NOTE: This installment of Special Needs In Strange Worlds features a guest post from author J. Kathleen Cheney! – Sarah Chorn

J. Kathleen Cheney is a former teacher and has taught mathematics ranging from 7th grade to Calculus, with a brief stint as a Gifted and Talented Specialist. Her short fiction has been published in Jim Baen’s Universe, Writers of the Future, and Fantasy Magazine, among others, and her novella “Iron Shoes” was a 2010 Nebula Award Finalist. Her novel, The Golden City came out from Penguin in 2013. The sequel, The Seat of Magic debuted July 1. Her website can be found at

Trying to Write Blind

by J. Kathleen Cheney

One of the more irritating bits of critique I’ve ever received: “Have your POV character feel her way around her bedroom so we know she’s blind.”

Seriously? Is that what people think a blind person does in their own bedroom? Feel their way along the walls like they’re a character in an exaggerated 1920s movie? Or are they the ‘magical’ blind person who goes the other way, never steps a foot wrong, and never walks into the corner of a table?
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Alma Alexander‘s life so far has prepared her very well for her chosen career. She was born in a country which no longer exists on the maps, has lived and worked in seven countries on four continents (and in cyberspace!), has climbed mountains, dived in coral reefs, flown small planes, swum with dolphins, touched two-thousand-year-old tiles in a gate out of Babylon. She is a novelist, anthologist and short story writer who currently shares her life between the Pacific Northwest of the USA (where she lives with her husband and two cats) and the wonderful fantasy worlds of her own imagination. You can find out more about Alma on her website (, her Facebook page or her blog.”

High Science and High Fantasy Walk Into a Bar…

by Alma Alexander

I have a science degree. Well, I have three, actually. I got my basic undergraduate BSc back in 1984, and then followed that up with what in South Africa at the time was a stepping-stone half-undergraduate and half-postgrad degree known as BSc (Hons.) In my Honours year, there were five of us – three young women, two young men, all eager-beaver young scientists all dewy fresh and enthusiastic. At our post-graduation-ceremony celebration, gathered together at the worst-kept secret at my University (a watering hole called Spanish Gardens…you might have heard about it…I used it as a setting for a novel I wrote back before the Mayans said the world would end…), the five of us were joined by one of our lecturers, himself a young postgrad, probably closer in age to us than he was to the elder echelon of the other academic staff at our department. On this occasion, he prophesied for us – he looked at each of the five of us and told us what our scientific futures would be. This one would go on to earn a PhD and end their lives in the halls of academe…this one would probably go into industry…this one this…this one that…and then he came to me.

He looked at me for a long time, and then said, “You…you are just misguided.”
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Adrian Cole was born in 1949 (Plymouth, UK) and his first published work was a trilogy of sword-and-planet novels, THE DREAM LORDS (Zebra, 1975-77) written in his early twenties. He has since gone on to have 27 books published, including the acclaimed OMARAN SAGA, a four volume fantasy and the STAR REQUIEM books, another fantasy quartet. Some of his early short stories were nominated for the British Fantasy Award and the Balrog Award and he has been published in the Year’s Best Fantasy (Daw)and also the Year’s Best Fantasy and Horror (St. Martin’s Press) More recently he has edited YOUNG THONGOR (Wildside Press) and has two new books released in September 2014, these being the science fiction THE SHADOW ACADEMY (EDGE Science Fiction & Fantasy Publishing, Canada) and also the pulp hero collection of shorts, NICK NIGHTMARE INVESTIGATES (Alchemy Press, UK), featuring the hard-boiled occult private eye, Nick Nightmare. Victor Gollancz have recently released the OMARAN SAGA and the STAR REQUIEM as ebooks and they are also to be released as audio books from Audible, who have already released THE SHADOW ACADEMY.

A Perspective on Writing: Then and Now

by Adrian Cole

As a kid I was a voracious reader and I’d always had an ambition to be a writer: even then I started scribbling down (longhand) various books, none of which ever got completed – horror, crime, westerns, science fiction. When I first started writing seriously, in the 1960s, I had at least graduated to a manual typewriter and set about a magnum opus called THE BARBARIANS, inspired by Tolkien, Edgar Rice Burroughs and, for variety, Dennis Wheatley’s occult books. My zest and enthusiasm paid off and the work was picked up by Zebra Books (New York) and the final revisions turned out as THE DREAM LORD trilogy. Convinced that a glittering career was ahead of me, I threw in my day job and rattled off novels and short stories at a good rate of knots. I did sell stuff, but none of my work reached best seller status and certainly didn’t earn me enough to make a living for me and my family.
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Tina Connolly lives with her family in Portland, Oregon. Her first fantasy novel, Ironskin, was a Nebula finalist, and the sequels Copperhead and Silverblind are now out from Tor. Her stories have appeared in Lightspeed,, Strange Horizons, and Beneath Ceaseless Skies. She narrates for Podcastle and Beneath Ceaseless Skies, runs the Parsec-winning flash fiction podcast Toasted Cake, and her website is

Friendship in SILVERBLIND

by Tina Connolly

There’s a trope, it seems to me, of the friendless woman. The one who soldiers on through her story with no support, no network. There’s a valid writing reason to this-make your character alone and friendless and they are in a more dire position. Sometimes it comes out of the Smurfette problem (if there’s only one girl in a story, she’s not going to have the opportunity to form a relationship with any other girls.) Sometimes, I think, it’s an exceptionalism problem. This girl, this girl we’re writing about, is different from all those other girls. (The mean girls, the makeup girls, the whatever girls.) Of course she couldn’t possibly be friends with those sorts of ordinary girls! She’s as good as a man! (Something my grandfather on my dad’s side once said to my feminist grandmother on my mom’s side. She was not amused.)
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NOTE: This installment of Special Needs In Strange Worlds features a guest post from author Melanie R. Meadors! – Sarah Chorn

A writer of speculative fiction and lover of geeky things, Melanie R. Meadors lives in central Massachusetts, in a one hundred-year-old house full of quirks and surprises. She’s been known to befriend wandering garden gnomes, do battle with metal-eating squirrels, and has been called a superhero on on more than one occasion. Her short fiction has been published in Circle Magazine, The Wheel, and Prick of the Spindle, and was a finalist in the Jim Baen Memorial Science Fiction Contest in 2014. For her day job she is the Publicity Coordinator at Ragnarok Publications as well as a freelance publicist. She’s also a contributor to

Coping With Special Needs in Urban Fantasy

by Melanie R. Meadors

A wizard who is the best paranormal detective in Chicago. A psychometrist who works at NYC’s Department of Extraordinary Affairs. The newest van driver for the St. Edward’s Parish coroner’s office who seems to just walk away from whatever accident she has.

Urban fantasy fans might recognize the above characters. I myself have gone on many adventures with them. But lately it’s occurred to me that these characters give me something more than just adventure. I see some of myself in them, and relate to them in ways that perhaps others might not.

No, I’m not magical (or AM I?). But if you look at the daily lives of these and other urban fantasy characters, you’ll see that their powers don’t come without a price. With urban fantasy, instead of having special needs in strange worlds, they have special powers in this world. And they have to still have to find ways to function in this world as normal people.

That sounds kind of familiar, doesn’t it?
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Kenny Soward grew up in a small Kentucky suburb listening to hard rock and playing outdoors. In those quiet ’70s streets, he jumped bikes, played Nerf football, and acquired many a childhood scar. His love for books flourished early, a habit passed down by his uncles, and he spent many high school days in detention for reading fantasy novels during class. At the University of Kentucky, Kenny took creative writing classes under Gurny Norman, former Kentucky Poet Laureate and author of Divine Rights Trip (1971). By day, Kenny works as a Unix professional, and at night he writes and sips bourbon. He lives in Independence, Kentucky, with three cats and a gal who thinks she’s a cat.

Creating Fantastic Epic Battle Scenes

by Kenny Soward

Writing epic battle scenes in fantasy is demanding. It requires a lot of imagination and attention to detail. But these are the scenes the reader holds out for and appreciates, the things you’ve been building them up for over the course of your novel, and these scenes need to be bold, emotional, breathtaking, unique, and quite simply, cool.
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A.C. Wise is the author of numerous short stories appearing in print and online in publications such as Clarkesworld, Apex, Lightspeed, and the Best Horror of the Year Vol. 4. In addition to her fiction, she co-edits Unlikely Story, an online magazine publishing three issues of fiction per year with various unlikely themes. Follow her on twitter as @ac_wise.

SF Signal welcomes back A.C. Wise and her continuing series of essays on Women To Read!

Women to Read: Where to Start – October 2014

by A.C. Wise

Welcome to another installment of Women to Read: Where to Start. Last month, I recommended a Halloween tale. Now that it’s actually October, I’m being contrary and recommending works focused on love. If you’re the sort who is afraid of ‘mushy stuff’ and ‘kissing books’, never fear! These are mostly melancholy stories about love. It is October, after all.
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NOTE: This installment of Special Needs In Strange Worlds features a guest post from author Tina Connolly! – Sarah Chorn

Tina Connolly lives in Portland, Oregon with her family, in a house that came with a dragon in the basement and blackberry vines in the attic. Her stories have appeared all over, including in Strange Horizons, Lightspeed, and Beneath Ceaseless Skies. Her debut fantasy novel IRONSKIN wasd released by Tor Books in 2012. The sequel COPPERHEAD was reelased in 2013. Her latest book is SILVERBLIND. She is a frequent reader for Podcastle, and narrates the Parsec-winning flash fiction podcast Toasted Cake. In the summer she works as a face painter, which means a glitter-filled house is an occupational hazard. Her website is

Special Needs in the IRONSKIN Series

by Tina Connolly

This post is kind of a melange of issues as I thought through what had been important to me over the course of writing my trilogy. In the world of the Ironskin series, some people were hit by fey shrapnel in the Great War five years earlier-the ironskin. Each person hit by fey shrapnel has to deal with both the physical effects of the injury-grotesque scarring-and the mental effects-a sort of emotional curse. The ironskin must cover their scars with iron, or the curses will affect all those around them with rage, or fear, or depression, or…
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Alexander Kosoris was born and raised in Thunder Bay, Ontario. He lived on residence in Toronto, Ontario while attending the Faculty of Pharmacy at the University of Toronto between 2006 and 2010. While there, he discovered his love of writing, spending much of his free time writing short stories, one of which he expanded to arrive at his first novel, Lucifer. After graduating, Alexander has moved back to Thunder Bay, where he now lives, working as a pharmacist. Whenever he gets a moment of leisure, Alexander enjoys listening to and playing music, as well as riding his bicycle.

5 Essential Science Fiction and Fantasy Classics

by Alexander Kosoris

As a writer, I acknowledge the importance that reading brings to the craft, so I spend as much time with books as I am able. Not necessarily intentionally, I often find myself reading classics. This isn’t to say that I don’t enjoy more contemporary novels; however, I do find great value in reading older works that influenced countless readers and writers. There tends to be a reason classics are named as such: The stories are often well-constructed, thoughtful, and meaningful, with memorable characters who stand the test of time.

Here’s a list of some of the best of the best that no fan of science fiction or fantasy should miss. In no particular order:
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Eric Farrell is a reporter by trade, having written for a variety of college, local, and metro publications across Los Angeles and Orange counties. His premiere novel, In Through the Out Door, is being published episodically each Friday for free at An imminent crowdfunding campaign will help the DIY author raise money to print the novel, to be sold online and in bookstores across LA.

Neither Here Nor There: Identifying Yourself As An Episodic Writer

by Eric Farrell

Not once have I ever prowled the science fiction section of a bookstore and taken a novel home only to complete it and question whether or not what I had just read was, indeed, science fiction.

As an author pursuing the route of episodic publication, it’s been an entrancing and treacherous road to associating my work with a specific genre. I’ve actively been telling family, friends, reporters and online bloggers that my novel In Through the Out Door is a work of “science fiction,” while simultaneously flashing a sheepish smile to myself as they read the first few chapters of the book and likely ask themselves, “where’s the science in this fiction?”
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Steven John is a writer living in Glendale, California (by way of Washington DC). He and his wife Kristin, an elementary school teacher, were joined by their son Benjamin in October of 2013. In addition to writing for several websites and journals, Steven published his first novel THREE A.M., in 2012. His second book, OUTRIDER, hit shelves in September. When not writing or spending time with his family, Steven tries to squeeze in some mountain climbing.

The Cast of OUTRIDER

by Steven John

My first published novel, THREE A.M. (Tor, 2012), was written in the first person and featured only a handful of named characters. You can count on one hand the number of fully-developed “people” in the book, and even they were of course seen through the eyes of the protagonist; eyes often dulled by booze and always darkened by years spent living in a world shrouded by mist (it’s a “bleak fable,” as one reviewer called it).

On the other hand, my second novel, OUTRIDER (Nightshade/Skyhorse, 2014), features more than two dozen named characters, all of whom enjoyed at least some level of color, and more than ten of whom I strove to fully develop. It was an entirely different experience writing a third person perspective novel with a large cast versus the contained, inner monologue-heavy earlier book; it was both a thrill and a challenge. Everything from selecting which character might most effectively act as “focalizer” for a given scene to simply remembering who knew what about whom and when never failed to keep things interesting for me, especially as the plot of the book unfolds via multiple perspectives.
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Anton Strout was born in the Berkshire Hills mere miles from writing heavyweights Nathaniel Hawthorne and Herman Melville. He currently lives in the haunted corn maze that is New Jersey (where nothing paranormal ever really happens, he assures you). He is the author of the Simon Canderous urban fantasy series and the Spellmason Chronicles for Ace Books, a division of Penguin Random House. Anton is also the author of many short tales published in anthologies by DAW Books. His latest book, Incarnate, the third Spellmason Chronicles book, is coming out September 30, 2014. In his scant spare time, his is a writer, a sometimes actor, sometimes musician, occasional RPGer, and the worlds most casual and controller smashing video gamer. He currently works in the exciting world of publishing and yes, it is as glamorous as it sounds. He is currently hard at work on his next book and be found lurking the darkened hallways of or talking with your favorite SF&F authors on The Once and Future Podcast, where he is host and content curator.

Keeping It Fresh, or How To Be a Good Judge of Character

by Anton Strout

When you do something for a long time like, say, writing an ongoing series, there’s always the danger of your books going rotten like weeks old fruits or vegetables. Sure, the characters were nice and fresh in book one, but three books in they’re looking a little too squishy and unpalatable.

Never fear, dear reader! I’m here to tell you what it takes to keep an ongoing series from going rotten and boring you!
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Edward M. Lerner worked in high tech for thirty years, as everything from engineer to senior vice president, for much of that time writing science fiction as a hobby. Since 2004 he has written full-time, and his books run the gamut from near-future technothrillers, like Energized, to traditional SF, like his InterstellarNet series, to, with Larry Niven, the grand space-opera Fleet of Worlds series of Ringworld companion novels. Ed’s short fiction has appeared in anthologies, three collections, and many of the usual SF magazines. He also writes nonfiction, most notably his long-running “the science behind the fiction” article series in Analog. He blogs about science, fiction, and science fiction at SF and Nonsense.

The Near Future Is a Dangerous Place (for Writers, Too)

by Edward M. Lerner

SF readers have a highly developed ability to suspend disbelief. Long after Mars was revealed to be an arid, all but airless world, we continue to enjoy John Carter’s adventures on Barsoom. We take in stride-as long as the story is otherwise absorbing-that SF classics written throughout the 60s, 70s, and 80s made precious few mentions of computers, much less of anything like the Internet. We look past the dated social assumptions and gender roles that authors projected onto their imagined futures. We smile at finding typewriters brought to colonies set on other worlds, then continue our reading. No matter the absence of evidence that the universe allows travel through time or at FTL speeds, that parallel worlds exist, or that computer programs have the potential to become self-aware, we welcome these premises in the interest of a good story.
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NOTE: This installment of Special Needs In Strange Worlds features a guest post from author Geoff Matthews! – Sarah Chorn

Geoff Matthews began reading in the cot. His mother, at her wit’s end with the constant noise and unceasing activity, would plop him down on the soft mattress with an encyclopaedia full of pictures then quietly slip from the room. His father, ever the pragmatist, declared, that they should, “throw the noisy bugger out of the window.” Happily this event never came to pass (or if it did Geoff bounced well). Growing up, he spent Sunday afternoons on the sofa watching westerns and Bond movies with the self-same parent who had once wished to defenestrate him. When not watching the six-gun heroes or spies being out-acted by their own eyebrows he devoured books like a hungry wolf in the dead of winter. Beginning with Patrick Moore and Arthur C. Clarke he soon moved on to Isaac Asimov. However, one wet afternoon in a book shop in his home town, not far from the standing stones of Avebury, he came across a book by David Eddings – and soon Sci-Fi gave way to Fantasy. Many years later, Geoff finally realised a dream and published his own fantasy novel, The Stone Road, in the hopes that other hungry wolves out there would find a hearty meal. You can follow him on twitter or visit his website.

Special Educational Needs and Reading

by Geoff Matthews

One of our greatest gifts, our greatest pleasures, our most powerful agent for change, and most dangerous of weapons is language. In particular, the structure, use and understanding of language. Words change the world more than guns, bombs and the machinations of war.
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Margaret Weis is the internationally bestselling author of The Dragonlance Chronicles, Darksword Trilogy, and The Deathgate Cycle. She lives in Williams Bay, Wisconsin.

Robert Krammes is a game designer and the general manager at Aztec Video Productions. He is the author of the Dragon Brigade Series along with Margaret Weis. He lives in Cincinnati, Ohio.

Writing As A Team

by Margaret Weis and Robert Krammes

ROBERT: I’m often asked, “How do you and Margaret write together?” The simple answer is, “Margaret is the primary writer and I am the primary world builder”. In truth, there’s is a lot more to it than that!
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At a young age, Sallie Haws‘ passion for writing was fed by taking creative writing classes in high school and college. It was nursed along throughout her adult years by a voracious reading habit of paranormal, sci-fi, fantasy novels. Quantum Spirit – Apocalypse (August 2013, Fedd Books) is the culmination of years of personal and professional life experience combined with the desire to empower, entertain and inspire adults and teenagers. Sallie lives in Reno, Nevada with her family.


by Sallie Haws

I Believe in Magic. Magic is defined by Webster’s as “A power that allows people to do impossible things by saying special words or performing special actions.” I believe it’s all about the intention, focus and emotions used during the saying of the special words that can create the seemingly impossible. Then there is patience. Unfortunately, the period between the thought and the creation in our Third Dimensional world can sometimes be a very long time, and therefore, difficult to trace its creation back to the original intention. What if we knew, beyond a shadow of a doubt, every intentional thought we had, whether it was positive or negative, would instantly manifest? How would our world be different?
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Steven Gould is the author of Jumper, Wildside, Helm, Blind Waves, Reflex, Jumper: Griffin’s Story, 7th Sigma, Impulse, and Exo as well as several short stories published in Analog, Asimov’s, and Amazing, and other magazines and anthologies. He is the recipient of the Hal Clement Young Adult Award for Science Fiction and has been a Hugo, Nebula, Prometheus, and Compton Crook finalist, but his favorite distinction was being on the American Library Association’s list of Top 100 Banned Books 1990-1999 for Jumper before the Harry Potter books came along and bumped it off the bottom of the list. Jumper was made into the 2008 feature film of the same name with Samuel L. Jackson, Jamie Bell, Rachel Bilson, and Hayden Christensen. In 2013 he was hired to help develop the three movie sequels to James Cameron’s Avatar, as well as write four novels based on the films. Steve lives in New Mexico with his wife, writer Laura J. Mixon (M.J. Locke) and their two daughters, two dogs, and three chickens. He has practiced aikido and Japanese sword for the last two decades, and is the currently serving president of the Science Fiction and Fantasy Writers of America. He can be found on twitter as @StevenGould and on Facebook as Steven Gould.

On Reality, Verisimilitude, Imagination, and Exclusion

by Steven Gould

The year is 1974 and I’m sitting in a room with Bruce Sterling, Lisa Tuttle, Joseph Pumilia, Steven Utley, Howard Waldrop, Harlan Ellison, and Keith Laumer.
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Shira Lipkin is a writer, poet, and editor in Boston; in her spare time, she volunteers with the Boston Area Rape Crisis Center. She attends a lot of burlesque shows, but that’s not where the glitter comes from. Her cat is bigger than her dog. Mat Joiner lives in Birmingham, England. He loves flippancy, Pierrots, ghosts and green men. He thinks “canalpunk” should be a thing but hasn’t written the manifesto yet. Their poetry has appeared in Strange Horizons, Stone Telling, Through the Gate, and other wonderful places. Together, they fight crime! Shira and Mat are also co-editors of Liminality, a new magazine of speculative poetry.

Liminality: There Is No Box

by Shira Lipkin

The thing about poetry is that poetry is a revolutionary act.

This is not what we’re taught in schools! In the US, at least, we have our Norton guides of poetry that have the same set of poems kids have been made to study for decades, for centuries. Which quite reminds us of “Introduction to Poetry” by Billy Collins:
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NOTE: This installment of Special Needs In Strange Worlds features a guest post from author Kody Boye! – Sarah Chorn

Born and raised in Southeastern Idaho, Kody Boye began his writing career with the publication of his story “[A] Prom Queen’s Revenge” at the age of fourteen. Published nearly three-dozen times before going independent at eighteen, Boye has authored numerous works—including the short story collection Amorous Things, the novella “The Diary of Dakota Hammell,” the zombie novel Sunrise and the epic fantasy series The Brotherhood Saga. He is represented by Hannah Brown Gordon of the Foundry Literary + Media Agency.

The Power of Speech

by Kody Boye

It’s not uncommon to hear the phrase “all writers are crazy.” From the voices in our heads, to the long hours of isolation, the inner turmoil of perfection and the pressure of the industry, it’s some small wonder we’re not all locked up. We’re crazy, we may say, to expose ourselves to constant rejection. Nervous ticks are often seen as eccentricities and social anxieties coined as the result of long hours chained to a desk.

What many don’t know is that many of us suffer. Most just aren’t vocal about it.
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James L. Sutter is the Managing Editor for Paizo Publishing and a co-creator of the Pathfinder Roleplaying Game. He is the author of the novels Death’s Heretic and The Redemption Engine, the former of which was #3 on Barnes & Noble’s list of the Best Fantasy Releases of 2011, as well as a finalist for the Compton Crook Award for Best First Novel and a 2013 Origins Award. He’s written numerous short stories for such publications as PodCastle, Apex Magazine, Beneath Ceaseless Skies, and the #1 Amazon best seller Machine of Death. His anthology Before They Were Giants pairs the first published short stories of science fiction and fantasy luminaries with new interviews and writing advice from the authors themselves. In addition, he’s published a wealth of award-winning gaming material for both Dungeons & Dragons and the Pathfinder Roleplaying Game. Find more essays and free stories at, or let him know all the ways he’s wrong on Twitter at @jameslsutter.

What Authors Owe Fans

by James L. Sutter

In 2009, Neil Gaiman posted the now-famous blog entry “Entitlement Issues…,” in which he declared that “George R. R. Martin is not your bitch.” This was in the context of a larger statement about fan entitlement and what authors of series owe their fans, of which I think the most pertinent part reads:

“You’re complaining about George doing other things than writing the books you want to read as if your buying the first book in the series was a contract with him: that you would pay over your ten dollars, and George for his part would spend every waking hour until the series was done, writing the rest of the books for you. No such contract existed. You were paying your ten dollars for the book you were reading… When you see other people complaining that George R.R. Martin has been spotted doing something other than writing the book they are waiting for, explain to them, more politely than I did the first time, the simple and unanswerable truth: George R. R. Martin is not working for you.

In the rest of the post, Neil argues both that authors need downtime to let their brains recharge and-more interestingly-that the author-audience transaction is in fact complete as soon as a reader pays money for a book, regardless of whether it’s part of a series. I don’t want to put words in Mr. Gaiman’s mouth, yet presumably if George Martin lost interest and simply never produced the last book of A Song of Ice and Fire (or pulled a Dark Tower and took 22 years to finish the series), Neil would say that’s the artist’s prerogative.
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