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About Those Lost Puppies

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So what happened to Sad Puppies this year?

In a form or another, we’ve been getting this question for months.  I thought I had explained back when I announced I was “leading” it, though I’ll confess by now I expected to have done something more about it.

So, what happened?

Apparently what always happens when I’m supposed to lead: my health goes feral.

At least, thank heavens, this year, it’s not that I know cancer or even the fact I have a small brain tumor (it’s a meningioma, in the membrane that covers the brain, so no, it’s not really affecting me, except for my vision, by pressure, because it’s on top of the vision center.  Fortunately all it does is give me a slight double vision, and I trained for that for much of my undergrad.)  It’s “just” autoimmune.  but I’ve had two long and rather horrible autoimmune bouts, which means things slipped.

On top of which WORK has gone feral.  I need to finish at least five more novels this year (I intended to be at four by now) and that’s for traditional, not counting my indie career.  I’ve also picked up a three-times-a-week columnist gig, and there are other potential jobs in the horizon.  (Man, this ruined career sure is a lot of work.)

If we’d planned to do something different this year, I’d have passed it on to Amanda early.  But since what we’re planning has no defined deadline, as soon as we get it up (eh) in the next couple of months, we’ll be fine.  And we want to make sure we do it right.

So, originally, we’d planned to do nothing, and let Sad Puppies ride into the sunset with Kate’s campaign, which did everything the left claimed to want and yet was still subjected to the same complaints as ever.

But the problem with a decentralized, almost leaderless campaign is that it’s prone to be high jacked, and we realized late last year that if someone didn’t announce then someone who was wholly (really) in the rabid camp was going to take it, and make it sound like the campaigns were always one.

Oh, I know.  With Sad Puppies completely silent, the Puppy Kickers have been enthusiastically blaming us for the Rabid decisions.  Pfui. They’re like a back law firm: Obfuscate, Lie and Project.

But there was no point lending color to this by having a self-proclaimed Sad Puppy leader who’d always been on the periphery, who’s barely competent to carry his own hat in a high wind, and who thinks the whole point is to back the Rabid selections. Yeah.  No.  So I announced.

By the time I announced, I knew we’d be “late” for the Hugos.  Which was fine with me.  VERY fine.

Look, guys, I don’t believe in asking people to do things I won’t do.  Last year I didn’t pay the fee to vote, so I was done after the nomination.  Why?

Because the years before we told people to buy supporting memberships and vote.  We told them that our aesthetics were as valid as the neo-Marxist aesthetics the conventional side of the field sticks to.  Ludic enjoyment of fiction is, arguably, a better way to determine what will survive and be important than the markers of “class” and an excellent education used now.  (Yeah I know.  It’s supposedly all about the downtrodden.  Only it’s not really. It’s about showing off the Neo-Marxist aesthetics taught in the best colleges.  A fad, a passing one, and arguably a stupid one.   I don’t have time to explain the difference of aesthetics here, and hey, I did it last week at another site, so: How Do We Evaluate Art in the Kingdom of the Blind Marxist? And to the idiots who’ll come in and say that’s not Marxist critical theory.  Bah.  Before they climbed up their own ass and slapped the cool-hot (what makes a philosophy hotter than 100 million stinking corpses, after all) Marxist moniker on their involuted crap, they were already evaluating literature according to the Marxist parameters of “making a difference” and “fighting injustice” and “criticizing society.” Which has its roots in the left and in social markers for an excellent education.  It’s like medieval scholars showing off their Catholic Orthodoxy, or well… Or Shakespeare writing a lot of propaganda plays about the Tudors, which even Shakespeare couldn’t turn into anyhting but dross.  Which tells you the long term value of this trend.)

Anyway, we told people if we didn’t participate in the process, we had no reason to protest.  So people did.  We did too.

And the establishment called us names, made unfounded claims of cheating, took our money, threw themselves a really big party and insulted our nominees to boot.

After the Assterisk performance, I planted my feet like a Spanish mule and stuck fast to “I’m not giving you one red cent.  You’ll get no more from me.”

Being there, I couldn’t ask people to throw good money after bad.

Our intention was always to just create a page, in which those who register can post reading recommendations, not just of recent years, but of anything that struck their fancy.  There will be a place where you can say when the book was published and if it’s eligible for an award — and not just a science fiction award — and a link to the award page for people to follow, if so minded.  Yeah, we’ll include the Hugo, but probably with a note saying the award is in the process of self-destructing.

Thing is, I meant to have this up before nominations for the Dragon Award opened.  But on top of the comedy of errors above, our website provider either crashed or was hacked, so while trying to survive auto-immune and meeting more deliveries than UPS, I’ve been trying to get it up and running again.  (My author site is down also.)

So, that’s where we are.  We’ll put it up sometime in the next couple of months, and then Amanda and I will run it, and then Amanda will take over  Or Amanda, Kate and I will continue shepherding it.

When we said this before and pointed out that PARTICULARLY indie books need some place to mention them, we were linked to/lectured by someone one the rabid side, because apparently they already have a site, so we don’t need one of our own.

Tips hat to the right.  Thank you kindly.  But you guys are aware your aesthetics and goals aren’t ours, right?

You just turned Marxist aesthetics on their head, and are judging books by being anti-Marxist and how much they don’t support the neo Marxist idea of justice.  That’s cool and all.  To each his own.  And since, so far, your crazy isn’t being taught in schools, it’s slightly less annoying than the Marxist crazy.

It is still annoying, though, because you’re still judging literary value by whether it fits your (at least as crazy-cakes’ as the Marxists) narrative and your precepts.

Look, the Tudors won, okay?  And yet the Shakespeare plays supporting them, all but Richard III which is good for other reasons, are the worst dogs in his repertoire.

The Sad Puppies stand for literature people ENJOY reading, even if their beliefs are not those of the author.  Also, writing that is not pushing any belief, beyond the natural leaking that happens when an author writes something and puts part of him in the story.

We fully support your right to have the recommendation sites for those who read your catechism and who will enthusiastically love and adore Piers Plowman.  It’s who you are, it’s what you do, and why shouldn’t you have a site for those who think like you?

It’s not however who we are and what we do, nor does it fit our aesthetics.  (Yes, this has all been an aesthetic dispute, even if some sides think it’s politics.)

Your recommendations no more invalidate the need for a site of our own than do the recommendation sites from the left, going into exquisite detail about how “other” the author of some unreadable tome is, and how they have just the right amount of vaginitude and melanin.

So, yeah, there will be a Sad Puppies recommendation site — glowers in the vague direction of servers — soon, and then we’ll refine it and improve it through the years to become a place to find enjoyable reads.  And if people want to use it to find recommendations for awards?  I’ve seen worse hobbies.  One of my ancestors used to put “things” in bottles of alcohol.  Weird plants, snakes, that sort of thing. Voting on awards, at least, does not ruin good alcohol.

And that’s where the Sad Puppies are.  They didn’t run away.  They’re just sleeping in the mud room.  Sooner or later they’ll wake and play.  Until then, you can sit and watch the circus and the monkeys, neither of which belong to us.

Which is a lovely thing, as we all on this site have “ruined” careers to work at, which seem to involve a lot of work and, thank heavens, regular pay checks.

I’ll announce the site here, when it’s up.

We haven’t forgotten

There will be a post later. Check back later this morning. Sorry for the delay.

Success, real and imaginary

“You shift sixteen tons of number one words,

And what do you get?”

Yeah well.

Mostly just older. I’ve largely managed to stay out of debt, possibly because most banks throw up their hands in horror and run away screaming when confronted with the realities of a writer’s income. No really… I’ve seen whole banks galumphing down the streets on fat little legs to escape an importuning writer.

Tch. You don’t believe me? I’m shocked. Go and try it sometime.

In reality this is a pretty good thing, because logically banks didn’t get rich by giving away money, and, while there have been times when a loan might have been very tempting, at least part of my personal success comes down to not giving them the lion’s share of my income, over time. This of course is why authors going Indy benefit – although they lose whatever push and brick-and-mortar exposure a traditional publisher could give. That varies from a great deal, to trivial, and one size does not fit all. Generally only headliners get much support these days, although occasionally a publisher may push a new dahling hard – with mixed success. Once push was all it took. Those days are largely past.

Still, the honest truth is most authors have an erratic and unreliable income, and according to various surveys… it’s pretty rotten. Those who don’t do too badly are either exceptionally lucky, well-connected, or are talented AND work hard. I can’t buy into the idea that we should go back to the time when authors either had money of their own or support (a patron). That excludes so many writers: as readers we’d lose so much. Even in an environment where some authors can make a living (and a few can get rich) the dilettantes and products of patrons (and patreons) will exist. The reality is they put some downward pressure on the earnings of the working-for-a-living writer. We can live with that – but I don’t think we can live with writing becoming only their preserve.

It therefore makes sense to celebrate those successes – otherwise why would battlers even try? (Yes, I know. Because we’re battlers. We can no more not try than we can give up flatulence. Still, encouragement is good.) It also – to me anyway, makes sense that writers should support writers. After all, reading feeds reading, which feeds writing – at least if the readers are enjoying the books and eager to find more. The more variety, surely the more likely it is that any reader will find their form of pleasure. It was the fundamental reason we started MGC. There were many things we wished we’d known and had support with – and we had a common ‘enemy’ – getting published, getting paid, reaching readers. I’ve put thousands of hours in MGC, which has a relatively small audience, as is natural as it is really a writers’ site. I’d do it for one person, so the size of that audience is not that relevant to me. It’s been personally rewarding for me to see some of our followers making a great success out there. It’s kind of cool to think we had a small part in that, even if most of it comes down their talent and work.

Now, of course there are quite a lot of people who barely manage to think from A to B let alone A to C (and beyond). Somewhat to my shock some of these are writers – which must make plotting and characters… difficult. To no one’s surprise Traditional Publishing and most of its associates and hangers-on often seem to have trouble getting as A to B, let alone further. This results in their trying hard to reduce the competition, instead trying harder to compete.

Think of it as a club for the express purpose of meeting potential marriageable partners back in yesteryear, when this sort of thing was common, with drinks to make the place money. Time passes and the well-meaning club founders pass on. The new club owner – who did almost none of the real building up, and has no interest in the purpose of the club — has a penchant for pale willowy blondes with boyish crops and a taste for jazz and martinis. Ergo, he gradually becomes more restrictive about who is allowed into his club. And if you didn’t fit, you’d better diet, dye and cut your hair, and pretend to like gin and jazz. He’ll tell you it’s club tradition although it is provably not.

Those who like buxom curvaceous brunettes who like country music and beer… are in for a disappointment. But the owner discourages that sort of man, and expressing that opinion will get you ignored or tossed out. Maybe this works to a degree if this is the only place in town – the price of the drinks certainly went up, but as a result… the town is slowly shrinking and dying.

However, if a cheerful beerhall down the street opens up, and a pleasant wine bar on the next block — both of which are happy with clientele of any sort… well, that’s going to make for more and happier marriages, more babies, and a bigger town. The only people pissed are the club owner and pale willowy blondes and the waiters and bouncers at the club – even though the whole town was dying, it was their town.

That’s, increasingly, been the story sf-fantasy’s establishment. The club, which regards competition as anathema and to be destroyed, is furious, from the owner to the bouncers, and the real blondes. They’re doing their level best to get the wine bar and beer hall closed down. It’d kill the town, but it was their town.

We saw this a few years ago with… call it the club’s annual beauty pageant – AKA the Hugo Awards when some Brunettes and redheads dared enter. One of the waiters –who had grown very plump on tips and powerful in influence about who got to meet who, and didn’t want to lose his regular tips… set himself up to stop it – in his own words. ‘by facilitating the growth of a new community of people who wanted to talk about these issues — most of them opposing the vandalism of an institution they had spent years building up.’

In other words chumming up a hate mob of something bizarre, rather like a gay supporter of Sharia law, a left-wing mob of ‘conservatives’ resisting change. The ‘new’ and ‘most’ is a lie. They were all old blondes and waiters. Any new people who didn’t fit with his ‘most’ were censored. He also pretended to be neutral, another lie which he lost track of and exposed in this quote. Anyway, he and his little friends succeeded in keeping the nasty riff-raff out of their little club by closing the doors, trashing the pageant and putting new rules in place to maintain the status quo in their club. They attacked the non-blondes and people who weren’t club staff, and did their level best to destroy the reputations and livelihoods of authors who were daring to say it ain’t all Blondes.

The beerhall and wine-bar weren’t much affected, despite their efforts. But the club was all theirs.

Fast forward a few years, and the club is still there with Mike Glyer puttering around its decaying and increasingly seedy interior, declining membership, with the handful of long-in-tooth blondes, badmouthing those not in the club and trying to chum up interest in a pogrom to get rid of the beerhall and the wine-bar and their noxious non-blondes. He gets into an altercation with… shall we say one of the brunette authors (which is funnier than the rest of this as a description.) Anyway, Larry, who knows him well by now, cuts to the chase and tells him to F… off, a commendable and understandable sentiment. Mike, henceforth known as ChinaMike ™ announces with fury and quivering lip, that he is much more important and influential than Larry as his blog has many more followers.

He produces the following Alexa ranking to prove it. Oh my. The club is really booming…

alexa2

He’s in 15 315 position and that wicked Larry is at 509  265. That’ll teach him his place.

Alexa1

Only ChinaMike ™ didn’t expect everyone to notice this

alexa3

92.1% of his Alexa traffic comes from China. It’s either bought traffic or spam-bots. Oddly other sf sites don’t have much a Chinese component. I gather bought traffic is cheap, and ignorant people don’t realize how obvious it is… It’s that or the ‘club 770’ is a great place to get spam and malware. Choose to believe whichever you please. Both are unattractive

In actual followers, real ones, ChinaMike ™ doesn’t rank much above this trivial authors help site, and well below some of the contributors personal sites. He’s so far below Larry – at a US ranking of 108 972 compared to his US ranking of 337 508 as to be near irrelevant.

Having been roundly mocked ChinaMike™ is now saying Alexa isn’t a good indicator of popularity. Still no mention of his 92.1% Chinese army. I gather he edited to hide the Chinese part of the original Alexa shot – how typical of ChinaMike ™ integrity and honesty. Yes, you know you can get sf news you can ‘trust’ there!

The club will continue to limp along for a few years, perhaps even posting in Mandarin.  It’ll probably tighten its rules and continue to tell us how important it is, doing its level best to exclude those it doesn’t like and damage those that don’t fit its mold.

But it isn’t the only place in town. It’s increasingly unimportant. The wine-bar also has gin even if the beer hall doesn’t. Both occasionally have a jazz trio. They welcome everyone, even willowy blondes. But there’s no job for ChinaMike ™.

The MGC crew will still be trying to help writers, not excluding the new, or demanding they dye their hair and go on a starvation diet. We believe authors should have as good a chance as readers will allow, to make a good living, regardless. That’s my personal vandalism of the institution ChinaMike ™ spent so long building up.

Let’s celebrate the success and happiness of some of the authors outside that mess, despite it, the people who are making a go out of writing through their hard work and talent.

It is possible.

The Bookshelf Collapsed

I like my reference books and cookbooks in paper, even while I like my entertainment in ebook form. There’s something about using the physical memory of how far in, or underlining, highlighting, crossing out and writing and aside, that helps me to remember the information. (Or, in the case of the cookbooks, you can find that my crockpot chili recipe has about 7 more spices added, tomato sauce crossed out and tomato paste written in, “drained” written next to the canned items… because the end result is the perfected form of the cookbook’s basic suggestion.)

As I’ve moved from place to place over the years, I have often given away books – and sometimes gotten them again because I didn’t realize how much I’d use them. Others accumulate, because I think I’ll use ’em, or may need this or that hard-to-find information or recipe. But when I was putting the latest cookbook on the shelf, it collapsed.

Don’t know why. That cheap chipboard has held up through being disassembled and reassembled across five moves, over ten years… okay, maybe I know why. But after I went to the local itty bitty town’s hardware store and cleaned ’em out of 1.5 inch right-angle brackets, and ensured those shelves will have to disintegrate in order to collapse again, I did start taking a long look at what books I really use, and which ones I can let go.

I’ve kept all the cookbooks with stories. Lowbush Moose and Other Alaskan Recipes – great book, full of hilarious stories about the people and places in Alaska as it was transitioning to statehood. (Tired Wolf and Smokehouse Bear complete the series, and are also awesome. Good recipes, too.) I’ve kept the ones for research (Rocky Mountain Wild Foods Cookbook), and the ones that work with our current diet… and one of good South African comfort foods, for when my love really just needs an “I love you” in the form of bobotie and kerkpoeding.

While I was at it, I started on the next shelf down, with the writing reference books, taking out the ones that proved blah and keeping the ones that proved useful. Well, more useful. There are some where the purchase price of the book was worth the one sentence of insight, but I’m not going to keep the rest of the book for that.

Ones I’m keeping:

The Copyright Handbook by Stephen Fishman, J.D.
The Emotion Thesaurus by Angela Ackerman & Becca Puglisi
The Positive Trait Thesaurus by Angela Ackerman & Becca Puglisi
The Negative Trait Thesaurus by Angela Ackerman & Becca Puglisi
Characters & Viewpoint by Orson Scott Card
Meditations on Violence: a Comparison of Martial Arts Training and Real World Violence by Rory Miller
Self-Editing for Fiction Writers by Reni Browne & Dave King
Techniques of the Selling Writer by Dwight Swain
What Every Body Is Saying by Joe Navarro

What reference books do you keep and use?

—And now, for the part where I encourage you to entertain yourself and support the author!–

For those of you who like to listen to your novels, I’ve got not one but two new audiobook releases for you!

Peter’s second in the space opera Maxwell series, Ride the Rising Tide, is now out in audiobook:
https://www.amazon.com/Ride-Rising-Tide-Maxwell-Saga/dp/B072JV2XF1/


Trapped in the Dragon Tong’s search for a lost legend, Steve Maxwell finds a way out by enlisting in the Lancastrian Commonwealth Fleet.

If he survives long enough to earn a commission, he’ll be able to hunt down the pirates who killed his mentor. To get there, he’ll have to slog through rain-swollen swamps, dodge incoming fire on a ‘peacekeeping’ mission, and face down a gang of angry smugglers. Even far away from enemies, a mistake can turn a spaceship into a deathtrap.

It’ll take resourcefulness and courage to succeed…but Steve hasn’t come this far in order to fail.

On the Western front, Rocky Mountain Retribution is also now audiobook for you:
https://www.amazon.com/Rocky-Mountain-Retribution-Ames-Archives/dp/B071J7W7ZT/

In the post-Civil War West, the railroads are expanding, the big money men are moving in, and the politicians they are buying make it difficult for a man to stand alone on his own. So, Walt Ames moves his wife, his home, and his business from Denver to Pueblo. The railroads are bringing new opportunities to Colorado territory, and he’s going to take full advantage of them.

Ambushed on their way south, Walt and his men uncover a web of corruption and crime to rival anything in the big city. And rough justice, Western-style, sparks a private war between Walt and some of the most dangerous killers he’s ever encountered, a deadly war in which neither friends nor family are spared.

Across the mountains and valleys of the southern Rocky Mountains, Walt and his men hunt for the ruthless man at the center of the web. Retribution won’t be long delayed…and it cannot be denied.

Whoops!

Sorry, everyone, I completely lost a day.

That’s what happens when you time travel. Er, spend time travelling. I didn’t travel in time, really. *backs away slowly, shifty-eyed*

Actually, it’s quite simple. I spent a week travelling, and since I’ve been home, I’ve been working and sleeping and that’s about it. Today, when I should have had this post up bright and early, I was more focused on doing Mom-and-Wife things than authorial things. Which is, really, normal. As  a writer, we can spend rather a lot of time with our heads firmly stuck in the clouds, the better to see our imaginary worlds with. However, real life must intrude from time to time. With practice, you can learn how to switch back and forth fairly seamlessly and rapidly. I’m still working on that practice, to be honest.

It helps to keep a list. I make lists for a lot of things in life – earlier today it was a rough budget plan for the rest of the year, as my husband and I discussed what’s coming that we know of (the emergency fund is for the other things) and how we can plan ahead rather than be blindsided. In real life, this is very practical and usually works. In a story, as an author, blindsiding a character is fun and what leads to all the best plot points.

Like falling in love at first sight. My daughter gets rather indignant about the concept – if you don’t mind spoilers, I did an interview with her about Wonder Woman, which she loved, but the romantic subplot bothered her a lot. I think she’s right, somewhat. I also think she’s not yet seventeen and will learn in time that sometimes the most incompatible couples actually work very well. Which is why romantic tales about star-crossed lovers (don’t even get her started on Romeo and Juliet!) have been around since people started making stories up. I’ve done it, myself, both directly and indirectly. At some point my MC in the work-in-progress is going to have to explain how she came to be mostly Athabaskan with a bit of Inuit. I told my Mom that, and she gave me a look, and said ‘you do know those tribes are enemies?’ Yes, I did know, and that’s why I wrote the sc3ene with the MC being a bit touchy about her ancestors.

It doesn’t just happen in books. My First Reader and I would be incompatible on paper. We have a large gap in our ages, I’m a free spirit, he’s much more grounded. I’m always wearing rose-colored glasses, he adds a drop of acid to my sweet… it works. It’s better together than when we’re apart. I take things from real life, and put them in books, sometimes, and one of those things will likely be his reaction to my return home after this trip. “No more travelling without me!” Yes, dear. I didn’t like it, either. And that works very well whether I’m writing a SF novel of space travel with one left on the planet, or a fantasy tale of a quest undertaken while the other stays home in the village prosaically tending the farm. People are people, no matter what setting you build around them.

While I was on the plane(s) I was reading, working my way through an Introduction to Bioarcheology, Dead Men Do Tell Tales (case files from a forensic anthropologist) and 1177 BC: the year Civilization Collapsed. The connecting thread through all of them, other than history, is the people. Even if you’re reading their stories through bones and artifacts, you can still connect and relate to them. The long-dead Hatshepsut who became a king in order to rule. The bones of the men who threw spears, and the women who ground at pestles. The bones warped by disease and trauma… there are stories of love, loss, warfare, and family, here. I’m not consciously mining history for stories and plots. But I do pick up bits and pieces that I can weave into tales later. Sometimes after I’ve forgotten where they came from.

And in the middle of all of this is my son joggling my elbow and wanting to know if I will buy him a kit to build a robot. Which reminds me that where we came from is very far from where we’re going – I can search online and find robot kits for as little as 20$ on Amazon – solar powered, to boot!

 

Places of Interest

Places with Personalities
Pam Uphoff

I was upset when Harry Dresden’s basement apartment burned down. Really.
221B Baker Street. An indelible part of the Sherlock Holmes mystique.
Nero Wolfe and Archie Goodwin without their NYC Brownstone? Inconceivable!
And vehicles too. Would Star Trek be the same without the Enterprise? Star Wars without the Millennium Falcon?

Making a tiny part of your make-believe world a familiar place, describing a minute part of a whole world in detail can both pull a reader into a story, and establish a starting point for a world that you just can’t describe in the same detail. Using it as home base for a series starts the readers off knowing where they are: at home with their old friends. Or in danger, and a good thing they’ve got this ship/car/tank/whatever.

I find myself doing that in my stories. The village, the inn, the hotsprings.
And now I’ve got this silly vehicle . . . I didn’t mean for my characters to attach themselves to this battered old wreck. It just keeps coming in handy.

 

“That’s a bit of a wreck.”
Ebsa eyed Acty, then looked back at the dents in the crawler. They look . . . familiar.
The mechanic bristled. “Do you have any idea how short on equipment we are? If the Powers That Be will stop panicking over their precious Special Super Secret Project—which everyone knows has to be those weird Helios people—or wait six months instead of trying to instantly field every team in existence and some that aren’t,” he glanced meaningfully at them, “we could properly supply those teams. We can supply you with everything you need. What is available right now is the crawler we decided to use for spare parts, rather than try to repair.”

From _Fort Dinosaur_ by Pam Uphoff

 

Now it really doesn’t matter _which_ vehicle they check out of the motor pool, but this one has a history that the reader may suddenly recall. Even without having read the previous book, it’s battered and distinctive. It makes this vehicle special, it hints at history and give the world depth. Ahem. It also let me toss in a small data dump and first foreshadowing.

A single place, an office or home with “personality” can be an excellent start to world building. A place for characters to have roots. It’s location in a city, a village, a hundred miles from anywhere. A hut in the forest. A mansion in the ritzy part of town. Or the only house on the street in decent repair, the lawn, such as it was, mown. All these things tell the readers a lot about the world and they’re already making assumptions about the inhabitants.

Looking around at the rest of the Mad Geniuses . . . Dave is having a love affair with Australia. Kate . . . is all over the map, but her Vampire has become the protector of SF cons. Cedar’s got some interesting homes for Pixies and Gods. Sarah’s got a Diner in Goldport. A home on a spaceship called the Cat House.

 

And then, out of nowhere I hit something. Not hard. And whatever I hit was not as deadly solid as the diamond-hard trunks and certainly no powerpod. For one, it didn’t blow up.
Even after hitting it, I couldn’t see what it was. It was . . . dark. Straining, I could make out a rounded outline but barely distinguishable from the surrounding gloom.
My throat closed. It was a darkship.

From _Darkship Thieves_ by Sarah Hoyt.

 

And pets. A character’s reactions to animals can speak volumes about his character. Is he a puppy kicker, or a puppy saver? Does she get upset when her evil cat gets sick? Keep pet triceratops? Tarantulas? A character’s choice of pets tells a lot about the character and about the world.

The black-and-white sheepdog was more experienced at love than the dragon, and he was a young pup still, maybe eight months old. Barely more than a pup. But Dileas—whose name was “faithful” in an old tongue, long forgotten by most men—would go to the ends of the world for her, and beyond, as they were now. His mistress was his all and he would search for her until he died, or he found her.
Fionn knew that he would do the same.

From _Dog and Dragon_ by Dave Freer.

 

Dave tells you all about the dog, and the reader nods, personal experience kicks in. The reader _understands_ the devotion. And with a few more words, Fionn becomes a hero. As loyal and determined as a dog.

### Totally off topic! The above are examples of “Fair Use” of copyrighted materials. But after some outstandingly obtuse argumentation and attempted justification on facebook recently, I thought I’d head off any overreactions (and set a good example of “if in doubt, ask”) by asking Sarah and Dave. Who, of course, gave permission. I didn’t ask that Uphoff woman, she’s crazy and there’s no telling what she might say. ###

So here’s a writing assignment for you.

Make a home, a home away from home, or a vehicle. Some thing or some place your character loves or will come to love. Good Guy or Bad Guy. A Fortress of Solitude or an Evil Lair. A new character or an old one, doesn’t matter. They need a home.
What kind of pet does your character have? None? Well, that won’t do! Get him a pet, find out how much world building you can do while acquiring some odd critter.

 

And the self-Promo

For those who insist on paper and ink, all six of the Directorate stories in one huge volume.

And grab it quick, this is the last free day. Ra’d’s first appearance. Speaking of mayhem . . .

 

You Want To Stress Your Character?

It’s really easy. Trust me on this. I’ve had the kind of week which really illustrates how easy it is to stress someone to the level where they’re not thinking any more, just reacting and trying to hold together until things settle. You don’t even need to do anything drastic.

In my case, a combination of factors meant that I ran out of the medication I need to stay awake (Narcolepsy, for what it’s worth, sucks). That turned the last week into an exercise of watching the mail in a near-obsessive fashion when I wasn’t just trying to stay awake. The world could have ended and I probably wouldn’t have noticed.

Now, what does your character need? What would drop your character into survival mode where the only thing that they can focus on is making it past the next crisis? Once you’ve figured out what it is, do it.

You can play it for laughs, like Pratchett did with the caffeine-obsessed vampire in Monstrous Regiment. Or you can be serious. Either way, you’ve got a character who’s not at their best, and who’s desperate for that one thing they know is going to fix it.

That character is going to do everything in their power to try to get what they need, which is where the author comes in – stressing the character even more by making sure the timing isn’t quite right or things just don’t work and they don’t get what they need. Or – preferably – the character’s impaired state causes them to do things wrong which winds up taking them further from their goal instead of winning them what they’re after.

Eventually, of course, your character either gets what they’re chasing (sweet, sweet caffeine) or they discover they can live without it (oh, look! Character growth).

Or in my case, the medication finally arrives in the mail.

Letting The Words Pour Out

This is a post on how to write fast, if you want to.

Note that I’m not saying you should write fast.  Some of you should, some shouldn’t.  I don’t know how your mind works, I can only speak to mine.

There have been awful writers who took forever and there have been awful writers who wrote very fast.  Just as there have been good writers of both kinds.

I remember years ago someone who was published (once) when I wasn’t published at all, telling me that the problem with science fiction was that people required writers write a book a year.  There are and were many things wrong with the field, but that wasn’t it.  Some of the “literary” writers who take years to write books are still unreadable.

I’ve also watched the process of taking years to write a book.  I’ve done it.  It took me three years to write Through Fire.  Most of the time I didn’t write at all.  There were reasons for that: health and moves and a fatal breakdown of self-confidence.  None of which make a book better.

But there is a state I get to, where I can see and hear and dream a book.  And some writers need a year — or years — to do that.

I sort of lapse into that state when I’m not paying attention, possibly because I lived there until my mid-twenties, so to me it’s more important to get out of my own way and let it pour out.

Might not be for you.  I have taken to referring to writing as “the thing isn’t entirely under my control.”  I don’t think it’s entirely under anyone’s control.  It’s very annoying for people like me who are control freaks, because it seems wrong not to control it.  It’s a joke of fate (or G-d) that someone like me who was taught to value steady work and steady application should work in a profession where sometimes my subconscious locks tight and will not let anything out.  But there “the thing isn’t entirely under my control.”  And each person has to find a way to deal with their own writing thing.  It seems to come from different places for everyone.  Sometimes it comes different places for different books.  And we all approach it our different ways.

However, if you can, write fast there are material advantages to it, particularly now.  I wonder what my used-to-be-friend (I gather she has stopped talking to me because of straw Sarah) who thought traditional publishing and its demand for a once-a-year book was unreasonable would think of indie, where the rewards go to the very fast, to those who can put out a book 4 times a year or more?

No, wait, I know exactly what she thinks of it, because I’ve heard others like her lament on their pages and in their blogs about how people “write too much.”

Well, buttercup, you don’t get to do that.  I won’t tell you that “real writers write real fast” but you don’t get to tell me or other writers who write more than a book a year that we should slow down.  This is not the nursery, and life isn’t fair.

I suspect if you’re a slow writer of overmastering craft and talent you can still live, but you don’t get to tell others they should not.

So–  What if you aren’t and you’re still slow?  What if you’d like to write fast?

I can’t teach you to write fast — no, wait, yes, I know what I said, but listen — because it’s not a skill that can be taught.  It’s a skill that can be learned, though.  Like other things of the sort, things not entirely under one’s control, they require you to access some internal switch I can’t reach, to change some internal setting which I can’t touch.  But you can.

I know this because I’ve gone through years of being very slow.  H*ll, I used to be very, very slow.  If I produced two short stories in a year I thought I was doing well.  And I’ve gone through years of writing a novel every two months.  I have a feeling I could write one a week (I could on wordage alone) if I could just figure out how that switch works.  I haven’t yet.

All I can do is tell you what worked for me, to reprogram that switch.  Note the steps are in no particular order.  The first one is what you REALLY need to do, but sometimes you need to approach it through the others.  I’m not in your head.  This is like other things: learning to draw, learning to sing, or even getting in shape.  Each person must do what he or she can at the pace he or she is permitted by whatever it is internally that controls the writing thing.

  • Believe you can.
    Yes, I do in fact know this is much easier said than done.  Like “Just write it” or “believe in yourself” or “stop worrying,” it is the solution, but it is not always one that just comes.
    However in the end, that’s what you need to do.  Believe you can write fast and write well.  Believe other people can write fast and write well.  It might help to research the stories of writers who wrote very fast and very well.  We get told a lot of lies about how long a book SHOULD take, and we believe them, because we have no reference.  But a book should take as long as it takes.  And if it’s already in your head, it should be possible for it to pour out fast.
  • TRY.
    Try to write fast.  I don’t know what fast is to you.  There is a point I call “my head is empty and there are no more words.”  I wont’ tell you at what point I reach that because you’d kill me, and at any time it’s pointless bragging, because when I get lost in my own head there are many, many days of no words at all.  Let’s say I once finished a novel in three days, a novel that still pays well.  And if I could defeat whatever the fatal lack of self-confidence it is that sets in, I could write a novel every three days.
    So try.  This might involve trying new methods, including some that didn’t work for you at other times.  Or vice versa.  Not being entirely under your own control, the writing thing can change METHODS.
    My second published novel was written entirely by dictation. Two years ago, trying to get back in shape, I thought I’d dictate again.  My walk in the morning was completely solitary.  My recorder looked like a phone.  People seeing me would see nothing wrong, and no one was near enough to hear me.
    I couldn’t. My own voice got in the way.  It sounded odd to be talking aloud of things no one else could see.  I shut myself down completely.
    Try, until you find a way you can write however fast you want to.  How fast?  Well, 500 words a day — about where we are at this point in the blog post — is one large traditional book or two indie books a year.  1000 words a day (half my normal blog posts on my blog, usually dashed in an hour in the morning) is two goatgaggers or four indie books.  Set your goal, aim, try it.
  • DO IT FASTER.
    But I said I wouldn’t tell you how fast to write!
    I’m not.  I’m talking about your mechanical method of getting words down.  Dictation or typing or whatever you do.
    Almost all my silences — long ones, not related to moves or health or whatever — come from a break down in my method of getting words down.  Say a computer that’s glitching and forces me to type slowly or eat words.  Medication that somehow breaks the trained link between fingers and mind.  All of that forces me to slow down, and become conscious of the story.  It’s like hearing myself talk about things that don’t exist.  it stops me.  It forces me to concentrate on the words, rather than the story.  It allows me to DOUBT.
    So, whatever method you use get faster at it: take a typing course, put in ear plugs so you don’t hear yourself dictate.  Find a way to do it faster so the doubts don’t catch up with you.
  • TELL THE EDITOR TO TAKE A HIKE
    No, not your real editor, whether you work for him, or you hire him.  He’s an essential part of your process, particularly if you write fast.
    I mean the internal editor. The one who says “Oh, that word wasn’t good” or “what did you write that chapter for?  You know it’s wrong” or any of those other things.
    There will be a time for it, when you’re reading over the book AFTER your betas do, mind you.  For now, he’s just trying to slow you down, because he’s a little desiccated man in round glasses who can’t create anything and doesn’t want you to either.
    Every writer I know who brags about their internal editor and who jumps on little things in other writers’ first draft is NOT a professional writer.  In fact, most of them never finish anything.
    So, don’t let the editor in.  In my worst times, I’ve been known to surround myself with signs that say “No editors allowed.”
  • TRUST
    Yes, I know, it’s like “Relax.”  But trust.  Trust yourself, trust the process, let the words come out.  Ignore whether they’re good or bad.  Ignore your doubts.  Just let the words pour out.  Accept the thing is not entirely under your own control.
  • GIVE YOURSELF PERMISSION TO SUCK
    Look, many of your stories will suck.  They JUST will.  It actually does not matter at all how fast you write them.  Sometimes it’s because you’re not ready to tell that story.  Sometimes it’s because you’re working through some internal process, some learning thing.  Which means, you will suck and not know it.  Other times, you will think you suck, and your story will speak to everyone else who will consider it your best.
    So, stop trying to impose on your stories standards no one else will impose.  GIVE YOURSELF PERMISSION TO SUCK.  Accept some of your stories will suck.  Do you have a favorite author?  How many of his or her stories, objectively, suck, even though you might love them because you like the world, the characters and the author?  If we’re honest about 1/3 of everyone’s stories suck.  And they’re not the ones the author thought sucked, either.  So, give yourself permission to suck.  Don’t reject yourself.  You’re the worst judge of your own work.
  • THEY DON’T WANT IT PERFECT, THEY WANT IT WEDNESDAY
    It is a bit of hubris to try to make your story perfect.  Sculptors and weavers in the ancient world left intentional flaws in their work, because they were only human and didn’t want to arouse the envy of the gods.
    Most of us don’t need to leave intentional flaws.  You’re human, there will be flaws.  But sometimes — trust someone who is experienced and has been doing this for 20 years — it is the flaws you perceive when you first write the work, which are the real strength.
    When I started writing I tried to guard myself from the story.  I didn’t want people looking INTO me.  So revelatory passages were considered flaws.  And yet, those are the books people love, and for THOSE reasons.
    So, stop dithering.  Whether you work for a publishing house or your fans, they don’t want it perfect, they want it finished, so they can read it.  FINISH THE STORY AND LET IT GO.  THEN WRITE ANOTHER.
  • PRACTICE MAKES SPEED

    The very act of writing fast will allow you to defeat the fear of writing fast, and thus will allow you to get faster.  If you’re having trouble, remember the clause above, and just write to the finish.  Tell yourself you’ll never send it out (it’s okay, lies to yourself aren’t sins, or we’d all be condemned) and just finish it.  Then another, then another.  Try a race with yourself.  how fast can you go?  Run from the editor.  Write faster.
    Eventually you’ll surprise yourself, and then you’ll believe and the barriers will tumble down.

  • DON’T READ BACK OVER WHAT YOU’VE DONE
    But Sarah, you’ll say, I can’t write a novel in a day.  So I have to read back what I wrote yesterday.
    No, you actually don’t.  Doing so is practically inviting the editor to come and pour doubts into your head and paralyze you.
    If you have a very bad memory leave a note to yourself, something like: I left John and Mary having a heart to heart.  Tomorrow he finds out she stole the thing, and then he has to decide what to do.
    BUT what if your plot — plotted or not — took a turn?  You need to go back back and change things!
    No, you don’t.  Half the time I do that (because I’m an idiot) I find that my subconscious already had the right markers in, it just didn’t bother to tell me.  So, when you’re afraid you’ll forget to change the thing, what do you do?
    Get sticky notes.  Make a note, stick it to your monitor.
    I’ve been known to have three pieces of novel, by the end, all pointing in different directions.  But I have the sticky notes, and I can always fix it in post.
  • YOU CAN ALWAYS FIX IT IN POST.
    The good thing about writing is you don’t pay for what stays on the cutting room floor, and no one has to know.
    For my first three published novels, I wrote three times what I turned in.  I still wrote them in six months each.  Write fast, then worry about cutting.
    And often the pieces you leave behind will blossom into other novels, years later.  A piece of Darkship Thieves became the start for the Shifter series.  No, I’m NOT going to tell you which or how.  (Mwahahahahahah.)
  • LET IT GO
    Once you’re done writing your first draft, do three passes: one for coherency, one for word choice, and one for typos.  Then LET IT GO.
    Sometimes things will feel wrong in a book that aren’t wrong at all.  It’s just a new thing you did, and your subconscious is panicking that it’s WRONG.  It might even be a good thing you did, but the subconscious is a creature of habit.
    So let it go.  Send it to 12 people or more.  You’ll be lucky if 6 answer.  The ratio even for published novelists seems to be 1/3.  It’s unpaid work and life trips people up.
    Let the novel go, stop thinking about it.  If six or more of your readers come back and say soemthing is wrong, then consider changing it.  Keep in mind sometimes what they THINK is wrong isn’t what is wrong.  But try to figure out what bothers them and change it.  But don’t devote a lot of angst to it, because you have another story to write.  You’re already writing the next story, aren’t you?
    Well, you should be.
  • WRITE THE NEXT STORY
    Seriously.  The moment the story is off your hands and to beta, write the next one.  No, don’t wait for the betas, don’t even think of that story.  Write the other one, because that’s better than detachment or time to make you get over your mental attachment to it, and your tendency to see the last story as perfect or fatally flawed, whatever your tendency.
    Write the next one for the week or month while you wait for the result of betas.
    Editing is work best done in the evenings, anyway.  And if your heart is in the day story, you’ll see the night story more clearly, without prejudice.
    So, do that.  Write the next story. No, don’t stop.  Don’t think.  Don’t pass go and give yourself illusions that you’re going to be perfect.  JUST WRITE IT.
    Nine tenths of art is just doing it.  Just do it.  The thing is not entirely under your control.  Let it go, let it be.  Let the story spool out from your head, onto pixels.  Then bless it on its way and write the next.

Promo Post Redux

I’ll admit it. I’m head down, fingers on keyboard and pushing through a major rewrite on the work-in-progress. That means my brain isn’t allowing me to come up for air, much less to think about anything to blog about. So, here is a promo post for some of the titles your resident mad geniuses (genii?) have out.

Tom

by Dave Freer

Tom is a cat in trouble. The worst possible kind of trouble: he’s been turned into a human. Transformed by an irascible old magician in need of a famulus — a servant and an assistant, Tom is as good at being a servant as a cat ever is. The assistant part is more to Tom’s taste: he rather fancies impressing the girl cats and terrorizing the other toms by transforming himself into a tiger. But the world of magic, a vanished and cursed princess, and a haunted skull, and a demon in the chamber-pot, to say nothing of conspiring wizards and the wickedest witch in the west, all seem to be out to kill Tom. He is a cat coming to terms with being a boy, dealing with all this. He has a raven and a cheese as… sort of allies.

And of course there is the princess.

If you were looking for ‘War and Peace’ this is the wrong book for you. It’s a light-hearted and gently satirical fantasy, full of terrible puns and… cats.

***

Dagger of Elanna (Sword of the Gods Book 2)

by Amanda S. Green

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.

***

A French Polished Murder (Daring Finds Mysteries Book 2)

by Elise Hyatt (Sarah A. Hoyt)

When Dyce Dare decides to refinish a piano as a gift for her boyfriend, Cas Wolfe, the last thing she expects is to stumble on an old letter that provides a clue to an older murder. She thinks her greatest problems in life are that her friend gave her son a toy motorcycle, and that her son has become unaccountably attached to a neurotic black cat named Pythagoras. She is not prepared for forgotten murder to reach out and threaten her and everything she loves, including her parents’ mystery bookstore.

Originally published by Prime Crime.

***

Impaler

by Kate Paulk

Impaler by Kate Paulk revisits the tale of Vlad Dracul, also known as Vlad Tepes and Vlad the Impaler. This is the tale of historical fact mixed with fiction and a touch of fantasy. But this is most definitely not the tired tale of vampires skulking in the night, lying in wait for innocent victims. Impaler tells the tale of a man devoted to family and country, cursed and looking for redemption.

December, 1476. The only man feared by the all-conquering Ottoman Sultan battles to reclaim his throne. If he falls all of Europe lies open to the Ottoman armies. If he succeeds…

His army is outnumbered and outclassed, his country is tiny, and he is haunted by a terrible curse. But Vlad Draculea will risk everything on one almost impossible chance to free his people from the hated Ottoman Empire.

***

Jade Star (Tanager) (Volume 1)

by Cedar Sanderson

Jade is determined to die. She is old, and useless, when she points her tiny subspace craft at the cold stars. She wakes up in the care of others who refuse to grant her death, and instead give her a new mission in life.

Jade isn’t happy, and she only gets angrier when she learns that her mysterious new home hides a horrible secret. It’s time for this old lady to kick butt and take names. Aliens, death, destruction… nothing trumps the fierce old woman who is protecting her family.

A Tanager Novella

***

The Chaplain’s War

by Brad Torgersen

The mantis cyborgs: insectlike, cruel, and determined to wipe humanity from the face of the galaxy.

The Fleet is humanity’s last chance: a multi-world, multi-national task force assembled to hold the line against the aliens’ overwhelming technology and firepower. Enter Harrison Barlow, who like so many young men of wars past, simply wants to serve his people and partake of the grand adventure of military life. Only, Harrison is not a hot pilot, nor a crack shot with a rifle. What good is a Chaplain’s Assistant in the interstellar battles which will decide the fate of all?

More than he thinks. Because while the mantis insectoids are determined to eliminate the human threat to mantis supremacy, they remember the errors of their past. Is there the slightest chance that humans might have value? Especially since humans seem to have the one thing the mantes explicitly do not: an innate ability to believe in what cannot be proven nor seen God. Captured and stranded behind enemy lines, Barlow must come to grips with the fact that he is not only bargaining for his own life, but the lives of everyone he knows and loves. And so he embarks upon an improbable gambit, determined to alter the course of the entire war.

***

Rocky Mountain Retribution (The Ames Archives Book 2)

by Peter Grant

In the post-Civil War West, the railroads are expanding, the big money men are moving in, and the politicians they are buying make it difficult for a man to stand alone on his own. So, Walt Ames moves his wife, his home and his business from Denver to Pueblo. The railroads are bringing new opportunities to Colorado Territory, and he’s going to take full advantage of them.

Ambushed on their way south, Walt and his men uncover a web of corruption and crime to rival anything in the big city. And rough justice, Western-style, sparks a private war between Walt and some of the most dangerous killers he’s ever encountered, a deadly war in which neither friends nor family are spared.

Across the mountains and valleys of the southern Rocky Mountains, Walt and his men hunt for the ruthless man at the center of the web. Retribution won’t be long delayed… and it cannot be denied.

***

Scaling The Rim

by Dorothy Grant

Never underestimate the power of a competent tech.

When Annika Danilova arrived at the edge of the colony’s crater to install a weather station, she knew the mission had been sabotaged from the start. The powers that be sent the wrong people, underequipped, and antagonized their supporting sometimes-allies. The mission was already slated for unmarked graves and an excuse for war…

But they hadn’t counted on Annika allying with the support staff, or the sheer determination of their leader, Captain Restin, to accomplish the mission. Together, they will overcome killing weather above and traitors within to fight for the control of the planet itself!

***

Wraithkin (The Kin Wars Saga Book 1)

by Jason Cordova

How far would a man go to protect those he loved? For Gabriel Espinoza, the answer was simple: to the ends of the universe.

When a failed genetic test ruins his life, Gabriel and his fiancée prepare to run to a world where the laws aren’t as strict. There they could remain, in peace, for the remainder of their days, their love unspoiled by the strict regime which controls the Dominion of Man.

But Fate is a cruel, fickle mistress.

Torn from the only woman he had ever loved, Gabriel is prepared to burn the galaxy to get her back.

How far would a man go to protect the empire he was sworn to uphold? For Andrew Espinoza, the answer was a bit more complicated.

Torn between family loyalty and his duty to his country, Andrew must infiltrate a rich and powerful clan to determine if they are plotting against the Dominion of Man, but while undercover he discovers something far darker and more dangerous is lurking in the shadows, and he is the only man who can stop it.

But Fate is a cruel, fickle mistress.

How far will Andrew go to ensure the success of his mission?

One brother must save himself; the other must save the universe. But can either survive long enough to achieve their goal?

***

First Posting (The Directorate Book 4)

by Pam Uphoff

A Novella. Fourth book of The Directorate series.

Three shiny bright graduates head for their first postings. They all want to get on Teams, to explore across the dimensions. But Ebsa finds himself behind a desk, and Paer’s a nurse’s assistant in the hospital.

They are both determined to earn a spot on a team.

Ra’d is the only one who’s gone straight to teams . . . but an Action Team? Well, no doubt their reputations are exaggerated. All he has to do is fit in and enjoy the work.

***

Tales of the Unquiet Gods

by David Pascoe

Unearthly darkness stalks the streets of Manhattan. Glowing eyes haunt forgotten tunnels. In the daylight, inhuman shadows grow ever deeper and … hungry.

Six are chosen to confront this gnawing evil, and given help from an unexpected power. Hunting them come walking shadows and fallen godlings, abominations and darkling creations seeking to devour their very souls.

Follow a busker, a bouncer, a homeless vet, and a cop as they the battle the darkness without and the despair within, for the fate of the city and the souls of those they love.

plus ça change

plus ça change, plus c’est la même chose (the more it changes, the more it remains the same)

Jean-Baptiste Alphonse Karr, 1849

I only know two Karr quotes, and the other – the other on the abolition of the death penalty – is also a fine dryly humorous comment : ‘Let the men who do the murders lead the way.’ But what brought the more it changes to mind was the fact that at a garage sale I picked up three Australian century old children’s novels. As I figure that they formed some of the foundation of the nation I emigrated to, and that I am trying very hard to become a part of, I thought they’d make good homework. (Yes I know. That’s just depraved. The correct, approved multi-cultural attitude is to remain ignorant and expect my host culture to adapt and learn mine. Not happening. I’m not that stupid.)

They’re by Mary 3-Names. No, not sf/Fantasy’s one, but Mary Grant Bruce (plus ça change?).

A century plus on from the first one… and they’re still readable. Things have changed, of course. But the language is still readable, the story entertains, and the dialogue is not as stilted as some far more recent novels. It’s a bit like reading Enid Blyton set 30 years earlier, and in Australia.

There are a couple of very noticeable differences to modern tales in that the food is very Enid Blyton-ish (something that is much less described in modern books, to my mind) and of course the attitude to fathers and brothers is vastly different. That’s probably the biggest single difference, that actually kept hitting me about the head. The girls (and it was, I suspect principally written for a female audience) are resourceful and plucky, and somewhat tomboyish, with unruly hair, less interested in what the author rather derides as the female pastimes of the urban girls of the day (and yes, those too seem to have changed only in details). That, and the fact that hard physical (and often monotonous) outdoor work (for both sexes) are lionized, and indoor city work… well, it’s like going to the toilet. Necessary but not a subject of praise or discussion. Second best to working the land.

The boys, and men, particularly the fathers, play a far larger role than I think I’ve seen in a MG or YA novel in twenty-thirty years. They’re portrayed with – for want of a better description, a far higher expectation of kindly, generous and out-right noble behavior, and with intelligence and ability. When in one of the later books a father fails to live up to this – does not defend his daughter from the demands of his second wife (her stepmother) it’s held up as an abnormality, and a thing of disparagement.

I sometimes wonder about modern portrayals –as people do try and live up to expectations (particularly society’s expectations, as Adam Smith so eloquently explained way back in 1759. There’s a whole that he wrote about that hasn’t changed much either.) If you think about it, it’s what fashion and appearances, and all of the SJW virtue signaling come down to: caring about what others think of you. So yes, brilliant move, portray all men as bumbling incompetents or depraved sexual predators. That’ll give them something to live up to, eh?

Fortunately, society’s mirror is broken into many fragments, or heaven knows what further self-inflicted injuries the perpetual victim class would have to whinge about.

The inevitable comment made of Mary Grant Bruce’s work – with the usual anachronistic viewpoint that gets hissy fits about the ‘N’ word in Huckleberry Finn, is the usual complaint about racial stereotypes of Irish, Chinese and Aboriginal characters. Honestly – considering it was published in 1910 – she did a pretty good job. Yes, she may resort stereotype ‘accents’ – these stereotypes didn’t spring unbidden from the air – they have at least some basis in what the writer had heard. And –once again, considering the time, her characterization is remarkably ‘liberal’ (the Chinese, Irish, and Aboriginal characters are all minor heroes, and portrayed as kindly, nice people. Not what we’re told was typical of the time.

One of the obvious differences is sexual content. That is pointedly different – the heroine of the first book is I think 12 and appears entirely free of hormones. In fact even romance of any sort (even among adult characters) seems rather absent.

What endures (or recurs) is always worth noticing. These were enormously successful books in their day, for their target market. They had, I suspect quite an impact on the society of the day. I don’t think that was the author’s manipulation as is so often the case now – it was merely holding up a mirror to what was best in bush society rather than the worst, and telling quite entertaining yarns to carry it along.

But what struck was a worrying similarity, a lack of change, despite all that has changed. She was writing for the customers of the time. The people who read, who bought books for their children… And rather like YA’s lead characters being a year or two above most of the readers, she sets her lead characters among the Squatters (Australian term for a large landowner -rather like the Squirearchy but with slightly less servants, and more land, and actually doing some of the work themselves) – the upper class of large-landowners. They’re in her book fairly decent people, and some are in life. That’s not the point. The point was the upper and middle-classes of her time were her major customers. They could read, had money to buy books, had leisure time to read them. The lower middle class such as scraped into her customer base aspired to be part of that. The largest part of society… didn’t read much, and didn’t have much spare money for lots of books. At a coarse guess 50-70% were just below the radar.

But we’re a century later… and we have gone through – particularly with paperbacks – a HUGE popularizing of reading novels. Almost a feature of many of those was Joe Ordinary (not the secret prince, or squire, or even the squatter) – just a working stiff, getting into strife and and fighting his way up and out. Sometimes he ended up as the king or the squatter… but he didn’t start there. I like to think this was particularly true of sf. I think of Keith Laumer’s Galactic Odyssey, Simak’s ordinary farmer/countryman heroes, or Heinlein’s Glory Road as examples.

So… how come we’re drifting back overwhelmingly into upper or upper-middleclass settings, heroes, and indeed the values of particularly female East Coast Arts and Humanities Liberal authors? That was 1912’s market. Things have changed. There are more customers available, a lot of whom do not aspire to those values, and won’t.

Maybe we need more battlers barely making a living, not college graduates, or bluebloods.

Or maybe I should just stick to 1910 fiction. It had a lot of can-do, even if it did concern itself with the lives of those who automatically become the officer class in 1914-18.