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 Kindle link

Amazon paperback link

Kobo link

Smashwords 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, mega-churches, and vanity publishing all 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 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 was apparently never 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, had documented sales and 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.

There will be authors who still champion Tate Publishing. Many of them also voted for Trump.

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.

 

2017 Hugo Awards List!

It’s April, and I’ve been so busy with my own art and writing I forgot one of April’s cherished traditions.

It’s Hugo Awards nomination time! And that means another Pie Fight GIF, this time courtesy of the very topical film Dr. Strangelove. I love how stoic and dignified this poor guy looks…kinda the way most of us feel now about the Hugos, the Puppies, and the battle for the soul of genre fiction.

So much has changed since last we were here! The Puppies got trounced, but Trump won, only now it looks like Trump & Co may go up against a firing squad (maybe figurative, maybe literal) any day now. Or we’ll start a WWIII between the US, China, Russia, Syria, and North Korea, with IS bringing up the rear.

Is diversity and democracy dead? Or stronger than ever?

It may be worth noting that Star Wars, Star Trek, Firefly, and plenty of other genre SFF memes have jumped from geeky obscurity to proud symbols of the anti-Trump #Resistance. When GOP and ‘mainsteam’ pundits mock anti-GOP candidates for loving SFF or, say, posing in Star Wars or Trek cosplay gear…we laugh at the naysayers. We know our people, and with some luck and skillful (nonviolent) revolution, we know our people can win.

We thinking peoples of the world have a chance to push back against kleptocracy and isolationist nationalism, against anti-science and anti-global cabals. It won’t be easy. This time we aren’t reading a book or watching a movie with a scripted ending. We’re inside a messy complex real-world multi-platform Go game where half the players won’t mind suicide if it takes out the others.

It’s also worth noting that many players on the Rabid Puppy/Sad Puppy/ Gamergate sides have migrated fully over to the neo Nazi alt-right camp (not that we were surprised by this.) They understand that a generation’s movies, games, and books become mythologies that shape its thinking, and they still want to warp SFF into their image.

Don’t let them. Read dangerous, challenging, and diverse books. Write them. Watch the movies. Make the art. Support the other people doing the same thing. Fight the Nazis, the rigid theocracies of every faith, the dynasties of terror and delusion, and the petty politicians who would rather support party (or their own Cayman account) than country.

Against this backdrop this year’s Hugo nominees are (mostly) a diverse and forward-thinking lot. We have only a couple of token Puppy plants, none as charmingly perverse as our beloved Chuck Tingle. I leave it to you, gentle eligible voters, to make your choices.

 

BREATHE covers

Typically, it’s April and I only just starting to upload 2017’s book arts pieces!

Here are the roughly 1.5x3x.25″ faux-inlay covers (outside and inside) for BREATHE. I showed a first look at the pages last year. They’re a gathering of Latin mottos I thought were particularly appropriate for the current state of the world:

Dum Spiro Spero. Dum Spero Amo. Dum Amo Vivo. Dum Vivo Prosum.

While I breathe, I hope. While I hope, I love. While I love, I live. While I live, I do good.

The covers give rough English translations, along with the title, colophon, my sigil and date made.

I chose poplar because it’s a fairly hard, very fine-grained wood that takes well to woodburning. When properly varnished, good poplar feels and ‘pings’ almost like porcelain or bone.

Text and designs are burned in with a pyrography pen. You can’t see it in these scans, but I did scrollwork on every edge. It came out yummy.

I sanded and scrubbed away the burn resins (otherwise the paint won’t stick!), then filled the channels with a thickened tinted acrylic (in this case, Indigo and Titanium White). When that dried, I sanded it again until most of the wood was clean, and most of the burned channels were still filled with a paint ‘inlay’ with a fine dark brown outline. It’s not an exact artform: you can see where I sanded out the paint on the word ‘breathe’ on the lower right image.

Alert readers will have seen me try this out here. I’ve been farting around with this technique for over ten years, but this and the blood orange wand are the first times I’ve been mostly happy with the look. Hint: fine-grained wood is the key. Wengewood, purpleheart, and oak have too much open grain that collects the paint and obscures the drawing (see where I messed up on CONTINENTAL DIVIDE and CITY AT NIGHT).

When sealed with a UV resistant lacquer varnish, the silky grain of the poplar shows up in a figured pattern, with a lot of surface translucence that offsets the opaque paint.

The beaded accents are from the 30-Year Stash: blue and white porcelain inside the cover holes, with matte green/red striped ‘onyx’ glass and pale gray-purple matte seed beads. I thought these picked up the dark blue, lavender, buttercreme, and ice-blue colorways and floral theme of the fabric pages.

Thread is Navy Blue waxed polyester from Maine Thread Co.

And now on to join pages and covers! More on the finished piece here.

 

My RevPit bio

Certain things in my life are brick walls that I bash into, until I become smart enough to bash through, climb over, dig under, or set aside. There are several art galleries that are such long-term goals, they’re almost just existential by now. Online query pitch contests are another. Every time I flame out in one I swear I won’t do that again…until the next one.

Next week begins a thing called #RevPit, for Revise & Resub. For the winners, it’s a month of free editing and query help from some pro editors, followed by an agent cotillion. It takes the place of the hurriedly cancelled Pitch2Pub.

The mms for SINGER is revised, the query tightened up again. I’m still planning on querying it to the Big 5, then one small press I like, and then probably just self-publishing it. At this point, I’m adult enough to know it probably won’t snag an agent. But it could use some decent editing.

For people stalking my mms, there’s plenty on that buried in the rest of this blog. I’ll make it simple. It’s a big secondary-world high fantasy/sword&planet quest/romance novel about music, ancient bio-weapons, sentient amnesiac black holes, oppressed populations, incipient civil wars, and three people who really need to talk honestly to each other more often. Like I said, simple. That big black beastie on a green background up above? He’s a major character in the saga.

For people stalking me, I’m really rather boring. The most interesting thing about me right now is my hair, which is partly cobalt blue right now. And my terrible taste in socks.

I’ve been a commercial and fine artist for a couple of decades. Some of my areas of expertise chosen obsessions are silversmithing, beadwork, embroidery, acrylic painting, costuming, couture clothing, masks, book art sculptures, and digital art.

I’ve had art in some national exhibitions and fancy coffee-table art books. My book art pieces are represented by two incredible galleries, who sell my work to collectors around the world. I have art online at a few sites, both for display and for sale.

By day I write marketing and catalog copy for private companies.

In my spare time, I write science fiction, fantasy, fanfiction, and original erotic romance. I’m apparently not supposed to let on how much I’ve written, but psst, I’ve been writing for 30 years last weekend.

Some of it has even been published by royalty-paying publishers.

What do I want out of this? Nearly everyone wants an enthusiastic, skilled agent and maybe a very nice deal down the road. But my years in art have taught me that the outcomes and odds can be so improbable that you’d better be doing something you love. That you would do anyway. That you cannot not do. That the journey itself may be more important, and lead to even more amazing places than you ever dreamed.

So I’m hoping to connect with some more mentors who will become good friends, that maybe I can help as much as they could help me. Even if I don’t make it into the later rounds, just doing this has helped me clarify my goals.

 

Mood board for Singer

To keep my mind off #pitmad and to get ready for #revpit in two weeks, here’s another mood board I cobbled together for my high fantasy mms SINGER.

Art credits include: Michael Whelan, cover for Tanith Lee’s ‘Night’s Sorceries’

Renaissance gold chain, Incollect https://www.incollect.com/articles/revival-jewelry-looking-to-the-past-for-inspiration

Venezuelan thunderstorm, The Telegraph http://www.telegraph.co.uk/travel/destinations/southamerica/venezuela/11728250/Catatumbo-Venezuelas-everlasting-lightning-storm.html

Blue Planet, BBC advertising

St. Herman’s Cave, Belize http://www.vivabelize.com/tours-activities/land-activities/st-hermans-ceremonial-cave-exploration/

Bamboo flute, Alibaba

Sawyer Fredericks, MusicTone music videos

original map, embroidery, digital painting by Marian Crane

 

Why enter pitch contests?

Other than sheer masochism? They offer a slight shortcut to the usually long query process, they let you meet fellow writers and industry professionals, and they offer the chance to get agent offers and free feedback.

I’ve blogged before about some dangers and darker sides of online pitch contests. Now for a spotlight on the second valuable gift they offer: feedback and editing.

Very few people can write in a vacuum. We need feedback in developmental stages of a mms, and capable editing at the later stages.

Would-be self-published writers, do you know that it can cost between $1500 and $5000 for qualified professional editing of your mms? Most self-pub authors don’t bother, and it shows in the final product.

Many pitch contests offer author-peer and professional feedback, for free or a minor donation! Some offer the finalists or winners a few weeks to a couple of months of pro editing, as well as a final showcase to tempt agents and acquisition editors.

Sure, it’s a long shot, but why not try?

I just finished a rewarding and humbling experience: tightening up my smutty M/M space opera MORO’S PRICE, which is being re-released (in a heavily revised version) from NineStarPress this summer. I have an awesome editor, and I really need her skills. (So many mistakes!)

The experience made me look again at my newly revised high fantasy mms. It’s a better book that the version I shopped last year, but I know it needs editing.

So I’m bashing my head against the mostly-so-far-fruitless pitch contest scene again, and entering this mms in the upcoming Pitch 2 Publication melee.* I have a teeny chance at getting anywhere in that event, but I’ve got to try it.

Because even if I don’t snag an agent, I’ll get strong feedback. All the ‘unsuccessful’ contests last year, plus agent and editor feedback, led to my recent revisions and a much stronger book.

If I need to, I can then self-publish that book.

(I have been known to submit work to top SFF short fiction markets, just for their personalized rejections, for similar reasons.)

*Which has now been postponed and replaced with Revise & Resub.

 

Character names and titles

Character names and titles are important in fiction (duh!)

Different genres have different naming trends and types, if not outright rules. A clever writer can exploit or twist those, while a tone-deaf writer can suffer for them. Of course, it helps to read massively and currently in your target genres.

I have a perennial problem with names. Many of my characters go through name changes during their story’s evolution (Tel from ‘Bloodshadow’ has had five different names). Or they’re called by different names by different people or groups (Moro from ‘Moro’s Price, poor lad.)

Some characters will stubbornly keep their names, no matter what plotty bribes I throw their way.

I’ve got two naming problems right now, with two separate projects.

My editor felt uncertain about a 52nd Century character calling himself ‘Bill’, with a given name of William (which he hates, hence the nickname). Realistically, linguistic drift and culture changes should result in very different name structures.

But this is a smutty M/M space opera, not literary fiction with scholarly linguistic projection.

The character has good reason to go by a jaunty, unassuming nickname. So I left him as ‘Bill’.

I gave him an Eastern European version of ‘William’ that links back to part of his family’s heritage. He still hates it, because it makes him look even more like a rich mobster. And, like the rest of the book, it offers an indirect political comment on RL current events.

My second name problem is an honorific, a job title, a threat, and an insult…applied to one of the founding characters in my secondary-world high-fantasy Lonhra Sequence books. I’ve had this (mostly background) immortal character in his/her/their current form for over three decades. (What happens when you worldbuild as a hobby.)

That character’s given name changes often due to marriage and politics, but their title is a bedrock of Lonhran history.

Imagine my reactions when I read today about a new YA author using almost that same title in her fantasy book! After the initial jolt passed, I examined my problem logically.

I doubt she ‘stole’ it, even though my version has been trade-published since early 2012. The title is a combination of two common English language words. It’s likely many people have used it.

Could I use the Lonhra language version: Tilurak? It means the same thing. I like both, but the longer English version is more familiar and approachable for me.

If an agent or editor brings up the coincidence, I’ll have to explain and justify my reasons.

Until then, that character title stays.

The lesson for other writers? Names can be a battleground. Be prepared to fight for, alter, or jettison them as needed.

When writing goes exceptionally well

I’ve been at a plateau for a while on the big fantasy project: polished, but not quite gleaming. This weekend, three things happened:

I wrote a decent pitch for an upcoming pitch contest.

Image result for ronan dance off GIF

I tightened the first chapter, and bridged new and old versions with really strong scenes. I forced more emotion into one character, and more agency into another.

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Both beta readers on this project (who are neither lazy slouches nor easily won over) have given me their vast approval.

So even if the pitch contest doesn’t work, I’m far more confident about this book than in its previous versions. It’s not wasted effort, if it improves the manuscript.

The only catch: it all has to be done by Friday the 24th. That’s when the pitch contest begins…but more importantly, it’s when I have to start work on a major art project AND wrangle incoming edits for the brand new, shiny version of Moro’s Price (coming from NineStar Press this summer).

Shame on Samhain

A brief but long overdue update, on erotic romance publisher Samhain. After announcing their closure late in 2015, they regrouped in a flurry of activity over 2016.

But they’re closing for real at the end of February 2017, only a few days after releasing a last round of contracted books. Those first rights are burned, and how much will those authors earn now in less than a week of sales? I’ve seen new authors who actually submitted mms to Samhain over 2016, when many seasoned authors warned them off. Loyal readers are scrambling to back up their digital libraries.

The company had a good run over much of its eleven years. I’m sorry to see Samhain go, but wish they could have kept their first promises and folded more responsibly last year.

The death of the romance industry small presses…claims another round of victims.

Update 2-12-2017: In a move eerily like their announcement in 2016, Samhain announces it will retain a handful of employees and ‘wind down’ company sales to help satisfy customers. During this process, as rights come due, those will be reverted to the authors. Ready-to-launch books will still be sold. Uncompleted projects will be reverted.

Potentially, this means that a Samhain title released in late February of this year might not go out of contract for 7 more years…or by March of this year. We don’t know yet, because we don’t have a ‘lights out’ date for Samhain. A potential title (contracted but not ready for release as of February 2017) would be reverted this month to its author.

Now, this is just a year’s delay of closure, not long in the publishing world. Samhain is closing because of poor ebook sales. So it’s very likely those remaining Samhain authors are not going to see the sales levels they might have, from back in the company’s glory days. How much marketing and promo will Samhain do now, over how long the company winds down?

I still think it was irresponsible of Samhain to solicit and contract more authors between 2016 and 2017, but at least the company appears to have a plan in place.

If you love erotic romances and Samhain authors, keep buying while you can…and back up your digital library!

Of Shade and Soul: A Touch Trilogy Novella

My friend A. G. Carpenter and the great people at Falstaff Books have released ‘Of Shade and Soul’, the second novella in her Southern gothic ‘Touch’ trilogy.

Delaney Green might be dead, but she don’t mean to stay that way. As she searches for a way back to the realm of the living, and the man she lay down flesh and bone for, Percival Cox and his team investigate a series of deaths and stolen souls. But Percy is not the man he used to be. If Del can’t find a way to stop him from waking his past, he could destroy everything, including himself.

This is a powerful continuation of the first book (I was honored to read both in their beta stages and final form). The final product is worthy of a Poe award. If you like moody Southern gothic, horror-fantasy, magical realism with a languid air of magnolia and burnt blood…this is your trilogy. Come read it here:

https://www.amazon.com/Shade-Soul-Touch-Trilogy-Novella-ebook/dp/B01MZE2D64

New version of Moro’s Price coming soon!

 

My debut novel MORO’S PRICE, a M/M space opera erotic romance, was first published in 2012. I’m pleased to announce that a newly revised version will be coming soon from NineStar Press.

If you liked the original version, I think you’ll love this one.

If all goes well, you’ll also be seeing the direct sequel to MORO, as well as a spin-off M/M novella featuring two side characters.

Thanks for your patience and support!

2016 year in review

I could almost get away with the stub listing ‘It sucked’.

The many and varied ways 2016 achieved maximum suckage will be studied in later history (if there is anyone left alive to study it). I’m not raising my blood pressure detailing those slings and arrows tonight.

Instead, I want to talk about good things.

I’m still alive. Most of my family and dearest friends are still alive. A very good friend survived serious career and health setbacks. I am loved and cherished, which is awesome and humbling.

I eased away from one publisher this year, and gave another new one a chance. In art, one venue I thought moribund is actually turning lucrative, while I’ve dropped another before it cost me too much to recover from. My writing struggled out of a lazy plateau and improved dramatically. I have a wealth of art, jewelry, and writing projects to address, and just enough skill to reach them.

I have goals for 2017, and far less fear about them than I would have thought, a couple of safe and happy years ago.

So for my readers and anyone stumbling onto this post: I hope you have a sane, healthy, happy, productive, humane, and triumphant new year.

Endure. Live. Thrive. Resist.