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Okay, this is Dave from exhaustion here, as I was up very late finishing a the short for the Con book, trying to edit, and get a bunch of stuff done before my son and daughter-in-law arrived today. So my Brain is officially cheese right now. Brie I think.

So I don’t have a lot to offer today – This is quite a good set of charts to look at. It certainly show how large retailer bookstores are suffering and how print itself is feeling the effect of e-books.

From my point of view, that a good thing. Or do you see it otherwise?

I, You, They — a Blast from the past post from September 2012

*I’m still doing single battle with Through Fire, so please indulge me this week too.*

One of the typical questions I get from newbies is “What person do you write in?”

Of course that’s NOT what they’re actually asking. What they’re actually asking is “What person do I have to write in so my fiction will be accepted by publishers?” or in the new age of indie possibly “So my fiction will be professional?”

I have bad, sad, horrible news to all you newbies out there. There is no answer to that. There are authors – and editors – who confuse their personal preferences with a law of nature, but wishing don’t make it so.

I always find it very funny when people who have decent careers and should know the history of the field come out and opine that “only newbies write in first person” or “first person is the mark of the amateur.” Pleeeeeease!

Just because you’re not good enough not to Mary-Sue when you use first person, don’t project your weaknesses on other writers. Go look at… oh, The Moon Is A Harsh Mistress. Go on. I’ll wait. Yep, first person. And if you have a low opinion of that book, that’s your prerogative, but you’re also not a very good evaluator in my opinion and the opinion of the millions of people who made that book an international classic of SF. In fact, most classic science fiction writers operated mostly in first person. That is just a fact of life.

It is also a fact of life that most of classical mystery – Agatha Christie, Rex Stout – was written first person. Most urban fantasy still is.

Yes, I can see you rolling your eyes. Stop that, they might stick that way. Look at that again. You might have literary pretensions and think you’re all that, but go look at the data and how it tracks. When genres are at their most popular (they don’t call it golden age sf because the covers had foiling) they are written first person. The most popular genre now is – arguably – urban fantasy, which is first person.

So, while you personally might not like it, there seems to be a strong market preference for first person.
Perhaps, of course, you write for political commentary or intellectual acclaim. Fortunately I’m a philistine, I write for cold, hard cash. I think critical acclaim comes afterwards, when you’re dead and your kids are still getting rich off the royalties and sub-rights. And I’m willing to wait.

Does that mean that you must write first person?

Not necessarily.

I’m a natural first-person writer. This is because that is the closest to how I experience the story as my subconscious core-dumps it. I.e. I get the story “told” to me and know only what the main character knows.

Yeah, I fell for the same thing y’all did. “I must write third person to be professional.” Or rather, I didn’t, but

I knew – back then – most editors had. If they saw first person, particularly if it was the same gender as the author, they assumed you were Mary Sue-ing. I knew better. For one most of my first person isn’t the same gender I am. (For another… All those of you who think I’m Athena, I had a disturbed teenage-time, but not THAT disturbed. For heaven’s sake, the woman has a natural sense of direction and spatial memory. I have neither. And I was never that self-confident.) I just get the character in my head, speaking in his/her voice.

But I had to learn to write third person to break in, and I did it.

Is it better? Is it worse?

It is DIFFERENT. There is no “right” person to write in. It’s like asking me “how long should a story be?” The answer to THAT is “as long as it needs to be” and the answer to the voice is “the voice it needs to be to tell the story.”

First person lends itself to coming of age stories and to stories that have an unreliable narrator, though the second requires a REALLY GOOD narration so the reader doesn’t feel cheated when he realizes he’s been taken along for a ride.
Third person is good for action that requires a multiple povs and a rolling narration with cameras following various
narrators.

Take my Shifter series. The action is carried by a group and they might be and often are under attack from multiple fronts. Sure I could do first person from Tom and/or Kyrie’s perspective, but you’d miss what is happening with Rafiel, except in cumbersome retelling. Easier to roll from one to the other of them, as the action leads.
Witchfinder, the novel I’m putting up for free one chapter at a time (on Friday’s) over at According to Hoyt is also the same type of narration because, again, multiple fronts, multiple characters. Same for that mater with the Musketeer Mysteries.

So… if there isn’t a right one, which one is easier?

Normally? Even though I’m a natural first person writer, third person is easier. Third person is WAY easier if you’re uncertain about the plotting, because you can show what the bad guy is doing and the pincers closing on your good guy, which helps timing. It’s much, much, much easier to do it in multiple voices.

However there are special circumstances. The last three novels I wrote were first person. I’ve been having the devil of a time with Noah’s boy, and it just hit me that I REALLY am not having a problem with the book – I’m having an issue with the different feel of switching back into third after first. THAT I can cope with. (Mostly.) It hit me because I’m having the same feeling as with Witchfinder – I’m insufficiently grounded in ANY character, is what it feels like, and it’s just because of habit established in my most recent work. Anything can become an habit.
I recommend you experiment with both third and first, and if you can become proficient at both. Kris Rusch calls this “enlarging your toolbox.” The more tools you have, the better the work you can do.

So, why limit yourself? Instead of raging at first – or third – as sloppy or unprofessional, put on the student cap, read some good examples and learn to do it. People seem to prefer first, but there’s enough bestsellers in third to show sometimes it’s needed. Just learn to use it. Refusing to is like saying “I’m a carpenter, but I’ll never use a hammer. It’s all staple guns for me.”

The one exception I’d make is second, and that’s because it annoys me as a reader. It’s a personal thing. But I’ve written a couple of shorts in second person, and it can be done. And if you’ve never done it, you should try it.
There is no right voice. There’s the right story, and the right writer.

Book Horde

Hi, my name is Cedar, and I hoard books…

Antique books

There is a beauty in old books.

I was thinking this last night as I looked at the stack of books on my nightstand, and then read myself to sleep with a book on my phone (my preferred in-bed reader, as I can turn out the light, and it’s small enough to curl up around). I have so little time to read, and yet I still buy books. The stack on my nightstand alone, at my current rate of a book a week, could last me months. Not to mention the stack in the office, the book on hold at the library, or the shelves… we won’t even discuss the books in the e-library.

So why do I do this? Well, at one time in my life, it was hard to get books. I was book-poor, would read anything, and couldn’t afford to buy more. The library wasn’t an option at that time, so I hard to earn my books, and treasure them, and savor them, and… Ah, hem, where was I?

Oh yes, hoarding books. You see, now I am relatively book-rich. I have the ability to pick up books at a shop when I find them without worrying about whether it’s ok to add to my library or whether I can afford them (if you’re wondering, I rarely buy new, I’m talking thrift shops and used bookstores when it comes to paper. My budget is not that big!). Even more amazing to me, I can buy online, and get what I want, when I want it.

Gone are the days of reading whatever was on hand. If I am in the mood for a WWI mystery novel, I can have one in seconds. When I want to sample some short stories of a golden-age SF writer like Mack Reynolds, a couple of clicks later and I am inhabiting one of his worlds vicariously. No longer must I read dubious romances (nothing against the genre, but you have to admit, it has produced some real stinkers) or even more questionable books. And I am making up for lost time, with a book here, three there. Just in case, you know, I really NEED them at some point…

Had I always been able to live like this, would I have ever become a writer? I sometimes wonder about that. I started writing back in my teens, and again about a decade ago, during the worst of my book drought. I wrote what I wanted to read, because I was having trouble finding what I wanted to read. Writing has become more than that, now I take pleasure in the characters who come to life in my head, the worlds that give me solace and escape from the mundane of my real life, but would I have gotten here, without that time of privation?

I’m trying not to work on a book right now, needing to write another one before I create this story, but I know that a central point in this book with be a dragon who hoards books. She’s not a full-blood dragon, but her most dragonish aspect is this deep-seated need to have as many books as she can, and to keep them safe. She will have to learn to allow others access to her library, and that’s not going to be easy… I think I came up with this out of my own past. I’ve had to purge my library, time and again, at the behest of others. “You have too many books. Books are clutter. That many books in the house can’t be healthy.”

I love having a library, and sometimes I have a pang for the lost books, like people who have gone on, beyond my reckoning, but I still have memories. What is more, as a writer I can craft those memories into stories, to honor the ones I read before, which are no longer. I can take the people I have loved, and those I have not, and add them to the mix. I can pull dimly-remembered facts from the non-fiction, verify, and use it to add versimilitude to my tales. I am what my books have made me.

I hoard books. Is this such a bad thing? I’m not giving them up again!

The Queen is Dead (What the hell do we do now?)

*I got this all written up, then realized this is the first time it’s been my privilege to post on MGC. I’d be more concerned about starting with a post on death, but for a couple things. Thing the first is that I’m rocking this uncaffeinated, and it was an early morning. Thing the second: it’s been a hell of a month, and I just don’t care. Thing the third: we’re all mad here [insert best Cheshire Cat grin]. For those as what haven’t yet met me, I’m Dave, I wear kilts and hats (and I like long walks on the beach). I’ve published a couple of things that could charitably be called urban fantasy, though one is most definitely rural, and the other is closer to nightmare than any fantasy of mine.*

On Valentine’s Day, my grandfather died. I’ve written about that (and some tangentially related notions) over at According To Hoyt. This post has its genesis in an addendum I wrote for that. I got it typed up all purty, and then WordPress ATE IT. *grumblegrowlsnort* The All-Devouring-Technobeast aside, this seems to be a season of death among us. The day Mrs. Dave and I left Nevada, my grandmother had a heart attack. Transport to the hospital was arranged, angioplasty was performed and stents installed, and Mor Mor was improving. Looking forward to discharge and getting on with her life. Then a week after the cardiac episode, she suffered a massive stroke that affected her brain stem, and died that afternoon.

With my grandfather, he’d been dying for decades. With Mor Mor, we had not an inkling, and while Mor Far was often the driving force of the greater Snow clan, she was our heart. On the Day, a significant – and surprising – percentage of the hospital staff filtered through her room. They expressed shock and dismay. Many said that she was their favorite (a sentiment echoed by most of her friends and social circle) and railed against the unfairness of it. “But I just saw her this morning!” “She was getting better!”

Personally, I’ve “enjoyed” dashed hopes and ruined expectations. My mother and her sisters are in shock, and my father and his fellow brothers-in-law are doing little better. I’ve had little chance to communicate with my cousins, but I don’t expect they’re doing any better than I am, and a few no doubt worse. As I said, Mor Mor was the glue that held us together as a family.

The weekend was, as such things go, excellent. My father, the Irreverend, spoke at the memorial service, while my uncle, Herr Doktor, spoke at the graveside. Both were excellent, and among the best such I’ve heard. Having sat through umpteen million (or so) sermons in my life, that’s pretty good. Much food and drink were consumed. My gin/tonics went over nearly as well as the Old Fashioneds from the previous endeavor. Which means I’ll need to work up a new cocktail for next time. Maybe Vesper Martinis. I enjoyed the one of those I’ve had, but then, that was an odd night.

We did all the things our family does, but everything was more raw. Emotions were much closer to the surface. Which, for one who habitually plays things very close to the proverbial vest, was more than a little exhausting.
Contrary to my own personal experience, the sun was shining over the little veterans cemetery at Fernley, NV. Which is to say, I saw the colors, but everything seemed flat and grey. The usual phrase – celebration of life (and more on that later) – felt likewise flat. Oh, we laughed, and we cried. We felt all the feels, and are still doing so. We divided up the stuffs: tokens of hers that reminded us of what she meant, and of who she was. Details of her life that had passed into clan lore were brought up for public mastication, and our souls were fed by it.

As mentioned above, everybody was shocked. The whole clan. Many still are, all things considered. We’re trying to get on with life, but it’s all still too close. One of those iconic moments happened … Saturday, I think. Someone asked a question about a preference, and the response was, “we’ll just ask Mor Mor . . .”
What does this have to do with writing? Absolutely nothing! (Not even a very tasty red snapper.) I tell a lie. Death is a thing in fiction, and just as important (at least to the writer) to get right. Plus, I’m a writer, so I use the words when I need to deal with a thing that is all uncomfortable.

I mentioned in The King Is Dead… that we do death poorly in this country, and in the Western World in general. Our societal worship of youth and beauty mitigates against it, and the American drive toward the John Wayne ideal and stoic, rugged individualism likewise mitigates against public displays of grief. At least beyond the single, manly tear glistening on the rough-weathered cheek.
As writers, we deal a lot in death. Our characters die, and depending on (sub)genre, by windrows. Hero-ing isn’t exactly a profession with a great retirement package. And one thing that gets ignored (a lot) are a society’s funeral traditions. Unless your characters subscribe to the Indiana Jones Method of Cultural Preservation, of course. In which case, it’s more a matter of figuring out if the God-Empress of the Third Belkrazhian Despotism was more partial to spinning blades or pressurized high-salt liquid spray for the booby traps littering Her Cosmic Munificence’s long-forgotten and just rediscovered mausoleum. Or was it micro-antimatter explosives? The third moon of Tranthor will never be the same.

I’ve seen it argued that one of the hallmarks of civilization (or at least of burgeoning humane-ness among the squalling mass of humanity) is rituals for caring for our dead. Whether the thing to do is a parade through town in Sunday best with a jazz band, or ritual cleansing of the home and immolation, or even the burning of a longboat heavy-laden with looted treasures and unwilling thralls (my favorite),

Depending on the cultural background, these rituals may be more about publicly honoring the dead than they are about comforting the newly bereaved. It’s hard to say, and sociology isn’t necessarily the most robust of sciences.
When designing a world and its attendant civilizations, we as writers need to have more than a passing familiarity with the funerary rites of our world, and of history. If only so our characters react appropriately to the messiness we ladle on them. More than that, unquestioned (except by us) assumptions will influence personal conflicts. Suppose the romantic couple come from vastly different backgrounds. (Pfff, like that ever happens.) Their friend dies of the grand vizier’s poison. She prepares to immolate him, but her beloved is stunned by this sacrilege.

Much is going to be framed by religion, and just as much by environment. What stance do People X have on the concept of the soul? Does the anima become one with the spirit of the universe immediately upon death? What happens if a Valkyrie gets sidetracked by one of Loki’s endless machinations before she scoops up the newly incorporeal warrior? Does Hel get to snag him if she may? What is the important part of the individual to a god, anyway? As for environment, can people living on a generation ship afford to get rid of that much fertilizer? Is it right to fire off Dad’s mortal remains into the system primary, when the hydroponics section hasn’t had a boost in a while? What about a society living in primitive conditions in a jungle?

These questions – and more – are going to influence the way your peoples deal with the shock of death. What about the ceremony is going to comfort the grieving widow? Is said widow even allowed to mourn in a public manner? What if that manner involves her own immolation?

In a similar vein, what about legal considerations? Is it legal for a corpse to be ritually cannibalized? What’s involved in the simple transport of a body from one municipality to another? And then there’s everybody’s favorite: inheritance. Who gets what? Are the wishes of the decedent to be honored, or is it what gets written down and witnessed. Does the new clan leader dispose of the deceased belongings? Does it go to the lawyers, and how much of a cut does the state get for the privilege of letting the guest of honor die with dignity?

The answers to any and all of these questions could be fraught (FRAUGHT, I say) with potential conflict which you may inflict upon your characters. Any number of stories begin with odd bequests from heretofore unknown family members (incidentally, Dad, I’m still waiting to be told about our wealthy and childless relatives). Good, old Uncle Bartholomew died? That’s terrible! And he left me that bizarre set of books that looked like they’d been bound by a madman? What a dear! I shall have to stay up late reading them. On a full moon. When the stars are aligned.

For that matter, a death can be a complication. What do you mean I have to travel across the country for Aunt Millicent’s funeral? Don’t you know that if I give up the chase now, Doctor Calipergum will reach the Tomb of the Sun God first? My reputation will be ruined! And, worse, he’ll publish first!
These examples are relatively lighthearted, but how we care for our dead matters, if only (and I’m not convinced it’s only) because it reflects well or poorly on us. As people, we need to be able to confront death. As writers, we need to portray it in believable ways, and our characters need to react well (for a given value thereof: react believably, whether with great distress or great stoicism is up to them, and you) or at least appropriately.

Matters of money and SFF

And no, I’m not talking about the delusional nonsense sort, either. I’m talking about the place where the panel on Fantasyland Economics at Lunacon ended up going – something of an exploration into the lack of anything resembling economic commonsense in so many science fiction and fantasy books (and movies – but those are usually afflicted with handwavium maximus issues anyway: how often does a movie archer run out of arrows? And that’s not talking about the transdimensional rift that provides Hollywood guns with an endless supply of miracle bullets that nobody ever has to buy) and some commentary on doing it right.

The thing is – and I said this at the panel – doing it right really isn’t that difficult. I might be a little on the extreme side, having done things like work out how much a gold coin about the size of an old British sovereign would weigh, how many of them would fit into a wooden chest with an interior that was about the size of your average Hollywood pirate treasure chest, and whether a couple of fourteen year old kids could carry that much (the answer – unsurprisingly – was hell, no). Then figuring out about how much several hundred of them would weigh. And how much space they’d take if they weren’t stacked tight. And whether said kids could stash that much on them without being overburdened or overflowing the assorted pouches they had on them.

Okay, okay, I’m obsessive.

The thing is, gold is pretty bloody heavy. That’s one of the reasons paper money got popular really quickly. A piece of paper signed by a trusted authority (this part matters) guaranteeing that you will receive a pound of gold when you present the paper weighs you down a hell of a lot less than the pound of gold. Or equivalent value in silk, or spices, or whatever. And that is part of how the economy works everywhere and always has and always will. It’s pretty much a guarantee that even in the far future SF with galactic empires (we’ll argue about the viability of those some other time), there will be some form of more or less agreed-on currency, and even in a situation where you have replicators and fabricators capable of nuclear-level atom rearrangement to produce anything people need, there will be things that people want to pay extra for and there will be a means of paying for it. Which also means your characters need to have a source of income.

By the same token, in your fantasy world, your characters need to eat and sleep buy supplies for whatever adventure they going off on, and again, they need a source of income. In a fantasy world even the most basic weapons are relatively expensive (since metalsmithing is a specialized job that takes years to learn, and swordsmiths are even more specialized). A basic sword that a man at arms would use is moderately expensive. A really good sword is extremely expensive. Balance matters – a good sword feels weightless in the hand, a bad one… doesn’t. And wears the user out much faster. And in a fantasy world, chances are there isn’t a particularly organized system of paper or other fiat currency because if you’ve got a bunch of smallish countries arguing with each other, they’re not going to agree on an exchange rate so traders will operate in hard goods (preferably small, lightweight hard goods – see “gold is heavy”).

This is where history can be really fun. There are spices that were worth considerably more per ounce than gold because they were extremely rare in Europe and it was difficult to bring them from (usually) India without spoiling them. Chinese silk fell into this category for a long time, too. Another interesting bit of trivia is that it was hundreds of years after the Western Roman Empire fell before gold coins returned to circulation. For most of the so-called Dark Ages and a good chunk of the Medieval years, Europe operated on silver coins. Then there’s what happened when a country couldn’t dig up or otherwise get its hands on enough precious metal for coins (yep. This is the original form of inflation – some ruler would decide that in order to have enough currency to actually keep trade moving along, he’d adulterate his coins with something else (usually lead). The result was always that the cost of things went up in that area and trade went away because nobody trusted the coinage to be what it said it was. And this was on top of the problems that came with everyone having different measures – there’s a reason why scales are the age-old symbol of the merchant. As often as not precious metals got traded on weight only, and not on face value of coins). Of course, if you’re trading on weight and your silver coin is adulterated with another heavy metal like lead, there might not be much difference in a very small coin (such as was normally used). And kings tend not to appreciate being accused of cheating, funnily enough).

Okay, that diversion went kind of wild. In any case, your characters in any environment, be it fantasy, SF, urban fantasy, whatever, need to have a source of income. They need to be able to acquire the things they’re going to use, and they need to run out of stuff. Otherwise the piece goes past handwavium into bullshittium which isn’t nearly as much fun. You don’t need an advanced economics degree for this – just a few bits and pieces Heinliened into the narrative at the right moments will build the illusion of a lot more – consider Sarah’s Darkship Thieves and Darkship Renegades. Kit doesn’t harvest the pods just because they’re needed. He gets paid for it, and paid fairly well at that. He and Thena wind up deeply in debt for a number of reasons. Thena sells a ‘borrowed’ broom on the black market in Darkship Thieves in order to buy other things she needs. These aren’t economic lectures, they’re just part of the way things are and they’re slid in as part of the narrative.

I cheat (shamelessly) in the con vampire books by giving Jim a fortune accumulated over many years so he doesn’t have to worry about money. He does have to worry about modern bookkeeping issues and making sure his paper trail is impeccable because for him a discovery audit leading to bankruptcy would be the least of his worries. In Impaler, Vlad uses loot to pay his armies but by the end of the book he’s thinking seriously about the finances of his kingdom because if he can’t pay his people he’ll lose his throne and probably his life as well. And so it goes.

Then of course, there’s Terry Pratchett’s Discworld books, particularly the ones set in and around Ankh Morpork, and extra-particularly the Watch books. Vimes and his theory of why rich people are rich. These things don’t just ring true, they make the whole thing feel much more real because the question of how to pay for the things one needs is an integral part of the story. When you compare that to certain books (no, I am not mentioning names. I’m quite sure everyone here has a whole list of names they can use) where everything is available everywhere even in itty bitty villages in the back of nowhere or you get a fantasy piece where there’s no reason for gold to be valuable – intrinsically the stuff is worthless. You can’t eat it or screw it, it’s too soft and too heavy to use as a weapon or building material. It’s only viable as a decoration, and a decoration that’s that easily damaged or lost isn’t going to cut it unless the society’s got past hunter-gatherer – but it’s still the most important thing there is, or… well, you get the idea. It’s a bit like the guns that never run out of ammunition in the movies where nobody ever has to buy ammo or even go collect it.

So yeah. If you want your SF and fantasy to feel like there’s a larger working world in there (and it works with the plot – I’m the first to say that sometimes it doesn’t), throw a bit of the mechanics of money in there. If you really want to go all-out, you can have your fantasy kingdom suffer a variant of the tulip mania and the crash that followed. Have the characters who don’t have money barter things – but do so using the money amounts. For years after the Romans left, large chunks of Europe still ran on Roman currency. They just took payment in kind – taking X amount’s worth of wool in payment for X amount’s worth of grain.

And of course, don’t forget that ultimately what decides the value is how much someone will pay for it. That beautifully gilded turd is worth nothing if nobody will buy it.

Purists and Purity

It seems like these days we’re breeding a whole new batch of purists. No, not puritans. Oh, those too, sure, but not the point of this article. The point of this article is that I keep hearing myself cast into the external darkness of science fiction where there’s crying and gnashing of teeth.

It’s not just me, and it’s not just with science fiction.

When I wrote Draw One In The Dark, I was told it was not “real” Urban fantasy, because it has multiple point of views, and while there’s a romance, there’s no sex till book three, and even then it’s implied.

Silly me, I knew it was different, but since it was fantasy and set in a city, I thought “urban fantasy.” Baen agreed. Is it? I don’t know. Sometimes I feel that, by not fitting the niche exactly I hit the fans sideways, and the books are finding fans of their owns, some of them covalent with other Urban Fantasies, and some of them completely different.

I don’t mind, because ti’s with Baen, and they’ve let the series find its fans, instead of cutting it off at the knees. It seems to be on a slow and steady growth curve.

Which is why I need to finish he fourth, Bowl of Red, soon.

But that’s ultimately what genre labels are like – not to constrain you, not to tie you in knots or to restrict your imagination, but to help you find the fans that are most likely to like your stuff.

In the past, this worked with the establishment publishing to publish more of whatever had just hit big.

I know writers who had their book derailed mid stream, to make it “more like Harry Potter” and writers whose books were twisted into very kinky pretzels to emulate Fifty Shades. With the sort of timing I usually have, I managed to send out a series of proposals for historical mysteries, in which Leonard DaVinci invents forensic science. I kept getting back puzzled rejections informing me that my books were not the DaVinci code. The rejections in turn puzzled me, because I thought people frowned on plagiarism and the DaVinci Code had, after all, already been written.

That type of narrow focus, not just on type of book but on specific imitations of certain books tended to burn out genres. Horror, in the seventies. And there are indications that UF/Paranormal Romance are getting burn out glut now. Same with Young Adult Dystopias after Hunger Games.

OTOH you can’t blame the publishers for running things that way. Or rather, you can, of course – why not, I do! – but you can also sort of kind of “get” it. Their success and the success of the books they printed necessitated claiming as much shelf space as possible over as short an amount of time as possible, right when book came out – for placement and visibility and all that other stuff.

It was easier to catch the sex-addled woman coming in looking for the next fifty shades, than to capture someone absolutely new, in an incalculable way which would require them to take risks, which might backfire.

And so you saw books and whole genres being pushed depending on what had succeeded next/what movies were big at the time.

Part of the reason I sold the Shakespeare trilogy was that the acquiring editor had just watched Shakespeare in Love. (I had too. They almost threw me out of the theater, due to an outbreak of Pfui and Pshaw, but that’s something else.)

There was also an element of purist, even back then. To put it bluntly, just like women dress to impress other women, New York editors bought books to impress other editors. “Look how cool and knowledgeable I am” they’d say, while publishing things that no one could possibly really want to read – and making their bread and butter usually on outright sex, like most PNR.

This is why they killed subgenres like the cozy or the space opera. They sold well – they sold reliably. In fact, some of the biggest names in the fields worked those sub-genres (specifically Agatha Christie and Robert A. Heinlein.)

But they were old hat, and not cool and cutting edge, and while they sold reliably, they were not the sort of thing you could push at the just-graduated from college chain bookstore managers as the “hip” thing. (And they too, mostly, stocked the stores to impress their friends with either their daring or their erudition.)

This led to in the early nineties cozies being declared “not real mysteries” because, you know, the investigation wasn’t realistic.

And Space Opera was not “real science fiction.” “Real science fiction” is supposed to either have an overarching philosophical point or a cool new “scientific” idea.

Of course, none of those sold as well as the uncool popular forms, and print runs fell, but hey, no one had to admit they weren’t quite hip.

The ban on cozies was mostly walked back – craft mysteries came in. Reviled by the publishers themselves, and often obviously badly written (though they’ve improved a lot) they were nonetheless bought by people like me who like a little bit of a puzzle and a lot of character development and some funny in their murder mysteries.

Space opera was not so lucky, though Baen continued to mine the rich vein of space adventure, military SF and the occasional space regency.

But Baen is just one house.

Which explains why, now that people are publishing indie, so many of the people hitting the jackpot are writing cozies with a little bit of Women in Peril ala Patricia Wentworth or space opera.

It’s not really a mystery. Editors might get tired of seeing the same thing, or they might want to impress their colleagues with how hip they are, but readers mostly want the same sort of thing, preferably updated for their time and done well.

What is shocking is that even as the gatekeepers fade, and even as the old genres are rewarded, I’m seeing a new generation of purists, trying to impress other readers with their strictures. It wouldn’t surprise me if they said space opera isn’t really science fiction. But instead they seem to have shifted the label to where the only space opera is what we used to call hard science fiction, and space opera as the rest of the world understands it is just “adventure.”

It would make me smile, if the universal propensity of humans to say “you must do it my way” weren’t so annoying.

Fortunately, though, these purists can scream, but they’re a tiny minority. And they are not the boss of me.

I say it’s science fiction. And I say it’s space opera. And I say I like writing it.

And enough people seem to share my definitions to find and enjoy my books.

The purists can go suck on a lemon.

Think before you hit “enter”

Bear with me, guys, because this post may — and probably will — be all over the place. I’ve been sitting here, trying to figure out what to blog about and not coming up with a single topic. No, that’s not exactly right. I haven’t been able to come up with one, single and narrow topic. Why? Because there’s been a course of conduct I’ve noticed of late on the interwebs that has really been getting under my skin, both as a writer and as a reader. It finally started coming to a head day before yesterday when, in a private forum I belong to, a simple thread about four things science fiction needs to do to be entertaining morphed into a long discussion about what you need to do to be successful as an indie author. Let’s not forget that we are supposed to put trigger warnings on all our posts just in case we say something that might upset one of our readers. Then, on another blog I follow, someone came in and started off by saying they hadn’t read the comment linked to in the blog but, even so, the blogger was all wrong. Oh, and btw, she didn’t like the blogger’s books but she and her husband do read the blog and enjoy it. Talk about a back-handed comment — or insult. Then came the reviewer of another MGCer’s work who gave a two star review because he didn’t think there was nearly enough detail and background information in a short story. A short story! Short. . .Story.

And my head exploded.

I don’t know if folks are just going crazy right now or if the trolls have come out in search of the warmth of Spring — and boy are they in trouble if they are. It’s still too frigging cold in too much of the country right now. — or if the moon is stuck in one of those odd phases that cause us all to go a bit crazy, but I’m ready to go around and disengage the “enter” button on almost everyone’s keyboard for the next few weeks. What’s really sad is that a lot of the craziness could be avoided if we would all just think about what we’ve written before hitting “enter” and sending our comments out into the eternity that is the internet.

Let’s start with the first incident to cause my head to want to explode. As I noted in my blog yesterday, if you are posting in another author’s forum, especially if it is a closed forum and dedicated to that author’s writing and fans, don’t hijack a thread to promote your own work. That’s especially true if the author has been known for letting folks post about what they are writing or to link to their work if they ask first. So it’s just bad form to hijack a thread and keep mentioning that you have a book out and it is ranked so high on Amazon and oh, btw, you have a new book that you’re writing that will be coming out soon.

Worse, is showing just how little you understand about indie publishing when you say the only way to be successful is to spend thousands of dollars on cover and interior design as well as editing. Sorry, but no. You don’t have to pay thousands of dollars for cover design, especially not if you are only coming out in digital format. Frankly, if you do for only digital, you need to go find yourself a good business course and learn about return on investment. The same goes for interior layout. As for editing, yes, every writer needs an editor. But you don’t have to pay thousands to get one.

Also, when you have yet to publish a book in a specific genre, giving advice about what you must do to be successful in the genre also is a bit much. That is especially true when you talk in absolutes. Instead, talk about what you’re read and heard. Talk about what you’ve gleaned from your own writing. But don’t say “this is how it must be done”. You have no track record, no credentials in the genre. So who are you to tell the rest of us how to write?

Finally, there is much more to a book than how it looks. You can have the prettiest cover and the most appealing interior layout but that will mean nothing if you haven’t written a book people want to read. Instead of focusing so much on the aesthetics — and, yes, a good cover is necessary but it doesn’t have to cost an arm and a leg — focus on plot, pacing and characterization. Most people don’t remember book covers enough to discuss the cover and they sure don’t recommend a book based on cover or interior layout. They remember the plot and characters. In other words, they remember the “craft” of the work, not the packaging.

As for trigger warnings, sorry, not even going there or this post will need them. Just know that I don’t agree for the most part that we need disclaimers on everything we write. Sure, if I were to post something laced with profanity or XXX rated, I’d note it. But for the average post, nah. It’s not going to happen.

If you haven’t been able to figure it out yet, I’m cranky and some of the antics I’ve seen online lately haven’t helped. 😉

With regard to the review mentioned above, my general approach to reviews is to look at how many a title has, see how they are broken down — if it has a ton of five star reviews and nothing else, I usually look at the title with suspicion and wonder if all the author’s friends and family reviewed it or if the reviews were bought. — and then I’ll check the product details and read the preview if I’m still interested. Funny thing about those product details, they let me know how long the e-book happens to be. Even if there isn’t a page count, you have a file size so I know going in if I am getting a short story, novella or novel.

So, when I see a review for a short story that is basically nothing but one long complaint that there wasn’t enough detail and the detail the reviewer wants is stuff that doesn’t belong in a short story — remember SHORT story — but is background for a novel, I start to wonder about the reviewer. I’ll often click through to check out that person’s other reviews. Funny thing, when I do that, I often find a pattern. Usually, the reviewer doesn’t like anything or only likes one genre and why they picked up the title they just gave the negative review to is a head-scratcher. Sometimes, as in this case, it is obvious that the reviewer has certain trigger points — oops, there’s that word again! — and this particular short story hit them. In this particular case, the reviewer didn’t like some of the military and political aspects of the story and wanted to know more about how and why. But these details weren’t necessary to be covered in depth for the story and, truth told, were explained in the story. He either missed the explanation or didn’t like it.

That happens. It sucks for the author because every bad review is like coming up and telling the author that their baby’s ugly. It hurts and makes you second guess what you wrote, no matter how many good reviews you have.

Something else I noticed with this particular reviewer is that he seems to have a problem with indie published work. He loves him some traditionally published books. But give him an indie book and he will pick it apart. Whether he realizes he’s doing this or whether he thinks he is helping the author, I don’t know. What I do know is that his double standard shows.

The lesson here as a reader is to know what you are getting before you hit “enter”. Sure, you might not know the genre. Sometimes it is difficult to tell by the blurb or cover. But you can tell if it is a short story or something longer simply by looking at the size of the file. Understand that if you are buying a short story, it won’t have as many details and as rich a back story as a novel will. If you want to know more, don’t attack the author for not giving it to you. Instead, let the author know that you’d like to see more with that set of characters or more set in that particular universe.

As an author, I’ll simply repeat the advice Sarah gave me long ago. Get someone else to read your reviews and make sure they understand you don’t need to know the details. I don’t know about the rest of you but a bad review — heck even a mediocre review — can bring my writing to a screeching halt. Yes, I’m a writer and my ego is easily bruised.

I guess the whole point of this post is to suggest that we all take a step back, breathe deeply and think. Think about what we want to say and think about what we’ve just put on the screen. Then and only then should we hit “enter”.