Thursday, July 28, 2005


I'm one of those annoying writing instructors who always harps on their students about reading. If you don't read science fiction/fantasy, you can't write it. The worst part? I really believe it. It's not just one of those phrases like "write what you know" that I've picked up and transferred to my students without truly embracing it myself. Reading, I believe, is essential to a successful writing career. For me, too, reading is how I recharge my writing "batteries." After months and months output, it's time for some input. I also see it as part of my job. I often pick up books printed in my imprint, just to get a sense how I fit among the other authors in that line. The bonus to that is, of course, if I like a book by a fellow author I have a certain kinship with them which I've been known to use to forge friendships (and to swap industry gossip.) Those who know me, know I'm a big believer in the power of gossip, or should I say "networking." At any rate, I'm currently reading Neal Asher's debut novel Gridlink. It's not a book I would necessarily recommend to people who aren't into hard-core science fiction. But, for those of you who are, this is -- so far -- a good one. I have to admit that my tastes are wonky. I really love light and fluffy, chick-litty fantasy (ala the books I've mentioned before, like Rachel Caine and Mary Janice Davidson's series), and, on the flip side, like my science fiction with a sharp, glittering, razor-blade edge. The above image is from his UK (hardcover) edition, but I picked up the paperback at Uncle Hugo's, so I know its out in the US. My friend and fellow writer Bill Henry pointed out some time ago when we were talking about this year's Philip K. Dick winner and science fiction awards in general, that a lot of the new, good, HARD science fiction seems to be coming out of the U.K. right now. I wonder why that is? It may be partly because I suspect that science fiction isn't selling well in the US. Given the popularity of Ms. Rowling's series, fantasy is the half of SF/F that's the current lead seller. By several million kilometers, shall we say. If I were allowed to talk about my other life previous to Tate, I might be able to say with some conviction that both my editor and my agent steered me away from a career focusing on SF for that very reason. But I can't. So, I won't. Hmmmm, now there's a cryptic way to end this post.

Tuesday, July 26, 2005

The Wicked-Great Fun of Revisions (No, Seriously!)

Here it is almost midnight, and I'm printing out a paper copy of Tall, Dark, and Dead. I know most authors claim to despise the revision process, but I kind of like it. I don't like the tedium of fixing commas, which I will admit I never learn to use properly. Nor do I enjoy correcting my atrocious spelling errors. But, at least at first blush, I find revisions a rewarding part of the process. Why? Because in a lot of ways, I don't like writing. Don't get me wrong, I love story-telling. I can't imagine not spinning wild fantasies in my head. Ever since I figured what my imagination was for, I've been abusing it ever since. I'm one of those people who is playing pretend all the time. I mumble character's lines to myself as I'm shopping at the grocery store. Every night before I fall asleep, my head is full of some crazy story-line or another. What I don't always like (and why I've resisted blogging for so long) is that the actual process of putting words down on paper and organizing my "visions" into proper scenes with plot and purpose. That's the hard stuff for me. For people who know me, it probably makes more sense because the name Tate and organization are rarely used in the same sentence. In that way, I'm a lot like my character of Garnet -- it's an unusual conversation of mine that goes from point A to point B without digressing through G and sometimes skipping around the ideas in Z before finally making it back to what I was talking about. (Not unlike this sentence, really.) So, revisions are a kind of relief. Most of the words are already written when I'm at the point of revising. Revisions are my chance to go back and deepen, stretch, clarify, enrich, and/or dramatize. I actually do a lot of revisions in the course of writing a novel-- or short story, for that matter. I'm in a regularly meeting (live, as opposed to on-line) writer's critique group, and after every meeting after which I've handed out my novel chunk, I get back seven people's opinions of it. I always go back that same week -- usually the next day -- and do the revisions I deem worthy, which to be fair, is often most of them. My group is very professional. Only rarely do I completely blow-off a comment someone has made. I sometimes joke with my partner that writing for me is a series of two-steps forward, one-step back. By the time I get to the first "THE END" the book or short story is already pretty polished. It's officially a first draft, but it's a first draft that contains a ton of micro-revisions. Then, before I send the manuscript to my editor, I have a number of people act as "beta readers." I have these folks read the whole novel, since in critique group it can take months for the manuscript to make it all the way from beginning to end (and my group won't read revised chapters, so they have only the flawed visions in their head.) At this point I do another fairly deep revision. Then, of course, the editor makes suggestions. For Tall, Dark, and Dead my editor emailed me a five page, single-spaced revision letter. Her comments, however, were fairly substantial. So, it was back to the revision table for another deep rewrite.We're not talking about a full scale, rip-out-the-heart-of-the-novel-and-start-over kind of thing. But, I am talking about ditching entire scenes and writing them from scratch. Also, I added a number of paragraphs of clarification or character development. The biggest issue for Tall, Dark, and Dead was finding a way to give the reader the somewhat unsavory bits about Garnet's past, while maintaining the light-and-fun tone I established in the opening line, which carries through the majority of the book. I couldn't introduce the ideas later, because they were critical to establishing the character's main conflict. So, we (me and my editor) ended up pulling out what was essentially a flashback scene and making it a non-prologue prologue. I think it works. You'll have to see if you agree. Anyway, as of 10:45 this evening I finished what I'm dubbing my semi-final, final revisions. I still need my partner to do that spell checking/comma thing, but then it's off to the publisher and I start writing Drop-Dead Gorgeous (book II) while waiting for the copy-edited manuscript to come back for the final-final final revisions. Of course, I'll have to check it over again when the page proofs come back, but that should be the last time I should have to do any major typing. Well, there you go. Just a little meditation on my process.

Sunday, July 24, 2005

The Whiteness of Space

I just Netflixed the new-and-improved "Battlestar Galactica" TV movie, which I really enjoyed. As soon as the first season comes out on DVD, I plan to watch the rest. S P O I L E R S However, I was very struck by the fact that the humanity that was saved when the lost colonies were destroyed by the Cylons is distressingly WHITE. Boomer (who was a black man in the original series) is an Asian woman now, but, as is also revealed at the end of the movie, she's not human at all... But a Cylon spy. Similarily the XO, Colonel Ty, is now a craggy white guy. There is a communications officer (shades of Uhura) who is a black woman, but she's -- so far, at any rate -- a very background character. The actor playing the new Adama, Edward James Olmos is a Mexican-American actor, but his children (namely "Apollo" and Zack, Athena seems to have been forgotten) are not being played by overtly Hispanic actors. So, what am I saying? I'm saying I miss the helicon days when TV producers felt compelled to have at least one "token" African-American actor in every show. The future that my TV used to present looked a lot like my neighborhood, only better. Because somehow I got the sense that in the futures of Battlestar Galactica and the original Star Trek series we all got along better. We'd conquered all this stupid "race" stuff and had become a world government that was really all about the human race. Lately, it seems like TV science fiction deals with race in the future by pretending that if you show a couple of black characters in the background we'll all just assume everything is hunky-dory. I'm thinking of Babylon 5, which was also notable in its whiteness. The exception there, of course, was the doctor, who was actually a "whiter" replacement of a very black African-seeming doctor who appeared in the pilot episode. I think it's especially striking in Battlestar Galactica because of the obvious replacements. I was always a fan of the original Boomer, but the new one was growing on me until it was revealed that she wasn't human. Similarly, it's frustrating that the producers or director or casting people or whoever is in charge of this decision didn't think about having someone in the command circle (besides Adama) who isn't lily white. I also think this struck me because the new Galactica is so much more based on a real military ship (with CAGs and XOs, etc,) and the modern military is fairly highly integrated. The scene at the end of the movie when Adama gives his impassioned speech about finding Earth, I scanned the crowd for color. There was some, but... well, for me, it wasn't enough. And I'm just some white girl from Minnesota.