As a judge, I start reading novels the moment the entries start piling up (four is a pile). Year-long, I seldom let the stack get above four. This means that all those early works have more time between them. It means that I don't see the borrowings from other books quite as clearly, and can judge each book on how well it works, as itself. This is important, because almost every novel written is massively derivative. That's how we read them. It's one of the reasons some novels are loved by so many people. Shared narratives are important.
When I read more than four of them in a week, however, it's much harder to put that shared narrative in the proper context of how the novel succeeds for itself. It's much easier to prefer a book because of its unique features rather than because of its sublime writing or utterly amazing characterisation or because it says something so very important and in such a lucid manner.
The sensible publishers know that there are award judges like me who read early and would rather spend the time on a book, and get their book in as soon as they can. Most publishers, however, seem to prefer a sprint at the end of the year. This meant that I've read fourteen books since Monday, and half of them were for the Aurealis awards. This then means that I have to take much stronger precautions to enable me to see each work as it is. So far, this is working, but just now I switched on my academic brain by mistake and did a thorough analysis of an author's work in the context of his other work, and had to stop and take a breath and realise just how bad an idea this was. That novel will score significantly higher now I've switched my academic brain off, for its strengths are now not being sublimated by me putting the single book in the context of every other published writing that author has ever produced.
Why am I stating all this, even though it's bleedingly obvious?
I'm stating it because I still don't have at least 20% of the works nominated for YA. I finish my reading on 31 December, if I can, for the December-January period is usually quite solid in work terms. This year it's even more so. This means that those books that get sent on 27 December because the publisher forgot the deadline will not even get the coffee breaks that I am using today to give myself distance, or the anime breaks I used yesterday.
Publishers and authors - it's in your interest to get your books in when they're published, not five minutes before the deadline, because the judges are, alas, human. We all have different timetables, too. You don't know how busy we will be in those last few weeks. All you can know for certain is that if the books are with us early, then early readers such as myself will juggle our reading to give each and every book the best chance of a fair reading. This gets harder to do in circumstances like this year's, when there are a lot of late nominations.
My gut feeling is that we'll see a record number of young adult books this year. Many of them are quite long (though none match the 900+ page novel I read on Monday for research). They take time to read, even for someone who reads quite quickly. This means there's less time to stop and contemplate than is ideal, for there are more books and the average page length is a bit higher than usual. I'm going to read every single word of every one of them, but the ones I got to luxuriate over and that were given a chance to resonate, were the ones submitted earlier.
I'm hoping that the missing dozen or so books arrive in the next week, for that way I'll be able to give them more time and thought.
And now, I have just a half a book to finish and then I get lunchtime and library and chiro. I've already packed the Aurealis book I shall read on the bus.
- Thu, 14:46: Realising just how many people I know in Canberra... :)
- Thu, 14:52: Not looking promising for a 2.55 departure. 2.51 & not boarding yet!
- Thu, 21:16: I should only be reading CBCA but I ran out of book while travelling today. Had @lainitaylor's novella on my Kindle app. Geez she can write!
- Fri, 06:18: RT @BarackObama: Retweet if you're glad people with pre-existing conditions can no longer be denied health care. #Obamacare
- Fri, 08:41: Gotta love how the mainland jobs I apply for I get instant shortlisting/offers but the Tassie ones are rejection after rejection. #tasmateia
- Fri, 11:27: Orright Gmail, what are you mucking about with now?
- Fri, 11:39: AUREALIS AWARDS ENTRIES CLOSE TOMORROW!! http://t.co/0qrkw4hv8M
What I've done today is stocktake. I have an examination (of someone else) to complete by Monday, and there are now 64 young adult novels entered for the Aurealis, so I have to read one a day throughout December, if I want to finish in time. This is better than the year most of them came in so late that I had to read three a day. Except that I haven't read any this month so far, so I am in catch-up mode. I've read three Aurealis novels today and so only have two to go. No worries.
My wonderful work experience student has let me borrow some of her anime. I get to watch one episode of Tsubasa after each novel. This gives my eyes a break and my brain a break.
This evening I'm back in the seventeenth century, I think. Last night the Middle Ages took place when I was awake due to shifting weather. And my own fiction (the editing thereof) was done while my work experience student was here.
I'm not quite keeping up with myself, but I'm making a valiant attempt.
- Wed, 12:57: RT @SeandBlogonaut: eBook Review - The Path of Night by Dirk Flinthart http://t.co/bSN6L8JfOj #specfic
- Wed, 17:39: Off to Canberra tomorrow for job interview – no idea what to wear. To the closet!
- Wed, 23:16: @QantasAirways bedtime is not when I want to find out tomorrow's flight will be an hour late, & I will miss my connection & my job interview
- Wed, 23:17: And given what happened LAST time we had this issue, I'm not all that confident of getting there at all! @QantasAirways
- Wed, 23:29: 16 minutes on hold to @QantasAirways and counting. Would really prefer to be sleeping.
- Wed, 23:33: 20 minutes… #verytired
- Wed, 23:35: May as well do the AA stuff that came in this afternoon while I wait. So many emails…
- Wed, 23:45: 32 minutes – have spoken to consultant but now back on hold. *sigh* #verytired
- Wed, 23:46: And now (hopefully) sorted. New connection given, even though it's squeezy for time. Think good winds for me in the morning, folks!
- Thu, 08:56: Hello Melbourne, tata Melbourne #flyingthrough
- Tue, 17:33: Oh, we're at that time of the day where I'm terribly easily distracted from my marking *sigh*
- Tue, 19:03: RT @AllenAndUnwin: Compare to ours through the ages http://t.co/MBGrgAP59U MT @margolanagan: My Korean publisher does such great covers. ht…
- Tue, 19:39: RT @goodreads: Announcing the winners of the 2013 #GoodreadsChoice Awards! See the best books of the year in 20 categories! http://t.co/6Uy…
- Tue, 20:02: .@rhiannonlhart Don't forget to enter the story in the Aurealis Awards! They close Dec 7 for all works published this year :)
- Tue, 20:11: "Public domain" – this phrase does not mean what you seem to think it means. #marking
- Tue, 20:14: I shouldn't laugh (but I am), the clangers in that last assignment were hilarious! Homophones galore! #marking
- Tue, 22:11: AND THAT'S THE MARKING DONE FOR THE YEAR! (hopefully)
- Tue, 22:12: Did you see our new submissions call? Insert Title Here (unthemed speculative fiction anthology) http://t.co/NXpDTFmu2J
- Tue, 22:13: I reckon @Krasnostein might like this: http://t.co/ks6TfVZyfK
- Wed, 08:19: The simple pleasure of not being cried at by the children when dropping them at daycare #parenting
Waiting for Centenary bus, to start afternoon visiting.
A bus that goes around all the touristy places is a wonderful thing. Otherwise, if you want to visit something, you have to find it on the map, work out which buses go that way, work out where those buses leave from and make sure it's the right direction, find that place, work out which stop to get off at and then afterward, work out where the bus in the other direction stops and what time it is expected to go past. Repeat for any other places.
With a bus that loops the touristy places, you get on, at the same place every time, and the driver tells you the best place to get off, and you know the bus will be back about the same time every half an hour so it's easy to work out when to leave.
One way is simple and fun. One way is difficult and stressful.
Anyway, I'm waiting for the bus. I go into a local cafe thing and get something for lunch. A bacon and egg roll thing as it turns out. I have a few bites, but not hungry so I'll leave it for later. Also buy a drink at a corner shop but that doesn't last long.
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So you may have heard by now that the writer CC Finlay will be guest editing an issue of the Magazine of Fantasy & Science Fiction, for the July/Aug 2014 issue. He’ll be reading submissions from January 1 – 14, 2014. And the best part of all is that he will be accepting esubs, something that, at least in my circle of writer friends, people have been waiting a long time for. What’s even better is that Charlie decided to use my Moksha submissions system to handle esubs. You may have used Moksha before when you submitted to Lightspeed or Nightmare or one of John Joseph Adam’s many anthologies. I’m super excited that Charlie chose Moksha to be the system that he will use for his guest editorship. And I hope that it offers authors a smooth ride though the often bumpy road that is the submission process.
Anyway, happy submitting!
- Mon, 13:19: My other birthday present today... http://t.co/jFiOVI3SCy
- Mon, 14:23: My Scrabble letters: E E Y O R E (blank)
- Mon, 14:56: Hope @garthnix @JustineLavaworm @ScottWesterfeld @adelaidesean @margolanagan & everyone have their entries in for the Aurealis Awards... :)
- Mon, 15:48: People power! http://t.co/wKq1iEdVbY #Gonski
- Mon, 21:07: RT @nicole_r_murphy: All Australian speculative works published in 2013 are eligible for the Aurealis Awards. Enter now! http://t.co/dWrCf…
- Mon, 22:16: Kind offers to send earlier books in series to judges but a) entered books must stand alone & b) judges already have too many books to read!
- Mon, 22:34: RT @OzKidsYALit: Did you notice any trends in #OzKidsYALit in 2013? @editormum75 did. Read her @CBCATas blog entry here: http://t.co/hpLK8M…
- Tue, 10:31: Tea drinking friends? The Tea Centre is giving away "The Ultimate Tea Package" Enter Facebook only http://t.co/JSWL5Z0Rmg #theteacentre
- Tue, 10:47: @Marianne_Curley Hi Marianne – would like to email you re: Aurealis Awards but the email on your website bounced! Could you please DM me?
Yesterday's novel was a tremendous help, for it contained some things it should not have and yet it was written by someone with a fair amount of knowledge. This means I have something I can cite when I need an example of choosing genre about precise research (for the writer was clearly capable of precise research and chose not to use it), but it also means I have a whole new issue, plus a curious insight.
The curious insight is that the novel demonstrates the limits of the writer's background in a rather drastic way. It's as if we don't know what we don't know, even when we're terribly knowledgeable. Which makes sense if the genre is the main determinant in the history we use in fiction: if we're writing paranormal romance (which is what yesterday's book was, mostly) then the subject ownership of the main character can come or go depending on her need to be an expert compared with her plot-needs as female protagonist. I really hate this latter for too often (and indeed, in the book I was reading) it's expressed through dumbing-down an intelligent protagonist, but I doubly hate it when someone who knows a bunch of stuff is suddenly ignorant. My example is that the character was capable of translating quite difficult Latin, by sight, until whoosh, at a key moment she can't translate simple Latin without a struggle. And we were given the simple Latin and I translated it by sight (and I really am not a brilliant Latinist) so it should have been within her capacity. That's not the only example, but it's a good one, because it brings me to my whole new issue. It isn't really a new issue at all, but it's one I haven't documented on my blog before.
This rise in popularity of historical fiction and fiction that uses history has taken an interesting path. An expert audience has developed alongside it. I know this because I have friends who are part of that expert audience. They are fans of particular authors who are more careful in their research, and I have close friends among them. And their number is growing.
What's important about this is the assumption that some writers are making is that bad history won't matter so much as long as they get the big historical questions right, or create a feel for the period, or make one particular aspect look very impressive. For some authors, sales will happen regardless, but they won't keep the core of the consistent readers and reporters in the genre and this core is increasingly important for getting the word out about books in a difficult market. I need to research this some more, I think, but I don't know where I'll find the time. I might have a chat with Sarah Johnson, in a couple of months, and see if she's seen any changes due to this phenomenon. She's someone who'd know.
I think it's a bit related to the whole empowerment of geeks. It's now perfectly fine for intelligent women to be critical and thoughtful (as long as trolls and idiots are avoided). This has created a bunch of very stable and very large readers' circles. And it means that history geeks talk to each other about books. It only takes one respected person among a group to point out that a particular emperor has no clothes for a new book to tumble from the altar of best-sellerdom.
The readers I'm talking about are by no means all women, but the women are the ones who speak out in the circles I know. Small single errors are forgiven, but Mary Sue plots are pounced on as wish fulfilment and sequential errors are pointed out.
Over the years, these groups have become more sophisticated. I think this is because their members have created a positive learning loop. I recently apologised to Elizabeth Chadwick for going technical on her fan page, and she laughed at me. Her fans like it, it appears.
It doesn't have to be all fans, or even most fans, but I think we're creating a higher bar for fiction that uses history and that authors who fumble will have to increasingly have reasons for not doing that bit of extra work. Genre is currently one such reason (though I don't know for how much longer). However, the more this group of critical readers create a new criticism that values the history in a novel, the more mass market commercial writing of all kinds will have to change to meet it. History may not be taught terribly well in many curricula, but that isn't stopping there from being a sea change in how key readers perceive it in fiction and describe it.
This isn't the first time this has happened. Walter Scott's fans did the same thing. It was a very powerful thing back then, and had a big effect on how Britain saw its history. Now, with social networking and other modern ways of linking, it's going to be even more interesting. The authors who don't take note of it will develop a different class of fan and will wonder why all the cool kids are elsewhere.
What impresses me about these readers is their capacity for learning. I'm seeing it everyday. I get questions from all sorts of people at conventions and online and even at parties. People want to know about our relationship to the past. They want to know what their ancestors might have eaten or what life was really like in the fourteenth century. Programs such as Time Team add to this questioning by supplying some of the tools to question with. One of the most-appreciated elements of the course I recently taught on the Middle Ages was my improvised This is how you assess for yourself whether a book is reliable."
So many of these questioners say "I wasn't taught at school, but I can learn now." It's a wonderful thing. I noted its amazingness ages ago, but now I'm applying it to the changing nature of of how history is presented in fiction and I think I have more work to do. I know I have more work to do.
In this case, though, I'd rather someone else did the work, for it's a vast task and I already have more research than you can poke a stick at. I know people who are doing PhDs in similar areas, so it's only a matter of time before someone does one on this. I hope.
Towards the end of our wedding reception, my work friends J&S came up to us in a bit of a panic as they wanted us to open their wedding gift. Unfortunately, all the gifts had been packed off to my parents’ place until we got back from our honeymoon. This turned out to be a bit of a problem. J&S wanted us to open their gift before we left as it wouldn’t work after we got back. Intrigued, I got my mum to fossick around for a gift of the description we were given and to bring it to us at Christmas lunch. All was quickly revealed – J&S’s gift was a quest. The creation of a memory.
We were of course to go off in search of the Love Bridge and place our own lock on it for our love. I was floored by such a gift – what a really great idea! We headed off and I think (as judging by how tired I look in the photo below) on the first day to make sure that we definitely got this done.
I’d brought more than a few guide books with me on our trip. I might have been a bit excited to be returning to Paris. But what turned out to be the best buy was a set of cards of walking tours of Paris. There were 50 in the pack and you could just pick one out at random or one with something you wanted to definitely see on the route or in the area you were interested in. C took to these, which in retrospect I should have realised would be right up his alley. He really enjoyed making sure we followed the tour and did all the stops etc. I really enjoyed the extra little things you ended up seeing on the way – stopping for the best hot chocolate in Paris, seeing significant landmarks or points of interest that are off the standard tourist grid. I ended up seeing a lot more of Paris than I would have on my own and I also saw a lot more cool stuff than I would have thought of looking for. And … bonus was lots less crowds most of the time.
And here we’ve just added our lock to the bridge – and thrown the key into the Seine, which the greenie in me cringed at but the superstitious OCD side did anyway – and C is taking data point photos so we can come back and look for it another trip.