Friday, August 10, 2007

SF Writer

Today’s Friday Feature has been called “the largest genre writer’s home page in existence” by Interzone. It was “widely believed to have been the first science fiction author site” according to Reuters. And John Robert Colombo proclaimed that, “it’s not a home page—it’s a mansion page!” This award-winning site contains over a million words, 530 documents and 25,000 links. No, it isn’t Boing Boing…(I just love that name, so I added it here :). If you’re into science fiction (as a reader or a writer), you may have guessed by now (okay, the title gave it away, didn't it? And that Ontario Licence plate): it’s SF Writer, the official website of Canadian science fiction writer, Robert J. Sawyer. And if you haven’t heard of it or stumbled upon it, you should. Here’s why:

  • Rob and his wife, poet Carolyn Clink, maintain the site themselves, which gives the site their homespun flavor;
  • The site includes working examples of press releases and press kits (something every published author should have a good handle on);
  • On the left sidebar, Rob maintains a “How to Write” page, brimming with excellent advice on topics ranging from openings, point of view, character construction, description, dialogue, research, cover letters and SASEs, and self promotion. He also discusses manuscript format, outlines and synopses, agents (and how to land them), and marketplace—VERY WORTHWHILE;
  • Rob also includes insightful and educational non-fiction articles on science fiction as a genre; Canadian science fiction, particularly; and thoughts on futurism; and,
  • Rob also maintains a forum with lively discussions and a link to his blog (which is a more day-to-day journal of what’s happening in Rob’s world.
The forty-seven year old Robert J. Sawyer has published 17 books in as many years and is one of only seven writers in history to win the science fiction field’s three top awards for best novel of the year: the Hugo Award, the Nebula Award and the John W. Campbell Memorial Award. He was called “the dean of Canadian science fiction” by the Ottawa Citizen in 1999 and “Canada’s premier science fiction writer” by Quill and Quire. The New York Times calls Sawyer a writer “of boundless confidence and bold scientific extrapolation.”

So much so that when I asked him aboard my ship, Rob didn’t flinch or blink; in fact, he suggested we use his own vehicle to get to my orbiting giant. The world is full of surprises!

~~~~~

As we settle comfortably in the aft lounge of my ship and slide back a couple of Molson Canadians (he’s Canadian, after all!), Rob asks the first question: “Is this a sentient ship?” I’m dumbfounded. “Because,” he continues in that casual voice that lulls you into compacency, “I noticed you have no crew and as we walked past the starboard secondary control panel, I saw that your auxiliary photosynthetic-decouplers weren’t online. That can only mean that your ship itself runs the diagnostics,” he ends with a beatific smile. I’m dumbfounded…and speechless. Rob’s like that. He has a winning smile and a sharp wit. I hear that he even got a doctorate degree (from Laurentian University) without even having to go there! I first met Rob several years ago at a local SF convention (V-con), back when I was disguised as a beginning writer. I was struck by his generosity, warmth and down-home friendliness. Rob was extremely approachable and more than willing to provide advice and share his wisdom and experience in the challenging field of writing and publishing. I'm eternally grateful for his advice, especially for steering me away from that questionable green and orange dip in the hospitality suite. Before he gets a chance to ask me another question, I give him a zinger, looking as always to incite controversy:
SF Girl: “Is there a difference between Canadian science fiction and American science fiction…besides the Canadian version having extra “u”s added in, that is?”
Sawyer: “…My country does a lot to support the arts but the health-insurance system is the single greatest advantage Canadian artists have. And, yes, a lot of people have read Rollback as being about the inherent wrongness of unequal access to advanced health care, and there’s no doubt that theme is in there.” He pauses thoughtfully and takes a sip of his Molson’s then gives me one of those winning grins. “I’m fond of quipping that American SF has happy endings, Canadian SF has sad endings, and British SF has no endings at all. If I can be so bold, SF Girl, Old Man’s War and Rollback are, respectively, American and Canadian takes on rejuvenation – one, a jubilant, triumphant we-are-the-champions novel; the other, a novel that says that it’s all bigger than we are, and despite everyone’s best intentions, things just aren’t going to work out as planned.
“One might argue that the difference comes from our countries’ vastly different stature on the world stage. The US is a superpower – for the moment, at least, the superpower – and its presidents can and do (let me reach back for a positive example here!) say things like, 'We choose to go to the Moon.' Canada is a middle power – we know there are things we just can’t do; if a Canadian prime minister said 'We choose to go to the Moon,' we’d think he’d lost his mind.
“Those differences do percolate into the texts we write. I’ve talked to other Canadian authors about this, and we’ve all had the same experience: US editors who have asked us to find what seem to us to be unnaturally upbeat endings for our works. It rankles, and I’ve dug in my heels more than once to keep what I’ve felt was the appropriately honest – and for that, often, read “melancholy” – conclusion to one of my books.
“Years ago, I read in manuscript a book by Terence M. Green; he’s a Canadian, like me. And his final line in that book literally made me gasp; my wife called out from the next room to ask what was wrong. But nothing was wrong; it was perfect. But when his book came out, I was astonished to see another little scene tacked on the end – and learned it was there precisely because the American editor felt the story needed a more positive ending, an ending that literally had the characters climbing up into the sunshine. I don’t say that was the wrong decision for the US market – which is where Terry and I and almost all Canadian SF authors make most of our money, of course – but it vividly underscored the difference between the two nations’ approaches to the genre.”
SF Girl: "Does that mean that if a Canadian had written The Wizard of Oz, the Tin Man never would have gotten his heart and Dorothy would have resorted to a life of crime with the 'Little People' gang and never uttered the famous line: 'there's no place like home'?" There's no answer. "Rob?..." I look around and realize that he's already left to chat-up the ship...
Rob’s response here is an excerpt from an interview conducted by John Scalzi with Robert J. Sawyer on Ficlets: read the whole interview here.




Nina Munteanu is an ecologist and internationally published author of novels, short stories and essays. She coaches writers and teaches writing at George Brown College and the University of Toronto. For more about Nina’s coaching & workshops visit www.ninamunteanu.me. Visit www.ninamunteanu.ca for more about her writing.

12 comments:

Modern Matriarch said...

Wow! I love Sawyers site (and insight), thank you for sharing. My blog and my writing are both improving under your wise council. I always knew aliens would be of superior intellect.

Modern Matriarch said...

oops, it appears I have dropped my apostrophe *blushes*

Kathleen Maher said...

Thanks for sending me the alert message, sfg. I have much reading and beyond that thinking in store. Thanks again.

sfgirl said...

WOW! Thanks, MM! That might be the first time anyone has acknowledged an alien's intellect. I'm honored and you're welcome. Your writing's already awesome, Tricia!

sfgirl said...

Kathleen, you're welcome. Thought you might like this site. Rob is a very gracious man who likes to give back as much to his writing community as he can. And he has the nicest laugh! (you can tell a lot from a person's laugh...:) ...*sfg* ... I like that...

Virginia said...

Yer funny. :)

Jean-Luc Picard said...

A great read. I always learn something here.

sfgirl said...

Hey, Jean-Luc...coming from you, the dean of star travel, alien contact, and wine making, I'm honored by your compliment. Thanks!

And, Virginia, we'll be seeing you soon in Calgary. And like Claudia Black of Farscape (and Stargate)fame said: do, a beer, a mexican beer...ray, a guy that buys me beer...me, a guy I buy beer for...fa, a long way to the baaaaarr...soooooo, I'll have another beeeeer...la, lalalalalala....tea, no thanks, I'll have a beer...and that brings us back to dodododododo....:D

Karen said...

"Bartender, another round for my friends, please!"

sfgirl said...

LOL! Karen, you know how to keep me happy!

zephyr01 said...

I have stumbled it and am bookmarking this site!! I love your Friday Features Nina! This is superb. Thank-you for another excellent post.

sfgirl said...

Hey, Zephyr! Glad you like my Friday Features. It's always fun to take an unsuspecting human on a ride in my ship...They say the neatest things!