on, that's just part of living, and as I said, we all suffer to some extent or another. I am not a rare bird. I am just an ordinary person, the same as you. We're in this together, this Life Thing.

I've been called brave and courageous, but I don't see myself that way. The courageous is the college girl in my chemo session who I hope beats her cancer and lives a long life, that's who is courageous. Or the young man in his thirties with a wife and children, trying to hang on, a good family man. He's brave. I face all things logically as I can and when I give into emotion I go ahead and do it quick and fast, get the crying over and move on. Life--what I'm really talking about here--is too short and too unpredictable to spend it crying and crawling into the dark cave of hollow, dreadful emotional states of being.

Look, we're all incurable. Life winds down, sometimes early, sometimes we get a full measure of years. I'm no spring chicken and I've reached so many of the goals I set for myself. I've spent my life writing and it's the second love of my life (my husband and children will always be first). I was given that gift and I'm so grateful. I have been married for many decades to a man who has always adored me, though I often think I never deserved such devotion. I have two extremely wonderful and good daughters and eight superlative grandchildren, and now I even have a young baby great-grandson. To celebrate him I named a lead character in my new novel for him, Caleb. I'm not saying I'm done, not by a long shot. I wrote a complete suspense novel and a book-length collection of new short stories last year. I was burning up the keyboard. I have more in me. I'm at the prime of my creative life. I hope to have time to give the world some more of the stories I have waiting in the Muse's queue.

I wanted to make this an open letter of love to all humankind and especially to my family and friends, my editors and agents over the past thirty years of writing, my colleagues, and I wanted to say I'm not afraid. I think I might have more time, maybe more than I think in my brightest moments of hope, and that would be swell. If I don't then, that's how it is, too, I accept it. I'm strong, always have been. I went after what I wanted, I worked hard, I taught myself, I studied, I wrote and I enjoyed the writing, being in the zone, bringing forth something new no one else on earth could create--only me. I really gave it my best and my rewards were good. I received some acclaim from the writing community in award nominations that pleased me so much. I sold books to New York publishers, every book I ever wrote (except for the very first one--we won't talk about that one). I was with the best literary agency in the world, The William Morris Agency. I had two superior agents. I'm with a grand publisher now, Post Mortem Press, and I have my new novel, THE GRAY MATTER, due to be published from them in April-May this year. I'm so looking forward to that and a couple of good colleagues read it, Ed Gorman and Mort Castle, and gave me the most lovely blurbs for it. I'm proud of it. I was inspired and I'm proud of it.

I have plans, lots of plans. I'm not a quitter, boy howdy that was never in my personality. Like all people, I've overcome bad times. A less than happy childhood, to say the least. The death of my young two year old son when I was just a young mother of twenty-four. I can endure, as we all can though we don't know we're that strong until we're tested. So, again, the testing has returned and I'm ready for it. I hope to write on my blog here for many years to come. I hope to write more novels and many short stories. I hope to spend more time with my family and my friends, so many wonderful friends with such heartfelt love for me. Again, probably more than I deserve. 

I've always been fair and honest. I saw no reason not to write this blog and let people know, who care to read it, that I'm in a big battle for my life and the future, however long it might be. We all suffer eventually. We don't get out alive. We're all incurable. I just happen to be a writer and a small public figure who talks about it in public. It's not a bad thing to be reminded suffering is part of living. It's just a small part of it. If I had any wisdom to impart, and I have little, I'd say to really find glory in your good days, in your safe, happy, non-suffering days. Be grateful for even the smallest life offers. The sunrises and sunsets, the smiles of babies, the hug from someone you love, cuddling under covers, eating that wonderful dish you love the most, holding and soothing your beloved pet, relish any fine and lovely thing the world offers you. 

I'm doing that now, more than ever before, though I was usually always cognizant of my surroundings and my feelings. But now I notice more little things, I smile more at what I might have let go unnoticed before, I feel more devotion to those I love, and I feel more loyalty to the friends I have connected with in my life. I appreciate all things good--a banana, a coffee, a breeze, the comfort of heat on a cold day, the smile of my good husband, the feel of a fine car with a loud Bose music system. I love all things good and stay away from the bad as much as I can, away from bad feelings or too much anger or too much self-involvement where I might concentrate on a body under siege. 

I love life. I know you do too. How can we not? Even though we know, being human, we'll face problems, possibly suffering, and what we can do about that is not too much under our control. We merely have the choice about how we are going to deal with this life given us. Are we going to look, listen, train our hearts to be positive and true and good or are we going to cause pain, diss others, break heads and hearts, do damage? That's the choice. You have one life. Please live it as well as you know how and then when the end does come, you'll have no regrets, you'll have lived a life well-done. Do that and above all things, even above writing the best fiction in the world, you would have created that most precious thing of all--a life with purpose that you were here to accomplish, the one life you have all the control over to make it valuable and worthwhile having lived at all.