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Critters is 22!

Yes, 21 years ago Critters was born. Wow! Thanks so much to all of you, who've made it such a resounding success!

Books from Critters!

Check out Books by Critters for books by your fellow Critterfolk, as well as my list of recommended books for writers.

New Book from a Critter Member

**NOW IN PRINT EDITION TOO!** Awesome new book, HOW TO IMPROVE YOUR SPECULATIVE FICTION OPENINGS, from a Critter member whose unearthed a shard of The Secret to becoming a pro writer. Really good piece of work. "...if you're at all concerned about story openings, you'd be nuts not to read what Qualkinbush has to say." —Wil McCarthy, author of BLOOM and THE COLLAPSIUM

The Sigil Trilogy

If you're looking for an amazing, WOW! science fiction story, check out THE SIGIL TRILOGY. This is — literally — one of the best science fiction novels I've ever read.

P&E Seeks New Caretaker

Unfortunately, much of the data on the P&E site has become stale and outdated, and needs a new caretaker with the time required to update the site. The listings are being removed until they can be updated by a new caretaker.

Note that the P&E/Critters Annual Readers Poll will run as usual in January.

If you are interested in taking the reins of P&E, and possess what's needed — at least 20hrs/week to volunteer, excellent investigative skills, in-depth knowledge of the publishing industry, ability to detect scams from not-scams, thick skin, good web site skills, good writing ability — please get in touch. Thanks for your interest!

Interviewed!

I'm being interviewed live on public radio for Critters 20th birthday. For those who want to listen, it's on the 10am (Mountain time) show on Thursday, 11/19/16, on Colorado Public Radio - www.cpr.org has streaming on the site or it's 90.1 FM in the Denver area. [Interview is done, you can listen on the site]

Free Web Sites

Free web sites for authors (and others) are available at www.nyx.net.

ReAnimus Acquires Advent!

ReAnimus Press is pleased to announce the acquisition of the legendary Advent Publishers! Advent is now a subsidiary of ReAnimus Press, and we will continue to publish Advent's titles under the Advent name. Advent was founded in 1956 by Earl Kemp and others, and has published the likes of James Blish, Hal Clement, Robert Heinlein, Damon Knight, E.E. "Doc" Smith, and many others. Advent's high quality titles have won and been finalists for several Hugo Awards, such as The Encyclopedia of Science Fiction and Fantasy and Heinlein's Children. Watch this space for ebook and print editions of all of Advent's current titles!

Network speeding up

I'm switching the connection over to a new, shiny 10X faster network because of all the load. There might be bits of downtime as your boxes learn new addresses and things. Should be brief. Let me know of any prolonged outages you see.

Preditors & Editors Changeover

With the very sad passing of Dave Kuzminski, who ran P&E, I've taken over the P&E duties. Lots of what I hope are improvements; check it out at pred-ed.com.

Critters Server is Dying has been Replaced

See important details here in my blog. Let me know if you find anything that isn't working right. (Manuscripts are now available for this week, FYI.)

Book Recommendation

THE SIGIL TRILOGY: The universe is dying from within... "Great stuff... Really enjoyed it." — SFWA Grandmaster Michael Moorcock

Announcing ReAnimus Press

If you need help making ebooks from manuscripts or print copies—or finding great stuff to read—look no further! An ebook publisher started by your very own Critter Captain. (And with a 12% Affiliate program.) [More]

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Critters Inverviews

An Interview with Bruch Sterling

Critter member Kari Tulinius interviews Bruch Sterling award winning author of a numerous books and short stories, such as the Shaper/Mechanist series.


Do you read fiction while writing?

Sometimes.

Do you find it alters your own work?

No, but nonfiction certainly does; I'm always finding interesting new material that can be jammed in there somewhere.

Do you only write genre fiction, or have you written other forms of fiction?

Only genre fiction. Of course, in the large American genre market, you can do that and earn a living.

Do you prefer to write genre fiction, and if so, why?

Yes I do prefer it; it just seems to suit my personal proclivities. I don't like mainstream fiction very much. I like extrapolation and speculation. I'm a science-fictional person who happens to write, not a writer who happens to write science fiction.

Did you learn anything writing other forms of fiction that you feel has improved your skills in genre fiction?

Yes. Although I don't read much fiction, I like to read fiction criticism. I like literary theory. I also like reading writers' letters. For instance, I don't much care for Flaubert's novels, but Flaubert's letters and essays are very interesting to me -- they reveal the kind of life Flaubert thought he was leading and the sources of his inspiration. Literature as a cultural phenomenon is extremely interesting. You can learn a lot about "writing" from studying the way that different writers have behaved as cultural figures during different historical periods. All this, mind you, without* reading fiction. I like reading dead genres. The Victorian "sensation novel," for instance; they were once extremely popular, but no one could write a "sensation novel" nowadays. Very old popular fiction is very interesting: penny-dreadfuls, nineteenth-century pulp shockers... I search for a historical perspective here. I want to understand genre fiction as a social phenomenon, not just a storytelling craft.

Have you written any nonfiction--articles, books, travelogues, restaurant reviews, personal essays, whatnot?

Oh yes. A lot of this. Especially travelogues and art criticism. I'm working on a nonfiction article right now, about the prison system in America.

Do you find that such writing helps your fiction, or merely gets in the way?

It's a very good source of material. It's important to get out of the house and the office when you are a full time writer. A lot of great writers have believed that writers should have full-time professional careers, like in medicine or law. That's a little more difficult these days, but being a part-time journalist can teach you a lot about life.

What is your educational/personal background (are you a PhD physicist, high school graduate, Army brat, jazz musician, skydiving hobbyist, father of ten, etc)

I am a journalism graduate and a child of the Texan oil/ petrochemicals industry.

and how has this affected your writing -- subject matter, characters, worldbuilding, ideas, etc.?

It's hard to imagine a writer whose educational and personal background doesn't affect his writing. What else is there?

What are you tired of seeing in genre fiction?

I don't have any particular grudges. There's a lot of stuff published that I just can't read, but children can probably read it; it would still be new to young people. I used to be upset about badly written, unimaginative genre fiction, but I don't worry about it now; the audience for really stupid and illiterate fiction will never be able to read my work. There's stuff written that I find politically objectionable, but you can have a strong political objection with a novel that is a fine literary work. Celine, for instance, is politically disastrous but a novelist of the first rank.

What staples of the genre would you like to see go to their hard-earned and well-deserved retirement, in favor of something (please, anything!) else?

Pretty much all of them. The entire genre needs to be reinvented again. Even "cyberpunk" is at least twelve years old now. I think there's a lot of vitality in the concept of "science fiction," though. I don't think the 20th century knew enough about either science or fiction to write really good "Science-Fiction." I have hopes for radical improvement.

How long did it take for you to get from "serious about writing" to "selling writer"?

I was always serious about writing. I was writing seriously when I was twelve. I sold my first book when I was twenty.

Did you participate in a workshop?

Yes, the "Turkey City" workshop in Texas.

Where there other writers who "made it" with you in that workshop?

Yes: Howard Waldrop, Lisa Tuttle, Lewis Shiner, Steven Utley, Don Webb.

When do you think that the right time to quit is?

I never quit. I still go to workshops.

How did you keep writing in the face of rejections?

Rejections were never much of a problem for me. If you have a delicate ego, you really shouldn't be in the writing business. Rejection is painful, and honest criticism is painful, and a professional learns to deal with both. Your business is to show the products of your mind to hundreds of thousands of strangers. They're not all going to love and admire you. If you write something, and nobody is ever upset by what you write, then you haven't really written anything at all.

How do you process raw story ideas?

Write the ideas down before you forget them. Then let them stew for a while. They usually improve when they are no longer raw.

How does a basic idea for a story become a whole story?

There is no royal road to accomplishing this. A lot of people think that having the idea is the important part. That's why people come up to authors and offer to give them a really good idea in exchange for half the money from the book. It's a silly offer, though. Personally, I have more basic ideas for stories than I will ever, ever be able to write. If I start a story and it doesn't seem to be developing, then I will stop for a while and try another one. Mind you, you can't really do that with novels; half a short story is a useful exercise, but half a novel can be a painful professional disaster.

What comes first while processing aforementioned ideas, characters, plots, setting?

Ideas and setting. Most writers don't do it that way. Most writers aren't science fiction writers. Even most science fiction writers have no idea how to think seriously about the work of science fiction.

What do you focus on while creating plots?

Pick a centrally important character: the story's theme has to vitally matter to this person. Then decide what that character's motivation is. What does he/she have to lose or gain in the situation? What is it that the character want to achieve? What is standing in the way of fulfilling that need or desire? Now you have conflict. Once you have character and conflict, plot comes easily. If plot is not coming easily, envision the other characters in the plot; make sure that the events of the story are also making sense from their point of view. You should always test plots to make sure that the behavior and motivation of all the characters make sense. The ultimate test of bad plotting is that some important person is acting or behaving like a maniac or idiot.

How do you create characters?

Start with the concept, and ask yourself, "who cares about this?" Who is in a position to understand what is happening, and know what it means and how it feels?

Do you primarily base characters on people you know, or create them from whole cloth?

It can work either way. You can also adapt historical figures -- ask yourself how they would behave in those circumstances. It's also quite handy to steal other writer's characters and change their names. "Bad writers borrow; good writers steal."

How do you integrate these characters into a story?

Make the story matter to them. The main character needs to be engaged; he shouldn't be a passive bystander in the events. A good science fiction character can illuminate his whole society by behaving in the way that people in that imagined civilization would naturally behave.

What do you keep in mind while writing character interaction?

Some characters need to be handled very briefly, but you should still invest genuine effort in them; even a spear-carrier shouldn't be a stock figure or a cliche'. The story is a lot more lively if the minor figures show some autonomy and self-will. Wisecracks, unusual sidelights, comic relief; minor characters can carry a lot of weight, if you take the trouble to think about them seriously. The worst character interaction is the author (as main character and superhero) blandly lecturing to another, featureless character (who is standing in for the unlucky reader).

How important are characters in your stories?

A story without characters is an essay, not a story. You will have a hard time getting away with this, unless you are Stanislaw Lem.

Are they there to further the story or are the stories about characters?

It can be done either way, but science fiction tends to work more effectively with the first approach.

How much does the setting influence your characters?

If you are smart about it, the characters can *personify* the ideas and the setting. It's "idea-as-character." People are embedded in history, and created by their social environment. A well-developed character will bring the setting to life by demonstrating what that setting means to human beings.

What do you keep in mind while creating the setting?

This is a very big topic. A really good setting conveys the impression of being bigger than any one mind. An imaginary world should feel like a world, not like a conceptual toy. If there is any single principle, I think it's this one: "The future is history that hasn't happened yet."

Are your settings based on extrapolation of a single idea or is it a multi-idea setting?

A novel has more room for multiple ideas than a short work. One of my own habits is to write a series of related short stories, and then a novel.

How much time do you spend doing background research?

I spend the vast majority of my time on background research. Basically, my whole life has been a process of background research. I'm now 44 years old. If someone asks me "how long did it take you to write that book?" then the genuine and truthful answer would be "44 years."

How rigorously do you "plan" your settings?

I think about setting a very great deal, but I don't think "rigor" helps a lot. You can't create a convincing world with a chart and a checklist. But you should try to imagine the world through many different angles: technological, economic, political; through races and classes and gender. How does this situation feel to old people and to children? Who are its rulers, who are its criminals and outcasts? Who is included, who is excluded? Who sweeps the streets? And -- this is a vital thing to consider -- where are the lawsuits? What are the burning political issues and the public controversies?

How nailed down are your settings when you are writing?

It depends on the circumstances, but I don't start out until I know the territory on which the story will operate.

What stylistic pitfalls are especially important to avoid?

Bad grammar and poorly structured sentences. You don't have to write with mannered elegance, but you mustn't write so crudely that you fail to convey the intended meaning.

What do think is the difference between writing a novel and a short story/novelette/novella?

You can take a lot more risks with a work that doesn't require a huge investment of time.

You have focused on bioengineering in a variety of stories, such as you shaper/mechanist setting and in Holy Fire, what needs special attention when extrapolating from that particular field of science?

Medicine, prosthetics, genetics, drugs, neurochemistry, gerontology, new materials, industrial design, sports, fitness, cosmetic surgery, couture. Many other things. Look around yourself, the harbingers are very obvious.

You were one of the main proponents of the Cyberpunk movement of the eighties, do you think a new "wave" is upon us?

No.

Or needed?

Yes.

You've written a great deal of near-future or very-near-future stories. What do you think needs extra consideration when extrapolating the near future?

The present and the recent past. Current trends.

You sometimes write about outlaws and other people off-kilter with the rest of society, is her anything which makes these people more interesting/useful to a writer?

Yes. Rebels and criminals have high conflict levels. This makes them naturally dramatic.

Any final advice?

Try to say something that will still be worth hearing long after you are dead.


15 Aug 1998

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