New Disruptors 65: Made from Scratch with Jane Friedman and Manjula Martin

Jane Friedman and Manjula Martin founded Scratch Magazine, a born-digital publication that tells writers what they're worth and how the publishing industry sausage-making factory actually works. Jane has an extensive background as an editor, and may be best known for her decade at Writer's Digest. Manjula is a freelance writer, whose work has appeared widely in places like Modern Farmer, San Francisco Weekly, and our own The Magazine, in which she wrote about musician and producer John Vanderslice.

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Cold Equations and Moral Hazard: science fiction considered harmful to the future

My latest Locus column is "Cold Equations and Moral Hazard", an essay about the way that our narratives about the future can pave the way for bad people to create, and benefit from, disasters. "If being in a lifeboat gives you the power to make everyone else shut the hell up and listen (or else), then wouldn’t it be awfully convenient if our ship were to go down?"

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Talking diversity in comics with John Ridley, writer of 12 Years a Slave


Zack Smith writes, "I recently got to talk to John Ridley, the Oscar-nominated screenwriter of 12 YEARS A SLAVE, about his past writing superhero comics and cartoons including JUSTICE LEAGUE and THE AUTHORITY. Ridley had a number of smart things to say on such topics as the casting of Michael B. Jordan as the Humnan Torch, working with the late Dwayne McDuffie on the JUSTICE LEAGUE movie 'Starcrossed' and his own experiences working in the comics industry. Though he's obviously gone on to big things, Ridley still has a great deal of passion for comics and the people who create them."

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Learn to write with William S Burroughs

In 1979, William S Burroughs delivered a series of lectures on creative writing (though he insisted that he was teaching creative reading -- that is, analyzing the writing process by reading, because everyone can be taught to read, but only some will be able to write) at Naropa University. Three of these lectures, running to over four hours, are up on Youtube, covering writing exercises, Brion Gysin, Aleister Crowley, science fiction, General Semantics, and cut-ups. These are excellent listening, and are licensed Creative Commons Attribution-NonDerivs-NonCommerical (as is the rest of the Naropa collection.)

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The periodic table of storytelling

Using TVTropes as a base of information, this incredible chart organizes story structure, archetypes, plot devices and more into a structure similar to the periodic table of elements. It's an incredibly cool project that puts the actually really useful storytelling knowledge of TVTropes into a more-teachable form.

Flash fiction contest judged by Kim Stanley Robinson and Gates McFadden


Stephanie sez, "At the national radio program To the Best of Our Knowledge, we've joined with Mars Trilogy author Kim Stanley Robinson and Star Trek: The Next Generation's Gates McFadden for a national science fiction writing contest. Robinson chooses the winners; McFadden and her Los Angeles-based theater company dramatizes them for the radio. The contest ends March 1; the top three entries will air on TTBOOK in April."

3 Minute Futures - Flash Fiction Contest (Thanks, Stephanie!)

(Image: CoolB and Gates McFadden, CoolB/Wikimedia Commons, GFDL; Kim Stanley Robinson at Worldcon 2005 in Glasgow, Szymon Sokół/Wikimedia Commons, GFDL)

The Gap: animation of Ira Glass's inspirational rant about overcoming fear of creative suckage

Robbo writes, "Daniel Frohlocke has made a wonderful short film based on David Shiyang Lius' interview with Ira Glass, where the gap between one's taste and one's skills is observed and examined. It's a lovely visual representation of the gnawing conundrum that eats at the heart of every artist."

THE GAP by Ira Glass (Thanks, Robbo)

Writer Naomi Novik explains copyright to Congress

Naomi Novik isn't just a talented author (she won the John W Campbell Award for best new writer in 2007 on the strength of her fabulous Temeraire novels, which retell the Napoleonic wars with dragons providing air-support!), she's also a profound thinker on the questions of reuse, remixing, intellectual freedom and copyright.

Last week she gave testimony (PDF) to the House Judiciary Committee's Subcommittee on Courts, Intellectual Property and the Internet that described the way that creators rely on their ability to remix in order to create new and original works.

One thing I love about Novik is her intellectual honesty and her willingness to cut through the self-serving, romantic mythology of the wholly original creator, and to both acknowledge and celebrate the fact that her originality comes about by taking the works that others created before her and adapting them through her own artistic process, "Original work, work that stands alone, doesn't just pop up out of nowhere. It is at the end of a natural spectrum of transformation."

I also appreciated her strong arguments as licensing as a substitute for robust fair use: "On the purely practical level, the vast majority of remix artists doing non-commercial work simply don't have any of the resources to get a license — not money, not time, not access."

Novik's testimony is admirably summarized by Dr Matthew Rimmer in this Techdirt post. Rimmer is a global expert in fair use and copyright, and he highlights many of the most salient features of Novik's testimony.

I would like to publicly express my gratitude on behalf of writers everywhere to Naomi Novik for standing up for a fair deal for creators and audiences in Congress.

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Announcing the instructors for the 2014 Clarion Writers' Workshop


The Clarion Writers' Workshop at UC San Diego has announced its lineup of instructors for the 2014 session, and it's pretty spectacular: this year's writer-instructors are Gregory Frost, Geoff Ryman, Catherynne Valente, N.K. Jemisin, Ann VanderMeer, and Jeff VanderMeer.

Clarion is a six-week, intensive boot-camp for science fiction, fantasy and speculative fiction writers. It counts among its graduates some of the very greatest writers in the field, from Octavia Butler to Bruce Sterling, as well as Lucius Sheppard, Kathe Koja, Nalo Hopkinson, Eileen Gunn, James Patrick Kelly, Ted Chiang, Tim Pratt, Tobias Buckell, and many others.

I'm an alumnus myself, as well as a frequent instructor and a member of the volunteer board of the Clarion Foundation, the nonprofit 501(c)3 that oversees the workshop. Clarion isn't the only way to become a better writer and to learn about the industry and how to earn a living in it, but it is absolutely one of the best. My own experience in 1992 was life-changing for me, and has left me committed to the workshop for life.

Applications close on March 1, 2014.

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Writers Guild of America tells US government that copyright shouldn't trump free expression

The Writers Guild of America submitted an exemplary set of comments to the U.S. Government's Internet Policy Task Force green paper on the future of American copyright. The WGA calls for balance in copyright law, and stresses that censorship, surveillance and chilling of critical speech have no place in copyright policy. It's amazing to see artists' groups taking a stand for free expression when it comes to copyright -- far too often, arts groups are staunch free speech defenders except when it comes to unproven accusations of copyright infringement, which they hold to be sufficient grounds for arbitrary censorship.

But artists who think the issue through know that communications policies like copyright can't do their job if they compromise free expression. Artists have a wide variety of business-models and commercial opportunities, but if you're making art in a way that requires total surveillance and arbitrary censorship, you're doing art wrong.

Torrentfreak summarizes the best of the WGA submission. It's an important read: it shows that the entertainment industry's regulatory agenda doesn't serve the creators they employ (and exploit).

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Podcast: Cheap writing tricks

Here's a reading of my latest Locus column, Cheap Writing Tricks, which discusses the mysterious business of why stories are satisfying, and how to make them so:

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Dr. V's suicide and journalistic ethics

Last week, Caleb Hannan wrote an article about a clever new golf club and its inventor, Dr. Essay Vanderbilt. Starting out as a profile, it briefly covers the scientific claims behind the design and Dr. V's eccentricities and pretensions. We learn, ultimately, that Dr. V defrauded investors, though none of those quoted seem terribly bothered about it. We also learn that she was a trans person. Finally, at the end, we learn she killed herself, shortly after Hannan notified her of her imminent outing in the press.

Initially achieving some praise, Hannan's story was soon criticized. Critics noticed how anxiously and quietly V's suicide was footnoted away, and how Hannan weaved discussion of her trans status into discussion of her fraudulent business activity.

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Why fiction works

In my latest Locus column, "Cheap Writing Tricks," I ruminate on what makes fiction work -- why we perceive stories as stories, why we care about characters, and how the construction of stories interacts with the human mind (and why How to Win Friends and Influence People is a great writing tool).

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Free houses for writers


Writeahouse is a Detroit-based charity that trains people in carpentry and related trades by having them renovate houses, then gives the houses to writers (novelists, journalists, poets), encouraging them to relocate to Detroit. Applications open in spring 2014. Writers are given a house that is 80 percent renovated, and are responsible for finishing the work and paying insurance and taxes. After two years, they are given the deed to the house, with the stipulation that if they sell the house within five years, Writeahouse gets the right to buy it back at an independently appraised value.

WRITEAHOUSE.ORG (Thanks, Fipi Lele!)

Writers against mass surveillance


A group of writers from around the world, including Nobel laureates, have signed onto a petition calling on the world's governments to limit online surveillance. I was honored to be asked to be among the initial signatories, in good company with the likes of Margaret Atwood, Don DeLillo, Martin Amis, Günter Grass, Pico Ayer, Will Self, Irvine Welsh, Jeanette Winterson, Lionel Shriver, Paul Auster, Dave Eggers, Jonathan Lethem, and many, many others. The petition is now open for your signature in support of a set of simple, important core principles:

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