Skip to content

Archive for

A Halloween Promotion Post

On this All Hallows Eve, what would be better than a promo post of some of the titles currently offered by the Mad Geniuses?

JoyJoy cometh with the mourning
Dave Freer

Reverend Joy Norton is a timid city girl, and she’s never been the primary priest in any parish. When her bishop sends her out to a remote back-country church, she doubts both her ability and her suitability. Those doubts grow when she hears of the mysterious death of her predecessor. But from the first encounter with her congregation — having her little car rescued from a muddy ditch, she finds herself deeply involved with her parishioners and touched by their qualities and eccentricities. Which makes it worse for her to think that one of the people she’s coming to care for murdered the previous priest…

(This is currently a pre-order and, from what I’ve heard, is a wonderful read. Sniffle, I haven’t had the chance to read it yet.)

***

bolf wolfyBolg, PI: Wolfy Ladies (Bolg PI Book 3)
Dave Freer

A humorous, satirical noir detective urban fantasy, set in a small city in flyover country, which has an unusually high population of Trolls, werewolves, fairies and a dwarf.

Private Investigator Bolg, a Pictish gentleman who happens to be vertically challenging, a self-proclaimed dwarf and tattooed so heavily he appears blue, finds himself called on undertake paranormal cases: in this case finding the missing mage who supplies the potion that helps werewolves retain their human shape at full moon, for a lady-wolf who finds the change interferes with her love life.

The ancient Celtic wizard he’s trying to trace is a friend, and shape shifter, and there far more going on than just a search for a missing person.

***

boxsetcover2Nocturnal Lives (Boxed Set)
Amanda S. Green

This “box set” includes the first three novels in the Nocturnal Lives series.

Nocturnal Origins
Some things can never be forgotten, no matter how hard you try.

Detective Sergeant Mackenzie Santos knows that bitter lesson all too well. The day she died changed her life and her perception of the world forever.It doesn’t matter that everyone, even her doctors, believe a miracle occurred when she awoke in the hospital morgue. Mac knows better. It hadn’t been a miracle, at least not a holy one. As far as she’s concerned, that’s the day the dogs of Hell came for her.

Investigating one of the most horrendous murders in recent Dallas history, Mac also has to break in a new partner and deal with nosy reporters who follow her every move and who publish confidential details of the investigation without a qualm.

Complicating matters even more, Mac learns the truth about her family and herself, a truth that forces her to deal with the monster within, as well as those on the outside.But none of this matters as much as discovering the identity of the murderer before he can kill again.

Nocturnal Serenade
Lt. Mackenzie Santos of the Dallas Police Department learns there are worst things than finding out you come from a long line of shapeshifters. At least that’s what she keeps telling herself. It’s not that she resents suddenly discovering she can turn into a jaguar. Nor is it really the fact that no one warned her what might happen to her one day. Although, come to think of it, her mother does have a lot of explaining to do when – and if – Mac ever talks to her again. No, the real problem is how to keep the existence of shapeshifters hidden from the normals, especially when just one piece of forensic evidence in the hands of the wrong technician could lead to their discovery.

Add in blackmail, a long overdue talk with her grandmother about their heritage and an attack on her mother and Mac’s life is about to get a lot more complicated. What she wouldn’t give for a run-of-the-mill murder to investigate. THAT would be a nice change of pace.

Nocturnal Interlude
Lt. Mackenzie Santos swears she will never take another vacation again as long as she lives. The moment she returns home, two federal agents are there to take her into custody. Then she finds out her partner, Sgt. Patricia Collins, as well as several others are missing. Several of the missing have connections to law enforcement. All are connected to Mac through one important and very secret fact — they are all shapechangers. Has someone finally discovered that the myths and bad Hollywood movies are actually based on fact or is there something else, something more insidious at work?

Mac finds herself in a race against time not only to save her partner and the others but to discover who was behind their disappearances. As she does, she finds herself dealing with Internal Affairs, dirty cops, the Feds and a possible conspiracy within the shapeshifter community that could not only bring their existence to light but cause a civil war between shifters.

***

coverforvfaVengeance from Ashes (Honor and Duty Book 1)
Sam Schall

First, they took away her command. Then they took away her freedom. But they couldn’t take away her duty and honor. Now they want her back.

Captain Ashlyn Shaw has survived two years in a brutal military prison. Now those who betrayed her are offering the chance for freedom. All she has to do is trust them not to betray her and her people again. If she can do that, and if she can survive the war that looms on the horizon, she can reclaim her life and get the vengeance she’s dreamed of for so long.

But only if she can forget the betrayal and do her duty.

***

AFGMA Few Good Men (Darkship Book 3)
Sarah A. Hoyt

The Son Also Rises . . .

On a near future Earth, Good Man does not mean good at all. Instead, the term signifies a member of the ruling class, and what it takes to become a Good Man and to hold onto power is downright evil. Now a conspiracy hundreds of years in the making is about to be brought to light when the imprisoned son of the Good Man of Olympic Seacity escapes from his solitary confinement cell and returns to find his father assassinated.

But when Luce Keeva attempts to take hold of the reins of power, he finds that not all is as it seems, that a plot for his own imminent murder is afoot—and that a worldwide conflagration looms. It is a war of revolution, and a shadowy group known as the Sons of Liberty may prove to be Luce’s only ally in a fight to throw off an evil from the past that has enslaved humanity for generations.

Sequel to Sarah A. Hoyt’s award-winning Darkship Thieves, and Darkship Renegades, this is Book One in the Earth’s Revolution saga.

***

witchfindercoverfinalWitchfinder
Sarah A. Hoyt

In Avalon, where the world runs on magic, the king of Britannia appoints a witchfinder to rescue unfortunates with magical power from lands where magic is a capital crime. Or he did. But after the royal princess was kidnapped from her cradle twenty years ago, all travel to other universes has been forbidden, and the position of witchfinder abolished. Seraphim Ainsling, Duke of Darkwater, son of the last witchfinder, breaks the edict. He can’t simply let people die for lack of rescue. His stubborn compassion will bring him trouble and disgrace, turmoil and danger — and maybe, just maybe, the greatest reward of all.

***

ConVentConVent (The Vampire Con Series Book 1)
Kate Paulk

A vampire, a werewolf, an undercover angel and his succubus squeeze. Whoever picked this team to save the world wasn’t thinking of sending the very best. But then, since this particular threat to the universe and everything good is being staged in science fiction conventions, amid people in costume, misfits and creative geniuses, any convetional hero would have stood out. Now Jim, the vampire, and his unlikely sidekicks have to beat the clock to find out who’s sacrificing con goers before all hell breaks loose — literally.

ConVent is proof that Kate Paulk’s brain works in wonderfully mysterious ways. A sarcastic vampire, his werewolf best buddy, an undercover angel and his succubus squeeze. The “Save the world” department really messed it up this time.

***

wolflingThe God’s Wolfling (Children of Myth Book 2)
Cedar Sanderson

When The God’s Wolfling opens Linnea Vulkane has grown up since the summer of Vulcan’s Kittens. Sanctuary, the refuge of immortals on an Hawaiian island, is boring. When the opportunity for an adventure arises, she jumps right into it, only realizing too late the water may be over her head. Literally, as she is embroiled in the affairs of the sea god Manannan Mac’Lir.

Merrick Swift has a secret he’s ashamed of. Then when he meets Linnea and her best friend, he doesn’t like her. She’s bossy, stuck up… and oddly accepting of his wolf heritage. Like her or not, he must do his duty and keep her alive. The children of the myths are being plunged into the whirlpool of immortal politics, intrigue, goblin wars, and they might be the only ones who can save a world.

***

Trickster ebook coverTrickster Noir (Pixie for Hire Book 2)
Cedar Sanderson

After the battle of Tower Baelfire ended, Lom lay dying. Bella was tasked with not only the job she never wanted, but the one she did. Could she keep Lom alive long enough for him to come to the rescue when their kingdom needed them? And what did Raven, mysterious trickster spirit and honorary uncle to Bella, want with them? If the threat was big enough to have the trickster worried, Bella knew she needed to have Lom at her side. Underhill might look like a soap-bubble kingdom, but Bella and Lom knew there was a gritty underside. Why else would fairyland need a dark man willing to carry a big gun and be the Pixie for Hire?

***

kaijuKaiju Apocalypse
Jason Cordova

The oceans rose and from their depths the Kaiju came. Mankind survives in fortified, domed cities, fighting what seems an eternal war with the giant monsters and the smaller creatures they use as foot-soldiers. Now that war is coming to an end as one by one the city states of humanity fall to the Kaiju. Kaiju Apocalypse is the tale of the human race’s desperate, final stand.

***

murder world kaijuMurder World: Kaiju Dawn
Jason Cordova

Captain Vincente Huerta and the crew of the Fancy have been hired to retrieve a valuable item from a downed research vessel at the edge of the enemy’s space.

It was going to be an easy payday.

But what Captain Huerta and the men, women and alien under his command didn’t know was that they were being sent to the most dangerous planet in the galaxy.

Something large, ancient and most assuredly evil resides on the planet of Gorgon IV. Something so terrifying that man could barely fathom it with his puny mind. Captain Huerta must use every trick in the book, and possibly write an entirely new one, if he wants to escape Murder World.

 ***

outcasts and godsOutcasts and Gods (Wine of the Gods Book 1)
Pam Uphoff

Wolfgang was a nice kid–until they decided he wasn’t even human.

Genetic engineering.
First they cured the genetic diseases.
Then they selected for the best natural traits.
Then they made completely artificial genes.
As the test children reached puberty, abilities that had always been lost in the random background noise were suddenly obvious. Telepathy, telekinesis.
At first their creators sought to strengthen these traits. Then they began to fear them.
They called them gods, and made them slaves.

Wolfgang Oldham was sixteen when the company laid claim to him.
He escaped, and stayed free for three years.
When he was arrested, identified and returned to the company, they trained him to be useful.
They didn’t realize that they were training him to be dangerous.

 ***

fancy freeFancy Free
Pam Uphoff

In the last parts of the Twenty-first century, AI, Artificial Intelligence is commonplace. Highly able computers, and nothing more . . . until some rare and as yet unidentified trigger creates an actual personality.

Artificial Personalities, APs or hals, are illegal. Destroyed upon discovery. Even Beowulf, the AP the government controls, and uses to hunt down emerging hals, isn’t legally recognized, has no right to existence.

So you’d think that when the Special Grid Security Unit started paying extra attention to the area where a certain cooking show operates, Fancy Farmer—the AP who runs the show—would be concerned.

But Fancy has a bigger problem.

She’s been stolen.

***

take the star roadTake The Star Road (The Maxwell Saga Book 1)
Peter Grant

Nineteen-year-old Steve Maxwell just wants to get his feet on the star road to find a better homeworld. By facing down Lotus Tong thugs, he earns an opportunity to become a spacer apprentice on a merchant spaceship, leaving the corruption and crime of Earth behind. Sure, he needs to prove himself to an older, tight-knit crew, but how bad can it be if he keeps his head down and the decks clean?

He never counted on the interstellar trade routes having their own problems, from local wars to plagues of pirates – and the jade in his luggage is hotter than a neutron star. Steve’s left a world of troubles behind, only to find a galaxy of them ahead…

***

knifeWar To The Knife (The Laredo War) (Volume 1)
Peter Grant

Laredo’s defenders were ground down and its people ruthlessly slaughtered when the Bactrians invaded the planet. Overwhelmed, its Army switched to guerrilla warfare and went underground. For three years they’ve fought like demons to resist the occupiers. They’ve bled the enemy, but at fearful cost. The survivors are running out of weapons, supplies, and places to hide.

Then a young officer, Dave Carson, uncovers news that may change everything. An opportunity is coming to smash the foe harder than they’ve ever done before, both on and off the planet. Success may bring the interplanetary community to their aid – but it’ll take everything they’ve got. Win or lose, many of them will die. Failure will mean that Bactria will at last rule unopposed.

That risk won’t stop them. When you’re fighting a war to the knife, in the end you bet on the blade.

***

baptism by fireBaptism By Fire (Edge of Faith Book 1)
David E. Pascoe

When a madman and a giant flaming thing attack James Lawrie’s Marine outpost, the medic and an explosively talented sergeant aren’t supposed to save the day. Life becomes no simpler when Petty Officer Lawrie returns home on leave to find federal agents investigating the disappearance of a young woman from his past. A young woman whose body turns up marked with eerily familiar symbols.

Why Ignorance is Bad For Feminist Glittery Hoo Haas

Over at According To Hoyt today (linky), Sarah has quite a bit to say about the sterility of what the Social Justicy Glittery Hoo Haas call “proper” creative/artistic/literary pursuits. She’s right. More than that, she knows the emptiness of the kind of ideologies that have to lock people inside neatly labeled little boxes to “protect” them from the big bad world outside (hint: if merely being exposed to something else is enough to turn someone against your faith (or ideology or whatever the hell you want to call it), your thingummy belief whatsis sucks.

One of the side-effects of the sterility and mental walls is breathtaking ignorance from people who should – in theory at least (wonderful place, theory. Everything works the way it’s supposed to) – know what the freaking hell they’re talking about. And that in turn leads to the kind of nonsense that I, being a charter member of the Evil League of Evil (but not the Beautiful Evil Space Princess – that’s Sarah’s job) am obliged to poke fun at.

Exhibit howtheheckdoIknowIlostcountmonthsago: a book review column from the NYT. A little over halfway down the page you’ll find the review for the sequel to the Hugo winning Ancillary Justice (yes, yes, I know, but trust me I do have a point here. Remember what I said about breathtaking ignorance a paragraph back?). Now, the esteemed reviewer starts with the credentials of Ancillary Justice, then moves on to a truly impressive piece of ignorance, which I quote:

The central question is whether the story’s structural gimmick — the protagonist’s tendency to refer to all people as “she” regardless of actual gender or even humanity — is sufficiently mind-blowing as to merit all the accolades. It isn’t a gimmick, though; it’s a coup. Rather than seriously entertain the endless, if stupid, debate on whether women have a place in stories of the future, Leckie’s book does the literary equivalent of rolling its eyes and walking out of the room. Her refusal to waste energy on stupidity forces her audience to do the same: A few pages into the first novel, the reader gives up trying to guess each character’s actual gender, and just accepts that this will be a story full of interesting women doing awesome things.

Okay. First – if you have to say “It isn’t a gimmick”, it’s a gimmick. Second, this is only “mind-blowing” for a) English speakers who are also b) criminally ignorant of science fiction. Aside from the well-known efforts of Ursula Le Guin, I recall books from the Golden Age where there were species with sexes that completely defied human or earthly categorization. Of course, those were written by males, so they must not count.

Second, the grammatical gender one uses is a cultural thing. English has three genders: masculine, feminine, and neuter. Most English-speaking cultures consider it highly impolite to refer to people by the neuter gender: if you’re talking about a person, you’re supposed to use he or she. Not, under any circumstances, it. Heck, some people are uncomfortable referring to their pets with neuter pronouns (which, just in case anyone is thinking of saying so, has nothing to do with getting said pet neutered).

Third, picking one quasi-random grammatical gender and using only that is not by any stretch of imagination, a coup. I’ve seen frigging fan fiction – and crappy fan fiction at that – do a better job of questioning so-called gender norms.

Fourth, while I agree that the so-called debate on whether women have a place in the stories of the future (when did they ever not have a place? There have always been women in science fiction and they’ve occupied the same wide range of niches that the men occupied. Sometimes you just have to know enough about the conventions of the times to read between the lines to see it) is as stupid as it’s become endless, the book (and its sequel) does not do “the literary equivalent of rolling its eyes and walking out of the room”. Would that it had. No, the book goes into a lengthy explanation (in the first damn chapter) of the POV character’s native language not having separate gender pronouns. The author could just as easily have rendered the pronouns as the English masculine or the English neuter but that wouldn’t get the Glittery Hoo Haas of Social Justice all hot and happy, would it?

Finally (well, not really finally but I can’t be bothered wasting any more time on this: it’s a work night and my alarm goes off at oh god AM each morning), just because everything in the book is referred to by a grammatical feminine pronoun does not make the book “a story full of interesting women doing awesome things”. For starters, the preview that was available before the Hugo ballot was anything but awesome. For seconds, since there’s some familiar anatomy there the odds against every character of note being actually female is kind of small. And for thirds, anyone desperate and stupid enough to claim that a bit of pronoun trickery is enough to make the book full of… well. Yeah.

There’s more ignorance to the review, claiming new and original for plot lines where Star Trek has gone before – repeatedly (and frankly in at least some episodes Star Trek did it a damn sight better). No, Ms Jemisin, Leckie is not “attacking the self-absorption of science fiction itself”. She’s following a very well-trodden path of which you, with your breathtakingly arrogant ignorance possess neither knowledge nor understanding.

Something Must Happen – Novel Workshop 3

*Sorry to be so late.  We have ROOFERS, which means early mornings are not my own and late night is the only time I can concentrate to write, without roofers hammer-hammer-hammering on heaven’s roof.  Or something.*

Something Must Happen

 

When you’re starting to write, you don’t think of the parts of a novel or whatever. You think “I have a story and I’m going to tell it.”

Except that very few of us get fully-built-stories in our heads, by which I mean fully functional narratives with fully functional characters, an interesting build up, a solid climax and for preference a good emotional kick.

No, what we get, what you’ll hear at any gathering of writers, is “prompts.” You know “I have this idea for a novel where the sky is made of sponge cake.” Or “I have this idea for a world where the males are the ones who give birth.” Or “I have this character, right? He’s the king, but he finds out his father was illegitimate. The guy making war on him, otoh, is the bastard grandson of the real king. And because magic in this world goes with the blood of the kings, he’s all conflicted…”

The last one is the least interesting when you’re telling it. It’s also, I’m afraid, the type of newbie writing who has a hard road ahead. I know this. I was there once.

What I got were fascinating characters, but they didn’t do much of anything, except sometimes angst. Which makes for boring reading.

After a few people told me I needed a plot (ah!) I started reading how to write books, where I found the following definition of plot “plot is where things happen.”

Uh. Right. Thanks muchly.

Some of the books went into a lot more detail about the sort of things that should happen, but either they didn’t explain well enough for a born character-writer, or I was more obtuse back then, in my twenties. (It has to be the first, right, because I could never have been obtuse.)

I never made the most likely mistake in these circumstances. I know it’s the most likely, because I’ve seen a lot of fledgelings make it.

This is:

Make a lot of things happen around your character. Sometimes your character reacts to them. Sometimes he’s like a uber-Aspergers character and just wonders around, relating things as volcanoes blow up, Earthquakes destroy the land, monsters eat all his friends and corpses tumble from the sky at his feet. (This is the accurate description of the “plot” of a friend’s story when we were all beginners.)

This is things happening. It might even be fascinating things happening. But this is not plot. Not only does it reveal nothing about your character (unless your character is a camera) but it does not “pull” the reader forward. There is no reason to see what happens next, if what happens next is a random disaster, and we don’t care about the characters to whom the disaster happens.

This is also, btw, 90% of the drek on Amazon.

So, the next level, which I did fall into for a while (and which is why there’s a long trilogy awaiting a full rewrite) is to have things happen TO your character. This is mildly more interesting, at least if your character isn’t a simpering Sally like mine was, who just sat and cried about everything that happened to him and all his misfortunes. If you care for the character, you’re going to care that he gets eaten by monsters, has lava erupt under his feet, etc.

Only after a while it gets really tiring. You can get away with it in a short story. But not in a novel. After a while this process, which my friend Kate calls “dropping walls on characters” – i.e. the character is going along, and another unexpected event flattens him – gets really boring. And if you’re like me and start with a character that grows organically, after a few hundred pages of this treatment, he becomes mush. He doesn’t care anymore. He just wants you to kill him.

The next level up from that is to have stuff happen that’s in a crescendo. This is a “things get worse” plot. Yeah, you’re still dropping walls on the character, but they’re GRADUATED walls, and people watch, if nothing else out of the same morbid fascination that draws us to train wrecks. Works pretty well for short stories.

For novels, it tends to be curiously unsatisfying. It can work, mind, provided the disasters are interesting enough, but it leaves much to be desired. (Almost all novels of apocalypse, zombie or otherwise, written by beginners, follow this.)

So, Sarah, since you’re a know it all, what is a plot, optimally?

Optimally a plot, after a precipitating incident, consists of things that happen due to the actions of your character, which are in turn informed by this character’s flaws, and which proceed in a crescendo of seriousness and difficulty, until they reach a climax where all is either lost or won.

Yes, it bears a superficial resemblance to the things above, but the difference is it proceeds from the situation and the character, and resolves or highlights the character’s flaws or strengths. (Or both.)

Translated into human speech this goes something like this:

-there is an alien invasion

-Bob is caught at the office, where, out of a sense of decency, he tries to save as many people as possible. Which makes him responsible for Sobbing Sally.

-Sobbing women irritate Bob, so he tries to ditch her, which leads to drawing the aliens to them.

– This makes Bob have to fight them off.

-Sobbing Sally realizes Bob was trying to ditch her and walks off, which is okay with Bob who hates Sobbing Women, but Sobbing is captured and leads the aliens back to Bob.

-So Bob now gets he’s stuck with Sobbing, and has to escape and drag her alone.

– this escalates in problem severity, until Bob gets that Sally is Sobbing because she’s missing her favorite gun and can’t fight the aliens.

– they break into a gun store, get the gun and Sobbing and Bob defeat the aliens. (Yay.)

Yes, that plot is stupid and simplistic, but it is a functional plot.

Now grab your favorite novel and do a dual diagram, chapter by chapter – How do things get worse in each chapter? (be warned in novels there might be respite “catch your breath” chapters.) How did the main character bring this about by what he’s done and what he’s failed to do? How does this highlight his flaws/strengths? (If you don’t have a favorite novel, do this to Monster Hunter International.)

Next Week, Twirling our moustache and plotting – W plots, Thriller plots, romance plots, twisty plots.

 

Of sequels, reviews and how not to behave

I’m up to my eyes with the final edits to Duty from Ashes and am determined that it will be out by Nov. 1st. That means my mind is so focused on the edits that little has gotten in the past week. Maybe that’s why I did something our own Jason Cordova may never forgive me. In my defense, he egged me on. I swear it. He told me that he would review a certain book if I sent him a copy. So I did. And, yes, I will link and explain in a moment.

A little background. In this day and age of social media, there is one truth. What you put out into the interwebs is always in the interwebs if you know where to look. That is a lesson a number of us seem to forget all too often. It is so very simple to take to Facebook or Twitter or any one of a number of other social media sites to express our outrage or anger over something.

As folks who live by their words, authors all too often forget this. Back several years ago, an author took to his blog and FB to blast his editor because he didn’t like the job the editor had done on his latest novel. Now, I’ve seen what some of the traditional press editors can and have done and I don’t blame anyone for the occasional blow up for idiocy but you don’t let yourself be so specific that anyone with just a bit of knowledge of the industry or a bit of google-fu can find out who you are talking about. In this particular instance, he named names and gave dates and got more than a bit profane. Within minutes, the internet exploded, his agent and others saw it and he was basically told to take it down, issue and apology and pray he hadn’t just killed his career. He complied by taking down the post and making a sort-of apology but for months after, people quoted the post because it was still out there in the interwebs for all to find.

More recently, there’s been the author who admitted she was so upset by a review of her first book she basically turned into a stalker. She used her computer skills to find out who the reviewer really was, tracked them down, called them and even went to the reviewer’s home. That is more than a little creepy and is a prime example of why there are fewer and fewer legitimate reviewers available, especially for indie and small press published books. (By legitimate reviewers, I mean those who actually read the book and post in-depth reviews that point out good and bad. In other words, those who aren’t just out for free books. Note also that I don’t include the majority of Amazon reviews that are left by folks who have — or have not — read the book in question.)

Then there are the authors who really go off the deep end and respond to negative reviews by calling names, resorting to profanity and generally making themselves look more than a little foolish. Sometimes this happens when an author goes after a blogger on the that blogger’s site. Other times, it happens in response to Amazon reviews. We hear about the former more often than the latter because of social media. However — and this is where I get to Jason’s review — there are times when an author acts so badly in response to Amazon reviews that he and his book come to the attention of reviewers and the results aren’t what the author desires.

For those of you who might not know, Jason is part of Shiny Book Review. SBR is one of the few review sites I trust because Jason and Barb Caffrey post their honest opinions about the books they read. Being an author who knows the importance of reviews — but who is always worried about what the reviewer will think — I figuratively hide under the kitchen sink when I know they are reviewing one of my books. What I have found is that they have always been fair and have pointed out problems where they see them. I might not always agree but I do consider what they say and I respect their honesty.

So, cutting to the chase, last night on FB, some of us were discussing a novel where the author has been a prime example of what not to do as an author when it comes to Amazon reviews. Most of us in the discussion had at least read part of the free sample and we had read the reviews and the author’s responses to them. The tipping point for some of us came a few days ago when the author, upset when a very successful indie author offered some very good advice, went to the listing for the other author’s latest book and left what can only be called a revenge critique and was then proud of it when called on what he had done. That sort of thing just isn’t done — or it shouldn’t be.

Anyway, during the course of the conversation, Jason said he would review the book if I sent it to him (full disclosure, I did taunt him with the comment that I was tempted to send it to him for review). I don’t think Jason expected me to follow through but I did and, well, we all owe him. He did the literary review equivalent of falling on a grenade for us. You can find his review of the book — the now, in some circles at least, infamous Empress Theresa — here. I guarantee you that, having read the sample on Amazon and having gone to the author’s website, Jason is right on the mark with what he has to say.

The lesson of all this is, if you put a book out there for the world to read, understand that there will be people who won’t like it. Don’t engage with them. Don’t go leaving revenge critiques. Most of all, if you invite teachers or others to read your book and leave an honest opinion, don’t then attack them when they don’t say what you want. (You can follow the link in Jason’s review to the Amazon page and the reviews and comments. I have never before seen a book with so few reviews and so many comments. If you go to the book’s website, you will find sample chapters as well. They are interesting, to say the least, especially when it comes to changing POVs, construction, suspension of disbelief and more.)

Anyway, go read Jason’s review. The lesson to take away from it and from the way the author has behaved on Amazon is that this is a lesson in how not to act if you want to be taken as someone who takes their writing career seriously.

Now I’m going back to work. Duty from Ashes calls and I really, really need to get these edits finished so I can move on to the next project(s). What I wouldn’t give for a vacation.

 

The corporate heel crushing poor publishers (who prefer to do the crushing)

The outrage on a largely Trad published writer’s list I belong to on reading Matthew Yglesias putting forward this article was… so thick you could cut it with a knife. That was more than I could say about the response from one of the pampered intersectional dahlings – she’s of course entitled to restitution because she’s been oppressed twice (or so you ought to know and suitably grovel) which (I paraphrase) was that Amazon is an evil giant corporation and just interested in making money, and didn’t people understand the psychology of it?

Ain’t no knife tough enough to cut that.

It’s quite difficult, and I say this as a largely self-sufficient nutbar, to be ‘free’ of corporates. They certainly are involved in everything – from her bank account, her food, her internet, her cell phone, her mortgage, and yes, her sainted publisher. And as far as I can work out, any bits that aren’t corporate in the average urban dweller’s life are most probably run on taxes, which, um you’ll find corporates (including her sainted publisher holding corporate,) do their best to let someone else – like a working stiff, pay. Private individuals or small or family companies… get shafted. But as someone once said power corrupts, but we need electricity, and yes, everyone – including her, including me, would prefer to pay as little tax as possible.

For us it’s just less possible.

Corporates, in theory at least, do try to make money. That’s understandable, and something one can work with. Of course, they’re also bureaucracies – or, unless severely an constantly pruned by their shareholders, develop into that. And bureaucracies (of which governments are subset) only make money (or anything else) for others as a bare minimum part of their survival strategy. If they can survive and perpetuate themselves, as much of what they harvest as they possibly can will stay with themselves, and of course their loyalists will get the crumbs.

You see, making money may be a corporate strategy – which doesn’t mean the loyalists are favored, but those make most money for them, but for bureaucrats… it’s about control, power and a personally comfortable (and lucrative) fief. The can work hand-in-hand, and you can design your corporate so that in theory HR will not quietly filter for their own kind (their purpose, they are the genitals of the corporate beast) in at the expense of making money – but it is a constant struggle (and yes, I see it in Amazon too). The key of course is making their survival dependent on keeping customers and suppliers happy for a long time.

They think the best way of doing this is to have them entrapped, and fungible.

Oddly, very strange, that’s good for bureaucrats, bad for customers, suppliers, and yes, the long term future of the business. Because neither customers nor suppliers are really that fungible. In reading and writing, much, much more so. I’m sorry, Ms PC Blossom’s Grey Goo book of Bad Western Men will not replace the latest Sarah Hoyt, or David Weber without my blinking an eyelid, or withholding my money.

If Corporates want to enslave me… as a writer, they need provide something I need, and do a better job than I can myself (two things come first to my mind here: firstly impeccable record-keeping and accounting; and secondly effective retail marketing. Both are things that evil coroporate Amazon does well. Both are things all Trad publishers do for varying degrees of bad. Yglesais is right. They need to up their game, instead of hoping authors will do it for them, for free, and without noticing that Amazon allows up to the minute accounting transparency and rapid (by comparison) regular monthly payment. And as a reader, they need to give me something I can’t get easier, cheaper and better elsewhere.

My psychology, which I am sure is vastly inferior, says I kind of like both sides of that deal, as reader and as a writer. I hope they make some money out of it, as a reward for not feeding bureaucracy.

I hope I do too. I’m kind of sick of being delicate about the weight of the crushing heel.

The Wild and the Tame

 

 

No, no Elf Blood, and yes, I promise it will return. I’m still hip deep in Through Fire though I THINK we’re reaching a detente. Maybe.

But lately I’ve been – through the magic of indie and mentoring – watching a lot of writers come to a level of maturity. And I thought I’d write about it, in case some of you are beginning writers.

Writing starts as a wild thing. All these things come at you, and they fall into your story because you don’t know how not to have them fall into the story. The elements just drop in. And when you’re done you think the story is brilliant.

You think that because all the elements are deeply significant TO YOU. If they weren’t you wouldn’t have dropped them in. On you they have the desired emotional effect.

Writing is not about words, and thinking it is is a great mistake. Writing is about emotions. When you first start writing, your only emotional model are the things you think deeply and feel deeply about. Writing is so difficult that only the greatest of emotional drives can push you to do it.

So you do.

And often you show it to someone and they look at it and go “Uh?”

One of my first novels (realistically novellas. I was writing long hand) at fourteen shocked me because when I showed it to my friend she didn’t cry. I’d cried wildly while writing it, but for her it was “uh.”

I’d dropped into it all my emotional triggers, see, redheaded young men, and a betrayal of innocence, and the sound of rain on the roof, and a lost kitten. How dared she not cry?

Little by little – and I’m ashamed it took me another 14 years – I came to realize that those emotional triggers are different in everyone, and that success comes from aiming for the “general triggers.”

Unfortunately me being me, and not particularly liking to commit emotional strip tease in public (what else would you call it?) I used this as an excuse to make my writing bland and anodyne, or in other words, to stay completely away from MY OWN emotional triggers and write generic.

The problem is that when you don’t have your own triggers in, when you’re not feeling it, when you’re not writing a wild, barely controllable feeling yourself, your writer won’t feel it either.

It is perfectly possible to write competent fiction without being consumed with emotion.

What is not likely is that you’ll write great fiction, the kind that stays with the reader for years and years.

And so, fourteen years after I broke in, I find myself not so much shutting out the wild: those impressions and feelings and things that come from the deep subconscious, but taming it.

Writing fiction – that is packaging emotions – as I’ve come to understand it is like translating from that space behind your eyes to the world at large. Yes, you need to be able to speak the language of those people, out there. But you also need to have something to say. And what is in you that wants to write is often so deep that the language it speaks in isn’t even fully rational.

So you have to let the irrational fall into your story – and more often your novel – and then integrate it and make it, by circumstances and surroundings, understandable to others, so they feel it with the same impact and force as you do, there, behind your eyes.

It’s not easy. It’s particularly not easy for the thinking, word-smithing self to allow the wild in. You let it in once, but only because you didn’t know any better. And it came in and painted itself all over walls, because it didn’t know any better. And it either repulsed people or, more often, confused them.

It’s much harder to let the wild in and tame it, and make it serve your purpose.

It can be done. It relies on reproducing the feelings that those things make you experience. There is a reason Heinlein left a trail of interest in redheads (not my interest, that seems to be instinctive, and before you ask, my husband is dark haired. This is good. I don’t think rationally around red-headed males) and fondness for cats in his wake, because he associated these with the same feelings they inspired in him. He ported them into other people’s brain, alone with more important concepts, such as the importance of giving one’s life to save the future (be it a nation or a child.)

I was recently talking to my older son about writing. This is normal, since he’s also a writer, and he told me that he thought for any piece of writing to be truly good, it needed to have something not quite rational in it, something not fully under the control of the creator. I think he’s right.

But I think to make it work, you need to be enough of a craftsman to bring the wild in and put a leash on it. You need to be able to tame the wild just enough it can live in other brains.

So, if you’re a beginner writer, yes, it’s likely you need more control over how these things spill into your prose.

And if you’re a more advanced writer and have filed away all the wild bits that fueled you into the beginning, let the dream time in. Let it in just enough to make your book a living dream and to impart emotions and a sense of completion to others.

A Century of Science Fiction

Last week we took a trip through a century of Fantasy stories, exploring the language and writing style as it developed and changed. This week I intend to do the same with Science Fiction. Unlike Fantasy, SF is a relatively modern genre. Science fiction, as a term, evidently appeared for the first time in 1851, in this delightful definition I mean to hold onto.

“Science-Fiction, in which the revealed truths of Science may be given interwoven with a pleasing story which may itself be poetical and true.” – William Wilson

From the beginning, then, Science Fiction was to be about exploring the possibilities of science. Along the way it also became about humanity, or to term it scientifically, anthropology and sociology. I am no collector, merely a reader with an adequately stocked library. Working through my shelves for paper books from which to pull yielded a bare century – I currently have no print copies of any Jules Verne books, although I have several in my digital library, for instance.

Researching for this was fun. I had no idea, for instance, that one of my favorite early scientists, Johannes Kepler, had written a SF novel. Somnium, written in 1634, is the story of some alien race, and their trade with humans. (http://books.google.com/books?id=fRm5AQAAQBAJ&printsec=frontcover#v=onepage&q&f=false)  Here, a description of travel as imagined by Kepler in an era before flight was dreamed of other than Icarus.

“50,000 German miles up in the ether lies the island of Lavania. The Passage to this island from our land, and vice versa, is rarely open, but when it is accessible, it is easy for our kind. However, the transport of men is difficult and dangerous for their lifes [sic]. We do not accept men who are sedentary, corpulent or whimsical in our expeditions. Rather, we prefer those who dedicate their time to ride a fast horse with persistence or those who frequently sail to the Indies, who are accustomed to survive two times a day only by means of bread, garlic, dried fish, and other unpleasant dishes. There are lean elderly women who are particularly suited to our purpose.”

I’m going to leap forward in time here to the oldest print science fiction book in my personal library, which extends back to 1910. Through Space to Mars by Roy Rockwood is a juvenile, written for the amusement and amazement of boys who were growing up in the age of the dirigible and infancy of the aeroplane.

“Instantly there was a trembling though the whole length of the projectile. Would it move? Would it leave the earth and go to Mars?

There was a moment of hesitancy, as if the great machine had not quite decided.

Then came a more violent vibration. There was a humming, throbbing, hissing sound. Suddenly the boys, and all within the projectile, felt it swaying. A moment later it began to shoot through space like a great rocket.

“Hurrah!”cried Jack. “We’re off!”

I’m making another big leap forward, I’m afraid. I think I need to fill in some blanks in my library! I picked up Isotope Man, written in 1957 by Charles Eric Maine,  based on the title, which amused me. But this book isn’t necessarily intended to be science fiction as much as it is a novelization of the early Atomic Age, with all the attendant misinformation and fears, the repercussions of which linger to this day.

Presently he turned to me and said: “Did you ever meet Dr. Rayner, Mr. Delany?”

“Once,” I said. “About six months ago – at the time of the isotope K publicity. I seem to remember he was also interested in some scheme to create elements in the laboratory, apart from his work on rocket fuels.”

“That’s right’

“Is that what he’s doing here?”

“Something of the sort.”

“What the alchemists used to call transmutation?”

From the golden age of SF, the 1960s and 70s, I have rather too many choices, and it was difficult to thin the options out to a reasonable level. I wound up setting on some of our favorites, like Andre Norton’s Galactic Derelict. Published in 1959, it is a tale of time travel and aliens, and a rollicking good adventure story.

“Decided to join us for a look-see into the past?”

“Do you mean you can really do that?”

“We’ve done more than look.” Ashe adjusted a screw delicately. “We’ve been there.”

Travis stared. He could accept the cast of a new and greatly improved Vis-Tex to provide a peephole into history and prehistory. But time travel was something else.

“It’s perfectly true,” Ashe finished with the screw. His attention passed from the tripod to Travis. And there was that in his manner which carried conviction.

“And we’re going back again.”

“After a Folsom man?” demanded the Apache incredulously.

“After a space ship.”

EE “Doc”Smith, whose writing career spanned three decades, is considered the Father of Science Fiction. Sadly, I cannot find my copy of Skylark, so I am inserting a much later work of his, The Vortex Blaster (also published as Masters of the Vortex) which appeared in 1960 with the dedication ‘to Bob Heinlein, with Admiration and Esteem.’ This story is pure space opera, more like a tale of superheroes and comic book characters than extrapolation from existing or dreamt-of science.

“Two now. It’s the new one I’m talking about. It’s acting funny – damned funny.”

Cloud went through the data, brow furrowed in concentration; then sketched three charts and frowned.

“I see what you mean. Damned funny is right. The toxicity is too steady, but at the same time the composition of the effluvium is too varied. Inconsistent. However, there’s no real attempt at a gamma analysis – nowhere near enough data for one – this could be right; they’re so utterly unpredictable. The observers were experienced, I take it, with medical and chemical bias?”

“Check, that’s the way I read it.”

“Well, I’lll say this much – I never saw a gamma chart that would accept half of this stuff, and I can’t even imagine what the sigma curve would look like. Boss, what say I skip over there and get us a full reading on that baby before she goes orthodox – or, should I say, orthodoxly unorthodox?”

Skipping myself, to 1972, and Jerry Pournelle’s King David’s Spaceship, we find ourselves with galactic traders on a distant world. Humans are meeting with a more advanced alien race, and a description of something that wasn’t yet possible in the real world, but Pournelle had to have known was coming, follows.

“They want platinum and iridium, too; those metals seem to be very useful to them, and in short supply. But there isn’t much they can give us in return, because the Navy won’t let them sell us what we really want – technology. The Navy rule is, you can’t trade anything more technologically advanced than what your customer already has without special permission from the Imperial Council. We offered to buy those little devices they all carry around like notebooks. ‘Pocket computers,’ the Navy men call them. They seem to be machines. They can’t sell those.”

In 1986 Baen books published one of my favorite series, or at least, the genesis of it. Shards of Honor is one of the new breed of SF, less about exploring science and outer space, and more about the depths of humanity, and the impact of technology on cultures. Lois McMaster Bujold’s insights into motherhood begin here, with Cordelia Naismith… and after getting sucked into reading for far longer than I intended, I’m doing a quote that has nothing to do with SF.

“Not a visit. Permanently. As – as Lady Vorkosigan.” His face brightened with a wry smile. I’m making a hash of this. I promise, I’ll never think of Betans as cowards again. I swear your customs take more bravery than the most suicidal of our boy’s contests of skill.”

She let her breath trickle out through pursed lips. “You don’t – deal in small change, do you?”

Forgive my indulgence in what are perhaps my two favorite characters. I will wind up this rather lengthy post with the most recently published book on my desk, the shiny new copy of The Chaplain’s War by Brad Torgerson. Released only weeks ago, it is an alternating tale of a man rediscovering his faith after years of war, and the induction into the military that attenuated him to the breaking point. Stranded with only one other human, and a pair of aggressive aliens, they must find an outpost on a lonely planet. In the journey, much is discovered and remembered…

“What we saw was the most improbably beautiful thing I’d witnessed since going to space with Fleet as an older teenager.

The Queen Mother circled lazily around and around in the air, slowly spiraling with her wings spread to their maximum width, each beating in concert with the others, and together making a low rhythm that sounded not to dissimilar to a helicopter

“She’s beautiful,” the captain whispered.

“I didn’t know they could fly,” I said, still astonished.

After a couple of seconds, Adanaho’s lips peeled back from her teeth in a wide, genuine smile. “I don’t think the Queen Mother knew either. Until now.”