Sunday, November 30, 2008


In a couple of minutes (in my time zone) National Novel Writing Month (or NaNoWriMo) will draw to a close.

I did not formally participate, and, if I had, I would not have won ("winning" being defined in NaNoWriMo as succeeding at writing 50,000 words of a novel in the 30 days from November 1 to 30).

But I still had a very good month: I added 31,000 words to Watch, the novel I'm currently working on, during November, bringing the total to 76,000.

And NaNoWriMo did have a role to play, for my bathroom reading for the last little while has been the book No Plot? No Problem! by Chris Baty, founder of National Novel Writing Month. It's a wonderful book about getting a lot of writing done in a short time, and I recommend it highly. (Available from the NaNoWriMo store or

And to those NaNoWriMo participants who did write 50,000 words in November -- congratulations!

The Robert J. Sawyer Web Site

Me? Reading poetry?

As a certain footnote in history would say, "You betcha!"

The 6th anniversary of the Dead Poets Society Night will be held Tuesday, December 16, 2008, at the Art Bar [Clinton's], in Toronto, at 8:00 p.m.

There will be 3 sets of 5 readers each. Readers are:

Steven Michael Berzensky
Allan Briesmaster
David Chilton
Carolyn Clink
Robert Colman
James Dewar
Dayle Furlong
Beatriz Hausner
Donna Langevin
Gianna Patriarca
Sue Reynolds
Robert J. Sawyer
Kenneth Sherman
Adam Sol
Andrea Thompson

We will be reading the poetry of: Douglas Adams; Apollinaire William Wilfred Campbell; Margaret Cavendish; Tu Fu; Ted Hughes; Stanley Kunitz; Pier Paolo Pasolini; Jacques Prevért; Isaac Rosenberg; Walt Whitman + more.

Date: Tuesday, December 16, 2008
Time: 8:00pm - 11:00pm
Location: Clinton's
693 Bloor St. West, Toronto, ON
Phone: 416-535-9541

View map

The Robert J. Sawyer Web Site

Saturday, November 29, 2008

Stephenie Meyer and her alma mater's newspaper

The November 24, 2008, edition of the Brigham Young student newspaper contains an article entitled Stephenie Meyer: Too Cool for This School?, which says in part:
Meyer graduated from BYU in 1995 with a bachelor's in English. Because of this inside angle, The Daily Universe requested an interview with the 34-year-old author last week. However, we were snubbed. After a few hours of searching, our reporter finally tracked down Meyer's publicist's e-mail address. But the publicist sent us an e-mail telling us Meyer was on much deserved time off. That's publicist-speak for "She's not going to grant you an interview, so don't bother us."

I'm willing to give Meyer the benefit of the doubt. I'm sure her publicist didn't even pass the message along that her alma mater's newspaper requested an interview. If Meyer has time for a self-indulgent cameo appearance, she has time for a 15-minute phone call.
That's such crap. I'm nowhere near as popular an author as Stephenie Meyer, and my next book doesn't come out for over four months, but we've already been lining up media related to its release (and a book release is much smaller news than is a movie coming out).

I posted the following comment over at's Writer's Blog, where I first read this news story; my friend Virginia O'Dine of Canadian SF&F publisher Bundoran Press introduced me to that blog.
"Because of this inside angle, The Daily Universe requested an interview with the 34-year-old author last week."

LAST WEEK? Come on, guys. The fault is not Stephenie Meyer's. It's the paper's for not getting its act together.

Darn tootin' the publicist probably didn't even pass on the request to the author; why should he or she when the students at the paper couldn't be bothered to do their homework and request an interview well in advance of the release date of the film?

You can bet that all the major news outlets that had Meyer stories recently were lined up well in advance. They didn't try to play an "inside angle" at the last minute.

Oh, well. At least the editor didn't say "My dog ate it" to explain his failure to have an interview in his paper.
I have an author friend (someone everyone in Canada knows) who refuses to do any student media. I'm very sympathetic to student efforts -- I founded my high school newspaper, The Northview Post -- but this kind of crap (we didn't do our job properly, so we'll cover for that by being snarky) just vindicates my friend's position.

The Robert J. Sawyer Web Site

Friday, November 28, 2008

Miracle Worker author passes

Before writing it, when I was pitching my current novel Wake to publishers, I said it was "William Gibson meets William Gibson."

Back then, you see, there were two William Gibsons, and the one who'd been read the most probably isn't the one you're thinking of. Yes, indeed, there's Bill Gibson of Vancouver, British Columbia, author of the seminal cyberpunk novel Neuromancer.

But even more people, I suspect, have read (and certainly more people have seen the movie versions of) works by the other William Gibson: the man who wrote The Miracle Worker, the story of deafblind Helen Keller's relationship with her teacher, Annie Sullivan. That William Gibson died this past Tuesday, at the age of 94.

My novel Wake and my character of Caitlin Decter would not have existed without William Gibson's marvelous play (and screenplay), because that's where I first learned the story of Helen Keller and Annie Sullivan, a story that continues to captivate me. I'm sorry to see him go.

The Robert J. Sawyer Web Site

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Thursday, November 27, 2008

Stephen Hawking now with Canada's Perimeter Institute

Woohoo! Stephen Hawking will be spending several months each year at the Perimeter Institute for Theoretical Physics in Waterloo, Ontario. Here's one of many news stories on the topic, and here's PI's press release.

As those who have been reading my novel Wake in Analog know, Caitlin's father, Dr. Malcom Decter, works at the Perimeter Institute, which was founded by an endowment from my friend Mike Lazaridis, co-founder of Research in Motion, the maker of BlackBerry devices.

The Robert J. Sawyer Web Site

Re-reading Flashforward after a decade

My first novel, Golden Fleece, came out 18 years ago this month. I never go back and read my own novels after they're published. Part of that is fatigue -- the author has to read through the entire manuscript so many times when polishing a book, and then again when it's copyedited, and once more to proofread the typesetting; by the time our book is actually out, it's the last thing most of us want to look at.

And part of that is fear, I guess: an uneasy feeling that we might cringe, or want to rewrite some more, or wish we'd done things differently.

But my 1999 novel Flashforward (or Flash Forward) is, of course, very much in my mind of late, because ABC, the most-watched TV network in the United States, is making a series pilot based on the book. And, well, if it gets picked up for a series, I'm going to write one of the episodes, so I thought I should refamiliarize myself with the book, which I haven't read in a decade.

As it turns out, recently made Blackstone Audio's version Flashforward available as an unabridged audio book -- so I downloaded it into my iPod and I've been listening to installments as I do my morning treadmilling. I finished listening today.

And, what did I think after a decade?

Welllll, colour me immodest, but damn, that's a fine piece of work.

I mean, I know I should have know that it's a good book: it won the Aurora Award (and -- ahem, Aurora voters! -- was my last book to do so); an excerpt from it won Spain's Premio UPC de Ciencia Ficción, worth US$7,000 back then, the world's largest annual cash prize for SF writing; and it got me my first starred review (denoting a book of exceptional merit) in Publishers Weekly, saying:
A creative, soul-searching exploration of fate, free will, and the nature of the universe. Sawyer shifts seamlessly among the perspectives of his many characters, anchoring the story in small details. This first-rate, philosophical journey, a terrific example of idea-driven SF, should have wide appeal.

But, y'know, Flashforward has never been one of my favourites from my oeuvre; for whatever reason, I've always tended to discount Flashforward and Illegal Alien, despite lots of people telling me that one or the other of them is their favourite among my books.

(As I've often said, an author's take on a given book has more to do with how he or she felt while writing it -- what was going on in his or her life at the time -- rather than anything objective about what's actually on the page.)

I had forgotten huge parts of Flashforward, and I'd forgotten how intricate it was, and how all the plot elements go snick-snick-snick, coming together at the end.

And I was astonished to see that the seeds of my latest novel, Rollback, are clearly in there, with the same dilemma Don and Sarah face in that later book spelled out. And I'd totally forgotten all the very neat stuff about Supernova 1987a and its aftermath, and lots of the cool philosophical ramblings.

But listening to it, in Mark Deakins's terrific reading, actually let me see it with fresh eyes (and hear it with fresh ears!). And, you know what? It's worth every penny of the pile of money ABC is paying for the rights. :) I'm proud to have written it, and, really, there's next to nothing I'd change if I had to do it over again.

For a novel that's about seeing the future, I guess it would have been nice back when the book came out to have gotten a glimpse of what I myself was going to think about it a decade later (not to mention knowing in advance that it was going to generate so much money!), but now that the future is here, I'm very glad and very content.

More about the book is here, and you can get the Audible version here here. And the scoop about the TV pilot is here.

The Robert J. Sawyer Web Site

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Monday, November 24, 2008

Ench cover art for Matthew Hughes wins Chesley Award

When I bought Matthew Hughes's novel The Commons for my Robert J. Sawyer Books imprint, the search for cover art was simple. The Commons is a novel that was published in installments in The Magazine of Fantasy & Science Fiction, and one of those installments, in the March 2007 issue, had one of the best-executed and most-striking paintings I'd seen in a long time.

Fitzhenry & Whiteside (the company that publishes my books) immediately struck a deal with artists Cory & Catska Ench to reuse the art on Matt's book -- and to use it as the cover for the company's catalog that season, as well.

So, it comes as no surprise to us that this wonderful painting has just won the highest honor in SF illustration, the Chesley Award, given by the Association of Science Fiction & Fantasy Artists (ASFA), for Best Magazine Cover.

Congratulations, Cory and Catska! Woohoo!

Locus has the full list of winners here.

The Robert J. Sawyer Web Site

Sunday, November 23, 2008

Introducing Sir Arthur C. Clarke

Steve Feldberg and the wonderful folks at have been absolutely terrific to me, so when Steve emailed to ask a favour, I pretty much would have said yes, no matter what it was.

But this favour was also an honour and a privilege: Steve wanted me to write and record brand-new introductions for Audible's exclusive unabridged audiobooks of two of Arthur C. Clarke's greatest novels: Childhood's End and Rendezvous with Rama.

As the write-ups over at say, Childhood's End "includes an exclusive introduction by Hugo Award-winning author Robert J. Sawyer, who explains why this novel, written in the 1950s, is still relevant today."

And Rendezvous with Rama "includes an exclusive introduction by Hugo Award-winning author Robert J. Sawyer, who explains why Rendezvous with Rama will make the listener 'feel both humbled and exhilarated at the same time.'"


Oh, and if you want some novels by Robert J. Sawyer from, they're here.

The Robert J. Sawyer Web Site


Saturday, November 22, 2008

They don't always ask me writing questions

This just popped up in my email, from a blind woman I know who is writing an SF book: "How are stars named?" My response:
There are 88 constellations; taken in total, they cover the entire sky. The constellation names are mostly from Roman or Greek mythology.

The 24 brightest stars in each constellation are named with Greek letters followed by the possessive (genitive) form of the constellation's name, in descending order of brightness (alpha is the brightest, beta the second brightest, etc.). So Alpha Centauri is the brightest star in Centaurus, the constellation of the centaur.

Many stars also have other names, usually Arabic. For instance Sirius is another name for Alpha Canis Majoris (being the brighest star in Canis Major, the constellation of the big dog), and Betelgeuse is another name for Alpha Orionis, the brightest star in Orion, the hunter).
This public-service announcement brought to you by ...
The Robert J. Sawyer Web Site

Will the real Kuroda please stand up?

Those of you who have been enjoying my new novel Wake as it is being serialized in Analog will have met the character of Dr. Masayuki Kuroda, the information theorist who specializes in how the human retina encodes data; he is, as you will have seen, a major character in the book.

And he's named in homage to another vision specialist, the character of Kuroda played by Byron Chung in the 1972-73 NBC TV series Search (and the pilot film for it, which was called Probe).

Those who have read my autobiography know how important that series was to me. Naming a character in honor of someone on that show is my acknowledgment of that.

Here are four pictures of Byron Chung as Kuroda in PROBE Control, a mission-control-like center that monitored the activities of PROBE agents working for World Securities (that's Burgess Meredith as his boss, V.C.R. Cameron, in the third picture):

Why am I posting this today? Because this evening Carolyn and I, who are working our way through the first season of Lost on DVD, watched the 17th episode, and who should be the guest star, playing Mr. Paik, the father of Sun, but Byron Chung himself, 33 years later:

My thanks to my buddy Actingman for the Search screen captures. And if you happen to be a Search fan yourself, join us at the Probe Control Yahoo! Groups discussion group here.

The Robert J. Sawyer Web Site

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Friday, November 21, 2008

I Remember the Future

Well, okay, no, I don't. :)

But Michael A. Burstein does, in his wonderful new collection I Remember the Future: The Award-Nominated Stories of Michael A. Burstein, just out from Apex Book Company.

On Amazon, I gave it five stars, saying:
***** Grand, classic-style SF with big ideas and a big heart

Michael A. Burstein is an Isaac Asimov for the new millennium, producing award-nominated story after award-nominated story in the grand Asimovian tradition: straight-forward prose, clever ideas, and a shining humanity that makes one proud to be part of our species. My personal favorite is "Kaddish for the Last Survivor," but all the stories gathered here are terrific reminders of what SF is capable of in the hands of someone who genuinely loves the genre and knows its history. Bravo!
The book has an introduction by Stanley Schmidt, the editor of Analog, and was recently recommended in New Scientist's special report on SF. The terrific cover is by Bob Eggleton.

You can read more about the book here.

The Robert J. Sawyer Web Site

Toronto: knee-deep in major SF/F authors!

I was asked to put together a list of major authors who had each written multiple books of science fiction and/or fantasy (especially if published as such) living in or near Toronto (which I rather arbitrarily chose to mean London, Ontario, to the west; Orillia, Ontario, to the north; and Kingston, Ontario to the east).

Here's the list I came up with; it's an incredibly impressive bunch, I must say:
  • Kelley Armstrong: USA Today and New York Times bestselling author

  • Margaret Atwood: Nebula finalist, Arthur C. Clarke Award winner

  • R. Scott Bakker: bestselling fantasy author for Penguin

  • Don Bassingthwaite: author of gaming tie-in novels

  • John Robert Colombo: major anthologist, host of "Unexplained Canada" on Space

  • Julie E. Czerneda: a mainstay for DAW Books; multiple Aurora Award winner

  • James Alan Gardner: Hugo and Nebula Award finalist, Aurora Award winner

  • Phyllis Gotlieb: Nebula Award finalist, Canada's first major SF author who didn't leave the country

  • Terence M. Green: two-time World Fantasy Award finalist for best novel

  • Ed Greenwood: bestselling fantasy writer for Tor

  • Nalo Hopkinson: World Fantasy and Aurora Award winner; Nebula finalist

  • Tanya Huff: bestselling DAW author with a TV series based on her "Blood" books

  • Guy Gavriel Kay: World Fantasy and Aurora Award winner, #1 Globe and Mail bestseller

  • Karin Lowachee: winner of the Warner Aspect first-novel competition, and author of many novels since

  • Scott Mackay: major SF author for Roc; also a fine mystery writer

  • Kenneth Oppel: author of the bestselling Silverwing trilogy

  • Fiona Patton: significant fantasy author for DAW

  • Michael Rowe: wonderful horror writer

  • Michelle Sagara / Michelle West: prolific author for DAW

  • Robert J. Sawyer: Hugo, Nebula, Aurora, and John W. Campbell Memorial Award winner

  • Karl Schroeder: Aurora Award winner, hot author for Tor and Analog

  • Caitlin Sweet: Aurora-nominated fantasy author for Penguin

  • Edo van Belkom: Bram Stoker Award winner, Aurora Award winner, Ontario Library Association Evergreen Award winner

  • Peter Watts: Hugo, Nebula, and John W. Campbell Memorial Award finalist, Aurora winner

  • Andrew Weiner: frequent contributor to Asimov's SF and The Magazine of Fantasy & Science Fiction; author of two novels and two short-story collections

  • Robert Charles Wilson: Hugo Award winner, Philip K. Dick Award winner, John W. Campbell Memorial Award winner, Theodore Sturgeon Award winner

The Robert J. Sawyer Web Site

Thursday, November 20, 2008

California's Proposition 8

I'm a dual US/Canadian citizen. There was a day, a couple of weeks ago, upon which I said, "I have never been more proud to be an American -- and I've never been more ashamed." I was proud that my fellow Americans had elected Barack Obama as president; I was ashamed that California had ratified Proposition 8, thereby overturning the rights of gays to marry in that state.

I've been nominated for over 100 awards for my fiction over the years, but two of the nominations that I'm proudest of are for the same award: my Hominids and Hybrids were both finalists for the Gaylactic Spectrum Award, which honours science-fiction that positively portrays gay, lesbian, bi, and/or transgendered lifestyles. So it should come as no surprise that I'm very much in favour of enshrining in law the rights of gays to marry.

I've been arguing for some time -- and am struggling (I have to admit) to make the argument concrete in the book that I'm currently writing, Watch -- that humanity is better off as a whole when the net happiness in the world is increased, and that no one has any business thwarting someone's else's chance at love and contentment.

I'm also appalled when we don't learn from history. So-called "separate but equal" never works; and, as a writer, to the very core of my being I believe that words matter: "civil union" is not the same thing as "marriage."

As I say, I've been struggling to find ways to say this in my fiction. But others are saying it with panache and passion, with clarity and conviction, with wisdom and weight. I'm very grateful to my wonderful friend Kirstin Morrell for drawing the YouTube clip below to my attention. It is MSNBC's Keith Olbermann talking about Proposition 8. I agree with every word.

[Direct YouTube Link]

[Full transcript in the comments section, below this post]

A couple of personal thoughts: unlike Keith Olbermann, I do have lots of gay and lesbian friends -- people I love dearly. The most-recent wedding I attended was a gay one, held here in Canada. That said, he's right, it shouldn't make any difference, because other people's marriages don't affect you, and they take nothing away from you.

And to the argument that some make that marriage is "supposed" to be between a man and a woman, implicitly because it's supposedly a union principally designed to provide infrastructure for biological reproduction by the two people involved, well, go jump in a lake.

I don't have kids and neither do lots of other wonderful loving married couples I know. We all got married because of love, and that's all the gay people in California, and so many other repressed places on Earth, want to do.

It may not be true in any Newtonian-physics sense that love makes the world go round, but the more love there is -- the more open, acknowledged, encouraged, supported love there is -- the longer we'll last. People who are happy make the world a better place.

The Robert J. Sawyer Web Site

Wednesday, November 19, 2008

Relativity earns out!

Of course, my books from big publishers like Tor earn royalties beyond their advances, but when dealing with small presses, royalties are rarely seen; the advance, such as it is, is usually all that ever materializes.

So it was to my astonishment and delight that I just received a nice cheque from ISFiC Press, publishers of my Aurora Award-winning hardcover collection Relativity: Essays and Stories.

This book was done in conjunction with me being Guest of Honor at Windycon in Chicago in 2004, and was ISFiC Press's first book.

I don't sell this one through my eBay store, but you can get it from ISFiC Press,, or Toronto's Bakka-Phoenix Books (where it's been a bestseller).

The Robert J. Sawyer Web Site

More pix from the Supernatural Investigator shoot

If you're on Facebook, Jeff Rustia of Front has posted an album of 40 photographs from last weekend's shoot for Supernatural Investigator, the show I'm hosting for Vision TV.

The Robert J. Sawyer Web Site


Tuesday, November 18, 2008

Asimov's loves Matt Hughes's The Commons

And why shouldn't they? It's a terrific book -- and I should know; it was published under my Robert J. Sawyer Books imprint. :)

In the December 2008 issue of Asimov's Science Fiction, Peter Heck writes:
Hughes has taken what in other hands might have been just a cute idea and turned it into something considerably richer. His exploration of the various archetypes of the collective unconscious is thought provoking as well as amusing. And Hughes has shown in previous novels that he has a firm grasp of nuanced, witty prose.

The individual episodes of which the novel is made up appeared as short magazine pieces. The concluding episode, “The Helper and his Hero,” was nominated by the members of SFWA for a Nebula for 2007 in the Novella category. Nebula or not—the winners aren’t yet known as this column is being written—Hughes has certainly earned recognition as one of our most accomplished writers.
The full review is online here, and more about The Commons is here.

The Robert J. Sawyer Web Site

Tony Pi and Doug Smith are rockin' the house

My writing students rock!

Tony Pi was my student for an intensive SF writing workshop at the University of Toronto in the summer of 2001. He's a terrific guy, and a terrific writer -- and, man, is he ever on a roll, as you can see here, with stories in Orson Scott Card's InterGalactic Medicine Show, On Spec, and others. Way to go, Tony!

And Douglas Smith, who took my SF writing course at Ryerson University in Toronto back in 1997, just had his first collection, Impossibilia, released by PS Publishing. Doug's a superlative craftsperson, and it's a terrific book.

Tony Pi is second from the left in the picture above and Doug Smith is at the far right. The picture depicts the 2008 English short-form finalists for the Aurora Award; the others, starting from the left, are Stephen Kotowych, Hayden Trenholm, and David Livingstone Clink (Stephen and Hayden have also been my writing students, and David is my brother-in-law).

The Robert J. Sawyer Web Site

T. rex is standing guard!

I have the Best. Fans. Ever.

Matthew Lachmuth, of Calgary, Alberta, made the T. rex skeleton pictured above as a present for me. He did it as a project in his welding class at SAIT Polytechnic. The skeleton is 39 inches long, 21 inches high, and 4.5 inches wide at the widest point, and it weighs 30 pounds (and the box it arrived here in via Greyhound bus was, as Matt said in an email, "positively Brobdignagian").

I'd first met Matt at the December 2006 meeting of IFWA, Calgary's Imaginative Fiction Writers Association -- terrific guy; a real gentleman. But I never expected such a wonderful gift!

It's beautifully done, and very, very impressive. I'm thrilled to have it! Many thanks, Matt!

The Robert J. Sawyer Web Site

Hosting Supernatural Investigator

I'm hosting a 17-part half-hour documentary series for Canada's Vision TV entitled Supernatural Investigator. It premieres Tuesday, January 27, 2009, at 10:30 p.m. Eastern Time, and runs every week until Tuesday, May 19, 2009.

Each week, a different investigator take an open-minded but skeptical look at an intriguing case -- such as the supposed abduction by aliens of Betty and Barney Hill, the mysterious death of Harry Houdini, and the US government's clandestine research into remote viewing.

I was thrilled when the producers asked me to audition for this, and even more thrilled when I got the job -- to my astonishment, beating out some very significant names ... ;)

I spent this past weekend recording my hosting segments (the introduction and farewell for each show). It was two grueling days, but the resulting footage looks fabulous. No static cameras for these guys! We had lots of dolly shots and dramatic lighting.

Director Maurey Loeffler was terrific at making this non-actor feel comfortable, director of photography Kiarash Sadigh gave us an amazing look aided by Blain Thrush and Bart Bialasik, Greg Carson came up with an awesome set, Jason Brown made the lighting look fabulous, William Lam looked after continuity, and Leo Franco was always there as production assistant when we needed him.

Producer/production manager Paul Nandrajog was on top of every detail, Derek Oxley rocked as our sound man, Menaka Mallikage did a great job with the scripts and on teleprompter, and Olga Kirnos was fantastic about attending to my makeup throughout both days.

Five different documentary-production companies across Canada produced the episodes, and the packaging (and my hosting) is being produced by Toronto's Front, whose president, Jeff Rustia, brought the whole thing wonderfully together. Joan Jenkinson from Vision TV was terrifically encouraging as she sat in on the first day of our shoot -- and, of course, Carolyn Clink looked after all sorts of details on the SFWRITER.COM Inc. side of things.

I have a day left to do in a recording studio, laying down narration tracks; three of the 17 episodes have a narrator -- moi.

It's shaping up to be a terrific series, and I'm very proud to be part of it.

See this entry for a link to more photographs from the shoot.

(For anyone who keeps track of such things, this actually wasn't my first TV hosting job. Back in January 2000, Gill Deacon and I cohosted a terrific two-hour documentary for Discovery Channel Canada, entitled Inventing the Future: 2000 Years of Discovery, and these will be my 246th through 262nd television appearances.)

The Robert J. Sawyer Web Site


George Clayton Johnson called

Woot! I'm way behind on my blogging, but I wanted to mention that on September 21, 2008, George Clayton Johnson left a message on my answering machine. Yes, that George Clayton Johnson: co-author of Logan's Run, author of "The Man Trap" for the original Star Trek, contributor to the original Twilight Zone.

We'd met at the San Diego Comic-Con this year, at which I was one of the Special Guests, and I'd given him a copy of my new short-story collection Identity Theft and Other Stories. George's message said:
I just read your short story "Immortality," and it utterly killed me. What a beautiful piece of work!

("Immortality" was my story originally written for the anthology Stars: Stories Based on the Songs of Janis Ian.)

(Dinner at San Diego Comic-Con, 24 July 2008. Left to right: David Gerrold, Carolyn Clink, Robert J. Sawyer, Walter Koenig, William F. Nolan; facing us: George Clayton Johnson.)

The Robert J. Sawyer Web Site

Thursday, November 13, 2008

Keynotes R Us

I give a lot of keynote addresses. Today's was special, though: it was for the annual meeting of the Science Teachers Association of Ontario. My talk was on "Using Science Fiction in the Science Classroom," and it was very well received.

Also, I just received a nice bit of feedback on the previous keynote I did, a talk on the future of health care for the Grey-Bruce Health Region (a group of hospitals and allied services in Ontario):
"Your presentation was the highlight of our event. You presented compelling scenarios regarding what we could expect to see for healthcare in the future with an engaging and humourous style. It was a fascinating topic, well researched and presented by a gifted speaker, and it captivated the audience throughout."
Always nice to be appreciated!

The Robert J. Sawyer Web Site

Wednesday, November 12, 2008

Ambushed on YouTube!

Steph the Video Guy from Prince George, British Columbia, grabbed me for five minutes at the World Fantasy Convention in Calgary earlier this month, and produced this "Steph's Author Ambush" video -- with cameos by Peter Hartwell (my editor's son) and Guy Gavriel Kay. Check it out!

(Direct YouTube link.)

Among the people I mention in the interview:

The Robert J. Sawyer Web Site

Tuesday, November 11, 2008

How many characters should be in a novel?

I got asked the above question today in email, and here's my reply:
The smallest number of characters with which you can effectively tell the story. If you have multiple minor characters who can be consolidated into one, do so.

Classic example: the original Star Trek pilot. The character of Number One lacked emotions; the character of Spock was alien. When they were combined, the show became better.

Or Next Generation, first season: the security chief (Tasha Yar) was a separate character from the Klingon (Worf), and the latter didn't really have anything to do. When they were combined, the show became better.
Of course, another answer is at least 240,000 -- that being the average number of typed characters in 40,000 words, which is the shortest length that qualifies as a novel in the science-fiction industry ... ;)

The Robert J. Sawyer Web Site

Monday, November 10, 2008

Using Traditional Media to Promote Your Book

The following first appeared as the lead article in Spring 2008 edition of the The Writers' Union of Canada Newsletter (Volume 36, Number 1). Although the references to Canadian media outlets may be unfamiliar to people from outside Canada, the general principles are still applicable.

(The screen capture above is from an appearance Robert J. Sawyer made on TVOntario's The Agenda.)

Using Traditional Media to Promote Your Book

by Robert J. Sawyer

Most authors aim their promotional efforts directly at readers. That's misguided, in my view; you simply can't reach enough of them on your own to make a difference — and you risk becoming a pest in the circles you move in. No, your publicity efforts should be aimed at the media.

A while ago, I attended a talk by Cynthia Good, who used to be publisher of Penguin Canada. Someone in the audience asked her what was the first thing she looked for in evaluating a book. Her answer was immediate: "A way to get the author on TV."

Note that your goal shouldn't principally be book-related media. Although all of us mourned the loss of Imprint on TVOntario, an appearance on almost any other TV program would sell more books. Same thing with newspapers: sure, it's nice to be covered in the review section, but you should really be aiming for off-the-book-page news.

To accomplish this — to get on TV shows that aren't about books, to get into other sections of the newspaper, to get into major magazines — you need to have something to say.

Even publishers don't know this, although they should. The press release my publisher did for my last novel was headlined, "A new novel by Canada's leading Science Fiction author." Ho hum. I turned around and wrote my own release with the headline, "Human Lifespan Will Be Radically Extended Soon, says Award-Winning Author." I sent it on my own to CBC Radio One's flagship Sounds Like Canada, and got a 24-minute interview there.

You think Dan Brown sold 35 million hardcover copies of The Da Vinci Code because of its compelling narrative or unforgettable protagonist? No, the buzz about that novel was because of its theme. I didn't see the press release, but I'd bet money it said something like, "Catholic Church Systematically Suppresses Women" or "Christ May Have Fathered Children," rather than, "Thriller Set at Louvre" or "Mysteries Abound in Chase Novel."

The best way to have a hook, of course, is to build it in to the book from the outset. When John Grisham or Michael Crichton set out to create a novel, they decide what issue they're going to tackle — what hook the book is going to have — before writing the first sentence. Whether it's the controversy around capital punishment (Grisham's The Chamber) or the perceived problems with biotechnology (Crichton's Next), they give the media something to sink their teeth into.

Okay, but your book isn't like that. You've penned a delicate, sensitive tale of ... whatever. You aren't necessarily out of luck. Scour your manuscript and find something people might be interested in — even if it's not the central material in the book — and focus on that in your promotional efforts. (For my novel Calculating God, I did a number of interviews about the closing of the McLaughlin Planetarium in Toronto, a fact that's only a minor point in the book.)

But what if you've combed your book, searching for a hook and just can't find one that's internal to the text? Fine: look for an external one — a real-world event you can tie your book to. You've written a book about a young boy? This year is the hundredth anniversary of the founding of the Boy Scouts. A book about civil rights? It's the Thurgood Marshall centenary, too. Remember, "author" and "authority" have the same root; by having written a book — even if it's a novel — you are an authority on your topic.

It's seventeen months away as I write this but I can already tell you where I'll be on July 20, 2009; I'll be on CBC Radio. Why? Because that's the 40th anniversary of the first moon landing, and I can easily spin that into a reason for people to interview a science-fiction writer. You have to plan your campaign — and it's worth talking to your publisher about scheduling your next release to coincide with a good tie-in, if you know one's coming up.

Okay, now that you've got your press release ready, who do you send it to?

First, every person who has ever interviewed you in the past (you do keep records, don't you — and you keep them up to date, right?).

Second, to everyone who might care about your theme (for Rollback, I did a number of interviews with radio shows and publications aimed at the elderly; for Calculating God — my novel about evolution vs. creationism — getting a copy to Tom Harpur, who was the religion columnist for The Toronto Star, resulted in an entire column devoted to my book).

Third, to all the big players: Sounds Like Canada, Canada AM, and Breakfast Television for any sort of book, plus the appropriate CBC shows for your particular work. Science or nature? Quirks and Quarks. Something that's actually quirky or hip? Definitely Not the Opera. Current affairs? TVOntario's The Agenda. Hit them all, and hit them often: promotion is cumulative. I've often had producers call me and say, "We've got a thick file on you; I guess it's time we did something."

Of course, all of this comes back to the unstated assumption behind what Cynthia Good said. Once you do land the TV interview, you'd better do it well. Learn to be good on camera and in front of a mike. Get some media training, take a public-speaking course, join Toastmasters, go to a media coach.

For TV, radio, and print, have a series of anecdotes ready to go — what inspired you, the most surprising thing you learned writing your book, and so on.

And don't waste your time answering the pointless questions about what you're working on now, or what's next; no one will remember what you said a year or more down the road, when that book will be out. Just steer the conversation back to the current book ("I'm working on another book about Canadian politics, but right now I'm most interested in Stephen Harper ...").

But don't try to shoehorn mentions of your book's title into the conversation; just relax and look like you're having a good time ... and trust the public to want to get to know you better, through the pages of your latest book.

For more of my thoughts on promoting books, see here (scroll down).

Robert J. Sawyer has sold twenty novels and two short-story collections. He lives in Mississauga; his website is

The Robert J. Sawyer Web Site

Thursday, November 6, 2008

World Fantasy Convention rocked

The World Fantasy Convention in Calgary last week was amazingly well-run and an enormous amount of fun. Randy McCharles (above) was the convention's chair, and he did a fabulous job. I'll be nominating him for the Aurora Award for Best Fan Organizational next year, and I urge other Canadians to do the same. Way to go, Randy!

I wrote a tribute to Randy when he was Guest of Honour at VCON a couple of years ago. You can read it here.

The Robert J. Sawyer Web Site