Monday, February 29, 2016

DAW Books and Sheila Gilbert

Over the weekend I started in on This Gulf of Time and Stars by Julie Czerneda.  Her acknowledgement starts with what can be best described as a love letter to our mutual publisher, DAW Books.  And it struck me how fortunate and blessed I am to be with DAW, and that I get to work with an editor with the skill and passion of Sheila Gilbert.
Sometimes I am just stunned by the faith that Sheila and DAW have placed in me.  I mean, they bought two books to release in the same year, coming out just months apart.  They bought two more before the second one came out. Then four more before the third one.  I mean, that last one really astounds me.  A lot of other publishers would have been all, "Let's see how these next books do before we commit to anything."  But DAW committed to me, and because of that, I'm getting to tell the stories I've been wanting to tell, in the way I want to tell them.  
Sheila gets what I'm trying to do, and a large part of her role as editor is to give me ideas how to make that story clearer, stronger and more vibrant.  On top of the work we've done on the books that have come out and the one's scheduled to be released, I've got two other projects in my to-do pile with notes from her on how to make them better. DAW hasn't bought those yet, but she's committed to the idea of getting them ready to be bought.  
From the stories I've heard from other authors, having an editor who is that invested in your work is a rarity.   Heck, I hear tales of series where each book has a different editor.  
And that's not just for me.  Sheila is dedicated to getting great SFF work out there, and keeping it coming.  Pretty much half the books DAW puts out are edited by Sheila.  (And the other half by Betsy Wollheim-- DAW is a small publishing house, but they are just a powerhouse team putting out great books every month.)
Why am I saying all this?  Because it's the time for Hugo nominations to start to get serious (the deadline is March 31st-- my birthday), and I'm only going to make one endorsement, and that's Sheila Gilbert for Long Form Editor.  I've seen some chatter out there about how it's a confusing category and people aren't sure exactly what a Long Form Editor does, so let me make it clear: She makes my books better. She keeps looking for new talent and cultivating it, and then protecting it so it can flourish.  
She's been nominated the past three years, and last year was kind of a fiasco*.  She damn well ought to be nominated again this year.  
If you've got further questions or concerns, the floor is open.
The Alchemy of Chaos got some nice praise at Kings River Life and Bibliotropic.  Check them out.
*- We can get into that, if you want to get into it, but I think "fiasco" covers things succinctly.

Thursday, February 25, 2016

Perils of the Writer: The Agony of Titles

Coming up with titles for books is one of my most loathed things.   Almost everything has had a working title for some portion of its existence.  And those working titles were often atrocious.
Case in point: when I first started drafting what would become The Thorn of Dentonhill, my working title was "Tools of the Trade".  In fact, in the original drafting, while I had an outline, the idea that Veranix would become "The Thorn" wasn't part of the plan.  That initially evolved out a need to have his enemies refer to him as something other than "the guy".  But my initial critique readers thought "Tools of the Trade" was incredibly bland, and I needed something that felt unique, gave the story its own identity in a way that "Tools of the Trade" never would.
A Murder of Mages was originally just "Maradaine Constabulary", though I occasionally considered "The Mage Murders", up until the point where it was being sold. Finalizing the title was part of getting the contract squared.  Funny thing is, A Murder of Mages was a title I had considered but initially dismissed as if it was not available or taken already or something.  Which is absurd.
When writing The Alchemy of Chaos, my working title was just "The Alchemist", and then "The Alchemist of Aventil", which I didn't think was a workable title by the time I had finished the manuscript.  There were so many things going on that having a title that focused on just one bit seemed wrong.  I sent it to my editor with the title "The Elements of Aventil", which she didn't like at all.  We had a few email exchanges bandying potential titles back and forth before we came up with The Alchemy of Chaos.  I'm quite glad we did, because it meant that the third Thorn book could then have the title The Imposters of Aventil, which she liked right away.
Had a similar problem with An Import of Intrigue.  My working title had always been "The Little East". because I wanted to conjure up the mystery of this neighborhood of foreign enclaves.  My editor thought it was too vague, though, making it sound explicitly Asian when that isn't the case.  I played around with some other titles that played off of collective nouns like A Murder of Mages does, and one of them was "An Intrigue of Imports", and my editor said, "Let's flip that around."  And we're keeping the collective nouns, if not the alliteration, with A Parliament of Bodies.
The Holver Alley Crew, coming out next year, has kind of always been Holver Alley Crew, though since I initially considered that an entire-series title, I played around with it being called "The Fire Gig".  But that never really took.  And my editor was all in for the title of that second book, which is one I've had in my back pocket for yearsLady Henterman's Wardrobe.  
All right, that's enough name-checking all my current and future books.  Time to get to work.
The UC Review has nice things to say about The Alchemy of Chaos, as well as new DAW author Gerald Brandt's The Courier, which is probably going to find its way near the top of my to-read in the near future.  

Monday, February 22, 2016

The Awards and Conventions

The_Thorn_of_DentonhillSo, last week The Thorn of Dentonhill was named a finalist for the Compton Crook Award, and I am absolutely thrilled about it.  Right now is the time of year where all sorts of awards for the books that came out in 2015, and having The Thorn of Dentonhill getting this sort of notice and praise, especially right around the release of The Alchemy of Chaos, I couldn't be happier.
And, if I'm being honest, getting on this short list was one more than I was anticipating. I was not expecting it at all.
Awards are, of course, an entirely subjective thing. "Best Novel" or "Best Newcomer" or whatever else I'm eligible for is not decided by some sort of scientific metric.  People read a bunch of books and pick the things they like.  Their tastes and my tastes may not line up.  In fact, a lot of the time they don't.  There's been plenty of the "big award" books that I just didn't like at all, or at least didn't think there was anything extraordinary about them.
But at the end of the day, that's just fine.  I'm not interested in policing the awards anyone gives or begrudging the people who get them.  If I wanted there to be an award that specifically reflected my tastes, then I'd go through the trouble of making that award.  Note well: I have not done such a thing.
Partly because awards, to some degree, need a place as well as a reason.  Not necessarily, but it's no coincidence that most of the serious awards are organized by and given out at sff cons.
Unfortunately, cons have gotten some negative attention of late.  Mark Oshiro, of Mark Reads Stuff, wrote about his extremely negative experience at ConQuesT, and while his story of his treatment appalls me, I can't say it especially surprises me.  And the fact that I'm not that surprised is even sadder.  There was more than one point where I saw a name or a behavior and thought, "Yup, that sounds about right."
Many elements of his story were quite familiar to me, especially about how things go on panels.
Unfortunately, I haven't make a point of calling out bad behavior on panels, partly because I'm still something of a new person on the scene. If I'm the moderator, I'll try to put a lid on it and move past it.  I've never had to deal with behavior quite to the level that Mark describes, but I've been lucky in that regard.  I'm also a full bingo-card full of privilege, so things aren't going to hit me in the face the way they would someone else.  This is a crucial thing to keep in mind.
Now, I want cons, especially the fan-run, lit-focused cons, to succeed and thrive.  I think they are vital and provide something that the big-box comicons cannot.  I want to know what I can do to help make them better, especially on the panels.  My friend Patrice wrote up a good piece on what could be done.  I think there should be a good way to compile lists of regular local talent, and what their specialties are.
I mean, I'll gladly talk about just about anything, and if it's a subject I'm not well versed in, I'll do some research.  And if it's a subject where I really shouldn't be the one talking about it while someone who should be is left on the sidelines, I will tag them in and bow out.  I'm not perfect in anything, but I will try my best and keep my ears open.
I'm not all that complicated.  What it comes down to is, I mostly want to tell stories and share them with the sort of people who will love them.    I want the spaces where these things can happen to be better.

Thursday, February 18, 2016

The Vices of the Writer

I'm not able to be the caffeine fiend that I used to be any more.
When I was in my twenties, man... I could drink coffee until 1 in the morning, scribbling away at something or rehearsing a show or two-- and then go home and drop right to sleep, waking up to be at work at 8am.  (Or earlier, with some jobs.)
Somewhere in the last ten years, that shifted.  Oh, I'll still keep the night owl hours when I can, and my writing brain definitely kicks in strongest around 11pm and will go until 1 or 2 if I let it.
But I can't drink coffee any more when I do that.  I really can't drink it after noon.  Which is a shame, because I miss that late-night caffeine buzz while pounding out words.
Beyond that, I don't really have much in terms of writerly vices.  I mean, I'm not much of a drinker.  I like a glass of wine with certain meals and relish a good scotch, but if I was told by a doctor that I couldn't have alcohol anymore I wouldn't have a big problem adjusting.  I don't smoke.
I am something of a foodie. Anyone who's read The Thorn of Dentonhill probably picked up on that. I tend not to eat junk food or fast food at all.  But if that same doctor told me I had to cut out red meat... ooh, that would hurt.
When it comes down to it, my biggest vice is letting myself go down some sort of research wiki-rabbit hole to figure out more about the development of, for a random example, domestication and agricultural uses of sorghum. Something which, more often than not, will have nothing to do with what I'm currently writing but might be implemented in a future project.
In other news, The Thorn of Dentonhill has been named a finalist for the Compton Crook Award.  I'm ridiculously thrilled.
Also, I've added two more bookstore appearances in Texas.  On March 3rd at 7PM, I'll be at Malvern Books in Austin.  And on March 5th at 1PM, I'll be at Murder By The Book in Houston.  If you're in the area and available, come on over and say hello.

Monday, February 15, 2016

Post-Con Post-Mortem

So, ConDFW was this weekend.  I had an excellent time, but these events always leave me wanting more.  I always feel like I wanted more opportunity to talk to people, I could have done a better job introducing myself to new people, that I could have been more gracious, more clever, more charming.  I always strive to be the best version of myself, and I hope I come close to that.
So many wonderful people that I'm always grateful to see, I'm not even going to get into a list of names, because inevitably I will forget someone and they will feel snubbed, and I never want to do that.  In general, if I talked to you, I'm grateful that I did, and wish I could have more.  In any con event, I feel like the dog in Up, constantly going "Squirrel!"  So many things, not enough attention.  Especially at the end of my time, I pretty much had to run out the door as soon as I had my last panel, as I had to be back in Austin before 7.  So no protracted goodbyes were possible.
There were, of course, many of the usual issues I have-- I almost never sleep all that well in hotels, food was pricy and merely tolerable.  But that's just par for the course, I accept these things as part of the price of admission.
But now I'm home and ready to get back to work.  These books aren't going to write themselves.
In the meantime, two new reviews for The Alchemy of Chaos have come up.
The Bookaneer loved it once she had the epiphany of what kind of story it was.
The Mutt Cafe compares me to Brandon Sanderson and J.K. Rowling, which, yes, I will embrace that thank you very much.

Thursday, February 11, 2016

Tools and Process

A question that keeps getting lobbed at me looks something like this:
"What's your process?  How do you actually write?"
Yeah, that's not as easy a question as you'd think.
You see, a lot of what I'm doing when I'm working is trying to get a small portion of the bigger picture into focus.  Whether it's outlining a novel or drafting a scene, I'm honing in on a tiny part of the grand vision in my skull and trying to grab hold of it.
This is why I love this noise-reduction headphones I've been wearing lately.  My assaulting my ears and shutting off the rest of the world, I can let my brain go deep into the mode it needs to be to in to be able to focus on the work.  It's almost like putting myself into a trance.  Heck, sometimes I put the same song on repeat, let it just drone over and over in my skull so the creative things have nowhere else to go.
And as much as I love my laptop and writing on Scrivener-- yeah, I'm a Scrivener writer. Nothing else matches the hopscotch way my brain works.  I'll be working on some scene and then a different thing for a different project comes up, or the bit I'm writing has ramifications that should be foreshadowed earlier, and I can just click on the other thing, make a note or a change, and come back.
I lost my train of thought there.  I was talking about despite loving Scrivener-- sometimes I need the tactile.  I need to spread out papers, images and notes over a wide surface, and physically hash out the story.  Especially in the outline phase.  I had to do when I re-broke the outline for Imposters of Aventil, as it became that my original outline didn't match how things actually ended in The Alchemy of Chaos.  I already know I'm going to have to do the same for A Parliament of Bodies, as well as everything in Maradaine beyond that point.  I know I'm going to have to break out all the giant paper in the garage and do some large-scale work to figure it all out.
And there is a lot to figure out.  I'm very excited about what's coming next.

Monday, February 8, 2016

ALCHEMY reviews, ConDFW and other news

The Alchemy of Chaos final front coverWell, now The Alchemy of Chaos is out in the world, and the early reviews have been pretty strong.
"The Alchemy of Chaos is another stirring story of magic and mayhem." - The Qwillery (There's also an interview with me at the same link.)
"This is a fun and exciting fantasy story that highlights the author’s imagination and dexterity at creating a compelling adventure story"  - Nightowl Reviews 
"It takes a fun addictive book that I just outright enjoy for me to read it that fast, and this is that type of book."  - The Speculative Herald    
"Fantasy adventure readers, especially fans of spell-wielding students, will enjoy these lively characters and their high-energy story." - Publisher's Weekly 
Also, I did an AMA over at Reddit/r/Fantasy, which inspired the folks at Suvudu to curate the answers they found most interesting.  I also was a featured Big Idea on Scalzi's Whatever.
All in all, The Alchemy of Chaos has had a nice launch week.
Next up?  This weekend I'll be at ConDFW.  Here's my Schedule:
Saturday, 10am: Don’t Quit Your Day Job!
Panelists: Marshall Ryan Maresca (M), Seanan McGuire, Kathy Turski, Rachael Acks, Melia Newman, Sue Sinor

Saturday, 12pm: Creating your Fantasy Hero
Panelists: Marshall Ryan Maresca (M), C. Dean Andersson, Tracy S. Morris, Martha Wells, Bradley H. Sinor, J. Kathleen Cheney

Saturday, 3pm: Marshall Ryan Maresca, Jeff Dawson

Saturday, 5pm: David Doub, Marshall Ryan Maresca

Sunday, 1pm: Turning Stories into Screenplays
Panelists: Julie Barrett (M), Marshall Ryan Maresca, David L. Gray, Mary Gearhart-Gray, Rachael Acks, Aaron de Orive

Sunday, 2pm: Little Balls of Joy: Robots in Space Opera
Panelists: Marshall Ryan Maresca (M), John Scalzi, Stephen Patrick, Paul Abell, Amy Sisson
Also, if you're in the Houston area, I'll be at Murder By The Book on Saturday, March 5th at 1pm.
FINALLY-- Amid everything else, a new bit of excitement: you can now pre-order An Import of Intrigue on Amazon

Thursday, February 4, 2016

Writing to Market Will Never Work

The general advice out there is "don't write to market".  And when I say that, your response is, "what the heck are you talking about?"
I'm ahead of myself here.
All right, so, imagine if you will all of a sudden this book comes out where an attractive teenager starts a torrid romance with, I don't know, a were-dolphin.  That's a thing, right?  And it goes huge. The kids are going crazy, getting tattoos and going to conventions with flippers and they're talking movies and everyone has Blowhole fever.
And suddenly were-dolphins are a THING.  Other publishers are putting out their were-dolphin books, and someone else is trying were-shark thing, because that's what that third-leg of the love triangle was.  Agents are all, "WHO HAS WERE-DOLPHIN BOOKS QUERY ME NOW!"
So you say to yourself, "I should write a were-dolphin book because that is HUGE and it'll be bought up and sell like gangbusters".
Except no, that's a terrible idea.
Even presuming you can crank out a were-dolphin book in a month*, and get it out to agents like BAM... it probably wouldn't matter.  Because the publishing industry is really not geared to respond to trends.  "Glaciers honk at the publishing industry to move faster".   A super fast-tracked novel from writing-to-agent-to-publisher-to-bookstore would still take a year.  By which time everyone is bored to tears with weredolphins and have moved on to sexy steampunk airship captains.  Do you have a sexy steampunk airship captain?  No?  Then no one is buying your lame weredolphin latecomer.
Do not write to the trends of the market.
I honestly think the best "what should I write" advice is this: write the books you want to read.  Write to the market of the book you want to buy.  And count on the fact that you have fantastic taste that everyone else will want to read it as well.
Next weekend I'm at ConDFW in Dallas.  If you're in the area, come check it out.
*- Or have an manuscript that you can find-and-replace all your elder-god-in-teenage-body references for were-dolphins.  Or something.

Monday, February 1, 2016


Collage 2So this week is huge.
A year ago today, I was waiting for the release of my first book, The Thorn of Dentonhill.  Tomorrow The Alchemy of Chaos, my third novel, is coming out.  Three books in that time period makes for a pretty spectacular debut year.
I am not complaining about anything, I can tell you that.  I've been exceedingly fortunate.  Because I don't just have these three books.  In November you'll get to read the sequel to A Murder of Mages.  In the months to come, I'll be talking plenty about An Import of Intrigue.
But it's been an absolute pleasure to be able to share these stories with you, invite you into the city of Maradaine and show you all that I've created.
I'm especially thrilled because the stories of Maradaine will continue.
I can now announce that I've sold four more Maradaine-based books to DAW.
What are these four books?
Holver Announce Card
Long-time readers of this blog will recall that I've talked about The Holver Alley Crew plenty in the past.  This launches a third Maradaine series, and it will come out early in 2017.  The Holver Alley Crew looks into the lives of the poorer, downtrodden west side of the city.  It focuses on two brothers with a criminal past, whose attempt to live clean, honest lives is thwarted by a fire that destroys their home and shop.  Their future ruined, they have only their pasts to fall back on.
Imposters Announce Card
If you're worried that by launching a third series, the first two will be ignored, have no fear.  In late 2017 we'll see the third book in the Thorn saga, The Imposters of Aventil.   I can't say much more about it at this point, as the events in The Alchemy of Chaos and An Import of Intrigue play directly into the plot.Lady Henterman Announce CardIn early 2018 we'll be seeing the second Holver Alley book, Lady Henterman's Wardrobe.  All I can say at this juncture is that it thrusts the Holver Alley characters into a very different world.
Parliament Announce CardFinally, in late 2018, we'll see the third Maradaine Constabulary book, A Parliament of Bodies.
So, to sum up, this is what the future looks like: