Greetings and Salutations!

Welcome to the longest-running* yet least-read** blog on the internet! Here you'll find me writing about all the things that I write about, which strikes me, just now, as somewhat recursive. In any case, enjoy :)

* not true
** probably true

Sunday, December 30, 2012

Rules

I broke a rule today. One of my few rules. I promised my son something, and I've got no idea how I'm going to keep it.

Christ.

Monday, December 17, 2012

Oh, crap.

I can't be sick. I have too much stuff to do. Shuffling between bed and toilet is not is not getting any of it done.

Saturday, December 15, 2012

Choose your own adventure

I've got a lot of stories started. A. Lot. How many? Let's just say you have to add an 's' after the word 'dozen'. Finished stories? Not nearly so many. But one of my goals for 2013 is to come out with a second volume of short stories.

That's where you come in, Dear Reader.

I'll be posting the first couple of paragraphs (ish) of a few short stories at a time, and then for your amusement they will engage in gladiatorial combat*, the winner of which will be next in the queue to be completed by yours truly. All you have to do is vote for the one you'd like to see completed in the comments section.

So without further ado, let the games begin!

 The Iron Witch
I sat stoop-shouldered in a blood mage’s smoke-wracked hut in Kirabor, eyes stinging and nose running freely, trying to think of places I might want even less to be. The list was short--the mines of Isinglass, a prison cell in Viborg, in the middle of the Blighted Land without water or horse. At least there was a list. 
On the hard packed dirt floor in front of me, through the sooty smoke and watering eyes, I watched the crone I’d hired work her blood magic. She knelt, leaning and crooning over what was left of Hakon Luk, my erstwhile patron. I didn’t know her name. Traditionally, blood mages were simply referred to as ‘Mother Crimson’. This Mother Crimson had a withered left arm and a face like nine miles of bad road. She looked better than Hakon Luk, though, who lay in three separate pieces on her floor. 

Dog Soldier 
At the end of it, there was only one dog soldier left, and no empire troops. It couldn’t be termed a battle; all told there were only two dozen combatants. But the dead didn’t care if they died in a battle or a skirmish or a melee. 
Jon Brigum Halvorson, bloody and bruised, stumbled away from the corpses, calling for Arnot. He caromed off wrist-thick tree trunks, dizzy and unsure of his footing on the leaf-littered slope. Arno did not answer, and soon enough he found out why. 
His dog had been gutted by an empire trooper, who in turn had had his throat ripped out by Arnot. They lay together in a bed of leaves and blood, facing each other, and dappled sunlight played on the bodies of dog and man.

Valiant Dust  
Valmont and Talbot. Rogues, scoundrels and wastrels, the pair. Also two of the cleverest students ever to be thrown out of Eiledon College and, by later accounts, suspiciously noble; perhaps even heroic, if the word has any meaning anymore. Myself, I wonder if heroism is the appropriate term. I suppose that depends on whether heroism stems from action or intent. I would not argue that their actions were ultimately ‘heroic’. Their intent? Who can say? I would not care to venture a guess, to be perfectly candid. 
They were a likeable lot. Black sheep often are. I don’t remember our first meeting. It could have been in the refectory or at a lecture, or possibly down the hill in town, somewhere along the Serpentine. Being two years their junior, I seldom ran in the same circles as them. But I remember them, as they were back then. Talbot brash, charismatic, with his lean good looks. And Valmont’s burly frame and soft voice.

The Shuddering Light 
The desert of ice was one blinding glare. Ashka the Elamner stared out over the aching frozen desolation and unconsciously dragged strong brown fingers through his ice-rimed beard. He stood like a tall black shadow in a world of white, apparently impervious to the bitter cold, though his only garment was a salt-stained black silk djalub, the thin hooded robe of his desert race. His only visible weapon could hardly be deemed a weapon at all; dangling from his silken waist-cord was a thin rod or scepter of some dull, blackish metal, slightly flared at one end and tapered at the other.
At his feet rested a dog, one white paw resting across the toe of his velvet slipper. Though its fur was thick, the dog shivered in the arctic air, a slight whine escaping its dark muzzle at random intervals. No more than that. The mutt was near to death from the cold, and there was little enough Ashka could do for it. Or for himself.

 The Door Into Shadow 
The soldiers were coming for him through miles of pitch-black corridors, the light of their torches and lanterns unraveling centuries of patient, silent prayer as they went. What the darkness knew, he knew, and so he came to know the feeling of annihilation. 
They were coming for him, but he did not know what they were going to do once they had him. The priests had all slit their own throats after the news of the defeat at Fall had reached the Temple; their corpses lay around him in the dark of the Womb. Would the soldiers pierce him with steel, cause his own blood to pour out onto silent stone? 
He knew sounds; the trickle and drip of water on rock, the soft pad of footfalls, the brush of cloth against stone. The darkness heard the soldiers speak.

 The Last Magician

They rose from beside the rock-ringed ashes of their night fire as false dawn bled gray into the horizon. One rose unsteadily, in increments, stiff from sitting so long in an unaccustomed pose. The other was as lithe as he – it – was in any motion.

“There will be no wood for another fire,” said grizzled Fizul, sometime mage of Ruined Drunluce and, to the best of his knowledge, the last living mage anywhere. “Tomorrow night will be cold.”

“And dark.” His companion, whom Fizul had named Orek after the dark gray stone that best matched his skin tone, was not usually one to state the obvious. Fizul enjoyed small talk, however, and Orek was nothing if not accommodating. It was in Orek’s nature to be, whenever possible. That it was also in Orek’s nature to rend the souls from mortal flesh and send them screeching into the Void was, most likely, simple ironic circumstance. Or so Fizul mused.

*in my head

Friday, December 14, 2012

Get on it.

An awesome micro-review of The Thief Who Spat In Luck's Good Eye from the iTunes Australia store:

A good read with plenty of action that rolls along at a fast pace with very few slow pages. Get on it. -Matnmak (5 stars)

Thursday, December 13, 2012

Maundering

 Rain-slick streets throwing back neon smears. Eyes that have seen near-endless iterations. The Street (as opposed to the street) moves through the same tired dance of commerce. Who's buying, who's selling, what's for sale, it's all been done and done long before my zygote days, and will be done and done long after I am unwise, unvaliant dust.  Everything seems just a touch worn, grubby, tired. Including me. Or maybe more than a touch. I want to scrub-- not my soul. Maybe my aspirations. Maybe my faith. Maybe I need to burnish my regard for my fellow men. And women.

Or maybe I just need to go live in a cave.


Hearing the existential hum a little more loudly tonight.

Tuesday, December 11, 2012

Metaphysical




If Nature did not take delight in blood,
She would have made more easy ways to good. -Greville

All Hell doth at his presence quake,
though he himselfe for cold doe shake -Southwell

Then, since fortune's favours fade,
You, that in her arms do sleep,
Learn to swim, and not to wade;
For the hearts of kings are deep. -Wotton

...On a huge hill,
Cragged, and steep, Truth stands, and he that will
Reach her, about must, and about must go. -Donne

The thirsty Earth soaks up the rain,
And drinks, and gapes for drink again.  -Cowley

Thursday, November 29, 2012

Seriously considering a bad idea. Well, a new bad idea.

It seems from comments in reviews that those who pick up The Thief Who Spat In Luck's Good Eye randomly often do so on the strength of the title. As I make my (very) slow way through the revisions of The Blade That Whispers Hate, I'm considering changing the title. In fact, I'm thinking every Amra title should start with 'The Thief Who...' to make it plain that they all belong to a series.

Yes, this will cause confusion.Even more confusion, actually, since Thief Who Spat was originally titled Thagoth. But I'm starting to think it might be worth it in the long run. Part of the appeal of the Larsson Millenium Trilogy books, for example, are the intriguing and thematically similar titles.

And what new title am I considering for BWH, you ask? The Thief Who Pulled On Trouble's Braids. With apologies to Tom Waits, of course.

Tuesday, November 27, 2012

Tarqis Excerpt

Tarqis

They were beating somebody bloody in the alley behind Velman's wiggery.

It was a precise, methodical beating, Murgut noted with a professional eye. Two toughs held the cripple by his arms while a third dealt out the punishment with both meaty fists. There was a workmanlike method to it. Face, body, body. Face, body body. No heat behind it, but good and sufficient force. These three men in their dockyard clothes had been paid to send a message, was all. Not really an unusual thing in Tarqis.

No, what was unusual was the message's recipient.

The fact that he was a cripple, one leg hopelessly twisted and a cane a little distance away in the muck didn't signify. Plenty of cripples got their beatings just like haler men. But the silk hose on the man's legs, now that did signify, as did the gold head of the discarded cane. As did the ermine stole, and the brilliantly white linen shirt that was fast soaking up the man's blood. Nobles didn't get beatings in Tarqis. Poisoned cups, sure. Sharp knives across the gizzard, on occasion. But nothing so common as a beat-down.

And then there was how this nobleman was taking it. Which was to say, he was actually taking it pretty well, all things considered. Oh, sure, there was some harsh grunting, some barks of pain. An especially telling blow brought on an earnest groan. But there was no sniveling, no pleading, no 'do you know who I am?' or offers of payment to make it stop.

No, the nobleman was taking it about as well as anyone could. As well as Murgut might have, were he in the poor sod's position, which thankfully he was not. Then the man caught him looking.

And rolled his eyes, for all the world like he was enduring the world's most boring dinner party.

The absurdity of it nearly made him laugh. Murgut turned to go, before he got noticed, or involved, when something the cripple said around the fists stopped him short.

"You there. When I'm- thud- finished with my friends -thud- here, I'd like to speak wi- smack,spit, groan- speak with you."

"Shuddup," said the man with the fists. He glanced over at Murgut, then did a double take. Stepped away and put a hand to the knife at his belt.

"Speak to me?" said Murgut, ignoring Goodman Fists. "About what?" Despite himself.

"Employment. If you're any good with that humping great broadsword there. Are you?"

"Passable," he replied.

"I said shuddup," the tough repeated. "And you-" aimed at Murgut "-piss off."

"Del," muttered one of the arm holders, "he's got the brand."

"Don't use my name, you stupid git. And that brand's as fake as your mother's teeth."

Murgut rubbed the puckered burn on his forehead. "Actually, it's not."

"You're an imperial gladiator? Piss off. I got work to do." And he turned back to the cripple and cocked a fist.

Murgut didn't want to get involved. He never got involved. He'd spent far too much of his life in the fray to climb back down in it if he didn't have to.

And yet.

"I was an imperial gladiator, Del. Past tense. In case you hadn't noticed, this is Tarqis. No arena. No Empire."

Del turned back to Murgut, a look of exasperation on his homely face. "I don't give a runny shit. So what?"

"So I'm currently unemployed. And you're beating my prospective employer to a pulp. So stop."

"You should know I don't pay any extra for holidays," the cripple said through rapidly swelling, split lips. And was ignored.

Del hawked, spat. "Now there's a problem. My employer paid for a hundred punches, one third of which to this twisted little git's face, specified. And I'm only up to sixty three."

"Sixty four," said the heretofore silent arm-holder.

"Sixty four," clarified Del.

"I promise I won't tell if you knock off early," said Murgut.

"Lips are sealed," added the cripple.

Del gave Murgut a considering look, then shook his head. "Nah. I guess I have what you call a work ethic." He started to turn back to the bloodied nobleman.

Except, Murgut noticed, his center of gravity was all off, and his feet were planted wrong. Which was why he was already moving when Del whipped the knife at him. Or where he had been a fraction of a second earlier.

Murgut didn't bother trying to unsheathed the sword. Not enough time, and the alley was too narrow to use it effectively anyway. Del was already following up his knife cast, fists clenched, snarling.

Murgut batted aside Del's powerful but slow punches, found an opening with disappointing speed, and took it.

The heel of his palm did more than break Del's nose; it pulverized cartilage and drove bone fragments into the man's brain.

In the Imperial gladiator scholae, no credit was given for restraint.

Del fell to the muck of the alleyway, convulsing. Murgut knew he wouldn't be getting back up.

































Sent from my iPad

Finding the vein

I have good veins, or so the drawers of blood assure me. Good meaning easy to find and stick a needle into. Little blue highways running right below the skin in the crooks of my elbows. Might as well have flashing arrows.

Other people are not so lucky. They suffer multiple exploratory punctures when in a situation that calls for blood to be drawn. Bad enough to have a needle in your arm. Worse when they have to go hunting for the vein, jabbing you over and over.

This is not actually a post about the perils of phlebotomy, however. It's about writing. About how I write. Like the phlebotomist, I often have to go hunting for the entry to a story. Sometimes it's as easy - there's the vein, stick it - but much more often I've got to to try my luck, and just start jabbing at the general area until the vial starts to fill.

It's unpleasant. It's stressful. Sometimes, yes, it's painful.

You see, I might have a general idea about the story I want to write. A general theme, a setting, a character, a scene. But I do not outline in any coherent fashion. I write in order to find out what it is I want, or need, to write.

Some people place writers into two groups- 'pantsers' and 'plotters'. The idea being some writers write by the seat of their pants, others plot everything out before they start. I don't know anybody who falls completely into either category. I doubt any writer exists purely within one or the other. But it doesn't really matter. At the end of the day, whatever gets your manuscript finished is good enough.

For me, I'm not a plotter or a pantser. I'm a questioner. When in writing mode, I'm constantly asking myself what and why. What happened? Why? What will this particular character do when she finds out? Most of the time the answer comes. Sometimes the answer is 'I don't know' and I put the story aside. Sometimes the answer is 'I don't care anymore' and the story gets buried for months or years; maybe forever. Or, to return to the metaphor that began this post, I'm a phlebotomist of genre, trying to find the narrative vein. Sometimes they have good veins, like 'Waste Land'. Sometimes it takes an unbelievably long time to get what I'm after, like The Blade That Whispers Hate. And sometimes the patient (or is it specimen?) dies and decomposes.



Whatever works, my friends. Whatever works.

Saturday, November 17, 2012

'Sweeny Among Nightingales' excerpt


“Naomi Marie Harris.” He stares at the file. He’s not reading it; his washed-out green eyes, behind the glasses, are not scanning. Why he’s even got a hard copy in front of him is a mystery.

“Naomi Marie Harris. Born London, 2167. Educated New Pembroke College, Cambridge Orbital. Single mother. Accredited Astrogator, licensed orbital pilot, most recently contracted with JurongCorp Initiatives.”

I sit in the uncomfortable plastic chair across the desk from him, waiting for a point to be made. I’d been a bit surprised to be interviewed by the Chief Operations Officer. I’d even allowed myself to get my hopes up. But they were fading now.

His office is chilly, and spartan. Has a nice view of the port, though. I have to keep myself from watching the shuttles come and go. Despite everything, there was some longing, some envy. It was pointless to deny it.

“Top grades. Stellar evaluations from every employer, every captain and XO you’ve ever worked with, and letters of recommendation to go with them.”

Finally he puts down the file and looks at me.

“I can’t hire you.”

I nod. Reach down to collect my purse. He was the last one on my list. Maris-Stella was the last company that might conceivably give me a job. I guess that’s what happens when you break contract less than twelve hours before a three year mission. JCI didn’t even need to blacklist me. They just had to make the facts known.

Of course, If I hadn’t broken contract, I’d have been on Hugo when Starnberger mutinied. Will mutiny. Time travel plays hell with tenses.

“Thank you for your time, Mister Cohn.” I stand up and put out my hand. He doesn’t take it.

“You were assigned to the JCI ship Hugo, correct? Three year contract to Barnard’s Star?”

“Yes, that’s right.”

“Please forgive me for asking, but why did you break your contract with JCI, Miss Harris? You had to know it would be a career killer, and nothing in your file indicates you’re a particularly impulsive person.”

Because that ship is doomed. Because I got a second chance to be with my daughter. Of course I couldn’t tell him that.

“Personal reasons, Mister Cohn. A set of circumstances that couldn’t possibly be repeated.”

“Have you seen the feed this morning, Miss Harris?”

“No. Why?”

He waves at the wall to his right, my left, and a flickerscreen appears, turned to the news feed. Hundreds of images competing for attention- burning houses, congressional hearing, commercials, morning talk shows, more labor strikes in the Netherlands- but many, and growing, are focussing on a single low-rez live feed from somewhere in space. Even with the poor quality image, though, I can see enough of the starfield to know the view has to be from Titan Orbital.

The flickerscreen picks up on Cohn’s visual attention and the images not related to it dwindle, disappear, leaving two channels, both broadcasting the same feed.

Two ships, locked down. No active drives, no extended arrays, no superluminal shrouds deployed. They’re just sitting there, within about a kilometre of each other. Much too close to each other.
They’re both Hugo.

“…sources on site tell me that the JCI ship Hugo made superluminal transition six hours ago. Final contact with Titan Orbital indicated all systems nominal. These same anonymous sources tell me…”

Cohn flicks his attention to the other channel.

“JCI spokesperson Desmond Tan says the company is investigating. He indicated that JCI ships are built on a bespoke basis, and that the company has not duplicated a ship to the level of specs we’re seeing here in more than fifty years. Meanwhile, neither ship has answered any hail. It is unclear which authority’s jurisdiction— ”

Cohn turns his attention back to me, and the flickerscreen falls silent, though the visuals don’t fade.

“I can’t hire you, Miss Harris. I think it’s safe to say that you’re going to be very busy answering a lot of questions, both from the press and more serious entities for a good long while.”

Friday, November 16, 2012

Waste Land review, life stuff

Hello my peeps,

Things have gotten interesting around here, as I am both searching for a new place to live and a new place to work. I might be the teensiest bit stressed out. So, you know, not much in the way of blogging has gotten done.



But I did notice that [erudite, talented, and eerily unerring in her perceptions] Professor Trisha over at eclectic / eccentric posted a lovely review of the short story 'Waste Land.' The phrase absolutely excellent may have been used, so when/if I'm homeless and eating out of rubbish bins come the new year, I can still look down on Dan Brown.

As for the 'Waste Land' sequel 'Sweeny Among Nightingales' -- well, it's coming. I refuse to fall into the trap of rushing it out the door before it's fully baked, which is sort of my usual modus operandi. Also, the homeless/jobless thing.

Au revoir for now.


Sunday, October 28, 2012

Tagged

K.C. Shaw, author of the awesome Evil Outfitters, Ltd (among other awesome stories) and lover of lists, especially lists that have been crossed off, has tagged me. I'll respond using my work in progress

What is the title of your book? 
The Knife That Parts The Night
Where did the idea come from for the book?
The main character, a thief named Amra Thetys, has made more than a few references about her rough childhood. In this, the third book featuring her, that childhood comes back to haunt her, in some ways literally. The idea came from an article I read years and years ago about the street kids of Brazil, and their plight- which includes off-duty officers paid by local businessmen to form death squads to get rid of the petty theft problem these street kids pose. 
What genre does your book fall under?
Sword & Sorcery
Which actors would you choose to play your characters in a movie rendition?
Um. Oh, my. Well, since this is Hollywood we're talking about, Amra would have to be played by Milla Jovovich. Her partner, Holgren, would be best served by Adrien Brody.
What is a one-sentence synopsis of the book?
If I could put it all into one sentence, I wouldn't need to write the book. Let's give it a try, though: When someone sends you your long-ago enemy's head in a box, really, really consider just burying it in you back garden and forgetting all about it.
Will your book be self-published or represented by an agency?
I'm done with agents, querying, and traditional publishing. 
How long did it take you to write the first draft of the manuscript?
Well, it's a work in progress, as they say. I wrote the first two exploratory chapters eight years ago, and the outline five years ago. But since I just completed another book in the series, and since sales have started to pick up a bit, I've got some momentum now.
What other books would you compare this story to in your genre?
If you like Leiber's Fafhrd & Gray Mouser or Brust's Vlad Taltos series, you might dig this.
Who or what inspired you to write this book?
There were a few people who a) prodded me to take back the publishing rights for my first novel from Random House and self publish, and b) urged me to write more Amra stories. So thanks to Ann, Anthony, SarahP and Phil, the most prominent, or at  least proximate, of those. And thanks to all the readers who had nice things to say about the first two Amra stories. I hope this next one does not disappoint.
What else about your book might pique the reader’s interest?
Every time someone mentions my books to their friends, a puppy and/or kitten is saved from certain doom.
I'm s'posed to tag, but you know. That thing.

Thursday, October 11, 2012

I suppose it had to happen.

So I uploaded The Blade That Whispers Hate to Smashwords, to check for formatting issues (it's currently there for free in all its first draft glory). Smashwords is the only place I've uploaded it.

Imagine my surprise when I saw it was being offered at Amazon. For $1.99.

At first I was like 'whu?' and then I realized.

Some bright spark pirated it and put it up on Amazon, hoping (I suppose) to make a quick buck before they were shut down.

Dude, I'm not that popular.

Anyway, I've notified Amazon, and posted a warning review.

Wednesday, October 10, 2012

The first draft, it is done.

The Blade That Whispers Hate is now officially a novel, with a beginning, middle and end.


It's now gone off to the motley crew known as the beta readers, who will delight in mocking my every typo, misspelling, grammar fail and monkey-brained plot twist.

Tuesday, October 09, 2012

Wednesday, October 03, 2012

How soon is now?

Well you say it's gonna happen now
But when exactly do you mean?
See I've already waited too long...


(t.A.T.u.'s version, as I prefer to look at them rather than Morrissey)

#

Regarding BWH: I don't know how soon. It's coming. It's just decided to be... slightly more than I'd plotted out.

Monday, October 01, 2012

Friday, September 28, 2012

Never famous, redux

I thought I'd better explain the last post a little more fully.

Quick, name three famous fantasy writers.

The three that sprang to my mind were George RR Martin, Tolkien and Terry Goodkind. Of course there are tons of others who might qualify as famous, both living and dead, bother deservedly and otherwise. The point being, for anyone who partakes of fantasy on at least a semi-regular basis, these names are familiar. All of them have had their works translated to the screen, big or small. They have entered the wider sphere, breaking out of the genre 'ghetto'.

I don't expect that will ever happen to me. And I'm fine with that.

Now quick, name three important fantasy writers.

The ones I thought of right off were Fritz Leiber, Robert E. Howard and Ursula Leguin. Each of them contributed something to the genre (and since Ursula is still kicking, she may well contribute more) that no one else could have. Their voices, their works, are singular, irreproducible (despite many, many attempts in Howard's case). But they aren't especially famous to the wider world in the same sense that the first three are. Sure, if you go to a Sf/F convention, virtually everyone would know who they were. But if you did a survey at your local pub? Not so much.

So what's my point? It's that I'm never going to be famous in the way that Tolkien, or Martin, or even Goodkind is. Would I like to be? Well, sure. But not enough to try and emulate them, writing-wise. I would much rather be Fritz Leiber, nearly broke and typing next to my kitchen sink in my waning years, and having a roaring good time writing what the hell I wanted to, than churning out derivative doorstoppers because that's what the market wants. Never fear. I'll tell you a secret: I've tried to write Generic Fantasy(tm) and failed miserably because I was miserable doing it. Other people can (kofDavidDalglishkof) and good for them. They've got a huge work ethic that I envy. But I come to my writing as an avocation rather than a vocation. And while I've no particular hope of impinging upon the greater cultural gestalt, I would very much like to be remembered, after I am gone, as someone who contributed something unique, or at least worthy, to the genre. it's a lesser fame, certainly, but one that is more durable and, to me at least, more worthwhile.

All this is not to say I long to die in penury. If I could have, say, the success of Glen Cook or even Steven Brust (two writers I admire greatly), I'd be a happy, happy man.

So, why was I complaining? What exactly was I complaining about then? That's not so simple. It has to do with my writing process, which while vastly interesting to me, is about as exciting as holiday photos to others. To try and explain briefly, there's an inherent tension between giving the reader what they want when they go shopping in the Epic Fantasy section, and the way that my stories tend to play out. I do feel a responsibility to deliver a close approximation to what's on the tin. Sadly, there is no "1st Person POV Sword & Sorcery That Toys With Genre Conventions" section in any bookstore I've ever visited, online or otherwise. So yes, as much as I can, as much as I feel comfortable with, I do try and put some of my more rebellious writing tics under a blanket of the familiar. Perhaps as I become a stronger writer, or as readers respond positively to what they find in my writing, I won't feel compelled to do so quite so much- but it is a compulsion, or at least a deeply ingrained worry. It doesn't have to do with wanting to be 'famous' though. It has to do with meeting readers' expectations as much as I can, within the framework of the genre.

To try and give an example: If I'm paying for a cheeseburger, and the cook is a frustrated chef, I might be quite happy if he does some amazing thing with the spices and preparation of the meat, or if he chooses to serve it on a sourdough bun, or if he uses arugula and rocket instead of iceberg lettuce. I would be less pleased if the cheese is Limburger, there are avocado and papaya slices, and the meat is cow tongue.

The point being I know I can make a burger that's properly cooked, with fresh ingredients. Nobody's going to get sick off it. The tension comes in restraining my more creative impulses, because at this point in my writing life, I feel beholden to the reader to give them a product that is within the boundaries of the genre. I simply cannot go and start messing with fundamental underpinnings such as story arc (and yes, I have had such urges). Not for Amra and Holgren's tales, at least.

Speaking of which, The Blade That Whispers Hate isn't gonna write itself.

Peace, y'all.


Saturday, September 22, 2012

I am so never going to be a famous writer

I know my genre conventions. I know them inside and out, back to front, up down and sideways.

And yet I can't make myself follow them.

The crazy thing is, even though I can't make myself follow them, I go to incredible lengths to disguise the fact that I didn't follow them. Which is just sick.

What the hell is wrong with me?

(yes, I am talking about The Blade That Whispers Hate. No, I'm not going to get into specifics.)

Thursday, September 20, 2012

Fantasy & Feminism, a few personal thoughts

Been thinking a lot lately about feminism, misogyny, chauvinism, and just what it is that differentiates men from women, literarily speaking. Part of this springs from writing a female point of view character, part of it from my personal life, and part from various dust ups on the internet, savaging male fantasy writers as all kinds of bad when it comes to portraying women in a realistic light.

When I first wrote Thagoth, ten years ago now, making the POV character female was not a conscious decision. I mean, I've always been contrarian to a certain degree with my writing; I would be miserable if I had to write like Salvatore or Brooks. But that book started with just an image: a thief trapped in a ruined city in a rainstorm. She was starving. Why? That's it, that's how it began. The thief was a she, and that was that.

Now I admit to naming her Amra knowing it was a name, an alias, that Conan the Barbarian had used for a time. That was both as a nod to my sword & sorcery roots and a sort of dig- my hero was a heroine, not muscular, not a sword master, but just as tough and stubborn in her way as Howard's Conan was in his. Only one or two people have ever picked up on the name, which I attribute to my awesome powers of subtlety. Or something.

Anyway, I wish I could say I have labored mightily to ensure Amra is not just a male fantasy hero with lady parts, so to speak, but the truth is I haven't labored all that much. Amra is Amra. Her history has informed her personality much more, by and large, than her gender. Poverty, domestic violence, murder, homelessness- all before her teens. In Amra's world, gender equality doesn't exist, generally speaking, except interstitially. Her fence doesn't care if she has breasts; he cares if she brings him a profit. Only the very rich and those who operate outside the law can ignore the social mores regarding gender in her world. So Amra operates generally free of much of the patriarchal nonsense other women deal with by virtue of not being fully immersed in that society.

Am I avoiding gender roles and issues by having Amra hold a special, 'other' place in a male-dominated society? Yes, in part. But I'm not avoiding it because I'm afraid to discuss or explore it. I'm avoiding it because these books are not about that, except in a very tangential way.

If you want to know the truth, I'm much more interested in exploring what poverty, privation, domestic abuse and class oppression does to those who labor under these disadvantages. Whether that person is female is a factor, of course, but as a writer I feel I have far bigger fish to fry in my small, genre way than to explore the patriarchal oppression of females.

I leave that to those who are more passionate about the subject. As for my female POV character, she is an individual with strengths and weaknesses, faults and foibles, aspirations and morals (however tarnished, however dented). That's enough for me to try and write convincingly without worrying whether some contributor to Jezebel one day accuses me of being a creep/neckbeard/man'splainer.

Saturday, September 15, 2012

Smashwords update

Well.

All but one of my titles has now gone back to their regularly scheduled price at the Apple store.

I still don't know why my titles were free for 30 days. I don't know what kind of jiggery-pokery went on behind the scenes to make it happen, or to make it stop. I only know that I have never experienced such a black hole of customer 'service' in my entire life.

Until Smashwords gets its act together on the customer service side, I can only urge any writer considering self-publishing to steer clear of this company. Mistakes (and there have been many over the last year) I can take in stride. Having to wait nearly two weeks for a response to an urgent issue, and having that response be essentially useless? No. No, I can't accept that from a service provider.

Never mind that I've lost the lion's share of a month's revenue. I'm not making so much that I count on my writing income for anything. I just sock it away and forget about it. The point is, what if this happens when it does matter? What if I was making enough that I'd quit my day job and was relying on my writing income?

I'd have been well and truly screwed, that's what. And if you were in that position, so would you.

I hope you're listening, Mr. Coker. You really need to get your house in order.

Friday, September 14, 2012

Writing update: The Blade That Whispers Hate, or, how chapter 22 almost killed me*

As of this morning, the word count for BWH stands at 48,260.

The last month or so has not been as fruitful, writing-wise, as I might have hoped. Deadlines at work and real-life stress have conspired to keep me from staying on track with this book. The particular chapter that I'd become stuck on (chapter 22, for those keeping score) wasn't a terribly long one. None of the chapters in BWH are terribly long. But chapter 22 was rather involved. Getting all the characters from point A to point B was a lot more difficult, and tiresome, than I had expected.

Writing this chapter was a lot like digging a ditch. Not much in the way of inspiration, but a whole lot of perspiration. I honestly took no joy in it, which is rare for me. I'm not saying I always rise up singing to face the keyboard, but usually I find satisfaction in some portion of the work at hand, be it a turn of phrase, a nice little fillip of characterization or description, what have you.

The only satisfying thing about chapter 22 was finishing it.

But it is finished. That's the good news.

The bad news is, there are about five chapters left to write, and they're the ones (like cursed 22) that I have so far avoided because I wasn't sure exactly what happened in them, plot-wise.

Did I mention that in this book I've skipped around and wrote the bits I knew first? I didn't do that for Thagoth/Thief Who Spat. That one I had a rough and ready outline for, and knew more or less what happened in each chapter. For BWH, since I knew how it ended (yes, I have the ending written), I figured it would be easy to just write all the stuff that was clear in my mind, and that would make those dark areas in the plot more illuminated.

It hasn't turned out that way. Well I mean it has, but it hasn't been painless.

*pure hyperbole

Tuesday, August 28, 2012

Children of the Mandrake (Self-horn tooting likely)

...I shrugged, and stepped back off the fine woven rug that was fast soaking with blood. I said nothing. I couldn't, possessing neither tongue nor mouth. After father had made Lyssa, he’d decided children should be seen and not heard. 

Children of the Mandrake is the first publishable story I ever wrote. It's a disturbing tale that, oddly enough, sprang into my consciousness after reading a fantastic story by Sarah Prineas, author extraordinaire. (The story was From the Journals of Professor Copernicus Finch, M. S. Hex. D. in case you were interested. A fantastic story.)



As part of my 2012 self-pledge to clear the decks, I released Children as a standalone short story (It's also included in The Sorcerer's Lament.) I like the story of course, or else I would never have let it see the light of day. But I've lived with it for so long, longer than any other piece of my writing except some very dubious poetry, that I don't really see it as anything remarkable.

But it's doing well at the iBookstore. Currently free, despite my wishes, but well:


USA

New & Noteworthy #12, Horror
New & Noteworthy #3, Fantasy Short Stories

Australia

New & Noteworthy #5, Horror
New & Noteworthy #3, Fantasy Short Stories

Not bad, kids, not bad.



Wednesday, August 22, 2012

Waste Land is getting a sequel

For those who might be interested in such news, Marie tapped me on the shoulder on the train the other day and started telling me some stuff that happened next.


Tuesday, August 21, 2012

Smashwords fail. Again.

So as you may know, my short story collection 'The Sorcerer's Lament & Other Tales' had begun to get a little traction, was making some sales, was even showing up on iTunes charts in various English speaking countries.

Had been. Was. Notice the past tense there?

Here's a picture of what happened. We all like car crash pictures, right? No? Well here it is anyway:


What happened? Suddenly my book was made free at iTunes. In consequence, it dropped off the chart. A couple other of my books also went free, mysteriously, at the same time, but this is the one that hurt.

Why was my book made free at iTunes? I have no clue.

Now I suppose Apple may have screwed up (though I think it unlikely). I have to go through Smashwords to make price changes, and considering how buggy Smashwords is, Occam's razor would suggest it's Mark Coker's company that should shoulder the responsibility on this one.

But that only leads me to the next Smashwords fail - their customer support is simply unacceptably slow. The 'official' response time is 4-7 days, but then the 'official' wait for premium catalog approval was 15 days, when reality, and things like calendars, pointed to the fact that it was more like 21 days.

I put in my support request on Friday. I sincerely doubt I'll hear from them this week.

And in any case, I shouldn't have to hear from them. I updated all my books' prices on Thursday (my time), and since Smashwords supposedly now has same-day multiple metadata shipments to Apple, my prices should already have self-corrected. Another Smashwords fail.

So what should I do? Go straight to Apple? Well, there are two problems with that. First, Smashwords tells you NOT to contact the vendor directly (though I had to with Barnes & Noble once as Smashwords support staff didn't even understand my problem once they finally got around to answering my request - yet another Smashwords fail). Second problem, Apple only talks to the distributor.

So let's recap:


  • I give Smashwords 10% of my slowly but steadily growing writing income, and in return they distribute my ebooks to two online stores that matter (Apple and B&N), one that might at some point matter (Kobo), and a bunch that don't and won't matter to any individual author (Sony, Diesel, Axis 360, Blio, page Foundry) but not the one that matters most (Amazon) until I earn $1,000 to make it worth their while.


  • There are consistent problems, mistakes and other issues that range from annoying to infuriating.
  • The response time in dealing with said problems has been unacceptably slow for the last year.
  • With a little upfront hassle and a small investment, I can distribute myself to the stores that matter (Apple, B&N and Kobo), save 10%, and not have to wait days to deal with problems that might arise, or at least be talking directly to the source of the problem without having to go through a middleman who may or may not know what the hell I am talking about.
 Here, ultimately, is the problem with Smashwords: they are a distribution company that, frankly, isn't very good at their core service: distributing what amounts to data. An ebook is, at its heart, a very long string of 1s and 0s. The metadata attached to that ebook is a series of much shorter strings of 1s and 0s. Communication of 1s and 0s in today's world is, practically speaking, instantaneous.

And yet Smashwords has, time and again in my particular case, not been able to deliver in a timely fashion, not been able to update in a timely fashion, not been able to respond to issues in a timely fashion or reply positively to some pretty basic requests. And I know I'm not alone.

So every cent of my writing income will now go to getting incorporated here in Singapore and distributing directly to online retailers, bypassing Smashwords entirely and saving myself 10% and chronic heartburn in the process.

You had me for a year, Mark. I wanted to be happy with you and your company. But you just made it too hard to do so, too many times.

Monday, August 13, 2012

Tired

Please note this is a whiny post, probably better skipped.

I'm tired, creatively. Everything I write, everything I have written, seems limp and lifeless. I've been here before, I know it will pass. That doesn't help right now.

I don't know if it is cause or effect, but I look at what's going on in the self-publishing scene and I feel deeply underwhelmed. From the current top dog, E.L. James and her Fifty Shades of Trite right on down to the relentless self-promotion of all the indie authors on my twitter stream, I just want to stand up on a table and say 'Stop. Right now, just stop. Cap your pen, close your laptop. Take a deep breath. Now ask yourself honestly, are you writing the best possible thing you can? Forget about 'you must have an editor/cover artist/facebook page/mystical understanding of Amazon alogorithms/four books a year' and tell me the truth. That piece of writing in front of you: do you believe there's even a chance that people will still be reading and enjoying it after you pass away? Do you believe that abandoning it right now would be like suffering a miscarriage? Or is your work in progress, honestly, more akin to literary Doritos?

How much time have you spent on craft? How much time have you spent on marketing?

Tell me why I should buy and read your book. Tell me why I should invest what little time I have immersing myself in your creation. Make me believe in your make-believe. For fuck's sake, don't try and sell me; try and convince me. Because I want to be convinced, Mr/Ms/Mrs self-published author, I truly do. But if your best argument is that it's free/99 cents this weekend only, well, that's some pretty weak tea. I've got a shelf full of books I can revisit for free, and it will be like seeing old friends again that I know I will have a great time with.

Right now, your 99 cent book looks an awful lot like spending hours with a time share salesman.

Thursday, August 09, 2012

Aesop's royalty statement*

Couple things: I've been reading, literally, hundreds of fables this week (work related, don't ask).  Now even less fond of ants.**

Also, I rec'd my final royalty statement (and payment) from Random House. So there's a page I can turn. How much did Thagoth earn me over its lifetime, you ask? US$580.14 in 9 years. 678 copies sold, 211 of which were in the last year.

I don't think it will take 9 years to sell 678 copies of the revised Thagoth. I also don't think it will take 9 years for me to make $580 from it, either. For me, self-publishing for all its problems is a better path than the one I was on.

Also, I should mention that The Thief Who Spat In Luck's Good Eye is currently on sale for 99 cents at Amazon (US). So, you know, if you objectively would have no problem buying me a cup of coffee in return for me telling you a story, you could buy it instead. Objective reviews are also welcome.

*Not really. But it sounded cool, so I went with it.

**Seriously, In one fable ants were greedy humans who Jupiter turned into ants for their wicked ways. In another, they are all holier than thou on the grasshopper who just wanted to get his groove on during the summer, and let him starve. I bet they were just waiting for the grasshopper to die so they could eat him, too. What's the moral of that story? 'Ants suck ass.'






Thursday, August 02, 2012

Four-fold, $500, and undisclosed retirement locations

The first quarter I sent my writing out into the world as a self-publisher, I earned zero dollars. $0.00.

This did not disturb me, since all my offerings were free, and people rarely chase you down and force you to take money from them.

The second quarter, I added a couple non-free titles. I netted $15.50 (USD).

This does not mean that I only sold that many books. Due to the vagaries of the accounting departments at the various ebook retailers and the distributor I use (Smashwords), I realized it was virtually impossible to tidily put sales into a real-time quarterly perspective (not, at least, until months afterwards) and so I determined to just go by the quarterly statements I am given and not obsess over who bought what when and from where.

The third quarter, just past, saw me earn $63.52.

For those keeping track at home, that's almost exactly a four-fold increase. If my sales increase four-fold every quarter, then this next quarter I can expect about $254.

So far in this, my fourth indie quarter, I'm up to $119 (give or take, exchange rates being what they are), and still have two months to go. And as I've just released a few more titles into the wild, with more to come, I don't see meeting my four-fold target as much of an issue, this quarter at least.

Of course, after that, it all gets a little more dubious. If the four-fold increases held up, I'd be writing this blog from my (undisclosed location) early retirement home in less than 2 years. Somehow I don't see that happening.

So what are some realistic sales targets? I've already talked about The Minimum, the idea of making minimum wage as an indie writer, and what it would take. That's one. But there's another, more easily attained goal, that I like to think of as 'the break point'. Half of the self-published crowd never make more than $500 in their careers, apparently. If you can earn more than $500 with your writing, you're literally more financially successful than half the independent writers out there.

Now, this idea is chock full of problems and issues. Many people don't write for money. Many more haven't earned their $500 yet, but with infinite shelf space and forever to find an audience, this arbitrary $500 mark doesn't actually mean much at all. It's just a snapshot, and not nearly the reality check I believe the writer intended it to be. But it's a goal, arbitrary or otherwise. If you  add in my royalties from Random House, I've already passed it, of course- but I don't count Random House, just as I don't bother to count the pittance I have so far earned from Amazon.

Okay, I had to check Amazon. $38.26 from March, 2011 through June, 2012. This doesn't count sales of Thagoth, though, as Random House did the collection for that one (and still hasn't sent me the last royalty statement).

So. Yes. A rambly lunchtime blog post to, I suspect, clarify my own thinking more than inform/amuse you, Dear Reader. Sorry about that.

What to take away from all this? I'm really, really hoping that sales continue to increase four-fold. If they do, I promise I will invite you to my early retirement bash in 2014.

Tuesday, July 31, 2012

This is my horn. hear me toot it.

"The Sorcerer's Lament and Other Tales has appeared on the charts 235 times. It has appeared on charts in Australia, Canada, UK, USA. It has appeared on the Horror genre charts."


-Bookchart.info

Saturday, July 28, 2012

Language lesson

"I don't like people much," I said. "I'm what they call a misanthrope."

A slick, self-satisfied grin crawled across his face. "Mis-an-thrope. That's a big word for such a little girl."

I rolled my eyes and did that trick where my knife is suddenly poking up someone's nostril.

"Misanthrope. It means 'piss off right now' in Lucernan."

He did.

Thursday, July 26, 2012

Why I self-publish, in one tweet

"I think some people were taken aback that I say no to most things. I get hundreds of queries a week. I take on maybe 5 new projects a year." -Jennifer Laughran, @literaticat


Seriously. Jennifer is a lovely person, but bloody hell, life's too damned uncertain and short to be on that sort of submissions merry-go-round for months/years/ever.

Wednesday, July 25, 2012

Work in progress, er, progress + daily writing sample

So this evening I busted out 1500 words. Monday morning I squeezed out another 600. As my son would say, 'sockamooie!'

And here is the promised daily writing sample (remember, this is not polished stuff):

###


There was a pile of heads. Some were still blinking. One of them was wearing my face.
“Right then,” I said. “Let’s go back out and try to enter the Elamner’s room through the window. Dealing with Bosch can wait.”
More strenuous agreement from behind me. I was becoming popular with the mercenaries.
Holgren smiled, which, considering what we were surrounded with, made me like him more, oddly. “We can try,” he said. “Lord Osskil?”
Osskil was staring at a rotting arm that dragged itself toward his boot, a look of sick fascination on his heavy face. Very deliberately he raised his foot and stomped down on the black, split-nailed fingers that inched it forward. He kept stomping until the bones were shattered and the thing just lay there, quivering.
“Yes,” he finally said. “Let’s.”


Friday, July 20, 2012

Twice more, with feeling

I forgot to mention I've got a couple new stories up. One is currently free, and may remain so for quite some time. Or, you know, not. The other is 99 cents.


"The first time they made love – the first time he had ever made love, though not her – it was in his Malibu, on a frost-rimed night in early spring. The act itself was accomplished with a gentle urgency and a seemingly unending need." 
A story of love, loss, pain and time travel. Mature themes. Free indefinitely.  Smashwords Link


Send-up (noun): A humorous parody. 
P'uy (noun): A vicious alien race with too many legs and teeth and not enough heads. 
Varger: (noun): An alien species bearing a striking resemblance to pink jello. 
Subaltern Flint (noun): A very junior officer who never meant to start anything... 
On Harbin IV, it's better to be lucky than good. 
99 measly cents. Smashwords Link

The Blade That Whispers Hate: update

So the cemetery scene in The Blade That Whispers Hate is done. I know you've been waiting for me to kick that one in the pants, Dear Readers, so you can go to sleep tonight secure in the knowledge that pants were kicked.

What's left to do on BWH before I can say the first draft is done, you ask? Well, there's the part that I can't tell you about because it will spoil the ending, but it involves a package. So we can call that the 'package delivery' scene if you like. That or, you know, George or something. Then there are two showdowns (Grand and Petite) and another spoiler scene that I like to think of as 'Why'd you go and do THAT?!' and a breaking and entering scene. So yeah, if my fingers are correct, that's five scenes, plus some connective tissue here and there that doesn't get its own name in My Own Brain(TM) because it's just A to B stuff.

Yes, yes, Michael, I hear you say. All well and good. But  when will it be done?

Well, let's say there's about 10 left to write, give or take. Could be a bit less, could be considerably more, but call it 10k. Then let's say I can bang out 500 words a day. That would be 20 days, once I take off my shoes and include my toes.

Of course, some days I can get out 2000 words. Or more.

Of course, many other days I get exactly squat written.

But let's say 20 days, because I'm told I need a more optimistic disposition.

Meanwhile, here's another little excerpt to tide you over:

***

In a place like the Cock’s Spur, they don’t even bother putting out chairs or benches that don’t face the door. Nobody wants their back to any trouble that enters. As I walked in, a couple dozen pairs of eyes skewered me. Well, except for the one hairy brute that had lost a beady, pig-like peeper somewhere, and in the not-too distant past, judging from the puss weeping out of the socket. He really should have considered an eye patch; if not for himself, then at least for anyone forced to look at him.
After a heartbeat, all the eyes slid right off me onto Holgren, which gave me faith in the fetish he’d given me. Or maybe it was the quality of his clothes. I heard Holgren sniff behind me.
“What’s that smell?” he murmured.
“I think they’re brewing ale.”
“Oh. I thought it was cat urine. Is it supposed to smell that way?”
“Maybe the house recipe calls for cat piss.” I’d heard of stranger ingredients, if not less disgusting. Bludgeoned roosters and the like. There was a reason I generally stuck to wine.
“I find myself appallingly unthirsty,” said Holgren.
“Come on, let’s brace the bartender.”
“About the ingredients?”
“About the owner.”
         “Good idea. Take your complaint to the top, I always say.” 

Thursday, July 19, 2012

Dear My Own Brain

Dear My Own Brain,

As a self-published writer who hopes one day to make a living from his writing, I find myself with the unenviable task of having to get you to believe two very nearly contradictory things at the same time:


  • Sales don't matter. Only the work at hand matters.
  • In order to reach my goals, I need to think not only 'artistically' but in business terms.
Now look: I know you can't think both ways at once. Last time I tried, you gave me a migraine. So you'll have to switch back and forth. At the moment you seem to be stuck on the business end of things. I blame it on reading Joe Konrath's blog, so no more of that for at least a week. The comments there suck you in, and you want to compose scintillating arguments rather that scintillating prose.

The unanswerable question that you can't seem to leave alone at the moment is 'when/how do I reach the tipping point?' By tipping point of course you mean the level of sales that generate more sales simply because of the sales already being generated. It's a chicken & egg thing, Brain. The answer is unknowable until it happens.

The single biggest thing a writer can do to boost sales is to release more great titles. This has been proven over and over. Part of it has to do with algorithms at the various retailers, Brain, and part because if someone likes what the read of yours, odds are they'll go looking for more stuff of yours. But there are a whole host of other factors that play in as well. Genre. Price. Cover image. Blurb. You know this. Why are you obsessing? Just. Stop.

You've got half a dozen stories that need some forward motion. Go obsess over them. 

Tuesday, July 17, 2012

The minimum

Minimum wage (where I grew up): US $7.25/hr. This works out to US $1,242.85 per month.

How much I make on each 99 cent story (after retailer & distributor cuts): 56 cents*.

How much I make on each $1.99 title: $1.19*

How much I make on each $2.99 title: $1.80*

How much I make on each $3.99 title: $2.40*






To make minimum wage as a writer, I need to sell monthly:


2219 short stories at 99 cents (74/day), or

1044 titles at $1.99 (35/day), or

690 titles at $2.99 (23/day), or

517 titles at $3.99 (17/day).


So yeah. Let you know when I hit that target.

*via Smashwords. Amazon's royalty structure is different. I don't sell much at Amazon, though, so meh.

Saturday, July 14, 2012

Why I made Waste Land free. Forever

I was twelve. That summer we stayed with my uncle and aunt in Pensacola, not really welcome. There was nothing to do, nowhere to go. My aunt and uncle went off to work each day, seven days a week, to the kennel they owned, and my mom did whatever it was she did. Mostly sat in the guest bedroom reading mystery novels, from what I remember.

Which sort of left me at loose ends.

Now this could have ended very badly, but my uncle had a big, big bookshelf. And on that bookshelf were something like fifteen of the 'Year's Best SF' annuals.

And everything changed.

Each one of those stories changed the way I viewed the world, my world, in ways I had no words for. In ways I didn't even realize, and didn't show up for years, decades, some of them.

I read them all. Then I read them again.

I think, because I read them so young, I got it into my head that I could never write anything even close. At the time of course I couldn't. But I doubt I had to wait until I was forty to try. So when I started to write, I wrote fantasy. Fantasy is safe. I enjoy it. Sci fi, the sci fi I read that summer, the sci fi that became the definition of sci fi for me (Tiptree, Ellison, to give you an idea) was some far out, uncomfortable, existentially scary shit. The fact that it was painfully beautiful, stunning really- that only made it the more out of reach.

It was the world of literally. anything.

And so I shrank away from that place, the place where the horizon wasn't just limitless, but in truth debatable at best.

Then I wrote Waste Land. I would not say it belongs in one of those year's best anthologies, but I am proud of it. I also know that for some readers the ending is like a kick in the gut. It's not spelled out. It's still linear, but there are a few bars where you have to sort of hum the tune to yourself. Or make it up.

And so when I got the one star review for Waste Land that said 'didn't understand anything' I got where the reviewer was coming from. He'd wandered into a story- that story- utterly unprepared, with no real ability to 'get it'.

There's a reason Waste Land is free, and will always be free. I don't want anybody to pay for something that has the potential to mess with them.

On being an indie writer: a few thoughts


  • I use the phrases 'indie' and 'self-published' interchangeably. If this puts anyone's knickers in a twist, I suggest they seek a remedy to alleviate their pedanticism.
  • I write the best stuff I am capable of. That is my main goal. My main goal is not to get rich off my writing, though that certainly would be nice.
  • I believe the ratio of time spent honing my craft to the time spent marketing should be on the order of 10:1
  • Which is good, because marketing an indie book is, by and large, a stupid, pointless time sink. You'd get similar results just cold-calling random people.
  • The most evil, the most pernicious trap an indie writer can fall into these days is constantly checking sales and rankings. Don't watch the pot boil. Go read a book if you're not going to write.
  • The single best way to generate sales is to write and publish more good work. Go do it.
  • I respect my readers, and give them value for money. In this way I can have a reasonable assurance that my readers will become repeat readers, and may even tell others about my writing.
  • Some readers will not like my writing. It's inevitable. Which is why I give some stuff away for free, so they don't lose out monetarily.
  • Some readers will leave bad reviews. That's their right. As long as the reviews aren't personal attacks, I welcome their feedback and try to learn from it, if there is anything to learn. Bad reviews are far, far better than no reviews at all. You can't be in pain if you're dead.
  • I'm getting just a touch annoyed with other indie writers who get so involved with the business end of things that they forget about craft. If your book isn't the best you can possibly make it, what the hell are you doing marketing it? 
  • I've gotten the royalty checks from Random House in the mail. I like the PayPal deposits from Smashwords better.

Thursday, July 12, 2012

Seconded


 “If you wrote something for which someone sent you a check, if you cashed the check and it didn't bounce, and if you then paid the light bill with the money, I consider you talented.”
― Stephen King:

Sunday, July 08, 2012

Update

A sunny Sunday afternoon, waiting for my son. Not much to say, friends, except I'm still alive. On the writing front, things have slowed while I chew over a few plot points. I've got a funeral to write next, in a most unusual cemetery. Cheers.

Monday, June 25, 2012

To write, to have written



"But even if I'm completely misunderstood, so what?  Being true to the meaning, cognizant of the endeavor, is what matters." -Ana Scott Graham

Sometimes lately I need reminding of that. My task is not to get rich writing, or to write for the greatest number of people. My task is to write the best stuff I can. I need to be cognizant of the endeavor.

Whether the reader understands, really doesn't understand (unable? unwilling?), or misunderstands is not under my control.

Yes, I've been obsessing over reviews and sales. Yes, I need to get back to work. These pesky little misunderstood stories don't write themselves.

Saturday, June 16, 2012

Insomnia comes in many flavors

...and I call this flavor 'I ain't no farmer and didn't hear any rooster crow, but here I am up before the sun'.

It's a working title.

Anyway, just to update you on the happenings:


  • I busted the second-last toe of my left foot and have been hobbling around for a week. The bruise has spread halfway up my foot, all mauve and sickly green. Pictures not forthcoming.
  • Had yet another idea for a novel. Think Pearl S. Buck's Dragon Seed meets Glen Cook's Black Company series. Two great tastes that taste great together. In my head, at least.
  • But that will have to wait because, as you may have noticed, I put a new banner up on this here blog. I have too many works in progress, and they've been progressing far too slowly for far too long. So I've given myself a public deadline for the three I want to complete first.
  • Which means I'm going to have to produce outlines. Shudder.
  • It's Father's Day tomorrow. If you know a father, why not tell him thanks for doing his fatherly stuff? Also a hug would not go amiss.

Wednesday, June 13, 2012

Finally

The Thief Who Spat In Luck's Good Eye is now available at all the major retailers!



Apple
Amazon
Barnes & Noble

It's been a long time coming. I'm happy to send it out into the world, and focus on the next thing.

Friday, June 01, 2012

Playing around with paint.net


This one's nearly finished, so I've been playing around with cover ideas.I do wish I could afford more professional covers, but I know mine aren't awful. I've seen awful. Mine are just 'meh'.

Sunday, May 27, 2012

The Fantasy subgenres: some thoughts


  • Arguably the first s&s story was written by Robert E. Howard (creator of Conan). "The Shadow Kingdom" was published in Weird Tales in 1929.
  • The phrase "Sword & Sorcery" was coined by Fritz Leiber in 1961
  • Joe McCullough argues that what sets apart a s&s story from other fantasy are three qualities of the main character: self-motivated, outsiders, of heroic stature.
  • I'd quibble with Joe's nomenclature a bit, but by and large agree. S&S protagonists by and large choose adventure, rather than have it thrust on them. They do not, by and large, have a defined, accepted and acceptable place in the cultures of their milleux, (barbarian, thief, what have you). And if by 'heroic stature' Joe means they have some skill or ability that makes them extraordinary, then I agree to that one for the most part as well.
  • But. Always a but. There are exceptions. There are always exceptions. Jirel of Joiry could not be considered an outsider, despite being a female feudal lord in an ersatz medieval France, as her vassals accept her rule without question. Few would argue that Jack Vance's Dying Earth stories, especially Cugel's Saga, were not Sword & Sorcery, though the setting is technically a future Earth rather than an alternate one. But Cugel is a character that refuses to be pigeon-holed. He is self-motivated in the sense that Joe means; Cugel has absolutely no interest in subscribing to the mores of whatever society he finds himself in, unless subscribing offers him some material benefit. Cugel is definitely an outsider, no matter where he finds himself. But Cugel's only extraordinary ability, or rather abilities, are 1. an inability to learn from his mistakes or alter his behavior to minimize conflict, and 2. a sheer, stupid, bloody-minded tenacity.
  • Sword & Sorcery is not High Fantasy, though it can be Epic Fantasy or the more recent 'Gritty Fantasy' (or as I prefer to call it, 'Low Fantasy' but not as an aspersion, just to highlight the fact that it is consciously tying to counter some specific conventions of High Fantasy) . 
  • I would break it down this way: In all these categories, the 'fate of the world' may (or is it 'might') be at stake; but in High Fantasy, generally speaking it must be at stake as a genre convention. Or so the subgenre have evolved. High Fantasy, a la Lord of the Rings. 'Nuff said.
  • Low Fantasy can mix and match from any of the other genres, except when it comes to tone. The tone is generally more akin to Chandler than Tolkien. This is fantasy with the voice of a meat packer rather than an Oxford don. This is fantasy a la Joe Abercrombie. There are no Tom Bombadils traipsing around, singing songs. There is, however, torture, rape, and unflinching delving into the not nice parts of being human. Look at The Heroes. It's a big bastard of a book about, what, a three day battle that nobody essentially wins and is pretty much a pointless waste of lives. It's good stuff, seriously, but it can't help but be what it is: an allergic reaction to High Fantasy. 
  • Epic Fantasy, I would argue, tends to straddle a midpoint between high and low. Martin's A Song of Ice and Fire and Jordan's Wheel of Time are the most celebrated examples of the subgenre, though they are very different series. Martin writes very little in the way of magic. It's there, but it's a tiny portion of the whole, and frankly much less important than other themes; themes he tends to share with the Low Fantasy genre. The fate of the world isn't really in question, rather the fate of individuals, families, and ultimately nations. There are no prophesies; every character has agency or not according to their own personality. The Wheel of Time by contrast is absolutely stuffed with magic and the fate of the world does hang in the balance in every book. Prophecies abound. Characters struggle fruitlessly to escape their destinies.
  • So why isn't Martin's Song Low Fantasy? And why isn't Jordan's Wheel High Fantasy? Because I say so. 
  • No, it's because Martin writes primarily to illuminate rather than to shock. Also because Song has more DNA from Shakespeare's historical plays than it does from Tolkien or Smith et. al. It wasn't written as a response to the perceived weaknesses or failings of High Fantasy, even subconsciously. So it is free to roam the very wide bounds of the Epic subgenre.
  • Jordan, despite his dyed in the wool High Fantasy tropes, still wrote with the same sort of vitality he honed when writing the Conan books (yes, he wrote Conan Sword & Sorcery books long after Howard died.) He build a towering edifice of High Fantasy, but he built it on a Sword & Sorcery foundation. Matrim Cauthon could not exist in a Tolkien novel. In the end, High Fantasy has a very specific formula, and that formula calls for certain ingredients and forbids others. Just because you have a farmboy fulfilling a prophesy and a Dark Lord bent on utter domination, that doesn't automatically get you into the club.
  • And what about my lovely Sword & Sorcery? What are its hallmarks? Beyond the protagonist's requirements, there's blessed brevity. S&S is a natural fit for short stories, not series. If there is a series, it's the characters, not the plot, that continue on through multiple books. The focus tends to be on action more than character development, though this doesn not mean that characters are cardboard. Generally speaking the writing is much, much tighter.
Insomnia, I have made you at least mildly useful.