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In one of my rare breaks from the keyboard yesterday, I went wandering around the internet in search of inspiration for today’s post. I’ll be honest. I thought the search would be fruitless. Why? Because so much digital space was being wasted on conspiracy theories about Envelope-gate from the Oscars or more screaming about politics. Then, there it was. A story that had me looking at my screen, looking away and then looking back, sure I wasn’t reading what I thought I did.

Nope. I read it right. After beating my head, figuratively at least, against my desk, I put the link in a private writer’s group I belong to and waited to see if they had the same reaction I did. It didn’t take long for the responses to roll in and they were all about the same as my own. Imagine a group cry of “WTF?!?” going up, followed by shaking of heads and chuckling and then each of us shuffling back to our keyboards to get back to work.

What, pray tell, caused such a reaction, you ask. The answer is simple. This article chastises indie authors for writing too much, too fast. The author of the article is Michael Cristiano who works in editing and acquisitions for Curiosity Quills Press.

As I started reading his post, I had a feeling I wasn’t going to like what he had to say. After all, when someone begins with “I’ve been a little wary of the potential backlash I might face,” you get the impression that he is either going to strike right at the heart of some sacred screed of writing or he’s about to go political. When that is followed by admitting there is no one right way to write, that everyone’s process is different but. . . well, he just foreshadowed how he is going to begin telling us that there is a rule we must all follow and it is his rule.

Guess what that rule is?

We, as indies, are to slow down.

Wait, let me do that the way he had it in the post. We are to SLOW DOWN!

Today in the publishing industry, especially in the indie-author market, quantity is king. I’m not saying that quality isn’t being taken into account, because to some extent it probably is, but there is a new mantra for indie authors like myself: write a lot and publish as often as possible. That means that some authors are publishing three or more novels a year, sometimes as many as ten novels a year.

That one statement is enough to justify the author’s concern that he would take flak for the post. As he should. The chutzpah of assuming to know what drives the indie movement is mind-boggling. I don’t know any indie author who takes their work seriously, who has pride in what they do, who is more concerned with how often they click the publish button more than they are about putting out the best product possible.

Are there exceptions? Of course there are. But they are, pardon the pun, the exceptions and not the rule. But let’s continue.

Apparently, according to the OP, publishing three or more novels a year is a bad thing. Hmmm. Wanders over to Amazon to check my author page. I published three novels, a short novel of approximately 40k words and two short stories, both of which were between 10k -20k words. I guess that makes me a bad author because I write too fast. Funny thing, I have folks who are constantly asking me why I don’t write faster because they want to read the next entry in of series or another. Does that make them bad readers?

Okay, second amendment (and I’ll be generous): I judge authors who release three or more books within a year ESPECIALLY if the three books are not part of the same series.

Wait, what?

So, here is an author who begins his post by telling us there is no one correct way to right who is now telling us there is? Bad Amanda, you have now broken two of his rules. You put out three or more books in a single year and — gasp — they weren’t part of the same series. Oh woe is me. What am I ever to do? I know. I’ll tell the readers of the Honor and Ashes series, as well as the Nocturnal Lives series and Eerie Side of the Tracks series that they are going to have to wait at least another year or three for the next book in their favorite series while I finish the Sword of the Gods series. I’m sure they’ll understand and wait patiently for me to get around to writing the books they like. Oh, and I’m sure they won’t forget about the series at all as they wait years and years for the next book to come out.

NOT!

I don’t know the OP’s writing process any more than I know that of any other writer except, perhaps Sarah’s and Kate’s because we tend to bounce ideas off one another. For me, I need to step away from a series after writing a novel and, perhaps, a short story, for a while. By doing so, it lets me get a clearer perspective on what the plot for the next entry in the series should be. Yes, I could do that by simply not writing anything else for several months after publishing the latest book in the series but I’m a writer. I make my living writing. If I spend months not writing, I am not doing anything tangible to increase my income. So, instead of sitting around, twiddling my thumbs until my head is ready to wrap itself back around the next book in a particular series, I move on to something else, something different form what I just spent the last few months researching, writing, editing, formatting and then publishing.

I’m sorry: a writing career shouldn’t be a puppy mill of stream-of-consciousness vanity projects.

Wow. Condescending much? Even giving him the benefit of the doubt and assuming that by “stream-of-consciousness” he means pantsing — and I don’t think he does — the “vanity projects” kills me. But it gets better.

I just don’t see how anyone has the time to publish more than three novels a year AND maintain consistent literary quality.

So, because Mr. Expert here can’t figure out how to do it, none of the rest of us can either. And remember, he started out by saying there are no two processes that are the same and no one “right” way to write. I guess that’s right, as long as you also accept his exceptions to those two rules.

He has a series of questions about how long you spend writing, how many drafts you write, how long you edit, etc. Then he comes up with this little gem.

Sure, if you’re a full-time writer and you have a really quick team of beta-reader/editor-robots, you could have a really good, polished manuscript in a year. Eight months if you’re lucky.

Now, show of hands. How many of you are laughing hysterically at this point? For one, I have this vision of robots sitting at desks, red pencils in hand, editing.

What the OP is forgetting is — gee, I think I mentioned this earlier — that no writer has the same process as the next writer. We write at different speeds and in different manners. Some of us are pantsers — hi, Kate! — and others are plotters. Some do a bit of both. Some authors put out a rough draft that is publishable with very little content editing needed — hi, Sarah! — and just a bit of proofing. Not every author needs to do three or four or six rough drafts.

Also, the more you write, the more you study the craft, the better you get. When I started out, I was lucky to get a book out a year. Why? Part of it was confidence. Part was that I needed heavier structural editing than I do now. Part was I couldn’t let go of a manuscript and wound up editing the life out of it. Ask Sarah. She got to the point of threatening to publish my work and then tell me about it because I was doing so many editorial passes.

So, where’s the sweet spot? How many novels should you release a year in order to ensure highest quality? I don’t know, frankly.

Wow, after telling us for how many hundreds of words that he knew and if we were releasing more than two or, at most, three books a year we were doing it wrong, he now says he doesn’t know? Surely there’s a catch. Ah, there is. You see, according to him, a book is like good wine or cheese. It has to age. So, if you haven’t taken enough time — whatever that means — you aren’t putting out the quality of work he wants.

Too bad he judges by the number of books an author releases and not by, gosh, actually reading the book. But I guess he’s afraid he might get the equivalent of moldy cheese and he doesn’t want to ruin his literary palate.

I will admit he is right on one thing. You shouldn’t release novel after novel just to inflate the number of titles you have out there. But to say it is nigh on impossible to produce quality work more than once or twice a year is to insult every indie author — and traditionally published author — out there who does just that.

I assure you, I will continue putting out more than one or two books a year, real life willing, as long as I am satisfied with the quality of the work. I will work on more than one series at a time because that helps keep it all fresh for me. Unlike the OP, I am a working writer, like so many of you. This is how I make my living. I don’t have the time to go backpacking around the world — or the spare cash to do it. So I write. As long as I have people out there wanting to read my work, I will continue doing so.

And so should you. Write at your own speed. Use your own process, as long as it works for you. And ignore everyone who tells you you are doing it wrong just because it isn’t the way they do things.

***

And, just to show I am doing it my own way, linked below is the pre-order page for the second book in the Sword of the Gods series. The first book, Sword of Arelion (Sword of the Gods Book 1), is currently available for purchase.

Dagger of Elanna (Sword of the Gods Book 2)

Publication date – March 15.

Plots form, betrayals are planned and war nears.

Cait Hawkener has come to accept she might never remember her life before that terrible morning almost two years ago when she woke in the slavers’ camp. That life is now behind her, thanks to Fallon Mevarel and the Order of Arelion. Now a member of the Order, Cait has pledged her life to making sure no one else falls victim as she did.

But danger once more grows, not only for Cait but to those she calls friends. Evil no longer hides in the shadows and conspirators grow bold as they move against the Order and those who look to it for protection. When Cait accepts the call to go to the aid of one of the Order’s allies, she does not know she is walking into the middle of conspiracy and betrayal, the roots of which might help answer some of the questions about her own past.

The illusion of reality.

That’s kind of what fiction is, isn’t it? Only the author gets to say ‘My reality came in a bigger glass! And it was brim-full!’

And if he or she is any good, they make it so, at least for the duration of the book, and, just every now and again, with knock-ons through life. I have to wonder how much Jack Vance’s BLUE WORLD (the first sf book I read) shaped me, let alone my fiction. I mean, it’s a book about living on what essentially are islands (made of floating weed), where an obstinate (and sometimes not too bright) hero solves problems and builds things.

No similarities there at all, right?

And there’s nothing in the fact that it’s good satire about perspective: The people living on the floats consider themselves upright, moral and good, and are organised into guilds (with great pride in membership) named after the professions of the original survivors of the star-ship crash that marooned them there…

The reader gradually realizes it was a prison ship. And yes, ALL of the guilds’ founders claimed obsessively to be fine, upright and innocent people – which might indeed describe some of their descendants, trying to live up to that ‘saintliness’.

Generating that illusion is of course the skill that sets the popular author apart from the Chavez award winners. It’s a skill, part of the craft of writing, which one can have innately – or learn to do. The good news is learning does improve anyone’s writing. The bad news is some people will still probably be better at it than you.

A big part of this is writing believable characters – people who behave like real people, fill the roles of real people within the setting you create. This is difficult if you’re playing ‘insert the correct PC tokens’ because most readers who live in the real world struggle to accept an illusion that in no way mirrors their reality.

I have found two things make or break character. Firstly, motivation. If a character responds consistently to circumstances in the way the character you have built plausibly would – that is natural and so un-noticed that it is right. If your gung ho action man hero suddenly has a three page fit of angst about whether he’s offended someone, or your fainting violet who spends hours in angst about whether to have Chamomile tea or Earl Grey suddenly displays the capacity for unthinking action… well, you better foreshadow a split personality.

Secondly, consistent and recognizable patterns of dialogue. I’d hold Mary Ryan – Tim’s Grandmother, in CHANGELING’S ISLAND as one of my better efforts at that.

(the picture is a link) BTW the paperback of CHANGELING’S ISLAND is being released on the 28th. I’m sure you saw the publicity guys at Baen letting all of you and the world know. Read the many pieces in the blog tour they organized and took advantage of the pre-order bookbub specials etc… which would be a surprise to me. (Sigh). One day publishers may learn, but the above is an example of ‘out of character’ behavior, which would break the illusion for the reader (at least the reader who is a writer).

Another useful technique used by such masters as Tim Powers and Neil Gaiman (Gaiman is not one of my favorites but he’s good at this) is the foundation – in fiction – of successfully writing ‘secret histories’ is using part of the real truth. A selective part which gives veracity. In my opinion no-one does better than Tim Powers in ‘The Anubis Gates’. You KNOW you’re being swept along for the ride, but he’s good at it.

It’s a common feature of modern journalism: take elements that are obviously plainly true, leave out the bits that would spoil the spin you want to put on the individuals, and apply bias particularly in ways at least some of your audience are likely to want to believe. The attack on Milo Yanniopolous was a masterclass in this. It is long-term destructive if you’re supposedly writing fact, not fiction, but it is very useful for suspending disbelief in fiction. If you’re writing fiction and want to suspend disbelief it’s particularly instructive to see how the background was crafted.

It was no use having its source as a left wing website: the left has been trying to ‘normalize’ pre-pubescent paedophilia for generations, let alone post-pubescent sex. In sf – Delany has been a darling of theirs, the activities of Breen were well-known, and they tried to whitewash Marion Zimmer Bradley back into favor. They love Polanski and adore Dunham. It’s the right and center who regard it with disgust. A left-source of the carefully selectively edited material would have been treated with the disdain that the left wing would have treated right wing evidence of Hillary Clinton breaking security regulations or laughing at getting a rapist to walk free. So: they faked a right wing site… And of course there are parts of the US right (I believe that neo-Nazi fellow was delighted by it) eager to believe the worst of a flamboyant homosexual, from that sort of source.

I’m mostly dis-interested, except in the ‘when they came for the Jews I said nothing, because I was not a Jew’ sense. I’ve got a short called ‘BOYS’ (which is actually about topology, but I daresay it could be selectively edited from maths to under-age sex by cutting and re-arranging the words or the letters.) I suspect it’ll all work out just as well as their attempts to de-platform Vox Day or President Donald Trump.

Which leads back to using this in writing fiction – when working on building that framework of pseudo-reality, you have to consider what your audience could believe, AND who they could believe it from. Fortunately, people do accept our work to be fiction, and are usually willing to help us along.

Talking of fiction – I had a free giveaway with my newsletter, which is now up for sale (broad hint, I will be doing this sort of thing again. Signing up has advantages for people who like my writing). As usual the picture is a link.

What do you do when things are going well?

Do you have a plan for extra money coming in above monthly budgeted expenses?

…wait, what?…

Yes, you need a plan for that. You see, freelancers don’t have a steady paycheck. There will likely be months without income. There will definitely be months with less income than your expenses. If they go on for three, four months – the infamous summer slump – or even longer, like when the nation is dealing with election drama and the fall rebound never comes – can you cope?

Part of coping is having a plan for the good times, before they arrive. Note that even in one of our oldest stories, Joseph had to start building granaries for the seven good years before the first harvest came in, so he had enough storage when the land was producing to set aside food for the seven famine years.

What should your plan look like? Well, first, do treat yourself to something nice – otherwise you’re going to feel deprived. So a nice dinner to celebrate Royalty Check Day, or that pair of boots you’ve been wanting. But after that, rebuild your cash cushion and reduce your expenses. What do I mean by that?

Fill your gas tank.

Pay your quarterly taxes.

Pay off your car.

Pay off your credit cards.

Pay off your house.

When a friend quit smoking, she was living on a ramen & rice budget – and every time she found she had enough money to buy a pack of cigarettes, she went to the gas station and put that money into the gas tank instead. Pretty soon, she was no longer permanently worried about running out of gas on the way to and from work, because it was always at a half tank or above. Then she started paying off the overdue bills – and the lack of worry, the knowing she could make it to work, and that she wasn’t going to get the power shut off again, was enough to practically make her into a zen master compared to where she was before. You ever meet someone who was calmer and happier when they were going through withdrawal?

As a freelancer, you need to have the same mindset. If you have extra money, put it somewhere that will cause you less worry in the long run. Paying your quarterly taxes is pretty high on that list, because if you don’t do it when you’re flush with cash, how are you going to manage later? Second, pay your bills. Third, pay off the things that demand money every month – because those are the things that will hurt the most on months when you don’t have enough money coming in. If your car is paid for, then you don’t have to worry about repo; if your house is paid for, then you don’t have to worry about eviction or foreclosure.

(One caveat: if you’re planning to move within 3 years, don’t sink it into the house. Rule of thumb: you’ll lose 1% of the value of the house when you sell, and another 1% of the value of the house when you buy. Because fixing a place to sell, and fixing the little things on the house after you buy one, costs money. Keep that cash in a separate account that you call “New House”, so it’s available to make buying and moving easier.)

Now, obviously this can’t cover every person’s life. If you were forced freelance before you had 6 months cash cushion, “remove worry” may be much more immediate. Have you been limping by on tires so bare that you can’t see any tread left? Is your spouse putting up with near-blinding pain because you can’t afford a root canal? Are any of your bills coming with an “overdue” stamp on them? Set aside enough to cover the quarterly taxes (so you don’t get hit with the freight train labeled IRS) and take care of your most immediate pain and worry. Use the breathing space to get a couple good nights of sleep, and then tackle the world.

And if you want more good advice, Kris Rusch tackled the same subject Thursday: http://kriswrites.com/2017/02/22/business-musings-writer-finances-versus-the-paycheck-world/

And if you want a bit of an escape from reality, where the good guys triumph and the bad guys get what’s coming to them, try Scaling the Rim. It has action, adventure, romance, and plausible science fiction! What’s not to like?

Cultivating words

Spring is springing, and my thoughts inevitably turn to gardens. I’m not planning on putting one in this year, instead I have assigned the design and creation of a garden to my daughter as a school project. I’ll give her guidance of course. But most of it is going to be up to her.  I’ll give her the information she needs, but the execution of knowledge is more important than simply knowing something. It’s not possible in this era of information overload for her to know everything starting out. She has to learn by doing, making mistakes, and correcting course.

It has gotten me thinking, along with having written a garden onto a spaceship in my latest book, about gardening in general. But that’s not what I came here to talk about today. Rather, it’s a comment one of my alpha readers made while I was working on Tanager’s Fledglings and she was reading along.

I wrote a scene with the main character lamenting his limited potable water supply and how he’d have to wait on a long shower until he reached a station or planet. My alpha reader inserted a comment that it would be very simple to turn his shipboard garden into a giant water filter. I replied that “I know that, and you know that, and he doesn’t know that… Yet.”

It’s hard, as an author, to know all the things, but withhold that from the story until the time is right. In this case, my character has access to the information on how to build what he needs, but it’s never occurred to him to do it that way. It will take an outside influence in the form of another character for him to have that forehead slapping d’uh! Moment.

Because life is like that. To create a believable character, you can’t have them knowing everything. We all have those sudden eureka moments as we figure something out, usually something that should have been blindingly obvious to us in the first place. Now, you don’t want your character to be an idiot about it, either. As I said, it’s hard.

Sometimes we just have to figure things out the hard way. For instance, every writer is different. Some need a secluded room in the house, no interruptions, just a blank desk, a pencil, and a piece of paper. That would drive me nuts, and I know it. So when we moved, a few months back, I set up my big desk and main computer in the common household area. I thought the background noise of kids and the dog playing, easy access to the kitchen while I was cooking, that would help me work.

It turned out I was wrong. I’ve done my best, most prolific days at a table in my bedroom, typing on my laptop, with the door firmly closed between me and my family. I can still hear them, but they aren’t tapping me on the shoulder, wanting to play on my computer, and so forth. This does have some serious drawbacks. It means that I can’t hear the oven timer, and the kids can’t access me instantly which makes them pout.

On the other hand, it’s possible the next book will insist on a different layout. But I don’t think so. I just need to get into the groove. I’ve been cultivating words, researching, thinking about character motivation, trying to decide what’s the overall arc of this book, within the series it is set in… Just like a garden, it’s all about the soil. Build up a great soil, full of rich humus and a bit of sand for drainage…

Which brings me back to the gardens on a ship. Anyone who has ever enjoyed a ripe tomato warm from the sun, or the first strawberry of spring, will wonder about the quality of such raised in space, with no sun, and possibly no soil. Does that gardener know what they are missing? They may know in theory that microbes in the soil contribute far more to successfully gardening than we realize, now (but are starting to learn). They might even have the technology to inoculate their soil with a suite of beneficial microbes, fungus, and invertebrates. But just like in the human body, under the right circumstances those benefits can become opportunistic pathogens, and wreak havoc.

Why yes, I am planning a story where gardening gone awry threatens life itself…

Now, With Added Children!

It’s not my fault. I have littles, and the littlest little (that’d be Wee-er Than Wee Dave Dave, for those keeping track at home) woke up. That wouldn’t sound like an issue, but it’s a delay of at least half of a clock rotation. If you dig on analogue. Which I do. And them there’s the fact that Senior Plague Rat brought something home from Sunday School (I think, coulda been the winter market at which Mrs. Dave hawks the jewelry she makes for fun. Regardless, Wee Dave brought the crud, the crud has been broughten, shared with Junior Plague Rat, and passed on to yours truly. So no Daves slept well last e’en.

Second Coffee come early, and be ‘lert to me.

I love my littles, despite their habit of preventing paying work. They’re adorable, which is a survival mechanism for the small and vexing. And that’s more pleasant than it could be. Also, they generally smell good, which I’m given to understand is some kind of spiffy evolutionary marker. BZ, evolution. Well played, that mechanism.

They’re also helpless, which is useful to you, the writer.

I’m reading through several of Dave Freer’s offerings (I highly recommend Changeling’s Island. Point of fact, I have recommended it, and I’ll be pushing it at pretty much anybody with any interest in reading, young or less young) and a recent scene had a pair of sometime allies worked together to prevent a rather hard-to-kill magical hybrid from re-kidnapping one’s toddler daughter. Two highly skilled swordsmen should have been more than equal to the creature. Would have been. If they hadn’t had a small child to worry about.

Kids are physical complications. They just get in the way. They’re always underfoot, and, especially at certain ages, innocently suicidal. Almost *anything* can hurt or kill an infant. Or a toddler. Really, humans are just fragile. It’s a good thing we heal well, though both of those are subjects for future posts. But the physically immature are worst off. Lousy mobility, terrible coordination, and they all use everything as a dump stat. No strength or dexterity, no constitution worth mentioning, and let us not even speak about their wisdom scores! Kids just get in the way of doing. The littlest one is doing her darnedest to prevent me finishing this post, for example.

They’re always under foot and demanding attention. “Watch this!” “I’m cooking the food you were in tears for not having two seconds ago, Child.” “Yeah, but stop that and watch what I’m doing now! And then play with me!” And Dave’s veins start to throb. Or playing with suburban expedient caltrops in the kitchen. That’s a favorite. A Duplo took a nickel-sized chunk out of a buddy’s foot not that long ago. And then there are the miniature wheeled conveyances.

And they have needs. Changing, feeding, playing. Lots and lots of cuddles. And where does all of that come from? Yes, I hear that voice in the back! It comes out of Dave’s writing time!

And this is just in the mundane setting of the contemporary home. In a less advanced milieu, you have the added adventure of medical danger. Any cough or cold can become a raging fever, which can easily kill in a pre-industrial society. Or in many industrial ones for that matter. A nice stressor to heap on your characters. Good for relational stability, that.

Or suppose your characters are fugitives. Maybe the authorities view them as kidnappers, whatever they or the reader believes. They have a vested interest in staying undiscovered. Well, and has anybody let the child know that? And would a toddler even care? What about a babe-in-arms? How do you convince the tired, cold, angry, hungry, and now damp and souled infant to stop squalling before so the magically equipped tracker doesn’t discover them? Asking for a friend.

On the upside, children can make excellent comic relief. Wee Dave makes some pronouncements that have Mrs. Dave and I rolling. I’m given to understand this is normal. So pit that in your story, too. Is the plot getting a little too thick, with the darkness that makes your reader wonder if the kid is going to make it? Toss in a kids-say-the-darnedest. Maybe a mouthing off to a minor villain moment.

And then there’s the demideus ex machina moments. Characters – and more importantly, author – wracking brains trying to come up with a solution to one problem or the other? Out of the mouths of babes… Seriously, have the kid toss off a line that shines a light in your hero’s foggy thoughts. Great fun, especially if you can then twist it into a plot-advancing failure.

Everything always costs more and takes longer, and such is especially the nature of reality when dealing with children. So complicate your story, and your characters’ lives, and make them responsible for a child. Best way I know of to force them to grow.

The Inadequacy of Silence

I am an author. I’m not a warrior. Sarah has described me as possibly the most conflict-averse person she knows – and she’s not wrong. I do not like fighting and I do not like starting arguments for the sake of it.

There are, however, limits.

You see, as someone who knows what it is to have people lie about you to not only take away any support you might currently have but eliminate any chance that anyone will ever support you, I decided some time back that I will not stand back and allow that to happen to anyone else. Ever.

So when a controversial figure’s book deal is suddenly canceled because of a manufactured furor (not even over the content of the lies used to create that furor because the publisher has printed and supported far worse from those who happen to have not had the howling mobs roused against them) it impacts all of us readers and authors.

For the record, I don’t give a flying fuck what that – or any other author – does in privacy with consenting partners. Even if I would be squicked to high heaven by the details if anyone was crass enough to tell the world. I don’t care what he – or anyone else – believes as long as it’s not being shoved down my throat and nobody is being damaged by it. If I don’t like the author’s behavior or politics I don’t have to buy their books and I certainly don’t have to read them. I am sufficiently mature that I do not see the need for a legion of sensitivity readers to take their works and massage them into bland, tasteless pap.

What I care about is that someone who has – objectively – done not one damn thing wrong is the subject of a coordinated effort to not merely silence him, but disappear him. I’ve seen this happen in the past. It happened to Larry Correia. To Brad Torgersen. I didn’t get the full force of it last year, but instead got the cold shoulder of people doing their best to pretend I’d already been disappeared.

Just because some degenerate prick who wouldn’t know a moral if he trod in one edits over an hour’s video to make it look like an author is endorsing one of the few reliable hot-buttons remaining (mainly because that prick’s fellow army of degenerate pricks have abused the other ones to such an extent people yawn when the old standbys of ‘racist’, ‘sexist’, or anythingelsist get aired) does not mean that a) the degenerate prick in question actually disapproves of said hot-button the way most folk with some notion of morality do; or b) that it is true.

It isn’t.

When people listen to lies like this and swallow them, they become the useful idiots who allow evil to happen.

Consider this: think of the most vile, disgusting book you have ever read. Would you ban it?

I wouldn’t. Let it find its audience and be judged on its merits – or lack thereof. The only time I would argue for something to be taken down is if it is a lie masquerading as truth, and in that scenario I would replace the lie with the truth and let the light of truth show the lie for what it is.

Because if we do not stand up for authors – or anyone else for that matter – when some excrement-laden offal tries to destroy them with lies, sooner or later our silence will be taken for disagreement, and we will be targeted.

Do not blame those who speak out when that day comes. The fault is in those who were silent in the face of evil.

Fractured Mirrors and the Point of Pain

There are many theories of what makes a good book.  The most prevalent/strongest one in our day is the social justice theory.  No, I don’t mean the one propagated by social justice advocates, though they’re linked.

What I mean is that for a long time, what made a book “good” and gave serious people permission to like it was that it had classical references.  That’s how you knew the writer was properly educated and thought deep thoughts.  I think that started in the renaissance and before that it was “books that were good for something” the something being propagating the faith.  Well, things go in cycles.

After WWI put vast cracks in the civilizational confidence of the west and we started doubting our roots, classicism because a mark of being “high class” and high class was, aesthetically and politically right out in the early 20th century.  The trusted men from the best families were responsible for making Europe into a vast abattoir.  Which made literary criticism ripe to fall for the then new and exciting Marxist theory of everything.  (Well, it was actually a theory of economics, one that was disproven by the time it was written, but Marx wasn’t an economist.  However people tend to take one lens and view everything through it, even things it makes no sense to do that with.)

So once again, literature became “good” when it did something “good” in the world, in this case advance change towards the perfect socialist state, just like medieval literature advanced our way to heaven.

I’m not sure this was ever okay, not from a ludic perspective.  Most books informed by this perspective are tiresome, even going back to when they were a new and exciting thing, back in the early to middle last century.  I do understand they were “new” and “exciting” to people who had never read the like, but now, almost a hundred years later, the nostalgie de la boue and the obsessive violating of taboos we no longer hold grows tedious.

And that’s part of the problem, you know? It’s that the only way to keep that kind of preachiness new and fresh is to continuously violate taboos, until you get to the point no sane human being would read these books for pleasure.  And then we get a lot of crap about how we should read them because they’re somehow “good for us.”  I’m sure you can find examples.  Seems like there’s a new one every week.

I know that if you don’t agree with the moral aims of the books they sound beyond tedious, and into the lunatic range.  And then the rate of reading and readers falls.  And then everyone laments.

So, what is a good book?

I don’t know.  I’m a libertarian.  I’ve made a whole career out of telling people I’m staying out of their business.  All I can tell you is what makes a good book to ME.

A serviceable book keeps me entertained for two hours or so while I’m cleaning the house or cooking dinner.  (Sometimes audio books, sometimes “disposable paperbacks” bought for $1 at the thrift store.  Why?)  I call these popcorn books.  I read them in chain, because that’s ALL I do for fun.  That’s my escapism.

These books are fungible, but not … uneeded.  If most of what you do is read for fun, you need a supply of these.  I’ve written books like this (Dipped Stripped and Dead under pen name Elise Hyatt is up on Amazon.)  Some would argue that most books I’ve written are like this, but I’d say that my science fiction, and the shifter fantasy, and maybe even Witchfinder rise above that.  Though I’m not going to break your head if you say they don’t.  I just know what I was aiming for.  Like being unable to watch yourself walk down the street, it’s d*mn hard to evaluate your own books, your own heart’s blood.  For instance, Jane Austen’s own favorite book was Emma, a book that makes me want to sleep and kill things AT THE SAME TIME.

It was brought home to me recently the importance of “writing things that matter”, things that rise above popcorn.  Let’s say that finding out you have a brain tumor (non malignant or at least isolated by virtue of position.  The one thing it affects is my vision, and it might be reason enough to remove it, eventually.  We’re monitoring) and that one of your acquaintances/colleagues has cancer, watching one of the first bloggers you liked die, and watching one of your first mentors (Ed Bryant) die too, all bring home to you the fact that this is passing, and you want to make sure amid the “must dos” and “I’ll write that for money” you want to write something that remains.  Something that is heart’s blood, and will make your voice heard throughout the years, if not centuries.

So, how do you know what that is?

You don’t.  It’s how it hits readers.  Some books I consider popcorn; some books I WROTE as popcorn got me emails from people who said the book had been an anchor and comfort to their dying relative.  Plain Jane, written as a work for hire under a house name, for crying outloud.

You CAN’T tell.  All you can tell is what you feel is a GOOD book TO YOU.  And if it does survive centuries, we will know (though if you will know depends on what you think of life after death, likely.)

Books rise above the average to me when I remember them, think about them, or a phrase comes back to me.  Yesterday it was a sentence from Jim Butcher “You know, lying is not a superpower.”

That’s the first cut.  The book wasn’t FORGETTABLE.

But how do you make it something else, something that resonates and vibrates within you and others?  I don’t know.  I only know me.  I gravitate towards mirrors and the point of pain.

What does that mean?

I was a freakishly big-headed kid (literally, not metaphorically) who spent most of her time with raw sores all over her face, particularly around eyes and mouth, making me look rather like the joker or something out of a horror movie.  I’m forever grateful they went away with the onset of puberty and that they’ve been only on my arms for the great part of twenty years.

I was also a cherished and loved child, and frankly spoiled by dad and his mom.

Going to elementary school was like a betrayal.  I couldn’t figure out why people recoiled from me, and when I figured it out my world shattered, and was never put together again the same.  My perception of self was destroyed, but also my perception of what mattered about me/what the rest of the world saw.

Some would argue that most of my life is informed by that moment.

I hate sucker punches.  I hate it when people are attacked by people they trusted or had reason not to fear, in their place of safety.

I write people whose world has shattered repeatedly.  I write situations that make me question my own principles, and rebuild, over and over again.

Why?  Because in books that’s what stays with me.  Either books that shatter me and put me back together again, or books in which I get the sense the writer did that to himself/herself.

Your mileage may vary.  And I’m not one to tell you what you should do.  Again, made an entire career of not telling people what they should do.

If you’re writing popcorn books, getting paid, and people like them: well done.  You’re making an honest living.  And some of those books you consider fungible might be the lifeline to someone else’s sanity.  You never know.

But for me, when I reach beyond, I reach for the shattered mirror and the pain.  In real life as in fiction, I fight for the person who was suckerpunched by either people or reality, whose world was shattered and who can never fit the shards together quite the same way again.

Maybe that will resonate through the centuries.  Maybe it won’t.  It resonates with me.