Frequently Asked Questions

General Questions:

On Writing:


General Questions:

When is your next book due out?

My next novel, a modern fantasy, will be published by DAW in February of 2014. It’s a very exciting project, and I’ve posted some excerpts on this site.

For other publishing news and updates, see the News section of this web site.

How did you get started in writing?

I wish I could tell you, but there really is no beginning. Since I was old enough to talk I was making up stories, and my mom says from the first day I learned how to hold a pencil I was trying to write them down. Throughout my teenage years writing was more a compulsion than a hobby; I could no more have stopped writing than I could have stopped eating or sleeping. The compulsion is gone now (having to write for a living cures that pretty quickly!) but I still get shivers down my spine at the sight of a particularly well-crafted sentence.

Where do you get your ideas from?

Many writers say that coming up with ideas is the easy part, it’s writing them down that’s hard. For me it is just the opposite. Coming up with ideas worthy being turned into a novel is a monumental effort, and I’ve never come up with a way to make it easier. Mostly I devour information from every source available, hoping that something will spark a new idea inside my brain. Sometimes it will be a show on the Discovery Channel that does the trick (you have no idea how many alien civilizations are inspired by animal behavior), or maybe it’s a science fiction book that had a really good premise but utterly failed to realize its potential. You can check out the non-fiction authors listed below for the books I found most inspiring.

I’ll be adding pages to this site that discuss the ideas for each of my books and where they came from; watch for them!

Who are your favorite authors?

Isaac Asimov, of course, as he’s the one who got me started in the genre. Robert Silverberg, Robert Sheckley, Richard Matheson, Ira Levin, George R. R. Martin, Theodore Sturgeon, Phillip K. Dick, Tanya Huff, Octavia Butler, Jon Brunner, Jennifer Roberson, Douglas Adams, Fritz Leiber, Howard Fast, Brian Aldiss. (Yeah, these are very much out of order) (Any kind of order). Barbara Hambly is such a masterful stylist I would read the phone book if she wrote it. Tanith Lee’s early stuff sends shivers down my spine. Cordwainer Smith is one of the most creative minds ever to write science fiction, and if you haven’t read his short stories, you should. Same note for William Goldman’s The Princess Bride, of which the movie is but a pale reflection.

In non-fiction, check out Stephen Jay Gould, Oliver Sachs, Matt Ripley, Jared Diamond, Richard Dawkins, and Temple Grandin, to name only a few. These days, science is every bit as exciting as science fiction, and sometimes just as surprising.

Why Does In Conquest Born get a sequel and not The Coldfire Trilogy?

I don’t like reading sequels in general, and so I don’t really enjoy writing them. For me, the excitement of starting a new novel is exploring a new world, and that’s as true when you’re writing it as when you are a reader. I read very few sequels for that reason, and I promised myself early in my career I’d never write one. A book that doesn’t excite me when I’m writing it surely won’t excite my readers very much!

Another special joy of writing is stimulating a reader’s imagination. If I write a book that leaves your mind buzzing after the last page is turned, if you spend the next weeks obsessed with what might happen next, if your imagination comes up with all sorts of wonderful story ideas that take up where my novel left off, I’ve done my job. A sequel would only detract from that experience. Likewise there would be no mystery to a Coldfire prequel, merely a chance to spend more time with the characters, when you knew what was going to happen to them. I know many readers like that kind of thing, but I really don’t, and I’d rather move on to new material in which every page was a mystery and no one knew where the story was going!

That said, DAW did finally talk me into a sequel to In Conquest Born. Since the first book left whole civilizations on the brink of catastrophic change, it struck me there might be enough new material to make such a project interesting. However, while I was pleased with the final result, I really didn’t enjoy writing it as much as I did my other projects, so it will probably be the last sequel I write. Apologies to the fans who wish it were otherwise :-)

The one quasi-exception is This Alien Shore, in which the very concept of the universe allows for hundreds of strange worlds and new alien cultures to explore. But though I might set another book in that universe someday, I will not pick up with the same characters that starred in the first one.

I think your book (insert title) really should have a game/movie/graphic novel/other made out of it! Don’t you?

If you know of someone interested in producing my work in such a format, send them to me and I will be happy to connect them with my agent to discuss terms.

Alas, since most companies that produce this kind of thing deal with in-house talent, the odds of an individual being able to sell a project he loves as a one-shot deal are rather slim. However, if you have a product in mind, and have found a commercial producer actively interested in developing it, feel free to send me the info and we’ll talk.

What’s up with fan-fiction and intellectual property rights?

Fan fiction occupies a strange grey area, which unfortunately can cross over into illegality without anyone realizing it. As a general guideline, I’m okay with fans writing stuff based on my work, provided:
1) The work that inspired you is referenced clearly.
2) It is made *very* clear I neither sanctioned your work, nor does it necessarily reflect my artistic vision of the subject matter.
3) (this is the one that matters). In no form, shape or manner can such fiction be used to make money for anyone without my express written permission. That includes any fees for newsletters, memberships for web sites, memberships for fan clubs with in-house publications, etc. Please take this one seriously.

On the flip side, such work is also protected by the same legal system, so while you can’t sell it anywhere without my permission, no one (including me) can publish it without yours.

Fans should note that the excellent fan page run by Paul Hoeffer (www.merentha.org) has my permission to post both fan fiction and fan art based on my work, so that’s a great place to show off your work to others in the fan community.

What’s most important to remember about copyright law is that it prohibits people from using my work without permission. So, if in doubt…ask.

How about slash fiction?

I admit to no comprehension at all about why this appeals to folks, (and please don’t send me to web sites explaining the phenomenon, I’ve read them), but if that kind of fantasy appeals to you, please make sure you follow the same guidelines given for fan-fiction, above.

As this kind of material often deals with subjects and character interpretations I emphatically disagree with, I do ask you make it very clear to any potential readers that it does not reflect my work except in the broadest inspirational sense.

Can I publish a short story based on your work?

I do not currently give permission for this sort of thing.

Was In Conquest Born ever published in hardcover?  How about The Madness Season?

The first had a small printing by the Science Fiction Book club, otherwise, no. The Madness Season has never appeared in hardcover

How can I get copies of the Coldfire Trilogy in Hardcover?

Mark Anderson of Copper Dragon Books is a used book dealer who specializes in collectible quality hardcover books, including mine, both signed and unsigned. You can find a link for him on my contacts page. Other than that you can check on ebay, with the caveat that there was a book club edition once, so if you don’t want that one, make sure of what you are bidding on.

How can I get foreign copies of your novels?

The ISBN for all printings of my novels will be included in the bibliography section of this web site.

I love your cover art! How can I get a print of it?

Go to Michael Whelan’s site or Jon Palencar’s site

Can I have permission to use your cover art on my site?

Talk to the cover artist, he owns all the rights to his work.

How about photos of your cats?

Amazing how many fans ask that question…check out the bio section.

By the way, they prefer to be called “hirsute writing assistants.”


On Writing:

How long does a book have to be?

Novels used to be about 80,000 words. Now they are much longer, and first novels of 120,000 are not uncommon. However, the bottom line is this: if you have not at least gotten your work past the 80,000 mark it will probably not sell as an adult novel, so consider that a target if you are serious about getting published.

What do editors look for in a fantasy novel?

Interesting characters that a reader will care about. Something that clearly sets it apart from the mundane world. Whatever your supernatural or “fantasy” element is, it should appear (or at least be foreshadowed) in the first 50 pages. If you have a story where the fantasy element could be removed and the story would remain intact, you have not written a fantasy, you have written a historical novel.

What do editors look for in a science fiction novel?

Interesting characters that a reader will care about. A unique speculative element that is central to your story concept. If you have a story where the speculative element could be removed and the story would remain the same, it’s not good science fiction. Ditto a story that could be moved from its setting on a distant planet (or interstellar battleship, or alternate timestream) to the modern world without having to be changed.

The best science fiction asks the reader to imagine “What if?” and then inspires him to think about possible answers. The more believable the setting is, the more the reader can relate to the characters in it (human or otherwise), the more willing he will be to suspend his disbelief and accept your central premise. This doesn’t mean you can’t explore a wholly bizarre idea or have a setting that is nothing like Earth; it simply means your creation must be internally consistent, and it must either operate within the boundaries of Science as we understand it, or have a really compelling reason why it does not.

Any more advice?

Well, I was going to prepare a guide to the kind of things you should write, how to prepare a manuscript, how to go about getting published…and then I discovered Marion Zimmer Bradley had already done such an excellent job of that, I’d be doing you a disservice if I didn’t just send you to her site. So go visit http://www.mzbworks.com/ and check out her articles on the subject; they’ll tell you everything you need to know about how to get started.

You might also want to visit Russ Galen’s page, to access some outstanding articles he has written on related topics; look for the links at the bottom of http://www.sgglit.com/russell.htm

Do I need an agent to get published?

Not necessarily. I didn’t have one for my first three books. Many publishers are willing to look at unagented manuscripts; The Writer’s Market will tell you which ones those are. If your book is good enough — and especially if the first 50 pages are good enough to grab an editor’s interest right off the bat — you’ve got a chance even without an agent.

On the other hand, an agent can certainly help make things happen. A friend of mine had a novel with many flaws in it, that he was unable to sell on his own. He took up with an agent who believed in his potential, who stepped in and assured potential publishers that the author understood the work needed a lot of revision, and was professional enough to do what was needed. Since then my friend has published ten novels.

It’s hard for a brand new, unproven writer to find an agent, though. The Writer’s Market offers some starting points. In the meantime, don’t let lack of one keep you from submitting your work. Who knows? It may be good enough to make it on its own.

I’ve got a really great manuscript that I want to get published. Will you look it over and tell me what you think of it?

Sorry, can’t do that. There are only so many hours in the day, and if I did that for fans I would have no time to write my own books. (You all do want more books, right?)