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Writing Pixie Noir

Pixie Noir

Pulp-inspired cover art.

I started out to write a little story to make my partner laugh. I didn’t start out to write something special, or anything other than fun, but I wound up with a novel, and then realized it’s a series, and… Pixie Noir started out of having a direction, and then it just grew.

We’d been having one of our rambling conversations about books, authors we like, and guilty pleasure reads. He admitted to a fondness for Mickey Spillane, but not the Hammer books. I don’t remember what sparked the desire to make him laugh, but I emailed him what would become the first scenes of Pixie Noir one day. He liked it so much I kept expanding it, and sending him snippets as I wrote. He’d give me suggestions (and earned the sobriquet Evil Muse during the six months I was writing this book) and help me with things like male-to-male dialogue. Turns out guys don’t talk to one another like girls think they do. Which makes sense, but… well, I’m a girl.

I write most of my stories because I have to write. Like an itch, they get in my head and nag me until I let them out on paper. Pixie Noir had this loud, brash, sardonic character who kept talking to me. I didn’t plan the story out much, I’m a pantser. I certainly did not plan out my characters, they were in my head as clearly as real people. I read an article the other day about how to develop a character and had to stop and go ‘huh’ as I have never had to do that. I do know that there are things I could not ask or force Lom to do – back down from a fight, open up even to Bella – because they are not in his nature. And Bella, who very practically decides that if she is no longer safe on Earth, why not take a job with the most dangerous man Underhill, if that’s what she wants?

I did set out to write romance into Pixie Noir, but I didn’t want to make it “a romance,” nor did I want them hopping into bed casually. It’s not that I can’t write sex, it’s that these two people, however fictional, had their own agendas and feelings, and I the author had to respect that. About the only things I could dictate were weaponry, like the multiple grenade launcher for Bella’s confrontation with Ogres, and her reaction was something like “ooh! Give me that.”

Much of the bit and pieces fell into place while I was talking with my Evil Muse, like the joke about in case of stairs, use fire. Some of it came out of deliberate research, as my marinating my brain in noir fiction, reading Spillane, L’Amour’s detective tales, and even Ian Fleming. When I needed just the right weapon for a short pixie and slender woman to use on Ogres when they couldn’t use much magic, I went to the Monster Hunter International group and asked the gun geeks, who had more fun than I could have imagined with that scenario! I’m grateful to Everitt Mickey for his technical assistance in the best way to use a logging truck to go bowling for Ogres.

Writing is not a solo concern. Everything I have ever read goes into the meatgrinder of my brain, spiced with research and a touch of craft, and what comes out is mighty tasty. Then, there’s the packaging, because while sausage might be delicious, no one wants to know how it’s made. I have found, personally, that I need to avoid reading modern in-genre fiction while I’m writing, because it affects my writing. I can, and will, read all sorts of other books, but I need some distance between me and the last urban fantasy I’ve read before writing Trickster Noir, for instance, just as I avoided reading any while I was writing Pixie. On the other hand, I have found that it’s terrific fun to have conversations about my characters as though they were real people. And anyone eavesdropping on us avidly plotting out Bella’s entrance to Court and conquest of Underhill by way of setting it (literally) on fire must have thought us quite mad. I hasten to assure you, by the way, that it was only a little fire, and there were extenuating circumstances on Bella’s part.

Writing doesn’t have to be hard work. Yes, it’s not easy, but the paradox is that the more fun you have with it, the more fun your reader will have, too. I started reading Ross MacDonald’s The Moving Target, to marinade my brain for Trickster Noir, the sequel to Pixie, and came across a great quote in the introduction. The novelist James M. Cain wrote, “to me, writing is the scrim through which the reader sees the story. If the writing is too fancy, or has patterns in it, there’s a conflict in the scrim. It disturbs the reader and he doesn’t see the story clearly.” When I sit down to write, I want to tell a story. Or rather, to dictate the story my characters are telling me. I hope you enjoy it, straightforward, shoot-from-the-hip as Lom is.

And where do you find this story? It’s available through Amazon, in print and ebook (DRM free, of course!). If you buy a print copy for signing, the ebook is available at a deep discount through the new MatchBook program.

Click on the little image above to buy, or try this link: Pixie Noir

Red Dwarfs

I’ve always found red dwarf stars fascinating. With all the initial focus on the G class sun-like stars in the search for life, the long-lived and numerous red dwarfs seemed to have an enticing promise.

Most of them are too dim to be seen with the naked eye – adding to their mystery. It is estimated that 20 of the 30 closest stars to Earth are red dwarfs, yet no one of them can be seen without a telescope. The closest star to the sun is Proxima Centauri, a red dwarf 4.22 light-years from Earth. Through a telescope you can find it about four full-moon diameters away from Alpha and Beta Centauri, which appear as a single star in the night sky.

Compared to 10-billion-year expiry date suns like our own yellow G-class sun, red dwarfs can have lifetimes up to a trillion years. Am I the only one who is immediately imagining ancient civilisations glistening in the light of their red suns?

One way or another we will end up there anyway. Red dwarfs will outlive every other stellar cousin. If humanity survives that long, our star-faring descendants will have to migrate to nearby red dwarfs to stay in business as our sun fades to a white dwarf and then finally a black dwarf in a few billion years.

Any they do indeed have planets. In 2010 Gliese 581g was discovered around red dwarf Gliese 581 and dubbed the “first potentially habitable planet”. The fifth planet discovered in this system, it is thought to have a period of between 26-39 days and have a mass 2-3 times that of Earth. It’s orbit puts it somewhere similar to where Mercury orbits our sun, but with the lower intensity of the red dwarf, this should still allow liquid water. The Gliese 581 system is also tantalisingly close to Earth – around 20 lightyears away. So the Gliesians might be tuning in to watch 1993 TV on their satellite dishes as we speak.

One potential wrinkle for habitable planets around red dwarfs is the potential for tidally locked planets in close orbits to their suns. In this case, it is theorised that almost all the water would end up frozen on the cooler “dark side” on the planet. If you have enough water, then you would end up with a liquid water ‘ring’ along the temperate zone between the hot and cold sides. Because of the massive pressure of the ice sheets piling up on the cold side, you would get melting underneath, perhaps creating an ocean under the ice that would connect with the vast lakes around the terminator. How it all looks would depend on topography, the temperatures and exactly how much water you had. But somewhere in there would be zones suitable for life.

Anyone else got any fascinating red dwarf facts? Anyone set a story on a world orbiting a red dwarf?

I hope everyone is enjoying their free Calvanni ebook. Stay tuned for a free Scytheman (book 2).

Cross-posted at chrismcmahons blog.

Advice for the Lost Cause

So, sometime last week, Sarah found this page of alleged advice to writers, produced by someone who is not a writer. The list of egregious faults in said page is truly mind-boggling, and I’m reliably informed that members of the Hoyt Collective invented new forms of swearing due to reading this.

So don’t come whining to me about your brains exploding from the sheer quantity and execrable quality of the wrong in this thing. You have been warned.

On to the alleged advice. It comes in the form of one of those ever-popular “Ten things” lists. Presumably there’s something magical about having ten of them, since 9 or eleventy-bajillion never seems to happen. The 10 things part on its own would overload the WTF-per-minute-ometer but the explanations for each “thing” really blew the poor thing to pieces – and my WTF-per-minute-ometer is the best model you can get, specially optimized for antique, quirky software.

Thing one: Spend a day being a troll (under your own name, according to the advice section), then end the day by sincerely apologizing for being such an obstreperous wanker. This, the good lady tells us, is necessary to teach us to endure shame and shut down the inner censor.

Really? Sweetheart, if you saw half what my inner censor blocks, you’d run screaming into the night. As for enduring shame, if you need an external source to teach you that, you haven’t lost your moral compass: you never had one in the first place. Aside from which, this kind of thing is only appropriate for journaling as therapy. While I’d be the first person to say that writing fiction can be wonderfully therapeutic, that’s a side benefit. The main thing I’m trying to do is tell a damn good story as well as I possibly can.

Thing two: Spend a day being silent. This is apparently an exercise in self-awareness, although as a raging introvert who’s spent years living alone, only one day of silence is easy. I might exchange ten words with people during a normal day – and I’m married (the husband and I share some remarkably eloquent silences). One of my favorite activities is to find myself a pleasant location and sit and just absorb it. I’ll talk when I need to – like when the supermarket checkout girl wants to know if I’m going to use paper, plastic or something else. I’m not going to make the poor thing’s life any harder by going through some stupid pantomime in the interest of becoming more self-aware.

Thing three: Spend a day as a “student of reality” (I’m not making this up, you know) This, the editor-female says, is to teach us to write in our readers world. That’s all very well, but I don’t think I have any readers in alt-history late 1400s Eastern Europe. I’m damn sure I don’t have any in my other universes with the possible exception of the con vampire ‘verse and only because that one leaks like a busted sieve. I don’t know about you, but I happen to enjoy observing people and stuff so long as I’m in a sufficiently clear space. I don’t need to spend a day taking notes on the exact consistency of the cement tiles in location X when I’m going writing about someone whose only concern is that her shoes don’t get dirty.

Thing four: Spend a day with the lyrics of your favorite songs. By this our precious snowflake means to take a verse of said song and attach a honking great splat of details from your current circumstances (in excruciating detail, of course) to the lyrics, then analyze the results to see what kind of weird new meanings arise. The goal is to learn subtext.

Now aside from the unfortunate little fact that subtext is going to be different for everyone because of their history, if you haven’t figured out as a writer that you can set up a whole cascade of subconscious cues with the right words or the right little details, this exercise ain’t going to help you. It might be worth doing for drunken party games, but that’s about as far as I’d take it.

Thing five: Spend a day writing and rewriting a single scene. Apparently to teach hard work.

Darling, I know what hard work looks like. This isn’t it. This is nothing more than wankery pretending to be hard work. If a scene works, it works and it doesn’t need to be taken apart, much less rewritten five different ways to show up how a different perspective can make it totally different. That’s newbie stuff. As the whole “even more honestly” thing? Not everyone lies to themselves the way you do. But then, not everyone writes about themselves, either. I sure as hell don’t.

Thing six: Spend a day on research. Okay, this might look like a valid idea, until you look at what Ye Almighty Editor actually means by it. For starters, she doesn’t actually know what research is. For seconds it’s not going to teach deeper understanding the way she thinks it will. Oh, no… her exercise will generate a facile overview of a few topics, and some shallow essays of the sort I routinely pulled from unlikely portions of my anatomy all the way through high school and three degrees. Three and a half, actually, but who’s counting?

Thing seven: Spend a day watching children. Now aside from the fact that for some of us this is a highly refined form of torture, the reason for this exercise is allegedly to teach compassion for all your characters. That sproinging sound you heard was my WTF-per-minute-ometer finally giving up under the strain and blasting itself into spare parts.

To start with, I don’t need compassion for all of my characters. The fellow behind the bar who sells my main character some ale? He’s a bit player. I don’t need to know anything more about him than that he’s there doing his job. Same for the third enemy soldier from the left whose sole purpose in the book is to die horribly in a failed attack. Of course, I’m writing stories, not self-indulgent navel gazing literature, so I’m probably not the proper audience for this.

Thing eight: Spend a day crying. To learn – wait for it – courage. Lady, I live with depression. I have spent entire weeks crying. I do not need to do more of it to learn to be courageous. Courage is what gets me out of bed every damn morning and takes me to work every damn day. That and being a responsible adult, which is something I suspect our magnificent editor has not experienced. Or at least, not experienced much of.

Thing nine: Spend a day laughing at things only you think are funny. To learn to accept your uniqueness.

Honestly, this woman has no idea she has no idea. If you can’t accept that you’re a unique person with value no matter how good or bad you are, this exercise in futility ain’t going to change a thing. About the only good it will do is the purely physical good that comes from laughing, and you can get that by telling dirty jokes any time you please.

Thing ten: Spend a day being grateful. Okay. Gratitude for the good things in your life is not a bad thing. The kind of bullshit Pollyannaish nonsense this woman talks about as gratitude is just literary onanism – but then, to judge by the entire list, the dear lady’s entire career is editing various examples of literary onanism, and worse, loving them.

So, if you feel inclined to actually do any of these, don’t blame me when they don’t do you any bloody good whatsoever, and don’t come whining to me about it. You’re all adults, you’re all capable of taking yourselves to hell or heaven by any means you choose.

And that is something this person clearly does not understand.

Write It Like It’s Hot

There comes a time in the affairs of men – and women too.  PARTICULARLY women – when you find an object so wonderful, so resplendent, so … perfect, that even the most honest of us can’t help but say “oh, I want to steal that.”

If the object in question is an emerald at the local museum’s exhibit on jewelry, we do not advise you to attempt it.  No, not even if to the age of ten your #1 son was convinced you were an international jewel thief.  (No, he’s never been able to explain why.)

However, if the object in question is a setting, plot or another bit of narrative “oooh, shiny” go right ahead.  I’m going to give you a quick course in not getting caught.  (And will be open to specific questions for a follow up post.)

In my own writing life – and this will be shocking for the woman who has stolen from Shakespeare, Dumas and Jane Austen – this whole idea of copying/stealing someone else didn’t occur to me until I’d been writing for about ten years.

What happened is that our entire group decided – for an exercise and to have a deadline – to enter the Strange New Worlds contest.

Now, one of the group stories (Rebecca Lickiss’ and my If I Lose Thee) won the contest, and I think one other place in the book, but that was it.  That left us, over four years or so with about twenty short stories that were set in the Star Trek universe, and which we couldn’t therefore submit anywhere else.

We were whining about this to Kris Rusch and Dean Smith and they looked confused and said “but why don’t you file off serial numbers?”

Which was the first time I heard of the concept.

Say you have your standard Star Trek setup, with a Starfleet crew, and a violation of the prime directive.  Star Trek did not come up with that idea, and really, all you need to do is change the character names/descriptions, throw in a bit of history that shows your Star-Troop is NOT AT ALL like the Starfleet.  Either change it to all-human or make the aliens REALLY alien.  And then have some rule about not contaminating indigenous civilizations.  Do not call it The Prime Directive.

It’s not even particularly hard.  It is however tricky, and you want to have one of your betas be someone who knows the world and the references and who reads with a gimlet eye for things you forgot to change.

It can be done at several levels, and it depends on what you’re aiming for.  If you want to stay on the windy side of the law, but want people to still know what you’re referencing, then your filing of the serial numbers will still let people see there were serial numbers to file.  On the other hand, if you want to make it sound whole new and shiny you’d build in a lot more of the individual history of your world, etc.

It also all depends on the length of the work, and whether you feel you can sell it elsewhere.  If I had written, say, a star trek or star wars novel, I’d engage in A LOT MORE filing of serial numbers, than if it was a short-short and I was never going to make more than $50 on it.  But that’s because I’m a professional, which is known as “someone who likes to get paid for her efforts” and also “someone who doesn’t like to work for nothing.”  (Okay, it also means “someone who likes to be able to pay her mortgage.” It’s just a thing.)

Those are fairly obvious instances of filing serial numbers.  But what about the more serious ones.  First of all, you cannot read any Regency Romance without finding that half of them are Stolen-From-Heyer, with sex added in.  Sometimes the level to which they are stolen from Heyer would seem to me to be actionable, except no one is actioning, and I think it’s because it’s become so common, you can’t take the whole genre to court.

However, to stay on the safe side: if you’re stealing location or setting from a writer, don’t steal the plot from the same writer.  Also, for the love of BOB (Heinlein, who said “If you’re going to steal, steal from the best.”) unless it is an HOMAGE do not steal names or physical descriptions.

At any rate, the plot is something cumbersome to steal at least if you change the characters, because that will change what drives the character.  (Which is why so many Regencies sound odd, like no human being would ever do that.)

Yes, I know “there are only three plots” or two.  Or a dozen.  Or twenty.  You can’t help but run into that when you are in a writers’ group, particularly when someone is in the bloody habit of stealing your plot.  It’s always the people who don’t so much feel the temptation in the face of something perfect, but who think creativity is kind of leaning on someone else’s work and changing a thing or two, who bring out that chestnut.

Yeah, if you abstract enough elements, you can say there is only x number of plots – or even one.  Character has problem, character struggle, character solves problem.

Let’s not be silly, though.  If one of your group mates just wrote a story in which this man lands in a planet of all women, and has adventures that result in his either escaping by the skin of his… never mind.  Or staying on as a curiosity – NO MATTER HOW MUCH YOU THINK HE/SHE BOTCHED THAT STORY IT’S NOT OKAY to bring a story the next week about a woman who landed in an all male planet.  No, not even if the result is different.

You’re probably not violating any laws, but you’re violating a rule about not pissing off people.  You’re also letting yourself be lazy. Also, if you’re all submitting to the same markets (or putting it up electronic) people will notice and it will be talked about.

If you really, really, really, think the person botched the story and you want to redo it, wait six months, okay?  I know that social relations are not the strong point of most writers, but try to put yourself in your colleague’s position.

(Exempt from this are stories explicitly slapping some award winning story, say, by turning it on its head.  That’s known in the field as “dialogue” or, more honestly, as “My dick is bigger than yours and I know what to do with it better too.”  It’s a behavior protected by tradition.)

In fact, unless you really are doing something interesting with part of our traditional culture – say Dumas or Shakespeare – it is better to have all your own ideas and settings.  BUT if you absolutely need to steal something, make it small, inconspicuous, hide it in your own creativity and for the love of BOB (Heinlein) do not call things by the same name.  (Unless you’re me, and just can’t help it, in which case make their function slightly different – I swear to Bob I didn’t realize how much I stole from him in vocabulary.  But hey, I have my own future history, so there.)

At the other extreme, a lot of you seem to think it’s wrong to say, take the story from a song, or an old movie, or even real life, and use it in fiction.  Oh, please.  Again, unless you’re using the same names/settings/phrases, it’s probably okay.  Just treat it like a piece of Star Trek Fic, file off the serial numbers, give it a different history and Write Like It’s Hot.


Next Week “Shared Culture versus New New Stuff.  How much of each is too much.”


I’mmmmm baaaaack

Before anyone gets on me because I promised the post on copyright and haven’t done it yet, I will. I promise. But it has exploded in the amount of research and issues posed. So I want to make sure I’m not shorting it any. Hopefully, I’ll be able to get to it by next week. In the meantime, I’ve been busy fighting the publishing battles on various fronts. I don’t know if it is the season or the knee-jerk reaction many of the outlets are still having over the “is it porn or not” issue, but some of NRP’s titles have been slowed to a near stop in the review process while others I’ve tried to take down off some sites so they can go exclusive for a limited period on others are slow to come down. I am really ready for this year to be over. Maybe 2014 will bring a return to normalcy.

Since this is a holiday week, and that means most publishers are closed so there isn’t much news going on in the industry, this will be sort of a scattered post. Let’s start with this article from Publishers Weekly about the espresso machines in bookstores. No, I don’t mean those nice coffee machines with their overpriced coffee. These are the print-on-demand machines that were supposed to help rejuvenate the indie bookstores and help publishers and authors alike. The machines are expensive and some publishers have been reluctant to release titles for use with these machines. That limits their worth to the bookstores. So does the fact that bookstores have to worry about maintaining the machines.

According to the article, it seems that only deep backlists have been released by publishers, on the whole, for use with the POD machines. I’d like to say this surprises me but it doesn’t. Look at how slow publishers were to embrace e-books — I know, they really haven’t embraced e-books yet. Instead, they view e-books as a necessary evil. The espresso machines represent a potential new step in technology and distribution and the bean counters and suits just don’t like change. Besides, if they did embrace the espresso machine method of getting books into the hands of readers, it would add another layer of accountability, one that didn’t fit into the current BookScan program. Then there is the contractual obligations the publishers have to their distributors who, believe me, do not want the POD program to succeed on a large scale.

So, instead of making it easier to put books into the hands of readers, a potential change in the way publishing and bookselling continues at a snail’s pace. Will it take off? Not until the machines become even cheaper than the $85,000 they currently cost and not until more titles are made available. In other words, I’m not holding my breath.

On the bookstore front, Barnes & Noble posted better earnings this past quarter. Now, before you jump on the bandwagon and start celebrating, the earnings came despite an 8% drop in sales. More telling is the fact that sales from the Nook side of the business dropped 32.2%. According to Publisher’s Weekly, this drop was caused by a decrease in digital sales as well as a decrease in prices for e-books. There was also a decrease in the number of Nook units sold.

So how did B&N post better earnings? That’s pretty simple. They’ve closed stores, cutting their overhead. Fewer stores means fewer sales. As for the decrease in digital sales, well, it is yet another indication that B&N entered the digital market too late. That’s especially true with getting an e-reader on the market. Amazon continues to dominate there and will, at least for the immediate future.

Finally, in the “what were they thinking” department — not to mention the “they’d never believe it if I put it in a book” department — here’s a story about some ghost hunters. Our intrepid characters — I can’t call them heroes — made their way from Texas to Louisiana to check out reports of supernatural activity at LeBeau Plantation in St. Bernard Parish. Like any good, self-respecting ghost hunter (yes, the sarcasm meter is running high here), these guys started their adventure by trespassing. Then they started looking for ghosts. To assist them in their endeavors, they are alleged to have smoked themselves some pot, had themselves some booze and still there was nary a ghost to be found. Upset because the ghosts wouldn’t come out to play, the ghost hunters allegedly torched the plantation and now find themselves facing charges for arson and more.

I have to admit, my first reaction when I read about what happened was to be surprised they hadn’t seen ghosts and more simply because of the pot and booze and who knows what else. Then I found myself laughing about how the fine and proper Louisiana ghosts would never have come out to party with these interlopers. And, yes, I have a story forming in the back of my mind based loosely on these events.

Which has me wondering if any of you have come across one of those stories that you know your readers would never buy and yet there it is in black and white in the paper or on the news? If you have, what’s it been and have you used it for inspiration?



I will be back with a post after lunch. I forgot a doctor’s appointment this morning for my mother and have to leave the house in just a few minutes. I will, in the words of the Terminator, be back.

Stiff Necked

I come from two long lines of stiff-necked bastards, who fitted in to the established order the way Godzilla fits into the Bolshoi Ballet troupe (in a tutu, naturally), which is why my ancestors tended to go (mostly by their own volition) as far as possible from those who might like them to bow and fit in just because they were told to – or they got killed off trying to change that requirement. I suspect you could trace that line and attitude all the way back to a little valley in Africa, long, long ago, when the world was so very young and all. There’s a fair amount of it about, still.

If you put a whole lot of big lumps of hematite in a crucible until it is full… and then pop it the furnace because the boss told you he wants a crucible-full of molten iron, prepare yourself for a thick ear from the furnace-master. Big lumps of iron aren’t particularly bendy, nor do the spiky lumps fit together like a neat 3-D jigsaw without an impossible effort of reconstruction.

Basically if you want to crowd it together, you have to crush the big lumps, and then melt it, to make them nice and flexible and, um, pretty uniform. Of course if you go on crushing and heating too much the whole lot explodes or the crucible breaks.

Which has a lot in common with people in urban environments. The more crowded they get, the less space there is for big lumps who just won’t bend their necks to fit in. If there’s a boss big-lump there you can bet he isn’t living in a 2 X 6 sleeping strip, or using a bed in shifts, because his neck doesn’t bend that far.

Still, for oh… 90%? of humans, the reality is that we’re crushed, melted and poured into little boxes, which are pretty much the same because they have to fit as close as possible into the next little box and there is no space for a lot of awkward sticking-out bits. If you’re an awkward sticky-out bloke that doesn’t crush easily, the only place for you is on the frontiers, or breaking the crucible – that’s why the frontiers are a good safety valve, IMO.

We’re good at deceiving ourselves, and even kid ourselves this is much better than being the irregular spiky lump. After all, self-deception is why fiction sells. Good… but not perfect, because the inverse is true about what popular fiction is: its lead characters are almost inevitably spiky lumps (and on the occasions when they aren’t the book is about them becoming spiky big lumps). Rarely do books about those spiky big lumps becoming ground down and fitting into unique-just-like-everyone-else mold sell well (I can’t think of any that appealed to me anyway. Maybe I am not the best judge.)

Now it would certainly look like some people like fitting in, like taking orders, like not thinking for themselves. Some people, it seems, crush and melt easily (and surprise, they tend to live where having to accept the myriad rules that make closest possible packing work, and nice for the big lumps doing the crushing). Conformity is their middle name. If it’s the accepted mode where they fit to be oh, say racially xenophilic, they will be. And if the big lump on top says tomorrow ‘But we hate the Chinese because they’re bad (and we owe them money)’ they’ll be screaming ‘death to the yellow peril’ at the top of their voices, and be the first to turn on their Chinese neighbor Ah Foong, who was their best friend yesterday.

Except in fiction (well rarely, in real life too. Rarely enough that when it happens it is news) the neighbor will stand up for Ah Foong, will not obey City Hall’s ridiculous no water-tank-without-a-plumber, will make compound bows and not play golf, and will not fit in. In fiction they will either triumph against the crushing or escape it, possibly with Ah Foong’s brave and lovely daughter, for some place where they can be different spiky lumps without being crushed. And despite this being the inverse of what usually happens, we love to read it. We love the stiff-necked who will not bow their heads.

So: why? And what do we do as writers to capitalize on that why?

Elf Blood, free novel, chapter 11

*Yes, I know it’s another short chapter, and I promise to speed this up after the New Year’s.  I have the entire book in my head, but I can only spare so much time to it just now because deadlines.”


*You guys know we talked about doing a shared world.  We went with a whole continent so that Dave can have his jungle and I can have my big city with diners.  We’re working on a contract which we should have in a week or two (and yes, we’ll post it for your enlightenment although we haven’t decided yet if anyone not in the group can play.  OTOH if it’s very successful, we’ll inevitably enlarge it.  For now, here’s the eighth chapter of Elf Blood, book one of Risen Atlantis. And for now it is ©Sarah A. Hoyt 2013.  All rights reserved.  Do not copy, distribute or otherwise disseminate without the author’s name, and a link to this page.  You do not have the right to alter it.  You do not have the right to claim it as yours. For permission to do anything other than quote it for review or recommendation purposes, email This is a work of fiction, all coincidence between it and real people place or events is assuredly imaginary.*

For previous chapters, see here.

“A month ago,” Ardghal Parthlan looked up and I could see him clenching his teeth together.  “I found my wife with Flaith–  With my brother.”

I opened my mouth to say something clever, but the words wouldn’t come.  “Found how?” I said at last.  “I mean—”

He shook his head and took a vicious bite of his sandwich.  It looked like he was doing it to relieve his spleen as much as as anything else.  “Trust me,” he said.  “There was no–  No doubt.  I came home from a business trip my father had sent me on, and I found him and her in—” He swallowed, and seemed rather like someone rather nerving himself to run through a patch of flames.  He knows it will hurt, but if he runs fast enough, he will survive, and something at the end is worth is—or he needs to get to the other side.  Like that he looked all elf, all cold and glinting determination.

But then he looked all elf anyway, and even his glimmer of power was untouched.  Had his mom, herself, been Un’uruh?

If I were going to take this case much further – and no one had yet convinced me I should – I would want to look into his mother’s antecedents.  How to do that was something else.

“I came home from a business trip, and found him and her, naked, in my room… our room.  Chara’s and my room.  It was—” he stopped and his face showed, in quick succession what it was, shock and revulsion and an unbelievable sense of betrayal, like a child who approaches his mother for a treat and is instead given a slap.  He might not be able to put it into words, but then he didn’t need to put it into words.  It was all there, in that naked, unguarded look.  I asked, “You had no idea anything was going on between them?” but it wasn’t needed, and when he shook his head, it wasn’t a surprise.

“What are your relations with your siblings?  I assume,” I remembered Tessa blond and lank beauty.  No wood-elf blood there.  “That your sister is your full sister and Flaithri your half brother?”

He nodded.  “My mother, I presume, was given the …  You know, the food that makes you part of the hill, and as such, she could have gone on living in the hill, pretty much forever, barring accident or injury.  At least I assume so, because she ran away with my father when she was in her twenties, and lived twenty or thirty years with him here – I’m not absolutely sure on the chronology. We…  Elves don’t talk about time.”

I knew that well enough, the permanent glittering summer was in part a decision not to talk about the world as it existed and as it went on.  It was worse among wood elves.  They didn’t want to admit any time had passed, or that Atlantis had once been submerged fathom deep in the waters, leaving the world almost without magic.  In fact, if you referred to that time, or asked how they’d survived – which human scientists had long ago determined had been through the creation and maintenance of a magic bubble – they would look at you blankly, and then talk again as though their magic groves had remained through the centuries, giving the impression of un-passing time.

“Anyway, she had me when for a mortal she would be quite old, and then three years later she had Tessa and—”  He twirled a piece of bread in his long, well-manicured fingers, until it became a tiny, hard, round pellet.  “And she died from it.  I remember her only very hazily.  She looked a lot like Tessa, but she was… softer?  Or perhaps–  I don’t know how to put this, but the word that comes to mind is stronger.  More solid.  Anyway, Father knew there would be problems, and so he sent to the forest elves for a midwife.  One who specialized in cross breeds.  But it didn’t work, and mother died, and then the midwife stayed on to look after Tessa, and my father married the… midwife, within six months.”  Ardghal bit his lower lip, suddenly.  I got the impression he was about to say something else about his step mother or his family, but nothing came out.  He shrugged.  “She had Flaithri three years later, when I was six, and I think–  But no, I have no right to say that.”

I let it pass.  There really was no point prodding his sore spot.  The more I heard about the Parthlans, the less I wanted to be involved with them.  Instead I said, “This is all fascinating, but I fail to see what I can do in the matter.”

“Please,” he said.  It was the first time I’d heard an elf say that word, and even knowing he was only half-elf it struck me as shocking.  “Please.  I need you to find out how to–  I need you to find out who killed Chara.  I’m afraid for Tessa’s life.  And… and my own.”


Fling Open the Gates

I’ll begin this with two myths. First, that books and publishing need gatekeepers. This could be applied to oh, so much more in life, but I will stop there. The other, that gatekeepers must have the ‘right credentials’ or indeed, that anyone involved with writing must have them, from authors to editors to… whatever role you choose. I would say that rather, we are too easily impressed with ‘credentials’ and it has come to absurd level in our society. I started thinking about this when I got an email from a librarian list I am on, with a job listing in it. They are seeking, if you’re looking, a Children’s Librarian Assistant. But it’s only fifteen hours a week, and in order to qualify for that lowly position and small amount of time, you must have a bachelors degree. Oh, my, what has our world come to?

I suppose you are thinking that at least in traditional publishers those who make the decisions on what manuscripts are the next, brightest prospect must at least have a bachelor’s degree, then? I mean, if a very part-time library job in a tiny state requires that, surely…

Ah, no. Copyediting is done at traditional publishers by people who aren’t even paid to do the job. Interns like this young lady, who writes breathlessly “I spend the morning copyediting–essentially, proofreading a manuscript that’s been submitted for publication. I didn’t realize how much power I have doing this job.” Danuta Kean, in a scathing article aimed at UK publishers, writes “Temps. Remember them? They used to be the people who came in to cover the donkey work jobs no one wanted or no one had time to do. They also used to be the route into publishing for the vast majority – especially women. Not any more. Now budding publishers are expected to work free in long unpaid internships.” And as for submissions? Well, a Random House intern named Karissa writes that this is what she did, most of all, on top of other things: “ Each day I work closely with the editorial team, participating in meetings about our list and submissions. I proofread and copyedit book material, check indexes, maintain a database of review quotations and read. My reports are taken seriously and my opinions are sought out on proposals.”

It seems fairly clear from those quotes that not only are author’s first gatekeepers mostly very young women who are being treated as slave labor (read some of the quotes on Karissa’s blog about how to survive while making no money), but who have no previous experience beyond, you know, highschool. And we all know what a public highschool prepares you for. Why do we have gatekeepers, again?

Reality is that gatekeeping is not about quality, but quantity. Even my absolute favorite publisher can only publish so many ‘new’ books a year. They have x number of slots, and most of those go to established authors, both best-seller and mid-list. So they are left with perhaps one or two for a new author, someone to take a chance on. And just how many authors are trying to break into the market? Well, you, me, my friends over here, and… a lot. Let’s just leave it at that. Publishers simply can’t offer all of us a place, no matter how good we are. And frankly, there’s only one I’d even consider, given the abusive practices the other traditional publishers have shown publicly and shamelessly.

Which brings us back to whether or not we the readers need gatekeepers to protect our poor lil’ ol selves from those mean nasty indie published books. I mean, the unpaid interns haven’t even had a chance to paw through that manuscript leaving jammy fingerprints, what do you mean the public can buy it? And evil, evil Amazon, treating authors like customers, and allowing them to have options, and control, and stuff. Publishing as an industry seems to have a thing for metaphorical bondage.

I love the things Seth Godin has written over the years on marketing and using the internet to build a personal brand. After all, this is a soundly practical man. In a 2010 LA Times article on the role of gatekeepers in publishing, he is quoted “If an author has the choice of two distribution models, one that costs nothing and has no gatekeeper and the other has lots of gatekeepers and costs a lot of money, a lot of people will go with the free one.” Yes, by all means let’s free ourselves from the notion that we must gave gates, at all. We live in the science fiction future, and with the technology at our fingertips, the possibilities are unbounded. Let the traditional publishers slowly fall to dust while we thrive and give readers what they want, good stories at affordable prices.

I love the metaphor here, the idea of what I’m part of as being just one stall in a teeming marketplace. I’m comfortably at home, not out in the hot sun hawking my wares, but my neighbors are doing the same as I, and when you put it all together, it is a glorious, spicy melange of offerings to the public. Dan Holloway, questioning the desirability of gatekeepers for Indie publishing, “To do justice to the indie community, we can’t treat it as such – a single community with a single way of doing things. We don’t want to build a mall, we want to build a bustling market full of the myriad sensual treats of the Grand Bazaar in Istanbul. And that means not claiming to single out “the best” as though the best saffron were the same as the best silk hijab.”

See, what I propose is that YOU, my reader, be trusted to decide what is best for you. Not based on what some expert with credentials (a bachelor’s degree earned to work fifteen hours a week, plus another two-three jobs on top of that, undoubtedly, in order to live) says is best for you. Not based on what some poor kid trying to scratch their way up a success-ladder crumbling to dry rot and termites beneath her fingertips says is best for you. But what you think is good. Because entertainment is a very individual decision. Along with a lot of other things I am not going into on this blog, but I trust you are thinking about them, as well as about what you plan to read next.

Free Calvanni eBook!

Hi, everyone. This Friday 22nd November and Saturday 23rd November the Kindle ebook version of The Calvanni will be free on Amazon!

Click on the Calvanni thumbnail to link to Amazon.

Calvanni front cover (Small)

I’d recommend the book to anyone who likes David Gemmell. Since Gemmell is my all time favourite author, The Calvanni and the other two books in the Jakirian Cycle – Scytheman and Sorcerer – were no doubt heavily influenced by his work. Although, expect a broader canvass and a ton of unique worldbuilding.

Basically, the Calvanni is Heroic Fantasy in world of ceramic weapons where all metal is magical .

Just in case you missed it the first few times, here is a wrap-up.

In The Calvanni, first of the epic Jakirian Cycle, the cavern-dwelling Eathal have emerged to wreak their vengeance on mankind. The fate of innocent thousands rests on finding the Scion – lost heir to the fallen Empire. The Temple has outlawed the ancient practice of Sorcery. Its Druids dominate religious and secular power, but are ill-equipped to resist an unknown evil once contained by the Emperors.

The Jakirian series is Heroic Fantasy set on the world of Yos, with unique ecology and twin suns, where all metal is magical and control of magic is the basis for power.

Hard-edged. Inspiring. The Jakirian features gritty, fast-paced action. The setting includes fantastical magical artefacts such as glowmetals; ceramic weapons and an array of new creatures. The characters travel through both urban and rural landscapes, where a depth of history and a layering of cultures gives texture.

During Storm Season on the world of Yos, the twin suns eclipse and the planet is plunged into bitter cold. It is usually a time of quiet, when the wise lock their doors, praying for the demons of the red sun-Goddess Uros to pass them by. Yet deep in the Caverns of Maht, Hukum, the Sorcerer-Lord of cavern-dwelling Eathal, plots his vengeance.

Cedrin, a street-wise calvanni (knife-fighter), is summoned to the secret underground tunnels of the Brotherhood of the Night. There, Cedrin is forced to join in a rebellion against the rulers of his native Athria. Caught between the threat of death and his suspicions that all is not what it seems, he must try to keep his friends alive and escape.

Ellen, daughter of the assassinated Athrian Sarlord, is named as heir before his death. She struggles to assert herself as the new ruler, little suspecting the civil war that will be unleashed on Athria within days.

Ellen’s father warned her never to reveal her hidden powers of Sorcery, but as Hukum’s minions close in, it seems she has little choice.

The Jakirian series comprises three books – The Calvanni, Scytheman and Sorcerer. They follow Cedrin and Ellen as they face deeper and more hidden threats.  Pursuing them is Raziin, a vicious renegade who seeks to claim the ultimate power of the Spear of Carris for himself. Eventually they must face a final challenge as the most ancient secrets that bind their three bloodlines are revealed.

The Jakirian series has given me the room to explore my own unique world and to convey to readers the richness of my flavour of heroic Fantasy.

If you do pick up a copy, it would be great if you could post a review on Amazon or Goodreads:)