Doug Jones and the Republican Soul

As I write this at 6am on a Wednesday morning, several major news organizations have called the Alabama Senate special election for Democrat Doug Jones. The Republican candidate, the odious Roy Moore, has yet to concede.

This is a big deal for American politics. Early exit polls and anecdotal evidence suggests this is more a demographic victory than a Democratic one. Minority, younger, and urban voters faced off against entrenched white, older, and rural voters, amid a blatant barrage of vote-suppression tactics engineered by Alabama Republicans.

How bad was it? Mother Jones Magazine has this report. The Alabama Supreme Court set in motion measures intended to immediately destroy paper ballots and erase electronic traces, acts intended to ‘protect’ a Republican victory from claims of vote-rigging. Anti-Moore voters persisted and gave enough of a victory to (probably) be safe from a recount.

The Democrats and associated #Resistance folks are understandably jubilant. Donald Trump has so far offered an uncharacteristically mild congratulation to Doug Jones, followed by a tepid claim that Luther Strange would have been the better candidate (instead of Moore).

The Republican majority in the Senate has shrunk by one more vote, making their legislative effectiveness even more questionable. Moreover, this election can only be seen as a warning to Republicans: their party direction under Trump could tarnish their ‘brand’ for generations.

Do they care?

Understand that, to the Evangelical Christian bloc, Donald J. Trump was always an unsavory but useful tool. As long he is useful to their Culture War efforts, he’ll be tolerated. Mike Pence has spent decades grooming himself as a logical Evangelical choice for POTUS. The year he’s spent kowtowing to Trump has undoubtedly been hard for him, but he probably views it as a divine test of his faith.

Mike Pence is one heartbeat or one impeachment consensus from being President of the United States of America. This is right where he wants to be.

And right where his right-wing allies –from KKK and alt-right Nazis, to ultra-devout Evangelicals and ultra-rich donors, to even Russian interests — want him to be.

The new Republicans understand they are at a crossroads: control of the US hinges on demographics and voter engagement, pitting largely older whites against largely younger minorities. Freezing out those younger, poorer, easily disillusioned voters with suppression and misinformation was *the* core goal of the 2016 Presidential Election. It worked then.

Will the election of Doug Jones signal a new era of engagement and cooperation among liberal voting blocs in the US? It’s a promising start, but only one battle in a long and dangerous war.

President Pence is not where sane Americans, or the world, want to be on the eve of global recession, nuclear threats , and climate disasters. Donald J. Trump can be reliably said to only be out for himself (with his blood family a distant second). Pence has a Mission from God, and it’s not the one from the Blues Brothers movie.

What is so bad about a President Pence? His allies, for one: a world-spanning collection of oligarchs and devout thugs who will stop at nothing to cement political and economic power. The ‘tax reform’ bills making their way through consensus in the US House and Senate are proof enough of that. These bills take away earnings, freedom, and security for most poor and middle-class Americans, and reward the ultra-rich.

Pence’s Russian ally Vladimir Putin has led and refined a dangerous game of concealing his own incompetence and inadequacy by creating a false-equivalence narrative. ‘Everybody cheats, everybody lies, there is no moral high ground, and democracy is a lie.’ His ultimate goal is not the ennobling of Russia, but the degradation of its opponents. Donald J. Trump is undoubtedly Putin’s puppet, but Pence and the Republicans are his useful equals.

Far worse is Mike Pence & Co’s enthusiastic acceptance of End Times beliefs: the idea that the world is ending in a series of events predicted in the Biblical Book of Revelations.

End Times is the *only* reason Christian Evangelicals support Israel. They don’t like Jews, but according to Revelations, Jews and Israel are necessary to kickstart the return of Christ. Christian Evangelicals of Mike Pence’s strain are likely to be anti-science, anti-tolerance, anti-climate change, and anti-alternative energy.

They don’t think the world is worth saving. They mask that belief behind a practical pro-business, anti-tax strategy that bills itself as good for the short-term economy. But at the root, most End Times believers (who can be every religion from Christian, Jewish, Muslim, Buddhist, and far-right Hindu, among others) think the End is going to come in their lifetime, so why build anything for a secular future? They recognize their views are unpopular with liberal mindsets, so they’ve set out to minimize liberal challenges while they can.

My takeaway from the Doug Jones election is this: liberal voters and politicians need to be ready for anything, and committed to landslide victories and constant vigilance…or the resulting alt-right empires will make Margaret Atwood’s The Handmaid’s Tale look like Disneyland.

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.

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.

 

 

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.

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.

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

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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.

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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.

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.

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Claribel Ortega tweets Handbook

Oh god, this is so funny it’s painful. To go along with Lani Sarem and GeekNation’s previous misadventures involving Handbook For Mortals, YA author and blogger Claribel Ortega takes on the soul-stunting task of reading and live-tweeting this book.

To be super efficient, Claribel has Storified two separate reads in these handy threads. So if you want to know what GeekNation considers ‘publishable’ (and what at least 5,000 teen writers on Wattpad and Ao3 wouldn’t), go here:

https://storify.com/Claribel_Ortega/clarireadshandbook

and here

https://storify.com/Claribel_Ortega/clarireadshandbook-2#publicize

For snark, GIFs, and some of the worst writing I have ever seen. (And I’ve been guilty of a lot of it, just so you know.)

Seriously, if you plan to write YA in any genre, but especially fantasy, these posts are a masterclass in HOW NOT TO DO IT.

Added 9/4/2017: know what would make this even more hilarious? If Gilbert Gottfried could read some Handbook passages aloud.

Added 9/13/2017: and now Jenny Trout is sharpening her knifelike wit on Sarem’s hapless prose.

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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 links below will send me 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

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.

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Hurricane Harvey

I may go on a rant later about the twin dangers of deregulation and ignoring manmade climate change, and how millions of people in south and central Texas will be paying for those governmental, industrial, and institutional mistakes.

Flag tangled in power line, image courtesy Mark Ralston / AFP /Getty

But right now, let’s consider the sheer power behind this ‘historic’ storm, made immeasurably worse by warm Gulf waters and a weak Jet Stream. Harvey, now a tropical storm, hit the Texas coast at between 130 and 140 miles per hour. Its slow progress northeastward means that trillions of gallons of rain will be unleashed in the next few days to a week. That’s rainfall totals in feet, not inches. 

Entire counties are underwater. As of an hour or so ago, there were no safe routes out of Houston.

There have been confirmed fatalities. There will be many more. If you have loved ones in Texas, try to keep in contact with them. Emergency services will be in urgent need of blood donations, food, clean water, and money over the next weeks. Here are some ways to help.

What was President Trump doing while the dire news came out of Texas? Pardoning Joe Arpaio and pitching Sheriff David Clarke’s book.

Big Fails: Lani Sarem and Louise Linton

So much news to absorb in the last week or so: Charlottesville’s aftermath, Trump’s Phoenix speech, the solar eclipse, religious riots in India, North Korea, Hurricane Harvey…

I might touch on all those later, but let’s look at two hilarious gaffes in recent social media. Both of them embody privilege, legal-but-morally-suspect corruption, and astounding condescension from their originators. Oh, and world-class whinging when they got called out.

Louise Linton is the wealthy Scottish actress who recently married the even wealthier financier Steven Mnuchin, Trump’s Treasury Secretary and beneficiary of several financial scandals. Linton is no stranger to putting her couture-shod foot in her mouth, via an earlier socially-inept misadventure over this book on Amazon.

Last week, ostensibly on government business (but suspiciously probably to see the eclipse from Fort Knox) Linton and Mnuchin took a government jet to Kentucky, home of some of the poorest counties in America. Linton hashtagged her arrival with this post (left side image). She boasted openly about the designer stuff she wore on the trip.

Someone else called her out (top right).

Instead of ignoring it, Linton fired back with a dripping bit of classist condescension (lower right)

Whereupon Social Media tore her apart, with endless posts and memes, many touching on the old ‘Let them eat cake’ quip from Marie Antoinette.

Whereupon poor Linton found herself persona-non-grata to the fashion events and designers she craves to fill her empty life, and the charities that helped give her a gloss of social responsibility. Good thing she married money, eh? Pity it couldn’t do anything to teach her about class.

An even worse pity that more voters didn’t figure this out about the greedy and corrupt upper level social circle attaching itself to Trump’s baggy suitcoat. Louise Linton is a normal example of the group, not an exception.

***

Now onto Lani Sarem, from a different class background and motivation. Lani presents herself as an edgy liberal outsider, a skilled player in the indie music and film industry. Apparently, to fuel support for an upcoming film project, Sarem and her publisher GeekNation cooked up a stunt to game the NYT hardback YA book ranks with her new release Handbook For Mortals.

Except that no one in the very tight knit YA book community (already seething with other recent controversies) had heard of Handbook.

YA Twitter’s crowdsourced investigation took less than a day. Finding, among other things, that even the cover (if not outright plagiarized) was derivative.

Again, Sarem’s reactions made everything worse: starting with saying of her first online YA author detractor: “I’ve never heard of his book, either.”

She then went on to accuse the YA community of being bullies, insular, out of touch with reality, and not worth her or GeekNation’s time.

Which (no matter how one feels about YA genres in particular) is a spectacularly stupid way to approach the people who will be your target readership and colleagues.

I could forgive some arrogance on Sarem’s part if her writing was groundbreaking, skilled, and original. If the writing showcased in the Look Inside Kindle samples of Handbook is anything to go by, it’s as derivative as the cover art. Seriously, go look while you still can. Actual teen writers on Wattpad and Archive of Our Own could blow this out of the water without trying.

What do these two (blonde white) women have in common? A breathtaking disregard for other people (or at least people who are not immediately useful to them.) It’s not like gaming the NYT hardback ranks is new; so many other authors have tried it that the system is rather a joke.

Louise Linton needs to take a cue from the Old Money in Europe and the UK, which for decades post WWII managed a credible facade of modesty (even in the face of Eurotrash escapades).

Lani Sarem may be a capable screenwriter, but the terrible writing and self-indulgent navelgazing shown in her book reveals she desperately needs some writing courses (more likely, a ghostwriter) if she’s going to continue as a novelist.

GeekNation needs to stop and analyze their path forward. Like many coming from the technology and social media sector, they figured publishing books couldn’t possibly be that hard. They didn’t learn from this unique and crazy industry, tried to reinvent the wheel, and took disastrous shortcuts.

They’ll probably even win, in the end: the book stunt was only to drive buzz for the attached film project and franchise, where Sarem is on track to play the lead.

Added 9/29/2017: Lani Sarem is making the most of her moment of notoriety. Here’s a follow-up article from Vulture.

***

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Diversity Bingo

Or: the state of LGBTQIA SFF and Romance publishing in 2017.

Tl:dr…diverse authors may be courted by large publishers not so much for the value of their stories, but for the cachet of representing them as proof of diversity in publishing. Unagented authors and agents need to be wary of this possible trend, and plan ahead for its most-dire side effects.

The Science-fiction, Fantasy, and Romance industries (and they are industries) have been on a good roll lately, as far as including diverse authors and stories. Native Voices, POC, and LGBTQIA authors are getting more notice and somewhat less airbrushing/outright censoring (at least in the US, UK, and European markets) than they were even a few years ago.

C.S. Pacat’s Captive Prince series was heralded as a new and daring icebreaker in blending M/M romance with plotty fantasy intrigue.

And yet.

Was Prince a signal of things to come, or a fluke driven by already-loyal readerships gained during its earlier self-published days? It’s worth noting that the author’s agent approached her after the first two books became self-publishing legends.

I keep seeing agent and editorial MSWL posts begging for queer, gay, bi, NV, POC, and other authors. In fantasy, in science fiction, in fantasy romance, in all flavors of YA. As far back as this post, M/M romance publishers were asking for more books where the LGBTQIA protagonist’s story wasn’t primarily about his, her, or their issues, but how their background made them and their adventures interesting. How they fit into a world while they ‘happened’ to be gay, bi, or whatever.

I’ve seen a heartening increase in crossover books where two different genres melded to great effect…with LGBTQIA characters.

Diverse authors (especially women) had a triumphant showing at the recent Hugo Awards.

And yet.

I’ve also seen large mainstream SFF and Romance imprints scaling back their buys or even dropping LGBTQIA authors because the latter strayed too far from ‘message fiction’. As if these authors were only legitimate while they displayed carefully-sculpted tropes in their fiction. Woe on them, if they wanted to explore other directions, than the ones that made them a little titillating and safely ‘marketable’.

Part of the friction, I believe, comes from competing-but-equally-valid mindsets among romance and SFF readers, whose purchases ultimately guide large and small publishers. Romance readers want the Happily-Ever-After or the Happy-For-Now ending, and a focus on character emotions and arcs. SFF readers will tolerate more backstory and secondary plot, unlikeable and unreliable characters, and the possibility of a bad ending. Crafting books to appeal to both camps can be an exhausting task, and possibly only solved by happy accident.

Another problem may lie in the mainstream SFF market’s remaining squeamishness about LGBTQIA characters, especially given the accounts of ‘bi-erasure’ even and especially in the gay community, and given the new overt tolerance and celebration of racism, sexism, and authoritarianism around the world.

Sure, we got Fifty Shades of Grey, whee. And a Handmaid’s Tale TV adaptation that’s as scary as the mid-80s original.

We also have diverse authors and artists being singled out for persecution by traditionalists who see them as a threat to authoritarian ‘stability’ and ethnostate fantasies.

The SFF and Romance publishing industries have long been in the business of celebrating ‘what-if’, however awkward and halting their progress might have been.

I worry about the fates of newer authors recruited in the wake of projects like Captive Prince, if their publishing adventures don’t pan out as well.

What can be done?

Unagented authors and agents need to make certain both Big Five and small-press contracts have clear, specific routes to rights reversion. That means no undue (if any) financial penalty for exercising those rights. It means shorter contract terms or specific sales thresholds under which the author can get their damn books back.

It means that authors need to be aware of their options in self-publishing reclaimed backlists (which can resurrect a career!), self-publishing new works, working with more-agile small presses, or creating direct imprints of their own with Big Five publishers. The latter requires chutzpah and strong existing sales, but I’ve seen more than a few M/M romance authors achieve it after the fallout from Ellora’s Cave and other defunct romance publishers.

Being merely a checked box on a publisher or agent’s ‘Diversity Bingo’ card may not translate to decent sales and a fulfilling career for those authors. They’re likely to leave the business, or change what they write to more safely fit trends.

We all lose out, then.

 

 

Alis Franklin: Books of the Wyrd

I’ve talked before about a wonderful fanfic-writer-turned-agented-commercial-author, Alis Franklin. Time for a bittersweet update. LIESMITH has a great sequel, STORMBRINGER, which you can read. And what looks to be a couple of brilliant follow-ups, which you can’t (not yet anyway).

You can find out more about her writing here.

Out of respect for Alis and her agent, I’ll refrain from a more-targeted industry rant. Let’s just use what happened to Alis as a teachable moment for newer authors getting a shiny offer from a Big Five publishing imprint.

Breathe. Do your research again. Find the skeletons in the publisher’s closet before you become one of them.

Be aware that for potentially much higher sales than a small press, you may be trading publishing rights tied up forever. If the book doesn’t sell, the publisher may not accept new books in that series. The publisher will continue to eke out tiny sales on your existing work, and you’ll not only get pennies…you can’t republish it or the sequels elsewhere. If you’re lucky, you or your agent arranged reasonable termination clauses whereby you can get your publishing rights back if sales fall below a certain threshold in a specific timeframe.

I’ve heard rumors that certain digital-only publishers got themselves blacklisted by their greater genre community, for alleged non-standard to overtly-predatory contract items. This often deeply hurt the authors and agents who committed to those deals. Was the shunning merited? It’s hard to say, except by looking forensically at a case-by-case basis.

So if you have an agent recommending such a deal, go over the contract offer with a very fine comb. Especially with digital-only or digital-first offers. Especially if you write in one of the ‘diversity’ boxes like Own Voices, POC, or LGBTQIA! Is that shiny Big Five imprint interested in you as a writer, or only as a checkmark in that box…and only as long as you write predictably and safely ‘on message’? (A blog post specifically about that will follow this one.)

Find out how well similar authors are selling at that press, or its rivals. I know one digital-only Big Five LGBTQIA author who probably sells enough ebooks a month to make her rent. I know others who’ve made low four or even low three figures for multiple books, across several years.

Have a realistic conversation with your agent about how they will handle the worst-case scenarios listed above. Will they support your move to another press and/or another pen name, or cut you loose to find your own way via self-pub?

New-to-publishing authors often fixate on the idea that getting an agent is their main goal, when it’s merely a stage in a journey.

Sean Hannity’s Advertisers

As of 8/4-2017, these are the companies advertising on Fox during Sean Hannity’s show. You know, the Sean Hannity of ‘Sandy Hook never happened’ (it did), ‘Hillary killed Seth Rich’ (she didn’t), and ‘Why sure, I’ll allow myself to be waterboarded to prove it isn’t torture!’ (he never did, not even for charity).

So if you’re tired of the fake-news spin Fox News and the whole Murdoch empire has dumped on the viewing public for the last two decades, you might want to let these companies know you have doubts about their dollars ultimately funding an anti-American terrorist organization.

23andMe (was considering it, but now not through your company.)

Australian Dream (I can buy local pain remedies, mate.)

Bayer (Just not this one.)

Beaches (yeah, no, not for me, anyway, since I hate the ocean and avoid the sun.)

Booking.com (who’re your competitors? Guess I’ll find out.)

CA Technologies (a company whose blurb is ‘Architecting the Modern Software Factory’. Seriously. Is this where Ivanka picked that up?)

ClearChoice (again, if I could afford 1st world cosmetic dentistry, I’d look at other options.)

DirecTV (who sucks, anyway.)

Dollar Shave Club (Aww, no DSC, pull your ads, please.)

E-Trade (daytraders have turned the stock market into a joke.)

Entyvio (way to dish on a captive audience already suffering enough)

Gillette (same as DSC, folks.)

GlaxoSmithKline (Well, we kinda already knew you were at least partially evil, right?)

HomeAdvisor (this is genuinely too bad, because they can be a good service)

Hometogo.com (save your money and staycation.)

Lending Tree (already a crock, not surprised they advertise to Fox viewers)

Liberty Mutual (cute commercials won’t protect you)

Match.com (is the STD insurance an extra fee?)

Mitsubishi (nice cars, should know better. Fox core audience is aging out of driving, and xennials will remember you badly.)

My Pillow (this hurts, because I genuinely like this guy’s commercials.)

NutriSystem (it’s called diet and exercise, fools, not pay hundreds of dollars extra for tiny meals. Make your tiny meals, or learn to portion control.)

P&G (Oh, Proctor & Gamble, at some point you might have to quit trying to win over everybody.)

Pfizer (same to you. And you wonder why we take our chances with sneaking medicine from Mexico, Canada, and India?)

Progressive (sorry, Flo, ya gotta go)

Publishers Clearing House (well, they do target the same victims as Fox)

Sandals (same answer as Beaches and Match.com)

Southern New Hampshire University (I see your ads everywhere, and they make you look like Apollo Group and EDMC. This already doesn’t look good for you.)

USAA (If you serve our Service Members, being *anywhere* on Fox is a travesty and an affront to your mission. Shame on you.)

Viking Cruises (again, marketing to Fox’s core aging population, or at least the part of it still wealthy enough to take European River Cruises. The rest of ’em just go to Branson or Laughlin.)

Visiting Angels (same complaint as USAA: you have wonderful goals, and I get that you’re advertising to lonely old people, who’ve been brainwashed to gravitate toward Fox’s pablum and fearmongering. But you’re betraying them with every $ you give to Murdoch.)

And here are the other companies who have recently advertised on Hannity’s show. I’m sure alert readers can see patterns forming.

AARP

Abeka

ACT

ADT

Ageless Male

America’s Biopharmaceutical Companies

American Petroleum Institute

Ancestry DNA

Animal Planet

Applebee’s

Ark Encounter

AstraZenica

AT&T

Audi

Bass Pro Shops

Blue Emu

Bounty

Business Roundtable

Cabela’s

CarFax

Cascade

Chewy.com

Christian Faith Publishing

Citi

CoolSculpting

Cosequin

Crest

Dawn

Discovery Channel

Doan’s

Duracell

EHarmony

Elite Singles

Entresto

Experian

Febreze

Fisher Investments

Future is Kenya

Future Steel Buildings

Gain

Genucel

Gold Bond

Golden Corral

Goldwater Lawfirm

Gotham Steel

Green Mountain Coffee

HarvestRight

Hebrew National

Hello Fresh

Home Instead Senior Care

Hyundai

IBM

Icy Hot

IHOP

Its Just Lunch

Infiniti

InventHelp

Jenny Craig

Jitterbug Flip

Kaopectate

Kardia Mobile

Kerasal

Kia

LegalZoom

Lexus

Life Alert

LifeLock

Linzess

Loan Depot

Marie Callender’s

Mazda

Mercedes Benz

Meta Appetite Control

Mr. Clean

MTailor

Namzaric

Nature’s Bounty

Navy Federal Credit Union

New Skin

Nissan

Non24

OfferUp

Office Depot/Office Max

Orkin

OurTime

OxiClean

Prevagen

Qunol

RectiCare

Reddi Wip

Restasis

Ring.com

RockAuto

Rocket Mortgage (Quicken Loans)

Salonpas

Sanofi

Seabond

SimpliSafe

Smart Mouth

SoFi

Sokolove Law

Stanley Steamer

Starkist

Eloqui

Terminix

The Jewelry Exchange

Tide

Trip Advisor

Trivago

Universal Pictures

UNTUCKit

Values.com

VariDesk

Victoza

Volvo

Wayfair

WeatherTech

Wonder Hanger

ZeroWater

Warner Bros.

Unrelenting Optimism

Or in other words, the Twitter phenomenon that is #ThinkBIGSundayWithMarsha, begun and hosted by media entrepreneur Marsha Wright.

Okay, many of us roll our eyes at those inspirational quotes slapped on lovely or heartwarming posters, and presented in slim metal frames. You know, the ones your boss and mine put up on our office walls?

I can be deeply cynical, but I have a soft spot for those posters. Sometimes they’re a guilty pleasure, like listening to ABBA or having Nutella toast.

Sometimes they truly help me deal with an awful week of everything going wrong.

Some of the best places I’ve ever worked had such things on the walls. And a lot of their owners and upper management actually tried to operate by the noble, kind, or funny tenets the posters proclaimed.

So imagine my joy when a chance Twitter follow opened my eyes to Think Big Sunday With Marsha, a weekly extravaganza of optimistic, positive, inspirational tweets, quotes, and images.

This is such a quintessential American phenomenon: the kind of stubborn, willfully optimistic outlook that gets stuff done. Or bankrupt and on fire, in a ditch.

As entrepreneurs and inventors, creative people must look beyond that latter fear. Life is full of mistakes and obstacles. So are business careers. When problems happen…and they will…the most adaptable people can learn from them, not remain shackled by them.

It took me years to understand the highest goal of the optimism industry isn’t to sell vague dreams and bridges. It helps open people up to possibilities they hadn’t considered, and goals they never knew they had. Sometimes all we need is the right opportunity at the right time, and we can work miracles.

And along the way we can drink coffee and look at gorgeous posters and GIFs.

***

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Begging for Eyeballs: authors and reviews

Now that I have your attention, here’s a little rant about authors asking for reviews.

In short, we shouldn’t get grief for this.

We shouldn’t be made to feel guilty for asking, or told we’re ‘pandering’ or ‘imposing’ on our readers. Likewise, we shouldn’t hold ourselves loftily above promoting our work in careful, tactful, honest, and sometimes even funny ways.

Reviews and word-of-mouth are some of the most effective ways to sell books, no matter whether those books are self-published, small-press, mid-sized independent, or Big-Five imprint.

Without reviews, we don’t get sales. Without sales, our agents and our publishers cut us loose as poor investments. Or if we’ve self-published, we un-publish or otherwise stop promoting our writing altogether. So then you never get to see more of it. Without reviews, this kind of work (and believe me, it’s hard work) is a solitary hobby.

Our review requests usually happen on social media, where they might get boosted by sympathetic allies…or lost in the static. Sometimes we’re lucky enough that our publisher will place a small note in the back of our books, saying something like this:

If you like our books, please review them!

Some savvy publishers add incentives for on-site reviewers, offering them points toward purchases with each review.

I’ll add: don’t like our books? Review anyway. Get that unhealthy anger and disappointment off your chest.

Our ulterior motive: your one-star or two-star negative review still has the potential to sell our books. Reviews can be highly subjective. Something you think is a bug could be a feature to someone else. Your intelligent, honest negative review can spark lots of curiosity! Likewise, your banal, ill-considered, or downright petty review can be so unintentionally hilarious it becomes the best marketing stunt you could give us.

As an author, it’s not my business to wade into your specific reviews of my books, good or bad. I’ll sure as hell learn from them, but I’m not going to start the social media equivalent of a teenage clique-fight over a Goodreads review.

Where I do get angry is when publishers themselves advise their authors against asking for reviews within the end matter of the book. I’ve seen this several times recently from different publishers. One’s an e-pub only press, the other two favor print editions first and e-pub a laggard second.

Um, hello, publishers? The end matter of your book is some of the most priceless real estate you have. It’s where interested readers, still in the afterglow of a story, go to find out what’s next. Most of them are predisposed to being friendly. Asking for a review at that moment is just solid business 101.

Especially if you’re already hampering sales by offering only one platform outlet at launch, whether e-pub or print.

Authors, this is something to seriously consider when researching publishers or signing an offer contract. How does the publisher approach reviews? Do they send out timely and professional Advance Review Copies (ARCs)? Do they court the larger buying outlets and distributors? Do they aggressively promote to the online book-blogging influencers of their genre? Do they have easy-to-use review platforms on their own websites? Do they ask for reviews within the front or end matter of their books?

Think about these factors before you sign that contract!

As for readers, we understand if you feel infringed-upon about our review requests. Sometimes we hate doing that, too. But please consider the relatively-tiny fraction of readers who bother to leave a review in the first place. We bug you for the same reason NPR does: we succeed or fail based in large part on our audience’s goodwill and participation.

Book Art Jewelry: Enlightenment

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.

Each new book art sculpture is a learning point.

***
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‘By Blade and Cloth’: Helen E. Davis

In the mid to late 1990s, on the late-lamented 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 shorter 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.)

BY BLADE AND CLOTH, Helen E. Davis

  • Simultaneous Device Usage: Unlimited
  • Publisher: Dead Fish Press; 3 edition (October 24, 2010)
  • Publication Date: October 24, 2010
  • Sold by: Amazon Digital Services LLC
  • Language: English
  • ASIN: B00495XSZG