“Oblique Strategies” for authors

Readercon 23 was a blast. I had a fantastic time — as usual. Readercon has been my favourite convention since I started attending with Readercon #2 in 1989!

Most of my panels were fun, but none more so than “Oblique Strategies for Authors”. The idea is a riff on the Oblique Strategies card deck produced by Brian Eno and Peter Schmidt back in the 1970’s. Each card provides a cryptic directive —- such as “Use an old idea” or “Honour thy error as a hidden intention” —- intended to help an artist deal with a creative block or dilemma. You just draw a random card and do whatever it says to do; this may involve a convoluted interpretation of the often-cryptic message on the card.

While many of the original strategies are useful for writers of fiction, others (such as “The tape is now the music”) are perhaps only appropriate for musicians and visual artists. So my plan was — with the help of my fellow panelists Marilyn “Mattie” Brahen, Gavin J. Grant, Katherine MacLean, Eric M. Van, and Jo Walton — to brainstorm a deck of Oblique Strategies specifically designed to provide unexpected creative kicks for authors who are in a jam.

We kicked the concept around for about half an hour, examining such questions as “What makes a good Oblique Strategy?” — “short, pithy, but slightly vague and cryptic” was the consensus — then I asked for contributions from each of the panelists and audience. I wrote down at least one suggestion from nearly every person in the room before we ran out of time. The results appear below. Perhaps coincidentally, some of these closely resemble and even duplicate a few of the strategies invented by Schmidt and Eno back in the 1970’s.

If you like, you can print these out onto punch-out business cards and try them for yourself. You may wish to combine them with some of Eno and Schmidt’s strategies, or come up with additional cards your own.

If you use such a deck to help you solve create problems in your writing, please do comment here and let me know if these strategies proved useful for you.

Oblique Strategies for Authors
As suggested by participants at Readercon 23:

Go back
Let me think
Invert the structure
Is it worth the effort?
What’s the other end of the conversation?
Throw away the most important thing
Develop your own cliché[s] [attributed to Robert Fripp]
Use your hands
Doorbell rings
Steal a cliché from a different genre
Do it wrong
Crush it with a rock
Make it rain
Villains love their mothers too
Branch out
Eat your hat
Rename something
Lighten the load
Change your socks
Write someplace else
Try synesthesia
Be wrong on purpose
Do it without breathing
Sing it
Rewire the diagram
Don’t hit a hippo
Step back
Spin around and pick something randomly
Be your own deity
Check gender and age
Contradict what went before
Add trauma
What would history think?
Take out a pin
Anarchy now!
Deliberate on the significance of hats
What would your favourite author do?
See the forest for the trees

Thanks to the all the contributors!

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My schedule for Readercon 2012

This weekend is Readercon! Here’s what I’ll be up to:

Friday July 13

11:00 AM G Subversion Through Friendliness. Glenn Grant, Victoria Janssen (leader), Toni L.P. Kelner, Alison Sinclair, Ruth Sternglantz. In a 2011 review of Vonda N. McIntyre’s classic Dreamsnake, Ursula K. Le Guin quotes Moe Bowstern’s slogan “Subversion Through Friendliness” and adds, “Subversion through terror, shock, pain is easy—instant gratification, as it were. Subversion through friendliness is paradoxical, slow-acting, and durable. And sneaky.” Is subversion through friendliness a viable strategy for writers who desire to challenge norms? What are its defining characteristics? When do readers love it, and when does it backfire?

4:00 PM ME Oblique Strategies for Authors. Marilyn “Mattie” Brahen, Gavin J. Grant, Glenn Grant (leader), Katherine MacLean, Eric M. Van, Jo Walton. In 1975 Brian Eno and Peter Schmidt published a deck of cards called “Oblique Strategies.” Each card provides a cryptic directive—such as “Use an old idea” or “Honour thy error as a hidden intention”—intended to help an artist deal with a creative block or dilemma. While many of the original strategies are useful for writers of fiction, others (such as “The tape is now the music”) are perhaps only appropriate for musicians and visual artists. Let’s brainstorm a deck of Oblique Strategies specifically designed to provide unexpected creative kicks for authors who are in a jam.
(Proposed by Glenn Grant.)

Sunday July 15

2:00 PM F When All You Have Is a Hammer, Get a Sonic Screwdriver. Debra Doyle, Lila Garrott, Glenn Grant, Graham Sleight (leader), Jo Walton. In an SF Signal podcast episode discussing Readercon 22, Jeff Patterson suggested that our traditional critical vocabulary may be ill-suited or inadequate for discussing space opera or hard SF. Is this true of hard SF in specific, or is there a broader problem of adapting mainstream critical vocabulary, largely evolved to discuss realistic fiction, to the particular problems of SF or fantasy? What are the specific aspects of the fantastic that seem to require special critical tools? Are certain critical terms borrowed from the fan or writer’s workshop communities, like “worldbuilding,” useful ways of extending our critical vocabularies?

Hope to see you this weekend in Burlington, MA!

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Off to Arisia this weekend

This Friday, Saturday, and Sunday I’ll be at the Arisia sf convention (missing out entirely on Monday, alas). Here’s my schedule:

(Item 758) Reading: Grant, Nurenberg, & Wilk – Quincy – Fri 11:30 PM – Duration: 01:15
Authors Glenn Grant, David Nurenberg, and Steven R. Wilk will read selections from their works.

(Item 39) Our Grim Meat-Hook Future – Douglas – Sat 1:00 PM – Duration: 01:15
With Ken Kingsgrave-Ernstein (mod), Steve Sawicki, Glenn Grant, Alexander Jablokov, Suzanne Reynolds-Alpert.
The hopeful, bright future imagined in *Star Trek* and other SF classics doesn’t seem to be in the cards for us. Instead the world seems to be following the path forecast in *1984,* *Brave New World,* and other dystopias. What, if anything, can we do to cope with living in our rapidly-darkening world?

(Item 629) My Bizarre Writing Process – Paine – Sat 2:30 PM – Duration: 01:15
With Cecilia Tan (mod), Jeanne Cavelos, Melina Gunnett, Glenn Grant, Maddy Myers.
Each writer has their own process, habits, and methods for getting the ideas flowing on to the page. Our panelists describe the methods to their madness, tips, and tricks that may work for you as well.

(Item 158) SF Spaceship Design for Artists – Carlton – Sat 5:30 PM – Duration: 01:15
With James T Henderson Jr (mod), Bruce Mackenzie, Glenn Grant, “Zubie” Zeballos, Thomas Nackid.
What is the artist’s process for deciding what a particular spaceship should look like? What elements does an artist consider necessary to integrate into a spaceship design? How does current technology affect how one imagines what these vehicles look like?

In the program, you will probably also see my name on this Sunday panel, which sadly I am going to miss, as it turns out I have to head back to Montreal a day earlier than I expected:
(Item 76) A “Self” or “No Self?” Neuroscience in SF – Independence – Sun 4:00 PM

Am particularly looking forward to the Spaceship Design for Artists panel — combining two subjects dear to my heart: spacecraft and art. Should be big fun.

Will I be seeing you at the con?

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Next stop: SF Contario

Am off bright and early in the morning for Toronto and SF Contario 2. I missed the first one last year, but I hear it’s a fun convention. John Scalzi is GOH.

My (rather light) schedule:

Reading – Fri 9:30 – 10 PM Room 207

What is a human? – Sun. 10 AM, Solarium
Kathryn Allan, Glenn Grant, Tony Pi, Hayden Trenholm(M), Allan Weiss
Where exactly are the lines drawn between a cyborg and a robot or android? Does the human brain in a machine make it human? How about a human body animated by a computer brain? Comics and science fiction are littered with machines that act human and humans that are part machine, which is which?

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Nice review of Burning Days at SFSite

Just discovered Seamus Sweeney’s very positive and thoughtful review of Burning Days at SFSite. Even better, it was one of their “featured reviews” for mid-July — sandwiched right between China Mieville’s Embassytown and Jo Walton’s Among Others — excellent company!

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My Readercon schedule

One of the highlights of my year is coming up fast: Readercon — it’s the most fun you can have with your brain.

My schedule this year looks like this:

Friday July 15
6:00 PM F The Dissonant Power of Alternative Voicing. Glenn Grant, Paul Levinson, Kate Nepveu, Kenneth Schneyer (leader), Howard Waldrop. At Readercon 21, there was a panel discussion on the use of documentary text in fiction to lend “authority” to the voice. It can be argued, however, that alternative voicing strategies, particularly the use of documents, framing narratives, etc., are powerful precisely because they are not authoritative. Readers know that they are reading an incomplete version of the document, and consequently are led to imagine what is not being said. What lurks in the interstices between texts? What is this particular document-writer failing to say, or deliberately omitting? This panel will explore the use of dissonance occasioned by indirect voicing to make the reader a fuller, more active participant in the process of creating the fiction.

9:30 PM VT Reading. Glenn Grant. Grant reads “Flowers of Avalon,” a new SF/horror story from his collection Burning Days.

Saturday July 16
2:00 PM F Location as Character. Greer Gilman, Glenn Grant, Elizabeth Hand (leader), Michael Aondo-verr Kombol, Yves Meynard, Madeleine Robins. We can read certain authors whose mere invocation of a previously described location adds a level of depth to the story, such as Lovecraft’s Innsmouth or Elizabeth Hand’s Kamensic. The idea of fictional locations as characters in their own right is one that has been explored many times before, so let’s talk about the techniques and reasons for doing so. The reasons for an author to re-use a locale seem fairly obvious, but are there reasons not to do so? What are some of the challenges in describing a reality-based location powerfully enough to transport a reader? Panelists will discuss their favorite scene-setting techniques, as well as locations in other writer’s works that have felt real and solid for them.

Sunday July 17
12:00 PM F A Fate Worse than Death: Narrative Treatment of Permanent Physical Harm. John Crowley, Glenn Grant, Mary Robinette Kowal, JoSelle Vanderhooft, Alicia Verlager (leader). Cinderella’s sisters cut off parts of their feet. Rapunzel’s prince loses his eyes to a thorn bush. But in present-day fantasy, it seems less shocking to kill a character than to significantly and permanently damage their physical form; witness the thousands of deaths in George R.R. Martin’s Song of Ice and Fire series that don’t get nearly as much airtime as one character losing a hand. What changed–for storytellers, and for audiences? How does this fit in with our culture’s mainstream acceptance of violence alongside an obsession with youth and physical perfection? As medical advances help people survive and thrive after drastic injuries, will there be more stories that explore these topics?

2:00 PM G Effing the Ineffable: Writers Who Think Cinematically. John Crowley (leader), Glenn Grant, Andrea Hairston, Maria Dahvana Headley, Ben Loory. Some writers, by their own account, tend to think more visually or cinematically than others. Think of John Steinbeck’s Californian landscapes or, in the SF field, George R. Stewart’s Earth Abides or William Gibson’s Neuromancer. Is it reasonable to think of such writers as not working primarily (or initially) in words? If so, how do they get their particular version of the ineffable down on paper? And how do we experience it as readers?

I’m getting excited already — aren’t you?

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This weekend at Boréal

This weekend I’ll be at Congrès Boréal, a mostly-francophone SF conference being held at the Hotel Espresso on Guy (a mere four blocks from my place — such hardship!).

There are a few English panels. I’ll be on this one:

TO QUEBEC AND THE STARS, Sunday 11:30am:
Claude Lalumière (m), Glenn Grant, Jo Walton, and Mark Shainblum
What does it entail, in Quebec, to write genre fiction in English? Are there enough opportunities to get published or is it necessary to look outside of the province? If so, how hard is it to actually get noticed by Canadian and American publishers? Do they, and their public, have different tastes or expectations that writers should account for when submitting their work? What about translation? Is it a viable way to reach a broader readership?

I suspect we will deal with the questions in the panel description in the first ten minutes and then wander off onto whatever we want to talk about for the rest of the hour :)

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An Evening of Strange Canadian Stories — Montreal launch of Burning Days

If you were wondering when the Montreal launch of Burning Days was going to happen, wonder no more: it’s this Wednesday at Blue Sunshine!

An Evening of Strange Canadian Stories
When: Wednesday, March 30 · 7:30pm – 10:30pm
Where: Blue Sunshine Psychotronic Film Centre, 3660 St-Laurent, 3rd floor, Montreal, QC

Come celebrate the strange and the fantastic as Claude Lalumière (The Door to Lost Pages), Glenn Grant (Burning Days), and Gemma Files (A Rope of Thorns) launch their new books and, joined by other Canadian writers and editors of weird fiction Nancy Kilpatrick, Michael Lorenson, Grace Seybold, and Natasha Beaulieu, showcase new and recent anthologies of the Canadian fantastic: Tesseracts 12, 13, and 14; Evolve: Vampire Stories of the New Undead; and Chilling Tales. Emcee: Mark Shainblum.


Sponsored by ChiZine Publications, Edge Science Fiction and Fantasy Publishing, and Nanopress.

More info on Blue Sunshine‘s website.

Click here for the Facebook Event.

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Glenn Grant at the Ottawa Public Library

I’m going to be reading from my story collection Burning Days this Monday at the Ottawa Public Library. Hope you can come along.

When: Monday, March 28 · 7:00pm – 8:30pm
Location: Ottawa Main Public Library Auditorium, 120 Metcalfe Ottawa, Ontario

To learn more about Burning Days, visit Nanopress.ca.

Cory Doctorow says:
“Burning Days . . . it’s got that old school, early days grittiness that made reading books like Mirrorshades and Burning Chrome so exciting: giant junk-mecha pit-fighting in illegal wastelands, secret cyborg cops working noir assassinations; deep greens fighting factional splits at massive post-apocalyptic burningmans; waterlogged climate refugees duking it out with economic crisis lumpenproletariat in the shadow of nanotech seawalls while improvised bombs detonate in the background.”
(from: Boing Boing)

Click here for the Facebook Event.

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Burning Days, my first story collection

My first short story collection, Burning Days, is now available for order from Nanopress.

Burning Days collects six stories, five previously published and one new work written just for this book. Most are cyberpunkish near-future noir-SF, one is an alternate history story set in WWI Halifax, and one is a hard-SF horror story set in space.

The introduction is by Bruce Sterling — and it’s a blast, very funny and insightful.

“Grant’s work paints a future that is odd (and oddly stylish), often (intentionally) funny, and sidewise.” — Cory Doctorow

“Gleefully wicked fiction! Grant is a bricoleur at play in the pre-and post-apocalyptic fields of our self-destructive, ineluctable global catastrophe.” — Paul Di Filippo

“Brilliant! Wonderful prose, nice world-building-in-teensy increments.”
— Peter Watts

The contents:
“Memetic Drift”
“Storm Surge”
“Flowers of Avalon”
“Thermometers Melting”
“La Demoña”
“Burning Day”

For the moment the book is not available in most bookshops, and not on Amazon; you can order it through the Nanopress website (nanopress.ca). We hope to do electronic editions, and maybe a audiobook version, but for the moment it’s only on paper.

I do hope you’ll check it out.

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