Sfassa in Sirrithani guise

Finally, finally, after way too many years of having only a vague idea what Sfassa, one of the main characters of THE PURIST, actually looks like when she’s human-ish, Hayley Amber Hasselhoff (yes, David’s daughter) showed me the way. I also owe a shout-out to model and wrestler Lindsay Hayward, and the other stunning plus-size models and actors we’re lucky enough to see in modern media.

This digital sketch is modeled after one of Hayley’s photo shoots.

Hayley has the size, strength, and sweet-but-smoldering beauty that I keep seeing in Sfassa Snowdancer.

Who is Rui-Sfassa se tha Jensei? A mystery to her smitten husband Eridan, who stands about three feet shorter than Sfassa (I estimate her to be about 7′ and far heavier in mass than even her big body should be, probably around 500 pounds).

Eridan believes she’s from some backlands isolated tribe of especially tall and warlike Sirrithani, the most numerous humanoid race on Lonhra. Sfassa would rather be naked than go without her two vicious steel kori-spears, which she wears on her back with a variety of harnesses. She has dark bronze skin, white hair, dark blue eyes with almost no white showing, fangs, and semi-retractable claws. Her very tall, fur-fringed ears look a little like a Terran lynx’s or serval’s. No one but Eridan can touch Sfassa’s ears without getting bitten or stuck with those spears.

Her rich, strong singing voice was the first thing Eridan fell in love with about her, listening in a snowy winter canyon three years before he actually met her.

His singing voice was the first thing she noticed about him. Which made up for him being a vegetarian, about as high as a water barrel, as wide as a stick of firewood, and having no fangs or claws.

Honestly, someone needed to protect the little idiot from himself, much less from the hosts of people bent on assassinating or abducting the loud-mouth, meddling, socially-crusading Master-Singer Eridan Sydall, last bard-prince of a dying race.

She set herself to be his bodyguard soon after they met, but she has ulterior motives.

And she’s not humanoid at all…

Mark Engels: ALWAYS GRAY IN WINTER

One of the best side-effects of online novel-pitch contests: the community around them. Whether or not a writer makes the cut (agent request, mentorship, etc), most writers can find new friendships and even collaborations within the larger pool of the hopeful and hopeless.

Mark J. Engels and I met during a pitch contest in 2016 (was it #DVpit? #Pitmad? #SFFpit? They blur, yanno.) Neither of us got anywhere meaningful in the actual contests, other than some helpful critiques. But we hit it off as sounding boards.

Who is Mark, other than a cool guy who is a go-to source for locomotive engineering and logistics questions? Go here and find out. Or here: https://www.mark-engels.com/ 

Psst: if you do, you are going to see some wicked cool art. Like Pawly Doing What Pawly Does:

Mark has a book launch today: ALWAYS GRAY IN WINTER, which I read in beta form last year. This novel will be slanted toward ‘Furry’ readers, which is okay, because the Furries I know are eagerly waiting for it. But GRAY is so much more than what many outside readers (and even Furries) are expecting. For one thing, it’s not erotica, romance, urban fantasy, or paranormal romance.

I stand by my initial impulse to call GRAY ‘Furpunk’: a Military Thriller that happens to have shapeshifters in it. Pawlina Katczynski is a well-written strong female character without being a caricature. Her story runs on high stakes, killer action sequences, sneaky plotting, and some deft worldbuilding (as there should be, to fit an embattled clan of Polish were-lynx mercenaries into a world that would be familiar to the leads of ‘Atomic Blonde’ and ‘Bourne’.)

Will you like it? The book will be in print first, but hopefully the publisher will release an ebook version soon, too. Go to Mark’s site, click on ‘Novel’, and see if it sparks your interest.

Book links:

https://www.amazon.com/Always-Gray-Winter/dp/1945247193/

https://www.goodreads.com/book/show/36008025-always-gray-in-winter

 

The Gear’d Heart, by AG Carpenter

This has been a *long* time in the works, but I’m so happy to see ‘The Gear’d Heart’, a new steampunk serial by AG Carpenter. I’ve read it in an earlier beta form, and seen the kickass sequel.

Now’s the chance to get in on a charming, devious, and dark story, via Patreon!

Artist’s Invocation

All glories I have wrought by hand and gift of seeing,

All dreams I have brought from dreamscape into being,

All mysteries I’ve taught, however fast or fleeting,

Mingle toward the truth I’ve sought: streams at the Sea completing.

Spirit of Probability, Spirit of the Single Path, I have sought you. You are not here. You are nowhere, but in me.

Spirit of Possibility, Spirit of the Branching Path, I have sought you. You are not here. You are nowhere, but in me.

Spirit of Serenity, Spirit of the Still Pool, I have sought you. You are not here. You are nowhere, but in me.

Spirit of Change, Spirit of the Fountain, I have sought you. You are not here. You are nowhere, but in me.

(A little secular prayer I began in 1985, and tend to say before every major undertaking. It helps me focus on what I want out of that particular project. I’ve always intended to make it into a book art project, and might yet.)

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.

‘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

Playing with cover art

original art by Marian Crane

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 cover 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.

Patreon Ahoy!

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!

Moro’s Shield snippet

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.”

‘The Purist’ mood board 3

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.

Just don’t lose the joy.

 

AG Carpenter: three novellas you should read

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!)

Moro’s Price 2nd Edition

(Just because I love this Natasha Snow cover so much.)

Now that I have your attention: on Monday June 26, the second version of my M/M space opera romance goes live.

The paperback version is already selling on Amazon, but all the other links will be active on Monday.

NineStar Press formats e-book link

Amazon US Kindle link

Amazon paperback link

Kobo link

Smashwords link

Barnes & Noble link

For some reviews of the first edition, go here.

I’m pleased that my longtime friend Sherwood Smith bravely took up an ARC of this version, then gave me this jewel of a blurb:

“For fans of C.S. Pacat, m/m passion set against a space opera world of violence, power, and dynastic intrigue!”
(That one still makes me fall over. Thanks, Sherwood!)

 

Accidental worldbuilding

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…

Well, that’s another story.

Now on Ko-fi.com!

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!)

 

Phoenix Comicon 2017

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.

Moro’s Price revised edition now on sale!

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!

The rise and fall of Tate Publishing

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.

Tate Publishing’s corporate headquarters at 127 E Trade Center Terrace in Mustang, Thursday, 19 2017. Photo By Steve Gooch, The Oklahoman

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.

Here’s the opening story of a typical Tate author, revealing how she was conned by Tate:

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.)

 

Shaderunners webcomic

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!

 

First Look: Politics As Usual

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.

The current main word-pair lineup stands at: Alternative Facts / Agenda, Brink / Bipartisan, Constitution / Conflict, Dissent / Doublespeak, Ethics / Emolument, Fascist / Filibuster, Grassroots / Gerrymander, Hegemony / Humanist, Ideology / Impeach, Justice /  Jingo, Kleptocracy / Keynesian, Lobbyist / Loophole, Mandate / Midterm, Nationalism / Nihilism, Oligarchy / Opposition, Proxy / Pundit, Quota / Quorum, Resist / Racist, Spin / Suffrage, Theocracy / Tyranny, Unity / Useful Idiot, Vote / Veto, Wedge / Whistleblower, Xenophobia / X-Factor, Yellow Journalism / Yield, Zeitgeist, Zero Sum Game.

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 going to be a lot of fun to make.