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Codexians Sweep Original 4 Nebula Awards

eBooks and Publishing

I have the great fortune to rub virtual elbows with any number of exceptional writers in Codex Writers’ Group, which I founded back in 2004 by creating an online forum and inviting fellow writers from Orson Scott Card’s Literary Boot Camp and the Writers of the Future workshop. This week the four original categories (Best Novel, Best Novelette, Best Novella, and Best Short Stories) of the Nebula Award, one of the most important awards in science fiction, were all won by members of Codex. (Two additional categories added more recently were not won by Codexians–this time!)

Ann Leckie is the first Codexian ever to win the Nebula for best novel, for her Ancillary Justice.








Vylar Kaftan won the novella category with “The Weight of the Sunrise.”







The Best Novelette award went to Aliette de Bodard for “The Waiting Stars.”










Best Short Story went to Rachel Swirsky for “If You Were a Dinosaur, My Love”





Ann, Vy, Aliette, Rachel: way to kick some genre!

Congratulations too to Nalo Hopkinson, who won the Andre Norton YA award, and the writers of Gravity, who won the Bradbury for Outstanding Dramatic Presentation. (Neither Ms. Hopkinson nor the Gravity folks are associated with Codex in any way.)

A variety of other Codexians were nominated for the Nebula this year, including Kenneth Schneyer, Alethea Kontis (now a two-time nominee for the Andre Norton award), Ken Liu (the only person ever to have won the Hugo, Nebula, and World Fantasy Award for a single work), Sylvia Spruck Wrigley, Sarah Pinsker, Henry Lien, and Lawrence M. Schoen.

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Rick Novy Interviews Luc at Entropy Central


Writer Rick Novy (FishPunk, etc.) interviewed me for his Wednesday Writer series at Entropy Central: . In the interview, we cover subjects like the origin of Codex, why I gave up music, influential writers, and what new projects I’m working on.

To my regular readers, I hope you’ll excuse how unusually quiet the site has been over the past two weeks while I’ve completed and launched the  CSA Matchmaker, which helps residents of the Champlain Valley of Vermont and New York connect with farms to get deals on great local food, and then went on a brief family vacation. The articles will start flowing again this week.

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Having a Purpose Makes You Powerful

Strategies and goals

In a recent post (“How to Change the World: Simon Sinek on Leadership“), I talked about Simon Sinek’s TED talk, which boils down to “People don’t buy what you do; they buy why you do it.” By “buy,” Sinek also means “care,” “act,” “follow,” or “join in.” The principle fits sales, but it also fits social change, politics, the spread of ideas, and a lot else.

To have a “why” is to have a purpose, and I’ve begun to realize that having a purpose makes you nearly invincible. To explain that, let me tell you two stories. Let’s start with the failure.

The fall of the REALM
About 18 years ago I owned a small software development company outside Philadelphia, and I was hired to develop a software product to manage real estate and physical assets, like vehicles and storage tanks. The man behind the project at the client company was a friendly, energetic guy, and he quickly revealed that he was interested in doing more than just dealing with his own corporation’s needs: he had forged an agreement with the company such that they got free updates and enhancements and he would get rights to the software they paid to have developed. As I was the developer, he offered to split proceeds with me 50/50 if I would stay in the game and develop it further.

This was a golden opportunity. There was no software we could find that did what REALM (Real Estate, Assets, and Logistics Management) came to be able to do. REALM was easy to use, was inexpensive by corporate software standards, and was developed by an asset management specialist (him) and a skilled database and application developer (me). We made many enhancements and began to sell the software. We got a few clients, a few opportunities … and eventually fizzled. What should have been a business that could have made me financially secure for a long time, if not for life, turned out to be a time suck. Why? We had a good product. We had funding to develop it to a marketable state. We were both smart, friendly people. What happened?

I’ll tell you what happened: my heart wasn’t in it. When it came right down to it, I didn’t care about physical asset management, and even if I did, I didn’t care about the corporations that needed to do it. I was in the project for the money; that was basically it.

I don’t mean to suggest it was immoral or anything. After all, we need money to live in this society: without it, there would be a very real chance of starving or freezing to death on the street. Yet money has never really seemed that important to me in the grand scheme of things, and it was an utter failure for me as inspiration.

The rise of Codex
Now let’s shift gears and talk about something I’ve done that has been very successful: Codex. Codex is a free, online writers’ group designed originally for “neo-pro” fiction writers–that is, writers who are just beginning to prove themselves. (A number of its members have since become established pros, however.) The initial entrance requirements were either making a pro fiction sale or attending one of the major workshops where they choose participants from a writing sample. We later added alternative ways to qualify: getting a good agent or reaching a certain level of success with selfpub writing.

Codex was a ton of work. I had written a forum system in the past, and I used that for Codex instead of installing one of the common ones. Because I had done that, it wasn’t too hard to integrate a lot of features into the forum, like a critique exchange with tracked critique credit, contests with anonymous participation, a library of Codexians’ work, a blog tour system, and a lot more. The Codex forum as it now exists represents tens of thousands of dollars worth of custom programming, though I had never thought about it like that until just now.

Yet the technical work has been a minority of what I have done to keep the group running. I’ve participated in thousands of discussions, moderated, handled disputes, developed rules when they were needed, oriented new members, and otherwise run things that need running.

How has Codex worked out? Very, very well. We’ve barely made any effort to recruit members, but we get a steady stream of new applications. We’ve had over seven thousand discussions with well over 200,000 posts, over a thousand works critiqued, and dozens of contests over eight years. Our membership continues to grow bit by bit: last I checked, there were more than 230 active members. More and more members are selling novels and short stories and getting nominated for awards. On the current Nebula award ballot, every single person in the short story category is a member of Codex, though one of that group joined (without any solicitation from the group) after the nominations were announced.

Codex doesn’t net me any money–in fact, in the past it has cost me money, though this year a Codex member generously underwrote the cost of the entire year’s hosting as a celebration of his writing success. What’s more, these days I’m so busy with my own writing and related work, family, Taekwondo, and the daily demands of life that I can’t really even participate meaningfully in the discussions–I don’t have time. Yet Codex has provided meaningful friendships, my best professional opportunities in writing, huge amounts of insight, and a lot more. My first book sale (to a major publisher), my opportunity to do commentary for a Florida NPR affiliate, and my first professional speaking engagement all occurred because of Codex.

The thing is, I’ve never questioned my commitment to Codex because I have a purpose: to develop and be part of a community that helps its members improve their writing. If I hadn’t had that purpose, I would have given up on it a long time ago. My purpose protected Codex from getting derailed by problems like arguments among members (rare, but damaging), unreliable Internet hosting providers (we’ve had to switch service providers five times!), the need for complicated yet unpaid programming work, and so on.

There is no such thing as competition when you have purpose
Having a real purpose eliminates competition: people who are doing the same thing you’re doing for the same reason are helping you, because a real purpose is about something bigger than ourselves. People who are doing the “same” thing you’re doing for different reasons, often shallow ones, really aren’t doing the same thing at all.

I’ve recently started doing professional speaking events, and at first I was a bit worried that there would be too much competition for me to thrive. Yet I quickly came to realize that my speaking was an outgrowth of the same thing that has made this blog successful, which is a profound desire to first learn, then share knowledge of how to become a more empowered, compassionate, and happy human being. I don’t know whether that sounds hokey or not, but I do know that people who hear me speak do and will see that I am there to try to make their lives profoundly better. Anyone who’s doing the exact same thing has my admiration. Anyone who isn’t is no competition at all.

Photo by Lisa Tiyamiyu

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Codex Writers’ Group Invites Indie Authors to Join

eBooks and Publishing

Codex Writers’ Group is an online, independent group of about 200 active members that offers a lively forum, contests, writing news, writing discussions, in-person meet-ups, critiques, promotional opportunities, and other advantages. It’s a friendly, vibrant, and supportive community whose members all qualify through writing accomplishments. The focus is on science fiction and fantasy prose, but there are some facilities for screenwriters, non-fiction writers, poets, and other writers.

I’m a little worried I’ll come off sounding like a braggart, but since these are achievements of my friends and not of my own, I hope you won’t mind me talking about some of Codexians’ successes. A large proportion of Codex members have gotten literary representation, sold books to major publishers, sold stories to major magazines, sold movie options, won contests, or won major awards since joining. One has co-authored a NY Times best-selling book. Members’ work appears in the great majority of major English language fantasy and science fiction magazines and in many other venues. In 2010, 15% of all Nebula nominations went to Codexians (I haven’t tallied 2011 yet). Codexians have won the Writers of the Future contest, the Phobos contest (R.I.P.), the Hugo, the Nebula, the Campbell, and many other awards. Membership is free and open to all writers who meet one of the qualifications, provided they’re willing to abide by the group agreements on privacy, consideration, etc.

The original means of qualifying were making at least one pro fiction sale or attending a major, by-audition-only writing workshop with industry pros (e.g., Clarion, Odyssey, Literary Boot Camp, etc.). In September we added the option of qualifying by getting representation with certain literary agencies.

As the publishing times are changing, we’ve just added a new means of qualifying to join Codex: sales of self-published fiction. Anyone who has sold at least 1,000 copies of self-published stories or novels and who has received at least $5,000 in income from these sales (note that this is income to the author, not gross sales) is now invited to join Codex. Discussions of indie publishing, eBook creation, cover design, and self-promotion have been very active on the forum lately, and more grist for the self-publishing discussion mill is always welcome.

If you’re interested in the group, please visit .

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Three-Act Structure: Answers to All Your Questions


We’ve been having some lively discussion about three-act structure on Codex, a conversation that was spurred by Film Crit Hulk’s post on three-act structure being useless, an allegation I pushed back against in my recent post “Three Act Structure: Essential Framework or Load of Hooey?” (Film Crit hulk posted a rebuttal comment on that post that was worth reading, too.)

Summarizing everything I gleaned from our discussion, I came up with this Q&A which answers all of your questions. (You’re welcome.)

Q: Are there different structures that different people refer to as “three-act structure?”
A: Yes

Q: Are any of these structures useless?
A: Yes

Q: Are any of these structures useful to all writers?
A: No.

Q: Are any of these structures useful to any writers?
A: Yes.

Q: Is the version Film Crit Hulk describes useful?
A: No.

Q: Is the version Luc describes useful?
A: For some people, sometimes.

Q: What, if anything, is three-act structure good for?
A: Story arc, character development, keeping the reader engaged, suspense, and emotional involvement.

Q: What is the standard proportion of act lengths in three-act structure?
A: It varies, but some common ones are 25%-50%-25% and 25%-58%-17%.

Q: Are those proportions necessary?
A: No.

Q: Does three-act structure in any form, or for that matter any structure, fit all stories?
A: No.

Q: How about all good stories?
A: Still no.

Q: Does three-act structure completely describe a plot?
A: No.

Q: Do acts in three-act structure correspond to acts in a play?
A: Not necessarily.

Q: Are there other structures that aren’t three-act structure?
A: Yes.

Q: Are they useful to any writers?
A: Some people seem to like some of them.

Q: Do some writers produce three-act structure without intending to?
A: Yes.

Q: Do all writers?
A: No.

Q: Can a story use a viable version of three-act structure and still suck?
A: Yes.

Photo by ~jjjohn~

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Codexian Writing Quotes: James Maxey


Continuing my series of quotes from writers I know through the online writing group Codex, here are some memorable thoughts from James Maxey, author of the Dragon Age trilogy and the superhero novel Nobody Gets the Girl. James’s latest feat, which floored a number of us at Codex, was writing the first draft of a novel (the sequel to Nobody) in a week. The resulting book, Burn Baby Burn, can be read in its first draft form as a series of blog posts on Maxey’s Web site. More on this particular accomplishment will show up in a week or two in my “Brain Hacks for Writers” column on Futurismic.

James is quoted often on Codex, so I’ll be breaking up the large selection of his quotes I put together into two or possibly three posts.

Swagger when you lie.

If the WRATH OF GOD couldn’t make this character give a sh**, I don’t know what might.

The worst novel you ever put onto paper is better than the best novel you are walking around with in your head.

On the other hand, I may be underestimating the appeal of my main character, a homosexual, drug-addicted, Republican, vivisectionist zombie. Sweet merciful Jesus, I wish that last sentence was a joke…

Momentum matters!

I can’t sing, play an instrument, dance, paint, sculpt, or act. So, in my early years, I drifted toward writing as my claim to some sort of creative ability simply because it seemed like the easiest talent to fake.

But a completed novel is always going to be haunted by the novel it might have been.

If you have affection and enthusiasm for your characters, then the readers will follow you into some very dark places.

If you and your partner find yourself co-owners of a project that gets optioned for a motion picture and I hear you complain about it on this forum, I will personally drive to your house and slap you about the head and shoulders with a rubber monkey until my envy is abated. And I can be very, very envious.

If anyone wants to power a time machine, the deadline for the first novel you ever sell from a proposal has amazing time acceleration properties. I can only imagine that committing to a whole series must propel you straight into old age.

My motto is, little by little, the writing gets done.

Is Batman really making the world a better place by wearing his underwear on the outside of his pants and clobbering muggers with boomerangs? I think that having your characters learn the wrong lessons from their private tragedies is the key to making them interesting.

… the key to writing a good novel is to first write a bad novel. You’re just piling clay onto the wheel at this stage. You aren’t spinning the wheel to turn it into something until the second draft.

But, I don’t yell. I write. I turn our presidents and judges and televangelists into dragons and I send heroes (or, more frequently, anti-heroes) out to slay them.

Look, I’ve had it up to here with people dismissing all Yellow-Eyed Beasts from Hell as “evil.” The idea that Judea-Christian labels for morality apply to creatures from the pit is an outdated, human-centric view of the world that I hope we, as a society, are finally outgrowing. Baby-eating and stabbing people with pitchforks may seem taboo to most Americans, but what right to we have to impose our values on the denizens of the underworld?

For me–and I can’t speak for anyone else–my formula was stupid stubbornness. I kept plugging along despite rejection letters and harsh critiques because I was too dumb to understand that I really was no good at what I was doing and it was time to give up and move on to something else.

The one thing you can do is buy a lot of lottery tickets, metaphorically. Every short story you write might be the one that wins you an award. You never know. Any book you write might be the exact book that a publisher is dreaming of publishing. Productivity is key.

If Jesus himself were to tell me the sky is blue, I’d argue the point. I mean, sure, sometimes the sky is blue, but a high percentage of the time it’s black, or gray, or white, or any of the zillion shades of pink or purple you find in the bookends of day.

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Codexian Writing Quotes: Eric James Stone and Helena Bell


Here’s the latest in my series of writing quotes from members of Codex, the online writing group I founded seven years ago; I hope you’ll find them entertaining and–who knows?–even pithy. On the other hand, it’s possible that I enjoy them so much only because I have so much context. You’ll have to decide.

Previous posts have featured the ever-sparkly Alethea Kontis and Joy Marchand, who loves filling the silence with paranoia. Today’s features recent Nebula winner Eric James Stone and talespinner/poet Helena Bell.

Stone's new book of short stories

Eric James Stone‘s recent Nebula award win for his novelette “The Leviathan, Whom Thou Hast Made,” is almost boringly predictable for those of us who have known him for years and had to put up with his repeated winning of Codex short story contests. His work has appeared in Year’s Best SF 15, Analog, Nature, and other venues; he is a Writers of the Future winner and a Hugo nominee; and he’s on the editorial staff at Intergalactic Medicine Show. Here are a few of his pithy remarks over the last few years. He can be found on the Web at

Unfortunately, too many people try going directly to procreating without having spent enough time amateurcreating.

I’m not sure how many hours of daylight you Arizonans have foolishly wasted over the years, but I’m sure it’s a lot. One of these days, the sun’s going to fail to rise in the morning, and you Arizonans will all be stuck in the dark while the rest of us use the daylight we’ve saved up.

If you can see an advantage of a worst-case scenario, it is not a worst-case scenario.

I generally time my public announcement of sales to when they will do the most psychological damage to Scott M. Roberts.

I have long been envious of Hel Bell’s name, and would probably have changed mine to that long ago if I had the face for it. Her work has appeared in venues like Strange Horizons, Ideomancer, and Pedestal and appears with titles along the lines of “A Face Like an Imperfectly Shaven Tennis Ball” and “[Insert Title Indicating This is a Poem about Bluebeard the Wife Murderer, not the Pirate].” Her Web site is

I don’t kill my characters. I just find them that way.

“And the stab wounds?”
“There was a bee.”

There is just something awesome about eating beignets at 1 o’clock Sunday morning and then having a heart to heart with a drag queen.

I think I could make a living selling t-shirts with the stuff that James [Maxey] says on them.
Note: She’s probably right, and note that James Maxey will be featured in future posts.

In general I like to be positive, but that’s because I’m a good Southern girl who only talks bad about people when there’s little chance they’ll find out about it.

… No, it was not immediately obvious that the killer whale was autistic.

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Codexian Writing Quotes: Joy Marchand


Joy Marchand is a writer, poet, and editor. I met her at the 2004 Writers of the Future workshop, where her terrific short story “Sleep Sweetly, Junie Carter” (written as Joy Remy) won her a spot in Writers of the Future XX. My “Bottomless,” a story of a young man exiled from his village located deep within a bottomless pit, appeared in the same volume, but Joy’s story of a woman trying to cope with more time than any human is made to handle may well be my favorite in the book.

Joy’s Web site, with a bibliography of her short fiction, is at (although it hasn’t been updated for a while). Her blog, which is very much up to date, is at . Below you’ll find some of her sayings from Codex that I’ve found most pithy over the last few years.

I’m sure folks don’t mean to be a bundle of insecurities and make asses of themselves on an ongoing basis; I’ve certainly tried to cut down myself.

People do bad things, have naughty sex, make terrible decisions and sometimes hate their parents.

I’m a writer, after all. I have a great imagination and love filling the silence with paranoia.

Boring sex is boring sex, no matter who’s having it.

If the back story doesn’t influence a character’s entire world view, then I think it’s the wrong back story …

…we’re all here to produce pages. Some of us do it for love of language, for glory, for groceries, for attention, for love of hearing ourselves talk. Some of us have noble motives and social awareness, and some of us are navel-gazing solipsists, and we really don’t care about anybody else out there. Some of us use transparent prose and sell to Analog, and some of us are stylists and sweat to get our stuff published anywhere, including Bobby Joe’s Navel-Gazing Gazette if it’ll get us a little love. Some of us write from a place of peace and light and hope and puppies, and some of us hitch our gnarled demons to the plow and make those useful bastards work the back 40. And the only thing that glues us together is a smattering of markets we all submit to, and a vow to produce pages on a regular basis.

Asking me to write Patterson-esque potboilers would be like making a dog wear spanky-pants. Entertaining, but it pisses off the dog and ruins the pants.

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Codexian Writing Quotes: Alethea Kontis


Codex is an online writing group I founded in 2004 that currently has about 200 active members, most writing science fiction or fantasy and all in the early stages of their careers, from some who have written a lot but not yet made their first pro sale to others who are seeing their third, fourth, or fifth novel coming out from a major publisher. Since the founding of the group, members have won major awards like the Campbell, Hubbard, Hugo, and Nebula, made hundreds (and possibly thousands) of short story sales, gotten top agents, sold their first book (or pair of books, or trilogy), made the New York Times bestseller list, achieved consistent financial and literary success with self-published eBooks, and so on. Some have transitioned to full-time writing careers, though most still write only when they can.

But I love the group not because of the amount of success of its members (which tests my envy tolerance on a regular basis) but because of the flood of wisdom, intelligence, kindness, encouragement, and enthusiasm that wells up every day through posts, e-mails, discussions, critiques, and in-person meetings. And while I can’t share all of that material, I can and will share quotes that have cropped up on our forum, with the permission [I originally wrote “position,” because my mental typing buffer is auditory … but I digress] of the originators.

So with this post I begin a series of Codexian quotes, which I hope you will find as entertaining, illuminating, and/or perplexing as I have. This first set is all from my friend Alethea Kontis, whose work includes a persistently delightful picture book called AlphaOops: The Day Z Went First (with illustrator Bob Kolar), the New York Times bestselling Dark Hunter Companion (with Sherrilyn Kenyon), an upcoming fantasy novel, and much else.

Alethea’s Web site and blog are at

Never underestimate the value of Butt In Chair.

[on getting fit] “I’ve decided that every freaking day is just Day One all over again, so why bother numbering them?

I had a great time whipping 16 7-year olds into a complete frenzy. We ended up on the playground, drawing all over ourselves with Sharpies.

We are writers. We are meant to see and feel everything, the good and the bad, the best and the worst. We are meant to cut ourselves and bleed our souls onto paper and share them with the world. We breathe life into impossible cities and create alleyways of escape. We dredge up things that aren’t discussed at the breakfast table and serve them as entrees. We are creators whose purpose in life is to balance out the entropy.

[At the time of this quote, Lee worked for a book wholesaler] 1:30 p.m. — Weekly Staff Meeting. We decide it should be spelled ‘e-books.’

I smile at a baby in red socks and listen to Chris Martin from Coldplay tell me how beautiful I am. I know he doesn’t mean it, but it’s still nice to hear.

[in 2009] Imagine a world with 24356424 bazillion books and no brick-and-mortar stores, because everyone can publish their own grocery lists and advertise it on the internet (and then download it to folks’ PDAs). How will anyone be able to find a good book anymore? How do you find them today? That’s the part the publishing industry needs to focus on.


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Hurrah for the Comment King!


On Codex we’re having a discussion about what makes blogs work (and what that even means). Since there are some very good bloggers in the group (take Maya Lassiter and Kelly Barnhill, for example), it’s an eye-opening read. Two of the most useful pieces of wisdom for me that have come up so far are the twin reminders of letting yourself shine through (“letting your freak flag fly,” as my girlfriend/partner/inamorata Janine puts it) and offering humor and entertainment in your posts. People have been trying to tell me these things for a long time, but I keep protesting “No, I have to be serious because I’m writing this post on neurotransmitters.” (As if neurotransmitters weren’t fun. Try tossing back a cocktail of dopamine and oxytocin some time and just try to tell me you didn’t enjoy yourself!)

But the award for “most excellently useful new-to-me revelations” goes to Codexian Ferrett Steinmetz, whose post “The Compleat Guide To LiveJournal Stardom And Fame, Part II” covers all kinds of really, really handy insights about effective blogging and effectively engaging your readers–and does so in a profoundly entertaining, freak-flagerific way. It even starts with a jaunty little poem.

While Ferrett’s post is written about LiveJournal specifically, almost every point he makes applies to citizens of WordPress,, and every other blogging system.

Ironically, I’m using very few of his suggestions in this post, but I have a suspicion they’ll begin cropping up here and there any post now.

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