Check Your Assumptions

Because the things “everyone knows” just might be completely wrong – and leave your book or rant or whatever open to ridicule, impromptu flying lessons and other undesirable consequences.

See, it’s a big, complicated world out there with so much to know that nobody can actually grasp all of it, so we all tend to optimize: we’ll take as given something that doesn’t particularly interest us at the time and plan to remember it long enough to pass that exam or whatever, but what happens is these unexamined things tend to hang around and form the basis of a lot of assumptions, especially when they’re things we’ve learned early on.

The result is a whole lot of people believe without question the things that were presented to them as fact by people they trust (who in turn were told these things by people they trusted, and so on ad infinitum) and never sit down to examine them.

After all, everyone knows the Sun and all the planets revolve around the Earth, right?

Well, they did until someone questioned the assumption that the Earth was the center of all things. Then the usual result of having your assumptions questioned happened – it’s not pretty, particularly when someone’s faith or their entire notion of who they are is based on them.

In that light, a lot of the fuss and tantrums we’re seeing lately (coughHugoAwardscough) start to make a lot of sense: up until very recently the assumption of those who actually knew what a Hugo Award was was that it was a prestigious award which almost always went to people whose works deserved the honor. Then along come the Sad Puppy campaigns blithely challenging this perspective and – horror! – suggesting that the Hugos might have become a kind of almost incestuous club (Let’s face it, when you look at the nominee and winner lists, the Best Editor – Long Form was an incestuous club from the start).

What I mean here is that the group of people nominating and voting was sufficiently small that everyone knew everyone – or mostly – and most of the convention SMOFs knew each other so without there being any need to invoke conspiracy, works, creators, and editors who didn’t fit the mental model most of that relatively small club (fewer than 500 people in the first year that the data is publicly available) held simply didn’t get considered.

To use a somewhat less contentious example, I often see rants from my historically knowledgeable friends (and have been known to indulge in similar rants on topics where I’m reasonably knowledgeable my self) about books where the author assumed that their knowledge about say, a man’s “ownership” of his wife in late Victorian England up to the level of being able to kill her, was as accurate as said author assumed it was (It wasn’t, particularly at the middle class and higher social levels). Or the lamentable assumption by any number of writers that the way people thought and acted and clothed themselves in the past was more or less the way we do things – if I had a dime for every draft/slush offering/fanfic I’ve seen where the woman in the fantasy or historical setting wears a bra and panties under the dress, I’d have a lot more money than I do now (corsetry is a historical field all by itself – the technology and creativity dedicated to uplift and control of feminine weapons of mass distraction is really impressive).

Quite simply, it doesn’t matter what it is, or what side of the political fence(s) you fall on, chances are you’ve got an unexamined assumption hidden in there and you should check on it. I can’t count the number of times I’ve read something then gone looking a bit deeper and found that what I read was third or fourth-hand, and the primary source was damn close to the exact opposite of the first piece I read.

If you know someone with more expertise in the area, ask them. Send the piece to friends of a different political persuasion (you do have them, right? With the exception of those whose ideology demands that all who believe differently are evil and must die, we’re all capable of maintaining at least a friendly acquaintance with people whose beliefs are very different than ours). Research for yourself – and look for primary sources where possible. Even if this means wading through legislative legalese.

You owe it to yourself to check that your assumptions aren’t a case of “the things you know that ain’t so”.


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Make Them Cry

(Sorry to be late.  I’m not fully here yet.  — Second cup of coffee — I looked up at the title I’d written the first time around and thought “that doesn’t look right.”  Yeah.  I’d typed it Mad Genius Club instead of Make Them Cry.  So bear with me.)

But — say you — I don’t want to make them cry.  Fine, make them laugh, then.  Or leave a fine lingering poetical mist of sadness for a home never seen hanging upon their souls when you finish the story.

Whatever you do, though, make them feel something.

The main issue I have with indie stories — particularly very new writers — no matter how interesting the plot twists or how funny the events, if I don’t care for the characters, round about the mid point I find myself thinking “why am I reading this?” And then I don’t read anymore.

There are faster ways of losing me as a reader, of course, the main one being making one of those whooping mistakes that you just go “WHAT?” on the first chapter.  Like, during the Regency, in England, a nobleman shooting a peasant in public and being let go because “it’s just a peasant.”  Oh, sure, France before the revolution.  BUT ENGLAND?  (BTW that was a traditionally published book by one of my ex-publishers.  Layers and layers of fact checkers.)

However these are books that objectively have nothing wrong with them.  They have a plot and everything.  The plot even makes sense.  It’s just the character falls into the plot like an accident.  There is nothing needed, nothing lacking in the character.  The character might want to win the race, kiss the girl or fly to the moon: but he doesn’t need it.  It’s not something necessary to fill in a hole in his self, it’s not something needed to restore lost pride, to heal a wound or to become someone better.

You do that and sure as check, you might string me along for a few pages just to see what you’ll do next, but in the end there will be no connection with your character and even if he’s managing ten impossible feats a week, who cares?

Once upon a time, I think — judging by some of the pot boilers I devoured as a kid when the main competition in entertainment was watching the neighbors or listening to the interminable radio soap operas — people were more willing to read for the wonder for “I’ll see how he’ll top this.”

Nowadays most people seem to read for the one thing TV/movies or even games can’t give you: to be behind the eyes of someone else for a time, and to live through their emotional journey as they engage in the extraordinary.

In a way it’s not new, though.  Even Shakespeare’s comedies have this kind of emotional engagement.  (Yes, I know they are plays.  Unfortunately most of our TV/movie writers are no Shakespeare.  No bad reflection on them, as I’m not either.)  Yeah, there’s the bit with the dog, but in the end Jack gets Jill and does something he needs/fixes something.

This is not a matter even of “unpleasant people doing unpleasant things” which turns me off (sometimes) but which some people like (heaven knows why.)

It’s more a matter of you wondering “Why are you doing that now?  There’s nothing pushing you.”

I’m not saying your character should be pushed (by circumstances) every step of the way.  That’s what Kate calls “plotting by dropping walls on the character” and it don’t work too well after a while, when you start wondering if your character is going to just suddenly die (I have a novel to fix where I did that.)  I’m talking about something INTERNAL driving your character.

Say — not that this has anything to do with a book I’m revising — that a young man was held captive in fairyland and being at the age where anything like that would make him feel horrible, but also things happened (never specified) including playing with his mind, and he’s a man who prides himself on his intelligence.  Well, a year later, as he turns seventeen, he’s still feeling it and he’s not self-confident or able to go forth and do things on his own.  His inventions have all turned wrong, and he feels like a little kid, who has to be watched over because he has nightmares and wakes up screaming and crying.

So when he gets involved in rescuing a family — and a lady fair of about 16 — he needs to do it.  He needs to get through to get a piece of his own back.

And that allows the readers to go through the ride along with him.  IF I do my job right (you get to figure that out in a month or so, unless I keep getting interrupted) you’ll need for him to succeed because you’ve invested yourself in who he is.  And when he redeems himself, you come through with him, and end up feeling … well… catharsis.  And better at the end.

Short stories you can have this little burst of feeling.  It’s easy to manipulate people and leave them sorry or happy or laughing.  It’s not as necessary that the character’s adventure have a feeling-punch at the end.  BUT if they do, well… so much the better.

However for anything longer than 5k words?  You need that feeling to pull you through.  You need it there.

Remember your starting place?  You must have a problem, a character and a setting.  For extra points, your problem character and setting must all be related.  I.e. say you have a famine planet and the problem is hunger, your character is probably hungry.  Mind you if you have a character that’s the only well fed in the place that works too — give him guilt or whatever as a motivation — but usually that’s how it works.

Now, for a novella or novel go beyond that.  The problem might not be linked to your character directly.  Perhaps he’s just adventurous of the “At fourteen I went to the sea, having seen everything I wanted to on land.”  Sure.  This happens.  BUT for a satisfying result?  Make his going to the sea solve a problem he might not even be aware of.

Like, say, his dad perished at sea before the character was even born.  He has to go and prove he can come back.  Or, say, his comfortable life on land is also suffocating and won’t let him prove himself.

The author of one of the world’s worst books (some of you know who, and yes, indie) says that it’s wrong to give your character flaws, because people need to look up to the flawless.  or something.  I say it’s wrong to make your characters flawless, because that makes them non-human, without motivation and uninteresting to those of us who are humans.

So take the reader on a fun adventure, too.  But make it mean something.  Make it mean something to the character.  Make it fulfill something the character needs.

The reader will go through the pain with your character, emerge with the character into victory.  And buy more of your books.


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What to do?

I’ll admit it. I’ve sort of at a loss for what to write about today. It’s not that I’m having trouble finding topics. It’s that my must has been anything but kind of late. After spending months trying to finish Nocturnal Challenge, I’ve discovered two things. First, the basic outline I had for the novel was really an outline for two novels. That’s bad but not unworkable. The second, and more problematic issue, is one that has had me beating my head against the wall the last few days. It seems my muse, aided and abetted by the lead in Challenge, has decided that I’ve written not only that book but the entire series in the wrong POV. Worse, it now wants to be only first person POV. So, I’ve been fighting and negotiating and, well, pleading with said muse to get her to behave and let me work. No, I’m not changing the POV — at least I don’t think I am. But it has left me with little brain space for anything else.

However, there are a couple of posts I found this morning that I thought might be of interest. The first comes from HuffPo and lists 10 reasons why print books are better than e-books. This isn’t a new topic. After ignoring e-books in the early years, traditional publishers have been arguing that print books are better pretty much from the sale of the first Kindle. Here’s what HuffPo has to say about it.

1. Print books have pages that are nice and soft to the touch. Huffpo goes on to compare reading an e-book with looking at an ATM screen and who wants to curl up in bed with yet another screen? I could be a bit facetious and note that printed pages also can be seen as deadly weapons. Who hasn’t had a paper but before and don’t they hurt? But the truth is, I do miss turning a page. However, the page turns with most tablets now at least simulate a “real” page turn.

2. Print books are better at conveying information. And they have a study, one cited by the Guardian. The source of the cite is enough to make me doubt the veracity of the statement. However, I can say that I know some folks who retain more from e-books while others are the exact opposite. I think it depends on the person and their reading habits.

3. Print books are yours for life. The books you bought in college will still be readable in 50 years. Do you really think that in 10 years your e-reader – or book-reading watch, or virtual reality goggles – will work with today’s e-books? For life or until they fall apart, something they seem to do much sooner than they used to. I have books that are more than 100 years old and have been read by generations of my family. Those books may be a bit battered but they still have their original bindings. Then there are the books printed in the last 10 years or so that seem to fall apart after a short drop to the floor or a simple reading. Yeah, right, a print book will be around for years. As for my e-books. You bet they will work with future tech, at least as long as the books aren’t filled with idiotic DRM. Why? Because I can use programs like Calibre and whatever will follow to convert the original files into something else. I have multiple backups to protect my digital library.

4. Print books are physical reminders of your intellectual journeys. Physical reminders that can’t be carried with you in bulk. My e-books can be loaded onto my phone or tablet or e-book reader — or into the Cloud, onto my PC or whatever — and I can have all of them available no matter where I am.

5. Print books are great to share. I have to give it to HuffPo here. This is the one way printed books are better than e-books. You can simply hand the book over to your friend or family member and they can read it. Of course, whether they return it or not is another matter. Sharing an w-book isn’t as simple, especially if that e-book comes from a traditional publisher. Many of those e-books aren’t shareable, at least not unless you break the DRM in the book and that is illegal to do in many jurisdictions.

HuffPo goes on to note that it is easier to write in the margins of a printed book, a printed book has a cover so others can see what you are reading and that reading a print book is better for your health. Most of us don’t write in the margins of a printed book, unless it is a research or text book. Not everyone wants everyone and their dog to know what they are reading. As for the health claim, that is a two-edged sword. Yes, doctors tell you to turn off electronic devices at least half an hour before going to bed. But ophthalmologists and retinologists tell their patients that reading from e-ink devices like the Kindle is better for their eyes. Then there is the claim that print books are theft-resistant. After all, how many times do you read a report of a car break-in and see that a book was taken? Can you say “tongue-in-cheek”?

But it is this claim by HuffPo that had me shaking my head. According to the article, “Print books are fairer to writers.” You see, publishers pay a lower royalty percentage, according to The Authors Guild, than they do for print books. The problem with that sort of twisted logic is that e-books aren’t responsible for the lower percentage, the publishers are. It also completely ignores the indie movement and the royalties we get for our e-book sales. Not that it surprises me. HuffPo has often showed its bias for the traditional publishing end of the business.

Anyway, you can read the post. I’d love to see what you think about it.

Then there is the second post I wanted to bring to your attention this morning. One of the questions I’m often asked is what is the best method to get your work into the public’s hands. Not everyone is comfortable putting all their eggs into the Amazon basket. I even recommend against it, at least until you see if it is worth the time and effort of publishing your work in other markets. But that begs the question of what is the best way to get your titles out there. Smashwords is the granddaddy when it comes to that. It has been around for years and offers a wider array of sales outlets than just about everyone else out there. But it comes with its own pitfalls, not the least of which is the Meatgrinder, its proprietary conversion tool.

But this post by Alice Sabo echoes issues I have run into with Smashwords. Sabo had used Smashwords and had been part of its “premium catalog”. Basically, if you choose this outlet, your work can be published across various outlets, including Kobo, BN, iBooks and more. That’s great for authors looking for wide exposure. The problem, as Sabo found out, is that some of these markets then distribute your books to other markets. Compounding the problem, Smashwords takes no responsibility beyond sending notice to the original markets if you decide to take down your book. It is left up to you to keep on top of whether or not your book is removed from sale at the original markets you approved of and it is up to you to discover if those same markets have distributed your book in other markets.

The problem with this is that it can, as Sabo discovered — and as I have as well, come back to bite you in the butt. If you decide you want to publish your book as part of the KDP Select program, To be part of the KDP Select program, you have to agree that the title will be exclusive to Amazon. Part of the Terms of Service for the program include a warning that you face having a title pulled and your account suspended if that title is discovered to be on sale elsewhere. Sabo received such a notice and, on a couple of occasions, so have I.

In my case, one such notice came when Amazon’s bots discovered one of my titles on a pirate site. All it took to clear that problem up with Amazon was to send a take down notice to the site and then send Amazon an email saying I had done just that and noting that the site was a pirate site and I had never given it permission to list my book.

However, on the two occasions when pirate sites weren’t involved, it was problem getting take down notices generated through the Smashwords system. When you take a title off sale at Smashwords, it looks automatic. Sure, the small print says it can take time to promulgate through the expanded market. Like Sabo, I waited a month or more between removing my books for sale from Smashwords and then enrolling in KDP Select. Both times, a month or two later, I received an email from Amazon saying that it had found my book for sale elsewhere and I had to either remove my book from the Select program or remove it from sale at the other sites.

Once, the offending site was BN. A simple e-mail to them, sent after receiving an email from Smashwords that they had done all they could and they were not responsible for how long it took one of the external markets to remove a title, took care of the issue. Within 48 hours, my title was no longer for sale on Kobo, on the other hand, was another matter. It took several weeks before I managed to get my book taken down there. If I remember correctly, there were several emails back and forth where Kobo basically said it would only remove the book after receiving word to do so from Smashwords. Smashwords said they had sent notice. Kobo said they had no record of such a notice. Finally, I sent them a copy of what Smashwords had sent them, suggested they remove my title ASAP and then waited. All in all, it took almost three months to get the title off of Kobo. Amazon, however, was more than reasonable, in my opinion. While the book couldn’t be part of the Select program during that time, Amazon did not take any other action. It was enough that I kept them in the loop about what was going on.

I’m not saying this will automatically happen if you use Smashwords — or any other aggregater — but it is something I suggest you keep in mind.

Now I’m going to go find another cup of coffee and start the daily wrestling match with my muse.





Cultural appropriation and Political Correctness in writing

Or ‘damned if you do, and damned if you don’t’

I am guilty of culture appropriation. I used a teaspoon of live yogurt from a tub from the store to get my own yogurt going. And anyway yogurt is doubtless a dietary item brutally wrenched from some Steppe dwelling pastoral nomads who were doubtless engaged in their traditional cultural pastime of invading and conquering effete city-dwellers (it is not politically correct to criticize this important cultural activity, or indeed, to resist, for fear of displaying cultural insensitivity. Do modify your behavior and writing accordingly or you will have a cloud of shrieking internet harpies descend on you.)

Yeah, it’s all a bit ridiculous isn’t it?

Culture – what is it besides bacteria? (They’re in everything. Even toxic individuals you’d swear could not possibly harbor life.)

That’s actually a harder question than you may think. A lot of the time it seems to mean just whatever some berk wants it to mean, so he or she (I’m sorry, I’m just a biologist. You want 23 sexes talk to an Arts graduate. It’s beyond me) can be offended. The being offended part seems important, at least to them. The Cambridge English Dictionary explains culture as, “the way of life, especially the general customs and beliefs, of a particular group of people at a particular time.”

Here’s my take: It’s a complex moving target, which means different things to different people. It is almost never totally unique (because all cultures take whatever they fancy from other cultures, and some have other cultures thrust upon them). It’s a composite of both history and the interaction with the current world (so the culture of a specific group of people, even if totally isolated from the world fifty years ago isn’t the same as today’s). There are elements of geography, the food, the way of life, the language, religion and laws and probably Aunt Mary’s in-growing toenails in there. One can only hope the latter is not in the food.

There are isolated cultures (few these days) cultures alongside other cultures, mixing well into something inseparable and different in places, and like oil and water (poisoning both) in others. There are cultures within cultures, and little cultures within those, like Matryoshka dolls, all bellowing loudly that they the equal if not far far better. There are gay cultures and women’s secret business and men’s secret business, hipster cultures and tribal cultures and so on…

Culture. I’m not too sure anyone actually agrees quite what it is, or really has set bounds, but you’ll know it when you see it. Only what you see as it today, is not what you see tomorrow.

And it doesn’t belong to you any more than bacteria belong to you. ‘Keep your bugs to yourself, will ya?’ Doesn’t work any more than ‘cultural purity’ does.

Oh, and attempting to ‘set’ it, unchanging, unresponsive to the outside world, seems the equivalent of cultural suicide. The same is true of exclusivity: with genocide of anyone who tries, you can stop other cultures pinching bits they fancy, changing them and making them theirs, but there really is no other way. So maybe you can stop the neighboring Ping-ping tribe from adopting the Pong-ping conical headdress and adding the complete affront of feathers, by overwhelming force and with elephants, or by refusing to buy Ping-ping yogurt… but if people really want or see an advantage in something unique to your culture, they will rapidly make it non-unique.

In fact, if they don’t and won’t… you know they consider your culture, or that aspect, inferior. Worthless. While it’s considered massively politically incorrect to compare cultures (the only comparison allowed is that ANYONE else’s culture is way, way better Western Judeo-Christian – which is why so many people want to migrate from everywhere else to these Western countries. Because the West’s culture is awful and unsuccessful.) The facts on the ground say people adopt (and move to) the ones they like most, that work best for them, or at least aspects of those successes. It’s the weak culture, that which offers little, which needs to fear being destroyed.

With this very obvious and demonstrable fact…

Enter the newest shibboleth of Arts world (along with 23 sexes) intended to divide and exclude.

Cultural appropriation.

I’m a wicked man because I talked about Yogurt (Turkic) and Matryoshka dolls (Russian) and shibboleth (Hebrew). These words, and a meaning of them have all become quite normal in English, understood, accepted… and maybe not quite what they meant (or still mean) in their root-culture.

But the culture of the permanently offended (the one I adopt nothing from, because yes, I consider it inferior, and overdue for the scrapheap of history.) has discovered it as a new and valuable thing to… you guessed it!… Be offended by. Demand reparations for the terrible damage done. Exclusivity even. Heaven help you if you’re not gay, and write about something that could be considered gay culture, or Aboriginal, or Inuit or quite possibly of sex number 23 (is that the one where you identify as coffee table?). Contrariwise, you are to be utterly condemned, pilloried, attacked, decried as a sexist, racist, homophobic misogynist if you don’t include all the possible groups (including number 23) in your books, in the prescribed stereotype roles.

Damned if you do, damned if you don’t. In other words, unless you’re one of the permanently offended, you simply may not write at all, because this is, a la apartheid, a reserved profession for designated victims and ‘other cultures’. Of course, even there the discrimination cheerfully continues: you may – if you’re black, or gay write black or gay characters, so long as they live up to the preconceived stereotypes of the same.

You may come from Cameroon (where you lived a wealthy, comfortable and educated first world lifestyle, because that too is real), and have been beaten up for being gay there, but do not dare write this unwanted truth. The stereotype foreign primitive African culture full of gentle, tolerant but colonially repressed people must be there.

However, as a sop, you may, as a gay black woman who has lived her entire life in a pleasant enclave of Reunion, describe, with impunity, the culture of white heterosexual men living in Nebraska, where you have never been, have never met any of, and never bothered to research… As long as they’re barbaric brutes, stupider than rocks who drag homosexuals behind trucks, that is.

I’m sick of the perpetually offended. Screw them, and the donkey they rode into town on. There are obvious areas I avoid, like religion, like deliberate belittling, or selective stereotyping. There is being stupid and vindictive. There is even being insensitive. I make an effort to avoid deliberate offense, to fact check as best as possible, to find first readers who do have the background. To give a fair and balanced picture.

But none of the perpetually offended give a damn about these issues when they write. Let them lead by example, start making an effort to be less offensive themselves, to people they have decided they don’t like. To show appreciation and respect for those cultures… To condemn their own when they make offensive productions about, for example the Mormons – there certainly have been many opportunities to speak up. I don’t think most Mormons care… but they do expect the converse to apply: You do to us, don’t complain when we do the same to you.

On the other hand: if you think your culture is exclusively yours… Then butt out of my culture. Take nothing from it, make your own. I’m not writing in Ping-ping glyphs with a ping-mechanical-wobble-stick onto sheets of ping-tree bark. I might be writing about Ping-ping myth, but it’s in English, with a computer, and printed on paper. If they wish to be true Ping-ping they will be blissfully ignorant of what I say and do, and therefore not offended by my getting it wrong. One can’t have it both ways – This is not modern divorce. What’s yours is not yours exclusively, but what’s mine is also yours. Either ours is ours, or yours is yours and mine is mine.

But all of this misses the key thing about the ridiculous “cultural appropriation” issue.

Which is simply this:

A story is not destroyed by getting told. It is not even destroyed by being told wrong, or disrespectfully, or without elements that one culture considers important and the other irrelevant.

Just because Joe Popular Author told the Primal tale of Ping-ping, WRONG, and sold a million copies…

Does not stop Joe Ping-ping author publishing it next week, RIGHT… and selling as many, or more, or none depending on how good it is, how well written. Its chances of success are in fact better because of Joe Popular. And respect and interest in the otherwise unknown Ping-ping tribe are vastly improved.

And Jolinda Ping-ping Author can write the woman’s point of view the next week, and Joe-Linda Ping-ping the trans version the week after.

The story is not destroyed. It is strengthened. The culture it comes from is not destroyed. It is strengthened. Changed perhaps… but a culture that can’t survive change, is dying anyway.

A story dies when it is not told. Not when you get a little wrong.


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The life and health of undead subgenres

Once upon a time, up to and including five years ago, publishing followed a sad and somewhat predictable trend. A book would become an unexpected blockbuster. Publishers would rush to print “The next Stephen King / Anne Rice / Dan Brown / Stieg Larsson / JK Rowling / Stephenie Meyer”, and flood a formerly diverse genre with only imitations of the blockbuster. As sales dropped due to the consumers getting their fill of that particular variant (or just not liking the imitations enough to buy them), the publishers would then declare the genre “dead”, and cease publishing all but well-selling backlist, the blockbuster names, and a tiny trickle of frontlist.

I had to explain recently to an indie author that “Vampires have been killed multiple times. That’s why it’s an undead genre!” was not a joke about vampires per se, but about the number of times that genres with vampires have been declared “dead”, and the number of times editors have declared “the vampire craze is over.” (The first time I personally remember was when someone was exclaiming, “How did this Anne Rice person get a movie deal for a vampire interview? We all know vampires are over, and nobody’s buying it!” This was years and years before the same ‘plaint was cried about Twilight’s sales.)

Back when the Big Six (Now the Rather Diminshed Five) ruled publishing, declaration of the death of a genre, and consensus at the right NYC cocktail parties, was a guarantee that readers were going to have to head to the used book store to find more of what they wanted. And then came indie.

Now, with hybrid authors bringing their backlist back into reprint, and together with indie authors putting whatever they want on the market, we’re starting to see signs that formerly dead subgenres, like Bela Lugosi, are rising again.

The latest popped up this week on Bookbub, which has enough reader demand for differentiated market, and enough content to fill it. They’re splitting their mystery list for email notification, and adding new lists in: Crime Fiction, Cozy Mysteries, and Historical Mysteries.

So much for “the cozy mystery is dead.”

And what’s more, I saw the “urban fantasy is dead” come over the transom, as the taste-makers tried to change the market again. But most of the authors I know failed to get the message. Those who did looked at it, and shrugged, because they know paranormal romance and its near-twin, urban fantasy, are selling gangbusters in indie. When you can see the money being made in Author Earnings reports, the declaration of death works as poorly as an atheist in a horror movie trying to ward off vampires with the cross he doesn’t believe in.

So go forth, write good stories the readers will love, and worry not what has been declared dead. These days, rumours of death are greatly exaggerated. (Sadly, Mark Twain is really dead this time.)

And because I love this song (over eight minutes long with full intro, which is time enough for the DJ to slip out and smoke an entire clove cigarette, and if you know it’s coming, you join him out behind the bar for some relative peace and quiet, without the dancers being any wiser!), and it’s topical…


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A List of Books for Big Girls

We were talking the other day about the lack of heroes in books, and I had a stray thought. Chasing it down and pouncing on it, I realized it was a thought worth following. Oooh! This could be a list. A list of role models for young men, and also for young women, to look for in husbands or wives.

Reading is a time-honored way for the reader to explore facets of the human character, and consciously or subconsciously, learn more about their fellow human beings. With younger readers, they can imprint on favorite characters like baby ducklings on a mother cat. Yes, I know that sounds weird, but here’s the thing. Whether the young readers – and I will be clear here, I’m talking teens, and furthermore, teens like I was, who considered juvenile or YA books beneath them (yes, I was an arrogant little snot at that age).

I’m also NOT talking about romance stories. I know some of my favorites back then had no plot of boy-meets-girl, and some of them did. What I’m specifically talking about is looking for role models in books of heroes. We all know that heroism is sometimes the quiet acts of life, unnoted and uncelebrated. But the characteristics of a hero in a book: loyalty, duty, honor, love of fellow man, and a willingness to lay down his life for his friends… that’s what I’m looking for. Someone to inspire hero-worship in the readers who get to know them.

With the trend toward anti-heroes, the fatally flawed, broken characters, we have sometimes lost sight of these role models in fiction. I wanted to create a list – and it wound up being a twinned list – of books for young people who are looking for a hero, for a role model that will influence their selection of a mate later in life. I was specifically not looking for YA titles, and if you are looking at this list for your own children, be aware that I consider older teens quite capable of handling both sex and violence in their books. They are certainly exposed to it on the screen enough, and at school.

In either of the lists, the leading hero could not be whiny, bitchy, or irredeemably flawed. A character like John Ringo and David Weber’s Prince Roger (the March series) still works well because he does grow, and further, Colonel Pahner, although not a main character, is an excellent role model. I chose to split the lists into Books for Boys and Books for Girls. But that might not be what you expect, either. The role model list of leading male characters, below, I’m recommending for the young ladies to read. In a world where the strong female character is emphasized, we must not lose track of the need for a beau ideal, a man who can inspire a young woman to seek the best when she looks for a partner, not simply his looks or wealth.

Character! That’s what we want. And inspiring heroes, and damsels who can’t be bothered to be distressed, and the men who respect them… You’ll find all that and more in the list of books below.

I want to thank everyone who helped with suggestions for the lists. I’m not including all of the titles that were given to me, some because I wasn’t looking for YA, and some because I was emphasizing character rather than other features. You will find that I’m listing the books by character name, rather than individual books, as many of these are series. Some of the comments in the list are from the people who gave the recommendations to me (I’ve anonymized the lists since they were collected in private groups). 


  • Caine Riordan from  Chuck Gannon’s Fire books.
  • Harry Dresden. I’d argue that he has failings, yes, but nowhere near as big as his strengths, and he seems to have overcome most of them.
  • Travis Long from David Weber’s The Manticore Ascendant series. Where the MC is a straight arrow and too shy to talk to girls.
  • Steve Maxwell from Peter Grant’s Take the Star Road series
  • Jack Holloway from H Beam Piper’s Fuzzy series.
  • Bahzell Bahnakson from David Weber’s
  • Pete Brumbar from Lloyd Behm’s Martian series. I must point out there is a kitten. I love books with kittens…
  • Finn the sometimes-dragon from Dave Freer’s Dog and Dragon series. If we’re going to have kittens, we must also have puppies.
  • Jake Sullivan from Larry Correia’s Hard Magic series.
  • Xen Wolfson from Pam Uphoff’s Gods and Wine series.
  • Earl Harbinger, conversely, and Owen Pitt, from Larry Correia’s Monster Hunter series.  Earl Harbinger is a splendid example of manliness, honor, loyalty, duty…. why yes, I do have a little character crush
  • Tom the definitely-a-dragon from Sarah Hoyt’s shifter series. She points out he “started out pretty flawed, but he’s coming along nicely… “
  • Tarzan, John Carter, Carson of Venus, all from Edgar Rice Burrough’s series and books.
  • Pretty much any Louis L’Amour book… they do have strong adults who are good role models; not wanting trouble but meeting it head-on when it comes….
  • Conrad from This Immortal by Zelazny (Cedar’s note: I haven’t read this one, not familiar with it)
  • Also from Zelazny, I see recommendations for Lord of Light’s Loki and Mahasamatma, as good role models in sometimes hard to choose right situations.
  • Mannie from RAH’s The Moon is a Harsh Mistress
  • Edward from Rob Howell’s A Lake Most Deep
  • Captain Pausert from James Schmitz’s Witches of Karres, and Dave Freer’s follow-on, Wizard of Karres.
  • Heinlein’s “Space Cadet”. A young man, Matt Dodson, learning about what it means to serve mankind. There are few women, but that’s due to the year it was written. You know, there do not have to be women around to take the measure of a man. His treatment of his fellows is sufficient.
  • John Christian Falkenberg, from Jerry Pournelle’s Co-Dominion universe.
  • Black Jack Geary and Tanya Desjani from the Lost Fleet series. (I believe this is Jack Campbell’s work) She starts out a little rough (a century of war will do that) and he’s an old school boy scout.
  • Wilson Cole from the Starship series by Mike Resnick.
  • Corran Horn from I, Jedi by Michael Stackpoole.
  • Dalinar Kholin and Kaladin from the Way of Kings.
  • Has there been a vote for Glory Road yet? Oscar is def. not an anti hero, and Star is about as far from distressed damsel as you can get & still need a hand….. (there hadn’t been, but yes, this.)
  • Tryton from Ben Hales Warsworn series.
  • Ishmael Horatio Wang (pronounced Wong) in the “Golden Age of the Solar Clippers” series by Nathan Lowell. First is “Quarter Share”. Yeah, he starts out in shock. He grows.
  • Mighty Mike O’Neal from John Ringo’s Posleen series
  • Hadrian and Royce from the Riyria Revelations series (by Michael J Sullivan) are two very strong male characters. They’re flawed, but grow into positive, strong men as the series goes on. Love that series.
  • Kind of well duh but Tolkien. Gandalf – You shall not pass! Frodo, clawing his way up- the Mount of Doom to destroy the One Ring. Galadrial Elf Queen offered the power to rule the world and saying NO.

So, readers, who can you suggest? Who did you imprint on, when you were a younger reader, and how did it influence your choices later on?



Open Floor

Okay, so I’ll admit that today kind of caught me off guard, hence the late post.

I’ve been staying away from writing tips lately (mainly because most people give suggestions that would turn you into an Impressionist and teach you something while I would stare at the blank wall and try not to make my forehead bleed due to repeated bashings) and talking about things that are outside the publishing norm (usually). This presents me with a few problems, though. One of them is that my fellow MGC authors have nothing to follow up on when I post. Second is when I run of of things to talk about, like I have today.

I’m going to open it up by asking this: what works for you? Laptop? Desktop? Classical music? Heavy metal (only when I’m writing fight scenes)? Secluded or in a crowded room? How do you write?


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