Abusive agents and how to spot them

This will eventually have its own spot on Filigree’s Rule, but I thought the problem merited its own longer post.

Literary agents are human: they have likes, dislikes, foibles, and triggers like anyone else. Sometimes an author is lucky and their quirks will mesh with the agent’s. This is one of the major reasons to *exhaustively* research agents before you approach them.

Commercial publishing is a rough business. As reasonably well-informed authors, we know literary agents offer our best shot at decent sales with a trade publisher. Agents…good agents…do a lot to earn their 15%.

Note: I’ve had two literary agents between 1992 and 2016. Both are lovely people and skilled professionals, and they would *never* dream of treating authors the ways I’m about to list.

Bad agents can ruin your career, your sanity, and your joy in writing. I’ve watched dozens of agentfails over the last eight years, as I researched publishers, agents, markets, trends, and my fellow authors. It’s not always easy to spot bad agents ahead of time.

What is a ‘bad agent’? For this post I’m only talking about commercially successful literary agents, with excellent documented sales and large client lists…who have, with certain authors, failed so epically and horrifically that no one should ever query them again.

But very much like the current focus on sexual harassment in work & politics, I can’t actually name these agents without opening myself to legal jeopardy. Their awful treatment of some authors is an open secret, if you take the time to research. Writer Beware and www.absolutewrite.com offer a depth of information going back many years. Simply watch for authors announcing they are seeking new representation, and track back through their & their ex-agent’s social media posts.

This post follows one particular author and agent, with enough of the serial numbers filed off for me and the author to remain safe. (The agent could be inflicted with boils and bedbugs, for all I care.) Do I know who it is? Sure, because I have basic research skills and a good memory.

Author: three well received SFF novels from a large publisher. Books compared favorably to a master of the subgenre.

Agent: really well known in SFF community, but has some previous problematic social media gaffes.

Author was typically over the moon upon initial signing of first mms & two proposals, but noticed quickly that agent didn’t pay attention to the next two books’ outlines. Agent obviously wanted a massive bestseller/award winner, and pushed that outcome over the author’s story preferences. Agent insisted in being the sole go-between for author and editor, not allowing independent contact between the other two parties. Agent tried to rewrite books without author’s input or permission. Called on that no-no, Agent then withheld useful criticism during edit processes, but began complaining about the writing in published versions. Agent was incommunicado for long stretches of time. Agent began gaslighting author about poor sales and promo. Agent appears to have torpedoed the final book proposal, leading to its refusal from the publisher.

Finally, after several years, the agent ‘fired’ the author recently, essentially telling the author they were a terrible writer, a useless person, with no usable ideas and poor skills. That no respectable publisher would work with the author after seeing their poor sales. This shattered the author for almost a month, before serious intervention and their own resilience prompted the realization: ‘That agent is a horrible person and seriously unprofessional’.

The author could look back and and see early warning signs, enough to agonize over ‘I should have left earlier’.  But we’re authors, and it’s damn hard to give up on having an agent, especially one advertised as having industry clout.

I queried that agent a couple of times for different projects, got form rejections, learned some squicky things about the agent on social media, and never bothered with them again.

I honestly hope they leave the business. How they treated this author is not an isolated case, but part of a pattern with this agent and agency.

End of an Era: Loose Id

 As per this Facebook post, the erotic romance publisher Loose Id is closing. https://www.facebook.com/LoosenYourId/posts/10156261079630101

The four owners (The Quad, in LI nicknames) have decided not to squander the market’s good will, and are winding down the business by May of 2018.

This was my first romance publisher: they took on the first edition of my M/M space opera ‘Moro’s Price’ when no literary agencies or Big Five publishers would. For the most part, for the first few years with Loose Id, I was satisfied with sales and marketing. When it came time to renew rights again in summer of 2016, I decided to end my contract. I have no ill feelings toward LI at all. It just became apparent that my style of writing wasn’t going to sell that much in their current catalog. Eventually, ‘Moro’ went on to NineStar Press, a stunning new cover, a tighter revised second edition, and a whole new series opening up in the next couple of years.

What happened to Loose Id?

Amazon, certainly. The rise of Amazon’s behemoth publishing schemes have decimated earnings at many smaller publishers. The abrupt closure of All Romance Ebooks last year sent many publishers panicking, as it had been (on paper) sometimes a bigger seller than Amazon. Loose Id’s prices had always been read as high compared to other romance publishers, and their attempt to bring down those prices in recent years was apparently too little too late.

The romance publishing industry is changing in interesting ways, as well. Big Five and larger independent imprints are at least paying lip service to diversity in romance, which may be opening up new opportunities for authors formerly only able to publish with smaller niche presses.

While romance readers still make up the majority of genre book readers, crossover stories with other genres are becoming more common and popular among both romance readers and other genres like mystery and SFF. Readers (and agents and editors) are more open to LGBTQI and POC characters and writers. The super-raunchy, at-least-one-sex-scene-a-chapter formula (adopted by many early 2000s erotic romance publishers) was a reaction against the ‘fade-to-black’ coy sex of most mainstream romances in the 1980s and 1900s. But a counter-backlash is building against excessive or gratuitous sex scenes, especially as Millennials ramp up their buying power and preferences in the reading market.

Quality of work, not unrelenting quantity, is a sought-after feature especially in the saturated self-pub romance markets. Writers can still make a bundle from releasing at least one book a month, but the quality has to be there, or seasoned readers get quickly bored.

I hope Loose Id is able to unwind with as little stress and confusion as possible, and their remaining authors find their way to new opportunities. I hope remaining erotic romance publishers take note of the changing market, instead of wallowing in denial (like Ellora’s Cave, for example.)

On agents and publishers

Hint: if your publisher pops up and declares they will no longer consider submissions from agents, and requires their authors to sever existing ties with agents…your publisher is either predatory, clueless, or both.

This post prompted by the hilarious meltdown from Tyrant Books, an independent literary press based in Rome & NYC. Tyrant *has* published some great books, but apparently reached the breaking point recently over agents ‘stealing’ authors away to bigger presses.

Authors with agents have jumped into the fray, explaining how their agents helped their career.

Tyrant’s authors have joined in, calling the publisher fiercely devoted to quality in a world of vanilla, low risk commercial publishing (and they are also right.)

If you are an unpublished author (or a midlister disillusioned by your career arc), it’s tempting to treat getting a reputable agent as an impossible goal…and from there, a short sour-grapes hop into ‘agents are just leeches and scavengers’.

I’ve pulled my submissions to agents, in favor of working with NineStar Press. I’ve had two agents in a quarter-century, and both are amazing people. Just not the right agents for me, as I’m not the right client for them. The large story arc I’m working on has already had segments published (Moro’s Price) or contracted (The Purist) through NineStar…so the whole series is now unlikely to be worth an agent’s attention. I’ll need to write something else to go back into the agent query game.

But this doesn’t mean I’m against all writers looking for agent representation.  Writers with skilled agents generally get better contracts, subsidiary rights, better marketing, and protection from publisher collapses. (I may have a great story to tell about that in a week, about an author whose work I adore.)

But for now, here’s an article link to the Tyrant controversy.

Authors accuse publisher of exploiting writers by banning literary agents

Myself from Space

For a couple of years recently, I worked at a strenuous but fun job painting faux finishes on fiberglass architectural forms.

A mostly outside job winter or summer, it involved schlepping big cast brickwork arches onto sawhorses, fixing the (numerous) flaws from the manufacturer, and painting a three tone finish to mimic a particular type of Italian brickwork.

Even when the Phoenix temperatures hit 117, I loved that gig. I had a great team and a wonderful boss who is a master of moldmaking and theatrical props. The work was easy once I figured out how it all went together. There was always enough shade, cold water, and excellent coffee. The boss had wrested from the unforgiving clay a remarkable garden, so that meant fresh tomatoes and artichokes. (I hadn’t seen an artichoke flower before. They are otherworldly.)

For comic relief and amazing eggs we had urban chickens.

The boss got out of that business, two years after I left it for an indoor job, and is now departing to the Antipodes and a saner country. I can’t blame him. He’s having an artwake/farewell party in a couple of weeks.

The house will be sold. Will the new owners will keep up the garden, or keep funny obnoxious chickens, or create mad art miracles behind a privacy fence? Or will they be a boring bland example of gentrification?

In a fit of nostalgia I looked up our little enclave on Google maps, and found a satellite photo snapshot circa 2014 or 2015:

Google’s commercially available detail is stunning. From the vegetation and shadow angle it’s summer, a couple hours after noon. The house, shop, and garden are tucked into an unassuming scruffy corner of metro Phoenix. The boss’s truck, one of my coworkers’ vehicles, and my car are clearly visible in the locked, fenced parking area.

Out in the workyard are the shade canopies, the unpainted white fiberglass forms, the upright drying racks, stacked sawhorses. And two blobs casting shadows as they work: my coworker and me.  I know because I can see the colors of the shirts we’re wearing.

It’s really weird to see yourself from space, from orbit, from a past time.

But also damn cool.

 

 

Tempe Festival of the Arts Awards, Fall 2017

The latest award ribbons are done and delivered! As I mentioned here, they are based on the collage/printmaking work of Erin Curry. Here’s the Festival poster image, a commissioned piece.

And here are the award ribbons I made in fiber applique, machine stitching, and hand-sewn beaded embroidery.

Materials include polyester felt, commercial printed cotton, digital print on fabric, gel transfers on fabric, polyester thread, polyester grosgrain ribbon ties, metal pin-backs, and glass beads. Signed on the backs: ‘Marian Crane 2017’

Gel transfers on fabric

I’m partway through the next set of award ribbons for the Tempe Festival of the Arts.

These are based on the work of Erin Curry, so for the applique backgrounds I used a mix of bright and subdued cotton prints glued on white felt pre-edged with dark green/blue rose print fabric. The prints have some unifying colors and thread patterns: deep blue starry effects, bright blue tropical prints, map and ledger fabric, touches of orange and yellow.

Then came sewing on the printed fabric show labels, three to a ribbon, for all seventeen main categories, the three ‘big’ awards, and two small honorable mention awards.

Curry’s ‘Animalia’ prints are tricky to adapt, even with my own photos and Painter 17. I really wanted to have the animal motifs sewn in black & white with an embroidery machine, but that’s not in the budget right now.

But wait…I had a few yards of pale pastel floral chintz. I have a laser printer. Ta da, gel transfers!

You can find clearer instructions online. Basically, work on a clean flat area. Have waxed paper or plastic-covered cardboard panels for drying. Paint a layer of clear acrylic gel medium all over the fabric area you want to cover, paint gel over the printed face of the fabric, press printed paper facedown into the fabric, and squeegee the hell out of the paper. This will force gel down into the fabric, and stick the paper image smoothly to the cloth.

Let dry on covered surface for between 3 and 24 hours, depending on how rushed and/or insane you are. Peel off the fabric from the drying platform. Dunk the fabric into a big tub of warm water. Do NOT use a bathtub for this unless you have a screen cap to prevent paper shreds from clogging your drain!

Let soak for a couple of hours. Peel off the paper, then gently rub off the rest of the paper fibers. The result: a gel layer trapping the laser printed image against the fabric. You can paint another layer of satin or matte gel over this, to make it stronger for wearable applications.

I’d forgotten how fun these can be and how clear an image they can yield. The trick apparently is fine-grained smooth natural-fiber cloth (cotton works best, in my experience). Linen will pick up the linen texture, which is great if you want that in your piece. An aged fresco effect can be achieved by sanding the face of the fabric lightly with 600-grit wet-dry sandpaper (but then you should paint a stabilizing gel layer over the top.)

Using a white-on-white print or a pale print fabric with strong transfer images gives depth to the prints. They can be embroidered and beaded over, and touched up with fabric paint.

Now that I remember how to do these, they’re going to be in some fiber art books.

What’s next for the award ribbons? Sew down the motif critters, then beadwork, then grosgrain ribbons and metal pin backs for ease of display.

Final pieces can be seen here.

Happy Halloween, 2017!

Because they make me smile:

Sugar Skull ceramic planters from a nearby Trader Joe’s.

I’m wondering if I could coax a Datura seedling into growing in one, instead of the succulent shown.

Probably shouldn’t, though. Responsibility in gardening, and all that.

But honestly: wouldn’t it be gorgeous?

Horehound candy from scratch

Note: ‘Natural’ doesn’t necessarily mean ‘safe’. A surprising number of herbal products can harm or kill you, used improperly. This stuff is no exception. So if you are mad enough to make your own horehound candy, be careful and don’t overdo it, either in the making or the eating.

These are horehound candy ‘sanded’ lozenges from a company called Claeys. They’re readily available online, at candy shops, or kitschy folk-life/food outlets like Cracker Barrel. Their characteristic bitter flavor is well balanced by the cane sugar candy, and they are nicely soothing for sore throats and stopped-up sinuses.

But they are made to a modern American taste. I find them rather wimpy and mild.

Horehound itself, good old Marrubium vulgare, is an odd plant. Kind of the coyote of the mint family: drought tolerant, tough, opportunistic, and so bitter most sane animals won’t nibble it. It probably originated around the Mediterranean, but has spread as a colonizing weed nearly everywhere. (My given name comes from the same root word as this plant, so I have several dimensions of fondness for it.)

My first taste of ‘real’ horehound candy came in my early teens. My local community college had a great wintertime presentation of A Midsummer Night’s Dream, and my junior high English class got to attend.

The college made a Renaissance Faire thing of it. My local historical re-enactors/Faire folks added flavor by dressing up in garb while running sales booths. I most clearly remember one selling blackberry tartlets (damn those were so good), and one selling horehound candy.

The candy had been poured into dark brown glassy sheets looking like medicine-bottle glass, then broken into irregular shards. This comes close, from sugarontheweekend.

Clients bought it by weight. A shop matron in full merchant-class Tudor garb weighed it out on a shiny brass suspension scale somewhat like this one.

I’d heard of horehound candy in novels, and knew what the commercial versions tasted like. This stuff? In a class by itself. First I tasted the brown sugar, then the deep herbal bite like the funkiest of mints. I enjoy strong, bitter flavors, especially if they have complex layers. Coffee, tamarind, grapefruit, even bitter melon: bring ’em on!

The candy did something else: my usual persistent winter sore throat, legacy of childhood illness, hayfever, and some seriously polluted air, vanished for the rest of the show.

I snuck out at intermission and used the rest of my spending money on brown chunks of miracle candy, which I doled out carefully until spring. Especially after our family doctor told me I could give myself high blood pressure or heart failure if I over-ate it.

Commercial horehound candy has been a mainstay in my house ever since, but I’ve missed the rich bitterness of the Ren Faire version.

I decided to make my own.

There are recipes. You can find them online. I do not recommend this. It takes a bloody long time, and it reeks up the whole house. Not quite as bad as cannabis, but damn close.

I, however, am a bit insane. Possessed of a candy thermometer, brown sugar, maple sugar, vanilla extract, some excellent spearmint, and a nearby herb & tea shop selling very fresh dried horehound leaves from a quality supplier…I spent last Saturday making my own horehound candy.

Once I slowly boiled off the water from the decoction, I didn’t take it to the ‘hard crack’ candy stage. I wanted easy-to-break sugar crystals, and I’d already spent most of a very stinky afternoon.

The result, 5 hours after the initial herbal steeping, was a revelation: soft, luscious crystals that look like dark-honey quartz drusy. The taste is better than I remembered: first the cane and maple, then hints of vanilla and spearmint, then SLAM the bitter glory of the horehound.

Works on my throat, too.

I just have to remember that this is much stronger than the safe old Claeys drops.

If I keep it cold and dry, I figure I have a couple of years’ supply at least. Which will give me enough time to try out online suppliers, because I am probably not making this stuff again. (The reek!)

 

 

 

 

Orange Orchids & a Halloween shirt

Guilty as charged: I love Halloween more than I love Christmas. I used to be dazzled equally by both. I adored the lights, the glitter, the rich mythology. Both are consumer frenzies, but I hold that less against Halloween than I do Christmas.

Not so much the fault of Christmas. It’s been hijacked by both ultra-conservative and ultra-capitalist forces, and the underlying fun has been shadowed…for me. At some point I might fall back in love with it.

Halloween? I have no problem with its glitz, I’m familiar with the Samhain stories from which it evolved, and no treacly-pure ‘harvest festival’ will take its place in my esteem.

Here are two fun pieces that will help me celebrate the season in years to come (MileHighCon 2018, I’m eyeing you.)

Orange Orchids is a long 32″ beadwoven necklace I started a little over a year ago, with vague ideas of weaving it into a lighted strand of ED orange pumpkins. Yeah, no, engineering and physics said otherwise. But the necklace alone is wearable, and I’ll be adding more vines and flowers to it to make it even longer.

Everyone needs a good Halloween shirt, and I lucked out with this one at my local Kroger’s on sale. I usually don’t bother with thin synthetic knit garments, but the design on this one was so killer I had to have it.

However, by the time I actually wear it, it will almost certainly have more beads.

Autumn landscapes: Baltic Blue 1, 2

I’m shamelessly neglecting my #Inktober duties.

With so many disasters both natural and manmade in the news right now, I wanted to pull away briefly, and post two old-but-fun pieces inspired by Autumn.

‘Baltic Blue 1 and 2’ are large acrylic paintings on canvas, approx 22″x36″, done around 2009-2010. While pure fantasy, they were inspired by the myriad small islands around Copenhagen, where I’ve never been, but had seen in a friend’s photos of an enchanting autumn trip.

Imagine mother-of-pearl skies, rich blue water, and vibrantly-colored farmhouses.

Materials: acrylic paint applies with brush and brayer, iridescent and interference acrylic paint, stainless steel paint.

Larger versions found here and here.

 

Crane’s Guide to Writing and Baking

Okay, we’ll try another version of this.

In other words: writing is work. Often very hard work, that might pay little or nothing for an insane amount of time and labor. There is no set ‘destination’, since your career can skyrocket to best-seller and movie status, or crash into obscurity with equal speed.

If you want to write as a hobby, as I did for 20+ years, that’s fun and admirable.

But if you decide you want to publish your work, whatever genre it might be, you owe it to yourself and your book to do as much widely-ranging research as possible.

Don’t just look up ‘Publishers’ on Google or Bing, and go with the first one you see, maybe in your area. And please walk away from any publishers or agents who want you to pay upfront (or in anything but commissions off sales) to work with them. Take some time to look up other authors who’ve written something similar to your book, generally within the last two to five years. Did any agents represent them? Who published them? What do their sales look like on Amazon? Have you met these authors at book signings or conventions? Are you on a writing-oriented social media site?

For more information, gleaned from my mistakes and those I’ve seen in the industry, go here to see all the ways writers can be led astray on the publishing quest.

***

Help keep the power on so I can keep blathering about art, jewelry, writing, and politics! I’ve joined Rakuten Marketing, so your click/buys on the links below will send me a micropayment.

Remember Mystery Science Theater 3000? The perpetrators are back with the online streaming movie commentary service
RiffTrax LLC

For more highbrow pursuits, here’s Taschen, one of my favorite publishers of beautiful, thought-provoking books in fine art, photography, culture, and the humanities.

TASCHEN - Beautiful Books

Blue Night Marketing Affiliates

These are the people who pay me, when you click/buy through their links on this blog. They feature companies whose products or services I, or friends and family, have used in the past. These companies have not directly paid me for a specific review or endorsement.

While many of these links will be found in text form, or as images at the bottoms of future or previously written posts, I thought it might be efficient and honest if I also show my current affiliate marketing links in one post.

Amazon. Where I show or review books, I check to see if they have a corresponding Amazon sales page, and link to it. In most cases, that will be a paid link: if my review was useful enough to send you looking for the book, and you buy it from Amazon, I’ll get a (very tiny) percentage of the sale. Whether I know the author or not, I will only review books if they strike me as really worthy of my time.

Rakuten Kobo U.S. Because I believe in fair competition, I’m also offering links to Rakuten Kobo U.S. This gigantic publisher of the Kobo format is one of the most popular in Asia and Europe, and fast making a name for itself in the USA. So if you don’t want to buy an e-book off Amazon, chances are you’ll find it on Kobo. I’m thrilled that NineStar Press, my current e-book and print novel publisher, has just made a direct distribution deal with Kobo!

button

Coursera. I wrote a whole blog post about Coursera, I like them so much. This company provides universal access to some of the world’s best online college courses, lectures, and professional certificate programs. Build your brain!

button

Vudu. Cut the cord to cable TV: if you just want HD movie and TV-show streaming a la carte, try Vudu. This American content delivery and media technology company’s streaming service distributes most current and a 70-year back catalog of vintage movies and shows.

banner

Taschen. One of my favorite publishers of beautiful, thought-provoking books in fine art, photography, culture, science, and the humanities.

TASCHEN - Beautiful Books

RiffTrax, LLC. In long-ago ages there was a cult hit, a low-budget comedy/movie review show called Mystery Science Theater 3000. The main ‘gimmick’ was a hapless Everyman imprisoned on a satellite over the Earth by evil masterminds, who periodically forced him to watch the most horrible old movies For Science. He had robot buddies for company, and to the Evil Scientists’ dismay, had a great time absolutely shredding the movies.

Why that long intro? Because MST3K may be no more, but its founders are back with RiffTrax LLC.

This streaming service allows you to sync their hilarious real-time commentary with specific movies. This is the only sane way to watch some real steamers (like Tommy Wiseau’s ‘The Room’). Rifftrax also has live shows, and if you ever get a chance to attend one, GO.

Coursera and why I blather about it

Note: this post contains paid marketing links, which I only do when I really support a product or service. If you click/buy through the link below (at the bottom of the post), I will get a micropayment to help defray the operating costs of Blue Night.

But really? I’d much rather you just go look at what Coursera has to offer you.

Coursera is an online educational service that provides access to some of the world’s best university courses and lectures, from thousands of sources, most priced from $29 to $99 per course. Courses generally run from 4 – 6 weeks.

You can brush up on old professional certificates, earn new ones, round out your old degrees before challenging course requirements at new universities…or just round out your knowledge base.

Why pick Coursera?

It’s easy, if you have little self-discipline. If you can pay bills online and navigate Facebook or Twitter, you can do this.

Your brain will thank you. We’re seeing more and more evidence that early-to-midlife brain workouts help reduce Alzheimer’s Disease and some other forms of dementia.

Your future earnings might thank you. Yes, we’ve all heard the one about Masters-degree grads flipping burgers. But did you know that many jobs that didn’t require a Bachelors’ degree in 1997, do now? People with a better knowledge base can take advantage of earnings opportunities others might miss. As jobs become more high-technology, workers must keep up with new job specifications…even whole new industries.

Plus, you’ll be better insulated against falling for ‘fake news’ scams and tricks, on the right or left side of political debates.

In our modern American (and some other countries, I’m sure) education system, we’re seeing two horrific trends: the debt bubble crippling many for-profit-college students, and the ‘cheat-your-way-to-the-top’ mentality made popular by Wall Street and our politicians. For the latter, there’s growing evidence that relying on paid thesis papers and other outsourced coursework doesn’t really ‘teach’ the student, so they don’t go into a field with the necessary base knowledge, or even the ability to learn and retrain as new information evolves. That can be fine if it’s a low-impact position in a minor industry.

But it can become a catastrophe. Like this guy:

A little history: the American and British industrial era was helped along in the 1880s to 1920s by many factors, but a love of (even a duty toward) education became many citizens’ aspiration. Free public libraries and reading rooms sprouted up from the biggest cities to the tiniest coal-mining towns. Their proponents knew that not everyone was going to college, or would become a fancy businessman in a marble house. But they knew it was important to have informed citizens. Who read and debated, and sometimes became writers and scholars guiding the next generations of informed citizens.

We need to ditch the fashionable hatred of ‘intellectual elites’ and get back to the America that loved learning and science. STEM is for everyone, not just the geeks in labcoats!

Self-guided learning can be a more-affordable option for busy (and poorer) people, to hone critical professional skills, or regain (or find in the first place) a joy of simply learning new things. Again with the science: learning and play (‘plasticity’ in neurological terms) help keep our brains functioning better and longer.

So, back to Coursera. Don’t be afraid of their course lists and lectures. Hop onto the site. Browse the catalog.

Do you like to watch how-to building, cooking, or crafts shows on cable or TV? Is there anything you have ever…however briefly…wondered about: How does that work? Why does this happen? What was it like, in that time, or that place?

You can find a course or lecture on Coursera that might answer your question, taught by the experts in that field, more deeply than you might get in a brief Wikipedia search.

Kudos if you know how to do basic Google or Wiki searches: many people who fall for ‘fake news’ scams can’t even do that…in an age of internet wonders, they’re stuck watching the sideshows.

This is Coursera. I’ve tried it a couple of times and enjoyed the experience, and I have friends who’ve been fans for years.

banner

‘Red Amber’ update

A few years ago I posted this excerpt of a rewritten fantasy short story, ‘Red Amber’, a M/M erotic romance about creativity, grief, pride, and lost love.

Here’s the current mood board for it.

While I’m waiting on edit letters for THE PURIST, I’m settling back into this story. I have 12K of it written, so expanding it to somewhere around 25K-30K shouldn’t be too difficult.

My first inspiration was this tiny red amber bear talisman, which was so cool when I saw it back in 1989 that it spawned an awkward story…with decent roots. I knew I wasn’t good enough for the idea, so I set it aside.

‘In a fantasy setting inspired by Neolithic North Africa, Tarhan Carver is the last of his reclusive clan of amber-workers. Shattered by the loss of his true love Aio, a young man sold into chaste religious servitude, Tarhan becomes obsessed with hoarding amber until he has enough to buy back Aio. But along the way they’ll both learn some things cost more than mere wealth.’

A M/M romance anthology call in 2014 made me take another look at my het little romance, and realize it could be any two people, not just a man and a woman. The rewritten version worked as a story, but not for that antho. So I set it aside for a few more months. Stuck in the waiting room for jury duty, I realized this was a whole book. I outlined a rough path to expand and interweave the short story, set later in the characters’ lives, with earlier sections showing how they got there.

On a whim last week, I sent the proposal to my current publisher. They liked it. The editor who saw the newest partial version wanted to offer a contract then and there. I’m reluctant to contract something until it’s finished…because life happens, and schedules get derailed.

Finishing this is a good distraction, especially if I can write 2650 words in three hours, and still like them the next morning. The characters are ‘chatty’: their dialogue and actions spin out naturally from my skimpy notes. Tarhan, like many of my characters, makes stuff, which is kind of a Thing I like to read (but other people get bored). Aio is giving me an excuse to read up on the Dinka herdsmen of East Africa.

And some gorgeous cave art from the Sahara.

Mood board sources:

Model M’Baye Ford, photo Maltchique

Ethopian woman, photo Timothy Allen

Cobra, photo by W. Klein, Angola field Group

Amber, lava, and malachite beads, Artfire

Thunderbird, ‘best thunderbird’, Deviant Art

Ancient Nile landscape, History Channel

Neanderthal male face reconstruction, Germany

Dinka herdsman and cattle, photo Irene Abdou

‘Horned Goddess’, Tassili cave art

 

‘The Purist’ has a home with NineStar Press

I’m contracting THE PURIST to NineStar Press for a release date sometime in 2018.

It almost certainly *won’t* have this cover, and possibly not this title, but I look forward to seeing what NineStar does with it.

Way back in 1996 or 1997 I wrote a 6K short story set in my Lonhra Sequence fantasy universe: a secondary-world riff on the Orpheus myth where Persephone and Eurydice combined into one badass spearwoman with A Secret, Hades was a genderfluid immortal sorcerer, and Orpheus…was Eridan: a bard and ambassador whose quiet life is turned inside out by those other two lunatics.

Around 2013 I wondered if I could expand SINGER IN RHUNSHAN into a novella. That happened, then it shot past novella-length and eventually to 102K words.

I gave it the next four years to find an agent or editor willing to take it on. The wonderful agent who helped me with the first MORO contract tried to place this one, and got form letters back. Several agencies said ‘no’ but asked me to come back ASAP with new work. At least two Big Five editors have liked my social media pitches for PURIST in its early incarnations as SINGER. (Ironically, a couple of months after form-rejecting the actual mms, but that happens.)

They didn’t like it enough to champion it or my other work, either in mainstream fantasy or LGBTQIA SFF romance. No one but me, five beta readers, and the agent loved this story. And she couldn’t get anywhere with it.

I’ve seen the miracles that can occur with my art representatives: they’re cheerleaders as well as representatives of the artists they help. They’ve lifted my art career far beyond my ability or expectations.

A bad or indifferent agent is worse than no agent.

I have options that I would not have had, if my first (very capable) agent had been able to sell my first (barely) coherent novel to a mass-market paperback publisher in the mid-1990s. Good small presses are out there now, and they are getting industry awards, notice, and readers. Effective self-publishing exists now, and is the safety net for many authors now releasing their own backlists and new work. I have access to trade groups that will help me with audiobook versions, film rights, and foreign rights if those apply.

NineStar is a great small publisher with a lot of potential. It probably can’t come near the best possible Big Five sales, let alone advance rates. But the NSP staff will do the best job they can with their formidable skills. NineStar’s rights reversions processes are clean and simple enough that I will be able to self-pub in the future, should I need to.

I don’t view NineStar as ‘settling’ as much as finding another viable route through what has become, for this book, an impassable quagmire.

It’s a journey I’m looking forward to, and a huge relief.

***

Help keep the power on so I can keep blathering about art, jewelry, writing, and politics! I’ve joined Amazon Affiliates and Rakuten Marketing, so your click/buy through the link below will send me a micropayment.

TASCHEN - Beautiful Books

Trump Asks Me For Money

Proof that the universe has a questionable sense of humor, or GOP marketers are harvesting emails without researching them, or Weebly sold me out (or all three):

Trump’s campaign folks have been sending me begging emails *on the email account I use only for things related to fanfiction*. Often very dark and or seriously raunchy fanfiction. To clarify further: these stories are often about gay or bi people having sex. They got that email address. Weebly, I hope you charged them a lot of money. How many other fan writers did you sell?

No, seriously, if you are a fanfiction writer and you are getting this letter on a dedicated email address, speak up.

So far ‘Donald J. Trump’ has sent me two emails, and ‘Mike Pence’ one. They are campaign contribution letters barely disguised as paranoid and frightened calls-to-action.

So to be reaaaaallly bitchy, I’m reproducing today’s Trump mass email in regular black text, and my commentary in bold. Let’s get started.

Friend, (No, you are not and never will be my friend. Your allies are why I stopped being a Republican. You were a Democrat until Obama made fun of you in 2011, yes? So we’ve established what you are, now we just need to establish your price.)

The fake news keeps saying, “President Trump is isolated.” (You are.)

…They say I’m isolated by lobbyists, corporations, grandstanding politicians, and Hollywood. (That’s because even the people who thought they could use you, seriously hate you now. Listen in some Shabbat evening, and I’ll bet Ivanka and Jared are planning their own hasty exit strategy before they go down with you. They are both a bit smarter than you are, and they want their kids far away from you.)

GOOD! I don’t want them. All I ever want is the support and love from the AMERICAN PEOPLE who’ve been betrayed by a weak and self-serving political class. (Yep. By Democrats, sure. But mostly by Republicans since the days of Ronald Reagan, when the GOP sold middle America on the fantasy of trickle-down economics. You would have no trouble betraying the naive or angry Americans who voted for you. And if you know how to pray at all, you are in cold sweats praying they never find how much you look down on them and everything they passionately believe in.)

We’re coming up on our end-of-quarter deadline and the media will be waiting to see if the American people have walked away from our movement. With your help, our numbers will show THE WORLD that the people are still fighting to MAKE AMERICA GREAT AGAIN! (In other words, you’re scared shitless by how close Mueller is closing in on you and your corrupt GOP minders. You started your 2020 campaign with one goal in mind: rake in as much money as possible to shore up your bankrupt tinsel empire, and maybe have enough to flee to Russia. Or not to Russia, since Putin has to be getting seriously pissed off at you right now.)

AND THEN, DEAR READERS, TRUMP ASKS ME FOR MONEY.

There are dropdown bars that begin with CONTRIBUTE $250, CONTRIBUTE $100, CONTRIBUTE $75, CONTRIBUTE $50, CONTRIBUTE $35, CONTRIBUTE OTHER AMOUNT.

There is no tab for NOT ONE RED CENT, ASSHOLE. Oh, and the letter starts up again:

Look — Hollywood and the media are going to hate us no matter what we say or do. (Stop hiding behind poor people in the heartland, Donald, you’re as much a ‘coastal elite’ as they come. Actually, George Clooney has a pretty good rebuttal for you.)

Their goal is to take us down. My goal is to bring all Americans up! (One clarification: we sane folks would like to take you down, and help your followers survive what you will bring to them with your craven, disastrous policies. The only Americans you want to enrich are yourself and your cronies.)

The economy is still booming (only for some very rich people), our border is getting secured (with what, your see-through, environmentally shaky fence?), illegal immigration is down big league (even legal immigrants don’t want to come here anymore), justice is being delivered (um, where, I don’t see it, unless you call civil forfeiture, misplaced ICE raids, and anything Jeff Sessions does ‘justice’), sanctuary cities are losing support (they need more support), and American energy is on the rise (No, dipshit, talk to any oilman in Midland TX and they’ll tell you they’re trying to squeeze the last profits before another crash. And WE CAN’T EXTRACT AND BURN THAT MUCH MORE PETROLEUM before some very bad things start happening even faster. Contrary to your bloviating lies, manmade climate change is here, you shallow undereducated manbaby.)

…And that’s even with self-serving politicians obstructing our agenda. (Oh, wow, one sentence I agree with. There’s a reason I’m registered Independent. I think most of the old-guard Democrats could snatch defeat from the jaws of the most-certain victory even if you gave them a map and an expert concierge. However, I also think that 95% of the Republican members of Congress should eventually face firing squads or life sentences in maximum security prisons for corruption and treason. Or to make it quick and just, in Guantanamo just as another Cat 5 hurricane is lined up to strike. There will be plenty of time when hurricane season lasts all year long!)

Friend, I was proud to go to the U.N. and declare before the world that for the first time in decades, America will look out for America’s interests FIRST. (And that’s when we became nobody’s ally, and well on the way to becoming as isolated and Third-World a nation as North Korea. You call yourself a ‘businessman’ with posturing like that? No wonder you went bankrupt so many times, and nobody wants to work with you anymore. You had to take Russian, Cypriot, and Deutsche Bank money because US banks had learned the hard way not to trust you.)

I didn’t run for president to be a puppet for the global political class. I ran to be a champion for the American people. (Let’s face it, Donald, you ran because you thought it would be a lucrative publicity stunt for a new far-right media channel. You never thought you would win. Your Russian allies never thought you would win. The GOP attached Mike Pence to your ticket because *he’s* one of the guys they wanted all along as POTUS. All of you underestimated how angry, ill-informed, and frankly stupid a certain bloc of Americans are. Russian/GOP vote-rigging in crucial districts worked a little too well. But hey, now you have the job, you HAAAATE it, and you’re going down as one of…if not THE…worst Presidents in American history. Good luck with that.)

The only support I will ever care about is from American patriots like you. (I’m an American, and I’m a patriot, and trust me, you will never get my support.)

Please help us CRUSH our goal and make this our best quarter report ever. (Ah, so yes, it is ALL ABOUT THE MONEY you need to pay off all those Russian debts before Putin releases the tapes with little girls in them, da?)

Thank you and MAGA, (That is true. Morons Are Governing America).

And then he signs it with his name and as close to ‘heroic’ a photo…from leaner, less orange days than now, I think…as Donald Trump can achieve. I don’t think I can see tape holding up his wattles, or maybe someone got clever in Photoshop?

I much prefer this picture. It’s more honest about who he is.

Or even this one.

Sigh. Donald, just stop. You’re not fooling anyone.

What offends me the most is that the Trump campaign is sending out these fundraising emails while Trump delays helping Puerto Rico.

Because Trump will never fail to indulge in a chance at racism and petty vengeance: most Puerto Rican Americans are somewhat browner than Trump and his family, and they largely voted for Hillary Clinton.

 

 

New approaches for Blue Night

Hello, readers.

I will have some cool news for you on Saturday, September 30, 2017.

Not related directly to the Cool News, I’ll be making some changes to this blog over the next few weeks. There’s no absolute schedule for this, just as I have time and funding for the things I can’t do myself.

First, I need to change the old landing page from 2012, and update it with better visuals and links to my blog, art, and books.

Second, I’m going to add some affiliate sales links, if I can keep them low-key.

I’ve resisted allowing advertising on the Blue Night blog up to now, because I wasn’t happy with the old generation of affiliate programs. Newer ones seem a bit better and slightly less annoying, so I’ll give them a try.

Why am I doing this? Due to a catastrophic family illness, I have to spend less time out in the workforce and more time as an unpaid caretaker. This may or may not lead to more writing and art time.

For now, this silly blog has become an unexpected asset.

Even if only a few people who read posts or look at my Filigree’s Rule or Book Art pages click on an ad, those tiny ad-sales amounts can add up a substantial percentage of my lost W2 earnings. (I work in Arizona after all, where a $10 minimum wage was bitterly fought over for years.)

This could help replace lost income, help my family keep our house, and help my loved one through a difficult healing period.

I would not do this for any lesser reason, believe me.

Cygnet, by Patricia McKillip

This book (two books, actually) holds a wistful joy for me. The two stories woven within are pure McKillip at her best: lyrical, mystical, with down-to-earth protagonists and a way of bringing the eldritch in for tea.

I encountered the first book in 1992 at a World Fantasy Convention, and the second in the summer of 1995.

I can even narrow down the time: I was re-reading it while doing this needlepoint (inspired by both books), at the big splashy grand opening for an electronics store that is now Fry’s Electronics (the boring one in Tempe, not the MesoAmerican fantasy in North Phoenix, now famous from Mr. Robot.)

Even more than McKillip’s earlier Forgotten Beasts of Eld or her Riddlemaster trilogy, these two books probably pushed my writing in a certain direction.

Not that I will ever come close to these.

But if you haven’t read Cygnet, or any McKillip, this book is a damn good place to start.

What is the duology about?

‘The Sorceress and the Cygnet’ begins with Corleu, white-haired son of the dark, wandering Wayfolk. His people travel from land to land with the changing seasons, hiring for farm work and craftwork. But on one autumn journey to the warmer southern Delta, the Wayfolk are led astray by a clever, magical enemy…into a blissfully beautiful, evergreen, ever-warm, neverending version of the Delta lowlands and swamps.

All but Corleu, who inherited more than white hair from his unknown non-Wayfarer grandfather. Corleu, immune to the sorcery, is offered a way to free the Wayfarers: betray the hidden Sentinel that has protected all the lands from the chaotic magical beings he accidentally awakened.

‘The Cygnet and the Firebird’ weaves a story of the sorceress Nyx Ro, who helped Corleu free his people and re-imprison his adversaries. Dragged by Corleu from her weird swamp mansion, Nyx now bickers with her less-magical but more level-headed siblings, avoids enamored lordlings and the responsibilities of being a princess, and learns the secrets of a magical castle that can teleport wherever her mother wants.

Until a wounded firebird appears in front of her…and a brief moment, is a young man warning Nyx of a new threat. A tyrant sorcerer has discovered old magical pathways through time and space, and prepares his conquering armies to overwhelm Nyx’s people. But doors go both ways, so Nyx and her cousin Meguet follow the firebird home.

Why do I love these books? The writing is gorgeous, without some of the unfocused ornament of later McKillip works (which I never mind, but your mileage may vary).

The two women are heroes, without being the new ‘strong woman’ stereotype of one-dimensional badass, and sympathetically portrayed as they pit themselves against a new world and new enemies. Their male love interests are equally well-crafted: strong, determined, both loyal and secretive, they’re a perfect antidote to the toxic masculinity touted by alt-right fantasists of today.

McKillip set this story up with a wistful ending: Meguet chooses one old love while refusing a new one, and Nyx’s firebird prince is pulled back to his realm with his father’s defeat. There is the possibility of a sequel, but it looks like McKillip may have set it aside. Similar themes pop up in her 2004 book ‘Alphabet of Thorn’.

#

Some of you are probably asking: “Is there fanfiction?”

Yes. I haven’t waded deep enough into the search results to see all three pages, but Archiveofourown.org currently has 44 fanworks listed for Patricia McKillip books. On the first page, some are mediocre, some average, and some spectacular. As with most fanfiction, you’ll be able to separate them within a paragraph or two.

That catalog page is here.

Crane Designs Book Art

 

Many of my book art sculptures are represented in the US and internationally by the wonderful folks at Vamp & Tramp Booksellers.

http://www.vampandtramp.com/finepress/c/cranedesigns.html

A large catalog of works can be seen by scrolling down the pages on the right side of this blog. Look for Book Arts & Text Based Art, for pieces from specific years.

Most of these pieces are one-of-a-kind, with a few limited small-run editions.

I go more into my book art process and philosophy here.

***

Help keep the power on so I can keep blathering about art, jewelry, writing, and politics! I’ve joined Amazon Affiliates and Rakuten Marketing, so your click on the link below will give a micropayment.

Taschen is one of my favorite publishers of beautiful, thought-provoking books in fine art, photography, culture, and the humanities.

TASCHEN - Beautiful Books

Moro’s Price mood board

Since I’ve a nice uptick in sales lately on this M/M space opera romance, here’s a mood board of my original art inspired by the story, cover background from Natasha Snow, and images from Alphonse Mucha, The Nature Conservancy, and Pinterest.

I don’t know any other way to respond to the anniversary of 9-11, or the creeping insanity and denial that darkens our world today…but to write and make art, find joy in it, and hope sharing it makes someone else’s afternoon a little better.

If you want to know more about MORO’S PRICE, go here.

***

Help keep the power on so I can keep blathering about art, jewelry, writing, and politics! I’ve joined Amazon Affiliates and Rakuten Marketing, so your click on the link below will give a micropayment.

Taschen is one of my favorite publishers of beautiful, thought-provoking …and sexy…books in fine art, photography, culture, and the humanities.

TASCHEN - Beautiful Books