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Corey J. White Posts

Reading 2016

This year I set myself the goal of reading 52 books, where a ‘book’ is a novel, novella, story collection, or non-fiction book. Sadly, I have failed in my quest. Not by much, granted, but I doubt I’m going to finish 5 more books in the next 2 weeks.

I set a couple of rules this year, too. First was no re-reads, because I had so many books I wanted to read for the first time, and I knew re-reads would just slow me down. Second was an even split between books by men and books by women. Of course this second rule made me realise how white my reading was. And also, that binary split potentially allows plenty of non-binary authors to slip through the cracks. Which are two things that I’m going to address in my reading in 2017.

Below the jump, find the lists of all the books and comics I read. The stand-outs are marked in bold, and I’ve added some thoughts on some of them.

Continue reading Reading 2016

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Preorder Killing Gravity

I mentioned this just briefly last time, but just in case you missed it: did you know you can preorder Killing Gravity? It’s only early in the book’s push – we’ve revealed the cover, but not an excerpt yet, and I haven’t had a chance to do any interviews (and perhaps I won’t – I’m still a nobody after all). But trust me when I tell you, it’s a good book. If you like the telekinetic carnage of Akira, or if you want a space opera that’s focussed on one small group of people and not a huge fight for galactic control, or if you just really like Tommy Arnold’s cover art, then you can preorder it now. You can find it online at Barnes & Noble, Wordery, Amazon, and the Book Depository.

And, OF COURSE, you’ll be able to ask for it at your local independent bookseller. Any bookstore with a decent range of science-fiction and fantasy will be able to source it, and in fact Powell’s already has it on their site for preorder (Powell’s is an amazing store. Bibliophiles simply must check it out if they find themselves in Portland). For my fellow Australians, any store that carries books from Tor.com’s range will be able to order it in for you – like Readings for instance – but depending on the databases a store uses, they might not be able to find it.

So there you go, my very first proper shill. I’m immensely proud of this book, and I hope it does well… if only so enough people hang around and read the sequel that I’ve been wrestling with these past few weeks.

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Cover Reveal

When I woke up this morning my phone was blowing up with twitter notifications, because the Killing Gravity cover got officially revealed at Barnes & Noble’s SFF Blog.

Woah.

Click the link, go on, click it. You’ll see the awesome cover, with art by Tommy Arnold, and read a blurb that’s so good I want to read the book. You might also notice that Killing Gravity is due out on May 9th, 2017, and is available for pre-order, which is very cool and weird and another one of those things that makes me realise ‘oh shit, this is real, isn’t it?’.

Over at Tommy’s website he posted a version of the cover art sans title, cover quote and that jerk name, which looks a little something like this:

Killing Gravity Cover Art, by Tommy Arnold
Credit: Tommy Arnold (Click to Enlarge)

And Tommy was also kind enough to share some of his working sketches on twitter:

Killing Gravity Cover Sketches
Credit: Tommy Arnold (Click to Enlarge)

In A and C, you’ll see how Tommy was toying with getting Seven into the art too, which I love. Seven is Mars’ weird experimental cat thing, and a special part of the book for me. In some ways, Seven is the heart of the book – I mean, not really, but pet owners will know what I mean when they read it. She’s vicious and loving and lazy and crazy just like any good cat.

But I’ll talk more about that later.

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Our Talons Can Crush Galaxies

Read this story by Bo Bolander, now. It’s a shiv of a story – short and sharp, ready to get stabbed in under your rib cage: Our Talons Can Crush Galaxies

So, no. You don’t get a description of how he surprised me, where he did it, who may have fucked him up when he was a boy to lead to such horrors (no–one), or the increasingly unhinged behavior the cops had previously filed away as the mostly harmless eccentricities of a nice young man from a good family. No fighting in the woods, no blood under the fingernails, no rivers or locked trunks or calling cards in the throat. It was dark and it was bad and I called for my sisters in a language dead when the lion–brides of Babylon still padded outside the city gates. There. That’s all you get, and that’s me being generous. You’re fuckin’ welcome.

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Editorial

I swear I’m not actively trying to talk about my upcoming book with every post, but seeing as it is my first book, this whole experience is one of many firsts. So today I want to talk about editorial, and why it might be tough, but very, very necessary.

Like I said, this is my first book, so I’m going to assume (perhaps wrongly?) that my experience is more-or-less the norm, and tell you about how it has all been unfolding for me, so if/when you find yourself in the same position, you know what to expect.

Step 1: Editorial Letter

Now, I’m not sure why it’s called an ‘Editorial Letter’, or even if that’s an industry-wide term, but it is far less formal than it sounds. It’s basically just addresses issues in your manuscript in a  loose, big-picture kind of way. This is where your editor says “Your book is great, but this, this, and that don’t quite work as well as the rest.”

Chances are, the things that your editor points out are likely things that you weren’t 100% sure on yourself, but after beating your head against the keyboard on a number of rewrites, you simply couldn’t come up with a better way to to do it. But guess what? Now you have an editor on your side, and they’ve already agreed to publish your book, so if they want it to be the best book it can be when it comes to market, they HAVE TO HELP YOU FIX IT.

This editor is likely working with you because something in your manuscript spoke to them, because they love it, because they believe in it, or some combination of those things. They also have likely edited (or at least read in slush) any number of manuscripts, so you can trust that they’re going to have a fine eye for picking out issues in your manuscript. They may also be accomplished writers themselves. Either way, trust that they know what they’re talking about.

When it comes to fixes, they might have ideas that completely resonate, and which you can immediately see and grasp, and which set your mind spinning with all the ways you’re going to incorporate these changes, or they might have ideas that don’t sit quite right with you. But, hey, this is a dialogue, so if it’s the latter, talk about it. Try and figure out why they’ve made those suggestions so you can come up with your own solutions that answer the same questions.

(Or, in other words, don’t be stubborn, don’t be a dick [obviously], don’t try and argue with them when they want to kill your darlings [they need to die for a reason], and realise that just because they want to publish your manuscript it doesn’t mean that it’s perfect.)

Anyway, after you’ve fixed those bigger-picture issues and you’re both happy with the changes, it’s time to move on to…

Step 2: Line-Edits

For some reason, this step caused my anxiety to peak. Personally, feedback from friends is easy, no matter how thoroughly it tears my work apart, because I know them, I understand their tone and exactly where they’re coming from. When it comes to people I know less-well however – like an editor I’ve only met in person a couple of times, or absolute strangers on a critiquing website – the criticisms get right under my skin for some reason.

I realise this is just down to me and my mind-spiders, so perhaps none of this is relevant for you, Miss No-Mental-Illness-For-Me, but hey, I’m talking about my experience. It’s not that my (brilliant) editor (Carl Engle-Laird) was harsh or anything like that – again, this was totally about me, not the experience – but going through the line edits was almost paralysing. I’d be able to spend two (distracted, anxious) hours at it, and then need to stop. By day three I’d convinced myself that the manuscript was so shit the only reason they decided to publish it was because it was somehow the least shit out of the submissions they received and they’d taken pity on me. Needless to say, that was a dark day. Thankfully, by day five, nearing the end of the manuscript, I’d completely turned a corner on the line-edit process. I’d come out the other side and realised all the things that would have been obvious if it weren’t for the anxiety:

  • It’s a good manuscript.
  • It’s not shit.
  • The line-edits were to make it sing, not to tell me that I’m a bad writer and I should feel bad.
  • The process had made the manuscript that much better.

Seriously, I was so happy with the manuscript at the end of that first run-through that I was slightly embarrassed that an earlier draft had gone out to other authors in the hopes of getting blurbed. The word I’ve been using to describe the effect of the edits is ‘elevated’ – it pointed inconsistencies (or things that weren’t necessarily inconsistent, but which needed clarity), and completely elevated the prose of the book by pointing out over-used verb forms and sentence styles, repeated words and phrases, and probably other things I’m forgetting.

I realise that when it comes out, Killing Gravity is still not going to be everyone’s cup of tea, but I’m not satisfied that it is a damn fine cup all the same.

You’ll go back and forth a couple of times with the colours of Track Changes scarring your manuscript until you’re done. Up next is…

Step 3: Copy-Editing

Which is the step I’m waiting on now, so I can’t actually tell you much about it. Though I’m assuming it will be someone with extremely technical knowledge of the English language telling me all the things I did wrong and telling me that all my dumb, made-up sci-fi words are entirely too-dumb to see print. But hey, we’ll see, and if the process is interesting enough, maybe I’ll write about that too.

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The Dream-Quest of Vellitt Boe

I recently read Kij Johnson’s The Dream-Quest of Vellitt Boe, and I cannot recommend it enough. It’s a response to a H.P. Lovecraft story, but it isn’t horror; instead it (I assume) takes some of the critters and locations of Lovecraft’s work and uses them to populate a beautifully written fantasy tale set in a world that feels familiar yet unique in the same way that Ursula Le Guin’s Earthsea series does.

I’ve never read anything of Lovecraft’s, and I don’t often read fantasy, but The Dream-Quest of Vellitt Boe is phenomenal. It’s a novella, so it’s an easy read, and you can pick the ebook up for a song.

And because I can, here’s an excerpt from one of Kij Johnson’s short stories, Ponies. It’s a twisted, dark horror tale, with a core of sad childhood truth.

The invitation card has a Western theme. Along its margins, cartoon girls in cowboy hats chase a herd of wild Ponies. The Ponies are no taller than the girls, bright as butterflies, fat, with short round-tipped unicorn horns and small fluffy wings. At the bottom of the card, newly caught Ponies mill about in a corral. The girls have lassoed a pink-and-white Pony. Its eyes and mouth are surprised round Os. There is an exclamation mark over its head.

The little girls are cutting off its horn with curved knives. Its wings are already removed, part of a pile beside the corral.

Read the full story at Tor.com.

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The Announcement

One morning in early July, I woke up to an email from one of the editors at Tor.com Publishing. They’d recently had an open unsolicited submission window and I’d submitted the manuscript for my sci-fi novella Killing Gravity. It had received a really quick form rejection from another publisher just a few weeks earlier, so I had basically convinced myself there was no way a publisher with as much clout as Tor would want it (Lesson the first: personal preference is a strong condideration in editorial decisions. Just because one editor rejects a story, it doesn’t mean it [and by extension, you] are rubbish). The email subject read “Offer on Killing Gravity,” and I had so thoroughly convinced myself of the impending rejection that I actually thought, That’s a strange way to phrase a rejection.

Honestly, if the email subject had simply read: “RE: Submission – Killing Gravity” there’s a chance I might have deleted it unread (Lesson the second: never, and I mean NEVER, self-reject).

Needless to say, I opened the email.

I literally couldn’t believe it, I was in shock. My first response was to send my partner (the award-winning author of Welcome to Orphancorp, Marlee Jane Ward) a message reading: “Fuck. Motherfucking Tor want to buy my fucking book.” 6am eloquence is not my forte. My second response was to stumble through, knock on my housemate’s bedroom door, and repeat the news to her more-or-less word for word (she later said she thought something terrible had happened, like a death in the family, because I was white as a sheet. When I said ‘in shock’ I meant literally).

Flatiron Building
Photo credit: Marlee Jane Ward

Marlee and I had already planned a trip to the States, which meant it was perfectly timed for us to be able to meet up with my editor Carl Engle-Laird in New York, and even receive a tour of the tour offices in the historic Flatiron building. It also meant I could have an editorial meeting with Carl over beers in Kansas City while we were there for WorldCon. Sure, the internet’s an amazing tool, but there’s nothing quite like face-to-face. It’s great when everything just falls into place.

Now here we are, a few months later. The announcement has been made, including the amazing news that Tor.com Publishing are going to publish Killing Gravity’s sequel, and now I can talk publicly about it. Something I mentioned on twitter is that a big part of why this is so exciting (besides it being my first book, which is a huge deal on its own) is that Tor.com Publishing’s line of novellas is consistently of a super high quality, with multiple award-winning novellas, brilliant emerging and established authors, beautiful cover art, and an editorial desire for better representation with their authors and books. To think that Killing Gravity got chosen out of slush to be published alongside Victor LaValle’s The Ballad of Black Tom, Nnedi Okorafor’s Binti, Kij Johnson’s The Dream-Quest of Vellit Boe, as well as upcoming titles from Charles Stross, Cassandra Khaw, and Laurie Penny (not to mention all the other well-regarded authors whose work I haven’t checked out yet), is incredible. Talk about external validation… (I’d had 130 short story rejections in the 18 months before this sale, so Lesson the third: it’s all about forward motion).

So if you need me, I’ll be here, talking about Killing Gravity, offering advice, posting fiction (my own, and links to others), and trying to make the most of this opportunity to kick-start something resembling a writing career.

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How to be a Writer…

There are so many posts like this one, and so many of them are dull, repetitive, or full of shit, but I thought Rebecca Solnit’s 10 Tips on How to be a Writer hit the nail on the head.

2) Remember that writing is not typing. Thinking, researching, contemplating, outlining, composing in your head and in sketches, maybe some typing, with revisions as you go, and then more revisions, deletions, emendations, additions, reflections, setting aside and returning afresh, because a good writer is always a good editor of his or her own work. Typing is this little transaction in the middle of two vast thoughtful processes. There is such thing as too much revision—I’ve seen things that were amazing in the 17th version get flattened out in the 23rd—but nothing is born perfect. Well, some things almost are, but they’re freaks. And you might get those magical perfect passages if you write a lot, including all the stuff that isn’t magic that has to be cut, rethought, revised, fact-checked, and cleaned up.

Thank you to Jane Rawson for the heads-up.

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The Business of Writing

I’ve recently had cause (which is equal parts *squee* and frightening) to start paying attention to the business aspects of writing, and coincidentally I came across this post here, which details much of the business/financial side of things, from someone who either knows, or has at least done plenty of research.

But whilst that post deals with the end result of having written and sold a book, Peter M. Ball has been posting about treating your writing practise as a business. Peter M. Ball’s blog often has some interesting and insightful bits of writing advice (of particular interest is this series of posts about Die Hard), but as well as that, he’ll sometimes have advice geared more to the business side of writing (something I plan on talking about more here… eventually).

His recent post – Dear Writers: What’s Your Business Model? – is full of insight. Maybe your writing practice is a magical, soulful, unpredictable beast, but… you want to make money from it right? Ideally you’d like to make a living from your writing? Then, like it or not, you need to think about it like a business.

When I started putting together a business plan, I had to think beyond that: who was a writing for? What was I giving them? Who were my competitors and how would I do better than them? Most important: what was my business model? Where did the money come from?

And because small business book after small business book stressed the importance of that, I set aside my eager enthusiasm for 48 hours or so and did some research. By the time I was done I had rough answers for all those things – enough to make me confident about the potential income – and for the next eighteen months my estimations were pretty accurate.

That 48 hours gave me a niche to fill, an identity that set me apart from the other people working in that space, and reasonable idea of what I needed to do to start generating cash-flow. It told me the most valuable places to focus my energy – what to do, and what not to do, when time was limited.

My plan and research served me well enough that I was surprised other weren’t doing it, given that it was largely put together with 48 hours of research and some scrap paper. I had a clear business model – this type of product, released this often, with this kind of focus – that gave me a clear measure of success or failure.

I had never had that, with anything I’d written before. It was remarkably focusing.

Check out his full post here.

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An Illustrated Guide to Writing Scenes and Stories

If you haven’t already read Jeff VanderMeer’s Southern Reach Trilogy, I cannot recommend those books enough. The series is part Lovecraft, part Stalker, part X-Files, part climate-change polemic, yet completely original. I finished Annihilation in a single night, and read the other two within the week. One day I hope to be able to write a series (or even a book) that is as masterfully-written, intriguing, and harrowing as the Area X books.

But shilling for Mr VanderMeer isn’t why I’m posting today – I’m here to share this post of his, which went up a few days ago at Electric Lit: An Illustrated Guide to Writing Scenes and Stories.

I thought it would be useful to take some very dramatic job that a character has — in this case, a dragon slayer– and demonstrate how it is that the average day of a dragon slayer is no different than the average day of an insurance salesman, in terms of not necessarily being of any interest to a reader.

When you’re first thinking about story and scenes, you have to choose what to dramatize, and what you won’t.

Lots of great advice and helpful diagrams at the link.

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