A teaser for a piece called ‘Enlightenment’, which I describe in more detail here.
I love book art. It’s one of my default settings after 20 years. ‘Can I make it into a book?’ is a question I now apply to everything from spam emails to a set of cocktail swords found in a thrift store. (The short answer is ‘Yes, that can probably become part of a book’.) I have more project ideas in notebooks than I’ll probably have life to make…and I’m fine with that.
In the mid to late 1990s, on the now-gone site SFF.net, I hung out with a group of amazing writers who gave me courage to push forward with my own writing.
One of those was Helen Davis. I was lucky enough to read the first few drafts of what would become ‘By Blade and Cloth’. When I found it on Amazon over a decade later, I snagged a copy. The raw promise of the draft versions had coalesced into a tight, strong, emotional novel that didn’t wallow on for hundreds more pages (or books!) than it needed to, but still told a hell of a story.
Alfred D. Byrd’s Amazon review is so much clearer than my Goodreads review, that I’ll quote his here:
“Sword magic, death magic, a bitter rivalry between Humans and a magical people that they call Elves, a blood oath to avenge serial killings, a confused youth with a two-fold destiny that he must understand — these are a few of the treasures in Helen Davis’s rich fantasy, By Blade and Cloth. When David Lodger comes to the university in Bhrama, he finds the royal city divided between its Human inhabitants and the Frenis, miscalled by the Humans Elves, who have come there to force the Human king to grant them justice for the slaying of a Frenin named Huranumanu in a remote region called New Cumberland. To David’s unease he must live at the university among Frenis who might kill him if they learn his background, for David is from New Cumberland, and his birth was intimately tied up, in a way that he is struggling to learn, with Huranumanu’s killings and his violent death.
Around David Lodger’s struggle to come to terms with his origin and his destiny, Helen Davis has woven a rich tapestry of political intrigue and social struggle among both Humans and Frenis. Central to all is the long-missing Dragon Sword, symbol and source of royal authority among the Frenis, and shadowy half-Elven personages called Taerachulas, who strive to hold the Dragon Sword in check. The Frenis’ quest for justice for Huranumanu and David’s quest to understand his nature converge with the Dragon Sword and the Taerachulas in a moment of decision in which death for all may come with the slightest miscalculation.
By Blade and Cloth is a tour of a world like, yet unlike our own, yet never gets caught up in world-building, as the author keeps the focus tightly on characters in conflict. She weaves together the viewpoints of many intriguing characters as they move towards a moment of world-changing revelation. Many writers would have taken many times as long to tell the tight, compelling story of David Lodger and the world that he must understand to save it from a tragic, perhaps final war. By Blade and Cloth is no conventional work of fantasy, but a vision unique to itself.”
David’s story might ring close to Harry Potter’s, but I find the City and its university more deeply-drawn within the length of the book. His stumbling attempts at fitting in, his accumulation of ‘found family’, and his anguish over the two conflicting threads of his heritage…all ring true.
I won’t go into the central mystery (no spoilers!), but I’m especially fond of Helen’s Freni. I love stories and authors who take the old Tolkien/D&D tropes of ‘elves’ and expand on (or twist) the idea of the arrogant, long-lived race of magic users. Tad Williams did it beautifully in his ‘Memory, Sorrow, and Thorn’ series. Lynn Flewelling’s Aurenfaie are another recasting of elves, in her excellent ‘Nightrunners’ series. Steven Brust has my favorite take with his splendidly surly Dragaerans and the smaller, weaker, shorter-lived humans who endure as second-class citizens among them. (One of the inspirations for the major species in my Lonhra Sequence, I’ll admit.)
Helen can easily match Williams and Brust with her Freni, who are only ‘elves’ in that the idiot humans who conquered the continent believe they are. The Freni are an old, complicated, many-layered people whose (likely temporary) subjugation by humans is met with reactions varying from philosophical to violent.
As I mentioned on Twitter recently, this book should have gone to Tor, DAW, Del Rey or one of the other big SFF imprints. It (and her other works) should have garnered Davis some agent attention. For whatever reason, that never happened. Helen E. Davis was early to the realm of self-publishing SFF, so many people have never heard of her work.
Give this one a try, if you love steampunk-ish fantasy, school stories like Harry Potter, political intrigue, dangerous enchanted swords, sparkling snarky dialog, and wild action.
Here’s a mood board more or less capturing the ‘feel’ of this book. (Train from Rossi Publishing.)
I’m thinking about this for a fantasy short story cover. Still revamping the previously (anthology) published 25-page story, but seriously thinking about self-publishing this and some of the more-obscure Lonhra Sequence side stories. I have a lot of them.
Granted, this will be mostly taken up by text, but I like that it directly references story elements.
It wasn’t until revising THE PURIST and looking at my old notes for this story, ‘Saints and Heroes’, that I realized the huge volcano looming over Ajara City is called the Bell. Because the Sirrithani have twisted senses of humor.
Volcanoes are important in Sirr culture and myth: there’s a subset of earthwitchery dedicated to early warnings and control of fire-mountains. Their main goddess isn’t floating around in the sky; she’s below, curled around the world’s heart and trying to keep it from waking up and destroying everyone on the surface.
Tools: Painter 2017 oil paint filters, various tonal filters, volcano and banner sketched from web sources and heavily altered.
Happy Independence Day, for my fellow US friends (and for everyone else!)
While we’re on the subject of independence, do you know about Patreon?
The company bills itself as the best way for creators to build a sustained income. From what I’ve seen from many Patreon accounts, it’s succeeding. 35 creators each earned over $150,000 in 2016, according to a recent Patreon blog analysis. Many more earn a respectable $500 to $1000 each month from their subscription services.
Who’s on Patreon already? Artists of every kind. Writers of fiction, non-fiction, graphic novels, and webcomics. Science and pop culture bloggers. Musicians, gamers, teachers…it’s a dizzying array of skills and interests.
All operating under one simple idea: fans helping content creators afford to be creative, in return for regularly delivered content (often first-run or available nowhere else.) This can range from digitally delivered stories, interviews, podcasts, videos, songs, lesson plans, and even physical items. The Patreon service can run indefinitely, for a limited duration, or a set financial goal.
The webcomics on my right sidebar? Most have Patreon accounts. If you love them, subscribe!
Are you a content creator? What could you do with an extra few hundred dollars a month? What would you do if you didn’t have to rely solely on a day job, publishing royalties, a gallery or art agent, or a music label?
All you need to do is set up an account with Patreon, be somewhat social, and have the time, energy, and willpower to provide that regular content.
I’m not at the level of name recognition to jump on Patreon, and I don’t have enough professionally-edited content to do it well. If the Lonhra Sequence books don’t end up with an agent or a large publisher, I might bolster my self-publishing with a Lonhra/Blue Night Patreon. But that’s probably a year away, at least.
I have several friends who are researching their Patreon options right now. I plan on hosting their links when their accounts are operational. It will be an interesting experiment to watch!
In honor of a great opening week for my M/M space opera romance MORO’S PRICE, here’s a snippet from its direct sequel, MORO’S SHIELD.
Basically the start of the second chapter, because I can’t post the first chapter (it’s that smutty). But this is not just a series about sex: it’s about adventure, intrigue, and the definition of humanity. And (gasp!) it has a woman MC in it. (I have warned y’all repeatedly that Moro and Val are both bisexual, and I do not tolerate bi-erasure in ostensibly LGBTQI books.)
Say hi to Syene, who is not going to be the love interest you expect.
The stocky, gray-bearded miner slotted a supply case into a deep storage bin, stood up, and waved a hand in front of his face. “Why the rebreather and air tank? We have good atmosphere inside this rock, Sera Turan.” He sounded more puzzled than insulted.
Syene Turan tapped on the strips of colored tape across her dark gray mask’s forehead and cheeks. “I can breathe your air, Sero. You probably don’t want me to. See these stripes. Orange? Danger color? Remind you of anything?”
“Well, yeah, those cloth masks the Camalians wear when they’re on League worlds. We do things differently out on the frontier.” He squinted at the name tag on her heavy black flight jacket. “Sera, ah, Sy–”
Sy grinned and took pity on him. “It’s ‘Sahy-EE-nee’. Or Sigh-EE-nee, if you like. After a city on Old Earth where some science happened. My parents are scholars.”
“Interesting name, Sera Turan.”
“At least it’s not boring. My sisters got ‘Alexandria’ and ‘Geneva’. Please, call me ‘Sy’, Sero Dolan,” she said, eying the badge on his own battered canvas jacket. She wrestled the next case off Fortunero’s old hovercraft and handed it off to Dolan. She’d done something right, because the man’s voice and posture opened up.
“Sy, then. You won’t infect us by breathing our air. Not a man or woman on this asteroid would dare kiss you, true, but we like seeing new faces. We’re harvesting fresh blackberries tomorrow from the hydroponic gardens. Cook’s making some kind of soy angelfood cake with real sugar. It’s my youngest’s tenth name day. You and Captain Fortunero are welcome to stay. You’ve made a fair trade for the air you’d use.”
Sy felt ashamed of her automatic caution. In more civilized parts of the Terran League, a Camalian woman wouldn’t be assaulted outright. She could be verbally harassed, discriminated against, and stolen from with almost legal impunity. Sy had expected worse treatment out on the frontier. It rarely manifested on the supply routes Benny Fortunero had cultivated during his long career as a supply-ship captain.
Like Sy, Benny was one of the rare Camalians who felt more comfortable away from their Commonwealth and its throngs of symbiont-linked citizens. He left because he couldn’t bear being unable to access that affectionate and disciplined group-mind.
Sy left because she couldn’t shut it off.
She popped two latches at her jaws, and lifted the mirrored visor up over her forehead and short, sweat-curled hair. A faint breeze slid across her skin. The air smelled almost planetary, clean and cool, the circulated atmosphere redolent with water, vegetation, and traces of machine oil. Not bad for a tunneled-out asteroid ten miles across. She took a deep, happy breath, noting Dolan’s proud response at her open appreciation.
“Well met, Sera Sy Turan,” said the miner as he returned her smile. “You’re easier on the eyes than the old man is, I admit. If he wants to come along, we can drape a sheet over him to keep the kids off.”
“We–I–haven’t been out this way before,” said Sy, as she clipped the helmet to a belt latch. “Would he scare them?”
Dolan snorted. “He’s a community legend. They’re a pack of baby engineers. They’d probably figure out how to commandeer his guns before we could stop ‘em. Captain Fortunero isn’t our only supplier, but he’s one of the most welcome. Go on, ask him to stay, please?”
Sy guessed what Benny would say, but she wouldn’t second-guess her employer. She flexed her right jaw in a certain way, activating the com link stuck to her skin between her jaw and right ear canal. “Boss? Can we stay a day longer? They’ll have fresh fruit tomorrow. We’re invited to a name day party for Sero Dolan’s youngest.”
The com crackled with static for a moment, then Benny’s voice came from the speaker in Sy’s helmet. “Yeremina’s day, is it? She’d be what, eight?”
“Ten,” said Dolan. “It’s been six since you saw her, but she still remembers you, Captain!”
“Alas, Sero Dolan, I wish we could linger, but the schedule rules us all. Syene, I’ve got the last load crated up for you.”
Playing with bits of art I’ve collected or created over the years, to give myself another visual image-set for THE PURIST, a big fantasy novel currently out in Queryland.*
Yes, this is SINGER IN RHUNSHAN revisited, massively revised, and (I hope) getting closer to being fit for outside reading. For now, I’m so happy the damn thing finally decided on a better…and brutally fitting…title.
My next problem is that it also decided it really, really wants to be a graphic novel, too.
*Update 7-3-2017: I decided on querying 23 agents. That’s not a large segment of the available agents who are interested in science fiction and fantasy. But these are the agents I thought might be the best fit. These are the agents who *didn’t* scare me off with the actions I’ve listed in ‘Filigree’s Rule’. I’d be honored to work with any one of them.
I know the query’s as solid as my limited skills can make it. In eleven days I’ve had two full requests, one partial request, and two rejections. Considering the no-response statistics from BLOODSHADOW in 2009, MORO’S PRICE in 2012, and SINGER’s dire performance last year, that’s a much better query performance!
I’ve given myself a set amount of time to wait for responses. After that, the novel gets submitted to two major SFF publishers. After that, I start talking to Draft2Digital, four years after deciding to turn a short story into a book.
What’s my point? There are many avenues to publication, all with positive and negative aspects.
I know someone who tried to get an agent, failed, was published by two small presses that failed miserably, then tried two years of self-publishing, and just gave up. He spent over $10,000 on the process, between editing and marketing. He made around $200. (Not an uncommon fate in solo self-publishing, I’m afraid.) He unpublished his two paperbacks a few days ago, and his ebooks will disappear at the end of the year. He said the worry and strain sucked the joy out of his writing. I hope he gets that back, because his writing is wonderful.
I know many capable authors who, as mid-listers, were faced with dwindling options and industry notice. Self-publishing their backlists gave them new income streams and new readers…and more respect from the trade publishers. Literary agent Russell Galen has a prescient moment where he talks about the big trade publishers eventually realizing they must court self-published authors.
We won’t talk about the self-publishing wunderkind authors who seem to appear out of nowhere with multi-million-dollar success stories. We shouldn’t; those are flukes, and their paths to success often hide a lot more hard work than dumb luck.
What we, as ‘aspiring’ authors CAN do, no matter our eventual path to publication? Write the best thing we can write. Don’t settle for the fast-fashion trend of the day, unless you already have something that might fit. Don’t settle for churned-out Kindle ‘novels’ that are repurposed or outright plagiarized pablum.
AG Carpenter has been a friend, writing buddy, and occasional critique partner for nearly seven years. In that time I’ve watched her writing grow from merely good to brilliant, with a dry and restrained style that shouldn’t convey as much emotion and depth as it does. Her blog offers more detail on her writing and philosophy.
I’m not the only one who thinks she’s a great writer.
The first two novellas of her Southern gothic ‘Touch Trilogy’ have already gathered solid reviews, and the third is coming out this year from Falstaff Books.
She’s represented by the ever-classy literary agent Bob Mecoy.
Sooner or later, you’re going to hear about a book deal for AG’s Jules Verne+LotR+Terminator epic fantasy series featuring a disabled female protagonist, vivid aerial battles, nasty political intrigue, sign-language-using gorilla airship engineers, time travel, evil robots, and hard choices.
Or her subversively beautiful F/F YA graphic novel fantasy script interweaving Norse and Arthurian myth in a moody contemporary semi-update to Susan Cooper’s ‘The Dark Is Rising’ series.
Or her erotic fantasy romance featuring a reluctant king, a misunderstood dragon, and the rebellious BDSM nun who might keep them from shattering a kingdom.
Or her…you get the idea. AG Carpenter is not only a strong writer, but (compared to my stodgy pace) a ridiculously prolific and versatile one. Tor? DAW? Orbit? Hello, folks, she’s right here, a rising star under your nose! Call Mecoy, he’ll back me up on this: you want to sign this author before your competitors do.
She branched into self-publishing on Gumroad with her previously-published short fiction, as well as some new short works and three new novella-length stories.
Just out are Brass Stars, her dark space western revenge tale previously published by Eggplant Productions;
Jacquelyn and the Sparkly Emo Vampire Goat, a hilarious female-empowered twist on ‘Jack and the Beanstalk’;
and Mothers’ Last Child, an atmospheric post-apocalyptic novel about lost bio-tech and regained trust.
The prices are reasonable. Give them a try, and get an advance look at AG Carpenter before she becomes famous. (You’ll help out a struggling writer living just north of the Deep South, too!)
On a writer’s forum, I read a recent discussion of different storybuilding tools, among them the Snowflake Method. This existed long before there were alt-righties and GamerG4ters whining about ‘liberal snowflakes’, so settle down.
Randy Ingermanson’s method shows writers how to start small, with basic but sturdy frameworks, and build ever-increasing detail. This can help prevent a writer from being bogged down in superfluous detail instead of actual plot or useful settings.
Some of us take it a little too far the other direction. The fractal nature of snowflakes suits us, because we keep digging at the story for more detail, more background, more character arcs. Every answer comes up with a dozen new questions which we want to answer, dammit. Dig for a snowflake, get a glacier.
Fine, if you are a hobby writer. If you’re going for commercial success, don’t count on this obsession to lead you anywhere but rabbitholes filled with enigmas and plotbunnies. Unless you’re willing to plug away at it like Tolkien or Sanderson, there’s only madness ahead.
This bit of needlepoint from 1991-1992 helps illustrate my warning. I had a big fantasy world already built, and a vague idea of illustrating some of its legends with needlepoint pictures. The germ of book art was happening even then!
This depicts a specific creature, a hunt-goddess of a deceptively primitive race. When I created the species I thought they all ran around on four legs. Later, after some worldbuilding shakeups, I gave them sexual dimorphism and made the females bipedal.
But not this one, and not her reclusive brothers and sisters. I got to wondering why those thirteen creatures never adapted to the ‘new’ body plan. That led to another plot-twist: they hated the change, resented it, and abandoned all the mortals who agreed to it. How they got over their snit and came back as major players in their world…
I get approached by advertisers more than than I expected, for a blog that has too many words, not enough pictures, and a very low (but loyal!) readership.
So far, none of those advertisers have made a compelling case for value-added vs annoyance factor…so, no ads on Blue Night. I’ll happily review products and works of my own choice, making clear that they are either an ARC or other kind of review copy, or my whim.
But the world is changing all around us, and content creators have to juggle lots of different earning and support streams. When I have more art and writing content that can be targeted to supporters, I’ll probably open a Patreon account.
For now, I’ve joined Ko-fi.com.
Their slogan is ‘Buy me a coffee!’ (meaning relatively small donations that might buy a cup of coffee, some writing paper, art supplies, etc). It’s a charming and simple idea. For me, a $3 donation can buy a pretty good cuppa. Or a fat-quarter of quilting fabric. Or some really nifty beads, which can turn things like this:
Into things like this:
If you like my weird mishmash of art, jewelry, fiction, social comments, and downright rants, you can still egg me on with comments to this blog. If you can afford it, please consider a Ko-fi donation. I’ll answer when I can, chat your ears off, and be deeply grateful (creating isn’t free or easy, as I’m sure most of you know!)
I shot it a couple of weeks ago, looking west in Central Phoenix, outside a modest strip mall with a bakery, a pizza joint, a taco shop, a Buy Your Gold store, a cell-phone store, a nail-art salon, and some other little businesses.
That’s as representative a slice of modern, ‘real’ America as you can possibly get. I can’t review the nail salon, the gold place, or the cell-phone store (haven’t been inside), but the restaurants are all excellent. I was there with friends, after we’d seen ‘Guardians of the Galaxy’ nearby.
The flag was enormous, blowing in just enough wind to make it ripple like a Reagan-Era political ad.
My friends and I ate too much food, and discussed the movie, lies told by tyrants, what a Stepford job they did on poor Mantis, and how to recognize when one is within an impending political disaster.
The general consensus is that by the time enough people realize it, it’s probably too late, but you need to resist, subvert, and fight on general principles.
On this Memorial Day weekend, in between beer and picnics, church and parties, please consider this flag. Its genesis, everything it has withstood, the triumphs and tragedies it has flown over, the honor and duty of the people who have defended what it stands for.
WHAT IT REPRESENTS. Good and bad. Not just to Americans, but to people all over the world. To some folks, it’s still a beacon of a better life. To others, the mark of a hated empire or a rival power to be humiliated and sullied.
By itself, it’s merely pieces of sewn or printed fabric, likely to be made overseas. Don’t worship this thing. It’s a cipher, an illusion, a moving goalpost, and an easy target for those who hate it or misuse it.
I’m old enough to remember the rather sweet and optimistic American flags painted everywhere in 1976. This truck reminds me of that:
These days, when you see an American literally wrapping themselves in this flag, it’s often as cover and misdirection for un-American, even inhumane and evil reasons. Here are some more flags and trucks, but this time, they come across as creepy and dangerous, from the Tea Party references and truck flags (and even from the trucks themselves).
Or this guy, Jeremy Joseph Christian, filmed in April while at a free speech event. This flag-draped, Nazi-saluting loser just cut the throats of two good Samaritans on a Portland, OR train, after they tried to keep him from attacking two young (possibly Muslim) women.
This is on the Republican Party for its years of normalizing, enabling, and inciting the darkest, most psychotic dregs of American culture…you know, the Deplorables. The people Obama warned us about back in 2008, and took endless flack for it:
“And it’s not surprising then they get bitter, they cling to guns or religion or antipathy toward people who aren’t like them or anti-immigrant sentiment or anti-trade sentiment as a way to explain their frustrations.”
These days, the Republican Party and its allies would hail Oklahoma City bomber Timothy McVeigh as their hero. It’s been hours since the Portland attack, and no condemnation from the White House. Hmm. That sounds like tacit approval of domestic terrorism. What will Trump say or do, the next time a white supremacist bomber strikes on American soil and kills American citizens? ‘You’re hired’?
Instead, we have Donald J. Trump setting up a War Room in the White House, with pricey lawyers to help him fight against the growing allegations of his and the GOP’s collusion with Russia. This war room is going to be funded and directed to go after journalists, researchers, and ordinary citizens of the #Resistance movement. Trump has already shown by his love affair with dictators that he wants to be one.
Trump’s recent actions on his Mideast trip and the NATO summit would be embarrassing taken singly; as a group they reveal a sick, tired, old man unprepared for the most powerful leadership position on the planet. His gaffes at the NATO summit, in particular, have shown other world leaders that America has lost that position of power. As pundits and world politicians have noted, America is in serious danger of being isolated and inconsequential…if not feared and targeted by former allies.
And the once-proud GOP is standing by or actively helping Trump and his supporters subvert what our flag means.
All flags wear out. There are entire sections of law books listing the solemn and respectful decommissioning of American flags.
There are no such rules regarding the dissolution of America. Or arguably worse: its steady ebb into ignominy as a racist, isolated parody of itself, as the rest of the world meets challenges too many American policy makers won’t.
That’s right folks, the madness that is Phoenix Comicon starts in just a few hours!
I probably won’t attend this year because of schedule conflicts with other work and art stuff. If you’re brave enough to deal with the heat and crowds, I can promise there will be lots of insane, wonderful, awe-inspiring moments for you.
This show is nowhere near as vast as San Diego, which still makes it approachable and fun. Phoenix is in the midst of reinventing its city center (yet again), which gives intrepid visitors and locals plenty of great food, drink, and entertainment…if you even leave the convention itself.
The rewritten, expanded version of my smutty M/M space opera romance, Moro’s Price, is now up for pre-orders at NineStar Press. It should hit other vendors in a few days to a week after publication on June 26, 2017.
A shout out to my brilliant editors, and to cover artist Natasha Snow. She managed to craft a cover that is gorgeous, sexy, kinky, relevant to the actual book, and still somehow mostly Amazon-safe.
Here’s the blurb:
Crown Prince, techno-geek, and secret sadomasochist Valier has lusted for years after the gorgeous gladiator called “The Diamond.” Meeting the escaped slave on a rooftop, Valier discovers Moro Dalgleish wants suicide before his former masters can reclaim him.
Infected with a deadly symbiont, Valier proposes empty sex to satisfy his urges and grant Moro’s release from a horrible life. Neither man plans for Moro to survive, or how the morning after will shake three empires to their foundations.
If you read this book in its first version from Loose Id in 2012, this is not quite the same book. I hope it’s better. If you didn’t read it, and you’re a fan of space opera and smutty bisexual romance, the TV shows ‘The Expanse’, ‘Killjoys’, and ‘Firefly’…you might like this one.
Here’s another selling point: not only is this a bigger and tighter book, but its digital version will also be cheaper. NineStar is premiering Moro’s Price at only $4.99. That’s right: a 100K+ book with mainstream space opera elements, M/M sex, and it’s cheaper than the first version by at least $2.
There’s a pretty good chance this one will have a print version, too!
Americans are so myopic, sometimes. In the rush to ‘teach to the test’ or advance our science and math education (well, until Betsy DeVos became Education Secretary), we’ve forgotten that art can involve some high levels of math and science, too.
Follow this Racked.com and Twitter thread for an in-depth look at the MetGala dresses and outfits, from scientist Mika McKinnon’s POV.
The engineering casually on display at #MetGala never fails to impress me. I do nearly every textile craft . That's mindblowingly hard: https://t.co/pGzmp6u2h9
It’s May 2017, and America (and the world, really) is still reeling from perhaps the greatest case of affinity fraud ever perpetrated: the election of Donald J. Trump to the American Presidency.
Let’s look back at Tate Publishing, as a company deeply interlocked with some of the mindsets enabling Trump’s election: nominally ‘Christian’ worldviews that enshrine greed, corruption, hatred-of-others, and the belief that poverty is a moral failing.
Donald J. Trump and his immediate family (and many donors, sycophants, etc) are fans of the Prosperity Gospel. This philosophy bluntly preaches that wealth and success are outward signs of God’s favor, and that poverty and illness are signs of his disfavor and/or a flawed person. ‘Anyone can become successful’ is an innate American ideal, but these days the game is rigged. It’s not only stacked against most people, but the proponents of the Prosperity Gospel tend to cleverly repackage their corruption to shunt public attention away from them.
Many multi-level marketing companies, mega-churches, and vanity publishers have similar goals: to enrich a small percentage of their members/founders at the expense of all others, and to instill a cult-like level of support from those same defrauded members.
Perhaps no other American vanity publishing company took the religious overtones to such extremes as Oklahoma’s Tate Publishing.
It was started by Dr. Richard Tate and his wife Rita about 18 years ago, and has been run recently by son Ryan Tate and his wife Christy.
The Tate family leveraged new technology and new social norms to begin marketing their pay-for-publishing business to primarily Christian authors, artists, and musicians. They promised a wholesome Christian outlook, a supportive ‘family’ experience, well-produced physical books and music recordings, state-of-the-industry marketing…all for a hefty front end ‘subsidy’ from the author, as well as a commission charge on all sales.
How hefty? Authors could pay anywhere from almost $4000 to well over $50,000 depending on what ‘marketing packages’ and other frills sales people could convince them to buy.
Tate’s book editing was often done by low-skilled, underpaid, and in some cases even outsourced foreign editors. Covers were often low-quality, as were interior illustrations. Tate’s marketing of finished products was nearly non-existent, and for the large part ineffective for most authors. Many of them were told various forms of ‘buy the books from us, and hand-sell at local events’. This naturally limits an author’s effective sell-rate, as most people can only reach a few hundred of their family and friends. Effective trade publishers market to much broader groups, and generally command much higher sales.
Victoria Strauss of Writer Beware wrote a few years ago:
Tate takes pains to depict itself as a selective traditional publisher that accepts “only a single-digit percentage of authors who submitted manuscripts for publication” (a claim that’s a little hard to credit from a publisher that, if Amazon is to be believed, pumped out 3,000 titles in 2015). In fact, authors must pay nearly $4,000 to publish with Tate, with even more due if they choose to buy any of Tate’s array of extras, such as “personalized author websites” and video book trailers. Tate also incentivizes author book-buying, by promising to refund the original fee once 2,500 books are sold and allowing author purchases to count toward the total–though only if made in bulk quantities of 300 or more.
Of course, Tate never mentioned these fees in its front-end website material or videos. Only when authors asked for more information or submitted a manuscript, did Tate begin to disclose its fees. If authors balked at the cost, the the sales rep often backtracked to ‘offer’ a lesser amount. Authors were stalked with hard-sell tactics including multiple letters, emails, and phone calls, all to close the sale.
Tate representatives also didn’t disclose the very small probability of any author making enough sales to earn a refund of their original fee.
Tate’s main source of income appeared not to be consumer sales of their books and music, but book and music sales to their author/creators and expensive marketing and other packages.
Authors couldn’t even be certain of what they were actually earning, because Tate’s royalty accounting was so opaque as to be nearly meaningless. Authors complained that they diligently marketed their books, knew of documented sales, and collected testimonials from readers…and yet did not see those sales reflected in royalty reports.
This could be seen as early as 2004, beginning in this AbsoluteWrite thread. While the warnings abounded, Tate never lacked for customers to buy its ‘services’, thanks to the enduring power of religious affinity fraud.
Because Tate marketed heavily to fundamentalist Christians who were already put off by ‘coastal elites’ and ‘Jewish mainstream publishers’, they could conceal their less-savory operations from unsuspecting authors who never bothered to learn how trade publishing worked. Tate Publishing also marketed heavily to senior citizens wanting a retirement income or a family history project in print, to misery memoir authors wanting to memorialize a lost loved one or bring attention to a medical issue, and to ‘fringe group’ believers who might not have the writing skills to reach an audience through a big trade publishing imprint.
When Tate first called me, it was like I had won the lottery! I felt so proud of becoming one of the 4%. My children’s book was special, as it was written after my daughter had her 2nd heart surgery. I was filling a niche. I knew it would be hard to publish a children’s book about Down Syndrome, but I had tried and succeeded.
This author had a noble cause and good faith in Tate’s public persona. She didn’t research enough to understand Tate’s failings before signing a contract with them. She did all the right things by industriously marketing herself at Down’s Syndrome support events across the US. But she received no marketing help from Tate after the first couple of months, and her royalty checks ranged from sixty-some dollars to forty-two cents.
Tate authors were often warned away from naysayers as ‘negative influences’ and ‘liars’.
The Tate family were quick to take offense and threatened critics, bad reviewers, and recalcitrant authors with libel lawsuits. They threatened their employees often, and had a high turnover as disillusioned editors and artists fled the company.
Of about 1000 current authors in the 2016 Tate catalog, Ryan Tate claimed most were ‘very happy’. I’d believe it, if only for the power of Sunk Cost Fallacy and even perhaps Stockholm Syndrome. Many people never want to admit they’ve been conned, and go through mental gymnastics to avoid it. Likewise, authors who never know anything different might be happy with poor marketing, vague royalty statements, and tiny sales. For some people, it’s not about the money, but having something in print.
Here too, Tate failed a lot of writers. Many of the Consumer Affairs complaints involve claims of shoddy books, bad covers and illustrations, or simply no physical books produced.
Even when authors finally wised up and tried to leave the company, Tate Publishing had one last con to play: they charged authors a $50.00 ‘processing fee’ to turn over final print/sound files so the authors and musicians could republish their work. (Rights buy-backs are a huge problem in the publishing industry, see my posts on Ellora’s Cave for how bad they can get). Because Tate’s final fee wasn’t large, many unhappy authors simply paid it and moved on…often to similar vanity publishers!
A few years ago, driven mostly by the attrition of their prime senior citizen clients and the advent of easier digital self-publishing, Tate Publishing fell on hard times. They started outsourcing much of their editing and other production work overseas. There’s a famous rant online from when Ryan Tate fired 25 employees after none of them told who leaked their dissent about the outsourcing. It’s here, and epic.
Soon, Tate couldn’t even pay its foreign workers in the Philippines, and ‘scaled back production’ returned to their Oklahoma facilities. Bear in mind, they still released thousands of books and hundreds of records a year, showing how little money and time actually went into production. Authors who visited the Tate offices at this time described the formerly busy company as ‘a ghost town’. High employee turnover caused communication breakdowns between authors, staff, and company officials.
By mid 2016, Tate Publishing’s lease deals with major print machinery and computer suppliers were on the rocks, leading to at least one hefty lawsuit.
The Tate family announced in late 2016 that it would close its doors, but not without hinting they would simply rename the company and rise anew as Lux Creative Concepts LLC, which was registered in February 2016 by Ryan Tate’s wife, Christy Kelley-Tate.
By late 2016 there were at least 800 complaints being considered by the Oklahoma Attorney General’s office, and thousands of warnings by disgruntled authors and ex-Tate employees across the internet.
The case broke to the public in full drama this week. First, the Tates announced that they might open up again. The OK AG office was understandably reluctant to add more names to its case files against Tate, so they charged the Tate patriarch Richard and his son Ryan with felony embezzlement charges, misdemeanor embezzlement charges, and three felony attempted extortion by threat charges.
Those last charges, the extortions? All come back to those $50 processing fees, which were apparently paid to Tate Publishing but funneled to the Tate family’s private bank accounts. A day after the charges were made public Richard and Ryan Tate were arrested, held on $100,000 bond each, and forced to surrender their passports.
As a final insult to many ex-Tate authors: they either can’t buy back their rights in total, or they can’t prevent Tate from still profiting off older editions still listed on Goodreads and major print and ebook distributors.
There will be authors who still champion Tate Publishing. Many of them also voted for Trump. And there are still plenty of fully-operational vanity publishers, some even modeled after Tate, ready to take their money and dreams.
As the old Sun Tzu quote goes, ‘The wheels of justice grind slow, but exceeding fine’.We can hope at the very least the Tates lose most of their ill-gotten gains and serve serious jail time. At the best, we can hope this is a harbinger of greater justice to come.
(This post compiled with images and information courtesy of newsok.com, koko.com, Writer Beware, Publishers Weekly, and consumeraffairs.com.)
I have this featured over in links, but it’s worth a closer look and a shout-out: Shaderunners.
From the comic’s ‘About’ page:
One part Prohibition fantasy, one part Robin Hood, and a whole lot of epic heist, Shaderunners follows a group of ragtag bootleggers and bohemians who band together in an effort to steal colour from the wealthy echelons of Ironwell’s high society. Among them: a philosopher, a puppeteer, a gutter rat, an opera singer, a naval officer and a hopeless romantic. Together, they run The Glass Dial, former watch shop and future night club, where all the house drinks run red.
Speak easy, pal, ‘cause the road to ruin is paved with good intentions.
Take a secondary world with a ‘feel’ of Prohibition-Era America. Unknown forces have left the world drained of all color. But the tomb of an ancient queen reveals artifacts still imbued with precious, rare color…and they become prizes in a power struggle not only between empires, but between the aristocracy and a furtive band of renegades. The renegades reason ‘Why should only the Gilts and Inks get to see color? Why shouldn’t ordinary people get to see it, too? And why shouldn’t we make money off it?’ and set out to rectify that injustice. Along the way, they might just stumble into idealism and real revolution.
The worldbuilding is A+, telling you just enough to ground you but leaving you hungry for more. The characters are interesting, each with their own flaws, strengths, and secrets. The plot is fun. The art is yummy, and perfect for the vibe.
One of the greatest tricks Shaderunners plays? How easily it follows several genderfluid characters, in a world where ‘alternative’ sexuality and gender are nothing remarkable. The art works with story image cues more easily and efficiently than pure text, to show us a character being ‘Mr’ one moment and ‘Miss’ another. In suspenders and a newsboy cap in one setting, and a silken dress and vamp-queen Deco headress in another. Rather than being a trangressive or ‘teaching’ moment, this is simply portrayed as life-as-usual…a refreshing change from both extremes, and one I wish more authors, artists, agents, and publishers would understand.
Try this webcomic. I hope you’ll love it as much as I do!
On the plus side, it’s an incredible resource for worldwide inspiration in every visual art field, curated to various levels of research and granularity.
On the minus side(s), it’s a hot mess.
The app is pushy as hell, and locks down random scrolling unless you log it. Which I don’t always want to do or have time to do. No, Pinterest, you are not my go-to image search app, and the pushier you get the more resistant I get.
Even worse is the citation problem many visual artists feared from the beginning. When Pinterest started, there were few mechanisms to track the original source of an image. Pinterest addressed some of those, but it’s still not easy to tell who first came up with an image, and who merely reposted it.
I’ve been guilty of the same, I’m certain, even though I try to cite my Pinterest sources, and hope others will do the same for me.
For a cautionary story of the right and wrong ways to use Pinterest and other social media image-sharing apps, check out this tale of a mural in Chicago, two artists, and the best First Lady we’ve had in decades.
I’ve had this piece of fiber book art in mind since 2011-2012. I’m glad I held off until now: even Mitt Romney’s version of the GOP has been eclipsed by the current crop of corrupt, venal, sanctimonious, and utterly incompetent politicians gracing the Republican Party. (And I say that as a former GOP member!)
‘Politics As Usual’ will combine beaded 18-count cross-stitch with applique patches and commercially-printed fabrics, to make an Abecedarium (ABC Book) using two political terms per alphabet letter on fabric pages. The binding will be a wood box-spine anchored by decorative red-white-and-blue glass beaded tassels. The covers will be woodburned poplar, tooled leather, fiber art, or some mix of those.
There may or may not be additional smaller-font words worked into the background, along with little topical motifs such as biohazard symbols, radiation symbols, the GOP Elephant, the DNC Donkey, mushroom clouds, dollar and pound signs, Resistance symbols, Trump’s hair, high-heeled shoes, palm trees, golf symbols, etc.
As befits a subversive embroidery sampler, it may or may not be housed in a repurposed cedarwood Bible box, depending on the final dimensions of the book.
It’s April, and I’ve been so busy with my own art and writing I forgot one of April’s cherished traditions.
It’s Hugo Awards nomination time! And that means another Pie Fight GIF, this time courtesy of the very topical film Dr. Strangelove. I love how stoic and dignified this poor guy looks…kinda the way most of us feel now about the Hugos, the Puppies, and the battle for the soul of genre fiction.
So much has changed since last we were here! The Puppies got trounced, but Trump won, only now it looks like Trump & Co may go up against a firing squad (maybe figurative, maybe literal) any day now. Or we’ll start a WWIII between the US, China, Russia, Syria, and North Korea, with IS bringing up the rear.
Is diversity and democracy dead? Or stronger than ever?
It may be worth noting that Star Wars, Star Trek, Firefly, and plenty of other genre SFF memes have jumped from geeky obscurity to proud symbols of the anti-Trump #Resistance. When GOP and ‘mainsteam’ pundits mock anti-GOP candidates for loving SFF or, say, posing in Star Wars or Trek cosplay gear…we laugh at the naysayers. We know our people, and with some luck and skillful (nonviolent) revolution, we know our people can win.
We thinking peoples of the world have a chance to push back against kleptocracy and isolationist nationalism, against anti-science and anti-global cabals. It won’t be easy. This time we aren’t reading a book or watching a movie with a scripted ending. We’re inside a messy complex real-world multi-platform Go game where half the players won’t mind suicide if it takes out the others.
It’s also worth noting that many players on the Rabid Puppy/Sad Puppy/ Gamergate sides have migrated fully over to the neo Nazi alt-right camp (not that we were surprised by this.) They understand that a generation’s movies, games, and books become mythologies that shape its thinking, and they still want to warp SFF into their image.
Don’t let them. Read dangerous, challenging, and diverse books. Write them. Watch the movies. Make the art. Support the other people doing the same thing. Fight the Nazis, the rigid theocracies of every faith, the dynasties of terror and delusion, and the petty politicians who would rather support party (or their own Cayman account) than country.
Against this backdrop this year’s Hugo nominees are (mostly) a diverse and forward-thinking lot. We have only a couple of token Puppy plants, none as charmingly perverse as our beloved Chuck Tingle. I leave it to you, gentle eligible voters, to make your choices.