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RavenCon Report

Dan and I went to Ravencon this weekend, which was a little strange, since normally we take the boys with us.  The trip started out badly.  I mean, our flight was diverted to DC, which I expect was an attempt against my life.  Fortunately I had with me sister Agnes’ ruler, which glows in the presence of evil, and therefore managed to finish a book while waiting for the plane to refuel and head back to Ravencon.

Seriously, being stuck on the plane for a long time gave me my first chance in a couple of years to just sit and read.  I remember I used to like this, and as soon as the present crunch is over we must arrange life so I have a day a week to do this in.

So we got to our hotel at 9 and had to send Kate Paulk to be me on a panel on muses, which is okay, since I think we share one (And she’s a right bitch) while we went off with Tedd Roberts and Doc W. and James Cochrane for dinner.

Afterwards, we got to hang out with Kate and I think I had a panel, though d*mned if I remember.  Anyway, we went to the room to find in the confusion with our reservations, they hadn’t actually got the feathers out of my room.  My allergy is of a slow kind (I don’t flop down and die on contact) but if I spend a night in a room with feathers, I’ll be congested for two weeks.  Getting the feathers out took till two in the morning, which would have been okay, except I had an early morning panel.  Anyway — so, that was that.  And then on Saturday we got a bunch of fans-who-are-now-friends and who came to visit with/meet, including frequent commenters on my blor, like RES and CACS and the wonderful Laura M. who comments here.

The con immediately partook the feel of a family reunion only slightly interrupted by the Baen roadshow (we were escorted to our positions by members of the manticorean navy.) Anyway, much fun, and I got to talk way too much.

Then followed the Baen dinner and then the Matrons and crones panel, about whom more shall be said at ATH tomorrow morning, because I’m not up to it tonight.

Most of the panels were fun, though.

Highlights: they put me in a humor panel at 9 am on Sunday, which for non-con goers, is the night after party-night.  Whoever did that is not NEARLY as funny as he/she thinks he/she is.  That’s all I have to say.  Also, I was in a linguistics panel with Lawrence Schoen who told me among other things that people aren’t named in the language-of-use.  I refuse to explain to a man surnamed Schoen that there are exceptions to that rule.  Overall, though, he’s far more serious about his linguistics, and the panel was very interesting.

Also, on a panel (can’t remember which) I got to hear our very own Kate answer a “Australia?  I thought you were from New Zealand” with a laugh out loud piece of Aussie prejudice.  “Hell, no.  I’m not a sheep shagger.”  You have to hear it in Kate’s accent to get the full effect.

Other cool things — I got to see many of my Baen barfly friends, which is good, and I got to hang out with David Pascoe and his wife Sarah (aka #3 adopted son and #1 adopted daughter in law.)

I actually had a line for my signing, which was a first at a small con.  (Okay, yes, one of you was at least five people in line, but all the same.)  And all the sellers in the huckster room had my books.

Anyway — much fun, and if money permits next year I’ll be back.  For one, I’d like to see Kate more often than once every eight years.

Oh, one thing — no, two:

1st, the hotel was struck by lightening before we arrived.  If this doesn’t appear in a con book, I’ll be heartbroken.

2nd Kate was wearing a “sheddy” glittery outfit, and shed glitter all over our car seat, the hotel seat, the paths she walked, and David Pascoe.  Needless to say we made countless jokes about glittery hoo-has, because that’s the kind of caring, sensitive friends we are.

Pardon the confused report — my husband got con crud and of course is sharing it, so I’m very tired.  Reports on Matrons and crones tomorrow.

 

New project and new programs.

It would be so easy to do another Hugogate post this morning but I won’t. However, here is fair warning to all those out there trying to do their best to paint some people I respect a great deal with the brush of evil: Stop. You really don’t want to keep going after Larry Corriea and Brad Torgersen with misquotes, out of context comments and flat out lies. Your tactics will come back to bite you in the butt. Not that I expect any of those doing it to understand. Yes, something happened this morning to bring me to the boiling point. No, I won’t give the person the benefit of any publicity by naming who or linking to the comment. Let’s just say that someone who found themselves on the other side of the GHH crowd after signing the petition a few months ago now has the audacity to talk about how inclusive science fiction — and by implication because of what this person was commenting about — SFWA are.

Anyway, I am not going to let my blood pressure go off the charts and put up another rant today. Instead, I’m going to give a bit of a review on how my experience with Draft2Digital has gone so far as well as my serious attempt to use Scrivener for the sequel to Vengeance from Ashes (Honor and Duty) .

Let’s start with Draft2Digital. For those not familiar with it, D2D is an aggregator that you can use to put your book into Apple, Barnes & Noble and Kobo. Yes, all three outlets allow you to post your work yourself. All three have their own challenges. Apple requires you to upload with a Mac of a certain OS flavor. B&N has frankly gone odd in how they convert your files, even if you upload ePUB files. Kobo, well, Kobo can put you into review hell and never tell you why. So, when I decided to bring out Vengeance from Ashes (Honor and Duty)  on my own, I knew I needed to find a way to get into those three stores without wanting to slit my wrists in the process (and, if you’ve read some of my earlier posts, you know I came to that decision a little late).

Long story short, D2D was simple and quick to set up. It took less than 24 hours for Vengeance from Ashes (Honor and Duty)  to appear at BN. Better yet, I received an e-mail from D2D telling me when the book went live. A couple of days later, I received notification that it had gone live at Kobo and, less than a week after upload, it was live at Apple. So, check off the very satisfied with speed of going live in the third party stores. Better yet, it didn’t take as long as it has with Smashwords and D2D provided links to the product pages for each vendor.

Something else I like with D2D is being able to see my sales in what is pretty close to real time. While it would be nice to see them broken down by store, I will go with what they have so far. I have a feeling when I get my monthly accounting, my guess on breakdown will come pretty close.

Now, I haven’t given up on Smashwords completely. However, I have severely limited my use of it. I’ve limited it so much that the only thing I did was upload an ePUB version of Vengeance and it is for sale only on Smashwords. Now, to give Smashwords its due, uploading the ePUB version did take away a lot of the pain of the meatgrinder and, because I’m not using the expanded catalog, I didn’t have to put together a completely different file with the Smashwords legal language and odd formatting requirements. Smashwords also notifies me each time there is a sale or review posted. Both are things I appreciate. I just don’t have the time nor the inclination to deal with the meatgrinder and its additional requirements.

So, pending my first payout from D2D, I am giving it a cautious thumbs up.

Now on to Scrivener.

If you gather half a dozen writers in a room and ask them what program they use to write with, you very likely will get six different answers. I’ve always written in Word. Yes, there are issues with it but it still has the best review function and, frankly, it is industry norm if you are trying to publish traditionally. Besides, since I work on both Mac and PC, I needed a program I could use for both. However, as I’ve written my last couple of books, I’ve had an ongoing problem. I write series. I never meant to. I certainly didn’t mean to suddenly have three series going on at the same time. To say it gets confusing is an understatement.

So, as I started figuring out the basic plot for Duty from Ashes, the sequel to Vengeance from Ashes, I thought I’d finally put Scrivener to the test.

Confession time. I’ve had Scrivener for some time. Like several years. But every time I opened it, my eyes glazed and it just didn’t compute. There were too many bells and whistles. Then there was the fact that the tutorial we too detailed. There was simply too much information.

But Scrivener had one thing I liked. It had a corkboard feature that I knew could be helpful — if I could just get past that initial glazed eye reaction to the program.

So, when I decided to put it to the test with Duty from Ashes, I took to the internet and googled the program. There really are times when Youtube is my friend and this was one of them. I found a fifteen minute video that gave me all the information I needed to use Scrivener and not feel like someone had just tossed me into the deep water before first teaching me how to swim. So, off to the program I went.

So far, it’s been pretty easy and, once the early hurdles cleared, pretty intuitive. The corkboard is fantastic as a plotting tool. You can be as minimalistic or as detailed as you want — and you don’t have to use the corkboard. But to have a basic outline of the novel, initial chapter and scene breakdown is great. I can also note where I want to make sure certain threads are played back into the storyline. Making it all the more helpful, the screen can be set to display the appropriate notecard and comments to the right of the working window.

But what I really like is that there is a character sketch section to each project that you can utilize and, when you are working with a series, that is invaluable. Or at least it is to me. When I was doing my edits for Vengeance, I made notes on every character that might reappear or be referred to in the later books. When I finished, I couldn’t believe how many characters that turned out to be. Having a list of them, with a breakdown of information about each of them, just a click away and not having to open another file, is great. So is the way I can organize them.

Better yet, even though Scrivener includes a template for character sketches, you don’t have to use it. You can make your own. Or, like me, you can simply have basic information, just enough to jog your memory.

And that is the joy of Scrivener. It is highly customizable. Or it has been so far.

So, as with D2D, I’m giving Scrivener a cautious thumbs up. We’ll see how it goes as I finish writing the book. But, for now, I see only positives ahead, including the fact Scrivener will convert to ePUB for me.

Fingers crossed on both.

Monday Morning

and it’s the day after a con. For Dave, it’s Conclave Two. He’s posted over at Coal-Fired Cuttlefish that he is having to borrow access and a computer. So that may be why we haven’t heard from him this morning. Either that or his “con-fusion” is like mine usually is the day after a con and he’s forgotten it’s Monday 😉 Either way, here’s hoping he had a great con — and a productive one too.

In the meantime, here are some links of interest, especially if you are following what has now been coined Hugo-gate.

The first is from John C. Wright. He has posted his resignation from SFWA and he hits the nail on the proverbial head.

The second is a wonderful post from Brad Torgersen. One of the cries coming from the other side is that we should shun Vox Day and anyone who dares not to condemn him. Brad’s take on this is a wonderful and thought provoking.

Finally, USA Today has picked up the story, thanks to Glenn Reynolds. Needless to say, Larry Correia features in the article and not as a villain.

And we have how long until WorldCon? Can you imagine what the hue and cry will be if Larry or Vox or any of the other “undesirables” win? I have the popcorn. Who has the drink and chocolate?

How To: Write a Review

Good Morning everyone! This is Cedar, and we’re trying something a little different this morning. See, I defy writerly stereotypes, and I am a morning person. With Kate and Sarah occupied at RavenCon, Dave on the other side of the world, and Amanda needing MOAR coffee, I’m starting the ball rolling, but then later, Amanda gets to have her say.

Yesterday in the comments under my post, lelnet (waves Hi!) made a cogent point about book recommendations. Here’s the relevant part: “4. (From Amazon’s database magic) “These books here were enjoyed by many of the people who also bought those books you already bought”
5. [Same as #2, but from reviewers I trust to be good judges of quality, but not necessarily to have tastes compatible with mine…a set that includes every human being I call a friend except for those 3 in the #2 group, plus everyone in the post rotation here at MGC and a significant fraction of the regular commenters at ATH.]
6. Reviews from people I don’t know either personally or at least through having spent a year or more reading their contributions to the blogosphere.”

And somewhere else, but I’m not finding it quickly, it was pointed out that recommending mediocre books, or bad ones, would make people stop trusting you and tune you out.

So… I’m an author, and obviously, reviews of my own books make me shake in my boots. Enough so that I have asked my First Reader to look at them for me first, and I don’t get to see the really negative ones. But I am also a reviewer and a reader, so I (rarely) write negative reviews. I hate to, and have only ever written two that were all negative, and both of them stressed me.

Most people, I think, would prefer not to write a negative review, and I don’t blame them at all. But finding a balance between honesty and not being unkind is necessary, especially if you know the author.

I’ve also been told, by a fan, that they weren’t going to review my book, even though they loved it, because they didn’t know how to write a review. Which made me sad, because I love rave reviews of my work. They are the best kind of compliments, and as I have compared elsewhere, a fine way for a reader to ‘tip the author’.

When writing a review, you don’t need to go full book critic and summarize the plot with fine litr’ry comparisons to.. whatever. Writing down how the book made you feel, with perhaps some explanation (this book made me happy because I love a good hero to root for…), a comparison to another work if you like (best mil-SF space opera to come along since On Basilisk Station, harks back to early David Weber…) and if you must, a little critique (Could have been fleshed out more, particularly in the action scenes). I belong to a henna artists group that does something that makes me happy – when you put up a picture, they do what they call a ‘sandwich’ which is to say something good, constructive criticism, and then something good again. If you are fully negative, the author/artist is curled up sobbing in the fetal position, and not contemplating your point saying ‘hmm, you could be right.’

Also, my new pet peeve… if you are critiquing an Indie author, don’t take them to task on abstruse grammar points in your review. In fact, unless there’s a typo every page, don’t even mention them. I’ve read some great stories by indies whose copy-editing could have been better. But mentioning it in the review doesn’t help them find an audience. If you must, send them a private (POLITE) message of some kind. Personally, I hire professionals for all my long-form work, so pointing out any perceived editing flaws just makes me raise an eyebrow and wonder if I paid too much and need to find a new editor. Harping on editing just makes you look petty as a reviewer.

If you hit the cogent points, and readers find that you are consistent, and consitently liking things they like, then you will be able to establish that trust lelnet was talking about. I know that for most readers, this isn’t an incentive. Why should you review? Is it for other readers, or for the author themselves?

And now, over to Amanda…

Hey, guys, Amanda here. Now that I’ve had coffee (and, Cedar, there is NEVER enough coffee), I’ll add my two cents to the discussion. Reviews can be both the life’s blood for a writer and the bane of their existence. Good reviews help convince readers to give our work a try. Bad reviews, whether they are valid or not, can drive sales away. Then there are the reviews when you just have to wonder if the so-called reviewer read the same book you read or wrote.

I like Cedar’s “sandwich” analogy and it is something I try to do in my reviews, especially those I do for Amazon. If I’m taking the time to post an Amazon review, it is usually because I want to help spur the author’s sales. That isn’t the place for a full critique of the book. For one thing, most people scan the Amazon reviews. They don’t read them all and they sure don’t read the long ones.

That said, I have given one-star reviews for books so badly written as to be unreadable. I’m not talking about having a few typos or formatting issues. When those reach the level of being bad enough to throw me out of the narrative, I let Amazon know and Amazon will, if it receives enough complaints, will let the author know. No, I’m talking about barely disguised, or no attempt to disguise, someone else’s work as a writer’s own. That is an instant one star review and a report to Amazon or wherever I’ve downloaded the title from.

My habit as a consumer is to look at how many reviews something has and the breakdown of ratings. If there are several dozen (or more) five star reviews and basically no negative reviews, my BS meter starts going off. Sure, a book can be that good. But usually, there will be someone who will at least give a three star review. Even though Amazon and others have tried to tighten up against sock puppet reviews, they still happen. So, as much as I hate getting mediocre to bad reviews for my work, I know it happens.

I want to add a couple of things to Cedar’s list of what not to do in your Amazon review. Don’t review the price vs the length of the work. I’m sorry but doing that just makes you look bad. Amazon and sites like it tell you how big the download file is. Often the product description will not only give you the size of the file but the estimated page length. Check it before hitting that buy button.

Also, and this is a big hot button for me, don’t start a review with “I haven’t read this book yet but I’m giving it a one star review because. . . “ Yes, I’ve been tempted to do that before. But that isn’t a review. It’s a statement about the author’s political/social/religious/whatever beliefs.

Finally, as an author, don’t respond to negative reviews. Please, I know how precious your baby is and how tempting it is to jump in and try to defend it. But don’t. Just don’t. You will never win. Just chalk it up to someone who doesn’t like you for whatever reason and move on to your next work.

Tossing it back to Cedar or anyone else now. We’ll continue the dialog in the comments section.

Abundance Mentality

I was accused the other day on FB of having a scarcity mentality, while the other person proudly proclaimed they had an abundance mentality. After I got through face-palming over the ridiculousness of it, I decided it was a good point to bring up here. You see, this person was reacting to my having asked a question after they seemingly randomly shared links to their books on someone else’s wall. Getting huffy and saying that the person had been looking for books to read… fine, I really didn’t care. But the snarky comment, when this person is known for their book spamming?

As marketing goes, in general it is considered really bad manners to be constantly pushing your books. Doing it on your own FB wall, twitter feed, or what have you is one thing. If you do it too often people will tune you out or unfollow you. But promoting your books in groups, semi-private events, other’s personal timelines… those are really bad manners and justifiably will get you tossed on your ear from most places. I know that some groups allow promotion on certain days, but even then it’s questionable.

So why is this? When we’re pushing our own work, there’s a fine line between “look at my beautiful baby!” and “hey, meester, wanna meet my seester? She’s cheep!” Desperation never looks good on anyone. But you want to, need to, sell your book and get it in front of other eyes…

You know what looks a million times better than pushing your own book? Pushing someone else’s book. Look, this isn’t a competition. One author cannot possibly write enough to keep an avid reader ‘fed’ with enough material. Personally, for me as a reader, a dozen authors couldn’t do it. So why not keep that abundance mentality – only not just toward your own book – be generous, share others. By networking, we can get fresh eyes on our work.

I do this by reviewing books weekly on my blog. Sometimes I cheat a little and review shorter works, like the novelette I just did, because I don’t always have time to read a full-length novel. I will also share purchases, finds, and new releases by friends on FB, twitter, and G+ (which I’m still not sure how effective that one is, but that’s a different conversation). I’m fairly careful about this, as I don’t want to promote anything I’m not sure of. So if it’s a brand new release I haven’t already had a chance to read, I’ll share if it’s a trusted author. Otherwise, I wait until I’ve had a chance to at least start reading it.

I am always, and I encourage you to be as well, honest in my reviews without being harsh. Would you review a book differently if you knew the author was indie vs trad? How, and why would you? Ask yourself, and if you’re being harsher on Indie, reconsider it. I also suggest you be selective. If the book isn’t the best product, don’t recommend it, or you will lose the trust of your readers and friends (well, at least in that department). Story is king, and if it’s a good story, well, tell everybody about it!

I do share books often, perhaps sometimes too often, but I know that like me, many of my friends and family read a lot. I also know that finding a new book or author is hard. None of us have the time to waste, nor the money, in exploring the wilderness of Amazon for a good read. I can’t tell you how many times I have heard ‘I rely on recommendations to find new books’ in the last year or two.

I’m branching out a little, to see if running an ad will help. But I’m in no hurry, my plan for my writing is very long-term. I don’t need to be spammy, and I certainly don’t need to try to suppress other writers, because in the long run, the more readers there are, the better for all of us. Word of mouth is slow, but it’s the gold standard for a reason. When you have readers talking about your books, and doing it spontaneously, that’s better than money can buy.

Books these days aren’t scarce. But wading through the abundance can be intimidating for the reader, and sticking out can be hard for the author. You don’t want to stick out in all the wrong ways. Readers can help their favorite authors out by sharing, reviewing, and talking about books. Authors can help one another out by putting on their reader hats (what, you don’t have one? Mine is all wide-brimmed and 40’s movie starlet!) and doing the same. By coming together, we can help one another. Just don’t be spammy, and don’t go around accusing others of wanting to suppress you, or you will get an honest review, and that might not suit you!

 

Not About Hugos

Not About Hugos

Not really, at least. Not mostly? Anyway, watching what seems like half the world lose their ever-loving minds over what is essentially an episode of epic-level trolling (albeit with a point) has been a delight. I’m certain we’ll be entertained (subjected to?) more of the same between now and LonCon in August. If you’re just joining the party – and there’s cold beer in the fridge and several lifetimes’ supply of popcorn – the fracturing within the Social Justice Warrior faction of the scifi community has been equally entertaining, with some of the usual suspect turning downright reasonable. Brandon Sanderson has again demonstrated what a stand-up guy he is, and Larry and Vox have come in for more than their fair share of vituperation. So much so, in fact, that the delightful Mrs. Correia has expressed her displeasure at having to reassure acquaintances that, no, her husband isn’t a dangerous, evil-minded hatey mchaterson who poses a clear and present danger to her and her children. (He’s a big softy, really.) Silly them. As Sarah can attest to, Larry is not the Correia whose anger you most want to avoid.

This isn’t about the Hugos, though. Really! That one’ll be at According To Hoyt, first Monday in May.

This post is about writing! This is a writing blog, and so we talk about writing here. Oh, very quickly, before I get to that, Mrs. Dave and I will be joining Sarah and Kate at RavenCon this weekend, where Sarah and I will endeavor to prevent Kate from wreaking grievous slaughter upon the SJW contingent in attendance. Ok, I’ll be working to prevent the two of them from tag-teaming the rest of the con. Ok, I’ll be holding their coats and mixing drinks for afters.

So, back to the writing. Especially in genre fiction, we work at portraying things which are alien. They may be immortal creatures of questionable moral views perpetrating great wickedness upon innocent – and not-so-innocent – humanity. They may be intelligences of other-than-organic nature, newly awakened to a stinky, smelly world full of illogical (and stinky) organic creatures. They may actually be aliens. Or, they could simply be the slightly odd kid next door who has nary a hair out of place and never leaves the house.

So, I have a confession to make. I’m not really a mad genius. Right now, I’m at best a disgruntled genius, and there’s a goodly bit of concern about the latter part of that epithet. A big part of that can – and should – be chalked up to the last few months being more or less hellish on the stressor front. Lots of travel, no routine, funerals, family dynamics, more travel, impending fatherhood (Mrs. Dave and Working Title are doing just fine; it’s Daddy that’s losing his mind) more travel, WE THREW A PARTY (so. many. people.) and now we’re off to RavenCon, and in a month Mrs. Dave will go into labor and sometime thereafter I’ll never sleep soundly again. I think my characters are lined up waiting to see if I crack, and that’s why they haven’t been pestering me lately.

So, yeah: stress.

We deal with stress all the time. For most of us, it’s one of the few things to pull us out of our skulls and force us to deal with the rest of the world. The stress of paying bills (note: need to get tax stuff set up for this year), the stress of opening the fridge and seeing two rubbery carrots and a container of questionable mustard, the stress of watching parts of humanity go nughouse bucking futs and attempt to drag civilization into a parallel 1950s (but this time, THEY’RE in charge! (this is not about the Hugos)). There are also “good” stressors. Going to a con, drinking too much scotch (that’s a thing?) meeting interesting people, hanging out with old friends, etc. Sometime soon, I need to get my motorcycle squared away, and that’s got its own set of associated stressors.

Stress is just a thing, neither good nor bad. In some ways, it resembles a tool that way. Like a circular saw, or a firearm. Theoretically, we can use it to our advantage. (If you know how, please fill me in on the process.) And when the stress load gets too high, things start to fall apart. “Fun” and “relaxation” become work, and things that we used to enjoy simply kill the time.

For me, my writing has suffered. A lot. You can probably tell from reading this that I’m not exactly the most focused. Fiction just falls apart. It used to be a matter of getting into a groove and just running with it. Lately, every word is dragged out of a noxious morass. And stuff.

Is there hope?

Of course, there is. Things always change, and rarely move in one direction for long. Personally, I plan to forge a new routine. I’m not really sure what that’s going to look like. It’ll have a lot of physical activity. I’ll dust off the bicycle, perhaps. Maybe I’ll just hit the gym several more times a week than has been the case in recent months. Exertion is one of those things that keeps me sane-ish and on a more or less even keel. When stress looms, find those things and cling to them. I have a friend who paints miniatures. It relaxes him. This is a good thing. Another thing I’ll be doing is building an airsoft trap and working on my marksmanship. Lots of fundamentals. Trigger control, breath control, stance, drills.

What do you do when life starts to wobble? (see? this wasn’t about the Hugos AT ALL)

In Which A Man Displays His Lack Of Clue As Though It Was A Precious Gem

Also known as Kate reviews Damien Walter’s Twitter review of Opera Vita Aeterna by Vox Day. Yes. That Vox Day. You know, the Evil Lord of Evil himself, who for reasons known only to himself spends most of his time incognito writing interesting blog posts that are only offensive if you can’t sort out the difference between facts stated bluntly and insults or doing his thing with writing, software, and whatever all his other dozen day jobs entail (I haven’t asked, but I can tell he’s a busy man. How? He makes time for other people while apologizing for not being able to do much because he’s juggling too many other commitments).

As those who haven’t had their heads firmly buried in the sand will know, Damien Walters recently covered himself with… something… in an article about the future being queer. I had a bit to say about that last week. You can imagine my surprise when I found this giant of literature had elected to read and comment on Vox Day’s piece – which is, for those with their earholes and nostrils stuffed with sand, one of the nominees for this year’s Hugo awards (and yes, that noise you hear is indeed the sound of innumerable panties full of glitter (from all the feminist glittery hoo haas) spontaneously wadding themselves to combustion point. Be warned. It’s dangerous out there with all that glitter catching fire.

Anyway. After taking a look at the rather sad spew of so-called insults on Mr Walters Twitter feed, I took it upon myself to read Opera Vita Aeterna and actually, you know… comment on it a bit. Even sort of review it. Only sort of, because I’m not a proper reviewer like Mr Walters.

Anyway, you know it’s going to be a fair, unbiased review when it starts with “Well, I guess I better read this Vox Day novelette then. If it’s better than Mein Kampf I’ll be mildly relieved.” Now aside from the little question of which translation of Mein Kampf he’s using (because I guarandamntee you the translation matters – a good translation can lift a dreary work and a bad one can coat a gem with raw sewage) this really is a remarkably low bar for relief. Perhaps the gentleman needs to get himself some satisfaction somewhere outside his job?

Anyway, his next tweet smacks the piece for adjectival overload in the opening paragraph which strikes me as kind of odd because what niggled me was overuse of “He was” when the same impression could have been made without those two words. Still, stylistic niggles quickly become invisible if the piece works well enough, and that was the case here.

Moving on, Mr Walters appears to have trouble with atmospherics, since his next Tweet reads, “The sun is pallid, the dark is incipient, promises are whispered. Never make your meaning clear to the reader. Clarity is weakness.” Funnily enough I had no issues with the meaning here, so I guess he was looking for some kind of racist code words buried in here that he couldn’t find.

This micro-rant is followed by one on too many topics per paragraph, which tells me he’s not seeing the actual topic – although since I don’t know which paragraphs he’s talking about I’m not going to make a guess here. Let’s just say I have my suspicions and they have to do with the way the world building is unfolded.

After a few more micro-rants that miss the point, we get to this: “Have you a hostel in which a traveler weary may rest for the night?” THAT”S HOW THEY TALKED IN YE OLDE FANTASY TIMES.” Well, no. Aside from the actual text being “weary traveler” this is clearly polite formal speech from a noble (of sorts) to a person of a much lower class. It’s also got a teensy bit of deliberate archaism in it to give the feel of belonging to a quasi-medieval time frame. What did you want, mate, “Hey, dude, can I, like, hang out for the night?”

The next few tweets are largely rants about slow-paced narrative (because apparently he expected Vox to leap straight into evil racist action or something) while utterly missing the point. The really screamingly obvious point that we have an elf – a being widely held to be soulless – at a monastery because he wants to find out if the deity the monks are dedicated to (who is, yes, the Christian deity) is real. In short, we’re being shown that this elf, from a culture that is shown in a few sentences to be utterly at odds with Christianity as is currently understood, wishes to learn more about the faith and may be convinced to convert if what he learns satisfies his (largely implied) yearnings.

Good grief, man, I’m barely even nominally Christian (having been raised more or less lapsed with occasional interruptions in the general direction of the Australian Uniting Church – which is the bastard offspring of a merger between the Presbyterians and Methodists and a few of the evangelical denominations) and I can see it. How blind are you?

Anyway… Some time after this Mr Walters sort of gets it. “Oh fuck god no…it’s all just a set-up for a tedious exegesis on catholicism, isn’t it?” Well, no. It’s not. Oh, and wonderful job of not being biased and all that.

So, he throws a lovely little Twitter tantrum (unless he deletes it it’s all there at https://twitter.com/damiengwalter – just keep scrolling down) before proving once again he doesn’t know what the farouk he’s on about with “Enter a magic fox, stage left. #VoxRead Because when you can’t develop a plot, bring on a talking animal.” Gosh. Totally missing yet another point, not to mention a teensy wee bit of foreshadowing.

Anyway, I’ll skip the rest of the Twitter tantie and move on to Mr Walter’s inspired summary: “I have judged the work not the man, and found it to be an incoherent rant disguised as an unconvincing non-story.” Leaving aside that in a shorter work such as this it’s acceptable to have a thin plot around an idea, it’s clear to me that our esteemed literary critic here completely missed a subtle and rather elegantly understated story encapsulated by the title (which, I might add, becomes rather less subtle and understated when you run the title through Google Translate (because I can recognize Latin when I see it but be buggered if I can read it) and realize that yes, the story is about an elf devoting at least a human lifespan to create an illuminated manuscript in his attempt to understand Christianity and that a good chunk of it occurs after the murder of his human friend. Oh, and Vox leaves it to reader imagination whether or not the elf did in fact come to understand or not.

It’s not perfect. There are flaws in the flow of the piece and the opening could use another round or two of editing (that or the version Vox has made available for download isn’t the final published one), but it’s hardly something to be denigrated with “Imagine a 12 year old geek with the pompous voice of a 45 year old fascist parroting Thomas Aquinas, and there you have Opera Vita Aeterna.”

It’s certainly a good, thought-provoking story, and a damn sight better than some of the nominated pieces from prior years.