I had the opportunity to attend the Native American Literature Symposium last week. As a speculative fiction writer, I find Native American literature fascinating for the way many of its writers deftly blend time and multiple realities together in a way that time-travel and slipstream authors typically struggle to pull off. But that’s not what I’m here to write about. I want to talk about the subject of two plenary sessions: ethics in literary criticism.
Just wanted to let everyone know that neither the blog nor I have died. However, I’m currently in Minnesota (where it’s a lot colder than I’m used to) attending the Native American Literature Symposium, and am therefore spread a little thin. I am, however, learning a great deal, and LeAnne Howe is here, which has me fawning like a fanboy. (All right, all right, I am still a fanboy at heart.) Hopefully I’ll walk away with something wise to say about writing, which I can distill into a post. But not before next week. I’ve also got a paper proposal to write for my Anglo-Saxon poetry seminar, two novels to read, and a story to write. If I’d realized grad school was this much work… well… I still would have done it, but I might have warned you first that any comments about me dying are probably metaphorical.
Following up last Thursday’s post, just a quick link to the Writer Beware announcement that Random House has reworked the contract terms at their Hydra imprint to remove some of the more onerous language. I still think authors should carefully consider whether or not they’re better served working with an established publisher or going it alone, but, for the record, this is no longer a “don’t sign under any circumstances” situation. I applaud Random House for its willingness to listen to criticism and make adjustments.
For those who haven’t been following, there’s a bit of a kerfluffle right now between SFWA and Random House. Random House launched a new e-book imprint, Hydra (not to be confused with Hydra House, and imprint of En Theos Press), which does not pay advances and, according to what I’ve been told, requires a copyright assignment in its standard contract that is onerous and charges back against royalties costs normally carried by the publisher. SFWA responded by declaring that this imprint is not a SFWA-qualifying market. Shortly thereafter, Random House responded, claiming that all they’re doing is offering “a different– but potentially lucrative–publishing model for authors: a profit share.”
First of all, as long as I’ve been alive, publishing has worked on a profit-sharing model. It’s called “royalties.” What Random House is, in fact, doing is transferring the risk of doing business back to the author. And, frankly, Random House is lucky SFWA didn’t disqualify the entire publisher as they did with Harlequin back in 2009 when that publisher launched a vanity-publishing division. I don’t care whether you’re a new or established author, if the reports I’m seeing of what Hydra’s contract looks like are even half true, you’re far, far better off self-publishing than signing with them.
But what is more interesting to me is not the brouhaha that’s brewing, but rather what it indicates about the mentality inside this major publisher.
Lately I’ve found myself paying attention to how writers control the mood of a piece. This is a big topic, probably something that an entire book could be dedicated to, so I’m going to address it small chunks at a time. After all, it’s easier to regurgitate small chunks.
See how I just created mood there with that reference to vomit? That’s what I’m talking about. The decision that I, as the author, make about how to describe something is a huge component to mood-setting. So in this post I’m going to look at the importance of description to mood.