Field of Vision

One piece of advice I would always give to aspiring writers and newly published/hoping to expand their footprint writers in the sff field goes like this:

Be aware of what is going on in the genre.

I don’t attend many conventions these days.  I’m a little too far off the beaten track (off any track, beaten or otherwise) to make such trips easy and affordable.  But on occasion, at one of my rare convention visits, I am surprised when, upon meeting a writer and engaging in casual conversation, I discover that they really aren’t conversant with the field beyond the sub subset of their particular niche or of specifically fashionable or online trendy writers.

I personally think this is a mistake.  By this I do not suggest that all writers ought to read exhaustively within the field (although obviously they can if they want to).  I certainly don’t.  I don’t have time, and there are some sub genres within the field that aren’t to my taste and thus difficult for me to get into.  But I do try to keep up with what is being published, whatever the sub genre, with new novelists, with what seems to be getting discussed, with which editors or presses are publishing interesting work.

For instance, if you’re interested professionally in the fantasy field and you don’t know who Patrick Rothfuss is, then I do think you need a better awareness of the field.  Now, I know some unpleasant and terrifying secrets about Pat, and these aren’t the kinds of things you need to know, but you ought to know that he wrote one of the big fantasy debuts of recent years.

I admit that I read very little short fiction (and almost never write it), so unfortunately I know less than I feel I should about the field’s short fiction marketplace.  Serving on the World Fantasy Award jury in 2005 opened my eyes to a lot of great work (and mediocre work) that I hadn’t been aware of.  Indeed, one of the reasons I agreed to tackle the huge workload of the jury was precisely because I figured I would be exposed to a wider range of work within the field than I normally see left to my own devices.  I was.  Among other things, my jury stint taught me a lesson about the importance of small presses in our field.  In fact, when Yanni Kuznia emailed me in 2007 asking if I would be interested in contributing to a small anthology, I agreed because the anthology was to be published by Subterranean Press, whose work I had not been familiar with before the jury.

Without reading everything (or serving on the WFC jury), how can you stay conversant with the field? You can browse at a bookstore;  you can check out one of the many good sff blogs, especially ones that do a “what was published this week” listing complete with covers.  Ask around.  Ask outside the group you usually ask.  Open the field of vision.  SFF has its flaws, both in the particular and in the general, but it’s a great and often exciting field.  Have fun.

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There are 4 comments. Get the RSS feed for comments on this entry.

  1. 1. Karen Wester Newton

    For those with an eReader or an eReader app, is a great way to find short fiction by authors you like. they even have a “Send to my Kindle” button now.

  2. 2. Elias McClellan

    I find the prospect daunting. I love Science Fiction for the far-vista options of characters, situations, and settings. Unfortunately, I’m relatively new to the game and while my all-time favorite writer is Frank Herbert, my reading of contemporary writers has been limitted. The only stand-outs are Kim Robinson, Karen Traviss, and Science Fiction and Fantasy magazine as a source of short fiction.

    KSR’s Mars trilogy scared hell out of me. I barely have a BS and I felt as if a PhD was required to reasonably follow the science. KT made the Star Wars universe interesting which is marvalous considering the constraints. SF&F provides a wealth of the good, the bad, and the ‘what does this mean’ stories.

    Sadly my own little ideas seem out of step with the hard-science focus that SF&F says, is the fashion/tone of the times. Any thoughts on character-based, sci-fi?

  3. 3. Clare K. R. Miller

    I’ve heard that advice often, and it always sounds difficult and overwhelming. But it never occurred to me to think of it as knowing the titles, authors, and subgenres, rather than knowing the actual plots and characters. That’s really helpful, thanks!

  4. 4. Lydia Sharp

    Good advice. It can be a daunting task to keep up with all the current trends, but it shows that you’re interested in the business as a whole, not just your own work.

Author Information

Kate Elliott

Kate Elliott is the author of multiple fantasy and science fiction novels, including the Crown of Stars series and the Novels of the Jaran. She's currently working on Crossroads; the first novel, Spirit Gate, is already out, and Shadow Gate will be published in Spring 2008. Visit site.



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