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 . . .



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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.


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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.
    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.
    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.”
    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.
    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.
    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.

    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.

    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.
    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.)
    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.
    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.


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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.


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.



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.



Filed under Uncategorized

Think before hitting enter

For the longest time, writers were told there were several things you didn’t talk about in public: politics and religion. Publishers and agents didn’t want you to for fear you might alienate potential readers. Going hand-in-hand with that was the unwritten rule that you didn’t attack or criticize another author in public. After all, the time might come when you and that author shared an agent or a publisher. Then there was the potential of alienating fans of that author, fans who might have become your fans. In other words, writers were expected to basically act as if they were sitting down to Sunday dinner with the family when it came to what face they presented to the reading public.

I’m not going to talk about writers and politics, except possibly as a side issue today. This post is about stopping and thinking about how what you do will impact fans and potential fans. Why? Because over the last few weeks, I’ve seen more examples of writers behaving badly than I want to think about. The last few days especially have been rife with examples. Several, unfortunately, stood out because they can negatively impact not just the authors involved but all indie authors.

Let’s face it, as indies, we face an uphill battle until we start making a name for ourselves. Even then, we have to continue working hard to not only court our readers but put out a quality product. I daresay most of us don’t want to be labelled as the next Norman B., an author who will take exception to anything he feels is a negative review of his work. We don’t want to be painted with the same brush as those who plagiarize work by other authors or those who don’t believe an editor and proofreader would help improve their work.

We have to not only put out the best work possible, we have to worry about making sure we have cover art that is 1) duly licensed or purchased and 2) reads well for the genre and in thumbnail. We have to make sure our blurbs are the best they can be. We have to promote our own work as well — something traditionally published authors also have to do because traditional publishers aren’t spending as much per title on promotion as they used to.

If you go to Amazon and browse through the various genres, you will sooner or later come across covers that are the same or close to the same. This happens because most indies license their cover art elements from sites like Dreamstime or Adobe Stock. It’s a cheap way to find good art that fits the genre. The danger is you are only licensing the artwork and not buying it. That means others can license it as well.

Even so, there are restrictions on how that artwork can be used. This is from the Adobe Stock standard license language:

With a Standard license, you may not:

  • Create more than 500,000 copies of the image in print, digital documents, software, or by broadcasting to more than 500,000 viewers.
  • Create products for resale where the main value of the product is the image itself. For example, you can’t use the asset to create a poster, t-shirt, or coffee mug that someone would buy specifically because of the image printed on it.

You also can’t post the image in such a way that others can use it without first licensing it. If you do, you are in violation of the license and the copyright holder can come after you for damages and Adobe Stock can revoke your use of their site.

So, what about book covers? When can we post a cover? If it’s one for artwork you’ve licensed, you can post it or use it in promotional material as long as you aren’t in violation of the license. In other words, you can do it up to half a million times — including each time your book or short story is sold. So you have to keep an eye on that. You can print flyers and postcards, digital or hard copy, describing your book and showing the cover. Reviewers can post a copy of the cover image as part of their review. If there is a book you want to recommend to someone, you can post that as well.

Where the line blurs and you need to think twice before hitting enter is when you start using the cover image of another author’s book in promotional materials and say “If you liked this, you will like my book.” The problem with this sort of promo is that you are using someone else’s work, specifically the cover art, for your own financial gain. To get around that, you need to ask the publisher for permission. Many publishers even have a handy link so you can do just that.

Please note that the problem isn’t in comparing your work with another author’s work. The problem is in using copyrighted material for your own financial benefit.

Now, before anyone jumps the gun and starts yelling about fair use, I’ll remind you that fair use is limited. For a very good discussion of it, check out this post by Nitay Arbel.

But there is something else to consider, something beyond the potential legal headaches that can come from using someone else’s cover in your promo materials without permission. You, as an author, are saying something about yourself when you do that. To other authors and publishers, you are telling them that, at best, you are too lazy to do your own homework and research if what you’re doing is legit or not. Falling back on “but so-and-so does it”. To readers, you risk alienating them, especially if you are the one making the comparison between your book and one of their favorite authors.

If you use another author’s book covers in your promo materials, especially well-loved books, and then mock the books or the author in the comparison to your own work, well, that’s a keg of explosives you really don’t want to light. It doesn’t matter if you think the books are inane or stupid or that they “sparkle”. What matters is that tens of thousands of readers loved those books and you have just insulted them as well as the books and the author. Do you really want to go there?

And, if you have done so without getting permission to use the covers, you have opened the door to the publisher saying you have cast a negative shadow on their product. If you’re like me, you don’t have the deep pockets required to fight them and force them to prove damages. Sure, they’ll probably send a cease and desist letter first but they might also take a page from some music publishers’ book and go straight for damages.

In other words, stop and think before hitting the button. Yes, you can in your promo material say your book is similar to another author’s book. You can even say how your book is different from another author’s book. But you need to ask permission before using the cover of that book, especially if you are using it in a negative manner.

If you are an indie author, you have to use common sense. You have to do your homework. That homework needs to be done BEFORE you do something, not after. Why? Because your actions impact more than just you. They impact your fans. They also impact every other indie author out there. Think about it. We fight against the image that we are all hacks who can’t get past the traditional gatekeepers. We fight against the image that we don’t have our work edited and proofread. We fight against the image that all our covers suck and stick figures would look better. Don’t add that we have to fight against the thoughtless, or at least the lack of thought, actions of our fellow indies.

Now, go read the licensing agreements you have committed to with regard to your cover art. Re-read — or read for the first time — the terms of service for each of the sales platforms you work through. Check to make sure you have licenses for the fonts you use not only on your covers but for your interior text file. Be a professional where your work is concerned.

//end rant.




Take two aspirin…

It’s been an eventful week, and I found myself lying here this morning thinking. I’m far from home, out of schedule (this post was supposed to be written yesterday) and have a headache. It’s all worth it, though. My eldest graduated from highschool last night. She’s a fiercely independent soul, and will go far in her studies at college.

But that’s not what I wanted to write about. Toni Weisskopf shared a photo on Facebook of a computer module absolutely infested with an ant nest, seething with eggs, and her comment was that she’d like to see more stories like that in science fiction. It’s an excellent point. I can’t tell you how many stories I’ve read ( and written) where the tech performs flawlessly. Which does happen. There are also stories where it doesn’t, but how many can you think of where the characters have to deal with an infestation? How would we prevent that, control it, and what kind of adaptations will we see?

I’d run across an article recently about bacteria which will break down plastics that were formerly thought invulnerable. Then there was another one speculating about why less plastic (by an order of magnitude) is found in the ocean than projected, and the discovery of novel bacteria on that plastic. The concern was focused on reducing pollution, but what happens when bacteria evolve to eat stuff we want to stay intact and functional? The stories about nanotech making gray goo aren’t that far off from what bacteria are already capable of – only fortunately they are not so fast to act.

We can’t escape our invisible (to the naked eye) friends. Microbes cover every inch of us, and our surroundings. We can only culture a tiny fraction of them in the lab, we’re still working on understanding the ecology of our own “inner gardens,” but we are already harnessing the power of their replicative properties for good… With the advances in molecular genetics we can use bacteria to copy/paste stuff we want, like drug ingredients and human proteins. With enough time and development to move beyond ‘we can do that’ to ‘and cheaply!’ the future looks very interesting indeed.

So those two aspirin I want might someday be extracted from bacterial sludge. Trust me on this, if you think that’s gross you don’t want to contemplate where some modern drugs originate. Not all of them are turned out from sterile molecular synthesis. Heparin (an anticoagulant) involves tons and tons of pig guts every batch made. Think about this in terms of going to space. If we don’t come up with highly efficient methods of synthesis, there are going to be problems.

It’s fascinating to extrapolate from current science, to bleeding edge, and beyond. As a science fiction author, it’s an exercise in developing my stories into something approaching hard science. As a baby scientist, it gives me food for thought about my career (and my daughter, who plans to study molecular genetics) path in the coming years.

Will we ever harness the power of Leeuwenhoek’s animalacules? We already have, now we just need to make that more efficient. Will they slip their leashes and turn on us? Well, yes. They already have, many times. The history of pathogens and disease goes back before the dawn of history. We can read it on the bones left behind, long before men scribbled on pages or chipped runes into stone and pressed them into clay. Speaking of which, I found a neat book on KU, for the readers like me who appreciate an in-depth look at science and history – Old Bones: a brief introduction to bioarchaeology.