Skip to content

Posts from the ‘reading’ Category

The little cabbages..

Hear about the e-book of a fight between vampires for dominance in the story world? It’s about who gets to be the bit or the byte players. Ow. Stop hitting me. Cease with the carp. I repent (at least for now).

Most of us remember – and work on writing well – the main character/s in stories. It’s the lesser characters that tend to be neglected – both by writers and the memory of readers. This is not necessarily a bad thing as the bit-players have an awful habit of being so cool they morph into having a larger part than you planned, maybe even nudging the main character off-stage, and ruining your well-planned book.

Read more

Comfort Reads

It’s two weeks into the new year – the time when those of us who regularly went to the gym in December can now go back, as the tide of resolutionistas has receded. How are you doing on your resolutions, goals, and milestones? We’re not; we’re sick.

In our house, we’re about three weeks behind schedule. The Tiny Town Medical Outpost (Not just EMTs! We have a NP!) receptionist eyed my husband as he dragged in, and likely had not only his file and his copay pulled up before he got the window, but also the “and it’s ANOTHER flu patient who’s not getting better.” He dragged home, and I went the next day, and got mildly upbraided for not coming in at the same time so we could be seen together, as they’re swamped with folks catching bronchitis, pneumonia, and strep as secondary infections to go with the flu.

Read more

Out With the Old

In with the new 

It’s not always a good thing, to sweep out the old with a clean broom and throw open the shutters to let the light come streaming in.

Let me explain.

No, let me show you.

Some of the old books I just acquired.

You see, I had a gay old time at the used bookstore recently. I came home with quite the haul, to the First Reader’s dismay, but he’s a thoroughly modern husband, so he just let me show off my finds. There was no yelling or beating, or even finger-wagging at his naughty wife.  Besides, most of them were presents for him. Admittedly, one was a gag gift, since he confessed he’d never read a Tom Swift.

And of course, proud collector that I am, I showed them off on Facebook. Which is where I got a comment that rather took me aback.

“Oh, you got one of the old Tom Swift’s! The racist, sexist ones.” 

Um. Y’know, I was a girl, once. And I happily read Tom Swift, although I liked Danny Dunn and Encyclopedia Brown better (detectives, you know). In fact, I could easily daydream myself into those boys shoes to have adventures, and did so. I never stopped to contemplate that I couldn’t do that because *GASP* they were boys and I was a girl. If I wanted to do science and solve mysteries, I jolly well was going to go ahead and do so! And here I stand today with a degree in Forensic Science. No one said I couldn’t do that, either.

So, sexist? Not in my memory, but it’s been a while, granted. I mean, I was a mere slip of a girl, and therefore not fit to judge for myself. Can women really think independently? Or must they all be spoon-fed the feminism mantras? 

Racist? I have a deep and abiding fascination with the Sub-Continent, due in no small part to my introduction to it through Kim, Rudyard Kipling’s tale of a boy growing to manhood there. I don’t recall thinking any less of the Indian characters than the British ones – Kipling treats them all with the same rough humor. Read Gunga Din, sometime (or listen, at that link).

Only… don’t filter it through the prism of modern thinking. 

I know, I know, it’s a radical suggestion. There are quarters where I would be verbally flogged for suggesting such a thing. The same quarters which praise Harris’s defense of infanticide in Cannibals and Kings, and scold those of us who recoil for being guilty of cultural relativism and comparing our morals to theirs, with theirs coming out on the short end of the stick. But in order to understand where we are now, we must retain an understanding of where we came from.

I’m not saying that our journey should double back on itself. I am rather fond of being able to vote for the lesser of two weevils in the elections, for instance. Even if my vote doesn’t carry much weight, it’s mine. I am saying that history repeats itself, and without a map, how do we know if we’re driving in circles? 

I bought my beloved a gift of ten – no, eleven, but one’s not in the set – H Rider Haggard books. Obscure titles, too. Peter Grant was talking about Haggard recently, and I enjoy his stuff, but the First Reader either hadn’t read any, or it had been a long time. He was surprised at how much fantasy there is in the old Pulp Adventure books. We live in a deeply fantastical era, where people are more apt to rely on their feelings and emotions than they are on facts and data – just like the seers and sorceresses committing atrocities in Haggard’s tales of dark Africa and darker souls.

So what am I saying? I’m saying to keep an open mind, and read the old books. Even the ones that have been tarred as racist and sexist and whateverist. And don’t just read them yourself. Find them on Project Gutenberg and suggest them to the young readers you know. Then talk about what they read. Because likely they will have just had an education they weren’t expecting. Sweeping out the past has the regrettable effect of making the present look as though it sprang spotless into the world, but it has all it’s own shadows and blemishes and corruptions softly creeping into the books.

Good Books for Young Readers

I had a question posed over on my blog yesterday, and I thought that I’d ask for help here (and on social media) in answering it. Here’s the question:

Thanks mainly to Sarah’s blog introducing me to writers like you, I’m on top of SF for my g’daughters, ages 11 and 12, but are you aware of other kinds of fiction that would be age appropriate? Or even any idea where I might start looking? So far almost everything I’ve found appears to be written by and for The Young Radical Feminists Guild, if yaknowhatImean, and the books I read in the 50s and 60s have been “edited” or are just hard/impossible to find in their original form.

*Any* suggestion would be gratefully appreciated. I’ve run out of ideas! The younger g’daughter does not like SF or even fantasy, and we wanted to do a little family book club this summer.

I have compiled a fairly nice curated list of books for young men, but I’ve neglected books for young Ladies in training. With some help, I think we can come up with great reads for them, ones that will inspire them to grow up into loving women who respect men just as they themselves earn respect. Far too many of the current crop of girls books infantilize boys, if not portraying them in more negative lights.

Actually, reading some of the ‘books for boys’ is a great place to start, I know I read a lot of those as a girl. But sometimes a princess wants a story about cats, horses, and that ‘castle ambiance.’

Please put your suggestions in the comments below!

The First Reader and I were talking about this, and he pointed out that as much as we all love the Heinlein juveniles, they don’t work well for most young people these days. The children find it hard to connect with the concept that not everyone has a phone in their pocket and a computer to boot. He’s right – I have coaxed and cajoled mine, and they have turned up their noses at “Have Spacesuit, Will Travel”, “Star Beast” and others. On the other hand, my son did start reading Mackey Chandler’s Family Law, and was enjoying it (he stalled out because of the length, but that’s a maturity issue, not the book which wasn’t written for children).

So what I’m looking for are good books that were written more recently than the 50s and 60s. Or perhaps ones that have a timeless setting that kid readers can identify with. Nobody expects an elf to have a cellphone, my First Reader points out. I respond with, wouldn’t that be a fun story to write?

I know from personal experience that young adult books don’t sell terribly well as a small-name Indie author. I also know that my daughters (currently aged 16 and 15) love angst and teenager stuff, so I hold my nose and buy it for them. I just can’t bring myself to write it for them… however. Younger kids – the 10 and 12 yo of the question above – want and need the more hopeful, happy, inspiring tales of courage, love (and not in a romantic sense), and adventure. Pam Uphoff’s Barton Street Gym is a good example of a Indie YA that gives all that – but of course it’s also SF with an artificial intelligence that manifests as a T-Rex. Swallows and Amazons by Arthur Ransome is a glimpse into another world, one that offered even young children responsibility, freedom, and wholesome adventure with adults rarely present.

If I ever have time, I’ll write more for kids. Even if the books don’t sell well, it’s important to have good books that focus more on story than pushing formative-stage minds into molds the social issues of the day dictate. That way lies indoctrination and madness.

Unwarranted Assumptions

Some men give their wives jewelry. Others proffer chocolates, or flowers. My husband? Gives me blog posts when he sees that I am tired, overwhelmed, and stretched to the snapping point. I started a post on covers, but after serving as referee in a three-sided sibling war (now, there’s the plot for a space dynasty saga) I was exhausted and listless. He surprised me with a post, and that means I get back a lost hour of sleep. So I’ll get the cover post done for next Saturday and you get a Reader writing on reading today. 

We all make assumptions about life “This is the way things are done”. The problem with that, especially for writers, is that our assumptions are sometimes wrong. For example, I recently read a story where a brother was offering his sister a morning glass of juice, which she refused because she hadn’t brushed her teeth yet. For most of us that is a jarring misdirection. We are taught in the U.S. to brush after meals, not before.

 

    There are many other things we take for granted that aren’t necessarily so. Many younger people assume that any girl can beat most boys physically because so much of our media tells them so. Even older adults often buy into that nonsense to a degree, those who see a FaceBook video with a young woman beating up the bikers molesting her is a prime example, many older men didn’t realize that it was an obviously scripted event that was physically impossible as shown.

  Even in our personal lives we learn things that just aren’t true, not for the majority. I used to think that all our social instructions through books and movies were deliberate misdirection. Our social norms say that men propose and women accept or reject. Every romantic movie seems to have a guy nervously proffering a ring and waiting with baited breath for the girl to say “Yes”. I knew that was false until I was in my mid thirties when I found out that it was probably true for the majority of people. I honestly though all men got proposed to three of four times a year on average, which fiction told us wasn’t true. Then I found out that it was true for most guys.

 

  Since we know that some of our assumptions are wrong it behooves us to keep this in mind when writing. If your hero thinks that he is weird because he is straight you’d better have a good bit of worldbuilding going on and be writing fantasy or deranged SF. Normal humans realize that homosexuals comprise a very small percentage of the population, not the majority.
   Similarly any other minority position in the real world cannot comprise the main thrust of your story without some given reason for believing it. A story with no men in it at all could happen, if you place  it in a convent or other limited slice of life that doesn’t contain the majority of the world. If your character doesn’t interact with the people of the opposite sex, or differing orientation that is fine. Having them not exist takes a lot of back story.

  Since we have to make assumptions to live go ahead and make them, just be aware that everyone may not share your particular assumptions and it may throw them out of the story. This is where writers need beta readers, to point out such oddities. And it is why the rest of us should be open to changing our minds if we find out our assumptions are wrong.

Tuesday morning links and thoughts

I am up to my eyes in finishing up a major rewrite so I can finally send Dagger of Elanna to press. Because of that, I forgot today was my day for MGC. So, when I did finally remember, I went looking for any news that might be of interest. I’m going to link to some of what I found and am interested in seeing what you think.

First off is an article from Publishers Weekly. It details the “bad news about e-books“. It seems part of the Digital Book World conference, Jonathan Stolper from Neilsen Books noted that e-book sales from “reporting publishers” was down 16%. He noted that one cause of the decline was the rise in e-book prices. According to him, on average, e-books increased $3 to an average of $8 per title. He also claimed another factor for the decline was the increase in use of tablets by readers instead of dedicate e-book readers. Stolper said that readers who use a dedicated e-book reader buy more books than those who use tablets.

Now, I’ll admit I was surprised to see he admitted part of the problem — a major part, in my mind — is the increased price of e-books by traditional publishers. I’m not sure where he got the average $8 price. It certainly isn’t the average price of new titles coming from the Big 5 publishers. I checked yesterday and the latest e-book coming next month from J D Robb is $14.99. James Patterson’s upcoming book, the 16th in the Women’s Murder Club series, is also selling for $14.99. Silence Fallen by Patricia Briggs is selling for $13.99. Those are a long way from the $8 per title Stolper mentioned.

Perhaps he is averaging out the prices of new and old books. If so, he is not only comparing apples and oranges but he is trying to fool us with the old shell game con. Yes, e-book readers look for older books to read and buy them. But most readers, be they those who only read print books or those who read only digital or those who do both look for new books to buy from their favorite authors. Readers understand that there is no reason for an e-book to cost more than they have to pay for the print version. So, instead of buying the e-book, or even the print book, they wait for it to go on sale through Amazon or another online retailer or they go to the second hand bookstore or borrow it from the library.

There is something else that, when considered, shows a major flaw in Stolper’s argument. He discusses only sales form “reporting publishers”. In other words, indie authors, small presses and probably a number of medium sized publishers aren’t included in his data. When you take that into consideration, what you have is a window into what is happening with traditional publishing and not with publishing as a whole. Not that it surprises me. As for the “people who read on tablets buy fewer books than those with dedicated e-book readers” argument, all I can say is he needs to talk to my bank account. I buy as many books, if not more, now that I use a tablet for the majority of my reading than I did before I owned a tablet.

I recommend comparing what Stolper has to say with what Author Earnings said. You can find the Authors Earnings report here.

In other news about e-book pricing, for those who live in Canada, Apple and several major publishers have reached an agreement with the government to end what has been termed anti-competitive pricing. That sounds kind of familiar, doesn’t it? It will be interesting to see how this plays out and how it impacts pricing. Will Canadian outlets take the approach Amazon did when agency pricing ended here? With publishers setting the price for e-books, will the online outlets start discounting print books more, even if — as with Amazon — it is only for a limited time? If so, how will the publishers react to that and what sort of spin will they put on it to explain their financial losses/gains?

There is a new “publisher” out there for indies. Looking at it, it looks more like a distribution platform ala Draft2Digital and others. Called Pronoun, it bills itself as a “free publishing platform where authors can create, sell, and promote their books”. It might be legit and a great platform. My problem is it says it is free but then talks about distribution fees. Unfortunately, on a quick look at the site, I did not find any real information about what these distribution fees might be. In fact, when I went to the support page and clicked on the link for how much it would cost, I got a 404 page error. In other words, no information. That always bothers me. I want to know before signing up for an account, even a free account, how deeply someone is going to try to reach into my pocket. So, if any of you guys have had experience with Pronoun, I’d love to hear what you think.

Finally, Amazon UK has launched its second literary competition in just a few months. This one has a pretty substantial prize and the promise of a marketing campaign for the winner. For more information about the Kindle Storyteller Award, check here. Full details can be found on the official page for the contest.

Have I missed any recent news you think we need to know about? If so, list it in the comments.

Sad Puppies 5 and recommendation lists

Sigh. There are mornings when it really doesn’t pay to get out of bed. Or perhaps I should learn not to look at my phone as soon as I get up. What usually happens when I do is that I see something on social media that sends my blood pressure rising and has me racing for the keyboard to fire off a response. Yeah, yeah, I know. It sounds sort of like what the president-elect must act. At least I don’t do Twitter.

Anyway, this morning, the BP rising bit came in the form of a private message from a friend of mine. We are in a number of groups together on Faceplant. In one of those groups, someone had posted a notice with the header of “Sad Puppies 5 Suggestions.” Now, that got my eyes open real quick because the person posting it wasn’t Sarah and, the last I heard – which was last night – Sarah was the one coordinating SP5. So, with coffee starting to brew, I figured I’d go see what I had missed overnight.

That was my second mistake. I should have realized what a mistake it would be. After all, the friend who left me the PM is one of the most even-tempered and nice people I know. The fact he was upset should have warned me that this was not going to end well. See, this is what happens when I try to function pre-coffee.

So, if you woke around 0630 CST to the sound of loud thumping, I apologize. That was me pounding my head against the wall. After reading the post my friend warned me about, I saw why. And I saw red. And I made the mistake of taking to Faceplant to write a response – still before coffee. I should have waited. Then I could have made a more detailed response, complete with link. As it was, it took a couple of posts and I’m still not sure I got my point across.

No, let’s be accurate. I know I didn’t get my message across. Or, to be more accurate, I may have but certain folks didn’t want to hear it. And that, my friends, is a problem and one we don’t need to be dealing with.

So, let’s be very clear. The New Year is here and with it comes the time when we need to start thinking about the books we read and whether we feel they are worthy of being nominated for any of the various awards being offered this year. Be it the Hugo, the Dragon, the Rita or whatever, it is something we need to keep in mind and, if we are so moved, we need to nominate them for the appropriate award(s).

It also means we are going to start seeing folks saying they are “making a little list”. Some will follow through with their lists and keep a running tally. Others will simply have a single post where you can add your comments. What they do is up to them – up to a point. However, when they start implying they are involved with something they aren’t, or when they seem to be stepping up and taking control of something they have not been involved in, then they have crossed the line.

So I will start by saying to be careful about where you leave your recommendations. Read very carefully what the OP is saying he or she will do and judge what their motivations might be. If their post comes across as implying they are with a certain group or cause, verify. That is especially true when someone – Sarah, in this case – has said she is in charge of SP5 and now, suddenly, someone who has been on the fringes at best is suddenly implying they are preparing the SP5 recommendation list.

One of my fears is that folks will post their recommendations on a site they think is associated with a group or cause and then get upset when they find their way to the official site and realize their recommendation isn’t there. That is especially true when someone takes to Facebook and says it is time to start getting those Sad Puppy recommendations in and then says he is starting a list for folks to contribute to. The implication is there for folks to make that he is part of the leadership of SP5 and his list is “official”. It isn’t.

With that said, Sad Puppies 5 will be getting off the ground very soon with a new website, a blog and more. Sarah A. Hoyt – yes, our Sarah – is running it this year. (The only reason the site isn’t up already is because she has been ill and has had a deadline to meet.) The official SP5 site will be the only place where recommendations for the various lists SP5 compiles will be accepted. If you go to anywhere else and they claim to be speaking for SP5, they aren’t. Not unless Sarah has specifically announced it here, on her blog or on the SP5 site.

Does that mean others can’t support the Puppies and still have their own lists? Absolutely not. But I am asking them to think before posting. After all, we ran into the problem of people becoming confused when Vox came out with Rabid Puppies. The names were too close. There was an overlapping of recommended titles. The result was that Sad Puppies got painted with the same brush as Rabid Puppies and not because of the titles recommended but because of how some folks felt about Vox.

Our biggest hurdle this year isn’t going to be name recognition. It is going to be avoiding clouding the water. We have already had one blogger talk about how he had been involved in the Sad Puppy movement, leaving the impression he had been on the inside when he had not. Now we have someone else leaving the impression that they are collecting recommendations for the SP5 list. That sort of thing is counter-productive. It will only wind up confusing people and, in some cases, upsetting them when they find out they weren’t giving their recommendations to the official Sad Puppy list.

One of the biggest lessons anyone following the Sad Puppy movement over the years should have learned is that perception is everything. So what I’m asking, as someone who is helping Sarah this year and who will be taking over for SP6, is that we do everything we can to make sure there is no confusion over what the Sad Puppy movement is, what it stands for, who is officially in charge of it this year and where the official list is being collected.

So, to be clear, Sad Puppies 5 is under the guidance of Sarah A. Hoyt. Until the new site is up to date, any recommendations for the SP5 lists can be posted at last year’s site (give me a couple of hours to set up a recommendation page). I promise the information will be migrated over to the new site as soon as it goes live. Anyone else claiming to be collecting information for SP5 or speaking for it is misspeaking at best.

And, yes, this post has been run past Sarah before I took it live. She has approved everything said.