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Reflections and predictions — sort of

As 2013 draws to an end, all I can say is “Finally!”. There was something about this year that had me almost constantly looking over my shoulder and waiting for the next shoe to drop. Without going into boring detail, let’s just say that on a personal level this was an “interesting” year and I am glad it is ending. On a professional level, it was a better year than it was on the personal and I’m hoping 2014 continues the good luck in the professional and brings some balance in the personal.

With the end of the year comes all the predictions for what’s going to happen next year. I’m always interested in what others think will happen in our industry. Sometimes I agree and sometimes I wonder if the predictor is living on the same planet I am. Some of the predictions are the same ones, or variations of them, from last year and the year before. Others are new. But there is a common thread in them all: indie publishing is here to stay. Legacy publishing is going to have to learn to adapt or it will continue to see authors “defecting”. Just how nasty the fall-out becomes remains to be seen but no one seems to doubt it can get bad and there will be bitter feelings on both sides as a result.

Let’s start with the predictions from Joe Konrath. You can find his complete list here. Because he also makes predictions about some personal projects, I’m going to skip those.

1. The end of Barnes & Noble as we know it. (He predicts a possible bankruptcy but definitely sees the closing of more and more stores and a possible demise of the brand.)

2. Indie bookstores will need to start selling self-pubbed books or perish.

3. Visibility (for indie authors) will become harder.

4. Self-publishing will witness a new support industry grow around it.

5. Big 5 mergers and layoffs and bankruptcies.

6. Amazon will continue to blaze trails.

7. Legacy will fight back.

Dean Wesley Smith responded to Konrath’s list, agreeing with some of what Konrath said and disagreeing with other parts of it. He doesn’t think we’ll see B&N disappear over the next year although he does think the Nook and sales wings “will change in some fashion”. Nor does he think we’ll see the demise of big publishers any time soon. As long as they continue to get the bulk of monies from book sales — instead of authors — they will hang on. Dean also points out that indie bookstores can already sell self-published books thanks to changes in policy by Baker and Taylor and Ingrams regarding POD.

Forbes also has its own predictions for the new year. Among them are the following:

1. Publishers will license or create their own e-reading apps.

2. Amazon will start playing nice with publishers.

3. Public libraries will increasingly buy access to large aggregations of e-books.

4. Publisher margins will be under pressure.

5. More publishers will start selling e-books directly to readers.

6. Self-publishing will continue to grow even as e-books sales at publishers stagnate.

7. Illustrated e-books will enter the market in greater numbers as costs plummet.

8. Amazon will continue to expand into publishing books.

9. Shift to tablets and smart phones will have a negative effect on e-book sales.

From Digital Book World come these predictions:

1. Barnes & Noble will close or sell Nook and go private.

2. Amazon will go the way of Barnes & Noble…and open its own physical stores in 2014.

3. Trade publishers will sell and acquire assets to “verticalize” their businesses.

4. The illustrated book business will become severely challenged.

5. More publishers will endorse the subscription ebook model by doing business with Oyster, Scribd and other similar services.

6. More publishers will launch magazines and websites catering to reader interests and start selling ebooks directly to customers.

7. More price experimentation.

8. The “big five” publishers will make their full e-book catalogs available to libraries for purchase.

Even Smashwords got into the prediction game. You can find the full list of predictions here. However, here a few of the more important or interesting ones:

1. Big publishers lower prices.

2. When everyone is pricing sub $4.00, price promotions will become less effective.

3. E-book growth slows.

4. Competition increases dramatically.

5. E-book market share will increase.

6. A larger wave of big-name authors will defect to indieville.

7. All authors will become indie authors.

8. Traditional publishers will re-evaluate their approach to self-publishing.

If these lists leave you scratching your head, join the club. I think one thing is clear. No one really knows what is going to happen. We can make guesses, some educated guesses and some just wishful thinking — and some that leave you wondering what the predictor was smoking (like all authors becoming indie authors in 2014). For me, my list is pretty simple. Things are going to change. Legacy publishing is going to continue to try to hang onto all the rights it can, refusing to revert rights without legal action being threatened and squeezing authors on royalties. E-books sales will continue to be incomplete and will, therefore, show a slow in growth because small press and self-published e-books aren’t included in the sales figures. Prices will fall but not to below $4.00. There is still the reader perception to keep in mind and a vast majority (in my experience) are willing to pay $4.99 – $7.99 for a novel and think that e-books priced in that range are more “pro” than those priced in the $2.99 and less range. B&N is going to change but I don’t think we’ll see it go belly up this year. Amazon is going into bricks and mortar — but this isn’t new. They announce this months ago. And yes, indie authors do need organizations to help them. Heck, all authors do. We’ve seen over and over again for the last few years just how ineffective the “professional” organizations have been to assist authors and protect their rights against large publishers.

In other words, our industry is changing and we are on the front lines of helping guide where it goes. The battle isn’t always going to be easy nor will it be pretty. But change rarely is. For me, I’m going to keep my eye on what’s happening as I write. My own writing goals for the New Year are much higher than they have been before and I don’t know if I will meet them. But I’m going to do my best.

How about you? What are your predictions for the New Year and what do you think about the predictions the others have made?

Remember not the sins of my youth

I’m busy trying to frantically finish the current Heirs book which takes the future of some of the slightly lesser characters from the earlier books and builds on them. And of course the characters I have built in those more-than-a-million odd words. It’s really too long in a universe, for this author anyway.

It does however have some interesting challenges – because you are building on and shaping around the sins of youth (and sometimes the a little later)

One of the central characters in this book is Count Mindaug – the scholarly assistant to Jagellion in THIS ROUGH MAGIC and to Elizabeth Bartholdy in MUCH FALL OF BLOOD.
In both cases he plotted their downfall, while apparently ‘helping’ them.

Mindaug is a fascinating character to write, because he is… not a good man. He’s very much a product of his dog-eat-dog environment. He’s a schemer and a scholar, a man of considerable cleverness, and survival instinct. He is not a warrior, but he will murder most warriors. Calmly and with a knife in the back, before they know that the not particularly large, elderly and academic seeming man is anything but an object of disdain. He’s the product of a self-centered nobility, a stranger to any kindness, closeness or trust even from his parents and has spent his life expecting, and pre-empting the worst with callous efficiency. He had, in fact, done the West two enormous services – not for ideology or goodness, but for his own ends. He’s, as I said, not a good man.

He’s fled to the West, knowing Chernobog now seeks him in the ethereal, he faked his death and has magically, gone to ground, living as an ordinary man. A selfish, self-centered one, focused only on his own survival… and now finding himself in a society and among people who are as unlike his native Lithuania under Jagellion/Chernobog as possible.

A place where he can sleep deeply and easily without setting death-traps. He had not done that since he was a very small boy. A place where his outright evil attempts to abuse people fail… because they’re actually not trying to rob or kill him. A place where he suddenly meets loyalty, and shared interest.

I find him to be rather like those soviet KGB defectors (who had as part of the KGB done terrible wrongs against their fellows and quite possibly the people of the countries the sought refuge in)– some of whom became truly passionate about America, more so by far than those who had known freedom from that intrusive, all pervasive tyranny. Or those SS men – some who had been monsters reveling in the power and brutality, and others… young men too weak and caught up (ask me about this, I was a conscript soldier in a war I wanted no part in. I committed no war crimes, saved a few lives, but I could still be considered by some to have been one of the oppressors. And had I been less fortunate, slightly weaker and easier to lead, or in a worse place… I might have done murderous cruel things there – which were no less brutal than those done our enemies. I can’t easily point fingers at those who did). Men who ended up fleeing to far countries, fitting in quietly there, and often being – or showing –no shade of their former selves.

But does the past ever leave them?

No, I’m NOT Giving Up On Elf Blood

Do come back in a week for a new chapter.

Today… well, on top of the way the holidays always upend my family life, we are having a mini-family crisis with a friend who is in the hospital — prayers requested — so being able to concentrate is a little difficult.

To compensate, I’m pasting below a post from 9/19/2012 on how to do dialogue.  I’ve had four thank yous for that post — weirdly all this week — so I assume it helped at least some people, and maybe some of you missed it and it will will help you.  Without further ado, below is:

Dialogue — a lesson with Fred and Mary

Yes, I’ve done this before, but I found while teaching a workshop that I couldn’t find it in the archives, and anyway, I’ll do it again from a different angle and maybe it will stay in people’s heads. It really is in many ways, when it comes to writing, what separates the pros from the amateurs. I mean, it’s not the only thing, but it is often the last to fall into place and while you’re doing this the amateur way it will slow the rhythm of your work and gum up the machinery of your narrative even if everything else is professional. On the other hand, professionally rendered dialogue covers a multitude of sins.

A caveat. You can – and should, if you have any interest – look at it and figure out what I’m doing (since it’s a demonstration lesson) BUT unless you’re one of very few people (I’ve met a couple) who can learn a skill by reading the instructions, you won’t know this and start using it until you practice it. It is something that becomes an habit of mind and/or fingers.

“Dialogue,” Mary said.

“Yes?” Fred asked.

“How does one do it?” Mary said.

She looked up at him, her blue eyes filled with anguish. Around her the room fell deathly silent.

“By doing it, mostly,” Fred said.

“Yes, but the tags,” Mary said. “Don’t you get tired of saying said and said and said and said. I mean I know
they say it’s invisible. But after a while it grates on my nerves.”

“Not really,” Fred said. “It is still preferable to admitted, exclaimed, exhorted or… ejaculated.”

“That’s not what you sa– Oh, you mean as a dialogue tag,” Mary said. “But it gets rather like watching a ping-pong match, doesn’t it?”

“Fine.” Fred smiled. He winked at Mary. “Then do it with action tags. You know, the sort of thing that gives your characters a body and shows that they’re in a physical world. Know what I mean?”

Mary blushed. She tugged her neckline closed and looked away. “Sort of. You mean, they can do things in the middle of the conversation?”

“Sure.” Fred grinned broadly. “Though frankly, if you only have two people talking, you really don’t need to tag the dialogue except to show emotion or other things not conveyed in the dialogue.”

“Not tag… You mean, not say who said it?” Mary asked.

“Yeah, if you only have two people talking, and you tag the initial one, you only have to tag every other one if that.”

“But don’t people lose track eventually?”

“Of course, that is when you have an action tag.”

Mary rose from the table, walked to the window and looked out at the flower garden. “You mean like this?” she asked.

“Like that,” Fred said. “Is a good action tag.” He got up and went to stand beside her, at the window. “Mary, I’ve been meaning to tell you, all these months together, in the writing group, I…”

“Yes, Fred?” She turned to look up at him.

“I love your clean cut sentences; the way you eschew passive verbs. I love your action sequences and how they chain on each other to a peak of emotional surrender. I pine for your sample chapters, and I don’t think I could live without your short stories.” He looked down at her, his eyes filled with mute inquiry.

Mary sighed and smiled, and wiped her own moist eyes. “Yes, Fred,” she said. “I will marry you.”


Taking my Peeve for a Walk

This reader has a few pet peeves. Most of the time I just avoid them, but once in a while I put them on a leash and take them for a stroll, because I am also a writer, and knowing where the peeve has gone lets me avoid annoying my readers. Just be careful where you step…

Why are there no more small stories? I don’t mean short stories, although I have just finished reading an excellent collection of crime stories by Frederic Brown that were perfectly small, and wonderful to read. No, I mean stories that aren’t about saving the world (from the last humans, of course), or the universe (ditto those evul hoomans), or about the last two people on earth (who should totally not reproduce, because Malthus). I ran across an article that is geared more toward films and games, but it applies to writing, as well. Perfectly wonderful tales can be constructed over no more than “whodunnit” to hark back to my reading this week. Dave Freer’s Crawlspace, if you haven’t read it, is a lovely story of rats, aliens, and murder in the wake of war, set in the Rats, Bats, and Vats universe. Even had I not already been a fan of the setting, I would have enjoyed it, and wanted more (I do, I do!). So why are we obsessed with the epic, the grand scale, the supremely awesomely apocalyptic view of the world? Genevieve Valentine writes,  “The truth is that some stories are folk tales, not sagas; a tighter focus doesn’t make them inherently less worthy, and their stakes are no less crucial to the story for being closer to home.”

Which brings me to the other thing that makes me back away slowly from a book, series, or author. Huge, epic, sagas. Yes, those neverending, bulky goatgaggers that RR Martin has become so well known for, or the series that Robert Jordan died on, with no sight in end. I love big books, and have been known to shop based on spine thickness if I needed something to occupy me. Dave Freer has a beautiful series in the Heirs of Alexandria books along with Flint and Lackey, some of which are very long books, but they don’t annoy me. Why? I think it’s because they have a plot, and don’t meander all over the place info-dumping (Honor Harrington, I’m looking at you) hundreds of unnecessary pages. I used to avidly read the HH series, but have pretty much given up on it. Also, the longer a series goes, even if they aren’t fat books, the more attenuated they become. We were talking about the Xanth series the other day, and it seems everyone agrees that up through about book 5-6, they are fun, light reads, well worth the time. Afterward, they become bloated pun-fests the author himself despised, but couldn’t afford to stop writing. Are his other works any good? I don’t know. I read one other of Pier’s Anthony’s works, and it disturbed me on a level that makes me unwilling to ever open another of his books and risk that emotional response again.

I particularly can’t stand a book with no ending. I have bitter memories of trusted authors who did this (Tom Clancy), although with him there had previously been signs that the decline was coming. I don’t want to have to wait another year or more for the other half of the book. Why aren’t there more stand-alone novels? I reviewed one a while back, David Welch’s Chaos Quarter, which had a satisfying ending, and was tickled pink by that. Don’t get me wrong, I do enjoy a series. I adore the Vorkosigan books. I wait eagerly for Kate Paulk’s next con book. There’re characters I laugh and love, and live with, not my own, but creations of another author’s mind, and I would be poorer without them. But these writers finish the story, they don’t just leave the poor heroes hanging out off the edge of the cliff, looking up sadly and saying ‘little help here?” for years at a time.

As a writer, I can take away that I need to make my characters worthy of my reader’s attention. I can put them in relatable situations, and it doesn’t have to be saving the universe. I must cut my books back from unruly hedgerow to neatly trimmed if I expect my reader to make their way through the plot maze without encountering a man-eating plant or something even more menacing. And above all, I must end my story. Leaving an opening for a sequel is fine, but as Daniel Hoyt taught me, the characters need that cigarette moment, to relax, and enjoy the afterglow, and the reader along with them.

Need a Laugh? Governmentium has been Discovered!

Season’s Greetings to all!

I thought a joke might be just the thing for the festive season, rather than tax too many brain cells. Here is something I came across a little while ago, one of my all-time favourite Geek Jokes.

The heaviest element yet known to science has been discovered.

The new element is Governmentium (Gv). It has one neutron, 25 assistant neutrons, 88 deputy neutrons and 198 assistant deputy neutrons, giving it an atomic mass of 312.

These 312 particles are held together by forces called morons, which are surrounded by vast quantities of lefton-like particles called peons. Since Governmentium has no electrons or protons, it is inert. However, it can be detected, because it impedes every reaction with which it comes into contact. A tiny amount of Governmentium can cause a reaction normally taking less than a second to take from four days to four years to complete.

Governmentium has a normal half-life of 2- 6 years. It does not decay but instead undergoes a reorganisation in which a portion of the assistant neutrons and deputy neutrons exchange places.

In fact, Governmentium’s mass will actually increase over time, since each reorganisation will cause more morons to become neutrons, forming isodopes.

This characteristic of moron promotion leads some scientists to believe that Governmentium is formed whenever morons reach a critical concentration. This hypothetical quantity is referred to as critical morass.

When catalysed with money, Governmentium becomes Administratium, an element that radiates just as much energy as Governmentium since it has half as many peons but twice as many morons. All of the money is consumed in the exchange, and no other byproducts are produced.

A classic isn’t it?:)

PS: Don’t forget to enter The Calvanni book giveaway!

The Perpetually Offended – Saving the World from the Horrors of Monster Erotica

When you follow the writing field for any length of time, one thing you can be certain you’ll encounter is a selection of some of the most… er… eccentric people who still manage to be moderately functional in this world. That’s to be expected: the act of writing fiction is in itself a sanity-breaking thing (how else would you describe visualizing and writing about people, places, and events that never existed with sufficient skill that people who read what you’ve written can pretend for a few hours that all of it actually did happen? It’s a self-induced, controlled delusion).

You’ll also see some of the most idiotic business decisions ever – which bears no relationship to the intelligence of the people making those decisions. As anyone who has worked in government or a sufficiently large organization will know, a dysfunctional enough business environment looks from the outside very like extreme incompetence bordering on “What the heck kind of drugs are they on and where can I get some?” Everyone on the inside may well be making the best decisions they can, but when communication between divisions is in the form of a memo Chinese Whispers, and nobody wants to piss off the boss, well… things happen.

Then you get the occasional utter gem of WTF nested in WTF that blows your trusty WTFometer to pieces. Like this one.

The short version is that in response to complaints from the Coalition of the Perpetually Offended (or something), independent authors of what can quaintly be described as “crypto-erotica” (Or more robustly: monster porn) have seen their books removed from Amazon and other venues. Obviously, Amazon being the gorilla of independent sales, the Amazon removal hurts the authors more than any of the others.

The reason for the removal? They promote “bestiality”.

Leaving aside the fact that I have yet to see anyone try to pull any L. K. Hamilton for this reason (or any of the other mainstream published purveyors of undead porn), the layers of fail in this are simply mind-blowing.

We’ll start with inadequate content guidelines that would, if applied consistently, ensure 50 shades never saw the light of day. Seriously. You can check it for yourself. Presumably if you label it “erotica” rather than “porn”, it’s fine – so long as there are no “sex words” in the title. Fail, Amazon.

Then there’s those who manage to conflate monster porn with bestiality. Is it really bestiality when the monster is the one that initiates it? (Gawd, that’s one heck of an after dark con session… must put this into a con vampire book some time). What about werewolves? Is it normal sex three weeks of the month, and bestiality during the full moon? If you’re dealing with vampires or mummies, does that make it necrophilia instead? And how do you classify it when you’re dealing with aliens or deities? Divine? Out of this world? Oh, and if the Coalition of the Perpetually Offended is going to lump this in with incest and pedophilia, shall we then see Shakespeare removed from the shelves? (Juliet was 13 after all). How about Nabokov? Anne Rice? Fail, Mrs Grundy.

Then there’s the overzealous response to the complaints that wound up removing anything indie-published with even a hint of smut (in the keywords, cover, and title – they weren’t actually reading the books to find out which were “dirty”. Authors who retitled them with something a little more innocuous had no problems). Presumably a legacy publisher’s smut imprint would be just fine. It’s only those horrible independent peddlers of filth that are problematic. A quick look at Amazon’s Erotica category had pretty much everything, with the more explicit and… interesting titles further back in the list. Of course, whether or not such masterworks as The Booty Call of Cthulhu will still be on sale in a month is anyone’s guess – but I can guarantee in my browsing on a wide range of topics I have never inadvertently stumbled on anything remotely erotica-related. I had to actually look for it – which, naturally, raises the question of just how the perpetually offended encountered these books in the first place (honestly, I don’t want to know. It’s almost certainly the same mechanism that leads the Mrs Grundys to trawl through books searching for anything dirty and finding “filth” everywhere because when you’re looking for it you will find it). Fail Amazon and Mrs Grundy.

As for the article, after several rereads I’m still not sure precisely what direction the authors intended readers to take. They seem to be mostly supportive of the writers (and we won’t mention the literary agency that thinks the likes of 50 shades has nothing to do with indie publishing or erotica, will we now?), and somewhat mocking of the overreaction, but there’s no real conclusion beyond “yes, people are still writing this stuff”. Maybe not a fail, just a wrapper around a whole lot of other fails.

My conclusion? After seeing the sales numbers being mentioned, I have to wonder if I should be writing monster porn. $2000 a month profit sounds pretty darn sweet from where I’m sitting, and that was a low end number.



A Good Ending

In writing, a good ending hides a multitude of sins.  This is particularly true in short stories, where a good ending can draw together a rambling beginning and a confused middle and make a story extraordinary.

Among the many strange things in this era of the internet and far-flung friendship is that both Dave Freer and I have as a favorite writer Giovanni Guareschi, particularly The Little World of Don Camillo.

Yes, the stories are very Catholic, and they’re also about political issues in Italy in the mid twentieth century.  I always thought I liked it because the characters sketched are close enough to my native village in Portugal and to the fractious politics of the seventies.  But Dave Freer says he could walk that village blindfolded, and he’s not from a Latin culture.

Anyway, if you want to study how to do short stories, you could do worse than reading and studying Don Camillo stories.  They are very short.  Guareschi was a newspaper man, and one is tempted to say he cut to the bone, only he really didn’t.  He said exactly what needed to be said, even to giving local color and feel.  But they are short — and yet they’re full short stories, and they excel at what writing SHOULD do, which is mess with your emotions.

One of the things that Guareschi is a master of is the ending.  The ending that turns the story on its head, or makes you suddenly feel happy or sad, or sorry.

I was trying to find the story to quote from, but that specific volume is not on my shelf — which means one of the kids has it.  It’s a Christmas story.  If details the escalating political fights between the priest Don Camillo (Don was an honorific, like ‘sir’) and the communist mayor Peppone.  But at the end of the story Peppone comes to the sacristy.  He comes to argue something or fight over something, but Don Camillo is painting the little nativity figures.  And he refuses to give Peppone his full attention till he’s done, so Peppone joins in, touching up the baby Jesus, and it seems to him the figure is alive in his hand, like a sparrow.  And over this, the anger dissipates and bitter and fractious feelings the writer himself has been building up during the story.  And then Don Camillo sets down the baby and says “this is Peppone’s son” and the Virgin “And this is Peppone’s wife” and then the ass “And this is Peppone.”  And Peppone retaliates by setting down the ox “and this is Don Camillo”  And you think “oh, fight?” and then Don Camillo says “That is fine, between animals, we’ll understand each other.”

The story ends with a sentence about Peppone walking out into the night, and feeling at peace.

And that turns the entire bitter, fractious build up of several stories, and you’re there with him, feeling peace and a little closer to eternity.

May that be your lot today.

Merry Christmas to those who celebrate it.  This rattler of words is going to cuddle her husband and her kids.  She might at times be a bit of an ass — but between animals  writers we’ll always understand each other…

May your future be merry and bright.  And may all your stories shine.