I see in today’s paper that Australian research identifies me as a ‘slogger’ – a bloke who would like to work less but needs the money. And there I thought I was just a lazy beggar who would like to fish a bit more often.

The interesting part to their whole schpiel – which didn’t make a whole lot of sense to me, because I am not a pigeon and they have a desperate need to put everyone in pigeon-holes – was that it seemed to hinge aspiration and reward… and that it was plainly very, very viewpoint orientated.

According to them, I would be less well socially connected, and less adept at it than any other group. Now I’m no Kim Kardashian (just in case you failed to notice the beard) and I’m a failure at twittering my every moment and movement (including bowel, or, after alphabet soup, vowel). But I have if anything too good an actual social life and chat to too many people the book-of-faces.

I’m a writer, I like to watch, to listen, to study people, to think about what they say, and why they say it. This means I can better grasp what a character – who is vastly different to me in every imaginable way, and possibly some I would rather not imagine – would plausibly react in the bloody awful mess I put them in my books. I am kind like that. I mean, here I am playing god, I could at least have them win the Lotto, meet Mr or Miss Right, and live happily ever after with a large library and enough Chateau Lar Feet (as this is Dave Freer writing, not something common like Chateau Lafite) and Magret de Canard with a black cherry reduction, to at least die happy. Nooo, instead I put them in awful positions (some not even in Kama Sutra) facing certain death, usually sober and before dinner. Yes, I am a miserable bastard. Being one is a tough job, but someone has to do it.

Of course, tough jobs are supposed to pay well (which would put me on the wrong side of the pigeon-hole margin). Sadly, no one else seems to think it a tough job (one of these point-of-view things I alluded to). In terms of aspiration, however, I’ve never come across an author who didn’t aspire to being rich and successful. I’ve met an awful lot who aspire to be Castle on TV – rich famous and living the good life without all the tedium of actually writing. I’ve met others – and I’d put myself among them, who would do the job if they didn’t get to write, and fair number who could certainly have been richer than an author is likely to be, if they’d chosen a different path. Some of them even realized that before they went down the writer’s path.

Now, sloggers (according to pigeon-holers) work because they must, and don’t earn much, or ever hope to earn much. Yet… all novelists, for at least for a substantive part of their job are literally sloggers. Producing a book (let alone a career as an author) is a long-haul process. And part of any long haul process is sheer dogged determination – or plain old-fashioned slog (unless you are Castle, and that only happens on TV.) Even if somehow you do make every ounce of writing your twentieth novel a thing of joy (and yes, I manage to end up loving my books, even those I wished I had never agreed to write), there is still editing and proofs, and then inserting the proof corrections.

And even those of us who love the writing itself are faced with horrible parts of it. For me the most difficult is writing the ‘links’ between the scenes which I have to make sure maintain continuity – usually complex – and yet must be short, clean… and the reader is barely aware of. There is always a resentful part of my mind that says ‘I am working my butt off to make this slick, clear… and virtually invisible. You would only know it existed at all (if I have done it well) if it wasn’t there. Like the servant who actually did the cleaning in the society hostess’s home (and listens to her being praised for it), there is a degree of resentment that my hardest and, IMO some of my best work is something that is only good if no one knows I’ve done it.

The times of sheer dogged slogging is an unavoidable fact of life for 99.99998% of any author who makes a career out of it. You just can’t let it show in your writing, because your readers are paying you for tedious attention to detail in your work, not for tedium in their entertainment.

Like my laziness… it’s a question of perspective and perception. I’m not much good at just sit-and-do nothing. Hell for me would be sunbathing. I do work long hours, but I have slowed down from 5 hours sleep a night – which is when I wasn’t being lazy. I’ve actually got a rigid system of self-bribery and corruption worked into a structured calendar, word counts – which have timed ‘rewards’ of checking facebook, or working in the garden, or going fishing – yes, I really do book the hours, and even try to enforce some reading, research and even free time. I’m not very good at the latter, but there is a point where you’re either staring at the screen or writing crap you will delete. It is, compared to most office workers, terribly regimented and disciplined – and the boss watches every damn thing I do.

Of course to the reader who is waiting for the next book I’m also a useless, lazy scut who never gets around to it.

So: as usual this is all about writing and technique. And as usual I have been trying to do what I am informed is wicked colonial imperialism – showing not telling. If that’s wicked imperialism, bring it on, I reckon, because it works for readers. ‘Wicked’ is a point of view issue too. What I was trying to explain is a layer of complexity that many writers never quite grasp.

At the bottom end characters are WYSIYG (what you see is what you get) which is lovely when translating e-books, but a bit weak as a character. The character is as they are portrayed – both in how they see themselves, and, identically as they are seen by anyone else. IE. Joe is a hard-working, clever, kind man. That’s how Joe sees himself, and how other characters see Joe. That is also how the readers see Joe. And oddly, comments like ‘unrealistic/ dull/poor/one-dimensional characters’ will creep into the reviews. That may be true, but I have often found this really is an inability to express something the reader is aware of without grasping quite what causes the disconnect.

The disconnect is of course, that what the character perceives themselves as – from their own point of view – is never what others see them as. Many writers manage this reasonably well. Joe sees himself as a hard-working, clever, kind man. Mary (another character) sees him as lazy, dim-witted, and un-feeling.

This is real life. Listen to any dispute and you may think that the two principals are describing a separate set of events. Divorce cases, doubly so. And when you get down to poltics… Well, looking at it from Australia, ardent Donald Trump and Hillary Clinton’s supporters plainly live in widely separated alternate universes which branched off from each other just after there first was light.

Dispassionately, and from neither point of view… exists another real story entirely, with more or less elements from both and things which are in neither viewpoint. Just so with the story in the READER’S head. This is the stage which great authors get to. They understand that they’re working with each character’s perception of themselves, and the other (often multiple) character’s perception of themselves AND of the other characters. All of this adds up to the author carrying his or authorial perception of the character to the reader. Joe sees himself as a hard-working, clever, kind man. Mary sees him as lazy, dim-witted, and un-feeling. Mary sees herself as not popular, and unhappy about this, and far brighter than Joe. Joe sees Mary as happy, loving and understanding, and not too bright. Both of their actions and responses are shaped by own perceptions… and by reality (in this case, authorial reality) The clever author manages to carry through the ‘reality’ that Mary doesn’t care for Joe, but wants to be liked, and is manipulating his feelings. She’s not actually as bright as she thinks she is, or she would realize that her un-lovable-ness isn’t how Joe sees her. But she’s brighter than Joe think she is. Joe, on the hand is hard-working, none-too-bright, but is actually kind.

It’s a multi-dimensional maze, which the reader SHOULD be unaware of as they’re led through. It’s a slog, getting it right, because to do so you will have to enter (at least) three different head-spaces.

This is why head-hopping is a poor idea. It confuses most authors, and that in turn confuses most readers. That is why the discipline exists, not for its own sake.

Of course, it’s never that simple. The ‘authorial’ head-space will quite possibly be not quite the way the reader sees it. When I was writing JOY COMETH WITH THE MORNING I wrote the book from a single point of view (hers) but made it clear by the responses of the other characters to her, that her perspective was not theirs, and that they saw her quite differently – and of course, I as the author saw all of them quite differently.

What I should have been prepared for… but wasn’t, was the range of very different ways readers saw her.

It’s a complex web we weave.

But we set out to deceive.

That’s why it is called ‘fiction.’


Filed under characterization, plotting, point of veiw, Uncategorized, WRITING, WRITING: CRAFT

Welcome to Schedule C

Or, business advice for the indie writer. Note: this is US-specific, as I don’t file taxes anywhere else in the world. Check your local laws for the specifics that apply to you; they may vary wildly.

You’ll hear a lot “save your receipts” before you start filing indie pub income (or trad pub advances) under the self-employment taxes. However, there’s a lot more to your spending and saving than just filing receipts. fortunately, we have a handy guide as to when, where, how, and why, called Schedule C.

IRS form here:
Schedule C instructions here:

No, it’s not as simple as it looks at first, yes, consult with your accountant. This is only intended to be the rough overview so you understand what your accountant is trying to tell you, instead of learning in billable time. By the way, you are keeping a spreadsheet of all your expenses and the deductible category, yes? Because if you don’t, then you’re paying the accountant at his rates to go through all your paper receipts and compile one. Save your money! Know what you’re spending and where!

Scroll past that rental income, down to the Income (Line 1). Check with your accountant on whether the income received from Amazon counts as royalties, despite all of us always calling it royalties. That said, if you know roughly what you made, this is a good place to start running rough numbers. The most applicable:

8. Advertising – How much did you spend on Bookbub, Ebooksoda, SEO ads, etc. promoting your book(s) over the year? Yes, every time you pay money to a promo site, you need to a.) print out the receipt and note when, who, how much, and why – advertising – on it, and b.) enter that in a spreadsheet. See also the receipts for bookmarks, postcards, business cards, and other swag given away at cons and fairs, banners for signing tables, etc.

9. Auto and travel (see instructions) Mileage to cons where you promoted your books count. Mileage on travel for research may count. Check carefully!

10. Commissions and fees – this is where you put the expenses you paid people. (Graphic Designer, Commissioned Artist, etc.) Note – your IP lawyer and accountant have their own line!

13. Depreciation – if you have a large expense, you don’t necessarily deduct it all in one year.
Equipment, like buying a treadmill desk, or the company buying a vehicle to cart your booth between cons, can have the expense spread out over several years. This means you can use the expense against taxes in future years when you’re making enough money it matters, instead of having it drop you below a threshold you were already below this year. Check with your accountant for when this is a good idea, or must be applied.

17. Legal and Professional Fees – Yes, your accountant’s bill, and the IP Lawyer’s bill, are deductible expenses.

18. Office expenses (see instructions) – Office supplies and postage. If you’re stocking up on cheap notebooks and office supplies during back to school sales, you’ll want to make sure they’re on a separate receipt from your groceries, or separately total out the office expenses on the receipt.

20. Rent or lease – including if you rent an office. For home offices, google “home office deduction”, because that’s its own creature, and complex.

22. Supplies – trickier than it looks; this is “supplies consumed in this tax year”, not “supplies bought this tax year.” Can include books for research & equipment if used within the years – but if the use extends substantially beyond the year (new computer), it goes into a different, depreciation-taking line.

23. Taxes and licenses. Are you in a crazy suburbia where they want to charge you a business tax or fee for a home office? Do you need a business license every year in the state you incorporated? This is where you report those amounts paid.

24. Travel, meals, and entertainment – this is why you want the bill, and you want to write on the back of the receipt who you had the meal with, and why. Because sometimes it’s deductible, sometimes not. Check the instructions.

27. Other expenses – did you spend money in ways not covered above? Check with your accountant if it can go here!

The simple explanation is: The government will do its level best to take all the money you made in a year, and leave you destitute while it spends more profligately than drunken sailors (drunken sailors stop when they’re broke. Our government, not so much!) However, it recognizes that if it takes everything you made, you’re going to immediately go bankrupt because you’ve had to spend money to pay the bills. So it’s trying to take all the money you made except what’s already spent, in a tug-of-war between wanting strip you of every cent and recognizing that bankrupt businesses don’t make more money that they can legally steal to blow on vote-buying, enforcing idiotic regulations, expanding bureaucracies, lavish parties, and kickbacks to fellow travelers.

Therefore, you as a business owner, wanting to actually keep some of that money you’re making, need to carefully track every cent you spend. Then, find the best way to pay for it with pre-tax dollars so your remaining income looks pitifully small and not worth taking. You know, so you can spend it on things like food! Food is good. If you want food, track your expenses, save your receipts, and deduct everything you can. Check with your accountant more often than just filing time, and learn what he can do to help you help yourself!

And now, for some books to amuse, inform, and entertain:
If you want to get some valuable advice on the balance of being an artist/author, a marketer, and a businessperson, MCA Hogarth has collected her Three Jaguars business cartoons into a print book. Not only good advice, it also has moments of hilarity, and a paintbrush-proof mug!

Get it here!

or, if you want to run away and do something bright and cheerful and not at all related to business after this post, here’s one of her colouring books for adults.

Hearts, stars, unicorns, dragons and honey badgers, velociraptors drifting in space… shiny!



Well, Hello

It’s Saturday, isn’t it?

I am in the throes of con prep. Not for myself as an author – today, I go as Mom. I’ll be in the shadow of two teens doing their first cosplay, and they are about as excited as you can imagine – practically vibrating. They have been prepping all week, since they first realized they were going. With my schedule, I’ve been helping a bit here and there, but it’s mostly closet cosplay. In the long run, I’m sure they will want to up their game, but hopefully today we’ll meet some like-minded cosplayers who can help them more than I!

We were looking at the panels at the con, which are not many. Comic cons, it seems, are not the same as Lit cons. There was one on Geek Feminism, and I jokingly told them they couldn’t go to it – and I wouldn’t cross it’s threshold! My girls both made disgusted noises. They don’t identify as feminists, they informed me. Feminists are ridiculously over the top. Oh, good…

But this should be a fun outing. The shared joy of the young ones meeting like-minded geeks is always a delight, and while one of them has been to a con (LibertyCon, in fact) she informed me the other day that it wasn’t her con, so it didn’t count. It has me thinking about my first con. It wasn’t LibertyCon, but a warm-up for that family reunion of sorts, which I was very excited for. I went to Boskone, by myself, which was difficult (for reasons), and met up with friends, and had a lovely time, all in all. The girls don’t have friends to meet, but I suspect we will come home with new ones made.

This is, after all, the point of cons, is it not? For the fans of the nerdy to meet and greet, exchange their passions, and come away refreshed and joyful from the exchange. After the last few years being drawn into the whole sordid mess of the Hugos, I’m delighted to be granted a second chance. A chance to see the younger generation, unaware of the absurdity of their elders, mingling and enjoying themselves.

I’ll report back later! Sorry this is so short, but I have to go do a bit of body painting (arms, legs and face! LOL)



Reviewing Some Award Winners – Part the Second

As promised, I’m reviewing the opening of the winner of a different award this time around. The genre is more or less the same, but beyond that, there’s very little the two works have in common. As I did last week, I’m not giving the name of the work or the author, because I want the focus to be on the work rather than who wrote it.

Quoted text is italicized, my commentary is not.

Dad, how many universes are there?”

This isn’t a killer opening, but it’s a decent one. There’s a hint to what I suspect is one of the major themes of the work, and at least two people, a father and his child.

Only one, by definition, son,” he answered. “Hence the term universe.”

There’s a hint that the father has a sense of humor here, and a strong suggestion the son is an adult, or at least mature enough to recognize the humor. The father is also rather obviously avoiding a direct answer, which suggests that in this novel’s world there may well be more than one universe.

Spread out on the couch, still in his gear, my father spoke in a weary monotone, not raising his head, not opening his eyes. I was surprised to get even a grunt out of him, much less an answer, even if it was an answer that was not really an answer.

This paragraph trickles out a little more information. The prose so far is simple, focused, and hints at a lot more than is present on the surface. The author is showing the father’s tiredness in the way he speaks, the fact that he’s still in “gear” – without revealing what that gear is (and this makes sense because the son is obviously used to his father getting back from whatever it is he does, and being very tired).

I prodded the fake log with a poker, but no sparks flew up. I tried to keep the frustration out of my voice. Depending on his answer, I would either be back upstairs asleep in ten minutes, or running wildly out of the house into the wide darkness before the dawn, at top speed.

Four paragraphs in, and we’re aware that something the father knows is critical to something the character finds massively important, but which could be a complete bust (the “asleep in ten minutes” comment). The character’s nervousness shows in his poking at the fireplace and trying not to sound frustrated. There’s also a hint of discordance – what kind of job does the father do that he’s getting back from work (which isn’t openly stated, but strongly implied) in the hours before dawn?

It might be too late already. I wanted to take out my phone and look at the time but I feared I might glimpse the message that was still glowing on the little screen.

Here the author ratchets the tension up a little, suggesting that whatever this message is, it’s got the character in quite a state.

Let me ask it another way. What is reality?”

This is a clever way to show that this work is not part of everyday life: there is no aspect of normal life where something important enough to have someone running off into predawn darkness can be answered by this question. More than that, in what kind of weird place and time is this question something you ask your extremely tired father?

He heaved a weary sigh.

And in what kind of world does the extremely tired father respond with the kind of sigh that, although not explicitly described as such, you just know is one of those “why me?” things?

This is a very good example of using simple, unadorned prose to foreshadow strangeness to come and drop hints about the nature of that strangeness, while at the same time drawing a broad thumbnail of the father-son relationship. There’s a lot of depth layered into the deceptively simple handful of paragraphs that act as teasers for what is to come.

And then the author shifts gears.

Before you ask, it was because of a girl. Before you laugh, tell me a better reason to dive headfirst off the edge of reality.

Motivation, right up front and smacking readers between the eyes, as well as hinting that the character is a tad impulsive.

Her name was Penny Dreadful. Unless it wasn’t. I was in love. Unless I wasn’t.

And infatuated if not in love. The kind of family who would name a child Penny Dreadful is left to the imagination, while hinting that the name is an assumed name.

Penny was a very pretty, witty and brave girl, as bold as a Marine platoon storming Iwo Jima. She was famous and rich, and way out of my league.

I like this mix of cliché wrapped around the decidedly not-cliche simile of the Marine platoon. It’s more vivid than avoiding cliché entirely would have been without threatening to send readers chasing down a thesaurus.
It wasn’t her fault. It’s not like she asked me to save her. Heck, she did not even know I was alive. Well, technically she knew I was alive.

She saw me every day. She just couldn’t remember my name.

The character has now been established as potentially unmemorable – at least until the next two paragraphs.

It’s Ilya, by the way.

Ilya Vseslasvyevich Bessmertniy Saint Mitrophan Muromets.

And the brief suggestion of unmemorable is followed by a name that completely overthrows my initial guess and leaves me feeling sorry for the poor sod.

Quite simply by this point I was hooked (and damn it, I really don’t need more in my to-be-read queue, which is getting to the point where it’s going to form a literary black hole soon). This is one of the better examples of a teaser opening I’ve read, where the author does the equivalent of tickling the fish… ahem… reader towards the shore where they can be landed and neatly gutted… um. That may be taking the metaphor a little too far.

At any rate, this particular work is, on the strength of its opening, a worthy contender for the award it won (yes, yes, this is my opinion only). There’s no clumsiness to the prose, no faux-literary flourishes, but there’s a whole lot of depth packed in to what seems simple.


Filed under Uncategorized

Simply Remove Everything That Isn’t Story

I’ve found myself, lately, going over half-completed novels and wondering if I had a stroke while writing them.

It’s not true, of course.  I didn’t have a stroke.  But I was very ill for about four or five years, the time I refer to as “the wheels came off.”

Before the endless moves, there were the endless illnesses, which were, apparently precipitated by low thyroid.  (This is not actually strictly true, which is why it took so long to identify.  My autoimmune issues attack a component necessary to my thyroid output being used by my body.) Low thyroid causes other issues, like weight gain and lack of energy, but most importantly depression, verbal competence issues and memory issues.

The memory issues were a problem because I keep the “design” of a novel in my head as I write.  Even when I’m purely pantsing, I know what the novel is supposed to “feel” like, and so I know how to remove everything that isn’t novel.  Only I couldn’t do it.  I couldn’t keep it in my mind, not the feel of it, the sense of it, (it’s like following a thread into chaos.  You have to keep holding on.)  And so my half completed novels (except one that gets ditched from chapter one) are … not even wrong.  I kept going from chapter to chapter going “why am I showing this?  What does this have to do with the plot? Gratuitous sex why?”  And on and on and on.  The chapters and scenes are competently written, but it’s as though someone tried to tell Romeo and Juliet by following Lady Capulet’s depression, her husband’s business deals, friar Laurence’s crisis of faith, the Montague’s reading habits.

Fascinating side details, and the glimmers of the story are there, but for some reason you can’t get at them, because the deranged author is showing you EVERYTHING BUT.

Which in case you wonder is why you won’t see the second of Vampire Musketeers until… oh, late October.  Because that’s the state I found it in.

So, to bring this to where you can use it: writing a novel is easy.  You simply remove everything that isn’t novel.

How do you know what isn’t novel, particularly in those cases (and all of us face them, now and then) when the novel, for whatever reason, won’t let you outline it?

Be aware of the character arc and of the emotions you want to evoke.  Then follow that, like a thread into the maelstrom of the story.  No matter how fascinating side-scenes are, if they neither advance that arc, nor carry any emotional punch that furthers your involvement with the characters, don’t write them.  Or if you must write them, cut them ruthlessly.

Oh, and if you find you can’t keep anything in your head, have so much trouble thinking of words that it feels like you’re writing novels by passing words out one by one in a tiny fissure in the cement wall surrounding you, if you’re depressed and your affect is flat, and most importantly, if you keep getting sick, get your fricking thyroid checked.  And get a comprehensive test, as comprehensive as possible.

There are a dearth of good writers in the world.  Don’t allow health to make you a bad one.



Filed under Uncategorized

It’s a business

There are times when I feel like I’m the crotchety parent sitting the kids down to tell them the facts of life. No, not those facts of life but the facts of life about business. It seems like almost every week there is a blog post or newspaper article about a bad contract or troubles in publishing or writers thinking about hanging up their keyboards. Why? Because all too many forget that publishing is a business and it needs to be treated as such.

I’m not going to discuss, at least not much, the publisher side of writing as a business today. Oh, there is plenty out there. Bad publishing decisions coming back to haunt the publishing company abound. But that’s not the point of today’s post. No, today I’m back on my soapbox reminding everyone who wants to be a writer that you have to remember that this is your business and you have to treat it as such.

Over the last couple of weeks, I’ve talked with writers, some traditionally published and others indie published, who went into this business with stars in their eyes and rose colored glasses firmly in place. The ones traditionally published just knew that once they signed the contract, the publisher would be spending all sorts of money to promote their book and make it into a best seller. The indie writers who are now wanting to go with a traditional publisher because — duh — they will get this huge advance and will be sent on tours to sign their books and will soon be playing poker with other best selling authors ala Castle.

That sound you hear, that slow thud-thud-thud is my head pounding against the wall.

It would be wonderful to live the life of Castle — less the murderers and other crooks trying to take pot shots at you every week. But that isn’t reality. The reality is that the vast majority of writers who have signed with traditional publishers see little if any real push from their publisher. In fact, the publisher — and the author’s agent — expect the author to do their own promotion. Oh, you might get reimbursed for your expenses if you go to a con or do a book tour but don’t bet on it. Don’t believe me that publishers aren’t spending as much on promotion of those authors they haven’t pegged as best sellers or the newest “best thing ever”? Think back to the last time you saw a book signing at your local bookstore. Now ask yourself how many times a year your local bookstore has such signings. How many of those are authors who aren’t best sellers or local authors?

Now, look at your local newspaper and tell me how large the arts section is and how many book reviews appear per week. Oh, wait. Sorry. Part of the reason there aren’t as many reviews is that there aren’t as many people reading the newspaper. Reviews, especially book reviews, were some of the first things cut when newspapers started cutting costs to make up for the lower advertising revenue and lower subscriptions rates. Few newspapers have their own book reviewers any longer and the books being reviewed are either best sellers or the newest best thing. Hmm.

But, Amanda, you get those huge advances and you don’t have to work any longer.


And this is where you have to remember that this is a business. Most advances, especially for “new” authors fall in the four-digit range. Yes, some new authors get more but they are the except and not the rule. You don’t get the advance all at one time and you aren’t going to see any more money from the publisher until you have earned out the advance and, believe me, that doesn’t happen very often. How can it when publishers use Bookscan to determine how many books are sold instead of a simple inventory tracker program?

That means you have to make sure you have a way to pay your bills between advances. This is why the vast majority of writers aren’t full-time writers. They have families to feed and are like me. They like having a roof over their heads and food in the fridge. Even if your first book is a success, you don’t know that the second book will be. More importantly, if you are publishing traditionally, you have no guarantee that the readers will remember you two years or more after your first book by the time the second book comes out. Remember, when you publish traditionally, you have no control over when your book is released and you are just one of many the publisher is having to slot into a finite number of slots per month.

I can’t repeat this often enough. Writing is a business and the writer is the business owner. Yes, you might sign a contract with someone to distribute your work (a publisher) and promote it (publisher or someone else) but it is still your responsibility to make sure the job is being done. You can’t just sign the contract and sit back and wait for the money to roll in, trusting the person you contracted with to do the job. You need to understand the supply chain for bookstores and the reality of how long a book is left on the shelves before it is pulled. You need to understand the financial aspects of the business and you need to study the numbers when it comes to sell through, resigning authors, etc.

What started me thinking about this again today was this article. The author in question signed a contract with a major publisher for her first book. It was critically acclaimed and not long before it was released into the wild, she quit her job. Yep, you read that right. The author quit her job — the job that helped support her family — so she could promote her book and write full-time. She did so after signing with the publisher for only this one book. There was no second book that would bring in additional advance payments. Nope. Just the starry eyed vision of living the life of a writer.

Now, I don’t want to kick this woman when she’s down but her story is illustrative of the problems so many writers — and folks who start their own businesses — face. They get a great review for a product before it hits the shelves and based on those reviews, quits their regular job to do this full-time. The problem is that reviews don’t always turn into sales and sales, especially for books, will slow down if the author doesn’t bring a new title out in fairly short order. For those authors going the traditional route, that very likely means no payments after the book is released because the advance isn’t earned out. So what are you going to do for money?

This particular author did finally go out and get a job — for awhile. But what struck me is that she doesn’t really seem to want to work. She would rather be writing but the worry and stress of not having enough money has shut down the writing. But a job makes her too tired to write. You see the circle. I feel for her but, to be honest, she needs to man up — or woman up — and realize that the situation she is in is the same one so many of us face on a daily basis. We face it and learn to live with it as we continue to write and put our work out there.

The lesson to be learned is that if you don’t have at least six months — preferably a year or more — of living expenses in the bank, do NOT quit your day job. If you are worried about putting food on the table for your kids or if you are worried about how you will pay the bills, do not quit your day job. It makes it more difficult to write, yes. But this is a business and you learn to adapt. You find the way to carve out time to write. But having all the time in the world to write isn’t worth anything if you are worrying about losing your home or having your utilities cut off.

It’s a business, damn it, and you need to look at it that way. Have your business plan. Have your promotion plan. Know that you aren’t going to get a regular salary that is the same from paycheck to paycheck.

And since I am a working writer, check out Sword of Arelion (Sword of the Gods Book 1).

War is coming. The peace and security of the Ardean Imperium is threatened from within and without. The members of the Order of Arelion are sworn to protect the Imperium and enforce the Codes. But the enemy operates in the shadows, corrupting where it can and killing when that fails.

Fallon Mevarel, knight of the Order of Arelion, carried information vital to prevent civil war from breaking out. Cait was nothing, or so she had been told. She was property, to be used and abused until her owner tired of her. What neither Cait nor Fallon knew was that the gods had plans for her, plans that required Fallon to delay his mission.

Plans within plans, plots put in motion long ago, all converge on Cait. She may be destined for greatness, but only if she can stay alive long enough.

Dagger of Elanna, the second book in the series will be released soon. You can check out snippets from the book starting here.




Sequins: more and badder villains

A friend put up a meme about the inherent logical conflict any really good book causes: you don’t want it to end – but you want to keep reading to the end.

His comment was ‘make sure there are lots of sequels.’

Ah. Eyes that see what they want to see. I read that as ‘make sure there are lots of SEQUINS’: an excellent maxim, which promptly sent my male heterosexual mind back a back a good many years to a fine sequence of sequins.

I was rather disappointed to discover, on a second take, that all the sexy, shiny, sparkly shimmer had gone like yesteryear, and I was left with “you, author write more books. Now.” The truth is, sequels often fail to sustain that magic, and I wonder if good advice for authors might be ‘quit while you’re ahead’.

But then I never met good advice I couldn’t ignore. I’m talented like that, if I say it myself. And perhaps a sequin is the fifth sequel.

Of course one of the major problems with a sequel (or five) is that so often in a well-constructed novel, two things have usually happened – Firstly: the lead character/s have grown, quite possibly doing away with that very flaw which gave the author such a handy lever to get them into trouble (see Changeling’s Island (Baen). Secondly: in a spirit of tidiness many an author has effectively dispatched and disposed of the villain-in-chief – who was often the nastiest villain on the scene (See TOM where I was twice as efficient – maybe four times what I am in real life, and had killed off not only one really nasty villain, but two.) Of course the really smart author who pre-planned the sequel usually wisely merely sent the villain to jail or lurk in their lair pondering terrible revenge, wherefrom, as all villains are recidivists, they can emerge again, bigger and worse. Sadly this ‘clever’ often ends in the book being less than satisfying, and no-one wanting the sequel.

For the less-clever – like me — facing the point when readers start yelling “sequel, sequel, sequel!!” in a rising chorus (with just that hint of pitch-forks and torches in the background) the author probably says something meaningful like: “Mutter mutter mutter. Stupid jackass earlier self shoulda thought of this. Hmph. Wonder if I can re-animate…”

The truth is, you quite possibly can’t, especially if you killed them properly the first time. And trust me on this, if you hadn’t done a good job of it they wouldn’t be chanting ‘sequel! SEQUEL! SEQUEL!!’ outside.

So you need a fresh flaw, and a new villain. And, here’s the bad news. They’ve got to be a biggerer and worserer villain. You can just go and buy another generic bad guy off the shelf at Villains-R-US – because your heroes have proved they can beat those. And please, please don’t dream-sequence the prior victory and have it that Vladimary the Indeterminate is still sacrificing babies to the evil god Hilump after all (Yes, I really have read that plot-line. And seen it on TV). I’ve lost track of the number of sequels where the other alternative to this: Valdimary now being dead, turns into having been the mere cats-paw for Hilump… who never got mentioned in the first book. It can be done well, but very rarely is.

In modern-paint-by-numbers-generic-fiction, the villain is usually established nice and early on with a suitably gory rape/murder/child-rape which is not any way sickly voyeuristic (cough) and would happily have you leave your young daughter in the care of the author. I guess there is a reason why I’m never going to really bind to Game of Thrones, or be a vast success, because I struggle to write those sort of scenes. I sketched out what I wanted of the nasty Elizabeth Bartoldy and Bianca Casarini in the Heirs books and left that scrap to my co-authors ( Best reason yet for having them). I did enjoy writing the comeuppance scenes though.

Still – one is left with ‘what’s worse’ when looking for that next layer of villainy? Two murders/rapes instead of one? Three in book three… Both? And a bit of pillage or racism for the third. Book four has the new villain with all of those AND sexism. And book five, the new villain has all of that AND (insert suitable scary music here) homophobia. If there a book six you’re left with all of that and Donald Trump’s hair…

It doesn’t work very well, does it? Even for ardent seekers after social justice… A murderer is murderer, a thief a thief, a rapist a rapist. Yes, you can take it to murdering sweet little old ladies for fun, as opposed to whoever you wrote in that first villain… but sequel villains are hard.

I struggled somewhat with this. I eventually came up with a short list of possibilities – most of which have a common thread.

There’s nature itself – and what that brings out in people. The aftermath of a hurricane or tsunami or nuclear disaster is a fairly horrific sequel, because it almost certainly means destroying a large part of what you wrought in the first book.

Then I came up with ‘calumny’. “What the Hades is that?” I hear you say, as you roll your eyes at my folly.

Well: It’s a gumbo closely related to vegetarian chili.

Ahem. That’s an illustration of a base calumny about gumbo. Calumny has kind of fallen out of fashion as a dastardly deed, and you may well understand why by the time I’ve finished. To my mind it can be a worse deed than any of the above sins. Ancient Jewish law (from which much of our Western modern morals and law are derived) I feel was wrong about calumny. They only considered an equal sin to what the calumny was about, and punished it accordingly. I think it worse than the crime or sin.

Calumny is false witness – where the person committing calumny knowingly and maliciously lies in testifying that an innocent person did something that they did not do. So: the witness that says Fred committed the murder, while knowing that Fred was actually not even in the state – but he doesn’t like Fred. Or the woman who claims that she was raped by Fred, when actually she was an eager participant, but later thought her boyfriend would break up with her. The mattress-on-her-head girl, the plump comedienne Lena Whatsit… these are people who committed calumny.

And when you think about this, you can see why this is somewhat worse than the evil deed itself. Firstly the person who will be punished is innocent. Secondly, the victim has to live with that. Their reputation, even if innocence is eventually established, is tarnished forever. They’ll wear the psychological damage within too. But, vile though that is, in a way it is a lesser ill than they do to their society – especially to future REAL victims. The accusation loses credibility, and that shelters the true perps in future.

As story material for a sequel, it’s hard to beat. Your hero can go from hero to zero in 10 seconds flat, and the damage it will do is good material for an author, although hell for the character. Being an innocent individual – especially if the presumption of guilt rests hard on you, and is accepted by others – is a hellish predicament, a dreadful thing to do to someone. One can quite understand why the historical penalty for false witness was same as the penalty for the crime would have been. I feel – especially considering the collateral damage – that’s quite light.

Of course, part of the reason this isn’t something that the villains of many a story suffer from is that it has passed, somehow, into being acceptable – especially in politics. Both sides of the spectrum do it – but it’s of course easier when you’re a protected class. So Irene Gallo can cheerfully utter calumny about the sad puppies being bad writers, racists, sexists, homophobes etc. knowing she lies in her teeth, with the clear intent to damage the reputations and hurt careers, but safe in ‘oh you’re sexist misogynists’ if called on it. Hillary Clinton takes this a step further, with her ‘basket of deplorable racists etc.’ of her political foes – which is somewhat more vicious in that she adds the ‘some of’. That is interesting from someone with a legal background, as it places the burden of establishing innocence on the victims – as Irene did with her eventually forced not-apology.

You end up with ‘everyone I disagree with is Hitler’ – which seriously degrades the accusations. One day there may be a real ‘Hitler’ or real a sexist, and a real victim/s… and the term will be meaningless.

If you want a real social justice issue to write about, calumny and indeed false witness are much neglected ones. It was a substantial part of the villainy in A Mankind Witch (Heirs of Alexandria Book 2). I kind of like the concept, once again in my admittedly limited understanding of ancient Jewish law, that a man who remained silent when his testimony could have established innocence or guilt was just as guilty. But that has gone out of fashion, these days.

There are two other levels of nasty villainy I came up with in thinking about this. I’ve used both particularly in the HEIRS OF ALEXANDRA books, but also in Cuttlefish by Dave Freer (2012-07-24) and STEAM MOLE. Treachery and treason often go hand in hand, and although treason is out of PC fashion it’s a betrayal of the trust of one’s own people – and potentially the key to things like genocide and enslavement – step ups in the ‘nasty villain’ stakes.

Of course there is one other interesting possibility of a worse villain – and the hardest of all. And that is the hero themselves, especially when dealing things like trust and fear. When you take the psychological mess that being a hero can leave people in – PTSD for just one example – you can have one hell of a book. I’ve done that too, but not well enough for publication.

But failing all that you can always write about sequins.

Ooh Shiny…

Oh I’m punting my mailing list again. I need another 21 subscribers to get that vast number – a century, at which I threatened to send out my first test noose-letter and a copy of the short story I wrote in RATS, BATS AND VATS Universe, intended as a seed for the final Harmony and Reason book, and as a commemoration of sorts of the 100th year anniversary of Anzac Day. There’s not a lot about the inflatable rattess business in it.



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