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Posts tagged ‘Sarah Hoyt’


Yeah, I know, promotion has no hyphen in it. It’s early, I’m pre-coffee, so bear with me. Pro, or for, and motion. Or perhaps it’s ‘in favor of’ and motion. Either way, there’s energy in that. We’re going places! And we’re asking you to come along with us, dear readers.

Here’s the thing. Mad Genius Club is a conglomerate (another fun mashup word) of authors and professionals who donate their time in an effort to give back to the community that has supported them. This is very much a work of love. But you know how we also love our coffee, and that costs money. Cold hard cash, in lieu of pretty words. I’ve yet to find a market that would accept a well-turned phrase or bit of trenchant humor in exchange for the brown beans of life.

Really, we’re not asking much. Since the store won’t take our words, perhaps you will. And thus, capitalism and the free market wins again! And I get my morning brew of warmth and caffeine. Buy two, and we could have mocha…

sword of arelionSword of Arelion 

by Amanda S Green

War is coming. The peace and security of the Ardean Imperium is threatened from within and without. The members of the Order of Arelion are sworn to protect the Imperium and enforce the Codes. But the enemy operates in the shadows, corrupting where it can and killing when that fails.

Fallon Mevarel, knight of the Order of Arelion, carried information vital to prevent civil war from breaking out. Cait was nothing, or so she had been told. She was property, to be used and abused until her owner tired of her. What neither Cait nor Fallon knew was that the gods had plans for her, plans that required Fallon to delay his mission.

Plans within plans, plots put in motion long ago, all converge on Cait. She may be destined for greatness, but only if she can stay alive long enough.



shadow handsShadow Hands 

By David Pascoe

Melody Devreux sees things that shouldn’t be there. Shadows cast by the setting sun reach out for her with abyssal claws. She sleeps with the lights on and never goes out after dark. When the monsters she sees come for her, she must harness the light inside her to prevail.

There are now six short stories in this series, collect them all!


here be dragons completeHere Be Dragons

by Sarah Hoyt

A wonderful collection of work that shows the true breadth of Hoyt’s imagination. Here you will find tales of humanity, monsters who are all-too human, and some who claim human while showing their true colors. From cute kittens that aren’t what they seem, to vampires, this is a selection of stories that will pull you in and onward. If you’re already a fan of her Darkship world, you will find stories that hold the keys to some of her characters and their motivations in those novels. If you likewry humor, then you will find it in the story of Heart’s Fire, where the young heroine is reading a paperback novel, the key to her downfall. Sarah and I share a love of reading, and furthermore, reading stuff that everyone tells us is trashy and why aren’t you reading works with great and lofty messages?

Because sometimes it’s not about the message that blinks and flashes like a giant neon light tearing the quiet night apart. Sometimes it’s about the little stories, the lives of people who work and love and live quietly, never thinking they could make a difference until they have no choice. Because that is a message in itself. Stories give us hope, which enables us to continue. Stories show us how heroism really works, and romance, and all the big things that make us human and keeps us going onward into the future which might hold magic in the form of technology. Or maybe not, it could be things we haven’t even dreamed of yet, writers nor readers.


Racers of the NightRacers of the Night

by Brad Torgersen

Flying at the Speed of Night . . . Following in the successful footsteps of his previous short fiction collection (“Lights in the Deep”) award-winning and award-nominated Science Fiction author Brad R. Torgersen is back with twelve new tales. From the edges of explored space, to the depths of the artificial soul. At once breaking the limits of human endurance, while also treading the tender landscapes of the human heart. Originally appearing in the pages of Analog magazine, Orson Scott Card’s InterGalactic Medicine Show magazine, Mike Resnick’s Galaxy’s Edge magazine, and elsewhere, these stories are collected here for the first time; with commentary and anecdotes from the author. Introductions by bestsellers L.E. Modesitt, Jr., Kevin J. Anderson, and Dave Wolverton (Farland.)


Bolg and beautifulBolg PI: The Bolg and the Beautiful

by Dave Freer

A humorous, satirical noir detective urban fantasy, set in a small city in flyover country, which has an unusually high population of Trolls, werewolves, fairies and a dwarf.

Private Investigator Bolg, a Pictish gentleman who happens to be vertically challenging, a self-proclaimed dwarf and tattooed so heavily he appears blue, finds himself called on undertake paranormal cases: This time it’s a retired Fertility Goddess, and her daughter, who’ve been robbed by a con-man from their friendly neighborhood bank. They want a Norse berserker, with a two-handed axe loose in the banking hall. Instead they get Bolg trying to recover their money. The bank might prefer the berserker too.




forge a new blade cover for blog post v2Forge a New Blade 

By Peter Grant

The Laredo Resistance fought the Bactrian invaders to a standstill, but shattered itself in the process. Through battle, bloodshed and murder, Dave Carson became President of Laredo’s Government-in-Exile. Now he must dodge assassination attempts by his enemies while fighting the war on new fronts – with a little unorthodox help from Steve Maxwell of the Lancastrian Commonwealth Fleet.

Gloria Aldred, former head of the Resistance, has plans that run counter to everything Dave’s trying to achieve – and she’s not about to ask his permission to pursue them.

Satrap Rostam is trying to cut Bactria’s losses and rebuild his exhausted planet, but his generals and nobles have lots of guilty secrets to hide – and they don’t mind burying him right along with them if necessary.



by Kate Paulk

A vampire, a werewolf, an undercover angel and his succubus squeeze. Whoever picked this team to save the world wasn’t thinking of sending the very best. But then, since this particular threat to the universe and everything good is being staged in science fiction conventions, amid people in costume, misfits and creative geniuses, any convetional hero would have stood out. Now Jim, the vampire, and his unlikely sidekicks have to beat the clock to find out who’s sacrificing con goers before all hell breaks loose — literally.







Dragon Noir

The new book!

Dragon Noir 

by Cedar Sanderson

The pixie with the gun has come home to see his princess crowned a queen and live in peace. But nothing is ever easy for Lom. A gruesome discovery on his doorstep interrupts their plans and sends Lom off on a mission to save not one, but two worlds. It’s personal this time and the stakes are higher than ever before. With friends falling and the enemy gathering, Bella and Lom must conquer the worst fears and monsters Underhill can conjure. Failure is not on the agenda.


Earth gateEarth Gate

by Pam Uphoff

*17th* book in the Wine of the Gods Universe.
Dimensional travel had brought the Earth immense wealth, but also a cross-dimensional war with the Empire of the One.
Jaime Felis had been recruited by the United Earth Central Intelligence Agency and emplaced in the Army unit crossing the dimensions to a world that claimed to have magic. Magic created through genetic engineering, very like the genetic engineering of the One—and of Jaime’s home planet. They hoped that his faint abilities would give them some insights into the magic of both this low tech Comet Fall and the high tech Empire.
He hadn’t expected to be marooned. Nor for rescue to be so fraught with problems.



dead babylonThe Dead Of Babylon

by Jason Cordova

Campbell Award nominated author takes on zombies in this short tale.



Which reminds me, don´t forget to cast your ballot today in the Hugo Awards, this is the last day of voting! 

pour l´encourager, here´s a picture of a large part of the ELOE. Hear the evil laughter, and despair!  giggle along with us!

Science Fiction Authors

A large part of the ELOE at LibertyCon 28. Left to right is Kate Paulk, John C Wright (seated), Sarah Hoyt, Michael Z Williamson, and Cedar Sanderson




No Business Like Writing Business

Sarah is away from computer today, so we’re being helpful Mad Geniuses and posting this for her. Hopefully there isn’t a rain of carp in our future. Although with carp, I could make a few recipes… Anyway, she did put this up at According to Hoyt, but we thought it was good enough she should say it again over here. 

So, some of you know I finished the Superstars Writing Seminar this weekend, which is why this will be a very short post. There’s a field trip today and I’m going. (And yep, this afternoon will find me typing away on Through Fire, because I was writing by hand at the Seminar.)

Anyway, it occurred to me that writing is such a strange avocation, pulling things out of non-existence and putting them in someone else’s head that writers – by which I mean true writers, not people who write so that they can get their next promotion in academia or what have you, but people who are compelled to tell stories – need these seminars and workshops, even if they learned nothing new at them. Why? Because we spend three or four days in the middle of a bunch of our peers and we start thinking we’re not the cursed outliers of the human race.

Now this is the third year I’ve attended Superstars. I’m not going to say there was no information. Among other things, we had the inimitable Kris Rusch and Dean Wesley Smith as speakers, and even if you know the information, you always catch some nuance in what they say that lights up a lightbulb.

There was also a lot of info I’m not ready to use yet, and might never use – Hollywood, comics – but which is good to have in my quiver because one thing in this business your career is likely to do is take a sudden turn to the weird when you least expect it.

That’s all fine.

But the most important thing about it for me, this year, was feeling energized by knowing I wasn’t alone and even my peculiarities (writing a book while listening to talks) were shared by some of my peers.

After the seminar yesterday, a friend asked how she could finish her book really fast, and ramp up on her career (she writes romance) to where she’s making money.

I wished she’d taken the seminar (I tried!) but since she couldn’t this year, I am going to distill some stuff from the seminar for her.


  • Don’t stop. You can’t sell books you haven’t written.
  • Write through the distractions. There is never going to be a distraction free life while you’re alive and in the world.
  • Keep writing. Particularly in the indie game, but really in all of it, you need productivity to make actual money. As in, living and buying groceries money.
  • If at first you don’t succeed, pick yourself up and write again. This business is WEIRD and even the best get knocked down. The long-terms continue working through everything.
  • There is money in them there hills, but it is work to get there. So – as Kevin Anderson says – the books ain’t gonna write themselves.
  • Vary what you do. You never know what will hit. The more tickets you have the better the chance of winning the lottery.

And now, I’m going to go to my field trip and to write.

Steady As She Goes

I had an epiphany today. Yes, I still have those, even at my ancient age of 36. No, senility has yet to strike.

Wait, what are we talking about?

Seriously, I was out mowing the lawn when I was struck by a thought. What if, an insidious voice whispered in my ear as everything else was drowned out by the roar of the 17.5 horsepower Honda engine, unsavory individuals are insulting Sarah, picking fights with Larry, and ostracizing a healthy chunk of science fiction fans and writers alike in order to cover the possibility that, if judged by an unbiased crowd, said unsavory individuals would be found wanting of talent and skill?

What a terrifying prospect indeed. The very possibility that individuals are preying upon people’s innate distrust of “outsiders” in order to cover their own failings, especially in such a manner in which to instigate, ostracize and shame writers who have tried to help newcomers to the field is a horrible thought. I’d normally be the first to slap such an evil and unbidden thought from mind if it weren’t for the admitted libel, constant and baseless attacks, and the general smear campaign which has blown up in the past six months (I could theoretically suggest the last ten years, but I’m not feeling that ambitious today) across the internet and in the “hallowed halls” of the SFWA itself.

But Jason… that insidious voice continues, unabated by my own doubts, what if? You cannot ignore the signs any longer, the open declarations of hate directed towards you and your friends, nor can you dismiss the blatant attacks upon innocent individuals. One cannot ignore a war that has been declared upon thee, no matter how much one does not wish to fight an opponent who uses fear, public intimidation and subversive tactics as their only method of battle.

My insidious voice is a bastard, for the record.

Of course, this same methodology being employed can be ascribed to terrorists. And, thinking about it a little more, the similarities are quite striking. Both use social media to spread hate, both use tactics that are typically frowned upon, both complain and scream out “No fair! They hit back!” when the tide of battle turns. They both enjoy anonymity, and the cover of unwitting accomplices of “their own kind” as protection to hide behind and use as shields. This “war”, so to speak, is treacherous, and much like the sea, is both merciless and unforgiving, cold, cruel, and remorseless.

Steady as she goes. This storm, too, shall pass.

You see, even now the backlash against their unsavory tactics has begun, their lies and misdeeds being brought to light for casual observers. The tide is changing, and while the waves are still high and choppy, smoother waters can be seen. This fight, this… struggle (yes, revolutionaries and socialists, I am totally hijacking your word) for the so-called soul of science fiction is being won as one side continues to show that they are willing to do anything, including lie, cheat, misinform and distort in order to stay in control.

Vladimir Lenin once said “A lie told often enough becomes truth.” This tactic, employed by such self-inflated individuals like Damian Walters and others, is backfiring. Liberals and conservatives alike are now looking at these individuals and wondering, jointly and independently, how people (some of whom haven’t  written a book or read anything other than Wikipedia summations of novels that they mock) took the reins of the genre that we all have grown to love and cherish, and steered it onto a crash course with a deep, dark abyss of irrelevancy. They’ve taken to feasting on their supporters who dare suggest they may have gone over the line, and cast stones at those allies who they once supported due to transgressions they have half-imagined.

Steady as she goes, for this, too, shall pass (yeah, you see what I did there?). The tide changes, the pendulum swings, etc etc. Hope is not lost.

Keep reading, keep buying and supporting the authors who write what you love to read, be they left or right. Because while some might think that they can destroy this genre from without, strength comes from within.

Obligatory self-promotion time: Jason Cordova is a novelist who lives in Virginia. He writes everything from horror to science fiction, with a smattering of fantasy and space opera thrown in because, hey, it pays well. He is currently working on the second book of his “Murder World” series, Kaiju Dusk. He can be found at


Building a Blog

Eternity Symbiote

On sale for only 2.99 in the month of June.

In the last 48 hours I have written about 15K words of fiction, which is a lot, for me. I have about 20% of the projected length of the novel remaining, and I want to finish it as soon as possible so I can get on to other projects, this summer being very very busy. I’m having fun with the writing, the other things are both more and less fun. LibertyCon at the end of this month, an accuracy-checking gig for a professor who is writing a textbooks, the second half of my General Chemistry, and a week camping out with my kids.

So what does all this have to do with blogging? Well, about a year and change ago, I commited to a daily blog. I’d been trying to blog regularly, and for some reason I lost my mind and decided daily was a terrific idea. Right now I’m looking back at past me and wondering if she was a little soft in the head. I think she didn’t have enough to do, poor thing…

But why? Well, blogging is one way to do what is sometimes called content marketing. In other words, people come to you not to see ‘buy my book!’ but information that interests them, and keeps them coming back, while you subliminally have messages about your books for sale, just not (usually) hitting them over the head with it. Dorothy Grant addressed this nicely in yesterday’s post, how repeating it a few times when you launch is good, but not too often.

Which, since I only launch something every 2-3 months, leaves me with a lot of space to fill up. I decided right away I would make one day a week a book review day. This not only gave me an excuse to read (I was never catholic, but boy, do I get the guilt thing) so I wouldn’t feel guilty about taking time to read when there was work to be done. I wanted to do at least one day a week to writing tips, techniques, and the industry, but I didn’t want the whole blog to be that.

So many blogs from writers are targeted to writers. Think about that… talk about niche marketing. Just how many of your fellow writers are going to buy your books? Now, yes, helping newbies learn is a worthy cause, and it’s part of the reason I do write about writing, or more often, publishing. On the other hand, I wanted posts and articles that would be of interest to the general public.

Take for instance Peter Grant, whose blog Bayou Renaissance Man is very simple in design and layout, but with sheer prolific output and an audience which was interested in the articles he writes on history, guns, and much more, he had a great platform for the launch of his first book. I had a good chat with him on our first meeting about his blog, and it was part of what inspired me to build mine.

Our own Sarah Hoyt is a blogging machine, even though she has been trying to cut back recently. And According to Hoyt is rarely about writing, and only occasionally about publishing. Yet she has a wonderful platform full of fans who refer to themselves as Hoyt’s Huns. This is a power tool in her toolbox of things to help her succeed as a writer, and seller of books.

So here’s the thing, being regular is almost more important than content, but if you don’t have interesting content they won’t come back. I write on food, art, writing, snippets of my work (and rarely, whole stories), social issues, and whatever catches my fancy. I’m not sure, never having compared numbers, how my blog is doing relative to other blogs. However, in the past few weeks, I have seen fans who tracked me down and left me comments praising my work. I have seen, in this year, my ‘followers’ grow, and the daily read-count according to wordpress (I will tell you I know this is highly inaccurate, but I haven’t been able to figure out how to get analytics to work with this blog) slowly get higher. And there have been a few days where the hitcount was astronomical, when I hit a nerve with an article.

Is it worth it? Well, there are always days when I can’t come up with a flippin’ thing to write about. I may, in time and given undue pressure by outside commitments, drop back to 3 days a week. It’s a whole lot of work, it is. I may take the art day off completely, as I watch my hits drop like a rock when I do them. However, the art is something I do for me, so maybe I won’t, either.

I do think that it is helping my sales. My books are hanging in there, and I have fans contacting me to tell me they found my book through my blog. I have people telling me how they appreciate my book reviews and it helps them find other authors (doesn’t help me monetarily, but it gives me a kick). It’s satisfying to do, for now. I do think that a network, like we have been building with Mad Genius club and the people who write for it, is a great way to cross-promote books to fans who might not have heard about them. I’m equally uncertain that ‘blog tours’ do anything at all, having participated in one or two and seen no blip in my sales.

Keep content marketing in mind. Social media blasts to announce a book are all well and good, but if you don’t already have a platform of people waiting to hear you speak, who will hear that blast? Besides, this internet thing is the perfect way for an introverted performer to thrive. I love the conversations a blog post can spark, and how they get me thinking, in return.

Don’t feel like you can manage a blog on your own? Try getting together with a couple other friends, setting an iron-clad schedule, and doing a combined blog. If you can stick to it, that would be a great way to keep regular content, and pool a fan base. Like this blog…

I want to be evil too

In case you’ve been living under a rock for the last week, our very own Kate stirred up more than a tempest in a B-cup with her post last Thursday. The glitter has been flying and outrage has been levelled. She and Sarah have been called two of the most evil persons ever, beating out – I guess – Mao, Hitler, Pol Pot and Stalin. At least one woman – and I use that term loosely – has voice the wish that she could resign from her gender because of them. Golly, I had no idea two of my best friends were such evil, horrid persons.

Okay, now that I’ve finished laughing hysterically. . . .

It started with a fellow – note, I don’t say gentleman because he didn’t prove himself to be one – by the name of John Wesley Hardin. Yes, that JAH. He of the drive-by troll fame. He came swooping down on MGC after seeing a link to it on Facebook and left a comment that had nothing to do with the post. When he was called on it by several of us, he went running back to Facebook and made fun of Kate, including noting that she wasn’t a “pro” writer. His reasoning for this? Her bio lists that she work in QA. So that must mean that she isn’t a “real” writer.

Now, several of us responded to this on MGC and he tried to weasel around it and said weaseling once again had nothing to do with what he originally said or with the original comment. He was a troll. Worse, he was a SFWA-loving, glittery hoo-haa worshipping troll. Why? Because he came in with an agenda of leaving a snarky message and then going back to gloat about how he showed us.

Then came the GHHers. Except they didn’t have the balls to actually come to MGC to take on Kate or any of the rest of us. Oh, no. They took to their blogs and Facebook and Twitter. Now, we are nice folks. We’re even welcoming folks. We have no problem with opinions that differ from ours at MGC – as long as you discuss and don’t come in and name-call or leave one line diatribes and then flee. DISCUSS is the key here. Frankly, we have better things to do with our time than worry about what the GHHers and the apologists who side with them (men who think they need to apologize for having a penis and, gasp, testosterone) think. We smile when they accuse us of being disgruntled right wing writers (especially since I am probably the most conservative of the group and I’m anything but on most issues.)

But there are times when we just have to respond. This is one of those because another author, Cora Buhlert – I won’t insult her by saying she is a female author since I don’t know if she is a cis-female, a gay female, a pink-purple polka dot female or what – has taken it upon herself to try to castigate Kate for what she wrote.

I won’t go into the misrepresentation Buhlert has of why Vox got kicked out of SFWA. Nor will I talk – yet – about the double standard SFWA has been employing of late as evidenced by what happened with Vox. I won’t even go into the fact that I don’t always agree with what Vox says, much less with the way he says it. However, I will defend his right to say whatever he wants because, whether the politically correct crowd likes it or not, this is a free country and we do have a right to free speech within certain limits set forth by the courts.

However, let’s look at some of the rest of what she has to say.

“Next, her post is brimming with sexist language about “glittery hoo-haas” (“hoo-haa” is apparently a weird euphemism for “vagina” used to people who can’t bear to use the proper term, because they feel it’s a dirty word) and “storm in a B-cup”, while completely forgetting that many of those who criticised the petition are cisgender men and therefore not in possession of a vagina, glittery or otherwise.”

Okay, now everyone quit laughing. This is serious.

To start, I have serious concerns about Buhlert’s research skills if she can’t find out what a glittery hoo-haa is. A simple Google search brings up numerous links to sites using it, including the Urban Dictionary and the site where Kate first saw it. As for Kate not being able to bear to use the term “vagina” because she feels it’s a dirty word? Pardon me while I laugh again. (You know, I haven’t laughed this hard in a long time. Maybe I ought to thank Buhlert for being such good comic relief.) Kate’s Australian. She can swear with such vigor, fervor and inventiveness that a sailor would go to confession just because he heard her.

I guess that using alternatives to vagina and commenting on a bra size is sexist. At least according to Buhlert. So, does that mean she is going after every romance novel that uses every slang reference for a vagina, anus and penis because those are sexist? Or does her outrage only flow – oops, maybe I shouldn’t use that word either – to those who don’t agree with her perception of “right”?

Then we have Kate being basically accused of being insensitive because she didn’t take into account the number of cisgender men who don’t have a vagina.

Give me a break. Can this person not recognize saracasm? Yes, I’m rolling my eyes.

As if attacking Kate – which really is a foolish enterprise because Kate is more than capable of defending herself – wasn’t enough, Buhlert goes on a confusing rant about Cedar. I’m still trying to figure that one out but I think it comes down to the fact that Cedar dares identify herself as the Lady Writer (not bothering to discover that Cedar has long been known as the Lady Cedar by the ‘flies and others) and yet then identifies herself as white and – gasp – says she is gender and race blind as a reader. How dare she!?!

But she’s not done there. She tries to bring in Larry Correia, including figuring he’s still “too busy campaigning for Hugo nominations and getting his knickers in a twist about post-binary gender)” to speak up about this current kerfluffle. Then she accuses those of us here at MGC, and I assume this includes at least some of our commenters, of being Heinlein worshippers. Oh save me now! I didn’t know I was in the company of such . . . such . . . intelligent people. You see, we are bad because WE have message fiction. So how dare we bitch and moan about THEIR message fiction.

What she fails to take into account is that we don’t beat our readers over their heads with our message. We are more interested in telling a story our readers want to read. You know who I mean. The readers who want to pay money for our stories. Those who write us, demanding to know when we are going to get our next book out. That is what’s important, at least to me, as a writer.

When she finally gets to condemning Sarah, well, she proves her inability to read and comprehend in context. That’s too bad since she claims to be a writer. Or maybe it is just the politically correct blinders she has on. It certainly wouldn’t help her cause in condemning Sarah to note that the post in question was in response to a comment by the above-mentioned troll that Vox should not only have been kicked out of SFWA but out of the human race as well. The implication being that he shouldn’t be allowed to die. Sarah drew the comparison that is tantamount to saying that one group has the right to say who should live and who should die. I’m not sure where Buhlert got to Godwin’s Law.

What gets me is the double standard that has reared its ugly head in all this. No one on the other side gets upset when one of their own calls someone with a differing opinion names or suggests they should be hurt or killed. They don’t get upset when their own mock and make fun of those who aren’t of the “enlightened” set. But God forbid that the tables are turned and they get called on their BS or made fun of. Then they get full of righteous indignation.

Someone can’t disagree with them without them wanting to resign from their gender. We don’t lack empathy because we don’t fall in line with how they think. Funny, where is their empathy for us? I’m not asking them to sit down and have a drink with me. I’m just wondering if they remember the adage that respect is earned. You want to earn respect then you also need to treat that person with respect. You want to educate? Fine. But educating with a two-by-four, even a figurative one, doesn’t work. It creates resentment and causes rifts. Don’t believe me, look at SFWA. If there was ever an organization about to implode if something isn’t done soon, that’s it.

Finally, if you are going to condemn someone by saying they are “an American” and therefore can’t know what Marxism, etc., is, please do your research first. Kate is an Australian. Sarah was born and raised in Portugal. She lived there during who knows how many revolutions. She was there when it was Marxist, Maoist, etc., etc., etc. Dave Freer just immigrated to Flinders Island (Tasmania) after living in South Africa. Cedar and I are the only Americans, born and bred. Oh, and I’ve spend time as a student behind the Iron Curtain and in the Soviet Union before the Berlin Wall came down and Glasnost reined.

I won’t condemn Ms. Buhlert based on where she lives, what her politics are, or anything of the like. What I will question is why she couldn’t do even the most basic research into people she was going to attack. I also wonder why she feels it necessary to pull out the Nazi card in the comments. Oh, I know. She was looking for hot buttons she could use to prove how evil we are over here.

If anyone takes offense at what I’ve said, come discuss it with me. The comments section is open. In the five years or so MGC has been around, we’ve banned a grand total of five people and at least two of those bans are the same person trying to game the system. Bannings come after warnings and only when the commenter either refuses to address the post or comments or engages in nothing but personal attacks. So, if you want to discuss it, here I am.

Oh yeah, someone tell me how I managed not to make the list of evil folks? I can understand why they left Dave off. They’re afraid he’ll fling coconuts at them. But do they really think I’m the nice one here?


Hidden in plain sight

It’s not how big it is, it’s how you use it. And this may be the only time in my life I use that phrase without entendre.

What I’m talking about, since entendre is out of the question, is the extra stuff that goes into a story. The scenery, characterization, action and so forth that isn’t, strictly speaking, necessary to the story, but which lifts the piece from workmanlike to good – or if your name is Terry Pratchett or Dave Freer or Sarah Hoyt, freaking brilliant. Technically a lot of it is foreshadowing, either of future plot or character, but it really serves more purpose than that – and it can be any size at all, from a single word all the way up to scenes and even chapters.

Pratchett’s latest book, Dodger, has a magnificent example of a single word. In this case, the name of a dog. When I first read the dog’s name, I had the reaction most moderately well-read readers would have – er, what? Surely not?. When, despite the name, the dog developed as a very… doggy… character whose main characteristic was the canine version of Foul Ole Ron’s Smell, the name faded into the background of the piece as just a name. Until near the end of the book, Pratchett drops the punchline. Yes, I nearly sprayed the pages.

This didn’t need to be there. The dog could have been named anything, or even not been there, and the story would have worked just fine. But with it, it becomes memorable.

That’s the small size. For the larger size, the opening paragraph of Dodger is another good example. In terms of plot and character, the whole paragraph could have been deleted without losing anything. In terms of pulling readers into the setting it’s without price.

The rain poured down on London so hard that it seemed that it was dancing spray, every raindrop contending with its fellows for supremacy in the air and waiting to splash down. It was a deluge. The drains and sewers were overflowing, throwing up – regurgitating, as it were, the debris of muck, slime, and filth, the dead dogs, the dead rats, cats, and worse; bringing back to the world of men all those things that they thought they had left behind them; jostling and gurgling and hurrying toward the overflowing and always hospitable River Thames; bursting its banks, bubbling and churning like some nameless soup boiling in a dreadful cauldron; the river itself gasping like a dying fish. But those in the know always said about the London rain that , try as it might, it would never, ever clean that noisome city, because all it did was show you another layer of dirt. And on this dirty night there were appropriately dirty deeds that not even the rain could wash away.

Evocative, no? You can feel the water beating down, and you want to get your feet up to keep them out of the disgusting stuff that’s coming out of the overloaded drains. If you’re like me, you can smell it (and you rather wish you couldn’t). That kind of detail is the sort of thing that really shows the difference between the merely good and the brilliant: it’s not just describing a heavy rainfall. Without anything mentioned about when the story is set, you know that it’s not set in modern times. The language is just slightly old-fashioned, and the detritus (no, not Sergeant Detritus) washed out of the drains is not what would emerge in a modern flood. Modern Western cities are cleaner than that, as a rule.

Sure enough, the next paragraph opens with a carriage. A two-horse coach with a squealing wheel. That’s ample to drop the time-slot into the 1800s somewhere, when London was a major city, had mostly paved roads, and was a huge place. A few side comments about peelers and the wars place it somewhere in the early part of Queen Victoria’s reign. Meeting a sharp-eyed fellow by the name of Charlie Dickens is just gravy.

Similar levels of description happen all through the book, in ways that work in perfectly with the characters and perspective. A mansion gets described not in the technical terms of what it’s got in it, but by the way a young man who’s done his share of thieving would see them – namely target rich environments, and what is the deal with having so much useless pretty stuff that it’s got to take someone forever to dust it all every day? He’s doing them a favor taking it off their hands… It’s a lovely example of hiding the future twists in the open by having them just be there as part of the verbal scenery as it were.

Simply put, Pratchett is working magic, only instead of gestures and talk to distract his audience from what he’s really setting up, he’s using words. And that’s rather more difficult to do.

Sarah pulled the same trick in the novel she’s snipping once a week on her blog: way back near the start there was a casual mention that the hero is doing something so illicit that no-one would do it even when the Crown Princess disappeared twenty years earlier, then the action hit to distract readers from the key information that there’s a missing princess and highly placed dirty deeds. As a result, when the reveal came quite a long way further in, it wasn’t a surprise. The dirty deeds are still unfolding, because Sarah hasn’t finished the book, and of course it’s not as polished as Dodger, since she’s posting slightly cleaned up first draft as she writes it. But the layering and the misdirection is all there.

I shouldn’t have to give examples for Dave – aside from anything else, if I tried I’d end up citing the whole bloody book. He’s that layered, that clever, and just that damn good. Just go buy his stuff and read it. Then buy Sarah’s and read that.

Living the edges

Blame Sarah. Her post yesterday started me thinking on this line, and anything that gets me thinking moderately philosophical thoughts is dangerous.

Anyway, as Sarah said yesterday, madness and creativity are pretty closely intertwined. Very few highly creative types don’t argue with some form of mental illness, and frankly, once the intelligence levels get high enough, the same kind of thing happens. Our species seems to be built to design specs with a caveat in big flaming letters “Extremes are Bad Things” (Yes, evolution will in fact do this. Extreme anything is bad. Moderation in all things, including moderation, appears to be the way to go). At any rate, moving too far from the averages, whether creativity-wise or in terms of intelligence, almost always introduces a bunch of negative effects.

There’s a “sweet spot” in the order of about 1 to 2 statistical deviations above the norm. In that range, whatever it is is good enough to help the fortunate possessor without introducing much in the way of nasty side effects. In the realm of intelligence, this is where the people ordinary joes consider bright are found. Beyond that a person gets to be in a realm where they can’t understand normal people, and no-one outside their very small group of mental peers can understand them. With creativity it tends to be even more marked – mildly more creative than usual often looks a lot more impressive than extremely more than usual because at the extreme there’s not much there an average person can recognize. This is why stunningly new things usually take a long time to get adopted. They’ve got to trickle down through the not-quite-so-extremely-creative to be translated into something that the not-particularly-creative can relate to.

When the ability is so strongly linked to insanity, well, that just makes it even more interesting.

My personal theory – I’m fairly sure I’ve mentioned it here in the past (yeah, says the inner editor, like once or twice a week. The inner editor is a demon, and lies.) – is that the essence of creativity is in pattern recognition and generalization. The more someone can observe patterns across fields of thought or practice that rarely intersect, the more creative their observations are going to be. When the patterns and fields of thought pillage mythology, legend, and every work of fiction ever, that’s a heck of a lot of ground to cover. Take someone who doesn’t have the normal “this is socially acceptable” filters (I’m intimately familiar with this), and you’ll get high-octane nightmare fuel played for laughs (a.k.a. the con vampire books). Add that to a subconscious that actively collects all of this and then spits out the shiny “Ooh! Story!”, and you get what Sarah described with A Few Good Men (which is totally worth any amount of money you choose to spend on it. Just saying).

It’s fragile, to say the least. In my case the wrong choice of music can shut me down for days. Of course, if I get a nasty shock, I can tip straight back to suicidal, so I don’t count myself as particularly stable anyway. Of the several flavors of antidepressant I’ve taken, I’ve only found one that leaves the writing ability more or less intact. Not surprisingly, I’m not that keen to experiment any further. I’m not aware of antihistamines shutting me down, although any form of physical illness does a number on me, so it may simply be that the effect is masked by not being well enough to think.

Of course, being narcoleptic, I’ve got the advantage of very vivid dreams, including some that happen without me needing to actually be asleep. Those are usually the trippiest, probably because I experience them direct, without any kind of “remembering the dream” filters. The flip side is that the medication for that takes me from permanently functioning as if I’ve just come off a 48 hour shift to functioning as if I’ve just come off an all-nighter. I don’t actually remember what “awake” feels like. Curiously enough, I describe exhaustion rather well…

In my view, it’s all input towards whatever the next story happens to involve. Or the one after that. Whatever works.

I think that’s possibly where all the research on creativity, intelligence, and mental illness has gaps: the focus tends to be on the ones who can’t keep their grip on the world their body lives in. The ones who figure out what works for them and can keep hold of the physical world when the worlds of the mind are calling so seductively mostly manage to slide past under the social radar. Most of us prefer it that way.

Of course, most of us would also deny the hell out of any evidence we were losing our grip. And therein lies its own set of nightmare fuel.