A Re-Introduction

Howdy! Taps screen, waits for feedback to stop. Sorry.

It’s been a while since I last had a regular slot with the other Mad Genii, so perhaps a little re-introduction is in order.

I started writing when I was in my teens, and was telling stories even earlier. As is typical for how I do things, several decades passed before I learned that you get paid for story-telling in print. I’d survived a decade or so in aviation (both flying and fixing), then returned to college and somehow managed to bluff my way through graduate school, emerging with more diplomas before anyone could catch me.

My first professional writing sales were all non-fiction. It’s still story-telling, but with footnotes or end notes and a much larger stack of paper covered in arcane scribbling and archive data. At that time, I knew that the fiction I’d written was too strange for any publisher, so I didn’t bother trying. Somehow, and I think it was via LawDog, Peter Grant, and others, I found According to Hoyt, then Mad Genius, Kris Rusch’s blog, and The Passive Voice. From those I got a sense that hey, you know, maybe I can toss my stories out into the world and someone will buy them! I knew some people enjoyed reading them, because I’d shown a few to other grad students for stress relief, and they’d laughed and groaned in the right places. I’d saved money, so I hired a very, very good editor, and a cover and formatting person [I’d read a lot of stories about Smashwords and the difficulties of its so-called “meatgrinder” for formatting and uploading books.] In December of 2012 I pulled the trigger on A Cat Among Dragonshttps://www.amazon.com/Cat-Among-Dragons-Alma-Boykin-ebook/dp/B00AMNB0N6/.

It went thud. I didn’t advertise, I didn’t have a blog. However, I had a few buyers, then a few more. It is mil-sci-fi, a collection of linked stories/chapters about the misadventures of a half-breed alien who wants to keep from starving, and to not be killed by her father’s tribe. And who doesn’t have enough sense not to accept a job offer from a very, very large reptile who happens to rule two star-systems. Thus emboldened, I published a short-story, then two more books and some novellas or short-story sets. A world had been born, one that attracted more and more readers.

Then I attempted a full-on novel and discovered why you should limit yourself to one or two Points of View per story.  The core of the story’s pretty good. How I told it? I learned a lot. The second novel went better. The third novel was better still. I was getting those famous “million words” written out of my system, learning from very good editors and observers, and honing my craft.

However, I was not getting rich. This was back when “ten books and your career will take off like a roadrunner with a jetpack!” Mine didn’t. Perhaps mil-sci-fi wasn’t my thing? So I tried to do a one-off short story about a fictionalized historical figure. That led to a ten book mil-sci-fi series totally different from the Cat Among Dragon books, because I went back to my academic roots and used actual history as a baseline for most of the Colplatschki (Colonial Plantation XI) series. One I wrote in a fit of pique because I was tired of dirt-covered, depressing post-apocalyptic novels. I grew up in the 1980s and read the same thing, just with “nuclear winter” instead of “global warming” and “radiation mutations” instead of “genetic modification gone wild.”

Eventually I shifted from military sci-fi to fantasy of various sorts, including a “fantasy without 90% of fantasy elements” that took off like a rocket because it rang the same bells as a top-selling sci-fi series. Oh, and I got asked to do a few fill-in bits for Mad Genius Club, because no one knew that I wasn’t really a best-seller. I’m still not rich despite having a herd of books, stories, and so on in five series, plus stand-alones, available through Amazon. I still don’t advertise. I remain the reason Dorothy, Sarah, and Cedar pull their hair out in frustration when the word “marketing” is mentioned.

I don’t have Sarah, Amanda, and Margaret’s in-depth knowledge about the publishing side of things, or the technical side of art like Cedar. Dorothy and Peter Grant are much better with sales and marketing. I don’t market. I blog, and write and publish. Blake, Pam, Karen, and others have a better grasp of genre and how to bend it. I’m just determined, stubborn, and willing to go digging in history and other places to find stray ideas and information that can be re-painted and tucked into fiction in a way that attracts readers. And I’m a firm believer in what Sarah called Human Wave books.

Stories should entertain without leaving the reader feeling as if there’s sort of a mental bathtub ring left in his mind. Grimdark is not my thing. There has to be hope. Characters come out scarred, bruised, regretting stupid moments and mistakes made, but they win. The good guys win, the bad guys loose, kids grow up in healthy families, and some days, the worst problem in life is a wife who refuses to run the bathroom fan in winter, or a cousin who has a barn start to fall over because he was too parsimonious, er, frugal, to replace it when it started to lean six months and more before. Or discovering after you’ve been badly wounded and are trying to die that you have dragon-blood in your ancestry . . .

I’m going to be writing about research for fiction writers, world-building using stolen parts, things I don’t like about various genres and character types (Strong Wymyn™ who would make a Victorian maiden aunt swear like a sailor [as she reloads to deal with the python in her sedan chair {true story}]). Maybe a bit about the traditional publishing industry, although the side I know well is academic, which is a rather specialized sub-section of the industry and is most certainly not representative of the “I can make a living here” part of the publishing world.

18 thoughts on “A Re-Introduction

  1. *twitch* *twitch*
    goes in and neatens your URL, pulling out the tracking fluff

    starts wondering if you did that deliberately as a joke to underscore the “Hi, I make Dorothy pull out hair when marketing is mentioned!
    Decides your sense of humour is subtle enough for that, and doesn’t finish making the link completely marketing friendly

    We all have our strengths and weaknesses, and you are better at many things than me! Welcome back!

    1. Nein, I just have not found out yet (lack of digging on my part) how to pull a clean link from the ‘Zon, since they don’t include them in the nice “You’ve Got Book!” notices any more.

      1. How to make a clean link: take the base stub of https://www.amazon.com, add /dp/ for Digital Product, then add the ASIN for Amazon Standard Identification Number, with a trailing slash on the end.

      2. I generally go to it from — somewhere — and then I trim off the stuff at the end and test it by plopping the URL in the browser.

  2. Wow! Just as I was starting to write, I came across “Cat Among Dragons” and remember it pretty vividly (liked it! About to buy the rest of the series now that I know there are more…) and it made me look for more of your work (I have over 20 titles (soon to be 30), so someone buys you!)

    You have some unique strengths of your own as a writer, in my view. Some of it is unusual settings (I value the northern/eastern historical Europe contexts both because my husband is of Lithuanian descent so I know more about it than most casual readers and because I enjoy the more… um… earthy elements (sanitation, starvation, hard labor) and realistic scenarios (travel, trade, etc.) Other things I enjoy are unusual contexts — I have a strong background in dead languages and mythology (I blame Tolkien), so waving a Baba Yaga series in front of me is like grilling barbeque. I also like the non-grimdark (me, too).

    I’m fonder of novels than short stories, and I’m always sorry your character visits are generally brief (confined to a limited corpus). I know from my own experience how hard it is to keep even a favorite character front and center for an extended presence across several works. In fact, my current series (my 3rd) has been delayed until now because I wanted the experience of writing two others first so I could better understand how to write a planned-to-be-indefinitely-long series with continuing characters.

    No need to be modest. You’ve made a unique mark in your writing, even if the marketing angle eludes you (as it does so many of us). You have fans out there…

    1. I’m another Baba Yaga fan – I’ve found all the Baba Yaga stories in my Afanasev Russian fairy tale collection. If you haven’t, try Cedar Sanderson’s The East Witch which also features Baba Yaga (and much more).

  3. Definitely interested in how to research for world building.

    Apparently I’m one of those writers who doesn’t actually enjoy world building and do it in their spare time, so I keep hitting these spots where I have no clue how to make the economy actually work.

    Plus, to my mind, the most fun areas are those rolling frontiers where you can have lack of running water in the same spots you’ve got turboprops being old tech. (Genuine Earth made turbine! (yeah, probably not, just shipping it out here would cost more than the whole plane)).

  4. So,…. 30 books to 3 K?

    Sounds like us! I’m looking forward to your posts about research and worldbuilding. That sort of thing is always fun.

    I’m currently plowing through Terry Jones’ “Chaucer’s Knight” and William Urban’s “Medieval Mercenaries”. Great stuff and I’m positive they’ll come in handy, someday, for something.

  5. Some author’s work resonates more with me than others – TxRed is one of those. I can list some reasons: good family life (which is hard to show), different (in a good way) starting points, and well written.

    And, yes, non-fiction (such as history) is often narrative with footnotes – we want to see patterns in what happened, and people are natural story tellers or listeners.

  6. With =Noble, Priest, and Empire= you seem to be moving back to the larger-story novel. And while it’s not my favorite among your works, it is the best that I’ve read of them. But it’s not one that I will pick up for a few minutes’ pleasure.

    1. *North of the Wall* is going to be another larger-story book, maybe. If I can ever get time to sit down and really dig into it.

  7. You write gud! 🙂 And yes, your stories are Human Wave and are both interesting and entertaining… And occasionally you LIKE to leave people hanging when you end a story, especially if they happen to have studied any history themselves… 🙂

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