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We Are All Dragons

We have our lairs, and fill them with our hoards.

Oh, some people call them by other names. Houses, apartments, mansions . . . but we know what they are. And our hoards are furniture, books (lots and lots of books!) dishes and flatware. Knickknacks; gifts from friends, mementos of vacations. Art, from posters of our favorite bands to original water colors.

Tools and toys.

Oh yes my precious. We have jewelry and clothing and other fine things.

And we have ideas in our minds. Memories. Stories. People who never really existed. Wild ideas and wonderful dreams. Entire worlds, universes, all times and all places.

But the most precious is not thought to be a thing of dragons.

We have friends and family. People we share lair and hoard with, especially those ideas and dreams. Or perhaps they too are a part of our hoards, we certainly save and treasure our interactions with them.

Writers go one further. We write out our ideas and spread them, broadcast them to any who will give us a token in return. We do not hoard our ideas, although a few expressions of them will never be seen by others. We want to share them with the world.

And then, dragon-like, we collect reviews, facebook comments and “likes.” We hoard our readers opinions of our wild flights of fancy, retreat to our lairs to count and weigh our Amazon reviews, track our author ranking, the sales ranks of the latest dragonette we’ve kicked out of the lair to fly, to soar or falter.

And we tread a circle in our nests of old rejection slips and best reviews, and start incubating the next idea.

And the last idea:


Appropriate Culture Like It’s Going Out of Style

So today I found myself drawn in to a trainwreck on the book of faces, where a particularly smug specimen was completely failing to understand why Lionel Shriver’s address to the Brisbane Writers Festival was both necessary and important.

If, like me, your native culture is flat out inappropriate (it’s not my fault I was raised on dirty jokes, single entendres and in-your-face-ohs), chances are as a writer you’re going to be dealing with cultures not your own. Hell, even if your culture actually is appropriate you’re likely to be dealing with cultures not your own. Let’s face it, “Geek Odd” isn’t the most common culture out there, and “Introverted, filthy-minded geek odd” is rare enough it should be declared an endangered species. Except that would set off a whole new round of filthy jokes.

Anyway, the point here is that there are very few cultures around these days that have not appropriated, borrowed, and outright stolen bits from other cultures. One might go so far as to say there aren’t any, but then some smart-ass anthropologist will dig up a completely isolated tribe somewhere remote and metaphorically wave it in my face.

It would have to be a very isolated tribe. Even in the New Guinea highlands, which are so isolated each valley has its own language (the neighboring valleys are more or less mutually comprehensible, mostly), the tribes manage to trade, fight and generally interact with each other, and cultural exchanges of varying flavors happen. And yes, ideas and things move around between them.

American culture (any variety) has picked up so many bits and bobs from other cultures it’s impossible to tease them all out. There’s the Christmas tree (Germanic), Halloween (the mutant love-child of multiple versions of All Hallows Eve), Santa Claus (Sinterklaas, Saint Nicholas, etc.), clothing styles (trust me, those have origins everywhere), hair styles (ditto), you name it, it’s likely been through any number of cultural integrations, aggregations, and who knows what else.

For that matter English itself is living evidence of the richness that emerges from interacting cultures. If England hadn’t been invaded, conquered and settled by successive waves of celts, angles, vikings, normans, and then hadn’t spent the next five hundred years or so continually at war with somewhere in Europe, it would be a very different language indeed. The results of successive generations of invaders trying to figure out the right words to use to get it on with the cute barmaid (it being much more fun when your partner is playing along than when she’s trying to bean you with a cast iron frying pan) bred a hybrid with staying power.

The point here is any time cultures interact they will pull in the aspects of the other culture they like and adapt them for their own use. Any culture we write will have done this in the past, and probably do a whole lot more of it in the future. It doesn’t actually matter in the long run which one conquered the other, if conquest was involved, because ultimately the stuff that works better will get adopted and the stuff that’s in the way will get left behind. Conquest just drives the process a bit faster.

That doesn’t mean we writers have carte blanche to just paste on whatever we think looks cool: that way lies crappy storytelling. If you want your fictional culture to have absurdly large penis sheaths, then you need to have a reason this group would find absurdly large penis sheaths useful. Perhaps they started out as a way to protect the danglies before they’d got the hang of pants (like codpieces) and shirt hems got a bit short. Then they found that in a fight the codpieces became targets so they started padding the things. Then ornamenting them to show they didn’t need to fear getting kicked in the goolies in a street fight. Then things, as they do, progressed, until a well-dressed gentleman wouldn’t be seen dead without a penis sheath so big it had more structural support than his wife’s corset. And ran on wheels so it didn’t get dragged in the mud.

Then culture B started trading with these guys and thought this would make really cool art, and the next thing you know, all the furniture the B folks make is based on tripods. Two legs and a really big dangly.

Okay, it’s a ridiculous argument – but the point is, whatever the heck happens, there was a time when it was a good idea to someone. Possibly a lot of someones. And it’s guaranteed those someones got at least part of their inspiration from someone else. And so on, all the way back to way before there’s any way to document this stuff.

There’s are other words for cultural appropriation, after all. It’s called progress. Or growth. Or adaptation. Or integration. If you don’t like it, you’d best avoid the pot luck next week (because that’s been appropriated from the Alaskan tribes), shed all your clothes (we’re not entirely sure where the idea of clothes came from, but there’s a fair chance our not exactly homo sapiens sapiens cousins had a little something to do with it), and eat only what you can pick or catch with tools you make yourself. Because everything else in your life is there by way of interacting with someone else’s culture. And not interacting with other cultures makes for boring, bland fiction.

The Velveteen Writer

Every month or so I get a pm on facebook, or an email, usually worded something like this:

“I hope you’ll forgive me for disturbing you, but I have written a book, and I would like your advice on how to go about publishing it.”

Sometimes it’s a spouse or a friend who has written a book.  Sometimes it’s three books, or five books, or ten books.

There are several problems with this inquiry, none of which has anything to do with bothering me or with my feelings in the matter.  I don’t in general mind being bothered if I can help, and if it were a simple answer I would just give it. (Requests for me to read either for a blurb or for a critique are more trouble — and I just realized I forgot a request for a blurb from a new Baen author, d*mn it.  I wish they’d keep at it, when they ask.  It tends to get pushed out of my head by work and deadlines, and they think I hated it and never ask again — and the last three years I haven’t been able to do it even for people who are my primary readers and whose primary reader I’ve been for years.  Never mind, that is changing.)

But the problem starts with — if you’re asking about breaking into the traditional publishing market — “Heck if I know.”

Understand, I was first published in 2001, first accepted in 1998, almost 20 years ago now.  Even without the turmoil induced by indie publishing, pod, and various other developments, the main of which is Amazon, the way you “get in” to a house would be changed out of recognition.  Twenty years before I broke in, the way to do it was to send out a lot of proposals or queries to publishers.  In my day that structure technically still existed, but I knew exactly two people bought out of the slush pile in my day: one at TOR and one at Baen. The other houses, the under-editors had the option of reading their slush pile, but since they weren’t paid extra nor given time to do it, what they actually did was switch envelopes and return proposals.

You could also send proposals and outlines to agents, and it was more normal to be accepted that way.  I was accepted by an agent before my manuscript was accepted by a publisher, but those are unrelated.  You see, the first manuscript to get me an agent was Darkship Thieves.  The first manuscript to be published was Ill Met By Moonlight.

My agent back then was a dedicated agent for Del Rey.  Not that she wouldn’t sell to other houses (they all do) but her contacts/interest were at Del Rey. And Del Rey had a moratorium on purchases lasting six months starting about the day the agent accepted me.

So I went to a workshop and pitched a Magical Shakespeare Biography at the editor who taught.  (I had other novels, finished, while that one was a bare outline.  But my other novels were space opera.  So.) And I sold it on outline, two months later.

I suspect sales are still being made through meeting editors at workshops and conventons, but I also do know, from friends that editors are going to fewer workshops and even conventions.

I don’t know if people are still making sales through cold proposals to agents.  The last time a friend got a positive(ish) response was six? years ago.

I suspect there are sales being made through becoming friends (and none intrusive) with agents and publishers on facebook and other social media.  If I were trying that route, I wouldn’t even try to pitch for a year or so.  Without being stalk-erish I’d make friendly and preferably funny or interesting comments on their pages and posts, every now and again: say a couple of times a week.  Then if I could, once they knew me “by sight” I’d either go to a con and meet them in the flesh and hit them with an elevator pitch (and elevator pitch is one that can be said between floors, and is the novel reduced to the highest concept, say “Romeo and Juliet on Mars and they’re both uplifted dolphins.” With the details coming later, when the editor says “tell me more” and forever holding their peace without such encouragement.) or do the same in an extremely brief facebook/whatever pm that would run something like this “Dear so and so, I have been working on a novel that boils down to Romeo and Juliet on a terraformed Mars, and they’re both uplifted dolphins.  Do you know anyone who might be interested in such a property?”

I don’t know if this would work, nor even if it’s the done thing for a very simple reason: I don’t have to do it, nor do I have any however remote connection with it.

Currently, I’m published by one house: Baen.  I have a smaller house to whom I’ve promised a book (it’s run by a friend.)  And other than that?  Well, the other houses wouldn’t take me, given my notorious libertarian (and loud) convictions and my participation in the dastardly Sad Puppy affair.

But even if they had, I would not take them.  I will confess I did propose books to each of the houses after I finished the series I was under contract with them for, after I discovered indie.  But I did that because each of them had right of first refusal, and it was easier to put paid to that clause before moving on.

The fact is that I knew the time would come when I’d open my mouth — keeping it closed was killing me — and also that what I’d been seeing in contracts from houses-not-baen was getting increasingly more alarming.  In fact each of my successive contracts was a little worse, and we were getting well into the realm of signing stupid contracts, which tried to control how many and what kind of books I could write per year, and when my books WITH OTHER HOUSES were coming out. Also, I was following advice from David Drake who had told me to stop doing business with people I couldn’t respect.

So as soon as indie opened up, I decided to step back to a position of greater comfort and more artistic freedom.

Even if I wanted to reenter the lists (I don’t know.  It’s possible, given the kind of property they pay real money for) I wouldn’t go cold calling.  I know agents who would still consider me for something of that size, and I’d just approach one of them.

There are other means to become a traditionally published success, and one of them I became aware of even before indie was a thing.  I’d be on panels with writers who had self-published (which in my time was the kiss of death) and who’d hand-sold two thousand or more of their books, and who got a contract far above what I, with then 20 books traditionally published, could aspire to.

This path to success is still active.  It has been used by none other than Larry Correia, but also by Andy Weir, as well as, earlier, Amanda Hocking.

I suspect it’s still open, and if you take that path the one thing you have to be careful of is selling your birthright for a mess of pottage.  IOW, you’re selling them a known quantity, don’t sell cheap and make sure you have warranties of advertising and pushing, and cover consultation and all the goodies.  Don’t assume you don’t have anything that isn’t very clearly written out.  Particularly with the publishing field the way it is right now, and cuts occurring more or less at random in places no one expects, make sure you have EVERYTHING IN WRITING.

And now that we’ve talked about the option of indie publishing: I can’t really give you a lot about how to do it, though if you hang around here you’ll learn a fair bit.  However, it is an option, it is a path to publication, and it is real.

I have friends who are published indie-only and who are making more than I am, and certainly more than I was making when I’d been published five or six years, as they have.

If making a living, reaching people with your craft and acquiring an audience for your tales is your purpose, indie will do as well or better than traditional publishing.

Sure, at first you will have very few readers, it’s a frightful amount of work, and will cause you to have to learn all sorts of skills, like enough of art to evaluate a cover, and enough of publicity to get word out.But as you work, so will your audience grow.

The key to indie is that you get out of it what you put into it.

But, you’ll say, you want to be traditionally published.  You want the fame, the fortune, the huge audiences, the interviews on TV, the mansion, the secretary and, oh, yeah, to be on shelves in stores from coast to coast.

Well…  we all want that.  (Be fair, I don’t.  TV interviews would be a chore, I have as big a house as I ever wish to have.  I would like an assistant and a cleaning service, I guess.

Your chances of getting it from traditional publishing are about the same as your chances of getting it from indie.  The amount of time required is about the same. You have a bit more control over indie, and a bit more chance to go on store shelves (a diminishing asset to a writer, actually) with traditional.  Six of one half a dozen of the other.

You will not get publicity without work, you will not get promotion without effort and only a very select few (and not by quality of work) get what we call “the easy ride to the top.”   They usually have either a proven sale strategy, a concept that JUST hits with what the editor was looking for, OR friendships within the house.  And the fact is that publishing houses are losing their power.  I’ve now seen three “highly pushed” (how pushed? well, very elaborate graphic adds on every social media, advanced reviews everywhere and an ad in frigging times square) fall flat on their faces.  And the numbers confirm that publishers can no longer “push” a book into the bestseller list, as they could for decades.

Also, because publishing is slower through traditional houses, even a book that they plan to give the full ride to is often — inexplicably — dropped on the floor as conditions change.

But Sarah, you hypocrite, you say, you still publish with Baen.  Yes, I do and there are several reasons for that, none of them monetary (my indie book made me again 50% more than Baen books do.)

Baen has a dedicated fan base.  This means that even if you feel like writing something a little weirder, it will have at least THAT much readership.  Baen has in several occasions saved my bacon by coming through with the mortgage well in advance of my delivering (or even pitching) a book.  And Baen is family, meaning there is a collegiate group of authors on whom I can call for help, support or friendship.  This makes the current somewhat scary turmoil less scary, as it gives me people to take the journey with.

If you’re writing the sort of thing Baen buys, and they show the slightest interest, do give them a try, but remember Baen is still a smallish house, which has a limited number of releases, and a very large slush pile (which they still read.)  Even if your book is very good and their kind of book, it might not fit what they need RIGHT THEN.  (They try for a certain balance between sub-genres, a balance dictated by how those sell, which I don’t have a clear knowledge of.)  Or it might be too similar to something they bought which hasn’t come out yet.  Be prepared to wait one to two years for an answer, and not to be discouraged if you fail.

But as for the rest, I’d encourage you to go indie.  Learn, study, improve, both in craft and in all the other tasks, and go indie with all your heart and soul.  It doesn’t mean you close the traditional route.  These days no one holds a self-published/indie career against you when going traditional.

More importantly, done right (yeah, I know, but I’ve been d*mn sick for about five years) an indie career can have the same reach as traditional.

You don’t need gatekeepers to make you a real writer.  They’re not the blue fairy and you’re not made of velveteen.

If you’re working really hard on being a writer, and if you improve, and learn to do at least some publicity, your audience WILL GROW.  And you’ll be as real a writer as you’ll ever be.

You have my permission.  If anyone asks you how you dare call yourself a real writer, tell them you have Sarah Hoyt’s permission, and if they don’t agree, that’s too bad.

Now go and work.





What happens when your muse hijacks you

I’ll admit it. I’m drawing a blank on what to write this morning. I think part of it is because I’ve been deep in editorial mode the last few days. Another part is I made the mistake of reading an article that continues to equate indie publishing with vanity presses and telling those who would listen that the only way to prove yourself is to make it past the gatekeepers of traditional publishing. So, until I can come up with something that doesn’t involve me getting on my soapbox and screaming profanities — I try not to do that here because it embarrasses Monkey — I’m going to inflict, er, treat you to a snippet from the work that hijacked me last month. It is untitled so far and, as I’ve said before, something of a mash-up of Slay Bells Ring (a romantic suspense) and Skeletons in the Closet(UF/modern fantasy and still unpublished). That’s mainly because it demanded it take place in the same setting as Slay Bells but it has elements of modern fantasy/UF. Oh, and it has a semi-sentient house. There are also character overlaps between the books. And I have no idea how or why this book decided it had to be written, much less by me.

Now, this is the rough draft. There will be changes made, including fixing spellings and punctuation, before the book goes live. Also, the usual cautions apply. This is my work, copyright 2016 by Amanda S. Green.


 It’s never easy going home, especially when you left under less than ideal circumstances. But that’s the situation I found myself in. It might never have happened if it weren’t for my daughter, the light of my life. Four months ago, Ali turned five. A month after that I finally admitted she presented challenges I didn’t know how to deal with. Fortunately, at least in some ways, my mother did know how to handle my special little girl. Like it or not, that meant returning home to Mossy Creek, Texas, smack dab in the middle of the buckle of the Bible belt.

And that made life very interesting for the citizens of Mossy Creek where normal was not something you encountered every day.

So I called my mother, scheduled a leave of absence from work and made our plane reservations. There were a few stops and starts and the trip had been delayed twice. But now our bags were packed and Ali and I were about to walk out the front door. That’s when my pocket started vibrating. Well, to be honest, it was the cell phone in my pocket that started vibrating but you know what I mean. For a moment, I considered ignoring the call. I knew from the ringtone it wasn’t my mother or any of the rest of the family. As far as work and most of my friends knew, Ali and I had already left town. Even so, years of conditioning had my hand digging into my jeans pocket before I realized it.

“Mama, we have to go!” Ali tugged at my free hand, pulling me toward the door.

“Hang on, sweetheart.” I glanced at the display, not recognizing the number. “Go make sure you didn’t leave anything you want to take with you. This won’t take long. I promise.” I waited until she raced toward her bedroom before answering the call. “Hello?”

“Moira Quinn O’Donnell?” a man asked.

“Yes.” A hint of concern fluttered in my stomach. He might have been calling to sell me siding or solar panels or the like but I doubted it. Something about his voice not only sounded serious but official. Besides, he had used my full name, something very few knew.

What can I say? When you grow up with the name Moira and your mother insists on the proper Irish pronunciation and you live in Texas, let’s just say it is easier to go by your middle name, especially if that name is easily pronounced.

“Ms. O’Donnell, my name’s Peter Sanderson. I work with Julianne Grissom.”

My brows knitted into a frown. “What can I do for you, Mr. Sanderson?”

“Ms. O’Donnell, I don’t want to worry you but have you spoken with your mother recently.”

That flutter of concern spiked and I swallowed hard. Whenever someone started a statement with “I don’t want to worry you,” it usually meant there was something to be worried about. If that wasn’t enough, Julianna Grissom and I were friends going back to childhood. If trouble wasn’t brewing, the call would have been from Annie Caldwell. Julianna Grissom was her very professional, all attorney persona. I closed my eyes and counted to ten. Then I looked toward the hallway, making sure Ali was still safely in her room. Whatever was going on, I most definitely did not want her involved.

“I spoke with her two days ago. Why?”

“Ma’am, Ms. Grissom asked me to check with you. We don’t know any of the particulars, only that the Sheriff’s Department attempted to do a welfare check on your mother after she failed to meet friends yesterday. While there is no evidence of foul play or, to be perfectly honest, of anything being wrong, they haven’t been able to make entry into the house to be sure.”

I closed my eyes and breathed deeply. I had a pretty good idea why the deputies hadn’t been able to enter the house. Unless I was badly mistaken, they hadn’t even been able to enter the yard. That was just one of the reasons why I had moved to Montana more than ten years ago. In Mossy Creek, when someone said you lived on the wrong side of the tracks, they weren’t talking about your financial status or social standing. Far from it, in fact. Life in Mossy Creek had been different from the day the town was founded. Mundane mixed with supernatural and, well, my mother might not be Serena Duchamp but she had been known to cast more than a spell or two.

Then there was the house. I swear it is more alive than a lot of folks I could name. If it did not want to let someone in, nothing, not even a battering ram, would get the doors open. The only thing keeping me from panicking was the belief the house would not keep help out if my mother needed it. Me, it never hesitated to try to lock me out. But Mama belonged there and it would protect her.

At least I hoped it would.

“What can I do?” I asked.

“Ms. Grissom said you were coming to town today. Is that still your plan?” Sanderson asked.

“It is.” I glanced at my watch. Ali and I were going to have to hurry if we wanted to make our flight. “Assuming no problems with our connecting flight, my daughter and I should be in town by five.”

“With your permission, I will let the sheriff know. Ms. Grissom would like you to stop by the office when you get here. Hopefully, we will know more by then.”

“All right.” She thought for a moment. “Have you checked with either my sister or my brother to see if they have heard from our mother?”

“They are my next calls, ma’am.”

“All right. Tell Ms. Grissom I will give her a head’s up when I reach Dallas.” I did not wait for him to respond. Instead, I ended the call and stuffed the cell phone back into my pocket. I had a bad feeling in the pit of my stomach but there was nothing I could do about it, at least not until I reached Mossy Creek. But it did necessitate a slight change in what I packed and in my plans not to check a suitcase.

“Ali, you about ready?” I called from my bedroom as I knelt just inside my closet. There, bolted to the floor was a safe. Inside were my service weapon, several other handguns along with my badge, ID and a few other items. Blowing out a breath, I retrieved an HK .45, pancake holster, ammo and my badge and ID. “Ali?” I repeated as I secured everything in a small, hard-sided case and then dropped it inside my bag that now would have to be checked.

“Mama, can I take Ruffles?” She stood in the doorway, a battered teddy bear almost as big as her in her arms.

“No, baby. Not this time. Why don’t you take Freckles instead?” I asked, referring to a smaller but equally beloved teddy bear.

“Okay.” She grinned and raced back to her room.

Five minutes later, we pulled out of the driveway and I did my best to put Sanderson’s call out of my mind. This was Ali’s first plane ride and I knew she was excited. The last thing I wanted was to worry her. After all, as far as she knew, this was a fun trip to see her grandma. She did not need to know that grandma had apparently gone missing and we might not be able to get into the house because it didn’t like me.

Heaven help me, how was I going to explain the house, not to mention everything else, to a five-year-old?


As for the book I’m supposed to be finishing, Dagger of Elanna, I am. One thing this hijacking did was it let me come back to Dagger with a fresh set of eyes. I figured out what was hanging me up in the book and have pushed forward. Hopefully, I will have it finished in another three weeks or so. In the meantime, check out the first book in that series, Sword of Arelion (Sword of the Gods Book 1).


I see in today’s paper that Australian research identifies me as a ‘slogger’ – a bloke who would like to work less but needs the money. And there I thought I was just a lazy beggar who would like to fish a bit more often.

The interesting part to their whole schpiel – which didn’t make a whole lot of sense to me, because I am not a pigeon and they have a desperate need to put everyone in pigeon-holes – was that it seemed to hinge aspiration and reward… and that it was plainly very, very viewpoint orientated.

According to them, I would be less well socially connected, and less adept at it than any other group. Now I’m no Kim Kardashian (just in case you failed to notice the beard) and I’m a failure at twittering my every moment and movement (including bowel, or, after alphabet soup, vowel). But I have if anything too good an actual social life and chat to too many people the book-of-faces.

I’m a writer, I like to watch, to listen, to study people, to think about what they say, and why they say it. This means I can better grasp what a character – who is vastly different to me in every imaginable way, and possibly some I would rather not imagine – would plausibly react in the bloody awful mess I put them in my books. I am kind like that. I mean, here I am playing god, I could at least have them win the Lotto, meet Mr or Miss Right, and live happily ever after with a large library and enough Chateau Lar Feet (as this is Dave Freer writing, not something common like Chateau Lafite) and Magret de Canard with a black cherry reduction, to at least die happy. Nooo, instead I put them in awful positions (some not even in Kama Sutra) facing certain death, usually sober and before dinner. Yes, I am a miserable bastard. Being one is a tough job, but someone has to do it.

Of course, tough jobs are supposed to pay well (which would put me on the wrong side of the pigeon-hole margin). Sadly, no one else seems to think it a tough job (one of these point-of-view things I alluded to). In terms of aspiration, however, I’ve never come across an author who didn’t aspire to being rich and successful. I’ve met an awful lot who aspire to be Castle on TV – rich famous and living the good life without all the tedium of actually writing. I’ve met others – and I’d put myself among them, who would do the job if they didn’t get to write, and fair number who could certainly have been richer than an author is likely to be, if they’d chosen a different path. Some of them even realized that before they went down the writer’s path.

Now, sloggers (according to pigeon-holers) work because they must, and don’t earn much, or ever hope to earn much. Yet… all novelists, for at least for a substantive part of their job are literally sloggers. Producing a book (let alone a career as an author) is a long-haul process. And part of any long haul process is sheer dogged determination – or plain old-fashioned slog (unless you are Castle, and that only happens on TV.) Even if somehow you do make every ounce of writing your twentieth novel a thing of joy (and yes, I manage to end up loving my books, even those I wished I had never agreed to write), there is still editing and proofs, and then inserting the proof corrections.

And even those of us who love the writing itself are faced with horrible parts of it. For me the most difficult is writing the ‘links’ between the scenes which I have to make sure maintain continuity – usually complex – and yet must be short, clean… and the reader is barely aware of. There is always a resentful part of my mind that says ‘I am working my butt off to make this slick, clear… and virtually invisible. You would only know it existed at all (if I have done it well) if it wasn’t there. Like the servant who actually did the cleaning in the society hostess’s home (and listens to her being praised for it), there is a degree of resentment that my hardest and, IMO some of my best work is something that is only good if no one knows I’ve done it.

The times of sheer dogged slogging is an unavoidable fact of life for 99.99998% of any author who makes a career out of it. You just can’t let it show in your writing, because your readers are paying you for tedious attention to detail in your work, not for tedium in their entertainment.

Like my laziness… it’s a question of perspective and perception. I’m not much good at just sit-and-do nothing. Hell for me would be sunbathing. I do work long hours, but I have slowed down from 5 hours sleep a night – which is when I wasn’t being lazy. I’ve actually got a rigid system of self-bribery and corruption worked into a structured calendar, word counts – which have timed ‘rewards’ of checking facebook, or working in the garden, or going fishing – yes, I really do book the hours, and even try to enforce some reading, research and even free time. I’m not very good at the latter, but there is a point where you’re either staring at the screen or writing crap you will delete. It is, compared to most office workers, terribly regimented and disciplined – and the boss watches every damn thing I do.

Of course to the reader who is waiting for the next book I’m also a useless, lazy scut who never gets around to it.

So: as usual this is all about writing and technique. And as usual I have been trying to do what I am informed is wicked colonial imperialism – showing not telling. If that’s wicked imperialism, bring it on, I reckon, because it works for readers. ‘Wicked’ is a point of view issue too. What I was trying to explain is a layer of complexity that many writers never quite grasp.

At the bottom end characters are WYSIYG (what you see is what you get) which is lovely when translating e-books, but a bit weak as a character. The character is as they are portrayed – both in how they see themselves, and, identically as they are seen by anyone else. IE. Joe is a hard-working, clever, kind man. That’s how Joe sees himself, and how other characters see Joe. That is also how the readers see Joe. And oddly, comments like ‘unrealistic/ dull/poor/one-dimensional characters’ will creep into the reviews. That may be true, but I have often found this really is an inability to express something the reader is aware of without grasping quite what causes the disconnect.

The disconnect is of course, that what the character perceives themselves as – from their own point of view – is never what others see them as. Many writers manage this reasonably well. Joe sees himself as a hard-working, clever, kind man. Mary (another character) sees him as lazy, dim-witted, and un-feeling.

This is real life. Listen to any dispute and you may think that the two principals are describing a separate set of events. Divorce cases, doubly so. And when you get down to poltics… Well, looking at it from Australia, ardent Donald Trump and Hillary Clinton’s supporters plainly live in widely separated alternate universes which branched off from each other just after there first was light.

Dispassionately, and from neither point of view… exists another real story entirely, with more or less elements from both and things which are in neither viewpoint. Just so with the story in the READER’S head. This is the stage which great authors get to. They understand that they’re working with each character’s perception of themselves, and the other (often multiple) character’s perception of themselves AND of the other characters. All of this adds up to the author carrying his or authorial perception of the character to the reader. Joe sees himself as a hard-working, clever, kind man. Mary sees him as lazy, dim-witted, and un-feeling. Mary sees herself as not popular, and unhappy about this, and far brighter than Joe. Joe sees Mary as happy, loving and understanding, and not too bright. Both of their actions and responses are shaped by own perceptions… and by reality (in this case, authorial reality) The clever author manages to carry through the ‘reality’ that Mary doesn’t care for Joe, but wants to be liked, and is manipulating his feelings. She’s not actually as bright as she thinks she is, or she would realize that her un-lovable-ness isn’t how Joe sees her. But she’s brighter than Joe think she is. Joe, on the hand is hard-working, none-too-bright, but is actually kind.

It’s a multi-dimensional maze, which the reader SHOULD be unaware of as they’re led through. It’s a slog, getting it right, because to do so you will have to enter (at least) three different head-spaces.

This is why head-hopping is a poor idea. It confuses most authors, and that in turn confuses most readers. That is why the discipline exists, not for its own sake.

Of course, it’s never that simple. The ‘authorial’ head-space will quite possibly be not quite the way the reader sees it. When I was writing JOY COMETH WITH THE MORNING I wrote the book from a single point of view (hers) but made it clear by the responses of the other characters to her, that her perspective was not theirs, and that they saw her quite differently – and of course, I as the author saw all of them quite differently.

What I should have been prepared for… but wasn’t, was the range of very different ways readers saw her.

It’s a complex web we weave.

But we set out to deceive.

That’s why it is called ‘fiction.’

Welcome to Schedule C

Or, business advice for the indie writer. Note: this is US-specific, as I don’t file taxes anywhere else in the world. Check your local laws for the specifics that apply to you; they may vary wildly.

You’ll hear a lot “save your receipts” before you start filing indie pub income (or trad pub advances) under the self-employment taxes. However, there’s a lot more to your spending and saving than just filing receipts. fortunately, we have a handy guide as to when, where, how, and why, called Schedule C.

IRS form here:
Schedule C instructions here:

No, it’s not as simple as it looks at first, yes, consult with your accountant. This is only intended to be the rough overview so you understand what your accountant is trying to tell you, instead of learning in billable time. By the way, you are keeping a spreadsheet of all your expenses and the deductible category, yes? Because if you don’t, then you’re paying the accountant at his rates to go through all your paper receipts and compile one. Save your money! Know what you’re spending and where!

Scroll past that rental income, down to the Income (Line 1). Check with your accountant on whether the income received from Amazon counts as royalties, despite all of us always calling it royalties. That said, if you know roughly what you made, this is a good place to start running rough numbers. The most applicable:

8. Advertising – How much did you spend on Bookbub, Ebooksoda, SEO ads, etc. promoting your book(s) over the year? Yes, every time you pay money to a promo site, you need to a.) print out the receipt and note when, who, how much, and why – advertising – on it, and b.) enter that in a spreadsheet. See also the receipts for bookmarks, postcards, business cards, and other swag given away at cons and fairs, banners for signing tables, etc.

9. Auto and travel (see instructions) Mileage to cons where you promoted your books count. Mileage on travel for research may count. Check carefully!

10. Commissions and fees – this is where you put the expenses you paid people. (Graphic Designer, Commissioned Artist, etc.) Note – your IP lawyer and accountant have their own line!

13. Depreciation – if you have a large expense, you don’t necessarily deduct it all in one year.
Equipment, like buying a treadmill desk, or the company buying a vehicle to cart your booth between cons, can have the expense spread out over several years. This means you can use the expense against taxes in future years when you’re making enough money it matters, instead of having it drop you below a threshold you were already below this year. Check with your accountant for when this is a good idea, or must be applied.

17. Legal and Professional Fees – Yes, your accountant’s bill, and the IP Lawyer’s bill, are deductible expenses.

18. Office expenses (see instructions) – Office supplies and postage. If you’re stocking up on cheap notebooks and office supplies during back to school sales, you’ll want to make sure they’re on a separate receipt from your groceries, or separately total out the office expenses on the receipt.

20. Rent or lease – including if you rent an office. For home offices, google “home office deduction”, because that’s its own creature, and complex.

22. Supplies – trickier than it looks; this is “supplies consumed in this tax year”, not “supplies bought this tax year.” Can include books for research & equipment if used within the years – but if the use extends substantially beyond the year (new computer), it goes into a different, depreciation-taking line.

23. Taxes and licenses. Are you in a crazy suburbia where they want to charge you a business tax or fee for a home office? Do you need a business license every year in the state you incorporated? This is where you report those amounts paid.

24. Travel, meals, and entertainment – this is why you want the bill, and you want to write on the back of the receipt who you had the meal with, and why. Because sometimes it’s deductible, sometimes not. Check the instructions.

27. Other expenses – did you spend money in ways not covered above? Check with your accountant if it can go here!

The simple explanation is: The government will do its level best to take all the money you made in a year, and leave you destitute while it spends more profligately than drunken sailors (drunken sailors stop when they’re broke. Our government, not so much!) However, it recognizes that if it takes everything you made, you’re going to immediately go bankrupt because you’ve had to spend money to pay the bills. So it’s trying to take all the money you made except what’s already spent, in a tug-of-war between wanting strip you of every cent and recognizing that bankrupt businesses don’t make more money that they can legally steal to blow on vote-buying, enforcing idiotic regulations, expanding bureaucracies, lavish parties, and kickbacks to fellow travelers.

Therefore, you as a business owner, wanting to actually keep some of that money you’re making, need to carefully track every cent you spend. Then, find the best way to pay for it with pre-tax dollars so your remaining income looks pitifully small and not worth taking. You know, so you can spend it on things like food! Food is good. If you want food, track your expenses, save your receipts, and deduct everything you can. Check with your accountant more often than just filing time, and learn what he can do to help you help yourself!

And now, for some books to amuse, inform, and entertain:
If you want to get some valuable advice on the balance of being an artist/author, a marketer, and a businessperson, MCA Hogarth has collected her Three Jaguars business cartoons into a print book. Not only good advice, it also has moments of hilarity, and a paintbrush-proof mug!

Get it here!

or, if you want to run away and do something bright and cheerful and not at all related to business after this post, here’s one of her colouring books for adults.

Hearts, stars, unicorns, dragons and honey badgers, velociraptors drifting in space… shiny!

Well, Hello

It’s Saturday, isn’t it?

I am in the throes of con prep. Not for myself as an author – today, I go as Mom. I’ll be in the shadow of two teens doing their first cosplay, and they are about as excited as you can imagine – practically vibrating. They have been prepping all week, since they first realized they were going. With my schedule, I’ve been helping a bit here and there, but it’s mostly closet cosplay. In the long run, I’m sure they will want to up their game, but hopefully today we’ll meet some like-minded cosplayers who can help them more than I!

We were looking at the panels at the con, which are not many. Comic cons, it seems, are not the same as Lit cons. There was one on Geek Feminism, and I jokingly told them they couldn’t go to it – and I wouldn’t cross it’s threshold! My girls both made disgusted noises. They don’t identify as feminists, they informed me. Feminists are ridiculously over the top. Oh, good…

But this should be a fun outing. The shared joy of the young ones meeting like-minded geeks is always a delight, and while one of them has been to a con (LibertyCon, in fact) she informed me the other day that it wasn’t her con, so it didn’t count. It has me thinking about my first con. It wasn’t LibertyCon, but a warm-up for that family reunion of sorts, which I was very excited for. I went to Boskone, by myself, which was difficult (for reasons), and met up with friends, and had a lovely time, all in all. The girls don’t have friends to meet, but I suspect we will come home with new ones made.

This is, after all, the point of cons, is it not? For the fans of the nerdy to meet and greet, exchange their passions, and come away refreshed and joyful from the exchange. After the last few years being drawn into the whole sordid mess of the Hugos, I’m delighted to be granted a second chance. A chance to see the younger generation, unaware of the absurdity of their elders, mingling and enjoying themselves.

I’ll report back later! Sorry this is so short, but I have to go do a bit of body painting (arms, legs and face! LOL)