Monday, June 30, 2014

Picking Up the Gauntlet

So because of my post last week, I received a lot of spirited defenses of self/indy publishing, many of which struck me as missing the central point I was making: that agents and editors dig through a lot of crap to find the things they publish.  Several people argued that "people aren't waiting for publishers to tell them what to read, they're listening to reviews and recommendations from friends."  What this fails to recognize is that traditional publication is, in essence, a powerful form of recommendation: someone said, "I think this book is so worth reading, I'm financially backing it." 

So powerful that many reviewers and sellers take notice.  It is on that recommendation that most reviewers will accept the book to read.  (Most will not review self/indy books.)  It is on that recommendation that the sellers-- bookstores-- agree to stock it.  (Many will not stock self/indy books.)  And the individual people who work there will give their personal opinions to the customers.

So don't tell me that no one is listening to publishers for recommendation, because that is literally what the traditional model is.

The other argument I heard boiled down to, "Thanks to indy/self publishing, so many amazing books that wouldn't have seen the light of day are now available.  Readers can decide for themselves."

This may well be true.

I'm game.  I'd like to know what some of these amazing books are.  So, I'd like to hear some recommendations.

But wait!  I've got some rules.

1. You can't recommend your own book. The main reason for this is I think recommending your own book undermines the point of "so many amazing books are now available".  If you just tell me about your own book, what you're telling me is that you don't really care about all those amazing books, other than in the abstract sense of how promoting the idea helps your own book.  You're not telling me how indy/self helps readers "decide for themselves", you're telling me how indy/self helps writers sell their books.    If the system really is for the benefit for the readers, I want to know how it benefited you as a reader

2. No recommendations that started indy/self and then were picked up by a traditional publisher.  Because they've already received that recommendation bump.  I can find them in the traditional market, even if their path there wasn't entirely traditional.  Recommend something that I can't find on the traditional market.

So let's hear some recommendations!  Put my money where your mouth is.

Thursday, June 26, 2014

Blessed are the Slushdivers

I don't want to bag on people who self-publish. There are good reasons to do it, and there are people who do it very well and have found great success doing it.  That's excellent for them.

That said,  I've got a big problem with the zealots who don't merely preach the gospel of self-publishing, but scream from the mountaintop how traditional publishing-- or "legacy" publishing, to use their attempt at a backhanded term-- is doomed to die.  That's it's already dead, and its proponents just don't realize it.

This is, of course, crap.

The big argument they like to make is that readers don't need publishers to make decisions about what's worth reading for them, they can find what they like for themselves.  That the people can be their own gatekeepers.

This is an argument made by someone who has never read through a slushpile.  Which is a shame, because it is something that every aspiring professional writer should do at least once.  To get a little perspective, if nothing else. 

So, for perspective, this is what agents and editors do:

Imagine a river of shit.  Roiling, torrential rapids of hot shit.  And careening through the eddies and currents of this river, there are diamonds.  And rocks.  Mostly rocks, but some diamonds.

And a few brave souls DIVE IN THERE and swim through that festering flow of feculence, searching for a couple diamonds.  They come out with what they find, sort out the rocks from the diamonds, and clean those off and sell them.  And by the nature of how things are, yes: some diamonds will not be found.  It's a shame, but that's a reality. 

This is a metaphor, but I'm really not exaggerating.

Really, really not.  I've read through slush submissions, and it can really be that bad.

Now, if you're game for diving in and finding your own diamonds: power to you.  Seriously. It isn't easy.  I'm pretty amazed that agents and editors are still constantly doing this to find new work. 

And I'm glad they do.  Because, on the whole, I'd MUCH rather go to the stand by the roadside with cleaned-and-polished diamonds then listen to the guy on the riverbank screaming that there's diamonds in the shit river and anyone can get.  He might be correct, but that doesn't change the fact that I appreciate the work that the divers do.  And if I resent anything-- as a reader-- its the assumption that I should want to dive in and find the diamonds myself. 

I leave that to the professionals.

Monday, June 23, 2014

Publication Transparency: Value of an Editor

Having had Thorn of Dentonhill go through the editorial process, and in the midst of working the edits for A Murder of Mages, I have nothing but praise for my fantastic editor, Sheila Gilbert*.  I really believe her influence has made Thorn a better book than it would have otherwise been, and A Murder of Mages is on a similar journey right now.

I mean, just the title A Murder of Mages came from her.

Here's the big thing she does when we talk about the books-- she doesn't so much tell me "this is what you need to change" as much as ask me questions.  Questions about the characters and the world, and most of the time, these are questions I am completely able to answer.

I have to confess, I have a certain... apprehension when it comes to the infodump.  Infodumps are, in my opinion, not good, and I try and avoid them, instead weaving information in dialogue and description in bite-sized amounts.  Except sometimes I'm-- unintentionally-- too meager with those small bites.  Sheila helps remind me that my audience will want and need that information. 

But she'll also bring up questions I hadn't necessarily thought of.  Not that I don't have the answers, but I didn't think it was an important thing to consider while I was writing. Or if I did, it was something I was holding in reserve for a sequel. 

The point is, the process is one of inquiry, not dictation.  And one of strengthening and building, not removal.

And, of course, I'm quite proud of the results.

*-And clearly I am not the only one, since she's been nominated for a Hugo for the second year in a row. 

Thursday, June 19, 2014

Perils of the Writer: Losing Your "Strong" Female Character to Trinity Syndrome

This article by Tasha Robinson should be required reading to all writers (especially male writers, like myself) who like to think they are writing strong female characters.  Perhaps you are, but Ms. Robinson gives a good checklist to contemplate.

A big thing she talks about is the "Trinity Syndrome"-- where a female character is given the impression of being strong and important-- like Trinity in The Matrix-- but after her strong and important introduction, she actually contributes very little to the actual plot, other than propping up the hero.  Or, as Ms. Robinson so eloquently puts it, "A sexy lamp with information for the hero written on it."

This is not something I get right all the time, myself.  Thorn of Dentonhill, I'll admit, has only one significant female character in it, but she is pretty crucial to the plot, and it involves being Veranix's friend and confidante, but not a romantic partner.  I may not have done a perfect job, but I strove to make sure that Kaiana was not a sexy lamp.  Is she a Trinity?  I don't think so.  I can tell you, if she veers in that direction in Thorn, I'm fairly sure I turned out of the skid in Thorn II.

A Murder of Mages has many significant female characters, including and especially Satrine, who is very much the co-protagonist.  No one there is a sexy lamp, and Satrine is definitely not a Trinity.

That said, this gave me good things to think about, and places where I can see room for improvement in my own work.  Which is always the goal, right?

Monday, June 16, 2014

Worldbuilding: The Cosmopolitan Fantasy City

As I'm working my final edits for A Murder of Mages, I'm of course thinking about its sequel, which currently has the provisional title The Little East.   And with my plans for that, I'm getting to go deeper into an idea I had already been presenting for the city of Maradaine.

Fantasy, by its nature, tends to find Old World influences.  Western European being one of the biggest.*   The rest of the world, of course, gets a share of the representation, and even on occasion we see New World-- the Americas-- have an influence on fantasy worldbuilding.  But, of course, I'm talking about the pre-Columbian Americas there, up until 1491.

You don't see too much fantasy that draws influence from a more modern America-- and I'm talking secondary world fantasy, not urban fantasy.

Specifically, I'm talking about melting-pot cities, or at least cities where influences and enclaves from many places congregate and affect the primary culture.  The Little East works directly with that idea, as Maradaine is a highly cosmopolitan city, including sub-neighborhoods that are entirely peopled by foreigners and recent transplants.  Places where the culture is very different, and my main characters are essentially foreigners in their own city.  It also widens the amount of diversity I can have in Maradaine, instead of having it be just, in essence, all western-European types.

In addition, it gives me the opportunity to do the opposite of a travelogue-fantasy story. Instead of having characters go different places to see the different cultures... those cultures have come to the characters.  Plus, it lets me have those cultures interact with each other, and with the city, all on a micro scale.  Of course, to do that, a city must be well-defined.  You have to know the various neighborhoods, and who lives there, to include these foreign enclaves. 


*- Maradaine is no exception.  You'll see plenty of British and French in there.  That's not ALL you'll see, but it's clear where the primary cultural influences come from.

Thursday, June 12, 2014

ArmadilloCon Schedule

ArmadilloCon already has a schedule, which is a pleasant surprise.  Usually you get these things one to two weeks before, not nearly two months of lead time.  Still, it's nice to have a sense of what I'll be doing (besides the Writers' Workshop-- submission deadline is June 15th!), and which subjects I might want to bone up on so I know what I'm talking about.

So, here's my schedule, which I would presume is subject to change.  I'll talk more about it when we get closer to the actual event (July 25th-27th).

Protecting the Indigenous Tribes 
Fri 8:00 PM-9:00 PM Room E 
Maresca*, Compton, Wright 
Indigenous peoples confront a diverse range of concerns. What should be done to ensure their existence? 

40 Years of D&D 
Fri 9:00 PM-10:00 PM Room F 
Benjamin*, Finn, Maresca, Marmell, Sarath, Wright 
How did D&D inspire authors? 

Sat 1:00 PM-2:00 PM Room E 
Richerson*, Brown, Maresca, Oliver
Discussion of Aztec mythology and why it isn't used in more genre stories. 

Alcoholic Drinks in Fiction 
Sat 5:00 PM-6:00 PM Room F 
Maresca*, Acks, Allen, Downum 
Discussing the drinks mentioned in stories, movies and tv. 

Sat 8:00 PM-9:00 PM Southpark A 

Best Cons from Genre Books 
Sun 10:00 AM-11:00 AM Room D 
Webb*, Blaschke, Maresca 
Not many people are good at writing capers. Which books do it right? 

Overhauling a Character 
Sun 11:00 AM-Noon Room F 
Maresca*, Bracken, Carl, Chang, McKay, Rogers 
Now that you have written a book, go back and rewrite your main character.

My only comments right now are:
  1. I'm moderating THREE panels.  That should be interesting.
  2.  I have an hour for a reading.  I'll have to think of how to make the best of that.

Monday, June 9, 2014

Why You Should Go to ArmadilloCon Writers Workshop

All right, folks, this is the last time I'll talk about this (this year), but I think it's important:

If you're interested in writing sci-fi or fantasy, and you want to improve your craft, you should attend the ArmadilloCon Writers' Workshop. I could give you all sorts of reasons why, like our fantastic teachers: Mario Acevedo, Jayme Lynn Blaschke, Ted Chiang, Nicky Drayden, Mark Finn, Derek Johnson, Claude Lalumiere, Stina Leicht, Marshall Ryan Maresca, Ian McDonald, Joe McKinney, Alex C. Renwick, Kat Richardson, Dr. Anne-Marie Thomas, Martin Wagner, Jacob Weisman, Martha Wells and Skylar White.

I could tell you that the workshop is a steal at $70, and that includes access to the whole rest of the conference. Most conferences won't even let you in the door for $70, but here you get the conference and the workshop? A workshop where your work gets critiqued by writing professionals? How is that not a great deal?

I could tell you all sorts of things, but if you want to know why it's worth your while, here's the real reason, right here:

That's the book that I've got coming out next year. I took the first chapter of that to the workshop a few years ago, and due to the critique input I received, I was able to improve the chapter, improve the book and improve my craft as a writer. Did that pay off? Yeah, I think it did. Am I saying if you go you WILL sell your work? Of course not. But you'll get the tools you need to improve your chances.

And on top of that, I want to point out, I'm not shilling for this to line my pockets. I do this entirely as a volunteer, because I think it matters. The people who volunteered before me gave me the helping hand I needed, and I think the best thing I can do is reach out to the ones coming up behind.

Thursday, June 5, 2014


So, I received this in the mail today from my amazing editor:

This comes from Paul Young, of whom I am now a big fan.

You know, there's been plenty of "pinch me" moments where I wasn't sure this was really happening.  Despite contracts, first check, editorial meetings, etc., there's still this little voice in the back of your head whispering.  Telling you it's all some elaborate prank.

But seeing this, it really hit home.

This is really happening.

Monday, June 2, 2014

All Writers Depend on their Partners

I was going to write about something else.  Heck, I wrote it, and was about to hit "publish", and then some brilliant stupidity appeared that could not be ignored:

Female Authors Depend on their Husbands to Write Romance

How moronic is this article?  Wait, don't answer, I'm going to tell you.  It's incredibly stupid and insulting, on several levels, but I'm going to focus on two.

One: The idea that women are alone in getting writing done because their husbands support them.  Did I fall asleep and wake up in Mad Men or something? Are only men capable of having a "supporting" job?  What about all the men who also write books?  How does that work in Michael Kozlowski's theory?  Or does it not count because they don't write romance?

Two: The idea that these women are "playing" at writing.  Because they're bored housewives with nothing better to do, or something?  WHAT THE COSMIC FUCK IS THAT?  Nobody writes books because they are "playing", and certainly because there's nothing better to do.  

So let's make a few things clear about my life, all right?  I've got two books coming out with DAW next year, a thing I've mentioned a time or two, and do you know why that's possible?  Entirely, 100%, purely and absolutely because my wife has been there supporting us.  We run a business together*, but she is the front-and-center part of that business.  It could not exist without her.  We would not succeed without her.  And without her doing that, I couldn't have written the books I sold.  Pure and simple.

And playing at writing?  Oh, dear lord.  Again, I've got my wife supporting us.  I don't have to clock in anywhere form 8 to 5.  But despite that, I still have to carve out time for writing.  I have to make an active point of it.  It's not something that just "happens" because I'm bored, and to suggest that it is the case for ANYONE who is striving to make a living doing this is not only insulting, but insipid.  Especially since Mr. Kozlowski would probably never dare to do such a thing to a male writer.

* Live the Language, Spanish Immersion for Children and adults.