The end of the Nook or the salvation?

From the very beginning, Barnes & Noble has faced an uphill battle with its Nook devices. As with the e-book market, B&N came to the e-reader market late and has been trying to play catch up with Amazon and its various incarnations of the Kindle ever since. That battle has turned into a bleeding hole of debt for B&N where the Nook is concerned and for the last several years there has been open speculation about whether or not the bookseller would continue in the e-reader market. The voices of doubt were silenced, or at least hushed a little, a year or so ago when B&N announced a deal with Samsung to bring out its first new Nook tablets in, well, much too long. But the sales figures spoke volumes and the Nook division continued to lose money and B&N went looking for yet another new CEO to helm them company.

Ronald D. Boire has been tapped to take over the leadership of the company’s retail division come September. Boire has spent the last year as head of Sears Canada. Before that, he spent almost three years as head of Sears in the U. S. He also also worked with Best Buy and Sony Electronics. It is clear B&N his hoping his background with electronics will help rescue the Nook. Part of me hopes they are right because competition is always a good thing and, frankly, someone needs to be pushing Amazon not only to make it better but to keep it honest.

However, Boire is walking into a mire of problems that will be difficult to fix, especially if he follows the pattern of his last two jobs and stays only three years or less. The morass of issues facing B&N isn’t going to be fixed quickly, especially since its corporate structure has shown an unwillingness to change in the past.

Some of the issues plaguing the Nook are no longer really issues as much as bad marks left in the minds of early adopters of e-books and e-readers. When the Nook first came out, people were up in arms when charges for a penny were suddenly appearing on their credit cards. It seemed that if you downloaded a free e-book, Nook’s system still charged you. It was only a penny but still, free is free.

Then there was the issue that you could only download books that came from B&N. Oh, there were very quickly work-arounds but not everyone was techie enough to do it. Then there was the problem when the first Nook tablet came out that a huge portion of its memory was set aside and unusable for apps e-books. It’s e-book store was difficult to navigate around and, for awhile at least, they talked about having to be in-store to download directly to your device. Otherwise, you had to side-load (I’ll admit, I don’t know if that ever actually went into effect. By that time, I was firmly in the Kindle family).

Now, just before Boire takes over, B&N has unveiled an “updated” website that is more than just buggy, especially when it comes to the Nook side of things. According to GoodEReader, this overhaul of the site has been two years in the making. Two years and they still managed to put up a site that was broken. The “Read Instantly” function of Nook for the Web was broken. This basically meant you couldn’t preview an e-book before buying it. But that wasn’t all that was wrong with the new site.

Another glaring error is the fact that any past purchases cannot be read online and the Nook Library does not recognize past purchases as being owned. If you click on any e-book you have bought in the past the only options right now is to archive it or purchase it again. If you try and buy it again there are a series of errors that do not allow you to complete the transaction.

Wait what?

To compound the problem, this broken site meant those using the Nook app on their iPhones and iPads were unable to buy e-books from the retailer. Why? Because B&N stood up to Apple and refused to pay a commission on every sale made through the app — and I don’t blame them. But that means the only way for an iOS user to get a Nook e-book is to buy it through BN.com and then sideload it.

Now, the initial reporting of issues with the site came in last week. So, I just wandered over to BN.com and looked at the Nook best sellers. The site is still wonky, at best. When I clicked on the first entry, Grey, I received after a longish load time, a message that there was no preview of the hard cover and I was looking at the e-book preview — which was only the cover. Now, the problem there was I hadn’t been asking about the hard cover but about the e-book. For the next entry, The Paris Architect – A Novel, I received a “we’re sorry, the page you requested in unavailable” error message. Whisky Beach, by Nora Roberts, was next in line. The first time I clicked the link, it took me back to the Nook homepage. So I went back to the best sellers list and tried again. This time, it took me to the product page and, as of right now, the page is still trying to load the product description more than a minute later. Clicking for a preview takes me to a new window and back to the Nook homepage. Finally, when I get to the fourth entry on the best sellers list, The Girl on the Train, I actually go a preview when I clicked through for one. So, one in four of the books I looked at in the Nook Read Instantly previewer actually worked. Not good, especially when we are talking about the best sellers.

I’m not sure B&N will be able to save the Nook. At this point, the company has lost over a billion dollars because of failures in this particular division. Boire will be the third CEO since 2009. As Goodereader says, Boire “has an impressive resume but an entire digital industry passed him by. He was not actively working in tech when the original iPad came out, or the first generation Kindle. He did not play a role when people gravitated away from visiting websites and a billion dollar app market developed. It remains highly dubious that he can fundamentally understand the core of the Nook business and their competition.” This is a concern I share, especially given the fact that B&N has proven that its corporate culture doesn’t like change. I hope he can help turn the division around but I’m not holding my breath. Even if he does, the retailer has so many issues, I’m not sure that plugging one hole will be enough to save it in the long run.

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The Evil Emperor Mong (of whom all Mil SF authors need to know… or will discover his work)

A couple of weeks ago I mentioned that noble gentleman of long mustachios, always on hand to help the enlisted man, the infamous Emperor Mong. If you’re a writer Mil SF, and the Emperor has not regularly visited your pages… you’re doing it wrong. To assist those of you without the experience (alas, what bliss you have missed), I thought I would get an expert to explain his marvelous workings

So: without further ado I pass you into the tender hands of Kris Keldaran.

The picture is a link :-)

Bring it in boys and girls, Gunny Mormon is here to share a story with you. Smoke ‘em if you got ‘em, dip it if you want. No, I’m not sharing my Jim Bean barbecue sunflower seeds. Trying to find Jim Bean seeds in Utah is harder than finding a fifth of Jim Bean for sale on a Sunday.

Now, everybody knows about that Irish bastard Murphy. Murphy knows exactly how to make a mess of everything when you really don’t want it to. That time we had to go clean the battalion motor pool and a tropical storm came through right after? That’s Murphy, because the luck of the Irish does not apply when that prick is present. Murphy has a Chinese cousin named among. Emperor Mong to be precise. And what does Mong do? Heheh, that’s easy. Mong is that guy who whispers suggestions into your ear. His. suggestions will sound brilliant. Albert Einstein-worthy brilliant. Mong has practice at it too. His blue dress coat is heavy with medals from campaigns all the way back to when primitive man figured out he could kill his fellow man with a rock. Mong knows exactly how to talk to the man in uniform and convince him something is great. The common victims are you junior enlisted. Consider Private Shmuckatelli who wants to get a pet for himself. Mong sidles up beside him and whispers in Shmuckatelli’s ear : “Great idea old boy! It will make your barracks feel more home-like and pleasant.”

“But Emperor, what if Gunny Mormon finds out? Animals aren’t allowed in the barracks!”

“Pah, this is a matter of health! Having a pet increases your longevity! And besides, I have given this my blessing. Go forth and do not disobey me!”

“Yes Sir Emperor, to hear is to obey!”

Right now Shmuckatelli is watching Mittens get deep fried like a chicken at KFC. He also has a new hat to wear. Because my name is Gunny Mormon and I don’t take orders from the likes of Mong. But I will water my chili pepper garden with Shmuckatelli’s tears tonight after he finishes consuming Mittens done up extra crispy.

Now, quite often, people like to try and write the military as myrmidons — that we immediately obey all orders to perfection. The truth is that we’re still mortal, we still make choices, and sometimes we follow the Emperor’s advice even when we know better. Often, advice of the emperor comes as something normal civilians would make the mistake of doing. The rub lies in that our consequences are more draconic, immediate and painful. Hence why Shmuckatelli is enjoying extra crispy Mittens.

We conduct business on a level where people can get busy with everything from knives and garrotes to nuclear weapons. When there are monumental cock ups, it is the duty and responsibility of higher authority to deal with it. In some cases though, it’s a learning process that solves itself. If you need to, ask a military friend how sergeants handle discipline problems and bad choices.

When one of your mouth-breathers get the bright idea to siphon anti-freeze, and try to rush it, DON’T! That’s Mong talking! Ignore him. That crap burns when you swallow it, and the Medical Officer will not be amused when you go to sickbay. Nor will your sergeant when finally you are released. Nor will I when I explain to battalion sergeant major what happened. When you get the idea to marry a stripper right before we go on deployment, don’t! She will take your money, she will max out your credit cards, total your car, shamelessly cheat on you and burn your house down. Thereafter you’ll have no money, lots of creditors clamoring for your blood, no car, no house and a raging case of syphilis. And no, Mong will not return your phone calls, nor will he help you attempt to get your money back. Don’t even bother asking about the VD. It’s going to burn when you pee. You will be SOL.

When I was a young Corporal, a field op was called for in the battalion. A short event, 3 days at Bellows in Hawaii where I was stationed. It’s a great base, located right on the beach. During holiday weekend one can expect to see bikinis everywhere and the water is pleasant. Somehow, the boots in the Service platoon got it into their heads that such would remain the case while we were there.

Much discussion was had about lightening packs of unnecessary gear. It’s only three days- who needs spare batteries, a rubber sleeping mat, poncho and poncho liner? Or an e-tool, gortex, 550 cord? Besides, we’re supply, we can just slip on over to the PX and get what we need from there!

Just when I started to question this wisdom, whom should come dashing over the horizon in all His Imperial Majesty but Mong himself! “Forsooth my brave and excellent sons, fear neither the weather nor the dark! I have already consulted with the oracles- there shall be neither rain nor darkness for I have caused a full moon to occur during the time you are out and about in the field.”

“Many thanks oh Mighty Emperor!” The boots did cheer.

“You guys really sure you want to listen to him?” I asked.

“Silence thou fiend of hell! You doubt my power?”

In that case, some lessons are meant to be learned the hard way, so back I went to packing my kit while the boots let the emperor regale them with promises of wine and song and lovely women all a-flutter at their non-existent campaign ribbons.

When first we arrived, there was nothing to do. Indeed, Service Platoon wasn’t even needed to stand the guard posts right then. So grabbing a tent from the truck, I went off and emplaced. The abandoned runaway was too hard to dig through, so I went into the nearby tree line. One tent, overhead cover via my poncho, secured to the bushes nearby, drip lines, a trench dug to standard all around my tent with dog legs, and my gear laid out for easy access. Glow sticks (hastily acquired when the supply sergeant wasn’t looking) a flashlight with batteries in my dump pouch, gortex top and bottoms, dry socks. Everything is laid out just so.

Meanwhile the rest of the platoon is shooting the breeze not paying attention. They are entirely ignorant of the clouds forming on yonder horizon. 4 hours later, those same clouds opened up hell, at which point a great truth became very apparent- if thou fails to plan for the weather, thou wilt most assuredly get pulled over a barrel and roughly taken advantage of, by a donkey, without any lube. As they set up tents on the hard-packed runway, sobbing and crying to the emperor for relief, yours truly was chilling in his tent with the door flaps down enjoying the pleasant breeze and eating pogey bait. Mong of course, could not hear their pleas, face down as he was in the ample bosom of a blonde beach bunny over in Kapolei, sipping a piña colada. Because he’s a dick like that.

Remember always that the Emperor proffers his advice without charge, but if it can be charged for under the UCMJ, then strongly consider whether it’s worth doing. And check the damn weather report.

Of course the Emperor will tell you there is no need…

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Monster Hunter Win

It’s rare that I will re-read a book, or a series. When I find myself re-reading something, it’s usually because I found the universe so thoroughly immersive and enjoyable — the characters, the setting, the plot, everything — I wasn’t content with just one tour. I’ve done this with several of W. Michael Gear’s books. Many of Larry Niven’s too. I’ve done it several times with Ender’s Game and Speaker for the Dead. I’ve re-read the Sten series and A Reckoning For Kings (by Bunch & Cole) so many times, the original paperbacks are literally falling apart at the spine. Ditto for the first two Chronicles of Thomas Covenant, by Stephen R. Donaldson. Each of these works — by different writers with different backgrounds — gave me so much readerly pleasure, I wasn’t satisfied with a single pass. So I’ve gone back for more.

This time? It’s Larry Correia’s Monster Hunter International series. Which I’ve been reading as each new book has come out, but which I find myself re-reading on deployment. From the first book, onward. And which I’ve been enjoy hugely, both as a reader, and also as a writer.

See, being a pro writer has been hard on my recreational reading sensibilities. There is an internal editor at work now — picture him like a grumpy, dyspeptic Lou Grant kind of guy, sitting behind a desk — which attempts to “back-seat drive” my rec reading brain. Very often this derails the process, because I find myself parsing passages and chapters with an eye to “improving” them through the sieve of my own writerly style, wit, timing, taste, etc. Which is a damned silly way to read a book when you’re trying to relax. At which point I yell at Lou Grant, saying, “You’re supposed to be off the clock, you bastard!” Lou usually just flips me the bird, and I have to put the book down, and go do something else.

Larry’s Monster Hunter International books do the magic trick of making Lou Grant bob his head in agreement, saying, “Yeah, yeah, man, this is good shit, yeah,” and I don’t have to work at it — to be entertained. The entertainment comes naturally, and I find myself flipping pages fast and furious. Because Larry is that good of a storyteller.

Now, without giving away too much of the plot, I want to focus in on what I consider to be some of the keys to Larry’s rip-roaring success with this series. I will use Monster Hunter International and Monster Hunter Vendetta as my focus, though the fun certainly improves with each expansion of the franchise. But these are the two anchor books I think every inquiring reader needs to digest, so that the successive volumes are properly framed. As with the Sten books, you can drop into the series at any point and expect to have a good time. But it’s still a great idea to start with the beginning in mind. Because MHI is not just a terrific universe peopled with terrific characters bound up in a terrific story, it’s also a textbook on how to enthrall a readership — and keep that readership expanding, as well as coming back for more.

First, MHI is about a secret world. The Harry Potter books are another terrific crowd-pleasing example of this. In both cases, the audience simply has to make one leap of faith: that the modern, ordinary world we inhabit is merely a mask over a deeper, magical, quite more adventurous (as well as dangerous) world, which we can almost glimpse out of the corner of our eyes. But as soon as we look to see, that world is gone. Replaced by the mundane. Still, we deeply wish the secret world could be real. And MHI allows it to be real, on the printed page. The yearning for the secret world is satisfied.

Second, MHI is about a Chosen Hero. Again, Harry Potter does this too. In fact, most of the blockbuster stories which inhabit our popular imagination — from Star Wars to the Marvel Cinematic Universe — focus on people who are extraordinary. Set apart. They might not know it in the beginning. But some kind of looming threat against the good things in the world, will cause or force the Chosen Hero (or heroes, or heroines) to throw off the disguise of the ordinary, and accept his/their mantle(s) as the people who’ve been selected (by the gods, by fate, by the cosmos, by dumb luck) to be the champion(s) of the age. Like the secret world, the Chosen Hero is a concept most people find irresistible. Most of us grow up playing make-believe, in which we manage to be the “special” and courageous folk who make the difference. I don’t think we ever lose this child-like fascination with the idea that there is, lurking within all of us, the power to be The One who rises up to change things for the better. Almost 20 years ago, the original Matrix movie exploited this desire — on the part of the audience — to fantastic and gripping effect. MHI does too.

Third, MHI is about genuinely enjoyable, sympathetic heroes. I can’t stress this one enough, mostly because anti-heroes have somewhat swamped our popular culture of late. Whether it’s Walter White in Breaking Bad — a Shakespearean tragedy which sees an ordinary man do bad things for good reasons, until at last he realizes he likes being bad because it gives him power, until he is consumed — or Tony Soprano from The Sopranos, the anti-hero has become a fixture in the popular storytelling landscape. Now, anti-heroes are remarkable creatures because you can often do more with them than you can with a straight-up hero. The anti-hero gets to play by a different set of rules — and this too appeals to a deep longing each of us has, to shatter convention, and allow our individual wants, desires, lusts, quest for power, etc., to rule the day. But the anti-hero ultimately has to turn to good, otherwise the story is simply a bleak cautionary tale. And while the people of MHI aren’t perfect, they allow us to cleanly root for them. Yes, even agent Franks. A man who is every inch an anti-hero, until you understand him.

Fourth, MHI employs genuinely delicious villains. You can’t really make your heroes live up to themselves, unless you give them truly substantial villains to battle. The original Star Wars trilogy relied as much on Vader and Palpatine, to tell an epic tale, as it did on Luke, Leia, and Han. So too did the movie Sneakers rely on Cosmo to make its story compelling. In fact, Cosmo is almost the hero of the whole film, except events have steered Cosmo down the path of darkness, whereas Martin Bishop evolved to discover that what he thought he wanted in his youth, wasn’t what the world actually needed. MHI does a lot of this, too. Many of the villains, used to be heroes. But have been turned by circumstances into something else. In the case of the first two MHI villains, we get a front-row seat for much of this. To include the many ways in which the links — villains, to heroes, and back again — prove vital to the telling of the story. The heroes and the villains are bound up in a very personal struggle, that has universal proportion.

Fifth, MHI is a “family” affair. Some of the bad guys are literally related to the good guys. As people, all of us are acquainted with family drama. Sometimes, to a toxic degree. But it’s because we’re so intimately familiar with family drama, that fictional family drama can become almost instantly engaging. Consider the all-time Science Fiction classic, Dune. Family drama all the way. Star Wars? Family drama. Harry Potter and Downton Abbey? Family dramas. Whether those families are direct blood, or are simply the relationships forged between individuals — by trial, familiarity, greed, resentment, jealousy, or true love. The Shackleford clan is a dynasty in MHI‘s mythic alternative world, and the interplay of the family dynamics — some of which is rendered with terrific skill — can almost sell the series on its own. Especially when you factor in the Pitt clan, who have been forced by fate to join in the Shackleford legacy. Again, the links — bad guys, to good guys, and back again — are a big part of what makes the books pop. Without those links, MHI wouldn’t be nearly as page-turning.

Sixth, MHI is literally about killing monsters. Every kid who ever pulled the sheets over her head at night, because she was terrified of the monster under the bed — eyes glowing red, like in The Nightmare Before Christmas — has secretly yearned to strike back at the fear. To not be scared anymore. To face the monster under the bed, and defeat it. That’s a very primal desire which, along with the desire to be unique or special, gives MHI a visceral vicariousness that’s difficult to ignore. Every time Owen or Julie or Milo or one of the other heroes (even Franks!) slugs it out with a vampire, a werewolf, a zombie, or worse, we’re along for the glorious ride. The kind of blood-pumping, masterfully-detailed rhetorical fist-fight that gets your blood pumping. This is the kind of stuff you play-acted as a little kid. Charging into battle with your nightmares, and making them pay for keeping you scared at night when the lights are out.

Seventh, MHI makes you want to be part of the story. So when you leave the book, or close the cover, the action is still happening in your imagination. You want to be a newbie, slogging through training and earning your right to wear a team patch, so that you can go toe-to-toe with the hordes of Hell, right alongside Holly and Earl and all the rest. The Shacklefords — and their company by extension — are also the kind of people you wish you could work with in your real job, too. Loyal. Tough. Dependable. Never willing to let a brother or a sister hang. We want our world to be that way. We want our friends and our family to be that rock-solid. Because too often, when the heat is on, friends and family in the real world let us down. But we know in our hearts that Monster Hunter International, and the men and women who staff it, are true blue. Not perfect. Not immortal. But true blue. Which, if I do say so myself, reflects the core of Larry Correia himself. True blue. Or red, as Larry might prefer (as in red state. *chuckle*.)

So, MHI is a terrific, ongoing story. Yes. But it’s a story that manages to deftly weave seven strong storytelling threads together in such a way that those threads become even more appealing upon second review. Not every book I go back to re-read, gets me even better than the first time through. But MHI is just such a book, and just such a series. I don’t think you could find more enjoyable “homework” if you’re thinking about writing books and stories of your own — at least if your goal is to earn an audience.

If the premise of MHI is, “Kill monsters, get paid,” then the ethic of storytelling is, “Entertain readers, get paid.” Larry’s given us all a stupendously enjoyable blueprint, for that very project — at least where key ingredients are concerned. I’ve been buzzing — in my creative brain, all summer — about how to include some of these ingredients in my own work. I think most of the people reading this piece, could stand to do the same.

And the best part?

Larry’s not done with the series yet! There is more to come!

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Reading Through Con Crud

I don’t wind up with con crud after every con, but it seems like it sometimes. The First Reader, on the other hand, has had it once. The current theory is that some people are most susceptible to it, like me. It could also be because I’m a hugger and he isn’t. For whatever reason, I got it this year after LibertyCon. Took me down for two days, and messed up my planned schedule. Which is why I’m writing this post instead of something a bit more planned.

Steps for dealing with con crud:

  • try not to over-schedule during the con and actually get some sleep
  • Eat and drink regularly during the con. Drink some more, and no, I don’t mean alcohol.
  • After the con, get rest.
  • When the tickle at the back of the throat starts, gargle with warm salt water.
  • When the sore throat erupts, an equal blend of lemon juice and honey, taken in teaspoonfuls, is soothing
  • When the fever hits, recognize that it is a regulatory function of your immune system and don’t try to knock it down with NSAIDs right away.
  • Try to sleep, or at least get in bed and stay there.
  • Drink lots of water.
  • When the fever breaks, don’t immediately get up and go back to normal routines. Stay in bed a little longer.
  • Drink more water…

If you’re me, you’ll skip some of these steps (like the first three!). I also supplement with reading, if I’m in too much pain to sleep or have other reasons to stay awake. Reading while I’m sick is… interesting.

For one thing, I need to be able to easily immerse into the world. Some writers make this very easy, others I have to work at a bit, and some are just impossible. I tend to avoid new books/authors when I’m sick, returning to old friends and reliable reads. On the other hand, really complex reads are just not fun when you are all foggy with a fever. Yesterday I had some old familiar books in the form of several Margery Allingham’s that have been re-released and which are available through KU (yay!) and a Dorothy Sayers. I did manage a couple of new books for review, too. I also discovered that I had stuff on my Kindle app I don’t remember putting on there: Zombie Fallout? Really?

I have discovered that it is so much better to read on the kindle app while sick than to attempt paper. I have in the past found myself wound ’round stacks of books on my bed… this at least means I can push it to my nightstand and roll over without fear of damage to me or books. Reading ebooks has the advantage of allowing me to pick through hundreds of choices to find the one thing that suits my mood without getting up from bed and prowling through the shelves. It’s got the unfortunate side effect of allowing me to easily binge-read and buy more books in a series with a single click: dangerous when one is in a lowered mental state that can’t do the math on one’s book budget!

Reading while I’m ill, I discovered a long time ago, makes me a bit more porous. I’m not sure how best to describe this, so I will approach it in a roundabout sort of fashion. Those who meet and speak with me will sometimes comment on my accent. Especially when I have been talking to someone only on the phone, I get asked if I am from Britain. I am not, and have spent only six weeks over there, but I have a theory. Well, two of them, really. The First Reader and I were talking on this topic recently: my voice is affected by my reading habits. Whether it is my word choices, or my pronunciation, my voice, he tells me, can be a bit ‘posh’ to the American ear. He was more aware of it than I, as he went though a period of time where he deliberately removed his speaking vocabulary from broad to narrow, as he was being harassed when he first went into the military. Earlier than that, he took the trouble to lose his Kentucky accent, although to my delight he can put it back on when he wants. I like the drawl.

I never had that particular crab-bucket experience, where others mocked me for my vocabulary. I have noticed that if I am reading a lot of a particular style, I will start to use and think in words that aren’t my normal ones. Right now, that’s because I’ve been heavily immersed in British mysteries. In high school, when I was most certainly not allowed to swear, I picked up the habit of ‘oh bother’ and ‘Bloody!’ which stay with me to this day. I knew what I was doing, but I could get away with it!

I’m looking at this rambling and thinking I may need to go back to bed for a while. I’m still not myself. I wonder which book I shall take with me this time?

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I Write Fanfic

My apologies for the tardiness of this post. I was up until 0330 last night writing. If you know me, you know that my usual bedtime is around 2300.

Hi, my name is Jason, and I recently committed a heinous sin.

Very seldom do I get a chance to hang around friends. Or people, for that matter. I am, by nature, a recluse. I mean, I like people, but I don’t actively seek them out like most others do. I’m content in my office, typing away, creating conversations in my head that will eventually (or not; my new editors are ruthless) make it into a book. You can probably guess that I’m not the best public speaker, either, given the mass amount of alcohol I have to imbibe just to be on panels at a con (though that leads to amazing stories of “Jason did something stupid…” which is usually followed by “…and then he went to the hospital.”).

The downside of drinking at a convention with people you like is that you tend to get a little more truthy than you intend to. This past weekend at Libertycon something similar happened. I made the most dreadful of mistakes, and to a writer I admire greatly as well:

I admitted that I wrote fanfic in her universe.

Now before you go off the rails, let me explain. I’m mostly ambivalent when it comes to fanfic. I don’t mind people writing slashfic about my characters, or using a setting in one of my universes to write a story in, so long as they’re not trying to make money off of it. The IP rights to that belongs to me (and, to a lesser extent, whichever publisher still retains the first refusal rights to that universe), but I can’t really stop people from doing it. A clever filing of serial numbers, a character name change or two, and bam! there it is. No harm, no foul. Hell, every story (according to modern English professors) originated from somewhere else. It’s our job as writers to get out there and put our own clever little twist on the story to make is ours.

Anyway, back to my drunken confession…

(another side note: I wasn’t drunk, per se. I was loaded up on oxycodone due to my knee injury. I’d been in constant agony since Thursday at that point and I was almost ready to saw my leg off right then and there. Alcohol makes me brutally honest. Painkillers make me feel fuzzy and like I’m not entirely there, which is what they’re supposed to do. Yay for dopamine receptor blockage!)

I was at John Ringo’s Dead Dog Party and was chatting with my favorite Crazy Portuguese Writer when I suddenly said “I have to admit something to you. Please don’t kill me.”

Crazy Portuguese Writer – “What did you do…?”

Me (shamefaced) – “I wrote a fanfic story in your Shifter universe. I’m really sorry!”

To her credit, Sarah didn’t fall over and laugh at me. Or kill me (hey, Portuguese, man… you never know which end of the sword they’re going to hit you with). But then I told her that it had turned into a book… well, let’s just say I’m pretty sure she was amused by the idiot Spaniard.

Here’s the thing, though – I didn’t write it to make money off of it. It was just an exercise in writing that turned into a freaking book. I sometimes do this to help break through on other projects that I’m stuck on (Kraken Mare, for those of you who are curious… I was stuck on Kraken Mare) and can’t seem to shake the world I’m writing in. Going over to someone else’s world and writing a fun little story as an exercise really does help. It breaks you out of the monotony and “sameness” that you might fall into sometimes. You have to follow someone else’s rules, and that means you have to find ways to make the story and characters work without breaking canon.

*sigh* You should also probably not be around the author whose universe you’re writing the fanfic in if you’re inebriated and are honest to a fault. Sometimes it’s not that funny. Again, to her credit, I’m pretty sure that Sarah knew I wasn’t trying to steal her idea or universe and was very gracious in not smacking me over the head (or it could have been because she was holding a baby in her arms and could only kick, and since I already had an injured knee, she took pity on me). But some others are so overzealous about their IP rights (and rightfully so) that someone who meant well or was doing something they thought was harmless could bring down the vengeful fury of a pissed off writer.

But for a professional to write fanfic treads on a line that is very fine. It’s why I was so reluctant to tell Sarah about it in the first place. H.P. Lovecraft died penniless, while Edgar Rice Burroughs managed to get California to name a city after his creation and then make money off of it.

There’s a lesson to be learned here…

Now for the promo stuff. Jason Cordova is an author who writes about monsters, spaceships, and kickass women — all in the same book even! Too much awesomeness packed into one book led to him deciding that, from July 3rd to July 5th, he would give away a short story over on Amazon. Yes, that’s right, once more is The Dead of Babylon available for free. For this weekend only. 

Oh, he’s also a 2015 John W. Campbell Award finalist. He got the paperwork and everything just this week. Yep, he’s official.

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Kate the Impaler and the Convention of Liberty

An after-action report in multiple parts

Having been threatened with dire – albeit unspecified – consequences should she fail to attend the Convention of Liberty in the distant realm of Choo Choo – or rather, the renewal of vows of the Beautiful But Evil Space Princess Sarah and her beloved husband the Mathematician Dan along with the wedding of the Redhead of Doom (or the Other Redhead of Doom, nobody is quite sure which one is which) Cedar to her beloved Sanford, the Evil Muse – the warrior maiden Kate the Impaler did rise before the dawn that she might undertake the grueling journey.

And grueling it was, for first the warrior maiden did take her trusty steed Toyota Camry through the treacherous deeps of Philadelphia highways to brave the dread labyrinth known to the world of Mundania as Philadelphia Airport. Yea, and great was Kate the Impaler’s relief when she did espy a small sign displaying the welcome news, “Long Term Parking, Exit 13″, for the airport exit did be number 12 and thus she might avail herself of a trained guide through the dark winding trails of the labyrinth.

After finding stabling for her trusty steed, Kate the Impaler did haul her packs to the shelter proclaiming that any who waited therein might soon board a carriage which bid fair to convey her and all she carried unto the Great Gates of the Dragon US Airways. And indeed – to the warrior maid’s great astonishment – the carriage did indeed arrive as promised, and did convey the warrior and her packs in moderate comfort unto the Great Gates.

At that dread portal did Kate the Impaler steel herself, for if she were not to bring down upon herself the Wrath of the Sarah and the Wrath of the Cedar, she must endure the indignities of the dragon’s minions as though she were but a lowly peasant seeking approval. Were it another time, perhaps she might have both resources and time to do battle with the dire forces of Fly Under Coercive Knuckles, the dragon minion’s union. This was not that day.

Alas, the claims that departure ere the dawn’s first light would bring queues of smallness proved mere fancy as the long lines of the unfortunates bound to fly in the belly of the dragon did prove. Yet did the warrior maiden maintain the pretense of meekness in the face of insult (after paying to fly and paying this and that and the other tax, paying for checked baggage bloody well is an insult thank you very much) and yet longer queues that did bend upon themselves like a drunken serpent and did move at a speed to make a lazy snail seem a very paragon of speed.

Kate the Impaler’s heart did beat the faster when she espied the Fly Under Coercive Knuckles Perpscan, a dread device of humiliation much beloved by the minions. Fear that she might lose her pose of meek forbearance in the face of this horror did fill her, for though the minions did deserve impalement many times over, the Wrath of Cedar – or worse, the Wrath of Sarah – was not to be countenanced.

Thus did the warrior draw closer to the terrible Perpscan, and begin the ritual of self-effacement and removal of shoes, belt, pocket contents, and other items of a personal nature too sensitive to disclose (my cellphone and kindle, you pervs). Finally, she did enter the Perpscan.

And Lo! The vile nature of the device was revealed, for it detected the warrior maiden’s Thighs of Thunder and the minions did detain Kate the Impaler for “extra scanning”.

To be continued….

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The Experts

I was thinking this morning — foggily, while getting my first cup of coffee, and I assure you I don’t intend to make it an habit — that you guys starting out now were lucky.

What I mean is, when I started out it would take months or years to make the right connections/meet enough writers/etc to actually know what was going on and what we should do, both in terms of how to write and in terms of how to survive economically.  Oh, sure, some people more endowed with clue than myself would go to cons and get to hear things from the horse’s mouth.  I didn’t even know about cons, or at least I didn’t know “normal” people (not writers, editors, etc) could attend. At any rate even when I found out about Clarion (a magazine editor — small press — offered to pay for my attending it.  I’m forever in his debt, but) I couldn’t attend.  We didn’t have the money for the travel, and I couldn’t leave the house for two weeks.  I just couldn’t.  (Years later I managed it with the Oregon Writers’ Workshop, but it almost broke us.)

You guys, as I kept telling people at Liberty con this weekend, can get free lessons on writing, advice on publishing, just the whole thing, right here. Free.  From the comfort of your own jammies.

So.

So it occurred to me you have a different problem.  All the “experts” who aren’t.  How can you tell the difference.

There is no easy way.  I have a sharply developed BS detector simply through growing up where and when I did, but also through reading every bs booklet on reading faces, palms, handwriting (it wasn’t I wanted to do this precisely.  It was more that I’d read anything and those were cheap) and also through spending a summer reading “Chariot of the Gods” type stuff.

But there are some pointers to look for before you listen to the wisdom of that writer/editor/publicist/cover designer.

1- Actions speak louder than words.  Look at what they have done in their field.  If the stuff doesn’t look/sound like what you want, ignore their advice.

2- If they’ve done nothing that’s its own marker.

3- How recent is their experience?  Look, I hated being put in beginner panels till last year, and a friend mistook what I was saying and said “you’re not a bestseller.  You shouldn’t have such a big head.”  It’s not a big head.  It’s that the pathway I used to get into published status no longer exists and the industry is completely different now indie-Amazon is available.

4-Someone might be an amazing writing/editor/whatever but if his formative experience was more than 10 years ago, I guarantee he has no clue what’s going on in the field now, unless like Kris Rusch and Dean Smith he’s made a point of staying updated. How do you know if they stayed updated?  Well, when they talk and blog they don’t sound like they’re writing in the nineteen nineties.  There is no easy assumption that of course trad publishing is the only way.

5- But Sarah, that doesn’t apply to writing styles.

Trust me it does.  We all wrote to put in the markers that editorial pin-heads in NYC saw as a “big” book.  That is a way of writing I keep finding in trad books, but not in indie.  Sometimes I think that’s why indie does better, at least in certain fields (cozy, space opera) that don’t lend themselves to that treatment.

6- Ignore commenters.  Often writers and/or editors have a cult of personality going and it might seem to you everyone agrees with this person.  That’s not necessarily so.  Pay attention again and again to the actions.  Is this person good, up to date, well informed?

7 – Remember you have to stay up to date, too.  This field changes, I SWEAR, every every three months.  You must study and stay with it.  What was true three months ago, now that indie is here, could destroy your income if you keep doing it.

8 – Trust yourself.  I always try to make clear none of my advice is absolute.  There are things I say “never” or “always” do, but you might violate the rule and surprise me with how good you are.  Now with indie?  Everything is wide open.  If my advice, or any advice sounds fishy don’t use it.  Trust yourself.

9- Write.  Yes, to quote Heinlein, yes, “the game is rigged, but if you don’t bet you can’t win.”

10 – Get out there and place your bets.

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