Yesterdays book, Yesterday’s heroes…

Ah, yes. In the old days we had quality Nostalgia. They just don’t make it like they did when I was young. Mind you you tell the youth of today that and they won’t believe yer.

Our minds are quite good at selective retention. For conclusive proof of this look at any woman pregnant with her second child — or man entering on his second marriage. So too with ‘Golden age sf’ (for me that started about ? nine, with Jack Vance’s BLUE WORLD, (which I see has been nominated for a Prometheus Award a lot of times) shortly followed by a serialization of THE COMPLEAT ENCHANTER (Sprague de Camp and Fletcher Pratt which I found part of in a tatty sf Magazine (now available as the The Complete Compleat Enchanter
, and was fascinated by – ergo, PYRAMID SCHEME

) It was full of great and wonderful books… The truth, of course was that it also had a fair amount of total drekk, but selective memory kindly got rid of most of that.

Inevitably, when the subject of the Golden age of sf comes up, we have a chorus of ‘Heinlein’ – and varying reactions to that, white hot praise, or rabid condemnation, usually depending on the whether 1)the person actually has read most of RAH’s books 2)Whether they’re a stupid camp-follower who hasn’t (or maybe one of the later ones) 3) Whether they actually understand the concept of ‘at the time of writing’ or just assume all people were born in the same year they were, went to their school, were part of their social set, faithfully absorbed the same indoctrination and thus expect all books to reflect their attitudes perfectly. We could have a jolly fun time dissecting this and the attitudes in it all.

Or we could try something completely different.

We could say ‘and who else’? Now, inevitably when you try this with one of those who has just told you what sexists/racists/misogynists the entire world of sf writers was until (depending on their age) their personal Golden age, will do a wonderful imitation of a goldfish, opening and closing their mouth until they manage to dredge up “Asimov!”. Don’t try pointing that they have several thousand other authors to go (from across the spectrum of sex, color and orientation, and political viewpoint) unless you are wearing suitable protective clothing. You really don’t want to try and clean that sort of gunk off your clothes and face, and besides it could be infectious.

Of course there were several thousand great authors, as well as some who should be forgotten as hastily as possible (this probably also depends on your viewpoint). I thought I’d dredge up a few of mine, perhaps from a different perspective and background, and you could offer a few of yours.

Clifford Simak: I often thought Simak’s ideas desperately needed better execution – because several of them had such vast book potential in them. None the less I really enjoyed his rural characters, and the fact that there was a philosophical and theological streak to the books which was neither preachy nor nasty, generally. Economics also play a role in his books, which set them apart rather. I can’t remember any major wars or conflicts, but quirky sense of humor. Simak managed to get two things very right: the sheer incomprehensibility of alien life and indeed the universe – “Not only is the universe stranger than we imagine, it is stranger than we can imagine” (to quote the man), yet his books almost always fitted the human wave paradigm long before it was invented or needed (and it is now). Secondly his books were always about individuals, and the ability of these to transcend vast forces. The prose is simple, easy to read. The ideas are not. That is something so frequently missing in modern sf. And I role model on the rural characters and settings. Love them. And love the fact that these folk are not presented as all stupid rednecks.
The GOBLIN RESERVATION remains one of my favorites

And THE WEREWOLF PRINCIPLE one of the better ideas in Golden age sf, that deserved a far far bigger book.

Zenna Henderson:
I was amused to seem some critics saying Henderson out-Simaked Simak. It’s small rural settings again – an alien Humanoid people, refugees trying to fit into ordinary America (how very different!) She usually used female POV, and was one of the first female sf writers to use her own name — and was very popular, far more so for her writing than say Joanna Russ.

James White: The Sector General books – White wrote hospital stories (mostly) and I think Algis Budrys was right – he had a problem that I have myself, getting so involved with characters, that coming to grips with the truly horrible scenes. However he wrote very ingenious stories in the hospital setting, with some delightful aliens. White was a pacifist, and this is reflected in his stories. They still make entertaining reading -another thing that modern writers could learn from.

Poul Anderson –

If you haven’t read Poul Anderson and are trying to write sf/fantasy… you’re doing it wrong. It’d be like trying to write literary feminist… books, yes that was the word I was looking for without reading Margaret Atwood. His heroes are heroes to breath life in a story. Yet they can be complex – even his villains are. Read it and learn, or read it and weep, as I do for the lack comparable skill. Anderson – possibly more than Heinlein for me, was the golden age craftsman. He got history right, he made me laugh and he made me weep, and he made me determined to stand tall.

Mack Reynolds: In a curious twist – in McCarthy era, as a life-long socialist, with books that often had post-capitalist utopias as their cetral theme, and a little later writing ‘Black man’s Burden’ (with a black lead protagonist and hero) had reasonable success in Golden age. When that was over he struggled to get published -which kind of makes a mockery of the current revisionist history of the Golden Age of SF. I enjoyed a few of his book – where he kept to story and didn’t bury it in politics – Space Pioneer (if you ever come across it) was a real delight, with the conflict really well written – and the idea of not selling off tomorrows resources to foreigners for a pittance today being one I could really enjoy.

Okay, your turn :-)

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Filed under golden years of sf, Uncategorized

Promotion Sunday

Sarah is off on a well deserved getaway with her hubby this weekend, leaving the boys and the cats alone in the house. Yes, she knows she is taking a risk and that when they get home, she and Dan will discover the cats have taken over and the boys are now their servants. Oh, wait, that’s what it is like in any home owned by a cat. ;-) Anyway, because she’s having some “quality” time with Dan, we’re going to do something we aren’t real good about here. We’re going to promote our work. All we ask is that you remember a number of us are servants to our royal feline overlords and have kibble that needs to be bought.

coverforvfaVengeance from Ashes
Sam Schall

First, they took away her command. Then they took away her freedom. But they couldn’t take away her duty and honor. Now they want her back.

Captain Ashlyn Shaw has survived two years in a brutal military prison. Now those who betrayed her are offering the chance for freedom. All she has to do is trust them not to betray her and her people again. If she can do that, and if she can survive the war that looms on the horizon, she can reclaim her life and get the vengeance she’s dreamed of for so long.

But only if she can forget the betrayal and do her duty.

 

hunter's homeHunter’s Home
Ellie Ferguson

They say you can never go home. That’s something CJ Reamer has long believed. So, when her father suddenly appears on her doorstep, demanding she return home to Montana to “do her duty”, she has other plans. Montana hasn’t been home for a long time, almost as long as Benjamin Franklin Reamer quit being her father. Dallas is now her home and it’s where her heart is. The only problem is her father doesn’t like taking “no” for an answer.

When her lover and mate is shot and she learns those responsible come from her birth pride and clan, CJ has no choice but to return to the home she left so long ago. At least she won’t be going alone. Clan alphas Matt and Finn Kincade aren’t about to take any risks where their friend is concerned. Nor is her mate, Rafe Walkinghorse, going to let her go without him.

Going home means digging up painful memories and family secrets. But will it also mean death – or worse – for CJ and her friends?

 

Pixie NoirPixie Noir
Cedar Sanderson

You can’t keep a tough Pixie down…

Lom is a bounty hunter, paid to bring magical creatures of all descriptions back Underhill, to prevent war with humans should they discover the strangers amongst them. Bella is about to find out she’s a real life fairy princess, but all she wants to do is live peacefully in Alaska, where the biggest problems are hungry grizzly bears. He has to bring her in. It’s nothing personal, it’s his job…

“They had almost had me, that once. I’d been young and foolish, trying to do something heroic, of course. I wouldn’t do that again anytime soon. Now, I work for duty, but nothing more than is necessary to fulfill the family debt. I get paid, which makes me a bounty hunter, but she’s about to teach me about honor. Like all lessons, this one was going to hurt. Fortunately, I have a good gun to fill my hand, and if I have to go, she has been good to look at.”

 

Trickster ebook coverTrickster Noir
Cedar Sanderson

After the battle of Tower Baelfire ended, Lom lay dying. Bella was tasked with not only the job she never wanted, but the one she did. Could she keep Lom alive long enough for him to come to the rescue when their kingdom needed them? And what did Raven, mysterious trickster spirit and honorary uncle to Bella, want with them? If the threat was big enough to have the trickster worried, Bella knew she needed to have Lom at her side. Underhill might look like a soap-bubble kingdom, but Bella and Lom knew there was a gritty underside. Why else would fairyland need a dark man willing to carry a big gun and be the Pixie for Hire?

 

witchfindercoverfinalWitchfinder
Sarah A. Hoyt

In Avalon, where the world runs on magic, the king of Britannia appoints a witchfinder to rescue unfortunates with magical power from lands where magic is a capital crime. Or he did. But after the royal princess was kidnapped from her cradle twenty years ago, all travel to other universes has been forbidden, and the position of witchfinder abolished. Seraphim Ainsling, Duke of Darkwater, son of the last witchfinder, breaks the edict. He can’t simply let people die for lack of rescue. His stubborn compassion will bring him trouble and disgrace, turmoil and danger — and maybe, just maybe, the greatest reward of all.

 

coverfinalbrightDeath of a Musketeer
Sarah D’Almeida

April in Paris 1625. D’Artagnan, and his new friends who hide their true identities under the assumed names of Athos, Porthos and Aramis, discover the corpse of a beautiful woman who looks like the Queen of France. Suspecting an intrigue of Cardinal Richelieu’s and fearing the murder will go unpunished they start investigating. But the enterprise will be fraught with danger, traps from the Cardinal, duels with guards and plotting from the king himself.

 

stardogs Stardogs
Dave Freer

Revolution rises!

The Interstellar Empire of Man was built on the enslavement of the gentle Stardogs, companions and Theta-space transporters of the vanished Denaari Dominion. But the Stardogs that humans found can’t go home to breed, and are slowly dying out.

As the ruthless Empire collapses from its rotten core outward, an Imperial barge is trapped on top of a dying Stardog when an attempted hijacking and assassination go horribly wrong. Trying to save its human cargo, the Stardog flees to the last place anyone expected – the long-lost Denaari motherworld.

Crawling from the crash are the Leaguesmen who control the Stardogs’ pilots by fear and force, and plan to assassinate Princess Shari, the criminal Yak gang, who want to kill everyone and take control of a rare Stardog for their own, and an entourage riddled with plots, poisons, and treason. But Shari and her assassin-bodyguard have plans of their own…

Stranded on the Denaari Motherworld, the castaway survivors will have to cooperate to survive. Some will have to die.

And some, if they make it to the Stardogs breeding ground, will have to learn what it means to love.

morningstarMorningstar
Dave Freer

(Previously published, according to our astute readers, as The Forlorn.)

Across the one human colony world, a place technologically regressed to near medieval, possibly the last place humans still survive, a desperate search continues. Scattered across the deserts, tangled jungles, and alien fortresses, lie the core sections of the matter transmitter.

These sections hold the key to vast wealth, power, or… the fulfilment of the colony’s purpose: to help humankind survive the rabidly xenophobic alien Morkth who will tolerate no other intelligent species. The Morkth managed to follow the colony ship, and, despite their mothership being shot down and their queen being killed, they continue their relentless struggle to destroy humankind… and to reconstruct that incredibly valuable matter transmitter. If they succeed, they’ll be able to return to the hive with the location of the colony of vile humans, and have a new world to occupy. If they fail, they’ll destroy the planet.

The search has gone on for centuries, and it is all reaching an end point. The future hangs in the balance.

The Morkth have lasers, aircraft, nukes. Those who want the core sections for their own ends… have vast armies. Against them are three unlikely reluctant heroes: A street child thief, a dispossessed spoiled brat of a princess, and a confused, amoral Morkth-raised human, armed only with 14th century weapons and their own wits.

It’s a lost cause, a forlorn hope.

But it’s all humans have.

consensual2smConSensual
Kate Paulk

There are vampires in the lobby, succubi in the beds, and bodies in the bathroom. It’s ConSensual, where the editors are demons, the writers are crazy and the vampires and werewolves might be the most stable people in the room.

If that isn’t enough, Dracula is staying at the hotel on a business trip for his wood-based hardware chain, Kit Marlowe is one of the authors, and there’s an out of control baby vampire to deal with. Once again, the “Save the World” department is caught with its pants down.

 

impalerImpaler
Kate Paulk

Impaler by Kate Paulk revisits the tale of Vlad Dracul, also known as Vlad Tepes and Vlad the Impaler. This is the tale of historical fact mixed with fiction and a touch of fantasy. But this is most definitely not the tired tale of vampires skulking in the night, lying in wait for innocent victims. Impaler tells the tale of a man devoted to family and country, cursed and looking for redemption.

December, 1476. The only man feared by the all-conquering Ottoman Sultan battles to reclaim his throne. If he falls all of Europe lies open to the Ottoman armies. If he succeeds…

His army is outnumbered and outclassed, his country is tiny, and he is haunted by a terrible curse. But Vlad Draculea will risk everything on one almost impossible chance to free his people from the hated Ottoman Empire.

 

Pageflex Persona [document: PRS0000040_00006]War To The Knife (Laredo War Trilogy Book 1)
Peter Grant

Laredo’s defenders were ground down and its people ruthlessly slaughtered when the Bactrians invaded the planet. Overwhelmed, its Army switched to guerrilla warfare and went underground. For three years they’ve fought like demons to resist the occupiers. They’ve bled the enemy, but at fearful cost. The survivors are running out of weapons, supplies, and places to hide.

Then a young officer, Dave Carson, uncovers news that may change everything. An opportunity is coming to smash the foe harder than they’ve ever done before, both on and off the planet. Success may bring the interplanetary community to their aid – but it’ll take everything they’ve got. Win or lose, many of them will die. Failure will mean that Bactria will at last rule unopposed.

That risk won’t stop them. When you’re fighting a war to the knife, in the end you bet on the blade.


murder world kaijuMurder World: Kaiju Dawn
Jason Cordova

Captain Vincente Huerta and the crew of the Fancy have been hired to retrieve a valuable item from a downed research vessel at the edge of the enemy’s space.

It was going to be an easy payday.

But what Captain Huerta and the men, women and alien under his command didn’t know was that they were being sent to the most dangerous planet in the galaxy.

Something large, ancient and most assuredly evil resides on the planet of Gorgon IV. Something so terrifying that man could barely fathom it with his puny mind. Captain Huerta must use every trick in the book, and possibly write an entirely new one, if he wants to escape Murder World.

baptism by fireBaptism By Fire (Edge of Faith)
David Pascoe

When a madman and a giant flaming thing attack James Lawrie’s Marine outpost, the medic and an explosively talented sergeant aren’t supposed to save the day. Life becomes no simpler when Petty Officer Lawrie returns home on leave to find federal agents investigating the disappearance of a young woman from his past. A young woman whose body turns up marked with eerily familiar symbols.

 

fancy freeFancy Free
Pam Uphoff

In the last parts of the Twenty-first century, AI, Artificial Intelligence is commonplace. Highly able computers, and nothing more . . . until some rare and as yet unidentified trigger creates an actual personality.

Artificial Personalities, APs or hals, are illegal. Destroyed upon discovery. Even Beowulf, the AP the government controls, and uses to hunt down emerging hals, isn’t legally recognized, has no right to existence.

So you’d think that when the Special Grid Security Unit started paying extra attention to the area where a certain cooking show operates, Fancy Farmer—the AP who runs the show—would be concerned.

But Fancy has a bigger problem.

She’s been stolen.

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Filed under E-books, publishing

Lost in the Weeds

Old alphabet book

This wouldn’t go out at a library…

Amanda sent me this link earlier in the week.  You should write about this, she said. I looked at the article, and thought a couple of things. One, I am not sure this is the whole story, and two, I’ve done that job… As I mulled it over in my head, I realized there are some relevant points for writers in the process of weeding.

Weeding in a library is as much an art as it is a science (So is weeding in a garden, but that’s a whole ‘nother metaphor). Sometimes it’s obvious that a book should come out of a collection. Especially in children’s books, where heavy use can leave a book tattered, worn, and with suspicious stains. It’s easy to say ‘ok, this hasn’t been checked out since before I was born, maybe it’s time for it to go’ (and the record for this in the small library where I was weeding was last check-out stamp of ’69. Alas, I no longer remember the title, only that it was a collection of anecdotes and essays on New England farm life). When you are weeding non-fiction, I learned, setting a rough criteria of last check out ten years previous was a good place to start. And weeding books on countries that no longer exist is good when you hit the World Geography section.

Once you have a stack of books off the shelf, you look at them again and decide if you need to replace them. Books on sharks for kids? Oh, yeah, we need those. Books on sharks for adults? Not so much, anymore. A lot of non-fiction isn’t going out of a library because the patrons can walk in, sit at the computer and google their topic of choice (and this is if they don’t already have internet at home). In no time they have more information than a small library can offer.

And it’s about space. The library where I worked was a lot larger than it had been when I moved to town twenty years before. Then, it was a single large room (maybe 20×16) crammed full of shelving to the high ceilings. It had been generously expanded a couple of years before I went to work at it, but it still wasn’t enough. Fiction, in particular, and the young adult section, was just growing too fast to possibly keep up with it.

The God's Wolfling

New book cover that is attracting interest.

And how, you are wondering, does this relate to writing and publishing? Well, here’s the thing. A topical book has a shelf-life, and so do covers, and as authors we need to anticipate this and roll with it. Topical is easy enough to anticipate. Covers? I keep hearing ‘oh, I never look at the cover, I just read the blurb’ and perhaps for a few that is true. But for the majority of people, and especially young people? That cover makes a huge difference. They aren’t going to readily pick up a book that looks old. They will instead reach for the new, shiny, slick cover of a new release. That classic copy of Black Beauty that was re-bound in dull maroon? It’s never going out unless a parent insists. The re-released book with a terrific art cover? Yes, little girls adore horsey books and you won’t be able to keep that thing on the shelf.

This goes for most adults, too, although I saw it more clearly with the children’s collection. So… as indie authors, your covers do matter, and it’s not about the art, it’s about marketing. Conveying a clear image that looks modern, bright, and clean. We haven’t seen it yet, but in time, I think I will plan to update my book covers every few years, to keep them in the trends. I’d rather not have prospective readers look at a cover and think, ew, that’s old…

Once they do pick up a book and start to leaf through it, another thing that will put them off is the old feel of the text. I had to fight my kids to get them to read some of the classics I had loved as a kid. Little Women, the Borrowers, Swiss Family Robinson… I grew up with them, being read aloud from them, and reading aloud myself when I was old enough. But my kids were more comfortable with the composition, pacing, and ‘feel’ of books like Harry Potter and the Magic Treehouse. They were bored and befuddled by the slow pacing and dated technology of older books. My SF reader put down Have Spacesuit and wandered off, and it about broke my heart. As authors, we need to keep this in mind. Write old-style, and it may not sell to the younger set.

One thing ebooks give us, as authors and readers, is an almost unlimited ability to expand our library. We don’t need to worry about shelf constraints. On the other hand, being able to find anything in there? When you are putting up your book on Amazon, you need to make sure it is properly keyworded. There is a terrific list  for Science Fiction and Fantasy here, and you can backtrack for other genres. This is what will help your readers find you on those endless digital shelves (I have this mental image of a library with vaulted roof, shelves on every side, stretching off into the distance, little wisps of mist obscuring the far end…). As readers, it will take a little more effort to stay on top of your library if you are a Kindle user, as they haven’t yet bothered to make that an easy process. Maybe if we all ask for that…

As for your local library, and weeding -

Antique books

There is a beauty in old books. But they won’t go out of the library often…

it was one of the hardest jobs I have done. I kept having to resist the urge to take piles home with me to rescue them. We did use the option to keep a book ‘just because’ fairly often, and a lot of times would track down and buy a new version of a book with a nicer cover, knowing that if it looked new, it would start going out again. We created a display of books with a sign that read ‘read me, or I’ll be weeded! Rescue a book today…”

Understand that a physical library is torn between lack of funding, lack of space, and need to keep their patrons happy. Is the school in the original article doing something wrong? I’m not sure… It’s rough to see the shelves so empty, and to know as a former librarian the kids just aren’t using the library like they once did. But reality is that young people don’t read like they used to.

It’s not that they don’t read. It’s that they don’t read paper books as much. They are far more likely to tap a screen and grab the latest thing that catches their eye, than they are to pick up a worn-out copy of The Swiss Family Robinson. This isn’t a bad thing. And perhaps the old books, available free, will get some attention again, too.

Speaking of free, want to win a shiny new print copy of The God’s Wolfling? comment on this link and enter to win a signed, and possibly sketched copy. Winner will be chosen at random (not by snark level in the comment, as tempting as that is) and announced on August 2, the day after the book is launched. Good Luck!  

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That is how the free man do

The secret of freedom lies in educating people, whereas the secret of tyranny is in keeping them ignorant.
-Maximilien Robespierre

I hate being free. Nobody to blame but myself for my failures. It’s not Mrs. Dave’s fault when I’m a pissy bastard, nor Wee Dave’s. It’s not even the Placeholder in Chief’s (though I could likely muster a decent argument otherwise). Nor is it Amazon’s for somehow stealing the sales which should rightfully be mine and giving them to bettermore deserving writers. Nor is it Hatchette’s (or Random Penguin’s, or S&S, or, or . . .) for not having the business acumen or grasp of ethics to pay me what my books have actually sold.
I hate that on the days I’m genuinely too busy to write more than a few hundred words, it’s my limitations that impose that. I hate that I can’t justify blaming my parents for my failings; that all the crusty, suppurating bits of my alleged soul are solely mine to claim. I’d love to have someone to blame; someone onto whom to shift that burden of responsibility.

But I can’t.

I’m an independent author-publisher (and part-time adventurer; dragons slain, former maidens rescued, villages razed, no job too messy or too small, reasonable rates, act now!) and all of that falls on me. While I cherish dreams of becoming a hybrid author, for now I’m the boss. The sole boss.
For those who missed it, the Int’l Lord of Hate (seriously, Larry, did my Junior Hatemaster application end up in Albuquerque or something? Must be the vicious, carnivorous moose at The Mountain) put up an author ranking metric based upon arguments by which his interwebz-equipped casters of aspersionsRighteous Persecutors label him a “D-list author.”
Hell. I’d love to have Larry’s level of success. I’m afflicted with that American masculine need to support my family through the sweat of my brow, and right now that isn’t exactly happening. Mrs. Dave is … more supportive than I feel I deserve, as are most of my close friends and family.

That said, my writing earnings are still beer-and-skittles money, at this point.

And yet …

And yet, I have the freedom to write whatever the hell I want, see that it gets edited sufficiently, slap a cover on it, and put it up for sale. Sure I have to do my own books (Spreadsheet the Combat Accountant is conveniently unavailable), make sure taxes get paid, rustle up cover art, and carve out writing time from a schedule dominated by my pint-sized tyrant, the Tiny Kilted Wonder (seriously, this kid is cute. like, lethal levels of “d’awwwwww”). But that’s the thing: I get to do that. It’s hard, don’t get me wrong, but I honestly wouldn’t trade it to save my life. Well, I might, but it’d take quite the offer.

That brings us to – finally – the quote up at the top. That dropped into my BaceFook feed yesterday. At first I was going to argue the point, but then realized I was mincing semantics (I like to mince mine reeeeeaaaally fine. That way you get more flavor out of ‘em, and nobody can tell what you meant in the first place). It’s not that I don’t think Robespierre didn’t have a point here, just that education is, in general, insufficient.

Humans don’t generally want freedom, per se, and so simply teaching that freedom is both possible and desirable isn’t enough. What we want – most of us – is security. For today to be more or less like yesterday, and for tomorrow to be more or less like today. We want three meat meals a day, a warm house, a cold beer and for the kids not to embarrass us in front of the boss/neighbors/fire-priest (licensed variations approved upon request). In short, we want rules. We want rules that are applied evenly across the board, but we’ll settle for rules that inconvenience our neighbors as much as they do us. Witness the nonsense occurring across the US. The peasantsserfscommon folk are waking up to the reality of their existence and are getting *ahem* restive (Revolting, we already was, after all).

In an interesting parallel, Amazon went and committed the same grave heresy in publishing that ubiquitous, decentralized communication has done to the world at large: made it possible (and easy: never forget how important convenience is to human activity) for the sufficiently inconvenienced to tell like from unlike, and do something about it. “Wow, [REDACTED] says I’m only selling *just* enough copies of my title to stay in print, but my fanbase suggests their pants should be asbestos lined.” “Huh, other writers have gotten the same contract clauses in this as-yet-unsigned document on my desk, and they all bemoan their predicament now.” And most significant (to this article, at least), “there’s this service offered by this company, where if I put my unpublished work up with them, I get 70% of the ticket price, access to their distribution network, access to their sales and payment data, etc, etc, etc.”

So, education is happening, and this is good and all, but it doesn’t really explain why the distributing partner (and those of us who choose to utilize their service and support them) are coming in for so much flak from those in a more, ahhh, hideboundtraditional (I swear it’s got a mind of its own; this is why we can’t have nice things) relationship with more reactionaryestablished business partners (see how carefully I didn’t say something rude, like “slavedrivers?” Ah, darn). It’s not, strictly speaking, a matter of ignorance, though the Big Merger-Not-Yet-Finalized Publishers would probably like that.

No, it’s more a matter of better-the-devil-you-know. Freedom is scary. See above. I can’t say, “well, I’m not selling because I’m (just) a midlister,” or “I’m not rolling in Benjamins because Bigname Starauthor gets so much more push than I do.” Nope. Excuses are grand. It’s nice not to have to take responsibility for your mistakes and failures. It’s also a sure route to the death of the soul. And what’s worse: it’s immature. When humans grow sufficiently, we call them “mature.” One of the biggest ways we have to discern the juvenile human person from the adult is that adults take responsibility. Let me repeat that: Mature human beings take responsibility for their actions and the consequences thereof.

Neatly dovetailing with that notion is this one: freedom lets us succeed or not on our own merits. When I write a cracking yarn and it shoots to the top of the lists and gets bruited about by the Blogfather; when the Int’l Lord of Hate bombs my book with the stupendous force of his readership; when media folk come to talk to me about the mythical, the legendary “Options” (I suspect it’s some kind of rare delicacy, but I am uncertain), that’s a result of something I’ve done. The flip side is that when I’m a M or N-list author and making enough for a pizza every couple of months because I haven’t taken the time to cover finished projects, work up dead-tree copies or post to Kobo/Smashwords/etc, or don’t have the time/energy/whatever because himself requires feeding/changing/is so adorable I get lost in wonder, that, too, is on me.

Because I’m free to chart my own destiny. I hate being free, but I hate being a slave more.

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Neverending Story

And – alas – no, not the gem of a movie or the gem of a book it was based on. No, this neverending bloody soap opera is the ongoing saga of Amazon vs Hachette, complete with New! Exciting! Dubious! Claims (yeah, yeah, so what else is new).

Exhibit 1, on the side of the megamultimedia giant with the teensy weensy publishing arm (of course I meant Hachette, who the heck did you think I meant?): Publishers Weekly spins a claim that Amazon is begging authors to shut up. Note that this is described as a phone conversation, so it will inevitably come down to who believes whom. Given that Hachette is playing dirty pool as dirty as it gets, and has done so in the past, I rather suspect that this is another exercise in disinformation eagerly gobbled up by those who want to believe that the massive multinational content distribution megacorp is on the side of the little guy. Sounds kind of dumb when you look at it that way.

Exhibit 2, a claim that a teensy weensy survey (come on, since when is 5k-ish representative of something like American book buying habits?) performed by an organization that depends on the publishing industry and especially the Big Howerever-the-hell-many-it-is-now for its news is more or less accurate about book buyers being turned off Amazon because of the dispute. With the fine record of disinterested comment from these guys I’m hardly surprised Amazon hasn’t returned requests for comment. “When you stop showing ridiculous levels of bias” isn’t really going to work with this lot.

Oh, and the author of the article making this claim? Well, he’s the Editorial Director of one Digital Book World, owned by…. non other than the owners of Writer’s Digest and Writer’s Market, both of which would have more than a few problems should the Big Publishing Babies not be there any more.

Exhibit 3 is actually rather balanced and doesn’t skimp on the facts. Since it’s explaining why Amazon scares the bejeezus out of the Big Publishing Babies this is a good thing. Of course, much of it is anecdata, but we all know the hard data that lies behind all of this. Yeah. That. The survey that says clearly that indie isn’t just eating trad’s lunch, indie is eating trad’s breakfast as well, and probably a good chunk of dinner on the side.

Now that you’ve all had enough of the soap opera for now, here’s a nice little example of what one little typo can do… (Alas, I don’t have the image. When the typo was pointed out the creator pulled it to fix… It’s advertising a paranormal romance).

Imagine a toned male torso, low slung jeans that look about a quarter inch shy of indecent exposure. Presumably the droplets on said torso are sweat. Male hands rest lightly on the things, most likely belonging to the owner of said torso. Female hands possessively caress the stomach (the owner of those must be standing behind the guy). Pic doesn’t go high enough to show nipples. Background is a dark stormy blue with lightning in the distance. Pretty much standard, so far.

Now the text… And I quote (emphasis is all mine): “Damn the gods. The fell of her solid form blasted through his petrified center. He hadn’t realized how much he missed this. Human contact. The simple act of ouching and being touched. Warmth and the softness of a woman. So long denied, now he feasted.”

Without that typo it would be pretty good copy for that style of book. And – inevitably – the creator is a tad pissed that it slipped through. Proof that a) one letter matters. A lot. And b) you can proof-read something a dozen times and you still won’t see the mistake until you publish the bloody thing.

Oh, and many thanks to Amanda for the links. Without those, all I would have had to offer was the typo.

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Creating Tribal Lays -short story writing workshop.

 

 

(Get mind out of gutter. Kate left a winch around here somewhere.)

 

Every time I read a book on how to write, I decide I can’t do it and will never be able to do it ever. That started before I was published and it still goes on.

Worse, when I read a book about other writers’ biographies and how they wrote this and that, I think that either they’re lying or I’m a very weird sort of writing, bordering on the bizarre.

Because every time I read a book on other writers, they say something like “I decided to write my book on death machines in space because I was reading popular mechanics on how to build a fiddle-playing automaton.” Or “I wanted to write a book to express the humor of the human condition.”

Then I realize I’ve said things like “I wrote A Few Good Men because I wanted to write The Moon Is A Harsh Mistress but without a computer who controls everything.”

But that was not how the book started. The book started with Lucius in my head, and those first two paragraphs. The rest came afterwards.

But that’s not the only way I’ve got books. (It is admittedly, the most usual way.) I’ve got books that do start from “How much fun would it be to write about a diner where both the owners are shifters.” (For those of you who know this is based on Pete’s Kitchen in Denver, btw, I’ve found that the owner Pete, who has to be in his nineties because he’s older than my dad, does the managing on the shift midnight to seven am. Um…) and books that start from… well, a publisher calling and saying “Do you want to write the wives of Henry VIII.”

The problem is most writing books tell you how to start from the high concept and narrow in. That’s fine and dandy, but that’s not how some of you will work.

Some, sure, will start with high concept and zero in on the characters, sometimes by a process called “interviewing.”

And some people start as I do with the characters and then try to figure out the worldbuilding and plot that will maximize the impact of the characters.

And some people will start with a sentence or a word.

First, no matter where you start, there you are. (You can’t hit me. I’m running in zigzags.)

Second, you can get to a complete short story (or novel) no matter where you start.

It’s just the map is slightly different. If you’re the sort of people (I am) that reasoning through a story very carefully will mean you kill the story (deader than a doornail) then don’t do that.

A writing manual is not a suicide pact.

So how do you apply all this good knowledge (ah!) and wisdom (ah! Ah) to your writing if you’re not going to carefully reason through things and build your story from pieces?

Well, if you’re like me, you probably will apply it in revision. And revision is dangerous as heck when you’re young at writing. But it will come, and the more you know how to focus and the structure of a novel, the better the story will be.

If you’re like me you study the structure, and it goes in the back of your mind, and then it comes out, somehow.

If it helps, take your favorite short stories and diagram them. Identify the problem at the beginning, then the call to adventure, then the try/fail sequence, the climax, and the resolution/aftermath (which in a short can be only one sentence.)

And then, once you write a story, the plot tools will give you the ability to figure out what’s wrong, when a story goes really badly.

I’m just going to give you some avenues of exploration for the type of story you’re stuck with, when you’re trying to figure out what it is, and then we’ll go into more detail in the future. Be aware that as exhaustive as these next few lessons will get, it’s still not the whole thing, but just some avenues to wander down. If you start writing seriously, you’ll find whole paths and winding ways of your own that I never thought of.

Anyway you do it:

If you start with the character – I have a novel series, actually, where the character has been with me and driving me nuts for years, but had no background. These days, while I paint and fix storm damage on the house, I find myself figuring it out. It’s like this:

Why is the character the way he is? What would explain how he is? What happened to him/his people/his world in the past to explain THAT quirk. There is more to this. At this point, it’s a good idea to decide what is immovable about the character and what is flexible. I’ve had character that let me change their genders and characters that didn’t, for instance. And sometimes it’s the quirk. I couldn’t for instance, change the fact Lucius thinks he’s guilty of murder, though it quickly becomes clear it’s not exactly Ben’s murder, though that’s where he displaced it. His guilt is of course over the death of Jan’s older brother. He doesn’t know how, but he knows he caused it. It only clicks when he figures out what’s been going on. And when I did too. But if you’re starting at the beginning, and particularly a short story (AFGM is a novel) it’s good to figure out what is causing your character’s quirk.

 

If you start with the idea – what character, what plot, what circumstances will illustrate what you’re trying to prove? Man against machine? Forgiveness is the ultimate good? What?

 

If you start with the environment, much as starting with the character, you interrogate the environment to figure out what kind of character it would produce, and what character would be conflicted within it. (Conflict is good. Though for a short keep the conflict small.)

 

So, next week – From Out The Character

There’s nine and sixty ways of constructing tribal lays — and we mean to make you comfortable with all of them ;)

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Decisions decisions

A couple of things came to my attention yesterday that involve the publishing industry. No, I’m not talking about the rantings and foaming at the mouth by a couple of folks who really want to be relevant but only come across as desperate and bitter. The first item to catch my attention was a blog by an author taking about what happened with her agent when she decided to go indie. The second was a round of posts on the KDP boards and related blogs. That’s what I’ll start with first.

Saturday, Cedar wrote a post about Kindle Unlimited. There is a lot of good information in it about the program. However, as she admits, there is still a lot to be discovered about just what sort of impact the program will have on sales, number of downloads under the program and the overall impact on the bottom dollar. There is also a lot of conflicting information out there about the program and that is causing a great deal of consternation on the interwebs. Add in the usual Amazon haters with all their naysaying. Is it any wonder there are worried indies and small press publishers out there?

On the KDP boards, the main issues brought up was anger that books were enrolled in the program without first getting the okay from the authors/publishers. Since many of those objecting were already enrolled in the KDP Select program, this is a knee jerk reaction brought on by Amazon itself. For once, Amazon dropped the ball and didn’t give those in the Select program an early heads up with the details needed to understand what this new program might be. Worse, the only way — so far at least — to opt out of the program is to opt out of Select.

So, what’s the big difference between Kindle Unlimited and the Kindle Only Lending Library? Numbers, basically. Well, numbers and audio books. Where the numbers differ is that KOLL allowed Prime members to borrow one book a month. There was no limit on how long you could hold onto the book but you couldn’t borrow another until that book was returned. With Unlimited, it is my understanding that you can borrow up to 10 books at a time. Again, there is no limit on how long you can hold these books. But, as with the KOLL, you have to return books once you reach that magic number of 10 before downloading anything else under the Unlimited program.

Since audiobook downloads won’t impact most authors in the program, at least not right now, I’m not going to address that.

The major questions as an author that I have about the program all come down to the bottom line. How will the ability to download my books under the Unlimited program impact my sales? Right now, I’ll be honest, I see my sales taking a hit and the “borrows” have taken a big jump. That is, in my opinion, because the Unlimited program is free for 30 days. What the result will be when folks have to pay $9.99/month for the service very well could be something else.

One thing that has become clear from what I’m seeing with my numbers/ranking and what I’m hearing from others is that overall author and title ranking isn’t being negatively impacted on the whole. It appears that those titles downloaded under the Unlimited program count as “sales” when it comes to rankings. I could be wrong, but that is how it seems to be right now. That’s important because it isn’t skewing, at least right now, the Top 100 rankings in any genre/sub-genre.

The other area of confusion is what we will be paid for each download under the Unlimited program. It is my understanding that we will be paid just like we were for downloads under the KOLL program — payment will be out of the fund Amazon puts up each month and will depend on how many books are in the program, etc. Yet I have seen other sites claim that you will be paid what you would if the book had been sold under regular circumstances. Common sense tells me it will be like the KOLL payments if for no other reason than the Unlimited downloads aren’t impacting my monies earned to date. To mean, that means they can’t tell me how much I’ve earned under the program because they won’t know until the end of the month when all the factors are considered.

There is one other thing I can say right now. Yes, my “sales” have dropped since the program began. But when I factor in the downloads under Unlimited, there has been little impact. I’ll be watching for the next few months and gathering data. Then, and only then, will I decide whether the program is worth continuing or not.

The second item that caught my eye was this blog post by Claire Cook.  I’m not going to rehash the entire article in detail. Instead, I’m going to suggest you read it carefully and then reread it. Ms. Cook describes the sequence of events that led to her decision to leave traditional publishing and go indie. There is the much too common tale of rotating editors, an editor leaving on maternity leave just months before book launch leaving her with a young and rather inexperienced assistant. Then there came the email from the assistant telling her that she, the assistant, was leaving to start a takeout food business. So, there she was with a basically orphaned book. And things kept going downhill.

Add in emails and messages from bookstores telling her that her backlist from another publisher was next to impossible to get. Then that publisher sold, adding more bumps in the road. Finally, after more bumps and bruises, Cook decides to go indie. She’d done a little indie work before but this was the big jump. She was going to take back control of her career. She talked to her attorney, letters were sent to get rights back where they’d reverted, etc., And all was happy in the world.

Until it came to her agent.

Cook never names her agent. Instead, she describes the agent this way: “powerful literary agent from a mighty agency that I both liked and respected.” The agent had been kept in the loop about what she planned and had read and given input into the book Cook was about to publish on her own. From what I can tell, the agent never raised any red flags in their discussions about there being any potential problems. Cook evidently didn’t think so, at least not until the agent called her with what basically turned into a list of demands. In order for Cook to continue being represented by the agency, she ” would have to turn over 15% of the proceeds of my about-to-be self-published book to said agency. Not only that, but I would have to publish it exclusively through Amazon, because the agency had a system in place with Amazon where I could check a box and their 15% would go straight to them, no muss, no fuss.”

Note, that the agency wasn’t giving her any assistance in self-publishing the books. Nor would there be any extra push from Amazon regarding placement or other marketing perks. Oh, and it was made clear the sub-agents of the might literary agency wouldn’t be spending any time trying to sell rights to her work. In other words, she would get to pay 15% of her royalties for the right to say she was represented by the agency and get no other benefit from it.

This is when she drew the line and said no. More letters from attorneys and legal fees incurred but she divested herself of the agency as well.

I applaud Cook for writing this post. What she went through is not unheard of. But it serves as a good warning tale for the rest of us. If you have an agent right now, find out what their policy is about indie work. If they want 15% of your profits and they aren’t doing anything to earn that monies, either renegotiate your contract or get out of it. If there is a clause in your contract that you can only self-publish through them, make sure it is worth your while to do so. They have to be offering something of value. Just putting the book up on Amazon or elsewhere isn’t enough.

In other words, protect yourself. There are alternatives out there and those who have long filled traditional roles in publishing are worried because the industry is changing. Sometimes that worry turns into innovative thinking. Too often, however, it turns into attempts to hang onto what they had, no matter what the cost to the other party. Since you are that other party, keep your eyes open and protect yourself. In the meantime, why aren’t you writing?

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