Claribel Ortega tweets Handbook

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

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

https://storify.com/Claribel_Ortega/clarireadshandbook

and here

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

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

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

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

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

***

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Hurricane Harvey

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

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

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

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

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

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

Big Fails: Lani Sarem and Louise Linton

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

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

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

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

Someone else called her out (top right).

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

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

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

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

***

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

***

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Diversity Bingo

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

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

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

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

And yet.

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

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

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

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

And yet.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

What can be done?

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

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

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

We all lose out, then.

 

 

Alis Franklin: Books of the Wyrd

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

You can find out more about her writing here.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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…

Show of Hands

These lovelies arrived today from AZ Art Supply: Richeson 10″ Female Right and Left Manikin Hands. 2/3 articulated, posing hands in blond wood (probably box, lyptus, or poplar, I’ll have to check.)

Meant as an artist’s drawing aide, I find they make amazing jewelry models. I’m resisting the urge to woodburn henna designs on them, but I did (in an inside joke) nickname them ‘Johani 1’ and ‘Johani 2’.

I got them so I could photograph things like this, without my burn-scarred and carpentry-sliced hands getting in the way.

 

Horizon: acrylic sketch

Golden Acrylics makes some wonderful ‘open’ paints with built-in drying retardants. They don’t stay mixable anywhere as long as oil paints do, but they don’t dry instantly on canvas (like regular acrylics might, especially in Arizona summers.) This makes the Open Series really fun as plein air tools, along with a pack of canvas paper and a little easel.

‘Horizon’ is a quick sketch of a rainstorm I did a few years back, down on the plain between South Mountain and the Estrella Mountains, along Riggs/Beltline road.

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

 

Sean Hannity’s Advertisers

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

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

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

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

Bayer (Just not this one.)

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

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

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

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

DirecTV (who sucks, anyway.)

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

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

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

Gillette (same as DSC, folks.)

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

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

Hometogo.com (save your money and staycation.)

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

Liberty Mutual (cute commercials won’t protect you)

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

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

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

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

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

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

Progressive (sorry, Flo, ya gotta go)

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

Sandals (same answer as Beaches and Match.com)

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

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

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

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

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

AARP

Abeka

ACT

ADT

Ageless Male

America’s Biopharmaceutical Companies

American Petroleum Institute

Ancestry DNA

Animal Planet

Applebee’s

Ark Encounter

AstraZenica

AT&T

Audi

Bass Pro Shops

Blue Emu

Bounty

Business Roundtable

Cabela’s

CarFax

Cascade

Chewy.com

Christian Faith Publishing

Citi

CoolSculpting

Cosequin

Crest

Dawn

Discovery Channel

Doan’s

Duracell

EHarmony

Elite Singles

Entresto

Experian

Febreze

Fisher Investments

Future is Kenya

Future Steel Buildings

Gain

Genucel

Gold Bond

Golden Corral

Goldwater Lawfirm

Gotham Steel

Green Mountain Coffee

HarvestRight

Hebrew National

Hello Fresh

Home Instead Senior Care

Hyundai

IBM

Icy Hot

IHOP

Its Just Lunch

Infiniti

InventHelp

Jenny Craig

Jitterbug Flip

Kaopectate

Kardia Mobile

Kerasal

Kia

LegalZoom

Lexus

Life Alert

LifeLock

Linzess

Loan Depot

Marie Callender’s

Mazda

Mercedes Benz

Meta Appetite Control

Mr. Clean

MTailor

Namzaric

Nature’s Bounty

Navy Federal Credit Union

New Skin

Nissan

Non24

OfferUp

Office Depot/Office Max

Orkin

OurTime

OxiClean

Prevagen

Qunol

RectiCare

Reddi Wip

Restasis

Ring.com

RockAuto

Rocket Mortgage (Quicken Loans)

Salonpas

Sanofi

Seabond

SimpliSafe

Smart Mouth

SoFi

Sokolove Law

Stanley Steamer

Starkist

Eloqui

Terminix

The Jewelry Exchange

Tide

Trip Advisor

Trivago

Universal Pictures

UNTUCKit

Values.com

VariDesk

Victoza

Volvo

Wayfair

WeatherTech

Wonder Hanger

ZeroWater

Warner Bros.

Unrelenting Optimism

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

***

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Humor helps lift our spirits. I’ve always found the movie-streaming commentary service RiffTrax LLC (yes, from the same folks who brought us Mystery Science Theater 3000) to be a ray of snarky light.

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CraneHanaDesigns now on Etsy

Trying another sales portal, this time on Etsy: https://www.etsy.com/shop/CraneHanaDesigns

 

I’m conflicted about Etsy. They’re the best game in town for many crafters. They’ve made some colossal blunders in the past, and I feel terrible for them that the only way they can save the company now is at the cost of their allegedly benevolent company ethos.

I say ‘allegedly’ because many of those blunders involved touting themselves as a ‘handmade item’ portal, while allowing some of the worst of the buy-sell trade to dominate many of their categories. Buuutt…Etsy took itself public, and now pays the price with stockholders who don’t actually give a damn about ethics.

Maybe they…and we…can strike a balance between Return-on-Investment and the love of skilled handmade work.

We’ll see.

***

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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.

***
I have a favor to ask of you, dear readers. To offset web hosting costs, I’ve joined Amazon Affiliates and Rakuten Marketing. I’ll gradually work paid buy links into the Amazon links I’ve already provided for other authors’ books. And on some blog posts I’ll include paid buy links (usually in discreet text) to some other companies and services I like. If you click on these links and buy something on the other side, the tiny amounts I earn will add up to keep this blog (and my power) running.

Taschen is one of my favorite publishers of fine art, photography, culture, and the humanities.
TASCHEN - Beautiful Books

‘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!

Added December 9, 2017: alas, Patreon did a very stupid and greedy thing under the guise of ‘helping’ creators. Patreon changed its fee structure to effectively penalize small (under $5) donors.

Here’s a link to some of the resulting ruckus. https://techcrunch.com/2017/12/07/patreons-new-service-fee-spurs-concern-that-creators-will-lose-patrons/

For me, it means permanently disabling my Patreon account and finding other ways to send my tiny contributions to creator friends.

 

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.”