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Posts by Cedar Sanderson

Watching Anime: A Study in Story

This holiday I managed to find myself with one kid at home. Two of my daughters are up at college – one in her dorm, the other visiting – one is with her grandmothers, and my son is at home. He’s blissfully pretending that he’s an only kid for four days, and for the baby, that’s a big deal. One of the things he asked me to do with him was binge-watch a movie series, which we eventually bargained down to an anime series, because I refuse to admit there are more than three Star Wars movies, and he prefers the newer ones to the one I know and love. So he went through the various anime that are on Netflix, asking me what genre I like, and when I pointed out I will not watch a chick-flick (his words, not mine!) and he’s not allowed to watch an MA rated one, we wound up settling on one that is sort of fantasy but the situation is precipitated in a science fiction way.

Silica, Kirito, Asuna, and Liz

I’ve been finding it… interesting. I’m very aware that the story is targeted more at my 12-yo son than it is at the 40-yo me, much less the me that is also a professional teller of tales. I’m still trying to convince my son that he doesn’t need to pause the show every so often and explain the plotline to me. I don’t know if he thinks I can’t follow it because anime, or if he just wants to show off that he knows it. The storytelling is very broad, which makes sense. You have a whole over-arching story plot, but in each twenty-minute episode there’s a sub-plot. I’m very much not a film geek, so I’m finding it a good exercise in study. The tropes are certainly tropey, and even though it is ostensibly a Japanese anime that has been redubbed in English, there are a lot of American or at very least Western tropes, like Santa Claus appearing in one episode (called Nicholas the Renegade, which amused me a lot and I liked the concept of that). The dubbing is amusing- you have a variety of options, to turn on the audio in Japanese, or English, to turn on closed captions in either of those languages, and most of yesterday we had it on in English with English subtitles running, and I noted that often the dialogue in print was not the same dialogue spoken. Curiously, this actually makes a difference. For instance, there’s a scene where the female character tells the male ‘I think I’m falling in love with you’ out loud in English, but the subtitle reads ‘I like you.’ Translation is tricky, culture is more so, the English dialogue is often much more detailed than the direct translation, like they think we need a bit more words to get the message without the tone of the spoken words in Japanese.

I’m going to bet a bit spoilery, but I don’t think any of my readers will mind. However, if you plan to watch Sword Art Online and haven’t yet you might want to stop reading now. The pilot opens with a long intro bit about this super-popular MMO game that is a virtual reality, and we see a montage of people waiting in line to buy it, and one guy (kid? hard to tell with anime art how old) who was a beta tester alreay going into the game. The game is, as the name implies, centered around the art of the sword. But once these new excited players are in the game, they figure out there is no way to log out, and then the player characters are all told that the game designer booby-trapped the VR helmets so they can’t leave the game, if someone takes off the headset it will microwave their brain and kill them. If they die in the game the headset will microwave their brain and kill them. The only way out is to clear the game.

I have so many questions at this point: how do they know this guy is on the level? If a player leaves the game, there’s no way to know if he’s dead or alive IRL, it could just all be a mindgame. And how is the player’s body being kept alive IRL? How are they going to cope if, after months (yes, the shows I’ve seen so far imply months if not years passing) of becoming a super-swordsman they win the game and come back to a body that has no muscle mass and must re-learn how to walk? Anyway…. this is what suspension of disbelief is for, right? I’ve hung mine pretty high and occasionally hit it with a cudgel to keep it quiet so my son can enjoy watching TV with mom, a rare treat for him.

And the show has it’s moments, don’t get me wrong. The mini-romances are handled sweetly and very lightly, as befitting a juvenile show. The scene I referenced earlier led to a lot of blushing but nothing more. The violence, such as it is, is very computer-graphics and looks like something out of a computer game. There was one scene my son felt he needed to warn me about where a character is shown in bra and panties – you know the bikini sets from about 1950? yeah, they looked a bit like that. It was cute. The whole thing is cute. I don’t know how much I’ll be able to use for my writing, but it’s an interesting study in building a character in thumbnail sketches. The main character starts out a shy loner, and sort of stays that way, but along the path to beat the game we see him do things like diverting the building anger against beta players who the new players are trying to blame for the disaster, by telling a big group that he knew more than the betas, and they should hate him, instead. They stop frothing up a riot against the betas and turn their anger on him, which was his point, taking away the division.

I can’t say I recommend it, exactly. But I do think that there are things we can learn and pull from the visual that can add to the textual of writing, especially if you are writing for a younger crowd that is used to things like anime. 

Women are not Men

When I was in highschool, and mind you this was a very small school, or what I say next would never have been possible, I narrowly missed winning the Presidential medal for fitness. Because I could not for the life of me do three pull-ups. I could do one, and did meet all the other requirements for what I dimly recall after this passage of time, but my upper body strength was inadequate to a test regime designed mostly for guys. Do I want to go back and redesign the test to give myself the kudos I wanted then? Heck no. It’s just that even then I knew if it meant using my arms alone, I’d never make it. A year later while learning rock climbing I knew not to try to hang or pull myself up by arms alone. But give me a toeholds to employ the leg muscles, and…

That was a long intro to something else. In a group I’m part of, someone asked for help in finding books with strong women characters, because a woman had dismissed all SFF as having women who had to be rescued or just wanted to get married. I got tagged into the conversation because they wanted a list of books like that, and I’m known for making lists. Two days and several hundred comments later, the list was taking shape, and it was pointed out that perhaps it would be shorter to make a list of ‘weak’ females in SFF. This is not a genre where the women are commonly wimps. In fact, you’re more likely to find, as someone vulgarly put it, ‘men with boobs on’ in a book. Because women are different from men, an undeniable biological fact, if you choose to write a woman who can do pull-ups all day long and fight off gangs barehand and so forth, you need to hang a lantern on *why* she isn’t normal. In SF this is simple enough – genetic engineering makes great handwavium. But you also need to keep in mind that if similarly engineered, her male peers will be stronger than she. I’m not saying there are no exceptions. I’m saying that for them to be exceptional, we have to populate our books with averages as well.

I put the call out for self-rescuing space princesses, damsels who can’t be bothered to be distressed, and boy, did I get nominations! But it also got me thinking. What’s wrong with needing rescue once in a while? If I wrote a male character, cast into Durance vile, who had to be rescued by the woman in his life, that plot would get all sorts of happy responses, yes? But if I flip the role I’m a misogynistic sexist.

I like in fiction, as in life, a complementary pair. She has weaknesses, but so does he, and their weaknesses aren’t in the same place, so together they are stronger than alone. Which is much like real life. What I don’t like to see is a strong female character surrounded by milksops she needs to constantly belittle and drag out of truffle-flavored (damn you autocorrect! I meant trouble, but I have to admit that’s funny) so the author can show how smart and awesome she is. People like that are not fun to hang around with, and as characters they make me stop reading. Instead of writing the five-foot nothing waif who can toss grown men around the room (side-note: this can actually be done, but the girl has to be very high on PCP and it will wreck her body later. Source: my dad, the paramedic) all day long, why not do some research into bad ass women of history and see how they did what they did?

Women like Virginia Hall, who spied on the Germans from occupied France for years. Not so big a deal? She was also missing a leg from a hunting accident, and hiked through waist-deep snow in her wooden leg to escape capture at one point. She was definitely an amazing woman. Women have held down the fort for time immemorial while the men were out to war, or hunting, or just gallivanting. That doesn’t make them weak, because it wasn’t always an easy job. Women have also been portrayed as mere pawns, historically, but the simple truth is that far from always needing to be rescued, including seeing marriage as a form of ‘rescue’ from uncertain fate, women have been a force to be reckoned with. It’s just that they are different from men, so other than the rare exception who took up a sword (usually under great duress) a woman’s way was more subtle and hidden. She might not have the strength of arms, but she did have ways to influence those who were doing the hacking and bashing.

So write strong females into your stories. But keep in mind that ‘strong’ isn’t always about the muscles in your arms. Sometimes it’s the bit between the ears.

Professionalism and Passion

Picking up a bit from Peter’s post yesterday, but also from something that has been weighing on my mind recently, I wanted to explore what I feel is my responsibility as a businesswoman to be professional. For one thing, when I interact with fans, I am acutely aware that they are where the money comes from. I write for my work to be appreciated, but the mark of appreciation is cold, hard cash. My customer is the reader, not a publisher or an editor or an agent, and after reading Peter’s and Kris’s posts on the topic, I think there are writers out there who have forgotten that the fans pay them, ultimately, not the middlemen who leech off the writer’s works.

We’ve discussed many times here on the blog the value in responding professionally to critical reviews. A professional approach to fans, whether in person, or on the internet, is crucial to developing a long-lasting fan base. You will erode that support when you act like a jerk, even if it makes you look cool to your peers when you do it. Your peers don’t buy enough of your books to pay the bills, I can almost guarantee, so as a sales ploy it’s bollocks unless you’re trying to be recruited by the Right People, and even then it’s more likely to backfire.

If you’re putting it on the internet it is public, and it is permanent. I was reminded of a poorly known example of this today when Tom Kratman asked if anyone had a copy of a certain infamous author’s ragequit letter from Baen’s Bar, an incident which took place some fifteen years ago. I vividly remember it, but didn’t think at the time to screenshot it… However, he got offers immediately of folks who had saved it. They, like me, had been so taken aback by the unprofessionalism that in the last fifteen years they haven’t bought anything with that name on it. It’s out there, and it’s still doing damage. Think before you hit send.

Remember to be professional in your interactions with vendors, as well. One of the things that Indie Authors can be bad about is thinking about their profession as a business. Heck, small presses can be included in this as well. I’m thinking of some examples I’ve seen over the years of conversations that went something like “That’s a nice cover, great art.” “Yeah, I found it online.” “Um, who’s the artist? You can’t just use an image without knowing what the copyright is!” “Oh, I have no idea, I couldn’t find that…” Five minutes later I had it and sent it to them. No idea if they changed the art or reached out to the artist for licensing. On a more personal note, I once had a publisher who had commissioned cover work from me reject the art. I’ve had that happen before, and it wasn’t a problem – my style isn’t going to work for every book. But this time, instead of a polite and professional ‘this art isn’t working for us.’ I got a cruel assessment of my work as ‘unrealistic and cartoonish’ which I took as personally as it had been given, and nearly stopped creating art altogether.

Because the personal passion of our creation is very close to the surface, professionalism gives us a way to build a shield between that hurt of being rejected with hurtful words and the knowledge that it just business, nothing personal. We’ve all gotten nasty reviews on our books. With the professional barrier up, we can analyze those as more reflective of the reviewer than of our work – Dorothy wrote an excellent article on how to read reviews professionally recently. Taken as a whole, the poo-flinging monkeys compared to the rave fan recommendations of our work balance into obscurity, as they should. Thoughtful critique does not look or smell like the review a monkey would fling.

Passionate support of a cause sometimes impinges on the professional, and it’s a very fine line. I’m not going to say that if you come out publicly in support of one thing, it will cut you off from 50% of your readers because I don’t think it’s true. I do think that if the message leaks into your books, that’s one thing. If the leak becomes a flood and your books become a vehicle to convey your passion for, say, the social good of patting penguins in the park, then you are going to start turning off fans who would rather not pat fishy penguins, and prefer to sass squirrels by the swings, instead. I’ve been guilty of supporting causes on my blog – no, guilty isn’t the right word. Passionately provoking the status quo, which when I got publicity due to my involvement in Sad Puppies, got picked up and I still see to this day ‘that Sanderson, she’s the Worst’ because I supported something that the speaker didn’t understand and didn’t like. Was I unprofessional in my passion? No, I don’t think so. I tried to be balanced and polite in my rants, and largely succeeded. Because for me it was about supporting friends and shining a light on the things scuttering and hiding in the shadows. Which it did, and now I’m back to shining the light on my blog with writing about sciency stuff, which is more my style and speed.

But I digress. One of the reasons this had been weighing on my mind was that I am tossed on the horns of a moral dilemma. A writer who is also a friend has a book out, and I would really love to promote it. I am a small voice, not influential at all, but I’m always pleased to be able to use the platforms I’ve built to promote friends and colleagues, not just myself. Other than buying and reviewing books, it’s one of the things I can do to give back to the generous writing community that has welcomed me in over the years. So. The problem is that the publisher is the one and same who nearly shattered my artistic confidence. If friends hadn’t poked and prodded me back into it, I’d have given it up entirely. I still have moments where I look at my work and go yeah, that’s…

I want to support the author, but not the publisher. Sigh. Isn’t that a familiar mantra? So what do I do? Forgive and forget how I was treated unprofessionally? Or take a pass, saying that my support isn’t likely to be huge anyway?

A low-res version of the rejected artwork. Giant mecha and ruined city for the win! (Mecha is by Innovari)

Back it Up. Way Up.

So I was noodling around this week looking for topics to write about, and came across a video, of all things.

Shared by a friend, taking place very near where I used to live, it may at first seem to have nothing to do with writing. However, as I was watching that and contemplating what that homeowner has just lost, I was reminded that I have not yet talked about the backup systems I put in place earlier this year.

You should, of course, have some kind of backup drive on your computer. I have a nifty little one that isn’t much bigger than a deck of cards, but packs two terabytes of memory. The one that goes with my laptop I even got a carry case for, so it could travel with me and I wouldn’t risk losing a word. I’ve been talking with friends about building a second hard drive into my laptop that is essentially a replicate of the one I run, so in case of failure I could simply switch over. Given that the First Reader’s desktop is currently in the shop with what we thought was a dead motherboard or CPU, but which replacing those two things didn’t revive it… and that computer is only two years old. These things happen.

To round out the physical backups I also have a 4TB home cloud – a storage tower which can be wirelessly networked to the home computers and allows everyone access to commonly used files. I also use it for backup for my photography and art files, since they can get very bulky in terms of digital memory size. It’s a cool thing, a little time-consuming to set up, but with kids and my husband all able to access photos or music at will (we don’t own a lot of movies, but that’s supposed to be a big feature if you do that kind of thing) it’s far more convenient than me having to email stuff whenever they want it.

However, all of that is vulnerable if something happens at the house. Like being washed off the foundations… or a house fire, or a burglary, or whatever disaster can befall. So while these are the first line of my backups, I have two more, for a three-deep defense against loss of files and data. If you only ever write long-hand in notebooks, they are gone when the house is.

I took some time in considering how I would set up off-site backups. I use Dropbox for transferring files to clients – very large print-ready PDF files do not fit through email servers! – but after looking at what it would cost annually to use it as a backup for most of my files I opted to go in another direction. There is a cost with using cloud storage, unless your backup is small, and mine is not, but that’s just part of doing business and I’m happy to pay for a reliable service I don’t need to worry about suddenly disappearing and losing access to my stuff. I wound up going with two different things: Google for backing up documents, and Amazon Prime for backing up photos since they offer unlimited space for images. Google backup works fairly seamlessly: You set up the Backup and Sync app on your desktop, and tell it which folders it should back up. For $1.99 a month (and I think there’s a yearly rate, if you prefer to pay that way) you get 100 GB which is what I’m using since this isn’t a full backup for me, just my documents folder.

However, this is great if you want to be able to access your files when you are traveling, which I do. Being able to grab whatever manuscript I want (or, as I have needed to do, legal documents) when I was not at home is so very nice. If I didn’t remember to grab a file and put it on my laptop, as long as I have internet, I have that file. It’s so cool to live in the science fiction present!

My final line of defense is a full system image backup in the cloud. I’m using Backblaze, which is $50 a year, and should my hard drive fail, I’d just have to set up a new machine, and suck down the disk image from the web and voila! Back to the old set-up and all my data intact. Now, mind you, this protects one computer, and I suspect it would take ages to do that download. However, given how much data I have on this computer it’s essential to have it backed up: documents, images, artwork, client artwork and files, and so on and on.

But what if you don’t hit save? you might be asking. Actually, that is a concern, although I have myself fairly well trained to save anytime I look away from a file. However, I’m also doing most if not all of my rough drafts in Google Docs, because I can access them from anywhere, they save automatically, and I can share with my first readers (I do have more than one) and get real-time help on sticky spots. I then take the text into Word and format it the way I want it when it’s all said and done. Over the last year this has become a necessity as I’m rarely writing at home – lots of lunch time composition and so forth.

Three lines of defense. Because if you don’t have a plan for failure, you’re planning to fail, and there’s no point in setting up a defense unless it’s a defense in depth.

Friction

I bought a frozen lasagna for dinner for the family. I love to make lasagna, and have a great recipe a fellow author gave me, but… There was friction. In other words, it was Friday night, had been a very long week, and I was so tired it hurt. So I did something to reduce the friction, and bought the darn lasagna.

So what does this have to do with writing? Well, it relates both to the writing, but more importantly, to the marketing and sales of our work. We want to reduce friction for our readers, but not too much. Frictionless is also a bad thing… But I digress. I’ll come back to that in due time. Friction in the context I’m using it is anything that makes the reader work harder to overcome. We’re going to say our readers have worked a long day and just want a book to curl up and relax with – literary fiction is the very definition of added friction to a book, which is why those are the books people love to say they have read but don’t actually ever finish reading. So how do you reduce friction in a book? Like sanding a piece of wood – you start out with the obvious of removing typos and poor grammar, then you switch to the finer grit of making sure you’re historically accurate, or consistent through the book with a character’s development, or… you get my drift. At the end you have a smooth, polished work.

But not too smooth. Here’s the thing. People remember ‘sticky data’ that doesn’t just drop through the colander of their brains. We all have colanders for brains, this isn’t an insult. We have to: we’re constantly bombarded by input, and if we didn’t learn how to filter all – well, ok, most – of that out, we’d be gibbering in the corner with our hands over our ears and our eyes squeezed shut. So the input pours through the colander, but sometimes something is too big or too sticky to just fall through, and that we pay attention to and remember. You don’t want your book to be so frictionless it falls through and is instantly forgettable. We want, to return to my wood carving metaphor, the grain of the wood to show through and give it some character, some unique qualities. Your book should still reveal your voice, the unique way that you write. If – and really, this should be when – you hire an editor, keep this in mind. They need to be helping you polish, not taking a belt sander to it and obliterating the interesting features that are your style.

Friction is, if anything, even more important when it comes to sales and marketing. Let’s look at two ways: in-person bookstores, and online bookstores, to begin with. When was the last time you went to an in-person bookstore, a brick and mortar? How far did you have to drive? That was a lot of friction, wasn’t it, before you got to the books. Now that you’re in the store, how easy is it to find the book you want? Or the section you’d like to browse to find a book, at least? Last time I was in a bookstore they didn’t have the fiction sorted by genre and it was a little annoying to say the least. Fortunately I wasn’t there for fiction, I wanted comic books, and I browsed the antique section of the store while I was there because I love beautiful books. But those aren’t organized at all, just ‘this looks old’ and shelved. So it adds a lot of friction to my shopping experience. Why do I go back? Because this store offers a ‘free book’ coupon and that reduces the friction on my bank account.  Note: I’m talking a used book store, here. Their books are mostly $3 and comic books are a buck. My kids adore them, and frankly, so do I. Now, the last time I was in a ‘new’ bookstore was the local Barnes $ Nobles, which is a fifteen minute drive from the house (good) in a very congested shopping area (bad) and we only bought one book, from the bargain rack, because I refuse to pay full price when I can hop on Amazon and get the discounted rate. But the authors!! you’re saying They need to be paid! 

No. Here’s the thing. As a businesswoman, I like supporting fellow small businesses. I’ll buy books at full price from fellow Indie Authors. Heck, if it’s an option I’ll read the book through KU and then buy it, so they get paid twice (if I really like the book, this is a nice way to say thanks to a creator). As a budgeting wife whose whole goal is to live frugally and not get into debt, I’m out to spend money wisely and plunking down twenty bucks on a (paper) book that may get read once is not a wise decision. I have a monthly book budget, by the way, one for fiction and one for research because I am a writer. So, back to friction. I don’t give a flip about supporting the big fiver publishers. So them? I buy discounted or even used.

Most Indies have already figured out that a great way to reduce friction and get more sales is to lower the prices of their books. Not having ritzy Manhattan offices to keep up appearances, they can afford to set their trade paperback prices around $15 and their ebooks around $5 for a novel. Now here’s where we get to the inverse effect of friction: if you reduce the price too much, or make the book free, you remove so much friction the buyer mentally discounts the book in their head as being less worthy. Free ebooks have a very, very low read rate. You might give away thousands of them, and maybe hundreds will get read (if you have a good cover, but that’s another post).  Ebooks, in case you haven’t already realized it, are perhaps the ultimate in friction reduction for not only book reading, but book buying. Above I asked about the last time you drove to a bookstore, and the time and hassle involved in that. For online shopping? Pull up Amazon or your favorite ebook site, and click, you’re done and reading two minutes later. I was doing this last weekend when I was stuck in bed with a pinched nerve, trying to keep my mind off the pain. Binge reading, what a drug. You don’t have to get dressed – not even into jammies, if you don’t want to – to shop online. You don’t have to risk your life in mall traffic (suck it, B&N, I’m never coming back again). You don’t have to (Shudder) put up with people to make a purchase.

Friction, by the way, is why you shouldn’t limit your sales outlets too far. I’ve seen anti-Amazon advocates calling for selling books just through personal websites. That adds so much friction that I’d be surprised to hear of them making sales. Any sales. There are reasons why aggregator sites work, just like big department stores. Personally, I’ve chosen to add friction by not having my books available through Nook or Kobo and it wasn’t just that I saw the writing on the wall for the Nook years ago when I first compared a nook and a Kindle side-by-side. I’ve added that friction in order to reduce friction by having my books available through Kindle Unlimited. It’s not perfect, but you have to admit it’s very darn close to being frictionless for the reader, which means that if they are enjoying the story, there’s nothing to break them out of the reading trance as they march through an entire series. KU lowers the entrance hurdle for new readers to your work, and that reduces the friction, too.

Speaking of which! The anthology I have a story in, the one I was snippeting last week, is available for you now, and you can get it in paper, ebook, and read through KU. Just click here and you’re there! How’s that for frictionless?

 

 

 

 

An interesting endeavor

I’ve always steered clear of anthologies, having heard stories of the difficulty writing for them. You write up a tale tailored to that particular one, they don’t take it, then what do you do with a story about a purple top-hatted steampunk kraken? Anyway, on top of this, whilst I was at an impressionable age as a writer – just a couple of years ago in other words – I watched someone I know can write a novel at the drop of a hat being forced to gut and rewrite a story, and struggling with it because the editor of the anthology wanted to make more room for someone else’s story but couldn’t expand the size of the whole book.

So I just did my own thing. There was an anthology edited by a friend (you can find the Kickstarter here) that looked like fun, but I couldn’t come up with a story idea that fit into the corporate world and involved Chthulhu in time for it. But around the time I was writing Snow, I checked in at one of my daily blogs, and was surprised to see a call for authors… And I immediately responded.

I’d read the kernel novella JL Curtis had written, that he now wanted to spin off into a collection of tales by different authors, and I liked the central idea, but what struck me was more than the big story, there would be a lot of small stories going on. And I write small stories. In this one, a boy becoming a man in a time of turmoil. It’s a tale as old as time, but worth telling again and again, for my son’s sake.

I have had the great pleasure of not only getting to know this editor and a gentleman online, but in person, so I knew I could trust him with my work. One thing about us Indies (or maybe it’s just me) we’re particular about where our babies go. Also, his guidelines for word count and content were clear and easy to work with. The whole process has been terrific, especially when I got to see the draft and realized what great company I was hanging out with.

 

So to sum up: clear guidelines, light editing touch (he didn’t do much, but it was very helpful), and frequent but not onerous communication. If I do take part in another venture like this, he’s set a high bar! I’ve enjoyed the whole process, although I suspect that it has been an enormous amount of work and investment on his part. Hopefully it hasn’t held up his writing on other series too much (you should check The Grey Man out if you haven’t already).

I’ve read the draft, and there are some wonderful stories, and mine least among them. But mine I can give you a sample of, to whet your appetites.

The Carpetbaggers

Ryan sat at the top of the stairs, and listened hard to the conversation below him. It felt faintly ridiculous – he was, after all, fifteen — nearly sixteen — and technically almost an adult, not a toddler to be sitting here while the adults discussed stuff he wasn’t supposed to know. But what he did know was that if he went downstairs, the conversation would shift, and they wouldn’t be talking about what they were.

It wasn’t the political. He could hardly escape knowing that he was no longer a resident of the Beaver State of Oregon. He was now residing in the bright shiny newness that was Jefferson, a product of the messy split of California from the United States of America. That tear had left ragged edges, like ripping a sheet of paper from a notebook, and the inhabitants of the southern part of what had been Oregon, and the northern part of California, had banded together against all others, and formed the territory. It wasn’t a state yet. According to his social studies teacher, it just had to be ratified into statehood by congress. But according to one of the lively conversations that took place below him in the big great room of his parent’s ranch house, being a territory meant more independence from the Feds, and that was a good thing. They might vote to pass on statehood.

Ryan wasn’t sure where he stood on the issue of independency, to use a word from his mother’s favorite movie. In theory, he liked it. He was looking forward to becoming an independent adult, unlike his friend Brynna whose family had stayed behind during Calexit, and who had just found out that driver’s licenses were no longer available to minors. She wouldn’t be getting hers for two more years, while he would have his in just two months. California had decided that kids could get hurt, driving too early, and it was part of the sweeping Nanny Laws they had passed following their leavetaking from the good ol’ USA. Ryan had been driving since his feet could reach the pedals while he could see out the windshield, on the ranch. The license was just a formality. He remained indignant on Brynna’s behalf, though. She’d been quite vocally unhappy in the group chat they both belonged to when she found out she was going to have to wait. She couldn’t get a job, either. Child labor…

But politics was not the central part of the low-voiced and urgent conversation under him. That, he’d have been down there for. No, this was far more disturbing, and he strained to make it all out.

“… the Wilman’s place was hit hard.” His father’s low voice was gravelly, and hard to hear.

His mother’s voice was higher, and clearer. “I offered Vi and the girls a place, but they are going up to her aunt’s in Portland. There’s a hospital there, although she did finally give in and let the SANE nurse collect samples from them at Medford General.”

Ryan knew Pat – she purely hated Patty – Wilman. He went to school with her. She was a good kid, not girly at all. He was worried about her; he had texted her earlier and no reply yet.

“It was an atrocity.” And that voice, cutting through the murmurs, was Doña Marguerite. She wasn’t formally a Doña, but everyone called her that. Ryan thought he understood. She was regal, a real Lady.

She kept talking. “These Brownshirts are a plague on our land. They think they can come in, and take, and the Law matters not at all to them. My great-great-grandfather would have hunted them down and shot them. Or perhaps strung them up on the routes out of town. He did have a flair for the dramatic. He was also a law-abiding man, and would be horrified to see his race represented so.” She snorted. “La Raza, indeed.”

Ryan still felt a little cognitive dissonance – he rolled the word around in his mind, liking how it sounded – at hearing the tiny Hispanic lady talk about the formerly illegal immigrants who now made up the majority of the California Border Patrol.

“It’s not just the Brownshirts, although I think Don Miguel would indeed be rolling in his grave. It’s the carpetbaggers.” His mother was very close to Doña Marguerite, and Ryan thought it was weird both of them referred to a long-dead Mexican-Californian Don like he was still alive and in the room. He guessed that was what came of having a historian for a mother.

The next morning, Ryan seized the opportunity when he was alone with her. “Mom?”

She looked up from the tortilla dough she was kneading like it had done something to her. “What, Ryan? Is this about riding out on the south fence? Because both your father and I have told you that you cannot do that one alone already.”

Ryan felt a twinge. “I’m not a baby, Mom.” He was taller than she was by half a head, and still growing, she said.

“You’re always going to be my baby.” She looked up at him, her hands stilling and her face softening. “I know you’re near a man grown. But we want everyone to be riding in at least pairs, for now.”

“That’s not what I wanted to ask. What’s a carpetbagger?” He grabbed a piece of the dough, and she made like she was going to swat him.

“You haven’t heard that before? Oh, your school. Bleah.” She sighed, and he could tell she was about to go into the rant he’d heard before.

Ryan held up his hand to stop her. “I know, I know, I’m getting a very watered-down biased view of history and they don’t even call it history any more, it’s social studies…”

She laughed. “I guess I’ve said that too many times. A carpetbagger is a term for people who descended on the South after the Civil War. They preyed on folks who had lost everything, and they forced them off their farms, because they’d been on the losing side. They were like a cuckoo’s egg.”

“What?” Ryan was confused.

“The cuckoo lays their eggs in other bird’s nests, and when they hatch, they push the other nestlings or eggs out, until they have the parents feeding them and only them.”

“So what does that have to do with carpet bags, and farms?”

She covered the dough so it could rest. “Well, the South had spent a lot of money during the War. They weren’t material rich like the North was, so after the war ended, there were a lot of people who were flat broke. It wasn’t about slaves – we’ve discussed that before – it was sheer economic disruption.”

“Ok. What does that have to do with Jefferson? And cuckoos?”

She came and sat next to him at the table. “You overheard us last night.”

“A little. Not all of it.” He was pretty sure he wasn’t supposed to have heard any of it.

She sighed sadly. “Jefferson isn’t very rich, yet. We’re trying to abide by regulations put in place when we split off from the FedGov, but they will be ending soon. We had a three-year restriction on mining and five on logging, for instance. Once we can tap into our own resources, then we’ll be able to defend ourselves.”

“From the Brownies?” Ryan used the slang term for the Border Patrol, who weren’t as upright as their title made them out to be.

“And from people who are coming in, offering pennies on the dollar to buy ranches and farms, and desperate folks are taking them up on it. The cuckoo is pushing them out of their nests. But if the rancher doesn’t take the offer…” She shrugged. “Something bad happens.”

“Like their house burns down.”

“Oh, baby…” She put a hand on his arm. “I’m sorry, but that’s the least of it.”

 

Reviews and Maturity

So this post is the result, as so many of my posts are, of a few conversations I’ve had recently about writing, and life. I’m constantly learning, but at this point, also trying to share what I’ve learned with others who ask me about stuff. Like whether they should ‘un-publish’- a book that was their first, and they now feel is immature and not a reflection of them as a writer now. I pointed out in response that I leave my first novel up, despite it getting not-so-great reviews, because it’s a reflection of where I started versus where I am now. No, readers probably don’t pay attention to dates published, in most cases (I know I do if I am trying to blitz-read an author, because it lets me read series from the beginning if they have been so inconsiderate as to not mark books with series identifiers. Pet peeve: number your series books, people!). I know I have fans who were interested to read it and see my growth as an author, because they took the time to reach out and tell me that. I leave it up for them, and because with some two dozen titles on Amazon, I know it falls to the bottom and only a reader who was working through my whole body of work would find it. Along with some of the other oddballs I’ve written.

And along with that is the other conversation I had on facebook about one-star reviews and whether they are always bad. They are not. I had a prominent reviewer give my latest novella, Snow in Her Eyes, a one-star review, and it led to more sales than that story might have seen elsewhere. Because he was very articulate about what his problem was with the story.

I only work for myself; there is no one who tells me I have to review certain books. I only read what I want to read; that’s why, if you look at my reviews, you will find that the vast majority award 4 or 5 stars. I have been chastised for this in the past; some people have accused me of pandering to authors, others have told me I was an easy grader.

Well, bite me.

If that is the case, why am I reviewing a book that I gave one star?

Part of is is because of the limitations of the Amazon rating system. If you look at what the ratings mean:
1 star: I hated it.
2 stars: I didn’t like it.
3 stars: It was okay. (Amazon says this is a negative review, which makes no sense to me.)
4 stars: I liked it.
5 stars: I loved it.

You will notice that those ratings say nothing whatsoever about the artistry of the writing; the internal consistency of the story; plot development; originality; NOTHING at all about what I think really makes a book worth reading. It is an utterly subjective rating system, and I suppose the only kind that makes sense in the mass-market approach Amazon takes with the book reading public.

Now, that only explains the rating system, and not why I reviewed a book I gave 1 star to, and why I gave it one star.

Briefly:
1. I gave it one star, because in the first paragraph, the author kills off a baby girl. No women, no kids; one star.
2. I reviewed it because the author is Cedar Sanderson, and she is one of my favorite writers, and one of my favorite people as well. I couldn’t NOT review it without my favoritism toward her and her work utterly destroying any credibility I have as a reviewer.

Read the rest at Papa Pat Rambles (and stay for the wonderful essays and quirky reviews!)

A one-star review – especially when it is balanced with other high reviews – can actually be a selling point. It’s only when you see an imbalance of one, two, and even three-star reviews that it’s obvious there’s a problem with that book. And sometimes even ‘a problem book’ can be enjoyed by readers. I ran across a case recently where a friend I trust had reviewed a book, the author found the review, leaped like a gazelle to the absolutely wrong conclusions, and I was highly amused. I also decided that I would not read that author’s books. Not because he’d had a hissy fit over the negative review, but because I saw enough of a theme in the reviews of his books to know my friend was right, and I would not enjoy those books. I have to say the ‘sex scenes written by Victor Appleton II after a few stag films’ nearly made me snort my coffee onto the monitor!

I’ve come to a point where I trust the reviews on Amazon. Sometimes it’s not what they say that is important, it’s how they say it. Like the book with 104 reviews… until you clicked on ‘verified purchasers’ and suddenly it had five, and of the others the majority of them mentioned they had received a review copy in return for their review. I have nothing against review copies. But I do think that if the book does not generate the bulk of it’s reviews from people who read it after buying (this book was not in the KU program) then there is a problem with it (and reading the blurb and ‘look inside’ not to mention the ghastly cover, cemented that impression).

As an author I know I have to show maturity in how I handle my reviews, both the positive and the negative. Mostly, mine make me happy. But even the ones that make me shake my head – like the reviewer who commented on Pixie Noir that it had no emotion and she thought it must have been written by a man – don’t bother me much. Because losing your mind over a review and shrieking about it in public like the above author who gazelled off into the distance calling that there were lions attacking him… yeah, no. That’s not good publicity, dude. Not only did you lead to one of your fans making the connection to my friend and linking to his facebook page in your comment thread (and I screenshot that and let my friend know to brace for incoming) but you lead to me deciding firmly that I would not read your books, nor promote them. Guess what? unprofessional behaviour just pisses people off. I have a very short list of ‘will not buy, will not promote’ but that author is one of those. And I know I’m not alone in that reaction to author behaviours.